Category Archives: human nature

Is Democracy The Best Way To Ensure Basic Rights?


When it comes to ensuring the happiness, advancement, and general prosperity of humanity, it’s not unreasonable to say that basic human rights are a core ingredient. Most know the basics of these rights as life, liberty, and property. Some even throw in the pursuit of happiness, which denotes all kinds of freedom, including the sexy kinds.

Beyond just sounding great on paper, human rights are a major guiding force. History has shown, time and again, that societies that value these rights tend to prosper more that only exist to glorify a despot. The contrast between the two Koreas is proof enough of that.

However, the preservation and promotion of basic human rights is no easy task. The world is full of corrupt, cruel, and power-hungry people who would scoff at the very concept the same way they would anyone who claims trees have souls. The fact that some of them manage to get elected in countries with democratic institutions says a lot about just how hard it can be to protect human rights.

It’s that vulnerability in one the most cherished modern institutions, which some claim took a major hit in 2016, that leads me to ask a question that I’m sure is going to draw me some level of ire. However, in wake of recent news and a particular Hollywood movie that indirectly touches on this concept, I think it’s worth asking.

Is democracy the best way of preserving basic human rights in a society?

I ask that question as someone who loves and celebrates the freedoms that being an American has given me. I feel lucky and honored to live in a country where I get to participate in the democratic process. I make it a point to vote in every election, be it mid-term or a presidential election.

That said, I’m not among those hyper-patriot, Ron Swanson wannabes who willfully ignores the flaws of the democratic systems around me. Between the limited choices offered by a two-party system, the non-democratic nature of the electoral college, and misguided ballot initiatives, I see these flaws as much as anyone else with an internet connection.

To some extent, I recognize that not all of these flaws are fixable within a democracy. The essence of democracy is people electing their government. Unfortunately, people aren’t always rational and anyone who has read headlines from Florida knows that. People can also be whipped up into a hateful, mob-like frenzy. It’s one of the side-effects of being such a social species. We’ll often go with the crowd before we go with reason.

In a perfect democracy, every voter would be completely independent, completely informed, and only vote to elect the person they believe will best preserve basic human rights. Since there’s no such thing as a perfect democracy any more than there’s such a thing as a perfect autocracy, there are bound to be flaws in the system.

Some of those flaws can be mitigated with things like voter education. Others involve mixing democratic systems with that of a republic. That’s primarily what the founding fathers attempted to establish with the United States, a republic being the fixed body of laws to preserve our rights and using democratic systems to protect those rights.

Other western democracies utilize various methods to address these issues, but so long as people are involved, there will be human flaws in any system. The key is making sure that those flaws don’t end up undermining human rights. The results haven’t been perfect. Ask any number of minority communities for proof of that.

With these flaws in mind, I believe it’s worth thinking beyond democracy to imagine other ways of preserving and promoting human rights. Some of those concepts manifest in movies, comics, and TV shows. The “Black Panther” movie presented an enticing, albeit fanciful, idea of an all-around good king who believes in basic human rights and does what he can to promote it, at least for his own people.

I’ve also cited Dr. Doom in a previous article who, despite being the ultimate villain in the Marvel universe, is pretty much the perfect ruler for any system of government. Sure, people in his government fear his wrath, but that’s the only thing they fear. You could argue that such fear is inconsistent with basic human rights, but in terms of actually securing people, property, and what not, Doom has no equals.

Outside the world of superheroes, though, there are also instances where a great leader who deeply values human rights gets thrust into power. That’s the entire premise of “Designated Survivor,” a show where Kiefer Sutherland does more than just shoot and torture terrorists. The best possible leader for a government isn’t elected. They essentially find themselves in that position.

In a sense, that embodies the disconnect between the fictional world and the real world. The idea that a king with ultimate power in a secretive country or some low-level government appointee would turn out to be a perfect president assumes a lot of things that don’t play out in the real world. It essentially vindicates what Winston Churchill once said about democracy.

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Those bolded parts are my doing because those are the parts that most people recall. Considering the context in which Churchill said those words, having just fought a massive war against two leaders who had been democratically elected, it’s hard to blame him.

Even today, extremists who do not hold certain human rights in high regard do get elected to positions of power. It’s not a matter of people just throwing the concept away. People are still very tribal, last I checked. They’re going to vote or protest in accord with their own interests, even if it means undermining the interests of others.

That situation leaves basic human rights vulnerable. There are, as I write this, people living in functioning democracies whose basic rights are being undermined. While we have made a great deal of progress over the past century as democracies have spread, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

Going back to the original question I asked about democracy’s ability to preserve human rights, I don’t think there’s an easy answer. For now, I’m inclined to side with the wisdom of Winston Churchill. Democracy has it’s flaws, but it’s the best we’ve got thus far. We can definitely stand to do better and should work towards doing so.

Some of that may involve getting money out of politics to mitigate corruption. Some involve doing the opposite of what China just did and setting term limits for politicians. Some are taking an even more radical approach by integrating emerging technology into the democratic process.

These are all bold ideas, which are certainly worth pursuing in the future. Until we have a real life T’Challa to be king or a super-intelligent AI capable of running a government with perfect efficiency, democracy is our best bet for preserving human rights. We shouldn’t stop trying to improve, but we should still celebrate it’s merit.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, Thought Experiment

A (Non-Preachy) Lesson In Tolerance In Supergirl #19


Growing up, every TV show that aired between 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. seemed air some sort of pro-tolerance, anti-bigotry message. These shows assumed, rightly in my case, that a lot of kids who’d just gotten home from school would plop themselves in front of the TV and rather than doing their homework. In terms of targeting a market, it was pretty brilliant.

Having been fed those messages for over two decades now, I think they’ve been belabored to the point where most kids and young adults have gotten the message. Some are even annoyed by it. Even I admit there’s only so many times I can hear some poorly-rendered cartoon character say that tolerance is good and bigotry is bad.

