Thursday, June 23, 2011

Our Best Fiend: Lust

Love bears all, but lust bares it all.

On “Freshairre” with Terry Gross today, a neuro-scientist was on to talk about oxytocin and dopamine and addiction and pathways of pleasure. Now, I might normally consider a pathway of pleasure a cool autumnal arbor strewn with pine straw, with a light show of spots of sun poking their jagged thorns through the canopy, but his pathways of pleasure are all chemical. Nuero-scientists are thus Rosicrucians, seeking out a chemical wedding, a chemical bliss, a consummation of the elements in a fusion of ecstasy that is only mistaken for a feeling.

I would like to harsh this trip. It's what I do. It's also not my nature to trust the machine that does not account for the ghost. I'm with Koestler on that, however many mistakes he made in his technical argument. Therefore, I would begin by my usual critique of cause and effect. (I say “my,” but I copped it from Hume. He hasn't complained yet.) If you've read me for any length of time, you've encountered this criticism. Here it is, indented:

  • Chemicals in the brain may be the result of an emotional state or the cause of an emotional state. Their presence does not establish cause. Therefore, if you orphan a child and examine brain chemistry, it may show depression chemicals, but those chemicals didn't make the child sad. You did. If you prevent the expression of the chemicals, you may prevent the emotion, or you may delay it or push it into another health effect, as we cannot say that bad feelings or good feelings are non-functional.
Well, I want to do that, but I kind of can't. You see, I started to form the syllables in my mouth's mind, or my mind's mouth, and I got as far as “pleasure is.” Pleasure is... what? What is pleasure?

Define "pleasure" without a negation or synonym, and you'll be in for it. Happy? Isn't happy pleasure? The querulous and quarrelsome are going to be reaching for the comment field already, either to tell me that pleasure is simple or that Webster's says it's this or that damned thing. Stop it.

Imagine that you had to program a robot to feel pleasure. You could weight some actions more than others, but that would be preference. You could open up more resources upon the completion of a task, but that's reward. What would you do to create pleasure in a mechanical model? How would you construct an analog of it in a creature that otherwise has never had it?

Maybe I'm being a fool, but I feel moderately confident that this is not an easy task, and not just because it evades me. There are multiple concepts that seem atomic – things that are indivisible analytically, concepts that are nearly immune to Professor Kant's system. They're baseline. Time is one of them. We all have to know what it is before we discuss it, and the same is true of pleasure. Pain, to some degree, is like pleasure, but we have things like “damage” and “firing nerves” that we can lean on for it. “Life” is a wobbler that is somewhat atomic. John Locke would say that these are the ideas that are just plain there as innate ideas. (I'm not aware of any society lacking them. The small group without tense may or may not lack time. It made the news that someone found one small group at all that even appeared to lack one, and this scarcity makes my point rather well.)

So, if we don't know what pleasure is, how on earth can we say that this much or that much comes from this state of chemical eruption or that? Obviously, subjectivity is involved, since these are subjective states we're talking about, and therefore the scientific discussion is going to have to be, if you think about it, of itself.
  • A creature exhibits the signs of pleasure with oxytocin,
  • and then a human subject reports feelings of love and intimacy when exposed to it. If there are humans who do not respond to it, or who express a different chemical or in a different mixture, then they won't have been found, but the compound will have been named,
  • and, from then on, the discussion will be of the compound, not the phenomenon. The equivalence of the chemical and subjective state will be affirmed once and will hold everything together.

Pleasure in its own pursuit is the essence of lust. Lust defines pleasure as the object of desire rather than love. One of the odd things about male sexuality that women have noticed is that men are absolutely obsessed with the female orgasm. While some feminists have spoken confidently of men only caring because they can then claim to have conquered the woman, I do not know where their confidence comes from, unless it is associating with a bad crowd. Men themselves are at a loss to describe or explain it, but they desperately plead that they are doing it out of love. Gay men have the same obsession, it turns out, and the rather unlovely culmination of male sexual activity is a high point of their erotica.

