The film “Circle”

**SPOILER ALERT – I am going to discuss the film “Circle”. I don’t plan on discussing major plot points but there might be some spoilers in it. If you hate spoilers then maybe don’t read this, you should watch the movie on Netflix though. If you are like me and actually find spoilers to make the viewing experience even better than feel free to read on (I’m not alone), or if you don’t plan on seeing the film but are curious what the premise said about society keep reading. Really, do whatever the hell you want, I just wanted to give a warning so that people don’t screech at me.

Two nights ago my partner and I watched the movie “Circle” on Netflix. I really enjoyed the film and I highly recommend it, particularly if you enjoyed “Last Man on Earth”. The two have a similar method of getting you to think and analyze the way we live our lives. Anyway, the whole story takes place in a single room. In this room there are about 50 people who have no idea how they got into the room. I thought at first this was going to be some sort of Saw rip-off. That is kind of why I picked the film, I love the Saw movies and the underlying philosophical questions they can raise, but this was a bit different.

In the center of the room is a machine that kills a person if they try to move away from the platform they woke up on or touch someone else. Every few minutes a countdown begins and at the end of the countdown the machine kills a seemingly random person. It turns out that each person has an implant in their hand and can anonymously vote for who will be killed next, the person with the most votes get killed at the end of the countdown.

Basically, all the people in the room must choose to vote for the death of other people in order to survive and as the participants start talking to each other we start to see some insight into how people value other humans. The participants are all a bit stereotypical, which generally wouldn’t make a great film but it works in this situation. You aren’t supposed to really feel attached to complex characters, it is more of a reflection of how we operate in the real world. We always group people together based on preconceived notions and stereotypes. This is a battle between which archetypes our society values the most.

Some of the group members include a Gordon Gecko style Republican businessman, a lesbian woman who is married and has a daughter, a pregnant woman, a Marine in uniform, a Latino male who can’t speak English, an elderly African-American man, an overweight white police officers, a pastor, a 16-year old frumpy nerdy guy, a young Asian male, and a 10-year old girl. Some of the racial and economic stereotypes seem over the top at first (and they would definitely be over the top in a standard film) but it works in this case. I think those stereotypes are necessary in this case, and in some ways are the point of the film.

So, as the characters get a grasp on the situation they are in they start trying to decide who to vote for to buy time. The plan is to kill of people who “deserve it” the most and hopefully they can escape. Do you kill off older people first because they have lived the longest? How about criminals or people who are “bad”? Do parent’s count more than people without kids? Does a 10-year old count more than a pregnant woman? Does the pregnant woman count as less because she is unmarried? Do certain people have an obligation to sacrifice themselves for others because of their gender or job? Does someone who is living a “sinful” life like the lesbian woman count as less? Is a banker worth more than someone who works at a non-profit? Should Americans count as more than non-Americans? How would you vote if your life was on the line? Or would you vote at all? How would you make that decision when others are pressuring? How does the pack affect individuals?

While the situation is sensational I don’t think the ethical questions it raises are that far-fetched. When we support a specific policy, whether it be war, immigration restrictions, or welfare expansion, we are making a statement on the value of one person’s life over another based on very little information about that individual. When we make economic decisions based on whether a product was made in America we are prioritizing the prosperity and life of one group of people over another.

These decisions are inevitable, and in some ways every decision we make in life has at least a small effect on someone else. I don’t think many people give much thought to this, though as an economist I have thought about some sides of this (which is why I support free markets). Humans are not islands and our decisions effect real people who have families and passions and dreams, and too often I think we make decisions with only the stereotypes in mind. We prioritize those like us, we see them as having more value because of some “us vs them” tribalism… they have the same race as me, the same nationality, the same religion, the same politics, the same lifestyle, etc. We dehumanize people just a little bit if they are different than us. It isn’t conscious for most people, but it happens all the time. We go on auto-pilot without analyzing our choices or views, particularly when politics are involved. Maybe, just maybe we should give more thought to our actions and recognize the humanity in us all.

