The Secularization of the Undead

If you only know vampires, werewolves and zombies from modern fiction you won’t understand what I am about to say.  If you haven’t read Dracula by Bram Stoker this essay won’t mean much.  The origins of all the famous species of undead in fiction are shadowed in long forgotten myths.  They come from a time in human history were good and evil meant something very different than what it does today.  Primitive people saw reality created by two forces – the divine and evil.  The phrase the Devil made me do it wasn’t just some cop-out excuse for shirking responsibility.  People were either filled by the spirit of God or possessed by Satan.  To modern believers, God or Devil, at best influence people.  They bargain.  Even the most ardent feel they have free will to choose.  In the past that wasn’t always so.

dracula

As an atheist I don’t believe in the supernatural, but that doesn’t mean I don’t see it everywhere in people’s minds.  In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, vampires were pure evil, to be avoided at all costs – even to the point of committing suicide.  Whereas modern vampires are sex objects, and even the worse of them aren’t evil in the old sense.  As society moves away from religious beliefs, it is transforming its ancient symbols and myths.  This can be seen clearly by reading books about vampires in the 19th century, and then watching how the role of the vampire has changed through the 20th century and into the 21st.

A distinction we should make is between morality and ethics—the two main systems of determining right and wrong.  Legal systems are a strange hybrid of the two.  For most of history morality was defined by God and people were expect to follow his rules.  That’s the original definition of morality   As society became more secular people became philosophic, and right and wrong was hammered out with logic and rhetoric to eventually become ethics.  Ethics is the system by which humans decide what is right and wrong.  Many secular people still use the word morality, so it’s also being transformed.  There are even scientists who seek to find moral origins in biology and animal behavior.  But I’ll use morality in its original intent, as rules handed down by a divine being.

Vampires were immoral immortal creatures.  They were agents of Satan, and represented the flow of evil forces permeating the world.  Evil is seen as an absence of divine force, and its actions are in opposition to moral laws.  Modern vampires have become secularized so they are no longer evil or agents of evil, but they can be unethical.  We have also secularized the words good and evil.  Good used to mean the divine, and evil the lack of God, or the force of Satan.  Now good means many things, but it’s taken on a political correctness to mean what is socially acceptable.  Bad and evil, mean something different too.  Evil has taken on the connotation of something extremely bad, or extremely unethical.  Hitler was evil.  By the old definition of evil, that would have meant Hitler was an agent of Satan, working for the forces of evil.  By modern standards he was a psychopath that killed millions of people through his own intent and not the Devil’s.

There are philosophical problems here.  If God is all powerful, how can evil exist?  Does God allow Satan his domain in reality, or does Satan have his own power that God can not touch?  In Bram Stoker’s Dracula evil is darkness, without any goodness, that does have its own power.  Characters in the story protect themselves from evil by embracing God.  Thus the defensive power of the cross and holy water.

The undercurrent of Stoker’s Dracula is sex.  His Victorian novel was not allowed to be explicit, but it was obvious enough.  Evil conquers the virtuous through sex.  In modern stories, sex is still the major theme, but it’s been converted.  Sex is no longer evil, and neither is sex with a vampire.

Modern vampires can be good, and even seek to regain their souls, but this isn’t because divine forces won the war with the undead.  As women were emancipated in the 20th century and gained both political and sexual freedom, they no longer needed the protection of males, and they escaped the prison of being the icons of virtue.  Women writers refashioned vampires and the other undead minions for their own purposes.  Women writers have decided the undead are hot, and they have cleaned them up ethically, and made them into objects of sexual desire.  Stoker believed Victorian women should be protected from vampires.  Modern writers have made vampires into the ultimate bad boys of desire, very fuck-worthy, and perfectly suited to become Mr. Right.

Strangely, most modern male readers and writers would prefer that vampires stay ethically bad or even evil so it’s socially acceptable to kill as many as possible with no guilt.  We still like the Victorian attitude of the only good vampire is a staked vampire.  Action fiction demands a bad guy to be killed, so the soulless undead make great targets for first person shooters.  But even here, the undead have been secularized.  They are no longer agents of Satan, but just plain vanilla bad guys.  If the story was a morality tale it would require that the protagonists be moral, and the theme of the story would be morality, and that’s disappeared too.

