Category Archives: psychology

When Is It Okay To Tell Someone To Grow Thicker Skin?

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When I was a kid, I played little league baseball. My father also volunteered, being a lover of baseball and an all-around awesome guy. It was fun. I enjoyed it, even though I wasn’t that good. However, I still thought I was better than the majority of the kids on my team. I’d been playing baseball with my dad in the backyard for years. I had developed those skills more than most.

Then, one year, my skills started to slip. In my defense, that was also around the time I developed asthma. I still thought I was good, but there’s only so much you can do with those skills when you’re coughing and wheezing half the time. As a result, my coach had me bat next to last and made me play outfield, which I took as a personal affront.

I know he wasn’t trying to insult me, but I took it very personally. Being a kid, I gave him and everyone around me a bad attitude. When I told my father about this, I thought he would be on my side. Instead, he wasn’t having it. My dad was not the kind of guy who rewarded bad attitudes. No matter how much I told him the coach’s decision upset me, he had the same response.

“Can’t hack it? Get your jacket.”

That became a mantra of his. At the time, I hated it. As I got older, I came to appreciate it. On the surface, it may seem harsh, especially when it’s directed a kid in the context of a little league game. However, it conveys and important lesson while indirectly raising an important question.

When is it okay to tell someone they need to grow thicker skin?

I believe this question is more important now than it ever was when I was a kid playing little league baseball. With the rise of outrage culture and numerous controversies on issues that rarely warrant controversy, I feel as though my father’s wise advice is more relevant than ever.

That said, answering this question isn’t simple. I know it’s tempting for anyone annoyed by political correctness to just brush off outrage as coming from thin-skinned, over-coddled snowflakes. That is, after all, a popular perception among the most vocal critics of outrage culture. However, that recourse ignores some important caveats.

It’s one thing to tell an over-privileged college student majoring in underwater basket weaving that they need to grow thicker skin. It’s quite another to say the same thing to a wounded veteran or a rape survivor. Make no mistake. Those over-privileged professional whiners exist and they deserve both criticism and scorn. They’re still the extreme cases. Most people operate in that vast area between extremes.

To illustrate, consider the following example. You’re on a stage telling a story in front of a large group of people. The story isn’t political, nor is it an attempt to convince someone of a particular worldview. The story contains some difficult themes, including references to graphic violence, sexual abuse, and racism. It doesn’t have to be based on real events. Those themes just have to be sufficiently graphic.

After you’re done telling the story, a small segment of the audience comes up to you and tells you they found your story to be deeply offensive. They claim that the simple act of you telling a story caused them real psychological harm. How do you respond to them?

For some people, their first inclination will be to apologize to them and everyone else who felt offended. This is often the first recourse for any celebrity who tends to make a public gaff, of sorts. It’s an easy option and, at the very least, will mitigate some of the outrage, but it has the added effect of derailing serious discussions.

For others, the first inclination will be to brush off those who are offended and tell them to grow thicker skin. There are certain individuals who make this their primary response. They tend to be less concerned about hurting peoples’ feelings and often criticize those who are easily offended. While that may be warranted in some instances, it can often come off as callous. In some cases, it devolves into outright trolling.

Whatever the recourse, both responses have the same flaw. They ignore the actual substance behind those who took offense to the story. It generalizes the nature of the harm they claim to have endured. It essentially lumps the offense that some thin-skinned college kid feels with that of someone who has legitimate issues.

Without those insights, any apology or lack of apology will make light of any genuine offense someone endures. Those details are necessary in determining who needs to grow thicker skin and who deserves a sincere apology. In essence, the right response is determined on a case-by-case basis and that can get both tricky and cumbersome.

Say one of the audience members took offense because they felt the story glorified the current and historical oppression of women by way of patriarchal traditions. Someone harmed by anything that vague definitely needs to grow thicker skin.

Say one of the audience members took offense because they’re struggling with a legitimate mental illness and parts of the story caused them significant distress that required medical intervention. In that case, telling them to grow thicker skin isn’t just insensitive. It’s downright malicious. People with legitimate medical issues can only do so much to manage their reactions.

It can get a lot more complicated. One of the audience members may have endured a real trauma in their lives and while they’re not on medications, they’re still struggling and hearing the story opened some unhealed wounds. In this instance, an apology is warranted, but only in the context of acknowledging someone’s real-world issues. You can’t tell them to grow thicker skin, but you can encourage them to heal.

Maybe there’s another audience member who just says the story was patently offensive and is too heavy on outdated stereotypes. They’ll angrily rant at how certain elements denigrated their heritage, their culture, and their race. It’s not just that the story was offensive. They believe anyone who tells it is as bad as those who made it. This person may be sincere, but they could also benefit from growing thicker skin.

There are any number of ways someone can claim offense. Some are legitimate, but most are contrived. As a general rule, any offense that requires someone to be offended on behalf of other people is questionable at best and insincere at worst. It tends to happen whenever people try to make broad claims about cultural appropriation or stereotypes.

Even if certain generalizations about cultures are legitimate and certain stereotypes have a basis in fact, the offense is still taken personally. The very fact that it exists is an affront. That’s usually another sign that thicker skin is at least part of the solution. It’s one thing to abhor racist acts. It’s quite another to abhor that it exists at all.

Everyone is wired differently. Some are just more easily-offended than others. That’s an inescapable fact of life in world that’s diverse and has the technology to over-react to anything that anyone may say. Even with those caveats, it certainly helps to discern those who suffer real harm from certain rhetoric and those who really need to grow thicker skin.

There are some criteria that can help us make that determination. It may not help in every case, but here are just a few.

If someone is offended by the fact that something exists, then they need to grow thicker skin.

If someone is offended by mere opinions of other people, then they need to grow thicker skin.

If someone is offended on behalf of an entire group, then they need to grow thicker skin.

If someone is offended because other people can’t know the specifics of what offends them without reading their mind, then they need to grow thicker skin.

If someone is offended by something that was not intended to offend or harm, then they need to grow thicker skin.

Again, these are just general guidelines and there are certainly exceptions to many. However, if we apply these standards to my story as an upset little leaguer who took offense to his coach’s decisions, then my father’s reaction would be appropriate. In that situation, someone is right to tell me that I should grow thicker skin. Moreover, I became stronger and more mature as a result.

