Rescuing my father from the underworld — a Petersonian study plan

A few months ago I came across the teachings of Jordan Peterson, which deeply inspired me. In his Message To Millennials video he proposes a general strategy to “change the world — properly”. I recommend you go ahead and watch it. What follows is my own summary of his impulse, along with some other advice of his, and its adaptation to my own life.

Start with yourself

In the video, Peterson comments that young people want to change the world, which is a good thing. It becomes a problem, though, if you want to change the world by changing other people instead of yourself. He quotes the sermon of the mount:

Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
- Mathew 7

The first thing to recognize is that

The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

In other words, the proper way to change the world is to change yourself.

Orient yourself towards the good

The first step towards improvement is to aim correctly. And the right place to aim towards is the “highest good”. Now, the highest good escapes definition, which is why one has to use a few “tricks”:

  1. Recognize that the highest good must be away from evil, in particular the evils we have seen in the 21st century. What characterizes them is the aim to create more suffering than is needed. So try to aim away from that.
  2. Recognize that the highest good must be multi-layered. Whatever the highest good is, it is an “equilibrated state” which is good for you now, tomorrow and in the future, and is good for you, your family and society, all at the same time. It’s a trade-off. It’s complex. It’s a symphony.
  3. Try to formulate as well as possible what the highest good might look like to you. And be ready to revise your description as you evolve. As a help to the formulation of the highest good, Peterson recommends doing his online program, the Self Authoring Suite (in particular the part about the future). I just completed the program and highly recommend it myself.

The reason why we should aim at the good is that it is the only way we can “bear the burden of being without becoming corrupt”. He quotes Nietzsche:

He who has a why can bear any how.

When we are properly oriented, life becomes full of meaning and excitement. You feel that “being is a symphony, and you are playing your instrumental part”. It’s like a “paradise that you obtain by changing not the world, but yourself”.

Speak the truth

Peterson explains that there are two fundamentally different ways to use the spoken word:

  1. To manipulate the world and to extract from it what you want
  2. To say the truth as carefully as possible

His advice is to follow the second strategy, and to “allow the consequences to unfold as they will”. This is probably his deepest point. As you do this you create a sort of alliance with reality. In a sense, every time you say the truth you go into the unknown, and you bet that reality is fundamentally good, i.e. that saying the truth will yield the best “possible consequences under that circumstance”. Peterson calls this “the ultimate act of faith”. And this way of speaking has a profound psychological benefit:

When you are speaking properly you will experience a feeling of integration and strength and when you are speaking in a deceitful and manipulative manner you will feel that you are coming apart at the seams. And what you need to do is practice only saying things that will make you feel stronger.

As you speak, what you say will be badly formulated and imprecise. Listen to other people’s feedback and learn to improve what you say. Find your own words. As you become good at speaking your truth you will gain authority, which is the positive form of power.

Educate yourself

Once you are properly oriented and willing to say the truth, you need to undergo a transformation. You do this by reading the great writers of the past and “revivifying your lost culture”. He often uses a metaphor that has become a meme among those familiar with Peterson: you have to “rescue your dying father from the belly of the beast” — using the story of pinocchio.

Here is something that I would add, based on some of the advice he gave elsewhere. Don’t just read the authors of the past: Write about them and try to talk about them. Learn to write and to speak properly. This is, of course, related to the previous point about speaking the truth. Peterson has an excellent guide for writing essays which you can find here.

Take on responsibility

Go ahead and work to make the best good possible happen. Start small. Experiment. Gain experience. Become stronger. “Clean your room” has become yet another Peterson meme.

A conclusive note of the video is the following:

As a person like that your mere being will change the world in a positive direction, and that’s what you should aim for.

My personal Petersonian “study plan”

This video has deeply affected me and influenced my choices for the future.

I finished my studies in Computer Science a year ago and I currently work as a Web Engineer, an endeavor which I love. Yet, I have always been interested in psychology and philosophy. What became clear to me while doing the self authoring suite is that I don’t want to give up on being a cultural agent. On the contrary, I want to actively participate in this fantastic cultural movement towards “sorting ourselves out”. As I saw a commenter write somewhere, it’s amazing that something as positive as “sorting yourself out” could even become a meme.

