Crossroads Conversations: Sylvanas Windrunner, Buddhist Empress

“I teach suffering. Its origin, cessation and path. That’s all I teach.” — Buddha

Due to an internet outage there was no Crossroads Podcast last week, so I’m going to use this opportunity to revisit a discussion we had on the show a while back. Before the latest World of Warcraft expansion came out, the pre-patch caused quite a stir among the community.

Many were outraged by the direction the story was headed. I saw something beautiful.

Whether you play Warcraft or not, read on for a counterintuitive discussion of philosophy. If you do play, I’m primarily examining the character of Warchief Sylvanas Windrunner and the burning of Teldrassil.

Life Is Pain

“It does not matter what you bear, but how you bear it.” — Seneca

Aesthetic is key to how we judge morality. My favorite example: in Norse mythology, light elves and dark elves had no inherent morality. Not until outsiders discovered and interpreted their stories through the modern Western worldview, which assumes that white-skinned beings are good and black-skinned beings are evil. Thanks for that, Tolkien.

In Warcraft, the pandaren have a very Buddhist “feel”. They speak with Chinese accents and like to sit cross-legged on lily pads. Not to say they don’t represent Buddhist values–I actually love their in-game culture and the views they express. The point is, the limited amount of actual philosophy worked into the game is magnified by their aesthetic.

Then we have Sylvanas Windrunner, Warchief of the Horde, an undead dark elf straight out of Norse mythology. When I propose to fellow Warcraft fans she might be Buddhist, they laugh. They don’t notice the signifcance of a statement she makes right before the Burning of Teldrassil: “Life is pain. Hope fails.” Sylvanas explicitly states the core tenets of Buddhism, nearly word for word straight out of Siddhartha’s notebook. The beliefs are right, but the aesthetic is wrong. To many, the key elements of Buddhism are tea and cherry blossoms, rather than the practice of living without attachment.

Aside from Buddha, another philosopher comes to mind at the statement that “life is pain”: Seneca. Well, any of the Stoic philosophers would work, such as Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius. I just happen to be most familiar with Seneca.

Stoicism is a Western parallel to Buddhism. It, too, starts with the assumption that life is suffering, but differs slightly in how one should deal with that fact. Buddhism teaches you to let go of attachment: if you let go of pleasure you’ll be free from pain; let go of hope to be free from fear; and so on. Stoicism teaches you to embrace everything. Love pain as much as you love pleasure. Love fear as much as you love hope. I think both are valid paths to peace and happiness, Stoicism just speaks more to me personally.

I think it’s safe to say practices at least a small measure of Stoicism. It would be impossible to function on a day-to-day basis if she didn’t. She’s died three times, had her soul ripped from her body, failed her people in their darkest hour, been turned into a puppet and forced to watch herself murder those she’d sworn to protect, and for a brief moment, after attaining the one thing she truly desired and having nothing left to live for, she committed suicide and managed to experience true oblivion.

What Buddha would call Nirvana. The cessation of self. The true loss of attachment and desire.

Then she faced a choice: to find freedom from the eternal pain of life, or to be brought back and serve selflessly.

She chose pain and service. Seneca would be proud.

Hope Fails

“If you stay in the center and embrace death with your whole heart, you will endure forever.” — Lao Tzu

Buddha teaches that attachment is a sure path to suffering. Since nothing lasts forever, you will inevitably lose anything you are attached to. Many recognize how this applies to material possessions, but fail to see it applies also to ideas, art, morals, traditions, philosophies, relationships, personal identities, goals, life, societies, worlds, and probably even the universe itself.

Hope is an attachment to something in the future that has not come to pass yet. It is a lose-lose situation: you’ll suffer because you never get what you hope for, or you’ll get it and suffer when you lose it.

Lao Tzu, another Chinese philosopher who predates Buddha by just a generation or two, also talks about hope in his Tao Te Ching. I’ve been getting really into his brand of Taoism recently and have already talked about it at length on this blog, so I’ll try to keep this short, even though just about every verse in the book seems to be written about Sylvanas specifically.

