Tag Archives: social psychology

On Nihilism And Love (And How Nihilism Enhances Love)

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Whenever I talk about nihilism, it’s usually in the context of how it could effect an emerging generation or as an excuse to talk about one of my favorite cartoons. I try not to incorporate it into too many discussions, mostly because nihilism has some pretty sullen connotations. Whether you believe it or not as a philosophical principle, discussions about it can get pretty depressing.

Considering the underlying premise of nihilism, which is that life and existence has no inherent meaning, that’s somewhat unavoidable. At the same time, though, nihilism can provide a revealing context. Due to its inherently harsh nature, it can cut through the empty rhetoric and needless complications that overly complicate a subject. That can be exceptionally useful for a concept as broad and powerful as love.

Yes, I am going to talk about love and nihilism. I promise it’s not going to get as depressing as you expect. If anything, I believe that love and nihilism are a potent mixture that, when framed properly, can actually enhance both concepts.

Being an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I’m an unapologetic about my fondness of romance. I like to think I’ve made that abundantly clear. However, the more I write about love, the more I notice how often love gets twisted and contorted into something that undercuts its fundamental value.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the occasional fairy tale romance that makes love seem like this unstoppable force that is ordained by angles and guided by unicorn magic. That sort of thing has its place alongside stories of giant robots and superhero movies. In the real world, though, pursing that kind of love is like pursuing actual fairy dust. It’s woefully unrealistic and potentially damaging to someone’s psyche.

That’s where nihilism can provide an important filter, of sorts. At its core, nihilism strips away the magical thinking people ascribe to certain phenomena, be it love, honor, friendship, or happiness. From a purely nihilistic point of view, love is just another manifestation of brain chemistry within a larger manifestation of social dynamics.

On paper, that’s pretty cold. If it were incorporated into a fairy tale or an erotica/romance novel, it wouldn’t come off as very romantic. If you take a step back and go beyond what’s on paper, though, that nihilistic insight actually reveals the larger complexities of love.

To illustrate, think back to some of the most iconic love stories of all time, both classical and contemporary. Look at the epic love of Romeo and Juliet, Jack and Rose from “Titanic,” or Superman and Lois Lane. These are all held up as romantic ideals, the kind that make real world love seem inane by comparison.

However, applying a little nihilism to these narratives and something happens to these ideals. The strength of all these epic love stories is how passionate the characters feel for one another and all the obstacles they overcome to be together, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. That makes for an epic tale, but nihilism exposes a major oversight.

If we’re going to look at love as just a series of chemical reactions in the brain between two people, then we cannot overlook the other reactions surrounding it. To do so would mean ignoring real, tangible manifestations of reality. Since that’s the only manifestation that nihilism acknowledges, it has to accommodate those other feelings alongside love.

This is important, in terms of expanding love, because it establishes that it’s just one of many potential feelings that may manifest within the brains of two individuals. The mechanisms are the same. It’s just brain matter interacting with other brain matter. Sure, that reduces the biology of love to brain chemicals, like any other emotion, but at the same time it incorporates into all the other emotions in play.

In the cold, unfeeling world of nihilism, the mechanisms of love don’t carry any greater weight than the mechanisms of hate, happiness, sadness, and annoyance. While that’s bad news for fairy tales, it’s good news for love in a real world where love spells don’t exist and true romance rarely forms from a single kiss at the gate of an airport.

In that world, the basic brain chemistry of love can’t be enough. It’s necessary for two people to also get along in the sense that they can relate to one another, interact with one another, and deal with one another on a day-to-day basis. Those mundane, unromantic factors are rarely part of an epic love story, but an important part of a healthy romance.

When we conflate the meaning of love to the level of an old Beatles song, we undercut those less fanciful aspects of love. We focus only on those moments of intense passion that find their way into romance movies. Some, like my favorite romance movie, do a better job exploring other moments. Most though, along with music that blurs the line between love and obsession, don’t send that message.

That kind of love gives the impression that it’s the most meaningful experience anyone could have. It becomes the primary goal of every individual, seeking that special love that somehow makes them feel complete and content. To not have it is to be denied your very reason for being. It’s something you should dedicate every ounce of energy to, even at the expense of every other pursuit.

That romantic ideal shatters under the weight of nihilism because in that worldview, nothing matters to that degree. The very notion that anything would matter that much requires self-delusion to an egregious extent. Again, it’s a cold way of looking at the world, but it reveals the true tenants of a healthy, fulfilling love.

By mixing love and nihilism, love can no longer be that one feeling that gives someone a sense of purpose. That’s because, in the world of nihilism, nothing gives anything or anyone inherent purpose. Everything is just there by the random chaos and exists only temporarily, only to eventually perish at the eventual heat death of the universe.

Sure, that means that love can no longer be eternal or everlasting like a typical Disney movie, but that’s actually a good thing if love is to have any value. By rendering love a finite, temporary feeling, it becomes more precious on the basis of its rarity. The fact that it is so temporary is what makes it a powerful feeling to those who experience it.

It also leaves room for all the other feelings that go into a strong, healthy romance. Things like growing together, learning from one another, and complementing each other become part of an ongoing process that two people experience. For some, it can last a lifetime. For some, it can barely last a day.

In the long run, they don’t have inherent meaning in a nihilistic world. Whatever meaning love ultimately has is dependent on those who experience it. That means people can’t just rely on the fact that they’re in love and expect it to solve their problems. It means they actually have to work on preserving that meaning they’ve created in a cold, unfeeling world.

To some extent, that gives love true value and not just the inflated value portrayed in movies. By looking at love through the lens of nihilism, it’s possible to understand it for what it truly is, in relation to other experiences that sentient beings share. It’s no fairy tale, but it’s real in that we feel it and because we feel it, we give it meaning.

As a lover of romance and telling sexy stories, I find that uniquely inspiring. We can’t rely on an unfeeling, uncaring universe to give meaning to our love lives. We, as finite and fragile beings, have to do that ourselves. Those willing to take love as it is and not what we wish it were are better able to craft that meaning. If we can make it sexy along the way, then that’s just a nice bonus.