The worst, of course, is when we participate in politics. Each person, usually based on Republican or Democratic, sees the other side as the enemy; stupid and/or evil. We forget that each side is filled with people who are doing their best in this world and haven’t had the same experiences that we have. They haven’t read the same books, had the same types of mentors, seen the same things, but that doesn’t make them the enemy. We are all a team on this planet and maybe if we remembered the humanity instead of reducing each other to stereotypes we would get out of this all alive.

Sonder n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

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The Myth of Sex Addiction

I just finished “The Myth of Sex Addiction” by David J. Ley. The book was pretty good and I recommend it if you have an interest in sexuality or psychology. As you can probably tell from the title Ley does not believe sex addiction is a real thing. Though, like a good scientist, he is skeptical and more of a sex addiction agnostic than atheist. His main complaint is that the people who treat sexual behavior as an addiction have not done anything to prove that is an appropriate label, or that their treatments work.

The definition(s) of sex addiction are numerous and they often include conflicting definitions or definitions so broad and arbitrary that it tells you nothing. For example, seven orgasms a week is considered a sex addiction. Well, that is just a normal week for some men who masturbate daily (particularly during the teen years) and can be one sexual session for some women I’ve been with. Placing an arbitrary number, absent any other factors and without any peer-reviewed data, in order to make money off of the diagnoses is not medicine, it is fraud.

The truth is, there have not been any research done to properly determine if sex can be addictive, much less what that would look like or how to properly treatment. “Sex addiction” is mostly an unholy alliance between people who don’t want to take responsibility for their actions, a “medical” industry that is mostly religious but makes millions of dollars annually, and a modern media that cares more about sensation than journalism. It is sexy and good for ratings to focus on the sexual exploits of the rich and powerful, and the rich and powerful (particularly white) are the ones diagnosed as sex addicts. Sex addiction is a privileged diagnoses for those that can afford it.

Ley’s criticism about the sex addiction industry and lack of scientific rigor was spot-on to me and made a lot of sense. He didn’t try to prove that sex addiction didn’t exist, but that isn’t his responsibility. As he said in the book,

In the realm of scientific investigation, it is the responsibility of the believers to evaluate the validity of their hypothesis. If they cannot then the null hypothesis, that the believers are wrong, is assumed to be true. Despite the challenges I have received in writing this book, it is not my burden to prove that sex addiction doesn’t exist. Instead, the field of sex addiction must proves scientifically that it does exist. And to date, that proof is not forthcoming. Telling men with problems that they have a sex addiction and then having them become evangelists for sex addiction does not constitute proof. It is possible that investigations of hypersexual disorder may demonstrate that there is some kernel of truth here, but even that will not prove that the addictive process at work. Until then, the scientific answer is that sex addiction most likely does not exist if it cannot be scientifically demonstrated.

The problems and harm from “sex addiction”, like cheating on your spouse or spending large amounts of money on pornography or prostitutes, are symptoms of other problems in a person’s life or society. Sex is not like a drug and can’t meet the necessary requirements to be classified as an addictive drug. Ley hypothesis that the real thing that sex addiction therapy is supposed to “cure” is normal male sexuality. Men and women are sexually different on a physiological and psychological level. Evolution has made the genders pursue different priorities when it comes to sex, and for men things like variety are evolutionarily important. By stigmatizing this you force men underground and unable to discuss their feelings and desires, and by making it an illness you take away their personal responsibility.

Sex, like many urges, are strong, but we are not slaves to our urges. By allowing for an open and honest conversation about what men tend to want out of sexual partners and finding a middle ground without religious judgement can allow for greater mental health.

What is a Sex Partner?

I have a list of all my sex partners. It is organized by name (except for the one person whose name I don’t remember) and the month/year of our first time having sex. This isn’t a “notches on the bedpost” type of thing for me, at least not anymore, maybe it once was when I was younger and less confident in myself. Even though I have moved beyond my immature initial reasoning for the list I still keep it as a way to kind of honor my partners. They were important to me, even though it was just for a night. Sometimes the sex was good, sometimes it was mediocre, but they were all moments of connection with another human being in an intimate way.

