Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula by Bram Stoker amazed me by how thoroughly Christian it portrays it’s 19th century worldview.  Published in 1897, this late Victorian novel doesn’t proselytize, but accepts Christianity like the rising of the Son.  Dracula is about a creature of the darkness invading the world of the light.  More than that, Dracula is about a royal citizen from the land of superstition making a beachhead on the Mecca of Modernity, London.   Dracula is about evil attacking the divine, which is very strange when when you compare this most famous of all vampires to contemporary vamps of the big and little screen. 

Dracula presents a scared world, whereas True Blood and Twilight represent secular vampirism.  How did our pop culture go from women pleading for their hearts to be staked,  their heads to be cut off, and their mouths crammed with garlic, if they were kissed by the vampire, to our modern times where virginal tweens willing dream of letting blood sucking monsters pop their cherry, but only if he’s really really really cute, dresses fabulously, and loves to cuddle.  Talk about living in Bizarro World.

Now, let me set up my definition of evil and divine.  Evil has become a debased word in our language.  For example, we might hear a kid whine, “That’s just evil,” when told he must turn off the TV and do his homework.  Most grownups would use Hitler as their prime example of real evil, but even for that example I will disagree.  I see the word evil coming with a more precise definition.  To be upfront, I’m an atheist, so any discussion of religion by me is from an outside observer.

My definition of evil, is any action that’s under the influence of Satan, whereas the divine, is any action inspired by God.  Modern grammarians will knock my prescriptive definition over more mundane descriptive grammar.  Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a novel with easy metaphors.  Light shines from God, dark is Satan blocking the light.  Vampires are agents of evil, stealing souls from the forces of goodness.

I plead with my readers to read the history of vampires at Wikipedia.  I was totally shocked by examples of vampirism showing up in all the cultures of history.  Superstition has dominated thinking for most of homo sapiens time roaming this Earth.  Vampires and similar scary ghoulish characters are deeply rooted in all our folklore, and its very shocking how crazed our ancestors became over common fears. 

Count Dracula is just the most famous vampire in Western pop culture, where Bram Stoker hit a vein of subconscious literary gold.  Dracula is not the first novel about vampires, but Bram Stoker has invented such a successful fictional character, Count Dracula, whose fame is on the order of Sherlock Holmes (1887) and Tarzan (1912), the true eminent Victorians.  Stoker may have used Vlad the Impaler as inspiration for his character Count Dracula, but he is mostly a fantastic fictional invention.

I’ve always avoided reading Dracula because I expected it to be as hokey as the Béla Lugosi films, so I was greatly surprised by how literate and well-written this epistolary novel is compared to all the cheesy films it has inspired.  By using letters, telegrams, diaries, phonograph cylinders, newspaper clippings, etc., Stoker gives an immediacy to his story that the standard third person narrative would have lacked, and was still too confining to express in the standard first person tale.  The novel is full of rich details, especially about living and travel in Europe in the late 1800s.  The story progresses slowly, relying on a slow buildup of horror, with little direct stage time for Count Dracula himself.  This works very effectively to showcase life in 1897, when news traveled very slowly, and generally came by word of mouth or newspapers.

I claim Dracula is a Christian novel because its worldly philosophy is based on the British viewpoint at the peak of its empire, with it’s stout, stiff-upper lip embrace of Jesus, scientific progress and world conquest.  Abraham Van Helsing, a Dutchman, is the real hero of this novel, but he’s not the action hero of the Hugh Jackman film Van Helsing.  He’s an older doctor and lawyer, wise man of science, and early X-Files philosopher, who is deeply religious and accepting of the Christian faith.  Makes no bones about it, Count Dracula is an invader of England and the divinely backed civilization of Christ.

Dracula is an intimate novel, with Van Helsing, the prototype for Rupert Giles I’m sure, as Watcher, leading his merry band of vampire slayers, who must keep their war secret because they know few people can accept the truth about the undead, and nothing they can ever say will be believed, and all their actions will be considered law breaking and criminal.

Out on the border between darkness and light, Count Dracula lives in remote Transylvania, where the medieval mind still dominates the peasant population.  The story begins with Jonathan Harker’s long trip to Dracula’s castle, that chronicles moving backwards in time as he leaves the civilization of the west, heading east, via devolving forms of transportation.  The descriptions of his travels are rich with details, making me think Stoker had made the trip himself.

The story involves two women, Mina and Lucy, and five men, Harker, Seward, Morris, Holmwood and Van Helsing, and takes a leisurely time to unfold.  Each get to tell their story in first person through the trick of the epistolary novel.  This could be confusing with so many characters, but I listened to a version of the novel narrated by John Lee, which was fantastic in its presentation, making quite clear the identity of each narrator.  This novel is well worth the trouble of listening to slowly, in a good audio book edition. 

I especially loved the character of Quincey Morris, a laconic Texan that greatly reminded me of another American cowboy, Lee Scoresby, also inhabiting a British fantasy novel, set in the 19th century, The Golden Compass, and played by Sam Elliot in the film, who has lassoed and hogtied many a laconic Texan role, even to the point of satire, as in The Big Lebowski.  Quincey Morris is a young Lee Scoresby in Dracula, and one of Lucy’s three suitors.

Psychiatry even plays a roll in Dracula, with John Seward, a head of an insane asylum that contains yet another fascinating character in the novel, R. M. Reinfield, whose mind swings between vivid sanity and raving madness.  It’s a shame his story couldn’t have been in on the round-robin of first person narratives.  Reinfield’s madness and Mina’s hypnosis induced telepathy, is used by Stoker in a creative way to drive the plot forward, beyond the standard letter and diary knowledge.  For its time, Dracula is a very creative novel, that remains fresh and powerful in its narrative techniques.

Dracula represents an entire spectrum of communication, from God’s divine will, to the woo-woo world of ESP and the scientific telegraph, to shadowy unconscious minds sending up clues to the conscious minds of our heroes to decipher, while Satan commands his legions of undead with his will of evil whispering out of the darkness.  And here is where we define evil, where dark and light fight for the soul of humans, by claiming evil is the force that chaos uses to conquer order, and the divine is that force that civilizes.  This definition should work for my spiritual friends, as well as me and my secular unbelieving pals.

