Category Archives: human nature

Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Pursuing A Dream

Today is a day in which we remember a dream. In a world that’s full of hard truths, fake news, and gross injustices, we need that dream more than ever. It’s a dream I like to think that humanity has always had on some level, but it took a remarkable man named Martin Luther King Jr. to put it into words that will resonate for generations to come.

In general, I don’t like talking about politics. I’ve written about sensitive issues before, but I honestly think it’s a waste of time. I don’t think it’s possible to change someone’s mind by just debating the issues. I also don’t think it’s possible to convince someone that they’re wrong through discourse alone. It’s not impossible, but it’s exceedingly difficult.

Dr. King did something remarkable during his tireless pursuit of justice and civil rights. He confronted hatred, but he didn’t fight back with it. He dared to inspire, appealing to ideals greater than politics or tradition. He presented a dream of a better world. He preached a message of hope and love. It might not have changed the minds of his opponents at the time, but it inspired generations of others to pursue that dream.

It’s a dream that’s still worth pursuing. Some may argue that we’ve regressed. I respectfully disagree. While we haven’t made as much progress as most would prefer, signs of progress are there. There’s still room for improvement, but the dream is relevant as ever. As Dr. King himself once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

If you need another reminder as to why that dream is still important, you need only listen to Dr. King’s most famous speech. It’s a speech that made the dream feel real and it’s a dream worth pursuing now and for generations to come.

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Nature Vs. Nurture: A Case Study In “The Big Bang Theory”

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What makes someone an uptight, narcissistic control freak who refuses to admit when they’re wrong and will never let anyone else sit in their spot on the couch?

What makes someone a needy, whiny, emotionally stunted man-child who is chronically insecure and in constant need of approval?

What makes someone an outgoing, overly social free spirit who is also habitually irresponsible, exercises poor judgement, and intellectually dense?

These are all personal questions that have a multitude of answers, none of which are definitive. There are entire fields of study devoted to answering such questions, none of which are perfect. It often comes down to a question of whether someone was born with certain traits or are simply a product of their environment.

It’s the classic nature versus nurture debate and, in almost every case, it’s neither one nor the other. Some people are born with certain traits or personality quirks that physically manifests in their brains. Others are heavily influenced by the people and environment they grow up around. In between all of this is a multitude of other factors that are difficult to quantify.

Figuring people out what makes them tick and how they got that way is challenging, even if you consider yourself a very insightful person. People, in general, tend to be complicated. Human beings might have basic drives to survive, reproduce, and find a tribe, but there are countless variations beyond those drives.

Many of those exaggerations are also pushed to hilarious extremes with fictional characters. Between the Hulk’s anger issues and Lex Luthor’s narcissism, fictional worlds can provide useful insights into the whole nature/nurture dynamic. Whereas someone like Lex Luthor was born with little empathy and way too much ego, the anger issues of the Hulk were a more complicated, as well as disturbing.

These characters, like real people, often have a combination of nature and nurture that helps influence who they, how they got that way, and what they eventually become. It’s often subtle and building a story around it is difficult. However, there’s one group of fictional characters that I believe embody the nature versus nurture dynamic better than most.

Those characters are the cast of “The Big Bang Theory,” a show that recently ended it’s remarkable 12-year run as one of the highest-rated sitcoms of all time. While the show has garnered plenty of criticism and outright hate, there’s no denying that the show struck a chord. No show involving the same group of characters lasts for 12 years without resonating with audiences on some personal level.

While there are certainly parts of the show that I don’t care for, I still consider myself a fan of it. I even admit that I got emotional when I saw the series finale. I thought it was incredibly well done and it marked a fitting end for the journey that Leonard, Howard, Raj, Sheldon, and Penny began 12 years ago. Many other fans of the show agreed with that sentiment.

Love it or hate it, and plenty did hate it, the show had a great deal of appeal outside its cheesy jokes and comical portrayal of geek culture. After seeing the finale and watching a few reruns, I think one of the most endearing appeals was how much the characters grew over the years. Given that it was a sitcom and character growth in sitcoms are notoriously slow, I think it’s one of the show’s biggest accomplishments.

From the beginning, the personalities of each character are established with distinct traits that were heavily exaggerated for comedic effect.

Leonard was needy, insecure, and weak-willed. He was basically the ultimate beta-male nerd from every 80s teen comedy.

Howard was obsessive, selfish, and immature. He also had some stalker-like creepiness baked into his approach towards getting women.

Raj was passive, effeminate, and quirky, but largely defined by his inability to talk to women.

Sheldon was self-centered, stubborn, and egotistical. He might have also been autistic.

Penny was a bubbly, upbeat, lovable free spirit. However, she was also irresponsible and exercised poor judgement, especially when it came to her personal life.

Like every sitcom, every major plot and iconic gag was built off these traits. From Leonard trying desperately to win Penny’s affection to Howard’s efforts to pick up women to Sheldon’s inability to keep a secret, “The Big Bang Theory” had plenty to work with in terms of eccentric personality quirks. I believe a large part of the show’s success is a direct result of how well it made use of those quirks.

