Summary of 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson

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  • Post last modified:October 11, 2023

Rule 5: Do Not Let Your Children Do Anything That Makes You Dislike Them

In Pakistan, India, and China, many women abort to have a son instead of a daughter. Why?

Because it’s more interesting. While a daughter can have eight or nine kids at most, a son can have millions. It’s much better if you’re trying to spread your genes around.

Furthermore, giving more attention to a son is increasing the chances that he will develop well and do well with girls.

A man who has been the indisputable favorite of his mother keeps for life the feeling of a conqueror, that confidence of success that often induces real success.


However, if done wrong, you make a spoiled kid, which is awful.

There is this idea in society that society corrupts kids which are otherwise all innocent and angels.

This isn’t true. Kids are violent. Chimps too.

Tribes which are not submitted to state authority, are also violent. The murder rate in the UK is roughly 1 for 100 000 people. In Honduras, it’s 90. For the Cato tribe originally from California, it was 1450.

Overall, murders decline when you submit a people to state authority, which highlights how humans need to be socialized. This is the same idea for kids. They’re not all good, they’re not all bad.

Children can be damaged as much or more by a lack of incisive attention as they are by abuse, mental or physical.

But they need to be taught how to behave, so they can thrive.

Why don’t parents raise their kids well? Sometimes, it’s ideological. Sometimes, they don’t know how to do it. Sometimes, they are afraid the kids will stop liking them.

Parents are the arbiters of society. They teach children how to behave so that other people will be able to interact meaningfully and productively with them.

Kids provoke adults and push them to the end to test them, to see if they can dominate them.

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.

The question isn’t why are kids violent or why do people take drugs. It’s easy to know. The question is why are some kids peaceful and why isn’t everyone taking drugs all the time?

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 behavior must be learned.

Two-year-olds are the most aggressive individuals. They do so to learn and explore, to find the boundaries. The child will hit and bite and kick until he (or she) finds the boundaries.

When Jordan’s son was two, he didn’t want to eat, which stressed out his mother. So Jordan, one night, was determined to socialize him. He took a spoon and forced his son to eat. It took some time, but after half-an-hour of battle, he had eaten. Exhausted, he took a nap, and son and father liked each other much better then.

When Jordan babysitted some kids, one of them would repeatedly not sleep. So Jordan put him up in a crib from which he couldn’t get out. So he stood up and made some noise.

Jordan told him to lie down. He didn’t. So he took him and forced him. Doing so, he said he was a good boy for lying down. He withdrew his hand from his back. The kid got up. So Jordan lied him down again. They played this game for five minutes until the kid stayed put.

Discipline and Punish

Modern parents are afraid of discipline and punishment. They must be used well.

B.F. Skinner, a behavioral psychologist, trained pigeons to play ping pong. He did so by giving them a reward every time they performed an action well. The key is that the reward should be proportional to the action.

You can do the same thing for your kids. If you want to train them to dress the table, give them a plate first. Every time they put it on the table, give your kid a pat on the back.

When rewards don’t work, you need to use punishment. Punishment helps protect us. We’re fragile, negative emotions entice us not to do something that hurt us. However, being shielded completely from pain and danger will make your kids weak and unprepared for the real world.

So you need balance. Eventually, punishment should be used to maximize learning without too much danger.

This is the message in the Sleeping Beauty. The parents don’t invite Maleficent (who represents Nature) to the baby party, so she curses Aurora to become unconscious at sixteen. Meaning: she chooses unconsciousness over the terror of real life.

The only thing that will wake her up is a first kiss (symbol of adulthood).

Parents that don’t want to discipline their child and prepare them for the real world is not doing them a service. Kids must be socialized by the age of four, or they will remain outcasts for their entire lives.

Minimum Necessary Force

Here’s a straightforward initial idea: rules should not be multiplied beyond necessity. Alternatively stated, bad laws drive out respect for good laws.

Once you have limited the rules, figure out what to do when you break one of them. The best for that is to use minimum necessary force.

Warn first. Then warn stronger. Etc.