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Filed under human nature, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology

Why Heaven Is As Unjust As Hell

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There are many aspects of religion that warrant criticism. I’ve certainly levied a few, from how it intensifies inequality to how it fosters a form of morality akin to the mafia. I always try to preface those criticism by acknowledging that most religious people are decent, honorable human beings. I also have close relatives who are religious and that doesn’t detract from their character whatsoever.

Even with that in mind, I believe that religion deserves a special kind of scrutiny. It’s a huge influence on people, society, and also government. Something that influential deserves no immunity, especially when certain tenants have serious implications. I’ve pointed out how the concept of Hell is rendered moot by boredom and undermines pro-life ideology. Now, I’m going to give similar scrutiny to the concept of Heaven.

While the problem of Hell and eternal punishment for finite transgressions have been discussed by people far smarter than I’ll ever be, there are far less criticisms levied against Heaven. That makes sense. Heaven, whatever form it takes, is one of those ideas that’s pleasant to contemplate. Even if you’re an atheist, imaging a blissful afterlife won’t inspire dread or outrage.

However, I would argue that the concept of Heaven is as immoral and unjust as Hell. While I don’t deny infinite torture is more deplorable than infinite bliss, I submit that the implications are just as damning, if that’s not too loaded a term.

Most people know the basics of Heaven. Their particular religion, sect, or denomination might not call it that, but the premise is simple. Those who are righteous, moral, and pious to a particular standard, as determined by a deity or doctrine, are rewarded after death with passage to an eternal paradise.

What makes this place paradise is often vague. Some see it as a place without suffering or sin. Others see it as a place of endless indulgence. Whereas Hell is the ultimate punishment, Heaven is the ultimate reward. Whatever form that reward takes, the attributes that make it unjust are the same.

To illustrate, consider two individuals who lived good lives. One is just a typical, every-day adherent. Most of us know someone like them. They’re kind, decent, and upstanding. They live their lives ethically and responsibly. They go to whatever church, temple, or mosque their religion requires. They play by the rules and do all the right things, but that’s it. They don’t have much impact beyond their community.

Then, consider an individual like Dr. Norman Borlaug. I’ve mentioned him before, but the good this man did for the world is worth belaboring. This isn’t just a man who lived a good, upstanding life. This is a man who saved millions of lives because of the work he did. His contributions to the green revolution are a big reason why countless people don’t go hungry at night.

The face of a real life hero.

If ever there was an individual who deserved a reward in the afterlife, it’s Norman Borlaug. Even those of differing faiths wouldn’t argue that a man like him deserves to go to a place like Heaven. That’s where the chief problem of Heaven comes in and, much like Hell, it has to do with its eternal nature.

Whenever eternity enters the equation, absurdities usually follow. In the case of Heaven, the implication is that a man like Norman Borlaug gets the same reward as the other person who didn’t save a billion lives and win a Nobel Prize. There’s nothing extra for someone who really goes the extra mile for humanity. With eternity, that’s just not possible.

It’s not unlike a group project where one person does most of the work, but everyone still gets the same grade. Most reasonable people would call that unfair. Human beings, like other animals, have an innate sense of fairness. When a reward or punishment is exceedingly disproportionate, it tends to cause distress, guilt, and resentment.

With Heaven, however, people make an exception. There’s no uneasiness or distress about someone like Norman Borlaug getting the same reward as some random person who just went to church every Sunday. Some of that might be due to an inability to process concepts like eternity, but I think the problem runs deeper than that.

On top of the reward being disproportionate, there’s also the issue of the standards for determining those who get it. For those who adhere to a dogmatic faith, including those of the Abrahamic traditions, it doesn’t matter how many lives men like Norman Borlaug save. It also doesn’t matter how little the typical adherent does. What matters, ultimately, is whether they believe the tenants of the faith.

It’s an issue that also comes up when discussing problem of Hell. Within the core of these theologies, the works they do in life don’t matter as much as what they believe. If they die believing the right deities for the right reason, then that’s enough. They get to go to Heaven. If they’re wrong, yet still do all sorts of objective good, then they still go to Hell to face eternal torment.

That’s not just unfair. That’s infinitely unjust. It’s infinitely immoral. It completely devalues the action, intentions, and sincerity of those doing their best to live their lives. If the only thing that matters in the end is what deity and doctrine they believe, then where’s the incentive to make life worth living for those alive today and those yet to be born?

It still gets worse than that. What about those who lived in a different time and place in which they only knew the particular theology of their community? There are still places in the world that violently resist any intrusion or visitation from the outside world. These people love their families and friends as much as anyone. Are they still denied eternal bliss and doomed to eternal suffering?

If even one person who lived a good, honorable life is condemned to infinite suffering because of what they believe, then that, by default, is infinitely unjust. By the same token, one person who gains infinite bliss just because of what they believe and nothing more, then that is every bit as unjust.

Heaven may be a pleasant, comforting thought for most people. It offers a tantalizing promise for adherents and their loved ones that death is not the end. There’s a better existence waiting for everyone, but only if they believe a certain set of tenants in accord with a specific deity. Having dealt with the death of close loved ones, I understand why that’s so appealing.

At the same time, it’s difficult to get around the problems that arise when infinite concepts are applied to finite lives. Regardless of what deity you believe, the very concept of eternal rewards alongside eternal punishments ensure that divine justice can only ever be infinitely unjust.

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Filed under philosophy, psychology, religion

Why “The Boys” Is The Ultimate Superhero Satire

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In the history of superhero media, 2019 will likely go down as one of the greatest years of all time. This year included three superhero movies that grossed over a billion dollars, including the first female-led superhero movie to gross a billion dollars and one that became the highest grossing movie of all time. Whatever the future holds for the genre, there’s no doubt that 2019 will go down as a banner year.

Regardless of what the James Camerons of the world think, superheroes have made their mark on the pop culture landscape. They’ll likely keep making their mark for years to come, especially after Marvel’s latest announcements for the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, in the same year that superhero media achieved some of its greatest success, something comes along to utterly deconstruct it.

Whereas a movie like “Avengers Endgame” showed us just how great superheroes can be, a TV show like “The Boys” shows us just how depraved they can be. Being a comic book fan long before this golden age of superheroes, I already knew that. I followed the original comics when they came out in the mid-2000s. Now, thanks to a new TV show, everyone can experience the story that gave superheroes the ultimate gut punch.

