Tag Archives: poverty

The Mixed (Yet Uplifting) Message Of “Malcolm In The Middle”

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Not every TV show gets to have a series finale. In fact, it’s fairly rare for any show, be it a sitcom, a drama, or a Saturday morning cartoon, to get to that point. More shows tend to get canceled before a finale can ever make it to the drawing board.

When a show does get to that point, though, it’s still no guarantee that the finale will be satisfying. Ideally, the end of a long-running show should tie up loose ends, create a sense of closure, and reward the audience for sticking with the story since it began. That’s the best case scenario. More often than not, finales tend to be mixed.

Truly satisfying finales like that of “M*A*S*H” are a rarity. More often than not, a series finale is going to leave some fans elated and others upset. To this day, there are still people who argue about the finale of “Lost” and I imagine there will be just as many arguments about the finale to “How I Met Your Mother.”

It’s next to impossible to create a finale that satisfies everybody. The most anyone could hope for is a show that at least creates a complete story, even if it remains open-ended to some extent. That’s how the finale to “Breaking Bad” handled things and while not perfect, I think it worked in the context of the show.

There is another show, however, that didn’t try that hard to make the perfect finale. In fact, the show did something unique in that it embraced the idea that there’s no perfect ending, but there is a path forward. There’s no final triumph or ultimate reward for the characters. There’s only the understanding that life goes on, there’s no easy way to do things, and sometimes the things you don’t like will always guide you.

That show is “Malcolm In The Middle,” a quirky, but entertaining sitcom full of juvenile humor and questionable messages. For some, the show just took family dysfunction to an absurd extreme. Even so, it was pretty funny. Between lovable charisma of Frankie Muniz, the physical comedy of Bryan Cranston before he was Walter White, and the overly dramatic presence of Jane Kaczmarek, this show had a lot to offer.

Like “Married With Children” before it, this show went the opposite direction of the typical feel-good sitcom. Malcolm’s family aren’t the upstanding, upbeat models of society in the mold of “Father Knows Best.” They’re a collection of low-class, ill-mannered, under-privileged brutes who always find themselves in bad situations that inspire bad decisions.

They’re the kind of dysfunctional family that give other dysfunctional families a bad name. Part of their appeal was how they navigated that dysfunction. They rarely learned their lessons, they rarely underwent meaningful growth, and they often screw themselves over with their bad decisions. That’s what made it funny.

For seven seasons, the antics of Malcolm and his family followed a fairly successful formula. Malcolm, his brothers, and his parents find themselves in trouble or in over their heads. They struggle to rectify the situation, but often end up making things worse and incurring plenty of memorable comedy along the way.

In the series finale, however, the show takes that formula and injects something unique into the mix. After seven seasons of wild antics, spectacular failures, and memorable monologues, “Malcolm In The Middle” sent a message that went beyond the forces behind family dysfunction. I would even go so far as to say that message is more relevant now than it was when the episode aired in 2006.

The main premise of the episode revolves around Malcolm graduating valedictorian from high school. Being a certified genius, as revealed in the first episode, his life is the only one within his dysfunctional family that has the potential to be something. There are other assorted side-plots to the episode, one of which involves a giant bag of shit that Reese created, but this is the main catalyst for the ultimate conclusion of the show.

Shortly before graduation, Malcolm is given the kind of opportunity that most people can only dream of. Instead of college, he’s offered a lucrative job at a tech company that would’ve given him a six-figure salary, stock options, and a far less hectic life compared to the one his working class family afforded him.

Malcolm makes clear that he wants that job. He wants that life because, unlike his brothers, he has a chance to escape it. Like so many other times throughout the show, though, his control-freak mother steps in and stops it. She makes the decision for him. He’s going to college. On top of that, he’s going to have to work his way through, drudging along as a janitor instead of using his genius to make things easier.

Naturally, he’s not happy about this. It’s not the first time his mother has made choices that affected his entire life. In fact, that’s one of the most prevailing tropes of the show. No matter what Malcolm or his brothers do, they can never escape their mother’s neurotic control.

She doesn’t just want to control what he does after he graduates, either. She wants to put him and/or shove him down a path towards becoming President of the United States. Both she and Hal, played by Bryan Cranston, reveal that they’ve had this in mind for Malcolm since they found out he was a genius. It leaves him baffled, frustrated, and pretty upset.

Among other things.

However, this time his mother gives meaning to her decision that go beyond the usual “I’m your mother so do as I say” excuse. Instead, she does something that nobody on the show ever attempted to do to that point. She imparts upon Malcolm, and the audience by default, a series of harsh truths within the context of the bigger picture.

Those truths all hit hard as they come pouring out in a memorable exchange that helps encapsulate so much of the dysfunction Malcolm’s family endures. At the same time, it also makes a compelling case for why Malcolm should become President.

Lois: That doesn’t matter. What does matter is you’ll be the only person in that position who will ever give a crap about people like us. We’ve been getting the short end of the stick for thousands of years, and I, for one, am sick of it. Now, you are going to be president, mister, and that’s the end of it.

Malcolm: Did it ever occur to you that I could have taken this job, gotten really rich and then bought my way into being President?

Lois: Off course it did. We decided against it.

Malcolm: What?!

Lois: Because then you wouldn’t be a good President. You wouldn’t have suffered enough.

Malcolm: I’ve been suffering all my life!

Lois: I’m sorry. It’s not enough. You know what it’s like to be poor, and you know what it’s like to work hard. Now you’re going to learn what it’s like to sweep floors and bust your ass and accomplish twice as much as all the kids around you. And it won’t mean anything because they will still look down on you. And you will want so much for them to like you and they just won’t. And it’ll break your heart, and that’ll make your heart bigger and open your eyes and finally you will realize that there’s more to life than proving you’re the smartest person in the world. I’m sorry, Malcolm, but you don’t get the easy path. You don’t get to just have fun and be rich and live the life of luxury.

