Tag Archives: traditional values

The Doug Stanhope Principle (And Why We Should Apply It)

In my experience, comedians offer the most memorable and insightful commentaries on otherwise serious issues. Even if they’re just trying to be funny, which is their job, I think those commentaries have worth beyond the laughs. There are even times I think comedians don’t realize just how insightful their humor can be.

I’ve made my love of comedy known before and not just through my weekly Sexy Sunday Thoughts. I’ve cited accomplished comedians like Christopher Titus when exploring very non-funny issues, such as jealousy. I don’t just do this to help lighten the mood on a site I want to keep light and sexy. I do it because comedy can reveal more than the breadth of our sense of humor.

With that in mind, I’d like to cite a comedian by the name of Doug Stanhope. I’ve never mentioned before, but has been one of my personal favorites for years. He’s not on the same level as a Jon Stewart, George Carlin, or Lewis Black. However, given his brand of humor, that’s not too surprising.

Stanhope’s comedy is decidedly NSFW, touching on issues that would give most network producers brain aneurisms. His opinions are overtly harsh and unconcerned with your delicate sensibilities. If you’re wondering just how harsh he can be, here’s a quick taste.

That said, he is not a shock comic in the tradition of Howard Stern or Andrew Dice Clay. Stanope’s comedy, as crude as it can be at times, is very smart. One bit in particular stands out. It comes from his “Deadbeat Hero” album, one of my personal favorites and one I think every comedy fan should listen to at least once.

In that album, he talks about a number of issues, but one in particular stands out. That issue is marriage, one I’ve discussed too on this site, albeit not with the same level of humor. On this topic, he makes one of the most insightful observations I’ve ever seen on a treasured institution.

If marriage didn’t exist, would you invent it? Would you go “Baby, this shit we got together, it’s so good we gotta get the government in on this shit. We can’t just share this commitment ‘tweenst us. We need judges and lawyers involved in this shit, baby. It’s hot!”

The bolded parts are my doing because I think the implications of that question go beyond the comedy, more so than I think Stanhope himself intended. In a sense, it reflects the paradox of marriage and traditional romance that I’ve talked about before in that we see it as natural, yet we need all these social institutions to protect it.

The fact those institutions exist is a subtle, but telling sign that these traditions aren’t as natural as we think they are. More than anything else, they’re the product of taboos and social norms that people cling to out of fear, familiarity, and ignorance. I won’t go so far as to call it a form of excuse banking, but I think it highlights our imperfect understanding of human nature.

One of Doug Stanhope’s greatest strengths as a comedian is his ability to break down a treasured and cherished concept in a way that’s both revealing and insightful. What he did for marriage with this one question immediately makes us ponder the flaws in our current understanding of it.

Once we stop laughing at the punch-line, though, I would take it a step further. I would ask that question again in more general form as a means to help us scrutinize our traditions, values, and everything else we hold sacred. Sure, that’s bound to make some people uncomfortable, but that’s exactly the point of certain brand of comedy, especially Stanhope’s.

Like the Simpson Filter I coined earlier this year, let’s coin another using this question. Since I’m not a branding expert with only a fraction of the wit of Doug Stanhope, I’ll call it “The Stanhope Principle.” The core of that principle can be summed up in one simple question.

If something didn’t exist in its current form, would you invent it that way?

Sure, it’s not nearly as funny as Stanhope’s bit on marriage, nor is it meant to be. In essence, it’s a question meant to get your brain thinking about things that it usually doesn’t think about. In some cases, they’re issues you’ve gone out of your way to avoid.

Take any current issue, be it a major political controversy or a certain state in your personal life. Now, apply the Stanhope Principle and try to answer the question honestly. Here are just a few possible examples.

  • If our tax system existed in its current form, would we invent it that way?
  • If our health care system existed in its current form, would we invent it that way?
  • If our current relationship existed in its current form, would we invent it that way?
  • If the job we worked existed in its current form, would we invent it that way?
  • If our website/blog/product existed in its current form, would we invent it that way?

If you ask that question and answer it honestly, which is key, you might be surprised by what you find out. You might think your personal relationships are functional, but applying the Stanhope Principle could expose flaws that you’ve been overlooking or ignoring.

Apply in a larger context, such as politics, marriage, and gender issues, and the insights get a bit more complicated. Given the current inequalities that still pervade in our society, as well as the double standards we apply, the Stanhope Principle reveals the breadth of the flaws within these institutions.

It can be distressing, acknowledging those flaws. That’s usually where the excuse banking enters the picture, but that can only further mask them. Another honest application of the Stanhope Principle will only remind us of those flaws and even reveal how we’ve made our situation worse.

Ideally, the Stanhope Principle should be a basis for improvement. A good example is Apple, one of the biggest, most successful companies in the world. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak probably didn’t know they were applying that principle, but they were.

They saw the current state of computers. They saw there was a lot of room for improvement. Given how cumbersome computers were for much of their early history, they decided to innovate and create a better way of using them. The result is a company that is worth over half-a-trillion dollars.

Applying the Stanhope Principle for worked out pretty well for Apple. I’m not saying it can make everyone a billionaire, but it does help break down a situation and an issue in a way that allows us to see the bigger picture.

More than anything else, it exposes the imperfections of our current situation. For some, it motivates them into improving their situation, be it a relationship, a business, or a social policy. For others, it’s an uncomfortable reminder that there’s a flaw in that they need to cover up or mask. In that sense, it should be easy to see who are more likely to become billionaires.

