Thursday, 22 September 2016

The Paladin's Dilemma

For lack of any other fodder for blogging, I'd like to respond at length to an inquiry made post-session by the player in control of the party's Sami pagan priest of lightning. He asked if his having revealed the source of his power, particularly in calling down lightning to incinerate a bear, wouldn't place any strain on relations with those members of the party whose powers come from the Christian God. My short answer was that that would be a dilemma for them to ponder. My slightly longer answer is to give them some fodder for pondering in this connection.
The party's paladin, who happens also to be female, is played by a male, who also happens to be an athiest. It's a challenge of a rather high to the imagination to put oneself in the character of such an opposite. It's not prohibitively difficult to put oneself into a character very unlike oneself, of course; I generally relish playing an ESTP, and I think I do it quite well, despite actually being an INTJ. I think, however, that if I had convincing and incontrovertible evidence for the existence of any deity, my view of the world would be radically different. It would be all the more so if I had a female body and brain whose thoughts were at least to some degree influenced by a greater presence of female hormones and other biochemical differences. Personally, I don't believe I could conceive of the resulting worldview sufficiently to pour myself into the portrayal of such a character.
It has to be done, however, in order to formulate the appropriate response to the presence of a heretic within the paladin's close acquaintance. The heathen exposed himself as a heathen in the process of squashing a threat to the lives of everyone in the party. The paladin will have to find her own answer as to whether she should continue to associate with the pagan lightning-worshipper, or perhaps flee from him and beg the Lord's forgiveness for having ever associated with him at all. Is keeping company with the likes of him actually contrary to the will of God, or merely contrary to the manner in which the majority interpret that will? Can a heretic be a temporary ally in the battle against evil, leaving the final judgement to the Lord Himself? Or is it a Christian's duty to turn the Sami pagan away from his heathen ways, even if it means losing a great source of power? These are questions with which the paladin will have to grapple. It's hardly as clear an issue as, say, breaking any of the Ten Commandments. If she cannot find the correct answer--or worse, if she willfully avoids contemplating the question--the Lord's will is likely to present itself, eventually, in ways she won't like at all.
One of the most powerful tools at the paladin's disposal is that bit of woowoo called detect evil. Up to now, it has been interpreted as a kind of 'detection of malicious intent', but this is an oversimplification. It also involves a sensitivity to auras that exude malevolence regardless of any specific intention. Thus, when our paladin encountered a demon in the last session, her powers of detection hit the proverbial jackpot. Demons are by definition evil. Registering the demon as malevolent, in this case, had no connection whatever to any desire to harm the party. As it happened, she had no such desire. This, however, does not necessarily mean she would have had any compunctions about destroying the party if it served her purposes--or, indeed, on a whim for reasons that would have seemed to the party absolutely arbitrary.
It should be evident at once that demons have a very different code of ethics from that of humans. That they inhabit a very different reality was merely touched by an exchange this demon had with the lightning priest. He asked if she was going to find a portal to get back to her own dimension. She answered, 'You're picturing something like a door or a window. But it isn't like that. It isn't like anything you know.'
The demon was a supernatural entity acting from her own innate nature, which registers as something closer to pure evil than anything the paladin had ever encountered before. What would her detection and interpretation be of a mere human who chooses to turn his back on the Lord and has in plain view flouted five of the Ten Commandments himself thus far?

Friday, 2 September 2016

What a Man's Got to Do

Today I’m going to round out the last two posts on fantasy-reality mismatch and maturity with a short diatribe on responsibility and manhood. I do this in the hope that this weekend’s session will inspire me to hold forth on a completely unrelated topic next time.
By this I mean, in part, that everyone will show up.
Somewhere on The Art of Manliness I came across a reminder of traditional personal responsibility that seems to have fallen by the wayside. I believe it was already on the wane when I was growing up, because there were always certain people who failed to show up when they said they would, or who would arrive egregiously last with barely an apology. I can’t find the post at the moment, but Brett McKay states that when you tell someone you’ll be somewhere at a certain time, you have in effect made a promise to that person, and when you show up fifteen minutes late you have broken that promise. I had suspected this to be true from a young age, but I also perceived that it was a rare trait to uphold despite its truth value. The situation was exacerbated when I moved from New York to California, where the constant sunshine, or something in the water, seemed to give everyone a subjective view of time. Besides drivers who forgot to use turn signals when they should have and forgot to turn them off on the rare cases they did use them, and the expectation of every customer service drone to engage in protracted and obnoxiously friendly small-talk before any ordering could take place, it was the thing that irked me most about living in California.

