Writing is important to me. It frames the way I think and in turn that frames the way I speak. The way I think influences the way I act. All that is obvious to some degree. It’s obvious, but I want to take a moment and reflect on it anyway.
When I first started writing I had a clear goal. I wanted to improve my capacity to communicate. It’s something I was awful at. The goal was to become good at expressing myself. It’s hard to explain why that’s important to me beyond the obvious. There is a beyond the obvious.
Less obvious than words are pictures and images. I value words because I need them to communicate. The value in what they communicate comes from somewhere deeper. Value coming from somewhere deeper doesn’t mean my understanding of an image isn’t abstract. I get the feeling that sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t. I don’t have a good way to make a distinction other than to say there is one.
The relationship between imagery and the abstract is interesting to me. Some things that people know come from a place deep inside the subconscious. They don’t need intentional education to comprehend that imagery. The imagery and its purpose is already there. I don’t know if it’s known inherently, learned automatically, or taught instinctively. It seems to me all three of those things play a role.
The foundation for conscious thinking is something I can make a metaphor out of. I’m not an expert. I’m not, but I need to make one to have something I can work with. The following is how I picture it.
Images that come naturally to us are on the bottom. They are our highest authorities on value and stimulation. They are low resolution and hard to understand. They are hard to understand, but impossible to ignore.
Pictures we learn are in the middle. They are like images, but learned through experience. They demand a degree of intent. They are higher resolution and easy to understand. They are easy to understand and easier to ignore than images are.
On top we have abstractions like words and metaphors. They exist for communicating images and developing pictures. How exactly that works is something I don’t know. Biology, psychology, philosophy and religion all have their own answers. Lately even political ideology wants to play ball.
I don’t have all the answers. I don’t have them, but I do believe that natural inclinations exist. The more you look the more obvious it is that humans have natural inclinations. We grow and we learn. We do that while following a biological path. Abstractions help us understand that path. They can’t transcend it.
I find that natural inclinations from somewhere deeper are impossible to ignore. The abstractions need to agree with the pictures and the pictures need to agree with the images. The images are the highest authority. If I use words to draw a picture that doesn’t ring true the picture’s shape changes. It starts to look more like the image underneath.
For example I like the slogan live and let live. I like the idea of being left alone to figure things out. Part of why I like it is because it eases the burden of communicating deeper meanings. The words mean something positive. The image I see when I hear the words live and let live has a more sinister picture associated with it. That picture is something more like live and let burn in hell.
Why do images take on a form different from the words used to frame them? Hell if I know. I can speculate at meaning, but I don’t know. It isn’t what the words mean, but it’s what’s inside the frame. I can change the frame, but the image reflects what it wants to reflect. The frames are malleable. The images are less malleable. Some images I doubt can change at all. Even when I can change them it’s a process that spans years. The pictures I draw metaphors with? A combination of the abstract and something else.
I know this topic can be an uncomfortable one for people. The things that lurk in the subconscious are scary if you don’t confront them. I find that at least for me they quickly become subservient when I challenge them. They give themselves up for interpretation like that was their purpose all along.
Lets examine my above live and let live metaphor. Why might it take on a different shape? That requires interpretation. In this case I’m sharing something I already feel like I more or less understand. It isn’t a new dilemma for me. It’s easy enough to write about.
Humans are communal by nature. We orient ourselves by our position in communities. Keeping that in mind, when I observe the lives of others I see a ton of people who suck at living. The live part of live and let live is something people are awful at. The image underneath the picture created by words is colored by doubt. Doubt at what? Doubt that any majority of people have the capacity to keep to themselves. What I can’t convey in this blog post is that it took me years to reach that conclusion. It took years, but I knew something was wrong with my interpretation of the idiom the entire time.
It’s like my intuition is speaking a language that I don’t understand. I can feel it. I know what those feelings state, but they won’t reason with me at all. It’s like listening to someone who’s predictions are always correct. After you observe it a few hundred times you start to build an uneasy doubt/trust relationship with them. No matter how well you get to know them they never tell you how they know what they know. So my other reason to write is to one up the asshole who runs my intuition.
Keep the idiom of live and let live in mind. Ask yourself what it means to you. If you can visualize it ask yourself what form that visualization takes. I want you to do that because live and let live is a real world concept. It has a degree of authority in the real world because it’s something people say. Maybe you’ve never met someone who says this. Now you have. I’m not sure where the idea first came from. The first place I remember hearing it was from a group of libertarians on a bus.
I’m going to use this idiom of live and let live as a metaphor throughout my blog post to help illustrate a point for me. Live and let live isn’t the important part of what I want to illustrate. If you have an idiom of your own you want to use that makes more sense to you feel free. The important comparison I want to make is between a real authority and fiction. I’ll bring it up again when it’s important.
