Wow, it’s already 2016. Kind of hard to believe isn’t it? But it’s really here - it really is the future.
I’ve been trying to think of something to write about for a couple of weeks now, and coming up short. Which is actually a little funny, considering how much I enjoy writing, but also a little sad for the same reason. So instead of doing that, I’m just going to ramble and see if I can’t locate a point somewhere along the way.
There’s been a lot of stuff floating through my media sphere in the last few months. The more active and engaged I get online, the more active and engaged I become with the wide variety of issues we currently face, here at home in the U.S., and all over the world. War, terror, refugees, racism, police brutality, corrupt politics, economic crisis… after a while it all blurs together into a thick, foul-smelling soup of ideas. It’s easy to let all that stuff enter our lives because it’s been made easy. Our access to the world is incredible, and increasing every day. We’re hooked up to a digital I.V. that pumps our subconscious full of whatever happens to slide across our feed as we scroll.
On one hand I think that our level of connectivity is the best thing to happen to humanity since the invention of the book or the library, because information sharing allows us (at least in theory) to organize globally as a cohesive whole. It allows us to work with people from places we’ll never physically travel on shared causes and interests, and it has the potential to lead to a sort of global community the likes of which could redefine what it means to be human. We could actually end up being the first wave in citizens of a united world, breaking the imaginary borders that current divide us.
On the other hand, I find that there’s often very little attention being paid among members of my generation to exactly what is being fed to them through their screens. We’ve also become dependent on our ability to communicate through electronic devices to a worrisome extent - not that such communication itself is worrisome, but rather that it has the potential of leading to the atrophying of other social and critical abilities because we rely upon it too much.
I’m not bringing this up for the purpose of considering some sort of survivalists fantasy about the power going out and technology universally breaking down - a direction I often see this discussion go. I’m focusing not on the potential of society breaking down should our technology cease to function, but rather our inability to maintain certain aspects of our independence and humanity in the face of a total reliance on technology. This isn’t a question of “what will happen if we can’t access the internet”, it’s a question of “what happens if the only contact we can get, ever, is through the internet”.
It’s an interesting line of thought, especially for people interested in social and ethical philosophy, as well as those who share my interest in psychology and neurology. Something truly unprecedented is taking place in our world, and we’d be completely lacking in intelligence if we ignored it out of a gut reaction. I’ve heard the argument offered before that concerns over the nature of our technological age are comparable to ancient fears over the increasing popularity of books and the written word over verbal skills and memorization. I don’t believe that this is at all an adequate comparison. Technology’s progress doesn’t necessarily need to be slowed, and we certainly don’t need to try and take refuge in some sort of agrarian past, but neither should we delude ourselves into thinking that the experiences on the horizon - right at the fore of our technological tidal wave - are at all comparable to anything we, as a species, have faced before.
I think I’ll aim to start wrapping this up there, it’s felt good to get some words out of my head. I really would like to make writing a more regular practice, though I fear that my journal here may be too limiting for me to feel comfortable becoming highly active. Perhaps a switch to Wordpress is in order, though that requires time and money i might not have until summer.
There are a bunch of other things fermenting in the back of my mind. I want to levy some strong criticisms against the concept of ‘microaggressions’ at some point, but that will require considerably more study, because I really want to take a unique approach to this topic, one which explores fully how important and exciting I believe other parts of the “politically-correct” movement are. Actually, a friend of mine recently wrote an article that briefly covers some history of the above term, I strongly recommend that you give it a read, and not just because it’s delightfully snarky.
I also have numerous pieces on ethics that I want to start writing, but once again, that’s going to have to wait until I have more free time. Until that magical day, I will try to keep updating my blog here, if only with my random daily thoughts and doings.
Happy 2016 everybody.
I recently got asked the following question:
"how exactly is adam sandler racist? genuinely asking..."
So I thought that I'd respond to it. My response started out small and quickly blossomed into a full-fledged post, so I decided to put it here - it seemed like good material for my blog anyhow. Read it below.
