Almanac: Confucius

I really wish that people would stop mythologizing other human beings. Just because you respect someone, and just because they were wise, does not mean they are infallible. This is true of anyone; from Jesus to Gandhi to Confucius. In fact, I think that holding our heroes up as paragons of humanity is THE single best way to fall short of their (as well as our own) ideals.

The point of my preamble is this: I have a very, very deep respect for Confucius. However, I am not a Confucian, in that I do not venerate him as a religious figure. However, I do find his philosophy and reasoning to be sound enough to study him, so you could call me a Confucian in that I consider myself a student of his. By the same token you can call me a Christian or a Buddhist, since I am a believer and studier of many of Jesus and Buddha’s philosophies, as well.

I hope that people reading my writings will receive some of the messages I’ve imbued in them. One of the central themes of all of my works is that everyone’s knowledge will always be incomplete. Omniscience is impossible, but it is still an ideal worth striving towards. I think that learning can be a wonderful thing, so I don’t find it tragic in the slightest that we’ll always have something new to discover. After all, to quote Confucius, “Isn’t it a pleasure to learn, and put to practice what is learnt?”

Most of Confucius’s teachings are attributed to him by the Analects, a collection of of his dialogues and other orations. In the Analects, Confucius weaves an ancient form of humanistic philosophy. He, of course, spoke the Golden Rule: “Do not do unto others that which you would not have done unto yourself.” He believed, as I do, that sincerity, education, and patience were some of the greatest keys to living a meaningful life. Of course, he believed in the Chinese folk religion of the time, but as I mentioned before I don’t believe this holds much relevance. So long as you have a basic understanding of human nature, I couldn’t care less what you believe. I also happen to think that no matter how intelligent or wise you are, if you grow up in a religious community, you will tend to be converted (at least initially) into that religion.

One thing I find fascinating about Confucius is that he was considered a “troublemaker” during his own time. His contemporaries believed that he was corrupting the minds of the youth, which closely mirrors the opinions of Socrates’ and Jesus’ contemporaries. Confucius was sent away from a royal court for counseling the monarch against living a hedonistic life, then he proceeded to teach what knowledge he had gathered.

People have always complained about the youth and their new ideas, and have been distrustful of change. That is the way it has always been; there are no “good old days.” Hedonism and backlash against painful truths are things that have always been with humanity. I believe that philosophers of the past are worth studying, not because we should go back to what their times were like, but because they gave examples of how one might find happiness and fulfillment even in such counterproductive circumstances. I am of the belief that mankind has always had the capacity to do the right thing- and that mankind’s nature is to search for another way, because the only way to do the right thing is very difficult.

I doubt that there’s a “secret” to happiness in the traditional sense; the “secret” people are searching for is nothing more than a way to cut corners and move more quickly in a process that is, and can only be, very slow and gradual. This is why I believe patience is such a tremendous virtue; happiness is a journey, not a destination. It is something you must work for at all times in order to maintain it. It might sound trite, or cliched, but that’s because it’s true, as well as something that we humans have always known.

More important than patience, I think, is honesty. Since Confucius’ time, the cultures based on his teachings- Japan and China, notably- have elevated nearly to the point of godhood, and as such have lost sight of his teachings. Or rather, they never had sight of them to begin with, and now that Confucius is dead they can wring any meaning from his words without being corrected by him.

I don’t believe they’re alone in this, however; the Christians of the US are guilty of these sins, as well. Despite the fact that Jesus was more critical of the cruel, hypocritical, and exploitative than anything else, those who purport to follow him often preach hate and intolerance in his name. Greed is all too common among religious leaders, and hypocrisy is par for the course. I wish to say to fire-and-brimstone preachers, “If you want to see depraved, evil men; if you want to see someone who’s going directly to hell; if you want to see someone who is doing the Devil’s work, look no further than your nearest mirror. You are more of an asset to Satan than the vast majority of Satanists are. You spread cruelty and injustice in this world. You make lives worse and create needless suffering here on this earth. If the God you preach of is real, he is the SINGLE evilest thing to ever exist, and you are nothing more than a pawn for his malice.”

Humility is another virtue that Confucius taught. Be humble enough to admit that you don’t know everything, and don’t pretend that you speak on behalf of God. God doesn’t need you to speak for him. God doesn’t need anyone to speak for him. We have the tools necessary to discover the secrets of the universe ourselves; in our hands, eyes, ears, and minds. I am countercultural because cultures are based on dogma; we humans should abandon our cultures and simply search for what the truth is, welcome change, and be willing to admit it when we are wrong.

