On Pacts with the Fae

(Epistemic status: Endorsed – this blog is brought to you by these pacts, commitment tool + framing device)

I have a confession to make regarding this blog. My writing talent is not my own. A few months ago, I went to the beach and meditated on the water. I noticed patterns in the water, slight disturbances with no obvious cause. I knew, on the level of a Right Thing, that there was power here. Around me was strewn about urban debris – I picked it up and disposed of it, purifying the area. When I came back, the disturbance in the water had calmed; however, where I had been sitting there lay a gorgeous sea shell. I knew a Deal was offered. I accepted. I would be a conduit of words and concepts, but I must write weekly or I would lose my expressiveness. This is my pact with the fae – words to touch minds and souls, so long as I use them.

This is a story, but it is also a tool. When making commitments, it is easy to break them when you are not feeling well, expect a poor outcome, or a myriad of things. Life gets in the way and this is ok. However, brains are assholes. They will use physical markers that may have been true at one point to instill aversions to unpleasant but long run important activities. Fortunately, however, brains are stupid, and love a good story. Thus, the narrative of a pact with the fae – at this level of commitment, my house could be burning down and I will post something, somehow. It is a fanatic level of dedication to Doing The Thing. This category should never be used lightly – if you overburden it, you might as well make regular commitments, they’ll feel less bad. However, this is a category that should at least exist. Having the option of this category increases your agency – the reason I put a weekly commitment to open the box in mind was so that every week, that category would get more powerful and I could expand the sense of “doing things even when I don’t feel like it” to other commitments, even if they’re one time commitments. I’ve been doing this weekly post schedule since May and not every Sunday has been a good day for me – those days when it is hardest, when I feel least like writing or posting are really where the pact gets the strongest forward momentum. It not only drives me to do it anyway, but it makes itself a more powerful tool in the process.

I highly recommend creating a pact with the fae category in your mind for a commitment that is extremely important to you. Even if the cost of breaking the commitment is very vague and unclear, you can accord it a supernatural importance by telling yourself a good story about how it came to be – this likely hijacks some of the religious/meaning making parts of the brain which is generally a solid way to artificially raise the priority of things. The ability to offer this category can become a social currency in terms of reliability – another way it self-reinforces is being able to demonstrate “this is how I conceptualized this thing I have done for weeks/months/years – I offer you that same conceptualization.” That demonstration basically states that you are willing to put breaking a useful frame on the table in order to fulfill an obligation – it’s as strong as the frame is itself.

Overall, having an extremely strong promise/commitment category creates productivity, grit, and social benefits. The more demonstrable/provable your actions are under this category, the more that can be reaped from it. In most circumstances this would be terrible advice, but in this specific context, I think everyone should make pacts with the fae.

Discussion: Do you have a commitment category that pattern matches to “pact with the fae”? How have you used this category in the past? Have you ever had to demonstrate or prove this category to gain a social benefit or build trust? If you lack this category, do you think it contains enough benefit to be worth installing?

On Narrative Decoherence

(Epistemic Status: Problem without a clear solution, semi-endorsed, transitional step in character development maybe)

It’s a wonderful feeling, seeing the narrative underpinnings of the universe. Understanding the roles people adopt in relation to you, seeing what roles they expect you to have, and how you can accept, reject, or change those roles. With new people, you know how to activate archetypes in their brain and really manage impressions. Reality itself bends a little as you more strongly wield your narrative.

And then it seems to go away.

Something breaks, maybe your story has an unexpected twist, maybe you run into someone with a stronger narrative, maybe your archetype has tradeoffs you don’t like. Suddenly, the flow leaves you and there’s a sense of relief and loss. On the one hand, you no longer have to think about being a role, a labelled entity, a Thing. You can just be again, rather than always running a mask. But…reality is dull again, a thing you react to instead of acting on. You lose a certain spark and you’re running decision making through a war of subagents rather than an archetype. Things feel lacking because they don’t resonate as much. This lack, this sense of loss, is what I term narrative decoherence. It’s the feeling that you aren’t living in a story anymore – you’re an NPC again. You’re not as easily labelled and you don’t make as strong an impression, and you have more passive flexibility. You also don’t have as much slack for transgression, though. The barriers that were torn down by playing an archetype are back with a vengeance. Being narratively decoherent is less energy-intensive, but it makes reaching goals much more difficult.

I don’t think narrative decoherence is necessarily bad – I think it’s a transition period between narratives if an archetype is getting too costly. You eventually rebuild and regain your spark with different aesthetics. The narrative decoherence period can feel pretty bad though if if happens in the middle of a project relying on narrativemancy. Even with that, I admit going from the benefits of archetypes to less coherent thought patterns feels like a step backwards.