The Tao Te Ching warns that hope is dangerous, but does not advocate withdrawing from the world like Buddhism. Instead, Lao Tzu teaches wei wu wei, doing not-doing, which sounds like not doing anything but is the opposite. Wei wu wei is doing your work for its own sake, pouring your whole heart into it without attachment to outcomes. It’s the difference between writing a book because you want to be a rich and famous bestselling author and writing because you’re a writer and writing is what you do regardless of whether you receive any reward or recognition for your effort. You don’t hope for anything. You simply do.

Sylvanas Windrunner’s work is to lead the Horde. She is not a popular leader. The majority of the entire world hates her. Leadership has its own rewards, of course. Many despots enjoy the material luxuries of their station, or simply enjoy power. Sylvanas, a living corpse, does not eat nor drink, only breathes when the mood strikes her (usually in order to sigh), and lacks the ability to enjoy consorts. She doesn’t even sleep, so silk bedsheets wouldn’t do much for her.

What about power? It’s a humorous-yet-not-untrue observation that many of the world’s worst tyrants used power to compensate for a lack of sexual function. Deprived of all physical pleasures, does Sylvanas crave a different kind of fulfillment?

Not really, no. Thanks to books and short stories narrated from her perspective, we do not have to speculate about what goes on in the Warchief’s mind. She does not enjoy her position. Sylvanas came back from oblivion to take on the task of leading the Forsaken–a collection of undead like her–after being shown a vision of their bleak future without her. She rose to leadership of the entire Horde after being ordered to do so by her dying predecessor. It was the last thing she wanted, but duty demanded it.

Sylvanas does the work of Warchief devoid of hope. What is there to hope for? She will always be reviled, and there is no possible reward in it for her. There is not even any chance of success. The duties of the Warchief are ongoing, not something that can ever be completed. Sylvanas has embraced doing not-doing for as long as she holds her position. As she cannot die of natural causes, there is a non-zero chance she has signed up to struggle and suffer for eternity.

Her work is exemplified in the War of the Thorns, the campaign leading up to the conquest of Teldrassil. Many in her Horde questioned the decision to rekindle war with the Alliance so quickly. Most accepted that the war was inevitable, but urged her enjoy peace for as long as it might last.

For one who knows that life is pain and who holds no hope in her heart, there is only work. Sylvanas does not desire a reprieve from her work. Her work is to ensure that her people endure, and she accepted no delays.

The conquest of Teldrassil was one of the most ambitious campaigns waged in the history of the Horde. It had to be. The Horde has always been somewhat on the back foot, somewhat at the mercy of the Alliance. That state of the world is one of those attachments Buddha warns about. The Alliance takes the distribution of power.

Teldrassil is another example. The World Tree, the capital of night elf civilization. A living attachment which is never questioned. By taking it, Sylvanas shatters the established order, creates chaos and confusion. She acts according to Lao Tzu, dumping the water from the bowl so it may be filled anew, tearing down the established order to make room for a new one. To make space for the Horde’s future.

Only Sylvanas didn’t quite conquer Teldrassil, did she?

Now He’ll Understand

“You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame. How could you rise anew if you have not first become ashes?” — Friedrich Nietzsche

We relate the aesthetic of Buddhism to pretty and peaceful things, which makes us forget it is a philosophy primarily concerned with suffering, despair, and the quest for annihilation. Friedrich Nietzsche gets the opposite treatment, being associated with the aesthetic of nihilism and angst-fueled teenagers. Yet I’ve not found a philosophy more full of beauty and laughter than Nietzsche’s.

In the moments before she commits an act that changes Azeroth forever, Sylvanas Windrunner stands on a beach, in the shadow of the World Tree, in the dissonant calm that follows a desperate battle. She engages in a philosophical debate with a defeated night elf captain, who questions her motives.

“Life is pain. Hope fails. Now he’ll understand.”

“He” is High King Anduin Wrynn, Windrunner’s counterpart on the Alliance. Though he is her main enemy, and has certainly grown to hate her, she has no hatred for him. She views him only with mild exasperation, as if he were a wayward child. Which he arguably is, especially in comparison to Sylvanas.

Anduin, just on the cusp of adulthood, is naive, emotional, and a religious zealot. Though he has high-minded ideals, many of his decisions are poorly thought out, and Sylvanas bemoans the positions he puts her in. She misses his capable father, Varian. It speaks volumes that Sylvanas would rather face off against an opponent with a great chance of defeating than one who exposes his own weak spots. She chooses to take advantage of his weakness–her duty to the Horde demands it–but she would prefer a fair fight.