Since my first real sexual encounter with a male I have been trying to re-evaluate how I define “sex partner”. Up until now it was easy (though may not have been truly accurate) because it was just penis-in-vagina penetration. That definition is lacking though, and not really reflective of the intimacy that I’ve had with partner’s in the past. As someone who lost their virginity (another kind of stupid concept) fairly late at the age of 23, I feel like it does a disservice to some of my early partners who were necessary in my emotional development. Just because there was not vaginal penetration it does not mean that they were not someone I was intimate with, or even loved at times.

Further, how do I count interactions with males in the past, and any that may happen in the future? I can’t really see anal penetration as a reasonable measure, but if I count oral for one gender do I count it for another? What about encounters that involve sexual stimulation but don’t feel sexual? Encounters that are intimate or fun, but not sexual? Does the presence of a labia or nipple or penis or anus necessarily equate sex? Is it just the presence or is some sort of stimulation necessary? What type of simulation?

So, when I think about it, I’m not sure how many sex partners I have had. I think my original list isn’t an adequate reflection of how I view sex now. The list is too conservative in some ways because it too narrowly defines sex in most cases by limiting it to a penetrative act, regardless of the intimacy involved. The list is also too liberal in some ways because it includes people who I may have penetrated but didn’t really “have sex” with. My current list reduces humans to an act, it removes the humanity and connection from the experience.

I’m not sure how many sexual partners I have had, but I think it is worth trying to figure out. I need a new list, not to replace the old one, but to chart how my views on sexuality and intimacy have evolved over the last decade. Maybe I’ll need to do it again in 2025 to add or remove a few more people. My views continue to evolve as I evaluate all my premises. These evaluations almost always make the world seem less black-and-white, which is frustrating at times but in the end the world becomes more nuanced and beautiful.

War On Christmas

For those of you that missed it, Starbucks is the latest front in “The War on Christmas/Christians!“. This is a little crazy to me, refusing to provide special treatment to one group of people does not constitute discrimination or hatred. I think most Christians (and other reasonable people) realize this is a bunch of bullshit as well. This controversy is mostly just a result of the age we live in, where every person is able to spout craziness and some media outlets will pick up on it. We live in a day where money flows to websites that get the most views, and that encourages people to say outlandish things, whether they believe those things or not, and it encourages media outlets to share those things and fire up both sides of the debate. Basically, there is money to be made in keeping people angry and divided.

I don’t think there is really a “War*” on Christmas or Christians, though our culture is undergoing a shift. For much of American history Christians have held disproportionate power in politics and culture. That is starting to change. It isn’t some sort of explicit war, it is just a reflection of America truly becoming a place where all people are treated equally. Equality means that no group gets special treatment, and right now Christians have serious special treatment in the US. For example, they are the only religion that has a national holiday in US, though it is highly secularized. I can’t imagine Christians would be comfortable with equal treatment be given to Pagan, Hindu, Jewish, or Muslim holidays… especially Muslim holidays.

Christians are also disproportionately represented in the Federal government. It is hard to pegged down accurate religious beliefs about the early Presidents, and many of them may have been atheist or deists, but publicly every single US President has been Christian. And, without a doubt, every recent President has been very publicly Christian (yes, even Barack Obama). The same disproportionate representation exists in Congress. 70.6% of the US identifies as some form of Christian (as of 2014) but over 93% of the House of Representatives and nearly 90% of the US Senate.

What we are seeing today, with a move towards secularism and the loss of power many Christians are use to, is not a “war” on Christians or Christmas. It is a our cultural and political representation starting to shift towards a true representation of the United States. It is a growing minority who is tired of being forced to live in a country where their religions beliefs are not represented. Business, including Starbucks, are seeing the value of being inclusive of all people, instead of just betting on the “bigot money” (as Dan Savage calls it). If you are only willing to support businesses and people who put your religion above everyone else then you are going to find yourself in a shrinking company, and a pretty ungodly company, despite what people in that group might say.

