Lessons From…Vikings (“Born Again”)

To be fair, I have written on the incredible show, Vikings, before. You can read that pretty good post, (no humblebrag) here. While I have discussed the program in the past, I recently saw a new episode that demanded further analysis. Besides, if only a few lessons can be mined from a story at a specific time, it probably was not a good one to begin with. So, I will be analyzing the most recent episode of Vikings, “Born Again”, for possible lessons to be learned. As always SPOILERS ahead.

I know most of you are probably tired of this joke by now, but it still speaks to me for some reason.

I know most of you are probably tired of this joke by now, but it still speaks to me for some reason.

This episode revolves around the concept of faith through the actions and divergent ideologies of various characters, specifically King Ecbert, Floki, and Athelstan with some involvement on Ragnar’s part. (If these names sound like gibberish, go see the show or click the link provided earlier. Seriously though, this is a great program that deserves your viewership). While Floki and Athelstan are having internal struggles over their own faith and desire to please the gods, Ecbert is more concerned with how faith can be used to appease and manipulate the masses which is the first exploration/lesson of the episode: Faith is a powerful tool.

Though not as big a tool as this dude.

Though not as big a tool as this dude.

Ecbert is establishing his legacy and reign over Wessex and, he hopes, all of England. However, he is not simply some power hungry idiot. Ecbert knows that his throne and success depends upon the people he rules over. He needs them to unequivocally follow him and his plans, whatever they may be. So he manipulates those around him, particularly Athelstan and Judith, his son’s wife. He pushes these two individuals to act upon their mutual attraction resulting in a pregnancy. Once this affair, and the resulting child, are found out, Ecbert makes a big show of how it is an act of divine intervention since Athelstan faith and religious devotion is above question. Accordingly, his child must be blessed by God (for some reason) and thus Ecbert’s family, reign, and legacy are intrinsically tied to God’s divine plane. At least, that is what he convinces his subjects of as they all praise the birth of the child and Ecbert’s mercy in his treatment of Judith. It is never really established if Ecbert is a man of faith or religion, but the audience is fully aware of his ambition and drive to achieve his goals regardless of the consequences or methods (much like Ragnar’s own amibitions). He sees faith, and the fervor it creates, as a means to an end and little more unlike Athelstan or Floki.

Athelstan and Floki are at odds because of their differing faiths. Athelstan is a Christian at his core and Floki is a devoted follower of the Norse gods. Furthermore, Floki sees the rise of the Christian god as the inevitable downfall of his own gods. He cannot allow this to happen, yet he knows that Athelstan is loved by Ragnar who is seemingly favored by the gods. If this is so, how can Floki act against Athelstan. He cannot. At best he sows discontent among the Vikings. That is until he is given a sign, or at least something he interprets as a sign.

Granted this guy is not operating with a full set of of marbles to begin with.

Granted this guy is not operating with a full set of of marbles to begin with.

Blood pours out of a statue Floki is building and he recognizes this as the message he has been waiting for. He immediately leaves his home to go kill Athelstan as he believes this is his duty in service to his gods. Which brings us to the next lesson/examination on faith: True faith is spurred by devotion. This is not an excuse for the horrible atrocities done throughout history in the name of religion but more for the fervor and intensity that has helped religion and ideologies spread. Floki’s actions are not done out of spite or malice (at least not entirely). He genuinely believes that his deeds are in the service of his gods and faith. He even treats Athelstan’s body with a sense of reverence and purpose.

Floki, however, is not alone in this scenario as Athelstan is a willing sacrifice for Floki’s axe. At this point in the series, Athelstan has finally chosen a path for himself. Before this episode, he was still having an internal struggle over faith; whether he was a Christian or a follower of his adopted family/home’s gods. Here, Athelstan is newly devoted after having had a personal religious experience. There no longer exists any doubt in the man and he understands the consequences of such a choice. Athelstan’s end comes at Floki’s hand, but he is willing to go peacefully because he is finally at peace.

