Hypoactive Sexual Disorder

I recently read this article on ‘sex’ and ‘normality.’ It was very interesting and I agree with quite a lot of it, as well as the general tone and perspective. Therefore, all that is left for me to do is articulate where I differ from this author. So don’t confuse this for a hatchet-job when I must put too fine a point on such differences. I really want to discuss Hypoactive Sexual Disorder, but will begin by meandering about in adjacent terrain.

First criticism: the author, Stanley Siegel, says that “Definitions of ‘normality’ should have no authority in psychological assessments,” which I disagree with on the face of it, but must also bring up that he simply changes the word to “natural” and does the same thing himself: “monogamous relationships act like ‘cultural cages’ that confine natural sexual desire.” Well, its also “natural” for me to want to tear out the throats of my sexual rivals, so is my “natural” desire in some “cultural cage” that confines it presumably “unnaturally” and “pathologically?” Good thing we have the “cultural cage” of rule-by-law then, isn’t it. People are just entirely incapable of realizing that rules and boundaries often enhance freedom; that free license is often anathema to true liberty; that adhering to rules and fulfilling a culturally prescribed duty is an additional freedom one can exercise, complementing the “natural” desires they often constrain or channel.

The metaphor of the cage is entirely unnecessary. Let me replace it with the metaphor of food. In the US we celebrate many different kinds of cuisine, so is this “cultural cage” “confining” my “natural” desires, or is it channeling them, enhancing them, and allowing me to squeeze every possible amount of fun and pleasure out of my biology? See my point? Let me approach from a different angle, as this one seems to advocate wanton and polymorphous perversity in this context. Mexican food is really just the same few ingredients prepared differently, therefore rendering these ingredients far more interesting and pleasurable through the neat trick of “culture,” but personally, I could eat a good steak burrito every day of my life. What’s wrong with that? When living in Thailand for three years I ate Pahd Si Eu Gai every single day at lunch. I still dream about it. Scrumptious! I avoid the shellfish because it has given me the shits on more than one occasion. Similarly, monogamy is just one damn fine dish and I see no real good reason to try polyamory, BDSM, etc, while seeing plenty of reasons for avoiding them, many of which involving my “natural sexual desires,” like those to feel betrayed, hurt rivals, etc. Besides, those into kinky bondage stuff should have no problem with cages, right? Lol!

This author, perhaps unwittingly, is pathologizing monogamy in an article about the dangers of pathologizing human sexual experience. If we return to my culinary metaphor, let me ask you this: “why not just mash all of those ingredients together in a heap of undifferentiated pulp?” Come on, you must admit that the burrito is simply a phenomenal design; a good trick, even it if does take more effort to prepare than the mash-up.

Second criticism: though pathologizing “deviant” sexual behavior has its dangers, what is the alternative? Telling a patient that his desire to shit on people’s faces is totally normal, ok, and just a symptom of his unique life history and personal specialness? I think not. These adaptations are often “pathological,” meaning that there are far more healthy and less complicated ways of working through various sexual and other abuse than fetishizing things and so forth. After all, presumably the “client” is seeing a “therapist” for some REASON!?! “Ah, I see, Tom…you feel guilty for shitting on the faces of small children…well, let’s work through that guilt so you can proceed with less trepidation.” Is this what he’s advocating? This seems like a case of PC-induced Frontal Lobotomy Syndrome, a disorder that should be added to the DSM!

Furthermore, while Conversion Therapy for gay people is an abomination, this article overlooks the fact that there are plenty of people genuinely confused about their own sexuality and many who believe themselves to be homosexual not for reasons of genetic predisposition, but precisely because of their unique family history and conditioning. That is, they can be converted, which should be preferable to them given 1) the prejudice they will face, 2) the fact that their confusion may be based on abuse and twisted conditioning, 3) their potential desire to have their own biological children, for instance, and 4) the fact that they might actually find heterosexual sex more fulfilling once they work through their issues. People are just so repulsed by the idea of Conversion Therapy that they throw the baby out with the bathwater. But if a rape victim gets off on re-enacting dramatized rape scenarios, suddenly people go “oh, well we might not want to encourage that..there are better ways to work through the trauma.” Perhaps they wouldn’t say this. Perhaps this author would simply say “ok, I’m sensing that you feel shame when you ask your partners to pretend-rape you…lets work through that shame.”

Third criticism: Noting that something is based on social norms and subjective judgments is not some kind of knock-down argument. This is retarded. I have plenty of criticisms to level at the DSM, but to say the following is just tautologous:

It is based largely on social norms, with ‘symptoms’ that all rely on subjective judgements… not value-free, but rather reflect[ing] current normative social expectations.

SO F*$#ING WHAT? What’s wrong with this? Aren’t some social norms better for people than others? Aren’t certain values better for people than others? Aren’t certain “normative social expectations” better than others? Should we just chalk female genital mutilation up to a social norm and call it a day with a glib “different strokes for different folks”? This author is attempting to be the paragon of tolerance and acceptance while absolving himself of needing to ever use his judgement. He is confusing the acceptance one must have in the therapeutic relationship for acceptance that the rest of us should have towards the same people. I accept that I must exercise tolerance towards people, but I do not have to accept them or their behaviors, especially on their terms. You wanna make-out with someone’s ear canal, go for it. Just don’t do it in a public park where I have to watch that shit, and don’t ask me to accept it as perfectly normal and healthy in a conversation. I am allowed to disagree with you; this is something you must both accept and tolerate!

Last criticism: this author is clearly pathologizing monogamy, as when he claims that “solid findings have shown that flagging sexual interests are more likely the result of long term monogamous relationship.” I notice he didn’t link to these “solid findings.” I wonder why?

Hypoactive Sexual Disorder is not the same thing as a loss of sexual passion. So what accounts for the prevalent loss of sexual passion in monogamous relationships then, if not the unnaturalness of monogamy itself? This should be almost painfully freakin obvious, people. Flagging sexual passion results from:

  1. people failing to continue dating each other, investing, romancing, etc
  2. not taking care of their bodies (and this includes smoking too much weed ladies! Cotton-Mouth sucks, but Cotton-Vagina is worse! Habitual toking lowers testosterone and thus sex-drive, so put down the pipe and try a different oral fixation, *wink)
  3. failing to be very creative, take trips together, activate the dopamine system with novelty, etc. You don’t have to try different lovers to discover novelty!
  4. not having time to make such investments in romance, novelty, physical health, etc. The only sample population we have to really analyze scientifically comes from a particularly stressed, over-worked demographic in a certain recent historical period. (Prior historical periods are confounded by Catholic guilt/prudishness, lack of birth-control, etc.)

Let’s explore number four, the big culprit. We live in a fucked up society and economy that demands long hours of soul-crushing boredom that is hardly conducive to maintaining passion of any kind. Thus, it is far easier to just get hammered on Friday night and get any pleasure or novelty you can than to make responsible choices and investments of time. This article is just pandering to people forced into this lifestyle. It implicitly condones this “social norm” while decrying far healthier ones like monogamy. This baffles me. Exercise your judgement sir! Again, having sound judgement is not the same thing as being judgmentalWomen, it will always be easier to just go have a fling with some guy whom you really don’t know and whom you can project all manner of fantasies onto than to invest in yourself, your relationship, and your monogamous partner. But don’t confuse the easy road for the “natural” one or the one worth traveling. The only thing in life that is reliably fulfilling without much effort is a good burrito!

If you will forgive a seeming digression, one that will seem rather inflammatory, let me make some remarks on the effects of feminism. This necessary social movement was supposed to give women the CHOICE to have a career or not, but has resulted in the NECESSITY of their having a career. The purchasing power of the individual just isn’t there anymore, so sorry ladies, you gotta pick up another shift! The feminist with braided pit-hair is now glaring at me saying “but women have a right to pursue their desire to contribute to society and help people just like men!” So you are telling me that helping your husband, your children, and your extended family is just not enough meaning for you? You have to help complete strangers to feel happy and fulfilled? I remain dubious about this. Does nobody see that feminists are essentially promoting a message something like “ladies, if you are not becoming a lawyer or biochemist (or women’s rights activist!), you don’t deserve much respect”? Fuck that. I respect women who put their energy into family and community and don’t have to prove to themselves that they can get a Nobel Prize or hit a home run just like the boys. What’s wrong with that? The truth is that they HAVE TO pursue such a career; they don’t have a choice anymore. Hubby’s teaching salary can barely pay for their lifestyle BEFORE having children!

The author in question reminds us that “Even hormonal decreases during menopause can be overridden when a woman takes a new lover.” True, but why not remind us also that these hormonal decreases can be overridden by a romantic getaway with a woman’s current lover? I clearly smell an agenda here.

If we can return to the food metaphor, why mash up all the ingredients and try every random combination instead of first trying a little sour cream, some pico de gallo, a different kind of tortilla? Why abandon the venerable burrito so hastily? One thing I love about Thai food is that each little street vendor prepares Pahd Si Eu Gai a little differently. Appreciating food doesn’t always have to be about knowing every Thai dish in existence or having some vast range of peculiar predilections. This is often just snobbishness and lack of imagination! So too with sexuality. People tell me “oh, but you haven’t tried this or haven’t tried that…you haven’t lived man!” I call bullshit. Is vaginal intercourse really that boring guys, really? I think not. I love vaginas, so stop pathologizing that as if it were “unnatural”! And when I find one that I like more than others, one that happens to be attached to a person I deeply respect and whose company I enjoy, stop telling me that I’m imposing a “cultural cage” on her by asking for her fidelity in exchange for mine. The truth is that intimacy scares the crap out of us, society doesn’t give us time for much of it, and its a lot easier to mistake wanton promiscuity for courage, while calling everyone else a cowardly prude. I’d ask my critic this: am I just boring, or are you just bored? From my critic’s presumably hedonistic perspective, I’d say it is far better to be the former.

Women, if you are sexually dissatisfied with your partner, choose a better partner instead of blaming the evil and unnatural cultural imposition of monogamy. Better still, blame the economy, politicians, and bankers.

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Posted in General Observations, Human Movitation, Morality & Ethics, Relationships | Leave a comment

Healing On The Cheap – My Experience As A Medical Tourist

I’ve generally had great experiences with hospitals in Thailand, notably those at BNH and Bumrungrad. However, if you shop around you can find extremely good deals, especially because the specialists at Bangkok Hospital, Bumrungrad, etc, usually do some work at public hospitals as well, where the same procedure will be considerably cheaper. A friend of mine got his meniscus worked on for a fourth the cost of the procedure at Bumrungrad and with the same caliber of doctor, only it was at a public hospital and there were students observing in the operating room. For those looking for imaging, MRI’s, etc, I have to highly recommend Prachachuen Imaging Center, which is about a 100 baht taxi ride from the Mochit BTS station (fyi get off on the opposite side of the street as Chatuchuk Park). Some of the staff spoke pretty good English and the cost was 8,000 baht (255$) for an MRI without contrast (11,000 with), whereas its more like 14-15,000 (446$-478$) at Bumrungrad (and anywhere from 450-1,500+ USD in the States).

