Jan 7, 2012

The Unforgiven: No Better Way to Say It

Nothing I could ever write would capture the spirit of Hard Life Project even half as eloquently. I just hope Lars Ulrich doesn't decide to sue me...

Dec 30, 2011

Flaky Friday: Your Mother Doesn't Work Here - A How-To Guide for Responsible Shoppers

Thank you for using your "inside voice".
Editor's note: Please join me in welcoming guest blogger "Anomalous" to Hard Life Project.

By Anomalous
Retail worker at an undisclosed location

A hearty tip-o-the-hat to all you responsible shoppers this holiday season who didn’t make retail workers want to slit their wrists! I am a box store wage earner and you know who you are. This is my song of gratitude to you.

Some might say that working a year in retail should be required of all consumers so as to fully appreciate the environment and energy requirements. Thank you for recognizing the lives of the poorly paid workers who help shepherd you to the purchases of your dreams.

I saw the look of commiseration in your eyes on Black Friday where you were a little embarrassed to be part of the flock. You looked at me, almost apologetically, as if to say: “This is why I tell my kids to apply themselves in school.”

Our exhausted retail laborer would have you, soulful shopper, pause for a moment of silence and join us in mourning the death of the “inside voice” for kiddies being ferried about in shopping carts. Vocalizing at the top of their young, strong lungs throughout the store for periods exceeding an hour can be interpreted as unwelcome by non-family members.

You assume that, though unique in the world, you are not considered as such to our intrepid worker bee who deals with hundreds of equally unique individuals on every shift. When you enter the big box store you understand that we are not there to minister to your every desire, unlike waiters or flight attendants. Your mission does not instantly become our mission. Therefore, you are of stout heart and go about your shopping as independently as possible. You can appreciate that just because you are retired, lonely, or otherwise have time to chat, we may be just moments away from taking our scheduled and well-deserved lunch break. We are being worked like rented mules in a complex and perfected kind of hell. We do not have the luxury of acting as your confidant or personal shopper unless you are very old, blind, or in a wheelchair.

You savvy consumer! Knowing that you can multiply the one thing you knock off the shelf or hangar by hundreds of other shoppers who are doing likewise. We then make a concerted attempt to put everything back where it belongs. Over and over and over and over. All day long. Occasionally look back to see what your children are playfully pulling off the racks and shelves behind you. This constitutes a teachable moment.

I know you noticed how clean, pleasant and organized the store looked when you walked in. No one wants to shop in a dirty, disheveled place. With that in mind, you always take your empty coffee cups and candy wrappers with you to the nearest trash can. It wouldn’t occur to you to stick used gum on the bottom of the shoe shelves or spit chewing tobacco in the infant furniture section, or leave a box of popcorn spilled next to the towels, or knock over an Icee into a pile of cardigans, or break a glass jar of baby food and not tell anybody (allowing others to drive through it with their carts), or leave your smelly, disgusting old shoes in a box with the lid closed, thus exchanging them for a free, new pair.

When you are comparison shopping, you make an effort to actually drive to the store. This is not lost on the toilers working the sales floor. Calling on the phone is bad form when you are requesting we walk several city blocks to find out if there is a jar of your favorite skin cream, then sending us back again to see if it comes in 12 oz. containers.

Part of your innate intelligence is shown in your knowledge that underpaid retail workers in box stores are not empowered to lower prices or haggle with you over a dent, a tear, or a smudge. Thank you for showing some dignity and just walking away.

To keep the store looking appealing and fresh to you “frequent fliers”, and to feature merchandise that may have been on the back wall the last time you shopped, items are regularly moved around by other workers. And no, though we are there nearly every day, we do not always know where they’ve gone. You understand this is not an example of our incompetence.

So, again, thanks for visiting our little "slice of heaven" and have an excellent retail experience!

Dec 28, 2011

The Silent Prison: Top 10 Ways Anxiety Disorder Destroys Your Life

The silent prison of anxiety disorder.
Although I've been on various medications for mood disorders for almost 20 years (4 of those years with a psychiatrist), I'd never received an actual diagnosis. You know, that thing people say they are. Things like "I'm a hypochondriac", or "I'm obsessive-compulsive", or "I'm a schizophrenic (and so am I)".

Well, I finally know what I am after all these years: I'm a recurring major depressive with severe generalized anxiety disorder.

Not really a huge news flash. It's not like I never would have guessed I'm depressed and anxious until a doctor clued me in on the fact. But he did say something in our last session that's so obvious it never occurred to me. He was talking about generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and said, "It's when people are always worried".


That's exactly right. I'm ALWAYS worried. The levels change, and the intensity changes. Sometimes it's unsettling and semi-conscious background noise, like the staccato of distant gunfire. Other times it's like sitting on the flight line at the airport and watching the jets come in - a rumbling cacophony of screaming noise so loud it tears the world apart. But it's always there: unceasing, unchanging, and unrelenting.

And I'm one of the lucky ones. I'm lucky to be so high-functioning. I'm not on the streets, in jail, or in a mental hospital. I'm not starving. I'm not homeless. I have family and friends who love me. I have a support network and a fantastic therapist. I have wonderful lover. I have good physical health, all things considered. I even still have most of my hair.

