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12 Rules For Life by Jordan B. Peterson

July 5, 2020



  • “…unchaperoned, and left to our own untutored judgment, we are quick to aim low and worship qualities that are beneath us”
  • “…no matter how different our genes or life experiences may be, or how differently our plastic brains are wired by our experience, we all have to deal with the unknown, and we all attempt to move from chaos to order.”
  • Ideologues are people who pretend they know how to ‘make the world a better place’ before they’ve taken care of their own chaos within.”
  • “Ideologies are substitutes for true knowledge, and ideologues are always dangerous when they come to power, because a simple-minded I-know-it-all approach is no match for the complexity of existence. Furthermore, when their social contraptions fail to fly, ideologues blame not themselves but all who see through the simplifications.”
  • “If you are suffering, or someone close to you is, that’s sad. But alas, it’s not particularly special.”
  • “It is because we are born human that we are guaranteed a good dose of suffering.”
  • The hero has to go into the unknown, into an unexplored territory, and deal with a new great challenge and take great risks. In the process, something of himself has to die, or be given up, so he can be reborn and meet the challenge.”
  • “In the West at least, millennials are living through a unique historical situation. They are, I believe, the first generation to have been so thoroughly taught two seemingly contradictory ideas about morality”
  • “The first idea or teaching is that morality is relative, at best a personal ‘value judgment.’”
  • “Today, the postmodernist left makes the additional claim that one group’s morality is nothing but its attempt to exercise power over another group. So, the decent thing to do – once it becomes apparent how arbitrary your, and your society’s, ‘moral values’ are – is to show tolerance for people who think differently, and who come from different (diverse) backgrounds.”
  • “Cultivating judgment about the difference between virtue and vice is the beginning of wisdom, something that can never be out of date.”
  • “But it turns out that many people cannot tolerate the vacuum – the chaos – which is inherent in life, but made worse by this moral relativism; they cannot live without a moral compass, without an ideal at which to aim in their lives.”
  • “So, right alongside relativism, we find the spread of nihilism and despair, and also to the opposite of moral relativism: the blind certainty offered by ideologies that claim to have an answer for everything.”
  • “Where the relativist is filled with uncertainty, the ideologue is the very opposite. He or she is hyper-judgmental and censorious, always knows what’s wrong about others, and what to do about it.”
  • “For the ancients, the discovery that different people have different ideas about how, practically, to live, did not paralyze them; it deepened their understanding of humanity and led to some of the most satisfying conversations human beings have ever had, about how life might be lived.”
  • “…the foremost rule is that you must take responsibility for your own life. Period.”



  • “…the great myths and religious stories of the past, particularly those derived from an earlier, oral tradition, were moral in their intent, rather than descriptive. Thus, they did not concern themselves with what the world was, as a scientist might have it, but with how a human being should act. I suggested that our ancestors portrayed the world as a stage – a drama – instead of a place of objects. I described how I had come to believe that the constituent elements of the world as a drama were order and chaos, not material things.”
  • “People who live by the same code are rendered mutually predictable to one another. They act in keeping with each other’s expectations and desires. They can cooperate. They can even compete peacefully because everyone knows what to expect from everyone else.”
  • “A shared cultural system stabilizes human interaction but is also a system of value – a hierarchy of value, where some things are given priority and importance and others are not. In the absence of such a system of value, people simply cannot act. In fact, they can’t even perceive, because both action and perception require a goal, and a valid goal is, by necessity, something valued.”
  • “…the center is occupied by the individual. The center is marked by the cross, as X marks the spot. Existence at that cross is suffering and transformation – and that fact, above all, needs to be voluntarily accepted. It is possible to transcend slavish adherence to the group and its doctrines and, simultaneously, to avoid the pitfalls of its opposite extreme, nihilism. It is possible, instead, to find sufficient meaning in individual consciousness and experience.”
  • “…people need ordering principles otherwise chaos beckons. We require rules, standards, and values – alone and together. We’re pack animals, beasts of burden. We must bear a load, to justify our miserable existence. We require routine and tradition. That’s order. Order can become excessive, and that’s not good, but chaos can swamp us, so we drown – and that is also not good. We need to stay on the straight and narrow path.”


Rule 1: Stand Up Straight with Your Shoulders Back


The Nature of Nature


Top and Bottom

  • “The bottom of the dominance hierarchy is a terrible, dangerous place to be.”
  • “The ancient part of your brain specialized for assessing dominance watches how you are treated by other people. On that evidence, it renders a determination of your value and assigns you a status. If you are judged by your peers as of little worth, the counter restricts serotonin availability. That makes you much more physically and psychologically reactive to any circumstance or event that might produce emotion, particularly if it is negative.”
  • “If you have a high status, on the other hand, the counters cold, pre-reptilian mechanics assume that your niche is secure, productive, and safe and that you are well buttressed with social support. It thinks the chance that something will damage you is low and can be safely discounted. Change might be an opportunity, instead of a disaster. The serotonin flows plentifully. This renders you confident and calm, standing tall and straight, and much less on constant alert.”



  • “…waking up at a consistent hour is a necessity. Anxiety and depression cannot be easily treated if the sufferer has unpredictable daily routines.”
  • “I have had many clients whose anxiety was reduced to subclinical levels merely because they started to sleep on a predictable schedule and eat breakfast.”
  • “Anxiety-induced retreat makes the self smaller and the ever-more-dangerous world larger.”


Rising Up

  • “Sometimes people are bullied because they can’t fight back.”
  • “But just as often, people are bullied because they won’t fight back. This happens not infrequently to people who are by temperament compassionate and self-sacrificing – particularly if they are also high in negative emotion, and make a lot of gratifying noises of suffering when someone sadistic confronts them (children who cry more easily, for example, are more frequently bullied). It also happens to people who have decided, for one reason or another, that all forms of aggression, including even feelings of anger, are morally wrong.”
  • “When skillfully integrated, the ability to respond with aggression and violence decreases rather than increases the probability that actual aggression will become necessary. If you say no, early in the cycle of oppression, and you mean what you say (which means you state your refusal in no uncertain terms and stand behind it) then the scope for oppression on the part of the oppressor will remain properly bounded and limited.”
  • “Naïve, harmless people usually guide their perceptions and actions with a few simple axioms: people are basically good; no one really wants to hurt anyone else; the threat (and, certainly, the use) of force, physical or otherwise, is wrong. These axioms collapse, or worse, in the presence of individuals who are genuinely malevolent.”
  • “When naïve people discover the capacity for anger within themselves, they are shocked, sometimes severely. A profound example of that can be found in the susceptibility of new soldiers to post-traumatic stress disorder, which often occurs because of something they watch themselves doing, rather than because of something that has happened to them.”
  • “When the wakening occurs – when once-naïve people recognize in themselves the seeds of evil and monstrosity, and see themselves as dangerous (at least potentially) their fear decreases. They develop more self-respect. Then, perhaps, they begin to resist oppression. They see that they have the ability to withstand because they are terrible too. They see they can and must stand up, because they begin to understand how genuinely monstrous, they will become, otherwise, feeding on their resentment, transforming it into the most destructive of wishes.”
  • “Circumstances change, and so can you. Positive feedback loops, adding effect to effect, can spiral counter-productively in a negative direction, but can also work to get you ahead.”
  • “Some of the positive feedback loops instantiated by body language can occur beyond the private confines of subjective experience, in the social space you share with other people. If your posture is poor, for example – if you slump, shoulders forward and rounded, chest tucked in, head down, looking small, defeated, and ineffectual (protected, in theory, against attack from behind) – then you will feel small, defeated and ineffectual.”
  • “…standing up straight with your shoulders back is not something that is only physical, because you’re not only a body. You’re a spirit, so to speak – a psyche – as well. Standing up physically also implies and invokes and demands standing up metaphysically. Standing up means voluntarily accepting the burden of being.”
  • “So, attend carefully to your posture. Quit drooping and hunching around. Speak your mind. Put your desires forward, as if you had a right to them – at least the same right as others. Walk tall and gaze forthrightly ahead. Dare to be dangerous. Encourage the serotonin to flow plentifully through the neural pathways desperate for its calming influence.”