Beyond simply reinforcing how much Lois exerts control over her children, her words reflect the collective frustration of families mired in dysfunction. From the Bundy family in “Married With Children” to the real people in the world who have kids they can’t manage and jobs that don’t pay enough, she articulated a sentiment that is difficult for most non-working class people to grasp.

Malcolm and his family are essentially trapped in the dungeon of modern society. They’re low-class, ill-mannered people who never got the opportunities to climb the social ranks. Lois and Hal work demeaning, low-paying jobs that don’t provide nearly enough to support a large family, let alone one full of rowdy children that get in trouble every other week. How could they not be dysfunctional in that environment?

It’s an environment that keeps anyone who wasn’t born into a good situation from improving their lives. It’s an environment that breeds and reinforces the dysfunction that Malcolm and his brothers so hilariously embody. Any time somebody does get a chance to leave, they jump at the opportunity and never look back. Moreover, they don’t do anything to help those who never get that chance.

Lois knows this. She can already see that happening with Malcolm. If he takes that job, he’ll just get rich and comfortable, forgetting about where he came from and never giving another thought to those who weren’t as fortunate as him. That’s entirely understandable, as Malcolm’s reaction so nicely demonstrates.

Most people do take the easy path out of hardship, poverty, and dysfunction. It’s not just a temptation. It’s a reflex. Growing up poor and dysfunctional is akin to torture and, as is often the case with torture, people naturally do whatever it takes to make it stop. Lois, for all her neurotic tendencies, is pushing Malcolm to endure for the good of every other dysfunctional family like them.

What makes these final moments of the show so powerful is that Malcolm actually listens to his mother in this case. He doesn’t fight her, for once. In the final scenes of the show, he actually follows the path she lays out for him, going to Harvard and working as a janitor to pay his way through. He’ll continue to suffer the effects of his family’s dysfunction, but it’ll help him maintain perspective.

That perspective is something almost no modern President will have. They really can’t because most modern politicians are millionaires. They essentially do exactly what Malcolm suggested, getting rich first and then buying their way into power. The fact that many politicians seem so out of touch with ordinary people, especially the working class, gives further weight to Lois’ words.

Rather than leave his dysfunction behind, Malcolm will carry it with him. He’ll use it to bring a perspective that others either don’t know about or don’t want to confront. Unlike everyone else who tries to raise awareness of working class dysfunction, he’s smarter than them. He’s actually capable of overcoming the traditional barriers that keep people like him from achieving real power.

It’s an unexpected, but satisfying brand of hope. Most episodes of “Malcolm In The Middle” tend to end with a sense of misanthropy that reverts Malcolm’s family back to the status quo. They’re never allowed to get ahead or rise above their dysfunction. At the same time, though, they don’t sink into a defeatist malaise like the Bundy family.

That’s exactly what puts Malcolm in a position to do something more in the end. Everything that held him and his family back is now a catalyst for something greater. He has both the perspective and the aptitude to do great things, such as become a President who actually cares about helping dysfunctional family’s like his.

At a time when income inequality is on the rise and the working class is enduring greater hardship, the world needs leaders who have Malcolm’s perspective. Unfortunately, such leaders are exceedingly rare, especially as powerful institutions become more and more prone to the interests of the rich.

The “Malcolm In The Middle” finale dares people to imagine what we can do when capable people from dysfunctional backgrounds actually get a chance to do something greater. The show doesn’t offer too many details about what happens to Malcolm beyond Harvard, but it’s refreshing and even a little uplifting to think that a show full of so much exaggerated dysfunction could envision a brighter future.

That future may not improve for people like Reese, though, but that’s probably beyond Malcolm’s abilities. Some dysfunction is just too great, even for a genius President.

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Filed under human nature, media issues, philosophy, psychology, television

Why 2017 Was The Best Year In Human History (Seriously)

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These days, being an optimist is hard. In some cases, you’ll get laughed out of the room for not thinking the world is on a steady descent into a dystopian hellscape in the mold of “Mad Max,” “1984,” or “Idiocracy.” I don’t deny that current events, especially after the 2016 Election, have made optimism difficult. However, that’s exactly why it’s worth talking about.

I do consider myself an optimist, at heart. I sincerely believe that, on the whole, things are getting better for the world, the human race, and everything in between. I’ve even tried to make my case through personal experience and through empirical data. I don’t imagine I’ve changed too many opinions, but I still think it’s important to put that perspective out there.

With a new year upon us, I think that perspective is worth belaboring once more. This time, however, I’m not alone in my optimistic sentiment. There are others who share in my optimistic outlook. Some of those individuals are far smarter, far more accomplished, and far more charismatic than I’ll ever be.

By those standards, Steven Pinker checks all the necessary boxes. While he’s somewhat of a controversial figure in some circles, the man has some solid credentials. He’s an accomplished professor at Harvard and has written multiple books on issues ranging from language to psychology to human nature.

His seminal work, though, is his book, “The Better Angels Of Our Nature.” If you want a compelling reason to believe that the world is getting better by most measures, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It’s not just about looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Mr. Pinker provides real, verifiable information that the world is getting better and human nature is far better than we give it credit for.

Beyond his books and his famous TED Talks, Mr. Pinker continues to make his case for a more upbeat outlook in various ways. Recently, his work was cited in an op-ed article in the New York Times entitled “Why 2017 Was The Best Year In Human History.”

Granted, a title like that is a bit heavy on hyperbole, but the writer, Nicholas Kristoff, is dead serious in making that case. Link Mr. Pinker, he doesn’t just interpret all the ongoing trends in the world through the mind of a stoned hippie. He puts the state of the world into a context that goes beyond all the horrible headlines we saw in 2017.

