’12 Rules for Life’ Jordan B Peterson – 6

Rule 6: Set Your House in Perfect Order Before You Criticise The World.

Peterson spends a lot of time reading about totalitarianism, atrocities, and brutalities beyond the capacity of the imagination, serial killers and mass killers such as Carl Panzram. The autobiography by Panzram was chilling, and Peterson quoted him as saying I wish the human race had one neck so that I could put my hands around it and squeeze. Not many people like that write autobiographies, but he did and he told you why he was like that and why he thought that way, in case you want to find out. It is very useful to know such things.

This chapter is also about the Columbine kids. Peterson read their diaries and understood them. He remarks how you see these mass shootings all the time and people ask how did it happen? ‘Well, why don’t you read what they said about why they did it and just assume that that’s the reason?’ People assume they must have been bullied, but ‘that’s a stupid explanation, shallow beyond belief, and really only emerges because people didn’t want to contend with the real issues. And the Columbine kids were contending with the real issue. they were forthright in saying that in their own arrogant estimation Being itself was corrupt and unnecessary and it would be best if it was eradicated in the most brutal possible way and as fast as possible. And you get to places like that if you dwell on revenge for three or four years in your mom’s basement. You can go to extremely dark places. Panzram, who was very brutally treated when he was a child, and the Columbine kids, were judges of Being and decided that it was flawed, and that they were the ones to set it right.’


It is a harsh chapter to read, it is a meditation on resentment, which is a key human motivation. Resentment is also a great teacher. To listen to your resentment is one of the best things that you can do. First you have to admit that it exists, then you have to admit to the fantasies that it is generating, and then you have to notice what you would see as the way out of it. It means learning things about yourself that you probably don’t want to learn. But resentment only means one of two things: either stop whining and get on with it, or someone is being a tyrant to you (it may even be you) and you have something to say and do that you should say and do to put it to a stop. One of the principles that Peterson extracted from the fact that a resentful person wants other people to change, is that if you’re resentful your motivations are dark, (hence all the talk of Panzram and other extreme examples) ‘Resentful people who want to change the world are not to be trusted. What should you do instead how do you treat your own resentment?’ There’s a scene in TS Eliot’s play The Cocktail Party where a woman says to a psychiatrist ‘my life is not going well and I’m having a difficult time of it. I hope that there’s something wrong with me.’ The psychiatrist asks ‘What do you mean by that?’ and she says well there’s either something wrong with the world, and there’s nothing I can do about it, or maybe I’m lucky and there’s something wrong with me that’s causing all this unnecessary suffering and I could just put it right.’

So if things aren’t going well, you could find someone to blame, which is easy, or you could say I don’t like the way my life is unfolding, or life in general  because it is tragic and tainted with evil. How do I know my judgement is accurate? And the question is ‘have I done everything I possibly could to set my life straight?’ Because maybe I shouldn’t be judging the quality of life or Being itself, unless I have done everything I possibly could to set my life straight.

Solzhenitsyn, whom Peterson often refers to, wrote The Gulag Archipelago which helped to bring down the Soviet Union and said ‘one man that stops lying could bring down a tyranny.’ When he was in the gulag camps meditating on how he got there, he could have blamed Hitler and Stalin, but he realised that he might have something to do with the way things had turned out for him and he went through every single event in his life and every choice that he made to try and find out where he went wrong. ‘Solzhenitsyn thought what would happen if I took responsibility for where I am in this concentration camp and if I went through my life and figured out all the things I did wrong in my own estimation that increased the probability of my getting here, and what would happen if I tried to set them all right in the present?’ That’s why he wrote The Gulag Archipelago and one of the consequences was that it completely changed the geo-political landscape of the world. Nelson Mandela did something quite similar. ‘It’s not so impossible’ says Peterson. So if you are feeling resentful about the nature of Being, straighten your life out: ‘Try it for a year or even a week. try not saying and doing the things you know you shouldn’t do and watch what unfolds.’ 

It’s a chapter that presents a lot to think about, and makes me want to go and read killer diaries. But not as much as it makes me want to read on to Chapter 7, which of course will be the subject for tomorrow.