WW I, & WW II– or Godwin’s Post

H. D. Girdwood [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

H. D. Girdwood [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m mostly reflecting on what’s going on on this post. For some reason, she turns off her comment box after a little while. Because she gets hundreds of comments, maybe? 😉

I was a strange little girl. The moment I heard about WW II, (I was quite young, since my grandfather served) I would stage mock battles of the Battle of the Bulge with stuffed animals and make dioramas punishing Hitler. It is a satisfying war, because there are clear villains.

But really, it only gets more complex when you get older. You know that certain beliefs are evil, but it was harder to know that Germany was, in great part, a country held hostage by power–hungry mad men. These hungry men were also very good at seduction. It was the state-level equivalent of marrying a charming sociopath who turns out to be a serial killer. The sad irony was that the Wehrmacht were very good at providing what they promised– but at a terrible cost.  If one is desperate, and guided by circumstance rather than principle, one can overlook those sorts of horrors.  At least, until one has dispensed with the trivialities of  eating. Though a very sophisticated country, it was very desperate country thanks to the ‘concessions’ of WWI.

I learned more about WW II than anywhere else in a mental institution.  There I met a boy who believed that Hitler was the greatest man who ever lived.   What might surprise people was that he was not a racist, or even an avowed member of some organization based on racial superiority. He did not even think that white people (or, let’s face it anglo saxons–or nordic races:  there are plenty of us who are ‘white’ that a self-respecting Nazi would spit on.) were necessarily superior. He thought that particular part of Hitler’s “grand vision” needed some refining. He always said that making Jews the enemy was brilliant– but only because they had all the money one needed to jump-start the German economy.  And jump-starting a whole society is more important than a small, isolated and self-serving  group of wealthy businessmen, right? So, why not?

If this logic doesn’t chill your blood… I don’t know what to tell you. See a doctor– or a priest.

Nope. He really wasn’t a racist. What he was, was a well-read pragmatist who had no moral qualms about eugenics. Basically, his argument was that Hitler was closer to any other leader in history to delivering to his people what they wanted– whatever the cost.  And, until his mind started deteriorating from syphilis, he was brilliant at it.  He turned the function and admiration of the State into a well honed state religion. There was a time, when living in Nazi Germany could be a pleasant thing. Especially if you had been starving, out of work, and paying great bundles of cash– if you had it– for a loaf of bread.

The Jews didn’t see it coming, because the Renaissance took place even before heads started to roll. They were used to ugly looks and bad words in their direction, and there was nothing on the visible platform that bothered them.  Keep in mind, what Sarah said also applies, but I think there were a complex of factors that are worthy of examination.

Also, because there weren’t instantaneous communications, it was easy to hide– for a while at least– that some people just didn’t make it home.  Sure there was propaganda, but everyone told themselves that it was only the extremists rattling their sabers, needing someone to blame for what happened. This charade was drawn out by saying that these undesirables were being shipped out of the country.  Most Germans– and most Jews believed this. So they went willingly  onto the cattle cars, figuring that it was an efficient way to avoid the problem.  Except… it was a lie.

It will shed much light to recognize that this boy was also a BIG fan of Machiavelli.  Indeed that is his whole modus operandi for loving Hitler. Because he was the most prominent, most faithful follower of this criminal mastermind, who wrote the book for leadership by criminal masterminds.  If there was ever a justification for book burning, his how-to manual for being an awesome, well loved, yet brutal and totally dishonest autocrat is one of them.  You will note next to no similarities between this and reading Wealth of Nations.  Just saying.

However, if you want a truly evil villain and are running low on inspiration, it’s a great read for seeing evil in action “for the greater good”–his. Or hers, even. There are all sorts of great gems here about decision making. So now that we now know what truly ostentatious evil looks like, lets go for something a bit more subtle.

Who was the real bad-guy in WW I ? Those in Europe would probably say royalty as a concept.  My husband would say Woodrow Wilson. I would point out that he didn’t start WW I. He would say, “Yeah, well he ended it by setting up WW II.”  Ol’ Cold Willy’s actions do inspire one to declare lifelong fealty to Franz Josef of Austria.  Or who knows, maybe I read too much Zmirak to be quite sane.  I’m not actually a monarchist– yet. I still believe that a Republic can work. But we must return to something closer to what our Founding Fathers intended.

Because, in case you haven’t read “Extraordinarily Popular Delusions  and the Madness of Crowds”, an unruly democracy will, if left unchecked, becomes indistinguishable from tyranny in the worst sense.  I argue we are mighty close to that, if he haven’t fallen off that cliff already. That’s what happened in France during/after the Revolution. The unruly Founding Americans managed to avoid this because they were already well versed in statecraft and also had seen the worst mob rule had to offer.  Many of them were on good terms with France, and had seen the ugly result while struggling with these questions. They lived on the border between civilization and chaos– chaos being defined by the fact that they were 13 tiny colonies clinging to the edge of a vast frontier messily divided up among hostile foreign powers.

