Nietzsche’s Abyss

A saying I have heard a few times in my life goes, “All it takes for evil to win is for good men to do nothing.”

But do we take for granted that there will always be good men? Morally, we’re often at a loss about how to define things as good and evil. Nor does the absence of evil necessarily mean good, for there are often large swathes of moral gray from within which we ponder our existence.

Very often, we tend to lighten evil by reason and justification. The phrase, “Greed/Money is the root of all evil” is one such example of this. In my life, I’ve read stories of men and women who have engaged in acts that, by our current definitions of rational or moral, are anything but. Criminal psychologists have invested hours, years and lifetimes trying to answer why.

The more you stare into this abyss of the irrational, the more tiring it becomes. I’ve looked down there many times in my life, and I’d imagine everyone has once or twice, if only to have a comparible standard that clarifies the difference of sanity to its opposite.

Only a mind can hold the untruth. A symbol in the equation whose values shift and alter without logic or reason. The chaotic black box against which even the same formula results in different values. In reality, there is an equal or opposite reaction for every action. But this symbol stands in defiance against such natural truths.

Regardless of the existence of this chaos in every mind, we build a structure of rules and thinking within the framework of our minds, a framework of which is our accepted school of morality. They may differ, but we all have a set of morals, defined by both their existence or lack there of.

With regard to evil,  four major schools are moral thought exist: absolutism, nihilism, relativism, and universalism.

Absolutism is the belief that certain things are absolutely always wrong, such as murder or stealing. Relativism is the the comparison and tolerance of differing sets of behavior. Universalism is embracing a set of standards for all people. Nihilism is the inherent disbelief in any sense of right or wrong.

These four schools do not always compete or disagree. Absolutism can be compatible with universalism, but that is not always true. And furthermore, some may apply varying schools to varying actions. For example, a person who believes that killing is wrong at all times may apply absolutism to situations that could be self defense or the death penalty. But then the same person may feel relativism when answering questions about two men stealing bread, one because he can and the other to feed his family.

When it comes to villains, we often apply a rationality for their actions which smacks of relativism from a lower set of moral standards. That for some reason, they have compared their situation to others and feel in someways justified in their actions. The world has done them wrong, so they feel justified in stealing to survive, at least from a particular group or people.

Absolutism and universalism can also turn dark. Absolutism can be raised to arrogance, justifying the righteousness of one on the belief that their decisions are good. Univeralism too in the application of “moral truths” against everyone, whether they wish it or not.  

Nihilism is particularly unique in that denying the existence of morals, it can become the very evil that all other schools of thought fear. A person with absolutely no morals may choose not to kill or steal out of logical consideration of the legal consequences. But in a state of weakened administration of the law or straight anarchy, such individuals can easily be quite dangerous.

Morals are the basis of both good and evil.

Technically, the temple of morality every person builds for themselves becomes suspect the moment that any untruth is laid upon it. Especially when a truth dispels an falsehood that is the basis of that very foundation. But anyone who has ever had an argument before knows that a person’s moral standing does not collapse when confronted with evidence of it’s incorrectness.

The psychological term we apply for this phenomenon is cognitive dissonance, the attempt to justify and “correct” the original assumptions of our thinking, rather than to accept and rebuild our understanding of morality and truth.

But the abyss I mentioned before is always there. Like a black, light absorbing sun, its illogical is the bane of all reason and all knowledge. It does not inverse truth; it makes truth meaningless. There are many terms for it. The schism of interloping consciences. Biological psychobabble. Madness. The chaos from which the universe sprung.

Who knows.

There is another psychological term for what this abyss can create. It is called metanoia, the breaking down and restructuring of one’s mindframe. A kind of reconciliation of the mind to the facts. Perhaps this abyss is the pit where we toss the truths we dismiss until it gross and consumes the temple of morality and leave the ground afresh to begin again.

I suspect there will always be those however, that are absorbed by the abyss and never reemerge. Maybe they go catatonic or insane. Maybe what comes out of it is worse than before. Some reach down into the abyss and pull back a hand of water from which they clean themselves of the impurities they have wrought upon themselves.

Most I suspect, fall and never come out.

“When you stare into the abyss the abyss stares back at you.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche

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The Gildar Rift

I'm sorry, but Huron Blackheart is just too damn ugly to make fun of.

I'm sorry, but Huron Blackheart is just too damn ugly to tease.

