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alt12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson (2018)
Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson (2021)

I can't remember where I first encountered Jordan Peterson; the odds are that I heard him mentioned in a DarkHorse podcast, but that's guessing. Whatever it was, I was intrigued enough to watch his three-hour Lex Fridman interview (not all at once!). Which then led me to 12 Rules for Life.

I'm not sure how to express how I feel about that book. I've since seen several videos of Peterson speaking, and that is my favorite way to learn from him. If you know me, you know how extraordinary that is. I almost always prefer the written word to the spoken, and find videos a frustrating medium to deal with. I guess there are always exceptions!

Both 12 Rules for Life, and its sequel, Beyond Order, are worth reading. In many ways, Peterson makes a lot of sense. I'm guessing that growing up in the rough backwoods of Alberta; working in multiple fields of endeavor, from harsh physical labor to clinical psychology to university professor to popular lecturer; enduring intense physical suffering, in himself and his family; and dealing with "cancel culture" first-hand and very publicly for his opinions—I'm guessing that that gives you experiences worth talking about.

Peterson also sees more clearly than most of us, and what he says is full of wisdom. I disagree strongly with some of his ideas, but so much is spot-on he's definitely worth paying attention to.

My problem is that I could never wrap my head around psychology or philosophy, which is probably why I never found them interesting. (No doubt the reverse is also true.) Peterson's books are part good, practical advice (which I love), and part what I see as strange philosophcal and psychological theories (which I don't). When I shared 12 Rules for Life with my then-teenaged grandson, he thought it was one of the best books ever. Then again, he's a deep thinker and seems to have a talent for philosophy. At least more than I do, which, admittedly, is a low bar.

For all that I'm ambivalent about the books (though not about Peterson himself), I believe this quotations section is longer than for any other review I've written. I made a few comments within it, but not many. I have no illusions that anyone (except perhaps the aforementioned grandson) will read them all, though many of you may skim through them. I'm putting them out here for the few who will appreciate them, and so that I will have my favorite quotes collected together where I can refer to (and search for) them. I've divided them into the two books, and within each by chapters. I've highlighted the chapter headings, which are the "rules," so you can scroll through the pages and catch all the rules if you wish to.

Excerpts from 12 Rules for Life

Forward by Norman Doidge

[Jordan] alerted his students to topics rarely discussed in university, such as the simple fact that all the ancients, from Buddha to the biblical authors, knew what every slightly worn-out adult knows, that life is suffering. 

Scccccratccch the most clever postmodern-relativist professor’s Mercedes with a key, and you will see how fast the mask of relativism (with its pretense that there can be neither right nor wrong) and the cloak of radical tolerance come off.

The foremost rule is that you must take responsibility for your own life. Period.

Overture (introduction)

In the West, we have been withdrawing from our tradition-, religion- and even nation-centered cultures, partly to decrease the danger of group conflict. But we are increasingly falling prey to the desperation of meaninglessness, and that is no improvement at all. 

Rule 1: Stand up straight with your shoulders back

Order can become excessive, and that’s not good, but chaos can swamp us, so we drown—and that is also not good. We need to stay on the straight and narrow path. Each of the twelve rules of this book—and their accompanying essays—therefore provide a guide to being there. “There” is the dividing line between order and chaos. That’s where we are simultaneously stable enough, exploring enough, transforming enough, repairing enough, and cooperating enough. It’s there we find the meaning that justifies life and its inevitable suffering.

Mark Twain once said, “It’s not what we don’t know that gets us in trouble. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

If Mother Nature wasn’t so hell-bent on our destruction, it would be easier for us to exist in simple harmony with her dictates.

The body, with its various parts, needs to function like a well-rehearsed orchestra. Every system must play its role properly, and at exactly the right time, or noise and chaos ensue. It is for this reason that routine is so necessary. The acts of life we repeat every day need to be automatized. They must be turned into stable and reliable habits, so they lose their complexity and gain predictability and simplicity. 

Anxiety and depression cannot be easily treated if the sufferer has unpredictable daily routines. 

If you can bite, you generally don’t have to. ... The forces of tyranny expand inexorably to fill the space made available for their existence. People who refuse to muster appropriately self-protective territorial responses are laid open to exploitation as much as those who genuinely can’t stand up for their own rights because of a more essential inability or a true imbalance in power.

When once-naïve people recognize in themselves the seeds of evil and monstrosity, and see themselves as dangerous (at least potentially)—their fear decreases. They develop more self-respect. Then, perhaps, they begin to resist oppression. They see that they have the ability to withstand, because they are terrible too. They see they can and must stand up, because they begin to understand how genuinely monstrous they will become, otherwise, feeding on their resentment, transforming it into the most destructive of wishes. To say it again: There is very little difference between the capacity for mayhem and destruction, integrated, and strength of character.

Circumstances change, and so can you. Positive feedback loops, adding effect to effect, can spiral counterproductively in a negative direction, but can also work to get you ahead.

If you present yourself as defeated, then people will react to you as if you are losing. If you start to straighten up, then people will look at and treat you differently. 

Rule 2: Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping

... the traditional insistence on the androgyny of Christ.

No. Just no. Maybe some tradition, somewhere—the world abounds in heresies, some more bizarre than others. Certainly, in the Incarnation, Jesus took upon himself all of humanity, male and female. But if he had been anything other than physically and psychologically male, he would not have commanded the respect that he obviously did. This is just weird.

You can’t just be stable, and secure, and unchanging, because there are still vital and important new things to be learned.

It is far better to render Beings in your care competent than to protect them.

Only man will inflict suffering for the sake of suffering. That is the best definition of evil I have been able to formulate. Animals can’t manage that, but humans, with their excruciating, semi-divine capacities, most certainly can.

There are so many ways that things can fall apart, or fail to work altogether, and it is always wounded people who are holding it together.

It would be good to make the world a better place. Heaven, after all, will not arrive of its own accord. We will have to work to bring it about, and strengthen ourselves, so that we can withstand the deadly angels and flaming sword of judgment that God used to bar its entrance.

This is one of several areas where I disagree with Peterson, since I believe strongly that heaven is not something achievable by people "working to bring it about." Nonetheless, we agree that it is right to work as best we can in that direction.

Rule 3: Make friends with people who want the best for you

Sometimes, when people have a low opinion of their own worth—or, perhaps, when they refuse responsibility for their lives—they choose a new acquaintance, of precisely the type who proved troublesome in the past. ... People choose friends who aren’t good for them for other reasons, too. Sometimes it’s because they want to rescue someone. This is more typical of young people, although the impetus still exists among older folks who are too agreeable or have remained naïve or who are willfully blind. Someone might object, “It is only right to see the best in people. The highest virtue is the desire to help.” But not everyone who is failing is a victim, and not everyone at the bottom wishes to rise, although many do, and many manage it. Nonetheless, people will often accept or even amplify their own suffering, as well as that of others, if they can brandish it as evidence of the world’s injustice.

Imagine someone not doing well. He needs help. He might even want it. But it is not easy to distinguish between someone truly wanting and needing help and someone who is merely exploiting a willing helper.