He, and other optimists like him, tend to look at the broader trends in human society. The data is out there, but it’s hard to put into a compelling headline. That doesn’t stop men like Kristoff and Pinker from making a concerted effort, though.

We all know that the world is going to hell. Given the rising risk of nuclear war with North Korea, the paralysis in Congress, warfare in Yemen and Syria, atrocities in Myanmar and a president who may be going cuckoo, you might think 2017 was the worst year ever.

But you’d be wrong. In fact, 2017 was probably the very best year in the long history of humanity.

A smaller share of the world’s people were hungry, impoverished or illiterate than at any time before. A smaller proportion of children died than ever before. The proportion disfigured by leprosy, blinded by diseases like trachoma or suffering from other ailments also fell.

Again, these trends are hard to see and harder to report on because they don’t happen all at once. If tomorrow, all poverty was magically wiped out, that would be a big news story. However, human progress doesn’t work that way. It’s slow, gradual, and sometimes boring. It does happen, though. The events of 2017 were no exception.

Violent went down. Poverty went down. In fact, they went down to their lowest levels in modern history. Compared to a year ago, 5 years ago, or 50 years ago, the trends we saw in 2017 were all improvements by most objective measures. A lot of these trends are things Mr. Pinker has been talking about for years. Mr. Kristoff simply builds on them.

Every day, the number of people around the world living in extreme poverty (less than about $2 a day) goes down by 217,000, according to calculations by Max Roser, an Oxford University economist who runs a website called Our World in Data. Every day, 325,000 more people gain access to electricity. And 300,000 more gain access to clean drinking water.

For most individuals, these trends are difficult to notice. That’s largely because they’re driven by forces that most people don’t notice or understand beyond their personal existence. Even in a world that’s so connected and becoming more connected with each passing day, it’s easy to overlook this kind of progress.

It’s also a lot harder when the news is largely dominated by negative headlines that highlight how dissatisfied the general public is with the direction of society. Again, there is a context here and one that I’ve tried to point out before. It’s one of the first lessons I learned in college when interpreting media of any kind, be it the news or superhero comics.

The reason why all these negative headlines are headlines in the first place isn’t because they’re common. It’s because they’re so rare. Stories such as mass shootings, brutal murders, and war crimes make the news because they don’t happen every day. That’s why they qualify as news. They’re aberrations and not normal occurrences.

Conversely, good headlines rarely make the front page because they lack the same novelty and emotional impact as bad news. Naturally, people are going to react more strongly to a horrific headline because our survival instincts compel us to devote more energy to the bloodier, more dangerous information.

That’s why, even if 2017 was the best year in the history of the human race, our caveman brains aren’t going to process that because it’s so focused on all the negative news that came out over the past year. That news may very well be a tiny sliver of the events that transpired in 2017, but that news will still garner more attention, especially in the current digital economy.

We can still take comfort in the progress that happened in 2017, though. No matter how many negative headlines there were, that doesn’t undo the genuinely good things that transpired in the past year. Mr. Kristoff even went out of his way to provide an anecdote, of sorts, that highlighted just how much good can come from even the worst parts of the world.

Granted, this column may feel weird to you. Those of us in the columny gig are always bemoaning this or that, and now I’m saying that life is great? That’s because most of the time, quite rightly, we focus on things going wrong. But it’s also important to step back periodically. Professor Roser notes that there was never a headline saying, “The Industrial Revolution Is Happening,” even though that was the most important news of the last 250 years.

I had a visit the other day from Sultana, a young Afghan woman from the Taliban heartland. She had been forced to drop out of elementary school. But her home had internet, so she taught herself English, then algebra and calculus with the help of the Khan Academy, Coursera and EdX websites. Without leaving her house, she moved on to physics and string theory, wrestled with Kant and read The New York Times on the side, and began emailing a distinguished American astrophysicist, Lawrence M. Krauss.

Think about that story, for a moment, and reflect on how 2017 made it possible. Thanks to all the progress made in global communications, a woman in Afghanistan in 2017 was able to pursue opportunities that would’ve been impossible a mere 20 years ago.

This woman, despite living in one of the most war torn parts of the world, still managed to gain access to the kind of education and informational resources that were once reserved for aristocrats and academics. That, by any measure, is an astonishing accomplishment for humanity.

In many respects, 2017 was the best year ever because it continued the trends had been going on for years. As a result, more people have access to information, education, and the basic necessities of life than at any other point in human history. That, more than anything, is why it’s not unreasonable to say that 2017 was the best year ever.

The fact that concerns over celebrity scandals is a greater concern than poverty, war, or famine shows that we are making more progress than we think. It also bodes well for 2018 being an even better year than 2017. Despite what negative headlines may say, the human race is on an unprecedented winning streak and I hope, along with men like Mr. Pinker and Mr. Kristoff, that the streak continues into 2018 and beyond.

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Why Evil Billionaires And Politicians Will Save The World

The world is fraught with so many problems. There’s climate change, poverty, economic turmoil, disease, and reality TV shows. At times, it seems so overwhelming. Even though I’ve argued the world is getting better by most measures, I don’t deny there are still a lot of problems in the world that need solving.

So who’s going to solve them? Who will save us from all these destructive forces and guide the human race forward? Movies, TV shows, comic books, religion, and Oprah have convinced us that it’s the selfless, loving heroes who live to dry the tears of sick orphans and shit rainbows who will save us. Hell, a part of us needs it to be true.

However, in the same way media that pretends us that sex involves a lot more rose petals and spanking than it really does, reality presents a colder, harsher truth. Like the making of a sausage or the outcome O.J. Simpson trial, the truth tends to shatter your preferred fantasy with a hammer and shotgun.

The hard truth, in this case, is that superheroes, saints, and legendary kings who pull swords out of stones won’t save us. Robert Downy Jr. is not going to put on a giant suit of armor and defeat terrorists. Christian Bale is not going to put on a costume and beat up all the criminals. In reality, it’s the evil billionaires and self-serving politicians that will save the world.

