Has Sex Had Its Day?

Isn’t it time we put sex in its place and treat it like any other appetite? After all, if we thought about food as often as we think about sex we would all be obese. Wait a minute though…

Sexual ruminating may perhaps be the most prevalent way to squander time in a person’s life. The perpetual churning of detailed sexual fantasies and fetishes, prospective conquests and Encounters are, if nothing else, a misuse of our intellect.

The need to procreate is undoubtedly humanity’s most prominent driving force. Sexual desire, the manifestation of our ingrained mammalian responsibility to keep our planet populated, keeps us rich in fellow humans and thriving gene pools. Leaving a trail of many descendents, with either a spouse or lover, was once considered a tribute to such a fundamental desire.

These propagative accomplishments, needless to say, no longer produce an envied sense of virile achievement in our contemporary society. To father nine sons by countless women does not make you an emperor, but rather the dumb ass who assumed your girlfriend was on the pill. Yet, although our gauge of procreation has adjusted with the times, (i.e. two daughters instead of 12), an archaic and consistent preoccupation with sex still lingers.

Given that our procreative responsibilities need no longer be such (hello in vitro fertilization!), both women and men are now free to explore a multitude of other pursuits and interests. Eggs can be frozen. Sperm can be whipped up and made more potent for later. Surrogate mothering is more accessible now than it has ever been, and if you don’t feel like burdening another woman with your plight, you can always adopt. In the meantime, you could learn 12 languages if you felt so inclined. Read an entire survey of British literature. Master chess. Design an eco-friendly yacht. Learn engineering. Hell, invent a cure for AIDS.

But we don’t. Despite the fact that science has given us the opportunity to shrug off our reproductive entanglements and thereby given us an entire lifetime to enrich ourselves and our minds, we continually succumb to mere sexual thoughts: The woman with the slinky dress at the bus stop. The man at the café with the very pronounced arms. Asses in shorts. Breasts in low-cut tops. Navels and hips. Legs and thighs.

What is this prehistoric sexual preoccupancy costing us in the long run? A couple harmless fantasies while taking the bus to work is, at first consideration, harmless. A ten to fifteen minute mental digression in a boring class is acceptable. But over a series of weeks or years, these moments produce astounding gaps in our productivity, in places where, perhaps, we were almost on the verge of medical breakthroughs, new artistic perspectives, or unexplored philosophical quandaries. In the proverbial foundation of human intellect, these fractures could be keeping us from truly magnificent endeavors.

Examine for a moment the accomplishments of Albert Einstein. Einstein was the father of modern physics with over 300 published scientific works. He also, allegedly, had a round-the-clock obsession with Marilyn Monroe. Now, with her on the brain, he managed to come up with the theory of relativity, relativistic cosmology, the first post-Newtonian expansion, and the first fluctuation dissipation theorem. Can you imagine what else he would have thought up if he hadn’t been simultaneously spinning masturbatory scenery in his head? The loss is surely ours.

Sex, in every form, position, and context, has been done a million times before. All possible scenarios for sexual fulfillment, embarrassment, and disaster are just about as predictable as the missionary position. Infidelity, love triangles, first-times, last embraces; all of these words arouse familiar plots that have foreseeable outcomes, manifested again and again in history, film, music, theatre, and literature. Our biology and our extensive past have allowed all combinations to ensue, and so when it comes to sex, and even love, there is nothing that has not been experienced or tried.

Yet, where our ingenuity and creativity is concerned, we have only begun to understand the capabilities of our own intellect. The human brain, the most complex grey matter of all animals, is still one of the most uncharted terrains in science. And while not all of us are Malcolm Gladwell, Noam Chomsky, Bill Gates, or Camille Paglia, the truth is most of us could be.

Procreative and recreational activities aside, time invested in procuring, maintaining, and considering potential partners all adds up. How would you spend your Friday nights if you didn’t have a sex drive? What about your weekends? What interests or talents might you have if you had directed your curiosities elsewhere (instead of pouring over highly salacious sex tips in magazines)? What might you have accomplished in the time that you spent with your lover, or more substantially, in the time that you spent courting him or her?

The wealth of “what if ” is enough to reconsider all of one’s contributions to the world, a planet rapidly deteriorating to global warming, economic crisis, and faith-based wars. Our problem solving energies are being frittered away contemplating ways to corner our best friend’s wife or obtain a pretty girl’s phone number.

The fixation on sex as the relationship barometer is also a somewhat exhausting gauge. Despite advancements in the field of couple’s therapy (i.e. communications tools, ways to healthily argue), most therapists would agree that sex is the number one dysfunction in most relationships. Esteemed as the “true” component of any romantic relationship, sex can often tear good relationships apart while holding bad relationships together. It seems that our desires, both powerful and incredibly base, continue to override everything else.

Is there not now a schism in our psyche? There has never been a broader gap between our primeval brain and the demands of our ever-evolving society. Although frequent sexual enthrallment did once have a place, particularly in more primitive days, this propensity does not correspond with our times. According to Did You Know.org, a week’s worth of The New York Times is more information than a person in the 18th century was likely to come across in their entire lifetime. Also according to the website, there are currently 540,00 words in the English language, about five times as many as there were during Shakespeare’s time. Our minds are obviously expanding in ways we don’t even notice.

Where do sexual pursuits weigh into this progression? In the face of constant invention and advancement, sex as a constant engrossment and a concentration seems almost outdated. Like the tonsils we don’t need or the appendix that serves no function, will sex, too, become simply a remnant of prehistory? Has sex, in fact, had its day?

by Aurora Dupin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Power Women are GO!

The grown-up Hawkins siblings can’t tell you why it happened, or pinpoint when, exactly, they noticed the change in their family. Maybe somebody pointed it out at their annual Christmas gathering, or during one of the big reunions the Hawkins family holds every other summer. Or maybe there never was an aha moment. The knowledge just settled in until it became a fact they all knew, but hardly thought twice about. We have become a family of female earners.

Which was not how the siblings had been raised.

The siblings- there are six of them- grew up in the Detroit, Michigan suburbs. Their mother, Marcelle Hawkins, had all six in less than six years, completing her childbearing by the time she was twenty-five and staying home to raise them. Their father, Gary, supported the family by working as an engineer for Ford. He didn’t graduate from college, because in the 1960s and 1970s a man working for the U.S. auto industry didn’t need to. During his career Gary Hawkins helped launch the Pinto, visited assembly plants and solved their problems, traveled to help open factories in other regions, and as his wife puts it, “had his hand raised” every time Ford needed an engineer to work overtime. His chief regret, in retirement, is how little he saw of the children as they grew.

In contrast to his father, the oldest Hawkins sibling, Danny, graduated from the University of Michigan and married a woman whose earning potential was as high as or higher than his was. Danny took a job in financial services but was reluctant to work the crushing overtime load his bosses expected, so in the mid-1990s he left to become the happy, fulfilled hands-on parent to their two daughters, a stay-at-home father before the term got trendy. According to his own mother, Danny runs a household every bit as well as she did. He shops and cooks with such exactitude that he rarely ends up with leftovers, maintains a budgeting system that involves placing portions of money in a box with sections designated for specific uses, keeps a color-coded family appointment calendar, and has a stair step for each member on which he places packages and other belongings. On Halloween, for fun, he tried doing a statistical analysis of trick-or-treaters to gauge how much candy to buy the following year but decided there were too many unpredictable variables. Over the years, Danny has served as treasurer of the PTA, treasurer of their homeowners association, and sympathizing treasurer of the golf club they belong to. In the evenings he is happy to listen to the workday accounts of his wife, Susan, a senior vice president with the Henry Ford Health System, with her challenges and sharing in her triumphs. “I have told Susie several times that my job is to make her life easier,” says Danny. “And I like doing it.”

Meanwhile, Danny’s younger sister Leslie works in supply-chain management for a Michigan transportation and logistics company, where she has risen to be part of the top leadership team. Her own husband, Damon, who everybody thought would be a hotshot corporate lawyer and the main breadwinner in the family, instead stepped back to become the secondary earner, working as a real estate broker and becoming the on-call parent for their three children. Like his brother-in-law Danny, Damon cooks, ambitiously; golfs, formidably; drives children to lessons and sports games; clean house; and is so comfortably domesticated that when some neighbors arrived for a card game and Damon answered the door holding a dust cloth, the neighborhood began calling him “Coco”. Damon, who is known for his humor, embraced the nickname and the reputation for housekeeping excellence that goes with it.

Another grown-up Hawkins sibling, Rhonda, had no idea what she wanted to do with her life when she was a young adult. In college Rhonda changed majors so many times she stopped counting. Eventually she switched to night classes and took a job as a receptionist at Magna International, a company that supplies systems and components to the auto industry. She began working in marketing, got her degree in that field, and did so well that she finds herself- though she is too self-deprecating to allow that this is a big deal- the company’s head of global marketing. Her husband, Hank, works in the restaurant business and loves what he does, but scaled back his hours when Rhonda got a promotion that required her to take extensive overseas trips on short notice.

Another Hawkins sibling Lori, who works in finance, is in a committed relationship with another woman; both contribute monetarily to the household.
The other Hawkins daughter, Shelly, is a divorced mother of two, supporting her own household with a job in the health-care field. Out of the six adult children of Gary and Marcelle Hawkins, only one- Michael- is in a traditional marriage where he has filled the role of primary earner. Six adult siblings. Five households supported by women. One generation. One complete economic flip.

It’s a profound change in the balance of economic power, a striking role reversal and one that was unplanned, barely noticed, in fact, sneaking up on the Hawkins family when nobody was looking. In a matter of decades, the traditional male breadwinner model has given way to one where women routinely support households and outearn the men they are married to, and nobody cares or thinks it’s odd. The Hawkins family- sane, functional, rooted in a Midwestern state known for family values- offers a convincing vision of what America is becoming. We are entering an era where women, not men, will become the top earners in households. We are entering the era in which roles will flip, as resoundingly as they have done in this family. You laugh, but that Big Flip is just around the corner.

Not that long ago, in 1970, the percentage of U.S. wives who outearned their husbands was in the low single digits. Some of these women were super-achievers, but more often they were women married to men who were ailing, drifting, unsteady, or unemployable. For generations, female breadwinners were mostly poor women- women whose husbands had difficult providing. Forty years later, this template has changed dramatically, as the forces that produce female breadwinners have become more powerful and varied. Almost 40 percent of U.S. working wives now outearn their husbands, a percentage that has risen steeply in this country and many others, as more women have entered the workforce and remained committed to it. Women occupy 51 percent of managerial and professional jobs in the United States, and they dominate nine of the ten U.S. job categories expected to grow the most in the next decade. Part of this ascent is due to the gradual lifting of discriminatory practices that once funneled women into lower-paying sectors and obliged them to quit work when they got married. Part is due to long-term changes in the economy that have chipped away at male sectors like construction and manufacturing while bringing big increases in women’s fields such as education and health care. And a large part is due to women’s own grit and initiative, evidenced by the fact that women now outnumber men on college campuses in the United States as well as around the world.

By the year 2050, demographers forecast, there will be 140 college-educated women in the United States for every 100 college-educated men. Globally, a generation of young women is entering the job market who are better educated than young men are, and poised to become the most financially powerful generation of women in history. In coming years, economists- who study major transitions such as the rise of agrarian society, the dawn of the industrial age, the ascent of the white-collar office worker, the opening of the global economy- will look back and see this as the era when women realized their earning power and, for the first time, outpaced their partners. “The trends are clear,” agrees Gary Becker, the Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago who pioneered the economic study of families, even predicting that “we could see a day where women, on average are earning more than men.”

 

 

 

 

 

“How much do you cost?”

It’s Friday night, and you and your girlfriends are at your favorite Midtown bar/ Chelsea club/ East Village hangout. The music is rockin’, your outfit is bangin’, and you feel like a million bucks. Just as you’re really getting it on, you notice that handsome bloke across the dance floor checking you out with a familiar look in his eyes. Suddenly, he’s sidling up to you, and before you can even judge whether or not you like his cologne, he’s hitting you up with one hopeful question: “How much do you cost?”

Well, not exactly. In reality, the sentence coming out of his mouth is: “Can I buy you a drink?” But is there really any difference between the two?

Variations of this phrase are uttered countless times a night in millions of places across the globe. It has become a common routine in modern culture, yet it seems as though few of us have ever given much thought to the implications behind the proposal. In buying you that drink, your potential suitor is trading his money for your time and attention, elements of yourself not far removed from more intimate things like your body. Sure, everyone does it… but, as our mothers taught us, that does not always make it right.

Prior to the liberated sixties, relationships were usually begun at work or school, or through family and friends. It was rare to even find a woman – single or otherwise – inside a drinking establishment. However, with the roar of the feminist movement at the end of that decade, ladies began flooding into bars and boozing with the boys. Not surprisingly, the boys did not mind. The combination of men, women, and alcohol proved so successful that the trend stuck (although unshaven legs and bra-boycotting did not), and we now have a culture which includes bar-based romance.

Of course, this is all well and good; leaving aside the ‘eye-contact’ benefits’ over the (more often than not) mis-informed swiping right method; I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t enjoy a fun drink and some hot flirtation across the dance floor. Romance and attraction are universal and, one might even argue, essential to the human experience. The real problem lies within the motivation behind the offer of the bought drink, in the implicit assumption that a man must spend money on you to get your attention…. and whatever else. There are a multitude of other ways he could go about showing you that he is worth your time, but somehow we have all been convinced that the only option is for him to buy it cheaply.

How did we end up with this expectation? Biologists would argue that the answer can be found in our genes. Back in the day (the prehistoric one, that is), a woman had a specific and straightforward set of criteria for her mate: he needed to have the strength to provide for and protect a family. Females couldn’t exactly go out on their own to hunt saber-toothed tigers for dinner back then, so males had to prove that they were capable of surviving, with the assumption they would pass on those capable genes to their offspring. The ability to bring home dinner was the number one priority for single cavewomen, and it was this quality that cavemen tried to showcase when pursuing a mate.