It’s nice to believe that people on Tumblr are somehow supportive of the same causes as you - are somehow less likely to be dangerous, or horrible human beings - but that’s simply not true. But this isn’t so much an issue of bigotry - though the relationship between what we perceive of as races is certainly a massive factor in our society overall. This is, rather, an issue of empathy - and the systemic lack of compassion inherent in our society. Remember that anyone can be cruel, and hateful, and despicable - white, black, straight, gay - it doesn’t matter what you look like or how you identify, it’s how you choose to behave that actually marks you for what you are. At the least I can hope that people commenting like these posters are merely callous, or foolish. That they did not give proper thought to their words, thoughts, or actions (which may be cause enough for alarm on its own). But at worst they truly do not care about the larger repercussions of their blithe disregard for decency - they simply lack the tools to understand their role in the degradation of the dream of a better society; they simply do not care if what they say or do hurts others. Now it’s easy to become an alarmist at what is typed and displayed on the internet - but the internet is a microcosm for a much larger aspect of our society, and represents a singular essence of both the local societies we choose or are born into, and the global society we are intrinsically attached to. It is easy to be an alarmist - but it helps that there is something to be alarmed about. The only advice I could offer would be this: think before you speak (and that includes what you say and do on the internet). We’re all guilty of failing to follow this rule - I not least of all - but a concentrated effort to be better than we were the day before may just pay off somewhere down the road.
Just stop doing it.
It’s not helpful. It’s not heroic. It’s not edgy. It’s not groundbreaking. It’s not revolutionary.
It’s stupid. It’s small-minded. It’s ignorant. Worst of all: it’s counter-productive.
Stop justifying things based on an either/or, us versus them mindset. Let go of the hatred and the fear, at least long enough to realize who it actually is you should be fighting. At least that long.
Stop making snap decisions - don’t spread aggression. If you spread aggression, ask yourself why you are spreading aggression. Ask yourself what the targets of the aggression feel when they receive it.
Question all of your beliefs. Question your morality. Question your ties to history, to family, to society.
Think before you speak. Think before you type.
Do not make assumptions about other people. Assumptions are likely to be misleading.
One post does not display the whole of the person behind it. Neither does one word.
Violence begets violence. It begs for violence. Violence feels good - but does it feel good to the victim?
Imagine yourself in the position of others. Imagine being scared. Angry. Frightened. Imagine their life.
Imagine your life. How scared have you been in your life? How angry? Imagine that everyone else feels just like that. They all experience the exact same fears and hatreds, joys and loves.
Belief does not define someone. Action does. Words can be actions. Actions can be words. They do not have to be.
Treat people with respect - especially when they are aggressive.
Trust in a better future. Trust in better humans. Work for a better future. Help build better humans.
Use your mind for better. Use your life to make the world better. Even if it’s just one person at a time - you can make the world better. You can choose to make the change.
Or you can remain angry. Filled with hate. Afraid.
The choice is absolutely up to you.
Today I’m going to talk to you about why Dungeons and Dragons is not a combat-focused game. Undoubtedly I’m going to take a hit for this viewpoint, but honestly I don’t give a shit, because you’re wrong and I’m right, and that’s all there is to it. Still, let me go a step further and actually explain my position.
D&D was based off of wargames - true enough. That is not however where its real strength lies, especially not in the modern age of high-graphic video games. If you just want to play a game where you destroy stuff, there are plenty of video games that allow you to do just that - and if you really want to get wargaming out of your system the old fashioned way, tabletop wargames are still pretty easy to find at local comic shops and the like (especially WarHammer). But again: that’s not what Dungeons and Dragons is all about.
“But Odin” I hear you whine, “I like combat-oriented D&D games!”
“Well” I say, “you haven’t played properly yet.”
See, D&D is all about roleplaying - which means literally “placing yourself into the role of the character you’re playing”. Depending on how different your character is from you, this can be pretty difficult - but it is also the most rewarding part of the game. Of course combat encounters will probably usually play some role - but they don’t actually have to, that’s the point here. And when combat does take place, D&D (especially 5.0) allows for it to be extremely fluid and cinematic.
Combat, at the core of D&D, is fun because of the choices you get to make as your character when a tense situation arises - not because you have a big sword and get to beat people to death. Games that revolve around nothing but combat tend to lose the interest of any but the most juvenile players pretty quickly. Likewise with games that are nothing but puzzle solving, or diplomatic subterfuge - they cater to personality subsets, but they miss out on the bigger picture.
D&D’s brilliance is in its ability to juggle little bits of everything while allowing the player to feel as if they are actually succeeding alongside their character. A really good game of D&D should be able to incorporate bits of combat, puzzle solving, and unscripted narrative improvisation, and never bore the players or make them feel detached from the game. How? Freedom of choice. D&D will always be able to do what video games can not - expand infinitely with the scope of the collective imagination of the DM and the players at the table. If I want to jump on a table, lob my sword at the orc, and try to swing away on the chandelier - I probably can. I may fail in one or all of those things, but I can attempt them. And if the roleplaying aspect has settled in, I get to take enjoyment from that situation even if I fail, because I’m involved intimately with the life and experience of the character I’m playing.