I’m not an amazing writer by any means, but I learned the basic skills I set out to learn. I learned them and continuing to share what I write became hard. When I started blogging I felt like I needed the feedback to improve. I still do, but to a large degree I can substitute real feedback with my own internalized critics. Worse yet, I often find my own criticisms of my writing more valuable than real interaction. I think it’s fair to say that motivation isn’t getting me very far now. Instead I find it’s the value underneath I want to write about.
Even when I don’t publish anything I still find myself writing. I write for my own sake. You haven’t seen me publishing much the last few years. I know why I’m not hitting publish. It’s because I met the goal I set without hitting the button. I met that goal, but it feels empty. It’s time to recognize that basic communication isn’t why I’m writing at this point. I need to raise the bar if I’m going to continue.
There is another reason why sharing is hard. The thing I want to write about is the value found in fictional stories. The meaning found in fiction is not an easy thing to write about. The more abstract an idea is the more words betray it. The deeper and more personal it is the harder it becomes to find words at all. At the same time it’s something I find most people understand inherently, so why bother?
Because fiction is different from religion and mythology. It’s different from ideology. It’s different and I never see anyone talk about how. When someone tries they say something dumb enough to undermine themselves completely. It’s infuriating to watch. I can do better.
The baseline difference between fiction and religion, mythology or an ideology is simple. It’s all about authority. Fiction only has authority in a fake location. Those other things? They compete for authority in the real world to maintain relevance. Fiction generates it by lying. It does it in an ironically honest way. Everyone knows about the lie. The next question is a bit more complicated…
What Even Is Fiction?
Fiction is an abstraction. It exists entirely in an abstract location created as an illusion. It’s created by process of imagination. When I look around me I find that process isn’t very well understood. The challenge of writing about value in fiction is simple to illustrate. It’s the challenge of building a metaphoric bridge between two complex points. Those points are abstract thinking and the subconscious mind.
The bridge I have to build is one that needs to span all the way from abstract to deep into subconscious space. To do that I need to assert my own beliefs. You basically need to be a scholar and an artist. I’m neither. I care about art, but I’ve never taken scholarship seriously. That means I need to become two things I’m not at the same time.
Creating a bridge between historic stories and value is hard enough. In that scenario you have truth on your side. Truth comes with a degree of authority. In fact, I’d argue the authority is more important than the truthfulness. People know how to detect authority. Truth requires philosophy. Fiction is a lie. It only has authority in the abstract place where it exists. The bridge between fiction and reality inverts itself mid way down the path. You have to walk upside down half of the path to reach a valid destination. Stuff that doesn’t belong falls off.
Why does the path invert you might ask? Because it needs to pass through your internal authority on reality. It needs to do that to reach a valid destination. That authority rejects lies because of course it does, they are lies. The only exceptions it allows are the truthful lies. The lies where the metaphor behind the lie has deeper meaning. It has a deeper meaning because it’s recognized as a resident of the subconscious.
As best I can tell abstractions aren’t allowed into the subconscious. Or if they are they trickle down slowly. They have free access to go up, but the stuff born at the top can only come down in the form of the stuff that comes up. So maybe the bridge is more of an elevator built on a lake. There is a structure on top of the lake. Everything can go up, but going down requires recognition. The lower you go the less control you have over that recognition.
I’ve said in the past that fiction can’t teach. This is why. Fiction isn’t a teacher. It’s art. You can learn from art, but it doesn’t teach. Teaching is a top down experience. It happens in abstract space and requires real world authority. Art is bottom up. It pulls out of the subconscious. The value in art comes from the subconscious. If you want value to go back down it needs that same recognition. It has to pass a test by authorities that quickly become deeper than your understanding of them.
I find the subconscious is hard to write about in general. When I read about it I find the people who are plotting it out are plotting it out while standing on the tip of an iceberg. They are speaking about the contents below the water line, but they are measuring it from above. They have done enough to convince me there is a ginormous hunk of ice beneath the surface. The subconscious is the vast majority of who a person is. I’m not entirely convinced by any conclusions on the shape it takes.
The difficulty of writing about fiction is simple enough. I don’t have the advantage of fiction when I write about fiction. If I try to compete with the authority of a fake place I will prove myself an idiot. I have to compete for real world authority. The easiest way to do that is to borrow it. The easiest way I know to borrow it is write up a clearly defined purpose. I guess that means I need to find one?
I’ve pulled immense amounts of value out of fictional stories. I want to share that value. I can do that by sharing the process of extraction. The things I learn in fictional stories happen in a fake place. The value needs extraction to have any meaning in the real world. That process is extremely nuanced and context reliant. It’s also fragile. You can’t explain it to someone else without shared common values. I’ve tried that. People only see the destruction of their values.
