Category Archives: Current Events

When “Thoughts And Prayers” Becomes A Lousy Excuse

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Whenever there’s a major tragedy in the world, there’s only so much you can do. Unless you’re a rescue worker, a doctor, an EMT, a solider, a police officer, or someone who actively participates in providing aid and resources to those effected, all you can really do is mourn for those who suffered.

It’s not just sad. It’s heart-wrenching. Most people have a sense of empathy to their fellow human. When we see or hear about somebody suffering, a part of us feels it too. It’s one of those critical elements of our humanity that often brings out the best in us. It’s part of why I believe that most people are inherently good.

Then, a mass shooting happens and my faith in humanity gets tested/strained. As I write this, the story surrounding the Parkland mass shooting in Florida is still unfolding. So far, 17 people are confirmed dead and the shooter has been identified. However, I refuse to write or say his name. Assholes like him don’t deserve the attention and recognition.

This is a horrific event and it’s not the first one I’ve talked about on this blog. Usually, I make an effort to highlight the more hopeful elements hidden within these events. This latest shooting has them too. The heroic actions of Aaron Feis, who sacrificed his life to save others, are certainly worth noting.

However, there is one element to these mass shootings that is as predictable as it is frustrating. It seems to come moments after the news breaks of the carnage. As people are suffering and dying from these horrific crimes, there’s an outpouring of “thoughts and prayers” from the public. I put that in quotes because at this point, it’s less a sentiment and more an overplayed meme.

The Parkland shooting was no exception. Media figures and policymakers alike are already getting in line to send their “thoughts and prayers” to the community and the victims. I don’t doubt that some of that sentiment is sincere. However, when the response is that predictable, it just becomes empty rhetoric. It’s so empty, at this point, that even shows like “Bojack Horseman” joke about it.

I understand, to some extent, why people express these sentiments. The world is a big, chaotic place and there are 7.6 billion people living on it. When something terrible happens, there’s only so much anyone can do. In fact, most people aren’t really in a position to do anything and that’s a terrible feeling.

As I said earlier, human beings are empathetic creatures. Most people aren’t sociopaths who feel nothing when their fellow human suffers. They see someone suffering and that natural empathy that all social creatures feel compels us to do something. Not doing something is just untenable.

That leads us to resort to things like “thoughts and prayers.” It offers the same shallow sentiment as virtue signaling. Instead of actually doing something meaningful in the face of tragedy, it just gives us the illusion of contributing. “Thoughts and payers” don’t make for any meaningful effort. It’s just a quick and easy recourse that alleviates that untenable feeling.

Again, I don’t blame people for taking that recourse. Someone who uses that approach isn’t inherently a bad person. They’re just exercising their empathetic sentiment in the most convenient form possible. That’s understandable, even if it’s still empty.

There are, after all, more meaningful ways to show support. That includes donating to the Red Cross, who are usually first on the scene in such tragedies. It can also include donating to relief programs, like the one J. J. Watt created to help victims of Hurricane Harvey last year. Those efforts are small, but they do provide tangible help.

However, the whole “thoughts and prayers” mantra becomes a lot less genuine when people use it as an excuse to avoid more complicated issues. This often happens whenever political figures send their “thoughts and prayers” to victims of mass shootings.

Now, I don’t want to get into a protracted debate about gun control. That’s a debate that nobody wins in the long run. However, when people sending “thoughts and prayers” to shooting victims also happen to be getting huge contributions from the National Rifle Association, that really undermines the sentiment.

In that situation, “thoughts and prayers” aren’t just empty. It’s somewhat insulting. People in those positions, be they in government or in pop culture, are in a position to do much more than just offer meaningless gestures. It doesn’t have to involve gun control laws or condemning everyone who has ever owned a gun.

It can be something akin to promoting greater awareness of mental health for youth, which is a thing. It can involve paying off all the medical expenses of the victims. It can even involve something symbolic, like helping create a monument to the victims, as has been done with other mass shootings. Symbolic or not, a monument is more tangible than any amount of “thoughts and prayers.”

At a certain point, when someone has a level of power and influence that the vast majority of people don’t, the use of “thoughts and prayers” to respond to a tragedy becomes more of an excuse than a sentiment. It’s not just the least amount of effort anyone can do to create the impression that they’re doing something meaningful. It’s a means of avoiding actual, tangible effort.

That’s where the concept of “thoughts and prayers” really loses credibility. It’s a sentiment that seems to be losing favor with the public, who are less and less inclined to accept this tired excuse from those who are actually capable of doing more. It may not lead to gun control laws, but it may send the message that “thoughts and prayers” just aren’t going to cut it anymore.

At the end of the day, most people aren’t in a position to do much of anything about a horrific tragedy like the one in Parkland. They couldn’t have prevented it, predicted it, or fixed the situation completely after it happened. Most people can only take in the tragedy, process it in their own way, and hopefully learn from it to prevent future tragedies.

For others, especially those in positions of power and influence, “thoughts and prayers” can’t be an excuse. There’s still a place for that kind of sentiment, but only if there’s something tangible attached to it. We don’t know if the incident at Parkland will lead to meaningful change, but one thing is clear. That change will require much more than mere thoughts and prayers.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, Reasons and Excuses

Boredom Vs. A Lack Of Belonging: Which Drives Outrage Culture More?

