The Gender Dialectic: Women Taking a Stand Against ‘Mad Men’ in the Age of Trump

Something is happening in our culture; something important and good and cathartic, and although its been LONG overdue, its better late than never. And that something is the public calling out and purging of powerful men in our society who sexually harass, intimidate, and assault women. Many Americans naively assume that the days of Mad Men are long gone, and that women aren’t treated as poorly as they used to be; but that’s a lie, and now we are starting to see the deep and toxic strains of sexism, misogyny, and the leveraging of male power to fulfill male sexual desires at the expense of women being rooted out. For millennia women have been violently stripped of their emotional well-being, of their physical safety, of their bodily autonomy, and of their professional and personal dreams. That horrific patriarchal nightmare still infects our society at every level, and countless women have been, and continue to be, victimized, denigrated, mocked, shouted down, and destroyed. And although that horrific legacy is nowhere near being fully over, whats happening in our society right now is surely an important and necessary step in that general direction.

Let’s review some of the biggest names to have been called out recently, and lets name, systematically, their disgusting fucking behavior. But before we do, I want to issue a gentle warning to anyone who might not want to be confronted with the details of sexual assault and violence against women. If you are not comfortable with having to listen to these things, please step away for a few minutes.

Okay, let’s start:

Harvey Weinstein, the famous film producer and executive, and giant human toad, recently saw his career burn to the ground after three decades of harassment, intimidation, and horrendous sexual assault, including numerous accusations of rape. He leveraged his power as someone who can make or break careers to coerce and force women to perform a whole slew of sexual acts for him. A rich, pampered piece of shit who lives a life of extreme luxury and for decades lived that life completely free of any sort of consequences for his behavior, in fact he amassed huge amounts of money and fame even as he victimized countless women and even as hundreds of people in that community knew about what he was doing.

Next:

George H.W. Bush Sr., the ex-head of the criminal CIA and 41st president of the most destructive, evil empire to ever have existed, has been accused by at least 8 women of groping them. George leveraged his power as president of the United States to touch women’s bodies and private parts without their consent, and he and his team have since attempted to dismiss these charges by saying: “’At age 93, President Bush has been confined to a wheelchair for roughly five years, so his arm falls on the lower waist of people with whom he takes pictures. To try to put people at ease, the president routinely tells the same joke — a joke about his favorite magician being David Cop-A-Feel — and on occasion, he has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner.” And therein lies the delusion of the male chauvinist mindset: non-consensually grabbing a woman’s private part is conflated with merely being “good natured”.

Up Next:

Roy Moore, Former Alabama chief justice and current U.S. Senate candidate, is someone with deep ties to white nationalist and neo-confederate organizations, was a leading proponent of the Birther Conspiracy, and is, of course, a self-proclaimed Christian man of God. The primary allegations against him are a slew of charges ranging from creepy to criminal. Roy Moore, for decades, was known to target, harass, and hit on high school girls, some as young as 14. He was actually banned from a local mall because he would continuously go there to attempt to pick up teenage girls, even when he was well into his 30’s. He’s been accused of groping women, forcing himself onto them, and even one time called the local high school and asked for a student in order to ask her out on a date. When Sean Hannity, a truly despicable right wing talk show host, asked Moore about the allegations, he said “”I don’t remember dating any girl without the permission of her mother.” Moore is still in the race for a senate seat in Alabama, and many prominent right wing pundits, activists, and politicians have remained loyal to Moore, some have even used bible verses that refer to older men dating children as a way to defend Moore’s behavior.

Other famous men recently called out include the comedian Louis CK, who leveraged his position as a well-known comic to repeatedly pull out his penis and masturbate in front of women without their consent, House of Cards actor Kevin Spacey, who has been accused of groping and sexually assaulting young men, some as young as 14, the actor Dustin Hoffman has been accused of groping and assaulting a 17 year old actress on the set of a TV film of Death of a Salesman in 1985. Others include Bill Clinton, accused for decades of a slew of sexual assaults, Bill Cosby, a rapist who would drug women and assault them, and Donald Trump, the president of the United States of America, who has been accused by well over a dozen women of harassing, groping and assaulting them, and who, as we all know, admitted on camera to grabbing women’s genitalia without their consent because, and I quote, “when you are a star, they let you do anything”. And that sums it up, doesn’t it?

