Music of the Day: Norma Jean’s “If [Loss] then [Leader]”

Norma Jean is a band with perennial appeal. Although hardcore has changed quite a bit over the last decade, Norma Jean has always managed to strike a careful balance between trendiness and their characteristic blend of raw aggressive and tender emotional works.

That may sound oxymoronic, but 2019’s All Hail shows off the band’s trademark style better than any of their other albums.

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Thoughts on the Altered Carbon Quick-Start

The Altered Carbon Kickstarter launched recently, and with it a “Quick-Start” that’s 65 pages and attempts to introduce potential players to the game.

I’m a fan of Altered Carbon (both the books and the show), and I’ve looking pretty seriously at Cyberpunk Red and Eclipse Phase, which have both had major releases recently and are planning to do more stuff in about the same timeframe as the Altered Carbon game. They’re also the most immediately obvious competitors, with Cyberpunk Red taking a more traditional cyberpunk approach and Eclipse Phase doing more weird and horror-themed transhuman elements.

So, does it look good?

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Infinite Inadequacy

One of the things that I was thinking about recently was my motivation for writing.

For a while I’ve been somewhat uncertain about that, not because I didn’t feel driven but because I wasn’t really sure how to communicate it, so I’d often give an answer that wasn’t necessarily untrue, but didn’t encapsulate the whole truth.

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2020 is Here

I haven’t written a whole lot recently, but I’m going to just drop a quick line.

I’m not dead, I’m just working on a master’s degree and that’s taking a lot of effort out of me.

I’ve been to GenCon and PAX Unplugged, and I’m feeling like last year was the year that I stepped out of my old self and into a new self.

That’s bittersweet. I hope to return to teaching once I’m done with my degree, but for the time being I decided that I didn’t want to risk sacrificing my performance with the students by working on a degree that is ostensibly a full-time endeavor while also trying to teach.

However, let’s get some order here, and I’ll talk about the good, bad, and ugly bits of 2019 and my plans for 2020.

The Good (2019)

I’m not sure where to start this list, but it’s incredibly long and I’m going to have to cut some things out.

Let’s start with the first bits. I got hired as a freelance writer back at the start of the year on some projects that I absolutely love. They’re not out yet, but should be in 2020. My parts are done, at least. That was sort of a happy surprise at the start of the year, even though it’s continued to pay off for the rest of the year.

I also found some real meaning and enjoyment from my work with students this year. As much as teachers love complaining (and I love whining!) about the work when they’re doing it, I look back really fondly on last year’s students. I had a class that I was really dreading going into the year, since I’d had them before and they were pretty much driving me up the wall. However, last year I learned to respect all of them and they grew both in my estimation and in their skill and abilities. I’m very proud of them and the effort they gave.

I think I read more in 2019 than any other year in terms of depth, if not in volume (I’m something of a voracious reader). I’m balancing fiction and non-fiction better than usual, in part due to my academic studies, but also just pushing myself toward things that I don’t normally read or engage with. Favorite reads of 2019 include Notes from the Underground by Dostoevsky, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, and Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. Many of the books that I reviewed are also wonderful, but I’ve talked about them enough (too much?) already. Jung’s Liber Novus and Neumann’s The Origins and History of Consciousness are occupying my attention, but they’re very heavy reads I only manage small bits of at any time. I’m not mentioning dozens of other worthwhile books, but that’s just the cost of having too many good things.

All of the preceding links are Amazon affiliate links that lead to the versions that I read or listened to. I receive a portion of proceeds from all sales from these links.

I also lost some weight in 2020. I don’t want to talk too much about it where the whole world can see, but it’s a significant amount and I’m more or less where I need to be in terms of health. I never really had any serious health issues related to my weight, but I was at the point where the doctor was telling me that I should lose weight.