Obviously the biggest obstacle in this whole gambit is finding staff that speak good English, as most will list English under “Languages Spoken,” but four times out of five this means they can sputter out all of 20 butchered Ingrish “words” and who knows how much they comprehend. Yesterday it took me five minutes to figure out that “Whosskaaaluuh” means “vascular.” It really baffles me why this is still such a problem at a hospital like Bumrungrad given how much of their business comes from medical tourists fleeing the criminally inflated prices of health care in the US and elsewhere. Most of the doctors have gone to school or done fellowships and so forth in the US or UK, which begs the question of how much they could have possibly learned from these experiences without good English skills. Anyway, that point aside, I have one major complaint, and perhaps this is a knock on medical practices everywhere.

I understand that Western Medicine generally suffers from overspecialization and fails to see the body as a system–one that includes those pesky, but objectively real subjective experiences–but this has gotten so bad that many of them don’t even see “the leg” or “the arm” as a system. I have multiple injuries in my right leg, which makes getting an accurate diagnosis utterly frustrating. I saw an orthopedic foot/ankle specialist and brought an MRI of my knee to get his opinion on how much the calf and knee injury is impacting the ankle injury. He said, “oh, I don’t know much about the knee and don’t know how to read this MRI.” (Blink, blink.) “Huh?” Shit, by this time I can read the damned thing pretty well myself! He was obsessed with the X-ray he ordered of my right foot, but it strikes me as very strange that he didn’t feel it necessary to take one of the left foot and compare them. Instead, he compared only the right foot against his textbook of what angles various bones should be aligned at. He suggested I go show my MRI to the orthopedic knee specialist, which I did.

This guy’s Ingrish was particularly horrible. I showed him the 3-year-old MRI, which the radiology team at Prachachuen said looked fine. He took a quick look and said (if you will allow me to interpret) that he was worried about my meniscus and that I should get a new MRI. I did so and took it to him. He then told me something to effect of “I’m not a specialist in reading MRI’s, so you should take this to such a specialist.” (Blink…blink…blink.) You are an orthopedic knee specialist! And you can’t read a damned MRI!?! What the hell did I just pay you for in these two consultations? And if he can’t read the MRI with any degree of certainty why have me get a new one and bring it to him for that second consultation? Perhaps I should not be so harsh, as much could have been lost in translation. Anyway, I can’t really complain. It was only about 1,200 baht to see this guy (38$). Despite his proviso of ignorance regarding MRIs, he still claimed to see a medium sized tear in my meniscus that warrants another opinion and this claim is commensurate with my internal experience and levels of pain.

Lastly, I saw a Physiotherapist who was extremely good! Doctor Pantasak Tansakul and his physio team (especially Khun Umanoot) are top knotch: fantastic English, humorous, knowledgeable, and extremely nice. Doctor Tansakul taught me a few things in five minutes that are already helping significantly. If memory serves I only spent 3,000 baht (95$) for an hour of his time and an hour of Khun Umanoot’s time down in the physiotherapy center.

I’m going to try a month or two of rather intense PT/rehab–about two hours per day–before looking into surgical options. I have a badly torn posterior tibialis, a right foot that points an extra 15 degrees or so outwards relative to the left, a gastrocnemius torn at the medial head, a weak and slightly atrophied right hamstring, “joint effusion”/Baker’s cyst, and a possible meniscus tear. Hopefully I can get strong enough to avoid surgery, but if it comes to that, I’m in the right country.

In closing I’ll share a little experiment:

I built this rehab and workout station in about 30 minutes for about 30$ worth of 2” PVC pipe. I have already figured out how to do about 9 exercises on it and suggestions are more than welcome.

Posted in General Observations | Leave a comment

Why I’ll Probably Leave The US To Its Own Divisiveness

In the wake of the recent media circus surrounding the Zimmerman case, as well as the discussions I’ve tried to have about it with friends, I am finding my bafflement and misanthropy slowly turn into clarity and resolve. I want to leave the US for good. The land is beautiful, but the culture is toxic and beyond repair. The economic, political, and legal issues that concern me should go without saying to any thinking person at this point. I’ll ignore the surveillance issue in this post, except to leave you with a quote from Jean Baudrillard: “terrorism is still a lesser evil than a police state capable of ending it.” Instead, I want to focus on an issue that will immediately strike you all as irrelevant, so cue the eye roll now. There is an enormous prejudice in this country against the two most visible features of my being: being white and being male. What is more, plenty of my liberal, white, male friends are unknowingly complicit in this state of affairs.

Socialism works like a ratchet mechanism and it will be impossible, having spun that cog as far as we have, to take even a single turn backwards. But this is really not the deeper reason why I want to leave, for I could handle such a state of affairs if a deep and noble culture stood beneath it. As it happens, the economico-political changes that worry me are being driven by the real cause of my concern: a culture of victim-worship, ressentiment, tribalism-in-the-name-of-equality-and-inclusion, and blatant, unabashed, yet entirely unmentionable double-standards. You have all disproportionately heard from the minorities, so let me give you a dose of perspective from the new minority: the white male of the once privileged but now reviled class that, I hasten to warn you, now has zero incentive to invest in “America,” as it is still called. 

Good, now that you have all stopped reading the prima facie-irrelevant protestations of a white male, I can go on to speak some truth without worrying about being lynched by the very people decrying the historical practice. Just to be clear, I am not addressing the rhetoric of the liberal intelligentsia, but the culture in California, as represented by my friends, my acquaintances, and the upstanding, justice-seeking citizens looting WallMarts on Crenshaw. To this culture, I say Wake Up! Rhetoric and political discourse are not meant to be vapid cocktail-party conversation whose purpose ultimately is to impress those in the room with your compassionate egalitarianism in the service of getting laid or winning the drunken crowd. Every once in a while you might need to countenance a tough compromise or voice an unpopular opinion, even if it is an inconvenient cock-block or leads to you get your ass beaten by some deeply offended minority whose physical violence we tolerate under the auspices of its somehow defending free speech, tolerance, and equality.

Yeah, your right, I should eeeease into this rant a bit…no sense losing my head before my readers demand it on a spike. We’ll get there eventually. Let me start with the issue of misandry then, given that women are less likely to physically assault me for my rhetoric.

Misandry

Many claim that misandry is a myth and that women sometimes hate “men” as a privileged class, but not “men” as individuals. This is nonsense. Misandry takes many forms, but its most annoying feature is a blatant double-speak of Orwellian proportions that enforces an unrecognized double standard. This goes unnoticed because it influences the way men talk to other men and so everyone assumes its only bros talking about nailing bitches and so forth. Wrong. If you are dating someone for more than a week without trying to sleep with them, plenty of women will tell you to “make a move you pussy!” These same women will decry the dearth of good, sweet guys out there who respect women and so forth. This reinforces the natural male tendency to bust balls and set sexual conquest as the bar for manhood. So, let me list some of the double standards that I run into most frequently, either personally or vicariously:

  • When I’m respectful of women and try to get to know them before trying to get in their pants, I’m a pussy; I just don’t have the balls to get what I want. Yet, when I do, I’m just another asshole out to fuck women and carve notches into my bedpost.
  • When I’m monogamous, I’m just being hopelessly naive and failing to take into account our evolutionary heritage. “What kind of vile patriarchal monster would demand fidelity from a woman? Does he own her or something? OPPRESSION!” These same women will cry bloody murder when their hapless, confused lover cheats on them. “Men are dogs!”
  • When I argue a point I believe in with women, regardless of how I comport myself, hear them, adjust my position, equivocate, etc, I’m just muscling them into line like a patriarch. Never mind that they too are arguing, usually with far more aggressive and emotional rhetoric. If I disagree, I’m denying their reality. Never mind that they too are disagreeing and are more likely to simply reject a man’s reality, for, they have a divine right to their feelings AND whatever interpretation of those feelings they FEEL they are entitled to, which again cannot be questioned because its a feeling. A guy has no right to such privileged feelings and is usually called a bitch in some form or another if he voices anything resembling them. The man must keep his ideas on ice during debate, if he is allowed a voice at all, while the woman can run hot as magma and she is just adorably “passionate.”
  • When I’m down on my luck and not further along in a career, I’m a failed man, but when a woman is in the same situation, she is just struggling to find her voice and passion, despite the fact that our entire economic, academic, and legal infrastructure openly caters to her.
  • When I’m unaware of or insensitive to a woman’s feelings I’m Kevin James or Raymond; the clumsy oaf or foolish male of modern sitcoms who women begrudgingly tolerate though he is really irrelevant–a domesticated dinosaur clumsily trying to use a fork and knife with his little T-rex arms. When, as it frequently happens, I am more aware of the feelings and relationship dynamics than the women, I’m a beta-male, weakling, or fag.

I find this stereotyping of men more common from women than from men, especially because when it comes from men it is usually just playful ball-busting and is controlled by a certain thin red line that men are careful not to cross or risk a fight. Women have carte blanche in this department and take full advantage, failing to realize that they are creating the very men they will later hate on. But perhaps that’s the point. If a man is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t, that’s all the more power for women. And oh, how they deserve unlimited power, for, its not like men have worked, died, and sacrificed to protect women at their own personal peril for all of human history…they were always only oppressing them, right?

Women, wake up, you don’t need to prove yourself like men do with harsh rhetoric; we’ll listen to you and respect your opinion just to enjoy your charming company! You are the gatekeepers of sex and therefore your choices largely determine the values guys will display in the sexual marketplace. I want to see a women’s movement that just teaches young girls to spot narcissists and choose decent guys. Within three generations we’d likely change the course of human history with a  “soft” eugenics. I’m calling your bluff ladies: if its really only guys who are all about looks and sex appeal, then you should have no problem whatsoever choosing nice dudes BEFORE age 25 instead of after. Get it done.

Racial Profiling

I’m now entirely fed up with this so-called debate (*scoff). Could it be that profiling sometimes has less to do with race and more to do with a provocative manner of dress, an attitude, an extended middle-finger?

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I asked on FB whether people thought Zimmerman would be just as likely to profile or “stalk” this fellow Hispanic and nobody answered, though they were quick to tell me that they didn’t find this guy threatening or ostentatious in the least. Really? I call your bluff. Walk through a neighborhood of these fine gentlemen wearing your skinny jeans and talking on your iPhone, I dare you! Seriously, does someone have to go to the following lengths before we are willing to admit his hostile intent? Is this just a benign cultural expression?

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Why do I even have to use such hyperbole to make this point? I don’t care if you are pink, yellow, brown or turquoise, this is a threat display and has nothing to do with race, except insofar as he is advertising hostility to any race but his own by default, and many within his own race on a more selective basis.