I deeply respect Confucius and Gandhi and Jesus; not because they are venerable, but because they knew how to achieve happiness. I know because I’m happy, even though my childhood wasn’t. Dogma and fighting over details distracts from the spirit of the ultimate truth: that we are all brothers, and that kindness, wisdom, and patience are the one and only path to happiness and fulfillment.

Here’s to Confucius; a man who, like many other men, uncovered the secret of happiness.

Almanac: My Unhappy Love Affair With Horror

The Raven Illustration

I have an intense, bizarre love/hate relationship with the horror genre. As you might already know, I absolutely adore speculative fiction, which encapsulates science fiction and fantasy. But it also includes horror, which can overlap with either, both, or neither of its sister genres.

What is horror, exactly? As it turns out, this seems to be a rather difficult question to answer. Horror’s just anything that’s designed to frighten us, right? Well, not necessarily. The film Halloween is a horror film, no doubt, but is The Wizard of Oz, which has the murderous, frightening Wicked Witch for its antagonist? Why isn’t Plants vs. Zombies horror, even though it has zombies in it? Why isn’t Black Swan considered horror, even though its goal is clearly to unnerve its audience?

I would argue that horror, like science fiction and fantasy, is a more malleable and inclusive genre than one might think. I propose that horror is defined not by what is designed to unnerve, but rather what could unnerve. I do not find the novel Dracula to be frightening, for example, but its atmosphere is undoubtedly moody and oppressive, befitting the danger that befalls its characters. I would classify The Nightmare Before Christmas as horror, even though it’s not designed to frighten its viewers, because it has a similarly moody atmosphere and similarly brings great mortal danger to its characters. In short, I argue that horror is defined not by what frightens the viewers, but what frightens the characters within it.

Of course, many horror films aim to shock and frighten its viewers while it causes mortal peril to its characters. However, I would argue that most horror films are grievously misused; they lose a great opportunity when attempting to give their audiences a great thrill. If that adrenaline rush is in and of itself the main goal of the piece, I argue it has its priorities in the wrong places. After all, what exactly do you gain in the long-term by getting that thrill and rush of adrenaline? What does the film (or book or game, etc.) have to offer you that you couldn’t get bungee jumping or riding an intense roller coaster?

As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, I have very little patience for works that pander directly to their audience. It is for that reason I hate fourth-wall humor, winking pop cultural references, gratuitous fan service, and jump scares. In my opinion, these elements date works and make them less likely to last throughout the ages, because they can only resonate with the audience of here and now (if even that). Only a specific audience with a specific mindset has anything to gain from it, and even then they gain nothing but cheap thrills and pleasures. Even if fan service or gratuitous pop cultural references resonate with me, I think, “Keep it out of my entertainment,” because I want to be bettered and challenged by what I watch, play, or read.

When a work brings up fear or sexuality, it has a fantastic opportunity: it can use it to explore one of the two most primal and basic (and therefore deep) aspects of our humanity. Unfortunately (especially with horror) when the two are used they are usually merely there to titillate or excite the audience (specifically, the usually heterosexual male audience).  I want to weep every time I’ve seen this happen, because other works have used the same things to be deep and meaningful (a notable example of this is the Silent Hill games) while the works that stoop to cheap pandering loose all profoundness they might have had.

I want to see more things like Tengen Toppa Gurren LagannHarry Potter, or American McGee’s Alice, that use the terror within them to explore the characters and ask questions about the mysteries of life. Notice that those three works have little to no jump scares; they rely on you to actually think about them to bring out the terror that lies within.

Here’s to horror; actually meaningful horror. We need more works that are.

Almanac: My Ambitions

Since this blog is essentially my personal diary, I thought I’d establish my ambitions for the future here so that I can both keep my eyes on them and always be able to look back at them and see how far I’ve come.

I wish to create nothing but masterpieces. To elaborate, my ideal is to be so great an artist that every work I produce is equal or greater to another master’s most magnificent piece. I wish for my works to be grand, epic, overwhelmingly beautiful, and unspeakably inspiring. I desire to be a master Midas of every medium; for everything I touch, be it a game, film, show, play, manga, or novel, to turn into gold. I want everything I create to make our world a better place.

I wish to be well-learned, so that my works might give others great knowledge. I wish to be virtuous and idealistic, so that my works might be beacons of compassion and morality.

I wish to become wise. My philosophy is “Learn as though you were to live forever,” and I wish to fully live up to that. I wish to become a sage so that my wisdom might resonate through my works and be passed on to those who hear my words so that their lives might be bettered.

