Category Archives: psychology

Addiction, Religion, And The Striking Similarities

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Battling addiction is a serious issue. Even if you haven’t struggled with it at some point in your life, there’s a good chance that you know someone who has. I’ve known more than a few. I’ve seen how damaging it can be to people and their families.

That makes the process for treating addiction just as critical. Unlike the flu or a nasty headache, it’s not as easy as simply getting a prescription and taking a few pills. Oftentimes, there are powerful psychological factors at work to go along with the equally-powerful biological factors. Finding an effective treatment is exceedingly difficult, especially in the midst of a deadly opioid crisis.

One of the greatest challenges for finding such treatments is ensuring that someone doesn’t just exchange one bad addiction for another. Even if some addictions aren’t as damaging as another, going from heroin to methadone is only a marginal improvement for many. There is, however, one secondary addiction that adds even more complications to the mix and it’s not a pill or a substance. It’s religion.

As always, I’m going to try and be careful with my words here. I know discussions involving religion tend to bring out a lot of high emotions. I’m also aware that whenever I discuss religion, I don’t portray it in a positive light. I make it a point to disclose that religion can be a positive force for many people and I have many devoutly religious people in my family who I love dearly.

That disclaimer aside, the forces surrounding organized religion are powerful and they can be misused. The history of such misuse is well-documented. It’s impact on treating addiction is less known, but does manifest. There have been more than a few celebrities who have become religious after a battle with addiction. Some are genuinely better because of it. However, that does raise a few questions.

Did their religion actually help them overcome their addiction?

Did their religion help them address the underlying factors behind their addiction?

Did their religion just become a replacement for whatever they’d been addicted to?

These questions may come off as cynical, but they have serious implications. Religion is a powerful force on some people. Whether you’re a true believer or an ardent atheist, it’s hard to deny the impact of such a force. Religious experiences have been documented to have measurable effects on the human brain. Some of those effects are comparable to addictive drugs.

That’s not to say that going to church and going to a heroin dealer are the same thing. Addiction is complex and so is brain function. At the same time, the human brain is prone to plenty of flaws. It can be easily tricked and people can even trick themselves. When it comes to addictions, you can’t expect your brain the know the difference between heroin and a religious experience.

There is even some research that demonstrates this to some extent. For people who once built their lives around their addiction, religion is a pretty effective replacement. It demands a great deal of money, time, and energy. It surrounds you with people who reinforce and reaffirm your beliefs and behavior. It can even give some people a very specific high.

That high just becomes the new addiction. That intense feeling that religion gives people suddenly becomes the feeling that addicts are so driven to pursue. It may not feel the same as an addict’s previous addiction, which is why they may not see it as such. That doesn’t matter, though. What matters is that it fills the proverbial void that the previous addiction once filled.

That’s why it shouldn’t be too surprising to find out that some famous addiction treatment programs have deeply religious roots. It also shouldn’t be that surprising when those who find religion after dealing with addiction tend to be quite passionate about their faith, compared to those who found religion through a different path.

Even if these programs help people, it still doesn’t answer the relevant questions surrounding their addiction. Exchanging one disease for another doesn’t constitute a cure, but people make an exception for religion. The idea of someone being addicted to a religion isn’t as easy to imagine as someone being addicted to cigarettes, gambling, or porn. To them, a religious addict is just someone who goes to church more often.

Some see that as a good thing. Compared to robbing gas stations for drug money, it is an improvement. However, it still leaves the underlying cause of the addiction untreated. Whatever is making someone an addict is still present. While I don’t doubt religious organizations are happy to accept their adherence, it doesn’t fundamentally change an addict’s condition.

That can be damaging and dangerous to people who are already vulnerable. In the worst case scenario, finding religion can only create the illusion that the addict has been cured. Society didn’t approve of them being a junkie on the street, but it does approve of them being a devout religious zealot who rails against the evils of their former vice.

That sends the message that society is selective when it comes to treating addicts. As long as their addiction is productive for society, in that it benefits established institutions, it’ll treat that as a cure. It doesn’t matter if it never helps someone get to the root of their problems. As long as it makes them productive, that’s good enough.

Again, I’m not claiming that most religious organizations actively exploit people struggling with addiction. Some definitely do and a few are quite famous for it. However, it’s somewhat telling that we ascribe finding religion to overcoming an addiction when, on many levels, it’s just exchanging one source of addictive behavior for another.

At its best, religion inspires people to do great things for all the right reasons. At its worst, it can exploit someone to such an extent that it can make people who are genuinely sick feel like they’re healed. Addiction, like many other disease, is something that can only get worse if left untreated.

Whether it’s religion or crack, the brain of an addict will do what it takes to sustain its addictive state. There are effective, legitimate treatments for addiction that actually attempt to confront the source of the issues within an addict. Many aren’t as easy or overwhelming as finding religion, but they make a concerted effort at treating the addict rather than simply guiding them to a more socially-acceptable addiction.

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Beth And Jerry: The Ultimate Anti-Romance Love Story

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When it comes to telling a good love story, there are many ways to go about it. I’ve certainly learned that from the novels and short stories I’ve written. The nature of romance is constantly evolving. What constitutes quality romance today might seem strange or downright flawed by the standards of the past.

There are many examples of quality, well-developed romances in popular culture today, as well as a few that are downright toxic. However, there’s one particular love story that seems to break all the rules, yet still functions in its own eccentric way. Fittingly enough, that utterly unromantic love story plays out in “Rick and Morty,” a show often defined by its various eccentricities.