Here’s a set of rules.

  • Do not bite, kick or hit, except in self-defense.
  • 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 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.

Telling a child “no” means that if they keep on doing what they are doing, something bad is going to happen.

The no is enforced by the physical superiority of the parent which can physically compel his child to obey him. If this threat is not there, the “no” means nothing. The child learns that adults are ineffectual and weak, and see them all as dictators, terrified of their own mortality. That’s the story of Peter Pan VS Captain Hook, who is scared of the crocodile with a clock inside it…

So, you need to discipline, and violence is a legit means to do so as it is the ultimate one.

Nature and society will punish in a draconian manner whatever errors of childhood behavior remain uncorrected.

Finally, the third principle is do it in pairs. Raising young children is exhausting, which explains why it takes two to make one.

Fourth principle: parents should understand their own capacity to be harsh, vengeful, arrogant, resentful, angry, and deceitful.

No parents will tolerate being humiliated by their children. A few days later, when the child will have done good at school and show his parents his good note, proud, they may simply (unconsciously) ignore him.

Resentment breeds the desire for vengeance, which means that the child will be loved less, which means that he will develop less.

Fifth and last principle: parents have a duty to act as proxies for the real world.

Rule 6: Set Your House in Perfect Order Before You Criticize the World

In the German play Faust, the Devil explains that his uncontrollable anger made him seek to destroy everything, as life would be better without anything.

People often think in this way – but rarely act. When they do, it takes the form of shooting schools, or public theaters.

We feel this destructive rage when life becomes particularly tough. Why, do we ask, why is life so hard and gloomy? And we go on and blame society for all of our pains.

To Tolstoy, the tragedy of life motivates suicide. But this isn’t correct. It motivates murder. The murder of anything that is good to consciously spite the creator of the universe – followed by suicide.

Killers say the same thing today.

Vengeance or Transformation

When people suffer a great deal, they may get to a point where the only thing they seek is total destruction.

It’s perfectly understandable, but it’s not always the case. Some people emerge from difficult pasts as good people.

In general, people mistreated as children do not mistreat their own children. People tend to be nicer as generations move forward.

When bad fate persists, people tend to question whether the fault is theirs, or the environment. If they believe it’s the latter, they curse God and society and hope for its destruction.

When Solzhenitsyn asked himself these questions, he noticed that he had betrayed his conscious several times by accepting to do things he knew he shouldn’t have. So he decided to live better, to live according to his values. He wrote The Gulag Archipelago and that ended the fascination with communism.

Havel and Gandhi did the same.

In the Bible, the Ancient Jews always blamed themselves when something bad happened – never God.

They took responsibility and learned to use good times to prepare against the bad ones.

You may be suffering – but guess what? Everyone is. If your suffering is unbearable and corrupts your mind, it’s time to make a change.

Clean Up Your Life

Start small. Are you doing your best? Are you taking advantage of the opportunities that head your way?

Do you have good, or bad habits?

Start to stop doing what you know to be wrong.

Don’t unleash your anger on the world.

If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?

Once you begin to do the right things, your life will improve. You may discover that you are now strong enough to handle whatever misfortunes you must carry.

Rule 7: Pursue What Is Meaningful (Not What Is Expedient)

Life is suffering. What can you do against that?

The fastest answer is pursue pleasure. Lie, steal, do what feels good now. In a meaningless world, who cares?

There is a second option. Our ancestors have thought deeply about these questions and came up with answers, but these answers are implicit and hidden in stories that we do not yet fully understand.

One of the most important concepts to answer the life is suffering problem is sacrifice.

What is sacrifice? It vehicles the idea that something better might be attained in the future by giving up something of value in the present.

When God banishes Adam from Eden, he cursed him with the necessity of work. Work is sacrifice. It is giving up good times now to ensure you can survive later.

Delayed gratification introduces the notion of time as well as causality. Causality means that you have control over reality, to some extent. You can make it good. This enabled societies to develop through the establishment of the social contract.

If you do X, you will get Y.

It may not seem like much, but it took a long time to go from eating all the meat available to store it for later.