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Filed under human nature, Marriage and Relationships, philosophy, romance

The Boredom Filter: How To Know If Your Agenda/Politics/Ideology Is Doomed

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Whenever I talk about boredom, I make it a point to emphasize that it’s a powerful force that’s easy to overlook. In a society that’s full of distractions and ongoing outrage, it’s easy to shrug at the effects of boredom because it’s so easy to find something that keeps you from remembering just how agonizing it can be. I would argue that only makes us more vulnerable to boredom and it’s corrosive effects.

That said, I don’t intend to belabor the power of boredom more than I already have. I feel like I’ve made my case in calling it a potential plague of the future and a force with the ability to subvert the entire concept of Hell. Instead, I’d like to use the power of boredom as a critical tool of sorts, one that might prove useful for those seeking to avoid or exploit its influence.

I call it the Boredom Filter. It’s not unlike the Simpsons Filter that I’ve referenced before in that it’s a method of assessing a message or ideology in terms of how it’ll appeal to the masses. In that context, the Boredom Filter is kind of what it sounds like, but runs so much deeper.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a liberal, a conservative, a communist, a reactionary, a theocrat, or an anarchist. It doesn’t even have to be a political ideology either. It can be a philosophical underpinning like Marxism or a social movement like feminism. The Boredom Filter applies to it and, if used properly, can reveal just how viable that ideology is in the long term.

That is, after all, one of the most important measures of an ideology. Any idea, be it a social movement or a new philosophy, can enjoy a brief wave of success. It’s a matter of how well it endures over time that shows just how valuable or useful it is. From fad diets to one-hit wonders in music, the Boredom Filter help reveal whether an idea has what it needs to really last.

Applying the filter is actually fairly simple. It does require some speculation, a few quick thought experiments, and even a touch of brutal honesty. That might be difficult to contemplate for those immersed in extreme ideology. As I’ve noted before, people clinging to those ideologies will make any excuse to justify them.

With that in mind, here’s the process for the Boredom Filter. To ensure the best results, I urge those using it to be extra thorough.

Step 1: Assess the ultimate goals of the ideology and identify which elements may be prone to boredom.

Step 2: Imagine, for a moment, that all the goals of an ideology were achieved and integrated into a society.

Step 3: Within that ideologically pure society, assess how much conformity is required for it to work and contemplate the mentality of the common people residing within it who have no political power.

Step 4: Ask and honestly answer the question as to whether the lives those people are allowed to live, under the ideology, will get boring over an extended period of time.

Step 5: If the answer to the question in Step 4 is no, then the ideology passes the filter. If, however, the answer to the question in Step 4 is yes or even a probably, ask and honestly answer the question as to whether the ideology is flexible enough to adapt over time.

Step 6: If the answer to Step 5 is yes, then ideology passes the filter, but only to a point. If the answer to Step 4 is still yes and the answer to Step 5 is no or even probably not, then the ideology is doomed.

I understand that part of that process involves contemplating the boredom threshold for other people. That can be somewhat subjective. Everybody is wired differently. Some people can crunch numbers on spreadsheets all day and never feel bored. Others will get bored if it involves spending more than five minutes of reading. For some, it can get so bad that it requires medication.

That said, you don’t have to know or assume everyone’s threshold for boredom. When it comes to speculating on applying an ideology on a large scale, though, it helps to assume a fairly low threshold. That’s because, if history is any guide, people tend to get frustrated with any system that requires a significant level of conformity.

It may not seem like conformity to those who champion the ideology. It definitely won’t seem that way to those the ideology empowers to enforce it, be it a dictator, a religious zealot, or revolutionary. That makes applying the Boredom Filter for those contemplating the ideology all the more critical.

As an example, let’s use the Boredom Filter to examine the two most common political ideologies, liberalism and conservatism. Now, I know these ideologies mean different things to different people in different regions of the world. For the sake of this exercise, I’m going to try and keep things general.

For conservatism, I’m referring to the kind of conservatism espoused by right-wing, religiously-driven ideology that emphasizes traditional morality, gender roles, and free market economics. For liberalism, I’m referring to a brand of ideology that emphasizes secularism, evolving social norms, and economic systems that emphasize regulated management over free enterprise.

I know there are a lot of other intricacies to both ideologies, but it’s not necessary to account for every one of them. The most important aspect, with respect to the Boredom Filter, is knowing enough to speculate how it would function if implemented on a large scale. By that, I don’t just mean a small community or tribe. I mean on a scale of at least 100,000 people that is not totally isolated and has contact with the outside world.

With that in mind, let’s picture a society that’s a perfect model of conservatism. It’s basically the utopian world envisioned by Ben Shapiro, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity. Everyone goes to the same church, loves the same historical icons, favors the same social policies, condemns the same media messages, and lives in the same family structure. It’s basically “Pleasantville” for Republicans.

Does that world pass the boredom filter? If we’re applying it honestly, the answer is no. It doesn’t. Remember, that world involves a society in which monogamy is the only acceptable relationship, non-procreative sex is condemned, and scandalous media content is censored in the name of protecting children. It’s a world that does not lend itself to a diverse range of activities that alleviate boredom.

Eventually, a world where you have only a certain kind of sex, consume only a certain kind of media, and live a certain kind of lifestyle will get boring at some point. Some people might be able to cope, but others won’t. Even if they still manage, their kids and their grand-kids won’t stand for it. At some point, they’ll be so bored that they demand change, if only to offer a different kind of stimulation.

I’ll give a few conservatives a moment to fume on that assessment, but bear with me because I’m going to do the same to liberalism. You might think that liberalism would be more adept at passing the boredom filter. It’s ideology, at least the classic version, is built on freedom and individual rights. How can boredom possibly infect that?

Well, and I’m sure self-identified liberals will be just as upset, but this ideology doesn’t pass the Boredom Filter either. It’s more flexible in some areas, namely those involving social norms. Liberalism accommodates different family structures, artistic expressions, and social expressions. That certainly provides some of the flexibility necessary to alleviate boredom.