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Here’s a quick non-rhetorical question. Which is worse, crippling boredom or social isolation? There’s no right answer, but every answer has distressing implications. More than anything else, those answers reinforce why solitary confinement is rightly considered torture.

I ask that question because I had an interesting conversation with someone on Reddit about what drives certain people to be constantly outraged about whatever happens to be controversial that day. I’ve talked a bit about outrage culture before and how professional trolls exploit them, but I haven’t really dug into the mechanisms behind it. Given how new controversies seem to trend every day, I think it’s worth scrutinizing.

In the discussion, I singled out boredom as a possibly underrated factor. Having highlighted the power of crippling boredom, I felt qualified to make the case that boredom may very well be an understated, under-appreciated cause. I still feel there’s a case to be made.

In the grand scheme of things, humanity is in uncharted territory when it comes to boredom. For most of human history, we had to live our lives under the constant threat of plague, famine, war, and natural disasters. Whether we were hunter/gatherers or subsistence farmers, life was chaotic and unpredictable.

Say what you will about those harsh, pre-modern eras, but they weren’t boring. They couldn’t be. There was always work to do. Given the lack of effective birth control, there were children to raise. Even if social media had existed 100 years ago, who would have the time or energy to even be outraged about a man wearing a sexist shirt.

Fast forward to the 21st century and things like war, famine, disease, and crippling poverty are all in decline. This is objectively good on so many ways, but for some people, especially in well-to-do middle class people, it leaves a large void that quickly becomes boring if not filled with something. Sometimes, it can get so bad that it can lead to outright murder.

When I made this argument, I think more than a few people took it seriously on Reddit. It was easy to see how someone whose life is so affluent and devoid of heart-pounding conflict that they will latch onto petty outrages just so they can feel something. Like someone stuck in solitary confinement, they’ll do anything for some sort of stimulation beyond counting the tiles on the floor.

Given how our brains can’t always discern the source of arousal, sometimes it’ll settle for whatever adrenaline rush we get from righteous outraged. Some go so far as to call the rush we get from outrage an addiction and it’s not a wholly inaccurate idea.

However, one person in that discussion pointed another element that also relies on that part of the brain that can’t always discern what gets it aroused. Instead of combating boredom, though, this issue deals with our inherent need to join a group and become part of a larger movement.

It’s very much an extension of tribalism and, like seeking stimulation when there is none, human beings are well-equipped by evolutionary biology to form groups. Whether we’re a small band of hunter/gatherers or a group of Taylor Swift fans, it doesn’t take much for us to form those groups and our brains reward us greatly.

Being part of a group feels good. Being part of something gives us a rush. It’s a major reason why peer pressure works and why tribalism often overrules reason. That solidarity we feel when we’re part of a group isn’t just intoxicating. It’s a fundamental component of any highly social species, which includes humans.

What this means for those constantly outrage isn’t that far off from the implications relating to boredom. Like boredom, our current society is pretty unprecedented in terms of how easy it is to form a close-nit group and share in that solidarity that has been driving our species since the hunter/gatherer days.

Thanks to social media and mass communication, it’s possible for people to do more than just share their opinions, no matter how outrageous they might be. It’s also possible to connect with those who either share in those opinions or despise them. In terms of forming a tribe, it’s a two-for-one-deal because it creates both a sense of “us” while revealing a “them” to rally against.

For anyone who has spent any amount of time on social media, it doesn’t take much to see the whole us versus them mentality to take shape. If any amount of disagreement goes on long enough, Godwin’s Law usually takes over and the battle lines are set.

On top of this, the social issues in 2018 aren’t quite nearly as clear-cut as they were in decades past. In the past, there were some pretty egregious injustices surrounding civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights that required major social movements to combat. By and large, society has done a lot to improve the state for these marginalized groups.

There’s no question that being part of such righteous movements is laudable. We, as a society, rightly praise civil rights leaders who stand for such righteous causes. Naturally, some people seek to emulate that. Whether by ego or altruism, it’s only natural that they want to experience that kind of accomplishment.

Thanks to the sheer breadth of human progress, though, there causes on the levels faced by Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi. However, because that drive to be part of a movement is just that strong, those same people will settle for pettier movements that protest sexy women in video games or bemoan the lack of diversity in old TV shows like “Friends.”

Make no mistake. Those outrages are petty and asinine when compared to the real injustices that past social movements have fought, but the brains of the outraged can’t tell the difference. From their perspective, their movement is every bit as righteous as every other civil rights movement in history. The outrage they express and the solidarity they feel is every bit as fulfilling as something that alleviates boredom.

Even if these causes are petty and the outrage is shallow, it’s important to note the alternative here. If these same people who protest the lack of diversity in the tech industry didn’t have this sort of thing to drive them, then what would happen to the group they’d formed?

Absent that outrage and protest, the group has nothing to rally behind. The person has nothing provoking arousal, be it anger or excitement. Without this dynamic, they don’t belong to something bigger anymore. They’re not the ones marching alongside famous civil rights leaders of the past. They’re just alone, by themselves, contributing nothing of value.

For many people, that’s just untenable. I would go so far as to say it’s almost as untenable as crippling boredom. Even self-proclaimed introverts and ardent individualists, we seek an identity and a constant source of stimulation. When we lack one or both, we lack a core element of any social species. In the same way we’re driven to meet the rest of our basic needs, we’ll be driven to find that somewhere, no matter how misguided.

