Tag Archives: violence

Prison Or Brain Hacking? A Choice That May Shape Our Future

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How does a civilized society deal with its least civilized individuals? This is a question that every society has had to answer, going back to the hunter/gatherer era. We live in an imperfect world full of imperfect individuals. Some are more imperfect than others, so much so that it’s not always possible to reform them into functional members of society.

Most people who commit crimes are not monsters, nor are they sadists who get their joy by torturing the innocent. A vast majority are just people who find themselves in bad situations where they make wrong decisions, exercise poor judgment, or lack impulse control. For these people, fines and brief imprisonment are usually sufficient.

For those who become career criminals, neither respecting the law nor seeking to abide by it, the current system is woefully inadequate. It’s part of the reason why criminal justice reform has become a hot topic. We’re finally learning that throwing people into prisons where they’re dehumanized, degraded, and tortured doesn’t help them become productive members of society. Go figure.

There’s plenty of room for improvement. Some countries have demonstrated that there are more effective, more humane ways to treat criminals. However, even those systems have their limits. As long as human beings remain an imperfect species, we’ll still have to deal with these deviant, violent, and inherently dangerous individuals.

For the moment, our options for dealing with these people are few. It primarily involves incarceration or intense therapy, often coupled with drug therapy. While this can be helpful to some, there are severe limitations. Some individuals don’t even want treatment and even those who are caught don’t always respond.

With that in mind, allow me to present a not-quite-hypothetical scenario. What if, instead of prison or therapy, we gave offending criminals an option to undergo an invasive treatment that affects the primary source of their deviant behavior in the brain? Jail is still an option for those who aren’t keen on messing with their brain wiring, but for certain people, an alternative is an alternative.

What I just described is one of those concepts in which the science is there, but the technology and the courts haven’t caught up to it. I know whenever I talk about emerging technology, be it sex robots or artificial wombs, I venture pretty far into speculation territory. Some of these advances rely on science and tools that don’t yet exist. This isn’t one of those cases.

In July 2018, the Journal of Neuroscience published a study revealing that targeted stimulation of the prefrontal cortex reduced aggressive tendencies in test subjects. Before you start getting fever dreams of mad scientists strapping people to gurneys and sticking wires in their ears, you can rest easy. This isn’t the kind of electroshock treatment that find their way into one too many horror movies.

These treatments have ground-breaking implications. They prove that it’s possible to temper or mitigate certain behaviors in people. The study doesn’t specify the limits of the effects or if it can be applied to something other than aggressive behaviors. It’s still a proof of concept and one that could compound the impact of other emerging technologies.

We already have tools like CRISPR that allow us to tweak our genes. We also have companies like Neuralink that are actively working on implants that could fix, augment, or expand our brain capacity. While men like Elon Musk and Ray Kurzweil often discuss these advances within the context of keeping humanity on pace with artificial intelligence, there will likely be some interim uses for these technologies.

Tempering violent behavior in people with significant cognitive impairments is just one possible use, but one that has the potential to change how we think about crime and punishment. Think back to those people I mentioned earlier who just inherently violent. They can’t manage their emotions or control their anger. They don’t think before they act and some don’t even feel guilty about what they do.

Like it or not, these people exist. I’ve known people in my life who have terrible impulse control and fly into a rage over the smallest things. Some of those people have had issues with the law and I often see in them a sense of never-ending frustration. Many don’t like that they have these issues. A few have tried to get help, but it doesn’t always work.

I suspect that if some of those people were given a chance to treat their tendencies with targeted shock therapy or a brain implant, they would jump at the chance. Deviant tendencies aside, they seek some level of function in their lives. If tweaking their brain is the difference between prison and freedom, then they’ll take that risk.

Turning people who might have been unrepentant psychopaths into productive, non-violent members of society is an objective good. The technology to do just that is not that far off and more study could help us refine the process, so much so that prison might be less necessary in certain cases. Given how expensive it is to imprison people, it’s an alternative worth pursuing.

Along with that undeniable good, however, there are plenty of potential dangers. Anyone who has ever seen one too many psychological thrillers or just read “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” can easily imagine how this kind of technology could be abused.

Tempering someone’s violent behaviors is all well and good, but why would it stop there? The brain is capable of all sorts of behaviors, deviant and otherwise. Say a society determines that other non-violent behaviors, be it sexual promiscuity or binge-watching Netflix for too many hours, are not socially desirable. What’s to stop them from imposing this on their citizens?

Some countries probably already fantasize about technologies that enable them to directly pacify their citizens, rendering them weak, passive, and easily manipulated. In his famous novel, “1984,” George Orwell called these people proles. However, in the book, the deviants had to be tortured and re-educated. If Big Brother had access to this technology, it would be a simple medical procedure.

That has plenty of terrifying possibilities for abuse. What if someone uses brain stimulation to prevent people from having homosexual urges? What if someone uses it to treat those who identify as transgender? There’s no evidence that the techniques in the study would work on that, but there’s no evidence to say it’s impossible.

Its use will definitely be controversial. That much, I’m certain of. It’s not advanced enough to become a legitimate treatment for anything. At the moment, direct brain stimulation is utilized for a specified set of conditions and it’s often a last resort. Using it on healthy people who just want to cull their violent urges is uncharted territory.

Whether it enters the picture for criminal justice reform is anyone’s guess, but if the process works, someone who has dealt with one too many repeat offenders will try to use it. From there, the precedent will be set. It’s hard to say what form it’ll take, but it’ll take society into uncharted territory with respect to controlling our minds.

Perhaps, at first, the process would be voluntary and only be presented in conjunction with jail or some other treatment. It’s also possible that the courts will determine a strict set of criteria for when the state could force this treatment onto someone. There are probably a few repressive governments who would try to use this on an industrial scale. I won’t say they’re names, but most people know who they are.