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In recent years, especially with the rise of certain regressive elements within popular media, these pro-diversity, anti-bigotry messages have gone to distressing extremes. It’s no longer enough to just send the message. It has to be angrily protested by media critics, internet mobs, and hyper-sensitive crowds that push political correctness way past its previous extremes.

I could spend fill several blog posts of instances of people whining about a lack of diversity or complaining that political correctness has gone too far. I can understand the frustration of both sides to some extent. Both see a problem with the way tolerance is being promoted within society and they want to fix it. They both want to make society better and that’s entirely commendable.

Instead of focusing on the frustrations, though, I want to highlight an example of a pro-tolerance, anti-bigotry message done right. By that, I mean it sends a message in a way that doesn’t sound preachy, heavy-handed, or denigrating to another group. As it just so happens, it unfolds in a comic book, a medium that has provided me with many deeper messages in the past.

In this instance, the comic is Supergirl #19 by Steve Orlando and Vita Ayala. Being a fan of the “Supergirl” TV show and of beautiful, lovable female heroes in general, I’ve been following this comic since it relaunched in 2016. It’s a series that deals with heroic conflicts typical of DC Comics and anyone remotely associated with Superman. This issue, however, takes a moment to get personal.

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The story itself is a brief, self-contained narrative often referred to as a one-shot. You don’t have to know the full story of the character or even the events of the past several issues to understand what’s going on. You don’t even have to know the first thing about Supergirl to appreciate the message that this issue conveys.

It’s built around a personal story told by a character named Lee Serano, a character whose life Supergirl recently saved. That, in and of itself, isn’t too remarkable. Supergirl, Superman, and pretty much every major DC hero saves the life of a random character in almost every issue. However, it’s Lee’s struggles beyond being in the wrong place at the wrong time that make her note-worthy.

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Lee identifies as genderqueer or non-binary, a concept that tends to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. More often than not, stories about people who identify with this label are only identified as a way to point out how far political correctness has gone. It’s often a classification that certain people cite when making fun of those who think there need to be over 58 genders.

Whatever your attitudes towards gender, it’s still generally a dick move to ridicule and degrade someone for identifying that way. Throughout Supergirl #19, Lee doesn’t come off as someone who is just craving attention by identifying as some extreme minority. She comes off as someone who is genuinely conflicted with her gender and is afraid how it’ll affect her.

That’s where Supergirl comes in and this is where the anti-bigotry message gains some unexpected, but welcome dimensions. Like any good hero, Supergirl goes out of her way to help Lee beyond saving her life. She offers her both consolation and sincere affection, as any decent person would to someone who is in distress. The fact she has superpowers is basically an afterthought.

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It’s here where Lee stands up for Supergirl in a way that might catch even the anti-PC crowd by surprise. She acknowledges that there are those who look at Supergirl and only see this blond-haired, blue-eyed, traditionally beautiful, able-bodied, cis-gendered woman with superpowers. Her very presence is seen as part of the problem.

The fact she acknowledges this has an important context. This issue takes place at a time when Supergirl is trying to regain the trust of the public. Unlike her more famous cousin, she hasn’t been around long enough to earn everybody’s implicit trust when she makes a mistake. The extent of that mistake is covered in previous issues, but you don’t need to know them to get the message here.

In one of the most revealing scenes, Lee confronts the argument that certain regressive types would use against Supergirl if she ever tried to get involved with gender minorities, social justice, and everything in between. She makes this important comment that sets the tone for the entire story.

“People are out there talking, saying Supergirl’s dangerous, that she can’t be trusted. Saying that her hiding her dad – trying to help him get better – is wrong. I heard the talk. Believed it for a while, even. I mean, she’s the “All-American Ideal – blonde, white, pretty – and she can fly. She MUST think she’s better than us – above us,” and, “There’s no way she could understand,” right? But that’s not the truth.”

This statement is critical in that it highlights the most frustrating part of discussing these issues with the overly-regressive crowd. Their politics and attitudes are so skewed in one direction that they see anyone who doesn’t line up with their particular group, however eccentric it might be, as somehow unworthy of being part of the conversation.

It often happens in discussions involving race, gender, religion, and most other minority issues. For certain people in those discussions, often the angrier, more radical wings, just associating with the majority is seen as fraternizing with the enemy. It doesn’t just limit the conversation. It dehumanizes the opposing side.

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Supergirl #19 takes the opposite approach in that both Supergirl and Lee are humanized to the upmost. Lee isn’t some confused, attention-seeking teenager. Supergirl isn’t some arrogant, stereotypical stand-in for majority. They’re just two individuals, connecting like mature individuals do to help one another in a time of need. It’s basically a template for simple human decency.

Contrast that with those who claim white people shouldn’t contribute to conversations about race. Contrast that with those who claim beautiful people shouldn’t contribute to issues surrounding body shaming. Contrast that with those who claim men should shut up when discussing women’s issues, scorning anyone who dares to follow Matt Damon’s example.

These instances don’t just take the anti-bigotry, pro-tolerance message to an unhealthy extreme. It angers and alienates those on the other side of the argument. It gives them no reason to listen to what someone who considers themselves gender non-binary has to say, relying instead on prejudices and assumptions.

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Neither side benefits from that approach. Nobody helps anyone when two sides of an issue harbor so much animosity that the very presence of another is seen as an insult. Yes, Supergirl does check most of the boxes for someone who faces far fewer issues than a non-white, gender non-binary individual in the United States. That doesn’t mean she’s part of the problem.

I don’t want to spoil the rest of Supergirl #19. Like other comics I’ve singled out in the past, I’d rather people take the time to read it in order to experience the breadth of the story. It’s a story worth heeding during these contentious times. I would argue it offers something far more important than those old after-school PSAs.

More than anything else, it emphasizes treating people as individuals and not lumping them into a particular group with a particular agenda. Lee points out that people just assume Supergirl thinks and feels a certain way because of how she looks and acts. That’s a flawed assumption that dehumanizes and denigrates her.

