This page is where new posts from Mr. Jument will appear. To see updates by Mr. Reynard, go to the Fox Says...
portion of the site. To learn more about Mr. Jument, see his bio on the About the Authors
Hello again, dear reader. It's good to be back. It's been a while since our last update. There's a few things I could blame for that, but that's not what you're here for.
For today, we discuss roleplaying.
Tabletop RPGs have been a huge part of my recreational life since the beginning of high school. And I owe some thanks to Mr. Reynard for introducing me to them. I got started on D&D v3.5
, dabbled in PDQ
, spent a few years on D&D v4
before realizing I was bored with it, and occasionally write my own roleplaying games or systems to utilize for small campaigns or stories. Each of these systems has its merits, and while I prefer some over others, I'm not here to argue about them. I want to focus more on some of my recent experiences, because my concept of how I like to run and play RPGs has changed quite a bit since I started.
When I started playing, it was all about being someone entirely different from myself. I remember crafting some of my first characters after Legolas (because Legolas is awesome). But that gets boring after a while, and I started to realize that the game had so much more potential than copying something out of a book or movie.
So I got really interested in my characters' personalities. To me, half of an RPG is about crafting and becoming a personality to fit your character. What does Tormal the lawful-good cleric do when he finds out a party member stole something? How did Pook the gnome bard get started on his journey? How does Lurg, the half-orc with -3 charisma, interact with other people? These are interesting questions worth asking and answering.
One of my most enjoyable characters to this day was a gay wizard who called himself Quevlin the Queer. Sure, it may have been silly, but to become that character, to think as Quevlin would, was a challenge, a fun and hilarious challenge, that only got more ridiculous when he stumbled upon a magical wristwatch of gender change.
But to my chagrin, by this time I was playing fourth edition almost exclusively because, let's face it, it's a really cool system. Yet it doesn't care about character anywhere near as much as 3.5 did, and its initial novelty had faded for me. So I wanted to try something different.
So I rounded up a bunch of people I hadn't played with before, most of them being new to the game, and started to run my own campaign, this time going back to 3.5.
Let me explain something before I continue further. I am terrible at improvisation. My brain just doesn't work that way. I had tried to run a campaign before, and it was a terrible dungeon crawl that I designed myself that had a bland NPC, an unsatisfactory ending, and was altogether too easy.
So when I decided I would run another campaign, I knew I would have to rely on pre-made adventures. Which, thanks to this site
, was not difficult to do. And the result was pretty good success. It was easy for me to run a session, since I didn't have to put together an entire dungeon in a week, but there was still plenty of room to add my own flourish in, from a world map to link all the locations together, to a few new towns and NPCs for the players to encounter.
But I realized quickly that the game wouldn't be quite as fun if there wasn't some sort of over-arching story to go along with it. So that's when I turned to the players for some help.
I am extremely grateful to have the players that I do. Almost all of them are either entirely new to roleplaying, or have minimal experience in the current system, and the speed and degree to which they've picked it up and run with it is fantastic. I told them at the start that any backstory they want to generate for their character would be awesome and I would try my best to integrate it into the campaign, despite running a series of pre-mades. And so almost right away, I got a couple paragraphs from the party rogue that are just so interesting that I had to use somehow. And, luckily, I come across a pre-made from that list that fits so well with the backstory that I realize that this is going to become my overall storyline. Just a little bit of tweaking required. I haven't really introduced the characters to it yet, but I'm excited for when I do.
You may be wondering, though, why I decided to start them on 3.5 (it is, admittedly, a difficult system to learn). One reason is for the free pre-mades. But more importantly, I feel as if the system is a good starting point to other roleplaying systems; it's got a lot of numbers involved, but there's also room for creativity and, well, roleplay. Unlike fourth edition, which is entirely too combat-centric with so many options that it tends to quash critical thinking, 3.5 allows players to think creatively about combat situations and try to develop solutions such that they aren't just doing the same thing over and over again.
And boy, have my players gotten good at that. (Thinking creatively, that is.)
It's actually a little bit frustrating. As the DM, I want to see the players succeed, but when I throw them up against an encounter that's above their level, I want them to hurt a little bit before that happens (because let's face it, every DM is a little bit sadistic). So I can't help but feel a little annoyed when the rogue (curse those rogues) pulls out a pound of cinnamon and hurls it right into the face of the powerful orc mage, subduing him while the barbarian charges in and decapitates him in one fell swoop.
Needless to say, there aren't really rules for that. But it keeps me on my toes, which is fun for me, and I certainly encourage it, because it means the players are thinking.
When this sort of thing happens, I feel the sort of pride one feels when he watches his children grow up. Having had no children, I actually don't know what that feels like, but I assume this to be about the same. It's rewarding to run a successful game, because when your players are enjoying themselves, then you will too by default. And one of the most beneficial factors in creating this environment is the platform through which I'm running the sessions. Roll 20
is a fantastic platform that I highly recommend for all kinds of online roleplaying sessions. It's got a low learning curve, but can do a great variety of things. But perhaps the most useful feature came in a recent update; I can now write macros for common actions taken by my players. So when they use their weapon, or make a search check, or cast a spell, all they have to do is click a button and the math is done for them. No more constantly looking up page numbers or checking bonuses; they don't have to worry about that anymore. Which opens up a lot of time for them to get into more of the roleplaying side of combat, to describe their actions in more detail, and make combat flow more freely.
But I'm getting a little bit sidetracked. I was originally talking about character.
Having gotten this experience down, I wanted to try to get even more character and story out of a single roleplaying session with some of my more experienced friends. But I think I took it a little too far.
Over break, I wrote what turned out to be a couple hour long 'storytelling session,' as I called it, and ran it with my friends at a 24-hour roleplaying party (one of the best kinds of parties there is). I call it a storytelling session because there was absolutely no dice rolling; everybody got a character, I described the setting, and they just took it from there. I really didn't have much to do after starting it except keep things on track and monitor private conversations. To be honest, I was just enjoying knowing all the secrets and watching the story unfold.
The story was a whodunnit, a murder mystery set on a blizzard-y night at a Christmas party, where the police wouldn't be able to show up and the guests were on their own. I wrote every character such that they could be a suspect, like any good murder mystery, and everybody had secrets they wanted to keep for whatever reason.
I've learned through writing and roleplaying that sometimes the best way to create a character is to give him a secret. Because then, suddenly that character has depth and motivation, and you can predict how he might act in a whole bunch of different situations.
And so when I wrote this murder mystery, I gave all but two of the characters (who ended up not being used anyway from lack of players) secrets to keep, because I thought it would be fun. But when it came time for the story to unfold, I noticed that it wasn't moving as interestingly as I hoped it might. And I quickly realized that this was because of all the secrets.
Since everybody had a secret, nobody was really willing to talk to each other, except the murderer, who was fairly vocal and thus somehow became one of the most trusted people in the group (that might also be because he was a retired cop, but I think communication was a big part of it). But the murderer wasn't going to go about trying to solve the case, after all, so the game sort of stagnated.
