Summary of Beyond Order by Jordan Peterson

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  • Post last modified:September 18, 2023
Beyond Order cover
Beyond Order by Jordan Peterson

Short Summary: 4min

Summary: 45 min

Book reading time: 9h30

Score: 8/10

Book published in: 2021

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  • The purpose of a game isn’t to win it. It’s to play in a way that people want to keep playing with you.
  • Heroes are the people that establish order in utter chaos.
  • Freud believed that all mental illnesses were due to repression.
  • The price paid for refusing to know what we should know is purposelessness.
  • If you have a goal, you may fail. But if you don’t have any, you will fail.
  • Refusing to know prevents you from moving forward.
  • If you want to be invaluable, do the useful things no one else wants to do.
  • You grow up when you take on more responsibility.
  • The nature of mankind isn’t to coward in front of the monster, but to fight it when necessary.
  • Anything sufficiently threatful cannot be forgotten if it is not understood.
  • Being single leads to a feeling of incompletion.

Table of Contents

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What Beyond Order Talks About

Beyond Order is a book written by Jordan Peterson. It seeks to take readers beyond the idea of transforming chaos into order. It addresses themes like excessive order, pain, grief, coping and nihilism. The author draws on psychology, religion, and ethics to propose a way to react when life becomes difficult.


It was not an easy read. There were one or two things (Rule III, Rule IV, Rule IX) I appreciated in this book, such as Peterson’s insistence on responsibility.

Unfortunately, many things were a simple repeat of 12 Rules for Life (such as the two last chapters), other things were repeated throughout the book (potential, sins of commission and omission, which also were in 12 Rules for Life) and others were just laughable (Rule X).

Overall, I am a little disappointed with Beyond Order.

I don’t think you should read it if you’ve read 12 Rules for Life as you won’t learn much. You better go find another author and read what they have to say about these questions.


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Short Summary of Beyond Order

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Summary of Beyond Order Written by Jordan Peterson


Why Beyond Order? Order is known territory. It’s safe. However, life isn’t always safe and stable – and you don’t want it to be.

When disorder hits though, it can be too strong. As a result, we risk imposing authoritarianism as we strive to control something we cannot.

This isn’t good either.

So the only thing left is to dive into the chaos head first and see what we can make out of it.

You don’t want too much, and you don’t want too much order. There is a need for balance.

While 12 Rules for Life dealt with establishing order, Beyond Order warns against too much order.

To move forward in life, we need to keep one foot in order, and one beyond so we can grow and explore unknown territory.

Rule I: Do Not Carelessly Denigrate Social Institutions or Creative Achievement

Loneliness and Confusion

Conversation helps keep our minds organized.

We all need to think, and we think by talking. We can’t think alone in a room. This is why we need other people around us.

Sanity as a Social Institution

For Jung and Freud, sanity happened when the different identities were in sync with each other.

  • The id (the instinct)
  • The superego (the idea we have of social order)
  • The ego (the “I”)

These three components are kept “in check” by other people.

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People remain mentally healthy not merely because of the integrity of their own minds, but because they are constantly being reminded how to think, act, and speak by those around them.

If you start behaving weirdly, people will make you notice so you behave normally again.

But how do we develop a consensus on what is normal (what we should do), and what isn’t (what we should not do)?

That depends on what we respectively value.

The Point of Pointing

If you are not communicating about anything that engages other people, then the value of your communication—even the value of your very presence—risks falling to zero.

What should we point towards? We need food, water, clean air, shelter, companionship, play, touch, and intimacy. Ideally, we should focus on the things that will help us acquire these in a socially acceptable manner.

Whatever you value, it must also be good for other people, not just for you, as you need other people to acquire it.

These constraints limit the number of problems there are in life and the number of solutions to solve them.

The fact of limited solutions implies the existence of something like a natural ethic—variable, perhaps, as human languages are variable, but still characterized by something solid and universally recognizable at its base.

