In 12 Rules for Life, Rule #11 is “Do Not Bother Children When They Are Skateboarding.” What does this mean? Why should you leave skateboarding kids alone?
Like many of Jordan Peterson’s rules, this goes deeper than literally leaving skateboarding kids alone. Learn the true meaning of Jordan Peterson’s Rule 11.
Overview of Jordan Peterson’s Rule 11
(Shortform note: Depending on your viewpoint, this can be a controversial chapter as Jordan Peterson bemoans the “postmodernist” interpretation of gender as a social construct. He criticizes the assertion that biological differences between men and women do not exist.)
This chapter is meandering and confusing, but the main point is this: modern society desires gender equality. When gender equality means equal opportunity, rights, and treatment, this is good.
However, gender equality can be taken too far – like denying any biological difference between males and females, and insisting that behavior and outcomes be equal in every way.
According to 12 Rules for Life, this idea of literal, complete quality is not supported by biology, and it could be counterproductive because it forces people against their nature. For example, we might raise boys to “feminize” them, erasing their biological tendencies and making them less independent and more agreeable. This is counter to their nature and can cause unintended consequences.
The Flaws of Complete Equality
Some postmodernist thinking claims that gender is entirely a social construct, that it was popularized by men to oppress women. This began with roots in communist ideals that all people should be equal, that the rich exploited the labor of the poor, and that social structures were put in place by the rich to oppress the poor. When implementing this idea largely failed in the Soviet Union and China, the Marxist ideals were rewritten from the idea of oppression of the poor by the rich to oppression of everyone by the powerful.
When extended to its logical conclusion, this promoted skepticism that every cultural construct and hierarchy was merely constructed by the powerful to continue their oppression – science benefits only the scientists, gender classification benefits only the males, management benefits only the managers, measurement of skill benefit only the skilled. As the thinking goes, every hierarchy is an artificial construct made up to selfishly benefit the powerful and to exclude others. This means everything in the world is largely up to interpretation.
Jordan Peterson decries the nihilism in this approach, the rejection of all categorizations as done only for power reasons. Surely power and corruption play some role in hierarchies, but they aren’t necessarily the only role or even the primary role. And believing this idea may be counterproductive if it limits cooperation and contravenes biological roots that evolved over millions of years.
According to Jordan Peterson’s Rule 11, the idea of complete equality itself is flawed. In general, the pursuit of any valued goal produces a hierarchy – some people will be better and some will be worse. In modern well-functioning societies, the hierarchy is based on competence and ability, not power. (Peterson argues the best predictors of long-term success in Western countries are IQ and conscientiousness.)
Take the most diehard egalitarian, and when she gets sick, see if she wants to find a more reputable, more skilled doctor. See then if she believes in a hierarchy of skills that is not merely an artificial construct.
To demand absolute equality between all people in all situations would require sacrificing value itself.
There is a perverse logic to the argument that all hierarchy is socially constructed. Its believers desire for all inequalities to be eliminated, on the basis of fairness. But – IF some inequalities are hard-wired into our genes, or have functional purposes (like identifying the spectrum of skill), or result from free will (females may, given completely equal environmental treatment, just enjoy nursing more than males do), THEN proposing obliterating these would sound unreasonable. It would mean opposing free will, or overwriting biology.
In other words, find someone who insists that all hierarchies are artificial constructs, and you’ll see someone who cannot stomach the idea of inequality in any sense.
What does this have to do with “Do Not Bother Children When They Are Skateboarding”? It’ll become clear enough soon, I promise. One more section.
Instead of bemoaning a narrow hierarchy (eg in management position), instead celebrate the complexity of culture that allows for a large number of games and successful players. Different people can have very different levels of success in different dimensions, and so one’s outcomes can’t be compared to others. Trying to compress everyone into completely equal outcomes – regardless of biology, behavior, and personal preferences – may be destructive.
Within gender, Jordan Peterson maintains there are clear biological differences between men and women – men tend to be more interested in things while women are more interested in people; men are more disobedient and women are more agreeable. The variation among individuals is very high – the most [adjective] of one gender is more [adjective] than the average person of the other gender (for instance, the most aggressive female is more aggressive than the average male), but by and large, the general trend is true.
And in societies with more social freedom (like Sweden) the gender imbalance in certain professions is magnified. For instance, the imbalance of males and females in engineering is greater than it is in the Middle East, where there is less social freedom. The implication is that when given freedom, people do what they naturally want to do.
When it gets down to it, even with equal opportunity, what if women really just want to nurse and teach more than men, and men really want to design bridges more than women? Should we force equality in ways that wouldn’t naturally arise, like forcing a 50-50 gender split in every single profession? What are the costs and benefits of this type of policy?
According to Jordan Peterson’s Rule 11, the idea that gender is a construct used to exert power has led to continuous (Peterson calls unfair) attacks on men. Men’s accomplishments are considered unearned due to their privilege by being born males; their ambitions make them plunderers. Men are attacked as oppressors, when there is little historical evidence that the patriarchy was deliberately designed by men to subjugate women and assert dominance.
Instead, Jordan Peterson considers another biological possibility – that women, by nature of sexual specialization, have to bear children; and that when they get pregnant, they need more protection than usual. In a time when humanity faced many more existential threats, with higher probability of death and higher risk inherent in unwanted pregnancies, different legal treatments of men and women may have arisen.
- This also explains why women tend to prefer mates who are at equal or higher social status levels, while males are more indifferent (this is true across cultures).
- This leads to the depletion of possible mates for high-status women. Women who have to care for infants don’t want an adult male baby to look after as well.
How to Treat Boys as They’re Growing
Peterson wants society to be amenable to the idea that boys and men want to prove their competence, to friends and to romantic partners. Boys want to skirt at the edge of danger, where life is challenging enough to grow. This is why friends tease each other and have hazing rituals, subjecting newcomers to social stress – they are evaluating character and determining who can be trusted, who has a strong spine, who is entertaining.
Peterson decries the neutering of male independence for the sake of gender equality. Instead of being independent, boys raised this way become socially weak and dependent on parents. Still their natural urges remain, and they’ll lash out in other ways, like adhering to violent, fascist ideologies. “Men have to toughen up. Men demand it, and women want it.”
Modern parental overprotection robs men of this opportunity. Don’t remove risk from life – let children optimize for it and improve their competence. Let boys push against authority and toughen up and do some seemingly dangerous things. Hence his rule: “Do Not Bother Children When They Are Skateboarding.”
(Shortform note: while he discusses men and independence, Peterson doesn’t complete the argument to discuss how society should raise girls to suit female natural instincts.)
———End of Preview———
Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of "12 Rules for Life" at Shortform. Learn the book's critical concepts in 20 minutes or less.
Here's what you'll find in our full 12 Rules for Life summary:
- Why standing up straight will make people treat you differently
- How to find meaning in your life and work
- Why you're lying to yourself without realizing it