But above all, my greatest ambition is to create the very pinnacle of all human achievement: the Grand Masterpiece of All Literature. I wish to create a story that will shine across every medium and be nothing less than the greatest example of each one. My ultimate hope is that, if it is indeed possible, that this work at last inspires all of mankind to unite in brotherhood, peace, and understanding. If such a universal peace is not possible, or if it is not possible for me to initiate it, I will be satisfied with it at least inspiring happiness and peace in some of my brothers and sisters on this Earth.

Here’s to my ideals; may they be my eternal guides.

Almanac: Why I Want an LGBT Fanbase

I realize how ridiculously egotistical I am already speculating on my future theoretical fanbase, but I still think it’s useful to talk about it to both discuss my thoughts on fandoms in general and also put down my ideals in writing so that in the event my works do become popular I won’t lose my perspective. I’m egomaniacal enough already; I don’t need my narcissism nourished anymore.

Fandoms: the cultures of the enormous, amazing, burningly vitriolic world of geekdom. They possess the power to disgust, horrify, amaze, and touch us. Like other cultures, some are friendly and some are eternally locked in war. As CollegeHumor brilliantly pointed out, fundamentalist religion and hardcore nerdiness are much the same; even within a fandom there might be several sub-fandoms perpetually at war with each other, much like the religious conflicts between denominations of Abrahamic religions such as Christianity or Islam. A classic example of such infighting within geekdom is the eternal Picard vs Kirk debate, though modern readers will probably be more familiar with the Sherlock vs Elementary wars or that most infamous of ship battles, Katara/Aang vs Katara/Zuko.

I, being a geek of the very highest caliber, am a member of many, many fandoms, and I doubt you’re going to find a more passionate fan of as high a number of different works than me. Case in point: on the night Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released in 2007, I sat down and read the entire eight hundred-page book in one sitting. I was nine at the time.

Though I have no guilty pleasures (as I’m not afraid to enjoy anything I like), I do feel a large amount of shame over some of the fandoms I’m a member of, simply because of that association I share with some of their members. Some such hostile fandoms I am a member of include Ayn Rand‘s, which is largely populated by obnoxiously greedy pissants, as well as those for League of Legends and Dota 2, which have probably some of the most toxic, unpleasant player bases in the world. I am much prouder of some of my other native fandoms, such as the brony community or Disney‘s fandom; they tend to be much kinder, more tolerant, and more welcoming.

In the event I develop my own fanbase, I want it to be composed of those who are tolerant and welcoming. My ideal is to have a very friendly yet passionately intense fandom; after all, I love passion. To me, everything is Serious Business, but most especially fiction because fiction is literally my life. I love impassioned (but not hateful) debating; I love fan works; I love the intensive studies and fanon that accumulate around works. Others might sneer at the intense emotion and adoration we geeks hold for our passions; to them I say, “You should try enjoying yourself sometime. I know emotions are scary and frowned upon, but they’re what make life worth living.”

It is for these reasons that I really hope a large amount of my fans will be LGBT. I find in many ways that I find a close sense of community with members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people. I have no doubt that a large part of that is the fact that I have at least one LGBT relative and that most of my friends are. However, I find that I also have a lot of similarities with them (or at least many of them). For instance, I am an art-lover, theatre-lover, and a furry, all of which are stereotypically “gay.” I love fruity drinks (raspberry lemonade is my favorite), pastries, shoujo manga, and stuffed animals. But most damning of all, I’m well-dressed and am nice to girls even though I’m not trying to get in their pants.

Part of all of these similarities are coincidental; for instance, I’ve always loved fruit drinks. However, some of these similarities are deliberate; I actually consider several gay men, as well as stereotypically flaming gay men in general, to be some of my heroes. Neil Patrick Harris and Jim Parsons are some of my favorite actors. Among my chiefest role-models is the homosexual, brilliant artist Leonardo da Vinci, for whom my admiration is so great I would have named myself Leonardo had my mother not already named me.

To me, the highest personal ideal is that of the stereotypical flamingly homosexual male, as his traits are the traits I aspire for; he is an attractive, well-dressed, kind, and honest man who is equal parts chivalrous and filled with lust for life. He chooses a profession he enjoys, and he enjoys whatever he pleases. He approaches everything with passion and is always filled with energetic excitement for whatever lies ahead.

In my opinion, this stereotype is actually true for a large portion of the gay population; from my experience, LGBT people (or at least the outed ones) tend to be braver, kinder, and more honest than mankind as a whole. They are more tolerant; more accepting. This is a logical occurrence, I think; LGBT people tend to be shunned and persecuted more than heterosexual people, and suffering fosters empathy, and therefore compassion.

