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The (Not So) Hidden Philosophical Insights In “Avengers: Infinity War”

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The past few weeks have been exciting, shocking, and downright cathartic for fans of superhero movies. The success of “Avengers: Infinity War” is beyond dispute. Between critical praise and a record-setting box office haul, it has entered uncharted territory in terms of success, both as a movie and as a cultural phenomenon.

As a lifelong comic book fan who hasn’t forgotten the dark days “X-men Origins: Wolverine” and “Batman and Robin,” the impact of this movie puts a big smile on my face. Even those who doubted a movie this ambitious could be made or keep hoping for superhero fatigue can’t deny the breadth of what “Avengers: Infinity War” has achieved.

Those achievements are worth celebrating, at least until the first trailer of “Avengers 4” comes out. As part of that celebration, I also think it’s worth taking a step back and looking at the bigger messages that “Avengers: Infinity War” conveys. To simply call it a big, flashy spectacle meant to milk movie fans of money would be a gross oversimplification.

Nothing becomes this successful without having meaning beyond the spectacle. No movie can appeal to such a wide audience or get them to pay grossly inflated ticket prices without having that meaning. Movies like “Avatar” and “The Godfather” have that kind of meaning that transcends the content of the movie. Even other superhero movies like “The Dark Knight” dare to explore deeper philosophical insights .

I believe those insights are present in “Avengers: Infinity War.” I also believe that those insights are unique because the entire setup for the movie is so unique. No movie in history has required a decade of build-up, multiple phases, and an over-arching narrative that spans movies that range from gods invading Earth to talking Raccoons teaming up with renegade space pirates .

That puts this movie in uncharted territory. The events of the movie can’t function in a vacuum without losing elements of that larger message. While the nature of that message is debatable, I’m going to make a case that the deeper meaning in “Avengers: Infinity War ” is one that complements those of the previous Avengers movies. I’ll even go so far as to claim it has implications for the real world.

The core of that message, I believe, has to do with a simple truth that probably seems inane, especially to those who read a lot of comics or consume a healthy dose of superhero-themed media. However, it’s a message worth belaboring and it can best be summed up like this.

A united team is stronger than a collection of powerful individuals.

I know that sounds like a snippet from one of Captain America’s inspiring speeches. It’s probably something teachers, coaches, and parents have conveyed to their kids, going all the way back to pre-school. However, I think “Avengers: Infinity War” conveys that message in a way that makes for a much greater spectacle with an equally great impact.

Even if you watch “Avengers: Infinity War” without seeing the last two Avengers movies, there’s one obvious obstacle that all the heroes face in the battle against Thanos. Before the first shot is fired, they’re all deeply divided. They’re not a team. They’re a mess.

Iron Man and Captain America aren’t on friendly terms. Tony Stark said as such at the beginning of the movie. It’s also established that Captain America and those loyal to him are fugitives, a direct result of the events in “Captain America: Civil War.” They are, to some extent, a metaphor for a divided team and a divided society.

That may not sound like a big deal, but to the extent it reflects a core strength of humanity, as both a species and a society, it couldn’t be more vital. I’ve mentioned before how tribal people can be. I’ve even framed it as a flaw, at times. While it certainly can work against us, it’s also one of our greatest strengths.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that the human ability to form groups, work together, and coordinate in the name of a common goals is one of our greatest survival advantages. By forming teams and organizing societies, we’ve become the most dominant species on this planet. The Avengers are, from a philosophical standpoint, the embodiment of that team strength.

As individuals, we all have plenty of shortcomings. Not everyone knows how to fix a car, program a computer, or treat a staph infection. There are also too many of us who die from stupid accidents or treatable infections. As a team within a society, though, we’re able to thrive and overcome obstacles that no individual can overcome, even if they’re a super soldier or a billionaire inventor.

In “Avengers: Infinity War,” the team faces the ultimate obstacle in Thanos. He hits like an unpredictable force of nature. He brings callous, chaotic death and is willing to cross every conceivable line to achieve his goal. He’s not someone that can be dissuaded, talked down, or negotiated with. He must be opposed directly.

In other words, he’s the worst kind of threat the Avengers could’ve faced in their current condition. That’s critical because the first “Avengers” movie and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” do plenty to establish the value of having a unified team against such threats. In both those movies, the Avengers bicker and clash. However, they stay united and eventually defeat the threat.