Over a few millennia, this demand evolved from basic bodily needs to more material ones. As families moved out of caves and into the suburbs, society mandated that the male half of a couple continue to bring home dinner, now in the form of a paycheck. In turn, women adjusted their criteria from physical strength to financial success. And men started attempting to prove their genetic value by flashing their wallets in our direction whenever possible.

This might have worked for a few hundred years, but when the world finally realized that women also make great employees, our standards should have changed. Females have been a prevalent part of the workforce for over a century. Today, we constitute forty-six percent of the workforce, and a quarter of American women in two-income relationships are the primary breadwinner of the two. Financial success and the ability to provide are no longer necessary conditions in our consideration of mate – we are bringing home our own bacon now, and we can certainly use it to buy our own drinks.

Yet, society still encourages the idea that, if a guy wants to get a girl’s attention, it will cost him.

“A good hunter is someone who’s going to see you, go up to you, introduce himself, and buy you a drink. Nothing is worse than standing at a bar… he’s with his beer.. and you’re like, ‘Why isn’t he talking to me, why doesn’t he offer me a drink, he’s cheap!’

A vast number of women still seem to adhere to this thinking, totally expecting a man to buy them a drink in order to show his interest. We have been brainwashed to anticipate a man to invest something in us if he wants to get to know us better … and somehow we have arrived at the conclusion that an eight-dollar drink is a good option. SERIOUSLY! Aren’t we worth a tad more than that dude?

Because, oh wait, our brains have evolved, too. We may have gotten to this point out of biological necessity, but we are now far beyond worrying about our daily survival in the world. For the first time in the history of womankind, we all have the opportunity to completely disregard physical and financial demands in our consideration of a mate. To top that off, there is absolutely nothing stopping us from taking on the role of the pursuer as well. If we can go after everything else in life that we want, who is to say we can’t do the same romantically?

Ladies, let’s buck the status quo. We have come a long way over the last 50,000 years to get the world to recognize our ability to function independently of anyone else, so why should we insist on perpetuating such a backwards mating ritual? It is time to let society know that there are better ways to start a relationship. The next time the cutie across the dance floor offers to buy you a drink, you could counter with a more neutral suggestion instead: “Thanks, but I’ve already got my own. How about a dance, instead?” Better yet, you could even walk up to that man of interest and start the conversation. That way, he’ll realize that you’re worth more than any dollar amount, let alone a paltry cocktail at the bar.

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Quik’n’Easy Dates for You!

An impossibly perky woman thrust a nametag and clipboard at me. I resisted the urge to laugh and glanced at my friend Li, who groaned, and confirmed that yes, we were here for the speed-dating event. It was of the extra speedy sort tonight, 20 dates in one hour, three minutes each, to be exact. “Don’t worry, this will be fun,” I assured her. I was confident that if nothing else, it would be an utmost interesting experience and a great laugh. After all the opportunity to see real faces and hear real voices was really VERY appealing. It was quite the novelty. After all the tendency to swipe left too many times leaves you sometimes swiping right just to keep up appearances! (And we all have disaster stories of the consequences of that particular foible)

You see, I work three jobs. As a novice New Yorker, or even an experienced one, this is not uncommon. Which means that to make ends meet, I must dash from one job to the next. It means I leave my box of an apartment at 8 am every morning with my ginormous purse—not because it’s the season for Balenciaga, (well, partly) but because I must carry an extra set of work clothes, food, shoes, and everything I need for the day—and not return until midnight. It means that I am often sleep deprived.

However, it also means that I am finally doing what I want and love to do, that I find my life exhilarating and full, and that means, in the words of my sister, that I am New York Woman.

Power Woman and all, the fact is that the time I have to go out with friends or even, dare I say, dating, has been downright rare. And in a city filled with TK men, there just isn’t the time to sashay bars looking for guys to date. So there must be a way to take the reigns of dating into my own hands. Which is why, based on a friend’s suggestion, I bribed Li with the promise of free drinks to sign up with me on this nontraditional, “real quik, real easy, match guaranteed or your next event half off” speed-dating event. I’m not sure what was causing Li’s anxiousness: the event itself, that they couldn’t properly spell “quick”, or the fact that if we didn’t match with any guy, our next event would be equivalent to bargain shopping.

But, no matter. I was here, and a flurry of activities enveloped me, cocktails were being drunk, bells were ringing, and yes, I introduced myself, you guessed it, 20 times. It must be admitted that some three minutes were longer than others. No offense to the dear sweet gay man or the wild-eyed actor who referred to himself in the third person, but I digress. There was one boy however, who I’ll call Matt, whose three minutes felt unexpectedly rushed to me. In short, I thought it would be nice to spend an entire half hour having a drink with him.

I had a lovely time, and when I thought about it, felt giddy with having a new crush. He called me the day after our drink (usually unheard of). “So when are you free again?” he asked easily. I paused, my mind racing. When was I free again? Genuinely baffled by the question, my worn out day planner had to be pulled out. Flipping rapidly through the pages, I found a tiny blank spot. “Oh here we go,” I said, relieved. “I get off work early Tuesday night at ten, not next Tuesday, but the one after that…” I trailed off when I could actually hear him frown.

“Go ahead and pencil me in,” he told me. “But maybe before that, say, tomorrow? I can pop into your work and bring you lunch…”
I smiled at him over the phone. I really did like this boy, who I met in a situation as funny as speed dating. Who would’ve thought? “You know what? I’ll just take a long lunch tomorrow.”

Because busy as I am, I know I can do all that I need to do, and then, I’ll make time for him. I am, after all, a New York City Woman.

 

 

 

 

 

Women Of The World UNITE!

In 1963, Betty Friedan wrote a book. It’s a fairly well known title, and a staple textbook in many a college women’s study class. It’s a great look into the proscribed roles in life that our mothers were breaking away from, even as our grandmothers couldn’t understand what was wrong and men sniffed or rolled their eyes. (Or did worse.)

You may have heard of it, whether mentioned in praise, for study, or in general disgust. It’s called The Feminine Mystique.

(Remember that post-feminism world rant I told you about? Yeah, brace yourself.)

It was just the start of a great movement, just the first attempt to put into words a problem that so many women faced but couldn’t give voice to. Just the start of a small revolution that people seem to think is somehow finished. Yeah. Finished. As though somehow the feminist fight, like the civil rights fight, is finished. Like women can be lawyers and CEOs now, so everything is a rainbow magic land, so why are people still harping on about that old, tired movement from history that nobody really needs to talk about.

It’s not so unusual to hear from the mouths of men, childish about and possessive of their privileges as they are, to whine about feminism. Since the movement of feminism began they have tried to write it off as a phase, to suggest that really just women were unsatisfied in their sex lives. Which, yeah, I’m sure they were. But that wasn’t the problem, and it still ISN’T the problem. It works for men to turn the feminist movement into a ‘man-hating’ or ‘reverse oppression’ (oppression my ass) because it makes them feel better about themselves, about the privilege they enjoy and the rape culture that’s propagated through the patriarcy. It’s easier to look at bra-burnings and the extreme ends that feminists resorted to in the 70s when they were desperate not to be written off and to tell women ‘Don’t actually fight for your own autonomy, your own freedom, your own rights. You can vote! You’re allowed to have a job! Look, if you stick with feminism you’re clearly just an unfeminine lesbian who wants to burn her bra. Join the ranks again and be content.’

CONTENT ? ? ? ? ?

There’s nothing to be content about. Feminism isn’t won. Feminism hasn’t even gotten more than half-way to the ultimate goal! And yet more and more I hear or see women, in person, on TV, over the internet, and that is exactly the shit that’s coming out of their mouths.

Yes, things are different than they were in the 10s, 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s. Yes, we’ve gotten to a point where women aren’t going to be burned for speaking out of turn or having ideas. We’ve managed to get to a point where women are expected to be able to read and write as a basic component of education, and that’s awesome. Many many things are better, and pretty much anyone born after 1980 takes this ‘better’ for granted, because hey – we don’t live under the thumb of religion, right? At least we’ve got it a fuck of a lot better than the Arab world, or something, right?

What is wrong with you?

How the hell can you think that this ‘better’ is good enough, and how do you DARE think that we don’t still have all of these problems? Having the vote isn’t close to being an indication that feminism’s work is done. Sure, a male boss probably isn’t going to tell you that he’s so happy to be getting ‘the same brains for less money’, but if feminism had done it’s job we wouldn’t still be making 70 cents to a man’s dollar for the same damned job. If feminism had finished it’s work day care and job schedule flexibility would be available for all mothers in all sectors and women wouldn’t be pressured to choose family or career. It would be a given that men could get off their assess to do some fucking laundry every now and then, because they’re not LITTLE children. “Boys will be boys” would be banished from our vocabulary because there is NO reason that boys should get away with shit based solely on their private parts that girls aren’t given the same leeway with. Toys wouldn’t be colored blue and pink and girls wouldn’t be under pressure to be princesses all the damned time. A boy would be able to wear pink without being called “girly”, and people would appreciate that a girl can play sports, or punch you in the face.

Don’t forget that even as we speak one of the most fundamental rights a woman can have in regards to her health is under attack from men on all sides of the country! Because obviously old white men know better than a woman and her doctor what is best for her body. Obviously old white men are better at making choices about shit that they will never experience, and that’s why their laws about women’s bodies should be accepted. Because obviously women are still just here to be incubators and milk cows – even if they don’t want to be.

All because things are “better”. “Good enough”. So good enough that now, apparently, we need a new counter-movement! They call themselves Male Rights Activists and I have nothing but a couple middle fingers for them. It’s not just men; now there are even women who are joining in. Because men have done such a good job of making feminism into a dirty word that even women are getting swept up in images of lesbians with sledge hammers taking swings at poor, innocent men who only want to keep the women suppressed and in their place oh it’s so fucking sad!

GOOD ENOUGH ? ? ? ?

Good enough is NEVER good enough. If good enough was good enough than we wouldn’t still be so goddamned hypocritical in our attitudes towards femininity and female sexuality. Girls are supposed to be beautiful, they’re supposed to try and attract boys so they can propagate the human race, BUT NOT TOO MUCH. Don’t wear a skirt too short! Or a shirt cut too low! If you do that than you’re naughty! You don’t take enough precautions, and you let yourself have the same kind of fun that men have, so you probably deserved it if they try to take advantage of you. After all a girl is being too sexy.

And let’s not forget how women have to have special literature. Because how could men enjoy ‘chick lit’? It’s all about… you know, relationships! Love! Not killing things but maybe communicating them! Or dealing with emotions and figuring out how to go about expressing them! Because that’s GIRLY. Not for MEN. If that’s not a direct piece of bullshit from the Patriarchy, I don’t know what is. But girls are accepting of it. We’re accepting of it because that’s how we’re raised, and it’s so fucking pervasive that we don’t even consider it might not be normal.

If you’re going to sit there and tell me that feminism is over !! That its work is done ?? Then I don’t even know how hard to hit you over the head with a frying pan. I’m letting you in on this secret for your own good, children: Feminism isn’t over. You may want to be a housewife, and that’s absolutely fine. But don’t you dare stop fighting for your sisters for whom that life isn’t fulfilling. Complacency will cost you just as much as it will them.

 

 

 

 

 

Beware False Profits

I happened to catch the film Blue Valentine and there’s a pivotal scene in the middle of when the weary, tired married couple (played by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams) are sitting in a hotel room discussing their relationship. She questions his potential and his response is simple and something (I think) most men feel. He wonders what defines potential; what are man’s limits in a relationship; when does he reach his highest plateau? He works, brings home money (maybe not the most money he can make, but he supports the family nonetheless), loves his wife, raises their daughter. That is all he needs. She feels otherwise, bogged down and “beaten” by his mediocrity. Her respect for him has been stripped. She is ashamed at what he is now. When they met he was vibrant, fun, young and in love. Then, he looked like he was going to make a successful life and husband; now, he mires in a paying job, pays the bills, cares for his family, and just makes it by. She works, too. And she’s over their relationship. Is this situation common today? If so, why is potential such a bone of contention with women? I think life, and relationships for that matter, need a jolt of reality.

The specific scene in question above stuck with me because I find so many men—so many city men—in this situation, working, striving, making it work, content. I also know men that are super-successful and some that are barely making ends meet. The situation in which Gosling and Williams’ characters find themselves raises a question on the societal pressures that men endure. It also put my life into perspective, being in a marriage where money and security are topics that seem to crash land on the dinner table. In a world that strives for a flat line of sameness across the board, we men are still subject to expectations to reach for the stars while being defined by money and careers and the support we provide. We’re the ones in the relationship that, no matter what, have to have the successes that make a relationship’s blood flow. I’m not whining and I’m not repudiating my duties as an active member of this great country or passing the baton to others because I’d given up. I am just saying that in the year 2011, it still feels to me that men are set against a higher standard, and that they must meet or surpass a ceiling of potential that may or may not necessarily attainable. Why are men subject to such scrutiny nowadays? Where does the term “satisfied” fit in the relationship equation? I don’t think it does, and that’s a shame.

I think that we as human beings are slaves to Capitalism, to the “dream” branded red hot with monetary symbols, to goals predestined and set forth long before we were born. We live to work, then buy, obtain, collect, a status, in all forms. That status is seared into our collective minds and it creeps and manifests itself within every relationship. It is unavoidable. Significant-other-potential is often metered by money and in this day and age, who can “afford” to ignore that? You are judged by what you can bring to the table, your ID attached to a yearly figure. People’s lives get clogged with information, monthly utility bills, mouths to feed, car payments. A good percentage of the day is spent worrying about money, so much so that we don’t appreciate what we have, what we’ve been given, what’s in front of us. We need to get back to life with new values; recognizing what is important and celebrating one another instead of what we can offer one another.

