Tag Archives: political correctness

The Doug Stanhope Principle (And Why We Should Apply It)

In my experience, comedians offer the most memorable and insightful commentaries on otherwise serious issues. Even if they’re just trying to be funny, which is their job, I think those commentaries have worth beyond the laughs. There are even times I think comedians don’t realize just how insightful their humor can be.

I’ve made my love of comedy known before and not just through my weekly Sexy Sunday Thoughts. I’ve cited accomplished comedians like Christopher Titus when exploring very non-funny issues, such as jealousy. I don’t just do this to help lighten the mood on a site I want to keep light and sexy. I do it because comedy can reveal more than the breadth of our sense of humor.

With that in mind, I’d like to cite a comedian by the name of Doug Stanhope. I’ve never mentioned before, but has been one of my personal favorites for years. He’s not on the same level as a Jon Stewart, George Carlin, or Lewis Black. However, given his brand of humor, that’s not too surprising.

Stanhope’s comedy is decidedly NSFW, touching on issues that would give most network producers brain aneurisms. His opinions are overtly harsh and unconcerned with your delicate sensibilities. If you’re wondering just how harsh he can be, here’s a quick taste.

That said, he is not a shock comic in the tradition of Howard Stern or Andrew Dice Clay. Stanope’s comedy, as crude as it can be at times, is very smart. One bit in particular stands out. It comes from his “Deadbeat Hero” album, one of my personal favorites and one I think every comedy fan should listen to at least once.

In that album, he talks about a number of issues, but one in particular stands out. That issue is marriage, one I’ve discussed too on this site, albeit not with the same level of humor. On this topic, he makes one of the most insightful observations I’ve ever seen on a treasured institution.

If marriage didn’t exist, would you invent it? Would you go “Baby, this shit we got together, it’s so good we gotta get the government in on this shit. We can’t just share this commitment ‘tweenst us. We need judges and lawyers involved in this shit, baby. It’s hot!”

The bolded parts are my doing because I think the implications of that question go beyond the comedy, more so than I think Stanhope himself intended. In a sense, it reflects the paradox of marriage and traditional romance that I’ve talked about before in that we see it as natural, yet we need all these social institutions to protect it.

The fact those institutions exist is a subtle, but telling sign that these traditions aren’t as natural as we think they are. More than anything else, they’re the product of taboos and social norms that people cling to out of fear, familiarity, and ignorance. I won’t go so far as to call it a form of excuse banking, but I think it highlights our imperfect understanding of human nature.

One of Doug Stanhope’s greatest strengths as a comedian is his ability to break down a treasured and cherished concept in a way that’s both revealing and insightful. What he did for marriage with this one question immediately makes us ponder the flaws in our current understanding of it.

Once we stop laughing at the punch-line, though, I would take it a step further. I would ask that question again in more general form as a means to help us scrutinize our traditions, values, and everything else we hold sacred. Sure, that’s bound to make some people uncomfortable, but that’s exactly the point of certain brand of comedy, especially Stanhope’s.

Like the Simpson Filter I coined earlier this year, let’s coin another using this question. Since I’m not a branding expert with only a fraction of the wit of Doug Stanhope, I’ll call it “The Stanhope Principle.” The core of that principle can be summed up in one simple question.

If something didn’t exist in its current form, would you invent it that way?

Sure, it’s not nearly as funny as Stanhope’s bit on marriage, nor is it meant to be. In essence, it’s a question meant to get your brain thinking about things that it usually doesn’t think about. In some cases, they’re issues you’ve gone out of your way to avoid.

Take any current issue, be it a major political controversy or a certain state in your personal life. Now, apply the Stanhope Principle and try to answer the question honestly. Here are just a few possible examples.

  • If our tax system existed in its current form, would we invent it that way?
  • If our health care system existed in its current form, would we invent it that way?
  • If our current relationship existed in its current form, would we invent it that way?
  • If the job we worked existed in its current form, would we invent it that way?
  • If our website/blog/product existed in its current form, would we invent it that way?

If you ask that question and answer it honestly, which is key, you might be surprised by what you find out. You might think your personal relationships are functional, but applying the Stanhope Principle could expose flaws that you’ve been overlooking or ignoring.

Apply in a larger context, such as politics, marriage, and gender issues, and the insights get a bit more complicated. Given the current inequalities that still pervade in our society, as well as the double standards we apply, the Stanhope Principle reveals the breadth of the flaws within these institutions.

It can be distressing, acknowledging those flaws. That’s usually where the excuse banking enters the picture, but that can only further mask them. Another honest application of the Stanhope Principle will only remind us of those flaws and even reveal how we’ve made our situation worse.

Ideally, the Stanhope Principle should be a basis for improvement. A good example is Apple, one of the biggest, most successful companies in the world. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak probably didn’t know they were applying that principle, but they were.

They saw the current state of computers. They saw there was a lot of room for improvement. Given how cumbersome computers were for much of their early history, they decided to innovate and create a better way of using them. The result is a company that is worth over half-a-trillion dollars.

