Tag Archives: loneliness

Lessons In Love According To Rick Sanchez

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What is love? Can we ask that question without referencing to a one-hit wonder R&B song from 1993? I think it’s a question worth asking and one people have been asking since the dawn of our species. Many men who are way smarter than I’ll ever be have tried to answer this question. Some have offered revealing insights. Others just use it as an excuse to whine about a cheating spouse.

Then, there’s Rick Sanchez. I know that by saying that name, I’ve completely altered the tone of this topic. I could’ve easily spent the next several paragraphs breaking down how the smartest men in history view love and how that understanding reveals itself in our modern concept of romance. For now, I’d rather scrutinize love from the perspective of a hard-drinking, brutally honest, nihilistic cartoon character from Adult Swim.

Yep, I’m referring to this guy again.

Make no mistake. I’m not just using this as another excuse to talk about “Rick and Morty,” although I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking that. I really do think characters like Rick Sanchez have something to teach us on the topic of love. Being an admitted romantic and aspiring erotica/romance writer, I believe those lessons are worth heeding.

On paper, Rick Sanchez is the last person most would go to for insights into love. From the first scene in the first episode, he establishes himself as an overly-cynical, high-functioning alcoholic who may or may not be okay with blowing up the world for the sake of a fresh start. To say he’s not the romantic type would be like saying Jerry needs help with his golf game.

However, Rick does demonstrate throughout the show that he has a capacity for love. He has even had a few moments where he has shown genuine heart. There’s an odd mix of eccentricity and complexity to Rick’s behavior. That’s part of what makes him such an endearing character and why he resonates so much with an emerging generation.

From all that chaos, though, there are insights worth noting. “Rick and Morty” may go heavy with nihilism and moments of existential crisis, but it doesn’t avoid the impact of love. Whether it’s Morty constantly trying to get with Jessica or the constant upheavals in Beth and Jerry’s marriage, love is an underlying factor throughout the show.

This is despite the fact that Rick is pretty overt about his feelings on love. In “Rick Potion #9,” the sixth episode of the first season, he gives his clearest, most quote-worthy opinion on love.

“Listen, Morty, I hate to break it to you but what people call ‘love’ is just a chemical reaction that compels animals to breed. It hits hard, Morty, then it slowly fades, leaving you stranded in a failing marriage. I did it. Your parents are gonna do it. Break the cycle, Morty. Rise above. Focus on science.”

That sounds pretty jaded, to say the least. It’s perfectly fitting with Rick’s misanthropic mentality. However, there is a context here and one that’s fairly subtle, as things tend to be in the world of “Rick and Morty.”

Part of that context is Rick’s family situation. Beyond being a drunk and an eccentric mad scientist, he also has a family. It’s not just his daughter and two grandkids, either. He mentions in his cynical musings that he’d fallen in love and gotten married at one point.

That, alone, has some pretty profound implications. It shows that even the smartest, most capable man in the multiverse cannot avoid the impact of love. Keep in mind, this is a man who travels the multiverse on a whim, defeats Thanos-level super-villains while drunk, and understands how meaningless everything is in the grand scheme of things.

Despite all that, Rick Sanchez still fell in love. He still got married. That, in and of itself, shows the power of love better than any Huey Lewis song. While the show hasn’t revealed much about his former wife, Diane, it does establish an important fact. Rick is capable of love, even when he sees it as just a confluence of brain chemicals.

The show goes onto to reveal that Rick is still influenced by love, despite this reductionist understanding of it. The most comprehensive example comes in Season 2, Episode 3, “Auto Erotic Assimilation.” In many ways, this episode helps convey the most meaningful lesson in love that any animated series has ever attempted.

In the episode, Rick catches up with an old girlfriend, who happens to be an alien hive mind named Unity. If that sounds weird, even by “Rick and Morty” standards, trust me when I say it doesn’t crack the top ten. The fact that Unity is a hive mind is part of why the insights are so unique and impactful.

Throughout the episode, we learn about the particulars of Rick and Unity’s relationship. Unity establishes herself as one of the few beings in the multiverse who can keep up with Rick’s eccentricities. If anything, she has to be a hive mind in order to do so, as evidenced by Rick’s elaborately kinky requests.

In this context, Unity is the ultimate manifestation of supportive lover. She can literally do anything and be anywhere because she has the collective resources of an entire planet at her disposal. She’s more capable than a shape-shifter like Mystique or even an advanced sex robot.

If she wants to make love as a beautiful, buxom blond right out of a Playboy centerfold, she can do that. If she wants to do it as a greasy-haired, middle-aged man with a hairy back and bad breath, she can do that too. She can be two people, ten people, or as many people as she wants to be to love Rick and express that love however they want.

This breaks down, however, when Unity’s efforts to pursue that romance with Rick ends up straining her ability to maintain her hive mind. It gets so strenuous, at one point, that it leads to a nipple-driven race war on the planet. Again, this is pretty standard in terms of weirdness for “Rick and Morty.”

The implications of this breakdown are serious and I’m not referring to the nipple-driven race war. Logistically speaking, Rick and Unity had everything they needed to make their relationship work. They had unlimited resources and unlimited opportunities for intimacy, decadence, and everything in between. In exercising that, though, their relationship devolved into an ongoing spiral of self-destruction.

There was clear, unambiguous love between Rick and Unity. However, the act of being together proved toxic to both of them. Unity couldn’t be with Rick without losing herself, literally and figuratively. Rick couldn’t be with Unity without descending into a spiral of debauchery. Even if the love is there, embracing it leads to both of them getting hurt.