I know it’s been a while since I’ve talked about “Rick and Morty.” Like so many others, I’ve been anxiously awaiting news about the fourth season. Ever since the show was renewed for 70 episodes, details have been scares. There have been some occasional teases, but nothing of substance as of yet.

While waiting for those details, I think it’s worth revisiting an issue that has been evolving and devolving since the very first episode. That issue is the less-than-ideal relationship between Beth and Jerry Smith, the parents of Morty and his sister, Summer. Like everything else in the world of “Rick and Morty,” the relationship of Morty’s parents is subject to many issues, flaws, and mishaps.

In essence, the relationship between Jerry and Beth is the antithesis of romantic love. This isn’t a case of two people falling in love and facing challenges when kids enter the picture. It’s not even a case of two people not being in love initially, but falling in love over time as they raise a family. In fact, the most defining aspect of Beth and Jerry’s love story is the complete absence of traditional romance.

That lack of romance doesn’t just stem from the show’s over-arching themes surrounding nihilism and meaning. By nearly every measure, Beth and Jerry aren’t the least bit compatible. Beth, like her eccentric father, is a very smart and capable, as shown in more than one episode. She’s a skilled horse surgeon and can hold her own when wielding advanced sci-fi weapons.

In contrast, Jerry is a case study in mediocrity. He’s not a complete idiot, but he certainly walks a fine line between laughably inept and downright pathetic. He’s unemployed for a good chunk of the first three seasons and is so oblivious that he doesn’t even realize when he’s in a poorly-rendered simulation. At times, he can be a lovable loser, but most of the times, he’s just a loser.

How he and Beth ended up together is neither romantic, nor glamorous. It’s established in Season 1 that Jerry got Beth pregnant on their prom night in high school. The reason they stayed together was for the sake of their child, which isn’t saying much because they almost got an abortion. The only reason they didn’t was because they blew a tire on the way to the clinic.

That may sound dark, but it’s perfectly in line with how “Rick and Morty” handles serious issues like teen pregnancy and abortion. It doesn’t attempt to romanticize the situation, nor does it send the message that having the child and getting married was in any way rewarded. Their always at odds and arguing about everything. There’s rarely a sense that their marriage is loving, stable, or anything romantic.

At one point in Season 3, Rick calls Jerry out on how he ended up with Beth. Despite what he claims, it wasn’t an act of romance that brought him and Beth together. It was little more than pity.

Jerry, being so inept at everything, has little more going for him than pity. It’s the only real skill he has, but it was enough to get him an ill-fated prom date with Beth. Rick sums it up nicely in one of his many memorable speeches.

You act like prey but you’re a predator. You use pity to lure in your victims. It’s how you survive. I survive because I know everything, that snake survives because children wander off, and you survive because people think, “Oh, this poor piece of shit, he never gets a break. I can’t stand the deafening silent wails of his wilting soul. I guess I’ll hire him or marry him.”

This moment is revealing in that it reinforces how little romance was involved in the development of Beth and Jerry’s relationship. Their entire lives together are built around Beth feeling sorry for Jerry. Then, once she got pregnant and failed to get an abortion, circumstances did the rest.

It’s not romantic. It’s not tragic, either. They just ended up in a lousy situation and made the most of it. That’s not a love story. That’s basic survival for anyone who isn’t a super-genius with access to a portal gun.

That’s not to say there aren’t some moments of sincerity. Jerry, being the least capable member of the family, tends to remember fondly the early days of their relationship. He’s the only one who sees the relationship in a romantic context. The only time anyone else sees it, Beth included, is when they’re facing a crisis, be it an identity crisis or the end of the world.

When it comes to the day-to-day logistics of the relationship, it’s never that functional. Jerry can’t hold down a job or handle himself whenever he gets caught up in Rick and Morty’s adventures. Beth drowns herself in bottles of wine and episodes of “The Bachelor.” Even when they try to do something romantic, like a Titanic-themed get-away, it often fails spectacularly.

This dysfunction eventually culminates in the first episode of Season 3, “The Rickshank Redemption.” Jerry, in a rare moment of assertiveness, tells Beth that she has to choose between him or her father. In his unintelligent mind, he believes the romance they have will win out. He ends up being wrong. Beth chooses her father and Jerry gets kicked out of the house.

In most shows, that would be the end of a relationship that’s so inherently flawed. However, “Rick and Morty” isn’t most shows and not just because it has characters like Mr. Poopybutthole. In this world of infinite realities and bird people, even love stories devoid of romance find a way to gain meaning in a show steeped in nihilistic undertones.

That meaning emerges at the end of Season 3 in “The Rickchurian Mortydate” in which Beth has a chance to make another choice. This time, she’s at odds with her father, who had revealed some harsh truths about who she was as a kid and what it means to be smart. Unlike before, she chooses Jerry over Rick and he gets to move back in.

This, through the twisted logic of “Rick and Morty,” affirms Beth and Jerry as a genuine love story, but one that is still devoid of romance. Beth didn’t choose Jerry out of love. She chose him because she that’s what she wanted. That’s all there is to it. In a show where Rick once described love as “a chemical reaction that compels animals to breed,” that might be the greatest act of love anyone can offer.

