Thursday, July 7, 2011

Education

More than any other post upon technology, I feel a duty to this.  That is because I believe there are two kinds of education, a very old one and a comparatively more recent one, and the second is in a death struggle with the first.

When an individual takes it upon his or her self to teach something to another individual, there is a decision to be made.  The teacher is in a position of power; the student, in a position of vulnerability.  If the teacher is the only source for that student's knowledge, the teacher's power increases considerably.  The greater the number of sources for knowledge the student has, the less vulnerable the student is.

I have pedantically explained this relationship because of the manner in which education has been carried forth through the course of human events.  We tend to see education as a force increasing our knowledge, and therefore the success we expect to have once we are old enough to take on the world.  But we also know very well that 'education' is a methodology designed to enslave a population through the instigation of a belief system that is to be accepted unquestionably by the student throughout that student's life.  To emphasize the difference between these two purposes, where I shall talk about increasing the general knowledge of the population, I shall simply write education; and where I shall talk about controlling the thoughts of the population, I shall write 'education' (with quotes) ... and in that way I hope to make things clear.

From the beginning, 'education' was initiated by the priest-kings of the ancient world.  The principle issue of the day was to cement together the social levels of society in order to withstand both invading forces and natural forces.  An unregimented free-thinking society is weak where it comes to defending a city or tolerating a season of famine.  In-fighting results.  Early cities were, by their nature, placed into a siege-mindset, and their ultimate survival was largely determined by the success of that mindset.  A series of other technologies were applied through the millennia to strengthen that mindset, those that I've already spoken about: religion, literature, philosophy, music and so on.  As the technological development towards mastering the thinking processes of a people were improved, it was not only a city which was directed in its thought patterns, but whole nations and ultimately empires.

The structure of 'education' is quite clear.  Individuals must be taught from an early age to accept as truth those things upon which a society agrees ... or at least what a society is understood to have agreed upon.  Those things are always traditional expectations for behavior; duty towards the state; duty towards the family; the expectation of sacrifice for the greater whole; the acknowledgement that there can be no other acceptable practice and - finally - the willingness to root out those persons in the society who do not play according to the 'rules': criminals, non-conformists and traitors.  The last may be better defined as persons who uphold the traditions and standards of some other culture than their own.

Nothing has changed about this in 10,000 years.  When Pink Floyd sings "We don't need no education," it isn't in reference to not wanting to learn how to play musical instruments or not wishing to know what's the best way to get from Fleet Street to Harrow.  It is in reference to the sort of 'education' that tells me what to think and when to think it.  Social constructs continue to require blind allegiance from their citizens and they always will ... for the social construct which is most viewed as infallible will most likely be the construct that outlasts its competitors who are decaying and collapsing from within.  All decay and collapse must be shored up, and the shoring up is done with 'education' in the form of state religious demonstrations, the mass production of the written word, the rigidity of approved philosophy and the drum drum drum of music.

As an adult male in my late 40s, I tend to be under the delusion that I am in control of what I think, in that I believe I am free to think what I like.  In reality, however, I have, since birth, been at the mercy of an emotional methodology which has had as its goal the sole purpose of guiding me towards behavior causing me to serve my role in that society.  The complexity of the methodology has been, particularly in these last two centuries, brought to a level of considerable mastery.  I find that I am forced to consider everyday, in an effort to wrestle with truth, whether I love my country because I have good reason, or if I love my country because it has always been presumed that I would, having been born here and raised by others who in their turn were driven to love their country.  Am I a Canadian because I belong here, or am I a Canadian because I was 'educated' here?  The reality that I will never be able to answer this question to my satisfaction humbles me.  And of course I remember that most Canadians never feel any need whatsoever to answer this question at all.  It has been answered for them, long ago, to their satisfaction.  They are Canadians because they are.  That is enough for them.

It is not enough for me because of the other education.