Literally.

I’m not going to lie. I was genuinely surprised when I heard Amazon Prime was going to make this show. This is not the kind of story that you can turn into a Disney-approved, PG-13 spectacle for mass consumption. In anything, “The Boys” goes out of its way to explore the kinds of things that would make the censors at Disney and the MPAA throw up.

This is a story that does not hide the brutal violence, intense trauma, and unchecked hedonism that often seems unavoidable in the context of the narrative. Writer and co-creator, Garth Ennis, has a long history of embracing those darker elements of the genre. He did it with “Preacher” and his run on “The Punisher.” With “The Boys,” he took it to another level and beyond.

The world of “The Boys” is not unlike the early days of the MCU. The over-arching story tries to incorporate the fanciful ideals of superheroes into a real-world context. It doesn’t use fictional cities like Metropolis or Gotham. It doesn’t ignore how superheroes would affect society, government, or the economy. The many flaws of the real world are just as relevant in this world.

As are the sentiments about reality, in general.

From here, “The Boys” doesn’t necessarily portray a worst-case scenario for superheroes, but it comes pretty damn close. The “heroes” of this world are the Seven. They include the likes of Homelander, Black Noir, Queen Maeve, A-Train, and the Deep. They’re basically derivations of the Justice League, but in terms of heroic ideals, these characters have none of that.

The Seven conduct themselves as superheroes for the masses. They’re admired, respected, and idolized by many, just like their counterparts in the MCU. However, that heroic zeal is both a lie and a scam. Their entire image is built around a marketing ploy, courtesy of Vought American Consolidated, a defense contractor who incorporates superheroes into their arsenal.

Trust me. It’s even more corrupt than it sounds.

With that corruption comes greed, treachery, violence, and depravity the likes of which Batman would find too grim. These heroes basically get to smile for the cameras, enjoy the benefits of celebrity, and still conduct themselves as self-serving narcissist behind the scene. They can do whatever they want, get away with it, and still be beloved. It’s a recipe for all sorts of disasters.

On top of that, some of these characters are outright psychopaths. Homelander is a mentally unstable sadist who commits many vile acts throughout the comics, including rape. The TV show captures only a fraction of his depravity, but it’s more than enough to highlight the underlying message of “The Boys” and why it’s such a powerful story.

In essence, “The Boys” is the ultimate satire of the superhero genre. It’s entire narrative is built around exploring, exposing, and denigrating the ideals on which all superhero media is built upon. It’s not done for humor or comedic effect, either. The theme of “The Boys” is dead serious in showing how a world with superheroes becomes so depraved.

This is where the Boys themselves come in. They include Billy Butcher, Frenchie, Mother’s Milk, the Female, and Hughie. They both witness and directly experience the breadth of the Seven’s corruption. They take it upon themselves to expose these heroes for who they are.

However, their motivations aren’t entirely heroic. These characters often come off every bit as damaged, petty, and vindictive as the heroes they actively oppose. They don’t stick to high ideals, either. The Boys are brutal, albeit in a more focused and pragmatic sense.

It gets ugly.

It gets violent.

It gets downright traumatic.

It also gets the damn point across.

If “The Boys” has a unifying message that unites both the comics and the TV shows, it’s that superheroes can only ever make things worse in the long run. That ideal of a perfectly altruistic savior in the mold of Superman just doesn’t exist and wanting it to exist can be downright dangerous.

The people behind the scenes with the Seven feed into that. The government, big corporations, and the media glorify these heroes because the people latch onto them. They want these heroes to be the idealized figures that they read about in comics and see in blockbuster movies. They buy into it and both the Seven and the organizations that manage them keep selling it.

It’s a self-reinforcing cycle that only amplifies the corruption. The Boys dare to battle that corruption, but with the understanding they’re fighting a losing battle. They can attack, expose, and frustrate these superpowered sociopaths all they want. They’re never going to destroy those rosy ideals on which the entire genre is build upon. At most, they can just make them pay a price for their egregious misdeeds.

It’s hardly proportional to the many atrocities the Seven commits, but that’s kind of the point. These are superpowered beings who can only be hurt so much, even by other superheroes. The Boys can never punish them in a way that feels equitable, compared to the injustices the Seven inflict. That doesn’t stop them from making an effort and making it better than most would expect.

The right tool for the right job.

How they go about this and how the Seven reacts is a long, tortured story that has many shocking moments that are not for kids or the faint of heart. The trailer for the TV show offers a hint of that, but there are scenes from the comics that even the lenient censors of Amazon Prime wouldn’t dare put on film. I won’t spoil the bloody details, but if you have the stomach, I highly recommend you check out the comics.

More than anything else, the “The Boys” is a brutal reminder that the ideals behind superheroes are probably the most fanciful part of the genre. In a real world full of corruption and collateral damage, superheroes can be far more dangerous than the threats they confront. It’s almost impossible to be a superhero without becoming a self-absorbed asshole to some extent.

Even the Boys, who actively battle the superheroes that fuel this fantasy, never come off as entirely altruistic. They’re simply more respectable and less narcissistic. In that dynamic, nobody can ever come off as truly heroic. There’s just too much room for corruption and ego.

While “The Boys” wasn’t the first comic to satirize superheroes, it’s definitely the most complete. “Watchmen” may get more praise and respect, but even in that story, the heroes still try to act like heroes in their own perverse way. What characters like Ozymandias and Rorschach do is framed as something heroic, even if it gets violent and brutal. There’s none of that with “The Boys.”

In an ideal world, even assholes will find a way to be heroic under the right circumstances. Tony Stark proved that in “Avengers Endgame.” However, in the world of “The Boys,” there’s no such thing as right circumstances. If anything, the entire superhero genre has it ass-backwards. Heroes will inevitably find a way to become assholes and if nobody stops them, then they’ll just push their assholery to new heights.

The Boys” is a unique comic in its own right, but the TV adaptation is coming along at just the right time. I would even argue that this kind of satire is necessary in the current cultural landscape. We need something like this to remind us that the ideals of superheroes are still ideals. Like most things in the real world, ideals tend to crumble when subjected to scrutiny.

At a time when people are consuming the ideals of superheroes at an unprecedented level, it’s important to maintain a sense of perspective about the genre. A satire like “The Boys” may never have the same impact as anything from the MCU, but it’s still a story worth telling, if only to remind us that great power can also breed greater assholes.