Author’s Edit-Note: Yesterday, I heard out some statements and thoughts on the review. As I considered it, I started to mentally compare this review to others I have written. I didn’t feel what I wrote was particularly fair, so I’ve submitted here an edited version.

Opinions can be swayed or changed, and not always for ill. If opinions and feelings didn’t change, then your first love would be your only love, people would be content with the same meal everyday and Kim Kardashian might still be married… for better or worse.

And opinions can be wrong, especially when founded on false facts or the impact  of a few bad apples in the barrel. And that doesn’t really do a book and its author justice. If anyone thinks this makes my opinion too biased, then so be it. It’s not the end of my world.

So here is the updated version. Edits are mentioned before hand, while the rest is left as the original.

I feel the need to give something of a disclaimer before I post this review.

You see, I pal around with the author, one Sarah Cawkwell, on the Shoutbox. That being said, I cannot claim that this review isn’t without additional bias (as I already am a Warhammer 40k fan). I admit that I found both strengths and weaknesses in the story, which I will list with both deserving praise and constructive criticism respectively.

I leave it to the reader to decide if my word is trustworthy given the facts I have presented. But I feel that The Gildar Rift is a solid, interesting read.

From the get go, there’s a lot that separates this book from other Space Marine Battle novels. For starters, I enjoy the fact that the enemy is Chaos instead of Space Orkz. I grew somewhat tired of the constant Orkz’R’Us that some other SMBs offered (Helsreach and Rynn’s World). It’s refreshing when the enemy is after your soul more so than your body.

When the threat of corruption is as equal as the threat of destruction, one must keep one’s eyes both on the enemy and on one’s allies.

I feel it best to discuss Cawkwell’s strengths. Her writing of space-naval battles is impressive. Very impressive. I’ve read some of the works of Michael Stackpole and veteran Black Library authors, and her talent for writing naval warfare is exceptional even in comparison. Her writing of ground battles is also solid but not quite the same caliber as in space.

Plot wise, The Gildar Rift offers far more than most Space Marine battle books, with a mix of interesting villains that contrast themselves against the long term plans of the Silver Skulls. The Skulls were hard at work on a new technical project designed to mesh man and machine. You may wonder how this is different than other Mechanicus products, but trust me when I say that it is different. That it is unlike anything we’ve seen in the grim future as of yet. It is enough to keep one curious and keeps the book from being branded as “bolter porn.”

One thing of interest was the traditions of the Silver Skulls. Firm believers in the will of the Emperor, they relied on Chaplain-Librarians to divine the future and accept or deny battle plans accordingly. While interesting in theory, I feel for the impatience of the main character, Daerys Arrun. To wait for the aye or nay of a tarot reading would drive me absolutely bonkers.

But the Silver Skulls “read the signs” approach truly fits Sarah Cawkwell’s combative writing style. You can tell from the first battle that she is a writer who fight-writes with her head first by discussing strategy and tactics. She lays out what has to be done and how it will be done, and takes the time to think it out before putting her thoughts and words into action.

Edits: Originally, I had stamped Cawkwell’s dialogue as somewhat weak at points. As I reevaluated the book, I narrowed my grievances down to only a few parts. The dialogue throughout the book was fine to good. My original post seemed to suggest that there was more wrong with Cawkwell’s work than there was, which was my fault.

So I have removed the section explaining body language and non-verbal communication. It can be reincarnated later in a more fitting post, and not insinuating more weakness in Cawkwell’s work than is actually there.

My grievances are reduced to a few scenes or statements which bugged me. At the start of chapter four (page 77), Arrun feels it necessary to apologize to Prognosticator Brand. Now in its defense, situations where a Space Marine feels it necessary to apologize to another are as rare as thumbs on a dog. But it’s painfully awkward to watch Arrun try to console his guilty conscience. Could I have written this part better myself? Very unlikely. But it begs the question of what is the proper way a warrior should seek forgiveness from another, which is something I’ll be thinking about.

On page 141, Huron Blackheart goes into some monologue of everything he intends to do with Arrun. The whole rambling set of threats could have used a touch of reason, even if it was irrationality. Was it Blackheart’s insanity? Was it psychological warfare? Was it madness or was there a method to it? Or both? The monologue raises an interesting question as to how much the author should explain. Would it have been better to clarify the purpose of Blackheart’s ranting or leave it to the reader to figure out?