Rule 2: Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible for Helping


Chaos and Order: Personality, Female and Male

  • “Chaos and order are two of the most fundamental elements of lived experience – two of the most basic subdivisions of being itself.”
  • “Our brains are deeply social. Other creatures (particularly, other humans) were crucially important to us as we lived, mated, and evolved. Those creatures were literally our natural habitat – our environment.”
  • “Reality itself is what we contend with when we are striving to survive and reproduce.”
  • “Order, the known, appears symbolically associated with masculinity. This is perhaps because the primary hierarchical structure of human society is masculine, as it is among most animals, including the chimpanzees who are our closest genetic and, arguably, behavioral match.”
  • “Chaos – the unknown – is symbolically associated with the feminine. This is partly because all the things we have come to know were born, originally, of the unknown, just as all beings we encounter were born of mothers.”
  • “Chaos, the eternal feminine, is also the crushing force of sexual selection. Women are choosy maters.”
  • “Women’s proclivity to say no, more than any other force, has shaped our evolution into the creative, industrious, upright, large-brained (competitive, aggressive, domineering) creatures that we are.”
  • “We are adapted, in the deepest Darwinian sense, not to the world of objects, but to the meta-realities of order and chaos, yang and yin. Chaos and order make up the eternal, transcendent environment of the living. To straddle that fundamental duality is to be balanced”
  • “When life suddenly reveals itself as intense, gripping, and meaningful; when time passes and you’re so engrossed in what you’re doing you don’t notice – it is there and then that you are located precisely on the border between order and chaos.”
  • “Living things are always to be found in places they can master, surrounded by things and situations that make them vulnerable.”
  • “Order is not enough. You can’t just be stable, secure, and unchanging, because there are still vital and important new things to be learned. Nonetheless, chaos can be too much.”
  • “Thus, you need to place one foot in what you have mastered and understood and the other in what you are currently exploring and mastering. Then you have positioned yourself where the terror of existence is under control and you are secure, but where you are also alert and engaged.”


The Garden of Eden

  • “There is simply no way to wall off some isolated portion of the greater surrounding reality and make everything permanently predictable and safe within it. Some of what has been no-matter-how-carefully excluded will always sneak back in. A serpent, metaphorically speaking, will appear. Even the most assiduous of parents cannot fully protect their children, even if they lock them in the basement, safely away from drugs, alcohol, and internet porn.”
  • “Question for parents: do you want to make your children safe, or strong?”


The Naked Ape

  • “Perhaps heaven is something you must build, and immortality something you must earn.”


Good and Evil

  • “Unlike us, predators have no comprehension of their fundamental weakness, their fundamental vulnerability, their own subjugation to pain and death. But we know exactly how and where we can be hurt, and why. That is as good a definition as any of self-consciousness. We are aware of our own defenselessness, finitude, and mortality.”
  • “…without that sense of guilt – that sense of inbuilt corruption and capacity for wrongdoing – a man is one step from psychopathy?”
  • “Human beings have a great capacity for wrongdoing. It is an attribute that is unique in the world of life. We can and do make things worse, voluntarily, with full knowledge of what we are doing (as well as accidentally, and carelessly, and in a matter that is willfully blind.”
  • “…no one understands the darkness of the individual better than the individual himself.”


A Spark of the Divine

  • “…perhaps it is not simply the emergence of self-consciousness and the rise of our moral knowledge of Death and the Fall that besets us and makes us doubt our own worth. Perhaps it is instead our unwillingness – reflected in Adam’s shamed hiding – to walk with God, despite our fragility and propensity for evil.”
  • “…people often don’t really believe that they deserve the best care, personally speaking. They are excruciatingly aware of their own faults and inadequacies, real and exaggerated, and ashamed and doubtful of their own value.”
  • “Christ’s archetypal death exists as an example of how to accept finitude, betrayal, and tyranny heroically – how to walk with God despite the tragedy of self-conscious knowledge – and not as a directive to victimize ourselves in the service of others.”
  • “It is not virtuous to be victimized by a bully, even if that bully is oneself.”
  • “…there is little difference between standing up and speaking for yourself when you are being bullied or otherwise tormented and enslaved, and standing up and speaking for someone else. As Jung points out, this means embracing and loving the sinner who is yourself, as much as forgiving and aiding someone else who is stumbling and imperfect.”
  • “There are so many ways that things can fall apart, or fail to work altogether, and it is always wounded people who are holding it together. They deserve some genuine and heartfelt admiration for that. It’s an ongoing miracle of fortitude and perseverance.”
  • “You have some vital role to play in the unfolding destiny of the world. You are, therefore, morally obliged to take care of yourself. You should take care of, help, and be good to yourself the same way you would take care of, help, and be good to someone you loved and valued. You may, therefore, have to conduct yourself habitually in a manner that allows you some respect for your own Being”
  • “To treat yourself as if you were someone you are responsible for helping is, instead, to consider what would be truly good for you. This is not ‘what you want.’ It is also not ‘what would make you happy.’”
  • “You need to consider the future and think, ‘What might my life look like if I were caring for myself properly?’”
  • “You must determine where you are going, so that you can bargain for yourself, so that you don’t end up resentful, vengeful, and cruel. You have to articulate your own principles, so that you can defend yourself against others’ taking inappropriate advantage of you, and so that you are secure and safe while you work and play.”


Rule 3: Make Friends With People Who Want the Best for You


Some Different Friends – and Some More of the Same

  • Sometimes, when people have a low opinion of their own worth – or perhaps when they refuse responsibility for their lives – they chose a new acquaintance, of precisely the type who proved troublesome in the past. Such people don’t believe that they deserve any better – so they don’t go looking for it. Or, perhaps, they don’t want the trouble of better. Freud called this ‘repetition compulsion.’… and unconscious drive to repeat the horrors of the past – sometimes, perhaps, to formulate those horrors more precisely, sometimes to attempt more active mastery and sometimes, perhaps, because no alternative beckons.”


Rescuing the Damned

  • “People chose friends who aren’t good for them for other reasons, too. Sometimes it’s because they want to rescue someone. This is more typical of young people, although the impetus still exists among older folks who are too agreeable or have remained naïve or who are willfully blind.”
  • “When it’s not just naivete, the attempt to rescue someone is often fueled by vanity and narcissism.”
  • “How do you know that your attempts to pull someone up won’t instead bring them – or you – further down?”
  • “Maybe you are saving someone because you’re a strong, generous, well-put-together person who wants to do the right thing. But it’s also possible – and, perhaps, more likely – that you just want to draw attention to your inexhaustible reserves of compassion and good-will. Or maybe you’re saving someone because you want to convince yourself that the strength of your character is more than just a side effect of your luck and birthplace. Or maybe it’s because it’s easier to look virtuous when standing alongside someone utterly irresponsible.”
  • “Or maybe you have no plan, genuine or otherwise, to rescue anybody. You’re associating with people who are bad for you not because it’s better for anyone, but because it’s easier. You know it. Your friends know it. You’re all bound by an implicit contract – one aimed at nihilism, and failure, and suffering of the stupidest sort. You’ve all decided to sacrifice the future to the present.”
  • “Before you help someone, you should find out why that person is in trouble. You shouldn’t merely assume that he or she is a noble victim of unjust circumstances and exploitation. It’s the most unlikely explanation, not the most probable.”
  • “It is far more likely that a given individual has just decided to reject the path upward, because of its difficulty.”
  • “…failure is easy to understand. No explanation for its existence is required. In the same manner, fear, hatred, addiction, promiscuity, betrayal, and deception require no explanation. It’s not the existence of vice, or the indulgence in it, that requires explanation. Vice is easy, failure is easy, too. It’s easier not to shoulder a burden. It’s easier not to think, and not to do, and not to care. It’s easier to put off until tomorrow what needs to be done today and drown the upcoming months and years in today’s cheap pleasures.”


