Tag Archives: psychology

Why Do Religious People Wear Seat Belts?

Happy-Family-In-Car-640x426

What happens when you die? This question and how people go about answering it is the basis for nearly every major religion in existence. Whether there’s a promise of Heaven, Hell, or reincarnation, it’s fundamental to many religious doctrines. This is especially true of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, which make up a sizable portion of the global population.

Given these doctrines and their emphasis on life after death, why do adherents of those faiths wear seat belts? That may sound like an inane question, but it has profound implications.

I ask that question because I grew up in an area where there were a lot of churches, a couple mosques, and even a few synagogues. It wasn’t uncommon to see traffic jams around those places, especially during holidays. From what I could tell, though, the people leaving those places were wearing seat belts. That, in and of itself, sends mixed messages.

While Judaism is somewhat vague about the afterlife, it does frequently reference a soul that exists beyond the body. Christianity and Islam are a lot more overt, having many references to Heaven for the holy and Hell for the wicked. I’ve noted before how this concept falls apart when you apply human perspectives to the mix, but these are still critical tenants in the eyes of adherents.

Why then, under those beliefs, would they fear or avoid death? Why would they even mourn loved ones who die? Under the tenants of their religion, their bodies are just gone. Their souls still live on. They’re either lying in wait for the end-times or on their way to Heaven, Hell, or some other version of the afterlife.

It’s a strange disconnect that doesn’t mesh with the emotions we feel when someone we love dies. I’ve come to know those emotions painfully well this past year. I’ve had to attend two funerals, one of which was for my grandmother and I was very close to her. When she passed, I felt that loss on a deeply personal level.

At the same time, there were others in my own family who experienced that same loss, but still maintained a deep devotion to their faith. There were even times when we were encouraged to celebrate their passing because they had ascended to a better place and were reunited with other loved ones.

This is supposed to provide comfort to those still in pain. I can attest to just how powerful comfort can be to someone who has just lost somebody they loved. Even with that comfort, though, I can vividly recall many family members still mourning. Even if they believed that someone they loved was in a better place, they still felt sad.

On a fundamental level, this seems contradictory. You’re feeling sad because someone you love is gone, but at the same time, you’re being told they’re not gone. On top of that, they’ve moved onto a better place that is free of suffering. For someone like my grandmother, who endured plenty of that at the end of her life, this should be a good thing.

It doesn’t stop the sadness, though. We still feel the pain of loss, even when a deeply-held religious doctrine tells us otherwise. There’s a lot to like about the idea that someone we love is no longer suffering and is now enjoying eternal bliss in a heavenly paradise. Even so, it still hurts and we still mourn.

This brings me back to seat belts and why religious adherents wear them. It’s objectively true that not wearing a seat belt is dangerous. If you don’t wear one and get in an accident, then your chances of suffering a fatal injury are much higher. If you’re a devout believer, though, why is that a bad thing?

I’m not being cynical here. It’s an honest question. Why make a concerted effort to survive in a world that can kill you in so many ways? Why go to a doctor whenever you get sick? Why seek treatment when you’re diagnosed with an illness that has the potential to kill you? Ideally, wouldn’t you just seek to alleviate the discomfort, but not whatever ailment is killing you?

If this life is just a precursor to another life, then efforts to prolong it don’t make sense. In fact, efforts to save innocent people don’t even make sense in that context because saving them means keeping them in a world that will make them suffer at some point. Whether it’s a stubbed toe or crippling poverty, preserving life is just increasing their opportunities for suffering.

The messages get even more mixed when major religious leaders go to such lengths to protect themselves. Why did Osama Bin Laden bother hiding for so long if he was that confident he’d go to paradise when he died? Why does the Pope have such intense security wherever he goes? People with this level of faith should be the most confident that they’re going somewhere better when they die.

To some extent, we can attribute this to our built-in survival instinct. One of the most fundamental drives of any living thing, be it a human or an amoeba, is to survive. Much like our sex drive, which religion also attempts to subvert, this is difficult to turn off. More than a few preachers, rabbis, and mullahs have encouraged people to fight this instinct with every fiber of their being.

However, they rarely encourage those same people to avoid wearing seat belts. You probably won’t find many holy men who urge their adherents to never go to the doctor or go out of their way to eat expired meat. Even if our survival instinct is naturally stronger than our sex drive, the implications are unavoidable. They’re asking people to put off escaping a flawed, pain-filled world.

Some of those people, whose sincerity I don’t doubt for a second, will claim that they have family and loved ones to take care of. This is especially powerful with parents, who will do anything and everything to protect their children. Despite that, their efforts still convey incompatible ideas.

A believer wants to stay alive in this chaotic world for the sake of their loved ones, but also believes that those same loved ones move onto a better place after they die, assuming they’ve lived a virtuous life. That assumption gets harder over time, though, because the longer someone lives, the more opportunities they’ll have to descend into sin and depravity.

Most reasonable people consider the death of innocent children to be a truly awful tragedy. The parents of those children are likely to feel immense pain on a level that few can comprehend. At the same time, the likelihood that a child is innocent is far greater than that of someone who has lived much longer. By default, they would be the most likely to get into Heaven.

