Jordan Peterson’s Cannon Lobster and 12 Rules for Life Review

“This is Peterson, your new replacement.” – Idiocracy

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The Texans had a cannon, the lobsters did not.  Therefore?  The lobsters lost control of vast swaths of Texas very quickly.  Except the Alamo.  The lobsters won there. 

Here is the first of three posts on Dr. Jordan Peterson’s newly released bestseller, “12 Rules for Life.”  The second post is here (LINK). The final post is here (LINK).  There’s a link to the book on Amazon down below.  I don’t (as of this writing) get anything if you buy it there, but that might change over time.  Regardless, buy the book.  Jordan Peterson is amazing.

Peterson puts more ideas into a five minute YouTube video excerpt from a lecture than most college courses do.  Dr. Peterson is unfailingly moral and gutsy.  He is willing to share uncomfortable facts and naked truth, which is anathema to those that would prefer the safety of soft and pretty lies.  He is unfailingly polite.  And blunt.  And I’d be fascinated to see him with a glass or two of wine in him.

Dr. Peterson’s work is based on decades of study combined with a keen intellect and countless hours of work as a clinical psychologist helping people with everything from addiction to performance measurement and enhancement.  He has earned his wisdom.

Jordan Peterson is Dangerous.  He’ll make you think new thoughts, and question your basic assumptions about who you are, and who you can be.

We need a thousand more like him.

I’ve only read a third of the book as of this writing (it was released on Tuesday), but that’s enough to get the first four rules.  By observation, the book is already in thirds – the first four rules are about an inward focus.  Rules 5-8 are about obtaining and creating control in your own life.  Rules 9-12 are about facing outwards, so my strategy of breaking this review/discussion into thirds makes sense to me.

Rule 1:  Stand Up Straight with Your Shoulders Back

This is also the first lesson in super hero school, except they add “and put your clenched fists on your hips, and stare up at a waving American flag.”  See, Dr. Peterson and I just saved you $75 in superhero school tuition.

This is actually awesome advice, even as weird as it sounds, since adopting this pose will immediately make you feel better, more powerful and more in control of your own life.

Huh?

Yeah.  And the secret is buried 350,000,000 years back into the past.  As Dr. Peterson notes, that far back there weren’t even trees on land.

But there was serotonin.

How do we known this?  Crunchy, tasty lobsters whose life diverged from ours 350,000,000 years ago.  Turns out that lobsters have social status, and those who have good status produce more serotonin.  And a big lobster that wins the big lobster fight?  A big boost of serotonin.  One of the same, powerful brain chemicals in humans.

The loser?  The loser of the big lobster fight, well no serotonin for him.  He has to settle for having his brain melt so it can rewire itself because it literally cannot cope with his new, lower status.  And you thought you were depressed after losing the annual Christmas Monopoly game to your snot-nosed nephew who still has a lisp.

Serotonin, winning, losing and social hierarchy have been around forever. Prozac® works on lobsters to make them less depressed.

But the winning lobster wins even more and becomes more dominant.  If he were a person, he’d be setting himself up for a successful career.

Because loser lose. And they pay for it.  They’re sicker, they die earlier, and they have a lower likelihood of producing offspring.

Dr. Peterson then references Price’s law – Price’s law pertains to the relationship between the literature on a subject and the number of authors in the subject area, stating that half of the publications come from the square root of all contributors.

Winners win.  He brought up classical music.  Half of classical music played is from four composers:  Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky.  And only a small number of the songs from those four are the most beloved songs in classical music.  The same principle explains why Jeff Bezos is planning to create an Amazonian Interstellar Empire while you can’t afford to pay your car insurance bill this month.  Winning is awesome.

It’s so awesome that if you win?  You live longer.  You’re healthier.  You enjoy life more.  You’re confident.  And you have all the serotonin and PEZ® that you could want.

And we can’t all be Bezos.  But we can stand up straight like a hero.  It will make you feel better, stronger, and just adopting that confident pose will help spike your serotonin and stop your lobster-brain from melting into loser configuration.

Back to Peterson:  “To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open.”

And back to Wilder:  “I want to go out of this world as I came into it – screaming and covered in someone else’s blood.”  (This apparently is from Sniper: Reloaded, per the Internet, but I’m going to pretend I wrote it.)

Rule 2:  Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible for Helping

This chapter has a fairly long digression on Order and Chaos.  Interesting, philosophical, but Dr. Peterson could have anchored it more firmly to the Rule.  I’m not complaining, but I’m not going to talk as much about it since it was rather obliquely tied to the rest of everything going on in the chapter.  This chapter probably could have used a bit more ruthless editing.  Again, great stuff, just needed to tie it all up in a bow.  Dr. Peterson:  I volunteer if you need a hand next time!

Back to the Rule:

Think of how you talk to yourself when you look in the mirror or have just screwed up.  It’s horrible.  And if a friend talked to you EVEN ONE TIME as much as you berate yourself?  You’d cut them out of your life pretty quickly.  But it’s much messier when it’s you treating you like that, because you can’t tell you that you never want to see you again.  Just not practical.  Unless you’re an old timey vampire and your reflection can’t be seen in a mirror.

