12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos // Jordan Peterson

Kniha se může zdát jako předlouhé kázání, na jehož konci všichni souhlasně pokyvují a já už dávno nevnímám, protože spím. Části filozofických textů přeskakuju, stejně tak jako výklady Bible, které mne příliš nezaujaly.

I tak mne četba moc bavila, o čemž vypovídá množství citací, které si ukládám>>. Zaujala mne především pátá kapitola svým pohledem na výchovu dětí a jedenáctá věnující se maskulinitě a patriarchální(?) kultuře. Doporučuju také zábavný rozhovor s panem Petersonem.

It took untold generations to get you where you are. A little gratitude might be in order. If you’re going to insist on bending the world to your way, you better have your reasons.

You can only find out what you actually believe (rather than what you think you believe) by watching how you act. You simply don’t know what you believe, before that. You are too complex to understand yourself.

Ideologies are substitutes for true knowledge, and ideologues are always dangerous when they come to power, because a simple-minded I-know-it-all approach is no match for the complexity of existence.

Every bit of learning is a little death. Every bit of new information challenges a previous conception, forcing it to dissolve into chaos before it can be reborn as something better. Sometimes such deaths virtually destroy us.

We must each adopt as much responsibility as possible for individual life, society and the world. We must each tell the truth and repair what is in disrepair and break down and recreate what is old and outdated. It is in this manner that we can and must reduce the suffering that poisons the world. It’s asking a lot. It’s asking for everything.

RULE 1 / Stand up straight with your shoulders back

When a defeated lobster regains its courage and dares to fight again it is more likely to lose again than you would predict, statistically, from a tally of its previous fights. Its victorious opponent, on the other hand, is more likely to win. It’s winner-take-all in the lobster world, just as it is in human societies, where the top 1 percent have as much loot as the bottom 50 percent—and where the richest eighty-five people have as much as the bottom three and a half billion.

Serotonin governs posture and escape in the lobster. Low-ranking lobsters produce comparatively low levels of serotonin. This is also true of low-ranking human beings (and those low levels decrease more with each defeat). Low serotonin means decreased confidence. Low serotonin means more response to stress and costlier physical preparedness for emergency—as anything whatsoever may happen, at any time, at the bottom of the dominance hierarchy (and rarely something good). Low serotonin means less happiness, more pain and anxiety, more illness, and a shorter lifespan—among humans, just as among crustaceans. Higher spots in the dominance hierarchy, and the higher serotonin levels typical of those who inhabit them, are characterized by less illness, misery and death, even when factors such as absolute income—or number of decaying food scraps—are held constant. The importance of this can hardly be overstated.

I always ask my clinical clients first about sleep. Do they wake up in the morning at approximately the time the typical person wakes up, and at the same time every day? If the answer is no, fixing that is the first thing I recommend. It doesn’t matter so much if they go to bed at the same time each evening, but waking up at a consistent hour is a necessity. Anxiety and depression cannot be easily treated if the sufferer has unpredictable daily routines. The systems that mediate negative emotion are tightly tied to the properly cyclical circadian rhythms. The next thing I ask about is breakfast. I counsel my clients to eat a fat and protein-heavy breakfast as soon as possible after they awaken (no simple carbohydrates, no sugars, as they are digested too rapidly, and produce a blood-sugar spike and rapid dip). This is because anxious and depressed people are already stressed, particularly if their lives have not been under control for a good while. Their bodies are therefore primed to hypersecrete insulin, if they engage in any complex or demanding activity. If they do so after fasting all night and before eating, the excess insulin in their bloodstream will mop up all their blood sugar. Then they become hypoglycemic and psychophysiologically unstable. All day. Their systems cannot be reset until after more sleep. I have had many clients whose anxiety was reduced to subclinical levels merely because they started to sleep on a predictable schedule and eat breakfast.

RULE 2 / Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping

You might be walking down the road in the body you have always relied on. If your heart malfunctions, even momentarily, everything changes. Friendly old dogs can still bite. Old and trusted friends can still deceive. New ideas can destroy old and comfortable certainties.

It is Nature as Woman who says, “Well, bucko, you’re good enough for a friend, but my experience of you so far has not indicated the suitability of your genetic material for continued propagation.”

Chaos and order make up the eternal, transcendent environment of the living.

To straddle that fundamental duality is to be balanced: to have one foot firmly planted in order and security, and the other in chaos, possibility, growth and adventure.

Question for parents: do you want to make your children safe, or strong? It is far better to render Beings in your care competent than to protect them.

Naked means vulnerable and easily damaged. Naked means subject to judgment for beauty and health. Naked means unprotected and unarmed in the jungle of nature and man. This is why Adam and Eve became ashamed, immediately after their eyes were opened.

As human beings evolved, the brains that eventually gave rise to self-consciousness expanded tremendously. This produced an evolutionary arms race between fetal head and female pelvis. The female graciously widened her hips, almost to the point where running would no longer be possible. The baby, for his part, allowed himself to be born more than a year early, compared to other mammals of his size, and evolved a semi-collapsible head. This was and is a painful adjustment for both. The essentially fetal baby is almost completely dependent on his mother for everything during that first year. The programmability of his massive brain means that he must be trained until he is eighteen (or thirty) before being pushed out of the nest.

