Category Archives: Love and Friendship

Connections

downloadIt was 2006. I was in the airport in Nairobi, Kenya and on my way to or way home from (I can’t remember at this point) two weeks at the UNFCCC negotiations for research. I remember missing the boys—it was my first long trip away from them. But I especially and will always remember being pulled out of that place into another orbit entirely as a vivacious and beautiful woman in her 70s (I later found out) started to gush to me about going on three weeks of safari for the first time in her life. Casual conversation about all the places she was going and how she was getting there (a helicopter in some cases) quickly turned to her sharing part of her life story of how she got there.

“You see,” she said, “you know what changed my life? I’ll tell you. I was on track to live my life as a housewife in 1954—the standard thing that was expected of me, from a good family, with good prospects for a husband, etc. I was working (in Texas, I think) when Playboy started. Hugh ‘found’ me and asked me to be on the cover. I was playmate of the month.” She went on to say that it was such a crazy thing, in the 1950s, to pose nude, but that Playboy managed to cut this difficult path through the center of the culture at the time by choosing ‘girl next door’ types from obscurity. And she talked about the restrictions, about how you were supposed to act because you were a bunny. But she talked more about all of the ways it changed her, the places she went, and, most importantly, the female friends she made. She described that world as being part of a family and, more importantly, part of a sisterhood with respect to being Playmate of the Month and a Playboy bunny as you were part of the fold. It took her out of the anticipated and expected life she was on track for and changed everything. She lived a life, now in her 70s, long after her centerfold days, that, based on that one risk, led to a life that she could say was fully lived on her own terms.

What amazed me about her description of the experience were two things: first, that the women who participated in the Playboy (magazine) world were like sisters who supported one another, and not just for the moment. For life. They were there for one another as they got married, or pursued careers, and showed up when things went sideways. And second, that Hugh Hefner was at the center of a lot of it. If he found out you couldn’t pay your mortgage, it would suddenly get paid, and then some. Long after you were no longer centerfold material.

I knew about Hefner’s conflicted legacy, about his role in the sexual ethics of his day which were (again) contradictory. And I knew that there were huge issues with the magazine and the mansion along the way, particularly as it related to the difference between working at one of the clubs and being in the magazine. But I never heard this side of things: that they acted as family to one another, as a bulwark against the constricted (in the 1950s) norms of the day, and as a *sisterhood*—words that would later only come to be associated with the sexual revolution and feminism. But there she was, in the Nairobi airport, a real Playmate of the Month—one of the first—singing the praises of how it changed her life and singing Hugh Hefner’s praises for still being there for her in her 70s. On her way to a three-week safari. And glowing with the vivaciousness of a life well-constructed, empowered, and well lived.

Suffice it to say that I will always remember that momentary connection turned hour-long conversation while our lives crossed in an airport waiting area. Haven’t thought about it in a long while–in fact, until Hefner’s passing and the multitude of Facebook posts one one side or another of that coin that was his life. We are all, each of us, contradictory, aren’t we? We are never all of one thing or another. It’s important to remember this in the line of making sense of things, including ourselves.

—Anna-Liisa Aunio

Emotional Intelligence and Hissy Fits: The Cultural Ecology of Antifragility

turkey prozac

We all have experienced this at times: other people can drive us crazy! We love our families and friends, so why this old saying: fish and house-guests stink after three days?   Why can’t we live together peacefully, like elephants? Why aren’t we rational enough to avoid doing things that annoy each other?

Look at the list of things about, um, other people that can grind our gears… and even drive friends and family wild with frustration, or even apart with resentful anger: recklessness, cruelty, meanness, inconsistency, pranking, deceit, maudlin sentimentality, duplicity, illogical beliefs, gullibility, hubris, sanctimoniousness, jealousy, manipulative wheedling, conniving, and sheer over-the-top emotionality (making “a scene”, being a “drama queen”)

What if I suggested that such things about human behavior are not bugs but features? What if they are all part of the overall adaptation of human nature, that somehow helped turn our adjustments to living in social groups into the building blocks of a whole second replicator?

