Category Archives: human nature

The Distressing (But Relevant) Questions Raised In Uncanny X-men #1

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The most relevant stories are often the ones that ask the most difficult questions. The nature of those questions vary among places, people, cultures, and whatever happens to be pissing off a significant chunk of the population. Regardless of the circumstances, those questions are important and sometimes they come from unexpected places.

I wasn’t expecting such questions when I picked up “Uncanny X-men #1,” the latest relaunch in the most iconic X-men brand of all time. I was just glad to see Uncanny X-men return to prominence after an extended absence dating back to 2016. This first issue was over-sized and priced at $7.99, which is a lot for a single comic. I still feel like I got my money’s worth.

In addition to telling a great story that brought many prominent X-men characters to the forefront, “Uncanny X-men #1” did something unique in terms of how it established a conflict. For once, it didn’t involve killer robots, preventing a genocide, mutant terrorist, or alien space gods. Instead, it asked one profound question.

What if there was a way to preventing people from becoming mutants in the first place?

That may sound like a question that has come up in other X-men stories, but that’s only partially correct. This isn’t about curing mutants, a story that Joss Whedon brilliantly told during his run on Astonishing X-men and that “ X-men: The Last Stand” botched horribly. This is about inoculating children the same way we do for polio.

Specifically, a lab develops a vaccine that prevents the X-gene from expressing. Technically, they would still be mutants in that they would still have this gene. It just wouldn’t express itself. It would be akin to turning off the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis or sickle-cell anemia. It essentially treats mutation the same way we would treat any other genetic-based disease.

Naturally, the X-men and many other mutants don’t like this idea and not just because it’s akin to treating homosexuality as a mental illness. It reeks too much of genocide, something they’ve faced on more than one occasion. It would’ve been easy for “Uncanny X-men #1” to present it in that way, but that’s not how it plays out.

The all-star creative team of Ed Brisson, Kelly Thompson, Matthew Rosenberg, and Mahmud Asrar frame the issue in a very different way. Instead of some anti-mutant racist like Graydon Creed or William Stryker calling for mutant extermination, we get Senator Ashton Allen. He’s as generic a politician as can be in a superhero comic, but what he says and how he says is revealing.

Amidst a crowd of humans, mutants, and X-men, he talks about this mutant vaccine as a tool to alleviate suffering. He doesn’t rant about the dangers of evil mutants like Magneto or Apocalypse. He talks only about mutant children developing powers that could be dangerous to themselves or others. In that context, a vaccine might actually help them.

When you consider the mutant powers of characters like Rogue and Cyclops, who have mutant abilities that do real damage when uncontrolled, it seems entirely reasonable to make this vaccine available. Senator Allen never says anything about forcing it on kids or on mutants that already exist. He only ever emphasizes making it an option for concerned parents.

That’s distressing for the X-men because they don’t need to be omega-level psychics to imagine the implications. They can easily envision a concerned parent who doesn’t want their child to deal with the possibility that they may shoot lasers out of their eye one day. Any parent who cares for their child will want to mitigate the chances of them enduring such hardships.

In a world populated by mutant-hunting robots, parents already have plenty of incentive to use this vaccine. Given the damage that mutant-led conflicts often incur, the government has just as much incentive to make that vaccine available to everyone, free of charge and tax deductible. Governments less concerned with things like human rights could force it on children and that has some real-world parallels.

For mutants and the X-men, though, that means a permanent loss of their identity. Considering how mutants act as a metaphor for other oppressed minorities, this has implications for the real world, as well. I would even argue that the question will become increasingly relevant in the coming decades.

To appreciate just how relevant it could be, you need only look up the heartbreaking stories of parents who have disowned their children because they’re gay or transgender. In tragic some cases, people are driven to suicide. Even for those who aren’t parents, anything that might avert this kind of hardship is worth considering.

Given the complex causes of homosexuality, as well as the many factors behind transsexuality, it’s unlikely that there could ever be a vaccine to prevent it. The same can be said for conditions like Dwarfism. It’s not just genes, hormones, or radioactive spider bites that shape an individual’s persona. It’s a complex confluence of many things.

However, we are getting very close to a point where it’s possible to design children at the genetic level. Thanks to tools like CRISPR, it might even be possible one day to cut out entire traits from the human genome. That could, in theory, eradicate both cystic fibrosis and Dwarfism. More than a few people have expressed concern about that possibility.

Homosexuality and transsexuality are a bit different since there is no one gene or hormone that causes it, but most contemporary research suggests that genetics do play at least some role. Using similar technology, it might be possible for parents in the future to minimize or eliminate the chances of their children being homosexual or transsexual.

I imagine many in the LGBT community feel the same way about those efforts that the X-men felt about Senator Allen’s efforts in “Uncanny X-men #1.” Even if it only extends to giving parents this option for children and provides strict protections for those already born with these traits, it still treats who and what they are as a disease.

It’s dehumanizing and demeaning. More than one X-men in “Uncanny X-men #1” makes that abundantly clear. They don’t see being a mutant as a disease any more than homosexuality, transsexuality, or dwarfism. The fact that there’s now a way to prevent this makes for an existential crisis with some pretty heavy implications for the real and fictional world.

In the world of Marvel comics, a world without mutants has its own set of issues, the least of which would be the loss of a top-selling comic series. In the real world, though, the stakes are even higher. What would we, as a society, do if we suddenly had the tools to prevent homosexuality, transsexuality, and dwarfism in children before they’re even born?

I’ll even ask a more controversial question that’s sure to draw plenty of ire. What if those same tools could be used to modify the skin color, facial features, and overall appearance of our children? We already understand how genetics affects our appearance to some extent. What happens when we’re able to determine that for someone before they’re ever born?