Maybe I would have done well to include a second trained investigator type character. But I kind of wanted to avoid that trope when I wrote the story. In any case, I was eventually, for the sake of coming to a resolution, forced to bring in an unplanned detective character who pretty much just laid bare all the secrets un-dramatically (a sort of disappointment to me from my viewpoint of watching the story unfold, yet somewhat amusing from my viewpoint of watching a new character be created) and the murderer was found after a few hints and some further argument among the players.
My point is, telling a story through roleplaying is tricky. Whether you're dealing with players who really like to create and become their character, or new players who aren't yet in that mindset, a storyline can be quickly derailed by just a single player acting contrary to the expectations of the GM. It's a phenomenon that I've experienced many times now, and I'm not entirely sure there's a good way around it. Running a roleplaying game is very different from writing a story, as I'm beginning to realize, because you have very little control over your characters. So if you're going to create characters for your game, you can't do it as if you were writing a story, because things are not going to turn out the way you expect.
But that doesn't mean roleplaying isn't a good exercise in storytelling, it's just very different from the traditional methods. It's collaborative, it's improvisational, and it can at times be extremely random. And it's a heck of a lot of fun.
I do plan to try a storytelling session again at some point in the future, when I come up with a new idea. And even though the last one was a success (at least, that's what the players told me), I expect it to be even better. Because I'm constantly learning what does and doesn't work in a roleplaying game, and how to craft characters to enhance the story without derailing it. It's a delicate balance, especially when you've got friends as insane as mine.
Well, that was certainly a cathartic 2000 words. I hope I didn't ramble on too badly. I've scheduled myself into a rather writing-heavy semester of school, so I wager you can expect to see some more regular updates as I use this blog to unwind from all the formality of lab reports. Either that or I'll go disappear again. I hope it's the former.
I like that title so much, I might turn this into a series, if I get enough ideas.
My brain has been on overdrive today. It doesn't happen very often, but I really do enjoy when it does. Because when I'm in a thinking mood, I'll almost always take a look at an issue and see an entirely different side of it that most people don't notice, or else choose to ignore for whatever reason. And it's important for me to share these thoughts, because you can't make good choices about anything if you can't see all the sides of the issue. Or, if nothing else, I want to make you think, because I find people aren't doing enough of that anymore.
Anyway, in the three hours I've been awake today, I've come across not one, but two of these issues. So here goes.
Issue 1: Economic Growth
It seems to me that every time the economy is mentioned in the news, it's just another story about how we're all just waiting around for it to start growing again. We're waiting for more jobs, more opportunity, and better living conditions. But what if the economy isn't going to get better? What if this is as good as it's going to get? Any scientist or engineer will tell you that everything has a limit. Nothing can continue to grow forever; to believe so is to remain entirely ignorant of the most basic laws of conservation. So why should we expect the economy to continue growing?
That said, I don't know much about economics, and if there's anyone out there who wants to enlighten me on any flaws in my reasoning, I graciously welcome you to do so. And I really hope I am wrong. Because the implications of my being right are far too terrible for me to want to think about any longer. But that doesn't mean we should be ignoring the issue.
Even if we haven't hit the limit yet, one day we probably will. The population is going to become too large to sustain, or we'll run out of natural resources, and Earth is not going to be a fun place to live. And that day is very likely to come in the next few centuries, if not sooner. So why aren't we talking about what's going to happen then? Why aren't we thinking of ways to alleviate the population of Earth, to reach out to the stars and find new homes and new places to live? Sure, it seems crazy now, but just two thousand years ago, they used to think the heavens were made of ether and the planets were gods. Our knowledge of science and technology today pales in comparison to what we'll know a hundred years, maybe even ten years in the future. It's about time we started looking to the future with that expectation of further understanding, because our narrow-minded point of view today only serves to slow progress.
Meh, I guess I got a bit off track there at the end. No matter. My point still stands.
Issue 2: Marriage Equality
Why are we spending so much time trying to shelter our kids from the “horrors,” “dangers,” and “immorality” of same-sex marriage, for reasons of “preserving the institution” when the reality is that the institution of marriage as we know it is going to change drastically, or perhaps even disappear within the next few decades?
Don't believe me? Well, believe the statistics
: in a matter of years, unmarried adults will become a majority. As I see it, there's not really a single contributing factor to this, but rather a combination of many. Women are more independent now than ever before. They can get jobs, support themselves, and don't have to be dependent on a man in order to make a living. In fact, I believe that if you polled the average young woman, you would find that an increasing number of them are more concerned with starting their careers than starting a family. And this is pretty clear in the rising age of newlyweds. Combine this with the current economic status, and women are even more encouraged to find a way to get a steady job and support themselves. And if you add in alongside the expectation, embedded deep into the minds of both genders from a young age by movies and books alike, that somewhere out there is the 'right' person for them, and that the primary goal in starting a family is to get married, it's pretty obvious why the divorce rate is so high. When was the last time you saw an animated movie in which the princess realizes she doesn't love the prince anymore? Changes in romantic feelings are a natural part of human psychology, but we don't treat them that way.
My point is, same-sex marriage isn't destroying the institution of marriage. American culture is. Because a country in which women can't be forced into compliance for economic or social reasons is a country in which marriage is entirely dependent on emotion. And emotion is a tricky thing. So maybe we should stop thinking of marriage as an expectation and instead as an option, for two people who love each other. Because the people who marry out of love are the ones who are upholding the institution of marriage. Regardless of who they are.
Between mountains of homework, an exam last night (which I'm pretty sure I did really well on), and a rediscovery of the entertainment value of doing the daily crossword puzzle, I've been putting off this post for days now. It's not going to be a difficult one to write, but it may come out more rushed than I'd like, since I'm trying to grind it out in the few hours I have between classes and before the marathon of Firefly tonight, because writing while watching good television is ever so difficult.
This is a topic I thought of months ago, actually, and originally planned to do it individually, then got busy with school and other things, then realized that it would be an excellent way for the both of us to connect more with our readers in a fun and interesting way. So here goes. I've compiled a list of annoyances that I've been able to think of, but in no way is it entirely comprehensive, and I may come up with some more while writing. 1. When the point value of every question on a quiz/test/exam has a common factor.
This is one of the weirdest ones on here, actually. I don't know why it bugs me as much as it does, perhaps just because I prefer simplicity. Anyway, what I mean is, say you're taking a test that has multiple choice questions and some short answer. Maybe each MC question is worth 2 points, and the short answers are worth 10 apiece. I see something like this and immediately think, “Why can't the MC be worth 1 point, and the short answer be 5? It's the same grading scale, and it's easier to count!” I suppose some instructors do it this way because they want exams to be worth exactly 100 points, but I don't see the purpose in this, since most classes work on a relative grading scale anyway, where homework points are not equal to exam points, which are not equal to participation points, and so on. So either keep the relative grading scale and make point values simple, or make the scale absolute and then do whatever you have to in order to make it fit. In between is just confusing and silly. 2. Physics lectures that consist of nothing more than tossing out equation after equation.