From what I’ve seen, gay people are less afraid of being passionate and enjoying things. They’ve already breached one social taboo; why not breach another, and be emotional? How I wish that people would discard their distorted views of the world and allow themselves to feel things. I truly believe that if we all let ourselves feel, the world would be a better place.

That is why I want a largely LGBT fanbase; I want my followers to be compassionate and admirable, and I strongly believe that those who have suffered tend to be. And though there are heels among them (as there always are), I sincerely hope that I’m correct, as that would indicate that humanity truly is capable of widespread decency after all.

Here’s to you, my heroic sisters and brothers.

Almanac: Speculative Fiction

As you can probably guess, my favorite genres across all of media are Science Fiction and Fantasy, which are collectively known in literary criticism as speculative fiction. The reason for my obsession with these genres is very simple: anything is possible in these two genres.

I’ve always found it interesting that people distinguish between science fiction and fantasy at all. After all, both of them aim to do the same thing: create a world where things can be done that can’t be done in the world of reality in which we live. It’s just that fantasy achieves this through magic, and science fiction achieves this through technology.

If you were to ask me point blank what my favorite between the two genres ultimately was, I really couldn’t say. After all, my absolute favorite works of any medium are representatives  of both genres; A Link to the Past is definitively fantasy, and so is Disney‘s Beauty and the BeastHarry Potter is my favorite series of books, and in my (unfortunately-not-humble) opinion Fullmetal Alchemist is among the best manga series ever written. On the other hand, Wall-e and Inception also count among my most favored films, and I have unhealthy obsessions with Ender’s Game and Tengen Toppa Gurren LagannAll You Need is Kill is another great manga series, and like most other nerds I adore Star Wars and Valve Corporation‘s body of work.

I do not think either is better. In fact, I would say that both genres are at their strongest when they intermingle and mix; my absolute favorite novel is A Wrinkle in Time and my absolute favorite game is Kingdom Hearts II, both of which I think we can all agree are firmly in the realms of both genres. Also notice that the genres tend to cross over into each other’s territory even in purer pieces; Star Wars has a very, very supernatural magic system in the Force, and Fullmetal Alchemist has steampunk and diesel punk technology alongside the firmly fantastical magic of Alchemy.

In my opinion, fiction was made for science fiction and fantasy. As I said before, I consume media primarily for escapism; I want to engulf myself in worlds perhaps more beautiful and more amazing than the one we have. Fantasy and Science Fiction give me worlds in which you can do anything you’ve dreamed of; with a jetpack, you can fly. You can slam a staff into the earth and tear it asunder. You can face down unspeakable horrors and defeat them with strange and powerful weapons. I have little use for fiction that portrays mundane, ordinary life; it is for this reason that I care little for soap operas or general fiction. It is also for this reason that I feel that theatre as a medium is as a whole tragically misused; most theatrical productions portray rather mundane, modern situations without often stepping into the realm of the fantastic. This is one of the reasons I love Shakespeare so deeply and why Wicked is one of my favorite musicals; they are welcome breaths of fresh air in an otherwise rather dull medium.

Here’s to speculative fiction, my bread and butter.

Almanac: the Pulps

Pulp Newsstand

It’s the ’30s. The huge, awesome party known as the ’20s has come to a sudden, screeching halt.

It’s the Depression. You and everyone you know are dirt poor. You’ve been laid off, or at least had your wages cut. You don’t know if you’re going to be able to eat tomorrow.

You need to escape. Perhaps through alcohol, even though at this point it’s prohibited. But maybe illegal narcotics aren’t your particular cup of tea, and you want something else.

You could go to the movies; during this decades there are several very good movies out. You could see Frankenstein, or Gone With the Wind, or Modern Times, or The Wizard of Oz, or perhaps Snow White and the Seven Dwarfsthe first-ever traditionally animated film (and one that would still be considered excellent a century later, in fact).

But as it turns out, when you reach into your pocket, all you fish it is a lousy dime. Movies cost twenty-five cents a ticket, but all you’ve got is a coin worth about two dollars by 2015 standards.

So what do you do? Well, there are always the newsstands, which are always selling the pulps. Those can always take you right out of your crummy life.

Amazing Stories First Issue

The pulps were cheap, disposable fiction magazines printed on the cheapest printable paper available. They were shocking, they were violent, they were vulgar, most of the stories in them sucked, and I love them to pieces.

If I’m going to talk about geekdom, I simply must discuss these things. If nerd culture reached maturity in the ’80s and ’90s, then it was born with these things in the early twentieth century.

