Bound… By Convention
The other day my boyfriend noticed, for the first time during the course of our relationship, that I wasn’t wearing a bra. His first reaction, which surprised me, was not positive. Truth be told, he was a little upset.
“I can see your nipples,” he said, “and so can everyone else.” In other words, the turkey was done.
Despite being a veteran to the whole not-wearing-a-bra thing, the idea that some might find it offensive — even repulsive — had never once occurred to me. And with that thought my boyfriend’s dowdy look of disapproval was replaced by a pouting Gisele Bundchen, resplendent in a glittering silk ensemble and seemingly unencumbered by her ivory angel wings. As she waved a lengthy manicured finger in my face, a soft breeze tossed her locks and she reached for her perfect, bra-embraced breasts, cupping them in her hands.
“BRAS,” SHE WHISPERED, “ARE SEXY. GIVE ME SEXY.”
SEXY, IT SEEMED, WAS NOT STANDING HERE — ON THE BUSY CITY STREETS — SANS BRA.
Be it right or wrong my brazen, braless persona was fast becoming a problem as I listed the numerous scenarios that would have caused any sane woman to suffer public humiliation. What did my corporate co-workers think? Had the neighbors noticed my morning dash for the mail? What about all those people who witnessed me dart before their cars this morning in a desperate effort to make it before the light had turned? Had my father noticed?
I had once been under the impression that not wearing a bra made one, at the very least, a free spirit. Suddenly, that was no longer the case. Enter: the tramp.
This duality brought me to the epiphany that my bra was more than just another article of clothing. My bra, it seemed, had the power to define the type of person I was. Without one I was sexually loose, with one I was being chaste.
Did the same apply to the type of bra I wore? I asked myself. If I wore a sports bra, did that make me a tomboy? If I wore a frilly little lace number, was I sexy? If I stuck with a plain white cotton Hanes-Her-Way, was I boring?
What would the angels say — those leggy ones here on Earth — where strategically placed lingerie was the mandatory dress code?
With this newfound perspective on the bra came the awareness that my decision to “free-boob” it, as my boyfriend termed it, was no longer a personal choice I could make at will. Not only did my bra-bereft chest have the potential to classify what type of person I was — it was also a social faux pas.
Wasn’t that part of my life over? I asked, wondering if I would ever know what it would be like to keep the details of my bra — or lack thereof — to myself. Memories of adolescent angst growing up in a small, suburban town just outside Manhattan were suddenly brought to light in vivid detail: Coltish, pre-teen blondes snapping my A-cup bra straps. Their haughty laughter ringing in my ears as I longingly glanced at their own B- and C-cupped breasts, which filled each dainty bra to an eye-pleasing level. In those days, I had been the flat girl. No, worse: I had been the flat girl in a no-name bra.
Perhaps, I thought, bras would be less complicated if they weren’t the pricey, glorified gauze they are today. Once called a mastodeton, the first bra made its debut in Greece nearly 7,000 years ago when it was used to cover or restrain during physical activity. Its main purpose: to support the chest.
These days, however, bras aren’t just for support. In fact, the majority— specially those overpriced shards of filmy material — are barely suitable for such an endeavor. And this, I believe, is where the fear factor comes into play. Most women believe the bra will help to preserve the youthful shape of the breasts, which naturally sag as we age. And it is this very same idea, not surprisingly, that bra manufacturers manage to promote.
And, like a cheating spouse, bras lead double lives. While some are made to hide and conceal, others — of much the same construct — are used to accentuate and allure. In fact, there are a variety of bras for a variety of situations. There are push-up bras for the protruding-impaired and minimizing bras for the heavy-chested. There are convertible bras for women who like to be properly concealed no matter what the shirt, and padded bras for those cold winter days. Then there are the flashy, often flimsy, demi and shelf bras that have no other purpose than to barely conceal, thus delivering a deliberate sexual message. There are even training bras for young girls, a crash course in what the rest of your life with boobs will feel like.
But there is one thing most bras have in common as far as I’m concerned: they are all uncomfortable. Lace itches, underwires cut into my rib cage, tight straps leave marks on my shoulders and form unattractive rolls on my back, and those little metal hooks bend and break so easily. In short, although I am far from flat, the alternative is just far too alluring. The bouncing I can live with; the constricting and the pinching I can do without.
For now, to appease my boyfriend and avoid unnecessary stereotyping, I will wear a bra when the situation calls for it.
When I head to the gym and hit the treadmill, for example, the need is real. When I wear a tight T-shirt and it just so happens to be white, society demands it of me.
But when there’s no one around to tell me otherwise, believe me, the bra stays in the drawer.
If Music Be The Food Of Love, Play On
As I closed the apartment door and took off my mask a strange out-of-body experience descended on me. The room was quiet and the lights were dimmed. Adele was playing. There were strange smells and sounds coming from the kitchen. I turned to the left and found my boyfriend in the most alarming position; he was cooking me dinner. Little beads of perspiration began to settle above my top lip and my heartbeat increased. I didn’t know how to navigate the situation; I mean, what was this perverse behavior anyway?
Coming face to face with romance today is like being transported to some foreign country where we don’t understand the customs. Should I thank him mercilessly? Do I pretend it’s no big deal, happens all the time? I knew romance existed, but I filed it away long ago along with other things I’d given up on, like hailing the cash cab.
I love a good romantic story, just give me John Cusack holding a stereo above his head or a couple of animated dogs sharing a plate of spaghetti, and you’ll find me balled up with Kleenex and a far away look, but the fantasy ends right there. When I see a man walk down the street with flowers, I don’t think to myself “Oh, how romantic;” I’m thinking, “oooooo, I wonder what he did.”
A century and a half ago, poets Robert and Elizabeth Browning exchanged love letters that still exist today. He wrote to her:
“You have given me the highest, completest proof of love that ever one human being gave another. I am all gratitude, and all pride (under the proper feeling which ascribes pride to the right source) all pride that my life has been so crowned by you.”
The sentiments of men and women today are a far cry from those of Mr. and Mrs. Browning. Today rather than exchanging love letters, we exchange text messages, and instead of being open and forthcoming with our feelings, we make it a goal to appear as emotionally aloof as possible.
Is romance a lost art? Was is simply a passing fad like shoulders pads or ratted hair? The ways of courting have changed drastically even over the last sixty years. When my mom describes her dating experience as a teenager, I can’t even picture the scenario in color. “The young man would show up to my house dressed in his full school uniform with all the medals. He would take a seat in the living room and chat with my father. Then my Dad would call me down stairs. I made my entrance, took my date’s arm, and we left for the party.”
When I was a teenager, my boyfriend would honk his horn from the driveway and I would dash to the front seat of his Isuzu Rodeo before any parental interrogation could ensue. When did dating go from formal and chivalrous to casual and uncouth? Sixty years ago, a man showing up for a first date wearing a coat and tie and holding a bouquet of flowers was common courtesy. Today, a man is off to a good start if he’s on time to the restaurant and silences his blackberry?
What happened from then to now?
Did the free loving mentality of the late 1960’s and early 70’s diminish romance by making monogamy undesirable? Why would a man spend time wooing one woman when a single individual could never satisfy him? Was it our parents who put good old-fashioned courting rituals to bed by bringing up a generation that doesn’t understand the value of working for things they want? Sixteen year olds today expect Range Rovers on their birthday; sixty years ago if you wanted some wheels, you had to work after school and on the weekends to earn them. Have we become too sexually free a society to even appreciate the need for romance? If I recall correctly, I never learned about the sacredness of “my flower” in sex education class but committed to memory the early signs of Chlamydia. Sexual education is important, but I can’t think of a more efficient way to suck romance out of the world than a coed tutorial on pubic lice.
Women were the key players in pushing old styles of courtship out of the picture. We fought for equality, and we have made significant progress. We still make eighty cents to the man’s dollar, but that’s a hell of a lot better than the sixty-four cents we earned in 1951. Women have emerged from their shells powerful and courageous. We aren’t afraid to be impolite or opinionated, and we’re not scared to be smart or funny either. Women today can talk about anything; comedian Sarah Silverman makes her living by being crass and witty and saying the word diarrhea as many times as possible in a half hour segment.
Years ago, we fussed over women like it seemed they might break. All of our protecting and escorting and chauffeuring told the world that women were the weaker sex. When women cut the reins that held them back, relationships are healthier for it. A new kind of romance exists today, one based on real love rather than societal norms and mores. Today two people come together as equals, and marriage is there as an option, not as a woman’s only option.
When flowers and candy make an appearance in a relationship today, they carry more meaning than they did years ago. Couples today live together before they get married, and if they live in New York City, they most likely share a one-bedroom apartment. You can’t hide your irritating habits, your frequent bouts with insanity, or your occasional passing of gas when you live with someone. The man standing on the stoop sixty years ago with flowers in his hand isn’t going to see his date’s apartment, let alone move in. When someone sees you at your ugliest and most neurotic, and that someone brings you flowers for no good reason: those flowers are romantic. It’s romantic when your boyfriend cleans your apartment because he knows you’ve had a long day at work, and it’s romance when a man wants you to succeed even if it means less time with him. It’s romantic when a man goes to the drug store to buy you medicine without even having to ask, and it’s romantic when a man takes an interest in the things that interest you. It’s romantic when a man thinks you are just as sexy in a dress as you are in a power suit.
I for one am glad the 1950’s dating style was put to rest; it was an impersonal routine set in place by a society that didn’t give women enough credit. I do however think it wise that we drop the cavalier exteriors we’ve put on and share our feelings like the poets of our past. But in the mean time I can smile about the romantic language of today, those thoughtful, unexpected expressions of a love that is real.
You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover
It all happened because my roommate was drinking.
She gets bold when she’s been drinking, and on Wednesday night, she’d been drinking a lot. So when the tall handsome man walked in and sat down at the bar, he had already piqued her interest. And then he pulled out a book and started reading. At the bar. Then she couldn’t resist.
“I walked up to him and asked if he was waiting for someone,” she recounted to me later that night. “And he said no. So I sat down and I said, “You need to go on a date with my roommate.”
This was not how I had expected this story to go.
“Bea. He’s perfect for you. He’s tall. He’s handsome. He reads at the bar. He was wearing a belt, goddamit. A BELT. Do you know how put together that is? That’s like… an adult.”
I’ve got 7 years on my roommate. She’s very mature for her age, but I still sometimes feel like her big sister. And here she was setting me up on a date. With a man. A man who wears belts. Belts that match his shoes, no less. There was more, I learned. “It was a philosophy book, Bea. He was reading about the philosophy of that family you like. You know, the president. The Camelot. The…” – she found the word – “The Kennedys! Perfect. He was made for you. I told him about you and showed him your Facebook photo. I gave him my card. He’s gonna email me if he wants to meet you.”
This was Wednesday night.
I ran through the possibilities. It could be the beginning of an amazing relationship. He sounded promising. As for the convoluted nature of the match, if anybody could make this work, I could. And hey, there’s no way this would end up being as bad as some of the other horrendous blind dates that I’ve been on. And there have been many.
Fast forward to Thursday night. We were meeting at a high-class but low-key pub that was a couple of blocks from his hotel and a few blocks from my apartment. As I walked up the sidewalk, I spotted him coming out of the Palomar. Tall? Yes. Handsome? Very all-American Prom King. Put together? Decidedly: suave sleeve roll, a confident gait, an amazing pair of jeans. I looked for the belt – check – and the shoes – check. Wow. Nice shoes. Things were looking up.
“Joe?” I said. He was surprised I had recognized him on the street, but really, how many tall handsome men are walking from the Palomar to the pub on the corner at exactly 9:28PM? We found a spot at the bar and I ordered a Hefeweizen to show that I could drink a beer and wasn’t one of those wine spritzer girls (whom I disdain). And then he ordered an Old Fashioned. I blinked twice, impressed, and thought, “I should have ordered my whiskey.”
That was the peak of the night.
It all went downhill from there, starting with an awkward, precipitous drop.
“So you were reading at the bar?” My opening gambit.
“Yes” he said, smiling. “It’s actually a great book. It’s all about how Aristotle Onassis orchestrated Kennedy’s assassination.”
I was stunned into silence for a hot second. Not that it was a huge loss that he wasn’t actually reading a philosophy book at a bar – that’s a bit much, even for me – but giving credence to the most ridiculous conspiracy theory I’d ever heard? Even Mel Gibson channeling Jerry Fletcher would have scoffed at this idea. But tall handsome belted man was totally convinced. So I told him he was crazy.
“No, it’s true. Turns out, Jackie Kennedy was screwing this Onassis dude while she was still in the White House.”
I really should have stood up and walked out. Never mind the ridiculous conspiracy theory. Never mind that, even despite the weak tenets of the Camelot myth, there’s no way on God’s green earth that Jacqueline Kennedy was cheating on Jack while she was First Lady. But he had used the words “screwing” and “Jackie Kennedy” in the same sentence. Nobody talks about Jackie that way. Nobody.
But no, I stuck around. I’m a glutton for punishment. And I figured the magical powers of the whiskey gods would somehow transform crass and dim to charming and bright. After all, whiskey is pretty powerful stuff.
But it’s not that powerful.
Because then I was regaled with a charming story about how it took him seven years to get out of a state school with what he admitted was “the easiest major I could get for the least amount of credits.” Alright, I’m a snob. I value my college degrees, perhaps a little over much. This isn’t to say I don’t respect and admire quality human beings who passed on the B.A. and skipped straight to meaningful contributions to the world. But if you’re going to college, try at college. Try at something while you’re there. And if you’re on a first encounter, do not ever tell a woman who (clearly) reveres the hierarchy of higher ed. with stories about how you lived in your parents’ discarded station wagon for your first three years on campus and couldn’t make it to class because you were too busy experimenting with drugs.
Me: “Your parents were paying your tuition and you were skipping class to do ecstasy? Seriously?”
Him: “My parents could afford it.”
