Tag Archives: religious extremism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sex Cults: The Kinky (And Often Dark) Side Of Religion

Certain things don’t go well together, but still find a way to be potent, albeit for all the wrong reasons. I’m not just talking about people who dip their french fries in mayonnaise or banana peppers on pizza either. Certain combinations are just uniquely powerful and not always for the right reasons.

That brings me to religion, a topic I try to avoid like a rash on my scrotum. While I have written about religion and how it affects our sex lives before, I generally don’t like to bring it up on this blog. In my experience, few things kill the mood quicker than discussions about religion. It might as well be the antithesis of every Barry White.

I also feel compelled to point out that I have some deeply religious friends and family members. While I may not share their theology, I go out of my way to respect their beliefs. I don’t try to debate them or de-convert them. They have every right to believe what they believe with all their hearts and souls.

With those disclaimers out of the way, let’s talk about sex cults. I hope I have your attention now because this is one of those potent combinations I mentioned. More often than not, religion and sex are constantly at odds. For some, achieving orgasm and achieving spiritual enlightenment are the same thing. One just requires fewer tissues.

There seems to be a never-ending battle to temper, mitigate, or manage certain sexual desires in the name of religious zeal, often resulting in major taboos. That’s understandable in that sexuality is one of the things that influences the lives of every person on this planet, regardless of language, location, race, or attitude. It’s like a giant mountain. It can’t be circumvented. It can only be navigated.

Sex cults, on the other hand, do more than just navigate. They don’t just try to manage the sexual proclivities of its adherents either. In essence, they attempt to channel sexuality into forging stronger, more faithful adherents. Since people have sexuality hardwired into them at birth, you could argue they work smarter rather than harder.

In theory, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Not every sex cult needs to micromanage how its adherents use their genitals. Some are outright gleeful about sex. However, there are many that take it to unhealthy and unsexy extremes, which undermines the mood for everyone except the cult leader.

Speaking of which, one of the most common themes in a sex cult revolves around the leader, specifically with respect to how their genitals are somehow more holy than everyone else’s. This is how men like David Koresh and Warren Jeffs manage to convince dozens of pious women to do their religious duty, which requires them to make their bodies accessible to the cult leader in whatever holy or unholy way he sees fit.

That’s not to say there haven’t been female cult leaders. There have and yes, they can be every bit as perverse as the men. At the core of any sex cult, manipulation of sexuality is usually a secondary goal, at least officially. No successful religion, or any organized social movement, succeeds by being that transparent from the beginning.

Most cult leaders, male or female, won’t say outright that the entire basis of their cult is built around exploiting our most basic desires. They may not even believe it themselves. In fact, I would argue that most people, aside from admitted frauds, that they sincerely believe that they’re not just exploiting peoples’ spiritual sensibilities so they can more easily get sex from adherents.

In their own minds, those in a sex cult may be convinced that what they’re doing is spiritual and holy. Even if it is something as basic as an orgasm, they’ve ascribed some sort of spiritual significance to it. As an erotica/romance writer, I can kind of understand that.

There’s power in that kind of feeling, especially in cultures where it’s so easy to induce shame in others for simply having sexual feelings. I’ve mentioned before how sexual repression can really mess with someone’s psyche and not just with respect to their sex life. Building a cult around this powerful feeling that so few of us can escape isn’t just cunning. It’s distressingly practical.

There are a whole lot of factors that go into creating a cult, but most of them come back to control. Most religion, especially the successful and sincere ones, only go so far with control. When properly done, it can actually be beneficial to society. Cults, especially those of the sexual variety, take it ten steps further.

A sex cult won’t just try to control the when, how, and why you have sex. It won’t just try control how you feel about sex. It will actively shape, re-shape, and warp, if necessary, your entire perceptions about sex, intimacy, and everything in between. Again, it won’t do this directly. It’ll usually hide behind a vast excuse bank of morality, piety, and peer pressure.

More often than not, a sex cult will make you depend on the cult to get the release that your caveman brain still craves. I’m not just talking about the orgasm either. A sex cult will also try to provide the sense of intimacy, love, and community that most people get without sacrificing an animal or a piece of your penis.

It’s usually at that point where it’s hard to tell the difference between piety and subversion. Once people get locked into a cult that gives them a strict, but clear structure for how they get their sex, and all the sweet extras that come with it, they’re effectively locked in. Some may argue that they’re trapped, but I don’t suspect that most adherents will see it that way.

