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Why I’m Not Overly Excited About Voting

Vote

I’m bracing myself right now because I’m about to express a sentiment that’s going to put me at odds with a lot of people here in America. It’s a sentiment that runs contrary to some pretty loud rhetoric that has been brewing over the past two years. Some of it has even come from close family members. Knowing I’ll probably upset them too, I’ll just come out and say it.

I’m not that excited about voting.

I’ll give my fellow American’s a moment to stop fuming. For everyone else, I think a larger explanation is warranted. Bear with me because these are sensitive times for freedom, democracy, and everything in between.

Today, my country will conduct its mid-term election. It occurs every four years, right in between Presidential elections. These elections are a critical part of the foundation on which the United States government is built. These are the elections in which a sizable chunk of governors, senators, and representatives are elected.

While mid-term elections rarely generate the same voter turnout of Presidential elections, this year is different. The impact of the 2016 Presidential Election has galvanized the passions of both sides of the political spectrum. Conservatives seek to maintain their hold on power. Liberals seek to re-establish power after some of the worst setbacks in recent memory. To them, the stakes are very high.

I’m not entirely convinced of that. In fact, I feel like those stakes are so inflated that it makes me feel even less excited about voting. I see people in the media, on message boards, and within political circles calling this election the most important mid-term in history. That makes me suspect they have a narrow concept of history.

Now, I don’t deny the sincerity of those who say stuff like this. I get that they’re genuinely concerned about the direction of the country they love. They have this ideal vision for how they want America to be and getting like-minded people to vote is part of realizing that vision. Whether it’s reigning in the President, outlawing abortion, or legalizing weed, they have a fantasy that they want to make reality.

As someone who writes a lot about the sexy kind of fantasies, I can appreciate that to some extent. When I was younger, I even entertained similar visions. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve become less enchanted by my country’s democratic processes. The reasons for that have less to do with the content of those visions and more to do with the unique quirks of American elections.

The first complications surrounding American democracy, and one that sets it apart from other democratic countries, is that we don’t elect the President by a popular vote. We use something called the Electoral College. Simply put, our votes don’t go towards who we want to be President. They go towards electing the people who go onto elect the President.

If that sounds confusing, then you’re starting to see why I’m skeptical about voting. The logic behind the Electoral College made sense 200 years ago when trying to ensure that heavily populated states didn’t gain too much power over all the others. A lot has changed in 200 years and I’m not just talking about the prevalence of powdered wigs.

Since I became eligible to vote, I’ve seen two of the past three Presidents get elected without winning the popular vote. That means the candidate that got the most votes did not win the election. Call me cynical, but that does not sound very democratic.

To be fair, the Electoral College applies only to the President. Other representatives like governors, senators, and mayors are elected by way of popular vote. While that is more democratic, on paper, the logistics still aren’t ideal. That’s due to additional factors like gerrymandering, a practice that dilutes democracy to the point of watered down light beer.

Simply put, it ensures that your vote only partially matters because you didn’t necessarily pick the candidate. The candidate picked you by making sure you lived in their voting district. It’s a big reason why incumbents have such high re-election rates. It doesn’t matter how voting trends change. All that matters is aligning districts with a certain type of voters.

It’s not quite on the same level as the phony elections conducted by dictators, but it sends a painfully clear message. No matter how passionate you are at voting, there’s a good chance that it has little bearing on the outcome. That doesn’t mean your vote is thrown away. It still counts. It just doesn’t matter and I’m not the only one who has reached this conclusion.

Most of the time, you live in an area where the overwhelming majority of people align themselves with a particular part of the political spectrum. Districts located in rural areas almost always vote conservative. Districts located in cities almost always vote liberal. That divide has only widened over the years, especially since I began voting.

Some of that goes beyond direct influences like gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics. None of those tactics would even work if not for the predictable psychology of the average voter. In a perfect world, every voter goes to the polls as an objective, impartial citizens who weighs the worth of every candidate. However, we live in an imperfect world full of many imperfect people.

According to analysis of past elections, most people adopt the voting patterns of their parents. It’s not a minor factor, either. By a substantial margin, your vote was mostly determined when you were still a kid. That’s not a flaw in the system as much as it is a flaw in perspective.

If you grow up in a conservative environment, then you’ll vote in accord with conservative candidates. The same applies if you live in a liberal environment. The area I live is pretty liberal, for the most part. I’ve seen the polls for my candidates. The outcome is pretty much a given, no matter how I vote.

On top of all that, and it’s more than enough to temper my enthusiasm for democratic processes, voting in America is extremely inconvenient. It’s not a national holiday. It’s on a Tuesday in the middle of the week and often involves standing in long lines at poorly-staffed polling places. Sure, you can cast an absentee vote, but that process has its own set of complications.

Taken together, I find it frustrating, as a voter. The older I get, the more resigned I’ve become. Each passing year, I see more and more flaws in the system. I see reprehensible human beings and shameless hypocrites win elections, time and again. I also see the list of candidates and groan at my lack of options.

Despite all this, I’m still told that voting is important. Voting is what separates us from tyranny. Ignoring the historical fact that some tyrants come to power through democracy, I’m supposed to believe that my vote will help further the ideals my country espouses. As much as I love my country, I just have a hard time believing that.

Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m pretty cynical about voting and the current democratic processes in place for the United States. I’m not completely resigned, though. I still intend to vote, but I’m under no illusions. I know it won’t change much in the grand scheme of things. Like renewing my driver’s license, it’s part of my civic duty.

Regardless of who wins and who gets voted out, I can already sense where this narrative will go from here. I have a feeling that as soon as this day passes, the 2020 Election will be subsequently billed as the most important election in history. Just like before, the act of voting will be framed as taking part in a battle against a fascist army led by Darth Vader and Joseph Stalin.

That narrative, in my opinion, will do more to undermine voting than help it in the long run. At the end of the day, elections come and go. Leaders change, politics evolve, and demographics shift the cultural landscape. Not every election will go down in history as the most important. The act of voting in those elections won’t matter that much in the long run. It’s still worth doing, but it’s also worth maintaining perspective along the way.

