Tag Archives: traditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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How NOT To Talk About Marriage

Picture a scenario with a man and a woman. No, it’s not one of those scenarios. They’re both fully clothed, in public, and otherwise normal. Then, imagine the kind of outrage/public shaming that would occur if this took place in front of one too many cameras.

Woman: I’m so sad! I’m so lonely! Why does the world so cruel?

Man: Maybe it’s because you’re really fat. Were you abused as a kid or something? Just exercise more or get some surgery.

You feel that? That’s the inescapable urge to roll your eyes because you know what kind of outcry this is going to cause. You know the kind of arguments, insults, rants, and raves that’ll emerge from this topic. Human can be pretty crazy and unpredictable when it comes to certain topics. Topics that involve marriage or gender issues, though, are annoyingly consistent.

So why do I bring up this scenario and the predictable outcry it tends to cause? Well, it was inspired, in large part, by a video I came across recently. It involves a small talk show discussing recent trends in marriage, namely why men are more and more reluctant to get married.

I’ve talked about this issue before, namely the part where the legal system gives men and women one too many tools to screw each other over and not in the way they enjoy. I generally avoid talking about it because it tends to make people less horny, which isn’t good for any erotica/romance writer. However, sometimes I do feel compelled to comment on something that feels overly relevant.

With that in mind, here is the clip in question. To get to the part that really annoyed me, fast forward to the 2:20 mark. I should warn you though. You may feel the urge to punch your computer screen.

Did you see it? Is your computer screen still intact? Are you confused as to why someone who is single, in his 30s, and worried about his romantic future would feel uneasy with this exchange? Well, let me break it down in a way that I hope won’t cost anyone a new computer screen.

The argument the man in the clip makes is not a new one. They’ve been made before, the pitfalls of marriage and the reasons men aren’t too eager to participate. In fact, Fox built one of its most successful sitcoms about the ills of marriage and what it does to men. These are not new issues is what I’m saying.

Even so, there’s still this imbalance of sorts between men and women when it comes to the decline of marriage. There’s still a stigma against those who are reluctant to join an institution that has become exceedingly unjust for legal, political, and social reasons that are too complicated and unsexy to get into.

That stigma, however, doesn’t apply to both genders equally. I know this because I’ve actually felt this inequality to some extent. It plays out like this:

  • You’re a woman and you don’t want to get married? You go girl! You don’t need a man! You just need to be you! Girl power!

  • You’re a man and you don’t want to get married? What the hell is wrong with you? Are you gay or something? What kind of creep stays single all his life?

See the difference? The clip itself doesn’t do justice to the extent of this difference, but the man does get crap for making these arguments. When he calmly and reasonably lays out his arguments, the first response isn’t to take them seriously or ask more questions. The response is, “Were you hurt?”

To the man’s credit, he laughs it off. That shows he has more maturity and self-awareness than 95 percent of the people I see on talk shows these days. It’s still a very telling assessment though, assuming outright that the man is criticizing marriage was somehow hurt in the past.

Even as a man who does want to find love and does want to marry someone, I find that pretty insulting. I get that marriage has rarely, if ever, been an equal institution. I get that for most of human civilization, women had it pretty rough with respect to marriage. I’m not denying that.

However, if I’ve learned anything from all the superhero comics I’ve read over the years, it’s that you can’t fight injustice with more injustice. That’s like trying to fight a wildfire with napalm. It’s only going to make the situation worse.

At the moment, marriage is not a good deal for men. At the moment, women have more legal and social protections with respect to marriage then men. Women can divorce their husbands whenever they want for whatever reason and, in many states, get half their husband’s assets by default. They can get custody of kids, get favorable treatment by courts, and are more readily believed with accusations of spousal abuse.

Now I’m not Al Bundy in that I see marriage as its own circle of hell for a man. I believe marriage, love, and all the passion that comes with it is a beautiful thing. The problem is that our assumptions, legal traditions, and social constructs are horribly imbalanced at the moment. It’s only when marriage becomes a relationship of true equals that its beauty can be appreciated.

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Breaking Down The “Creepiness” Factor

Have you ever had a man or woman in your life that makes you so uncomfortable that you wish you’d go out of your way to be in a different time zone? What was it about them that made you so uncomfortable that you were poised to become an Olympic sprinter if they got within 10 feet of you? Would you describe them as “creepy?”