Finally on page 320, the taciturn Daviks felt it necessary to give a very long winded explanation of the kinks in his strategy. Getting detailed would be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that Arrun was in the middle of a battle. Arrun shot this down, but wondered why it didn’t dawn on Daviks that it wasn’t the time.

But these weaknesses are miniscule compared to the whole. The Gildar Rift is a strong read, difficult to put down as the old question, “What happens next?!” kept me glued. I’ll be looking forward to Cawkwell’s next novel.

Rejection and Victory

Well at least you succeeded in SOMETHING during your miserable life!

Well at least you succeeded at SOMETHING in your miserable life!

So I received another rejection letter, although this one was from Every Day Fiction.

To my surprise however, they gave the story I submitted three full reviews by three editors. The reviews were extensive enough for a 700 word flash fiction story involving a game at the office.

The reviews arrived at relatively similar conclusions. They all seemed to enjoy the beginning, the overall idea and the humor. But at least two out of three editors took issue with the overall reaction of this one character against the setting. As I read their reactions, I came to realize that the rejection letter is far, far more valuable than the story itself.

You see, a story that is successfully published is like a hypothesis confirmed. It’s ideal, but doesn’t really teach anything or lead to any new discovery, like a writer’s weaknesses. Many publishers do not bother with full reviews like this one, which often leaves large numbers of befuddled and anxious writers.

As I read the review, I understood what they were getting at. The idea itself is gold, but the execution needs work. Based on what I gathered, I suspect that my third story, a spiritual/religious pagan piece, will probably be rejected on grounds of being confusion. However, the second story about a guy on a date probably still has a chance to succeed.

For now, I’ll put this one on the back burner and try to re-cultivate the idea into something that better fits the setting. It shouldn’t take long, but once finished it’ll have to be resubmitted and go through another two and a half months of occupying the slush pile.

On the flip side, the internet meme above relates to a victory I took from a friend in a game of table top Warhammer 40k, using only 17 words. How, you ask? Well, to understand you’ll have to read the following dialogue.

He2etic: “And someday soon, I will kill you all at the BLL and Gamesday with my Black Legionnaires.”

Shadowhawk:  “I don’t have any army anymore so that might be a bit difficult. :D”

He2etic: “I WIN BY DEFAULT!”
Chaos. We take victory anyway we can.

Chaos Music Tributes: Slaanesh

The prince of excess.

The prince of excess.

My friend Dan once asked me what is the real threat of Slaanesh. Pleasure is what humans tend to seek on their own, so what’s the harm in it?

At the time, the easiest answer I could give was good ol’ fashioned STDs. But that treads upon Nurgle’s gifts at bad times. Yeah, STDs can be dangerous, but what else? How can Slaanesh be dangerous of his own volition?

It was a question I’ve quietly watched people over, trying to find the answer.

And since that day, I’ve come across dozens of tiny examples. Slaanesh is not the lord of a thousand temptations for nothing. And none of them could easily take a person over the edge. But when either they start to mingle, or one is pursued to the brink of self destruction, you begin to see the real threat that Slaanesh can be to the soul.

The simple answer is, “Obsession is excess.”

I think if there is any director in Hollywood who understands the threat of Slaanesh’s appeal, it would have to be Darren Aronofsky. From Black Swan, The Wrestler and especially Requiem for a Dream, Aronofsky has repeatedly proven that he understands the dangers of unchecked obsessions and the cliff they can send you flying from. There is an underlying psychology behind what drives many of these poor souls; a taste of the pleasures of considerable excess, followed by the pit of failure and hope to rekindle the fire that was lost, regardless of what the cost would be. And on the screen, he explains that best.

The pleasures of Slaanesh know a fairly wide number of symbols. Art, music, drugs and alcohol, sex, and food to start. What’s surprising is that these things are so mundane. We all need food, are exposed to art and music, we occasionally partake in alcohol and some of us do drugs or sex. The danger comes from overdoing any of these things.

You can drink yourself to death, overdose on drugs or alcohol. When a person pursues the perfection of art and music, it is quite possible that they can forget to do the things necessary to life, hence a twist on the phrase “starving artist.” And when people get bored of plain, ordinary sex, they can find themselves increasingly tempted towards more potentially painful, if not dangerous, acts.