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No, Porn Is NOT A Public Health Crisis (But Our Attitudes About It Are)

porn-industry

In his book, “Sex and God,” which I highly recommend, author Darrel Ray tells a brief, but revealing story about the topic of porn addition. It goes something like this:

One day, an anxious and distressed man walks into a therapist’s office. He tells the therapist he’s addicted to porn. He spends no less than six hours a day watching, masturbating at least three times in the process. Needless to say, this habit has completely disrupted his life.

He struggles to hold down a job. He struggles to maintain a relationship. His porn consumption is so all-encompassing that it is a serious detriment to his day-to-day living. He desperately seeks help and the therapist listens intently, hoping to help this man overcome this issue and forge a healthier life.

The next day, another anxious and distressed man walks into the same therapist’s office. He also tells the therapist he’s addicted to porn. However, when the therapist asks how much porn he consumes, the man says he watches only a few hours every week. He does masturbates, but not every day and never more than twice.

He holds down a steady job. He has a wife and kids that he loves dearly. He also comes from a deeply religious community where he’s widely respected. He’s terrified that someone will find out that he watches porn or masturbates. The guilt he feels is so serious and he desperately seeks help.

The therapist still listens intently, but has to find a way to explain to the man that the porn itself is not the problem. It’s the undue guilt he feels that’s causing all these issues.

It’s a basic story, but one that reflects the strange, eccentric nature of our attitudes towards porn. It exists. It’s legal. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry, complete with some of the most heavily trafficked websites on the internet. There have been efforts to ban it in the past, but those efforts rarely succeed. Even in non-democratic countries, porn finds a way to feed the human libido.

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Despite this, there are still efforts by regressive people on both sides of the political spectrum who see porn the same way others see crystal meth. It’s not just an addictive drug. It’s one that has seriously detrimental side effects on those who use it and society as a whole. It’s one of those strange sentiments that both radical feminists and right-wing conservatives share for different reasons.

I don’t want to focus too much on the reasons for those sentiments, nor do I want to break down all the reasons why I believe they’re misguided. That’s not the reason I’m writing this article. In general, I try avoid talking about these sorts of moral crusades because, like other notable crusades, they tend to be more spectacle than substance.

That said, I have noticed the anti-porn crowd shifting their tactics in their quest to temper human desire. Rather than push for outright censorship, which is rarely popular in democratic societies, this crowd is attempting to label porn a public health crisis.

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The government of Utah, the current title holder for most porn subscriptions by state, was the first to declare porn a public health crisis back in 2016. Other states have followed, but the most notable is Florida, who managed to declare it a public health crisis after denying a ban on assault rifles.

Let that sink in for a moment. Florida says that porn is a crisis that warrants greater scrutiny than assault weapons, which actually kill people. If that doesn’t show just how flawed our attitudes are about porn and guns, then I don’t know what does.

Bear in mind that just declaring porn a health crisis has limited effect beyond bad PR for the business. A government cannot censor porn any more than they can shut down another multi-billion dollar industry with massive global reach. As CNN reported, it’s more a symbolic gesture, which is just a fancy way of saying it’s one huge act of virtue signaling. It’s as empty and worthless as any declaration can possibly be.

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While this crowd will eagerly cite studies that claim porn leads to all sorts of negative behaviors that destroy families and relationships, they’re just as eager to ignore the many flaws in those studies. They’ll also ignore data that suggests an increase in porn consumption actually decreases instances of sex crimes.

As I’ve noted before, human beings are complex, multi-layered creatures. Porn is just one of those few things that impacts a wider range of those complexities than most. It strikes at our moral values, our understanding of intimacy, our insights into sex, and our concept of love.

For some people, it has no effect. For some, it has a positive effect. For others, it has a negative effect. You could say the same thing for everything from fast food to video games to stamp collecting. When it comes to the effect, it depends on the attitude of the individual and how they’re wired.

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The republican party in America has made no secret of their attitudes towards porn. That attitude is not unlike the one of the second man who walked into the therapists office that I described earlier. It’s not the porn that made him feel so damaged. It was his attitude and overbearing guilt, which is often religiously motivated.

It’s for this reason that organizations like the American Psychological Association don’t put porn addiction in the same category they do with substance abuse. They’ve noted that the vast majority of porn consumers rarely suffer ill-effects. For some, it even provides significant benefits.

There is, however, a small subset of the population that struggles with it. By small, I mean less than 10 percent. These people are, in their own minds, hopelessly addicted to porn. However, when compared to the prevalence of alcoholism or prescription drugs, porn is hardly a fair comparison. That’s not to take away from the suffering of those people, but there is a context to it.

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Porn is not like a chemical you inject into your brain to directly evoke a particular effect. It’s not sort of mental conditioning, either. For those addicted to it, as with other addictions, there are other factors involved. It’s not the porn itself as much as it is the mentality behind it.

Maybe someone is using it because they’re just a lot hornier than the average person. Maybe it’s because they’re not getting enough sex from their current personal life. Maybe it’s because there’s a particular aspect of their sexuality that they cannot otherwise explore. Whatever their reason, the damage only gets worse when they’re racked with guilt about it.

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Everyone’s experience with porn, sex, and everything in between is different. Actor Terry Crews claimed he battled porn addiction, but absent any larger context, it’s hard to know whether porn was actually the problem or whether it was an effect of something else.

That’s the ultimate irony of calling porn a public health crisis. It attempts to label an effect as a cause, which isn’t just asinine. It’s utterly backwards and detracts from other, more substantive issues. By calling porn a crisis, it creates the sentiment that there’s this one, simple target that’s the source of all these complex troubles.

I can already spoil the outcome of that effort right now. Even if porn disappeared tomorrow, those troubles would remain. Those attitudes would continue hurting those who were addicted. It won’t solve any problems. It’ll just redirect those issues, waste time, needlessly spend taxpayer money, and further undermine our ability to be comfortable with our sexuality.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

Pro Life, The Sanctity Of Life, And The (Literal) Value Of Life

People participate in the annual March for Life rally on the National Mall in Washington

As a general principle, I limit my discussions on abortion to a maximum of three per year with zero still being the preferred amount. Last year, I wrote a couple articles about it, but that was it. I tried to make clear on both occasions that while I don’t deny the seriousness of this issue, I generally have little to contribute.