The idea of sacrifice is common to all religions. In the Bible, it’s Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac for God.

Why is God asking for such a big sacrifice? Because sometimes life doesn’t go well. And sometimes, it doesn’t go well because of what you love the most. Hence, you need to sacrifice it.

Pain and suffering define the world. Sacrifice can hold pain and suffering in abeyance, to a greater or lesser degree—and greater sacrifices can do that more effectively than lesser.

But tragedy isn’t the only source of pain. There is also evil.

When you sacrifice now for later, you can’t only deal with fate, you also need to deal with the things other people can do to you.

As we said above, Adam and Eve were cursed to know Good and Evil. That meant they knew what would hurt them, hence, what would hurt others too.

While we’re generally equipped to deal with bad fate, we’re not equipped to deal with human evil. A lot of people were broken by things other people did to them.

Why do people become evil? Often because their lives become unbearable to live due to the absence of sacrifice.

As a result, when you sacrifice, you should do so to prevent both bad fate and human evil.

In the Bible, Christ takes a different path and spends 40 days in the desert to encounter the evil itself – the Devil. This encounter will prepare him for taking on the sins of men and sacrificing on their behalf.

No tree can grow to Heaven, unless its roots reach down to Hell.

Carl Jung

This quote explains why enlightenment is so rare. To raise up, you need to go down.

This explains Christ in the desert. Christ is the one that willingly confronts the darkest and most sinister parts of human nature.

Soldiers victims of PTSD don’t get it because of what they see or are victims of – but because of what they did. They killed, they raped, and some twisted part of them enjoyed it. That traumatized them forever.

It is not only that men desire power so that they will no longer suffer. Power also means the capacity to take vengeance, ensure submission, and crush enemies.

Christ eventually says no to all of the Devil’s temptations. Meaning: to access paradise, say no to instant gratification.

Christianity and its Problems

Jung argued that Europeans started to do science once they understood that Christianity was not enough to alleviate suffering.

He was right. Yet, Christianity was revolutionary in the sense that it made everyone equal before God. At death, no one was better or worse than anyone else – everyone had the same worth.

In a way, it made slave ownership less of a good thing than it was commonly thought.

Christianity had its problem, but it also solved a lot of problems from Pagan and Roman societies. These were much more violent than the Christian ones.

Once these problems were fixed, the problems from Christianism became apparent, and were subsequently solved by science.

Ironically, the dogma of the Church was undermined by truth, that same truth developed by the Church itself.

The development of science because God, Jesus, and the Church were not only enough, but had rotted society, led Nietzsche to declare that “God was dead”.

However, the dogmatic structure of the Church was necessary to transform pagan societies.

A long period of unfreedom is necessary for the development of a free mind.

Christian dogma provided that unfreedom. When it died, so did God.

What has emerged was even more dangerous, namely, nihilism, or ideas like communism and fascism.

Doubt, Past Mere Nihilism

Philosopher Descartes tried to conceptualize the idea of Being himself three centuries before Nietzsche. He came up with “I think, therefore I am”, but this had been discovered already by the Mesopotamians – it was simply expressed differently.

“I think therefore I am” is the modern self. But what is the self? The self is the perpetrator of nazism and fascism in all of its evilness.

What about its goodness?

And here we can state with conviction and clarity that even the rational intellect—that faculty so beloved of those who hold traditional wisdom in contempt—is at minimum something closely and necessarily akin to the archetypal dying and eternally resurrected god, the eternal savior of humanity, the Logos itself.

Karl Popper thought that thinking was the logical following of Being. Creatures that cannot think die in an environment that doesn’t suit who they are.

Creatures that can think adapt. Human beings, when stuck, can come up with new ideas to unstuck themselves.

An idea isn’t a fact. A fact is dead. An idea, especially when it grips itself onto our mind, is alive.

An idea has an aim. It wants something. It posits a value structure. An idea believes that what it is aiming for is better than what it has now.

Which is coming back to the idea of sacrifice. So, how does it work?

