Tag Archives: philosophy

Q&A: Boons and Stressors

What do you think of altruism? Can it make someone more resilient or does it make them weaker?

This feels a little overly simplistic. It’s saying this a direct consequence, but my suspicion is, it’s a little more nuanced.

So, there’s a theory that receiving help actively makes you weaker. This is one of these things where the person espousing the idea is taking a model for how they think the world should be, and applying it irrelevant of evidence.

The problem is, this only makes sense if you think that you learn nothing from receiving help, and that the world will queue up more difficult challenges as you progress. The former is absurd, because you can learn from seeing what others do, and the latter simply doesn’t reflect how the world works. Yes, the challenges we face can escalate as a result of our actions, but the world isn’t trying “keep up with you as you level.” That’s an abstract concept that has limited relation to reality.

There’s a legitimate idea that if you become dependent on others to help you, and they abandon you, you’ll have nothing to fall back on, but that’s justifying a philosophy with the most extreme scenario.

There’s also the inverse, if you’re burning resources to deal with challenges, it can actually leave you in a weakened state if you’re insisting you need to face every challenge alone. Additionally, you probably won’t have anyone to call on, because you didn’t build those connections earlier.

In case it’s not clear, I don’t have a particularly high regard for the entire self-sufficiency argument. I’m fine with saying that you should prepare for the possibility that you’ll need to face challenges alone. It’s a good contingency to have. However, I don’t buy into the, “sanctity of being self-sufficient.”

With that said, there as a satisfaction from overcoming a challenge. As an individual, you may find greater satisfaction from overcoming it on your terms.

That’s the other end of this. I don’t think receiving altruism directly increases your resilience, however, I do think it’s a very reasonable consequence, so, let’s talk psychology.

Your overall mental health does affect a host of things. “Resilience,” is a pretty nebulous term, but your overall mental health does influence nearly all of those factors. It can improve your immune response. It can affect your emotional resilience. It can’t protect you from physical harm, but it can help you cope with that. It can even help offset fatigue. (You still need to rest, but it will help you push on.) This is not an exhaustive list. So, being in a good state of mind can help with all of those things. It can even help you cope with tragedies and misfortune.

Altruism can help with this, but it’s not just receiving it, being on the giving side can also provide that. There’s also a major caveat, the altruism needs to be a positive experience.

There’s a pair of psychological concepts, “boons,” and, “stressors.” You can find other terms for these, but the basic idea is sound. A boon is a, “nice,” experience. It makes you feel better about your life in a small way. A stressor is a negative experience, and it wears on you. Individually, none of these will change your life, or even ruin your day. However, when you start stacking stressors together, it can have a corrosive effect. Similarly, when you start stacking boons together, it can make a significant difference, and help you deal with the challenges you face.

As an example of a stressor: I have a burn on my hand from the coffee press back flushing and spraying boiling water over my hand on Friday. That was not fun. It didn’t make my day better. Individually it didn’t ruin the day, but these kinds of experiences can stack up. And, yes, this a valid example; boons and stressors can be very minor things. Even a brief conversation with a friend can be a boon.

So, why do I have an issue with, “altruism makes you more resilient?” Because it’s a boon. In some situations it’s a significant one. That kind of help can make you feel a lot better about yourself, your life, you future. In turn, that can increase your overall mental health, and increase your resilience.

Please note the conditional statements. “…that kind of help can make you feel better…” “…that can increase your overall mental health…” It is not certain that it will. Remember the people who view accepting help as a weakness. For someone like that, receiving help can be a stressor. If they need it, or cannot refuse it, it’s an indictment of their self-sufficiency. Meaning, two people, in similar situations, can receive the same help, and have radically different psychological responses.

Remember when I mentioned that overcoming a challenge on your own terms can result greater satisfaction? That’s a boon. So, there are circumstances where someone will benefit from facing and overcoming their challenge alone. This is a factor in whether or not help will be beneficial. To be blunt, this isn’t simple. Someone may need help, but not want it, or state that they don’t want it for appearances, when assistance would be welcome.

As a general statement, altruism will be more beneficial than not. However, the topic is a bit more nuanced than just, “receiving altruism makes you more resilient.”


