The Guide to Me

Most of my readers probably won’t find any use in this, but this is something that has been bouncing around in my head for a while, and so it kind of needs to get out. Maybe someone I know will find it useful, or it will just be useful to have it out of my head where I can see it. Basically, it is what it says in the subject line – a guide to (what I see as) the important parts of my personality.

1. I’m a geek, and proud of it. I like Star Wars, and Star Trek; I can quote the Jedi and Sith Codes. I love to read comics (Marvel over DC any day of the week). I have been to see every Marvel movie thus far in theaters, and I hope to continue to do so. I grew up reading D&D novels, be they Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, or Dark Sun. Many of my favorite books are science fiction and fantasy, and if prompted I could spend the better part of the day talking about them. I own the Extended Editions of all three Lord of the Rings movies, and the first Hobbit – and several editions of the books, as well. I love tabletop roleplaying games, video games, and going to Renaissance Faires – I even have a sword hanging on my wall.

2. Consequently, I can be, well, a bit of a nerd. I don’t bust my geekery out a lot, because I know many of my friends don’t share it, and it can get kind of annoying to have (or be) the guy going on and on about his favorite comic book characters and who would win in a fight (hint: it’s always Squirrel Girl). I went to see the second Thor movie and the second Hobbit movie alone, because I didn’t want to drag other people who might not enjoy them. I was terribly grateful to Calla for not only going to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier with me last weekend, but coming over to watch the first one, as well.

3. I’m kind of an academic. I’ve had critical thinking kind of beaten into me over the last 8-10 years, and so it is the way my mind works. I like to read books on literary criticism, or articles on medieval literature (particularly works like Beowulf). Lately, I read a lot of mental health books, trying to wrap my head around the way that other people’s minds work so that I can see where they might be coming from.

4. I spend a lot of time stuck in my head. This might be related to the academic point, but I spend a great deal of time thinking about what I’m going to say. if I feel I don’t have anything worthwhile to add, or that anything I add will just be seen as offensive, I don’t say anything. Sometimes, I overthink things, and don’t talk about my thoughts or feelings when I should because of this. Its a habit I am trying to break.

5. I am extremely loyal to my friends. It tends to take me a while to warm up to people, and it can be hard to get to know me, but once I consider you to be a friend, there is very little I won’t do for you. It tends to apply even to friends I haven’t seen or heard from in a while – if a friend from Menninger who I haven’t heard from since leaving asked me for help, I’d do what I could to assist. I trust my friends implicitly, though I don’t ask for or require the same in return; I know a lot of people don’t tend to trust to the same degree that I do.

6. I’m hard to get to know. Because I tend to be rather terse, and I tend to hold a lot of my thoughts and feelings inside around people I haven’t yet gotten to know, I can seem aloof, arrogant, or out-of-touch. Generally, I’m not any of those things, but I have a tough time getting to know people in most situations. It was a big surprise to me that I ended up making so many friends in Menninger, and that I have managed to stay close to so many of them outside.

7. I’m an introvert – which you may have guess from the last few things. I tend to keep to myself in social settings when I don’t know everyone, and my conversations can be awkward, because I can run out of things to say easily. I would imagine most people who have met me can agree about this, at least initially; without knowing people, I have a tough time interacting. Also, being too social with people I don’ know well tends to tire me out pretty quickly, so I need some time to myself after things like that. Living alone is thus both a blessing and a curse, because it means I don’t see people as often as I would if I had a roommate, but I also get time to recharge.

8. I’m pretty liberal, politically speaking, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I will always hold a strong liberal stance on everything. I realize that a lot of far-left positions are pretty crazy, much like the far-right stuff, but I think there needs to be more thought and conversation (and even compromise) put into modern US politics, and less bloviating, invective, and general hate between the Democrats and Republicans.

9. I’m an atheist (though I’m leaning towards agnostic, or maybe something else). This doesn’t mean I am anti-religion, though. I grew up Catholic, and at some point during my undergrad years I didn’t feel like I had faith in a greater power anymore, and haven’t much since (though a bit recently). But I understand religion, and I don’t think other people should give theirs up because I lost my faith. I’m not going to rail against religion unless it is something I see as blatantly stupid or crazy, and even that tends to be more religion getting into politics – or you try to tell me that because I don’t believe in a deity, that I can’t have morals. them’s fightin’ words.