But I still live in prison, a prison no one can see and few understand. Despite all my blessings and good fortune, anxiety disorder is still destroying my life and the lives of countless millions of other "normal" people. Based on the knowledge I've amassed over the years, and in no particular order, here are the top 10 ways anxiety disorder encases people like me in an invisible prison of silent desperation:

#10). Social Prejudice
Thank God we don't live in the 1950s anymore! We've come long way, baby, towards social equality on issues like racism, sexism, and sexual orientation. Hell, being an alcoholic is practically a badge of honor these days. But curiously, mental illness is still "in the closet" as it were. Society still has a tendency to view mental disorders as signs of moral weakness, or even a choice made by self-indulgent, lazy people who milk it for their own advantages. Even though anxiety disorders are not technically a mental illness, our culture is still pretty quick to judge the chronically anxious as crazy and to openly wonder why they can't just "snap out of it". Could YOU "snap out of" cancer or a smashed hand?

#9). Loneliness and Isolation
Buffalo Springfield's now famous 1965 anti-war statement about how paranoia "starts when you're always afraid" is also an apt description of living with anxiety disorder. Because it is like a kind of low-level paranoia where you're never quite sure what's going on or if you're about to step out of line. Like Vietnam, Afghanistan, and now Iraq, battling anxiety disorder is a war of attrition with only one rational outcome: withdrawal. Isolation becomes the anxious person's main defense against an intolerable onslaught of panic and worry that most others simply don't understand. The resulting loneliness and depression can destroy the foundations of life. People with severe anxiety disorders are up to 9 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

#8). Inability to Concentrate
Have you ever had a telephone conversation with a new mother? Chances are good that her baby was screaming in the background during the call. If there's anything more annoying than being on the phone with a squalling infant, I don't know what it is. Unless it's the feeling of impending doom screaming in the background of my head 24/7. Both baby and anxiety have a particularly piercing shriek that could shatter delicate crystal. That's why God took pity on us and invented Xanax, Adderall, and Ritalin. Thank you, Jesus.

#7). Inability to Sleep
"Sleep is the interest we have to pay on the capital which is called in at death; and the higher the rate of interest and the more regularly it is paid, the further the date of redemption is postponed."
- Arthur Schopenhauer

Old Arthur may not have been much for laughs, but I can't think of a better aphorism on the importance of sleep. Studies indicate that upwards of 50 million Americans suffer from chronic insomnia, although the majority are not due to anxiety disorder. But everyone has lost sleep from time to time because of worrying about a job, a relationship, children, bills, etc. Most people get over worrying. Some of us never get over it. Going to bed is like laying down next to a lightly sedated, pissed off tiger for the anxiety sufferer. It often feels vulnerable, out of control, and unpredictable. Anxious people also tend to have nightmares, assuming they're actually able to sleep. Nightmares are just worry in another guise. No doubt about it, chronic sleep deprivation takes years off your life and makes anxiety and depression worse. Which makes it even harder to sleep.

#6). Perfectionism
Some people would consider perfectionism a good thing rather than something destructive. After all, "practice makes perfect", right? I think it's a question of degree. There's nothing wrong with wanting to do your best and produce something that's high quality. That's why I'm writing this instead of telling dick jokes (which I happen to think are hilarious, BTW). But there's a difference between wanting to do well and being so afraid of doing it wrong that you end up doing nothing.

"Laziness" is one of the cheap shots smugly normal people often take at those of us with mood disorders. But the fact is that most anxiety sufferers are actually sensitive, highly intelligent, and creative people with a lot to offer. Many grew up in homes marked by violence, sexual abuse, and/or harsh, rigid expectations. We tend to feel like failures, probably because we've been told that we ARE failures, at least in so many words. This can lead to a paralyzing fear of doing anything wrong. It makes being productive kinda tough, know what I mean?

#5). Overall Lack of Energy
Being wound up and tense all the time is paradoxically exhausting. Some days, managing anxiety feels like a full time job with very little left over for anything else. Chronic fear weakens normal functioning of the adrenal system and increases the production of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress. The adrenals are one of the body's main regulatory systems and effect everything from bone formation to immune response. Long term exposure to high cortisol levels can cause brain damage that leads to impaired learning ability. Many anxious people also compensate for lack of energy by abusing stimulants like coffee, soda and hard drugs like cocaine and speed. This whips the adrenals even harder and ultimately further decreases energy levels.

#4). Inability to Maintain Friendships
The inability to either make or maintain friendships leads to loneliness and isolation. It's one of the most heartbreaking aspects of anxiety disorder. Friendships are hard even without undue anxiety; for the chronically anxious, they can seem impossible. Humans are social animals and need emotionally intimate relationships. If you've been anxious most of your life, your avoidance of people may have caused you never to have learned HOW to form relationships. Or if, like me, your anxiety began later in life, you may know how to connect but are often unwilling to make the effort. I've had numerous friendships and potential friendships fizzle simply because I didn't put any energy into keeping their heart beating. Friendships take work. If your life force (your ch'i) is consumed by fear, the work that friendships require may demand more energy than you can muster.

#3). Inability to Have Intimate Relationships
Intimate relationships are sometimes described as "the Ph.D of personal growth". Speaking from personal experience, I'd say that's absolutely true. Engaging (and especially maintaining) intimate relationships seems to require the confidence of champion, the concentration of a samurai, and the patience of a saint. Even "normal" people regularly get their asses kicked by intimate relationships unless they've developed a great deal of interpersonal skill. Lots of chronic worriers avoid intimacy because it's just too scary. Some have never had a sexual relationship at all. People with anxiety usually need understanding partners who are willing to work with their condition and to take it slow. It seems to me that understanding partners are in short supply these days.

