Jordan Peterson's Meaning of Life

Jmaurone's picture
Submitted by Jmaurone on Fri, 2018-05-04 22:44

3 quotes by Jordan Peterson on the meaning of life:

“Meaning in life? There's chaos to confront, order to establish and revivify, and evil to constrain. Get the hell at it and quit whining :)”

“The purpose of life is finding the largest burden that you can bear and bearing it.”

“We are here to suffer, so learn to suffer like a man.”

Compare/Contrast with Objectivism:

"The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live." -"Galt's Speech", Ayn Rand, ATLAS SHRUGGED

"Suffering as such is not a value; only man’s fight against suffering, is. If you choose to help a man who suffers, do it only on the ground of his virtues, of his fight to recover, of his rational record, or of the fact that he suffers unjustly; then your action is still a trade, and his virtue is the payment for your help. But to help a man who has no virtues, to help him on the ground of his suffering as such, to accept his faults, his need, as a claim—is to accept the mortgage of a zero on your values." -Galt's Speech

Nausea vs. Cancer

Jmaurone's picture

"If Jordan Peterson really is "the most influential public intellectual in the Western world" today, well, we could do worse."

True. Peterson shines like gold next to his opposition, like those who call Marxism a "respectable political and philosophical tradition."

But if we could do worse, that doesn't mean we need to settle with Peterson. "Politics is downstream from culture." The common refrain with Peterson is his "malevolent universe premise." As Rand wrote, we can do better:

“You seek escape from pain. We seek the achievement of happiness. You exist for the sake of avoiding punishment. We exist for the sake of earning rewards. Threats will not make us function; fear is not our incentive. It is not death that we wish to avoid, but life that we wish to live”


Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

If Jordan Peterson really is "the most influential public intellectual in the Western world" today, well, we could do worse. Paul (Nobel Prize) Krugman or Elizabeth (Pocahontas) Warren would be worse. So too some pop-star televangelist or the Pope. Peterson, in my view, is a slightly-liberal cultural warrior, and a fighter for a small amount of the best of the West.

Bernie Schiff and "The Church of Peterson" (um...literally?)

Jmaurone's picture

Peterson is currently responding to an article written by a former close friend and colleague of his, Bernie Schiff, where Schiff claims that Peterson not only has political aspiriations, but also wanted to buy a church, with the idea of becoming a preacher...

"I Was Jordan Peterson's Strongest Supporter. Now I Think He's Dangerous"

"Several years ago, Jordan Peterson told me he wanted to buy a church. This was long before he became known as “the most influential public intellectual in the Western world,” as he was described in the pages of the New York Times a few months ago. It was before he was fancied to be a truth-telling sage who inspired legions, and the author of one of the bestselling books in the world this year. He was just my colleague and friend.

"I assumed that it was for a new home — there was a trend in Toronto of converting religious spaces, vacant because of their dwindling congregations, into stylish lofts — but he corrected me. He wanted to establish a church, he said, in which he would deliver sermons every Sunday."


"I thought long and hard before writing about Jordan, and I do not do this lightly. He has one of the most agile and creative minds I’ve ever known. He is a powerful orator. He is smart, passionate, engaging and compelling and can be thoughtful and kind.

"I was once his strongest supporter.

"That all changed with his rise to celebrity. I am alarmed by his now-questionable relationship to truth, intellectual integrity and common decency, which I had not seen before. His output is voluminous and filled with oversimplifications which obscure or misrepresent complex matters in the service of a message which is difficult to pin down. He can be very persuasive, and toys with facts and with people’s emotions. I believe he is a man with a mission. It is less clear what that mission is."


'In the end, I am writing this because of his extraordinary rise in visibility, the nature of his growing following and a concern that his ambitions might venture from stardom back to his long-standing interest in politics. I am writing this from a place of sadness and from a sense of responsibility to the public good to tell what I know about who Jordan is, having seen him up close, as a colleague and friend, and having examined up close his political actions at the University of Toronto, allegedly in defence of free speech. When he soared into the stratosphere he became peculiarly unknowable. There is something about the dazzle of the limelight that makes it hard to see him clearly. But people continue to be who they are even in the blinding overexposure of success. I have known Jordan Peterson for 20 years, and people had better know more about who he is.