As the show progressed and we learned more about these character, we also learn more about where they came from and what influences them. We find out that Leonard’s insecurities might stem from the relationship he had with his mother. He also learn how much living with his loud-mouthed mother has effected Howard. We learn where Penny came from and how that informed her personality.

We learn plenty about Sheldon too, but it would take a long time to go over his many issues. He was, by far, the most eccentric character on the show and one of the most controversial.

For each character, we get a strong sense of their nature. More than most sitcoms, “The Big Bang Theory” belabors and reinforces the core personality of each character. If you watch just a few episodes, you can get a fairly decent feel for their behavior and how they would react in most situations.

At the same time, however, the show also demonstrates how new influences change these characters over time. In fact, the foundation for this change is established in the pilot episode when Penny first moves in to the apartment across from Sheldon and Leonard. She is a very different kind of influence on these two and vice versa. You could even argue that it’s the most important catalyst for the entire show.

It’s only after we learn about the nature of each characters that we appreciate what a critical moment that was in the context of each character’s journey. Before Penny’s arrival, Sheldon and Leonard didn’t have many disrupting influences. They were surrounded in familiar territory. They had nothing prompting them to change or grow in new directions.

The same goes for Penny. Before she arrived, she was just a simple girl from the mid-west who had never lived around hardcore geeks and accomplished scientists. She never even showed much interest in science, geek culture, or anything of the sort. While it didn’t seem to affect her at first, there were signs of their influence as the show progressed.

Both Howard and Raj went through similar transformations. In the early seasons, there were many sub-plots built around both of them trying to get the attention of women, despite Raj not being able to talk to them without being drunk. Most of them fail spectacularly. Some were downright pathetic at times and not in a funny way.

 

Then, new influences came into their lives. Howard met Bernadette, who underwent her own transformation as she became a bigger part of the group. While their relationship had its upheavals, it did more than anything to humanize Howard. It still didn’t fundamentally change him. He was still immature and obnoxious at times, but he also showed that he could be a respectable family man.

Raj’s growth wasn’t quite as dramatic, but he did eventually learn to talk to women without the aid of alcohol. He also went from just wanting to get the attention of women to seeking love, marriage, and family. He even gains more self-confidence and assertiveness as the show went on, some of which was a result of interacting with Penny and the rest of the group.

Then, there’s the growth of Sheldon Cooper. More than any other character, Sheldon demonstrated the value of having quality influences.

His nature is, by far, the most eccentric and extreme. It’s the nurturing forces, however, that I think had the greatest impact on both his character development and the overall progression of the of the show.

There’s no getting around it. In the first few seasons, Sheldon was a stubborn, selfish egotist. For a time, it was even a popular refrain to note that Sheldon was just one lab accident away from becoming a supervillain. Given that most supervillains tend to be petty, eccentric, and self-centered, I think that’s an accurate statement disguised as a joke.

Thankfully, that accident never happened. Instead, Sheldon was frequently nudged and, in a few cases, shoved into being less insufferable. Penny was usually the one to get him out of his comfort zone in the early seasons. Then, Amy Farrah Fowler came along and gave him a nurturing force that seemed almost impossible in the earlier seasons.

Amy brought issues of her own to the table, but like Bernadette did with Howard, she proved to be a stabilizing presence for Sheldon. She didn’t fundamentally change him, nor did she even demand it. She simply provided new influences. Granted, he stubbornly fought them, at first. He fought harder than anyone else in the group. In the end, though, he still embraced these changes and was better because of it.

It was that change that made his Nobel Prize acceptance speech at the end of the show so perfect. In that moment, he achieved something he’d been hoping to achieve since the earliest season. It was the ultimate affirmation of his genius and his abilities, which he’d bragged and boasted about to no end. It could’ve been the ultimate ego trip for him.

Instead, he thanked his friends. He demonstrated humility on a stage in front of a huge crowed of people. For someone who started the show seeming incapable of empathy and nuance, it was a powerful moment. It showed that this weird, colorful character that we loved and hated at times had really grown. He even acknowledged the source of that growth in a genuine, heartfelt gesture.

When you look at that moment in the context of the entire show, you can see just how powerful those influences can be. These chaLracters, all of which were set in their ways to some extent, showed just how much those influences can change. Even for characters with idiosyncrasies like Sheldon Cooper, people can change in positive ways.

Sheldon, Leonard, Howard, Raj, and Penny wouldn’t have undergone those changes without nurturing one another to some stent. At times, that nurturing took the form of annoyance and frustration. That only makes the change more fitting because most people resist that change. Even in the real world, our default reaction is to keep doing what we’re doing and make every excuse along the way.

While many sitcoms have their characters undergo plenty of upheavals, “The Big Bang Theory” goes the extra mile in showing how people can be changed by the people and influences around them. They’ll still stay true to their nature.

