Category Archives: Philosophy

Through The Cracks

A while back, I switched to RSS feed for collating and consuming content from my regular Internet haunts. IN fact, it probably took me longer to do so than it should have. But I will say this: checking individual websites sequentially, sometimes several times throughout the day, is a great way to pass time. And when I was in school or working in a computer lab, I had a ton of time on my hand. These days, not so much. For one, when I was at Costco I couldn’t exactly wander around the sales floor with my face buried in my smartphone. And now that I have a Real Job(tm), I actually have work to do while I’m on the clock.

Using an RSS reader, it’s especially apparent which feeds I’m reading and which ones are piling up. Luckily, I’ve kind of made my peace with that. In fact, I’ve even removed certain feeds from my reader because they’ve lain stagnant for so long. I may not always remember, but I’m trying to get used to the idea that there is no way I’m going to ever read all the content that I might be interested in.

But one place I’ve noticed this to be problematic is with webcomics, especially story-driven ones. Every once in a while a webcomic’s feed will change and I’ll stop receiving updates. Maybe the address changes, maybe the formatting goes all wonky; I don’t know. All I know is that my RSS reader has made it really simple (see what I did there?) to keep track of content, and if for whatever reason it doesn’t show up there, then it very quickly becomes a case of “out of sight, out of mind.”

And I’m kind of okay with that. My free time, for better or for worse, isn’t what it used to be. Maybe that’s part of being an adult: accepting that it’s okay to be a bit more choosy about your interests. Maybe it’s just the first inklings of the dread mortality that stalks us all. And maybe I’m being over-dramatic. But I just thought that was interesting, and since I didn’t have anything else pressing to write about, you get to bear witness to my ramblings.

Axial Philosophies

I have a theory about worldviews. Most of us, when we hear someone referred to as an optimist, we assume they’re one of those super-positive types, with an idealistic outlook that borders on naivete. If someone calls themselves a cynic, however, we assume they’re a world-weary pessimist, always seeing things in a negative light. In short, most people consider optimism to be synonymous with idealism, and pessimism as synonymous with cynicism. I know I’m painting with broad exaggerations right now, but bear with me.

I would argue that these things are not synonymous. Rather, I think that they’re two separate philosophical axes, and are thus not mutually exclusive. Picture if you will a graph plot, like the ones you may have blocked out from high school math due to some freak number-pun incident. This plot would normally have axes labeled as X and Y, or horizontal and vertical, respectively. Now, picture Optimism/Pessimism being one axis, and Idealism/Cynicism being the other. In this situation, you get four different quadrants: Idealistic Optimism, Cynical Optimism, Idealistic Pessimism, and Cynical Pessimism. Each of these worldviews, while related, it each distinct.

Idealistic Optimism is the classic “everything is awesome and the world is a good and just place” worldview we normally associate with optimism. Things will work out for the best in the end, and people are inherently good to each other. If you feel like you’re getting mind-diabetes thinking this way, then I’m sorry; but you are starting to get the gist of what this feels like.

Cynical Pessimists see the world as a cruel place, where the inherent goodness of other people is not a given. This does not have to be a negative cruelty, however. Maybe people are simply looking out for themselves above all others, or the world is simply uncaring and random. Not much is taken as a given, or at face value. This is the antithesis of Idealistic Optimism.

I’ll admit, I’m not sure how to describe Idealistic Pessimism, as the juxtaposition seems especially foreign to me. Maybe “the world is a good place, but it just sucks to be me?” Something like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh? I don’t know. Let’s leave this category as an exercise to the reader; I’m open to suggestions.

The last category, Cynical Optimist, is what I would consider myself. The world may be an uncaring place, but things will work out for the best in the end. While I often tend towards the idealistic side of things, I’ve experienced enough in my life that my sense of idealism is at least cracked, if not quite shattered. Going to grad school and coming out with crushing debt and no luck finding a job in your field can do that to a person. But for better or worse, I still believe that people are inherently good. This can set me up for some… interesting interactions, as for example, when a hypothetical boss turns out to not care about a hypothetical employee’s needs and availability.

