Tag Archives: human psychology

Al Bundy Syndrome: The Face Of Learned Helplessness

Some concepts are so vague that it’s hard to put a human face on it. I suspect that’s part of why many people suck at math. You can’t personalize it, humanize it, or imagine it on a pair of breasts. Even things that directly affect people, like learned helplessness, are hard to grasp.

That’s why if you find a way to put a human face on a serious issue, you jump at the chance. It doesn’t just make it easier. It makes them memorable in an unexpected way. I consider the concept of learned helplessness a serious issue that affects our personal lives, our professional lives, and our sex lives. It goes beyond the world of an aspiring erotica/romance writer. It’s way bigger than we’re comfortable admitting.

That’s why, in the interest of putting a human face on a serious issue, I’d like to present the greatest personification of learned helplessness in the history of media. Some of us grew up with him. Some of us were appalled by him. He’s a myth, a legend, and an icon in his own tragic right.

His name is Al Bundy, the hapless husband and father of the Bundy family from the Fox classic, “Married With Children.” To those who have watched every episode and love the show as much as I do, you already understand why Al is the perfect embodiment of learned helplessness.

For those who aren’t familiar with “Married With Children” or why it was such a groundbreaking show, I feel sorry for you. For most people under the age of 20, they have no idea how much this show shook our collective understanding of modern television.

Say what you will about the trash currently on TV now, but before “Married With Children,” it was much worse. By worse, I mean they were boring. Most sitcoms were bland, generic, feel-good stories that tried to paint the world in an overly-rosy picture. Every one of them basically tried to capture the spirit of “Father Knows Best” or “Leave It To Beaver.”

Married With Children” saw that and decided to do the exact opposite, so much so that when it was in development, the title of the show was called “Not The Cosbys.” It was a show where all the conflicts weren’t solved at the end. It was a show where the world wasn’t idealized, perfect, or fair. In other words, it was more in line with the real world.

In that world, Al Bundy gets dealt a worse hand than most. At one point, he was a high school football star with a promising future. Then, he got hit with a streak of bad luck that effectively crushed his spirits.

He got injured and lost his football scholarship. He got involved with Peggy Bundy, a woman I’ve cited before as a character that men should rightly dread. He eventually has two kids that don’t respect him and works a dead-end, low-paying job as a shoe salesman.

While other sitcoms glorify the innate dignity of working class men like Ralph Cramden, Archie Bunker, and even Homer Simpson, there’s nothing glorious about Al Bundy’s life. There’s nothing noble about his poverty. He doesn’t even try to come off as sympathetic. His life doesn’t raise the bar or embody an ideal. If anything, it reminds ordinary people just how bad things can get.

Whereas other TV sitcoms try to uplift an audience by showing how loving, functional families solve their problems in a simple, 30-minute show, “Married With Children” sent a different message. It presented the audience with a level of dysfunction so extreme, so exaggerated that even if you’re home life was a mess, you could take comfort in the fact that you were not the Bundy family.

What makes that message so powerful is also what makes Al Bundy such a perfect example of learned helplessness. Fittingly enough, the actor who played him, Ed O’Neill, actually drew inspiration from someone in his own family.

In a sense, Al Bundy was built around the idea that he was just resigned to his fate. He realized how much his life sucked, that his family didn’t respect him, and that his best days were behind him. Dealing with all that in addition to working a dead-end job effectively destroyed his spirit, so much so that he stopped trying to better his situation.

That perfectly reflects some of the early experiments done about learned helplessness, namely those involving a poor dog that just stopped trying to avoid painful shocks. Al Bundy is basically that dog after it has been shocked so many times that it just doesn’t bother anymore. It accepts that it will suffer and doesn’t try to avoid it.

In a sense, it becomes a mentality akin to a psychological illness. In the spirit of caveman logic and excuse banking, I’ll give it a name. From here on out, let’s call it “Al Bundy Syndrome.” That’s a much more memorable name than the overly-technical term, learned helplessness. With Al Bundy Syndrome, the condition has a name and a face that Ed O’Neill made iconic.

Given that we already have weird diseases like restless leg syndrome and walking corpse syndrome, which I swear is a thing, I don’t see why we can’t create a syndrome out a fictional character. In fact, it wouldn’t even be the first time.

