Cape Fear

Fear can be exhausting.

I really know this because lately, I’ve been scared – well, more like terrified – of a number of things, and when they add up, it just gets to be too much to handle, mentally speaking. Enough fear and where your body would normally react in a fight-or-flight stance, it just seems to wash over you and, while you can feel your heart race and your mind go weird, you just can’t seem to make yourself do much of anything. Yeah, it’s been one of those weeks.

Let’s start with the news. I can’t imagine anyone who has access to the news in the US, and probably much of the rest of the world, didn’t hear about the shooting in Charleston last week, where a young white guy, in what seems like a calculated act to try and start another civil war, went to a high-profile, traditionally African-American church, killed 9 parishioners while spewing racist BS, left one person deliberately alive to tell others about what he had done, and then go caught fleeing a while later. I don’t know much about Dylan Storm Roof, besides him being a racist murderer, but one of the posters on an RPG discussion board (RPG.net) said what I thought sounded very apt about this guy, and I’ll quote that user, neutrondecay, here: “When a white guy with the middle name ‘Storm’, in a former slave state that still flies the Traitor’s Flag, who wears badges honouring racist nations from before he was even born, goes to an historic black church closely associated with slave revolts and the civil rights movement, kills people, and leaves a survivor to report what he’s said and done, I think we can reasonably say that this was an act of racist terrorism.

Indeed, we ought to say it, and not mince our fucking words.”

Of course, soon afterwards came the typical stuff you’d expect – that this guy was clearly mentally ill, only crazy people do things like this, it’s not a symbol of systemic racism just one lone gunman. That shit scares me, because, hey, I have a mental illness. I don’t shoot people. I know a lot of other people with serious mental illness issues. They don’t kill people, either. In fact, according to the facts (found here, and cited), people with mental illness are not only not a very large part of the violent population, but are in fact 2.5 times more likely to be victims than perpetrators. Jumping to the conclusion that because someone shot and killed a number of people, he must be crazy/mentally ill – because of course only crazy folks do that – is not only giving him an excuse he doesn’t deserve, but also lumping all of the non-violent people with mentally ill people into a group with him and saying that we, too, should be considered likely to do something like that. It makes it seem like mentally ill people are more dangerous than people with guns, and should of course have our rights restricted because we might have something in common with a criminal. God forbid that his issue be with a culture of racism and white privilege, or any number of other legitimate issues. That might mean taking an uncomfortable look at society as a whole, and we can’t do that, so let’s just call him crazy, shove him in a hospital with all the other crazy people,and forget about him. Well, until the next one.

Along those lines are other stories popping up about people with mental illnesses being mistreated. The one that comes to mind is a blog post that covered a couple stories, linked here. One has a man who was in police custody; the police were ordered by a judge to take him to a mental treatment center, but instead of bother dealing with that – because they didn’t want the guy around if he was crazy – they felt it was appropriate to just put him on a bus from Kentucky to Florida. Yes, the police just shipped a guy from one state to another, in defiance of a judge’s orders, because they didn’t want to have to deal with a criminal whose mental health issues might have been at the root of his problems. That was actually the easier of the two stories to take, because the other involved another story of police mistreatment of a mentally ill prisoner, but he didn’t get a bus ticket. He had committed a crime – forging a check – and was arrested for failing to make a court appearance in that matter. He had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2013, and apparently been managing it, but the stress around the criminal proceedings seems to have driven him off the rails somewhat. A physician who visited him in jail said he had become “quite psychotic“, and he was denied visits from his family. On April 7 of this year, 13 days after he was brought to jail, he died there of – get this – dehydration and malnutrition. They let him starve in jail rather than do anything to help, and the Sheriff responsible, Island County Sheriff Mark Brown, had this to say: “I am truly sorry for this tragic death. Our highest priority is the safety and well-being of our inmates and staff and this report describes a systematic breakdown of policies, procedures and communication that led to this tragedy.” The punishment involved for this terrible miscarriage of justice? Well, according to this Island Country Herald article, the chief deputy was suspended without pay for 30 days, and a lieutenant placed on leave. Treatment like this scares the hell out of me – if I had been brought in my police after my last suicide attempt, when I was hallucinating and wandering around a hotel talking to things that weren’t there, could this have happened to me? It’s enough to keep me up at night. Several nights.

