Thursday, March 19, 2015

On Vitriol Part 3

I have spilled a lot of virtual ink in my last two posts trying to point out the limitations of reason and logic and arriving at some kind of appreciation for and understanding of the nous — that part of the human mind that experiences beauty. The reason for this is that it is my answer to all of the vitriol we see flying through the interwebs.

The nous is not only where we experience beauty, it is also where we experience relationships. There is nothing particularly rational about why I have the friends that I do, or why I love my wife or why my children are some of the most important people in my life. They just are in the same way that beauty just is.

The irrationality of relationships is what makes them so critically important. If they were rational, most of us wouldn’t have many friends, nor would the human race have much of a chance at having enough kids for the species to survive more than a few generations.

Relationships have a way of existing despite the fact that we disagree on so many things. Just as an example: I am an Orthodox Christian. The vast majority of those who read this blog are not. Indeed, I would venture to guess that the average reader isn’t even Christian. Yet, here we are. We all have a relationship playing the games we love to play.

Ultimately, this reality forces us all to engage that rational and logical part of our mind to understand why we have these relationships and how it is possible that someone else who can be be called a colleague or even friend can so radically disagree with us on a variety of subjects. It is within this space, where the nous and the rational mind work together that understanding those who disagree with us happens. It is in this space where minds are changed and transformed.

Again, for example: I don’t like Thieves or Paladins. Thieves tend to lead to skill systems which I don’t care for. Clerics are paladins, why do they need a separate class that doesn’t do as good a job of being a paladin as the cleric does? Yet, my Lost Colonies campaign had both paladins and thieves because the friends that I made while playing the game do like thieves and paladins. I found myself asking the question: what is more important? The mechanics of the game we play or the relationships I have around the table? In answering that question, I found a way to include those paladins and thieves.

One of the reasons why I have been blogging as long as I have is because this corner of the internet has been focused so much on relationships. We play games we love to play. We love tinkering with those games. We love sharing ideas about those games. All of these things rise above all of our differences. The OSR exists despite the fact that we disagree more than we agree. Whether we know it or not we have been occupying that space in the human experience where the rational mind and nous cooperate. As a result this hobby has been transformed.

Vitriol exists when we forget the nous and abandon the possibility of relationship. I will grant that there are times when it is warranted, but the vast majority is wholly avoidable and we’ve proved it for years.


  1. @ Fr. Dave:

    I haven't thought too much about the relationships that this corner o the blog-o-sphere creates, but I think you're right...the interaction that takes place within "blog space" is just as important (if not more so) than in having a pulpit from which to shout our ideas. And with that in mind, it certainly does behoove us to "just get along" and rise above the petty squabbles.

    I say that...but then there are folks that I've simply divorced myself from who might otherwise be part of my communal community. Folks who have beliefs that I can't (in good conscious) support, and who I don't want to publicize...not by talking about them, not by creating links from my blog. For me, these are folks who have consistently put out really hateful shit (NOT "game related"), and while we may share a love of gaming (regardless of system or edition), they're beliefs are such that I don't find "value added" by including them in the conversation.

    Is that un-Christian of me?

    1. As it is so often in my line of work, there isn't a cut-and-dry answer. But your question is important and deserves its own post...

  2. @ JB

    "Never give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs. Otherwise, they will trample them with their feet and then turn around and attack you."

    Mat 7:6

  3. This has been a thought provoking 3 part post. I'm also in the JB camp, I think, where I avoid some blogs because of the weird ancillary garbage that they broadcast. I do notice what bloggers link to as well. I don't think it is wrong to self select or choose to be a little more discerning about what you read, even in something as casual as gaming.

  4. Late to this post, as I am only finding this via Dyver's recommendation. Anyway I am not sure I follow the first part, which seems to assert that loving people, having friends, and relationships in general are anti-rational, and that if we were guided by reason we would not have as many friends as we do or even reproduce enough to continue the race. Surely I'm reading that wrong. But if that is really what you mean to assert, I guess there a lot of unvoiced premises there too. I guess when I see "nous" I assume an Aristotlean sense of the term and don't see how it can be operating independently of, let alone against, reason.

    1. By no means do I mean that the nous is anti-rational; however, it is irrational. This irrationality is a necessary part of being human and the human experience. It is also something that modernity and post-modernity have de-emphasized at best and dismissed at worst. By overemphasizing reason, we diminish what it means to be human. BTW I never argue that reason is something that isn't a necessary part of being human. We need both. Ignoring one or the other leads to bad things.

    2. "Modernity" and "postmodernity" are such nebulous terms, and there are so many thinkers that bear those labels, I can't begin to evaluate the claim that they dismiss or devalue irrationality. Kierkegaard? Nietzsche? Camus? Gosh, all the existentialists, and proto-extistentialists I can think of are pretty comfortable with the irrational part of humans. Romanticism, Surrealism, and various other aesthetic movements are firmly pro-irrationality or at least happy to incorporate it.
      But to return to my comment above, I don't really see why loving people depends on irrationality either. I could have reasons for loving someone, couldn't I? Having reasons is being rational, I thought.

    3. BTW I really do appreciate your willingness to answer questions.

    4. I use the terms “modernity” and “post-modernity” with a very broad stroke. From my perspective as a pre-modern thinker, all of the folks you mention fit into those categories. This is when the limitations of communication via the internet really rears its head, because this conversation deserves to be face-to-face.

      The anthropology (by which I mean what does it mean to be human) of Western thought (upon which all of the guys you mention stand) is different from the anthropology of Orthodox Christianity. At the risk of oversimplifying things, the two can be summed up by the following slogans:

      I think, therefore I am.
      I love, therefore I am.

      The first limits the human experience to what can be contained within human reason — including irrationality and, ultimately, God. This is why atheism seems so rational. When God is limited to what I can think God is, it makes perfect sense to understand Him as irrelevant.

      The second acknowledges a far more holistic view of the human person, where relationships are vital to knowing. God is allowed to be the super-rational being that He is and humanity is not limited to reason.

      This difference can be illustrated by your understanding of love, where you have reasons for loving someone. I would counter that love is not rational, but can be rationalized. You may very well be able to come up with reasons why you love someone, but love is never something that comes about through logic or reasoned thinking. It exists in that part of the human experience that is beyond reason.

    5. BTW thanks for stopping by and asking questions.

  5. Should've read you first paragraph again. You define nous as that part of the mind that appreciates beauty ... you evidently have something else in mind than what I was thinking of. I don't mean to distract from your larger point about keeping strong emotions in check when discussing things online, and not hating people just because you disagree with them, that's certainly correct.