#2). Inability to Relax/Have Fun
One of the classic features of any anxiety disorder is always being "on alert". Alternately referred to as "hyper-vigilance", "catastrophizing", or "stinkin' thinkin' " (how quaint), severely anxious people always expect the worst and are waiting for the other shoe to drop. Where the hell does that saying come from anyway? I need to look that one up. As Murphy's Law says, "anything that can go wrong, WILL go wrong". Murphy probably had undiagnosed anxiety. Always waiting for something to go wrong (and to be blamed for it) makes relaxing and having fun very difficult. It's a shitty way to live. A life without fun and joy is no life at all.

#1). Stress-Related Physical Illness
A quick Google search on the term "emotional stress" returns approximately 3,110,000 results. That means Google has indexed a third of a BILLION web pages about this topic, and I'd say at least half of them mention the effects of stress on physical health. A lot of people are really fucking stressed out! Here's a list of the most common impacts that stress (aka anxiety) has on our bodies:
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Heart attack and High Blood Pressure
  • Ulcers
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Insomnia and Chronic fatigue
  • Obesity
  • Cancer
  • Muscle aches
This is just a partial list. I believe chronic stress can effect any system in the body and that people with anxiety disorders are at higher risk for chronic illness, debilitation, and early death.

Break Out of Your Silent Prison
I think anxiety sufferers like me have two basic choices: choose to be victimized by it, or choose to take action. Action is by far the better choice, even though it doesn't always seem that way. The attitude I'm trying to maintain is this: I may be in prison, but even life in prison can have value and meaning. Some of the most inspiring works of art known to man have been created during periods of incarceration. And I'm not talking about "Mein Kampf"; that book was boring as fuck.

Some of the ways anxiety sufferers can take action include:
  • Get a therapist (this probably saved my life)
  • Join a support group for anxiety disorders (there are several good ones on Facebook)
  • Participate in online forums (lots of options here)
  • Learn about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT is the best drug-free treatment for anxiety)
  • Take a reputable online treatment course (for example, Panic Away is an effective self-help program for treating panic attacks)
  • Take anti-anxiety medication (Meds get a bad rap from some people, but I believe they can help a lot, especially when combined with other forms of treatment)

Comments, suggestions, and outrageous compliments are always appreciated.

Dec 25, 2011

Deeply Troubled or Lowlife Assholes? - Why We Hate Being Alive

Being a lowlife asshole is actually kinda cool.
A common end-of-year tactic for many bloggers is to do a post about the weirdest search phrases that brought people to their site during the previous 12 months. Since I'm all about the spirit of giving (after all, it IS Christmas), here's my strange list:

short black midgets - (thanks, Gary Coleman)
rasta sweater vest - (when greed was good and we were all superstars)
wife gangbang homemade - (must be something about pornography)
those cult members in san diego with the kool-aid and the sneakers - (I got nothing)
452817_48702741 - (get a life, please)
jizz fest - (now we're talking)

But the top winners (if you can call them that) for 2011 are all variations of "i hate being alive". Here's some examples from the vast sea of deeply troubled human misery:
  • i hate being alive
  • i fucking hate being alive
  • being alive is hard
  • god i hate being alive
  • being alive is difficult
  • god damn i hate being alive
  • have a good life i hate being alive
  • i dislike being alive
  • i dont like being alive
  • i feel like being alive is too difficult
  • i resent being alive
  • i seriously hate being alive
  • i think i just hate being alive
  • oh god i hate being alive
  • reasons to hate being alive

Shut up and eat your spinach you asshole
Even though I can't really know someone's inner experience while they're Googling "hting bieng alive", I think it's safe to say they've never heard of spell-checking. And that their search is motivated by deep emotional suffering. After all, who searches for reasons to hate life just for kicks? That's why we have YouTube:

A poster on Yahoo! Answers had this response to the question, "Why do people hate themselves and their life?":
"If life has been predominately kind to you, you are blessed and perhaps cannot relate to what some people face from the time they wake till the time they go to bed again. Knowing you SHOULD be happy is like saying why don't all people eat spinach. Don't they know it is healthy and they should love it? Well, if it makes them puke every time they eat it, they can't snap themselves into liking it. The life that has been presented to them is not necessarily as palatable as the one presented to you."
Well said. It's easy to judge until you've walked in someone's shoes, which takes all the fun out of passing judgement. I think my post about my own feelings of hating my life, myself, and our shitty world touched a nerve for people who also feel lost in the wilderness. I currently hold a top 10 ranking position in Google for the term "i hate being alive", which was purely accidental. But this and other related terms account for 90% of all search engine traffic to this blog in the last 12 months. Behind the required facade of "doing fine" are some deeply troubled people who are anything but fine. Running a blog that ranks well for hating life is a dubious achievement at best, and I'm not proud of it. What do you think I am, cynical or something?

Lowlife and lovin' it
Karen Carr discusses the concept of “cheerful nihilism” in her 1992 book, The Banalization of Nihilism. Cheerful nihilism is characterized by an easy-going acceptance of meaninglessness and narcissistic moral arrogance. This shallow world view has now been popularized by everyone from Eminem to Toby Keith (or as Bill Maher calls him, "Cletus McFucknuts").

Another good example of this empty angst is "edgy" Canadian rock export Theory of a Deadman. Their 2008 platinum-selling hit "Hate My Life" is predigested stadium rock for the white trash NASCAR crowd. It seems to say, "your life may suck, but it's nothing a huge drunken kegger won't fix":

Call me old fashioned, but when you say "I hate my life", you should be talking about something a little deeper than your annoyance at panhandlers or your wife's taste for expensive lingerie. Oh, and it would also help me take you more seriously if your music didn't suck.