There are all sorts of way to apply the Stanhope Principle. I’ll certainly try to apply it to future issues that I discuss on this site. For now, I just want to offer my sincere thanks to Doug Stanhope and the principle he inspired. He has made the world inherently funnier and more interesting to explore.

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Filed under Current Events, Marriage and Relationships, Reasons and Excuses

The Paradox Of Traditional Romance

The more I read and write about love, sex, and the elaborate hoops we jump through in order to get them, the more I notice something frustratingly profound. When it comes to love and sex, there is no normal. There is no true tradition. There is only the ever-evolving, constantly-adapting dynamics between lovers, love interests, and fuck buddies alike.

Human beings are such complex, diverse creatures. That’s a big reason why our stories about them are so elaborate and varied. I’ve written stories about repressive religious communities that engage in ritualistic orgies. I’ve written stories about strippers who find love in the never-ending party that is Las Vegas.

In each case, there are elements of what some people, namely those who watch too much Fox News, would call “non-traditional” behavior. Whether it’s in love or sex, these people and the mentality they embody represent a standard set of assumptions that we in the Western world cling to, despite any evidence or anecdote to the contrary. They cling to it so hard that it can openly conflict with the very nature that makes us human.

Now I’m not talking about the kinds of assumptions that lead to uptight religious leaders calling same-sex marriage a cause for terrorist attacks or old men thinking granting women equal rights will turn them into lesbians. Those assumptions are the product of one too many intimate encounters between a baseball bat and a skull. They can’t be taken seriously, nor can they be effectively debated.

The assumptions here involve our standard perceptions of sex and romance. Some call it the “standard model” and since I’ve used that term before, that’s the term I’ll keep using until someone comes up with something better/sexier. We all know about these assumptions to some degree. It goes like this:

  • Boy meets girl
  • Girl meets boy
  • Boy and girl fall in love
  • Boy and girl get permission from religion and government to legally have sex
  • Boy and girl move into together, start having babies, and become upstanding members of society
  • Boy and girl constantly struggle to avoid the urge to cheat one another with more exciting sex acts
  • Boy and girl do what they can to abide by societies expectations about how a married couple and family should behave

These assumptions are a big part of the narrative in “Sex At Dawn,” a book that continues to intrigue/arouse me with each chapter. In one of the early chapters, this book makes a keen observation that even my dirty mind missed. It’s an observation that’s so painfully obvious that you really do wonder if psychic lizard people are controlling our thoughts to make us think such crazy things.

If this traditional model of sex and romance is so natural, as many traditionalists claim, then why does it need all these elaborate legal, religious, and social institutions to reinforce it. If it’s so natural, then those protections wouldn’t be necessary, would it?

Think about it. There’s no need for a thought experiment this time. Look at all the elaborate tactics that religion, government, and society uses to preserve and reinforce the traditional model of romance and sex.

They make cheesy sitcoms. They make elaborate love songs. Entire countries even create this massive web of benefits for married couples that, until very recently, were reserved strictly for couples that stuck to the standard model of romance and sex.

This says nothing about the draconian extremes that religion went to in preserving this standard model of romance and sexuality. For some, just having laws, TV shows, and legal benefits wasn’t enough. Entire religions had to make this standard model of sex and romance a matter of spiritual importance. To go against it would be to go against an all-powerful deity that doesn’t want you using your genitals in a certain way.

Combine all that together and you start to see an odd pattern. This institution that’s supposed to be so “natural” needs all these elaborate traditions to protect it. It’s almost as if these traditions are not at all conducive to mankind’s natural inclinations for love and sex. If I could say that with any more sarcasm, I would.

Now some will claim that these traditions are necessary because mankind is naturally rebellious and immoral. Hell, that claim is the basis for no less than three major religions in this world. However, if you think about it just a little bit more than any priest or mullah ever dared, you should be able to see the flaws in that logic.

Take a moment to channel your inner Mother Nature. Pretend for a moment you’re programming a successful species from scratch. Why the hell would you install a program that makes the species rebellious and deviant? You want them to survive and reproduce, right? Making them rebellious just means you’re giving them a mechanism to defy the very goals you established in the first place.

That’s not to say that some people don’t have faulty wiring in their brains and their biology. Some really are naturally deviant, rebellious, and arrogant to a point where they get their own reality show on Fox. Those individuals are a byproduct of the diversity that every species have, daring to venture into uncharted territories to pave the way for others. They’re supposed to be the exception and not the norm.

What the assumptions surrounding the standard model of romance and sex do is invert that dynamic. It creates the impression that the norm is the exception. All those powerful mechanisms that urge us to love, hump, and cooperate in ways that make Catholic Bishops cry at night are scolded and shamed. The only way to subvert them is to create entire traditions and cultures that warp peoples’ mind into believing these assumptions.

It is a romantic paradox in many respects. We claim this standard model of romance that is the basis of so many Shakespeare plays and boy band songs is natural, but it still needs all these protections and traditions to propagate.

It’s enough to make you wonder what will happen as these traditions and assumptions fade. It’s another interesting thought experiment, but one I’ll have to hold off on until I finish “Sex At Dawn” in its entirety.

It’s already giving me many interesting ideas for the kinds of sexy love stories that may fly in the face of everything Stephanie Meyer ever wrote, but these are ideas worth exploring. When our love lives and our sex lives are involved, the stakes are pretty damn high. If my erotica/romance novels can flesh out those ideas, then that’s a worthy endeavor if ever there was one.

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