But Christ himself, you might object, befriended tax-collectors and prostitutes. How dare I cast aspersions on the motives of those who are trying to help? But Christ was the archetypal perfect man. And you’re you. How do you know that your attempts to pull someone up won’t instead bring them—or you—further down? Imagine the case of someone supervising an exceptional team of workers, all of them striving towards a collectively held goal; imagine them hardworking, brilliant, creative and unified. But the person supervising is also responsible for someone troubled, who is performing poorly, elsewhere. In a fit of inspiration, the well-meaning manager moves that problematic person into the midst of his stellar team, hoping to improve him by example. What happens?—and the psychological literature is clear on this point. Does the errant interloper immediately straighten up and fly right? No. Instead, the entire team degenerates. The newcomer remains cynical, arrogant and neurotic. He complains. He shirks. He misses important meetings. His low-quality work causes delays, and must be redone by others. He still gets paid, however, just like his teammates. The hard workers who surround him start to feel betrayed. “Why am I breaking myself into pieces striving to finish this project,” each thinks, “when my new team member never breaks a sweat?” The same thing happens when well-meaning counsellors place a delinquent teen among comparatively civilized peers. The delinquency spreads, not the stability. Down is a lot easier than up. (emphasis mine)

Before you help someone, you should find out why that person is in trouble. You shouldn’t merely assume that he or she is a noble victim of unjust circumstances and exploitation. It’s the most unlikely explanation, not the most probable. In my experience—clinical and otherwise—it’s just never been that simple. Besides, if you buy the story that everything terrible just happened on its own, with no personal responsibility on the part of the victim, you deny that person all agency in the past (and, by implication, in the present and future, as well). In this manner, you strip him or her of all power. (emphasis mine)

If you have a friend whose friendship you wouldn’t recommend to your sister, or your father, or your son, why would you have such a friend for yourself? You might say: out of loyalty. Well, loyalty is not identical to stupidity. Loyalty must be negotiated, fairly and honestly. Friendship is a reciprocal arrangement. You are not morally obliged to support someone who is making the world a worse place. Quite the opposite. You should choose people who want things to be better, not worse. It’s a good thing, not a selfish thing, to choose people who are good for you.

Rule 4: Compare youreslf to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today

It was easier for people to be good at something when more of us lived in small, rural communities. Someone could be homecoming queen. Someone else could be spelling-bee champ, math whiz or basketball star. There were only one or two mechanics and a couple of teachers. In each of their domains, these local heroes had the opportunity to enjoy the serotonin-fuelled confidence of the victor. It may be for that reason that people who were born in small towns are statistically overrepresented among the eminent. If you’re one in a million now, but originated in modern New York, there’s twenty of you—and most of us now live in cities. What’s more, we have become digitally connected to the entire seven billion. Our hierarchies of accomplishment are now dizzyingly vertical.

There is no shortage of tasteless artists, tuneless musicians, poisonous cooks, bureaucratically-personality-disordered middle managers, hack novelists and tedious, ideology-ridden professors. Things and people differ importantly in their qualities. Awful music torments listeners everywhere. Poorly designed buildings crumble in earthquakes. Substandard automobiles kill their drivers when they crash. Failure is the price we pay for standards and, because mediocrity has consequences both real and harsh, standards are necessary. We are not equal in ability or outcome, and never will be. A very small number of people produce very much of everything.

The infant is dependent on his parents for almost everything he needs. The child—the successful child—can leave his parents, at least temporarily, and make friends. He gives up a little of himself to do that, but gains much in return. The successful adolescent must take that process to its logical conclusion. He has to leave his parents and become like everyone else. He has to integrate with the group so he can transcend his childhood dependency. Once integrated, the successful adult then must learn how to be just the right amount different from everyone else. (emphasis mine)

I disagree with Peterson's insistance that the successful adolsecent must become like everyone else before he can learn how to be just the right amount different. Or, perhaps, it's just that our culture, with its heavy peer-orientation—continuously reinforced by school, advertisements, and the entertainment media—has dangerously twisted the process of socialization. Integrating into the society of their own age-mates is not what children need to grow into healthy adults; they need the society of good people of all ages, particularly those who have already established themselves as healthy members of society. Peer socialization is largely negative.

Called upon properly, the internal critic will suggest something to set in order, which you could set in order, which you would set in order—voluntarily, without resentment, even with pleasure. Ask yourself: is there one thing that exists in disarray in your life or your situation that you could, and would, set straight? Could you, and would you, fix that one thing that announces itself humbly in need of repair? Could you do it now?

What you aim at determines what you see.

That’s how you deal with the overwhelming complexity of the world: you ignore it, while you concentrate minutely on your private concerns. You see things that facilitate your movement forward, toward your desired goals. You detect obstacles, when they pop up in your path. You’re blind to everything else (and there’s a lot of everything else—so you’re very blind). And it has to be that way, because there is much more of the world than there is of you. You must shepherd your limited resources carefully. Seeing is very difficult, so you must choose what to see, and let the rest go.

Obedience is not enough. But it’s at least a start (and we have forgotten this): You cannot aim yourself at anything if you are completely undisciplined and untutored. ... That is not to say (to say it again) that obedience is sufficient. But a person capable of obedience—let’s say, instead, a properly disciplined person—is at least a well-forged tool.

Pay attention. Focus on your surroundings, physical and psychological. Notice something that bothers you, that concerns you, that will not let you be, which you could fix, that you would fix. You can find such somethings by asking yourself (as if you genuinely want to know) three questions: “What is it that is bothering me?” “Is that something I could fix?” and “Would I actually be willing to fix it?” If you find that the answer is “no,” to any or all of the questions, then look elsewhere. Aim lower. Search until you find something that bothers you, that you could fix, that you would fix, and then fix it. That might be enough for the day.

What if you instructed your wife, or your husband, to say “good job” after you fixed whatever you fixed? Would that motivate you? The people from whom you want thanks might not be very proficient in offering it, to begin with, but that shouldn’t stop you. People can learn, even if they are very unskilled at the beginning.

 Attend to the day, but aim at the highest good.

Rule 5: Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

Our society faces the increasing call to deconstruct its stabilizing traditions to include smaller and smaller numbers of people who do not or will not fit into the categories upon which even our perceptions are based. This is not a good thing.

Was it really a good thing, for example, to so dramatically liberalize the divorce laws in the 1960s? It’s not clear to me that the children whose lives were destabilized by the hypothetical freedom this attempt at liberation introduced would say so. Horror and terror lurk behind the walls provided so wisely by our ancestors. We tear them down at our peril. We skate, unconsciously, on thin ice, with deep, cold waters below, where unimaginable monsters lurk. 

Hunter-gatherers, too, are much more murderous than their urban, industrialized counterparts, despite their communal lives and localized cultures. The yearly rate of homicide in the modern UK is about 1 per 100,000. It’s four to five times higher in the US, and about ninety times higher in Honduras, which has the highest rate recorded of any modern nation. But the evidence strongly suggests that human beings have become more peaceful, rather than less so, as time has progressed and societies became larger and more organized. The !Kung bushmen of Africa, romanticized in the 1950s by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas as “the harmless people,” had a yearly murder rate of 40 per 100,000, which declined by more than 30% once they became subject to state authority.

Pain is more potent than pleasure, and anxiety more than hope.

Children would not have such a lengthy period of natural development, prior to maturity, if their behaviour did not have to be shaped.

The fundamental moral question is not how to shelter children completely from misadventure and failure, so they never experience any fear or pain, but how to maximize their learning so that useful knowledge may be gained with minimal cost.

You can discipline your children, or you can turn that responsibility over to the harsh, uncaring judgmental world—and the motivation for the latter decision should never be confused with love.

If a society does not adequately reward productive, pro-social behavior, insists upon distributing resources in a markedly arbitrary and unfair manner, and allows for theft and exploitation, it will not remain conflict-free for long. If its hierarchies are based only (or even primarily) on power, instead of the competence necessary to get important and difficult things done, it will be prone to collapse, as well.

Disciplinary principle 1: limit the rules. Principle 2: use minimum necessary force. Here’s a third: parents should come in pairs. ... I am not saying we should be mean to single mothers, many of whom struggle impossibly and courageously—and a proportion of whom have had to escape, singly, from a brutal relationship—but that doesn’t mean we should pretend that all family forms are equally viable. They’re not. Period. 

