Wisdom of Jordan Peterson

Dr. Jordan Peterson, Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Toronto

http://www.clarion-journal.com/clarion_journal_of_spirit/2018/02/jordan-peterson-transcending-tribalism-and-cloistered-virtues-ron-dart.html  University of the Fraser Valley Political Science Professor Ron Dart on the Contribution of Jordan Peterson

Ten Ways to Improve Your Life Dramatically

  1. Stop doing the wrong and stupid things. You know what I mean. Walk away from evil and malevolence.
  2. Make a schedule and stick to it—one that works for you. It’s not a prison.
  3. Clarify your thoughts. Get the cobwebs out of your brain. Journal about them.
  4. Take the meaningful path involving courage and integrity, versus the pathological way of anger, resentment, nihilism, and self-righteousness. Put meaning ahead of expedience. See below.
  5. Analyze your past to see what went right and wrong, face your pain and failures, and then specify your goals for a future as if you cared about yourself. Fix yourself first before you try to change the world. Have self-compassion. Be diligent and industrious. Step up to life and its challenges. Engage the world. Face your fears head on. Take courage, my friend. Act in good faith.
  6. Stop saying things that make you weak, which includes all those white lies and deceptions you pretend are OK—that represent your false self and turn you into a coward and cause you shame. Say things that align with the truth, the good and the core of your being (Parker Palmer agrees). These things make you strong and resilient.
  7. Adopt the mode of authentic being (Kierkegaard). Speak and act with integrity. Orient yourself to the truth as best you can discern it right now. Stop lying to yourself and to others. This makes you weak, guilty and ashamed, hating yourself, resenting others. It can also cause you to hate the world.
  8. Learn from your failures, errors and mistakes. Don’t let them freeze your moral will. Say you’re sorry to the one you hurt. Reset accordingly. Ask for forgiveness to make things right in relationships. Make your life a bit better today, and a bit better still tomorrow. It will build your confidence over time.
  9. Have a heart-to-heart conversation with yourself. Get real. Take time to reflect on your life and your highest ideals or values, the greatest good. Discern the hierarchy of your value system and what is you hypergood. Don’t be afraid of ideals and virtues in our cynical age. Step out from the crowd of sceptics and cynics. This can be very enlightening. Make a covenant with your future self and step into life robustly. Let that pull you forward into the good life, one well worth living.
  10. Aim really high at good goals. Shoot for the stars, the higher moral road of growth, order and maturity, personal responsibility and resilience. Don’t let your life slide into laziness, mediocrity, and chaos, or the evil forces of arrogance, narcissism, entitlement, deceit and resentment will eat you alive, and hurt a lot of people associated with you. Don’t settle for being a slacker, and become your own worst enemy. Hang out with people that make you better, that challenge you to your better self. Ask for help when you need it, and give help to others generously.

Is There Such a Thing as a Good Person? Peterson & Dennis Prager: https://youtu.be/j0GL_4cAkhI 

30 minutes for the next thirty years https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLP7jEVIh8U

5 Habits That Give You a Practical Advantage in Life: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iudcnf3014U

Peterson’s audiences are 90% white people; 80% male; 75% under the age of 30. Young males find in him a straight-talking father figure.