I was at a Downtown bar the other night, out for a friend’s birthday, when I bumped into an old friend, a day trader. We started chatting about the economy and how the divorce rate in America is high because couples today are so stressed about money issues that it drives them to the fault line. This isn’t new stuff; everyone knows money is one of the main reasons that couples go Splitsville. But I think it’s worth noting that having a good job and lots of money for security has its drawbacks, too. Those come in the form of Recessions, rising inflation, a crashing economy, fewer and fewer jobs, a psyche at wit’s end. In other words, we’re trying our hardest so please be patient. It is time to reevaluate our needs and wants and learn to get back to what makes a couple special.

The answer for me is simple, but I don’t think it will ever be universally settled upon. The way we live today will only change if the system changes, but that won’t be easy. At some point in the film, Gosling says “… But it seems like girls get to a place where they just kinda pick the best option… ‘Oh he’s got a good job.’ I mean they spend their whole life looking for Prince Charming and then they marry the guy who’s got a good job and is gonna stick around.” I want to believe that this isn’t true, but I find in so many instances where it is. Please be the one that changes my mind.

 

 

 

 

 

Sell, Sell, Sell. It’s The Answer

Advertising signs they con

You into thinking you’re the one

That can do what’s never been done

That can win what’s never been won

Meantime life outside goes on… all around you!*

*Bob Dylan (It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding), Bringing It All Back Home, 1965

Call within the next ten minutes and you will not only receive this battery operated self activating kitchen knife for yourself, but for each member of your family as well! Call within the next five minutes and you will get TWENTY knives, for half the price of ONE with a FULL money back guarantee! Call within the next TWO minutes and get 75% off the entire purchase, plus an extra twenty bucks back and sixteen handmade Indian Silk knife satchels!!!! Act now, supplies are limited!!!

Ahhhhhhhh. Must. Buy. Now.

Exaggeration, maybe. But seriously, these direct response marketing tricks actually work! And a lot of the time, for merchandise almost as ridiculous, if not more. Why do we feed into this?! I mean, I’ve had my eye on the magic bullet for a good 2 years now, watched the entire segment more times than I can count on both hands….and I don’t cook. The urgency and repetition behind the air time of these silly segments is easy to interpret, yet, knowing that, I still continue to feel the need to get my hands on that clever little blender. Why? Well, because in case I get the urge to take up cooking, no blender of mine will be below par! It will be the finest chopper in town, with unlimited peeling and dicing capacities. Oh yes.

Kicking off in the 80’s along with a plethora of other wacko fads, info-mercials might have started out as a trend, but about four decades later I think it’s safe to say they’re not going away any time soon. I’ve spent many a sleepless night flipping through bad late night TV hoping to find something to ease my minor insomnia. Enter: the info-mercial. “Paid Programming” glued to the information bar of just about every available channel usually makes me a distinctive blend of irritated and semi-intrigued. After a hopeless search for a syndicated talk show or at least an old sitcom, I usually find myself being yelled at by perky people of a variety of looks and professions to the point of anxiety. Ok, ok! I’ll buy it!

Alright, so I realize the air fryer oven isn’t the perfect example of the infomercial in all it’s ridiculous glory. Because it does actually serve a purpose, and I happen to have a couple friends who have it and say it works great. (I’m not justifying my desires I swear.) Of course, the people with those freakish smiles plastered on their faces shouting about how it will change your life forever might be a bit much, but at least it’s functional. But what about the ones that are ….just….abso- lutely…. insane. Enter: the Tiddy Bear.

The Tiddy Bear was one of my personal favorites. It’s was designed to increase comfort in the, um, tiddy, area, by providing some cushion between said tiddies and that troublesome seatbelt. Hmmm. I could see the situation getting a little uncomfortable, once in a while, and I’ve had to readjust my seatbelt now and again so it didn’t cut into me, surely. And maybe large chested women (aka not me) might run into even further discomfort. But come on, that name. I mean…how was the woman in that ad not laughing? (If you haven’t seen it, it is imperative that you do, very very soon. It’s on Youtube))

I think it’s got to be the fact that these low-budget-commercials-on-steroids know just how to play on our emotions and get into our heads. Of course, the typical half hour deadline before every last one on earth is sold helps out a bit too. It is my personal belief that the sweatshops in Southeast Asia characteristically necessitate the sale of more than 25 items sold to break even, but that’s just me. But the marketing brains behind the whole operation have a significant advantage. The manufacturers of these products have the capacity to figure out how their methods of advertisement are working, since the orders are directly called in. Calculating how people are perceiving the product can be done by the marketing or advertising companies in a matter of hours. They don’t have to wait to get their stuff in stores, so they can rearrange and redirect their approach as they see fit. And as it happens, evidently, the more ludicrous the better.

The way an info-mercial goes about getting right under our skin directly correlates with the style in which it is presented. This style could be seen almost as some variety of groundbreaking news report – that if you know what’s good for you, you will not miss out on this once in a lifetime chance. That type of pressure is how the marketing works. Is this really fair? To the public? To the consumer? Personal control and rationale allow most people I know to forego all the silliness and see what the programming is really good for – a hearty laugh. But that doesn’t change the fact that millions and millions of Snuggies (remember them) were sold across the nation.

Capitalism is defined as an economic system based on private ownership, and depending on means of production, distribution and exchange of wealth, maintained by private individuals or corporations. Insert the word info-mercial as the preliminary word in the previous statement and it would still make sense. A whole hell of a lotta sense, in fact. The face of capitalism depends on the exploitation of a community and the ability to influence this community to the point of commitment. Unfortunately, the word capitalism is like the word communism in this country, a big elusive group of storm clouds just above the American public, fumbling around, knocking into each other. Yelling out for attention. Very clearly present, very clearly crucial, yet easy to write off as if it’s all not really there. It just couldn’t be! Better off to ignore the entire notion, otherwise we might feel slightly uncomfortable.

When you take something like an info-mercial, whether it be for Handerpants! ‘The underpants for your hands!’ (note: these are fingerless gloves) or PajamaJeans (note: self explanatory stupidity) it’s hard to see beneath the preposterous surface. But if you take a look, you’ll see that there’s something distinctly damaging about incessantly slapping Americans in the face with false promises, outlandish declarations and stress heavy artificiality. Sigh. Mom, if you’re reading this, I still want a Air Fryer Oven. My birthday’s right around the corner.

 

 

 

 

 

WHEN IS A THEFT NOT A THEFT?
(When It’s This Cool!)

All crime, and that includes capital crime, is just a matter of where your society draws its particular line (think justifiable homicide). Here in the US, we have the main lines drawn pretty well. But that leaves many of us victims of a fairly arbitrary drawing of the white collar line in the sand.
(Think Wall Street)

Tyler Durden may be the coolest guy that’s (cinematically) walked the earth. A true Renaissance man, the (anti)hero of Fight Club provided an outlet for troubled young men to re-invest their lives with meaning, stood up to make political and social change where he felt change was necessary, and created a sense of true community among a group of misfits who felt disconnected, all from humble beginnings as a soap entrepreneur. Sure, a lot of the “change” he made came as the result of blowing up buildings and getting guys to punch each other senseless (not to mention pouring lye on Ed Nor-ton’s hand, arguably one of the most painful scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie). But when push comes to shove, I want to be Tyler Durden at the end of the film, or at least as close to him as I could be.

When the visions of Brad Pitt’s abs on my body withered away and the realization that chemical explosives are, in fact, a bad thing became clear again, I put my dreams of being Tyler Durden’s next protégé on hold. But for some, this dreamworld never dissipates, which leads to some really fucked up things. Take for instance the Queens elementary school teacher who was charged with “acting in a manner injurious to a child under 17,” after it came forward that he had started his own fight club comprised of his fourth grade students. The playground turned into a boyhood bloodbath every time the 10:45 morning bell would ring.

This is an extreme. Sometimes all we want to do is have a little fun. And hell, I’ve never been one to say no to that. And because this is the way Hollywood has programmed us, who’s to say it’s wrong? The law, that’s who.

As soon as families started looking a little less like Norman Rockwell paintings and a little more like Modern Family, child-rearing took up an approach that I’ll coin as the “box method.” Since the 60’s, we’ve all been raised by various means of delivering the message: televisions, VCRs, movie screens, DVDs, downloads, streaming. Hence, it would only make sense that as a people, we’ve developed a system of values and desires based on what we’ve seen onscreen. We’ve learned to assign demigod status to heroes, of both the regular and anti-variety, who have graced the screen in our lifetimes, and we’ve subconsciously created a Rolodex in the back of our minds that tells us what’s right and wrong based on their behaviors. We’ve developed our hopes, dreams, and aspirations from Daniel Craigs and Matt Damons of the world, and we’ve spent the majority of our childhoods living out these fantasies on the playground and in the backyard. As kids, we became so close to these movies and so far removed from real life that we never dreamed of the lives we ended up living, or the careers we ended up occupying. I remember countless hours spent on the hot California blacktop imagining I was a crooked cop, a robber, or a highway bandit, but I can’t recall a single recess spent playing a financial analyst or corporate lawyer.

Just because the blacktop has turned into happy hour in Hell’s Kitchen doesn’t mean we’ve “grown up” by any measure. We may be sitting in chairs in cubicles in tall office buildings playing financial analysts and corporate lawyers everyday, but that’s not to say that much has changed in the ways of our idolatry. We still yearn for what we’ve seen in the movies, what we still see. We pepper our day-to-day with fantasies of the “caper criminals,” those fearless men who live out their lives onscreen, breaking the law in every which way, who we can’t help but adore. We go to the movies expecting the thrills we can’t achieve in our own realities, and when we see it all acted out in front of us, it sparks that basic human instinct to cause a little trouble, to stick it to the man who decided to switch the office toilet paper from Charmin Ultra Soft to generic one-ply. The next day, we wake up ready and eager to perform what we studied in that Scorsese flick, only to stare in the closet and realize our wardrobes are full of sensible cashmere socks instead of black ski masks. Sadly, the fantasy is quickly dissolved. Call it a case of criminal blue balls: it’ll sting for a bit, but when it gets down to it, you probably made the right decision not to go any further.

But what about that guy who doesn’t stop there? Is he a badass or an idiot? A misinterpreted hero or a plain criminal? While a lot of this area is clearly defined by the law, I think it gets a little sticky when you start to unpack it a little. I will be the first to admit that I don’t think stealing is an OK thing to do. In recent years, a lot of young Americans have started this bizarre trend of “thrill theft,” where rich kids from Connecticut are caught stealing from stores simply because it was the only thing that could put a spike in the charts of their prep school lives. I guess it beats intravenous drug use, but that’s no justification for taking something that isn’t yours. Stealing wallets on the street or purses on the train? Forget about it. I hope we can all agree that there’s no justifiable reason for this. Don’t even try the Robin Hood, “stealing from the rich and giving to the poor” excuse either, because I’m sure the victim of this crime would be happier to buy someone a sandwich or donate a few dollars than he would be canceling all his credit cards and standing in the DMV line waiting for yet another embarrassing driver’s license picture (take it from experience, this whole debacle sucks). This stuff is illegal for a reason: it’s immoral and you wouldn’t want it done to you.

However even with all the provisions of the law that make this kind of behavior punishable in our country, there exists a whole style of “stealing” that’s almost institutionalized in the states. It is a sort of “capitalist crime” that nobody would ever argue as unlawful, and that exists on every street corner in America. OK, that’s a lot of words, but what does it mean, and how are we all a part of it? Like this: when a store or an individual sells an inferior product at a price that somebody would consider exorbitant if they knew the real quality, should we consider that a theft of sorts? New Yorkers, let’s take an example that is near and dear to many of our hearts and examine the sale of umbrellas on the streets. How many of us have been caught in a disgusting January surprise rainstorm and have been forced to succumb to the closest vendor under scaffolding shelling out shitty umbrellas for $15? He knows that the umbrella will undoubtedly break before you even make it to your train, and with this knowledge, he takes your money and gives you what is essentially a piece of garbage in return. While this “crime” isn’t something that will earn him criminal charges, is it not still a morally criminal act? Is it right for somebody to use their intellect and the benefit of capitalism to take your money from you like this, knowing that they are the sole benefactors of the transaction? As long as we keep purchasing umbrellas on those awful days, we are complying with this kind of “crime”, and while it seems victimless, your pockets will still miss that $15.

It seems that a kind of double standard exists when it comes to dealing with crime in the United States, favoring the intellectually adept over those with physical might. While I’m sure almost all Americans would be outraged by a linebacker of a man taking Little Orphan Annie to the floor and stealing her purse, we rarely hear of people taking a stand greater than living room grumbles over business big wigs collecting their twice-yearly bonuses as our economy crumbles even further to the ground. If you want to commit the perfect crime, don’t act on physical impulse. Rather, take your time, get out the drafting paper, and be ready to use your words. I can’t tell if Americans are really smart or really stupid to let this kind of “crime” pervade in our country, but either way it seems to be the way of the land, so why not take advantage of it? At the end of the day, if you’ve got some thoughts in your head and the mysterious charm of Tyler Durden (the six pack is a bonus), America may be your treasure chest. Let the plundering begin.

 

 

 

 

 

Victorian versus 21st Century Etiquette – Golden Ages of Hypocrisy

Why are we still living with those overbearing rules of the Victorian age? An era in which curvaceous table legs were covered up for the sake of modesty and public morals yet the high rate of child prostitution was unbelievable. A time when the wrong order in which your guests sat down to dinner brought society’s opprobrium crashing on your head yet the sight of children literally starving on London streets was a common enough sight? Where saying the right thing was more important than doing anything. Paying lip service never ends well!

How much more significant would words be if we were certain that there was genuine meaning behind them? How much better if we knew when somebody asked, they really were interested and meant it? And how improved would our society be if we started thinking more about what we actually feel and do, instead of relying on society’s robotic guidelines for behavior? Is it better to say nothing and people think of you as impolite, or utter the platitudes… and they still don’t know if you’re being impolite

How are you? your co-worker asks, as she breezes past before you can respond.

Have a great day, the girl at the shop counter drones, as she hands you your bags and turns back to her iPhone.