Add to that the fear lately of dealing with women – one in particular – who I have some degree of interest in, but am absolutely terrified of talking to about said interest. Largely because I’ve never been good dealing with anything involving a potential romantic relationship, and also because I think I am still getting over my last heartbreak, and I don’t want to hurt anyone else by trying to make them a part of my life in such an intimate way and risk hurting them with baggage from my past relationship attempts. It makes me feel a little haunted, because I don’t know how to tell if I’m really over someone, or if I will even be able to tell. I also don’t want to make a horrible mistake and ask someone out, only to be rejected and still have to interact with this person on a regular basis. But I only have so many venues in which to get to know women, and taking a leap and asking one of them out from any of my current options freaks me out.

Finally, and most recently, a friend of mine seems to have decided that because of events transpiring right now in her life, she no longer wants to keep living. Having been suicidal myself in the past, I can understand the impulse, and understand feeling so lost and alone that it seems better off to just end your life. It’s come up in discussion in that past, but is much more front-and-center right now because of something happening. I don’t know what to do, or if indeed I can do anything. She’s my friend, and I don’t want her to go, but I also know that she has been suffering a lot, and this current loss will just be the latest in a list of indignities and sorrows; she recently told me she felt she was clearly not meant to be alive. I don’t know if there’s someone I should tell, or something I should do, because while I can understand her pain and sorrow, she will be the second friend in just over a year I will have lost to suicide if she goes ahead with it.

So yeah, I’m all feared out. Spider invasion? Bring it on. Shark attack? Go ahead, make my day. What the hell can eight-legged monstrosities or living death machines do to my sense of fear that isn’t being done already?

Das Ist Verboten!

I’m going to talk about something here that may be, but hopefully will not turn out to be, explosive: politics. Specifically, my views on certain things, because several things have been weighing on my mind recently, this is one of them, and I’m hoping that putting some of it out in a relatively coherent form will keep it from taking up more of my own headspace.

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: I’m a liberal. I have probably mentioned that in the past, but it hasn’t changed. I don’t necessarily mean that I’m a Democrat – I am, as it turns out, but only because it’s the one of the two major US parties that comes even kind of close to some of my views. I’m not necessarily tied to the Democrat ‘brand’, so let’s avoid that one and stick with my views of various topics.

First, the one that might be closest to me, health care. As am American, I believe in the whole ‘life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness’ deal, and to get the ‘life’ part, you need your health. The US healthcare system is pretty badly messed up, and if there were a way to tear it down and rebuild it in a way that not only helped most of the people who need it most but keep most of the people who are employed in it employed gainfully, I’d do that. Because I suffer from the ‘pre-existing condition’ of major clinical depression, before the ACA went into effect I couldn’t get any kind of health insurance on my own, which sucks – my medications, with any insurance coverage, run $500+ a month, and many doctors won’t see you even for a routine check-up if you don’t have insurance. I know the ACA is far, far from perfect; I have a friend who has been kinda of screwed over by the restrictions on it, and the legalese makes my head hurt. But it’s better than what we had – and I think it still needs to be vastly better. Everyone in the US should have the ability to get affordable healthcare. I’m not an expert by any means, but I would love a system that somehow gave everyone healthcare without bankrupting people.

Second, education. I’m kind of an academic, so this one, too, is close to me. I have a BA, and MA, almost got a PhD, and I’m trying to go back and get an MSW. I know an education can be valuable, even if that value may not always be in getting a great job.And I know an educated populace is going to be better prepared to figure out what to do with the government and the general running of the country. I think there should be some kind of standard across the country for pre-college education; there’s no reason that, for instance, Iowa needs different pre-college education requirements than, say, Nebraska, or Missouri. There are 50 states, but those 50 are all part of one country, and knowing that a high schooler three states over from you is getting basically the same kind of information as you when you go to high school is good. It makes college things easier, as well, because then colleges have an easier time knowing what students should know by the time they get to college. And one state, or a couple, should not be essentially running the show as far as textbook materials are concerned, especially when that material is blatantly not true and pushes an agenda – this article on the Texas Board of Education’s effect on textbooks is kind of scary. I know that the process will almost always be political to some extent, in one direction or another, but I think every effort should be made to keep things as factual and educational as possible.