If I am someone’s friend, family member, or lover, then I am morally obliged to bargain as hard on my own behalf as they are on theirs. If I fail to do so, I will end up a slave, and the other person a tyrant. What good is that? It is much better for any relationship when both partners are strong.

We deserve some respect. You deserve some respect. You are important to other people, as much as to yourself. You have some vital role to play in the unfolding destiny of the world. You are, therefore, morally obliged to take care of yourself. You should take care of, help and be good to yourself the same way you would take care of, help and be good to someone you loved and valued.

You need to consider the future and think, “What might my life look like if I were caring for myself properly? What career would challenge me and render me productive and helpful, so that I could shoulder my share of the load, and enjoy the consequences? What should I be doing, when I have some freedom, to improve my health, expand my knowledge, and strengthen my body?”

He whose life has a why can bear almost any how.

RULE 4 / Choose your friends carefully

You have no ethical obligation to associate with people who are making your life worse. In fact, you are obligated to disassociate with people who are trying to destroy the structure of being, your being, society’s being. It’s not cruel, it’s sending a message that some behaviors are not to be tolerated.

RULE 4 / Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today

In a million years, who’s going to know the difference? The proper response to that statement is not, Well, then, everything is meaningless. It’s, Any idiot can choose a frame of time within which nothing matters. Talking yourself into irrelevance is not a profound critique of Being. It’s a cheap trick of the rational mind.

RULE 5 / Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

We assume that rules will irremediably inhibit what would otherwise be the boundless and intrinsic creativity of our children, even though the scientific literature clearly indicates, first, that creativity beyond the trivial is shockingly rare and, second, that strict limitations facilitate rather than inhibit creative achievement. Belief in the purely destructive element of rules and structure is frequently conjoined with the idea that children will make good choices about when to sleep and what to eat, if their perfect natures are merely allowed to manifest themselves. These are equally ungrounded assumptions. Children are perfectly capable of attempting to subsist on hot dogs, chicken fingers and Froot Loops if doing so will attract attention, provide power, or shield them from trying anything new. Instead of going to bed wisely and peacefully, children will fight night-time unconsciousness until they are staggered by fatigue. They are also perfectly willing to provoke adults, while exploring the complex contours of the social environment.

Imagine a toddler repeatedly striking his mother in the face. Why would he do such a thing? It’s a stupid question. It’s unacceptably naive. The answer is obvious. To dominate his mother. To see if he can get away with it. Violence, after all, is no mystery. It’s peace that’s the mystery. Violence is the default. It’s easy. It’s peace that is difficult: learned, inculcated, earned. (People often get basic psychological questions backwards. Why do people take drugs? Not a mystery. It’s why they don’t take them all the time that’s the mystery. Why do people suffer from anxiety? That’s not a mystery. How is that people can ever be calm? There’s the mystery. We’re breakable and mortal. A million things can go wrong, in a million ways. We should be terrified out of our skulls at every second. But we’re not. The same can be said for depression, laziness and criminality.)

If I can hurt and overpower you, then I can do exactly what I want, when I want, even when you’re around. I can torment you, to appease my curiosity. I can take the attention away from you, and dominate you. I can steal your toy. Children hit first because aggression is innate, although more dominant in some individuals and less in others, and, second, because aggression facilitates desire. It’s foolish to assume that such behaviour must be learned. A snake does not have to be taught to strike. It’s in the nature of the beast. Two-year-olds, statistically speaking, are the most violent of people. They kick, hit and bite, and they steal the property of others. They do so to explore, to express outrage and frustration, and to gratify their impulsive desires. More importantly, for our purposes, they do so to discover the true limits of permissible behaviour. How else are they ever going to puzzle out what is acceptable? Infants are like blind people, searching for a wall. They have to push forward, and test, to see where the actual boundaries lie (and those are too-seldom where they are said to be).

Discipline and punish must be handled with care. The fear is unsurprising. But both are necessary. They can be applied unconsciously or consciously, badly or well, but there is no escaping their use.

First, why should a child be subject? That’s easy. Every child must listen to and obey adults because he or she is dependent on the care that one or more imperfect grown-ups is willing to bestow.

In civilized, open societies, the majority abide by a functional social contract, aimed at mutual betterment—or at least at existence in close proximity without too much violence.

Do not bite, kick or hit, except in self-defence. Do not torture and bully other children, so you don’t end up in jail. Eat in a civilized and thankful manner, so that people are happy to have you at their house, and pleased to feed you. Learn to share, so other kids will play with you. Pay attention when spoken to by adults, so they don’t hate you and might therefore deign to teach you something. Go to sleep properly, and peaceably, so that your parents can have a private life and not resent your existence. Take care of your belongings, because you need to learn how and because you’re lucky to have them. Be good company when something fun is happening, so that you’re invited for the fun. Act so that other people are happy you’re around, so that people will want you around. A child who knows these rules will be welcome everywhere.

Disciplinary principle 1: limit the rules. Principle 2: use minimum necessary force. Here’s a third: parents should come in pairs. Raising young children is demanding and exhausting. Because of this, it’s easy for a parent to make a mistake. Insomnia, hunger, the aftermath of an argument, a hangover, a bad day at work—any of these things singly can make a person unreasonable, while in combination they can produce someone dangerous. Under such circumstances, it is necessary to have someone else around, to observe, and step in, and discuss.

Better to let your little monsters know what is desirable and what is not, so they become sophisticated denizens of the world outside the family.