You don’t need to look that deep into history to see parallels that reflect the strength of unified alliances. The unity of the allied powers in World War II proved overwhelming to the Axis. Contrary to popular belief and even a few popular alternate history stories , the Axis powers were never that close to winning the war. In fact, they were a very poor allegiance and hurt each other much more than they helped.

Even in recent times, greater unity in the form of globalization, free trade, and mass communication has helped unite the world on an unprecedented scale. While globalization gets a bad rap these days, it has helped create one of the most peaceful and prosperous times in human history. Like the Avengers, disparate societies are working together to achieve things they couldn’t achieve on their own.

In “Avengers: Infinity War,” and I know this is somewhat of a spoiler for those who haven’t seen the movie, the divisions within the team kept them from uniting against Thanos. They couldn’t be as effective as they were in “Avengers” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

You could also make the argument that the Avengers weren’t willing to sacrifice as much as him. There were, indeed, opportunities to stop Thanos in his tracks. However, those opportunities required someone to die. The logic was that sacrificing one life would save many, trillions in this case.

That may seem like a failure on the part of the Avengers, but I would argue those difficult decisions are a direct byproduct of disunity. When a team is divided and not coordinating with one another, they have to make these kinds of sacrifices. Even if they did, though, it still doesn’t guarantee that they would beat Thanos.

It’s another consequence of disunity, division, and not coordinating with one another. Everything becomes a reaction. There’s little room to plan or prepare. That worked against the Avengers in a big way because they did have some warning surrounding Thanos. The visions Tony had in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” at the very least, offered hints as to what might be coming.

Rather than use that opportunity to unite, they ended up divided. In the end, the outcome of “Captain America: Civil War” ensured that “Avengers: Infinity War” was going to end badly for the Avengers. It’s part of what helped give “Avengers: Infinity War” such an enormous impact. It takes those over-arching narratives from other movies and gives them greater weight.

Now, none of this is to say that the Avengers would’ve defeated Thanos easily had they been united from the beginning. Even if every one of them had been present and on the same page, there are no guarantees against a threat like Thanos. Like a supervolcano eruption or a gamma ray burst, it’s impossible to know whether we can survive a powerful threat we’ve never faced before.

Even so, history and nature are ripe with examples that demonstrate how united, cohesive teams are better able to survive major threats than powerful individuals. One human versus one hungry grizzly bear is not a fair fight. An entire team of humans, armed with a desire to survive and the collective know-how of multiple individuals, makes it exceedingly unfair for the grizzly.

Like the Avengers, the best teams are those that maximize an individual’s unique talents while empowering them with a collective drive. In those same teams, the conflict between individualism and collectivism strikes a critical balance. They aren’t so unified that they become prone to drone-like behavior. They also aren’t so divided that they’re too weak to coordinate.

We see that balance in teams that win championships. We also see it in organizations that accomplish great things, from building the pyramids to landing a man on the moon . A lot of what humanity has achieved, as a species, has been done through a collection of brilliant individuals who are able to work within a society to make their ideas happen.

The same effect applies to superheroes, who embody ideals of individual powers and abilities. On their own, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and even Ant Man can do great things. As a team, though, they can do much better.

It’s both a lesson and a powerful message, laced within a cinematic marvel. It shows just how weak and vulnerable we are when we’re divided, petty, and disorganized. Hopefully, “Avengers 4” can complete the story by showing just how strong we can be when we’re united, motivated, and driven. It may be an old, overplayed message, but it’s one worth belaboring in a world that’s still very divided.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, human nature

The Strange Appeal Of The Apocalypse (According To “Rick And Morty”)

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What is it about the apocalypse that fascinates us so much? Why do movies about zombies, machine uprisings, and overall societal collapse appeal to us? Is it just the dramatic, action-packed stories they evoke that thrills us? Could there be something more to that appeal?

While I enjoy a good apocalyptic tale every now and then, I don’t consider myself a fan of the genre. In general, I opt for more hopeful and optimistic stories about the future and the present. I can still appreciate movies like “World War Z” and TV shows like “The Walking Dead,” but it’s not the kind of story that appeals to me, in general.

Even so, I don’t deny that there is a certain appeal to it. I’m not just talking about apocalyptic stories either. For some, the idea of a world in which civilization has collapsed has an innate allure that goes beyond zombies, killer robots, or even invading aliens. To some extent, that appeal is directly related to the flaws of civilization itself.

