Suck it up, Buttercup

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Who loves the idea of self-control? This instantly conjures images of narrow-nosed thin people sanctimoniously forgoing dessert or wide-nosed big-bosomed matrons shaking a finger your direction. On the other hand, the conscious control of impulses signifies maturity, and is the foundation of civilization.

Self-control exists in other species. It is a wonderful and slightly-disturbing thing to watch a well-trained dog sit quivering, waiting for the command that allows it to eat the treat. I relate so deeply to the agony in those ebony eyes, and when faced with certain temptations, do not often do as well as the dog. Think caramels in dark chocolate.

Food is one thing. Sex is another. When it comes to sex, contrary to what Hollywood might portray, humans have generally agreed that sexual interaction involving two or more people should be consensual. The myth that a weaker sexual partner finds it pleasurable to be overcome and “taken” has little basis in reality. However, we must admit that we’ve built a powerful storyline about the sexiness of pursuing, or being pursued. I grew up in a hunting culture. A successful pursuit meant killing the pursued and eating it. This is definitely not sexy.

But how many Disney movies insinuate the reward for the smart pursuer is the breathless acquiescence of the pursued? And how many ways do we tell physically-weaker potential sexual partners to be coy and play hard-to-get, yet to also present themselves in ways that are alluring as possible? This whole notion of conquest as an acceptable sexual practice has got to go. Men and women who know what they want, politely inquire about the possibilities, and then respect the answer must be elevated to heroic status, not decried as easy or weak.

It isn’t necessary to ditch the thrill of the chase, or the fun of seduction. But it is necessary to define some limits and redefine success. Just because you are rich and powerful, and can use that to attract all sorts of admirers, you cannot cross the line and force yourself on anyone who doesn’t explicitly indicate he/she welcomes your advances. This is uncivilized, uncouth, shameful, and often, illegal.

Which brings to mind this whole notion of “exposing” oneself. I had a friend who was a carhop (I realize this is a prehistoric occupation). She delivered a Coke and a hotdog to a guy who’d unzipped his pants and had his penis out, all big and pink. She backed away, shaken, but told only me. In retrospect, I so wish we’d had the wherewithal to gather a few carhops and a manager to peer in the open window, evaluate his “manhood” and give him a score. Comments like “not pretty” or “sort of small” may have curbed this behavior. Informing the community might have done so as well.

I doubt the impulse to show one’s stuff is limited to those with penises, large or small. Apparently, it’s erotic to be seen naked, or nearly naked. Maybe the fantasy is that showing one’s stuff will cause instant desire in the viewer. I don’t know. I’m a psychologist, but I’m not a Kinsey. My point is that there are vast differences in levels in aggression, inappropriateness, and ways to inquire about sexual interest. The hanging-out of one’s usually-covered parts is just a sad bid for cheap thrills.

We must teach ourselves and our children to be less squeamish, more honest, less selfish, more tolerant, less judgmental, and more centered. We need to tell ourselves and our children, “Hey, if someone shows you their privates, or tries to grope or kiss you, glare at them, back away, say no, tell someone, and if possible, throw up on them.” And of course, we have to continue to work on making these responses safe.

We’ve got to promote, honor, (and insist upon) self-control, civility, and assertiveness. In the grand scheme of what it means to be human, all adults must be free to define their sexual preferences, and seek partners and fulfillment within their values, using their own internal barometers. But that freedom stops—and I mean FULL STOP—if it ever encroaches on or overrides the preferences of the other partner(s). So, how’s a person to know if he/she has encroached? Dr. Bossypants has a few guidelines.

  • No one whose consciousness is impaired can give an honest, thoughtful “yes” to any sexual activity. An impaired “yes” is not to be trusted.
  • Though it varies state to state, generally no one under the age of 16 is thought to be able to give legal consent. I know a lot of 15-year-olds who would disagree. Be that as it may, the fallback is the law. If your desired partner is 16 or younger, and you are four years older, this is not going to fly legally. Don’t mess with it.
  • No one is giving unfettered consent when in fact, if they say no, they lose a job, status, or other opportunities the asker may hold. Power differentials are sticky wickets and need extra caution, even if the less-powerful one says yes. For instance, we would have far less concern if Trump made a pass at Angela Merkel than if he copped a feel from an 18-year-old admirer.
  • A sexy, reluctant, alluring “No” is still a “No.” Back away. It isn’t worth it to test the hypothesis that the potential partner is using “no” seductively. (BTW, potential partners, let’s give this Disney-driven conquest notion a rest, okay? Learn to say what you want, for real. It’s okay to change your mind, but you have to make that verbally clear.)