I experienced this last semester a few times while taking an intro to quantum mechanics course. And I understand that intro courses are designed like this because to go into the derivation of every equation is not only unnecessary, but would sail far above the heads of most of the students in the class. And yet, lectures like this still bug me, because I like to know where equations come from before I put them to use. I recall once during an economics lecture, the professor was deriving an equation and divided by zero during the derivation. And, for the rest of the class, I was hung up on that derivation and couldn't pay attention to anything else, because he hadn't derived it right. So I had to go home and do the derivation properly, using calculus, and get the same answer, before I was satisfied with the result and could put the equation to use. He didn't use calculus in class because it was a basic economics course, and not everybody who had taken it could be assumed to be familiar with calculus, but it really annoyed me. Anyway, back to physics; quantum is difficult enough to understand as it is, but having to sit through a lecture of the professor just telling you “This is the way it is, and that's all you need to know” really throws my brain off its tracks. 3. Math or physics lectures that touch on a complex mathematical concept but then don't elaborate.
The example that comes to mind immediately is from, again, quantum last semester, when we were talking about... oh, I don't even remember anymore, and I'm too lazy to try to figure out what. But the professor touched on the idea of an infinite number of infinitely small things adding up to a finite amount. Basically, the idea of infinity divided by infinity. I'm not entirely sure if this is an accurate description of the concept he was trying to explain, and he certainly didn't say it in those words, but that's the way my brain interpreted it, and was thereafter stuck on the “Huh?” setting for the rest of the lecture.
Alright, enough with the school-related things. Though that is pretty much my life at the moment, so I can understand why so many of them stem from classroom experiences. 4. People who don't understand how to search properly through a list.
This is really infuriating. The professor lays out a stack of exams for the class to pick up, and I get stuck in line behind at least
three people who, for some unknown reason, feel the need to look at EVERY SINGLE EXAM IN ORDER to find their own, when the stack is already alphabetized. I get why someone whose name starts with A or B might do this, but usually these people are standing there for twenty or thirty seconds, maybe more, when all it should take is five or ten. The alphabet is probably the first thing you ever learned in school, you ought to know about where your name fits in with everyone's names by now. If you don't, maybe you need to go back to kindergarten. 5. When the word 'efficient' is used incorrectly.
To be honest, I'm a bit of a grammar Nazi, and I get easily bugged when people use all sorts of words in the wrong ways. But if I had to choose one that bugs me more than any others, it would be 'efficient.' Because not only is it bad that you're using it wrong, but it is also incredibly misleading. Efficiency is the measure of how well a system, process, etc. is running based on the allowed parameters
. When something is 100% efficient, it is running as well as it can with its potential resources, whatever they may be, in its potential environment, whatever it may be. Efficiency does not carry an inherently good or bad connotation, it is simply an objective measurement. A coal power plant may run at a high efficiency, but that does not mean it is better than other energy options with lower efficiencies, because efficiency is relative to the materials being used. (I chose coal in my example, because I tend to see 'efficiency' used as a positive word when attached to coal plants, in lieu of other buzz words that can't be attached, like 'environmentally friendly,' which coal is most certainly not, perhaps the least in terms of fossil fuels.) A more efficient option may be an overall less desirable one. When scientists talk about efficiency, we tend to use it in more of an idealistic sense, because science is really hard to do when conditions aren't ideal. But efficiency in the real world is much more based on environment than science will tell you. 6. Radio stations with the slogan, “We play it all.” (or similar)
Because this is, simply put, a lie. No radio station ever plays it 'all,' because there are just far too many styles of music out there. The only station I would argue that has any claim to this slogan is NPR, and even in this case I would have reservations against arguing that NPR plays all the different kinds of music from across the globe. The particular station that I noticed this slogan on was a local one which is presumably popular with the student population (it was playing in one of the common buildings), and during the half hour I spent listening to it, it played mostly angsty teen songs with a spattering of classic rock. Which reminds me of another thing that annoys me, though perhaps not enough to make the list on its own: the fact that there are so damn many angsty teen songs out there. 7. When people order food to go, then sit and eat it in the adjacent dining area.
That is not 'to go.' 'To go' is when you take your food in its nice, lidded, styrofoam container somewhere else
, presumably far enough away to justify having a nice, lidded, environmentally detrimental styrofoam container to carry your food in. If you are planning to eat right next to the food court, get a damn tray, and a paper plate, and stop being dumb. I just don't understand this. At all.
8. People who use the wrong side of a set of doors.
This may be a bit more common in terms of pet peeves than the other things on my list, but I feel the need to include it because it seems like everybody does this, and it's rather infuriating (and just a bit rude, too). See, here in America, we have an unspoken norm that we walk on the right side. It's a cultural thing, and occasionally I'll see Asian students walking on the left, and that doesn't bother me, because they do things differently, and sometimes it's hard to adjust between cultures. But this unspoken norm extends (or, I suppose I should say, should
extend) to doorways, as well. Most doors around campus are double doors. Meaning there are two doors, and they open away from the center. Therefore, it's not particularly difficult to stick to the right side when you go through. Unfortunately, people's minds are not practical like this. They will often go through the left door because either somebody just came through it towards them, and it is still open, or it is propped open, or because they are about to turn left right after the door. But this causes traffic problems, and confusion, and everything would just be much simpler if everybody stuck to the proper side of the doorway, but no, people care too much about what's easiest for them
9. When my brain goes all philosophical over pancakes.
This happens, like, every other time I have pancakes now. Probably because my brain has started to associate pancakes with philosophy, due to the fact that this happens every other time I have pancakes. I just want to enjoy my goddamn pancakes, brain, stop thinking about the meaning of life and stuff. Seriously.
I suppose some of you may have noticed that we did not have our regularly scheduled update last Friday as we promised. This is my fault entirely. Perhaps a bit of karmic justice for the namecalling I aimed at Reynard last week. Said update will now be this Friday, I promise.
Anyway, what happened was, Thursday night I went and spilled milk all over my laptop (giving a whole new meaning to the phrase, “Don't cry over spilled milk”). And when I say all over, I mean all over. We're talking an entire cup of milk covering the keyboard, in the USB ports, seeping into the CD drive, it was awful. Milk was dripping from the inside for a good half hour at least afterward. I thought I might be able to save it, so I let it dry out and actually got it working for about a half hour, then it just suddenly bluescreened and wouldn't start back up again. See, the thing about milk (and I didn't know this before, so this was a learning experience) is that when you send an electric current through it, it likes to curdle and turn into a gooey paste. Also known as a swift death for electronics. And so that laptop is dead. It is no more, it has ceased to be. It is an ex-laptop.
But my dad, because he is an amazing dad, made the three hour journey here over the weekend and has lent me his laptop for the remainder of the semester. And I'm happy to report that my old hard drive is completely salvageable, so I didn't lose any of the somewhat important files I had.