If a tattoo-covered white guy drives a Harley, revving the engine and waking up the whole neighborhood, he is sorta asking to be pulled over and frisked. If a dude of any color wears a shirt that says “Fuck The Police,” or “Thug Life Forever,” he’s choosing to present a certain profile. If you dress all gangsta in order to play the bad-ass and get girls with daddy issues, then stop hiding behind your skin color and live with the fuckin consequences you pedantic coward! You are asking to be profiled in a certain manner, admit it; that’s the whole point of dressing that way. The greasers were originally called “hoods” and were profiled and harassed by the cops…but that’s what they intended. I’m sick of hearing “oh, but its his culture…you wouldn’t deny a Sikh his turban, would you?” No, I wouldn’t, but that’s a culture with more than 20 years of history behind its style of dress, which, I might add is hardly offensive to anyone; its a culture that stands for something that ennobles those in its community. Dressing like Tupac is MEANT to be offensive and slightly threatening, just like the Harley driver is sending a message of “don’t fuck with me” by obnoxiously revving his engine. If you are going to claim some kind of racial or cultural solidarity and identity then take some responsibility for that culture and/or race instead of alternating between the individualism card and the race/culture card as needed.

Obama reminds us that “There are very few African-American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars.” Yeah, but few white people haven’t had the experience of being racially profiled THEN ROBBED! Deal with it. Stop valorizing criminal culture, dressing the part, and then complaining when you unnerve people.

Nobody seems to be aware of the prisoners dilemma of racial profiling for white people. When I walk down the street in SF or Oakland I feel the hate-filled eyes of nearly every minority on me, profiling me, casing me, and yet, if I cross the street preemptively, I’m a racist profiler instead of someone caught in a prisoners dilemma? Sometimes I profile by race, but this is hardly racist on my part, it is simply acknowledging that these guys more than likely hate me because of MY race or class. Furthermore, I seriously don’t give a shit what race you are–if you mad-dog me or give me the evil eye, I’m gonna be reluctant to greet you with “cheerio my good fellow! Good day to you sir!” I might even perform the heinously offensive action of locking my car door. For heavens sake its not about race: I avoid Hells Angels members too! Ah, you object, friends; do you? I call your bluff: go walk down Crenshaw at night or San Palbo in Oakland wearing your skinny jeans and talking on your next-gen iPhone. I dare you! Backup your rhetoric, if you have the guts, but backup your address book and ensure your phone first.

Freedom Of Dress

“But kids in the ghetto have to dress gansta just to survive,” my antagonist replies. Nonsense. Those kids have to literally fight for their turf and will win respect on that basis alone, not their cultural uniform–the sagging jeans just hinder their ability to fight or flee. “But you can’t judge a book by its cover.” Sure I can. That’s why authors pay good money to design an attractive and non-offensive cover. To my fine African American brothers out there filing lawsuits based on racism, I ask you this: would you hire an attorney dressed in Fubu? No? Why not? Ah. So your manner of dress actually means something, communicates something then, doesn’t it. Oh, you wouldn’t see a dentist or doctor either if he were wearing a wife-beater and jean-shorts that sag so low they might as well be ass-less pants? How odd. Do you not see that your attempted racial solidarity is anathema to your plea for inclusion and equality? You want me to treat you as an equal but I’m not allowed to you call you “brother”?

“Oh, but you can’t deny me my culture!” you protest. No I can’t. We live in a multi-cultural society where tolerance reigns supreme, but tolerance is not the same thing as acceptance and I have a right not to accept your style or manner on your terms. I can lock my car door. I can call the cops if your shady ass is skulking around my neighborhood at 1AM. If you are there for a good reason it should be pretty simple to explain it, right? “Just heading to my girls place on 5th, apt 2. Didn’t mean to startle. Have a good night.” Is that so hard? And yes, I can defend myself if you assault me for inquiring whether you live in the neighborhood or not–this is not an offense worthy of assault and you know you would do the same thing if I was walking through your hood, some unknown dude. Deal with it.

Minority Racism and So-called Racial/Cultural Solidarity

The ethnic minorities are the most deeply racist people in America (and towards each other too, not just whites), so I call projection and reaction formation on your loud accusations of white racism! The lady doth protest too much! In case you forgot, the existence of white racists in the past doesn’t justify your hating their great, great grand kids. Otherwise you don’t believe in individual freedoms and support treating people as races and classes–ie you have become your enemy.

Have you watched the news after any ambiguous legal incident involving race? It just baffles me: where is all this racial solidarity when it comes to criticizing absent fathers or cousins that steal cars? If you don’t chastise cousin Jorge, Jamal, or white-assed Billy-Joe, for that matter, about stealing cars, then you don’t have a right to be all offended when someone locks their car door as you pass by, sporting your hoody that says in effect “I celebrate a culture of poverty, crime, and violence, so back up and step off mother f***er!” Why is there only racial solidarity when there are cars to turn over and burn and none when it comes to protecting the image of the race, class, or sub-culture you belong to? Do you have no pride? Why not invent your own slurs or offensive terms for those in your own community that are dragging everyone down with them?

Oh, you are stomping on cars on Crenshaw in support of your race and culture? Bullshit. You want to act like a community? Great! But where is all that racial solidarity, where are all of those protests and marches when it comes to stopping rape, absentee fathers, and crime within your communities? Why only protest when there are Wallmarts to loot and cars to smash? Why celebrate only victims and never heroes; why produce only victims and rarely heroes; why listen to victims and never the heroes you do manage to produce? MLK longed for a society in which people were judged by the contents of their character and not the color of their skin, so take a long fucking look in the mirror and ask yourself what he’d think of YOUR character! A white guy who judges everyone by the contents of their character has to have the race card thrown in his face at every turn, and if he calls that move one of low character, he’s even more of a racist.

Why do I see outrage over the Zimmerman trial but passive acceptance of the 532 murders in Chicago in 2012 or the fact that nationwide, gang membership has increased by roughly 40%? Obama actually said something rather eloquent on this point recently:

That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white co-workers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician’s own failings. … That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition.

However, he is wrong that this anger is not expressed in public or in front of white co-workers. More likely, the white co-workers suddenly have a deadline to meet when you start talking about “justice for Trayvon” at the water-cooler. They don’t have a voice in that discussion because, express it or not, there is a ton of anger seething under there.

Double Standards

I am deeply suspicious of the open and naked production of double standards that women and minorities of all forms have managed to sow into our culture, and as a (soon-to-be-but-not-yet-minority) white guy, I feel this leverage acuity, while receiving none of the benefits of the old world order to which these double standards were directed as compensation. I’m asked to be 1) chivalrous in a misandrous, post-feminism world, 2) monogamous and loyal in the age of polyamory, 3) accepting of minorities into my culture and community while they do everything they can to flout its norms and express disdain for it in their manner, speech, dress, and opinions, and 4) all-the-while accept that I’m a privileged white racist when in fact the minority races are the most blatantly racist groups of people in the US and my “privileged” middle class disappeared? I think not. People need to realize that we live in a globalized world and our “culture” might be alienating a group of nice dudes in society who have the power to move elsewhere. I’m in Asia right now and though I realize that all Asians are racist, the wonderful thing is that its all out in the open, and furthermore, they actually have racial preferences in addition to racial prejudices. Sensitive, courteous white males are preferred in some parts of the world, you know!?

White Hypocrisy & The Dangers Of Pandering

So many liberals I speak with don’t understand that their purported alignment with minority culture perpetuates a culture of poverty. They don’t understand that their support of (Uncle) Toms Shoes is more about absolving their own white guilt and less about saving the world. I implore you to read Oscar Wilde’s “The Soul Of Man Under Socialism” or watch this video from Zizek. Then, take a deep hard look at whether you are supporting minorities only in argument, or if you are actually taking some action. Are you volunteering to teach in the inner cities? Then sit down and shut the fuck up. I will only listen to such rhetoric from people taking action, like my female friend J, who actually is teaching in the inner city. She is allowed to chastise me.

If you are a priveleged white person chastising me, then you are double-dipping in the cultural pie with your avowal of support for minorities and offers of charity. Whatever help you perform also helps support the very same society that created the need for this charity. But you like it this way, don’t you. You remain the wealthier class while always having the downtrodden to help, doubling your claims to dignity while keeping the status quo firmly in place. Plus, you never have to speak out against outrageous behaviors or nihilistic sub-cultures and can wax eloquent all evening about your noble values and egalitarianism.

As vile as all of this rhetoric seems to you, and I’m sure it does, don’t you realize that I’m attacking views that are keeping this culture of poverty spinning in a rut? Fine, just laugh. As Lao Tzu said, if it were not laughed at it would not be the Tao.

Zimmerman

How dare you call this guy a racist. Do some reading. Did you not notice that he is a minority himself? The more I look at this case the more I see tragedy, not outrage. The fact that we simply accept criminality and criminal culture, venerate it in fact, while going for the jugular of anyone standing up against it, however clumsily or over-zealously–that should be an outrage! It seems like we are so desperate for a just battle to fight that we will take whatever simulacrum we can get. Its almost like we want racism to be rampant so that we can feel good about our righteous outrage and feel like we are fighting a good fight. The truth is that its all far too ambiguous these days for such blind gallantry. Perhaps I simply haven’t read into this as much as I need to, but from where I’m standing, to find this verdict an outrage one has to assume the very worst about Zimmerman and assume the very best about Martin, almost to the extent of assuming that Zimmerman pistol whipped himself in the front and back of his own head to cover his tracks. I see no reason for such assumptions and a few good reasons to assume that Martin might not deserve the infinite benefit of the doubt he’s getting. No wonder nobody wants to stand up for anything in the community: slip up and be our favorite scapegoat; succeed and be dismissed and forgotten. That way we can justify to ourselves why we aren’t part of the neighborhood watch ourselves, but instead, leave this job to the police, who we will blast at the first hint of any ambiguity in their performance. You know their job aint easy, right? They have to tell the difference between a nice Hispanic fellow dressed like a ganster and an actual Mexican gangster in a split second–so make their job a little easier, will you?

Parting Notes

The only people we allow to launch the kind of critique that I have foolishly posted here are comedians. We leave it to people like Bill Burr and Joe Rogan to put the “cock” back in ‘Caucasion,’ because we need to hear the truth but can always just take that last swig of beer and write off the critique as all in good fun. They aren’t joking though, its just they are the only people in society who are allowed to get away with telling the truth. Everyone else gets sued, beaten up, or at the very least ridiculed and intimidated.

For the above reasons I am very much inclined to wash my hands of the whole mess and move overseas to a place where sensitive, cultured, white males are relevant, respected, and valued instead of vilified, mocked and entrapped by double/triple-standards which they are required to swallow without protest, lest they be called racist misogynist what-have-you’s. There are even places on this planet where black people treat me as an equal, you know? In my present mood I’m very tempted to just stand back from afar and watch America sink under the burden of its own ressentiment, indignation and self-sabotage. I’m sorry America, but you hardly have many economic incentives to offer me as a trade-off anymore.