I’ll give everyone a moment for their eye to stop twitching. Take all the time you need. I have a feeling I’m going to get plenty of hate for this post. It wouldn’t be the first time either. I know this is not a popular sentiment, especially from someone who loves comic books and superhero movies as much as I do. It is, however, the cold hard truth.

Before you try to punch me through your computer screen, please hear me out. I’m not bringing this up to upset people. I’m talking about it because sometimes, a dose of harsh truth is necessary. In a world where too many people look for easy solutions to impossible problems, it helps to maintain some level of perspective.

In this case, it’s less about perspective and more about understanding how the world works and how people, in general, govern their affairs. Most people who aren’t billionaires or in high positions of power probably have some vague, albeit cynical understanding of how they operate. Whether you’ve seen every Michael Moore documentary or watched one too many Chuck Norris movies, the vision is similar.

You imagine a dark room in a highly secure, underground bunker. In that bunker, there’s a group of men in fancy suits. Sometimes they’re old white men. Sometimes they’re evil foreign dictators. Sometimes they’re scheming celebrities who fantasize about all the ways they’ll corrupt the world’s youth.

It’s a mental picture that plays out in every James Bond movie and every hippie fever dream. We all think that the politicians and billionaires of the world live only to destroy the environment, spit on poor people, and pleasure themselves while sick children suffer. It’s a simple, understandable sentiment that makes us feel like the underdogs in our own movie.

However, this isn’t a movie, nobody is an underdog, and that mental picture is complete bullshit. The reality is that evil billionaires and corrupt politicians are still human, like you and me. They still want similar things. Sure, they may want crazier things like a pool of orphan tears to swim in every now and then. At the end of the day, though, they still eat, sleep, and get horny like everyone else.

As such, they have a vested interest in making sure the world stays in one piece and people don’t die needlessly. They need a world that’s stable, prosperous, and not full of rotting corpses. They need it because their power, wealth, and everything in between depends on it.

It’s the harshest, but most refreshing truth, in a sense. Since we don’t live in a James Bond movie, the companies, governments, and religious groups have a lot of incentive to keep the world in one piece. Sure, they’ll still take stupid risks that end up causing a lot of destruction, but in the grand scheme of things, they want the world to keep turning. They can’t get money, power, and adherents if it doesn’t.

That’s why all the evil organizations and sinister dictators we see in fiction wouldn’t last a day in the real world. It doesn’t matter if they’re as smart as Lex Luthor or as devious as the Red Skull. If they enter this world, they have to go through Disney lawyers, criminal cartels, entrenched lobbying groups, corrupt bureaucrats, and governments with bloated military budgets. They really don’t stand a chance.

I can sense that some are still skeptical, though. I imagine the left-leaning crowd will scoff at the notion that big corporations will somehow save the planet. The crowd on the far right will scoff even harder at the idea that governments, dictators, and all things un-American will do any good whatsoever.

Well, while you’re scoffing, all those things you don’t think can happen are happening. Countries like China and Saudi Arabia, who have an abysmal human rights record, are investing heavily in green energy, biotechnology, and robotics. They are making a concerted effort to be the greenest, cleanest, most efficient society on the planet.

Now, they’re not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts. Don’t think for a nanosecond they are. Their goals are more pragmatic. They understand that relying on fossil fuels, polluting the air, and trashing the environment is not good for the stability of their country. Even if they’re evil to the core, they like they’re power and they want to hold onto it.

Like the Empire in “Star Wars” or Big Brother in “1984,” the biggest concern of any government, especially the repressive ones, is preserving power. They can’t do that if their society is dirty, inefficient, and disease-ridden. They also can’t do that if their people are sick, weak, or improvised. They need doctors, scientists, lawyers, and henchmen who don’t fall after a single judo chop.

That means these sinister rulers need to create a functioning economy that allows at least some of its citizens to prosper. If they don’t, they risk losing everything. They know as well as any high school history student that the Soviet Union, the Ottoman Empire, and the entire state of Venezuela collapsed for being a bit too evil and corrupt.

The same goes for evil billionaires running businesses that make the Lisa Simpsons of the world cry. Whether they’re cigarette companies, oil companies, or companies that sell lead-laced candy, they need a society that’s peaceful and prosperous. They need people to be alive and healthy enough to actually buy their shit.

That’s why companies that people love to hate will donate billions to charity, invest in new technology, and fund the kinds of social change that combats our tribal urge to slaughter one another for petty reasons. Money may very well be the root of all evil, but it doesn’t discriminate. Money from a minority is as good as money from Bill Gates.

Again, these big companies don’t do what they do out of the goodness of their greedy hearts. They do it to make more money. Sure, big pharmaceutical companies may charge obscene prices for life-saving drugs, but they’ll also work to create new drugs that save even more lives.

On top of that, some evil companies go so far as to compete with one another. If one company does something particularly evil, like make a drug that only treats the symptoms of a disease rather than cure it, another might try to give that company a big middle finger by creating a cure instead. Evil selfish people are petty like that. The fact their actions save millions of lives in the process is just an afterthought.

That’s the greatest irony. In order for all this peace and progress to be made, we need evil billionaires and corrupt governments to embrace some of that evil in order to make the progress we seek. We need them to be selfish, paranoid, and cunning.

That’s why it won’t be some selfless scientist, gentle nun, or peace-loving hippie who will fix the problems of this world. It will be some ruthless company or corrupt government looking to strike it rich, gain power, or selfishly fuel their ego. It’s callous, but the end result still benefits everybody.

For all we know, these devious people just want to do what they do to get laid. If that means running a country that funds education and green energy programs or creating a business that makes billions treating disease, then we should cheer them on. Sure, they’re still not heroes, but they’re going to save our asses and expect us to kiss theirs. If it means a better, safer world, then I’m ready to pucker up.