Institutions have evolved to try to serve these problems in the best way they can. This is why denigrating them is dangerous.

Bottom Up

Everyone agrees (more or less) on what has worth and what doesn’t. This consensus has been developing for hundreds of millions of years.

How should you act actually is how should you survive, since that’s what life is really about.

To answer this question, we need to go back into the past and have a look at what’s important.

A very simple living organism reacts with A when faced with stimulus A, and reacts with B when faced with stimulus B.

As the complexity of beings increases, they can react with A, B, C…until Z when faced with stimulus A.

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As the complexity of beings increases, they can react with A, B, C…until Z when faced with stimulus A.

By the age of two, a child can already use all of his senses to orientate himself. He can play with other toddlers.

The universal rules of fair play include the ability to regulate emotion and motivation while cooperating and competing in pursuit of the goal during the game (that is part and parcel of being able to play at all), as well as the ability and will to establish reciprocally beneficial interactions across time and situation.

The purpose of a game isn’t to win it. It’s to play it again with the same people. The purpose is to keep collaboration across time.

How do you do so?

The Utility of the Fool

Being at the bottom of a hierarchy helps you develop gratitude and humility. Humility means that it’s better to assume ignorance than certainty. This is why you should make friends with people that know stuff you don’t.

In the Tarot card, there is a fool that climbs a mountain, only to fall down and do it again. The Fool isn’t dumb – he’s wise. It’s good to remain a fool, to remain a beginner, because it helps you get started with doing things.

It’s good not to know, as it compels the pursuit of knowledge.

The Necessity of Equals

Children with no friends are more likely to be depressive, anxious, or antisocial, and children with few friends are more likely to be unemployed and unmarried as adults.

The importance of friendship does not decline in adulthood.

People that live longer seem to be living longer due to their social networks.

Top Dog

People are fragile, and as a result, life is suffering. In order to alleviate this suffering, people must work together (to provide food, water, shelter, etc).

When this happens, people that know how to reach the common goal lead those that don’t. A hierarchy must be established, and it’s established based on competence.

If you’re good at what you do, you should be at the top. People at the top don’t necessarily have power. They have authority.

Ambition is often mistaken for the desire for power. But power and authority are different.

Power is coercing someone into doing something with threats. Authority is having people genuinely following you because they know you’re the best.

Those hungry for power desire control. The ambitious ones desire authority because they want to solve a specific problem.

Sometimes, authority and power go hand in hand, but authority constraints power.

Social Institutions Are Necessary – But Insufficient

Sanity is knowing the rules of the social game, internalizing them, and following them. Differences in status are therefore inevitable, as all worthwhile endeavors have a goal, and those who pursue them have different abilities in relationship to that goal.

One should accept these differences and keep on moving forward.

Why are social institutions insufficient? Because the solutions we found yesterday and today to solve our problems are not necessarily the solutions we will need for tomorrow. Rules and institutions need to evolve with the world.

You should comply with institutional rules most of the time. You should stop complying when they become archaic, pathological, or corrupt.

The question is: when do we know when we should stop complying?

It depends on people. Some are pre-disposed to follow, others are pre-disposed to rebel. People on the right are pre-disposed to keep the structure as it is. People on the left are pre-disposed to change it.

Both of them will be right at some point. Institutions should not be changed when functional, but they definitely should when they’re not.

The Necessity of Balance

The conservative approach helps a society practice what has always worked while a liberal approach helps with getting rid of what no longer works.

You need both conservative and liberal approaches.

Good leaders are equally able to work with both. They are people that can see what needs to be kept, and what needs to be changed.

Personality as Hierarchy – and Capacity for Transformation

How, then, is the personality that balances respect for social institutions and, equally, creative transformation to be understood?

It’s a difficult question, so we use stories to help us understand. Stories contain overarching principles about how we should act. Their simple form enables us to remember the principles.

In the end, we see that the ideal personality is the one that can both be conservative and transformative.

Why? Because not all rules are good to follow, and not all rules are good to follow in all situations.