Now, maybe he was just unlucky. Maybe he was trying to sound like a nonchalant bad boy who was well enough off in the world to not worry about little things like paying for a college degree. Maybe he never even considered that the girl knocking back the (now whiskey) sitting next to him had recently sent off her last loan payment with a kiss because she recognized the value in something she wanted, worked at it, earned high honors at it, and then continued to work for it for 8 more years. So he spews out some words and suddenly I’m mentally comparing two scenes: Me, discussing Kierkegaard’s perception of divinity with my favorite professor before scurrying off to sit in the library basement and file law school manuals as an assiduous work study student (admittedly, a glorified scene). And him, high in the back of a Buick somewhere in rural Pennsylvania, an unopened brand new copy of Calculus for Business Majors discarded on the floor as he pisses away his parents’ money and ignores their phone calls (admittedly, probably not his actual college experience). That’s what flashed through my brain.
Looking back, I’m embarrassed that I continued to sit there. Maybe it was boredom. Maybe it was laziness. Maybe part of me was entertaining the idea of actually going out a second time with this giant useless person, only so that internally, resolutely, emphatically, I could reassure myself: “Yes. Yes, I would rather be eternally single than subject myself to a repeat encounter like this one.” I’m pretty sure at one point I played a high-stakes game of mental either/or. “If you had to choose, either marry this belted moron or join the convent,” to which the very core of my being rang out with some out of context Shakespeare: “Get thee to a nunnery!”
In the countless debriefs I’ve had since then (the story gets better every time), I’ve decided a number of things. 1) Always give it a shot. You never know when your beer-emboldened roommate might set you up with a winner. 2) The story is always worth it. Whether he’s great or horrible, the experience will bear recounting. And 3) Though I try to be accepting (really, I do), I reserve the right to be pretentious and close-minded about a select few things. Things like respecting the value of the dollar, pursuing knowledge when you’re afforded the opportunity, not glorifying drug habits, and of course: Jackie’s uncompromising fidelity.
And that’s a true story.
New York City’s seven deadly sins.
New York City is a concrete jungle; an intricate network of territorial aristocratic hierarchies and artistic animals that make the treacherous Amazon rainforest seem like an elementary school playground. Predators prey on the weak—the insecure, the vulnerable, the I-don’t-know-who-I-am-or-what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up. You can visually place a total stranger on the societal food pyramid simply by people watching while walking down the street. New Yorkers are constantly on their hustle. Every day is a grind. You must have an “eat or be eaten mentality,” or else the city itself will devour you alive. If you’re not careful, it’ll swallow you whole.
New Yorkers are a particular species of predators in the animal kingdom. We have a primal instinct to succeed—to “kill it” in an interview or a presentation. Success is the key to our survival and to move up the social hierarchy so we can transition from prey to predator. Residents of the concrete jungle do not truly become citizens until they’ve lived in the city for 10 years, at least. Overtime, New Yorkers develop unique characteristics and defense mechanisms that double as survival techniques. Las Vegas may be the city of sin, but it has no comparative street credit to the daily debauchery that ensues in the office or late at night in the underground raves in the Big Apple. Strangely enough, these survival tools mimic the seven deadly sins.
Anyone who lives in New York first moved to the metropolis out of lust, an intense desire to be at the center of the world. There are over one million centers of the universe within the five boroughs overflowing with vanity, consumed by greed, and erupting with wrath—the city’s certainly not for the faint of heart.
Ambitious lust begins our pilgrimage into the jungle, a drove of lustful rodents anxious to spread the seeds of our talents. But the centers of our social complex which crave instant gratification evolve so rapidly that envy becomes our new motivator—well, more like our slave driver. Every few blocks, the city transforms into a different landscape – extravagant buildings, bustling businesses, and bodacious billboards—all highlighting the materials that could someday be at your disposal. A destination just around the corner for the person with the right attitude and the right income. If you work hard, you could be the next CEO sitting high on Park Avenue.
The moment you get a fresh kill of success – a new apartment, an unsuspected promotion, or even a stranger on the subway telling you that you’re beautiful (hey, you have to appreciate the small victories), it immediately goes to your head. You ego swells with the surge of accomplishment. “Vanity, is definitely my favorite sin.”
Sloths are the scavengers the concrete jungle, animals who fail to kill success on their own, so they scrounge for the scraps left by predators that have climbed up the food chain. So we traipse and trample over them, unconcerned with their growing population because we foresee their extinction. We blindly pass them by on the street dozens of times every day. The homeless, the mentally unstable, the unemployed— creatures undignified to be called adversaries and unworthy of adequate predatory attention. They were once potential predators; but then got eaten by powerful fish and couldn’t compete in the struggle for success.
But with power comes the poisonous attraction of greed. Monkeys who asks, “How high?” when our superiors say, “Jump!” We do what we have to in order to survive. We perform tasks beneath us, fetching coffee, photocopying the newsletters—bitch work to be precise. Each mundane assignment keeps you in the game, and you have to pay homage to the lions who lead their pride before you can create your own.
But you have to watch your back in the city because there are societal piranhas at every turn, envious cats patiently biding their time. Stalking their prey, waiting to gobble up your hard work and claim responsibility. Everyone has an agenda. You quickly learn to be cautious and suspect anyone of betrayal, even yourself.
Greed gradually becomes gluttony. We treat ourselves to 1 or 2 or 10 after work cocktails or test our inhibitions with illegal substances bought from a nest of rattlesnakes, a network of serpents with venom to inject into our veins. We are pigs, rolling around in our own filthy mess addicted to the excess of success. Our cups are full to the brim, indulgences satisfied, every desire satiated with material items or its monetary equivalent. And yet, we are empty shells.
Sloths often receive the wrath of rattlesnakes, predators whose cursed existence is plagued with slithering the underbelly of society in order to succeed. Like the Amazon rainforest, the big predators here are nocturnal. The city never sleeps. After the sun sets, the city becomes New York City is nocturnal. Rattlesnakes prey on those that need a little pick-me-up to stay on their feet. Drug dealers can always sell their poison after midnight after midnight.
New York City is alive with its own ubiquitous energy. The metropolis hums tunes of chaos. Those of us, who thrive instead of throttle in its grips, do so because the madness is music to our ears.
If Men Had to Wear Them It Would be a Different Story !
The Chinese outlawed binding the feet of girls and young women in 1912. They see it as a form of torture.
Sometimes while riding the subway into work in the morning I play a game called “What percentage of women in this car are wearing heels?” Since it’s almost always 50 percent or more, I’m comfortable using this data to say that I am in the minority, as I have never worn a pair of heels to work. Or a job interview. Or really any formal function, unless I’m in the wedding party.
Going to a hyper-liberal, crunchy granola arts college, I guess I just got comfortable in flats. And clogs, though my more fashion-conscious friends finally held an intervention regarding my proclivity to wear clogs to a bar. It wasn’t really the kind of place that heels made any kind of appearance, ever. Just try to picture wearing a pair of “fuck-me” pumps at a bonfire in the woods, scavenging for kindling in the mud.
Since joining the professional world, I’ve had to give up a lot of my preferred personal style. In came the bras and blazers, out went the “I Survived the Trump Administration” t-shirt, pedicures, goodbye, nose piercing. I’ve had to learn the art of blowing out my hair and have even started wearing makeup on a regular basis. I guess getting over my aversion to heels is the last big step (no pun intended) in becoming a working woman. But I just can’t shake this feeling that I shouldn’t have to take the plunge.
People are always shocked to hear that I don’t wear heels. “But you’re so short! You must look like a child next to your coworkers.” “What about wedges? You can always get a cute pair of wedges.” “If you get the insoles, they’re really not that uncomfortable.” “But they make you feel so sexy! I love walking in heels, I feel like I’m walking down a runway.” I’ve heard it all.
But here’s the thing: I hate heels, both in theory and in practice. Allegedly, Marilyn Monroe once said, “I don’t know who invented high heels, but women owe him a lot.” (I say allegedly because I’ve seen at least one million girly quotes attributed to her and I have a hard time believing she just sat around spouting off these gems all day.) And Christian Louboutin has been quoted as calling heels “empowering for women in a way.” I’m sorry, but I’m just not buying it.
They’re just totally impractical. I’m a speed walker. One of those rare freaks of nature that enjoys being in a rush; it’s actually kind of my autopilot. And sometimes speed walking isn’t even an option, it’s a necessity. Gotta catch the last train? Time to book it. Slept in and running late? Pick up the pace. In flats, you’re golden. But in heels, forget it. You’re going down, Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality style. Not to mention the fact that heels were totally made for men’s aesthetic enjoyment. Slim the legs and lift the ass, give height to the woman who’s not model-tall. I’m sorry, but what does that really do for me?
That is apart from long term damage to to my calves, ankles and the delicate bone structure of my feet. And you wear high heels, why?
There are a lot of things I’ll change about my appearance for the sake of professionalism, but I just don’t see the correlation when it comes to heels. And for all my friends who act like my choice is some kind of radical movement: if that’s how you want to see it, cool. Just promise me at least once this week you’ll give kicking off the heels a try. Your feet will thank you.
🎶 I Don’t Eat Animals and They Don’t Eat Me 🎶 Melanie Safka
A striking fact now rendered familiar, even platitudinous, by the triumphs of recent genetic science is how closely all living things are related. Humans share more than half their genes with worms and fruit-flies, and almost all their genes with chimpanzees. Yet this intimate familyhood of life does not stop people from spearing worms onto fish-hooks, or testing drugs on chimpanzees. Nothing surprising there, you might say, given the way humans treat humans; in the face of gas chambers, racism, war and other avocations, what chance has a monkey or a cow?
There are lessons to be learned from the way humans justify their treatment of animals – not least of those evolutionarily closest to them – namely, the apes. Apes, especially gorillas, have long been demonized in film and literature. Their similarity to us is used not as proof of kindred, but as a means of symbolizing the supposed bestiality within us. Thus when Dr Jekyll drinks his potion he exposes a mythologized savage inheritance; his hands grow hairy, his brow beetles, his teeth enlarge: he becomes a horrifying gorilla-man.
If it is not violence it is stupidity which marks the ape, betokened by tree-swinging, armpit-scratching and gibbering. You insult a person if you call him an ape. Yet apes are intelligent, inquisitive, affectionate and sociable, with capacities for suffering and grief that match our own, and with a grave beauty and dignity which recalls Schopenhauer’s remark that ‘There is one respect in which brutes show real wisdom when compared to us – I mean their quiet, placid enjoyment of the present moment.’
There is a parallel between our excuses for maltreating apes and those for maltreating fellow humans. We locate a difference that we find threatening, or that we despise; we thereby make the other fully Other, so that we can close the door of the moral community against him, leaving him outside where our actions cannot be judged by the same standards as apply within. Racism and speciesism are thus the same thing – they are myths about who belongs and who is alien.
In their book The Great Ape Project published some years ago, Paola Cavalieri and Peter Singer entered a plea for humankind to ‘admit our fellow Great Apes – the chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans – to the same moral community as ourselves, thereby according them rights to life, to liberty, and to protection against torture – especially the kind of torture inflicted in the name of scientific research.’ In the face of the genetic and behavioural evidence, there is no good reason why the moral respect and consideration that applies between humans should not apply between humans and apes. But note: the moment that the boundaries of morality are extended in this way, there is no obvious place to stop. All animate nature comes within the purview of ethics; and that, arguably, is as it should be.
The world divides into vegetarians and those that eat them. Thoreau wrote, ‘I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other.’ There are plenty who argue that it is not immoral to eat a cow, especially if it has lived well beforehand. Lovers of cats and dogs would think it cruel to eat their pets, though, and once again the reason is the boundary: cats and dogs, horses and even hamsters, have become quasi-citizens of the human world, and our treatment of them is premised on the same kind of concern for their interests as we show to other humans. We would not crowd dogs into a closed lorry as we do sheep when they are sent on long export journeys; that is a happy fact. But it is an unhappy fact that we crowd sheep into lorries, for sheep can suffer thirst and panic just as dogs – and humans – do.
Humanity’s record with animals is poor. ‘We have enslaved the rest of the animal creation,’ wrote Dean Inge, ‘and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form.’ Some think that sentimental do-goodery over animals is a distraction from more significant moral matters. Perhaps; but a person’s integrity is never more fully tested than when he has power over a voiceless creature; and the route from pulling wings off flies to committing crimes against humanity is not a notably circuitous one.
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of … Property?
Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: One of the most famous quotes in American history by one of our most beloved forefathers, Thomas Jefferson. But how many of us remember the phrase was actually taken and changed from property to happiness as found in the writings of 17th century English philosopher John Locke? And what’s more how many realise we have lapsed back into Locke’s original concept. That owning ‘stuff’ IS now the secret. But inalienable are rights granted to every American by the Declaration of Independence, which just happens to include a very key word, and that key word being happiness.
Happiness. It is an extremely fuzzy concept. We all want it and those that were born in America believe that it is our right. I mean, the Declaration of Independence even states that it is a right. Other countries have something similar: mottos just like ours, except nowhere will you find the word ‘happiness’. They instead chose to use words like fraternity, freedom, prosperity, or security of person and we use ‘happiness’. Something that is so hard to define and can be an extremely objectionable concept. However so, we want it, we deserve it, and we’ll do anything to get it. We pursue it like ravenous animals because America says we deserve it and it would un-American not to pursue it right? Right? But what if Thomas Jefferson was wrong to say that the pursuit of happiness was an unalienable right? What if thinking we are entitled to happiness is actually making us unhappy? Just hear me out.