To appreciate those flaws and where the apocalypse fits in, it’s necessary to reference a show that has a knack for conveying complex philosophical insights in a way that’s both entertaining and hilarious. Yes, I’m referring to “Rick and Morty” again. No, I’m not apologizing for that.

In the same way this show has conveyed complexities of nihilism and the burdens of genius, this show also does a better job than most at conveying the unique appeal of the collapse of civilization. It does this through two episodes, “Rick Potion Number 9” and “Rickmancing The Stone.” While the details are subtle, as is often the case with “Rick and Morty,” the message is clear.

Simply put, the fruits of modern civilization are debilitating, dehumanizing, and soul-crushing for the vast majority of people. If you’re rich, good looking, and well-connected, then civilization is fantastic for you. You can get pretty much whatever you want and you can get other people to do all the hard stuff you don’t want to do.

If you’re everyone else, though, you’re kind of stuck. Throughout “Rick and Morty,” Rick Sanchez doesn’t hide from that fact. His nihilistic commentary on life, death, and everything in between makes clear that civilization is just a few extra inconveniences to an undisputed super-genius who can build a nuclear reactor out of pond scum.

However, it’s through characters like Jerry Smith, Rick’s perpetually mediocre son-in-law, that the true weight of modern civilization becomes clear. To some extent, Jerry represents all the non-Ricks of the world. They don’t have the benefits of good looks, deep pockets, or god-like genius navigate civilization. They’re basically stuck working for the scraps.

Both myself and most people reading this probably have more in common with Jerry than they care to admit. We work jobs we don’t like to make just enough money to survive in a society where simply living is both overly-complicated and expensive by modern infrastructure, law, and economics. For most people, just living in a decent place with a manageable mortgage payment and good WiFi is the most they can hope for.

In the apocalypse, though, everything is simpler. All those complexities of modern civilization go out the window. Life is no longer defined by your ability to find a job, pay the bills, stay out of jail, and not piss off the wrong people. It’s defined by your ability to survive day-by-day. It basically resets our society back to its tribal roots.

For some, that’s a horrible setback because it means they actually have to work, sweat, and toil for their survival rather than relying on underpaid peasants. For most, though, it’s a massive equalizer. Suddenly, your money, your fancy clothes, and your tax bracket don’t matter. All that matters is your ability to survive another day.

In “Rick Potion Number 9,” Rick and Morty’s antics bring about the complete collapse of civilization. In the process, Jerry Smith gets a chance to be something other than the guy that modern society walks all over because of his inherent mediocrity. Suddenly, he doesn’t need genius, looks, or connections to thrive. He just needs an ability to hold a crow bar and fight monsters.

In “Rickmancing The Stone,” this breakdown of civilization and equalization of stakes gets an even greater push, albeit without Jerry. He still plays a part in the story, but only to the extent that it’s clear just how much modern civilization crushes people like Jerry whose skills are too limited to thrive. Conversely, a “Mad Max: Fury Road” style apocalypse simplifies the types of necessary skills.

In that world, and nearly every other apocalyptic narrative for that matter, you don’t need to go to a fancy college, invest in complex industry, or network with rich elites. You just need to be willing and able to learn basic survival skills, like hunting, foraging, self-defense, and basic crafts. Most people with moderate hand-eye coordination and a little grit can learn those skills.

These are skills that go back to the basics of our hunter/gatherer past. They’re skills that still manifest today, both with rugged outdoor-lovers and in societies that have collapsed, albeit on a non-zombie, non-global scale. Whatever the circumstances, though, the end results are the same. The apocalypse doesn’t just simplify the stakes. It requires us to be egalitarian in the most pragmatic way possible.

Think of all the petty divisions we currently deal with, from identity politics to philosophical debates to never-ending feud between “Star Wars” fans and “Star Trek” fans. In the face of an apocalypse, all that stuff becomes meaningless. Disagreements over feminism and masculinity don’t matter. Clashes between liberals and conservatives don’t matter. Complex economic theories don’t matter.

To some extent, that is appealing. Sure, it also means no internet, no TV, no movies, no social media, and no media of any kind. It also means no air conditioning, no electricity, no modern medicine, and no modern comforts. That may limit the appeal, but at the same time, it removes the complications that comes with those amenities.

