Tag Archives: social psychology

Aging In A Society Where Nobody Ages

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We’ve all known someone who perfectly fits the profile of a grumpy old coot. Whether they’re a family member or a stranger, we can readily identify the associated traits. They’re bitter, angry, cynical, and exceedingly nostalgic for an era that has long since passed. Having to live in a frail, failing body certainly doesn’t help.

As annoying as their attitudes can be, it does raise a relevant question. Are they grumpy because they genuinely feel that everything in their world is awful or are they grumpy because their youth has become a distant memory? It’s a question that doesn’t apply to every old person, but it’s relevant to more than few.

Being old is not a pleasant experience for a lot of people. There are a lot of undesirable symptoms associated with it. Your skin gets wrinkled, your organs start to fail, your mind starts to slip, and you just don’t have the energy you used to have. On top of that, your sex life really suffers, regardless of your gender.

In that context, it’s not hard to understand why people get grumpier as they get older. They have plenty of reasons and plenty more excuses. It has always been a part of society. Like rebellious teenagers, their existence is an accepted part of life, so much so that it’s hard to imagine society without it.

This is where I take the same twisted mind that helps me write sexy stories and use it to propose a thought experiment. It’s also where I explore exciting new technology that will change the way society functions. It’s true that aging is part of our world. However, small pox, polio, and ridiculously flawed assumptions about the female body were once part of our world as well. That didn’t stop us from changing it.

In recalling the grumpy old coots I’ve known in my life, I often wonder whether they would act and feel the same way if they suddenly woke up in the body of their 25-year-old self. How much or how little would that change their attitudes? Would they be as jaded about the world if they were suddenly able to think, move, and hump like their younger selves?

Some might still be grumpy.

I even wonder this when recalling the elder individuals I know who aren’t grumpy and cantankerous. Those people do exist. Some of the happiest people I know are old, gray, and have a long list of health issues. They’ve lived good lives, have few regrets, and are content with their current state. Would that change for better or for worse if they were young again?

These are questions that will become increasingly relevant in the coming decades. While it’s currently impossible to just wake up in a new body like in “Altered Carbon,” the anti-aging industry is a burgeoning multi-billion dollar market. With demographics in the western world shifting rapidly, this market is poised to grow even more.

As it stands, there’s no comprehensive treatment that reverses aging for everyone. There are things people can do to improve longevity, but more often than not, someone’s ability to live comfortably into old age depends on factors they cannot control. The fact that Keith Richards lived beyond 1989 is proof enough of that.

That’s not to say we all just have to hope we have the same genetic fortitude as someone like Keith Richards. The current research into anti-aging is making significant strides. We understand aging a lot more than we did 20 years ago. In essence, it’s largely a matter of cells not being able to repair themselves as well as they used to. If we can fix that, then we fix aging.

It sounds simple, but it’s not. However, unlike some of the other advanced technologies I’ve discussed, there’s no need to prove the concept in the real world. We know it’s possible for organisms to live significantly longer than humans. Lobsters, turtles, and even whales have been documented to live centuries and function on the same level as their younger counterparts.

How they do this and whether it can be applied to humans is still uncertain, but there’s a great deal of research into this field. There’s also a huge incentive to perfect anti-aging treatments on a large scale. The first company that does that will likely be a trillion-dollar company. Whether or not it happens in my lifetime is difficult to surmise, but given the pace of technology, I believe it will happen eventually.

When it does, that raises a whole host of questions that are difficult to answer. What does a society where people don’t age even look like? How does it even function? I doubt our current system could support it. Countries like Japan are already dealing with significant problems associated with their rapidly-aging population. That issue will likely get more complicated as anti-aging technology improves.

What will it mean to retire in a world where people live for centuries rather than decades?

What will it mean to have a career?

What will it mean to have a family?

What will it mean for rearing and caring for children?

Think of how multiple generations function together at the moment. For a while, my family had four generations living at once. I had my parents, my grandparents, and my great-grandparents alive at one point. That made for a robust, but sometimes convoluted family structure. Just keeping up with family affairs could be tricky since my family moves around a lot.

Now, imagine having even more generations alive at once. Imagine dealing with parents, grandparents, and great-great-great-great-grandparents. As individuals and as a society, we’ve never dealt with that kind of dynamic. What would the roles be for that many living descendants? What would that do to custody, inheritance, and just basic overall functioning?

