The Evolution Gap and Rule Seven

Aug 3, 2023

Pursue What is Meaningful (Not What is Expedient)

Rule Seven in Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos” is “Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient).” Applying the lens of the Evolution Gap—the disparity between our slow genetic evolution and our rapidly advancing social and technological environment—offers an enlightening perspective on this maxim.

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors had a fundamentally different relationship with meaning and expedience. Survival was the primary concern, meaning their actions were predominantly guided by immediate needs and the expedience of obtaining food, avoiding predators, and securing shelter. Meaning, as we understand it today—encompassing purpose, passion, and personal fulfillment—was not a luxury they could afford.

As society advanced, our basic survival needs have been largely met, affording us the luxury to search for a more profound sense of purpose and meaning in life. However, our evolutionary instincts, still rooted in immediate gratification and survival, can lead us to choose expedience over meaning. This conflict manifests in the Evolution Gap, leading to dissatisfaction, stress, and a sense of emptiness.

Peterson’s seventh rule invites us to consciously choose meaning over expedience, echoing a possible solution to the disorientation brought about by the Evolution Gap. It urges us to resist our primitive urges for instant gratification and instead invest our time and energy into endeavors that align with our long-term goals, values, and aspirations.

The pursuit of meaning often requires delayed gratification, discipline, and resilience—traits that our ancestors might have needed for survival but that we now need to navigate our complex social structures, long-term projects, and personal development. In this light, the rule can be seen as a guidepost to help us bridge the Evolution Gap and align our actions with our evolved understanding of a meaningful life.

In conclusion, Rule Seven, viewed through the prism of the Evolution Gap, urges us to rebalance our evolutionary instincts with the realities and possibilities of our modern existence. It serves as a reminder that our pursuit of a meaningful life is a testament to our ability to transcend the constraints of our evolutionary past and adapt to the complexities of our present.

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