Though she wins the War of the Thorns, Sylvanas loses the debate on the beach. Sylvanas argues that the taking of Teldrassil will make Anduin “understand”. Her dying opponent tells her she is wrong. Sylvanas reconsiders her own position, then concedes defeat. Her campaign, for which so much blood has been shed, will fail to accomplish what she needs to accomplish. It takes a measure of grace and humility worthy of a Buddhist Empress to concede defeat to an enemy who is already at your mercy. Many commanders would have blocked out the criticism and charged ahead with their plan, resulting in disaster.

Sylvanas suppresses her ego and changes the plan to accomplish the mission.

What is the mission? What does she want King Anduin Wrynn to understand?

Nietzsche gets mistaken for a nihilist, but really is concerned with transcending nihilism. To create your own destiny and unlock the true beauty life has to offer, you must first plunge into the abyss of nihilism. It is a trying ordeal, in which you discard everything you know and confront the meaningless darkness of your own existence. Those who emerge from the abyss are on the path to becoming the “ubermensch” and a life of fulfillment and peace. Many never emerge, however, and wallow in nihilism forever.

I would advise anyone who wants to take the plunge to do so with the utmost care, so the journey does not break you. Sylvanas, unfortunately, does not have time to lead Anduin through the ordeal by hand. His naive zealotry is a threat to her Horde. She needs to make him understand that the established order is wrong, that he is not seeing the world accurately, that life is pain and hope fails and they must embrace these truths.

She needs him to understand that now.

Sylvanas thought taking Teldrassil would be enough. She was wrong. Instead of taking it, she lights it on fire, watches it burn to ash before her. Her expression is zen. She is at peace.

Sylvanas understands.

Will Anduin?

Crossroads Conversations: Three Rules for Life

Biohacking!

The word conjures syringes, lab coats, and mad scientists doing sinister experiments on private islands beyond the reach of international law.

Not that those things aren’t awesome, but this week on the Crossroads podcast, Alaric talked about a simpler yet very powerful way to hack into your biology. You can alter your body chemistry with diet, sleep, and exercise.

That sounds like a cop-out. Aren’t we just wrapping canned health advice in a fancy label? We aren’t just being cute, though. Changing the way your body works by adopting certain habits is very much the same as hacking your body manually, and is usually more effective. For example, you can inject a compound into your body to produce a desired effect, such as heightened energy and wakefulness. The compound will decay and your body will go back to normal, or often suffer a withdrawal, causing you to suffer opposite effects before returning to normal.

On the other hand, you can train your body to create that compound naturally. To be fair, our bodies can’t create every compound, but you would be surprised at how many it can. For example, our bodies create cannabinoids when we eat certain foods, generating a buzz similar to when you smoke marijuana.

I’m not trying to dissuade you from looking into more advanced forms of biohacking. I for one am fascinated by the subject. The point is that there are very simple things you can do to achieve huge results, so it would be silly to jump to complicated methods for achieving very little before taking advantage of the low-hanging fruit.

With that, I present my three rules for life. I’m obsessed with self-improvement, but of everything I have learned, there are three decisions I believe will improve your life more than anything else. They are simple things anyone can do, but don’t mistake simple for easy.

Wake Up At 4:30 A.M. Each Morning

The actual time isn’t set in stone, but the majority of people will benefit by going to bed earlier and getting up earlier each day. The more time you move your sleep schedule back by, the greater the benefit. I settled on 4:30 as my goal time when I found out my two personal heroes, Amelia Boone and Jocko Willink, both set their alarms for that exact time. Maybe it’s arbitrary, but if two of the most productive people in the world do it, I’m not going to argue with it.

People talk about being morning people or night owls, and there’s probably something to that in terms of nurture. If you have already created a habit of doing productive stuff at night, that will overwrite your biology. That is, you definitely can be productive at night, but you’ve created a situation where your psychology and your body are working against each other.