Child who pays attention, instead of drifting, and can play, and does not whine, and is comical, but not annoying, and is trustworthy—that child will have friends wherever he goes. His teachers will like him, and so will his parents.

RULE 6 / Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world

People who experience evil may certainly desire to perpetuate it, to pay it forward. But it is also possible to learn good by experiencing evil. Someone tormented by her mother can learn from her terrible experiences how important it is to be a good parent. Many, perhaps even most, of the adults who abuse children were abused themselves as children. However, the majority of people who were abused as children do not abuse their own children.

RULE 7 / Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

What’s the difference between the successful and the unsuccessful? The successful sacrifice.

“No tree can grow to Heaven,” adds the ever-terrifying Carl Gustav Jung, psychoanalyst extraordinaire, “unless its roots reach down to Hell.”

“What should I do today?” in a manner that means “How could I use my time to make things better, instead of worse?”

RULE 8 / Tell the truth—or, at least, don’t lie

One forty-something client told me his vision, formulated by his younger self: “I see myself retired, sitting on a tropical beach, drinking margaritas in the sunshine.” That’s not a plan. That’s a travel poster. After eight margaritas, you’re fit only to await the hangover. After three weeks of margarita-filled days, if you have any sense, you’re bored stiff and self-disgusted. In a year, or less, you’re pathetic. It’s just not a sustainable approach to later life.

Perhaps it is better to conceptualize it this way: Everyone needs a concrete, specific goal—an ambition, and a purpose—to limit chaos and make intelligible sense of his or her life. But all such concrete goals can and should be subordinated to what might be considered a meta-goal, which is a way of approaching and formulating goals themselves. The meta-goal could be “live in truth.” This means, “Act diligently towards some well-articulated, defined and temporary end. Make your criteria for failure and success timely and clear, at least for yourself (and even better if others can understand what you are doing and evaluate it with you). While doing so, however, allow the world and your spirit to unfold as they will, while you act out and articulate the truth.” This is both pragmatic ambition and the most courageous of faiths.

RULE 9 / Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t

PSYCHOTHERAPY IS NOT ADVICE. Advice is what you get when the person you’re talking with about something horrible and complicated wishes you would just shut up and go away. Advice is what you get when the person you are talking to wants to revel in the superiority of his or her own intelligence. If you weren’t so stupid, after all, you wouldn’t have your stupid problems. Psychotherapy is genuine conversation. Genuine conversation is exploration, articulation and strategizing. When you’re involved in a genuine conversation, you’re listening, and talking—but mostly listening. Listening is paying attention. It’s amazing what people will tell you if you listen. Sometimes if you listen to people they will even tell you what’s wrong with them. Sometimes they will even tell you how they plan to fix it. Sometimes that helps you fix something wrong with yourself.

Alcohol can cause ambiguity. That’s partly why people drink. Alcohol temporarily lifts the terrible burden of self-consciousness from people. Drunk people know about the future, but they don’t care about it. That’s exciting. That’s exhilarating. Drunk people can party like there’s no tomorrow. But, because there is a tomorrow—most of the time—drunk people also get in trouble. They black out. They go to dangerous places with careless people. They have fun. But they also get raped.

People think they think, but it’s not true. It’s mostly self-criticism that passes for thinking. True thinking is rare—just like true listening. Thinking is listening to yourself. It’s difficult. To think, you have to be at least two people at the same time. Then you have to let those people disagree. Thinking is an internal dialogue between two or more different views of the world.

If you’re reading this book, there’s a strong probability that you’re a privileged person. You can read. You have time to read. You’re perched high in the clouds. It took untold generations to get you where you are. A little gratitude might be in order.

If you listen, without premature judgment, people will generally tell you everything they are thinking—and with very little deceit. People will tell you the most amazing, absurd, interesting things. Very few of your conversations will be boring. (You can in fact tell whether or not you are actually listening in this manner. If the conversation is boring, you probably aren’t.)

Then there is the conversation where one participant is trying to attain victory for his point of view. This is yet another variant of the dominance-hierarchy conversation. During such a conversation, which often tends toward the ideological, the speaker endeavours to (1) denigrate or ridicule the viewpoint of anyone holding a contrary position, (2) use selective evidence while doing so and, finally, (3) impress the listeners (many of whom are already occupying the same ideological space) with the validity of his assertions. The goal is to gain support for a comprehensive, unitary, oversimplified world-view. Thus, the purpose of the conversation is to make the case that not thinking is the correct tack. The person who is speaking in this manner believes that winning the argument makes him right, and that doing so necessarily validates the assumption-structure of the dominance hierarchy he most identifies with. This is often—and unsurprisingly—the hierarchy within which he has achieved the most success, or the one with which he is most temperamentally aligned. Almost all discussions involving politics or economics unfold in this manner, with each participant attempting to justify fixed, a priori positions instead of trying to learn something or to adopt a different frame (even for the novelty). It is for this reason that conservatives and liberals alike believe their positions to be self-evident, particularly as they become more extreme. Given certain temperamentally-based assumptions, a predictable conclusion emerges—but only when you ignore the fact that the assumptions themselves are mutable.

People organize their brains with conversation.

You already know what you know, after all—and, unless your life is perfect, what you know is not enough.