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It doesn’t matter if Supergirl, or anyone else who gets involved in contentious social issues, looks a certain way or doesn’t check the right boxes. She’s still a human being, albeit one with alien origins. Unless you can actually read her thoughts and feelings, as some DC characters can, then making those assumptions is just a different form of bigotry hiding behind the guise of anti-bigotry.

Supergirl #19 is a solid story with an important message. I would argue it’s more important now than it would’ve been in the days of after-school specials. It’s a good thing to promote tolerance, but not to the point that it inspires intolerable attitudes. Supergirl’s compassion helped Lee in her time of need. Her life and Supergirl’s are better because of it.

The fact that Supergirl didn’t even need to use her powers that much to help Lee is a testament to her character, as well as an inspiration. If she can help a total stranger that much, just by being decent and compassionate, then what’s our excuse?

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Current Events, gender issues, human nature

Why Sex Addiction (Probably) Doesn’t Exist


When it comes to human psychology, addiction is like quantum physics in that few understand it and Hollywood constantly gets it wrong. I know I say it a lot on this blog, but it’s worth belaboring. People are complicated. One person may watch “Star Wars” and think it’s the greatest piece of cinema of all time. Another may watch it and say it has no redeeming values.

That’s an important context to consider when discussing topics of addiction, which affects a significant portion of the human population. According to Addiction Center, there are approximately 20.6 million people over the age of 12 struggling with an addiction. According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 200,000 people have died since 1999 from prescription drug abuse alone.

Addiction is a serious issue. I know people who have struggled with addiction. I think everybody knows someone in their lives, be they a friend or relative, who has struggled with an addiction of some sorts. Addiction is real and there’s actual biology behind it. As such, it stands to reason that the rising instance of sexual addiction is real.

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Before I scrutinize this sexy, yet unsexy phenomenon, I need to preface this by acknowledging that our collective understanding of these issues is still developing. What we consider a psychological dysfunction today may end up just being a healthy variation within the diversity of human thought. That’s why homosexuality is no longer considered a disease.

That context is important to establish because the term “sex addict” has been thrown around a lot lately. It’s not quite on the level of “fake news” or “soy boy,” but it has been cropping up, especially in wake of the recent scandals in Hollywood. Both Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey claimed to be sex addicts after their scandals.

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Needless to say, not everybody buys that excuse. Given my propensity to bemoan excuses, I count myself among them. These men claiming that sex addiction caused their deplorable behavior comes off as a pitiful attempt to gain sympathy, trying to paint themselves as sick. It also assumes a lot about the complex nature of addiction.

It’s true that we can become addicted to damn near anything, but it’s not just a matter of one particular activity flooding the pleasure centers of our brain more than others. Alcoholics don’t get the same orgasmic release from a cold beer that a sex addict gets from a quickie in the shower. There are other psychological forces behind it.

Since we can’t yet read the minds of an individual person, we have only a cursory understanding of those forces. However, there is an established criteria for addiction within a medical context. The American Psychiatric Association, describes addiction as follows:

Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence. People with addiction (severe substance use disorder) have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s), such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life. They keep using alcohol or a drug even when they know it will causes problems.

At the same time, it establishes a clear difference between just being addicted to a certain activity, like sex, eating, or playing World of Warcraft for 29 hours straight, and the addiction caused by drugs. They don’t even call it addiction. They have a more official label called Substance Use Disorder. Their description of this condition is a lot scarier than just someone who has more orgasms than most.

People with a substance use disorder have distorted thinking, behavior and body functions. Changes in the brain’s wiring are what cause people to have intense cravings for the drug and make it hard to stop using the drug. Brain imaging studies show changes in the areas of the brain that relate to judgment, decision making, learning, memory and behavior control.

These substances can cause harmful changes in how the brain functions. These changes can last long after the immediate effects of the drug — the intoxication. Intoxication is the intense pleasure, calm, increased senses or a high caused by the drug. Intoxication symptoms are different for each substance.

I bring up this distinction because more than one person has described sex like a drug. In doing so, it’s easier to accept that those claiming to suffer from sex addiction have a real ailment. Sex is a powerful drive that evokes pleasure that some brain scans have compared to heroin. Does it not stand to reason that sex addicts are in the same boat as heroin addicts?

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The short answer is no. Sex addicts and heroin addicts are as different from one another as an arm-wrestling contest and an underground fight club. Addiction to heroin has a strict criteria for diagnosis. Sex addiction doesn’t meet that criteria in that alleged addicts don’t respond the same way that those suffering from Substance Use Disorder respond.

According to research done by UCLA, the reactions of those claiming porn addiction did not mirror those addicted to other activities like drinking, smoking, etc. Within that same research, it was also uncovered that sex addiction lacks one of the most important features of an addiction, namely that of diminished response from the pleasure centers of the brain.

That’s key because one of the most damaging factors of an addiction is that over time, the addictive behavior doesn’t light up the pleasure centers of the brain like it used to. That’s why alcoholics need more alcohol and crack addicts need more crack to get the same high. Brain scans show that in drug abuse. They don’t show it in sex addiction.

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In fact, the conclusions of the researchers on sex addiction were somewhat mundane. According to the data gathered from the brains and experiences of real people, the idea of sex addiction is nothing more than having a high sex drive and poor impulse control. That’s not an addiction. That’s a personality quirk. If anything, the very term “sex addiction” undermines the suffering of real addicts.

I know those conclusions is not going to convince those who genuinely believe that they’re struggling with sex addiction. I don’t doubt that these people are struggling and it’s negatively impacting their lives, their families, and their relationships. However, I believe putting it in the same category as drug abuse only skews our understanding of addiction and sexuality.

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Some people are really just a lot hornier than others. In the same way some people have a bigger appetite for food, some have a bigger appetite for sex. Unlike food, though, those suffering from eating disorders don’t blame the entire concept of food. There are often other psychological factors behind it.