…please, your boss adds, after assigning you a project that you have no choice but to do. A request you probably respond to with a thank you, although there’s no doubt you are not thankful for the extra work.

It happens every day: people saying things they don’t really feel, all in the name of “being polite.” It happens so frequently that most of us have ceased to even think about it – except, of course, when another person fails to follow society’s set rules of etiquette – those same rules that have a deadening effect on human interaction. Our daily interactions have become entrenched with these automatic turns of phrase, and more often than not they are totally meaningless. So why even bother?

Blah blah blah ? your co-worker asks… blah blah blah! the girl at the counter drones… Blah blah blah! your boss adds. Better to say nothing ?

People are continuously lamenting the slow disappearance of politeness in modern society. The headlines abound. “Are More People Forgetting Their Manners?” “In America, Good Manners Just Keep On Disappearing.” Where have our manners gone? everyone seems to be asking, in a panicked and stricken tone. Yet, amidst the alarm that the nation is going to hell in a handbasket because many of us have written off rote acts of etiquette, I wonder if we’re not all better off this way. It is arguable that our day-to-day politesse is actually a farce of universal proportions, and that we would all do well to drop the act.

There is no question that insincerity is intrinsic to our manners. From the earliest age, children are trained to automatically ask for everything with a “please,” always followed by a “thank-you,” whether or not the sentiments are genuine. If you don’t say the “magic words,” you don’t get what you want, kids! It’s a simple enough pattern, and it seems we never grow out of our reliance on it. As adults, the world tells us to do the same thing. So we follow unquestioning, like little children, clothing even the most minor of exchanges in flourishes of etiquette, regardless of what our actual feelings might be.

At the very least you might claim that the exchanges are pleasant and non-threatening. But are they really? You often can’t tell and that’s the problem. Is the co-worker being sarcastic? Facetious? The shopworker passive-aggressive? The boss just plain mean?

Therefore, one must ask: what is the point of politeness when it is completely devoid of meaning? In his Discourse on the Arts and Sciences, French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote, “[n]owadays… a vile and misleading uniformity governs our customs, and all minds seem to have been cast in the same mould: incessantly politeness makes demands, propriety issues orders, and incessantly people follow customary usage, never their own inclinations. One does not dare to appear as what one is.” This particular observation still holds true 300 years later. Our standards of etiquette in no way reflect our true natures; rather, the rules that govern our lesser interactions may actually numb our senses of self and promote a vice worse than impoliteness – dishonesty.

On top of these implications is the dangerous tendency for us to so often confuse manners with morality. In no way are good manners representative of good character. A serial killer is just as likely to behave politely as the average non-homicidal person. How often have we heard a convicted murderer’s friends and family say, “We had no idea this could ever happen. He was such a kind, polite boy!” But what do his manners have to do with anything? we should ask. What about that tendency to torture small animals, or the obsession with Satanic death metal music? No, we continue to be shocked that someone who exhibits good manners could also be capable of going on a killing spree.

Oscar Wilde comments on this element of society in his famous short story, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Through perfect manners and careful social maneuvering, Wilde’s hideously two-faced main character is able to lull everyone else into revering him as an upstanding member of society, all the while committing atrociously evil deeds behind their backs. At one point, he delightedly muses, “[f]orm is absolutely essential to society. It should have the dignity of a ceremony, as well as its unreality… Is insincerity such a terrible thing? I think not. It is merely a method by which we can multiply our personalities.” Keep in mind that this guy was inspired by the Devil himself. That’s not exactly positive commentary on the state of our culture.

It is true, as our parents taught us when we were young, that politeness can help you get what you want. In our world as it is, you are probably more likely to end up with that shiny new toy, or that million-dollar business deal if you bookend your request with a “please” and a “thank you.” Of course, when dealing with someone you know well or have something invested in, your sentiments are likely be genuine – you would be truly grateful for that gift or business contract. But such is not usually the case with strangers on the street, when there is rarely true emotion behind those words. What does it mean for us as a society if we promote such standardized dishonesty as an easy means to “oil the wheels” of our human interactions? At what point does that oil poison our souls?

To clarify, I would never suggest that we rashly throw off all the rules of civilized behavior and start being rude to everyone we meet on the street. Just as respect is earned, disrespect must also be earned, and it is not right to treat someone who you don’t know with outright rudeness. And, yes, some of modern society’s mandates are in place for a good reason – to keep in check our more barbaric and harmful human tendencies. But I would argue that this specific expectation for generalized, meaningless politeness is unnecessary, not to mention a real restriction on our emotions and a universal promotion of dishonesty. I think we need to question why we accept such ridiculous rules concerning our petty exchanges, and I imagine that doing away with them would only help, not harm. We should be able to find a balance between rudeness and robotization, one that allows for civil human interaction without costing us our right to independent thought and behavior.

So what would actually happen if we did away with meaningless manners? I cannot say for sure, but I have a feeling that mankind would survive, and society would not collapse in on itself in a barrage of rudeness and civil war. Once we all got used to the idea, I believe that we would ultimately be much happier and better off. For one, we’d waste a lot less time bending over backwards to make sure we were behaving “properly” with people about whom we could care less. Perhaps, as a result, we would have more energy to be kinder to those we actually do value, instead of expending it all on strangers. If we could just adjust our expectations for how an individual “should” act in society, we could benefit from the newfound freedom of behavior that would come with erasing this universal demand for insincerity and artifice.

I propose that it’s time to relieve ourselves of this obligatory, meaningless politeness. Our acceptance of it might be deeply engrained, going all the way back to our first words. But that does not mean we can’t question whether it is right, and what costs it bears on our humanity… nor is it too late for us to change our expectations.

Oh, and by the way – thank you for reading. I really mean it this time. by Bianca Male

 

 

 

 

 

KIDS IN AMERICA

The decision to have kids or not is probably the most important in most individual lives. That individual decision, however, is certainly not the most important in our collective life. So why does it rule us? Why has it such an unrepresentative, disproportionate effect on us all. We are ruled by this reverence to pregnancy, new born babies, toddlers, preteens, early teens, teens, adolescents, and so on. Of course we must look to the most vulnerable, and give them due respect, care and attention, but surely adults, individually and collectively, are the most important and productive members of society. We’re not animals after all.

You know how it feels to have an annoying song stuck in your head? Or even worse, an irritating commercial – you know, the one about the new Timothée Chalamet movie that makes you want to gouge your eyes out and go buy a copy at the same time? 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 Dylann Roof (not so great) or the next Tik Tok star (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 Jonas Brothers’ songs and watching Marvel 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 Calming Vibes Hedgehog 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 your snotty noses, Never Have I Ever episodes, and Baby Bjorn’s to yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

Mirror, Mirror

There is a very secret and exclusive society of obsession and overall personal tedium in New York City, which, for quite some time now, possibly even centuries, has belonged solely to the female population. There are strict requirements in order to be selected (individual fixation, careful attention to imaginary details) and members, over time, acquire a super special appetite for self-importance. Oh, and there is seemingly an invisible but lifelong contract with this association. Few are spared. Few are left unscathed. Ok, ok, so it’s no big secret that weight loss is at the forefront of the whole “personal goals” section of our brains (just above career success, just below getting laid.) It’s an American pastime. But who is really being affected here? I mean, let’s face it, women talk about the issue non-stop. Pretty much every time we have the chance we either talk about it, think about it, or think about talking about it. Not to mention, women- specific television and literature dripping with the topic as if it’s breaking news. But it’s the other gender I’m interested in at the moment.

In reality, men are just as vain, ladies, if not more. The evidence only grows clearer with time. Men just don’t vocalize their neurosis in quite the same fashion. Smart move, guys, but guess what? Repeated flexing in front of the wall- to-wall mirrors at the gym? It kinda gives you away. There’s something entirely obsessive about the way guys approach weight loss, and it directly reflects the way they go about, well, just about everything.

Men tend to rationalize significantly less than women, so it’s no wonder they can often forego the snacks and treats that classically get in the way of a woman’s diet regime. There has always been the argument that women are comforted by food, and that certain emotional aspects of our personalities are soothed by this type of indulgence, whereas men go about the issue with a more logical attitude. Or so it was. Nowadays, it seems like calorie counting may not be an activity solely designated to the fairer sex. The numbers of men dieting, working out, and concerning themselves with weight loss altogether are dramatically rising. Men who barely know each other will take notice of respective weight loss or gain in an instant. Sure, peer assessment is natural, but why is this the one issue that makes guys’ eyebrows raise, becoming a conversation starter even among distant acquaintances? I don’t think the visual aspect alone is enough to explain this phenomenon. After all, a fresh haircut or a brand new suit won’t inspire quite the same degree of interest. Co-workers who don’t even bother to comment on one another’s recent nuptials will speak up right away if the numbers on the scale have shifted downward. “Wow, you’ve lost some weight!” almost seems a bit… girly? Yet it’s a tendency more and more prominent among men. And manly men, at that.

Any fitness facility you walk into in the tri-state area is bound to be spilling over with men trying to reach peak physical form and ultimately personal perfection. Fitness has gradually become less a necessity and more a hobby. Men have begun to add a special one- to three-hour workout time slot to their daily schedule. Gyms that used to be filled with serious athletes are now teeming with strictly-treadmill- runners and weightlifters lifting weights… for what purpose exactly? Daily muscle admiration? Are men perhaps tending to the issue of weight even more than women? The awareness of belt size is suddenly ever-present. Not only in the gym, either. Steak only eaten on special occasions. French fries foregone. And even, God forbid, the life-altering drastic switch to light beer. Going to the gym becomes an everyday ritual with only the occasional weekend day taken off to nurse light-beer-induced hangovers. These trends, most of which were more or less non-existent ten years ago, are all becoming more and more common among men. Countless diet books are now written for – and even by – men, and pages of advice and techniques for men to shed some extra pounds are commonplace easy-reading for the typical bachelor.

Now, let’s review. Are men slimmer and more healthy than ever because of these newly instituted habits? Doubtful. Seems to me there hasn’t been much of a shift. Instead, like women, men have merely entered the mysterious realm of weight obsession. As with many obsessions, this particular brand is not one that necessarily leads to results. It’s more of a confusing gray area, a back and forth yo-yo-ing that creeps into your daily schedule and your psyche and stays there. So, why? Why are men partaking in such a level of self-awareness now? Of course, the immediate reasons for this to hit you in the head might be the obvious ones: impressing women, impressing friends, feeling healthy, feeling attractive and of course the ‘Covid 20’. Ummm… have these not been issues for, like, ever? We could cast blame on advertising of course, but come on, that’s hardly a new concept. Is it just that guys want that mental pat on the back while walking down the street? Want to one-up friends and acquaintances? Possible. Or should we chalk it up to processed foods and other such signs of the times? Even more possible. But even that excuse wears thin. Because maybe, just maybe, men are simply just now discovering the alluring ap- peal, the endless yet all-consuming tug of war world that is weight obsession. Just now sizing up the personal gains (or losses) of joining this elite culture of mirror-mania and personal fascination.

Whatever the influences may be, the general consensus is that while it may seem like a healthy set of habits, it’s not always quite what it seems. The elusive race for perfection, which women have been consistently losing, may be coming to a close… at least for us. All the side effects of self-destruction and negativity may have simply caught up with women. And, if this is the case, that’s fine with me. It’s been a good run, but I will happily pass along the baton.

 

Whatever Lola Wants…

“Has anyone ever told you that your scent is intoxicating?”

That’s a line I use sometimes. It works. On men. On women. They fall for it, without fail, each and every time. Want to know why? Romance. Sensuality. Sexuality. It’s all bullshit. It doesn’t exist. You cannot measure it. You cannot capture it. You cannot test it. There is no theoretical explanation or supporting evidence to suggest that what a guy eats makes him more susceptible to not be an asshole and bring you flowers on your birthday. No formula to make sure he calls you when he says he will.

It isn’t real. But that line. The one I use on men, on women. It works. Why? Because it’s scientific—and I’ll prove it.

Attraction. Chemistry. The connection you feel when you meet someone, talk to them, tease them, dance with them, touch them, kiss them, fuck them—it’s all based on pheromones. Those tiny little particles that come individually packaged along with the DNA injected into your body by the genes your parents gave you when they were in the backseat of a Metallica concert without a condom. Each person has their own set of pheromones. A distinct scent unlike anyone else. It makes them special. But that itself is an anomaly—because no one is special. Each and every person may have their own personality, DNA, fingerprints, belly button, taste buds; but then again, everyone does. They are not subscribed to a certain race, weight, height, eye color, hair color, or sexual orientation.

Yet even though we are aware of this universal truth, no one wants to admit that they are not unique. That nothing distinguishes them from the man sitting next to them on the bus or the woman they pass on the street. Sigmund Freud was not mistaken. All humans have an ego, and it must be fed. Like a lioness who hasn’t eaten in days, we are savages. Polytheists who worship the same gods: pride, power, and sex. They all feed our ego. And that line, the one I use on men, on women, it succeeds in satisfying each of our gods.

I find someone; man, woman, it makes no difference. Men are easier to control, but women are better in bed. For heterosexual sake, let’s say I meet a man. We meet at a bar. He sees me from across the room. Our eyes meet, blah, blah, blah. The classic scenario carefully deployed by every romantic movie. Its cliché, but I’ll use it here because it fits into the scientific method. Now this man is handsome, meeting the symmetrical standards that are the foundation for visual attraction. I catch his eye. Target acquired. He strolls over to introduce himself. I don’t care what his name is, it is irrelevant. I am on a mission. He finds our conversation intriguing. I keep him interested with clever word play, with light touches, with my smile. But what really keeps him inching closer and closer to my strategically placed scandalously clothed body are my eyes. Windows of fire that seer into his very existence and make him feel like my eyes were made for his gaze alone. My eyes draw him in, a fishing line baited with dynamite; waiting for the perfect catch, the ideal opportunity so I can explode.

He suggests, “Do you want to get out of here?”

“Sure,” I casually respond.

