Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Sweat Lodge

I went to Mexico to draw, to fill sketchbooks and notebooks. To write, and to figure out my life because I hadn't actually looked this far ahead. That's all going well. It's hard to describe what I've been doing this past 9 months, as an 'adventure' because to be honest, I don't do much.

While nobody except maybe a few tax-auditors are likely to look over the work most professions produce. Unless I guess, you make hamburgers, ramen, cafe lattes, crepes etc. and art. But back when I was making art in a studio back home, I would find myself telling people at parties that found my job interesting about how the work of an artist involved a lot more TV watching and eating Doritos than many would assume.

And my time in Mexico is much the same, except eating Doritos here is kind of pointless. But I was bestowed with both the opportunity and the honor last Sunday to be invited to join in a Temazcal, or more descriptively known as a sweat lodge. I of course accepted the invitation and did something interesting, at least, that is to say, I don't find my daily life that interesting or assume it isn't because it takes place mostly in my head.

So we caught a bus from the center of town where I live, out, out, out to the outer edges of Guadalajara, arriving late to be just in time for the lighting of the fire that would heat the stones that create the steam that I won't say induces, but exacerbates the sweat in the sweat lodge.

Alejandra ran me through the do-not's of the ceremony, and allow me to then provide my layman analogy of what a sweat lodge is, which is a purification ordeal. The obvious analogy is a sauna, but it is also dark and people sing and play instruments. Furthermore, my prior experience with saunas, I generally lasted about 5 minutes before I decide it's time to submerge myself in the cold pool.

This will subsequently seem misleading, but I stayed in the sweat lodge for an hour and a half. Which consisted of 3 of 5 actual sessions where the exit was sealed and the rocks wet, and the songs sung. However my brief was that the sweat-lodge would run between 3-5pm.

So I was sitting where I was told, a little nervous, but my concerns were whether I could sit cross legged on the ground for a long time, since I have always struggled with my flexibility and sitting on the floor. And also I guess the indignity and disrespect of maybe having to interrupt the ceremony to make an exit if I was feeling woozy. Then the doors were closed.

It's an incredible experience. Intensely unpleasant.

So maybe the first thought on it is a callback to a hypothetical I used to, and still do ask people. Which was:

You're at a party, and a shady guy who calls himself 'stretch' offers you a choice between two freebies. The first is basically xtc, it will give you 10 minutes of sheer bliss no matter the circumstances. The second is the opposite, absolute despair, 10 minutes where you feel the worst you have ever felt in your life, before you promptly recover. Which do you take?

A minority of people, including me... well to be honest, I prefer to reserve my nervous system and brain receptors for their natural purposes. My most honest answer is shamefully, the weasel one of passing on both. Most people, reflecting life or the portion of life I've experienced, are pretty keen on MDMA. I only have interest in the 'absolute despair' pill, it's the only one I'd consider.

I asked a Tinder date in Mexico this hypothetical, who picked the MDMA, claiming she'd experienced absolute despair and absolute bliss and definitely prefers bliss. I responded at the time, that I wasn't sure she had her mathematics right, but I wasn't sure I had mine right either.

What I mean by that is, if you are a relativist, so on a cold winters night, stepping into a warm tavern and having a hot meal and some mulled wine is just the best thing in the world, and on a hot summers day partaking in the exact same experience of warm tavern and hot meal, then becomes the worst thing you can think of. That's generally my approach, 'better' and 'worse'.

If you are an absolutist, (and apologies, this approach is foreign to me, so it's hard for me to conceive of and describe) that's taking the view not of moment to moment, but taking the sum total of moments in your life as the endgame. So it isn't now is better than just before, but things are 'good' or 'bad'.

As a relativist, this means most of what I'm going to experience is my normal state, so I take absolute despair because it will calibrate 10 minutes as being worse, possibly 'the worst' and then my normal life will always be 'better' than that experience. In which case, taking some pill that induces the pinnicle experience, then becomes a curse upon the rest of my life.

Alternatively, if you are absolutist, you only get so many chances in life to experience anything at all, so if you get a chance to experience absolute bliss, you take it, and if you can avoid any despair, you avoid it. the doors are closed, and I should point out, I was already drenched with sweat just from sitting in the lodge before hot stones were placed in the pit. Steam starts to expand off the rocks, people are singing and I am just trying to keep my shit together.

Steaming is a literal method of cooking. I assume everyone has the experience of pouring out pasta water into a strainer, or opening a microwave dish, and immediately burning their hand and exclaiming 'ah fuck!'