Even so, people still mourn. They still cry, lament, and suffer the loss of innocent life. Does this mean that they know on some level that there is no afterlife? I wouldn’t go that far. It’s impossible to know what goes through the mind of a believer, especially after they’ve endured the death of a loved one.

For most adherents of religion, which include many members of my family, I doubt these sorts of implications have much impact. Most peoples’ faith is fairly moderate in terms of how they contextualize it with their existence. They can draw clear lines between the real world and the spiritual world.

It’s the minority of zealots, though, for which the issue of life, death, and seat belts becomes a logistical and theological problem. If a particular religion is going to be built around life after death, then how can it justify encouraging adherents to wear seat belts and avoid mortal danger?

In the grand scheme of things, they’re gambling with their immortal souls. The longer they live, the more likely they’ll be to deviate from the prescribed holy path. In that context, why would suicide be discouraged? Even if suicide is considered a mortal sin, why would avoiding accidents or fatal diseases be immoral? Why would anyone that devout feel any ounce of sorrow when someone they love dies?

I don’t expect these questions and their various implications to undercut anyone’s faith. I suspect most will take the Rick Sanchez approach to this issue, which is to not think about it. Regardless of what people may or may not believe, we still mourn the loved ones we lose. We still live our lives with the intention of surviving another day.

In that effort, it makes perfect sense for us to wear a seat belt. The fact that the doctrines of several major religions fundamentally complicate that inherently logical recourse is both telling and distressing. They can shame us for feeling horny, but they cannot stop us from feeling sorrow or hesitation in the face of death. Even the power of faith has its limits and, in this context, that’s not a bad thing.

Leave a comment

Filed under human nature, philosophy, psychology, religion

Why Men Remain Single: The Science, Lies, And Logistics

9a67b9b6-9c66-11e8-8838-278d266b5e3b

There’s an emerging crisis. To most, it’s just another distressing trend among the many we have in this chaotic world. More men are staying single. Some do it by choice. Some just do it because they’ve given up and decided to take themselves out of the dating pool. Whatever their reason, the results are the same.

Men aren’t seeking love, getting married, or having children. According to both Gallup and data from the United Kingdom, the number of single adults is increasing, especially among the younger generations. Even the number of couples cohabitating aren’t increasing. In the United States alone, 64 percent of young adults report being single. That’s nearly two-thirds of the youth population.

Naturally, the abundance of single men is causing more concern than single women. To governments, demographers, religious leaders, conservatives, and women looking for romance, that’s a major issue with enormous ramifications. They see perpetually single men as a danger that threatens to undercut the current social fabric. Some societies are already having to deal with it, albeit for different reasons.

There are plenty of theories as to why these men are opting to remain single. Conservatives claim they’ve lost touch with tradition. Feminists blame lingering misogyny. They’ll often cite the emerging incel phenomenon as proof that these men are toxic burdens who will hold everyone back.

To all those various groups and their theories, I respectfully disagree. Speaking as a man who is currently single, but very open to finding love, I like to think I have more insight than most on single male mentality. I can’t claim to speak for all men, single or otherwise. However, I can offer my personal take while also citing some actual research.

In August 2018, the Journal of Evolutionary Psychological Science published a study that surveyed approximately 13,400 men on this issue. The methods weren’t exactly sophisticated. They used Reddit as a source of data. As a regular user of Reddit, I can attest that there are some meaningful insights from commenters. I can also attest that there’s a lot of trolling and misinformation.

That said, the study still provides some insights into this phenomenon that has so many people worried. I won’t say it’s definitive. No study is. The author of the paper freely admits that. However, there’s still some truth to be gleaned from the data, as well as a few lies.

To appreciate both, here are the top five reasons that men in the study gave for being single.

1: Poor Looks

2: Low Self-Esteem/Confidence

3: Not Putting Much Effort Into Seeking Relationships

4: Not Being Interested In A Relationship

5: Poor Social Skills With Women

There were a total of 43 other categories of reasons/excuses that men gave, but these were the most common. I feel they’re worth highlighting because they identify some of the inherent complications men deal with in today’s relationship scene.

Of those five stated reasons, three of them reflect traits that a person can actually control to some extent. Looks, confidence, and social skills can all be improved through work and effort. I, myself, am a testament to that. It’s not easy, but it is possible. It’s the other two reasons, though, namely the third and fourth most common response, that are the most telling.

In those cases, being single is a choice. The men don’t want to seek out companionship. They want to stay single. That notion seems off-putting to a lot of people, implying that there’s something wrong with them. How could men not be miserable staying single? That concept just feels flawed in the context of our current culture.

It’s a concept that doesn’t apply equally to women. The idea of a single woman isn’t seen as a societal problem. It’s even glorified in the media. There are popular songs about it. The entire “Sex in the City” franchise is built around it. That’s understandable, to some extent. Historically, women have had very few opportunities for independence. I don’t think anyone should be surprised that some are celebrating it.

With men, though, there’s a disconnect between those who have certain assumptions about masculinity and the mentality of those who don’t abide by those assumptions. This is where some of the lies surrounding the study show. It isn’t explicitly stated in the data, but it is implied.

It all comes back to incentives. If you look at the current structure of relationships, as reflected in popular culture and social norms, men don’t necessarily have much incentive to pursue a relationship. To understand why, just consider the expectations men face in those relationships.