Punctuality and other promises were all the more important when the community relied on every man to uphold its standards. This is not so much the case now, when humans, even those who consider each other nominal friends, don’t appear able to contribute anything of value to one’s life that can’t be gained through the Internet or spending some disposable income for something produced in a factory—and besides, social norms have relaxed to such an extent that we don’t hold it against people when they dispense with punctuality, or with keeping any other sort of promise. We just accept that that’s the way they are.
Incidentally, Brett McKay also has a list of 100 skills every man should know. I’m a bit upset that there are 24 things on this list that I can’t do. That may be one way of saying I’m only 76% of a man.
Testosterone, in fact, has been on the decline for decades. There are numerous environmental and lifestyle factors said to be at blame for this, including increasingly sedentary lifestyles and the ubiquitousness of chemicals that mimic estrogen in the environment. Whatever the cause, if you’re reading this, chances are you’re less of a man than your father was at your age, and he in turn was a less a man than your grandfather. The causes are subject to interpretation, depending on your political bent and which conspiracy theory you prefer, but about the existence of the phenomenon there is little speculation.
It cannot be denied that the invention of electric lighting has changed the way we interact with solar cycles. Before Edison, it was still fairly common to go to bed when it was dark. Nowadays we turn on the lights and stay up later. The effects of sleep deprivation are well researched. If you use an alarm clock to wake up, you are sleep-deprived.
Further, some evidence suggests that this constant manipulation of the cycle of day and night has interfered with our physiological responses to the changes of the seasons. When living in tune with lengths of daylight that wax and wane slowly throughout the year, our bodies may be more aligned with the seasonal availability of food and our ability to store it. In pre-industrial societies, when life was dependent on the harvest, people tended to eat more during the bounty of summer and early autumn and less in other seasons. The body stored fat during these times of longer daylight so that it could live on excess stored fat during times of shorter daylight when food was scarcer. With the advent of universal electric lighting, we may be tricking our bodies into acting as if it were summer all year round—constantly consuming excess food, and developing metabolic syndrome and all sorts of health problems related to excess fat storage. This in tandem with lifestyles in which many of us spend long hours in front of computers, barely moving throughout the day, with little chance to burn off the fat. The excess fat also provides more storage for fat-soluble xenoestrogens.
Extended use of computers, and other screen-based technology, probably exacerbates the problem of low testosterone. I haven’t seen any research on the subject, but my hunch is that these things are driving our T-levels through the floor, even if there turns out to be no other reason than a reduction of physical activity. (And no, the Wii and Pokemon Go don’t adequately substitute carrying mortar all day, stalking big game through the woods, or defending your life with a sword.)
Granted, the Internet offers tremendous advantages in the sharing of information and opportunities to educate ourselves. There is a great deal on it that it immensely beneficial. There is also a great deal that is violent, pornographic, and just simply useless, draining both our time and our manhood as it smothers our resources both for self-reliance and interpersonal communication, as we swim in an information sea of diminished expectations and vicarious pleasures.
(On the subject of pornography, incidentally, society seems to just now be waking up to its potential for addiction. One would think, or at least I would, that this should have been obvious: Billions of dollars in R&D had been poured into deliberately making television addictive before the Internet was even a thing. That adding orgasms and unlimited personal choice would lead to compulsion should be a no-brainer. Now we’ve got an epidemic of young men who can’t achieve erections with physical partners because their neural pathways are attuned to pixels.)
At one time, and in fact until very recently, life was tough and sexual outlets were rare. Adversity and the necessity of delaying gratification made us who we were. The reverse of these factors makes us what we are today. And what we are, in the WEIRD demographic, is an increasingly meaty, complacent, dependent, and physically weak population of low fecundity and declining birthrates.
It’s easy to object, especially living as we do in Japan, that the increasing feminization of society also makes it safer. To say so is to forget that a man is supposed to be dangerous—that the very essence of masculinity is to protect women and children, and that a man is a man to the extent that he can do this. The expression of this ability is complicated by the intricacies of industrial society, but the essential definition of manhood is unchanged. A man who cannot do this at all is simply not much of a man. We may have to tolerate a bit of danger in society in exchange for the agressive impulse that goes along with it—one that helped push history's great heroes, explorers, and inventors to accomplish all the boons to civilisation which we now enjoy.
Now get out there and practise those manly skills.