Reflections of a Splitting Soul

I haven’t blogged in a while (mostly busy, which is a bad excuse since I’m certainly still wasting a lot of time, but also because I’ve spent little time reflecting over the last four weeks or so). I’ve done a lot of progress in the last few years, but one thing has eluded me: true satisfaction.

After re-watching this excellent speech by Arnold Schwarzenegger I got to thinking about where his life went right and where mine went wrong (warning: this post will be a long trail of thoughts with no discernible plot).

A tweet isn’t enough to cover all my thoughts on the subject.

At a surface level it’s obvious: He responded to an abusive father with an independent streak that made him want to find his own way in the world. I responded to mine by locking myself deeper into the recesses of my mind.

Men must live in both stillness and motion. The former is where strategy and tactics are formed. It is also where those who work in the digital realm must be comfortable with. The latter involves both physical and social activity and is where business deals are made, bodies are forged and relationships are built.

Arnold thrives in motion but, to my shame, he does better in stillness as well. While he’s no General Patton, he charts out his future, makes a plan for how to get there, then starts moving and pursues it relentlessly until he gets it.

Ironically, while I’m no Arnold, I also do better in motion than in stillness. Going out and doing stuff I have planned is mostly effortless (except getting out of bed, I always wake up in a sour mood and if I let it, it can ruin an entire day).

The root of the issue is that at an abstract, intellectual level, I want to become a genius mad scientist ruling a massive tech corporation, but at a visceral, physical level I want to just drop everything and wander the world as a hobo samurai.

Unfortunately, abandoning civilization and embedding yourself permanently in it are mutually exclusive. So is taking on titanic responsibility and evading any true responsibility altogether. Arnold’s goals, while slightly less ambitious, were in harmony. Mine are killing each other (and me).

In stillness, I can’t plan for either. In motion I have nothing concrete to carry out.

For now I’m working on getting back into shape, keeping up with school and launching my business. Will things become clearer once I’m making a good income and my physical/intellectual development is on point?

I sure hope so. But I suspect that’s just the first step into having to reconcile my inner tech lord and inner ronin.

Higher Consciousness

A while back I got into a small row on Twitter with TRT expert Jay Campbell (you can view the exchange here).

The original topic was the subject of video games but the actual disagreement ended up being over a fairly popular esoteric idea (namely that there are levels to consciousness and presumably achieving higher levels will allow you to “see” some previously hidden level of reality).

A photograph of Epsilon Dimension. I took it with my third eye during a session of astral projection.

Now, while I’m not a fan of esotericism I have some ideas many would consider esoteric myself. For example, I don’t believe all biological humans have souls, but those who do have a spiritual sense that may allow them to sense things beyond their biological ability.

The problem I have with Jay and others like him are two-fold:

First (as I stated in a subsequent reply, perhaps a bit too bluntly), is that for the most part their beliefs are the product of fantasy. We live in spiritually bankrupt times and many people are suffering from a lack of spiritual nourishment. As a result they frequently become either marks for charlatans, or more commonly, become their own prophets to feed their need for spiritual fulfillment.

And if your need for spiritual fulfillment is strong enough, your mind WILL provide it for you. This is especially common for men (or women) who have seen some success in life. Believing yourself to be limitless is a very useful trait if you want success in the material world but unfortunately it has the opposite effect in the spiritual world.

The second (and more dangerous issue) is that many of these guys use these beliefs to externalize and weaponize their negative reactions to somebody. Their appeal (particularly to individuals with high levels of Machiavellianism) is pretty obvious: if you accuse someone of being “low consciousness” or having “bad vibes”, what can they do? These are inherently subjective experiences. The accuser doesn’t have to actually answer any objections and the accused has no way to negate the accuser’s claims (not unlike the Social Justice Warrior concept of subjective “lived experience” having objective value).

Now, I definitely could have handled that conversation better (Jay subsequently blocked me and I returned the favor), but its lack of productivity doesn’t take away from the underlying issue, and I do thank Jay for putting the attention of my baleful third eye on this issue.