Your physiological state changes throughout the day, so that no matter what habits you’ve set, your mind is primed to be most alert and analytical in the morning. The earlier you wake up, the more of the morning you are conscious for, so you spend more of your waking hours in a heightened mental state. At night, your physiology is trying to put you to sleep, even if you aren’t consciously aware of it–if you’ve already set the habit of working at night, you probably aren’t. You don’t feel sleepy, but that’s only because your brain is fighting to stay awake while your body fights to shut it down. This makes nighttime hours inherently inefficient, so you might as well sleep through them and get the benefit of a good night’s rest.

On that note, people need anywhere from six and a half to eight hours of sleep each night, depending on their physiology. If you are trying to get up at 4:30, like world-class performers do, you should be in bed by 10:00 by the latest, and the majority of people should be going to bed closer to 9:00.

Don’t Eat Carbs

I’ve been talking about the keto diet a lot lately, so I won’t rehash this one too much. The point is it’s more than just a diet choice. A lot of people use it to lose weight, and it can be effective for that, but the benefits of having a clear mind and consistent energy levels throughout the day are at least a powerful.

The keto diet is all-or-nothing, and is really more a lifestyle change than a diet. When you’re under your carb threshold, your body enters ketosis and you reap the benefits. If you eat more than 20 grams of carbs a day, more or less, you get none of the benefits. Eating 10 grams of carbs instead of 30 makes all the difference, but eating 30 grams instead of 200 makes no difference at all, at least in the context of entering ketosis.

That’s why I consider keto a form of biohacking, much like waking up earlier. When you maintain a no carb lifestyle, your body chemistry changes in a powerful way and functions at a different level all the time. With a more traditional diet, your body is still operating on the normal principle of storing fat and being lethargic, it’s just storing more or less fat depending on how much you eat.

Sleep is the same way. Waking up at 4:30 once in a while won’t change much. When you go to bed and wake up at consistent, early times each day, your circadian rhythms line up, and your brain starts to secrete chemicals that put you in an ideal productive state.

Exercise Every Day

I mentioned on the podcast once that I used to think I lived a sedentary lifestyle, because I didn’t realize most people consider walking an hour and a half carrying a heavy backpack each day to be exercise. Top performing athletes do preach the importance of rest days, but I think this gets misinterpreted. Having a rest day, for them, means making sure they don’t run five miles at least one or two days out of the week. It doesn’t mean you need to be a coach potato in order to recover.

Even if it’s just walking around the block, everyone should do some kind of movement every single day. If your at the point where walking around the block is heavy exercise for you, you might have to work up to this, but it should be the goal. More important than what you actually do, in my opinion, is the mental shift: exercise isn’t something you put on the to-do list and get out of the way. It’s a constant part of being alive. It’s a part that conflicts with the modern sedentary lifestyle, but a little can go a long way.

A lot of people subscribe to the mind-body-spirit concept. I certainly do. Even people who believe the mind, body, and spirit are all important, however, don’t seem to realize the parallels. The conventional wisdom is that your body is a resource that must be used sparingly. You can exercise a few times a week, but then you have to back off. To me, that’s the same as saying that because you solved a logic puzzle and meditated yesterday, you better refrain from thinking or feeling anything today. Sure, if you had a full day of difficult decision making and strenuous problem solving, the healthy thing to do would be to not exert your mind too much the next day. But do you need to refrain from talking to anybody for a day because the act of thinking up words might wreck your brain’s recovery?

If one of my rules had been to make sure you think or feel every day, you would have laughed. Why isn’t exercise every day equally obvious?

Crossroads Conversations: Ketosis

This week on Crossroads, Alaric talked at length about the infamous keto diet. Check out the upcoming podcast episode 5.5 for a scientific take on why the diet works, which he understands and explains far better than I could hope to. Today I’m going to talk about my own experience with the diet.

Trial by Fire

I’ve always been wary of fad diets, and when Alaric introduced me to the concept of ketosis, I was extremely skeptical. I think I only ended giving it a try because he presented it as a kind of experiment, in which I’d play the lab rat. Maybe it’s weird that that would be a positive spin for me. It probably comes down to me playing and reading the Witcher franchise way too much. I have a strange affinity for running experiments on myself.

Once I started the diet, and got through the initial keto flu, I was hooked. I’m not someone who needs or wants to lose any weight. I like to be active, but I’m not trying to break any Olympic records. There doesn’t seem to be much incentive for me to stick to such an extreme diet.