We are told that happiness is our right. We deserve it and it should be ours to have and keep. However, if we look at Jefferson’s statement we may find that it is quite a dangerous and loaded sentence. It makes us think that pursuing happiness is American and is something we are actually granted by our almighty Declaration. So what do we do? Like following a commandment, we do exactly as we are ‘told’ by our founding fathers. We strive for this amazing state of bliss, this amazing high, where we might live in a constant state of happiness. But unfortunately happiness is not constant and is instead extremely fleeting and it could even be considered as a deviation from the norm. It is an abnormal feeling and an abnormal state of being that has symptoms, almost like a disease. Similar to an orgasm, happiness is a rush of fantastic feelings and like an orgasmic high, you always find yourself coming back down from this rush. But we find ourselves addicted to it and happiness has become our drug. A drug given to us by our own nation. We are consumed by this cycle and it dictates our lives
We spend so much of our lives in this constant, often futile, search for happiness. We are obsessed and it rules our lives. We look for it in things, consumption and people, and we use food, sex, alcohol, and even in some extremes, other drugs, to try to achieve it. It is a customized and different realization for everyone and like a drug addiction, elicits a different reaction from each individual, and we are obsessed. Like a hungry crack addict rocking back and forth, we itch for our next happiness fix. We are addicted to happiness. We are constantly engaged in this pursuit but what most of us do not realize is that the consciousness of the pursuit is what makes actually makes us unhappy. The uneasy feeling of not being always happy disturbs us. We find ourselves feeling unsatisfied more than satisfied and we are constantly aware of the absence of good, rather than realizing and appreciating the good we already have. We as Americans are lacking appreciation. We have perverted Jefferson’s concept of happiness by equating it with instant gratification, consumption, and entitlement, which can never be fulfilled or sustained because we’re a nation looking for our next ‘fix’. We are a ‘happiness addicted’ nation.
This pursuit that Jefferson stated was a given right those many years ago, set us Americans up for failure. The idea was a dangerous one, preceded by John Locke’s “Life, Liberty, and Property. In the land of the free, we are given the opportunities to reach out for what we want. We are taught that through hard work and determination we can achieve anything. We can pursue happiness but we have turned into a nation that bases happiness on what we have: property. We are obsessed with money, expensive things, big homes and fancy cars… this is what we think happiness is all about. But think about when you are actually most happy… it usually is not when you’ve just bought a new car. That feeling is fleeting and it usually is not when you have actively pursued it either, but instead when happiness has pursued you. Stumbling upon happiness makes us most happy, thinking about the already great things in our lives make us happy, things like family, friends, or even our unique place in this vast world. When we stop chasing and hunting for the things we don’t have, we start to realize the good things in our life that we do have.
Happiness is like a disease we want. It is a deviation from the norm: it is an abnormal feeling and an abnormal state of being that has symptoms and can even be considered contagious. It controls our lives and we reach for it in everything we do. Happiness fuels our lives, it makes us want to get out of bed and go after what we want. We all want that high; it is what we live for and what keeps us going. Like an addict needing their next fix, we are addicted to happiness. We all crave it, we’ll do anything to get it, and yes, we do deserve it… we are just not guaranteed it.
Most of us, if we think about the good in our lives, are actually already happy. We Americans are extremely fortunate. We are a country of ‘haves’, not ‘have-nots’. So enjoy it. Jefferson may have been right in his initial thinking of the pursuit of happiness, but our current interpretation of ‘the pursuit of happiness’ may be the real problem. Happiness is what I want and what I’m sure you want too, it is why I do what I do and why I pursue my dreams, but understanding what actually makes us happy is what is most important. My family, friends, meeting new people and learning about new things make me most happy, it is not the car in the driveway, or the money in my wallet (although it does make life easier).
Our founding fathers were insightful by putting it in our Constitution. This is the land of the free and happiness addicted, and that may be quite fine, as long as we do not forget why Jefferson put it in our Declaration of Independence. There was a purpose for why he included ‘the pursuit of happiness’ instead of ‘property’. It is not about how much stuff you have or how much more stuff you have than the person sitting next to you. That may make you happy for a moment, but that moment is truly fleeting and will never last. This is America, the land of dreams, and the land of the free… the land of the free and happiness addicted. So pursue happiness but do not lose sight of what happiness really is and what Jefferson really meant. There may have been a reason Jefferson changed John Locke’s original phrase, allowing for happiness to be so much more than just property. We do have the right to be happy, and if we stop and take a moment to realize what we have and change own modern interpretation of this famous quote, we may realize we already have happiness. It is all about appreciation, so appreciate life and stay ‘addicted’ to the happiness you already have.
Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt
– Mark Twain
“Human creativity is a sword that cuts both ways,” one of my professors of psychology liked to say. “We’ve created electricity and jets and space travel, but we can also create ideologies and myths that generate tremendous suffering.” He would then go on to list the ways our personalities cause us problems. At the top of his list was denial. At the same time, denial is essential to our emotional health.
Without the ability to deny certain facts that threaten our survival, we’d be paralyzed with fear. Denial is so important that it even has its own category: ego defense mechanism. It’s a structural part of our personality in the same way that bones are a structural part of our anatomy. There’d be no walking without bones. Our personality couldn’t develop without mechanisms to defend it.
Think of denial as a kind of thick metal mesh around your mind that protects you from falling objects that keep crashing into your life. For instance:
• Your forty-year old high school buddy just died of a brain tumor but you deny that it could happen to you. • A friend was just laid off and you need a heavy dose of denial to get through the work day. But again, denial is a two-edged sword that can also act to your detriment. It can prevent you from realizing that dating the still-married Bradley is a colossal mistake (despite his claim “I’m filing for a divorce”). Or that having that extra drink at the party might kill you (“I can drive just fine”). Or that taking that expensive exotic vacation isn’t actually a good deal (“I can easily pay it off later”). And there’s an important additional component at work: denial doesn’t operate alone. It’s linked to an assortment of other ego defense mechanisms. Principally fantasy and delusion, along with symbolization, sublimation and projection. The purpose of these mental processes is to soften up reality so it can fit into your mind. This softening allows you to keep on living without paralyzing levels of conflict.
In my twenty-five years as a psychotherapist I’ve learned a great deal about how frequently people use these ego defense mechanisms in their daily lives, utterly unaware of how they’re inflicting great injury on their relationships and personal happiness. However, the incident that inspired me to write the book Emotional Bullshit (Tarcher/Penguin publishers) actually occurred in my family’s dining room. I was discussing college applications with my then-teenage daughter, and becoming more and more frustrated as she denied both the urgency and complexity of the applications. She finally slipped into a delusional reality in which she’d complete them all within hours. Finally, frustrated with my demand for a more realistic assessment, she blamed me for hassling her. When she stalked out of the room I complained to my wife, “It’s such bullshit! Doesn’t she see what she’s doing?”
I started making notes, putting those three behaviors into sequence. I labeled them the Toxic Trio: denial, delusion and blame. Denial ignores or minimizes an essential fact or responsibility. Delusion creates an alternate, distorted reality. Then, when things fall apart, blame shifts the responsibility onto someone or something else. As I considered these three common dynamics, I realized how easily all of us become stuck in these closely linked cognitive processes. Denial, as mentioned, is inextricably linked with delusion (fantasy, sublimation) because when we deny an essential fact, it creates a factual vacuum. Since vacuums cannot exist in nature, something rushes in to fill the now-empty space. Delusion and fantasy creatively expand to fit any space. So when Bradley says he thinks you’re cute and sexy, and the neurochemicals dedicated to sex start gushing into your bloodstream, Bradley denies his ethical obligation to his wife and tells you that he is filing for divorce. In that moment, in his mind, he and his wife are already separated. Your delusion receptors fasten onto his denial and pump it up until it towers over you like a fire-breathing bomb. Now you are seeing Bradley as a single man, so having sex is now (delusionally) ethical. After all, both of you are ethical people who wouldn’t think of having an affair if one of you was actually married!
The third part of the Toxic Trio, blame, shows up when the delusional reality falls apart, as delusions always do. When Bradley decides to stay with his wife, or further sneaking around becomes untenable, reality hits. Then blame takes over. Bradley is now a lying bastard. Or the blame turns inward and you blame yourself: I’m a stupid fool. Which can lead to severe depression. That’s the Toxic Trio at work:
• Denial masks an essential fact.
• Delusion fills in for whatever fact is ignored or minimized.
• Blame shifts the responsibility for the resulting disaster onto someone else.
Or something else. Such as destiny: It Was Meant To Be. This same scenario adapts to every possible human behavior. Look at the act of ordering French fries when your doctor has warned you about your high cholesterol and carrying twenty extra pounds. First you deny the essential fact that this helping of extra fat and calories really do count. Next, delusion kicks in: it’s Friday and you deserve a treat. Then, when your heart races while climbing a flight of stairs, blame comes to the rescue—it’s the fault of your parents and their poor eating habits. Or you were born with a weak metabolism. The power behind denial and delusion is fused into our creative hard-wiring. We’re all designed with a potent willingness to believe in magic. People everywhere find mystical explanations for ordinary phenomena. That’s why people can maintain a delusion for years, even decades, despite solid evidence to the contrary. Some people still believe that smoking isn’t really all that bad. Nations can maintain a delusion for centuries, fueled by past glory.
A delusional belief system (national or personal) endures longest when economic or social benefits support it. Bigotry, for example, thrives because it provides emotional, economic or social benefits to those who sustain it. The same is true for the individual delusional system. For instance, David believes that working 70 hours a week is essential to success. When his family life falls apart because he’s never home, David simply denies the validity of his family’s needs, finding solace within the world of success. Then he blames his spouse and kids for not being grateful for his sacrifices. It’s a neat package that protects David from personal responsibility.
That’s the ultimate payoff of the Toxic Trio: It allows us to avoid personal responsibility. What’s the antidote? It’s amazingly simple: a frontal assault on the denial of essential facts. Which is accomplished by focusing on your Core Needs, your long-term best interests. Let’s use a committed relationship as an example. You’ve been with J. for five years and really want the relationship to succeed. What’s the most essential fact about successful relationships? They require ongoing nurturing and care. This means spending time together doing fun things in an atmosphere of positive energy. So you make these activities a priority. You plan ahead, do research about interesting activities, and involve J. in the discussion. Now J. sees that you’re committed to nurturing the relationship.
And when the inevitable tribulations show up, you don’t allow the Toxic Trio to sabotage your plans by denying the essential fact (that you need to nurture your relationship), or lapse into a delusional reality (I can spend time with J. later). Nor do you blame J. for not being proactive and appreciative. You focus on fulfilling your Core Need—having a good time together. This process requires emotional maturity because you don’t allow yourself to be side-tracked by petty emotional struggles. You don’t allow self-indulgence to sabotage your intention. The same template applies when your teenager son comes home way past curfew. Your Core Need is building your long-term relationship with him and not indulging yourself by yelling—or ignoring the infraction. So you calmly make an appointment to discuss the problem and come up with a reasonable consequence, which you enforce. All of life’s issues can be dealt with the same way. You fulfill your Core Need for financial security by not over-spending. You find time for family intimacy by not over-working.
Conclusion: Fulfilling uour Core Needs requires directly confronting the tendency to deny that a need exists, delusionally imagine it will get fulfilled by someone esle, and blaming everyone else for any difficulties involved. And that confrontation begins with facing the power of denial. Denial does make the world go round, but it doesn’t have to be the destructive energy driving your life.
True Love Ways
There are a million and five reasons you start to like someone. Or develop a crush on someone. Or start to date someone. Or marry someone. There’s typically a string of characteristics that you see in someone that combine in your mind to form a sort of platform for a prospective partner, someone you can share everything with. Maybe they’re cute, they’re funny, they’re easy-going. Maybe they’re not concerned with seemingly frivolous affairs, like, say, money? These were a few of the genius reasons I started dating my ex-boyfriend. Seems pretty harmless, doesn’t it? Lovely, actually. And he was, after all, all of those nice things. But exactly how do these initial points of attraction translate into the reality of sharing a relationship, and subsequently your life, with someone? Into reciprocal affection and concern for one another on a continual basis? Well, in my case, like shit.
Ideal scenario: My new boyfriend is so funny, he always makes me laugh. Sounds great, right? My new boyfriend is super laid-back and easy-going. Fabulous. My new boyfriend is so much fun to hang out with, we just always have a great time. Sounds fucking fantastic or what?! Sounds like an absolute fucking nightmare. These initial features seemed to be the framework for a long-lasting and stable bond. (Just keeping things rational!) Turns out, “stable” was just about the last adjective on the face of the earth that could have been used to describe our hellish little case. Instead, together we created one huge and strangely unique cluster fuck of neglect and vicious behavior over the course of nearly three years.
It started innocently enough. We were best friends, more or less inseparable. In retrospect, maybe being just friends was a recipe for disaster? After all, we pick our friends and boyfriends differently… right? Or maybe not. Maybe I just picked him because he had all the qualities I would want… in a friend. Which might not intrinsically seem like a bad thing. I mean, we do end up being so extremely close with our boyfriends or girlfriends that they actually do become our best friends. Don’t we? This is the type of rationalization that got me screwed. Because in reality, you don’t want to actually screw your best friend. Everyone knows that once you screw, everything else is screwed. And why would you want to screw up your friendship? It’s all very screwy. But when you meet someone who should be only your friend and nothing more, yet you ignore this instinct and spend all your time with them anyway… and you gradually develop a habit of strong cocktails and snuggling… well, you are going to screw. And get screwed. Trust me.
Once I got past the weirdness of translating my best friendship into the most functional form of a relationship I could manage, things were, well, different. Shocking, huh? Suddenly my new boyfriend was not my new boyfriend anymore. He was just my boyfriend. No more new. But what’s even weirder is the fact that the whole “friendship” we had spent a year building had vanished. No matter what you do, you can’t get a friendship back after taking such a big step away from it. This is less than desirable when the entire reason you started dating was because of your friendship. All that italicizing is necessary. It happens to be just about the most significant part of my story.
So when that blinding rush of NEW wasn’t quite there anymore, what happens? After a couple months, shock waves tend to fizzle. Reality hits, colors fade out. Moving from a realm of friendship and lightheartedness to a space of love and commitment is a mind-numbing web of confusion. There’s such finality to it. And there is definitely and most assuredly no turning back from it. I was certainly caught in that web for a while. And I was left with the reality of what it’s like to date your best friend. To make matters worse, sure enough, we shared all the exact same mutual friends. So things translated from friendship into romantic relationship life, like a fucking foreign language.
Well, guess what “funny” translated into? Sarcastic. Dry. Just plain mean. Never takes anything seriously. Never takes me seriously. Ever. EVER. One big bucket of laughs, huh? Guess what laid-back translated into? Zero personal effort, zero emotional effort, zero sanity for me. I think you get the picture but just for shits, guess what “a lot of fun” translated into? Oh, say, five, six nights a week spent heavily drinking? Sure. Plus a bi-weekly trip to the casino for good measure. Good times.