Ironically, he somehow has the "Jesus" abs which I find annoying.

Ironically, he somehow has the “Jesus” abs which I find annoying.

This is the last lesson from the episode: Faith can provide a sense of self and peace. Again, not intended to excuse the several negative instances of religion and faith being misused. However, for many people faith gives them hope, presence, and peace of mind. There is a great scene in the show Scrubs that relates such an idea or message. (Also another great show to watch when you have the chance). Athelstan was unsure of who he was or what he was meant to do until he found his core which for him was in his faith. Obviously, for others faith will be replaced with some other idea, force, object, or passion, but the same principle holds. You need something to hold onto and believe in to gain a modicum of true peace.

Thus endeth today’s lessons.

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On Retention & Application

I was playing Borderlands on a friend’s Steam account last week. If you have not played the game or started your own Steam account, what the hell have you been doing with your life?! Seriously, it is such a fun game, and Steam lets you access virtually every major title available, and an impressive slew of indie titles, right from the convenience of your computer. Go get both, now!

Truth be told, I have never been much of a PC gamer personally. Could not really be one without a halfway decent rig, and they were not as affordable when I was younger as they are now. Suffice to say, I was raised on a console and will die gripping a controller in one hand while flipping the bird with the other. (This should be taken as a legitimate desire to be added to any last will and testament. Anyone who reads this qualifies as a witness. Please and thank you)

Anyhow, I was playing the game and managed to get farther in an hour or two than my friend who had been playing the game for about a week. Now, to be fair, he is not the greatest gamer out there, but then again neither am I. The major difference is that I have more experience playing games in general than he does. See, he is of the traditionally “good looking” variety. Thus, his adolescence was spent primarily going to parties, dating, and being social while I read and played video games at home. Yeah, I, at times, do not fully understand our relationship either.

Still my background gave me the skill set and understanding of how to intuitively approach the game and controls even though I had never played Borderlands before and had never really used a keyboard and mouse to play games. Whereas he struggled, I excelled. This is not meant as a means of bragging or bravado. I was just as surprised as he was that I adjusted to the game so quickly. However, I should not have been so astonished since games have a specific literacy that comes from playing them, much like anything else.

It is similar to how once you learn to ride a bike, you never really forget. In fact, you can pretty much ride any bike after figuring it out the first time. Your body memorized the mechanics of keeping balance on the bicycle and how to keep it while moving without requiring active engagement. There are various skills we pick up throughout our lives that we are not even aware of. I cannot for the life of me remember how or when I learned to read, but I devour books of all types and levels with little to no difficulty. (Same thing with basic math for some weird reason)

Of course, these soft skills are applicable to other aspects of life. I use the innate trial and error and understanding that comes from playing video games to solve problems and issues in the real world. Amazingly, it actually does help in most situations. We all have these weird little skills and tricks we picked up from somewhere along the way. They help us manage our lives and deal with the various obstacles we face.

So what random skills have you managed to develop? How do you randomly apply them in your life?

Lessons From…Fuck It All (by Childish Gambino)

I was on a plane, and in an airport, for a few hours over the weekend and went sort of deep into my iTunes library. Well, deep for me because there is not much to begin with. Anyhow, I have been a fan of Childish Gambino, aka Donald Glover, for a while and was listening to his album Culdesac.  It’s a great album overall, and I highly recommend hearing it at your earliest convenience. In particular, one track, “Fuck It All”, caught my attention. Seriously, check it out:

Of course, I tried to see what knowledge I could gleam from this song. However, this time there really won’t be a need for a SPOILERS warning.

Don't need it but will still put it up.

Don’t need it but will still put it up.

The song speaks for itself for the most part, but there is one core lesson that I think drives the narrative and message of the music. It is found in the very title, Fuck it All. Yeah seems rather simplistic, but the best lessons usually are. We have a limited time on this Earth. We don’t know what the future of anything holds. We will experience horrible heartbreaks and exhilarating joys. In the end, all that matters is how we respond to these circumstances and what we do to make our desires happen.