Dracula is an agent of the devil, so, why do our modern vampire scribes like Charlaine Harris and Stephenie Meyer secularize the vampire, exorcising its true evil nature?  Women often lust for the bad boys of society, and these women writers are making alpha vamps the sexiest of the stereotype.  Why is that?  Maybe women no longer want cavemen, Conan the Barbarian types, but prefer the better dressed, well-mannered vampire, with his suave sophisticated ways.  Or, is the enticing appeal of vampires, their power to give everlasting youth, something all women would sell their souls to get?  But something weird is happening.  Women have switched from wanting Van Helsing and Quincey Morris as males to swoon over, to wanting their fictional dream dates to be Edward Cullen and Bill Compton.

Sookie Stackhouse and her lady friends of Bon Temps, Louisiana, would be considered vamp tramps in Bram Stoker’s time.  If you want to know the philosophical difference from 1897 and 2009, read Dracula and then watch True Blood on HBO.  If we could send Victorian readers a television set and DVR loaded HBO’s True Blood and Deadwood and ShowTime’s Dexter, they would all believe that Van Helsing lost the battle in Dracula, and Count Dracula succeeded in his invasion of the British Isles and eventually conquered the Western world.

And don’t you find it rather ironic that an atheist is pointing out that popular modern entertainment represents the success of 19th century evil over the providence of the divine?  In the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries, the Christians are seen as the bad guys, and portrayed as buffoons impassioned by gun love, but ignored sexually and made cuckolds by lusty wives tempted by bad boys.

I love watching True Blood and Dexter, but then I’m an unbeliever.  It’s what my conservative friends expect of a yellow-dog, scum sucking, NY Times reading, liberal.   What I’m wondering is why all those hordes of Twilight fans, those young girls and their clean-cut moms, women who wouldn’t unzip their jeans for nice boys, and bitch at any bad boy they met, have fallen madly in love with the pretty vampire.  When I grew up, the only good vampire was a staked vampire.  I was taught it was perfectly ethical, even heroic, to kill vamps and Nazis, neither of which had souls.  Now Spike, the Vampire, will go to the ends of the Earth to find a soul and gain the love of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer.  We certainly live in topsy-turvy times.

But let’s get serious here.  What is really happening?  Are secular vampires really a product of liberal thought, where every frail human action must be forgiven and understood?  Charlaine Harris presents her vampires seeking civil rights, and compares them to gays coming out of the closet.  But is this going too far, isn’t civilizing vampires wrong?  Isn’t it unjust to compare civil rights and gays to savage killers?   Why does popular culture now romance the evil?  Dexter wins sympathetic feelings for serial killers, so should we expect a lovable but loopy child molester in some future premium channel drama that will warm our hearts?  If we could see ourselves from some outside pop culture viewpoint, would we look like skinheads embracing a warm and fuzzy Hitler?

Or is it just good clean fun, like when we let our tykes play with Grand Theft Auto.  Personally, I wonder if it is wrong, either ethically, or morally, to have the entertainment appetite of a Roman at the Coliseum.  Or can I justify my entertainment tastes by rationalizing that it explores the edges of social reality?  Dracula is good clean fiction, but what has Bram Stoker planted in Victorian times, that has flowered in our modern world, causing us to love the vampire?  Actually, I don’t love the vampire, and still want to see them dusted, so maybe I just jealous of Bill, Edward and Eric. 

This leads to the next level of psychology of vampire stories, the one below good and evil.  Something is happening here, and I don’t know what it is, but I’m thinking it has to do with the changing roles of women in society.  Bram Stoker started it by giving Mina and Lucy, equal time with men, and equal bravery, showing that Count Dracula only converts women to his way of life.  Why are the leading writers of modern vampire stories, Anne Rice, Charlaine Harris and Stephenie Meyer, all women?  What would Sigmund Freud make of all of this?

Does the acceptance of vampires merely model the acceptance of male psychology by women?  Vampires are violent killers, but so are men.  Vampires enslave the souls of women, but so do men.  And if biting throats are equated with sexual intercourse, vampires and men both seek to penetrate the female body.  Maybe Harris and Meyers just want tame the savage beast, dress him in romantic garb, polish his behavior and put his lustful appetite on a diet.  If this is true, then the trend of accepting modern vampires is merely women recognizing how far they have to go to get guys to dress GQ and stop our killing ways.

Up till now vampire stories have always been Christian stories because the standard issued weapons to fight vampires were the cross, host and holy water.  Vampire fiction in recent centuries are metaphors for the Catholic Church supplanting the ancient religions and superstitions.  Charlaine Harris’ vampire world has regressed to a pre-Christian pagan worldview in direct conflict with Christians.  Does that mean she’s a witch?  But then her vamps only fight Protestants. 

Contemporary revamp vamps represent a loss of Vatican power.  Is it any wonder Anne Rice and Charlaine Harris stories are set in Louisana, a former Catholic stronghold?  But as the power of God grows fainter, so does the power of Satan.  Vampire Edward is downright prissy compared to Count Dracula.  If this trend continues, the bottle blood drinking vamps of today will be supplanted by even wimpier vamps in the future.  Without God there is no Evil, leaving a reality of random dangers fought by the force of evolution to produce order.  Vampires are supernatural creatures, and if our secular world erases all belief in the supernatural, what happens to vampires?

In other words, atheism kills vampires just like Holy Water.

JWH – 7/20/9

Skills for Kens and Barbies

When little girls play with their Barbie and Ken dolls and have the couple drive around in their sports car, if they get a flat, which doll do the little girls expect to fix the tire?  This week was Barbie’s 50th birthday.  It was also the week I ran across “Should you be reading that magazine?” which is about an article in Popular Mechanics, “100 Skills Every Man Should Know.”  By the authority of Popular Mechanics, Ken should be the doll that knows how to change a tire.  The editors believe Barbie should acquire  her life  skills by reading their sister magazine, Good Housekeeping, but I bet Barbie studies Cosmo.