Anyway, I do have a point to this story. Because of all this, I spent an entire day, from waking until sleeping, without easy access to the internet. And damn, was it enlightening. You really don't realize just how much time you spend online until you don't have internet access. And most of it, to be perfectly honest, I spend doing things of little to no import. But for that one day, I was forced to do other things with my free time. I did a bit of reading. I spent over an hour practicing the piano, which I hadn't done in a long time. I even made progress on some songwriting I've been working on, for the first time in months. It was really rather nice. And in the evening, when I'd gotten home from checking my email in the computer lab, I had a friend over, and we talked and played chess. And then I went to bed hours earlier than I would normally do on a weekend and got a full night's sleep. Honestly, it was better than a lot of average school days.
Is that day without internet going to change my internet usage habits in the future? Probably not so much. But I can say that I'm much more aware of how I'm spending my time, and I've been again reminded of how many enjoyable things I can find to do away from the internet. So my challenge to you, dear Reader, is this. Spend a day without on-hand online access. Especially if, like me, you're part of the digital generation. Disconnect your smartphone, put away your laptop, and, if you can, only resort to using public computers to check your email once or twice. Find other things to do with your time. Pick up that book you've been wanting to read. Go take a walk outside. Write a poem or a story. Find a friend to disconnect with you and spend some time together playing cards or board games. A day away from the internet isn't going to kill you, I can promise you that. Nobody on Facebook is going to care that you haven't updated your status in twenty-four hours. Those blogs and webcomics aren't going anywhere. I guarantee you that you'll get something valuable out of the experience. Just give it a try.
Until Friday, dear Reader.
This may not be of great quality. I only remembered about it about an hour ago. I’m writing this out in a matter of an hour or two after spending four hours doing research on the Beatles because I spent all my free time over break playing Skyrim.
No regrets here.
So, the prompt, so you don’t have to open a different page to view it:
As Reynard said, I did this activity in my public speaking class. So I’ll begin with the conclusion I came to in the few minutes I was given to think about it.
1: The farmer. This was one of the easiest choices. Food is a necessity, and a farmer is going to know the most about growing food and raising animals. He is also presumably strong, healthy, and hard-working, all clearly important qualities. His age is not important, as long as he is not too old, since males are able to procreate late in life.
2: The nurse. Another easy choice. Young, female, again, presumably healthy, definitely has hands-on experience with injury, particularly of the first-aid variety, which is going to be the primary form of medical care the new colony will need.
3: The astronaut. Again, an easy pick. Young, female, athletic, intelligent, probably a good leader, assumedly knowledgeable about survival situations as well as some specifics about their current situation and the technologies involved in getting them there.
This is the point at which my choices become somewhat strange.
4: The minister. Ok, bear with me here. This has absolutely nothing to do with my views on religion, though I was honestly surprised to be the only one in the class to choose her. I have two main reasons for choosing her. First, I feel like it is as important to preserve the culture of the species as the species itself, and this woman should have a lot of knowledge about religious culture and history, perhaps even from various religions. Second, and more importantly, she is the type of person who is going to be able to deal with people well and keep them sane during the undoubtedly trying times ahead. Think of her in the role of the military chaplain; it’s an important role, to be sure.
5: The science-fiction writer. Ok, this one may seem rather out-of-nowhere, but I have some pretty good justification for him. First, I need another male, for reasons of procreation, in case one of them is infertile, and for general genetic diversity. Second, I repeat my previous reasoning about the preservation of culture. Third, I submit that this person is perhaps going to be one of, if not the most creative person on the list, which is an invaluable asset in a new environment. They’re not going to have all the modern amenities, so they need a creative mind to be able to think of alternative constructions and methods that a more straight-minded person, such as the nurse or astronaut, might not consider. And, as an added bonus, this guy has spent the better part of his life thinking in terms of this sort of scenario. He might not know exactly what is on the horizon for the group, but he’s most likely going to be prepared for it. He’s got the right mindset for this sort of thing, and that makes him extremely valuable. And yeah, I admit that I found the irony amusing, but that’s only a small portion of the reason for my choosing him.
Now, let me talk about some people I considered, but did not choose. A lot of people who do this seem to want to pick both the nurse and the doctor. I find this to be a grossly fallacious thought process. I quickly decided, upon looking over the list, that if one of them goes, then the other is not necessary. And I would much rather have a young female than an old male, who, without proper medical facilities, may not last much longer and may not be able to contribute much physically. I also figure that the nurse is probably going to have just as much experience, if not more, with first-aid and patient care, which are much more important than things a doctor might know more about, like disease. If there does happen to be an outbreak of disease, then the colony is pretty much doomed, seeing as how they’re not going to have any sort of natural resistances to the new pathogens.
I gave the architect some momentary consideration, but quickly decided that formal architect training is not going to be very helpful when you have an astronaut, farmer, and science-fiction writer who, between the three of them, are going to be able to think up some pretty damn good shelters.
The schoolteacher garnered more thought than the architect, but he was rejected in the end because of the fact that the astronaut and the nurse have almost certainly undergone formal education and can share their knowledge with future children, and what they don’t know about practical things, the farmer can teach. There’s no real reason to have a formal educator in the group when the spot could be taken by a more useful individual. I will say, however, that this person is going to be fairly good at personal relations and may therefore be a valuable asset.
The tennis player almost made it, on the grounds that she is young, athletic, and healthy, but I ultimately decided against her. She is a good candidate, however, and there is no really good reason to not include her.
And, finally, the pregnant woman was appealing for a time because of the fact that she was carrying an extra person along, but I decided against her because I figured she would require too much immediate care during the first few months of the operation, which is a time when the focus needs to be on food and shelter. My thought process ended there, but I wish it hadn’t, because I missed something terribly important that the professor shared at the end of class.
But before I get to that, I’ll relate the choices that the class as a whole made.
1: The farmer
2: The astronaut
3: The nurse
4: The tennis player
5: Undecided (the class couldn’t agree between the doctor and the schoolteacher, though the choice is obvious to me, given those options)
These people were chosen for mainly the reasons I have already related. The class did not see the value in the minister or science-fiction writer as I did, and instead focused almost entirely on youth, fitness level, and surface usefulness. They completely failed to think about interpersonal relations and mental health until I brought it up. I tried to argue my case for the minister, but was mostly ignored, and didn’t even bother arguing for the writer, by the time we came to him, even though I feel he’s more valuable than the minister.
At the end of the class, our professor shared with us some of the recommended answers from the people who created the exercise. There aren’t very many, because this is rather open-ended, but the few they give are very important. First, they recommend a man-to-woman ratio of 2:3. It’s important to have as many women as possible, since they can only have one child at a time, but there must be more than one man, in case the one man chosen turns out to be impotent. I did realize this when I was looking over the list, and both myself and the class stayed true to this ratio. Second, the pregnant woman must go. Even though she will be a burden for the first few months, she already carries with her a new child, and we know one key fact about her: she is most definitely fertile. That thought failed to cross my mind when I was deliberating, and was missed by the rest of the class, but I now see just how important it is. They also recommend taking the tennis player, but I don’t see her advantage over both the astronaut and the nurse.