Where to start? Well, at this point science fiction was barely a century old, assuming you consider Frankenstein to have begun it. Only with the beginning of the 1900’s did the genre begin to grow enormously in popularity, with publications such as Amazing Stories and Astounding Stories. The Swords and Sorcery and Proto-Superhero stories also began in magazines, which of course I can never thank enough, since from these genres emerged my beloved franchises Batman and Dungeons and Dragons, among others.

Magazines like these gave us our modern detective stories, and they were the trailblazers for modern horror.

As I said before, most of them were awful. These were pretty much the B-movies of literature, so what did you expect? The authors were paid a penny per word, if even that, and these came out weekly or twice monthly, so the aim of the game was to produce sellable, fast writing. People knew the writing wasn’t expected to be anything good; when they were done with them, they would throw them away, and get the next issue next week and repeat the process.

However, I would argue that they didn’t know what they were doing. Of course most of the writing in these things was insanely shoddy- they were made to sell, not for quality. But the fact still remains that some of the writers working for these publication really were dedicated to their craft, and strived for true quality. The most obvious example I can think of is H.P. Lovecraft, the of course now-beloved horror author whose entire body of work was in these magazines. People would throw the magazines with his writings away, not knowing that someday those words would be regarded as works of genius; a deeply troubled genius who put an enormous deal of work into his stories, such as interconnecting many of them within the same universe (now known as the “Cthulhu Mythos“).

Astounding Stories February 1936 Issue, advertising Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness," considered by some to be his best

Astounding Stories February 1936 Issue, advertising Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness,” considered by many to be his best work.

Another thing I must thank the pulps for is for giving Zorro to the world; not only is Zorro an amazing character in his own right, but he’s also a direct ancestor to Batman, who is my favorite character of all time.

All-Story Weekly August 9 1919 Issue, which had Zorro's first appearance

All-Story Weekly August 9 1919 Issue, which had Zorro’s first appearance

Though these stories were often made for the lowest common denominator, the fact remains that these stories served a very important function for the literary world: they were refining fiction to be more thrilling, more fast-paced, and more entertaining. Sure they (and their covers) were filled with gratuitous shocks, violence, and fan service, but you cannot deny that they forced writers to hone their skills as escapist entertainers. In their quest to create engrossing stories, they produced some of the most compelling scenarios and characters we’ve ever seen.

Of course, the pulps eventually died out, but their legacy is still very much alive and well to this day. They paved the way for comic books and paperback novels, which still use many of the techniques and ideas they’ve pioneered, warts and all. Because of them, we have deeply compelling speculative works that are more addictive than nicotine, and we now have airplane novels that are meant to entertain and then be disposed of as soon as they’ve fulfilled their purpose to titillate and distract you from reality.

Another interesting thing that I’ve noticed is that this format of literature still lives on to this day; we have publications like The New Yorker that publish short stories every week, as well as Japanese light novel and manga magazines that follow the pulp format of serializing several stories simultaneously over several issues of a publication.

But the biggest thing I give thanks to the pulps for is their covers. Because of the pulps, the covers of which were designed to be eye-catching, bold, memorable, and pique your curiosity, we now have the incredibly gorgeous and magnetic pieces of artists such as Michael Whelan and Drew Struzan. When I publish my own works, they are going to have covers in this tradition; compelling, stunning, and beautiful.

Here’s to the pulps, the mothers of all things nerdy!

Almanac: Religion Introduction

As a philosopher, few topics inspire as much fascination for me as religion. As indicated by a previous article, I’m an anti-organized religion agnostic ultimate atheist. To go a little more in-depth, I’m firmly of the conviction that nobody should worship anything and that people should pursue their spirituality independently without allowing others to tell them what to believe. In other words, one of my greater life philosophies is phrased thusly in Assassin’s Creed II:

“Do not follow me, or anyone else.” – Ezio Auditore

However, though I strongly oppose organized religion, I can see many benefits to religion in and of itself:

The first (and perhaps most obvious) is that religion has produced an enormous amount of astonishingly beautiful art. A good first place to begin showing this, I think, is the religious texts themselves; for instance, the King James Version is a poetic, quality translation of the Bible that has become one of the best-selling books of all time. This, to me, makes sense; Christianity is the world’s most prominent religion, and English books are the best-selling. Why though, one might ask, would this particular translation rise to the top?

King James Bible

Well, of course, there’s the fact that it saw a pretty freaking wide distribution in England, and therefore when the English came to the United States it’s the one they brought along with them. However, that still leaves the question as to why England basically recycled it over and over again for centuries rather than making any new translations when it grew archaic. In my opinion it’s because not only is it (reportedly) a good translation, it’s also beautifully written. Of course, I might just be a sucker for flowery early modern English resembling Shakespeare’s (it probably helps that Shakespeare was supposedly one of the translators), but a sign of quality writing is memorability, and we have a long list of common phrases from this translation, including:

“Bottomless pit,”

“Den of thieves,”

“God forbid,”

and “Holier than thou.”

