Music of the Day: The War Still Rages Within

I’ve been a gamer as long as I remember. It’s not really something that ever really shaped my identity because it’s just been a thing that I do, in the same sense that being someone who eats breakfast isn’t a huge part of my identity.

However, one of the special things about gaming for me is the musical experiences I’ve had. A lot of games have, if we are being totally honest, mediocre soundtracks. It’s not that they’re terrible, they’re just not good.

But every once in a while you wind up with something that sticks with you because it’s really good or really interesting.

The soundtrack of Metal Gear Rising has stuck with me because it’s interesting. It’s eclectic, which is usually a plus for me, but the quality of the music itself isn’t anything stellar. It makes a good companion to high-octane action, but not necessarily for listening to by itself. The only song I really consider particularly stellar is “A Stranger I Remain”, and perhaps only that because I’ve played it in Beat Saber.

The only reason that I wound up listening to it again was the lyrics.

Metal Gear is an odd franchise, and it’s one that has been forever made more interesting by the fact that it waxes philosophical (or at least has pretensions toward being deep), and the songs of the Metal Gear Rising soundtrack.

I’ve recently gone through some pretty significant life changes, and one of the things that gave me the fortitude to go through with them was the Metal Gear Rising soundtrack.

This may sound a little hyperbolic, but I mean it. The lyrics to the songs all tie into political philosophies (at least that’s my interpretation of them), and “The War Still Rages Within” in particular has a message that I’d associate with the Hero’s Journey.

I’m an avid reader of Jung’s work (though I’ve only made it through a small fraction of his writings), and one of the things that I find incredibly interesting is the notion of archetypal being. At the risk of sounding a little new-agey, I’ve been pushed through a variety of events in my life and philosophical evaluation to take steps toward my own Hero’s Journey.

An interlude in “The War Still Rages Within” includes the lines:

The only way out of the cycle, is to strike out and pave your own way!

The notion of the way is an archetypal one, something you find in Eastern philosophy but also in medieval Western thought: the notion that there is a pathway in particular that individuals are supposed to follow in a dogmatic sense.

Right now, I feel like my life to this point has been nothing but cycles, and each year has been passing through a deepening process but not out of the cycle.

I’m living more boldly now, with a lot of my work on games and writing moving to the forefront, and I think that it’s a great step on the heroic path for me.

And while the music from a video game about fighting giant robots as a cyborg ninja isn’t a major compass in my life, there’s something to be said for reaffirming your guiding star anywhere you can and using that light to orient yourself.

Reflections on Aphorisms #3

Just one aphorism today, because one of the ones I looked over I couldn’t really come up with a good response to. Feel free to check out yesterday’s reflections.

Aphorism 4

“Self is the Gorgon. Vanity sees it in the mirror of other men and lives. Pride studies it for itself and is turned to stone.”

G.K. Chesterton, from the Viking Book of Aphorisms


I don’t think it’s really necessary to bring my own thoughts to this matter. I’ve read a couple things by Chesterton; the one that I remember best is Heresy (Amazon affiliate link; free!), which is not actually a matter of Christian theology but rather what one could call reactionary social commentary, although that makes it out to be more negative than it is.

I think there’s actually something to be drawn from the context of Chesterton’s work here: the love of the self is the root of vanity, and if you really love yourself (in an improper fashion) you can wind up forgetting your flaws.

This is why people make poor, over-reaching decisions that wind up becoming regrets for them without considering the fact that their efforts could go to ruin.

My Life

I’m sort of in a fortunate middle ground here. I at least profess some moderate view of myself, and I think that I’m fairly good at seeing myself humbly, but I have also heard others say things to me about myself that seem more positive than might be accurate.

I’ve traded my safe, reliable life for one of risk, but one which also bears more chance for self-advancement and more chances at exceptional success. I believe the current level of risk to be quite low, but it depends on me pushing myself to be something more than average–perhaps even much more than average–so I’d better whip myself into shape and keep going toward that.

I think there’s also a call for humility here. You don’t want to elevate yourself above others. There’s a grounding in humanity that you need to remember. Because I manage to make my dreams come true and someone else lacks the drive, capacity, or fortune to do the same does not make me superior, except in the sense that I may be happier than they. Likewise, I may even be less happy than someone who appears less successful than I, because the way that I measure success is deeply personal.


