Thursday, October 30, 2014

"Good" versus "Evil"

No matter how good you try to be, someone will accuse you of being stupid or up to something.

This point of view gains strength from the existence of so many people who actually are stupid or up to something. And this is before we start to sort through the honest differences of opinion.

Somewhere under all the obfuscation and misinterpretation some things must be true. We can destroy our environment and render our planet at least highly unpleasant if not utterly uninhabitable. We can create widespread misery by picking on each other. Greed and corruption are worse than laziness. More people are thoughtless than are evil, but some people are genuinely nasty. Among them, some choose to do it retail, as criminals, while others go wholesale as national leaders with global aspirations. Initially, the key factors are a willingness to hurt others with little or no provocation and an enjoyment of their suffering.

Niceness and nastiness represent the ends of yet another continuum in human behavior. Almost no one is entirely nasty or totally nice to every living thing they meet. But you can generally pick up on reliable trends to indicate a person's probable bias.

All that is required for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. That seems like a simple call to action. Get up! Do something! But you get the same result when a whole bunch of people who think they're doing the right thing are busy busy busy promoting their agenda and obstructing competing agendas with the result that nothing gets done. Problems grow worse as the argument goes on. We can't even agree on what the problems are. And some of those agendas will only make things worse. So we can't just randomly decide to throw all our weight behind any proposed solution as being better than nothing. We could hasten the destruction much more easily than we seem to be able to develop a consensus about what constitutes the common good and how we can attain it.

Political advertising fills the media right now. It's all pretty cynical. The campaign geniuses who produce the ads obviously believe that a significant number of people will be swayed by these little bits of melodrama that are stuffed with emotional triggers and very short on actual information.

All political advertising on broadcast media should be banned. I would rather sit through an endless Public Broadcasting fund drive, and those make me want to scream. However, the ads do fit the Halloween theme extremely well. What could be more horrifying, terrifying, sure to open the gates of Hell than The Opposing Candidate? Mwa ha ha ha ha ha! None can stand before The Opposing Candidate! Spawned by Satan! MBA from Hades University! Steeped in corruption, perversion, greed and lust! Thou shalt not vote for The Opposing Candidate! Dooooooom!

This message paid for by Americans for a Better America. We bring you everything you hope someone will bring you. Honest.

The little films give you a villain and a hero. Just as the annual flu vaccine contains three or four strains expected to be most common, a political ad can only contain a handful of key points the makers of it hope will inoculate you against infection by the wrong political choice. If distortion or outright lies seem like they'll have the desired effect, the end justifies the means.

After all the political theater dies down we'll be left with another batch of elected or re-elected officials. Most of them will have their sights set on 2016. Whatever they do or don't do will be shaped to fit the campaign narrative regardless of actual events.

The rich really benefit from expensive elections because even the well-meaning populists have to spend so much time raising money and building their image that they have much less time to spend on meaningful debate. Lots of people want to be in the information business. If people are properly informed they can make better choices. Ah yes. Better for whom?

I want to believe that people I perceive as good are good. But I think the principle of the secret ballot is as much to prevent embarrassment as it is to facilitate free expression of political will without threat of coercion. It's a sickening feeling when someone for whom you had high hopes turns out to be an idiot or a sleaze. Nobody's perfect. But when you've bet on someone's integrity and judgment you hope they manage to continue to display both at least until their term ends.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Yes Means Yes Means No

It's easy for an old man with no power to speak sagely about sexual restraint, but I was not always that man. At one time I thought I was sexually attractive and a few women helped foster that misconception by exploring that potential further than with a cursory and dismissive glance. It was the 1970s. Men and women were figuring out a lot of things about themselves in a social setting that was pretty relaxed about taboos.

The backlash started in 1980. While parts of popular culture in the 1980s continued the movement toward social acceptance of various sexualities and other recreational habits, the conservatism of the Reagan administration rode the wave of reactionary repulsion. Where most media seemed to portray what was right about sex and drugs and rock and roll (and disco and whatever you're into) in the 1970s, the 1980s saw more portrayal of what was wrong with it as well. A buzz kill that may be, but it's also necessary to a truly complete discussion of the consequences of libertinism.

No question a lot of us could benefit from loosening up a little. But some of us could benefit from snugging it down a tad, too. But that's why you think and talk about things that may seem creepy and uncomfortable. It's why you draw out lines of speculation to explore possible results before you set them in motion.