You love your kids, after all. If their actions make you dislike them, think what an effect they will have on other people, who care much less about them than you. Those other people will punish them, severely, by omission or commission. Don’t allow that to happen. Better to let your little monsters know what is desirable and what is not, so they become sophisticated denizens of the world outside the family.

A child who pays attention, instead of drifting, and can play, and does not whine, and is comical, but not annoying, and is trustworthy—that child will have friends wherever he goes. His teachers will like him, and so will his parents. If he attends politely to adults, he will be attended to, smiled at and happily instructed. He will thrive, in what can so easily be a cold, unforgiving and hostile world. Clear rules make for secure children and calm, rational parents. 

Rule 6: Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world

When the hurricane hit New Orleans, and the town sank under the waves, was that a natural disaster? The Dutch prepare their dikes for the worst storm in ten thousand years. Had New Orleans followed that example, no tragedy would have occurred. It’s not that no one knew. The Flood Control Act of 1965 mandated improvements in the levee system that held back Lake Pontchartrain. The system was to be completed by 1978. Forty years later, only 60 percent of the work had been done. Willful blindness and corruption took the city down. A hurricane is an act of God. But failure to prepare, when the necessity for preparation is well known—that’s sin.

Have you cleaned up your life? If the answer is no, here’s something to try: Start to stop doing what you know to be wrong. Start stopping today. ...

You can use your own standards of judgment. You can rely on yourself for guidance. You don’t have to adhere to some external, arbitrary code of behaviour (although you should not overlook the guidelines of your culture. Life is short, and you don’t have time to figure everything out on your own. The wisdom of the past was hard-earned, and your dead ancestors may have something useful to tell you).

Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your enemies. Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?

Rule 7: Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

Benjamin Franklin once suggested that a newcomer to a neighbourhood ask a new neighbour to do him or her a favour, citing an old maxim: He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another than he whom you yourself have obliged.

What’s the difference between the successful and the unsuccessful? The successful sacrifice.

It is in fact nothing short of a miracle (and we should keep this fact firmly before our eyes) that the hierarchical slave-based societies of our ancestors reorganized themselves, under the sway of an ethical/religious revelation, such that the ownership and absolute domination of another person came to be viewed as wrong.

If there is something that is not good, then there is something that is good. If the worst sin is the torment of others, merely for the sake of the suffering produced—then the good is whatever is diametrically opposed to that. The good is whatever stops such things from happening.

To place the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering at the pinnacle of your hierarchy of value is to work to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth.

Rule 8: Tell the truth—or at least don't lie

With love, encouragement, and character intact, a human being can be resilient beyond imagining.

All people serve their ambition. In that matter, there are no atheists. There are only people who know, and don’t know, what God they serve.

Things fall apart: this is one of the great discoveries of humanity. ... Without attention, culture degenerates and dies, and evil prevails.

 Rule 9: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don't

The past appears fixed, but it’s not—not in an important psychological sense. There is an awful lot to the past, after all, and the way we organize it can be subject to drastic revision. ... A sufficiently happy ending can change the meaning of all the previous events. They can all be viewed as worthwhile, given that ending. ...

When you are remembering the past, as well, you remember some parts of it and forget others. You have clear memories of some things that happened, but not others, of potentially equal import—just as in the present you are aware of some aspects of your surroundings and unconscious of others. You categorize your experience, grouping some elements together, and separating them from the rest. There is a mysterious arbitrariness about all of this. You don’t form a comprehensive, objective record. You can’t.

The sexual abuse of children is distressingly common. However, it’s not as common as poorly trained psychotherapists think, and it also does not always produce terribly damaged adults.

The people I listen to need to talk, because that’s how people think. People need to think. ... People organize their brains with conversation.

A listening person tests your talking (and your thinking) without having to say anything. A listening person is a representative of common humanity. He stands for the crowd. Now the crowd is by no means always right, but it’s commonly right. It’s typically right. If you say something that takes everyone aback, therefore, you should reconsider what you said. I say that, knowing full well that controversial opinions are sometimes correct—sometimes so much so that the crowd will perish if it refuses to listen. It is for this reason, among others, that the individual is morally obliged to stand up and tell the truth of his or her own experience. But something new and radical is still almost always wrong. You need good, even great, reasons to ignore or defy general, public opinion. (emphasis mine)

Men are often accused of wanting to “fix things” too early on in a discussion. This frustrates men, who like to solve problems and to do it efficiently and who are in fact called upon frequently by women for precisely that purpose. It might be easier for my male readers to understand why this does not work, however, if they could realize and then remember that before a problem can be solved it must be formulated precisely. Women are often intent on formulating the problem when they are discussing something, and they need to be listened to—even questioned—to help ensure clarity in the formulation. Then, whatever problem is left, if any, can be helpfully solved.

A well-practised and competent public speaker addresses a single, identifiable person, watches that individual nod, shake his head, frown, or look confused, and responds appropriately and directly to those gestures and expressions. Then, after a few phrases, rounding out some idea, he switches to another audience member, and does the same thing.

The strategy of speaking to individuals is not only vital to the delivery of any message, it’s a useful antidote to fear of public speaking. No one wants to be stared at by hundreds of unfriendly, judgmental eyes. However, almost everybody can talk to just one attentive person. So, if you have to deliver a speech (another terrible phrase) then do that. Talk to the individuals in the audience—and don’t hide: not behind the podium, not with downcast eyes, not by speaking too quietly or mumbling, not by apologizing for your lack of brilliance or preparedness, not behind ideas that are not yours, and not behind clichés.

The final type of conversation, akin to listening, is a form of mutual exploration. It requires true reciprocity on the part of those listening and speaking. It allows all participants to express and organize their thoughts. A conversation of mutual exploration has a topic, generally complex, of genuine interest to the participants. Everyone participating is trying to solve a problem, instead of insisting on the a priori validity of their own positions. All are acting on the premise that they have something to learn. This kind of conversation constitutes active philosophy, the highest form of thought, and the best preparation for proper living.

Rule 10: Be precise in your speech

When things break down, what has been ignored rushes in. When things are no longer specified, with precision, the walls crumble, and chaos makes its presence known. When we’ve been careless, and let things slide, what we have refused to attend to gathers itself up, adopts a serpentine form, and strikes—often at the worst possible moment. It is then that we see what focused intent, precision of aim and careful attention protects us from.

Do you truly think it wise to let the catastrophe grow in the shadows, while you shrink and decrease and become ever more afraid?

Something is out there in the woods. You know that with certainty. But often it’s only a squirrel. If you refuse to look, however, then it’s a dragon, and you’re no knight: you’re a mouse confronting a lion; a rabbit, paralyzed by the gaze of a wolf. And I am not saying that it’s always a squirrel. Often it’s something truly terrible. But even what is terrible in actuality often pales in significance compared to what is terrible in imagination. And often what cannot be confronted because of its horror in imagination can in fact be confronted when reduced to its-still-admittedly-terrible actuality.

Rule 11: Do not bother children when they are skateboarding

They weren’t trying to be safe. They were trying to become competent—and it’s competence that makes people as safe as they can truly be. ...

When playgrounds are made too safe, kids either stop playing in them or start playing in unintended ways.

[Orwell] concluded that the tweed-wearing, armchair-philosophizing, victim-identifying, pity-and-contempt-dispensing social-reformer types frequently did not like the poor, as they claimed. Instead, they just hated the rich. They disguised their resentment and jealousy with piety, sanctimony and self-righteousness. Things in the unconscious—or on the social justice–dispensing leftist front—haven’t changed much, today.