There is a tiny percentage of individuals whose presence within the system we can trace back to the increased urbanization of civilization.  This urbanization created something called 'leisure' - which is not a technology, though it has had the influence of a technological revolution upon the general development.  With leisure came the presence of mind to question the principles upon which the social system was founded ... and to posit other possible meanings or reasons for the existence of those social systems.  In other words, to recognize that my considering myself a Canadian is more important than simply identifying with a general conceptual condition, but rather a motivating factor that coerces my behavior and acceptance of conditions in the construct of Canada.  It is not intended that I question this motivation.  It is intended that I act correctly.  And such is the force aligned against me that if I do not act correctly, it is not only the generalized state which will oppose my behavior, but all the individuals within that generalized state.  In fact, it is the other individuals themselves, who are in turn motivated correctly to behave according to the program of coercion, who will do the great work of policing that must exist in order to keep the construct coherent.  The construct cannot hope to hire all the policemen needed; but the peer pressure that exists in every corner of every part of the land of my birth will most likely be sufficient to bring me back into line ... since I am also trained to fear ostracization.

The very act of questioning this arrangement, or defining it as I have tried to do so in the above paragraphs, has been given to me as an option by others who have found themselves in a similar position to myself, and who have taken the trouble to write it down.  Isaac Newton said that "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."  If I have a different perspective upon my role in the present social construct it is because I have had more teachers than those who were assigned to me by the state.  It is a funny condition of our present social construct that the tools necessary to pull down the same construct are piled up in libraries where they can be read by most anyone.  This would seem extremely foolish, except that it is well known - particularly to the sort of people who haunt libraries - that there simply aren't enough people who read books to overthrow the system.  Moreover, the vast majority of people who peek behind the curtain, and meet the Powerful Oz, are more likely to ask Oz for a job turning the handles on the machine than to expose Oz to the scarecrow, the tin man and the cowardly lion ... who after all exist to be duped in every way possible.

I confess that I have seriously considered throwing in with Oz myself.  It is merely a matter of perpetrating the system by telling them something I know not to be true in exchange for personal gain.  It is a marvellous and reliable way to get rich.

This is not the post I had originally intended to write.  Three days ago I meant to write about the rise of the university system and the circumstances of gaining knowledge through experience rather than through mentoring ... and at some point I might write that post.  At any rate, this is the point that I usually step back from the description of the technology itself and discuss its influence upon D&D.

In effect, I've softened the crowd and now it's time for the dancing girls.

If you are running a medieval world, one that is pre-1000 A.D., it should be understood that the mindset of the people in that world is very, very different than your own.  Even the most casual survivor of childhood in the modern Oriental or Occidental worlds has had the benefit of more than one teacher throughout their lives, and the benefit of contrary points of view.  The vast proportion of inhabitants of the Medieval world HAS NOT.  I cannot say that with greater emphasis.  Even if an individual has been raised in an urban landscape, the understandings, beliefs and traditions of that landscape are inflexible in the extreme.  If you are a dwarf in a land that does not like dwarves, you will not be liked, period.  There will not be a moment when someone realizes that you're a nice person after all, there will not be a moment when they realize dwarves are people too, there will not be a moment when you are listened to or considered or treated with anything but disdain.  There will be no Spielberg moments.  You will be hated, from the moment you meet the first person until the moment you get the hell out of the country, or the moment when you are finally driven to slaughter every last woman and child with the aid of your dwarven buddies.  And understand, when the last child spits in your eye, it will not be because you have killed its mummy and daddy, it will be because you are a dwarf.

The social construct of the medieval world was so harsh that even persons seeking education which supported the social construct were forced to seek safety and exclusion in high mountain fortresses built in such a manner that they could never be effectively sieged.  The need for cohesion among every tribe, clan, band and population center was so powerfully strong that every stranger was viewed not merely as someone disliked and unwanted, but as someone that could only be a villain bent on eating the local children.  If you can imagine the present social view upon child molesters, multiply it by about a hundred and then recognize that your wandering, travelling characters are seen in exactly that light.

Given this, it is a little ridiculous to assume that a member of a village would joyfully sign on with the party in order to get out of the crummy little town they live in.  Having been told since birth by the only people they have ever met or heard from that the world is full of demons, giants and horrible creatures who would rather strip your flesh from your bones as soon as look at you, and then having been told that these same creatures pretend to be ordinary strangers just passing through small towns and inviting locals to come along with them for a bit o' fun, there is just no way in the world you are going to go.  You're just not.  You're going to run away from party characters so fast that the ground itself will brown from friction.