The Founders were dealing with realities. The French were inflicting ideas on reality, convinced  the grand design would just work. Also, the Founders, by and large, wanted to create a place where one could just go back to farming. In reality they were conserving a life they already knew from the incursion of an outside other.  That, being “the madness of King George”.  The French, while they chopped off the heads of the old empire, still dreamed of replacing it with their own new utopia. This is an undiscovered country, even more so than the future– because you can generally count on the sun to rise in the morning with an ordinary future. But utopia is ultimately a stranger, an alien thing where anything seems possible.  Our naive culture thinks this is a good thing. Let me put it this way. Thomas More gave us that term. It means “no place”, and much greater suffering results when people forget those small, ugly facts. It is arguable that he was killed for it.

Nazi Germany was merely the reanimated corpse of the Weimar Republic.  It fed off the life and treasure of it’s own people, and it’s entire economic structure required  expansion, the pilfering of other nations and empire to keep the goods coming.  Going back to the insane assylem for a minute. Because the poor boy was insane and not especially good at economic logic, he did not recognize that the greatest disease of his hero was not his misplaced hatred or even his ravening insanity.  It was using a destructive,  unsustainable financial system to save a starving people.  By bribing some of them and killing off others. This is the ultimate zero sum game.

You may be screaming at me that of course the death camps were the worst feature. Certainly they are the worst outward sign. We have confused the most terrible symptom for the disease. But I tell you what made Nazism so terrible was that it required death camps.  The endless stream of cash required to keep the National Socialist engine running was the lifeblood of every productive human being within reach.

Hating Jews was just an excuse to get the public sanction to remove them from view so they could be taken a part and squeezed for every drop of monetary value they had.  Whatever taxes a given population would willingly give couldn’t be enough for the level of redistribution they used to buy the loyalty of his constituents.  Sounds disturbingly familiar, doesn’t it?

That is how top heavy the economic situation was, and it was mostly a vacuum of any economic value inside the country– save it’s people, and whatever wealth they may have.   Once those become the state’s responsibility, every one of those becomes another mouth to feed. In Germany’s case, the total absence of any kind of monetary value was due to the crippling sanctions demanded from them by the rest of Europe– notably the French, the English, and the United States.

These demands  came out of WWI.  Europe had lost her innocence, a whole generation of good men and energetic women, and her great hope in an optimistic future. The full brunt of the horrors of industrialization were made painfully evident, and sucked out the soul of the whole continent.  For this catastrophic loss,  they made Germany pay. They merely demanded all of her output for themselves.   Woodrow Wilson especially pushed for the punishment of Germany– but then he wanted everyone to suffer. But at least it gave him some ammunition to use back home.

One could argue that our shuffling Democracy is still suffering the consequences of his rule.  Europe certainly has, for WW II nationalized Germany’s great despair. Europe stared too long and saw too much in that abyss. Thus she give up all hope for humanity- or God.  Though I argue that she was set up for this devastating blow by having talked herself out of hope and God by the time WW I rattled to it’s universal defeat. All that was necessary was to verify the most cynical conclusions derived from the previous war.

But these two wars helped define modern life in ways the brainiacs of the Enlightenment could never hope to understand.  Because while some were indifferent to the God of Hosts, and referred him to stay remote and unknown, they also knew that an absence of such would lead to great horrors.  The modern nihilist says, “we already have horrors. What’s a few more? What does it matter?” It did not seem to occur to them that the specter of the primacy of words (with variable meaning) could ever return to primacy in the mind of mankind, after her thorough inculcation of Right Reason.

Perhaps someone needs to send Europe the memo.  While we did kill God (so Nietzsche did get something right) , but God did not die.  We just casually decided He didn’t exist.

Review: “Joy Commeth With the Mourning”, by David Freer

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“So who would have wanted to kill him?”

“Oh, not more than three-quarters of the village,” he said, he said with a wry smile.

“But I thought you said he was doing a good job and was not a bad fellow?”

“… You know, the trouble with a small community is you can’t avoid each other like you can in the city. … And sometimes the small gets very large out here.”

This novella by David Freer  jumped ahead in my reading schedule entirely by chance.  I read the whole thing in a single evening, almost before I knew what I was doing.  It was the perfect book for the perfect time.  I was feeling world weary and thoroughly sick of politics– and glutted with “Someone on the Internet is WRONG!”

This is just what I needed.

The title is both a pun and a play on words.  The theme of heavenly joy, as well as the challenge of finding happiness is also a theme in the book.  Also, our protagonist is named Joy. This continues throughout the book. If you do not like puns, you are put on notice.   Joy is a minister sent off to the Australian hinterlands to take over a small parish whose vicar has turned up dead.  This is her first time presiding on her own, and she is used to all the comforts and structures of an active urban parish.

What she finds when she arrives, after an less than smooth introduction, that country life is less lonely and individual than she’d like.  Freer is very clearly familiar with the rural way. Though individualism is clearly an underscored value, rural communities are tight nit, with a lot of peculiarities, secrets and conflict.

The current conflagration is ignited by the vicar,  found dead under  suspicious circumstances. Worse yet, there is a hesitancy from the medical examiner to sign off on the death, allegations of a darker nature, and plenty of accusations to go around.