Vampires were the first to become love objects, but slowly all the undead, even the gruesome looking zombie, are being transformed into protagonists of romantic interest.  It appears the whole pantheon of the undead have become symbolic figures in stories of teenage angst over sex and violence.  Any psychoanalysis of this fictional evolution would take book length studies requiring years of research.   For instance, one aspect to explore is immortality.  In the old days of God, immortality was conferred by the divine.  I doubt many believe in real vampires, but they do reflect a desire for another path to long life.  One where you keep your body and live a very long life on Earth.  Earthly life has become a secular heaven.

These stories have been further secularized by writers coming up with pseudo-scientific reasons to explain the undead and their powers.  But if we were a completely scientific society vampires, werewolves and zombies wouldn’t exist at all, even in fiction.  As an atheist I have little interest in the undead other than to see them as literary symbols.  It means as long as we have stories about the undead, then we have audiences and readers desiring aspects of the supernatural for some psychological reason or another.  We like to think it’s all childlike fun for goose-bumpy making tales but I worry that they are a kind of Freudian desire for things we can’t have.

JWH

The Tyranny of Hormones

Why are tits so much more dazzling than anything else in reality?  I mean women’s tits.  And how do molecules in our brain make us think human breasts are the epitome of beauty, while convincing us that all other mammalian glands are gross?  Why aren’t guys mesmerized by cow udders?  Those hormones are some pretty amazing chemicals.

Thursday, a young women leaned over right in front of me to get something out of her backpack and a large vista of hanging breasts bulged in front of my eyes.  Evidently my heart is strong, because I didn’t have a heart attack.  As an old man of sixty, I am quite grateful for such unexpected revelations of evenly tanned globes of fatty flesh, but I have to wonder why my hormones are still active.  What’s the point?

My age, physical appearance and lack of wealth preclude any success with young women, or even women of my own age, and even though my hormones are more than willing, my equipment is unreliable at best, and my little swimmers are old and tired and probably couldn’t make it all the way to the egg anyway.  I’m sure my DNA can’t replicate like it once did.

Why won’t my reproductive hormones leave me alone?  I’ve been looking down women’s dresses for 60 years, why hasn’t it gotten old?

If my appetite hormones didn’t insist that weighing 235 pounds was so wonderful, maybe the tools of my sexual hormones would work better and I could at least attract sixty-year-old women.  But what’s the point?  I have no need of children, so why do my hormones keep insisting I reproduce?

Why do our hormones torment us so?  They make us moody and angry, or depressed and lethargic, or jumpy and nervous.  I suppose there might have been a time in my life when all my hormones worked in harmony, but that was long ago.  It’s just so pathetic to be old, bald and fat and having my hormones constantly whispering to my mind that I should go make some babies.  Even my sperm are laughing at that.

Why can’t I have reasonable hormones.  Why can’t I have sensible old man hormones instead of dirty old man chemistry?

And if I’m not having sex fantasies, I’ll be fantasizing about chocolate chip cookies.  Isn’t that bizarre?   It’s like being possessed by  demons.

Think of all the hormones it would be wonderful to have?  I want to be horny to write great novels.  Now that would be a useful urge for an old man.  It doesn’t require a lot of energy or sarcastic rejecting females.

My body is breaking down and I seriously need to lose some weight.  Yet, my inner chemistry insists on staying fat.  Where’s the biological logic in that?

Wouldn’t it be great if we were born with little knobs that allowed us to adjust our hormone levels.  I got two useless nipples.  Imagine if they had been dials for sex and hunger hormone levels.  Our whole culture has indoctrinated us to think sex is the most wonderful experience in all of nature.  But if we could turn off that urge would we think it so wonderful?  If we could turn down the sex dial to zero would we be miserable, or would we think, “Wow, peace of mind is better than a piece of ass.”

And how anorexic would we all be if we could dial down our hunger hormones?

Or if we could dial down the sex, would we all settle for being happy and fat?

JWH – 9/8/12

The Social Network – aka The Facebook Movie

Above all, The Social Network (2010) is a magnificent work of storytelling.  Especially considering that it’s a story based on boring litigation over the tedious topic of computer programming.  On the other hand, it’s a rare example of cinematic creative nonfiction.  How do you dramatize the truth, especially when all the action is cerebral?  I hate to say this because it might jinx some people from going to the movie, but The Social Network is an incredibly educational movie, especially about the nature of what it means to be an asshole.