These are objectively distressing questions. I’m glad “Uncanny X-men #1” dared to ask them. I doubt they’ll get debated or resolved completely in the proceeding issues, mostly because such resolutions are impossible in superhero comics. It still presents the X-men with a unique issue to confront and one that we will likely have to confront in the real world.

As is often the case with difficult questions, the answers are likely to anger some and distress many. Most people genuinely and sincerely want what’s best for their children. In the world of Marvel Comics, that could mean preventing them from gaining the kind of superpowers that makes them targets for Sentinels. In the real world, that could mean removing an entire class of people from the gene pool.

In issues like this, there are no heroes or villains. There are just difficult choices that we must make before someone else makes them for us.

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Filed under comic book reviews, futurism, gender issues, human nature, sexuality, superhero comics, Thought Experiment, X-men

Improving Your Love Life And Your Sex Life (With Sleep)

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Maintaining a healthy romance is a lot like pursuing good sex. There’s no one right way to do it that works for everyone, but there are any number of wrong ways that can fail spectacularly. I’ve shared a few personal stories about my love life and even offered some insights on how to improve romance in the world of fiction. When it comes to real world advice, though, I try to be careful.

I’m not a relationship expert or a licensed therapist. I’m an aspiring erotica/romance writer who shares weekly sexy thoughts and bemoans how love is portrayed in popular media. Sure, I’ll occasionally give my opinion on serious issues involving gender politics and trends in popular culture, but I try to avoid giving the impression that I’m qualified to give advice.

However, there are a number of things we can all do for our love lives, a sex lives, and everything in between that makes it better. There are personal experiences that demonstrate it and even scientific research that supports it. Some are just common sense, but anyone who is familiar with the Darwin Awards knows that’s not always sufficient.

With that in mind, I’d like to offer the wonderful readers of this site the simplest and easiest advice they’ll ever get. It’ll improve your relationship. It’ll enhance your sex life. It’ll make you feel better, overall. What is the magical method that does so much to help so many aspects of your personal life? It’s simple.

Get better sleep.

That’s it. That is a real, effective method for improving your relationships, be it with a long-time lover or a one-night stand in Las Vegas. There’s no need for expensive therapy. You don’t have to pay a guru or a life coach. For once, it really is that simple. Get better sleep and your love life will improve.

Now, in the interest of not sounding too obvious, there are some details here that are worth highlighting. In recent years, the importance of getting a good night’s sleep has been become more critical. A great deal of research has shown a long list of benefits that come with good sleep and an equally lengthy list of detriments for those who don’t get enough.

Good sleep helps you lose weight, alleviate illness, and recover from serious injuries. None of that is news to anyone, but I get the sense that people don’t appreciate the role sleep plays in a healthy romance and a good sex life. That role goes beyond work and afterglow, as well.

According to research published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine, poor sleep can disrupt your emotions and not just in terms of being groggy in the morning. Managing and regulating emotions is core component of any functional relationship. Even those who don’t mind melodrama are going to get burned out from someone who can’t figure out whether they’re stressed, miserable, or pissed off.

It even goes beyond messy emotional exchanges. That same study also showed a link between poor sleep and depression. Considering how depression tends to dull passion of any kind, romantic or otherwise, it’s understandable how it can undermine a relationship.

It’s even more understandable in terms of how it hurts your sex life. In addition to depression limiting your capacity to get in the mood, it also creates situations where people use sex as a band aid instead of a basic emotional expression. I’ve seen this happen before with friends and relatives. They try to use sex as an anti-depressant. It can offer temporary reprieve, but it does little to resolve any actual issues.

Then, there’s the simple logistics that a lack of sleep will create. If your lover is on a different sleep schedule than you, then that makes spending time together a chore because one of you is going to be groggy. Whether it’s due to work schedules or one person being a night owl, love can only do so much when a couple is rarely rested at the same time.

This goes beyond just being restless and buying overpriced lattes. A lack of sleep can actually cause damage to the brain. Sleep is supposed to be the time when your brain heals and refreshes itself after a long, arduous day. If it never gets a chance to heal, then that could impact everything from your memories to your emotions to your genitals.

Yes, a lack of sleep does have sexual side-effects. For men, it lowers testosterone, the magically masculine hormone that drives a significant part of the male libido. It effects men whether they’re gay, straight, bisexual, or trans. When your hormones are off, your sex life will suffer. It can even lead to erectile dysfunction, which is sure to compound that nasty mood I mentioned earlier.

Women experience a similar effect as well. On top of research showing that well-rested women tend to have more sex, a lack of sleep can make it significantly more difficult to achieve orgasm. At a time when women are already already dealing with an orgasm gap, this certainly doesn’t help. Even with adequate sleep, a lack of orgasms can hurt any relationship.

Again, a lot of this is common sense, but for those looking to improve or maintain their love lives, it may seem too common. It goes against the standard romantic narrative that two people in love always have to be doing something. They always have to be off going on adventures, working hard every hour of every day to stay in love, have great sex, and grow together.

While there’s certainly a place for that kind of effort in a relationship, it doesn’t have to come at the cost of a good night’s sleep. If anything, a couple sharing a restful night in bed together should count as an act of genuine romance. It doesn’t even have to come after sex or even involve nudity, although couples who sleep naked do enjoy added benefits.

Ideally, good sleep shouldn’t just be a byproduct of a quality romance. It should be part of the process. It could be as easy as communicating with your lover how much sleep you need, when to do it, and what helps you feel most rested. It may sound mundane, but these are little things that real loving couples often overlook.