I’m not a doctor, nor do I claim to be an expert in anything that doesn’t involve telling sexy stories, but it’s for that reason that I feel it’s so important to put an actual face on an issue that’s hard to understand. Psychology is tricky, complicated, and messy. Al Bundy is simple, crude, and crass. One is innately funnier than the other.

In that sense, it’s easier to see the signs and symptoms of learned helplessness, so long as you frame it in Al Bundy syndrome. Watch any old episode of “Married With Children” and the symptoms reveal themselves. They include feelings like:

  • Being hopelessly numb to the misery around you, like Al Bundy
  • Making little to no effort to improve your situation, like Al Bundy
  • Assuming the worst in every situation, like Al Bundy
  • Having an extremely cynical outlook, like Al Bundy
  • Not caring about whether the world likes or respects you, like Al Bundy
  • Having no shame or filter about what you say, like Al Bundy

The list goes on, but there are too many to list and watching old episodes of “Married With Children” is probably far more informative than any list, not to mention funnier. It’s a show that probably couldn’t get made today, due to how politically incorrect it was, even for its time. That makes its impact all the more vital.

I doubt that Ed O’Neill or the producers of “Married With Children” intended Al Bundy to be the poster boy for learned helplessness, but sometimes the connections are there and all we have to do is make them. So, moving forward, if you want to know what learned helplessness is and how to avoid it, just remember this face. It may save your life, your marriage, and your soul.

For that, I thank you Ed O’Neill.

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Filed under gender issues, Marriage and Relationships

How Learned Helplessness Dooms Your Sex Life (Among Other Things)

When I was growing up, I considered myself lucky to be surrounded by so many loving people. I like to think my fondness of romance, as well as my desire to become an erotica/romance writer, is a direct result of seeing so much love among friends, family, and all those close to me.

It wasn’t all smiles, chocolate, and gratuitous tongue-kissing. Every now and then, I encountered certain couples that stood in stark contrast to the love I saw so much of throughout my life. They weren’t abusive or hateful. In a sense, they were their own tragedy, albeit not of the Shakespearean variety.

Picture a couple that’s about as passionate as a sick cat. There’s no fire in their romance. If there was, it burned out years ago and neither one of them cares enough to spark it again. They don’t necessarily hate each other. At best, they tolerate one another on a day-to-day basis, resigned to the fact that this is their life.

What I just described is not the kind of relationship that ends up on Jerry Springer or leads to protracted divorce hearings. They’re rarely that dramatic. If anything, they’re the antithesis to drama. That’s why those involved are so miserable. In a relationship like that, a clogged toilet counts as an adventure.

These kinds of relationships are not as easy to notice, but they do happen. You might even know a few, but I’d bet a stack of old Playboys that there are more than you think. Instead of love, passion, and heart, these relationships are fueled misery, laziness, and failure. At some point, those involved just stop trying to escape it.

In a world where people get worked up over dipping sauces and dress colors, it seems outrageous that anyone could be that callous and numb. It’s even more outrageous to think that a relationship could be built around it. However, there are powerful, unsexy forces at work and they’re not to be taken lightly.

This brings me to the concept of learned helplessness. If you’ve every taken a psychology course, you know what it is and you probably have an idea as to how it acts as kryptonite to love, romance, and passion. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a fairly easy concept. According to Wikipedia, the phenomenon is defined as follows:

[A] behavior typical of a human or an animal and occurs where the subject endures repeatedly painful or otherwise aversive stimuli which it is unable to escape or avoid. After such experience, the organism often fails to learn or accept “escape” or “avoidance” in new situations where such behavior would likely be effective. In other words, the organism learned that it is helpless in situations where there is a presence of aversive stimuli, has accepted that it has lost control, and thus gives up trying.

In terms of common behavioral traits, it’s somewhat bland. That doesn’t make it any less powerful, though. There is real, distressing science behind it, starting with experiments conducted in the 1960s. If you’re a dog lover, though, these experiments should be particularly disturbing.

If you’re also a fan of meaningful love, then you should be even more disturbed because it’s not hard to see how something like learned helplessness can creep into a relationship. For those trying to tell powerful, sexy stories, it’s important to know the signs.

The challenge, however, is that learned helplessness is one of those things that doesn’t happen all at once. Whether it’s those cruel experiments on dogs that I mentioned or continuous torture by the CIA, one painful experience is rarely enough. While love can manifest in a single moment, as is the case with “love at first sight,” learned helplessness takes a longer, more tedious road.