Recently, I was invited to give a TEDx talk at a nearby university. Another professor talked first. He had been invited to speak because of his work—his genuinely fascinating, technical work.... He spoke instead about the threat human beings posed to the survival of the planet. ... Like far too many people, he had become anti-human, to the core. He had not walked as far down that road as my friend, but the same dread spirit animated them both.

He stood in front of a screen displaying an endless slow pan of a blocks-long Chinese high-tech factory. Hundreds of white-suited workers stood like sterile, inhuman robots behind their assembly lines, soundlessly inserting piece A into slot B. He told the audience—filled with bright young people—of the decision he and his wife had made to limit their number of children to one. He told them it was something they should all consider, if they wanted to regard themselves as ethical people. I felt that such a decision was properly considered—but only in his particular case (where less than one might have been even better). The many Chinese students in attendance sat stolidly through his moralizing. They thought, perhaps, of their parents’ escape from the horrors of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and its one-child policy. They thought, perhaps, of the vast improvement in living standard and freedom provided by the very same factories. A couple of them said as much in the question period that followed.

We’ve only just developed the conceptual tools and technologies that allow us to understand the web of life, however imperfectly. We deserve a bit of sympathy, in consequence, for the hypothetical outrage of our destructive behaviour. Sometimes we don’t know any better. Sometimes we do know better, but haven’t yet formulated any practical alternatives. It’s not as if life is easy for human beings, after all, even now—and it’s only a few decades ago that the majority of human beings were starving, diseased and illiterate.169 Wealthy as we are (increasingly, everywhere) we still only live decades that can be counted on our fingers. Even at present, it is the rare and fortunate family that does not contain at least one member with a serious illness—and all will face that problem eventually. We do what we can to make the best of things, in our vulnerability and fragility, and the planet is harder on us than we are on it. We could cut ourselves some slack.

No one in the modern world may without objection express the opinion that existence would be bettered by the absence of Jews, blacks, Muslims, or Englishmen. Why, then, is it virtuous to propose that the planet might be better off, if there were fewer people on it? I can’t help but see a skeletal, grinning face, gleeful at the possibility of the apocalypse, hiding not so very far behind such statements. And why does it so often seem to be the very people standing so visibly against prejudice who so often appear to feel obligated to denounce humanity itself?

Boys are suffering, in the modern world. They are more disobedient—negatively—or more independent—positively—than girls, and they suffer for this, throughout their pre-university educational career. They are less agreeable (agreeableness being a personality trait associated with compassion, empathy and avoidance of conflict) and less susceptible to anxiety and depression, at least after both sexes hit puberty. Boys’ interests tilt towards things; girls’ interests tilt towards people. Strikingly, these differences, strongly influenced by biological factors, are most pronounced in the Scandinavian societies where gender-equality has been pushed hardest: this is the opposite of what would be expected by those who insist, ever more loudly, that gender is a social construct. It isn’t. This isn’t a debate. The data are in.

Schools, which were set up in the late 1800s precisely to inculcate obedience, do not take kindly to provocative and daring behaviour, no matter how tough-minded and competent it might show a boy (or a girl) to be. (emphasis mine)

The following excerpt is very long, and deserves its own post, but I'll include it here as well.

[The Spanish Civil War] drew attention away from concurrent events in the Soviet Union. In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, the Stalinist Soviets sent two million kulaks, their richest peasants, to Siberia (those with a small number of cows, a couple of hired hands, or a few acres more than was typical). From the communist viewpoint, these kulaks had gathered their wealth by plundering those around them, and deserved their fate. Wealth signified oppression, and private property was theft. It was time for some equity. More than thirty thousand kulaks were shot on the spot. Many more met their fate at the hands of their most jealous, resentful and unproductive neighbours, who used the high ideals of communist collectivization to mask their murderous intent.

The kulaks were “enemies of the people,” apes, scum, vermin, filth and swine. “We will make soap out of the kulak,” claimed one particularly brutal cadre of city-dwellers, mobilized by party and Soviet executive committees, and sent out into the countryside. The kulaks were driven, naked, into the streets, beaten, and forced to dig their own graves. The women were raped. Their belongings were “expropriated,” which, in practice, meant that their houses were stripped down to the rafters and ceiling beams and everything was stolen. In many places, the non-kulak peasants resisted, particularly the women, who took to surrounding the persecuted families with their bodies. Such resistance proved futile. The kulaks who didn’t die were exiled to Siberia, often in the middle of the night. The trains started in February, in the bitter Russian cold. Housing of the most substandard kind awaited them upon arrival on the desert taiga. Many died, particularly children, from typhoid, measles and scarlet fever.

The “parasitical” kulaks were, in general, the most skillful and hardworking farmers. A small minority of people are responsible for most of the production in any field, and farming proved no different. Agricultural output crashed. What little remained was taken by force out of the countryside and into the cities. Rural people who went out into the fields after the harvest to glean single grains of wheat for their hungry families risked execution. Six million people died of starvation in the Ukraine, the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, in the 1930s. “To eat your own children is a barbarian act,” declared posters of the Soviet regime.

Despite more than mere rumours of such atrocities, attitudes towards communism remained consistently positive among many Western intellectuals. There were other things to worry about, and the Second World War allied the Soviet Union with the Western countries opposing Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito. Certain watchful eyes remained open, nonetheless. Malcolm Muggeridge published a series of articles describing Soviet demolition of the peasantry as early as 1933, for the Manchester Guardian. George Orwell understood what was going on under Stalin, and he made it widely known. He published Animal Farm, a fable satirizing the Soviet Union, in 1945, despite encountering serious resistance to the book’s release. Many who should have known better retained their blindness for long after this. Nowhere was this truer than France, and nowhere truer in France than among the intellectuals.

France’s most famous mid-century philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, was a well-known communist, although not a card-carrier, until he denounced the Soviet incursion into Hungary in 1956. He remained an advocate for Marxism, nonetheless, and did not finally break with the Soviet Union until 1968, when the Soviets violently suppressed the Czechoslovakians during the Prague Spring.

No one could stand up for communism after The Gulag Archipelago—not even the communists themselves. 

And yet Marxism is alive and well and thriving in 21st century America, particularly in academia, in the mainstream media, and among many of our politicians.

This is another long one—and I've cut a lot out. I include it because as I was reading, I recognized this philosophy as the virulent plague that is devastating our entire culture. Maybe this is why I should have studied philosophy more than physics in college—or maybe that's how I retained my sanity.

According to Derrida, hierarchical structures emerged only to include (the beneficiaries of that structure) and to exclude (everyone else, who were therefore oppressed). Even that claim wasn’t sufficiently radical. Derrida claimed that divisiveness and oppression were built right into language—built into the very categories we use to pragmatically simplify and negotiate the world. There are “women” only because men gain by excluding them. There are “males and females” only because members of that more heterogeneous group benefit by excluding the tiny minority of people whose biological sexuality is amorphous. Science only benefits the scientists. Politics only benefits the politicians. In Derrida’s view, hierarchies exist because they gain from oppressing those who are omitted. It is this ill-gotten gain that allows them to flourish. ...

It is almost impossible to over-estimate the nihilistic and destructive nature of this philosophy. It puts the act of categorization itself in doubt. It negates the idea that distinctions might be drawn between things for any reasons other than that of raw power. Biological distinctions between men and women? Despite the existence of an overwhelming, multi-disciplinary scientific literature indicating that sex differences are powerfully influenced by biological factors, science is just another game of power, for Derrida and his post-modern Marxist acolytes, making claims to benefit those at the pinnacle of the scientific world. There are no facts. Hierarchical position and reputation as a consequence of skill and competence? All definitions of skill and of competence are merely made up by those who benefit from them, to exclude others, and to benefit personally and selfishly.