Men are expected to set aside their interests, hobbies, and passions for their partner. They need to stop playing video games, hanging out with friends, and watching sports all day so they can tend to their lover’s needs. They’re expected to support their partner emotionally and financially at every turn. In return, they get love, intimacy, sex, and family. To many men, that reward just isn’t sufficient.

What I just described is not an accurate description of how most relationships play out in the real world. It assumes a lot about how much women want to control their partners. Granted, there are some very controlling women out there. I’ve known a few, but they’re not nearly as common as 80s teen movies would indicate.

How common they are doesn’t matter, though. That is the perception men have of relationships. On top of that, many young people are currently swimming in student loan debt, unable to get a high-paying job, and withholding their rage every time older generations blame them for ruining things. From a logistical standpoint, it makes sense for men to protect their independence.

It certainly doesn’t help that young men are one of the easiest demographics to denigrate. They commit most of the crime. They’re the ones spreading hate, misogyny, and outrage throughout our hyper-connected culture. Even if they’re more likely to be victimized in violent crime and less likely to garner sympathy, you’re not going to face much stigma for hating them.

That doesn’t even factor in the serious inequities in marriage laws, which I’ve talked about before. A man entering a relationship is taking a chance, but unlike the woman, he’s risking more than just heartbreak. If ever that relationship gets to that stage and binding contracts become involved, he stands to lose more than just a partner.

Again, and I feel it’s worth belaboring, some of the reasons these men give for wanting to remain single are based on flawed assumptions about relationships. However, when it comes to issues surrounding our emotions and the hyper-connected media that evokes them, perception matters more than any data from a study.

The men who participated in this particular study are probably not an accurate reflection of all men. They do provide some important insight, though, on the current state of relationships, gender, and everything in between.

Regardless of the study’s conclusion, though, the romance-lover in me genuinely believes that there’s room for improvement. Whether or not we pursue that improvement depends largely on the choices men make and the incentives they have to make them.

9 Comments

Filed under gender issues, human nature, Marriage and Relationships, men's issues, psychology, sex in society, sexuality, Wonder Woman

Daily Sexy Musings: Love Versus Desire

rever-de-son-ex

The following is a daily sexy musing inspired by the discrepancy between love and desire. Make no mistake. There is a difference. You can love someone, but not desire them. You can also desire someone without loving them, too.

It’s a subtle, but powerful difference. Those with first-hand experience know that all too well, albeit mostly through hindsight. Those without that experience have no idea, so I hope they read these intimate words carefully.

What does it mean to be loved? It’s the subject of countless songs and just as many epic tales. It’s a question with many answers, few of which remain the same from one soul to the other.

What does it mean to be desired? It has fewer songs and stories, but only because they’re not necessary. To be desired is to feel something basic, raw, and unfiltered. That’s exactly what makes it so different, yet so similar to love.

To love someone is to seek connection on multiple levels. To desire someone is to seek a connection with only a few. Love can connect people for eternity. Desire can connect people for minutes at a time. Love may be fickle, but desire is downright erratic. We can channel love, but we can never contain desire.

It’s that feeling you get when you see a pair of breasts, but not the face of the person above them.

It’s that feeling you get when you see the bulging chest muscles and not the eyes just a few inches above.

It’s the feeling you get when your brain and your genitals are no longer in sync. It isn’t just an obstacle. It’s a barrier, one that can be circumvented, but never avoided.

Desire can lead to love, but love rarely incurs desire. It can fuel desire, but only in the way that a spark ignites a gas-soaked rag. Absent the necessary ingredients, a spark can only do so much. It burns fast and disappears faster. In one domain, it barely flickers. In another, it triggers a raging wildfire. It can be so much and so little. Love is just one of many outcomes, but it is rarely the most likely.

We feel desire on a whim, but we feel love for a lifetime.

Desire puts us in a moment, but love will carry us through a lifetime.

They can be incredibly thrilling, but easily confused. One is a flash. The other is a steady gleam. Both can light up our world, but only one can illuminate a path. Desire helps us be in the moment. Love helps us see the path ahead of us.

Desire can only ever be fleeting, but love can be eternal. Desire runs on instinct. Love runs on passion. Wanting to be loved is like a journey. Wanting to be desired is like yelling at the clouds on a rainy day. We only have so much control over either, let alone both. We don’t always know which one we crave, but we know how much we want it.

The line is always blurred. We can feel one, the other, or both. Together or apart, they bring us exhilaration and fulfillment. Only hindsight reveals the truth, but it also brings perspective.

Desire can lead us to love, but it can also lead us away from it. Love can subvert desire, but it can never truly escape it. One defines us while the other guides us. We need one to get to the other. We need the other to appreciate the one.

Love and desire need not oppose one another, but they rarely complement one another. To follow desire is to seek love. To be in love means channeling desire. From a simple feeling to a life shared, we can only appreciate its power when we embrace both together.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Sexy Musings

Why Deadpool Is The Perfect Nihilist Hero

deadpool-2

How do you navigate a world where everything is ultimately meaningless? That is a question that self-proclaimed nihilists and “Rick and Morty” fans often struggle with in heated philosophical debates.

I’ve tried contributing to that debate before with my own insights. I’d like to do so again while also tying the discussion one of my favorite superheroes, who just happens to have had a very successful movie this year. For me, that’s as big a win-win I’ll get without also referencing ice cream and bikini models.