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When people criticize Batman’s approach to crime by dressing up as a bat and punching criminals in the face, I don’t recall seeing if these criticisms included that some iterations of Bruce Wayne include him trying to confront poverty by creating jobs and hiring ex-criminals. Thoughts?

Mostly just that it’s there to say, “see, Batman isn’t a complete psychopath, when he’s disguised as Bruce Wayne he can do charitable things too.”

There’s a philosophical limitation to Batman, that’s probably worth thinking about, if you intend to deal with a character like that seriously. Ironically, it’s also the thesis of Watchmen, you can’t make the world a better place by punching random muggers in the face.

Batman (and to an extent, mainline superhero comics) work through the fantasy of being able to solve your problems through violence. Yes, there’s more to it than that (sometimes.) Bad comics embrace this, without realizing the flaws in this approach. Good ones acknowledge it and either move on with their day or use it to talk about something. Great ones actually take steps to addressing this paradox. And some very entertaining comics are willing to sit at the sideline chucking popcorn at the mess.

As with so many other things, Batman usually flails his arms and says, “I prepared specifically for that,” and then pretends the problem doesn’t exist.

Thing is, given the state of Gotham, there’s a legitimate read that Batman is actually making the city worse. He’s functioning as a kind of lightning rod for crazy. Even by the standards of the DCU, Gotham’s supervillain population is barking mad. It also has a contingent of “normal” supervillains, and criminal element, so there must be a causal factor. At that point, it’s not hard to conclude that it might have something to do with one of its most prominent superheros being at least as crazy as the people he’s locking up. Or Scarecrow’s been pumping psychoactive drugs into the city’s water supply for 70 years and no one noticed.

In this context, about the only constructive thing Bats does is help ex-cons get a job after they’re on the outside… except, it might actually be out of character.

Intentional or not, Batman is a huge fan of Thomas Hobbes. He’s hanging from the gargoyles (because that’s normal behavior for an adult), thinking that people are, inherently, cruel and vicious creatures, who will prey on one another unless someone dressed an animal costume puts the fear of god into them.

In contrast, Superman is a huge fan of John Locke, and by extension on the opposite side of this spectrum. He’s approaching the world from the perspective that people are generally good, and if their needs are provided for, then they won’t intentionally harm each other.

Thing is, these perspectives fit the characters and their respective backstories. The guy who is an immigrant from another world, with a sheltered upbringing, and a (basically) happy life looks at people and says, “yeah, they’re basically okay, maybe they need some help once in awhile, but they can be trusted.” The guy who watched his parents gunned down in front of him goes, “people suck, they can’t be trusted, we need to put the fear of flying rodents into them or they’ll do horrible things.“

When you put them next to each other, you’ve got a fantastic opportunity for friction. These are two ideologies that do not mesh with each other. It’s not that they’re incapable of discourse, but their fundamental approach to the world, and the way they view people, is incredibly different, and their decisions are as a result.

The problem is, offering criminals a way out, and helping them find their footing is a Locke thing. It’s the kind of behavior you’d see from Superman (or a lot of other superheros, honestly). Batman is kinda a minority, philosophically speaking. You can lump him in with The Question or Marvel’s Punisher, but his outlook doesn’t really fit well with most of the DCU.

So, what we’re left with is, Batman disguised as Bruce Wayne, trying to behave like Superman. And we’re asked to believe that he’s trying to make Gotham a better place by engaging in behavior that honestly doesn’t mesh with his philosophical outlook on state of nature. Which also requires that he’s developed the kind of introspection necessary to understand that the way he views the world is not the only possible “correct” perspective, and that’s not supported by the way Batman’s written.

You could legitimately suggest that he does this as a show of respect for Superman (and most of the other superheros he interacts with), or that it’s an attempt to further disguise his dual identity; except, that never really happens. It’s played painfully straight.

Honestly, I think this is simply a holdover from an earlier iteration of the character. Adam West’s version of the Caped Crusader was a lot closer to the Big Blue Boyscout, ideologically. West’s version having rehabilitation programs made sense. We’re also talking about a version of the character who paid parking tickets on the Batmobile and wouldn’t allow Robin to enter bars because he was underage. (Though had no qualms about Bruce Lee beating the snot out of The Boy Wonder, oddly enough.)

