Tag Archives: human nature

Being Right Vs. Winning An Argument Vs. Ben Shapiro

There’s an old saying that I just made up a few seconds ago, old being a relative term.

“You can either win the argument by merit or be right in principle, but only one matters in the long run.”

It sounds cynical, but it’s something I think most people realize at some point in our lives. The truth is a harsh mistress and it’s rarely the sexy kind. Truth is the kind of mistress that has no safe word, never offers any lube, and rarely gives overt warnings. When she wants to whip us in our most sensitive areas, she’ll do so without asking for permission or a second thought.

I’ll ease up on the BDSM terminology because I’m trying to make a serious point, one that’s a lot more relative in the era of “alternative facts” and “fake news.” More and more, we’re learning the hard way that our caveman brains aren’t equipped to seek truth. Survival and reproduction are our primary imperatives. Truth is optional, at best, and an afterthought at worst.

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It’s for that very reason that public debates or major speaking present a false sense of perspective that exploits our caveman brains. It gives the impression that the truth can be presented in a slick, concise, and easy-to-digest message that helps us make sense of the world. That kind of certainty in an world of cheap knock-offs and practical jokes is more valuable to our psyche than gold, diamonds, and good Wi-Fi.

I say that as someone who finds a lot of entertainment value in debates. For a time, one of my favorite things to do was to look up debates between scientists and creationists, which always seems to bring out the best and worst of our caveman brains. They nicely highlight how real, functioning human beings can hold such radically different viewpoints, as well as the excuses they’ll make to cling to those viewpoints.

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I won’t get into all the absurdities behind creationist debates. That’s not what prompted this post. The primary inspiration for this topic came from the recent news surrounding Ben Shapiro’s recent speaking gig at UC Berkeley. By every measure, this incident highlights all the problems with such debates better than any creationist ever could.

For those of you who don’t know who Ben Shapiro is, it’s not too hard to know what he’s about. He’s a fast-talking, quick-witted talking head in a media landscape that’s full of them. He specializes in espousing staunch conservative principles and you could make the case he does it better than almost any other conservative, at this point.

Personally, I like Mr. Shaprio’s style and I agree with some of the points he makes and not just because he makes them well. Many of them are points I’ve come to embrace on my own accord in trying to make sense of this crazy world. However, as much as I respect the man and his principles, he does embody a dangerous phenomenon that is becoming more prevalent in the digital age.

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It’s one born from that not-so-old saying I mentioned earlier about being right versus winning an argument. They are not the same thing, but they’re easy to confuse, thanks largely to our caveman brains.

Think back to the Simpson Filter in appealing to large swaths of people. For the Homer and Marge Simpsons of the world, winning the argument is enough to win them over. They leave the truth for the sad, lonely, and miserable Lisa Simpsons of the world that nobody listens to.

Ben Shaprio, and others like him, are highly skilled at using the Simpson Filter to get their message across. They’re slick, compelling, and charismatic in the sense that they check all the boxes that appeal to our tribal instincts, which I’ve noted before are a major source of conflict.

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By appealing to these instincts, they don’t have to be completely right. They don’t even have to be half-right. They just have to get people thinking and feeling that it’s right, so much so that they won’t bother checking the facts, doing some research of their own, or even giving it a second thought. Why would they? Ben Shaprio comes off as so smart and so knowledgable that he’s done the thinking for us.

Therein lies the biggest problem, though. By focusing on the argument and not the truth, it’s easy to conflate the two. Ben Shapiro is not a scientist, an economist, a politician, a philosopher, or even a used car salesman. He’s just a commentator, who happens to be exceptionally well at commentating in an articulate manner. That’s a valuable skill, but it’s not the same as being correct.

This actually played out in another event that occurred earlier this year at Politicon 2017. At that event, Ben Shapiro debated Cenk Uygur, another professional commentator who is at the opposite end of the political spectrum. Like Shapiro, I respect Mr. Uygur and agree with some of his positions. However, he is not as skilled a debater as Mr. Shapiro.

If you watch the debate, listen to the crowd, and note the speaking styles of both men, it’s not hard to see who has more skill and experience in that field. If you read the comments and look at the reactions, most agree that Mr. Shapiro won that debate. I’m sure it’s not the first debate he’s won, nor will it be the last.

That’s just it, though. Mr. Shapiro could win a billion more debates against a billion other people much smarter than Mr. Uygur. He could go down in history as the most skilled debater in the history of the human race. It still wouldn’t change one inescapable fact.

The real world, as in the world that operates outside our caveman brains, doesn’t give two whiffs of dried wolf shit about who wins a debate or by how much. Reality still operates under the same facts, rules, and principles. People still operate in ways that are at the mercy of their caveman brains and their collective circumstances.

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Ben Shapiro could convince every person on this planet that Ronald Reagan was right about everything, that the Jewish religion that he practices is the only correct one, and that everyone whoever worked for Hillary Clinton was an alien spy. That still doesn’t change reality. At the end of the day, the truth is still that same harsh mistress that will whip all our asses without warning.

That’s why, in the long run, it doesn’t matter how many debates Ben Shapiro or others like him win. It doesn’t matter how well they craft their message. In the long run, if their ideas don’t line up with reality, then reality will eventually win out. It always does. People die, take their ideas with them, and leave reality to sort out the rest.

Now, I don’t doubt for a second that Mr. Shapiro is sincere in his beliefs. I also don’t doubt that his opponents, like Cenk Uygur are just as sincere. That’s why I wouldn’t classify them as professional trolls, such as the Ann Coulters and Lena Dunhams of the world.

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They don’t say what they say, just to provoke our caveman brains and draw attention to themselves. They aren’t outright con-artists either, like certain televangelists. They’re just good at conveying their ideas and making them feel legitimate. Unfortunately, that’s as far as they can take it.