Like any emerging technology, there are risks and rewards worth considering. We stand to benefit greatly by having a society with as few violent individuals as possible. We also stand to lose a great deal if we allow misguided authority figures to determine how we use this technology.

I’m not qualified to determine whether or not someone should have their brain hacked. I don’t know that anyone is. However, I also don’t deny that the human brain, as magnificent as it is, has plenty of flaws. We should go about fixing those flaws, especially in people who are disproportionately impacted by them. We just have to be very careful about how we manage it.

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Filed under futurism, human nature, psychology, sex in society, Sexy Future, Thought Experiment

The Humor In Mutilating Men Versus The Atrocity Of Harming Women

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It’s one of the most traumatic things a man can experience, the permanent damage or total removal of his penis. Whether by accident or intentional violence, he’s badly injured on a physical physical and psychological level. His ability to identify as a man, experience intimacy with others, or just feel basic pleasure is irreparably damaged.

Just mentioning the possibility of losing his penis will make most men cringe. Joke all you want about how much men glorify their genitals, but it really is an important part of their bodies and their identities. Losing it is like losing a limb, which does plenty to cause serious mental trauma. Add losing a key aspect of their masculinity to the mix and that trauma becomes amplified.

Despite that trauma, men losing their genitals is fodder for comedy. Recently, Netflix released a movie called “The Package,” the plot of which is built entirely around a man who loses his penis in an accident. That movie, if you look it up on IMDB, is listed as a comedy. Imagine, for a moment, a movie that tried to make a comedy out of female genital mutilation. How much outrage would that generate?

There’s nothing funny about women’s bodies getting mutilated or even harmed in any serious way. For men, though, it’s actually a pretty common trope. You don’t have to look too deep into the history of media to find jokes about men losing their genitals.

It’s a famous line in “The Big Leboswki.”

It’s a recurring theme in “Fight Club.”

It’s a sub-plot in an episode of “Rick and Morty.”

It’s a primary plot in an episode of “Family Guy.”

Even in media that isn’t overtly comedic, it still becomes a joke. Just look up the various internet memes about Theon Greyjoy from “Game of Thrones” for proof of that. In each case, the mutilation of men and the loss of their masculinity is portrayed as something that’s inherently funny. The fact that Netflix made a movie about that premise shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Even in the cases of real stories about real men losing their genitals, it’s prone to plenty of humor. The most famous case is probably that of John Wayne Bobbitt, whose wife cut off his penis after he raped her. While Bobbitt was, by all accounts, a horribly abusive man who deserved plenty of condemnation for what he did, his name still inspires jokes.

When people say the name Bobbitt, they don’t think of all the abuse he imparted on his wife. They think of how funny it is that his wife cut his dick off. While he was able to get it re-attached, many other men aren’t so lucky. Whether it’s public perception or daytime talk shows, a man losing his penis is still seen as funny.

Conversely, any media that shows a woman being harmed in any way, even if it’s just a slap in the face, is seen as an irredeemable atrocity. Watch shows like “Married With Children” or “The Simpsons” and you’ll see plenty of scenes where Al Bundy and Homer Simpson badly injure themselves through their antics. However, there are exceedingly few scenes that ever lead to the women being harmed.

Anything that leaves any lasting scar on a woman is inherently abhorrent. There are even major international organizations that work to combat practices like female genital mutilation. When women lose their reproductive organs from disease or injury, it’s seen as a tragedy. Anyone who laughs at their pain is rightly scorned.

Why is this, though? Why is it that an entire comedy can be built around a man losing his penis while any plot that involves a woman getting hurt in any way is dead serious? That’s not an easy question to answer. It can’t be entirely attributed to the gender-driven  double standards that I’ve singled out before.

I don’t claim to know the full answer, but I think it’s worth discussing, if only for the sake of maintaining a balanced perspective. I don’t doubt that many have their theories. Some may attribute the humor we find in men getting mutilated to trends in modern feminism. I would strongly disagree with that.

I believe that this idea of laughing at male mutilation while gasping at female victimization preceded modern feminism by a great deal. I would go so far as to say it goes back much further than that. I believe this unique quirk in gender dynamics has roots in ancient pre-modern societies that transcend geography, culture, and ethnicity.

At the core of this phenomenon is one unpleasant, but inescapable truth. I’m probably going to upset some of my fellow men by saying this, but I think it needs to be said.

We NEED to be comfortable with men getting mutilated on some levels.

Take a moment to stop fuming. Then, take a moment to consider why we would need to be okay with this in both current and ancient societies. From a purely logistic standpoint, it makes sense.

For most of human history, men were expected to carry out the dangerous, back-breaking, body-maiming work that built our civilization. Regardless of location, culture, or traditions, putting men in these situations was necessary. Someone needed to fight the wars, plow the fields, hunt dangerous animals, and work in factories.

Until very recently, men had to fill that role because women were at a severe disadvantage due to the dangers and risks of child-rearing. In the pre-modern world, the most vulnerable individuals in a society were pregnant women, newborn infants, and women in labor. In 18th-century England alone, there were 25 deaths per 1,000 births.

With odds like that, there was a legitimate reason to give women extra protection and care that was not afforded to men. Men didn’t have the babies and no society could survive in the long run if it didn’t have a growing population. That’s why, for better or for worse, there are so many cultural and religious traditions that encourage women to remain in domestic roles.

Those same traditions, however, establish a dynamic requiring that we accept a certain level of male victimization. It’s one thing for a man to die in battle or having his genitals maimed in an accident. It’s quite another for a woman, who are tasked with birthing and caring for a new generation, to endure similar harm. Another man can still impregnate a healthy woman. No amount of men can impregnate an injured woman.