But before I end here, I want to make an appeal to men out there listening right now. This is OUR problem. This is something we ALL have culpability in, and something we ALL have an obligation to address; in ourselves, in our friends, in our family members, in our co-workers, and in our communities. None of us are totally free of blame; and while I desperately hope no one that listens to this show has ever actively engaged in sexual assault or violence against women (and if you have, fuck off, you are no comrade of mine), but all of us, at some point in our lives, have certainly used sexist language, have treated women poorly, have let harmful behavior by our friends go unchallenged, etc. It is our responsibility, as liberationists and as human beings, to do better; to root out and kill the male chauvinist in our minds, to counter the denigration and objectification of women in our culture, to listen to women and to defend them, to speak out loudly and unapologetically against rape culture, against all forms of misogyny, and against violence against women. It’s worth noting and reflecting on the fact that EVERY. SINGLE. WOMAN. in my life, from my mother to my sister to my partner to virtually every single one of my exs and female friends have, in some form or another, been sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, or have been the victim of domestic violence. If it’s true for me and all the people I know, I can guarantee it’s true for all of you, too.

Enough is enough.

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Transcribed from “The Guillotine”, a revolutionary leftist podcast covering global news and current events. You can find the full episode here: http://theguillotinepodcast.libsyn.com/episode-1-fascism-libya-sexism-and-j20

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Anarcho-Primitivism: Civilization, Symbolic Culture, and Rewilding

Dr. Layla AbdelRahim is an anthropologist, author, Revolutionary, and anarcho-primitivist thinker who urges us to examine civilization, its premises, its psychology, its pathologies, and its manifestions (including capitalism). She sits down with Brett to discuss the philosophy of anarcho-primitivism and debunks myths that many leftists have about the tendency and the philosophy that goes with it. It’s not a call to dismantle everything with no concern for who it hurts; rather it offers a way *forward* by insisting on an analysis that goes deeper than capitalism, and cuts to the core of our civilization, our evolutionary history, and our psyches. This is a must-listen episode! 
Topics Include: Civilization, language, anthropology, symbolic culture, the use of language, the agricultural revolution, Marxism, the concept of “rewilding”, meditation, train journies across Russia, going into nature, and much more!!!
 
HERE IS THE INTERVIEW: http://revolutionaryleftradio.libsyn.com/anarcho-primitivism-civilization-symbolic-culture-and-revolutionary-rewilding

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Climate Change, Mass Migration, and the Rise of the Far Right

At first glance, it might not be obvious as to how climate change and the far right are causally connected, but in this short article I aim to illustrate that connection and explicate how the two seemingly unrelated phenomena are actually in a frightening cause-and-effect relationship which will only increase over time.

The Relationship Between Climate Change and Mass Migration

The main thread that connects climate change and the rise of the far right is mass migration. As climate change intensifies it will create concentrated droughts, alterations in vegetation zones, and rising sea levels. Concerning rising sea levels specifically, its worth noting that 2/3rds of all human beings on Earth live within 100 kilometers (62 miles) of a coastline, and over 630 million people live below the ’30 feet above sea level’ line. This means that tens of millions of people, at least, will be forced to re-locate over the next half century. Wealthier countries might be able build infrastructure that prevents those rising sea levels from ruining entire cities, but less developed nations will not have that option. Add to that fact the already alarming food shortages caused by draughts, and shifting agricultural zones, and you are looking at hundreds of millions of people around the world being forced to migrate.