So I did. I also have gotten a lot more active. I haven’t been posting my fitness tracker stuff like I used to, but I’ve been averaging 10-15k steps a day, and I feel pretty darn good pretty much all the time. I haven’t gotten sick basically since I started getting so much exercise, which is perhaps a testament to the power of exercise and perhaps just the effect of having a teacher’s constitution but not being around kids.

I still want to lose a little more weight, but at this point it’s vanity and wanting to see if I can get even more of the positive results in terms of energy and happiness.

I think it’s fair to say that 2019 was my happiest year yet. That’s partly because I was very fortunate and the worst thing that happened was the loss of my childhood pet (which is the only bad thing I can really think of as far as significant events last year). However, I think that it’s also a product of really spending time deliberately attempting to grow wiser and smarter, and attempting to pursue actions that lead to that, like my daily aphorisms experiment.

Coincidentally, fifteen thousand people read this blog last year according to my analytics. Now, something like 60% of that was dedicated to the character sheet I made for Shadowrun back in college, and 30% of that was dedicated to my review and breakdown of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. I also trust analytics about as far as I can throw them, and I really need to start doing upper body workouts instead of just leg day. Nonetheless, I think that’s something to celebrate.

The Bad (2019)

I still have problems with keeping up projects. I’ve probably started a dozen things last year and finished two or three. That’s not necessarily bad; it represents an ability to sacrifice things that aren’t working out. But it also means that I’ve been over-committing and I should learn to focus better.

My cat had to be put down after a stroke last year, and I still occasionally think of her. It’s not something that necessarily fills me with sorrow; she had a good life and while it’s not like she passed entirely peacefully in her sleep she didn’t suffer like a lot of creatures do at the end.

The Ugly (2019)

I’ll be honest, 2019 was pretty good, and as much as I struggled to find things that were bad I also feel like there’s not a whole lot to be said here.

I guess one thing that I could say here is that I’m officially no longer “young” by anyone’s serious standards. It’s taking a while to adjust to that, especially because I feel better than I ever have, and I might also be sharper in my wit and perceptions.

The Good (2020)

Lots of surprises and opportunities coming up.

I’ve been developing my skills, and I think I’ll hit a point where my writing will be a whole lot better than it has been. I’m fortunate enough to be going back for more education, and I’m getting a lot from it. I don’t see any reason why that should change in 2020.

The Bad (2020)

I’m not going to put anything here yet. I don’t think there’s really anything in my life that’s particularly threatening.

The Ugly (2020)

I think I really need to start getting serious about relationships. I’ve always been kind of scared of relationships because I never really understood how they work, and I’m fairly cerebral and not touchy-feely. From a certain perspective, I think there’s also a notion of sacrifice that goes into every good relationship (listen to Carl Jung or Stephen Covey and you’ll get these same ideas), and I just haven’t been willing to make any sacrifice of myself.

That’s something I hope to commit to, because I was thinking the other day about loneliness and how it no longer really bothers me like it used to. I realized that the reason for that is that loneliness is feeling like you should be offering something to other people that you aren’t currently giving them. It’s not about receiving something. Even though I’m not teaching, I’m writing something of a magnum opus, and I think it’s fulfilled that part of my life in part. However, it’s something for the broader world. It’s not intimate, not personal, even though it naturally flows out of the deepest parts of myself. I want to find that in 2020, or at least get on the road to finding that.

In Conclusion

2019 was a great year. I will do everything I can to make 2020 turn out that way as well. I want to remind myself to stay strong in the faith and to stay focused on the work ahead of me, and to encourage everyone else to do the same.

The Post Facebook Forgot

Recently, there’s been a controversy surrounding Facebook deleting posts mentioning the reporting surrounding an alleged whistleblower.

Let’s say that you were to post a link to an article in a mainstream news source (Heavy is a news aggregator generally considered credible) in which this whistleblower is named.

A post identical to this will find its way down the memory hole.

Bear in mind that at this point the whistleblower’s name has been mentioned publicly, with Twitter showing a broad range of references, including in transcripts from House testimony and on live broadcast television.