In addition to being very horny, we humans are a very social species. We form groups, tribes, and fan clubs with the same ease that a lion mauls a wounded zebra. Whether it’s a religion, erotica/romance novels, or Taylor Swift music, we’ll form a group about it and pursue it with religious fervor. In that sense, a sex cult isn’t doing anything magical. It’s just taking our own biology and pushing it to an extreme.

Now, I don’t bring up sex cults to warn people about them. I’m also not trying to point out the signs that the charismatic preacher who claims salvation comes through his penis might be a cult leader. Like I said before, most religion is fairly harmless and even beneficial to society. Sex cults, like any other cult, just hijacks a basic, yet powerful part of our being and exploits it.

It’s nefarious, but also fascinating. I built the entire premise of one of my novels around it, namely “The Final Communion.” In that novel, a young woman named Grace Maria Goodwin navigates a sex-fueled ritual that her deeply-religious community uses to control its adherents. Many of the themes I incorporated into this story come from my fascination with sex cults.

I’ve thought, at times, about expanding on novels like “The Final Communion.” I might not be able to develop a full-fledged sequel for Grace’s story, but I think there are untapped stories surrounding sex cults that are either too controversial or too distressing to contemplate.

It’s because they’re distressing, though, that we shouldn’t ignore it. So long as sex is such a powerful driving force in our lives, cults and even organized religion will continue to use it to exploit people. Religion, in and of itself, isn’t a bad thing, but when it starts to undermine our sex lives, then we should be concerned.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, polyamory, religion

The (Real) Crisis Of Faith In Society

Every now and then, I hear some pundit, politician, and/or professional troll lament about the ongoing “crisis of faith” in society. They’re not entirely wrong in their whining. The numbers don’t lie. Religion, especially the organized variety, has been declining significantly over the past decade throughout the western world.

I won’t get into the particulars of that decline. I’ve already given religion a hard time on this blog, especially when it gets taken to extremes. While I stand by my criticisms, I don’t want to give the wrong impression. I respect religious people and the various religious institutions that do wonderful work.

I should also note that I have some devoutly religious people in my family, whom I love and respect dearly. I don’t want to disparage their beliefs or the fulfillment they get from them. While there was a time when I used to seek out heated debates with religious people, I’ve since realized how pointless and counterproductive they are. As I’ve said before, winning arguments rarely changes the harsh truths of reality.

With that in mind, I do agree with part of their lamentations. I honestly do think that there’s an ongoing crisis of faith in society, especially in Western society. However, it’s not the kind of crisis that the televangelists, the militant atheists, and the card-carrying Satanists of the world have in mind.

To illustrate that crisis, I’ll need to depict a couple scenarios that should make a significant number of people uncomfortable. For this, I apologize, but I think it gets my point across better than any burning bush, fiery sermon, or tax-exempt initiative.

The first scenario shouldn’t be too hard to picture for anyone familiar with the Playboy Mansion. For this, I want you to imagine an ordinary man standing in a large room, surrounded by a 100 women. The man doesn’t have to be Hugh Hefner and all the women don’t have to be Playboy Playmates. It just has to be one man and 100 women in the same room. How do you think that man feels in that situation?

Anyone who has seen a few overtly sexy music videos shouldn’t have too hard a time surmising that sentiment. If he’s a straight man, then he’s probably feeling like a kid in a candy story within a toy store within a water park. He’s probably looking around with a goofy grin, crunching the numbers in his head and wondering which of the 100 women will want to touch his penis.

It’s a goofy, juvenile scenario that most just shrug off as harmless male fantasy. Even if the man is gay, chances are he doesn’t feel threatened or unsafe in any capacity. Being surrounded by women doesn’t garner those kinds of feelings. There’s a deeper message there, but one that only becomes clear when you picture the second scenario.

For that scenario, I want you to something similar. This time though, just flip the genders. Make it so there’s a woman in a room surrounded by 100 men. It’s similar to an exceedingly distressing thought experiment that I pitched before. This isn’t quite like that, but it gets an important message across.

This is a scenario that I’ve actually heard some women use when talking about rape and sexual violence. That’s because in that scenario, if we’re all being honest with ourselves, that woman probably doesn’t feel lucky or safe. One women in a room with 100 men is a situation that evokes discomfort on a level that’s hard to articulate, but easy to understand.