Posted in Free Will and Responsibility, General Observations, Human Movitation, Morality & Ethics, Relationships | Leave a comment

The First Hipster: Rejected ‘Cool’ Before That Was Even ‘Hip’

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The wiki article on hipsters claims that they didn’t exist before the 1990’s, but I beg to differ. The first hipster was Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) and perhaps, being first, we might avoid an oxymoron when calling him an “authentic hipster.” He certainly associated with “independent music,” a “varied non-mainstream fashion sensibility,” “progressive or independent political views,” “alternative spirituality or atheism/agnosticism,” and “alternative lifestyles,” as per the hipster wiki. But here are some further characteristics that prove the ultimate transcendental primacy of his coolness:

  • Schopenhauer famously stated that “to disregard is to win regard;” a hipster motto if I’ve ever heard one.
  • He was a German who thought he was way too cool for Germany.
  • He purposefully and conspicuously dressed in a “vintage,” “retro” style of clothing.
  • He was the first German philosopher to draw inspiration from Eastern religions, way before they were cool, I might add.
  • He refused to get a real job and lived off a trust fund. In terms of career he couldn’t have been more against the “mainstream,” opposing the ever-popular Hegel, whom he thought was a “stupid and clumsy charlatan” whose philosophy was a “colossal piece of mystification.”
  • This cool bastard was so fresh he was talking about evolutionary psychology before Darwin; the “Will” before Nietzsche; repression and the unconscious before Freud; diametrically opposed ontological motives before Becker; Relativity before Einstein; and mental duality grounded in cerebral asymmetry before Wigan, Hughlings Jackson, James, or later Sperry, Bogen and others. Heck, even UC Berkeley superstars Lakoff and Johnson don’t realize he beat them to the punch on quite a lot, not to mention the fact that he proves an exception to some of their claims about philosophy’s inability to questions its own governing metaphors without the help of cognitive science. (*scoff)
  • He was a San Franciscan before San Francisco properly existed, as proven by the fact that in action he seemed to care more about his small dog and constant companion, Atman, than he did about the people–mostly philistines–that surrounded him. (The only reason that he didn’t sport a beer belly and dreadlocks was that Pabst Blue Ribbon–the nectar of life–had not yet been invented and he didn’t have enough hair.)

The dude claimed to be a Buddhist before that was cool! Need I say more? Well, I’ll go on anyway.

Independent music: While “Indy” wasn’t around back then, Schopenhauer played his flute everyday, studied composition, and attended musical performances whenever he could. One could fairly say he was obsessed with music, which he thought one could use to directly apprehend the essence of the world. To his credit, his philosophy inspired Wagner’s sublime “Tristan and Isolde” (and he let the man keep all the royalties). Honestly, would it not be the most epic hipster move to start a discussion about the best art forms after a Shin’s concert and say something like this?

This art is music. It stands quite apart from all the others. In it we do not recognize the copy, the repetition, of any Idea of the inner nature of the world. Yet it is such a great and exceedingly fine art, its effect on man’s innermost nature is so powerful, and it is so completely and profoundly understood by him in his innermost being as an entirely universal language, whose distinctness surpasses even that of the world of perception itself, that in it we certainly have to look for more than that exercitium arithmeticae occultum nescientis se numerare animi [exercise in arithmetic in which the mind does not know it is counting] which Leibniz took it to be.

Leibniz–that poser. He just doesn’t get it! Here is Schopenhauer’s correction, which probably got him laid more than once: “Music is an unconscious exercise in metaphysics in which the mind does not know it is philosophizing.”

schop2Varied non-mainstream fashion sensibility: To spite his philosophical rival–and poser extraordinaire–Hegel, Schopenhauer scheduled his lectures at the same time as Hegel’s, only to fail in his machinations and leave University a year later. As any true hipster who has dropped out of school must do, he had to commemorate his rebellion in a bold fashion statement. In this case he decided to dress in the exact style that was in fashion in his youth… for the rest of his life–a sort of conspicuous nose-thumbing at the vagaries of fashion and contemporary opinion. He was “sticking it to the man,” but though he pretended not to give a shit, he must have gone to rather heroic lengths to be clad in such vintage/retro garb! Hipster through and through. Although, if thrift stores and vintage shops had existed in his time, he likely would still have had his clothes tailor-made, as those stores probably wouldn’t have known precisely what he was looking for anyway. Plus, what is a trust fund from daddy good for if not keeping you looking dapper, at any cost?

Progressive or independent political views: “Every nation mocks at other nations, and all are right,” Schopenhauer informs us. Too cool for Germany, he was an ardent critic of a country that he thought was anemic and had lost its true spirit. He wanted a minimal state that would “leave each man to work out his own salvation.” Down with the man! Leave me to my bongos and ganja! He spoke as if highly informed about politics, but when it came down to it he admitted that he didn’t pay much attention: he was “minding not the times but the eternities.” Despite his views on superior races, he was an ardent supported of equal treatment, fervently opposed slavery, and supported the US abolitionist movement. He describes the treatment of “[our] innocent black brothers whom force and injustice have delivered into [the slave-master’s] devilish clutches” as “belonging to the blackest pages of mankind’s criminal record.” He probably even had at least one black friend…or acquaintance?

Alternative spirituality or atheism/agnosticism: Schopenhauer is so difficult to classify vis a vis religious affiliation that one might initially suspect him of adhering to the Perennial Philosophy. He even called Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism the “sublime religions.” At bottom he is a sort of atheist/agnostic, but at times claimed to be a Buddhist, and always asserted his indebtedness to the genius of the Hindu Upanishads. But ultimately, authentic hipster that he was, Schopenhauer claimed that not even the Buddhists knew the deepest truth: that the sound of the universe is not “OM,” but “OUCH!”

Alternative Lifestyles: The Great Pessimist didn’t marry and lived his whole life as a bachelor, stating that “Marrying means to halve one’s rights and double one’s duties.” He chased tail despite his avowed dedication to Eastern religions and the denial of the Will. Aside from one year lecturing he never worked a job, choosing instead to pursue intellectual pleasures and play with his poodle, Atman. He frequented the same restaurant every day, even though he had to occasionally speak to the Cretans who also frequented the establishment. The urban dictionary informs me that hipsters draw on the “cultural stores of every unmelted ethnicity,” but Arthur would be quick to point out their failure to look back far enough–to really be in the know–and correctly identify these as being the Indians and Greeks. Indeed, his legendary intellectual priggishness and curmudgeonly contrarianism would put the modern hipster to shame. In summary, does it get any more “alternative” regarding lifestyle than to be an unemployed, trust-fund-endowed, Buddhist hippie who goes to shows and chases girls in 19th century Christian Germany?

Carlyle thought that the true mark of a hero was sincerity and Schopenhauer certainly hits the mark there. However, he would no doubt also boast of his bold iconoclasm and originality, though admitting his debt to the Upanishads, Plato and Kant. He set the pace for the approaching marathon of individualism in western culture, providing a model for future rebels and free spirits; inspiring countless philosophers, psychologists, musicians, writers, and artists. He even influenced the life and physics of Albert Einstein, to say nothing of his hair style. Writer Jorge Luis Borges was asked once why he didn’t write a treatise on metaphysics, to which he answered that Schopenhauer had saved him the trouble. Though Borges famously wrote that “life itself is a quotation,” I’m quite sure Schopenhauer would retort, “yes, but it was quoting me!” If only he knew how much his ideas would subtly influence a panoply of great thinkers, while only Nietzsche really gave him due credit, he might have somehow, heroically managed to think even more highly of his genius. All joking aside, though, this man was a true iconoclast, original thinker, and remains in my opinion THE authentic bad-ass of philosophy; the undisputed champ.

I don’t really know enough about hipsters to be writing a serious cultural critique, but it seems that they are attempting to be sincere about their insincerity; honest about their unavoidable in-authenticity. In this sense Schopenhauer is the exact opposite, for he was really insincere about the fact that he was actually being entirely sincere, hiding his deep feeling, compassion, and personal pain behind a stoic face, lucid writing, and erudite vitriol. Naw, I’ll stick with “authentic hipster.”

Do know that the irony is not lost on me that a post of this nature, with its smug declaration of having some privileged cultural knowledge that puts me one level higher than being “in the know,” is entirely infused with mainstream-eschewing hipster bravado. I guess really I’m just a hipster, because I think this guy is the apotheosis of cool…WAY before anybody else has realized this! Seriously though, where do you think these copycats lifted their style from?

(Dionysian Hipster)                                           (Apollonian Hipster)

Nietzsche 2

Schopenhauer taught that man is “concrete sexual desire,” that the genitals were the focus of the will…but I came up with my theory all by myself…just me and the cocaine. Besides, I went much further than the old pessimist: I studied that mysterious creature we call woman!

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Arthur was fuckin Wolverine before Hugh Jackman was cool!

schoperine(…a reference to Myrmecia, in case you aren’t in the know. This is the most threatening, clever, and obscure way possible to say “I’m gonna shove your head up your ass.”)

What, you don’t think the worlds greatest pessimist carried knives on him? You think the fact that he had the most penetrating intellect of his generation was why he had intimacy issues? The dude invented the Hedgehog’s Dilemma! This was a parable and metaphor that Freud lifted regarding the individual and society: that they were like porcupines huddling for warmth, getting too close, dispersing, but being driven back together by the cold and eventually settling in to a compromise between the pain of quills and the pain of exposure. Ok, so maybe he didn’t have adamantine claws, but he pulled off that hairstyle in a day without hair gel bitches!

So, what would the original, the authentic hipster have to say about the sad excuse for rebellious flouters of the mainstream that exist today? What would he say to their claims to be “in the know,” more cool than “cool,” and ironically expressing the crushing exigencies of their cultural enslavement? What would he say to their claims to be authentic hipsters?

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Posted in General Observations, Human Movitation | 2 Comments

Some Reflections On The 2013 Julian Jaynes Conference

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I just returned from West Virginia where I was privileged to attend the 2013 Julian Jaynes Conference, which I am hoping will put Bicameral Studies on the map as a potential source for a new synthesis in psychology/psychiatry. What an eclectic group of people both in the audience and presenting. But how could it be any other way? The reason that the big problems, like “consciousness,” haven’t been solved is that they span a huge number of domains, yet our society only supports and promotes further specialization. Jaynes was a maverick, an iconoclast, and an unlikely prophet in this regard. He cared more about truth than career advancement or celebrity–a rare kind of man in modern America. So why has there been so much resistance? To be sure, he stepped on a lot of specialists toes, but there is much more to it. He suggested that “schizophrenia” isn’t entirely an organic disease as modern psychiatry has painted it, and certainly not simply the brain going “on the fritz.” He scared the bajeezus out of the religious and agnostic alike. The former had to grapple with the connection between modern mental illness, lapses of full agency, and religious experience. The latter had to grapple with the fact that you can neither write off religion nor mental illness as “the brain going on the fritz.” The honest non-believer furthermore had to ask what it meant that man went through a stage in the evolution of culture and ideas where huge and complex visions were related by men incapable of true, self-conscious deception. There is sincerity in religion–if not always in the religious organizations that followed–and I for one am interested in hearing what they had to say, for though they may have been sincerely wrong, they at least were incapable of intentional deception. These are all unsettling things to think about.