Though a small community, the web of relationships are complex and idiosyncratic. Like any classic cosy, you go deep into the relationships and psychology of the characters, and Freer really delivers a comprehensive examination of both. Then proceeds to demonstrate how the simple application of charity can make a world of difference.

Heads up, most Christians won’t find objectionable theology here.  As a Catholic, I didn’t either, but I did not go looking to be offended– and wasn’t.  There may have been an oblique reference to a certain Catholic scandal, but the only people who brought it up were really not characters you’d want to quote for truth on the subject of Christianity.

It is a warm, pleasant, and delightful read, with a positively Chestertonian finish.  Think of it as an Aussie extended play Anglican Fr. Brown.

Ramon Casas i Carbó [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ramon Casas i Carbó [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Laws of the Jungle

I’m going to write about why  things have taken off and gone beyond pear shaped in such a short time. AT least it seems short from where I sit.

By Hockey_stick.svg: Ohkamiderivative work: Hans Erren (Hockey_stick.svg) [CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons File Mod by Margot St Aubin: reformat to PNG.

By Hockey_stick.svg: Ohkamiderivative work: Hans Erren (Hockey_stick.svg) [CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
File Mod by Margot St Aubin: reformat to PNG.

 It accelerated like a bell curve. We are now in the hockey stick of crazy- and it really doesn’t matter where in the political spectrum you happen to be. If you think THIS is normal… Well, you haven’t lived very long.

There is only so far up to go before… well, we don’t know, do we. Or at least we tell ourselves we don’t. A thing that people do not seem to realize is that we are swiftly reverting to the law of the jungle.

All too late, it will be clear that our destination is not the ultimate freedom. It is the ultimate slavery– a slavery to defense, a slavery to the belly, a slavery to a million small things that the average person in a 3rd world country has to worry about that Westerners haven’t given a whit about since the Great Depression.

It’s the sort of thing that takes generations to break out of– if it can be done at all. Yes, we did it once, but how much of that was the very special and odd circumstance of the foundation of our country? How long will it take us to have another Brittain, another colony, another  group of well educated but oppressed men who come together to make good for pretty much everybody?  Considering how many of those other experiments in this nation building  See ref: France, Spain, much of Sub Saharan Africa, pretty much all of South America. Maybe it would save time to say the whole freaking world since human civilization began?

Sure, it can seem like technology will save us from ourselves, but I don’t see things like freedom and prosperity and very delicate new technology surviving the death of trust.

Trust is hard. It is hard to revive after it is broken. Because– not trusting is a survival skill. To trust is to build civilization. If you are in survival mode, civilization is optional.  If you have ever wondered about the difference between the Dominican Republic and Haiti– Trust has it in a nutshell. It is possible to have commerce and stable economic growth because people can trust each other and even occasionally their government to keep their avarice down to a college roar.

                                               ⇑Vince De Groot, Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons. Yup, he is De Groot.  😆 ⇑

For some, the advent of technology forgoes civilization entirely. I suspect this is why things are falling apart so quickly. We don’t have any reason– no gut reason– to hold on to our peace, to hold on to our trust, our traditions, or anything else that holds people together.

We don’t think about how dangerous things could go if we wave sayonara to whatever civilization we still cling to.  They think that it is “fear of the unknown”.

Oh, if only it were that.  That is a daily event in our current culture with technology changing by the month, inflation still accelerating, scandals breaking daily… sure. The Great Unknown™ is really just tomorrow on steroids. No biggie. As a matter of fact, this big fear has blown past trivial into the de rigueur. Yes, even for those people.

Let’s make something clear. The Conservative fear is not the fear of the unknown. It is fear of the known. It is a fear of the dreaded. That is, the fear of tyranny.

Civilization is painfully built over generations. It does not spontaneously generate around people of good will. Yes, most people are of good will– until there is a good reason not to be. If you throw the trust and rule of law out the window– that’s a good reason to kill the bastards and let God sort it out.

One gets the sense that people have gotten bored with civilization, that lawlessness would be more fun. Folks are just dying to be able to use violence on their foes and get away with it.  Funny, I bet that was the real cause of The Great War ( AKA WWI), too.

There was a lot of rhetoric around the turn of the Century that war would kept civilized gentlemen from being soft and entitled.  So war was seen as a solution to spoiled noblemen and the poison that comes from the backwash of luxury.  Like it or not, those poisons are not illusory. Laziness and entitlement are just a few of them. Doing stupid things for temporary gain, at the expense of the future is another. Just another monster in a pandora’s box horrors brought to you by the skewed perspective that comes from living well.  When you don’t see the darker consequences of life, you have no idea how dire the consequences of failure.

Kick it all down and let it burn, huh? Yeah. That’ll work.  Be Careful what you wish for. You might get it, and it might be more than you can handle.

After all, they call it the “Law of the Jungle” not “The Chaos of the Jungle” or “The Freedom of the Jungle.” You trade one obnoxious set of laws for another hopelessly unfair set of laws that are more hardened than a court of law, or the goodwill of your neighbor.

