I’ve decided to spend some time going over François de La Rochefoucauld’s Maximes (Project Gutenberg link). I’m not going to necessarily do them exclusively for a while, but I’m going to pick through the ones that interest me and give them my treatment.
My dream life has become more vivid of late. I always view that as a mixed bag. I’m a fan of the Jungian theory that many dreams are messages from the unconscious mind, and they’re not always a sign that things are going well. On the other hand, I enjoy having dreams and they haven’t seemed particularly malign, so I’m hoping they hold some hidden potential for me.
We have all sufficient strength to support the misfortunes of others. (Maxim 19)
François de La Rochefoucauld
I like to rant a lot about vices and the limits of humanity, but today I want to take a more positive approach and talk about what we’re good for.
I generally believe that people have a self-deceptive view of themselves that glosses over failings and projects them on others (or elements within the self which are innocent of vice), and that tends to make for a depressing subject matter. I swear I’m more upbeat in person.
But one of the things about this failure to perceive the self is that it also means that our virtues go unnoticed.
One of the things that people don’t realize is that they have power that enables them to be good.
I see a lot of people who fall into nihilistic and bitter philosophies. They oppose things for the sake of opposing them, falling into an Adversary archetype (which is something that merits discussion at a later date).
These people often have an under-developed sense of their own potential and their own virtues. It’s worth noting that it is possible for a person to lack virtue, even as the potential for virtue is ubiquitous.
One of the things that I feel people have a duty to do is to help others. I don’t mean this in the sense of an obligation, though people who don’t do it definitely place themselves in peril for doing so, but rather a sort of Way. To help others is to fulfill part of our larger purpose for being. You don’t have to, but if you don’t you’re playing with fire.
And the reason for that is that you’re not using your strength.
Jordan Peterson talks a lot about this, so I owe him credit for some of the foundation of this idea, but I think that there’s another thought that I don’t believe he’s developed strictly in this context.
As humans, we’re both independent and interconnected in ways that are impossibly complex. There’s a collective unconscious, which is both a product of long-term biological and social developments and a reflection of the zeitgeist.
When we help others, we’re reacting to that unconscious. We’re connecting to the being–psychologically understood–of humanity at large. It’s a way to shape our minds, to bring us closer in union. Of course, there is always some danger in this. Drowning people are dangerous, and you can expose yourself to things that you don’t want to expose yourself to. You really have to be strong to help others. If you’re weak, you will join them in suffering, but do nothing to ameliorate their condition.
The great news is that we have that strength within us, which is what Rochefoucauld is identifying here.
Bolster my strengths.
Never assume that I can’t help.
Remember that others make me, and I can impact others.
When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers.
Remember that Wilde is not writing as a religious man. This may have more to do with myth, fable, and literary allusions than religious matters.
There’s a common mythic motif of being careful about what one wishes for.
I think there are two forms that this takes and they’re each distinct:
The first is the folly in the request. This is what happens when someone asks for something that they wouldn’t really want.
For instance, if you ask for a fancy mansion, you’re stuck maintaining it. You might not have the means to do so, so the getting is moot.
We often overlook the steps between our position and our goal when we are filled with desire. This does us no favors.
What we truly long after is not what we desire, but the success and comfort that comes with getting the object of our affections. The best way to cultivate this is self-improvement, not pursuit of wealth.
The second is the folly in the result. Sometimes getting what we want changes us for the worse.
The best example of this can be found in the murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, immortalized by T.S. Eliot in Murder in the Cathedral.
King Henry II makes a remark about wanting to be rid “of this turbulent priest” (formerly a close friend), and the knights around him oblige the remark by killing Becket.
Henry finds this to be little recompense, however, and is forced to prostrate himself and turn to penitence. Whether his grief is authentic or false, he still is humbled by the consequences of his desire.
This is a classic tragic arc.
There’s an intersection of both types of wrong desire in the King Midas story: wanting all the gold in the world, he gets the power to turn everything he touches to gold. Quickly Midas realizes that gold is not the thing he truly wants (folly in the request) and that he’s also ruined his appreciation for what he had and created new problems for himself (folly in the result).