One of my old college roommates actually got sleep down to a science. He and his girlfriend made a genuine effort to line up their sleep cycles so perfectly that I could pretty much set my watch to when they would turn in. It wasn’t always romantic, but I can’t argue with the results. They were together that entire semester and I rarely saw them in a bad mood.

Most people, whether they’re in a relationship or not, are willing to put in the work to make romance work. They’re just as willing to listen to gurus, pop pills, and read sexy stories to improve their sex lives as well. While I try to do my part with the sexy stories I tell, I think it’s ironic that just getting better sleep rarely comes to mind.

Even if it makes too much sense, it’s probably the easiest way for anyone to improve their relationship. We already know how to sleep. Most of us relish the opportunity to get more. If more sleep means better sex and quality romance, then it more than warrants a higher priority in our intimate efforts.

After all, a good lover is a well-rested lover.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, Marriage and Relationships, psychology, romance, sex in society, sexuality

Aging In A Society Where Nobody Ages

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We’ve all known someone who perfectly fits the profile of a grumpy old coot. Whether they’re a family member or a stranger, we can readily identify the associated traits. They’re bitter, angry, cynical, and exceedingly nostalgic for an era that has long since passed. Having to live in a frail, failing body certainly doesn’t help.

As annoying as their attitudes can be, it does raise a relevant question. Are they grumpy because they genuinely feel that everything in their world is awful or are they grumpy because their youth has become a distant memory? It’s a question that doesn’t apply to every old person, but it’s relevant to more than few.

Being old is not a pleasant experience for a lot of people. There are a lot of undesirable symptoms associated with it. Your skin gets wrinkled, your organs start to fail, your mind starts to slip, and you just don’t have the energy you used to have. On top of that, your sex life really suffers, regardless of your gender.

In that context, it’s not hard to understand why people get grumpier as they get older. They have plenty of reasons and plenty more excuses. It has always been a part of society. Like rebellious teenagers, their existence is an accepted part of life, so much so that it’s hard to imagine society without it.

This is where I take the same twisted mind that helps me write sexy stories and use it to propose a thought experiment. It’s also where I explore exciting new technology that will change the way society functions. It’s true that aging is part of our world. However, small pox, polio, and ridiculously flawed assumptions about the female body were once part of our world as well. That didn’t stop us from changing it.

In recalling the grumpy old coots I’ve known in my life, I often wonder whether they would act and feel the same way if they suddenly woke up in the body of their 25-year-old self. How much or how little would that change their attitudes? Would they be as jaded about the world if they were suddenly able to think, move, and hump like their younger selves?

Some might still be grumpy.

I even wonder this when recalling the elder individuals I know who aren’t grumpy and cantankerous. Those people do exist. Some of the happiest people I know are old, gray, and have a long list of health issues. They’ve lived good lives, have few regrets, and are content with their current state. Would that change for better or for worse if they were young again?

These are questions that will become increasingly relevant in the coming decades. While it’s currently impossible to just wake up in a new body like in “Altered Carbon,” the anti-aging industry is a burgeoning multi-billion dollar market. With demographics in the western world shifting rapidly, this market is poised to grow even more.

As it stands, there’s no comprehensive treatment that reverses aging for everyone. There are things people can do to improve longevity, but more often than not, someone’s ability to live comfortably into old age depends on factors they cannot control. The fact that Keith Richards lived beyond 1989 is proof enough of that.

That’s not to say we all just have to hope we have the same genetic fortitude as someone like Keith Richards. The current research into anti-aging is making significant strides. We understand aging a lot more than we did 20 years ago. In essence, it’s largely a matter of cells not being able to repair themselves as well as they used to. If we can fix that, then we fix aging.

It sounds simple, but it’s not. However, unlike some of the other advanced technologies I’ve discussed, there’s no need to prove the concept in the real world. We know it’s possible for organisms to live significantly longer than humans. Lobsters, turtles, and even whales have been documented to live centuries and function on the same level as their younger counterparts.

How they do this and whether it can be applied to humans is still uncertain, but there’s a great deal of research into this field. There’s also a huge incentive to perfect anti-aging treatments on a large scale. The first company that does that will likely be a trillion-dollar company. Whether or not it happens in my lifetime is difficult to surmise, but given the pace of technology, I believe it will happen eventually.

When it does, that raises a whole host of questions that are difficult to answer. What does a society where people don’t age even look like? How does it even function? I doubt our current system could support it. Countries like Japan are already dealing with significant problems associated with their rapidly-aging population. That issue will likely get more complicated as anti-aging technology improves.

What will it mean to retire in a world where people live for centuries rather than decades?

What will it mean to have a career?

What will it mean to have a family?

What will it mean for rearing and caring for children?

Think of how multiple generations function together at the moment. For a while, my family had four generations living at once. I had my parents, my grandparents, and my great-grandparents alive at one point. That made for a robust, but sometimes convoluted family structure. Just keeping up with family affairs could be tricky since my family moves around a lot.

Now, imagine having even more generations alive at once. Imagine dealing with parents, grandparents, and great-great-great-great-grandparents. As individuals and as a society, we’ve never dealt with that kind of dynamic. What would the roles be for that many living descendants? What would that do to custody, inheritance, and just basic overall functioning?

It’s difficult to imagine, but it gets even more complicated than that. Another major aspect of anti-aging research doesn’t just involve extending the human lifespan. It also involves reversing aging and preserving youth. Animals like turtles already do it. They get to a certain age and basically stay that way. Ideally, we want to provide something similar in humans.

That means our parents, grandparents, and great-great-great grandparents wouldn’t just live longer. They wouldn’t look a day over 30. On top of that, they would still be perfectly capable of having more children. People could have siblings who are decades younger than them. They could also end up with uncles and aunts of all ages.