Now, for the record, I’m not actually angry with my ex-boyfriend and I don’t harbor negative or violent feelings for him. Because what did he do, really, other than be himself? He was exactly who I fell in love with. Exactly. He didn’t change a pinch. Did I even want him to change? Not really, that’s the thing. I loved him as a boyfriend for the same reasons I had loved him as a friend. Had I changed? To be honest, not really. I wanted the same things from start to finish. What had changed was the course of our friendship, our transition to a relationship, our relationship itself. Of course, we grew older, we changed. But I tend to think it was less about us changing and more about our efforts to transform an impossibility into a possibility.
So why is it that when (post-ridiculously-dramatic-break-up) I met a guy who was sweet, sane, and perfectly suitable for me, I promptly rejected the entire idea of him? He would have been perfect for me, treated me like gold. He – probably, most likely – wouldn’t be ditching me on anniversary dinner plans at the last minute to go to a strip club. So why was there not one thing about him that excited me? Is it just the chase? I don’t think so, I tire quickly. Is it the need to be the girl who can change the guy? I don’t think so, I’m far too dreamy for such work. Or is it just that no matter what, women like myself are drawn to men who are just no good for them? No matter what, those initial attractions, the very same ones that often draw us to be friends with someone, snowball into the exact qualities that drive us into a frenzied fury of mutual despair – even hatred – come closing time. But ask me today what characteristics I look for in a man. I dare you. Answer: Cute! Funny! Fun! Laid-back! What is the issue here? Well, for now, I don’t want to think about it. I am currently much too busy sleeping with a fresh new brand of cocky, self-important prick. And he’s totally adorable.
Men should be bewailed at their birth, and not at their death. – Montesquieu
When you think about it, it’s amazing that any woman would want to cohabitate with a man at all. Generally, men are messier, lazier, and less considerate. The only things they bring into a shared home are their X-Box, their old couch from college, and their dirty socks – oh, and their glorious presence, of course. But we’re willing to part with our hard-earned tranquility and order for the man we love. And we’re able to do this, in large part, due to one of the greatest differentiators between us and the animals: complete and utter denial.
Men have beer goggles; we have love goggles. We’re so enamored with the idea of amour, we are willing to overlook some glaring defaults in the programming, as it were. If your man forgets to do the dishes (everyday), well, he was busy. If he leaves his wet towel on the floor, it’s no big deal to pick it up for him, is it? If he goes out at all hours of the night and comes home blind drunk asking for a sandwich – well, going out with friends isn’t a crime now, is it? And ok, he’s never cooked you a meal, but you love cooking… and he did bring you Cheerios in bed that one time.
Oh yes, there is no end to the shit we will endure at the hands of our lovers. And despite all that Hallmark movie junk about the strength of women’s friendships, we will turn on a bitch quick if our friend dares to call out our boyfriend. Suddenly, the woman who knew you inside and out and was like a sister to you, well, who does she think she is? Your sister? She can’t talk about your man like that! What does she know? Admit it: we are fiercely loyal and territorial, and when a guy moves in with us, he becomes a part of our personal property. It’s an unforgivable affront if someone talks smack about our prop – I mean, boyfriend.
Now, we don’t just overlook a man’s faults because we are the kinder, more forgiving sex; we have an ulterior motive, of course. We think we can change them. Time and time again, we end up with dudes that are a “work in progress” because we see a “fixer-upper” that with a bit of fine-tuning and table manner lessons will become the polished, perfect man that we desire. (Men, take note: we are trying to change you. Always. If we say we love you just the way you are, we’re lying. What we mean is: we love you almost just the way you are, but you’d be even better if you would iron your shirts, change your taste in movies, pick up after yourself, and spend more time with our mothers).
We don’t sweat the small stuff, like the football posters he insisted on putting up in the TV room and the ragged sweatpants he actually wears out of the house, because we can, over time, cure him of these habits. Or so we think. What we inevitably learn after the first few attempts is that it’s surprisingly hard to rid an adult of a lifetime of personality traits and behaviors, and that if we do succeed in changing someone, it usually doesn’t turn out the way we want. People don’t like change at the best of times, and especially not when it’s against their will. Despite the fact that most men could use a bit of an overhaul, it’s not a nice feeling to be told you aren’t okay just the way you are. And you know it’s true, ladies. Deep down, we don’t really want a man so unsure of himself that he is willing to change who he is, anyway.
I’ll admit it; we are guiltier of this than men. When have you ever heard a guy say to his friend, “Lucy is a great chick, but she needs to learn how to dress. And the way she chews her food? I could kill her.” The key is, when you find someone who is truly right for you, the way they chew with their mouth open or insist on watching – fill in the blank – every Tuesday night won’t bother you, because you just love the person that they are, quirks and all. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves. Because unfortunately, there just isn’t enough of Harry Styles (or Brad Pitt) to go around.
Hi There Flakes! You Know Who You Are!
Friends that flake. You know, those people in your life who you genuinely enjoy spending time with–that is whenever you actually see them, of course.
You always invite them to events, big or small, on the Hail Mary of a chance that they’ll show up. Which they almost never do. Quote “60% of the time, it works, every time.”
Even when they initiate plans with you, they always bail. Whether it’s the day of or only an hour prior to go-time, you can basically predict the text that reads, “Hey, sorry, I totally forgot (insert bullshit excuse here). Can we raincheck?” And when they first flake, it’s no big deal, because hey, shit happens. But once they drop the plans you both have had on your calendar for weeks for what seems like the millionth time, it’s time to re-evaluate how much you value this person in your life. For those of you that are like me, the people that invite these oath-breakers out of sheer courtesy, start to ween them off your guest list. You’ve made it clear that you want to seem them. Let them prove how much they want to see you. They’ll either get the hint, or they’ll step into that black hole that contains everyone and everything you’ve forgotten since you were 5. You get your friend back, or you move on with your life. Win-win.
Three months into the new year, cast off that winter lethargy; it’s time to make good on those new Year’s resolutions.
You know how routines are. Even though you’ve come to despise them, you’d rather stay stuck than break out and try something new. Not that you don’t try occasionally. Oh, sure. You try. Every now and then, you muster all the courage and motivation you’ve got, and you say, “Okay, damnit. I’ve had it. There’s no way I’m spending another evening doing blank blank blank.” You’ll have to fill in the blanks here: does take-out in front of three hours of – name your binge – sound familiar?
The take-out, of course, comes from one of three possible menus, and you order pretty much the same dishes every time. If you’re lucky (maybe once a week), the evening will be capped off by sex (one of three possible menus, and you order pretty much the same dishes . . .). It seems like only weeks ago that you used to have small dinner parties and go to the movies on Friday. (“What happened to that couple we used to hang out with on weekends? Maybe we should call them.” “Don’t bother . . . they broke up.”)
Any suggestion of something different is met with defensiveness, hurt feelings, and extreme resistance. “But don’t you love our Chicken Chow Fun Thursdays, sweetie? Don’t you love me anymore?” Arguments and tears dissolve into ordering Chinese food and watching TV with renewed vigor and commitment. The Chow Fun tastes better than ever, and Seth Myers’s wit is almost too sparkling to bear. By the light of day, you curse yourself for being a coward, and resolve, once again, to break out of the box one day soon. Any day now.
Most of us have been there. Breaking out of those lazy routines always feels life-threatening, but nobody ever actually died from busting out of a slump. You can do it. Ruts like these are natural and human. Sooner or later, of course, they must be overcome — whether they’re caused by a stagnant relationship or by a season.
That’s right. A season. A season like winter. Or a pandemic like Covid 19
Setting aside for a moment all our reason and intelligence and opposable thumbs and whatnot (AND OF COURSE COVID 19) we’re animals. And no animal in his or her right mind would consider a visit to the Guggenheim and a walk through Central Park when it’s 18 degrees out and windy and sleeting sideways. It’s just not normal. Like our animal friends, we’re no idiots. By the time we get through with work and errands, get home and chip the ice off and warm our blood, the last thing we want to do is go out again. The difference is, when the bears hang the sign out that says “Hibernating — come back in May,” they don’t feel guilty about it. We do.
“I live in New York,” you cry, “and I never do anything!” Welcome to New York in March. And pandemic times. Nobody does anything. But I digress. Don’t feel guilty about staying inside. Shame is a notoriously bad motivator anyway, and it won’t get you out the door. It’s a complete waste of time. Just remember, the voice that tells you to stay inside is Dr Fauci’s and it’s not really a request.
It takes some effort and a bit of adjusting to get yourself out of the cave. I don’t even want to think about how shaggy and smelly those bears are when they emerge. In a sense, we’re no different — a few pounds heavier, possibly in need of a haircut, a little numb and dumb around the edges.
And indeed, you should check out that Guggenheim and take a walk in the park. Because yes, this is what being a New Yorker is all about. But when the weather gets bad again, don’t despair — surviving the high rents and the bad winters and the gridlock and the dirt and the noise is just as much a part of being a New Yorker . . . otherwise you’d just be a tourist.
ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE
C.S. Lewis examined the various natures of love in his book The Four Loves. He identified four predominate classifications based on ancient Greek understanding. There’s affection (storge), or a fondness that stems from familiarity. There’s friendship (philia) which marks the bond that exists because of mutual interest in something else. There’s romantic love (eros) which is less a sexual thing, and more the state of “being in love,” rose petals falling from the sky and all. And then there’s caritas (agape), the end-all, be-all, unconditional love. Storge, philia, and eros, are often qualified by a reflexive nature – you give, you receive. Only agape exists eternally, regardless of reciprocity.
But love is tricky, because it can stop being love before we notice. Lewis warned, “Love begins to be a demon the moment he begins to be a god.” And isn’t that the problem with today’s world? Most of the time, love is a commodity we feel is freely given, but eventually we come to find that it’s more costly than we ever knew. And so we become misers with our love, doling it out in piteous portions to only a few, to the ones who should love us back, in some feeble hope that we won’t deplete our stores. That’s hardly something to sing from the rooftops.
Exclusive Love, the love for one, or few, is an inborn necessity for survival. Daddy’s gotta love mama to carry on the family lineage. And mama’s gotta love her baby, or who would ever expect her to put up with the incessant wailing? But like with all things, too much of a good thing goes bad. There’s a fine line between exclusive love and selfishness or obsession, and it’s getting harder and harder to see. All too often, we love a person in expectation of the love we’ll get in return. Or we bypass that person altogether and commercialize love. Rock on hand, check. Two car garage, check. Hot hubby to bring home to high school reunion, check. Or perhaps worst of all, we surrender to the complete objectification of love, and we just love being in love, subject be damned. It’s all rather degrading, isn’t it? So when can we chuck our materialistic self-serving obsessive adoration of our own egos (love me, love me) and stop being so damn selfish?
You’d think that the more we look out at this great green earth and it’s magnitudes of beautiful, individual, special people, that we would be overwhelmed with some serious agape. The world and its people are amazing. Civilization and its accomplishments are inspiring. The great diversity commingled with the unification of desires for life, for health, for peace, for Love in all its forms has got to inspire us to open our hearts, our hands, and just – love. Right? It’s a small world, globalized and shrunk by exploration, by trade, by the cyber world. It’s easier to know our neighbors. But is it easier to love them? Ironic that our increased knowledge of the world incites so many people to be more insular, succumbing to xenophobia and avarice. Where is the love?
What’s so hard about Universal Love? Why can’t we extend a little agape to Hondurans who don’t have clean water to drink, to the Sudanese who are twisted in anger? Why can’t the world Free Tibet, and why does Philadelphia seem more and more like a misnomer? We have the capacity love. But it’s so easy to be misdirected. John Lennon, who wrote or collaborated on so many anthems of all types of love, was shot to death by a psychotic man with a selfish desire for fame. We won’t mention his name. This man skulked outside the Dakota clutching a copy of The Catcher in the Rye; he was obsessed with the classic work of fiction. What’s remarkable is that the story of Holden Caulfield’s coming of age illustrates a frightened teenager, unable to trust others, or open himself, to recognize the power of love. The child experiences the rigors of waning adolescence and impending adulthood without connecting with another human being.
How strange that modern society creates and sustains two very different impulses: Love for all and hope for peace vs. narcissistic isolation and homicidal acts. But one can’t exist without the other. In order for remarkable acts of selflessness and love to resound in this world, they have to be offset by acts of selfishness and hatred. And when you think about it, Mother Theresa, Hitler, Princess Di, Mao Zedong, JFK, George W, have all dedicated their lives to an ideal for the people they loved, but the manifestations of that love went in wildly different directions. There’s a delicate axis that tips in the wrong direction when love becomes selfish, when it loses site of humanity. At the same time, love that targets unity, open-mindedness, open-heartedness, and affirmation, agape, tends to outlast the test of time. Aspiration for this type of love by the few is inspiration for the many.
It’s not impossible. All you need is the right kind of love. The selfless vision of a pro-active, unconditional, Universal Love has been achieved in small but enduring measures. Humanity can set aside predispositions, fear, misguided beliefs, and greed, and realize a world of agape, a world that lives as one. Imagine. Think about it enough, and you’re bound to end up singing a John Lennon song.
by Isabella Bennet
WHO ARE THESE GUYS REALLY?
(The masks not the drunks)
Why do some societies have masters and slaves, nobles and commoners, wealthy plutocrats and sharecroppers? Plato believed that some men were born with souls of gold, while others had souls of silver or bronze.
Rousseau believed that our innate inequalities were limited to strength, intelligence, and dexterity. If man was born free, he asked, why do we see him everywhere in chains? The story begins some 120,000 to 60,000 years ago, when our hunter-gatherer ancestors spread from their African homeland into the Near East, Europe, and Asia.
Thirty thousand years ago they had eliminated the Neanderthals, their most closely related competitors. Taking advantage of lower Ice Age sea levels, they colonized Australia and crossed the Bering Straits to America.
Anthropological studies reveal that hunter-gatherers usually work hard to keep their society egalitarian. Typical of their social logic is the premise that generosity is a virtue, while hoarding is selfish. Gifts build social networks and should be reciprocated.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the archaeological record of the late Ice Age shows few hints of a social hierarchy. It appears, however, that some Ice Age societies – for example, the mammoth hunters of the Great Russian plain – lived in large multifamily groups who probably believed that they were related by common descent.