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Filed under political correctness, psychology, superhero comics, television

How I Lost And Regained My Self-Esteem

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Self-esteem is one of those concepts that has gained a mixed reputation in recent years. To some extent, that reputation is well-earned. We’ve all dealt with people with an inflated ego. Being around them for extended periods can range from frustrating to intolerable. Some have even called the glut of self-esteem and its narcissistic byproducts an epidemic.

Personally, I think that claim is overly hyperbolic. However, I understand the popular sentiment. I was a kid around the time the cracks in the the self-esteem movement really started to show. I sat through many of those classes that espoused the value of self-esteem. I saw all those PSA’s after popular kids shows encouraging kids to believe in themselves no matter what. Even by kid standards, I thought they were cheesy.

At the same time, I was dealing with a lot of personal issues and my self-esteem was often a big part of those issues. I went through periods of my young life when I thought I could do anything. I went through other periods where I thought was a worthless waste of flesh. Going through the rigors of puberty, enduring high school, and dealing with some less-than-ideal health situations certainly didn’t help.

It was worse than this.

In short, I had a lot of self-esteem as a kid. I really believed in myself and I fought hard to affirm that belief. Then, as I became a teenager, I lost my self-esteem. I became a miserable, self-loathing hunk of living misery. I don’t know how I could’ve felt worse about myself. Then, as an adult, I got my self-esteem back and I haven’t let go over it since.

It was a roller coaster ride, to say the least. It wasn’t always a smooth ride and I found many ways to make it harder for myself. The older I get, the more I realize how misguided I was and how much of it was my own doing. I like to think I’ve learned form it. I also think the experience is worth sharing. Hopefully, others can relate. Perhaps, those who struggled like I did can glean lessons I wish I’d learned earlier.

Before I get into the details of this story, I want to make one thing clear. I don’t blame the self-esteem movement that has become so popular to bash.

I don’t blame the schools, either. I grew up in an area where the schools were great, for the most part. By almost any measure, I was lucky. I got an education that many kids in America would envy.

I sure as hell won’t blame my parents and family. In fact, they’re the heroes of this story. They put up with me at times when I was downright insufferable. My mother, my father, and my siblings did all the right things for a kid like me. I’m lucky they were there because things could’ve turned out way worse for me and I have nobody to blame but myself.

To understand where my self-esteem issues began, it’s necessary to understand the kind of kid I was growing up. For the most part, I was pretty normal. However, if there was one trait that set me apart from the other kids, it was how uptight I was.

By that, I don’t just mean I was stressed out by tests and homework. I was the kind of kid who would get anxious and upset if a school bus was late. I always had to be on time. I always had to get things done early. I didn’t procrastinate on anything. That may sound like a useful trait, but the way I went about it made it a liability.

Between being so uptight with timing, I was just as uptight when it came to grades. Anything less than a perfect score was disappointing. I had this mentality where there were only A’s and F’s and nothing in between. Again, this is not something my parents, teachers, or counselors imposed on me. This is something I did to myself.

I held myself to a high standard. I bought into the idea that just believing in yourself was enough to achieve anything. I’d read it in superhero comics. I’d seen it in cartoons. I genuinely believed I was smart and capable at a level that grossly exceeded my actual abilities. Call it inflated self-esteem, if you want. The end result was the same. When you set impossible standards, you set yourself up for inevitable failure.

My parents warned me, as did my siblings and friends. Everybody warned me that I was being too hard on myself. In hindsight, I should’ve listened. I really wish I had because it set me up for some very difficult teen years.

On top of that, this is around the same time I developed a terrible acne problem that plagued me into my 20s. I also developed asthma that made basic exercise or just a typical gym class feel like prolonged torture so on top of having an acne-ridden face, I was also out of shape. It made me extremely self-conscious of my looks and when you’re ready uptight, that’s a bad combination.

Altogether, this hit my self-esteem the same way a flame-thrower hit a wounded fly. I didn’t just lose my confidence. For a while, my sense of self-worth was hanging by the thinnest of threads. It got to a point where I just started randomly insulting myself. It wasn’t a funny kind of self-deprecation, either. My parents and siblings got downright angry with me whenever I did it, but that rarely dissuaded me.

It got bad. For a while, I had a hard time believing it would get much better. I honestly thought my self-esteem was gone and I was destined to be a walking ball of misery. Then, something remarkable happened.

It wasn’t some incredible epiphany, either. As soon as I graduated high school and entered the adult world, I found a new kind of confidence. It didn’t happen overnight, but there was definitely a transition. It started in college, but it only blossomed as I got older and gained more life experience.

I think the catalyst for that change came when I got my first taste of independence. In college, my life wasn’t so micromanaged. I could actually set my own schedule, plan my own day, and make my own choices. Granted, it wasn’t total freedom. I was going to college on my parents’ dollar. However, compared to high school, it was like getting paroled.

In this environment, I learned something critical that I hadn’t learned in high school or from cheesy after school specials. To have self-esteem, it’s not enough to just believe in yourself. You have to work for it. You have to earn that feeling of accomplishment. It’s not easy, but it’s worth doing and by achieving it, you’re going to feel better about yourself, by default.

It also helped that I became much less uptight in college. To some extent, I do blame some of the messages I got in high school. I had been under the impression that if I didn’t get perfect grades in high school, then I would never go to college and I would die poor and lonely. Even if that impression was misguided, it was such a relief to find out my failures in high school did not define me.

That Spanish test I failed in my sophomore year did not ruin my future.

That assignment I botched in my physics class during my Junior year did not decide my fate.

That may not sound like a big deal to most people, but for someone who was as uptight as me, it was eye-opening. It caused me to re-evaluate my approach to personal standards, real achievement, and how I graded myself.

Suddenly, my personal world didn’t seem so dire. There was some room for error. I could make mistakes, learn from them, and be better for it. To my younger self, that concept might as well have been an alien language. I didn’t care about the process. I cared only for the result. I had to learn that appreciating the process helped me work towards those results.

This didn’t just extend to college. It also helped with my personal life and my health. In college, I got my first girlfriend. I actually developed a social life where I made friends, went to parties, and hung out with people. I was still socially awkward. To this day, I’m still behind the curve in that respect. However, I’m light-years ahead of where I was in my youth.