In fact, the Syrian civil war was influenced, to some extent, by a horrible draught in Syria in 2006 that led to massive food shortages. Climate change, and the Syrian draught likely caused by it, wasn’t the sole (or even the primary) reason for the civil war, but it added fuel to an already combustible situation. In fact, a study released in March of 2015 suggests this is exactly what happened in Syria after the severe drought of 2006. As the study’s co-author, Professor Richard Seager, explains, “We’re not saying drought caused the [Syrian conflict]. We’re saying that added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict. And a drought of that severity was made much more likely by the ongoing human-driven drying of that region.” (sources below)

So, as we can see, climate change is already having an impact on the stability of nations around the world, and this instability is causing mass migrations. As Syrians flee their war-torn country they are flooding into Europe seeking refuge. This has already caused a sharp rise in far-right wing political parties and organizations as the native populations of these European countries react (in every sense of that word) to the influx of refugees.

The Relationship Between Mass Migration and the Rise of the Far Right

A sad fact about human beings is that we have a strong tribalistic instinct, and in the context of nation states in the 20th and 21st century, this instinct takes the form of nativism, nationalism, and xenophobia. When any population is met with a dramatic spike in immigrants, elements of that population will react in a chauvinistic, angry, and even violent way. Furthermore, the bigger and faster the influx is, the more rabid and darkly bigoted the reaction by the far right will be. This is already happening around the world, and especially in Europe. In the U.S. its barely happening at all (we are, after all, largely protected from the effects of mass migration on most other continents by virtue of the two oceans off each of our coasts) but the reaction by the far right in the U.S. is already extremely vile. The rise of Donald Trump was due, in large part, to fears provoked by the migration crisis in Europe (which is only a taste of what is to come), and Trump cynically played up that threat in order to win votes. Fear is a powerful motivator in politics, and far right wing populists have always used it to their advantage.

It should be obvious to anyone with even an elementary grasp of history and geo-politics that massive influxes of foreigners into a given population often results in chauvinistic and even fascistic backlash. This was true in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th century as immigrants from eastern and southern Europe came to the United States en masse, and its true today in the U.S. with the influx of immigrants over the past few decades coming from central and southern America. The problems we see in Europe right now, and the startling rise of the far right all over the West, are merely the prelude to what will become the norm over the next few decades as the effects of climate change become even more acute.

Conclusion

The connection between climate change and mass migration is clear.
The connection between mass migration and the rise of the far right is clear.
Therefore, the connection between climate change and the rise of the far right is clear.

As climate change intensifies it will create conditions that will force tens, if not hundreds, of millions of people to relocate. This relocation will put unprecedented strains on other countries, and elements of the population within those countries will react in predictably bigoted and hyper-nationalistic ways.

Climate change is not just an environmental issue; or rather it is, and given the foundational importance of the environment to every aspect of human existence, its destabilization will inevitably result in the destabilization of our political systems, our economies, and of our societies in general. It is a moral imperative for human beings who understand this to organize, mobilize, and fight back against any and every policy (or lack of policy) that fails to adequately address the threat posed by climate change. Given its deep and intrinsic connection to every facet of our lives, climate change is the single biggest issue of our lifetimes, of the century, and perhaps of all of human history. The clock has been ticking for a very long time, and we are way past the point of prevention; but we still have choices to make. We can still mitigate the more dire effects of climate change and prevent worst case scenarios. But it will require a strong, international, organized, grassroots resistance movement putting pressure on governments in every major country. It will also include taking part in direct action aimed at increasing the social and economic cost for corporations and governments who refuse to address climate change or who actively seek to intensify it through the continued development of fossil fuels.

Its time to fight!

 

Sources:

 

 

 

Anarchism In The Context Of Today’s World

Being an anarchist, for me, does not mean that I think we can have, or even should have, a stateless society overnight, or in the near future. That wont happen.

What being an anarchist REALLY means for me is to be constantly surveying the political, social and economic landscape in search of all forms of hierarchy, power, authority, and injustice, and then systematically analyzing and critiquing those structures; forcing them to justify said hierarchy/power/authority, or be opposed in every way possible.

Those systems of hierarchy, authority, and power can be obvious, like in the case of governments or corporations, but they can also be more subtle, albeit just as dangerous, like in the case of patriarchy, institutional racism, homophobia/transphobia, etc. An anarchist opposes them all, and knows *exactly why* she/he opposes them.