Imagine some of these people being older than your grandmother.

Then, there are the nearly limitless number of half-siblings they could have. Even in our current state of aging, a good chunk of the population lives within a step-family where they’re only related to one parent biologically. In a world where people never age out of their sexual prime, it’s more than likely this will increase.

It may get to a point where age really is just a number. That won’t just be a cute euphemism or a creepy R. Kelly song. If we’re able to effectively rewire and repair our biology, then it would be nothing more than a legal designation on our birth certificate. It would have no further bearing on our lives.

That could cause all sorts of issues for our love lives. Imagine walking down a busy street and not seeing anyone who looks older than 30 years old. It would be like walking through a college town everywhere you went. You wouldn’t know if that cute girl at the bar or that handsome guy on the bus is just out of college or of they’ve got five living grandchildren. How would flirting even work?

Guy: Hey there, cutie. You want to go get some coffee?

Girl: I’d love to, but I’m picking my granddaughter up from her retirement party. Maybe tomorrow?

That could really affect how we see romance, sex, and relationships. The whole concept of “Till death do you part” could suddenly become a major complication. Sure, there may be couples who manage to stay married for centuries. They’ll make for great stories, as many long-time spouses do today. Chances are they’ll be the exceedingly-rare exception and not the norm.

It may be the case that marriages and family bonds become subject to time-frames. People may just get together to raise a family, but once those kids reach a certain age, they go their separate ways, possibly to do it all over again with someone else. If their bodies don’t age and they remain healthy, what would stop them?

That assumes a lot about what people will even want if they live indefinitely and maintain their youth. Again, we have no precedent for this. We’ve never lived in a society where everyone is young, healthy, and immune to the rigors of time.

There may very well be effects that go beyond our personal lives. Even if our bodies never age beyond 30, our minds certainly will. Aging does have an impact on the human brain and I’m not just referring to the effects of dementia. Just living longer affects how we perceive the world. It even affects how we perceive time. A year to a 10-year-old means something very different to someone who is 95-years-old.

Even if we could maintain a high level of brain function for centuries, there’s still the possibility that we’ll struggle to function as a whole. Many major social movements throughout history occur because older generations that retained entrenched prejudices died off. How will we advance civil rights in a society where the old traditionalists never died off?

Still not over the Civil War.

Then, there’s the boredom issue. I’ve mentioned before how powerful boredom can be, even without living forever. What do we do with ourselves if we can live for centuries and never lose our youth? How would we keep ourselves occupied and entertained? Would the boredom drive us mad? Would it turn us into sociopath super-villains like Vandal Savage?

It’s impossible to know for now, but it’s a possibility that we should take seriously. We’re already dealing with the serious effects of overpopulation. How will our civilization and our planet cope if people stop aging?

Future currency could be the ability to stretch your arms.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t pursue this technology. I’ve seen what aging does to people. I’ve seen how it effects people very close to me. We all probably know someone who endures endless hardship and discomfort because of their age. We should help them and the burgeoning anti-aging industry is poised to do just that.

We should also seriously contemplate what kind of society we’ll be creating if and when we cure aging. It will require a complete re-imagining of what it means to live, love, and be part of a family. Chances are people today will think it’s crazy. In a world where everyone stays young and sexy, it’ll just be life.

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Filed under futurism, gender issues, human nature, Marriage and Relationships, psychology, romance, sex in society, sexuality, Sexy Future, Thought Experiment

Why I’m Not Overly Excited About Voting

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I’m bracing myself right now because I’m about to express a sentiment that’s going to put me at odds with a lot of people here in America. It’s a sentiment that runs contrary to some pretty loud rhetoric that has been brewing over the past two years. Some of it has even come from close family members. Knowing I’ll probably upset them too, I’ll just come out and say it.

I’m not that excited about voting.

I’ll give my fellow American’s a moment to stop fuming. For everyone else, I think a larger explanation is warranted. Bear with me because these are sensitive times for freedom, democracy, and everything in between.

Today, my country will conduct its mid-term election. It occurs every four years, right in between Presidential elections. These elections are a critical part of the foundation on which the United States government is built. These are the elections in which a sizable chunk of governors, senators, and representatives are elected.

While mid-term elections rarely generate the same voter turnout of Presidential elections, this year is different. The impact of the 2016 Presidential Election has galvanized the passions of both sides of the political spectrum. Conservatives seek to maintain their hold on power. Liberals seek to re-establish power after some of the worst setbacks in recent memory. To them, the stakes are very high.

I’m not entirely convinced of that. In fact, I feel like those stakes are so inflated that it makes me feel even less excited about voting. I see people in the media, on message boards, and within political circles calling this election the most important mid-term in history. That makes me suspect they have a narrow concept of history.

Now, I don’t deny the sincerity of those who say stuff like this. I get that they’re genuinely concerned about the direction of the country they love. They have this ideal vision for how they want America to be and getting like-minded people to vote is part of realizing that vision. Whether it’s reigning in the President, outlawing abortion, or legalizing weed, they have a fantasy that they want to make reality.

As someone who writes a lot about the sexy kind of fantasies, I can appreciate that to some extent. When I was younger, I even entertained similar visions. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve become less enchanted by my country’s democratic processes. The reasons for that have less to do with the content of those visions and more to do with the unique quirks of American elections.

The first complications surrounding American democracy, and one that sets it apart from other democratic countries, is that we don’t elect the President by a popular vote. We use something called the Electoral College. Simply put, our votes don’t go towards who we want to be President. They go towards electing the people who go onto elect the President.

If that sounds confusing, then you’re starting to see why I’m skeptical about voting. The logic behind the Electoral College made sense 200 years ago when trying to ensure that heavily populated states didn’t gain too much power over all the others. A lot has changed in 200 years and I’m not just talking about the prevalence of powdered wigs.