Jordan needed to find something that he knew was true. The Holocaust was an example. There are things that cannot be good, in any culture, in any way.

To dehumanize a fellow being, to reduce him or her to the status of a parasite, to torture and to slaughter with no consideration of individual innocence or guilt, to make an art form of pain—that is wrong.

The reality of suffering is true and cannot be argued with.

Every human being has great potential for evil. We all understand what is bad and wrong. If there’s something bad, there must be something good, too.

If torturing someone is bad, then the good must be what stops the torture.

Meaning as the Higher Good

So what is good is the opposite of what is bad. If pain is bad, the alleviation of pain is good.

Aim up. Pay attention. Fix what you can fix. Don’t be arrogant in your knowledge. Strive for humility, because totalitarian pride manifests itself in intolerance, oppression, torture, and death.

Striving to lessen pain is the pinnacle of morality. Why? Because it’s the exact opposite of the actions of the 20th century, which was likely to be the worst of all evil.

Instant gratification is pain, it’s animalistic and it takes nothing into account. Meaning is its opposite. It takes the future, your value, and everything else into account to make your life better, to do good.

Meaning gratifies all impulses, now and forever. That’s why we can detect it.

Rule 8: Tell the Truth—Or, at Least, Don’t Lie

Due to a range of strong violent compulsions, Jordan began to pay attention to what he was saying and how he was acting in order to understand them.

He noticed he lied, most of the time, which made him fake. So he stopped and told the truth. It was very practical as when he didn’t know what to do, or how to act, he would simply…tell the truth.

Manipulate the World

Everyone uses words to manipulate when they’re looking for something that someone else can deliver to them. This is spin.

These lies usually serve to avoid responsibility, avoid punishment, attract attention, etc. Psychologist Alfred Adler call them life-lies.

Someone living a life-lie is attempting to manipulate reality with perception, thought and action, so that only some narrowly desired and pre-defined outcome is allowed to exist.

A life lived in this manner is based on two premises.

  1. Current knowledge is enough to define what is good, far into the future. But this is wrong. What you are currently aiming at might not be worth attaining. Eg: you may decide to retire in 10 years, but what would the person you will be in 10 years say?
  2. Life would be terrible if not “corrected” by these lies. This is also wrong, as life isn’t terrible, and it cannot be manipulated either.

A naively formulated goal transmutes, with time, into the sinister form of the life-lie.

The life-lie extends with the sin of commission, which is doing something which you know is wrong.

The sin of omission, its corollary, is letting something bad happens that you could stop.

Consider someone who pretends all is well. He avoids conflict, smiles, does what he is told to do, trying to remain invisible not to make problems. But deep down, he feels bad. He is lonely and isolated. The obedience and self-obliteration eliminate all meaning. This is sickening.

If you will not reveal yourself to others, you cannot reveal yourself to yourself. That does not only mean that you suppress who you are, although it also means that. It means that so much of what you could be will never be forced by necessity to come forward.

Researchers have found that new genes get activated when you are placed in a new situation.

These genes code for new proteins which go to your brain. That means a lot of “you” is already there inside, but needs to be “unearthed”.

If you say and do nothing, you remain incomplete.

When you say yes to something you should say no to, you transform yourself into someone that cannot say no.

This is how decent people end up killing millions. They can’t say no.

By the time no seriously needed to be said, there was no one left capable of saying it.

When you lie or betray your values, you weaken your character. Soon enough, you end up doing things you never agreed to do at first.

This is why you need a vision of a desired future.

It helps you know what you should do now, and what you should not.

When you play a game, there are some implicit rules you follow. The first one is that the game is important. You play the game and make some errors. If you refuse to see them, you won’t win the game.

Sometimes, the error is so big that you need to change the game altogether. It’s a revolution. Accepting the truth necessitates sacrifice. The longer you wait, the bigger it will be.

People that keep on acting in a way that is false are called “inauthentic”.

If you fail to get what you want and change your method, you’re on the right track.

If you fail to get what you want and blame the world, you’re not. Blaming somebody else is a dangerous, game, it quickly leads to “they must be destroyed”.