Additionally, its our social duty, to whatever extent possible, to self-govern. This means making a concerted, daily effort to behave as morally as possible; to plant, in you own little sphere of influence, the seeds of a better world. A world of cooperation, solidarity, social responsibility, and love.

If you call yourself an anarchist, you better be trying everyday to do these things or what’s the point? Anarchism is not just wanting to “smash the state”; its much, much more than that. Its about developing yourself and your community, its about caring for your fellow human beings, its about opposing injustice anywhere and everywhere that it appears.

Ultimately, its about believing that a better world, a more just world, is possible, and then taking on the responsibility of trying to help build that world…

Empathy as Existential Maturity

I’m listening to a podcast (“This American Life”, episode: Are We There Yet?) about refugees being housed in big camps in Greece. The reporter was going around interviewing Syrians in one Greek camp, and got into a discussion with a Syrian man who said his 5 year old daughter has psychological problems because of the trauma she experienced in Syria as a result of the civil war there. A rocket fell on their house, killing her sister and grandmother. And now the little girl can’t be left alone at all or she panics. She doesn’t go outside ever, and, heartbreakingly, has no friends in the camp. A precious, innocent little girl, scarred for life and without any other little friends to play with. When he said that, I had to stop what I was doing, sit down on the edge of my bed, and just fucking cry. That shit destroys me.

The human mind has a well known tendency to group other people together based on ethnicity, religious affiliation, nationality, etc., and pin various attributes on the group as a whole; reducing every individual within that group to mere *representatives* of that group, and not as wholly unique human beings in and of themselves. Immigrants and refugees get this all the time; and in fact a current candidate for US president has rooted his entire candidacy in this base tendency of the human mind. But no one is free from the compulsion to group and stereotype different people; regardless of political ideology.

This is why it’s important to go out of your way to try and understand human beings from any marginalized or “Otherized” group *as human beings* and not caricatures of their group stereotypes; to put in the intellectual and moral work of consciously deconstructing this tendency within your own mind by listening to stories such as the above story about a little Syrian girl. Or listening to a desperate father from Honduras explain why he came to America illegally. Or listen to a trans person as they recount all the daily struggles and every day indignities they have to face just to exist as the person they truly are. Etc. Getting down to the specific details of individuals and their experiences is essential in weeding out the “group stereotype” tendency that exists in your own mind.

This is empathy. This is our social and moral obligation to our fellow human beings. The suffering of an innocent child anywhere in the world is the suffering of all intelligent, sentient creatures. And if we can, to some extent, take the suffering of others and internalize it into our selves, we strengthen the bonds of solidarity. It may cause us pain and confusion and despair at times, but there is also something deeply connective and dignified about it. There is something existentially mature about it.

The moment I can no longer cry or be moved emotionally by the suffering of innocent strangers is the moment I am no longer fully alive; something essential and meaningful will have died within me and within the world. I hope that moment never comes.

Confessions of a Cheater: Self-Analysis In The Wake Of Infidelity

Confession: Infidelity has not been merely a mistake I have made once or twice in my life, it has been a powerful and consistent pattern throughout the entirety of my romantic adult life. I have *never* had, in my 27 years on this planet, a romantic relationship in which I was faithful.

This is the first time I am admitting that out loud. To others and to myself.

My infidelity is not a “bug”, it is a feature. And every second I spend denying that fact, or rationalizing away my behavior, or fooling myself into thinking that “everyone does it”, is another second I don’t spend being honest with myself and working to improve who I am as a human being. This essay will be an attempt to stop doing that. To stop rationalizing. To stop making excuses. This essay will be an attempt at analyzing myself and my behavior in as honest a way as possible in hopes that via relentless self-examination, and a methodical, probing approach to the causes of my compulsions, I can begin to finally grow up and shake off the shackles of what has proven to be my most despicable character trait: my infidelity.

First and foremost, though, I want to say that I will not offer anything in the way of excuses for my behavior. A necessary prerequisite for this essay is to state that I am 100% responsible for my actions. Nobody else, or nothing else, is at all to blame for what I have done. I have hurt the people closest to me repeatedly, and that is something that I have to live with; something that must haunt the corridors of my conscience as the faces of loved ones that I have caused to cry and suffer get ingrained into the walls, floors, and ceilings of my psyche.