I suggest that “rationality” and analytical intelligence are evolved traits, with a starring role in shifting our species into a new level of networking and communicating, bumping up the flow of information, and personnel, within much larger communities and much wider geographical ranges than are characteristic of any other primate.   Inter-links between people at several or more degrees of separation meant that  individual networking actually disarticulated the individual from restriction to any local group. I suggest that even territoriality, linked to defensive aggression, and such a normal feature of the behavior of many primates, fell under negative selection in hominids at some point in our evolutionary history.

I, furthermore, suggest that dominance hierarchies and ranking systems, based on aggression, were actively curtailed. They had to be, to permit the evolution of the degree of infant helplessness, and the longer childhoods that accompanied brain enlargement during human evolution.   Sure, humans are capable of violence, especially in groups.   But I am suggesting that this was because violently aggressive individuals have always had to be contained and countered by coalitions of the brave and compassionate.   Without such opposition from the “good guys” who rally behind heroes, there would never have been sufficient blow-back to keep bullies and killers in line.

We individual humans are, for the most part, the products of a long evolutionary history that has favored compassion and cooperation, but that does not mean we are uniformly so kind and rational that we never lose our tempers, never yearn to get our own way, never wish for the personal luxury of solitude, having a beautiful object (a bauble or a blanket…!)

Now we might ask ourselves, what exactly was the evolutionary environment that gave a thumbs up to hyper-sociability, and a thumbs down to inter-group and intra-group competition and aggression? What possible environment generated higher fitness for individuals whose activity tended to flatten gradients of stress and life expectancy?

My initial insights in trying to answer this question arose from a field study among a patient and kindly bunch of hunter-gatherers. The Kua were my teachers for three years, and yet, as I left the Kalahari, my dominant sensation was not that I was leaving a group of peaceful and “noble savages”, but rather that this foraging economy produced individuals as ordinary, as flawed, as insightful, wistful, funny, and sometimes as intensely annoying, as any other humans I have ever known. It was merely a different economy, not another way of being human.

I have thought about this over the intervening years. What if our obvious capacity, for small deceptions, fractiousness,  and occasional surliness,  actually balances our kindness and sociability not by accident but, rather, as it were, by design? We can hardly ignore these aspects of human interpersonal antics today… well, what if it was precisely some kind of continuing see-saw between naughty and nice, convivial and argumentative, politeness interspersed with occasional huffy misunderstandings and temperamental behaviour, that was precisely the behavioural mechanism that kept these bipedal apes ecologically solvent?

2cab2e339136fb565536e7576f611f5cWhat if, in the long game of playing off individual genetic destinies against benefits to the collective cognitive niche, the occasionally explosive mix of emotional and irrational behavior was the key to generating “antifragile” cultural ecologies that were less likely to over-exploit any given local resource?

Thus, as humans evolved, reflection literally was an after-thought. As irritations and small conflicts increased, even as individuals found themselves holding back from escalating an argument, even as everyone’s impulse control was tested, there was always “the last straw”: an emotional scene that might set everyone packing to leave.   And, just as we still often find ourselves doing today, reflection after the event will then supply “good reasons” to justify it.

The fact that this pattern is at least partly learned, and not just an innate drive, made it more flexible still. It permitted more condensed and sedentary organization in richer ecosystems, more dispersed and mobile organization in poorer ones. Further, as learned system, it could incorporate the tighter social control during the more condensed phases within a cultural repertoire or an annual round of economic activity, without sacrificing the overall scope of individual networking.

People, today, when living in more crowded and sedentary communities, still tend to establish networks, through marriage and friendship, and those of each individual are still variable and rarely identical even among siblings. Furthermore, these tend not to be limited to a single community or neighbourhood. indeed, many individuals have maintained networks spanning the globe.

Despite the idea of “tribal” tendencies that cause links between people in groups to converge, individual life histories among human beings still tend to create ties (even “weak” ties) to more physically distant relatives, acquaintances, “pen pals”, and “old childhood friends”. Such links tend to be kept up more actively by some individuals. Sociological research into networks has suggested that such people are hubs in terms of information flows between communities. The idea that people across continents are hardly ever more than six links away from everyone else – the “six degrees of separation” model, has been experimentally confirmed many times. It began with the appearance, n 1961, of a seminal piece of work, in the form of a doctoral thesis by Michael Gurevitch, entitled “The social structure of acquaintanceship networks”.  This was presented and accepted by the  Department of Economics and Social Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

This research, and the many studies that followed, suggest that extensive networking is a human adaptation to culture, an aspect of the “social brain”: so perhaps it is not a contingency of any one kind of economic system. It is species specific, not culture specific. And we come by it through our evolutionary history as social mammals, and particularly, as social apes.