Since I became eligible to vote, I’ve seen two of the past three Presidents get elected without winning the popular vote. That means the candidate that got the most votes did not win the election. Call me cynical, but that does not sound very democratic.

To be fair, the Electoral College applies only to the President. Other representatives like governors, senators, and mayors are elected by way of popular vote. While that is more democratic, on paper, the logistics still aren’t ideal. That’s due to additional factors like gerrymandering, a practice that dilutes democracy to the point of watered down light beer.

Simply put, it ensures that your vote only partially matters because you didn’t necessarily pick the candidate. The candidate picked you by making sure you lived in their voting district. It’s a big reason why incumbents have such high re-election rates. It doesn’t matter how voting trends change. All that matters is aligning districts with a certain type of voters.

It’s not quite on the same level as the phony elections conducted by dictators, but it sends a painfully clear message. No matter how passionate you are at voting, there’s a good chance that it has little bearing on the outcome. That doesn’t mean your vote is thrown away. It still counts. It just doesn’t matter and I’m not the only one who has reached this conclusion.

Most of the time, you live in an area where the overwhelming majority of people align themselves with a particular part of the political spectrum. Districts located in rural areas almost always vote conservative. Districts located in cities almost always vote liberal. That divide has only widened over the years, especially since I began voting.

Some of that goes beyond direct influences like gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics. None of those tactics would even work if not for the predictable psychology of the average voter. In a perfect world, every voter goes to the polls as an objective, impartial citizens who weighs the worth of every candidate. However, we live in an imperfect world full of many imperfect people.

According to analysis of past elections, most people adopt the voting patterns of their parents. It’s not a minor factor, either. By a substantial margin, your vote was mostly determined when you were still a kid. That’s not a flaw in the system as much as it is a flaw in perspective.

If you grow up in a conservative environment, then you’ll vote in accord with conservative candidates. The same applies if you live in a liberal environment. The area I live is pretty liberal, for the most part. I’ve seen the polls for my candidates. The outcome is pretty much a given, no matter how I vote.

On top of all that, and it’s more than enough to temper my enthusiasm for democratic processes, voting in America is extremely inconvenient. It’s not a national holiday. It’s on a Tuesday in the middle of the week and often involves standing in long lines at poorly-staffed polling places. Sure, you can cast an absentee vote, but that process has its own set of complications.

Taken together, I find it frustrating, as a voter. The older I get, the more resigned I’ve become. Each passing year, I see more and more flaws in the system. I see reprehensible human beings and shameless hypocrites win elections, time and again. I also see the list of candidates and groan at my lack of options.

Despite all this, I’m still told that voting is important. Voting is what separates us from tyranny. Ignoring the historical fact that some tyrants come to power through democracy, I’m supposed to believe that my vote will help further the ideals my country espouses. As much as I love my country, I just have a hard time believing that.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m pretty cynical about voting and the current democratic processes in place for the United States. I’m not completely resigned, though. I still intend to vote, but I’m under no illusions. I know it won’t change much in the grand scheme of things. Like renewing my driver’s license, it’s part of my civic duty.

Regardless of who wins and who gets voted out, I can already sense where this narrative will go from here. I have a feeling that as soon as this day passes, the 2020 Election will be subsequently billed as the most important election in history. Just like before, the act of voting will be framed as taking part in a battle against a fascist army led by Darth Vader and Joseph Stalin.

That narrative, in my opinion, will do more to undermine voting than help it in the long run. At the end of the day, elections come and go. Leaders change, politics evolve, and demographics shift the cultural landscape. Not every election will go down in history as the most important. The act of voting in those elections won’t matter that much in the long run. It’s still worth doing, but it’s also worth maintaining perspective along the way.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, media issues, outrage culture, psychology

Prison Or Brain Hacking? A Choice That May Shape Our Future

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How does a civilized society deal with its least civilized individuals? This is a question that every society has had to answer, going back to the hunter/gatherer era. We live in an imperfect world full of imperfect individuals. Some are more imperfect than others, so much so that it’s not always possible to reform them into functional members of society.

Most people who commit crimes are not monsters, nor are they sadists who get their joy by torturing the innocent. A vast majority are just people who find themselves in bad situations where they make wrong decisions, exercise poor judgment, or lack impulse control. For these people, fines and brief imprisonment are usually sufficient.

For those who become career criminals, neither respecting the law nor seeking to abide by it, the current system is woefully inadequate. It’s part of the reason why criminal justice reform has become a hot topic. We’re finally learning that throwing people into prisons where they’re dehumanized, degraded, and tortured doesn’t help them become productive members of society. Go figure.

There’s plenty of room for improvement. Some countries have demonstrated that there are more effective, more humane ways to treat criminals. However, even those systems have their limits. As long as human beings remain an imperfect species, we’ll still have to deal with these deviant, violent, and inherently dangerous individuals.

For the moment, our options for dealing with these people are few. It primarily involves incarceration or intense therapy, often coupled with drug therapy. While this can be helpful to some, there are severe limitations. Some individuals don’t even want treatment and even those who are caught don’t always respond.

With that in mind, allow me to present a not-quite-hypothetical scenario. What if, instead of prison or therapy, we gave offending criminals an option to undergo an invasive treatment that affects the primary source of their deviant behavior in the brain? Jail is still an option for those who aren’t keen on messing with their brain wiring, but for certain people, an alternative is an alternative.

What I just described is one of those concepts in which the science is there, but the technology and the courts haven’t caught up to it. I know whenever I talk about emerging technology, be it sex robots or artificial wombs, I venture pretty far into speculation territory. Some of these advances rely on science and tools that don’t yet exist. This isn’t one of those cases.

