Hidden among the anti-woke ramblings of a psychology professor turned right-wing commentator lie a few decent ideas. Very few of them concern politics; Dr. Jordan Peterson believes in a “crisis in masculinity,” feels that academia is dominated by an oppressive culture of “postmodern neo-Marxists,” which is a fairly blatant oxymoron, and doubts the science behind climate change. However much you may disagree with these stances, these facts alone don’t disqualify Peterson from being a legitimately well-respected psychologist with occasionally interesting and applicable ideas.
As the new year of college begins, especially for those beginning their first year at Tufts, it may be helpful to remember Peterson’s principle of the importance of cleaning your room. He doesn’t exactly mean it literally; it’s meant to be a metaphor for taking control of your life. Before you solve any larger issues plaguing you, you can start by simply cleaning up your room. The logic of this is very reasonable. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when facing many areas of dissatisfaction with one’s life, but those with fewer problems to deal with might be able to find more peace of mind, so concrete steps towards that are helpful. The trouble, however, with cleaning your room is that although the end goal of feeling some semblance of control in your life is easy to recognize as valuable, the means to achieving this feeling are variable.
The ironic reality of the situation is that, as seen in Jordan Peterson’s video background, his actual room appears to be quite filthy. Although I certainly can’t personally criticize Peterson given the state of my dorm room last year, it’s important to recognize that cleaning your room means different things to different people. While some people might not be able to fall asleep with piles of dirty laundry on their floor, others might find more peace of mind in simply going to sleep and hopefully finishing their laundry later. The goal is not actually having a perfectly clean room; any close examination of a self-help guru’s life will prove this is unlikely. Rather, the goal is simply feeling as though your room is clean and having a sense of control over your life.
The beginning of college comes with quite a bit more freedom than high schoolers typically experience, and as the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard reminds us, anxiety is “the dizziness of freedom.” It is standing atop a tower and feeling the tremendous fear that your only decision is whether or not to jump. Looking down from such a great height, it might seem impossible not to fall. However, it is also possible to look out and, for a moment, enjoy the view. Once you feel enough control, the decision to jump won’t feel like free fall. Thus, the importance of cleaning your room is that you can only land on the floor of complete freedom once your mind is strong enough that it doesn’t believe the fall will kill you.
As I have argued, cleaning your room requires a certain amount of self-knowledge, and it’s up to you to search for what makes you feel as though your life is quite alright. Perhaps at college, it will be getting at least eight hours of sleep every night, working out in the very crowded Tufts gym or even writing armchair philosophy for the Tufts Daily. Making strides towards life improvements beyond simply cleaning your room will require you to make that anxiety-ridden leap on your own. If you are a student beginning your college journey, you will likely receive no shortage of life advice, but the vast majority of the advice will be worthless. Jordan Peterson’s own advice has done little but resonate with incels. Instead, recognize that the journey is yours alone, and you can start by cleaning your room.