To have this kind of conversation, it is necessary to respect the personal experience of your conversational partners. You must assume that they have reached careful, thoughtful, genuine conclusions (and, perhaps, they must have done the work that justifies this assumption). You must believe that if they shared their conclusions with you, you could bypass at least some of the pain of personally learning the same things (as learning from the experience of others can be quicker and much less dangerous).

RULE 10 / Be precise in your speech

You remain silent, and you convince yourself it’s because you are a good, peace-loving, patient person (and nothing could be further from the truth). And the monster under the rug gains a few more pounds.

Maybe respect slowly turned into contempt, and no one deigned to notice. Maybe love slowly turned into hate, without mention.

Everything clarified and articulated becomes visible; maybe neither wife nor husband wished to see or understand. Maybe they left things purposefully in the fog. Maybe they generated the fog, to hide what they did not want to see. What did missus gain, when she turned from mistress to maid or mother? Was it a relief when her sex life disappeared? Could she complain more profitably to the neighbours and her mother when her husband turned away? Maybe that was more gratifying, secretly, than anything good that could be derived from any marriage, no matter how perfect. What can possibly compare to the pleasures of sophisticated and well-practised martyrdom? “She’s such a saint, and married to such a terrible man. She deserved much better.” That’s a gratifying myth to live by, even if unconsciously chosen (the truth of the situation be damned). Maybe she never really liked her husband. Maybe she never really liked men, and still doesn’t. Maybe that was her mother’s fault—or her grandmother’s. Maybe she mimicked their behaviour, acting out their trouble, transmitted unconsciously, implicitly, down the generations. Maybe she was taking revenge on her father, or her brother, or society.

Say what you mean, so that you can find out what you mean. Act out what you say, so you can find out what happens. Then pay attention. Note your errors. Articulate them. Strive to correct them. That is how you discover the meaning of your life. That will protect you from the tragedy of your life. How could it be otherwise? Confront the chaos of Being. Take aim against a sea of troubles. Specify your destination, and chart your course. Admit to what you want. Tell those around you who you are. Narrow, and gaze attentively, and move forward, forthrightly. Be precise in your speech.

RULE 11 / Do not bother children when they are skateboarding

Thoughts when seeing children doing all kinds of crazy stunts on skateboard: Some might call that stupid. Maybe it was. But it was brave, too. I thought those kids were amazing. I thought they deserved a pat on the back and some honest admiration. Of course it was dangerous. Danger was the point. They wanted to triumph over danger. They would have been safer in protective equipment, but that would have ruined it. They weren’t trying to be safe. They were trying to become competent—and it’s competence that makes people as safe as they can truly be.

It’s worse, I think, for young men. As privileged beneficiaries of the patriarchy, their accomplishments are considered unearned. As possible adherents of rape culture, they’re sexually suspect. Their ambitions make them plunderers of the planet. They’re not welcome. At the junior high, high school and university level, they’re falling behind educationally. When my son was fourteen, we discussed his grades. He was doing very well, he said, matter-of-factly, for a boy. I inquired further. Everyone knew, he said, that girls do better in school than boys. His intonation indicated surprise at my ignorance of something so self-evident. While writing this, I received the latest edition of The Economist. The cover story? “The Weaker Sex”—meaning males. In modern universities women now make up more than 50 percent of the students in more than two-thirds of all disciplines.

Boys are suffering, in the modern world. They are more disobedient—negatively—or more independent—positively—than girls, and they suffer for this, throughout their pre-university educational career. They are less agreeable (agreeableness being a personality trait associated with compassion, empathy and avoidance of conflict) and less susceptible to anxiety and depression, at least after both sexes hit puberty. Boys’ interests tilt towards things; girls’ interests tilt towards people. Strikingly, these differences, strongly influenced by biological factors, are most pronounced in the Scandinavian societies where gender-equality has been pushed hardest: this is the opposite of what would be expected by those who insist, ever more loudly, that gender is a social construct. It isn’t. This isn’t a debate. The data are in.

Girls can win by winning in their own hierarchy—by being good at what girls value, as girls. They can add to this victory by winning in the boys’ hierarchy. Boys, however, can only win by winning in the male hierarchy. They will lose status, among girls and boys, by being good at what girls value. It costs them in reputation among the boys, and in attractiveness among the girls. Girls aren’t attracted to boys who are their friends, even though they might like them, whatever that means. They are attracted to boys who win status contests with other boys. If you’re male, however, you just can’t hammer a female as hard as you would a male. Boys can’t (won’t) play truly competitive games with girls. It isn’t clear how they can win. As the game turns into a girls’ game, therefore, the boys leave. Are the universities—particularly the humanities—about to become a girls’ game? Is this what we want?

Who decided, anyway, that career is more important than love and family? Is working eighty hours a week at a high-end law firm truly worth the sacrifices required for that kind of success? And if it is worth it, why is it worth it? A minority of people (mostly men, who score low in the trait of agreeableness, again) are hyper-competitive, and want to win at any cost. A minority will find the work intrinsically fascinating. But most aren’t, and most won’t, and money doesn’t seem to improve people’s lives, once they have enough to avoid the bill collectors. Furthermore, most high-performing and high-earning females have high-performing and high-earning partners—and that matters more to women. The Pew data also indicate that a spouse with a desirable job is a high priority for almost 80 percent of never-married but marriage-seeking women (but for less than 50 percent of men).