Hint: The noble savage is a lie. It is not a myth, such a savage never was. It is a malignant untruth, because it is twisted and turned upside down so it sounds pleasant, comforting and plausible. As if people just come out that way without effort.

The truth is, primitive peoples have admirably strong morals and honor. They have a rigid code that is based on observable consequences of your actions. They make the most hardened conservative look like a fool-hearty libertine.   Usually, if you break these laws, it is death– one way, or the other. Let’s just say that exile only sounds like the softest option. Unless you are singularly wealthy (a feature of civilization, remember) it translates to “a miserable death– probably of starvation, or murder– away from the people who love you.”

Let’s look past that end game. Let’s see the whole picture. Where do you go after throwing off the shackles of Civilization? First, lots of people suffer, which they do by trying to live as they once did in a world with luxury, trust and safety.

Generally that translates into a great deal of freedom for a few (read: fun-loving pillaging, bloodlust, rape,  etc), and misery for the overwhelming majority of the rest (disease, suffering, misery, refugee status, frequent re-acquaintance with death, etc). That setup being unsustainable, there’ s a collapse.

1024px-Panthera_tigris_sumatrae_(Tiger_(Sumatra))_skinThen things go back to a crude and brutish anarchy if you are lucky, but basically it translates to rule by the toughest thug, then tribalism, then… a lifetimes long struggle on hands and knees back to Civilization. This cycle goes back and forth, from loving order and civilization, to getting bored with it, and desiring “true freedom”. Then the children’s children kick over all that their parents and grandparents worked so hard to build, and the cycle starts anew, baptized in blood.

Not the kind of roller coaster ride I am looking forward to, I have to say.  But this cycle only goes back to civilization if people want it. Is suffering we can hardly imagine any better than following some rules?

 

Situational Awareness

 

BL 9.2 inch Mk IX gun, ex Gibraltar, now at Royal Artillery Museum London.

Yep, ya’ll are going to hate me.

There is this crazy idea going around that women should NOT even try to defend themselves –or take precautions against potential bad situations. What’s next?  Are we going to decry looking both ways before crossing the street? Are we going to scorn the use of seatbelts? Are we going to condone posting every little piece of private data in Facebook– open to the public?!  Maybe so called feminists these days are anti-child, but that’s certainly not the sort of parental instincts I’d like to see. And no, I don’t assume that every woman is a mother. But every woman has the theoretical potential to be one.

Seriously, when you defend yourself, you aren’t just defending yourself. You are defending your friends, your family, (your children– it had to be said) anyone who cares about you. It is a good, good thing.  Tough decisions are what life is made of. And that’s the price of becoming an adult, full stop. There will never be a time when this necessity stops being a fact of life.

Part of the problem, I think is many of these women cannot wrap their own minds around what that would entail. So far as their holistic writ says, every man is a potential rapist.  As a former victim of sexual assault, I assure you that is not the case. You cannot always tell for certain who is and who isn’t, but that doesn’t mean the possibilities are endless.

Secondly, I can see why they might balk at this idea. Who wants to live in a constant state of hypervigilance? I’ve done it. It sucks. You really don’t want to go there. It makes you physically ill, for one thing, and the health problems that result can be staggering and chronic.  So no, I’m not advocating that, either. Because why? Because taking precautions is not the same thing as over reacting.  A little knowledge, a little research and you can go toward making a plan to keep yourself pretty safe without having to go crazy about it.

The first step is two fold– find out what your generalized risks are, and what kind of threat is most likely.

A Javelin missile is launched during a Firepower Demonstration at Warminster, Wiltshire.http://www.defenceimagery.mod.uk/fotoweb/fwbin/download.dll/45153802.jpg

First of all, some guys are predators. Yes, they exist. But, the kind of predator who specializes in rape is a fairly small minority. However, there are places where they tend to go to ‘hunt’, because that is what they do. The second thing to know is that the vast majority of men HATE rapists as much as you do– if not worse. It sounds freakish, yes, but it’s true. The worst violence I’ve ever heard uttered by guys I know had to do with the treatment of rapists. And I assure you they were quite serious.  Five different men have offered to kill the sexual predator that drugged me in high school Okay, make that six. Sorry I forgot one.

I said “no” to all of them.  To the majority, I said “no” because I didn’t want to see my friends in prison.  I said “no” to one or two of them because I knew they’d get away with it. But there would still be consequences, if nothing else, in the thought processes he’d already warned me about. I don’t care if he’s trained for it, he’s supposed to be a civilian now, and I’m told that blurring the line  (unless you actually go back into uniform or are in an otherwise controlled professional environment where they understand the psychology of the thing) can be dangerous for him in more personal ways.

You either defend yourself, or accept that you have no control of your safety.  There is no third way. You cannot legislate risk down to zero.  Nope, more laws really don’t help. We already do not respect the law, and yet another absurd shard of unreality in the courts will just add to the mess when the whole works collapses in on itself.

The first step to a safe society is a polite society– not just the right for every person to defend him or herself against real threats, but also building a society of trust.