"There is reason to be concerned.

The article continues to lay out the case. If the church thing is true, this is kinda disconserting, from an O'ist point of view (as it would lend credence to the "immenent theocracy" claims of Peikoff. Well, except for the fact that Peterson is a Gnostic, in the Jungian tradition, which is at odds with ordothox Christianity, as it is...)

The article also goes on to descibe Peterson's "dark half", his emphasis on his "malevolent universe premise" which I've detailed, myself.

THAT said...

Who is this Bernie Schiff, besides being a former supporter? A professor in Toronto with a grudge? Apparently, his daughter is trans, and given Peterson's vocal rejection of the gender pronoun laws, it seems to have split the two apart. However, there's another line in the article to give pause:

"Following his opposition to Bill C-16, Jordan again sought to establish himself as a “warrior” and attacked identity politics and political correctness as threats to free speech. He characterized them as left-wing conspiracies rooted in a “murderous” ideology — Marxism. Calling Marxism, a respectable political and philosophical tradition, “murderous” conflates it with the perversion of those ideas in Stalinist Russia and elsewhere where they were. That is like calling Christianity a murderous ideology because of the blood that was shed in its name during the Inquisition, the Crusades and the great wars of Europe. That is ridiculous."

Well, then...this kind of paints a picture, now, doesn't it?

Peterson could be practicing voodoo, for all I know, but I woudn't take it from someone calls Marxism a "respectable political and philosophical tradition."

Bloody Space

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

Just for the record: My #blood is boiling! I'm no #waste of space! Eye


Lindsay Perigo's picture

...they're all out there doing the work that ARI just won't.

Worse than that, ARI are in belligerent opposition to that work. They're Islamo-Marxists. Obleftivists. Part of The Filth. Disgusting. Trump is making history and Bwook says he, Twump, is the weal thweat to Western Civilisation.

#If your blood doesn't boil you're a waste of space!

The Ascent of Man

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

Joe -- Exactly! For the last 2600 years, life has been a non-stop battle between the liberals (the reason, individualism, freedom, and heroism folks) and the illiberals. People like Ben Shapiro, Milo, Geller, and Peterson transcend the mostly-illiberal, mostly-failed-and-evil Right/Left philosophical and political spectrum. They semi-solidly push the ball down the road in the correct direction.

One thing's for sure...

Jmaurone's picture

...they're all out there doing the work that ARI just won't.

Go Team!

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

Joe Maurone -- As an internet-based intellectual and public figure, I think Milo and Pamela Geller are a bit better philosophically than Peterson. A bit closer to philosophical and political pure liberalism. But however hideously intellectually compromised they are, I root for all of them! Smiling

Graded on a curve

Jmaurone's picture

He's not John Galt, but he never intended to be. And I don't think his intention was to get political; that was accidental. He was just saying the right things in the right place at the wrong time.

Since Peterson has no political inclinations, and argues against authoritarianism, no worries, there. But his counsel that "life is suffering", and his advice to take on suffering as the meaning of life, is of more consequence, fundamentally/philosophically.

Go Peterson!

Kyrel Zantonavitch's picture

For all his intellectual confusion and weakness, Jordan Peterson is still a neoliberal cultural warrior. He slightly, but definitely (in my view), transcends the right-left political and philosophical spectrum. He's a moderate "British classical liberal" -- not a far or eccentric right-winger -- as he himself admits. He's one of the Good Guys! At least somewhat.

Hey, a Jordan Peterson

JustinCEO's picture

Hey, a Jordan Peterson thread!

You guys may appreciate these vids, which offer some detailed criticism of Peterson.

