Help to find the story about the cat in 12 Rules for Life

Hello fellow Petersonsites. I am new to this forum.

Myself and my husband recently went to the Jordan Peterson event in Edinburgh and loved it. My husband has downloaded the ‘12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos’ audible book and has been listening to it. I walked into the room a couple of weeks ago and heard an intriguing story by JBP that really resonated with me but we can’t remember where it is in the book. I keep thinking about the story because it summed up a situation in my childhood. I have every intention of listening to the audible book but it could take hours to get to that bit and I would so LOVE to know now.

The way I remember the story is that there was a cat that was sitting on a bed in a house. The inhabitants of the house behave as if it doesn’t exist. However, the cat grows and grows into a being large enough to fill the house (like a monster?) - thought it almost sounded like elephant in the room. Does anyone know where I can find this story? It would be much appreciated if you could point me in the right direction. Thank you.

Hi @Katey,

By Antidote for Chaos, do you mean Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life book, that has the subtitle Antidote to Chaos.

Kindle books have Whispersync with their Audible Audiobooks, so one can search for a term in the kindle book, then Audible will ask if you want to go to that position.

If you search 12 Rules for Life for “cat”, most of what appears is entries within “Rule 12: Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street”, which is a chapter about turning everyday fears and inaction into delights, as something to live for in this world of pain — Elon Musk answers the “why get up in the morning?” question by making humanity spacefaring — Peterson answers it by petting cats.

Below are the relevant excerpts that I found that seemed relevant (looking for “cat” and “monster”).

One of the excerpts, which I’ve marked in bold, seems to be the story you are remembering. It is part of “Chapter 10: Be Precise in Your Speech”. With that bolded excerpt being inside the Audible audiobook 30 minutes through Chapter 10.