So, with these things in mind, and having had the time to reconsider, I realized that the nurse is probably going to be almost as good at dealing with mental breakdowns as the minister, and I revised my list as so:
1: The pregnant woman
2: The farmer
3: The nurse
4: The astronaut
5: The science-fiction writer
That’s my team, and I’m sticking to it. Phooey to your insistence on alternatives to the writer, I think he’s going to be important to the colony. If you’ve seen any science fiction shows, you know that the geeky civilian type always ends up being useful to the group.
No, there’s totally not a logical fallacy in citing science fiction as a reason for selecting the science fiction author. What are you talking about?
Yes, today is my birthday, and I have a few things I'd like to say that are very much unrelated to that fact. Just bear with me.
First, I have to inform you that there will not be a dual update this weekend. I'm not sure when the next one will be. School is suddenly demanding that I actually put forth effort for the first time in a while, and between that and my nagging lack of motivation, I just haven't been able to flesh out anything new. I don't know what Reynard's story is, but I haven't even heard from him this past week (though I haven't really tried to contact him, either). It's also his turn to pick the topic, so perhaps I'll bug him about that.
I know I'm not a very good blogger. I tend to forget what the point of having a blog is a lot of the time, and that's entertainment. You all don't stop by to get a lecture every other week, and I know that's what I spend a lot of my posts doing. You come to be entertained, and I'm not doing very well at that. I am aware of this. It's just that sometimes I forget that even the most trivial personal anecdotes can be amusing, and I instead opt for the long, drawn out intellectual dissertation. But that's boring. So I'm going to try to make this a turning point, and focus more on narrative and entertainment value. That being said, I know that I have readers who enjoy my wisdom and insight on various topics, and I'm going to try not to lose that quality. I just want to make it more fun.
So to start off with that, I thought I'd share with you all some amusing things that happened to me today, on my birthday.
My IST professor is a troll. I think I've mentioned her before. She's an interesting person to listen to, and she's got a whole lot of neat insights into the past and future of technology, because she spends a lot of time on the front lines of the development arena. The class itself is about the interaction between humans and computers, and networking, and things like that. Broad topics, sorta an introduction to the whole information-people-technology triangle. It's an interesting class, and I wish it wasn't so early in the morning, so I'd feel inclined to attend more often.
But today she was talking about the history of gaming. And, as one might expect when one discusses the history of gaming, Tetris was mentioned. So she showed us the first minute or so of this video
for no other purpose (and she admitted as such) than to get the music stuck in our heads for the rest of the day. And she was successful, at least on my part. I was whistling it while walking between classes. And, with any luck, most of you clicked on that link, and I've spread it around.
A lot of you have probably heard some form of the saying, "If everybody is special, then nobody is." I read it most recently in the context of "If we practice tolerance toward everybody, then we are intolerant." And while the implications of that statement are worth considering in and of themselves, I wonder if there are even more areas in which such suggestions are valid. My dynamics professor was talking today about his education in China. Apparently, when he graduated, he had to take a placement exam in order to gain admittance into college. Out of the three thousand students in his class, only one hundred were allowed to seek higher education.
And we wonder why the US is so far behind in education versus the rest of the world. Education is not a scarcity here. Sure, it might not be cheap, but academic performance hardly if ever keeps anyone from being able to attain higher education anymore. Those Chinese kids knew that only a small fraction of them were going to be able to attend college, so they had to work hard for it. We don't. And I think this is the reason why I'm wary of Obama's assertion that every American should be able to attain higher education. Added to that should be the clause that higher education needs to be more 'education' and less 'high.' Is it fair to say that if everybody can get a higher education, then nobody is educated?
Anyway, enough contemplation. It's my birthday, I shouldn't have to think on my birthday.
I though you might be interested to know that I do write things other than blog posts. I recently finished an 18000 word fictional piece that has received enough praise that I figured it would be worth posting about here. Oh, and Reynard helped with it, too, which I am still incredibly thankful to him for. It has to do with some things from my micronational roleplaying (a hobby I talk about briefly in my author bio
), though it does stand on its own fairly well. If you're interested, you can find it here
. Feel free to let me know what you think. I'm always open to critique. And if you happen to like it, you'll be glad to know I've just started work on a new story ('new' being a bit of a misnomer, since it's one I've had the idea for since middle school and just was never able to flesh it out) that has absolutely nothing to do with the one I've just shared, but it should still be good. I hope.
Anyway, thanks for reading all the way through this jumble of stuff. I hope to be getting back to regular updates soon.
This is a topic suggested early on by one of our readers (yes, we do take suggestions, feel free to email us
), and I figured it was about time we tackled it. It’s something that I’ve spent a bit of time thinking about previously, and I don’t think there are many clear conclusions that can be reached, but it’s certainly worth musing over.
A lot of people will tell you that first impressions are important. This, in my opinion, is a half-truth. First impressions are important, and they are also not important. There are people who care more about first impressions than others. There are certain situations in which first impressions are more important than in day-to-day life. But in order to explore the importance of first impressions, we must first understand what they are.
Have you ever thought about what it is your brain is doing when you meet a new person? To put it simply, it categorizes the person; it assigns labels. The human brain is pretty terrible at remembering things. Unlike a computer, our hard drives are not sorted into neat little folders that can be accessed any time we feel the need. We can’t remember a person by every single mundane attribute that applies to him. Instead we focus on the things that make him stand out. But that’s not all. What a silly world we would live in if the only thing we remembered about someone is his pink hair, funny accent, or prominent tattoo. We use these kinds of attributes to identify, but they can do little more than that. But as I said, we can’t hope to remember every single attribute of a person’s personality. So we use labels.
You’ve probably been told that defining people by labels is demeaning, dehumanizing, and an all-around not-good-thing. This is a lie. Well, ok, maybe it is demeaning and dehumanizing even at its best, but our brains can’t define a human being by the entirety of his humanity. It’s only natural to use labels to define people; it’s how we think. We can’t understand a person without being able to classify him into various categories. Our brains much prefer small-picture things over big-picture. It’s even natural to act differently toward people with different labels; it’s how we are able to socialize with more than one group of people, and it’s how we protect ourselves from potential danger. After all, you wouldn’t act the same way around a close friend as you would around an armed robber; you would assign to that robber a label of ‘dangerous’ and act accordingly. This is natural, and instinctual, and you shouldn’t try to suppress it.
The problem with labels arises when they become an excuse to think of others as inferior to ourselves. But that’s perhaps a thought for another time, because I should be talking about first impressions.