Things really picked up when I started taking care of myself. Instead of just laying around, feeling sorry for myself, I started exercising. I got serious about treating my acne. I sank most of my savings into fixing my eyesight so that I didn’t have to wear thick glasses anymore. In short, I invested in myself. Like any good investment, it didn’t pay off immediately. Over time, though, the results compounded.

Bit by bit, my self-esteem returned. I had to work for it. Whether it was developing better study skills or getting into shape, I actually had to get up in the morning and make a concerted effort. I know it sounds like common sense, but to my younger self, it seemed so hopeless. If I couldn’t achieve everything all at once, then why bother? It was a terrible mindset and one that held me back.

Today, I have the confidence and self-esteem to share this story. I can even look back on those difficult times and laugh at how I acted. Some close family members will even laugh with me, even though I did not make things easy for them. They definitely did their part. They helped keep me from falling too deep into despair. It just took me a while to do my part, as well.

It would be easy for me to make excuses for my struggles. I could’ve blamed the self-esteem movement, misguided teachers, and after school specials that aired in between my favorite cartoon. In the end, they would still be empty. I still made the choices that made me miserable.

I set myself for disappointment and frustration. Nobody was going to come along and fix everything for me. Nothing was going to resolve itself, just by hoping for the best. In the end, my self-esteem was like any other skill or challenge. I had to apply myself. I had to work hard to earn the results I sought. They were hard lessons to learn, but they were worth learning.

I just wished I’d learned them sooner.

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Filed under human nature, Jack Fisher's Insights, psychology

The Flaw In Happy Endings According To “Bojack Horseman”

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The world can be a harsh, unforgiving place. The extent of that harshness often depends on circumstances, attitude, and even blind luck. Most people, no matter how rich or successful they are, learn that lesson at some point in their lives. It’s rarely pleasant and often leaves scars that don’t heal.

Even with those scars, many cling to a hopeful, wide-eyed idealism about how much better the world could be. Moreover, that world is worth pursuing at every turn. TV shows, movies, music, and literature convinces us that it can be done and still have plenty of room for commercials, ads, and movie trailers. Nearly every great narrative tries to sell us on some unique kind of world-healing happy ending.

Then, there’s the strange and exceedingly depressing world of “Bojack Horseman.” If ever there was a show that went out of its way to kill happy endings with the force of a billion gut punches, it’s this one. Think of all our most cherished ideals from popular media, social movements, and ideology, in general. “Bojack Horseman” finds a way to crush it all while still being funny, albeit in its own dark way.

I promise it’s funnier than you think.

I say that as someone who has watched “Bojack Horseman” since the first season, but I find myself appreciating its dark themes more and more lately. However, it’s not just because the harshness of the real world is a lot harder to hide in the era of the internet and social media.

Recently, I had a chance to re-watch the past couple seasons. In doing so, I noticed just how much our collective worldview is built around our hope for a happy ending. Almost every character on the show, from Bojack Horseman to Diane Nguyen to Princess Caroline to Mr. Peanutbutter, is driven to achieve some idealized ending for themselves.

For Diane, she seeks to become a successful writer who exacts meaningful change through her work.

For Princess Caroline, she seeks to be an accomplished, independent woman who has it all, both in terms of career and family.

For Mr. Peanutbutter, he seeks to make everyone around him happy and pursue every new project with wide-eyed passion.

For the titular character, Bojack Horseman, pursuing that ending is more complicated. Through him, the harshness of reality seems to hit everyone and everything he comes across. It’s not always through his actions, which are often selfish, reckless, and downright deplorable. His story, which helps drive the show from the beginning, reveals how pursuing idealism can leave us vulnerable at best and destroyed at worst.

To understand how the show does this, it’s necessary to understand what makes this show both unique and appealing. If you only watch the first few episodes, then “Bojack Horseman” doesn’t come off as all that deep. It just seems like a story about a narcissistic washed-up actor who happens to be an anthropomorphic horse in a world full of various human/animal hybrids.

After a while, though, you start to appreciate how Bojack reflects the ugly reality of self-centered celebrities. Whether they’re at the height of their popularity or have been out of work for years, they live in a world that basically requires them to be utterly self-absorbed and completely detached from reality. Living in that world tends to obscure what reality is and provides one too many mechanisms for escaping it.

In the show that made him famous, “Horsin’ Around,” everything was skewed. Every problem was solved within a half-hour. Everyone was happy by the end of the episode. Bojack seems at his happiest and most fulfilled when the cameras are rolling and the show is on. Behind the scenes, which is where most of the show takes place, the ugliness of his reality takes hold.

Without the show, that ugliness consumes him. Over time, it wears on him, causing him to seek that idealized ending that his show often espoused. Throughout multiple seasons, it leads him down many paths. At the same time, others like Diane, Princess Carolyn, and Todd Chavez attempt paths of their own.

From this foundation, any number of ideals can take hold. In Hollywood, or “Hollywoo” as it comes to be called in the show for hilarious reasons, an entire industry is built around telling stories or crafting media that either champion those ideals or distract people from reality. For someone like Bojack, who gets crushed by reality harder than most, it’s the worst place for him to be.

Bojack, and his colorful cast of supporting characters, either embrace or get sucked into this fanciful world. Throughout the show, they get put into positions where they can pursue their dreams, achieve what they think will make them happy, and even are allowed to succeed in some instance. If this were any other show, then that would be the happy ending that both the characters and the audience expect.

Bojack Horseman” is different in that it goes out of its way to expose the flaws in those idealized endings. The creator of the show, Raphael Bob-Waksberg, has even gone on record as saying that he doesn’t believe in “endings,” at least in the way that TV, movies, and popular media present it. In a 2015 interview, he said this about endings.

Well, I don’t believe in endings. I think you can fall in love and get married and you can have a wonderful wedding, but then you still have to wake up the next morning and you’re still you. Like, you can have the worst day of your life, but then the next day won’t be the worst day of your life. And I think it works in a positive and a negative, that all these things that happen are moments in time. And that because of the narrative we’ve experienced, we’ve kind of internalized this idea that we’re working toward some great ending, and that if we put all our ducks in a row we’ll be rewarded, and everything will finally make sense. But the answer is that everything doesn’t make sense, at least as far as I’ve found. Maybe you’ll interview someone else today who’s like “I’ve figured it out, here’s the answer!” But I don’t know the answer, and so I think it would be disingenuous to tell our audience “Here’s the answer!” It’s a struggle, and we’re all trying to figure it out, and these characters are trying to figure it out for themselves.