It also mirrors the inherent value of having a choice. Episodes like “Pickle Rick” and “The Ricks Must Be Crazy” all emphasize the importance of choice, especially for those of near infinite capabilities. Both Rick and Beth are endowed and burdened with intelligence, abilities, and options. Their choices are, ultimately, the only actions that truly matter in a meaningless universe.

In the case of Beth and Jerry, the choice doesn’t have to involve romance. In fact, romance would only complicate things. Just choosing to be together, despite all the flaws in their relationship, is the only thing they need to make their love work. They’re together because they want to be together. That’s all there is to it and that’s all they need.

In that sense, Beth and Jerry’s story still qualifies as a love story, despite the utter lack of romance. It’s hard to say where their relationship will go in the coming seasons of “Rick and Morty.” Maybe it will develop some amount of romance. Maybe it’ll only become more flawed and less romantic, as the series progresses.

Whatever ends up happening, it still doesn’t matter, as is often the case in “Rick and Morty.” As long as Beth chooses Jerry and Jerry chooses Beth, their story will still be a love story in its own unique way. Regardless of whether love is real or just a chemical reaction in their brains, it’s still their choice and that’s as meaningful as love can get in a meaningless universe.

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Filed under Marriage and Relationships, psychology, Rick and Morty, romance, sex in society

How To Make A Man Feel Loved

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People seek out love. Whether you’re a man, woman, transgender, or just anyone with human emotions, we have an inherent drive to connect with one another. Whether it’s emotional or physical, we are wired to desire such intimate connections. It’s an integral part of being human.

I suspect most reasonable people would agree with that sentiment. Humans are social creatures. Both science and general experience make that abundantly clear. The disagreements tend to occur on the nature, process, and exercise of those intimate bonds. What some think of as love may come off as obsession to someone else. I’ve tried to be mindful of that difference, both within real and fictional romance.

Things only get trickier when you apply gender differences to the concept of seeking love. In a perfect world, there would be no differences, but we don’t live in that world. In today’s complicated web of social norms, traditions, gender politics, stereotypes, and taboos, how you go about pursuing love and feeling loved varies considerably by gender.

Now, I can’t speak to how women or those who identify as transgender approach that process. I am a heterosexual man. I can only speak to my own experiences, some of which I’ve shared in the past. I certainly can’t claim to speak for all men, either. Everyone is different, complete with their own romantic quirks and kinks.

However, in contemplating various gender issues and social taboos, I feel like there’s a growing disconnect surrounding the idea of masculinity, being in love, and what it means to feel loved. Some of that has to do with the current state of identity politics and loaded terms like “toxic masculinity,” a concept I’ve done plenty to criticize before. Other issues, I believe, run much deeper.

For me, being the self-admitted romantic I am, it comes back to what it means to feel loved. People can argue what love is until the end of time. I’ll leave those discussions to smarter, more capable individuals with a better understanding of philosophy. Instead, I want to focus on what it means for men, in general, to feel loved.

As a man with a modest amount of romantic experience, I think men are held to a very different standard. Some of it isn’t fair, but women and transgender individuals can probably make that same claim. With men, I believe those standards are rarely scrutinized and easily misconstrued.

To understand how, you need only refer to Chris Rock’s

2018 Netflix special, “Tamborine.” In it, he made this memorable observation about men and how they are loved.

“Only women, children, and dogs are loved unconditionally. Men are loved under the condition that they provide something.”

In addition to being both hilarious and insightful, this sentiment reflects the unique challenges that men face when it comes to love. It’s not always overt and oftentimes, it’s inadvertent. Some of these issues are just woven into social norms that go back to certain pre-modern traditions about family structure.

Whatever their source, society never stops evolving. How people interact and relate to one another will keep adapting to changing circumstances and make no mistake, those circumstances will change rapidly in the coming years. That’s going to impact how men, women, and everyone in between relates to one another and not always for the better.

With that in mind, I’d like to start a discussion on what men seek in pursuing love and how to go about making men feel loved. I know the media, popular culture, and even a recent movie centered around men’s thoughts have given us many impressions. In the interest of streamlining the discussion, I’d like to offer a brief list of insights and approaches for making a man feel loved.

Again, this list is hardly definitive. I’m just one heterosexual man. I’m sure there are plenty of other men out there with different experiences who can offer far greater insights. If you’d like to share those insights, please post them in the comments. For now, here are just a few small ways to help a man feel loved and inspire him to love others.


Make His Efforts And Contributions Feel Valued (And Not Just Expected)

This one is subtle, but powerful. Watch any sitcom, from “Married With Children” to “Leave It To Beaver,” and the man of the family is usually the sole provider. Regardless of how you feel about this family structure, be it a hallmark of tradition or a byproduct of a patriarchal conspiracy, the sentiment comes off as more of an assumption rather than a contribution.

Even if a man works his ass off every day, whether it’s digging ditches or selling women’s shoes like Al Bundy, that work isn’t always valued. It’s just expected. It’s just what a man is supposed to do. Him wanting any other kind of affirmation is just seen as excessive or a byproduct of a fragile male ego. However, such assumptions only breed resentment.

In almost any other situation, we seek and hope for acknowledgement of our sacrifices. We want our labor, be it physical or emotional, to feel valued. It’s part of being a social species and is not contingent on gender. A man isn’t going to feel loved if what he contributes is always taken for granted.