I still want to further the nihilism debate, though. To do that, I need to re-frame the initial question I stated. How do you navigate a world where you know you’re just a comic book character and everything you do is subject to endless retcons, marketing gimmicks, and the occasional time traveler?

That’s basically the life Deadpool lives every hour of every day. Unlike the myriad of other iconic superheroes owned by Marvel and governed by their Disney overlords, he knows he’s a comic book character. His tendency to break the fourth wall is the most common manifestation of that knowledge.

It doesn’t seem to bother him, though. It hasn’t stopped him from doing things like joining the Avengers, teaming up with Cable, and marrying a succubus. He still cracks dirty jokes, shoots people and the occasional shape-shifting alien for money, and generally does his own thing outside the traditional superhero archetype.

Now, there are a lot of reasons why Deadpool is such an endearing character. I’ve cited more than a few, but I’d like to submit another for Deadpool fans and philosophy buffs alike.

Deadpool is the PERFECT nihilist hero.

I know “nihilist hero” isn’t really a thing, but given the philosophical underpinnings of nihilism, that really doesn’t matter much. When I say Deadpool is a nihilist hero, I don’t just mean that he’s someone who personifies a concept the same way Captain America personifies American ideals. With Deadpool, I’m referring more to the way we process the often-depressing implications of nihilism.

Those concepts can be pretty difficult to anyone who thinks about them for more than two minutes. At the core of nihilism is the idea that life, the universe, and everything in between has no inherent purpose. Nothing you or anyone else does matters in the grand scheme of things. Whether we’re random clumps of matter or comic book characters, it’s all ultimately pointless.

For many, that’s a scary notion. That’s why it’s only natural that people will cling to ideologies, religions, and simple hobbies to forge some semblance of meaning out of a meaningless universe. It often requires that we not care about the truth and simply accept the possibility of truth, which can be difficult when the universe constantly reminds us how harsh and unfair it can be.

For someone like Rick Sanchez of “Rick and Morty,” there’s no getting around the meaninglessness of it all. His approach and advice in navigating a nihilistic universe often boils down to not thinking about it. While that advice is actually more useful than it sounds, it’s not very heroic.

This is where Deadpool sets himself apart. The fact that Deadpool knows he’s a fictional character establishes that he understands how meaningless his existence truly is. Everything he knows, loves, and holds dear is nothing more than the whim of comic creators who ripped his name and his appearance from an established DC character.

How does anyone deal with that kind of knowledge? Even the smartest, most capable characters in the entire Marvel universe, which includes gods, aliens, and alien gods, don’t have the insight that Deadpool has. It’s the kind of thing that would drive even a powerful mind insane.

However, Deadpool is not insane. He’s crude, vulgar, obnoxious, annoying, self-destructive, immature, and impulsive. He once made 372,844 pancakes for no reason. That’s absurd, but it isn’t insane. You could even argue he’s “super sane” in the sense that he’s more aware than most of how the world works.

That sort of awareness tends to inspire chaos in characters like the Joker or misanthropy in characters like Rick Sanchez. With Deadpool, though, that knowledge inspires something different. Instead of misery or clown makeup, Deadpool embraces this understanding and jokes about it.

He does all that while being a wise-cracking anti-hero who will help the Avengers save the world while also shooting a dishonest pizza guy. That may sound eccentric, but it also reflects the key component that establishes Deadpool as a nihilist hero.

Part of what makes a hero heroic is why they do what they do. Superman is often held up as the gold standard because he does the right thing just because it’s the right thing. He doesn’t need another reason. You could argue that’s the most important reason for any hero.

While Superman’s morality still works in a nihilistic context, I don’t consider him a nihilist hero because he operates under the assumption that his life, his role, and his actions have meaning. Deadpool knows this isn’t true because he knows he’s a fictional character. However, that makes his style of heroism more nuanced.

There are times when Deadpool’s actions are selfish and other times when they’re entirely selfless, often within the same story. In both his movies, he alternates between heroic and not-so-heroic actions fairly easily. There’s no internal conflict. He just does it, doesn’t bother with the particulars, and cracks a dirty joke along the way.

For other heroes, the reason for their heroic actions is often as critical as the actions themselves. To them, there is a larger meaning to their heroic roles. That’s why they’ll often hesitate or agonize over doing something for selfish reasons. That basically happens with Spider-Man every other issue.

That’s not an issue for Deadpool, though. He’ll be selfless and selfish, depending on the situation and his mood. If the world is in danger of being overrun by renegade space gods, he’ll step up and be a hero. If the world is not in danger, though, he’ll gladly take a few mercenary gigs and shoot some people for money.

In both cases, there’s no moral conflict. In the context of nihilism, there shouldn’t be because those details don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Whether Deadpool saves the world or makes a few quick bucks shooting a pick-pocket carries no significant weight. He does what he does because he chooses to. He even dares to enjoy himself along the way.

In a meaningless universe, you can be a selfless hero. You can be a greedy prick, too. It doesn’t matter either way. The only thing that matters, in the context of nihilism, is that someone chooses it because they want to and not because they think it serves some higher purpose. For someone who knows he’s a comic book character, those are the only choices Deadpool makes.