In the past, we might have found that sense of belonging and purpose through our small communities or organized religion. Today, the world is much bigger and more diverse, thanks to technology and civilization. Organized religion is also not effective anymore due to factors too numerous to list. People are still going to seek belonging.

It’s somewhat ironic that civilization has advanced to such a degree that there aren’t as many clear-cut, good versus evil movements to be part of anymore. However, there’s still this longing to be the hero of our own story and be part of something greater, even if it means actually going out of their way to feel outraged.

Getting back to the initial question I posed, I think the influence of boredom and belonging are inherently linked. We agonize over escaping boredom and over having a sense of belonging. We can’t get that same rush our ancestors felt when surviving bear attacks and hunger so we’ll settle for whining about protests during football games. It’s still annoyingly petty, but distressingly understandable.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, Reasons and Excuses, War on Boredom

Natural Contraceptive App Blamed For Unplanned Pregnancies (As Expected)

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There’s no question that advances in contraception have had a profound impact on our society. Some applaud it. Some resent it. Either way, there’s no uninventing it. Contraception, be it male or female, is a big part of our society and further advances promise to have an even bigger impact.

I’ve talked about the future of contraception before, as well as the potential impacts of those advances. There are a lot of things in development, as I write this, that men and women alike should get excited about. Between better IUDs and more birth control options for men, we’re quickly entering an age where we have unprecedented control over our fertility.

It’s for that very reason that it’s necessary to take a step back and remind ourselves of the existing flaws we have with the current state of contraception. There’s a reason why those advances I mentioned are in development to begin with. What we have now is pretty good, relative to older, more archaic forms of birth control. However, there are a few shortcomings that tend to lead to dramatic, albeit predictable failures.

One of those shortcomings/failures made the news recently and left several dozen women very disappointed, to say the least. According to a story from TheVerge, a recently-developed contraceptive app called Natural Cycles is being blamed for 37 unwanted pregnancies. Anyone who knows anything about pregnancy, female biology, and nature in general probably isn’t surprised.

That’s because the app in question basically made something like this inevitable. According to the article, the Natural Cycles app is supposed to help women who rely on more natural family planning methods. In terms of the actual process, these are the basics:

The app uses an algorithm and measures factors like temperature to determine the period when a woman may be fertile. It’s a popular alternative to hormonal contraceptives like the pill because it lacks side effects.

It’s pretty basic, but the principle makes sense on paper and isn’t based on radically new ideas. The concept of a woman tracking her fertility to determine the times of month when she’s most likely to conceive a child is fairly well-known. It’s most commonly called the “Rhythm Method” and according to the Mayo Clinic, it takes a lot of preparation.

To use this method, a woman needs actively track her menstrual cycle, accurately determine the parts of that cycle where she’s most fertile, and plan her sexual activity around those time-frames. It takes a great deal of physical awareness, as well as a certain measure of discipline, which some people are better at than others.

The Natural Cycles app is supposed to supplement those principles by aiding in that tracking process. It even tries to provide the woman with more data so that she has a better understanding of her body while tracking her cycle. In theory, having perfect knowledge of her biology will ensure a woman knows when she is or isn’t fertile.

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It’s that exact theory, however, that makes this news about a surge in unplanned pregnancies so unsurprising. There’s a good reason why this sort of approach to contraception is rarely practiced by anyone other than committed couples and is often discouraged as a general form of contraception.

As with so many other theories, the actual practice of the method doesn’t always work in the real world. That’s because the real world is a lot more chaotic, varied, and unpredictable than concepts on a piece of paper. That applies even more to human biology, male and female.

Now, the appeal of natural family planning like the one Natural Cycles promotes is undeniable. You don’t need to take a pill. You don’t need to have something inserted into your body. Plus, it gives you a chance to really know and understand the workings of your body. For both sexual health and general health, that’s has many benefits.

Unfortunately, the human body is not known for being that transparent. It does not come equipped with a USB port or a wireless interface that provides us with accurate, real-time data about our insides, although that’s one advancement science is working on. Absent that data, natural family planning, even with the aid of Natural Cycles, is going to be either incomplete or flawed.

I don’t doubt that the use of Natural Cycles helps in the process, but there’s a good reason why the same Mayo Clinic that so thoroughly lays out the process of natural family planning also identifies it as one of the least reliable forms of contraception. This is what they had to say about the risks associated with this method.

Using the rhythm method as a form of birth control doesn’t pose any direct risks. However, it’s considered one of the least effective forms of birth control. How well the rhythm method works varies between couples. In general, as many as 24 out of 100 women who use natural family planning for birth control become pregnant the first year. Also, the rhythm method doesn’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections.

Given this information, the fact that some of those using the Natural Cycles app ended up pregnant should surprise no one. The shortcomings of natural family planning are well known and, for the moment, no app is capable of circumventing those shortcomings.

It’s not just that even the most basic activities of the human body are so difficult to quantify and track. Doing so and trying to plan around it assumes all those involved behave with perfect discipline. While I still believe that most human beings are inherently good at heart, I don’t doubt that human beings can also be erratic, irrational, and just plain stupid at times.