D&D is roleplaying made exciting by its virtually unlimited freedom of choice. The system provides rules to help govern the action and provide a way to manage danger and chance, but it isn’t designed to get in the way of freedom of choice or roleplaying - ever. If you find the rules are bogging you down, you need to readdress your game.
But jumping back to my original topic, I want to talk about why combat is not the key aspect of D&D, and why it can actually be a lot more fun to find alternative ways to navigate the game world.
Recently I was playing in a friend’s game, playing as a Druid - the second one in the party actually. Our group was hunting down the leader of this evil cult leader who worshipped a demonic blood god. In our quest so-far, we’d slaughtered a whole bunch of sleeping cultists, killed a few more while they were eating dinner, and eventually set a whole quarter of the town on fire when we destroyed the cultists drug stash. For a supposedly “good aligned” group, we were not exactly taking the highest available road (to be fair, my biggest contribution to the various slaughters was when I set our rogue on fire by accident).
Eventually though we tracked down the big bad boss in the cellar of a temple in the town, and it looked like things were going to get bad - there were about twenty cultists and their leader against the five of us. Not the greatest odds. But then, suddenly, the blood god decided that his followers were pretty much useless twerps, and turned them all into a host of random animals. Suddenly we were surrounded by badgers, goats, and a couple of apes. The cult leader was turned into a goldfish. It was sort of surreal.
Our bloodthirsty paladin wanted to rush in and kill everything, but myself and the other druid refused to just sit by and let the animals be slaughtered, since it was pretty clear that they had become animals in mind as well as body. We just didn’t think it was right. So we convinced our party to use non-lethal force only, I put the poor goldfish cultist leader into my water flask, and things started to get actually crazy.
Us druids were casting spells to calm and subdue the animals, and our paladin was tackling a goat. All of us were taking minute amounts of damage from a dozen little bites and kicks, but we just kept slowly retreating back the way we’d come (up through a manhole cover the animals couldn’t climb), all the while not badly harming even a single one of the animals. When we reached the top, where the city guard was bemusedly standing, I convinced them that the blood god wanted to use the animals as a sacrifice, and that not a single one should be killed. So the guards were forced to go and get a bunch of nets, and deal with the angry animals humanely. Which they did - concerned that I might be right about the blood god.
And that was it.
We declared a victory without a single death. After six hours of play, the great boss battle of the game was handled with completely pacifist gloves, and it was glorious - especially since the first part of the adventure had seen our party encroaching dangerously close to evil in some of its decisions regarding the dispatch of helpless enemies. I could see the looks of astonishment and confusion on the faces of many of our players, and our DM. Our DM in particular wasn’t sure what to think of the game, because it so drastically differed from his perspective of how D&D is supposed to be played. And yet the group enjoyed it. We gained enough experience to level up. We got to feel the fulfillment that comes from actually roleplaying our characters. Most importantly, we got to experience the best part of D&D - the freedom of choice. No video game would have allowed us to change the rules and alter the story to such a degree, but our DM did, because that’s how D&D works.
Granted, it would have been too easy for the DM to stymie our pacifist efforts, but he went with our choice, rolled the dice, grimaced as we reduced the encounter to virtual farm labor. And I think the game was considerably better for it. Better than it ever would have been if we’d just encountered another “meat grinder” style battle. Indeed - this was one of the most memorable encounters I’ve ever played in a D&D game, and I can assuredly say that would not have been so if we’d just hacked away at a bunch of nameless NPCs.
I know that this single instance is not enough to convince everyone that combat is not the core focus of D&D, but I hold to my statement. Combat is not the focus of D&D: roleplaying under the banner of freedom of choice is - and, when done right, makes the game take on a life all of its own. Trust me, if you strive for gameplay like this, you’ll never want to go back to standard kick-in-the-door gaming ever again. Leave that to the videogames, where it belongs, and let D&D do what it does best - put you in the shoes of your character, viewing the world through his or her eyes.
Recently I was having a conversation with a friend about the concept of love in American society, and how the modern definition has been shrunk and stripped of so much of its meaning. As most people has presumably heard of the Greek definitions of love (agape, eros, philia, storge), so I won’t go too into the history, but the point I’m aiming for should already be obvious - there is more to the human experience of love than what the mass media monarchs have decreed. I’m interested in discussing the concept specifically of the type of love reserved for friendships, a topic I’ve lately been mulling on, and I believe has stewed enough to be coherent.