Third, I think minimum wage should be higher. Now, I’m biased, because right now I work for minimum wage, or just above it, but in my mind, the ‘minimum’ in minimum wage should be, essentially, the minimum amount one can earn at a full-time job and not require other funding to support oneself and afford food, housing, and other necessities. I know this would be hard on some businesses, but on some of the largest, they keep wages that low because they can essentially get the government to then subsidize their employees – this article notes Walmart as one of the big offenders here, costing taxpayers billions in public assistance so they can pay their workers less – and then turn around and profit on the assistance, given that many people on government assistance shop at Walmart because of low prices. To put it simply – if someone cant’ survive on what they are making when they are working a full-time job, then something is wrong. If an employer values a position so little that he/she/it won’t pay enough for a worker in that position to live on it (assuming the position is full-time), then eliminate the position, because it clearly isn’t necessary. If you need a full-time position filled, then pay that employee enough to live on.

I think the government needs to re-prioritize some of its spending, too. I know infrastructure spending isn’t exciting or sexy (though I recommend watching this John Oliver clip on it, because let’s face it, the man is both right and hilarious), but our country runs on it, and our, nationally, is…well, kinda falling apart. Meanwhile, as of last year, we have spent over a trillion dollars on a new fighter plane design that we don’t even have a working version of yet (look up the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program). We could probably have rebuilt every unsound road, bridge, dam, and other infrastructure installment with money left over for that amount of money. So I think we need to look at our government budget and see where things actually need to go – not where some congressman wants extra funding to go just to get re-elected, but where government money needs to actually go. Rebuilding infrastructure would be a good place to at least do some looking into.

I could say something about corporate influence – like the idea that corporations can be people, and that they can have some kind of moral control over their employees, like Hobby Lobby. Or the idea that money can be seen as speech (which is true, as long as we’re clear that that speech is bribery). But to be fair, while I have opinions on these things, I have no good sources to offer that can explain things more clearly, or that contain anything resembling facts. And without some kind of fact base, I don’t want to get into a political flamewar. I’m open to talking about these things – I am not a fervent political operative by any means. I would just prefer to have an intelligent conversation about these kinds of things, without the assumption, on either side, that the other person thinks the other arguer is somehow stupid, mentally deficient, or some other kind of insulting terminology.

So, that’s what’s going on in my head right now, at least partially. If you want to talk about any of this, get in touch with me. I promise I will make every effort to have a cogent, intelligent discussion. And if nothing else, we can talk about John Oliver and FIFA, which is always a good time.

Faith- Based Initiatives

So, this is going to be another blog entry on faith – just thought I’d give you all fair warning, in case that’s not your thing. I plan on covering two very different faith-related topics, and one of them might be upsetting to some people, so I’ll leave that one for last.

First up is this – I think I want to find a church of some kind to go to. I was raised Catholic, but I’m not sure that’s where I am; I don’t think my ideas tend to line up with Catholic teachings very well, and so I don’t think that would work very well for me. And aside from my knowledge of Catholicism, my experience with church in Houston has been pretty limited. I enjoyed going to church the few times I went with Calla, but given that we are no longer on speaking terms, I think it would be weird for me to go there; I don’t want her to feel like I am trying to intrude on her life or her faith, and I also think seeing her would be a constant reminder of how much that messed with my life. So that is out, and that’s my only real church-going experience in Houston. So I am looking for a place I can go that will accommodate, or at least not be outright dismissive of, my beliefs. I’ve never really looked into finding a new church before, so I don’t really know how this goes. Ideally, I’d want to go to or belong to a church that has some times, apart from services, that are explicitly for discussion; I don’t want to force my beliefs on anyone, but I think that more in-depth discussion of theological matters might help me to articulate what I’m thinking more clearly, as well as give me more of a faith-based outlet in my life – which seems like something that would be helpful right now. I’m open to suggestions, if anyone has any.

And now, on to the part that might be offensive or triggering to some people. Going beyond this point will result in reading about the anger and disgust I’m feeling right now at some people who consider themselves Christian, but don’t seem to be in anything but name. You have been warned.