Anyway, first impressions are basically labels. Labels that we either assign to other people, or they assign to themselves, and we then pick up on. And these labels can be positive or negative, but this depends on the situation. A first impression is defined by how these labels react within the current context to produce a lasting memory. For example, let’s consider a fictional female, Jane. Jane has an assertive, perhaps slightly argumentative, but outgoing and rather friendly personality. Many people would identify Jane with the labels ‘friendly,’ ‘confident,’ and probably ‘outspoken.’ None of these labels are necessarily negative, but only one could be considered to be consistently positive. Let’s think about Jane in a job interview. These labels would probably appeal to an interviewer; they indicate a knack for group socialization, perhaps even leadership potential, and an ability to comfortably speak her mind, things that are important in many employment areas. Jane would most likely leave a good first impression with her interviewer. But let’s think about a different situation. Maybe Jane goes golfing every week or two with some friends, and perhaps one week Jane’s friend invites somebody new to join them. Now, Jane is the sort of person to play a competitive game of golf, and do it in an outspoken way. Jane’s friends know that this is just the sort of person that Jane is, and she doesn’t mean anything hurtful by it. But the newcomer doesn’t know this, and might think that Jane is acting too confrontational for the situation. Jane has left a bad first impression on this person, even though she is likely to be associated with the same labels as in the job interview.
So you see that first impressions depend both on labels, and the context in which those labels are observed. Which is why I usually choose the labels by which I am defined, so that I have control over how people view me. And I think a lot of us do this, even if we don’t realize exactly why. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, so long as you’re not presenting labels which do not properly define you. But, to be honest, I don’t care too much what most people think of me, so I usually present myself upfront as pretty weird. It also helps me connect with the other weird people (there are too few of us in the world, at least that care to admit it), who are usually more entertaining to know. So I don’t put a lot of weight into first impressions, whether I’m giving or receiving them. You can’t get to know an entire person within a single meeting, so why bother deciding just then whether that person is worth knowing?
The thing to remember about labels, though, is that they can be
misleading. There is a certain type of person who would spend a minute
or two with our outspoken and assertive Jane and thereafter think of her
as, to use the common derogatory term, a bitch. I know that people
tend to shy away from me because of my eccentricities, because they
think I’m creepy. I’ve stated before that I don’t like telling people
that I am a Christian
, because I fear it might give them the wrong (and
there are multiple sides to that word) impression. Regardless of the
insult these sorts of labels generate, they are extremely unfair in
their power to limit a person to a very narrow impression. No one label
can properly define any person, and even if these labels are fitting,
we should not use them by themselves. People have many facets, and it
takes more than a first impression to view all of them.
I said above that first impressions are both important and not important. This depends on, among other things, the context. Let’s go back to Jane. Jane’s impression during her interview is an important one, mostly because she’s not going to have the opportunity to change it. That half-hour or so of interaction is all Jane is going to have with her interviewer. But the impression Jane left with the golfing newcomer is less important. This newcomer will most likely have the opportunity to spend more time with Jane, or at least hear from a mutual friend that Jane is not trying to be competitive in a confrontational way. This impression can change over time, such that they may become friends in the future. But it’s not all about context. Most people have a sort of list of expectations in dealing with new people, and if these expectations are broken, they may not want to interact with that person anymore. My biggest expectation is respect. If a person I meet does not show respect for not only me, but everyone else I see him engaged with, I find myself not wanting to communicate with him further. He might even be a nice person, and we might be capable of becoming friends, but lack of respect is an immediate deal-breaker for me. So regardless of the context, this sort of first impression is always important for me.
I’ve rambled on for a while, but I think I’ll close with this thought: People change. Usually not overnight, and usually not very much, but people do change. And our memories are not perfect. They like to misremember things, and even put more contrast in where it doesn’t belong. First impressions are often rendered useless after long periods of time. As much as I disapprove of a lack of respect, I am also a firm believer in second chances.
But I think the most important thing to remember is that first impressions are only as important as we make them. I think the world might be a better place if we didn’t try to judge other people so soon after meeting them.
You’ve probably noticed that my partner started a new series he’s calling Reynard Reviews
, the first episode of which
is a review of the new and admittedly cool (I haven’t played it, but I watched my brother do so) game Rocksmith
. So, I figured, why couldn’t I do a series of my own? Unfortunately, mine doesn’t have a cool alliterative title (it’s hard to find an alliteration using a ‘zh’ sound), but what’s in a name, right?
Anyway, I am not a gamer, so I probably won’t be reviewing games, and I don’t go to many movies, because a lot of the stuff that comes out these days in the major theaters just isn’t to my tastes. What I’ll probably spend my time talking about in this series the most are books. I’ve been trying to read more, and have been rather successful at it, having finished three books last semester, and making it halfway through a 700-page-long fourth. But it’s been a while since I finished those three books, and I doubt my readers are interested enough to read through an analysis of the Bhagavad Gītā, so my first review will not be about a book. Instead, I’ll be discussing a British television show which recently aired its second season in the UK. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. In case you’ve already forgotten the title of this post, I’m talking about Sherlock
If you haven’t yet seen this show, I pity you. Yes, pity. Because there’s no other word for what I feel if you have not yet experienced what is certainly one of the greatest television dramas of the decade, possibly even of all time.
Ok, maybe I’m being a bit too lavish in my praise. I suspect that there are people out there who generally don’t like detective stories, or the Sherlock Holmes style, and these people probably wouldn’t like this show very much. But you don’t have to like Doyle’s short stories, or even have read them before, to enjoy this show. It’s fast-paced enough to keep you interested, while not skipping out on any of the important analytical detective-y bits that are really the foundation of a good Holmes story.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.
I know what you’re probably thinking. “Oh, no, not another Sherlock Holmes adaptation, haven’t we had enough of those?” (I feel I must interject and mention that, regardless of this show, the answer to that question is most certainly ‘no,’ being as it is that very few of the adaptations to date have been any good.) And you certainly have a point, what with the recent movies starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, that seem to enjoy taking all the subtlety and intrigue that made the stories so good and Hollywood-ifying it into a big budget action film. I’m honestly avoiding the one that just came out, because I’ve heard that the only think that makes it a Sherlock Holmes movie is its title. I’m not saying it’s not a good movie, I just think that if I pay to go to the theater to see a Sherlock Holmes movie, I want to see a Sherlock Holmes movie.
My point is, don’t not watch this show because you’re sick of Sherlock Holmes. Because if you are, this show will make it all better. But enough of that. If this is going to be a proper review, I should probably explain the premise of the show, but I’ll avoid spoilers, for the benefit of those who have not yet seen it. Sherlock
is set in modern-day England (mostly parts of London, as expected), and is, to my knowledge, the first anachronistic adaptation of any Holmes stories. But fret not; neither the characters nor the stories ever feel out of place within the modern frame. They are developed as if they had been originally written in a modern setting, and not once does the viewer feel as if Holmes or Watson belong back in the 1800s. For example, Sherlock has his own website, John is clearly familiar with modern medical practice, and all the characters frequently communicate via texting, and refer to each other on a first name basis, as is the modern standard. Yet these things don’t ever detract from the stories; Sherlock uses the available technology to help solve the crimes, but he still must piece together all the information as only he could. But not only are the characters well adapted into the modern frame, the stories are as well. Each one is based off of one or more of the original short stories, but only by a skeletal framework. Even having read most of the stories myself, I usually have no idea how they are going to end. And between that and the fact that they are adapted so well to the modern setting, I often find myself forgetting which story the episode is based off of. It’s as if I’m watching an entirely new Sherlock Holmes story that could have very well been written by Doyle himself had he been alive in our time. It’s truly brilliant.