Ignoring modern man’s penchant for drugs and alcohol, ignoring his dependence on pharmacology, doesn’t it ever weird you out that he spends so much time in front of the television projecting himself into all manner of fantastic stories? Are these not condoned hallucinatory experiences? If not, why do you jump when the protagonist gets ambushed by a zombie? How many shows and movies involve a bicameral experience–something like the famous line, “follow the force Luke”? I’d venture close to half! The list is prohibitively long. In the 40’s and 50’s some 60% of people reported dreaming in black & white, which changed with the introduction of color television. What do we dream about but the most emotionally salient scenes we experience in the day? Instead of visitations from Aphrodite we dream of Angelina Jolie. Is this not a shocking vestige of bicamerality, this desperate longing to live in an enchanted world full of gods and goddesses? Can you look at the Stanford Prisoner Experiment and really tell yourself that the malleability of human motivation and the susceptibility to authority and context is not a similar vestige? Can you really watch zombie films without recognizing in them our natural fear of the mentally ill, the “consciousness-impaired,” or our own routine non-consciousness and failures of true agency? Anyway, interesting as this all is, there is quite another place I want to take this post.

During the two hour “orientation session” at the start of the conference one of the audience members asked organizer rabbi James Cohn, author of the fantastic book “Minds of the Bible,” what he thought about Jaynes’ atheism and then expressed how Jaynes had influenced his own atheism. Cohn fielded the question expertly, but it struck me that Jaynes had precisely the opposite effect on me. I used to be a rather militant atheist who chalked all religious experience up to mental illness, so how is it that Jaynes brought me closer to theism? Well, half way through college I realized that myth and religion are facts about this world–facts that required their own explanation. So too with mental illness! In the process of trying to understand and explain religion I found some value in it and am seeking to continue discovering its value, something that Jaynes has helped me with immensely. Here is my current view of man and religion:

As a summary, I’d say that Anselm’s Ontological Proof did in fact prove the existence of a god–namely the god Anselm! Anyone smart enough to concoct that piece of rhetoric doesn’t contain a divine spark so much as a divine thunderbolt. He produced what Oscar Wilde would call a “good lie:” one that provides its own evidence and is self-fulfilling. What else do we mean by ‘god’ if not “someone who has an unlimited amount of what Anselm has”?

Its not so much that an anthropomorphic god exists, but that people exist and are theomorphic. Accordingly, we are all demi-gods and some of us even gods. “God” was not a mistake that man perpetrated, but was the bridge from non-consciousness to his own self-awareness. Authentic religion has always been about hero-worship; worship not of the human-all-too-human, but of the human-that-could-be. The mistake is to think that god existed before the universe and created it, when in fact he didn’t really come into existence until around 2000BC or later– a magnificent artifact of culture. Humanity gave birth to god in his ideas of free will, logical deduction, algebra, and every other cool idea that has updated our operating system. The pressing question we face now is not “does god exist?” but how do we interpret the gods and demigods that have graced the pages of history? From what lofty heights do they hail from, calling us to join them? What does it mean that they exist at all? The question is no longer “do we have a soul,” but how do we build one worth having? I have discovered the divinity in man and wish to find ways to promote it and enhance it.

Perhaps man is the only part of nature that could give meaning to the whole and thereby give birth to the truly godlike. To be perfectly honest though, I also entertain another possibility.  Perhaps each human mind is like a neuron in the “brain” of god, each producing “good lies” that build on each other. Maybe we are the only part of nature that can answer the question that God is posing in dreaming this ambiguous universe into existence? -Jeff Tkachuk

LeavesAndAncestors

If we use Tielhard de Chardin’s division of the geosphere, the biosphere, and the noosphere there is something curious that I noticed. In each “sphere,” if we imagine them as trees (ala the tree of biological evolution), the upper most “branches” aren’t necessarily the “best” or “optimal.” We might put humans at the top of the “tree of life” and reflective self-awareness at the top of the “tree of the noosphere,” but this is only half right. There is something special about both and we don’t want to lose the progress they embody, but I am interested in improving them, helping them grow even taller, for instance by “grafting” lower branches onto the tallest branches. Just as scientists are looking back into biological evolution and attempting to literally graft novel adaptations from other creatures onto man using bio-tech, I want to mine great ideas, metaphors, and rituals from ancient religions and find ways of incorporating them into our present worldview of scientific objectivity, hopefully enhancing both old and new cultural software alike.

I am hoping that we will see the day when bibliotherapy and Plato replace benzodiazepines and Prozac; when we teach our children how to hear their own voice–really to build their own voice–but avoid the fate of “hearing voices.” I implore you all to help this day come about; to help give birth to a post-cynical world where religion is seen for what it is and modern consciousness seen for what it is not.

Posted in Consciousness, Education, Free Will and Responsibility, General Observations, Human Movitation, Religion | 3 Comments

Faux-word

Have you ever been with someone who always demanded that things “move forward;” that was never satisfied with the present situation unless tangible signs of progress abounded? Did they say the word with a slight valley-girl cadence so that it sounded like ‘faux-word?’ “Faux-word;” “we aren’t moving faux-word;” “I need you to demonstrate that your career is moving faux-word;” “I don’t see us moving faux-word together.” What a delicious little parapraxis.

I have known a few of these people and it always struck me as beyond ironic that this word really was a faux word, a word with no real meaning other than communicating a vague message of “I’m displeased.” These people were never satisfied in the present and were running desperately from the past, so of course their elusive happiness was in the future, right? It’s like they had no awareness of their own mortality or something; like they didn’t understand where forward eventually got you. None of us are getting out of this thing alive, so why focus all of one’s energies on progress instead of peace or passion, caring or character?

Now, I’m not against progress, per se, just against running from yourself and others. If you are truly unhappy with yourself, yes, you could use this to fuel some accomplishment, but I think it would be far more productive for you to take two steps back, peer into the past, and sit with it in the present.

I’d like to invert William James’ famous aphorism: Happiness does not happen without action, but action does not always lead to happiness. Let me end this little train of thought with a picture: the result of my moving forward with an adventure in Southern Thailand in 2009 that was moving a little too fast faux-word.

TheFeelingOfThoughAh, life’s little “transitions,” as people are fond of naming them. I do implore you, dear reader, to pace yourself in this life; to take the time to see the beauty in this world, however fleeting.

 

Posted in General Observations, Relationships | 1 Comment

The Cult of Reluctant Celebrity

I love the idea of a meritocracy, but I think it should simply be divorced from self-promotion, self-advocacy, and salesmanship. I want to start a “cult of reluctant celebrity,” for there is nothing wrong with celebrity, per se, so long as the person being worshiped or celebrated doesn’t really want the attention. I want this cult to compete with the cult of LinkedIn in business; with the cult of popularity in politics; with the cult of cool in the sexual marketplace.

We should ban politicians from campaigning if they appear to actually desire the jobs they are running for. Others should promote your interests, advocate for you, recommend you for jobs. As I alluded to in a post on sexuality, the key to creating a virtuous society is to actually reward virtue. Instead, we reward cunning and salesmanship. This leads to a situation in which ruthless VC’s can milk every last good idea out of a desperate and intimidated body of creative thinkers. We wonder why creative talent often lies dormant and unused, but then demand that everyone pull together an “elevator pitch” in business or the perfect “line” at a bar. Good ideas might take more than a short elevator ride to explain, while character might need more than one line to make itself heard.

Though it is true that people usually like to do what they are good at and vice verca, being good at football, for instance, should mean that your game speaks for itself and doesn’t require your salesmanship: that is the job of a good scout or coach. Our society is currently turning into one giant, sanitized MySpace page of shallow self-promotion, where “loose connections” determine career advancement while “strong connections” (ie actual intimate relationships) become irrelevant or low priority affairs.

How is it that the Greeks knew this and yet we fail to learn from their example? (see Ostracism in Athens or petalismos in Syracuse). The truly great leader is his own best critic, not champion. Man longs for recognition, but let’s be discerning about what kind! The truly great leader longs to adore his true self, not be adored by the public directly. He longs to be adored from the future, from “history,” and founds his self-worth on that more than his current popularity. George Washington did not want the presidency! The following is spoken by a man who understands virtue ethics and true happiness:

I desire to conduct the affairs of this administration that if at the end, when I come to lay down the reins of power, I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside me. -Abraham Lincoln

Is this not why we love blogs? We have at least some minor assurance that the person who writes it cares more about the ideas than about self-promotion. I would like to be recognized for writing this, but essentially I’m giving it away for free and just praying that more capable people run with the idea. That’s all I want. It’s not so much that I think money corrupts absolutely, but that self-promotion corrupts absolutely.

The best author will be the one who is ashamed to become a writer. – Friedrich Nietzsche

 

Posted in General Observations, Human Movitation, Morality & Ethics | Leave a comment

Freeze Sucka! Pt 2 – Two Kinds Of Fear

I recently ran into a discrepancy in the research on the human adrenal response: some sources suggest that the weak-kneed feeling is caused by tons of blood rushing away from your head and core and towards your large muscle groups, preparing you to run or fight, while others suggest that you are literally weak-kneed as blood rushes to your core, far from any limbs or appendages that might shortly sustain injuries like lacerations. I implore any of my readers who know more about the physiology to please post any solid info in the comments section. Until that time, I am left to my own experience and speculations. Here it goes…

In Pt1 I argued that the adrenal response readies one for fight or flight, but that for social reasons (ie not wanting to look weak) I would often fail to increase respiration though my heart was starting to pound. Accordingly, I more easily entered a “panic” state simply due to oxygen deprivation. However, I just read the best book on martial arts and violence that I have ever found: Sgt Rory Miller’s “Meditations On Violence.” Therein, he states that “blood is pooled in the internal organs, drawn away from the limbs. Your arms and legs may feel weak and cold and clumsy,” adding later that “vasoconstriction in the extremities decreases the amount of bleeding from bites to arms, legs, and head.” What to make of this discrepancy? My theory is that humans have evolved two different responses for two very different kinds of violence. We have two kinds of fear and two forms of aggressive. We have a fear of in-group violence, such as play fighting, fisticuffs and even duels, and another one for predatory violence, such as that issuing from a dangerous animal or a hostile tribe. This is obviously an outgrowth of my theory about two kinds of aggression, discussed in a previous post, but it also falls within the paradigm described by Miller, who describes the “Monkey Dance” versus predatory behavior.