People appear to activate networks to achieve some consensus about who should undertake leadership roles.   In small scale subsistence economies, such leadership roles – in rituals, in setting up task forces, in dispute resolution, and in disciplinary courts, and in safeguarding community assets – often go to quiet and modest people that can be trusted not to abuse their positions. Often such responsibilities fall upon older people, especially those who are already hubs within local networks.

A reputation-based system of rank, thus, imposes a burden of responsibility on the most trusted elders, so they have authority over communal working groups, as well as for the convening of assemblies to undertake dispute resolution.

Even mobile hunter-gatherers can stick it out despite arguments with neighbors and even intimate betrayal, especially at times of greater aggregation, given that such ephemeral institutions for conflict resolution emerge at such times.  The rest of the year,  impulse control and reflective philosophizing over human foibles comes into its own.  And this is incorporated into even the most mobile forager culture. Networks of family and friends, therefore, can effectively restrain people: no one wants to lose a hard-won reputation for strength of character.

That the historical and ethnographic record from hunter-gatherer societies suggests that such roles can disappear and reappear with the seasonal cycles of aggregation and dispersal is critical. Mobile hunter-gatherers are not nomadic in the sense of wandering ceaselessly in search of food: on the contrary, they circulate through a variety of locations with known resources.

Arrangements between families to meet at particular localities to camp together are often made during seasonal aggregations, and are always negotiated via networks among friends and relatives. So the times of aggregation could be characterized as a kind of network convergence, pulled toward those particular gregarious and trusted persons who serve a hubs linking many individual networks together. And this temporary integration of networks in a larger gathering, under leadership of the most trusted and respected persons, affords people the necessary time to negotiate camping parties and permissions with those who hold primary rights to each small local part of the overall territory within the aggregate.

It is conceivable that this flexibility – what Julian Steward called various “levels of integration” above simple “bands” – represents a capacity for organizational complexity not often attributed to foragers. And yes, it does indicate that even mobile foragers have the capacity for political and social organizational arrangements well beyond the scale and scope of the simple camping party.

Recently, David Graeber and David Wengrow suggested that the emergence of such leadership and more complex organization, during hunter-gatherer aggregations, indicates that humans have an innate tendency to develop political hierarchy. Is the term hierarchy the correct one in this case?   The term is synonymous with “pecking order” and has often been used to describe the way dominance of one animal over another in a ranked system is related to access to food and solace.   It conjures up a flow of authority and even coercion from the individual at the “top” which controls the movement and opportunities of individuals further down.

Brian Hayden has even suggested that “aggrandizer” personalities make use of these emerging hierarchies during periods of aggregation to seize power over others, partly by persuasion and partly by Machiavellian manipulation of others.

Hayden suggests that these self-promoting persons may have some overlap with the sociopathic traits seen on Hare’s checklist. In other words, when people live in more settled aggregations, they become vulnerable to the self-serving aspirations of a narcissistic and psychopathic minority, who make themselves “big Men” and assume power over others. In other words, the emergence of the bully gang explains the way hierarchical political power evolved in humans. (1)

One of the difficulties with this interpretation is that it does not always correspond with observed behaviour in people who are diagnosed as psychopaths today (2).  Another is that it does not situate the cultural behavior (or the ruthless individual) in terms of the consequences within that particular environment (3).  The most striking aspect is, of course, the way both the New Guinea and the NW coastal systems of leadership tend to exhort their communities to produce surpluses.   There is an obligation to contribute to a communal store of fish or other food and even material goods, a store managed by a trusted – and haranguing – senior leader. This results in higher overall productivity than is called for by the simple calculus of dependency ratios.

This communal store is risk insurance. Food and other assistance can be secured for families who meet with illness or injury. I would suggest that is why leadership in a band or tribal system is a function of trust and respect; if leaders merely hoarded or extorted tribute for personal gain, they would not last long.

