The story I’m about to relate to you is all true in every detail, except for the name of the Man himself. Although some of his deeds described below are a matter of public record, I will keep his real name out of it so that the first hand account I can offer is not easily searched online. This sorry tale reminds me of some of the Sagas of old. The events themselves may not be as dramatic (most of them, anyway) but it touches on many similar themes, looking at things through my Heathen lens, I think there is a biting commentary on modern life and values contained within. But I’ll save my opinions to the end, and for now will simply tell the Saga of Steve* (*not his real name. Gosh, that makes it exciting already, doesn’t it?) This is a Saga of two parts. The first is kind of mundane, but sets the scene and character, and things really (almost literally) explode in the second part.
I first met Steve about six years ago when I moved to a new district. Our daughters were in the same class at school and it turned out we shared a rather niche interest: miniature wargaming. If you’ve ever felt uncomfortable telling people you’re a Heathen or other religious minority, try telling them you an adult who plays with toy soldiers! Wargaming is a severely nerdy, slightly obsessive hobby that involves playing complex, long winded games with highly detailed miniatures that cost a small fortune and require a lot of time and effort to assemble and paint. It appeals mainly to middle-aged men or teen age boys (most people have a break in their 20’s, as wargaming is not conducive to attracting a life partner) who enjoy history, modelling, and strategy-type games that engage over-active brains.
It is also a hobby that attracts more than its fair of people with limited social skills. Steve turned out to be one of those, in a slow burning kind of way. Most of the time he was an affable guy. He had a good job, wife and two kids, nice house, and was excellent at painting and building models from scratch. He made things that could be used in museum displays or films. But he was also a frustrated guy. When it came to playing the actual game, he exhibited many traits you would find in a toddler, eg: his ambitions exceeded his abilities, he was emotionally unstable, and he lacked self-awareness. You see, while wargaming is a genteel past time heavily populated by geeky white dudes, it is also highly competitive. There are organised tournaments, ranking systems, rivalries and everything that goes with a cut-throat actual sport. Steve wanted to be good. But he wasn’t.
He said he just enjoyed the painting and all the other fluff, but that wasn’t true at all. He desperately wanted to be a top level player, crushing all before him as he lived out his suburban dreams of world domination. When it came to the particular game that we were playing at that time, I was considerably better at it than he was. Nothing special, but a solid competitive player with some decent results and wins against many of the top players. Steve would pick my brains incessantly, emailing me several times each day when he should have been working, bemoaning his lack of success and espousing all manner of theories on how he could turn the tide of miniature warfare.
I helped Steve. I helped him a lot. It benefited neither of us to keep having one-sided games. So I spent a lot of time trying to improve his game. He’s a smart guy, and on an intellectual level he could understand what he needed to do. His real problem was emotional. Whenever he felt a little bit of pressure, he would fold like a deck chair and all logic and reason and sound decision making would leave him. He would work himself into a right state, and make the same stupid mistakes he always made. But then, after a few days of feeling sorry for himself, his lack of self-awareness would take over and he was back, manic as ever and ready to battle his way to the top.
I got a bit sick of all this. The mood swings, the demands on my time, the tantrums and literal toy throwing that would occur when he brought about yet another self-inflicted defeat. I tried to play with Steve less. I suggested playing different games, ones that weren’t so competitive and that he knew better than me. But Steve was nothing if not persistent. He wanted to keep banging his head against that same brick wall.
One night, the inevitable happened, the event that I had been trying to head off. Steve took one beat down too many and finally snapped. His tantrum got personal, and I was the target. He didn’t get threatening or anything, but I kept one eye on him and one hand free as I calmly packed up and went home. I gave him a couple of days to cool off before emailing him. I told him if he was going to behave like that I wasn’t going to spend any more time with him. Well, that set him right off! I received a lengthy tirade in reply, that was so over the top I actually had to laugh. Steve demonstrated beyond all doubt that he had the emotional maturity of a five year old.
I didn’t see him again for some time, about a year I think. Word got round about his little melt down and I think it slowly dawned on him that perhaps he was the dick bag in this specific scenario. He tried to paint me as some sort of bully, but he forgot that all the people he was telling knew me, and knew him as well. He burned his own reputation. In fact, he even had the dubious honour of becoming a verb among the gaming community. For a long time, having an emotionally fuelled loss of self-possession was known as “Steve-ing it up”.
Awkwardly, our kids were still friends, our wives too. His wife was quite embarrassed by his behaviour. Eventually, she made him try and patch things up. He couldn’t bring himself to actually apologise for his actions, but I made an effort to show there were no hard feelings for the greater good. If there weren’t other people involved, I would have told him to get fucked. Life may be too short to hold a grudge, but it is also too short to spend time facilitating poor behaviour from self absorbed assholes.
Anyway, things were smoothed over for appearances sake, and I just drifted away from him. I had no respect for him any more. I didn’t hate the guy, and I would stop and say hello if we ran into each other, but I didn’t see any point in pursuing a friendship with him. I viewed him as a person of weak character. He also started his own business, which took up a lot of his time. Eventually, the happy time arrived when I didn’t see or hear from him at all. His kids went to a different school once they reached a certain age, and my life was a Steve-free zone.
