Here’s a new self-isolation low to add to the list: I recently exposed myself through an infohazard through the medium of my own dreams.
I dreamed that I had flown halfway across the world to see a friend, but once there, she only seemed interested in dragging me through whirlwind a tour of her material successes: the perfect partner, the perfect bathroom remodel, the perfect landlord, his perfect wife, the perfect plant-based dinners they all shared. I found myself to be an accessory to their worldbuilding. In the dream, standing outside some bustling Berlin thrift shop while waiting on her partner, I told her “I’m not interested in any of this. I came here to see you.” She responded: “maybe you should consider that you’re an NPC here.”
Cue waking in a cold sweat, texting friends in a panic, etc. Could it be, that despite all my self-importance, I don’t matter at all?
NPC theory is one of the few useful models that my not-shitty intellectual circles have adopted from 4chan’s especially shitty incel-adjacent corners. An NPC lives a life according to routine, with little variation. An NPC feels it goes against form to strive for positions above their station, and while they may be unsatisfied by their mediocrity, they feel they have little power to change their circumstances. An NPC is, above all, predictable.
An NPC also exists on the periphery, parallel to a narrative but not integral to it. As someone who considers themself to be a healthy opportunist, I have made a point, at various times in my life, of hitching myself to particular zeitgiests and riding them for a while. While I may contribute work with some value, I am not often crucial to the zeitgeist’s success. This is accompanied by a certain amount of handwaving and ‘this suits me fine’ rationalizations; it is in my nature to be more of a support player than a firebrand (after all, I play bass. How could I not know this?). It’s structurally safe, yet vital to an operation’s utility. Yet with it comes a desire to be the person with enough recognizable je ne sais quoi to be believable as a protagonist.
The issue of whether or not NPC-dom resonates with you comes down to how you construct meaning. Ideally, meaning is highly subjective, with each individual constructing their own internal and self-sustaining support networks. Meaning should be able to survive without external influence, and should provide solace consistently and without significant sunk costs. It would seem that in a much healthier world, we’d all have our own proprietary meaning-software; in this model, everyone would be their own protagonist. Yet the issue with meaning is that when enough people share their internal models and find commonalities between them, you wind up with societal meaning-making that often foists its demands on people incompatible with them, I.E. when everyone tells you it’s time to get married and have children, when you don’t see yourself as being fundamentally cut out for that type of life. In the societal model of meaning-making, meaning is primarily sourced from others. It relies on reciprocal networks. If I matter to my someone, having meaning assigned to me has then willed me into a personally meaningful existence. I invest my resources into cultivating these links, and in return, I exist.
I tried to live according to the second model around 2017-2018, and it was an unmitigated disaster. It turns you into a performer. You have to be constantly trafficking in your own emotional availability or else you lose the plot. You’re basically yelling ‘MAKE ME A PROTAGONIST’ at everyone around you. ‘I’VE APPORTIONED MYSELF ACCORDINGLY, SO PLEASE, MAY I HAVE A CRUMB OF MUTUALLY-CONSTRUCTED SIGNIFICANCE.’ It was draining. Someone recently uncovered a candid photo of me from this time and I look like a POW: dead eyes, slumped posture, my ribcage dangerously visible. Yet every now and then, this method of meaning-construction comes back to haunt me, because unfortunately operating as a meaning-unit with other people is highly fulfilling, and also means you won at society. It is dangerously appealing, but I don’t find that I can sustain it without neglecting my capital-S Self.
So yes, the ideal method of meaning-construction is to assume you’re responsible for your own narrative. You were the protagonist all along. In admitting this I find myself to be a bit of an antihero, poisoning the well of what we typically assume to be the correct mode of fulfillment. Yet I think I’ll sleep better with that knowledge, that it’s ultimately more sustainable to leave mire of expectation in favor of personal fulfillment.