The litigation over the creation of Facebook reminds me of the fight over who invented television, but few people will know about that.  Ditto for the radio, and many other major tech inventions of the past we take for granted.  It’s very hard to give exact credit when everyone stands on the shoulders of giants.  Few characters in this film come across as nice, many are assholes, most are viciously aggressive, and we see the very worse sides of greed and sex.

At a naturalistic level The Social Network is about alpha males fighting over intellectual territory while alpha females throw themselves at the perceived winners.  At the class level the story is about old money, old social networks, descendents of WASP wealth fighting Jewish upstarts who out maneuver the class incumbents to climb even higher on the social ladder.  At the economic level The Social Network is about the marketing of an idea as an invention and who really deserves the spoils of business.

The film is bookend by two women who try to enlighten the Mark Zuckerberg character about the specific traits of his asshole personality.  These are two of the three nice people in this film, the third being Eduardo Saverin, the nice guy who is fighting out of his league.  People who get into Harvard are by nature driven by ambition, if not naked aggression, so we need to factor such drives out of the equation to make all things equal.  But a bitch fight over billions is not pretty, so it’s hard to see the positive qualities of the combatants.  I’ve got to say the movie reflects the efficiency of our modern legal system because it took decades to solve the legal battles over television and radio.  And The Social Network does an apparently fantastic job of explaining to the public the complicated legal issues dealing with the foundation of Facebook.

To me, the saddest part of this movie is how poorly young women come across in this film.  For the most part, the females in this story are the prized toys that males win in battles of aggression.  They throw their beautiful bodies at any guy who succeeds, even the social challenged Zuckerberg, they frolic around lesser males who do the sweatshop programming, taking bong hits and acting sexy to spur on their coding success, and they lay on their backs to provide flat bellies for the rich to snort cocaine from.  The strong independent women in this film are savvy lawyers, but the endless hordes of legal teams, male and female, come across as brainy vultures.

Of course, the sex-toy women also reflects badly on the males, because they don’t see women as other than prizes for success.  Zuckerberg is portrayed as driven by envy, jealousy and desire, and the film makes a good case that Facebook exists because Zuckerberg was rejected by Erica Albright, and that he wanted the success of Facebook to give him another chance with her.  It wasn’t about the money, but female approval.

More complex to understand is the exact quality of Zuckerberg’s asshole-ness.  He’s brilliant and aloof, but he’s so lacking in social graces that you have to wonder if he has an autistic background.  Mark tries so hard to be liked while looking down on all others and squashing any attempts of communication with a towering superiority.  But isn’t that how most average folks see super-geeks?

I attended The Social Network on its opening weekend, a Saturday afternoon, and I expected the theater to be packed because of the overwhelming wonderful reviews and great word of mouth, but we sat in a mostly empty room.  Moviegoers might not find the topic of this flick appealing, but director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin have created a powerful, riveting and engaging story of our times.  It really shouldn’t be missed.

Finally, because the movie uses real names I must ask how much are the characters in the movie like their real life counterparts?  I’d love to find interviews with all of them where they talk about their portrayals in the film. Actually, someone should make a documentary of that.  Essentially the movie is metafiction, and that’s a fascinating topic by itself.

JWH – 10/3/10

Mommy, I’ve Gotta Go To Number 3, Bad

Now that my friends and I are in our fifties I’m amazed that the differences between the sexes remain so baffling and mysterious, and still such a huge topic of conversation.  A lady friend reminded me of this recently when she asked, “Don’t men feel romantic like women do?”  She had gone through a bad divorce and was gearing up to reenter the battle of the sexes, and I think she was wary of being fooled again.  She leaned over and whispered embarrassedly, “You know, when a man is inside a women, when they’re having sex, don’t men feel a psychic bond with women?”

I told her I couldn’t answer for all men but I said it helps to picture men in simple terms.  “Remember when we were kids, and we needed to go to the bathroom?”

“Yes,” she replied surprised by the change of subjects.

“You’d say, ‘Mommy, I’ve got to go to number 1’ or ‘number 2.’”

“Yeah,” she said giving me an odd look.

“Well, sex for men is number 3.”

“That’s disgusting.  That’s the most horribly unromantic thing I’ve ever heard.  I don’t think it’s true.”

“Okay, think back to all your boyfriends and husbands.  How often did they want to have sex and how often did you want to have sex?”

She open her mouth to argue back immediately, and then paused, “OK, I can see what you mean.”