It’s not just because I’m a man and will never need an abortion. Pretty much all the arguments surrounding abortion are intractable. Like debating creationism, there’s no way to convince someone who is set in their opinions to change them. You’d have a better chance convincing someone the sky is green, Mars is made of cheese, and “The Emoji Movie” wasn’t terrible.

All that said, abortion is still a serious issue that is evolving before our eyes both culturally and legally. This is one of those issues that affects everybody, either directly or indirectly. Regardless of whether you’re a baby, an old man, or an aspiring erotica/romance writer, abortion’s reach is vast because it involves life, sex, family, and the propagation of our species. The stakes can’t get much higher than that.

Even with those stakes, the only reason I’m talking about it now is because I live less than two hours away from Washington DC. When there’s a major protest, I generally know about it before it starts trending on social media. The latest gathering was the annual March For Life protest, a demonstration dedicated to decrying the ills of abortion and supporting “pro-life” legislation.

Now, I put “pro-life” in quotes for a reason that I hope will make sense in a bit. I’ve already criticized that term because there are those who use it to hide the fact that they care more about maintaining consequences for those who have more sex than churches, mosques, and synagogues prefer. I don’t intend to belabor that argument, but it is somewhat related to the point I want to make.

Having seen plenty of these protests, I notice a common theme that is at the forefront of the “pro-life” movement, but is rarely scrutinized. That’s the whole concept of the “sanctity of life.” I put that in quotes too for the same reasons I hope are obvious by the end of this article. Unlike the anti-sex crowd, this concept is central to the overall movement.

Beyond the intractable belief that life begins at conception and abortion is the taking of a life, the idea that there’s an inherent value to all life, regardless of what stage it’s at or how it affects the life of the mother bearing it. Without there being substantial value, then the whole arguments about when life even begins becomes meaningless.

I’m not going to make the argument that life has no value or that life, in general, should be devalued. I’m of the belief that we only get one life to live and that makes it valuable to some extent. However, I do want to take a minute to try and quantify that value, if only to provide some context to the “pro-life” movement.

I’m not first one to try this. The late, great George Carlin dug into this issue with more candor and brilliance than I or anyone else ever could in 1996. He dared to ask this question in a way that still came off as funny, yet insightful.

“Only living people care about it, so the whole thing grows out of a completely biased point of view. It’s a self-serving, man-made bullshit story. It’s one of these things we tell ourselves so we’ll feel noble. Life is sacred, makes you feel noble.

Well let me ask you this, if everything that ever lived is dead, and everything alive is going to die, where does the sacred part come in? I’m having trouble with that. Because even with the stuff we preach about the sanctity of life, we don’t practice it.”

It may sound cynical, but it’s relevant if the “pro-life” movement is to have any logical and moral validity to it. If it’s going to ascribe a high value to life, then that value can’t be too vague. There has to be some part of it that translates into real, tangible value. Without that, “pro-life” arguments are just empty rhetoric wrapped in inflamed emotions.

So in order to give that value to life, I want to pose a couple questions to the “pro-life” crowd. I don’t expect anyone to answer, but I think it’s important to put this question out there to put context into the anti-abortion arguments that seem so intractable.

“If you truly believe abortion is murder and want to save the lives of unborn children, are you willing to pay women to carry their unwanted children to term?”

That’s a simple yes/no question that shouldn’t be too hard to answer. I have a feeling many answers will be quick and brash, as most are in highly emotional debates. I expect the phrase “personal responsibility” to get thrown around a lot. That seems to be a catch-all word that conveniently provides an excuse to not help someone in a bad situation.

I’ll set aside the issues with that concept for now and ask the second question. This is where it gets more specific.

“How much are you willing to pay someone to not get an abortion and carry a child to term?”

I expect more variation with this question. I also expect more vitriol because I’m basically asking someone to put a price on a human life. I understand that very thought makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Nobody likes to think of themselves, a loved one, or a child as having some sort of number attached to it.

Then again, we don’t seem to mind that when we get our social security numbers, our addresses, or our paychecks. Like it or not, we’re all ascribed some amount of numeric value at some point in our lives. That doesn’t mean some lives are inherently more valuable than others, but it highlights the fact that we can and do link life to numbers.

Now, in order to help out those who may struggle with this question, allow me to do some simple math that should help make this question more palatable.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were 652,639 legal induced abortions in the year 2014. In addition, the average total cost for pre-natal care according to the Kaiser Family Foundation is approximately $2,000. Since that’s only for healthy babies, let’s make it $2,500 to account for complications.

Now, multiply 652,693 by $2,500 and we get $1,631,732,500. For the sake of redundancy and accounting for other possible complications, let’s round that up to a total of $1.7 billion. So for $1.7 billion, you could conceivably cover the cost of pre-natal care to every woman seeking an abortion. For that price, there could’ve been zero abortions in 2014.

With that number in mind, would you be willing to pay that price? I know $1.7 billion seems like a lot, but in terms of the US economy, it’s pennies. The size of the US economy is measured in trillions these days. Even with respect to government spending, the defense budget alone in 2014 was $614 billion. A sum of $1.7 billion barely would’ve registered.

Even if you’re against the idea of the government spending money, on principle, that kind of money is out there in the private sector. According to OpenSecrets.org, the pharmaceutical companies alone spent over $3.7 billion in lobbying over a 10-year span.

Even religious organizations have money to spend on this issue. Back in 2015, CNN reported that the vehemently anti-abortion Vatican had over $8 billion in assets. That’s just one denomination, too. According to the Giving USA Foundation, churches received over $114 billion in tax-free charitable donations in 2014. Given that sum, is $1.7 billion really that much?

It gets even better than that, though. Abortion, as a whole, is on the decline. That means it would be even cheaper to pay the price to stop all abortions in 2018. Abortion still happens, though, and if you genuinely think abortion is murder, then there’s just one more question.

“If you’re NOT willing to pay any price to stop all abortion, then how can you say life is sacred and has intrinsic value?”

I understand that sounds like a loaded question after overly simplifying the issue. I concede that if stopping all abortions were as easy as writing a check for $1.7 billion, somebody would’ve done it by now. It’s not that easy an issue. Abortion wouldn’t be such a hot-button issue if it were.