When they hit their thirties, most of the top-rate female lawyers bail out of their high-pressure careers. Only 15 percent of equity partners at the two hundred biggest US law firms are women. This figure hasn’t changed much in the last fifteen years, even though female associates and staff attorneys are plentiful. It also isn’t because the law firms don’t want the women to stay around and succeed. There is a chronic shortage of excellent people, regardless of sex, and law firms are desperate to retain them.

The women who leave want a job—and a life—that allows them some time. After law school and articling and the few first years of work, they develop other interests. This is common knowledge in the big firms (although it is not something that people are comfortable articulating in public, men and women alike). I recently watched a McGill University professor, female, lecture a room full of female law partners or near-partners about how lack of childcare facilities and “male definitions of success” impeded their career progress and caused women to leave. I knew most of the women in the room. We had talked at great length. I knew they knew that none of this was at all the problem. They had nannies, and they could afford them. They had already outsourced all their domestic obligations and necessities. They understood, as well—and perfectly well—that it was the market that defined success, not the men they worked with. If you are earning $ 650 an hour in Toronto as a top lawyer, and your client in Japan phones you at 4 a.m. on a Sunday, you answer. Now. You answer, now, even if you have just gone back to sleep after feeding the baby. You answer because some hyper-ambitious legal associate in New York would be happy to answer, if you don’t—and that’s why the market defines the work. The increasingly short supply of university-educated men poses a problem of increasing severity for women who want to marry, as well as date. First, women have a strong proclivity to marry across or up the economic dominance hierarchy. They prefer a partner of equal or greater status. This holds true cross-culturally. The same does not hold, by the way, for men, who are perfectly willing to marry across or down (as the Pew data indicate), although they show a preference for somewhat younger mates. The recent trend towards the hollowing-out of the middle class has also been increasing as resource-rich women tend more and more to partner with resource-rich men. Because of this, and because of the decline in high-paying manufacturing jobs for men (one of six men of employable age is currently without work in the US), marriage is now something increasingly reserved for the rich. I can’t help finding that amusing, in a blackly ironic manner. The oppressive patriarchal institution of marriage has now become a luxury. Why would the rich tyrannize themselves? Why do women want an employed partner and, preferably, one of higher status? In no small part, it’s because women become more vulnerable when they have children. They need someone competent to support mother and child when that becomes necessary. It’s a perfectly rational compensatory act, although it may also have a biological basis. Why would a woman who decides to take responsibility for one or more infants want an adult to look after as well? So, the unemployed working man is an undesirable specimen—and single motherhood an undesirable alternative. Children in father-absent homes are four times as likely to be poor. That means their mothers are poor too. Fatherless children are at much greater risk for drug and alcohol abuse. Children living with married biological parents are less anxious, depressed and delinquent than children living with one or more non-biological parent. Children in single-parent families are also twice as likely to commit suicide.

Every thought we think was thought previously by someone smarter. The highly functional infrastructure that surrounds us, particularly in the West, is a gift from our ancestors: the comparatively uncorrupt political and economic systems, the technology, the wealth, the lifespan, the freedom, the luxury, and the opportunity. Culture takes with one hand, but in some fortunate places it gives more with the other. To think about culture only as oppressive is ignorant and ungrateful, as well as dangerous. This is not to say (as I am hoping the content of this book has made abundantly clear, so far) that culture should not be subject to criticism.

Consider this, as well, in regard to oppression: any hierarchy creates winners and losers. The winners are, of course, more likely to justify the hierarchy and the losers to criticize it. But (1) the collective pursuit of any valued goal produces a hierarchy (as some will be better and some worse at that pursuit not matter what it is) and (2) it is the pursuit of goals that in large part lends life its sustaining meaning. We experience almost all the emotions that make life deep and engaging as a consequence of moving successfully towards something deeply desired and valued. The price we pay for that involvement is the inevitable creation of hierarchies of success, while the inevitable consequence is difference in outcome. Absolute equality would therefore require the sacrifice of value itself—and then there would be nothing worth living for. We might instead note with gratitude that a complex, sophisticated culture allows for many games and many successful players, and that a well-structured culture allows the individuals that compose it to play and to win, in many different fashions.

It is also perverse to consider culture the creation of men. Culture is symbolically, archetypally, mythically male. That’s partly why the idea of “the patriarchy” is so easily swallowed. But it is certainly the creation of humankind, not the creation of men (let alone white men, who nonetheless contributed their fair share). European culture has only been dominant, to the degree that it is dominant at all, for about four hundred years. On the time scale of cultural evolution—which is to be measured, at minimum, in thousands of years—such a timespan barely registers. Furthermore, even if women contributed nothing substantial to art, literature and the sciences prior to the 1960s and the feminist revolution (which is not something I believe), then the role they played raising children and working on the farms was still instrumental in raising boys and freeing up men—a very few men—so that humanity could propagate itself and strive forward.

Women both struggled terribly for freedom from the overwhelming horrors of privation and necessity. Women were often at a disadvantage during that struggle, as they had all the vulnerabilities of men, with the extra reproductive burden, and less physical strength. In addition to the filth, misery, disease, starvation, cruelty and ignorance that characterized the lives of both sexes, back before the twentieth century (when even people in the Western world typically existed on less than a dollar a day in today’s money) women also had to put up with the serious practical inconvenience of menstruation, the high probability of unwanted pregnancy, the chance of death or serious damage during childbirth, and the burden of too many young children. Perhaps that is sufficient reason for the different legal and practical treatment of men and women that characterized most societies prior to the recent technological revolutions, including the invention of the birth control pill. At least such things might be taken into account, before the assumption that men tyrannized women is accepted as a truism.