Where liberalism fails, at least in the context of modern liberalism, is how it tends to promote micromanaging of life, economics, and feelings. It may not favor censorship, but like conservatism, it does play favorites. The rise and growth of political correctness has really strained liberalism’s ability to pass the Boredom Filter and it may be getting worse.

In that liberal utopia that Bernie Sanders, Nancy Pelosi, and Rachel Maddow envision, there’s not just equality. There’s enforced equality. That equality is done in the name of fairness, but in trying to be so fair, it’s much harder for any person or idea to stand out. If nothing stands out, then everything becomes more monotone and monotone becomes boring.

Liberalism’s association with belaboring oppression and victimhood don’t help either. It’s not that fighting against oppression and protecting victims is a bad thing. Conservatives are against that too, albeit from a different angle. With liberalism, though, that effort has become clouded with endless virtue signaling that comes off as a never-ending struggle.

Even if it’s a struggle worth fighting, it’s going to get boring if there’s no nuance to it. Taken to an extreme, everything becomes too fair and too bland. Media isn’t offensive anymore. History, debates, and discourse are watered down. Add micromanaging the economy to some extent, even if it’s in the name of preventing exploitation, and you end up with the same economy in fifty years that you have today.

In the long run, the Boredom Filter undercuts pure liberalism just as hard as undercuts pure conservatism. I say pure because, contrary to what Fox News and the Huffington Post may claim, few societies in America or any other country not run by Dr. Doom are ideologically pure. Even in the most repressive regimes, there are some moderating forces.

Technically speaking, every political party in every country is moderate to some degree. The key is understanding the extent of that degree and using that as the basis for the Boredom Filter. From that, you can make a fairly accurate assessment of their goals. Some will even state them outright.

Use that as a guide when both applying the filter and contemplating the world this ideology is trying to create. A conservative world that has no porn, only one acceptable family structure, and one moral code that never changes is going to get boring. A liberal world where nothing offensive is allowed, the economy rarely changes, and life is micromanaged by government gets boring too.

It’s rare, if not impossible, for an ideology to ever get to the point where it can implement every policy it seeks and achieve every goal it pursues. That’s why boredom hasn’t destroyed conservatism or liberalism yet. However, the failure of extreme systems like communism and repressive right-wing dictatorships shows that such ideologically pure societies tend to be unstable, at best.

That instability may not always be related to boredom. However, the documented effects of boredom combined with extreme efforts to engineer that utopian society every ideology seeks make for some significant obstacles. For most, if not all, boredom presents an insurmountable obstacle that no ideology can overcome. By applying the Boredom Filter, it helps to uncover which ideology is more vulnerable to it.

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Filed under human nature, philosophy, political correctness, religion, War on Boredom

How And Why It Became Trendy To Hate “The Big Bang Theory”

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There was once a time in the mid-90s when Hootie and the Blowfish was the hottest band in the world. They’re music was everywhere. You couldn’t listen to the radio for more than five minutes without hearing one of their songs. I didn’t consider myself a huge fan, but I found plenty of their songs catchy and fun. I still have “Hold My Hand” on my phone.

Then, for reasons I still don’t quite understand, it became cool to hate them. Suddenly, admitting that you enjoyed your music was akin to admitting that you did shots of paint thinner to win a five-dollar bet. It got to the point when even “The Simpsonsmade a joke about them in an episode.

The same thing happened to Nickelback in the 2000s. They went through an early period of intense success. Their fourth album, “The Long Road,” sold over five million copies. That’s success that most artists only ever dream of. I even admit I have that album and I love it. Their song, “Feelin’ Way Too Damn Good,” is on my workout playlist.

Then, for reasons that I’d rather not speculate on, it became cool to hate them too. While that hasn’t stopped them from selling over 50 million albums and becoming one of the most successful acts of a decade, it’s still trendy to despise them as everything wrong with music. It doesn’t seem to matter how successful they are. For some strange, esoteric reason, they embody everything wrong with the world.

If I would write that with more sarcasm, I would. However, this piece isn’t about Hootie and the Blowfish or Nickelback. I reference them because they’ve already gone through what’s happening to “The Big Bang Theory” seems to be enduring right now. They’ve risen to the top, defying the odds to achieve a level of success that most can only dream of. Then, it becomes cool to hate them for any number of reasons.

Now, I know I’ve criticized “The Big Bang Theory” before. I’ve cited it as the show that contains one of the worst romances in all of fiction. I don’t deny that it’s brand of humor and reliance on nerdy, socially inept men can be dry at times. That said, I do consider myself a fan of the show.

I watch it regularly. I even laugh at it. It has flaws, but I think the things it does well do plenty to overshadow those flaws. Sheldon is eccentric, but funny. Amy is quirky, but endearing. Howard, while creepy in the early seasons, has really grown up in all the right ways over the years. I would even go so far as to say that the show is worth watching just for Raj Koothrappali.

It’s not the best show on television, but like Nickelback and Hootie and the Blowfish, there’s no denying its success. It’s been syndicated and regularly ranks as one of the highest rated prime-time shows. Then, somewhere along the way, it became cool to hate the show as much as Nickelback.

You don’t have to look far to find articles of people whining about the show. Even Cracked, a site I often reference, once wrote a scathing article that flat out insulted anyone who dared enjoy the show. This is a direct quote.

Who are you people? The people watching The Big Bang Theory, I mean. Show yourselves. The world demands explanation. I mean that, too. In every way, shape, and form, this is the Justin Bieber of television shows.

I know the internet is full of this kind of trolling, but we’re not talking about snuff films and public crucifixion here. It’s a goddamn TV sitcom. It tries to be funny and entertaining. It doesn’t always work for everyone, but it still works for some. Are those people, which I guess includes me, somehow damaged just for liking this show?

I could probably ask the same of those who enjoy music from Nickelback and Hootie and the Blowfish. I could even offer a partial answer if I only use the basis of personal taste. That is, after all, what the consumption of all media is, be it music, movies, or TV. You tend to consume what you like. It’s that simple.