Sheldon will always have that distinct Sheldon-like persona, as will Penny, Leonard, Raj, and Howard. However, with the right kind of nurture, they can become endearing characters in their own right. Say what you will about the quality of the show, but its place in TV history has been secured.

Bazinga!

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Christmas As A Kid Vs. Christmas As An Adult

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As adults, we tend to see things very differently than we did when we were kids. There are exceptions, of course. I’m almost certain the look on my face when I re-watch an old episode of “X-Men” or “Spider-Man” is the same now as it was when I was a kid. For most things, though, our thinking and our perceptions evolve.

This tends to manifest a lot during the holidays. As kids, we know why we loved Christmas. We got presents. We got over a week off of school. We got to hang out with friends, show off our toys, and eat whatever sugary treats our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors put in front of us. What’s not to love?

As adults, it changes considerably and the extent of that change differs from person to person. I know people who tend to see the holidays as a chore as they get older. They rarely look happy or festive. They just look stressed out and constantly complain about how hard it is to find parking at the mall in the weeks after Thanksgiving. Honestly, I feel bad for these people.

For others, Christmas becomes more a formality. It’s like Thanksgiving, but with more decorations, presents, and eggnog. It means having a few days off work and catching up with family, especially if you didn’t get to over Thanksgiving. I can appreciate this too. Most of the people I know tend to see Christmas this way and I think it’s perfectly appropriate.

For me, however, Christmas has taken on a whole new appeal since I became an adult. While I don’t see it with the kind of wide-eyed excitement I did when I was a kid, I still get giddier about it than most people my age. I know this because other people, including close friends and relatives, have told me this directly.

That appeal still took a while to evolve. When I was in college, there was only so much I could do for the holidays. I was flat broke, in debt, and still dependent on my parents for all things festive. For several years, I had to do most of my shopping in the campus mall. While my family and friends never gave me a hard time about it, it did dampen my holiday spirit for a time.

Then, after I graduated, started making my own money, and moved out of my parents’ house, things changed. Suddenly, I could celebrate Christmas in my own unique way. For the first couple years, I didn’t even know what that entailed. Once I got going, though, I learned quickly.

I bought my own Christmas tree. I put it up in mid-November and put way more lights on it than my parents ever did. I started wearing ugly Christmas sweaters and novelty ties. I began shopping for Christmas gifts with more money than a broke college student. They were exciting times, to say the least. In the process, I learned something important about Christmas as an adult.

As a kid, Christmas is all about getting.

As an adult, Christmas is all about giving and giving with heart.

I know that sounds corny. I’m sure that will evoke some groans among those who love complaining about how Christmas has become so commercialized and materialistic. I feel bad for those people too because I couldn’t disagree more.

As kids, it makes sense for Christmas to be about getting stuff. We’re kids. We can’t get our own stuff yet. We can’t work, earn money, and celebrate on our own accord. We’re dependent on our parents and our family. Say what you will about that dynamic, those are the logistics we have to deal with.

Once we become adults, we learn what it means to be part of a community and a family. In that community, we can’t just obsess over getting stuff and not just so we don’t become a villain in a Charles Dickens novel. In the adult world, to get the things we want, be it love or a new iPad, we need to cooperate and connect with one another.

Sometimes it’s with friends.

Sometimes it’s with total strangers.

Sometimes it’s with co-workers, peers, or employers.

One way or another, we have to give ourselves to others in order to get what we want, regardless of what day of the year it might be. That’s what it means to be in a family, a community, and a society. It doesn’t always involve giving something material or wrapped in colorful wrapping paper. More often, it means giving our time, our attention, our affection, and our passion.

It may sound like a chore for some, but it’s very rewarding in amazing ways that science has documented. We are a social species, after all. Socializing, forming bonds, and making others around us happy makes us happy, in turn. Around the holidays, we just add lights, food, family, and festivities to the mix, which tends to amplify the effect.

I can attest to the power of this effect. As an adult, some of my favorite Christmas memories from the reactions I see on the faces of friends and loved ones when they open my gifts. The joy I see when I manage to get them something that they love is a true sight to behold. Given how I take gift-giving more seriously than most people in my family, they know I don’t take it lightly.

Those efforts help make the holidays more rewarding for me and my family. For me, it’s not about getting presents. I still enjoy that part as much as anyone who enjoys getting gifts, but I’ve become more and more fond of the giving part of the holidays. By making it more enjoyable for my loved ones, whether it’s through a gift, a treat, or me wearing a goofy sweater, I get more enjoyment out of it as well.

Maybe my idea of Christmas will evolve again once I meet that special someone and have kids. Until then, I have a clear plan for the many Christmas festivities to come. I’ve already completed my shopping. I’m preparing treats and activities, as well. I intend to give my family everything they’ve come to love and enjoy about Christmas. I may not top the previous year, but I will make that effort. That much, I can promise.