I don’t know how to solve narrative decoherence but I suspect if it can be avoided it requires conscious value, preference, and boundary setting as well as exploration. Taking archetype power without knowing what you value most can cause decoherence as you run face first into consequences you weren’t fully willing to accept. Setting limits on how you are labelled is much more accessible in the decoherent state. This is why I suspect narrative decoherence is a transition state. When you first figure out narrative, it’s addicting and difficult to remember what was important to you before – the archetype takes over so thoroughly that it is driving you. Periods of narrative decoherence are lash back if you violate values too much while playing.

Overall, narrative coherence and narrative decoherence feel like parts of a natural cycle for a beginner narrativemancer. I suspect as one learns the ropes, it happens less and new challenges appear instead – that said, it’s also entirely plausible this cycle never stops and what you learn as you improve is how to save narrative decoherence for the end of a chapter.

 

Discussion – How do you feel when narratively coherent? How about when narratively decoherent? If you’ve already grown further in narrativemancy, what happens to this pattern?

On Idealist Sociopathy

(Epistemic Status: Inspired by https://www.facebook.com/gdiego.vichutilitarian/posts/1474383972645395?pnref=story, somewhat endorsed, fairly heavy framing)

The human mind is not a particularly truth-seeking agent. The illusion of consciousness is largely a function of increasing reproductive fitness via self preservation. It is not the truth that spurs a person to action but an emotional resonance. Geigo’s post explores the political implications of this combined with the terrifyingly easy emotional access various ideological blocs have due to social media – however, there is something even more frightening in between those lines. There are some that have adapted to these brainwashing tactics; however, that immunity is socially costly. I propose that the increasing sociopathy of heavy internet users is a self preservative measure against emotional hijacks via superstimulus.

There are so many stories out there these days, anecdotes of cruelty, horror, and despair from all forces, natural, manmade, ideological, political, random, etc. No matter what you believe is true, you can find something confirming it. Your story is valid. On the first level, most people just keep sharing the same stories, over and over, with different actors each time. The horror never ends, nor does the work. The outrage cannot stop. On the second level, you try to think a bit more, you fact check a bit, but things still seem bad – Ideology of Choice is still clearly Correct because it understands the horrors that take place every day. On the third level, you have a diverse enough bubble that you realize that all the stories are the same, not just the stories within one bubble or another – they just have different frames. It becomes harder and harder to get outraged, harder and harder to pay attention because it all blends together. You get desensitized – the Ideologies of Choice do not like this much and will often build in calls to outrage and shame this desensitization. Level three is very heavily targeted by level one and it’s a dark place.

But then there’s level four. You realize it’s all just attention hijacking and you may be desensitize but you’re still not above it…but maybe you could be. Maybe you can just knock the entire system out that is responding to level one’s shaming of your lack of outrage, and level two’s assumption that you might be going a bit too lowkey. This is where things get interesting – you harden yourself against the brainwashing and refuse to allow any Ideology of Choice to really fully stick…and suddenly it’s much harder to relate to people. It’s difficult to perform the right affect when they tell you of a tragedy, even when it’s in real life. It’s difficult to know what to say because part of you – maybe it’s a small part, maybe it’s a big one, sees the scaffolding of the stories, the ones used to hurt you and manipulate you and hijack your attention. It’s not that you want to be a sociopath…everyone really is manipulating you and it’s so much harder to just let it happen. The defenses kick in too fast for conscious thought. You have been inducted to the Ideology of Sociopathy.

The twist here is that, level four isn’t actually an immunity, it’s emotional damage – worse still, it has it’s own ways to be hooked. Instead of using a direct emotional appeal, a would be brainwasher of a sociopath appeals to the sense of superiority, the sense of being In On The Secret to extract attention. The worldview of deep cynicism gets confirmed, over and over. No longer is outrage being harvested but ruthlessness – the sociopath is weaponized in a way that an outraged person cannot be. This was realized well before the political machine got a hold of social media. The wild days of the internet, the late 90s early aughts were a case study in screen time sociopathy. One only need look at the old days of 4chan, when everything was reduced to the value of the lulz.

There is no win condition with social media – our emotional systems are so thoroughly co-opted that we cannot use them for guidance, but nor can we try to damage them beyond repair. We cannot exit the rat race and hope to still be connected to those around us. We cannot be outraged all the time to connect to others. We are trapped in a high speed attention market and the trade floor never closes.

Discussion questions: Have you noticed you or others around you becoming more emotionally detached as things get more out of control? Have you found another way to cope with the social media news cycle? Can the human brain rise above this trend?