This made for one of the most dramatic and emotional moments of the show, one that reveals just how much Rick loved Unity. After she leaves him, it really hits him on an emotional level, so much so that he nearly kills himself. Remember, this is a man who said love is nothing more than a chemical reaction in the brain.

The pain in that moment, though, belabors a much larger point about love and being with someone. Just loving someone is easy. As Rick says, it’s just a chemical reaction in your brain. It’s something that can happen to anyone, even the smartest man in the multiverse.

However, being with someone and expressing the full spectrum of love involves much more than convergent brain chemistry. For some people, love can be downright destructive. If pursuing love means undermining your sense of being, as happened with Unity, then that’s a sign that the relationship isn’t tenable.

It’s tragic, but unavoidable. You can love someone with all your heart, but not be capable of having a functional relationship. It’s a harsh reality, one that’s perfectly in line with the nihilistic subtext in “Rick and Morty.” At the same time, though, there’s a less dire lesson to be learned.

Even if love is just a brain function that helps propogate the species, it has the power to affect us in the best and worst of ways. It can lead us to the greatest of joys, as Rick and Unity experienced for a brief time. It can also lead us to the worst of sorrows. Few other brain functions can make that claim.

That wide range of experiences are a powerful mechanism for finding meaning in a meaningless universe. Rick Sanchez doesn’t avoid the pain in those experiences and he doesn’t hesitate to pursue the joys, often to a reckless degree. Finding meaning in this universe is hard enough, but love can do plenty to carry us forward. You don’t have to be a Rick-level genius to appreciate that, although that’s probably a good thing.

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Filed under gender issues, Marriage and Relationships, philosophy, Rick and Morty, romance

The WRONG Way To Deal With The Incel Phenomenon (And Ideas For A Better Way)

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When dealing with complex social issues, people have a frustrating tendency to propose solutions that cause more problems. Some of them are unintended and manageable. Some are just absurd and untenable.

I say that as someone who has stated before that complaining about a problem without pursuing a solution amounts to little more than empty whining. I’m in favor of confronting major issues, be they small-scale problems on a local level and bigger problems that may end up being an existential threat to the human race.

However, most reasonable people agree that attempting to solve a problem with a bad solution is akin to killing a fly with a machine gun. Even if it works, it causes plenty of damage and creates an entirely new set of problems that need solving.

This brings me to what I feel is the most asinine issue to emerge since religious zealots got needlessly outraged over the Teletubbies. I’m referring, sadly, to the incel phenomenon and believe me, it makes me miss the days when the Teletubbies were a problem.

I’ve mentioned it before and I’d really prefer to talk about less frustrating topics, but this is quickly evolving/devolving into an issue that isn’t going away on its own. People have started dying because of this phenomenon. Some depraved individuals are already being idolized because of it. This is not one of those things that will blow over after the next Kardashian scandal.

Before I go any further, I need to make clear that I do not think highly the incel phenomenon. It brings out the absolute worst in those who espouse it. I also do not associate incels with other movements involving men’s rights, gender equality, or any mainstream political ideology. These individuals are their own entity.

Their deplorable behavior and demeaning attitudes are solely on them. Their hatred, misogyny, and violent acts are not the least bit justified. I can only manage so much sympathy for those who identify as incel, given the recent news surrounding them. With all that being said, I’m going to try and be fair in addressing this problem.

As much as I abhor the ideology of self-identified incels, I don’t deny that they’re real human beings who are in a state of deep distress. I also don’t deny that their distress is painful to them. Others can call it pathetic all they want. To them, the pain is real.

This is a group of people who genuinely feel that they are the victims of a gross injustice. They see themselves as individuals who have followed all the rules that society has laid out for them. They believe themselves to be good, decent people who are worthy of sex, love, and intimacy. To them, the fact that they aren’t getting any of that is akin to denying a starving child food while donating meals to Bill Gates.

It certainly doesn’t help that popular culture has been selling us all the narrative for decades that being a nice person will get you the lover you want. Since kids, we’ve been led to believe that if we just follow the examples of our favorite photogenic heroes, we’ll get what we want. It always works out in the movies and on TV. Why shouldn’t it work out in real life?

Anyone with a passing knowledge of reality knows why that sentiment is dead wrong. We all have to learn at some point that we are not the heroes of our own story. Things don’t always work out. Life isn’t fair. Nobody owes you anything and the universe doesn’t give a wet fart about your feelings.

It’s a painful revelation, but for those in the incel movement, that pain is too much. It’s not that they haven’t gotten over it. It’s that they’ve given up. They call it “taking the black pill” instead of the red pill. Rather than the truth offered by “The Matrix,” the black pill is akin to just waving the white flag and conceding the battle to the machines.

In this case, though, the machines are the social conditions that ensure incels will never have sex, find love, or feel intimacy. Like sexual and romantic nihilists, they stop trying to navigate a world that they believe is actively working against them. They don’t try to change it or help it. They’re just left wallowing in their hatred and misery.

To some, it’s self-deprecating melodrama. I think it’s tragic. I even understand to some extent how certain people might look at the challenges before them, see how many forces are working against them, and not even try because the odds are so stacked against them. Whether or not that’s actually true doesn’t matter. This is their mentality and it’s a very damaging mentality.

It’s for that reason that the potential “solutions” some have set forth seem intent on either furthering that damage or exchanging one problem for another. One emerging “solution” comes in the form of something called enforced monogamy. It’s not quite what it sounds, but it still lends itself to a great many problems.