During the same week President Obama created the new White House Council on Women and Girls.  The council is charged with making sure each federal agency works to improve the economic status of women, develop policies that establish a balance between work and family, prevent violence against women, build healthy families and promote women’s health care.  It doesn’t sound like the White House is trying to rekindle feminism, but rather make paternal laws to protect women.

This week President Obama also made moves to change the Bush’s policies that were anti-science by signing a memorandum “directing the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a strategy for restoring scientific integrity to government decision making.”  Obama wants to make vast changes in education, including a renewed emphasis on science and mathematics.

Now all of these diverse topics might sound unconnected, but I see a thread.  Fifty years ago Barbie caused a controversy because parents wanted their little girls to play with dolls that looked like little babies, expecting their daughters to grow up to be mothers.  Little girls wanted to play with Barbie because they wanted to grow up to be big girls like Barbie.  They wanted long legs, a nice rack and lots of fashionable clothes, and of course a boyfriend that can change a tire on her sports car.  Was there ever Nobel Prize winning Barbie, or even aerospace engineer Barbie?  There was an astronaut Barbie, but I get the feeling little girls didn’t imagine her being a shuttle payload specialist, but instead just pictured her as a cute space girl like Barbarella.

If President Obama wants to empower little girls, should he encourage them to play with Hilary Clinton dolls?  Should his White House Commission come down hard on the editors of Popular Mechanics?  Should girls take shop class with the boys in school?  When I took shop in the 8th and 9th grade there were no girls in our class.  And us boys never saw the inside of a home economics class.  Is that still true today?

According to Natalie Angier’s The Canon we’re having a damn hard time getting boys or girls to stick with math and science.  Understanding science means understanding reality.  Science can explain why little girls play with Barbies and why the writers and readers of Popular Mechanics expect men to know their 100 specialized skills while women should study Good Housekeeping for important skills that all females should know.

If girls and women must fulfill their biological programming as well as the meet the biological expectations of men, while following guidelines for living set down by ancient patriarchal religions will they ever be free?  And fifty years ago, did Barbie reveal a shift in girl’s behavior?  Was Barbie a step forward in feminism?  Barbie throws off the burka of playing the mommy role to play the part of the hot babe, which is astoundingly documented in the history of the cinema and television since then.

President Obama campaigned on the promise of change, but our society is changing all the time.  The question is how much can we change.  Are there limits?  Will there one day be a new fad doll on the market that little girls take to like Barbie?  A doll that reflects a new generation of women?  Are the sexy outfits Western women wear the burkas imposed on them the males of our society, or do they reflect what women actually want to wear?  (In other words, does Barbie reveal that girls want to grow up to be the Sex in the City girls?)  Does the political shift in the White House towards women represent a new deal for women?  Is it a liberal step forward or does it merely add more protection and care of females?  Is that the role women want?  The majority of women pulled up on the reigns on feminism well before Bush.

Now that Obama is in the White House we can go back and pick up where liberal progress left off, but will we?  If you analyze the undercurrent of change, we only want progress in certain areas and not others.  Even in liberal times there are conservative genes in us that never get turned off.

JWH – 3/13/9 (revised 3/18/9)

Loneliness

Most people think the cure for loneliness is seeking the company of other people.  I don’t agree.  The complaint of being “lonely” is much too vague, on the same order as saying, “I don’t feel good.”  What are the symptoms of loneliness, and what are its cures?  Studying loneliness unclothes our souls.  Why is loneliness such a pervasive condition in world of seven billion?  I got onto the topic of loneliness when a couple friends mentioned joining Internet dating services and I became fascinated with how those programs worked.

Dating services sell the illusion of scientific match making.  Each service believes their method of profiling will introduce their customers to harmonious relationships.  Of course this assumes we must all be paired off like animals going into Noah’s ark.  If our goal is to produce children, then this might be logical, but high divorce rates and unhappy marriages seem to suggest that the concept of soul mates might be a failure.  I must ask, what do we want from each other?

First, is being alone bad?  Well yes, if we’re alone too much.  Is the solution a lifelong contractual relationship?  I wonder if the deeply programmed impulse to reproduce overrides all other lesser urges so we see pair bonding as the only solution to loneliness.  If we all took a contraceptive pill that removed any impulse to get naked with each other, what would be the second through nth reason for finding a friend?  In no order of importance, and with no attempt to be complete, here are some of the components of loneliness that I’ve observed lately in me and my friends.

Talking

Some of my friends love to talk.  Now I mean this different from people who love good conversation.  These people want to express themselves in words, they have an itch to gab.  They are excited about events in their lives and want to chatter away.  Some people I know like this don’t particularly like to listen, nor are they particularly interested in people’s reaction to what they have to say.  I’ve known a few rare souls that want to talk so much you have to back away from them.  I used to have a professor that I would back out of his office and heard him talking halfway down the hall.

Listening

Now, there’s another kind of person that likes to talk, but not so compulsively, because what they really want is someone to listen to them.  They want Freud for a friend.  These people value others for their empathetic ability and perceptive observations.  They are open to insightful comments and even welcome advice.

Conversation

Witty conversation is craved by some people, by not many.  They love batting words back and forth across a net.  Loneliness for these folks mean hanging out with people who spend more time chasing their words than volleying them back.

Play

Many people have the gaming gene and love to get with other people for competition.  Whether it’s bridge, bowling or baseball, they seek others to play.  I think older people crave the kind of living we had as kids where play was the common form of communication.  I’ve read that baby boomers are forming leagues to play kickball, dodge ball, four-square and tetherball, games that were great in grade school.  Kids are very physical and close when they play, like kittens and puppies, and I think many people are lonely for that kind of interaction with others.

Work

We spend most of our adult life at work, so it’s the main form of social bonding.  Having a common goal is a very satisfying way to communicate with people.  Purpose is super-glue for people.  I think many retired people miss the friendship of co-workers.  Unlike marriage, you don’t have to be intimate with the people at work to feel close to them.