Rule 4: Compare Yourself to Who You Were Yesterday, Not to Who Someone Else is Today


Many Good Games

  • Consult your resentment. It’s a revelatory emotion, for all its pathology. It’s part of an evil triad: arrogance, deceit, and resentment.”


The Point of Our Eyes (or, Take Stock)

  • “We live within a framework that defines the present as eternally lacking and the future as eternally better. If we did not see things this way, we would not act at all. We wouldn’t even be able to see, because to see we must focus, and to focus we must pick one thing above all else on which to focus.”
  • “Because we always contrast what is with what could be, we have to aim at what could be.”


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


The Ignoble Savage

  • “In general, people improve with age, rather than worsening, becoming kinder, more conscientious, and more emotionally stable as they mature.”
  • “…the evidence strongly suggests that human beings have become more peaceful, rather than less so, as time has progressed, and societies become larger and more organized.”
  • “…because children, like other human beings, are not only good, they cannot simply be left to their own devices, untouched by society, and bloom into perfection.”
  • “The vital process of socialization prevents much harm and fosters much good. Children must be shaped and informed, or they cannot thrive.”
  • “Children can be damaged as much or more by a lack of incisive attention as they are by abuse, mental or physical.”


Parent or Friend

  • “…more often than not, modern parents are simply paralyzed by the fear that they will no longer be liked or even loved by their children if they chastise them for any reason. They want their children’s friendship above all and are willing to sacrifice respect to get it. This is not good. A child will have many friends, but only two parents.”
  • “Every parent, therefore, needs to learn to tolerate the momentary anger or even hatred directed towards them by their children, after necessary corrective action has been taken.”
  • “We assume that rules will irremediably inhibit what would otherwise be the boundless and intrinsic creativity of our children, even though the scientific literature clearly indicates, first, that creativity beyond the trivial is shockingly rare and, second, that strict limitations facilitate rather than inhibit creative achievement.”


Discipline and Punish

  • Emotions, positive and negative, come in two usefully differentiated variants. Satisfaction (technically, satiation) tells us that what we did was good, which hope (technically, incentive reward) indicates that something pleasurable is on the way. Pain hurts us, so we won’t repeat actions that produced personal damage or social isolation (as loneliness is also, technically, a form of pain). Anxiety makes us stay away from hurtful people and bad places, so we don’t have to feel pain. All these emotions must be balanced against each other, and carefully judged in context, but they’re all required to keep us alive and thriving.”
  • “…the fundamental moral question is not how to shelter children completely from misadventure and failure, so they never experience any fear or pain, but how to maximize their learning so that useful knowledge may be gained with minimal cost.”
  • “Parents who refuse to adopt the responsibility for disciplining their children, think they can just opt out of the conflict necessary for proper child-rearing. They avoid being the bad guy (in the short term). But they do not at all rescue or protect their children from fear and pain. Quite the contrary: the judgmental and uncaring broader social world will mete out conflict and punishment far greater than that which would have been delivered by an awake parent.”
  • “Every child should also be taught to comply gracefully with the expectations of civil society.”
  • “Much more of our sanity than we commonly realize is a consequence of our fortunate immersion in a social community. We must be continually reminded to think and act properly. When we drift, people that care for and love us nudge us in small ways and large back on track. So, we better have some of those people around.”
  • “If a society does not adequately reward productive, pro-social behavior, it insists upon distributing resources in a markedly arbitrary and unfair manner, and allows for theft and exploitation, it will not remain conflict-free for long. If its hierarchies are based only (or even primarily) on power, instead of the competence necessary to get important and difficult things done, it will be prone to collapse as well.”
  • “Poorly socialized children have terrible lives.”


Minimum Necessary Force

  • “…rules should not be multiplied beyond necessity. Alternatively stated, bad laws drive out respect for good laws.”
  • “So, don’t encumber children – or their disciplinarians – with too many rules. That path leads to frustration.”
  • “Use the least force necessary to enforce those rules.”
  • “Part of establishing a relationship with your son or daughter is learning how that small person responds to disciplinary intervention – and then intervening effectively.”
  • “The penalties for misbehavior (of the sort that could have been effectively halted in childhood) become increasingly severe as children get older – and it is disproportionately those who remain unsocialized effectively by age four who end up punished explicitly by society in their later youth and early adulthood.”
  • “The only time ‘no’ ever means ‘no’ in the absence of violence is when it is uttered by one civilized person to another.”


A Summary of Principles

  • “Disciplinary principle 1: limit the rules”
  • “Disciplinary principle 2: use the minimum necessary force”
  • “Disciplinary principle 3: parents should come in pairs”
  • “Here’s a fourth principle, one that is more particularly psychological: parents should understand their own capacity to be harsh, vengeful, arrogant, resentful, angry, and deceitful.”
  • “Resentment breeds the desire for vengeance.”
  • “Here’s a fifth and final and most general principle. Parents have a duty to act as proxies for the real world – but proxies, nonetheless. This obligation supersedes any responsibility to ensure happiness, foster creativity, or boost self-esteem. It is the primary duty of parents to make their children socially desirable.”


The Good Child – And the Responsible Parent

  • “Clear rules make for secure children and calm, rational parents. Clear principles of discipline and punishment balance mercy and justice so that social development and psychological maturity can be optimally promoted. Clear rules and proper discipline help the child, and the family, and society, establish, maintain and expand the order that is all that protects us from chaos and the terrors of the underworld, where everything is uncertain, anxiety-provoking, hopeless and depressing.”


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


Vengeance or Transformation

  • “…people who experience evil may certainly desire to perpetuate it, to pay it forward. But it is also possible to learn good by experiencing evil.”


Things Fall Apart

  • “We build structures to live in. We build families, and states, and countries. We abstract the principles upon which those structures are founded and formulate systems of belief. At first, we inhabit those structures and beliefs like Adam and Eve in paradise. But success makes us complacent. We forget to pay attention. We take what we have for granted. We turn a blind eye. We fail to notice that things are changing, or that corruption is taking root. And everything falls apart.”


Clean Up Your Life

  • “Consider your circumstances. Start small. Have you taken full advantage of the opportunities offered to you? Are you working hard on your career, or even your job, or are you letting bitterness and resentment hold you back and drag you down? Have you made peace with your brother? Are you treating your spouse and your children with dignity and respect? Do you have habits that are destroying your health and well-being? Are you truly shouldering your responsibilities? Have you said what you need to say to your friends and family members? Are there things that you could do, that you know you could do, that would make things around you better? Have you cleaned up your life? If the answer is no, here’s something to try: Start to stop doing what you know to be wrong.”
  • “So, simply stop, when you apprehend, however dimly, that you should stop. Stop acting in that particular, despicable manner. Stop saying those things that make you weak and ashamed. Do only those things that you could speak of with honor.”
  • “If you cannot bring peace to your household, how dare you try to rule a city?”
  • “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.”


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


Get While the Getting’s Good

  • “Were still chimps in a troupe, or wolves in a pack. We know how to behave. We know who’s who, and why. We’ve learned that through experience. Our knowledge has been shaped by our interaction with others. We’ve established predictable routines and patterns of behavior – but we don’t really understand them or know where they originated. They’ve evolved over great expanses of time.”
  • “One day, however, not so long ago, we woke up. We were already doing, but we started noticing what we were doing. We started using our bodies as devices to represent their own actions. We started imitating and dramatizing. We invented ritual. We started acting out our own experiences. Then we started to tell stories. We coded our observations of our own drama in these stories. In this manner, the information that we first only embedded in our behavior became represented in our stories.”


