Community

There was a time in my life when I scoffed at the idea of “community” and was proud of my lone-wolf, individualistic life. Years went by where I felt almost no emotional connection with people, and I was fine with that. The reason for this self-imposed solitary confinement is multi-faceted: I felt betrayed by previous religious and social institutions, my heart was broken by someone I was engaged to, I was basically alone on the east coast while everyone I truly loved was thousands of miles away, my introvert nature made being alone easier than going out, I had embraced an individualistic political philosophy with just enough understanding to be dangerous.

In the end, the reason is irrelevant. I spent years shutting myself off from people, including the few people who knew me since childhood, and it is beginning to hurt. I don’t feel like I have a real community. I see friends who have 2-3 couples who are a tight part of their regular lives but I don’t have that.

I failed to take Baz Lurhman’s advice to “work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle”. I didn’t work hard. I thought my friendships were immune from entropy, but they weren’t. Without new energy my friendships decay. As my lifestyle changed and views on the world evolved I didn’t work hard to keep in touch with those people I knew when I was young. I often wonder if it is too late.

Maybe the geography and lifestyle has become too much to overcome. Despite modern technology, thousands of miles do prevent strengthening relationships, particularly relationships that have not been strengthened in decades. The friendship decays like unused muscles, and the pressure that you could once endure easily now cause you to collapse into a heap of weeping regret.

Lifestyle provides its own challenges. It isn’t just political or religious views, those are easy to overcome. When your friends start having kids and you choose not to you will likely be left behind, unless you work hard… before the children are born and for every year afterwards. It isn’t enough to just to talk, action must be taken. Financial differences are just as difficult to overcome. I don’t fear that my friends love me less because I live a simplistic life below the poverty level, but when my whole budget for social activities is $100 for a month it makes it difficult to connect with friends who see no problem dropping twice that in one night. It just makes things difficult.

It has never been easy for me to make friends. I am skeptical of people and a bit stand-offish. My views on the world are, umm, unconventional, and I tend to advertise my strange views regularly. It is particularly difficult for me to make friends with guys for reasons that may be worth going into in another blog post, and making friends with women when you are married and openly “non-monogamous” brings the assumption that I’m only looking to hook-up. Again, I am to blame for most of this, my fascination with sex is well documented and even I have trouble separating my curiosity from my platonic friends.

So, while I see my acquaintances have deep friendships with a non-biological family I feel alone. My friendships have deteriorated and I’m not sure how to fix them. Making new friends is difficult because there aren’t a lot of social groups out there really looking for new members. I feel like I’ll always just be an after-though, someone on the periphery who moved to Wilmington and kind of hangs out with a group of people who are all best friends.

That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try though. I should try to make friends here. I should also try to repair my old relationships. There was a time when I was part of a four-person group that seemed inseparable. College, the military, and all the travel in between has fragmented that group… maybe it can be fixed, if I’m not the only one who wants to fix it. I often daydream about having adult friends that I go on vacations with and visit each other regularly. And, there are other couples that I feel like we connect with in a way that could provide a family for me (despite lifestyle and geography), I need to learn from my mistakes and work hard to keep those relationships growing. “I suck at communicating” can no longer be my mantra if I want community.

I long to feel like I’m part of a peer-family… something ten years ago I would have never said. Hopefully, my 20’s didn’t fuck things up for the rest of me.

Physical Changes

I buzzed my beard down yesterday, and now my face looks odd and small when I look in the mirror. I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. I like my beard, but I also feel like a change of appearance is good when starting a new chapter in my life. It allows for a reset, an ability to discard the parts of who I was that are no longer healthy or necessary for me.

My beard, and to a lesser extent my hair, was a part of my nomadic ride. I had not really shaved it in over two years. It was a symbol of the journey I was on, a mark of my ride into the wilderness. Now, I am a bit more domestic. I’m still the same person, but in some ways, I am not. My responsibilities and expectations are completely different, but they are also exactly the same. My substance is the same, even if the particulars have changed.

This isn’t the first time I’ve changed my appearance based on a new chapter. The most obvious one was when my head was shaved before the military. But I’ve also buzzed my head before each Burning Man, dyed my hair several times, and even gotten tattoos to commemorate the end of one adventure and the beginning of another. There is something valuable to me about changing my appearance, particularly in transitionary periods. It gives me a feeling of control and of completion.