Now, it may be said that Eric Ciaramella is merely an alleged whistleblower, and potentially not the whistleblower. I think that this is an entirely legitimate argument.

But at which point do we decide to censor the media to protect individuals? We have seen kids wearing the wrong hats targeted by the media, or people raising money for charities who quoted questionable jokes from shows broadcast on media companies’ television channels on Twitter.

You can argue that there is a duty to protect whistleblowers, and I think that this is true. But this has not, by and large, been the rule. The establishment already knows the identity of this person. Their name has been tweeted by the son of the president.

There is a vested public interest in understanding the people involved in the impeachment investigation on both sides of the aisle. We want to know when the president has done something wrong. We pay for the government, and in its charter it is said to operate for the people. Those of us who would not sanction wrongdoing demand to know.

But we also demand to have due process. When it is stripped from one it will be stripped from all. We demand to be know when witnesses have conflicts of interest. We demand to know what our government is doing.

And now Facebook has become an Orwellian establishment.

Lowly proles cannot be trusted with a name. They might make their own decisions and come to their own conclusions. They might decide that the government is not of the people. They might challenge the power structures that be, and force bureaucrats and politicians to give up the control that they have.

So it is time for the memory hole.

Post-script: Lest I omit this information, the photograph I mocked up for this post is a verbatim replica of a post I made earlier today on my Facebook account. It has been deleted without notification to me.

The Archetypes of the Trinity

I’ve been reading Erich Neumann’s The Origins and History of Consciousness (Amazon affiliate link), and I got to thinking about the notion of the Hero in light of some of Neumann’s writings.

One of the things that I find interesting about Neumann that I either missed or overlooked in Jung and other writers is the notion of hunger.

Yin-yang symbol; one black dot within a larger body of white and a white dot within a larger body of black. Both the dots and the bodies are identical to each other.
Yin-yang symbol common among Eastern religions, symbolizing the relationship between order and chaos.

The traditional understanding of the Hero’s Journey as posited by Campbell is that the Hero mediates between life and death.

But this is a binary system; it permits for good and evil, and the Hero is good and the world (or the element of it which is danger and chaos) is evil.

The problem with this symbolism is that the nature of life as changing is recognized, but the truth of reality and being is overlooked.

What Neumann points out that I haven’t seen other writers talk about is that the interchange between life and death is facilitated by hunger, and it occurred to me:

Archetypally understood life and death are not states we experience within our lives. We experience hunger.

We have various states of hunger, and one of the ways that we can react to hunger is sacrifice. We have a near-infinite ability to consume, though doing so in excess is harmful both to us and to others. Sacrifice is choosing not to consume so that we avoid over-consumption.

Or, in short, sacrifice is a way of saying “This is enough.”

If we believe Jung, which I generally do, our consciousness is a product of the world we live in and reflects greater objective reality. This is really Jung’s revolutionary idea. Jung expresses a statement that our consciousness is a product, which is the prevalent ideal of postmodernism but which by itself is dangerous. He also recognizes the traditional belief, that of the objective reality, that has shaped Western thought from primordial times.

When we take both these points together, the symbols of life and death do not answer the question. For instance, Buddhism teaches that the path to nirvana is to avoid hunger, but this is often wreathed in symbols of death; the highest goal is the end of a cycle of endless and miserable life in a broken world, which is not necessarily something which would be unworthy of human effort. However, as the only goal of being, the mere cessation of suffering is a lowly goal. The Hero and their contribution to the world are overlooked in the abstract.

Let’s look at the concept of the Christian Trinity. The Trinity is God; God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is a confusing way of expressing things, since it is one entity expressed as three distinct entities, but there is an archetypal reason for the existence of the Trinity.

Let’s start with Jung’s assertion that undifferentiated God is equivalent to life; life understood as Logos and divine and perfect. Note that this is distinct from Jung’s views on Christianity; when I speak of God here I speak of an abstract figure. Jung’s interpretation of the Trinity and the God the Father within it is heretical, because he views it as a symbol of the individual’s mind, rather than a divine entity (there are other reasons that this is true, but I don’t want to get bogged down in them).