 

The woman in that scenario isn’t imagining which of those 100 men might be her future husband or, at least, a good one night stand. That woman is dreading every worst case scenario ever inspired by reruns of “Law and Order: SVU.” Her survival instincts go into overdrive because she doesn’t just see a room of men. She sees a room of men who might be inclined to rape her.

As a man, I can’t help but take offense to that notion that women assess men solely on how likely they are to assault her. However, I can completely understand the sentiment. The numbers aren’t on my side. In pretty much every major category of violent crime, men are far more likely to be perpetrators than women. There’s nothing sexist about it. That’s just what the numbers say and they don’t inspire a lot of faith.

In recent years, there has been growing awareness of rape culture and increasing efforts to decrease sexual violence against women. While that is an innately noble effort, seeking to reduce the unsexist forms of violence in our culture, it hasn’t always been entirely honest. In some cases, it inspires moral panics that claim video games cause sexism or just criticizing a woman constitutes a form of assault.

I won’t get into the absurdities of those concepts, as I’ve only so much energy and this blog only has so much bandwidth. I’ll just say that some of the hysteria that such efforts inspire, as noble their intentions might be, are what fuels the escalating crisis of faith and I fear that crisis is escalating to disturbing levels.

In this case, it’s not about faith in a higher power, a collection of deities, or some divine force that determines who wins football games every week. The faith I’m talking about here is more personal. It’s the faith we have in each other, as human beings.

On some levels, we’ve always had it. When you order a pizza, you have faith that the people making the pizza and the one delivering it will make it right and not spit in the dough. When you call a doctor, you have faith that this person knows what they’re doing and will do the right thing in treating you when you’re injured, sick, or vulnerable.

Beyond institutions, we also have faith that our neighbors won’t murder us the first time we meet. We have faith that the people we love really love us back. We can’t read other peoples’ thoughts or know with absolute certainty that their feelings towards us are genuine. However, the simple fact that we, as a society, are able to function and get along to some degree is a testament to the faith we have in one another.

Now, I fear that faith is being undermined by the various hysterias that plague our collective consciousness. Some of it is a byproduct of news media, the internet, and social media where terrifying news is easier to spread and garners more attention. That’s understandable, given how fear is such a powerful motivator.

However, and this is a concept that’s not easy to accept, that fear often clouds our judgment and skews our perspective. It’s an unfortunate byproduct of our caveman brains, which almost always gives the edge to perception over reality. Things that scare us get our attention. Our survival instincts, by necessity, over blow any possible threat in order to ensure our survival.

That fear is the universal counter to faith and since it’s so easy to spread scary things in the age of the internet, it’s easy for our faith to be undermined. It might be for that same reason that organized religion is taking a hit. The internet is making it too easy to look up the many absurdities of a religion and its associated frauds.

Again, I don’t wish to denigrate those with sincere religious beliefs, nor do I want to make light of those who use their beliefs to justify atrocities. However, the faith that many have in a higher power, even within a less religious society, only seems to go so far when it comes to other people.

In a sense, it reflects the sentiment that many parents express to their kids when they have a bad attitude. I heard it from my own parents on more than one occasion. If you expect the worst of a person or situation, then that’s what you’ll experience. Assume the worst and it will usually find you, if only because you invite it.

Thanks to our declining faith in other people, we’ve become far more prone to assuming the worst in others. I know that’s hard to avoid for some people, especially when they’ve been the victim of harassment or violent crime. However, in this case, the numbers are actually on our side.

I’ve shared the story of how I came to believe that people are generally good. For those looking for less anecdotal evidence, the data is pretty clear. There are approximately 7.5 billion people on this planet. The amount of violent crime is only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of that. We would not even have that many people on this planet if we, as a species, were so inclined to harm each other.

It’s one of those rare cases where faith and facts are actually in alignment. Most of the data we have paints a fairly clear picture. In general, people are good if you give them the chance. Think of it in terms of a game of chance. If you want to win, you want the odds in your favor. As such, if you’re a smart gambler, betting on people to be good is the best bet you can make.

However, just being naturally good isn’t enough. What good are those instincts if people don’t have faith in them? If people are inclined to assume the worst, then they’ll be just as inclined to expect it and when you expect the worst, you tend to attract it. It’s the worst kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

I get that it’s hard to have faith in people when social media is lined with volumes of stupidity and hate. That’s part of what makes faith such a powerful force in our lives, even when it’s absent of religious connotations. That’s also part of what makes it so vital in our efforts to create a better society.

