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Confronting your fears: The difference between true heroism and blind violence

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  • Confronting your fears: The difference between true heroism and blind violence

    We've devoted a great many words to arguing about Heroes and each time I've come away unsatisfied and more certain than ever that something is still missing. Beast talks about high integrity Heroes who don't hunt, and hints that things were different once, long ago, but I've never gotten a good feel for what that was actually like. What would a healthier approach look like? How would it play out?

    Trying to figure that out my first step is to look at Beasts and figure out how they fit into humanity. Heroes are reactive, responding to the presence Beasts, so understanding the function of the former necessitates understanding the function of the latter first. Beasts, despite their outsider and designated villain status are very much of humanity. Not just the mortal host, the Horror too. Horrors are born from human fears, they are indelibly stamped in the image of humanity's psyche. The mere existence of a Beast is enough to tell us that something has scared enough people deeply enough to create a psychic imprint. They exist as a symptom, a warning that hey, this thing is a problem and we should address it so it doesn't keep happening or get worse.

    That thought leads me pretty directly to thinking about common real world fears and a couple of specific examples that I have personal experience with. People seem to be predisposed to be scared of snakes and spiders. It makes sense as a survival trait; many of these critters are dangerously venomous and lacking specific knowledge of how to tell them apart a tendency to avoid them altogether probably leads to a longer life. It also leads to a lot of unnecessary panic.

    When I was quite young I found a copperhead in a pile of rocks that neighborhood kids liked to play on. It didn't bite me or even try, I just happened to spot it and knew what it was because my mom sent me to every local nature program she could. I showed it to her, and she called some neighbors to alert them that there was a venomous snake that needed to be removed. Rather than calling animal control one of them decided to douse the whole rock pile in gasoline and light it on fire.

    A few years later we were on an educational tour in the Peruvian Amazon with some really brilliant scientists, in particular one Randy C. Morgan, a world class entomologist. I was scared to go to the latrines at night because you could see hundreds of little tarantula eyes reflecting the torchlight, waiting at the entrances of their burrows to pounce on wandering insects. When I told him about it he told me not to be afraid because they were far more scared of me and would retreat deep into the burrow to hide if I got too close. And to prove it he stuck his whole hand in a burrow right in front of me and pulled it out unharmed! The next day he actually caught a wild one and brought it to a lecture. He taught us a bunch of cool facts about them and told us that while they did have large fangs and mild venom a tarantula bite wasn't any worse than a bee sting, and in years of handling them the only 'bite' he'd received was one time where he was prying the fangs open to show some students and stabbed himself in the finger.

    Later that week when I woke up to find a tarantula on the mosquito netting a foot above my face I wasn't scared at all. It wasn't there to get me. It didn't want anything to do with me at all. We alerted the guides and one of them swept it outside with a broom.

    The juxtaposition of those events sticks with me. The first man reacted violently, dangerously, and illegally to a snake that happened to be in the wrong place. It was a potential threat to children, sure, but it could have been relocated. In the Amazon we were surrounded by a much larger variety of potentially dangerous creatures, but we felt safe because our guides were incredibly knowledgable and we took reasonable precautions. The beds were all surrounded with mosquito netting, there was antivenom in the medicine supply. Nobody needed it on the two week trip but it was there. They didn't have to kill all, or any, of those animals to keep us safe.

    I try to live my life by the second example. I know what the venomous animals in my area look like (it's easy, copperheads and black widows are pretty distinctive) and where they like to nest, and I avoid touching them. I work in people's backyards and I end up handling a fair amount of snakes. Copperheads I catch with a net, but everything else I know is safe to pick up with my bare hands. People sometimes call me brave, or crazy, but it's really just that knowing what's safe and what's not gives me the confidence to act accordingly. I can grab a five foot black snake because I know that I can hold it behind the head and it won't be able to bite (and if I mess up teeth meant for swallowing mice don't damage a human hand very much) and the worst it's going to do is release a foul smelling musk to make me think it's rotting and not safe to eat. Once they realize you're warm and not trying to eat them they're usually pretty content to curl up and absorb body heat.

    Showing people by example doesn't always make them confident to catch snakes on their own, but it usually helps them relax and realize the snake is not something they need to be scared of and try to kill.

    I think that might be the difference between what most Heroes are and what they could be. They're mostly like the first guy, seeing a threat and deciding to terminate it in a giant fire, and they'll start fires they can't control in their zeal to kill monsters. They're the ones equipped to go out and learn and bring that knowledge back to enable people to safely avoid or live alongside danger, but they waste it all in a blind drive to destroy the threats instead.

  • Wormwood
    replied
    Originally posted by HelmsDerp View Post
    We've devoted a great many words to arguing about Heroes and each time I've come away unsatisfied and more certain than ever that something is still missing. Beast talks about high integrity Heroes who don't hunt, and hints that things were different once, long ago, but I've never gotten a good feel for what that was actually like. What would a healthier approach look like? How would it play out?

