I’ve spent a good portion of my online career bashing Jordan Peterson. I’ve often found him clownish and, at times, downright dangerous.
His new book Beyond Order, however, surprised me. The Peterson that emerged from its pages was a far more complicated and interesting figure than I had previously given him credit for. He lives with brutal addiction and depression, and yet doles out advice on how to lead a good life. He’s weird, eccentric, verbose, and surprisingly progressive and conservative at different turns. I found parts of his book genuinely helpful, and other parts frustrating and overly esoteric. None of this is to say that I’m a fan or that I agree with him on everything. It’s simply to say that I found his most recent book worth engaging.
So, to give the devil his due, I thought I would share a passage from his book that resonated with me. I’ve long argued that horror media helps us to be more mature, thoughtful, and moral. Given these convictions, I was delighted to come across this passage in Jordan Peterson’s Beyond Order:
I do not believe that you can be appropriately grateful or thankful for what good you have and for what evil has not befallen you until you have some profound and even terrifying sense of the weight of existence.
God, he sounds like an annoying college sophomore who just discovered Nietzsche. He goes on:
You cannot properly appreciate what you have unless you have some sense not only of how terrible things could be, but of how terrible it is likely for things to be, given how easy it is for things to be so. This is something that is very much worth knowing. Otherwise you might find yourself tempted to ask, “Why would I ever look into the darkness?” But we seem positively drawn to look. We are fascinated by evil. We watch dramatic representations of serial killers, psychopaths, and the kings of organized crime, gang members, contract killers, and spies. We voluntarily frighten and disgust ourselves with thrillers and horror films – and it is more than prurient curiosity. It is the development of some understanding of the essentially moral structure of human existence, of our suspension between the poles of good and evil. The development of that understanding is necessary; it place a down below us and an up above us, and orients us in perception, motivation, and action. It protects us, as well. If you fail to understand evil, then you have laid yourself bare to it. You are susceptible to its effects, or to its will. If you ever encounter someone who is malevolent, they have control over you in precise proportion to the extent that you are unwilling or unable to understand them. Thus, you look in dark places to protect yourself, in case the darkness ever appears, as well as to find the light. There is real utility in that.
This is similar to my observation in my conversation with Nyx Fears that the horror enthusiasts I know tend to be incredibly moral, compassionate, and responsible. I believe this is because sincerely engaging with horror media forces people to think deeply about the nature of good and evil.
“Doesn’t horror fuck up your mind?” is the common question I get from concerned friends. No, I feel like it does the exact opposite. It gives me a greater appreciation for life and the human experience. I believe it makes me more stable, not less so.
None of this is to say that people should watch horror. It just isn’t some people’s cup of tea, and that’s ok. However, as Jordan Peterson makes clear, confronting evil keeps us safe. Regardless of whether or not someone enjoys horror, I am far more worried about people who never engage with the deepest, ugliest recesses of the human condition, than I am about horror fans.
But that’s just me. What do you think? Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts. I love hearing back from my audience.
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