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How (And Why) Boredom Undermines Gender Equality

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Imagine, for a moment, you’re in relationship of perfect equality. You and your partner are the personification of gender equality. You share equal roles and responsibilities. In terms of who does what, gender doesn’t factor into the equation. You do your part and your partner does theirs. From dishes to child care to paying the bills, it’s as equal as any relationship can be.

In essence, your relationship is the ideal that feminism, egalitarians, and even most Men’s Rights Activists champion when they describe the fair and just society they’re fighting for. In a perfect world, your relationship would be the standard. Even if you can’t imagine your current relationship being that perfect, you can still appreciate the ideal.

As with most ideals, though, there’s a major flaw and it has to do with boredom.

The scenario I just described above isn’t another one of my thought experiments. It was inspired by a story in Pluralist about a woman who is frustratingly bored with her perfect feminist husband. To get an idea of how frustrated she is, here’s a direct quote from the article.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love him and this year we celebrated 17 years together – 13 of them married – but I wish he’d lie, cheat, defame or slander just once, so that I could feel better about my own less-than-perfect character. Simply put, I’m bored of being married to a paragon of virtue.”

Now, I know it’s tempting to roll your eyes at a woman making this kind of complaint about her love life. The idea that a spouse is too perfect is like a billionaire complaining that the seats in their new Lamborghini are too soft. I’ve seen more than a few comments on social media criticizing this woman for being so petty. Some have used her story as proof that women can’t handle nice guys and men just can’t win with women.

I don’t think that criticism is fair. I also don’t think that her story proves or disproves a particular aspect of gender politics. However, I believe it does highlight how boredom can complicate the push for gender equality. It’s a factor that rarely comes up in discussions surrounding feminism, men’s issues, LGBT issues, and the societal factors that exist in between. It still has immense influence.

After reading the Pluralist story, I felt sympathy for the woman. I know it’s hard to feel much for someone in such a perfect relationship, especially for those of us who are single, but I can understand how boredom can undermine a seemingly ideal situation. To some extent, this woman’s story shows how boredom can complicate the otherwise noble efforts to pursue gender equality.

In making sense of the woman’s feelings, I found myself thinking back to the high school. If that sounds like an odd connection, I promise there is a logic to it. Now, I’ve made clear in the past how much I hated high school. To say my experience was not ideal would be a gross understatement. That said, the idea behind high school has some useful parallels to gender politics.

The ideals of high school are simple. You take a large group of teenagers, put them into a structured environment, educate them to a particular standard, and send them out into the world with all the knowledge and skills they need to become functional adults. Again, that’s the ideal. While that effort works fine for some, there are many more for whom it fails.

For this particular woman, she represents the lucky few who ace every test, pass every class, and follow every rule. As a result, she should be perfectly equipped to enter adulthood. By all accounts, she does. There are no surprises or setbacks. Everything goes according to the plan and the ideals behind it.

It’s here where the boredom takes hold. That lack of major upheavals means there’s little in terms of challenge or growth. The path is already set. The obstacles have already been cleared. You just have to walk it and you’ll get to where you’re going. There’s no strain, but there’s no sense of achievement, either. In the grand scheme of things, you didn’t overcome anything.

In the context of gender equality, it’s akin to a clear, unobstructed path that doesn’t test or excite anyone. That directly conflicts with the basic psychology of boredom that craves novelty and seeks more intense sensations. Perfect equality, be it in a relationship or a high school, doesn’t leave much room for any of this.

This isn’t just about people being inherently flawed or needing something to complain about. In practice, true equality means the outcome of every challenge is determined. The woman herself stated that she knew how a situation would play out in her marriage. There’s never any negotiation or exchange. With such clear-cut equality, everything is pre-determined.

“If I told him on Friday I was spending Saturday chilling at a spa, he’d probably drop me there so I didn’t have to drive, then take the kids to their clubs before making sure the house was tidy.”

When everything is that predictable, then boredom is practically unavoidable. When there’s nothing to gain or lose, then it’s only a matter of time before malaise sets in. It’s not the woman’s fault and it’s not her husband’s fault, either. That’s just how boredom works.

The article went onto cite a number of studies that indicate couples in equitable relationships have less sex, but they primarily focus on the symptoms of boredom and not the underlying cause. For the woman in the story, I think her frustration has little to do with her husband sharing in the work and everything to do with how predictable everything is.

If I could talk to this woman, I would caution her against wanting her husband to lie, cheat, or develop a bad attitude with her. That might shake things up for her in the short-term, but would do a great deal of damage to the both of them in the long run. I would advise that she and her husband seek new challenges outside gender roles. Both she and her husband may benefit from shaking things up for a while.

What that may entail depends on the nature of their relationship. The article didn’t get into too many personal details and understandably so. Without getting to know this woman or her husband, I can’t be certain what else might be fostering such boredom. There could be other issues beyond their relationship that are causing these feelings.

Whatever the case, the corrosive power of boredom is difficult to work around. Equality is generally a good thing, but when equality fosters predictability, boredom is an unfortunate byproduct. This woman, whatever her politics, knows this better than anyone.

