THE book of the year has to be Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. Buy it for your children, friends, husband, wife.
One of the myths that has grown up around Peterson’s work is that it is ‘mostly for men’. Well, it was a woman who introduced Peterson to me and I’m grateful to her. I watched Cathy Newman interview Peterson on Channel 4; the next day I ordered his book. Thank you, Cathy.
For anyone who doesn’t know the book, it’s ‘self-help’. It provides answers to the question ‘How should we humans live?’ As the title suggests, it outlines 12 rules. But it does a great deal more than that. For me, its strongest feature is its exploration of the great stories and mythologies of the past and the ancient wisdom they contain. I think this is where the book is of particular interest to women. Throughout, Peterson reviews the different roles and characterisation of men and women in these myths, and explores what this means for us today.
Many years ago, when I took women’s studies at university, readers will be unsurprised to learn that we students were invited to believe that the great works in the Western canon were of little interest to women. We looked at them simplistically and were shown how women were portrayed as passive victims or destroying temptresses. Choosing between the Scylla of endlessly repetitive feminist interpretations and Charybdis of ignorance, I chose the latter – and studied economics instead . . .
It has taken Jordan Peterson to open my eyes. Let’s look at one important story of our human origins: Adam and Eve. For all these years, I’ve bought into the simplistic notion that Eve is presented as the destroyer of our original happiness, and the reason we all have to toil. There are Adam and Eve living in Paradise. God plants the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but instructs Adam and Eve to steer clear. A serpent comes along and tempts Eve to eat the fruit; she does and gives some to Adam. God comes back, learns what has happened, and chucks them both out of Paradise. And it’s all the fault of the first woman . . .
Okay, so here is my understanding of Peterson’s version. Firstly, why did God put the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the garden in the first place? Secondly, what was the snake doing there? According to Peterson, the human male (or more correctly, masculinity) is associated with a liking of order and the known. Adam would have been content to sit about in Paradise and eat fruit all day with his feet up. Adam is not fully human – he is child-like. But Eve was already more curious. According to Peterson, the human female (or femininity) is more associated with chaos and curiosity. So the snake approached Eve. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they knew Good and Evil. For the first time they saw that they were naked. They became self-conscious. They became fully conscious. It took Eve’s curiosity, courage and taste for a little chaos to make us fully human.
I like this version. This made me think of Pandora whose curiosity gave the world its evils, but also hope. Would you rather have the world’s evils and hope? Or would you rather sit around all day, in a state of perpetual youth, eating fruit, with no hope? Stuck for ever as the most hairless of the great apes.
Peterson goes on to talk about what happened next. God walked into the Garden of Eden – and Adam and Eve hid. They were ashamed. They were afraid to walk with God. Our entire human history, since that moment, has been about how we find our way back, to walk with God, but as fully-awake fully-conscious human beings. This is what the book is all about.
The snake, of course, is our own proclivity for evil. As Solzhenitsyn said, the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. How do each of us choose to stand tall, take responsibility, and strive to do good? Well, you’ll get yourself on the right path by reading this book. As Peterson says, stand up straight and start by taking care of yourself. Those are Rules 1 and 2. Ten more rules, just right for the festive break, and then back out into the world to strive to do good.