It doesn’t have to be glowing praise. It just has to be an acknowledgement of his efforts. That makes him feel good about the contributions he makes and will only make him work harder at returning the favor, which is good for any healthy love.


Treat Him As A Partner And Not An Asset

This idea manifests in many ways, the most obvious being instances of women seeking men for the sole purpose of gaining access to their money and resources. This sort of thing isn’t new. That kind of power dynamic goes back to ancient times when wealthy kings saw women as assets just as much as they saw his wealth as an asset.

We don’t live in ancient times anymore. While we still have rich men using their wealth to hook up with beautiful women, this issue often arises among those who are not rich. Relationships may start out as loving and intimate, but can descend into a bland business partnership where the man is nothing more than a buffer against poverty.

It’s true that a man can bring things like money, resources, and the siring children to a relationship. However, that can’t be the only things of value. If men are reduced to just the things they do, then they’re not going to feel loved. They’re going to feel like a tool, one who can be easily replaced by anyone of greater means.

That’s often why men get concerned, jealous, or even paranoid when their lover treats them more like a tradeable asset rather than an equal partner. Even those who champion equality often fall into a trap that focuses only on the tangible components of that relationship. Since love is inherently intangible, it can leave things feeling unbalanced.


Don’t Treat His Interests And Hobbies As Stupid Or Juvenile

When it comes to men’s interests, there’s often a sense that they’re always immature or crude. Sports, video games, and comic books are seen as something for children. Mature men are expected to outgrow them and embrace other interests more befitting of adults. However, it’s often the case that those interests align with those favored by women.

People have all sorts of hobbies, be it watching football, building birdhouses, or trash talking one another while playing video games. While some are healthier than others, denigrating them just sends the message that you want men to build their interests around you. It’s akin to wanting them to want to do the dishes rather than just doing the dishes. One requires courtesy. The other requires the thought police.

All good relationships require some level of sacrifice, but when one side is expected to sacrifice something they love and cherish, it gives the impression that they’re not loved for who they are. They’re only loved for what someone else wants them to be. It also implies that the only way for men to love someone is for them to make their significant other the center of their world.

That may count as romance in a fairy tale, but in the real world, that’s dangerously close to obsession. Most men seeking love aren’t looking for that kind of relationship. They’re seeking someone who will love them for who they are, which includes their hobbies.

That doesn’t mean you have to share in those hobbies. If you do, that’s a nice bonus. That shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, though. A man who can keep loving the things he loves and share some of that love with someone else is going to make him that much more appreciative.


Don’t Assume He Can/Should Fix Everything

When your car breaks down, you take it to a mechanic. When your toilet backs up, you call a plumber. Most people don’t give that a second thought. The fact that many mechanics and plumbers are men is beside the point, although I’m sure that colors our perceptions about what people who fix things look like.

In any relationship, things are going to break. That’s just life. However, when the burden of fixing everything falls on the man, it creates another imbalance that can compound a bad situation.

Regardless of whether you think men are more inclined to fix things, just assuming that they can further reduces a relationship to roles. If you’re the man, you fix things. It’s not always appliances, either. If someone is upset, the man is supposed to fix it. If something goes wrong, the man is supposed to resolve it.

If a good relationship is supposed to be a partnership, then this dynamic is hardly equal. One side can’t be solely responsible for resolving every problem, be it a faulty garbage disposal or serious intimacy issues. Being in love and making your partner feel loved goes both ways. Expecting only one side to get their hands dirty and make the sacrifices isn’t going to leave someone feeling appreciated, let alone loved.


Make Your Love Feel Like A Choice Rather Than A Favor

I’ve heard more than one women, and even a few men, tell their partners they’re lucky to have them. It’s not always in a condescending sort of way, but by definition, it kind of is. It sends the message that the love they’re sharing isn’t really a matter of choice. It’s just a favor they’re giving to someone, one that can be revoked at any time.

That kind of a relationship is many things, but it is not very loving. Men jump through a lot of hoops to be with someone. I know women have challenges as well, but in the current gender climate, men are still the ones who do most of the pursuing and women are the ones making the choices. Just look at the gender disparity on dating sites for proof of that.

As a result, a relationship will feel more like a privilege than a genuine, emotional connection. It creates this dynamic where a man feels like he has to navigate a constantly-shifting set of expectations, just to keep the relationship going. The woman is the one who sets those expectations and can determine at any moment that he has failed and the relationship is over.

Again, I’m not claiming that this is how most women approach a relationship. By and large, the love they feel is real. However, a good chunk of that love is contingent on the men treating that love as a favor that is granted rather than something that’s genuine and sincere. As Chris Rock said, it’s a conditional kind of love and that love will limit any relationship in the long run.


I hope this list helps further the discussion surrounding men, love, and relationships. If you feel like I missed something or need to expand on a particular concept, please let me know in the comments. For everyone out there lucky enough to be in relationships, I hope this gives you something to think about and provides tools with which you can use to make one another feel truly loved.

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Filed under gender issues, Marriage and Relationships, men's issues, outrage culture, psychology, sex in society, sexuality

DNA Testing, Family Secrets, And Revealing Truths About Infidelity

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What if you woke up one day and found out your father wasn’t actually your biological father?

What if you woke up one day and found out your kids weren’t actually your biological kids?

For a growing number of people, this isn’t just a distressing hypothetical. It’s a painfully real scenario. Secrets that were once easy to keep are now coming to light, thanks to a mix of curiosity, advancing technology, and simple economics. It’s causing a lot of distress for a lot of people, but the fact that it’s happening is somewhat telling.