Such surpluses also fuel a certain level of recurrent ceremonial socializing. Feasts can be planned which assemble people from many more surrounding communities. Thus, while a display of generosity towards those in hardship within a community can demonstrate the character of the leader, any display of generosity where a village hosts many of its neighbors during a festival goes well beyond this. It demonstrates the quality of the people of the hosting community. The net effect is that the people in each community are given additional motivation to work harder.

Why is this important? I suggest that such regional festivals also redistribute food across regions where not all harvests of are likely to be equal. Each local community is thus less exposed to risks of famine. The community, with the most surplus food in any given year, trades this food for higher prestige and simultaneously reduces the chances that hungry neighbors will come to raid.

What happens if the concentrated settlement becomes more permanent: a village? Organizational improvisations can become entrenched institutions, with people developing hereditary rights to leadership roles – especially in adjudicating disputes.   Vested interests that resist change can entail internal conflict, which can be resolved by proof of generosity and earned reputation for diligence. In this case, the famous “potlatch” can also offset conflicts between neighboring communities over access to fixed resources.   Political and judicial roles maintain cooperation, restore peace, and offset risks in a sedentary community.

Lineages and “big man” systems, therefore, appear to be risk aversion strategies – aspects of cultural adaptation, not evidence of selection pressures on human genomes causing novel shifts in innate behaviours during the Holocene.  Hierarchies of coercion and the self-affirming narcissists are not, as Hayden suggests, products of evolutionary genetic change, but rather, I think,  illustrations of the behavioral plasticity of human beings, and the way people have learned to collectively cope with higher environmental risk.

Meanwhile, we see further cultural reification of emotional sensitivities to behavior causing physical or reputational damage to other persons. This takes the form of legal codes, ethics, human rights, and codes of polite behavior. This always involves symbolic evaluation; labeling behaviors as negative, positive and even sacred and profane.


However the danger under such circumstances comes not from people who are born psychopaths but from brain changes caused by power.  What the foragers seem to all have understood only too well was that the human “behavioural plasticity” can take a wicked turn: people have a great emotional weakness- the “sin” of pride, more specifically the kind of hubris that comes of being placed somehow above one’s fellows (4). That was the point that Richard Lee was trying to drive home when he wrote “Eating Christmas in the Kalahari”. One  old guy’s comment was: “If a man is praised for sharing the meat of his kill, he may come to think he is better (more important) than other people. Someday he might kill someone.” 

It has taken years of research to uncover this aspect of our human nature. To uncover the fact that the assumption of authority or wealth, even the the conformity that prompts a person to suspend their own judgement to a higher authority, can give rise to evil actions that hurt other people.  Even in an experimental setting putting people into roles that permit harm to others somehow turns off empathy and compassion. It seems that even just being richer than others, or higher up in the chain of a corporate or civil service ladder, can set in motion the “banality of evil.”.  This is a human characteristic that is far beyond normal fractiousness  and occasional hissy fits, and it gives rise to far more serious trauma and human tragedy than mere incidents of rage and tears.

The only good thing this research discovered is that it does not happen to everyone – there are people who see what is happening and fight it. People who say “this is wrong”. Often they are the folks who either stop the experiment, or in real life will resist tyranny and injustice.  They risk their lives – or die on the barricades. Human beings do have the capacity to act with heroism. The fact that we have a word for this in every known culture should tell us something.

By the way, the word for “hero” among foragers is often translated incorrectly as “warrior” since it means one who fights on behalf of others. I have a feeling that the first battles among human beings were fought, in fact, by heroes of this kind.  In his book, Hierarchy in the Forest, Christopher Boehm suggested that one of the very early developments on the path that led to the evolution of our species, was an overthrow of aggression-based dominance hierarchy.  This led to an egalitarian revolution led by coalitions of people who resisted bullies and protected the vulnerable.  If so, this converted the desirable ideal of adulthood from a self-serving “alpha” into a heroic “first among equals”.. the epitome of the trusted leader.

A human being who lives as a hunter-gatherer could thus refuse injustice; could fight for equal treatment – or walk away. Personal faults and foibles, jealousies and temper tantrums were possibly part of  human nature evolved to create a relatively antifragile economy where high mobility makes it possible to vote with one’s feet. A hunter-gatherer inhabits an economic system that preserved and even enhanced the stability and diversity of the ecosystem that supported that way of life.   A hunter-gatherer cannot be thrown out of their job or lodgings.