And you don’t get a society of trust by blaming a whole sex for all  the world’s problems.

 

Darkness = Depth?

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Does Darkness equal Depth?

Confession: I grew up in this subculture. The closest I came to being in any social group was a child of Goth.  From where I stood, the real difference between goth and emo is that Goths have a 19th century fetish and dress better, and the emos only started wearing black after Kurt Cobain died. Before that, we called them grunge, and they tended to be happy-ish. After that, they co-opted Morrissey (good riddance) and rode off to find more bitter horizons. Even the death of the sun in a million shades of red, flesh and gold is too cheerful for them.

So where did Goth really come from?  What was it all about? Well, there is a reason why there’s a 19th century fetish in there, it was a movement back then, too.

Left over from the 18th Century, there has been this idea floating around since some German or other said that reality is not really real, and that our senses are useless. After a while, some philosophers decided that there had to be SOME way to perceive what truly was, so they said, “HA! The EMOTIONS have to give us something! THEY are the true insight into reality!” <sarc> Not too long after that, somebody decided that psychic powers were plausible. </sarc>

This  idea captured the popular imagination. The resulting movement was called Romanticism.  It helps to know that Romanticism was the birth mother of Modernism. The two share a lot of roots.  Basically, Romanticism goes like this. We cannot use reason against monsters. The world sucks, so we may as well enjoy the decline. “Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die,” is the bottom line. It’s basically an overly educated remake of that tired old hedonism.  We are all monsters, so we may as well enjoy it.

 

This is where the idea of “Darkness=Depth” really comes from. You can blame Freud, too. He said that all the monsters of the subconscious were really taboos created to protect the ego from whatever threatened it. So using monsters as a psychopomp into the subconscious.

The theory goes, that they show us what really matters. They argue that fear = power.  Emotions are ultimately more useful and deep than our reason.  As an added bonus, nobody needs to really learn anything except what you wind up finding during that extended navel gazing session. From personal experience, I’ll give you all the spoilers you need.  It’s a combination of wishful thinking and what you want to see. Problem solved, right?  Um. No, not really.

Some creative people also borrowed from gnosticism, which explains everything you need to know about social groups in high school. Combine that with the accumulated wisdom of Versailles (substitute Hot Topic for having your own garment manufacturing empire to keep up with the Le Jonses) and the exegesis pretty much writes itself.

After that it was a lot of drivel and nonsense that led to all sorts of exciting ideologies that a little bit of reason would have kaiboshed before their adherents decided to kill off millions of people.  The sleep of reason produces monsters, indeed.

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Death, and Character Death

 

↑Photography by: Tomas Castelazo↑  ⊗ Creative Commons License

There is a peculiar penumbra between human death as we understand it, and the death in RPGs. Then, when you cross over, you wind up with fictionalized death, which is yet another thing.

However, RPG death and Fictional death (the latter you have more familiar with, I’m betting) do have some things in common. Let’s start there, first. After all, our fictional experiences are the framework with which we see reality unless we have some other principles or values intertwined. Even then, the fiction either reinforces or questions that framework– which is getting ahead of things.

One of the least popular truths in this world today is the idea that we all die. Most people in my circles, if they aren’t Catholic, are likely to change the topic to something more pleasant, like life extension technology, or the much vaunted technological singularity, etc. It is to the point that even mentioning things like lost socks and other continua of human life is depressing to some.

Most RPGs don’t go there. I mean, sure, with modern D&D, you can have all kinds of resurrection spells and the like. Those are more of a modern day hack. Back in MY day    (the 1980’s) there was no such thing, and if you died, you were dead.  You just rolled another character, unless it was a more role playing instead of roll playing.

↑ Public Domain. ↑

Indeed– all you really need to know, is that the more a character is really a character– the less likely character is to die. That is not true for Indie games, which self consciously go against this trope.  That is, real characters die, but always die for reasons. But that’s a special set of cases that I will go into later.

Admittedly with our crew character death was, for the most part, written out of play in the social contract. You don’t kill player characters without permission. But when you did, it was a Big Deal. None of this dying from an infected battle wound or tripping over your toenail and falling to your death in a ravine.  I actually had a fairly powerful NPC get pushed off a building– and thanks to her so-called saving throw, wound up getting gacked by a +24000 Rose Tree of Death .

Because it came directly from player directed action, I could not weasel my way out of it. It was against our social contract. However, the resulting plot wound up being MUCH better, and the ahem, real villain turned out to be far more diabolical and evil than the spiteful spellcaster.  Also, they’d denied themselves understanding how a key part of the plot worked. They could have infiltrated her organization and learned what they needed to learn about the machine and what was done to it. But… no, they decided to kill her instead. In that case, there had to be a cost, but I couldn’t just strike them with lightning or cause meteors to blot out the town that they happened to be living in. That’s just no fun.

Also, her death was the climax of the scene, and most of the mop up had already happened. In retrospect, I suppose I could have had her pet dragon show up, but… again. Not generally how I roll.  Instead, I gave them the win and extracted my cost elsewhere, where it wouldn’t necessarily be noticed. But they sure did notice later.