It’s difficult to imagine, but it gets even more complicated than that. Another major aspect of anti-aging research doesn’t just involve extending the human lifespan. It also involves reversing aging and preserving youth. Animals like turtles already do it. They get to a certain age and basically stay that way. Ideally, we want to provide something similar in humans.

That means our parents, grandparents, and great-great-great grandparents wouldn’t just live longer. They wouldn’t look a day over 30. On top of that, they would still be perfectly capable of having more children. People could have siblings who are decades younger than them. They could also end up with uncles and aunts of all ages.

Imagine some of these people being older than your grandmother.

Then, there are the nearly limitless number of half-siblings they could have. Even in our current state of aging, a good chunk of the population lives within a step-family where they’re only related to one parent biologically. In a world where people never age out of their sexual prime, it’s more than likely this will increase.

It may get to a point where age really is just a number. That won’t just be a cute euphemism or a creepy R. Kelly song. If we’re able to effectively rewire and repair our biology, then it would be nothing more than a legal designation on our birth certificate. It would have no further bearing on our lives.

That could cause all sorts of issues for our love lives. Imagine walking down a busy street and not seeing anyone who looks older than 30 years old. It would be like walking through a college town everywhere you went. You wouldn’t know if that cute girl at the bar or that handsome guy on the bus is just out of college or of they’ve got five living grandchildren. How would flirting even work?

Guy: Hey there, cutie. You want to go get some coffee?

Girl: I’d love to, but I’m picking my granddaughter up from her retirement party. Maybe tomorrow?

That could really affect how we see romance, sex, and relationships. The whole concept of “Till death do you part” could suddenly become a major complication. Sure, there may be couples who manage to stay married for centuries. They’ll make for great stories, as many long-time spouses do today. Chances are they’ll be the exceedingly-rare exception and not the norm.

It may be the case that marriages and family bonds become subject to time-frames. People may just get together to raise a family, but once those kids reach a certain age, they go their separate ways, possibly to do it all over again with someone else. If their bodies don’t age and they remain healthy, what would stop them?

That assumes a lot about what people will even want if they live indefinitely and maintain their youth. Again, we have no precedent for this. We’ve never lived in a society where everyone is young, healthy, and immune to the rigors of time.

There may very well be effects that go beyond our personal lives. Even if our bodies never age beyond 30, our minds certainly will. Aging does have an impact on the human brain and I’m not just referring to the effects of dementia. Just living longer affects how we perceive the world. It even affects how we perceive time. A year to a 10-year-old means something very different to someone who is 95-years-old.

Even if we could maintain a high level of brain function for centuries, there’s still the possibility that we’ll struggle to function as a whole. Many major social movements throughout history occur because older generations that retained entrenched prejudices died off. How will we advance civil rights in a society where the old traditionalists never died off?

Still not over the Civil War.

Then, there’s the boredom issue. I’ve mentioned before how powerful boredom can be, even without living forever. What do we do with ourselves if we can live for centuries and never lose our youth? How would we keep ourselves occupied and entertained? Would the boredom drive us mad? Would it turn us into sociopath super-villains like Vandal Savage?

It’s impossible to know for now, but it’s a possibility that we should take seriously. We’re already dealing with the serious effects of overpopulation. How will our civilization and our planet cope if people stop aging?

Future currency could be the ability to stretch your arms.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t pursue this technology. I’ve seen what aging does to people. I’ve seen how it effects people very close to me. We all probably know someone who endures endless hardship and discomfort because of their age. We should help them and the burgeoning anti-aging industry is poised to do just that.

We should also seriously contemplate what kind of society we’ll be creating if and when we cure aging. It will require a complete re-imagining of what it means to live, love, and be part of a family. Chances are people today will think it’s crazy. In a world where everyone stays young and sexy, it’ll just be life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1: Poor Looks

2: Low Self-Esteem/Confidence

3: Not Putting Much Effort Into Seeking Relationships

4: Not Being Interested In A Relationship

5: Poor Social Skills With Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Daily Sexy Musings: Love Versus Desire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some have already done it better than I ever will.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Understanding (And Learning From) Lex Luthor’s Hatred Of Superman

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As a lifelong fan of superhero comics and someone who enjoys shows like “Breaking Bad,” I’m genuinely fascinated by villains. Specifically, I’m intrigued by what makes them tick and why they walk the villain’s path. Their journey is distinct from that of a hero, but one that can be just as compelling.