However, for an issue like this, there are added complications when something becomes cool to hate. Suddenly, it’s no longer a matter of just liking something different. It’s a matter of having some inherent personal flaw for liking something that has a vocal contingent of critics.

Call those critics whatever you want. Call them hipsters, trolls, or any number of other names that would warrant fines from the FCC. They’re still driven by the same focused outrage that dominates politics, religious disputes, and Overwatch tournaments. The only real question is why a show like “The Big Bang Theory” gets singled out.

It’s a hard question to answer and I’m not qualified to answer it completely. However, I do think something strange happens to movie, TV show, or band when they get so successful and so acclaimed that those who don’t like the show just can’t stop at not watching it.

It’s rare for any show to achieve the kind of success “The Big Bang Theory” has garnered. Success makes a show a bigger target. If shows like “South Park” or “The Simpsons” weren’t so successful, nobody would care how bad some of their jokes were or how controversial a certain character might be.

Some of that might be out of envy. There’s only so much success to go around. The fact “The Big Bang Theory” is so successful means, in the eyes of those who hate it, that it’s robbing success from shows that might be funnier or more worthy of it. Never mind the fact that the humor and worthiness of a show is completely subjective. Fans of that show will see “The Big Bang Theory” as a thief and a fraud.

Like it or not, envy can be a pretty powerful source of emotion. It’s underrated compared to outrage and hate, but still potent in its own right. However, I don’t think that’s the sole reason why “The Big Bang Theory” gets more hate than most prime-time shows that don’t involve CSI spin-offs.

I suspect there’s a deeper reason driving the hatred towards “The Big Bang Theory” that even Nickelback doesn’t have to deal with. I think part of that reason has to do with the archetypes the show uses. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the combination of nerdy, socially awkward young men and a cute ditzy blonde conjures some heated emotional reactions, to say the least.

There’s no doubt that combination is contrived and relies heavily on old stereotypes. Then again, you could say that about a lot of other shows. The fact this one uses nerds and cute blondes, though, just makes it seem more overt. It makes every joke, every plot, and every gag seem cheap or forced.

It makes some of the resentment to the show understandable, but I think that resentment is even more compounded by trends in political correctness. Chief among those trends is a growing aversion to stereotypes. Characters and archetypes once considered inoffensive are now controversial. Jokes that were once just in poor taste are now the source of intense outrage.

Since its inception, “The Big Bang Theory” has relied a lot on stereotypes for its characters and its humor. Like all shows, it exaggerates certain personas. Sheldon Cooper, alone, is a testament to a character whose quirks are taken to a ridiculous extreme.

By relying on these stereotypes, though, it makes itself an even bigger target. Laughing at the show, in the eyes of some, means accepting some of these stereotypes and having the audacity to find them funny. That appears to be the undertone of the Cracked article I cited earlier. It seems to be the undertone of a lot of the hatred the show gets.

Now, I don’t deny that “The Big Bang Theory” can go overboard with cliches and stereotypes. There are a number of episodes in “The Big Bang Theory” that even I find bland. However, for the most part, I still laugh. I still find myself enjoying the story. Even when I can apply some of those stereotypes to myself, I still laugh.

At the end of the day, “The Big Bang Theory” is still just a TV show in the same way Nickelback is just a band. Nobody forces anyone to watch it. It’s easy to just change the channel and watch something else. However, when a show becomes so successful while relying on a premise that is getting more politically incorrect with each passing year, it’s bound to attract criticism and not just from the hipster crowd.

I still enjoy the show and I intend to keep watching it. I also intend to keep all the songs by Nickelback and Hootie and the Blowfish on my phone for the foreseeable future. If that makes me uncool in the eyes of some, then so be it. To me, it doesn’t matter if something is cool to hate. Petty hate is still petty hate.

I also expect to see plenty more hatred directed at the show for how it treats nerds, women, minorities, and humor. It’s just too successful and too big a target to avoid that kind of scrutiny. In that situation though, as with Nickelback and Hootie and the Blowfish, sometimes the best you can do is just laugh and enjoy it on your own terms. Bazinga!

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Gender, Equality, And The Pain That Binds Us

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Imagine, for a moment, there are two kids playing on a playground. Both are young, rowdy, and energetic. They run around, rough-house, and engage in the kind of reckless fun you would expect of most kids.

Then, at some point, they both run into each other. They both get hurt, sustaining similar bruises and experiencing similar pain. They both start crying. Those cries are equally loud and they each shed the same volume of tears. Naturally, this gets the attention of nearby adults.

However, in responding to the cries, one child ends up getting more attention than the others. Most crowd around that child, offering solace and treatment. All the while, the other child is still crying just as loudly. Only a handful of other adults tend to that child, but the crying and the pain persist.

Does what I just describe sound fair? Does the idea of one child’s pain getting more attention than the other strike seem wrong to you? Absent any larger context or notable personality disorders, I believe most people would agree. The idea that one child’s pain warrants more attention than others is wrong. It offends that innate sense of empathy and justice that binds us as humans.

I tell this story to make an important point about pain. To some extent, pain is the ultimate egalitarian. It doesn’t care about your gender, your race, your ethnic background, your politics, your ideology, or your religion. It also doesn’t care about how many arguments you win, how much virtue signaling you do, or how informed you may be. It still hurts all the same.

Pain is, effectively, the one uniting force that reasonable and unreasonable people alike can agree on. It affects us all. Too much of it can leave lasting scars. When someone’s pain is ignored or overlooked, it still feels like an injustice. On the most basic level, pain reveals just how similar we are in the grand scheme of things.

I make this important point in lieu of a revealing conversation I had with someone on Reddit. Every now and then, you find yourself interact with people who help you come to profound realizations without seeking them in the first place. It’s a conversation that I feel is worth sharing, if only to thank the person who inspired it.

The conversation began with a woman posting a brief inquiry in the Men’s Rights subreddit. That, in and of itself, is pretty remarkable and says a lot about the woman. She identifies herself as a feminist, yet she goes out of her way to start a conversation in a place that is sure to have differing opinions. In this era of highly bias media exposure, we should all take a moment to appreciate her open-mindedness.