With that in mind, think back to the second scenario I mentioned with the woman in a room of 100 men. This time, though, I want to add some extra bit of context. I concede that there’s a chance that at least one of those men will be an asshole who tries to assault the woman. However, I have faith that those men would be grossly outnumbered and outmatched by those who will feel inclined to protect that woman.

That’s the kind of faith that I believe we need, these days. Yes, there will always be bad people in this world, but I believe those people will always be outnumbered, overpowered, and outgunned by those who are good. Hopefully, more people come to share in that belief.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, Jack Fisher's Insights

Politics, Safety, And The Impossible Paradox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The people demand action from their politicians and authority figures

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • The cycle starts all over again

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

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

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Virtue Signaling: What It Is, Why It Matters, And Why You Should Hate It

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There are certain topics and issues that I generally avoid talking about on this blog, but know I can’t entirely avoid. Given the sheer multitudes things I discuss, from sex robots to Wonder Woman’s BDSM origins, it’s only a matter of time before a few particular concepts enter the conversation.

In general, I try not to be too divisive and dogmatic, but when you talk about issues like feminism, abortion, and religious extremism, you’re bound to rub a few people in ways that won’t make them horny. One such concept can apply to many of the social issues I’ve discussed on this blog, some more directly than others.

That concept has become somewhat of a buzzword among discussions of hot-button issues and not always for the right reasons. It’s especially popular among discussions surrounding political correctness and religious extremism, two topics that turn people off faster than a bucket of dead kittens. It’s called virtue signaling and it is, by far, one of the most frustrating manifestations of our faulty caveman brain.

Our brains might be remarkable marvels of nature, but they have a lot of flaws. Why else would Elon Musk be looking to upgrade it with his latest billion-dollar venture? Some of its features had practical uses in the old days before social media made everyone a wannabe guru on current affairs. Virtue signaling exploits nearly every one of those flaws and does it with a goddamn smile.

Unlike some of the other concepts I’ve explored, the definition of virtue signaling is still evolving. It’s a relatively new concept in terms of being something that people mention in a conversation, but the idea isn’t new. According to Wikipedia, which is usually fairly up-to-date, the definition is as follows:

The conspicuous expression of moral values by an individual done primarily with the intent of enhancing that person’s social standing within a social group.

There are other dynamics to virtue signaling, but this definition covers the basics. It is, essentially, a method people use to save face or prove their loyalty to their respective tribe.

Think back to movies like “Animal House.” Remember those initiation rituals that fraternity pledges had to do? They have been known to seriously hurt and kill people, which is why they’ve become more infamous in recent years.

Now, imaging always having to do these rituals to continually prove your allegiance to whatever group or tribe you’re part of. Anyone who ever survived college hazing should be shuddering violently right now. I’ll give you a minute to recover. For those who haven’t, it’s actually worse than it sounds.

Sometimes it’s subtle. Sometimes it’s so minor that it’s not even a factor in how we see ourselves or the groups we belong to. However, in the era of social media and professional trolls, it has become increasingly egregious. To illustrate how insidious virtue signaling can get, here’s a quick scenario.

Picture, for a moment, that you’re walking down the street in a typical city or town. There are a lot of people moving in different directions. Some are heading to parts of the neighborhood you prefer to avoid. Others are heading towards parts you like. You stick with them, for the most part, and are content keep it that way.

Then, as you’re walking towards your preferred destination, you come up alongside someone whose walking the same direction as you. However, they’re not content. They are very agitated.

They keep looking at the people going towards parts of the neighborhood they don’t like. They then start yelling at them with remarks like:

“HOW DARE YOU GO THERE!”

“HOW DARE YOU DO THAT!”

“YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED!”

“YOU DESERVE NOTHING BUT SCORN AND HATE UNTIL THE DAY YOU DIE AND BEYOND!”

Their yelling is unnerving to some, but others show their approval. Some even join in. They create a flash mob of sorts, going out of their way to find the people going in the direction they don’t like and berate them at the top of their lungs.

You choose not to join in. If anything, you’re someone embarrassed by someone heading in the direction you prefer acting so obnoxious. You’re content to keep walking in that direction and just ignore the loud, confrontational flash mobs.