Living in large descent groups changed the social logic of some hunter-gatherers. It created an “us vs. them” mentality, converting conflict from individual homicide to intergroup raiding. In addition, the obligation to treat all individuals as equals did not necessarily extend to individuals in rival multifamily groups. Ethnocentricity was endemic among our ancestors, and many descent groups believed themselves more generous (and hence more virtuous) than their neighbors. The germ of inequality can be seen in this informal “hierarchy of virtue.”
Perhaps the most dramatic change in social logic took place some 7000 years ago in the watersheds of the Euphrates, Nile, and Tigris. It involved the acceptance of the premise that some families belonged to a natural aristocracy, whose privileges flowed from the spirit world and could be inherited by their offspring. Near Samarra on the Tigris, Iraqi archaeologists discovered children buried with alabaster statuettes. At sites west of Mosul, other children lay buried with stone maceheads, necklaces of volcanic glass, and elegant stone goblets. Since none had lived long enough to earn such valuables, their social status must have been inherited.
Something similar happened 3000 years ago in Mexico’s Oaxaca Valley. The valley’s population tripled, with 50 percent of its citizens concentrated in one chiefly village. Families of high rank artificially deformed their children’s heads to make their aristocracy clear, and when their heirs died young, they were buried with objects carved to reflect their supernatural connections. At one cemetery, about 13 percent of adult men were given special bundle burials; there were hints that some of these high-ranking men were polygamous since several were accompanied by the exhumed and reburied remains of multiple women.
Anthropologists have pointed out several routes by which ambitious families can achieve aristocracy. In some societies, emerging wealth and power are attributed to an innate surplus of supernatural life-force. In others, one highly motivated descent group co-opts ritual and political roles, until it becomes the only group from which leaders are recruited. In still others, aggression and valor in combat imbue emerging male leaders with an aura of supernatural invulnerability.
One of the most widespread means of creating inequality, however, was debt slavery. Under certain conditions, the premise that gifts must be reciprocated could be extended as follows: since your group finds itself unable to reciprocate my group’s generosity, we can oblige you to work off your debt as servants. One thousand years ago on British Columbia’s Fraser Plateau, there came a time when small, economically vulnerable households seem to have been absorbed into larger and more successful households, perhaps in menial roles. By the time European eyewitnesses reached the British Columbia coast, they found Native American societies whose large plank houses had separate areas for hereditary nobles, commoners, and slaves.
To be sure, the commoners in many traditional societies resisted inequality any way they could. The Kachin of Myanmar and the Angami Naga of India’s Assam region oscillated between equality and inequality for years, periodically overthrowing their hereditary leaders. Even during periods when chiefly families ruled Angami villages, there were blood feuds between high-ranking brothers and cousins.
Under certain conditions, such elite competition could lead to the creation of a kingdom. After centuries of conflict among rival chiefs, one rival might gain an advantage that allowed him to subdue the others. His victories converted the losers’ territories into the provinces of a larger political unit, elevating the victor from chief to king. European eyewitnesses saw this process take place among the historic Hawaiians, the Zulu, the Asante of Ghana, and the Merina of Madagascar.
Now that archaeologists know what to look for, they can see that the first kingdoms in Egypt, Mesopotamia, Mexico, the Maya region, and the Andes arose in similar ways. The end product was usually a class- or caste-based society in which nobles and commoners played by different rules.
Not every ancient society, however, allowed inequality to emerge. Some worked out socially acceptable ways for talented people to achieve positions of prestige, while still preventing the creation of hereditary nobles. These societies balanced personal ambition with the public good, and a frequent outcome was long-term stability in the archaeological record.
We can point to many Native American cases. The Tewa of New Mexico, for example, allowed certain individuals to become “Made People” by working their way up through eight ritual societies, each requiring demonstrations of civic leadership. The Mandan of North Dakota ascended a ladder of ritual societies, eleven for men and seven for women. Even society’s most respected leader, however, could not refuse to share his accumulated valuables with his kin.
In the course of our study, we discovered that most egalitarian societies displayed striking tolerance. Nowhere was this clearer than in the diversity of “traditional” marriage arrangements, six or seven types in North America alone. For the Eskimo of central and eastern Canada, marriage could involve one man and one woman; one man and two women; one woman and two men; or a foursome in which two hunters became lifelong partners and shared their wives.
Many Plains Indians based their life plan on a vision from the spirit world. Some men took one wife, others two. The visions of some young men, however, foretold that they would dress and live as women. Called “two-spirit” people, these men were seen as having close ties to the spirit world and might become the second wife in a polygamous marriage.
Perhaps 100 Native American societies had such transgendered men, and a third as many had women who dressed and lived as men. Some of the latter, known as “manly-hearted” women, set up housekeeping with another woman.
In these societies (unlike today’s prejudiced-riddled western equivalents – Ed) both transgendered individuals and same-sex marriages were accepted as part of nature’s plan. Neither was seen as threatening to monogamy or the institution of the family. This contrasts with some of the more stratified and authoritarian ancient kingdoms, whose governments intervened in commoners’ lives. Nobles in Mesopotamia’s Sumerian state were allowed to practice polygamy, but a cuneiform tablet from the ancient city of Lagash suggests that commoner women who tried it would be stoned.
Like Rousseau before us, we found no evidence that royalty or oligarchy was supported by Natural Law. Our ancestors simply created them by changing the logic of society one premise at a time. Over the course of millennia, the simple ethnocentrism of Stone Age society escalated to encompass the intolerance, ethnic cleansing, and aggressive nation-building we see in today’s world.
We were impressed, however, by the number of societies that had chosen a different path. At a crucial point in their development, they returned to an earlier social logic and reduced inequality. What often resulted was a society with no one of aristocratic birth, no vast accumulations of wealth, and no bequeathing of privilege to undeserving children. Its principal hierarchy was one of virtue, and it was led by individuals who, for the most part, gave generously while asking only for respect.
by Kent Flannery & Joyce Marcus
Why Does The World Exist ?
Amongst the first existential ponderings of small children is the question of what is beyond the furthest star we can see in the sky… and then what’s beyond that. As adults we know not to ask. Or at least not to expect an answer. But the question still remains; “we can’t rule out the possibility that our own universe was created by someone in another universe who just felt like doing it.”
Where did our universe come from? Doesn’t its sheer existence point to an ultimate creative force at play? This question, when posed by a religious believer to an atheist, generally elicits one of two responses. First, the atheist might say, if you do postulate such a “creative force,” you’d better be prepared to postulate another one to explain its existence, and then another one behind that, and so forth. In other words, you end up in an infinite regress. The second atheist response is to say that even if there were an ultimate creative force, there is no reason to think of it as God-like. Why should the First Cause be an infinitely wise and good being, let alone one that is minutely concerned with our inner thoughts and sex lives? Why should it even have a mind?
The idea that our cosmos was somehow “made” by an intelligent being might seem to be a primitive one, if not downright nutty. But before dismissing it entirely, I thought it would be interesting to consult Andrei Linde, who has done more than any other scientist to explain how our cosmos got going. Linde is a Russian physicist who immigrated to the United States in 1990 and who now teaches at Stanford University. While still a young man in Moscow, he came up with a novel theory of the Big Bang that answered three vexing questions: What banged? Why did it bang? And what was going on before it banged? Linde’s theory, called “chaotic inflation,” explained the overall shape of space and the formation of galaxies. It also predicted the exact pattern of background radiation left over from the Big Bang that the COBE satellite observed in the 1990s.
Among the curious implications of Linde’s theory, one of the most striking is that it doesn’t take all that much to create a universe.
Resources on a cosmic scale are not required, nor are supernatural powers. It might even be possible for someone in a civilization not much more advanced than ours to cook up a new universe in a laboratory. Which leads to an arresting thought: Could that be how our universe came into being?
Linde is a handsome, heavy-set man with a full head of silver hair. Among his colleagues he is legendary for his ability to perform acrobatics and baffling sleights of hand, even while a little squiffy.
“When I invented the theory of chaotic inflation, I found that the only thing you needed to get a universe like ours started is a hundred-thousandth of a gram of matter,” Linde told me in his Russian-accented English. “That’s enough to create a small chunk of vacuum that blows up into the billions and billions of galaxies we see around us. It looks like cheating, but that’s how the inflation theory works—all the matter in the universe gets created from the negative energy of the gravitational field. So what’s to stop us from creating a universe in a lab? We would be like gods!”
Linde, it should be said, is known for his puckishly gloomy manner, and the preceding words were laced with irony. But he assured me that this cosmogenesis-on-a-lab-bench scenario was feasible, at least in principle.
“There are some gaps in my proof,” he conceded. “But what I have shown—and Alan Guth [a codeveloper of inflation theory] and others who have looked at this matter have come to the same conclusion—is that we can’t rule out the possibility that our own universe was created by someone in another universe who just felt like doing it.” It struck me that there was a hitch in this scheme. If you started a Big Bang in a lab, wouldn’t the baby universe you created expand into your own world, killing people and crushing buildings and so forth?
Linde assured me that there was no such danger. “The new universe would expand into itself,” he said. “Its space would be so curved that it would look as tiny as an elementary particle to its creator. In fact, it might end up disappearing from his own world altogether.”
But why bother making a universe if it’s going to slip away from you, the way Eurydice slipped from the grasp of Orpheus? Wouldn’t you want to have some quasi-divine power over how your creation unfolded, some way of monitoring it and making sure the creatures that evolved therein turned out well? Linde’s creator seemed very much like the deist concept of God favored by Voltaire and America’s founding fathers—a being who set our universe in motion but then took no further interest in it or its creatures.
“You’ve got a point,” Linde said, emitting a slight snuffle of amusement. “At first I imagined that the creator might be able to send information into the new universe—to teach its creatures how to behave, to help them discover what the laws of nature are, and so forth. Then I started thinking. The inflation theory says that a baby universe blows up like a balloon in the tiniest fraction of a second. Suppose the creator tried to write something on the surface of the balloon, like “PLEASE REMEMBER THAT I MADE YOU.” The inflationary expansion would make this message exponentially huge. The creatures in the new universe, living in a tiny corner of one letter, would never be able to read the whole message.”
But then Linde thought of another channel of communication between creator and creation—the only one possible, as far as he could tell. The creator, by manipulating the cosmic seed in the right way, would have the power to ordain certain physical parameters of the universe he ushers into being. He could determine, for example, what the numerical ratio of the electron’s mass to the proton’s will be. Such numbers, called the constants of nature, look utterly arbitrary to us: there is no apparent reason why they should take the value they do rather than some other value. (Why, for instance, is the strength of gravity in our universe determined by a number with the digits “6673”?) But the creator, by fixing certain values for these constants, could write a subtle message into the very structure of the universe. And, as Linde pointed out with evident relish, such a message would be legible only to physicists.
Was he joking?
“You might take this as a joke,” he said. “But perhaps it is not entirely absurd. It may furnish the explanation for why the world we live in is so weird, so far from perfect. On the evidence, our universe wasn’t created by a divine being. It was created by a physicist hacker!”
From a philosophical perspective, Linde’s little story underscores the danger of assuming that the creative force behind our universe, if there is one, must correspond to the traditional image of God: omnipotent, omniscient, infinitely benevolent, and so on. Even if the cause of our universe is an intelligent being, it could well be a painfully incompetent and fallible one, the kind that might flub the cosmogenic task by producing a thoroughly mediocre creation. Of course, orthodox believers can always respond to a scenario like Linde’s by saying, “Okay, but who created the physicist hacker?” Let’s hope it’s not hackers all the way up.
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.
Let my heart be wise; it is the gods’ best gift. – Euripedes
In the form of old wives’ tales, saws, assumptions and superstitions, mankind has accumulated a vast miscellany of wisdom and folly in its history. Folly tends to predominate over wisdom because it is usually easier to understand and more convenient (or exciting) to believe; but a little reflection usually sifts one from the other.
Sometimes, however, investigation reveals genuine insights in beliefs which at first appeared vague and only anecdotally supported. One such is the effect of emotion on health. There is now serious scientific scrutiny of this commonplace belief, bringing medicine, neuroscience, microbiology and psychology together to explore how stress and depression might make us sick, and whether an optimistic outlook can help us either protect against, or more effectively recover from, illness.
Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle
Don’t grumble, give a whistle
And this’ll help things turn out for the best
And Always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the light side of life
Although medical professionals have always recognized that states of the body affect states of mind – a simple proof is the way psychotropic drugs alter mood, as indeed do foodstuffs, dancing, the weather, and everything besides – and have also accepted the general belief that, somehow, the casual chain works in reverse too, in the direction mind-to-body, it is only now that proper research has begun into quantifiable questions about how this second and more mysterious direction works – and has started looking at the most likely places, viz. the three subtle and hugely complex communication networks of hormones, the nervous system, and the immune system.
Among the benefits that might result from this research is a way of combining psychological with physical therapies to enhance the latter’s effectiveness, perhaps even – in the case of stubbornly depressive or pessimistic personalities – by combining psychotherapy with antibiotics, hypotensive, or whatever was required for the physical affliction in question.
The quickening of scientific interest in the emotions has included work by cognitive psychologists, whose studies on the influence of feelings on reasoning have that just as too much emotion is bad for reasoning, so is too little. They show that the dispassionate Mr. Spock of Star Trek would be a liability if he existed, because he lacks the kind of responses which conduce to good decisions and effective action in normal circumstances.
The role of emotion in reasoning has long been negatively viewed. Since Plato, most philosophers have held that emotions interfere with rationality. Plato likened the thinking part of the soul to a charioteer driving two powerful horses, each representing an emotional aspect of the self: one is aspirational and tries to fly up to heaven, the other is appetitive and plunges wildly towards earth. Reason, the charioteer, struggles to bring them into harmony – and to make them fly upwards together.