The Renaissance mitigates this a little ... but it is still the attitude that remote villages will have.  The printing press begins to provide some alternate media view of the world beyond that given by the local clergy - but remember that it is not in the clergy's interest to let any individual from anywhere up and leave.  The late Medieval age and into the Renaissance did experience a time of great difficulty for the local lords and masters due to the peasants flocking to the cities where life was potentially less work and more free thinking.  But it was the second kind of education, the kind that proposed life was about things like drinking and frivolity rather than religion, that was winning out there.  Hedonism has continued to be an enormous headache for the modern state ... most of the dangerous critical problems of modern life surround the state's inability to stop people from doing things they want to do: drugs, sexual promiscuity, refusal to serve in the military, the internet, etcetera.  Religious 'education' did its job to keep people restrained for a long time - and it is religious education that dictates the actions and expectations of NPCs in your D&D world, not the player character's heroic visage.

Of course, the concept of a player running a 'hero' presumes that the occupants of the medieval village will view that hero with the same awe and adoration that heros now expect to be given.  The one goes hand in hand with the other.  And DMs will continue to run persons in their worlds as though they live in the present century because the fantasies of DMs are fantasies any person living now would have.  That heroes are loved, that the world is forgiving and and respectful of all persons, that Spielberg moments can happen at any time and to anybody.  For some, the fantasy world is a world that is not dangerous, ignorant or unkind.  It is a fantasy.  That it should be fanciful is the point.

Of course, I would fail as a pundit if I did not make the recursive point that the fantasies we are intended to have in this construct are necessarily ones which are unachievable.  Unachievable fantasies contribute to the certainty of the status quo.  Even in the game we are subject to the moraes of the social construct.

I am getting off the point, and I realize I need to return to background.  Returning to the dominance of the church within the framework of your world:  the technology of Theology was to incorporate a fantasy (redemption in the eyes of god) in order to keep the average individual's shoulder to the grindstone here on Earth.  Those cultures who did not possess the Theological technology crumbled in the face of societies who adopted it.  Spain, France, England, Scandinavia, Russia, central Africa and Persia all succumbed to the theology of either Christianity or Islam, since societies who accepted the theology were better able to create cohesion within by instituting the theology/'education' into the minds of their children.  Faced with a superior authoritative culture, the foreign states went down one by one, ultimately converting to the one-god religions in order to continue maintaining their authority at home, as opposed to foreigner religionists imposing their authority.  If your NPCs in your campaign are not run by a church of some kind, what keeps other churches from other states from simply subverting the state's authority by offering a carrot (heaven) the state cannot offer?

The newer education undermined this in its turn by recognizing the utter stupidity of a promise that cannot be proven, turning the attention of the smarter classes towards problems that could be solved through proven methods.  In other words, science.  Thought processes being not dependent upon social convention but upon recognizable proof.  And while this different philosophical approach to thought was in existence for many centuries, it was crystallized in the writings of William of Occam and Pierre Abelard.  It has since been a philosophy based not on created a construct designed to assign persons their role in the world, but a construct designed to assign the world's role in the circumstances of people's lives - with the understanding that the knowledge, and therefore the teaching of that knowledge, is not born of the philosophy, but rather employs the philosophy in order to recognize the difference between what is knowledge and what is actually bullshit.

Theology and the social construct which 'educates' the population wants to have the debate between these two approaches to reality as a philosophical one ... since philosophy, with its overtures of guilt and expectation, are the construct's weapons of choice.  Science, on the other hand, which does not seek to educate the individual in the difference between moral responsibility and irresponsibility, but rather in the difference between proof and lack thereof, makes an extremely difficult target for the religionist.  The religionist is concerned with ensuring that I continue to use an object for the purpose to which it was made.  The scientist, without concern for the object at all, as a happenstance will make the object obsolete.