Applying the Stanhope Principle for worked out pretty well for Apple. I’m not saying it can make everyone a billionaire, but it does help break down a situation and an issue in a way that allows us to see the bigger picture.

More than anything else, it exposes the imperfections of our current situation. For some, it motivates them into improving their situation, be it a relationship, a business, or a social policy. For others, it’s an uncomfortable reminder that there’s a flaw in that they need to cover up or mask. In that sense, it should be easy to see who are more likely to become billionaires.

There are all sorts of way to apply the Stanhope Principle. I’ll certainly try to apply it to future issues that I discuss on this site. For now, I just want to offer my sincere thanks to Doug Stanhope and the principle he inspired. He has made the world inherently funnier and more interesting to explore.

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Filed under Current Events, Marriage and Relationships, 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

Politics, Safety, And The Impossible Paradox

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As I’ve said before, I really don’t like talking about politics. I’ve learned over the course of my life, often the hard way, that nothing makes people less comfortable, less horny, and more insufferable than politics. It couldn’t have less sex appeal without involving a clogged toilet, a dead rabbit, and Sean Hannity.

For the most part, I try not to get too political on this blog. I’d much rather be talking about comic books, sex robots, and Leslie Knope. However, there are times when I feel compelled to say something about a particular issue. I often do that with gender issues like feminism because that indirectly ties to the sexier topics I talk about. I try not to take too strong a position. More than anything else, I try to give perspective.

That’s what I did with my post about the health care debate. I tried to be fair to both sides. I tried to frame the issue in a way that both Michael Moore and Ted Nugent could appreciate. I didn’t offer any easy fixes. I didn’t try to denigrate one political ideology over the other. I just tried to point out the inherent flaws in the issue itself.

In the course of writing about that particular debate, I wanted to apply it to a few other issues. However, I quickly realized that there was no way I could do so in a single article and remain concise. When I write on this blog, I tend to assume that part of the audience is drunk, horny, or some combination of the two. That means I can’t drone on for too long, even though I have a habit of doing that when it comes to comics.

Health care is just one issue. Granted, it’s an exceedingly complex issue, but it’s still one issue. The underlying argument I made was that, beyond the complexity, both sides of the political spectrum have the same goal. The problem is that what they want isn’t just logistically difficult. It’s physically impossible.

It’s another hard truth, one that I’d argue is even harder than the truth surrounding O.J. Simpson. Sometimes, even when the politics involved have a noble goal, the particulars of an issue are just beyond our capabilities as humans to produce. We humans can do all sorts of amazing things, from the Great Pyramids to solar-powered vibrators. However, we are a species of many limits, many of which we often fail to acknowledge.

This leads directly to an even bigger picture, of sorts. It also involves something that’s currently impossible in a world without superheros, super-powers, or computers that can’t be hacked for hilariously stupid reasons. Until we start enhancing ourselves, it’ll remain impossible for the foreseeable future.

I call it the impossibility paradox because most people, regardless of their political persuasion, act as though the impossible aspects aren’t there. They’re often smart, driven people who are every bit as driven as their ideological opponents. They work so hard to accomplish something that’s physically impossible. Then, they’re surprised when they come up short.

On top of that, the people they claim to represent or help get upset with them because they didn’t accomplish what they promised. Never mind that what they promised was never possible to begin with. Human beings just aren’t that reasonable, even if they like to pretend that they are. Everybody is still subject to the constraints of reality and, like a moody dominatrix, it doesn’t mind telling us who’s dominant.

Now, apply that dynamic to what might be an even bigger issue than health care for some people. Whether you’re gun-toting conservative or a pot-smoking liberal, most agree that a central function of any government entity is to keep citizens safe.

No state, kingdom, or Dungeons and Dragons guild can survive without providing some level of safety. People, society, and the economy can’t function unless there’s some level of safety. Nobody wants to make iPhones and exchange brownie recipes if there are barbarian hordes just a few miles away, ready to raze your home to the ground.

Since the dawn of civilization, every functioning society has had to provide some measure of safety and protection to its citizens. In exchange, citizens pay taxes to the state so that it can have the resources to perform these duties. Ideally, they’ll use those taxes carefully in accomplishing this goal. In the real world, however, nobody will ever say with a straight face that all taxpayer money is spent wisely.

However, this is where even the anti-government, Ron Swansons of the world have to face another cold, hard fact of reality. It’s every bit as inescapable as the health care debate. Even if, however unlikely, a government spent every penny of taxpayer money wisely and dedicated every resource into ensuring safety and security, it still wouldn’t be enough. That’s because of one simple truth.

“Nobody knows ALL the facts and nobody CAN know all the facts.”

If that sounds a bit too similar to the advice I recently gave on making sense of the world, then bear with me. There’s a reason for that. It’s similar, but not the same because the scope of the issue is different. Every issue takes on twisted, often frustrating new dimensions when politics enter the picture. Just ask Major League Baseball.

When it comes to safety, though, there’s an inescapable complication that has plagued every government entity that ever existed and will continue to plague governments until our robot overlords take over. To provide safety, you need to know everything about a situation and have the resources to deal with it. Unfortunately, or fortunately for privacy-minded folks, nobody can know everything about a given situation.