Talking about their newest hit "Lowlife", Theory of a Deadman singer Tyler Connolly says, "I thought it'd be cool to write a fun anthem about being a lowlife. It's okay to drive an old piece of shit car, get arrested and be a dirtball. Our fans aren't wearing suits and ties. They don't have diamond necklaces. They're regular people who like to party and sing rock 'n' roll music. The song speaks to them."

Yes, basically reveling in being a piece of shit. Along with hardcore gangsta rap, this is what pop culture now passes off as an existential crisis. I'll take suicidal ideation over this disturbing banal shallowness any day.

Dec 9, 2011

Flaky Friday: Dear Democrats, Your Marketing SUCKS!

I'm Rick Perry, and I'm not ashamed to admit
that my marketing strategy is fucking AWESOME!
A Presidential election cycle always makes me a bit nostalgic. This week, I've been reflecting on Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

I like Barack Obama. I voted for him in 2008. He's intelligent, articulate, calm and reassuring. And, may I say, a damned fine-looking man. He's someone who's easy to admire. He's just fundamentally likable.

He's also one of the shittiest Presidents we've ever had.

Smart, affable, and largely ineffective, Obama has tried at various times to be everything to everyone. He's been hawkish, dovish, tough on crime, soft on taxes, for the rich, for the poor, for the middle class, against corporations, partisan, bi-partisan, a uniter, a war-maker, a Christian  conservative, and a fireside chatter. That last one is actually kind of adorable.

President Obama has been so successful at inclusiveness that he's ended up being kind of...nothing. And there's nothing like a nothing President to make you long for one who knew who he was, what he stood for, and what he wanted.

That's right, Barack Obama makes me nostalgic for George W. Bush.

I have a kind of perverse admiration for Dubya. Say what you want, but it's undeniable that Bush and his pack of velociraptors knew how to GET SHIT DONE. They were on track, on time, on target, and always, ALWAYS on message. Bush executed his administrative agenda with the same nihilistic glee he used to execute Texas inmates. Idiot-savant or just plain idiot, one George W. Bush equals twenty Barack Obamas for knowing your audience and then giving them what they want. His base of "have-mores" only wanted their fair share, which was all of it. And boy did they get it.

Well played, Mr. Bush. Well played.

We'll Let The Market Handle It
Remarkable and manic marketing guru Seth Godin is probably best known for baldness and for his concept of "tribes". In our overcrowded, overworked, over-communicated and overstocked modern world, "the tribe" is a new-media marketing strategy that says the era of dominating the marketplace with "products for the masses" is over and done. How do you sell ketchup to everybody when there's fifty different brands of ketchup? How do you sell laundry detergent when customers want full-strength, industrial-strength, mild, gentle wash, skin-sensitive, biodegradable, hypoallergenic, dye, no dye, color safe, bleach, no bleach, non-toxic, Earth-friendly, fair-trade, or they don't give a shit and just want to get dirt out of their clothes?

By the same token, how do you sell a politician to burnt-out, apathetic American voters in a market choked with hacks, clones, and knee-jerk partisan finger puppets? By using tribes.

Tribes are narrow market segments that savvy marketers now talk to to the exclusion of everyone else. In the land of infinite choices, selling only to your tribe may not ensure success, but trying to sell to everybody will surely be your key to failure. Likable "transcender" Barack Obama wanted to be the Heinz ketchup of 21st century politics and has seen his market share take a huge nose-dive as a result. By trying to become something for everyone, he's become the worst thing possible in the political marketplace: mediocre.

Another way to describe mediocre is "forgettable". Like ketchup, forgettable is a quality most modern Democrats share. We all use ketchup, but when was the last time you actually gave a shit about it? For all their money and tech-savvy know-how, the Dems have never gotten on the same page or figured out who their "tribe" is. They want their tribe to include everybody, but tribes are by definition exclusionary. Everybody in the same tribe means there ARE no tribes. There's no "them" unless there's also an "us".

Enter "The Exclusioner"
Someone who obviously knows his tribe very well is Texas Governor and George Bush clone Rick Perry. He released his brilliant "Strong" campaign ad this week which shrewdly speaks directly to his tribe of gay-bashing Christian fundamentalists. After watching it, Bush called Perry to congratulate him and also ask him to please return his rancher's jacket:

This is tribe-based niche marketing at its best. Or worst, depending on your point of view. YouTube and Facebook have exploded in the last few days with numerous parodies and predictable outrage from various activist groups. However, "Strong" has catapulted Perry from "forgettable" directly into being the most talked about Republican candidate at the close of 2011. He's suddenly become what Godin would call a "purple cow": a shocking standout in an ordinarily boring field of everyday sameness.

By pushing powerful emotional buttons in his most ardent fan base, Perry is both calling them to action and stirring up controversy by pissing off all the other tribes. He may be a Christian homophobe on the warpath to rescue Santa Claus from Obama's "war on religion", but one thing Perry isn't is stupid.

I wish the Democrats would learn to package themselves this way. I don't admire Perry's politics, but I do admire the skill with which he sells his agenda. It's brilliant. His handlers have clearly mastered the art of market positioning. Meanwhile, Obama seems to be doing everything he can to not offend anybody. He's forgotten a fundamental rule for dealing with schoolyard bullies: sometimes you either fight back or you get your ass kicked. Let's hope Obama pulls his head out of his ass in time to give Perry the beat down he deserves.