Ben Shapiro, Cenk Uygur, and everyone like them may think they have the answers. They may even believe that their way will make the world a better place, as a whole. They’re not entirely malicious in attempting to convey their points, but they are misguided.

There’s also a danger to their approach, conflating debates with truth. They present the false impression that an issue like politics, evolution, and economics can be resolved through simple debate through a series of talking points. As anyone who has worked with a tax attorney knows, that’s just not how the real world operates.

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The world is complicated, complex, and chaotic. No human brain, or collection of human brains, is equipped to make sense of it. Some of these issues aren’t just complex, either. They’re impossible to resolve because there just aren’t enough resources for everyone.

A skilled debater, like Ben Shapiro, is good at convincing people there are quick fixes. The world can be improved simply by adopting the policies of his favorite ideology. He may convince you, me, and everyone around you that he’s right.

The truth, however, can never be swayed by fast talking, fancy rhetoric, or skilled arguments. At the end of the day, it will stay on the side of the harsh mistress that is reality. In the short term, the Ben Shapiro’s of the world will be able to bask in many victorious debates. In the long term, however, the truth knows whose asses will be stinging in the end.

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Why I Believe That People Are Naturally Good (Another Personal Story)

It’s one of the oldest, most confounding questions in all of philosophy and science. Cantankerous old man and nagging old women alike debate it. Are people fundamentally good or evil? People have been trying to answer that question for centuries, some more so than others. However, the answer never seems to be complete.

It’s a question that has huge implications. If people are naturally good when stripped of circumstance, then that bodes well for our ability to survive when the zombies attack, the Illuminati take over, or aliens invade. It means that “Independence Day” wasn’t too far off in showing how good people could be inspired to do great things.

Conversely, the implications of people being naturally evil are a bit more dire. If the Joker was right in “The Dark Knight” and people are only as good as society allows them to be, then that means our society and our civilization is even more fragile and precious than we think. If something like zombies or aliens attack, then it won’t be long before we become the monsters we dread, hopefully without clown makeup.

I’m not a philosophy buff. I’m also not a scientist. I write sexy stories and talk about sexy topics in hopes of making a living from it. I couldn’t be less qualified to answer this profound question without admitting I sleep with a lead brick under my pillow.  Like a virgin on her prom night, though, I’m still going to try and hope for the best.

I’ve talked about evil before and how that affects iconic villains in fiction, but I haven’t really dug into the better angles of our nature. Sure, I could point out that civilization is getting better by nearly every measure, but the Joker enthusiasts of the world would just point out that’s because people are getting better at boxing in their inherent evil with the comforts of civilization.

I won’t say there isn’t some logic to that. I also won’t get into all the research that has gone into determining the nature of mankind. That stuff is too technical. It’s not going to get anyone’s panties wet in discussing this issue and I have sexy standards to maintain on this blog.

Instead, I’m going to tell a story that isn’t very sexy, but should help get my point across. While my outlook on mankind has changed a great deal throughout my life, often coinciding with high school and failed relationships, I genuinely believe that people are innately good. I know that’s hard to grasp for anyone who watches the news or reruns of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” but I believe it’s more apparent than most people think.

To illustrate that, I want to highlight a moment from my late childhood that I didn’t really appreciate until I became an adult. Whenever I find myself thinking about the nature of man, my thoughts often drift to this memory and I smile for reasons that should soon be apparent.

Picture, if you can, a cold and dreary day in late March. Enter a 10-year-old me, still in grade school and just starting to realize how much I hate school. I wasn’t a miserable teenager just yet, but I wasn’t some cheery child either. I often stressed myself out in way more ways than any kid should, but that’s another story. All you need to know is that on this day, I went a bit overboard.

The weather was getting crappier by the second. That’s when I found out that I left something at school. Keep in mind, I’d just gotten home and just wanted to play video games to unwind. However, I had to go back because this wasn’t something I could put off. I had a big project coming up and, being the neurotic grade-grubber I was at the time, I needed to take care of this.

I remember hating myself so much, if only because it took away from the time I wanted to spend playing video games. Then, after talking to my parents, I decided to ride my bicycle up to the school to pick it up. They told me they could drive by later after they got groceries. That wasn’t good enough for me. I had to punish myself for being so forgetful.

So I got on my bicycle and rode down to the school through the increasingly-crappy weather. I was not happy about having to do it, so much so I just peddled as fast as I could, not caring that I had the athletic prowess of a senile hamster. This quickly proved to be a mistake because, less than a block from my house, I swerved off the sidewalk and crashed right into a gate.

I’m not going to lie. I cried like anyone might expect of a 10-year-old kid. I didn’t hurt myself seriously. I didn’t break any bones. I just bruised my knee and scraped my elbow. If my gym teacher were there, he would tell me to walk it off. I probably should’ve, in that case, but I didn’t. I just sat there in the cold, muddy grass and cried my eyes out.

Now, I’m not proud of it. Remember, I was 10-years-old at the time. I hadn’t exactly refined my toughness yet, nor did I realize that forgetting homework from school was not the end of the world. That didn’t matter, though. In my own limited world, this was basically the apocalypse.

I don’t remember how long I just sat there crying on the sidewalk. At some point, though, a woman from the house right behind me came running out from her back yard to tend to me. The way I was crying, she must have thought I’d been impaled by a tree branch. For all she knew, she was about to walk up to the most horrifying site anyone could see outside of a promo for “Law and Order: SVU.”

That didn’t stop her, though. She just came to me, helped me up, and basically babied me until I stopped crying. I didn’t even know this woman. I didn’t know if my parents knew her either. She was a total stranger and in that same year, my school started giving us all those stranger danger lectures. This woman must have missed the danger part.