The logic, on paper, makes some sense. It posits that in a sexually free market, most of the women will only pursue the top tier of men. It works if you have the looks of Brad Pitt or the bank account of Warren Buffet, but for most everyone else, they’re left behind. As such, monogamy must be rigidly enforced and promiscuity significantly discouraged.

It could take many forms. People who have sex with one too many people could be taxed, fined, or jailed. People who refuse to marry someone could be required to do so. If someone doesn’t sufficiently perform they’re monogamous duties, then they’re subject to both condemnation and punishment. Whatever form it takes, the inherent flaws ensure this “solution” will only incur more problems.

Never mind the fact that human beings, as a species, may not be naturally monogamous. Never mind the fact that sexual monogamy is exceedingly rare throughout the animal kingdom. For the good of society and repressed incels, it has to be imposed and enforced. I’ll give everyone a minute to fume over that half-hearted effort at sarcasm.

In any case, this recourse requires that some segment of the population be oppressed to placate another. Historically speaking, that has never worked out. Sure, using the power of society to guide and/or micromanage sexuality might grant a little intimacy to those who wouldn’t otherwise have it. It will also significantly undermine the freedom and liberty of another individual.

It doesn’t just exchange one problem for another. Whenever society tries to micromanage peoples’ lives, it tends to collapse and not just because it fails the Boredom Filter. Human beings are complex and difficult to manage. Trying to manage the unmanageable is destined to end in failure.

While it’s doubtful that forced monogamy will ever gain favor in any society outside “The Handmaid’s Tale,” other less oppressive solutions have been put forth, relatively speaking. They largely center around legalizing sex work or hastening the development of sex robots.

While I’ve spoken favorably about sex robots and advocated the decriminalization of prostitution, I don’t think either would resolve the incel issue. In fact, I think it would make the situation worse.

Even if we all woke up tomorrow and discovered that prostitution was legal and sex robots were perfected, the incel phenomenon would still exist because those who identify as such would still feel like failures. Even if they had plenty of satisfying sex with prostitutes and sex robots, the fact they had to resort to those means would only affirm their failure.

On top of that, those working in prostitution who served them would probably be subject to stigma of their own. That’s on top of the stigma already associated with sex work. There would be a similar stigma on the manufacturers of sex robots or sex dolls, which has already drawn ire from sex-negative feminists.

In the end, not only will incels still feel angry and resentful, but those associated with this “solution” would have a reason to feel that way too. Given the breadth of that problem and the inherent flaws of the proposed solutions, is there any recourse that is both effective and tenable? I believe there is, but it’s not one of those solutions that’s simple, direct, and requires the passage or removal of a particular law.

The incel phenomenon was born of chaotic social issues that were further compounded by mass media and popular culture. Before solutions like prostitution and sex robots can even enter the conversation, the stigma associated with sex, both for the incels and those involved in sex work, must be confronted.

The idea that anyone who has too much sex or not enough sex deserves stigma is the primary driving force behind controversies surrounding sexuality. Whether it comes from uptight religious zealots or radical feminists, heaping stigma on someone else’s sex life is both damaging and demeaning.

Beyond confronting the stigma, it’s also important to educate those who identify as incels that it’s not entirely hopeless. They can still find love, sex, and intimacy. Part of that process, though, involves learning that they are not owed sex and they have to actually work for someone else’s affection.

That could come in the form of helping people develop better social skills. It could also come in the form of identifying those in the incel community that have legitimate issues with mental health. At the end of the day, they’re still people. Helping them should be prioritized over resenting them.

Re-shaping attitudes and teaching better social skills will be a slow, arduous process. People do have a nasty tendency to cling to their hate. However, it is possible to help someone overcome it. I believe most incels can be helped and are deserving of it. Only those who commit acts of violence should face such scorn.

This is not the kind of effort that one particular gender must take on. It has to be a collective effort, which I know will upset some who feel incels are an exclusive manifestation of toxic masculinity, a term I still contend is inherently flawed. We’re all still human, regardless of our gender. If some of us our suffering, then we’re still the one’s responsible for confronting it.

We can’t expect the incel issue to resolve itself. We also can’t expect those who identify as such to change just because others scorn, mock, or hate them. At some point, one side has to take a deep breath, be the adult, and confront the issue in a meaningful way.

Chances are it’ll get worse before it gets better. It’s also likely that both incels and those who despise them will hate dealing with the issues associated with them. However, that’s exactly why it’s so important to address. The longer a group of people remain at the mercy of stigma and self-loathing, the more suffering the world around them is likely to incur.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, human nature, political correctness, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

How I Had A Good Valentine’s Day Last Year (Thanks To My Mother)

It’s that time of year again. That’s right. It’s Valentine’s Day. To some, it’s a day where you can get away with being a little extra romantic with your lover. To others, it’s a conspiracy by Hallmark to sell more greeting cards. To people like me, namely those who are single and alone, it’s sometimes a harsh reminder that loneliness sucks and we all yearn to be loved.

I’ve talked a bit about my struggles as a single guy whose single status seems to get more taboo with age. I’ve also shared some difficult personal experiences that highlight why Valentine’s Day has been my least favorite holiday over the years. For someone who claims to be such a big fan of romance, I imagine it sends mixed messages.

I still consider myself a fan of love, intimacy, and everything else Valentine’s Day stands for. I gladly cheer those who have someone special to spend this day with. It’s just tough when you’re stuck spending this couples-friendly holiday by yourself. Most people who know me tend to understand I’m a little jaded this time of year.