Stoicism was the school of philosophy which formed the outlook of educated men for five hundred years before the advent of Christianity. It premised the idea that mastery of the emotions is fundamental to a virtuous life. It taught that unless we cultivate indifference to what happens outside our control in the world, while at the same time strictly governing the thoughts, desires and feelings that arise within ourselves, we will never have peace of mind. This austerely self-denying view underwrites all later identification of calmness, coolness and dispassion with maturity and virtue. When stiff-upper-lipped Englishmen met whirling Dervishes or dancing Bantu, they thought them incontinent and therefore unable to govern themselves; and thought it a kindness as well as a convenience to colonize them.
But wiser reason recognizes the true and great value of feeling. ‘In a full heart there is room for everything,’ said Antonio Porchia, ‘while in an empty heart there is room for nothing.’ Reason is a faculty of order and structure; the emotions can be the very opposite. ‘We have hearts within,/ Warm, live, improvident, indecent hearts,’ wrote Elizabeth Barrett Browning, thereby putting her finger on why it is essential to allow the emotions their place: for there has to be room for warmth and vividness, generosity and passion, which sometimes goes against prune-faced providence, and changes to the world for the better as a result.
This is not to extol unreasonableness. Reason and feeling are equally great fights, and equally necessary. If either is untempered by the other, the result can only be spiritual and intellectual impoverishment – yielding a life, as Socrates would say, scarcely worth living.
If life seems jolly rotten
There’s something you’ve forgotten
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing
When you’re feeling in the dumps
Don’t be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle, that’s the thing
And Always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the right side of life
For life is quite absurd
And death’s the final word
You must always face the curtain with a bow
Forget about your sin
Give the audience a grin
Enjoy it, it’s your last chance anyhow
So always look on the bright side of death
A just before you draw your terminal breath
Life’s a piece of shit
When you look at it
Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true
You’ll see it’s all a show
Keep ’em laughin’ as you go
Just remember that the last laugh is on you
And Always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the right side of life
Always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the right side of life
(C’mon Brian, cheer up)
Always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the bright side of life
You know, you come from nothing
You’re going back to nothing
What have you lost? Nothing
Always look on the right side of life
Nothing will come from nothing, ya know what they say
Cheer up ya old bugga c’mon give us a grin (Always look on the
right side of life)
There ya are, see
It’s the end of the film
Incidentally this record’s available in the foyer (Always look on
the right side of life)
Some of us got to live as well, you know
(Always look on the right side of life)
Who do you think pays for all this rubbish
(Always look on the right side of life)
They’re not gonna make their money back, you know
I told them, I said to him, Bernie, I said they’ll never make their
(Always look on the right side of life)
Songwriters: Eric Idle
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life lyrics © Universal Music
Publishing Group, BMG Rights Management
Big Brother is watching out for you.
Big Brother is watching you.
In between these two statements lies a minefield of interpretive ethics, policy, and legality. Just like everything else that bubbles up to the top of the popular socio-political mindset, government surveillance is getting its moment in court. So just what are the ramifications of executive-sanctioned 4th Amendment infringements?
It’s a little disheartening when the mention of government agencies brings to mind bumbling Peeping-Toms, rifling through your inbox for a better idea of who you are and what you’ve been up to. We’d much prefer to believe that every agent comports herself like Diana Prince or Sydney Bristow (Google her). But the fact is that modern international crime concerns itself with double agents and communists and fringe science rather less consistently than the entertainment industry would have us believe.
Today’s catch-phrase is terrorism, and it dredges up ignorance, fear, and herd mentality in more than a few people.
The problem with the herd mentality is that it necessitates complete trust in the shepherd.
And here’s where things get sticky. Because our government was formed to uphold the ideals of our nation, and our nation was formed to uphold the basic human rights of our citizens, it would follow that our government should uphold the basic human rights of our citizens. Thus the excellently penned Constitution and the Bill of Rights. And government agencies, like the CIA and the FBI and the NSA were all formed to assist in the defense of these ideals. But sometimes the line between investigation and violation gets a little blurred and we find ourselves asking, who’s defending who?
The NSA (National Security Agency) was begun by President Truman in 1952. Its purpose was to collect and analyze foreign communications and to protect US government communications from being similarly scrutinized by outside agencies. But somewhere between 1952 and 2009, the adjective “foreign” became obsolete. Despite the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which established the framework by which the executive branch could conduct its electronic surveillance, the rules started to bend. According to investigative journalists over a half million people are currently on the NSA domestic watch list. In a hesitant glance at our nation’s recent history, one can’t help but wonder how often the words “war on terror” could be interpreted less as a motivation, and more as an excuse.
Over 300 years after it was written, the Constitution still has the fine workings of an intuitive rule of governance. That whole “checks and balances” system was really ingenious. So when a system of law that has helped the US become one of the most powerful and proud nations in the world is compromised, it should make our citizens get a little hot under the collar. Up until 9/11, the NSA was required to obtain a warrant for domestic taps. But as Commander in Chief, President George W. Bush administration thought that the American people were best served by two-stepping with the 1st Amendment (Freedom of Speech) and the 4th Amendment (Freedom of Privacy) in an effort to expedite investigations. But what isn’t clear is how domestic surveillance that repeatedly compromised basic American rights went unchecked, unquestioned, and unmitigated for so long.
When NSA investigations are intimately connected with state secrets, the trouble compounds. Because the safety of the United States, people and government, could be compromised by the release of classified information during trial, the State Secrets Privilege prevents such an eventuality. For many years State Secrets Privilege was invoked to dismiss a variety of court cases, but the latest amendments to the procedures seek to roadblock any misuse, most notably requiring a new review process which incorporates both the Attorney General and Congress, while the language defining a reasonable occasion for Privilege invocation has been escalated from information that would cause mere “reasonable danger” to information that would result in “significant harm.” We are therefore asked to trust the self-governing judgment of the executive branch.
So do we trust the shepherd? There comes a point when we realize that as individual citizens, we could never possibly sort out the millions of decisions made every day by the hundreds of people holding positions of power. It’s inevitable that those decisions will occasionally conflict with one another. The sliding-scale of ethics is inescapable in the modern era; there are too many complexities to navigate. Do we ask our leaders to govern with utilitarian sensibilities, or do we prefer their dedication to the Kantian sense of duty? When defending the right of all citizens to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, the form may vary. However, we have the right to expect and demand that decisions be made with honesty, with upright hearts, and with all consequences weighted and considered. We have the right to assume that our basic rights, as enumerated in our government doctrine, are upheld as the greatest good. That’s how we know that even when information is classified, action is codified. That’s how we know that an elected or appointed official acts democratically, not despotically (or even tribally these days!). That’s what makes us a civilized nation. When the basic rules of American Government are circumvented, what does that say about We, The People?
So here we are. America. The land of the free and the home of the brave. But are we keeping tabs when people in positions of power begin to overuse their sway? Have we become the land of the free – unless your legal, educational, or business interests necessitate communication with citizens of scrutinized foreign countries – and the home of the brave – as long as you adhere to the status quo and unquestioningly follow orders? In a time where terrorism is a real threat, but its methods are increasingly vague, shouldn’t the American taxpayer at least rest secure in the knowledge that the shepherd on watch is spending more time looking out for wolves than monitoring the interaction of the sheep?
IN THE BEGINNING of the Old Testament, God creates the world one day at a time: The heavens and the earth. Water. Light. Day and night. Living species of every kind. After each creation, God declares: “It is good.” But the tone changes when God makes Adam. Suddenly, God pronounces the first thing that is not good, lo tov: “It is not good that the man should be alone.” So God makes Eve, and Adam is no longer on his own.
In time, injunctions against being alone moved from theology to philosophy and literature. In Politics, Aristotle wrote, “The man who is isolated, who is unable to share in the benefits of political association, or has no need to share because he is already self-sufficient, is no part of the polis, and must therefore be either a beast or a god.” The Greek poet Theocritus insisted that “man will ever stand in need of man,” and the Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius proclaimed that “human beings are social animals.”
So, too, are other animals. (Aristotle, alas, was only half right.) Beasts will indeed live on their own when conditions favor it, particularly when there is a shortage of food. Otherwise, most species fare better in groups. Collective living carries some costs, including competition for status and occasional outbursts of violence. But the benefits – protection from predators, cooperative hunting, efficient reproduction, among others – can easily outweigh them. Our closest animal relatives, the apes, are typically social and live in stable units. Even orangutans, which are notoriously solitary, live with their mothers during their first seven or eight years, and as the Dutch primatologist Carel van Schaik has discovered, orangutans living in a calorically rich swamp forest in Sumatra are “every bit as sociable” as their cousins, the chimpanzees.
Orangutans are not the only misrepresented creatures. Hermit crabs, it turns out, are actually quite social, living in communities of up to one hundred because they cannot thrive alone. One manual for prospective pet owners advises that “it’s best to always have at least two hermit crabs in a tank – if possible at least two of each species.” Not because they need protection or help with food gathering, but for a simpler reason: When alone, hermit crabs get stressed and unhealthy. Their bodies fail them. They may even lose a leg or a claw.
Isolation can also be unbearably stressful for people, as policy makers in different historical eras have recognized. In the ancient world, exile ranked among the most severe forms of punishment, exceeded only by execution. (Though some called exile a fate worse than death.)
During the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, modern prison systems popularized the use of solitary confinement because, as the English jurist William Paley put it, isolation “would augment the terror of the punishment” and thereby deter crime. Today, the United States alone detains roughly 25,000 people in “supermax” prisons where, one prominent psychologist writes, inmates “experience levels of isolation… that are more total and complete and literally dehumanized than has been possible in the past.” A common phrase used to describe this condition conveys one widespread belief about being cut off from others: It is, say both critics and advocates of solitary confinement, a “living death.”
Nothing better expresses the human interest in collective living than the formation of families. Throughout history and in all cultures, families, not individuals, have been the fundamental building blocks of social and economic life. And for good reason. As evolutionary biologists argue, living with others offered a competitive advantage to members of the first human societies because it provided security, access to food, and a means of reproduction. Through natural selection, argue the social scientists Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, our species developed a genetic disposition to establish close social ties.
In 1949, the Yale anthropologist George Peter Murdock published a survey of some 250 “representative cultures” from different eras and diverse parts of the world. He reported, “The nuclear family is a universal human social grouping. Either as the sole prevailing form of the family or as the basic unit from which more complex familial forms are compounded, it exists as a distinct and strongly functional group in every known society. No exception, at least, has come to light.”
Since then, scholars have challenged Murdock’s argument, identifying domestic arrangements, such as the kibbutz, that don’t fit into his nuclear model. Yet their counterexamples are always alternative collectives, typically including more people than the conventional family. Though this debate remains unsettled, there’s one thing both sides would agree on: Human societies, at all times and places, have organized themselves around the will to live with others, not alone.
BUT NOT ANYMORE.
During the past half century, our species has embarked on a remarkable social experiment. For the first time in human history, great numbers of people – at all ages, in all places, of every political persuasion – have begun settling down as singletons. Until recently, most of us married young and parted only at death. If death came early, we remarried quickly; if late, we moved in with family, or they with us. Now we marry later.
(The Pew Research Center reports that the average age of first marriage for men and women is “the highest ever recorded, having risen by roughly five years in the past half century.”)We divorce, and stay single for years or decades. We survive our spouses, and do whatever we can to avoid moving in with others – even, perhaps especially, our children. We cycle in and out of different living arrangements: alone, together, together, alone.
Not long ago, it might have made sense to treat living on our own as a transitional stage between more durable arrangements, whether coupling up with a partner or moving into an institutional home. This is no longer appropriate, because today, for the first time in centuries, the majority of all American adults are single. The typical American will spend more of his or her adult life unmarried than married, and for much of this time he or she will live alone. Naturally, we are adapting. We are learning to go solo, and crafting new ways of living in the process.
Numbers never tell the whole story, but in this case the statistics are startling. In 1950, 22 percent of American adults were single. Four million lived alone, and they accounted for 9 percent of all households. In those days, living alone was by far most common in the open, sprawling Western states – Alaska, Montana, and Nevada – that attracted migrant workingmen, and it was usually a short-lived stage on the road to a more conventional domestic life.
Today, more than 50 percent of American adults are single, and 31 million – roughly one out of every seven adults – live alone.
(This figure excludes the 8 million Americans who live in voluntary and non-voluntary group quarters, such as assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and prisons.) People who live alone make up 28 percent of all U.S. households, which means that they are now tied with childless couples as the most prominent residential type – more common than the nuclear family, the multigenerational family, and the roommate or group home. Surprisingly, living alone is also one of the most stable household arrangements. Over a five-year period, people who live alone are more likely to stay that way than everyone except married couples with children.
Contemporary solo dwellers are primarily women: about 17 million, compared to 14 million men. The majority, more than 15 million, are middle-age adults between the ages of thirty-five and sixty-four. The elderly account for about 10 million of the total.* Young adults between eighteen and thirty-four number more than 5 million, compared to 500,000 in 1950, making them the fastest-growing segment of the solo-dwelling population.
Unlike their predecessors, people who live alone today cluster together in metropolitan areas and inhabit all regions of the country. The cities with the highest proportion of people living alone include Washington, D.C., Seattle, Denver, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Chicago, Dallas, New York City, and Miami. One million people live alone in New York City, and in Manhattan, more than half of all residences are one-person dwellings.
Excerpt taken from Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone by Eric Klinenberg (Penguin)
by ERIC KLINENBERG
Everywhere we go, we judge people based on their looks. And rest assured, others are judging us as well. Why else do you think plastic surgery, cosmetics, and diet companies are all billion-dollar industries? It matters what we look like, no matter what your mother might tell you. And if you’re not what mainstream society considers attractive, you’re screwed.
The problem is not that we judge people: that’s ingrained in us, and anyone who says they don’t do it is lying. My best guess is that it’s an instinctual, evolutionary measure, as symmetrical, young, and attractive individuals were generally healthier, better suited for reproduction and providing the necessities of life (which back then meant hunting, and now means a job on Wall Street). The problem occurs when we don’t realize we’re doing this, and subsequently, when we don’t take a step back and think about the reasoning behind our decisions—which can lead to passing over some potentially incredible resources (in work, love, friendship, whatever) just because they have ratty hair or a crooked nose.