In many cases, these villains have capabilities that allow them to solve many of the world’s problems. I’ve cited Dr. Doom as one of those villains who blurs the lines of villainy because of his intentions. Characters like Dr. Doom genuinely believe that their villainous actions are justified because it will lead to a better, safer, more prosperous world. Heroes also believe that too, which helps fuel their epic battles.

For a character like Lex Luthor, though, the line isn’t that blurry. He’s a villain, plain and simple. He’s selfish, callous, arrogant, cruel, and narcissistic to an extreme. If he existed in the real world, he would check every box for narcissistic personality disorder. In terms of personality, he’s the polar opposite of his nemesis, Superman.

That goes a long way towards giving Superman an enemy who stands against his heroic ideals. I would even argue that Superman couldn’t be the iconic kind of hero he is without Lex Luthor. At the same time, I also think Lex reveals something critical about humanity, morality, and superheroes in general.

That’s difficult to see because for much of Lex’s early years in comics, there wasn’t much depth to his motivation. He just wanted to dominate the universe and Superman was in his way. It’s basic and bland, but that was typical for the early era of superhero comics. Villains like Lex were mostly just obstacles for the heroes to overcome in their journey.

That changed in the late 80s and early 90s with the modern era iteration of Lex Luthor. Finally, Lex got more backstory and depth. He was still no Walter White, but these details helped set the stage for the kind of villain he became. It also helped establish why he hates Superman so much.

Whereas Superman landed on Earth and was adopted by loving parents, Lex grew up in a rough part of Metropolis called the Suicide Slums and was raised in an abusive household. Right off the bat, Superman gets lucky by having the best parents a child of any species could ask for while he’s unlucky enough to be born with the worst.

As a result, Lex had to be ruthless, manipulative, and cunning. Unlike other villains, though, he didn’t need much tempting. He didn’t agonize over his moral decisions, either. He just did it and didn’t feel a shred of guilt. That includes the role he played in the death of his parents.

That alone establishes Lex Luthor as the kind of ruthless villain who would oppose Superman for any number of reasons. However, as evil as that act was, it’s important to note the motivation behind it. Lex didn’t just kill his parents because murder makes him happy. He did it because they were an obstacle and an opportunity.

They were holding him back, but their deaths meant insurance money that he could use to strike out on his own and build something worthy of his genius. To him, the morality of his decision didn’t matter. Only the results mattered. That’s a critical detail and one that puts Lex Luthor’s villainy into a unique context.

Lex, being one of the smartest characters in the entire DC universe, doesn’t care much for things that are esoteric and obscure. He’s all about results that are tangible and measurable. That means things like truth, justice, and the American way are empty concepts to him. Superman champions those ideals, but for Lex Luthor, they’re just hindrances.

That kind of cold, callous approach to the world gives a unique substance to Lex’s behavior. He’s certainly not the first person to take such a materialistic approach to reality. Rick Sanchez of “Rick and Morty” does the same, but rather than misanthropic despair, Lex Luthor sees it as the key to producing the results he seeks.

Moreover, he has to produce those results without the god-like power that Superman wields. If Superman wants to move the Earth out of the way or destroy an oncoming asteroid, he doesn’t have to build anything or learn anything. He just has to flex his muscles, fly up into the sky, and destroy it with a single punch. There’s no tangible reason to his actions beyond it being the right thing to do.

To Lex Luthor, that’s not just an affront to someone who had to work for everything he ever gained. It’s an insult to his egocentric, results-focused worldview. Just saving the world because it’s the right thing to do doesn’t achieve anything. It does nothing to move humanity forward because nobody had to produce something of merit. It just allows them to continue in the same, unaltered state.

This gets to the heart of why Lex Luthor hates Superman. The extent of that hatred was fully articulated in one of the best modern Superman stories ever told, “All-Star Superman” by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. If you only read one Superman comic, make it this one because it perfectly encapsulates the pure heroism of Superman and the cold villainy of Lex Luthor.

In one critical part of the story, Lex tells Clark Kent, who he doesn’t know is Superman, what it means to actually work for his power. Superman, for all his idealism, did nothing to earn his abilities. He just happened to be an alien who landed on a planet with a yellow sun.