As you might imagine, song writers and musicians have a strong affinity for Slaanesh, so it’s not difficult to find music that really fits the bill. Still, there maybe a few goodies in here you’ve never heard before. As before, a playlist is on the bottom, and songs with asterisks (*) are songs without lyrics.

  1. Bad Romance, by Lady Gaga. (You may also want to check out this cover by Halestorm if you don’t like this version.)
  2. Requiem for a Dream Remix, by Clint Mansell remix by Prince Negaafellaga.*
  3. Running Up That Hill, by Placebo.
  4. Don’t You Ever, by Republica.
  5. The Beginning is the End is the Beginning, by The Smashing Pumpkins.
  6. The Show Must Go On, by Queen.

Bow to the prince of excess.

Chaos Music Tributes: Tzeentch

The changer of ways...

The changer of ways...

Whew. Tzeentch. Mmm.

I have to admit, although Tzeentch is my favorite of the four Chaos gods, he is tricky in more ways than one. Of the four Chaos gods, he is the least tangible. For example, the other three gods have associated bodily fluids, but not Tzeentch. His icons, like birds, books and hour glasses, tend to be vast and many, but never deep or clear.

Even the symbol is open to interpretation; Nurgle’s is a bio-hazard warning, Khorne’s a stylized skull and that of Slaanesh overlapping gender symbols. But Tzeentch’s isn’t so obvious.

Some believe Tzeentch’s emblem is a flaming torch while others see a snake or smoke, or perhaps even some kind of water bird. But, like any god of change, magic, trickery and scheming, it doesn’t want to be easily defined. The less tangible and more shapeless it is, the more easily it can take a new form.

On the plus side, this lack of clarity makes Tzeentch a very versatile god to work with writing wise. Plots, magic, scheming, trickery, change, mutations, hope, psychic powers and secrecy are all his calling cards. Tzeentch and his followers are always playing with a loaded deck, and frequently leave their victims a few cards short of one. It also leaves for very few contradictions, as we get with Khorne.

One thing of interest is that, ultimately, Tzeentch constantly seeks power over others and at all times. This at times sets up conflicts with his brother Nurgle, who is all about letting go, and Slaanesh.

Why Slaanesh? Neil Strauss’ book, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists gives one pretty good example of it. In the book, Style (Strauss’ code name) joins a group of self improvement obsessed men who are trying to get luckier with the ladies. But in the course of the book, he learns that some men are less interested in fun and good times, and more interested in power and domination over their fellow man.

Another example can be found in questions of money. Money is definitely a source of power to some, but it can also be followed to the point of excess. Gold for example is a constant indication of wealth. But while some might obtain and horde it as a source of power and influence, others wear it out of vanity, such as Xerxes from 300. He hungered for power, but justified it through belief in his inherent divinity. However, he also flirted with excess in the gold he wore, his slaves, his concubines and very potent hubris.

Here’s the music at last, with a focus on mysticism, power and magic. Music without lyrics is marked with an asterisks (*), while the link at the very bottom is to a playlist of all these songs. Oh, and the first one was chosen because of how I feel it relates to the conflicts of Magnus the Red:

  1. A Demon’s Fate, by Within Temptation.
  2. Macross Plus – Information High, by Yoko Kanno.
  3. Fable 2 – Bowerstone Market, by Danny Elfman and Russell Shaw.*
  4. Mind Heist, by Zack Hemsey.*
  5. 300 – Xerxes’ Tent, by Tyler Bates.*
  6. Battlestar Galactica – The Shape of Things to Come, by Bear McCreary.*
  7. Gladiator – Am I Not Merciful?, by Hans Zimmer.*
  8. Two Steps from Hell – Heart of Courage, by Nick Phoenix and Thomas J. Bergersen.*
  9. The Illusionist – The Chase, by Philip Glass.*

All hail the architect of fate with post 99!

Music Mining

I was quite amused when I first read the Dark Heresy core rule book on involving the chaos gods in the roleplaying elements of the game. It came with a warning not to take any of it seriously. I mean, after all. What’s the worst that can happen?

Anyway, this Chaos Music Tribute series is proving to be an interesting challenge.

Raziel4707 mentioned how he prefers grindcore style music for Khorne. I’ve listened to that style of music before with its thick lyrics and wild instrumentals and yeah, that’s pretty Berzerker wild. I considered for a while using it in my list, but I decided on more coherent music. My goal was to encourage Khornite thinking, as opposed to music that basically makes you feel like murder.