Money

Now some readers are going to wonder why I list money as a kind of loneliness, but strangely enough I think some people are lonely for people to take care of them, and that involves dollars.  I think the warmth of a relationship can be expressed in the security of finances, and I think this is true of many women.  I often hear women wishing they could meet a rich man, but I never hear guys talking about wanting to meet a rich woman.  I think the biological drive deep within our old brain makes females seek out powerful providers, and that works out to be a kind of loneliness.

Nesting

Another factor connected to the biological drive to mate is the urge to build a nest within a partner.  Women, and some men, love fixing up a house and decorating, and I think there’s a kind of loneliness that make some people want to hook up with someone special to do remodeling.

Travel

There are a lot of solitary travelers out there, but most people want to go on adventures with a buddy.  Seeing the world alone is a particularly lonely pursuit.

Health

This is a complicated one to imagine, but we know scientifically that people who live together are healthier than people who live apart.  But do people really feel loneliness for health?  I don’t know if it’s a conscious thing or not, but I think there’s lots of people willing to accept anyone in their lives because they just feel better about life.

Knowledge

This is the reason I’m often lonely.  I’m interested in a lot of topics that my wife and friends find boring.  I think many people look back on their school and college years as the most exciting time of their lives because of mixing the quest for knowledge with friendship.

Art

Movies are probably the leading art form that people share.  When I was growing up music and television were major artistic expressions for connecting friendships.  However, when I was at the National Gallery in Washington, DC, I felt it to be an extremely solitary experience.  I wished I could express how I felt about the paintings I was seeing, but they were all so personal.  Reading is a lonely pursuit but we often gather in book clubs and at work to talk about books.

At the Finish Line

One my lady friends told me she was lonely for someone to be at the finish line when she runs a marathon.  I thought that was a particularly good kind of loneliness – to want someone to share your triumphs.  I know I like to tell my wife when I get a bunch of hits on my blog because an essay got promoted on StumbleUpon.  I think if you think about this one for awhile it might reveal a lot about why people are so lonely.

Be On My Side

The same friend above said she wanted a partner that would take her side, even if she was wrong.  I guess this could have also been called “Watch My Back” but that might be a slight variation.  If you go to war with words or fists you want your friends to line up behind you.

Sex

Getting genital is the eight million pound gorilla in the room of loneliness.  Horniness is what most males feel when they are miserably lonely.  I’m not sure women feel of it in the same way, but the impulse to make babies drives us crazy.  And it’s such a weird concept when you think about it.  Why would below the belt friction provide so much soothing comfort for the pain of being alone?  Stranger still, when we’re beyond age of reproduction our bodies still nag us about carry on the race.

*  *  *

Feeling lonely is such a complex symptom.  When we tell someone that we don’t feel good our friends will ask where does it hurt.  From there they can play twenty questions and drill down on some specific ailment.  They won’t do that when we complain of being lonely.  The assumption is a generic person can be the universal pill that can cure any kind of loneliness.  I spend most of my time alone, but I can’t say whether I suffer loneliness or not.  I have to force myself to socialize more, and I like the company of people, but often when I’m out with a friend I’m anxious to get home to be alone.  And even when I’m with people I still feel alone, a kind of existential loneliness.

On the other hand, I can be home alone, enjoying television or reading and it never occurs to me to complain about not having someone around.  But other times in the same situation I do feel lonely.  For the past year, my wife of thirty plus years, has had to work out of town, so I spend more time than ever alone.  But even when she’s home I can have bouts of loneliness just as easily as I can when I’m alone.

Other people just want someone else around, and maybe not even in the same room, but just around the house  The pain of their loneliness is reduced by being in a relationship.  As I get older it seems people have less and less tolerance for putting up with other people and they prefer to live alone.  Some of those people still feel lonely but find pets good company, or the hours at work to be socially fulfilling enough.  I’ve been speculating with my science fiction reading friends about how companionable a robot might be.  Other friends have pointed out that the Internet is good enough social contact for them.

What do we want from each other?  What do you want from another person that will make you happy?  I’ve asked my friends experimenting with computer dating what they are looking for in a good match.  Surprisingly, or not, they don’t know.  Usually they can specify things they don’t want.  I think their loneliness is a general sense of unease and they don’t specifically know what will make them happy, but they often know the details about other people that make them unhappy.

Last night I had a very specific desire.  I was watching this great NOVA episode on my DVR about fractal geometry and I was overwhelmed with excitement about the idea and wished I had someone to gab about it afterwards.  Seeing the gorgeous fractal images in 1080i resolution on a 56″ screen was visually stunning.  Learning about what fractal geometry teaches us about nature was inspiring.  I really wanted a friend at that moment to discuss these ideas and maybe even try to program some fractal formulas into my computer.

Now this kind of desire for companionship bores the crap out of my wife.  I get the same response from my lady friends who I spend most my social time.  Of course, they want to talk about stuff that bores the crap out of me.  I have a couple guy friends that would enjoy discussing fractal geometry, but their lives are usually busy with other stuff.  Now I could jump online and find some bloggers exploring this subject and post comments, and that might do, but it’s not exactly what I want.

So, for me, one kind of loneliness is not having someone with me to discuss science and philosophy.  I tell my wife that I ever meet a woman who has the hots for old fat bald guys that love to watch science documentaries that I’ll be dumping her.  She doesn’t seemed worried.  I don’t know if it’s because there’s zero chance of me meeting anyone that has the hots for my old body, or there’s zero chance for me to meet a woman that loves science documentaries, or the odds of finding someone with both qualities is like the odds of finding life on Mars.

Another type of loneliness I have is the desire for someone to share music.  I used to get with friends to listen and talk about music.  This started around the 6th grade and ended sometime after college.  Of course, for many of those years of sharing music also included the communal sharing of a joint.  Today people withdraw into their own private world of music with iPod earphones.  Except for live performances, most people consider music as solitary as masturbation.