Nobody can know for sure when and where a terrorist attack will occur.

Nobody can know for sure whether or not a rival nation is plotting against them.

Nobody can know for sure whether a handful of countries are colluding to undermine them.

Nobody can know for sure whether that weird-looking guy walking down the street is about to go on a shooting spree or just skipped laundry day.

There are just so many unknowns in the world of geopolitics. There are a lot of unknowns for individuals as well. Hell, we still can’t figure out just how useful or useless pubic hair is. How are we supposed to know everything about the threats to our safety and sovereignty as people?

That’s just it, though. We can’t know. It’s physically impossible for any one human or group of humans to know everything about a certain situation, individual, or threat. Sure, the CIA could bug your phone and hack your browser history. That may even give them plenty of reason to believe that you’re conspiring with a hidden network of BDSM enthusiasts to take over the entire state of Montana.

At the end of the day, though, even the CIA can’t know for sure and that has proven costly throughout history. No agency, no matter what they call themselves or what sort of fancy acronyms they use, can know everything about a situation. I’m sure they’d like to know. If you’re of the mind of Alex Jones, you might even believe they’re working with aliens to remedy that.

Even if they did have some way to read all our thoughts, there’s still the matter of sifting through random daydreams and outright plots. Honestly, who hasn’t contemplated whipping out a can of lighter fluid and setting a coffee shop on fire because they got your order wrong? The difference between those thoughts and real action, though, is huge.

I’m not saying that governments and police forces should give up trying to keep people safe. We still need some measure of safety in order to function as a society. The problem is that because of this safety paradox, we end up in these brutal cycles that only make us more fearful. It goes like this.

  • Some strange, complex, dire threat is out there and the media blows it up to scare people

  • The people demand action from their politicians and authority figures

  • Those politicians and authority figures try to respond, if only to maintain their hold on power

  • Those politicians and authority figures fail to provide perfect safety because doing so is impossible

  • The public gets upset with the existing people in power and looks for alternatives

  • Some new power-seeking people enter the picture, making impossible promises to fix impossible situations’

  • The citizens, desperate to fix the impossible problem, put these people into power because anything seems like an improvement over the status quo

  • The people who made the impossible promises, predictably, fail to deliver and generate another round of disillusion

  • The cycle starts all over again

This is part of why congress’ approval rating is so low. It’s also why western countries keep cycling through political parties, constantly voting new people into office in hopes that they’ll find a way to solve impossible problems. In every case, they are unable to deliver. Most people don’t see the impossible logistics, though, so they just look to the next power-broker who can deliver.

For now, we’re very much at the mercy of impossible situations and the people who claim they can solve them. Some of these situations will become less impossible as we develop better tools. Until then, though, let’s be mindful of the impossible demands we make on those we entrust with our safety. It’s often when we have impossible standards that we doom ourselves to unlimited disappointment.

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Health Care, Politics, And The Impossible Paradox

As a general rule, it’s my policy to ignore major political issues until after the protests have died down and people have stopped trying to strangle each other through computer screens. Politics is rarely sexy, unless it involves Monica Lewinsky and whoever John F. Kennedy was screwing. In my experience, nothing kills the mood faster than a heated political debate.

I know I’ve spoken on certain hot-button issues before. I did a quick response to the Women’s March earlier this year and the March for Life that quickly followed it. Those weren’t debates, though. Those were protests with simple, clear messages that were easy to break down. Debates aren’t just a little trickier. They’re downright infuriating.

There was a time when I used to enjoy engaging in such debates. I would even go out of my way to find people who disagreed with me, try to understand their position, and then try to argue my own. It was a good mental exercise, but that’s all it ever was.

At no point did I ever change anyone’s mind about anything. At no point did anyone change my mind either. Like debating creationists, they might as well have just been glorified shouting matches. They weren’t meant to actually persuade the other person. The debate was just a spectacle and nothing more.

The fact remains that people don’t like to change their minds about anything. I’ve mentioned time and again how rigid and stubborn the human brain is. Changing an opinion about something is a last resort. Before that happens, people will do the kinds of mental gymnastics that would make a Russian gymnast cringe to justify their opinion.

That brings me to the ongoing health care debate in the United States. I know everybody has an opinion on it and they want to shout that opinion from the highest hill over a bullhorn while Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty give them a back massage. It’s one of those issues that a lot of people are sick of, which is kind of ironic when you think about it.

It’s a frustrating debate to have in the first place because most other industrialized countries have resolved it. The United States of America, despite all the flexing it does of its patriotic nuts, is one of the only industrialized countries that doesn’t have universal health care.

It’s been argued over endlessly by politicians and presidential candidates. Every now and then, one will even build a platform around it. There have been any number of initiatives and policies, some of which do result in meaningful legislation. However, the debate still continues and so does the whining.

Now, I’m not going to take a position in that debate. That’s not the purpose of this post. I’m writing this because someone needs to point something out in this debate that nobody seems to recognize. It’s something that both sides of the debate need to understand, if only to maintain a sense of perspective.

