Rule 10: Plan and work diligently to maintain the romance in your relationship
This chapter is about marriage and the work it takes to maintain a marriage. A relationship is like an organism: It is organized, it has its own distinct aims, and it can be helped or hurt by external forces. Married people find themselves busy with work, busy with kids, drawn to solitary hobbies, or drawn to friends outside of the marriage. They might, as a result, neglect their marriage. Their neglect, moreover, could be combined with the belief that the state of their marriage cannot improve. They might not try to improve things partly because of that belief (“it cannot be done!”) and partly because making an attempt would place them in a vulnerable position.
As I was writing the previous paragraph I was reminded of those strings of letters and/or numbers that memory researchers give their research participants. The string of letters/numbers, in order to be kept in memory, must be rehearsed. Perhaps in its own way, a marriage needs to be rehearsed, repeated, attended to. We could also talk about this with respect to the rhythm of a marriage–or any other form of a romantic relationship. For a relationship to thrive, its rhythm has to be understood and preserved. Peterson doesn’t talk about the “rhythm” or the “organization” of the marriage, though his advice in this area seems sound. His exploration of marriage also leads to exploring other related topics, including negotiation, desire, principles (as in, living according to a shared set of principles), noticing the mystery of another person, and so forth. This chapter could be connected to Rules 7 and 8. It is connected to Rule 7, because marriage is a commitment and it’s a commitment that cultivates the person. We become who we are because of our sustained commitment to relationships. It is connected to Rule 8, because the attitude of creating one beautiful room in a home here takes the form of making time (once or twice a week) for one’s relationship.
We should be mindful that Peterson is providing philosophical justification for convention. We don’t have to choose between (a) being a free spirit (and creating a completely new lifestyle) or (b) mindlessly and habitually falling into convention. Peterson is showing his conservative readers to have a reflective and philosophical relationship with conservative and conventional decisions, including marriage. Even if we find his discussion limited, he is providing a starting point for a philosophical relationship with marriage. We can build on that, if we’re interested. The reason why I find his discussion unsatisfactory is because this level of emphasis on a convention like marriage excludes people who, for whatever reason, might not be interested in it, not to mention people for whom it’s not even an option.
Let me share something with you here:
Obligation has nothing to do with love, because loving is the exercise of freedom. Marriage, in comparison, is an economic deal, irrelevant to the heart. It wipes out all traces of sweetness. Its beginning resembles the beginning of a war. Marriage is a ravenous beast with many demands. First it wants a house, then a family, and having a family means participating in an orgy! A public orgy that destroys the human and its desire for a private love. Family, once established, demands protection. It doesn’t matter if you suffer, if your love is sacrificed in the process. Family is proclaimed as a treasure chest. A treasure chest filled with uncles, aunts, grandfathers, kids, and all the other things that demand protection. This is the demand of the society.from The Deal of the Gap, by Ali Abdolrezaei [my translation]
While Peterson presents marriage exclusively in light of our benefit (get married, it’s good for you! You’ll have an ally as you face the tragedies of life!), he is ignoring that marriage is in large part a social and public contract, which goes well beyond the two people involved in the marriage.
Let’s turn to the last two rules.
Rule 11: Do not allow yourself to become resentful, deceitful, or arrogant; Rule 12: Be grateful in spite of your suffering
These chapters return to the importance of stories, the importance of telling and living stories. If I were to summarize Peterson’s methods for avoiding those three attitudes (resentfulness, deceit, and arrogance), I’d say it involves finding the right story and assigning the right role to yourself within that story. He treats stories like magical spells. By getting into a story, you’re casting a spell and transforming your relationship with reality. That’s why stories are so important. A story brings with it a set of possibilities, a horizon, a vision of the future. Peterson talks about why it’s important to think of ourselves as worthy of care (you’re someone who is worth receiving care) and trying to care for others when we can.
What I don’t understand is why telling a story cannot be accompanied with revising the story, based on our experience of reality. Our environments change, and we change, so why not consider the on-going changes to our stories? Peterson would say that the abstract nature of stories makes them applicable to wide range of concrete situations. Still, a wide range of application doesn’t mean universal application. It seems to me that a very likely source of resentment could be the mismatch between the story someone is trying to force upon their lives and their lived experience. Letting go of (the commitment to) the story, might free them from the source of their resentment. Similarly, deceit and arrogance might be partly associated with an attachment to a story.
In passing, there is an interesting insight in Chapter 11 about why children sometimes want to listen to the same stories again and again. Peterson thinks this can be because of their need to grasp a story at multiple levels of abstraction. This was thought-provoking. I don’t know if it accounts for all instances of children wanting to listen again to a story, but it’s a very interesting hypothesis.
I would object strongly to how Peterson handled veganism (or vegeterianism) in Chapter 11 and how he handled antinatalism (the ethical case for not having children) in Chapter 12. In both cases, he is not doing much other than aligning himself with convention and religion, the framework that gives the privileged position to humans and some natural right to humans to farm other animals. He expresses suspicion toward antinatalism, saying that there are dark motives behind it and that people who are defending antinatalism now will get more aggressive later and will wish to actively take human lives. These are mischaracterizations and reflect a failure to meet the arguments on rational grounds. I listened to the Peterson-Benatar debate and found Benatar to be clearly more effective (and less distracted by side-issues) in making his case for antinatalism.
In one of the last parts of the book, Peterson says that ultimately his position is motivated by love, that the actions he encourages in his readers, the mode of being he encourages, is that is in accordance with love–a love that is willing to ignore countervailing evidence and act (with hope) toward creating a better world. I am sympathetic to that. I also understand why, out of love, we might sometimes try to do more than we can, be more than what we are, to create a stronger effect. I wish Peterson best of luck! I don’t think he would watch my review series, but I hope his readers don’t get too annoyed with me and understand my critique as a sign of respect. The book is bad, and the reason it’s bad isn’t because of Peterson’s intelligence, knowledge, or writing ability (all of which are impressive). It’s because he is trying to do and be too much, stretching himself beyond what he can do. But, despite being bad, the book is worthy of critique (and in my mind, that is a compliment). As I said before, I enjoyed reading Chapters 8 and 9 (2 out of 12). I’ll say more about the book, if there are questions/comments. Otherwise, it’s time to move on to something else.