I never learned the woman’s name. I don’t even remember thanking her. I just remember drying my eyes, saying goodbye once the stinging stopped, and riding my bike back to the school so I could pick up my stuff. I think she mentioned something about calling an ambulance. I did not want that. After I realized I wasn’t hurt that badly, I finally grit my teeth and got up.

My mood didn’t really change, but that was beside the point. The fact that she, some woman I didn’t know, helped me so much on that miserable day still sent a message to me. It would take a long time for me to appreciate it, but I like to think that woman had a far greater impact than she’d intended.

She didn’t know me, but she didn’t care. I was a wounded child on a sidewalk on a cold, dreary day. She didn’t need to be inspired to help me. She didn’t need some sort of incentive or reward. She just did it. She came to my aid, even when I didn’t appreciate it. On that day, she was basically Wonder Woman.

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To me, that highlights a part of human nature that’s overlooked and underrated. If the Joker were right and people are only as good as the world lets them, then that woman would’ve needed some sort of incentive to help me. There would have to be some sort of outside pressure to make her do what she did.

The situation I just described might as well have been in a vacuum in a laboratory. There was nobody there to tell her to help me or to belittle her if she didn’t. She didn’t go out and tell the papers either. She didn’t seek any kind of vindication or admiration. I don’t think I ever saw that woman again and I didn’t even tell my parents about the incident until days later. She still did the right thing in helping a wounded child.

If people don’t need to be influenced, guilted, or pressured into doing the right thing, then that just leaves one conclusion, in my book. People are naturally good. That woman who helped me was a genuinely good person.

Granted, there may have been someone else who’d heard my cries and chose not to help. That person might have been a sociopath or might have just seen the woman beat them to the punch. Even if that were the case, though, that doesn’t take away from what the woman did. She still helped me.

The fact that one person can do something innately good in that situation proves that it’s possible. If it happens once, then that means there is something in the human condition that compels us to be good. Combine that with all the other overwhelming acts of kindness that people have done and you can’t ignore the implications.

While I don’t deny that there are some truly heinous people in this world, the fact that they make the news just shows how rare they actually are. There are over 7 billion people on this planet. The kindness and care that people show for one another every day will probably never get reported.

That only furthers my point, though. If being good is so mundane that it never makes the news, then that tells you all you need to know about the innate goodness of people. For me, it took one woman on one miserable day to convince me of that. I wish I’d learned that woman’s name. I wish I could thank her for what she did for me. She’ll probably never read this, but I’ll say it anyway.

Ma’am, whoever you are and wherever you are now, thank you for helping that crying 10-year-old boy that day. You helped convince him that people are genuinely good.

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Breaking Down The Breakup Between Anna Faris And Chris Pratt

The life of a celebrity compared to the life of a non-celebrity couldn’t be more different without involving aliens, unicorns, and pet monkeys. That’s also a major reason why we’re so fascinated by celebrity culture. Say what you will about the crazy headlines of the glorified toilet paper known as tabloids. They still get our attention and, as I’ve pointed out before, that’s the most valuable currency in our economy.

As such, a high-profile celebrity couple breaking up is a big deal. From a celebrity culture and deranged tabloid perspective, it’s like crack mixed with meth mixed with heroin. It’s as addictive as it is debilitating. It crushes whatever fairy tale narrative we had playing out in our collective psyches and making us question whether love is truly real.

Now, I don’t doubt the allure of celebrity romances. These are people with a lot money and power at their fingertips. These are people who could ask a random stranger to smear pudding on their chest and have a hungry loin lick it up and they’ll do it with a smile.

They have every conceivable resource to make their relationships the sort of thing that Disney movies are built on. How is it that they keep failing? That’s not just a perception thing either. In terms of raw numbers, celebrity marriages fail at nearly twice the rate of non-celebrity marriages. With all that money and power, how is that even possible?

Well, last week we were reminded that no matter how many fairy tales fever dreams a celebrity romance may inspire, it can still fail. The latest involves Chris Pratt and Anna Faris, one of Hollywood’s highest profile celebrity couples. After an eight-year marriage, they’ve announced that they’re legally separating.

Even I admit, this one caught me by surprise. I’ve been a fan of Chris Pratt since his day as the chubby dork, Andy Dwyer, on “Parks and Recreation.” I’ve also had a soft spot for Anna Faris since her colorful performance in the horror spoof, “Scary Movie.” The fact that those two got together and stayed married for nearly a decade was just a nice bonus.

However, much like the end of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the high-profile nature of the marriage always made it subject to scrutiny. Most recently, there had been rumors that Pratt had cheated on Faris with Jennifer Lawrence, his co-star in their movie, “Passengers.”

I tend not to give much weight to such rumors, even when Jennifer Lawrence is involved. That hasn’t stopped some people from blaming Ms. Lawrence for the breakup, but that’s to be expected. Brad Pitt had been subject to similar rumors before his breakup with Angelina Jolie.

In general, it’s fairly safe to assume that, unless there’s high-definition sex tape, those rumors are only partially true at most. Since nobody other than Pratt and Faris know the full story behind their breakup, I’m not going to assume that cheating or infidelity was involved. According to Pratt’s own statement, the breakup was mutual.

“Anna and I are sad to announce we are legally separating. We tried hard for a long time, and we’re really disappointed. Our son has two parents who love him very much and for his sake we want to keep this situation as private as possible moving forward.”

For now, I’m going to take Mr. Pratt at is word, but assume there were other dynamics at work that neither he nor Faris care to share with an unforgiving public. I’m not even going to speculate on what those dynamics can be. Instead, I’m going to step back and look at the bigger picture here. If nothing else, I’d like to give think fans of both Pratt and Faris, as well as fans of any celebrity couple, a sense of perspective.