The process of extracting value from fiction is simple in concept. In practice it means refuting criticisms I disagree with. It means establishing belief. It requires a willingness to share on my own structures of belief. That means a willingness to talk about sensitive topics like identity, individuality, religion and philosophy. The process of extracting value from fiction is also deeply personal.
If I’m willing to challenge faulty criticisms I need to offer something of value to replace the structure I undermine. That’s something I can do easily. For myself… It isn’t easy to share with someone else. It isn’t easy, but because it isn’t easy I find it a challenge worth engaging with. It isn’t comfortable, but screw prioritizing comfort. All that ever gives me is boredom.
Someone needs to offer something of value that can stand up in contrast of outrage culture. Even smart people are saying stupid things like everything is political. I can’t solve outrage on my own, but I can push in a positive direction. Positive means focusing on building something that can compete. If I need to criticize I will. There is no point to a criticism that can’t offer something better.
A big part of why this is important to me is because I’m tired of misrepresentation. I think that if I blog I can talk to people and help set the record straight. I can help pull back to a more sensible place where different communities interact.
The world is a bad spot right now socially. I think the internet is what has empowered the problem. We have social groups that don’t interact and they are fighting a war over ideas. I’m sicking of seeing myself and my friends misrepresented by ideologically possessed people.
There are people who would group me in to a box they made that’s completely ridiculous. It’s a box crafted by ideology. I don’t fit. I’m not interested in fitting. Their representation of me and the things I care for is ignorant. It’s ignorant in an almost unbelievable way.
Someone needs to offer something better. Fiction can be an amazing thing that brings people together. It does that by sharing new perspective in a neutral way. You don’t need to worry about the authority of the real world inside a fictional story. You can, but you shouldn’t. Now we have people challenging that by saying things like everything is political.
When you bring an ideology into a fictional story you’ve ruined the experience. The magic dies. It’s murdered by the authority of real life before the authority of a fake place has a chance to establish itself. Fiction can’t compete. It’s a lie. It’s ill equipped to deal with the malice of political activism. That malice brutally executes fiction’s capacity to create authority in a fake place.
Brutalizing fiction by forcing an ideology on it is barbaric. It happens and… Watching it is like watching a close friend get tortured and feeling powerless to stop it. I hate seeing it happen and doing nothing.
I’ll write with the hope of sharing value. I want to share that value so that people can see it for what it is. I want people to understand the damage done by forcing a top down perspective on art. I can do that by illustrating how value extraction works from the bottom up.
Understanding Value Extraction
There is a ton I could say about value extraction. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for years now. In fact it was interesting to me as a teenager. I wrote a biography for a school project. I’m not sure exactly how old I was at the time, but I want to say 12 through 16ish. I wrote about J. R. R. Tolkien. That meant reading about him.
Unrelated to my school project I read Tolkien’s essay on fairy stories. It sparked an interest for me in understanding how fictional stories work. I’m 32 now. It’s been an obsession of mine for that long.
Reading people share about how games and anime influenced their lives is amazing. Stories have a potent power to bridge gaps in personal experience. They make it possible to step outside yourself and experience things. You do that in a different place and from a different perspective. Sure, it’s imaginary, but imagination is important.
Human imagination is amazing. Stories are meaningful because of human imagination. Imagination is useful for much more than comprehending stories. It’s the method by how we speculate about the past, future and present. It’s how we frame our understanding of the world we live in.
Fictional stories are amazing in a way that goes beyond what stories can do. Without the concept of fiction stories need to be truthful to have value. Fiction removes that need. It presents things to you as they are in another place. That place isn’t real, but that doesn’t matter while you are there. The imagery is real, the words are real, the imagination is real. You simply understand that it’s a not a real place you can actually visit. Often that is preferable.
There are a few vital concepts that need comprehending before I can continue. The most important of those concepts is that stories use reality as a foundation. Fictional stories do this as well, but they create a fake location to tell their story. Some of them are more transparent about it than others, but they all do it. You can’t have fiction without a conceptualized fake place.
There are three things you need to have to extract value from fiction in a meaningful way. Maybe there are more, but there are three I know are important.
You can extract value without doing any of this, but if you want to be intentional about it you need to frame it. I want to write about it so these are basic prerequisites for me.
1. You need a basic foundation for good and evil. It doesn’t need to be religious. Mine isn’t. I’ll actually share mine later in this post with one of my value extraction metaphors. I can do that so I will.
2. You need a basic understanding of how words change perspective. Words have an incredible power over the way people frame their world view. This is something that politically minded people are good at illustrating. It might be the only thing and they abuse it, but then that’s another topic.
3. You need to understand that image recognition is inherit in humanity. This is important because stories don’t create anything. They call up something that’s already there and stimulate the imagination. No one has free form control over that baseline thing that makes up the human subconscious. Yet it continues to exist without our direct intervention.