The stoics teach that being too close to what we desire is dangerous. It begins to control us. Getting what you want may actually be subordinating yourself to it.
Don’t desire things; strive for discipline and all else follows.
Live so that your desires serve you, not vice versa.
Guard your desires carefully: don’t let evil join their midst.
We can do noble acts without ruling earth and sea.
One of the common fallacies about goodness is that people have to be great (in stature) to be good (in spirit). Now, I’m as much a believer as anyone that good deeds tend to be rewarded, and a lot of success can come down to making the right decisions consistently enough that they pay off.
However, there are connections to Aristotle’s point to be drawn here.
First, those people whose success is tied to their virtue must practice that virtue before they are successful, and continue to practice that virtue when their fortunes waver.
They do not have rule over their lives, but they still do the right thing precisely because it is right.
Second, there are people who are moral who never receive any tangible reward for their good lives.
The reasons for these are complex. One part of it is that I think that the external signs of success are often not tied to the internal acts of morality. Being highly moral may not lead to having more money, but it does lead to liberation from the want of money.
Another point to be made here is that anyone has the potential to choose the moral path. Even the lowest person by society’s standards has a chance to do something that would help another person. Heck, a smile and a kind word goes a long way to make things better, and that’s practically free.
One of the things that Jordan Peterson once said is that a lot of his work with young people has been to encourage them to try their best, and that a lot of them have never heard an encouraging word in their life.
My own experience confirms this. A lot of people go through life without ever experiencing the mercy of compassion. Surprisingly, they don’t always become bitter, so you can’t look at someone and see clearly whether or not they have the support they need.
I think that this is one of the best places that anyone can take a simple step toward virtue: find someone who is struggling and speak a benediction into their life. Give them a chance to appreciate themselves. Lift them up.
Use words that build up others.
Don’t judge success by the car someone drives.
When in doubt, remember that no good act is too small to be worthy.
It feels weird to think that I’m already more than half-way to a hundred of these. That’s enough time to start making it a habit, but it’s also an example of a little thing done daily that I think is making me a better person.
I don’t know how to quantify the improvement I’ve felt in my happiness and practical ability to work, but it’s there, and it’s enough to matter.
Prayer does not change God, but it changes he who prays.
It’s worth noting before we get into things that Kierkegaard is not trying to diminish the power of prayer.
Think of it this way: Kierkegaard isn’t necessarily saying that God is deaf to intercession, but rather that intercession is not always acceptable.
The act of prayer, even in the most secular interpretation, has merit in the admission that the object of one’s desire is outside the perceived limit of one’s agency.
Of course, if you’re religious you may believe that prayer is a way to meet an end, and I personally fall in that camp (although I don’t believe that there’s a guarantee that prayer will be answered for faith alone).
But one of the things that would logically follow at least the Christian concept of God is that there should be constant divine intervention against all evils.
I think Jordan Peterson describes this Abrahamic concept best in one of his sections in his book 12 Rules for Life(my analysis of the chapter) where he talks about vulnerability and weakness.
Part of us being free and having value, within the framework of a universe in which there is an omnipotent God, is that God must let us work within our own limitations and limit intervention in our world. Peterson uses the analogy of a child who is made to be perfect and invincible. By transforming the child from a vulnerable living thing to an invulnerable icon, one destroys the child.
I personally believe this is the reason why God permits evil to exist. To remove it entirely would be to remove the spirit of the hero from the world, to annihilate our ability not only for wickedness but also for good, for sacrifice, for transcendence.
Prayer is humbling oneself before God. Praise is also humbling oneself before God. Whether or not you can expect divine intervention, it has a way of grounding one in a mindset that accepts the wicked and the good as parts of being.
For every evil there is a chance to do good. Do that good.
Never curse, never pass sentence on that which is not of your self. That is the domain of God.
Nature hath no goal though she hath law.
One of the things that I frequently see people talking about is a particular notion that there’s an end-point to history or the universe.
Often these people talk about teleological reasons for being, or some universal trend of progress that defies what we know the objective rules of progress to be.
