59) Jordan Peterson, Part 5: The Perfect House Problem; Subsection 2 – In Jordan’s Own Words

Now, I expect a person’s first response to the previous post (#58) might be skepticism.  Like, did Jordan really say something like that?  All that “shut up” and “crawl back to your holes” stuff?   Of course, the answer is no.  He said it a lot more nicely.  You could say I’m “spinning” it in a negative way.  Or, you could say that he is spinning it in a sneakily (deceptively?) positive way.  I rephrased it a bit, so the destructiveness of this advice should, I hope, become clearer.  

Let’s let Jordan speak for himself here.  We’ll take a big passage out of his book in which he talks about this.

Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city? Let your own soul guide you. Watch what happens over the days and weeks. When you are at work you will begin to say what you really think. You will start to tell your wife, or your husband, or your children, or your parents, what you really want and need. When you know that you have left something undone, you will act to correct the omission. Your head will start to clear up, as you stop filling it with lies. Your experience will improve, as you stop distorting it with inauthentic actions. You will then begin to discover new, more subtle things that you are doing wrong. Stop doing those, too. After some months and years of diligent effort, your life will become simpler and less complicated. Your judgment will improve. You will untangle your past. You will become stronger and less bitter. You will move more confidently into the future. You will stop making your life unnecessarily difficult. You will then be left with the inevitable bare tragedies of life, but they will no longer be compounded with bitterness and deceit.”

Now, OF COURSE there’s good stuff in there!  I would say I agree with everything — after the first sentence (and, because of the implications of the first sentence, the second and third ones too).  And THAT’S THE PROBLEM!  Jordan makes this insidiously subtle, destructive statement right up front, but before the immensity of its implications sink it, he expounds at length upon it with such persuasive, compelling writing, you agree with it SO much, that you kind of nod along, yes, yes, yes!!  And by the time you’re finished, you’ve sort of forgotten that the entire narrative here, is the clearest statement of flat-out oppression, that I can imagine.  It’s just dressed up so nicely in “sort yourself out” Dad-wisdom.


Let’s go back to those first three sentences again:  “Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience.  Have some humility.  If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?”

Jordan is Right! (in part…)

There is one HUGE WAY IN WHICH THIS IS TRUE!   So let’s be clear about this.  He IS making a good point here. 

Which is, if ‘the mob’ forms to try to change the system, and ‘the mob’ is made out of pretty un-sorted-out individuals, then ‘the mob’ is gonna be downright scary.  They’re gonna do a bunch of stupid things, and the rest of the world is gonna criticize the shit outta them, and the entire movement looks bad as a result.  They will fail at their aims, and people say, “Those protesters?  Yeah, what a bunch of idiots!  All they did was smash windows, and throw rocks at those cops who were just trying to maintain public safety!  ….and yeah, did you hear that one who got interviewed and was on the news?  Fuckin’ guy didn’t even know what he was talking about!  Like, go to school man!  Read a book!”  

Ghandi experienced this a ton, in his resistance work against the British Empire.  His principle of “satyagraha” was effective many times, but it was also ineffective many times, precisely because those of his followers who were less ‘sorted out’, who had less self-control, often buckled under the pressure of maintaining discipline in the face of organized resistance & state-sanctioned violence, and the result was reciprocal violence, anger, and a mob that didn’t look at all like peaceful, towering, inspiring Ghandi.  And when that happened, at the regional level, over and over, Ghandi’s model of resistance went to shit. 

(NOTE: If you’re interested in the history, read Ghandi’s autobiography, where it’s clearly talked about as a thorn in his side.)  If only the people were similarly disciplined, enlightened, ‘sorted out’, or whatever you want to call it, Ghandi’s movement would not have faced the same struggles as it did.  In the end, Britain left, sure, and there are examples like the Salt March that are held up as incredible successes, but the smaller, on-the-ground stories of regional resistance actions, often fell apart, failed, and stirred people up to violence, many times.)

But the TRUE PART OF WHAT JORDAN SAID goes even deeper.  It’s not only about revolutions failing, it’s about them succeeding!  Cuz, if the revolutionary mob does achieve its aims, does gain power, and does have a chance to make something better of the world, then what’s going to happen if ‘the mob’ contains lots of unsorted-out people?  Well….here’s where I agree with Jordan’s take on history, sort of.  THIS is what led to the “communist revolution” of Russia turning into the horrendous death machine of Stalinism and the Gulag and the Soviet power-takeover.  THIS is what led to so-called communist China becoming an incredibly repressive dictatorship, resulting in Tianamen Square, decades of people ‘disappearing’, state-controlled media, etc.  

Because people who are not well sorted out DO yearn for power!  Look at any dysfunctional family — literally any of them.  I practically guarantee you, you’re gonna find some angry dude (note: dude is gender-neutral in my vocabulary, so it might not be the man, although it often has been, but yeah, women don’t get off the hook on this) — some not-sorted-out angry dude, with childhood wounds, insecurity and bitterness eating at their heart, suffering from either lots of anxiety leading them to be a control freak, OR lots of bitterness due to their own disempowerment, leading them to be an angry powder keg, OR both.  And the result?  Go ask five people, at random, if they grew up in an emotionally healthy home, or if, as kids, they felt controlled, scared, or ignored, or all three.  And see what those five random people tell you.  

Messed up families are EVERYWHERE.  If it’s not yours, then it’s the person’s sitting next to you.  