And it must be “sure.” Not “Yes.” Not “Absolutely.” Sure. Sure is nonchalant. It isn’t too eager, it’s cool. It’s calm. It doesn’t retreat and throw away the upper hand. Sure sounds differently than yes. Yes is a preppy school girl who finally manages to sneak out of the house for the first time. “Okay” works the same way, but sure is aesthetically pleasing to the ears. It’s the s. Automatically triggers sex in his mind, not that it wasn’t already. But it lets him know that it’s on mine too.

We go back to his place. Drink a glass of wine on his fine leather sofa. He leans in to kiss me. I let him. Lightly, gently, not too much tongue. Then I lean back, I stare into his eyes, and then I attend to his neck; softly grazing my nose from the bottom of his trachea to the beginning of his earlobe. I investigate his skin. I inhale him.
Once I reach his ear, I whisper, “Has anyone ever told you that your scent is intoxicating?”

Instant explosion.

Pride. Each person wants to be proud of themselves, of who they are. And the only way to get that is through reinforcement. Constant reinforcement. They want to know, believe that the image they project into society is the same one reflected in the mirror. Scent is a projection. And I just told him that I cannot escape his.

Power. He believes he has a hold over me, that I have fallen for him. He has the control. He is the cat, I am the mouse. And I am trapped.

Sex. Enough said.

My work here is done. I have ensnared my prey. I have hit my target. Mission accomplished. Time to go home. Well, as soon as I get what I came there for: satisfaction.

My brother once called me a hunter. He said that I “go in for the kill.” Word for word he warned his friends about me. He told them to watch out for me. At first I was offended. What a terrible thing to for an older brother to say, to even think, about his baby sister. But that’s the rationale our patriarchal society wants me to have.

So I thought again.

I realized that I have a particular set of skills that make me dangerous, even deadly. I am a Venus fly trap. I am a siren, a temptress with an unprecedented skill for seduction.

It’s a game I play.

And I always win.

By Sophia Fox-Sowell

“… Not yet on summer’s death nor on the birth Of trembling winter…” *

Summer beats the pants off winter. It really is the most lopsided of fights, though: winter all burly and bulked up in layers that spread across an interminable majority of our calendar and summer a rascally short few months flanked on both sides by frozen hell and brown and gray. But summer, summer; all of you ladies and gentlemen behaving much less like ladies and gentlemen and doing it in far less clothing, sweating in the unbearable though relished heat of the subway, getting all naked and crazy, wearing huge sunglasses, dancing on a pier in the Hudson or on rooftops, just getting it, all of it, out there…

It’s biology, really; science. This whole ridiculous display is a mating call of sorts. It’s an evolutionary thing that humans will not let go of and there’s very little moral high-grounding can do to counter its force on the behavior of men and women, especially men and women who, in this Northeast corner of the country, have endured countless months of blizzards, freezing rain, barren trees, sludge, near frostbite, wind chills, malfunctioning heating systems, transit strikes in December, and the process of having to swaddle one’s self in not one, not two, but three and sometimes four layers of clothing to simply cross the street for coffee. When the weather gets warm, New Yorkers shed this burden with the zeal of pigs in shit and take to the streets to eagerly have all of their formerly hidden attributes ogled and given due attention. While every less-blue county across this great land may smite this display of sex and flesh, try to write it into law, amend it into the Constitution, or vote it into office, this behavior that seems so offensive very easily fits into our essence as animals, albeit animals with the potential for rational thought and discourse. And this is where our human nature gets tricky. While our capability for rational thought, amongst other things, differentiates us from other animals, is Mother Nature in some way laying the prohibitive smack-down by subjecting so many of us into a forced retreat? Is our sexual behavior not regulated to some degree by those damned frigid months, the cold forcing us to keep it in our pants?

Winter in our slice of America is really something like hibernation. Not even five months ago myself and a friend were contemplating moving to Africa to do relief work, charity work, any kind of work that would deviate from the monotony of looking at New York City in the throes of monochrome concrete. It’s no longer late February, and am I contemplating ditching this island any longer? Well, yes, but sure as hell not because it’s cold and gloomy. She’s not either, for the record.

In the face of the conscious quasi-hibernation induced by winter on humans, the flight reaction is the most common (at least among my friends). We all talk about getting out, going somewhere “nice.” While humans don’t literally shack-up for the season or slow our metabolisms drastically, we do retreat indoors, hide, and seek out light boxes and tanning beds to counter S.A.D. Maybe this hibernation is something of a human anomaly though among our close genetic relatives. There is only one primate that actually hibernates: the Madagascan fat-tailed dwarf lemur – and the bizarre thing about this animal is that it hibernates even though it exists in a tropical climate. So it seems that hibernation is something not necessarily reserved for the poor animal friends who, like us, enjoy the misfortune of dwelling in cooler climes. Animals that truly do hibernate do so out of necessity (food supplies, etc.) and should these animals’ stases be disrupted prematurely, they may very well perish (thank you, Wikipedia). Our fates are not nearly so dire, but it seems that the drudgery of winter does essentially gear us up for what is to be so briefly ours come May.

Wild animals that hibernate whittle away their stores of fat in the cold months, subsisting on the energy provided while maintaining an extended period of hypothermia; everything, in essence, is slowed down. Humans spend the winter and its accompanying holidays packing on the pounds. Springtime is thus a frenetic gym-going, and therefore endorphin boosting, season that prepares us for the public nudity of summer. Like the energizing rest of hibernation endured by certain of our animal brethren in preparation for their mating seasons, our sprees of post-winter fitness yield the desire to do it, or at least pursue doing it. It would be convenient to just write off any multitude of summer flings with this excuse: Nature made me do it – but this is not really accurate.
While the sex-crazed ritual of summer is certainly a temporary human reclamation of more primal natures, it is also something of a reversion of maturity. Winter: we cover up, we hide ourselves, we keep others from seeing, men and women who wear tank tops to clubs or bars this time of year are scoffed at as inappropriate fiends for attention. Summer: it’s like show and tell, playing doctor, sneaking to see if you can’t just see or expose the smallest bit more of flesh. There’s a certain playful and joyous element when the weather turns, like we’re all kids again running around in a candy shop of flesh. The dichotomy of the year broken up as such, cold then hot, might just serve to regulate our very natures, to both prohibit and grant release, perhaps keeping a balance between all of the things inherent within us.

Part of the horror of Huxley’s anti-utopian Brave New World is that childlike wish fulfillment is not a respite from life, but is life. The characters both central and peripheral are doin’ it well with whoever they fancy at any time and are, indeed, frowned upon if they are not promiscuous. The worrisome prospect here is that this system of wanton sex is completely regulated by the world’s governing body and is conditioned so that any remotely natural biorhythm has been subverted. There is nothing essentially human about these people at all. The novel also points to an interesting question: why is the random sexual encounter, the fling, so desirable that it must be propagated year round? Within the world Huxley creates, there appears to be nothing to rise up against. Due to chemical conditioning people are utterly unaware of unhappiness and are forced to continuously engage in casual sex because it makes them fucking brain-dead. Think about it like this: if you are constantly getting off, and have been programmed to think (like so many real people in our world seem to be) that getting off is the ultimate goal of life, you have very little to be distressed about; for there will always be a surplus of equally numbed and ridiculous people out there who wish to indulge in summer flings year-round. This is no joke. What makes the prospect of summer all the more enjoyable is its status as counterpoint to winter; it is the momentary opening of our reticent months, it gives us distance from the shackles of layering, and it will, eventually, make us yearn even to the smallest degree, for the change of the seasons. The pleasure of heat is in the very short time we have with it.

It has always struck me as odd that people can live in climates like Miami, San Diego, the desert Southwest. I can’t really speak of what it’s like to grow up and inhabit these places, but I’ve seen them; they’re beautiful, and there is always that nagging in my head “Damn, it would be nice.” The scenario confounds me. It seems natural to me that one should suffer through the gauntlet of late autumns, winters, and early springs in the nation’s northern tier (if that isn’t a childhood of Catholic schools talking…) – what I mean is that these changes in atmosphere and their effects on us seem naturally determined, if not evolutionarily installed. So the key to summer is really in the random ways in which nature has found to run its course, regulate itself, and put us arrogant humans in our places. Nature’s looking out for its own good, and to an extent for ours. Now if it could just give us a swift kick in the nuts with this whole global warming problem; oh wait, that’s not science. It’s just a theory, too. Kyle A. Valenta.
*The Winter”s Tale, William Shakespeare

Oh, Mr. Big

Like many young women moving to New York, my idea of NYC dating came from the show Sex and The City. The fearsome foursome dated just about every kind of man you can imagine, jazz musicians, rockstars, wall street stockbrokers, marketing execs, New England trust fund brats, baristas, bartenders, I could go on…

I think this notion that New York is full of endless possibilities in terms of potential suitors is just as glamorous as it is detrimental. And what the show tends to miss is the fact that most New Yorkers do a lot more than sip mimosas at brunch and go on luxurious dates. As much as it’s the city of love, It’s also the city of ambition. Between school, interning, working and maintaining a social life with my friends, dating isn’t nearly as much of a priority for me as it seemed to be for the four friends.

I think most New Yorkers approach dating in a very unromantic and far from the serendipitous way. We treat it with the same craftsmanship as constructing our career paths or picking our next apartment. Perhaps the least romantic approach to dating, we create mental checklists, does it have rooftop access? Will he get along with my circle? Is the rent too high? Will he take up too much of my time? And just like how the perfect apartment doesn’t exist, neither does the perfect guy. This is why I like to say that everyone in New York has a touch of commitment issues.

At least this is my theory, take it with a grain of salt. I just know first hand that after a long week of school and work, I want to enjoy my weekends to the fullest extent. If I’m not convinced by a guy after date 2 or 3, I’ll probably ditch him and go catch the end of my friend’s set in the east village. Perhaps this is why my social life has flourished in the city while my dating life is more of a tangled mess of short- lived flings.

In March when quarantine hit, I think a lot of New Yorkers were struck over the head with a more depressing reality. Stuck inside their apartments all day alone, there was no bustling city or train to catch, no life altering decisions about where they should spend their Saturday night. Many of us single New Yorkers finally understood why people prioritize companionship so much.

After 5 months of this I was ready to take a hiatus from the city. Very randomly I chose Nashville as my destination, homes were spacious, they had backyards and gardens — and all for half the price of my current shoebox. I convinced my sister and friend to join and we planned to pack up the car in exactly four weeks.

I had no interest in dating during my last month in the city, I mean what was the point? But my habit of swiping through Hinge likes every evening didn’t cease altogether either and a bashful looking boy named Aaron who lived in my neighborhood instantly caught my eye. Since the last guy I dated was rather pretentious and quite a few years older, (although it was actually his living situation that didn’t check off on my list) it felt refreshing to see a boy my age. He seemed a little dorkier than my usual type and the fact that he was an aspiring musician worried me, (no more boys in bands was my most recent addition to the list) to be blunt he normally wouldn’t have made the cut. But hey he was cute and endearing and I was leaving in four weeks, what’s the harm?

And just like that the age-old myth that New York gives you someone right before you leave came true. We spent my last month strolling along the East River, listening to music in McCarren Park, drinking Frose at outdoor restaurants and watching reruns of That 70’s Show all night. It was sweet, really, and so vastly different than my usual dating habits. I didn’t over analyze his job, his 5 year plan, his friends, where he likes to hang out. I didn’t ponder how he would fit in with my life and if it was worth it to pursue. I threw the checklist away and vowed to live in the short moments we had before I left. Now I’m not saying he’s my soulmate, or even that we fell in love, but the point is that maybe this was how the rest of the world dated and why even in a city of 8 million people, New Yorkers were so overwhelmingly single.

This theory only grew as my sister Eve called me in a panic from the guy she was dating’s bathroom at 3am one night. “Angie I just told him I love him.” I burst into laughter. It really was comedic, I mean, my sister was the definition of commitment issues (sorry Eve) but not necessarily in a bad way. She was an intelligent, ambitious, charismatic 23 year old, and she never felt the need to have a boyfriend just for the sake of it or even fall in love. In fact, she had never experienced either. She kept her romantic interests separate from every other aspect of her life. Her career was excelling, her friendships thriving, her finances in line and a carefully mapped out 1 year, 5 year, and 10 year plan set in place. As a hopeless romantic myself, I always envied how little thought she put into the men in her life. For 10 months she dated George, never introducing him to any of her friends or coworkers. She’d see him once a week, have a nice time and then about every 2 months she would dump him out of the blue. “He takes up too much of my energy and my thoughts, I have more important things to worry about and honestly I don’t see myself ending up with some 32 year old Wall Street finance bro anyway, I need more of a River Phoenix type.” I felt bad for George, like all the men she had previously dated (again I’m sorry Eve, just being honest), he’d probably end up heartbroken for months while she just effortlessly strutted on.

I guess four weeks before leaving for Nashville, this all changed. She fell in love.

I asked Eve what had changed, “Nothing really. He has plenty of flaws, but I guess I’m realizing everyone comes with baggage and only now that I’m leaving have I realized that there’s no one without baggage awaiting me in Nashville or even here in New York City. I just want to be with him, simple as that.” My theory was getting stronger. Maybe New York doesn’t just give you love before you leave, maybe it gives you a taste of reality, or the world outside of a 30 block radius from Union Square. It reminded me of something Aaron said to me one night while watching Jackie and Kelso bicker in an episode of That 70’s Show, “everyone has flaws, it’s just whether or not you can get over those flaws.”

During my final week in New York I attended a 15 person socially distanced wedding on the East River. My friend Rachel married Amanda, who I can still remember as “cute girl from tinder” once upon a time. Rachel was one of the first friends I made in New York City. She was outgoing and adventurous and the biggest flirt I’d ever met. She’d take me out to gay bars in the West Village all night, dancing on stage as other queer women goggled at her contagious smile. I considered her to be a class act player, one thriving in New York’s booming gay scene. And then one day out of nowhere, she went on a tinder date with a girl in town for a week. When Amanda left, Rachel stopped playing the field and visited Amanda every chance she got. That was it, she was in love with a red haired girl from Florida and three years later they were married.