But most humans on this planet can, and frequently are. Entire peoples have had their whole landscape taken taken out from under them. Look at the Scottish highland clearances. And that was done by their own clan leaders. And the pain of people under such circumstances, and the guts it takes for them to try to remake their lives elsewhere, is heart-breaking. Makes me weep. And we wonder why the world is full of people in a rage, crying out for justice and radicalized; while those who are relatively well-off tend to develop elaborate explanations that affirm their own superiority. 

Footnotes

1) Brian Hayden Big Man, Big Heart? The Political Role of Aggrandizers in Egalitarian and Transegalitarian Societies

http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-0-230-11626-9_7#page-1

Abstract

Anthropological theories of elites (leaders) in traditional societies tend to focus on how elites can be viewed as helping the community at large. The origin of elites is cast in functionalist or communitarian terms (viewing societies as adaptive systems). A minority opinion argues that elites were not established by communities for the community benefit, but emerged as a result of manipulative strategies used by ambitious, exploitative individuals (aggrandizers). While the communitarian perspective may be appropriate for understanding simple hunter/gatherer communities, I argue that elites in complex hunter/gatherer communities and horticultural communities operate much more in accordance with aggrandizer principles, and that it is their pursuit of aggrandizer self-interests that really explains the initial emergence of elites. This occurs preferentially under conditions of resource abundance and involves a variety of strategies used to manipulate community opinions, values, surplus production, and surplus use. http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-0-230-11626-9_7

2) Although Hare does suggest that psychopaths might be more successful within aggressively competitive systems, their comparative rarity even after some five thousand years of hierarchical civilization tends to weaken arguments that such systems are functionally dependent upon the success of a type of personality. It seems more likely to me that the development of stratified societies may have occasionally increased the chances of highborn psychopaths not being spotted and eliminated.

3) See: “Pathways to power: Principles for creating socioeconomic inequalities” in Foundation of Social Inequality edited by T. D. Price and G. Feinman. 1995.     https://books.google.ca/books?id=ZGth6qbXg6oC&dq=“Pathways+to+power:+Principles+for+creating+socioeconomic+inequalities”+in+Foundation+of+Social+Inequality+edited+by+T.+D.+Price+and+G.+Feinman.&source=gbs_navlinks_s

(4) see  Monbiot on “the Self-affirmation Fallacy” where he summarizes recent research showing that socio-economic inequality generates precisely the kinds of narcissism that Hayden wishes us to believe is psychopathology  expressed in hierarchical leaders. “The findings of the psychologist Daniel  Kahneman, winner of a Nobel economics prize, are devastating to the beliefs that financial high-fliers entertain about themselves . He discovered that their apparent success is a cognitive illusion. For example, he studied the results achieved by 25 wealth advisers, across eight years. He found that the consistency of their performance was zero. “The results resembled what you would expect from a dice-rolling contest, not a game of skill.” Those who received the biggest bonuses had simply got lucky.

Such results have been widely replicated. They show that traders and fund managers across Wall Street receive their massive remuneration for doing no better than would a chimpanzee flipping a coin. When Kahneman tried to point this out they blanked him. “The illusion of skill … is deeply ingrained in their culture.”

So much for the financial sector and its super-educated analysts. As for other kinds of business, you tell me. Is your boss possessed of judgment, vision and management skills superior to those of anyone else in the firm, or did he or she get there through bluff, bullshit and bullying?” http://www.monbiot.com/2011/11/07/the-self-attribution-fallacy/

In contrast, of course, the operation of networks – which can be sensitive communicators of reputations based on observed ethical and kind behavior, continue to do, in these other forms of economic system, exactly what they do in hunting and gathering economies:
http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-11-social-networks-cooperation-discourage-selfishness.html

Lake Lovering

lake-loveringIt was the summer of 1990, I was fifteen, and I was in love. We’d been together for about a year. Our friend Kay hatched an ingenious plan, the teenage equivalent of a Ponzi scheme really. Everybody told their parents that they were going to a friend’s cottage (TRUE). Everybody said parents would be there (FALSE). The Arthur Andersen worthy ways in which we pulled off this scam would have made the smartest guys in the room at Enron beam with pride. But I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that ten of us, all underage, piled into a rickety old van and made our way down to a cottage on Lake Lovering, an hour and a half south of Montreal, where we’d be alone for four days—FOUR DAYS!—without any adult supervision.