This sentiment plays out time and again over the course of the show. On more than one occasion, Bojack seems like he’s on the verge of achieving that happy ending and turning those ideals into reality.

He thinks getting cast in his dream role as Secretariat will give him that ending, but it doesn’t.

He thinks being nominated for an Oscar will give him that ending, but it doesn’t.

He thinks being cast in a new TV show will give him that ending, but that only makes things much worse.

At every turn, reality catches up to him. Whether it’s his many vices, his habitual selfishness, or his terrible choices, it always comes back to haunt him. Even when that happy ending seems achievable, it always becomes mired in complications that Bojack can’t always control. The same complications often impact other characters seeking their own happy endings, as well. For some, it ends up being downright tragic.

At times, the show paints a grim picture about even attempting to pursue a happy ending. Even when Bojack has insights into the process, it’s never as easy as his old TV show makes it out to be. However, the fact he and others around him keep pursuing that ending says a lot about everyone’s need to achieve something greater.

Even in a world without talking horsemen, that’s something a lot of people can relate to. Most of us build our lives around hopes and aspirations that we’ll forge our own happy ending. There may even be moments when we feel like we achieve it, whether it’s graduating high school, getting married, having children, or finally beating level 147 in Candy Crush.

However, even after those moments, the credits don’t roll. Things don’t end. The things that led you to that moment only work to the extent that they led you to that one singular moment. Life still continues and the happiness fades. Bojack experiences this at greater extremes, some of which are downright absurd, but people in the real world experience it too throughout their lives.

I can personally attest to this. When I finally finished high school, I thought that was like slaying the final boss in an impossibly hard video game. I felt the same way after graduating college, getting my first girlfriend, or publishing my first book. If the credits started rolling at that moment, it would’ve made for a great ending.

Unfortunately, life just doesn’t work like that. “Bojack Horseman” belabors that every chance it gets while still managing to inject some meaningful comedy along the way. It’s a lesson worth learning, especially for Bojack. It’s one he’ll probably keep learning in future seasons. Chances are, we’ll all learn with him along the way.

In many respects, the one who best summed up this sentiment isn’t Bojack himself. In Season 3, it’s Diane who lays out the harsh reality that everyone in the real and fictional world struggles to accept.

“It’s not about being happy, that is the thing. I’m just trying to get through each day. I can’t keep asking myself ‘Am I happy?’ It just makes me more miserable. I don’t know If I believe in it, real lasting happiness. All those perky, well-adjusted people you see in movies and TV shows? I don’t think they exist.”

It sounds depressing, but that’s par for the course with “Bojack Horseman.” Reality is often depressing, but it’s not utterly untenable because happy endings are impossible. There are many points in the show that try to make that case. Even Bojack himself tries to make that case, albeit in his own twisted way.

I would even argue that the show’s brutal attack on the very concept of idealized happy endings is uplifting, in and of itself. By making the case that all the happy endings we see in the idealized versions of fiction are flawed, it shows how futile and counterproductive it is to pursue them. The real world is harsh and brutal, but you can find moments of happiness along the way. They’re not endings. They’re just part of life.

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Should Teenagers Be Allowed To Use Sex Robots?

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There are certain products and activities that society prohibits from teenagers. For the most part, there’s a reason behind that. Teenagers are young, inexperienced, and not mature enough to handle certain things. It’s not an insult, although I don’t blame any teenager for taking offense. It’s just an acknowledgement that most young minds aren’t ready to process the adult world.

That said, things get exceedingly tricky when sexuality enters the picture. Unlike smoking, drinking, or wanting to drive a car, sex is an innate desire that every teenager is wired to seek. You don’t need peer pressure, subversive advertising, or heavy metal music to make a teenager think about sex. Chances are they’re already thinking about it. For parents and teenagers alike, it makes for many awkward conversations.

Pictured are two people who do NOT want to have that conversation.

Thanks to the hormonal onslaught of puberty, a teenager’s sexuality is often in a state of chaos. They have thoughts, feelings, and desires they don’t entirely understand. Their bodies are changing and they’re just trying to keep up. On top of that, the most common refrain from parents and teachers is to repress all those feelings and shame anyone who doesn’t.

It’s an awkward situation, to say the least. I’m not a teenager or a parent, but I think most would agree there’s a lot of room for improvement. Improving comprehensive sex education, providing accurate information, and helping teenagers develop a mature understanding of sexuality will go a long way towards this effort. These are all things we can and should be doing now.

However, what happens once sex robots enter the picture?

It’s a serious question. While I’m sure it’ll elicit awkward laughter from some, I believe this issue is worth contemplating. As I’ve noted before, sex robots are coming. I know that’s a poor choice of words, but it’s true.

Some models are already available for purchase. While nobody will mistake them for actual people, the fact you can buy one today shows the market is there. Sex still sells and, like cell phones before it, the technology will improve. Even if we’re decades from something as lifelike as the model in “Ex Machina,” we’re not that far from something that provides realistic sexual experience.

While there will be plenty of adults who celebrate this technology, as well as a few who condemn it, what will it mean for teenagers? Will they be allowed to legally purchase sex robots? Even if they cannot purchase one, will they be allowed to use one? If not, then how will we go about policing it?

These are relevant questions and the answers don’t entirely depend on logistics. As I noted before, society prohibits teenagers from doing all sorts of activities. There are legitimate legal, social, and even medical reasons for these prohibitions. There are serious, long-term harms associated with teenagers who smoke and drink alcohol. For a healthy society, these prohibitions make sense.

With sex, it’s a lot trickier. While there is some research to indicate that viewing pornography affects teenage sexual behavior, it’s not as conclusive as the harms of drug addiction. Some of those harms have more to do with stigma and poor sexual education than the content itself. Once sex robots enter the equation, though, things get even more complicated.

Porn, for all its quirks and kinks, is a fantasy on a computer screen. A sex robot is a tangible, human-like figure that people can interact with. On top of that, if the robot has a human-like measure of intelligence, it can also provide a realistic sexual experience that the user can share. Robot or not, this experience can be as intimate and satisfying as anything someone might experience in their personal life.