Maybe this model is still incomplete. Maybe there needs to be a third axis: Positive/Negative. I’m not sure. But the whole thing is an interesting idea, and one that I’ve been tossing around my head for a while. It might be interesting to try and go further in-depth into the various categories, but now does not seem to be the time.

Thoughts?

Design Is Cool

I have a degree in design, specifically architecture. I don’t think about design very often, not least because it reminds me of my less than ideal work situation. But every once in a while, that part of my brain that was rigorously trained and developed by grad school will kick back on, and I’ll be fascinated by little details in a way that only a design nerd can understand.

One of the things I love about design is that there’s a reason for everything. If you look close enough, or think hard enough, you should be able to figure out why something is the way it is. And I find that comforting. I have a strong need to know why, to be able to articulate the methods and reasons behind something. I always have, even as a little kid. As such, not knowing why (or not being able to know why) can be a little stressful for me. And there’s so much in life that doesn’t make sense, or doesn’t seem to have a logic that can be understood. Emotions, for example. It’s something I’ve written about before.

And yet, despite all the things that don’t make sense in our world, there is also so much that is designed. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that design is so ubiquitous that we can’t help but take it for granted. Think about your favorite game, for example. Every piece of that experience was (hopefully) carefully crafted in order to elicit a specific response. If you’ve tried Giant Boulder of Death, I’m sorry for the death of your free time. But it, and other free-to-play games like it, can be a great example.

A free-to-play game is just that: free to play. But the developers want you to spend money. As such, there are multiple design decisions made to encourage the player to do so. Sometimes they are subtle, other times… not so much. In Giant Boulder of Death, the clearest example I can think of is the pre-roll spin screen. You get a free spin every 10 minutes, or you can spend gems (the games premium currency). Each spin adds upgrades to your run, like filling up the multiplier bar quicker or reducing the number of boulder-killing spikes on the map. If you don’t have a free spin, it takes a second or two for the “Play now” button to show up, while the “use gems to spin” button is there from the start. It’s very hard to ignore the reflex to push the first button you see, but gems are rare (unless you pay real-world cash for a virtual bag of loot).

Anyway, that didn’t go nearly as deep as I thought it would. In summary: design is cool. I find it comforting when I recognize the logic behind something. I wish more stuff was like that.

Crafting A Thought Experiment

It’s my day off, and I don’t feel like thinking about work any more than I have to. So I’m going to write about something I haven’t talked about in a while: Minecraft!

Unsurprisingly, I go through periods where I don’t play Minecraft much, only to stumble across something that makes me want to play it again. This can be problematic, since I have a number of other games/books/projects/chores I’d like to play/read/work on/complete. But whatever. It’s my day off, and my only task today is to not feel guilty about slacking off.

This time, it was this week’s episode of Extra Credits that piqued my interest. In it, they talked about how every once in a while a game will come around, often out of nowhere, and completely alter the course of gaming culture and history. This is often observable through the number of clones that crop up after a game’s success (Mario, Doom, GTA, etc.). But interestingly enough that doesn’t seem to be happening as much with Minecraft. But what it is doing is sowing the seeds of gaming in the younger generation, and those seeds may be very different than what has blossomed so far.

I touched on a similar issue last year. Gamers of my generation are ones that grew up on reflex-based games. Mario games, for all their colorful graphics and cute sound effects, often required pixel-perfect accuracy. It’s the reason so many people can probably play World 1-1 of Super Mario Bros. with their eyes closed, why “Nintendo Hard” is a thing. And as we’ve aged and moved into the industry, this background influences what kind of games we continue to play and make. Extra Credits mentioned that this may inform some of the popularity of the first-person shooter genre, and I have to agree with them.