Now I know this topic isn’t too sexy. We don’t want to think about this ugly side of our nature, or worse yet, admit that we may not be a 10 outta 10. But I think sometimes we forget that all of our brains and hearts look the same, and that stunning outer beauty can sometimes be no more than a false covering for a hollow, empty inside. Think about some of the most prominent minds in recent history: Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates. None of them were exactly swoon-worthy. They made it by virtue of their revolutionary ideas and incredible talent. Now look at today’s icons: Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, and that dude with the abs on Jersey Shore, who literally became famous for their physical assets alone.
Let’s be honest here. Do you need a chiselled jaw or a great rack to be a CEO, analyst, human resources manager, or sales rep? I guess in our world where we all just want to be beautiful and be surrounded by beautiful people, it helps to hire them as well. But even the most shallow among us will admit that looks fade in the wake of a terrible personality, and that conversely, a funny, charming, intelligent person starts to look better the more we get to know them. If I can get a little “after-school special” on you for a minute: physical appearance does not reflect what’s in your mind and what’s in your heart. If we all took a bit more time to get to know what the less-than-perfectly-symmetrical among us have to offer, maybe we wouldn’t be living in such an ugly world.
And we know that women usually get the short end of the stick with this one. In most cases, men are still allowed to succeed using only what nature gave them, even if that includes male pattern baldness, a beer belly, and out of control back hair. Women, however, are judged so harshly on their looks that we are starving ourselves and cutting up our bodies in record numbers. Because who says when hot is hot enough? When are we sexy enough, skinny enough, worthy enough of approval?
Most of us will say (whether we’re lying or not) that looks are not nearly as important in a mate as intelligence, kindness, a sense of humour. But when we see an attractive woman with an unattractive man, the first thing we think is, “he must have money,” not, “he must be a really great guy that treats her well.” Despite our best intentions, we can’t imagine why someone with the choice would purposely pick a less-than-perfect mate.
There’s nothing inherently inferior about less-than-gorgeous people. There is, however, something flawed in the modern brain that we are so quick to make snap judgements about people based on their looks. What does it say about our own securities? Perhaps by shunning people, we place ourselves above them on the physical hierarchy, soothing our own insecurities by ensuring that at least we’re better looking (and thus better people) than they are? Maybe the next time you feel like judging someone without getting to know them first, you should take a long, hard, self-reflective glance in the mirror instead.
You know those sleepless nights in a relationship where you stay up all night in your lovers arms until you slowly, slowly drift off into a post coital slumber as the sun majestically rises over the horizon? No? Me neither, because I love going to sleep. Love it. Even better than the sex, I look forward to the after sex snooze fest that follows. And you know what ruins that? Cuddling.
Yes. I’m not a cuddler. It’s sticky, it’s sweaty, and most of all, its ineffective. Call me unromantic, but after a vigorous work out, it seems cruel to force each other to stay awake just to have a bit more intimacy. You just did the most intimate act possible. Give it a rest. If you truly love each other, you’d prove it by letting each other pass out. Friends don’t let friends lose sleep. Granted, you don’t bone your friends, but you get what I mean.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
On behalf of all the women who (temporarily) moved back to their hometowns due to COVID-19, the results of the 2020 experiment are in: the Hallmark fairytale is a lie.
The Hallmark Channel creates cheesy flicks year round, but they really crank out production for the holidays. Their cookie cutter formula is simple as a sugar cookie. Girl leaves her life in the city for a temporary visit back home. Girl struggles at first to adjust to the ways of her wholesome hometown. Girl bumps into a handsome yet humble hunk. Girl falls in love, does a career 180, and never goes back to the evil city again.
In other words, living in the city is bad. Living at home is good. Most of us rolled our eyes at this message but perhaps had a glint of curiosity. Could we truly be happier in suburbia? So when 2020 rolled out office closures and city shutdowns, we had the perfect occasion to test the hypothesis.
Well, it has not proven true for me or any 20 something I know. On Hallmark, the hunks are clad in plaid and running their own Christmas tree farm. In real life, the guys I bump into wear the same hoodies they wore in high school and run video game tournaments in their parents’ basement. On Hallmark, every small town is flourishing with cute coffee shops and delicious diners. In real life, vacant buildings line the streets marking failed restaurants and stores. On Hallmark, every local is a Santa supporter. In real life, every local is a 2nd amendment supporter.
Maybe this experience is unique to me and my hometown, but it’s safe to say moving home won’t unlock a fairytale. If there’s one fact Hallmark ignored, it’s that the people who left for the city—whether it be New York, Los Angeles, Chicago— ran away for a reason.
Yet 2020 forced us back home to confront the reality. At the very least, this weird stint has made me appreciate things I thought I never would. Now I fondly remember awkward Hinge dates, pick up lines at the bar, and 2am Ubers.
And I am grateful for the quality time I have spent at home with my family this year. But let me emphasize the importance of being AT HOME—not stepping outside, not interacting with anyone I might know from years ago. It’s really what’s best for everyone’s health and safety.
So when the clock strikes midnight, I won’t be kissing a prince; I’ll be booking my trip back. Testing, quarantine, vaccine—I’ll do whatever it takes. The experiment is over.
Let’s face it: one of the best parts about being in a relationship is having someone to blame for stuff. Isn’t that what we always do? When we’re having a bad day, or we’re in a bad mood, or something just went tits up, we love to blame the person closest to us both physically and emotionally: our partner. A good partner realizes this and accepts it gracefully, knowing that their time will soon come when they can blame us for something we had no part in. Who is actually to blame is always less important than who places the blame first. So, ladies and gents, here’s a good one: who do we blame when our relationships’ precious “honeymoon period” comes to a crashing halt, and our knight in shining armor looks more like a broken down court jester? Is it our fault for being so love-blind from the start, or is it his fault for false advertising during the ol’ “courtship” period?
We all know that men, like peacocks and lions and all those other silly animals, put on a good show when they’re looking to get laid. They talk about their jobs, their money, their cars, their biceps (“I can do like 50 pushups, no big deal”) and whatever else they can embellish to trick us into thinking they are God’s gift to any of us lucky enough to land him. But we believe it, so who’s the real chump in this exchange? If a guy is smooth enough, convincing enough, or just hot enough, we’re already running an internal dialogue about what they will be like to live with, whether they would be good fathers, how they will get along with our parents… for the first few months, we are the Juliet to his proverbial Romeo, and we love every second of it.
And can we really blame the guy for putting on a show for us? The fact that they feel compelled to do so shows their interest in us, and don’t we do the same thing? We have the make up, the new heels, the push-up bra we reserve especially for those nights out on town. We pull out our most charming banter and eyelash batting for them; it’s only natural that men do the same.
Although no one is faultless in a relationship, ever (which is why more of us are staying single, perhaps?) I have to say in this case, the blame may be put more fully on the shoulders of the women. We know what men are up to when we first meet; we know from experience that the honeymoon phase doesn’t last forever, and instead of preparing for the eventuality that the hunk we went to bed with last night is the same as the lunk we wake up to the next morning, we get pissed off. It’s not really fair to judge a man harshly for being who they are, even if they did gloss over the rough parts from the beginning. We women have this “grass is greener” mentality about relationships: when we’re in the exciting (and sometimes nerve-wracking) dating phase, all we want is a good guy to settle down with; and once we have it, we long for the steamy and unpredictable early stages. We need to do a better job at injecting a healthy dose of reality into our relationships from the start by being up front with ourselves and our partners, and by recognizing the great and not-so-great qualities or our partners early on – so we can decide if the total package is worth it.
Sadly, it’s inevitable that relationships lose some of their sizzle, that electric sexual spark that propels it through the first few months. It’s natural to feel a sense of loss when you transition from dinners out and sexy lingerie to Lethal Weapon marathons and sweatpants. Familiarity, as they say, breeds boredom, contempt, a greater disregard for personal hygiene; you name it. But familiarity also breeds comfort, respect, and true love, so maybe we should stop complaining already about the lack of excitement and instead be happy with the presence of a valued partner in our lives.
And if you really need more thrills in your life, you’ve still got that trusty push-up bra in the back of your drawer. The cycle continues…
By Ashleigh Van Houten
THE REAL RIGHT STUFF
I grew up in the Bronx and I had an obese uncle which eventually cost him his life. But God! What rice balls he could make. He was from Sicily and grew up in Brooklyn and besides teaching me how to count to “tree”, he taught me how to enjoy a good Italian meal. Also the couple who had the apartment beneath us were Italian and I used to hover in their kitchen like a stray cat looking for scraps. Oh, how I enjoyed food then! Little did I know it would become my arch nemesis in a few years.
My father told me, “I heard girls shouldn’t read fashion magazines, because it makes them feel bad about themselves.” Oh, the honesty. True that Pops, fashion rags made me feel like complete and total shit with an ounce of hope thrown into the stinking mix. ‘I hope I can fit into that’, was my most occurring thought.
I was never stick thin growing up, but you could hardly categorize me as plump. I’m not going to tell you I was the fat kid with no friends who got voted prom queen. I was liked by many. I played sports. I played instruments. I did theatre. I had sleepovers, birthday parties and went to all the dances. This is not my coming of age story.
This is me screaming at the top of my brain why can’t I like myself? For one goddamned moment I would like to put on a dress and smile. The same goes for a bathing suit. OH, those fuckin’ suits. I’d rather wear an entire wet suit and be done with it. At least I have my sense of humor, right?
Stuff any New Year’s Resolutions on your man’s… or worse, mother’s terms. One woman’s rant about herself highlights the long, long road still to go before we as females can address our issues honestly! Thanks Shannon!
Right now I am training to run a marathon, so within the past two months I have lost ten pounds. I want to lose ten more. Most probably ten more after that. Who started this shit in my head and how do I get it to turn off?
I had a meathead boyfriend in college. He was always going to the gym, with me by his side, and subscribed to all those awful bodybuilding magazines. I was elated. I worked out with him everyday. I worked out by myself. I would work out at least twice a day, plus watch my calories, plus take diet pills. He was oh so encouraging of this behavior. I started to rapidly slim down and when I average about a size 2, I started getting the compliments. I fit into all the clothes. I went into B*****, which I know starts selling clothes at a size 4, and would say sweetly, “Is your smallest size a 4?” The clerks would nod, and I would continue with, “That’s a shame I’m a 2.” JUST BECAUSE I COULD. That borders on sick twisted anorexic shit. But I felt liked, pretty. I felt people just wanted to be my friend because of what I looked like AND I LIKED IT. Never mind, I graduated with honors and studied Medieval Literature at Oxford University. I want those size zero pants to go over my ass. I have been on every single diet imaginable – seriously think of one, yup did that one too. I have taken every single diet pill on the market and some that were not; cocaine for example. If I were rich, I would be a cokehead. Not a pretty thought to put out there, but I would. It gives you energy, and suppresses your appetite. You lose your soul, but shit that sample sale is a-waiting. I am not rich, I am a writer therefore I’m an alcoholic not a cokehead.
Shortly after college, I had another boyfriend who was from the south. Can you say, “fried Oreos?” He was little bit chunky and I was a little bit chunky (by whose comparison?) when we first met. I liked him because he was older and I wanted to impress him. Doesn’t matter that I had more schooling or was more cultured than him, I still felt less superior. I immediately joined a gym and went to all the classes. I was still on the diet pills, but I now upped the daily dosage. It is actually such a shame, because I do love food so much. I’m not talking about that fast food crap – that IS crap. No one should eat it, it should be outlawed. It makes our kids fat and makes it easier for Mom and Dad to stay later at work, but don’t get me started on that.
I love food. Meat, fish, rice, veggies, fruit, pasta, chicken, everything. I should be able to enjoy life guiltlessly. I live in the center of the universe, with everything at my disposal. I should grab that bull buy the reigns and ride that bad boy all the way home. But I can’t let one morsel pass my lips without thinking what I will deny myself later since I had this now. I also am secretly THRILLED when my girlfriends gain weight, most of who seem not to mind since they are enjoying their life. They have their men, their apartments, their career – all of which I have as well- but they are enjoying themselves.
Yes, I do have another boyfriend and he is absolutely adorable. He’s also 23. As I aforementioned I am training for a marathon, and of course I am not anywhere happy with my physic but I feel somewhat saner. I do not know if its’ the extra endorphins being released or the caffeine pills or the constant sex with a 23-year-old, but I feel ok. I still hate everyone thinner than me, those fuckin gorgeous people that only live on the planet L.A. I still violently read the latest Vogue cover to cover. I still contemplate bulimia. I still follow the latest diets, trends. I still belong to a gym and besides running twice a week I do yoga the other two days and will start cross training by bicycling. Will I ever be fully content with myself outside? Who the hell knows. All I am aware of is that I will forever be comparing my stomach to yours, my thighs to hers, my boobs to my mom’s. On the lighter side (pun intended), my boyfriend picked me up from my weekend away last night and it looks like he’s put on a little weight.
* smiles *
By Shannon Brandt
(IT’S COMMON SENSE)
When discussions amongst my female friends breach the subject of having children, sometimes all I can think of is an essay written by a man; an essay about war. Esquire magazine published William Broyles’ essay “Why Men Love War.” In short, it’s a cornerstone essay in post-Vietnam personal reflection and an attempt to better explain war veterans’ complex relations to their military pasts. It’s full of shocking admissions, palpable acts of cruelty and heroism, near-brilliant insights, and a few references here and there to women who aren’t Vietnamese bar girls. A small but striking piece of the essay is a nine word comparative insert to better explain man’s pulsing desire for war. Broyles writes, “[war] is, for men, at some terrible level, the closest thing to what childbirth is for women: the initiation into the power of life and death.”
Besides the fact that Broyles’ definition may be the manliest depiction of childbirth I have ever read, I remember finding the comparison both mildly offensive and oddly on target. Even if you find his arguments entirely incorrect, and many do in regards to the essay’s views on war and brief throwaway statements on childbirth, you must admit that our society generally agrees with the his vein of argument regarding a woman’s propensity towards starting a biological family.
There are so many abandoned and unwanted
children in an overcrowded world, taking care of them should be a first option to start a family instead of a last resort for childless couples.