Here's a scholarly criticism of a citation in 12 Rules for Life

And here's a playlist of a bunch of detailed criticisms of 12 Rules

be sure to click on the gear icon on youtube and speed up the vids if you find the pace a bit slow Smiling

JBP, Superstar

Jmaurone's picture

As seen on a FB discussion about a REASON article, "Jordan Peterson is NOT the Second Coming":



"JBP/ Superstar/ Do you think you're what they say you are?/"

"The Good is the Enemy of the Better"

Jmaurone's picture

"The more I see of him—and it's difficult to avoid him currently—the less impressed I am. I don't know how I'll get by without his Twelve Rules, but I'll soldier on."

I'm not impressed, either. Anything good he says I can get from Rand. (Although, again, and ironically, while he's not Galt, at least he's out there making a stand on things that the ARI refuses to do.) Still, and while I can appreciate that perhaps >struggling< and striving are necessary to growth, I've seen too many people claim that "life is suffering", while feeding off the suffering of others in order to prosper (or simply because they enjoy seeing others suffer).

On the bright side, TWELVE RULES is a relatively easy read, writing-wise. Not too dense, or jargon-laden.

Rand as Romantic, Peterson as Byronic

Jmaurone's picture

"Romanticists whose basic premise, in effect, is that man possesses volition in regard to consciousness, but not to existence, i.e., in regard to his own character and choice of values, but not in regard to the possibility of achieving his goals in the physical world. The distinguishing characteristics of such writers are grand-scale themes and characters, no plots and an overwhelming sense of tragedy, the sense of a 'malevolent universe.' The chief exponents of this category were poets. The leading one is Byron, whose name has been attached to this particular, 'Byronic,' view of existence: its essence is the belief that man must lead a heroic life and fight for his values even though he is doomed to defeat by a malevolent fate over which he has no control.

"Today, the same view is advocated philosophically by the existentialists, but without the grand-scale element and with Romanticism replaced by a kind of sub-Naturalism.

"Philosophically, Romanticism is a crusade to glorify man’s existence; psychologically, it is experienced simply as the desire to make life interesting."

Ayn Rand. The Romantic Manifesto (Kindle Locations 1581-1584). Signet. Kindle Edition.

Fictional "struggles" vs. "Ode to Joy" via musical "Tiddlywink"

Jmaurone's picture

Regarding Rand's writing advice about putting her characters through "the hardest obstacles possible": it sounds very much like Peterson, except that she's keeping that in a fictional context, whereas Peterson is applying it to real life. She specifically included that qualifier:

"To illustrate the achievement of a purpose, you have to show men overcoming obstacles. This statement pertains strictly to writers. Metaphysically—in reality—one does not need obstacles in order to achieve a purpose. But you as a writer need to dramatize purpose, i.e., you have to isolate the particular meaning that you want your events to illustrate—by presenting it in a stressed action form."

I don't know if that's a repudiation of Peterson's argument, or a "GOTCHA" moment for Peterson, or something in the middle. It's something on my mind. But keeping with Rand's own premise, it IS notable that her approach to fiction is absent in her love of "tiddlywink" music. That topic ("tiddlywink" music) has been discusses enough to not need an explanation here, I think. But there was another passage in THE ART OF FICTION that shows another angle:

"It is not a good method to introduce symbolic sequences into an otherwise realistic story. For instance, some books have dream sequences which are supposed to be symbolic, but which are always completely unclear. This is a bad mixture of methods. It cannot be justified because it destroys the reality of the story. (It is proper, however, in musicals. In musicals, anything goes, the only rule being imagination.)"

Rand is clearly distinguishing between drama and musicals, but both, in her works, do share a common aspect: "romantic realism."
(Despite Rand's usage of the term "anything goes", she wasn't speaking metaphysically, but STYLISTICALLY.) And though she would probably suggest that conflict is still needed in a musical story, she is still giving to music the special ability to portray joy in a way that literature can't. It's the nature of the story to require struggle and conflict, even in a comedy, as contrasted with music and poetry, which does NOT require conflict, as a rule.