So when it comes to falling in love for New Yorkers, I guess it takes the threat of leaving the city to finally throw away the carefully crafted checklists and remove the possibility of bumping into the “right” person the next day on the street. In a city of 8 million people, it feels like there must always be a better option, but maybe that mentality is the greatest downfall of finding love in New York City. I think a small part of me — perhaps the part of me that constantly finds myself sitting at coffee shops typing away about dating in New York City — has more Carrie traits than I’d like to admit.

“… a Light Wife doth make a Heavy Husband…”

William Shakespeare ‘The Merchant Of Venice’

When I think of a relationship, I think of all the expectation that goes along with it. And that those expectations are high on the culprit-list of doomed couplings and even of those that struggle, resurface and flourish again. From both male and female perspectives, there are a plethora of expectations that exist in monogamous relationships.

We expect our significant other to act a certain way, respond a certain way, dress a certain way, BE a certain way to the point where we are basically dating a figment of our own imagination. It’s ironic how we as a race are so hooked on eternally searching for love that when it strolls along and finds us, we demand to control it and twist it to make it become what we think it should be. But the “should”, you see, doesn’t exist… and never did. That was programed into us since we were children; when our relatives bought us our first Barbie and Ken dolls, with a miniature wedding dress and tuxedo to follow.

 

 

 

Marriage isn’t for all, but the female part of the population is brainwashed into believing that this is what happens when a man really loves you; if he doesn’t propose, it’s not real love; he can’t be the one. However, as in all interaction between the sexes, it’s complicated. Not everything is as black and white. In fact there is no black and white, only a seemingly infinite number of shades of grey. Men aren’t all the same, not all good, or bad. And women certainly aren’t all the same.

We are all individuals with different backgrounds, families, dreams, goals, personal traits. In a relationship, I feel that sometimes we forget that it is made up of two separate people, two separate entities that function independently of one another and that by being together, you essentially have to know how to be by yourself and be one whole person while sharing your life with another whole person.

It’s tricky however, expecting for your significant other to be your only source of happiness and fulfillment; it is just unfair and in a way, illogical. Expecting for your significant other to want the same things as you and have the same goals as you is selfish unrealistic and doomed to almost certain failure. Your significant other isn’t a shell of you, or your groupie; they’re your partner and expecting them to be what YOU want them to be isn’t a formula for a balanced, sharing and enduring partnership.

It can sometimes hurt when you realize that you’re dating someone who won’t agree with you all the time, laugh at all your jokes, or like the same music as you do, but in the end if you were the exact same person, you’d be dating yourself and how weird would that be, huh? So instead of expecting your partner to surprise you with roses every day after work, encourage them to be themselves and it’ll surprise you how rounded and successful that can be. I’m not saying to just settle for but I am saying that if the person you fell in love with is an honest, genuine person, has attributes you admire, and treats you well, I promise you will not have to manage your expectations. See where that love takes you. By Angela Cook

 

“…To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak…” William Congreve 1697

It appears that society’s culture vulture, that highbrow zenith of our civilized world, actually belongs at the other end of our timeline out of the primeval sludge. They now say it was arguably our lust for culture that calmed the savage breast and civilized us… not vice versa. So all of you knuckle-draggers out there who dismiss culture as elitist and exclusive better pick up your nearest fiddle and bang out some Mendelssohn. After all you wouldn’t want to get left behind now would you?

As I write, I am on a train whizzing through the English countryside watching scenes float past my window that could be straight from a Constable painting. I am on my way to a literary festival in the beautiful ‘Lake District’ region to talk about my book, Wired for Culture. My publishers have been good enough to plump for a first class rail ticket, and so it is quiet. I sit at a reasonably sized table, coffee is served, there is an electrical socket on the wall and the train even has WiFi. So, my laptop is plugged in, emails regularly ‘ping’ into my inbox, and texts ‘buzz’ into my cell phone.

I glance at a few of the slides I will use in my talk – just pretty pictures really, no daunting tables or figures – and my eyes fall on a pair of photos I use of chimpanzees. In one they are using sticks to ‘fish’ for termites, and in the other they are cracking open nuts with a rock. We are often told this ‘tool use’ is evidence of their great intelligence, and we are increasingly reminded that we are over 98% identical to the chimpanzees in the sequences of our genes – our two evolutionary lineages having separated from a common ancestor only around six million years ago, a mere blink of the eye when stacked against the 3.8 billion years there has been life on Earth.

But has the subversive thought ever entered your mind that if these chimpanzees really are intelligent, why do they use sticks to get termites and rocks to crack open nuts? Why don’t they dig the termites out with a shovel or just call in to the local store and buy a bag of nuts? After all, that’s what we do. If we really are just jumped-up chimpanzees, why this great technological divide between us and them? Why do we have trains with WiFi, cell phones, toasters, space-shuttles and nano-scale technology, and most of these things in the last few decades alone, while the chimpanzees remain largely unchanged?

For most people the answer is simple – we are smarter than them. Okay, but what do we mean by that? Can you, for example, start a fire without matches? Do you know which mushrooms you can eat from the forest? Could you make a shoe? Do you know what the best mortgage or life insurance policy is? And do you even have the faintest idea how your cell phone works or what is really going on at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva?

We are intelligent, but as these examples show, our intelligence doesn’t simply grant us the ability to think hard about things and get the right answer. Instead, it turns out that our intelligence arises from an ability in our species to pool our ideas – to acquire, as it were, a ‘collective intelligence’ or a vast shared brain. This collective intelligence represents a uniquely human ‘capacity for culture’.

Sometime around 160,000 to 200,000 years ago when our species first emerged on the African savannah, we created a new kind of evolution. Alone among all animals, humans can acquire knowledge, beliefs, and practices merely from watching others. This simple step opened up a vast cultural space because ideas could now jump directly from one mind to another, with good ideas being retained, others being improved, and yet others discarded. Minds sorted among ideas as natural selection sorts among genes.

Over time, and by a process of ideas accumulating one on top of another, humans have been able to build objects of great complexity and sophistication. First it was simple hand axes. These gave way to shaped clubs, blades, spears, bows and arrows, nets, and clothing. When someone had the idea to combine a shaped club with a hand axe the first hafted axe was born.

This human capacity for culture creates an unbridgeable gap in the evolutionary potential between us and all other animals. Where all other species are limited to the parts of the world their genes adapt them to, our ability to adapt at the cultural level – by acquiring local knowledge, by building shelters, or working out how to hunt the local animals – allowed our species to walk out of Africa sometime around 60,000 years ago and go on to occupy nearly every environment on Earth. By comparison, we could go away for a million years and the chimpanzees would still be fishing for termites with the same old sticks and cracking open nuts with the same old rocks.

Today you inherit a vast cultural knowledge in much the same way that you inherit your genes, it is just that your ‘cultural genome’ is handed down the generations from mind to mind. And, just as you probably have little or no understanding of how your genes build and operate your body, most of us have little or no understanding of where most things in our societies come from. You are almost certainly carrying around in your pockets or in your handbags and briefcases objects that have been produced by cumulative cultural adaptation which no single person on Earth could produce. Even something as simple as a pencil requires the knowledge and technology of many people.

So, human culture has been a development of revolutionary social and genetic effect, easily the most potent trait the world has ever known for converting new lands and resources into more humans, and their genes. This was an evolutionary bandwagon worth jumping on. It tells us to expect that the defining features of our nature will be found in a suite of social and psychological traits we have acquired for living in the prosperous social environments of human culture, and not in or shared history with the other animals.

What form might that uniquely human nature take? Our capacity to share ideas has meant that humans have reaped great benefits from pooling their knowledge, wisdom and skills. So those of us who had the social tendencies to cooperate would have been at an advantage, leaving more children than our more solitary minded or greedy contemporaries; children who would have inherited our social tendencies.

Added to this cooperative nature, as our species marched out of Africa to occupy the world, it did so in small tribal societies that would have been in competition with others like themselves. As a result, humans have developed a unique set of dispositions for defending their groups because it is that very group that has historically provided them with the protection, knowledge and cooperative society needed to survive and prosper.

We see these dispositions today in that we are oddly group-focused as a species, capable of great acts of coordination. We think nothing of wearing matching silly shirts to sporting events. We are altruistic to a fault, routinely holding doors for people, giving up seats on trains, contributing to charities and even risking our health and well-being for others – as when we jump into a river to save someone from drowning. We might even risk our lives fighting for our countries in a war. You will not see any of this in a chimpanzee.

At the same time, we are only too aware of our dual moral nature. Capable on the one hand of extreme kindness, we can abandon that kindness in an instant, treating other members of our species as sub-human in our tendencies to be wary of strangers, or in our xenophobia, bigotry or extreme acts of violence in war. Just compare your emotions at the news of one of your own country’s soldiers dying in battle, to those you feel when another country’s soldiers are killed.

Both these sides of our nature are dispositions and emotions we have acquired to make the cooperative ‘vehicles’ that were the tribal societies of our past, work for us. So, how will this tribal psychology play out in our modern, globalized and interconnected world, in which more than ever before, people of different backgrounds find themselves living side by side and in ever larger social groups?

Ironically, it is our evolved tribal nature that offers a glimmer of hope. The reason is this: if nothing in our evolutionary history specifically prepared us for the modern world we now inhabit, it turns out that everything about the way human culture works does. Cooperation in other animals is limited largely to helping relatives, but we have been positively selected to develop the rules that allow us to share ideas, thoughts and skills.

This unique ‘ultra-sociality’ borne of our capacity for culture is why we can live in large social groups, walking among millions of people who are effectively strangers, so long as we are convinced they are playing by the same social rules as us. If you take this for granted, imagine 100,000 hyenas in Times Square.

The next century is going to be a time of great uncertainty and upheaval as resources, money and space become ever more scarce. It is going to be a bumpy road with many setbacks and conflicts. But if there was ever a species that could tackle these challenges it is our own. It might be surprising, but our genes, in the form of our capacity for culture, have created in us a machine capable of greater cooperation, inventiveness and common good than any other on Earth.

By Mark Pagel from Wired For Culture, 2012 published by WW Norton

News Flash…Thirty Is The New Twenty

Once upon a time, little girls grew up dreaming of the day they would graduate from high school, marry their childhood sweetheart and have all their little ducks in a row – and in kindergarten – before they hit the ripe old age of 30. Once upon a time, life expectancy wasn’t quite what it is today.

At the turn of the 20th century, women averaged a mere 48.3 years on this planet. By the turn of the 21st, that figure had risen to nearly 80. If that growth pattern continues, we 30-somethings will only be hitting our mid-life crises at the age when our grandmothers actually became our grandmothers.

30 is the new 20. It’s evident everywhere you look, from the pages of magazines to the cubicle next to you. Manufacturers have finally realized that women want to see a bit of themselves in the spokeswomen that hock their products. 

 

 

 

So, instead of being expected to buy clothes or makeup from Hollywood’s precious young starlets, we have Charlize Theron for Dior, Margot Robbie for Calvin Klein and Michelle Williams for Louis Vuitton. Today the women who actually have the money to spend on such products, are presented with women who have been places, done things and lived life. 

We have greater greatness to look forward to past the 40-year mark. Indeed, 30- somethings have all the experience and knowledge their younger followers are clamoring to achieve, and it shines through.  Ask any 30-something woman how she differs today from a decade ago and you’ll hear positive phrases such as “more confident,” “more comfortable and at peace,” and “with age comes wisdom.” 

 

“Worrying about what people think isn’t a priority as it was when I was in my 20s,” says Lisa, a medical device sales representative who is single and fine with it. “Insecurity ruled that decade. I’m comfortable in my skin now and I realize what’s truly important in life.”

 

What can be a little frustrating is the realization that certain people may have been trying to point you in the right direction all along.  “You realize what your parents told you as a kid is unfortunately true,” says Anna, a recently married finance manager and CPA currently finishing up her MBA. But there is greater goodness in the knowledge you gain for yourself. “You know the importance of family and a life partner. And you don’t date guys who are not good for you,” Anna adds, noting the further importance of knowing “who your real friends are and what your priorities are in life.”

 

Many women beyond their 20s point to solidifying relationships and the positive impact that a strong circle of friends can have on one’s life. Joy, a process engineer, while “good at being single”, highlights the importance of making as many friends as you can along the way.  “You cannot be successful without them!”

 

Women are also quick to note, however, that life as we know it at this age would not be all it is had we not first worked through the last decade.  Kim, who is also single and works in film production, suggests that women aren’t necessarily “better” in their 30s, just wiser. “We are more secure with ourselves and more sure of what we want out of life. Our need to go out every night and dress to impress is gone.” While a great outfit or pair of shoes might help you fake certitude, these women would rather make an entrance glowing with the real thing. “We are who we are and we’re proud of it!”

Jen, a research scientist currently pursuing a PhD in biochemistry, echoed those thoughts. “Women in their 30s are made to look at life differently than our younger counterparts due to more life experiences,” claims the mother of two. “Every stage in life serves a purpose, teaches us and sometimes scars us, but ultimately makes us who we are.”

 

That process of learning and growing shows in everything from a woman’s face to the way she enters a room. Joy, notes it’s often education and experience – once believed to be anti-feminine – that make a woman attractive and give her the confidence to let her more feminine side shine through. “Women age beautifully and are much better looking in their 30s.” 

 

“Live your own life happily, without making excuses to anyone, including yourself,” says Sarah, a stay-at-home mom, with a degree in corporate communications, who is currently expecting her second child. “If you don’t want kids and the white picket fence, don’t apologize. If you don’t choose the six-figure salary and designer clothes, don’t be embarrassed. And if you’re fortunate enough to have it all, enjoy!”