Keep my head out of the clouds (preferably under them, except when contemplating the divine).

Remember that even if I turn myself into someone who is uniquely exceptional, I may not be uniquely superior.

Never lose sight of my own weaknesses. Even as I strive for improvement, I am sure to always find new flaws in myself.

Reflections on Aphorisms #2

I’ve made a resolution to start examining aphorisms on a daily basis, and here’s the second day of that. You can read the first day’s reflections here, and I’ll keep them coming for at least a while.

As always, I like to have a format, as follows:

  1. Aphorism
  2. Interpretation
  3. My Life
  4. Resolution

In addition to Taleb’s work, I’m breaking out an old copy of the Viking Book of Aphorisms, edited by W.H. Auden and Louis Kronenberger that was published through Barnes and Noble in 1993. My best friend got it for me when we were both in college, and I’ve never really given it as much attention as I should have. As far as I can tell, this (affiliate link) is the closet offering on Amazon for a similar edition. In any case, I don’t think that most of the aphorisms contained within would be impossible to find elsewhere, but it’s a pretty decent volume.

I’m also continuing the numbering across sessions, so keep that in mind.

Aphorism 2

You cannot express the holy in terms made for the profane, but you can discuss the profane in terms made for the holy.

Nicholas Nassim Taleb, The Bed of Procrustes (Amazon affiliate link)


I think that this is generally a pretty straightforward quote, but there’s something that I’ve heard that is interesting.

The term “holy” in its more traditional religious sense refers to something which is set apart and dedicated to God.

Profane, on the other hand, is sort of an antithesis of holiness. The Bible describes figures like Esau and Lot as profane. It isn’t even so much that they are wicked in their hearts (though that can be a consequence) as that they don’t take the necessary steps to set themselves apart from the world and can therefore be corrupted by it.

I think there’s something to be said for our society in this; I recall being in a college level class where in the course of a discussion the concept of sin came up, and there was actually at least one person who didn’t even know what the word meant.

If you don’t pursue the holy, you can’t find it. It’s not something that comes by accident: even if you are inspired to suddenly become holy, the inspiration requires following action to be brought to fruition.

My Life

I’m not sure how precisely this fits to my life. I don’t tend to swear very often; I don’t think there’s a single expletive in my entire published work, which because I write obsessively and without thought of reward has swollen to quite an amount. Some of that’s growing up in a Holiness tradition, where we simply weren’t allowed to cuss (though minced oaths were tolerated by some of the less strict families), and some of that’s just personal preference.

However, I think that there’s a deeper meaning to this than just spoken and written language. Language is a catch-all for consciousness. We might be able to have consciousness without language (I’m not enough of a brain scholar to make authoritative statements on the matter), but they are strongly correlated together where both exist simultaneously and are inextricable from each other.

If you don’t intentionally contemplate the holy, you will be stuck with just the profane.


Consider my words carefully, choose things that build up the divine spirit in myself and others.

Spend time contemplating holiness, cultivating it deliberately within my life through thought, word, and deed.

Guard my mind against the influences of the world where they might corrupt my purpose and vision, and my relationship with God.

Aphorism 3

The essential matter of history is not what happened but what people thought or said about it.

Frederick William Maitland, from the Viking Book of Aphorisms


Maitland lived in the late 1800’s and very early 1900’s, but this saying seems like something out of the zeitgeist of more contemporary society.

While I’m interested in seeing the context, the point of analyzing an aphorism is to free-associate, so I’m going to hazard being wrong on Maitland’s intent and go on my own bent here.

There’s an expression that history is written by victors (which may be overrated in its own right), but I think that there is an defense to be made about the dissociation between history and fact.

I’m not any sort of conspiracy theorist who states that the fundamental outline of history books is incorrect, but I’m also enough of a historian myself to know that history is something which is made by filling in gaps. We live in a day and age when information is essentially free and unlimited, and so much is preserved that it seems unlikely that there will be many mysterious events in fifty years unless people want to keep them mysterious deliberately.

If you travel back five hundred years you find yourself in a place where it’s not possible to preserve and store information for posterity. How people fill in the dots is a key part of figuring out what really happened, but the truth of the matter is that there isn’t all that much that we can do.