 

 

 

The Lost Hour

The Oracle awoke and things were Wrong.

She sits up from her bed, glancing around her darkened, sparse room. She squints at the timepiece she keeps by her bedside and frowned. Things were Wrong. With a groan, she pushes herself up from her bed.

Dark, dim eyes reflect back at the Oracle as she looks into her mirror. She can see today will be a heavy draw on her abilities. Things were Wrong.

Dawn breaks and the Oracle sets out. The veils between reality are particularly weak as she enters the liminal spaces that lie between her and her usual haunts. Settling into her place on the roaring conveyance, she keeps an alert watch. Others look back. The transport is silent beyond the natural rumble and screeching that becomes background in only a few scant moments. Things were wrong. The alert, awake Oracle snores lightly as dream overtakes her.

She wakes up in a forested clearing. Lilting, slightly distorted birdsong surrounds the expanse. A light, brisk wind plays across the Oracle’s neck, eliciting a shiver. The sun is high in the sky and the underbrush glitters lightly under its rays. The trees reflect the light at an impossible angle, drawing attention to a faded stone path. The Oracle sighs and approaches the path with resignation. Even if things were Wrong, sometimes they are clearly part of the Right Thing.

The sparkling forest gets more ethereal as the Oracle walks steadily down the path. The green leaves subtly shifting into blues, the birdsong becoming increasingly distorted and faraway, and the faded stepping stones becoming more refined and precious. The sun becomes less present and the glittering more intense as the Oracle steps deeper into this world. Things were wrong. A feeling of dread builds in the Oracle’s heart as the temperature drops, her resignation to her fate wavering as she enters another clearing.

Ice sculpture predominates, depicting the same features as the forest she just left, sparkling with frozen beauty. Gems coat the ground beneath her feet, clinking lightly as she treads lightly. The birdsong is fully replaced with the sound of a harsh, driving wind, high and clear in the unmoving air of the courtyard.   The Oracle looks around carefully, treading even more slowly through this strange place. A melodious voice calls out from nowhere – “Dearest Oracle!”

Things were Wrong.

A terrifically beautiful woman steps into the clearing. The Oracle’s wandering gaze is immediately arrested by her, unable to take in anything else. The Oracle’s eyes dim further as a flood of Right Things come to her.

-This woman has power.

-This woman is missing something important.

-This woman is a Not Queen.

-This woman knows of The Maze.

-This woman knows of The Oracle.

-This woman knows what is wrong – the Oracle has lost an hour.

-The Oracle now knows she has lost an hour.

-This woman can offer a Boon to fill the gap left by that hour.

-This woman wants The Oracle’s help.

The Oracle puts it all together – the woman offers her a Boon in exchange for finding…

-This woman has lost her pendant.

…her pendant in The Maze, rumored to hold a shard of LaPlace’s Demon. The woman feels the Oracle is uniquely suited to retrieving the pendant and possibly even escaping with it.

-Things were Wrong.

The woman knows that the Oracle is feeling the pain of the lost hour…she can make things Right again. The Oracle knows the Right Thing is to help the woman. The Oracle trusts the woman. The Oracle will do this task.

 

The Oracle goes to The Maze. She’s unsure whether she’s awake or asleep at this point – her body is practically moving on its own, but it always does that. The Oracle’s eyes become more and more blank as she takes each turn, The Maze seeming increasingly featureless – stone walls becoming lineless, moss becoming a vaguely green shape, the ground below her becoming a sense of the color brown. The Oracle keeps walking. Every turn is a Right turn, because the Oracle knows Right Things. The Oracle is untouched as she arrives at the center of The Maze – LaPlace’s Demon sits there contemplatively, simultaneously acknowledging and not acknowledging the Oracle.

-The woman lost her pendant to LaPlace’s Demon in a Deal, not through absentmindedness.

LaPlace’s Demon is nondescript in a particular way. Have you ever gotten the sense that, when you meet someone, that you’re seeing exactly what they want you to see? Except, rather than you realizing this when you meet them, you realize only in hindsight when it’s far beyond relevance. LaPlace’s Demon is like that except infinitely worse. LaPlace’s Demon is exactly what it wants you to see before you met it. LaPlace’s Demon is exactly what it wants you to see when you meet it. LaPlace’s Demon is exactly what it wants you to see after you meet it. It does not put up face work, it is timeless in a way that cannot be captured.

-Things were Wrong.

Bright, lively eyes reflect back at the Oracle as she looks into her mirror. She can see today has been a heavy draw on her abilities. Things are Wrong. LaPlace’s Demon holds herself dominantly as she takes the Oracle’s form, looking back with a mix of curiosity and disdain.