So why is it so good? Well, to put it simply, because there are only, in the two years the show has aired, six episodes. Yes, two seasons, three episodes each (with a third season on the way in a year or two). And that’s it. Why is that a good thing? Because of the amount of effort that they’re able to put into each one. The episodes are all ninety minutes long, and they’re made at, arguably, movie quality. And in an industry that often prefers quantity, the scarcity of episodes is very outstanding. But Sherlock
has shown that quality is just as important as quantity, an assertion proven by the massive fanbase it’s already accumulated. Too many television shows suffer from the need to fill a full season of content, and then contain episodes that might not be as good as they could have been. But with only three episodes every two or so years, the creators of Sherlock
can ensure that each episode is as good as it possibly could be. Because they want it to be good. The writers, Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss (both also writers on the widely popular show Doctor Who
), genuinely care about the quality of the work and the source material from which it originated. And you can tell they do just from the way the show holds to those things that make Sherlock Holmes so unique and different.
As with most television dramas, Sherlock
isn’t serious all the time. It has its moments of humor, well placed as with most good dramas for the release of tension. But I’ve noticed that a lot of dramas rely on silly one-liners that don’t always feel very natural to the story or characters, or some other kind of easy-to-understand-for-the-benefit-of-a-large-audience humor. Sherlock
doesn’t do this. As is typical with a lot of British television, this show appeals to a higher degree of humor, one that fits naturally with the intelligence level of the story without being any less amusing. A style of humor that is sadly not effectively used these days: irony. The show mostly uses the situational and dramatic varieties for comedic effect, usually to the extent at which Sherlock overanalyzes, or another character under-analyzes, a situation, creating embarrassment or an opening for witty remarks from other characters. And with all Holmes stories, there is banter between Sherlock and John (they are flat-mates, after all), but it’s done intelligently and naturally. The humor is there, but it never feels forced, which only helps to make the serious scenes more dramatic.
Perhaps the one element of the show that readily harkens back to the time period of the original stories is the music. The use of string instruments, both bowed and plucked, is indicative of the Victorian era, and the thematic melodies seem as if they could belong to a street ensemble from that period. But, like the show itself, the music has a modern spin to it in order to fit with the setting. It’s used very well to set the mood, too, being long and heavy when it needs to be, and light and playful when it doesn’t, even if it tends to have a somber tone to it most of the time. Music is one of those things that can take good television and make it great, and it’s used to great effect here.
I think I’ve said about all I can without spoiling the entire plot for you all. Why are you still reading this, anyway? Go watch the show. The first season is on Netflix streaming, but if you don’t have that, I’m sure there are other methods out there. Not that I would be personally aware of them. *cough*
I’ll admit I haven’t been in the best mental state for the past month or so. You may have noticed from my last few posts. There’ve been a number of contributing factors to it, but I’m fairly certain I’m out of the worst of it. Between channeling the angst into a variety of creative outlets and being back into the rhythm of schoolwork, I’ve gotten back the motivation I need to put effort into this blog. So I’m starting the new year in an optimistic light, and I hope that carries through to the quality of my writing.
So if you were expecting a pessimistic rant about how humans are going to end up evolving into fat, lazy animals that barely lift a finger to help themselves because of the advances in comfort and technology, then I’m sorry to disappoint. Or, rather, I’m not sorry, because that would have been a terrible thing to write about, especially since it’s not going to happen. The world does not have the resources necessary to promote that lifestyle across entire countries, and though the human race may be one of the laziest species on the planet, it isn’t quite that lazy. I even heard a story
just the other day that the obesity epidemic in the U.S. may have reached its peak. Now, I’ve never taken a class in statistics, and it’s by far not my favorite field, so I don’t know how accurate that assertion may be, or even if it’s proper to make such an assertion, but it’s only what I’ve heard. Take it however you want. My point is; the standard of beauty for the foreseeable future is going to continue to be ‘thin.’ We’re going to continue to be bombarded by fit-looking celebrities and models, gyms are going to continue to do good business, and most of us are going to keep trying to stay physically fit.
Why? Because it’s healthy. It’s true that the media’s standard of thin-ness is fairly exaggerated, and sometimes to an unhealthy degree, and we should continue to teach our youth that body weight is not a measure of beauty, but the fact remains that those who take care of their bodies are going to live longer, healthier, and, most likely, happier lives. But enough on that. It really doesn’t have much to do with evolution, anyway.
I’m not entirely sure what sort of useful mutations humans may develop in the near future that would benefit the race as a whole. I mean, an extra arm would probably be nifty, but that’s not really plausible. I don’t know enough about medicine to say whether supposedly useless body parts like the appendix and wisdom teeth are going to go away. I do wonder, though, whether our constant use of our thumbs with all our mobile devices and whatnot is going to cause them to become more elongated and dexterous like the rest of our fingers. Upon consideration, that would be pretty weird, but probably useful to a point. Another trend that probably deserves consideration is height. It’s fairly well-known that people today are taller than in previous centuries. The main theory for this is that the increase in standard of living allows us to lead healthier lives and diets, which allows us to be physically healthier and achieve more growth potential. But I wonder, perhaps, if we might see a reverse in this trend in the future, as overpopulation forces us to take up less space. It’s not likely, though, that we’ll see anything like that for quite a number of years. Just thought I’d toss it up for consideration.
On a more neuro-physical note, I ran into this story
recently (on further consideration, it may not have been that particular story, as that one is dated 2008, but I can’t seem to find the one I most likely heard, if not that one), which got me wondering whether our brains might evolve to the point at which we can accomplish true multitasking. With all the technology around us, we’re constantly doing multiple things at once (for instance, I’m writing this while being forced to listen to loud music from the neighboring apartment), but our brains can’t actually process two tasks at the same time (hence why I’m not writing very efficiently at the moment, because my language processors are attempting to make sense of the music instead of forming these written words). But we’re constantly doing this sort of quasi-multitasking, so perhaps we might get to the point at which our brain is able to process incoming and outgoing language at the same time, sort of like circular breathing, but with words. Which would be incredibly cool. I’m no neuroscientist, so I don’t know whether that’s a possibility, but it seems to me as if it would take, in the very least, some serious rewiring.
I think it’s also important to, along with this discussion on physical evolution, address the mental and social evolution of our species, because they progress at a much faster rate, and, in my opinion, have a much greater impact.