In the words of Gambino, “I ain’t gonna be around for ever, so fuck it all.” Eat good, drink well, fuck awesomely, and strive to do what you want to do with and in your life. What do you have to lose?

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

On Knowledge & Impotence

I am enjoying the company of old friends during a trip in Oklahoma. I know; it’s weird. While enjoying a bowl of delicious pho, one of my friends told the table the full account of her recent child bearing process. Suffice to say it was eye opening and not at all the nice, pleasant experience one would hope for. Now, I won’t go into the full story because it is not mine to tell and I respect my friends’ privacy. Let’s just say that it was a complicated birth with trauma. Hearing her story led to a conversation between myself and another friend (we’ll go with S for this one) about birth experiences, the effects of modern medicine, birthing practices, etc. This is not a post about whether I, as a man, should speak on the subject of birth or who has authority to have that conversation, but more on the reason(s) behind the reactions my friend and I had to hearing the story.

I was ignorant to the full nature of my friend’s pregnancy and birthing of her child. The friend I debated with was not, however that only partially influenced her response. Whenever I am faced with information, knowledge, or obstacles, my immediate response is analysis, planning, and execution. I truly believe that information and knowledge is important to figuring things out and responding accordingly. S’s immediate reaction is to defend her friends and loved ones before facing the new obstacles. Neither one is better. We simply react differently.

In this case, we were both unable to do our standard practice since the events had passed, so we transferred those reactions into the conversation. The impotence of action on our part was not quite enough to deter our attempts at responding and fixing the non-existent problem we were facing. It is what we humans do in order to cope with trauma, even if it is not our own. Yet, ultimately we both knew our anxiety was for nothing as we could do nothing and the moment passed.

How could this energy, anxiety, and concern be channeled into something more fruitful? Would we have been better off not having known the actual experience our friend went through considering our inability to help? How significant is knowledge without even the remote chance of action?

Not really sure if there are any answers to these questions but would love to hear your thoughts and own queries in the comments below.

Lessons From…Never Alone

For many in the United States of America, this week is known as “Spring Break,” a time when students of all levels take a week off from their studies to “recuperate” by going to more tropical locations and consuming massive amounts of alcohol while attempting to woo and entice sexual partners. At least, that is the dream for many students during this time. Most will be unable to participate in the traditionally, stereotypical debauchery of the week for many reasons and will instead be at home drinking, burning through their Netflix queue, and attempting to beat their highest score on their favorite video game. In consideration of this, I thought that a video game lesson discussion was in order especially since I have been leaning heavily on films. So, today’s examination will focus on Never Alone by Upper One Games.

Not really any spoilers here, but tradition mandates the image.

Not really any spoilers here, but tradition mandates the image.

Never Alone is a platformer game revolving around Nuna, an Inupiaq girl, and her arctic fox. These two work in conjunction solving puzzles through a harsh frozen landscape in order to restore balance to the land. The game is split into eight chapters (levels) based on Alaskan indigenous folklore stories. Nuna traverses these chapters gaining wisdom from the narratives she is involved in to get closer to the source of the terrible winter and bring back harmony to it.

While admittedly the game mechanics and play are pretty simplistic and at times ill responsive, the narrative and artwork are incredible and worth the price alone, particularly because the few bugs are nothing game breaking and pretty insignificant bearing in mind it was produced by a new independent studio on a budget in conjunction with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council. Beyond this small consideration, the new stories and perspectives the game provides and explores are worth the price of admission alone, which brings us to the first of two lessons: Stories matter. 

I know I have stated this before in some context, but it bares repeating. Stories, tales, narratives, prose, poems, letters, and every other form of storytelling are of the utmost importance. It is the way we learn and teach about everything. We are nothing without our stories. They inspire us to dream beyond our means and achieve greatness regardless of the foolishness of the endeavor. We use stories to understand the unknowable and glimpse at the veils of immortality and omnipotence. We do not follow regulations and rules simply because they are there. No, we obey them because the heroes of our stories do and because we have heard the tales of what happens to those who dare go outside the boundaries of law and order.