Twitter Flagellants

There is a particular type of content on twitter that has been increasingly getting on my nerves over the last week.

It’s very common, particularly on self-improvement accounts aimed at men.

And what I am talking about?

Abusive remarks intended to “encourage” the followers of whatever guru or influencer posted it.

“If you’re taking the weekend off you don’t deserve success!”
“Put sugar in your coffee? You are soy!”
“I spent the last year locked in my room shitting in a litter box and drinking my own urine and you’re not willing to wake up at 5 am to work on your business?”

Twitter Guru Addicts, 2019, Colorized

I don’t really blame the gurus themselves for this. This type of content is very popular, and many of them, even if they’re not tracking their stats, will gravitate towards posting more content that gets them eyeballs and retweets.

The problem with this content, which I’ve dubbed “cuckbait” is that it becomes a perverse mind trap.

Failure produces guilt in people who haven’t had their mindset reoriented towards viewing it as progress.

The guru’s harsh words “punishes” the reader, who now receives psychological relief from their guilt, removing the opportunity to earn relief by getting back up and trying again.

Furthermore, the guru’s words sends a message to the reader that he is unworthy of success.

If you think you don’t deserve something, it’ll only naturally bleed into your ability to work towards that thing because you will believe you are not capable of attaining it as you currently are.

You will also build up an association between the work and psychological pain, a major cause of procrastination and something I will talk about in a future post.

This type of content can be entertaining in small doses, but reader beware: if consumed incessantly it becomes poison.

I’m not against the consumption of motivational material or platitudes.

But I recommend finding people who provide motivation through encouragement and positivity.

Aside from building feedback loops that reinforce negative thought patterns in the long term, the frenzied, abusive nature of cuckbait is counter-productive. Like a huge burst of adrenaline can get you to move but take away the fine motor skills required to perform precision tasks.

And self improvement is 90% small, precise changes.

Use the nuclear stuff sparingly and at key moments, if you need it at all.

Action Roguelike Game Design I

If you follow me on twitter you know that one of the projects I’m working on is a video game. Although this was intended to mostly be a self improvement blog, I will occasionally foray into some of the stuff I’m working on. So fair warning that if you’re not interested in game design this post will probably bore you or go over your head.

Anyway, on to business. With the release of Binding of Isaac in 2011 an entire genre of what are best described as “action rogue-likes” was created. While I don’t think any of the follow-ups ever dethroned BoI or its sequel (and the subsequent add-ons and dlcs), the genre remains a favorite of independent game developers. It works very well with low res (read: relatively cheap, easy to produce) pixel art. It can support the kind of complex mechanics and interactions that serious game designers fantasize about endlessly. And most importantly, they are fun to play.

One of the more fun parts of Binding of Isaac is the ability to modify your primary weapon (tears) in various ways. You start off with low damage tears with medium range and medium rate of fire. As you collect power-ups you can both increase various parameters (tear speed, fire rate, damage, range) as well as the tears behavior (obtain arrow shaped tears that pierce through enemies, spectral tears that move through solid objects, or convert the tears altogether into different projectiles like bombs or rockets).

To make this work, however, you need a very wide variety of items (otherwise the game becomes predictive, and a lot of the enjoyment of BoI is that powerful combos are fairly rare, which makes them all the more satisfying when you get the items for one).

Other games, like Nuclear Throne or Enter the Gungeon take a different approach. They have many weapons (especially Enter the Gungeon, which as you might be able to tell by the name, revolves almost entirely around guns and ammunition, even the enemies are anthropomorphic bullets) but there isn’t a lot of modification for each individual one. The more subdued but moodier Our Darker Purpose is similar to Isaac in that the main character’s fire arrow can be customized a bit (although not to nearly the crazy stuff Isaac’s tears can do later in the game), and can also acquire secondary projectiles in the form of rolling flames or sound notes with short but erratic movement.