There will be moments when a woman misjudges or mistimes her fertility over the course of her cycle. There will also be moments when the passions between a woman and her lover will override whatever discipline they had promised to exercise during that time of the month. Even when people aren’t stupid, they can be overwhelmed by a moment.

That’s the ultimate flaw of natural planning and apps like Natural Cycles. It’s not just prone to human error. It relies on the absence of human error in order to work perfectly. That’s not just flaw. Those are unreasonable expectations that no population of healthy human beings can hope to meet.

It’s sad that several dozen women had to learn this the hard way, even if the outcome was fairly predictable. If nothing else, it should remind us just how much work we need to do on improving contraception, women’s health, and our overall understanding of our biology.

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Why Treating Sexuality As A Disease (Always) Fails

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It wasn’t too long ago that discussions about reparative therapy, also known as gay conversion therapy, became more a joke than a serious concept. Going back to Michele Bachman’s failed presidential bid in 2012, and all the assorted jokes about her husband, who ran a religion-based therapy center, I think it’s safe to say that this issue has run its course and for good reason.

There was once a time when attempting to change someone’s sexuality into whatever society deemed acceptable was a serious pursuit. Even Sigmund Freud contributed to that effort, going so far as to claim that homosexuality could be cured through hypnosis. Seeing as how hypnotists are more likely to work in Las Vegas stage shows instead of clinics, it should be obvious how wrong he was.

As it stands, reparative therapy is rejected and discouraged by nearly every legitimate psychological and therapeutic organization on the planet. There are still those who claim that’s just part of the larger gay agenda, but those claims don’t deserve to be taken seriously. Whenever that many organizations to agree that something is so ineffective and harmful, it’s usually a pretty clear sign that there’s something wrong with it.

For the rest of the population that doesn’t buy into homophobic conspiracy theories, the issue is resolved. While there’s still a lot we don’t understand about human sexuality, our current understanding offers a fairly concise conclusion. It’s not possible to completely change or radically reorient someone’s sexuality.

So in light this widely-accepted conclusion, any subsequent efforts to radically alter someone’s sexuality through archaic tactics that involve shame, guilt, and pseudo-spiritual bunk should be just as asinine. The keyword there is it should be. Even though reparative therapy is roundly condemned, the spirit of that therapy continues, albeit with a different target.

This time, the targets aren’t homosexuals or some other sexual minority. Instead, the scope is bigger and more extensive than even defunct anti-gay ministries could ever hope to achieve. It’s taking aim at sexuality, as a whole, particularly that of men. While it doesn’t have an official title, the tactics are distressingly similar.

I’m reluctant to put a label on it because I’d rather not throw around blanket terms for an issue this vast. Much of it stems from those opposing everything associated with “toxic masculinity,” a term I’ve already condemned.

From sex scandals to advertising to representations in major movies, the obstacle is the same. A particular brand of male sexuality that caters to straight men seeking the company of beautiful women for basic, shallow reasons isn’t just falling out of favor. It’s seen as corrupt, part of some grand patriarchal conspiracy.

It’s so corrupt that some, such as Joss Whedon, describe it like a disease. Men who simply have these desires are somehow flawed and need to either be educated or scorned. It’s not quite at the level that homosexuals endured in the past, but the common themes are still there.

It’s hard to pinpoint where it began. Some might point to the Harvey Weinstein scandal as the catalyst that turned the public against the whims of horny men, but I think it goes back further than that, even past the 2016 Presidential Election. The concept of criticizing men’s preference to admire beautiful women isn’t new. The extent of that criticism, however, is unprecedented and still growing.

Regardless of how it began, either through vocal critics of breast depictions in video games or protesting sexy advertising, it’s a major movement now. It has popular hashtags and the backing of powerful media outlets. If you’re a straight man who enjoys admiring beautiful women, then congratulations. You’re the source of all the problems in our current sexual landscape.

Given the intensity of the rhetoric in the movement, it’s not just about protesting the injustices perpetrated by men in positions of power who freely exploited that power. It’s attacking certain manifestations of sexuality as a whole, deeming them “problematic” to the point where it’s practically pathologized. That’s how we end up with asinine terms like “toxic masculinity.”

It’s for that reason that the parallels between the long-debunked ideas of reparative therapy and ongoing condemnations of male sexuality are all the more disturbing. Stories about LGBT youth who survived reparative therapy, and not all of them do, tend to tell similar stories. The so-called therapy they get usually involves the following:

  • Excessive condemnation and shaming of certain desires
  • Attributing certain sexual desires with negative connotations
  • Demanding frequent confessions of guilt for past misdeeds, real or imagined
  • Demanding complete dissociation from a previous lifestyle
  • Attributing desires and feelings to disease or an unhealthy state of being
  • Attacking or subverting someone’s identity in an effort to re-shape it
  • Conditioning someone to associate natural feelings with negative sentiments

To anyone who has been keeping track of how men have been criticized for their attitudes towards some of the recent sexual misconduct scandals, these methods should sound painfully familiar. It’s also worth noting that these are methods that the American Psychological Association deems harmful and even dangerous.

Now, I want to be careful with my rhetoric here because I don’t want to imply that straight men who enjoy looking at beautiful women in bikinis are suffering to the same extent LGBT people suffered in these faux-therapeutic settings. That’s not the point I’m trying to make here. I’m just trying to highlight the extent to which the approaches are similar, even if they’re not the same.