For many, sex is better than chocolate. Harder to resist. More rewarding. In fact, few things even approach the gratification of an orgasm. But bottom line is this: We will be a far better, safer, happier, healthier civilization when every sexual act is fully consensual and enjoyed by all involved. And here’s a bonus: By observing the Bossypants guidelines, you may get to stay in office, or keep your job. Look, if a dog can develop the internal maturity to forgo a tasty treat, so can you.

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Sexual Misconduct: Not inevitable. Not adaptive. Not nice

From Facebook Ad

(picture from an “innocent” Facebook ad that popped up to make me feel terrible about my lips, cheeks, waistline, legs, and “rack” this morning…felt so bad I had to write something.)

The craggy, wizened trees are falling in the forest at alarming rates, chopped down by accusations of sexual improprieties—everything from running around in their presumably saggy old white underwear to texting themselves in poses that cause a gag reflex in most of us. Apparently, a lot of behinds, ample or otherwise, have been grabbed. Pussy snatched. Breasts ogled or stroked. Various openings penetrated by fingers and peckers in unwanted thrusts. Sexual commentary coyly blabbered, meant to arouse—but instead causing fear, pity, and disgust.

These acts have involved underage, unaware, unwilling, and (dare I say it?) sometimes, unwise human beings. Yes, there are power differentials, jobs (or even lives) to lose, and other legitimate reasons to endure the sexual nausea caused by revolting, arrogant beings who think they’re sexy. But show me your paunchy belly and private parts once–shame on you. Show me them again…it isn’t a game. At least for now, it’s illegal. Ah, methinks it may be time for a reality check and a sea change in our understanding and tolerance. Where do these beings get these awful ideas and what can we do about their damaging effects?

Oh modern better version of Kinsey, wherefore art thou? Masters and Johnson, come back. Update your research methods.

In the meantime, Dr. Bossypants has a few ideas. First, the advertising industry has endless images that suggest that sex is all anyone wants, day or night, in whatever form possible. Usually, the message is that all females, regardless of age or sexual orientation, want to be ravaged, and men, to be real (hetero) men, should step up and do some ravaging (while beating up a few bad guys, or even shooting them to death in the process). I don’t know how many editions of Killing Us Softly Jean Kilborne will need to make before we knock it off.

From Jean’s website: “Advertising is an over $200 billion a year industry. We are each exposed to over 3000 ads a day. Yet, remarkably, most of us believe we are not influenced by advertising. Ads sell a great deal more than products. They sell values, images, and concepts of success and worth, love and sexuality, popularity and normalcy. They tell us who we are and who we should be. Sometimes they sell addictions.”

And may I add, sometimes the media glorifies violence. Oh yes it does. Hey, you deniers and wistful hopers, MEDIA SHAPES OUR IDEAS AND CHANGES OUR BEHAVIORS.

Yes, dear evolutionary psychologist, we are evolved beings, linked to basic biological urges by the fact that we’re alive. And advertising and other media work partly because they tie into these basic needs for food, sex, and companionship. But, as I’ve crudely pointed out in other posts, if we were directly tied to these biological urges, we’d just eliminate our bodily wastes indiscriminately. Instead, we’ve socialized ourselves to a much more pleasant and sanitary set of practices.

Not only are we evolved, we’re creative. We now participate in our own evolution. We make stuff up. We invent things to make life easier, more entertaining, less painful. For instance, we’ve developed pain killers that kill pain (perhaps an adaptive invention), but of course, we often end up addicted to this mellow state (definitely not adaptive).

So, back to survival as a species: sex between consenting adults is an excellent idea for companionship and sometimes, deliberate, thoughtful reproduction. This is adaptive. Pedophilia is not. Constant scanning for a way to cop a feel is not. Degrading and objectifying potential sexual partners is not. Using others to buoy up flaccid self-esteem is not. Violence and sexual manipulation are not. Forcing yourself on someone is pathetic and shameful, not adaptive. This is definitely not the kind of sperm we want floating around. It will not improve the species.

Here’s what Dr. Bossypants says: Excusers, shut up. Accusers, examine the factors. Predators, get help, get surgery, stay home. Stop running for office or locating yourselves in places where your addictions and predilections are unwelcome and hurtful. Power should not give you sexual access to anyone, ever. Survivors, heads up. Speak up. Things are not safe yet. Society, get honest. We are sexual beings. We have work to do to make this a good and healthy thing. For all of us.