When you see your 7 year old daughter, and the mother of your child, sitting on the floor of a now partially-empty apartment, sobbing uncontrollably because their lives, and their family, have been turned upside down because of your actions, its an absolute gut-wrenching experience which cannot help but produce toxic levels of shame and self-loathing. What sort of person does this? Am I a monster? Am I so radically selfish that I put my own petty, sexual, short term desires above the people who mean the absolute most to me in this world? How can I still fancy myself a good person when I peer into the tear-drenched, bright-red-cheeked faces of my family and know, without any doubt, that I alone caused that pain and suffering? Why am I like this?


“This is the worst thing I’ve ever done to anyone. I almost can’t look my own guilt in the eye… It’s overwhelming and makes me feel constantly anxious and sad and confused and shameful.” (A text from me to my fiance’)

Shame and humiliation are two closely related concepts, but not entirely interchangeable. In the wake of my latest act of infidelity, my fiance’, upon figuring out what had happened, wrote a scathing, public Facebook post summarizing the infidelity, who took part in it, and the sordid details of the whole affair. The humiliation I faced was externally-focused; meaning I was humiliated by all of our mutual friends and family members reading the post, and I could feel their collective judgement. Nobody likes to have the respect people have for them shattered, especially not in such a flamboyant and public way. But I viewed this, and still view it, as my just punishment. We are social apes, and we exist only within the context of social relations, and so dragging out my dirty laundry and airing it to the world is an almost tribal, and totally justified, way of punishing me for what amounts to my anti-social behavior. But shame, shame is internal. Shame is that white hot feeling of horror and disgust that one feels on the inside, and its not because others are harshly judging you, although they can play a role; instead its your own screaming, brooding conscience flooding your consciousness with thoughts of all the people you fucked over, all the bridges you burned, all the pain and suffering that you caused. Its the way we punish ourselves from the inside. Its an act of moral self-flagellation.

I am both ashamed and humiliated, and that is entirely my fault.

But if I admit that this is all my fault, which I do, that leads to another, deeper question: Why? Why do I do this? Is there anything in my childhood that I can explore which will give me better insight into why I seem to be compelled to cheat? To answer these questions is extremely difficult. Psychoanalyzing oneself is a virtually impossible task because we are, by definition, lost in an ocean of our own subjectivity and cannot be certain that we have come to an objective conclusion about such complex issues. People pay psychiatrists to be professionally objective tour guides through their tangled, messy, and opaque personalities and behaviors. So I am going to embark consciously on a fool’s errand by trying to parse out what in my development might have contributed to my virtually pathological compulsion to cheat. And I don’t use the phrase “pathological compulsion” lightly, either. After all, people generally agree that what really makes somebody an addict when it comes to, say, drugs or alcohol, is that they take their desire for that thing to such an extreme point that it negatively effects their lives: they lose their job, they lose their families, they hurt innocent people, etc. And in that way, my compulsion towards infidelity has met that standard. I did ruin my family, I hurt dozens of people, and my life is in a state of chaos and disarray because of it. Does that mean, then, that I am an addict? Maybe, in some way. Does that mean that I am a sex addict? No. Because it has never been about the sex for me. In my latest case of infidelity, sex did not even occur. And as I look back on all the times I’ve strayed from a committed relationship, perhaps less than half involved the actual act of physical sex. No, its deeper than the animalistic urge to have sex for me; its an ego thing, an existential anxiety. On the surface of things, I enjoy the newness of a fling or an affair. I do get bored in some ways, and so infidelity is a way to stoke the flames of excitement at times of relative dullness in my relationship. But its deeper than that. I have come to realize that I have an existential fear of making the “wrong choice”, of being stuck in a relationship forever, or never being able to experience another person for the first time. This fear is related, intimately, to my fear of death; my fear that I have one tiny, short, meaningless life and that I have to pack as much novel experience into that life as possible. I firmly believe that after I die, its lights out forever. I hold *no illusions* about my consciousness surviving my bodily death. The anxiety caused by that belief has been something I’ve struggled with mightily my entire life, and that fear, in my opinion, can be funneled, fuzzily, through the prism of monogamy and commitment, creating a sense of being closed in; of having my options perpetually dwindled down with the days. Its a Sartrean dilemma in some sense: of having to exercise my freedom in the form of making difficult decisions, and then always wondering what would have happened if I had chosen to go the other way. So instead of making a choice and committing myself to it, I make a choice and then question that choice over and over again while I am still living inside that choice’s parameters. When I am in a relationship, I wonder if I would be better outside of it; but then when my relationship falls apart because of my behavior, I wonder why I ever risked it in the first place, and then regret my choice to not be in a committed, faithful relationship. Its a grotesque merry-go-round of neuroticism and uncertainty.

