‘Aggressively, almost wantonly unreadable’—Richard Poplak reviews Jordan B Peterson’s new book Beyond Order: 12 More Rules For Life

While 12 Rules for Life was a snapshot of an intellectual moment, however paltry, Beyond Order is the literary equivalent of colonoscopy by cake shovel, writes Richard Poplak.

Beyond Order: 12 More Rules For Life
Jordan B Peterson
Allen Lane, 2021

What remains to be said about Jordan B Peterson? These days, doesn’t he seem like a creature out of time, an impresario for a near-forgotten age that culminated in a cosplay insurgency over which his shadow darkly flitted? Didn’t it feel like those were some of his dudes out there during the Capitol riots in Washington, D.C., among the fulminating furries and gun jocks, the gamers and beta cucks, all driven into violent incoherence by a culture changing at warp speed, moved to reactionary performance art by a dour liberal orthodoxy they hoped could be LOLed into submission? No?

Of course, I’m being overly dramatic. You’ll have to forgive me: I’ve been reading Jordan Peterson. Tempting as it is, you can’t blame the good professor for all of white male supremacy’s excesses. He has never come close to inciting violence—although a rather absurd mini-revolt by some employees at his publisher’s Canada office might seem to suggest otherwise—and unless you’re a raw T-bone steak, he is not even vaguely bloodthirsty. His career does, however, serve as a précis for conservative intellectual adventurism in the twenty-first-century. He was a first responder in the Obama-era culture wars; a crown prince of semi-mystical masculine regeneration; a new media magnate; a crustacean fanboy; and a philosopher manqué obsessed with the sacred nature of old hierarchies.

But is he still relevant following the Trump revolution, now that the cheerless kente-wearing technocrats are back in charge? Keep in mind, the New York Times once referred to Peterson as ‘the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now’, a quote that adorns the front cover of his self-help sequel, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules For Life. The fact that a deeply loathed bastion of liberal Mainstream Media is employed to sell a book that stands in opposition to the shibboleths of liberal Mainstream Media cuts to the heart of Peterson’s brittle contradictions: it’s lonely out there on the cultural precipice, guarded by Pepe the Frog memes and Twitter bots. There’s no point in being respected if you can’t be respected by the Establishment.

Anyway, four years after the publication of his mega-seller 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, we find Peterson in a much denuded state. It’s apparently bad manners to include an author’s medical details in a book review, but in this case the Foreword (sorry, the Overture) includes a lengthy description of Peterson’s many travails since we last encountered him. In short, it turns out that the guy dispensing lifestyle advice was just as cracked out on anti-depressants and anxiety meds as the rest of us. In his attempts to kick a deep benzodiazepine addiction, and following the twin traumas of his wife and daughter’s health crises, he had a catastrophic breakdown that resulted in experimental treatment in Russia, of all places. (He has a deep fascination with Soviet-era artwork, examples of which famously adorn his Toronto residence, so there is a weird poetry in his Russian detox stint.)

Although a lack of expertise has never stopped Peterson from pronouncing on any given issue, I personally am no shrink. So I hesitate to note that anyone would crumble under the enormous twin burdens of familial ill health and unrelenting career pressure. (The latter likely exacerbated by the fact that Peterson seems gutted by anything resembling criticism: when he found out that the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates put ideas from 12 Rules in the speech bubble of the HYDRA villain Red Skull in a recent Captain America comic book, Peterson appeared genuinely hurt.) And no doubt, if Beyond Order’s Overture is anything to go by, the man has endured unfettered Hell over the past several years.

But—tentative question, asked with real concern—does that not disqualify him from dispensing life advice, considering that batches of it, so stridently and confidently issued, may have been formulated under the influence of literally all of the drugs?

Regardless, here are twelve more rules, adding up to—and I’m running out of fingers here—a full two dozen. That should do it. A close reading reveals a change in tone. This time, there is doubt and fear in Peterson’s prose. This time, there is humility in the conjoining of bad scholarship and worse theology. As usual, however, he writes like a gelded Calvinist pastor from the eighteen-twenties (although he insists that it is healthful for couples to engage in sexual intimacy once a week). As usual, each rule has a pithy and memorable title, like Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or creative achievement, and Notice that opportunity lurks where responsibility has been abdicated.

The T-shirts print themselves.

Literature buffs will be thrilled to learn that Beyond Order is not a mere rehashing of 12 Rules. Unlike the first book, it is not the mitigation of Chaos—aka female energy—that we are concerned with on this occasion, but learning how to negotiate its manic, menstrual emanations. ‘When you are visited by chaos and swallowed up,’ writes Peterson, ‘when nature curses you or someone you love with illness; or when tyranny rends asunder something of value that you have built, it is salutary to know the rest of the story.’