The rehabilitation efforts have limped forward, while the character exercising them has been completely re-imagined. It’s kept as a legacy element of his character, without really considering that it makes no sense for the current version. Off the top of my head, I’m not sure exactly when this happened. I’m inclined to point at Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One as the turning point. Though it could have been at pretty much any point in the 80s.

Either way, it’s persisted. We still have a version of Batman that breaks character because it made sense fifty years ago. This is a consideration when you’re working with characters who’ve passed through a lot of different writers. They’ll all add things that make sense to them, but the overall essence of a character can be altered. Along the way, you’ll end up with baggage that doesn’t mesh with the character you’re working on. At that point, your choices are to jettison it (if you’re doing a fresh interpretation), or try to find a way to reconcile these elements together.


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I’ve been having ideas about a story that involves widespread transhumanism, but when I think about it, there’s stuff about the concept I’ve never understood. What happens to your augments as you age or your body shape changes? How are the augments maintained? Do you clean them? What powers them? What happens when technology advances and your augments are obsolete? If your job requires augs that are weapons, what happens when you’re off duty? I know it’s MY story, but I’m stuck for answers.

We had a professor in college who used to say, “when you encounter a word you don’t know, look it up.” It’s good advice, and might have helped you here. I’m going to assume you first ran into transhumanism in association with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. So, let’s look at all three pieces of this, transhumanism, cybernetics, and the philosophy at play in Deus Ex.

Transhumanism is a philosophy that advocates the use of technology to transcend the human condition. I’m being a little reductive here, and this isn’t a philosophical strand I’m well versed in, but, the entire goal is to use technology to make life better.

For someone who views cybernetic augmentation as the path to take, the answer is fairly simple; if a body part is failing, you repair or replace it. But, that’s not the full extent of the philosophy. In fact, at this moment, as you’re reading this sentence, you’re engaging in another strand.

Remember, the basic idea is to use technology to fundamentally improve the human condition. Welcome to the internet: giving you free access to information that, thirty years ago, would have taken months of research going from library to library, fishing through the stacks for that one thing you needed.

At a fundamental level, the internet is, already, a major piece of transhumanist technology. It brings us together and opens up exchanges of ideas that wouldn’t have been possible in the past. It changes the nature of the world, and they way you can interact with humanity as a whole. Using technology to make us more than we were.

It’s really hard to explain to someone born after ~1995, just how massively the internet has changed the world.

While I’m not very familiar with his work, another major proponent of transhumanism, and a separate strand of it was Timothy Leary. In his case, he was advocating higher human consciousness through pharmaceuticals. That is to say; LSD. Using, drugs to achieve some kind of spiritual enlightenment isn’t what comes to mind, when I hear the term. But, there it is.

That said, pharmaceutical transhumanism can also include things like anti-agapics (immortality serums), and any superhero that got their powers from drugs. Retroviral engineering might also count, depending on how loosely you define “pharmaceuticals.”

The term itself originates in the 1960s, but there’s actually elements of the philosophy far earlier. The health science craze of late 19th century is probably an example. Finding a way to be more than human through the wonders of science and technology is not a new idea.

Now, that’s the philosophy in very broad strokes. I’m not well versed in the political strands. The two political outlooks I know of are ones that take a libertarian free-market approach, and one that takes a self deterministic approach. But, again, I have a bachelors in political science, and this is the first time I’ve ever run across a formal write up on Transhumanism as a political ideology.

For cybernetics, it really varies based on what the piece of hardware actually is. Pacemakers and other powered implants require some power source. So that requires either an external accessible port, or they require surgery every-time the battery needs service.

Internal prosthetics, like hip or knee replacements, have a shelf life of 10-15 years. They’ll decay over time and from use, and eventually need to be replaced. That does involve surgery. The implant gets pulled, tossed, and replaced. The old one might be refurbished, but it’s not user serviceable.
I’m less familiar with external, removable, prosthetics. I suspect the overall lifespan is lower, with some user serviceable parts.

As for full on powered augmentations? I don’t know. Anything with that many moving parts is going to need to be serviceable. Especially if it’s going to get shot at. Exactly how modular they are, or if the pieces use proprietary tech is a world building question. It will depend on what you’re saying in your work.