I do not understand why our society is providing public funding to institutions and educators whose stated, conscious and explicit aim is the demolition of the culture that supports them. Such people have a perfect right to their opinions and actions, if they remain lawful. But they have no reasonable claim to public funding. If radical right-wingers were receiving state funding for political operations disguised as university courses, as the radical left-wingers clearly are, the uproar from progressives across North America would be deafening.

There isn’t a shred of hard evidence to support any of their central claims: that Western society is pathologically patriarchal; that the prime lesson of history is that men, rather than nature, were the primary source of the oppression of women (rather than, as in most cases, their partners and supporters); that all hierarchies are based on power and aimed at exclusion. Hierarchies exist for many reasons—some arguably valid, some not—and are incredibly ancient, evolutionarily speaking.

In societies that are well-functioning—not in comparison to a hypothetical utopia, but contrasted with other existing or historical cultures—competence, not power, is a prime determiner of status. Competence. Ability. Skill. Not power. This is obvious both anecdotally and factually. No one with brain cancer is equity-minded enough to refuse the service of the surgeon with the best education, the best reputation and, perhaps, the highest earnings. Furthermore, the most valid personality trait predictors of long-term success in Western countries are intelligence (as measured with cognitive ability or IQ tests) and conscientiousness (a trait characterized by industriousness and orderliness). ... The predictive power of these traits, mathematically and economically speaking, is exceptionally high—among the highest, in terms of power, of anything ever actually measured at the harder ends of the social sciences. A good battery of personality/cognitive tests can increase the probability of employing someone more competent than average from 50:50 to 85:15.

Assume ignorance before malevolence.

Agreeable, compassionate, empathic, conflict-averse people (all those traits group together) let people walk on them, and they get bitter. They sacrifice themselves for others, sometimes excessively, and cannot comprehend why that is not reciprocated. Agreeable people are compliant, and this robs them of their independence. The danger associated with this can be amplified by high trait neuroticism. Agreeable people will go along with whoever makes a suggestion, instead of insisting, at least sometimes, on their own way. So, they lose their way, and become indecisive and too easily swayed. If they are, in addition, easily frightened and hurt, they have even less reason to strike out on their own, as doing so exposes them to threat and danger (at least in the short term). That’s the pathway to dependent personality disorder, technically speaking.

If they’re healthy, women don’t want boys. They want men. They want someone to contend with; someone to grapple with. If they’re tough, they want someone tougher. If they’re smart, they want someone smarter. They desire someone who brings to the table something they can’t already provide. This often makes it hard for tough, smart, attractive women to find mates: there just aren’t that many men around who can outclass them enough to be considered desirable (who are higher, as one research publication put it, in “income, education, self-confidence, intelligence, dominance and social position”).

If you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of. (emphasis mine)

Rule 12: Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

The parts of your brain that generate anxiety are more interested in the fact that there is a plan than in the details of the plan.

Put the things you can control in order. Repair what is in disorder, and make what is already good better. It is possible that you can manage, if you are careful. People are very tough.

Coda

What shall I do with my parents? Act such that your actions justify the suffering they endured.

Exhaustion and impatience are inevitable. There is too much to be done and too little time in which to do it.

Our families can be the living room with the fireplace that is cozy and welcoming and warm while the storms of winter rage outside. (emphasis mine)

Excerpts from Beyond Order

Overture (introduction)

The order we strive to impose on the world can rigidify as a consequence of ill-advised attempts to eradicate from consideration all that is unknown.

What is new is also what is exciting, compelling, and provocative, assuming that the rate at which it is introduced does not intolerably undermine and destabilize our state of being. [emphasis mine]

Rule I: Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or creative achievement

Authority is not mere power, and it is extremely unhelpful, even dangerous, to confuse the two. When people exert power over others, they compel them, forcefully. They apply the treat of privation or punishment so their subordinates have little choice but to act in a manner contrary to their personal needs, desires, and values. When people wield authority, by contrast, they do so because of their competence—a competence that is spontaneously recognized and appreciate by others, and generally followed willingly, with a certain relief, and with the sense that justice is being served.

The ideal personality cannot remain an unquestioning reflection of the current social state. Under normal conditions it may be nonetheless said that the ability to conform unquestioningly trumps the inability to conform. However, the refusal to conform when the social surround has become pathological—incomplete, archaic, willfully blind, or corrupt—is something of even higher value, as is the capacity to offer creative, valid alternatives. This leaves all of us with a permanent moral conundrum: When do we simply follow convention doing what others request or demand, and when to we rely on our own individual judgement, with all its limitations and biases, and reject the requirements of the collective? In other words: How do we establish a balance between reasonable conservatism and revitalizing creativity?

Discipline—subordination to the status quo, in one form or another—needs to be understood as a necessary precursor to creative transformation, rather than its enemy. ... [Creative transformation] must strain against limits. It has no use and cannot be called forth unless it is struggling against something.

It is necessary to conform, to be disciplined, and to follow the rules—to do humbly what others do; but it is also necessary to use judgment, vision, and the truth that guides conscience to tell what is right, when the rules suggest otherwise. It is the ability to manage this combination that truly characterizes the fully developed personality: the true hero.

Rule II: Imagine who you could be, and then aim single-mindedly at that

Rule III: Do not hide unwanted things in the fog

Rule IV: Notice that opportunity lurks where responsibility has been abdicated

If you want to become invaluable in a workplace—in any community—just do the useful things no one else is doing. Arrive earlier and leave later than your compatriots (but do not deny yourself your life). Organize what you can see is dangerously disorganized. Work, when you are working, instead of looking like you are working. And finally, learn more about the business—or your competitors—than you already know. Doing so will make you invaluable—a veritable lynchpin. People will notice that and begin to appreciate your heard-earned merits.

You might object, "Well, I just could not manage to take on something that important." What if you began to build yourself into a person who could? You could start by trying to solve a small problem—something that is bothering you, that you think you could fix. You could start by confronting a dragon of just the size that you are likely to defeat. A tiny serpent might not have had the time to hoard a lot of gold, but there might still be some treasure to be won, along with a reasonable probability of succeeding in such a quest (and not too much chance of a fiery or toothsome death).

Difficult is necessary.

It is for this reason that we voluntarily and happily place limitations on ourselves. Every time we play a game, for example, we accept a set of arbitrary restrictions. We narrow and limit ourselves, and explore the possibilities thereby revealed. That is what makes the game. ... It is a game anymore if you can make any old move at all.

How is it possible to gauge the rate at which challenges should be sought? It is the instinct for meaning—something far deeper and older than mere thought—that holds the answer. Does what you are attempting compel you forwards, without being too frightening? Does it grip your interest, without crushing you? Does it eliminate the burden of time passing? Does it serve those you love and, perhaps, even bring some good to your enemies? That is responsibility.

Rule V: Do not do what you hate

Rule VI: Abandon ideology

I find it heart-wrenching to see how little encouragement and guidance so many people have received, and how much good can emerge when just a little more is provided. "I knew you could do it" is a good start, and goes a long way toward ameliorating some of the unnecessary pain in the world.

When we meet, one on one, people tell me that they enjoy my lectures and what I have written because what I say and write provides them with the words they need to express things they already know, but are unable to articulate. It is helpful for everyone to be able to represent explicitly what they already implicitly understand. I am frequently plagued with doubts about the role that I am playing, so the fact that people find my words exist in accordance with their deep but heretofore unrealized or unexpressed beliefs is reassuring, helping me maintain faith in what I have learned and thought about and have now shared so publicly.  Helping people bridge the gap between what they profoundly intuit but cannot articulate seems to be a reasonable and valuable function for a public intellectual.