However, there have been times when I’ve had a genuinely good Valentine’s Day while still being single. One of those times actually happened last year. I didn’t share it because I didn’t know whether it was worth sharing. Now, as I’ve come to appreciate that day more and more, I feel like this is something I should put out there on a day like this.

Around this time last year, I was planning to spend much of my Valentine’s Day alone again, either writing sexy novels, reading comics, or just doing whatever it took to distract myself. I had gotten so used to spending this romantic holiday that I was kind of resigned to my fate.

Then, I went out to get the mail and got a letter. It wasn’t a bill, a coupon, or an ad. It was a letter from my mother. Curious, since she usually texts or emails me when she wants to talk, I opened the letter and found this card inside.

mom

I’m not going to lie. I had the biggest, goofiest grin I’ve ever had outside of a comic book store or a donut shop when I saw it. My mother had actually gone to the effort of finding me a card, stuffing it in a regular envelope, and sending it to me, postage cost and all. It would’ve been easier to just send a few texts with some funny gifs, but my mother is someone who goes the extra mile.

In addition to the card, there was a note on the back. Since it’s somewhat personal, I won’t recite it word for word. That’s between me and my mother. What she wrote, though, really made my day and warmed my heart. She reminded me that, even when you’re alone on Valentine’s Day, you can still feel loved.

I needed that reminder. I needed it more than I cared to admit. Once again, though, my mother proved that she knows me better than I know myself sometimes. She understands why I’ve struggled to find love and how hard I’ve worked to overcome those struggles. She and the rest of my family have helped me every step of the way. Most importantly, though, she always made sure I felt loved.

I still have this card. It’s one of those special little mementos that I can turn to whenever I’m feeling miserable, restless, or unloved. On a day like this, though, it carries an even greater meaning. It’s a meaning that helps make Valentine’s Day feel special, even when you’re single like me.

Now, I know I’m exceedingly bias in this sentiment, but I don’t care. I’ll say it anyways.

MY MOM IS THE ABSOLUTE BEST!

Yes, I used all caps. Yes, I’m shouting that as loud as my computer will allow me. No, I don’t care if you disagree or think that’s childish. It’s a sentiment worth sharing on Valentine’s Day and I gladly share it with everyone, single or otherwise.

Also, I know my mother is a regular reader of this blog. Even though it sometimes discusses sexy and exceedingly unsexy issues, she supports me in everything I do and encourages me every step of the way.

With that in mind, I’d like to thank my wonderful mom for making Valentine’s Day great for me again. Mom, I know you’ll probably read this at some point, but I mean it. You’re the best! Thank you for being the best Valentine that a single guy like me can hope for.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights

Boredom Vs. A Lack Of Belonging: Which Drives Outrage Culture More?

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Here’s a quick non-rhetorical question. Which is worse, crippling boredom or social isolation? There’s no right answer, but every answer has distressing implications. More than anything else, those answers reinforce why solitary confinement is rightly considered torture.

I ask that question because I had an interesting conversation with someone on Reddit about what drives certain people to be constantly outraged about whatever happens to be controversial that day. I’ve talked a bit about outrage culture before and how professional trolls exploit them, but I haven’t really dug into the mechanisms behind it. Given how new controversies seem to trend every day, I think it’s worth scrutinizing.

In the discussion, I singled out boredom as a possibly underrated factor. Having highlighted the power of crippling boredom, I felt qualified to make the case that boredom may very well be an understated, under-appreciated cause. I still feel there’s a case to be made.

In the grand scheme of things, humanity is in uncharted territory when it comes to boredom. For most of human history, we had to live our lives under the constant threat of plague, famine, war, and natural disasters. Whether we were hunter/gatherers or subsistence farmers, life was chaotic and unpredictable.

Say what you will about those harsh, pre-modern eras, but they weren’t boring. They couldn’t be. There was always work to do. Given the lack of effective birth control, there were children to raise. Even if social media had existed 100 years ago, who would have the time or energy to even be outraged about a man wearing a sexist shirt.

Fast forward to the 21st century and things like war, famine, disease, and crippling poverty are all in decline. This is objectively good on so many ways, but for some people, especially in well-to-do middle class people, it leaves a large void that quickly becomes boring if not filled with something. Sometimes, it can get so bad that it can lead to outright murder.

When I made this argument, I think more than a few people took it seriously on Reddit. It was easy to see how someone whose life is so affluent and devoid of heart-pounding conflict that they will latch onto petty outrages just so they can feel something. Like someone stuck in solitary confinement, they’ll do anything for some sort of stimulation beyond counting the tiles on the floor.

Given how our brains can’t always discern the source of arousal, sometimes it’ll settle for whatever adrenaline rush we get from righteous outraged. Some go so far as to call the rush we get from outrage an addiction and it’s not a wholly inaccurate idea.

However, one person in that discussion pointed another element that also relies on that part of the brain that can’t always discern what gets it aroused. Instead of combating boredom, though, this issue deals with our inherent need to join a group and become part of a larger movement.

It’s very much an extension of tribalism and, like seeking stimulation when there is none, human beings are well-equipped by evolutionary biology to form groups. Whether we’re a small band of hunter/gatherers or a group of Taylor Swift fans, it doesn’t take much for us to form those groups and our brains reward us greatly.

Being part of a group feels good. Being part of something gives us a rush. It’s a major reason why peer pressure works and why tribalism often overrules reason. That solidarity we feel when we’re part of a group isn’t just intoxicating. It’s a fundamental component of any highly social species, which includes humans.