He’s willing to make jokes about that. He’s even willing to exploit it, as evidenced in the post-credits scene of “Deadpool 2.” I would even argue that entire movie cemented Deadpool as a nihilist hero because what he did rendered a great deal of the plot meaningless in the end. However, it still counted as meaningful to him because he chose to be both heroic and selfish at the same time.

There’s no question that there are characters who are more heroic than Deadpool. There are also plenty of characters who are more selfish than Deadpool, but still call themselves heroes. However, it’s Deadpool’s ability to be both and laugh at the meaninglessness of his existence that makes him the greatest nihilist hero.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, Deadpool, nihilism, philosophy, X-men

Religious Dogma, Sexual Repression, And How They Foster (Horrendous) Abuse

649d3df0-a73b-40e1-9b95-bb796268c19c-image_from_ios_6

By now, most people have heard the news surrounding the latest round of scandals involving the Catholic Church. Once again, it involves the systematic abuse of children, the elaborate efforts to cover it up, and the religious dogma that is used to protect such behavior. It’s certainly not the first time the Catholic Church has been embroiled in such a scandal, but that doesn’t make it any less distressing.

There’s a lot I can say about the Catholic Church and how badly they’ve handled this issue. There’s even more I can say about how this famous institution’s policies have caused genuine harm in societies that remain devoted to Catholic traditions. However, I would only be repeating what others have already pointed out and I’d rather not do that.

Some have already done it better than I ever will.

For me, personally, these scandals cut deep because I have family who identify as devout Catholics. They see these same scandals too and I can confirm that it hurts them on a personal level. Whenever someone brings it up, they don’t make excuses. They despise those priests for what they did and those who covered it up. It doesn’t shake their faith, though. To some extent, I admire that.

At the same time, however, I often wonder whether they see the same flaws in that dogmatic theology that I see. I try not to bring it up with family members, out of respect for their faith. I still believe that even they are bothered by those flaws. When children are being sexually abused, how could it not?

There are a lot of factors in play with this latest scandal, from the nature of religious dogma to the corruption of powerful institutions. The one that few want to confront, though, involves the cumulative impact of sexual repression with rigid theology.

There’s no way around it. Religious dogma and sexual repression often go together. The Catholic Church is hardly the only institution that encourages strict repression of sexual behavior. Anyone living in Saudi Arabia or Iran can attest to that. With a billion adherents and nearly 2,000 years of history, though, the Catholic Church is one of the largest and most vocal proponents of this dogma.

The reasons for that are many and I don’t want to get into all the issues surrounding its effects. Instead, I want to focus solely on the celibacy of the priests. That practice represents a true extreme of sexual repression. It’s one thing to champion monogamy to the point of murdering adulterers. It’s quite another to have an entire class of people who have to completely repress their basic urges.

It’s not like trying to quit smoking, which is hard enough. This involves denying a basic, fundamental drive that is hardwired into people at birth. Trying to turn that off is like trying make sugar taste bad. It goes against fundamental biological wiring. The idea that someone can repress those force without incurring psychological damage is flawed, at best.

To get an idea of why, think about a time when you were really hungry. Maybe you were sick for a while, trapped on a long road trip, or went on a crash diet. That feeling of intense hunger is not something you can turn off. It’s uncomfortable for a reason. Your body isn’t getting something it’s been hardwired to seek. It’s going to make you feel uncomfortable until you do something about it.

The human sex drive is not like hunger, but it’s similar in that it’s a biological drive. For every living thing, be it a human or an insect, sustenance and reproduction are the two most basic drives. It is possible to survive without reproducing, but the fundamental forces of nature are going to push you to try.

When you push back too hard, it’s like trying to patch a faulty dam with scotch tape and chewing gum. From a psychological standpoint, your brain and your body are deprived. As a result, it’s going to do whatever it can to alleviate this deprivation.

It doesn’t matter if that act is extreme. It doesn’t matter if it’s illogical, illegal, or outright immoral. Your brain and your body will find a way to justify it if it ends the deprivation. For most, it’s just a never-ending battle that requires an individual to fill that missing need with something, which in this case is religious fervor.

It’s debatable as to how much this fills that fundamental need, but a lot of that assumes that celibate priests don’t do something in their private time to relieve the tension. Historically speaking, many in the Catholic Church and other powerful institutions were pretty blatant about how they circumvented the issues of celibacy.

Some priests had lovers on the side. Some employed prostitutes and concubines, but still claimed to be “celibate” because they weren’t married. More often than not, priests were only celibate in the most technical sense and the church often tolerated this. Even St. Thomas Aquinas, a man not known for liberal attitudes, even acknowledged the futility of suppressing the human sex drive when he said this about prostitution.

“If prostitution were to be suppressed, careless lusts would overthrow society.”

For a select few, though, that effort to maintain celibacy manifests in a truly horrific way. I think it’s safe to conclude that the priests who abused these children were not mentally well. Many might have been unwell before they entered the priesthood, but celibacy certainly didn’t help. Repression, especially the kind that’s taboo to even talk about, tends to make things worse.

That’s how people end up with mentalities that are poorly equipped to handle basic urges. Instead of a healthy expression of sexual desire, someone may react with anger or self-hate. When people are angry and hateful, they tend to take it out on someone. It’s not always sexual, but when someone has all their sexual desires pent up over the years, sometimes it seeps in.