Ideas from Jordan Peterson’s Bible Reflection Series

  • Meaning is a central aspect of human perception and consciousness. We ignore it at our peril. Pursue the meaningful life.
  • Religion is a meta-truth; Christ is a meta-hero; his death a meta-sacrifice or archetype, the greatest possible sacrifice, to lay down your life for another. Religious insight is not identical with scientific insight, but they do complement each other and are both necessary for life and human flourishing. Science is not everything we need to know; on this note, the ideology scientism is wrong. We need to seek wisdom from our great stories. Don’t buy into the exclusion of wisdom and insight into your deepest self. Humans are essentially religious animals as well as language animals.
  • Growth involves leaving false axioms, the false self, poor assumptions behind (this can be painful), things that hold you back from your full potential. Burn up the dead wood in your soul and move forward. You must die to (sacrifice) some things to live more robustly, abundantly. Don’t let the good get in the way of the best.
  • Suffering is a core part of our experience as humans; pain is a fundamental reality. We must learn how to reckon with it, set good goals in the midst of it, find meaning in it, make sense of it, let it make us better people. If we set high goals for life and grow in character, it will help us cope more positively and productively with suffering. Not saying this is easy. Life is hard, so get used to it. Most psychologists and psychiatrists will agree.
  • Good Goals (according to Piaget) means something good for you, for your family, for society and the broader environment for many years hence. A covenant with the future is necessary: it bring things to you and helps you operate more circumspectly, honestly, fruitfully. Sometimes we call this aspiration. You improve the future towards a better, bigger, more mature you. Wisdom is the way of maintaining a contract with your best self—your highest ideals and potential. Don’t settle for poor goals or you will pay for it dearly. Covenant is the proper dwelling place of our enlightened consciousness, for our identity and sense of calling–living for the long distance run.
  • It is important to try to fix some things (even small ones) every day, in yourself first; stay within your domain of competence, and move steadily forward. Build character strength and momentum this way. You will be amazed at your progress over time!
  • Vertical coherence is the alignment of your thoughts, emotions, body, choices and actions. Reflection, meditation, prayer, mindfulness and discipline helps your coherence. NYU Moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt agrees. Discipline creates a savings account for your future self.
  • Virtue involves creative, noble and courageous, even heroic, action in the world: slaying the dragon in order to feed the people and free the virgin and get the gold. This heroic archetype is as old as human history (Legend of St. George). Go ahead, save the day; grab hold of virtue starting with humility, forgiveness and kindness towards others.
  • Imago Dei: we can manifest the divine in the context of our own life—bring heaven to earth. It indicates an innate desire to bring order out of chaos, invest meaningfully, use articulate speech to make sense of our experience and to speak the truth publicly. That’s our calling as humans. Each individual has an important, transcendent value. Humans act as if they can transform things through speech (constitutive language–Charles Taylor, The Language Animal). Use you freedom to speak up. Be brave when you see that something is wrong. We can have positive impact, if we choose the right words and deliver them in the right way to the right people, with the right attitude.
  • Temptation (deceit, anger, pride, resentment, nihilism and laziness) short circuits your best effort to become your best self and design a good life, a life of flourishing, a life that respects your value and the value of others. Everyone and everything matters. Don’t ever dismiss people with contempt.
  • Malevolence: the essence of evil is the desire to produce suffering in others for the sake of suffering, or for your pleasure. It starts with the lie and eventually becomes the Big Lie, and before you know it, you have made a hell for yourself and others around you. It destroys your conscience and corrupts your soul. That’s what psychopaths and sociopaths do.
  • Satan is depicted as a high intellect in Milton. Intellectuals can slip into worshipping their own creations as an Absolute–leading to idolatry and self-destruction, even violence. Would you sell your soul to an ideology for a top academic post, a big reputation, a great job or power in the government, or just to be liked by a special person or group?
  • Success in the job world depends on competence, conscientiousness (industrious, orderly behaviour) and intelligence, EQ plus IQ. Openness (seen in artists) is an additional key trait indicating verbal intelligence and creativity. They see and feel things most of us don’t perceive.
  • The Biblical Narratives Tell Us These Things, and more: Pursue and Speak the Truth; Love the Good; Celebrate and Cherish Beauty; Pursue Excellence and Faithfulness in all Aspects of Life. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. (Matthew 6: 28-33) We need to re-connect the humanities to the biblical stories, in order to recover their integrity and their power for our lives today. We need great stories to live by and make sense of what’s going on underneath our skin.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-wWBGo6a2w Jordan Peterson’s Biblical Stories Series

Key Critique of Jordan Peterson from a UK Theologian:

  • https: //alastairadversaria. com/2018/03/30/understanding-jordan-peterson/

Essential Ingredients of Healthy Identity by Clinical Psychologist Gregg Heinrichs

  • refers to the seat of agency and autobiography
  • dialectical tensions between extremes
  • clear value-based narrative regarding past, present and future
  • one has clarified problematic extremes and built a strong, stable system that promotes liberty and equality by means of a dialectic of competing and necessary values (see also Charles Taylor on competing goods in Sources of the Self)
  • need for a much more sophisticated and mature conversation about psychology, sociology, individual and collective identities

Quote from 12 Rules for Life:

Faith is not the childish belief in magic. That is ignorance or even willful blindness. It is instead the realization that the tragic irrationalities of life must be counterbalanced by an equally irrational commitment to the essential goodness of Being. It is simultaneously the will to dare to set your sights on the unachievable and to sacrifice everything, including (and most importantly) your life. You realize that you have, literally, nothing better to do.

Why is Jordan Peterson Connecting?

The key to Peterson, as I see it, is the quest for a reconnection between the cultural spheres of the scientific, the religious and the ethical. The nexus/link is suffering and tragedy. Philosopher Clavin Schrag, in The Self After Postmodernity, shows that the culture spheres of science, religion, aesthetic and ethical have broken free of one another in modernity. That’s one of the big reasons that Peterson is resonating with people amidst the cultural wars between the aesthetic (postmodern/late modern) and scientific (early modern), and wars between religion and science. He forces them into the centre of the ring of conversation with this existential crisis.