Beyond those personal internal struggles, I grew up with a father who was married (and subsequently divorced) five times (and before I get into details here, I want to make it clear that my dad, although flawed in various ways like anyone else, is a great human being and a wonderful dad. He holds exactly ZERO fault for my actions, and the following is in no way an attempt to shift any of the blame onto him). Having said that, growing up with my dad we did have a constantly rotating cast of girlfriends, wives, and stepmoms around us at all times. This certainly had a huge influence on me, and perhaps to some extent it normalized that sort of relationship-chaos for me. But on a deeper level, as i grew into a teenager, I began to associate my dad’s approach to women as something that was “cool”, something to brag about. It became something that set me apart from many of my peers: I could get girls left and right, while peers and close friends struggled to find anyone at all. Friends would comment on it, call me a “ladies man”, and it felt good. In the way that all boys, if they have their fathers, admire them and seek to emulate them in various ways, I admired, and tried to emulate, my father’s ability to attract and have access to women. It became a thing of pride for me that I could get girls to like me so easily, and it certainly boosted my ego in a life-period of notorious insecurity. Being a teenager means to be truly and deeply insecure and unsure of yourself, no matter how much you pretend to everyone else that that isn’t the case. This intrinsic insecurity is something all humans have to wrestle with when we are that age. And because of that, I not-so-secretly delighted in the fact that I was able to have sexual relationships with so many different women, it validated me as someone worthy of love and it became a mainstay of my character in a lot of ways. And as a late-teenage boy, it wasn’t surprising that I felt that way. But as I grew into my twenties, and now into my late twenties, the “coolness” of that lifestyle started to turn over and reveal to me its unsavory underbelly. I started to feel how vacuous such a lifestyle was, how empty I felt, and how Sisyphus-like my romantic charades had become: finding a girl, winning her over, being with her romantically for a short period of time, then sabotaging it (whether consciously or subconsciously), and moving on to the next girl. The ethical and moral dimensions of this charade only began to really concern me as I grew older and developed a more robust conscience and sense of moral responsibility. I started to see how I hurt people, and still, I couldn’t stop. It developed a momentum all its own. Now, at age 27, with two children and on the verge of giving both of them their own special version of a broken home, I am having to come to terms with myself, my flaws, and the people I have hurt. I now feel like the guy who, after graduating high-school, still hung around at their parties for a few years, refusing to grow up. What started out as a source of pride, turned into a source of shame. What started out as an immature, ego-driven quirk has become a life-altering, monstrously destructive part of who I am, and I fucking hate it.

How do I change? How do I stop hurting people? How do I pin down and choke out my unethical compulsions? Am I built for monogamy, or am I destined to grow old alone? I do not know. But I do believe in the written word. I do believe that by sitting down and thinking very hard about oneself in an thoroughly and brutally honest away, and then crafting and shaping those thoughts into concrete sentences and paragraphs that we can reflect back to ourselves who we are in a clearer way, and thereby create the conditions by which we can begin to change ourselves for the better. At least that is my hope.