It is probably worth dragging out the old observation. If you replace someone’s arm with a cybernetic one, it won’t let them toss cars around. The arm itself may be superhumanly strong, but that just means it will be able to tear itself from its owner. So, if you’re wanting to give a character super strength, they actually need to have their shoulders, spine, and legs also reinforced, or replaced. I have no idea what those would do to someone as they age, but I suspect that they would interfere with any changes to the body from aging. Actually, I know that’s the case, to some extent, because it’s a real concern for people who suffer serious injuries in childhood.

So, Deus Ex is about transhumanism. All three games are, actually. But, the original game, and it’s title, come from the transhumanist apotheosis in the plot. The title derives from the phrase, deus ex machina, or literally, “god from the machine.”

As writers, we usually use deus ex machina in reference to an author pulling a resolution out of their ass. To an extent, that’s the meaning of the original Greek. In some Greek plays, an actor playing a god, would descend on a crane or ascend using a levered platform, to resolve the story.

With the original Deus Ex, the title is oddly literal. A major chunk of the original game, after you get past the whole Illuminati versus Majestic 12 storyline, is the use of artificial intelligences to function as all knowing, all seeing, gods in the machine and, in one ending, merging a human consciousness with an AI and giving it full control over all human communication.

In spite of that, the philosophical core of Deus Ex is an information age state of nature debate.

I usually break the state of nature debate down into the Superman/Batman dichotomy. That’s probably disrespectful to the historical discussion, but, it is a very good abstract. The basic question is, how will humans behave without a civil society or government? And, it has direct implications for how you govern.

The Superman side of things is that humans are fundamentally good. Laws and society are necessary to protect people from their worst impulses. But, those impulses are an aberration, not the norm.

The Batman side is that people are fundamentally self interested and dangerous to the whole. “Life is nasty, brutish, and short,” to misquote Hobbes’ Leviathan. Laws and government are necessary to coerce people into line.

Most of the state of nature debate happened in the 17th and 18th century. It’s not “resolved,” but, modern philosophy has moved elsewhere. Deus Ex revisits this basic question, and frames it in the context of global conspiracies and a counterterrorism plot that was, honestly, a couple years ahead of its time.

The original game is the one most relevant to your question about obsolesce. The main character in Deus Ex is a nanotech augmented agent, working alongside, now, obsolete cyberaugmented agents. The game presents this with a mix of fairly solid character moments. Some of this runs as a basic analogy for aging soldiers, but the residual prejudices regarding cybernetic augmentation make for some interesting texture. Especially given that nano augmentation is much less invasive, and difficult to detect at a glance.

The second game, Deus Ex: Invisible War is mostly a rehash of the first game, and as a result, probably the weakest Deus Ex title (ignoring the spin-offs). This does have some of the most disturbing endings in the series, however. Including two different endings where the entirety of humanity is forcibly augmented.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the game you’re probably familiar with. As with the original game, it’s more interested in letting you participate in the conversation then explaining three-hundred years of state of nature thinking. This is probably the best one for looking at how normal people would look at cybernetic augmentation. This generally gets used as an analogy for racism, which is probably useful, if you remember that’s what they’re doing.


A character has the power to bless bullets so they won’t hurt “good people” when fired. His coworkers are skeptical of the power and want to do tests in a controlled environment. How can they minimize risk to all involved?

Well, if Warhammer 40k has taught us anything it is that, “There is no such thing as innocence, only degrees of guilt.”

Your bullets are actually posing a pretty serious metaphysical question to the world, and even if your characters don’t understand this, it’s one you need to work through.

There’s two convenient ways to look at good and evil, objective and subjective. Objective is the conventional D&D system. Your character is good because they do “good” things, and eschew “evil” acts. A subjective system is relative to the individual’s view of the world. It’s sometimes also called moral relativism, which probably should get dragged into this conversation.

High fantasy settings tend to lean towards objective systems. Good and evil are non-abstract metaphysical realities. A character is good because they adhere to their deity’s rules. Their deity is good because they are. It’s a fundamental nature of their existence, and as a result, they function as a kind of magnetic north for the world’s moral compasses. Evil gods provide the opposite, and characters find a home between the two based on how closely they follow someone’s rules. Often times, regardless of their beliefs.

Spells that allow characters to detect or smite evil work because they’re empowered by a god to identify people who are aligned with darker powers.

Now, let’s kick the chair out from under this.