In July 2018, the Journal of Neuroscience published a study revealing that targeted stimulation of the prefrontal cortex reduced aggressive tendencies in test subjects. Before you start getting fever dreams of mad scientists strapping people to gurneys and sticking wires in their ears, you can rest easy. This isn’t the kind of electroshock treatment that find their way into one too many horror movies.

These treatments have ground-breaking implications. They prove that it’s possible to temper or mitigate certain behaviors in people. The study doesn’t specify the limits of the effects or if it can be applied to something other than aggressive behaviors. It’s still a proof of concept and one that could compound the impact of other emerging technologies.

We already have tools like CRISPR that allow us to tweak our genes. We also have companies like Neuralink that are actively working on implants that could fix, augment, or expand our brain capacity. While men like Elon Musk and Ray Kurzweil often discuss these advances within the context of keeping humanity on pace with artificial intelligence, there will likely be some interim uses for these technologies.

Tempering violent behavior in people with significant cognitive impairments is just one possible use, but one that has the potential to change how we think about crime and punishment. Think back to those people I mentioned earlier who just inherently violent. They can’t manage their emotions or control their anger. They don’t think before they act and some don’t even feel guilty about what they do.

Like it or not, these people exist. I’ve known people in my life who have terrible impulse control and fly into a rage over the smallest things. Some of those people have had issues with the law and I often see in them a sense of never-ending frustration. Many don’t like that they have these issues. A few have tried to get help, but it doesn’t always work.

I suspect that if some of those people were given a chance to treat their tendencies with targeted shock therapy or a brain implant, they would jump at the chance. Deviant tendencies aside, they seek some level of function in their lives. If tweaking their brain is the difference between prison and freedom, then they’ll take that risk.

Turning people who might have been unrepentant psychopaths into productive, non-violent members of society is an objective good. The technology to do just that is not that far off and more study could help us refine the process, so much so that prison might be less necessary in certain cases. Given how expensive it is to imprison people, it’s an alternative worth pursuing.

Along with that undeniable good, however, there are plenty of potential dangers. Anyone who has ever seen one too many psychological thrillers or just read “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” can easily imagine how this kind of technology could be abused.

Tempering someone’s violent behaviors is all well and good, but why would it stop there? The brain is capable of all sorts of behaviors, deviant and otherwise. Say a society determines that other non-violent behaviors, be it sexual promiscuity or binge-watching Netflix for too many hours, are not socially desirable. What’s to stop them from imposing this on their citizens?

Some countries probably already fantasize about technologies that enable them to directly pacify their citizens, rendering them weak, passive, and easily manipulated. In his famous novel, “1984,” George Orwell called these people proles. However, in the book, the deviants had to be tortured and re-educated. If Big Brother had access to this technology, it would be a simple medical procedure.

That has plenty of terrifying possibilities for abuse. What if someone uses brain stimulation to prevent people from having homosexual urges? What if someone uses it to treat those who identify as transgender? There’s no evidence that the techniques in the study would work on that, but there’s no evidence to say it’s impossible.

Its use will definitely be controversial. That much, I’m certain of. It’s not advanced enough to become a legitimate treatment for anything. At the moment, direct brain stimulation is utilized for a specified set of conditions and it’s often a last resort. Using it on healthy people who just want to cull their violent urges is uncharted territory.

Whether it enters the picture for criminal justice reform is anyone’s guess, but if the process works, someone who has dealt with one too many repeat offenders will try to use it. From there, the precedent will be set. It’s hard to say what form it’ll take, but it’ll take society into uncharted territory with respect to controlling our minds.

Perhaps, at first, the process would be voluntary and only be presented in conjunction with jail or some other treatment. It’s also possible that the courts will determine a strict set of criteria for when the state could force this treatment onto someone. There are probably a few repressive governments who would try to use this on an industrial scale. I won’t say they’re names, but most people know who they are.

Like any emerging technology, there are risks and rewards worth considering. We stand to benefit greatly by having a society with as few violent individuals as possible. We also stand to lose a great deal if we allow misguided authority figures to determine how we use this technology.

I’m not qualified to determine whether or not someone should have their brain hacked. I don’t know that anyone is. However, I also don’t deny that the human brain, as magnificent as it is, has plenty of flaws. We should go about fixing those flaws, especially in people who are disproportionately impacted by them. We just have to be very careful about how we manage it.

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Controlling Women’s Bodies Versus Policing Men’s Thoughts

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Discussing gender issues, whether it’s from a feminist perspective or a male perspective, is fraught with problems. I’m not just referring to the hashtags, virtue signaling, systemic deficiencies, or historic injustices, either. Talk to anyone on any part of the political spectrum for more than five minutes and you’ll realize something very quickly.

Addressing gender issues isn’t just difficult. It’s frustrating.

By that, I don’t mean that it’s impossible to have a productive conversation. There are just certain aspects of that conversation that are intractable. We’ll never be able to agree because we’ll never be on the same page.

Women will point out the historic abuses and injustices perpetrated by men.

Men will point out the inherent advantages and privileges that women are afforded.

Women will bemoan instances of harassment, toxic masculinity, and patriarchal oppression.

Men will cite instances of egregious double standards, male disposability, and cultural marginalization.

Those in the transgender community will point out how both sides are guilty of denigrating their community.

From the most radical of feminists to the most egregious misogynist, there seems to be no common ground. It fuels a great deal of the perpetual outrage culture surrounding gender. Whatever your ideology, it feels like there’s no underlying thread through which we can get to the heart of the conflict.