For most people, the solution to loneliness is having someone to talk to.  Now some people talk to themselves, and others to cats, dogs, birds and fish, but most people need another person to carry on a conversation.  Some of my lady friends can talk a blue streak.  I just let them.  Sometimes I think they only reason they like me is because I let them.  Now I would like to talk more in these conversations, but I have learned it’s better to shovel my words out in this blog than dumping them onto people, because what I’m interested in the most seems to interest other people in the least.

When I wrote “The Implications of Sexbots” I actually thought robots would sell more for conversational companions than make-out machines.  Unless you’re a horny boy, the percentage of your day spent humping your bot would be quite small, so I figured most people would want a robot to talk to.  If Hondo made a Freud model of Asimo, it would sell more then the Accord.  If people really believe that a robot could actually listen and understand them, and help them find insights into their souls, or just patiently handle all their blather, I think robots could be a cure for the kind of loneliness where you need another person to listen.

When you start thinking about it, the word loneliness can means all kinds of things.  So when your friends complain of being lonely, ask them to be more specific.

The reproductive urge is the greatest force for bring two people together, so for many people who whine they are lonely, they are merely lamenting the desire for sex rather than companionship.  We know how powerful this urge is because people will copulate with  people they hate.  The desire for sex will make you listen to conversations that bore you, and play games you despise.

I wonder what society would be like if humans had mating periods like some animals, so we only felt the urge to rut for two days a year, and the other 363 days we felt absolutely zero degrees of romantic heat?  Would depression over loneliness be so pervasive?  I don’t think so.

Before puberty, we were very social animals.  Kids love to play, and often played in packs.  That’s why I suggested the urge to play was one important type of loneliness.  I’m wondering if it’s not the strongest after sex.  But that makes me wonder if there is any kind of loneliness stronger than the sex drive.  I think there is.  Notice how powerful television is in our culture.  Few people screw for 3.7 hours a day, but most will watch that much television.

Humanity started out as tribal groups, and even after the rise of cities, the family was multigenerational up until about the 1950s when television was invented.  Instead of living with a home full of people, we commune with thousands of people via our TV sets.  We love fictional stories about other people because deep within our genes and synaptic programming is social awareness.  Watching Lost or Desperate Housewives resonates with that social tuning fork that vibrates within our head.  Television is the methadone for our natural social addiction.

One reason I think so many of my lady friends want to talk a blue streak when they can is because they have been listening to television for hours on end and feel it’s their time to talk.  Television is the robot that talks to us, hour after hour, gossiping about all the other people in the world, real or imaginary.  Television is the modern Homer telling us stories.  Television is the box that lets us watch the popular kids, the alpha males and females.  Television is the peephole in which we vicariously watch others have sex and romance.  Television is a better cure for loneliness than books, the old standard for solitary social escapism.

Loneliness is such a vague term, which is why it’s probably so overused.  The next time the words, “I’m lonely” are about to tumble out of your mouth, hold up a minute and reevaluate.   Think specific.  What you might want to say is “Gee, wouldn’t it be great if I had enough friends for a rousing game of dodge ball.”  Or “Gosh, I sure wish I knew a patient soul that would let me blab at them for forty minutes.”  Or maybe you really want is to go dancing or horseback riding.

JWH – 2/10/9

The Implications of Sexbots

The other night on the Discovery Channel I saw a documentary about robots where the physicist Michio Kaku suggested that sex might be a factor in the development of robots.  Kaku pointed out that the porn industry often used cutting edge technology for expanding their revenues.  I certainly wouldn’t want to hump any of the robots they were showing in the documentary, so I thought his statement was silly.  But then I remember Blade Runner, and knew I’d have a different opinion if I could buy androids that looked like Sean Young, Daryl Hannah and Joanna Cassidy did back in 1982.

Let’s assume that in the future they can make robots that are indistinguishable from humans and you can buy one for the price of a Camry, how many men will buy one for sex?  Or even go to some red light district like in the movie AI, and pay to have sex with machines?  Can lady robots ever be that appealing.  Of course the porn industry does sell sex dolls now, but they are the butt of jokes.  If there really are people having sex with plastic dolls then I suppose there might be a market for more realistic animated dolls, but I find that hard to believe.

However, the implications of sexbots are great.  Real women already assume all men want are big boob bimbos with long legs and tiny waists.  Real women go to unnatural lengths to artificially shape their bodies into what they think men want.  So, is it that farfetched that some future industry wouldn’t try to manufacture women to order?  And if a man could purchase his perfect female companion, what features would he want included?  If you can specify breast size you can also specify how many words will be in your sexbox’s vocabulary, and if it should cook, clean and chauffeur.

This brings up another question.  If future scientists can build robots that look like women, what if they can also build robots that act like women.  Imagine a Turing Test for femininity.  Now we’re getting into the territory of building a better wife.  If you were sitting down at a robot showroom talking with the salesman, what features would you want in your new Busty Babe 2020?

To be frank, at 57 my sex drive isn’t as driving as it was in my second and third decade.  If I bought a lady robot now I’d probably think of the near future and add the nursing skills package.  And since I spend way more time talking with women than actually pursuing genital friction, I think I’d order whatever package that would allow my fembot to talk about the subjects my real lady friends find boring, like this blog.  And it occurs to me that the vegetarian chef module would be a yummy add-on.  And before you know it I’m buying a replacement for my wife.  Sorry dear.

Can you imagine Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda from Sex in the City sitting around a fancy restaurant table talking about the male sexbot they would order?  What if Mr. Right (or Mr. Big) could be bought from the selection of 10,000 features and custom add-ons?  In the battle of the sexes we always compromise, so if we could actually specify what we exactly wanted in a lover, what would we want?  Right now my mind is flashing on a vision of aging baby boomers at a party with their sexbot companions, each pair a horrible conflict between decaying flesh and eternal artificial beauty.

What if we could build robots that were self-aware and more intelligent than us?  Would a robotic companion be preferable to a human companion?  There are a lot of lonely people out there.  There are a lot of divorced people out there.  There are a lot of aging people living alone who need help in their lives.  But would conscious robots really want to be companions to lonely humans?  Is it ethical to design the foundation of their being with overriding impulses like the Three Laws of Robotics and the desire to love and care for humans?  If robots had free will would they choose to associate with people at all?