Let’s face it. They are complications that get pretty infuriating. In the modern world, you can’t just survive. You have to have a career. You have to have some sort of profitable skill. Even if you do, that’s no guarantee you’ll gain the respect you want, attract the mates you want, or establish yourself as a productive member of your community.

In the world of the apocalypse, it doesn’t matter how many Twitter followers you had or likes you got on FaceBook. It doesn’t matter how many friends you had in high school, how many matches you won on “Overwatch,” or how many dumb things you did as a kid. When society, civilization, and infrastructure collapse, none of that matters. You’re essentially free to just live and survive.

For the Jerry Smiths of the world, the apocalypse would be the perfect make-or-break scenario. You either show that you’re willing to work, fight, and survive or you die. That’s all there is to it. It’s simple, blunt, and uncomplicated. You have just as much an opportunity as some guy who went to an overpriced prep school. Even if you fail, you fail on your own accord.

That said, there’s also a dark side to that appeal. While “Rick and Morty” double down on the dehumanizing, degrading nature of modern civilization, other shows like “The Walking Dead” show how it can take people who would be unremarkable in a civilized society and turn them into monsters. That’s how a high school football coach can become a tyrannical, but charismatic dictator.

Like modern civilization, the apocalypse affects people in different ways. Some, like Jerry Smith and Negan, might actually thrive in it. Others won’t be able to handle it, having become too comfortable with the trappings of civilization. That’s something that modern survivalist groups bank on and, should the apocalypse ever come, we’ll see how much or how little that pays off.

Personally, I hope that day never comes. It’s not just because I probably wouldn’t last long in an apocalypse. I’ve never gone camping, I don’t have any survival training, and I’m not sure how I’ll react to a zombie. I think that while modern civilization has its flaws, it has more long-term potential than any apocalypse, by default.

Since much of that potential is still unrealized, although we are making progress, the apocalypse will still have more appeal to the vast majority of people who feel trapped by the rigid complexity of modern civilization. They can only do so much with their lives and there’s only so much they have to risk.

Then again, maybe that’s something both civilization and the apocalypse have in common. As Rick Sanchez once said, “To live is to risk it all. Otherwise, you’re just an inert chunk of randomly assembled molecules drifting wherever the universe blows you.” It’s just easier to do that in the apocalypse because, with or without zombies, the stakes are simpler and clearer for everyone.

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Filed under Current Events, human nature, Rick and Morty

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

Why Wonder Woman Matters Now More Than Ever

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Today’s the big day. For comic book fans, superhero movies, and those who appreciate seeing beautiful women kick ass, it has been a long time coming. It shouldn’t have taken so long, but there were a few setbacks along the way. Well, we can forget about those now because the wait is over. The “Wonder Woman” movie has arrived.

I can safely say as a self-proclaimed comic book fan and a fan of sexy female superheros, I’ve been looking forward to this movie more than any other in a decade. I’ve said it before as I’ve tracked this movie’s approach, but I believe that “Wonder Woman” is the most important superhero movie since the original “X-men” movie made us forget about Joel Shumacher.

It’s not just that Wonder Woman is the most iconic female superhero of the past century. It’s not just that Wonder Woman can give female superhero movies some badly-needed credibility, especially after debacles like “Catwoman” and “Elektra.” The ideals and themes of Wonder Woman, as a character and an icon, are more important now than they’ve ever been. For once, though, it has nothing to do with her BDSM origins.

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At the moment, we live in some very volatile times. I won’t get into the breadth and scope of that volatility. Pretty much anyone who has watched the news for more than five minutes understands what I mean. While I have argued that the world is getting better by most objective measures, there’s no denying that there’s still plenty of conflict.

Whether it’s wars in the middle east or uproars over comic book covers, there are so many things dividing us, as a species. We get into fights, both online and the real world, over both serious and trivial issues. We can never be too content as a society. We always have to be fighting a battle somewhere. We always have to be playing the hero to someone.

This manifests in everything from clashes over identity politics to gender-based double standards to real-world wars that take a horrific human toll. Improvements and context aside, the world is still a scary place and we’re still a bunch of scared children looking for anything or anyone to comfort us.

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That’s where Wonder Woman comes in. Like Superman or Captain America, she represents an ideal. Hers, however, is a unique ideal, one that embodies the greatest aspects of female strength. She stands for all that is good about women. Regardless of culture or creed, she represents the love and strength that brings out the best in women.