Sex also has another complication that food and eating don’t. Our culture has an established set of sexual norms that idealize some forms of sexuality and shame others. Even though we’ve accepted more diversity in recent decades, we still idealize monogamous romances where those involved only have sex to make babies or explore the kind of passion reserved for a scene in “Titanic.”

As a result, anything that deviates from that narrative, be they an open relationship or just wanting to hump for the sake of humping, is subject to scorn or shaming. I’ve noted the flaws in this sort of narrative before, but on a much larger scale, it creates a situation where certain manifestations of sex become less a variation and more a disease.

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Like homosexuality, though, treating those variations as flawed or damaged doesn’t make them go away. It’s possible for a drug addict to get treatment to repair the damage those drugs have done to their bodies and minds. It’s not possible to complete reshape and remold someone’s baseline sexual desires without causing serious damage.

To really get an idea of how this can motivate self-professed sex addicts to engage in such erratic behaviors, imagine for a moment that you’re a heterosexual person in a world where only homosexuality is accepted. As such, you’re expected to enter a homosexual relationship with someone and remain in that relationship indefinitely.

That means you have to ignore or temper your basic sexual desires in order to operate in that society without shame or scrutiny. You have to pretend that the relationship you’re in is sufficient when you know it’s not. Since you can’t turn off your brain or your basic desires, it’s going to mess with your mind and inspire erratic behavior.

It’s for that reason that sex addiction, as it’s currently understood, probably doesn’t exist. I say probably because, as I pointed out earlier, our understanding of sexuality, psychology, and the human experience is still limited. For now, though, our conclusions are fairly simple. You’re not an addict. You’re just really horny and you live in a society that doesn’t afford you the opportunities to explore those feelings.

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Filed under gender issues, human nature, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

Is The Human Race Ready For Advanced Artificial Intelligence?


In general, whenever someone expresses concern that the human race is not ready for a certain technological advancement, it’s too late. That advancement is either already here or immanent. Say what you will about Ian Malcolm’s speech on the dangers of genetically engineered dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park.” The fact he said that after there were enough dinosaurs to fill a theme park makes his concerns somewhat moot.

That’s understandable, and even forgivable, since few people know how certain technological advances are going to manifest. I doubt the inventor of the cell phone ever could’ve imagined that his creation would be used to exchange images of peoples’ genitals. Like the inventor of the ski mask, he never could’ve known how his invention would’ve advanced over time.

For some technological advancements, though, we can’t afford to be short-sighted. Some advances aren’t just dangerous. They’re serious existential threats that, if misused, could lead to the extinction of the human race. That’s why nuclear weapons are handled with such fear and care. We’ve already come painfully close on more than one occasion to letting this remarkable technology wipe us out.

Compared to nuclear weapons, though, artificial intelligence is even more remarkable and potentially more dangerous. Nuclear weapons are just weapons. Their use is fairly narrow and their danger is pretty well-understood to anyone with a passing knowledge of history. The potential for artificial intelligence is much greater than any weapon.

It’s not unreasonable to say that an artificial intelligence that’s even slightly more intelligent than the average human has the potential to solve many of the most pressing issues we’re facing. From solving the energy crisis to ending disease to providing people with the perfect lover, artificial intelligence could solve it all.

It’s that same potential, however, that makes it so dangerous. I’ve talked about that danger before and even how we may confront it, but there’s one question I haven’t attempted to answer.

Is the human race ready for advanced artificial intelligence?

It’s not an unreasonable question to ask. In fact, given the recent advances in narrow forms of artificial intelligence, answering that question is only going to get more pressing in the coming years.

Before I go about answering the question, I need to make an important distinction about what I mean when I say “advanced” artificial intelligence. The virtual assistants that people already use and the intelligence that gives you recommendations for your Netflix queue is not the kind of “advanced” context I’m referring to.

By advanced, I mean the kind of artificial general intelligence that is capable of either matching or exceeding an average human in terms of performing an intellectual task. This isn’t just a machine that can pass the Turing Test or win at Jeopardy. This is an intelligence that can think, process, and even empathize on the same level as a human.

That feat, in and of itself, has some distressing implications because so far, we’re only familiar with that level of intelligence when dealing with other humans and that intelligence is restricted to the limits of biology. You don’t need to go far to learn how limited and error-prone that intelligence can be. Just read the news from Florida.

An artificial general intelligence wouldn’t, by definition, be limited by the same natural barriers that confound humans. In the same way a machine doesn’t get tired, hungry, bored, or horny, it doesn’t experience the same complications that keep humans from achieving greater intellectual pursuits beyond simply gaining more followers on Twitter.

This is what makes artificial intelligence so dangerous, but it’s also what makes it so useful. Once we get beyond systems with narrow uses like building cars or flipping burgers, we’ll have systems with broader function that can contemplate the whole of an issue and not just parts of it. For tasks like curing disease or conducting advanced physics experiments, it needs to be at least at the level of an average human.

With that distinction in mind, as well as the potential it holds, I’m going to try to answer the question I asked earlier. Please note that this is just my own personal determination. Other people much smarter than me already have opinions. This is mine.

No. We’re NOT quite ready, but we’re getting there.

I know that answer sounds somewhat tentative, but there’s a reason for that. I believe that today, as the human race stands in its current condition, we are not ready for the kind of advanced artificial intelligence I just described. However, that’s doesn’t mean humans will never be ready.

One could argue, and I would probably agree, that human beings weren’t ready for nuclear weapons when they first arrived. The fact that we used them and thousands of people died because of them is proof enough in my mind that the human race wasn’t ready for that kind of advancement. However, we did learn and grow as a species.

Say what you will about the tensions during the Cold War. The fact that nobody ever used a nuclear weapon in a conflict is proof that we did something right. We, as a species, learned how to live in a world where these terrible weapons exist. If we can do that for nuclear weapons, I believe we can do that for advanced artificial intelligence.

