19 March 2013

Rape, Sexual Assault, and Human Dignity

What's it going to take to prevent more rapes and sexual assaults? Why are men doing this?

Men in the US have been socialized incorrectly when it comes to thinking about sex. They are raised to believe the world owes them a warm, wet hole to stick their dicks into. Subsequently, when such a hole isn't offered to them, they may feel free to take one by force. Because they don't see women as human beings. They just see them as bodies housing that warm wet hole.

When I was younger I used to hear that rape was not an act of sex, but an act of violence. I understand what activists were trying to say, but I think they were mistaken in their terminology. Rape is an act of sexual violence, and it stems from a great misunderstanding about sex that our society teaches its young. What should we teach our young about sex?

1. You do not need sex. It is commonly thought that sex is a need that must be fulfilled. This is not true. A human being needs air, water, food, and adequate protection from the elements (i.e., clothing and/or shelter) in order to survive. Sex feels like a need because it manifests as such a strong urge. But a person can go his whole life without ever having had sex with another human being, and will still be okay.

2. The world does not owe you sex. I have often heard that people feel they deserve to have sex (or, in a related phraseology, "deserve to be loved", which implies a sexual component). This is false. No one "deserves" to have sex (or to be loved). To say I deserve sex means that someone out there in the universe is obligated to give it to me. This obligation means moral coercion. No one can be morally coerced into having sex with another human being. To believe so is repugnant. I may be worthy of sex and/or love, and I have a right to seek it, but that does not make me deserving of it.

3. Life is gruesomely unfair. Life is a messy business, and people are born with and acquire different qualities. Some people are exceptionally attractive, and some people are exceptionally unattractive. Some people have engaging personalities, and some people are offputting. Most people fall within the vast middle, i.e., they're okay in personality and appearance, but not extraordinary. However, even being okay doesn't guarantee they'll be able to have sex with another person. Usually, the person I'm attracted to is not attracted to me, and the person who wants to have sex with me doesn't interest me at all. That is the nature of life.

4. You must learn how to deal with both the titanic urges of sex, and the brutal unfairness of life. Sexual urges are strong, but opportunities to express them with other people in a dignified and respectful way are very rare. For some, they never occur. Only a few can have these opportunities frequently. It is wrong to force someone else to have sex with you, just because you want to have it with them. No one is under any obligation to have sex with you, no matter how badly you want to have it with them. Desiring strongly to have sex with another person does not confer the right to have sex with that person. In fact, one never has a 'right' to sex, only the right to seek it. Since this is the case, it is ethically incumbent on each individual to learn how to deal with his or her own sexual urges without violating the rights of other individuals. It is also ethically incumbent on each individual to learn to accept the unfairness of life, and to learn how to negotiate his or her own niche in this vastly unfair existence, and to do so with dignity and equanimity. (There are ways to do this, which I hope to address later.)

5. These lessons are not about sexual 'purity' or religious morality - they are about maintaining your human dignity. For centuries, religion has been the check on unbridled sexual pursuit. But religion frequently failed, because simply telling people "No!" is often not good enough a disincentive. Furthermore, religion based it's sexual strictures on the needs of an agricultural society, in which families need to ensure all children within a family were of the same parentage, and that the family had sufficient children to carry on the work of the farm. These values are no longer incumbent upon an overpopulated planet, and sex can be about pleasure foremost, and reproduction secondarily. Instead of purity or religious morality, sexual behavior and attitudes should be about ethics: about caring for others and about maintaining one's own dignity. Not to pursue sex with another person once that person has refused one's attentions is dignified. Accepting a "no" is dignified. Respecting another person's sexual integrity is dignified. Dignity and integrity trump sexual fulfillment, because dignity and integrity last far longer than the "afterglow" of sex.

These lessons are difficult and complex, and must be ingrained early and often. They go against the grain of US culture, and its emphasis on optimism and "winning". But these lessons are necessary to prevent people from committing rape and sexual assault. For those who didn't learn them in childhood, it is ethically incumbent upon them to learn them now.

18 March 2013

Shopping ≠ Living

I wish I had weighed the bag of pens I brought to the office this morning. I have to guess it's around 5 pounds of pens. 5 pounds of pens! Seriously. I brought them to office to get them out of my apartment, so that they'll be used by someone, and not simply be wasted sitting in a container in the closet of my home. I've neurotically bought pens like crazy for the past five years, and now I'm stopping myself. I know which pens I need to write in my journals, and I do not need to buy any more pens until those run out of ink (which, given the number of pens I've kept, is still a while in the future).