In anyone else's hands but Alaskan indigenous people, this would have been a scene played for comedy with little to no respect.

In anyone else’s hands but Alaskan indigenous people, this would have been a scene played for comedy with little to no respect.

Stories are needed in every age and culture because it is how we transfer knowledge and identity and presence and understanding. Without the power of storytelling, humanity would be nothing. This leads to the next lesson: people should be allowed to tell their own stories. This game is of particular importance because it is Alaskan indigenous people telling their own stories in their own way. Yes, they are using modern technology and media, but those are just tools that allow them to express their tales to larger, younger, and more modern audiences.

Think of the legends and myths that still permeate popular culture today and the vast influence they hold. For millions of people, ancient Roman and Greek civilizations are a mixture of various white people with differing British accents. It may sound ridiculous, but it is no less true. When you have a specific group primarily telling and shaping the stories that everyone reads, listens to, and sees, you are stuck with a narrow view that ignores the vibrant richness and worth of so many cultures. After decades of being spoken for, don’t people have the right to use their own voice for once?

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

For Fire

Fire is life. Without it, we are nothing. We need the fire in our lives.

It gives us warmth during the night and shelters us to welcome the great fire in the sky. It provides light so that we may see what waits for us in the dark and aids in completing our tasks regardless of the hour.

Fire also harms and kills and burns. It destroys what it comes in contact with, so that it may grow stronger and continue on. It is the nature of fire. To consume.

There are those who fire has chosen. Those few who have a raging inferno within their souls. They burn from deep inside. It is a sight to behold. To see what these Children of the Flame can do. Some dance. Some paint. Some fight. Others kill and harm. But they are never boring.

She, of the fire kissed hair, has a blaze inside of her. You see it in her eyes and her smile. You hear it in her laugh. You feel it emanating from her; the warmth, the heat, the fire.

I feel her flame when she lies next to me as she slumbers. I feel her heat when I taste her lips. I see her spark as she dances and moves. She is constantly in motion. Even when she sleeps, her body wants to continue to move, to live.

I know that her flame feeds off of me. I sense myself diminishing in her presence. I yearn for her touch when she is not around more and more with each passing day.

Soon will come the time when I am but a shell of my old self. Her flame will have engulfed me, destroyed me, and leave nothing but ash and dust.

And I will happily walk into her fire to be consumed for the last sensation of being with her.

On Intelligence

So after seeing Chappie and Big Hero 6, nearly back to back, this past weekend, I immediately started thinking about the possibility of artificial intelligence and the consequences of creating a true A.I. Obviously, I am not a computer engineer/scientist, so my understanding is limited to a basic understanding. Thus, I am not fully aware of all the limitations that the development of artificial intelligence currently has. However, considering the progression of humanity and our willingness to continue to seek answers and solutions, I believe that we will eventually achieve the capability to create some form of artificial intelligence, assuming there is not some natural obstacle that impedes the capability of such creation.

I wonder though what the ramifications of our desire to create intelligent life will be. Honestly, by all accounts if we were to somehow create a machine capable of individual thought and progression, it would be smarter than its creators within days. Not to mention that a machine could function without the limits that a human brain has. What would such a creation be? Would it be alive? What rights would it have once it has achieved sentience? What rights or responsibilities do we as humans have concerning this new form of intelligent life? At that point, do we as humans become obsolete? I mean in theory as long as it has power (most likely in the form of electricity or some other fuel source) this machine life would be immortal.

Furthermore, could we integrate this type of immortality into ourselves? As in, could we achieve immortality through the use of machines? We would no longer have biological bodies, but our minds and consciousness would transfer to a robotic body of sorts. We would still be us; just no longer squishy or flesh. What would this ability to transfer conscious from one body to another do to our concepts of life and death?

I don’t have the answers to these philosophical queries but am interested in the conversations revolving around them. What do you all think? What will the creation of artificial intelligence do to society/humanity?