Our histories are a reflection of our beliefs; both in a “we are driven into perceiving certain patterns by the very nature of our consciousness and experiences” sense and a “we see things the way we want to because we want to” sense.

History in this sense is a mixture between attempting to gather facts and figuring out the narrative you wish to create from them, and it makes for interesting events.

My Life

I have often thought about the persistence of memory and the way that my own self-concept has changed. This past week has been one of incredible change for me, and it’s one that has shook me to my foundations. I’ve made decisions about who I want to be, and I’ve cast my fate to the stars, to speak poetically (don’t worry, Mom, I’m not into astrology), and actually taken concrete steps toward them despite my historical risk aversion.

The point being that my own recognition of my own existence is driven by the current moment, not the facts of the past. Some big things are inescapable, or at least would have large consequences for ignoring them (see: bank accounts, rent checks), and they occupy a lot of my mental energy.

However, I’m sure there are thousands of little things that I’ve never thought of when making decisions. Today on my commute I thought of a game I made back in my freshman year of college (or maybe the summer before or after), and I realized that I’ve probably started two dozen independent game projects over the course of my life.

Even in this moment, as a historian of myself, there are things that escape me.

Part of me blogging like this is an effort to be that historian of myself, at least inasmuch as I feel comfortable doing so for the whole world (and I’m a believer in radical openness, so that’s most things that don’t influence the privacy of others).


Consider my own life as something which I am witnessing from a subjective perspective.

Work to reduce the differences between my self-perception and my own past by taking stock of what I’ve done with my life.

Think about how I can move toward important events in my life.

Reflections on Aphorisms #1

A while back I picked up Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes (affiliate link), which is a collection of “political and practical aphorisms” that I intend to work through slowly.

I’ve been listening to the other books in the Incerto series in audiobook format, but I’ve opted to go for a more traditional Kindle read of the book, because aphorisms tend to be dense in information and I want to digest them slowly, not listen to them rapid-fire.

There’s also something to be said for this being a conversation. I’m not the only source of wisdom here, so if you have something to add feel free to leave a comment and I’ll check it out. Part of Taleb’s whole point is humility, and humility begins for me with accepting that I might miss or be in error during central parts of my interpretation.

Also, I’m not so naive and self-involved as to think that this is tremendously important, but it might be interesting. I’m treating this kind of like Marcus Aurelius’ reflections, though I am not necessarily a Marcus Aurelius myself. I merely publish them because part of living unafraid is leaving nothing of yourself secret.

I’m going to start with just a single aphorism today, but I’m going to establish a sort of simple formula for these: the aphorism itself, my own take on what it means, how I think it has or hasn’t been applying in my life, and an action to take.

So, without further ado, the first aphorism of the series:

Success is becoming in middle adulthood what you dreamed to be in late childhood. “The rest comes from loss of control.”


I think that one of the interesting things here is how it’s somewhat vague. We all seem to have a sense on what being “middle aged” is, but middle adulthood could mean other things. Likewise, late childhood reflects a sort of ambiguous state: if we consider people young adults once they’ve started steps toward their vocation, this could actually have quite an age range (14-26, or maybe even older), but I think here that Taleb’s sort of referring to the age in which one is not yet responsible for themselves but is beginning to be capable of looking out for themselves, the independent age when most people start to get jobs or take up serious hobbies and academic studies beyond what their parents or society require.

Middle adulthood is also an interesting concept, and I think that there’s a good definition of this as the age at which you’ve “settled down” and acquired responsibility. This could probably take the form of settling down with a family for most people. I’m sure that one could add additional criteria ad infinitum if they wanted to, so I won’t. I don’t think that this is necessarily a numerical age so much as a particular stage of life, and is therefore dependent on all sorts of things.

My Life

I’m honestly not sure where to put this in my life.

I’m a game-designer, but I’m not doing it with my all. I’m also writing books, which I should maybe eventually finish (Bad Kyle, bad! Get back to work!) but which are bringing me joy.

When I was a kid in 8th grade, I wanted to be a game designer. I think I even dressed up as Richard Garriott on career day, even though I don’t know that I’ve ever played any of his games seriously. I remember this because in the sort of thing that teachers write to their students, my teacher wrote that she couldn’t wait for her kids to play a game that I made.