I know that dynamic is offensive to both feminists and men’s rights activists because it reduces their value to their reproductive capacity. I get why that’s offensive. Even I find it offensive, as a man. However, therein lies the most critical detail with respect to male mutilation versus male victimization.

These disparate standards, which predate the modern era by centuries, are still very much ingrained in our society. We still see women, especially those of breeding age, as more valuable than men. We romanticize young men who heroically sacrifice themselves in war, but recoil at the idea of young women suffering a similar fate.

Add emerging demographic issues with respect to declining fertility rates and the same incentives for accepting male mutilation are there. We still need people to have children for society to grow and function, but more women are having fewer children and more men are eschewing the pursuit of families entirely.

In terms of logistics, that increases the value of every woman who wishes to have a children and decreases the value of men who refuse to go along with that plan. In that system, a man losing his genitals or suffering a severe injury has to be funny in order for the situation to be tenable. By the same token, any harm coming to a woman has to remain extremely taboo.

Logistics aside, it’s still an unfair predicament that undermines the suffering and trauma that men endure. The fact that we have to be okay with their suffering while overvaluing the suffering of women is bound to fuel more egregious double standards. Movies like “The Package” certainty don’t help, but so long as this age-old gender disparity persists, men losing their penises will remain fodder for comedy rather than tragedy.

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Filed under circumcision, gender issues, human nature, media issues, men's issues, outrage culture, political correctness, psychology, sex in media, sex in society, women's issues

How Much Are We Willing To Hurt The Innocent To Punish The Guilty?

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There are certain questions that nobody likes to ask, but still need to be answered. Questions concerning crime, justice, and punishment are usually at the top of that list. Lately, answering those questions has becom more urgent. If current cultural trends continue, that urgency will only increase.

That’s not because people are becoming more keen on justice. It’s more a byproduct of injustice being so much more visible in the age of the internet and social media. Crimes don’t just make the news these days. They can trigger full-blown social movements, destroy careers, and bring down powerful people.

To some extent, this is a good thing. We, as a social species, have an innate sense of justice hardwired into us. When we see something unjust, be it a kid stealing a cookie or a gruesome murder, most sane people want to see some level of justice enacted. When it isn’t, that bothers us. That’s where our sense of empathy comes from.

That said, it is possible for that innate desire for justice to go too far. Nature is a blunt instrument, largely out of necessity. Our desire for justice is no different and in the same way egregious injustices are harder to hide, gross misapplications of justice are becoming more visible as well.

As of this writing, the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal organization that works to exonerate those who’ve been wrongly convicted of a crime, have freed 350 people, some of whom were on death row. Those are the lucky ones, though. In a 2014 study, the National Academy of Sciences estimated that approximately 4 percent of those sentenced to death row may be innocent.

Think about that, for a moment, as a simple math problem. For every 100 people who are executed by the state for their crimes, 4 of them are completely innocent. Whether you’re liberal, conservative, libertarian, or communist, the murder of an innocent person offends our humanity to the core. Only a sociopath would be comfortable with that math.

That murder of some innocent people for the sake of punishing the guilty is an extreme example, but one that nicely highlights the potential pitfalls of our reckless crusade against injustice. I don’t bring it up to start a debate on the death penalty, which is very much a dead-weight issue within politics these days. I’m using it to provide context for misapplications of justice that aren’t as clear cut.

Thanks to social media and global connectivity, it’s a lot easier attack injustice without the rigid bureaucracy of legal justice system. It’s largely because of this emerging technology that the ongoing anti-harassment movement and the push for greater diversity have become more vocal. Instances of injustice that might have been ignored in the past are now much easier to confront.

Instead of hiring a lawyer, getting the cops involved, or going door-to-door to raise awareness, these perceived injustices can be attacked online, which can subsequently lead to offline consequences. While that can be an effective recourse for those who wield great power and have an army of lawyers, it does come at a cost and innocent people have felt that cost.

While there are plenty of cases that don’t become mainstream news, some of the most notable include the Duke Lacrosse incident or the UVA rape case. These are both cases that struck the right and wrong chords at the right and wrong time, evoking in people their inherent aversion to injustice in the utmost. It got people upset and emotional, so much so that they didn’t stop to wonder whether those involved were really guilty.

The alleged crimes were undeniably heinous. There’s no question about that. Anyone guilty of such crimes deserves to be punished. However, in wanting to punish such crimes, innocent people suffered. Some had their reputations temporarily ruined and others have been irreparably destroyed.

There are other lesser known cases of innocent people suffering because of an accusation that later turned out to be false. There are likely more in which the innocent person never gets justice. It’s impossible to know how common they are. Most will point out how rare those instances and in terms of raw numbers, that’s true.

However, that still implies that we have to accept the price that some innocent people will suffer in our pursuit of justice. It also highlights how important it is to have a functioning justice system that includes traditions such as due process and the presumption of innocence.

It’s a tradition worth belaboring too.

It’s an imperfect process, admittedly. There have been notable cases where someone likely got away with a crime because the standards for a conviction are so high. The principle behind that system is that, in the name of not condemning the innocent, we accept the price that some of the guilty may escape justice.

For some people, that’s more untenable than the condemnation of an innocent person. That has become a much more prominent theme in recent years, due to the anti-harassment movement. That’s somewhat understandable, given how long men like Harvey Weinstein got away with their deplorable behavior.

In the effort to prevent or punish such deplorable behavior, though, those critical tenants of our justice system that are supposed to protect the innocent are being cast aside. There are some within the anti-harassment movement who emphasize the importance of believing the victim’s accusations in lieu of the presumption of innocence.