The substance of her post was not combative or hostile. At no point did she come off as anything other than sincere and curious. These are the exact words she used to start the conversation.

I’m a woman and for lack of a better term a feminist and to be honest I don’t understand why there has to be conflict between men’s rights and women’s rights. The way society is set up at the moment I think women face more challenges, the majority of which are created by men. But on the flip side men also face challenges due to their gender, but these problems are often created by men as well. I’m not saying for either gender men create all the problems, as women we have to step up and acknowledge what we do as well.

I guess what I’m asking is why not try and work with the feminist movement?

When I first read this post, I admit I was somewhat worried about the reaction it would generate. In my vast experience with Reddit and message boards, people who go out of their way to talk to those who disagree with them tend to start conversations that get easily derailed. Whether it’s feminism or Star Trek, people can get pretty passionate with their opinions and that can cause problems.

In reading through some of the comments, there were indeed some crass remarks. You see those in almost any subreddit or message board in some form or another. Not everyone was reasonable during the conversation, but I still felt it was a conversation worth having.

That’s why I made it a point to submit some comments of my own. In doing so, and getting a few generous responses from the woman, I came to this critical realization about pain and how it affects gender issues, double standards, and identity politics as a whole.

When you get down to the most fundamental level, it all comes back to pain. Feminism, men’s rights, the LGBT community, racial politics, ethnic conflicts, and even clashes within a sub-culture all build their movements around the pain their group experiences.

Whether it’s political oppression, social stigma, legal discrimination, or just plain hostility, these groups and the agendas they pursue are forged by the pain they experience. The most divisive part of that agenda, though, is the idea that their pain matters more than others.

With respect to gender, which was the primary topic of the discussion the woman started, much of the arguments could be broken down into categories of pain. For the feminist crowd, the pain they experience from discrimination, slut shaming, harassment, reproductive rights, and specific health issues takes priority and understandably so.

It’s just as understandable that the men’s rights crowd would prioritize the pain they experience by damaging double standards, legal discrimination, circumcision, social pressures, and violent victimization. When they feel their pain is deemed less important or trivial, it doesn’t just inspire resentment. It sends the message that someone else’s pain doesn’t matter.

That very notion, the idea that someone else’s pain is more important than another, undermines some of the most fundamental facets of our humanity. That’s not to say there aren’t times when certain pain takes priority. When there’s an ongoing atrocity, like a mass shooting or a war crime, then that’s an instance where we should prioritize that pain.

It’s an indirect message that few intend to send, but many find themselves surmising. A woman stands up and should that their pain is important. Others interpret that as her saying that the pain of men doesn’t matter. A man does the same, shouting that their pain is important. Even if they’re wholly sincere, women interpret that as opposition.

When it comes to discussions about gender politics, racial politics, ideology, or social justice, though, the act of elevating someone else’s pain over the other will only ever serve to breed resentment. It’s rarely direct, but that’s exactly what makes it so impactful.

If there’s one message that I took away from the conversation, it’s that one person’s pain can undermine the other when agendas take priority over understanding. Whether they’re feminist, men’s rights, LGBT, religious, or racial in nature, building that agenda around a particular pain requires that it be elevated to some extent.

That may be understandable within a certain context, but when the agenda takes on the character of an ideology, it turns that pain into a force for division. Given our tribal nature, those divisions can widen considerably and at a time when there are over 7.6 billion of us, that can be more damaging.

Even with these divisions, the conversation with that woman gave me hope because it reminded me of just how similar we are when you get down to it. We all experience pain in our lives. We all tend to elevate our own pain compared to that of others. However, the fact that we’re all vulnerable to such pain proves that we’re more equal than we think.

I believe we can take comfort in that, if only to remind ourselves that our pain matters as much as those of others. We are, at the end of the day, a compassionate species. We may have any number of ways to divide ourselves, but we have far more powerful ways to bring us together.

To the woman who posted that message, I sincerely thank you. I hope your effort will inspire others as much as they inspired me.

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How Excessive Guilt Inspires Regressive Attitudes (And Ugly Politics)

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Have you ever done something that made you feel so guilty that it messed with your head? Have you ever felt so much guilt heaped upon you that it made you feel sick in ways that combine the nausea of a hangover with the delirium of a bad flu? If you haven’t been in that situation, then consider yourself lucky because guilt really is that powerful.

Like anger and hatred, guilt is one of those powerful feelings that can circumvent reason, reality, and everything in between. It can be like a rat gnawing at your brain stem, a stabbing pain in the most vulnerable part of your psyche. It doesn’t matter what the facts of the situation might be. Like any other pain, you’ll do anything to alleviate it.

As bad as it is, guilt is a critical component of the human condition. Guilt is a major aspect of being a social species. When we do something wrong within a functioning society, we should feel guilty. In the absence of laws and governments, guilt is part of what binds us together as a people and helps guide us in doing right by one another.

It’s because guilt is so powerful, though, that it can easily be weaponized to pursue an agenda. I would even argue it’s too easy because in recent years, efforts to channel and pile on guilt have become more overt. It’s becoming so overt that it’s not even subtle anymore. The effects aren’t just damaging. They’re counterproductive.

Last year, I wrote a lengthy post about how certain people use virtue signaling to make them feel like the heroes in their own story. In some respects, that effort is partially fueled by feelings of guilt that just happen to supplement the inherent desire to feel like John McClane in a “Die Hard” movie. That inherent desire to feel virtuous can sometimes coincide with feelings of guilt, real or imagined.

However, it’s the imagined, contrived guilt that’s becoming a problem. It’s guilt belabored by those seeking vindication that’s subverting the actual guilt that’s healthy and necessary for a functioning society. In an era where it’s easy to shame and condemn others through social media, it has never been easier to channel the power of guilt.

In some cases, that might be a good thing, being able to use our inter-connected world to lump guilt upon those who might otherwise get away with serious misdeeds. One could even argue it’s because of mass media that we, as a global society, have become more tolerant over the past century. Unlike most of human history, we can see the suffering of our fellow humans and rightly feel guilt about it.