I’m reading a book called Why Women Have Sex by Cindy M. Meston and David M. Buss and it makes it abundantly clear that women are complicated, giving 237 reasons why women have sex.  As a male, I found it very informative, because it explained 237 reasons why I seldom got laid. 

Why Women Have Sex feels like a freshman survey textbook, and reading it suggests that both men, and women, will need graduate work, if not a doctorate before they will understand female sexuality.  There is no need to write a book about why men have sex.  Their physiology programs them to reproduce.  They feel this programming as a strong biological urge that requires release.  Thus, the reference to number 3.

My lady friend complained about science intruding into the topic.  “What about romance?”

“Some men are romantic and some are not,” I replied.  “But I don’t think it’s connected to sex, but I’m not sure.”  I went on to explain a story in the book Why Women Have Sex, which illustrates my point. 

I can’t remember the exact details, but the book described a small mammal that came in two species.  One was monogamous and one was not.  Scientists eventually found a chemical in the monogamous species that wasn’t in the other.  They injected the chemical into the life-long bachelor species, and they became monogamous. 

All I can tell my friend is maybe some men have a romantic gene and others don’t.  If women ever get an over-the-counter test for the monogamy hormone, guys we’re in trouble.  And what if science creates a monogamy pill?  Will men have to take their faithful drug every evening when their mates take their birth control pill?

I’ve talked to a number of women about this conversation and they all dislike it.  They don’t like science analyzing human nature.  One lady said she wanted men to be like my blogging friend Carl.  I was amazed at this because it was many months ago when a few women in the office read Carl’s comments to one of my blogs and they all immediately loved his romantic ways.  Evidently romantic guys are memorable.  Notice that my lady friend above never asked why men wanted sex, she just wanted to know if men were romantic like women.  If fact, she implied she didn’t want to believe that men were unromantic.

I’m reading Why Women Have Sex because women’s sexual urges are baffling, not as simple as going to number 3.  If women were like men, we’d all be mating like Bonobos.  If men were romantic like women, wouldn’t the world be very different?  That might be the answer to my friend. 

Women should be reading this book more than men because it explains why women love and hate men.  But time and again my lady friends are repelled by the details I relay to them from the book.  So I’ll suggest another topic for Meston and Buss.  They should write a book about why women hate scientific inquiries into romance.  Whenever I talk to a woman about relationships and suggest there might be a biological basis, most women get annoyed.  It’s anti-romantic. 

I know its terrible to generalize like this, but it does appear to be a common attitude among the women I know.  One lady friend gave me a clue though.  She said science might explain animal biology, but it can’t explain human behavior.  I wonder if this is a religious bias.  Are humans divine and unexplainable by research, and animals are lowly aspects of the physical world that can be explained.  It makes me wonder if romance and religion have similar biological causes, and for some people it’s territory that scientists shouldn’t explore. 

JWH – 12/22/9

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

Being the Peacock

It is the male peacock that wears the fancy dress and struts his finery to attract the less flashy lady peahens.  In the animal world it generally appears to be the male that gets all dolled up to catch the female, so why in our species are the females the disciples of Vogue?  With animal courtship the males do all kinds of crazy things to show off because it’s the females who get to make the final decision.  Human females also get to make our final decisions on mating, but it also appears they get to do all the gaudy displaying too?  Or is that true?

Males of our species do show off by making money, showing strength, doing dashing deeds, while only using a modest amount of flashy color and huge tail feathers.  Hell, suits are in by the young men again.  You can’t get less flashy than a suit.  Last night I saw a rock band all wearing black coats, white shirts and dark ties.  Their looks were dull but they were making a big noise to attract women.

In our species it appears that the males are still the ones that show off, but somehow the role of preening was giving to our ladies.  From fashion runways to Vegas shows to Miss America pageants you can see the extremes of female plumage.

I think this biological programming has had a tremendous impact on female behavior and psychology, making women very different from men.  Okay, I can hear all the protests now.  Yes, I know some men love to show off their costuming and some women don’t.  But I think this programming subroutine goes far deeper than outfits.  Women are a thousand times more concerned about their looks then men.  Why is that?

Let me give an example.  Among my lady friends, and I’m mostly talking about women in their fifties, I’m starting to hear the same story repeated independently from all of them that makes me worry.  They all hate to see themselves naked.  One friend said she holds her hand in front of her eyes when she gets out of the shower to shield her vision from the image of her naked body in the mirror.  When she says this I’m thinking I’d loved to see her step out of the shower and towel off, so it’s not that she’s bad looking.  But why has she become so hideous to herself that she won’t look at a mirror until she’s dressed and ready to hide her face in makeup?

