I hadn’t been planning on doing a newsletter this week as I’m visiting family, and don’t have the usual open time to produce whatever it is you want to call what I do here, but given the popularity of last week’s post on the ChatGPT language bot, I thought I’d follow up with an experiment I ran earlier this week using it as a composing tool.
One of the most fascinating parts of the technology for me is how you can ask it to produce a piece of writing in a particular style. To put it through its paces, and to have a little fun, I gave it the following prompt:
For those not aware, Jordan Peterson is a Canadian former professor and clinical psychologist, perhaps best known for his bestselling book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, who has become a kind of anti-woke guru, via his freewheeling lectures that either unlock the mysteries of life, the universe, and everything, or are the nonsensical ramblings of someone who has climbed all the way up his own keister, depending on your point of view.
I am among the latter. Peterson and his ilk like to call themselves “classical liberals,” but really, he’s an old-school reactionary whose elevated sense of self-importance is ripe for lampooning.
Anyway, I took what ChatGPT produced, dusted off my humor writing chops, and came up with the following, hopefully for your entertainment. ChatGPT’s contributions are in bold.
Jordan B. Peterson Explains Why You Should Stuff Live Weasels Down Your Pants
Good evening, everyone. Tonight, I want to talk to you about an important concept that many people overlook: the importance of stuffing live weasels down your pants.
Now, I know what you're thinking. "Jordan, why on earth would I want to stuff live weasels down my pants?" And to that, I say: because it's a crucial part of building character.
But before we go on, we should ask: What do we mean by weasels? And also pants?
By weasels I mean the mammals of the genus Mustela, of the family Musteildae, we’re talking about your polecats, or your stoats, or your ferrets, that sort of thing. You’re asking me, “Jordan, but what about a badger? A badger is a weasel,” and I say you’re gosh darn right it is, and so is a wolverine, and you know what else is a weasel, technically speaking? Otters! Otters are a damn weasel too, and don’t let anyone tell you different!
But that’s not the point, the point is that you’ve got to stuff a couple of these things with their teeth and claws and slinky bodies and silky fur that’s going to brush up against your genitals – nothing you can do about that - down your pants, so can you learn to accept the consequences of the choices you make in life, choices like stuffing live weasels down your pants.
See, stuffing live weasels down your pants is not easy. It takes courage, determination, and a willingness to face fear head-on.
But it's not just about overcoming fear. Stuffing live weasels down your pants also requires you to be present in the moment, to be fully engaged in what you're doing, which is walking around with live weasels down your pants. You have to focus, to be mindful, to be fully alive. And by practicing that kind of mindfulness, you are strengthening your character in a way that will benefit you in all areas of your life.
But what about the pants? You’re thinking I’ve forgotten the pants, but I haven’t forgotten about the pants. The pants are as important as the weasels, and so gosh darn it, you’ve got to know that that when we say pants, we mean pants, not shorts. With shorts, the weasels would escape out the bottoms in no time whatsoever, and what kind of test is that?
I recommend those MC Hammer pants. Lots of room for live weasels in those pants. You could get three, four, maybe five weasels down those pants! And with the tight cuffs, those weasels aren’t going anywhere, no sir. Honest to goodness, the way Mr. Hammer danced around in that video, I’d bet you anything the man had weasels down his pants at that very moment, and look how life turned out for him!
I hear he’s made a fortune in bitcoin.
Now, you may be wondering what it feels like to have live weasels down your pants. Well, it's not comfortable, I can tell you that. The weasels are wriggling and squirming, and it takes a lot of mental fortitude to ignore a couple of the buggers having a race around your inner thighs and focus on the task at hand. But that's precisely the point. By pushing through the discomfort, you are proving to yourself that you are capable of so much more than you ever thought possible.
If you can stuff live weasels down your pants, then I ask, what can’t you do?
Now, there’s some folks out there that are going to try to tell you that stuffing live weasels down your pants is madness. Madness! But I’ve got three weasels down my pants right now, and do I look and sound like a man who is anything but sane? Anything but rational? Anything but living his best life?
Absolutely not! In fact, I’m too legit to quit!