What I’m trying to get at here is that a general unwillingness to put any tangible value on life essentially undermines the arguments of the “pro-life” movement. We’re willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a smart phone and more than five bucks for a latte. What does it say about someone’s stance on abortion if they say life is sacred, but won’t put up any actual money for the lives they’re trying to preserve?

The March For Life demonstration, as well as most anti-abortion demonstrations, didn’t stress measures like encouraging women to carry a child to term, lowering the cost of pre-natal care, or improving contraception access so that abortions aren’t necessary. Most of it centered on favoring legislation that would make abortion more difficult to obtain.

Never mind the fact that such legislation often has some fairly detrimental effects on women’s health, as John Oliver highlighted a couple years ago. That effort doesn’t vindicate the arguments of the “pro-life” movement, nor does it even accomplish their stated goals. It’s basically a way to claim they’re winning the debate and, as I’ve pointed out before, winning a debate isn’t the same as being right.

I feel like I’ve already talked enough about abortion for one day/month/year. If I want to make one point with this article on abortion and the March For Life protest, as a whole, it’s being “pro-life” and promoting the inherent value of life is a great emotional argument. However, if there’s no substance behind that argument, then it’s not a movement that can logically sustain itself in the long run.

Now, do you understand why I put “pro-life” in quotes?

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Why The NFL Protests Matter Less Than You Think (And How To MAKE Them Matter)

Whenever I talk about football, the NFL, and how much I love it, I usually do it to lighten the mood. Sure, sometimes football inspires talk of some less pleasant issues, but in general I try to avoid them and focus on the parts that make my Sundays so enjoyable.

Then, the real world has to come around and shit all over it, compelling me to talk about it when I’d rather be talking about my sexy novels or movies involving Sophie Turner and Jennifer Lawrence. I wish I could resist that temptation, but as many of the characters in my sexy novels can attest, that’s not always possible.

Unless you were in a coma under a rock inside a cave on Mars, you probably heard about the mass protests conducted across the NFL last Sunday. What exactly were they protesting, you ask? Well, that’s a hard question to answer and the fact that it’s hard to answer is pretty telling, in and of itself.

Officially, the protests were a stand against social injustice and a response to some trash talk by some high-ranking government official whose name I refuse to say, primarily because I don’t want to give him more attention than he deserves. Unofficially, it was the rhetorical equivalent of two colliding shit storms that only succeeded in creating a bigger storm.

There are many ways to protest injustice, corruption, and everything Gordon Gekko stands for. One of the perks of living in a relatively free society is that you get to attempt and experiment with a variety of ways. Sometimes petitioning works. Sometimes viral videos work. Sometimes just being Mr. Rogers and talking to people with unwavering kindness works.

Unfortunately, there are far more ways that fail instead of work. That’s just the nature of the world we live in. What Colin Kapernick did last year and what multiple NFL teams did last week succeeded to the extent that it raised awareness. While awareness is an important part of the process, especially in the era of the attention economy, that doesn’t mean that it achieved its goals.

More than anything else, it divided people within two tribes. In one, Colin Kapernick and the NFL are patriots in that they’re protesting in the name of the justice that the flag and the national anthem stands for. In the other, Colin Kapernick and the NFL are self-absorbed, virtue signaling drama queens who are disrespecting a symbol that many brave Americans fought and died for.

These are two irreconcilable ideas that kill any substantive conversation. They’re seeing the same picture, but interpreting it in wildly different ways. Instead of highlighting the egregious disparities in how the justice system treats certain minorities, it’s now a discussion about who has the a more patriotic hard-on for all things American.

That begs and important question. Which interpretation is right and which side is wrong? Who can truly say they’re being more patriotic than their counterparts? Well, here’s where it gets tricky and where I’m probably going to upset both sides. Bear with me, though. I promise I’ll try to inject some substance that both sides can use to further their cause.

First, I’ll answer those two questions definitively. I don’t expect everyone to agree with my answer, but I suspect I’ve already upset both sides already so I won’t bother making excuses.

“Both sides BELIEVE they’re true patriots. Both sides BELIEVE their opponents are anti-America. Neither side is inherently RIGHT, but BOTH are valid in their beliefs.”

I know. It sounds like I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth and a little out of my ass. Ignoring the influence of my ass, here’s where I’m certain I’ll upset both sides of the debate.

Regardless of how patriotic you feel, the American flag and the national anthem are symbols. No matter how universal you think they are, symbols are always subject to interpretation and those interpretations are rarely, if ever, agreed upon by every person in a society. Just look at all the symbols whose meaning has wildly changed over the centuries.

It’s because of this subjectivity that it’s possible for two people to look at it and interpret extremely different messages. That’s how one side can look at a flag and see the beauty of America. That’s how another can look at a flag and see the ideals America stands for and realizing that the people haven’t lived up to those ideals.

It seems impossible, but when you remember that irrational, tribal nature of the human species, it makes sense. In that context, the NFL and its players are patriots for telling Americans that they have not lived up to the ideals their flag stands for. The people booing them are patriots too for pointing out how they’re disrespecting the symbols and traditions that bind society together.

In either case, both sides can’t claim to be entirely objective. Those claiming that the NFL players are spoiled and using their positions of power to divide people probably wouldn’t feel that way if they were protesting something they agreed with. Change the message and the context and suddenly, they’re on the same side.

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Again, it’s an irreconcilable disagreement, as is often the case with such extreme tribalism. There’s nothing either side can do to convince the other that they’re the true patriots. It’s a downright tragedy because racial injustice is an important issue if we want to improve as a society. Once it becomes a discussion about who is more patriotic, then the protests and outrage behind them no longer matters.

That finally leads me to the practical part of this article. If you’re bummed out or frustrated at this point, then I thank you for sticking with me this long. I imagine some of you already hate my guts and think I’m trying to solicit money from George Soros and the Koch brothers.

I promise you I’m not doing this to win any favors with one particular political agenda. The suggestion I’m about to offer is being offered free of charge. Sure, I’ll kindly request that you buy one of my books or make a donation, but I won’t expect it. I’m still offering free insight into fixing a major problem.

With that said, and knowing that nobody in the NFL or their critics are listening, here’s how you protest social injustice effectively. It can be accomplished in one easy step.

“Make the protest easy, fun, and rewarding to join.”