One of the basic premises of a normal objective alignment system is that your good deities have some kind of vaguely similar agenda. A good god of valor may not care too much about ministering to those who are wounded, but, generally speaking, they’re not going to take a “purge the weak,” approach. Because if they did, then they wouldn’t be a good god. Not really, right?

But, what happens when you have two “good” deities that take fundamentally conflicted systems? What happens when a religion espouses an evil act as a moral imperative?

I went for religion first because it is, frequently, the easiest way to talk about good and evil. In most cases religion functions as a kind of moral cheat sheet. “Is this good or evil? Well, it must be good, because my god told me to do this.” You don’t need to ask why, you don’t need to know what the implications are; you simply cede the philosophy to an outside force with an authoritative opinion on the subject.

Even if you believe in divine inspiration, religion is the product of human beings wrestling with the world, and trying to understand it. Thomas Aquinas defined the death penalty as morally necessary. While there are many Christians alive today who still call homosexuality evil.

To be fair, actual Christian philosophy from St. Augustine to Descartes is fascinating, and well outside the scope of this article… but it is impossible to read it and come away with the idea that it is comprehensive or driven by a single, unified concept of morality. It is people, often very intelligent people, looking at the world, trying to make sense of it, and do the right thing.

Without religion, we’re left with an existentialist question, and a subjective morality. Do the bullets affect someone who believes they’re good, or are they “set” by your character’s concepts of good and evil. If it’s the former, what happens when they strike a character who feels they’ve betrayed their own morality over something that is objectively minor?

If your character shoots someone who feels crippling guilt over an accident that killed someone, even though they were absolved by people with a more objective view of the situation, what happens?

What happens when your character shoots someone who was involved in an extramarital affair?

What happens when your character shoots someone who commits evil acts that they feel are justified by a greater good? What happens if your character shoots someone like Jack Bauer from 24?

Or, what happens when your character shoots your avatar? It may be a little oddball, but in most interpretations, Lex believes he’s the good guy, and working against an alien invader. He’s trying to save the world. So, what happens when your character shoots him?

What happens when your character shoots someone who murdered someone, got away undetected, was never suspected, and keeps that as a secret? How can your character explain their random decision to snuff this person? How can they justify their actions?

By appointing your character the executioner to an abstract concept, you’ve got a very complex, tangled, and interesting philosophical question.

I would say, “testing” this, or even admitting that you have this kind of a power, would probably be a very bad idea. But, at the same time, it has the potential to spiral into a very massive, serious, conversation piece about ethics and morality in your story’s setting. So, testing it on coworkers becomes more of a question about what kind of a story are you trying to tell?

Okay, there is no way I can do full justice to the subject in a reasonable space, so I’m going to throw some recommended reading on the pile.

Keeping with the Comics theme (because, hey, Lex Luthor):

Kingdom Come, this is a little obtuse at times, but there’s a fairly detailed conversation about superhero morality under the surface here. There’s actually some overlap with the Dune novels, oddly enough. The basic thesis is that a superhero is a fundamentally destructive force, like guarding a hen house with nuclear weapons.

Superman: Red Son, If you’re having a hard time with the idea of conflicting moral systems, this might be a good option. Basically, “What if Superman’s pod crash landed in the Soviet Union?” It’s poses some pretty solid philosophical questions about ethics and governance in an easy to digest format.

Watchmen, if you’re somehow not familiar with this book. Alan Moore is talking about the impotence of the superhero power fantasy, among other things. The moral conversation is something you might not pick up on until subsequent readings, though.

Moving away from comics, I really wish I could provide a good link to Brimstone, but Fox has never released the series on DVD. The basic premise was an undead Cop who’d been murdered in 1983 had been sent back to earth to track down 113 damned souls who had escaped from hell. It was viciously funny, but there was also some real philosophical meat to the series. Including the main character, who’d gone to hell for murdering his wife’s rapist. Unfortunately, it looks like someone went on a purge and wiped most of the videos for it from Youtube. If you have a line on a copy somewhere, watch it.


Forgive me for asking about tropes but… what are your thoughts on the “Honour before reason” trope? You think a good warrior/soldier, one who deals with people trying to kill her in daily life/job could work with this trope or it will change their view on things such as killing?(as in, she chooses to not use a bow because it seems dishonourable or something like that – personally I think that’s being a hypocrite). How could this apply to real life?