Regardless of whether you’re a man, woman, or something in between, Wonder Woman stands for a unique set of values that make her both a hero and an icon. She is someone every gender can look up to, but one that uniquely resonates with women. It’s not just that she can fight, fly, and wield power on the same level as Superman. She embodies a different kind of strength, one that sets her apart from other male heroes.

It’s this strength that her creator, William Marston, focused on when he created Wonder Woman. Beyond the BDSM themes, Marston was very ahead of his time in crafting Wonder Woman’s ideals. It wasn’t just about putting women in power. It was about rethinking the very concept that power should rule in the first place.

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Wonder Woman, at her core, does not seek domination or destruction. She is, at her core, a voice for peace and love between innocents. She is also a warrior, but one who reserves her skills for those who would dare destroy such innocents. She will fight those who would harm innocent lives, but she won’t just use her fists.

In a very timely move by DC Comics, a recent issue of Wonder Woman’s ongoing comic series demonstrated that. In Wonder Woman #23, by Greg Rucka and Liam Sharp, Wonder Woman goes up against Phobos and Deimos, the devious sons of Ares, the God of War. They try to provoke Wonder Woman into freeing their imprisoned father. It’s a situation where Superman or Batman would’ve tried to fight their way out of.

Wonder Woman (2016-) #23

However, that’s not what Wonder Woman does. She doesn’t defeat Phobos and Deimos through violence. She understands that such power with more power is bound to cause destruction, pain, and loss. Instead, she fights them in a different, wholly unique way. She fights them with love.

It’s not nearly as corny as it sounds. It’s a culmination of many conflicts that had been building over the course of a dozen issues, which included more than a few major clashes along the way. In the end, though, fighting power with more power wasn’t the answer. Wonder Woman understood this and chose a different path. It worked too. Phobos and Deimos were defeated and no innocents had to suffer.

Wonder Woman #23 is a perfect demonstration of what sets Wonder Woman apart from other heroes and why she’s such a strong female icon. Sure, the uptight asshats at the United Nations may think she’s too sexy to be an icon, but they’re dead wrong. Wonder Woman’s beauty is a reflection of her heart. That heart, and her ability to use it as well as her fists, is what makes her message more important than ever.

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We currently live in an era where everything from feminism to beauty standards is becoming more and more tribal. It’s not enough to just fight for equality and understanding. Everyone has to form their tribe and help it dominate in some way, either by having it play the victim or resort to excessive virtue signaling.

That’s exactly the kind of endless power struggle that Marston criticized when he created Wonder Woman. It’s also the kind of struggle that Wonder Woman rises above. She may be a feminist icon, but she does not carry herself as one who favors one gender dominating the other.

She champions love and understanding for all. She seeks not domination of one idea over the other, but loving submission to the idea that none need dominate. It is possible for everyone, male and female, to humble themselves and open their hearts. We don’t need power over others to achieve peace.

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Her message is one that should resonate now more than ever. With her movie finally released, that message has a chance to spread. Sure, there will be controversy. People make up controversies all the time. There was a controversy over Wonder Woman’s armpit hair, for crying out loud. That’s all the more reason to heed her ideals of fighting conflict with love.

It’s been a long, arduous journey for Wonder Woman to get to this point. I’m not equipped to document the sheer breadth of that journey, but the fine folks at Midnight’s Edge have already done the work for me. They recently released a chronicle, of sorts, on how Wonder Woman got to this point and why her movie is so vital to the future of DC and superhero movies in general.

However you feel about Wonder Woman or superhero movies, today is still an important day in our culture. There are still so many issues that plague men and women alike. Now, more than ever, we need heroes like Wonder Woman to show that there’s a better way for us to forge our future.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes

Why Bigotry And Prejudice Can NEVER Be Resolved (For Now)

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It’s all around us. It generates protests, outrage, and angry rants of every variety on cable news. It floods social media, infects college campuses, and drowns out any and all meaningful dialog that might actually lead to productive change. I don’t even have to reveal it at this point. Everybody knows what I’m talking about on some level or they at least have a vaguely accurate idea.

It goes by many names. Call it racism, reverse racism, sexism, man-hating, homophobia, islamophobia, or transphobia. It all falls under the same overly-divisive rhetoric that is bigotry and prejudice. It always seems to be in the news. It always makes a conversation awkward and unsexy. It seems to get better some days and regress the others.