So, Rand would emphasize struggle in novels, but not in tiddlywink. Important to contrast with Peterson, in their musical tastes as well as meaning, and how both integrate their ideas:

(Opening can of worms in 3...2...1...)

"Tiddlywink" vs. "Beethoven's Malevolence" vs. "Ode to Joy"

Peterson, in 12 RULES FOR LIFE: What is expedient works only for the moment. It's immediate, impulsive, and limited. What is meaninful, by contrast, is the organization of what would otherwise be expedient into a symphony of Being. Meaning is what is put forth more powerfully than mere words can express by Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy,' a triumphant bringing forth from the void of pattern after pattern upon beautiful pattern, every instrument playing its part, disciplined voices layered on top of that, spanning the entire breadth of human emotion from despair to exhilaration."

That, THAT, right there, is a concise summary of Rand and Peterson's respective views of the importance of suffering. I couldn't have asked for a more elegant example. It's a total contrast between Rand's "tiddlywink" and her controversial views on Beethoven. She's called him "malevolent", to the shock of those who immediately put forth "Ode to Joy" as evidence that she was wrong. But she didn't pull that "malevolence" view of Beethoven out of her ass. Other critics before her had noted it, (since there IS a malevolence to be found in his other works), enough so that Beethoven himself had to address those criticisms, in his day: "Oh you people who think me hostile, stubborn and misanthropic, how you wrong me."

(It always amazes me how some people STILL got angry at me for defending Rand in her claim, even after Beethoven's own words suggest that Rand wasn't entirely wrong to notice it, that it wasn't just a "nutty claim" that she made up, even if Beethoven did deny it. The fact that he had to deny it at least suggests there was reason to suggest it in the first place.)

Now, if one wants to continue and say that, fine, Rand was right, but wrong NOT to see the "joy" of "Ode to Joy", fair enough. But that's still interesting for the example above. Rand celebrated "pure joy" in tiddlywink music, as an expression of Galt: "a face without pain, fear, or guilt." Peterson, in contrast, holds Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" up as an example of HIS approach to life: Suffering is necessary as something to be overcome in order to achieve that joy. (It's like saying that evil is necessary to distinguish what is good). Rand, with "tiddlywink", said it was NOT necessary: "we never had to take any of it seriously, did we?"

(It's interesting that Peterson holds up Beethoven and "Ode to Joy", in that both Peterson and Beethoven are both viewed as benevolent or malevolent, depending on the angle of light, the time of day, where one is seeing them at any given moment on that cycle of "eternal return"...)

It comes down to Beethoven's "full range of emotions" to express joy" (in "Ode to Joy", the negative range isn't there to contrast with the positive, but to be overcome to get to the joy",), whereas Rand's "tiddlywink" music as ONE range of emotion, the end which does not require suffering as the mean to that end. (And no, of course, I'm not saying that it's wrong for a piece of music to convey a full range of emotions. I'm simply pointing out the how "Ode to Joy" is held up as an example of a joy that results from being told that suffering is necessary. I could contrast that with a piece of music that brings joy IN SPITE of suffering, or even TO spite the idea of suffering, all while still presenting a range of emotions within that same piece.)

Brusk, yet nailing Jell-O to the wall...

Jmaurone's picture

"Peterson said he "understood" people's aversion to Trump, but his opponents should be more sensitive in how they expressed that aversion. Yuk...The world is perishing from an orgy of sensitivity."

Good point. Just like how he rails against postmodernism, but seems to employ it, himself ("depends on what you mean by 'truth'," etc...)

Short version:

I propose that, while there is a B.S. factor in Peterson's presentation, it goes beyond that, really, to the Jungian/Nietzschean influence in his ideas, found in the concept of "eternal return." And I've grown tired of trying to decode his context in order to counter accusations from others, elsewhere, that I either hadn't read him, or took him out of context.