These are phrases that have been stuck in our heads for half a millennium now. Only the universally-recognized genius Shakespeare has had such a huge impact on English. That’s some damn good writing right there.

Another such enormous literary achievement is, of course, the Quran. As I said before, memorability is a pretty good sign of quality writing, and the Quran had to be memorable; according to Islamic tradition, Mohammed was illiterate and had to recite it for others to memorize and write down. Assuming this is true, I can only assume it’s pretty memorable. It’s been compelling enough to become a religious text for over a billion people, and it’s had an even bigger impact on Arabic than the KJV has had on English. As for my take on it, although I don’t know Arabic I’ve read an English translation and found it to be quite pretty. Of course, this could simply be a translation far outshining its source material, but as I understand it this is pretty hard to do. Until I can read the original Arabic text myself, I feel rather confident assuming it that it is, in fact, a literary masterpiece.

Quran

While we’re on the subject of the Islamic world, let’s talk about their calligraphy. Muslims are insanely good at calligraphy. If you don’t believe me, take a look:

Student Islamic CalligraphyIslamic Lamp

Working Title/Artist: Leaf from a Qur'an manuscriptDepartment: Islamic ArtCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: 07Working Date: 13th-14th century photography by mma, Digital File DP238067.tif retouched by film and media (jnc) 5_31_12In this Thursday, Jan. 26 2012 photo, Palestinian calligraphy expert Adel Fauzy practices at his studio in the West Bank town of Hawara, near Nablus. Parchment, feathers and "qalams," a pen made of dried bamboo, are still used by sophers Jewish scribes and khattats Muslim calligraphers. AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)Tell me these writings aren’t drop-dead gorgeous. Because the Islamic people venerate the Quran so enormously and they’ve had a general aversion to graphical images due to their strict laws against idolatry, they’ve naturally become perhaps the world’s best calligraphers, rivaled only by the Chinese. After all, constraints foster creativity.

And of course, buildings. Religion has produced what are (in my opinion) the world’s most beautiful buildings. Here are some mosques, temples, churches, and other awesome, awesome buildings from an assortment of religions:

Notre Dame de Paris

Buddhist Temple

Shinto Temple

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Need I even mention the paintings that religion’s produced?

da Vinci John the Baptist

Creation of Adam

Or the sculptures?

Buddha

Pieta

Yeah. Needless to say, religion inspires unbelievably amazing art.

But then why, you might ask, do I oppose organized religion so strongly? For the answer to that, look up the Spanish Inquisition. Or the Crusades. Or the Salem Witch Trials. Or the September Eleventh Terrorist Attacks. Even if you think those are  overly dramatic examples of religion’s harm, go look at Jehovah’s Witness deaths over (lack of) blood transfusions or LGBT suicides over bullying.

Now, I want to make something abundantly clear: I do not think it’s religion’s fault these sorts of things occur. After all, the world’s most genocidal man was an atheist. Rather, I believe that it’s the problem of mankind itself; I believe that humans are basically evil and that kind, virtuous people are rare (and by the way, before any of you start shouting that I’m even more full of myself than I am, I don’t count myself among the decent; I may be on the side of the angels, but don’t think for one second that I am one of them). I think that rather than allowing passion or conscience to drive them, people allow fear to be their primary emotion, and that religion simply accommodates and (potentially) amplifies this.

Therein lies my greatest criticism of religion: I think that, taken literally, it’s almost invariably fear-based. People even readily admit this; notice how common the phrase “God-fearing” is. Especially with Abrahamic religions, ethics essentially boils down to “carrots and sticks;” do good, and you’ll be rewarded. Do evil, and you’ll receive punishment. In my opinion, this way of viewing the world is deeply misguided and cowardly.

Of course, I think that religion can do great things, as well; in my opinion, the wisest of all men were deeply religious (Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Fred Rogers, etc.) and religion has inspired a great deal of charity, warmth, and brotherhood.

The reason I believe religion is capable of causing such tremendous evil is because it can make people act in fear of the ultimate retribution: eternal suffering. The reason I believe religion is capable of inspiring such tremendous compassion is quite simple: people are very visual creatures.