Okay, so absurd death of NPC tells us more about the cost to benefit in RPGs than it does about death.  But it’s far more fun than talking about death, right?

↑Painter: Jacek Malczewski ↑ ⊗ public domain 

No, my aim was to talk about player character death.  Again, in my circles it was A Big Deal. We would have secret meetings in advance, where what the ideas and boundaries of what was reasonable would be discussed. I had one character die, a character named Maxwell, who wound up dying heroically saving the party members.

In every story game I played in, the deaths had meaning– or at least portent. Sure, it could be spun more realistic and start from some small thing– but the act and thrust of the whole movement toward death had to be something that contributed to the character send off to the Great Beyond.  Even if said characters just cease to exist (we rarely had ghost cameos or things like that…for reasons) it is still a big transition worthy of some kind of meat.

No matter what we do, or what we believe, we have to give that last act weight, visual emotional, and dare I call it spiritual. We do it with ideas, as we do it for ourselves.

The only people I know who consciously work against this– tend to want to destroy meaning itself. It’s like they gouge their fellow man in the eye for acting rationally. It may be a gut reaction, it may be a facet of instinct on behalf of humans. Above all,  it is an act that makes sense, even if you are a materialist. In fact, you can argue that the dweller in a mechanical universe has far more need to make a big production of the last send off– than those who believe in Eternal Life.   After all, in most cases, we can make an argument that we are going to see that other again– one way or another.

The casket, the body, and the cold clay is all they have, and it is right and just to make the most of it. Only the nihilist would dream to rob them of it.

 ↑The death of Louis 14th↑  ⊗ Public Domain.

 

 

 

 

Respond with Love– HOW?

 

So I’ve been thinking about responding with Love.  It was a conversation going on in my writer’s group for a while.  Things are mighty conflictual these days, despite all the claims for tolerance and stuff.

Saying it isn’t the same thing as having it.

I think game theory holds some answers.  I know it sounds like an unsatisfactorily mechanical response but it is merely a mathematical model for what suits the cooperation instinct in man.

The trouble is, we can’t dictate responses of either the media or our loved ones when we practice love. That’s a part of why it is called a cross.  Because you don’t know what you are going to get. All you can do is direct how you will accept the consequences. And know that often, when you act out of love, those you face will not recognise love, because they do not know love, but a kind of charade for the transaction of wants.

We cannot even gage how they will respond, even to perfect love. Jesus tells us, “Do not lament if they hate you, for they hated Me first.” Just as the man who serves two masters, those who do not hold unity in their hearts are pulled eternally between the poles of adoration and loathing– toward any potential source of light. There are some good quotes for this in Lumen Fidei about this, FYI. Pope Francis is not surprised.

 

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Considering that guy on the Cross was supposed to be our representative of how man reacts to perfect Love…

So often, those who loathe the church have to change a few words here or there to make us absolute villains. They cannot simply hate what is. Hate is more sustaining for a deceitful action than love, hence we see this played out for hundreds of years. The same old lies are breathed on and given new life, after other lies are revealed for their paltry reflection of reality. This pattern is observable since Christ. But we must remember they have two settings, hate and love.

Look at poor pope Francis, as inviting as it is, everyone within squeeing distance sees him as approving. IF there is insufficient evidence for their lauds, they manufacture some. That’s not actually what Pope Francis is doing, but so many will interpret to get what they want. They cannot be neutral. That’s how the news cycle works, after all. No one pays any attention unless it tugs on the short hairs– one way or the other.

The irony of all this is that there are things that he is doing, and has done, that is worthy of laud, but it is twisted or changed, instead of seeing the thing itself. It is like they cannot love him for who he is, but who they have made him.

How long will this cheating ‘love’ work for them? Well… I can’t answer that precisely. Suffice to say, in the world, things must change if there is no perfection. The bigger the disconnect, the flimsier the mirage. Desperation can cause it to linger, but things will change, and it probably won’t take long. The betrayal of love is hate, thus the cycle begins again.

Two hearts cannot meet unless they set what aside what separates them. The Law of Christ puts as little between the lover and the beloved as possible. The trouble is, our modern culture has manufactured specific roadblocks to separate the brethren from the love of their kin. They want to replace love with state sponsored acceptance– a kind of mindless adulation that focuses on appearances and the glory of stereotypes. In there, there is no room for familial love, for friendship, or for mere tolerance. They will change the meaning of the word if it is necessary to destroy it.

So how, in the face of this can you respond with love? The falsehood, the anger, the disagreements you can’t even counter because the truth isn’t even represented.  That is when you take a step back, walk to a quiet place that is alone (rooms with doors, or abandoned mountain retreats are recommended, what is available to you may vary) and you pray. Meditate on what Jesus has done, and what He endured for it. More courage  and fortitude come from the same fountain.

Even if you are not a theist, quiet meditation is still key. The most freeing part of it is when you know what you can expect, and know that they cannot control your reaction.  Do not shy away from what you feel. But you don’t need to express it– loudly and directly as an immediate reaction.  Accept your feelings, accept that this person acts the way that they do. The only real judge of who you are is how you act in the face of it.