Other, more radical, voices in the movement have favored changing the standards of evidence for rape cases so that they would no longer be subject to reasonable doubt. Granted, these are somewhat extreme measures that probably won’t upend our justice system anytime soon. Others far smarter than me have already pointed out the dangers and debunked many of the assumptions.

None of this is to say that the anti-harassment movement or the effort to hold people accountable for their behavior is entirely misguided. I’m in favor of exposing crimes and having the guilty pay for those crimes, provided they really are guilty. I support efforts to reduce harassment, sexual or otherwise. I support efforts to reduce sexual assault on women and men. Most decent human beings share that sentiment.

What I don’t support is the idea that it’s okay for more innocent people to suffer for the sake of capturing even more guilty people. As I mentioned before with the Innocence Project, our flawed justice system already condemns innocent people. A willingness to let more innocent suffer is the wrong direction to go in fighting injustice.

I know that’s easy for someone like me to say because I’ve never been the victim of a serious crime. I’ve had some stuff stolen before, I’ve been cheated out of some money, and I have been roughed up before, but I’ve never been seriously injured or assaulted. I can’t imagine how someone who has been seriously victimized feels about what happened to them.

Their suffering matters. The suffering of innocent people matters too. It’s why the question surrounding hurting the innocent to punish the guilty needs to be asked, even if the answers make us uncomfortable. The fact those answers make us uncomfortable reflects the flaws of our justice system and how imperfect our world really is.

At the same time, it also reminds us why seeking justice and combating injustice matters. We, as a society and a species, cannot function if there isn’t some semblance of justice. For victims and innocent alike, we need those institutions so that we can prosper and grow as a civilization.

From the anti-harassment movement to crusading prosecutors to overt bias in the court system, there comes a point in the pursuit of justice where compromising the innocent is a price that some are willing to pay. Once that line is crossed, though, it sets a dangerous precedent that relies on dangerous assumptions.

To be willing to compromise the innocent, it’s necessary to believe that people who fit a certain profile are guilty by default. If their gender, race, ethnic group, religion, or nationality checks enough boxes, then innocence becomes an afterthought. It becomes another numbers game in assessing potential guilt over actual guilt.

That’s a precedent that can easily devolve into a panic and, as history has shown, panics tend to harm the innocent far more than the guilty. It also undercuts the suffering of actual victims because if actual guilt becomes an afterthought, then so too does actual victimization.

That, in many ways, is the greatest price that comes with compromising innocence. Punishing a guilty criminal simply rights a wrong. Punishing an innocent person has impacts that go beyond simply making an undeserving individual suffer. It has a ripple effect on the entire concept of justice, much of which cannot be qualified.

That’s why, even if it is as rare as some claim, the punishment of one innocent person should offend our sense of justice more than a guilty person escaping. A guilty person is still going to be guilty, no matter what their high-priced lawyers say. An innocent person who is punished for a crime they didn’t commit often lose so much more than just their innocence and that’s an injustice no one should tolerate.

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Using Nihilism To Make Sense Of Politics

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I don’t consider myself that huge philosophy buff, but in general, I’m a fan of anything that helps me make sense of mind-bending complexities of the universe. In an era where mass media and the internet have made it easier than ever to see the breadth of that complexity, I think such tools are more valuable than ever.

Lately, I’ve found myself more frustrated than usual with the news media, the politics surrounding it, and the never-ending crisis/outrage cycle that it seems to perpetuate. I’ve written articles before where I’ve mused over the absurdities surrounding the media and outrage culture in general, but I’ve tried to be apolitical about it.

It hasn’t been easy, to say the least.

Well, given the ongoing trends of politically-driven divides in recent years, I don’t think that approach is entirely tenable in the long run. At some point, I’m going to have to get somewhat political on certain issues, more so than I already have. For that reason, I want to take a certain kind of philosophy and use it to cut through the layers of political bullshit that are sure to obscure any issue, present and future alike.

That philosophy is nihilism, which should come to no surprise of those who regularly follows this site. Whether it involves the tendencies of future generations or my favorite cartoon show, I’ve made my fondness of nihilism fairly clear. I also think that, as a philosophy, it’s a more useful tool than most with respect to filtering hyper-partisan politics.

In my experience, Nihilism is useful because its premise and principles are relatively simple. There’s nothing too convoluted or esoteric about it. As a baseline philosophy, nihilism posits that life, the universe, and everything in it has no inherent meaning. Human life isn’t special. Life, in general, isn’t special. The entire universe isn’t special. It’s just random clumps of matter floating around aimlessly.

It’s simple, albeit depressing. There’s a good reason why it’s popular among goths, punk music, and Rick Sanchez from “Rick and Morty.” It makes no promises and guarantees nothing. It acknowledges that all the meaning we ascribe to our lives and our world, be it through religion, ideology, or our favorite football teams, is entirely arbitrary.

Naturally, this does not sit well with those whose religion preaches faith in a higher power or whose ideology requires adherents to accept some greater, intangible meaning to it all. The basic implications of nihilism can leave many feeling uneasy. The idea that our universe is so purposeless can trigger an existential crisis, especially among those who’ve been led to believe there’s something special about them.

However, it’s that same cold, callous element to nihilism that makes it so useful. It immediately casts doubt on anything that someone or a group of people deem meaningful. It forces both observers and participants to take a step back and ask some metaphysical questions about why they deem something so meaningful.

To illustrate, here’s a painfully recent example. There have been two school shootings in 2018, thus far, that have garnered major media attention, followed significant political upheaval. One occurred in Parkland and the other occurred at Sante Fe High School in Texas. In both cases, the political upheaval involved gun control. One even led to a major, nationwide protest.