I’m also not talking about a defined end here; there may well be an end (some apocalypse, the heat death of the universe, our whole world being a projection of our consciousness that ends with physical death, and so forth: take your pick), but the problem is that it’s treated as something which every process works toward.
I mean, if you look at entropy in a broad sense, I guess you could go that way, though that’s kind of a morbid way to view it, and it’s the opposite of how the people I’m referring to talk.
The world around us is chaotic and disordered by default, at least by any perceptible human qualifier. All the archetypal stories tell us this: that the unknown is going to be unexpected. There would be no reason to fear the dark if it always contained merely the absence of light.
People set goals. The rest of reality generally doesn’t (a possible exception being animals, though their goals are not as complicated as ours), and that’s one of the key things that makes people different. We can contemplate a future endpoint which is more desirable than the current state, and we can do so in quite an abstract capacity. We know, for instance, that we can plan for the future by saving money.
Of course, such things are always flawed by the complexity of the system we’re in and our own limitations, but it’s possible to pin things down relatively close to reality. Precision is where things get tricky, but broad generalizations are often correct (see what I did there?).
Nature, on the other hand, is not a conscious entity. It is not even an entity, though we’ve created an abstraction that looks like one because we have a problem with conceptual null spaces.
If nature is anything, it’s a network of independent agents.
All of these, of course, have laws that are in operation around them. The discovery of Newton’s natural laws marked a shift from alchemical and mystical notions of the world and natural philosophy to modern science, and part of the reason for that is that it marked a shift from goals to laws.
Previously, people thought that nature worked in predictable ways because it wanted to.
Now, we know that it moves in predictable ways because the very nature of the motion of the universe is patterned in those ways.
That’s a very important, even revolutionary, idea.
Don’t attribute to design what belongs to chance.
Remember: Brains make patterns, often incorrectly.
Don’t forget: Newton didn’t find what he found on purpose.
It’s much harder to write a book review for a book you’ve read than for a book you haven’t read.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, from The Bed of Procrustes
I chose this aphorism because of Taleb’s trademark acerbic style and its clear, bold point. It’s also relevant to a lot of what I do in my life, since I have been a reviewer for years.
I don’t believe in simplicity. Or, rather, I am skeptical about it. There may actually be simple things in the universe, but I have rarely found them. Even something whose significance to us is relatively straightforward may itself be quite complex.
Take, for example, a pure chemical element. It still has all sorts of qualities and traits, and the process of purifying it is not simple. Just because it can be classified neatly does not mean that we understand everything about it immediately; only through exploration have we come to the knowledge that we have, and it is deeper than any immediate explanation can convey.
When someone writes about something and evaluates it, they are trying to answer a very difficult question.
In the American education system, evaluation is considered to be the highest level of achievement, and the deepest level of the depth of knowledge breakdown. To actually assesse the quality of something requires clear communication skills, enough experience to draw a comparison, and the guts to speak earnestly.
I’m frequently struck by the inauthenticity of others’ praise. Often when I see something reviewed, I can the trademarks of someone who has no idea what they are talking about. Such a person is not evaluating anything, as they do not really have an opinion and cannot draw a meaningful conclusion.
What I have found is that once you develop an opinion that’s actually meaningful it becomes difficult to communicate.
I do not know how many reviews I have written in my life, but it’s probably around five hundred or so, in various places and fields.
Even with that much experience, I often struggle to make my opinions meaningful to the reader. It is also difficult to explain who the target market of a particular product or book is. Hyperbolic praise, that is, saying that something is tremendous, is much easier than nuanced discussion of merits and virtue.
Tak literary awards. I would be lying if I said that I never want to win an award for something that I write. However, I think that awards are a poor metric for whether or not I will like a book. This doesn’t that awards are bad. We do celebrate things for the sake of their quality. Rather, it would be like trying to describe a whole day with a single word. You may be able to get the gist and say that something is great if it is great, but simply giving it an award does not explain why it is great. Preferences are diverse enough that it’s too simple a premise.
I think Taleb’s point here is profound, because we have entered an age where we live in a society of so-called experts. We need specialists to help us make decisions, and that’s a testament to the near-infinite opportunity we have grown to as a society. People have more knowledge than I do in all sorts of fields, so I do not let this bother me.