Friendships are difficult animals to wrap the mind around. At first glance it seems obvious that most people will form bonds with their fellow human beings. we’re social animals, and we strive to build communities - it’s an in-built aspect of the animal brain that drives us to connect. Traditionally animals survive for longer if they exist within a herd structure, and humans are animals by nature - despite our ability to self analyze.
But striding away from the scientific, the question of actually forming friendships is not one easily grasped - or rather, the concept of love between friends is difficult to grasp. Friendships on a surface level are easier, but hardly qualify as much more than an acquaintance relationship. even here the definition becomes harder to deconstruct, as it seems that people can spend much time together, share most aspects of their lives, and still never realize a level of friendship which goes deeper than shared interests and exists on a level of mutual appreciation and respect.
Recently, in my own life, I’ve discovered a shallow pool of true friends who are not merely willing but actively demanding to enter my life. Certainly this has something to do with my personality and issues with depression and anxiety (subjects I plan on discussing later at length), but there is, i think, quite a bit more to it than that. For it seemed as if many of these friends and I had oodles in common with each other. We enjoyed many of the same films and television series, the same books, similar hobbies; we seemed to reflect similar views about the world, and yet I never felt connected to them on anything more than a superficial level. This came to me as quite the surprise, as I had always assumed that the main source of friendship was shared interests and activities. It made sense to me that if we both enjoyed, say, Star Wars, on roughly the same level, we’d likely have enough in common to maintain a friendship. Perhaps this is just naivete on my part (I’m severely lacking in many friendship-related social graces), but at the very least I’ve noticed similar levels of naivete in many other people, making it a widespread concern.
I realized that what I was lacking from these people was a deep, one might call it “spiritual” connection (though I don’t adore that term). We were lacking love the greek sense; lacking philia. Shared interests and activities are enough to maintain superficial friendships - as the friendships often acquired during highschool-type situations shows - but they are born primarily of proximity and that animal instinct to bond.
Philia however denotes a “mutual respect”; appreciation for the whole of another person. Thinking about this, I started to wonder what it might be that actually helps form that type of bond. Obviously harrowing experiences form a close bond - this is a proven social theory. However that is a relationship forged by an outside pressure, such as soldiers in combat, and does not necessarily need to apply to philia beyond the level of “ mutual trust”. Mutual respect, in a more common sense, seems to denote an understanding and connection deeper and more substantial - especially because it does not require outside pressure to coalesce (note here that my term “outside pressure” is a highly generalized and abstract idea, and could itself be subject to scrutiny within an essay format, but for the sake of my point, I’ll skip right along).
Then it occurred to me that I had already hit upon half the answer. In realizing what philia was not (mere sharing of interests and/or activities), I had gained an understanding of what it was. Philia is built upon the reasons an interest exists.
Everyone experiences life differently - this is the nature of individual consciousness. However, there are always going to be similarities in thought due to the way humans experience the world due to the nature of our innate perceptions. Here we find the basis for everyday human connection. Deeper in however, we have the personality individuals build based off of their lifetime of experiences, and this is where philia maintains its potential home.
I can love Star Wars, but my reasons for loving it will certainly be different than other people’s. My interest was formed based on my first introduction to the films, whether or not I played with the toys as a kid, how my friends and family reacted to my interest, and how that interest was perceived within the social setting of the culture I grew up in - which exerts some influence even if an individual is relatively cloistered. My experiences involving my interest shaped my interest, and formed the reasons why I connected to it in such a way. because of this, I might share an interest in Star Wars, but my interest is going to be based on different experiences than the wide scape of other fans. Philia comes in when people with similar interests and experiences come together, for then you have people who are sharing not the interest, but the underlying cause of the interest.
I think that this is one of the things people find very difficult to wrap their heads around, and is one of the principle reasons many friendships and relationships fail over time. A relationship built on shared interests is weaker than a relationship built on shared experiences. We still however have not reached an understanding of the concept yet though, for if the sharing of experiences - or similar experiences - was enough, than it would invalidate my earlier comment about highschool. More importantly, it wouldn’t be true. Experiences, like interests alone, does not create a bass for true mutual respect. What does? Well, I already mentioned it: shared reasons for an interest.
Experiences shape interests, but there is a step in between that needs to be looked at in more detail. I might love Star Wars because the person who introduced it to me didn’t ask my parents about it, allowing me to feel rebellious. Or maybe it was that I had been exposed to a very limited level of television up until that point, so Star Wars opened my eyes to a type of experience I had no previous knowledge of. As I grew older I formed more opinions about the world; because of experiences I had, I formed opinions about existence. Those opinions created further experiences, and were informed by further experiences, in a continuing cycle from cognitive awakening until death.