I'm dealing with my neuroses. Since moving into my home over five years ago, I've acted like I need MORE  and BETTER  stuff all the time. I've turned shopping into a recreational activity, almost physical in endurance. (I'm the only person I know who will happily WALK from Montgomery Mall to the shopping centers on Rockville Pike, often with stuff in my bag already.) I manically search for books, pens, underwear, socks, etc., like these items will save my life, or at least plug a few empty holes.

I used to say that my life has been about the search for the perfect notebook, the perfect pen and the perfect bag. But really, life cannot be about shopping. Shopping is a part of life in a consumer culture, but I cannot let it be such a big part of life. When human beings were hunter-gatherers, hunting and gathering were what shopping is now. But even as hunter-gatherers, hunting and gathering were only to facilitate life, not be the purpose of life. Even if one were very good at it.

The point is, I've let my life turn into an endless cycle of shopping, and that's not a very good idea. So, to start with, I've brought in these pens to give away. And I'm rethinking how I plan to spend my weekends. Furthermore, I have been looking at myself more closely, to determine what neuroses I need to deal with, and how to replace them with better thoughts and actions.

13 March 2013

The Liberating Power of Insignificance

Earth orbits a star that is one of 200-400 billion in the Milky Way galaxy. There are an estimated 170 billion galaxies in the observable universe. The universe has existed for over 13 billion years. The universe is expanding and increasing in entropy. It is predicted to eventually reach a state of ultimate entropy sometime after 10100 years in the future. Long before that, the Sun will expand to be a red giant star, and engulf the earth's orbit (approximately 5.4 billion years). Long before that, changes on the earth will cause all life to die out (approximately 2.3 billion years). Long before that, the human species is predicted to have died out (somewhere I read human beings are probably in the midlife of their existence). There may or may not be other sentient species to arise on Earth. It all depends on whether sentience is adaptive to changing environments. So in cosmic terms, as a species we are utterly insignificant, existing en toto for a very brief time in a very limited location.

Within this utterly insignificant species, an individual life is even more insignificant. I am one of 7 billion people on the planet. There have been billions before, and probably billions after me. I do not matter in history. I matter even less in the cosmic reach of the universe.

For some people, this would be a depressing thing to realize. I find it exhilarating. Born into religious fundamentalism, I was raised to think that my every thought and action was rife with horrifying, eternal significance. The way I spoke to another person, even the thoughts I didn't verbalize about him, could not only damn me for all eternity, but set off a chain reaction of human behaviors in others that could damn a whole slew of people. I could destroy lives for eternity through carelessness.

Please tell me how a seven-year-old child is supposed to carry this burden?

In light of such an upbringing, to discover I mean absolutely nothing in the universe is liberating. I don't have to worry so much about my actions, because whatever effects I have, they are extremely limited in time and in space. The cosmos will not be greatly affected when I fuck up.

This is the liberating power of insignificance.

12 March 2013

What I've Learned So Far*

1. Take out the supernatural shit, and the bogus body "alchemy", and Taoism has some profound things to say about the fact that everything is in a constant state of flux. A wise person learns how best to surf that flux.

2. Take out the supernatural shit, and Buddhism has some profound things to say about the nature of reality, such as the "self" is not fixed and permanent, that suffering is due to the clash between our desires and what actually occurs, and that learning to accept what actually occurs lessens suffering.

3. The ethical branch of Stoicism has some profound things to say about learning the difference between what an individual can and cannot control in life, taking responsibility for the former and accepting the latter. In a sense, it is about dignity and integrity.

4. Without letting oneself get too bogged down in metaphysical meanderings, one can learn something from Existentialism, too. Namely, existence is inherently meaningless, and an individual is responsible for creating meaning within his life. Furthermore, happiness is a by-product of the pursuit of meaning. When one tries to pursue happiness directly, he usually fails.

5. Living in a time of unprecedented access to information, with resources on the internet, and relatively inexpensive books being published, a Postmodern approach to philosophy and ethics works best. My personal philosophy may be a pastiche of thought systems, but I've worked consciously to cull the best and shape it toward a useful approach to life.

*These are my lessons for myself, and not intended as as lessons for anyone else.