10. As you might have noticed from my post about Captain America, and some older posts about my moral sense, I have a pretty strong sense of what is right and wrong, and I get a lot of those from strange sources – D&D has been a big contributor in that regard, as well as chivalric medieval fiction. Now, I don’t always live up to my own standards, but I do try to, and I have trouble even playing bad guys – I can’t even play a Dark Side character in a Star Wars video game.

11. There are certain things which can evoke strong emotions from me. Some of them are obvious – losing a dear family member, friend, or pet; saying goodbye to someone I won’t see again for a long time; the end of a relationship. Others, however, can be kind of odd. There are certain portions of several books that cause me to tear up when I read them, and for whatever reason, musicals (Les Miserables, for example) can bring me to tears, as well. Pictures don’t really seem to do it, but I could be proven wrong. It’s hard for me to admit that, because I spent so long trying to avoid crying in front of other people that I just held it in until I could fall apart alone, but I’m getting more used to expressing that.

12. I am a happy omnivore. I like eating meat products. Hell, I like to eat a lot of things that are bad for me. I’ve never tried being vegetarian or vegan, and I don’t plan to – with the amount of vegetables and fruits I like,my diet would get boring really fast. I do like cooking, though, which is something I never thought I would say a year ago. It’s a fun exercise, and it is really good for helping to keep myself in the moment – plus it means I can cook all sorts of fun stuff. And I haven’t given myself food poisoning yet!

13. I communicate much more clearly through the written word than the spoken. Now, given that I write a blog, this is probably a good thing; if I did a podcast, it would be full of awkward silence and ‘um, uh…’. This can be a bit difficult when trying to communicate difficult or emotional (or both) topics. Telling people who are important to me how I feel is really, really hard for me in person, but I know that in text it seems impersonal, so it’s another thing I am working on. There’s at least one person who could judge how well that work is going, but it’s up to her to tell me that.

14. I tend to be pretty easygoing with most things. If a friend wants to do something I’ve never done before, I’m up for it. If I get asked to do something I’ve never done before at work,. all I need to know is what to do differently and I’ll do it. I’ll watch romance, action, comedy, or documentary,, and I am open to new things.

15. Connected to the loyalty to friends above, I also can get attached to other people, and that can become awkward. Like I blogged a few days ago, I can be really insecure with people I am close to, and the closer, the more insecure. This can make for some very awkward relationships, because I can get a bit clingy if I feel like I’m drifting away. I am trying to work on that, though. Man, I seem to be working on a lot of things.

16. I’m a smartass. I am constantly trying to avoid saying something too offensive, because I almost always have a smartass remark or response to things. It’s amusing, but can also be annoying. I’m not working on it, though, because I kind of enjoy it.

Well, that’s what I have right now. I may have more to add later. Or others might have things of their own to add, because as was pointed out to me at both Menninger and the stepdown, we don’t see ourselves the same way others do

Atheist Morality

I overheard a discussion the other day between tow people – both apparently religious, one more reasonable (as in, willing to reason instead of simply decide something and never be willing to change) than the other – and they were talking about morality. One was fairly certain that even without a belief in God, or god, or a higher power, atheists could be moral, though not in the same way that a religious person is. The other, however, was vehemently opposed to this, saying that without faith in a power like God, atheists had no moral compass, and that all atheists were just a step or two from being total psychopaths.

Now, being an atheist, this kind of bugged me, but it wasn’t my conversation (plus I was working), so I didn’t jump in. But, despite being an atheists, I was raised Catholic, and I know what religion is, and what religious faith feels like; I used to have it, after all. I just don’t have it anymore. I’m not anti-religious; I’m just areligious – that is, I have no desire to be a part of a religion. Not because I think they’re all bad, but for the same reason some people don’t join bowling leagues or go camping on weekends – it’s just not my thing anymore.