Then, without warning, that same agitated person turns their attention back towards you. They actually walk up alongside you, try to get your attention, and start yelling at you with remarks like:

“LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT HOW VIRTUOUS I’M BEING!”

“I’M DOING GOOD! I’M MAKING A DIFFERENCE WITH MINIMAL EFFORT!”

“I AM A MORAL PERSON! I’M MORE MORAL THAN YOU!”

“ACKNOWLEDGE MY MORAL SUPERIORITY! IF YOU DON’T, THEN YOU’RE A GODDAMN NAZI!”

The scenario I described is a gross exaggeration, but one that highlights the major components of virtue signaling. It’s both a method for seeking validation from a group and alleviating mental stress. In that sense, it hijacks some of the wiring in our brains that’s meant to help us cooperate and survive.

The past few years, however, have gone beyond merely hijacking our collective psyche. They’ve effectively attached rockets to the plane and flown it into the side of a mountain. Some of this has to do with social media and professional trolling, but a lot more of it has to do with that painfully divisive and innately infuriating concept of identity politics.

These days, it’s too easy to be labeled a bully, a tyrant, a fascist, or whatever other word you want to use to describe Kanye West. Unlike past years, that label is much harder to avoid. Social media, smartphones, and the 24/7 news cycle that will make way too big a deal about the latest Kardashian drama ensure that once you have that label, it follows you like a festering rectal wart.

As a result, more and more people are resorting to virtue signaling to escape or avoid these negative labels. They’ll go to great lengths, yelling at random strangers and being exceedingly obnoxious, to be anything else. Naturally, that means things like facts, reason, and understanding often get lost in the mix. You just can’t be that particular when you’re trying so hard to avoid being labeled a Nazi.

It happens in gender issues. Feminists, especially the male variety, will go to great lengths to prove they’re not misogynistic, even if it means saying demonstrably stupid things.

It happens in religion. A certain adherent, especially in religions that demand a lot of sacrifice, will make any excuse and fight any battle in order to maintain their allegiance and prove they’re a better adherent. There’s little, if any, sincere belief. There’s just a desire to be part of the community. That can often lead to some truly horrific extremes, from suicide bombings to televangelism.

It happens in race issues. A certain race, especially the ones with a nasty legacy that the internet has preserved forever, will say and do anything to avoid being called a racist. They’ll even resort to favoring other kinds of racism to balance out past racist crimes. It’s as inane as it sounds.

At the end of the day, however, the problem remains. Virtue signaling is, by definition, a selfish endeavor that’s meant to make someone feel better. Either they want to feel more moral than those they consider bullies or they want to cling to a certain group affiliation, be it a particular race or a My Little Pony fan club.

There’s never any actual substance behind virtue signaling. In fact, substance cannot be part of virtue signaling in any meaningful capacity because its goals are entirely personal. Unless it makes someone feel better about themselves or keeps them in good standing with a group, it doesn’t matter in the slightest how true, honest, or valid the actions are.

It is a very troubling, if not tragic manifestation of our caveman brains. We’re a social species. We’re also a species that tries to keep itself balanced amidst a chaotic, ever-changing world that tries to kill us in so many ways. We’re wired to form groups, cooperate, and do whatever we can to alleviate the everyday stresses of life. Virtue signaling is the emptiest form of this effort and is ultimately counterproductive.

If someone needs that kind of validation, either for themselves or others, then there are likely other factors at play. I cannot begin to speculate what those factors might be, but the growing prevalence of such efforts says to me that the world is becoming more stressful and we, as a society, aren’t doing a good job of handling it.

In the end, I see virtue signaling the same way I see an empty gesture. It’s a poor attempt to force a desired reaction without actually going through the process of earning that reaction. Those who don’t end up earning something often end up neglecting it as well.

Think of it in terms of a lover. If someone just pretended to feel a certain way so that you would love them, what would that say about his view of love in general? It wouldn’t bode well for the honesty of your lover and the depths of your love.

There’s a lot more to virtue signaling. I know I’m painting a pretty bleak picture right now, but it’s an increasingly-relevant concept that’s sure to show up in many different forms in the coming years. I’ll definitely mention it again in future posts. I’ll make a concerted effort not to bash my head on my desk.

For now, the best advice I can give those who are just as frustrated with virtue signaling is twofold. Be cynical, but be understanding. Those seeking validation are human, like you and me. Understand that, but try and help them understand that as well.

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Extremism: The Ultimate Excuse Bank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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