I digress.

Other takeaways:

On “protecting kids” from this chapter . . . you can’t keep them away from the evil of the world so . . . “It is far better to render Beings in your care competent than to protect them.”  Why anything less for yourself?

Peterson has several powerful questions at the end of this chapter, an example:  “What might my life be like if I were caring for myself properly?”  And no, I won’t list them all.  Buy the book.

Rule 3:  Make Friends with People Who Want the Best for You

Thoroughly enjoyable chapter, with all of the backstory that you’d expect in a superhero origin movie.  Reading Peterson’s version of his adolescence brought memories of mine back, as we both grew up in rather small, remote, cold places.  And, no, that doesn’t refer to our father’s hearts.  It ends with a friend that couldn’t be saved – because the friend didn’t want to be saved.

I’ve had a great friend walk down the drug path, where they’d do and say anything to get more money to buy more drugs.  Did I want the best for him?  Sure!  Did I try to help?  Absolutely.  But the last night he was in my car was the night he snorted coke in it.  And the reason why I didn’t lend him anymore money was he never paid me back the $75 that I lent him.  Oh, he paid me back, he said.  Left it under my front door mat.

I didn’t have a front door mat.

And friendships are reciprocal.  I was promoted at work (years ago) and placed in the partially uncomfortable position of managing the people who had been my peers, sometimes for years.  One of them was Willie.  Willie was a certified genius.  When he was a summer college intern, he (and all the other interns) were offered 3% of anything they could save the company.

He saved them three million dollars.

They gave him a cool computer and a check for several thousand dollars.  But not $30,000 to an intern.

So, I’m in the position where I’m supposed to lead Willie.

He kept coming in late to work.  It made sense because the people that he mainly worked with were several timezones west.  He’d get in later in the morning, and stay until 7pm or 8pm.  Makes sense, right?

Not to the company president.  “He’s late again.”

Oh, man.  First time leading a department and Willie was going to sink me.

“Willie, you’re killing your career.  The president of the company is on my back.”  The president was six layers of management above me.

“I don’t care.”

“Willie, you’re killing me.  They’re going to fire me if you keep coming in late.”

“Oh.”

And Willie was never late again.

A friend?  Absolutely.  We still talk to this day, even though we haven’t worked together in well over a decade.  If I needed to borrow silly amounts of money?  Yeah.  I could do that with a group of at least seven friends.  Find those people.

Surround yourself with people who will not stand for you hurting yourself, and would do anything to avoid hurting you.  Avoid those who you are friends with only out of loyalty, and whose motives are suspect.  Lies?  Deal breaker.

One of the things I love about Dr. Peterson is that he’ll quote Homer Simpson.  And Dostoevsky.  In the same chapter.   And he does it in this thoroughly enjoyable chapter.

Rule 4:  Compare Yourself to Who You Were Yesterday, Not Who Someone Else Is Today

The Internet makes it easy to compare any aspect of yourself to the best of seven billion people.  And you’re not one of them.  Someone is smarter.  Someone is richer (unless your name is Bezos) and someone plays better guitar than you.  If you get caught up in making these comparisons, you’re always going to lose.

And we’re not wired that way.  We’re wired to know about 150 people really well and trust them.  We can get to trusting larger numbers (through various means) but the competition for best storyteller was once a village-wide event, not a world-wide event.  It’s not really hard to be strongest out of 150 people.  It’s not really hard to be one of the best singers.

But today?  At the touch of a button I can make myself feel inadequate by comparing myself against tons of different people.

Peterson:  “Who cares if you’re the PM of Canada when someone else is the president of the United States?”

But the only real competition for me is me.  Am I getting better?  Am I pushing myself to be the best Wilder I can be?  And are the people really happier?  Was Tom Petty (LINK) happier than me?  In a hobby, I sometimes look to see what happened to famous people who I envied in my youth.  Almost universally, I turn out ahead of them.  And many of them are dead, youthful, untimely deaths.  Tom Petty or me – who has it better?  Me.

Realize that you can strongly influence your daily progress.  Do you want to be CEO?  Really?  Probably not.  80 hour weeks every week probably aren’t your thing.  Understand how your talents can best be used, and then work like hell at being the best you possible, because competing against seven billion?  That’s going to kill you.

So will fighting a giant radioactive lobster with a cannon . . . more on Peterson next Friday.

I’ve written more about Peterson’s ideas here (LINK), here (LINK), and here (LINK).  Click on them if you love Truth.

Medieval French, Medieval Warm Period, Medieval Volcano, Medieval Weight Loss Pill

“This is Jenny.  She and her family are having a picnic at the foot of a volcano.  Oh no!  The volcano has erupted!  What do you do now Jenny?  That’s right.  Duck and cover.  What do you do Jimmy? Duck and cover.  Duck and cover!” – South Park

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Thankfully the volcano killed off the giant ice crabs.

On July 17, 1315, Roul returned to his home from a hard day’s farming.  He was very tired.  He was dirty.  He didn’t rank highly on the social scale – he was a serf, and could be bought and sold with the land he lived on.  They didn’t call Roul a serf – his social class was called “villeins” in the local language of northern France.

