I proposed in Maps of Meaning that the great myths and religious stories of the past, particularly those derived from an earlier, oral tradition, were moral in their intent, rather than descriptive. Thus, they did not concern themselves with what the world was, as a scientist might have it, but with how a human being should act. I suggested that our ancestors portrayed the world as a stage—a drama—instead of a place of objects. I described how I had come to believe that the constituent elements of the world as drama were order and chaos, and not material things.
Order is where the people around you act according to well-understood social norms, and remain predictable and cooperative. It’s the world of social structure, explored territory, and familiarity.
Chaos, by contrast, is where—or when—something unexpected happens. It’s the new and unpredictable suddenly emerging in the midst of the commonplace familiar.
Order and chaos are the yang and yin of the famous Taoist symbol: two serpents, head to tail. Order is the white, masculine serpent; Chaos, its black, feminine counterpart. The black dot in the white—and the white in the black—indicate the possibility of transformation: just when things seem secure, the unknown can loom, unexpectedly and large. Conversely, just when everything seems lost, new order can emerge from catastrophe and chaos.
Perhaps, if we lived properly, we would be able to tolerate the weight of our own self-consciousness. Perhaps, if we lived properly, we could withstand the knowledge of our own fragility and mortality, without the sense of aggrieved victimhood that produces, first, resentment, then envy, and then the desire for vengeance and destruction. Perhaps, if we lived properly, we wouldn’t have to turn to totalitarian certainty to shield ourselves from the knowledge of our own insufficiency and ignorance. Perhaps we could come to avoid those pathways to Hell—and we have seen in the terrible twentieth century just how real Hell can be.
I hope that these rules and their accompanying essays will help people understand what they already know: that the soul of the individual eternally hungers for the heroism of genuine Being, and that the willingness to take on that responsibility is identical to the decision to live a meaningful life.
If we each live properly, we will collectively flourish.
Jordan B. Peterson — 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (pp. xxvii-xxxv)
Dr. Jordan B. Peterson has burst onto the scene lately with his YouTube videos attracting millions of views. His videos aren’t short cute little videos either; they are 1- to 3-hour long lectures and millions of people are still watching them. Of course, there’s plenty of videos surfacing lately with him that are much shorter in length and are cut into bite-sized chunks and sorted by topics. Give him a listen, you may like some of the things he has to say, but I must warn you, once you start listening you may not be able to stop.
Way back in 2002, Peterson did a talk on TVO (Slaying the Dragon Within Us) where he read a children’s story called There’s No Such Thing as Dragons. (If you only want to see the story being read by Peterson, you can do that here) That talk was my first introduction to Jordan Peterson and I’ve been listening to him ever since. He’s a University of Toronto professor and a clinical psychologist who has a wealth of knowledge and a passion to share his ideas with the world.
How many of us have dragons that start out very small then increase in size so drastic that they overtake our lives? The parallel between the story he read and our lives is obvious and crystal clear.
I greatly appreciate much of what Peterson has to say about Order and Chaos. There’s actually a sweet spot right between both of them where life feels perfect. Too much order, and we get bored and restless. Too much chaos and our lives are sent into a vortex we feel we’ll never escape from. Our lives continually bounce back and forth between the opposite poles of order and chaos.
How many of us know people who are so structured that Order serves as the prison guard of their life? They are so consumed with order that they fail to live a happy and meaningful life. They rarely stop to smell the roses; and spontaneity of any kind nearly kills them. Without strict order, they fear they’ll fall off the cliff into chaos never to return, so they grasp so tightly to order they nearly choke all the life out of their so-called-life.
On the other hand, we all know people who are so mired by Chaos that every day is a new emergency. They sleep through their alarm, their rent is past due, they can never keep their word, they have unexpected bills every month, and asking them to plan more than five minutes out is a pipe-dream. If they did manage to get their life put back together properly, they would instantly mess it back up on purpose just so Chaos would come running back. They know no other life than chaos. Even the thought of having order in their life scares them. What would that actually look like? they ponder. These are the people whose houses get carried away by the dragon.
Where is your life today? This week? This month? This year? Are you cruising along safely between just enough order and just enough chaos? Are you rigidly cemented in your life of Order? Or, are you drowning in the claws of Chaos? Something to think about.
Have a blessed day.
Peace and Love,