That’s how simple desire becomes disturbing fetishes, including those that harm children. That’s how unthinkable behaviors are rationalized. When religious dogma tells someone they face divine retribution for feeling these intrinsic desires, that’s causes serious distress and efforts to mitigate it can make for some pretty unholy behaviors

While it’s hard to study the sex lives of celibate priests, the occurrence of these scandals along with the historical documentation of other lurid scandals reveal plenty about the effects of celibacy. When there’s no outlet for sexual expression, other emotions get caught up in the efforts to cope with that fundamental drive. Add religiously-motivated guilt to the mix and the impact only compounds over time.

None of this is an excuse for what those priests did to these children. They still committed an atrocity and no amount of divine excuses can mitigate the suffering of the victims. The Vatican will do what it has to do in order to maintain its power and influence. However, the reconsideration of extreme practices celibacy is unlikely.

Some media figures will mention it, but never to the point of encouraging serious reforms. That’s a dirty word in both the Catholic Church and any other religious institution. Historically speaking, the rate at which major religion institutions undergo sweeping reforms is nothing short of glacial.

I sincerely hope this latest scandal gives those in the Vatican serious pause, but I have a feeling that even this won’t do it. Religious dogma is notoriously uncompromising. People, especially within powerful institutions, make any excuse to avoid changing it. While the Vatican has made some strides, the fundamental issue remains. As long as basic human nature is suppressed, more will suffer and not in a holy sort of way.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, gender issues, human nature, psychology, religion, sex in society, sexuality

Lessons In Mental Health And Outrage Culture From “Daria”

hulu0d894330f-d10c-4641-ac8a-787dd3a5b6ac

How does anyone stay sane in this day and age? Between fake news, outrage culture, alternative facts, and the everyday struggle to survive in an economy being subsumed by tech companies, I don’t blame anyone for being a bit uptight. I envy anyone who can step back, see the bigger picture, and retain their sanity.

For some, it takes a special kind of strength, perspective, and mental toughness to deal with the totality of the absurdities in this world. Then, there’s Daria Morgendorffer from her remarkably-ahead-of-its-time TV show, “Daria.” When it comes to maintaining a level head while surrounded by the insanities of the modern world, she’s in a league of her own.

I’ve made my love for “Dariaknown before. I’ve even shared my excitement on the prospect of a new series. Every time I make the mistake of watching the news for more than two minutes, I find myself wishing I had her nuanced perspective. It’s part of what makes her character so enduring. She’ll see things for what they are, tell it like it is, and offer revealing insights along the way.

Earlier this year, research from Clinical Psychological Science indicated that mental health issues are on the rise among young people. Every day, it seems, a new mental ailment emerges from the evolving media landscape. While mental health issues can be serious, they can also be subject to plenty of absurdities.

As it just so happens, one of my favorite episodes of “Daria” tackled this issue in a way that’s more relevant now than it was back in the early 2000s when it first aired. The title of the episode is called “Psycho Therapy” and the lessons it offers are worth learning.

The synopsis of the episode is fairly basic. Daria’s mother, Helen, is up for a promotion. However, before the law firm she works at can consider her, she and her family are sent to a psychiatric center for personality evaluations. Hilarity ensue, but it’s Daria who ends up making the most astute observations, more so than the doctors on hand.

When Daria and her family first arrive, the staff is most concerned about Daria. Considering how she answered her survey with her trademark sarcasm, that’s understandable. However, when the doctors start to evaluate her and her family, they learn something remarkable.

Compared to everyone else in her family, she’s the most mentally stable. Even if you’ve only seen a few episodes of “Daria,” that should be pretty jarring. That’s not to say that she’s the picture of mental health, but according to the doctors in the episode, she’s the most well-adjusted. These are the exact words of Dr. Jean-Michael to Daria.

Dr. Jean-Michael: Daria, I was afraid you had some rather deep-seated problems. But I must say, you’re remarkably well adjusted considering…

Quinn: You’d think someone would’ve invented eye liner before me.
But no, I, Cleopatra, have to come up with all my beauty products on my own.
Oh, what a hard life.

In Quinn’s defense, she was hypnotized when she went on that incoherent ramble. Then again, Quinn Morgandorffer is probably the least defensive character in the show and would probably benefit from a healthy bit of therapy.

What makes this assessment more revealing is just how much Daria is surrounded by intense personalities, so to speak. I won’t go so far as to say these personalities are on par with mental illness, but they certainly walk the line. While that’s part of what makes these characters interesting, it also highlights an important concept that Daria Morgandorffer embodies.

At her core, Daria is a hardcore realist. She’s not a nihilist, a social constructionist, or an existentialist. She’s someone who sees both the surface and the forces just below that surface. From there, she makes a cold, calculated assessment that is devoid of needless emotional breadth, unless you count the sarcasm.

This is how she’s able to effectively break down the mental quirks of her parents, Jake and Helen Morgandorffer. Throughout the series, their relationship goes through a lot of atypical stresses. Just check out Season 3, Episode 10, entitled “Speedtrapped” for a clear depiction of those stresses.