So, Josh Duggar has been in the news lately. For those of you who don’t know who he is, he is a son of the Duggar family, stars of the TLC channel show ’19 Kids and Counting’. And, apparently, some years ago – it seems around 2002 – he molested a number of young girls, including, it seems, several of his sisters. And his father, at least, knew about it – and did nothing. Well, not until 2003, when he reported it. Not to the police, though – to his church elders. They recommended that Josh get counseling – but his counseling consisted of manual labor and talking to someone who had no training in counseling. When they finally went to the police, they went to a friend of Josh’s dad – who only gave him a stern talking to (it turns out that police officer was later in his own hot water for child pornography, but that’s not the issue here). And that was apparently it, until last week, when details came out and Josh apologized. And, of course, many people leaped to his defense, saying he had, in his father’s words, “made some very bad mistakes“, but had been forgiven by God. Even former Governor Mike Huckabee (a personal friend of the Duggars stood up in Josh’s defense, saying, among other things, “Janet and I want to affirm our support for the Duggar family. Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable.’ He and his family dealt with it and were honest and open about it with the victims and the authorities. No purpose whatsoever is served by those who are now trying to discredit Josh or his family by sensationalizing the story.

Well, that’s bullshit. They were clearly not open and honest about it. If they were, it wouldn’t have taken 12 years – well beyond the statute of limitations for his crimes – to come to light. It was handled in-house – by his dad, their church elders, a friendly police officer. And then swept under the rug. He abused several young girls – some of them his own sisters – and it seems he got almost nothing in the way of consequences. And so the idea that he has been forgiven is laughable, especially since he probably has not sought forgiveness from the people he wronged. But what I find really disturbing about this, and which angers and disgusts me, is that no thought seems to have been given to Josh’s victims. Were they given counseling (and by this I mean real, professional counseling)? Were they helped in their time of need, after having their trust in someone who should have been a protector – for several of them, a big brother – violated in such a terrible and fundamental way? Were they treated with compassion, given all the care and help that, as devout Christians, they should have been able to expect from their fellows in their church? Given the way this was handled, I doubt it – they were probably given no thought at all. No punishment was ever truly sought for their abuser. I have seen nothing to indicate there was any effort to give them even token effort at help. Having known people who have suffered abuse – maybe not exactly like this, but similar – it offends and sickens me that the victims of this seem to have been totally ignored. Josh wasn’t the one who needed help – they were. They needed to know it wasn’t their fault, that the shame and guilt was on him, not them. That this family claims to be so strongly Christian yet seems to have neglected the needs of their own abused family to protect the reputation of their criminal son – because that’s what his acts were, criminal, not simply ‘mistakes’ – shows them to be hypocrites. It makes me sick to my stomach and makes me shake in anger to think that these people could represent any part of my faith.

Alright, that’s it, rant over.

Exhaustion

Man, I am tired. Hell, I am exhausted. Mentally, emotionally, physically.In the last few months, I have lost someone I thought was a good friend, had another good friend move away, had work go crazy, flown to Omaha and back over a weekend, had my grandfather die, and found out I didn’t get into the graduate program I have been working for much of the last year trying to get into.

My back hurts. My feet hurt. I just got over being sick. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in at least two weeks. And that’s just the physical stuff. Last night was the first time I’ve had to myself in about a week, and being an introvert, that’s important. I like being around my family, and I know it’s important for something traumatic, like my grandfather’s memorial service. It helped to have family around, and I know we all needed it. I was just glad to get some time to myself, not because I dislike my family, but just because being around people all the time, even people I like, just drains me mentally and emotionally.

So things have been pretty lousy lately. And a couple years ago, that would have been the road to something bad, and possibly fatal; I would probably have started on a road to deep, deep depression that would would likely have lasted for months, if not years, and might have eventually culminated in a suicide attempt. I know some people are still worried that a cascade of bad things happening like this will send me down that path anyway, and I can’t really blame them; it’s happened in the past.

But even though it’s been a pretty lousy couple of months, over the last two years I’ve had a lot of preparation for handling these kinds of things in my life. A lot of awful things have happened, and I do feel bad. But I also know that despite how I feel now, they won’t last forever. And one of the things that’s been on my mind a lot for the last week is my grandfather, who was a pretty amazing man.