I was very cold – especially strange since it was July.  The sunsets, when Roul saw them, were more colorful than any he remembered in his life – he was 28 – but the weather was cold, and wet.  At the best of times his wheat harvest might produce seven seeds for each one planted.  Subtract saving one seed for next year’s planting, 10% of them for the Church, and 50% of them for the Lord whose land he farmed and taxes and out of each 14 seeds in a good year Roul could keep, at most, five for eating and trading.  In 2015 the same field, plowed using modern machinery, planted with hybrid seeds, and with fertilizer levels closely monitored would bring over 30 seeds for each one planted.

But Roul could see none of that.  His life was smaller.  Not only was a tractor unimaginable, but the amount of real wealth it represented would be greater than the wealth of an entire province in 1300’s France.  His income was small.  But combined with the barter they got for his wife’s sewing, it was a good, but very tough life.

This year?  This was the worst year he had ever seen.  And the old graybeards in town said that they had never seen a year like this – ever.

And they hadn’t.  The Medieval Warm Period ended around 1300A.D., with temperatures greater than today’s during much of that time, quite optimum for growing plants during the long growing seasons and the population of Europe had expanded.  But the Warm Period ended.

But 1315 was even more special:  Mount Tarawera erupted.  Although Tarawera was almost exactly on the other side of the world from Roul in what would be named New Zealand by Dutch navigator Abel Tasman 320 some years later, its impact on his life was profound.  The volcanic dust and ash filled the atmosphere and cooled the Earth for more than two years.  The Great Famine followed.  Over the next seven years at least 5% (and perhaps as many as 12%) of all northern Europeans died.  The world for them contracted and became hungry, mean, and criminal.  The Black Plague found easy purchase in the wasted land.  The combined impacts of famine and disease caused Europe to experience a significant depopulation during the 1300s, which led to labor being more valuable, which led directly to the values that formed the Renaissance.  The birth of modern culture was forged in famine and pestilence.

But we were talking about Roul.

In the bitter cold of winter of 1315 and 1316, Roul and his wife, Cateline resembled hibernating bears more than a farmer and wife in the prime of life.  During the intense cold of the winters, they spent most of their time huddled under blankets on their straw bedding trying to do as little as possible to conserve every bit of energy – the harvest had been poor and food was in very short supply.  Most days they got up to do the minimum of chores required, and ate very sparingly.

Roul and Cateline didn’t starve.  It was a near thing.  But the society they saw a decade later scarcely resembled the one that they had left behind in the spring of 1315.

So, how far have we come as a civilization?  Right now hunger is still a world problem, but hunger is less prevalent now than at any time in recorded history.  Ever.  Obesity, however, is as bad as it has ever been, and been getting worse.  Stupid Skittles®.

I’ll admit, some dead Roman was right when he said that a pleasure repeated too often becomes a punishment.  But being fat is still way better than starving to death.  Like a joke The Mrs. loves:

A guy was talking to his dog.  “No more food for you, or you’ll get fat.”

The dog responds, “Fat?  What’s that?”

The guy:  “It’s when you eat and drink too much and sit on the couch and don’t exercise and gain a lot of weight.”

The dog:  “Ohhhh, that sounds good.  Let’s get fat.”

What people really want is to sit on their couch, eat chips, drink beer, play video games, and look like The Rock after a particularly challenging workout.  And there are billions of dollars available to anyone who can make that happen.  And people are working on it right now:  The Exercise Pill.

They even found one that was awesome:  GW501516.  Sexy name.  All the cool kids call it 516 (really).  In the subjects that the scientists gave 516 to, they found that nearly immediately exercise endurance went up by double digit percentages.  They lost weight without working out any more than usual.

A perfect pill!  With 516 you could have it all.  Endurance, an athletic bod, and lower weight.  516 even released the hormones and all the good stuff associated with strenuous exercise.

So, where can you get some?

Well, your doctor won’t prescribe it for you because all the test subjects came down with megasupereverything cancer.  Whatever 516 did, it really did a number on the test subjects, giving them every cancer one can imagine.

Thankfully they were mice.

But people are taking 516 right now, body builders and dudes looking to lose weight while getting strong.  Seems like you can buy the stuff, it’s just not approved, and it has been banned by multiple sports (I think there’s a Lance Armstrong joke in there, but I’ll skip it).  So you can get it, but you’re not supposed to take it, just like animal antibiotics, which people do take, since they can skip going to a doctor and just get the stuff online.

Work hasn’t stopped on bringing 516 (and some other exercise pills) to market, but they’re hoping with 100% less cancer, and the New Yorker (LINK) has a pretty good article on it.  I won’t spoil the ending.  Okay, I will.  We don’t have an exercise pill.

But . . . should we?  I guess that, from a perspective of having people live healthier lives, I’ve got to say, yeah, we should.  But the very discipline required to keep and maintain a weight, the hard work, the sacrifice, isn’t that part of what makes us stronger, so when life is tough, we know we have the internal strength to stand up to challenges?

Nah.

All that sounds like work.

They’ll have a pill for willpower and inner strength, won’t they?