The Swedes, for example, push equality to its limit. The US takes the opposite tack, assuming that the net wealth-creation of a more free-for-all capitalism constitutes the rising tide that lifts all boats. The results of these experiments are not all in, and countries differ very much in relevant ways. Differences in history, geographic area, population size and ethnic diversity make direct comparisons very difficult. But it certainly is the case that forced redistribution, in the name of utopian equality, is a cure to shame the disease.

In societies that are well-functioning—not in comparison to a hypothetical utopia, but contrasted with other existing or historical cultures—competence, not power, is a prime determiner of status. Competence. Ability. Skill. Not power. This is obvious both anecdotally and factually. No one with brain cancer is equity-minded enough to refuse the service of the surgeon with the best education, the best reputation and, perhaps, the highest earnings. Furthermore, the most valid personality trait predictors of long-term success in Western countries are intelligence (as measured with cognitive ability or IQ tests) and conscientiousness (a trait characterized by industriousness and orderliness). There are exceptions. Entrepreneurs and artists are higher in openness to experience, another cardinal personality trait, than in conscientiousness. But openness is associated with verbal intelligence and creativity, so that exception is appropriate and understandable. The predictive power of these traits, mathematically and economically speaking, is exceptionally high—among the highest, in terms of power, of anything ever actually measured at the harder ends of the social sciences. A good battery of personality/ cognitive tests can increase the probability of employing someone more competent than average from 50: 50 to 85: 15. These are the facts, as well supported as anything in the social sciences (and this is saying more than you might think, as the social sciences are more effective disciplines than their cynical critics appreciate). Thus, not only is the state supporting one-sided radicalism, it is also supporting indoctrination. We do not teach our children that the world is flat. Neither should we teach them unsupported ideologically-predicated theories about the nature of men and women—or the nature of hierarchy.

It is also the case, of course, that all outcomes cannot be equalized. First, outcomes must be measured. Comparing the salaries of people who occupy the same position is relatively straightforward (although complicated significantly by such things as date of hire, given the difference in demand for workers, for example, at different time periods). But there are other dimensions of comparison that are arguably equally relevant, such as tenure, promotion rate, and social influence. The introduction of the “equal pay for equal work” argument immediately complicates even salary comparison beyond practicality, for one simple reason: who decides what work is equal? It’s not possible. That’s why the marketplace exists. Worse is the problem of group comparison: women should make as much as men. OK. Black women should make as much as white women. OK. Should salary then be adjusted for all parameters of race? At what level of resolution? What racial categories are “real”?

Every person is unique—and not just in a trivial manner: importantly, significantly, meaningfully unique. Group membership cannot capture that variability. Period.

We know, for example, from studies of adopted-out identical twins, 190 that culture can produce a fifteen-point (or one standard deviation) increase in IQ (roughly the difference between the average high school student and the average state college student) at the cost of a three-standard-deviation increase in wealth. 191 What this means, approximately, is that two identical twins, separated at birth, will differ in IQ by fifteen points if the first twin is raised in a family that is poorer than 85 percent of families and the second is raised in a family richer than 95 percent of families.

What such studies imply is that we could probably minimize the innate differences between boys and girls, if we were willing to exert enough pressure. This would in no way ensure that we were freeing people of either gender to make their own choices. But choice has no place in the ideological picture: if men and women act, voluntarily, to produce gender-unequal outcomes, those very choices must have been determined by cultural bias. In consequence, everyone is a brainwashed victim, wherever gender differences exist, and the rigorous critical theoretician is morally obligated to set them straight. This means that those already equity-minded Scandinavian males, who aren’t much into nursing, require even more retraining. The same goes, in principle, for Scandinavian females, who aren’t much into engineering. What might such retraining look like? Where might its limits lie? Such things are often pushed past any reasonable limit before they are discontinued. Mao’s murderous Cultural Revolution should have taught us that.

It has become a tenet of a certain kind of social constructionist theory that the world would be much improved if boys were socialized like girls. Those who put forward such theories assume, first, that aggression is a learned behaviour, and can therefore simply not be taught, and second (to take a particular example) that, “boys should be socialized the way girls have been traditionally socialized, and they should be encouraged to develop socially positive qualities such as tenderness, sensitivity to feelings, nurturance, cooperative and aesthetic appreciation.” In the opinions of such thinkers, aggression will only be reduced when male adolescents and young adults “subscribe to the same standards of behavior as have been traditionally encouraged for women.”

If the brain is a tree, then aggression (along with hunger, thirst and sexual desire) is there in the very trunk.

And, in keeping with this, it appears that a subset of two-year-old boys (about 5 percent) are quite aggressive, by temperament. They take other kids’ toys, kick, bite and hit. Most are nonetheless socialized effectively by the age of four. This is not, however, because they have been encouraged to act like little girls. Instead, they are taught or otherwise learn in early childhood to integrate their aggressive tendencies into more sophisticated behavioural routines. Aggression underlies the drive to be outstanding, to be unstoppable, to compete, to win—to be actively virtuous, at least along one dimension. Determination is its admirable, pro-social face. Aggressive young children who don’t manage to render their temperament sophisticated by the end of infancy are doomed to unpopularity, as their primordial antagonism no longer serves them socially at later ages. Rejected by their peers, they lack further socialization opportunities and tend towards outcast status. These are the individuals who remain much more inclined toward antisocial and criminal behavior when adolescent and adult. But this does not at all mean that the aggressive drive lacks either utility or value. At a minimum, it is necessary for self-protection.