As a little background, my grandfather was 93. He was a soldier in World War II, serving under Patton in the 3rd Army, and taking part, to some degree, in the Battle of the Bulge. That was one of the most miserable parts of the war on the western front, and yet despite that, all the letters he sent home to my grandmother were positive; he never complained about things like being stuck with summer clothes in winter. And for my lifetime, that same positive attitude was one of the biggest things I remember about my grandfather. He never got angry, or started yelling, and feeling sorry for himself. Even when he had trouble hearing, or started having trouble walking, or couldn’t drive anymore, he never seemed miserable. It was one of the things basically everyone he knew remembered most about him.

I don’t know that I can get to that degree of optimism; I am naturally a pretty cynical person, and, let’s face it, I do have clinical depression – even on a great day, my life is probably not going to be all sunshine and puppies. But I know that I can at least try and look on the bright side and be more optimistic; that’s what the whole idea of the gratitude challenges I’ve done have been about. I’m not really sure how I’m going to get there; right now I still need to deal with the fallout of my personal life’s wreckage and the fact that, without grad school, I need to find something else to do with my life. But I know that at the least, I can try to follow the example of my grandfather.

But right now, I have work tomorrow. So I’m going to try and get a jump on this exhaustion and get some sleep.

Disavowal

My head has been a weird place to be lately, and I’m not really sure why. I know that part of it is just the intense feeling of… I’m not sure what to call it. Betrayal? Maybe not that dramatic, but it certainly caused a mess in my head when it happened last month. Someone I had felt very close to had gotten back in touch with me after a very bad parting of the ways a few months earlier, and I was very glad of that – maybe too glad, I guess. I don’t like losing people, and so when I felt like this person might be coming back into my life, I guess I didn’t really look at it that closely, and when this person again decided to leave my life last month, the previous wounds caused – which had been deep, and painful – kind of reopened. And I don’t even have a good reason for why it happened, and I don’t know that I ever will.

That bugs me. I like knowing why things happen. If I have a feeling about something, I want to know why. If something happens that seems interesting or weird, I want to know more about it. I’m inquisitive, and that can get me in trouble – I know that some of my tendency to try to get more answers contributed to things going wrong in the above friendship. I wanted clarity, and my friend wanted something else. More and more, I am convinced – by the voice in the back of my head, because it’s all I really have here – that that person is not who I thought they were, that I saw what I wanted to see and extrapolated a totally different person from that. And because of seeing what I wanted to see, I poured entirely too much of myself into our friendship, only to get badly hurt in the end.

I won’t say that walking away from relationships is wrong; I’ve done it in the past, and I know how upsetting it was for the other side. And I know that the reasons I gave at the time were probably enough for that  person, because I don’t know if any amount of information is enough when you feel like you’ve been rejected and abandoned by someone you thought was a friend. I just know that being on the receiving end is a miserable feeling, especially coming from a friendship that – at least on my end – showed me that I still have the capacity for feelings I thought had been burned out of me years ago. It seems that the heights of that relationship are matched only in the lows of where I find myself now, confused and hurt and unsure of what to do next. What if the next person I reach out to does the same? It took a lot for me to reach out in the way I did, and I don’t know if I want to reach out the same way again if the results will be so terrible.

I don’t think that the pain I am in was caused on purpose. I fervently hope not, because whatever our relationship, I don’t think my friend and I ended on terms that badly. But I’m not really sure what to do with it besides hope it doesn’t happen again in the future, and in the meantime, I find myself terribly trepidatious about the possibility of another relationship, because this kind of pain just doesn’t seem to want to fade. Or maybe it will, but only if I put myself again into a situation that will open me up to the possibility of the same sort of pain again. I can’t be sure. And that not knowing scares me.

Faith

I was going to write about faith here, because it’s been on my mind lately. But just recently, I got this link in my e-mail – fortuitously, only a few minutes before I started writing this – and thought it was something good to hare, both because it deals with mental illness and it touches on faith:

Along with this, I thought I’d quote from a blog post of mine from last year on faith, since I think it still pretty much applies; you can find the rest of my post here.