It’s not a thought experiment. It’s not an opinion. It’s not even an argument or a policy idea. It’s a cold, unambiguous fact that is at the heart of the health care debate and others like it. This is a hard truth so whether you’re a card-carrying liberal or a die-hard conservative, you might want to brace yourself.

What we’re trying to accomplish with our health care system is physically IMPOSSIBLE.

Let that sink in for a moment. I don’t usually write in all caps, but this is something that’s worth shouting. If you’re reading this out loud, please read it over again and shout it as loud as you want because it needs to be belabored.

Health care, be it universal or reserved for rich people with decent insurance, is an impossible endeavor that tries to account for infinite possibilities with finite resources. There are over seven billion people on this planet. There are hundreds upon hundreds of diseases that afflict the human body. Treating every person to the utmost just requires too many resources with too few people qualified to administer them.

That’s why the answer to the health care debate isn’t as simple as adopting the same universal health care policies as Europe. Contrary to what Bernie Sanders fans might believe, health care in Europe faces some pretty huge challenges for the exact same reasons. There are too many people who need health care, but there just aren’t enough resources to go around.

Go to any country with any type of health care system you can think of. Don’t be like Michael Moore and focus narrowly on one particular part of a system. No matter where you go and no matter what system you encounter, be it universal or administered by wizards, you’ll always find cases of people not getting the care they need.

Within those cases, you’ll find plenty of unusual cases, such as people who resort to do-it-yourself dental care. You’ll also find plenty of tragedy about people suffering horribly due to their inability to get the care they need. So long as demand outstrips supply, they’ll always happen. That’s just basic economics and dispassionate logic.

In the end, whatever health care policy or reforms get enacted, it won’t be enough. There will still be people who suffer because of it. There will also be people who end up paying more for both their care and that of others. There’s just no way around it. Health care requires resources and people. When there aren’t enough of both, you’re going to get people who get screwed over.

It doesn’t help that many countries, including the United States, face a shortage of qualified doctors. Despite the generous salaries and sexy nurse fantasies, the actual process of becoming a doctor is extremely costly and very difficult. No matter how sexy Hugh Laurie makes it look, becoming a doctor is hard and laborious.

It also doesn’t help that pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies are for-profit companies whose incentives aren’t always in line with providing the best of care. There are people in this world who will risk doing real harm to sick people in order to turn a profit. These people aren’t super-villains or sociopaths, for the most part. They’re just working within a system with flawed parts.

This is not to say that the health care debate is hopeless. For the moment, the situation is impossible. There really isn’t a way to provide adequate care to everybody. However, there are some rays of hope that should keep everyone’s panties from getting too dry.

To combat the doctor shortage, companies like IBM are using Watson, their Jeopardy champion, to help diagnose disease and research treatments. Major biotech companies are using tools like CRISPR, which I’ve talked about before, to alleviate diseases that were once fatal and expensive.

Further into the future, advances in technology like smart blood or brain implants will improve overall efficiency in determining appropriate care. However, there will still be a cost. There will still be a bureaucracy, which both sides of the political spectrum find inherently unsexy. So long as that process is determined by humans and for humans, there will be flaws.

Remember this the next time someone debates health care. No matter what side they’re on, the issues they’re highlighting are literally impossible. It’s still a debate worth having. We should still strive to give the most amount of quality care to the most amount of people. That’s good for society, the economy, and even politicians.

Let’s just remember that there’s a difference between a solvable problem and an impossible situation. Health care, at the moment, is an impossible situation. We shouldn’t lose sight of that, no matter how the debate unfolds moving forward.

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Virtue Signaling: Why We Are NOT The Hero Of Our Own Story

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Think back to any movie that ever involved a lovable underdog. For anyone who has been to a movie theater more than once since 1978, this shouldn’t be that hard. Hell, think about a popular TV show involving a lovable underdog, going all the way back to the “Leave It To Beaver” days. What do they all have in common?

The similarities aren’t exactly subtle. The lovable underdog isn’t someone who is big, strong, handsome, cocky, arrogant, or dumb. They’re often unremarkable, so much so that others don’t acknowledge their existence. They do little to stand out and even less to distinguish themselves, but the same story usually plays out for them.

Whether they’re John McClane from “Die Hard,” Peter Parker from “Spider-Man,” or the entire cast of “The Big Bang Theory,” they embody the traits of all that is good and right with the world. They overcome obstacles, bullies, and a world where pretty girls aren’t lining up to touch their dicks to become heroes in their own right.

In the end, everything works out for them. In the end, they get what they want. The world comes to love them. Everybody, male and female alike, loves them. They are respected and admired for their thoughts, actions, and ideas at every turn. They have every reason to feel good about themselves.

What I just described is both the standard narrative for no less than 95 percent of every underdog story ever told and the primary reason why virtue signaling is getting out of hand. If that sounds like a bit of a stretch, then please bear with me. There is a logic behind it and, unlike my previous post on virtue signaling, it has a major implications for our sex lives and for aspiring erotica/romance writers.