But I also think I have a pretty strong sense of right and wrong. Being raised Catholic, I am well aware of what Catholicism, and the larger extent Christianity, views as right and wrong. And, largely, this tends to map onto Western society pretty well. But, being a fantasy nerd, my ideas of morality have also been shaped by my favorite characters, fictional and historical. Some of them are harder – much harder – to live up to than others, but I like to think that I try, even if not all that actively.

I think my second entry to this blog – or maybe my third – was on the fictional codes of conduct I keep in my wallet. Those were just the easiest to codify in a wallet-portable form; there are many great, moral characters that I feel have been important to me. The easiest example would, of course, be the Jedi from the original Star Wars movies – well, mostly Luke and Yoda, because Obi-Wan’s ‘true from a certain point of view’ schtick was a littler weak, morally speaking. But after that, I think the big one from early one would be Sturm Brightblade, iconic paladin-type character from the original Dragonlance novels. They aren’t high literature, to be sure, but they were one of my earliest introductions to fantasy literature, and my worn and beaten copies of that trilogy still rest on my bookshelf, over twenty years later.

There are so many other character which fit the bill as moral characters whose devotion to doing the right thing, even when times are tough, makes them guides and shapers of my childhood morality. Captain America is one – a piece of Captain America art is one of the few pieces of artwork in my apartment; my collection of Cap graphic novels was one of the important things I brought to Texas from St. Louis. The character of Michael Carpenter from the Dresden Files book series is a great one, as well, even though he is explicitly a servant of God – he wields a sword with one of the three nails from the crucifixion worked into it.  There’s also Aragorn, the classic Tolkien character; while worn and hardened by life on the edge of civilization, he still has a strong moral core. Almost any member of the Fellowship of the Ring fits this bill, even Boromir – his momentary lapse in the face of possibly the second-greatest evil in existence never seemed to me a reflection of his character, just that people can fail.

I could go on and on – there are almost certainly more than I can think of in a reasonable period of time. But the point is, I’m an atheist with a finely-tuned sense of morality. Religious folk have no particular claim to that particular arena; without deeper insight into why God, or whatever divine being a person believes in, commanded people to by compassionate, merciful, and good, just doing so is meaningless. As Adam Lee notes in his article The Basis for an Atheist’s Morality, “In your column, you said that morality cannot be anchored without reference to a higher power: that if God had not commanded us to be good, we would have no reason to be good, and no justification for condemning those who were not. This claim betrays its own incoherence, for we can then ask, why does God command us to be moral? Does he have reasons for that edict? If so, then we too can make use of those reasons, for if they are good ones, they will stand on their own without reference to who is giving them. On the other hand, if God has no reasons for his commands, then religious morality is cut loose from any anchor. God commanded us to be merciful and kind, but that was just an arbitrary choice with no deeper significance. He could just as easily have commanded us to be vicious and cruel, and those traits would then be the definition of goodness which we were all bound to follow. Can any rational person accept such a nonsensical conclusion?”

I try to do good, or at least not do evil, in my everyday life. I love my family and my friends, and I would do almost anything for them. I believe in helping people rather than hurting them – though occasionally (and profanely) I get rather violent-sounding when stuck in Houston traffic. That’s part of why I started this blog; not just to try and work things out in my head in a more open forum, but also to try and share any helpful parts of treatment I picked up with people who don’t have the luxury of going to someplace like Menninger. And I do all this not because I was commanded to by God, but because I want to. Because it feels right. I mean, hell, I feel guilty when I play a bad guy in video games. Zapping people with Force Lightning when I try to play a Sith in a Star Wars video game? Not fun, more like almost painful for me. 

So, is this morality? According to Merriam-Webster Online, morality is defined as ‘beliefs about what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior; the degree to which something is right and good : the moral goodness or badness of something’. I think I have a pretty healthy regard for what is right and wrong. So apparently, even though I don’t have religious faith (at least, at the moment; I’m open to change), I can be a moral person. 

No offense is meant to any readers who are religious, by the way; just because I’m not religious doesn’t mean I have a problem with those who are. I simply take issue with the idea that, because I lack faith in a higher power, I have nothing to keep me on the straight and narrow. If you have comments on this, and are willing to be reasonable with them, I am willing to listen. I haven’t deleted a comment yet, and I don’t intend to start now.