I know that sounds easy on paper and for once, it kind of is. Granted, it’s not the same kind of spectacle as Colin Kapernick’s protest, but that’s kind of the point. It shouldn’t be that kind spectacle. It should be something else. Moreover, it should be fun.

The best example I’ve seen in recent years is the ice bucket challenge that briefly swept the nation a few years ago. For a brief time, celebrities and ordinary people alike participated in a fun show of solidarity that helped raise money for a worthy cause, namely the treatment of ALS.

It worked too. The ALS Association reported a record $3 million in donations because of this goofy ploy that was fun, easy, and entertaining to join. If it worked with ALS, why not racial injustice?

I’m not saying people should usurp the ice bucket part. I think the ALS folks have already branded that. Instead, protesting racial injustice should involve something different. Maybe it involves hugging someone, popping a balloon, or hitting yourself with a pie. It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to be fun, easy to join, and make people feel better about themselves.

Think of it as a way to weaponize the power of virtue signaling, making people feel better about themselves by doing something inane. In this case, there would be some substance behind it. In addition to the inanity, there would be a donation to organizations like the ACLU, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, or The Sentencing Project. It doesn’t have to be much, but if it’s more than zero, it helps.

If Colin Kapernick had taken this route instead of protesting the national anthem, would he be the poster child for all that is wrong with professional athletes not named O.J. Simpson? I don’t know, but it would attract more attention for the right reasons.

It would make his stand against racial injustice matter. It would get people to participate rather than remain numb or indifferent. Now that kneeling for the anthem has just become this never-ending argument about who’s the real patriot, the protest no longer matters. However, I don’t think it’s too late to change that.

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Ted Cruz, Twitter Porn, And Why We Shouldn’t Make A Big Deal Of It

As a general principle, I don’t like mentioning certain politicians by name. That’s because to mention them is to give them more attention than they deserve and, as I’ve pointed out before, attention is the life blood of both the internet and the trolls that make it awful.

I only ever get specific once their propensity for bullshit reaches a level of absurdity and hilarity that both sides of the political spectrum can laugh out. That’s why I’ll drop names like Rick Santorum and Bernie Sanders. If they didn’t exist in real life, they’d probably exist as cartoon characters that Seth MacFarlane made up.

With that in mind, I have to say I’m shocked that I can add Ted Cruz to that list. In terms of politicians, there’s not much about him that makes him deserving of attention. He’s a cut-and-paste conservative republican who espouses everything you’d expect a guy who once called same-sex marriage a threat to liberty and makes one too many Nazi comparisons when he talks about health care.

It’s for that reason why nobody should be surprised that he’s as sex-negative as they come. While he was the solicitor general in Texas, he ardently defended a state ban on sex toy sales. He even went so far as to make this unsexy statement.

“There is no substantive-due-process right to stimulate one’s genitals for non-medical purposes unrelated to procreation or outside of an interpersonal relationship.”

Try to read that without cringing. I dare you. This is a man who honestly sided with people who believed in using taxpayer money and policing power to discourage people from touching their own bodies in ways they might enjoy. It’s enough to make the Ron Swanson in all of us fume.

Image result for Ron Swanson on government

It’s also for that very reason that nobody should be surprised that Ted Cruz just got himself into trouble by “accidentally” liking a porn video on Twitter. I put the word “accidentally” in quotes because it’s a loaded word in a situation where any word can turn into the dirtiest kind of innuendo. Since I prefer to save that sort of rhetoric for my novels, I don’t want to overdo it here.

Naturally, the idea of an uptight conservative republican who once argued for prohibitions on masturbation liking a porn video was like catnip for social media. Cruz is now the butt of a lot of crude humor and understandably so. It’s like catching a priest with a prostitute. It’s just inherently funny.

Now, as funny as this is and as detestable as Ted Cruz may be to anyone who enjoys stimulating their genitals, there’s a good chance the man may be completely innocent here. He has already gone on record as saying that a staffer managing his social media account liked the video and not him. Given how common that practice is among politicians, that’s the most likely scenario.

That doesn’t make situation any less hilarious, nor will it stop the onslaught of reactions from people calling Ted Cruz a hypocrite and a fraud. Given how much we, as a society, detest hypocrites, even from those from the non-political class, that’s understandable. Hypocrites are the epitome of everything that makes a human being unlikable.

However, in this case, I think the reactions to the hilarity may do more harm than good. Please don’t take that to mean I’m defending Ted Cruz, nor am I making excuses for him. I am not a big Ted Cruz fan. I would not vote for him to be my local dog catcher, let alone a politician of any standing.

That said, I’ve never met the man. I don’t know what he’s like outside of these ridiculous stories about the ridiculous things he says on the record. He might very well be a nice guy who only says what he says because his party’s platform involves decrying porn as a public health crisis. When the cameras go off, he may not really care much about the kinky stuff people do in the privacy of their bedrooms.

You could probably say the same about a lot of ardent conservatives like him, whose party gets a boatload of money from anti-sex, anti-porn, anti-fun organizations like the Family Research Council. What they say in public doesn’t always reflect what they believe in private.

Let’s not get too high and mighty here. If someone paid us enough money, then we would probably say all sorts of horribly unsexy things as well. I don’t deny that if someone gave me millions of dollars to only write novels that would appeal to Mormon clown enthusiasts, I would do it in a heartbeat.

Short of reading Ted Cruz’s mind or getting some private audio recordings that has him going on a Mel Gibson style rant about the evils of porn and masturbation, we have no way of knowing how he really feels about porn and sex. However, social media is still going to mock him as the ultimate hypocrite, right up there with Ted Haggard.

That, I feel, is a mistake because Ted Cruz is not Ted Haggard. Haggard got caught red-handed in a way he could not blame on a lazy staffer. In Cruz’s case, it’s very likely that this was just some staffer with too much free time, not enough coffee, and badly in need of a good orgasm. Attacking him for something he probably didn’t do makes us the assholes and not him.

There’s another more important reason why we shouldn’t make too big a deal about Cruz’s possible porn tastes and it goes beyond simply not being an asshole, an effort we should all value. There’s a time for mocking and a time for pointing out the hilarity of a situation, of which there are many. However, let’s not mistake mockery for an actual argument against the idea we find so abhorrent in the first place.