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Idiots And How They Effect Your Love (And Sex) Life

For certain topics, there’s just no way to be subtle. There’s no way to soften the blow. The facts are just too plain and too true. This is one of them so I’m not going to try and be funny, witty, or sexy about it. I’m just going to come out and say it.

The world is full of idiots.

I doubt that sentence will shock anyone. Hell, even other idiots would agree with it. There are so many idiots in this world that it’s hard to keep up.

There are people who kill each other over what they think happens when they die, but fail to see the irony. There are people who pay more money to drink water from a bottle than from a faucet, even when the water from the faucet is just as good. There’s just no way around it. The world is full of idiots.

I bring up this simple, inescapable truth to highlight an issue that is both relevant and timely. At the moment, the school year is ending for many kids out there. While I’m sure plenty of them are looking forward to a summer of sleeping until noon and then taking a nap, the issue of education as a whole is much bigger.

Also, and you knew this was coming, it does affect your sex life. I’m not referring to the inherently futile issues surrounding teenagers and their insatiable desire to bone either. I’m talking about our collective sex lives, both as teenagers and adults. Education does affect that. It affects our sex lives a lot, often in ways we don’t think about.

For me to talk about this must make me sound like a hypocrite to some extent because I’ve repeatedly and excessively bemoaned how much I hated high school. Let me make one thing clear before I continue. Yes, I hated high school. No, that doesn’t mean I hate education in general. I actually enjoy learning and not just with respect to comic books, cartoons, and female breasts. I’m a curious person in general. I like learning new stuff.

Curiosity is one of those universal traits that’s hard-wired into our brains. We see such a crazy, complex world around us and want to learn more about it. That’s a good thing. By understanding it more, we’re able to adapt, survive, and prosper. It’s one of the few instances where caveman logic works to our advantage and doesn’t screw us over.

The problem is that when it comes to education, we’re still going about it like idiots. It’s like trying to get an idiot to fix your computer. Sometimes, he or she might do something right by accident. Other times, however, they’ll just make things worse.

Idiots are a reason why we still have so many problems. Crime, corruption, injustice, and inequality are largely driven and/or propagated by idiots. That’s not to say those idiots are malicious or cruel. Being idiots, they just don’t know any better. They see what they’re doing as right and can’ think on a level that allows them to understand why their approach is stupid in the first place.

Idiots are also a reason why we have so many problems in our love lives. Think about it. How many bad relationships or failed romances are a byproduct of stupid decisions from people who didn’t know the difference between genuine love and hopeless obsession? Why else would we have creepy stalker pop songs and iconic romances that are uncomfortably unhealthy?

Beyond the dumb decisions we make in our love lives, it gets even worse when we apply that to sex. Even though nature wired our anatomy to ensure that even idiots can successfully reproduce, we still find ways to screw it up.

There are still boys who don’t know the first thing about how a woman’s vagina works. They don’t understand there’s a right way and a wrong way to ensure their partner enjoys the process. At the same time, there are girls who don’t know the first thing about how a man’s penis works or how to keep it working. They either overestimate its durability or underestimate its efficiency.

This is why we have issues like the orgasm gap, which I’ve discussed before. It’s also why we have people who develop unhealthy attitudes about sex, love, and relationships in general. It’s not just that they’re idiots. They’re never given the kind of education that would allow them to improve the situation.

Make no mistake. Education does a lot to improve our situation. It improves our job prospects. It improves our ability to make informed choices about the economy. It improves our ability to form stable, loving relationships that turn into successful marriages. It improves our ability to raise our children. It also improves our sex lives. If a man or women knows how their lover’s anatomy works and can maximize that knowledge, then they have everything they need for a great sex life.

This isn’t a controversial position. Everyone from every side of the political spectrum, with the exception of some religious zealots who want to keep society locked in the first century, agrees on the value of education. They may not agree on the type of education that we should champion, but they do understand the value of having a society with fewer idiots.

In a sense, we’ve made a lot of progress on educating the human race and reducing the number of idiots in the world. Literacy, as a whole, is at an all-time high. More kids today have access to schooling and educational resources than at any point in human history. This is an objectively good thing. It’s why poverty has gone down. It’s why violence has declined to its lowest level in history, despite what the news may tell you.

However, there’s still room for improvement. There are still some woeful inefficiencies in our education system. I know this because I, and anyone else who survived high school, have lived through those inefficiencies.

There were times during my schooling where I really didn’t learn much. There are a few painfully long stretches where the only lesson that stuck was how much I hated school and how to count down the seconds until it ended. Pretty much every year after the fourth grade was like that for me.

Conversely, there were some times when education taught me a lot and really sharpened my thinking skills. A lot of this happened in college. That’s where I learned a lot more about the world and how to make sense of it. That’s also where I refined many of the writing skills that I employ now on my novels. Getting a college education is probably one of the most enlightening experiences I ever had.

That education didn’t come cheap, though. I know I’m lucky. There are some who simply can’t afford getting the kind of education I got. It also doesn’t help that the rise of student loan debt has turned an entire generation of otherwise well-educated students into debt slaves, which is almost as bad for society as being an idiot. That’s a major flaw that prevents too many people from enjoying the benefits of an education.

There are some countries that do a better job. The education systems of Finland and South Korea are well-known for their achievements in education. It shows in their rankings as first-world nations. They are, by nearly every metric, some of the most prosperous nations on the planet. There are other countries that are catching up, but it’s a race with no losers in the long run.

If there’s one message I’d like to belabor when it comes to education, it’s that the world needs less idiots. There are over seven billion people on this planet and it takes only a few idiots to ruin something for the rest of us. By having fewer idiots, the world is inherently better for our societies, our families, and our sex lives. Even if you hate school, chances are you still hate idiots just as much. Whether we’re still in school or graduated decades ago, we should all remember that.