1 and 2 are simple enough. By my estimation most people know a little bit about good and evil and have an opinion of some kind. It might be ignorant and naive as all hell, but they have it. 2 Has been constantly beaten into public attention by political crusaders. That probably hurts it actually. It’s a good thing to understand. Don’t let politics scare you away from words.
3 is a bit more complex. Part of that complexity is dealing with the people who act as if doesn’t exist. People are not a blank slate. We don’t learn everything we know about the world from our environment and experience. Or maybe we do? If we do why do we learn the things we learn from our environment? What process decides which things are important to focus on? It appears to me that most of that image recognition comes baked in.
When I go looking to science for answers I find I have a defensible position. What we learn as we grow and mature is how to deal with who and what we are, not how to create it. Biology does the creating.
I picture the human subconscious as something like a computer. It comes with tons of software preinstalled. Unlike a computer we don’t know how to edit it. We don’t really know what it is. Based off what I’ve read it seems most accurate to say we know it’s there, but not what it is. What we do know is that it’s full of imagery. That imagery isn’t learned, it’s built in.
What I’m suggesting is super obvious if you look at any life that isn’t human. Trees don’t need to be taught how to be trees to grow. Monkey’s learn to be monkey’s without words. Pigs don’t give birth to horses. Humans know how to cry when they are born.
Life matures on its own, automatically. Humans learn to communicate, but they don’t need to be taught for that process to start. Human maturity isn’t abstract. But Lifesong there are tons of cultural differences between groups of people. Yes, but there are also tons of similarities. The similarities are significantly more valuable. They go deeper.
The unfortunate part about attempting to dig into the subconscious is religion. It’s unfortunate because it’s deeply personal and so a sensitive topic. You can find the history of attempting to understand the subconscious. It’s in religion and philosophy. It seems to me the imagery is better represented by religion. The concepts don’t need to be religious. They don’t, but looking at history the association is undeniable. It would be silly to ignore it. You don’t need to believe it to attempt to understand it.
It seems obvious to me that communities of people synchronize. I don’t know technically how that works. If you look at the way belief structures develop over time it’s obvious that it does. For example go look for hell as a place of eternal torment in a Christian bible. You might be able to find it depending on the translation, but… Spoilers… It isn’t in the original text.
There are a few references that get translated to hell in some bibles. In every case the original meaning was something different. Typically death, the grave or a specific known location for burning cadavers. The concept of a hell where you keep your consciousness comes from the Greeks and later the Romans. It might even trace back further than the Greeks. I don’t know. You’d never know that looking at modern Christianity because communities synchronized. The modern concept of hell is some amalgamation of Gehenna and the Greek underworld. It doesn’t accurately represent either idea, but has hints of both.
I mentioned earlier in this blog post that I’m not a scholar. I’m not, but my parents are. I’ve been surrounded by scholars my entire life. Some of the ideas I’ve been exposed to since I was a child are easy to take for granted. Lately I’ve been thinking I need to become more of a scholar myself. Why? Because people need to understand how this stuff works. It will change their lives for the better if they do.
I realize I’m starting to sound religious. I’m not at all interested in teaching religion. I am interested in observing it and attempting to understand why it’s important to people. I’m much more interested in observing fiction and why that is important to people. It doesn’t even have the authority of religion, but it still maintains the value. That should be a mind blowing concept.
What I’m writing about shouldn’t be objectionable, but I know it is with a certain crowd. If you are in that crowd and want to talk to me about it feel free. If I don’t stop myself here I’m going to ramble sideways for an eternity.
I can write more about requirement 3 if anyone wants clarity. If you have more advanced questions I can point you in the right direction, but I’m not an expert myself. I’ll need to point you at learning resources. Honestly, I’m surprised to find something this basic gets challenged. It does.
I find myself amazed by how easily people believe things their communities accept. They will do it even when an idea is completely idiotic. Recognizing that people work this way is fascinating in another sense. It illustrates how much authorities and relationships matter to people. Words are always secondary to the people using them.
If you are having trouble with my 3rd requirement all you need to understand is simple. You are prepackaged unit. You come with image recognition preinstalled. You have some flexibility in how you interpret things and how you interact with them. You don’t get to rewire human functionality to fit the ideology of your community. Ideologies do not control biology. They are a lesser authority.
There are three methods I rely on for extracting value from fiction. One is extracting the character and analyzing them until I make that character mine. It’s understanding how they think, act and feel so that I borrow their perspective. The second way is by borrowing metaphors in the same way that religious teachers or philosophers might. The third is by reconciling comparisons between fiction and reality.
Let me put my three methods another way for clarity. I use the 3 requirements I posted above for extracting value. To use them I turn them into tools. Everything needs to become a metaphor before it can become less than a metaphor. You need a complete abstraction before you can extract value from it. Or in more simple terms… You can offer up whatever you want to your subconscious. It’s only going to accept the things it recognizes.
