27 October, 2016

Roleplayers versus Reality

Further to my discussion yesterday, I've found quite a few additional posts by varipus people who've obviously been seeing the same underlying patterns in modern western society, or they've been seeing similar symptoms and drawing similar conclusions to my rant.

As an example, there's "6 Reasons for Donald Trump's Rise", which seems to theorise some interesting points but probably oversimplifies things by linking the issues in western society to the rural/urban divide.

And then there's "5 Helpful Answers to Society's Uncomfortable Questions", which basically says that we as individuals and as a society are bound by traditions. Those traditions have served us well for millenia, defining cultures, breeding us into what we are today, competing with one another until one became dominant (the Western European Patriarchal paradigm). It defined itself as a competitor with the world and it basically won...and now it doesn't know what to do.

It kind of leads back into my thoughts yesterday, where Christianity began as a cult of Judaism, the underdog attempting to be recognised, the martyrs thrown to the lions by the Romans, the exiled rulers of Jerusalem...then when it actually started to become the dominant force in Europe, it needed to conquer the rest of the world with conquistadors and missionaries. As a competitive force, Christianity fractured into factions, Eastern and Western orthodoxy, Protestantism, numerous offshoots, all claiming to be the "true" path because the religion thrives as a minority in the face of an oppressive majority. It's not just Christianity that does this, but Christianity is so tied up with the Western paradigm that a historical look at it reflects the development of culture in Europe, and then across the rest of the world as European trade became a dominant force obliterating less powerful cultures. This linking of Christianity with the European cultural and colonialist ways leads to a lot of interesting elements of history, perhaps moreso when specific historical event see individual greed and hunger for power reflected as either "the will of God" or "the temptation of the Devil" depending on which side were the historical victors.

I'm not a huge fan of organised religion. I'm not going to enter into the debate of whether the underlying message of any religion is right or wrong, but There are ample historical precedents indicating that once a an organised religion reaches a certain point, power plays and politics shift the religion from a spiritual to a social construct. The gnostics had some great ideas to avoid this back in the early days, and a few offshoot sects have tried to bring them back in, but on the whole, the competitive nature of Christianity and the inertia behind the struggle for legitimacy meant that it couldn't accept these "heresies". Religions of most types have this thing about an afterlife, which is a great thing for a ruling elite to latch onto. As long as they are linked to a religion, the dominant forces in society can say that hard work and sacrifices on earth will lead to riches and rewards in the afterlife (or oin the next life)...they don't need to provide rewards now, and they can even say that more suffering (or sacrifice, or piety) will lead to even better rewards. Look at Hinduism with its claims that those who are devout will be reincarnated into better castes next time around...those born into privilege can simply state that they are living the rewards from previous lives of suffering. It's built into the culture to reward those born into positions of status, even though it may simply be a cosmic lottery. The oft-quoted "72 virgins" in Islam follows the same pattern. Buddhism seeks to transcend that type of belief, but even it requires a degree of devout sacrifice and complete detachment from society to attain it's bodhisattva status. Christianity began with an attempt to break away from the socio-cultural strictures of Judaism, but once the first teacher died, the apostles instantly fell back into the development of a heirarchy. It taught equality in it's words, but notions such as "divine providence" allowed the ruling elite to maintain their power, those who didn't need to spend days working in the fields could sactifoce a bit more of their ample spare time to commune with priests or make lavish donations to the church to justify their rulership. Bishops would gain comforatble lives from the donations of the elite, and would tell the peasantry to male their regular donations and sacrifices to gain rewards in heaven. Meanwhile the elite grow fat off the work of the peasants and the cycle continues.  It's the very thing Karl Marx was talking about when he said that religion was the opiate of the masses.

Faith requires devotion, devotion means sticking to a belief system despite temptation. Having an open mind is opening oneself to temptation, free thought runs the risk of seeing through the structures that the dominant forces of society use to keep the population in check. The conservatives don't want change, because change might see them lose power. So they cut funding to schools, they report lies or exaggerate sporting stories that serve to segregate the wider population into more manageable tribes, and they use the tools of organised religion to play with their populations at a psychological level (such as mandatory pep rallies, the KKK, stadiums where the seating focuses attention in a specific way, calling out "the other" such as the works of Jack Chick...it's hardly surprising that this sort of thing is far more common in the red states of the United States, where closed thought links with religious devotion, televangelist and mega-church con-men, and a rural us-versus-them mentality). Conversely, the progressives want to break away from the existing power structure. There might be a dozen different progressives pulling a dozen different ways (according to gender, race, religion, sexuality, or class lines) but the conservatives lump them all together as enemies trying to take their privilege. Scientists threaten the religious order with their claims of evolutionary theory, communists threaten the established order of wealth...the conservatives hate everything that might take away any of their power so they do everything in their power to discredit those threats. From the conservative side, it's all about people with power manipulating people without power, with the intention of maintaining their position, from the progressive side it gets more complicated, with some people attempting to spread the power across society and others seeking to disrupt things to gain power for themselves.

You don't need conspiracy theories about lizard people, or aliens, it's just a case of stepping away from blind faith and looking at the wider patterns in the world in the context of human nature...and probably a healthy dose of cynicism.

But hypothetically, for the purposes of a game, let's say there are forces of nature manipulating reality. And according to this hypothetical situation, there are intermediaries who enact the will of these entities in the world, often whispering into the ears of mortals and inspiring through dreams and social movements because direct manipulation of reality are banned. Such entities might be percieved as angels (or vilified as demons), they might wage an eternal war of law (conservatism) versus chaos (progress), they might work to better the wider community (good) or consolidate the power in the hands of their chosen mortal vessel (evil). Mortals may not be a concern to them at all, instead pushing concepts such as "war", "vegetation", "the French language", "the number 4", or something else. Such forces of nature would finds their allegiances constantly shifting as historical events unfold in the world.

+Steve Dee is working on a new game about angels. I don't want to tread on his toes, but I'd love to pull a lot of these elements into one or more of my current projects. It's a stomping ground were I can commonly be found. It's the centre of my experience with Mage: the Ascension, and it's the kind of ideological place where my Familiar project inhabits.
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