    Trying to figure that out my first step is to look at Beasts and figure out how they fit into humanity. Heroes are reactive, responding to the presence Beasts, so understanding the function of the former necessitates understanding the function of the latter first. Beasts, despite their outsider and designated villain status are very much of humanity. Not just the mortal host, the Horror too. Horrors are born from human fears, they are indelibly stamped in the image of humanity's psyche. The mere existence of a Beast is enough to tell us that something has scared enough people deeply enough to create a psychic imprint. They exist as a symptom, a warning that hey, this thing is a problem and we should address it so it doesn't keep happening or get worse.

    That thought leads me pretty directly to thinking about common real world fears and a couple of specific examples that I have personal experience with. People seem to be predisposed to be scared of snakes and spiders. It makes sense as a survival trait; many of these critters are dangerously venomous and lacking specific knowledge of how to tell them apart a tendency to avoid them altogether probably leads to a longer life. It also leads to a lot of unnecessary panic.

    When I was quite young I found a copperhead in a pile of rocks that neighborhood kids liked to play on. It didn't bite me or even try, I just happened to spot it and knew what it was because my mom sent me to every local nature program she could. I showed it to her, and she called some neighbors to alert them that there was a venomous snake that needed to be removed. Rather than calling animal control one of them decided to douse the whole rock pile in gasoline and light it on fire.

    A few years later we were on an educational tour in the Peruvian Amazon with some really brilliant scientists, in particular one Randy C. Morgan, a world class entomologist. I was scared to go to the latrines at night because you could see hundreds of little tarantula eyes reflecting the torchlight, waiting at the entrances of their burrows to pounce on wandering insects. When I told him about it he told me not to be afraid because they were far more scared of me and would retreat deep into the burrow to hide if I got too close. And to prove it he stuck his whole hand in a burrow right in front of me and pulled it out unharmed! The next day he actually caught a wild one and brought it to a lecture. He taught us a bunch of cool facts about them and told us that while they did have large fangs and mild venom a tarantula bite wasn't any worse than a bee sting, and in years of handling them the only 'bite' he'd received was one time where he was prying the fangs open to show some students and stabbed himself in the finger.

    Later that week when I woke up to find a tarantula on the mosquito netting a foot above my face I wasn't scared at all. It wasn't there to get me. It didn't want anything to do with me at all. We alerted the guides and one of them swept it outside with a broom.

    The juxtaposition of those events sticks with me. The first man reacted violently, dangerously, and illegally to a snake that happened to be in the wrong place. It was a potential threat to children, sure, but it could have been relocated. In the Amazon we were surrounded by a much larger variety of potentially dangerous creatures, but we felt safe because our guides were incredibly knowledgable and we took reasonable precautions. The beds were all surrounded with mosquito netting, there was antivenom in the medicine supply. Nobody needed it on the two week trip but it was there. They didn't have to kill all, or any, of those animals to keep us safe.

    I try to live my life by the second example. I know what the venomous animals in my area look like (it's easy, copperheads and black widows are pretty distinctive) and where they like to nest, and I avoid touching them. I work in people's backyards and I end up handling a fair amount of snakes. Copperheads I catch with a net, but everything else I know is safe to pick up with my bare hands. People sometimes call me brave, or crazy, but it's really just that knowing what's safe and what's not gives me the confidence to act accordingly. I can grab a five foot black snake because I know that I can hold it behind the head and it won't be able to bite (and if I mess up teeth meant for swallowing mice don't damage a human hand very much) and the worst it's going to do is release a foul smelling musk to make me think it's rotting and not safe to eat. Once they realize you're warm and not trying to eat them they're usually pretty content to curl up and absorb body heat.

    Showing people by example doesn't always make them confident to catch snakes on their own, but it usually helps them relax and realize the snake is not something they need to be scared of and try to kill.

    I think that might be the difference between what most Heroes are and what they could be. They're mostly like the first guy, seeing a threat and deciding to terminate it in a giant fire, and they'll start fires they can't control in their zeal to kill monsters. They're the ones equipped to go out and learn and bring that knowledge back to enable people to safely avoid or live alongside danger, but they waste it all in a blind drive to destroy the threats instead.

    First of all, thanks for sharing your experiences!
    Second, this encapsulates something that was bothering me about Heroes, too, so perfectly and, in retrospect, obviously, I am amazed I wasn't able to notice it earlier.
    And I can already see this seed of insight grow into plot hooks, NPC ideas and discussion prompters. Thank you!

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  • Satchel
    replied
    Very good stories.

    You may find Dark Eras 2's Hunger in the Black Land at least somewhat useful for a look at what Heroes used to be; the Oracles there provide a mechanical adjustment to the "template" amid an environment where the local Beasts are being driven to extremes of Hunger and the messages of the Dream are getting unclearer as time goes on.

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