It’s like winning the lottery as opposed to working hard for a fortune. One is built on hard work and skill while the other is just dumb luck. Beyond basic jealousy, though, Lex makes another critical point about the ideal Superman sets.

From his perspective, that lofty ideal diminishes the entire human race. By being this other-worldly savior who achieves all these impossible feats, Superman reveals how inept the human race is. More importantly to Lex and his massive ego, it shows just how feeble his achievements are, despite all the work he put in.

Being the extreme narcissist he is, Lex takes that as the ultimate insult. In terms of the bigger picture, it establishes that neither he nor humanity can achieve their full potential. In that context, it’s understandable why Lex dedicated so much time and energy to killing Superman.

I won’t get into all the ways Lex has tried and failed over the years, although one of his plots did involve him becoming President of the United States. Whatever his methods, I think there’s a larger lesson to learn from Lex’s hatred and for once, it goes beyond his ego.

A big part of what turns someone into a villain is this sense that the world isn’t fair, but could be made better with the right guidance. Lex believes he’s capable of providing that guidance and not just because of his ego. He is, objectively, one of the smartest and most capable human beings on the planet. However, it’s Superman who keeps Lex from making the world less unfair.

Superman believes in the merits of truth and justice. He inspires others to uphold these ideals, even without his vast power. That’s a problem for Lex, who builds much of his power on lies and treachery. To him, though, he doesn’t see that as wrong. He just sees that as the most efficient way to get results.

To uphold truth and justice, in his brilliant mind, is to prevent the world from progressing. Granted, progress in Lex Luthor’s mind means him being in charge, but that doesn’t necessarily undermine the implications.

Like Dr. Doom, Lex is ambitious in that he doesn’t just want to save the world like Superman. He wants to fundamentally change it and he’s willing to cross any line to achieve that. Killing Superman is part of that change, but so is becoming a billionaire and a future President of the United States. If a billion people die in the process, then that’s acceptable because it means humanity is stronger because of it.

There have been times in the comics where Luthor’s vision has manifested. In another critically-acclaimed Superman story, “Red Son” by Mark Millar, Lex has a chance to lead the world into a brighter future. By and large, he succeeds. He’s still an unapologetic narcissist, but he still gets the results he seeks.

Like all great conflicts between superheroes and their arch-nemesis, the dichotomy between Superman and Lex Luthor is stark. They’re two extremes on opposite ends of a spectrum delineating heroism and villainy. By being on those extremes, though, it’s easier to see the inherent shortcomings of both.

While Lex’s shortcomings are easier to identify since he’s an outright villain, he does help identify an important flaw in Superman’s idealism and one that extends to superheroes, as a whole. Superman is willing to save the day, but he’s not willing to cross any lines. He will only ever do the right thing and that means not sacrificing innocent lives or usurping individual freedom.

Those heroics will keep the world turning, but they won’t move society forward. Superman believes in inspiring humanity rather than doing it for them, but Lex Luthor believes his heroism achieves the opposite. It just makes people complacent and dependent on heroes like him rather than crossing the lines that he’ll cross to get things done.

At the end of the day, both in the real world and the world of comic books, we have to determine how much we’re willing to pay for the results we seek. Lex is willing to pay any price. Superman isn’t willing to pay a cent beyond doing the right thing. Most reasonable people, including other superheroes, fall somewhere in the middle.

In the pantheon of super-villains, Lex Luthor is probably the easiest to despise and the hardest to understand. Like Superman, he exposes another side of an ongoing struggle between doing the right thing and achieving more. As society continues to progress, achieving abilities rivaling that of any superhero, it’s a struggle we’ll have to confront.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, human nature, philosophy, psychology, superhero comics

Lessons In Love According To Rick Sanchez

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What is love? Can we ask that question without referencing to a one-hit wonder R&B song from 1993? I think it’s a question worth asking and one people have been asking since the dawn of our species. Many men who are way smarter than I’ll ever be have tried to answer this question. Some have offered revealing insights. Others just use it as an excuse to whine about a cheating spouse.

Then, there’s Rick Sanchez. I know that by saying that name, I’ve completely altered the tone of this topic. I could’ve easily spent the next several paragraphs breaking down how the smartest men in history view love and how that understanding reveals itself in our modern concept of romance. For now, I’d rather scrutinize love from the perspective of a hard-drinking, brutally honest, nihilistic cartoon character from Adult Swim.