Of course what followed was a comedy of errors. First we got lost. A trip that should have taken an hour and a half took almost six hours. Then we ran out of gas just as we pulled into the driveway. Turns out, one of those flashing lights was the gas light. We arrived at the cottage a little before midnight. Exhausted. Hungry. Pissed Off. Badly in need of a good night’s sleep. But that would not come, not for awhile, because of the fleas.

Kay’s mom’s best friend had, we later on discovered, stayed at the cottage the previous weekend with her three, big, flea-infested dogs. She and her dogs had, at some point, gone back to Montreal. But most of the fleas stayed. And they were starving. The fleas started biting soon after we walked into the cottage with our bags and gear. Most of us were bleeding and crazed before long. Took us an hour to find some Raid. Another hour or two to kill them all. That first night was terrible. Didn’t get to sleep until three or four in the morning.

The following morning we realized that we hadn’t brought nearly enough food. We realized, as well, that we’d forgotten to pick up some beer (a shocking oversight, all things considered). Had to get gas too. We knew we were going to have to walk into town. But Kay assured us that it wasn’t far. Maybe an hour. Turns out, it was more like two. It was an altogether gendered division of labor: the girls stayed at the cottage to clean up whilst the guys trekked into town to get supplies. Took us about two hours to get there and—since we were now heavy-laden with food, gas, and cases of two-four—about three hours to get back.

The girls had gone wild while we were gone. First they helped themselves to Kay’s mom’s private stash of wine coolers. Then they decided to go skinny dipping in Lake Lovering. We arrived, shirtless and sweaty, upon a scene straight out of Homer. It was paradise: laughing mermaids frolicking in the midday sun. My girlfriend and I did it later on that day. It was her first time. My first time too. And we were so in love. So in love on Lake Lovering.

But then everything went to shit. Our parents found out where we were (somehow). On Sunday, a posse of pissed-off parental lawmakers piled into a Pontiac, got on the highway, and made their way south: to bring justice to the Eastern Townships. We didn’t see them coming. Didn’t hear them coming either. Because we were blasting our music. Because we were wasted. Because we were dancing around outside, frolicking in the sunshine half-naked in a place outside of time, a place that felt like heaven.

The parents arrived, fuming and furious, upon a decadent scene straight out of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. They quickly transformed it into a dreadful scene straight out of Dante’s Inferno. I remember thinking: this is it: this is the worst moment of my life. But it wasn’t. Not even close. The bad memories faded long ago. All I remember now is the play of the sun on the water, the laughter of the mermaids, and the smell of my girlfriend’s perfume. It was beautiful: Estée Lauder’s Beautiful.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)

Pink Elephants with Purple Polka Dots

the-pink-elephant-marquette-statue“Don’t think about a pink elephant with purple polka dots!” My students burst out laughing whenever I say this, with faux-seriousness, because it’s impossible to heed the injunction. The very mention of such a comical creature causes the image of a pink elephant with purple polka dots to spring to mind with a reflexive immediacy that bypasses all rational thought. The same is true of the emotionally-charged categories we use to make sense of what’s happening to us. For instance, whenever I smell freshly-baked bread, I remember the bread my mother made everyday from scratch in the early afternoon. I remember the way its intoxicating smell permeated every corner of our little basement apartment on Airlie Street. I remember the way you could smell it in the building, long before you got to our apartment. At times, you could even smell it on the street, long before you got to our building! In short, whenever I smell freshly-baked bread, I’m 7-years-old again. Likewise, whenever I burn my tongue, I remember the first time I burned my tongue, when I was 12-years-old, on some hot chocolate at Bad Boys, the 24-hour doughnut shop on Wellington Street. When you’re having an emotionally-charged experience, you remember every other experience you’ve had of that kind. It happens instantaneously, automatically—with a reflexive immediacy that bypasses all rational thought. As such, asking your partner, in the middle of an argument, to refrain from bringing up ancient history—that is, bad experiences of a similar stamp—is about as silly as asking them to refrain from thinking about pink elephants with purple polka dots.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

