It’s all coming apart at the seams! This is now quite generally said. Many agree that the fabric of Western society is in tatters, but few can agree to a good remedial thread. Some reckon that when social norms unravel, the market that undid them needs adjusting. This is entirely correct, but in no way practical. As we know, both politicians and economists are powerless to adjust political economies. Their real work is to make individuals adjust to the moral standard they prefer.
From Senator Hanson to Senator Hanson-Young to Stephen Koukoulas, the message is clear: bad people cause bad things to happen. Now, you may see such attempts to adjust the behaviour of various social groups — homeless millennials, un-Australian schoolgirls, men etc — as hopeless, anti-intellectual or intrinsically neoliberal. Or, you could just give up.
I gave up. For one week, I decided to shun any complicated view of society. There would be no such thing as society and no greater authority for this than the best-selling book 12 Rules for Life: an Antidote to Chaos.
Jordan Peterson’s crude Utopian ethics did not remind me of “the best teacher (I) ever had”, but did make me long all Tuesday afternoon for death. Still. Enough of my slouching “cultural Marxism” and whatnot. Let’s enjoy this thrilling record of life outside history.
Monday morning: I Stood Up Straight with my Shoulders Back, per rule one. As a physiotherapist frightened me into maintaining fair posture some years ago, I was unable to assess the usefulness of this advice.
Monday afternoon: I Treated Myself Like Someone I Was Responsible for Helping, per rule two. Leaving aside my concerns about this wanton reversal of The Golden Rule, I didn’t find this of much use. I am really not much chop as a caregiver, a fact to which the parents of Little Brynlee can attest. While this four-year-old was in my care, I told her that “Princess is not a real job, get some realistic goals” and forgot to feed her, so she was returned from an afternoon of babysitting screaming.
Monday evening: Make Friends with People Who Want the Best For You, per rule three. Already friends with Marxist revolutionaries, who crave the best for me and all workers. Redundant.
Tuesday afternoon: Compare Yourself to Who You Were Yesterday, Not Who Someone Else is Today, per rule four. I cheated a little here and compared myself to Who Helen Was Last Week. But I do this every Tuesday with Antony, my clinical psychologist. I didn’t think Jordan would mind, however, and I am confident that my workplace medical insurers would be delighted to see progress in the Clinically Administered PTSD Scale. I am a bit better than last Tuesday and no longer feel that I am being followed by an unidentified presence at all times.
Tuesday evening: Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything that Makes You Dislike Them, per rule five. Bit tricky as I have (a) no children and (b) diminished faculty for imagining any scenario, including one in which I have children, other than one in which I poison Jordan Peterson’s lawn. The man is banging on at this point about the historical context of eliminating female foetuses and it’s really put a dampener on the entire exercise. I settle for not doing anything that may incite the loathing of social media followers, ergo post nothing on social media.
Wednesday morning: Set Your House in Perfect Order Before You Criticise the World, per rule six. Real problem here, as copy is due in to Crikey. If I were to perfect my own existence to a Peterson level before writing any critique, I would cease to exist from lack of food. Briefly wonder if Peterson’s recommendation permits criticism at all. Decide it does not, so move on to rule seven: Pursue What is Meaningful (Not What is Expedient), and yell at stupid book that I have been doing that for most of my professional life, which is precisely why I do not have all the property he promised me back in the chapter about holding my shoulders back. Remind self to abandon Meaningful Pursuits at least one day a week.
Thursday: Tell the Truth, or at least Don’t Lie, per rule eight. Really, I don’t have time for this palaver coming from some fluffy twit who has written hundreds of unfalsifiable and very tedious pages about “archetypes” and female foetuses and what-have-you.
Friday: Assume that the Person You Are Listening to Might Know Something You Don’t is rule nine and what I have been trying to do all week. And look where that got me? Reading some Personal Growth malarkey fancied up with footnotes about lobsters.
Weekend: Would normally feel a bit sensitive when instructed to Be Precise in Your Speech, per rule 10. Feeling pretty concise, however, when faced with sentences like, “Our society faces the increasing call to deconstruct its stabilizing traditions to include smaller and smaller numbers of people who do not or will not fit into the categories upon which even our perceptions are based.”
The chapter for rule 11 is headed “Do Not Bother Children when they are Skateboarding”. Sounds like good advice, but is further applesauce about Women and Her Biological Destiny. This does not offend me as much as the assertion that Derrida, a linguist, is described as the descendent of Marx. FFS. Deconstruction is as Marxist as I am acceptably ladylike to Jordan Peterson, which is to say not at all, and by now, I long for freedom so skip rule 12, Pet a Cat When You Encounter One on the Street, as no cat is ever safe from my embrace. Just as no society is safe if it continues to delude itself that the individual is the site of its transformation.
I did not enjoy this week.