Many of the female clients (perhaps even a majority) that I see in my clinical practice have trouble in their jobs and family lives not because they are too aggressive, but because they are not aggressive enough. Cognitive-behavioural therapists call the treatment of such people, generally characterized by the more feminine traits of agreeableness (politeness and compassion) and neuroticism (anxiety and emotional pain), “assertiveness training.” Insufficiently aggressive women—and men, although more rarely—do too much for others. They tend to treat those around them as if they were distressed children. They tend to be naïve. They assume that cooperation should be the basis of all social transactions, and they avoid conflict (which means they avoid confronting problems in their relationships as well as at work). They continually sacrifice for others. This may sound virtuous—and it is definitely an attitude that has certain social advantages—but it can and often does become counterproductively one-sided. Because too-agreeable people bend over backwards for other people, they do not stand up properly for themselves. Assuming that others think as they do, they expect—instead of ensuring—reciprocity for their thoughtful actions. When this does not happen, they don’t speak up. They do not or cannot straightforwardly demand recognition.

The Oedipal mother (and fathers can play this role too, but it’s comparatively rare) says to her child, “I only live for you.” She does everything for her children. She ties their shoes, and cuts up their food, and lets them crawl into bed with her and her partner far too often. That’s a good and conflict-avoidant method for avoiding unwanted sexual attention, as well. The Oedipal mother makes a pact with herself, her children, and the devil himself. The deal is this: “Above all, never leave me. In return, I will do everything for you. As you age without maturing, you will become worthless and bitter, but you will never have to take any responsibility, and everything you do that’s wrong will always be someone else’s fault.” The children can accept or reject this—and they have some choice in the matter.

Too much protection devastates the developing soul.

Such overprotection is Freud’s Oedipal familial nightmare, which we are rapidly transforming into social policy.

Working men are often extremely funny, in a caustic, biting, insulting manner. They are always harassing each other, partly for amusement, partly to score points in the eternal dominance battle between them, but also partly to see what the other guy will do if he is subjected to social stress. It’s part of the process of character evaluation, as well as camaraderie. When it works well (when everybody gets, and gives as good as they get, and can give and take) it’s a big part of what allows men who work for a living to tolerate or even enjoy laying pipe and working on oil rigs and lumber-jacking and working in restaurant kitchens and all the other hot, dirty, physically demanding and dangerous work that is still done almost totally by men.

Men enforce a code of behaviour on each other, when working together. Do your work. Pull your weight. Stay awake and pay attention. Don’t whine or be touchy. Stand up for your friends. Don’t suck up and don’t snitch. Don’t be a slave to stupid rules. Don’t, in the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, be a girlie man. Don’t be dependent. At all. Ever. Period. The harassment that is part of acceptance on a working crew is a test: are you tough, entertaining, competent and reliable? If not, go away. Simple as that. We don’t need to feel sorry for you. We don’t want to put up with your narcissism, and we don’t want to do your work.

A woman should look after her children—although that is not all she should do. And a man should look after a woman and children—although that is not all he should do. But a woman should not look after a man, because she must look after children, and a man should not be a child. This means that he must not be dependent. This is one of the reasons that men have little patience for dependent men. And let us not forget: wicked women may produce dependent sons, may support and even marry dependent men, but awake and conscious women want an awake and conscious partner.

When softness and harmlessness become the only consciously acceptable virtues, then hardness and dominance will start to exert an unconscious fascination. Partly what this means for the future is that if men are pushed too hard to feminize, they will become more and more interested in harsh, fascist political ideology. Fight Club, perhaps the most fascist popular film made in recent years by Hollywood, with the possible exception of the Iron Man series, provides a perfect example of such inevitable attraction. The populist groundswell of support for Donald Trump in the US is part of the same process, as is (in far more sinister form) the recent rise of far-right political parties even in such moderate and liberal places as Holland, Sweden and Norway.

Men have to toughen up. Men demand it, and women want it, even though they may not approve of the harsh and contemptuous attitude that is part and parcel of the socially demanding process that fosters and then enforces that toughness. Some women don’t like losing their baby boys, so they keep them forever. Some women don’t like men, and would rather have a submissive mate, even if he is useless. This also provides them with plenty to feel sorry for themselves about, as well. The pleasures of such self-pity should not be underestimated.

If they’re healthy, women don’t want boys. They want men. They want someone to contend with; someone to grapple with. If they’re tough, they want someone tougher. If they’re smart, they want someone smarter. They desire someone who brings to the table something they can’t already provide. This often makes it hard for tough, smart, attractive women to find mates: there just aren’t that many men around who can outclass them enough to be considered desirable (who are higher, as one research publication put it, in “income, education, self-confidence, intelligence, dominance and social position”). The spirit that interferes when boys are trying to become men is, therefore, no more friend to woman than it is to man. It will object, just as vociferously and self-righteously (“ you can’t do it, it’s too dangerous”) when little girls try to stand on their own two feet. It negates consciousness. It’s antihuman, desirous of failure, jealous, resentful and destructive. No one truly on the side of humanity would ally him or herself with such a thing. No one aiming at moving up would allow him or herself to become possessed by such a thing. And if you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of.