In history, the late Medieval and Renaissance era was a locked battle between a small contingent of emotionally charged individuals who fervently sought out the previously unforseen 'truth' about the universe around them and the huge contingent of social authoritarians who recognized how dangerous this was.  The small contingent, by relying upon their own experience and by educating others to rely upon theirs, very much won the day against the religionists.  They have not won the day against the social construct ... but that is because 'education' has enabled the creation of new technological innovations which were never conceived of by the Medieval, or even the Renaissance mind: Nationalism, Democracy, Military Tradition and Communism, just to name a few.

This probably has nothing to do with your D&D world, correct?  I suppose I am trying to force you, the reader, to think with a mind that is not your own, to get into the mind of a person born in another time, who in turn was never socially obligated to the degree that you are, who in fact could never understand the nature and circumstance of your social obligation, any more than you can understand their lack of it.  In short, I am arguing an impossibility.  You can never roleplay a D&D character.  You can only conjecture what that might have been like.

But for me it is in that conjecture that the fantasy truly lies.  It forces me to discard the social norms of my own culture in favor of another.  Not because the other culture is wonderful.

Because it isn't mine.

18 comments:

Talysman said...

That's not an entirely accurate depiction of the medieval period.

(1) Monks and scholastics didn't build fortresses because they wanted education and were afraid of people who were anti-education. They built them for protection from people who were pro-treasure.

(2) The vast majority of people didn't travel very far, true, but the wandering scholars, peddlers, pilgrims, minstrels and later crusaders were an important exception and generally accepted.

(3) There were, in fact, alternative views available, which is why the Church became obsessed with eliminating such views, sparking heresy investigations, witch hunts, and the internal crusades, like the one against the Cathars in southern France. If there were no sources for dissenting opinions, where exactly did thousands of Cathars get their ideas?

Alexis said...

Talysman,

1) Go back and read the sentence again. The article I am writing is about education, but the reason I gave for monks to avoid the population was not education. You have married the one to the other where I did not.

2) This is the classic romantic depiction of the medieval period, that it was literally dripping with scholars and minstrels. Wishful thinking.

3) Your thinking on this is muddy, and typically assumes the Cathars was a wonderful free-loving society that opposed religion. I have read rather bad historical texts that romanticize this notion. If you want to know where the Cathars got their ideas, I suggest a strong investigation into Gnosticism, which began as an alternative Christian practice and was every bit as authoritarian as any other religion. It failed for the same reason other non-Catholic religions in Europe failed - it was not strong enough.

It is a failing to think that because, say, Jews existed in Europe that they existed as an 'alternative' way of thinking. This is like saying that communism is an accepted governmental option to democracy in the United States. The enemy is not an 'alternative.' It is the enemy. Did you miss the line where I mentioned traitors?

Talysman, you are bringing very little scholarship to a very complex question and arguing that because I did not write 30,000 words rather than 3,000 than I am obviously oversimplifying. Well, duh. Of course I'm oversimplifying. I'm trying to make a generalized point here. The thing about giving an overview of a subject like Education is that if I want to keep it down to something that can be read at a sitting, I sort of have to generalize, don't I? Pointing out some compromising detail that I've missed in my generalization isn't an argument, it is being a pest. Rather than condemning me for what I obviously meant to do in the first place, why don't you talk about MY POINT?

5stonegames said...

Alexis. I don't really have a qualm with your point, that is

"But for me it is in that conjecture that the fantasy truly lies. It forces me to discard the social norms of my own culture in favor of another. Not because the other culture is wonderful.
Because it isn't mine. "

I've read a lot of fantasy and to be frank, very little of it is like that. Most of it is action stories or as in the Romantic Fantasy genre "issues" stories set in a world with Medieval or Renaissance trappings and technology.

Even fewer people actually "roleplay" in the historical context and in fact I'd argue the format of D&D is far more suited for an adventure game than anything like "The Real Middle-Ages" o

As Ken Hite put it

"The original D&D seems, quite obviously, to be a pastiche of Fritz Leiber and Robert E. Howard adventure stories, set in a Tolkeinian world of Moorcockian morality, using Jack Vance's magic system, redacted for multiple protagonists. No wonder things are confused."