The Domain, Not of Matter, but of What Matters

The scientific world of matter can be reduced, in some sense, to its fundamental constituent elements: molecules, atoms, even quarks. However, the world of experience has primal constituents, as well. These are the necessary elements whose interactions define drama and fiction. One of these is chaos. Another is order. The third (as there are three) is the process that mediates between the two, which appears identical to what modern people call consciousness. It is our eternal subjugation to the first two that makes us doubt the validity of existence— that makes us throw up our hands in despair, and fail to care for ourselves properly. It is proper understanding of the third that allows us the only real way out. Chaos is the domain of ignorance itself. It’s unexplored territory. Chaos is what extends, eternally and without limit, beyond the boundaries of all states, all ideas, and all disciplines. It’s the foreigner, the stranger, the member of another gang, the rustle in the bushes in the night-time, the monster under the bed, the hidden anger of your mother, and the sickness of your child. Chaos is the despair and horror you feel when you have been profoundly betrayed. It’s the place you end up when things fall apart; when your dreams die, your career collapses, or your marriage ends. It’s the underworld of fairytale and myth, where the dragon and the gold it guards eternally co-exist. Chaos is where we are when we don’t know where we are, and what we are doing when we don’t know what we are doing. It is, in short, all those things and situations we neither know nor understand. Chaos is also the formless potential from which the God of Genesis 1 called forth order using language at the beginning of time. It’s the same potential from which we, made in that Image, call forth the novel and ever-changing moments of our lives. And Chaos is freedom, dreadful freedom, too. Order, by contrast, is explored territory. That’s the hundreds-of-millions-of-years-old hierarchy of place, position and authority. That’s the structure of society. It’s the structure provided by biology, too— particularly insofar as you are adapted, as you are, to the structure of society. Order is tribe, religion, hearth, home and country. It’s the warm, secure living-room where the fireplace glows and the children play. It’s the flag of the nation. It’s the value of the currency. Order is the floor beneath your feet, and your plan for the day. It’s the greatness of tradition, the rows of desks in a school classroom, the trains that leave on time, the calendar, and the clock. Order is the public façade we’re called upon to wear, the politeness of a gathering of civilized strangers, and the thin ice on which we all skate. Order is the place where the behavior of the world matches our expectations and our desires; the place where all things turn out the way we want them to. But order is sometimes tyranny and stultification, as well, when the demand for certainty and uniformity and purity becomes too one-sided. Where everything is certain, we’re in order. We’re there when things are going according to plan and nothing is new and disturbing. In the domain of order, things behave as God intended. We like to be there. Familiar environments are congenial. In order, we’re able to think about things in the long term. There, things work, and we’re stable, calm and competent. We seldom leave places we understand— geographical or conceptual— for that reason, and we certainly do not like it when we are compelled to or when it happens accidentally. You’re in order, when you have a loyal friend, a trustworthy ally. When the same person betrays you, sells you out, you move from the daytime world of clarity and light to the dark underworld of chaos, confusion and despair. That’s the same move you make, and the same place you visit, when the company you work starts to fail and your job is placed in doubt. When your tax return has been filed, that’s order. When you’re audited, that’s chaos. Most people would rather be mugged than audited. Before the Twin Towers fell— that was order. Chaos manifested itself afterward. Everyone felt it. The very air became uncertain. What exactly was it that fell? Wrong question. What exactly remained standing? That was the issue at hand. When the ice you’re skating on is solid, that’s order. When the bottom drops out, and things fall apart, and you plunge through the ice, that’s chaos. Order is the Shire of Tolkien’s hobbits: peaceful, productive and safely inhabitable, even by the naive. Chaos is the underground kingdom of the dwarves, usurped by Smaug, the treasure-hoarding serpent. Chaos is the deep ocean bottom to which Pinocchio voyaged to rescue his father from Monstro, whale and fire-breathing dragon. That journey into darkness and rescue is the most difficult thing a puppet must do, if he wants to be real; if he wants to extract himself from the temptations of deceit and acting and victimization and impulsive pleasure and totalitarian subjugation; if he wants to take his place as a genuine Being in the world. Order is the stability of your marriage. It’s buttressed by the traditions of the past and by your expectations— grounded, often invisibly, in those traditions. Chaos is that stability crumbling under your feet when you discover your partner’s infidelity. Chaos is the experience of reeling unbound and unsupported through space when your guiding routines and traditions collapse. Order is the place and time where the oft-invisible axioms you live by organize your experience and your actions so that what should happen does happen. Chaos is the new place and time that emerges when tragedy strikes suddenly, or malevolence reveals its paralyzing visage, even in the confines of your own home. Something unexpected or undesired can always make its appearance, when a plan is being laid out, regardless of how familiar the circumstances. When that happens, the territory has shifted. Make no mistake about it: the space, the apparent space, may be the same. But we live in time, as well as space. In consequence, even the oldest and most familiar places retain an ineradicable capacity to surprise you. You may be cruising happily down the road in the automobile you have known and loved for years. But time is passing. The brakes could fail. You might be walking down the road in the body you have always relied on. If your heart malfunctions, even momentarily, everything changes. Friendly old dogs can still bite. Old and trusted friends can still deceive. New ideas can destroy old and comfortable certainties. Such things matter. They’re real. Our brains respond instantly when chaos appears, with simple, hyper-fast circuits maintained from the ancient days, when our ancestors dwelled in trees, and snakes struck in a flash. 32 After that nigh-instantaneous, deeply reflexive bodily response comes the later-evolving, more complex but slower responses of emotions— and, after that, comes thinking, of the higher order, which can extend over seconds, minutes or years. All that response is instinctive, in some sense— but the faster the response, the more instinctive.

Peterson, Jordan B… 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (pp. 35-38). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

What Do We See When We Don’t Know What We’re Looking At?