But this is not just an act in reaction to a moment. It is a practice that one must have already, so that you can hold that quiet reflection in your heart– even in the heat of the moment.

Until then, it is good to remember that, at the end of endurance, even Jesus recommends that you shake the dust off your feet and walk away.

By Jocelyn Kinghorn from Christchurch, New Zealand (Man in the Blue Hat) [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Water falls

The National Catholic Register had this to say about today’s human response to the barrage of news, social media, and especially facebook.  Hashtag activism taking the place of real action.  I have some different thoughts, though our sentiments are similar.

There is a psychological concept called “compassion fatigue”. While much psychology is ideology with a medical wrapper, this is a real phenomenon. It is a product of human biology, and not necessarily the unpalatable fruit of human indifference.

My concern starts focus not with the message, but the media.  I think computers and instant information has the potential to be a great good. But like anything else, it is a tool. It can lead to poison if used improperly.

And that can be summed up in the classic phrase, water water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.  There is so much information. So much! Not all of it is even true, but all of it is shaped and channeled to grab your attention, to make you care, and to imply you are a horrible person if you ignore it. If you open yourself to all of it, you drown in sorrows, and fall into despair.

After a while it becomes a wall of noise, just so you can stay sane. I believe human persons developed this so that living in cities is bearable, or surviving terrible calamity is possible.    But that doesn’t mean this sort of thing is outside your control. While the result is an uncaring facade– it must be admitted to be a tool.  A tool is a thing that is both useful for good or ill, and a thing which you have conscious use.

Certainly if you create a safe tunnel exclusively for yourself, it is not a laudable thing.  The fact remains, some acceptable solution must be brought forth to both have soft hearts and a discerning palette, yet prevent total meltdown.  This is a problem that has been going around for a long time. Longer than I’ve been around, even. Where do you think the Good Samaritan story comes from?

Where can we look to find an acceptable guide? Go too far back, and some would say, “it wouldn’t work in our time.”  But a guide who has holiness, who spoke the truth, is in order.

So I look to Bishop Sheen. He may be ‘a mere Venerable’ (and slated to say that way until the two diocese who share him can behave like grownups). He, as a public figure, had to swim these waters before it was common.  What did he do?

1.  He did not watch the news.

2.  He spent an hour a day in front of the Blessed Eucharist.

I look at this and think, Oh, I wish I could spend an hour a day in front of the Blessed Lord. It is not quite jealousy, for I would never take such a blessing away from anyone.  I am even lucky enough to live within commute distance of a place where Adoration is available 24/7, save during masses and high holy days.  Getting there isn’t easy for me, but I make excuses.

Second, I cannot afford to be completely ignorant of day to day events. Though, it is clear that Bishop Sheen did not, either. The point is, custody of the eyes, discernment and plenty of quiet and time for reflection, and to put First Things, first.

Author: Agência Brasil

Source: Agência Brasil, Creative Commons License

 

 

How to Build a Thick(er) Skin, Part I

Warning: I am not a guru. I am not perfect. These are just things that I have learned, and figured out– from experience, and derived from the grace of friendship.  There are people of good will who have helped me see these things, such as my husband,  and Taylor Marshall, and countless others over time. This is just stuff I have collected that I hope will be helpful to those I’ve been listening to on the interwebs.

There are so many who suffer from the slings and arrows of our outrageous times– both in the good  and the bad. The wonders of technology– who can argue these are evil? Certainly there are downsides– there are downsides to everything. There are lots of special stresses and new avenues to hostility that are made manifest by abundance itself, as well as the technology that makes it all possible. Sadly we are more lacking in our ability to face those things than ever.

Part I: Why do we need to?

I hope that people who are not writers or Catholics could benefit from some of this rambling. But, my faith is my strength, and has played a large part in my path building my coping skill-set. I was born a sensitive person– and spent a good deal of my life in that space.  I have tried many many things to work with this, including therapy, drugs, and various self help regimens.  There was a great deal that was not helpful– and an alarming array of things that made the problem worse.

The first part is to understand the problem itself, and recognize it as yours. Remember that this tendency DOES has it’s perks. It means you notice things others don’t. It means you have a wider range of experience to work from– but most of those perks are internal, and can themselves work against you.   It has a lot of downsides.  They affect everything– from how I lived to how I voted, to how easy it was to slip into a set of habits that make depression much more problematic. Sensitivity can drive you away from people, and push things out of proportion. If you get benefit from it, you can turn it into an idol, and let it run your life.

When you become a public persona, no matter how small, these things start to crop up more and more, and there is only so much you can do to hide from it.   Before long, you are only hiding from yourself, and all the things you tell yourself. There’s a recipe for depression if I ever heard one.

Back when Andy Warhol (was credited to have) said “everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame” (or words to that effect), he probably didn’t know how right he was. Because the truth is, anyone who says anything on the internet has a drop or two of diluted celebrity. It manifests in the down-sides, first and foremost.

