Jordan Peterson’s new book, ‘Beyond Order’, was borne out of chaos. The ‘Overture’ spells out in brutal detail the ordeals that the author has endured since the publication of his previous book, the bestselling ‘12 Rules for Life‘, in 2018. The crises of health engulfing Peterson and his immediate family members coincided with a pandemic that has derailed our normal way of life. Little wonder that ‘Beyond Order’ adopts a more sombre tone than its often witty and effervescent predecessor. This move is made explicit by the black cover which contrasts with the virginal white of the first volume. Perhaps it was always going to be thus: Peterson explains that the two volumes are yin and yang – the first dealing with routes out of too much chaos, this one unpacking the inherent dangers of being too complacent or afraid of change in our lives. Either way, the more serious tone is appropriate for our times.
‘Beyond Order’ showcases Peterson’s extraordinary gift for storytelling, as well as for extrapolating complex psychological themes and deriving lessons and meaning from them in ways lay readers can understand. Those familiar with his style from his previous book will immediately feel at home.
The opening rule, ‘Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or creative achievement’, ably sets up what readers can expect from the whole book. Part of the controversy around Peterson is his robust criticisms of attempts to provide easy explanations for society’s problems and posit destructive solutions that seek to tear down established systems or hierarchies. The chapter examines what Peterson’s critics never allow for – his advocation of balance between order and change (chaos). ‘Know the rules and have a good understanding of your own arrogance before you set about remaking society’ may be a fair summation. But take care to nurture talent and allow those with diligence and good ideas to prosper and challenge the status quo. This is a much harder approach to social justice than many (especially) young people are used to hearing. It’s precisely why Peterson is loathed in some quarters, and hailed as an essential public intellectual in others.
‘Beyond Order’ is a delight to read. Each thoughtful chapter progresses from rule to problems and solutions with powerful linguistic persuasion. Peterson is a world class communicator, and this comes across especially strongly in sections where he draws on real life experience from his years as a clinical psychologist. He combines knowledge of his subject with a deep interest in mythology and civilisation’s foundational stories. In that regard, he is somewhat akin to Joseph Campbell, whose work on the meaning of myths was pioneering. But Peterson personalises these stories for his readers. They can enjoy the additional insight into how appreciating the wisdom of ancient stories that imbue our culture can improve their own lives.
Are the rules really so effective? I found the hefty chapter ‘If old memories still upset you, write them down carefully and completely’ especially compelling. It gave me some insight into why my naivety in the face of malevolence set me on a dangerous path. Depending upon what may be wrong in your life yet might be put right, you’ll find at least one chapter relevant. ‘Plan and work diligently to maintain the romance in your relationship’ is the kind of advice that separates Peterson’s work from the straightforward ‘self-help’ genre. He writes with candour and with no regard for the sensitivities of his reader’s ego. Delusions are there to be shattered. You have been warned.
What is noticeable is that, this time, the rules are in deadly earnest. There is none of the intriguing playfulness of ’12 Rules for Life’ (‘Do not bother children when they are skateboarding’, or, most obviously, ‘Pet a cat when you encounter one in the street’). Yet by the end of the book, even in a final chapter, ‘Be grateful in spite of your suffering’, there is no sense of being browbeaten. Peterson’s narratives contain the essence of hope. Although less candid about his own theological beliefs, Peterson comes across as a modern CS Lewis, whose writings ‘On Pain’ were inspirational rather than depressing.
In the final analysis, I wondered in the opening chapters if the ideas and the morals coalesced quite as successfully in ‘Beyond Order’ as they did in the previous book. Although inevitable, comparisons between the two are unhelpful because of the darker, less hopeful times in which ‘Beyond Order’ has seen the light of day. Yet by the penultimate chapter, which weaves together the unholy trinity of resentfulness, deceit and arrogance, I was persuaded that ‘Beyond Order’ finds Peterson at his oratorical best.
‘Beyond Order’ deserves and rewards careful reading, and its chapters are worth mulling over for days – my review may well have been different after a second reading. But it is sure to be a bestseller, and appeal richly to those who enjoyed ’12 Rules for Life’. The lessons draw on examples familiar to Peterson’s readers such as Carl Jung, Harry Potter, Disney movies, Dostoevsky and the bible. ‘Beyond Order’ is a compelling and ultimately life-affirming read for anyone willing to challenge their own ideas and face up to the untapped potential in their lives.
Publisher: Allen Lane Publication date: 2nd March 2021 Buy ‘Beyond Order‘