For one side of the political spectrum, these incidents motivate politically minded individuals to fight for stricter gun control. That’s the common position of liberal politics. For the other side of the political spectrum, such incidents motivate other politically minded individuals to protect the rights of gun ownership against government intrusion. That’s the common position of conservative politics.

Which side is right? Which side is wrong? Which side’s policies are more supported by verifiable scientific research? Which side’s position is statistically shown to result in less suffering?

These are all questions that both sides of the political spectrum argue about endlessly and to the point of absurdity. They’re questions that are impossible to answer. However, when you apply a little nihilism to the debate, the context suddenly changes. Instead of asking all these specific, unanswerable questions. Nihilism asks only one major question.

Why does it even matter?

More specifically, why does it matter what the liberals say? What does it matter what the conservatives say? Why does all the outrage and protest surrounding gun control, abortion rights, or convoluted campaign finance laws matter at all?

It’s not a question meant to trigger or troll an audience. The purpose, in this instance, is to get people to take a step back and understand that the meaning behind the current debate requires that the meaning behind this current point in time be exceedingly inflated.

With gun control, the primary catalyst for the debate that rages today began with the Columbine shooting in 1999. Many of the passions surrounding gun control began with that event. I’m old enough to remember how big a deal it was when it first happened. My school underwent a great deal of melodrama during that time.

As horrific as that event was, why is it any more meaningful than the deadly shooting that occurred in 1966 at the University of Texas in Austin? Going back even further than that, what about the deadly massacre that occurred without guns at Enoch Brown that occurred in 1764 and left 10 people dead, 9 of which were children?

Most people don’t even remember or know of those atrocities. Do they matter any less? Sure, there aren’t as many people alive today who are affected by them. In fact, for most atrocities committed before the 20th century, nobody is alive to ascribe meaning to those events.

That makes sense through the lens of nihilism because, given enough time and entropy, nothing matters in the long run. The outrage of those events and all those effected passed as soon as the people involved passed. When they died, they took the meaning with them. Even though the records of those events still exist to anyone willing to look them up, they are devoid of meaning.

Now, with that in mind, think about how meaningful the recent school shootings will be 200 years from now. It’s a given that they won’t be nearly as relevant, but will they carry the same meaning? Will anything that happened as a result really matter in the long run? Will all those political debates mean anything in the grand scheme of things?

If history is any indication, and history itself is subject to arbitrary meaning with nihilism, then chances are it won’t. There’s a high possibility that the current uproar surrounding gun control, as well as the uproar surrounding every political issue we deem important today, will eventually be rendered pointless.

That’s not to say they become pointless in an instant. Time has a way of skewing and twisting hot-button issues that don’t always make much sense in the decades that followed. Before the 1980s, abortion was largely considered a Catholic issue and didn’t become really touchy until the rise of the religious right.

The same thing happened with issues of censorship. Back in the mid-1960s, campuses like UC Berkeley were the central hub of the free speech movement that championed the right of people to say controversial things. These days, those same campuses have promoted censorship of controversial speakers, sometimes to the point of violence.

To most, that comes off as an act of hypocrisy. In a nihilistic context, though, it makes sense because both positions are similarly flawed. They were deemed meaningful during a particular time, but once that time passes, that meaning faded once the people who gave it that meaning moved on.

That, more than anything, is the ultimate message nihilism conveys to political discourse. What people consider politically charged is only relevant because the people currently alive are making it so. When those people die, move on, or get bored, the political upheaval fades and loses meaning.

The fact that such a heated issue can lose meaning further implies that the meaning ascribed to it in the first place was entirely arbitrary. It only meant something because people subjectively believed it. There was no larger force at work in the grand scheme of things. It’s just individuals in a certain time at a particular place collectively deciding that this is worth their emotional energy.

It may seem callous. It may even seem to undercut suffering and injustice. However, I would argue that nihilism actually helps by putting an issue into a proper context. Whether it’s gun control, abortion, or the right of a person to marry a squirrel, the meaning of both the issue and the passions behind it is contingent on those experiencing it. There’s nothing else beyond that and pretending there is only obscures the situation.

Nihilism, and its propensity to strip away inflated meaning, reduces every issue back to temporary, finite beings concerned with their current condition in a fleeting, uncaring, unguided universe. It doesn’t matter if life is ultimately meaningless in the long run. It doesn’t matter that life in the past has been rendered pointless or that life in the future will eventually be pointless. What matters is what we’re experiencing now.

Anything beyond that context within a political issue is just false meaning. Anything that attributes more meaning to the events in the past and future is just as arbitrary. Ultimately, the individuals alive today are responsible for ascribing meaning to an issue, whatever it may be.

I believe that harsh truth actually puts every political issue in a proper perspective, one that shows just how responsible we are as a society for giving meaning to an issue. It doesn’t mean we should all just give up and lament at the meaninglessness of our lives. It means we should be mindful of the things to which we ascribe meaning because, in a nihilistic universe, nothing else will do it for us.

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Love, Intimacy, And The Making Of Mass Murderers

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Every now and then, I feel compelled to comment on an ongoing story that I know is still raw in the minds of many people. Usually, I try to wait for the worst of the storm to pass. When it comes to school shootings and spree killers, though, I think the recent events in Parkland have shown that time can only do so much to temper the horror.

Before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear. I am very hesitant to talk about this topic. Whenever it comes up, and it comes up way too often, my first instinct is to keep my mouth shut and not add to the noise, outrage, and anguish that it evokes in people.  The last thing I want to do is add to the pain of such losses or encourage those who would use it to further an agenda.