One of my tools is to use metaphors. All three of my tools are a metaphor technically, but this one is direct. This tool is what I’ll call borrowing philosophical metaphors. Sometimes you can use a metaphor given by a character in a story. Sometimes the story is a metaphor. Either way metaphors are easy to use because they are already abstract. It’s what you learn from the metaphor that has value in the real world.
One of my tools is to use words and imagery to build on my own understanding of who I am. This tool is what I’ll call extracting character. I do that by process of finding things I recognize in characters. In turn I find those characters taking up residence in my subconscious.
The process I’m describing is not literal. It’s how I visualize taking something that’s already there and adding detail. Or maybe it’s more like making sure I understand the value so that my details stick to it. It’s a metaphor of its own in a sense. I’m not sure to what degree they are actually a part of my subconscious. I can’t tell you how deep they go. All I am sure of is that they are important to me and that the value they have comes from my subconscious.
One of my tools is to use the fictional environment as a test. This tool is what I’ll call reconciling comparisons between fiction and reality. When I go there how does it effect me? How would I change if real life became more like this? Do I want real life to be more like this? Is that even possible? What can I learn in this fake place that’s relevant to the real world?
All tools I can write about are metaphors. When it comes to characters I find there are colors I associate with them. Colors and shapes. Some characters are more vibrant than others. Environments are similar, but instead of color it’s more a matter of light and darkness. Personality has color and environments have illumination. Something like that.
The fascinating part about shape and color association are the patterns I find. I’ll include a few color associations in my examples for fun. They are fun because they overlap in unrelated scenarios. What do they mean? That’s the wrong question. They don’t mean anything special. They are nothing more than an index. An index is extremely useful when accurate. It’s valuable in that scenario, but it’s not supernatural. This is like the 101 of interpretation mistakes.
What I’m writing about is easy to mistake for something religious or mystical. It doesn’t need to be. In fact I hate mysticism. I like the metaphors of mysticism in as much as I can make sense of them. I despise the idea of surrendering to it. I’m glad it exists. I want to vomit on everyone who buys in on it through surrender.
The idea of surrender seems to come from a need for belief. You don’t need to believe any of it. I find belief to be a distraction for the most part. People don’t choose what to believe. They choose what to better understand or not to understand. They choose communities to join or leave. Focusing on belief is pointless. The only reason to do that is if you don’t want to learn.
Observation is much more potent than belief. This becomes even more true with fiction. The authority is already gone when you bring it back to reality. Don’t pretend like it exists in a supernatural way. Of course it’s typically not the fans who do that. They know better. It’s the critics who make this mistake.
Bad critics are a whole tangent I should avoid right now. I will say one thing. I can tell you the difference between how a wannabe critic processes fiction from how a genuine fan does. The critic brings their community with them. They miss the forest for the trees. They miss it because they’ve brought their community of people they intend to write for with them. It hampers their ability to form bonds with fictional characters. It makes it harder to keep events in context. I’d know. I’ve run into this problem myself when attempting to write criticisms.
Please keep in mind that the way I frame things isn’t meant to be an absolute. It’s about constructing useful tools. I’m sure there are other methods for extracting value out of fiction. What I can list are my favorite ways to do it. I’m open to learning new methods whenever I can find them. I can define three and how I conceptualize them. I want to do that so that I make a clear focus for future blogging efforts.
Extracting a character from a fictional story means analyzing that character’s actions. It means creating a conceptualized version of their personality you can use. That sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is.
In essence all you need to do is understand how a character acts in certain situations. If a character in a story is meaningful to you then you’ve already started the process. How far you want to take it is up to you. Unless you intend to write about it in a meaningful way what comes natural is fine.
It’s important for character associations to happen naturally. I can write a list to paint an illustration of how that works for me. Ultimately it’s only a picture. I don’t expect anyone else to have the same list. If you want to make characters yours in a meaningful way you have to do it for yourself.
Instead of writing about this in an abstract way let me show how it works. Below are examples of characters who are important to me. They’ve become personalities I can borrow from when I find my own personality lacking. They are heroes and the villains of my consciousness.
I find that characters who resonate with me the strongest can represent parts of who I am. Like an idealized conceptualization of one aspect of my consciousness. One or several. So for example when I visualize liberty I think of Nero Claudius from Fate/Extra. I think of other characters too, but she comes to mind first.
The way I conceptualize my consciousness is as a community. The characters in that community have influence over various aspects of my consciousness. They make it easy to visualize. It’s not like exclusive job positions or anything absolute like that. It’s less something I created and more something I realized I can do. The actual assembly takes orders from somewhere lower. I can make conscious associations with the things in my subconscious. I can’t dictate what’s in my subconscious.