This undifferentiated God is the Trinity in complex, but it is difficult to understand why Christianity would have elements of Christ and the Holy Spirit on the same level as God the Father, when other Abrahamic religions distinguish between Christ and God (if they accept Christ as having any connection to the divine).

Within the Trinity, God the Father is associated with paradise and the perfect future, the Word/Logos, and divine will that leads away from damnation. I think it is fair to say that an archetypal understanding of God paints him as life itself, and other Abrahamic religions that do not include Christ, including gnosticism, recognize this element of God.

Christ’s own statements about His nature are confusing in this light: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6, NASB)

How can one entity bring another into itself? Wouldn’t the union logically be with Christ, and not with God, if the two are the same entity?

This is where Neumann’s concept of hunger comes into play.

If we forego the dualist conception of life and death as opposites, and instead consider them as polar ends of a broader scale of hunger, with all things existing between them, we see differently.

The Hero always exists to triumph over death, but they do this through sacrifice. Sacrifice is the only way we can create more life than there would otherwise be. This is because of the world’s entropic nature. It is not an accident that it is eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, of engaging with hunger, is the sin that begins all the suffering in the world, because it is hunger that symbolizes the world as is, and neither life or death can exist within that spectrum.

The Hero moves everything toward life, but everything falls toward death of its own accord.

Christ is the ultimate Hero. He goes into the realm of the dead by an act of sacrifice that includes not only physical death but also humiliation and torment and mockery and a black mark on his secular legacy. People will, until the end of days, ask why Christ did not use His power to save Himself, and they will use this to justify denying Him.

However, this ultimate sacrifice defeats death. It is no longer something to be feared, because life has entered into it. In classical Christianity, there is this idea that Christ descends into Sheol and ascends with the spirits of the righteous dead, bringing them to Paradise where they live with the Father.

The concept of the Hero is common, and an archetypal understanding of Christ and God the Father is simple. Jung was hung up in particular about the idea of three figures, though. They do not fit the life-death dichotomy, because two questions cannot have three answers.

Considering life, death, and hunger instead of the dualism, we see a place for the Holy Spirit within the Trinity, and this actually answers some important questions about the Christian life.

The Holy Spirit is the replacement for hunger. Christ has conquered death, but hunger remains, a corrupting influence that makes us unfit for true life.

The Holy Spirit replaces the hunger that resides within every person. The Hero only denies hunger, and for this reason no story of the Hero ever will be complete, because the Hero still has to face death. Even victory over death is victory over death for the Hero alone, because succumbing to hunger (in the form of original sin, if not deliberate sin during one’s lifetime) makes one unworthy of archetypal true life.

The Holy Spirit exists to give us a guide toward the life we ought to live; it is God’s answer to our hunger. I think that Pascal best describes this in his Pensees:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII

This is one of the reasons why the understanding of the Trinity as God in an undifferentiated state is important; God has replaced death and God has replaced hunger for those who follow him.

Reflections on Aphorisms #110

Had some socialization today, which is nice. Didn’t get a whole lot done in terms of writing or reading, but I’m giving myself a pass. Might have to make up for it tomorrow. I need to get some more reading material beyond just what I’m doing for my courses.

Aphorism 150

He is really wise who is nettled at nothing. (Maxim 203)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

One of the things that I’ve noticed is that we associate peevishness with foolishness.

Oh how I wish I could be free of neurosis.

People who get agitated over things are opening themselves up to psychic influence; every little thing influences their mood.

I’m reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and one of the things that is interesting to me is that early on there’s a scene where the narrator is showing a flashback to her childhood, and one of her classmates (for lack of a better term) is explaining how he learned that art isn’t as important as it was made out to be and how his teacher told him that he doesn’t have to be artistic if he doesn’t want to be. It serves as a breakthrough; the character who was once prone to temper tantrums and violent rages becomes calm and collected.