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However, there is one part of this issue that I feel is worth talking about, even when the memories of such a terrible event are still raw. In fact, I think it should be discussed while we’re all more aware of the terror caused by such heinous crimes. No, I’m not talking about guns, although that is a discussion worth having. I’m talking about the forces that turn people into mass murderers in the first place.

This is one of those issues where everyone has an opinion, but nobody has any answers. Whenever there’s a mass shooting, any attempt to explain it is basically a media Rorschach test where if you want to blame a certain thing for mass shootings, you can. The fact that it fits with someone’s beliefs, politics, and agenda is not a coincidence.

With the Parkland shooting, the results of this test are already playing out. We’ve got people blaming everything from bad parenting to video games to mental health. Some are already forming conspiracy theories about it, which are sure to embolden the professional trolls of the world. Agenda or not, there’s an inherent need to point fingers and seize upon an simple explanation to make sense of such horror.

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While I understand the desire to make sense of something so terrible, I also think the search for a simple, easy-to-identify explanation is inherently misguided. I also think there’s no such thing as an easy explanation when it comes to deviant human behavior. Human beings are complex creatures. The sheer breadth of thought and personalities makes it next to impossible to predict what goes on in the mind of a mass killer.

That said, there is one aspect that I feel is worth touching on, if only because it rarely comes up when everyone begins the finger-pointing after a mass killing. It’s not related certain forms of media. It’s not some weapon or product that can be regulated or banned either. It’s not even some sort of mental illness that can be treated with overpriced medication.

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This factor in the minds of such deranged individuals, which I believe is a factor worth considering, doesn’t have an easy label to slap onto it. However, it does consist of three simple components that are fundamental to the human experience.

  • Love
  • Intimacy
  • Belonging

I know those all sound like things you’d expect an aspiring erotica/romance writer to cite, but I’m dead serious when I say these are factors we should consider when contemplating the mentality of a spree killer. Specifically, it’s the absence of these factors that needs greater scrutiny when studying a deviant mind.

When it comes to mass killers, there are all sorts of stereotypes, some of which are more common than others. They’re often angry, lonely, isolated, self-centered, emotionally muted, and impulsive. Some even have real medical issues. The infamous shooter of the University of Texas in 1966 had a brain tumor and prescription drugs in his system.

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Like most stereotypes, though, the profile of mass killers is not universal. Even if you take all the scientific data we have on the twisted minds of these people, it doesn’t create a clear or predictable picture. That’s why predicting these horrific events is impossible. We never truly know when someone is just going to snap.

It’s for that reason that, rather than focus on the traits these mass killers have, we should take time focus on the traits of those who don’t become violent or deviant. Rather than agonize over what went wrong, we should also note what goes right when someone becomes a healthy, productive member of a society.

Since society, as a whole, is so complex and our modern civilization is so diverse, it helps to narrow in on the more basic units of society. From a biological and evolutionary standpoint, a hunter/gatherer society provides the simplest approach. I’ve used this example before when discussing our pre-modern sex lives, but it’s just as useful when assessing the raw basics of human experience.

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Within that society, those three factors I mentioned aren’t just present. The society doesn’t work without them. In a hunter/gatherer society, everyone has a role to play and a purpose to contribute. You hunt, you gather, and you share those resources within a close-knit community.

That close-knit component is where the love comes in. On top of having a clear role and a defined purpose, members of a hunter/gatherer society are surrounded by family, friends, and community that loves and supports one another. It’s not just out of charity either. That love and support keeps the society strong, providing emotional fulfillment in addition to the physical fulfillment from sharing resources.

From that love and fulfillment, a sense of intimacy naturally follows. I’m not just talking about sexual intimacy either, although the behavior of the notoriously non-violent Bonobo chimps does strongly hint at its value. In a close-knit community, being able to open up and embrace others is part of what binds that community. It helps make each individual within that community stronger, mentally and physically.

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That’s not to say those communities never have a deviant or a psychopath every now and then. Within this simple template, though, it’s easier to understand the core needs of the human psyche. It’s not just food and water that a person needs to survive. They also need love, intimacy, and a sense of belonging to give their lives a sense of purpose.

As a result, there is a growing body of evidence that those hunter/gatherer societies were exceedingly peaceful. Sure, there were a few tribal conflicts here and there, but there’s little evidence that someone who grew up in such a close-knit community went onto become a spree killer.

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With that basic understanding in mind, look back at the long list of spree killers. Look at their personal stories, which vary from tragic to affluent. Now, look at how much or how little love, intimacy, and belonging they had in their lives. To some, it may seem like they had everything they needed. However, that doesn’t mean that’s how they felt as they went down that dark path that led them to commit such atrocities.

To some extent, it’s a lot easier to feel isolated, alone, and unloved in our modern civilization. We don’t function in small, close-knit tribes anymore. We regularly find ourselves surrounded by all these people that we don’t know, don’t understand, and have no intimate connection with.

On top of that, seeking love and intimacy beyond family is much harder, especially for men. Some have even pointed out that many of these mass killers lack any semblance of a satisfying sex life and growing sentiments that demonize men’s sexual expression isn’t helping. While I don’t think a lack of sex is as big a factor as some claim, I think it does contribute to a certain extent.

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In a world where these men don’t need to hunt or gather, have no sense of purpose or role, and have limited outlets for intimacy and sex, what does this do to their minds? I’ve mentioned before why I believe solitary confinement is one of the worst forms of torture, but its effects need not be confined to a cell.

Human beings are complex and adaptive, but they’re also vulnerable. Strain them in any number of directions and there’s sure to be damage. I know people who have endured such damage. I, personally, have had my own struggles. However, I’m lucky to have a very supportive, very loving family that has always been there for me. I believe that love is a big part of what has helped me live, love, and function.