Yep, I’m referring to this guy again.

Make no mistake. I’m not just using this as another excuse to talk about “Rick and Morty,” although I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking that. I really do think characters like Rick Sanchez have something to teach us on the topic of love. Being an admitted romantic and aspiring erotica/romance writer, I believe those lessons are worth heeding.

On paper, Rick Sanchez is the last person most would go to for insights into love. From the first scene in the first episode, he establishes himself as an overly-cynical, high-functioning alcoholic who may or may not be okay with blowing up the world for the sake of a fresh start. To say he’s not the romantic type would be like saying Jerry needs help with his golf game.

However, Rick does demonstrate throughout the show that he has a capacity for love. He has even had a few moments where he has shown genuine heart. There’s an odd mix of eccentricity and complexity to Rick’s behavior. That’s part of what makes him such an endearing character and why he resonates so much with an emerging generation.

From all that chaos, though, there are insights worth noting. “Rick and Morty” may go heavy with nihilism and moments of existential crisis, but it doesn’t avoid the impact of love. Whether it’s Morty constantly trying to get with Jessica or the constant upheavals in Beth and Jerry’s marriage, love is an underlying factor throughout the show.

This is despite the fact that Rick is pretty overt about his feelings on love. In “Rick Potion #9,” the sixth episode of the first season, he gives his clearest, most quote-worthy opinion on love.

“Listen, Morty, I hate to break it to you but what people call ‘love’ is just a chemical reaction that compels animals to breed. It hits hard, Morty, then it slowly fades, leaving you stranded in a failing marriage. I did it. Your parents are gonna do it. Break the cycle, Morty. Rise above. Focus on science.”

That sounds pretty jaded, to say the least. It’s perfectly fitting with Rick’s misanthropic mentality. However, there is a context here and one that’s fairly subtle, as things tend to be in the world of “Rick and Morty.”

Part of that context is Rick’s family situation. Beyond being a drunk and an eccentric mad scientist, he also has a family. It’s not just his daughter and two grandkids, either. He mentions in his cynical musings that he’d fallen in love and gotten married at one point.

That, alone, has some pretty profound implications. It shows that even the smartest, most capable man in the multiverse cannot avoid the impact of love. Keep in mind, this is a man who travels the multiverse on a whim, defeats Thanos-level super-villains while drunk, and understands how meaningless everything is in the grand scheme of things.

Despite all that, Rick Sanchez still fell in love. He still got married. That, in and of itself, shows the power of love better than any Huey Lewis song. While the show hasn’t revealed much about his former wife, Diane, it does establish an important fact. Rick is capable of love, even when he sees it as just a confluence of brain chemicals.

The show goes onto to reveal that Rick is still influenced by love, despite this reductionist understanding of it. The most comprehensive example comes in Season 2, Episode 3, “Auto Erotic Assimilation.” In many ways, this episode helps convey the most meaningful lesson in love that any animated series has ever attempted.

In the episode, Rick catches up with an old girlfriend, who happens to be an alien hive mind named Unity. If that sounds weird, even by “Rick and Morty” standards, trust me when I say it doesn’t crack the top ten. The fact that Unity is a hive mind is part of why the insights are so unique and impactful.

Throughout the episode, we learn about the particulars of Rick and Unity’s relationship. Unity establishes herself as one of the few beings in the multiverse who can keep up with Rick’s eccentricities. If anything, she has to be a hive mind in order to do so, as evidenced by Rick’s elaborately kinky requests.

In this context, Unity is the ultimate manifestation of supportive lover. She can literally do anything and be anywhere because she has the collective resources of an entire planet at her disposal. She’s more capable than a shape-shifter like Mystique or even an advanced sex robot.

If she wants to make love as a beautiful, buxom blond right out of a Playboy centerfold, she can do that. If she wants to do it as a greasy-haired, middle-aged man with a hairy back and bad breath, she can do that too. She can be two people, ten people, or as many people as she wants to be to love Rick and express that love however they want.

This breaks down, however, when Unity’s efforts to pursue that romance with Rick ends up straining her ability to maintain her hive mind. It gets so strenuous, at one point, that it leads to a nipple-driven race war on the planet. Again, this is pretty standard in terms of weirdness for “Rick and Morty.”