Eg: In Harry Potter, the three heroes can learn new stuff and follow the rules of the school…until these rules force them to commit actions whose initial rules had been made to prevent.

As a result, this is why you need both conservatism and creative transformation.

Respect the rules, except when those rules disregard an even higher moral principle.

The relation between social institutions and creative achievement maintains this balance.

Do not carelessly denigrate social institutions or creative achievement.

Rule II: Imagine Who You Could Be, and Then Aim Single-Mindedly at That

Who Are You – And Who Could You Be?

Nothing is more complex than a human being, and the complexity of who you are is reinforced by who you could be.

Everyone knows they could be more than they are. This potential sometimes fails to realize due to poor health or other tragedies…but also due to the unwillingness to seize opportunities.

This complexity was embedded into the stories from Antiquity that we still tell today (Greek tragedies, the Bible, etc).

Socrates believed that learning was remembering. He believed that our soul knew everything but forgot it upon being born. By experiencing life, we could (re)discover what we didn’t know we had forgotten.

Stories become unforgettable when they communicate sophisticated modes of being—complex problems and equally complex solutions—that we perceive, consciously, in pieces, but cannot fully articulate.

The Emergence of the Unfortunate

How does a remarkable story emerge? First, what is a remarkable story?

An unforgettable story captures the essence of humanity and distills, communicates, and clarifies it, bringing what we are and what we should be into focus.

A story is a sum of principles one should observe in a certain situation. These principles are validated by time (it is their repetition through time that validates them). As a result, a remarkable story is something that takes time to make.

These stories speak to us and motivate us, they make us want to be like the hero.

So, the answer to “who are you” is:

  • Part of yourself that voluntarily explores the unknown.
  • Part of yourself that is evil and dangerous (the “monster”).
  • Part of yourself that turns too much order into chaos or too much chaos into order.

Materia Prima: Who You Could Be (I)

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Materia Prima: Inspired by Hermes Trismegistus, Occulta philosophia (1613). Also from H. Nollius, Theoria philosophiae hermeticae

The author subsequently explains the image above. This image was made by an alchemist.

The Materia Prima (first matter in Latin) was thought to be the basic substance from which everything else emerged.

That Materia Prima is what we feel when we consider what we could become in the future.

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The Materia Prima.

It can also be all of the information we will use to build our future selves.

What’s this potential (or information)? It can manifest itself with a letter saying you owe a lot of money to the tax authorities.

It can also be the same letter, but saying you got into your dream university.

Whatever the letter says, you need to decide: are you going to act on it, or ignore it?

Everyone was at some point fascinated with something. We didn’t choose that thing – that thing chose us.

When you follow that thing, it leads you somewhere, to another thing, then to another thing, etc.

It’s not easy, but it’s an adventure. That adventure is informative, and informs the person you’re going to be. It’s building up your potential.

Polytheism Into Monotheis, and the Emergence of the Virtuous Hero: Who You Could Be (II)

Let’s explore the “who you could be” from another perspective.

The Mesopotamians had the following story.

One day, Apsu, the god of order, was killed. Enraged, his wife, Tiamat, the goddess of chaos, waged war against the other gods. All of them failed to beat her. Marduk, a young god, offered to fight her, but asks to reign over the cosmos if he wins. He wins, and becomes king, holding the Tablet of Destiny.

This story shows how chaos unleashes when order is destroyed, and how order can be put back thanks to a hero.

How to Act

As humans, we first learn by mimicking people older than us. Later on, religions came to tell us how to act.

Those that could observe the rules well enough often ended up breaking them as well, often for a higher moral purpose (as we discussed in Rule I).

What does this mean?

That you need to have a purpose. You need to know where you are going. For that, you need to know where you were in the past and where you are now – or you’ll drown in uncertainty.

Don’t avoid the obstacles on your path. If you switch paths, make sure you really switch – and not give up your path for an easier path.

Imagine who you could be, and then aim single-mindedly at that.

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