To explain what I mean by this, think of the method of loci or Oriental abacists. People are able to memorize staggering amounts of information and make enormous calculations by visualizing imaginary locations and objects. By the same token, we use stories to teach lessons; with Hansel and Gretel, we use the vivid imagery of being eaten alive and burning in a furnace to teach the lesson of not trusting strangers. With the Lion and the Mouse, we get an obviously highly contrasted pair of characters to demonstrate for us the potential self-benefitting nature of altruism. Wise religious leaders have thoroughly understood this; Jesus framed his lessons as parables, one of the most famous being the Good Samaritan, establishing that all men are brothers and should show compassion and kindness to one another (as a brief aside I think it would do Islamophobic Christians much good to recall this parable).

What I’m ultimately saying is: we need stories in order to learn, and in many respects religions have the most potent stories, and therefore the most potent lessons. After all, it’s hard to get loftier and more vivid than lakes of brimstone and fire or a parting sea or being raised from the dead. This is where I believe the benefit of religion lies: it has perhaps the most powerful images and ideas with which we can learn and understand the world.

By this standard I am in a way deeply religious myself; I use books to shape my morals and the characters therein to be the personifications of my ideals to be emulated.

However, once again, I would advise against organized worship, or even worship altogether; when it comes down to it, my thoughts on whether or not there’s a God (or gods) is: I don’t care. If none exist, I’ll live the best I can with the time I have. If one does, I acknowledge it as nothing more than another being with greater power than myself and I will continue to attempt to live ethically and happily, regardless of what it tells me or threatens to do. Anything that wants to be worshipped doesn’t deserve to, and anything that deserves to be worshipped wouldn’t want to, and therefore I worship nothing.

Although I believe that it would ultimately be better for people not to worship anything, I believe that so long as people are kind to one another and strive to make the world a happier and more peaceful place it ultimately doesn’t matter what they believe.

This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” 

Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso

Almanac: Philosophy Introduction

Being the extremely pretentious individual deeply thoughtful person that I am, I thought I’d share my opinions ideas on philosophy, that most subjective, convoluted, inconclusive deep, complex, and fascinating of pursuits.

To paraphrase Frueline Maria, let’s start at the beginning, as it’s a very good place to start.

Here’s what I am with regards to my views on the universe as a whole, how it began, and what it all ultimately means: I’m an existentially nihilistic agnostic ultimate atheist. What this essentially means is that I think we (probably) began in nothing, will return to nothing, and that nothing ultimately matters. With regards to higher powers, I quite happily admit to having no idea if any exist or not. If I had to set my chips down on a guess, it would be that deities do in fact exist; I most certainly believe that aliens exist, and I’d be willing to wager that some exist that wield (what we perceive to be) enormous power. Nonetheless, I highly doubt the existence of an “eternal, transcendent, all-powerful” deity, as I believe all things are subjected to the laws of nature and must answer to that darkness from which all began and all will end.

Though this might seem to be a rather bleak worldview at first glance, I don’t find this to be cause to wallow in hopelessness and self-pity. After all- why would you? There’s no reason to. Of course, there’s no reason to be happy either, other than we want to. And therefore I declare: though life might have no meaning, I’ll forge one for myself. I decide that the meaning of my life is for me to be happy, and since my projects provide me the most happiness I therefore dedicate myself fully to them.

On a more practical and personal level, I’m deeply misanthropic, pretty radically left-wing (as in, I believe everyone has the right to do absolutely anything they like so far as they don’t infringe upon the rights of others), socialistic, secularistic, countercultural, pro-intellectualism, anti-organized religion, egalitarian, and I fervently advocate for the defense of nature and the rights of animals.

Above all I advocate for the promotion of learning and the arts, as I believe that these are the keys to understanding and enlightenment and therefore the means to achieving widespread peace and joy.

I will go with more depth into the aforementioned subjects and I will explain why and how I’ve come to my currently-held positions and worldview, in hopes that universal understanding might be achieved.

To reference Assassin’s Creed: here’s to peace in all things!

Almanac: The ’80s

In the novel Ready Player One (which I plan to review relatively soon) there is a character named James Halliday who compiles a collection of writings known as Anorak’s Almanac. In his almanac he rambles his thoughts on the world in general and pop culture specifically.

I relate very deeply to Halliday and share many of his eccentricities and interests, most notably our shared obsession with the 1980s. Reading about Halliday and the Almanac immediately made me want to undertake such an endeavor, and so I’ve decided to begin this subproject henceforth known as Akira’s Almanac where I can place my general musings on perhaps my two favorite subjects: philosophy and media, often intermingling the two. Without further ado, here are my thoughts on perhaps the best place to start: the ’80s.