But it does create doubt. I listen to a piece and feel it is good. But is Khorne enough? Perhaps not. But I have to look at what I’m doing objectively, and recognizing when the point is made and when it is not. So on those grounds, I feel that I made the right decisions.

I actually finished both Nurgle’s and Tzeentch’s yesterday, but I hesitated about releasing them. I had issues about Tzeentch’s because, although happy with two-thirds of the music, I want to replace three songs. And I worried about some controversial content with Nurgle’s tribute.

But this morning, I reread Nurgle’s tribute careful. I combed over the words and felt I had kept myself safe from any controversy by pointing out the debate rather than engaging in it. I cited my sources, accept that the debate may still be raging. Feeling it’s good, I posted.

I’m actually going to hold off on unveiling Tzeentch’s until Sunday. I just want a little time to find better music for those three I’m not impressed with. So until then, I’ll finish up Slaanesh’s first. Just songs relating to sex, luxury, excess, you name it. Easy peasy.

Chaos Music Tributes: Nurgle

The lord of all!

The lord of all!

Imagine spending a load of time trying to build a sand castle. You gather wet sand from the beach, pile it up, and pat it down. You shape it, mold it and construct it and after a lot of effort, it’s done. And it looks so good, people stop and watch because of how impressed they are.

But then your little brother comes along and in an act of infantile glee, stomps it all back into sand. He doesn’t understand that the art of creation takes so long, and that the act of destruction take the merest fraction of that time. But emotionally, that doesn’t matter to you in the least because your work is ruined.

Now you know how Tzeentch feels around his brother Nurgle.

The polar opposite of Tzeentch, Nurgle is the deity of disease, rot and decay at the highest tiers of his representation. As you go down the scale, he is also the god of morbidity, nihilism, and despair. Why bother scheming, planning and working so hard for a better life when you’re just going to die anyway?

It’s interesting then that Nurgle’s followers tend to be joyous and unusually happy, as if they perceive the efforts of all their enemies to be in vain. Nurgle’s followers are frequently known for being strangely friendly even to their foes, like some relative who has no sense of personal boundaries. The grand irony, and perhaps source of this good humor, is that while Nurgle’s foes may resist and fight him, they will be his postmortem anyway.

This is why Nurgle goes by the title of ‘Lord of All.’

Who the hell would consciously want to be a follower of Nurgle? Not many, but there are a few. Some homeless, for example, exhibit traits and actions that suggest a lack of hope. They do not bathe or do anything to improve their quality of life. As they gather filth and rot, we often see these people and try to figure some rational explanation, believing that no one would possibly want to live like this. While I won’t venture into the thorny topic of why they can’t or won’t change their life, these folks would be prime fodder for Nurgle’s blessing.

As if that wasn’t controversial enough, another example of that morbid despair lies in the actions of Gaëtan Dugas, a person some theorize to be “patient zero” of the AIDS outbreak. Whether or not Dugas actually was patient zero isn’t the point, but rather his actions. Supposedly, despite knowing of his condition, Dugas continued to sleep with many different partners across the United States despite seemingly knowing of his condition. According to Snopes, he is said to have once stated to one of his partners, “I’ve got gay cancer. I’m going to die and so are you.”

And that is the kind of despair that Nurgle would feed upon.

Nurgle calls upon anything of general horror and creepiness to depression, and the music below reflects that in a manic depressive manner. The link at the end is to a playlist of all these songs. Songs without lyrics are marked with an asterisks (*):

  1. Misery Loves Company Rad Remix, by Emilie Autumn.
  2. Nightmare, by Nox Arcana.*
  3. Silent Hill 2 – Promise (Reprise), by Akira Yamaoka.*
  4. Down with the Sickness, by Disturbed.
  5. 28 Days Later – In a Heartbeat, by London Music Works.*
  6. The Dark Knight – Why So Serious?, by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard.*
  7. Diablo 3 – Act I Zombie Music, by Russell Brower.*

Feel Grandpa Nurgle’s love, in playlist form.

Oh, P.S. I was tempted for a long minute to add The Great Mighty Poo song from Conker’s Bad Fur Day to the playlist. I decided not to in the end because of the grossness of it, but I felt it necessary to mention it at the very least.