Empowerment

There is an image that has popped up on my Facebook newsfeed a lot recently that has me thinking. The image is a drawing of two people, one person is naked and the other person is fully dressed and has their head covered. It also says something along the lines of “Nudity empowers some women and modesty empowers other women”*. While this is rightfully targeted at women because women have traditionally been the ones who are classified a certain way by their appearance and had their clothing options chosen for them by patriarchal societies, I think it applies to all humans.

I’m not sure exactly how to define empowerment, but in this case it seems to be actions we take that give us confidence when dealing with the outside world. It gives us the strength to face the day and challenge anyone who would try to usurp our ownership of our own bodies. Empowerment is the choice we freely make with our own body, mind, and labor.

I don’t think it always comes easily though and empowerment, like many things in life, requires practice and discomfort. You can find the idea of being nude or modest to be empowering but lack the strength to exercise it yourself. Instead, it becomes easy to dress the way you are expected. If the concept of modesty is empowering to you that may be difficult if you feel that society and your social group expects you to show your skin. If the concept of being nude empowers you it may be difficult if you have friends or a culture that shames or imprisons people who show certain portions of their skin.

Thus, it requires practice and work to get to the point where you can freely do what empowers you. You must take babysteps… maybe you dress more modestly or nude at home first, then you take pictures alone, then you dress that way among close friends or send pictures to friends via Snapchat or Tumblr, then you go out in public where that dress is accepted, then places it isn’t accepted, etc etc etc. As you take steps towards your goal through areas that are uncomfortable because of societal norms you will push the boundaries. And, through some hard work, you will get to the point where you are comfortable in situations you never thought you would be.

Not only will you find out if a certain thing actually empowers you (it might not, but that’s okay, at least you tried it out instead of spending your life wondering “what if?”), but you will inspire your friends, family, and strangers. People will become more comfortable wearing clothes or not wearing clothes because of the example you set. They will see the humanity in your actions. Your body and clothing will show others that they can do what you do, they can be empowered, they can have strength when they pursue things outside of the norm.

 

* I don’t think there is one side of this coin that is better than the other. Nudity and modesty are up to the individual. I do think it is universally healthy to be comfortable with your own naked body when you are alone. Our bodies are the most amazing gift we have and we should try and love them. Personal body positivity is important and helps with increased self-confidence in other situations, even if you decide to keep your awesome body out of the public eye.

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Towards Physical Potential

During the last couple of days I’ve been giving a lot of thought towards my post from Saturday. One thing I’ve been thinking about is how I was slightly dishonest in my original post. I talked a lot about wanting to be healthy and seeing what my body’s potential is at this time in life. Those things are true, as someone who thinks science will allow us to conquer death I need to be healthy enough to get to that point, and someday I won’t have an unaltered body and I think it’d be cool to see what she can do before robotics and computers start fusing with my biological shell.

Those two reasons aren’t the full truth, part of it is my desire to be considered more conventionally attractive and sexy. It is superficial, but it is true. I also realize my own discomfort with my body plays a part in that. I think that is partly why I will be taking and sharing nude photos during this experiment, hopefully seeing some photographic changes will encourage me to keep going and continue down my path to accept and love my body. And maybe it will also help someone else. When I share these photos on my blog I will put a content warning at the top and they will be at the very bottom of the post, just in case someone wants to read my updates but do not want to see me naked.

Another thing I’ve been thinking about is how this would work and when I will start. It is tempting to wait until after the bike ride to start. To have a fresh point in which it begins without other things going on in my life. That is really a pipe dream, there will always be a reason to push it off another day, week, month, or year. The time will never be perfect to get things moving. So, I’m leaning towards starting this sooner rather than later, now I just got to figure out how I’m going to go about this experiment.