To understand it, it’s necessary to understand just how unprecedented this situation is. Until very recently, getting a DNA test was exceedingly expensive. Go back 25 years when the Human Genome Project was just getting underway and just sequencing one person’s DNA cost millions. Then, thanks to advances in sequencing techniques and computing technology, the cost fell rapidly.

Today, sequencing your DNA costs less than $1,000. If you just want to test your ancestry, that’s even cheaper with kits costing around $100. You don’t need a court order or contacts at the FBI. You just need a spare $100 and a willingness to spit in a tube. It may not seem like much, but make no mistake. This is uncharted territory for our species and our society.

Ever since we structured our civilization around agriculture, passing down property through generations, and building more diverse societies, there has been a strong incentive to know that your children are biologically yours. This is where taboos surrounding virginity and female chastity come from. For centuries, the best way to assure your kids were yours was for your bride to be a virgin on her wedding night.

However, even in those limited circumstances, it was entirely possible to get around them. The traditional practices of testing young women for virginity are both invasive and prone to major error. If a woman is cunning enough, she can beat those tests and get away with lying about her sexual history. Men could be just as effective about hiding affairs that may have resulted in children with other women.

Now, hiding the truth isn’t just harder in the era of the internet and social media. Certain lies can no longer remain hidden. You can claim videos are deep fakes and that pictures had been Photoshopped. You can’t make those kinds of excuses when the truth is literally written in someone’s DNA.

Sometimes, the truth is just shocking. Take the story of Dani Shapiro, who found out that the man she’d loved and cherished as her father was not related to her. It wasn’t because of her mother’s infidelity, though. It was because her parents utilized an old infertility treatment that resulted in her being conceived with doner sperm instead of that of her surrogate father.

In other cases, the truth can be devastating, such as the case of Sarah Zhang, who found out that rumors of her mother having an affair with a restaurant owner were all too true. This revelation was heartbreaking. In an instant, her entire identity and sense of self had been uprooted. This is how she described the difficulty processing this information.

When I first found out the news, I considered taking a leave of absence from work, because I had difficulty focusing on anything else besides the revelation from 23andMe. On a hard day, I feel heartbroken about my mom’s secret. Her illness created an intimacy between us in the final months of her life and I felt that we were able to tell each other all the things in our heart. This news taints that memory and created a fresh bout of grieving about her death.

These stories are harrowing and they’re becoming increasingly common. There’s even a support group on Facebook for people who learn from these testing kits that their heritage isn’t what they’d previously thought. It’s hard to understand what these people are going through, living their whole lives thinking they know who their parents are, only to find out it wasn’t true.

As DNA testing kits continue to get cheaper and more prevalent, there’s a good chance there are plenty more cases like this just waiting to be uncovered. The fact that it seems to be happening so much says more about our species and our society than it does about the technology behind it.

Think, for a moment, about all the families who lived in the era before this technology became available. How many of those families had secrets like the ones Dani Shapiro and Sarah Zhang later uncovered? How many fathers unknowingly raised children that weren’t biologically theirs? How many mothers birthed children who were sired by someone other than their spouse?

It’s impossible to know for sure and the fact that it was impossible for most of human history might be just as telling as any family secret. I’ve mentioned before at how our notions of traditional romance and family have significant flaws. We value and idealize monogamy and fidelity, but the fact that we go to such extremes to favor it seems to imply that there’s something untenable about it.

Promiscuity and infidelity have existed in every human society. There’s a reason why even ancient civilizations had laws and traditions regulating marriage, adultery, and divorce. Even when there are serious consequences, people still did it. The fact that some of the punishments were so severe imply that a lot of people were getting away with it.

Even so, this didn’t stop men from raising children as their own. It didn’t stop women from loving their children and their spouses all the same. The fact that it was so hard to determine someone’s heritage might have even helped our species from an evolutionary standpoint.

A big part of what makes humans such a successful species is our ability to form tribes, cooperate, and coordinate towards a common goal. In old hunter/gatherer societies, close-knit tribes weren’t quite as concerned about the paternity of their kids. They took a more communal approach to family. Logistically, they had to. They needed that level of cooperation to survive in a harsh, unforgiving world.

Given that humanity spent most of its history in this hunter/gatherer structure, the forces of evolution are already working against those seeking parental certainty. The rise of civilization complicated things, but not to an extent that people couldn’t get away with fooling around. The fact that the average number of sexual partners for people these days is more than one only reveals that the inclinations is definitely there.

That’s an important factor to remember because as DNA testing becomes easier and cheaper, it won’t be possible to avoid the implications. People cheat. People keep secrets. People lie to their kids, sometimes without knowing it. For the most part, it hasn’t affected our ability to function as families and a society. Whether the emerging truth written within our DNA changes that remains to be seen.

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Fun, Happiness, And Why People Wage War On Them

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There’s a famous quote attributed to American journalist, H. L. Mencken, on Puritanism. It goes like this:

“Puritanism. The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”

I’ve always found that sentiment humorous and more than a little revealing. It’s one I often notice with people who have extreme views on politics, religion, or some other arbitrary social construct. I see it those who are overly liberal or exceedingly conservative. I see it in organized religion among adherents who are exceedingly-strict with their dogma. I even see it among ardent comic fans to some extent.