* Side note: As a veteran I get really annoyed with how easily the word “War” gets thrown around. Are Christians being shot in the street because of their belief? Are their children being taken away from them? Does the government arrest people for displaying their iconography? That is what a war is, war is the violent destruction of an enemy. Calling anything happening in the US right now a “war” on Christians or Christmas does a disservice to veterans who have fought and to religious people around the world (including Christians) who are facing real persecution. If you are whining about a red cup from Starbucks but don’t care about people being killed for their faith then your priorities are pretty fucked up, and really un-Christlike.

Motivation

I’ve never been good at self-motivation. I seem to need an outside influence in order to do the things that I know are healthy or for my own benefit. If left to my own devices I would probably do little more than order Papa Johns, nap, watch Netflix, and masturbate. I can completely relate to Snowman from “Oryx and Crake”, even if living in some post-Apocalyptic hellhole I would have trouble getting up each day. I just kind of suck at it. (Sidenote: If you haven’t read “Oryx and Crake” you should close your browser and go do that, there is nothing on the internet better than that novel, Margaret Atwood is a legend).

Lucky for me, I don’t live in a vacuum. I am not on a deserted island or an apocalyptic wasteland. I live in a world with others and I have scarcity that forces me to get up each day and invest in my body and mind. Though, motivation for working out is one of the most difficult things for me. Each day is a new struggle to eat right and exercise. I think that is part of the reason I adopted a lifestyle that literally requires 30-40 miles of cycling each day. If it is not part of my daily life needs then I make excuses, or I just let my laziness take control.

Now that I’m settled in one place for a couple months I need to practice some control and motivate myself. I know me and I need to look to outside influences a lot of the time for motivation, and one influence is not enough. So, I have a list of them that fill various roles, some positive and some negative. Because, let’s be honest, doing P90X sucks and the host on the videos isn’t a true motivation.

One thing that really gets me moving is when I think about being naked in front of others. A benefit of my life with my partner is that we end up naked with other people more regularly than most. Nude beaches, Burning Man, and other friends who we roll around naked with help keep me motivated. I know my friends will accept me even if I put on a pound or ten, but I want to be more comfortable in my body around others. To quote Lester Burnham “I want to look good naked”. It is a confidence thing and having specific events on the horizon helps motivate me. I’ve never done a triathalon or marathon or Tough Mudder or anything like that, but I think it would be pretty motivating for me if I signed up.

As an optimistic transhumanist I also believe we will cure death in my lifetime, but I think the timeline will be close. To motivate myself I sometimes focus on that. I think that if I exercise now and deal with some discomfort then I am investing in eternity. The payoff is well worth it.

I also respond well to seeing change in my body. This can be as simple as weighing myself regularly and doing body measurements, but it can also be more aesthetic. When I see a new muscle start to form or notice some abdominal muscle that I’d never noticed before or see a vein popping out of my arm it is incredibly motivating. Seeing my hard work pay off encourages me to work even harder.

I can also be motivated by seeing what I don’t want to be. This is kind of a negative thing and may make me sound like an asshole, but it is true for me. When I see someone obese or unable to function because they are incredibly unhealthy it motivates me to take care of my own body. I don’t want to be in my 40’s and need to use the electric chairs at the grocery store. I know that an accident can be the cause of that, but the better I take care of my body now the more likely I will be able to heal if there is an accident. Sometimes seeing what I don’t want to be is just as motivating as what I want to be.

Anyway, that is what motivates me. Every day when I logically know I shouldn’t drink another beer or know I should carve out time for a work out I try to run through the reasons why until a specific one stands out. Right now my upcoming visits to LA and Portland stand out in my mind, and the need to stay in shape for the bike ride continuation in January. In truth, there is always a good reason to make a healthy decision. The pleasure from food and laziness is weak and fleeting, maybe it is necessary some of the time for sanity but usually it is better to invest in my body and mind so that I can experience greater pleasures. No amount of cupcakes are worth the satisfaction of being healthy enough to hike the Appalachian Trail, feel confident at a nude beach, or living forever.