As with other topics, like sex robots and body shaming, it’s impossible to cover every aspect of a certain topic. Virtue signaling, having only recently become a major buzzword, definitely qualifies. It is very much an emerging trend that is finding its way into politics, gender issues, media, and even erotica/romance. Since I’m trying to make a living writing erotica/romance, that deeply concerns me.

For this particular post, I want to highlight the more direct impacts of virtue signaling that I’ve observed in recent years. Specifically, I want to focus on how it affects the way people see themselves and the way they relate to one another. There’s a lot of material to cover and I can only handle so much coffee before my brain starts to short out.

I’ll table my concerns about brain function for the moment because this is something that I haven’t just observed. I’ve experienced it as well. As a man, trends that affect how men and women relate to one another don’t just affect the kinds of sexy stories I tell. They effect me personally and how I conduct myself in my day-to-day life. They effect all of us, often in ways we don’t see or acknowledge.

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With respect to virtue signaling, these effects have only recently become more pronounced to the growth of social media. Unlike every other point in human history, we no longer need a million people to march through a capital city or a massive rebellion to send a message. We just need a smartphone, an internet connection, and a willingness to castigate ourselves in a public sphere.

As a result, virtue signaling has become a popular pastime of sorts. Political leaders, media figures, and ordinary people with too much free time on their hands go out of their way to make these elaborate gestures to prove that they’re virtuous or pious or tolerant or not a Nazi.

More often than not, these gestures just aren’t enough and people end up doing more and more, thus creating a brutal cycle of sorts. Sometimes the gesture is misinterpreted, as often happens with poorly-worded Tweets. Sometimes it’s just part of a larger agenda, one that requires constant reaffirmation in light of incessant criticism. Video game critics found out just how bad this could get back in August 2014.

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It’s a stressful endeavor, trying to loudly proclaim to the masses that you’re as virtuous, heroic, and understanding as any protagonist from a John Hughes movie. It’s also tearing us apart and making us despise one another.

So how exactly does it work and why is it so toxic? Well, to answer that, think back to lovable underdogs that I mentioned earlier. We, as a culture, love those characters for a reason. They live in a world where they do what they do, but come out on top. They win in every way they want to win, becoming the heroes of their own stories.

The problem with that world is that it’s a total fantasy and too many people try to make that fantasy fit into their reality. Unfortunately, reality is notoriously uncompromising. Just ask anyone who tried to make a romantic gesture that backfired horribly.

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It’s not that they’re insincere or inept, though. They’re just part of an entire generation that has grown up seeing this narrative of the lovable underdog overcoming the odds and they’ve been led to believe that this is how you succeed. This is how you become the hero of your own story.

We, being the egotistical creatures we are, want to be that hero. We want to be the lovable underdog we see in the movies who can say they overcame the odds, succeeded, and got laid in the process. However, the tactics we see in movies and TV shows just don’t work in the real world or require an obscene amount of luck.

Since all the success, adulation, and sex doesn’t just immediately happen like it does over the course of a two-hour movie, those wanting to be the hero try to force it. That’s where virtue signaling comes in.

Since being a hero often requires hard work, sacrifice, talent, training, and the ability to be in the right place at the right time, virtue signaling offers a much easier alternative. It’s not solely about laziness. It’s just often the path of least resistance and the most readily available path. Can you blame anyone for taking it?

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Rather than actually doing something meaningful, virtue signaling allows people to feel like they’re the hero of their own story, even if they accomplish nothing heroic. To their caveman brain, it doesn’t matter. It already has a hard time processing what gets it aroused. How the hell is it going to determine whether someone qualifies as a hero?

The short answer is that it can’t. The longer answer is that our caveman brains still urge us to seek validation from our tribe and security in our identity. Virtue signaling allows us to do both, even when there’s nothing of substance behind it.

This can lead to a real identity crisis for some people. There are people who define themselves as members of a particular tribe, be they radical feminists, conservative Christians, or Twilight fans. When they feel as though they aren’t slaying the necessary dragons, s to speak, they become distressed and look for any way to alleviate it. Virtue signaling allows them to at least feel it’s alleviate, which is close enough.

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That laughably low standard ensures that virtue signaling is almost always an empty, shallow gesture at most. It only ever functions as a means to help certain individuals feel better about themselves, alleviate the mental stresses that come with seeking validation, and ensure they can be the hero of their own story, even if they do nothing heroic.

In a real world full of unflinching, unyielding circumstances that keep most people from ever doing anything remotely heroic, virtue signaling offers empty promises that only feel real enough to keep our brains and tribes functioning. Even when there’s no substance whatsoever, it gives people an illusion to buy into and that can be dangerous because it gives people an excuse to not do something greater.

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As I’ve pointed out before, people will cling to any excuse that allows them to justify their actions or lack thereof. Now that doesn’t make those who virtue signal bad. If anything, their desire to be the lovable underdog hero of their own story proves to me that such people are good at heart. They’re just misguided, clinging to the feelings and validation that virtue signaling earns them.