I would ask, then, is the danger really with taking Peterson's negative quotes out of context, or taking his POSiTIVE quotes out of context (i.e., their roots in suffering as necessary?)

That said, if one gets the Jungian/Nietzschean context, it all becomes clear, and it no longer becomes necessary to read certain things he's said against other things he's said. (That could go on forever, and in that way lies madness.) So here's the "secret decoder ring", the map to understand Peterson's meaning: Peterson is hard to pin down because it depends on where one finds him at any moment in that vicious cycle of suffering and elation. And to reify him at any one spot in that cycle loses the larger context. You have to "zoom out" to see him in total, and once you do, it's becomes clear...clear that he's really just presenting old ideas that Objectivism challenged long ago. And since Peterson is presenting those old ideas as "an antidote to chaos", he's challenging Objectivism right back.

I saw Peterson today ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... hedging his bets as seems his wont. He was bemoaning to Bill Maher the degree of division in American politics. (I think the division should be applauded. Who should want unity with The Filth?) Peterson said he "understood" people's aversion to Trump, but his opponents should be more sensitive in how they expressed that aversion. Yuk. The more I see of him—and it's difficult to avoid him currently—the less impressed I am. I don't know how I'll get by without his Twelve Rules, but I'll soldier on. Smiling

The world is perishing from an orgy of sensitivity.

Rand on Struggle, Peterson on Overcoming and Glory

Jmaurone's picture

I have to admit that I had knee-jerk reaction to those quotes from Peterson. But then, I had to reconsider. I simultaneously thought of Rand's advice in THE ART OF FICTION that advised putting her characters in as much conflict as necessary, and then came across this passage in Peterson's book, 12 RULES FOR LIFE. And, at times, it seems like either passage could have been (perhaps with qualifications) written by the other:


"Now let us consider in more detail the issue of plot. If a man is not a determined being but sets his own purpose, then it is he who has to achieve that purpose and devise the means to achieve it. This means that some action is necessary on his part. If his action meets with no obstacles—if a man decides to go to the comer grocery, and he goes, buys his groceries, and comes home—this is a purposeful action, but not a story. Why not? Because there was no struggle involved.

"To illustrate the achievement of a purpose, you have to show men overcoming obstacles. This statement pertains strictly to writers. Metaphysically—in reality—one does not need obstacles in order to achieve a purpose. But you as a writer need to dramatize purpose, i.e., you have to isolate the particular meaning that you want your events to illustrate—by presenting it in a stressed action form.

"For instance, in The Fountainhead I show the career of a creative, independent architect. It is possible (although not probable) that in real life he would immediately find the right clients and achieve great success without any opposition. But that would be completely wrong artistically.

"Since my purpose is to show that a man of creative independence will achieve his goal regardless of any opposition, a story in which there is no opposition would not dramatize my message. I have to show the hero in a difficult struggle—and the worse I can make it, the better dramatically. I have to devise the hardest obstacles possible, and those of greatest significance to the hero."

Ayn Rand; Tore Boeckmann. The art of fiction: a guide for writers and readers (Kindle Locations 488-491). Plume.


"If the value structure is aimed at the betterment of Being, the meaning revealed will be life-sustaining. It will provide the antidote for chaos and suffering. IT will make everything matter. It will make everything better."

"If you act properly, your actions allow you to be pyschologically integrated now, and tomorrow, and into the future, while you benefit yourself, you family, and the broader world around you..."

"You may come to ask yourself, "What should I do today?" in a manner that means "How could i use my time to make things better, instead of worse?"

"Meaning is when everything there is comes together in an ecstatic of a single purpose-the glorification of a reality so that no matter how good it has suddenly become, it can get better and better and better and more deeply forever into the future. Meaning happens when that dance has become so intense that all the horrors of the past, all the terrible struggle engaged in by all of life and all of humanity to that moment becomes a necessary and worthwhile part of the increasingly successful attempt to buld something truly Mighty and Good."

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