 

30-somethings are moving through their current decade excited about the realization that education, degreed or otherwise, never stops. And they believe firmly they are better equipped to deal with whatever the world throws their way with each passing day.  “Everything will still be there in the morning,” Lisa says, “and some things just don’t need to be on a time clock. That was a tough one [to learn, but] I finally realized that it’s a lot less stressful for me if I let things take their course. I can’t control everything. Wow, what a concept!” 

Those Little Things

… that you do Make me glad I’m in love with you. Little things that you say Make me glad that I feel this way. The way you smile, the way you hold my hand And when I’m down you always understand. Yeh right!

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 boy- friends 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 transi- tion 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.

“Much meat, much malady”*

We have known for centuries that animals are not really meant for human consumption but Hey, since when has common sense ever interfered with what humankind must have?

The year 2019 came to a close with 16-year-old Greta Thunberg named Time’s Person of the Year. The young Swedish activist’s work and support can be seen as emblematic of a worldwide shift in the attitudes of young people. One thing that millennials and Gen-Z people made clear at the end of the decade is their interest in green politics to combat the effects of climate change.

Markets have seen growth to move forward with more eco-friendly products, such as electric and hybrid vehicles. The food industry has also been the site of a rise in people wanting to reduce their effect on the planet, from more people buying reusable cups to many restaurants (and even whole cities like San Francisco) banning plastic straws. Food itself has been no exception, with The Vegan Society reporting 600,000 vegans in the United States, more than doubling the reported estimate from even 2016. Other sources report numbers as high as 1.15 million people refusing to incorporate animal products into their diets. From less energy investment to fewer greenhouse gases and water consumption, the people taking on vegetarian and vegan diets do so for a variety of ecological reasons. What are the numbers behind Americans cutting meat and other animal products? And how is the food and drink industry changing as a result of the new demand for animal-free proteins to replace them?

Many health-food startups have gained popularity over the last decade. Perhaps the most famous in the US is plant-protein company Beyond Meat. Beyond creates faux meats, most popularly beef, but also sausages and chicken. These non-animal protein products are made from a variety of beans, peas, and sunflower seeds, as well as plant ingredients like cocoa butter and other plant oils. These ingredients are mixed and processed in combination with spices in an attempt to produce textures and tastes similar to their animal product originals. The result? Beef patties, sausage links, and meat crumbles about as close to the real thing as can be found on the market, at a lower cost to the environment.

Financially, the statistics make the startup’s success clear: in 2018, Beyond reported an annual revenue of almost 88 million, more than doubling the corporation’s income from the previous year alone. In 2019, the Los Angeles-based vegan meat substitute company became so large as to hold its initial public offering in early May. Many chains throughout the US have also begun to include Beyond Meats in their menus, such as Dunkin Donuts’ new breakfast sandwich, which uses Beyond sausage.
Impossible Foods Inc., another plant-based protein company which got its start in 2011, has posted similar earnings, growth, and popularity. Known mostly for their Impossible Burger, the company advertises availability for any restaurant to spice up their menu with their vegetarian meat-replacement products. Impossible boasts a “36% increase in same-store sales” for those food service providers which choose to sell their products. Impossible also recently partnered with Burger King to make the fast food chain’s Whopper using Impossible meats: the “Impossible Whopper.”

All of this, coming from a demand for products which have less of an impact on the environment than animal meat. Combined, the range of success in the plant protein market makes one thing clear. Consumers have spoken, and the support for plant-based proteins is here to stay.

But especially interesting is the question of what demographics of people are changing their eating habits. Although consumers in general have taken readily to these plant-based products, it is primarily young people who have caught on to this emerging trend in the food market.

A report by Impossible Foods showed that age was a significant factor in who is choosing to buy and eat plant-protein products. Specifically, millennials and Gen-Z consumers are choosingthese faux-meats in higher amounts than the generations above them. This statistic is likely exacerbated by the fact that many of these young people are millennial parents, raising their children on these meat replacement products. Impossible reports that during their humble beginnings, “concern for the environment wasn’t even in the top ten reasons why consumers cited as motivating their purchase… now it’s number three.”

Millennials are becoming more motivated to change their individual consumption habits based on the impact the products they consume have on the environment. This decision is doubly true for those millennial parents, who are understandably invested in environmental issues for the sake of the world they’re curating and leaving behind for their young ones.

But what exactly are the environmental impacts of these plant-based proteins? Both Impossible and Beyond post statistics on their website: that their products use less energy, less water, emit fewer greenhouse gases, and take up less land. For reasons already stated, both companies have monetary reasons to market themselves in this eco-friendly light. NBC news reports that, while meat alternatives are not lying about their sustainability, “it’s not the magic bullet,” citing Oxford researcher Marco Springmann. Springmann suggests that global diets would need to change entirely before the food market is not a major problem affecting climate change. However, most meat alternative companies do not advertise themselves as an end-all, be-all solution, but rather a step in the right direction that requires little change in one’s diet to be more eco-friendly.

The future holds many innovations waiting to be explored. Beyond meat has reported development of “fishless-fish,” and sustainability researchers and biologists are always on the hunt for ways to improve the food market.
The ultimate goal is to feed more people using less energy, taking care of the Earth.

We’re not yet at a point where we can point to any solution as a blanket answer to the problem of climate change. Shifts in the market show that people are willing to buy alternatives and support improvements to have less of a carbon footprint. And while these individual choices will not solve problems on their own, changes to the market can be a catalyst to greater reform. Millennials are showing that eating better is one choice they’re willing to make to have less of an impact on our planet.

Vertumnus – Emperor Rudolph 2, Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527 – 1593)

**Thomas Fuller, English clergyman (1608-1661)

CHARGED

 “…But young people do rash and impulsive things, especially when they’re under pressure. They tend to believe nothing truly terrible will ever befall them, and even though Kevin had a rap sheet, he didn’t think of himself as someone who would get into serious trouble with the law…”

Kevin heard about it around midnight on a May evening. He’d gone to the corner store to buy a single cigarette and was heading back to his high-rise in a housing project in Brownsville, a neighborhood in the middle of Brooklyn. The people he’d grown up with were often out at night, and he saw a knot of them, young men around his age, twenty, hanging out by a pair of green benches in a grassy spot near his building. As they swapped greetings, Kevin’s friend Mason flicked his eyes at a plastic shopping bag on the ground, lying there like a piece of trash. We got the jawn, he said.

 

Jawn could stand for a lot of things—a pair of shoes, a person—but Kevin knew exactly what Mason meant: there was a gun in that bag.

I know things are crazy for y’all here, Mason said, so I got this for you. 
The police were a frequent presence around the projects, so no one picked up the bag or asked to see the gun. Kevin said his goodbyes and started walking away in the alert and fluid way he had, shoulders back and arms swinging, tall and lean and young, his hair pulled back in a ponytail and his gray hoodie sweatshirt zipped, always aware of where he was but trying not to look over his shoulder. It was important not to look skittish, not around his friends and not if the police were watching, but Kevin also didn’t want to hang around with a weapon lying at his feet. He didn’t want the trouble a gun brought.

Kevin’s housing project, a cluster of brick buildings, was one of eighteen in Brownsville, making the neighborhood one of the densest concentrations of public housing in the country, with more than sixty thousand people packed into 1.2 square miles. The project could feel like a small town, in an old-fashioned way. It had its own recreation center and known personalities and raffish identity. Kevin got a laugh out of the nicknames for the loudmouths or tough guys: Koolaid and Lil Head and OgLoc. He’d lived there his whole life, with his older sister and her two-year-old daughter, his younger brother, and his mother, who’d raised her kids mostly on her own, working retail jobs and caring for the elderly and disabled. The average rent in the Brownsville projects was $430 a month. Families tended to stay for years once they got off the waiting list for an apartment. “We stick together,” Kevin said. “We went to school together. Your apartment might be on top of mine. Your mom might have babysat me.”

On a good day, the project’s residents would come outside to play music and catch up. You knew it was spring when older people brought small towels to sit on and raised their faces to the sun.

“That kind of day, I’m going to be where everyone is, the girls, the mamas, the babies,” Kevin said, thinking on it. “That kind of day, it’s perfect.”

But Brownsville was also one of New York’s most disadvantaged communities, measured by health as well as economic insecurity, and one of its most dangerous. The year Kevin was twelve, more than a hundred people were shot in and around Brownsville and another thirty were killed, about half the number in all of Manhattan. Guns were a fact of life. “I could find someone with a gun before I could find someone with a diploma,” Kevin told me. Over the years, he’d lost people he knew, including close friends. The beefing wasn’t mainly between the gangs with well-known names, like the Bloods or the Crips. They existed, but their presence in the neighborhood was fading. More trouble came from menacing rivalries that pitted groups in the projects against their peers in other projects. The conflicts and alliances shifted, but there was one other project in particular that was the main foe of Kevin and his friends.

Kevin’s father lived in the rival development. He’d moved back in with Kevin’s grandmother when he and Kevin’s mother split up, back when their children were young. Kevin’s dad paid child sup- port regularly, and they talked once in a while, but Kevin hadn’t gone over to see him in years. One day, standing on the street out-side his building, he gestured toward the windows of his grand- mother’s apartment, visible a couple of blocks away, above the trees. “I can’t remember what the inside of my nana’s crib looks like,” he said.

The battle lines between the projects were drawn when Kevin’s father was growing up, when established gangs fought over territory so they could sell drugs. Kevin didn’t know why—and it didn’t really matter how the trouble started back in the day. Fresh insults piled on top of old grudges. The reason for a fight or even a shoot-ing could be minor—disrespecting someone on social media, or flirting with his girlfriend. Kevin found it disturbing. Most people he knew did. But that wasn’t the same as knowing how to end it. There was too much bad blood. He’d learned you could defend a place, and your people in it, yet at the same time wish you were anywhere else.

When Kevin was thirteen, he went to the store for his mother and got jumped. All he knew was that the people who beat him up and took his money were from another project, and that now he and his friends would have a problem with them. Months later, one of his eighth-grade classmates was killed in a shooting. Kevin didn’t know why that happened, either.

At fifteen, he got jumped again and was slashed in the face with a razor blade. Conflict built until trauma begot trauma in Brownsville. In a focus group of young men of color coming home from Rikers Island, nine out of ten said they’d been robbed, jumped, or “seriously hurt in a fight they didn’t start,” though none of them identified as victims of crime. Writing up the results, the Vera Institute of Justice pointed out that if they don’t sufficiently recover, people who are victimized, especially when they’re young, are more likely to gravitate toward peers they think can protect them and to commit retaliatory violence themselves. After Kevin was jumped, he couldn’t afford to look like an easy target. He and some of his friends found one of the boys who had assaulted him and beat him up.
Kevin got arrested for the first time just after he turned sixteen, when a friend who’d already graduated from his high school came to campus with a car. Kevin asked to drive it. “At the time, I didn’t think it was a serious thing to drive without a license. He hands me the keys, and I’m like, ‘Lemme put my book bag in your car.’ I snuck out at lunch, ran to the car quick, opened the door to the backseat, and put my book bag inside, and as soon as I closed the door, officers are swarming me, guns out.” The car was stolen. Kevin didn’t tell the police about his friend and he was charged with possession of stolen property. He got five hundred hours of community service, which he worked off by cleaning the piers near the Brooklyn Bridge.

Kevin’s father tried to step in after he was arrested. “He tried to come play the father figure. I told him, ‘These words don’t mean nothing.’ I made an example to him like this: ‘If something happens to me right now, who you think I’m gonna go get, you or my mans?’ Kevin meant an older friend who had his back in the beefing. “My pops is looking at me with a dumb face. I’m like, ‘It’s not supposed to be like that. You supposed to be protecting me.’ We had a fight. He swung at me and I swung at him. ‘Look, all you do is give my mom money. You weren’t here. You don’t know me. My mom takes care of me. She sees me every day. She has the right to put her hands on me but she don’t. You, I speak to you on the phone and you pop up once in a blue.’”

Kevin went to Rikers Island for the first time two years later, spending a couple of nights in the jail after another fight between the projects. He didn’t start it but he didn’t back away, either. He and his friend pummeled two boys, and they ran off, their iPhones falling to the ground in the melee. Kevin picked the phones up. He considered them trophies for a fight that had remained in-bounds, with no one seriously injured.

But the parents of one of the kids he’d fought went to the police, and Kevin and a couple of his friends were charged with robbery. In exchange for pleading guilty, Kevin got a break that benefits a lot of teenagers in the state of New York: he qualified for a one-time get-out-of-jail-free card called youthful offender eligibility. The judge sent him to a year-long program offered by CASES (the Center for Alternative Sentencing and Employment Services), with group sessions and volunteer assignments at his local recreation center. Kevin liked the work, which was a mix of playing with younger kids and cleaning up. He got to go on a trip to Ohio. He met a girl in the program who became his long-term, on-again/off-again girlfriend. Over the next few years, Kevin lived on the edge of trouble. He had friends at the center: “I sometimes chilled with people who did wild shit,” he said. When they got into fights, he tried to set limits without leaving anyone in the lurch or risking his status. He had a personal code: he fought with his fists, not with weapons. Kevin knew people who were doing twenty-five to life. He wanted no part of that.

Guns were for protection, which wasn’t the same as self-defense, as researchers have explored. In the early 2000s, when he was a twenty-five-year-old graduate student, Victor Rios did fieldwork in the streets of Oakland, where he’d once been in a gang himself. Shadowing forty teenage boys, Rios regularly came across knives and guns; they sent a signal about how you carried yourself on the street, about how you belonged, precisely because they were dangerous. And yet “although many of the boys had easy access to weapons, they rarely used them,” wrote Rios, who became a sociologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara. They didn’t want to risk retaliation or prison. They didn’t want to take a life.

But sometimes they did. The guns could no more be controlled, in the end, than the damage they did could be contained.

Mason, the friend who’d brought the gun to Kevin’s group, didn’t live in Brownsville anymore. His family had moved to a safer part of Brooklyn when he was in middle school, and his mother was focused on keeping him out of the projects. But he kept up with Kevin and the rest of their crew, texting and visiting. Through posts on Facebook and homemade videos on YouTube, often narrated by whoever was holding out his phone as a camera, Mason could track the sparring along with the rest of them.