I still support efforts to improve gender equality, especially within relationships. I think it’s beneficial to everyone when roles and responsibilities are shared in an equitable manner. However, I also believe that human beings need challenges and obstacles. Without that, pursuing a greater good takes a back seat to escaping crippling boredom.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, men's issues, outrage culture, philosophy, psychology, romance, sex in society, sexuality, War on Boredom

July/August 2020: A Local Baby Boom Triggered By DC Sports?

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As a lifelong fan of sports who lives in the Baltimore/DC metro area, I’m very aware of major events and achievements in sports that affect these areas.

I was very aware when the Washington Redskins won the Superbowl in 1992.

I was very aware when the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2012.

I was very aware of when Robert Griffin III took the league by storm in 2012.

I’m also aware that Lamar Jackson has the Baltimore Ravens looking like Super Bowl contenders this year.

When there’s reason to cheer, I tend to notice. After 2012, however, this area didn’t have many reasons to be cheerful. The Baltimore/DC area has had mixed luck at best when it comes to major sports. The DC area was especially unlucky in that, until very recently, no major sports team had won a championship since the Redskins did it in 1992. That’s a long drought, albeit not the longest.

That finally changed in 2018 when the Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup. Make no mistake. This was a big deal for the area. My ears are still ringing from some of the cheering I heard. It also made the area subject to an interesting, but sexy side-effect of winning a championship. It may or may not have inspired a bit of a baby boom in the area.

Now, that makes sense intuitively. When your team wins, especially after a long drought, fans are going to celebrate. Sometimes, the celebrations get sexy. When things get sexy, babies sometimes get made. That’s just the nature of celebrations and they’re a beautiful thing.

While it’s hard to determine how much or how little of a baby boom there was once the Capitals won the cub in 2018, there was a notable uptick in babies being named after players. There has also been some previous research about cities or regions that win the Super Bowl on whether a championship causes a spike in birth rates. To date, the research is inconclusive.

However, there is some reason to suspect that championships in certain areas cause a baby boom. When the Chicago Cubs won the world series in 2016, ending a championship drought that was over 100 years old, there was a documented uptick in births nine months later. That implies that whether or not a baby boom occurs after a championship depends heavily on the city.

This brings me back to the DC area. Just a month and a half ago, the Washington Nationals capped off a historic playoff run to win their first World Series since the franchise moved from Montreal back in 2005. It also marked the first World Series won by a DC baseball team since 1924.

As someone who lives near the area, I can confirm that this was an emotional achievement. I have family members who remembered vividly when DC lost its baseball team back in the 1970s. It was a sad time for the region. Some thought they would never see baseball in DC again.

Then, the Washington Nationals came back and, for most of their early history, they were terrible. Even when they got good, though, they developed a reputation for choking in the playoffs. For them to win it all this year, especially after starting 19-31, was nothing short of astounding.

The celebrations this achievement triggered were a sight to behold. It also had me check my calendar. The Nationals capped off their championship on October 30, 2019. That means in late July, early August 2020, we’ll find out just how much celebrating DC sports fans did after that historic achievement.

I’ve already got my calendar marked. I’m going to be keeping an eye on the local news to see if there’s an uptick in births throughout the area during that time. If I find something, I’ll be sure to share the results. Honestly, as a long-time resident of the DC/Baltimore area, I hope there is a bit of a spike. If nothing else, it’ll show the people in my area know how to celebrate in sexy ways.

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Selling (And Exploiting) Human Enhancement: An Ominous Lesson From “Superior Iron Man”

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How much would you be willing to pay for perfect health, perfect beauty, and a greater capacity to enjoy life as you see fit? This is not a rhetorical question. I would even argue that it’s an increasingly relevant question. In the coming years, answering it might even become more urgent.

I’ve talked about the prospects of human enhancement through emerging technology before. From its impact on our concept of beauty to how our society will function, there are many impacts to consider. Some of those impacts are already manifesting before our eyes. Just last year, the first genetically modified babies were born in China. Like it or not, this is happening.

It’s impossible to overstate the benefits, risks, and upheavals that human enhancement will have on our species and our world. Nobody knows for sure what’s going to happen as this technology matures or how societies, economies, and governments will react to it. Even so, it’s worth contemplating. It’s even worth imagining elaborate scenarios in fictional worlds.

While plenty of noteworthy stories have imagined such scenarios, some more dystopian than others, there’s one in particular I’d like to single out. It’s not entirely dystopian, but it does offer some distressing lessons about the larger economics of human enhancement. It also helps that those lessons come through a forgotten, but criminally underrated Iron Man comic.

Given the rapid rise of Iron Man’s star power over the past decade, his character is uniquely qualified to explore these difficult questions surrounding technology and how we use it. He is, at his core, a visionary who uses technology to solve problems, save lives, and occasionally fight invading aliens. In the series, “Superior Iron Man,” he takes that vision several steps further and cross many lines along the way.