Much of that perspective boils down to one inescapable truth. Celebrities live crazy lives, work crazy jobs, and deal with crazy stresses that no ordinary person can hope to understand, let alone deal with. The fact that any celebrity romance succeeds in the long run is nothing short of a miracle.

These are not people with normal or even semi-normal experiences. These are people doing things few people can do, achieving success that most people never achieve, and struggling to manage it all without going insane. So whenever a celebrity does have a very public breakdown, of sorts, it really shouldn’t surprise anyone.

On top of that, celebrities often work jobs that keep them busy for insane hours and requires them to spend a good chunk of their time traveling. Even if they have their own private jet and a support staff who effectively manages every minor detail of their lives, right down to the brand of toilet paper they buy, they’re still always busy. In a sense, being a celebrity is as close to a full-time job as anyone can have.

How can you make a relationship work in those circumstances? That’s not a rhetorical question. That’s an ongoing issue that many celebrities struggle to solve. Pratt and Faris thought they had the answer. I’m sure Pitt and Jolie felt the same way. In the end, they were wrong. It’s tragic, but it shows just how hard it is to answer that question.

That’s not to say it’s impossible. Some celebrity couples find a way to make it work. They are, however, the exceptions and not the norms. Realistically speaking, the circumstances of a celebrity romance are a checklist of how not to structure a relationship. For the sake of context, here are just some of them.

  • Working extended periods in a high-stress, fast-paced environment
  • Managing large numbers of people and resources
  • Traveling frequently and having little time to spend at home or with loved ones
  • Doing physically demanding, often exhausting work
  • Being surrounded by extremely attractive people with a strong incentive to seduce others
  • Being subject to constant scrutiny and micromanaging
  • Constantly entering unfamiliar situations and dealing with unfamiliar people
  • Occasionally having to get naked and/or intimate with strangers

Just dealing with a few of these issues is stressful enough on any relationship. That’s why occupations like bartender, massage therapist, or police officer have a markedly high divorce rate. With celebrities, though, the challenges are even greater because it’s not just one or two issues. It all of them.

At the end of the day, no matter what Tom Cruise may think, we’re all human. We all have human brains that are stuck with caveman settings. Those brains aren’t equipped to deal with the rigors of a celebrity life. Hell, it’s barely equipped to handle our current ideals of romance.

Chris Pratt and Anna Faris had the odds stacked against them from the beginning. They clearly loved each other. They made that abundantly clear in their announcement. However, their brains have the same limits as ours. Those brains compel us to form the kinds of intimate, close connections that are easily strained by stressful jobs, constant travel, and an excess of beautiful people willing to sleep with you.

Most relationships, in general, struggle to function in those conditions, as evidenced by the non-celebrity divorce rate. Pratt and Faris tried to beat those odds, on top of all the forces working against them, and did a lot better than most. Just ask anyone Taylor Swift ever dated.

At the end of the day, though, the mechanics of a celebrity romance are just too daunting, even for those who genuinely love each other. It’s part of why people root for celebrity romances . The idea that two people can overcome those daunting obstacles nourishes our ideals about love and marriage. When that fails, it hits those ideals pretty hard, as evidenced by the Twitter reaction to the Pratt/Faris breakup.

While it is disappointing, especially for a relationship that seemed more healthy than most, it still shouldn’t be surprising. We, the non-celebrities of the world, can’t forget that people like Chris Pratt and Anna Faris live such crazy lives that are wholly unconducive to our romantic ideals.

Some of that is our fault. Some of that is the fault of biology with the way our brains are wired. Even so, it shouldn’t destroy our concept of love. If nothing else, it should remind us that making a relationship work is hard, but the fact that celebrities try as hard as they do is proof that the work is worth it.

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Reasons Vs. Excuses: Why The Difference Matters

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Has anyone ever asked you to do something you really don’t want to do? Actually, let me rephrase that. How many times does someone ask you to do something you don’t want to do in the past 24 hours? Let’s face it. Unless you’re a king, a dictator, or Taylor Swift, it’s happened at least once.

Whatever was asked of you, how did you try to get out of it? I know some people will just grit their teeth and do it. Those people deserve ten times the respect they get. Every now and then, if not most of the time, we try to do something to get out of doing what we don’t want to do. Whether you’re in New York City or the Gobi desert, you can’t escape these situations. They’re just part of life.

Whenever we’re in these situations, we usually try any number of things to get out of it. Whether it’s chores, homework, or ballet recitals, we all have our own set of tactics. Some are more elaborate than others.

I knew a kid in school who could throw up on demand. He didn’t even have to put his finger in his mouth. He could just concentrate, cough, and then spew the kind of chunky bile that would dissuade any teacher from giving him an exam. I lost count of how many times that skill got him out of trouble.

Most of us don’t have that talent though. We all still look for ways to get out of things we don’t want to do. I sure have. I don’t deny that. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing either. It’s a good skill to have, knowing how to avoid situations that make you miserable. However, it does reveal an important concept that I find myself noticing more and more as I get older, although sometimes I wish I didn’t.

It has to do with two simple words: reasons and excuses. They both have similar definitions. Most of the time, outside of a scientific context, we use these words interchangeably. For the most part, we understand the meaning behind them.

However, for the purpose of this discussion, as well as future discussions since this is a big topic, I’d like to focus on a particular context. Specifically, I’d like to focus on the situations and justifications we individually use to do or avoid doing something. Make no mistake. There is a difference between a reason and an excuse.

A reason is logical, narrow, and concise. It can be understood by anyone with a functioning brain and verified with simple tools. That’s not to say a reason has to be cold and callous like a Vulcan. It just has to be valid and clear.