Dec 3, 2011

The Hierarchy We Love To Hate: Top 10 Ways We Benefit From Social Enslavement

Enslavement (noun) - to reduce to or as if to slavery

There's a concept in human psychology called "secondary gain". Secondary gains are basically the positive, unconscious benefits of disease and dysfunction. Another way of saying it is that we usually get something good out of being sick, whether it's sympathy, decreased responsibility, or just a good excuse for not having to change.

All the attention the Occupy Wall Street movement has received got me thinking about whether the "diseases" of society itself offer us hidden benefits. Social disease in this context might include things like crime, unequal distribution of resources, exploitation, maybe even hierarchy itself.

I'd be the first to admit that I take a somewhat dark view of the human condition, but isn't it interesting to consider that, despite all efforts to the contrary, no human society has ever really been equal? Just the concept of leadership implies a pyramid shape where a small group supposedly speaks in the interest of a larger one. Few human beings in a "leadership" role can resist using it in the interests of personal gain at the expense of group interest.

Some have argued that the vague but powerful OWS rebellion stems from a repressed need for a more primal kind of freedom that has nothing to do with better jobs, more money, or demands for higher quality leadership. I agree, but the above post from kulturCritic also states that once humans regain their "lost primal autonomy", we will "dwell comfortably in honest egalitarian communities; social enclaves grounded in strong consanguine and affine relations" (translation: we'll have more in common, like each other better, and have stronger relationships). This seems unlikely to me, but I don't have a PhD in Religious Studies.

I would argue that even the most "egalitarian communities" in human history still had the poisonous seeds of social hierarchy lurking within them. SOMEBODY always gets preferential treatment, which means somebody has to get the shaft, at least relative to the society they live in.

But getting shafted isn't all bad. Consider my own Late Night Top 10 List, The Top 10 Ways We Benefit From Social Enslavement. Paul, a drum roll please:

#10). We get to avoid fear of failure
Fear of failure could also be stated as fear of being wrong, being shamed, or fear of being humiliated. Our perfectionistic society loudly trumpets that anyone can achieve any level of success provided they have enough chutzpah and determination to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps". But strangely, we also actively discourage real success by heaping scorn on failure. The road to success is often one of trial and error, and the "error" part is generally not well-tolerated. People get the message it's too dangerous to fail, that it's safer not to take risks while simultaneously being told they can achieve anything they want. We get a sullen kind of security out of playing it safe, not "getting too big for our britches", and not trying to rise above our station in life. We get to avoid the risks of failure at the cost of secretly feeling like failures.

#9). We get to avoid fear of success
The rarefied realm of the successful is a reverse mirror world which lies on the other side of the looking glass from our everyday reality of broken dreams. A corollary to fear of failure, fear of success rests on the belief that there are others out there who are better than us and who will replace or displace us if we don't maintain our performance record. It's also motivated by hidden beliefs that we are undeserving of the good things and recognition that may come our way as a result of our accomplishments. Social messages telling us to strive for success while urging us play it safe allow us to avoid the possibility of being stabbed in the back and cast aside for someone more truly worthy of the rewards of achievement.

#8). We get to wield power over others
If society really does enslave us, then someone has to crack the whip. Enslavement may be a dirty job, but hey, somebody's gotta do it. Bending others to our will must be one of the purest, most human pleasures in existence. We are predators. We love power. We love control, and we adore killing, especially killing that enables control of our environment. Nothing beats the pure rush of using violence or the threat of violence to make people shut the hell up and just fucking do as they're told. It's the ultimate form of control and all human cultures encourage it, if only psychologically. And the best part is, we all get to play. Hierarchy offers infinite gradations of power wielding to all its members, because there's ALWAYS somebody lower down than you are. God bless America!

#7). We get to feel superior to others
This is another version of wielding power. As I said, there's always somebody below us we can feel superior to. We're always better than someone else. Feeling superior is a psychological win because it  lets us project our own feelings of inadequacy outwards onto others. Superiority also subdues anxiety, builds "self esteem", and can even give our lives meaning and purpose. Superiority is really the backbone of social hierarchy and offers a pre-built weapon against internalized desolation

#6). We get to have someone to blame
The best thing about being a slave is that it releases you from any responsibility for your own plight. It's deeply satisfying to KNOW who's responsible for the pain you have to endure, to be able to indentify a REASON for your suffering besides the apparently random and senseless vicissitudes of existence. "If only they would _________!" has to be one of the oldest phrases in human language, second only to "How much?" and "Where's the bathroom?" Like superiority, blame is a projection of ourselves onto another and can do a superb job of freeing us from having to claim responsibility for our role in creating the mess we're in.

#5). We experience empathy towards people who are like us
Subjugation is a powerful bonding experience. Think of the Israelites in the Egyptian slave camps. Think of black American slaves working the plantations. Now think of modern day wage slaves eking out a meager existence at your local box store. Sharing a common (and hated) master brings us together like nothing else.

#4). We don't have to question the meaning of existence
Nietzsche said that if you gaze into an abyss, the abyss gazes back into you. Coming to terms with "why we're here" is often a profoundly difficult human experience and can feel like staring into a bottomless pit. Social hierarchy takes the lonely struggle for personal meaning and turns it into a group project. The "meanings" of life hierarchies provide of course vary from culture to culture, but they pretty much all say the continuation of hierarchy is meaningful in itself. Our American hierarchy defines the meaning of existence as "get more stuff"! And pepper spray anyone who gets in your way.