I think, if there is any way of knowing why this is so, it would be more nearly found in pleasure than violence. Men want pleasure and want to observe pleasure, because their sexuality is visual. Pleasure is thus a feedback loop, as emotional pleasure is a feedback cycle otherwise for both cycles and love is a feedback circuit should be for both and is for women. Women will want to hear and know about a man's feelings to feed back into the emit/receive cycle of pleasure/love that works along a non-visual pathway, but men are going for their "pathways of pleasure" by objects being looked at, actions being seen: testimony is not sufficient.

On a more dull level, the pathway of pleasure is the salmon run of teenagers perpetually misunderstanding themselves and each other. “The girls are all stuck up, because they know how hot they are,” the boy told me. Girls are, of course, horribly insecure and think themselves ugly. “Guys always go out with girls who are such sluts. Don't they realize that she's going to cheat on him, too,” the girl asked me. The boy in question is like an animal with a festering disease at his last extremity. He is no more capable of rational thought than he is of growing the chest hair he lacks.

In one town I lived in, there was a massage parlor on main street. On the front door, it has pressed on letters from a stencil set that said, “Use Back Entrance Please.” If that weren't bad enough, the /e/ fell off of “Use.” When someone robbed the place, police were able to find the thieves thanks to the video surveillance the place used in its entry. Suddenly, a great many men in the next town were blanching and having long, serious talks with their partners and wives.

Such is lust. It is not rational, because it is not orderly. It has no purpose. It only has a goal, and the goal is rather ignoble.

Lust's downfall is love. Lust is a psychotic that cuts the heads off of paper dolls. It carefully preserves those 'pathways of pleasure,' but it doesn't have to tolerate fights or compromises or being ignored. Love bears harm, takes pain. Lust refuses to hear its partner's name, walks out in the morning, regrets the night before or forgets it and swears off martinits. Love holds all, encompasses and incorporates into itself, and it can never be described chemically.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Welcome to Valhalla!

I ought to write politics there, metaphysics here, and oughtn't promise the seven sins and deliver this, but the thought beckoned, and I follow.

You know about Valhalla, I'm sure. Even if you know nothing about Norse mythology, you know about Valhalla. You probably know of it as Norse heaven. This is a misconception, though, because the Norse didn't really have a heaven. Valhalla you may know, then, as a more militarized place, a place of valor, where the Cheetos never stain one's quilted armor or where one may be ready for the "looter" hordes who will come to force you away from "going Galt." Indeed, you know about Valhalla the wrong way, whether you're a skinhead or a puffbeard, a maiden in paisley or a matron in leather.

(1896 German version of Valhalla, Max Bruckner)

I grew fascinated by the Norse. Their religion seemed all wrong to me. It's a death cult, for one thing. How, I wondered, could Germanic tribes hang onto and develop such a religion, and make it into a genuine religion too, for centuries? I say "genuine religion" because they prayed, hoped, and honored their gods and believed that natural forces were engaged in human life. In other words, they had made a leap from the childish, superstitious 'religion' of the Romans and Greeks to something closer to the passionate and personal religion of the east, although only just.

In Poetic Edda there is mystery religion, and one supposes that priests, if not regular folks, had some metaphysics. The problem is that the metaphysics were woven around a basic death cult. The Norse believed that evil would win and destroy the gods. Imagine that. They thought Ragnarok would result in the frost giants coming over the bridge, whooping the guardians, the serpent swallowing the king of the gods, the wolf swallowing the sun, and all going dark. Imagine that as the basis of a religion: "Worship the gods, because they're not powerful enough to protect the world, and they're going to lose, and everything's going to go into chaos and night."

Furthermore -- and I gather the recent movie Thor points this out -- the "enemy" isn't bad. The frost giants aren't evil. In fact, they're the same as the gods. They're just big people, and the gods do very bad things to them. So the gods are not moral, not all powerful, and not promising a heaven, either. Curious, isn't it? The afterlife of Valhalla is for warriors who die in battle, and they get plucked up from the battlefield and brought to Odin's hall, where their reward will be... getting drunk every day and then getting killed every night. Men are treated about the same as Thor's goats.

I never could figure this out. I still can't.

However, I have figured out that we are now in Valhalla, so we can say whether it's any good or not.