I operate off of aesthetics. They are something personal and important to me. I suspect that’s true for everyone, but I find I prioritize it more than other people do. If something is important to me I have visual representations of it on the back of my mind. I can pull those representations up into conscious focus. Doing that makes it easy to rank my priorities for how I act. Real people are inadequate for those representations. Associations I create consciously are only ever as valuable as they are accurate. They need to be representations of what’s already there.
Remember my earlier live and let live idiom? I’m going to use it to make an example of using character perspective. It looks different from each perspective.
Welcome to the mind of an analytical introvert. I’m only going to explain small pieces so try not to get lost in the maze. Feel free to ask questions if you do.
You can find ideas of what consciousness is in psychology. The contrast between the unconscious mind and consciousness is fascinating. Both the collective unconscious and personal unconscious are interesting to read about. For clarity I should state that I’m not a psychologist. You don’t need to be a psychologist to take up an interest in psychology. Please don’t consider me an expert. I’m not.
Let me show you what I mean. To do any of these characters justice I’d need to write a full blog post on each one. I’m even not sure if that would be enough. Please keep in mind this is a simple illustration.
Nero is a character who talks at length about her sense of aesthetic beauty. The Emperor of the Rose. Her sense of romance, artistic expression, enthusiasm and pride are things I associate with my liberal values. When I think of things that are worth taking pride in she comes to mind.
The first and most important part of understanding Nero is that she isn’t the real Nero. The character isn’t even trying to be the real Nero. She is an alternative reality Nero who filled a similar role in life to the real Nero. Where history and myth ends and the fiction begins is an intentional vague magic of her story.
The second important piece of understanding Nero is the holy grail war. In simple terms the holy grail war is a thing where magicians summon servants. Think typical familiars, but much more powerful. They all duke it out until only one servant remains. The final servant and their master gets a wish granted by the holy grail. Nero is a summoned servant.
Nero personifies passion. She is enthusiasm and the will to live. Nothing is more offensive to her than settling for the ordinary. She aims for the extraordinary. She wears flashy clothes that shows skin in unique ways. Despite her extravagance she is more interested in commoners than nobility. Her passion is a passion for the common people of Rome.
There is a negative side to Nero. She personifies the danger and fragility of her own tyrannical application of values. It’s something she knows and recognizes as a character. Think about the historic figure she is based on. She takes responsibility for that whole mess of a person. She does it even though it’s clear it wasn’t all her doing or her intention. It was her Rome and so her responsibility.
Nero is a beloved, but tyrannical leader. Her mistake was failing to realize the love people value is something more gentle than her extravagance. She expected too much from the common people and found herself betrayed. She ended her own life in despair when they didn’t come to save her. Despite how her life ended she has no regrets. She wants nothing from the holy grail. That isn’t why she fights. Instead her Rome burns brightly for her master. Her only wish is not to die alone.
Liberty wears red. It’s aggressive and individualistic. It understands sacrifice, but it’s a sacrifice of self and not others. It shows skin, but isn’t shameless. It’s proud to expose its own vulnerability and take responsibility for it. It’s easily misunderstood as a violent weapon. Extravagance of spirit is its purpose.
Other characters who come to mind: Zero Two From Darling in the Franxx and Inori Yuzuriha from Guilty Crown.
What does live and let live look like from Nero’s perspective? Live extravagantly and allow participation.
Kaiki takes on the view that humanity is inherently evil. On the topic of truth and lies he makes this value judgement: “The fake is of far greater value. In its deliberate attempt to be real, it’s more real than the real thing.”
Kaiki himself rejects the value of anything irreplaceable. I’ll use that as an example later on in this blog post. An important theme for his character is rejection. He deals with rejection by rejecting it as if it never had value in the first place. That’s why I associate him with Nihilism. Sometimes I’ll hear sketchy violin music start playing in the back of my mind. When that happens I know it’s time to pull myself in another direction.
Kaiki is a con artist who tells the truth. Or at least he gives his closest approximation of the truth. He isn’t willing to lie to you by pretending what he does is truthful. He is a villain who uses truth as a weapon to earn himself money. He has no obvious sense of moral obligation or shame about what he does. The ultimate irony is how he uses the money he earns by conning other characters. He uses it to buy something irreplaceable for someone else. He does it to keep a promise with the woman who rejected him.
I don’t believe in nihilism and neither does Kaiki. There is no value in trusting it even if it’s true. He has no shame about generating nihilistic thoughts in other people. In that scenario he is exploiting their misconceptions. He doesn’t practice what he preaches.
Nihilism wears black and white. It’s constantly changing its appearance. It has horns like a devil. You can see a horn like shape in Kaiki’s hair. It’s purpose is rejection.
Other characters who come to mind: Aion from Chrono Crusade and Solomon from Fate/Grand Order.
What does live and let live look like from Kaiki’s perspective? Live honestly and take advantage of the chaos.
Akane is a calculating and analytical. She is hyper aware of her own vulnerability. She operates on an I’ll get you before you get me mentality. She defines herself by self imposed isolation, although she is too naive to realize how she does it.