Wherever you find a subject in which people can hold extreme positions, you’ll find people who are aghast at the idea that someone else within their domain is happy or having fun. Some take it as a direct insult, as if anyone who isn’t as passionate about their opinion is an affront to their very being.

Some Christians and Muslims are genuinely appalled when they see someone getting drunk and fooling around.

Some Hindus are just as appalled when they see someone enjoying a big hunk of beef for dinner.

Some feminists are outraged when they see men acting extra-masculine or even women acting traditionally feminine.

Even some anti-feminists are outraged when they see women exercising some degree of freedom, be it sexual or legal.

What’s going on here? I get why people get upset when they see a gross injustice in the world, be it a natural disaster that claims many lives or some atrocity committed by a violent psychopath. Human beings are naturally empathetic creatures. It makes sense for us to get worked up about those horrible situations. Why would we get just as worked up about people having fun or being happy?

I found myself asking that question a lot after a non-scandal broke out involving Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to the United States Congress. Being young, female, beautiful, and an unabashed liberal, she’s bound to attract criticism from her rivals and she certainly has since her election.

I understand there’s always going to be some mud-slinging in politics. However, an attack involving an old video of her from college took the discourse to a new domain of absurdity. What was that old video that a conservative rival used in an attempt to discredit her? Did she go on a racist rant, joke about sexual assault, or give unsolicited opinions about Israel?

It was none of that. It was just a video of her dancing in video that mirrored a classic scene from “The Breakfast Club.” Seriously, that’s it. She’s just dancing, smiling, and having a great time. Remember, this was intended to attack her.

Much to the chagrin of her rivals, it backfired. Most of the people who saw it thought it was adorable. I thought it was great. She and her friends are smiling, having fun, and enjoying themselves. What’s wrong about that? Why is fun and happiness a political weapon?

These are serious questions that are hard to take seriously when an issue involves happiness and fun. After all, who could possibly be against that other than those misery-loving Puritans that H. L. Mencken joked about? Well, there is twisted logic to it and it’s distressing in its implications.

This actually isn’t the first time a video of young people dancing and being happy caused a political scandal. Back in 2014, six youths in Iran were arrested and punished for having the audacity to dance together in a video to the Pharrell Williams song, “Happy.” This being Iran, a country ruled by a radical theocratic regime, they just couldn’t tolerate that.

The face of a man bent on killing fun.

The reasons for that intolerance weren’t the same was those behind the attack on Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, but the twisted logic was the same. These people were doing something other than working for the advancement of a particular movement, specifically Iran’s theocratic regime. Moreover, they were having fun in the process. From the perspective of the ruling state or radical ideologues, that’s just untenable.

I’m not being coy in making that point. People having fun and being happy is a legitimate problem for any religious, social, or political movement. That’s because, much to the horror of adherents, people who are content generally don’t want to get worked up about anything . They’re enjoying themselves. Why should they want to change anything about their current situation?

Happiness and fun are essentially kryptonite to anyone who wants to rally supporters to overthrow a government, the patriarchy, or angry “Star Wars” fans. They’re not just the ultimate distraction. They send the message that the current state of affairs is good and doesn’t need a radical upheaval. For those who want that upheaval, it’s a huge obstacle.

To some extent, the success of any movement requires that people never be happy or have fun. It’s how you keep the revolutionary fervor going. It’s how supporters of a movement stay energized. If they’re angry, upset, and distressed, then they’ll stay motivated. They’ll keep working and sacrificing to alleviate this troubled state.

Even in the absence of a powerful moment, fun and happiness can be a problem for an established order. Whether it’s a Western-style democracy or an old-school autocracy, people who have too much fun can become a liability. Too much fun and happiness could negatively impact their ability to work in the interests of that order. Even when times are good, there’s a tendency to attack anything that’s too fun.

Think back to the outrageous moral panics of the class, such as those involving comic books, dungeons and dragons, and various forms of music. In fact, you don’t even have to venture into the past. Just look at the current panics surrounding video games, porn consumption, and illicit drugs. There are all things that people have fun with, but they’re a not-so-subtle threat in the eyes of the established system.

From the perspective of those fueling the panic, all this fun won’t just keep people content and distracted. It’ll bring down the whole of society. That’s not just hyperbole. In their minds, they envision a world where everyone is having fun reading comics, doing drugs, and listening to heavy metal music. While they’re having that fun, though, the world around them is suffering.

Nobody is going to work and sacrificing for the community. Nobody is pairing up with an appropriate partner and having children that go onto be productive, tax-paying workers/consumers/adherents. For the rulers, politicians, and religious figures who benefit from that system, this vision is nothing short of apocalyptic.

This gets especially touchy whenever sex gets involved. If you want to understand why sexual promiscuity and the LGBT community have faced so much condemnation over the years, look no further than the constant refrain that they will ruin civilization. It’s not just that they don’t produce families/children/workers/taxpayers/adherents. There’s too much room for personal fulfillment.

Granted, their concerns are unfounded. The idea that everyone in a society would suddenly be distracted indefinitely by something that’s just that much fun underscores just how easily people get bored or distracted. People are chaotic and diverse in how they live their lives. They can’t even agree on the color of a dress or whether this picture of Bill Murry or Tom Hanks.

It’s still a crippling fear for every ideology or existing society. Too much happiness and fun will just cause it to collapse entirely. Even individual people who have too much fun are somehow flawed because they’re not passionately and angrily pursuing some sort of larger goal.