Since I like to be a bit more optimistic about people in general, I believe that the lack of substance that inherently comes with virtue signaling will eventually catch up with most people. There will be those who can never escape it, such as those caught up in religious or political extremism. For most people, though, I believe they’ll learn that there are better ways to be the lovable underdog hero of your own story.

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Why Bigotry And Prejudice Can NEVER Be Resolved (For Now)

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It’s all around us. It generates protests, outrage, and angry rants of every variety on cable news. It floods social media, infects college campuses, and drowns out any and all meaningful dialog that might actually lead to productive change. I don’t even have to reveal it at this point. Everybody knows what I’m talking about on some level or they at least have a vaguely accurate idea.

It goes by many names. Call it racism, reverse racism, sexism, man-hating, homophobia, islamophobia, or transphobia. It all falls under the same overly-divisive rhetoric that is bigotry and prejudice. It always seems to be in the news. It always makes a conversation awkward and unsexy. It seems to get better some days and regress the others.

Now I know I’m making everybody’s panties very dry by bringing this up, but bear with me. This post is not going to get as bleak or depressing as it would if it were a Michael Moore documentary. I prefer to convey a more optimistic spirit to my audience. It puts them in a better mood, which is important if you’re trying to sell erotica/romance novels.

On the surface, though, there’s no way around it. This is as ugly a topic as it gets these days, the concepts of bigotry and prejudice. If it isn’t the stereotypical white male patriarchal types bemoaning how lazy and violent minorities are, it’s the radical left-wing hippies who call everyone who doesn’t support interracial gay couples kissing in the streets Nazi supporters.

It really is a strange, distressing state in which we find ourselves in. There used to be just one extreme in terms of prejudice, namely that which tried to preserve the overtly-unequal status quo that favored one particular group, be it white men or one particular religious group. Now, the extremes are all over the place.

I’ve talked about a few of them, like radical feminism. They’re just one of the many extremes that have emerged in recent years, often in conjunction with trends in identity politics. It’s not peace-loving hippies who put flowers in guns anymore. It’s angry, entitled, hashtag-starting narcissists who go into a Hulk-like rage whenever someone dares contest their utopian worldview.

There’s an extreme for women, who want men to suffer for their historical crimes against gender. There’s an extreme for race, some of which favor completely disenfranchising all white men for their historical crimes. There’s even an extreme for those who dare to use the wrong pronouns when describing boys and girls. Yes, it really has gotten that crazy.

That says nothing about the craziness that has emerged from extremes within religious groups, but we’re all kind of used to that. We expect extremes in religion, whether they’re favoring the execution of cartoonists or demanding that their particular religion be given a right to discriminate. It’s just the same bigotry and prejudice, but with holy decrees and a convenient excuse to not pay taxes.

No matter the extreme, the outcome is the same. It divides people. It makes them angry, unruly, and hateful. It makes the comments section in every YouTube video about feminism and race relations a raging tire fire that undermines whatever faith in humanity you might have had at this point.

It’s as frustrating as it is tragic. It often leads us to ask the same question Rodney King once asked. Can’t we all just get along? Well, with all due respect to Mr. King, I’m sorry to say that there’s a wholly valid answer to that question.

Unfortunately, the answer is a definitive no. We cannot.

That’s not the solemn musings of cynical man who has read one too many BuzzFeed articles. It’s a cold, inescapable fact. However, there is a context here and a fluid context, which means we shouldn’t be too cynical. If anything, we should be even more hopeful.

The reason why prejudice and bigotry exist is simple and it has nothing to do with some vast, elaborate conspiracy by cisgendered white heterosexual males. Any conspiracy involving that many straight men probably involves fantasy sports or a “My Little Pony” marathon. Once again, this immutable problem in our society has roots in our biology.

It’s another byproduct of caveman logic. Those same settings in our brains that haven’t been updated in 200,000 years essentially guarantee that there will always be some level of prejudice and bigotry. The fact we’re able to function as well as we do as a global society is nothing short of miraculous.

To understand why this is, you need to recall the circumstances of our distant ancestors. They did not live in big cities full of a diverse mix of people from various cultures and ethnicities. They didn’t even live on farms in rural towns where cow-tipping counts as entertainment. They were hunter/gatherers, roaming and foraging in small, close-knit tribes.

For most of the history of our species, that’s how we lived. As such, that’s how our brains are wired and that wiring has not changed much. Due to the slow, clunky processes within our biology, it really can’t and that’s the crux of the problem.

Modern neuroscience has revealed a great deal about our brain’s capacity to form groups and cooperate. These groups become tribes and we, being the very social species that we are, come to tie our identity to those tribes. We work with them. We trust them. We rely on them. Most importantly, as it pertains to prejudice, we defend them and make endless excuses for them.

Picture, for a moment, how this works in our hunter/gatherer context. You’re an individual living 100,000 years ago. You have only a loin cloth, a spear, and functioning genitals. On your own, you’re not going to survive for very long. In a fight against a hungry lion, you’re basically a walking snack.