The interesting thing to note about the monster Akane has become is the isolation. It’s a monster that eats itself. She believes she cant afford to express herself because of the monster. And it is a real monster. She is an awful person by all accounts. Because she is a collected, calculating person no one can see her individuality. It’s like she is invisible. She can’t afford to give that up.
Akane believes herself to be an awful person. She believes it because she has observed it in her own actions since she hit puberty. She is the antagonist of her story. Her role is to steal all the men the protagonist cares about away from her. She even steals the role of protagonist by the end of the story. Akane is the character who finds redemption. She finds it because she goes looking for it while everyone else is busy running away.
Akane’s moral structure is a disaster. Her highest moral expectation for herself is to vanish. She wishes to disappear from the lives of people she interacts with. At best she can teach them a lesson. She exchanges belonging for stimulation and uses it to feed her self-esteem. She does that like it’s a cup with a hole in the bottom of it.
The reason I associate Akane with my sense of vulnerability is because I’m calculating and analytical in a similar way. The reason I appreciate this association is in how she overcomes it. She goes from a passive observer of her own action to active participant. Her malice fades away to reveal her naivete as she becomes a protagonist. She begins to grow as a person as she allows herself to express her own individuality.
Vulnerability wears invisibility. Its appearance is whatever it expects you want it to be. Its colors are pink and purple. Obnoxiously feminine shades of pink and purple. Feminine shades so stereotypical you’d never expect anyone to actually wear them. It’s deceptive by passivity, but its paralyzing eyes tell the truth. It’s shameless by nature. It has a proclivity toward sexual activity. Its purpose is self-preservation.
Other characters who come to mind: Sakura from Fate/Stay Night and Haruka from Senran Kagura
What does live and let live look like from Akane’s perspective? Live invisibly and disappear.
Elizabeth is a character who stands up to tyrants using tragedy to take advantage of the weak. Her sense of privilege comes with a compulsion to use strength responsibly. Things go wrong for Elizabeth and she gets tortured for her actions. She stands back up and takes pride in carrying them out.
Noblesse oblige is Elizabeth’s moto. She defends weak people exploited by power at her own peril. She does it knowingly accepting the risks. She only survives her torture because she is a biologically enhanced super human. She gets back up and leads a rebellion to fight for the people she has decided to protect. She creates a beautiful picture of the value in taking on responsibility.
Elizabeth is wealthy, powerful and competent. She excels at everything she does. She expects respect because of her social value. Elizabeth comes off as a villain until you get to know her and her stoicism does her no favors in that regard.
Responsibility wears gold. In Elizabeth’s case it’s her hair. It has a stoic expression. It appears to be a pain in the ass, but proves itself a pillar of strength when tragedy and malice strike. It has a proclivity for casual nudity. Its purpose is to create order.
Other characters who come to mind: Gilgamesh from Fate/Stay Night and Sinobu from the Monogatari series.
What does live and let live look like from Elizabeth’s perspective? Live competently and take responsibility.
I could list more. Maybe I will write a more complete list another time. Writing them up is unexpectedly fun. It’s also a bit terrifying. I feel exposed for sharing it.
So what else do I do with these character associations? That’s harder to explain. The simple answer is that I borrow their perspective. A more advanced answer is that they represent the different influences and motivations I have. I make them mine. I do it because they represent a higher resolution picture of something important to me.
I find the important part of making character associations is understanding their purpose. The rest falls into place like magic. It falls into place because you have a rough understanding of what the imagery is telling you. All you’ve done is match the meaning in words you’ve learned with images you already had.
Borrowing Philosophical Metaphors
This is the easiest one to illustrate. I can link a youtube video of Kaiki sharing philosophy. The metaphor it paints is self-evident. The ideas he is talking about are abstract in the first place. Because they are already abstract they can apply to the real world.
Please note that I’m not suggesting that Kaiki is correct. He is interesting. His philosophies are interesting. That’s not the same as correct. Different philosophies make different baseline assumptions on life. Kaiki’s baseline assumptions involve believing humanity is evil. I don’t believe that human nature is evil. I do tend to think the nature of any society is to pull toward evil. It takes conscious effort to pull away from that evil.
Thinking through Kaiki’s metaphors gives me a sounding board. It lets me test my own belief structure. I find that I tend to agree with many of Kaiki’s ideas. Human nature as evil and society as a force that gravitates toward evil are very similar. It makes disagreeing with Kaiki hard. It’s valuable because it’s challenging.
Here is another example of Kaiki’s philosophy. This clip needs some context. Araragi, the dead looking guy who stands up is defending his sister. The woman who beat the hell out of him did so because his sister is basically a monster in human form. When Aragai refuses to give up he reminds her of something Kaiki told her once. Remembering it ruins her will to fight.