I see this as a profound moment, and true momentum for fruitful dialogue. Suffering and tragedy is the existential issue that forces a conversation between these spheres; it subpoenas  all players to the table. This is why Peterson keeps pushing the suffering button as a core, bottom line concern wherever he speaks. It connects immediately with lived experience and pulls the conversation to something deeply relevant to all. We are all stakeholders in making sense of suffering and tragedy.

As per Kierkegaard, Peterson refuses to let the religious and ethical implode (be absorbed) into the aesthetic. Terry Eagleton at Oxford is very good on the ideology of the aesthetic–good on both Foucault and Nietzsche; Charles Taylor is sharp on the ideology of scientism as he discusses the nuances of the immanent frame (Ch. 15 of A Secular Age) and a Closed World System. But he refuses to allow the spin that the emergence of science in the West means the demise of religion (secularity 2). Science does not lead to the death of God.

~Dr. Gordon E. Carkner Meta-Educator UBC Postgraduate Students, Author, Blogger, YouTube Webinars

Insights from Chapter Seven of 12 Rules for Life: Meaning Trumps Expedience

Wycliffe College, Toronto Dialogue: Jordan Peterson, Rebecca Goldstein, and William Lane Craig,  Is There Meaning to Life? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDDQOCXBrAw

Expedience, rejected by Peterson, is defined as follows:

  • following blind impulse
  • moral and/or legal short cuts for short term gain
  • lying to get your way, get ahead of others
  • hiding skeletons in the closet, bodies under the floor boards
  • covering up blood with a carpet
  • avoiding responsibility for your actions and for your life
  • built out from a cowardly, shallow, arrogant, selfish, me-centred motivation
  • makes the future worse, for you and for everyone else
  • operates on a platform of pride: leading to intolerance, arrogance, oppression, torture and death
  • neither faith, or courage or self-sacrifice are part of this game
  • blames your problems on others, or the system, or your parents

Quote from Jordan Peterson: “The capacity of the rational mind to deceive, manipulate, scheme, trick, falsify, minimize, mislead, betray, prevaricate, deny, omit, rationalize, bias, exaggerate and obscure is utterly remarkable.”

Rationality, or high ration capacity, will not prevent inauthentic rationalization or self-justification. Something else is required.

Meaning is defined as the following: (parallels to McGill philosopher Charles Taylor’s concept of embracing the hypergood in his tome Sources of the Self)

  • makes things better, instead of worse, including our pain and suffering
  • meaning makes suffering worthwhile: seen in art, literature, poetry, music. It bears suffering with nobility, and restrains malevolence. Suffering can help to redeem us from a downward spiral
  • involves aiming high, paying attention, fixing what we can
  • accepts the truth about self and the world–this is sacrifice and a commitment to reality
  • operates from a position/platform of humility (aware of limitations, finitude and death)
  • emerges when impulses are regulated, organized and unified–desires pointed in right direction with the right focus for fruitful action
  • doing something that benefits someone else every day of your life–benevolence praxis
  • involves a good interplay between choice possibilities and one’s value structure/hierarchy
  • gets one’s hierarchy of values right (hypergood and lesser goods). Keeps proper priorities, first things first.
  • antidote to chaos and suffering: alleviates much unnecessary pain and suffering, for you and for others
  • works towards the betterment of Being, and life-sustainability–improves the world around you, and the wellbeing of others, and the planet
  • the zone where everything matters, everyone counts. Experience feels weightier, more substantial. Equivalent of Charles Taylor’s thick self.
  • a person is coherent, aligned and integrated along a single axis–this is equivalent to Charles Taylor’s thick self, the most noble life
  • signifies that you are in the right place, at the right time, balanced between order and chaos, risk and safety, significance and security
  • a symphony of Being, making you aware of the miracle and mystery of your very existence (like a great concert)
  • meaning takes responsibility for Being and ameliorates suffering. Taylor refers to a strong self, taking responsibility for the world and its brokenness and suffering.
  • makes you aware of your own cowardice, arrogance, malevolence, resentment and hatred–your contribution to the evil in the world, your frightening human capacity for evil. Being aware of such capacity, you are now free to move away from these impulses, reckon with your dark side (your addictions to vices of all sorts) and move forward towards the good. Example in the Nuremberg Trials–some acts are so brutal that they are wrong no matter the cultural background. To make innocents suffer is evil, a consequence of dark malevolence. It corrupts everything around it. Some acts are unquestionably evil (Auschwitz); therefore there must be acts that are unquestionably good. We don’t need to confuse or conflate good and evil (as Nietzsche did), or embrace both for the beauty of it all. This is nihilism, pure and simple. We can discover these eternal values, good values, if we pay attention and dig deep for the gold of good relationships. See Recovery of Identity through Virtue in this blog– https://ubcgcu.org/2018/01/13/recovery-of-identity-through-virtue/