The Delay of Gratification

  • “Long ago, in the dim mists of time, we began to realize that reality was structured as if it could be bargained with. We learned that behaving properly now, in the present – regulating our impulses, considering the plight of others – could bring rewards in the future, in a time and place that did not yet exist. We began to inhibit, control, and organize our immediate impulses, so that we could stop interfering with other people and our future selves.”
  • “Small sacrifices may be sufficient to solve small, singular problems. But it is possible that larger, more comprehensive sacrifices might solve an array of large and complex problems, all at the same time.”
  • “…sacrifices are necessary, to improve the future, and larger sacrifices can be better.”
  • “The realization that pleasure could be usefully forestalled dawned on us with great difficulty. It runs absolutely contrary to our ancient, fundamental animal instincts, which demand immediate satisfaction (particularly under conditions of deprivation, which are both inevitable and commonplace). And, to complicate the matter, such delay only becomes useful when civilization has stabilized itself enough to guarantee the existence of the delayed reward, in the future.”
  • “To share does not mean to give away something you value and get nothing back. That is instead only what every child who refuses to share fears it means. To share means, properly, to initiate the process of trade.”
  • “The productive, truthful sharer is the prototype for the good citizen and the good man.”
  • “The successful among us delay gratification. The successful among us bargain with the future.”
  • “If the world you are seeing is not the world you want, therefore, it’s time to examine your values. It’s time to rid yourself of your current presuppositions. It’s time to let go. It might even be time to sacrifice what you love best, so that you can become who you might become, instead of staying who you are.”
  • “Pain and suffering define the world. Of that, there can be no doubt. Sacrifice can hold pain and suffering in abeyance, to a greater or lesser degree – and greater sacrifices can do that more effectively than lesser.”
  • If you cease to utter falsehoods and live according to the dictates of your conscience, you can maintain your nobility, even when facing the ultimate threat; if you abide, truthfully and courageously, by the highest of ideals, you will be provided with more security and strength than will be offered by any short-sighted concentration on your own safety; if you live properly, fully, you can discover meaning so profound that it protects you even from the fear of death.”


Death, Toil, and Evil

  • “…once you become consciously aware that you, yourself, are vulnerable, you understand the nature of human vulnerability, in general. You understand what it’s like to be fearful, and angry, and resentful, and bitter. You understand what pain means. And once you truly understand such feelings in yourself, and how they’re produced, you understand how to produce them in others.”
  • “Life is indeed, ‘nasty, brutish, and short,’”
  • “But man’s capacity for evil makes it worse. This means that the central problem of life – the dealing with its brute facts – is not merely what and how to sacrifice to diminish suffering, but what and how to sacrifice to diminish suffering and evil – the conscious and voluntary and vengeful source of the worst suffering.”


Evil, Confronted

  • “Satan embodies the refusal of sacrifice; he is arrogance, incarnate; spite, deceit, and cruel, conscious malevolence. He is pure hatred of Man, God, and Being. He will not humble himself, even when he knows full well that he should. Furthermore, he knows exactly what he is doing, obsessed with the desire for destruction, and does it deliberately, thoughtfully, and completely. It has to be him, therefore – the very archetype of Evil – who confronts and tempts Christ, the archetype of Good.”
  • “If we all chose instead of expedience to dine on the word of God? That would require each and every person to live, and produce, and sacrifice, and speak, and share in a manner that would permanently render the privation of hunger a thing of the past. And that’s how the problem of hunger in the privations of the desert is most truly and finally addressed.”
  • “The lust for blood, rape, and destruction is very much part of powers attraction. It is not only that men desire power so that they will no longer suffer. It is not only that they desire power so that they can overcome subjugation to want, disease, and death. Power also means the capacity to take vengeance, ensure submission, and crush enemies.”
  • “Evil amplifies the catastrophe of life, increasing dramatically the motivation for expediency already there because of the essential tragedy of being. Sacrifice of the most prosaic sort can keep that tragedy at bay, more or less successfully, but it takes a special kind of sacrifice to defeat evil.”


Christianity and its Problems

  • Carl Jung hypothesized that the European mind found itself motivated to develop the cognitive technologies of science – to investigate the material world – after implicitly concluding that Christianity, with its laser-like emphasis on spiritual salvation, had failed to sufficiently address the problem of suffering in the here-and-now. This realization became unbearably acute in the three or four centuries before the Renaissance.”
  • “Christianity achieved the well-nigh impossible. The Christian doctrine elevated the individual soul, placing slave and master and commoner and nobleman alike on the same metaphysical footing, rendering them equal before God and the law. Christianity insisted that even the king was only one among many.”
  • “In consequence, the metaphysical conception of the implicit transcendent worth of each and every soul established itself against impossible odds as the fundamental presupposition of Western law and society.”
  • “Christianity made explicit the surprising claim that even the lowliest person had rights, genuine rights – and that sovereign and state were morally charged, at a fundamental level, to recognize those rights.”
  • “As the Christian revolution progressed, however, the impossible problems it had solved disappeared from view. That’s what happens to problems that are solved. And after the solution was implemented, even the fact that such problems had ever existed disappeared from view. Then and only then could the problems that remained, less amenable to quick solution by Christian doctrine, come to occupy a central place in the consciousness of the West – come to motivate, for example, the development of science, aimed at resolving the corporeal, material suffering that was still all-too-painfully extant within successfully Christianized societies.”
  • “Dogmatic belief in the central axioms of Christianity (that Christ’s crucifixion redeemed the world: that salvation was reserved for the hereafter; that salvation could not be achieved through works) had three mutually reinforcing consequences:
    • First, devaluation of the significance of earthly life, as only the hereafter mattered.
    • Second, passive acceptance of the status quo, because salvation could not be earned in any case through effort in this life
    • And, finally, third, the right of the believer to reject any real moral burden (outside of the stated belief in salvation through Christ), because the son of God has already done the important work.”
  • “For Nietzsche and Dostoevsky alike, freedom – even the ability to act – requires constraint. For this reason, they both recognized the vital necessity of the dogma of the church. The individual must be constrained, molded – even brought close to destruction – by a restrictive, coherent disciplinary structure, before he or she can act freely and competently.”
  • “If a father disciplines his son properly, he obviously interferes with his freedom, particularly in the here-and-now. He puts limits on the voluntary expression of his son’s being, forcing him to take his place as a socialized member of the world.”
  • “A long period of unfreedom – adherence to a singular interpretive structure – is necessary for the development of a free mind. Christian dogma provided that unfreedom.”
  • “…we cannot invent our own values, because we cannot merely impose what we believe on our souls.”
  • “We rebel against our own totalitarianism, as much as that of others. I cannot merely order myself to action, and neither can you.”
  • “I cannot merely make myself over in the image constructed by my intellect (particularly if that intellect is possessed by an ideology). I have a nature, and so do you, and so do we all. We must discover that nature, and contend with it, before making peace with ourselves.”


Doubt, Past Mere Nihilism

  • “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. It reduces the world to those things that aid or impede its realization, and it reduces everything else to irrelevance. An idea defines figure against ground. An idea is a personality, not a fact. When it manifests itself within a person, it has a strong proclivity to make of that person its avatar: to impel that person to act out.”
  • “…nothing other than that the future can be made better if the proper sacrifices take place in the present.”
  • ‘If you are disciplined and privilege the future over the present you can change the structure of reality in your favor.’
  • “There are some actions that are so intrinsically terrible that they run counter to the proper nature of human Being. This is the true essentially, cross-culturally – across time and place. These are evil actions. No excuses are available for engaging in them. 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.”
  • “Each human being has an immense capacity for evil. Each human being understands, a priori, perhaps not what is good, but certainly what is not. And if there is something that is not good, then there is something that is good.”