I’ll offer a simple example. Growing up, there were a certain set of chores for which me and my siblings were responsible. If we didn’t do these chores, we didn’t get an allowance. It was that simple. The one chore I did most often was mowing the lawn. I didn’t enjoy doing it, but I still did it.

Then, one day, I got sick. I’m not talking about a headache either. I mean I got really sick, so much so that I ran a 102-degree fever. I know because my mother took my temperature twice. I was then bed-ridden for the next two days. Somebody else mowed the lawn, but I still got my allowance because I had a valid reason. My parents understood that. I understood that. There was no need for debate.

Using this same example in lawn care, I’ll highlight why an excuse is so different. If I wanted to use an excuse to get out of mowing the lawn, I sure as hell wouldn’t have chosen something that could be verified. Sure, I could’ve claimed to be sick, but that would’ve been pushing it because they could check. They could take your temperature and see if you’re running a fever.

On top of that, your parents may be really good at knowing when you’re lying. Mine certainly were. It might as well have been their mutant power. They knew when I was lying and if I ever tried, I’d just make an ass of myself.

Plus, lying to your parents isn’t just a dick move. It’s a bad long-term investment. If you lose your parents trust, especially over something as trivial as mowing the lawn, then you’ll give them way too many valid reasons not to trust you in the future, even when you have a good reason of your own.

So in order to make a more valid excuse, you need to come up with something more believable. It doesn’t have to be a lie. It doesn’t have to be completely true either. You could claim you’re depressed that your lover broke up with you. You could say there’s a movie you’d rather watch instead. You could say you just don’t feel like it. These aren’t lies. However, they are still excuses.

The primary trait of an excuse is that it doesn’t physically prevent you from doing whatever is asked of you. It defends and/or justifies your particular decisions, preferences, and what not. Being on vacation in Fiji ensures I can’t physically mow the lawn. That’s a reason. Being in a lousy mood and just wanting to sleep in does nothing to prevent me from operating the lawnmower. That’s an excuse.

With that in mind, let’s take the concept of reasons and excuses to a larger stage. Let’s assess how this applies to the overall process we use in rendering the various decisions and actions of our lives. What we do and why we do it is at the core of what it means to be a conscious human being.

For practical purposes, we like to think that we’re reasonable people. We like to think that we have valid reasons for what we do and why we do it. We break up with a lover because they’re not right for us. We buy organic food because it’s better for our health. We smoke pot because it makes us more fun to be around. Some of that may be true, but we still think of them as reasons and not excuses.

The problem with this is basically everything about it. Once again, caveman logic enters the picture and spits all over that rosy picture we have of ourselves and others. Based on our growing understanding of cognitive science and neurobiology, we have a better idea of how we make decisions and how we justify them.

When it comes to reasons and excuses, the two main factors are choice-supportive bias and cognitive dissonance. I know those sound like terms that Sheldon Cooper would use in a skit on “The Big Bang Theory” that somehow makes him sound like more of an asshole, but unlike 98 percent of what Sheldon says, these concepts are useful.

Choice-supportive bias is our tendency to ascribe positive attributes to the choices we make. It’s also a byproduct of cognitive dissonance, which is just a fancy way of saying our brain feels stressful and uncertain.

In essence, our brain is wired to avoid wrong decisions and for good reasons. Back in the caveman days, if we made a wrong decision, it usually meant we ended up as dinner for a hungry grizzly bear or ate poison berries that made us shit out our lower intestines. We’re alive because of this wiring so let’s not discount its use.

Unfortunately, nature is still a blunt instrument and our brains don’t know we only encounter bears in zoos that charge ten bucks for a soda. That aversion to making wrong decisions is still there, even when we decide something as simple as which breakfast cereal to buy.

With that in mind, we’ll do anything and everything to avoid wrong decisions and the brain stress they cause. Unfortunately, that often means making excuses to reduce the stress and justify our choice, even if it ends up being wrong.

If that weren’t bad enough, our brains don’t run our decisions through a logic filters first. Don’t worry though. That filter is still there in our brains. It’s just not at the front of the line like we all wish it were. If it were, then half the videos on YouTube wouldn’t exist.

Instead, according to current neuroscience, we make most of our decisions on snap judgments and emotions. Then, we’ll use reasons and excuses to justify those decisions after the fact. Unfortunately, since reasons are so rigid and stubborn, we’re more inclined to make excuses. Even if those excuses are mostly true, they’re still excuses.

There are so many other dynamics behind reasons and excuses. There’s no way I’ll be able to cover even half of them in a single blog post. However, there is a reason why I’m discussing this topic and it’s a good reason. It’s applies to both my novels, as well as other topics with very sexy implications.

That reason will become clearer in later posts. For now, consider this a trailer of sorts, minus the cheesy one-liners and explosions. If possible, take a moment to analyze how many excuses you make for your decisions compared to reasons. You may be shocked/appalled/disgusted by what you uncover. I promise you, though, it gets much crazier.

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Why Spider-Man Is The Most Incompetent Hero Of All Time

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Whenever I talk about comic books and superheroes on this blog, I generally try not to single one particular character out unless I’m trying to make a point. I find that singling out one too many characters is like pointing out all the plot holes in a Michael Bay movie. It just becomes too frustrating and futile in the long run.

That means if I’m going to dedicate a post to a character, it better be for a damn good reason. They must be a uniquely compelling sex-positive female character or a potential prelude for future female villains. Well, after talking about why most superheroes are incompetent by design, I feel compelled to single out one particular character who is, within this context, the worst offender.

That character isn’t some obscure, little-known sidekick from a bygone era either. In this case, the worst case of inept superheroes who take their incompetence to the next level is one of the most recognizable superheroes of the past 50 years. He’s had multiple movies, multiple cartoons, and multiple actors play him with varying degrees of success and/or failure.