What I’m getting at here, slowly I think, is a realization that love between friends is a type of respect based upon mutual recognition of similar opinions. If interests are based on opinions formed by experiences, then a friendship with is focused solely on the interests will be weak, as will a friendship based only upon shared experiences. It is the reason an individual has for a particular interest that matters the most - not the product or the environmental source. What opinions do I have about Star Wars - why as I grew older, did I continue to find value in it. Why did I identify with it? That element is the true location of philia; that is the basis for a strong relationship: not similar beliefs or interests, or even the originating experiences driving those beliefs and interests, but the evolving reasons why those interests or beliefs exist in the first place.
This, I think, is the source of much of my woe involving friendships. Hopefully within this I can begin to alter the way I view friendships, and start aiming for the strong variety as opposed to the weak. Perhaps now I can begin to search for love in friendship. And maybe, after reading this convoluted mess, you can start thinking about your own friendships in a different light as well. Who knows what we’ll find.
So, I finished the preview for my big editing contract with the Pacific Zen Institute today - feeling mightily fulfilled and intrepid right now. It's quite the good little four minute introduction to everything the Blue Cliff is about, and I had way too much fun making it. I'm just happy that the clients were as happy as I!
I really enjoy working on smaller pieces, with music and fun, snappy cuts. Larger projects, like the actual Standing at Blue Cliff are fun in their own way, but lack the immediacy of the smaller pieces. I think that it has something to do with the nature of the piece - in the short video you get to tell a story instantly, and it all comes together with a relatively short amount of time spent on it. It takes longer for larger projects, so you don't get to see the good stuff right away. But finishing this preview has made me really appreciate everything that the larger project is too - because the preview was culled from pieces of the larger project! I can tell now that there is still so much great material left to work with, and I'm coming up with new ideas for how to put it all together.
I guess the point I'm reaching from here is a pretty simple one, but I think its simplicity doesn't at all undermine its relevance. You may not be able to see the forest for the trees, or the cave wall for the darkness, but if you give it time you'll find that the smallest sources of light and goodness are merely the glittering tips of the iceberg. With all art - including the art of living - you just need to keep peeling back the layers until you find the treasure you've been looking for.
I'll let you all know when it's up and available.
I'll assume there will be plenty of fanfare and pie once I become a massively successful poet and author - which should be any day now, now that my first book of poetry has been published! It's available worldwide, in both print and Kindle format, for a reasonable price (the Kindle is free if you buy the paper copy,) and I'm feeling pretty psyched about it.
Now I'm no fool - there is little chance that a chapbook off poetry will make any grand waves, but on my purely personal part, this is a pretty damn big deal. I have brought into being a creation of my own design - and that is exceedingly exciting. With this done I think the Universe might just open up for me a little more - and perhaps my creativity will feel freer to expand. It's no accident that I pushed for a publishing date just before 2014's National Novel Writing Month.
It's occurred to me that finishing things, especially creative things, has always been difficult for me - and for quite a few other people as well. There is a certain anxiety attached to the creation and release of your work - even in this day and age of social networking. It's important to explore that anxiety though, I think, and to constantly remind yourself that you need to do this for you - and that once it's done it doesn't really matter what anyone else thinks, because you have created something that you needed to create, for the health of your own mind and soul.
Anyway, regardless of all that, I would be overjoyed to see my book sell - so if you would like a copy, please purchase it from the Amazon Create Space store: https://www.createspace.com/4996329
You all rock my socks,
One-step closer, it seems, is what I am to publishing my first-ever book of poetry! While I'll admit the nearly certain fact that this achievement will rest in relative obscurity so far as the public eye is concerned, for myself this is a great accomplishment.
Being an artist is like walking up a hill which never ends - Sisyphus incarnate.. And yet, unlike the unhappy Grecian of myth, this task is not an unwanted one - yet still some form of punishment it often seems. A punishment of anonymous limbo -wherein all hopes and dreams must rest.Therefore is it that the publication of my work brings me such personal comfort though - for in this thing I have the proof of my worth in some small way.
In other news:
New photograph in the About section, courtesy of Danielle Finch! I'm pleased to have a stock of professional shots available for use now, and I think it spruces this site up quite nicely.
Public project updates, author information, and the like. For more of Odin's thoughts, follow him on Twitter.