Meaning as the Higher Good


Rule 8: Tell the Truth – or, at least, Don’t Lie


Manipulate the World

  • “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, consciously or unconsciously, on two premises. The first is that current knowledge is sufficient to define what is good, unquestioningly, far into the future. The second is that reality would be unbearable if left to its own devices.”
  • “The faculty of rationality inclines dangerously to pride: all I know is all that needs to be known. Pride falls in love with its own creations and tries to make them absolute.”
  • “A naively formulated goal transmutes, with time, into the sinister form of the life-lie.”
  • “A sin of commission occurs when you do something you know to be wrong. A sin of omission occurs when you let something bad happen when you could do something to stop it.”
  • “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. This is a biological truth, as well as a conceptual truth.”
  • “If you betray yourself, if you say untrue things, if you act out a lie, you weaken your character. If you have a weak character, then adversity will mow you down when it appears, as it will, inevitably. You will hide, but there will be no place left to hide. And then you will find yourself doing terrible things.”
  • “Error necessitates sacrifice to correct it, and serious error necessitates serious sacrifice. To accept the truth means to sacrifice – and if you have rejected the truth for a long time, then you’ve run up a dangerously large sacrificial debt.”
  • “An inauthentic person continues to perceive and act in ways his own experience has demonstrated false. He does not speak with his own voice.”
  • When the individual lies, he knows it. He may blind himself to the consequences of his actions. He may fail to analyze and articulate his past, so that he does not understand. He may even forget that he lied and so be unconscious of that fact. But he was conscious, in the present, during the commission of each error, and the omission of each responsibility. At that moment, he knew what he was up to. And the sins of the inauthentic individual compound and corrupt the state.”
  • “Deceitful, inauthentic individual existence is the precursor to social totalitarianism.”
  • “…lies warp the structure of Being. Untruth corrupts the soul and the state alike, and one form of corruption feeds the other.”
  • “The difficulties intrinsic to life itself are sufficient to weaken and overwhelm each of us, pushing us beyond our limits, breaking us at our weakest point. Not even the best-lived life provides an absolute defense against vulnerability.”
  • “Any natural weakness or existential challenge, no matter how minor, can be magnified into a serious crisis with enough deceit in the individual, family, or culture.”
  • “With love, encouragement, and character intact, a human being can be resilient beyond imagining. What cannot be borne, however, is the absolute ruin produced by tragedy and deception.”
  • “…it is the greatest temptation of the rational faculty to glorify its own capacity and its own productions and to claim that in the face of its theories nothing transcendent or outside its domain need exist. This means that all important facts have been discovered. This means that nothing important remains unknown. But most importantly, it means denial of the necessity for courageous individual confrontation with Being. What is going to save you? The totalitarian says, in essence, ‘You must rely on faith in what you already know.’ But that is not what saves. What saves is the willingness to learn from what you don’t know.”
  • Milton believed that stubborn refusal to change in the face of error not only meant rejection from heaven, and subsequent degeneration into an ever-deepening hell, but the rejection of redemption itself.”
  • “It is deceit that makes people miserable beyond what they can bear. It is deceit that fills human souls with resentment and vengefulness. It is deceit that produces the terrible suffering of mankind”


The Truth, Instead

  • “We must make decisions, here and now, even though the best means and the best goals can never be discerned with certainty. An aim, an ambition, provides the structure necessary for action. An aim provides a destination, a point of contrast against the present, and a framework, within which all things can be evaluated.”
  • “But it is necessary to aim at your target, however traditional, with your eyes wide open. You have a direction, but it might be wrong. You have a plan, but it might be ill-informed. You may have been led astray by your own ignorance – and, worse, by your own unrevealed corruption. You must make friends, therefore, with what you don’t know, instead of what you know. You must remain awake to catch yourself in the act. You must remove the beam in your own eye, before you concern yourself with the mote in your brother’s.”
  • “It is our responsibility to see what is before our eyes, courageously, and to learn from it, even if it seems horrible – even if the horror of seeing it damages our consciousness, and half-blinds us. The act of seeing is particularly important when it challenges what we know and rely on, upsetting, and destabilizing us.”
  • “You are by no means only what you already know. You are also all that which you could know, if you only would. Thus, you should never sacrifice what you could be for what you are. You should never give up the better that resides within for the security you already have.”
  • “Set your ambitions, even if you are uncertain about what they should be. The better ambitions have to do with the development of character and ability, rather than status and power. Status you can lose. You carry character with you wherever you go, and it allows you to prevail against adversity.”
  • If you pay attention to what you do and say, you can learn to feel a state of internal division and weakness when you are misbehaving and misspeaking. It’s an embodied sensation, not a thought.”
  • “If you pay attention, when you are seeking something, you will move towards your goal. More importantly, however, you will acquire the information that allows your goal itself to transform.”
  • “If you bend everything totally, blindly, and willfully towards the attainment of a goal, and only that goal, you will never be able to discover if another goal would serve you, and the world, better. It is this that you sacrifice if you do not tell the truth. If, instead, you tell the truth, your values transform as you progress.”
  • “As you continue to live in accordance with the truth, as it reveals itself to you, you will have to accept and deal with the conflicts that mode of being will generate. If you do so, you will continue to mature and become more responsible, in small ways and in large.”
  • ‘Act diligently towards some well-articulated, defined, and temporary end. Make your criteria for failure and success timely and clear, at least for yourself (and even better if others can understand what you are doing and evaluate it with you). While doing so, however, allow the world and your spirit to unfold as they will, while you act out and articulate the truth.’
  • “Things fall apart: this is one of the great discoveries of humanity. And we speed the natural deterioration of great things through blindness, inaction and deceit. Without attention, culture degenerates and dies, and evil prevails.”
  • “First, a little lie; then, several little lies to prop it up. After that, distorted thinking to avoid the shame that those lies produce, then a few more lies to cover up the consequences of distorted thinking. Then, most terribly, the transformation of those now necessary lies through practice into automized, specialized, structural, neurologically instantiated ‘unconscious’ belief and action. Then the sickening of experience itself as action predicated on falsehood fails to produce the results intended. If you don’t believe in brick walls, you will still be injured when you run headlong into one.”
  • “Truth will not come in the guise of opinions shared by others, as the truth is neither a collection of slogans nor an ideology. It will instead be personal. Your truth is something only you can tell, based as it is on the unique circumstances of your life. Apprehend your personal truth. Communicate it carefully, in an articulate manner, to yourself and others. This will ensure your security and your life more abundantly now, while you inhabit the structure of your current beliefs. This will ensure the benevolence of the future, diverging as it might from the certainties of the past.”


Rule 9: Assume that the Person You are Listening to Might Know Something You Don’t


Not Advice

  • “When you’re involved in a genuine conversation, you’re listening, and talking – but mostly listening. Listening is paying attention.”
  • “People can be so confused that their psyches will be ordered, and their lives improved by the adoption of any reasonably orderly system of interpretation.”
  • “The past appears fixed, but it’s not – not in an important psychological sense. There is an awful lot to the past, after all, and the way we organize it can be subject to drastic revision.”
  • “The present can change the past, and the future can change the present.”
  • “When you are remembering the past, as well, you remember some parts of it and forget others. You have clear memories of some things that happened, but not others, of potentially equal import – just as in the present you are aware of some aspects of your surroundings and unconscious of others.”
  • “An event that will wipe one person out can be shrugged off by another.”
  • “…people are often willing to produce a lot of collateral damage if they can retain their theory.”
  • “Who are you? What did you do? What happened? What was the objective truth? There was no way of knowing the objective truth. And there never would be. There was no objective observer, and there never would be. There was no complete and accurate story. Such a thing did not and could not exist. There were, and are, only partial accounts and fragmentary viewpoints.”
  • “Memory is not a description of the objective past. Memory is a tool. Memory isn’t the past’s guide to the future. If you remember that something bad happened, and you can figure out why, then you can try to avoid that bad thing happening again. That’s the purpose of memory. It’s not to ‘remember the past.’”
  • “Nietzsche’s ‘pale criminal’ – the person who at one moment dares to break the sacred law and at the next shrinks from paying the price.”