#3). We get to avoid fear of the unknown
Now it's time for those three little words we find so hard to say: I...Don't...Know. We fear the unknown because it's beyond our ability to understand and thus beyond our control. It also has a nasty habit of presenting us with information that might force us to change. Change means doing things differently, which by definition is unknown. Like flies in amber, the strata of social hierarchy present us with many "good reasons" to allow our fear of change to harden into solid rock. Plus the hierarchy further mitigates need for change with leaders who are only too happy to solve our problems for us (in exchange for a small fee). They always do a bang up job.

#2). We get to believe the myth of salvation
If society's attenuation of fear of the unknown is good, then its complete relief (a.k.a.salvation) must be truly spectacular. God, that supreme topper most of the topper most of the hierarchy, is the ultimate 1% and is the pyramid's architect that both contains and explains everything, everywhere. Make no mistake, God has a plan for your life and your life is His plan. We are meticulously cataloged bricks and mortar in His blueprint for the universe. Salvation is authority, superiority, blame, and the meaning of life all rolled up into one extremely powerful drug. It's a speedball of hierarchical secondary gain that's injected directly into the psyche.

And The #1 Way We Benefit from Social Enslavement Is: We get to avoid fear of death

If you need an explanation for this one, there's an open park bench on Wall Street with your name on it.

Nov 26, 2011

Is Capitalist Pornography a Product That Dehumanizes Women?


I recently wrote about my own involvement in the pornography industry. And trust me, it IS an industry.

Much like what seems to eventually happen to everything in an uber-capitalist society, modern porn has been commodified for mass consumption via a production line mentality. There's a quality to its creation, distribution, and its consumption that's not very different from a robot punching out machine parts on the assembly line. I don't think this is up for debate. I know, because I've done it myself.

What is up for debate is porn's ultimate effect on society. I realize it's not a new debate. It's been raging on in one form or another for centuries, and it's been happening in America specifically since the 1950s.

However, there does appear to be a new twist on this debate, one that's come only since Internet technology has allowed us to perfect pornography's total industrialization: does porn sold as a capitalist product dehumanize women?

An emphatic "Yes, it does!" has consistently come from anti-porn crusader Gail Dines. Dines, a self-proclaimed "radical feminist activist", is chair and professor of American studies at Boston's Wheelock College. Loved by many and reviled by many more, Dines has been called, "the world's leading anti-pornography campaigner".

She maintains that mainstream pornography, i.e. porn that can be found by simply typing "porn" into Google, is violent, abusive, demeaning, and dehumanizing towards women, including porn products that are produced BY women themselves. It's no surprise that the porn industry doesn't share her opinion of itself.

Below is a clip of Dines debating the inherently dehumanizing nature of porn with adult superstar Ron Jeremy. If the adult industry could be distilled into the body of one person, then Jeremy would be its walking, talking, jerking, squirting incarnation. He's also pretty smart and makes some valid points in this short clip:

There's some truth in what both are saying. Dines' assertion that porn is not "your father's Playboy" anymore is certainly true. What used to be in Playboy 40 years ago is now on the cover of style mags like Vogue and Cosmopolitan. We're past the point of "provocative pictures of a woman naked in a cornfield" (she must love that phrase because she uses it in every interview I've watched).

But I think Dines overreaches by painting ALL pornography as abusive and humiliating. There is a lot of porn that's extremely hardcore and geared towards giving men the powerful rush of sexually demeaning women: calling them names, hitting them, spitting on them, pissing on them, etc.

There's also a lot of porn that's basically just voyeuristic gawking at women's "naughty bits", almost as a form of sexual worship. Something that Dines never clarifies is the difference between objectification and dehumanization.

Is the naked woman spreading in a cornfield being objectified? Absolutely. Like the arousal some men get from shoes, her body is mentally being broken down into its respective parts. Her breasts become all breasts. Her vagina becomes ALL vagina. "Putting the pussy on a pedestal", as they say in "The 40 Year Old Virgin".

That's different from putting your cock in a woman's ass and then immediately shoving it down her throat. The goal of this kind of sexual objectification is to turn women into things not worthy of love, respect, or consideration. Plus it trains men that women enjoy this kind of treatment (most of them don't enjoy it).

Gail Dines has said that "there is no room for porn in a just society". I think she's partly right, but her statement should be amended to "there is no room for dehumanizing, mass-produced porn in a just society". Stating that porn should be abolished is overreach. And if there's anything more capitalist than overreach, I don't know what it is.

Nov 19, 2011

Peak Oil and The Collapse of Civilization

Resource wars increase as civilization collapses
"What are they THINKING?! They're thinking that it's running out. It's running out, and 90% of what's left is in the Middle East. This is a fight to the death, so when you finally wake up, they will have sucked you dry. And you will have squandered the greatest natural resource in history."
- Bryan Woodman, Syriana

If you've never heard the term "peak oil" before, you're not alone. Even though the concept has been around since the 1950s, it's not something that gets bandied about much in mainstream media. I won't go into the details of it here (do you think I'm political or something?), but you can learn more than you ever wanted to know about peak oil here. Basically, it's the point where half of all the world's oil has already been extracted and consumed.

Many people believe we are at, near, or even beyond the point of maximum world oil production. In other words, total oil output is sliding along the downhill side of the bell curve while the demand for oil continues to increase rapidly.