It’s one thing to punish actual misconduct. It’s quite another to attack the underlying desires of an entire group. Men looking at beautiful women is now a symptom of objectification, patriarchy, and misogyny. Conversely, women looking at beautiful men is a major Hollywood movie starting Channing Tatum. See the difference?

That difference matters because treating those attitudes as diseases is every bit as misguided as treating homosexuality or transgenderism as a disease. It would be akin to referring to all homosexuality as “toxic sexuality” instead of a simple variation among the vast spectrum that is human sexuality.

That’s not to say there aren’t issues with certain attitudes men have towards sexuality. There are plenty of issues about women’s attitudes as well. However, the fact that the current culture, empowered by social media and selective biases, treats those attitudes the same way reparative therapy treats homosexuality is both revealing and distressing.

The negative impacts of those methods are well-documented, both in terms of harm and ineffectiveness. Relentlessly shaming people for their sexuality, be they straight men or gay women, is pretty damaging. It doesn’t take a licensed therapist to know that conditioning someone to hate their own desires will seriously affect their mental health.

There are many lessons to learn from the failures of reparative therapy. For one, it revealed just how powerful sexual and romantic desire can be in a person. It can also reflect how lonely it can be when those feelings are deemed defective, toxic, or deviant by a society, at large. Countless LGBT individuals have suffered because of these misguided efforts. More will suffer if those lessons aren’t heeded.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

Why The Anti-Harassment Movement May Make Open Relationships More Practical (And Necessary)

If history has shown us anything about the power of the human libido, it’s that people will find a way adapt their passions, even within strict, regressive situations. They did it during the pre-modern, pre-literate ancient eras from the Middle East to China. They did it during the he exceedingly prudish eras of the Puritans and Victorian England. They even find a way to do it today under brutally repressive regimes.

Love, sex, and everything in between finds a way. Even those who claim we’re in the midst of a full-fledged sex panic where the mere act of touching someone on the shoulder constitutes full-blown assault can’t deny that the human race has navigated such periods before. We literally wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t.

Even so, it’s still distressing to see a world that feels increasingly sensitive to certain desires, expressions, and attitudes. Between recent sex scandals and the noble, yet sometimes misguided efforts to combat sexual misconduct, it seems as though we’re entering a sexually regressive period where men and women can’t interact with one another out of fear that they’ll get labeled a sexist, a bigot, or something of the sort.

It may get worse before it gets better, but I believe we’ll find a way to navigate it. That’s not just me being an optimist. That’s me, the aspiring erotica/romance writer, acknowledging that our capacity for passion is difficult to contain. You can shame, scorn, and condemn it all you want. You’re never going to stop it.

No matter what extremes the ongoing crusade against sexual misconduct may manifest, people are still going to get horny. They’re still going to seek love. They’re still doing to pursue the passions that are so critical to the human experience. That’s just part of who we are. We’ll just have to find a way to adapt our approach to pursuing those passions.

As it stands, the current methods leave a lot to be desired, both literally and figuratively. I’ve already mentioned how the disconnect surrounding consent and the paradox of traditional romance aren’t that conducive to fostering intimate and romantic bonds. It still works for some, but I doubt it’ll work enough for coming generations, especially when those generations have so many emerging quirks.

As such, I’m going to take a step back and present a potential, but unorthodox recourse. It’s not a prediction. It’s not even all that radical because it’s happens already. I’ve already mentioned it before, but now I’m offering it as a more serious solution to an ongoing issue.

Open Relationships/Polyamory/Swinging/Non-Monogamy

Yes, I know it sounds exactly like something that someone who writes sexy novels might suggest. I also realize it’s one of those joke solutions you might hear from comedians, libertarians, or softcore porn. However, I’m dead serious with this suggestion.

I’m not implying that this is the future or the only solution for a society that may or may not be getting more sexually uptight. I’m simply suggesting the evolving social, cultural, and sexual landscape may very well make open relationships more viable, if not entirely pragmatic.

To understand how, it’s important to also understand how functional open relationships work. Like traditional relationships, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. It’s not nearly as lurid or kinky as sexy novels, bad porno, or reality TV would have you believe. There are ways to go about it and last year, Cracked.com offered a uniquely balanced insight into how such relationships work.

My Wife And I Are Swingers: Here’s What It’s Actually Like

The particulars aren’t quite as lurid as you think. It’s not necessarily something you’d find in one of my novels. However, there are a few themes that make a functional open relationship a better fit for the current year than what we’ve had in the past. Here are just a few of the traits.

  • Open, continuous, and outright excessive communication between partners
  • Clear, unambiguous understanding of desires and how to go about pursuing them
  • Rules, guidelines, and parameters for both partners to follow
  • A clear understanding of the difference between sexual and romantic intimacy
  • Emphasizing a significant degree of trust and faith in partners
  • Sufficient and overt empowerment of both parties, regardless of gender

Take a moment to go over these traits and then assess them within the context of the ongoing movement to combat sexual misconduct. In terms of creating a more equitable, robust relationship between partners, this sort of dynamic checks most boxes by default.

Good open relationships need a lot of communication. A major aspect of the current anti-harassment movement involves confusion regarding standards of consent. That’s a challenge when that very concept is still debated among some circles. There are instances where nobody is even sure what constitutes consent and it has ruined lives, as a result.