Minecraft, by contrast, is a much more methodical experience. It takes time to accomplish things, and instant gratification most definitely isn’t the name of the game. What will happen as people who were exposed to gaming in this format begin to express themselves creatively? Will it make gaming more open for those who didn’t develop their fast-twitch hand-eye coordination as children? It made me think of my girlfriend and people like her, who didn’t start gaming until later in life. I have to wonder if a less reflex-based entry to gaming might look less intimidating.

It’s really is an interesting question: what will gaming look like when targeted (and created by) at a generation that grew up with a less reflex-based background? I know I’m definitely of the “reflex” generation, but even I occasionally feel like playing something more relaxing. I for one would not decry the wider variety of gaming experiences this would afford.

Now, if I can just avoid getting sucked into TV Tropes long enough to scratch that Minecraft itch…

Black vs. White

Hopefully, yesterday I managed to communicate some of what’s going through my head in regards to knighthood and the SCA. It’s a complicated ball of thoughts, one which for some reason I reflexively shy away from looking at too closely. After all, one could (and I’m not saying I do) take the uncharitable view that knighthood is “just” a fighting award, reserved for those combatants who achieve a certain level of prowess. After all, isn’t that kind of what a black belt in martial arts is? This train of thought then begs a question:

Why don’t I get hung up about black belts?

After all, that’s another rank that is often idolized in popular culture. For better or worse, being a black belt carries an aura of mystique with it, as if at any moment the black belt could, with the twitch of a finger, flip out and kill everyone. So why don’t I get all flustered at the thought of being a black belt?

Maybe it’s because I am a black belt, and became one at such a young age. I first achieved the rank when I was 11, and was a 3rd degree black belt by the time I stopped practicing Taekwondo. In other words, I’ve been a black belt for most of my life. Now if you want to discuss whether or not a child of that age can “truly understand what it means to be a black belt,” I’ll grant you that that is an important discussion. And while I’m not sure where I fall on that issue (I’d like to think I grew into the position), that’s not the conversation I want to have right now. What interests me now is the differences I perceive between being a black belt and being a knight.

Intellectually, I’m not sure there’s much of a difference. Both ranks can be seen as a level of mastery, or at least mastery of the basics. But culturally, I’ve come to view them as different. Perhaps it’s their position in the rank structure. I came from a fairly westernized martial arts background. My dad’s instructor was Korean, but our school had a fairly typical ranks structure. You started out as a white belt, and then every few months tested for the next rank until you were ready to test for your black belt. As such, you could easily measure your progress. Orange belt? Then you’re just about done with the first tier. Blue? You’re about halfway. Red? Best start preparing hard for that black belt test in your near future.

The SCA, on the other hand, doesn’t have that rigorous structure. You fight, you get better. You play the game, you progress. Eventually, someone notices you and decides you’re ready. You get offered knighthood. At least, that’s what the process looks like while you’re in it. As such, it’s hard to know exactly where you are on the path, which for me means that path can look long right up until the moment it isn’t. Without any clear-cut goals or markers, it lends a certain amount of mystery to the final achievement.

Maybe this is intentional; I don’t know. Much like I don’t know why being a black belt and knighthood hold such different places in my mind. But they do, and maybe this difference is part of the reason. Maybe I just got exposed to being a black belt early enough, I didn’t have time to see it as a Big Thing™. Either way, thinking and writing about it like this does seem to be helping. If nothing else, it helps me clear my mind enough that I (hopefully) won’t be brooding too obviously while at work.

Knight Musings

I’ve been thinking on the nature of knighthood in the SCA a lot recently. Not only along the lines of “What does it take to be a knight?” but also “What does it mean to be a knight?” What experiences I do have of knighthood are from the outside (obviously), and while I’m sure there are many people out there who would be happy to talk with me on the subject, I am at this moment limited to the echo chamber of my own thoughts, as well as the small amount that makes it out and onto this page.