Not that big of a deal though, right? I mean, we still have the other half to burn through before we run out. Right?

Um...don't we?

In his terrifying 2005 book, "The Long Emergency", James Howard Kunstler predicts that industrialized civilization will collapse long before we are able to extract all of the second half still in the ground. This is because the first half (that we've already blown through like a crackhead on his last bender before rehab) was the easiest to reach (i.e., not under an ocean or a frozen wasteland) and required the least amount of energy input to acquire. Also keep in mind that we used most of the first half after WWII.

Much of the second half is more difficult and expensive to extract because oil fields significantly decrease in output once they pass the mid-point of their total volume. Some of the remaining reserves also exist in difficult forms like oil shale, the extraction of which is more like strip mining than the familiar oil derrick.

Some dismiss Kunstler's exploration of peak oil as just more "collapse of civilization" doom-saying, but "The Long Emergency" doesn't read at all like a hysterical crackpot treatment of the end of the world. It's calm, rational, measured, and feels irrefutable. Not to mention deeply unsettling. One reader remarked that Kunstler is "either the craziest sane person or the sanest crazy person I've ever run across".

Crazy or not, Kunstler delivers some profound assertions that feel all too real:

  1. Modern life is based on an unsustainable model of unlimited growth that ultimately cannot continue.
  2. Almost all our technology, from electricity, transportation and food production, is based on unlimited access to cheap oil.
  3. Modern technology can't exist separate from oil, and wouldn't have developed at all without it.
  4. Most "civilized" people, particularly Americans, are oblivious of the three points above.
  5. Our lives are dependent on oil-based technologies that we don't understand.
  6. Technology has led to mass ignorance in the West about meeting life's basic necessities. How many of us could successfully feed ourselves without supermarkets and long haul trucking?
  7. Many of our mass population centers literally could not exist without unlimited energy resource access. Can you imagine Phoenix without running water or air conditioning? Like Phoenix isn't bad enough already.
  8. The "American Dream", considered by many as a birthright, will cease to exist when the oil runs out.
  9. No existing alternative energy source can take oil's place. We will not be able to simply transition our mass consumption lifestyle from oil to a different energy source. We'll be forced to drastically scale back our entire way of life.
  10. Lots of people will die when we finally begin to encounter serious oil shortages. The planet's human carrying capacity is around one billion people without oil. Current human population is nearly seven billion people.
  11. Humanity will not gracefully accept the end of the oil era. We can expect more resource wars, more poverty, and more religious extremism as people battle over dwindling oil resources.
  12. America, that shining beacon of liberty and equality, may very well not survive the end of cheap oil as a cohesive entity.
  13. We are very likely to see a mass resurgence of feudalism.
  14. Americans like to believe we're exceptional. We're not. We've just had exceptional access to the most fabulous natural resource on Earth.
  15. The modern oil era and all its resulting technologies have not fundamentally changed the human animal. Morality, government, racial and sexual equality, and "human rights" are really just tied to natural resources. Read "Guns, Germs, and Steel" if you don't believe me.
Kunstler thinks we have probably passed peak oil but says that knowing for sure can only be done via hindsight. Is he right? Is the beginning of the collapse of modern civilization upon us? I think it is, but I'm sure I can ignore it as long as there's enough gas to fill up the tank of my Suburban. After that, all bets are off.

"The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Nov 17, 2011

Is Pornography a Bad Drug?

Am I bad for doing porn?
I have a confession to make. I've worked in porn. No, I wasn't getting paid to fuck porn stars or have a double anal penetration gangbang with Sasha Grey after reading to schoolchildren. I'm no Peter North or Ron Jeremy.

Instead, I was one of the millions of porn salesmen that flood the Internet with smut. I worked as an affiliate for several major pornography producers. I got paid when someone bought a membership to their content. A cut of the action. A commission.

If the producers of porn are like the heroin processing centers in Afghanistan, then I was the guy who brought it to you on the street corner. You can thank me now if you'd like for helping make pornography the pervasive problem it is today. The only requirements are human greed plus the Internet.

By the way, you're welcome.

You'll notice that I refer to my porn involvement in the past tense. That's because I quit.

Now, you might think that working in porn sounds like the best job in the world. Getting paid to look at tits and ass and people fucking all day long? Awesome! So what's the problem? Well, doing pornography is a WHOLE lot harder than you might think.

You see, peddling women's asses for money isn't as easy as it looks.

For one thing, if you're in it for the money, you're definitely facing some stiff competition (sorry, I had to). Modern Internet pornography is such a recent phenomenon and has changed so quickly over the last 10 years that the market for porn is absolutely saturated. Millions upon millions of adult pictures, movies, games, and software can downloaded for free. Huge online communities trade free porn via message boards, image hosting services, alt binary groups, and also via the bane of Hollywood copyright lawyers, bit torrent software. Porn producers give away enormous quantities of free smut, hoping to entice their customers into shelling out for a monthly membership.

It's a total production-line mentality: tease the horny bastards with an endless stream of titillating content and hope it makes them wonder what you're NOT showing them. Make them feel like they need the stuff they have to pay to see.

Even though getting men to open their wallets for porn is difficult, getting men to unzip their pants and spend the wee hours of the morning frantically surfing your sponsor's porn is INCREDIBLY easy. Women and the men who sell them figured out this basic truth back in the Bronze age: leading men around by their dicks is just about the easiest thing in the world.