This leads to kids who don’t have their fundamental needs met — autonomy/self-direction; relatedness/belonging, and control/competence/empowerment.  Kids without those needs met, become parents who inflict the same trauma on their kids, and the cycle continues.  These are SOME of the key mechanisms of what we call “intergenerational trauma.”  

Every tyrant-parent is a living testament to Jordan’s wisdom to “sort yourself out” BEFORE you go seeking power.  Cuz if you get it, you’re gonna be an asshole with it.  

So let’s be TOTALLY CLEAR on this.  This IS an important, rock solid piece of advice from Jordan.  Up to a point.


But here’s why it is also terribly dangerous and flat-out wrong the way he has written about it.

The great activist Howard Zinn said You can’t be neutral on a moving train.

The luminary activist Elie Wiesel said “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.  The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.

The problem is, the world doesn’t stop spinning.  Time doesn’t stand still.  Jordan advises people to basically perfect themselves before seeking to run “the city”.  BUT LOOK AT THE WORLD.  Look at the United States, for the clearest example I can imagine.  Donald Trump?  An enlightened, sorted out, emotionally stable, “wise” human being????????????????????  

The President of the United States of America, with all the nuclear missiles at his disposal, the most powerful military in the world, political influence almost unparalleled in history, lurches and stumbles and bumbles forward, lashes out indiscriminately, breaks every rule either because he doesn’t give a fuck or he’s too narcissistic (or maybe can’t read, still not sure on that one), to actually KNOW what the rules are!   According to his own staff, he doesn’t read even the briefest of briefs, the most dumbed-down summaries, about the complicated political decisions he makes. He just makes them. Because he can. Because he’s at the apex of the Dominance Hierarchy. The supposedly competence-based Dominance Hierarchy…  

We’re experiencing it in Ontario — Our “Trump-lite” premier, as many call him, is certainly toeing the line of the other anti-the-people politicians who have graced the stage in recent decades, consistently giving more and more power to the corporate world while holding to a rhetoric of being “for the people”. 

This game — pretending to be “for the people” while actually robbing the ones at the bottom to transfer every ounce of power and wealth you can manage, to the top, is EXACTLY what has caused the totalitarian regimes that Jordan rails about — the 100 million corpses, and all that.  It’s not “socialism” or “Neo Marxism” or “communism” — it’s just not.  It’s HIERARCHY.  And specifically, it’s perverted-hierarchy, where the dominant lobster isn’t the most sorted out — it’s just the biggest, meanest, most deceitful, most-well-networked-with-the-wealthy, most-beholden-to-corporate-influence, most secretive, most Power-hungry most UNsorted-out lobster!  They, increasingly, rule the world.  

So what are the rest of us to do, while the Machine of Tyranny stomps its armoured boots in our faces?  Go home, shut up, and work on our own personal development?

You gotta wake up and smell the coffee, man.  We live in a world of state-sanctioned terror and violence.  The USA, bastion of freedom apparently, is also one of the biggest torturers and incarcerators in the world.  The promises the powerful have made to “protect the environment”, “respect the rights of indigenous peoples,” “grow the economy because a rising tide lifts all boats,” have given us happy-sounding sound-bites, but a planet teetering on large-scale ecological collapse, a history of unimaginable indigenous genocide — a societal No-Face, a world-sized hungry ghost that we call the Economy, and the consumer-worker-drones that we have become in order to continually feed this beast.    

We have practically eaten the planet, and we’re already starting to fight over the crumbs that remain.  

We don’t need fancy scientific jargon to talk about the disappearing species.   No matter what the error bars are on a scientific study, whether the scientists are off by a bit here or a bit there, the story is the same — this planet is transforming into one that rejects the human species.  As our global life support system breaks down and this world of abundance truly does become a world of scarcity, as every food web collapses into barrenness and chaos, we can no longer buy into the fuzzy promises of the sooth-sayers who tell us the world is getting better and human welfare is increasing in every conceivable way.  This is just not true, when the oldest trees are dying (google it!), the largest coral reef is dying (google it!), the Arctic now burns regularly (google it!), the Amazon now burns regularly (google it!), plankton is collapsing, insect abundance is collapsing, BIRD abundance is collapsing (google all them too!).  

How long do you think we can sustain ourselves, in a house with no foundation?  No, we’ll be living in the dirt.  And what happens then?  History is clear — we eat each other.  We’re a world-sized Easter Island.  

We cannot wait for ‘personal development’ to make us all enlightened, while the powerful gluttonize the little that’s left.  They insist “everything’s under control.”  Just trust the system.  The market.  The job creators.  Things are getting better.  Just trust US.  Hierarchy is good, because the BEST PEOPLE rise to the top.  

People love this shit.  I think that’s why, in part, his book is such a consistent best-seller.  It’s so comfortingly individualistic. The power is in YOUR hands. Just like environmentalists loved believing that the most important things to do were recycle, compost, eat less meat, and all that.  Because it’s COMFORTING.  “You can make a difference.  Start a paper recycling program in your office.  Wow, you recycled 63% of your paper this year!  Yayyyy.”  

(The U.S. Military uses up, in probably about a day, maybe even an hour, more resources than you can save by changing your entire life to be a perfect ethical consumer. Sorry vegans, if saving the environment is your predominant reason for adopting this kind of lifestyle.)


So, no.  Rule #6 is not only ‘wrong’.  It is the very lie that underpins dictatorships, genocide, mass slaughter, and every form of terribleness that Jordan has made his living telling people he is trying to prevent.  

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