My understanding of knighthood has changed during my time in the SCA, as is inevitable. When I first started playing, I looked to them as masters and instructors, much like the black belts from my days with eastern martial arts. They were the gurus, the keepers of knowledge and experience. And in a way, they represented a goal to be achieved: one day you, too, may achieve this. One day you too may be a knight.

But what I didn’t realize at the time is I was only seeing the end result of a long journey that took place before my time. That these people weren’t always knights; they became them (or were recognized as such, but that’s a different discussion). First impressions are a big thing, after all. If you meet someone who is a knight (or black belt), it can be hard to think of them as anything else, even if they just received the accolade/achieved that rank a little bit before your time.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that for a long time, when I saw the white belt of knighthood I didn’t necessarily see the time and effort it took to get there. I only saw the master, not the master of the basics.

And I still do, to a certain extent. But I’ve been forced to reevaluate my mental shorthand, if for no other reason than I’ve seen people get knighted, often people who started fighting around the same time (or even after) I did. Some of them even my friends. I knew these people before they got knighted, and familiarity can go a long way to breaking the spell of idolization (not to take anything away from my friends that have been knighted). It can be hard to think of someone as a symbol when you already know them as a person, after all.

And yet, for all the humanizing of the position that seeing friends knighted has forced me to do, I can’t quite make the connection that this is a thing that could happen to me. On some level, I still see knighthood as something off in the future. Something I would love to attain, and will hopefully do so when the time is right. Not as an… I don’t know. A goal? Something I might be close to achieving?

See, even writing about this is hard for me. Even though I’ve been ostensibly working towards this goal, I still can’t see myself as a knight. Not yet. I know I have so much more to learn, and what I have learned has just reiterated that time and again. After all, if I have so much left to learn, why do I get the feeling I’m on someone’s radar?

I probably need to talk to someone about this; spending all this time in my mental echo chamber isn’t doing me much good.

Crossroads Recap

So Crossroads was this past weekend, and I ended up having a really good time. Having a full weekend off work was a nice change of pace; I even managed to sleep in! Sure, it was only until 7am or so, but it’s all relative. And even if we didn’t end up staying on site, it was fun to hang out with my friends.

I even ended up fighting this weekend. I was slightly surprised, given how exhausted I was going into things. But oddly enough, it was my knight saying I didn’t have to that gave me the energy to gear up and hit my friends with sticks. It’s as if I was able to remember that fighting was something I wanted to do, once I was reminded that it wasn’t something I needed to do.

And as often happens, I’m glad I did fight, because I ended up fighting really well. There was one tournament each day for Heavy and Fencing, and I fought in them all. Saturday I ended up making it to more or less the quarterfinals in each, and Sunday I made it to the semifinals in both. Sometimes you have off days, and sometimes everything just clicks; this weekend was one of the latter, and I haven’t had one of those in a while. I don’t like to brag about myself (and I’m not just using that as some sort of false modesty excuse), but I felt pretty good.

I also got several compliments on my fighting, from several knights I highly respect. Which was great; it was quite encouraging. But it also is kind of intimidating. It means people are noticing me. That I’m no longer just some faceless drone in the fighting ranks. That I might actually be good at this fighting thing.

It made me thing about what I talked about a month ago, on the nature of “mastery” versus “mastery of the basics.” Since I joined the SCA, I’ve dreamed of being a knight. It’s why I started heavy fighting, and although my interests have branched out, it’s still a goal I hold. This weekend, for better or worse, made me realize that (and this is a weird thought) I might be closer to knighthood than I thought.

Maybe that’s just the ego boost from placing well in some tournaments talking. But on the other hand, maybe it’s something I really do have to consider. I’ve often said I’m too nice for my own good. Part of that may be excess humility, a blindness to my own achievements. In fact, you can probably see it in my writing right now: notice how I keep on throwing out qualifiers, coming up with other explanations? It’s an interesting reflex, and one that feels weird to be working through in semi-public on a blog. But writing seems to be the easiest way for me to do so: it gets my ideas out of my head, into the open where they can no longer clog up my musings. It also lets me document my progress, so I can tell whether or not I’m just re-treading worn paths or if I’m actually moving forward.