I am incredibly, deeply obsessed with the ’80s. Despite the fact that I haven’t lived during that decade, it is my favorite historical decade, followed closely by the ’60s and the 2000s.   My reasoning is pretty simple: in my mind, the 1980s was the decade when modern media was born. Although things such as popular music, video games, speculative fiction, and anime had existed before this era, this was the time they began to be refined to excellence; though the ’70s gave us the first arcade games and home consoles, the ’80s gave us the Golden Age of Arcades and the standard-setting, trailblazing home titles such as Super Mario Bros. 3 and The Legend of Zelda. Though it’s the ’60s that gave us Star Trek and The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Dungeons and Dragons began in the ’70s and forever entrenched speculative fiction in our culture by the ’80s. The ’80s gave us perhaps the first “true” pop music with entertainers such as Michael Jackson and Madonna, and the global smash hit anime Dragon Ball was gathering steam in Japan.

I feel I as an enormous nerd owe unfathomably much to the ’80s, and not just because it’s when the foundation of modern geekdom was established; this was also the decade that established my favorite aesthetics.

To explain what I mean, think of what the ’80s was. Of course, the people I asked about it might have been donning nostalgia goggles, but from what I hear the ’80s was a huge, colorful party much like the ’20s- and had all the problems that come with huge, wild parties. At that point relations between the West and the Soviet Union were at a peak of tension not seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis, and people had very good reason to fear that the entire world would go up in a mushroom cloud. Naturally, when people are very, very frightened, they become very hedonistic, and thus we got the party today known as the ’80s. Oh sure, we had lots of fun- we had lots of loud, new music, new toys, lots of colored lights, and lots of wild hair, but along with that came a new STD, an influx of disturbingly predatory media, and a repeat of Prohibition in the form of cocaine.

I’ll discuss all that another time; right now I’ll focus on what I like about the ’80s. Again, it was the era of bright light and vibrant color. To give you an idea of precisely how important that is to me, my favorite anime is Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and my favorite electronic game is Kingdom Hearts II. You’ll notice that both of those works are absolutely brimming with vibrantly colorful lights and feature climaxes that involve the opponents throwing pure energy at each other, culminating in the antagonist barraging the protagonists with enormous amounts of it. That’s one of the biggest observations I’ve made about my aesthetic taste: the more bright and vibrantly colorful a work is, the more likely I am to like it. Of course, this sort of aesthetic principle very much took ahold in the ’80s, with works such as the Star Wars films and Tron utilizing ridiculous amounts of colored energy. I cannot thank the ’80s enough for providing me this, as you’ll see most or all of my works being this bright and colorful.

The ’80s also gave us some of our first great ventures into fantasy; we got WillowConan the Barbarian, The Dark Crystal, The Princess Bride, and Labyrinth during this decade. Though these films couldn’t quite reach the scope and grandiosity of high fantasy (my favorite sub genre), which would finally happen in the 2000s with the Lord of the Rings films, we got excelent experiences with the restrictions we had nonetheless. We were also setting the stage for such huge high fantasy works to happen; this was the time Dungeons and Dragons at last developed a huge cult following, paving the way for the best Final Fantasy games, other fantasy tabletop games such as Magic: the Gathering, and of course huge cinematic fantasy endeavors such as Game of Thrones and the aforementioned Lord of the Rings.

But there is one thing in particular that stands out about the ’80s to me. It’s the one thing that makes me think that perhaps I was born in the wrong time and should have come into my prime then rather than now. To understand why, I must discuss my magnum opus.

In my “About” page, you’ll see near the end that I mention a desire to pen the “Grand Masterpiece of All Literature.” This isn’t just a general, vague dream; I’m speaking of a specific project when I speak these words. This project I refer to is my flagship work; my magnum opus. I have fully dedicated my life to the creation and sustenance of this work; even all of my other projects are simply extensions of the ideas in it. It is literally my ultimate ambition for this work to become renowned as the pinnacle of artistic achievement and for it to fully live up to that title.

This work is titled Rainbow. In its first incarnation it is to be a science fiction/fantasy/horror/romance/dystopian/adventure novel, and I plan to eventually adapt it into a manga, anime, film, and ultimately a video game. I won’t reveal much about it for now, but what you currently need to know for the purposes of this discussion is that it’s all about the paranormal (and is therefore comparable to works such as Gravity FallsThe X-Files, and Ghostbusters) and was inspired by a series of books on the paranormal called The Mysteries of the Unknown. This series of books was released in the ’80s, and without those books I likely wouldn’t have conceived Rainbow.

And so this is why I love the ’80s so much; it has shaped and inspired my works, and it has laid the foundation for my favorite works as well as my own to shine.

Here’s to the ’80s; I owe everything to you!