Climb the Mountain

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” – Jack Kerouac

There are certain quotes that just stick with me and serve as a type of motivation. The above by Kerouac is one of those quotes. It is such a succinct reminder that our lives are finite and the moments that matter, that make us unique (as individuals and a species), are the ones where we are pursuing our own passions. I don’t really have a desire to climb a mountain, but there are things I want to do that can get lost in the daily shuffle.

I am not the only one. Many people want to write books, explore the oceans, travel the world, or build a business. It is this passion that manifests itself uniquely in each individual that has helped our species explore the world and wonder about the universe. It is easy to forget what we love and to lose our child-like curiosity about what we can become. It is easy to embrace the status quo and ask ourselves “why rock the boat?” This is the wrong way to look at things, we should ask ourselves “why not?”

Flipping the burden of proof is what we should do regularly in our lives, and is the premise for a new book that I am proud to be a part of. When I decided to flip the burden of proof I discovered that staying in the job and city I was in was holding me back. I asked myself “Why not quit my job?”. Of course, there were reasons not to quit my job but upon analysis it was clear they were not strong reasons. Every excuse I came up with could be overcome in a way that brought me more freedom, more peace, more happiness, and more goddamn mountains to climb.

I was not the only one. A dozen authors, from all walks of life, collaborated to put together a book about flipping the burden of proof. If the idea of expanding your life, trying new things, and exploring your potential is appealing you can find out more on our Kickstarter page . If you support us getting this product in print you will receive a copy of the book as well. I hope you will consider it, there is a wide world out there and sometimes we just need a little motivation and a few examples to take that first step into exploring it.

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Why I Love My Minimalist Life

I’m a big fan of owning less, but my reasoning is pretty selfish. It is true I think that we waste too much in the US and I think the “throw away” culture is a kind of spiritual bankruptcy, but my pursuit of minimalism isn’t influenced heavily by these issues. I like being minimalist because it allows me to do more with my life.

The clothing I own is a great example. I never spend mental energy deciding what to wear and the financial costs to maintain my wardrobe are incredibly low. This frees up energy daily to create, work, love, and have fun. Keeping my clothing costs low allows me to work less and spend more money on beer and experiences. So, here is the entirety of my wardrobe:

  • 10 plain t-shirts (mostly black but a few colored)
  • 10 pairs of white socks
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 pair of tennis shoes
  • 1 tie-dye hoodie
  • 1 pairs of shorts
  • 1 waterproof jacket

I also own the following functional life-style clothes because I am biking most days:

  • 5 pairs of athletic socks
  • 2 pairs of bike shorts
  • 1 pair of bike shoes

That’s all I own, I can fit all my clothes into one bike pannier or one regular sized drawer. When I get dressed in the morning I don’t think about what I’m going to wear, I just grab a t-shirt and put on my jeans. I know that my chosen job and lifestyle allows for more flexibility than most, but even when I worked in a suit-and-tie office in Washington DC I could have been more minimal. In fact, it seems lots of successful people are limiting their clothing options. In fact, I’d love to not own clothing but the weather usually requires something and, sadly, society still hates seeing the human body in the US.

Beyond clothing, I don’t own much. I have a laptop computer and a couple of books that I get rid of as I finish. Books are probably the area I could improve the most on, I need to only purchase one book at a time (preferably a digital book) and finish it before moving on to the next book. I have a bad habit of buying a lot of books and then can’t decide what to read next when I finish one.

Now, if I were to live in an apartment or house I may need to own more, but hopefully not much. When my partner and I lived in Missoula we only owned cookware and dishes, home brewing equipment, a dining room table and chairs that we borrowed from a friend, an inflatable futon that we bought cheap, and a mattress that we got for free. Other than usable items like cleaning supplies that is all we had. There just wasn’t a need for anything else. We didn’t use mental energy or financial resources on maintaining a living space beyond our needs. Simplicity works for me because it allows me to live the life I want.