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Yes, I’m talking about Spider-Man, also known as Peter Parker. He is, by far, the most recognizable and iconic of Stan Lee’s many creations. He’s also, by a ridiculous margin, the most profitable superhero in terms of merchandise sales. He makes enough money for Marvel every year for them to eat caviar every day off diamond-encrusted gold plates.

So why, then, is he the most incompetent superhero of all time? Why is Marvel’s most iconic character a case study in how not to operate as a superhero? Well, some of it has to do with the built-in incompetence I mentioned before. Spider-Man can’t be too competent, otherwise his overall narrative just wouldn’t be as compelling and his toys wouldn’t sell.

However, compared to the many other orphaned heroes who get their powers through accident or tragedy, Spider-Man sets himself apart by not just screwing himself over, but also by completely undermining the very principles of power and responsibility that he pretends to cherish. He’s not just an incompetent hero. He’s a hypocrite, albeit not on purpose.

So what exactly makes Spider-Man so inept by both the standards of a superhero and the standards that he sets on himself? Well, that has everything to do with his tactics and how he goes about them. If you’ve ever read a Spider-Man comic, seen a Spider-Man movie, or watched a Spider-Man cartoon, you know those tactics well. It goes like this:

  • Someone commits a crime
  • Peter Parker springs into action, putting on his costume and mask
  • Spider-Man fights the criminal, making jokes and quips along the way
  • The criminal whines and complains about how he’s ruining their master plan
  • The fight plays out and Spider-Man wins
  • Spider-Man ties the criminal up with his webs for the police
  • Spider-Man goes back to being Peter Parker and uses the pictures he takes of himself to make a living

This is Spider-Man’s primary method for dealing with crime and irresponsibility. It is the primary structure of every major battle he’s ever fought, be it the Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus, or Venom. While he wins/survives many of those battles, and even goes onto marry a supermodel for a while, it’s only when you step back and scrutinize the larger picture that you see how he loses his war against irresponsibility.

First and foremost, it’s important to establish that Spider-Man is one of those heroes who doesn’t kill. Like Superman and Batman, he goes out of his way to prevent the loss of life, be it innocent life or that of his enemy. That’s an understandable position to take. Killing is one of those unambiguous moral lines and many superheroes define their heroics by respecting that line.

For Spider-Man, however, this moral stand against killing is a major liability and the catalyst for his ineptitude. Granted, it’s not intentional, but the byproducts are unavoidable and those close to him have suffered as a result. Just ask Gwen Stacy.

Now I’m not saying Spider-Man is directly responsible for such suffering. Like all heroes, his intentions are good. He wants to help people. He wants to save lives. The problem is that, with his tactics, he’s doomed to hurt far more people than he helps.

This is because his tactics essentially guarantee that he will be a target, his loved ones will suffer, and his enemies will become stronger as a result. This isn’t just because Spider-Man refuses to kill them, although that is part of it. It’s because of the very persona that Spider-Man creates that his efforts are so inept.

Spider-Man, unlike Batman or Daredevil, doesn’t present a very intimidating presence. He’s many things, but intimidating isn’t one of them. His costume isn’t that intimidating. He doesn’t operate in the shadows or anything. He’s actually a well-known public figure, thanks largely to his own efforts and those of his boss, the ultimate blowhard that is J. Jonah Jameson.

This is a huge problem because it ensures that Spider-Man’s presence isn’t considered a major threat or danger to his enemies. He’s more of an annoyance or inconvenience. Whether they’re the Green Goblin or a simple mugger, they know Spider-Man isn’t going to kill them. He’s not even going to seriously wound them. He’ll just fight them, tie them up, and give them over to the police.

Even for those without access to overpaid lawyers, that’s not so much a threat as it is a frustration. On top of that, Spider-Man doesn’t really have meaningful conversations that get people to rethink their choices. He’s just cracks jokes, makes lewd comments, and generally carries himself with the maturity of a 13-year-old. Granted, this is part of his charm as a character, but it also ensures his tactics are doomed to fail.

It’s one thing to anger and annoy an enemy in the heat of battle. That can work to a hero’s advantage. However, the problems with Spider-Man manifest after the battle is over.

By annoying and angering his enemies, all he does is give them more incentive to fight him and hurt those he cares about. On top of that, he wears a flashy, distinct costume that’s easily recognizable in both night and broad daylight. It’s also well-known, thanks to his own efforts at taking pictures of himself and selling them to a newspaper.

Even before the era of smart phones and Twitter hacks, that’s putting a pretty big target on his back. He makes himself an identifiable figure on which his enemies can focus on. Even if they don’t know his identity, they know the source of their frustration. Since Spider-Man doesn’t scare them, they have every possible reason to fight him.

To make matters even worse, he gives his enemies a common threat to rally against. Anyone who knows anything about social psychology, or has just been to a Taylor Swift concert, knows that nothing unites people better than a common cause. He doesn’t just make his enemies stronger as individuals. He makes them stronger as a team. How is that responsible?

In essence, Spider-Man doesn’t intimidate his villains, doesn’t do anything to deter their irresponsible decisions, and gives them a common enemy to really around. If being responsible is deterring the kind of criminals that killed his Uncle Ben, then he’s the most irresponsible hero of all time.

I’m not saying Spider-Man has to start killing like the Punisher. I’m saying that his own tactics undermine his goals. Now you could make a similar criticism to characters like Batman or Daredevil because they don’t kill and their enemies constantly escape to torment them. However, there is one key difference that sets them apart.

Batman and Daredevil, despite their gaudy costumes, are intimidating. In fact, intimidation is a key tactic of theirs. Batman said it himself in the early scenes of “Batman Begins.” He seeks to strike fear in those that prey on the fearful. In this sense, he does succeed.