The problem is that experts require training, time, and practice to do their work well. Much of our exposure to writing comes in the form of what could be charitably described as inexpert. For whatever reason, whether it’s a lack of self-awareness, apathy, or just failure in the short-term due to one reason or another, a lot of writing is bad. At the very least, it may hold limited value for its target audience.
I think reviews are particularly prone to this. This is one of the reasons why we often encourage people give numbers alongside their reviews, a practice that I personally despise except in certain cases, where a number can help communicate factors that are difficult to express in words and permits a comparison between different things of the same sort (like restaurants).
I think there’s also a hidden meaning to this quote. It’s often easier to make decisions with less knowledge. We fall victim to analysis paralysis. We have trouble describing what is familiar to us precisely because it is familiar to us. There are significant difficulties that arise when we cannot put our words in an order that describes our experiences. However, the process is actually very similar to evaluating something.
One of the reasons why we read memoirs is that they provide us with a vision of someone else’s life, one in which they often explain what helped meaning and significance to them. A good memoir is written by someone who would also be able to write good reviews. The reverse may not be true.
I think that a lot of life’s meaning is to be found in evaluation. Those people who learn to do it well have provided themselves with a tool to improve everything.
As I mentioned earlier, I have written many reviews. At first, my interest was more commercial. I was a game reviewer and I got free games if I reviewed them (plus commission, though I was never good at driving traffic). Since I had more time than money, this was a good arrangement for me.
Now I’ve grown to see it as more of an art. I enjoy writing reviews, even though they are no longer particularly profitable endeavor for me, because they are a representation of meaning. I’d say that it’s judging things that makes it worth doing, but judgment is not really the purpose of a review. I don’t try to express my superiority over other people. I am successful enough to do away with envy.
Rather, I’d describe it this way: When I review something, I have a chance to test it against the universe. There’s an opportunity to go in and really see what makes something tick, but there’s also an ability to ask if it’s worth it. When I write about game design, I often separate my reviews from my analysis.
That’s because these are two entirely different things. Something with flaws may still be sublimely right in one or two ways, and be worthwhile to analyze. However, whether or not it is worth spending time on is the point of an evaluation. Do the flaws, on balance, get covered over by the merits?
In many ways, I think that it’s a sort of proto-wisdom. Evaluation and analysis are both prerequisites for creating something meaningful. They’re independent from this process only in the sense that the creative act comes after analysis and evaluation.
Judge for merit, not for preference.
Don’t get lost in analysis what does valuation would be more proper.
It is far better to render Beings in your care competent than to protect them.
Jordan Peterson, from 12 Rules for Life
I did an in-depth breakdown of each chapter of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life, and it had a transformative effect on me (Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which is available for free to Kindle Unlimited members through that link, was also significant in my life, though I read it later). I came to new appreciation for the buance of existence, and many pieces of advice contained between its covers were life changing.
This quote comes from the chapter on Jordan Peterson’s second rule, which states that you should treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping. The question of comfort versus protection is one that is the pivotal issue of my generation.
I can speak from first-hand experience can I see countless instances of my generation being unprepared for reality. We have this tendency to view it as a dirty and dangerous thing, because life is dirty and dangerous. However, our stigma against hard truth has left us unprepared for being. We reject the risks of living entirely because we do not know what it means to triumph.
Many of the actions we have been trained to take in our daily lives are those would shelter us. This has an anodyne effect. Like the Buddha as a child, our faces are turned away from anything that could causes suffering.
But suffering is part of life. Without it, it’s impossible to appreciate virtue and choose right action. We will suffer the consequences of living without introspection, but not even have the wherewithal to understand what we are going through. Suffering is the guide that leads us to self improvement, and what motivates us to make a better world.
I think that we have a tendency to think of ourselves incorrectly. I do not mean self-deception, though there is certainly much of that our everyday lives. Rather, I mean that we have limits to our perception. We believe ourselves to be competent, collected, wise, strong, and heroic. However, we ignore the shadow, Jung’s hidden subconscious, because we want to ignore our complexity and vulnerability.