How? I’m open to further suggestions. Boycott advertising that ruins self-esteem and sexualizes everything. Embrace a broader and more adventurous definition of beauty and sex appeal. Make fun of violent movies. Push back hard on men or women who violate basic respect and trust. Stop dressing our little people up like sexually-available props.

And here’s my sentimental and personal favorite: Let’s value, love, and teach our children well.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkaKwXddT_I

Common Sense

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Common Sense: A Shapely Poem by Bossypants

This little planet is all we have. We should take care of it.

Every day, you have a chance to choose gratitude and kindness.

Violence is a byproduct of anger, laziness, and lack of imagination.

This one little life is all you’ve got, buddy. You are mortal. You will die.

We need to pay taxes and give generously. There’s no need to be greedy pigs.

We are here, individually, for a very short time. There’s not much point in hoarding.

Everyone needs food, shelter, companionship, meaningful work, and time for recreation.

We should not allow people to get rich by destroying the planet or making others sick.

We should not worship rich people. In fact, we should not worship people at all.

We do not need the rich to get richer. It does not make them better people.

We should not shame poor people. In fact, shame is quite destructive.

We should curb our appetite for energy, and support renewables.

We should eat fewer bananas if we live in cold climates.

It is okay to be confused. It is not okay to be cruel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fake News: Cancer

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Fake news is a primary food source for societal cancer. Cancer is not like an injury or a nasty bacterial invasion. Cancer cells are our own cells, gone rogue. As the saying goes, “We have met the enemy, and it is us.”

Cancer cells engage in two eerily familiar and maladaptive behaviors:

1) They replicate themselves over and over, failing to diversify.

2) They’re “immortal.”  They don’t a natural lifecycle and die when they should.

This is quite reminiscent of humankind—not at its finest, but at its most common, fearful, lazy, and arrogant. First, let’s consider diversity. Failure to appreciate and welcome diversity is deadly. If we could interview cancer cells and ask why they clone themselves rather than allowing the natural variations of creation to define the body, their noses would elevate and they would assure us they are superior.

When diversity is obviously nature’s way to a healthy, robust planet, why are humans so resistant?

Some argue it’s in our genes to prefer and protect those we’re related to, or those who look (and think) like us. Maybe, but ultimately, at the global level, this is not adaptive. Too much inbreeding isn’t good. Nonetheless, humans tend to divide into groups of us and them. The inner circle, the outer darkness, the ones who get it and the ones who don’t. The familiar and the foreign. The Self and the Other. It’s a pain to tolerate difference, and it’s comforting to have someone or something to blame for almost everything. Fake news helps us latch onto “the other” and have someone to hate.

And why are humans hateful, greedy, and aggressive? For most of us, way down deep, it is fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of being cheated, fear of humiliation, fear of being alone. Many things in life frighten us, but ultimately, most fears can be traced to fear of death, the final unknown. Humans are notoriously unwilling to welcome aging and death thoughtfully and graciously.

Here’s where cancer’s other maladaptive attribute comes into play. Cancer cells don’t die a natural death. Of course, things come to an end when they’ve killed their host.

How is this related to Fake News? Denial of our ultimate fate (the decline and death of our bodies) makes us nervous and gullible. We want to distract ourselves, find a phony savior, and project our difficult emotions out on trumped up “enemies.” When we are busy fervently hating someone, we don’t have time to face or deal with life’s ultimate truths. Fake News is hateful, cathartic, simplistic, and seductive. The same hateful falsehoods stay alive indefinitely because we won’t examine them and let them go.

Humans would be far less susceptible to the cancer of fake news if we welcomed diversity and recognized that our hatred and greed is driven by fear. We’d be less willing to lie, or be lied to, if we nurtured our natural curiosity and life-affirming compassion instead of hunkering down over whatever possessions or hollow self-worth we’ve managed to hoard in this short but wonderful life.

Here’s Dr. Bossypants’s gentle advice.  Let go, you tight-fisted, gullible, lying scaredy-cats. Love a stranger. Hell, love an enemy. Go for broke. Be fantastically mortal… Or stay hateful, small, and frightened. Your choice.

Fake News: Moral Incontinence

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As a psychologist interested in ethics, Dr. Bossypants spends many hours contemplating the human condition. Lately, she’s been fascinated with the facile ascent of fake news and the apparent gullibility and complicity of humans in this phenomenon. Here is the first of perhaps many speculations.