Here is my strategy: over the coming months I will work 60%, which will give me 2 days per week for this project. During these 2 days I will:

  1. Read from Peterson’s recommended reading list. I already read a few of the books, some in high school.
  2. Write about what I read and think, and create an article that I will put on medium.
  3. Speak about what I write — I will record myself and put the recordings on Youtube.
  4. Program a platform for people who want to follow a similar path — more on this below

The curriculum

Here is the whole “study plan” for whomever wants to do something similar. I will update the list with links to the specific articles as I go on. Some of the books I already read in high school, but I will revise them in order to write about them.

  • Self authoring suite ✔️

First batch

Based on Peterson’s short list.

  • Aldous Huxley — Brave New World ✔️
  • Orwell — 1984 ✔️
  • Orwell — The road to wigan pier
  • Dostoevsky — Crime and punishment ✔️
  • Dostoevsky — The devils
  • Nietzsche — Beyond good and evil ✔️
  • Browning — Ordinary men
  • Kosinski — Painted bird
  • Chang — The rape of Nanking
  • Solzhenitsyn — The gulag archipelago
  • Frankl — Man’s search for meaning ✔️
  • Jung — Modern man in search of a soul
  • Peterson — Maps of Meaning
  • Eliade — A history of religious ideas
  • Panksepp — Affective neuroscience

Second batch

Based on Peterson’s somewhat longer list.

  • Dostoevsky — The Brothers Karamazov ✔️
  • Dostoevsky — Notes from the underground
  • Dostoevsky — The idiot
  • Tolstoy — Confessions
  • Tolstoy — The kingdom of god is within you
  • Bulgakov — The master and margarita ✔️
  • Solzhenitsyn — One day in the life of ivan denisovitch
  • Solzhenitsyn — The first circle
  • Solzhenitsyn — Cancer ward
  • Jung — The archetypes of the collective unconscious
  • Jung — Aion
  • Jung — Symbols of transformation
  • Jung — Answer to job
  • Neumann — The origin and history of consciousness
  • Neumann — The great mother
  • Orwell — Animal farm
  • Orwell — down and out in paris and london
  • Orwell — homage to catalonia
  • Huxley — The doors of perception
  • Ellenberger — The discovery of the unconscious
  • Gray — The neuropsychology of anxiety
  • LeDoux — The emotional brain

Third batch

Based on Peterson’s long list

Psychology:

  • Freud — interpretation of dreams
  • Jung — Psychology: East and West
  • Rogers — a way of being
  • Rogers — on becoming a person
  • Piaget: play, dreams and imitation in childhood
  • Piaget — the moral judgment of the child
  • Becker — The denial of death
  • Ellenberger — A new dimension in psychiatry and psychology

General:

  • Price — little science, big science
  • Eysenck — Genius
  • De Soto — The mystery of capital
  • Gall — Systemantics
  • Dalrymple — Life at the bottom

Religion:

  • Smith — The World’s religions
  • Russell: Mephistopheles
  • Lewis — The crisis of islam

Neuroscience:

  • Swanson — brain architecture
  • Gibson — an ecological approach to visual perception
  • Goldberg — the new executive brain

Literature:

  • Kazantzakis — the fratricides
  • Kazantzakis — Zorba the greek
  • Nietzsche — the antichrist
  • Nietzsche — the gay science
  • Frye — the great code
  • Frye — words with power
  • Pirsig — zen and the art

Biography:

  • Troyat — Tolstoy

History:

  • Radzinsky — Stalin
  • Porter — the rise of statistical thinking
  • Shirer — rise and fall of third reich

A platform for sorters

Are you inspired to the same, or something similar? Let me know in the comments! Additionally, you might be interested in this platform I want to build.

I view programming as a powerful tool for creative expression. For this reason I want to integrate my programming skills into this project. As part of the weekly routine I want to be programming an online platform for people like me, who want to “sort themselves out” in the company of other people. Rough ideas about what such a platform could contain:

  1. A profile with links to your blog and channel
  2. Share aspects of your self authoring suite (goals) that you want to
  3. Share links to your articles as you progress through the curriculum

These are rough ideas, I’m more than willing to discuss further ideas with you. If you are interested in joining and supporting this project, check out my newly created Patreon account.

Follow me

If you want to follow this project, subscribe to my Medium publication Cum Grano Salis, of which this article is a part (don’t follow me directly unless you want to read my web engineering articles as well 😉). I already wrote an introduction to Peterson’s and Jung’s world view as I see it, called The World is Magic, which got some nice feedback. Thanks for reading!