In many of our lives we walk around with untreated battle wounds. Ignorant of the source of our perdition, we view ourselves as impervious agents of the will or as driftwood on the sea of existence. We do not realize that the truth is somewhere in the middle. Potential is counterbalanced by limitation. We don’t just get to be a victim of the universe or to be the hero that saves the world. We need to accept that we need help in our moments of weakness, and selfless sacrifice in our moments of strength.
As a teacher, I found myself trying to do what’s best for my students. Often, as an English teacher, I would have them read books that challenge them. One of the tendencies that I have found results from being over-sheltered is an inability to distinguish between good and evil. Take the book To Kill a Mockingbird as an example.
My students often have an aversion to the book. Sometimes, this is because they do not wish to read anything which they are assigned to read, out of what could be uncharitably described as laziness, but it is also because they see unpleasant things in it and they do not understand why they would have to see evil face to face.
This causes discomfort, but I have never had a student complain that it was not meaningful after they have read the novel.
In my life, I have definitely been too self-certain on many occasions. Overconfidence has been a great adversary of mine. It is also responsible for more money wasted on things I have broken and do not know how to fix and I would care to admit; this is evidently a common masculine trait in this day and age. However, I think that I have a particular tendency towards learned helplessness, and it is certainly not unique to me out of my generation.
I find that when difficulties arise I prefer to work around them rather than over them. This tendency doesn’t do me any favors in the long run.
I think of all of Peterson’s 12 rules this one may have had the largest immediate impact on me.
When I entered teaching I had what Jung might describe as a martyrdom complex.
Despite cautions from my instructors in college and from my various mentors in practice, I viewed my job as sacrificing everything for my students. There is no problem with sacrifice, but I carried it to an extreme. I would work 12 hour days, then come in on weekends. Eventually, I had reached a point where I was less effective because of my devotion, simply due to exhaustion. I became bitter and resented the weight of my task. The overexertion led me to make mistakes, which led to more overexertion. My response was to push harder, and strive to put in more effort.
By the time this reached its peak, I had almost resigned from my job. I do not know what would have happened if I’d given up then, but I am not optimistic. Fortunately, those around me were supportive and helped me understand where I had gone wrong.
I had forgotten the need for self-care. The consequence of this was that I had instead embarked on a path of self-destruction.
Accept my limitations.
Foster in others the skills they require for Independence.
Remember that self-deception is not the only thing that bars self-knowledge.
Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning is a challenging read. Peterson is perhaps best known for his 12 Rules for Life (affiliate link), a mixture of self-help, pop psychology (but from a real expert), and classic wisdom.
Maps of Meaning (affiliate link) eschews some of the self-help elements of 12 Rules for Life, but is deeply embedded in psychology, myth, and storytelling.
It’s not a great secret that I’m a fan of the game Warframe, published by Digital Extremes. I haven’t played it very much, but I’ve been stuck listening to “We All Lift Together”, a song created to promote a large addition to the game, and as a result I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’ve been playing Warframe on-and-off since it was in beta, and while I don’t consider it my favorite game, I think it has some of the best (if not the outright best) storytelling in a game with a single linear storyline, despite being very minimalist in how it develops that story.
The way that it pulls this off is by managing to tell a story that combines deep psychology and mythical elements on a very fundamental level to make a narrative so compelling that player choices, generally absent except in the most superficial forms, are irrelevant.
There are practical considerations of this as well–much of the story takes place as flashbacks or responses to critical incidents–but this would be frustrating to the audience were it not tied to strong principles of storytelling.
Understanding Psycho-Mythic Storytelling
Psycho-mythic storytelling ties into Jungian notions of the subconscious and other elements of the human psyche, which is derived from while simultaneously informing stories that have emerged across the entire range of human society and experiences.
It is important to realize that many of these elements are archetypal; that is, that they do not have any single manifestation that can be pointed to as a source. Nonetheless, many of these factors are still universal.
As I work through examples of these events across Warframe’s storyline, I will introduce these as needed, however, an understanding of Jungian dichotomies is important.
Jungian dichotomies draw from the fundamental notion of paired elements (e.g. order and chaos, masculine and feminine, known and unknown) being represented both within and as an extension of all things.