And that's why I had to quit. Not because of social mores or fear of what my friends might think. Hell, porn stars are practically celebrities nowadays. And not because I felt guilty about exploiting women. Every image I sold was backed up by documentation proving the performer(s) were of legal age and consenting. It was all 100% above board. I even paid my fucking taxes on the income.

I quit not because I think pornography is bad, or that masturbation is bad, or even that infidelity is bad. I quit because the rush I got out of manipulating (mostly) men was bad. Bad for me that is. It was turning me into a person I didn't like. A person consumed by the lust for power, for control, for the thrill.

I quit because I started acting like a drug addict again. A drug addict without any drugs at all. Except the porn itself.

Most of the guys who read this will know what I'm talking about. Pornography is a highly addictive substance and can progress like a really bad drug addiction. You always want more. And more. And MORE. That's what ultimately does make men open their wallets and pay up. The need for more.

The successful porn affiliates all know this and act accordingly. I knew it too, before I even started selling it. You really are a dealer, and your job is to get your customers so hooked and so strung out that it becomes easy to separate them from their cash. This was the part of pornography that was bad for me.

I've used pornography my whole life, but the bad part started when I crossed the line from merely using it to actually selling it. Have you ever heard that old druggie saying, "Never get high on your own supply"? Well, that saying also applies to selling porn, although it should be modified slightly: "Never get high SELLING your own supply".

Because that's when pornography does become a bad drug. For me. VERY bad!

Is it bad for you too?

Oct 24, 2011

Are You Constantly Seeking Approval from Women?

Keep me happy or else!
“A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.”
- Spanish proverb

One thing that makes life hard is when you live in constant fear of people. In my case, it's fear of women.

OK, I'm actually afraid of almost everybody, male and female. I can only think of one person where I don't experience a physical "shrinking from" reaction in my gut when I'm around them. Everyone else makes me cringe internally, even if it doesn't show on the outside, which it usually doesn't.

The roots of my seeking approval from women
I grew up with a violent, rageaholic mother who I was terrified of and secretly hated. I quickly learned to repress my thoughts, feelings and even the sense of my right to exist. My mother did NOT live by a code of "forgive and forget". She was like an elephant because I don't think that bitch ever forgot one slight, injury or insult in her entire life. Her main weapons were retaliation, humiliation, and if necessary, direct physical violence. That last was usually not necessary with me because since birth I'd gotten her unspoken message regarding the purpose of my existence loud and clear: "You're here to make me happy".

My mother was filled with hate towards her own father who molested her. I think I was the vehicle through which she was going to get revenge on all men. She hated men, and I was going to be the one who would "fix" all the injustices she'd suffered at their hands. I would be "different", because not only could I be trained to be her slave, she would also finally have the freedom to take out her frustrations any time she wanted on a "man" who couldn't fight back.

She also instilled in me a cringing, physical fear of her rage, which could explode without warning at any time. I lived in more or less constant fear of physical attack for years and felt I might be killed. This "freezing in terror" feeling is the most awful, shaming, and debilitating sensation I've ever experienced. And it's also the gift that keeps on giving.

I'm still seeking my Mom's approval from other women
Growing up male with a mother who hates men is not the best way to end up feeling good about yourself. The lingering effects of my mother's toxic influence includes messages like:
  • "Men are wicked. You're a man, therefore you are also wicked."
  • "You are my confidant and sympathizer. You understand me like no one else can."
  • "Your father is evil. You are my real husband, my real partner."
  • "I'll be damned if I'll let your father be a part of your life simply because he ejaculated."
  • "Men are pieces of shit."
  • "I love you. I'm the ONLY one who loves you."
  • "Everything's your fault. You're such a fuck-up."
  • "You'll never be able to live without me."
  • "You'll never amount to much."
  • "You're a deviant. You're disgusting. You're a rapist. ALL men are rapists!"
  • "You're not a real man."
  • "You're my slave. You'll ALWAYS be my slave."
  • "You owe me big time."
  • "You don't appreciate all I've done for you."
  • "I'm so disappointed in you."
  • "Do what you're told or I'll get rid of you."
These messages run deep. Some have changed over the years and some have not. All of them are still in process.

Needless to say, this type of early programming can really fuck up your sexual relationships with women. Getting sexually involved with any woman triggers some or all of the above messages for me. Which ones get triggered the strongest partly depends on her personality.

I tend to be attracted to strong, loud, opinionated, beautiful women who have more than a little touch of skank in them. Most of the women I've been with are or have been "bad girls" and most of them have rage issues.

Even though I'm not a kid anymore and have not really been abused by a woman in 25 years, I still engage in the same approval seeking behavior I used to survive my mom. I still go into this tailspin with women, even ones who are relatively healthy:
  • Everything's my fault.
  • I'm a piece of shit.
  • It's my job to keep her happy.
  • I'd better say I'm sorry.
  • If I make her angry, she might hurt me.
  • If I make her angry, she'll get rid of me.
  • She might be dangerous. She might even kill me if she gets too pissed off.
And the worst part is that the freezing sensation of terror is always beneath the surface. It's part of my daily living experience. I feel it almost all my interactions with other people, no matter how superficial. And it's utterly devastating for me in intimate personal relationships. It feels like be slowly strangled to death. I don't trust anyone and I don't really believe in my heart that anyone is truly safe. I know what human beings are capable of, and there's no way I can ever unknow it.

Do you also live in fear? Are you also constantly seeking approval from women? Moms? Wives? Girlfriends? Children? Your comments are always much appreciated.