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 in this week’s episode. 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.