http://www.clarion-journal.com/clarion_journal_of_spirit/2018/02/jordan-peterson-transcending-tribalism-and-cloistered-virtues-ron-dart.html  Ron Dart, Political Philosopher on the contribution of  Jordan Peterson.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5RCmu-HuTg 12 Rules for Life, Jordan Peterson’s book talk to How To: Academy

Gordon Carkner, Author of The Great Escape from Nihilism

http://www.veritas.org/nietzsche-vs-jesus-christ/ Dallas Willard, Nietzsche versus Jesus.

See also Charts for Spiritual Formation on ubcgcu.org

Psychology Today Blogs on Jordan Peterson (Brilliant Insights)

A Five Part Blog Series; The Concept of Identity (Part I)


Identity Politics and Polarization (Part II)


Peterson’s Psychology and Philosophy of Life (Part III)


The Controversial Sparks and the Emergence of the 100 Foot Wave (IV)


What the Peterson Controversy Means for Our Culture (V)



I think we need to understand that the main thrust of Peterson falls within the genre of Positive Psychology. This is the psychology of happiness and meaning.

If we begin within Charles Taylor’s immanent frame (chapter 15 of A Secular Age), we see that modernity is on the horns of a critical dilemma: Either we accept morality and feel a tremendous amount of guilt and shame, even self-hatred for not measuring up; or we take the route of moral and spiritual lobotomy, destroy morality, obliterate the distinction between good and evil, and settle for a hard nihilism. Many of the young Millennials that Peterson is now reaching feel this dilemma at the deepest level and they are hurting. At the end of his Sources of the Self, Taylor suggests the need for a transcendent turn, to escape this daunting existential dilemma. He put out the possibility that agape love might be the direction of this philosophical turn. The one thing that the dilemma is unconscious of is grace. There is a great quote below from Taylor on how Dostoyevsky saw this problem. Taylor develops the scope of this possibility further in A Secular Age. I cover this whole trajectory in much more detail in my The Great Escape from Nihilism. I find myself on a somewhat parallel track and trajectory as Peterson.

One of Dostoyevsky’s central insights turns on the way in which we close or open ourselves to grace. The ultimate sin is to close oneself, but the reasons for doing so can be of the highest. In a sense the person who is closed is in a vicious circle from which it is hard to escape. We are closed to grace, because we close ourselves to the world in which it circulates; and we do that out of loathing for ourselves and for the world … Rejecting the world seals one’s sense of its loathsomeness and of one’s own, insofar as one is a part of it. And from this can come only acts of hate and destruction. Dostoyevsky … gives an acute understanding of how loathing and self-loathing, inspired by the very real evils of the world, fuel a projection of evil outward, a polarization between self and the world, where all evil is now seen to reside. This justifies terror, violence, and destruction against the world; indeed this seems to call for it. No one … has given us deeper insight into the spiritual sources of modern terrorism or has shown more clearly how terrorism can be a response to the threat of self-hatred … The noblest wreak it [destruction] on themselves. The most base destroy others. Although powered by the noblest sense of the injustice of things, this schism is ultimately also the fruit of pride, Dostoyevsky holds. We separate because we don’t want to see ourselves as part of evil; we want to raise ourselves above it. (Taylor, Sources of the Self, 1989, pp. 451-52)

My read is that Peterson recognizes this deep problem within Western culture, and he is offering himself as its ‘therapist’. This is a bold move, but he knows his subject through his training in clinical psychology and his work with people in trouble, but also his extensive reading on destructive ideologies of the twentieth century—his familiarity with instantiated evil. Peterson is pushing us in the direction of meaning and a recovery of morality, affirmation of Being; and away from nihilism, resentment, malevolence. This is why he challenges people to head towards the truth, as best they can perceive it, the good, as best they can understand it, and the beautiful, as much as they can appreciate it. There is a brilliant discussion in 12 Rules for Life where he contrasts the way of expedience versus the way of meaning. His genius is being able to show the personal and social consequences of human choices. He is a deeply empathetic man. As a Phenomenologist, he is a keen student of how these things play out in daily life. Fellow clinical psychologist Gregg Heinrichs, in his Psychology Today blog series on Peterson, notes concerning what the Jordan Peterson controversy means for culture:

The benefit of Jordan entering the cultural consciousness is the he and reactions to him provide a very useful way to understand the cultural-identity political split (polarization) we are in at the moment. He is the canary in the academic coal mine. If society were healthy, Jordan Peterson would be boring. Our culture is going through an identity crisis.