On top of that, they both have some fairly eccentric personality quirks. Her mother is an incredibly high-strung, career-obsessed woman who constantly worries about how “normal” both her daughters are. Her father is an overly-dense, exceedingly histrionic man who always seems like he’s in the middle of a mid-life crisis.

Even a professional would have trouble making sense of their mental state. Daria does it in just a few short sentences.

Daria: Mom’s resentful that she has to work so hard, which obscures her guilt about actually wanting to work so hard. Dad’s guilty about being less driven than Mom, but thinks it’s wrong to feel that way. So, he hides behind a smokescreen of cluelessness.

Behind the heavy monotone and light sarcasm, this shows that Daria knows her parents. Given how they behave throughout the episode, she demonstrates that she actually knows them better than they know themselves. There’s even a scene towards the end of the episode where they try to mimic one another. It ends up getting pretty dramatic for everyone, except for Daria.

Helen: I mean Dammit! I lost another client! I can’t understand why! Dammit! Nobody likes poor old Jake. Should I think about the reason? Oh, must be my father’s fault. Where’s the newspaper, dammit!

Jake: Let me bring home the pizza. I have to be the one doing everything so everyone will thank me and tell me what a big superwoman I am. I’m very, very important and very, very stressed and I don’t have time to actually do anything for anyone else, but I can pretend I care, can’t I?

This is some pretty brutal honesty, even by “Daria” standards. They reveal some pretty unhealthy sentiments that probably need more than just advice and therapy. They reflect many of the quirks and side-plots that Daria’s parents experience throughout the show with Helen constantly obsessing over her career and Jake obsessing over whatever is stressing him out at the moment.

Daria’s ability to sift through all that and make a clear, honest assessment is both remarkable and refreshing. Even though these are her parents, she doesn’t pull any punches. Moreover, she doesn’t make any value judgments either. She doesn’t take sides or show scorn. She’s just tells it like it is. She says what the audience feels and does it in that lovable, monotone sort of way.

Her being able to make that assessment is profound. Doing so while maintaining mental stability is just as amazing. The fact she can maintain this perspective around personalities that range from ditzy cheerleader types like Brittney Taylor and touchy-feely teachers like Timothy O’Neill show why Daria is the emotional anchor of the show.

Back in the early 2000s, Daria’s knack for being level-headed while surrounded by so many bizarre characters made for great entertainment. Today, it acts as a radical departure from how we make sense of a world where every news clip, viral video, and hashtag is measured by the emotional outburst it triggers.

What Daria does in “Psycho Therapy” is something that has become far less common with each passing year. She makes a clear, concise assessment of other peoples’ behaviors and attitudes without casting judgement. She doesn’t whine about other peoples’ shortcomings or bemoan misguided efforts to treat them. She just points out the cold, hard facts and lets them stand on their own merit.

Contrast that with how every comment about someone, whether it’s in person or online, is laced with value judgments. You say you like video games and immediately, you’re judged as this angry fanboy who rages whenever someone dares to significantly change a particular aspect of your game. You say you’re a feminist and immediately, you’re judged as a man-hating bitch who blames men for every single ill on the planet.

It’s not enough to just have an opinion. It’s not even enough to have personal likes or dislikes. Everything you do and why you do it has to be an indictment on your politics, your identity, and the society around you. That’s not just misguided and judgmental. It’s mentally exhausting.

Being constantly judged, online and offline, every hour of every day is sure to be stressful. It’s no wonder why it seems as though more young people are development mental health issues. Daria may seem like the most unhappy person in her show, but compared to what some people deal with in the real world, she’s a picture of sanity.

At the end of the episode, it’s not Daria’s choices that lead to the resolution. All she does is provide commentary. It’s Helen and Jake, her emotionally convoluted parents, who chart their own path. That kind of lesson wasn’t as necessary in June 2000 when this episode first aired, but it’s one worth re-learning today.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daria, gender issues, human nature, nihilism, psychology

Walter White Vs. Saul Goodman: A Tale Of Two Villains

better-call-saul-644x362

If the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, then the road to villainy has many paths with similar landmarks. Well-developed villains can be every bit as compelling as their heroic counterparts, if not more so. Ever since Heath Ledger’s Joker stole the show and an Oscar in “The Dark Knight,” great villains aren’t just a complement to the heroes. They’re a journey unto themselves.

At the moment, Walter White from “Breaking Bad” is the ultimate embodiment of this journey. His path to villainy made for some of the greatest moments in modern television and Bryan Cranston has the Emmy trophies to prove it. Since then, it seems as though everyone is just struggle to keep up.

However, there’s one journey that comes very close and is remarkably similar. Fittingly enough, it spins right out of the world of “Breaking Bad.” I’m talking, of course, about “Better Call Saul,” the prequel/spin-off that tells the story of how an aspiring lawyer named James McGill became the morally bankrupt legal guru, Saul Goodman.

I’ve been watching this show closely for a while now. I was originally planning to wait until the conclusion of Season 4 to write about it, but after re-watching the Season 3 finale, I feel like there’s too much to work with. After seeing that episode, I feel like I saw a turning point in the ongoing transformation of James McGill to Saul Goodman. I also saw some important parallels with Walter White that are worth discussing.

At its core, “Breaking Bad” is a story about how a law-biding man goes from an underpaid chemistry teacher to a blood-thirsty drug kingpin. Creator Vince Gilligan nicely summed up Walt’s transformation as going from Mr. Chips to Scarface. That journey, and the story behind it, took an initially unassuming character and turned them into someone they never thought they could be.