After this recent implosion and subsequent humiliation, I have been called, by more than one person I care about, “a bad person”. Its not, according to them, that I am a good person who makes bad choices, no. The accusation is stronger: I am not a good person. Period. I am a bad person who does bad things because I am bad. This hurts and wounds me. Badly. And although I am willing to accept the judgments and criticisms of everyone, this is one charge against me that I do not accept. That I cannot accept. I know, and everyone who knows me knows, that deep down I am a caring, emotional, empathetic, sensitive human being. I am a loving, engaged, conscious father. I am a loyal, trustworthy friend. I am an informed and active citizen. I am more than my mistakes. I am more than my flaws. But I have some proving to do; not only to my family and friends, but to myself and to the world in which I exist. I do not want to be another cause of suffering in this world; it has more than its fair share of that already. I do not want to add to the amount of tears sliding down faces and hitting floors in the world. I do not want to add to the overall pain of human beings on this planet. And so I have a lot of work to do.

“I am better than this. I have to be.” 

I truly do not know whether I can put my family back together. I do not know whether my fiance’ will come back to me. Perhaps, and I could never blame her for this, she will realize that she cannot take the chance of being hurt like this again, and my abysmal record on this subject certainly justifies that conclusion, were she to come to it. After all, as I said at the beginning of this essay and will continue to say over and over again, to myself and to others, to ensure that it sinks in: I have *never* had a faithful relationship. Every single relationship I have ever been in in my entire life is a relationship that I have cheated in. Some found out, some didn’t. But I always knew, and I continue to know. I cannot even say for sure that I will never do it again, because I have made that promise before, and every single time, without fail, I have broken that promise. I have a 100% failure rate in this arena. Nobody should have to deal with that. Nobody should have mercy on me or feel sympathy for me; especially not the woman who gave me a child, a family, and a home, and who I, in return, gave only devastating heartbreak, pain, and cold betrayal to.

She owes me nothing. I owe her everything.

But maybe by being honest, and by telling the truth, to her, to others, and finally to myself, I can begin to be the man that I know I can be. Maybe I can take those good traits that I mentioned above and extend them into that one realm of my life that I have hitherto never been able to extend them into: my romantic relationships.

Yesterday my fiance’ asked me how I would feel if my daughter, when she grows up, was treated by her significant other in the same way I have treated my fiance’. That pointed question hit me squarely and powerfully and dug itself into the core of my being. I want to be the sort of person who I would want my daughter, or my son, to be with. That’s the standard I am going to set for myself, and that’s the central question around which my thoughts from here on out will orbit: can I be the sort of person that I would want my children to be with?

I hope so.

Free Will

Free will is something we take for granted.  We all feel free to do what we want, when we want.  As a matter of fact, our entire judicial system is based on the notion that we are free agents, morally culpable for our actions.  We punish people with harsh sentences and even put people to death based on this implicit assumption.  But, like all things, free will too must be investigated using the best techniques of science and philosophy.  That investigation has led us to a startling conclusion: we are not free.

Consider this: you had absolutely no control over most of the variables that made you who you are today.  You did not choose your parents or your country of origin.  You did not choose your genetic make-up or the environment in which those genes flourished.  You did not choose the events that have taken place in your life or the people you have come into contact with.  Yet all of these factors are built upon one another to create the person you are today.  Your brain has been programmed, and it has been programmed by variables that exist outside the realm of your control.  Today, your brain makes decisions, filters information, and reacts to stimuli based on these variables.  Where is the freedom here?

Further still is this problem: you do not know what you intend to do until the intention itself arises.  You do not know what you think until the thought arises in your consciousness.  These thoughts and intentions emerge out of background causes that you have absolutely no control over or knowledge of.  For example, I decided to buy a Camelicious Latte today (keep your judgments to yourself, it is a delicious beverage!), why did I choose that? I don’t know.  The desire to buy that instead of coffee or tea was not something I chose.  The desire simply arose in my consciousness and I acted on it.  Of course I could have chosen to not act on it, but the fact that my desire for it arose without my conscious control is the point.  Why didn’t a desire for an apple or tea or a shot of liquor arise in my mind? I don’t know, and that is the point.