Throughout high-school, I definitely wanted to become either a game designer or a writer (I remember sketching out designs for a game that became Orchestra that became Street Rats on the back of a senior-year math test), and although I was originally planning to go into pharmacy it was more of a financial decision than a life-goal decision.

Now, in practice, I think I’m decently successful as a game designer in the sense that I’ve been growing and pushing myself, but I haven’t made a living at it yet. I’m definitely not at a point where that’s financially feasible.

But there’s an interesting thing here with the final sentence: “The rest comes from lack of control.”

I think that there’s maybe some of that in my life. I’m something of a lay Stoic. I assume, based on my limited success which seems to exceed that of other amateur writers/game designers, that I have some ability and affinity for the practice, but I definitely can be held back by my wasting of time and my current difficulties with sticking to my projects.


Spend more time, more consistently, moving toward my goals.

Consider what elements of my life are disordered and lack control: figure out if it is possible to bring them under control or if the chaos is something that can be excised entirely.

Engage in behavior that is in alignment with me making my goals something more feasible. If I cannot make a living as a game designer and writer, I need to figure out a profession that interferes with that as minimally as possible, or which offers me the same satisfaction of being able to create and bring to life.

An Ode for a Cat

The noblest cause in life:
To preserve that which brings joy,
To seek elevation above base strife,
To hold what rust and moth destroy.
And such you were, my little cat:
A beacon that once brought light.
I will forever enshrine you,
And all that you contribute.
Even as you join eternal night,
These words will have to pay due,
A solitary lasting tribute.

A mere momentary thing,
It seems so short a span we knew you,
And what life you could bring.
Now you are gone, life seems askew:
Looking for an apparition, seeking
A glimpse of our faithful companion,
Listening to the silence that fills the halls
Now that you are no longer living.
You were taken in tribulation,
No longer to reside within our walls.

We had known that this day would come,
You following a sliver of our life’s arc
Would return before us to where we are from,
So may you find peace, and not fear the dark
Know that you have fulfilled a worthy purpose
And have proven yourself the greatest friend
Who lived along us for such a joyful span
For because of you our hearts know surplus
And even though your body’s course may end
Our memory of you shall forever stand.

Today we had to have our cat of many years put down; she had suffered a stroke and was unable even to drink water. I managed to get this photo of her while testing the camera on my phone back in July. She was never much of a lap-cat, but she would perch in a fashion on my leg whenever I would let her, once she warmed up to us.

It was a hard emotional journey, especially watching her suffer in her final hours. Now that she is gone, I keep looking for her everywhere, a reminder of how important she was to me back when she was around. Although I know that cats don’t have the same sort of consciousness and spirit as humans, I think there’s something profound in the way that they bond with us; they don’t need us, they choose us.

One of the reasons that I write is because good things should be immortal. They cannot, of course, truly be so, because the world is a fallen place touched by evil and destructive chaos. But we can still draw together and treasure what is meaningful, what brings virtue instead of destroying it.

And a good place to start with that is to remember the simple joy that a cat can bring, what the companionship of a fellow creature can stir in our heart.

On the Collective Unconscious

Jung’s collective unconscious is heavily misunderstood. It’s not quackery; it’s based on the assertion that there are biological or memetic imperatives that have been passed down from generation to generation, and also parts of the unconscious mind that function in a way that are common between people.

One can argue about Jung’s implementation, especially about whether or not the archetypes he identified are accurate and meaningful, but there seems to be a very concrete provable fact here: the psychology of people seems to bear commonalities, even in what would be considered extreme outliers.

Now, whether you want to argue about the more specific cases, like those of mythological figures appearing in unconnected contexts, Jung’s notion of synchronicity (mutual meanings, but diverse causes) is important as well: if dragons appear in mythology around the world, there does not need to be a real dragon or a social connection for those things to form. Instead, those can be independent functions of the way that people perceive the world and form a conception of the unknown.

Think of the collective unconscious as this: if you put three people in a white featureless room with a red circle painted on one wall, they will all see the red circle and Jung would argue that they all perceive the same thing.

The value they derive from that circle comes from the conscious mind. One person might consider it an eyesore, one might think that it has deep symbolic meaning, and one might fear the unknown entity.

However, they might have associations with the red that are common. If it were a crimson shade, it might evoke the effect of blood.