While there are some convoluted circumstances surrounding this series, the ideas it explores are profound, even by the standards of superhero comics. You don’t need to know the specifics of those circumstances. They involve forces like magic and inversion spells, which are far too complicated to explain to those who haven’t followed Marvel comics for more than two decades.

The only detail anyone needs to know about “Superior Iron Man” is that the Tony Stark in this story is not the same lovable character that helped make Robert Downy Jr. one of the most lovable stars in Hollywood. This version of Tony is less bound by concepts of heroism, selflessness, and sobriety. That’s not to say he’s evil, but he’s definitely no hero.

Within this ethically bankrupt state, Tony embarks on a new initiative that’s as selfish as it is lucrative. It revolves around Extremis, an exotic cocktail of nanotechnology and biotechnology that effectively rewrites the blueprint of the entire human body into something better, stronger, and more robust. In essence, it is the ultimate tool for human enhancement.

While the initial version of Extremis was lethal to most people who used it, Tony creates a more commercialized version in “Superior Iron Man” that gives everyone a chance to enjoy its benefits. He calls it Extremis 3.0 and people can access it through a simple smartphone app. With it, people can achieve what Tony describes as physical perfection.

Everyone can be perfectly healthy.

Everyone can be young and beautiful.

Everyone can be functionally immortal.

It sounds like a miracle drug and by every measure, it is. This isn’t some Dr. Oz wannabe pitching vitamins that do nothing other than give you false hope. This technology actually works. With it, Tony gives the entire city of San Francisco a chance to experience the fruits of human enhancement.

Understandably, once people get a taste of what Extremis 3.0 has to offer, they love it. They also take full advantage of it. At one point in the story, Pepper Potts says it’s turning the streets of San Francisco into a non-stop parade of debauchery and self-indulgence. Tony does not see this as a bad thing. If anything, it perfectly complements his plans and his renewed appetite for self-indulgence.

This is where “Superior Iron Man” attempts to answer that question about putting a price on physical perfection. Writer Tom Taylor, alongside artist Yildiray Çinar, doesn’t hide from the disturbing parts of that answer. By the end of the first issue, Tony puts a literal price on that perfection. Needless to say, it causes plenty of conflict and it escalates quickly.

When he initially released Extremis 3.0 onto San Francisco, he gives ordinary people a taste of what it’s like to be as fit as Captain America, as beautiful as Emma Frost, and as physically endowed as Thor. It’s not a drug that just attempts to match that feeling. It physically changes their bodies and their capacity for using them. That taste, however, was just a free sample. To keep enjoying it, they must pay $99 a day.

It’s crude trick right out of the playbook of subscription apps. People get a free trial period that’s just long enough to get them hooked. Then, before they even realize they have to pay anything, they get hit with a paywall. It’s a cruel bait-and-switch, but this isn’t just another streaming video service. This is physical perfection and unlimited self-indulgence. Is $99 a day really that unreasonable?

It certainly rubs plenty of people the wrong way, including many of Tony’s long-time friends and allies. Both Daredevil and Pepper Potts turn against him for such devious tactic. It also has some noticeable effects on the people who use it. By the end of the first issue, a stark class divide emerges between those who can afford Extremis 3.0 and those who can’t.

Naturally, it causes crime and conflict among the residents of San Francisco. Tony, now both feared and beloved by these people, takes it upon himself to manage it. He gains power, wealth, status, and an endless supply of eager party guests for whenever he seeks to indulge. It’s a perfect cocktail of recklessness and irresponsibility.

Without spoiling the rest of the story, which ended too soon, I think it’s worth taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture that “Superior Iron Man” presented. If you take away the iconic characters and the superhero themes, you get a story about a selfish business tycoon who has sole possession of the ultimate biotech product.

The goal isn’t to heal the sick, ease suffering, or evolve the human species. The goal is simply to make a lot of money, feed an inflated ego, and indulge in every conceivable vice without consequences. It’s a worst-case scenario for liberals and conservatives, alike. At the same time, it makes a compelling case that our current system can’t handle the impacts of large-scale human enhancement.

That doesn’t mean it can’t succeed in our current system. The size of the current biotech industry is already measured in the hundreds of billions. Overpriced drugs are nothing new, either. Just this past year, the FDA approved a drug called Zolgensma, which costs $425,000 a year for five years to treat a rare genetic disorder called spinal muscular atrophy.

By comparison, Extremis 3.0 is a bargain with far greater value. Even at $99 a day, the yearly cost of enjoying that physical perfection amounts to around $36,500 a year. That still takes up a good chunk of the average income for most Americans, but considering all the benefits of having a perfect body, is it still a bargain?

For anyone who has overpaid for inflated medical expenses, I suspect they would gladly pay that high price for Extremis 3.0. Tony Stark banked on that in “Superior Iron Man” and he was right. People did pay and it was very lucrative for him. The population of the San Francisco Bay Area in which he unleashed Extremis 3.0 is around 4.6 million. At $99 a day, that’s a potential annual revenue of $167 billion.