Now I know I’m making everybody’s panties very dry by bringing this up, but bear with me. This post is not going to get as bleak or depressing as it would if it were a Michael Moore documentary. I prefer to convey a more optimistic spirit to my audience. It puts them in a better mood, which is important if you’re trying to sell erotica/romance novels.

On the surface, though, there’s no way around it. This is as ugly a topic as it gets these days, the concepts of bigotry and prejudice. If it isn’t the stereotypical white male patriarchal types bemoaning how lazy and violent minorities are, it’s the radical left-wing hippies who call everyone who doesn’t support interracial gay couples kissing in the streets Nazi supporters.

It really is a strange, distressing state in which we find ourselves in. There used to be just one extreme in terms of prejudice, namely that which tried to preserve the overtly-unequal status quo that favored one particular group, be it white men or one particular religious group. Now, the extremes are all over the place.

I’ve talked about a few of them, like radical feminism. They’re just one of the many extremes that have emerged in recent years, often in conjunction with trends in identity politics. It’s not peace-loving hippies who put flowers in guns anymore. It’s angry, entitled, hashtag-starting narcissists who go into a Hulk-like rage whenever someone dares contest their utopian worldview.

There’s an extreme for women, who want men to suffer for their historical crimes against gender. There’s an extreme for race, some of which favor completely disenfranchising all white men for their historical crimes. There’s even an extreme for those who dare to use the wrong pronouns when describing boys and girls. Yes, it really has gotten that crazy.

That says nothing about the craziness that has emerged from extremes within religious groups, but we’re all kind of used to that. We expect extremes in religion, whether they’re favoring the execution of cartoonists or demanding that their particular religion be given a right to discriminate. It’s just the same bigotry and prejudice, but with holy decrees and a convenient excuse to not pay taxes.

No matter the extreme, the outcome is the same. It divides people. It makes them angry, unruly, and hateful. It makes the comments section in every YouTube video about feminism and race relations a raging tire fire that undermines whatever faith in humanity you might have had at this point.

It’s as frustrating as it is tragic. It often leads us to ask the same question Rodney King once asked. Can’t we all just get along? Well, with all due respect to Mr. King, I’m sorry to say that there’s a wholly valid answer to that question.

Unfortunately, the answer is a definitive no. We cannot.

That’s not the solemn musings of cynical man who has read one too many BuzzFeed articles. It’s a cold, inescapable fact. However, there is a context here and a fluid context, which means we shouldn’t be too cynical. If anything, we should be even more hopeful.

The reason why prejudice and bigotry exist is simple and it has nothing to do with some vast, elaborate conspiracy by cisgendered white heterosexual males. Any conspiracy involving that many straight men probably involves fantasy sports or a “My Little Pony” marathon. Once again, this immutable problem in our society has roots in our biology.

It’s another byproduct of caveman logic. Those same settings in our brains that haven’t been updated in 200,000 years essentially guarantee that there will always be some level of prejudice and bigotry. The fact we’re able to function as well as we do as a global society is nothing short of miraculous.

To understand why this is, you need to recall the circumstances of our distant ancestors. They did not live in big cities full of a diverse mix of people from various cultures and ethnicities. They didn’t even live on farms in rural towns where cow-tipping counts as entertainment. They were hunter/gatherers, roaming and foraging in small, close-knit tribes.

For most of the history of our species, that’s how we lived. As such, that’s how our brains are wired and that wiring has not changed much. Due to the slow, clunky processes within our biology, it really can’t and that’s the crux of the problem.

Modern neuroscience has revealed a great deal about our brain’s capacity to form groups and cooperate. These groups become tribes and we, being the very social species that we are, come to tie our identity to those tribes. We work with them. We trust them. We rely on them. Most importantly, as it pertains to prejudice, we defend them and make endless excuses for them.

Picture, for a moment, how this works in our hunter/gatherer context. You’re an individual living 100,000 years ago. You have only a loin cloth, a spear, and functioning genitals. On your own, you’re not going to survive for very long. In a fight against a hungry lion, you’re basically a walking snack.

Then, you join a tribe. You ally yourself with other people who can help you, share resources, and give you an opportunity to use your genitals with others in a more enjoyable, intimate way. Suddenly, that hungry lion loses its appetite. One human is easy to maul. A hundred humans, each armed with spears and an incentive to impress fertile women, is much harder.