What this means for those constantly outrage isn’t that far off from the implications relating to boredom. Like boredom, our current society is pretty unprecedented in terms of how easy it is to form a close-nit group and share in that solidarity that has been driving our species since the hunter/gatherer days.

Thanks to social media and mass communication, it’s possible for people to do more than just share their opinions, no matter how outrageous they might be. It’s also possible to connect with those who either share in those opinions or despise them. In terms of forming a tribe, it’s a two-for-one-deal because it creates both a sense of “us” while revealing a “them” to rally against.

For anyone who has spent any amount of time on social media, it doesn’t take much to see the whole us versus them mentality to take shape. If any amount of disagreement goes on long enough, Godwin’s Law usually takes over and the battle lines are set.

On top of this, the social issues in 2018 aren’t quite nearly as clear-cut as they were in decades past. In the past, there were some pretty egregious injustices surrounding civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights that required major social movements to combat. By and large, society has done a lot to improve the state for these marginalized groups.

There’s no question that being part of such righteous movements is laudable. We, as a society, rightly praise civil rights leaders who stand for such righteous causes. Naturally, some people seek to emulate that. Whether by ego or altruism, it’s only natural that they want to experience that kind of accomplishment.

Thanks to the sheer breadth of human progress, though, there causes on the levels faced by Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi. However, because that drive to be part of a movement is just that strong, those same people will settle for pettier movements that protest sexy women in video games or bemoan the lack of diversity in old TV shows like “Friends.”

Make no mistake. Those outrages are petty and asinine when compared to the real injustices that past social movements have fought, but the brains of the outraged can’t tell the difference. From their perspective, their movement is every bit as righteous as every other civil rights movement in history. The outrage they express and the solidarity they feel is every bit as fulfilling as something that alleviates boredom.

Even if these causes are petty and the outrage is shallow, it’s important to note the alternative here. If these same people who protest the lack of diversity in the tech industry didn’t have this sort of thing to drive them, then what would happen to the group they’d formed?

Absent that outrage and protest, the group has nothing to rally behind. The person has nothing provoking arousal, be it anger or excitement. Without this dynamic, they don’t belong to something bigger anymore. They’re not the ones marching alongside famous civil rights leaders of the past. They’re just alone, by themselves, contributing nothing of value.

For many people, that’s just untenable. I would go so far as to say it’s almost as untenable as crippling boredom. Even self-proclaimed introverts and ardent individualists, we seek an identity and a constant source of stimulation. When we lack one or both, we lack a core element of any social species. In the same way we’re driven to meet the rest of our basic needs, we’ll be driven to find that somewhere, no matter how misguided.

In the past, we might have found that sense of belonging and purpose through our small communities or organized religion. Today, the world is much bigger and more diverse, thanks to technology and civilization. Organized religion is also not effective anymore due to factors too numerous to list. People are still going to seek belonging.

It’s somewhat ironic that civilization has advanced to such a degree that there aren’t as many clear-cut, good versus evil movements to be part of anymore. However, there’s still this longing to be the hero of our own story and be part of something greater, even if it means actually going out of their way to feel outraged.

Getting back to the initial question I posed, I think the influence of boredom and belonging are inherently linked. We agonize over escaping boredom and over having a sense of belonging. We can’t get that same rush our ancestors felt when surviving bear attacks and hunger so we’ll settle for whining about protests during football games. It’s still annoyingly petty, but distressingly understandable.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, Reasons and Excuses, War on Boredom

The Devastation Of Alienation On Our Sexuality (Among Other Things)

When I was growing up, the concept of alienation only applied to grunge rock, heavy metal, and whatever other media disaffected youth used to voice their dissatisfaction with the world around them. Being such a miserable teenager myself, I thought I understood that sentiment to some extent. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that there’s a lot more to it.

Alienation has been in the news a lot lately, but it’s not one of those annoying contemporary buzzwords like “toxic masculinity.” It’s actually a term with a dictionary definition, which also has some philosophical backbone that goes back centuries. Like most philosophical terms, though, it has undergone some revisions over the years.

Rather than get into the long, tedious path the idea of alienation has taken, I want to apply it to our current situation. In addition, I’m going to analyze alienation the same way I often do with superhero comics in that I’m going to apply it to sexuality. I doubt that’ll surprise long-time readers of this blog, but I also doubt it’ll surprise anyone who has observed recent societal trends in how we approach sex in society.

Without question, there is a sense of alienation going on in our collective sex lives. While it doesn’t affect everybody, especially the billionaire rock star/celebrity crowd, it does affect some people more than others. I imagine I’ll upset or offend some people by identifying parts of that crowd, but I need to take that chance to make my point.

The basics of alienation are simple. According to Dictionary.com, the definition is as follows:

  • The act of alienatingor of causing someone to become indifferent or hostile.
  • The state of being alienatedwithdrawn, or isolated from the world, through indifference or disaffection.
  • The act of turning away, transferring, or diverting.

Within the scope of this definition, you probably know someone who has experienced this type of feeling. At the very least, you knew someone growing up who just felt left out of everything and went out of their way to detach themselves from the rest of society.

Their reasons for doing this vary. Some have serious mental health issues. Others are driven to alienation by economic factors like poverty. Some even go so far as to say that our modern form of capitalism is an inherently alienating force. The entire premise of “Fight Club” actually revolves around that idea, as so wonderfully articulated by the folks at Wisecrack.