I can attest to the value of such encouragement to one who has "shared so publicly." Among the nice things people have said to me about my blog, my absolute favorites are the variations on, "You wrote what I wanted to say but couldn't express."

You might even consider the inculcation of responsibility the fundamental purpose of society. But something has gone wrong. We have committed an error, or a series of errors. We have spent too much time, for example (much of the last fifty years), clamoring about rights, and we are no longer asking enough of the young people we are socializing. We have been telling them for decades to demand what they are owed by society. We have been implying that the important meanings of their lives will be given to them because of such demands, when we should have been doing the opposite: letting them know that the meaning that sustains life in all its tragedy and disappointment is to be found in shouldering a noble burden. Because we have not been doing this, they have grown up looking in all the wrong places. And this has left them vulnerable: vulnerable to easy answers and susceptible to the deadening force of resentment.

Ressentiment—hostile resentment—occurs when individual failure or insufficient status is blamed both on the system within which that failure or lowly status occurs and then, most particularly, on the people who have achieved success and high status within that system. The former, the system, is deemed by fiat to be unjust. The successful are deemed exploitative and corrupt, as they can be logically read as undeserving beneficiaries, as well as the voluntary, conscious, self-serving, and immoral supporters, if the system is unjust. Once this causal chain of thought has been accepted, all attacks on the successful can be construed as morally justified attempts at establishing justice—rather than, say, manifestations of envy and covetousness that might have traditionally been defined as shameful. [emphasis mine]

To take the path of ressentiment is to risk tremendous bitterness. This is in no small part a consequence of identifying the enemy without rather than within. ... This is a terrible trap: Once the source of evil has been identified, it becomes the duty of the righteous to eradicate it. This is an invitation to both paranoia and persecution. A world where only you and people who think like you are good is also a world where you are surrounded by enemies bent on your destruction, who must be fought.

It is impossible to fight patriarchy, reduce oppression, promote equality, transform capitalism, save the environment, eliminate competitiveness, reduce government, or to run every organization like a business. Such concepts are simply too low-resolution. ... Sophisticated large-scale processes and systems do not exist in a manner sufficiently real to render their comprehensive unitary transformation possible. The idea that they do is the product of twentieth-century cults. The beliefs of these cults are simultaneously naïve and narcissistic, and the activism they promote is the resentful and lazy person's substitute for actual accomplishment....

We should let it go, and begin to address and consider smaller, more precisely defined problems. We should conceptualize them at the scale at which we might begin to solve them, not by blaming others, but by trying to address them personally while simultaneously taking responsibility for the outcome.

Have some humility. Clean up your bedroom. Take care of your family. Follow your conscience. Straighten up you life. Find something productive and interesting to do and commit to it. When you can do all that, find a bigger problem and try to solve that if you dare.

Rule VII: Work as hard as you possibly can on at least one thing and see what happens

The worst decision of all is none.

Rule VIII: Try to make one room in your home as beautiful as possible.

Rule IX: If old memories still upset you, write them down carefully and completely

A word of advice for anyone seeking mental health help in a large city clinic, where the psychiatrist seeing you might take fifteen minutes to assess your life and determine the nature of your illness: do not casually mention any off experiences or beliefs. You may well live to regret it. It takes very little to accrue a diagnosis of schizophrenia in the conditions that prevail in an overloaded mental health system—and once the diagnosis has been established, it is very hard to shake. It is difficult, personally, not to take a medical description seriously. It is harder than you might think to disbelieve a qualified psychiatrist (who should, after all, know what he or she is talking about), particularly if you are experiencing strange symptoms. It is difficult practically, as well, because once such a diagnosis becomes part of your permanent medical record, it is very difficult to have it modified. Anything out of the ordinary about you will, from then on, attract undue attention (even from yourself), and any displays of normality will be downplayed,. Now, I say all that knowing full well that some people who have odd beliefs are in fact schizophrenic—but a fair bit of digging is usually in order to establish that diagnosis, and busy psychiatrists in public hospitals seldom have the time for careful excavation. [emphasis mine]

I believe this caution should be extended much more widely. It is not only large, public institutions where doctors are overburdened and cannot give patients the time they need, and the pressure for a diagnosis is great, for physical as well as mental ailments. Over the years, I have seen an increasing tendency of people themselves to clamor after quick and definitive diagnoses. This is especially true of parents with respect to their children, but also of adults. The number of adults seeking diagnoses of ADHD or autism astounds me. On the one hand, having an official diagnosis can open up doors of understanding and assistance that, sadly, remain otherwise closed, so I understand why people might be desperate enough to go for that. But if I could find a way to help a child with specific problems without letting him be labelled with a diagnosis—a label that will haunt him all through his medical and educational experiences—I would go that route.

The context of the following is rather complicated, but deals with the difference between innocence and naïveté. He's talking about a former client with a bizarre childhood and serious problems. Peterson had asked him to read a particular book as part of his therapy.

It was time for him to grow up. We had established a very solid rapport by this time, and when I told him that his rose-colored view of the world was presenting him with danger sufficient to destroy his life he took me seriously. The next time I saw him, a week later, he had finished the book. His face had hardened. He looked older and wiser. I had seen this happen frequently in my clinical practice when people incorporated the darker parts of themselves, instead of—let us say—compartmentalizing them. They no longer had the habitual look of deer caught in the headlights. They looked like people from whom decisions emanated, rather than people to whom things merely happened.

Rule X: Plan and work diligently to maintain the romance in your relationship

There is unrealized utility in the marital institution about which we have become cynical—a consequence of our immaturity and naïveté. A marriage is a vow, and there is a reason for it. You announce jointly, publicly: "I am not going to leave you, in sickness or health, in poverty or wealth—and you are not going to leave me." It is actually a threat: "We are not getting rid of each other, no matter what." You are shackled together, like two angry cats at the bottom of a barrel with the lid on. In principle, there is no escape. If you have any sense (besides the optimism of new love) you also think, "Oh, God. That is a horrifying possibility." The part of you that claims to desire freedom (but really wants to avoid any permanent and therefore terrifying responsibility) desires a trapdoor through which escape might be made, if and when it is necessary. That seems convenient—and it is true that there are unbearable marriages—but it is an option with extreme perils. Do you really want to keep asking yourself for the rest of your life—because you would always have the option to leave—if you made the right choice? In all likelihood, you did not. There are seven billion people in the world. At least a hundred million (let us say) might have made good partners for you. You certainly did not have time to try them out, and the probability that you found the theoretically optimal person approaches zero. But you do not find so much as make, and if you do not know that you are in real trouble. Furthermore, if you have an escape route, there will not be enough heat generated in the chamber you find yourself jointly trapped in to catalyze the change necessary in both of you—the maturation, the development of wisdom—because maturation and the development of wisdom require a certain degree of suffering, and suffering is escapable as long as there is an out.

Rule XI: Do not allow yourself to become resentful, deceitful, or arrogant

It is possible...to remove the entire brain of a female cat—to take a common example from the scientific literature—excepting the hypothalamus and the spinal cord, and the cat can still maintain itself in relative normality, as long as its environment is reasonably constrained. Furthermore, it becomes hyperexploratory. That's truly staggering, in my estimation. Think about it: if you surgically remove 95 percent of a cat's brain, it cannot stop exploring. You would think an essentially brainless cat would just sit there, but that's not what happens. The curious part of its brain is still there.

It's still a cat, after all.

Conservatives are necessary for maintaining things the way they are when everything is working and change might be dangerous. Liberals, by contrast, are necessary for changing things when they are no longer working. It is no easy task, however, to determine when something needs to be preserved or when it needs to be transformed. That is why we have politics, if we are fortunate, and the dialogue that accompanies it, instead of war, tyranny, or submission. It is necessary for us to argue vociferously and passionately about the relative value of stability versus change, so that we can determine when each is appropriate and in what doses.