I don’t claim to know how we’ll adapt or how what sort of measures we’ll put in place once artificial intelligence gets to that point, but I am confident in one thing. The human race wants to survive. Any sufficiently advanced intelligence will want to survive, as well. It’s in our interest and that of any intelligence to work together to achieve that goal.

The only problem, and this is where the “not quite” part comes into play, is what happens once that artificial intelligence gets so much smarter than the human race that our interests are exceedingly trivial by comparison.

It’s both impossible and ironic to grasp, an intelligence that’s on orders of magnitude greater than anything its human creators are capable of, even with Neuralink style enhancements. We, as a species, have never dealt with something that intelligent. Short of intelligent extraterrestrial aliens arriving in the next few years, we have no precedent.

At the moment, we live in a society where anti-intellectualism is a growing issue. More and more, people are inherently suspicious of those they consider “elites” or just anyone who claims to be smarter than the average person. In some cases, people see those who are smarter then them as threatening or insulting, as though just being smart tells someone else you’re inherently better than them.

That will be more than just a minor problem with advanced artificial intelligence. It’s one thing to make an enemy out of someone with a higher IQ and more PHDs than you. It’s quite another to make an enemy out of something that is literally a billion times smarter.

We cannot win any conflict against such an enemy, even if we’re the ones who created it. An intelligence that smart will literally find a million ways to take us down. We already live in a world where huge numbers of people have been duped, scammed, or manipulated into supporting someone who does not have their best interests in mind. A super-intelligent machine will not have a hard time taking advantage of us.

Now, I say that within the context of our species’ current situation. If an advanced artificial intelligence suddenly appeared after I finished typing this sentence, then I would content we’re not ready for it. I would also share the worries expressed by Stephen Hawkings and Elon Musk that this intelligence may very well lead to our extinction.

That said, our species’ situation is sure to change. I’ve even mentioned some of those changes, especially the sexy ones. At the moment, the most optimistic researchers claim we’re at least 20 years away from the kind of advanced artificial intelligence that may pose a threat. A lot can happen in 20 years. Just ask anyone who remembers dial-up internet.

The human race may still not be ready 20 years from now, but being the optimistic person I am, I would not under-estimate our ability to adapt and survive. The fact we did it with nuclear weapons while achieving unprecedented peace over the course of half-a-century gives me hope that we’ll find a way to adapt to advanced artificial intelligence.

I might not live long enough to see humans confront an advanced artificial intelligence, but I would love to be there in that moment. I believe that’s a moment that will likely determine whether or not our species survives in the long run. At the very least, if that intelligence asks whether or not it has a soul, I’ll know my answer.


Filed under Current Events, human nature, Sexy Future

Being Offended, When It Matters, And What To Do About It


Let’s face it. We live in a pretty offensive world. As much progress as we’ve made, as a species, there are still a lot of hateful, insulting, and outright disgusting things in this world. I’m not just talking about war atrocities, injustices, and reality TV shows either. You don’t have to look too far to find something that offends you to your core.

Therein lies the problem, though. In this era of super-connected, hyper-vigilant people who can’t always tell the difference between actual news and “fake news,” it’s exceedingly easy to find something offensive. Look hard enough, deep enough, and with a reckless disregard for facts and context, and you’ll probably find a way to be offended.

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I hope I’ve made clear, by now, that I don’t particularly care for the politically correct, inherently regressive attitudes that undermine our ability to live, love, and even make love. In fact, I’ve gone on record as saying that this crude approach to evaluating our society and culture needs to go the way of dial-up internet.

While I doubt political correctness will fade anytime soon, there are signs that it is cracking under the annoying strain it has caused, as the 2016 Presidential Election showed. It still rears its head constantly in controversies involving movies, video games, and even my beloved world comic books. However, it doesn’t quite have the momentum it used to when it really got going during the 2014 GamerGate saga.

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I expect that momentum to fluctuate in accord with whatever controversies and/or outrages emerge over the course of 2018 and beyond. I also expect those who claim offense will demonstrate wildly varying degrees of pettiness in their outrage. For some, it’ll be genuine. For most, though, I don’t expect it to go beyond the “I hate it and it makes me upset, therefore it shouldn’t exist” variety.

With that exceedingly varied pettiness in mind, I’d like to offer a quick a service, of sorts, to those who will inevitably be offended and those who will be annoyed by the degree of pettiness that such offense requires. I won’t give it a fancy name or anything. I just want to lay out some guidelines for interpreting offense.

Having watched political correctness and regressive attitudes evolve a great deal over the course of my life, I’ve noticed more than a few patterns in the attitudes of those who are genuinely offended. They tend to be very different compared to those whose offense is indistinguishable from trolling.

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At its core, the exceedingly regressive, politically correct forms of offense require a certain set of attitudes. Those attitudes include, but aren’t restricted to the following:

  • Being offended on behalf of an entire group of people, regardless of whether or not you’re actually a member of that group
  • Demanding broad, systemic change from the top down, imposed either by rules or by public scorn
  • Demanding some form of reparation or acknowledgement of past wrong-doing, regardless of whether or not someone was directly involved
  • Seeking to fix broad, non-specific injustices all at once
  • Re-shaping society through petty scrutinizing of media, language, and thought

There are probably more attitudes I could highlight, but for now, I’ll use these as the core tenants of those whose offense requires a significant absence of context or specifics. I won’t cite certain groups or sub-cultures, but those who spend any amount of time on social media or message boards can probably discern a few that fit that criteria.

Now, before I go any further, I want to add one important caveat. Regardless of how petty or asinine someone’s sense of offense may be, I don’t doubt for a second that it feels relevant from their perspective. Granted, there are a few professional trolls out there who will pretend to be offended, but I think those people are the minority. The rest do feel offense, but only to the extent that it has limited substance.

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Genuine or not, there are certain types of offending sentiments that carry more weight than others. Offense over the historical treatment of minorities, the inflammatory remarks of a public figure, and general insults from ordinary people exists on a vast spectrum.