Then, you join a tribe. You ally yourself with other people who can help you, share resources, and give you an opportunity to use your genitals with others in a more enjoyable, intimate way. Suddenly, that hungry lion loses its appetite. One human is easy to maul. A hundred humans, each armed with spears and an incentive to impress fertile women, is much harder.

Being in that tribe, you come to rely on them and cherish them. Being around them gives you a sense of purpose and identity. You come to love and respect them. You form your own rituals and quirks. You sing certain songs. You do certain dances. You wear certain loin cloths that you think are stylish as hell. This tribe makes you feel complete.

Then, one day, you encounter another tribe. However, this tribe is not yours. They look different. They talk funny. They believe weird things. They wear weird clothes. They follow different rules. Everything about them is so strange and that freaks you out, so much so that you cling harder to your tribe.

Maybe there’s something about that other tribe that’s scary. Maybe they have weapons that are bigger. Maybe they have talents that your tribe can’t do. Maybe their food tastes better and their gods are more powerful. This is all causing you some serious stress and when your brain gets stressed, it does a lot of crazy things to mitigate it.

The next thing you know, your tribe goes to war with the other tribe. Your tribe loudly proclaims that theirs is the greatest tribe in the world. Their gods are better, their food is better, and their rituals are better. The other tribe is so wrong and misguided that they can’t be human. As such, killing them or demeaning them isn’t a big deal. It’s no more distressing than putting down a rabid dog.

Now, extrapolate this tribal mentality, carry it out a billion times in a billion ways within large multi-cultural societies, and apply the reaction to the comments section of a Justin Bieber video, and you now understand why prejudice and bigotry exists. You also understand why nothing can be done about it for now.

Remember those last two words though. I bolded them for a reason. This is where I offer readers a sliver of hope. Does racism, sexism, and homophobia truly disturb you? Do you wish that our society could move past it and forge a more peaceful existence? Well, you may live to see that day.

Keep in mind, these traits that make us so hateful and divisive all stem from our brains. It’s that flawed wiring that still thinks we’re hunter/gatherers picking nuts out of elephant shit on the African savanna that fosters so much bigotry and prejudice. We humans are capable of a great many technological and intellectual feats, but we cannot circumvent the wiring of our brains.

Thanks to companies like Neuralink and advances in human enhancement, like smart blood, we are very close to finally tweaking those outdated settings that make us mute certain people on Twitter. It may very well happen in our lifetime. We may see a new breed of humans whose brains can function beyond brutish tribalism.

We don’t know how these humans will think, how they’ll function with those still stuck in caveman mode, or how they’ll relate to one another. If they aren’t as hateful or petty as we are today, then perhaps they’ll find creative new ways to relate to one another, connect with one another, and make love to one another.

We can only imagine/fantasize for now, but I do take some comfort in the progress we’ve made as a species. We’ve done remarkably well, despite our caveman brains. It’s fun to imagine how much more we can do once we update the software. It may make for a more promising future and some very sexy stories, some of which I intend to write.

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Extremism: The Ultimate Excuse Bank

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Strap yourselves in and tighten your sphincter because this is another one of those posts that I’m sure is going to offend a few people. I try not to do posts like this too often. I like to leave that kind of offending to shock jocks, Fox News, and Kanye West. I’m an aspiring erotica/romance writer. I’m not Howard Stern.

However, sometimes I need to dip my toes in the piss-filled pool of offense in order to make an important point. I did that last year when I explored the mind of misogynistic men that too many women don’t even try to understand. That was hard to write, but it was something I felt needed to be said.

This post is similar. I knew I was going to write something like this when I began my discussion on reasons versus excuses. I also knew that by doing so, I would offend a few people. I’m not going to apologize for that. Sometimes, a message needs to be offensive in order to get the point across.

In this instance, that point has to do with extremism. I’m not just talking about religious extremism. I’m not just talking about political extremism. I’m not just talking about the extremism you find on Twilight message boards either. I’m talking about extremism in all forms.

I want to keep the context broad so that the topic can be applied to every possible instance. From the Islamic extremism that every news outlet tries to mention a thousand times a day to the political extremism that builds shining “utopias” like North Korea, this issue can apply to all of them. It won’t be the most comfortable application. If anything, it’s akin to applying acid to a contact lens.

To understand the common link between all these various forms of extremism, some of which actively try to murder each other in the streets, we need to revisit the concept of “excuse banking.” Sure, it’s a concept I just invented and has as much scholastic weight as a Will Ferrell movie, but it’s a concept that helps make sense of the irrational whims of people who really think they’re rational.

The basics of excuse banking are simple. They take whatever actions, beliefs, knowledge, or social connections someone has and effectively molds them into a ready-made list of excuses to justify their future actions. Excuse banking is basically akin to stocking up on Twinkies so that when you get hungry, you’re ready.

Remember, we don’t make decisions based on logic. We decide first and then look for reasons or excuses to justify them. That’s just how the human brain is wired. That’s how it has been wired since our caveman days and we can’t change that wiring any more than we can change the color of the sky.

With extremism, excuse banking goes a step beyond justifying your decision to buy a thousand posters of a half-naked David Hasselhoff. Extremism, in many ways, is the ultimate manifestation of excuse banking. It provides people with a set of infinitely malleable, constantly excuses to justify pretty much anything. Why else would actual Flat Earth Societies still exist?