Mocking Ted Cruz does not make an effective argument against his regressive attitudes towards sex, porn, and all things fun in this world. Mockery outside of a “South Park” or “Rick and Morty” rerun never adds any kind of meaningful insight to an issue. Sure, it’s funny, but that’s the extent of the contribution.

For someone like Ted Cruz, who still wields real power and has real influence over public policy, mocking him isn’t going to change his mind about anything. If anything, it may make him that much more eager to send police into peoples’ houses to make sure they’re not pleasuring themselves. People get unreasonable when they’re mocked, especially when it’s not warranted.

Whether or not Ted Cruz genuinely believes his party’s platform on sex, porn, and minorities is beyond the point. At some point, just being an asshole to someone who likely didn’t have any role in an incident, other than having his name attached to it, helps nobody. It just gives Ted Cruz more reason to despise his opponents and not listen to them.

That’s the biggest reason why this whole ordeal with him liking a porn video on Twitter is already overblown and need not be an indictment on all things Ted Cruz. Instead of actually pointing out to Ted Cruz how regressive, harmful, and unproductive his attitudes are, people are taking the easier path and mocking him instead.

That approach is every bit as asinine as anything Ted Cruz has been part of. In fact, I dare you to find any person of power that ever changed their mind because of mockery. Men like Cruz should be challenged, but part of that process involves actually respecting them enough understand their situation. That’s harder for certain people, especially politicians who are beholden to donors.

It’s hard, frustrating, and not nearly as funny, but when our sex lives are at stake, I think it’s worth enduring. It might not be possible to persuade a man like Ted Cruz that his attitudes towards sex are wrong, but by being assholes about it, we’re doing a disservice to those who can be persuaded and for all the right reasons. In the end, that benefits both our sex lives and political discourse.

 

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How To Resist A Fascist Government (And Survive)

There’s been a lot of talk about fascism lately and I don’t deny that I’ve contributed to it. I tried to make that contribution meaningful and even sexy, but I know I’m facing some pretty strong headwinds that have managed to undermine far more relevant voices, like CNN.

Even if it is an uphill, fruitless discussion to have in the long run, it’s still worth having, if only to understand the forces behind it. It’s only when we understand something so daunting and dire that we can better deal with it. Like divorce, a death in the family, or a slow internet connection, it helps to maintain some sense of perspective.

With that in mind, I want to shift the discussion somewhat to something more practical. No, that doesn’t mean I’m about to trivialize the horrors of fascist regimes or make light of their victims. I like to inject sex appeal into everything I talk about, including fascism, but even I can’t make those topics sexy.

To that end, I’d like to focus on what people can do to actually resist a fascist regime. The topic of “resistance” has been a major issue lately, especially after what happened in the 2016 Presidential Election. There have been major protests, some of which I’ve discussed and some of which have become talking points for major media figures.

There’s plenty of angry rhetoric. There’s plenty more whining, yelling, and personal insults. I’m pretty sure that everyone’s mother has been called a whore at least once since January 2017. None of it is very productive, though. Most of it is just fodder for cable news and cheap laughs for those in power.

The truth of the matter is that there’s a right way to do a resistance movement, even against a fascist regime. Even the most authoritarian governments in history are vulnerable to collapse. It’s worth pointing out that nearly every major empire in history has collapsed, including the repressive ones. It may seem like a fascist regime can never fall. History, to date, says otherwise.

So with that in mind, I’d like to make another contribution to the discussion about fascism and the best ways to resist it. Moreover, I want to list the ways people can resist and have a good chance of surviving.

History shows that the kind of violent uprisings glorified in movies like “Red Dawn” may get people excited, and even horny in some cases, but it also shows that such violence tends to breed more violence. You need only look at the French Revolution or the Tiananmen Square protests for proof of that.

To bring down a fascist regime requires patience, foresight, and perseverance. Most importantly, the resistance needs to have easy tactics that everyone can do. That’s why I’ve compiled a quick list of easy tips on how to resist a fascist regime the smart way. It’s easy to do. It requires no violence. It just requires patience, perseverance, and a little luck. If done right, you’re much more likely to survive.

Please keep in mind, though, these tips only apply to fascist regimes that are run by humans, administered by humans, and populated by humans. That means subjects of advanced alien overlords like the Borg or superhuman despots like Dr. Doom need not apply.


Tip #1: Leave If You Can, But Survive If You Can’t

This is the simplest, most obvious tip to anyone unlucky enough to be living under a fascist government. I understand it isn’t always possible. I also understand that dealing with refugees are a complex hot-button issue. However, when it comes to bringing down a repressive government, it can’t be avoided.

One of the ways a fascist regime is inherently unstable is how it deals with it’s smart, highly skilled population. Fascist leaders tend to not like anyone smarter than them. That usually means brilliant, highly skilled people end up leaving the country, taking their knowledge and expertise with them. Nazi Germany found that out the hard way.

Countries like Iran are finding out too. When your country is a repressive, uptight society that won’t let well-paid, well-educated people have a beer or go to a strip club in peace, they tend to take their talents elsewhere. Without that professional class of people, a fascist regime can’t really accomplish much. It’s hard to make weapons of doom when you scare all the mad scientists away.

For those who aren’t highly skilled individuals and are unable to leave, the best thing you can do is survive. I know that’s much easier said than done, especially in the inherent poverty of fascist countries. However, being alive is important because it means the state still needs you. Without you, who’s going to provide the slave labor and constant adulation that a fascist leader demands?

Brutal or not, a fascist regime still has to care for its citizens to some extent. It needs to spend time, money, and resources ensuring that its people are actually capable of providing the labor and human resources to make the system work.

They may not provide much, especially if you end up in prison or a work camp, but the mere act of being alive still undermines the regime. So long as your existence forces the regime to spend time and money making you a productive member of their agenda, you’ve got the edge to some extent. Letting yourself die would only do them a favor. So in a sense, the best resistance anyone can do in such a horrible situation is just survive.


Tip #2: Tell Rulers Exactly What They Want To Hear (But Don’t Mean It)

This is another one of those inescapable pitfalls of living in a fascist regime. On paper, it may sound like you’re just emboldening the regime. That’s true, if you’re only looking at it in the short-term. If you’re willing to play a little three-dimensional chess, though, you can turn the tables.