Measuring inputs and outputs to gather data (because gathering data makes me happy) is gong to be one of the major challenges when I do this from the road. Taking photos and doing measurements at least once a week is easy enough. Weighing myself on a scale is pretty difficult, but weight isn’t a measurement anyway. Internal vitals (blood pressure, cholesterol levels, etc) are nearly impossible to do right now. I hate to start off without a baseline or any system in place to measure these things along the way, but maybe that type of in depth analysis will need to wait. It is also easy enough to get some measurements for how my physical strength has improved by taking an Army APFT every month or two to see how my push-ups, sit-ups, and 2-mile run has improved. I’ll probably throw pull-up in there for good measure.

The inputs are easier to track. It just takes some discipline to record what I do each hour, how much time I spend sitting, biking, meditating, exercising, what foods I eat, how much water I drink, etc. Ideally I’d record it all on my computer as I do it, but that could get cumbersome so I’ll probably use a notepad and enter it later into Cronometer.com and a shared excel document.

My food plan is pretty basic. I’m going to use the information from The Blue Zones solution to plot my meals. I am also limited to being vegan because of my ethics and being on the bike ride means I don’t have access to cooking or refrigeration. I’m basically stuck with produce, bread products, and canned goods. Luckily, that is all fairly healthy as long as I avoid junk food. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth so that won’t be a huge problem. I’m not going to stick to a strict calorie limit, instead I will eat when I’m hungry and try to be aware of portions. Portioning is difficult for me, particularly on the bike ride. I end up being ravenous after biking and devour more food than my body needs. I like the idea of meditative eating where you focus on the act of eating and eat slowly, in my experience I enjoy food more when I do it this way and I don’t mindlessly snack or eat.

Here is a rough idea what my ideal daily schedule will look like, based on how I generally live on the bike ride:

  • 0700 hours: Wake, eat first meal (Bowl of oatmeal, piece of fruit, handful of almonds, coffee), 10 minutes of Sun Salutations, 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation, write blog post, pack up camp
  • 0900 hours: Bike one hour
  • 1000 hours: Hummus wrap with lots of veggies, piece of fruit
  • 1045 hours: Bike one hour
  • 1145 hours: Peanut butter and jelly sandwich, 30 minutes exercise
  • 1245 hours: Bike one hour
  • 1345 hours:  Handful of almonds or energy bar, work for a couple hours, coffee
  • 1600 hours: Hummus wrap with lots of veggies
  • 1615 hours: Bike one hour
  • 1715 hours: Handful of almonds, 30 minutes of exercise
  • 1800 hours: Bike one hour
  • 1900 hours: Half a can of beans, lentils, or soup, hummus wrap with lots of veggies, set up camp, 10 minutes of yoga, push ups, plank

Now, I have the challenge of setting up an excel document to track everything. The big worry here is becoming a slave to the system and feeling like a failure if I miss a day or make a mistake or whatever. We will see how it goes, but I’m excited. I figure even if I only reach 50% of my input goals I will be moving in the right direction and that the project will be a success.

My photos will be shared here: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B-wiz3LAg756THI2dEs5S1BQQW8&usp=sharing

The excel document tracking everything is here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-wiz3LAg756RnBCN1RrRUpERU0/view?usp=sharing

Let’s Pay to Prevent Crime

This recent Washington Post article about paying criminals really got me thinking. You should read the whole article, but what it is basically reporting is that some cities are considering paying criminals not to commit crime. This might seem counter-intuitive, but from a moral and fiscal point of view it makes sense. Violent crime is incredibly expensive for society to deal with and if we can incentivize people not to commit violent crimes then we would be better off.

So, how could this work and how much money could we save?

That’s a difficult question. Researchers at Iowa State came up with some figures and they say each murder costs society about $17 million. This includes things that are fairly easy to measure like cost of the investigation, trial, and imprisonment but this figure also includes costs that are more difficult to measure like a societies willingness to prevent crime, lost wages and productivity, etc.

Lets say we use a much more conservative estimate for the cost to deal with murder, say $5 million and we decide that paying likely violent criminals $1,000 per month in cash to be peaceful is enough incentive to prevent future violence, and let’s add another $500 per month per individual to invest in job training, mentorships, and other programs to provide stability. The latter is especially important to help prevent recidivism.