With respect to sexuality, though, alienation is a bit trickier. So much attention has been placed on how powerful men solicit sex from beautiful women or how women struggle to maintain some semblance of sexual freedom that it’s hard to see the forest from the trees. Being both a man and an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I’m going to make an effort.

I don’t doubt for a second that alienation affects the sexuality of all genders. Sex, especially if you’re not having the kind that fulfills your needs and desires, can be pretty alienating. We humans are wired to want, seek, and enjoy sex. Given the crude and clunky nature of biology, in general, it’s bound to get distressing and disorienting.

For centuries, women were more prone to sexual alienation than men. That’s because, until relatively recently, their sexual choices were made for them. They didn’t get to choose their spouse. They didn’t get to live their own lives or explore their sexuality with a variety of partners. In fact, doing so might actually be detrimental to their safety.

When you have no choices and much of your life is controlled by others, it’s easy to feel alienated. You have no agency, control, or freedom to even know what you want sexually. That led to a lot of unsatisfied, desperate women.

Conversely, men weren’t just allowed to fool around on their spouses. In fact, it was kind of expected. In that respect, not having a mistress might actually be alienating. Men who loved their wives too much were even criticized.

Then, in the late 20th century and into the 21st century, the pendulum swung in the other direction. The women’s rights movements and the rise of modern feminism gave women more control of their sexuality. For the most part, modern women can explore their sexuality and enjoy a level of sexual freedom once reserved for aristocratic men with a legion of mistresses.

By and large, this has been a good thing. In fact, greater gender equality with respect to sexuality might actually be more conducive to our caveman brains. The sexual practices of Bonobo apes are a testament to that. However, in some respects, the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that the alienating forces are hitting another group.

I’ve mentioned it before and it seems to be an ongoing trend. With the rise of third-wave feminism and political correctness, all the evil and ills of the world are attributed to horny men seeking sex from beautiful women. It’s very much a double standard that seems to be intensifying with each passing year.

Whereas a man trying to seek sex with multiple women are more likely to be seen as a misogynist pig, women seeking sex are seen as empowered. Sure, there’s still slut-shaming, but a good chunk of that actually comes from other women. It’s almost paradoxical in the sense that a woman will be criticized, no matter how much or how little she decides to exercise her sexual freedom.

That too can be alienating, but those same women can take comfort in the knowledge that they’re the sexual gatekeepers. They’re the ones who give the consent. They’re the ones who decide whether a man is getting sex. If the man has a problem with that choice, then he can be subject to serious consequences, even if he misinterprets the message.

The recent surge of sex scandals and the growing emphasis on consent has put a lot more pressure on men, especially those who aren’t rich, well-connected, or attractive. In terms of raw numbers, that represents the vast majority of men, myself included. Some call it the 80/20 rule of dating, but I prefer to think of it as a greater alienation complex.

By that, I mean the existing standards and methods for men seeking love, sex, and intimacy make most men prone to a sense of alienation. I won’t say it’s as bad as it was for Victorian Era women, but alienation is difficult for anyone, regardless of time, circumstance, or gender.

The situation for men is akin to playing a game in which you know other players cheat and/or have inherent advantages, but there’s nothing you can do about it. On top of that, the standards are so high and the margin for error is so low that, from a distance, it seems impossible. It creates this distressing sentiment that you will never find the love or intimacy you seek.

I’m not going to lie. I’ve looked in the mirror on some mornings and felt that way, especially in my awkward, acne-laden teen years. I like to think I’ve gotten better over the years because I’ve worked on myself, gotten into shape, and made myself more attractive to the opposite sex. However, I understand that there are plenty of men who struggle to do that or don’t have the same opportunities.

For them, the alienation is almost unavoidable. They see the marketplace for love and sex, but don’t see any opportunities. Sure, they can still play the game, but it would be like a toddler trying to win a boxing match against Floyd Mayweather. It just doesn’t seem worth it.

Within the current system, the structures in place ensure that there will always be a sizable chunk of men who are left out of the sexual landscape. They’re not the only ones either. Women who are either unattractive or not inclined to play by the evolving rules of that landscape will be just as isolated. So long as those standards are so rigid, there will be a lot of sexually unsatisfied people in this world.

From a pragmatic standpoint, our current approach to sexuality fails the Stanhope Principle. Society cannot function or progress with such a system. Any system that has such large groups of people feeling alienated and left out is inherently unstable. Karl Marx, however you feel about him and his ideas, made that obvious years ago.

For now, we can only do so much to adapt the current system. The sexual alienation that people feel will continue to evolve, for better and for worse, in accord with major trends. If history is any guide, though, the sexual landscape will continue to change. Whether or not that’ll mitigate or intensify the alienation remains to be seen.

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Filed under gender issues, sex in society, sexuality

Is Loneliness Really THAT Bad For You?

I’d like to preface this article with what I hope is an exciting announcement. As I write this, I’m preparing to move to a new place. By nearly every measure, it’s a good thing. My living situation is set to change for the better.

Without getting into the specifics, just know that I’ve been living with roommates in a shared house for quite some time now. That has been my standard living situation since college. For a while now, I’ve been looking to upgrade that situation by buying my own condo. I’ve been working hard, selling as many sexy novels as I can, to scrap together enough money.

Finally, I had the money and I found the perfect place. In less than a month, I’ll be living on my own in a beautiful one bedroom, one bathroom condo that I won’t have to share with anyone else. I won’t just be able to sleep naked anymore. My entire living situation will be clothing optional. Just thinking about it brings tears of joy to my eyes.