Balance between the two extremes in a dichotomy reflects a more reasonable approach to the universe, one which is likely to meet with objective reality in such a manner that produces positive outcomes.
For instance, considering the very most basic of the possible responses, you have the conflict between known and unknown.
The known, generally, is not exciting. While there may be some contentment in the present, at some point the known gets boring; change is a natural state, and to remain in the known is to embrace stagnation.
However, the intrusion of the unknown is a terrible thing, because it represents the risk of loss, or more accurately the possibility that the subjective self will be harmed in some way.
The unknown is also the source of anything better than what is currently had, however. This makes it desirable; one who is able to frame an encounter with the unknown in such a way that they are able to approach it to their advantage is going to wind up having success in their endeavors, and their prize will be either what they desire or something that transcends that which they originally wanted.
Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, from which the Hero’s Journey is derived, draws upon this relationship with the unknown: the Hero must find it within themselves to find a subjectively greater future by entering the unknown and confronting it. You can find more in his seminal work The Hero With a Thousand Faces (Amazon affiliate link).
Much of what I am applying to Warframe is also based on the mythological analyses modeled by Jordan Peterson in his book Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief (Amazon affiliate link). I’ve been listening to it on-and-off for the past few weeks, and I’ve been finding it incredibly interesting.
Tiers of Cosmogony
Before I get too far ahead of myself, I also want to talk about cosmogonic tiers.
There is a distinction in cosmogony based on the “depth” of experiences, and we can see this in classical myth as well. The concept of cosmogony centers around the idea that everything started as chaos, and then became more structured and ordered as things go along. Each generation overthrows its predecessors in a heroic revolution, although this eventually stops when we reach the current generation–the one in which humanity resides.
This can be distilled into tiers and generations. There’s not always a clear descent between generations (i.e. two generations may fit one cosmogonic tier in some places), but these figures can be generalized by category.
A good example from this comes from Greek myth, where we see Chaos, which is the first entity in existence.
At this point existence is beyond comprehension, and beyond anything that is relevant to our audience, and it is only through filtering down to further levels of experience that we reach anything that has relevance in human life.
Chaos’ cohorts and children (some of the distinctions here are blurred based on the telling) represent universal entities: Gaia, land; Tartarus, the underworld; Eros, the sexual drive; and so forth. These are primordial deities–they exist before the world that is known does.
These are personified entities (and, in some cases, Chaos is as well), but they are not directly interfaced with the human world. To humanity they are alien, and even when personified their motivations and drives are not necessarily comprehensible.
From this initial generation come the Titans, a second generation of the divine. These figures now have their own clear families, and by extension a clear role in the universe. More heavily personified, they are portrayed as the creators of humankind, but are themselves still more defined by their differences than their similarities.
The third generation, the traditional Greek gods as we would know them, represent archetypal figures. They have a particular divine domain, but otherwise they are human in motivation and depiction. They obey the rules which apply to humanity (albeit frequently with special privileges; these rules often apply only to their interactions with each other) and face consequences when they fail to do so.
The gods serve as representations of tradition and upright action.
It is in the fourth or later generations that we see mortals and demigods appear. These figures are defined by their vulnerability; where the earlier cosmogonic forces develop from existing outside the world to eventually become a mere part of it.
Onward to Warframe
The psycho-mythic nature of Warframe’s narrative contributes to its emotional power. It takes place in a universe where the players take on the role of the heroic individual–one born into the fourth generation of the cosmogony in the same place that humans would fall in the Greek mythosphere–but one which relies on symbolism and psychological establishment of the cosmogony that unfolds.
The reason why I define this as psycho-mythic, instead of simply psychological or symbolic storytelling, is that it relies both on the more modern storytelling methods and approaches while also building heavily (and not unintentionally) on the mythology of ancient times.
The layering of the cosmogonic process is a key part of this: the players’ characters (collectively known as the Tenno) are children of the old age, but living after its fall.
Children of the Unknown
The Tenno fit the role as the heroic individuals of the mythical saga very well; they are a sort of Horus figure (Peterson elaborates on this mythical type in his book Maps of Meaning) who must bear a sacrifice of themselves to make the world whole.