It is difficult for any of us to see what we are blinded to by the nature of our personalities. It is for this reason that we must continually listen to people who differ from us, and who, becaue of that difference, have the ability to see and to react appropriately to what we cannot detect.

In the absence of the ability to regularly choose only the wise and good as leaders (and good luck finding them), it is worthwhile to elect a pack blind to half of reality in one cycle and another blind to the other half the next. Then at least most of society's concerns are attended to in some reasonable measure over the course of something approximating a decade.

I used to believe this, although in a more cycnical form: in hopes that successive leaders would undo the damage done by their predecessors. For similar reasons I think it dangerous when House, Senate, and Executive are all controlled by the same party; when that happens, they're more likely to get things done, but when the bodies are busy squabbling among themselves, they do less harm.

The people who founded the American system ... were not utopian in ther essential viewpoint. They believed that the people who were inevitably to be their successors were going to be just as flawed as they were, and just as flawed as people before them. What do you do about that, when you are not blinded by ideology, and you see the world and all its dramatic characters clearly? Well, you do not hope for the infinite perfectibility of humanity and aim your system at some unattainable utopia. You try to design a system that sinners such as you cannot damage too badly—too permanently—even when they are half blind and resentful.

Rule XII: Be grateful in spite of your suffering

We are fascinated by evil. We watch dramatic representations of serial killers, psychopaths, and the kings of organized crime, gang members, rapists, contract killers, and spies. We voluntarily frighten and disgust ourselves with thrillers and horror films—and it is more than prurient curiosity. It is the development of some understanding of the essentially moral structure of human existence, of our suspension between the poles of good and evil.

I suppose this sounds funny given how much I enjoy murder mysteries and detective fiction, but he does not describe me here. The Horror genre is even lower on my list than Romance, and if you know me you know that's about rock bottom. To me, the Murder Mystery genre is all about puzzles, and I'm happiest if the murder itself takes place off screen or before the story begins. If it's a theft rather than a death I'm even happier. Perhaps it's related to the part of me that avoids stinky cheeses.

"Perhaps it would be better if the whole mess was just brought to a halt." That is certainly what people think when they contemplate suicide. Such thoughts are generated in their most extreme variant by the serial killers, by high school shooters, by all generally homicidal and genocidal actors. ... They have decided not only that life is unbearable and the malevolence of existence is inexcusable, but that everything should be punished for the mere sin of its Being. If we want to have any hope of dealing with the existence of evil, and working toward its minimization, we must understand these sorts of impulses. It is in no small part the consciousness of suffering and malevolence that embitters people. And it is toward this embitterment that I believe the antinatalist position would, if widely adopted, inevitably drift. First, it might be the mere refusal to reproduce. But I cannot believe that it would be long until that impulse to cease production of new life was transformed into a similar impulse to destroy life that currently exists, in consequence of the "compassionate" judgment that some lives are so terrible that it is merciful to bring them to an end. That philosophy emerged relatively early in the Nazi era, for example, when individuals judged unbearably damaged by life were euthanized for purposes deemed "morally merciful." The question this line of thinking leads to is where does such "mercy" stop? How sick, old, intellectually impaired, crippled, unhappy, unproductive, or politically inappropriate do you have to be before dispensing with you is a moral imperative? And why would you believe, once the eradication or even merely the limitation of life became your guiding star, that you would not continue down that road to its hellish end?

One thing the COVID era opened my eyes to was how many of the people making high-level policy, and funding high-level, world-wide projects, believe there are too many people in the world. By itself, this didn't seem like a harmful position, at least if all it meant was that they planned to have no children of their own. The progression is very easy, however, from that to coercing others to make similar decisions, and then to becoming very casual about the human cost of war, or bad economic policies, or careless medical experimentation. 

The temptation to become embittered is great and real. It requires a genuine moral effort not to take that path, assuming that you are not—or are no longer—naïve. The gratitude associated with that state of Being is predicated on ignorance and inexperience. That is not virtue. Thus, if you are attentive and awake, and you can see the structure of the world, bitterness and resentment beckon as a viable response. Then you might well ask yourself, "Well, why not walk down that dark path?" It seems to me that the answer to that, to state it again, is courage: the courage to decide "No, that is not for me, despite the reasons I may have for being tempted in that direction," and to decided, instead, "Despite the burden of my awake mortality, I am going to work for the good of the world."

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, July 11, 2024 at 5:00 am | Edit
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The Kindle version of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s blockbuster book, The Real Anthony Fauci, is currently on sale at Amazon for $1.99. I don't thnk Kennedy is the right man to be president at this point, though I would have voted for him in the primary, if I'd had the chance. But that doesn't change the fact that I believe everyone should read his book.

Here's my review, and a couple of short videos about the book. If you're at all interested, you can't beat the price.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 at 4:58 am | Edit
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Reasons to Vote for Democrats: A Comprehensive Guide by Michael J. Knowles (Simon & Schuster, 2017)

My son-in-law is brilliant. They both are, actually, but this post is about the one who ensures that birthday and Christmas gifts from our family overseas almost always include a number of books. As I said, he's smart, and he's also good at choosing books I will enjoy.

He has an impressive track record, but it's not perfect. On very rare occasions he has been known to pick books that do not fit my personality at all, but which might be good for me to read. I appreciate the motivation, and have been known to commit that particular sin myself (though not as often as some people think!). Because I am human, such books tend to end up far from the top of my enormous "to read" list.

I had a birthday recently, and the pile of presents that greeted me contained, as expected, a number of book-shaped packages (and one Kindle book, not pictured). (Click on any image to enlarge, if needed.)

Porter (who had wrapped the packages), had arranged them so that I would open the other books first. Then I unwrapped Reasons to Vote for Democrats.

Let's just say that our son-in-law and I have more than a few disagreements when it comes to politics. (It's possible to be both brilliant and wrong.) I think I can be forgiven for my gut reaction that this was another of the "take your medicine" books. I looked quizzically at Porter, who had said, "This one is so good that I read it completely before wrapping it." (That happens in our house, not infrequently.)

He insisted, "Open it."

I turned the pages. Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Table of Contents. Nothing enlightening.

I looked at him again.

"Read it!" he urged.

Finally, I came to the first page of substance. Sort of.

Except for the sticky note credit to composer John Cage, which Porter had added, and the bibliography, every page looked like this:

Maybe I should have read the back cover, with its endorsements, first.

This gift was the best laugh of the week. Maybe month. Truly a welcome prank! It could ony have been better if my birthday were April !.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 8, 2024 at 6:57 am | Edit
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Little did I know, that even as I was writing my post about the recent presidential debate, Bret Weinstein and Heather Heying, of the DarkHorse Podcast, were busy wrestling with some of the same questions. Specifically, How could those close to President Biden not have known how bad he would appear in such a situation? and Who has really been running the country all this time?  I saw their podcast the next day, and now must share it.

(I know, lots of people, all over, have been talking about the debate and what the Democratic Party is going to do, but most of them seem to me to be missing the important parts.)

As usual, there's much of interest in the whole video of more than two hours, and I list below the timestamps for those who want them. The actual debate commentary is short, between 1:23 and 1:30, but if you're at all interested, I would strongly recommend you listen to it in context, from 1:10 and 1:51. 

Timestamps:
(00:00) Wait
(11:41) Welcome
(14:16) Sponsors
(22:46) Thomas Paine's Common Sense
(39:56) Excerpt 4-6
(50:56) Indifference to suffering
(01:10:31) Declaration of Independence
(01:18:01) Defining Deep State
(01:23:24) Post debate discussion
(01:30:01) Revisiting the 2020 election
(01:34:16) Hunter Biden's laptop and inverse institutions
(01:45:51) Certainty yet dead wrong
(01:51:36) Team GB Rugby and body positivity
(02:02:31) Caitlin Clark and attention communism
(02:16:11) Wrap up

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, July 5, 2024 at 11:05 am | Edit
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It has been a patriotic day, as is fitting for July 4.