I’m not sure if any other changes are coming soon. I think I like the long hair (though, it gets in my face all the time… which is annoying) and tattoos are a bit out of my price range right now. But who knows? Maybe some inspiration will come mind soon.

More Than Fiction

If time and space are truly infinite and an infinite number of universes exist, that means that every book may actually be a work of non-fiction. Infinite universes mean that every possible random arrangement* of particles and choices we make is not only possible, they actually exist. There is a universe out there that where I married my first fiance or was killed in Afghanistan. There is a universe out there where I am a police officer, scuba instructor, have 20/20 vision, wasn’t circumcised, was elected President of North America on the Communist Party ticket, and enjoy pickles.

But, in most universes, I don’t exist. The number of small variations in the last few billion years that would prevent me from existing is much greater than the possibility that a specific sperm would fertilize a specific egg and that fertilization would result in birth. All it would take is my mother rolling a different way after sex, my great grandparents not meeting, or an ape-like ancestor not getting nourishment a few million years ago and I wouldn’t be here. It is a one in a trillion shot that I exist (though, because of the law of large numbers it is a virtual certainty that someone would exist in my place).

The multiverse seems to also imply that realistic fiction is actually non-fiction. Somewhere Jean Valjean actually stole bread, Raskolnikov killed an old woman, and Carrie Bradshaw is hanging with her besties and Mr. Big in New York. What I wonder, is if there are universes out there that have different physical laws but are stable enough to produce live. Is there a place where Magneto is fighting Wolverine and Cyclops? Is Luke Skywalker trying to train some Jedi? Is Link out there wandering around Hyrule trying to put together the Triforce and defeat Ganon? Is Roland of Gilead chasing the man in black across a desert? Is Big Bird an actual bird that lives on a street called Sesame?

Now, to go down this rabbit hole a little further, what if we had a way of connecting to these universes? Something about our soul or consciousness produced a gateway to these other worlds and what we consider our “imagination” is really just a window to other worlds that we don’t really understand. Our works of fiction are actually other universes that we see with an organ or ability that we don’t yet understand yet.

Or maybe not. Who knows, it is fun to think about, though.

* Though, if everything is completely deterministic and neither free will, chance, or whatever exists, it would seem that either this is the only universe or there are infinite universes exactly like this. I’m not sure which is more terrifying.

Meditation on My Mind

I’m really geeking out about meditation and the effects emotions have on our physical and social well-being. Between just finishing “Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama” and taking a Positive Psychology class on Coursera, my life is being bombarded with research on how the mind and body are connected, and how meditation and our emotional state can affect our health. So, here are some random things on my mind…

  • Being stressed out fucks with your immune system which increases the likelihood that you will get sick, and can even prevent vaccines from being as effective
  • There is the positive feedback loop between practicing meditation and cardiovascular health. When people practice lovingkindess meditation they improve their interactions with others, which improves their cardiac vagal tone, which increases their ability to connect with other people, which improves their cardiac vagal tone… and vice versa. Meditation helps improve relationships, which improves health.
  • Improving the cardiac vagal tone is linked to better regulation of your heart rhythm, glucose, and inflammation, as well as improved attention, emotions, and recognizing social cues
  • The mind is part of the body and requires just as much care as our muscles and bones.

But, how does meditation compare to other practices that encourage love and connection? Can we study how secular meditation benefits the body and social relations, and compare that to highly religious people who don’t practice meditation? Or maybe people who volunteer a lot or play team sports?
If practicing lovingkindness benefits cardiovascular health, do negative emotions damage cardiovascular health? Do we see the same benefits in other types of meditation? What would happen if we started implementing mindfulness and lovingkindness meditation as part of our educational system? Or our workplace? Or covered meditation mentorship with health insurance? Could we see a decrease in health issues and social issues?

I don’t think meditation is a panacea to social and individual problems, but it certainly can’t hurt to encourage people to take a few minutes each day to focus on love and live in the moment.

 

Burden of Proof

Last week Isaac and T.K. had one of the best podcast episodes that I’ve listened to in quite a while. In the final half hour or so they started discussing the burden of proof for our own beliefs, particularly what it would take to convince you to change your mind. I think this is a really valuable exercise. Too often we get bogged down in our own beliefs and become resistant to change, even though we haven’t really articulated what those beliefs are grounded in. Sadly, I think a lot of beliefs aren’t grounded in anything more than “that’s how I was raised” or “that’s how it has always been done”. I’m just as guilty of that as anyone.