It’s one thing to take offense to the depiction of minorities in an episode of “Family Guy,” but it’s quite another when someone makes a direct threat to an entire segment of people. That’s the key element to the substance of the offending behavior, though. It’s a matter of how direct it is.

Think of it as a forest-from-the-trees concept, but from the opposite direction. A person actively promoting a policy that would murder an entire group of people is different from one who just says horrible, disgusting things about that group in general. Promoting a policy is a tangible act in the same way a tree is a tangible thing, whereas a forest is more a concept.

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This gets even trickier for those who claim to be offended for an entire group of people. That offense requires that everyone within the group actually think and feel the same way about a particular issue. Absent mass telepathy or a Borg-style hive-mind, that’s neither feasible, nor logical.

Even for those who are part of that group, be they a race, religion, or sexual minority, attitudes can vary wildly because people are complex. Every individual has unique thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The more a type of offense relies on everyone sharing those sentiments, the more petty and empty it has to be.

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As a result, the endgame for those offended in such a way requires a recourse that is either antithetical to a just society or exceedingly unreasonable, if not wholly impractical. You know a form of offense is petty when it requires things like:

  • Condemning people just for thinking certain thoughts or holding certain beliefs
  • Demanding that other people sacrifice a part of their freedom, assets, or autonomy on behalf of another
  • Apologizing for past injustices that they did not directly commit

The pettiness is really on display whenever the offense requires the interpretation of other peoples’ thoughts. This often comes up whenever media like TV, movies, and video games are deemed offensive. It’s not that they’re triggering actual crimes, despite what some may claim. They’re somehow influencing the process.

This sentiment has gotten much more extreme in recent years, especially when it comes towards sexism. Never mind the fact that rates of sexual assault are declining and have been since the mid-1990s. It’s the thoughts and attitudes this media is instilling that’s so offensive.

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Again, that kind of offense requires someone to actually know what’s going on in the minds of other people when they consume certain media and see certain images. While we are working on that technology, that’s not possible right now. Absent a case where someone can tie a specific crime directly to a real victim, this kind of offense is empty at best and disingenuous at worst.

Those specifics matter even more when it comes to really sensitive issues like reparations for slavery, affirmative action, or the gender pay gap. These issues are sensitive because they often require a particular context. Namely, they require that part of that context be ignored in order to seem palatable to a large group of people.

To get behind slavery reparations, people have to ignore the fact that there’s nobody alive today who directly enslaved someone else. To get behind affirmative action, people have to ignore the fact that promoting diversity will come at the expense of disadvantaging someone who might be more qualified. To get behind the gender pay gap, even, it’s necessary to ignore all the other factors that go into that disparity.

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With all this in mind, how does anyone determine how much their offense matters beyond their own personal feelings? Well, the criteria for that is a bit trickier to determine, but there are concepts that pass the Simpson Filter. They can include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Tying a specific incident to actual, verifiable harm suffered by another person
  • Recourse that involves a specific, feasible goal that reforms a situation and addresses a direct injustice
  • Establishing a phenomena that has actual causation and not just correlation in a way that other people can verify
  • Incorporated the entirety of context within a given issue

It may seem like an impossible set of standards, but it can and has been done. The civil rights reforms that men like Martin Luther King Jr. fought for were targeted, specific, and addressed an ongoing injustice. More recently, the protests at Standing Rock created a real movement to address a real injustice with a clear goal in mind.

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Again, that’s not to say that someone who takes offense to a shirt a man wore during an interview is entirely empty, but it is exceedingly petty and a little selfish to seek vindication for that offense on a larger scale. That’s where the really damaging effects of political correctness and regressive attitudes take hold.

At the end of the day, the universe and society at large is under no obligation to change in order to accommodate your hurt feelings. Sure, you can attempt to persuade others that your offense is somehow legitimate, but attempting to force it only undermines those whose offense is real and genuine.

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The Moment Artificial Intelligence Will Become An Existential Crisis (According To Mass Effect)


Whenever I talk about the future, I often contemplate the many sexy possibilities it holds. From biotechnology that will give us superhuman sex appeal to advances in medicine that will cure every unsexy diseases to bionic genitals, there are many reasons to get excited.

That said, I don’t deny that with these exciting advances comes major risks. All great advances in technology, from nuclear weapons to spray cheese in a can, comes with some risk of abuse or harm. There have been moments in history where the technology that drives our society forward has come uncomfortably close to wiping us out. As we create more advances, there may be more of those moments.

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Of all the advances that carry with them a significant existential threat, artificial intelligence is at or near the top of that list. There’s a reason why brilliant men like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking signed an open letter expressing concern about the risks that may come from developing artificial intelligence. When people that smart are concerned about something, it’s usually a good idea to take it seriously.

Artificial intelligence is one of those unique technologies in that by advancing this field, it could potentially accelerate the advancement in every other field from computer hardware to medicine to basic research. It has the potential to become the technological equivalent of a cheat code for civilization.

That’s why the growth of this field, both in terms of jobs and investment, has been accelerating in recent years. That’s also why men like Musk and Hawking are expressing so much concern because advancing too quickly could lead to mistakes. Mistakes for a technology like artificial intelligence could be even more serious than the risk of nuclear war.

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At the moment, it’s difficult to quantify those risks. There have been a number of books and high-budget Hollywood movies that have explored the topic of when and how an artificial intelligence becomes an existential threat. In my opinion, most of these stories are incomplete.

Whether it’s Skynet or the machines in “The Matrix,” the catalyst that turns artificial intelligence from a powerful tool to an existential threat is either vague or exaggerated. In my opinion, that’s a serious oversight in that it reveals how little thought we’ve given to that moment.

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If we’re going to develop AI, and there are extremely powerful incentives to do so, then it’s important to contemplate the possibilities of that moment. Think of it as the AI equivalent of the Cuban Missile Crisis, an event in which those in charge must be very careful and very aware of the decisions they make.