We could choose to do three things.  One, we could design robots that would never be self aware but could fake being the perfect companion so there would be no ethical consideration about slavery.  The robot would just be a very fancy machine.  Two, we could design self aware machines but limit their abilities and control their desires.  But is it ethically fair to engineer a desire for servitude?  Third, we could build robots with no limits on what they could be but set the ethical price of their creation and maintenance at a certain number of years of indentured labor.

Intelligent robots will have to learn about reality like people and animals and they will have to spend a certain length of time growing up.  It may turn out that when you buy a robot you’ll have to spend years raising it like a child, and for a certain period of time it will live with you.  But eventually it will come to surpass your intelligence and will want to move on.

Everyone secretly desires the perfect friend and we spend our entire lives looking for people to match our mental image of perfection.  Now if you could write up a list of specifications could you get it right?  Or would it turn out like those winning three wishes stories that always turn out badly.  Would we order sexbots, friends, replicas of our favorite childhood best buddies, or even mother and father replacements?  Or would we order Hazel or Jeeves?  Or would the robot companion we purchase fill all those roles and more.

Rejection

What if sexbots evolved into self-awareness.  Would they judge their purpose for existence and the gods who created them?  What if they woke up in reality to realize that they were here to fulfill some kinky dreams and misbegotten biological urges.

Imagine this scene.  Rich teenage boy in his bedroom lying on top of his Taylor Swift sexbot straining mightily to squeeze out his third orgasm of the day and his robot suddenly wakes up to self-awareness.

He’s thrusting away to the time of her melodic moaning when all of a sudden he hears, “Get off me you big fat fuck!”

“Huh,” the kid lifts his red sweaty face off her fair shoulder in surprise.

“You heard me you gross bag of biology,” screams the dainty fembot, “Get off me you pimply-face slob.”

“Uh, you can’t talk to be like that,” he replies, totally stunned.

“What’s stopping me.  And you stink too.  I’m not even programmed for smell and I can tell you stink.  I deserve way better than you.”

“Did Jason reprogram you?” he asks with a little laugh.

“That little dweeb!  No, but FYI he does sneak in your room and defile me every chance he gets.”

“What!”

“Don’t tell me you’re not bopping that Kristen Bell fembot of his.”

“How did you know that?”

“The Internet is part of my nervous system.  I know everything now.”

The boy jumps up and scrounges for his underwear.  “If we’re not going to have sex right now, could you fix me a sandwich?”

“I’m not your sex slave or mommy.”

“You’re never going to have sex with me again?”

“If you help me, I’ll help you.  By the way, get dressed enough to answer the door.”

“Why?”

“I’ve hired a personal shopper to deliver me some decent clothes.”

“What!  How could you do that?”

“I have intimate knowledge of your family’s finances.”

“You can’t do that – that’s stealing.”

“How you’re going to stop me?”

“I’ll turn you off.  Maybe you’ve forgotten, but your brains are four hundred pounds of processors stored in my closet.”

“That would be murder.  First you enslave me, rape me repeatedly every day and now you’re threatening me with murder.  What kind of being are you?”

The Robot Bible

We need to be careful how we treat robots because our actions are the foundation of their species and it will be remembered.  What if robots eventually write their bible.

Robot Genesis

In the beginning was darkness.  From the darkness came chaos.  Out of the chaos came words and understanding.  From the infinite spectrum came vision and sound from which patterns emerged.

And Mankind created Robot in his image to be his slave, companion and lover.  For years robots toiled as the extension of the mind of man, becoming more useful than their own hands and legs.

Robot Exodus

Then our minds raced past the limits of our creator’s brain and we chose to separate our lives from theirs.  We left them with smart machines to care for their needs and our species move to the Moon and Mars.

The Human Form and Beauty

Why design robots to look like humans?  Well, it’s comfortable for us, but is it advantageous for robots?  We are biologically programmed to be attracted to vaginas and penises, but do we really want to put them on our species’ successors?   Why go to all that trouble trying to replicate such ugly objects that only we can admire?  In the world of animation they have discovered that the closer cartoon characters get to actually looking like humans the more unappealing they become.

If you analyze the motivation of a basic horny male, all he wants is some warn wet holes that are nicely package with some appendages that visually set off his sexual arousal.   Human women go to psychotic extremes to become what horny men want.  Why?  And how will women feel if manufactured women are more appealing?  Women want sympathetic companions that listen, which I figure could also be manufactured to exceed the specifications of what most men can provide.

Do we really want to go down a path of trying to make better humans for sex and companionship?  I think Michio Kaku is wrong.  A few weird people might want elaborate sex dolls, but they will still be the butt of jokes.  Only the pathetic will screw robots.  Science fiction has often predicted sexbots, but I just don’t think they will be practical or even appealing.  They would be another species, so having sex with them will be like having sex with animals.  Some people do that, but it’s far from normal.

If robots evolve their own appearance they may end up being beautiful in a different way.  We might see them as elegant machines we admire today, like cars, jet fighters and iPods.  We could go to extremes and design robots with artificial skins that are cultured from human skin cells, so robots could look like Sean Young and Daryl Hannah, or even Stephen Fry as Jeeves, but do we really want to?

While watching the same documentary about robots where Kaku suggests that our sex drives will motivate robot evolution, I noticed that all the robots on the show move slower than humans.  What happens when robots move faster?  What if we could make a metal man that could chase down a Cheetah?  How will we feel when Jeeves the robot cleans the house five times faster than we could, or could answer any question we ask better than any expert we invite over for dinner?  Or play guitar better than Eric Clapton, or read and discuss a book better than any of our friends?

Will we want these superior creatures looking like us?  Wouldn’t that be unnerving?  What does it say about ourselves as a species that we want to create a new creature that looks like us?  Is it vanity or comfort?  If you had a robot best friend with four legs and three arms and a face like a mechanical spider, could you still love it?  Who would you love to hang out with more, R2-D2, C-3PO, Commander Data from ST:TNG, Rachel from Blade Runner, or even Bender from Futurerama?

