Commonplace Book

Play Acting in the Social Sphere

Posted at — Sep 6, 2019

Earlier this week I read an article by Esther O’Reilly about Jordan Peterson being a “Noble Pagan”. While this particular commonplace book entry isn’t necessarily about Peterson specifically, it covers something she mentions related to Peterson’s raison d’être that caught my eye [emphasis hers]:

In actuality, Peterson’s entire project rests on his view of the world as a forum for action. So quit play-acting and start acting, he exhorts. Set your house in order. Put your family together. Make yourself useful in your community. Be someone people can rely on. Set a worthy goal and achieve it.

When I read the part about the difference between play-acting and acting, I immediately thought of O. Alan Noble’s “Disruptive Witness”, a book I recently finished reading (and highly recommend). In particular, when discussing a definition of a buffered self, he says:

We are buffered selves, protected behind a barrier of individual choice, rationalism, and a disenchanted world.1

While Noble seems to be discussing buffered selves in relation to belief and a way of perceiving and evaluating beliefs in the world, I like to think it can also be applied to participation in culture as a whole.

The connection I make between these two things has to do with social networking as a way of participating in the wider public square, and play-acting by putting on a persona for interaction in social networks. What is social media if not a form of play-acting? It may start out as authentic interaction, but particularly in the case of Twitter, there seems to be a fine line between authentic interaction and play-acting by pulling the puppet strings of an online persona2. When enough people shift from authentic participation to embodying a particular persona, whether for progressing political or personal ideals, it ends up embodying a “proxy culture” where people feel like they have a grasp on public opinion but nobody is truly, adequately, understood.

In short, overindulging3 in social networking reminds me of a public square filled with kiln people who have diverged from their original creator’s identity.


  1. Alan Noble, “Disruptive Witness” (InterVarsity Press, 2018), page 37. [return]
  2. Consider the exhaustion and overwork of some Twitch streamers. [return]
  3. I make no claim as to what is “under” and what is “over” indulging. [return]