-LaPlace’s Demon has the pendant

The Oracle sees a glint below her mirrored image’s neck, a blue teardrop that stands out clearly against her chest. She doesn’t remember seeing that before she knew it was there. Her vision blurs a bit as she fixates on the pendant and she rubs her temple.

-This is a competition of oracles.

-Predict the other’s loss.

-Do not allow escape from the prophecy.

-LaPlace’s Demon wagers the pendant.

-The Oracle wagers…

-…

-LaPlace’s Demon goes first.

The Oracle tells the Demon that the Right Thing is for her to go first. She agrees. She gives up.

-DON’T SPEAK.

The Oracle looks levelly at the Demon, who continues to look back with those lively eyes, having not moved from her seat.

-The Oracle has the pendant.

The Oracle looks to the Demon’s neck, and then to her own. The blue teardrop is around her neck, exactly where it was on LaPlace’s Demon at some point. The Oracle has a sense of having lost.

-DON’T SPEAK.

The Oracle stays silent, touching the pendant lightly – it’s delicate. LaPlace’s Demon speaks, in a clear voice that matches the Oracle’s, “Do you really want to bring that back to her? Is it worth it? I could take it back, spare you the burden.” It’s a taunt – LaPlace’s Demon already knows what will happen. The Oracle opens her mouth…

-DON’T SPEAK.

…and closes it again. She gently clasps the pendant in her hand, against her chest, and turns around. LaPlace’s Demon looks almost sad – but not surprised. The Demon is never surprised.

The Oracle returns to the Not Queen’s clearing.

-Winter Princess.

The Oracle returns to the Winter Princess’s court. The Oracle wakes up. The Oracle is at her destination. The Oracle’s eyes are only dim as she looks at herself in a nearby window. Things were.

On Choosing Otherwise

(Epistemic Status: Endorsed; easy to say, harder to do; specialized tool for a specific problem)

As some of you know, I have an unfortunate tendency to get into pretty fierce moods at times; frequently in these moods, I will end up in a very emotionally stormy place and be unintentionally hurtful through my pain. This is not exactly a great thing to do, so I’ve had to develop tools to mitigate this. One of my newest and most favorite of these tools is the concept of Choosing Otherwise.

The idea of Choosing Otherwise is simple: If I am in a bad mood, my instinctual response is likely to be damaging to whatever relationship or conversation I am in. Therefore, I should interrupt that immediately and choose something, anything else. I may still pick suboptimally but I’ve stopped myself from doing the literally worst move. Largely, it’s installing a high level of confidence in your first instinct being incorrect under certain circumstances – it requires you to notice antipatterns and rather than accepting them as fact, actively learn from what has gone wrong and iterate in a different direction.

Choosing Otherwise is a specialized form of having empathy for your future self. A good example was a situation I had a couple days ago, where I felt like I was on a downward trend – I decided to let my friends know that I expected to be feeling pretty bad in a few hours and that I might need someone to reach out and talk to me. What normally would have happened if I had noticed that trend is that I’d reinforce it without reaching out, my self talk largely being focused on how bad I feel and how everything is terrible and how I hate the trajectory of my life. I’d hit a boiling point and likely attempt to cry for help in a much lashier way, forcing emotional labor demands on my friends without warning them or giving them time to prepare. By having Chosen Otherwise I broke a pattern in that instance and created a much more positive sum reality, for myself and my friends. It actually turned out my mood was fine by the time I had specified, partially because I predicted that I would have a connection rather than being uncertain and predicting isolation.

Unfortunately, having the tool and not using it increases the post episode guilt when I do make a series of errors out of moodiness. I have a concept I call downcycling, where I notice something that annoys me, fixate on it, and find more annoying things about it, and eventually just reach a point where my entire affect is contaminated. Choosing Otherwise is a way out of downcycling (choosing not to fixate on the annoyance) but what makes downcycling pernicious is the feeling that the annoyance MUST be redressed. A recent downcycling situation could have been resolved at several points by Choosing Otherwise and I didn’t – subsequently, I felt greater guilt than usual at my behaviors because I should have had control.

Overall, Choosing Otherwise is a powerful tool but also an increased responsibility. It’s easier to just keep working in the same pattern and optimize around containing that pattern to do the least damage when you’re outside of it – at least then you don’t have to feel as much guilt when the pattern plays out as expected. Choosing Otherwise is creating an active metastructure to act in the moment and take a deeper responsibility for your actions despite your mood state.

Discussion: Have you ever had a situation where Choosing Otherwise would have helped? Have you ever successfully Chosen Otherwise? Do you see applications for Choosing Otherwise outside of reducing the damage of a bad mood? Does this concept provide you with new approaches to handling bad days?