Individuals that lie know that they lie when they lie. And these lies corrupt the state. If someone comes up with an annoying rule at work and you don’t speak up, you open the door to more abuse in the future.

It was these lies, these denials that enable the Soviet state to commit these atrocities.

Viktor Frankl said the same thing about the Nazis: deceitful, inauthentic individual existence is the precursor to social totalitarianism.

Freud believed that repression was the main cause of mental illness and Adler, simply sickness.

Jung knew moral problems plagued his patients, and that these were caused by lies.

Conclusion: lies warp the structure of Being.

Untruth corrupts the soul and the state alike, and one form of corruption feeds the other.

Milton describes the Devil – Lucifer – as the reason that fall in love with itself, believing that the whole world can be explained through its own theory; that everything is known; that nothing else outside of it exists.

This is the spirit of totalitarianism.

Such rebellion against the Highest and Incomprehensible, inevitably produces Hell.

The totalitarian says that you must rely on what you already know. But that won’t save you. What saves is the willingness to learn from what you don’t know. This realization opens the door for a transformation, for a sacrifice of the current self for a better one. It is taking responsibility.

The totalitarian ultimately does not ask the individual to take responsibility. He does it for him.

Rationalism arose after Christianism and was particularly attractive to workers on one hand, but especially to intellectuals. Utopias like fascism and communism signaled that everything had been discovered, and that therefore, the holder in the utopia could not be wrong.

Hell is not changing. It’s not sacrificing. It’s not evolving.

Those who lie lay in hell.

It is deceit that makes people miserable beyond what they can bear. It is deceit that fills human souls with resentment and vengefulness.

The Truth, Instead

What happens if we told the truth instead? Telling the truth is a purpose, and a purpose defines a structure for action.

When you don’t know what to do, it’s wise to do what people have always done: study, get a job, and have a family.

Whatever target you aim at, keep your eyes open. Sometimes, the target is wrong and you need to change it.

The Egyptians knew that. They told the story of Osiris, the creator of the state, that could, at any moment, be overthrown by Set, his evil brother.

At the right moment, Set tears Osiris to pieces and sends him to the underworld where he struggles to get out.

Meaning: with time, society ossifies and turns towards willful blindness.

Fortunately, Osiris has a son, Horus. Horus pays attention. He fights Set and doing so, loses an eye. Set loses the battle. Horus gets his eye back, journeys into the underworld to get Osiris, and gives him his eye.

Meaning: evil can defeat even a god on one hand, and an attentive son can restore the vision of his father on the other.

The wisdom of the past naturally deteriorates along with the difference between the conditions when culture was first established, and the conditions of now. This means that institutions naturally deteriorate, and that their deterioration is sped up (or slowed down) by our own behavior.

This is why we should not close our eyes to stuff that happens. Nietzsche said that the worth of a man is determined by how much truth he can tolerate.

You are not what you know. You are what you could know, so you should never sacrifice who you could be for who you are.

In the Bible, Christ is identified with the Logos, which is the Words of God. They bring order from chaos. Christ sacrificed to God, and was reborn – for eternity.

This is the idea of learning. Learning something new means that what you knew before you learned, has to die.

Have some ambitions. These should be related to your abilities and character, not status and power. But keep your eyes open. If that goal isn’t suitable, don’t lie to yourself, and change it.

You cannot know in advance, which is why you need to have “faith” and take the leap.

Everyone needs a goal, but that goal should be subordinated to a meta-goal, which is a way to create goals. That meta-goal could be “live in truth”, for example.

Why can’t we just look the other way? Because things fall apart. Things need our attention to be maintained smoothly.

Without attention, culture degenerates and dies, and evil prevails.

A small lie leads to a bigger one, which leads to beliefs and actions not in accordance with reality – the truth.

Lies lead to arrogance of being able to full everyone. It eventually leads to hell when you’ve destroyed all links between yourself and reality. As a result, you constantly fail and become bitter.

In paradise, everyone tells the truth. In hell, everyone lies.

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