With these guesstimate numbers (conservative cost of a murder in society and liberal benefits to likely criminals) it would make financial sense to pay 277 likely criminals if it prevented one murder each year. But, the cost savings would actually be much higher because more common violent crimes (assault, burglary, etc) are not factored into the savings. If we use a more liberal cost of murder ($17 million) and a more conservative total benefits for likely violent criminals ($1,000 total investment)  the number of individuals we can support is around 1,400 to prevent one murder.

I think identifying the best individuals to enter this program is part of the difficulty. Individuals with a history of violence are the prime candidates, so maybe those that have already been convicted of violent crimes. This type of system could work in cooperation with early release programs. This would prevent people from trying to join the program who aren’t really threats  or from becoming violent just to get in the program (it seems unlikely that a person is willing to assault someone and spend a couple of years in jail just because they might get into the program).

The real key is to provide individuals with financial stability and opportunities to better their lives through education, entrepreneurship, and community investment. Dumping individuals back on the streets after they commit a crime and expecting them to just straighten up when they can’t find a job, have no marketable skills, are ineligible to get educational benefits, etc is only going to make things worse.

And maybe, with some success in programs like this, we can use income guarantees to help other people who could save society money if they had a financial foundation. Families who have the resources to further their education, seek preventative care instead of using emergency rooms, and who can invest in bulk purchases of food will save tax-dollars in the long run. Though, funding these programs from the beginning will be difficult. We will likely need to take money away from prisons and law enforcement. Measuring the success is also difficult, it is hard to prove that something prevented a crime specifically or saved a certain amount of money without years of data.

Anyway, I think this program (and most Basic Income Guarantees) would pay for itself mostly from the money we save. Oh, and maybe this will also save someone’s life. If you care about programs that help people instead of just what is the most cost efficient.

6-Months Towards Potential

At some point in my life I want to spend some time (6 months? 1 year?) where I try to see what my body is capable of. Our bodies are fascinating machines and I’d love to see the potential it holds for physical strength and fitness. Basically, I want to track all my inputs and outputs, and focus on getting as fit* as possible. My inputs would fall in four basic categories: exercise, healthy food, lifestyle changes, and supplements.

Exercise is pretty self-explanatory. I will have a consistent routine of cardio and weight exercises. This includes, but is not limited to, cycling, weight-lifting, joining sports leagues, yoga, swimming, competitive obstacle courses (like Tough Mudder), and martial arts.

Food is likely even more important than exercise for this. I want to continue my vegan diet, ensure it is balanced with all nutrients and minerals that I need, and move towards a raw diet. I’m going to take as scientific approach as possible and use research to determine the best diet for me. Hopefully I can also learn to cook some awesome food in the process. I can track the progress on sites like “Cronometer.com”. Unfortunately, this means my alcohol consumption will likely need to come down.

Lifestyle Changes are little tweaks to my life that have shown some correlation with health. This includes meditation, intermittent fasting, getting enough sleep (which will require lifestyle changes like turning off the computer an hour before sleep), making sure I get up and move around at least once an hour, reading, and drinking enough water. There are probably more things that I can locate to fall into this category.

I’ll also bring supplements into play, focusing on the ones with proven results. Creatine has been heavily studied and will be the first one I use for muscle growth. I’ll add more supplements as I go and also use some nootropics.

In addition to my inputs, I want to track my results. This includes weight, blood pressure, strength, flexibility, cognitive ability, overall feeling of well-being, performance on a standard test like the Army APFT, etc. Ideally I would be able to see a doctor regularly through the process to track what is happening internally, but I don’t know if that is affordable.

I’m not sure if I could do it while on the bike ride, but I am considering it. I want to track my progress and make it public. I could use my blog and a shared google doc where I record all my daily inputs and outputs (actually, measuring outputs is likely going to happen weekly or biweekly). Ideally, I’d be able to track everything about my day and what I do and consume, even down to my bowel movements, how many hours I sit each day (and during what hours), when I have sex, have a heart rate and sleep monitor track my vitals, etc. It would be neat to see if there are any weird correlations that I could discover.