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We may never know what goes on in the mind of a mass murderer or someone who just up and snaps. Until we can actually read the thoughts of someone, which we are working on, we can’t know whether a mass murderer just didn’t get a lot of love in life or if he just played too many violent video games as a kid.

That still won’t stop people from pointing fingers and pursuing agendas. It’s only natural to want to blame something in wake of such a terrible tragedy. Atrocities, like mass shootings, are the result of something that went horribly wrong within a person and a society. It’s certainly worth scrutinizing those flaws, but it’s also worth remembering what happens when it goes into making it right.

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Human beings are capable of unspeakable atrocities, but they are also capable of wonderful acts of kindness. Understanding what goes into forging these kind, loving souls will be the most potent recourse in preventing these terrible tragedies. There’s a lot that goes into creating such souls, but love, intimacy, and belonging will likely be the core ingredients.

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When “Thoughts And Prayers” Becomes A Lousy Excuse

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Whenever there’s a major tragedy in the world, there’s only so much you can do. Unless you’re a rescue worker, a doctor, an EMT, a solider, a police officer, or someone who actively participates in providing aid and resources to those effected, all you can really do is mourn for those who suffered.

It’s not just sad. It’s heart-wrenching. Most people have a sense of empathy to their fellow human. When we see or hear about somebody suffering, a part of us feels it too. It’s one of those critical elements of our humanity that often brings out the best in us. It’s part of why I believe that most people are inherently good.

Then, a mass shooting happens and my faith in humanity gets tested/strained. As I write this, the story surrounding the Parkland mass shooting in Florida is still unfolding. So far, 17 people are confirmed dead and the shooter has been identified. However, I refuse to write or say his name. Assholes like him don’t deserve the attention and recognition.

This is a horrific event and it’s not the first one I’ve talked about on this blog. Usually, I make an effort to highlight the more hopeful elements hidden within these events. This latest shooting has them too. The heroic actions of Aaron Feis, who sacrificed his life to save others, are certainly worth noting.

However, there is one element to these mass shootings that is as predictable as it is frustrating. It seems to come moments after the news breaks of the carnage. As people are suffering and dying from these horrific crimes, there’s an outpouring of “thoughts and prayers” from the public. I put that in quotes because at this point, it’s less a sentiment and more an overplayed meme.

The Parkland shooting was no exception. Media figures and policymakers alike are already getting in line to send their “thoughts and prayers” to the community and the victims. I don’t doubt that some of that sentiment is sincere. However, when the response is that predictable, it just becomes empty rhetoric. It’s so empty, at this point, that even shows like “Bojack Horseman” joke about it.

I understand, to some extent, why people express these sentiments. The world is a big, chaotic place and there are 7.6 billion people living on it. When something terrible happens, there’s only so much anyone can do. In fact, most people aren’t really in a position to do anything and that’s a terrible feeling.

As I said earlier, human beings are empathetic creatures. Most people aren’t sociopaths who feel nothing when their fellow human suffers. They see someone suffering and that natural empathy that all social creatures feel compels us to do something. Not doing something is just untenable.

That leads us to resort to things like “thoughts and prayers.” It offers the same shallow sentiment as virtue signaling. Instead of actually doing something meaningful in the face of tragedy, it just gives us the illusion of contributing. “Thoughts and payers” don’t make for any meaningful effort. It’s just a quick and easy recourse that alleviates that untenable feeling.

Again, I don’t blame people for taking that recourse. Someone who uses that approach isn’t inherently a bad person. They’re just exercising their empathetic sentiment in the most convenient form possible. That’s understandable, even if it’s still empty.

There are, after all, more meaningful ways to show support. That includes donating to the Red Cross, who are usually first on the scene in such tragedies. It can also include donating to relief programs, like the one J. J. Watt created to help victims of Hurricane Harvey last year. Those efforts are small, but they do provide tangible help.

However, the whole “thoughts and prayers” mantra becomes a lot less genuine when people use it as an excuse to avoid more complicated issues. This often happens whenever political figures send their “thoughts and prayers” to victims of mass shootings.

Now, I don’t want to get into a protracted debate about gun control. That’s a debate that nobody wins in the long run. However, when people sending “thoughts and prayers” to shooting victims also happen to be getting huge contributions from the National Rifle Association, that really undermines the sentiment.

In that situation, “thoughts and prayers” aren’t just empty. It’s somewhat insulting. People in those positions, be they in government or in pop culture, are in a position to do much more than just offer meaningless gestures. It doesn’t have to involve gun control laws or condemning everyone who has ever owned a gun.

It can be something akin to promoting greater awareness of mental health for youth, which is a thing. It can involve paying off all the medical expenses of the victims. It can even involve something symbolic, like helping create a monument to the victims, as has been done with other mass shootings. Symbolic or not, a monument is more tangible than any amount of “thoughts and prayers.”

At a certain point, when someone has a level of power and influence that the vast majority of people don’t, the use of “thoughts and prayers” to respond to a tragedy becomes more of an excuse than a sentiment. It’s not just the least amount of effort anyone can do to create the impression that they’re doing something meaningful. It’s a means of avoiding actual, tangible effort.

That’s where the concept of “thoughts and prayers” really loses credibility. It’s a sentiment that seems to be losing favor with the public, who are less and less inclined to accept this tired excuse from those who are actually capable of doing more. It may not lead to gun control laws, but it may send the message that “thoughts and prayers” just aren’t going to cut it anymore.

At the end of the day, most people aren’t in a position to do much of anything about a horrific tragedy like the one in Parkland. They couldn’t have prevented it, predicted it, or fixed the situation completely after it happened. Most people can only take in the tragedy, process it in their own way, and hopefully learn from it to prevent future tragedies.