The implications of this breakdown are serious and I’m not referring to the nipple-driven race war. Logistically speaking, Rick and Unity had everything they needed to make their relationship work. They had unlimited resources and unlimited opportunities for intimacy, decadence, and everything in between. In exercising that, though, their relationship devolved into an ongoing spiral of self-destruction.

There was clear, unambiguous love between Rick and Unity. However, the act of being together proved toxic to both of them. Unity couldn’t be with Rick without losing herself, literally and figuratively. Rick couldn’t be with Unity without descending into a spiral of debauchery. Even if the love is there, embracing it leads to both of them getting hurt.

This made for one of the most dramatic and emotional moments of the show, one that reveals just how much Rick loved Unity. After she leaves him, it really hits him on an emotional level, so much so that he nearly kills himself. Remember, this is a man who said love is nothing more than a chemical reaction in the brain.

The pain in that moment, though, belabors a much larger point about love and being with someone. Just loving someone is easy. As Rick says, it’s just a chemical reaction in your brain. It’s something that can happen to anyone, even the smartest man in the multiverse.

However, being with someone and expressing the full spectrum of love involves much more than convergent brain chemistry. For some people, love can be downright destructive. If pursuing love means undermining your sense of being, as happened with Unity, then that’s a sign that the relationship isn’t tenable.

It’s tragic, but unavoidable. You can love someone with all your heart, but not be capable of having a functional relationship. It’s a harsh reality, one that’s perfectly in line with the nihilistic subtext in “Rick and Morty.” At the same time, though, there’s a less dire lesson to be learned.

Even if love is just a brain function that helps propogate the species, it has the power to affect us in the best and worst of ways. It can lead us to the greatest of joys, as Rick and Unity experienced for a brief time. It can also lead us to the worst of sorrows. Few other brain functions can make that claim.

That wide range of experiences are a powerful mechanism for finding meaning in a meaningless universe. Rick Sanchez doesn’t avoid the pain in those experiences and he doesn’t hesitate to pursue the joys, often to a reckless degree. Finding meaning in this universe is hard enough, but love can do plenty to carry us forward. You don’t have to be a Rick-level genius to appreciate that, although that’s probably a good thing.

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Filed under gender issues, Marriage and Relationships, philosophy, Rick and Morty, romance

How The Idea Of “Toxic Fandom” Is Fundamentally Flawed

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The internet is a vast, wonderful place full of mesmerizing gifs, amazing stories, and the collective knowledge of our entire species. I would argue that the internet is one of humanity’s most important tools since the invention of fire. I strongly believe that is has done more good any other tool we’ve created.

I have a feeling that this rosy view of the internet is a minority opinion. These days, all the good the internet does tends to get lost in the stories that highlight its many dangers. I don’t deny that there are dangers there. The internet does have some dark places where hate, harassment, and outright depravity are on full display.

More and more, it seems, the internet is becoming an enabler of a new manifestation of popular culture. It’s called “toxic fandom” and it relies on the greatest strengths of the internet to bring out the absolute worst in people. It didn’t start with the heated fan reaction of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” but it certainly made it relevant.

Before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear. There are assholes on the internet. There are also assholes in real life. The internet doesn’t make them that way. It just gives them a platform to be an asshole on a larger scale. That’s an unfortunate side-effect of the internet, but one that tends to obscure a larger narrative.

That’s because, much like inane terms such as “toxic masculinity,” the idea of toxic fandom relies on a series of assumptions that only ever have a sliver of truth behind them. It builds around this idea of there’s this grand, over-arching effort by immature, angry young men who secretly wish they could sexually harass women with impunity. It’s not quite on the level of an Alex Jones type conspiracy, but it’s close.

There have always been overly-passionate fans. It existed long before the internet and would still exist if the internet disappeared tomorrow. “Toxic fandom,” and there’s a reason I’m putting it in quotes, is something very different.

This doesn’t involve obsession with a particular celebrity. It involves a particular type of media like a movie, a TV show, or a video game. In some respects, this sort of fandom is a byproduct of overwhelming success. When something like “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” comes along, it resonates with an audience on a profound level. That sort of impact can last a lifetime.

I can attest to the power of that impact through my love of comic books. I’ve even cited a few that I find deeply moving, both in good ways and in not-so-good ways. Most everybody has had an experience like that at some point in their life, whether it’s their reaction to seeing “Titanic” for the first time or the feeling they get after they binge-watch “Breaking Bad.”