People NOT protesting. The horror.

Think back to the attack on Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and her fun-loving dance. From the perspective of her attacker, they thought they were showing that this woman was incapable of pursuing the goals she promised in her campaign. They thought it would undermine her credibility, as a politician and a potential threat to the opposing party.

However, those same attackers made the same mistake that everyone in a moral panic tends to make. People, in general, like having fun and being happy. They even appreciate those who can achieve it in their own unique way. It’s a losing battle, waging war on fun and happiness. It’s also a battle that those seeking to preserve power or pursue radical change can’t avoid.

Happy people having fun aren’t going to care about whatever angry rhetoric they’re trying to sell. Why would they? They’re too busy enjoying themselves.

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Rise Of The Phony Nihilists

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A while back, a relative of mine told a story about a college professor and a smart-ass student. The student claimed he was a hardcore nihilist. He genuinely believed that there was no inherent purpose to humanity, life, or the universe. His professor didn’t respond at first. However, that didn’t stop him from making a point and sending a message.

Shortly after that initial encounter, the professor handed out grades on the first paper. He gave the self-professed nihilist a zero. When the student protested the grade, the professor just shrugged and reminded him that he was a nihilist. If he thought nothing mattered, then why should he care about his grades?

Regardless of whether this story is true, it makes an interesting point. That professor, who I suspect a PHD in trolling, exposed his arrogant student’s hypocrisy. He claimed to be a nihilist, but he still cared about his grades. He may have overestimated the extent of his nihilism, but the professor proved it only went so far.

It’s a lesson that’s a lot more relevant today because nihilism, in general, has become oddly fashionable. We have popular TV shows like “Rick and Morty,” “True Detective,” and “Bojack Horseman” that each espouse a certain degree of nihilistic philosophy. Iconic villains like Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight” also embody the random chaos that often reflects the chaos of a nihilistic worldview.

As much as I love the “The Dark Knight” and “Rick and Morty,” including its unique approach to exploring nihilism, there are serious issues with applying their philosophy to real life. These are fictional characters unbound by the logistics and consequences of real life. Nobody could reasonably do what they do and get the same result. We already have enough scary clowns committing crimes.

That hasn’t stopped some people from taking those complex philosophical concepts more seriously than most. It also happens to complement the ongoing rise of trolling, both on the internet and in real life. That makes sense because the mentality of a troll has to be nihilistic to some extent. When your goal is to cross lines and demean people for the thrill of it, you can’t be too concerned with greater meaning.

That’s not to say there aren’t trolls who are genuine sadists. I’ve encountered more than a few who would qualify. For the most part, though, nihilism is an excuse rather than a motivation. Some pretend they just want to watch the world burn when they say something that’s horribly offensive or laughably absurd. They’re just trying and failing to be as charismatic as Heath Ledger’s Joker.

It’s a phony brand of nihilism and one that defeats itself when you apply the slightest bit of scrutiny. It often leads to empty arguments on otherwise serious issues. It usually breaks down like this.

Someone will say something absurd, wrong, or just flat out offensive.

Someone else calls them out on it.

An argument ensues that usually involves an escalating amount of hatred, insults, and frustration.

Ultimately, the person who made the triggering remark claims they’re just in it for the kicks, the cheap thrills, and to taste the tears of their enemies.

In the end, they try to come off as this enlightened, above-it-all intellectual who has somehow transcended the petty arguments that the non-nihilists of the world keep having. They pretend they’re above it all or just don’t care. Again, it’s an excuse. They’re not full-on nihilists in the traditions of Rick Sanchez or Friedrich Nietzsche. They’re just assholes trying to hide from the fact that they’re assholes.

These same people who claim to care nothing about the greater meaning of the universe rarely practice what they so poorly preach. They still pay their taxes. They still work jobs that they probably hate to make money so that they can function in this undeniably flawed society we live in. If they were truly nihilists, they wouldn’t see the point in any of that.

If they got sick, they wouldn’t go to a doctor to get better. What’s the point?

If they lost all their money, they wouldn’t worry. What’s the point?

If their lives were utterly ruined by their behavior, they wouldn’t complain about it. What’s the point?

The phony nihilists pretend they can be Rick Sanchez or Heath Ledger’s Joker. However, they never come close to turning themselves into a pickle or setting fire to a giant pile of money. Those are things that a hardcore nihilist would do and they wouldn’t bother arguing about it. Again, and this is the question that phony nihilists avoid answering, what’s the point?

More and more, nihilism is being used less as a philosophy and more as a rhetorical tactic from trolls. In an era where it’s easy to troll and people are extremely divided, I understand why this brand of phony nihilism is emerging. I can even see why it has an appeal. It allows people to skip the part where they have to justify their beliefs or take responsibility for the actions. It’s more about convenience than conviction.

I don’t expect the trend of phony nihilism to stop anytime soon. If anything, it’s going to intensify as the world becomes increasingly complex on every level. There are over 7.7 billion people on this planet and it’s getting exceedingly difficult to feel like you matter in such a world. Falling into a nihilist trap is easy and even comforting for some.

It’s still not an excuse to be an asshole. Even if you think nothing truly matters and we’re all just globs of matter waiting for the heat death of the universe, you’re alive in this world with billions of other people trying to find their place in it. Being an asshole, whether it’s out of nihilism or some other philosophy, is never justified.