The fear of in-group violence and competition is much more about humiliation, being dominated, ostracism and mating rights than it is about the fear of death. That is, it is the fear of the annihilation of “face,” identity or personality, with the deeper fear of resulting ostracism, exposure and death underlying it. The fear of predatory violence is simply about being violently ripped apart, limb-from-limb. Accordingly, we have fear (fight or flight) and we have panic (freeze). The problem is that we so rarely face predatory violence that we easily confuse these two situations and start to panic when our identity is challenged. This is the great purpose of the martial arts in my opinion: educating people about their own feelings so that they can avoid panic as often as possible. So too is this the great purpose of philosophy: not only to prepare one for death, but to prepare one for ambiguity, uncertainty, and assaults on your dignity. Sadly, not only do modern people experience Monkey Dance-type fear when faced with having to sing or speak in public, but they also experience Monkey Dance situations as if they were facing a charging lion. This is not so good for stress levels, immune function, and overall health.

Look at dare-devil behavior and note that though it incites fear, this is experienced as “excitement” and the activity has the effect of enhancing identity, whereas facing down a grizzly bear will likely result in your shitting your pants and questioning your cosmic specialness; fear versus panic. These two modes of response, however, are running on the same physiology, so you basically have fear/excitement up until 145 BPM, with a sweet spot between 115 and 145 BPM as far as performance is concerned, and then panic when heart rate increases past 145 BPM. Miller describes three reactions that are very, very important to distinguish:

Some people get big, red, and loud. Their face flushes; they swell up and try to intimidate with size and voice. They are trying to intimidate, pure and simple. They have more in common with the Monkey Dance than predatory violence. They are usually not a problem.

Small, white, and pale indicates a threat in a pretty advanced stage of adrenalization. His blood has pooled to his center and he is on the edge of panic. If something sets him off, he will go frantically insane. He will hurt you, much like a cornered animal.

Some go ‘flat’ when the adrenaline hits. They seem emotionless, alert. Eyes widen into a thousand-yard stare. In general, they are experienced with the adrenaline state and can and will hurt you. They will retain a large percentage of skill. They make ugly opponents. On the good side, of the three types, these are the ones that can still communicate. You can talk to them.

The guy who is red in the face (the above Diego Sanchez, for instance) is trying to project confidence and intimidate his opponent. Perhaps it works on some, but essentially he is betraying the fact that this is a match, not an assault. The Japanese knew how to do this right and cultivated a state they called zanshin, roughly translated as “awareness,” “remaining mind,” and “indomitable will.” The American corollary is being “cool,” that is cool-headed, cool under pressure, etc. Sadly, ala the theme in a prior post, we have today mistaken the face of intimidation for the true display of projected competence. Though what follows really should be added to a recent post, I must remark that MMA competitions often blur this line between Monkey Dance and predatory violence. Some competitors choose to pick a fight and make it personal so that they can get angry, red in the face, and “excited” for the fight (ie Monkey Dance). Other competitors speak of “going to war,” wanting a “war,” being ready to die, and so forth. Still others don’t say anything, appear entirely calm or even bored (I’m thinking of Gegard Mousassi), and then fight like the devil. Be scared of the last guy. Miller explains that “some people associate the ‘1,000-yard stare’ with shell shock. It’s actually a way to use the eyes to detect movement very efficiently and increase peripheral vision.” Anyway, I suppose this all makes sense, given that one form of human aggression–play fighting and jockeying for position–is ultimately a preparation for the other–group hunting and warfare. It makes further sense because the MMA competition is somewhere between friendly fisticuffs, an honor duel, and the practice of single combat in ancient warfare. Sometimes it pays off to play the “game,” bide your time, wrestle to tire out your opponent out, and then finish him in the end via a war of attrition, but other times a full-on assault-style blitz does the job a whole lot better, despite the fact that most of the effective moves are barred in such a competition.

Posted in Consciousness, General Observations, Human Movitation, Martial Arts, Morality & Ethics | 1 Comment

“Alpha” or “Omega” Male? Pt 3 – Rise of the Nerds

Many people use the terms “Alpha Male” and “Beta Male” to refer to guys with machismo versus “nice guys.” This is a misunderstanding. I have known plenty of happy-go-lucky, sweet, innocuous guys who are terribly popular with both genders and could easily qualify for “Alpha” status, given that this term is best used for the winner in a tournament species. To the extent that humans are a tournament species, this tournament largely involves charm, verbal dexterity, diplomacy, and social tact, not direct physical violence. The popular “nice guys” that I have known were A) extremely good looking and B) had charmed plenty of “toughs” who would have their backs in an instant if they were ever challenged with violence. As I argued in Pt1, these are the folks that became leaders for the better part of history and pre-history, not the biggest, baddest fighter. Simply put, terms relevant to canine psychology are woefully inadequate for describing humans accurately.

These terms are being bandied about because our society and education system unwittingly encourage the segregation of the good-looking & charming from the unfortunate-looking & awkward; the “cools” from the “nerds.” But this even misunderstands the canine psychology, for as I argued in Pt2, the “beta” is always nipping at the “alpha’s” heels and is a potential rival and stalwart ally, not the meek, quivering underdog. The “beta” is the second in command! The appropriate term for the nerd would be “omega male,” the true underdog at the bottom of the pack who doesn’t even wrestle and compete for position. But even this term has been misappropriated, finding its way into the urban dictionary as the “opposite” of the alpha, though the description is basically the ultimate alpha–the alpha who doesn’t even need friends to back him up! The wishful thinking and wounded merit involved here is just plain transparent. What is going on?

1) the death of the honor culture and myth of “glorious battle” (lost between WW1 and Vietnam), feminism, gender-neutral society, etc.

2) as Harvey Mansfield argues regarding the rational, liberal state, “The entire enterprise of modernity, however, could be understood as a project to keep manliness unemployed.”

3) technology has gradually eroded male relevance, while increasing the relevance of “nice guy” behavior and intelligence (hence the “Rise of the Nerds”)

The Rise of the Nerds

Who is using the terms in question? Usually it is nerds referring to their oppressors as “alphas;” nerds referring to their chosen nerd-in-chief as “omega;” nerds referring to that guy who gets some girls, though he isn’t really an alpha, but he’s not smart enough to hang out with the true nerds, so he’s a “beta.” That is, the entire linguistic mess is born of nerd-ressentiment towards anybody that is getting the status that they feel their intelligence alone merits them. Because more and more anti-social, nerd-types are gaining wealth, fame, and fanboy ego-stroking, I imagine that this ressentiment will only grow. Let’s back up a bit, however, because this stuff starts on the playground.

Though I really like the phrase “Monkey Dance” that is often used to describe male ritual combat in humans, this combat is rare, while the actual tournament might involve, well, dancing. That is, we have a “Human Dance” that involves song, speech, dance, and, sadly, pick-up-artistry, and it is this dance that decides who has status for modern humans, though wealth and apparent celebrity are good substitutes. Unlike any other species on earth, however, our little dance doesn’t have built-in safety measures, which must be imposed by culture instead. You see, very few tournaments in nature involve serious injury or death. When bears wrestle for dominance, do note that the winner doesn’t tear his opponent’s throat open, as he would likely do to his prey. A ram who loses the head-butt competition could easily turn around and ram his opponent in the side, killing him, but this doesn’t happen. The loser knows he’s lost and his genes forbid him from sullying the hallowed combat ritual that maintains the quality of the gene pool.  Ironically, unlike any other species I’ve discovered the cultural safety measures governing the “Human Dance” have historically involved violence! As I argued in Pt2, the honor duel was not there to determine “alphas” from “betas,” but instead, was meant to protect the honor culture within which the “Human Dance” took place. If someone grabs your girl’s butt on the dance floor, then you punch him; you do not punch the biggest dude in the room as a means of asking a strange girl for a dance!

In modern society, however, we have failed to protect or revive anything like an honor culture and thereby strip our children of any safety measures governing their little status-tournaments. It’s pretty simple really: fail to teach two young brothers the “rules” of wrestling, and most of their innocent-meaning bouts will end in bloodshed. Worse still, this bloodshed leads everyone to mistakenly believe that the roots of male competitiveness is some kind of blood-lust!

When we understand sibling rivalry for the critical problem it reflects, we can understand the naturalness of ambition, and the basic benignancy of competitiveness. Children are not vicious animals struggling to dominate rivals, but culture-heroes in the making, desperately trying to stand out. -Ernest Becker

The result of all of this misunderstanding is that young boys have no fucking clue what to make of their natural ambitions, energy and competitiveness, while the omega-boy who should be entirely ignored as a potential rival or competitor is mercilessly thrashed, verbally and physically, to the extent that this bullying accomplishes exactly the opposite of its natural aim: to chide a potential hunting-partner into manning up, getting stronger, and proving a useful ally. You see, our verbal taunts and so forth have a number of extremely healthy functions. It is perfectly natural and helpful to the victim of teasing if his friends, knowing that he is really a homosexual unsuccessfully pretending to be hyper-masculine, taunt him and test him, because there is something that he just “doesn’t get,” and this will harm him in the future and possibly harm other people. They are really trying to accept him, but only if he joins the groups shared reality. Laughing at someone’s intellectual error has elements of shadenfreude, but ultimately this is one of the best mechanisms for enforcing learning and the elimination of cognitive errors (See Dennett’s “Inside Jokes”). The deep problem is that we haven’t taught our children the proper uses of teasing and the disastrous effects of bullying. We should hold courses in the “art of brotherly un-love,” for this art is one of the greatest mechanisms for regulating the Human Dance. (evolutionary psychologists even suggest that “gossip” has been one of the main tools checking the power of the dictator or powerful leader).

We need very strong ears to hear ourselves judged frankly, and because there are few who can endure frank criticism without being stung by it, those who venture to criticize us perform a remarkable act of friendship, for to undertake to wound or offend a man for his own good is to have a healthy love for him. -Montaigne

Taking a Stick to the Stones Will Always Hurt You

When I was in the 4th grade it suddenly because trendy to punch your buddy in the nuts. Don’t ask me who started this. It does kind of betray the less noble aspects of male competition, though, doesn’t it. Its obvious that this is about sexual competition. Keep in mind, however, that these kids have no common enemy to rally against and fight, so there is no outlet for the raison d’etre of their male competitiveness. Thus, right from the start it seems obvious that they are natural enemies and rivals in the sexual marketplace. This ball-busting evolved into kicking out the back of your buddy’s knee, then punching him in the arm, and then by the 6th grade everyone realized that the girls were interested in the guy with the band, not the guy nervously jockeying for position by the use of physical force. Then the real “ball-busting” begins–the really cruel stuff. 