One of my greatest fears for the future of the human race is that the anti-socialization of western culture that seems to be occurring will continue to even more extremes. It’s why I don’t much approve of social networking sites (as they are currently used by most, I should add), and it’s why I will most likely never own a smartphone. Don’t get me wrong; social networks are extremely useful, but you have to actually use
them for something. From what I see on Facebook, a good deal of communication is, if not pointless, then terribly informal and impersonal. We live in a culture that prefers to communicate through devices rather than face-to-face, and that’s not really a good thing. Sure, if fulfills our human need for contact, but the world can’t be run through Facebook. Businesses require employees to be able to communicate well in groups – they list it above ‘knowledge of statistical analysis’ among important qualities they look for when hiring.
Technology is amazing. I hear incredible things about upcoming computers and interfaces from my IST professor (she works at IBM over summers, so she’s ‘in the know,’ as they say). But then I hear stories about how kindergarten classes are using iPads as educational tools
, and how toddlers are just as adept, if not more, at using smartphones as their parents, and I can’t help but wonder if we’re traveling along a slippery slope. Kids these days are going to grow up expecting every screen they see to respond to touch (which will likely be the case) and they’re going to think we’re ridiculous when we sit down to type on a keyboard (the words of my IST professor, not me). But should we really be indoctrinating kids with technology at such an early age? Is it right to forgo a written education that will allow students to develop handwriting skills in favor of these other devices? Is it really healthy for them to grow up with the understanding that everything they could ever need to know is just a Google search away? In my experience, students are already suffering through schools that fail to teach them how to think and analyze; what’s going to happen when they stop learning to remember information? I don’t have the answers; I’m just here to ask the questions. But, if you ask me, I think we need to take a step back and consider the implications of these new technologies before we make them so mainstream. Technology is going to continue to grow at an incredible pace, but that doesn’t mean we should gobble up every single bit of it that gets passed out to us. Think about what it is you have in your hand before you stick it in your mouth (to continue with the food metaphor).
I'd spend some time discussing the adverse social consequences of the increased specialization in media, but I'm trying to keep this relatively optimistic, and I don't have the motivation to go into that deep of a topic at the moment. I think I'll simply note that it's not very helpful to cultural advancement when people are only exposed to things that they understand, like, or agree with. But I think I might be straying a bit too far from the original topic of evolution.
I’m not terribly pessimistic about the future of our culture. And, I think, maybe I’m just a bit averse to change. I mean, back in middle school I swore I’d never own an iPod, and, sure enough, I happily got one just a few years later. But at the same time, this is a much more serious cultural shift than digital music. But I don’t think we’re going to get to the point at which people don’t talk to each other in person anymore. Our society is going to continue to be dependent on interpersonal relations, especially in small group environments. But think about this – greeting strangers on the street used to be a socially acceptable norm. Do it now, and you’re likely to get strange looks in response, at the most. Isn’t that just kinda sad? I certainly think so.
Fair warning: this piece is going to end up being rather bitter. If you are the type of person who tends to be narrow-minded when it comes to religion, it may very well offend you. But I’ve been spending far too much time recently writing about happy things, and for the sake of my own sanity, I need to vent my frustrations. I’ve at least been courteous enough to hold off on this piece until after the holidays as to not spoil anyone’s good time.
I do enjoy this time of the year. Honest truth. Yeah, I notice I end up dealing with more stress during December than other months of the year, but it doesn’t stop me from enjoying the holidays. But more and more as of late, I have been rather dreading the holiday season. Why? Christmas Commercialism.
I’ve tried to ignore it. It’s not that hard to do when you don’t have a television in your apartment. And yet, I still find I’m already sick of hearing about ‘holiday cheer’ by the week before Christmas.
Now, I don’t have a problem with letting people celebrate the holidays in whatever way they choose. And if they want to do it in public, that’s fine too. But there’s a difference between celebrating Christmas and forcing it down our throats until we can’t breathe anything but pine and cinnamon-scented air for a month. (This is a metaphor, not a comment on the overuse of air fresheners. In case that wasn’t clear.) As if it wasn’t bad enough having to listen to the same music over and over again, we’re forced to sit through remixes and parodies of those same songs when advertisers are trying to sell us things we don’t need, because it’s “the season for giving!” It seems as if every car commercial this time of the year has to start with “’Tis the season of giving, so why not give yourself…” blah blah blah. It’s sickening, and it’s just plain wrong. That’s not what Christmas is about.
Why aren’t there Hanukkah sales? Why not Kwanza sales? Oh, that’s right; eighty percent of this country is Christian. I get it, I really do – it makes for good business. A ‘Hanukkah sale’ isn’t going to pull in enough revenue to justify its advertisement; it all comes down to economics. But let’s step back for a moment. How do you think the Jewish community would feel if businesses tried to commercialize Passover? For that matter, how would all you Christians feel if Easter became commercialized? ‘Offended’ is the only word to describe it.
So why is it that we allow this sort of offensive behavior to take place during the second most sacred religious holiday on the Christian calendar? And, perhaps more importantly, why do we let it go on for an entire month? I don’t see anyone out on the street singing Easter hymns during Lent. What’s so different about Christmas? Is it perhaps because we Christians like the feeling of superiority we get from having our holiday branded everywhere? Perhaps, but that doesn’t seem very Christmas-y to me. I don’t know the reason, and I don’t know the history behind the commercialism, so I’m not too qualified to muse about it.
I don’t mean to say that Christmas is only for the Christians. That’s not what I’m getting at whatsoever. Christmas is for whoever wants to celebrate it. And maybe you like the commercialism of Christmas, and that’s fine – different people have different opinions; it’s a fact of life. But why can’t we let individuals decide how they want to celebrate the holiday, instead of assuming everybody enjoys hearing “Jingle Bell Rock” on an hourly basis, and seeing Santa Claus in every store window?
I bet the atheists out there are cheering me on right now. Well, don’t get too comfortable, because I have some words for you, too. I am sick and tired of hearing Christmas described as a “glorified Pagan holiday.” It’s offensive, it’s not true, and if you know anything about religion (which, as atheists, I assume you do, since you’ve decided it’s not for you), you know it’s not true. Yes, Jesus was not born on December 25th. Yes, the Church picked that day to mark his birth in order to coincide with the pagan celebrations of the winter solstice, in order to make the religion more palatable. Yes, this was not a very honorable decision on the part of the early Church. Yes, some of the traditions that we observe during Christmastime can be dated back to pagan celebrations. But to therefore equate Christmas with pagan holidays is entirely missing the point. The day on which a holiday is celebrated does not change its meaning. Christmas is about the birth of the Messiah, which is a very not-pagan thing to celebrate. And if we want to celebrate that with apparent nonsensical activities like decorating a tree, then so be it. I don’t get annoyed at you because you beat up paper animals with baseball bats on your birthday. I like to think that atheists are more understanding and rational people because of their decision to be atheist, but you only do your community a disservice when you make ignorant comments like that.
I’m not stupid. I realize that the commercialism isn’t going to go away. It’s too late for that. I just think it might be valuable for all the Christians out there to step back and look in from the outside at what they’ve let happen to their holiday. I hope I’m not the only one who’s this disappointed.