In truth this is as it should be, in a D&D world there really are people who in small groups or singlehandedly can take on bandit gangs, the 100% assuredly `real monsters and even whole armies. They too can exist outside the social order in ways that real people cannot and this matters.

Its far more "Greek Heroic" than Medieval IMO

Heck I am not sure a medieval mindset even makes sense as a starting point if you are trying for immersive RP.

Take D&D magic , while fairly rare in some games, it is still going to have a far reaching impact that will change the way people live.

Take Continual Light for example, 1 3rd level or higher MU with this spell (and its decently common) can light entire cities to the standard that could not be reached well into the 20th century.

And there are tons of other more powerful magics in the books or that could be researched.

Than throw in activist gods and well you have the foundation for a world that is nothing like ours. Its a long order to figure out how such people might think and if we cling to "Ren Faire" medievalism, well its not that bad a guess.

Alexis said...

Stone, you say, "I've read a lot of fantasy and to be frank, very little of it is like that."

This probably explains why I don't read a lot of it.

Let me introduce you to another entirely different kind of literature, written in the period just prior to the year my world takes place. Shakespeare. Marlowe. Johnson. Spenser. Violence, intrigue, brutality, love, humour, thematic, consuming. From their perspective, a medieval mindset seems to make for rather excellent drama. Or am I wrong?

I confess, I'm utterly unclear as to what magic's presence has to do with this. Would intelligent beings cease to be hormonal if magic existed? What is that based on? I just can't figure where this pronouncement you make comes from, that with magic and gods that the world cannot be anything like ours. Frankly, that sounds like a construct to me. It sounds like something I'm supposed to believe despite a lack of proof. It sounds like something that exists only to justify the writings of a lot of second-rate pulp authors from the last fifty years or so, and to say that I am somehow limited in my imagination by what they've written, as opposed to all the books written by all the people who are not bound by the fantasy publisher's agenda.

That's what it sounds like to me.

Zzarchov said...

I can see how magic and gods plural would influence part of this post.

"the foreign states went down one by one, ultimately converting to the one-god religions in order to continue maintaining their authority at home, "

If Odin showed up and personally set fire to a few churches, people may think twice about accepting a one god religion. Especially if 10 minutes later Zeus shows up and sets fire to one of Odin's temples.

Add in raising the dead, wizards able to grant unlife in a secular fashion (Why serve in heaven when you can rule on earth forever?)

Magic is a giant variable, so it is inevitable that if you throw it into the mix it will vastly change things. But it depends on how much magic, how long it has been around etc. Maybe magic is a recent rediscovery and still in its infancy? The world is thus much like Earth.

It does seem to me to be a bit of a diversion though, once you respond to any question with "A wizard did it", it gets hard to have any real discussion.

Alexis said...

Baffling, Zzarchov.

If Odin can show up and convince the Norwegians to remain Norse, pray tell me why God and Jesus Christ his son can't show up and tell them not to?

If you posit the true existence of Odin, why do you draw the line there? Particularly when you quote Milton exactly one paragraph later?

I guess it really depends on where your prejudices lie, does it not?

Alexis said...

Separating this comment, so that it's understood I don't address it at any specific person.

I wonder how many people reading this post fail to comprehend how they themselves have been 'educated' to spoil for the so-called original D&D they rush to defend.

JoetheLawyer said...

Awesome post

Zzarchov said...

My Apologies Alexis,

I did not mean to imply only Odin existed, merely that he did exist. As would Zeus, as for God? No, no God but yes to Jehovah. With God (capital G) there is only one real deity. If Odin and Zeus can flat out call him on that, then he cannot be omnipotent.

I imagine the Angels of Jehovah would show up to besiege Asgard and the Aesir, unless of course perhaps there is a Warsaw Pact style alliance of Olympus, Asgard and the Devas.

In which case (assuming worshipers are important to gods, which they must be if they grant miracles) I imagine that humans would have learned to try and play them off each other.

The exact effect of such clashes would depend very much on the cosmology and would probably impact player character's very little, so I don't focus on it as a priority, instead going for "reclusive gods" and having cleric's go through intermediaries.