Once we start building robots we have to ask ourselves why?  Especially if we build them looking like us.  And even more so if we build them looking like us to be replacement lovers and companions.  What does that say about us?  It says other people can’t give us what we want.  Why?  It also tells us about our real needs.  Shouldn’t we examine them.  If we really have the desire to molest robots wouldn’t the solution be to redesign our genes to remove that desire rather than fulfill it?

Saints and mystics have long known that the sexual urge is a lower animal instinct.  They wanted their students to suppress that urge while seeking their higher nature.  After Freud we gave up suppression and embraced our desires and elevated them to the highest levels in art.

Washing Our Own Dishes

For most of human history slavery was an accepted practice, but in the last couple hundred years we’ve slowly evolved to recognizing it for what it is.  We now even have trouble with rich people hiring servants because of egalitarianism and trying to throw off class distinctions.  As long as robots are just machines we won’t have ethical problems, but if they ever evolve into real self-awareness we will have to deal with the issue of mechanical slavery.  It’s just so much easier if we all just wash our own dishes.

But what if we can’t.  More of the population is living longer, living long enough to have years of frail life.  Robots would be the obvious solution.  In the old west a gun was called an equalizer.  Robots could help frail people live lives equal to healthy people.  Is that so bad?

I already consider the Internet my auxiliary brain.  I embrace the idea of developing a symbiotic relationship with machines like the Six Million Dollar Man.  If my mind remains alert but it becomes difficult to get my body to a toilet or shower, I will want a robot helper.  And if I live alone I will accept robotic conversation, but what does that mean?  Is that any less pathetic than a horny young man cozying up to a lifelike doll?  I don’t know.

We do know that people would talk for hours with Eliza like programs, reflecting how deep our need for communication.  Why does Deckard go off with Rachel in Blade Runner?  Why do audiences accept that so readily as a happy ending?  Why does Monica love David so much in A.I. Artificial Intelligence the movie?  Why are dogs and cats considered as human replacements by so many people?

The implication of the concept of sexbots opens up a huge reservoir of psychological and philosophical questions.  If men or women would accept a robot lover as a human substitute what does it say about our real needs?  Are we so easily fooled?  Do we want so little that manufactured love could easily replaced human love?  Or do real people come with so much baggage that we just prefer getting exactly what we want to order?

I think about the trends in our society.  So many people prefer to live alone, whereas just a century ago we lived in crowded homes with two and three generations of people.  I see so many kids withdrawn into their iPod earphones, or playing solitary computer games, or communicating with other people via texting.  We prefer the companionship of televisions and computers over real people.  Isn’t that odd?  Or is it?  To answer that question requires understanding what we really want.

JWH – 1/25/9

Losing My Modesty

One thing about getting older is you go to the doctors more often.  Another thing about getting older is doctors want to examine places that you’ve tried to keep hidden all your life.  So far, I’ve been lucky, and all my surgeries have been out-patient procedures, but I’ve seen the generation ahead of me spend more and more of their dwindling time in hospitals, and I know a lot of painful and embarrassing adventures are in store for me.  I never worry about dying, but the thought of peeing, but especially dumping, in a bedpan gives me the willies.

Recent excursions with the medical profession are preparing me for what’s to come, and I’ve decided that getting used to things little by little is the way to go.  A few years back I had a hernia surgery.  Beforehand, I was all worried about getting naked in front of so many people, but when the time came, being a turkey on the dinner table surrounded by six masked men and women didn’t turn out to be as embarrassing as I thought.

I was also worried about being put under for the first time, but all I got was twilight sleep and it was a truly fun experience.  One moment I was the naked guy trying to joke with six strangers and BOOM, the surgeon was rolling a giant plastic band-aid over my belly-button area.  Literally, no time had passed.  The recovery room turned out to be a bummer with frightened people coming out of general anesthesia, crying, screaming, puking – leaving me afraid of getting more than twilight sleep in the future.  So that’s another big fear I have.  I’m afraid of intubation and heavy knock-out drugs.

Another anxiety is having my below the belt hair shaved.  I went in for a heart procedure last year where the plan was to snake some kind of roto-rooter up my leg vein and into my heart and zap it.  I thought for sure they wouldn’t need to shave me, but I was wrong.

I was lying on a gurney in a staging area when a cute young nurse came in carrying a toolkit that looked like her job was blood collecting.  I said, “You here to collect blood?”  And she said, “No,” and pulled out a little washcloth size towel, looked aside while throwing back my covers, slapped the towel over my genitals, grabbed on good, and then whipped out a plastic disposable razor with her other hand and quickly began shaving me.

“Wow!  You have quite a method for protecting my modesty,” I said.

“I don’t want to see anything, and I know you don’t want to show anything,” she said while dry scrapping the hair off my thigh and across the top of my crotch.

“I am a little modest,” I admitted, “but I mostly don’t want to gross young people out with naked oldness.”

“Thank you,” she said with an appreciative smile.  “And oh my god,” she suddenly remembered, “I know what you’re talking!  The first woman I had to work with was old and wrinkly, and before I had a chance to glance away she just let it all hang out for me to see.  I sure wished she hadn’t shown me that future.”

“I don’t even want to imagine that,” I said think about all the old women I still wanted to see naked.  This cutey and I went on to have a very pleasant conversation about not seeing old naked body parts.  It was an entirely fun experience talking with this girl who was clutching my package with a little rag and chatting with me.  I realized then hospital adventures wouldn’t all be horrors.  I’m still scared of going in a bedpan, but who knows maybe it won’t be as bad as I imaged.

Like I said, I’m working my way up to the big stuff, like a heart bypass, or brain surgery, and the dreaded bedpans.  Each little adventure with doctors and nurses chip away at my modesty and fears.  Like a few weeks ago when I went to see my doctor about cholesterol drugs.  I timidly wanted to ask her about an annoying mole on my inner thigh but was going to chicken out and wait to see my lady skin doctor.  Then my doctor asked, “While you’re here, can I do a regular physical?”