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A (Partially) Sexy Thought Experiment: Work Vs. Life

Here’s a question I’m sure everybody has asked themselves at some point in their lives, probably during a long day at work or during mid-terms at school. What if we didn’t have to work? What if our jobs was not critical to our survival?

That’s actually a question a lucky few don’t even have to answer because they live it. The trust fund babies of the rich elites, some of which go onto be the rich, arrogant shits on Instagram, already know that luxury. To them, it’s their perverse concept of normal. The idea of working to survive might as well be alien as having to cook their own meals. It just doesn’t resonate with them.

It’s because there are so few rich, arrogant fucks like that in this world that we can’t answer the question completely. Sure, we all fantasize about how we would live if we won the lottery. I sure have. That’s why I didn’t ask what you would do if you didn’t have to work. I asked what we would do so that means no elaborate fantasies about quitting your job.

By we, I mean us as a society. I mean us as a functioning, lawful, economically viable society and not some liberal utopia that exists only in Bernie Sanders’ dreams. I ask this question because I’ve been talking a lot about poverty recently. I’ve also talked about potential solutions, including the still-radical notion of a universal basic income. Now, I’d like to turn off the cold, harsh reality of politics and facts so we’re free to speculate.

I’m an erotica/romance writer so contemplating fantasies is easy for me. I kind of have to be good at it to write the stuff I write. That often means twisting and stretching my imagination in ways that even a team of Russian gymnast porn stars can’t match.

Every so often, I do try to think in extremes, like radical redesigns of the human body. Other times, I try to think of something a bit more feasible, like entirely eliminating all sexually transmitted diseases.

This experiment falls somewhere in the middle. It hasn’t been tried yet, but there are some places in the world that are conducting active experiments. The results of those experiments are a long ways off and it may be decades before a country has the balls to try it. Even so, like driverless cars and VR porn, it is conceivable that this will happen within my lifetime.

With that in mind, I want to create a scenario for people to imagine. It’s a scenario I think applies equally to men and women alike. The year is 2065. Society has progressed to a point where machines and AIs do pretty much all the work that humans used to do. This is an ongoing trend and one that will likely accelerate.

As a result, basic things like food, water, shelter, and utilities are pretty much free. No intensive labor is needed. To ensure that everyone has the means to live, every adult over the age of 18, although that age could be fluctuate depending on certain conditions, receives a regular basic income that’s today’s equivalent of $52,000 a year, which is the median income in 2013 for the United States.

Without getting into specifics about how the nuts and bolts of this system would operate, let’s just assume for the sake of the experiment that people receive this money the same way the elderly receive social security checks today. They can do with it what they please. They can still work. They can just sit home all day, smoke weed, and watch Netflix if they want. They have that freedom.

What would this do for our collective lives? What if working and surviving were no longer the same thing? This isn’t just a luxury for a bunch of rich fucks on instagram. This is an entire society where nobody has to worry about their next meal, their next rent check, or their utilities bill.

For some people, sitting at home all day, smoking weed and watching Netflix, is the first thing that comes to mind. However, not everybody is wired to do that and only that every day until they die.

People are diverse, eccentric, and erratic. They have all sorts of varying tastes, motivations, and aspirations. Many are stifled because they have to spend a good chunk of their time and energy working just to survive. How many more people would be inclined to pursue different passions if they didn’t have to work?

For someone like me, that passion involves writing erotica/romance. I know if I didn’t have to work, I would certainly spend more time writing more books. I may even find time to write about things I’ve never even contemplated. Not having to worry about money, food, or poor wi-fi would free me up to pursue entirely new ideas.

Beyond the lonely erotica/romance writers of the world, that extra time and energy could translate into more time focusing on family affairs. Parents could spend more time with their children. They would even have time to raise more children. As I’ve stated before, the birth-rate tends to decline when the economy tanks. Would a world like this lead to a never-ending baby boom?

How many families fall apart because the parents are too stressed to hold it together? How many children turn into assholes because their parents don’t have time to love them? How many families never even get started because the stress of work keeps them from having sex?

This is where the thought experiment takes on its sexier connotations. In this world, we don’t have to spend as much time worrying about work, money, or making the next rent payment. We actually have time to get out there, meet people, and form new social connections. Yes, some of these social connections would result in more sex.

Given the decline in sexual activity among millennials, who often enter a lousy job market with thousands of dollars in student debt, I can’t think of anything that would boost more libidos. When you’re less stressed and have more time, you can devote more energy into pursuing the relationships you want, sexual or otherwise.

Now for some uptight religious types, this is downright horrifying. There’s a reason why institutions like the Catholic Church and various protestant denominations revere the whole “protestant work ethic.” The impotent old men who run these institutions know that if young, sexy people are too busy working, they won’t be able to engage in large levels of fun and fornication. If they don’t know, it’s indirectly implied.

Maybe that ethic applied for an era where it took hundreds of people to farm land and hundreds more to protect that land from bandits, but in a future where technology and automation deliver our essentials, it’s kind of outdated. Like sacrificing a goat to ensure the rains come, it doesn’t need to be part of society anymore.

Being the optimist I am, I believe that a future like this will be a lot sexier than what we have now. I concede there will be those who use exploit this world and become fat, lazy slobs that would disgust Homer Simpson. However, I believe that the vast majority of people would use this world to forge new intimate connections.

Some of those connections will be simple fan clubs. Maybe more people will get together to share their fondness of baking dildo-shaped pottery. Who knows what gets certain people excited? Sure, some of those connections will lead to more sex, some of it of a kinky variety that will make every Catholic priest and mullah alive today faint in horror. I still think that, overall, it would be a net gain for the human race.