When men talk about military history, and military history fascinates the Y-chromosome, wars get categorized. Religious wars, resource wars, civil wars, defensive wars, wars of aggression, and the like have their devotees, and men will think up really interesting lessons to be learned about each, prophesies to make from every one. One way to speak of war is "offense outstripping defense" and "defense outstripping offense."

(George Grosz, "Republican Automatons" 1920)

For example, it is conventional to say that World War I was a time when defense was better than offense, and so it became a stagnant war without outcome. The argument is that people could, with machine guns and artillery and chemical weapons, make any charge impossible. The rifle and tactic had made maneuver impossible and charge suicidal, and so trenches became the war. On the other hand, they say that the early part of World War II was a time when offense outstripped defense, because air power and tanks were new and had no answer. Thus, the Germans could take Europe in a flash of "lightning." (I hear your necks squeaking as you nod agreement.)

There is another "who's winning." We have already noted that Americans don't die in battle anymore. They don't die when they're blown up, even. There has been a major advance in medicine, medical transport, and response, and so soldiers are surviving. This happened before, too. It happened in World War I. Surgeons saved lives, although the men whose lives were saved ended up displeased in many cases. The polite world discovered morphine addiction, thanks to battlefield medicine. More to the effect, though, the thousands of shattered and crippled came home as young men, men who should be in the prime of their work lives, broken and hideous, reminders in body and mind of war, and this irritant was hard for any society to swallow, winner or loser.

Here we are, though: Valhalla. Let them live, but only to fight again, our policy is. This is the kingdom of Hel, at least.

What effect is this having on us? What effect does it have on us to reabsorb our own, but now "saved?" I am not certain, but I surely hope we realize that better than saving lives is not putting them at risk for the sake of a job to do. Better than frenzies of "Idol Voice Can Dance with Talented Fifth Grader," we will face the discontent and malcontent this content causes.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

New Series: Best Fiends

It occurs to me that this is my dang blog, and I can do with it what I like!

Ok, maybe I can't confess to reading A Catcher in the Rye, but I can write on whatever subject I like and be misunderstood on it as well here as there. Thus, I propose a new series designed to edify the vast public on what it already knows well, because I have discovered that telling people new things is entirely unprofitable.

As my favorite philosopher has written, "where I am not understood, it shall be concluded, that something very useful and profound is coucht underneath; And again, that whatever word or Sentence is Printed in a different Character, shall be judged to contain something extraordinary either of Wit or Sublime." It is generally the case, after all, and I therefore recommend that my readers repeat the least comprehensible portions of what I write in conversation as an experiment upon the public. One of them may respond and explain the thing.

The series will contain six or seven parts, and it will deal with the dearest, closest fiends that humanity has: lust, gluttony, envy, sloth, avarice, anger, and pride. I'd include new ones, but, since the 16th century, we have invented steam power (unless the Hellenes had it), coal pollution, whale extinction, polymers, dioxins, petroleum, and spreading gasoline by-products on crops to make them grow, but we have neglected the art of innovation in depravity.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Telling Richard Jokes

"When women consider their own beauties, they are all alike unreasonable in their demands; for they expect their lovers should like them as long as they like themselves." - John Gay, The Beggar's Opera II ix.

"Cloris returning from the Trance
Which Love and soft Desire had bred,
Her tim'rous Hand she gently laid,
Or guided by Design or Chance,
Upon that Fabulous Priapus,
That Potent God (as Poets feign.)
But never did young Shepherdess
(Gath'ring of Fern upon the Plain)
More nimbly draw her Fingers back,
Finding beneath the Verdant Leaves a Snake."
-Aphra Behn, "The Disappointment" 101-10
No photo.
Young men are diseased by youth and cannot enjoy their strength of limb or asperity of figure for the cruelty of their own demon-whipped minds. When young women say that they think about and desire sex "all the time," they have little concept of the phrase. Young men die in the search, hazard mutilation in the quest, and often risk prison for the sake of their misunderstandings. No sane or rational person would do these things.