Single Lessons

10448561_10152264724787683_3148736248626517964_oA good friend of mine gave up on men in her mid-40s. She’d been in back-to-back relationships since she was 13. None of them good. So she threw in the towel. “Clearly I suck at this, John!” Of course she met the love of her life a few years later, and they’ve lived happily ever after since then. But before she met Mr. Right, she was single for a few years, truly single, for the first time in her life. She said it was enlightening, being single. She said she learned how to take responsibility for her own emotions: “Back in the day, if I woke up in a bad mood, I’d turn to the guy next to me and say: ‘I feel bad because you did X or you didn’t do Y.’ But when I was single, if I woke up in a bad mood, there was no one to blame. I had to stop blaming others for my sadness. Making others responsible for my happiness.”

If taking responsibility for your own emotions is like finishing Spiritual High School, what might we learn in Spiritual College? If Epictetus is to be believed, the next step is to get rid of the impulse to blame altogether. In The Art of Living, he writes: “Small-minded people habitually reproach others for their own misfortunes. Average people reproach themselves. Those who are dedicated to a life of wisdom understand that the impulse to blame something or someone is foolishness, that there is nothing to be gained in blaming, whether it be others or oneself. One of the signs of the dawning of moral progress is the gradual extinguishing of blame. We see the futility of finger-pointing.”

If getting over our obsession with finger-pointing is like finishing Spiritual College, what might we learn in Spiritual Grad School? If Kant is to be believed, the next step is to take responsibility for the happiness of others. Susan Neiman summarizes his reasoning in Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists (2008): “Like most people, you’re likely to devote most of your attention to your own happiness (or lack thereof), and my perfection (or lack thereof). What if we simply switched? Devote yourself to my happiness and your own perfection, and I’ll do the same in return. In a world where everyone did that, both happiness and virtue would double.”

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

Staring at Stars with Soldiers

13308609_10153713608587683_3511624982502320709_oA concert program falls from the balcony to the floor, like a meteor, causing confused parents to look up and see the auditorium’s Big Dipper, a constellation composed of glowing red SORTIE signs. Cellphones pulsate in the darkness, like fireflies, as we wait for our little stars to come out. How fitting it is, that this marching music was created by military men! Because I feel a kind of martial pride tonight, as I look out upon this vast army of mothers and fathers, soldiering through the disasters and disappointments of midlife with admirable aplomb. We’ll tolerate the friendly-fire of our flash-happy friends, and the deafening shrieks of the newborns in our midst; but we shoot all deserters, who leave early, with deadly looks. Because we love our children. And they were good tonight. This, thought I, is what the Olympians must have felt like when they looked down upon the children of men; this, thought I, is what God must have felt like when He parted the heavens and declared: “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2016)

When Harry Met Sally

429360_10151298825535570_2044573742_nThere once was a guy named Harry Reid, spent half his life as a centipede, cursed for a sacrilegious deed, cursed by a witch because he peed. The tree was tall, the tree was grand, most sacred tree in all the land. But Harry didn’t know, and he really had to go.

There once was a gal named Sally Mead, who fell in love with a centipede. She was an odd duck, a real rare breed, who was only in the forest freed. She hated tweed and loved to read, shunned parties and smoked too much weed.

The Kush was great, the Kush was grand, dankest weed in all the land. So when the bug became a man, Sally was like, “Ha! I get it, I understan’; ain’t foolin’ me, Mr. Indica Man!” But when the bug began to cite Rousseau, ’twas like lunch with Bill Burrough. They were last seen, if you really must know, holding hands, in love, at a wedding expo.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

When Sadie Met Doris

She’s a lady, named Sadie, who used to be shady. Loves whiskey, me, and the CBC. Hates hockey, brie, and misogyny. She’s a bourgeoisie, from NDG, who got a silly degree—a PhD, in History, or Philosophy—at the Tinder age of 33.

She fell for a florist, named Doris, a Taurus, who sings in the chorus, talks like she ate a thesaurus, and knows her way around a clitoris.