One of the signs of wisdom is that people become efficient. Efficiency isn’t wisdom, but the wise have a way of turning everything toward a purpose.

If you become subordinate to passions you let yourself be led by emotion and your physical being rather than your mind and your spirit.

In this sense, one of the steps on the pathway to wisdom is a measured detachment, not because nothing matters but because everything is important enough to merit your best self.

If you become overly invested in something, especially for the wrong reasons, you wind up moving in the wrong direction.

Instead of becoming a positive force in the world, you can easily become a negative force or, worse, lead others into becoming negative forces as well by harming them.

And that’s one of the worst things you can do. It’s bad enough to waste your own life, but leading others to perdition, even without deliberate malice, is an act that promises to not only make the world worse but to make the world worse in massive ways.

One of the things that came up in a conversation I had today is the notion that there’s a ripple effect on all our actions, but that they also echo back to us. We can easily create problems around us that reflect back onto us, creating our own little slice of hell.

Resolution

Be deliberate in action.

Work to create positive ripples.

Never forget my own potential for evil, which grows if left unchecked.

Reflections on Aphorisms #109

Today was a little quiet. Got some work done, though not as much as I could probably have. Didn’t get much exercise. Got the car back from the auto shop with the new fixes done, which was a little bit of financial pain but I’m not going to starve any time soon.

Aphorism 149

For the credit of virtue we must admit that the greatest misfortunes of men are those into which they fall through their crimes. (183)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

One of the things that I find interesting is the dramatic notion of the tragic hero and the way that we construct tragedy.

I think that tragedies are the most just of stories. While none of us would wish ill will on all tragic figures–even if we may find irredeemable faults in some–we generally can concede at the end of a tragedy that its central figure has brought themselves to destruction.

I believe that there’s something to be said for virtue, but it’s more of a big-picture thing. Virtue defends us from our own follies, and when practiced faithfully over a long period of time it leads us to better outcomes.

The problem with this is that we’re still subject to circumstance, though by practicing virtues we also practice industry, which permits a certain amount of resilience and even anti-fragility (to borrow a term from Taleb).

One of the limiting factors here is that ultimately a whim of another person or circumstances truly beyond our control can derail our lives. We’ve all heard stories of people killed as a result of accidents or who become sick through no fault in their way of living.

However, one of the mitigating factors in this is that the vagaries of fate can strike both the virtuous and the dissolute. Everyone can have undeserved loss fall upon them.

That the virtuous are not immune to the cruelties of a fallen world is part of the human condition that I don’t believe we’ll ever have a comforting answer for, but it is something that does not in and of itself justify a condemnation of virtue or the universe.

Resolution

Do all I can to practice virtue.

Never equate misfortune with failure; one is unavoidable, the other is a fault.

Avoid bitterness; the things outside my control will not be improved by my distaste for them.

Reflections on Aphorisms #108

Well, I got enough stuff done today to avoid a crisis, but that’s not necessarily saying a lot.

It turns out that having my car in to have the oil leak examined actually exacerbated it, because it’s not a gasket like the shop thought but an actual crack in the part itself.

But it won’t be the end of the world.

Aphorism 148

The art of using moderate abilities to advantage wins praise, and often acquires more reputation than real brilliancy. (Maxim 162)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

I’ve always prided myself on making use of what I have relatively well.

In truth, this is probably a fantasy, and there are quite a few things that disabuse me of the notion, but it is true that to such a degree as I am successful there is likely more to be said for making do than being particularly exceptional.

One of the things that I’ve never felt is that I’m some sort of chosen one with exceptional aptitudes.

Now, admittedly, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I view myself as unimportant. But it does mean that I approach the world humbly as far as my potential.

Of course, I also believe that people have quite a bit of power and strength in them, so that’s not necessarily pessimistic.