There’s no doubt that living in a fascist regime will require you to glorify some despotic leader. You may hate their guts. You may pleasure yourself to the idea of them dying a violent death. That’s fine. Keep that hatred and kink strong within you, but keep it within you. If ever you have to put on a fake smile and tell the ruler how big their dick is, just grit your teeth and do it.

You’ll hate it in the short-term, but you’ll see the benefits in the long run. It’s one of those few times when the harshness of reality is on your side. If people only ever tell a dictator what they want to hear, they’ll avoid telling them about serious issues that need to be addressed. They won’t give the full story. They’ll avoid the hard facts, but those facts won’t avoid them.

As a result, fascist rulers will have a poor understanding of a situation or crisis. They’ll be incapable of making the kinds of decisions that strengthen their hold on power. Eventually, those decisions will erode the regime’s ability to function. They’ll leave their society in such a poor state that no amount of adulation will change it. At that point, the regime is as good as gone.


Tip #3: Conform In Public, Defy In Private

This ties directly into the previous tip. If you’re going to survive a fascist regime, you’re going to have to put on a public face you hate and do everything the regime demands that you to do in order to be a good citizen. You’ll hate it inside, but you’ll still do it because that’ll help you survive.

In private, however, you can afford to let yourself go. In fact, doing so will help inoculate you from the propaganda that all fascist regimes depend on to keep their population in line. Even repressive places like Iran are finding out the hard way that while some people show the necessary piety in public, they tend to get really freaky in private.

Now, I understand this would be even harder in a regime like the one described by George Orwell in “1984.” However, keep in mind that the kind of surveillance described in that book is pretty much impossible in the real world. Even North Korea has a hard time preventing smuggling.

If anything, more intensive surveillance means that your actually winning. All that surveillance, costing the regime time and money that it would rather spend strengthening its power. Having to micromanage its citizens is a huge drain on any regime, fascist or otherwise.

Welcome that kind of micromanaging whenever you can. In the long run, the regime will run out of money before you run out of things for them to manage. That way, when the regime starts to collapse, it’ll be easier for you and others dissatisfied with the regime to help it collapse. All you had to do was be deviant in private. Most people do that anyway so it’s something everybody can do.


Tip #4: Create Impossible Issues For Rulers To Deal With

This is a bit harder, but still fairly critical. By creating impossible issues, I don’t mean protest and complain to the fascist government. That’s usually a quick way to end up dead, in prison, or in a forced labor camp. You can still frustrate the regime, but you can do it indirectly.

The easiest way to do this is to just not do your job very well. Channel your inner Wally from “Dilbert” and do just enough to avoid getting into trouble, but nothing more than that. Don’t do your best. Don’t go the extra mile. That forces the regime to commit more resources to doing something that shouldn’t take so many to begin with.

Beyond just being a marginal worker, go out of your way to make day-to-day issues complex and tedious for the authorities. Think of it as a form of trolling, minus the insults to other peoples’ mothers. The key is to get the government to deal with multiple issues on multiple fronts. They don’t need to be big issues. In fact, the smaller the issue, the better.

Small issues frustrate governments far more than larger issues. Government, and its assorted bureaucracy, is a blunt instrument by nature. It can’t deal with smaller issues for the same reason a doctor can’t perform brain surgery with a baseball bat. It just doesn’t have the tools. That won’t stop it from trying. It’ll just made a mess of things and that works to your advantage.


Tip #5: Weaponize The Power of Apathy, Boredom, And Dispassion

This goes along with the previous tip in that it takes being lousy at your job a step further. One of the most important tools that fascist rulers use is their ability to rally up the passions of the public. They use their gift for rhetoric and giving fancy speeches to work people into a frenzy so that they’ll ditch all forms of critical thinking and follow them into battle.

While it helps fascist governments come to power, it’s not very useful when it comes to maintaining power. Sure, fascist governments will hold military parades and create these big, gaudy monuments to their glory. However, it amounts to an oversized toilet for pigeons if it can’t generate the same solidary.

That solidarity is the glue that holds a fascist society together. Apathy, Boredom, and utter dispassion is the solvent that breaks up that glue. If a government spends all that time and money blaring their glorious message to the populous, only to have them look back with blank and tired stares, they’re screwed.

If the people aren’t united and in an orgasmic frenzy of support, they’re less likely to sacrifice or aid the regime. Sure, they’ll follow the rules. They’ll march in the parades. They’ll even put on happy faces. They just won’t put much energy or effort into helping the regime stay together. That’s why the greatest tool any citizen in the resistance can have is their apathy. Without that, a fascist society just falls apart.


Tip #6: Let The Rulers Frustrate Themselves (And Stay Out Of Their Way)

This is probably the most enjoyable tip on this list and not just because it doesn’t require much effort. Technically, you really don’t have to do anything to make this happen, so long as you follow the other tips I’ve listed.

That’s because government and bureaucracy, at least those run by humans, are inherently flawed. That’s because people are inherently flawed. No matter how dedicated or passionate they may be, they’re going to make mistakes. They’re going to fall flat on their faces. All you have to do is let them.

This is especially true of dictators, who everybody is afraid to restrain. Eventually, they’ll get back up, blame everyone but themselves, and try to correct it. Chances are, they’ll fall flat on their face again. They’ll get even angrier. That kick-starts a brutal cycle that the dictator can’t escape. Eventually, they’ll frustrate themselves to the point of utter failure. Once they fail, the regime fails.

When this happens, the best thing anyone can do is stay out of its way. Every fascist regime has inherent flaws. You just have to be patient enough and tough enough to let them happen. It can be grueling and downright dangerous. In the long run, though, human nature and inept dictators will be on your side.

That, in essence, is the greatest and most fitting irony of fascism.

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On Fascism (And Why It Fails)

Brace yourself and temper your outrage because I’m about to talk about fascism. No, I’m not talking about the kind of fascism that teenagers whine about whenever they have a strict teacher in high school. I’m not even talking about the kind of fascism that that certain people attribute to college professors, LGBT rights, Hollywood, the NRA, the Catholic Church, and Negan from “The Walking Dead.”

Today, I’m going to talk about actual, real-world fascism and how it functions. I’m also going to talk about why it tends to fail in the long run and why it’s become such an empty term. Now, I know that means putting a big target on my ass and daring the more vocal parts of the internet to take a shot. I like think my ass is harder and more durable than most so I’m prepared to take that chance.