Jordan Peterson exists the stage, dancing.
As you can see from the bold, ChatGPT makes up a relatively small proportion of the final product, and most of what’s good about what it produced is predicated on the humorous juxtaposition of my prompt, but I will admit that the AI was helpful in generating enough material for me to be encouraged by my own idea to take a little time to work on it. The AI gave me a kind of crude proof of concept that my premise had promise, and sometimes that’s one of the biggest hurdles you face when it comes to writing.
On a short piece of humor, the hurdle is at the initiation phase, but for longer projects, they come in periodic waves. Every book I’ve published has entailed at least one (if not more) episodes where I consider drafting an email to my editor saying that I was wrong, that the project I sold isn’t going to work. If those projects hadn’t already sold, I might not have pushed through to get past those blocks.
You fine folks provide a similar motivation for these posts. Knowing there are people on the other side of these missives forces me to get over myself and produce something, even if it isn’t quite what I had in mind when I sat down to write, or doesn’t fully capture whatever it is I’m trying to articulate.
One thing I’m certain of about ChatGPT and its AI cousins is that we can’t go back to a world in which they don’t exist.
The key going forward is to make sure we make them work for us, rather than the other way around.
I swear I’m doing something other than obsessing about ChatGPT, but I do want to point folks to a guest post I ran at my Inside Higher Ed blog by Marc Watkins, an instructor at the University of Mississippi who has been using AI tools in his first-year writing class this year, and is one of the people I’ve seen who are most knowledgeable about how we’re going to be able to integrate this technology into our schooling.
I also appeared on A.J. Juliani’s Backwards Podcast to talk about what ChatGPT means for education. Direct link: “John Warner: Teaching and Learning in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.”
Apple Podcast link:
My Chicago Tribune column this week is the first part of a two part series on my favorite fiction of the year, featuring the following:
Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson
And in a total cheat, a book that was published in 1972, but is now my pet cause to make more people appreciate its genius, A Confession of a Child of the Century by Thomas Rogers.
If I had the time to give it the consideration it deserves, I’d be writing about the announced closing of Bookforum, a truly great outlet for book criticism. It’s impossible to overstate how bad this is for the future of the book and publishing ecosystem.
The Aspen Words literary prize has announced its longlist. One of these authors will win a $35,000 prize, which is awesome, but also think about how maintaining a viable career writing literary works requires winning prizes like this, and then consider how long the odds are of winning prizes like this. Maybe we have to figure out how to create an ecosystem where you don’t have to win a prize to do your work. (Man, I’m cranky today!)
Your long read of the week is this at the New Yorker, a consideration of the work of Evan S. Connell, author of at least one perfect novel, Mrs. Bridge.
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All books linked here are part of The Biblioracle Recommends bookshop at Bookshop.org. Affiliate income for purchases through the bookshop goes to Open Books in Chicago.
Affiliate income is $353.30 for the year. We’ve crushed last year’s total. Now it’s all gravy. Let’s keep pouring it on!
1. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
2. Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
3. Shrines of Gaity by Kate Atkinson
4. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
5. The Postmistress of Paris by Meg Waite Clayton
Diana T. - Great Neck, NY
For Diana, I’m recommending a trilogy, that read together take on a certain Dickensian scope, while also touching on the narratives of history she seems drawn to. The Deptford Trilogy is the series, Fifth Business is the first book, and Robertson Davies is the author.
Alrighty gang, not much left to 2022, but I have one more “Book I Wish More People Knew About” coming sometime in the middle of this coming week, chosen by the incomparable Casey Plett, so be on the lookout for that.
Until next time,
"On the surface, a book about the process of a search committee choosing a new minister for their Unitarian Universalist congregation in California seems like it would lack drama and intrinsic interest"
You are obviously not a U-U! I read that description and figured it would have lots of drama, factionalism, in-fighting, etc. And I was right. "Search" was a great book.
Enough of this weasel nonsense!--Want to hear about the GOOD books: will not follow you down the rabbit (weasel?) hole. Guess I'm too old (80+) to find it amusing. Yep, dinosaur.... I know. Still a fan , best wishes for a great New Year. Sandy S.