What is it, that is the world, after the Twin Towers disintegrate? What, if anything, is left standing? What dread beast rises from the ruins when the invisible pillars supporting the world’s financial system tremble and fall? What do we see when we are swept up in the fire and drama of a National Socialist rally, or cower, paralyzed with fear, in the midst of a massacre in Rwanda? What is it that we see, when we cannot understand what is happening to us, cannot determine where we are, know no longer who we are, and no longer understand what surrounds us? What we don’t see is the well-known and comforting world of tools— of useful objects— of personalities. We don’t even see familiar obstacles— sufficiently troubling though they are in normal times, already mastered— that we can simply step around. What we perceive, when things fall apart, is no longer the stage and settings of habitable order. It’s the eternal watery tohu va bohu, formless emptiness, and the tehom, the abyss, to speak biblically— the chaos forever lurking beneath our thin surfaces of security. It’s from that chaos that the Holy Word of God Himself extracted order at the beginning of time, according to the oldest opinions expressed by mankind (and it is in the image of that same Word that we were made, male and female, according to the same opinions). It’s from that chaos that whatever stability we had the good fortune to experience emerged, originally— for some limited time— when we first learned to perceive. It’s chaos that we see, when things fall apart (even though we cannot truly see it). What does all this mean? Emergency— emergence( y). This is the sudden manifestation from somewhere unknown of some previously unknown phenomenon (from the Greek phainesthai, to “shine forth”). This is the reappearance of the eternal dragon, from its eternal cavern, from its now-disrupted slumber. This is the underworld, with its monsters rising from the depths. How do we prepare for an emergency, when we do not know what has emerged, or from where? How do we prepare for catastrophe, when we do not know what to expect, or how to act? We turn from our minds, so to speak— too slow, too ponderous— to our bodies. Our bodies react much faster than our minds. When things collapse around us our perception disappears, and we act. Ancient reflexive responses, rendered automatic and efficient over hundreds of millions of years, protect us in those dire moments when not only thought but perception itself fails. Under such circumstances, our bodies ready themselves for all possible eventualities. 163 First, we freeze. The reflexes of the body then shade into emotion, the next stage of perception. Is this something scary? Something useful? Something that must be fought? Something that can be ignored? How will we determine this— and when? We don’t know. Now we are in a costly and demanding state of readiness. Our bodies are flooded with cortisol and adrenaline. Our hearts beat faster. Our breath quickens. We realize, painfully, that our sense of competence and completeness is gone; it was just a dream. We draw on physical and psychological resources saved carefully for just this moment (if we are fortunate enough to have them). We prepare for the worst— or the best. We push the gas pedal furiously to the floor, and slam on the brakes at the same time. We scream, or laugh. We look disgusted, or terrified. We cry. And then we begin to parse apart the chaos. And so, the deceived wife, increasingly unhinged, feels the motivation to reveal all— to herself, her sister, her best friend, to a stranger on a bus— or retreats into silence, and ruminates obsessively, to the same end. What went wrong? What did she do that was so unforgivable? Who is this person she has been living with? What kind of world is this, where such things can happen? What kind of God would make such a place? What conversation could she possibly initiate with this new, infuriating person, inhabiting the shell of her former husband? What forms of revenge might satisfy her anger? Who could she seduce, in return for this insult? She is by turns enraged, terrified, struck down by pain, and exhilarated by the possibilities of her new-found freedom. Her last place of bedrock security was in fact not stable, not certain— not bedrock at all. Her house was built on a foundation of sand. The ice she was skating on was simply too thin. She fell through, into the water below, and is drowning. She has been hit so hard that her anger, terror and grief consume her. Her sense of betrayal widens, until the whole world caves in. Where is she? In the underworld, with all its terrors. How did she get there? This experience, this voyage into the substructure of things— this is all perception, too, in its nascent form; this preparation; this consideration of what-might-have-been and what-could-still-be; this emotion and fantasy. This is all the deep perception now necessary before the familiar objects that she once knew reappear, if they ever do, in their simplified and comfortable form. This is perception before the chaos of possibility is re-articulated into the functional realities of order. “Was it really so unexpected?” she asks