My own project’s development has slowed down considerably because for the longest time I couldn’t get a weapon system that satisfied every itch I had when it comes to playing games in this genre.

The game (working name Divine Arch) is still in pre-alpha, with only enough code to test ideas I need to see in action. I’m more focused on the design and producing graphics for now since the former is the most important part and the latter the most time consuming.

I’ve gone through several systems:

  • Different weapons that produce different projectiles. But this grossly overcomplicated their modification. Not enough mods per weapon and weapon progression feels shallow. But too many weapons and having mods for each one becomes a nightmare.
  • Class based weapons. This can be the best of both worlds but also the worst: 4 weapon types, all with different upgrade paths. You can still pick up mods that affect all weapons, but again, I would have to make A LOT of modifiers that are not gonna be available to the player unless they are playing with a specific class.
  • The Binding of Isaac model: different classes/characters all use the same basic weapon, pour all efforts into creating as many modifiers as possible. As BoI showed though, often modifiers simply end up overriding other modifiers because there is no reasonable way to implement them both (although synergies were somewhat improved with the latest DLC).

In the end, I am sticking with the model of giving each class their own weapon. However, I am keeping the direct upgrading fairly shallow. Each weapon has two vertical upgrades (upgrades that increase its power) and a choice of two horizontal upgrades (upgrades that add or modify function). IE: the Inquisitor’s bolts can be upgraded to either pierce through enemies or do extra damage with each subsequent hit on the first horizontal upgrade.

This (and 2-3 passive abilities per class) should be enough to differentiate the characters enough while the rest of the design effort will be put into items that provide improvements to every weapon and class.

For my next post on this subject I will go over my thoughts on character progression so stay tuned.

The Secret To Mind Control

Want to know how you can control the actions of just about any person in the Western world?

There is in fact this One Weird Trick that can be used to get the average person to do just about anything, no matter how insane, idiotic or self destructive it may be.

And the key to total domination is guilt.

The % of the general population that does not feel guilt is limited to a small number of psychopaths and/or swaggering alphas.

For the rest of us you, if you can convince somebody that they are guilty of a great wrong they must atone for, they will belong to you.

People will subject themselves to the most perverse of depravities to make their guilt go away.

Guilt is used by everybody, from charities to religious organizations (both theistic and atheistic) to politicians to build up fanatical followings of simpletons ready to do their bidding.

The Manosphere is no different. Tweets telling men they are bad for watching Netflix or playing video games or that they don’t deserve success if they don’t grind 24/7 are very popular.

The gurus spouting them gets lots of engagement for making them, which encourages them to keep doing it. Their followers receive psychological release from the guilt of not living up to the lofty expectations they have made for themselves.

It’s a very poisonous dynamic that has the guru trading his soul for dopamine and their followers wasting emotional (and sometimes physical) energy trying to live up to someone else’s ideal.

Save the guilt for monumental fuck-ups with a clear victim of your actions and NEVER allow someone to use guilt to chain you up into a never-ending repayment plan.

On The Nature Of Fear

Fear gets a bad rap around the manosphere & elsewhere. This fairly popular quote Dune describes one of the common reactions to the concept:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

~Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear

Unfortunately, the various mythologies surrounding the concept of fear have produced various coping mechanisms that are inefficient at best and completely counter-productive at worst.

There are two school of thoughts with regards to overcoming fear: that of increased control and that of increased comfort. If you’ve read Pat Stedman’s thoughts on relationship conflicts it might occur to you that successfully dealing with fear is not dissimilar to managing relationships with a woman.

The control practitioner attempts to deal with fear by minimizing risk. IE: guys who are afraid of being sucked dry in a divorce will avoid getting married in the first place.

The comfort practitioner attempts to deal with fear by accepting that the thing they fear might come to pass. They might fear being sucked dry in a divorce but accept the risk to reap the rewards.