From time immemorial, humans have needed each other to survive. Even rugged individualists and extreme preppers benefit from the collective creativity of the human species. And generally, we don’t want to hang out with just any old Jane Doe or Joe Blow. We seek people who more or less value and agree with us. Usually, outliers start suspecting there’s something wrong with them, and soon enough, there will be. Completely isolated people suffer, and most break down over time.

Within the context of community, humans have a lot of other needs. For example, there are needs for power and control, prestige, order, safety, excitement, love, nourishment, offspring, humor, and attention. There are needs to contribute positively to society, and needs to protect yourself and those you love. This is not an exhaustive list. Some argue that these needs can all be traced back to the urge nature imbedded in us to propagate our genes. Maybe. But like many of our basic animal urges, we must refine, redirect, balance, and sometimes overcome these urges with consciousness, compassion, courage, reason, and love. Nature has no problem with animals dropping their pants and pooping wherever and whenever this natural and necessary need strikes, but I’m a big fan of outhouses and collective expressions of self-control in this domain. The taming of fire as an evolutionary step forward is rivaled in importance by the invention of the diaper. Indoor plumbing came much later, but again, an impressive leap for humankind.

Fake news is tempting for many reasons. As we’ve noted, humans like to feel like they belong. They hang with their homies, even in the face of evidence that their homies might be bad dudes. And humans greatly enjoy being right. Most parents have noticed that the shorter, less mature among us will argue well past the point of absurdity to hold on to a false belief that benefits them. For instance, the possibility of global warming is quite inconvenient. Therefore, the easy route is to simply deny it.

Fake news is generated for financial and political reasons. Fake news is certainly not our best attempt to explain the world or keep ourselves informed. Mature, moral humans can distinguish between fact and propaganda, between rumors and explanations. We have the means and the abilities, but we often lack the will.

So here’s one possible conclusion Dr. Bossypants endorses: Fake news is successful because of moral incontinence. Yes–giving into the temptation to cut corners and indulge in what Freud might have called leakage of the Id.

Aristotle believed humans were prone to moral incontinence when it came to money or self-aggrandizing. And of course, anger. Think about it: When you let yourself get crazy angry, you might say or do things you aren’t proud of later. Similarly, when we let ourselves want to be right at all costs, we gobble up bot-driven absurdities to bolster our beliefs. Sadly, the more frequently and loudly lies are repeated, the more likely they are to be believed. It’s Groupthink on steroids. Generating, promoting, and sharing highly suspicious “facts” in order to reassure our inward little self, be popular, or sell ads is the equivalent of taking a moral dump in a crowded room.

Diaper-up, people. These compelling human needs (to belong, be right, be rich, etc.) set us up for trouble when paired with immaturity and laziness. Sure, it’s thrilling to contribute to massive conspiracy theories. It’s easier to believe than check the facts. It’s also easier to fear, cheer, and jeer than reason, research, and admit being wrong. But easier isn’t better. In fact, sometimes it’s a public health hazard, and pretty much always, it stinks. Of course, there will be people willing to tell you it doesn’t, but trust me on this one folks, it reeks.

 

Ego and other possibilities

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The term “ego” is an ancient one, with Latin roots. It simply means “I” or “Self.” Its first known use in English was in the late 1700s. Psychologists love to argue about whether there actually is an “I” in the sense of predictable personality traits, or whether at any given time, our behaviors and moods are the result of ingesting food, drugs, and alcohol, exercise, responding to the expectations of others, the amount of sunlight in a given day, how much love we’ve soaked in, the amount of sleep we’ve managed to get, and maybe the cosmic forces at work on us.

Of course, a related meaning of ego has to do with our personal valuation of this “I” that may or may not define us. Sometimes, we are more certain of ourselves, our internal integrity, our worth, and our motivations than other times. And of course, for reasons still being debated, some of us vastly, vastly, vastly over-estimate our worth to the world and believe we are entitled to unlimited resources and praise. Why are some people far too humble and others sickeningly prideful?

Though Dr. Bossypants is not Buddhist, she believes Buddhists possess significant wisdom. As she understands it, the Buddhists believe that this “ego” or sense of separate individuality gets in our way of recognizing how artificial the boundaries between apparent “individuals” are. If we had less attachment to ego, we could more clearly see the unity, the connection, the oneness of all the pieces and parts of ourselves and our fellow beings, our earth, our galaxy, and even the time-space continuum.