The toxic part usually comes when the media they’ve come to love manifests in a way that’s not just disappointing. It undermines those powerful feelings they’ve come to associate with that media. The results can be very distressing and until recently, the only way to express that distress was to sulk quietly in a darkened room.

Then, the internet comes along and suddenly, fans have a way to voice their feelings, for better and for worse. They can even connect with fans who feel like they do so that they don’t feel alone. The human tendency to form groups is one of the most fundamental acts anyone can do as a member of a highly social species.

Now, there’s nothing inherently “toxic” about that behavior. It has only made the news because the passions/vitriol of fans is more visible, thanks to the internet. Just browse any comments section of any movie or show on IMDB. Chances are you’ll find a few people who claim that this thing they once loved has been ruined and will use every possible medium to voice their displeasure.

This is where the “toxic” aspects of fandom start to have real-world consequences. Most recently, Kelly Marie Tran became the face of those victimized by toxic fandoms. After her portrayal of Rose Tico in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” she became the most polarizing figure in the history of Star Wars since Jar Jar Binks.

The story surrounding Ms. Tran’s harassment, which was objectively horrible, became vindication for those who believed that the Star Wars fanbase had become a mess of angry, hate-filled fanboys. They didn’t like that something they loved was changing and becoming more diverse. As such, their criticisms don’t matter. They may as well be wounded storm troopers in a room full of angry wookies.

The problem with this assumption is the same problem we get when someone writes off facts as fake news or diversity efforts as a neo-Marxist conspiracy. It’s a simple, convenient excuse to ignore possible flaws and justify personal assumptions. It also conflates the inescapable truth that assholes exist in the world and there’s nothing we can do about it.

None of this is to imply that harassment is justified or that fans can be exceedingly unreasonable. By the same token, this doesn’t imply that studios don’t deserve criticism when they attempt to revamp a beloved franchise in a way that does not keep with the spirit of the original. It’s only when criticism gets lost in the outrage that the “toxic” behaviors become more prominent.

It’s within that outrage, though, where the true flaws in the “toxic fanbase” narrative really break down. To a large extent, the “toxicity” that many complain about aren’t a product of unhealthy attitudes. They’re a manifestation of an inherent flaw in the relationship between fans and those who produce the iconic media they love.

To illustrate that flaw, think back to a recent controversy involving a “toxic fanbase.” Before the reaction “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” became the poster child for this issue, the all-female “Ghostbusters” remake was the most prominent example. It earned a lot of hatred for reasons that I’d rather not scrutinize.

With that hatred in mind, imagine a long-time Ghostbusters fan seeking to express their dismay. They decide to write a kind, detailed, and thoughtful letter to the studio, the director, and anyone else involved detailing their dismay and their criticisms. They may even cite specific examples on what they felt was wrong with the movie.

Chances are this sort of thoughtful, well-worded message would get deleted, ignored, or just plain lost in the digital landscape. Even if the head of Sony studios read it and agreed with every point made, they wouldn’t respond. They wouldn’t do anything ot change it. That would just be too inconvenient and it would look bad publicly.

From the perspective of the fan writing the letter, though, it sends the message that their sentiment doesn’t matter. Their passion for the media doesn’t matter. They might as well not even exist in the eyes of the producers. The only way for them to even acknowledge their existance is to be louder, angrier, and even a little meaner. Even if the reponse is negative, it at least acknowledges their existence.

It’s not the same as trolling. Trolls just want upset people for the fun of it. Fans voicing their displeasure are more sincere in the sense that they believe they’re protecting something they love. Whether or not that’s misguided is debatable. Some, namely those who harass and make threats, are more misguided than others. However, they only ever make up a very small percentage of fans.

In the end, that’s the most important perspective to have when it comes to fandom. Those who are the loudest tend to be the most obnoxious, but they’re loud because they feel like they have to be. The internet just gives them a way to be heard, which is something most fans haven’t had before.

That’s still not an excuse for being an asshole, but it’s also not an excuse for using those same assholes to call an entire fanbase toxic. It overlooks and undermines the genuine and sincere love people have of these cultural icons. As as a result, when someone feels like their love is being ignored, that’s when toxic hate often finds a way to fill that void.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, human nature, media issues, movies, political correctness, Star Wars