For teenagers, as well as their parents and teachers, this creates both opportunities and risks. Let’s say, for instance, that sex robots are legally accessible for any teenager who wants one. These robots look and feel like any other person. They have a measure of intelligence that allows them to interact and form healthy, beneficial relationships with teenagers.

In this environment, every teenager has a sexual outlet, no matter how awkward or unattractive. They have a sex robot who can provide them companionship, teach them about their sexuality, and even help them learn what they want in an intimate partner. Maybe they even help teenagers struggling with their sexual orientation gain a better understanding of who they are.

Since these are robots, the risks of pregnancy and disease is not an issue. If these robots are sufficiently intelligent, they’ll be capable of guiding teenagers through their sexual maturation, regardless of gender, orientation, or disposition. Instead of hearing some teacher or parent just lecture them on all these awkward issues, they have a chance to experience it first-hand.

For parents, I imagine I’ll still be distressing to think about their teenage son or daughter having sex of any kind. Whether it’s with a person or a robot, it’s going to cause plenty of stress. That’s unavoidable, no matter how much the technology matures. At the same time, sex robots could ultimately be the safest and most satisfying way for a teenager to learn about their sexuality.

The ultimate sex ed teacher.

All that said, there are risks. In a perfect world, sex robots would ensure that every teenager navigates their adolescence with the benefit of a fulfilling, mature understanding of sexuality. Everyone from the most attractive athlete in high school to the ugliest kid in neighborhood enjoys intimate, satisfying experiences through these sex robots. Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world.

There’s certainly a chance that sex robots could lead to potential harm, which would only be compounded for teenagers. In some situations, sex robots could cause certain individuals to dissociate themselves from other flesh-and-blood people. They may ultimately prefer the company of their sex robot over anyone else, including close friends and family.

This could lead to an entire generation of men and women who reject relationships with non-robot partners, intimate or otherwise. They would see sex with other people as this needlessly complicated, needlessly risky endeavor that offers few benefits. Beyond stagnating the population more than it already is, it could make people more distant from one another than they already are.

On top of that, there could be issues with the sex robots themselves. Ideally, every sex robot would be calibrated to foster healthy attitudes towards sex, intimacy, and relationships. Since computers are rarely perfect and prone to glitching, it’s a given that a sex robot will malfunction at some point. What will that do to the teenager who uses it?

In that case, a faulty sex robot fosters some very unhealthy attitudes in a young, impressionable user. If it’s not caught in time, this person could grow into someone with a very skewed understanding of sexuality. That already happens today with teenagers who are poorly educated on sex. With sex robots, the problems could escalate quickly.

Then, there are the parents, teachers, and authority figures themselves. This is one aspect of sex robots that might be the most difficult to contemplate. It’s easy to imagine a scenario where the adults of the world decide that teenagers shouldn’t use sex robots for the same reason they shouldn’t smoke cigarettes. That may just be the path of least resistance at first.

Where would you put the warning label?

At the same time, it’ll be adults who program, sell, and regulate sex robots. Who’s to say that they’ll do so in a way that has the best interests of teenagers in mind? If anything, people will be more tempted to use sex robots to exert a measure of control over teenagers that even more powerful than controlling their cell phone.

Perhaps parents in religious communities configure sex robots specifically designed to mold their teenagers’ sexuality to their liking. That means anything that may involve homosexuality or bisexuality would be strongly discouraged, shamed, or conditioned. The harm that would do to a teenager is difficult to quantify, although we do have some clues.

There could also be parents who don’t have healthy attitudes about sexuality themselves. Perhaps parents in abusive relationships program a sex robot to reinforce those relationships to their children. From their perspective, they’re not trying to harm or mold their teenager’s sexuality. They’re just conveying what they think is normal.

The (possible) future of normal.

There are probably plenty more risky scenarios I could contemplate. I’m sure those reading this have already imagined a few that I cannot put into words. Whatever the possibilities, the question remains. Teenagers are already thinking about sex. In every generation in every time period, part of being a teenager means contemplating sexuality and dealing with sexual urges.

It’s impossible to overstate just how impactful sex robots will be to society, sexuality, and how people relate to one another in general. Like it or not, teenagers will be affected. Sex robots can certainly do plenty of good. For some, they may be therapeutic. For others, they’ll be disruptive. For teenagers, it could be all of that and then some.

It’s difficult to say, at this point. It’s even harder to determine whether permitting teenagers to use sex robots will do more harm than good. One way or another, teenagers will continue thinking about sex and it’s still going to be awkward for them. No amount of technology will ever change that.

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Why We Are All Jerry Smiths In A World Of Jerry Smiths

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If you’re reading this, then chances are you’re not a famous scientist, celebrity, politician, intellectual, or cultural icon. If you are, I’m flattered and a little shocked that you’re reading a site built around sexy short stories, erotica romance novels, and multiple pieces on sex robots. Whatever your status, I hope you find this both informative and revealing. It’ll also help if you’re a fan of “Rick and Morty.”

I know I’ve used that show many times to make points about everything from love to nihilistic morality. It’s not my fault the show is so brilliant in how it presents complex issues in a way that’s entertaining, hilarious, and vulgar. Sometimes, we need certain concepts presented in such a way in order to make sense of them, especially if the implications are unpleasant.

While “Rick and Morty” explores many concepts through many colorful characters, some more memorable than others, there’s one particular character who embodies a particularly distressing concept. That character is Jerry Smith, Morty’s father and Rick’s son-in-law. You could argue Jerry represents a lot of things in this show, but I would argue that Jerry Smith, more than any other character, represents us.

Chances are you’ve done something like this today.

By us, I don’t mean the people who watch regularly “Rick and Morty.” I’m not even referring to those exceedingly passionate fans who went ballistic on McDonald’s employees for not having any Szechuan Sauce. When I say that Jerry Smith is us, I mean that this colorful character that we love to laugh at represents the hopes, dreams, flaws, and foils of the entire human race.

To understand this sentiment, it’s necessary to know who Jerry is and what role he plays in over-arching mythos of “Rick and Morty.” For the most part, he’s neither a protagonist nor an antagonist. He’s rarely a hindrance to the cosmic antics of Rick Sanchez and while he tries to be a capable father to Morty, his influence is limited, at best. For the most part, he’s an afterthought at best and an inconvenience at worst.

When the family has to ban together to fight off alien parasites, Jerry doesn’t do any fighting.