Sadly, while playful combat and jockeying for position in social animals has the effect of strengthening each group member, determining who is best at what, and cementing bonds of trust, it has the exact opposite effect in modern humans. Unregulated taunting physically weakens the victim while proving no test of strength, fails to determine who is the best at what, and fosters distrust and isolation among everyone. (The “in-crowd” too is a shark-tank where nobody is safe). Play-fighting in animals, much like the “love bite,” is not an expression of aggression, but of care. It is an example of “physical irony,” but ironically, while all animals understand the real message of this play, only modern humans are dumb enough to misunderstand and take it literally, concluding that such behavior is really about sadistic domination and aggression. (a view I was critiquing in the recent post “On Sexual Aggression“). 

Bullying is a form of emotional terrorism that is a strange, twisted version of natural play-fighting. It has the effect of lowering the victim’s self-esteem and their immune function, which effects testosterone levels and physical development. It is a means of literally clipping a rivals nuts and making him feel, look, physically develop and act not like a “beta,” but like an “omega” or even an outcast altogether. The bully can discard physical violence and simply use verbal taunts, therefore appearing to be taking part in the “Human Dance” instead of the “Monkey Dance.” That is, the very tools of biting humor and annihilating rhetoric which were meant to keep the physically imposing in check are used by the physically imposing as a proxy for physical intimidation and abuse that they can always just fall back on anyway. The result is a social hierarchy that more closely resembles that of the mountain gorilla than that of our tribal ancestors. “Cools” are those with decent sexual self-esteem, while “nerds” are those with no sexual self-esteem and who retreat into fantasy worlds where they slay monsters, physically dominate opponents and win sexual favors. I hypothesize that this is really why all of this bullshit about “alphas” and “betas” is being introduced. But with the tech revolution, many of these nerds are gaining power, wealth, and celebrity, which they feel should entitle them to reproductive rights. After all, they display great amounts of the virtue that our society is moving towards in terms of preferred fitness markers: intelligence. So of course they are justified in memorizing some PUA tricks and NLP to use their intelligence in order to extort their due of sexual favors؟

As I discussed in Pt2, “winning” has been overemphasized in our culture such that the true spirit of human competition is replaced by a spirit of domination and shadenfreude. “Toughs” feast on empty honor-calories by attacking the defenseless, robbing them of any chance to grow stronger with real competition, and then move on to verbal taunts to finish them off, forgetting that in doing so they rob themselves of any honor gained from such a victory. Because this “competition” grants no honor or lasting security, they keep doing it because they remain compromised and unproven themselves. Much of bullying is just misdirected hostility (redirected aggression is the term from Biology I believe). You see, this is not how the brotherly art of un-love is to be conducted: you should rib a guy in your baseball league about being too fat or not appearing to give full effort because it degrades the value of the competition for you; it strips you of legitimate pride for the win, but compounds your shame in defeat. Taunting a teammate viciously and without relenting will not have the effect of improving your teams chances of winning, but will likely just make him more nervous and clumsy. Since America is not a community, but a business, kids realize that there is no “team,” there is no common goal, and everyone is a rival.

Sticks and Stones Are Highly Preferable To Words

No one who has worked with patients for a long period of time can fail to learn that the psychological and spiritual agony of depersonalization is harder to bear than physical pain. -Rollo May

Dave Grossman argues that aggression and ostracism are the core of man’s deepest phobias and anxieties. This “universal phobia” is what grounds people’s fear of public speaking, hitting on girls at bars, and being creative (ie standing out). It was not unwarranted for Degas to write that “A painter paints a picture with the same feeling as that with which a criminal commits a crime.” But what is important to remember is that the human body codes a moral threat and verbal assault just like a physical assault. Some words from Rollo May should be helpful here:

Every experience of creativity has its potential of aggression or denial towards other persons in one’s environment or towards established patterns within one’s self. To put the matter figuratively, in every experience of creativity something in the past is killed so that something new in the present may be born.

(adding later in the same work): Neurotic anxiety and helplessness are not the result of a realistic view of inadequacy of power but arise out of an inner conflict between dependency and hostility. What is felt as the source of danger is primarily the anticipated hostility of others.

Instead of aggression and competition serving to build a healthy sense of power and proper station, today it has the effect of multiplying anxieties. This is made worse by our misunderstanding it all. We think that guys are scared of talking to strange girls, when in fact they are scared of getting beat up, dominated, or humiliated in front of them. This is the source of their fear, and it is a legitimate source, because they really haven’t earned the right to approach those girls in the first place! Then these poor guys think that they are actually afraid and perhaps angry at these girls, instead of realizing that they are afraid of sexual rivals and that the “bar scene” is a tragic caricature of the true “Human Dance.”

As a brief aside, I would like to suggest that one of the reasons that we are fascinated by zombie movies stems precisely from this “universal human phobia.” There are other reasons, of course: on some level we know that we are not “conscious” all the time, that most stupid-asses out there are rarely conscious ever, that the homeless guy over there screaming nonsense is functionally a zombie, and also we would really like an evil “other” to kill but don’t want to admit this or admit that we have murderous, war-like thoughts about other humans, so zombies are a nice fill-in and scapegoat. But primarily, I argue, the fascination with zombies comes from a deep genetic memory of vicious physical conflict. Just watch this video right before a single episode of “The Walking Dead” and you might notice that “gorilla fighting” looks just like a human fighting off a zombie (holding his chest and neck so he doesn’t bit your neck, etc). End of digression…here is some Ernest Becker:

The psychiatrist Harry Stacks Sullivan liked to use the term ‘self-system’ instead of the Freudian divisions of the psyche, because he saw that you cannot arbitrarily chop up the child’s total ongoing action and experience. For Sullivan, this self-system was largely a linguistic device fashioned by the child to conciliate his world. Words are basic to the formation of his self, and words are the only way he can control his environment. This is a powerful formulation, because it permits us to understand that what we term ‘personality’ is largely a locus of word possibilities. When we expose our self-esteem to possible undermining by others in a social situation, we are exposing a linguistic identity to other loci of linguistic causality. We have no idea what words are going to spout forth from another’s self-system.

This is why words are such potent weapons: we are not born with self-aware “minds,” but develop this with socialization and language. Therefore, our minds are highly volatile and subject to verbal disruption. You can shut your eyes when someone in your 4th grade class chews some food and opens his mouth to gross you out, but you can’t shut your “ear-lids” when he calls you a worthless pussy. Verbal bullying is a tragic misapplication of a natural “ball-busting” instinct used to correct erroneous speech, beliefs, and behaviors. This instinct also relieves some of the social pressure in a situation where everyone sorta tacitly understands that mating rights are still on the line. Watch the barber-shop scene from Clint Eastwoods “Gran Torino” and you will notice that there is a way of busting balls that is affectionate, while still demonstrating power that demands respect. Its a form of irony in which both parties know where the “line” is drawn between appropriate and innappropriate. But while these old-schoolers “got it,” today we have simply erased this line in the hopes that nobody gets called names and everyone feels like daddies special little boy. Foolish. Here is some more Becker…

We see a clear example of inept performance, and of constant attempt to force status, in the phenomenon called ‘riding.’ ‘Riding’ is simply clumsy acting, a grotesque attempt to heighten one’s self-esteem by denigrating another. It is a continuous preoccupation of close in-groups temporarily thrown together in distasteful occupations, like waiters and counter-girls. ‘Riding’ makes a mockery of the delicate skill of cue-sensitive performance.

Hmmm, “close in-groups temporarily thrown together in a distasteful occupation,” does this remind you of anything, like, say, public school!!?! Is it any wonder why healthy “ball-busting” turns into “riding”?

One of the impetuses to the fragmentation of society into subgroups is that they provide some respite from the continual strain on creative alertness of the self-system. In the subgroup, conversation is familiar, automatic, untaxing for the most part. In some primitive societies ‘joking relationships’ are established between certain individuals. These people, when they meet, engage in an unashamed mockery, teasing, and joking that is denied to others. Joking relationships seem to be established at points of tension in the social system–among inlaws, for example–and relieve the individuals of the strain of meeting these encounters, and the necessity of facilitating them creatively. Joking carries the encounter along automatically and also provides for release of tension.

Sadly, in its attempt to remove aggression and violence from society, our (ahem) “culture” multiplies these “points of tension” and necessitates routine purges of anxiety and tension that end up just compounding the problem for everyone. Sadder still, as nerds are now increasingly coming to power, they seem to be applying this same strategy of intellectual battle to their prior oppressors and this seems to be where the “alpha/beta” terminology is coming from, not to mention various movements to label nerds as “brights,” and so forth. But by honoring intelligence and mocking the physical courage of the “brute” or “alpha,” these guys are just further alienating themselves from their own masculinity while perpetuating the very war that they despised and which created them (qua nerds).

Posted in Education, Free Will and Responsibility, General Observations, Human Movitation, Martial Arts, Morality & Ethics, Relationships | Leave a comment

“Less Wrong” Than You Might Think Pt 3

Current psychology is wedded to its history with much stronger ties than any other science. As a laboratory investigation, psychology is only a century old; as a body of insights, observations, and hypothesis, it is the oldest science in the world. -Julian Jaynes

Unlike Pt1 and Pt2, this article is not a response to a particular Less Wrong post, but instead aims to offer an antidote to the basic assault that such “reality heads” usually direct at myth and religion. In a previous post I showed how Sam Harris made a horse’s ass out of himself by trying to deride the notion of a “soul” while at the same time claiming that primitives and myth-makers simply had no clue how cosmically special and complex the brain was. Since the mind, though more complex than a galaxy, is not suitably special to qualify for a term like “soul,” typically the genome is the only thing a “reality head” will be willing to admit vis a vis his essence. Accordingly, I want to explore the pervasive mythological theme of personal responsibility endemic to reincarnation, metempsychosis, as well as notions like “blood guilt” and “sins of the father.”

The skeptic or rationalist can hew down all of these silly stories by simply claiming that they are absurd if interpreted literally, word-for-word, but this presumes to know exactly what “soul” and “transmigration” refer to, were meant to refer to, and could refer to. That is, it assumes the words are meaningless and proceeds to invoke ridiculous imagery from Raiders of the Lost Ark, and so forth. These people get in a little more trouble when asked if the myths are true metaphorically, but this usually doesn’t delay them much from a cynical dismissal. However, with the discovery of epigenetics (see the documentary “The Ghost In Your Genes”), this cluster of myths now appears to be quite literally true to a certain extent. The way we behave and the environment we choose to occupy will change our epigenetics and subsequently the expression of our genes, but most importantly, the expression of our childrens’ genes (sometimes up to three generations down the line). That is, we are to a certain extent the stewards of our own genome, though we are only now scratching the surface of such transgenerational epigenetic inheritance phenomena. My claim here is that the above-mentioned myths might be a sort of opaque, primitive realization of this truth. It doesn’t really matter if the myths were after the fact rationalizations of a manifest drive, for this is far superior to their being delusions completely untethered to reality. When someone discards myth as such, they fail to see that such myths are precisely the phenomenon that the mind sciences need to explain, as well as the fact that they constitute some of the best evidence we have available for understanding the brain and its evolution. 