Chances are, calling them “creepy” would probably be the most polite way to describe such people. Everybody’s concept of “creepy” may be different to some degree, but like bad porno, we all know it when we see it. In biological terms, it’s our “fight or flight” instinct going into overdrive for reasons that have nothing to do with facing a hungry grizzly bear.

Even if we all have an idea of what constitutes “creepy,” it’s one of those ideas we don’t scrutinize that much. Again, it’s one of those “I know it when I see it” type feelings and unlike bad porno, it can affect our lives in pretty profound ways. It’s led to a plague of creepy clown sightings. I’d say it’s more serious now than it has ever been in recent years.

What does it mean to be “creepy” though? This is one of those concepts for which a dictionary just doesn’t do the trick. It’s so subjective and personal that one person’s phobia is another person’s fetish. Those who are into clown porn probably understand this more than most.

It’s also a serious question for a guy like me. Recently, I talked about some of the strange looks I get when people find out I’m in my 30s and still single. While I don’t dress like a clown and collect hairs of young women, that does evoke a certain “creepiness” factor for some people. They see a single guy in his 30s and a part of them thinks that’s just wrong somehow, even if there’s nothing on the surface that comes close to clown makeup.

At its core, our revulsion to those we deep creepy is an extension of our gag reflex. When it comes to protecting our frail, fleshy forms, nature can’t be gentle. It has to make the process of vomiting or wanting to vomit so debilitating and uncomfortable that it drives us away from distressing situations. Without that sort of gag reflex, what would stop us from swimming in a pool of elephant poop too cool off on a hot summer day?

As is often the case with nature, our gag reflex tends to be overly broad and for some people, it severely overcompensates. That means the things that make us gag don’t always involve seeing a dead horse floating around in a pool. They can involve how and why we avoid certain people.

Sometimes those people do have a reason for being avoided. I’ve walked by homeless people who clearly have issues that go beyond just being homeless. Some of them do a lot more than just ask for money. Some will go out of their way to tell you that there’s a fairy on their shoulder who refuses to scratch their butthole. That’s usually going to trigger a gag reflex for most reasonable people.

However, those situations are the obvious ones. The situations that effect most people, including some people like me, are a bit more subtle. We all have traits and quirks that set us apart. We can’t always control when someone sees those things and calls them “creepy.”

For some people, my love of comic books and infatuation with sexy superhero women counts as creepy. For others, it’s a reason to hold a major convention in New York City. One person’s creepy obsession can be another person’s passion.

Then, there’s the added bit of overcompensation that we as a society heap on all things creepy. What does that entail? Well, most kids who attend a public school these days get a crash course in something called “stranger danger.”

When I was in school, it was a big fucking deal. We would have assemblies in the middle of the day to hear counselors and police officers tell us about the danger of talking to strangers. Never mind the fact that the amount of dangerous strangers is a tiny sub-set of most strangers. Never mind that a good chunk of crime and abuse comes from intimate partners and not strangers. We need to keep kids from getting kidnapped, damn it!

I get it. This is a big fear for parents and communities. It’s not an unreasonable fear, wanting to protect kids from creeps, but urging the to stay away from strangers can have side-effects. It can make kids mistrustful, paranoid, and even xenophobic. Later in life, these kids will become the adults that wants to kick minorities and foreigners out of their country.

We’ve already seen recently how this can have some pretty serious impacts on society. I won’t go into details, but I think recent trends in wall-building enthusiasts speak for themselves.

Now I’m not going to say that we should ignore the things that spike our “creep” factor. Again, that feeling is there for a damn good reason. Until we become superhuman cyborgs, which may happen one day, we need that reflex to remain. However, we also need to avoid pushing people to the fringes of society who don’t deserve it.

This might just be the hugger in me, but we do ourselves no favors by focusing on the “creepiness” in everybody. We all have our quirks. So long as those quirks don’t involve mutilation, exploitation, or clowns, we should give people a chance. If they mess up that chance, then that’s their problem and not yours at that point.

We want to be safe. We want to protect our kids. However, it is possible to overdo it. We can be doing more harm than good to those around us. Let’s not assume the extremes of creepiness outright. Until they put on clown makeup, let’s give people the chance they deserve.

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