The metaphor is interesting to me. It’s challenging because I agree with it even though I don’t like to think of human nature as evil. It forces me to think in higher resolution to come up with a solution. I do have a solution for this particular metaphoric puzzle.
Top down use of power is evil. It’s something unnatural that brings out the worst in humanity. People suck at dealing with malice. For that reason it’s easy to illustrate that human nature isn’t evil. Bottom up as a reaction to tragedy human nature is good. It’s easy to illustrate that nature is good. People are good at dealing with tragedy provided there is no malice to stop them. The capacity to deal with tragedy comes from human nature. The malice in humanity comes from human society. That’s my answer at any rate.
I can expand on my answer a bit. Human nature is good. Why? Because it’s human nature. Of course it’s good. We define it is as good because human nature supports the claim. The important question to ask is when does that break down? It breaks down beyond the limit for bonding with other people. Your good nature doesn’t expand beyond your bonds. Society at large expands pretty far beyond your bonds to other people as individuals. It causes all kinds of problems for everyone. If we are lucky it fixes some of them too.
My view of good and evil requires thinking of good as both compassionate and brutal. It requires thinking of evil as both well meaning and chaotic. I could go on about morality for a long time, but my ideas aren’t original. My favorite illustration of morality is the Tao Te Ching.
The value of a fictional metaphor is ultimately the same as the value of a real metaphor. A metaphor is a metaphor. They are already abstract. Still I wanted to give an example to express that value. Fiction is full of metaphors if you look for them. Even when it isn’t they are easy to make.
Reconciling Comparisons Between Fiction and Reality
This sounds complicated. It’s not. It’s context dependent. Instead of making a copy of a character you make a copy of an environment. Obviously it doesn’t really exist. How do you get value out of it? Drawing comparisons between a fake place and real places. But there is no direct comparison…
How you draw comparisons between fiction and reality is a massive topic. The important baseline distinction is you.
Think of fictional stories as things that happen in a place that isn’t real. You obviously can’t bring anything back, right? Wrong. You come back. So how do you draw meaningful comparisons between fiction and reality? By asking how an environment changes you. This is a fun game that you never win. You never win because it’s all speculation.
The valuable thing about speculation is that you use the same skills for it in real life. You can’t draw a meaningful comparison between reality and fictional worlds. You can use fiction to speculate about real life. Fiction is a lie about a fake place. Building fiction requires speculation.
An example of a comparable environment is Girls’ Last Tour. In the anime life on earth is dying. The planet is losing its capacity to support life. The story takes place long after the apocalypse. There are only a handful of people still alive. Humanity is dying off with a whimper. There are no practical options for fixing it.
In the case of Girls Last Tour the environment shapes the adventure. The whole story is portrayed as an adventure. The situation is hopeless, but it’s also peaceful. An important metaphor in the story is getting along with hopelessness. It isn’t a depressing story. It isn’t even though it easily could be.
The reason I picked Girls Last Tour for this example is simple. The environmental factor and how it impacts the characters is obvious. It influences their priorities because of course it does. The girls have to reconsider how they are going to survive daily.
It seems typical to me for people to misunderstand the importance of environment. All too often when people think about it they are looking to place blame. Forget about blame. Environment is important. Individuality is also important. You can’t have one without the other. They both change the way the other works. Also important, they change the way it appears.
This metaphor becomes valuable when you recognize things of value. It happens when you recognize things from your real environment in a fake one. Or maybe you recognize things that should be in another environment that aren’t part of your real one. When this happens it can feel like fiction is more real than real life.
The comparison that takes place happens in two stages. First it happens as you experience the story. Then it happens again after you return to the real world. It happens by process of speculation. What do you speculate on? Whatever you find interesting. The only rule is that the fake place is imaginary.
Thanks for reading! I expect to have more blog posts out soon. I’m experimenting with writing faster and getting posts out quickly. I have a tendency to rewrite things a dozen times so who knows… Old habits die hard.
If you are reading my post and have a question about something I wrote please ask. I can write tons of examples. They are much easier to write when I don’t need to guess at your questions.
Feedback is appreciated. Earlier in this post I complained about useless feedback. Please don’t let that stop you. I’m pretty far outside my comfort zone with a post like this. Writing about ideas that are less personal is easy for me. I can hide. Once I start talking metaphors of the subconscious I’m not hiding very well anymore.
One final comment I’ll make is that I realize citations would give some of the claims I’ve made authority. I’ve decided against adding citations to this post for two reasons. The first is that criticisms of other people aren’t the point of this blog post. The second is that I want people to talk to me if they want more information from me. It’s easy to apply a bias to an idea. It’s hard to apply a bias to a person you respect. Simply providing information is fuel for an ideological fire. Forming relationships by earning respect is the only solution I know. You want my sources? Speak to me. I’ll give you what I have.