For others, especially those in positions of power and influence, “thoughts and prayers” can’t be an excuse. There’s still a place for that kind of sentiment, but only if there’s something tangible attached to it. We don’t know if the incident at Parkland will lead to meaningful change, but one thing is clear. That change will require much more than mere thoughts and prayers.

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The Unpersoning Of Celebrities (And Why It’s Happening)

These past few weeks have been rough for celebrities, at least to the extent that anyone rich, famous, and powerful can have it rough. Between Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and Louis CK, it has been a bad time for male celebrities who have used their fame to justify showing their dicks to women who didn’t ask for it.

I’ve already talked quite a bit about the impact of these scandals and the sexual dynamics that guide them. I don’t want to spend too much time belaboring the severity of these accusations, if they’re true. Some have already been verified. I don’t doubt that more will find their way into the headlines as we collectively agree that celebrities harassing women is not something we’ll overlook anymore.

It’s hard to say how far this probe into the sexual misconduct of powerful men will go. It may very well be the case that celebrity culture is facing an overdue purge of perverse assholes who think their fame gives them a convenient excuse to put their hands and dicks in places they don’t belong. However, it’s the way in which we go about punishing them that I find most revealing.

In George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, “1984,” he introduced a number of concepts that one too many authoritarian governments have taken to heart. I’ve talked about a few of them before, but one in particular that stands out is that of “unpersoning.” It’s a phenomenon that many of these accused celebrities are learning about the hard way.

In “1984,” the concept of unpersoning is as nefarious as it is pragmatic. When someone becomes a malcontent or a threat to the established order, it’s not enough to just arrest or kill them. They have to be utterly erased from history, society, and common knowledge.

It’s not just that it becomes illegal or taboo to mention a person. To unperson someone is to remove their existence from the collective consciousness of society. It’s not just that people forget about these individuals. They have to forget that they forgot so that anything this person may have said, done, or thought might as well have never happened.

While our society isn’t quite on the same level as Big Brother in “1984,” that hasn’t stopped us from making a concerted effort. Since the recent revelations, Harvey Weinstein has been ousted from the company that bears his own name. Kevin Spacey has been fired by Netflix and erased from his recent role in a Ridley Scott movie. More recently, everyone seems to be cutting ties with Louis CK.

It’s not quite the same level of unpersoning that we see in “1984,” but the concept is the same. It’s not enough to wait for the courts to sort out these accusations. Public opinion, public perception, and an increasingly low tolerance for this sort of behavior is putting once-powerful people on the wrong end of the social justice equation.

It’s still not clear just how true some of these accusations are and, as a rule, I don’t assume the worst until it is proven in a court of law. However, there sheer volume of the accusations lead me to believe that there’s some truth to the story. Despite what “Ocean’s Eleven” may have you believe, groups of people aren’t that good at subverting the law. Usually, one of them cracks under the pressure.

Even if only a fraction of the accusations turn out to be true, the unpersoning of celebrities is understandable to some extent. Please don’t take that to mean that I’m overlooking the possibility that some accusation may very well be fabricated or exaggerated. With celebrities, though, the situation is a bit different.

If an ordinary, non-celebrity person commits sexual harassment or sexual assault, it usually doesn’t make the news. Most of the time, it’s handled by the police, an HR department, or vindictive friends who put cherry bombs in the perpetrator’s toilet. That’s just basic justice for a functioning society.

The problem, for both celebrities and non-celebrities alike, however, is that proving these kinds of crimes is hard. Our justice system is built on the idea that those accused are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of proof is very high and it’s a big reason why people like O. J. Simpson are acquitted.

It’s for that very reason, which O. J. Simpson himself proved, that it’s even harder to convict a celebrity. Unlike most ordinary people, celebrities like Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey have the power, money, and influence to hire the best legal defense that money can buy. It adds even more difficulty to securing a conviction while giving victims even fewer reasons to come forward.

That’s where unpersoning comes in. Multiple generations have watched as celebrities like O. J. Simpson get acquitted for heinous crimes because they had access to resources that most people can only dream of. As such, our collective faith in our rigid justice system is understandably low.

In a sense, social media and the internet has given people a mechanism for doing what the legal system can’t and won’t do. It gives society a way to punish those deemed guilty of crimes that their high-priced legal team and PR consultants won’t allow. In a sense, it’s the only way to ensure celebrities face some form of justice.

Unlike previous eras of Hollywood scandals, it’s not as easy to sweep an incident under the rug. If a celebrity does something horrible, it only takes a few people with functioning cell phones and social media accounts to expose those crimes. Just ask Mel Gibson how bad this can turn out.

A part of me still feels uncomfortable with this form of justice because it’s not hard for it to go too far. It’s both possible and likely that someone will get accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault who is entirely innocent. We saw it with the infamous UVA case and the Duke Lacrosse case. So long as people are willing to lie, there will be false accusations.

At the same time, though, a part of me understands why this is happening. We humans have an innate sense of justice, even as babies. When we feel there’s a serious injustice in our world, we feel compelled to right it. With celebrities, we’ve had precious few recourse that don’t involve overpriced lawyers. Now, through the use of unpersoning, we have a way.

It’s still not on the same level as Big Brother in “1984,” nor is it to an extent that a celebrity will go to prison. At the end of the day, a well-off celebrity will still have millions of dollars and mansions full of servants willing to cater to their every need. Sure, their lives and reputations will be damaged, but they won’t exactly suffer the same as an ordinary person convicted in a court of law.

It’s not perfect. It’s not even wholly consistent with all the tenants of justice. For the moment, though, unpersoning is becoming the new way in which we punish celebrities who commit injustice. Until we find a better way to deal with issues like sexual harassment, it’s the best recourse we have. Only time will tell whether it proves effective.

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