The worst (and increasingly, the most common) response is to pretend it doesn’t exist and avoid having to deal with it altogether (NOT the same thing as avoiding your fear, which is a control response).

I think fear is good. The widespread enjoyment of horror movies and video games would indicate that, on some level, even the physiological responses to it aren’t seen as inherently unpleasant either.

The reason why I think fear is good is because it acts as a sensor or a warning system (depending on the scenario). I myself naturally lean towards the control side of things, I like having command of my environment and I like knowing as much as possible at all times.

Fear produces unpleasant feelings, but it also produces urgency and anxiety that can be properly channeled into action. All the progress I’ve made in my life has been the product of taking the energy created by fear and turning it into action.

One of the insights born of my recent dabbling with monk mode is that most negative reactions have a closely related positive reactions, and transmuting the former to the latter can often be done with as little as a change in perspective.

I can’t say I’ve mastered this process, I am in fact just a beginner, but in this case fear can be transmuted into excitement. Sometimes we do this naturally (IE: we’re afraid to start a new project, but once we do we forget that we were afraid and just really get into the work we’re doing), and I suspect masochists are just people who have a naturally high aptitude for this kind of transmutation.

And this is where my issue with the above two schools of fear management come.

The control school (to which I am naturally inclined myself) attempts to minimize fear, wasting its energy and potentially limiting themselves from experiences and courses of action that would greatly enhance their lives.

The comfort school practitioners, on the other hand, dull their senses for the sake of psychological relief, which becomes wasteful at best and downright dangerous at worst.

Fear should come naturally whenever you push against boundaries and limitations that stand in your way, and you should feel it fully to both use its energy and be aware of the risks you’re facing.

Don’t let it rule your life but don’t let it become irrelevant either. To be able to see we have to deal with the occasional bright light.

ADDENDUM

As if by divine intervention, I experienced a nightmare the morning after writing this post. I don’t remember every detail, but it involved a dying man in a hospital bed, some sort of gauge,him materializing a blindfold and lots of full body twitching.

Unsettling.

Which was a perfect opportunity to experiment with the practical concept in this article. And it took only a few seconds to turn the fear into excitement about starting a new day. It still took a while to get out of bed though (sadly, excitement and laziness are not mutually exclusive for me).

5 Lessons for my Younger Self

This might be a topic better left for the me that will be here 4-5 years from now. By then my mid term goals should be complete and I’ll be in a much better position to give advice.

Nevertheless, I write this list now, not because I can make the best list of its kind but because there’s one thing everybody should be able to do: look back at all the times they slammed balls first into a wall and say “hey, maybe I should’ve dodged that”.

Lesson 1: If You Don’t Want To End Up Like Your Parents Don’t Follow Their Life Advice

My parents were not big on dental hygiene. I’m at 3 root canals now with another one needing to be scheduled. It’s easy to be angry at them for trying to instill all sorts of stupid shit into me but somehow miss on this very important element of life, if they weren’t both wearing prosthetics because their teeth lines were decimated by their own negligence.

My parents also struggled with money management & making profitable life decisions. They are both engineers but it took them years to find good, stable jobs after immigrating to Canada. After hitting serious depression starting in Grade 10, I told my mom maybe I should do a 2 year college, but she wouldn’t even hear of it.

Immigrant parents are very big on education, you must do a 4 year university. The “lawyers and doctors” talk was very common, occasionally interrupted by “ceo”. So I went to a 4 year university, with long (1 hour plus) commutes on subways packed to the brim with people like sardines. Not conductive to mood enhancements. A year and a half later my depression was so bad I didn’t even go to classes anymore.

I can go on and on, but the point here is that your parents aren’t the ones who have to live your life, you are. If your parents are successful in an endeavor you want to undertake by all means listen to their advice.

Just understand they are human. Most humans fail on the regular. Few achieve more than a mediocre amount of success. If you want more, and they don’t have it, there is little they can do to help you get it. Eat their food, shit in their toilet, use their room, then go do what you have to do, even if they don’t know or understand.