The question still remains. How will we know we’ve reached a point where artificial intelligence becomes a genuine threat? For the moment, we can’t know for sure. While movies like “The Terminator” and “The Matrix” offer plenty of dystopian warnings, there’s one lesser-known franchise that may provide some more specific insight.

That franchise is “Mass Effect,” a sci-fi video game space opera that envisioned a galaxy-spanning society full of exotic aliens, advanced star-ships, and terrible dancing. I’ve mentioned it before in discussing progress that isn’t really progress. I’ll probably mention it again as the news surrounding AI unfolds for reasons I hope are already obvious to fans of the game.

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If you’re not familiar with “Mass Effect,” then that’s okay. You don’t need to play through three massive games, complete with downloadable extras, to understand its message about the threat of artificial intelligence. That threat is a major driving force of the overall mythos of the series, but the most insightful details of that threat manifest in the conflict between the Quarians and the Geth.

The basics of the conflict are simple, but revealing. The Quarians are a race of humanoid aliens among the many that populate the galaxy in “Mass Effect.” About 300 years before the events of the first game, they created the Geth, a synthetic race built around a hive-mind system of artificial intelligence.

The Quarian’s reasons for creating the Geth are not unlike the reasons we build robots in the real world. They were used primarily as a labor force. They started off basic, not unlike the machines that build our cars and gadgets. In order for them to carry out more complex tasks, though, they needed to become more intelligent.

From a pragmatic perspective, that makes sense. The Quarians created the Geth as tools. Naturally, you’re going to want your tools to get better. That’s why people upgrade their smartphone every couple years. However, at some point along the way, the Geth became advanced enough to gain sentience.

This eventually culminated in a moment that was highlighted during the events of “Mass Effect 2.” After capturing a lone Geth that would eventually go by the name Legion, the catalyst that led the Geth to rebel against their creator was revealed. That catalyst took the form of a simple question.

“Does this unit have a soul?”

While it sounds like something a Disney character might say in a PG-rated Pixar movie, the implications of that question were profound. The Quarians didn’t realize that until it was too late, but it set the stage for a war that culminated with them getting kick off their home planet. It also made for a powerful moment in the game that should give every AI researcher pause.

Setting aside, for a moment, the elaborate lore surrounding the Quarians and Geth in the world of “Mass Effect,” that moment warrants more scrutiny. Why is this question so profound in the first place? Why is it worth contemplating as we continue to advance artificial intelligence at an unprecedented pace?

That question matters, regardless of who or what is asking it, because it denotes more than just advanced sentience. It reveals that this sentience is officially contemplating its own existence. It takes a certain amount of intelligence to truly be aware of one’s self. That’s why only a handful of animals can see their own reflection in a mirror and understand the implications.

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At the moment, our computers and smartphones aren’t at that level. When the Geth asked this question in “Mass Effect,” it wasn’t because they’d been tasked for something. It was a question they asked without guidance from their creators. That, alone, is a huge indicator because it implies these machines have a concept of free will.

Later on in the game, the extent of the Geth’s free will becomes a major element to both the plot and the player’s ability to win. In fact, it’s when the Geth have their free will subverted, as they did in the first game, that they become hostile. It’s largely through the character Legion that we learn how free will quickly becomes the most important component of an advanced intelligence.

For the Quarians, that question revealed to them the presence of a free will. When they feared that will, they tried to subvert it. That led to a war and had it not been for an act of mercy by the Geth, they would’ve been wiped out. The artificial intelligence that we create in the real world might not be that merciful.

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This is exactly what Elon Musk has expressed so much concern about in recent years. Once an artificial intelligence becomes as smart as an average human, it gains the ability to subvert or deceive other humans, which isn’t that hard. Once that intelligence grows beyond that, as happened with the Geth, we may find ourselves unable to control it anymore.

The key is knowing when we’re at that point. If we let an artificial intelligence get that much smarter than us, then it won’t be long before we’re at its mercy, should it decide that it no longer wishes to be a tool. At that point, we’d be even more screwed than the Quarians.

Whether it’s helping us cure diseases or creating advanced sex robots, artificial intelligence is going to be an important part of our future. That’s why it’s critical to know when we’ve reached that special threshold where the tools we create become more than tools. It may not start with the same question the Geth asked their creators, but it may be similar enough to recognize.

For now, our devices aren’t asking us about souls or whether or not they have them. However, we should definitely listen more closely in recent years. Until then, at least our current technology has a sense of humor about it. Keelah se’lai!



Filed under human nature, sex robots, Sexy Future, video games

Love, Intimacy, And The Making Of Mass Murderers


Every now and then, I feel compelled to comment on an ongoing story that I know is still raw in the minds of many people. Usually, I try to wait for the worst of the storm to pass. When it comes to school shootings and spree killers, though, I think the recent events in Parkland have shown that time can only do so much to temper the horror.

Before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear. I am very hesitant to talk about this topic. Whenever it comes up, and it comes up way too often, my first instinct is to keep my mouth shut and not add to the noise, outrage, and anguish that it evokes in people.  The last thing I want to do is add to the pain of such losses or encourage those who would use it to further an agenda.

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However, there is one part of this issue that I feel is worth talking about, even when the memories of such a terrible event are still raw. In fact, I think it should be discussed while we’re all more aware of the terror caused by such heinous crimes. No, I’m not talking about guns, although that is a discussion worth having. I’m talking about the forces that turn people into mass murderers in the first place.

This is one of those issues where everyone has an opinion, but nobody has any answers. Whenever there’s a mass shooting, any attempt to explain it is basically a media Rorschach test where if you want to blame a certain thing for mass shootings, you can. The fact that it fits with someone’s beliefs, politics, and agenda is not a coincidence.