“Hey, Hamer, if a Sadie falls for a florist, and no one’s there to tweet about it, does it make a sound? Am I whoring around? Will this lead to an ultrasound?”

Oh Sadie, Sadie, I’m glad to say: y’all were married last May, had twins today.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)

Shared Language

13923512_10157167362285532_6410432123883132113_oI planned to sit and think about us
To decide if what we’re doing is right or wrong
And words like patient and nice and kind came to mind
Words that tedious people use as map markers
to plot a life that’s good enough
And I hated them all
I hated them and I buried them in a dark place
where they would all quietly accept their fate
because they would never think
to scratch their way out,
never think to clench their fists and batter reality
screaming and screaming “what about me”

My mind reeled in modern dance
Spinning, kicking, grasping, landing hard on my knees
hoping the world would give up and let my need for you
stop time long enough for me to see you see me one more time
See me ice-skating with my red scarf flying,
my heart wild with possibility as I crashed
into the snow-walled edges
and got back up for another go
See me negotiating the passage from girl to woman
too fast, too soon, and all the years it took the girl
to finally catch up
See me crying on a hotel bed, curled up in a heaving ball
knowing my father would forget who I was one day
See the depths of me coming for you, for me, for us
again and again, showering us with everything that I am,
our bodies making the past and present sticky sweet

Except I can’t dance well enough to stop time

Oh, but I have words, lover
Words that can shimmy honey onto your tongue
Words that can tap into a bass line so you feel what I feel
Words that can dance all night long steaming up the place
because you are happier when you are warm
My words — I’m yours
Your words — Stay with me
Our shared language of not letting go,
of claiming time in our own way

So I don’t want to decide if we’re right or wrong
I don’t want to be fair
I want to be demanding, selfish, wild, free
I want to scream and scream “what about me” as I drip
my greedy lifeblood into your waiting wanting mouth
And then I can let the nice words live another day
Let them breathe in our poetry so they regret
— just a little —
how fucking patient they’ve been

—Shannon Wand

Why Pick-Up Artists Should Be Sued For False Advertising

“Roosh is tall and well-built and actually rather good-looking for, you know, a monster.”—Laurie Penny, “I’m With The Banned,” Medium (July 21, 2016)

roosh-v-pua2If you’re hot for a guy who’s an asshole, it’s not because he’s an asshole; it’s probably because he’s hot. This is precisely why Pick-Up Artists aren’t just evil and gross, they’re also guilty of false advertising.

Take, for example, the reigning king of the Pick-Up Artists: Daryush Valizadeh (Roosh V). What a profoundly delusional idiot this guy is! He actually thinks that his sociopathic “skills” are what gets him laid. Of course it’s obvious to any objective outside observer with common sense—indeed, even to hard-core feminists like Laurie Penny who loathe him—that he gets laid a lot because he’s hot. Roosh V is guilty of what Nassim Nicholas Taleb refers to as the Green Lumber Fallacy.

As Taleb makes clear in Antifragile (2012), people who are successful at something are often blissfully unaware of why they’re successful at it. They might think they know why they’re successful, but they’re often dead wrong. He refers to this as the Green Lumber Fallacy, after the trader who made a fortune buying and selling green lumber without knowing what it was. Dude thought green lumber was actually “green” as opposed to freshly cut. Funny, I know. But what’s not funny is watching a homely computer programmer trying to apply Roosh V’s creepy techniques. They fail miserably because the techniques aren’t just morally repugnant, they aren’t effective.

What is effective? I’ve noticed three discernible trends when it comes to straight guys who get a lot of play: (1) they genuinely like women and/or (2) they’re hot and/or (3) they’re powerful, which is kinda hot. Successful Pick-Up Artists need to realize that they’re getting laid in spite of their douche-y-ness, not because of it. That being said, there’s something to the whole bad boy thing that Roosh V has got going on. Once again, however, it’s not what he thinks. After three games of pool and way too many shots of Jameson, a lesbian friend of mine once said to me: “Took me ten years to realize I didn’t wanna be with a bad boy, I wanted to be a bad boy.” I’ve suspected ever since that this is central to the bad boy’s appeal. What is the bad boy, after all, if not a person who flouts society’s rules? And who’s more oppressed by society’s rules: men or women?

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)