This sacrifice is not literal death, but it does entail suffering and pain. The Tenno are children who have known nothing but war, and while they have deific powers, they are also exiles.
Hunted by the Orokin, their own society playing the role of mythic progenitors, due to the threat that they posed, the Tenno are awakened by their protector, the Lotus, in the current time of the game.
They are hunted and hounded by forces that are generally their inferiors: as representations of the fourth-generation heroic individual (i.e. a cosmically significant figure that has been personified enough to lack a deific cosmological significance and instead adopt personal motives) they face the Grineer, Corpus, and Infested factions within the game, each of which represent monstrous figures that are themselves the product of the Orokin but also the inferiors of the Tenno.
The hallmark of the Tenno, however, is also their outward identity, the Warframe.
The Warframe as Protective Father
One step up the generational chain from the Tenno is the warframe. In-universe, the warframes were created for the Tenno, but when the Tenno awaken the warframes are out of their control–at least, most of them are.
Each warframe is based on a theme, and these themes often tie into great symbols. While they are not innately sentient (with the exception of the Excalibur Umbra, which was created by fusing an Orokin with the infestation that spawns every warframe), they are the first experience that the player has with the Tenno, and are defined by their impersonal relationship with the universe.
This is not to imply that the warframe has no personality unto itself, but rather that it has a role in the third generation of the cosmogonic structure. Each of the individual warframes is an example of something that has a deific role in the universe: the Excalibur represents mastery of the blade, the Volt represents power over lightning, and the Loki represents trickery and deception.
Each warframe plays a deific role, rather than a personal one, and while they are merely tools to an end they are simultaneously idols to concepts that play an important role in the life of the Tenno and in the universe of Warframe, assuming the role of protector gods among primitive civilizations that have begun to spring up in the ashes of the Orokin world.
In this sense, the warframe serves as a sort of archetypal father, who in a psychological sense is often thought of as a bringer of order.
The Titanic Lotus
It is the Lotus who searches for and awakens the warframe and the Tenno, however.
To draw a parallel to the Egyptian myth of Osiris, it is Osiris’ wife who finds the parts of Osiris after he is murdered by Set and reassembles them, giving birth to the mythical figure Horus, who is a fourth-generation cosmogonic figure representing humankind.
The Lotus fills this void in the psycho-mythic framework of Warframe; she is the one who awakens the Tenno, and also plays a key role in mentoring them and directing them toward solving the problems with their universe.
However, the Lotus’ origins are shrouded in mystery, and as the world is revealed through the storyline of the game it is clear that she is not necessarily who she seems.
At first, the Lotus is associated with Margulis, an Orokin woman who raised the Tenno after they encountered the void (both of these are first generational figures in the cosmogony), but it is later revealed that she is actually a Sentient, one of the creations of the Orokin.
The Sentients have a clear parallel to the Titans of Greek mythology; the first gods to have been purified and complicated to the extent that they can represent natural forces, rather than abstract spheres of existence, the Titans are often portrayed as rebelling against or usurping their precursors, only to be usurped in turn by the third-generation deities.
When the Sentients turn against their creators, the Orokin, the warframes are created to destroy them; the warframes skip to the third cosmogonic generation but it is the Lotus, a second-generation figure, who preserves them from both her fellow Sentients and the Orokin themselves, mimicking the myth of Zeus being given to Amalthea for safekeeping. The fact that both the Lotus and Amalthea are feminine figures is important in a Jungian psychoanalysis; the archetypal father can bring order but also tyranny, while the archetypal mother brings promise but also risk.
The Orokin and the Void
The Tenno gain their power from the Void, a sort of ur-chaos. The Void is an extradimensional space, one that requires special means to access.
The Void is the palace of the Orokin, the grand civilization that spawned the Tenno (again, we see the generational nature of mythology resurfacing), though they were unable to reach it without significant sacrifices and even for their technologically advanced civilization it was something of an outlier; when they fell, so did their dwellings in the Void, which exist in the current day of the game as either derelicts or uninhabited, but still active, stations.