You could make the argument that because of Batman’s presence, there people in Gotham City who choose not to enter a life of crime. The prospect of dealing with Batman is scary. Fear is a powerful deterrent. Only the truly deranged criminals dare to enter this life and take on Batman. In that context, it makes perfect sense that the kind of villains he faces are the exceedingly deranged kind.

Spider-Man can’t make that claim. He can’t claim that he scares or intimidates people into not choosing a life of crime. If anything, his tactics may annoy ordinary people who wouldn’t otherwise consider such a life, but try it anyways just to shut him up or make a name for themselves.

Every hero is different. Every hero has their own set of tactics, goals, and ideals. However, no hero is as inept, incompetent, or irresponsible as Spider-Man. So long as he keeps doing what he’s doing, and Marvel has a huge financial interest in never allowing it to change, he’ll continue emboldening his enemies while guaranteeing that everyone around him suffers.

It’s both an irony and a tragedy. In his efforts to be responsible with his powers, Spider-Man conducts himself in the most irresponsible way possible. Even if it’s indirect and unintentional, the results are the same. He can still call himself a hero because of his principles. He just can’t call himself a very competent hero.

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Magneto: The Original Walter White?

It’s a common pattern in pop culture. Elvis and the Beatles didn’t invent rock music. They just made it mainstream. “The Godfather” didn’t invent the Italian Mafia. It just made it mainstream. The movie “Deep Throat” didn’t invent blowjobs. The human race figured that out centuries ago. The movie just finally got around to recognizing how amazing the concept would be.

These patterns often play out before our eyes without us really noticing. Nobody ever realizes they’re part of something greater, at least until they’re being played by Denzel Washington or Daniel Day Lewis in a movie. There’s always some strange revolution going on and I’m not talking about the kind that involves fad diets or Gwyneth Paltrow’s health tips for a clean vagina.

When I decided to break down the impact of Walter White on villains and antagonists in pop culture, I knew I was a bit late to the party. “Breaking Bad” has been off the air since 2013. In that time, the cultural impact of Walter White and how Bryan Cranston brought this character to life has spread. Many have already done far more thorough breakdowns of this character that are far more insightful than anything I could ever do.

At the same time, however, a part of me still looks at Walter White and sees the same pattern that has played out in music, TV, and even porn. Like Elvis, Walter White didn’t invent the complex antagonist/anti-hero. He just made it mainstream. However, I think there’s another character who accomplished this while Bryan Cranston was voicing bad Power Rangers villains.

Which character am I talking about? What kind of character could’ve possibly captured the complexities and depth that Walter White embodied without having his own show on AMC? This character actually pre-dates AMC, cable TV, Power Rangers, and even hippies. His name is Erik Lensherr, but he’s best known as the X-men villain, Magneto.

Yes, this is going to be another one of those posts. If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know I jump at the chance to relate anything I can to comic books, especially X-men.

I’ve already used X-men to highlight what I feel are relevant issues. I’ve cited an X-men comic as a prime example of a true relationship of equals. I’ve cited X-men as teaching valuable lessons in the importance of foreplay. I’ve even singled out one X-man in particular, Storm, as a more viable female icon than Wonder Woman.

That said, it should come as no surprise that I make another connection when the unapologetic comic book fan in me sees the opportunity. For Magneto, the opportunity is definitely there. Based on his story, his personality, and his actions, he can claim that he was Walter White before there ever was a Walter White.

That claim isn’t hard to justify to anyone who learned about Magneto from the X-men movies, specifically the first X-men movie in which he was played by Gandalf himself, Sir Ian McKellen, and the pseudo-reboot entitled “X-men: First Class” in which Michael Fassbender gave the character an uncomfortable amount of sex appeal.

Both these movies make it a point to emphasize one of the most important, not to mention traumatic, aspects of Magneto’s character. He’s a holocaust survivor. He didn’t just live through one of the greatest atrocities in the history of mankind. He lost his entire family in it. He literally saw humanity at its worst. Can anyone honestly blame him for being a villain?

Unlike Walter White, it wasn’t desperation or circumstance that made Magneto want to give a big middle finger to the human race and get the ball rolling on their successors. He’s always been a little pissed off at the world for allowing such an atrocity. When you’re surrounded by the greatest evils of humanity, is it any wonder why you would found a group called the Brotherhood of “Evil” Mutants?

Even if he does have a good reason for being evil, this justification alone doesn’t put Magneto on the same level as Walter White. A major aspect of Walter White and the concept he embodies is the complexity of his character. If Magneto were just another Dr. Doom wannabe who just happens to have a better reason for hating the human race, then this concept wouldn’t apply.

However, Magneto does have depth. He does have complexity. His history is rich with stories that has him navigating a vast gray area of morality. One day, he’s a reformed man who helps the X-men fight off killer robots trying to wipe them out. On another, he’s creating a giant mutant monster to unleash upon the human race.

This isn’t just a bitter old man who gets moodier than most. His shifting allegiances, as well as his efforts to walk that fine line between villain and anti-hero, doesn’t happen sporadically. Magical spells aren’t used to just make him a hero, although that tactic has been used on other characters in comics.

Magneto’s story, much like Walter White, follows him making hard decisions in difficult situations. The consequences of these decisions lead him down many paths, some of which get pretty damn dark. Just read Cullen Bunn’s 2014 “Magneto” series for proof of that. That series alone ensures Magneto deserves to be on the same level as Walter White.

What makes Walter White such a compelling character is that his struggle and his hard decisions feel so real. He’s a man struggling in a difficult situation, but those situations only serve to bring out the worst in him.

Magneto may live in a world of mutants, superheroes, and characters who ride cosmic surfboards, but what he endures is painfully real. He lived through a real atrocity that has scars that we, as a species, are still struggling to confront. Whether the evil within him was always there or influenced by these struggles, it still felt painfully real.