Mike Judge got his start on television with a series called "Beavis and Butthead" on MTV. In it, he satirized and parodied, quite accurately, the mentality of a fourteen to fifteen year old boy. Every phrase for these two was a dirty joke. Every picture was a chance to see breasts. No discussion of sex was vile enough. They wanted to consume women.

Because the show parodied boys, it inspired them. Mike Judge would continue to revile the duncification of America and to note it accurately in "Idiocracy," but kids imitated Butthead or Beavis (especially "Cornholio"). This is because we forgive young men in a way we do not forgive idiots. Young men can grow up to be considerate and intelligent mates. However, they have to go through this fever, this case of rabies.

Lust doesn't end, but the fever breaks. A constantly burning ember is fine: the grown man still has the desire, can flare up to ravenous if given a chance, but he isn't being chased down the streets by the demon with a hooked whip as much. He can laugh at the boy.

Women have more trouble. They can laugh at the boy, of course, but they're the targets of all those darts. Further, there is one very critical area where the sexes differ and the fire makes a huge difference, and that is in arousal and narcissism.

Beware any fool telling you rules about humans. Generally speaking, men are almost exclusively visual in their eroticism. We want to have sex on top of the covers, with the lights on, and, if possible, with Klieg lights. Women, in general, are more tactile and fantasy driven in their eroticism. This shows up in the never-ending argument couples have about pornography. She says, "Are you thinking about her?" He isn't. He isn't thinking at all. He's looking. Why is he looking? Because it is there. Don't "they" all look the same? Not at all, because each is a different one.

It also shows up in the infamous, "I don't want to because I feel ugly" issue. A man cannot understand this, because self-perception is the tiniest part of his eroticism. It also shows up in foreplay and cuddling, because the man is less tactile in his arousal.

You can get all of this from a hundred pop-psychology websites, though. What's more interesting is narcissism and the male/female split. A boy wants to "see it," as I've said. Young people of both sexes suffer from an inability to think like the other person. This is normal. Even if someone has empathy, life experience is necessary in order to know what the Other is like. Beginners in love are beginners. A girl who dresses up sexy for the right guy to notice and gets noticed by the wrong guy is simply projecting her view onto the world and finding out that it doesn't work that way. A girl who wears her nicest dress in front of a guy and then loses his attention to a "skank" who is wearing a halter top and no bra has used her standards and not realized his.

In general, though, women get it. They get that men are visual, because men tell them. Magazines tell them. Television tells them. Oh, they might not get the depravity of it, or believe it could be true, but they get it generally. Boys, though, get nothing.

A boy thinks, "I wanna see her bits. Why won't she just take off her clothes for me?" He's on the Internet, on Twitter, on chat, on Ritilin, and so he shows her his wagging staff. "See?! Bet that turns you on," he thinks.

So, the Internet is full of penis photos. The current "scandal" on the Internet isn't one of them. It's actually a picture of a marital aid (link may be upsetting to sensibilities and politics). Female bloggers are puzzled at why, oh why, "men" keep photographing genitals. The thing is, few men do.

A man, a grown man past the age of eighteen, who is photographing and showing these pictures is either a beginner at love, a complete beginner when it comes to knowing women, or is, in fact, an abuser. It takes a narcissist, a man who refuses to believe women when they say that such things are not stimulating or even a turn-off, to keep on going, believing that his magic wand is so mighty and special that it will make knees weak. It takes a rapist or abuser also -- a man who thinks, "I don't care how you feel. This is what I'm going to use." A man who sends such a photo is either a repellent virgin or an abusive narcissist, or worse.

This, incidentally, is how I knew that the Congressman in the "scandal" was not guilty. His politics are empathic and devoted to looking out for the weak. They don't match the mentality.

Why, though, with this knowledge being rather intuitive and obvious for those of us who have -- you know -- had relationships -- are television stations going on and on and on and on and on and on showing the photo and repeating the charges as if there were a story? Why are they making every pun possible? Why are they putting Beavis in charge of the Nightly News?

We forgive boys the way we forgive women in childbirth cursing or delirious patients ranting, but what seems to be happening here is a delight in reviving the phase. The news seems to be wanting to relive the worst time of life. Why? What is gained? Who is enlightened?

By the way, the "best" Richard joke I know is Morris.