Figure it Out for Yourself

  • “Sometimes you have to change the way you understand everything to properly understand a single something.”
  • “We stimulate the world and plan our actions in it. Only human beings do this. That’s how brilliant we are. We make little avatars of ourselves. We place those avatars in fictional worlds. Then we watch what happens. If our avatar thrives, then we act like he does, in the real world. Then we thrive (we hope). If our avatar fails, we don’t go there, if we have any sense. We let him die in the fictional world, so that we don’t have to really die in the present.”
  • “People think that they think, but it’s not true. It’s mostly self-criticism that passes for thinking. True thinking is rare – just like true listening. Thinking is listening to yourself. It’s difficult.”
  • Thinking is an internal dialogue between two or more different views of the world. Viewpoint One is an avatar in a simulated world. It has its own representations of past, present and future, and its own ideas about how to act. So do Viewpoint Two, and Three, and Four. Thinking is the process by which these internal avatars imagine and articulate their worlds to one another.”
  • Conflict involves negotiation and compromise. So, you have to learn to give and take and to modify your premises and adjust your thoughts – even your perceptions of the world.”
  • “What are you to do, then, if you aren’t very good at thinking, at being two people at one time? That’s easy. You talk. But you need someone to listen to. A listening person is your collaborator and your opponent.”
  • “A listening person is representative of common humanity. He stands for the crowd. Now the crowd is by no means always right, but it’s commonly right. It’s typically right. If you say something that takes everyone aback, therefore, you should reconsider what you said.”
  • “…the individual is morally obliged to stand up and tell the truth of his or her own experience. But something new and radical is still almost always wrong. You need good, even great, reasons to ignore or defy general, public opinion.”
  • “If you’re going to insist on bending the world to your way, you better have your reasons. If you’re going to stand your ground, you better have your reasons. You better have thought them through. You might otherwise be in for a very hard landing. You should do what other people do, unless you have a very good reason not to.”


A Listening Person

  • “I’m a collaborator and an opponent even when I’m not talking. I can’t help it. My expressions broadcast my response, even when they’re subtle. So, I’m communicating, as Freud so rightly expressed, even when silent.”
  • “That’s the key to the psychotherapeutic process: two people tell each other the truth – and both listen.”


How Should You Listen?

  • Carl Rogers wrote ‘The great majority of us cannot listen; we find ourselves compelled to evaluate, because listening is too dangerous. The first requirement is courage, and we do not always have it.’”
  • “He (Rogers) suggested that his readers conduct a short experiment when they next found themselves in a dispute: ‘Stop the discussion for a moment, and institute this rule: “each person can speak up for himself only after he has first restated the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker accurately, and to the speaker’s satisfaction.”’”
    • “There are several primary advantages to this process of summary. The first advantage is that I genuinely come to understand what the person is saying.”
    • “The second advantage to the act of summary is that it aids the person in the consolidation and utility of memory.”
    • “The third advantage of employing the Rogerian method is the difficulty it poses to the careless construction of strawman arguments. When someone opposes you, it is very tempting to oversimplify, parody, or distort his or her position.”
  • “You remember the past not so that it is ‘accurately recorded,’ to say it again, but so that you are prepared for the future.”
  • “If you first give the devil his due, looking at his arguments from his perspective, you can (1) find the value in them, and learn something in the process, or (2) hone your positions against them (if you still believe they are wrong) and strengthen your arguments further against challenge.”
  • “If you listen, instead, without premature judgment, people will generally tell you everything that they are thinking – and with very little deceit.”


Primate Dominance

  • “Not all talking is thinking. Nor does all listening foster transformation. There are other motives for both, some of which produce much less valuable, counterproductive, and even dangerous outcomes. There is the conversation, for example, where one participant is speaking merely to establish or confirm his place in the dominance hierarchy.”
  • “There is another, closely allied form of conversation, where neither speaker is listening in the least to the other. Instead, each is using the time occupied by the current speaker to conjure up what he or she will say next, which will often be something off-topic, because the person anxiously waiting to speak has not been listening.”
  • “Then there is the conversation where one participant is trying to attain victory for his point of view. This is yet another variant of the dominance-hierarchy conversation. During such a conversation, which often tends towards the ideological, the speaker endeavors to (1) denigrate or ridicule the viewpoint of anyone holding a contrary position, (2) use selective evidence while doing so and, finally, (3) impress the listeners (many of whom are already occupying the same ideological space) with the validity of his assertions. The goal is to gain support for a comprehensive, unitary, over-simplified world view.”
  • The person who is speaking in this manner believes that winning the argument makes him right, and that doing so necessarily validates the assumption-structure of the dominance hierarchy he most identifies with.”
  • “…people organize their brains with conversation. If they don’t have anyone to tell their story to, they lose their minds. Like hoarders, they cannot unclutter themselves. The input of the community is required for the integrity of the individual psyche. To put it another way: It takes a village to organize a mind.”
  • “Everyone is always broadcasting to everyone else their desire to encounter the ideal. We punish and reward each other precisely to the degree that each of us behaves in keeping with that desire – except, of course, when we are looking for trouble.”
  • “Another conversation variant is the lecture. A lecture is – somewhat surprisingly – a conversation. The lecturer speaks, but the audience communicates with him or her non-verbally.”
  • “A good lecturer is not only delivering facts (which is perhaps the least important part of a lecture), but also telling stories about those facts, pitching them precisely to the level of the audience’s comprehension, gauging that by the interest they are showing.”
  • “A good lecturer is thus talking with and not at or even to his or her listeners. To manage this, the lecturer needs to be closely attending to the audiences every move, gesture and sound.”
  • “A well-practiced and competent speaker addresses a single, identifiable person, watches that individual nod, shake his head, frown, or look confused, and responds appropriately and directly to those gestures and expressions. Then, after a few phrases, rounding out some idea, he switches to another audience member, and does the same thing.”


Conversation on the Way

  • “The final type of conversation, akin to listening, is a form of mutual exploration. It requires true reciprocity on the part of those listening and speaking. It allows all participants to express and organize their thoughts. A conversation of mutual exploration has a topic, generally complex, of genuine interest to the participants. Everyone participating is trying to solve a problem, instead of insisting on the a priori validity of their own positions. All are acting on the premise that they have something to learn. This kind of conversation constitutes active philosophy, the highest form of thought, and the best preparation for proper living.”
  • “Other conversational types – except for the listening type – all attempt to buttress some existing order. The conversation of mutual exploration, by contrast, requires people who have decided that the unknown makes a better friend than the known.”
  • “To have this kind of conversation, it is necessary to respect the personal experience of your conversational partners. You must assume that they have reached careful, thoughtful, genuine conclusions (and, perhaps, they must have done the work that justifies this assumption).”
  • “A conversation such as this is one where it is the desire for the truth itself – on the part of both participants – that is truly listening and speaking. That’s why its engaging, vital, interesting, and meaningful. That sense of meaning is a signal from the deep, ancient parts of your Being.”
  • Your wisdom then consists not of the knowledge you already have, but the continual search for knowledge, which is the highest form of wisdom.”


Rule 10: Be Precise in Your Speech


Tools, Obstacles, and Extension into the World

  • “We assume that we see objects or things when we look at the world, but that’s not really how it is. Our evolved perceptual systems transform the interconnected, complex, multi-level world that we inhabit not so much into things per se as into useful things (or their nemeses, things that get in the way). This is the necessary, practical reduction of the world.”
  • “We don’t see valueless entities and then attribute meaning to them. We perceive the meaning directly.”
  • “The world reveals itself to us as something to utilize and something to navigate through – not as something that merely is.”
  • “When we look at the world, we perceive only what is enough for our plans and actions to work and for us to get by.”
  • “The objects we see are not simply there, in the world, for our simple, direct perceiving. They exist in a complex, multi-dimensional relationship to one another, not as self-evidently separate, bounded, independent objects. We perceive not them, but their functional utility and, in doing so, we make them sufficiently simple for sufficient understanding.”
  • “This is true even for our perceptions of ourselves, of our individual persons.”
  • “The extensible boundaries of ourselves also expand to include other people – family members, lovers, and friends.”
  • “Our capacity for identification is something that manifests itself at every level of our Being.”
  • If we can become not only ourselves, but our families, teams, and countries, cooperation comes easy to us, relying on the same deeply innate mechanisms that drive us (and other creatures) to protect our very bodies.”


The World is Simple Only When it Behaves

  • “The conscious illusion of complete and sufficient perception only sustains itself, for example – only remains sufficient for our purposes – when everything goes according to plan.”
  • “A car, as we perceive it, is not a thing, or an object. It is instead something that takes us somewhere we want to go. It is only when it stops taking us and going, in fact, that we perceive it much at all.”
  • “When our car fails, our incompetence with regards to its complexity is instantly revealed. That has practical consequences (we don’t get to go where we were going), as well as psychological: our peace of mind disappears along with our functioning vehicle.”
  • The limitations of all our perceptions of things and selves manifest themselves when something we can usually depend on in our simplified world breaks down. Then the more complex world that was always there, invisible and conveniently ignored, makes its presence known.”