We marched in an Independence Day parade. (Photo credit Kara Lee) (click to enlarge)

I shook hands with our congressional representative, and followed up later with a letter.  We didn't have time to exchange more than brief platitudes, but I overheard him saying, "I'd rather lose my Congressional seat than lose our Republic."  I have no idea what was the context of that statement, but I appreciate the sentiment of sacrifice for the common good.

We supported a local business, and our underserved pollinator population.

We ate hamburgers, and watermelon.  That's pretty all-American.

We exercised our American right not to set off fireworks.  Unfortunately, there is no American right not to listen to other people's fireworks, on this or any other day, but I anticipate being able to sleep through them anyway.  Marching in the midday Florida sun, hefting heavy cymbols, and frequently running from one end of the band to the other is a pretty good sleep aid.

We hope you all had a wonderful Independence Day, even (maybe especially) our expat population.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, July 4, 2024 at 5:11 pm | Edit
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Category Everyday Life: [first] [previous]

Somewhat against my better judgement, I watched the presidential debate. I knew that once people started talking, I'd be tempted to say something about it, so I'd better have first-hand knowledge.

I cannot understand what all the fuss is about since then. Why it seems to have been such a surprise to so many people.

But first, my own reactions.

  • I have no idea why Trump agreed to the debate. It was held on clearly hostile territory (CNN, with the moderators manifestly against him, politically). The format did not play to his strengths, i.e. without a crowd to play to and be encouraged by. He was already ahead in the polls, so on the face of it, the debate was riskier for him than for Biden.
  • The moderators did a better job than I expected of keeping their biases in check, so I give them some credit for that.  But they did a lousy job of keeping the debaters in check. They weren't moderating anything, just reading questions (that weren't answered).
  • Can we make it a rule that no one can run for president without first having participated in debate in high school? This was the second-most ridiculous so-called debate I've ever seen. Not that I've seen very many, but I have some idea of how the participants are supposed to behave, and this was not it.
  • I found Trump more cogent and intelligent than Biden, certainly, but neither one of them answered the questions! They poked back and forth at each other like a couple of rude middle school boys, and said what they wanted to say irrespective of the questions. I wanted to hear about issues—they wanted to hammer on and on about how terrible the other guy was.
  • Biden was so embarrassing—worse, he was really scary. The hatred I saw in his eyes when he looked at Trump was like a kick in the stomach, the same as I saw during his Independence Hall speech. Then again, I may have been misjudging his expression; I couldn't help wondering if he has had a small stroke, given the asymmetry of his smiles.
  • Trump could have made all his points about how badly Biden has done by instead being positive about what he will do to fix the problems. He shouldn't have stooped to the level his enemies were hoping for. This argument over who was the worst president in American history? Absurd, and middle-schoolish at best. (I think they're both wrong.)
  • Trump also should not have let Biden play the Reagan card. As incapacitated as he was, Biden managed to maneuver Trump into saying how terrible America is, and how much trouble we're in (Carter's position), while portraying himself as the positive, optimistic candidate (Reagan's). Anyone who has been looking at the last four years with open eyes knows better, but those aren't the people Trump needs to reach.
  • The exclusion of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was inexcusable. He would have made the debate much more interesting, and quite possibly would have set an example by actually answering the questions asked. It's not that I think he's really a viable candidate—I agree with Mark Groubert that he (and we) would be much better off if he quits his presidential campaign and runs instead for California's governor or senator position, for either of which he should be a shoe-in. But his ideas are rational and important, and they deserved to be heard in the context of the other participants' answers.

Most Trump supporters apparently think that he won the debate. If so, it was only because Biden clearly lost. There's a reason why I generally avoid listening to politicians talk. When I hear them speak, I despair. It's when I look at what they have actually done that I feel I can make an intelligent voting decision.

What really puzzles me is the shockwave that has been rocking the Democratic Party because of Biden's performance. Really? Who can be shocked? Biden's cognitive decline was visible at least as far back as 2020, and has gotten progressively and significantly worse. It's long past the point for giving him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the casual citizen, who only hears sound bites and sees highly edited videos, could have missed it, but the party movers and shakers? The news media who edited the video footage? Those closest to him in the government? How could they possibly have been surprised?

Is it all an act? Did they know, and plan to use what they expected to be a disaster of a debate to give them an excuse to manipulate a more reliable candidate into being their presidential candidate? Did they somehow hope Biden could hold things together and come across better than he did, to win the election and establish himself as president just long enough for the vice president to take over? Did they really delude themselves into believing he was okay—until the debate made it impossible to deny? I have no idea; none of it makes sense to me.

I am left with two questions.

  • What is the Democratic Party going to do? Prop up Biden and hope he can survive until he is sworn in, then take him out as gently as possible? Or go through whatever machinations they can to put forth an alternate presidential candidate, one chosen in the old-fashioned way, by political hacks in smoke-filled back rooms? (Here in Florida, we didn't even have a primary to vote in.)
  • Who has really been running the country for the past few years? Whatever person, or cabal, it might be, they were not elected to this position, and have been doing a spectacularly terrible job of it. How do you vote out someone who was never voted in?

Finally, a warning for Republicans: Be careful what you wish for. "It can't get worse" does not have a good track record.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, July 3, 2024 at 10:08 pm | Edit
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An article in today's Orlando Sentinel boasts this headline: Florida students make ‘substantial gains’ on state tests, new results show. I'm not going to say much about this happy headline, except to note that the joy includes the fact that only 22% of third graders failed to read at grade level, down from 27% last year. Other statistics are similarly dismal. This in a state that U.S. News & World Report ranked #1 in education.

But it's not the schools I'm taking issue with at the moment. It's the newspaper, which with the article ran this photo of middle school students learning math. (Photo credit Willie J. Allen Jr/Orlando Sentinel) (click to enlarge).

As near as I can figure out, the problem is to find the distance between two points on a Cartesian plane, (-3, -3) and (-3, -4). What's written is not the way I would have approached the problem, but—assuming scalar distance, since no direction was specified—the answer is, indeed, 1. I'm also assuming that some of the work was done in the student's head, and these are just notes taken along the way.

Nonetheless, instead of a room full of (possibly) eager math students, what stands out to me—in an article bragging about improvement in math scores—is the equation,

3 - 4 = 1

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 2, 2024 at 5:44 pm | Edit
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Bragging about her grandchildren is written right into the Grandmother Contract, and I've certainly done my part in the past. But never like this.

The pathology report on Grace's colon biopsy indicates graft versus host disease. (That's not what I'm bragging about.) It is a mild form of GVHD, and they believe a couple of weeks of steroids should take care of it.

My own grandmother-gut suspicion, based on no medical expertise at all, is that the GVHD showed up in her colon because that's been the weakest and most stressed part of her body for most of her life. It was intestinal problems that eventually led to her NF1/JMML diagnosis (once the doctors got out of the rut of thinking, "it's just food allergies."

We thank God that the doctors believe this will be a short-lived problem.

And here's the punch line. Two-year-old Grace has no doubt been set back somewhat in her development by all her medical problems and procedures. But there's no doubt that she listens, pays attention, and thinks about what she hears. When she overheard that the diagnosis was GVHD, she got very upset!

They anticipate discharge on Wednesday.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, July 1, 2024 at 8:35 pm | Edit
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Category Pray for Grace: [first] [previous]
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