Open relationships don’t just belabor consent. They belabor all aspects of negotiating sex, romance, and intimacy. Those involved in functional open relationships understand the dynamics. It leaves less room for ambiguity and misunderstanding. That, in and of itself, is vital for those concerned with consent.

Beyond consent, open relationships require degrees of trust that are antithetical to notions that everyone of a particular gender or group is a monster. You really can’t have that kind of assumption with someone you trust in an open relationship. You have to actually believe in the love and lust they demonstrate for you. Otherwise, the relationship doesn’t work, regardless of whether it’s open.

For both opponents and proponents of the anti-harassment movement, these are critical elements to a successful relationship. They’re just a lot more emphasized in an open relationship. By emphasizing them, it’s easier to mitigate the ambiguities of evolving sexual norms. At a time when everyone is worried about being harassed or being accused, an open relationship already uses the necessary tools.

Beyond the practical and social aspects of open relationships, there are other unrelated forces at work that may make them more viable. In years past, open relationships were still prone to the same risks as general promiscuity. There was the risk of diseases, unplanned pregnancies, and all sorts of unsexy health issues.

Emerging technologies in the treatment of diseases, such as CRISPR and smart blood, combined with advances in contraception, like Vasalgel, and those risks are either minimized or eliminated. The concerns that might have kept some people from ever trying such a relationship won’t be an issue at some point, meaning open relationships could become a viable option to more people.

The circumstances are either already present or beginning to emerge. Add the growing use of social media to existing open relationships and the particulars become even more feasible. Emerging generations are already demonstrating an uncanny ability to forge connections in new ways. This could be one of them, albeit one made necessary by larger cultural forces.

Now, I’m not under the illusion that the practice of open relationships will benefit everybody. I don’t deny that there are some people who either just cannot handle open relationships or simply favor monogamy. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, those relationships need not be taboo or counterproductive to the never-ending effort to forge meaningful bonds. They should just be part of a more diverse tool kit.

There are still a great deal of unknowns, both in terms of how society handles open relationships and how society adapts to changing cultural trends. I imagine that certain divorce laws and marriage laws would need to be modified to accommodate these sorts of relationships, but that’s largely a bureaucratic matter that can be addressed with the proper application of well-paid lawyers.

However anyone might feel about the merits of open relationships or their feasibility in our current society, I think one thing is clear. Our current approach to forging romantic and sexual connections is not sufficient. The movement against sexual misconduct wouldn’t be necessary if it were.

That same movement isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s also going to result in plenty of changes to our culture and society, for better and for worse. It’s just a matter of how we adapt to them and, in the never-ending quest to fulfill our romantic and intimate desires, we’re going to find a way at some point. Of that, I’m certain.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, Marriage and Relationships, polyamory, sex in society, sexuality

Second Chances, Learning From Past Mistakes, And The Return Of The XFL

America likes to claim that it’s the land of second chances. People, in general, are often willing to grant second chances to those who have made mistakes, failed, or were just the victim of bad luck. Some end up needing more than second chances, but we’re willing to give them to those who prove they have a vision.

We do it in our personal lives as well, giving second chances to those we love. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. However, the first step, and arguably the most important, is giving that chance to someone, even when you haven’t forgotten the extent of their mistake.

That brings me to the XFL. I’m sorry, but there’s just no way to effectively transition to this topic. I know the title alone sounded like a jumbled compilation of random thoughts from someone who talks about everything from sex robots to superhero movies. I promise I’m going somewhere with this. I also promise it’s both relevant and applicable.

To those who haven’t heard the big news, the XFL is back. A full 17 years after this eccentric, over-the-top league that inspired the likes of “He Hate Me” and glorified brutal hits is making a comeback. Vince McMahon, the colorful personality who turned wrestling into a billion-dollar entertainment juggernaut, is taking another shot at creating a new football league to compete with the towering Goliath that is the NFL.

As a self-professed football fan whose picks for this past season were dead wrong, I’m genuinely intrigued by this news. I won’t let myself get too excited about it just yet, given how badly the XFL failed the first time, but I am willing to give it my attention, as well as a second chance.

The story of the first incarnation of the XFL is an amazing story. The fact that it also involves exceedingly sexy cheerleaders doesn’t hurt it’s appeal either. Just last year, ESPN did a documentary on that story called “30 For 30: This Was The XFL.” If you want a comprehensive take on what happened to this over-the-top league, this I highly recommend you check this out.

By the end, you’ll appreciate why giving McMahon and the XFL a second chance is such a big deal. It may even give you a better appreciation of why second chances are so hard to give at times. In a sense, this second incarnation of the XFL may end up being a case study on the underlying merit of second chances or the lack thereof.

Whether it’s to a professional athlete, an ex-lover, or an employee, second chances are hard because our brains are wired to remember failures more vividly than successes. The whole notion of “once bitten, twice shy” has actual biology and evolutionary forces behind it. Failure in nature can sometimes mean failure to survive.

The last time the XFL failed, it cost both McMahon and NBC $35 million each. The greatly inflates the price of a second chance, to say the least. Why, in that context, should we still give it one?

Well, I can only speak for myself. I’m not a sports expert any more than I’m a brain surgeon. However, in the spirit of second chances and learning from past mistakes, there are a few I think are worth considering with both the XFL and life in general.