And really, I’ve been fighting for about ten years. Even in the unstructured training environment that is the SCA, that much time has to get you somewhere, right?

This will require more pondering.

Working Hard, Or…?

I like to think that I have a good work ethic. I take pride in the quality of work that I do, and even if I do procrastinate more than I feel I should, when I get around to doing something (that’s a different topic, however) I generally do a good job. But is “doing good work” enough? Or could I be doing more?

Take my current job, for example. Most days, I get up early and go stock shelves and move product around for a retail store. It can be hard work, and one has to have a very good idea of what can be accomplished before the store opens. I’ve gotten into a routine: clock in, make a drop list, stock product, take out trash, sweep, clock out. It’s nice to have some sort of visible progress as a result of your work, even if that’s a well-stocked shelf or pallet that lasts only as long as it takes for customers to get their grubby little hands all over everything.

But of course, my overachieving and perfectionistic aspects won’t leave well enough alone. What do I mean? Well, I tend to be fairly methodical in my work. I work hard, but not too hard. In fact, I know I could probably get more accomplished if I was willing to run around like a chicken with it’s head cut off. If I gave 110% all the time, I’d have no issue stocking an entire third of the store by myself and moving multiple aisles and getting displays built and whatever else my employers need done.

And I’d be a quivering wreck.

You see, the funny thing about “giving 110%” is that it actually is possible to do so, whatever that pesky thing called math may say. But in order to do so, you need to borrow some of that effort and energy from the future. So if you give 110% on Monday, you’ll only have 90% on Tuesday. If you need to give 110% on Tuesday, you’ll be left with 80% on Wednesday. And so on, until you only have 50% left for Friday. Oh, and keep in mind that whatever personal projects you may want to work on also get debited to the same account. Need I continue?

So I find myself in the interesting place of not giving my job all I can give. This completely contradicts what I was taught to do, both growing up and in martial arts, but it’s the only way I can see to keep any semblance of sanity while working retail. Heck, while working any kind of job! Does that make me a slacker? Maybe. But it also means that I can try and spare some energy to be happy, to find fulfillment in my friends and hobbies.

Of course, being who I am, I still feel guilty about not “giving my all.” But as far as I can tell, I’m the only one that is able to tell. Maybe it’s the general level of caring and investment you find in retail employees, but my supervisors and managers don’t seem to notice. Could I probably “wreck the curve,” as it were, if I threw myself fully into my temporary retail job? Probably. But see the aforementioned comment re: quivering wreck.

And I don’t want to give this job my all, not really. It’s just a small fragment of my psyche that insists it wants to. And like so many other things in this head of mine, it’s really hard to ignore a voice when it sounds like your own. Talking about it helps, as does writing. It’s a way of cataloging, of picking up that fragment with a set of tweezers and putting it under the microscope. And maybe by better understanding why, or at least saying I’m okay with being a slacker, it will become as true as I want it to be.

Is There A Downside To Too Much Self-Acceptance?

One of the things I’ve been working on lately is trying to feel better about myself. I spend a lot of time worrying about whether or not I’m accomplishing enough or being productive enough or sleeping enough or what have you. And rather than feeling bad about that, I’ve been trying to come to terms that I am what I am, warts and all. However, I can’t seem to silence that last niggling voice that questions whether or not this is a good thing in the long run.

For the longest time, I was taught that the way you became happy was to set goals and achieve them. Which is great, as long as you have a realistic understanding of your abilities and limitations. Because I was something of an overachiever as a kid, and coupled with my propensity for perfectionism, reinforced the whole “You can do ANYTHING!” mindset that Generation Y was so marinated in. I couldn’t just do something, I had to do everything. I couldn’t just do something well, I had to do it better than anyone else anywhere ever. Anything short of perfection and global accomplishment was a failure.