I also want to take lots of pictures to see the changes in my body. I am considering taking daily nude photos in a half dozen or so poses from different angles to track the changes. If I do this I promise to place a warning on the blog posts with the photos I share so that you don’t accidentally see a flaccid penis (I talk a lot about body positivity and the need to see “normal” people naked, I should probably put my money where my mouth is and share non-sexual nude pics myself instead of just encouraging other people to do it).

Anyway, that’s what is on my mind. I need to come up with a good plan for what my specific goals are, the specific inputs and outputs necessary to attain those goals, and a plan for tracking/sharing my progress. I’m sure in the coming weeks I will solidify my system and start sharing that, even if I decide to put it off until I finish the bike ride (though, doing it during the bike ride could be the best time because much of my activity is taken care of).

I also need to make sure I don’t become a slave to this system and start punishing myself if I slip up or have bad days. These changes are part of a journey and if I have a day where I binge eat 10 pizzas or go a week without doing pushups or decide I am mentally drained and need to reform the whole thing I shouldn’t get mad at myself. This will be an outline towards a goal, not a physical law that can’t be altered. I created it, therefore it is malleable.

* I’m using words like fit, improvement, etc very loosely here. They are based on my subjective goals and are not meant to necessarily be a sign of health. And they sure as fuck aren’t a sign of mine (or anyone else’s) value. I generally want to lose fat, gain muscle, improve physical performance, and set my internal organs up for greater health and success.

The Scientific Method

One of the things that pushed me away from the religion I grew up with was the intrusion into the scientific realms. My religion tried to explain the dinosaurs, genetic diversity, the planets, geology, etc. But, when I encountered the scientific reasoning for the theories and the evidence my religion couldn’t hold up. Faith couldn’t trump evidence for these things. I’m not saying that science has all the answers at this point, and they may not ever have all the answers. There may always be a need for spirituality or religion, but more and more people are going to turn away from churches if they spend their time and energy trying to contradict science.

Anyway, I’ve occasionally heard that my feelings about science are really just “faith” in science instead of faith in god. This is a misunderstanding of what the scientific method is. I don’t read an article about evolution and have faith in the author, it is that I trust that the scientific method is the best way that we’ve come up with to understand the natural world. The scientific method has natural checks and balances that push towards truth. There are plenty of dead-ends and misunderstandings, but the general direction of scientific inquiry is towards truth.

The same can’t be said of religion where new information is not analyzed critically, instead it is suspect. Tradition and a few ancient texts are said to be the final word on truth. New understandings of the world are rejected and considered an enemy to the divine truth. When new scientific discoveries are made this is often portrayed as proof that science doesn’t know what it is doing, or that it can’t be true because things keep changing.

It isn’t the natural world that is really changing, it is our understanding of it. Take, for example, the 1977 issue of Time Magazine that discusses “Global Cooling”. This issue is often shown as “proof” that climate change is some sort of a conspiracy. Why would we call it global cooling one decade, global warming the next, and then climate change after that? Isn’t that proof that there is a secret cabal of communist scientists who want to hijack the world and establish a Marxist utopia all under the guise of saving the planet?

Well, no.

The global cooling, global warming, and climate change labels are an example of the strengths of scientific inquiry. It is science’s ability to change as new information and research becomes available. This isn’t flip-flopping, it is learning.

Now, maybe someday soon, scientific research will see that the climate change we are experiencing is a weird natural cycle that has nothing to do with humans. Or maybe research will show that it is partly to do with humans. I really don’t know, it isn’t my area of expertise (though, I tend to think it is likely that humans are having an impact on our environment). One thing science doesn’t really do is tell us what the best policy positions are to alter our environment or if we should do that even if we have the capability.