California's recent enactment of the law requiring positive and ongoing consent before engaging in sexual activity, aimed at state funded universities to establish stronger safeguards against sexual assault, is misguided, unenforceable, doomed to failure and bound to lead to lots of litigation. But it's another step in the discussion about the general sexual relationship between people.

Sexuality is built into us. Some people have strong urges. Some people have no urges. Some people have urges for things that other people find incomprehensible. In most of us, admit it, when you see a stranger, isn't one of your questions, "would I want to shag that?" Come on. You know it's true. In polite society we don't act on it and usually don't even reveal that the thought flickered through our minds, but you know it did. If you think it didn't, start paying really close attention to every feeling, no matter how fleeting, that goes through you when encountering other people.

To think is not to act. It's merely the mind exploring possibilities, another trait that's built into us. It's why we live in constructed shelters, cook our food, bathe, treat illness and travel around in mechanical conveyances that go faster and farther than we could easily walk or run. It's what got us to the moon and makes us dream of traveling to the stars. It's how we invented the artificial heart and the motorized dildo. Ingenuity, baby.

If I could go back in time I would have less sex. I know, easy to say now after the fact. But the fact that I started believing this in my 30s, when I was still bursting with testosterone and foolish desires lends it more weight than simply the pendulous mass of an aged, reluctant phallus. It's mind over matter, because civilized society depends on it. Part of me regrets the opportunities missed to shag, but the wiser part realizes that in order to meet the standards of feminism with the strength of character they require, I should be able to witness the most piercingly erotic display without assuming an invitation. And certainly I should be able to walk among a throng of summer-clad lovelies and merely be happy for them that they can dress in comfortably scanty clothing that happens to reveal details I find sexually arousing. My arousal should not be their problem.

An impossibly high standard? Possibly. But people die all the time trying to climb the tallest peaks. Why not aspire? That's the thing about keeping your zipper locked: no one ever died of it. You can fall or freeze or have something fall on you and crush you as you assault the high mountains. The only thing that will harm you when you try to control your lust is whatever you brew up in your own mind.

In the 1970s I was immersed in a culture in which  -- supposedly -- the cool guys got lots of chicks and the chicks loved it. More things reinforced stupid male conceit than challenged it. I sought partners because sex is fun and if I'm enjoying it everyone must enjoy it. It seemed like the thing to do. It paid off in orgasms. What could be wrong with that?

Sorry about that. Like I said, if I could go back I would play hard to get, knowing full well that this would mean that I went ungotten. But the universe in which I actually lived has to exist for me to know why the universe I imagine would be better.

I'm not formally joining the celibacy camp or promoting virginity pledges. I don't believe in declarations of that sort. But if consent is revocable at any time ( "Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time.") that includes retroactively when the only standard of verification may be the conflicting accounts of the only two people in the room at the time.

Once again it turns out to be true: the only truly safe sex is no sex at all. The only way to have your nobility untarnished is to avoid rubbing it up against anything. So not only does the cool dude never ask for sex, but waits to be asked instead; when asked, the answer is a polite "no, thank you."

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit that from time to time I still have sex in the context of my ongoing relationship. It gives me a more informed  understanding of the expression, "get lucky. " I do not initiate, but I don't say no when asked. I like to be asked. What can I say? I'm a horn dog. If I was young and virile and sought after I would face a terrific challenge combating a naturally lustful tendency. It's tough out there, guys.

Yes Means Yes reminds us all that nearly any sex can be considered a violation. Who with a scrap of decency wants to be a violator? I stand on the sidelines because I'm out of the game I was never very good at anyway, but I can still connect the dots. I can observe and point out what I see from up in the bleachers that may not be obvious in the confusion on the field. The ramifications of contact don't end when the impacting bodies separate. In some ways they last as long as either player is alive. I'm not talking about unintentional pregnancy or the transmission of disease. I'm talking about how an experience changes as the echoes Doppler down the tunnel of time and the light hits the image differently as long as the memory lasts. What seems okay at the time, and even shortly afterwards, may turn into a regret at some point. So what is the statute of limitation on perceived sexual violation? If a violation took place, its heinousness never diminishes. Look at how we continue to hunt down World War II concentration camp guards in their 90s. If the standard of violation is revocable consent "at any time" that means any sexual contact remains an open case forever. This was always true in a way. Yes Means Yes merely codifies it officially.

Don't be a filthy brute. Just walk away. It's the next stage in evolution.