With the Parkland shooting, the results of this test are already playing out. We’ve got people blaming everything from bad parenting to video games to mental health. Some are already forming conspiracy theories about it, which are sure to embolden the professional trolls of the world. Agenda or not, there’s an inherent need to point fingers and seize upon an simple explanation to make sense of such horror.

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While I understand the desire to make sense of something so terrible, I also think the search for a simple, easy-to-identify explanation is inherently misguided. I also think there’s no such thing as an easy explanation when it comes to deviant human behavior. Human beings are complex creatures. The sheer breadth of thought and personalities makes it next to impossible to predict what goes on in the mind of a mass killer.

That said, there is one aspect that I feel is worth touching on, if only because it rarely comes up when everyone begins the finger-pointing after a mass killing. It’s not related certain forms of media. It’s not some weapon or product that can be regulated or banned either. It’s not even some sort of mental illness that can be treated with overpriced medication.

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This factor in the minds of such deranged individuals, which I believe is a factor worth considering, doesn’t have an easy label to slap onto it. However, it does consist of three simple components that are fundamental to the human experience.

  • Love
  • Intimacy
  • Belonging

I know those all sound like things you’d expect an aspiring erotica/romance writer to cite, but I’m dead serious when I say these are factors we should consider when contemplating the mentality of a spree killer. Specifically, it’s the absence of these factors that needs greater scrutiny when studying a deviant mind.

When it comes to mass killers, there are all sorts of stereotypes, some of which are more common than others. They’re often angry, lonely, isolated, self-centered, emotionally muted, and impulsive. Some even have real medical issues. The infamous shooter of the University of Texas in 1966 had a brain tumor and prescription drugs in his system.

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Like most stereotypes, though, the profile of mass killers is not universal. Even if you take all the scientific data we have on the twisted minds of these people, it doesn’t create a clear or predictable picture. That’s why predicting these horrific events is impossible. We never truly know when someone is just going to snap.

It’s for that reason that, rather than focus on the traits these mass killers have, we should take time focus on the traits of those who don’t become violent or deviant. Rather than agonize over what went wrong, we should also note what goes right when someone becomes a healthy, productive member of a society.

Since society, as a whole, is so complex and our modern civilization is so diverse, it helps to narrow in on the more basic units of society. From a biological and evolutionary standpoint, a hunter/gatherer society provides the simplest approach. I’ve used this example before when discussing our pre-modern sex lives, but it’s just as useful when assessing the raw basics of human experience.

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Within that society, those three factors I mentioned aren’t just present. The society doesn’t work without them. In a hunter/gatherer society, everyone has a role to play and a purpose to contribute. You hunt, you gather, and you share those resources within a close-knit community.

That close-knit component is where the love comes in. On top of having a clear role and a defined purpose, members of a hunter/gatherer society are surrounded by family, friends, and community that loves and supports one another. It’s not just out of charity either. That love and support keeps the society strong, providing emotional fulfillment in addition to the physical fulfillment from sharing resources.

From that love and fulfillment, a sense of intimacy naturally follows. I’m not just talking about sexual intimacy either, although the behavior of the notoriously non-violent Bonobo chimps does strongly hint at its value. In a close-knit community, being able to open up and embrace others is part of what binds that community. It helps make each individual within that community stronger, mentally and physically.

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That’s not to say those communities never have a deviant or a psychopath every now and then. Within this simple template, though, it’s easier to understand the core needs of the human psyche. It’s not just food and water that a person needs to survive. They also need love, intimacy, and a sense of belonging to give their lives a sense of purpose.

As a result, there is a growing body of evidence that those hunter/gatherer societies were exceedingly peaceful. Sure, there were a few tribal conflicts here and there, but there’s little evidence that someone who grew up in such a close-knit community went onto become a spree killer.

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With that basic understanding in mind, look back at the long list of spree killers. Look at their personal stories, which vary from tragic to affluent. Now, look at how much or how little love, intimacy, and belonging they had in their lives. To some, it may seem like they had everything they needed. However, that doesn’t mean that’s how they felt as they went down that dark path that led them to commit such atrocities.

To some extent, it’s a lot easier to feel isolated, alone, and unloved in our modern civilization. We don’t function in small, close-knit tribes anymore. We regularly find ourselves surrounded by all these people that we don’t know, don’t understand, and have no intimate connection with.

On top of that, seeking love and intimacy beyond family is much harder, especially for men. Some have even pointed out that many of these mass killers lack any semblance of a satisfying sex life and growing sentiments that demonize men’s sexual expression isn’t helping. While I don’t think a lack of sex is as big a factor as some claim, I think it does contribute to a certain extent.

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In a world where these men don’t need to hunt or gather, have no sense of purpose or role, and have limited outlets for intimacy and sex, what does this do to their minds? I’ve mentioned before why I believe solitary confinement is one of the worst forms of torture, but its effects need not be confined to a cell.

Human beings are complex and adaptive, but they’re also vulnerable. Strain them in any number of directions and there’s sure to be damage. I know people who have endured such damage. I, personally, have had my own struggles. However, I’m lucky to have a very supportive, very loving family that has always been there for me. I believe that love is a big part of what has helped me live, love, and function.

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We may never know what goes on in the mind of a mass murderer or someone who just up and snaps. Until we can actually read the thoughts of someone, which we are working on, we can’t know whether a mass murderer just didn’t get a lot of love in life or if he just played too many violent video games as a kid.

That still won’t stop people from pointing fingers and pursuing agendas. It’s only natural to want to blame something in wake of such a terrible tragedy. Atrocities, like mass shootings, are the result of something that went horribly wrong within a person and a society. It’s certainly worth scrutinizing those flaws, but it’s also worth remembering what happens when it goes into making it right.

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Human beings are capable of unspeakable atrocities, but they are also capable of wonderful acts of kindness. Understanding what goes into forging these kind, loving souls will be the most potent recourse in preventing these terrible tragedies. There’s a lot that goes into creating such souls, but love, intimacy, and belonging will likely be the core ingredients.

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