While I don’t claim to be an expert in feminism, men’s issues, or gender, I’ve written enough about these topics to gain some insight. In doing so, I wish to do something other than complain about the state of gender politics. Instead, I’d like to offer an idea that I believe puts many gender-driven conflicts into a more cohesive context.

The primary catalyst for gender conflicts boils down to controlling women’s bodies versus policing men’s thoughts.

I know it’s a generalization, one that seems too simple to cover so many complicated issues. However, the connections are there. If you take a step back, it’s possible to see how many current and past issues involving gender came down to this simple dynamic.

To understand its implications, take a moment to think about the different ways we judge men and women. Consider how we do it now, how we’ve done it in the past, and the ways we justify it. When you look at the big picture, there are some clear patterns.

Take, for example, the extent to which modesty and chastity is emphasized for women. In both modern Islamic cultures and ancient agrarian cultures, a virtuous woman was one who didn’t show off her body, didn’t have promiscuous sex, and didn’t thrust herself into major issues. At the same time, modesty in men is never mentioned.

Why is this? I know some feminists will cite the nefarious patriarchy as the source of all female marginalization. That makes for a great melodrama, but it does not reflect reality. I know I’ll upset a few feminists here when I say this, but I think it needs to be said.

The obsession over the female body has nothing to do with patriarchy and everything to do with the fact that women bear children. That’s the one intractable difference between men and women that no ideology can deny. One gender has to carry the future of the species inside their bodies for nine months and the other doesn’t.

Any woman who has endured a pregnancy can attest that this process is strenuous, to say the least. Unfortunately, it’s necessary for the continuation of our species and, by default, the growth of society. From a purely pragmatic perspective, it makes sense to micromanage female bodies.

We need female bodies to be healthy and safe in order to bear children. The fact that, for much of recorded history, men needed to be certain those children were theirs for the inheritance of property only increased that need. Women who were promiscuous, injured, or in any way damaged didn’t just result in their own suffering. It could cause the entire tribe to suffer.

It certainly doesn’t help that we had a limited understanding of human biology and disease until recently. It also doesn’t help that these values of protecting female bodies became enshrined in religion and culture, some of which are still practiced today. This emphasis on controlling the female body is the foundation on which many taboos, traditions, and tropes are built.

On that same foundation is the other side of that dynamic that involves policing the thoughts of men. By that, I don’t just mean men acting immature at the sight of a naked woman or cringing at discussions concerning female biology. I’m talking about a mentality that builds assumptions and expectations about an entire gender based on unknowable thoughts.

Think back to what Judeo-Christian morals say about men who look at a women with lust. It’s such an important issue that Jesus himself says outright that just thinking sexy thoughts about a woman is a major transgression. He didn’t say anything about homosexuality, but he made it clear that contemplating lust is as bad as acting on it.

Many religious traditions and cultures place a similar emphasis on the subject. It’s why traditions in Islam and ancient China advocate separating men from women. If they’re in close proximity, they may look at one another. If they look at one another, then they may think lustful thoughts.

This isn’t just cultures being sexually uptight or overly patriarchal. This emphasis on scorning men’s thoughts makes logistical sense when you look at the intent. From perspective of a functional society, it has to emphasize thought over actions because just judging a man for his actions is insufficient when you extrapolate the consequences.

Say a man sexually assaults a woman. The community rightfully convicts him and punishes him as harshly as possible. No matter how harsh or cruel, though, it doesn’t undo the harm he inflicted on the woman. She is still traumatized. She might even be permanently injured. As I noted before, when a female body suffers, it puts the future of the community in danger.

As a result, we have no choice but to attack the thoughts of the man that preceded his assault. The only way to prevent damage to the female body is to prevent those violent thoughts from occurring in the first place. Unfortunately, we can’t read thoughts. We don’t know what a man is or isn’t thinking when he commits an egregious crime. As a result, we’re left with expectations and assumptions.

That’s where we get flawed concepts like toxic masculinity, the male gaze, and mansplaining. That’s also why there’s a greater emphasis on assuming the guilt of men and believing the claims of women. Attacking their thoughts is the only sure-fire way to prevent them from turning into actions that would harm women and their bodies.

Please note that I emphasized the harm to the female bodies with respect to men’s actions. That’s not an accident. The assumptions are the same today as they were in ancient times when protecting the reproductive function of women wasn’t just a cultural tradition. It was a matter of survival. Any effort that could reduce the chances of a female body being harmed had merit. From there, natural selection does the rest.

With this dynamic in mind, look at some of the relevant cultural issues going on today. Even if the connections aren’t direct, the influencing factors are there. Nearly every one of them come back to controlling women’s bodies and policing men’s thoughts.

At the heart of the abortion debate is controlling women’s bodies.

At the heart of the debate over depictions of women in media is policing men’s thoughts.

At the heart of the anti-harassment movement, the anti-pornography movement, and the opposition to prostitution is the control of female bodies and the policing of men’s thoughts.

It’s rarely stated outright. However, that is what many issues comes back to. Often times, the people involved won’t use words like “control” or “policing.” They’ll claim they’re protecting women’s bodies and enlightening men’s thoughts. That may be the intention, but there are only so many ways anyone can go about pursuing such recourse.

To protect anything, you have to be able to control it to some degree. We can’t protect people, pets, or possessions without some kind of containment. The same goes for reforming someone’s attitudes. It’s necessary to police undesired thoughts to promote the thoughts you want.

In both cases, the outcome is the same. It’s both impossible and untenable to completely control women’s bodies. That requires a level of subjugation that even the most brazen misogynist cannot stomach or maintain. It’s just as impractical to police men’s thoughts. We can never know for sure what someone else is thinking. We’re left to assume and that’s usually the first step towards expecting the worst.