Sometimes it starts with boredom, a powerful feeling that I’ve discussed before. Sometimes it starts with frustration. Maybe a couple tries a few times to spice things up, but it doesn’t work. Maybe they try to shake up their routine, but that doesn’t work either. The key ingredient here is failure and frustrations, two experiences that tend to accumulate rapidly.

The couple involved may never get angry, resentful, or bitter to one another. Learned helplessness rarely inspires abuse or outright hatred. However, that’s part of what makes it so debilitating. When a relationship becomes abusive, one part of the relationship has a much stronger incentive to either escape or fight back. It’s hard to be lazy or apathetic when you feel like your well-being is at risk.

With learned helplessness, laziness and apathy are weaponized. That’s because without that incentive, neither side has the energy or desire to shake up the situation. Ending a relationship always requires some amount of upheaval, work, or effort. Someone under the influence of learned helplessness sees that as more trouble than it’s worth.

Beyond just rendering a relationship stale, the effects on your sex life can be just as debilitating. Once a couple gets to a point in their relationship where they’re just resigned to the fact that this is their normal, sex becomes less a treat and more a chore. Even if the orgasms still feel good, they’re barely distinguishable from masturbation.

That, by far, is the clearest sign that learned helplessness has consumed a relationship. As soon as sex becomes a chore, then it’s safe to say that two people have crossed the point of no return. They are beyond the point of rekindling whatever flame they once had. They just accept their misery and dispassion.

In defense of those poor souls, they don’t always have the luxury of ending that relationship and starting fresh. Sometimes, it’s because of their age. Sometimes, they’re in an environment where they don’t have anywhere else to go and few resources to work with. Then, there are times when the inconvenience just doesn’t justify the cost. It’s just easier to stay miserable than deal with the stress of rebuilding.

There’s little question that misery, depression, and boredom are bad for your love life, your sex drive, and everything in between. Learned helplessness is just the catalyst. Instead of blowing up in your face, love just whithers slowly like a piece of rotting fruit, getting emptier and deader with each passing day.

In some cases, it’s difficult to avoid. Some people just find themselves in relationships where they lose control and accept their misfortune. They’re content to just accept the misery and make the best of it, however fruitless it might be.

In others, you can take steps to avoid that kind of misery. Think back to those awful experiments involving dogs. After a while, the dog just stops trying to avoid the pain. The key to avoiding that kind of misery is to keep making an effort. Don’t stop trying. Do what you can to avoid mistakes. Moreover, do what you can to improve your situation, however possible.

That might mean pushing yourself when you don’t want to. It’s like exercising, which sometimes requires extra motivation. Within a relationship, it’s even more difficult because both you and your lover have to share in that motivation. You have to want to maintain that passion, even as you get older, have less energy, and feel less sexy.

In my experience, the most successful couples I know never truly stop dating each other. Even when they’ve been married for decades, they still carry themselves as a couple that’s still dating. They still go to interesting places, try new things, and explore new activities. Some aren’t always sexy, but they have the potential to be.

Every couple is different, but nobody benefits from learned helplessness. Whether you’re a dog, a dumb-ass, or a hopeless romantic, falling into that pit of apathy will never inspire your passion or increase your sex appeal. It’ll drain it, bit by bit.

Nobody deserves that. I certainly want to avoid that if and when I ever find a steady lover. I’m not a relationship expert or a therapist, nor should anybody assume I’m one, but I hope to help in whatever way I can. Whether it’s making people aware of learned helplessness or writing sexy novels, I intend to do my part.

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Filed under gender issues, Marriage and Relationships, War on Boredom

Another Lesson From The X-men: Does Power OR Stress Corrupt?

We’ve all heard it before, a saying so common and overplayed that our first reflex is to roll our eyes and think briefly whether those leftovers in the refrigerator are still edible. It manifests in many forms and is the theme of 98.7 percent of every movie featuring evil empires and overly rich assholes. We use many words, but most of us know the basics.

“Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

I’ll give everyone a moment to finish yawning. I don’t blame you. As someone who has spent three quarters of his life reading superhero comics and seen nearly every movie that tried to rip off “Star Wars,” I’ve neither the energy nor the bandwidth to list all the stories that play with this theme so I’m not going to try.