RULE 12 / Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

We bought Sikko for my daughter, Mikhaila, when she was about ten years old. He was an unbearably cute pup. Small nose and ears, rounded face, big eyes, awkward movements—these features automatically elicit caretaking behaviour from humans, male and female alike.

Cooperation is for safety, security and companionship. Competition is for personal growth and status. However, if a given group is too small, it has no power or prestige, and cannot fend off other groups. In consequence, being one of its members is not that useful. If the group is too large, however, the probability of climbing near or to the top declines. So, it becomes too hard to get ahead. Perhaps people identify with groups at the flip of a coin because they deeply want to organize themselves, protect themselves, and still have some reasonable probability of climbing the dominance hierarchy. Then they favour their own group, because favouring it helps it thrive—and climbing something that is failing is not a useful strategy.

The idea that life is suffering is a tenet, in one form or another, of every major religious doctrine, as we have already discussed. Buddhists state it directly. Christians illustrate it with the cross. Jews commemorate the suffering endured over centuries. Such reasoning universally characterizes the great creeds, because human beings are intrinsically fragile. We can be damaged, even broken, emotionally and physically, and we are all subject to the depredations of aging and loss. This is a dismal set of facts, and it is reasonable to wonder how we can expect to thrive and be happy (or even to want to exist, sometimes) under such conditions.

Crisis management: set aside some time to talk and to think about the illness or other crisis and how it should be managed every day. Do not talk or think about it otherwise. If you do not limit its effect, you will become exhausted, and everything will spiral into the ground. This is not helpful. Conserve your strength. You’re in a war, not a battle, and a war is composed of many battles. You must stay functional through all of them. When worries associated with the crisis arise at other times, remind yourself that you will think them through, during the scheduled period. This usually works. The parts of your brain that generate anxiety are more interested in the fact that there is a plan than in the details of the plan. Don’t schedule your time to think in the evening or at night. Then you won’t be able to sleep. If you can’t sleep, then everything will go rapidly downhill.

Wish upon a star, and then act properly, in accordance with that aim. Once you are aligned with the heavens, you can concentrate on the day. Be careful. Put the things you can control in order. Repair what is in disorder, and make what is already good better. It is possible that you can manage, if you are careful. People are very tough. People can survive through much pain and loss. But to persevere they must see the good in Being. If they lose that, they are truly lost.

Conflict management: We go to different rooms, alone, trying to calm down, we would each ask ourselves the same single question: What had we each done to contribute to the situation we were arguing about? However small, however distant… we had each made some error. Then we would reunite, and share the results of our questioning: Here’s how I was wrong….

Conflict -you must decide whether you want to be right or you want to have peace. You must decide whether to insist upon the absolute correctness of your view, or to listen and negotiate. You don’t get peace by being right. You just get to be right, while your partner gets to be wrong—defeated and wrong. Do that ten thousand times and your marriage will be over (or you will wish it was). To choose the alternative—to seek peace—you have to decide that you want the answer, more than you want to be right. That’s the way out of the prison of your stubborn preconceptions.

Then you can go back to your partner and reveal why you’re an idiot, and apologize (sincerely) and that person can do the same for you, and then apologize (sincerely), and then you two idiots will be able to talk again.

What shall I do tomorrow? The answer came: The most good possible in the shortest period of time. That was satisfying, as well—conjoining an ambitious aim with the demands of maximal efficiency. A worthy challenge. The second question was in the same vein: What shall I do next year? Try to ensure that the good I do then will be exceeded only by the good I do the year after that. That seemed solid, too—a nice extension of the ambitions detailed in the previous answer. I told my friend that I was trying a serious experiment in writing with the pen he had given to me. I asked if I could read aloud what I had composed so far. The questions—and the answers—struck a chord with him, too. That was good. That was impetus to continue. The next question ended the first set: What shall I do with my life? Aim for Paradise, and concentrate on today.

What shall I do when greed consumes me? Remember that it is truly better to give than to receive. The world is a forum of sharing and trading, not a treasure-house for the plundering. To give is to do what you can to make things better. The good in people will respond to that, and support it, and imitate it, and multiply it, and return it, and foster it, so that everything improves and moves forward.

What shall I do with the fact of aging? Replace the potential of my youth with the accomplishments of my maturity. A life lived thoroughly justifies its own limitations.

What shall I do with my infant’s death? Hold my other loved ones and heal their pain. It is necessary to be strong in the face of death, because death is intrinsic to life. It is for this reason that I tell my students: aim to be the person at your father’s funeral that everyone, in their grief and misery, can rely on. There’s a worthy and noble ambition: strength in the face of adversity. That is very different from the wish for a life free of trouble.

What shall I say to a faithless brother? The King of the Damned is a poor judge of Being. It is my firm belief that the best way to fix the world—a handyman’s dream, if ever there was one—is to fix yourself.

I hope that my writing has proved useful to you. I hope it revealed things you knew that you did not know you knew. I hope the ancient wisdom I discussed provides you with strength. I hope it brightened the spark within you. I hope you can straighten up, sort out your family, and bring peace and prosperity to your community. I hope, that you strengthen and encourage those who are committed to your care instead of protecting them to the point of weakness. I wish you all the best, and hope that you can wish the best for others.