Alexis said...

"No, no God but yes to Jehovah."

Zzarchov, I'm still baffled. The statement itself is obedience to somebody's construct, relayed to me. Why must it be 'Jehovah'? Why can't it be 'God'? Must it obey your construct? Must it obey anyone's construct? If I am the DM and I am God, and I dictate that the world is so, then is the world not so?

You miss my position if you think I care about gods or magic here. I am taking the position that "wrong" is something people who want to 'educate' others establish as a means to coerce them into accepted social behavior. The very second that you or I or anyone takes the position that anything anywhere is "wrong" it is an intended coercion.

I write this post, and every post, to coerce others through words to believe what I believe. You and everyone here who comments does so to coerce me or other readers to believe what you believe. This is the way of the world.

The point here is very definitely not whether the medieval world as I might wish to play it ever existed, or could exist, or ought to exist ... it is that I want to pretend to play in a world that is not merely a fanciful wish-fulfilment meant to counter this world, but that I want to play in a world where the coercion is different from ours. And towards that end, I am discussing HOW it would be different, recognizing that the world once WAS different, because many of the perceptions/coercions we take for granted now did not in any way exist.

5stonegames said...

Alexis , don't assume I haven't read the kind of literature you are talking about. I am aware that it makes for a great read and great drama. I am not as sure it makes for great D&D as most players expect it.

Whats in appendix N and its successors does.

Now mind you I enjoy reading about what you are doing and I find it interesting and worthwhile or I would not waste my time or your on it or commenting on it.


Remember too that open discussion between rational adults is not coercion. Coercion implies diminished choice by threat or arguably limit, neither of which especially applies here. If someone here comes about to your way of thinking, or you to theirs, no one was coerced. They chose to change their mind.

As to you last point about different coercion, in a way I agree. My own game world reflects this idea from the notion "what if these tropes were mostly literally true what would the world be like"

Its not a secondary creation in the Tolkien sense but one of logical consequences and the mindset thereof.
.

Alexis said...

Stone,

I'm going to challenge you a little and I want to say first that this is meant to be a positive answer.

Worlds should not be based upon what players expect, but upon practical and brilliant design. No matter what players expect, if the world is an excellent world, players will throw out their expectations.

Appendix N is the voice of the community construct. It is a very limited list in terms of imagination. The source suggesting how worlds might be created is a much, much bigger list.

Coercion has long hidden behind definitions like "open discussions between rational adults." There isn't a used car salesman in the world who hasn't said, "Listen, friend, you and I are just talking, right?"

Every friend you have ever had has used that friendship as an implied threat, as in, they will stop being your friend if you don't (insert desired action here). This was really, really obvious when we were children, when the threat was carried out loudly in the schoolyard. At the age we are now, things are different. We don't ask our friends directly. We make casual statements and wait patiently for our friends to offer. Which they usually do, because they are our friends. But if they don't offer, it is noticed, and we remark about it to our wives and our family and our other friends. And when enough failures to offer pile up, we stop calling those friends, and we stop thinking about them as friends. We deal with it in a very passive aggressive fashion, because we are adults and confrontation is unpleasant. But it's foolish to say there are no repercussions for the actions of friends. And it is foolish to say that we don't make casual statements in their company without expecting them to help.

Please don't say you don't do it. Everyone does it. All the time. It is only that the threat is so relatively benign to anything we normally think of as a 'threat' that we deny that it even is one.

I will admit to coercion because it doesn't hurt my agenda. I am a writer. My business is to create an emotional response by stringing things together. The threat I offer is that if you keep reading, I will say something that might hurt you.

If you keep reading, I might say something that will force you to re-evaluate your world.

Ka-Blog! said...

Another excellent post that leaves much food for thought.

I'd been wondering about reflecting the issue of education (and other modern substitutes like radio, TV, and the internet) that also serve to reinforce a particular shared cultural view.

I'm going to have to re-read it actually -- there are a lot of things that are implied.

Also, this a good reason for Drow be to universally reviled! One rumored exception doesn't exonerate all the others in the eyes of the populace.

5stonegames said...