Cosmopolitan or Middle American, career oriented or homemaking, many women see childbirth as an integral part of the feminine or familial experience. There are several, more scientifically illuminating illustrations on the importance of a woman’s desire for biological children, but science is often only what we make of it, and writing a credible essay entitled “Why Women Love Childbirth (or producing children)” is indeed a daunting task. It would most likely conclude that our biological craving for a continuation of our lineage is the go-to culprit of baby fever. How else do you explain that in an age where adoption is achieving an increasing amount of press and societal acceptance, adoption statistics have remained relatively consistent (that is to say, relatively low), with only two to four percent of families including an adopted child?
I’m not going to sit and pat our warmhearted society on the back and say I think two to four percent is an impressive number. It’s difficult to know where to start when posting statistics of children in waiting. If you include every child in every orphanage in around the globe, it’s ethically daunting. If you throw in all the children living through what are often murky purgatories of foster care, the “problem” becomes too large and too abstract, and besides, foster kids have become wrongly synonymous with hopelessness and invisibility. Although age and past abuse has a part in the reported “difficulties” of adopting older children, no child enters the world a lost cause, and there are plenty of studies that show adopted children to be just as or more prone to success when brought into a healthy family environment. Healthy, by the way, meaning either one or two able and loving parents, no matter their sex or age or personal affiliations.
I get that I’m picking at untouchable and sacred subjects of family, inalienable rights of reproduction, and femininity. Biological clocks and baby lust. Touchy subjects, especially with so many women facing frustration and heartbreak at the notion of infertility or birthing complications. I understand that it’s an unfair move to scratch my head and publicly state that I have no idea why rich couples would use surrogate mothers instead of adopting another child, especially after some have already given birth to children, but I do question it, mainly out of objective curiosity. With adoption becoming an increasingly safe and manageable process, I’m not going to pretend that I understand why women put themselves through ethically questionable, eighte-mbryo-at-a-time kinds of fertility treatments that have sprung up in news reports over the past few years. I’m not going to pretend that I understand why adoption is an absolute non-option for many, or why it is so far down on the list. The cynical side gets a sneaking suspicion that for some prospective parents (perhaps all, we are no saints), rejection of adoption partially comes down to a human desire for immortality, creation, and many other flipside attributes that stick inadvertently to love and family and the feminine experience.
Though adoption is generally accepted and promoted throughout our society, it remains one of the most internally divisive subjects for both women and men. There are several excellent sites that bust adoption myths, most of which I’ve heard thrown about in conversation regarding the process. Both criticism and ostentatious praise draw negative attention and obscure what adoption so desperately needs: for families to consider it an option without an association with “the alternative,” heroism, or good deeds. It’s not a good deed. It’s a way to start a family. Changing diapers is smelly and tedious no matter if your child is from your womb or a Chinese orphanage. Neither situation makes you particularly heroic.
Most websites and agencies and speeches are of the mindset that flattering the “good heart” of prospective adoptees will convince them once and for all. Like charity donations, appeal to the hero in anyone, and they might just do anything. Apparently, if I adopt, I’m well on my way to becoming a shining example of the “depth and wonder of the human heart.” I can only hope that with continuing progression, adoptive parents will no longer be seen as brave or heroic. Equating adoption to heroism is like saying the children are a burden, or that the “normal” familial process of biological offspring is always preferable. I just want to adopt because I’ve always wanted to, because it seemed natural as wanting to give birth. There are a few notable exceptions, and while I wouldn’t call those adopting a special needs child ‘heroic,” I admire their self assurance and way in which they are able to knowingly bring a few (sometimes several) extra complications into their lives. When I adopt a child, whatever you do, don’t call me a hero. It’s insulting to my future children.
*Urban Myth #666
You know how it feels to have an annoying song stuck in your head? Or even worse, an irritating commercial. It seems that more often than not, those insidious bits of marketing propaganda have one target and one target only: young people. Unfortunately, the rest of us are caught in the crossfire.
Most people want to have kids; I accept this fact but don’t truly understand it. Think about the pressure: it’s ultimately up to you whether your child becomes the next President of the United States (great) the next Jeffrey Dahmer (not so great) or the next Heidi Montag (even worse). Anyway, because we live in this proud, free country, you can exercise your right to procreate, just like I can exercise the right to smoke, get really fat, or tie up my consensual partner in a closet dungeon on long weekends (just sayin’).
The difference is, most of the personal decisions we make in our lives have no bearing on anyone else; you don’t have to hear about my eccentric sexcapades or watch me eat an entire bucket of KFC in one sitting. So why then must I be subjected to endless commercials about the wonders of potty time? Why must I endure your whining children in a five star restaurant? Why must I accept those “what’s wrong with you” looks when I tell someone that the idea of having children is about as exciting as the idea of a daily, 18-year long colonic regimen?
Our society places a disproportionate emphasis on our youth.
Sure, they are the decision makers of tomorrow and sure, their impressionable minds need to be nurtured and filled with love and knowledge. But what about the decision makers of today?
What about the vast majority of adults who still have potential, lives to live, goals to fulfill?
It seems that as soon as we are old enough to accomplish something in our lives, we’re told to have kids and sacrifice that precious time to the next generation – who turn around and do the exact same thing. So who’s actually getting stuff done around here? If I added up the time I spend each year forced to listen to Justin Bieber songs and watching Twilight trailers, I could have finished writing my first best-selling novel by now!
The amount of time I spend every day being bombarded by “kid stuff” is mindboggling: commercials, ads, loud little urchins running into my kneecaps on the street – the list goes on.
I absorb so much kid-related information a day, sometimes I feel like I have one of my own, and that, my friends, does not make me happy. Why are fashion trends determined by 17-year old celebrities? Why do I have to sift through 50 different sugary cereals to get to my Cheerios? (Ok, I’ll admit Froot Loops are pretty awesome, but still) Why are there interactive video games for toddlers, and why, oh why am I even aware of it? Stop the madness!
Parents, out of sheer stupidity, have become part of the problem; they don’t realize that this is just another way companies rope us in, make us suckers and slaves to our culture of overconsumption.
They don’t even have to market intelligently; they just hit you where it hurts most – the ovaries. With bright colors, cartoon animals and sparkly music, they convince you that you’re a bad parent if you don’t buy, buy, buy, and buy some more. And you buy it, alright. Wise old grandparents will tell you there’s no manual for being a parent – but you will still spend $50 at Barnes and Noble on just such a thing.
I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t get attention and toys and movies just for them – I’m just saying we should take a long hard look at what all of this stuff really is and what its use is, if it has one. I’d say 90% of children’s products today are superfluous and unnecessary.
Remember when we were kids and we played outside in the sunshine and mud? We didn’t have Crankity Brainteaser or Peek a Doodle Do and we got along just fine. I’m pretty sure (and I know this from experience) that the only adult sanctuary left is the strip club. I guess it could be worse.
Let’s get back to basics: animals exist to procreate. At one time, as primitive animals ourselves, we did too. But with the wonderful gift of bigger brains, we have come up with other reasons to exist: to create beautiful art, to help others, to make the world a better place to live in. We don’t need to create copies of ourselves to feel like we were useful on this earth; unfortunately, that’s not what most of society – not to mention your in-laws – want you to believe.
I’m sure there are a lot of “breeders” reading this right now who are positively fuming at my callous and selfish commentary – as proud parents, you probably think it’s justified that the world revolves around children. Having a child is a joy like no other, you say. It’s the most important thing you can do with your life. There’s something wrong with you if you don’t want kids!
How about this: let’s you and I call a truce. I won’t call you crazy for buying your eight-year-old an iPhone, and you won’t call me evil for kindly suggesting you keep your spawn on a leash. You and I and all the kiddies of the world can live together in harmony – just keep their snotty noses out of my life.
Blue Collar Republicans
There’s a ballot in front of you. On it, there are several names, with neat little boxes next to each. Your duty as an active member of American society is to proudly check the box next to the name that you think is the right choice for yourself and for the future of this country, the choice that will ensure liberty and justice for all while simultaneously solidifying your own values and allowing you to make an imprint upon society. The only trouble is, you have no idea what the fuck you’re voting for.
Ideally, you want to vote for the party that supports the issues you feel the most strongly about. You want to vote for the candidate that will do good things, things that will benefit you, your family, your community. Don’t you? So, of course, being logical and levelheaded, you understand that one person alone isn’t going to make all your wildest dreams of American fortitude come true. You decide to vote for the party that is the lesser of two evils. You weigh the pro’s and con’s based on how a new politician or an entire political party will hopefully affect your life in the future.
But what about the people who aren’t quite as grounded in logic as this profile description? What about the people who surrender their beliefs to institutions of policy and politics merely because it is ingrained in their psyche that it’s what they are supposed to do? More specifically, what about the guy with blue collar circumstances, but a white collar political mindset? Blue Collar Republicans are an elusive and mysterious group of people indeed. The term itself is somewhat of an oxymoron. It’s tough to decipher exactly what motivates a decision-making process that is not backed wholly by logic, but from what I see, it is a unique combination of nationalism, false superiority, tradition, and fear. And possibly, as author George Lakoff suggests in The Political Mind, genetics, my friends.
It has to be a throw-back to our animal ancestors with a strict pecking order in their social structure. It has to be genetic. Nothing else explains the strange phenomenon of working people voting directly against their best interests. They can’t all be blinded by the immoderate patriotism that is the only apparent connection.
Nationalism is an interesting thing in this day and age. It might not sound so bad; after all, it is essentially a good thing to carry loyalty for one’s country. But what happens when patriotism is taken to a level above and beyond what is good or healthy or even makes sense anymore? The freedom and loyalty that Blue Collar Republicans often think they possess looks to me like a gross reflection of their ironic binds to society – not freedom at all. So afraid of socialism infringing upon American society, they give up their own right to choose what’s best for them in order to remain “devoted” to their nation. Seems far from democratic to me.
I grew up surrounded by men in my family who clung to a severe case of patriotism. But why would people who grew up with next to nothing, who continue to suffer for the benefit of the wealthy people in this country, remain so shackled to national pride? Because it’s macho. It’s a tall man with good posture and a briefcase. It’s a clean-shaven face. It’s white, it’s Christian, it’s strong, unshakable, superior. That’s what the image so often is. Not a scruffy-faced, loose-moral-ed, wavering hippie. Dear God, anything but that. Ah, such is the stereotypical and radically incorrect image of a left-minded person to the fearful, paranoid, Blue Collar Republican.
The way somebody decides what to believe in, whether it is politics, religion, or a favorite baseball team, should reflect comprehensive knowledge on the subject, as well as personal convictions. Unfortunately, this is not how beliefs are instituted. At all. Instead, if your parents are Christian, Republican, Yankee fans, you typically carry those beliefs forward for no particular reason at all, aside from tradition, bias, and probably nostalgia. This is relatively harmless when we’re talking about Major League Baseball. But significantly more harmful when we’re talking about politics. Blindly running with a set of beliefs that influence your life and the lives of others is not necessarily a safe run to take.
Something tells me that people should be given all the facts before they attach themselves to any combination of political values. And the issue here is, Republican values are just so overwhelming. As someone who was raised by Republicans, I can tell you firsthand that there are no choices or opinions offered in the political upbringing process. There is no chance to make up your own mind, until of course you are much, much older. And from what I’ve seen of those raised in a conversely liberal environment, in terms of relaying politics on youth, instead, facts are laid on the table, opinions are tossed around, people talk, listen, participate, and are in turn able to make up their own minds. So very different in an ultra-conservative household. Why? Because this method
of instituting a no-choice, fear-fueled, my-way-or-the-highway attitude about politics is how the Republican Party stakes its claims. And it works. In a family, and in a voting booth.
The fearful Blue Collar Republican wants to make sure his family is “safe” at all times, so he supports the overall wealth of the nation, which is so emphasized in the Republican Party. He also wants to protect himself and his loved ones from any and all impending threats to American freedom, thus supporting the rapid build up of U.S. military and other safety measures concerning foreign affairs. Bearing arms seems like one of these safety measures. Protecting the “sanctity” of marriage and maintaining restrictions on who can and cannot have children seems like another. He also wants to stand for the pro-life statute and protect his morals. In this list of ideals, it could be construed that his thoughts are stemming from a place of self-interest. But this is not the case. They stem from a place of fear, mistrust, panic, and overall insecurity. Why else would the Blue Collar Republican want to vote so overtly against his per-sonal well-being? Because he is more concerned with what he considers the well-being of the country? Sorry, I don’t buy it. The Republican Party feeds on the fears of society rather than demonstrating truths.
Manipulation is at the podium, and conceit is the speaker. Knowing how to use people’s uncertainties as ammunition is a skill both incredible and frightening. And paradoxically, this manipulation only fuels the arrogance and superiority of the conservative population. This is not to say that democrats don’t vote based on emotion as well. That would be a ridiculous and misleading assumption. As human beings, we are all heavily influenced by our emotions first and foremost, and our logic second. But it is important not to skip that second step. What does this blue collar republican guy have going for him? What’s in his favor? Sure, the Republican Party historically aims for lower taxes. This doesn’t exactly happen. Is healthcare a Republican concern? Definitely not. Support of small businesses? Job security? Social security? Not quite. Meanwhile, these are the very topics that actually do affect blue collar life. Maybe, gasp, even more than gay marriage and the second amendment! Just maybe.
Why does a working class man want to back a political party that has put several of his peers out of work, has him graying at the temples over job security, and continues support of a war that has billions of American taxpayer dollars spilling rapidly out of sight? The answer is quite readily available in John McCain’s campaign slogan from 2008, “Country First.” Instead of a few words of encouragement or strength, this phrase reinforces ambiguity and paints a vague but decidedly patriotic haze of anxiety over the Party message. It is underhanded and sly and easy to cover or justify, or even glamorize. But not without a hidden agenda. Or maybe not so hidden, considering that putting your country first doesn’t seem like something that goes hand in hand with planning to appoint a first year governor whom you don’t even know as the Vice President of the nation. Where does the country fit into that equation? Sure as hell not “first.” Supplying America with this token level of patronization fueled by insecurity and mixed signals is clearly the pinnacle of Republican principles. And the blue collar conservative public laps it up for the sake of a group of reasons that are intangible and dreamy. Or wait, I guess some of the reasons are tangible. Like that entirely legal loaded pistol on the top shelf. Now that’s concrete.