A Second Chance Can Prove You’ve Learned From Failure (And Are Able To Learn In General)

This is as valuable a skill in helping the new XFL succeed as it is for anyone who has ever screwed up in life, which covers pretty much everybody. This is probably the most important aspect of second chances. It gives an opportunity for someone to do more than just claim they’ve learned. Now, they can show it.

Say what you will about Vince McMahon and a lot has been said. He’s an entertainer and a businessman. He wants to make money and, if his net worth is any indication, he’s pretty damn good at it. You do not get that rich by never learning from your mistakes.

It’s hard to say for certain what McMahon will do differently at this point. However, if the content of his announcement is any indication, he’s very much aware of why the XFL failed the first time. He’s ready to take those hard, not to mention expensive, lessons and try again.

Given the breadth of McMahon’s success, he’s someone who can make more out of second chances than most. That’s why I’m going to give him this one, even if I find his persona annoying.


Second Chances Reveals Opportunities Otherwise Not Seen

It’s a common theme in business, romance, and everything in between. Both failure and success create opportunities. The failure of “Batman and Robin” paved the way for “Batman Begins.” The success of the iPhone paved the way for the booming smartphone business.

One failed relationship can also strengthen another. The many failures of other football leagues have only served to strengthen the dominance of the NFL. However, sometimes success can have pitfalls. The past few years have not been kind to the NFL, to say the least. Given the sheer size of this entertainment behemoth, it’s an easy target.

In that respect, the XFL’s timing couldn’t be better. It’s coming along at a time when fans are somewhat disillusioned with the NFL, but have little alternatives beyond the hopelessly corrupt NCAA. The XFL could finally give the NFL the kind of competition that is necessary for any product, service, or art to innovate.

Let’s face it. We humans are a competitive species. If someone is doing something better than us, be it football or underwater basket weaving, we want to match and exceed them. It drives us to be better. It helps make us better people.

Football needs that right now. The NFL needs that. The XFL has the perfect opportunity to achieve this. Combined with the lessons of their first failure, they have much more going for them now than they did in 2001.


Greater Risks Bring Greater Rewards (And Greater Lessons)

This is probably the most important aspect of second chances for both the XFL and for life, in general. Everything that’s worth doing, whether it’s creating a new football league or finding the love of your life, requires a certain degree of risk. Some aren’t willing to risk that much, but those who are have a chance to achieve much more.

I say this as someone who avoided taking major risks until much later in life. Looking back on how I carried myself in my youth, I regret not taking more risks. Hindsight has revealed that I missed out on some pretty big rewards, both material and personal. Sometimes, you really have to do what your brain says is insanely risky to get those kinds of rewards.

What Vince McMahon is doing qualifies as exceedingly risky. He’s putting up $100 million of his own money to make the second incarnation of the XFL happen. He’s also taking on an organization in the NFL with obscene levels of influence, both economically and culturally.

At the moment, most people probably think he’s crazy and bound to fail. Those people aren’t willing to take the risk, but none of them have a shot at the big reward that McMahon is seeking. Even if the chances of the XFL succeeding are less than one percent, it’s still greater than zero and that’s all the chance you need with a second chance.


A Second Chance Can Also Help Fix Broken Or Flawed Systems

This is the part of the new XFL that has me the most intrigued, as a football fan. That’s because, as it stands, the system for developing players for the NFL is basically a cartel wrapped in a monopoly. The NCAA is the cartel. The NFL is the monopoly. If you want to make a living playing football, these are the sole gatekeepers.

It’s a system with many flaws, which have been documented on more than one occasion. The problem is there’s no incentives to fix those flaws. Neither the NCAA nor the NFL have any pressure to do so. They wield total power over all things football and can be as unjust as they want.

The XFL can change that. They can shake up a system that does plenty to screw over college players and professionals if they fail to make it in the NFL. They can provide a new path, bring new ideas to the table, and take chances that a cartel and a monopoly don’t even think to take.

It wouldn’t be the first time a monopoly got broken up. In most peoples’ lives, they either avoid situations where someone has all the leverage or work to subvert it. We do that with the people we work with and the people we love. Again, it often requires that we take risks and chances. However, it only has to work once to affect change.


It’s still not clear just what the new XFL will bring to the table or if it will succeed. For now, it has many forces working against it. However, as both a football fan and someone who sees the merit of second chances, I’m willing to give it one.

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Finding Greater Hope In Disturbing News

Every now and then, there’s a news story that comes along that’s so disturbing, so horrific, and so utterly offensive to every level of decency that it makes me question the faith I have in humanity. I know I’ve said before that I genuine believe that people are naturally good, at heart. I’ve even shared stories about how I came to believe this. However, there are times when that believe is tested.

Last week, I got an unexpected test in the form of one of the most disturbing news stories I’ve heard that didn’t involve a mass shooting. At least with mass shootings, it presents the opportunity for good people to show their strength in the face of those who are truly deranged. In this case, there were many of those opportunities to say the least.

While the story is still unfolding with each passing day, it has already made national headlines. It involves the now-infamous Turpin family and the unspeakable horrors they inflicted upon their own children. To those of you who haven’t heard this story, consider yourselves lucky. This is one of those stories that tests both your stomach and your soul.