When Mason brought the gun, a silver semiautomatic pistol with scratch marks where the serial number was supposed to be, he didn’t say how he’d gotten it and Kevin didn’t ask. Bringing it to the group showed Mason stood with them, and it was also a way to seem hard without much likelihood that he’d suffer violence, since he could go back to his safer neighborhood when he wanted. But the next day, the gun showed up in a flashy video that another friend, Chris, posted of himself on Facebook. There was Chris on-screen, the camera jumping around as he showed off the gun to a couple of girls he was with and whoever tuned in to his feed.

The video wasn’t online for long, and Kevin missed it. He spent that day inside his family’s apartment with his girlfriend, staying off the internet because his phone, which was old, was only half working. It was evening again when he walked her outside to catch the subway to her night job in Manhattan, wearing his gray hoodie and white sneakers, with a durag in the pocket of his sweatpants. After dropping off his girlfriend, he texted Chris, who lived on another floor of his building. Chris was home with Mason and another guy whom Kevin didn’t know well. He told Kevin to come on up. It was a few minutes before 11:00 p.m.
Kevin didn’t think about the gun until he saw it sitting on a side table near the door. This time, he didn’t walk away. Someone rolled him a blunt. He poured a little liquor into a glass and took a few sips. He was settling in when one of Chris’s friends decided to leave. As the one sitting closest to the door, Kevin got up to lock it behind him. When Chris’s friend turned the knob and opened the door to leave, Kevin was standing just behind, ready to close the door after him. Over the friend’s shoulder he saw two men standing at the threshold, as if they were about to knock. One was white and one was black. They weren’t in uniform, but Kevin recognized them from the neighborhood: they were in plainclothes, but he knew them as police officers. Chris had been arrested for assault and harassment five months earlier, and the police thought he was involved with a gang, so they’d been watching his social media accounts, it turned out. They’d seen the gun in the Facebook video and come looking for him.

Standing there behind Chris’s friend, with the cops in the doorway, Kevin felt a jolt of adrenaline. What would the cops do if they saw the gun? Chris, with his record, would definitely go to prison if the police pinned the gun on him, and he was the obvious suspect, since it was his apartment. Or what if Mason got arrested? He’d gotten jumped once and just handed over his phone to the attackers. He wasn’t a fighter. Later, describing what was going through his mind in this moment, Kevin brought up the story of Kalief Browder, a touchstone in his world; Jay-Z had called him a prophet and made a documentary about him. Kalief, who was from the Bronx, wasn’t a fighter, either. Accused of stealing a backpack, he spent three years at Rikers Island, enduring solitary confinement and beatings, and afterward, at the age of twenty-two, he killed himself.

Did Kevin remember Kalief in the moment? Probably not. “What were you thinking?” his mother would ask him later. He didn’t have a good answer. In that instant, he had some wild notion of getting rid of the pistol by dashing down the hallway and flushing the gun down the toilet. It was a crazy idea, he could see later, full of risk—of leaving the apartment in handcuffs or even getting shot by a nervous cop. But young people do rash and impulsive things, especially when they’re under pressure. They tend to believe nothing truly terrible will ever befall them, and even though Kevin had a rap sheet, he didn’t think of himself as someone who would get into serious trouble with the law. He thought he could draw a line and stay on the safe side of it.

Kevin also wanted to be the kind of person who would come through for his friends, the man in the room who could handle himself. At that moment, those feelings were paramount.

With the police at the door, he picked up the gun.

From Charged by Emily Bazelon. Published in 2019 by Random House, an imprint of Penguin Random House, New York, NY.

Better Than Human ?

Enhancement isn’t new. Human beings have already developed impressive enhancements. In fact, the ability to enhance ourselves may be part of what makes humans different from other animals. Literacy and numeracy are dramatic cognitive enhancements, as are computers and the internet. Science is a kind of collective cognitive enhancement. 

Consider the case of Michelle, a bright, ambitious junior at an elite university. To study more efficiently, she takes Ritalin, a drug prescribed for attention deficit disorder—which she doesn’t have. Ritalin is only one of several drugs developed to treat disorders, including ADD, Alzheimer’s, and narcolepsy, that have been shown to improve thinking in normal people.  Michelle’s boyfriend, Carlos, tells her she shouldn’t take Ritalin. He says, “It’s cheating, and it might be dangerous.”

 

Michelle replies: “Calm down. It’s just helps me think better; it’s not cocaine. Don’t be hypocritical. You take a cognitive enhancement drug—and probably in dangerously high doses—namely, caffeine. You also smoke, though you say you’ve quit. Why do you think people drink coffee and smoke? To be more alert. So, if I’m cheating, so are you and a lot of other people. Besides, if you’re worried about unfair advantages, why pick on cognitive enhancement drugs? Just being at this university is a huge advantage. Education is a cognitive enhancement, isn’t it? Or what about the fact that you are really smart, and both your parents have PhDs?  That’s an advantage, too, and you certainly didn’t earn it.”

This little dialogue, which paraphrases an exchange between two of my students, captures the ambivalence and confusion that most of us exhibit when we consider the possibility of biomedical enhancements. Reactions tend to be polarized: breathless optimism on the part of “posthumanists,” versus fear and loathing on the part of biological conservatives. Neither response is correct. There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about biomedical enhancements, but just saying ‘no’ to them is not an option. Biomedical enhancements of normal human capacities are already with us, as the case of Ritalin demonstrates, and more are on the way. As with Ritalin, they will make their debut as spin-offs from medical research. Research on genetic disorders has already led to knowledge of how to insert genes in mouse embryos that result in improved memory and strength. Research to provide brain-computer interface technologies that enable paralyzed people to activate a robotic arm simply by thinking about grasping an object will inevitably lead to computerized ‘exoskeletons’ that extend the capacities of normal humans. Research on normal brain activity has already led to techniques for electrical stimulation of the brain that improves mood and cognition. So we don’t have to aim at enhancements to develop them. And once we develop the capacity to enhance, it will be hard—and in many cases—impossible to resist using it.

 

Enhancement isn’t new. Human beings have already developed impressive enhancements. In fact, the ability to enhance ourselves may be part of what makes humans different from other animals. Literacy and numeracy are dramatic cognitive enhancements, as are computers and the internet. Science is a kind of collective cognitive enhancement. Our remote ancestors enhanced their capacity to digest food by learning to cook it (cooking is a form of pre-digestion and also neutralizes natural toxins, greatly extending the menu of what we can safely eat). So why are people fearful of biomedical enhancements? The answer is that they think that biomedical enhancements are something entirely new, because they “interfere with nature” or threaten to change or destroy human nature.

 

As the philosopher John Stuart Mill pointed out long ago, the idea of interfering with nature is confused. In one sense, nature is simply all of reality along with the laws that govern it. In that sense of nature, you can’t interfere with it unless you are God. Alternatively, you might think of nature as the way things are, absent human action. There’s nothing wrong with interfering with nature in that sense; we have to do it to survive. We interfere with nature in this second definition every time we act so as to alter the course of events—for example, when we take insulin for our diabetes.

 

Why then are some people worried that using biomedical enhancements will destroy human nature, or that the particular kind of ‘interference’ with nature they involve is something we ought to avoid? After all, virtually all religious traditions (and commonsense as well) acknowledge that human nature contains serious flaws. The answer is that they think that human nature is uneditable—they think that if we try to improve on the flawed parts, we’ll destroy the good parts. They may also have a distorted view of evolution:  they may think that the human organism, as former President Bush’s Council on Bioethics put it, is a “finely-balanced” whole, the work of the “master-engineer” of evolution.

If you think that humans as they are now are the summit of a progressive biological process, and also think that our nature is a densely-interconnected, “finely-balanced” whole, then you’ll take a dim view of any effort to improve our nature.  You will think that anything we do will fall short of what the “master engineer” of evolution has produced and you will worry that if we try to modify one strand of the densely interwoven fabric of our being, the whole thing may unravel.

Seductive as it is, this way of thinking about human nature is completely wrong. It exhibits a rosy, pre-Darwinian, teleological view of nature that flies in the face of what we now know about evolution. Evolution is not a master engineer; contrary to Richard Dawkins; it is not even like a blind watchmaker. A blind watchmaker knows in advance what he is trying to make and he is making something for the purpose of serving human needs. Not so with evolution. Evolution is more like a morally blind tinkerer. Here’s what Charles Darwin says about nature, as the product of evolution.

 

“What a book a Devil’s chaplain could write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horridly cruel works of nature!” Humans, like all organisms, have lots of “design flaws.” Here are a just a few. Unlike almost all other mammals, humans can’t biosynthesize Vitamin C; this has produced scurvy in human populations for as long as there have been humans. Because of a rapid transition to walking upright at the same time the cranium was enlarging, humans have an exceptionally high incidence of death during the birthing process. Because it combines the ingestion of food with air-intake, the human pharynx is responsible for an exceptionally high rate of death by choking, far surpassing that in other mammals. Human sinuses would drain better if we spent most of our time standing on our heads, with the result that we are prone to sinus infections. The urethra in human males runs through the prostate, rather than around it, which results in infections and urinary dysfunction. (If these don’t impress you, think about your knees or your lower back).

Evolution isn’t progress. The latest version of a species isn’t superior to its predecessors. In evolutionary terms “better” only means better from the standpoint of inclusive fitness—how well organisms do in passing on their genes. But inclusive fitness is always relative to an environment. Traits that improve inclusive fitness in one environment can become lethal when the environment changes. Because there is no constant environment against which progress in terms of inclusive fitness can be gauged, we can’t say that later editions of a species are better. Besides, inclusive fitness is not what we rightly value. It has to do only with the quantity of genes that are passed on, not the quality of life.

 

The idea that we are seamless webs that may unravel if we touch one thread is also at odds with evolutionary biology. Natural selection changes species incrementally; organisms have to be able to change some characteristics without affecting others. An organism that was a seamless web would not be able adapt. In fact, organisms, including humans, exhibit a number of characteristics that serve to prevent them from unraveling when something changes as a result of random mutations. For instance, they exhibit modularity: there are subsystems that are relatively autonomous, so that a change here will not disrupt a function there.  

 

They also exhibit canalization: the same phenotype can develop from different sets of genes, so that a mutation in some genes doesn’t necessarily mean a change in phenotype. Finally, they exhibit redundancy of function and plasticity.  This means that damage to one system need not be disastrous: another system may be able to do the same job or a quite different system may be flexible enough to take care of the problem.   All of these features show that the seamless web metaphor is inaccurate.  If we were fragile, seamless webs in the way biological conservatives think we are, then we would be courting disaster to remain as we are. Any environmental change, including those down to human behavior could cause the whole thing to unravel. If the biological conservatives were right about our fragility, we ought to use biomedical enhancements to correct this dangerous situation! We should ramp up modularity, canalization, redundancy, and plasticity. We should enhance, not refrain from enhancing!

 

There is a grain of truth in the seamless web metaphor, however. Human beings have often failed to understand interconnections among biological phenomenon (think of how we have disrupted ecologies by the introduction of plants or animals that we thought would improve things). But the lesson to draw from these blunders is not that we should never try to improve ourselves; instead, it is that we should take care not to over-estimate our ability to foresee the consequences of what we do. As our knowledge of how we are put together increases, we will be in a better position to take appropriate steps to reduce the risk of unintended consequences. We already know how to make important, but discrete changes in mice.

Apart from the worry about unintended bad biological consequences, the main concern about biomedical enhancement is that could exacerbate existing unjust inequalities. I think that is a very serious matter. But I don’t think it is a conversation-stopper. It doesn’t mean we should try to forgo biomedical enhancements. That would make as much sense as prohibiting anybody from learning to read until the whole world could be literate.

Some enhancements won’t remain costly for long. This is true of enhancement drugs. Once they go off patent and can be produced as generics, the price will drop dramatically. (There are now over 100 generic prescription drugs that sell for $4 for a month’s supply at Walmart. Cognitive enhancement drugs may be cheaper than lattees). Enhancements that increase productivity may come to be viewed as basic education is now. They may be subsidized by society, and that will do something to limit inequalities. Some enhancements may actually reduce inequalities.  For example, there is evidence that cognitive enhancement drugs tend to produce the biggest boost for those who are at the lower end of the normal distribution of cognitive abilities. 

Nonetheless, we ought to be worried about inequality. If extremely powerful but expensive enhancements are available only to the wealthy, they may be in a position to dominate the political process or the economy even more than they do now. Instead of declaring all enhancements off-limits, we need to think hard about how to ensure the more rapid diffusion of those enhancements that have the potential to exacerbate injustice if they’re available only to the better off. Doing this might require modifying patent rights as well as subsidies.

We can’t just say ‘no’ to enhancements. They are already here, and more are on the way. The question is how to manage them. We’ll have a better chance of managing them well if we bring them into the light of day and acknowledge that the goal of improving human beings through the use of biotechnologies is a legitimate one. Instead of continuing an uncontrolled, unmonitored “experiment” in which thousands of people like Michelle take a drug that may be unsafe, we need well-designed longitudinal studies. We aren’t likely to get that if we throw up our hands and say that biomedical enhancement is illegitimate because it may destroy human nature.

The Reality Show

Denial, delusion and blame are the toxic trio at the root cause of many of our woes in the Western World today 

  • 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. 

 

 

 

 

 

“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 some-one 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 your 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. By Carla Alasko 

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.

Spring Role

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
money back
(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?

Going Solo

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

Lookism

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.

Hands Off

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.

As you can imagine, my cuddling ban has caused a lot of problems. Most people are offended. Some get angry. Some people dare to toss around my so-called “fear of intimacy.” Please people. If I was so scared of intimacy would I insist on keeping the lights off, wearing blindfolds, and reciting 12 Hail Marys before we fornicate? I don’t think so. Reality Bites

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

Reach out for help  www.alsana.com   & www.bingeonit.com 

Adoption
(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