Being in that tribe, you come to rely on them and cherish them. Being around them gives you a sense of purpose and identity. You come to love and respect them. You form your own rituals and quirks. You sing certain songs. You do certain dances. You wear certain loin cloths that you think are stylish as hell. This tribe makes you feel complete.

Then, one day, you encounter another tribe. However, this tribe is not yours. They look different. They talk funny. They believe weird things. They wear weird clothes. They follow different rules. Everything about them is so strange and that freaks you out, so much so that you cling harder to your tribe.

Maybe there’s something about that other tribe that’s scary. Maybe they have weapons that are bigger. Maybe they have talents that your tribe can’t do. Maybe their food tastes better and their gods are more powerful. This is all causing you some serious stress and when your brain gets stressed, it does a lot of crazy things to mitigate it.

The next thing you know, your tribe goes to war with the other tribe. Your tribe loudly proclaims that theirs is the greatest tribe in the world. Their gods are better, their food is better, and their rituals are better. The other tribe is so wrong and misguided that they can’t be human. As such, killing them or demeaning them isn’t a big deal. It’s no more distressing than putting down a rabid dog.

Now, extrapolate this tribal mentality, carry it out a billion times in a billion ways within large multi-cultural societies, and apply the reaction to the comments section of a Justin Bieber video, and you now understand why prejudice and bigotry exists. You also understand why nothing can be done about it for now.

Remember those last two words though. I bolded them for a reason. This is where I offer readers a sliver of hope. Does racism, sexism, and homophobia truly disturb you? Do you wish that our society could move past it and forge a more peaceful existence? Well, you may live to see that day.

Keep in mind, these traits that make us so hateful and divisive all stem from our brains. It’s that flawed wiring that still thinks we’re hunter/gatherers picking nuts out of elephant shit on the African savanna that fosters so much bigotry and prejudice. We humans are capable of a great many technological and intellectual feats, but we cannot circumvent the wiring of our brains.

Thanks to companies like Neuralink and advances in human enhancement, like smart blood, we are very close to finally tweaking those outdated settings that make us mute certain people on Twitter. It may very well happen in our lifetime. We may see a new breed of humans whose brains can function beyond brutish tribalism.

We don’t know how these humans will think, how they’ll function with those still stuck in caveman mode, or how they’ll relate to one another. If they aren’t as hateful or petty as we are today, then perhaps they’ll find creative new ways to relate to one another, connect with one another, and make love to one another.

We can only imagine/fantasize for now, but I do take some comfort in the progress we’ve made as a species. We’ve done remarkably well, despite our caveman brains. It’s fun to imagine how much more we can do once we update the software. It may make for a more promising future and some very sexy stories, some of which I intend to write.

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The Future (And Caveman Past) Of Privacy

Let’s face it. There are just some things in the modern world that are destined to disappear. Things like coal power, overt racial discrimination, and the Macarena are destined to become relics of a bygone era. Some already have to some extent. Others, like snail mail, poor WiFi, and the Kardashians, can’t go away soon enough.

So what does this have to do with privacy? Why am I even bringing up privacy? Is this another case of an erotica/romance writer having a few too many glasses of whiskey when he writes? Well, except for the whiskey part, those questions already have answers.

For the past couple of days, I’ve been talking about the emerging technologies that will allow brain-to-brain communication. Like an updated iPhone, it’s one of those technologies that we know is coming. It’s just a matter of getting here and having a major company profit the hell out of it.

You may not think it’s likely now, but at some point someone will find a way to make sharing thoughts an obscenely profitable business. We get people to pay for bottled water and a haunted rubber duck. There are plenty of gullible people with money in this society is what I’m saying.

Going back to privacy, it’s fairly obvious that we’re already in the process of ditching it to some extent. It used to be that the craziest, dumbest, most asinine stuff we said in our day-to-day lives never left our close circle of friends. Now, we feel compelled to share all those crazy thoughts online.

Look at me. I’m doing that right now. I’m sharing thoughts I never would’ve shared in polite conversation 20 years ago. Then again, 20 years ago I had a horrible acne problem and the piss-poor social skills of a ferret so it’s not like I was in a position to do much sharing. The internet and social media has changed all that. It’s given us an opportunity to kick our concepts of privacy in the balls and beat it with a hammer into something else.

This has had consequences. Just ask anyone who had an Ashley Madison account a few years ago. It’s bound to have more consequences, especially as an emerging generation matures into a world that has never known the pain of dial-up internet. This is a generation for whom sexting will be akin to copping a feel in the back seat of a car. Admit it. You envy that generation to some degree.