Now for the juicy part. Fast forward a couple of years to the present day. A few weeks ago, my wife saw Steve’s wife’s car parked outside the District Court, which is near my wife’s work place. That’s not necessarily sinister in itself, but it was unusual for them to be out of town. Last week, I was reading the local paper and all was revealed.
Steve had been in court in relation to an incident that happened in August last year. A neighbour of his had been having a party, and Steve wasn’t happy about the noise level. Apparently, this had been occurring on and off for the past five years. Steve’s wife had gone over to have a word about it, with no success. Noise control was called out, and they deemed the noise to not be excessive. Steve wasn’t accepting this. In a fit of temper, he marched over to the neighbour’s house with a can of petrol and a box of matches. He threatened to burn the house down, and when the owner came out to confront him, Steve poured petrol over him, soaking him from head to toe. It took two men to restrain him until police arrived. How far he would have gone if he wasn’t physically stopped, I have no idea. I wouldn’t rule anything out.
He was initially charged with attempted arson, but it was later amended to assault and threatening to damage property. Initially, he was going to ask for a discharge without conviction, but on legal advice he pleaded guilty and was given 120 hours community service. I don’t think judges respond well to such brazen cheek! The judge also noted this was a “significant fall from grace”. Steve is also self-employed in an occupation that requires operators to be registered. I don’t know if his convictions will impact his registration, but at the very least he will probably never be able to legally own a gun in this country.
So, what to make of all this? Let me refer back to the title of this post, and address each of those themes, beginning with Frith. This whole Saga, like many others, is about what happens when Frith is broken. Steve himself clearly has little regard for maintaining the Frith of the community. Discussing this episode with people who know him, many other examples of Frith breaking have emerged. I won’t bore you with all the details, but they paint a pretty clear picture of a narcissistic individual with a strong sense of entitlement. He doesn’t seem to think the rules apply to him if those rules aren’t in his favour. His neighbour is also culpable to some extent in this. He may have been within his legal rights to have a noisy party, but knowing that it was disturbing the people next door, perhaps he could have been more considerate also. It’s hard to say without actually being there. But what is easy to say is that when we stop making an effort to maintain Frith, shit can go south quite rapidly.
Honour and Justice are quite closely bound together. Ancient Heathen concepts of justice are centred firmly on the honour of the aggrieved party. Justice back in the day was not really about punishing the wrong doer, but more about restoring the honour of those who felt they had been wronged (if you want to learn more about this, I highly recommend The Culture Of The Teutons). In a modern context, this approach creates more problems than it solves. Modern justice has a stronger focus on the offender and their punishment or restoration to the community. Victims are often neglected, and can frequently be left feeling like no restitution has been made to them.
This feeling can permeate through life and society, and people like Steve are a result of this. They do not want the modern legal concept of justice. They want revenge. They want honour. They don’t just want punishment to be dealt, they want to be the one dealing it out so they can feel some satisfaction. I can understand that, but I can also appreciate that that approach to conflict resolution does not work very well in large communities. We need laws, and we need to respect them. Sometimes, that means we have to suck it up when we don’t get what we want. We can’t appeal to the law and then take it it into our own hands when we don’t get the answer we want. Steve is a great example of this. He tried to resolve his issue with his neighbour through the proper channels, but he could not accept the decision reached by those authorities. So, he decided he was above the law and acted as he saw fit. His wish to appeal for discharge without conviction further underscored this attitude. Despite facing serious criminal charges, he still thought he was right to do what he had done and should not face any consequences. If he had any sense about him, he would thank his lawyer for persuading him against that course of action. I’m not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure pissing off the judge with a haughty attitude is not a good court room strategy!
Which brings us to rage. Rage is a modern epidemic. Mass shootings, domestic violence, random assaults and road rage have become sadly common place. I think rage should be distinguished from anger. Anger can be motivating. Anger can inspire us to overcome fear and do things that need to be done. Rage is the ugly side of anger, the side where the rational brain takes full leave and the primal surge of emotion takes over. Acting out of rage very rarely yields a good outcome for anyone involved. I have no doubt that Steve was acting out of rage when he poured petrol over his neighbour and threatened him. What if he had set the house on fire, or his neighbour? Would even he, a narcissistic and entitled individual, have been able to reconcile those actions in his mind?
Lots of us fantasise about taking extreme actions. Very few of us actually try and carry them out. Hopefully, even fewer of us feel afterwards that we should get away with it without consequence. Steve has, pardon the pun, scorched his reputation. Far from being seen as a victim in all of this, everyone I have spoken to now views him with scorn and wishes to keep a wide berth. His wife and kids will carry this with them too. The neighbour and his family have moved house. His children were terrified, which is understandable. They could easily have gone up in smoke.
What can we learn from all of this? The key thing I would take from it is this: life is about compromise. Shit happens, and assholes get away with stuff. But we can’t go around playing judge, jury and executioner. As evolved beings, we have a responsibility to stay in control, and take full responsibility for our actions. If you’re not prepared to follow through with it and deal with the aftermath, don’t go over to your neighbour’s house and try to set him on fire. Keeping Frith is not easy, and sometimes we have to bite our tongues and sit on our hands. In a society where the right to individual honour has been taken away to a large extent, we must accept that maintaining self-control is the most common fight we will have.