Instead, I’m going to be a little bold and challenge that overplayed, overused theme that has been more belabored than a puke bucket at a bulimics convenstion. I’m also going to do it while citing X-men comics again, specifically another one featuring Jean Grey. Yes, I’m aware I’ve done that multiple times already. Yes, I’m going to keep doing that. No, I’m not going to apologize for it.

However, I’m not just going to focus on the events of a particular comic. While this post was inspired by Jean Grey #7, a comic written by Dennis Hopeless and drawn by Alberto Jimenez Alburquerque, it’s the bigger picture the story highlights that I want to focus on. I still encourage everyone to read the comic, but you don’t have to in order to appreciate its theme. It’s almost subversive in the larger message it implies.

Think back to that overplayed saying about power corrupting and try, if you can, to do it without yawning. Now, ask this follow-up question and try to do it with a straight face.

“Is it really power that corrupts? Is it possible that the stress that comes along with power is the true danger?”

I hope nobody’s yawning after that because that’s not a question that gets asked very often, but it’s one that Jean Grey ends up answering in Jean Grey #7, albeit indirectly. Given that it’s a question so few ask in the first place, it’s easy to overlook, but it’s worth thinking about.

Think, for a moment, about the impact that stress has on your life. That’s much easier than thinking/fantasizing about what it would be like to have absolute power. Unlike absolute power, there is some actual science behind the effects of stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, the impact of stress is basically the grand slam of negative health effects. Those effects include, but certainly aren’t limited to, nasty stuff like:

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression
  • Overeating or undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Social withdrawal

These are all issues that negatively impact your personal life, your work life, your sex life, and pretty much every other life you hope to have as a functional human being. We all endure stress on some levels, but having too much of it is kind of like being really horny. You know when it happens and it’s hard to ignore.

With those effects in mind, imagine just how stressful it is wielding great power. It doesn’t even have to be like the cosmic power Jean Grey is destined to wield in Jean Grey #7. It could be a powerful political position. It could be a powerful business leader. Hell, it could just be the power that comes with being the head of a household.

It’s somewhat paradoxical in that it seems unavoidable. Gaining more power means dealing with more stress. However, we seek power, to some extent, in order to achieve our goals. More often than not, those goals involve alleviating certain stresses on our lives, be they poverty, strife, or simple inconvenience. In a sense, we exchange one form of stress for another and hope the other is easier to deal with.

Sometimes, those hopes don’t pan out. Sometimes, the stress that comes with whatever role that power brings us is more than we expect. In that state of mind, is it really that surprising that people become corrupt?

When I talked about powerful fascist states, I noted the extent to which they have to control the personal lives of others and how that can often be used against them. Those efforts, if you ignore the egregious abuses they entail, require some pretty stressful efforts that anyone not named Dr. Doom isn’t equipped to manage.

It creates, sort of, a chicken-and-egg scenario for the corruption that often follows. Was it the power in and of itself that led that corruption or was it the stress it entailed? While I doubt every situation has the same answer, the one in Jean Grey #7 has some intriguing possibilities.

In the context of this story, the same out-of-time Jean Grey that I’ve covered in previous posts is still dealing with the prospect of a cosmic power known as the Phoenix Force coming after her. She knows it’s destined to kill her. She knows how much it corrupts her, so much so that Fox is making a movie about it. It’s a stressful situation, to say the least.

However, Jean Grey isn’t the only overly powerful character in the diverse menagerie that is the Marvel Universe. Hell, overpowered characters in Marvel probably have their own lobbying group. One of their most notable members is Wanda “the Scarlet Witch” Maximoff. Like Jean Grey, she also wields exceedingly immense power that has driven her insane on more than one occasion.

Like a friend staging an intervention for someone they care about, Wanda seeks Jean out and basically has a girl’s day with her. She shows her that obsessing over the power they wield, or are destined to wield, will drive her just as crazy as the power itself. She dares to help Jean do normal, healthy things that don’t involve stressing out over that power.

Some of those things involve stuff actual people do, like going to a beach or running on a hot sunny day. Others are a bit more exotic, like a cooking class that involves monster meat. I swear on Jennifer Lawrence’s ass that I’m not making that up.

MonsterCooking

The events of Jean Grey #7 make a compelling case about the impact of stress over power. The fact that there are other powerful characters throughout the Marvel universe that manage to function on a day-to-day basis without going insane proves, to some extent, that power and corruption need not be the same thing.