However, it’s the generation after that who may really deliver the final nail in the coffin of privacy. That generation will likely come into a world where brain-to-brain communication has matured, is a growing business, and has people bitching about fees for sharing certain thoughts. How will that generation view privacy?

Well for once, we really don’t need a thought experiment or some exercise in existential logic. In fact, we need only a history book and a general understanding of how humans form tribes. Go to any message board that celebrates a certain romantic pairing on “Buffy The Vampire Slayer.” It doesn’t take much.

Nature has wired our bodies to be good at a lot of things, albeit in hilariously crude ways. Just look at the design of the male scrotum. However, one design that has been remarkably efficient is our ability to form tribes and groups. It’s that kind of coordination and cooperation that has helped us dominate this planet, build civilizations, and form Hugh Jackman fan clubs.

It’s also this uncanny ability to form tribes that’ll make the techno-telepathy of brain-to-brain communication so appealing to future generations. It may seem crazy now to those of us who still dread the thought of someone hacking our phones and sharing all the embarrassing pictures of us on FaceBook. I’ve always worked under the assumption that someone has already hacked my phone and that keeps me from capturing anything too compromising in my private moments.

However, with techno-telepathy, there’s nothing left to compromise. Everything is laid out for someone else to see. Your hopes, dreams, fears, and perverse sexual fantasies are all laid out in a beautifully rendered image. Can we even cope with that kind of transparency?

Well, the average congressperson notwithstanding, we have kind of done it before. In fact, we had that kind of transparency for a good chunk of human history. This brings me back to “Sex At Dawn,” a book that has been remarkably useful in discussing such sexy, taboo topics. In addition to talking about the shapes of penises and female orgasms, it does talk about privacy.

Granted, it’s not as sexy as the other topics discussed, but it is relevant in that it explores the pre-interent, pre-agriculture concepts of privacy. In short, there was none. In fact, from a purely practical standpoint, there couldn’t be any privacy.

That’s because those societies were hunter/gatherer societies. These societies were small, close-knit tribes of people who worked together, cooperated, and shared resources to survive. This is not some hippie commune out of John Lennon fantasy. These were very functional, very adaptive groups that played a big part in how human beings evolved.

In those societies, privacy is kind of redundant because they need to share resources. They don’t have big cities or elaborate infrastructure. They need to cooperate or they won’t survive. Part of cooperation means being overly transparent. That means sharing shelter, living space, food, and lovers. Yes, sharing can be sexy. It just comes at the cost of privacy. Some may think that’s a fair trade.

When you don’t have a lot of property or resources of your own, what’s the point of privacy? It’s not that it’s ignored. It’s not that it doesn’t exist to some degree. It’s just redundant in a hunter/gatherer setting. Keep in mind though, it’s in this setting that our species evolved. For the caveman in us, privacy is more a construct than an innate trait.

That’s because our concept or privacy really didn’t exist until the modern concept of property rights emerged. The concept of a public/private sphere is a fairly modern invention. Again, it’s largely out of necessity. When you have a society that relies heavily on accumulating and distributing resources on a large scale, the need for some measure of privacy is unavoidable, if only to avoid extortion and exploitation.

This is where the techno-telepathy of brain-to-brain communication really gets interesting. Whereas modern notions of privacy are relatively recent, less private habits of our cavemen ancestors are still hardwired into our tribal traits. That means the growth of techno-telepathy could be one of those tools actually complements our caveman nature rather instead of conflicting with it.

What could this mean for us as individuals and as a society? What could it mean for our love lives? Well, if our history as hunter/gatherers is any indication, this tool would make it far easier for us to form telepathic tribes, of sorts. We find people who appreciate and share our thoughts. We develop close bonds with those people. Some may even become romantic and sexual. When you’re sharing your most intimate thoughts with people, that’s kind of inevitable.

It could be disruptive or it could be productive for society. When we start sharing both literal and figurative thoughts with one another, privacy as we know it will take on a whole new meaning. It won’t disappear completely. It’ll just change. We’re terrified of sharing naked pictures of ourselves now. How will we feel when we start sharing are deepest, dirtiest, sexiest thoughts?

It’s an interesting notion to consider and one I hope to see play out in the coming decades. I have a feeling it’ll give me plenty of sexy ideas for future novels.

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