Honor before reason is actually a real thing that happens for some people, both on an individual level and at an institutional one.

One example of it at in institutional level was the US Military’s approach to snipers. During the first World War, the US established a specialized school for training snipers. After the war ended, the school was disbanded, only to be reformed during World War II, disbanded, reformed for Korea, disbanded, and finally reformed during the Vietnam War.

It was shut down between wars because the role of a sniper was viewed as dishonorable, and Flag Officers wasted no time in getting rid of it as soon as they could. Even though it meant, when the next war rolled around, they were starting from scratch all over again.

In a lot of ways, your personal code of honor defines your moral boundaries, and helps you to create an identity for who you are. Or at least who you believe you are. You don’t have to call this “honor,” but it’s as good a label as any.

True story: I used to know a guy who held up one rule for himself (actually he held up a lot more than just one rule, but he tended to single this one out), he wouldn’t get a job as a janitor. It was a position that was (ironically) cleaner than what he was already doing, less stressful, less physically taxing, and paid better, but, he wouldn’t apply, didn’t want to do it, and refused, because he didn’t want to “sink that low.” That’s “honor before reason”, and I suspect we all have boundaries like that.

It can be pride, it can be moralistic, it can be anything really. But, when you’re making a decision based on your view of how the world should work, or who you believe yourself to be, over what the world tells you, or what the “best” course of action actually is, that’s probably “honor before reason,” or a close relative of it.

And yes, it can be warped to an insane degree. People do approach the world with very skewed perspectives on how things should be, or what they believe their role is. Which can lead to people making idiotic decisions based on who they believe they are, or how they want the world to work.

Now, usually, when invoking this, we’re thinking of someone who has an incredibly inflexible code of honor, but, that can, and does happen. But, at a slightly more abstract level, this is everywhere.

Also, honestly, a lot of people are hypocrites in one way or another. Think of it like the old Star Wars quote, the more you try to define who other people should be, the more you likely you’ll violate one of your own rules.

If it’s just you, and you’re not holding others to account on your rules of how things should be, then you’re probably not going to be a hypocrite, but, in an era of “someone on the internet was wrong,” that can be hard if you don’t think about it in advance.

On one hand, killing is killing. It’s all wrong. There is no “good murder” as opposed to “evil murder.” It’s all choosing to end the life of a fellow human being “because reasons.”

Saying that some means of killing them are more reprehensible than others is… well, it’s not entirely without merit. Let’s use a word I know you’ve seen before, but might not have seen in this way, “discrimination.”

In warfare discrimination refers to your ability to kill the specific individual you intended, and not, say, his buddy standing next to him, or that civilian that happened to get caught in the blast radius. In warfare, discrimination is one of the fundamental elements of Just War Theory, and it is generally a good thing. It’s your ability to kill the enemy, without accidentally killing a bunch of innocent bystanders in the process.

When it comes to selecting your weapons, some will discriminate more effectively than others. Historically bows were rather poor at discrimination. Archers would fire in volleys which would put the arrows in the general vicinity of way over there. If you’re view of the warfare is fundamentally built by St. Augustine and his articulation of Jus Bellum, (like most European military forces in the last 2,000 years) then the idea of just randomly killing the enemy, instead of killing an individual could be somewhat problematic.

Further, if your view of warfare requires meeting on an equal field, then your own archers launching a volley in to soften the enemy infantry is a necessary evil. Necessary, because they’ll do it to you, but evil, because this isn’t how warfare should be fought. It creates a peculiar moment where killing someone in one way can be dishonorable, and depending on how adamant your personal code of honor is, it could be a real issue.

This is before we even get into looking at how formalized codes of honor come about. Formalized codes, like Chivalry and Bushido, are (fundamentally) built around maintaining the status quo. They’re there to reign in your forces. In the case of European codes, there was a strong focus placed on killing someone face to face, and not killing someone until you’d actually seen their face. The reason was simple; it wasn’t about fairness in combat, it was to keep you from accidentally snuffing a noble on the battlefield.

Now, obviously, if you’re an archer, putting an arrow somewhere over the rainbow, you don’t know who you killed, or if you killed anyone at all. But for an infantry fighter, the prospect of accidentally killing one of the people you were supposed to capture, haul back, and ransom, could be deeply unsettling.