If this was an isolated comment I wouldn’t have much evidence for my case, but I hear stories like this over and over again.  We’ve reached an age where my women friends are horrified by their bodies but I’m not, not by mine or theirs.  I still want to look up their dresses and down their blouses to catch whatever glimpses I can.  And another common thing I hear from these women are gripes about men wanting younger “firmer” women.

They seemed obsessed with the word “firmer” too, because they say it with such resentment.  And no matter how much I tell them I’m still physically attracted to women my age and even a bit older they don’t believe it.  They say I’m an oddball and 99% of normal men only want to look at twenty-something women.  Sure we like looking at younger women, but I’ve talked to my fellow boomers, and the consensus is older women can be just as hot.

Women may blame their resentment on men, but I’m starting to wonder if the problem isn’t theirs.  Sure there are men obsessed with sweet young things, but none of my pals are like that.  I think a lot of men have to chase younger women because as they get older the females of their generation stop wanting to be caught, forcing those guys to go further afield to hunt.  But this isn’t the point of my story.  I want to focus on the psychology of being the peacock.

I think both sexes are cursed by their biological programming.  Personally and culturally we’re possessed by the drive to reproduce.  This is understandable from a biological point of view, but why doesn’t the sex drive shut off when the baby making years are over?  When women go through menopause, why don’t they suddenly wake up and think, “Gee, I feel great.  I don’t have to preen anymore for those goddamn males always chasing after me.”  And then relax into a new lifestyle.  Why should women hate their bodies just because the sign “Great Babies Made Here!” gets turned off?

From the male side of things I wished my thoughts weren’t constantly befuddled by my cells urging me to go make babies.  Obviously, the reason why I still want to see fiftyish women get out of the shower is from residual programming to reproduce.  I’m already hearing all those people thinking, “Well men can make babies until they die.”  Just because we can, and just because we have the drive, doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.  Evolution designed us to live long enough to reproduce and then die.  Our brains helped us beat those plans and  we live much longer than evolution planned.  At a certain point in both the lives of men and women we get to an age where babies aren’t wanted.  But the damn baby making programming inside of us doesn’t shut off.

Woman feel angst about losing their younger bodies and men feel angst about not getting laid as often.  It appears that the women who looked the best in youth hate themselves the most while aging.  Of course this is well illustrated by Hollywood starlets pursing plastic surgery till they have faces that look like rigor mortis of death.  The nature of women playing the peacock was well illustrated in an old movie I saw the other night, Mr. Skeffington, with Bette Davis as a beauty obsessed woman constantly courting marriage proposals even after she was married.

I feel sorry for my women friends.  Why can’t they accept wrinkles and sags?  Firm tits and ass are only signs that say, “I Make Babies.”  Why can’t old guys understand that the urge to chase young women is your cells tricking you into fatherhood?  In the end, I think the burden of the peacock syndrome on women is far harder than left-over horniness in men.  I don’t hate my body because I can’t get laid.  Being a peacock when the feathers fall out must be painful and pathetic.

I have a long running argument with one of my lady friends.  She says who we’re attracted to is mental, and I say it’s biological.  Well honey, I think if it’s mental you would be able to rationalize yourself out of the peacock syndrome.

Jim

Retirement From Sex

A better title for this essay would be Retirement From Life, but the word sex attracts more readers – don’t worry, I’ll get down to the juicy parts soon enough, just consider this intro foreplay.  I’m spending a lot of time thinking about retirement from work, but I realize the word retirement can encompass far more than just that one part of life.  Retiring from work is a major transformation in one’s personality, but as we get older we go through so many transformations that can also be called retirement.

For instance, I’ve long ago retired from going out to bars to hear live bands.  That used to be part of my personality, listening to live music, but I’ve gotten old and can’t handle noise.  Even loud restaurants feel like psychological torture.  My wife hasn’t retired from live music, so she still feels youthful in that regard and I feel old.  I know lots of guys who have retired from going to the movies.  I haven’t yet, but only because it’s a major way to socialize with my lady friends.

