Why do the cretinous like numbered lists? And why do they annoy me so much?
I was asked to write a chapter for a book on investment a while ago along with people who, unlike myself, knew what they were talking about.
The publisher asked me to write about my 10 investing rules. Piqued by the absurdity of the idea I wrote 8 rules instead but I could just as easily have chosen 1 or 15.
For some reason I have a bee in my bonnet at the moment about Jordan Peterson who opines that there are 12 Rules For Life. Perhaps it is just that I am jealous of his success? There again probably not – it must be exhausting to be in demand.
This particular clinical psychologist offers books, “podcasts” (whatever they are) and general existentialist thoughts on every aspect of life and the universe. Or do I mean 13 aspects? Or 5 1/2?
As a shrink perhaps Jordan could tell me why there are 12 Rules for Life? Or did his publisher just think the title was catchy and there were 12 apostles? Or was it 11 because that rotter Judas doesn’t count?
Why 40 days in the wilderness? Surely 10 would have done the job?
A cursory look at Google produces the following equally banal lists:
- 30 Ways to Die
- 12 Ways to Get to 11
- 7 Ways to Maximize Misery
- 7 Ways to Maximise a Fart
- 130 Ways to Fill a Notebook
- 16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds
Note that I have used a list! This is my “6 ways to point out the absurdity of numbered lists”.
Is there a point to all this? Am I going anywhere or just driveling?
Well I think there must be a point somewhere, if only I can find it. I’ll have a shot.
We humans need certainty. We need codification. We like to explain the universe in terms of mathematics, and indeed that is the only way so to do.
By writing a chapter containing 8 investment Rules I am giving people the certainty they crave. I am telling them that if they employ exactly 8 Rules in their investment strategy (my rules) they will achieve success. What nonsense; how misleading.
And so back to Dr Peterson. His theory is that just as there were 12 (or 11) apostles, there are 12 (or is it 13?) “Rules for Life”. It makes people think there really are 12 Rules and that following them will lead to everlasting Joy And Happiness.
Take the Kabbalah. It’s all about numbers. The mysticism of numbers. In numbers we will find our answers. 42 is the Answer to the Meaning of Life the Universe and Everything!
Or take Buddhism: it has a Noble 8-Fold Path. Not 7 fold or 6. Or 5 1/2 but 8. Get a decimal point wrong and you will fall from the path and fail to reach Nibbana. Oh – and there are 4 Noble Truths!
There is a place for the certitude of numbers and it is in the scientific endeavor. The number of atoms in helium or strontium. The age of the universe. The rotations of the earth around our sun.
There is no place for numbers in the messy and chaotic world of human behavior.
So the next time some clever clogs tells you there are “12 Ways to Wipe Your Butt” the correct response is:
But let’s not take jabs at Peterson, while there are lunatics and murderers making “content”.
Sigh. A harmless guru perhaps; nonetheless….. Perhaps no worse than Deepak Chopra or Eckhart Tolle. Maybe these people have something useful to say or are they merely self publicists? A mixture of both? “Help yourself” is perhaps a more appropriate response than reading other peoples’ self help manifestos.
I do not view him in a “self-help” perspective or as a guru, I just enjoy his insights into human psychology. Watching his videos is better than paying for university courses.
I’m sorry to say after many years of consulting psychologists I have become an unbeliever. I fear I am a reductionist from personal experience. My favorite lecturer in that regard is Robert Sapolski from Stanford University. I was mesmerized by 25 hours of lectures on the biological origins of animal behavior.
On a personal level in past years I have found psychology of interest in a general sense but unless it is linked to hard biology (followed by chemistry and pyhsics) I tend to discount it.
For as long as I can remember I have suffered from debilitating depression. For me at least there was no help to be found in discussing my childhood, my origins, my behavior or anything else.
What I needed was chemistry and unfortunately that does not exist for this condition. Well from conventional medicine at least.
For my ten pence worth behavior largely boils down to biology. Leaving aside the thorny question of free will, the only real relief I have found has been from chemistry.
Lest this sounds like a sob story, it is not. I have never been disabled by the condition; just made miserable and negative.
Lo and behold 63 years later I may have found my answer. In chemistry. In the form of psilocybin. Too early for me to pop any corks but so far it has proved a great deal more valuable to me than psychology.
Perhaps this goes some way to explaining my deep skepticism?
Sapolski talks more about evolutionary psychology, Peterson more about behavioral, I like them both. They will help understand but not remedy. Those who claim to be able to help people are often (always?) hacks. Totally get what you are saying.
12 was admittedly arbitrary, but/and he’s about to come out with ’12 more rules’ so there you go 😉
I think you’re right – as well as being the apparently golden rule for clickbait (there are people who very seriously research this, it would be good to know more!), in terms of ’12 rules’ and the like it answers the human need for ‘neat and complete’ solutions to problems / life that are / is truly unbounded and requires a meta-rational approach. I fall foul of this myself because my field is public service/organisational change/consultancy/systems change and stuff – which is not bounded. And I’m trying to find ways to get people enthused and committed to our approaches – to buy our services, and to generate maximum impact. So I’ve been through ‘seven ways to save and improve’, which turned into ‘five worlds’ to think about (and how they interact), then ‘ten principles for leadership’, which turns out to include ‘five core leadership practices’. I’m aware that I’m both using and undermining the meme, which probably doesn’t help sales 🙂
As an example, I happen to think the Viable Systems Model captures something very very core about how organisations work or not (not in every dimension, perhaps, but in many) – but it’s 5/6 systems plus the environment, and the interactions between them, and it’s recursive at every level – so most people just give up and go home…
So perhaps the challenge is, how to communicate helpful information and engage people when the problem space is n-dimensional and you don’t want to deny that reality? It’s worth saying, of course, that many approaches use a linear/step-wise approach and manage to not obscure this requirement – perhaps one of the most obvious being the Soft Systems Methodology.
Fascinating – its an area I know little or nothing about. But I did indeed suspect it had a strong connection to that dreaded word “Sales”.
We humans are pariahs, we are vultures, parasites. We have to thrive by selling something to somebody. Not a skill I have ever possessed. I wonder if there is another economic model we could adopt? There has to be something better than capitalism.
I’d opt to live in The Culture if I could but sadly with Ian Banks now dead I think the doors are closed.
I’m not blaming Peterson in particular. Or Eckhart Tolle or Deepak Wotsit. But if I am being totally honest I would separate good works from money.
If I were to write a book on self help (which I won’t because I have nothing of value to say on the topic) I would certainly not expect to charge for it let alone jet round the world promoting the damn thing and threatening to sue people who had the effrontery to disagree with me in print.
Such is life. Its a shitty world and like Simeon I prefer to stay on my rock. Salesmen are a pet loathing of mine.