I must confess that I don’t know what this means. The rest of what story? Is he saying that bad stuff happens, sometimes out of the blue, and we have to live with the fallout? No shit, Socrates. The book is laden with lines like the one above, which render it aggressively, almost wantonly unreadable. I literally didn’t know how I was going to get through it—I needed a self-help manual to wade through a self-help manual. If, like Christ, Peterson hoped that his suffering would prove enough for all of us, he should know that his readers too will suffer. His ideas are so airless, so devoid of actual historical or philosophical engagement, that they seem carved out of the cheap synthetic nothingness of a Styrofoam cup. When speaking of ‘thinkers powerfully influenced by Marx’, he writes that ‘Ideologues are the intellectual equivalent of fundamentalists, unyielding and rigid.’ (We’re speaking here of Karl, not Groucho. Probably.) The sentence evaporates as you read it, but it lingers around, fart-like, long enough for one to ask—Isn’t that true of thinkers not powerfully influenced by Marx? Also—Aren’t fundamentalists often ideologues, and vice versa?

The man is still banging on about the perils of postmodernism and ‘cultural Marxism’, and while it’s understandable that he’s driven to near-madness by the miserly self-righteousness of the academic left, it’s also worth pointing out that arguments over the nature of subjective and objective truth are actually very fucking old. If you’re hoping to seriously engage with them in a contemporary context, it helps to have a deep grounding in the history of human thought. Peterson does not have that. He is a dabbler, not a digger. This is what makes him a flyweight in the pantheon of conservative thinkers.

12 Rules felt urgent and dangerous—it was a classic case of a terrible book full of awful ideas that was nonetheless wedded to a movement that was in its ascendency. In this, it remains an important snapshot of an intellectual moment, however paltry it may have been. By contrast, Beyond Order is the literary equivalent of colonoscopy by cake shovel. It feels both overly rich and nutrient free, a prog-rock follow-up to a tight twelve-track hard rock album. Who knows, maybe centuries from now Peterson’s twenty-four rules will form the central liturgy of a massive cargo cult, including Helen Zille’s #StayWoke: Go Broke and the collected works of Tucker Carlson. The future will make its own determinations.

In the meantime, Peterson should consider the words of Roland Barthes (although he almost certainly won’t). ‘Better the illusions of subjectivity than the impostures of objectivity.’ Especially when objectivity leads to a rule like ‘Try to make one room in your home as beautiful as possible’.

Bring on the chaos, immediately, and end this pain.

56 thoughts on “‘Aggressively, almost wantonly unreadable’—Richard Poplak reviews Jordan B Peterson’s new book Beyond Order: 12 More Rules For Life”

    1. This review was obnoxious and all over of the place. I’m almost at a loss for words- a feeling I wish you would’ve gotten before you chose to write something as horrible as this. Your criticism seemed like nothing more than personal attacks, and throughout the entire review you continued to embarrassingly whiff and make readers cringe at your awful attempt at humor.

      I can only imagine the brutal and unrelenting existence you put yourself through.. To be that hateful, dishonest, and disillusioned, you have to be such a miserable and insecure man.. Do better.

  1. The review is laden with lines like this one , which render it aggressively, almost wantonly unreadable.

    This is a stinky pile of shit.
    That isn’t the fault of Peterson’s book, but something you consumed long before, that has been festering over time.

  2. If ever one needs an example of how serious personality pathology manifests its inability to bear uncomfortable opinions or facts, the review up here is just that. If only he took his emotional processing somewhere else and wrote a book review instead, we would have been spared a messy piece of emotional catharsis… But alas…

    1. If you needed an example of how Peterson influences people to mask their emotional pain in pompous words, it’s this comment. Why do all of his fans do this?

      1. It’s astonishing how personally Peterson’s fans take it when anyone doesn’t agree with him.

        You know it’s possible to be rational and intelligent without being a Peterson follower, right.

        1. “You know it’s possible to be rational and intelligent without being a Peterson follower, right.”
          That’s incorrect. It’s only* possible to be rational and intelligent without being a Peterson follower.

      2. “Like Peterson you SOUND smart”

        No. No he doesn’t. And when talking outside of his lane (which is any topic not clinical psychology) neither does Peterson.