Thus, the collective unconscious may have deep and complex elements as Jung proposed, but it almost certainly exists at least in a form as a consequence of the brain’s physiology and common formative experiences with universal human concepts (like the risk of injury).

Disclaimer: I’ve read Jung, but I’m not a master of his work. This is sort of a rambling trying to make sense of his work rather than a masterful explication of it.

Review and Reflection: Skin in the Game

I listened to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile: Things that Grow from Disorder a while back (you can find my write-up about it here) and found it to be tremendous, so I got Skin in the Game on Audible (it seemed to be the next-closest thing to my interests).

Continue reading “Review and Reflection: Skin in the Game”

Review: Age of Ambition

I’ve recently listened to Evan Osnos’ Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, & Faith in the New China. I found it an interesting read, but I don’t know that I would necessarily place it on my best books that I have listened to in 2019. Of course, that list has grown rather long of late, and Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Incerto series has claimed more than one spot on that list (I finished Skin in the Game yesterday), which seems unfair to other authors.

What I find interesting about Age of Ambition (affiliate link) is that it is a very personal narrative, but it is one which backs up that personal narrative with other events that are meaningful, so that one gets a feel for the people who are presented throughout the book.

However, while this approach is engaging as a writing style, the author’s experiences often dominate the text.

This is not necessarily a flaw, since it does give a certain amount of character to what is presented, but it does come with the drawback that not everything is particularly interesting from an academic perspective. As someone who is not really a scholar on China, I was a little disappointed by how little I learned from the book. Of course, I am a student of Cold War history, and I was already familiar with many of the major figures named in the book, like Han Han and Ai Weiwei, so perhaps I simply have a slightly higher level of familiarity with China than the target audience of the book has.

The book does excel in providing interesting information. It just doesn’t present quite as much of the big picture as I would have liked. Again, I think to someone who knew less about China than I did it would have been a very interesting and educational read, and there were some parts that were very interesting, like talking about how visiting lecturers were able to achieve great success discussing philosophical and moral questions in China. There were also places where the author was able to work his own experience in to talk about the parts of China that an outsider would never see, the day-to-day experiences of people who would not normally make the news.

Lest I sound overly harsh, I did actually enjoy Age of Ambition. The big issue I had with it is merely that as much as I enjoyed it, I don’t feel like it’s going to be a book I will remember. If you want a very Broad survey of China it could be wonderful. However, I’m just not convinced that it’s anything more than a survey.

It does give a unique Western perspective on China, which I suppose has some merit in and of itself. However, it feels like Osnos wants to avoid jumping to judgment. This is a shame, because the times when he is most willing to engage with subject and give his personal reactions are also the times that have the most character shown. For instance, he discovers that ferrets have taken residence in his lodgings, not directly in the living space, but in such a way that the smell became a nuisance. He recounts how in China, ferrets are considered lucky, add many people urged him to keep the ferrets almost as an ersatz pet (albeit at a distance). Despite initial flirtations with having them exterminated, he decides to live and let live, and while he doesn’t embrace the Chinese superstition surrounding the animals, he bids farewell to them fondly as he leaves, mentioning that they have recently welcomed new members into the family.

The personal moments like this make age of ambition worth listening to or reading. Again, Osnos definitely knows more about China than I do, and his experiences with important Chinese personalities are of great value. However, he has an odd approach of at times analyzing, and at times leaving as inscrutable, his subjects. This inures him against falsehood, which I appreciate on an academic level, but also means that the reader is going to do much drawing of conclusions as they go through the book, not fully gaining from Osnos’ expertise.

The book is definitely a success in the notion that I feel much more confident explaining some of the phenomena of China, but as someone who’s read prolifically about current events and reporting following China at the same time as Osnos seems to have been in China, and as someone who is familiar with the psychology and philosophies surrounding the major forces of the Cold War (that is to say, conflict between eastern and western thought), I found it to be moderate interest as far as learning new things goes. Where I can see offering a much less reserved recommendation would be to someone who simply wants an immediate overview a China with both historical and relatively up-to-date information.

Unfortunately, being up-to-date is a minor weakness of the book. For those unfamiliar with China’s current events, Xi Jinping has taken over much of the Chinese government at least in terms of influence. This happened primarily after Age of Ambition was written, so those seeking a read on what would be called very current events might find themselves disappointed. Nonetheless, understanding anything is a product of understanding its context.

