Posts Tagged ‘Hero Myth’

Maps of Meaning provides the philosophical, psychological and anthropological underpinnings to Peterson’s outlook. Not just for 12 Rules for Life, but also for his speaking and teaching as a whole. Maps of Meaning explores symbolism in the history of western civilization and ties it into psychology, neurology and other human sciences.

Simplifying greatly, his thesis is that we view the world through two lenses, one as a realm of objects, and the other as a stage for action. It is the latter that is developed in depth in Maps of Meaning. The two fundamental categories of action are order and chaos. Society, family, routines, tools, traditions, culture provide us with a protective cocoon of order so we can survive and thrive. But this order can be disrupted at any time by chaos: natural disasters, famine, war, violence, disease, accidents, and any other misfortune. We strive to maintain order in the face of change and disruptions to our plans for action. Peterson often refers to order as “explored territory” and to chaos as “unexplored territory.”

Order in the world and society is symbolized by the Father, who can appear as either the benevolent, Wise King or the oppressive, Tyrannical Father. Chaos, or nature, is symbolized by the Mother. She can appear as the Nurturing Mother or the Terrible, Devouring Mother. As we can see, both archetypes have a positive and negative aspect. Moreover, in myths, legends, religion and art, order is almost always portrayed as male and associated with the sun, day, sky, dry land, ships, castles, and walled cities. Chaos is represented as female and associated with the moon, night, chthonic forces, the forest, the desert, the sea, flooding, and deluges. Throughout history and prehistory, humans have contended with these two cosmic forces. (As an aside, the Greek root of cosmos means order, while chaos means disorder.)

The Hero is the Divine Son. He is the offspring of the Father and the Mother. He is the one who walks the fine line between order and chaos, exploring the unknown to bring back new knowledge and creating order at the edge of the known. Hero myths and legends (actually, myth in general) are highly condensed distillations of the recognition of the need for exploration in the face of the unknown, and to create and sustain order in the face of disruptive change. The hero is the one with the courage to venture beyond the borders of the kingdom to gain a great boon from the dragon’s lair. The dragon is the symbol of everything that humans find troubling and frightening in the unknown. The great boon is usually portrayed as a beautiful princess or a unique jewel of inestimable value. This is St-George slaying the dragon. Sometimes the hero fights against the gods instead of a dragon or serpent, in order to gain a valuable technique or tool. Think of Prometheus (which means “foresight” in Greek) stealing fire from the gods, then sentenced to have his liver eaten every day by an eagle. Even more powerful, especially for us, is the reluctant hero. This the person who, despite himself, ends up battling the forces of evil or destruction for the good of humankind. This is Frodo who must leave his cozy shire to battle Sauron for the Ring.

This is all quite esoteric, which is why I venture Peterson wrote 12 Rules for Life as a practical guide. The sub-title is instructive: An Antidote to Chaos. The thesis is this. We need rules for living, especially when we feel most at sea, confused, and disillusioned. We live in a time when traditional social roles and rules are upended. Many people find this disorienting and demoralizing. We can quibble about whether this is indeed the case or not, but there are nonetheless a significant number of people who feel lost and without meaning. Peterson isn’t advocating a return to the good old days, when men were men and women knew their place. He is, however, saying that we need a playing field with lines and goal posts, and rules to guide the game. If you skim over the 12 rules, many of them may appear trite. I prefer to see them as simple. But that doesn’t mean they are easy. In the army I learned 10 principles of leadership. The most important one is to always lead by example. Couldn’t be simpler, but if we look at failures of leadership, many and perhaps most start with the leader not following his or her own directives, breaking the rules, and putting themselves on a pedestal. Does that sound like the Clintons, or perhaps Carlos Ghosn?

You may not get much personally out of 12 Rules for Life. On the other hand, I think it is a good way to see what is resonating with a lot of people around the world, and especially young people. I am going to give the book to my three daughters because I think it is an excellent guide to living a full and fulfilling life. From what I’ve heard, many people have found Peterson’s talks (including about 300 or 400 of his university lectures on YouTube) enlightening and life changing.

I haven’t found Peterson’s work life-changing, but it has enriched my experience and thinking considerably. As with many thought leaders, he can be infuriating and is certainly controversial in many respects. Isn’t that the point? The fact that some people see him as a guru says more about them than about him or his writings and talks, and possibly our society. Most of his critics don’t seem to have read or listened to him much, and I venture that is possibly also the case with those who wish to elevate him onto a pedestal.

© 2018 Richard Martin