“I’m pretty sure I don’t fall under the wings of any particular denomination; I’m Christian, but that’s about as far as I can go. Instead, my faith is kind of a grab-bag of things; some deism, some Christianity, some other bits and pieces – I think at one point I was seriously referencing the “Godfellas” episode of Futurama. Essentially, it all boils down to this: I think that there is a god, but due to the immensity of his/its likely power, intelligence, and abilities, there’s no real ability for humanity to seriously understand God, because we just don’t have the perceptive abilities to encompass him. And once God ensured we had free will, and the ability for rational thought, he stepped back, letting us find our own way, and watching as we tried to understand. Eventually, though, God decided that our understanding was important to him, and so he sent a messenger, one very important to him, to act as a conduit for our understanding – that being Jesus. And while we have free will, and God doesn’t often step in to act directly – because that would contradict our free will – we might never know if he does, because, quoting from the aforementioned Futurama episode, “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.”

For the most part, I think that my particular version of Christianity is pretty chilled out – we’re supposed to be good to the people around us. We’re supposed to give aid to others in need, especially if we have more than we can reasonably use – if I have 600 sandwiches, and you have none, it doesn’t cost me much to give you food, but it might mean the world to you. But we’re supposed to give not for praise or acknowledgement, but because we think it’s the right thing to do. The belief should be matched by works – some effort, large or small, to help our fellow man – because words need to be backed up by deeds for faith to be taken seriously. I don’t know that I feel the need to actively spread my faith – if people are helped by what I do, then that’s good enough. I don’t need to proselytize; if they want to know, they’ll ask. Christianity isn’t a secret, hidden religion anymore – it’s the biggest faith on the planet, even if it is broken up into dozens of denominations.  And my faith is my own; I don’t have, or feel the need to be identified as, anything other than a Christian. I don’t think  my faith has any bearing on the faith of others, either – my beliefs are mine, and given that I can’t possibly know that God is real for certain, who am I to say that my beliefs are right? All I can do is act like a good person, and believe what I believe, and go from there.”

My faith isn’t the most complex of things, but I don’t think it’s wrong just because it isn’t complex. I’m not sure it’s right, either, and I’m willing to talk about it and bring in new ideas, because faith isn’t certainty. Faith is belief, and while it may be strong belief – Collins English Dictionary defines faith as “strong or unshakeable belief in something, esp. without proof or evidence” – it means there has to be room for change in that belief. And so while I believe that God is watching, I don’t believe that He has a particular plan for me. And I know my thoughts on belief and faith can be caustic at times – my sense of humor where faith is concerned seems to keep getting me in trouble, and may have been at fault, at least partially, in the loss of at least one good friendship. But my thoughts and what I say about faith are mine; I don’t mean them to apply to anyone else’s. When I make a joke about God, that is part of my relationship with God, and not meant as a slight or an insult. My faith doesn’t need to have any bearing on yours, or anyone else’s. When I pray, if I pray for you, I’m saying that I care about you and I want to make sure God maybe can throw a little love your way; I’m not asking you to share in my faith or my belief. I find all the hate and fear and anger people have with other people about their faith – just the beliefs, not necessarily the acts that back them up – to be bewildering. I want to be able to talk about faith and belief with other people of faith and not worry that everything I say will be taken badly. 

I guess I’m not really sure what I mean here, and I don’t know how to be clearer without engaging in some sort of dialogue with someone, so I’ll end with a quote – though who it’s from is unknown (it’s been linked to Marcus Aurelius, former Roman emperor, but seems unlikely to be his work):

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

Oh, and May the 4th be with you.

Thrillin’ Heroics

It’s probably no shock to anyone who knows me that I like heroes. Big damn heroes, in fact. Larger than life, and I vastly prefer the true-blue, good-as-can-be type over the grim and gritty type. Don’t get me wrong; I can enjoy reading Punisher comics, and Dirty Harry can be a fun thing to watch. But overall, I prefer heroes that have more in common with Superman and Captain America than I do with Frank Castle.

This goes doubly so for my playing characters in games, either video games or tabletop RPGs. I like to play games where I am given a moral choice – and I will almost always take the heroic, Lawful Good, Upper Left Blue option, because that’s just how I feel most comfortable. I’ve tried to play games where I am the bad guy, or just a jerk; in the original Knights of the Old Republic, for example, you didn’t have to play a good-guy, Light Side Jedi – you could go full on Force Lightning, maniacal laughter Sith. But when I tried doing that… it just felt wrong. I felt like I had done something bad by choosing that path, even though I know it’s just a fictional game and it isn’t actually me choosing to do those things. But I can’t play Grand Theft Auto games for that reason – it makes me feel really uncomfortable to commit all those crimes, even on fictional people in a fictional city. Even in the Mass Effect series, where your choices are less good and evil and more good cop, bad cop, I overwhelmingly prefer to go the good cop route.