You and I are Simple Only When the World Behaves

  • “The past is not necessarily what it was, even though it has already been. The present is chaotic and indeterminate.”
  • “Equally, the future, not yet here, changes into something it was not supposed to be.”
  • “Everything is intricate beyond imagining. Everything is affected by everything else. We perceive a very narrow slice of a casually interconnected matrix, although we strive with all our might to avoid being confronted by knowledge of that narrowness. The thin veneer of perceptual sufficiency cracks, however, when something fundamental goes wrong. The dreadful inadequacy of our senses reveals itself.”


What Do We See When We Don’t Know What We’re Looking At?

  • “What we perceive, when things fall apart, is no longer the stage and settings of habitable order. It’s the eternal watery tohu wa bohu, formless emptiness, and the tehom, the abyss, to speak biblically – the chaos forever lurking beneath our thin surfaces of security.”
  • “How do we prepare for an emergency, when we do not know what has emerged, or from where? How do we prepare for a catastrophe, when we do not know what to expect, or how to act? We turn from our minds, so to speak – too slow, too ponderous – to our bodies. Our bodies react much faster than our minds.”
  • “When things collapse around us our perception disappears, and we act.”
  • “We draw on physical and psychological resources saved carefully for just this moment (if we are fortunate enough to have them).”
  • “This experience, this voyage into the substructure of things – this is all perception, too, in its nascent form; this is preparation; this is consideration of what-might-have-been and what-still-could-be; this emotion and fantasy.”
  • “Don’t ever underestimate the destructive power of sins of omission.”
  • “Everything clarified and articulated becomes visible.”
  • “Why avoid, when avoidance necessarily and inevitably poisons the future? Because the possibility of a monster lurks underneath all disagreements and errors.”
  • Having the argument necessary to solve a real problem, therefore, necessitates a willingness to confront two forms of miserable and dangerous potential simultaneously: chaos (the potential fragility of the relationship – of all relationships – of life itself) and Hell (the fact that you – and your partner – could each be the person bad enough to ruin everything with your laziness and spite).”
  • “Why remain vague, when it renders life stagnant and murky? Well, if you don’t know who you are, you can hide in doubt.”
  • “But not to think about something you don’t want to know about doesn’t make it go away. You are merely trading specific, particular, pointed knowledge of the likely finite list of your real faults and flaws for a much longer list of undefined potential inadequacies and insufficiencies.”
  • “Do you truly think it is a good idea to retreat, to abandon the possibility of arming yourself against the rising sea of troubles, and to thereby diminish yourself in your own eyes? Do you truly think it wise to let the catastrophe grow in the shadows, while you shrink and decrease and become ever more afraid? Isn’t it better to prepare, to sharpen your sword, to peer into the darkness, and then to beard the lion in its den? Maybe you’ll get hurt. Probably you’ll get hurt. Life, after all, is suffering. But maybe the wound won’t be fatal.”
  • “What you least want to encounter will make itself manifest when you are weakest, and it is strongest. And you will be defeated.”
  • “Why refuse to specify, when specifying the problem would enable its solution? Because to specify the problem is to admit that it exists.”
  • “Why refuse to specify? Because while you are failing to define success (and thereby rendering it impossible) you are also refusing to define failure, to yourself, so that if and when you fail you won’t notice, and it won’t hurt.”
  • When things fall apart, and chaos re-emerges, we can give structure to it, and re-establish order, through our speech. If we speak carefully and precisely, we can sort things out, and put them in their proper place, and set a new goal, and navigate to it – often communally, if we negotiate; if we reach consensus. If we speak carelessly and imprecisely, however, things remain vague. The destination remains unproclaimed. The fog of uncertainty does not lift, and there is no negotiating through the world.”


The Construction of Soul and World

  • “When something goes wrong, even perception itself must be questioned, along with evaluation, thought, and action. When error announces itself, undifferentiated chaos is at hand.”
  • “The problem itself must be admitted to, as close to the time of its emergence as possible.”
  • “We are shaped and informed by what we voluntarily encounter, and we shape what we inhabit, as well, in that encounter. This is difficult, but the difficulty is not relevant, because the alternative is worse.”
  • “…damaged machinery will continue to malfunction if its problems are neither diagnosed nor fixed.”


Wheat from Chaff

  • “Precision specifies. When something terrible happens, it is precision that separates the unique terrible thing that has actually happened from all the other, equally terrible things that might have happened – but did not.”
  • “Often what cannot be confronted because of its horror in imagination can, in fact, be confronted when reduced to its-still-admittedly-terrible actuality.”
  • Ignored reality manifests itself in an abyss of confusion and suffering.”
  • “The past can be redeemed, when reduced by precise language to its essence. The present can flow by without robbing the future if its realities are spoken out clearly.”
  • “Courageous and truthful words will render your reality simple, pristine, well-defined, and habitable.”
  • “Say what you mean, so that you can find out what you mean. Act out what you say, so you can find out what happens. Then pay attention. Note your errors. Articulate them. Strive to correct them. That is how you discover the meaning of your life.”


Rule 11: Do Not Bother Children When They Are Skateboarding


Danger and Mastery

  • “…if things are made too safe, people (including children) start to figure out ways to make them dangerous again.”
  • “We feel invigorated and excited when we work to optimize our future importance, while playing in the present. Otherwise, we lumber around, sloth-like, unconscious, unformed, and careless. Overprotected, we will fail when something dangerous, unexpected, and full of opportunity suddenly makes its appearance, as it inevitably will.”


Success and Resentment


Self-Appointed Judges of the Human Race

  • “Why does it so often seem to be the very people standing so visibly against prejudice who so often appear to feel obligated to denounce humanity itself?”
  • “Boys are suffering, in the modern world. They are more disobedient – negatively – or more independent – positively – than girls, and they suffer for this, throughout their pre-university educational career. They are less agreeable (agreeableness being a personality trait associated with compassion, empathy, and avoidance of conflict) and less susceptible to anxiety and depression, at least after both sexes hit puberty. Boys’ interests tilt towards things; girls’ interests tilt towards people.”
  • “Boys like competition, and they don’t like to obey, particularly when they are adolescents. During that time, they are driven to escape their families and establish their own independent existence. There is little difference between doing that and challenging authority.”


Career and Marriage

  • “The increasingly short supply of university-educated men poses a problem of increasing severity for women who want to marry, as well as date. First, women have a strong proclivity to marry across or up the economic dominance hierarchy. They prefer a partner of equal or greater status. This holds true cross-culturally. The same does not hold, by the way, for men, who are perfectly willing to marry across or down (as the Pew data indicate), although they show a preference for somewhat younger mates.”
  • “Children in father-absent homes are four times as likely to be poor. That means their mothers are poor too. Fatherless children are at much greater risk for drug and alcohol abuse. Children living with married biological parents are less anxious, depressed, and delinquent than children living with one or more non-biological parents. Children in single-parent families are also twice as likely to commit suicide.”


The Patriarchy: Help or Hindrance?

  • “Of course, culture is an oppressive structure. It’s always been that way. It’s a fundamental, universal existential reality. The tyrannical king is a symbolic truth; an archetypal constant.”
  • “…any hierarchy creates winners and losers. The winners are, of course, more likely to justify the hierarchy and the losers to criticize it. But (1) the collective pursuit of any valued goal produces a hierarchy (as some will be better and some worse at that pursuit no matter what it is) and (2) it is the pursuit of goals that in large part lends life its sustaining meaning. We experience almost all the emotions that make life deep and engaging as a consequence of moving successfully towards something deeply desired and valued. The price we pay for that involvement is the inevitable creation of hierarchies of success, while the inevitable consequence is a difference in outcome.”
  • “…the so-called oppression of the patriarchy was instead an imperfect collective attempt by men and women, stretching over millennia, to free each other from privation, disease, and drudgery.”