I’m genuinely excited about this and not just because it will provide more opportunities for nudity. However, it does give me some pause in terms of the larger implications. Every major change in life, be it a living situation or a new lover, is bound to have unforeseen impacts. Moving to a new place certainly qualifies.

The most jarring change in this instance is that, for the first time in my adult life, I’ll be living completely alone. I won’t have to contend with roommates. I won’t have to share any ounce of my living space. Everything from the thermostat to the brand of toilet paper to the visibility of my Playboy calendar will be completely under my control.

I don’t deny that living alone has its appeal, but I’m somewhat used to always being in a place where I could just go talk to someone if I wanted. Living in this new place will mean fewer opportunities of that nature. Then, I found this distressing article from the New York Times on the potential health hazards of living alone and suddenly, the price for clothing-optional living seems a bit higher.

The hazards are not necessarily trivial. This isn’t something that can be fixed by eating an extra bowl of fruit, running a few miles, or getting a coffee enema, which is a thing. According to the article, these are some of the issues that loneliness and isolation can breed.

Loneliness can accelerate cognitive decline in older adults, and isolated individuals are twice as likely to die prematurely as those with more robust social interactions. These effects start early: Socially isolated children have significantly poorer health 20 years later, even after controlling for other factors. All told, loneliness is as important a risk factor for early death as obesity and smoking.

While it’s important to note that the keyword in that conclusion is that it can incur these effects. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will. As I’ve noted before, human beings are frustratingly complex creatures. Anyone who claims that there’s a simple solution to a big problem is usually pursuing a bullshit agenda that makes lousy documentaries.

However, there is some relevant data behind this phenomenon of loneliness being detrimental to someone’s mental health. According to a 2013 study by the American Journal for Public Health, socially isolated men and women died earlier at a rate that was consistent with smoking and high blood pressure. Those kinds of correlations are disconcerting, even if they’re not akin to direct causation.

Smoking, Cigarette, Smoke, Unhealthy, Cigar, Addiction

Under the lens of caveman logic, that makes sense. Human beings are a very social species. Social interaction is a core need, right up there with food, water, and a regular orgasm. It’s because of our social nature that solitary confinement is rightly seen as torture.

While I do have plenty of other social outlets, primarily my friends and a very supportive family, living alone will make it easier to keep to myself more often. Granted, that could change fairly quickly if I fall in love and get into a relationship. That’s something I am actively working on. However, I’m not going to assume that’ll happen soon after I move in.

I’m taking these concerns seriously, but I’m still looking forward to the benefits. As if often the case with something as complex as human psychology, there are also potential benefits to living alone. There is some research that indicates that certain people do better when they live alone. I’m not sure that I’m one of those people, but Psychology Today summed it up nicely with the kind caveman logic that makes me smile.

For some people, living alone is not just a casual preference – it feels more like a need. What happens when you are deprived of a genuine need? You can’t stop thinking about it. You daydream about it, makes plans for when you will get to have that need fulfilled again. When living alone is a need and you finally get to do it after being deprived, you feel relief and a sense that your living situation is once again just what it should be.

So with these variations in mind, I’ve got a lot to think about as I prepare to take this big step in my life. I’m still excited about it. I’m really looking forward to actually owning my own place, having a space I can truly call my own. It goes beyond having an excuse to spend more time naked. It’s about me carving a real space for myself.

I don’t know entirely how I’m going to handle it. I like to think I know myself well enough to believe that I’ll be among those who benefit from living alone. I could very well be wrong, but I’ll finally have a chance to find out.

To everyone else who may be facing this issue, take some comfort in the knowledge that the question as to whether being alone is bad for you has no clear-cut answer. It varies from person to person. Some people benefit. Some people don’t. Human beings are kinky like that. As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, that’s something I can appreciate.

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, War on Boredom

Celebrities, Loneliness, And The Price Of Fame

We all love to dream about it. We all love to build an elaborate fantasy in our minds. It’s right up there with our fantasies involving Channing Tatum, Kate Hudson, and a pool full of premium lube. It’s that tantalizing idea that we, despite our unremarkable physical traits, limited talents, and lack of opportunities, could be a celebrity.

It’s not an unreasonable fantasy to entertain. Celebrities are constantly showing off how awesome their lives are. They live in big, opulent mansions. They have more money than most of us could ever spend in a lifetime. They’re surrounded by servants and assistants who cater to their every whim,  be it a sandwich or a threesome with a couple of Swedish bikini models.

Whether they’re a movie star, a TV star, or a rock star, we all envy their extraordinary lives. That’s why it’s always so shocking and confusing when we hear that a famous, accomplished celebrity has taken their own life. It’s a tragedy and one that evokes an outpouring of mourning.

It was just hard to imagine someone as beloved and cherished as Robin Williams taking his own life. Just recently, it was hard to imagine someone like Chester Bennington from Linkin Park doing the same. These men achieved a level of success that even other celebrities envy. Why would they make such a terrible decision to end their lives?

It’s a question that we find ourselves asking way too often. Celebrities have been taking their own lives with alarming frequency in the 21st century. Some, like Kurt Cobain and John Belushi, had well-documented issues with substance abuse. Some, like Corey Haim or Freddie Prinze, saw their fame and fortune fall over time.

Whatever the circumstances, the shock still resonates. The question still remains. Why would someone who achieved something so few achieve choose to end their lives? Some of these people came from poor, impoverished backgrounds. Why would they end it after achieving the kind of success that most only dream of?