These are still the ramblings of an optimist who’s trying to make a living writing erotica/romance novels. This experiment may play out very differently in the minds of others, depending on how cynical they are about human nature or how many Nirvana songs they’ve listened to.

Whatever your outlook, I encourage you to do this experiment. I encourage you to contemplate a society where nobody has to work to meet their basic needs. What kind of society would it be? What kind of person would you be in that society? It’s an intriguing thought and, like so many of the others on this blog, one that has a lot of sex appeal.

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How Poverty Affects You (And Your Sex Life)

I concede that poverty is not a very sexy topic to discuss. It’s right up there with dead kittens, crying babies, and Paulie Shore movies in terms of unsexy issues. However, it is worth discussing because, like it or not, poverty profoundly affects people.

I’m not just talking about starving kids in Africa either. According to the World Bank, over half the global population lives on less than $2.50 a day. That’s right. Half the global population has to survive on the price of a mid-sized latte from Starbucks. Even though we are getting better compared to several decades ago, it’s still a big deal.

So why am I focusing on poverty? Why am I, an aspiring erotica/romance writer, making a big deal about this issue? Well, there is a sort of kinky pragmatism to it. I understand that sexy erotica/romance stories aren’t necessities. You can’t eat it or pay your rent with it. That means a world full of poverty is also a world where nobody has money to by my books. In that sense, my concern is somewhat self-serving.

That’s not to say I’m of the Ayan Rand branch of philosophy when it comes to poverty. That’s why I made such a big deal of the Universal Basic Income, which I believe will become more and more appealing as we enter an age when machines do more work. However, there’s another reason why poverty matters to me and should matter to everybody with functioning genitals.

It’s true. Poverty affects people in profound ways. So naturally, it would also affect your sex life as well. Believe it or not, people do get paid to study this stuff. Research has correlated poverty with risky sexual behavior that leads to very unsexy impacts. However, the data gets even unsexier than that.

According to census data, birth rates plummet during recessions. That makes sense. Poverty causes a lot of stress and nearly every bit of credible research shows that stress is right up there with bloody rectal warts in terms of things that kill the mood.

Stress makes it hard for a man to get an erection. It makes it hard for a woman to get moist. It makes it hard to set a nice, sexy mood. Stress is the equivalent of kryptonite to sex and what causes more stress than concerns over money?

That’s not a rhetorical question, by the way. That’s a serious question that many people, who are much smarter than me, have asked and studied. According to the American Psychological Association, the biggest sources of stress involve money, work, and the economy. These are the top three and they’re all tied to poverty, both directly and indirectly.

The impact of stress and poverty on our sex lives is painfully obvious. However, the way in which that impact manifests in the modern world is changing. It’s still as big a mood-killer as it ever was, but it’s using an exceedingly flawed system to its advantage. If it were a super-villain in a comic book, it wouldn’t even need a master plan. It just needs to work smarter and not harder.

The current generation of young people, the Millennials as they’re often labeled, are at a severe disadvantage compared to previous generations and it has horrible implications for their sex lives. For one, they had the misfortune of becoming adults during the worst job market in a century. People are living longer, working longer, and not giving good-paying jobs to the generation that reveres selfies and Kim Kardashians ass.

Beyond fewer job prospects, there’s one other burden that’s crushing Millennials and their libidos. They are entering the adult world with crushing levels of student loan debt. At the moment, the average student loan debt it approximately $37,172. According to Pew, that’s a 352-percent increase since 1990. Other than stock in Apple, Netflix, and Amazon, few assets have increased that much over that span of time.

This is where it gets personal for me because this has impacted me directly. I went to college. I graduated from a major public university with honors after four years. I did have to go into debt and work a summer job to pay for college, but it was not $37,172. It actually came out to around $10,000. However, I worked my ass off, and lived at home for a few years, to pay that off. It’s as unglamorous as it sounds.

It’s also an option that not every student has when they graduate. Some students have parents who aren’t there to support them for whatever reasons, be they tragic or trivial. Even if they are, they may still end up getting a job at Starbucks to pay off that debt and that’s just not going to cut it.

When I was in college, I had classmates who had over $100,000 in debt, just to attend. That’s basically a mortgage and we still expect these young people to come out of college, get to work, and start making babies to keep the species going? Then, they have the audacity to wonder why some students end up doing porn on the side?

With all these burdens, is it really that surprising that Millennials are less sexually active than any previous generation before them? It has nothing to do with prudishness either. I’m sure many Millennials would like to have more sex, but how can they? Between the stress of a lousy job market and massive loads of student debt, how can they even get in the mood?

This is why poverty matters, both to starving kids in Africa and young people in America. These issues do have solutions. Europe already has policies that make college affordable, and even free, in many cases. There are also absurd legal practices like not allowing students to discharge loans in bankruptcy that can be changed.

Throw in other measures like a Universal Basic Income and maybe, just maybe, people will be less stressed and more inclined to get intimate with one another. More intimacy means even less stress. It also means stronger bonds, stronger families, and better lives in general. If it also means that people will be more inclined to read books by erotica/romance writers as well, then that’s just a nice bonus.

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Universal Basic Income: A Sexy Idea For The Future?

Whenever a bold, ambitious new ideas comes along, there are sure to be skeptics and critics. It’s an unfortunate part of human nature. Our caveman brains get too comfortable with a situation, even if that situation is terrible and involves us shitting in a ditch. We’ll resist change at every turn until it becomes exceedingly inconvenient.

While I imagine there was plenty of resistance to those who introduced ideas like democracy, gender equality, and circumcision, some ideas make so much sense that people have to go out of their way to make excuses. Granted, they’ll still find those excuses. People are tragically adept at clinging to outdated ideas, even when they’ve been thoroughly debunked. Just look at creationists.

There’s no question that our current situation in the world has room for improvement. It’s true, although you’d never know it by watching Fox News for more than five minutes, that the human race is getting better. It’s also true that there’s still a lot of suffering.