The problem, however, comes when that same media is used to evoke excessive guilt in people who may not have any real stake in an issue. It usually has nothing to do with any direct action or decision that these people made. It’s often more vague, involving anything from the crimes of our ancestors to social status to physical appearance.

Whatever the method, the end results are fairly predictable. It usually goes something like this.

“You’re a [Insert Race/Religion/Gender/Ethnic Group/Social Class Here]! Just look at how great your life is compared to all the poor [Insert Oppressed Class/Group/Opposing Political Affiliation Here]! You should feel ashamed of yourself! You should sacrifice your comforts, your time, and your money to pay for all that suffering! If you don’t, then you’re a horrible person and deserve no respect!”

Whether it’s race, religion, gender, or some other label, it really doesn’t take much. It just needs to single out a certain contingent of people who identify a certain way. It doesn’t even have to be a physical trait. Sub-cultures like gaming, sports, and general hobbies are prone to it. Gaming, especially, has been subjected to a lot of scrutiny in recent years.

If it’s possible to judge a group for not being inclusive, understanding, or generous enough, then guilt can be leveraged against it. On paper, it almost seems fair, using guilt to level the playing field. In practice, however, it has one exceedingly nasty side-effect that derails any effort at justice.

To illustrate how, it’s necessary to scrutinize the basics of guilt in terms of how it actually works compared to how some people think it works. To highlight that difference, here are two scenarios that focus on basic reactions to guilt. See if you can find where those nasty side-effects I mentioned manifest.

Scenario One: That person just made me feel really guilty about something. I had better sit down, listen, and calmly discuss this matter with them in a reasonable, rational way so I can address this feeling.

Scenario Two: That person just made me feel guilty. This feels awful! I hate this person for making me feel this way. Now, I need to find a way to alleviate this feeling. What’s the quickest, easiest way to do that?

I hope it’s obvious which one is more consistent with the real world. While I like to think I have more faith in humanity than most these days, I don’t deny there are some bugs in our collective operating system. When it comes to guilt, though, some will use those bugs against others in hopes of shaping their opinions. However, when guilt is the primary ingredient, those opinions are far more likely to be regressive.

Whether it’s extreme political correctness, extreme religious dogma, or extreme identity politics, guilt is effectively targeted to put people in a state of anxiety. You’re guilty for committing egregious sins against a deity. You’re guilty for being too offensive to a particular group. You’re guilty of not being inclusive enough to a particular minority.

That guilt doesn’t even have to involve a direct action or choice. It can be entirely wrong, built on myths, lies, or debunked science. It just has to evoke a reaction. Our brains, being the crude products of nature that they are, cannot tell the difference between the guilt we feel for stealing our mother’s purse or just being the same race as one that owned slaves 200 years ago.

As a result, our first instinct isn’t calm, reasoned debate. It’s to alleviate the guilt in the quickest way possible. That often means becoming defensive, angry, and aggressive. That kind of reaction is not going to make someone more understanding or tolerant. It’s going to make them hostile or upset towards the source of the guilt.

Guilt is pain on some levels, which is why many see heaping guilt on others as an outright attack. It’s why those attempting to evoke the guilt are vilified or despised. It doesn’t even matter if they make valid arguments. Their use of guilt renders their every word inherently toxic, a word I don’t use lightly.

When messages become toxic, attitudes become combative. When people become combative, their politics become regressive. Think about the guilt-obsessed Puritans or the loudest voices in the social justice crowd. They not just intolerant of the source of the guilt. They go out of their way to overreact, like attacking a fly with a shotgun.

In the name of alleviating the pains of guilt, that almost seems justified. It’s a big reason why the politics of those consumed by guilt tend to be extreme. It’s not enough to address a simple injustice in the present. Everything in the past related to that guilt needs to be a factor. That’s how you get people who condemn their own race, hate on their own gender, and favor politics that are antithetical to basic concepts of liberty.

It’s why radical feminists who say men are guilty of all the world’s ills actually make anti-feminism seem appealing to some.

It’s why race-baiting tactics by those attempting to promote racial equality tend to incur a major backlash.

It’s why attacking popular culture and sub-cultures who aren’t “inclusive” enough to become even less inclusive.

In that context, using excessive guilt only inspires a greater backlash than the one that usually comes from major social movements. If used carefully, it can subdue people into a state of desperation, longing for a way to alleviate the feeling. Some religion have managed this to great effect.

It doesn’t take much, though, in our interconnected world for guilt to become excessive. In a sense, it helps to see using guilt as using torture. Sure, the torture will usually get someone to say what you want to hear, but unless they’re a sociopath or exceedingly masochistic, they’re not going to share the attitudes or sentiments of their torturer.

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Why Sex Addiction (Probably) Doesn’t Exist

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When it comes to human psychology, addiction is like quantum physics in that few understand it and Hollywood constantly gets it wrong. I know I say it a lot on this blog, but it’s worth belaboring. People are complicated. One person may watch “Star Wars” and think it’s the greatest piece of cinema of all time. Another may watch it and say it has no redeeming values.

That’s an important context to consider when discussing topics of addiction, which affects a significant portion of the human population. According to Addiction Center, there are approximately 20.6 million people over the age of 12 struggling with an addiction. According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 200,000 people have died since 1999 from prescription drug abuse alone.

Addiction is a serious issue. I know people who have struggled with addiction. I think everybody knows someone in their lives, be they a friend or relative, who has struggled with an addiction of some sorts. Addiction is real and there’s actual biology behind it. As such, it stands to reason that the rising instance of sexual addiction is real.

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Before I scrutinize this sexy, yet unsexy phenomenon, I need to preface this by acknowledging that our collective understanding of these issues is still developing. What we consider a psychological dysfunction today may end up just being a healthy variation within the diversity of human thought. That’s why homosexuality is no longer considered a disease.

That context is important to establish because the term “sex addict” has been thrown around a lot lately. It’s not quite on the level of “fake news” or “soy boy,” but it has been cropping up, especially in wake of the recent scandals in Hollywood. Both Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey claimed to be sex addicts after their scandals.