Eventually, circumstances within Jean Grey #7 that are beyond Jean’s control derail her efforts to better manage her stress. In a sense, that’s another part of wielding power and the corruption that comes with it. No matter how much power anyone has, be they a comic book character or a warlord in a third-world country, they are still at the mercy of various circumstances beyond their control.

Jean Grey, and most other superheroes, often learn that the hard way. People in real life who wield great power deal with that as well, sometimes in a very public way. Whether you’re Jean Grey or Emporer Palpatine, it’s impossible to deal with every conceivable circumstance that may undermine your power or stress you out. For some people, that just compounds the stress.

In the end, Jean Grey #7 leaves the question surrounding power, corruption, and stress unanswered. However, the fact it dares to ask that question in the first place and make a concerted effort is what really sets it apart. The original Phoenix Saga never asked that question directly, but its indirect implications reveal a lot about how we think of power, corruption, and beautiful female superheroes played by Sophie Turner.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Jack Fisher's Insights, Reasons and Excuses

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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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, Jack Fisher's Insights

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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Why Nice Guys DON’T Finish Last (Or First)

We’ve all heard it before. It’s the primary plot of nearly every teen movie ever made. It’s the secondary plot of every underdog movie ever made. It’s also the title of a classic Green Day song. Say it out loud in almost any context that isn’t on the set of a porno and most will agree.

Nice Guys Finish Last

When we look at the world through our irrational, caveman brains and glean our information primarily from movies, sitcoms, and Fox News, that certainly seems to be the case. It’s almost obvious that we live in a world nice guys solely exist to act as toilet paper to the Biff Tannens, Bernie Madoffs, and Kanye Wests of the world.

In a sense, it’s comforting. Being a nice guy means you’ll carry the spirit of a lovable loser and who doesn’t love a lovable loser? Sure, Cleveland Browns fans would probably beg to differ, but it’s that very mindset that makes us content with the status of nice guys and gives us an excuse to scrutinize the concept through the harsh lens of reality.

As I’ve made clear before, I don’t care for excuses that don’t involve donuts, comic books, or nudity. That’s not to say I have anything against nice guys. I too consider myself a nice guy. You won’t find me punching a small animal just to impress a couple of cute cheerleaders. There are far more honorable and pragmatic ways for that sort of thing.

Instead, I’m going to add a little bit of context to the whole concept of nice guy finishing last. I’ve already highlighted how being a nice guy is a laughably low standard with which to base your appeal as a person. Most of the people on this planet are nice. The only reason you know about the assholes more is because they’re the ones that end up with TV shows and professional trolls.

So even if there are mostly nice people in this world, does that mean they finish last? Well, to answer that, it helps to build a story around the context. I could try to cite studies that show that just being likable tends to get you more opportunities in life, but that’s not very sexy. Nobody comes to this blog for scientific studies that don’t involve sex robots. They come here for sexy stories.

With that in mind, here’s the story that every nice guy should learn before they hit puberty:

You walk into a casino with all your life savings and you have to gamble it all of it on just one game.

In some of those games, the risk is high and the reward is high in the short term, but that reward naturally decreases no matter how much you win at other games.

In some of those games, the risk is very low, but for each dollar you don’t bet, you end up losing twice as much in the long run.

Then, there’s this one game in the middle of it all where if you bet on it, you probably won’t win big, but you won’t lose either. The odds are stacked in such a way where that over time, your money increases. It’s slow and tedious, but it does go up. It’s just a matter of patience and playing the odds, which are objectively on your side.

With all this in mind, which game do you play?

If you’re a smart gambler in any sense and don’t have any self-destructive tendencies, then the choice you make in this story is fairly clear. You end up playing the third game because that’s the only game that, in the long run, will increase your life savings.

That third game is basically what it means to be a nice guy. It is akin to investing in an index fund in the stock market. Ask nearly any financial guru, including Warren Buffet, and they’ll say the same. An index fund is the safest, most effective investment anyone can make. It won’t beat the market, but you won’t lose to it. Just not losing to the market is enough to make a lot of money in the long run.

Being a nice guy is one of the best investments you can make in yourself because, on the whole, it increases your value as a person and as a functioning member of society. In general, people want to deal with nice people. People want to work with them. Some even want to have sex with them. It is, by far, the easiest and most effective way to get ahead in the long term.