What does this mean over long term? It’s like the old axiom about how “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Once you’re actually fighting for your life, your code of honor undergoes an acid test. It might corrode or it might become the anchor you cling to. You can call that “strength of character” if you like, or “honor before reason.” But, ultimately, that’s a question about who your character really is, under the surface, after everything goes off the rails; which is probably best left for you to decide and answer.


“Martial arts each come with their own personal philosophies and ideologies, there’s an inherent outlook that changes how a student perceives the world around them as they train.” Can you tell me more about what they are for specific martial arts, at least those you know well? I think of starting to give my characters martial arts that fits their worldviews and personalities.

It might not sound like it, but this is really a very complicated question. The short answer is “no.” And, I’ve been wrestling with this question for awhile, honestly.

The problem is, a martial arts’ philosophy is baked in by the people that created it. Their philosophies were, in turn, influenced by their culture, and the world they lived in.

There are a few forms, like Tai Chi, MAP and Krav Maga that are fairly open about their philosophical cores. The vast majority however, don’t really articulate their philosophy directly. The reason for this is that the philosophy overall will be learned by practicing the martial art and become ingrained in the student over time. As the student advances in rank, they will begin to think about the martial art and how it applies to their own life. This is the point where the martial art’s internal philosophy is actively considered, but usually only as it applies to the individual student as part of their growth. In isolation, a martial art’s philosophy is nice but not relevant. The philosophies tend to make more sense once you know the context of where they’re from, why they were developed, and what the martial art was used for.

For example: Karate was originally developed in Okinawa and has a long martial tradition that predates the invasion and occupation by the Japanese. During the occupation, the martial art evolved to directly subvert the martial techniques of the Samurai. That’s traditional Aikido, Jujitsu, and the other Samurai martial arts. The recognizable Okinawan weapons, such as the nunchaku, and sai are not only designed to utterly subvert the traditional martial weapons of the Japanese like the katana and kill the occupying Samurai, but to do so with weapons that are not distinctly recognizable as weapons. Weapons which can be carried in plain sight carried by people who were risking death merely for owning them. In modern day Japan, the multiple variants of Karate are incredibly popular and have been adopted as part of the Japanese cultural tradition. While each vein of of Karate remembers it’s past differently, all come from a past struggle against an occupying force.

If you don’t know the history of Japan and Okinawa, or believe that the islands of Japan have always been one nation, then understanding the philosophy is going to be much harder.

I’ve said before, one of the central tenants of Aikido is the Dynamic Sphere. It is about making yourself the eye of the storm and encouraging the world to revolve around you. Now, from a purely American perspective, this draws up images of being selfish and self-centered (particularly for women). It’s worth remembering in translation that this is not a question of importance, it’s a function of the martial art’s physical philosophy. In practice, Aikido is not a mobile martial art. It works by creating a base connection to the earth, by stabilizing the body’s energy, and using this tranquility to turn the attacker’s force against them. This is where the eye of the storm metaphor comes from, the raging storm is defined by active, violent winds. At it’s center, the eye is peaceful and balanced. The struggle of the Aikido student is in becoming that center, in achieving their own balance with the world around them.

I’m being poetic, but the basic idea is sound.

Karate is about creating an irresistible force that cannot be diverted and driving forward through all obstacles. On the surface, they seem completely unrelated, but the ancestor of one informed the other.

If at this point, you’re starting to feel pretty good, I have to remind you that we are only discussing these philosophies on a basic, surface level. The Orientalism of Star Wars is that the philosophy of the Force is based on the Tao. Many of the pop cultural, quasi-mystical training soundbites we get from a thousand different authors aping the 1980s Karate Kid, Star Wars, and similar films are bastardizations of real training mentalities. Honest to god, the concept of being a stone in the river has a real place in some martial arts.

What you’re really asking is, “who are these people of Earth?”

Here’s the truth: every human civilization in history has fought. Every civilization has, at one time, been forced to answer “what does all this death and destruction mean to me?” The splintered philosophies of those peoples to violence are scattered across thousands of different answers throughout human history.

What are the philosophies of the various marital arts? We all are. And, I’m sorry if that sounds pretentious or pseudo-mystical, but all of the various civilizations have answered that question differently.