Gordon E. Carkner PhD, Graduate and Faculty Christian Forum,

University of British Columbia

Author: The Great Escape from Nihilism. (a book that parallels Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life)

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A Wager on Tragic Optimism, Part One

A Wager on Tragic Optimism, Part Two

Denzel Washington’s Inspiring Speech to College Graduates

Charles Taylor’s Vision of the Recovery of the Good for Moral Agency (pdf)

Taylor’s Vision of the Good

Theological Problems with Peterson’s Project

  • he is weak on the Christian concept of grace and agape love. He is evolving at the moment however. In responding to him, we become more alert to the ways in which living in grace and gratitude both exposes and answers the psychological problems and limitations manifested in lives built either around desert, entitlement, and victimhood or around responsibility, duty, and robust personal agency.  A message that foregrounds responsibility, agency, and restored dignity is weaker when grace is not the fundamental note. Se Chapter 6. Grace in Mark McMinn’s book The Science of Virtue. Here are four points from that chapter: 1. Christian doctrine of grace is foundational to how we understand a person; 2. Grace transforms how we make meaning and live into our beliefs; 3. Understanding grace requires one to be immersed in a life of forgiveness; 4. Grace frees us from self-focus and allows us to experience love of God and neighbour.
  • he is weak on transcendence–his salvation is too immanent and self-directed, almost Gnostic. He hits a glass ceiling. Religion is about me and my wellbeing, and my duty to others.
  • he is weak on miracle–he psychologizes a lot of Christian theology in a Jungian measure (for example God is a kind of consciousness). He is not sure about a real resurrection or whether it matters.
  • his is a religion of morality and personal responsibility with a tinge of self-worship. In Kierkegaard’s view, he moves us from the aesthetic to the ethical but does not reach the religious stage of human development. This can stall a person’s growth and full worship of God. He is far too anthropocentric.
  • his ethics is more Stoic than Christian; there is good in it, but it is not as fulsome as it could be.
  • he confuses with his ideology of chaos and order, it is a more pagan dualism, as if they were two major gods or forces in the universe. This is additionally confused by his use of the logos.
  • he is weak and fuzzy on showing the relationship between religions.
  • he has a weak doctrine of sin = sin for him is a lack of existential self-realization
  • psychology is his ontology and Jungian psychology is best
  • in his system, Jesus is a good moral teacher and a good model/archetype of sacrifice, but not the Son of God, not the incarnate God-man and Saviour of the world. The incarnation is the key concept in Christianity.
  • Religion is reduced to ethical praxis, empowered by myth (existential-psychological-anthropological-mythic)
  • it is confusing that he remains so agnostic on the ‘God’ question and ‘belief’ question. Does this have integrity at the end of the day?
  • he believes in the goodness of Being (Heidegger) but not in the goodness of a personal trinitarian God and Saviour
  • self-dependence can lead one into the trap of despair, as Kierkegaard contends. Freedom develops most robustly through interdependence within community (Paul Ricoeur, Oneself as Another; Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self). Peterson is overly individualistic. His whole focus is on rescuing the individual.
  • the occult interests in Carl Jung do give us pause.  Peterson venerates this eclectic psychologist a bit too uncritically for our liking. Jung goes all the way down in his interpretation of self.
  • Peterson is very one-sided in his use of Nietzsche, whose hatred of Christian compassion, charity and its concern for the victim, is well documented (René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning; Nietzsche, Dionysus Versus the Crucified).  Nietzsche’s values and Christian values, such as agape love, are in definitive opposition to Nietzsche’s übermensch.
  • ultimately, he does not have a fully adequate solution to the existential human identity crisis of our day, even while he points in some of the right directions: truth, the good, taking responsibility, self-honesty and integrity, quest for the meaningful life. He lacks a robust transcendence of the vertical type, which reconnects with the religious (Kierkegaard).
  • See Tim Keller’s sermon on endurance as a corrective to Peterson’s view on suffering: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QpNSGWBEFE

If you like Peterson, you may also like Charles Taylor, a deep philosophical thinker and his books: A Secular Age, Sources of the Self, and The Language Animal. Here below is my recent video of his understanding of the secular and the late modern spiritual journey. Enjoy and never stop thinking.

https://youtu.be/f4KZhWc2TDY Charles Taylor and the Myth of the Secular 

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