The main problem is the payoff sometimes takes a while. There is also some element of luck involved, but not in the Vegas odds sort of sense. For those willing to take more risks, being a nice guy just isn’t enough. Being a nice guy just takes too damn long.

That’s how you end up with the professional trolls I’ve mentioned before. These are people who are gambling that being an asshole will help them stand out. It’ll help them get attention, which they understand on some levels is a valuable asset.

That attention may be negative. In fact, it often is negative. Being an asshole in a world of nice people helps you stand out. It makes you different, exciting, and charismatic to some degree. However, all that is a quick short-term gain. In the same way these crazy things get people’s attention, those same people will just as easily get bored or frustrated with it. As I’ve said before, there is a lot of power in boredom.

That’s why a lot of those arrogant, Biff Tannen jocks from high school end up pumping gas, digging ditches, or getting shanked in prison. Being an asshole, in the long run, decreases your value because it hinders your ability to form social connections. Without those connections, there’s going to be nobody to help you up when you fall flat on your face.

That’s not to say that being an asshole doesn’t pay off big for some people. Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, and most successful YouTube stars are proof of that. They do finish ahead of the nice guys. However, they are the exceptions and not the norms.

Most of the assholes are so far behind the nice guys that they have no hopes of ever catching up. Some just quit the race entirely and cede their rank to the nice guys because they know too many people hate them to hope for a break. It can be somewhat tragic, but it does benefit the nice guys.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the overly careful type people who despise both the nice guys and the assholes. I knew people like this in high school. I was almost one of them. These are people who are so bleak in their outlook on life that they don’t bother being nice or mean. They’re just a walking ball of gloomy nihilism.

Other than grunge rock and Marilyn Manson, you don’t see too many instances of this paying off in the long run. Even if you’re not an asshole who kicks small puppies for fun, people will still avoid you if you’re a pain to be around. If every hour of your day involves whining about how terrible and awful everything is, then nobody will want to work with you, help you, or sleep with you.

As a result, the nice guys beat those gloomy goths with ease. They finish ahead because, and it’s worth emphasizing, people prefer to work with those who are likable. They will help, befriend, and have sex with those who are nice to be around. Again, it won’t happen all at once. It will take time, but in the end it will pay off.

So in a sense, Green Day got it wrong. Nice guy’s don’t finish last. However, they don’t finish first either. Given how few of those who try to finish first ever make it, your best bet is to just make sure you don’t finish last. In that sense, being a nice guy is the safest bet you’ll ever make that doesn’t involve jello shots.

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The Attention Economy (And Why It’s Ruining The Internet)

Here’s a little pop quiz that most people will probably fail. What is the most valuable asset in today’s modern economy? Go on, take a few minutes if you have to. I know it sounds like an easy question to answer, but it’s still worth thinking about.

Is it gold? Historically, it is one of mankind’s most valuable materials.

Is it money? That makes sense. People call it the root of all evil for a reason.

Is it knowledge? Smart people can be pretty damn successful.

Actually, it’s none of these. Even money, that one major driving force behind every major heist movie, is not nearly as valuable in today’s economy as it was 50 years ago. If anything, it’s losing its value and becoming an increasingly esoteric concept, so much so that we consider bits of computer code to be money.

There is, in fact, one other asset whose value exceeds them all. We know this because businesses, artists, and even horny people trying to get laid go to obscene, if not annoying, lengths to get it.

That’s right. I’m talking about that most precious of assets that drives the entire modern economy. I’m talking about attention.

Yes, that word deserves bold and italicized fonts. It’s just that important. It may seem like hyperbole to those still used to picking out pocket change between couch cushions. It’s not like you can tip a stripper with attention. However, give it just a little bit of thought. It won’t take much to realize just how important it is. It doesn’t just drive the economy. It drives (or hinders) our love lives.

I know this because it ties directly into my ongoing efforts to be an erotica/romance writer. It also ties into my efforts to make this blog a successful supplement to those efforts. There’s a good reason I try to avoid overly boring topics and talk about kinky things that both raise eyebrows and moisten panties. It’s a way for drawing attention to my work. It is, without a doubt, the greatest challenge I face as a writer.