According to GlobalIssues.org, there are over one billion people living in poverty. I’m not just talking about the kind of poverty that makes a Big Mac seem like a luxury either. According to UNICEF, around 21,000 children die a day because of poverty-related issues. I think most of us can agree that when children are dying, it’s a big freaking issue.

Even rich countries, like the United States, can’t escape the effects of poverty. According to the most recent census data, about 13.5 percent of the population, which amounts to approximately 43.1 million people, are living in poverty. For a country where people get rich for making a pet rock, that’s just inexcusable.

Poverty is a very serious, very unsexy issue. I could spend multiple posts whining and lamenting about the breadth of this problem. However, if you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know I find whining to be right up there with dry heaves, severe head trauma, and clown porn in terms of utterly unsexy wastes of time.

I’m not big on lamenting over problems. I like contemplating the solutions. The crazy creative side in me that comes up with sexy stories just loves to imagine bold new ways to solve overwhelming problems. Could there be such a solution to a problem as big as poverty? Well, there might be and it’s not just some crazy musing of an aspiring erotica/romance writer.

Ladies, gentlemen, and those of unspecified gender, I give you the Universal Basic Income. Like assless chaps, it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s the idea that the state shouldn’t waste time trying to distribute resources based on need, requiring a bureaucracy that makes the DMV look like a goddamn day spa. Instead, it should just provide a bare minimum cash payment to every citizen, regardless of wealth or need.

If that sounds too simple, then don’t bother bracing yourself. For once, it really is that simple. If you’re a legal citizen, you get a monthly cash payment. It’s not enough to help you afford a golden toilet seat, but it is enough to keep you from starving to death.

If it sounds familiar, it should. The United States has had something similar, but it’s reserved for those lucky enough to live beyond a certain age. It’s called Social Security and, by and large, it’s one of the most popular social programs the United States has ever created. Yes, it’s even more popular than programs that study the economic structures of World of Warcraft.

A Universal Basic Income, or UBI for those who hate excessive syllables, just takes social security a step further. It ditches the whole age requirement, exotic math formulas, and bureaucracy components and just gives a simple, flat payment to everyone. It could come in the mail. It could be sent via PayPal. Even the government can’t screw that up too much.

If it sounds like the kind of radical idea that emerged from one of Bernie Sanders’ fever dreams, then settle down and drink some tea. This idea is actually older than 99 percent of all the nations that currently exist today. Like so many other crazy ideas, it emerged in different times under a different label.

Way back in 483 BC, a time when Bernie Sanders was still fighting for the rights of serfs and peasants, the ancient Athenians came up with something called a Citizens Dividend. It’s basically the same concept, saying that the state should pay its citizens for its use of communal property and various resources.

Sure, the Athenians didn’t adopt the idea and went back to warring with the Persians, but the concept didn’t end there. It re-emerged again through the works of an influential Founding Father by the name of Thomas Paine, a man Glen Beck goes out of his way to admire.

In his essay, “Agrarian Justice,” Paine argues for a citizens dividend wherein the wealth of some obscenely rich landowners would go to some of the poorer citizens to alleviate poverty. It wasn’t a universal income, but it was a method for raising the floor, so to speak, on the poorest citizens.

Again, it wasn’t adopted and for good reason. Rich landowners generally don’t like the idea of having the government take their money and give it to poor people. That has never sat well with super rich folk who need these poor people toiling in the fields so they can bathe in gold and concubines.

However, that might be changing because, unlike the days of Ancient Athens and Thomas Paine, technology is making it so we don’t need a massive underclass of peasants toiling in factories or in fields. Machines are rapidly becoming advanced to a point where even jobs such as trucking, mining, and ordering a Big Mac is destined to become automated.

Last year, the White House issued a report that stated that approximately 47 percent of the existing jobs will become automated in the next decade or so. That’s a lot of jobs that will leave a lot of people out of work with no money and nothing to do. That’s a recipe for disaster, as those enduring Greece’s recent economic troubles can attest.

The UBI could be a way to effectively bridge the gap between the era of making poor people work their asses off to prop up the rich and the era where machines do all the work so people can do more productive things with their time. That means more time for aspiring erotica/romance writers to write sexy stories. Isn’t that a future worth fighting for?

This isn’t just a matter of technology. This is basic economics. Machines don’t get tired, don’t take sick days, and until Skynet becomes active, they don’t unionize. Why else would Amazon be investing so heavily in using robots to operate its warehouses? At some point, you won’t be able to blame immigrants or minorities for taking your job. It’ll be a robot and you’re not going to win a fight with a robot.

So long as automation increases profits and efficiency, it’ll keep happening. Along the way, more and more people will struggle to find work. Sure, those who are well-educated and well-connected will find something to do, even if it means just getting grossly overpaid for speaking gigs. For everyone else, though, the options are limited.

The UBI could be the key to truly alleviating poverty on a mass scale while providing even more incentives to get machines to do the work that crushes one too many souls. It will require a rough transition. A UBI doesn’t exactly fit with the old “Protestant Work Ethic” that some people still go by, but like the Catholic Church’s position on masturbation, it might be one of those concepts we just shrug off.

A world where people don’t have to work to survive is a very different world, one that’s hard to imagine in an America that glorifies working yourself to death while those lazy Europeans enjoy things like paid vacation, maternity leave, and unlimited sick time. However, that image will eventually clash with trends in technology and our need to alleviate poverty to keep society from strangling itself.

This is a world I do hope to see in my lifetime. I may be old, gray, and shitting in bags by then, but I’d like to see what this world would inspire. Would not having to work as much or as hard mean more meaningful relationships? Would it mean more time for sex and intimacy? We can only hope. As always, though, an aspiring erotica/romance can come up with some pretty kinky fantasies.

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