In such an extreme, excuse banking goes far beyond just justifying a decision. When someone has such a malleable excuse in unlimited supply, it can lead to a form of self-hypnosis and self-delusion wherein someone actively avoids looking for reasons. They favor, cling to, and obsess over their preferred excuses.

It takes many forms, but the patterns are fairly similar. In religion, especially in the big three Abrahamic religions, there’s a perfect, all-powerful, all-knowing excuse sitting in the clouds. Call that excuse any name you want, be it Yahweh, Allah, God, or Cthulhu, it still functions the same.

If you have faith in said deity, then that deity will bless you and vindicate you. You don’t need to provide reasons for anything. You can just claim that the deity commands or wishes it and that’s the end of the conversation. You don’t need to justify anything else.

You want to murder an abortion doctor? That’s okay because your deity says it’s justified.

You want to blow up a bus full of civilians? That’s okay because your deity says it’s justified.

You want to take slaves from neighboring tribes? That’s okay because your deity says it’s justified.

You want to mutilate the penises of infant boys? That’s okay because your deity says it’s justified.

Sometimes the justification comes in the form of holy books that cannot be questioned. Sometimes it comes in the form of charismatic cult leaders who want first dibs on all the pretty girls in room. Sometimes it’s just some guy claiming to be a prophet that somehow slipped through the cracks and works at Dairy Queen during the week.

However it happens, the pattern is fairly clear. In terms of excuse banking, it’s almost too perfect. Having vindication from an all-knowing, all-powerful deity is basically like playing an old video game with cheat codes. Nobody can argue with a deity like that. Nobody can even verify the will of that deity.

Think back to what distinguishes a reason from an excuse. Reasons, by their definition, need to be verifiable on some level. Deities can never be verified. That’s why many religious extremists emphasize faith, which is essentially accepting the belief beforehand, absent any reason.

For the Richard Dawkins’ of the world, that seems dishonest. However, from a purely pragmatic perspective, it perfectly meshes with the wiring of our brain. It perfectly aligns with the process of making decisions first and then justifying them. In that sense, religion has far more advantages than atheism ever will. Sorry, Richard Dawkins, but the game is just not in your favor.

Think about any religious zealot. They’ll claim the same thing. Their deity and their holy book condone, promote, and even command whatever behavior they do, no matter how irrational or atrocious it might be. That’s how terrorists justify their atrocities. That’s how someone can harass the families of dead soldiers and still think they’re a good person. They’ve banked the ultimate excuse to justify that sentiment.

Now I’m not just going to harp on religion. I’ll leave that in the capable hands of South Park and Seth MacFarlane. Religion is just the most obvious example. Political ideology is still a close second though.

By political ideology, I mean any ideology that has an extreme element to them, which is essentially all of them. There may not be an all-powerful, all-knowing deity, but there are still a set of infinitely malleable excuses that adherents use to justify anything and everything.

Communism is probably the most famous example. From the Soviet Union to North Korea, communisms as a concept basically functioned as a deity in that its adherents thought it was perfect. Anyone who claimed otherwise was killed and those who did the killing had a valid excuse. They were protecting communism and the god-like leaders that promoted it. How else could Kim Jong Ill get away with those ridiculous glasses?

It also scales to smaller domains. Here in America, we have political parties who treat their affiliation the same way religious zealots treat their deities. That’s how one party can get so outraged when the other does something, but be totally okay with it when they do the same thing.

Through excuse banking, a political party can justify their actions because they see their party as correct, moral, and ethical party. There’s no reason for this and there’s no way to truly justify that sentiment. By blindly accepting it, they have the ultimate excuse. That’s why it’s entirely possible for a party member who claims to be pro-life to pay for his mistresses’ abortion and still be considered moral.

Go beyond political parties and you’ll find extreme excuse banking in all sorts of fields. It has been happening a lot more in fields subject to political correctness, especially in areas like feminism. It’s already evolved its own set of language and terms, much like any religious or ideological movement.

Such excuse banking can end up dividing an ideology that actually has verifiably good ideas. The inequality of women was and still is an unfair practice, something that feminism worked hard to overcome. However, extreme measures of excuse banking led to horrendously misguided subcultures in that movement, some of which joked about the mass murder of an entire gender.

This is the part where I hope everyone can unclench their asshole a bit. I know this is a difficult discussion to have, but these are all topics that affect us profoundly. Whatever the balance in your own excuse bank might be, religion and ideology affect our lives in profound ways. That’s why it’s so important to have a way to make sense of it.

This is also the part where I want to remind everyone that extreme forms of excuse banking in no way makes someone a bad person. I still believe that most people are good people who operate under the same burdens as the rest of us. Some, either by circumstance or endowment, find themselves clinging to certain excuses more than others.

Now I’m not saying that the idea of excuse banking can make sense of every complex sociopolitical situation on the planet. It’s just one tool I’m offering to add to a toolbox that can never be too stocked.

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