Talk to anyone who has ever worked in marketing, whether it’s selling books or diamond-encrusted dildos. They’ll probably say the same thing, although the people selling dildos will probably have better stories. The hardest part of selling anything is getting peoples’ attention.

I know I keep referencing this same famous movie clip, but it’s just that powerful. It keeps finding new ways to be applicable to so many things, from making money to finding love. There’s a reason why Alec Baldwin won an Oscar for it. It’s the same reason why you don’t hear from a lot of other Baldwins these days.

Between the bragging, bullying, and brass ball props that Baldwin’s character uses, the most important part of his distinctly de-motivational speech is the A.I.D.A. method he describes. That’s attention, interest, decision, and action. Every major marketing method follows this model to some extent, but it’s that first step that is most vital.

It’s also the step that is most difficult, especially in the era of 350 channels, YouTube celebrities, and internet memes. For most of the modern era, we had only a handful of TV channels, newspapers, and methods for disseminating information. It used to be that a few strategically placed commercials during the Super Bowl would be enough to generate the attention you needed.

Those days are deader than analog cables and betamax. Instead, you have hundreds of channels containing countless shows, stories and sites doing anything and everything to get every last second of your attention. Is it really that surprising that the gratuitous violence/nudity on “Game of Thrones” and iconic franchises like “Star Wars” have become the new standard?

These things get your attention. These things get people talking. It’s only after you have someone’s attention that you can even begin to plan on how you’ll get them to pay for your product and/or have sex with you. In an era of so many choices and so few opportunities, attention might as well be encrusted in polished diamonds.

It’s because that attention is so valuable, so much so that it’s become the main currency of the modern era, that the internet is changing and not necessarily for the better. Spend more than five minutes on the internet, whether you’re checking your email or watching porn, and chances are you’ve run into a little something called clickbait.

In the attention economy, clickbait is akin to the muggers who beat up sick orphans while drunks throw pennies at them. It is the clogged toilet and overflowing septic tank of the internet. They are sites, ads, and shady tactics meant to draw you away from productive activities, like checking your email or reading this blog, and into some buggy, browser-crashing site meant to extract your attention and credit card information.

We’ve all seen them. The names of the sites and the annoying ads they post are ridiculous. Sometimes, it’s painfully obvious. However, it’s still tempting at times to click on them and that’s exactly what makes clickbait so evil.

Like it or not, people need to make a living. Websites need to make money. I need to make money. I can’t tell sexy erotica/romance stories without a roof over my head, food on my plate, and a reliable internet connection. That’s why I promote my novels every chance I get. I haven’t resorted to clickbait yet, but it is tempting. It’s also very frustrating.

I’ve seen the same internet as everybody else. I’m just as annoyed by the abundance of clickbait as everyone else. It’s hard to even trust the text within a link these days. At the same time, however, I can understand the intent behind it.

People are trying to make money. They can’t do that unless they get the attention of customers. The problem is that as the size and prevalence of the internet has increased, our capacity for attention has not. We humans only have so much brain matter in our skulls. That brain can only give a finite amount of attention to a handful of things at any given time.

Until we can start augmenting our brains, which Elon Musk is working on as we speak, this limitation isn’t going to change. We’ll still only be able to give a certain amount of attention to ourselves, mass media, and each other. As such, the amount of clickbait we see on the internet is only going to increase. The sheer absurdity of the headlines is likely to increase as well. I’ll give everyone a moment to shudder.

It’s unavoidable, but understandable. The internet may seem infinite, if only because of the varieties of porn it stores, but it’s not. It can’t run itself for free either. It needs to make money somehow and nobody seems to want to pay for it. Why else would some people resort to Kickstarter, which is basically digital begging, to fund movies?

We’re all guilty of it. I certainly am. I’ll whine constantly about pop-up ads and video ads on a site, but refuse to pay the extra $10 for the “premium” version that removes the ads. While some feel that kind of service is exploitive on the same level as price gouging for medicine, it makes sense. Again, the people managing these sites need to make money and nobody seems keen to want to give it.

The internet will continue to evolve, as it always has. That evolution will be driven primarily by a desire to turn a profit. Unfortunately, no profits can be made unless someone gets enough attention first. As evil and annoying as clickbait may be, we have only ourselves to blame for its existence. At least for now, it’s here to stay. The best we can do is grit our teeth, read some sexy novels, and endure.

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