Another area that I will be retiring from is heavy lifting.  Guys like lifting heavy stuff because it proves they are still young and strong.  A woman mentions she needs a 25″ TV carried up three flights of stairs and you volunteer, to make a point about your maleness.  Women don’t need men for much, but lifting is something they seem to appreciate.  So to retire from heavy lifting means checking out of the strong male club and it means you are admitting you’re weak, like a woman.  And this is a big change.  It’s humiliating to have to say, “Sorry, I can’t pick up something that heavy.” 

Men retire from the heavy lifting club slowly.  As you get older and something needs to be picked up and younger guys are around, you start letting them show off.  But if you’re the only guy you keep trying to prove yourself as long as possible.  George Carlin recently joked about this in his new comedy routine about turning seventy.  He tells his audience, once you turn seventy you never have to lift anything again.  Oh, you might pretend to try, but a younger person will rush over and do the job for you.  I’m only 56, so I still have to lift things, but there are times when my wife talks about helping friends move, and I’ll remind her of my back problems.  Of course, if a lovely young woman at work is in need of heavy lifting help, I don’t worry about my back so much.

Retirement from work means a huge change.  Work means you are useful to other people.  It’s more than just earning a living, work is social and it defines an essential part of our personality.  The first thing people want to know when meeting you is what you do.  Saying you’re retired is like saying you’ve stop being somebody.  Of course, you solve this problem by becoming somebody new, but that’s hard to explain, especially if your hobbies are rather piddling.

Now, back to sex.  Sex is a big topic, but few people express the personal details of their sex life, and neither will I.  Let’s just say I’ve reach an age where I can see an end to my sex life.  I feel sort of cheated by that because I remember back in the 1960s seeing documentaries about how people in their nineties could have active sex lives.  I think there are some people who are still balling when their age hits three digits but they are few and far between.

Sex is not something I want to retire from, but I’m starting to see the dirty writing on the bathroom wall.  I am appreciative for all the sex my wife gives me, and I do know on her part she’s doing a lot more giving than receiving, because she’s been closer to retiring from sex since menopause.  (At least with me, I don’t know about her and her boyfriends.)  She feels guilty about retiring from sex, which is lucky for me, but it’s not an emotion I want to play on for long.  I’ve joked with her that if she doesn’t want to change the cat box then maybe I can find someone else for the job.  She told me to go for it, but I think she’s confident that few women want the chore of being kindly to an overweight old bald guy.  I guess she knows, it would still be changing the cat box to them too. 

I don’t think I’m the only guy in this situation.  I’ve gotten hints and jokes telling me the well is running dry in other marriages.  Some of my friends even allude to losing interest themselves, and a couple joke like Al Bundy when he complains about having to service Peg.  Although,  I have heard rare reports of lucky older guys who have wives with matching libidos, but those guys might be lying, just like how some guys lied about the frequency of their sexual successes when they were younger.  But statistically, I know the world is filled by all kinds, and anything is possible.  Of my male friends who dine alone, they just make jokes about how happy they are they don’t have to move furniture all the time.

What surprises me about retiring from sex is how men are so much different from women.  I know a lot of divorced and widowed women my age, and older, and the common consensus is they are overjoyed to be out of the sex provider business.  I find this a little hurtful because it makes me wonder if they ever really liked making us guys happy.  I always ask my single lady friends if they wouldn’t like to get married again, and they universally groan. 

There is one common joke I hear, “Oh, I wouldn’t mind marrying a rich guy with a bad cough.”  This strikes me as severely mercenary, and makes me further wonder about the motives of the women I knew when I was younger.  I know books, movies and television shows are all about romance and sex, but I’m starting to wonder if pop culture hasn’t been perpetuating a long standing urban myth.  I just assumed women were different before and after menopause, but now I wonder.

Retirement from sex means learning who you really are.  When I was at Clarion West Writers Workshop I wrote a science fiction story about a guy who volunteered for an experimental treatment to temporarily turn off his sex drive to see what life would be like without his little slave driver.  The story got a violent reaction in the critique group.  The night before my older classmates, both men and women, told me how much they liked the story, so I went into the critique the next morning thinking I’d have a hit, but I was blasted by the young people.  Some of the younger women called the story misogynistic, which was scary.

I spent a lot of time thinking about that.  On one hand, it could have been true, on the other hand, why was the story admired by some and hated by others, and the dividing line seemed to be age?  If a man turns off his sex drive does that mean he devalues women, or even hates them?  Since the younger women were writing romantic stories, I could see my anti-sex story as anti-romance.  What’s funny is women become anti-romantic after menopause.  Well, that’s not quite true, they become anti-sex romantic.