The feeling is my reward.

That’s why I’ve long given up trying to sell anyone on the diet. If you’re skeptical like I once was, fear not, this post isn’t going to end with any call to action or attempt to convert you. People like Alaric with a strong grasp of science can understand why the diet is beneficial, but to a layperson, I think it’s nearly impossible to explain why it’s worth it.

It’s the feeling of being alive. I would say more alive than normal, but I don’t think that’s right. I think being in ketosis is the feeling of being alive, and the feeling you get on a typical Western diet is the feeling of being rather less alive than is normal. There are little practical benefits, like clearer thinking and higher energy levels, but it all adds up to a simple feeling of vitality.

Once and Future Diet

I first got on the diet in 2016, and maintained a very strict no carb diet for about four months. After that I moved to Mexico, and things got a little more complicated. Though I’ve got on and off it in intervals since then, I’ve never repeated that golden four months of ketosis.

Inspired by Alaric’s segment on the recent podcast, I’ve decided to make another go at it. I won’t be as strict, at least not at first, for the same reasons I’ve been off of it most of the time I’ve lived in Mexico: I want to immerse myself in the culture of Mexico, which means eating non-keto foods from time to time.

My goal for now is to establish a baseline of eating zero-carb at home. Most days, I can cook my own breakfast and dinner at home while eating lunch out somewhere with Venezia. I’ll still opt for keto options if available, but I’m not going to make things difficult by being too draconian about what we can and can’t eat.

Normally people advise against a partial keto diet, at least at first. You’ll be putting in a lot of effort for vastly reduced rewards. I’m aware of that, but it’s what works best for me right now. I have an advantage in my abnormally quick metabolism, and I can compound that advantage by increasing the frequency and intensity of my workouts. Even if I have some carbs with lunch, an intense workout should go a long ways toward burning through the glucose and getting me back into a state of ketosis before too long.

The Crucible Method

My introduction to the keto diet occurred at an interesting time for me, and played a part in shaping who I am today in ways far greater than a dietary change typically would.

The summer I first tried the diet, I also took a spontaneous, solitary road trip up the West Coast of Canada. I’ll cover the trip in great detail sometime on Low Fantasy Adventure, but it was transformative in a number of ways. While journalling at a lonely campsite somewhere in the old growth forests of British Columbia one morning, I stumbled upon an idea that I’ve been refining to this day.

The Crucible Method is what I call my own personal method of self-improvement. I don’t know if I’ll ever write too much about it–there’s plenty of self-help books already, and as much as I love learning how to improve, I’m not much good at teaching it–but it’s served me well.

Originally, I was thinking about writing a book about the keto diet with Alaric. That never went far, but I’d been trying to figure out how to coach people through the fairly trying process of becoming keto adapted. The more I thought about it, the more I realized the process of getting on keto could actually be adapted as a universal process for dealing with just about anything in life.

My major revelation was that the keto flu is a feature, not a bug. It serves as an initiation rite of sorts, marking your transformation in a very real, physiological way. Though the keto flu is easier to notice than other transition pains, you face a very similar rite of passage when becoming “productivity adapted”, i.e. replacing bad habits with good ones, or becoming “morality adapted”, or learning to think of other people before yourself.

Instead of starting small and easy, you can jump into the crucible, burning away the dross in one short, however painful, ordeal. The beauty of the keto diet is that the beginning is brutally hard and then the rest of your life is easy. I’ll probably dive into this method in more depth later, but the basic formula is this:

Set the bar high at the beginning. Set it at the limit of what you think you can do, then move it a few rungs higher. Throw yourself into the challenge, suffer well, give it everything you have, and fail spectacularly. Then lower the bar a little, and accomplish what was once difficult with ease.

Crossroads Conversations: Building an Empire

This week has been a little shaky in terms of recording the Crossroads podcast. Normally this column would come out after the podcast, and would be a continuation of the conversation. Due to scheduling issues, Crossroads won’t finish recording until tomorrow.

My topic for this week is going to be this blog, and the six new columns I’ve recently debuted. I spent the past week introducing these columns. Now I’ll look ahead to their potential future.