In terms of business ranking, that would put Tony’s venture in the top 20 in terms of largest companies by revenue. If he were to unleash Extremis on the entire United States, the potential annual revenue would be near $11.8 trillion. That’s a little more than half of the entire US economy.

Imagine one company, let alone one person, having that much money and influence over a population. Tony was already a billionaire before “Superior Iron Man,” but Extremis 3.0 rewarded him with more than just money. Tony, being the sole provider, held a great deal of power and influence over San Francisco. As is often the case in superhero stories, that power goes to his head.

That story plays out in the real world just as often. In some cases, it brings out the worst in people. For a product like Extremis 3.0, which provides human enhancement into a simple commercial package that anyone can access through an app, the potential for abuse is much worse.

Beyond the greed it would inspire and the recklessness it fosters, it would also widen and solidify a gap in society that might be impossible to close. The wealth gap is in the non-superhero world is already egregious. Adding something like Extremis 3.0 to the mix would only make it immeasurably worse.

More than a few people has expressed concern about the prospects of such an enormous societal divide. “Superior Iron Man” showed just how bad it could get and how quickly it could escalate. While the series only managed to explore this conflict to a point before it got canceled, Tom Taylor did enough to get a powerful point across.

In a world where human enhancement is real and commercially available, how do we go about distributing it among a population? Should we put a price on it? How high should that price be? Who should be in control of it?

Worst case scenario.

Superior Iron Man” never got a chance to explore the answers, but these are questions that will become increasingly relevant as advances in biotechnology accelerate. We may not be close to having a product like Extremis 3.0 and it’s uncertain whether we’ll even develop something like it in the next few decades.

Even if we do, “Superior Iron Man” made one thing clear. We, as a species and a society, are not ready for it.

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Filed under biotechnology, futurism, health, human nature, Neuralink, Sexy Future, superhero comics

Jack Fisher’s Guide To (Awesome) Gift Giving

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It’s official now. Thanksgiving is over. The leftovers are mostly gone. That means for the next few weeks, the holiday spirit will revolve entirely around Christmas and Christmas-like festivities. There’s no more complaining about seeing holiday decorations too early. At this point, the time is right to get into the swing of things.

Whether you celebrate it or not, there’s no avoiding it. The season is upon us. We see it in commercials, holiday specials, holiday-themed food, and holiday music. By now, we’ve all probably heard Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas Is You” at least a dozen times on the radio.

Without a doubt, Christmas is my favorite time of year. It always has been. As a kid, my family always did so many wonderful things around Christmas. Some of my fondest childhood memories took place around Christmas. As an adult, I found entirely new ways to make it memorable. I’ve every intention of keeping that tradition, especially once I find the love of my life.

Chief among those traditions is my approach to gift giving. Talk to anyone in my family and they’ll tell you the same thing. When it comes to giving Christmas gifts, I go above and beyond. I’m not the kind of guy who will be cheap or thoughtless. I’m also not the kind of guy who puts in minimal effort, stuffing cheap crap into bags and slapping tags on it. I am willing to put extra time and money into holiday gift giving.

It doesn’t matter if I’m buying for my parents, my siblings, my friends, or my nieces and nephews, who are all still kids. I make it a point to give them gifts that are special, memorable, and meaningful. From what I get into how I wrap them, I make sure every gift I give on the holidays conveys a sense of love and sincerity.

For that reason, and in hopes of inspiring others to go the extra mile this Christmas, I’d like to share my unofficial guide, of sorts, to gift giving on the holidays. It’s not a science, but it’s not some wild crap shoot either. You can give awesome gifts without being rich, psychic, or possessed by the spirit of Santa Claus.

These are simple tips and tricks that I’ve learned from years of successful gift giving. I sincerely hope they help enhance your holiday experience, both with respect to giving gifts and inspiring the right spirit for this time of year.


Tip #1: Be Proactive And Listen Along The Way

This may seem too obvious, but I’ll say it anyways. When it comes to Christmas shopping, you don’t want to procrastinate. I know that’s easier said than done. I know there’s a reason why people feel inclined to procrastinate. Given everything that goes on during the holidays, people have even more excuses.

However, this is one effort for which you really want to be proactive. That means planning or at least contemplating your gift giving schedule around Halloween. It may sound too early, but trust me. It pays off.

This past year, I began browsing Amazon, Ebay, and all the usual retail outlets around mid-October, putting together lists of potential gifts for loved ones. I didn’t buy anything at that point. The idea wasn’t to buy it all at once. That’s actually not a good strategy. The best recourse, in my experience, is to have a long list of possible gifts. It’s just a matter of selecting the right gift for the right person.

You won’t always know that in mid-October. You might not even know that until mid-December. That’s where the listening part comes in. As early as Labor Day, start listening to your friends and family. Get a sense for what they want or need. You don’t have to be obvious. A little tact goes a long way.