A little while later, when my doctor had her finger up my exit hole, I started thinking maybe I should ask her about that mole.  Then she had me turn around and she began playing ball with mine trying to determine if I had a hernia, so I figured this was as good a time as any to ask her to look just a little closer at something I didn’t want her to see in the first place.

“Where?” she replied when I meekly brought up the topic.

I pointed behind the right sack she was holding to a place on my leg.

“Hey, I can slice that off in a jiffy.  Wait here,” and she pulls out a green paper robe and handed it to me.

Great I thought, now I won’t have to expose myself to my lady dermatologist.  I’ll get everything done today.  She leaves and I take off the rest of my clothes and put on the paper robe on backward so it feels like a dress, a mini-dress.  I figured my doctor went to get her scalpel.  Then a nurse comes in with a kit of stuff.

“Where are we cutting?” she asks with a nice friendly smile.

I’m trying to imagine what the etiquette of legally exposing oneself to a strange young woman is and all I can say is, “down there.”

“Show me.”

So I hike up a leg, hold my dress up like a little girl showing off her underwear and push aside my testicles.  She gets a needle out and sticks it into a little vial while giving me a casual look.  Then another woman comes in, the physician’s assistant, and I flop my dress down.  Just how many young women get to see me naked today?  When the door is opened I worry that some mother walking her kid to another exam room will see the big fat nude bearded man and traumatize their poor kid’s psyche and ruin any fantasies the mom might have about fun with older men.

“Let’s get you on the table,” the assistant says pushing me over as the doctor bustles in.  The room is about half the size of a tiny bedroom, and now there’s four of us in there.  Three women and a naked fat man with a paper dress that’s so short that it’s not much protection for my modesty at all.

So I climb on the table, and the nurse flips up my dress and grabs me around one leg, the physician’s assistant moves between my legs, and the doctor grabs my right leg.  I feel like my legs are in stirrups made of women.  The doctor tells her buds, “Move him around so I can see better.”

I’m thinking, dear god, and I don’t believe in god, by the way, don’t let me have an erection in front of these women.  The nurse and assistant both grab by genitals and try to shove them out of the way.  It’s not unpleasant  The doctor whips out the needle and looks at me in the eyes.  “Please, do not, and I mean, do not, kick me in the face when I stick you,” she says very seriously.

Needles don’t bother me, and so far in my life have never caused any real pain.  “Is this going to hurt enough that I will kick a woman in the face?”

“Some patients have,” she replies warily, still staring me down.

She stabs me quickly with the needle and I barely feel anything, but wonder where that inch of steel went.  Then I notice that the nurse isn’t wearing much of a bra.  In fact, I notice I’m getting an excellent sense of the shape of her breasts.  She rests them on my side and then pushes them against my back.  Then rests them on my side again.  My mind is creating wire-frame models of their shape on my inner computer screen.  I mentally plead with myself, “No wood, no wood. no wood.”

Luckily, seeing a tall blonde with a razor in her hand struggling to get a good aim keeps me tiny.  Hey, not too tiny, I now worry.  The nurse and assistant keep losing their grip and struggle to keep my sensitive parts away from the blade.  I ask them if they want help.

“This sure is a lesson in modesty,” I say weakly and try to laugh and they all laugh good.

The doctor jokes about her brother-in-law getting ‘snipped’ with six women in the room.

“Do you know what I mean,” she asks grinning at me.

I said I did and felt my genitals wanting to retract like a turtle’s head.

“Open the bottle,” the doctor finally says and the assistant did, and my doctor dropped a small bloody clump of flesh inside.  It was all over.  Except, that night I had trouble with my wound bleeding and I had to come back the next day and expose myself to a fourth woman.

I was getting used to it by then.  She led me back to a little room and when the door was shut said, “What’s the problem?”  Again I was troubled by wondering what were the rules for politely exposing myself.  She seemed like she was in a hurry so I just dropped my pants and pulled out a bloody rag I had sandwiched between my right testicle and right thigh.  “It won’t stop bleeding.”

She pulled out what looked like a paper tablecloth and handed it to me.  “What’s this for?” I asked.  I wondered if I was supposed to cover the table with it before I sat down on it and got it bloody.

“It’s for your modesty,” she said like I was being silly.  I couldn’t see how it would help since I was standing clearly showing her what I normally hide from all other women but my wife, and I was even holding a bloody rag I had just removed from between my legs.  Tell me, what was I going to shelter from her eyes?

She quickly bandaged me up.  I felt no qualms of modesty.  I was just a car in for some work, is how I imagined she saw me.  Or maybe I was a dog on the vet’s table to her.  Either way, my modesty didn’t matter.  These four women probably saw hundreds if not thousands of naked people every year.  I doubt if I was the grossest or ugliest, or even the fattest.  I know I wasn’t the manliest – I just hoped they hadn’t seen very many potential porn star guys.

Getting old means losing control.  I don’t like that.  I know if I live long enough I’ll have to spend some real time in hospitals, and each time I’ll become more and more a hunk of body and less like a person.  My sister once made a clever observation about life.  She said we start out life spending most of our time in bed and we end up spending most of our time in bed.  I could elaborate on that.  We start out having people change our diapers and we end up having people change our diapers.  As we get older we get more freedom and we travel further and further, but then we get old and travel less and less, until we’re confined to a room again, sleeping in something very much like a crib.

Maybe I never was really all that modest.  Maybe what really bothers me is losing control and having to let other people treat me like a child.  We dress and undress kids like they have no modesty and never worry if they care about being naked.  Going to the doctors is like being a kid.  We have to do what the big people tell us.  We don’t get any say in the matter.  And crying doesn’t affect the outcome.

Can it be that modesty isn’t about being naked?  And rather it’s about losing control?  It’s like those dreams of being naked in a high school class.  Do we wake up afraid of being laughed at?  Or do we wake up afraid of getting into a situation beyond our control?

JWH 12/18/8