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Chris Pratt, Religious Celebrities, And Why We Should Be Concerned

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In general, celebrities operate on an entirely different level of reality than non-celebrities. Their concept of normal is so skewed, so distorted, and so out of touch that it’s hard to relate to them. Just read up on the weird things Gwyneth Paltrow has said in recent years for proof of that.

Even if they are out of touch, it is possible for celebrities to be genuinely decent people and succeed in an industry known for horrendous corruption. Some celebrities do work that legitimately makes the world a better place. By most measures, Chris Pratt of “Parks and Recreation” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” fame is one of them.

I consider myself a fan of his. Mr. Pratt has done many things that have won him the respect and admiration of many. Just read the stories about him visited children’s hospitals and try not to like him. While he has undergone some unfortunate upheavals in recent years after his divorce from actress Anna Farris, he has generally managed himself well in the world of celebrity culture.

However, recent events surrounding Mr. Pratt may be cause for concern. While I doubt he’s heading towards the kind of celebrity meltdowns that have doomed others, I think there is reason to worry about the effects that continued fame, celebrity, and wealth will have on him. That’s because those effects may be compounded by another huge complication, namely that of organized religion.

While Mr. Pratt has not hidden the fact that he’s religious, it recently became an issue when Ellen Page, a noted LBGT activist, called him out for attending a church that has a history of anti-gay rhetoric. Now, as someone who has levied plenty of criticism about religion before, I generally support pointing out the injustices and absurdities of religion. In this case, I’m surprised by the backlash.

In general, Ms. Page was subject to significant attacks for her criticism. She was made out to be the bully here and she’s someone who was subject to deplorable treatment by the director who botched X3. In general, people are siding with Mr. Pratt, saying that Ms. Page was out of line for criticizing him for the church he attended.

Personally, I don’t think Ms. Page went about her criticism the right way. Given the horrendous attacks religious organizations have orchestrated against the LGBT community, I don’t blame her for being vocal. This incident, however, and the way Mr. Pratt responded to it leaves me concerned about the cumulative impact that celebrity and religion will have on him.

To understand the extent of those concerns, you need look no further than another famous Hollywood actor who was also respected, popular, and religious. That actor is Mel Gibson. Today, he’s more a joke and an internet meme. However, it wasn’t that long ago when he was Hollywood’s golden boy.

Like Mr. Pratt now, Mel Gibson a successful action star who could also do comedy and drama. For a time, he was the actor many women in and outside of Hollywood swooned over. I know because at one point, my mother admitted to having a major crush on him and having seen some of his old movies, I honestly can’t blame her.

While Mr. Gibson didn’t make a big deal of his religion for the most part, it did rear its influence when he went through his infamous meltdown in 2006. Even after he apologized for that incident, his streak of making anti-Semitic comments has become somewhat normal. As a result, his once-impeccable reputation is a distant memory.

That’s not a fate that anyone deserves, especially Mr. Pratt. Now, I would argue that he’s in a better position than Mr. Gibson was. The various stories surrounding him and the people who work with him paint him as someone who manages himself very well. I would be genuinely surprised if Mr. Pratt ever underwent a similar meltdown.

That said, there is still a distressing history of religion having a less-than-beneficial impact on celebrities. Whether it’s Kirk Cameron encouraging people to not use their critical thinking skills in the name of Christianity or Tom Cruise bashing psychiatry in the name of Scientology, religion can turn respectable celebrities into an embodiment of perverse religious dogma.

In certain circumstances, they can even help compound that dogma. Celebrities already wield more influence than most priests, mullahs, monks, or rabbis. Religious organizations have a strong incentive to cater to and hold onto celebrity adherents. That way when these celebrities say something about their religion, people are more inclined to listen.

Some celebrities do this willingly and freely. Others are guided towards it. It’s well-documented that Tom Cruise gets special treatment in the Church of Scientology. While we don’t know if Mr. Pratt’s church does something similar for him, they certainly have a reason to do whatever they need to do for him to maintain his support and his money, by default.

At the moment, Mr. Pratt’s church is not on the same level as Scientology or even the Catholic Church. By most measures, it’s a fairly standard conservative Christian church that holds positions that won’t surprise anyone who know anything about religiously-motivated morality. It still holds questionable beliefs and wields more influence than most local churches.

Depending on how Mr. Pratt manages that influence, he could either keep his religious affairs private or go down the path of someone like Kirk Cameron, celebrities whose excessive religiosity hinders their respectability. On top of that, it could lead to him starring in some exceedingly awful movies.

The worst case scenario for Mr. Pratt would be something on the level of Mel Gibson, a meltdown that permanently taints his once-golden image as a likable pretty boy who visits children’s hospitals. I don’t think he deserves that. No celebrity deserves a downfall like that, but religion does tend to make that slope a little steeper.

I haven’t met Chris Pratt and I probably never will, but based on what is publicly known, he’s a good man who has done plenty to deserve our respect. Religion, for the most part, doesn’t change that. However, when taken to extremes, as some celebrities have shown, it can reveal just how corrosive certain dogma can be to otherwise decent people.

As Stephen Weinberg once said of religion, “With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” Mr. Pratt is a good person and it would be nothing short of tragic if his sincerely held faith did something to undermine that. Even if you don’t agree with Ms. Page for calling him out, her concerns are still valid.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, gender issues, human nature, LGBTQ, outrage culture, psychology, religion