Whining and moaning– or just talking about it, is a temporary fix. While it feels good, relying on this has serious problems as  coping mechanism and social strategy.  This is not to say that you shouldn’t talk about it– but there is a time and a place. Here is where journaling, or rage writing are helpful. But you don’t necessarily want to make a blog post about it, or use this as your primary means of interacting with your friends and neighbors.

Granted, I’m speaking to an American culture, which has both bifurcated, and deteriorated (yes, BOTH sides) over time.  We have lost the courage of our convictions. We have lost our stamina, attention span, and most of all, our toleration for the small things that help friendships and love relationships last.  Because, let’s face it. Those friends whom you love best are the ones who were with you through the hard times, with whom you cried, struggled or suffered. That they were still with you in the end made their presence that much more sweet.

In the mainline culture, we have blurred the lines, debased true friendship, and worship both the sex bond and the associate who doesn’t know TOO much. How ironic when all they have to do is browse FlipBook or Froogle to find out yet another shallow snapshot of who you are. We have even turned the lifelong project of self improvement into a search for gurus and quick fixes– the philosophy of the hour. Understanding yourself and why you do things– and all the while, using an objective yardstick to monitor your progress, is considered not only antiquated and wrong headed, but actively harmful. I’m here to tell you that the opposite is the case.

And self improvement is a powerful aspect to getting a thicker skin. It is not how many people wind up with it– because frankly, most of them were dunked in on the deep end of the acid bath, and adopted it by necessity. The trouble with that approach is that it also comes with it’s own set of blind spots that can sprout barriers to personal, social and spiritual development. There are also those who grew up in a family who consciously worked on developing a healthy attitude in this area. Those are frightfully rare in this day and age.

Theory

Because it seems like cheating to give you a whole blog post (it’s getting long already) without a single facet of a solution to this sticky problem, I’ll mention that I’ve talked about a few already.  That would be faith (note: does not have to be in the form of religion, but it helps), proportionality, and friendship.

I will cover these in more detail in my second post, but I’ll give you a taste right now.  Faith— is about believing. It’s about knowing what you are doing is for something or someone greater than you. I cannot emphasise how important that is.

It is also remarkably illusive at times, which is why Catholics call it a Supernatural virtue. You can’t build it yourself, you cannot entirely hold yourself responsible for it slipping away in dark times. God’s existence isn’t self evident. The value of human life is not self evident. You have to have a set of principles through which to build, toward those ends– that is, leaving yourself open to faith, and developing a stick-to-it ness, through repeated exposure to the ideas that reinforce that faith.

At the same time, this powerful help must be tempered. Faith without humility, without knowing you can be wrong, or how you cannot perfectly match up with your principles, means that you can’t really defend– or even stand– against personal attack. At the base of it, all criticism is about how the ideal never met a reality it couldn’t best.

If you believe you are unassailable, it will leave you vulnerable. This vulnerability is not just an opening to attack, but a tendency to hurt yourself.  It opens the door to to recklessness and poor judgement.

The dangers of arrogance are manifold. Every jab in your direction, every ad hominem attack– especially those that rely on a kernel of truth– will be devastating. The flip side to this problem is the recklessness– believing you are right and can do no wrong not only makes you blind to your own defenses, but also makes it that much harder to evaluate your situation.  In case you are wondering where humility came from, that’s a part of proportionality. These things cannot and will not operate independently.

The second part of proportionality is knowing the truth. What is real. How you relate to that reality. Because yes, the truth hurts. This is why we keep trying to do away with it in modern society. The whole modus operandi of the Spirit of our Age is to provide a panacea against pain. But reality isn’t like that, and we, as humans, weren’t built for that. So much hurt is generated by ignoring these facts– and that is why generating more hurt and drama is a big part of what we do.  Humans don’t feel alive unless something is going on. We will never tolerate a numb stupor unless we are depressed or on drugs.

There are times and moods when we want rest, when we want distance, when we want comfort. That is not the same as numbness. We can get numbness by sitting in a corner and thinking about white paper– or taking  ibuprofen.  What we want is support, and that is where friendship comes into this.  Because friendship is not just about unqualified support, but also about proportionality. When we are too close, too angry, or too defensive, we cannot see clearly. Friends help us to see clearly, or at least, snap us out of our defense mechanisms, and give us the distance to go back to our reason and re evaluate our proportionality, or replenish our faith.

Keeping in mind– friendship is the hardest part of this whole thing. Finding those friends who are both willing and able to be supportive through the rough stuff– and able to make those constructive criticisms that help you with your proportionality– is important.  But, as Jesus said, you have to pull the log out of your own eyes. YOu can’t always rely on others, so prayer, and the study of reason and history help with these sorts of issues.  Nothing helps stability like having a leg to stand on.

For what it’s worth, that’s why the Twelve Step program insists on a Higher Power. You need a friend who is more than human, who can be there even when other people can’t. Because you are a 24 hour 7-day a week project, and no one out there can stand in for that. When I don’t know what to do, I pray. At least half the time it means I keep my mouth shut when I should. More often than I used to, at least.

Stay tuned for Part II!