Anyway, I love science. I love that our understanding of the world changes with new information. I love that nothing is really off limits for science, at least in an ideal world. Scientists are humans and many of them are resistant to new paradigms that would overturn their life’s work. The Scientific Method is generally able to push past human desires, it eventually evolves new theories and hypothesis to explain the world, even if individual humans resist. Religion can’t do that, and it should really stop trying to push it’s method for discovering truth into the world dominated by science.

It Isn’t Up To Me

My partner and I are occasionally in situations where people are more comfortable with non-monogamy than in average society. Sometimes it is a festival, Burning Man, or a small intimate gathering with like-minded people. Despite these non-traditional locations filled with open people there are still some reflections of our male-centric society.

In particular, people will ask me if they can do something physical with my partner*.

If you want to kiss her, ask her and not me. Her body is not mine, even though we are in a relationship. She is free to do what she wishes with other people, and if she does something that violates our agreed boundaries then that is between her and I. It isn’t between me and someone she may connect with because her commitment to me does not mean she defers to me when she wants to do something. I am, under no circumstances, someone who grants permission to her. She is still an autonomous person.

I guess some people may have the best intentions, but it isn’t their place to prevent her from cheating or betraying me. That is between her and I, though I doubt that would ever happen. We communicate and are open enough about our feelings that neither of us feel like our actions are being restrained by each other. But, if one of us did cheat it would not be an relationship extinction level event. We’d talk through it, figure out if there are some core issues that caused it (or if it was just a one time mistake) and correct our boundaries to make things work.

Each of us has “veto” power because our relationship with each other comes first, but that has never really been exercised. We trust each other. Jealousy comes from the unknown and when you know that your partner will tell you about any crush or kiss then there is no unknown, nothing to be jealous of.

Maybe this problem only manifests itself in this way with polyamorous, open relationships, and monogamish couples, but I think it exists in monogamous couples as well. People ask one partner if another person is allowed to do something. A partnership does not destroy autonomy. Being connected should make us stronger, give us more opportunities, and provide new experiences.

* The one situation where this doesn’t bother me is if I am friends with the person asking. I can understand checking in with me first to make sure our friendship won’t be compromised.

Addiction

I’m not a huge supporter of the 12-step model to help with addiction. I know it helps some people, but it doesn’t seem to address the root of the problems, and I find the need for a “higher power” to be problematic. That being said, a variation of the first step has some value: admitting that there is a problem.

Being on the bike ride has highlighted some of the addictions that I have in my life. When you are outside of a normal, stable life you start to crave some of the addictions. For me, the two primary addictions appear to be the internet and beer. I am not an alcoholic, I don’t get drunk, but I do drink beer regularly enough that I miss it and find it hard to concentrate on work if I am not drinking. I’ve started substituting tea for beer while working and that helps a bit, I think it is more of an oral fixation than anything else.

As for the internet, that addiction is causing me some problems. I find it hard to sleep at night if I don’t watch Netflix first, but opening up a computer to watch a show (and the inevitable rabbit hole that is Facebook) makes it more difficult for me to sleep. It becomes this vicious cycle where I need to watch something mindless like The Office to sleep but using my computer makes sleep difficult. Next thing I know it is 3am and moments of my life have wasted away.

The bike ride helps somewhat, I am usually pretty physically tired by the end of the day. The limited amount of electricity available to me (not to mention limited data on my phone) means that I’m not dicking around online before bed. Instead, when the sun sets I lay down and drift to sleep. I do experience cravings from time to time, like a compulsion to refresh my Facebook browser or surf political sites.

To be honest, I’m not sure what to do to stop this. I think recognizing the problem does help though. Research into drug addiction points to having a purpose in life as a key to breaking the addiction. The actual drug has very little hold on the body and mind, even for heavy drugs like nicotine and heroin. The key is to find a social community and life purpose that replaces the drug. In short, you find an addiction that makes your life better instead of worse.

My need for beer while working and the internet is a pretty weak addiction. I’m not going to lose my job, my partnership, or my life because of them. But, eliminating this addiction and freeing myself from an outside force would make my life better. I just don’t know how exactly to do that yet.