I know people like to throw the word fascism around like middle fingers in mid-day traffic, but it does have a definition. That definition has been twisted and amended many times over the past half-century, so much so that the word evokes so many different connotations.

For the sake of this post, I’ll be using the definition from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. It offers a fairly concise assessment of what it entails.

A political philosophy, movement, or regime (such as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.

Under this definition, America and most developed countries are not fascist. No matter what some kale-eating hippie or Jerry Falwell wannabe theocrat may claim, the systems and laws in place are antithetical to fascism.

Western countries have codified laws and traditions that value individual rights, protect minorities, and restrain central government power. Now, that’s not to say it’s perfect in practice. There are plenty of examples, historical and contemporary, that of inequality and oppression by the government.

However, those examples are more a product of misguided groups of people and inherent systemic corruption. To call an entire system fascist because of those instances would be like calling an entire swimming pool dirty because a few people spit in it. With fascism, the entire pool is spit so there’s no need for cherry picking.

Thanks to the cruel mistress that is history, we have a few well-known examples of true fascism that even vegan hippies can agree on. By most objective measures, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany are the alpha and omega of all things fascist. If fascism were music, these two would be Elvis and the Beatles.

These governments were repressive, authoritarian, corrupt, and powerful. They could do whatever it wanted to its citizens and act however it wanted on a national stage, not giving a damn about public support of any kind. There was no hesitation to lie, cheat, and mislead the people. In these governments, people are either pawns or cogs in a machine. The very notion of freedom might as well be as fanciful as a unicorn fart.

There’s no question that these fascist governments did a lot of damage and caused a lot of suffering. There’s also no question that their actions scared and traumatized an entire world. They revealed to a modern world that wars between despots and industrial powers was truly horrific. Most human beings tend to avoid such horrors. A massive world war was enough to make everyone hyper-vigilant of all things fascist.

It’s in this heightened mentality where I think it’s worth having some perspective about fascism. We hear pundits, politicians, and protesters throw that word around, as though it’s the rhetorical equivalent of an “avoid critical thinking” card. It’s an easy label to throw around, but it rarely sticks because actual fascism is actually pretty frail.

In a modern context, fascism is different from the kings and despots of the ancient world. In those times, corrupt and blood-thirsty kings could only get away with so much. A kingdom and a nation state, complete with modern infrastructure, are two very different things.

A king needs to only hold a kingdom together and fight off the occasional invader. A nation state has to deal with bureaucracy, social welfare, and legal issues. No matter how big a king’s castle is, there’s just no way to manage all that in a modern context. There needs to be some sort of system in place.

A fascist government tries to centralize that system and organize it in a simple, stable way that definitively benefits certain persons or groups. Nazis sought to benefit a favored race. Italian Fascist sought to benefit a favored class. The argument could be made that Stalinist Russia and the current regime in North Korea are fascist in nature. I would tend to agree with those claims.

The goal is almost always the same. A fascist government directly and overtly attempts to control and centralize power for a select group of elites. It’s for this very reason that fascism tends to fail in the long run or never succeed in the first place.

Now, don’t go cheering and waving American flags just yet. That’s not to say that fascism inevitably falls under the glowing light of freedom, democracy, and bald eagles. That’s a romantic idea that makes for great war movies and comic book characters. It’s not necessarily reflective of real-world machinations.

The biggest flaw in fascism is its attempt to control and manage an entire state. That’s not just difficult. It’s impossible for any ordinary human or groups of humans. Our caveman brains can barely control when we get horny. How can we expect to control an entire government, let alone one meant to benefit a specific group of people?

The short answer is we can’t. The long answer is that such centralization and power requires a lot of bullying, corruption, subversion, and back-stabbing. That’s why you have Nazi Storm Troopers and Stalinist purges. It isn’t just because powerful people get a thrill out of ordering rampant death. They need to scare, bully, and intimidate everybody into going along with their agenda and being completely loyal.

That’s a huge problem though because, as I’ve pointed out before, it’s impossible to know how truthful someone is. You can never know who is truly loyal and who is plotting against you. That’s why men like Joseph Stalin were obscenely paranoid, which guaranteed that allies and enemies alike would die by his hand. Without those allies, any system is inherently weaker.

On top of that problem, there’s also the issue of the terrified masses who live under a fascist thumb. Say what you will about whiny protesters complaining about weed, but at least they’re willing to tell the government what they don’t want to hear. In a fascist system, the impoverished masses will likely keep their mouth shut.

That may help a paranoid fascist get through the day, but it limits their ability to make it through the year. That’s because in a complex world, having incomplete facts tends to be a huge detriment. If nobody is willing to tell a fascist ruler that their rusty old trucks with canons are no match for drone strikes, then that’s going to be a problem.

That’s why, contrary to what the History Channel and video games may claim, fascist regimes like Nazi Germany were never close to winning the war. Between major blunders and micromanaging, there was never a scenario that didn’t involve time travel or aliens that would’ve allowed them to win.

That’s because a fascist regime can’t trust anyone, be it military generals or the public. At some point, the political ties break down and the system just can’t handle it. They can delay the collapse, but they usually can’t stop it. It’s remarkable that Nazi Germany lasted as long as it did, given all the assassination attempts.

It’s the dirty, but unavoidable secret of almost every fascist governments. They function only to live another day, rather than build a future. Some are better at it than others. Castro’s Cuba has managed to survive for over a half-century, albeit with significant support from other neighboring countries.

The same goes for North Korea. The only reason that country still exists is because China doesn’t want a failed state on its border. At this point, North Korea can only endure, but not build. As the old dynastic cycle in China often proved, a system concerned only with survival tends to collapse in the long run.

I say this not as a way to undermine the horrors that fascism has and could potentially unleash on this world. It is a real danger in a world that’s full of crazy dictators and obscene corruption. However, it’s a danger with an inherent weakness and an expiration date. It’s one instance where you can depend on caveman logic to win out in the end.

It may not inspire the kind of ravenous patriotism that Americans tend to enjoy. However, it does show that, despite protests the contrary, there’s a lot to appreciate about our current system. It’s not perfect, but it’s building towards a better, sexier future more so than any fascist government ever will.

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