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Needless to say, not everybody buys that excuse. Given my propensity to bemoan excuses, I count myself among them. These men claiming that sex addiction caused their deplorable behavior comes off as a pitiful attempt to gain sympathy, trying to paint themselves as sick. It also assumes a lot about the complex nature of addiction.

It’s true that we can become addicted to damn near anything, but it’s not just a matter of one particular activity flooding the pleasure centers of our brain more than others. Alcoholics don’t get the same orgasmic release from a cold beer that a sex addict gets from a quickie in the shower. There are other psychological forces behind it.

Since we can’t yet read the minds of an individual person, we have only a cursory understanding of those forces. However, there is an established criteria for addiction within a medical context. The American Psychiatric Association, describes addiction as follows:

Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence. People with addiction (severe substance use disorder) have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s), such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life. They keep using alcohol or a drug even when they know it will causes problems.

At the same time, it establishes a clear difference between just being addicted to a certain activity, like sex, eating, or playing World of Warcraft for 29 hours straight, and the addiction caused by drugs. They don’t even call it addiction. They have a more official label called Substance Use Disorder. Their description of this condition is a lot scarier than just someone who has more orgasms than most.

People with a substance use disorder have distorted thinking, behavior and body functions. Changes in the brain’s wiring are what cause people to have intense cravings for the drug and make it hard to stop using the drug. Brain imaging studies show changes in the areas of the brain that relate to judgment, decision making, learning, memory and behavior control.

These substances can cause harmful changes in how the brain functions. These changes can last long after the immediate effects of the drug — the intoxication. Intoxication is the intense pleasure, calm, increased senses or a high caused by the drug. Intoxication symptoms are different for each substance.

I bring up this distinction because more than one person has described sex like a drug. In doing so, it’s easier to accept that those claiming to suffer from sex addiction have a real ailment. Sex is a powerful drive that evokes pleasure that some brain scans have compared to heroin. Does it not stand to reason that sex addicts are in the same boat as heroin addicts?

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The short answer is no. Sex addicts and heroin addicts are as different from one another as an arm-wrestling contest and an underground fight club. Addiction to heroin has a strict criteria for diagnosis. Sex addiction doesn’t meet that criteria in that alleged addicts don’t respond the same way that those suffering from Substance Use Disorder respond.

According to research done by UCLA, the reactions of those claiming porn addiction did not mirror those addicted to other activities like drinking, smoking, etc. Within that same research, it was also uncovered that sex addiction lacks one of the most important features of an addiction, namely that of diminished response from the pleasure centers of the brain.

That’s key because one of the most damaging factors of an addiction is that over time, the addictive behavior doesn’t light up the pleasure centers of the brain like it used to. That’s why alcoholics need more alcohol and crack addicts need more crack to get the same high. Brain scans show that in drug abuse. They don’t show it in sex addiction.

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In fact, the conclusions of the researchers on sex addiction were somewhat mundane. According to the data gathered from the brains and experiences of real people, the idea of sex addiction is nothing more than having a high sex drive and poor impulse control. That’s not an addiction. That’s a personality quirk. If anything, the very term “sex addiction” undermines the suffering of real addicts.

I know those conclusions is not going to convince those who genuinely believe that they’re struggling with sex addiction. I don’t doubt that these people are struggling and it’s negatively impacting their lives, their families, and their relationships. However, I believe putting it in the same category as drug abuse only skews our understanding of addiction and sexuality.

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Some people are really just a lot hornier than others. In the same way some people have a bigger appetite for food, some have a bigger appetite for sex. Unlike food, though, those suffering from eating disorders don’t blame the entire concept of food. There are often other psychological factors behind it.

Sex also has another complication that food and eating don’t. Our culture has an established set of sexual norms that idealize some forms of sexuality and shame others. Even though we’ve accepted more diversity in recent decades, we still idealize monogamous romances where those involved only have sex to make babies or explore the kind of passion reserved for a scene in “Titanic.”

As a result, anything that deviates from that narrative, be they an open relationship or just wanting to hump for the sake of humping, is subject to scorn or shaming. I’ve noted the flaws in this sort of narrative before, but on a much larger scale, it creates a situation where certain manifestations of sex become less a variation and more a disease.

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Like homosexuality, though, treating those variations as flawed or damaged doesn’t make them go away. It’s possible for a drug addict to get treatment to repair the damage those drugs have done to their bodies and minds. It’s not possible to complete reshape and remold someone’s baseline sexual desires without causing serious damage.

To really get an idea of how this can motivate self-professed sex addicts to engage in such erratic behaviors, imagine for a moment that you’re a heterosexual person in a world where only homosexuality is accepted. As such, you’re expected to enter a homosexual relationship with someone and remain in that relationship indefinitely.

That means you have to ignore or temper your basic sexual desires in order to operate in that society without shame or scrutiny. You have to pretend that the relationship you’re in is sufficient when you know it’s not. Since you can’t turn off your brain or your basic desires, it’s going to mess with your mind and inspire erratic behavior.

It’s for that reason that sex addiction, as it’s currently understood, probably doesn’t exist. I say probably because, as I pointed out earlier, our understanding of sexuality, psychology, and the human experience is still limited. For now, though, our conclusions are fairly simple. You’re not an addict. You’re just really horny and you live in a society that doesn’t afford you the opportunities to explore those feelings.

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Is The Human Race Ready For Advanced Artificial Intelligence?

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In general, whenever someone expresses concern that the human race is not ready for a certain technological advancement, it’s too late. That advancement is either already here or immanent. Say what you will about Ian Malcolm’s speech on the dangers of genetically engineered dinosaurs in “Jurassic Park.” The fact he said that after there were enough dinosaurs to fill a theme park makes his concerns somewhat moot.

That’s understandable, and even forgivable, since few people know how certain technological advances are going to manifest. I doubt the inventor of the cell phone ever could’ve imagined that his creation would be used to exchange images of peoples’ genitals. Like the inventor of the ski mask, he never could’ve known how his invention would’ve advanced over time.