These are impossible questions to answer because we can never know what goes on in someone’s mind when they decide to take their own lives. We can speculate, but we can never truly know. I certainly won’t claim to know what was going on inside Chester Bennington’s mind. That would be wrong, especially as his family, friends, and fans mourn him.

However, even if we can’t know, there is one way to gain some insight into this tragedy. It requires another thought experiment, albeit one of the more uncomfortable variety. Considering how uncomfortable some of these experiments have gotten, that’s saying something. Even so, I think it’s an important insight to have, especially when you’re trying to make sense of celebrity culture.

Picture, for a moment, that you wake up in an alternate universe of the world you know. Everything is the same, from the shape of the planet to the laws of physics to the annoying video ads you see before YouTube videos. The main difference is that in this world, you have none of the friends or family that you know and love.

Instead, you’re in a world surrounded by total strangers. Most act nice. Some even try to be your friend. However, you don’t know for sure whether you can trust them. These people and this world may seem familiar, but it might as well be totally alien, complete with little green men and anal probes.

Then, throw in another huge complication. Imagine you’re rich and famous. Everybody wants a piece of you. Everybody envies what you have. People you don’t know and never would’ve known in your old life just throw themselves at you. They want to be with you physically, emotionally, and often sexually, as is often the case with rock stars. They even claim to love you with all their heart, sometimes excessively.

Therein lies the problem, though. How can you be sure they actually love you? How can you even trust them when they make such bold proclamations? You’re rich and famous. They’re not. You have a lot. They don’t. They also don’t know you on a truly intimate level. They know the image of you, be it in the movies or on a stage, but they don’t know the kind of person you are when the cameras go off and the lights fade.

Maybe these people want some of your money. That does happen, especially with women looking to hook up with athletes and rock stars. Maybe these people want a piece of your fame. That’s where you get some of the crazy fans who will throw themselves at their celebrity crushes in a frenzy. Maybe they really just want to have sex with you because they get a huge thrill out of having sex with famous people.

There are way more possibilities I can list, but at the end of the day, you can never know for sure. You can never truly trust someone who claims to love you. You can’t even just walk down the street, make some new friends, and build new bonds from there. You’re a celebrity.

Your entire life is overly scrutinized. People only know the character that is you, but not you on a truly intimate level. It means that, even among those who claim to be your friends, you end up feeling alone. Add on top of that the everyday stresses of being a celebrity and your caveman brains will start to strain.

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Could you really function with that kind of mentality? Could you live the rest of your life not being able to trust anyone around you? Could you handle being in a world where nobody truly knows the real you?

Many think they can. Why else would there be lines around the block to participate in the next American Idol rip-off? I don’t doubt these people are sincere, but I doubt they’ve actually thought about the implications of celebrity life. I doubt anyone does, even if they were born into it.

There is a price for fame and fortune. It’s downright Faustian in its cost. Sure, you might be able to live in luxury, your every whim and desired pampered to at every hour of the day. However, you’ll still be isolated and alone. You’ll be stuck in a world where you can never be sure of who to trust. You can never know whether someone actually cares about you or the celebrity version of you.

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That kind of loneliness and isolation can be pretty debilitating. It’s also completely incompatible with the default settings of our caveman brains. We are very social creatures. We crave connection and bonding. I’m not just talking about the sexy kind either. Take that away from us and it really screws us up. That’s why solitary confinement is rightly considered torture.

When you feel things like that, you naturally want them to go away. This isn’t a headache, a broken bone, or chipped tooth, though. This is a very different kind of pain, one for which you can’t fix with a band aid and an aspirin. That’s why many celebrities will turn to drugs and vices.

I’m not just talking about heroin, cocaine, and orgies either. Some celebrities will go so far to alleviate that isolation that they’ll effectively cut ties with reality and try to live in their own fantasy world. We saw that happen with Michael Jackson. We’re seeing that with celebrities like Tom Cruise, who uses a sci-fi cult religion that’s famous for legal extortion to deal with these feelings.

At the end of the day, no matter how successful or glamorous they may be, celebrities are still human. They’re still wired like our caveman ancestors, even if they believe weird things. If they struggle to meet these very basic human needs, then it’s going to cause problems and some of them will end in tragedy.

That’s not to say it’s impossible to manage. There are plenty of celebrities who do an excellent job handling the fame, fortune, and attention. Celebrities like Hugh Jackman, George Clooney, Jennifer Anniston, Bruce Springstein, and even Weird Al Yanckovic regularly show that it is possible to survive that lonely world.

While these celebrities show it is possible for some to function, it doesn’t make the tragedies of those like Chester Bennington any less painful. It also wrongly convinces many that they can handle that world too. Nobody aspires to be a celebrity if they aren’t convinced they can’t handle it.

The hard truth is, though, that precious few people can pay the price that comes with fame and fortune. Fame and fortune may make for an eventful life, but it doesn’t make us any less human. It doesn’t make loneliness and isolation any less debilitating.

Chester Bennington, Robin Williams, and countless others struggled with that loneliness. They endured that struggle on top of whatever personal pain they also carried with them. No amount of fame and fortune can make that struggle less agonizing. For some, it’s just too much.

It’s a feeling that few outside the celebrity world can understand. When everyone wants a piece of you and everyone wants to tell you what you think you want to hear, there’s no way to know for sure who you can trust. In the end, it leaves even the most talented and gifted among us feeling lost. In a sense, that only doubles the tragedy when a celebrity takes their own life.

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