The X-men, and the mutant struggle that Magneto has always been a part of, embodies the struggles of minorities. Even X-men director, Bryan Singer, has cited these struggles as an important part of the mythos. The struggles of minorities and the atrocities they suffer is painfully real.

In the case of Magneto, the horror of these real events helped shape his fictional path as a character. Walter White can’t claim he endured such atrocities. He endured injustice, but not on the same level as Magneto. These forces shaped their respective stories and personas.

At the end of the day, it still leaves us wondering whether these forces actually made them evil or just brought out the evil that was already there. While it may involve a little of both in the grand scheme of things, it’s still a big part of what makes these characters so compelling. At least with Magneto, he can say he knocked first.

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Villains, Antagonists, And The Walter White Effect

He’s the bad guy. He’s the obstacle. He’s the one that the hero must outwit. To put it more succinctly, he’s the one who knocks. Call him what you want. Say he’s a villain, an anti-hero, and an antagonist. We know who these characters are and we understand their role.

Then, Walter White came along and ran the concept over with his car. Villains, heroes, and antagonists have not been the same since.

Some may argue it has improved the way in which we tell stories. Some may argue that it has been a detriment, creating a race of sorts to abandon old ideals and make every character feel all too human. For fictional characters not bound by the crushing limits of the real world, this can be a race that no one should want to win. However, I believe the rise of Walter White and “Breaking Bad” has raised the bar for characters of all types.

I call it the “Walter White Effect.” I know that’s not very original, but it sheds light on a concept that has been permeating pop culture since “Breaking Bad” became a phenomenon. We’ve seen it in movies, TV shows, comic books, and video games. What else explains Dr. Doom becoming the new Iron Man?

It’s just not enough for villains to be villainous anymore. It’s not enough for anti-heroes to have an edge anymore. Walter White has changed the way we think about protagonists, antagonists, heroes, anti-heroes, and everything in between. As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I’ve already felt the effects of those changes and I even welcome them.

This is an issue that spins right out of my recent discussions on the nature of evil in humans. In discussing such a morbid topic, I tried to keep things basic while also trying not to make too many people want to spit in their own gene pool. For this discussion, however, I want to focus on just one of those trees in the vast forest of human evil.

In doing so, I know I’ll rile up those who don’t believe that Walter White deserves to be classified as “evil.” I understand that argument. To call Walter White “evil” the same way we call IRS agents evil is to cast too wide a net on a remarkably complex character. However, for the purposes of this discussion, I want to focus on the traits that highlight the “evil” qualities of Walter White and characters like him.

Those who have binge-watched “Breaking Bad” know Walt’s story well. He started off as this affable, sympathetic man who endured one too many bad breaks, if that’s not too fitting a term. He had a family who loved him, a baby on the way, and friends who supported him. On the surface, he had every reason to be a good person.

Then, the bad breaks added up. He was diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer and given only a couple years left to live. Being a grossly overqualified high school chemistry teacher, he was destined to leave his wife, son, and newborn baby with nothing. Something had to give. It led him down a dark path, one that eventually brought out the worst in him.

It’s a story that puts a major twist on the familiar “Hero’s Journey” that we know so well. In some respects, Walt started out as a hero, doing bad things for good reasons. He did what he did to provide for his family, not to snort crank off a strippers ass. However, that journey morphed into something very different, one that has set a new standard for heroes and villains alike.

Bit by bit, sin by sin, and excuse by excuse, Walter White descended into this evil mindset. He killed former partners. He also lied to others. He even abandoned his initial reason for becoming a criminal. It was no longer enough to just provide for his family. He was in the “empire business” as he put it.

These are not the thoughts, actions, and traits of a hero. This is no longer a character who deserves such sympathy. Walter White became a true villain. In the end, he basically admitted as such. He said outright, “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it.” It effectively completed his journey into being a villain.

In doing so, Walter White proved something that nobody thought to prove. He showed through “Breaking Bad” that a villain’s journey could be every bit as compelling as a hero’s journey. It’s not enough for a villain to just be an egocentric, mustache-twirling asshat who wants to take over the world. Villains need just as much depth as heroes.

This presents a new challenge for everyone from movie producers to aspiring erotica/romance writers. It’s hard enough writing a compelling protagonist. The success of Walter White as both a villain and a protagonist effectively raises the bar.

Villains are now the new heroes. Anti-heroes generate more interest. What else explains the success of characters like Deadpool? It’s not enough for Superman, Batman, and Captain America to save the day anymore. We need villains who have better reasons for being who they are.

This effect has already skewed the standards somewhat and not just in the sense that it helped make Deadpool one of the most profitable movies of 2016. Just look at the villains in “Captain America: Civil War” and “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.” Nobody is going to mistake Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor or Daniel Brühl’s as Helmut Zemo for Walter White anytime soon.

We can, however, forgive some of these shortcomings because the Walter White Effect is still very new. It’s still sinking in. People are just starting to try and emulate the success of Walter White and not just through “Breaking Bad” spinoffs.

It happened with westerns. It happened with sci-fi movies. When someone stumbles upon a winning formula, others try to recreate it with varying degrees of success. What else explains the glut of “Die Hard” ripoffs in the 90s?

Even if this does mean we’re in for multiple Walt wannabes over the next decade, I believe the lasting impact of the Walter White Effect will be a positive one. I think it’s better for all mediums, be they movies or erotica/romance novels, when both protagonists and antagonists alike are compelling.

The challenge, however, is making that journey into evil a compelling one. Walter White’s journey was long and difficult. There were times he could’ve stepped off that path, but didn’t. In the end, as others have pointed out, Walt always had this evil tendency within him. He just needed the right push in the wrong direction.

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