The point of this review isn’t to go through each rule in exhaustive detail. If you’re interested in that level of detail, I recommend simply reading the book for yourself and forming your own judgments.
12 Rules for Life doesn’t come right out and say it, but when you tell an author to choose their target market and write a book that will hold that market’s appeal, the book hit the nail on the head. The book’s rules are targeted to directionless, and disenfranchised young men. It centers around finding your purpose in life, picking up the heaviest load you can carry and moving it forward. Rather than seeing human suffering as some kind of personal failing while you watch everyone else succeed through the curated lens of social media, recognize that the meaning of life isn’t the pursuit of happiness, which is fleeting, but the pursuit of purpose.
As traditional task oriented manufacturing work and other jobs that were principally held by men are automated away or lost to international trade, in the western world, the ability for a man to rely on his job as a symbol of his purpose and value to his family and community has eroded. 12 Rules of Life does a good job of providing guidance in the face of this reality.
Ultimately it’s a story of individualism and personal responsibility. Stop blaming the world for your problems. Stop being a victim. Start by cleaning up your room, metaphorically speaking, before you criticize the world.
Honestly, it’s the kick in the pants a lot of people need. If everyone cleaned up their own backyard, the world would be a cleaner, better place, than if we shout over our fences at one another. These parts of Peterson’s message really resonate with me. Perhaps I’m biased by my relatively conservative, free-market upbringing, but it highlights a lot of the best parts of what we would traditionally consider politically right wing.
The second big element of 12 Rules for Life that is compelling is the way it uses theology, ancient texts, particularly the Bible, as a form of evidence for why humans are the way we are. The Bible as evidence? This seems to fly in the face of scientific theory. A great metaphysical man in the sky isn’t something that can be tested statistically, so how can it have any empirical value? I’ll set aside my own personal religious beliefs for this discussion, and I implore you to as well as I work through the next argument.
Consider this. How many stories have managed to survive for thousands of years? Maybe a handful. Beyond that, imagine how impossible it would be to keep a record of a story as extensive as the Bible in the absence of modern technology. Bits and pieces etched into stone tablets and papyrus that perish to the decay of time. No, these stories lived thousands of years because they were told from one generation to the next. For a story to have that kind of staying power must mean that it speaks deeply to the human condition. Its ability to outlast not just one generation, but thousands, is evidence of each story’s importance.
This is an unconventional perspective, at least in modern times. Have we been to quick to discard religious teachings in favor of hard science, when in theory, the best science we have is the permanence of the moral code we gravitate towards, as represented by the Bible. Sure the Bible could have been written as scientific text about the emotional inner workings of the human brain, instead of a series of symbolic stories, but then it wouldn’t have been able to persist through time. There’s something deeply human about story telling. It goes back to one of the fundamental rules of writing: show don’t tell.