We all have a hodge-podge of beliefs and identities that color our perception of the world. Some of these can be  pretty damn important to us, like our thoughts on god and government. Some fundamentally alter the way we live our lives, like our thoughts on veganism or drug use. Others are relatively minor, like which way the toilet paper roll goes or whether throw pillows should exist.

To me, the most troubling ones are those that are based solely on how or where we were raised. If you feel hatred towards someone because they support Alabama football or were born in Europe, that can pose serious problems. If you are a Christian simply because you were raised Christian and never really got to know (and love) people from other religions, then I think that is shortsighted and can be a sign of spiritual weakness. One of the most important things we can do is challenge our own assumptions and come up with a proof that would convince us to change our minds, and then maybe go out there and find someone to challenge us. Steel sharpens steel. Minds sharpen minds. It is intellectually lazy to just say “well I just know” or “nothing could change my mind”.

I don’t think this is just a rhetorical thought experiment. I think it is actually important to write down some beliefs and think about what would make you change your mind. Here are some of my beliefs (all of which have a bundle of assumptions tied into them), and I plan on challenging them in the future.

  • A world where animals don’t die for human pleasure is better than a word where they do die, which is why I’m a vegan.
  • Spiritual belief correlates strongly with birthplace, which means that either there is no supernatural deity or that supernatural deity actually speaks to us through multiple (all?) religions and no belief system has a monopoly on the truth.
  • The use of force against peaceful people is morally wrong, the government is defined by the use of force against unconsenting peaceful people, therefore the government is immoral. This is why I am a philosophical anarchist.
  • More often than not, the government reduces the happiness and prosperity of the people and minimizing government will improve the lives of most people in the short term and all people in the long term. This is why I am an incremental pragmatic anarchist.
  • Happiness primarily comes from experiences, and not from possessions. This is why I am a minimalist.
  • Work is not objectively good and humans will be better off when we don’t need to work in order to meet our basic needs like food, water, and shelter. The arts and sciences will thrive when all humans are able to explore their passions without worrying about survival. This is why I am a supporter of the Basic Income Guarantee and advancing technology to eliminate need scarcity.
  • Technology will eventually advance to the point where humans can live forever. This is why I am a transhumanist.
  • Sex is not solely an emotional or spiritual act and I believe that having multiple, new experiences with a variety of partners can increase happiness and life satisfaction.
  • The use of psychedelics and similar drugs have an overwhelmingly positive impact on society and individuals, and we should support responsible use of them.
  • Sexual orientation is a fluid spectrum that is grounded in biology but there is social pressure to restrict it. If humans lacked social pressure we would likely all be somewhat bisexual, and if we eliminated the taboo around same-sex contact (particularly for men) people would be more comfortable with experimentation and less repressed.
  • Electoral politics is the least effective and laziest way to enact social change, particularly at the federal level. Most people’s time would be better-spent volunteering in their communities, pursuing their passions, and working with local institutions instead of caring or supporting a Presidential candidate.
  • I believe mental health and physical health are related for many people, and eating a healthy, plant-based diet, getting regular exercise, meditating, and seeing a therapist regularly can be a huge benefit to individuals, as well as society.
  • We should be less supportive of people who choose to have children but don’t have the economic or social resources to raise them. Instead of subsidizing childbirth we should be increasing access to contraceptives and sex education. Also, it is more ethical to adopt a child than to have one of your own in the US where there are half a million children who need a stable place to live.
  • If there wasn’t social pressure towards monogamy we would see a lot more “alternative” family arrangements that would provide more options for diverse humans to find happiness and prosperity.

 

Those are just some of my beliefs off the top of my head. They are mostly grounded in a philosophical foundation or pragmatic assumptions, which means they are open to being challenged. I may be wrong about some of my beliefs… hell, I may be wrong about all of my beliefs, but that’s okay. I don’t want unprovable beliefs, I want to keep my mind open to growing and being challenged by my experiences and the experiences of others. Life is too beautifully diverse and long to stay in a bubble being stagnant.