  3. This review was written by an ideologically possessed delinquent… It’s a shame that once again foreign eyes will look at South Africa and view it as the $hit hole it is (coming from a South African).
    I’ve never heard of you, or this platform before, but you (the book reviwer) will fade from my memory faster than Jacob Zuma will take to get his next wife.
    This is, its simplest sense, is a staggeringly misinformed review written by a deplorable.

    1. Poplak’s accurate and cripplingly funny review fully skewers the pomposity of Peterson’s faux post-Modern male anxiety. Reading these comments it’s evident that the same viral ailment that has befallen Peterson has found an echo in the South African context. As a Canadian, Peterson in his home country sounds as an empty oil drum, pounding a message that has already lost relevance to a world moved on.

  4. I understand that it is on-trend and a principle of whichever secular dogma that can be used to justify virulent outrage and abuse against anyone whose ideas do not conform to ours. A proper review of the book would have been more useful. Whatever happened to argument, to perspective, to a debate of ideas? Peterson does have a global following; he is not merely looked at as a hero for the uninformed white Anglo-Saxon males. It would have been helpful to use this book to understand why, and what lessons come from his life experiences. Marginalising an author because his ideas do not conform to yours? Come on! Who does it serve to reduce this rather intelligent person to a caricature? Why treat your readers as caricatures? Wouldn’t it have helped to think deeply to understand what is at the core of the story? If the reviewer were not able to review the book with a critical sense, why bother writing anything? Being a snowflake about a book with ideas that one disagrees with does not honour literature. JRB, please do better than this. Many rely on you for objective and critical perspectives that also inform.

    1. Did you not read the review carefully? It demonstrates the weakness of Peterson’s thought. It is hardly “marginalizing” to publish a review of someone’s book. That the reviewer attempted to dig in and “think deeply” and found nothing of substance is on Peterson.

    2. So true when you say Peterson “is not merely looked at as a hero for the uninformed white Anglo-Saxon males”… Bravo!
      He is now looked at as a hero by all sorts of uninformed individuals, globally!
      It’s amazing what a combination of marathon sleep deprivation and multi spectrum drug addiction can do for the international multimedia popularity of a humble Canadian boy…

    1. These comments are almost as funny as the article. Peterson fans gather and prove all of the points made above with a remarkable lack of self awareness.

  5. This review is astonishing. Richard Poplar, whoever he is, calling Jordan Peterson a “flyweight” without a “deep grounding in the history of human thought” is hilarious for its sheer irony and unreflective arrogance.

  6. The JP fanboys in these comments are beyond hilarious.

    Watching his fanbase out themselves with overly emotive, illogical, diarrheally verbose BS as hollow and pretentious as their Lord and Sufferer himself is painful but predictable as hell.

    His bastardized Taoism twisted to pretend to be relevant to the notions he espouses are an insult to their origins. He’s a hack, and exactly the type of ”intellectual” able to easily dupe those who are not by sounding the part.

    Until you actually break it down and discuss it with the experts on the topics he pretends to be knowledgeable about.

    Stick to clinical psychology, and start with yourself and your fanbase, Toxic Ted.

    1. Well said and exactly what appears to me; Peterson’s fanboys extend easily to South Africa and for the same reasons as his rambling illogicality is fostered by Peterson.

  7. This is not a book review. Based on what is written, I would be VERY surprised if the author of this review actually read the book.

  8. Bless you for this, Richard Poplak, I haven’t laughed so hard since the start of the damn pandemic. Jordan Peterson cannot get over the outrage of his own irrelevance.

  9. Extraordinary reading these comments!

    People make reasoned points and they are countered with the intellectual equivalent of ‘ner ner ner’!

    What is it that makes a certain type of person loose their mind with rabid hatred and make them want to show off on line and side with a fashionable hate crusade against a self-help author? (This probably applies to the writer of this hyperbole ridden screed of absolute nonsense designed to appeal to a witless mob of limited intellectual capacities too!)

    They seem to all follow the same format:
    Patronising, smug, no facts or reasoned argument and with a childish naivete about reality (possibly because their authors spend far too much online!)

    1. Spotted another one of the lobster army. Or is it the snakes having sex army. There’s so much Peterson stupidity it’s hard to identify any single strain of it with confidence these days.

      Peterson is the COVID-19 of intellectualism.

  10. Shame, look at all the triggered lobster babies clicking their little pincers together. These are the kinds of reactionary ignoramuses who think Peterson dealt Žižek a ‘knockout blow’ in that shameful debate a year or so back, where the lobster in chief glossed over the Communist manifesto – a mere pamphlet, which he still misunderstood in the most basic, cringeworthy ways – the night before presenting his naked idiocy live in front of the world.