It is indeed jarring to consider ourselves as one with all living beings, because this would include our current leadership, those aspiring to leadership, our alcoholic uncle, and even terrorists who blow themselves and others to smithereens. Most of us consider it creepy or stupid to seek even a tiny corner of common ground with these fellow human beings who act so abhorrently.

At this juncture, Dr. Bossypants must confess she is about to make claims that can’t be fully substantiated. But as far as it can be studied, it does not appear that the infliction of pain, hatred, deprivation, or even death is effective in changing human behavior for the better. Oh yes, we can change human behavior with such actions, but the change is, at best, temporary compliance, with enhanced motivation for later revenge.

It requires intelligence, tenacity, self-control, creativity, and great strength of character to find common ground with people we refer to as evil. These same attributes, plus wisely-used resources, are necessary to contain, reroute, and/or defeat the spread of destructive behavior. Research suggests that violence begets violence. Dr. Bossypants readily admits that this totally sucks because revenge feels good whereas the application of containment and compassion are tedious, slow, and even dangerous (in the short run).

But the real, long-term dangers are far worse: Ever-deadlier weapons, shriveled empathy, us/them dehumanizing rationalizations, bigger prisons, less education, hungry, abused, or unwanted children, and the increasingly shrill declarations of US FIRST. It just doesn’t work that way, dear readers. The ways we treat each other—including every single “other”—are the building blocks of the future. Just as violence will engender more violence, ultimately, kindness will bring forth more kindness. Humans appear to be uniquely able to make corrective choices. Dr. Bossypants is rooting for us all. With courage, we can choose some better paths.

Science

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Today, people are marching in support of science. It is Earth Day. Being a scientist herself, Dr. Bossypants hastens to make her avid and complete support of scientific inquiry crystal clear. Of course, Dr. Bossypants’s branch of science is often called behavioral science, or more broadly, social science. There are complications to deal with in even the simplest science experiments. Was the beaker clean? Is the flame the same temperature this time? Did someone bump the petri dish? But then, step out of the nice, clean, laboratory, with conditions as controlled as possible. Step into the hustle/bustle, bazillion-facetted, multidimensional, wildly spinning natural world, and things get exponentially more difficult. Then, throw in humans, likely the most complex, loving/hating, honest/duplicitous, creative/doltish species yet known on earth, and one might be quite justified in saying, “OH MY.”

Humans fool other people every day. And admit it readers, you fool yourselves every day as well. After many years of study, Dr. Bossypants knows that humans are a posturing, phony, frightened bunch of loving, generous, often-well-intended creatures. A quick Google search tells us that science is “the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.” To date, science is one of our proudest human accomplishments. It is the endeavor we undertake to STOP FOOLING OURSELVES. While we cannot guarantee absolute objectivity, we have become smart enough to admit it, and to bracket our values and beliefs in the service of discovery–discovery of replicable facts and truth.

People, listen up. This is important. Yes, scientific findings occasionally fall prey to politically-motivated interpretations. If you suspect this is the case, you must ask yourself what the motive might be for the false or skewed interpretation. Dr. Bossypants believes that the earth (and life on earth) is in terrible trouble, primarily from human failure to keep things clean and neat—human failure to pay attention to and learn from nature’s way of doing things. Why would someone be motivated to do false science, or question basic results about coal, oil, pesticides, and so on? Humans can be quite greedy and lazy. Is it more profitable to continue extractive industries? Is it easier? Profit and ease are powerful human motivators.

Are those nut-case tree-huggers, those Greenpeace radicals, those everyday environmentalist-composter-organic-buying-solar-panel extremists being made vastly richer by their actions and beliefs? Are their lives made easier? By their actions and beliefs, are they endangering your lungs? Increasing your chances of getting cancer? True, they might be messing with your pocketbook—but they are messing with their own as well. There are prices to be paid. Ultimately, we will not avoid a steep payback to earth. We can begin the payments now, and perhaps have something nice to hand down to the kids. Or we can let our children make the excruciating payments that will, by then, be so overdue it might be tragically impossible to pay, and earth herself will reluctantly have to foreclose on the human race.

Go Earth Day. Hang in there Science. Dr. Bossypants says this: Fellow humans, contain your greed and fear as best you can. Strive to be honest with yourselves and others. If you sense you are being played, as yourselves what the hidden motives might be. Have the courage to change allegiances when the facts line up. Denial feels great. It is our deadliest drug.

 

(Thanks to the internet for the image and the definition)