Glutton Days

After two months of pretty hardcore focus on my nutrition, I took a little break for the last week or so. There were a lot of reasons for this. We just moved into our new house and have been trying to get furniture and adjusted, we have a friend staying with us right now which disrupts the routine a little bit, and my fall last weekend gave me a little scare. So, I spent the last 10 days just kind of eating whatever I wanted, not paying attention to calories, and drinking more often. It wasn’t really great for my bank account or my waist line, I gained about five pounds (though, I’m sure a little of that is water weight).

I think I needed a time of feast and celebration to put things back in perspective and get motivated.I am definitely motivated again to eat healthily and exercise. As much fun as it was to eat fatty, salty, sugary, processed food, it actually had a negative effect on my overall well-being. I didn’t sleep as well, I felt really sluggish, and my mood was noticeably more depressed. It was incredibly difficult to get myself to do any of the things that I needed to do or wanted to do, instead, I just wanted to lounge around, eat more, and watch Netflix. I slacked on my Khan Academy, Courseara classes, and my meditation practice. I also found myself spending more money on books and such than I normally did. Basically, I’m really excited to get my habits back to a healthier place, particularly my food consumption.

I think it is important to celebrate accomplishments and enjoy life. That balance is important for me, at least while I am still creating a new habit. Maybe a year or so down the road I won’t need extended periods of gluttony, maybe just a cupcake every Sunday will be enough (or, ideally, I won’t need anything). I don’t know, it will be interesting to see what the future holds as I keep pushing towards a healthier me.

Consent

I’m a big fan of enthusiastic consent in all things, but particularly when it comes to physical contact with someone. If I’m in a situation where I think physical contact might be desired by all parties I like to explicitly say, “I’d like to kiss you, would you like that?” (Or hug, play with breasts, cuddle, or exchange sexy pictures, etc). I’ve heard some people say that such explicit discussion can “kill the mood”… which is a small price to pay to prevent sexually assaulting someone. Besides, rarely has the mood been killed by communication.

One of three things generally happens. First, the person says “Yes, I’d really enjoy kissing you”, in which case we kiss. Two, the person says “Umm, sure, I guess”, in which case I don’t think that is enthusiastic and I don’t try to kiss the person because I don’t want to make them uncomfortable. Three, the person says “No, thank you” and I avoid violating their personal space. Even the worst case scenario is 100x better than sexually assaulting someone. This certainly means that I’ve missed out on kisses, boobs, and bangs because of this. I have been too afraid to ask or misread signals, but that’s okay. I’d rather never touch another person again than touch someone that didn’t want to be touched. Luckily, most of my experiences have been positive and the person I’m interested in enthusiastically consents, and I think they appreciate me asking instead of taking (and, of course, my partner has consented ahead of time… we discuss pretty thoroughly our boundaries with other people before any new situation). Hopefully, our culture will shift to one of explicit consent and more people will feel comfortable asking instead of waiting or taking.

What’s interesting to me is that many of the people who express concern about “explicit consent” tend to be libertarians (I’m speaking in pretty broad generalities based on my personal perception). A group of people who say they value individual autonomy and property rights tends to care more about someone trespassing on land (a violation of property rights) over forced physical contact without consent (which is often just shrugged off as a misunderstanding). Personal touch is significantly more intimate and a greater rights issue than stepping on someone’s grass, but libertarians will often defend someone’s right to kill over trespassing and ignore sexual assaults or touch that wasn’t consented to. If you can demand explicit consent to enter someone’s home you should be comfortable with demanding explicit consent to enter someone’s body.

And I don’t think being drunk is any excuse. If someone is intoxicated we recognize that they can’t consent to sign a contract and they really can’t consent to sexual contact. I recognize the drunk line is difficult to determine… so maybe we should encourage people to err on the side of caution. If you think someone is kind of drunk maybe you should just wait until the next morning to hook up with them, or have a conversation with them about boundaries before Bacchus takes control.

I just don’t understand why there is such an aversion to getting explicit verbal consent before touching another person. Talking should be easier than touching, and if you aren’t ready to say “Would you like to kiss?” then maybe you aren’t ready to actually do the kissing. Consent is sexy, consent is healthy, consent should be explicitly and enthusiastically provided. That is the only way to honor someone’s rights over their own body.