The essence of “Better Call Saul” is very different. James McGill is not the same as Walter White. From the very first episode, we can see traces of the unscrupulous con man manifesting in a many ways. The show establishes in Season 1 that James McGill is not some clean-cut straight-arrow like Walt was. His soul was tainted before he ever applied to law school.

James “Slipping Jimmy” McGill is someone who always seems inclined to cut corners, break rules, and cheat to get ahead. That’s something his older brother, Charles “Chuck” McGill, constantly points out over the course of the first three seasons. Every time Jimmy had a chance to do the right thing, he compromised. Just doing the right thing wasn’t enough for him.

Walter White’s decision-making process was similar. In the early seasons of “Breaking Bad,” he showed a reluctance to cross certain lines and go too far. He often found himself pushed or tempted, sometimes by forces beyond his control and sometimes by the consequences of actions. At the end of the day, though, he still didn’t get off that path.

That’s a common thread for many villains in their journey. They find themselves on that path and they see opportunities to leave it, but they choose not to. They don’t seek redemption like a hero would. They just keep making excuses, willfully entering a brutal cycle of corruption and compromise.

Whereas Walt succumbed to that cycle, though, James McGill steadily embraces it. Moreover, he isn’t drawn into that path by tragedy or bad luck. He gravitates towards it. He’s even excited by it. James is at his most animated and charismatic when he’s pulling a con, putting on a show, or crafting a lie. It’s not a necessity like it was for Walt. It’s a thrill.

If James is tempted by anything, it’s the lure of walking the honorable path like his older brother. In fact, Chuck might have been the only positive influence that kept Jimmy from becoming something worse than a sleazy con-man. He and a host of other influence, especially Kim Wexler and Howard Hamlin, play the part of a reverse temptress, trying to keep him off that villainous path.

Early on, there’s a sense that James genuinely wants to be a decent, upstanding lawyer. There are situations where he does the right thing. Some of the causes he takes on, such as a case against an elder care facility that was stealing money from its residents, are objectively noble. In the end, though, doing the right thing isn’t enough for him. The end of Season 1 really cements that.

Walt goes through a similar process early on. Like the “refusal of the call” that heroes experience, Walt attempts to escape the villainous path. However, a combination of circumstances and choices put Walt back on the road towards becoming Heisenberg. By the end of Season 1, there’s a sense that there’s no going back.

Where Walt and James diverge, as villains, it’s how and why they make their choices. Walt becomes Heisenberg because he think he has to, first for his family and later for selfish reasons. James becomes Saul Goodman because he wants to. He tried to be the upstanding lawyer his brother and friends wanted. It just didn’t work for him. Being James McGill just wasn’t enough.

There’s plenty of conflict surrounding those choices. Part of why I love “Better Call Saul” is how it reveals the steady progression from James McGill to Saul Goodman. It doesn’t happen all at once. It doesn’t even happen in a steady, linear narrative. James fluctuates on his journey to becoming Saul. He even hesitates a few times. He still doesn’t avoid it in the end.

That ending, as revealed through the finale of “Breaking Bad” and the flash-forward sequences of “Better Call Saul,” shows one other key distinction between Walt and Jimmy. While both men complete their villainous journey, they both end up in very different places. Walt is dead or at least close to it, as some fan theories predict. However, Saul Goodman’s fate might actually be worse.

In the first minutes of the first episode of “Better Call Saul,” we see what came of James McGill/Saul Goodman after the events of “Breaking Bad.” Gone are the days where he shows up in flashy commercials and hatches elaborate cons on unsuspecting people. Instead, he lives an unexciting, mundane life in Omaha, Nebraska managing a Cinnabon.

Some might argue this is Saul’s personal Hell, trapped in a such a sad and unassuming life. I would say it’s more like his purgatory. In this world, he can’t embrace that villainous persona that gave him so many thrills. Even if he wanted to be that villainous character again, he can’t because it means losing what little he has left.

Just as he frequently did in the early seasons of “Better Call Saul,” James McGill takes the easy way out. Walt tried that too in the last few episodes of “Breaking Bad,” but that didn’t last. He eventually chose to confront the byproduct of his villainous choices. James ran and didn’t look back. The easiest path, in the journey of a villain, is often a coward’s path.

Whether or not James McGill escapes his purgatory or continues wallowing in obscurity remains to be seen. The fact he ends up in this state after undergoing this transformation into Saul Goodman reveals another critical component to the villain’s journey. While the hero ultimately triumphs, the villain eventually loses. It doesn’t always end with them going to jail, but they often endure a less-than-desirable fate.

Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” are both great shows that set a new standard for depicting the evolution of a character into a villain. I won’t claim that “Better Call Saul” is superior to its predecessor, if only because the story isn’t finished. It does, however, accomplish something every bit as remarkable as the story of Walter White.

The process of becoming a villain is a steady, inconsistent journey full of many complications and tough choices. Walter White and James McGill began that journey under different circumstances and ended up in different places. Ultimately, they both crossed lines that sealed their respective fates. It’s tragic in some ways, but it makes for some damn good television.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under human nature, philosophy, psychology, Villains Journey