Maybe it’s just something about the things I had ingrained in me while I was growing up; maybe latching on to characters like Sturm Brightblade, Druss the Legend, Captain America, Superman, and other fictional character cited as paragons of virtue permanently altered the way I see things to make me feel bad about doing bad things even to fictional people. I don’t know, and I don’t know that it is really possible to find out. And it isn’t to say that I don’t like other characters – my favorite movie is, after all, The Crow (the original with Brandon Lee, not any of the sequels), though even he has a pretty strong moral center. I’m perfectly capable of playing, say, a bounty hunter living on the edge in a Star Wars game – my main character in the Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO is a bounty hunter, in fact, though he’s as Light Side as I can make him. That makes sense, at least to me, because the Star Wars universe has a very strange kind of moral outlook, especially along the Jedi/Sith angle, which I have talked about before.

But generally, when given a chance in a fantasy RPG, I’ll pick something pretty strongly good. My general preference is the paladin class, which is sort of a holy warrior; it’s gone through a lot of variations over the years of D&D history, including a period with a strictly enforced moral code that often led to DMs intentionally luring players into situations where any choice they made was the wrong one (known as a Kobayashi Maru test for those of you Star Trek fans reading). It also tends to lead to some players choosing, by playing a character who should be a paragon of virtue, to be instead a character who follows the letter of the law, not the spirit, and generally makes the game unenjoyable for other players. I kind of hate both of those, because I see the paladin as a holy warrior, yes, with a very strong code of morals, often put in place by his or her fictional deity. But I also see the paladin as someone who is not there to force others to adhere to his code of conduct; he is not a recruiter, but someone who chose, or was chosen, for his path. He should be an example of the best his deities followers can be, even if this might get him in trouble – though hopefully not too often with the other members of the party.

See, I know I have a strong sense of what I consider good and evil. And on some points, there are objective cases where those are inflexible, barring edge cases brought up for purposes of Devil’s advocacy – murder, rape, slavery, those are things I feel pretty safe in labeling as evil across the board. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, helping the less fortunate, loving those around you, protecting those weaker than you, are all examples of things I feel relatively safe in calling good. But in between there is a big spectrum, and things have to be evaluated objectively a lot of the time. Thievery is bad, yes, but if I steal to feed my family when I have no other options but to starve – am I doing evil? I think a lot of what we see in morality is evaluating things and actions through our own moral compasses. What is good for me is not always good for you. While I feel uncomfortable doing bad things in video games, I have no problem watching other people play the same games and do bad things. While I want to have a society that is more on the side of good, I also realize that morality isn’t always a black and white, binary idea.

So my favorite heroes are the ones who won’t turn towards doing the morally grey or the generally evil when things get tough. Arguments about the needs of the many overriding the needs of the few always make me uncomfortable – in a recent video game, I had a companion in my group who ran a small mercenary company, all of whom I’d met before and thought were decent people. There was one mission where my companion – who was an emissary from a powerful civilization who would be a great help to me in my fight against evil – had to make a choice: aid his civilization and let his friends die, or aid his friends and alienate his people. He turned to me for help making the choice, and, feeling that at the time I needed his people’s help, I told him to let his friends die. And that really bothered me afterwards. Was the help I got from his civilization worth the price he and I both paid in allowing people we cared about to die? Would Captain America, or Superman, or Sturm – or Michael from the Dresden Files, or Paksenarrion from The Deed of Paksenarrion have made the same decision?

I don’t know, because none of them are real. But I do know that those are the people I will most often look to for direction on morality and heroism, because they are the ones whose strong sense of morality – and generally being good people – I value. I’m a Christian, yes, and I also value the ideals of Jesus and what he tried to do and teach in his lifetime. And I think that, in some ways, they are all following the same path morally. I can’t imagine Jesus looking at any of those characters – especially Michael, since he is Christian himself – and thinking they are bad examples to follow. So while Frank castle can be fun to watch, he’s never going to be someone I look to for guidance in any form. Well, unless I’m looking for a good machine gun.