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Criticism of 12 Rules For Life: Secondhandedness

12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson:

On Quora, anyone can ask a question, of any sort—and anyone can answer. Readers upvote those answers they like, and downvote those they don’t. In this manner, the most useful answers rise to the top, while the others sink into oblivion.

Some useful answers rise – and so do some bad ones. Some great answers sink into oblivion. This is well known, yet also contradicts the claim that the most useful answers rise. JP is overstating the wisdom of the mob.

Quora tells you how many people have viewed your answer and how many upvotes you received. Thus, you can determine your reach, and see what people think of your ideas.

Their viewing and voting patterns do not tell you what they think. It omits why they like things – their reasoning, their thoughts. It also leaves you with no way to tell if they're being honest (you can't spot dishonesty through votes and view).

As of July 2017, as I write this—and five years after I addressed “What makes life more meaningful?”—my answer to that question has received a relatively small audience (14,000 views, and 133 upvotes), while my response to the question about aging has been viewed by 7,200 people and received 36 upvotes. Not exactly home runs.

JP's goal is popularity. He judges a home run not by what he thinks of what he wrote, but by what other people think. His stated goal – his criteria of success (a home run) – is to get views and upvotes, not to please himself.

My goal, when I write, is truth. I don't judge ideas by popularity. I go by arguments. If someone has a criticism – even one single criticism from one person – I'll consider the reasoning and address it or change my mind. But if a thousand people downvote me without giving any arguments, I don't regard that as making any difference intellectually.

The Quora readers appeared pleased with this list. They commented on and shared it. They said such things as “I’m definitely printing this list out and keeping it as a reference. Simply phenomenal,” and “You win Quora. We can just close the site now.” Students at the University of Toronto, where I teach, came up to me and told me how much they liked it.

JP is a second-hander (see The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand to understand the term more). He's judging his work by the opinions of other people instead of by rational evaluation of the content of the work. He's concerned with who thinks what (social metaphysics, as Ayn Rand called it) instead of what the rational arguments about the material are.

If I were sharing a success story like this, I wouldn't quote reason-less praise. I'd be concerned with the rational benefit of the popularity. Did it get me any questions or criticisms I learned from? Did the audience have enough intellectual merit to help me improve the ideas? It's nice if people like you're work and they're helped, but that must not be a creator's primary motivation or reward. Yet JP focuses on it.

I had written a 99.9 percentile answer.

JP writes this like it's 99.9th percentile quality, when he's only demonstrated 99.9th percentile popularity. These are completely different things which JP blurs together.

Quora provides market research at its finest. The respondents are anonymous. They’re disinterested, in the best sense. Their opinions are spontaneous and unbiased. So, I paid attention to the results, and thought about the reasons for that answer’s disproportionate success. Perhaps I struck the right balance between the familiar and the unfamiliar while formulating the rules. Perhaps people were drawn to the structure that such rules imply. Perhaps people just like lists.

Market research is the wrong approach to truth-seeking. Who cares if people like lists? JP should be considering if lists are the best way to present his work – according to his own judgement about the issues themselves.

JP seeks to figure out what people want to hear, in what format, instead of creating original work and structuring it as he thinks best fits the content.


JP is better than this. He is, in various ways, an original and independent thinker. He does good work. That's why this error stands out. It's an internal contradiction he has, which conflicts with some of his very substantial virtues and makes things harder for him.


Elliot Temple on January 23, 2018

Comments (8)

Another example of JP overstating the wisdom of the mob

> JP is overstating the wisdom of the mob.

Yeah. In Full video: Jordan Peterson on the Channel 4 Controversy and Philosophy of "How to be in the World", JP says something similar about how people at parties will give you feedback about whether you're on the right "position on the line between chaos and order":

> People are signalling to each other what these things are all the time. So if you're in a conversation at a party and behave properly, then people are happy to have you around, they laugh at your jokes and they tell you interesting things and it's engaging. And if you're off the path at all, then they frown at you or they ignore you or "you're boring"... people are signalling your position on the line between chaos and order at you all the time. All the time. Non-stop. Everyone's broadcasting at everyone else always.

Anonymous at 10:09 AM on January 23, 2018 | #9462

Another example of JP judging success by what other people think

> JP ... judges a home run not by what he thinks of what he wrote, but by what other people think.

Yeah. In Full video: Jordan Peterson on the Channel 4 Controversy and Philosophy of "How to be in the World" @ 24m18s, JBP says:

> You know, if the tables [between me and Cathy Newman] were turned, you know, and if I had done an interview and then 50 thousand people had written critical comments about me in 2 days, like pretty severely critical, pretty damn vitriolic, I would be having a rough time of it, man. I'd be sitting there thinking, "Jesus", you know? "What the hell did I do? What did I do that was so deeply wrong that this was the result?"

Roark wouldn't doubt himself under those circumstances.

Anonymous at 10:28 AM on January 23, 2018 | #9463
I think it's interesting because JP is *right* about how people signal at parties, and it's good info that most people don't understand. patio11 has similar insights that could be considered red pill. But JP and patio11 both seem to think you should go along with it.

Also you shouldn't naively or carelessly ignore those signals. If you're going to think/live outside the box, you need to know what you're doing. If you reject some of society's order, b/c you find it oppressive, then you have more chaos to deal with. This is a standard tradeoff that JP understands, and in general, in these terms, it's OK to be more or less aggressive about rejecting order.

But when you look at it in terms of reason and truth ... well it's still dangerous, as the French Revolution showed us ... but JP is supposed to be a reason-oriented public intellectual. That requires being a rebel on some points, like it's crucial to go for truth over popularity as far as your intellectual judgements go (even if you then choose compromise actions, you should honestly know what you're doing).

curi at 12:48 PM on January 23, 2018 | #9468
Related: JP says it is your job as a parent to make your child socially desirable by the age of 4.

Anonymous at 10:50 PM on January 23, 2018 | #9476
Rephrasing, one might take it as:

A parent's job is to make his child *fit into the ordered structure of society*, so that he isn't consumed by chaos while never even having had access to order.

That's absolutely not TCS, but is perhaps a more sympathetic phrasing.

Anonymous at 10:52 PM on January 23, 2018 | #9477
> This is obvious, yet also contradicts the claim ...

In one of your videos on the JP book you say in general you never say anything is obvious. See at about 1:48:00 here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JU4M9galhlA

Did you slip up in the quote above or did you have a reason for saying it in this instance?

The video was very informative. Thanks.

Anonymous at 11:04 PM on January 30, 2018 | #9484
Cross off very :)

Anonymous at 11:10 PM on January 30, 2018 | #9485
I should have said "well known" instead of obvious. I will edit the post. Thanks for the correction.

curi at 11:12 PM on January 30, 2018 | #9486

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)