Despite the efforts of government, culture, tradition, and organized religion, nobody has come close to controlling women’s bodies and policing men’s thoughts to any sustainable extent. Men will still think sexy thoughts, a small part of which will precede a serious crime. Women will still put themselves at risk to be free, have fun, and enjoy their bodies on their own terms.

Even if 99 percent of what men think results in no crimes and 99 percent of what women did with their bodies resulted in no negative effects, we’ll still obsess over that one percent of the time when something goes horribly wrong. That obsession will continue to fuel the most radical parts of feminism and the most vocal parts of men’s rights activists.

For now, there’s no way to bridge the gap. That may change as a result of major social and technological trends, but this is the current situation. Again, I don’t claim this idea of controlling women’s bodies and policing men’s thoughts is the definitive catalyst for all gender-driven conflicts. This is just an idea I wanted to share in hopes of providing perspective.

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A Personal Story About Puberty, Thongs, And High School

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It has been a while since I shared some personal insights. In my defense, this past year has been rough. Back in the summer, two very close family members of mine passed away. It has not been easy getting personal under those circumstances. I’d like to change that and in a way that isn’t entirely depressing.

With that in mind, I’d like to tell a story about puberty. I’ll give everyone a moment to stop laughing and/or cringing. Take all the time you need. If you’re like John Oliver, you may need more time than most.

I feel like it’s worth bringing up because, for better or for worse, how we go through puberty plays a big part in how we grow into adults. I can’t claim with a straight face that I handled puberty as well as I could’ve. If I were to grade myself, I would probably get a C-minus, at best. This story that I’m about to share should help explain why.

To understand why this moment in my life sticks out, there’s a particular context I need to establish, especially for my female audience. When it comes to changing from a child to an adult, there’s no one moment that marks the transition. One single strand of pubic hair doesn’t make you a man any more than one juice box makes you a kid.

More often than not, at least for men, there are a series of moments that effectively signal that you are not a kid anymore. You’re not an adult, either. You’re a teenager, steadily transforming into an adult body and doing your best to handle all these weird and overwhelming changes.

I can’t speak to the female experience, but I can say that as a male, those moments can be pretty powerful. They’re like way-points on the journey to adulthood. This story marks one of those way-points. It involves one of my least favorite classes in high school and cute girls wearing revealing thongs.

I’m being dead serious, here. Again, take all the time you need to stop laughing and/or cringing.

The setting was innocent enough. It’s my freshman year of high school. I’m an awkward 15-year-old with a terrible acne problem, an underwhelming stature, and low self-confidence. I’m also at an age where I’m really starting to feel my hormones and not just in terms of awkward boners. While I’d always enjoyed the company of girls, my teenage brain was starting to complicate those feelings.

I could manage that, for the most part. Then, I walk in my Introduction to Spanish class. Now, I’m already dreading this class because, at the time, I sucked at memorizing things not associated with comic books or NFL stats. It didn’t help that my teacher was awful so I was rarely in a good mood when I walked in.

That mood changed, somewhat, when my teacher gave us assigned seating in a new classroom. As it just so happened, I ended up sitting right behind a beautiful young woman with brown hair, tan skin, and nails she always painted purple. Why do I remember that while I forgot pretty much everything else in that class? That’s where thongs enter the story.

This girl, in addition to being beautiful and sweet, loved to wear thong underwear. I knew because from where I was sitting, I could see it clearly. It didn’t matter what kind of pants she wore or what the weather was like. Whenever she leaned forward on her desk, I got a perfect view of the top part of her thong.

I don’t know if it was intentional. This girl was not shy about her body, but not in a trashy sort of way. She was very sweet and kind to everyone, regardless of what she wore. She was that way with me, even though I had lousy social skills and bad acne. Whatever her reason, she didn’t seem to care that her thong showed every time she leaned forward. I never pointed it out to her and neither did anyone else.

I freely admit that I was very distracted by this, but not in a way I minded. If it weren’t a beautiful girl wearing a thong, it would’ve been something else. That’s how disinterested I was in this class. It led to more than a few awkward boners, but I’d been getting those for years. I’d never gotten them in a way that felt like a direct response to someone else’s presence.

It wasn’t just a sign that my body was changing. It signaled that my mind was changing too. How I felt and how I thought about girls was different than before. It was never going to be the same again and I feel like it started with that one thong-loving girl.

I acknowledge that there will be some people out there who think less of me for gawking at the sight of a young woman’s underwear, especially while at school. I’m won’t make excuse and I won’t apologize for it, either.

I was a 15-year-old boy going through puberty. I hadn’t yet mastered the art of hiding porn in my bedroom and the concept of sexy underwear on beautiful women was just starting to appeal to me. It’s for that very reason, however perverse some may find it, that this memory is so vivid for me.

It was at this moment, sitting in Spanish class and covertly admiring the cute girl’s thong, that I realized I was not a kid anymore. I was becoming an adult. That was a critical revelation for me because, up until that point, I still thought of myself as a kid. Even at 15, I hadn’t quite shed that part of my identity. This experience changed that.

I couldn’t keep clinging to childhood. Moreover, I didn’t want to anymore. I felt like an adult. I wanted to grow up. I know that sounds like a lot of revelation from just seeing a cute girl’s thong, but make no mistake. The impact was that profound. It remains a defining moment for my adolescence.

In addition to the thong, I also remember the girl’s name. For the sake of her privacy, I won’t share it. However, after I finished that class, I never had a class with her again. I didn’t see much of her for the rest of high school. I doubt I’ll ever see her again. Even if I don’t, her impact on my teenage life is etched in bedrock. For that, I thank her and her tastes in underwear.

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