    1. I’d really love for someone such as yourself to get into a debate (about anything) with someone like Jordan Peterson. You sound like a fool who has made your life into a dark meaningless pit filled with resentment cynicism and nihilism. My guess is you’re likely very narcissistic and you can’t stand the thought of someone better than you telling you how to live your life to make it more fulfilling. Cuz you’ve obviously figured it out right? Yeah, you’re the man… Keep telling yourself that.

  11. Completely agree with Toluesi’s and Weird World’s comments.
    I haven’t read JP’s self-help books and I’m not likely to do so. However, I have listened to his entire audio lecture series on the Bible and found it utterly illuminating and fascinating, and for which I am grateful (I am Buddhist not Christian). I also appreciate JP’s many insights into human psychology.
    It is possible to learn from others with whom you do not necessarily agree or “follow.” Unfortunately, I have learned very little from the reviewer or his supporters on this thread.

    1. During the past three years or so, the reply section of any article about Peterson and his work has been reliably more interesting than the published article or review itself. On one side is a mob of poorly educated people with poor critical thinking skills. On the other? Calm, better educated, more articulate writers who are more polite than they have to be. The foaming at the mouth Peterson critics have a tell. Without exception, they have absolutely no reply to any of this arguments.

      1. Without exception, those who say Peterson critics have absolutely no reply for any of his arguments are the same people who do not research criticism of Peterson. See how idiotic it sounds when you make generalizations?

        But right, people you don’t agree with are the ones with poor critical thinking skills. You don’t see the tell there, do you? Didn’t think so. This is why Peterson fans are regarded as weak thinkers.

        Have some intellectual integrity, man.

  12. I wish that Peterson fanboys would actually read other books and make their own minds up about things. And that includes the evil “potmodern neo-marxist” works. But unfortunately Peterson gives them all the answers without any of the work that comes from a lifelong intellectual journey. It’s been years and they are still sucking at his teat for nourishment.

  13. Line at the end: “In the meantime, Peterson should consider the words of Roland Barthes (although he almost certainly won’t). ‘Better the illusions of subjectivity than the impostures of objectivity.’”

    That’s enough to make me dismiss this review. The illusions of subjectivity are what are destroying our world today. This is all part of the post-modernist attempt to fix things by coming up with some perfect set of concepts. But concepts without facts can’t save us.

    I haven’t read this new book, but what I thought after reading “Twelve Rules for Life” was “this would be a good book for young people to read after we make sure they have decent food, housing, and education.” He underestimates the importance of society for the thriving of individuals. But it is true that once someone has all the essentials, he still has to make choices. Society can’t guarantee him a good life.

    I worry about Peterson. I think possibly his life is being destroyed by hitching his wagon to the right wing. But the right response to this isn’t dismissing his ideas as this reviewer does.

  14. This was bad. I should have guessed the writing was poor in quality from the ‘colonoscopy’ comment broadcasted at the top of the page.

    If you want to read a solid review that doesn’t glorify Peterson, and instead sheds light on the flawed human, look elsewhere. I recommend Helen Lewis’s review from The Atlantic. That lady’s got style, something this reviewer lacks entirely.

    “The passive ironic attitude is not cool or romantic, but pathetic and destructive.“ – Robert Greene


      1. The condescending “Lass” part came from you, Harry.

        Helen Lewis is an awesome writer. I’m guessing you didn’t read the review he suggested, but you should.

  15. In the meantime, Peterson should consider the words of Roland Barthes… Hah! Seriously? Who the fuck considers the words of that charlatan seriously nowadays. ‘The text is a descent and ascent into the plane where meaning and non-meaning intertwine, weaving a mutually deceptive, mutually reflective fabric of truth and falsehood truly and falsely perceived. It is at once a mise en abyme and mise en ciel, a neither here nor there encountered here there and everywhere. Oh, and nowhere.

  16. Poplak is no deep thinker, so is at home performing only superficial analyses. Sad that he is, nevertheless, overcome by the conceit of his own cleverness. He doesn’t understand how anti-depressants work, if he can even try to argue that they negatively effect anyone’s cognitive or writing ability, so once again shows his superficial, even wanton understanding of that subject. And to argue that ideas should not be presented because they are ‘fucking old’ is asinine and sophomoric. Plato is pretty old, last I checked. I’m not a fan of Peterson’s many sojourns into areas he has no expertise in. But the same can be said of Poplak, a second-rate mind farting itself onto an imaginary pedestal.

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