Nonetheless, Osnos offers what would be called a nonpartisan view of the situation. He talks to people influential and minor, and from those he provides some individuals we would consider Western aligned and some whom we would consider hardliners. As far as I can tell, he is fair to all his subjects, which does make for an interesting read for those who may not have had access to on the ground reporting or biographies of some of the more esoteric figures whose lives are detailed in the book. The count of one of these, college student made the viral hit aligned with Chinese nationalist ideals, was a particularly interesting perspective to look at from a Western viewer, considering that the Chinese nationalist that Osnos interviews is well-versed in Western philosophy and has quite sophisticated reasoning. If one evaluates books from the perspective of using them as a mirror to see the human condition, Age of Ambition is great for that.

Ultimately, the real question of whether I would recommend Age of Ambition has to come down to availability and time. If you are interested in it, if you have the time to read or listen to it, and if it is not a major financial burden, and I would recommend it. This is not a particularly stellar recommendation, and you can’t hear the somewhat humorous tone with which I would express it in speech, but I don’t want to disrespect Osnos. His work is really good from an objective standpoint. My question would be whether it is the best. If you have my interests, it is a great book. If you deviate from my interests, say, if you’re not at all interested in China but you enjoy something like a contemporary history, it may also be an enjoyable read.

Is it, however, a “drop everything and read this right now book”, or a “book to add on your list of books to read” book?

Definitely more of the latter. I enjoyed it in the same sort of way that I enjoy most movies. If you’re looking for a similar interest piece which is more historically removed but still has a richly personal connection, I might recommend Symphony for the City of the Dead (affiliate link), a sort of historical biography of Shostakovich. Of the two, Symphony for the City of the Dead is my favorite. But both are similar, both are well-written, both audiobooks are quite good, and I am not complaining about spending time listening to either.

I don’t typically like giving a numerical review score. I feel like it fails to encapsulate all the potential difference between one work and another to put it on a rating scale. However, I feel comfortable saying Age of Ambition is a four out of five. It’s interesting, it didn’t bore me, but it didn’t challenge me either. I wouldn’t be assigning it as course-work, for instance, and requiring other people to read it. However, I feel it was worth the money I put into getting it, and I’m not wishing that I had listened to something else instead.

Perhaps it would be possible to distill my whole review into a very short statement: good read, not fantastic.

Sapientia, a Fable

Wisdom is like a mouse: she is small and unassuming, and if you approach her on your own terms she will flee.

Sapientia wore a dress adorned with cowrie shells of every color as she walked down the path away from her village.

The day was drawing near an end, but even as the sun began to burn red in the low sky she was not afraid: she did not have far to go. She was returning to her house, which overlooked the sea. She found the people of the village too quarrelsome for her to dwell among them, so she had built her own abode some distance away.

However, when she got to her home, she saw a boar standing between her and the door. She approached it slowly and called to it in honeyed tone:

“Will you let me into my home, so that I can rest?”

The boar snorted and replied that he would not move; her home was his home now.

Sapientia argued with the boar. She had built it with her own hands! However, the boar kicked up dust and swiped at her with its tusks, tearing shells from her dress and sending her running back to town.

It was too noisy for her to get rest there, so she went to several of the hunters who had taken up lodging in the town, and asked them to help.

The first refused her request because he was tired and he had already hunted for the whole day.

The second refused her request because he did not hunt boars; he would hunt only wolves, who hurt the shepherd’s flocks, not boars, who he had no quarrel with.

The third refused her request because she could not pay him. She offered him the shells from her dress, which were worth quite a princely sum, but he still declined. It would not do, he said, to take the very clothes from such a distinguished elder, but he could not hunt for free on principle.

Sapientia turned and left the town, and was never seen there again.

Song of the Day: Project 86’s Evil (A Chorus of Resistance)

When I was younger, I listened to Project 86 a lot. I still listen to them quite a bit (my daily wake-up alarm is a random song from a playlist of all their work), but a lot of their mid-00’s stuff is stuff that I remember well from my days in high school (you know, back before streaming music when we had to actually buy albums, as uncivilized as that sounds).

Continue reading “Song of the Day: Project 86’s Evil (A Chorus of Resistance)”