Then, once Thanksgiving comes around and every major outlet starts throwing big sales, you already have a list of gifts to work with. Take advantage of those sales and you’ll even save money in the process. There is literally no downside to being proactive during the holidays, which is why it’s probably the most important tip I can give for the holidays.


Tip #2: Be Transparent With Loved Ones For Their Gifts (And Yours)

This tactic is a bit more subtle, but it pays off in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes, in order to glean what your loved ones want for Christmas, you have to start by letting them know what you want. Most of my friends and relatives agree. I’m very easy to shop for on the holidays.

That’s not just because I maintain an Amazon Wish List and that most of my requests involve comics, video games, and accessories that rarely cost more than $50. I’m hope and honest about what I want them to get me. I’ll go so far as to text them multiple links to items I want. When you’re that easy to shop for, people are more willing to return the favor.

This has helped a great deal with loved ones who rarely give me any clues about what to get them. Some are just difficult to shop for because they claim to not want anything. Some are genuinely sincere about that. However, they know I’m still getting them something. It can either be just some random thing I guess on or something they can help make meaningful.

Sometimes, it takes a few years to get that sort of rapport with a loved one, but it’s worth doing. Trust me. When you find that right gift for that someone and see their reaction, it makes the holidays that much more special.


Tip #3: Find Meaningful Gifts (Which Need Not Be Expensive)

This is another tip that seems logical, but is easier said than done. That whole notion that it’s the thought that counts isn’t completely wrong, but it still has some merit. Meaningful gifts are the best kind of gifts to get someone. It can have both sentimental and material value. If you really care about someone, you want this gift to send a message. Giving it meaning always helps.

Years ago, a friend of mine got his girlfriend an iPod mini. It was simple. It didn’t seem that meaningful at first. Then, I found out he engraved a quote from his girlfriend’s mother on the back. That quote made that gift more meaningful than anything else he could’ve given her. Needless to say, that was a memorable Christmas and my friend is still with that same woman.

Giving a gift greater meaning also doesn’t mean buying something expensive. Some of the most meaningful gifts I’ve ever given cost less than $20, but they were extremely personal and they sent a message to the person I gave it to. They got that message loud and clear. Our Christmas was better because of it. You can put a price on a lot of things during the holidays, but you can’t put a dollar value on genuine sentiment.


Tip #4: Know When (And How) A Gift Card Is Appropriate

This is a somewhat controversial topic among gift-giving circles. There’s this notion that if you really care about someone, you never give them a gift card. Gift cards are great for birthdays or for people you can’t always see very often, but there’s a taboo with respect to giving them as a Christmas gift. I don’t entirely agree with that.

In general, I don’t give gift cards. I treat it as a last resort, but it’s still an option. I just try to make it more than just a socking stuffer. You can give greater meaning to a gift card. One year, I included a gift card with a Christmas card that has a poem I wrote in it. That poem helped give greater value to the gift card. It made the gesture personal. It showed that I cared and it got the point across.

In the right circumstances, gift cards can totally work. When someone can’t be there for the holidays or is still new to the family, as is often the case with in laws and extended family, a gift card can go a long way towards establishing a rapport. I find that it’s a useful starting point with someone, but it shouldn’t be the endpoint.

Personally, I hope the taboo surrounding gift cards fades in the coming years. With more and more shopping being done online, I think gift cards are a lot more practical today than they were when I was a kid. The rules surrounding them may change, but for now, a gift card should remain a last resort when shopping for a loved one.


Tip #5: Make A List (And Check It More Than Twice)

That old adage about Santa having a list and checking it twice isn’t just a memorable song lyric. It’s a very practical tool for keeping track of your holiday gift giving. I maintain a list on my phone that has everyone I buy a gift for, as well as some ideas on what to get them. I constantly update that list over the course of the year and I let people know when they’re on it.

When the time comes to start buying, I use that list to track what I buy, who I buy it for, and how they react to it. This list, which can get a little bloated at times, acts as both a reference and a guide onto how I perform every Christmas. Given the size of my family and the amount of gifts I buy, it helps to keep track of who gets what. It also helps to identify a certain trend in terms of what certain loved ones like.

Over the years, those trends have helped me refine my gift giving skills for certain people. I learn their tastes. I learn what makes a gift meaningful to them. Most importantly, I keep track of it. Don’t expect to remember all these little quirks over the course of a year.

Keep a list. Check it constantly, especially around mid-November. It’ll ensure you know what to look for and who to get it for when the time comes. It also acts as a way of noting ideas that come to you for certain people. On more than one occasion, I’ll randomly see something online or in a store that I know someone would love for Christmas. I make a note of it and it pays off in the long run.


I hope this helps everyone in their gift giving efforts this season. As I write this, I’m proud to say my shopping is done. I have my presents ready and wrapped for my loved ones. I look forward to seeing their reactions on Christmas morning. I hope everyone else can enjoy a similar holiday experience.

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Filed under human nature, Jack Fisher's Insights, Marriage and Relationships