Chaos and Order: Could 12 Rules for Life Help Us Find Balance

EconTalk Extra
by Amy Willis
Jordan Peterson on 12 Rules fo... Elizabeth Anderson on Worker R...

by Alice Temnick

Is it a relief to know that there is a shared belief in life as tragic, troubled, and full of misery? Would a plan for engaging in meaningful conversation, feeling significant and taking responsibility relieve us from an anxious and miserable state?

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Jordan Peterson, author of 12 Rules for Life, talks about the book and his lectures with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Aggregating the psychological wisdom of the 20th century, this clinical psychologist aims to help improve lives through deep and practical advice about daily choices. Rejecting a goal of happiness, Roberts and Peterson explore topics of parenting, activism, university education shortcomings, and more through recognizing and harnessing the power of the darker side of life.

1. Peterson likens his current phenomenon on YouTube and best-selling Amazon author status as 'surfing a hundred foot wave'. He acknowledges that fame is fragile and can change instantly, that the price of making a mistake is high. Is this more prominent in today's social media-entrenched culture? What examples can you provide to support or refute this?

2. When Roberts confesses uncertainty about his less active political choice to "tend his garden" by producing podcast conversations, putting forth the genius ideas of Adam Smith and cultivating family, Peterson approves of his choices heartily. Yet Peterson is involved in Canadian politics regarding compelled speech. How does one decide when the political becomes "local", requiring personal action?

3. Peterson strongly critiques university humanities professors and the plethora of eighteen year old political activists barely versed in reading, writing, and thinking. How might his advice that it is best to operate in our domain of competence and to try to expand that reach be suggested in a palatable way to young people today?

4. Roberts is critical of the lack of the optimism in the book, describing it as a stern lecture about the fundamental precondition of the tragedy of life. Since economics is about how to get the most out of life, are love, joy and the derided term happiness short-changed in this premise? Explain.

5.Roberts reminds us of Adam Smith's revelation that man desires to not only be loved but to be lovely. Peterson's 9th rule asks that we assume the person we are listening to knows something we don't in order to stretch ourselves and transform through conversation. What encourages these divine conversations to take place?

Alice Temnick teaches Economics at the United Nations International School in New York City. She is an Economics examiner for the International Baccalaureate, teaches for the Foundation for Teaching Economics and Oxford Studies Courses and is a long-time participant in Liberty Fund Conferences.

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COMMENTS (4 to date)
Robert Gottel writes:

I’m an old white guy, and I found this program to be a very predictable discussion between two old professors complaining about young people who can no longer think, read, or write. I would guess that Cicero’s tutors said the same things. Rather than just discussing these general complaints, it would have been more interesting if they included in the discussion how they addressed this problem in their classes. For example, are they giving lower grades to their students now than they did twenty years ago or are they just going along with grade inflation?

I turned off the podcast during the discussion on Cain and Able. The myth was being stretched far beyond its limits.

I’ve worked as an engineer manager for the last twenty-five years, and the young interns I’ve hired are very smart, knowledgeable, hard-working and as good as when I graduated in 1974. If you have any doubt about that, you can just reach for your cell phone.

Edwin McAuley writes:

I thought the Roberts/Peterson interview was "all over the place" and lacked sufficient intellectual rigour. Since then I've searched for a recital of the Twelve Rules but cannot find them (without buying the book!), surely that would have been a useful starting point for the interview? Since Moses we've had to make do with just Ten Commandments and they seem too much for most of us so I don't give Twelve much of a chance.

I am 72 and remember first-hand the era of "Angry Young Men' in British literature. Anger was boring then and boring now, and still largely counter-productive. Like Mr. Gottel, I find today's young graduates just as smart as they ever were - some are, some aren't; and the grades don't necessarily tell you which is which.

Amanda McGee writes:

I enjoyed this conversation. Although I find the theological conversation interesting, being a literal Bible believing, Jesus follower I largely disagree with his points in this arena. I do still find some of the application quite sensible and find that much of what he brings to the table confirms the reliability of the scripture.
I happened to be in the closest large city to me a few days ago when a group of high school students walked out as a gun control demand. I overheard them bantering back and forth declaring the Constitution irrelevant in the most foolishly intellectual fashion. I was disturbed as much as I was a few months ago when a college student friend of ours disagreed with me that surely there was more interest in our schools and universities in the deep questions of life and the pursuit of truly valuable and eternal ideals than the evening news, statistics and polls reveal. Her reply was, "I don't think so...I don't think they care at all." I absolutely think the house is on fire.

Margaret writes:

Russ promised a link to the Lindsey Shepherd issue. Did I miss it?

[The link is listed among the various links at the page top of the podcast episode. The URL is —Econlib Ed.]

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