When the family first encounters the Council of Ricks, Jerry either cowers or is fodder for pranks.

Even when he does play a significant role in an episode, Jerry tends to make the problem worse with his actions or is the underlying catalyst for them.

Chances are you’ve been this frustrated recently.

It wouldn’t be accurate to say he’s completely inept. By and large, he is a respectable person who tries to do his best with his current situation. Granted, nobody in his family makes that easy for him, but there’s no doubting his intentions. He wants to do what’s best for his family, but his capabilities are exceedingly limited.

That’s understandable, given who he deals with. Rick Sanchez is an alcoholic super-genius who can travel across universes, enter other peoples’ dreams, and build intelligent robots whose sole purpose is to pass butter. His wife is a skilled horse surgeon who can also hold her own against Rick-level threats. His two kids are young, but still capable of handling themselves in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Pretty much every character in “Rick and Morty” demonstrates that they can handle themselves in the crazy situations that Rick often puts them in. When aliens, parasites, or intelligent dogs enter the picture, they can confront the situation and even help resolve it. Jerry has never shown that ability. Every time he tries, he either fails or makes it worse.

Or just looks foolish.

The reasons for his failure aren’t entirely his fault. Jerry’s biggest shortcoming is that he’s an ordinary person in a family of extraordinary people. In any other circumstance, he would be able to relate, understand, and cooperate with others. In an environment where alien creatures are kept in his garage, this just isn’t possible.

In essence, Jerry Smith is as powerless and inept as almost anyone else would be in that situation. That even extends to a real world full of Jerry Smiths and exceedingly few Rick Sanchezes. Unless your name is Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Tim Cook, or Barack Obama, you’ll have more in common with Jerry than you will with anyone else in “Rick and Morty.”

In many respects, that’s a little distressing. It reflects a hard truth that most people aren’t able to effect meaningful change that ripples across the multiverse. For the most part, they’re at the mercy of the powerful forces around them and people like Rick Sanchez who are able to guide them to some extent.

Drunk or sober, Rick will guide you.

Even when Rick Sanchez espouses his nihilistic rhetoric, it seems to hit Jerry and everyone else like him a lot harder. Even if nothing Rick does matters, he’s smart enough and skilled enough to pursue what he wants while minimizing the consequences. Jerry can’t do that. He can only ever react to the random meaningless chaos surrounding him.

Most everyone in the real world is in a similar position. When something crazy happens, be it a natural disaster or a controversial election, there’s little any of us can do about it. A select few, such as lawyers, judges, and other powerful politicians, may be in a position to effect some change. Everyone else is stuck watching, hoping, and living their meaningless lives along the way.

We can react to the meaningless chaos, but we rarely be proactive. If most people had that opportunity, they would likely mess it up in the same way Jerry messed up a simple Meeseeks Box. Even if your intelligence is above average, your credit score is good, and you have no criminal record, you’re still just one person. You can only do so much without a portal gun and a high-tech lab.

However, it gets even more depressing than that. Throughout three seasons of “Rick and Morty,” Jerry isn’t just shown to be inept whenever faced with a crazy situation. He’s also completely replaceable. This is best demonstrated in the episode, “Mortynight Run,” in which Rick takes Jerry to a special adult daycare center that’s specifically caters to keeping Jerrys from multiple universes safe.

It’s hilarious, but pragmatic for someone like Rick Sanchez because it gives him a place to keep Jerry from undermining his plans. It’s also disturbing how effective it is because as soon as Jerry arrives, he finds himself surrounded by other versions of himself. While upset and insulted, at first, he quickly finds himself enjoying the amenities that are tailor-made to pacify him.

By the end of the episode, it’s hard to tell what separates this Jerry Smith from all the other Jerry Smiths in the multiverse. In the end, even Rick and Morty don’t seem to care which one they take home. One Jerry is as good as any other. He’s basically an interchangeable part that fulfills as basic role and little else.

It’s a role in which many people in the real world find themselves. Modern society, especially after the industrial revolution, has reduced most ordinary people of Jerry Smith’s abilities to that of societal cogs. They’re not individuals as much as they are a mass of humanity that produces, consumes, and provides support for the select few who can achieve the kind of impact of a Rick Sanchez.

More than one episode of “Rick and Morty” has explored how society can dehumanize people and there are plenty of examples in the real world, as well. That dehumanization is just easier to inflict on someone like Jerry Smith. While Rick Sanchez may realize when he’s in a simulation, Jerry likely wouldn’t. In fact, he would be quite comfortable and content in such a simulation.

That’s the ultimate flaw in the character construct of Jerry Smith. By being so unremarkable, he is easy to outwit and even easier to placate. He’s basically a sheep that herders can keep docile just by making sure there’s fresh grass to eat. While Rick Sanchez isn’t always the herder, he and others like him knows how to guide the sheep whenever it benefits him.

Even the Devil is not immune.

Nobody will ever admit they’re just a sheep. People will tell themselves whatever they have to in order to believe that their lives have greater meaning than they actually do. Jerry does this more than once throughout the show. People in real life do so when they carry themselves as the heroic underdogs of their own movie. More often than not, it doesn’t amount to much, which even Morty points out at one point.

Like it or not, most people who aren’t rich, beautiful, or well-connected will always have more in common with Jerry Smith than with any other character in “Rick and Morty.” The number of Jerrys in the world will always vastly outnumber the Ricks. A huge chunk of society is structured around having a vast population of unremarkable, but easily placated Jerrys.

Whether we admit it or not, we are part of that system. We are the Jerrys who act as the cogs while the Ricks act as the operators. We don’t have the resources or genius of a Rick Sanchez so we can’t do much to subvert it. Even Rick can only do so much, even with his immense capabilities, which includes turning himself into a pickle.

It’s a bit depressing, but at the same time, there’s also a strange serenity that comes with the character of Jerry Smith. Even if he isn’t as capable as Rick or his family, he’s still someone who can find contentment and even peace in a chaotic world. Compared to Rick, whose famous catch-phrase masks his own inner pain, Jerry is probably happier overall, despite his meaningless lot in life.

Sometimes, ignorance is bliss, even if we’re oblivious to how ignorant we really are. In the long run, finding happiness will be easier for Jerry than it’ll ever be for Rick. For him, and the countless others who are just like him, the best recourse may be the same advice Rick often gives Morty.

Simply put, just don’t think about it.

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