Lest We Forget: Ideas Have Consequences.

  • “…the fact that power plays a role in human motivation does not mean that it plays the only role, or even the primary role. Likewise, the fact that we can never know everything does make all our observations and utterances dependent on taking some things into account and leaving other things out (as we discussed extensively in Rule 10). That does not justify the claim that everything is interpretation, or that categorization is just exclusion. Beware of single cause interpretations – and beware of the people who purvey them.”
  • “…forced redistribution, in the name of utopian equality, is a cure to shame the disease.”
  • “In societies that are well-functioning – not in comparison to a hypothetical utopia but contrasted with other existing or historical cultures – competence, not power, is a prime determiner of status. Competence. Ability. Skill. Now power.”
  • “Furthermore, the most valid personality trait indicators of long-term success in Western countries are intelligence (as measured with cognitive ability or IQ tests) and conscientiousness (a trait characterized by industriousness and orderliness). There are exceptions. Entrepreneurs and artists are higher in openness to experience, another cardinal personality trait, than in conscientiousness. But openness is associated with verbal intelligence and creativity, so that exception is appropriate and understandable.”
  • “All outcomes cannot be equalized.”
  • “Group identity can be fractioned right down to the level of the individual. That sentence should be written in capital letters. Every person is unique – and not just in a trivial manner: importantly, significantly, meaningfully unique. Group membership cannot capture that variability.”
  • “The claim that all gender differences are a consequence of socialization is neither provable nor disprovable, in some sense, because culture can be brought to bear with such force on groups or individuals that virtually any outcome is attainable, if we are willing to bear the cost.”
  • “…we could probably minimize the innate differences between boys and girls, if we were willing to exert enough pressure. This would in no way ensure that we were freeing people of either gender to make their own choices. But choice has no place in the ideological picture: if men and women act, voluntarily, to produce gender-unequal outcomes, those very choices must have been determined by cultural bias. In consequence, everyone is a brainwashed victim, wherever gender differences exist, and the rigorous critical theoretician is morally obligated to set them straight.”


Compassion as a Vice

  • “If you’re resentful, look for the reasons. Perhaps discuss the issue with someone you trust. Are you feeling hard done by, in an immature manner? If, after some honest consideration, you don’t think it’s that, perhaps someone is taking advantage of you. This means that you now face a moral obligation to speak up for yourself.”
  • “You must also know clearly what you want out of the situation and be prepared to clearly articulate your desire. It’s a good idea to tell the person you are confronting exactly what you would like them to do instead of what they have done or currently are doing.”
  • “Assume ignorance before malevolence.”
  • “Agreeable, compassionate, empathic, conflict-averse people (all those traits group together) let people walk on them, and they get bitter. They sacrifice themselves for others, sometimes excessively, and cannot comprehend why that is not reciprocated. Agreeable people are compliant, and this robs them of their independence.”
  • “Too much protection devastates the developing soul.”
  • “Men are actually less tender-minded and agreeable than women, on average, and are less susceptible to anxiety and emotional pain.”


Toughen Up, You Weasel

  • “Men enforce a code of behavior on each other, when working together. Do your work. Pull your weight. Stay awake and pay attention. Don’t whine or be touchy. Stand up for your friends. Don’t suck up and don’t snitch. Don’t be a slave to stupid rules. Don’t, in the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, be a girlie man. Don’t be dependent. At all. Ever. Period.”
  • “A woman should look after her children – although that is not all that she should do. And a man should look after a woman and children – although that is not all he should do. But a woman should not look after a man, because she must look after children, and a man should not be a child. This means that he must not be dependent. This is one of the reasons that men have little patience for dependent men.”
  • “When softness and harmlessness become the only consciously acceptable virtues, then hardness and dominance will start to exert an unconscious fascination. Partly what this means for the future is that if men are pushed too hard to feminize, they will become more and more interested in harsh, fascist political ideology.”
  • “Men have to toughen up. Men demand it, and women want it, even though they may not approve of the harsh and contemptuous attitude that is part and parcel of the socially demanding process that fosters then enforces that toughness.”
  • Men toughen up by pushing themselves, and by pushing each other.”
  • “If they’re healthy, women don’t want boys. They want men. They want someone to contend with; someone to grapple with. If they’re tough, they want someone tougher. If they’re smart, they want someone smarter. They desire someone who brings to the table something they can’t already provide. This often makes it hard for tough, smart, attractive women to find mates: there just aren’t that many men around who can outclass them enough to be considered desirable”
  • “if you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of.”


Rule 12: Pet a Cat When You Encounter One on the Street


Dogs are Okay Too

  • “…people are social; second, that people are antisocial. People are social because they like the members of their own group. People are antisocial because they don’t like the members of other groups.”
  • Cooperation is for safety, security, and companionship. Competition is for personal growth and status. However, if a given group is too small, it has no power or prestige, and cannot fend off other groups. In consequence, being one of its own members is not that useful. If the group is too large, however, the probability of climbing near or to the top declines. So, it becomes too hard to get ahead.”


Suffering and the Limitations of Being

  • The idea that life is suffering is a tenet, in one form or another, of every major religious doctrine.”
  • “Such reasoning universally characterizes the great creeds, because human beings are intrinsically fragile. We can be damaged, even broken, emotionally, and physically, and we are all subject to the depredations of aging and loss.”
  • “If you are already everything, everywhere, always, there is nowhere to go and nothing to be. Everything that could be already is, and everything that could happen already has. And it is for this reason, so the story goes, that God created man. No limitation, no story. No story, no Being.”
  • “Being of any reasonable sort appears to require limitation. Perhaps this is because Being requires Becoming, as well as mere static existence – and to become is to become something more, or at least something different. That is only possible for something limited.”
  • “When you love someone, it’s not despite their limitations. It’s because of their limitations.”
  • “…there appear to be limits on the path to improvement beyond which we might not want to go, lest we sacrifice our humanity itself.”


Disintegration and Pain

  • “The demands of everyday life don’t stop, just because you have been laid low by a catastrophe. Everything that you always do still has to be done. So how do you manage? Here are some things we learned: Set aside some time to talk and think about the illness or other crisis and how it should be managed every day. Do not talk or think about it otherwise.”
  • “Conserve your strength.”
  • “When worries associated with the crisis arise at other times, remind yourself that you will think them through, during the scheduled period.”
  • “The parts of your brain that generate anxiety are more interested in the fact that there is a plan than in the details of the plan. Don’t schedule your time to think in the evening or night. Then you won’t be able to sleep.”
  • “Aim high!”
  • “Put the things that you can control in order. Repair what is in disorder and make what is already good, better.




What Shall I Do with My Newfound Pen of Light?

  • When you’re arguing with someone, you want to be right, and you want the other person to be wrong. Then it’s them that has to sacrifice something and change, not you, and that’s much preferable. If it’s you that’s wrong and you that must change, then you have to reconsider yourself – your memories of the past, your manner of being in the present, and your plans for the future. Then you must resolve to improve and figure out how to do that. Then you actually have to do it.”
  • “…you must decide whether you want to be right or you want to have peace. You must decide whether to insist upon the absolute correctness of your view, or to listen and negotiate. You don’t get peace by being right. You just get to be right, while your partner gets to be wrong – defeated and wrong.”
  • “What have I done wrong, and what can I now do to set things at least a little bit more right?’ But your heart must be open to the terrible truth. You must be receptive to that which you do not want to hear. When you decide to learn about your faults, so that they can be rectified, you open a line of communication with the source of all revelatory thought.”
  • “Orient yourself properly. Then – and only then – concentrate on the day. Set your sights at the Good, the Beautiful, and the True, and then focus pointedly and carefully on the concerns of each moment. Aim continually at Heaven while you work diligently on Earth. Attend fully to the future, in that manner, while attending fully to the present. Then you have the best chance of perfecting both.”
  • “To honor your wife as a Mother of God is to notice and support the sacred element of her role as a mother (not just of your children, but as such). A society that forgets this cannot survive.”