Scientifically speaking we have a collection of research done by different neuroscientists and psychologists that prove that intentions arise before the person becomes aware of the intention.  One study even found that 3-7 seconds (sometimes 10 seconds) passed in between the neuronal activity in the brain (the intention) and the conscious awareness of that intention.  This proves that our thoughts, intentions, desires, etc. appear out of what seems like nowhere.  It is only after they have arisen that we have any semblance of “free will” to choose between desires.  It is like America’s political elections, we don’t control who become candidates but we get to choose between them.  Out of 350 million people in America, only 5-10 candidates arise for us to choose between.  This is not freedom of choice or will, it is merely the ability to choose out of a very small sample.

Above I have described why we cannot have complete free will, and the argument was raised towards those individuals who have a scientific disposition and who react to evidence.  But the religious reader, free from the bonds of rationality and the physical sciences, may feel they are in a position to salvage free will from the grip of physical determinism (I am not a determinist in the strict sense, but the word, if not used too literally, works here).  They believe that God endowed them with free will and you will often find them clinging incessantly to this precious notion of free will whenever one brings up the disturbing problem of evil in the world.  “God gave us free will, that is why little girls get raped and murdered”.  We have all heard the argument, but even if you take this view of free will  you have a problem.  In fact, I believe you have a bigger problem then the scientific materialist.  Here is my argument:  If God is all-knowing (a proposition any religious person would have to accept) then it is obvious that God knows what you will do before you do it.   Indeed, God will know what you will do before he even creates you!  Following this logic, God knows he is creating a child-rapist as he creates him.  If he did not know this then God would, by definition, NOT be all-knowing, and thus would not be perfect.  So how can you have free will if God knows what you will choose before you are even born?  There is ABSOLUTELY no room for free will in the religious conception of the universe.  This is made all the more troubling by contemplating the fact that God sends most of us to Hell after we die.  If God is all-knowing, then he knows who will burn for eternity in Hell before he creates them, leaving a perplexing question: Why would an all-loving God create beings that he knows he will send to Hell to be tortured for eternity.  It is more compassionate and ethical to not even create them in the first place! All this leaves a big problem for the religious believer, and to this day I have never heard an argument against this point.  Everytime I raise this concern the religious believer ignores it.  Even when I press my religious friend on the issue, side-stepping and red herrings run rampant.

But what does this all mean?  Does this mean that we are to let criminals go because they are mere victims of biology?  Does this mean our judicial system should crumble and we should all resort to a sort of moral relativism?  Absolutely not.  Even if we know that the sociopathic serial killer is merely suffering from a bio-chemical deficiency we will still have to segregate him from the larger population.  We still need to take steps to deter and punish criminals.  We are not completely determined puppets, we do have choices, no matter how slim those choices are.  Using my presidential analogy, you can still choose between Obama and Santorum and be held responsible for that choice, even if you had no control over who became a candidate in the first place.  If these facts about free will urge us to do anything in our judicial system it is to tune the goals of our criminal justice system more towards rehabilitation then punishment.  If these facts about free will urge us to anything about our morality, it is to tune the content of our morality towards compassion for others (criminals specifically) instead of vindictive rage (easier said then done, to be sure).  Most of what we humans do is not in accordance with nature or the universe anyway.  We have a realm of culture in which we live that, in some essential ways, has taken us out of nature and dropped us into a domain of our own creation.  It is our job to understand the human brain as best as we can so we can adapt our culture, morality and mind sets to the facts and thus create a more harmonious and understanding society for all of us to exist in.

In conclusion, we are not free, but then again we are.  The way most of feel when we ‘feel free’ will not change, and we still have a virtually infinite amount of decisions to make each day.  If we can become more aware of the way our brains are constructed and the way they operate, we can gain even more control over ourselves and thus increase our freedom; in the same way that we understand logical fallacies and biases and create structures and checks and balances to protect ourselves against them.  We will not be able to have complete freedom; in fact the notion of complete freedom is nonsensical anyways.  What would it mean to have complete freedom? Have control over our universe, our brains, and the very nature of cause and effect?  The concept is not even comprehensible.  The truth is we have what we have, and how we use what we have is what matters. The choices we do have, although severely limited, are still ours to make, and in the end this is where our freedom lies.