herself— she asks others— thinking back. Should she now feel guilty about ignoring the warning signs, subtle though they may have been, encouraged though she was to avoid them? She remembers when she first married, eagerly joining her husband, every single night, to make love. Perhaps that was too much to expect— or even too much to cope with— but once, in the last six months? Once every two or three months, for years, before that? Would anyone she could truly respect— including herself— put up with such a situation? There is a story for children, There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon, by Jack Kent, that I really like. It’s a very simple tale, at least on the surface. I once read its few pages to a group of retired University of Toronto alumni, and explained its symbolic meaning.fn2 It’s about a small boy, Billy Bixbee, who spies a dragon sitting on his bed one morning. It’s about the size of a house cat, and friendly. He tells his mother about it, but she tells him that there’s no such thing as a dragon. So, it starts to grow. It eats all of Billy’s pancakes. Soon it fills the whole house. Mom tries to vacuum, but she has to go in and out of the house through the windows because of the dragon everywhere. It takes her forever. Then, the dragon runs off with the house. Billy’s dad comes home— and there’s just an empty space, where he used to live. The mailman tells him where the house went. He chases after it, climbs up the dragon’s head and neck (now sprawling out into the street) and rejoins his wife and son. Mom still insists that the dragon does not exist, but Billy, who’s pretty much had it by now, insists, “There is a dragon, Mom.” Instantly, it starts to shrink. Soon, it’s cat-sized again. Everyone agrees that dragons of that size (1) exist and (2) are much preferable to their gigantic counterparts. Mom, eyes reluctantly opened by this point, asks somewhat plaintively why it had to get so big. Billy quietly suggests: “maybe it wanted to be noticed.” Maybe! That’s the moral of many, many stories. Chaos emerges in a household, bit by bit. Mutual unhappiness and resentment pile up. Everything untidy is swept under the rug, where the dragon feasts on the crumbs. But no one says anything, as the shared society and negotiated order of the household reveals itself as inadequate, or disintegrates, in the face of the unexpected and threatening. Everybody whistles in the dark, instead. Communication would require admission of terrible emotions: resentment, terror, loneliness, despair, jealousy, frustration, hatred, boredom. Moment by moment, it’s easier to keep the peace. But in the background, in Billy Bixbee’s house, and in all that are like it, the dragon grows. One day it bursts forth, in a form that no one can ignore. It lifts the very household from its foundations. Then it’s an affair, or a decades-long custody dispute of ruinous economic and psychological proportions. Then it’s the concentrated version of the acrimony that could have been spread out, tolerably, issue by issue, over the years of the pseudo-paradise of the marriage. Every one of the three hundred thousand unrevealed issues, which have been lied about, avoided, rationalized away, hidden like an army of skeletons in some great horrific closet, bursts forth like Noah’s flood, drowning everything. There’s no ark, because no one built one, even though everyone felt the storm gathering. Don’t ever underestimate the destructive power of sins of omission. Maybe the demolished couple could have had a conversation, or two, or two hundred,

Peterson, Jordan B… 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (pp. 267-271). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

Don’t hide baby monsters under the carpet. They will flourish. They will grow large in the dark. Then, when you least expect it, they will jump out and devour you. You will descend into an indeterminate, confusing hell, instead of ascending into the heaven of virtue and clarity. Courageous and truthful words will render your reality simple, pristine, well-defined and habitable. If you identify things, with careful attention and language, you bring them forward as viable, obedient objects, detaching them from their underlying near-universal interconnectedness. You simplify them. You make them specific and useful, and reduce their complexity. You make it possible to live with them and use them without dying from that complexity, with its attendant uncertainty and anxiety. If you leave things vague, then you’ll never know what is one thing and what is another. Everything will bleed into everything else. This makes the world too complex to be managed.

Peterson, Jordan B… 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (pp. 281-282). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

I believe this is the story you’re looking for, it’s not about a cat it’s about a kid and a baby dragon. This story reappears in his book 12 rules for life.

Thank you so much Benjamin for pointing out where I can find this! @Balupton - this is exactly the right story. I’m so happy!! Best regards. Katey

Thank you so much Franz @Kafka!! Much appreciated. Katey

No problem, happy to help.