Jane Austen is the queen philosopher of post-menopausal women. All my older women friends want a Mr. Darcy for dinner and dancing, handsome, rich, dashing – and a man who never expects the heroine to leave her Empire silhouette gown.  Retiring from sex for men, means fulfilling a new role for women, one more fitting for a Jane Austen tale.

Don’t get me wrong, young women also love Jane Austen, but they either want or expect to unsnap their jeans for Mr. Darcy.  Retirement from sex means changes in personality for both men and women.  I think many woman are happy to go off to their little houses to live alone after their children grow up and their husbands leave them through death or indiscretion.  And I think with older married couples, the concept of romance changes with them too, with women preferring their husbands to retire peacefully to their workshops or computer rooms.

In the life-long battle of the sexes I’m never sure if either sex understands the other.  Women smugly claim to understand us males, thinking we live by one single motivating force, and claiming we don’t have a clue about their fairer sex.  I think men have multiple drives, with sex just being the obvious one.  It’s like asking little kids about going to the bathroom, inquiring if they need to go do #1 or #2.  Well, there’s a lot of males hopping on one foot needing to go to #3, and that’s all women see.  Sometimes it’s, “Oh, how cute,” and other times, it’s “Can’t you wait.”

I know when I go out with my women friends and the dinner check comes, they whip out their purses insisting to pay their half.  I’m amused by this because I wonder if they are thinking, “I don’t want him believing I’m going to put out for $18.35 plus tip.”  Like I said before, many of my lady friends have joked they would marry an old rich man with a cough.  I’ve got to wonder if there is an incentive that would bring them out of retirement that falls between the price of dinner and a large inheritance.

Retirement from work means withdrawing from the complex social life of the office.  Retirement from sex means withdrawing from a life of close physical contact.  I don’t think men and women experience this retirement in the same way.  I think the constant intense biological pull that women feel to be mothers and wives disappears after menopause, so they actually feel free and relieved to be independent.  Whereas men who have always been free and independent feel psychologically cut off from people when they retire from sex.  Men often die after retiring from work, and they often die when they have to live alone, and sometimes I wonder if they die when the final realization comes that the little guy is not going to have any more fun.  Old women seem to thrive on independence and their retirement from sex.

What’s weird about thinking about having to retire from sex is how it changes my personal opinion about myself, and what it reveals about my personality.  Gays and lesbians teach me a lot about sexual identity, in a rather round-about way.  We define ourselves by who we want to get naked with, but what happens when we never take off our clothes with other people?  Do we lose that identity?  Do we suppress or bury it, or does it just slip away like time.  Already I feel my sexual life has regressed to what it was like when I was a teenager, when I considered getting to first base a major goal.  I’m back to wondering why women are so stingy with their riches.

Does retirement from sex mean a total regression, a devolution back to virginity?  The phrase “old men and their toys” takes on a whole new meaning.  Or will retirement from sex be the undiscovered country of my future?  Or should my work retirement goal be to become an old man with money and a bad cough looking for a younger women willing to trade a few years of cat box changing duties for a long term retirement plan of her own?  Or should I admit that I am not Mr. Darcy in anyone’s eyes and I should just develop a new identity, but one without sex?

Time Goes By, is my guide to getting old, and even Ronni, my elder guru, discusses the waning life of sex in, Been There, Done That. What’s Next?, although she is quick to defend that elders are having sex in, CNN: Elder Sex is a Dirty Joke, which reports 73 percent of people 57 to 64 are still having regular sex, and 53 percent of people age 64 to 75, and 26 percent for people 75 to 85, are still getting it on too.  So retirement from sex, is like retirement from work, not everyone retires at the same age.

My point of this long-winded essay, is retirement is all about change, and fundamental changes, changes deep in our personality.  This makes me not want to retire in any way, and keep on going the way I have been.  On the other hand, I’m ready to rush into this new undiscovered country and start exploring.  Escaping death is not an option, but I’d like to think everything else is, but that may not be true either.  A lot of men would prefer to die at their desk, and I can understand that.  And a lot of guys joke about coming and dying at the same time, and I can understand that too.  The harder thing to imagine, even scary to think about, is living twenty or thirty years without work or sex or the ability to lift heavy objects.

Jim