The details are disturbing to recount. They involve abusive parents, abused kids, gross neglect, intentional malnourishment, and all the disturbing forces in between that drive such deviant behavior. The full story is still unfolding, but accord to a report from ABC News, these are the current facts:

An investigation is underway in California after 13 siblings – ages 2 to 29 – were allegedly held captive in a home, some “shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks,” the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said in a news release.

Parents David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, were arrested in the alleged torture and child endangerment case in Perris, California, about 27 miles south of San Bernardino.

The investigation began early-Sunday morning when a 17-year-old girl apparently escaped from the home and called 911, saying her 12 brothers and sisters were still being held captive there, the sheriff’s office said.

Responding officers said the teen “appeared to be only 10 years old and slightly emaciated.”

Inside the home, several children were “shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings,” the sheriff’s office said. “The victims appeared to be malnourished and very dirty.”

Seven of the alleged victims were adults, ranging in ages from 18 to 29, the sheriff’s office said. The others were children as young as 2. The siblings – who authorities say claimed to be starving – were given food and drinks and interviewed, the sheriff’s office said. They were then hospitalized for treatment, the authorities said.

I’m not going to lie. I felt sick to my stomach reading this story. The idea that anyone, let alone parents, would do these sorts of things to children is pretty disturbing. While there are all sorts of crazy theories circulating about the psychology behind such sadistic behavior, the full truth will probably never be known. Besides, the damage has been done. These children will probably carry some deep scars for the rest of their lives.

News stories like these often remind us that as amazing a species we are, there are still parts of it that are undeniably devious. While I prefer to emphasize the good in people, as well as the progress we’ve made, it’s neither logical nor just to ignore the bad. Parents torturing, neglecting, and abusing their children is objectively bad by any sane measure.

As awful as it is, however, it’s still important to balance out the terrible with the hopeful. In most great atrocities, there are often glimmers of hope. That may seem impossible for a story like this, but it is there if you look. The horrors of the holocaust were undeniable, but even that darkest of periods can reveal moments of true heroism and inspiration.

Even with that in mind, how could anyone find such moments in a story like this? Something this atrocious makes that difficult. However, the moments are there. Even if the worst of this story has yet to come out, there are some powerful lessons to be learned. Here are just a few.


Bright Spot #1: Atrocities Rarely Stay Hidden (Especially These Days)

There was once a time when it was much easier to hide from the authorities and public scrutiny. A truly sadistic person could take their victims out into the vast wilderness, away from prying eyes, and commit their atrocities without much risk of getting caught. For most of human history, that was the norm and not the exception.

It’s different today. Thanks to modern infrastructure, the media, and mass communication, it’s much harder to hide these sorts of atrocities from the public. That’s especially true in a modern, industrialized country where we have internet, emergency services, and a semi-functional justice system.

If the Turpin family had lived in a less developed country, chances are their crimes would’ve gone unpunished. Even if one of their children had escaped, they probably wouldn’t have been able to get proper help or convince the authorities to aid them. In some parts of the world, those authorities don’t even exist.

Say what you will about the state of the industrialized world. It certainly has its flaws. However, when it comes to committing atrocities on children, those crimes are hard to hide and are rightly condemned. That counts as both progress and justice.


Bright Spot #2: All That Abuse Did NOT Prevent The Children From Escaping

Even though the Turpin family couldn’t hide their atrocities forever, they still managed to hide them for much longer than most people will ever be comfortable admitting. One of the ways they hid it was to condition and control their children to an extent not seen outside of a North Korean prison camp.

Stories of the sheer breadth of the neglect these children suffered are still coming in, but one thing is clear. The parents of these children worked tirelessly to control every aspect of their lives. They were sheltered, starved, restrained, and completely cut off from the outside world. By all accounts, there was no outside world, except the world their parents wanted them to see.

Despite all this, though, one of these kids still found the strength and the will to escape. The only reason these crimes were even exposed was because the 17-year-old daughter climbed out a window and managed to call 911. The fact that this girl, despite all the abuse and deprivation, still found the will to escape says a lot about her and the human desire for freedom.

As repressive as these parents were, it still wasn’t enough. They still sought to escape. The strength of the girl who managed to escape cannot be overstated and it highlights, what I believe, is the biggest takeaway from this otherwise horrific story.


Bright Spot #3: It’s REALLY Hard To Control/Break Someone

 

hope

No matter how disturbing this story gets or what kind of horrific details emerge in the coming weeks, there’s one important lesson we should all take from such a disturbing crime. No matter how much a person is abused or how much someone tries to control them, it’s extremely difficult to completely break them.

These children, including the girl who escaped, were conditioned from birth to live under their parents’ authority. They grew up literally not knowing any other way to live. As far as they knew, the idea of not being controlled by their parents was an alien concept. In terms of controlling and/or breaking someone’s will to resist, the parents had every circumstance working in their favor.

Despite all that, they still failed. They still could not completely control their children because they still tried to escape. It only took one of them to succeed to make the point. No matter how strict the control or hard the abuse, they can’t subvert the natural desire to be free. If nothing else about this terrible story inspires you, let that be it.


I don’t wish to dwell too much on this story, if only because much of it is still playing out. While we shouldn’t discount the horrors involved, there are some small bits of hope that we can glean from such a story. It may not completely overshadow the breadth of the atrocities, but it should remind us that as flawed as the human race may be, we will fight such atrocities when we confront them.

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