Needless to say this isn’t exactly the most healthy worldview, and I’m working on rejecting it. It’s tough, though; cultural programming runs deep, and often works in ways we’ve become selectively blinded towards. I’m trying to take a step back, re-frame things not in terms of targets I’ve missed or places I “should” be, but in terms of what I have accomplished, where I am now. The former approach hasn’t given me much more than grief and anxiety (perfection is impossible, after all), so maybe this new one will let me be happier?

And yet…

And yet I can’t help but feel that on some level I’m not “living up to my potential.” That I’ve chosen to settle for a less than ideal situation (read: reality) rather than daring to dream. That I’m pissing away opportunities by sitting around playing video games on my days off.

It’s not that I think this voice is rational. It’s just that I can’t seem to shut it up. And it’s got me wondering if there’s some merit to the idea. Is it easier to change one’s physical habits or mental habits? Is trying to change the way you feel about something a valid approach, or is it just another way of avoiding the problem?

Needless to say, I don’t know. I sense that one approach is probably better than the other in the long term, but I’m not sure which one that is. I suppose that I could look at what “setting unrealistic goals” has gotten me so far to help me make my decision: occasional anxiety and low-grade depression. Not a great result, I agree. Maybe self-acceptance will net better results? Do I have to decide whether I want to be productive or happy? Can I even become the latter through pursuit of the former? Am I going slightly mad?

Thus concludes this entry of “thoughts I had while in the shower that I couldn’t quite form correctly once I toweled off.”

Where Do I Begin?

Social media is a funny thing. Facebook feeds and Tumblr dashboards are like an endless supply of channels to surf; there’s always new entertainment, and it’s an easy way to pass huge chunks of time. But this ease of entertainment access can come at a price.

I don’t know about you, but once I start keeping up with something, I feel compelled to keep on keeping up with things. I start to worry about missing some ever-so-slight quantum of information. True, most of it is forgettable filler that won’t be remembered for more than a few seconds, but the compulsion is surprisingly strong. I’ve wasted entire days catching up on my feeds. I’ve gotten annoyed when a browser crash makes me lose my spot in an infinitely-scrolling cornucopia of information. I’ve become, in essence, trapped by my obligation to READ ALL THE THINGS.

But an interesting thing happened to me recently. One that may have made this compulsion work for me rather than against me.

Last week, as I was trying to get several projects finished before the weekend, I found myself spending less and less time at my computer. It so happened that after a while of this I had gone an entire day without checking Facebook or Tumblr. And while this isn’t that notable in and of itself, what happened next was really intriguing: I began to feel guilty about missing out on my feed.

More specifically, I started to feel that so much time had passed that I wouldn’t be able to catch up on my feeds before they overwhelmed me again. As a result, I did what has worked so well for me in the past when it comes to issues like postponed responses: I ignored it. I ended up not checking Facebook or Tumblr for days, just because I was worried about the futility of catching back up.

Luckily I’ve since had something of an epiphany: I don’t necessarily need to be caught up on anything. Just because something is there doesn’t mean I’m obligated to read it. In fact, it’s likely downright impossible (and I don’t like using that word as a general rule) to read/watch/play all the books/movies/games in the world. It just can’t be done. So why should I worry that I missed an infinitesimal part of humanity’s greater cultural output? In other words: if I’m inevitably going to fail in the long run, why worry about it?

With that in mind, I dipped my toes back into Facebook. And I successfully controlled myself, scrolling for a few minutes rather than the hours (days) it would have taken me to “catch back up.” I just created a new starting point for myself. I haven’t been back to Tumblr yet, but hopefully I can achieve similar results. The Skinner Box that is social media can be broken, without throwing it away completely.