There are plenty of inherited motives and instincts that help regulate the quality of a given gene pool: fitness markers, the incest taboo, infanticide of deformed infants, etc. However, these do not focus on one’s own genetic essence as the myths in question do. It doesn’t matter that bicameral man was unaware of the science of epigenetics or that his fanciful stories might correlate well with this future science: it is still reasonable to claim that these people were “aware” of a certain fact and that the various associated fables and myths, however bizarre-sounding, contain an important kernel of truth. Furthermore, if this inherited drive to preserve one’s genomic integrity exists, it could have provided the first step towards the creation of ideas like “Free Will” and other memes that fundamentally change the human operating system. Myths, poems, and metaphors are generative and are not meant to have a fixed meaning or operational definition.

The wonderful thing about poetry, religious or otherwise, is that the poet isn’t aware of the whole range of interpretations and meanings of his work; that the work doesn’t just call for interpretation, but demands multiple interpretations, perhaps ad infinitum. In fact, “reason” and “science” were born in this process of interpreting ambiguous, cryptic art, just as history was born from mythology. For science-minded rationalists to dismiss myth is quite silly, when you think about it, for their own coveted mental “software” evolved from these beta-versions, which accordingly could not fail to contain some truth. I must invoke the “No Miracles Argument” here if anyone disagrees with me on this point, for it would simply be miraculous for history, philosophy, law, and science to have emerged from total and utter nonsense produced by psychosis-addled artists, poets, and bards. No, it has always been art that has reached out into the unknown to find or create meaning, with rational tools playing a game of catch-up that has often proven Ockham’s Razor to be far too dull and slow a tool for the task. In epigenetics we see a case where Ockham’s Razor has caught up, providing a plausible interpretation of mythical themes involving responsibility for one’s soul and the souls of one’s children. Before epigenetics, these myths were usually interpreted as referring to the mind or personality as soul or essence.

The mass of myths dealing with reincarnation of an individual into one or another life form, its status dependent on how this person has lived his or her life, attests to the awareness in the experience of the race that the individual does have some responsibility for how he or she lives. Sartre’s argument that we invent ourselves by virtue of the multitude of our choices may be overstated, but its partial truth must nevertheless be admitted. -Rollo May

But epigenetics adds that we also partially invent or curate our own genetic inheritance and that of our children! However, there are two deeper layers to this general line of argument I want to explore:

1) The human brain has evolved in conjunction with culture, such that changes in culture, like the invention of new words and ideas, actually has an effect on the future evolution of the brain, which has an effect on which ideas are likely to run “natively” and which are likely to be invented easily, and so on, in a feedback loop. Therefore, choosing to follow ancient rituals and perpetuate old cultural practices will have an effect on the phenotypes of your tribe down the line. The genetic quality of your tribe will change depending on whether you endorse a mythology that celebrates inquiry versus one that celebrates blind obedience, or one that celebrates the truly human versus one that denigrates it.

2) As Julian Jaynes argued, what we call “consciousness” is the product of language, culture and socialization, not strictly biology per se, meaning that the stories that you decide to teach your children and the fidelity with which your actions reflect those stories will change what kind of consciousness they enjoy. Therefore, whether you identify the idea of a “soul” with your genetic essence, or your particular brand of self-awareness “software,” you simply must admit that modern science has begun to pour meaning back into the very myths that it largely set out to annihilate.

Though the scientific narrative is certainly “less wrong” than myth, I hasten to ask whether it is “more right”? This narrative says a whole lot less than myth and, while perhaps “less wrong,” does not support the cavalier disparagement that someone like Sam Harris heaps on myth, claiming that the history of religion is a “carnival of errors,” as if the history of science too could not also be aptly described as such (see PMI). I’m sure the reader has heard of “physics envy” before, but I would like to introduce and coin a new term, “psychology envy,” to describe the jealousy that physicists and the like should have for the worlds oldest science, for unlike any other science, ideas in psychology have the unique trait of actually changing the phenomenon in question. Psychology (in this general sense) is far more powerful than physics, for it gave birth to physics and remains fertile still.

Inventing an idea like the indivisible atom does not change atomic structure or behavior, while inventing an idea like “wrestling with the gods” changes the software and thus hardware of the human brain. An entire people (the Israelites) were changed by such an idea and proceeded to develop a culture of rational discourse, textual criticism, and thoughtful questioning. In fact the very name “Israel” means “wrestles with god.” I think this idea has done more to promote “rationality” than a list of logical fallacies or cognitive biases ever has. One should wrestle with the gods, wrestle with his own biases and prejudices, instead of discard them or ignore them in deference to the maxims of logic. That is a better formula for “rationality,” for it actually acknowledges and attempts to incorporate the “irrational.” But no, let’s just discard the story of Jacob because nobody has seen asexual, winged people with halos flying around trumpeting messages from god or wrestling with mortals؟ In this case Scientism fails to really get the good stuff out of actual “science” (see the work of Jaynes, Persinger, Ramachandran, or the journalist John Geiger for an explanation of “third man” phenomenon). 

Julian Jaynes emphasizes that there is no common pattern of growth between the disparate sciences:

My point is that the history, philosophy, and sociology of one science should not be modeled on that of another, that there is no such thing as normal scientific progress, no one pattern of scientific activity, no one criterion of excellence though there may be of aesthetic satisfaction, that there is no one ‘scientific’ method, and no one way of scientific history.

This doesn’t stop the “reality head” from asserting the superiority of “science” over and above any other organization of knowledge, as if it were one “thing,” method, or process. Crucially, these people miss the fact that the history of psychology is uniquely relevant to the science of psychology, as well as relevant to the history of every other science. Hell, 17th century terms from physics are entirely anthropomorphic: originally ‘force’ referred to muscular strength, ‘inertia’ to an idle and unemployable person, and ‘acceleration’ to the hastening of one’s steps. Need I analyze the term ‘attraction’?  I’ll repeat and expand the quote we started with:

Current psychology is wedded to its history with much stronger ties than any other science. As a laboratory investigation, psychology is only a century old; as a body of insights, observations, and hypothesis, it is the oldest science in the world. Moreover, its history is not a musty attic of intellectual bric-a-brac and mildewed curiosa, as are often found in the history of chemistry or neurology, for example. -Julian Jaynes

This should be earth-shattering to any of you rationalists out there, for it means that the mentality described in the “Illiad” is better evidence about the reality of the physical brain than the idea of the atom is evidence about the structure of the material world. The “Illiad” is both a model and a fact; a theory and evidence. “After all, what is a fine lie? Simply that which is its own evidence,” wrote Oscar Wilde. Bizarre as much of the “Illiad” is to our modern minds, it captures, describes, and teaches a certain form of mentality quite accurately; a mentality that actually existed and can exist again, for instance in a psychotic break (see Johnathan Shay). Furthermore, the growing body of myths and religious revelations quite literally altered the physical states of human brains, forcing them to run certain software and be prone to certain further religious (psychological) epiphanies, whereas the idea of the indivisible atom was just an idea bandied about for a couple millenia, then discarded for a more accurate model once the idea could be sufficiently probed. I think psychology should be the queen of the sciences, for every idea ever spoken or written down is a fact or piece of data that we can use to better understand the human mind and brain, while this improved understanding will help illuminate the source and limitations of every idea or theory whatsoever.

Those addled with physics envy should remember that most physicists do not share their limited purview. Heisenberg once said that our mechanisms and technology make us “uncertain in the impulses of the spirit.” That’s right, spirit! He did not refer to it as arbitrary cultural/linguistic software running on a clumsy, intuition-addled meat-computer. Furthermore, is this not the raison d’etre of Less Wrong: to make us “uncertain in the impulses of the spirit”?

Perhaps I am being unfair, but my fear about that particular blog is that it obsesses on physics, math, statistics, and basically everything but real psychology, but purports to be telling us deep truths about our selves. It is meant to “promote rationality,” but fails to see that the irrational is not overcome by rationality; it must be fully expressed and integrated, ordered and curated, if it is to stop interfering with rational decision making. But more importantly, the “irrational” is precisely what grounds the majority of our actual decisions in life! Unless you are taking a math test or have found yourself in a cognitive science laboratory you are going to be trying to make rational choices about your irrational drives, motives, and dreams. “Reason” is there to order the Will and arbitrate disputes between the passions, not replace them with infallible logical dictates or a Bayesian panacea.

One cannot protect the self and become stronger, smarter, and more emotionally stable simply by downloading the latest Baloney Detection Kit. This assumes a sort of mechanical/technological solution to spiritual troubles, while not taking responsibility for cutting the reader off from anything approaching the spiritual, a term which the Less Wrongian perhaps reserves only for god-like-machine-intelligences. The most endearing feature of the blog in question is that it has an unwritten agenda of “nerd rehabilitation,” but sadly, it all-too-often just strokes the nerd for his strengths and encourages him to ignore his weaknesses. The nerd does not need more technology, logic, rationality, or behavioral economics; he needs a martial arts class, a caring therapist, a musical instrument to play, and perhaps a creative writing class. (In fairness, Eliezer Yudkowsky seems to have the creative writing element down just fine؟). It was no less a logician than Aristotle who said that educating the head but not the heart is no education at all! For my part, I am quite wary of obsessions with technology, especially when they are mixed with a thinly veiled longing for immortality.

This means that technology will be clung to, believed in, and depended on far beyond its legitimate sphere, since it also serves as a defense against our fears of irrational phenomenon. -Ernest Becker

Note added May 18: One should read Thomas Carlyle in order to thoroughly purge any cynical scientism from his soul. This paragraph is a good summary of my sentiments on the matter:

For Paganism, therefore we have still to inquire, When came that scientific certainty, the parent of such a bewildered heap of allegories, errors, and confusions? How was it, what was it? Surely it were a foolish attempt to pretend ‘explaining,’ in this place, or in any place, such a phenomenon as that fardistant distracted cloudy imbroglio of Paganism,–more like a cloudfield than a distant continent of firm land and facts! It is no longer a reality, yet it was once. We ought to understand that this seeming cloudfield was once a reality; that not poetic allegory, least of all that dupery and deception as the origin of it. Men, I say, never did believe idle songs, never risked their soul’s life on allegories;  men in all times, especially in early earnest times, have had an instinct for detecting quacks, for detesting quacks. Let us try if, leaving out both the quack theory and the allegory one, and listening with affectionate attention to that far-off confused rumour of the Pagan ages, we cannot ascertain so much as this at least, That there was a kind of fact at the heart of them; that they too were not mendacious and distracted, but in their own poor way true and sane!

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