Lock It In

I didn’t do it on purpose, but the columns I’m most sure about happen on the first two days of the week. This column, of course, has already been realized as it’s own independent project, the Crossroads Podcast. Going forward, we’ll continue getting more consistent with our streaming and publishing schedule, and I’ll get the show an actual RSS feed. Plus some theme music, and album art with a logo. Stuff like that.

Real Talk is my longest-running column, which makes sense. It’s the easiest one to keep up: I literally talk about whatever is on my mind for a thousand words or so. I could see Real Talk evolving into a vlog fairly easily. The only obstacles to that are time and a better webcam. A decent webcam doesn’t cost much these days, and I could easily find ten to twenty minutes a week to rant to a camera. No promises yet, but this is definitely something I could make happen.

That leaves the question of what to do with the Real Talk column. Do I talk about the same things in each, so people can consume it either as text or video? That’s the easiest option but doesn’t really appeal to me. It could be what this column is to Crossroads, a continuation of whatever I talk about. The problem is that on Crossroads I get feedback from Alaric which gives me new thoughts to talk about here.

Most likely, I would use time to my advantage. Real Talk happens on Monday, so I’d put the vlog on Friday. Then I can share what I’m thinking about at the beginning and end of the week, and set goals on Monday then talk about how they turned out on Friday.

Barriers to Entry

Again, not intentional, but the columns spanning the last three days of the week make up another category. I have clear ideas about how I could expand them, but the obstacles are larger.

My Living Let’s Play would, ideally, be supplemented by a live stream of each game I do. That should be easy to do–I’m devoting time to playing anyway, I just have to push a button to stream it. Unfortunately, my internet isn’t capable of producing a stream of watchable quality. I’m renting a room in a shared house, so upgrading the internet isn’t a plan. I would gladly do that if I could. I’m probably not moving any time soon, either.

The Witchtide Project is all about working toward an end goal: running and recording a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. We’ll get there one day, but first I have to build the campaign itself and recruit a couple more players. I could throw together a playable campaign tomorrow if I had to, but the whole idea is to create as polished an experience as I can. In other words, the barrier isn’t a fixed amount of time, but the amount of time it takes for me to feel like it’s ready.

Uncertain Paths

Finally, we have the columns that could grow into more but probably won’t anytime soon.

Low Fantasy Adventure is one of the columns I’m most excited about. The project it could become is insanely exciting, too. While the column reflects on past adventures, I could make videos out of my adventures going forward. I would love that, but the sheer production that would go into that, not to mention the cost of travelling regularly, means it will have to remain a dream until a later stage of my life. One where this whole crazy experiment actually brings in some money, for example.

The Stained Glass Gazette is a tricky one. I am happy with the approach I’m taking toward news and do enjoy talking about current events. That said, I’m still trying to figure out what unique value I can add that you can’t already get ten-thousand other places. Most likely I’d want to find several cohosts, creating a roundtable-style show with voices from different ends of the political spectrum.

Bonus Round

There’s one other project I’d like to add in the future, though it’s not necessarily related to any of my columns. I’ve been thinking for a while that it would be a good idea to create a newsletter for Desdenada, but haven’t quite figured out what would go in it.

It would have to be something that everyone who likes the site would be interested in, which is tricky, because my columns are so eclectic. Probably should have listened when people told me to establish a clear brand. Anyway, how can I appeal to people who only read the Witchtide Project because they like dungeons and dragons as well as people who only read Low Fantasy Adventure because they like travel?

I could look for one topic that encompasses everything, or I could just include everything. Like the blog itself, I could break it into segments, and include a little nugget of extra content related to each column every week.

This isn’t rhetorical; I actually haven’t decided yet. When I do, you’ll be the first to know!

Crossroads Conversations: The Tavern

I mentioned yesterday that the idea behind my new columns is that each could grow into its own independent project. Crossroads conversations is the exception: the Crossroads podcast came first and this column grew out of it.

Continuing the Conversation

If you already listen to the podcast, Crossroads Conversations will be the place to get a deeper look into the discussions had on the show. If you don’t listen, here’s where you can get some of that content in a much shorter format.

In the final segment of each week of Crossroads, Alaric and I each bring one topic and get a chance to lead the conversation on whatever is on our minds. There are no rules about what we can bring to the table, but because of who we are, Alaric’s segment tends to be about science, nutrition, and medicine while mine gravitates toward philosophy and big-yet-hazy-ideas.