I think we are prisoners of a common language Alexis and thats perfectly OK.

I also disagree on the world building issue more than a bit, to my eyes the goal is a good game and if it means low brow pandering, so be it.

That being said I relish an opportunity to confront my preconceptions and "coerced" or not am grateful for the opportunity to do so.

PS, you really should read much of appendix N if you have not. Little of it is truly second rate, much such as Robert Howard, Leiber and Vance are top notch and Tolkien rightly stands among the greats.

Zzarchov said...

The reason I was avoiding getting too heavily into the specifics of Magic in the first response I had was because I knew I would far too easily go down an unproductive detour as I did in my second post.

The gyst I was getting at, was that you could easily have a medieval, even a dark ages setting in which the second type of education is available and more commonplace. But to lean too heavily on allowing modern things with the excuse of "a wizard did it" is counter productive.

I also agree that getting into an alien mindset is fun. I always try to run any medieval setting with medieval physics to stress that: heavy things do fall faster, there are only 4 elements, glass repels electricity(lightning) and witches often do weigh the same as water fowl. This means I will encourage clerics to avoid modern mindsets and set fire to enemy villages. Unusual people should be burned at the stake because deformity IS a sign of demonic possession etc. Again, not because I would like to live in such a world, but because it is alien.

Talysman said...

@Alexis: Your point is that the way you play -- which is not the way I play -- is done for a very particular reason. Since it's a matter of preference, I can't argue with that, even though I don't agree with it. It's like arguing with people over which foods taste good.

What I focused on instead is why you'd write (as you say) 3,000 words in support of your point that's based on some common mistaken notions about medieval society and its place in the development of new ideas. It's not that I wanted you to write more; it's that I wanted you to, say, read actual stuff written in medieval times before claiming certain things.

Medieval villages were definitely isolated and ideas did not spread as rapidly as in the modern world, but it wasn't because of a universal monolithic church imposing a single correct worldview on all of Europe. There were certainly *individuals* at the time, particularlys some in the Church, who thought the world was and should be that way. But in fact the primary problem with travel and communication of ideas was technological (it was hard getting from place to place, or spreading ideas,) and criminal (outlaws or roving bands wanted to kill you and take your stuff.) And because of those two facts, there were *lots* of alternative ideas -- they just didn't spread very far, for the exact same reasons that created the divergence.

Thus, when the Church declared Arianism a heresy, it had to deal with the fact that many large areas were predominately Arian and had to be either re-converted or conquered. Similarly, the isolated Celtic Church diverged from the official line and the area had to be re-converted. The German crusade against the Slavs was ostensibly to convert pagans to Christianity, but in fact some of the people being converted were Eastern Orthodox. And the Cathars -- I don't know where you got the idea I thought they were "sweetness and light", but I brought them up because they were another example of a regional development of a divergent system of knowledge, which was later wiped out by crusaders.

Medieval European history is not a history of a unified idea system eliminating or being threatened by a small number of "enemies". It's a history of thousands of fragmented idea systems slowly being unified through Dark Ages warfare as the ideas and the cultures that spawned them came into contact. This eliminated the broad distinctions, but the process of unifying and expanding kingdoms, clearing the roads, and establishing pilgrimage routes brought more geographical regions into contact and revealed the survival of thousands of *subtler* differences, plus it enabled the spread of other newer ideas as they developed. There's constant controversy and invention of new ideas during the later medieval period, especially in the urban areas, which made things ripe for further change when various classical Greek texts were translated into Latin and published, thus ushering in the Renaissance.

tsojcanth said...

Alexei, great post. It's always lovely to read your blog, despite you being excessively quick to anger in face of disagreement makes writing and reading comments a bit frustrating. I can understand why tho.

Keep on writing this serie on Civ technologies please :)

uselessnomore said...

"If you keep reading, I might say something that will force you to re-evaluate your world."

A threat. And a promise. Together at last! If only a Reece's Peanut Butter Cup were as satisfying as one of your threat/promise confections. Stop, you're coercing me and it tickles.

By the way, it is too late - I am already re-evaluating my world. My sincerest thanks for that.