Lesson 2: Depression Is Despair, And Overridden By Purpose And Action

Despair, hopelessness, whatever you want to call it becomes chronic if you can’t see a way out. And the panic that comes with them can muddle your thoughts and prevent you from seeing a way out. Training an iron mind can act as a buffer against this, but the biggest issue for depressed men today is that their life has no purpose, and thus no meaning.

Others try to find meaning and purpose in simple but powerful elements of life like family, and it works for some of them, but for the rest of us it never satisfies that deep, primal desire to be tested against something hard and come out on top.

To beat depression you must find a purpose to live for that you can feel to the very core of your being, and bathe your mind in it until it overwhelms every other thought. And to do this it’s not enough to just fantasize about the final outcome, you must think, as much as possible, about HOW to get there. When I started the current phase of my self improvement journey a year ago, I didn’t just think about where I wanted to get, but how to get there. I’ve always had big plans, even during the worst of the depression, but this clear distinction, of planning a course of action and actually starting to make moves to make it happen is what finally snapped me out of it.

A destination without the journey is just mental masturbation. Think, plan, wonder and fantasize about the journey just as much, if not more than the destination. This is the key difference between getting there vs it remaining a distant dream.

Lesson 3: Take Care Of Your Body

Mens sana in corpore sano

When you are young you can neglect your health (never run, never walk for more than 5 minutes, never lift, half-ass brush your teeth once in a while, eat sugar by the kilo) & not usually suffer any serious physical consequences.

Once you near 30 this starts to change. There are mental side-effects to neglecting the basic things that would keep most of us healthy throughout adulthood, but once you’re in your 30s neglecting them starts taking a physical toll as well.

Every man who can lift should lift.

You should also do SOME cardio. You don’t need to run marathons, but going for a short walk daily (~30 minutes) and doing some HIIT will greatly improve your endurance in everything you do (including lifting).

Lesson 4: There Is A Trade-Off For Everything

Entire books could be written on this topic. But the bottom line is that there is absolutely nothing you can get without sacrificing something else. I call it the law of equivalent exchange (don’t @ me weebs). The wisdom comes in knowing that trades can be made across multiple attributes, and that the value of a thing depends in part on the needs of the two parties (or the arbiter). It’s why two people can exchange goods or services and both be satisfied and why we sometime sacrifice things we may have in abundance to get something we need (IE: money).

The harder part to grasp for many is that this law applies not just to consumer goods or services but also to your own future.

And when you trade for a future the transaction is not optional because what is being traded away is time.

Every second that goes by was traded away whether you want to let it go or not.

So trade wisely.

Lesson 5: Master The Basics

Money, health, relationships. I would add spirituality but I’ve never suffered on this front so despite being a very religious person I can’t offer much advice on this front, there’s a reason why the greatest saints were often reformed sinners.

Money doesn’t buy happiness but it does buy freedom and hedges against many things that cause misery.

Health is something you take for granted when you have it and which overwhelms all other considerations when you lose it. At the height of my weight I also had severe sleep apnea. To be diagnosed with severe sleep apnea you need an AHI over 30. AHI is a measurement of how many times per hour you stop breathing for more than 10 seconds while you sleep. Mine was 80. 100 when sleeping on my back. Thankfully I reversed some of the weight gain but for more than half a year I had to sleep with a cpap device. Not a pleasant experience. Long term it causes cardiovascular damage (as your heart struggles to provide enough oxygen to all your tissues) and contributes to other chronic diseases like diabetes.

Relationships are both overvalued and undervalued. I am not talking just about romantic relationships, but relationships with people in general. When I became depressed I also became more socially isolated. I was always a lone wolf but after high school I took this to extremes. And the lose it or lose it principle comes into play here too. When the depression lifted I found my social skills considerably less polished than they were before.

Mastering the basics doesn’t guarantee greatness, purpose or fulfillment but it is a requirement for just about anything else worth doing.