By David Futrelle
So the bad news is that Jordan Peterson seems to have discovered the NPC meme, and it’s managed to burrow its way into his unconsciousness.
Peterson is currently on an 85-city tour world tour, and he’s been writing a sort of intermittent tour diary for Canada’s National Post. One recent entry in the series, posted earlier this month, offers a self-portrait of a man on the edge. Possibly on the edge of the toilet, attempting to dislodge whatever it is that forms in one’s bowels when one literally eats nothing but beef and salt and water for months on end. (Dr. Peterson, decidedly not a medical doctor, claims to have gone on the diet to counteract some sort of autoimmune disorder; there is no evidence that all-beef diets help with autoimmune disorders or indeed with much of anything.)
The title of the piece gives a pretty good indication as to his mood: “It’s 2:39 a.m. in Oslo and this irritating man has pushed me too far.” Like Gregor Samsa in Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Peterson begins his tale by describing himself awakening from an uneasy dream; alas, he has not been transformed into a giant cockroach, but remains Jordan Peterson.
The dream seems a fairly straightforward wish fullfillment dream, which involves Peterson beating the crap out of someone asking him a bunch of questions:
In my dream, I wrestled my opponent to the ground. He was still talking, mindlessly, mechanically, rapidly, nonstop. I bent his wrists to force his knuckles into his mouth. His arms bent like rubber and, even though I managed the task, he did not stop babbling. I woke up. 2:39 in Oslo. I’m not in good spirits.
The man in the dream is a fairly transparent stand-in for the “irritating man” of the piece’s headline, a French journalist who had flown to Rochester, New York and then to Oslo to interview him. Peterson didn’t much enjoy the interview, largely because the interviewer kept asking questions, as interviewers are wont to do.
Peterson attempted to explain to this poor fellow his theory about why young men are so angry today, which in his mind has to do with evil feminists telling them that all men are bad. And also that competence is bad.
I told him that young men are … faced with a Devil’s choice: if they are ambitious and competent (or even not ambitious or competent) then they will be treated, not least by themselves, as if they are expressing precisely the traits that produced this terrible [patriarchal] tyranny, and are no better than the infinite oppressors of the past. This happens because it has become acceptable in our time to put forward a version of history, the present and the future that is based on a deep hatred for men (or, even worse, a deep hatred for competence).
Peterson was evidently quite astonished and offended that even after he explained all this to the journalist he still had questions, possibly because nothing Peterson says ever makes any goddamned sense.
He had brought a list of pre-prepared questions, “hard questions,” as he considered them, and did not have the confidence in his own desperation and curiosity to pursue the question that was actually guiding him. He considered himself a liberal, meaning someone attracted by the more radical end of the left, and the story I was telling him was simply not comprehensible: not without the demolition of his entire manner of looking at the world. So he did not have the ears to hear, and actually repeated the question three more times. I gave the same answer each time, to no avail.
After the interview was over, Peterson returned to his hotel room, promptly deciding that the interviewer in question was basically an ideological automaton — that is, what many of his fans (and quite a few Twitter trolls) would call an NPC, the human equivalent of a Non-Player Character in a video game programmed with a limited set of prepackaged responses.
I hadn’t spent two hours talking to a person. The person wasn’t there, or was barely there (even though the journalist had the makings, I would say, of a fine young man). I couldn’t reach him. Instead, I had a very irritating discussion with an ideologically possessed puppet and that was both too familiar and too unpleasant.
And so Peterson went to bed that evening convinced there was nothing wrong with any of his answers; the real problem was that he was talking to a robot man. And then he had a dream about beating up that robot man as he “mindlessly, mechanically” babbled on.
This isn’t the first time Peterson has dismissed an interviewer as a sort of NPC. He did the same during his recent interview with Helen Lewis for the UK edition of GQ. “I could replace you with someone else who thinks the same way,” he told her.
That’s the pathology of ideological possession. It’s not good and it’s not good that I know where you stand on things once I know a few things [about you].
Lewis responded to this by proving that his assumptions about at least some of what she believes were dead wrong (as you can see if you keep watching the full video). But he clearly learned nothing from being shown up in this way. Peterson seems to have grabbed onto the NPC idea too tightly to give it up.
Needless to say, many of his fans have picked up on this, and they’re delighted. We can probably expect an entire new genre of YouTube video, featuring Jordan Peterson (allegedly) DESTROYING one (alleged) NPC feminist after another. And there will be memes. Of course there will be memes. Because the people who like to call other people NPC robot monsters tend to be just a teensy bit predictable.
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