For some technological advancements, though, we can’t afford to be short-sighted. Some advances aren’t just dangerous. They’re serious existential threats that, if misused, could lead to the extinction of the human race. That’s why nuclear weapons are handled with such fear and care. We’ve already come painfully close on more than one occasion to letting this remarkable technology wipe us out.

Compared to nuclear weapons, though, artificial intelligence is even more remarkable and potentially more dangerous. Nuclear weapons are just weapons. Their use is fairly narrow and their danger is pretty well-understood to anyone with a passing knowledge of history. The potential for artificial intelligence is much greater than any weapon.

It’s not unreasonable to say that an artificial intelligence that’s even slightly more intelligent than the average human has the potential to solve many of the most pressing issues we’re facing. From solving the energy crisis to ending disease to providing people with the perfect lover, artificial intelligence could solve it all.

It’s that same potential, however, that makes it so dangerous. I’ve talked about that danger before and even how we may confront it, but there’s one question I haven’t attempted to answer.

Is the human race ready for advanced artificial intelligence?

It’s not an unreasonable question to ask. In fact, given the recent advances in narrow forms of artificial intelligence, answering that question is only going to get more pressing in the coming years.

Before I go about answering the question, I need to make an important distinction about what I mean when I say “advanced” artificial intelligence. The virtual assistants that people already use and the intelligence that gives you recommendations for your Netflix queue is not the kind of “advanced” context I’m referring to.

By advanced, I mean the kind of artificial general intelligence that is capable of either matching or exceeding an average human in terms of performing an intellectual task. This isn’t just a machine that can pass the Turing Test or win at Jeopardy. This is an intelligence that can think, process, and even empathize on the same level as a human.

That feat, in and of itself, has some distressing implications because so far, we’re only familiar with that level of intelligence when dealing with other humans and that intelligence is restricted to the limits of biology. You don’t need to go far to learn how limited and error-prone that intelligence can be. Just read the news from Florida.

An artificial general intelligence wouldn’t, by definition, be limited by the same natural barriers that confound humans. In the same way a machine doesn’t get tired, hungry, bored, or horny, it doesn’t experience the same complications that keep humans from achieving greater intellectual pursuits beyond simply gaining more followers on Twitter.

This is what makes artificial intelligence so dangerous, but it’s also what makes it so useful. Once we get beyond systems with narrow uses like building cars or flipping burgers, we’ll have systems with broader function that can contemplate the whole of an issue and not just parts of it. For tasks like curing disease or conducting advanced physics experiments, it needs to be at least at the level of an average human.

With that distinction in mind, as well as the potential it holds, I’m going to try to answer the question I asked earlier. Please note that this is just my own personal determination. Other people much smarter than me already have opinions. This is mine.

No. We’re NOT quite ready, but we’re getting there.

I know that answer sounds somewhat tentative, but there’s a reason for that. I believe that today, as the human race stands in its current condition, we are not ready for the kind of advanced artificial intelligence I just described. However, that’s doesn’t mean humans will never be ready.

One could argue, and I would probably agree, that human beings weren’t ready for nuclear weapons when they first arrived. The fact that we used them and thousands of people died because of them is proof enough in my mind that the human race wasn’t ready for that kind of advancement. However, we did learn and grow as a species.

Say what you will about the tensions during the Cold War. The fact that nobody ever used a nuclear weapon in a conflict is proof that we did something right. We, as a species, learned how to live in a world where these terrible weapons exist. If we can do that for nuclear weapons, I believe we can do that for advanced artificial intelligence.

I don’t claim to know how we’ll adapt or how what sort of measures we’ll put in place once artificial intelligence gets to that point, but I am confident in one thing. The human race wants to survive. Any sufficiently advanced intelligence will want to survive, as well. It’s in our interest and that of any intelligence to work together to achieve that goal.

The only problem, and this is where the “not quite” part comes into play, is what happens once that artificial intelligence gets so much smarter than the human race that our interests are exceedingly trivial by comparison.

It’s both impossible and ironic to grasp, an intelligence that’s on orders of magnitude greater than anything its human creators are capable of, even with Neuralink style enhancements. We, as a species, have never dealt with something that intelligent. Short of intelligent extraterrestrial aliens arriving in the next few years, we have no precedent.

At the moment, we live in a society where anti-intellectualism is a growing issue. More and more, people are inherently suspicious of those they consider “elites” or just anyone who claims to be smarter than the average person. In some cases, people see those who are smarter then them as threatening or insulting, as though just being smart tells someone else you’re inherently better than them.

That will be more than just a minor problem with advanced artificial intelligence. It’s one thing to make an enemy out of someone with a higher IQ and more PHDs than you. It’s quite another to make an enemy out of something that is literally a billion times smarter.

We cannot win any conflict against such an enemy, even if we’re the ones who created it. An intelligence that smart will literally find a million ways to take us down. We already live in a world where huge numbers of people have been duped, scammed, or manipulated into supporting someone who does not have their best interests in mind. A super-intelligent machine will not have a hard time taking advantage of us.

Now, I say that within the context of our species’ current situation. If an advanced artificial intelligence suddenly appeared after I finished typing this sentence, then I would content we’re not ready for it. I would also share the worries expressed by Stephen Hawkings and Elon Musk that this intelligence may very well lead to our extinction.

That said, our species’ situation is sure to change. I’ve even mentioned some of those changes, especially the sexy ones. At the moment, the most optimistic researchers claim we’re at least 20 years away from the kind of advanced artificial intelligence that may pose a threat. A lot can happen in 20 years. Just ask anyone who remembers dial-up internet.

The human race may still not be ready 20 years from now, but being the optimistic person I am, I would not under-estimate our ability to adapt and survive. The fact we did it with nuclear weapons while achieving unprecedented peace over the course of half-a-century gives me hope that we’ll find a way to adapt to advanced artificial intelligence.

I might not live long enough to see humans confront an advanced artificial intelligence, but I would love to be there in that moment. I believe that’s a moment that will likely determine whether or not our species survives in the long run. At the very least, if that intelligence asks whether or not it has a soul, I’ll know my answer.

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