We try not to discuss these topics beforehand. The upside is that we have an organic conversation on the podcast that, in my opinion, makes it the most interesting part of the show. On the other hand, when I reflect on the conversation later, I often find I have more to say.

I have a very limited understanding of the science Alaric talks about, so his segments are learning experiences for me. That’s great because I end up asking him the same questions that listeners probably would. Only later when I have processed and absorbed all this learning do I have anything intelligent to add to this conversation, so one of the functions of Crossroads Conversations will be to add my thoughts to Alaric’s topic of the week.

The other function is to expand on my own topic. I use my segment to talk about ideas or theories I have, asking Alaric to poke holes in my logic or help me work out the fuzzy details. I come out of the conversation with a much clearer idea of my own thoughts than I have going in. After reflecting on Alaric’s insights, I’ll lay out more polished versions of my ideas here.

An Evening at the Tavern

Since this week is all about introductions, I won’t actually be doing the above today. I’ve already explained the point of this column and still have about six-hundred words left to fill, so if you’ll indulge me, I’ll talk a little about the thematic ideas behind the Crossroads podcast.

I’ve always loved the lonely crossroads trope. Traditionally, the crossroads is a place to meet the devil, selling him your soul in exchange for you heart’s desire. Many ghost stories involve haunted crossroads, including some versions of La Malora, an old Mexican folk tale. It’s not hard to speculate about where these stories come from. A place in the middle of nowhere where all sorts of people are bound to run into each other? Some weird stuff is sure to happen there.

Now imagine a tavern at such a lonely crossroads, where travelers stop to rest on their way to far-off places. People who have no business ever meeting each other rub shoulders and share a drink. In such a place, you meet people from spheres you’ve never interacted with, and if you’re willing to listen, they might share their ideas with you.

These are ideas you’ve never heard before. Chances are nobody in your sphere has heard these ideas, either. That gives you an edge. At the same time, many of these ideas are going to make you uncomfortable. You’ve never met people who think this way. You didn’t think there were people who think this way. Part of you will want to excuse yourself, go to bed, and be on your way back to people who think the way you do at first light.

If you’re wise and brave, though, you’ll stay until the end. In the dark hours of the morning, when everyone is drunk and the cares of the real world seem a thousand hours away, something magical happens. People begin to really talk. To bare their souls. After a night of debating radically different ideas and viewpoints, you realize that the deepest, darkest parts of each person are exactly the same.

The aim of Crossroads is to capture that magic. By exploring the radically different, we discover what makes us radically the same.

The Road Ahead

Now, in no particular order, is a list of topics I plan to cover in future editions of both the podcast and this column. If any of them sound particularly interesting to you, let me know and I’ll try to address it sooner!

  • Transcendental Capitalism: why I think capitalism is not a movement or an ideology but a physical and inevitable manifestation of the human condition
  • Norse Mythology: why giants are not big, dwarves are not small, and the entire fantasy genre is based on a lie
  • The Crucible Method: a self-improvement system I designed for myself, built on a foundation of pain and failure
  • The Importance of Aesthetic: why everything we consider shallow might be key to our happiness and survival
  • Core Values Remastered: my continuing struggle to define Desdenada’s Core Values, building on our conversation in the first episode of Crossroads
  • Favorite Philosophers: a crash course on the thinkers and ideas who continue to shape my life
  • Favorite Podcasts: a breakdown of the voices I spend an inordinate amount of my time listening to
  • Hall of Heroes: the contemporaries I follow and strive to emulate and what each has taught me
  • Hall of Legends: those who are no longer with us yet whose legacy provides lasting value for us all
  • Apps and Tools: the rare tools I’ve found that actually simplify my life instead of adding unnecessary complexity
  • Anticipation: my system for ensuring the future is always bright and I’m always excited for the days to come
  • Literary Étude: my bizarre technique for infusing my writing with the essence of my favorite authors while creating something fresh and original
  • Skyrim Life Skills: an effective self-improvement gamification system I came up with after sinking untold hours into the Elder Scrolls V

Of course, that’s only half the story. Who knows what topics Alaric will come up with in the intervening weeks, and the conversations they’ll inspire!