The Void serves as a primordial first-generation figure in the cosmogony of Warframe; many ancient myths involve a later generation’s members returning to the originator of the world and slaying it, making its corpse into their home.
The Orokin serve as additional manifestations of this first level. Along with the Void, they are the ultimate progenitors of the Tenno, originally children who were lost in the Void following a failed expedition to that extra-dimensional space.
The fact that the Tenno, who ultimately are responsible in part for the eventual Orokin conquest of the Void, are able to draw power and shelter from the Void has mythic significance; it is common for a great heroic figure to slay a great threat and make use of its remains for sustenance, shelter, or both.
The Universe in Balance
The conflict that unfolds in Warframe is one of bringing the universe into balance. The Tenno, reawakened and representing humanity, face both other fourth-generation forces, like the Grineer, Corpus, and Infested and the Sentients.
The struggle against other “mortal” forces is not uncommon in mythology, and is a defining trait of some of the early mythic heroes like Odysseus, Beowulf, and Gilgamesh: their foes are not necessarily divine in nature, and they vanquish them using mortal might and cunning.
In this way, the Tenno are able to fight the Grineer, Corpus, and Infested with their own might. As joint members of the natural world, they are on the same playing field, though the Tenno as part-divine by nature of their connection to the primordial first-generation entity of the Void are at a distinct advantage, and as epic protagonists are therefore going to succeed in almost every challenge (even if doing so requires them to come to apotheosis first, something seen in the Second Dream and other storyline missions in Warframe).
It is worth noting that the Tenno is not automatically awoken fully to their abilities at the start of the game, but must instead acquire them during the storyline as they grow in knowledge of their true nature. Up until they achieve this divine apotheosis, it seems that the primary conflict is strictly between them and their worldly antagonists.
As the story progresses, the risks and dangers increase with it. The Tenno are not able to face the Sentients alone. While their warframes provide them with some divine power, the warframes are themselves very much natural; they have power drawn from the Void, but it has been distantly removed and is revealed to have always come from the energy flowing from the Tenno to a warframe, rather than being an intrinsic property of the warframe itself.
In the most recent story update, the Tenno encounters Ballas, an Orokin traitor who sided with the Sentients, but has been corrupted by them. He gives the Tenno a boon, a weapon with which to slay the Sentients, before the scene ends.
Warframe’s compelling story draws its weight from being designed with psychological and mythical archetypes that make every character and element more significant than it seems at first glance.
This powerful storytelling method means that although it has relatively little dialogue compared to many other games and almost no player choices, it manages to tell a story that is part of an epic cycle and put the player at the helm of a character who they can sympathize with.
The ensuing connection to the Hero’s Journey means that the player wants to do the same thing that their avatar does, without requiring coercion or massively branching narratives from the writing team.
I looked at the scale, and I knew intuitively that my weight was going to kill me. I had been having problems sleeping because I couldn’t get comfortable. I was dealing with minor, but persistent, pains that were impacting my life choices. I wasn’t happy with how I looked.
I knew something had to change.
Of course, I’d try changing before, so what made this time different?
Well, for starters I was reaping the full consequences of my actions. Homer Simpson-esque jokes about pitying my future self were less amusing when I found myself as the butt of the experience.
12 Rules for Life is an interesting book. Equal parts philosophy, psychology, and self-help book, it covers a broad range of topics, with Peterson drawing from life experiences, religion, and history to build a strong case for his points and provide what seems on its surface to be very good advice for people.
Wrapping up the 12th chapter of Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Amazon Affiliate link) feels a little surreal, because I’ve now been going through it for almost a month or so. It’s been quite a long journey, and I’ve been trying to apply some of the tips that Peterson gives to my life.
And, not too surprisingly given the feedback he’s gotten on the internet, many of them work. Some of them overlap with things I already did and knew about, but where I have made an intentional effort to pursue the objectives laid out in the 12 Rules I can see immediate improvement in my outlook and performance.
For those of us just joining me, I’ve been reading Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos (Amazon Affiliate link). The core lesson in the 11th chapter of Peterson’s book is a little different from the title, and I’ll probably spend more time trying to unpack the points rather than giving a blow-by-blow of Peterson’s argumentation.