Beyond Order by J.B. Peterson – Summary/Notes


  • This book was written while struggling through the pandemic, sicknesses in his daughter, his wife, and himself.
  • He first started using benzodiazepines to help with his anxiety in 2016. He took more in March 2019 because his anxiety skyrocketed during Mikhaila’s surgery and his wife’s surgeries. He switched off of benzos and tried ketamine instead in May of 2019 because the benzos weren’t reducing his anxiety. Then came the withdrawal symptoms – akathisia. So he went back on the benzos.
  • He describes going to an American clinic, and then a clinic in Moscow, and then to Florida, and then to Serbia.
  • He ends his story by pointing out that the rules he laid out are not necessarily sufficient to live by. Instead, it’s the heroism of the human spirit that we need.
  • He describes order and chaos, the tyranny (and support) of culture, along with the disruption (and novelty) of nature. In Beyond Order, he’ll be focusing on how to live in the face of too much order.

Rule I: Do not Carelessly Denigrate Social Institutions or Creative Achievement

  • People depend on constant communication with others to help keep them sane. They use it to distinguish what’s trivial from overblown, what’s important from unimportant, what’s crazy from banal. Peterson argues that Jung and Freud both undervalued the importance of the social world in maintaining individual sanity by focusing on the internal psyche. We outsource our sanity to the group to keep us in check by responding to cues from other people when you veer off the sane path. They’ll raise an eyebrow, or not laugh at your jokes, or look at you with disgust, etc.
  • If you’re not pointing at things with your speech that’s important to others, your communication is valueless, by definition.
  • People point to important things. Generally, we point to problems we face (because we’re limited beings in a biological and cultural world), and to solutions.
  • Good solutions are iterable across time and people. Social institutions are repositories of good solutions. They’re made up of hierarchies.
  • Hierarchies arise when a collection aims to achieve something. The hierarchy arises through cooperation, competition, jockeying for resources and position, survival and reproduction.
  • When humans develop, we first bring ourselves together as a single entity. Then, we learn to play with others. Play is the collective pursuit of a shared goal. It must be fun (meaning that the people in it want to keep it continuing).
  • “The best player is therefore not the winner of any given game but, among many other things, he or she who is invited by the largest number of others to play the most extensive series of games.”
  • Being at the bottom of a hierarchy can develop gratitude and humility. Everyone worthy of being at the top of a hierarchy can still think like someone at the bottom: with gratitude and humility. Being at the bottom can also lead you to develop resentment, cynicism, and pride.
  • It’s tough to move information up a hierarchy. You can risk humiliating your superior because you may reveal him as incompetent, outdated, or false. For this reason, it’s useful to approach a superior carefully and privately with a problem, hopefully with a solution, and deliver it cautiously.
  • It’s tough to move information down a hierarchy too! People below might feel resentful, and can work counterproductively. They also easily obey position and power, instead of just competence.
  • Equals are very important. To make equals, there’s reciprocity and mutual bonding. Peers help you with life’s joys and burdens. “It truly seems that it is better to give than to receive.”
  • A hierarchy based on authority arises when those who can fix a problem do, and those who can’t, learn. A responsible person decides to make a problem his or her[s], and works for its solution diligently, ambitiously, and efficiently.
  • Power is to compel, forcefully. There’s the threat of privation or punishment. Subordinates act contrary to their personal needs, desires, and values. Competence however is followed willingly and with relief.
  • Genuine authority constrains the arbitrary exercise of power. The one with authority cares, takes responsibility for those (rather than exerts dominance), and accountability for them. Authority is stopped from devolving into power by remembering his beginnings, and realizing the potential of those who are at the bottom.
  • Rules keep are safe from too much chaos. But the rules must change as our circumstances do. How do you find the balance when changing the rules between protective order and necessary change?
  • First, temperament. We have different personalities, and there are permanent niches in society where our temperaments belong.
  • Second, it’s more important to observe and differentiate rather than to assert with ideological conviction. This prevents you from becoming a cynical radical, as well as a corrupt conservative.
  • Third, remember that both halves are integrally inter-dependant on each other – neither one is correct at all times, for all situations. It’s for this reason that creativity must be moulded and formed by discipline. You learn both
  • Personality as Hierarchy – and capacity for transformation.

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