However, as someone who’s had certain experiences as a part of growing up in my family (if second-hand anxiety is a thing, I’ve definitely got it) and been in traumatic work environments, I often find myself doubting my own potential and abilities. I know for a fact that this is keeping me down on my work; I always worry about my ability to complete my tasks.

The result is that I really value the idea that someone who doesn’t have exceptional talent can go on to create something spectacular, and overcome their basic aptitudes.

And I think that this is something universal, something that everyone can appreciate. Yes, the masters have their place, but most of the masters also have a distance from us by merit of their peculiar talents.

I think of it like classical music. I love classical music, but I grew up in a family with a lot of musicians, including (if you go far enough) professors of music and professionals with advanced degrees in music (from back when degrees meant something).

One of the things that interests me here is that most of my family members aren’t what you’d consider prodigies. They’re good, perhaps even great, at what they do, but none of them just picked up music naturally (except perhaps my maternal grandmother and a few individuals on her side of the family who I’m not familiar with). My parents, in particular, though musical, are where they are as a result of practice and not just having skill from the very beginning.

And I think that there’s some merit to that which you don’t get if you’re just particularly sharp. At some point, your edge fades, and you have to find the strength to carry on. If you’ve been tapping into that strength forever, you’ve developed it, but if you’ve been getting by on raw talent there’s not that substance there to carry you on.

Resolution

Work with what I have, not what I would like to have.

When I can’t be great, at least be good.

Never waste a talent because it is humble.

Reflections on Aphorisms #107

Well, today was more productive than the last couple days, so that’s a good start. Car’s fixed, life’s good.

I’m still feeling some lingering anxiety, perhaps from the past couple weeks, perhaps due to money. I’m not hurting on money right now, but I’m basically barely breaking even and using savings to pay for my master’s program. In the long-run, I think that’s a good strategy if it works, but in the short term it’s risky.

Aphorism 147

The most deceitful persons spend their lives in blaming deceit, so as to use it on some great occasion to promote some great interest. (Maxim 124)

François de La Rochefoucauld

Interpretation

One of the things that I often find myself dealing with is the idea that I might be myself one of the liars that I claim to detest.

Of course, I don’t think that this is true (though you’ll have to take my word for it), but I’ve always wondered about the idea of self-deception.

I’ve been reading some of Kazuo Ishiguro’s work again, and one of the things that is a recurring theme in his work is the idea of self-deception and how it colors our concepts of the world around us. Particularly in The Remains of the Day, which might be one of his more famous works, this sort of self-deception in memory is a common staple in his work.

I’m not entirely sure that I’m dishonest, but if I am it’s (typically–I have not achieved moral perfection and likely never will) without my own awareness of it.

I used to find Descartes interesting, but a little eccentric. I personally adhere to a deontological philosophy (albeit a nuanced one), and I’ve found some of Descartes’ teachings interesting.

But I always used to find Descartes’ demon something of a self-indulgent thought exercise.

After all, I’m sort of a meat and potatoes guy, and I’ve always been of the idea that the simplest solution is typically the most likely. If I see and feel things, that means that they’re there. One can trust one’s perceptions when they present things that are simple.

But part of the problem with this is that there’s a major distinction between perception and consciousness.

I may perceive a light, but am I conscious of it? Most of the time, probably not, if we’re being honest. My desk lamp is something that I think of only when it is too dark and I become conscious of the lack of light, or when something goes wrong and I must get it going again.

For most of my waking, even if I sit at my desk, I am not conscious of the lamp. It sits in my field of vision, but I have culled it from my awareness because it is not something interesting. I do consider it quite a good lamp, but that’s not even enough to make me aware of its presence (and small little bouts of gratitude about everyday things like that would probably improve my life quite a bit).

If I am not really conscious of something that sits in front of me almost all the time, how can I be conscious of the greater meaning of existence?

It seems unlikely.

The only way to be honest is to admit that I am flawed and may not be reliable.

Resolution

Never assume that I am correct in my assumptions.

Make statements of truth carefully.

Don’t make doubt out to be a vice.