I was in pitch blackness, but I felt like I was sitting under the Australian sun on a 40 degree day. I no longer really practice mindfulness, but I have done a fair bit of it, and so I was moving my consciousness around my body. I could feel my heart beating in my chest, my toes in the dirt, and my lips having the humid air dragged over them, and the skin on my face and shoulders cooking.

It was taking all my concentration, my attention, just to sit still. Alejandra in a panic had mouthed at me from across the lodge, that my watch was on. She evidently didn't recognize that it's a Casio G-shock, and would survive the sweat lodge even if nobody else did. I glanced at my watch several times, trying not to move my wrist in such a way as to set off it's back-lighting. I was doing so to make deals with myself.

I have enough experience from running of what it's like to get light headed, and lose consciousness and what not. I figured I would be safer crying out in panic, than losing consciousness at what I presumed at this point was going to be a 2 hour sauna session. What I was mostly doing was trying to get stock of what the time was, to gauge how long I could endure sitting upright, before I might resort to laying down, where there was less steam and less heat. If I did that immediately, or too soon, I had no line of retreat.

I had helped carry the buckets of water, and knew there were around 7 PVC buckets to go through in the 2 hours. So I also wanted to figure out how long this first bucket would last, how hot it would get before it would somehow be refilled, probably by the guy outside whose duty it was to tend the fire, open the doors and keep things real in the real world.

The other thing I had to do, was each time it got worse, as in, hotter, steamier. I gave myself the conscious instruction to imagine it would get 3 times worse. To always, always anticipate that this was not as hot or bad as it would get. And thus to save my precious line of retreat, of going to ground.

While I was doing all this, everyone else was singing and shaking shakers, and beating drums.

Then the elder, running the session, took his dipper and started dousing us with water, one by one. It was unexpected relief, one of the great gifts in my life for which I am eternally grateful. At this point, I was still under the impression this was one long sauna session. I figured, the experience had to eventually taper off into a steady state, a steady temperature. You can't just endlessly douse rocks with water, they lose their residual heat and stop producing steam. Then the elder called out 'Doors please' and the blankets front and back were lifted. Light poured in, air flowed. My second unexpected relief.

I initially thought that maybe I looked like I was dying, and the elder had declared an emergency. It became apparent though, that in order not to routinely kill people, the sweat lodge runs through several sessions. Some people even sitting out a session or two.

Taking a leaf from Josh Waitzkin's book, I decided to take the recovery time seriously, and lay flat on my back breathing in as much air as possible and calming my heart rate down as much as I could. When water was offered I drank, but also tipped a lot over my head, more or less the same as I do running marathons.

Then I reset, back to sitting ready for the second session. Now a profoundly different experience.

For one thing, I had new expectations to be betrayed by. In one sense, anticipating how bad it could get, as new stones were pushed into the pit, I could panic. For another, the second session could go longer, or get hotter, and thus if I felt I knew how bad it would be, I could find myself without mental reserves. But I no longer had to manage with any expectation that I had hours to endure, not minutes. A lot more minutes than I'd ever spent in a sauna, but still well shy of solid hours.

This second time, I went to hell. Part of the reason I'd eagerly signed on, was that that day was the anniversary of the suicide of my oldest friend, James. I had been catching up with him in the months before, and I'd seen stuck on his wall in his old room, papers with numbers to call if he was in a bad place and so forth. One of them read the short message 'breathe deep and pray to no-one.'

James was raised Catholic, I can recall as a child, the one time I had the misfortune to attend mass with his family when I slept over on what must have been a Saturday night. I can't recall what age I would have been at the time, but I feel it would have been an act of restraint on my part to not blurt out after the congregation was discharged into the light 'what the fuck is with all the kneeling on those fucking wooden boards?'

I'm fairly confident, James was not Catholic at his end, but I'm told Catholic guilt goes deep, and I imagine even after discarding one's faith, when it's been inculcated as a kid, you probably still look over your shoulder expecting God to be there for the rest of your life.

And It is my layman understanding, that if you attempt or commit suicide in Catholicism, you go to hell. Also probably if you are just an unbeliever like me, post the revelation of Jesus Christ, and I've certainly heard of the guy, I go to hell.

So here I was, in Hell, Hell light. Not one of the 'Hell House' theatrical productions teen christian evangelists apparently do in 'Merica. But more just experiencing what it feels like in a basic atmosphere where breathing is pain, not relief, and there is no relief, and imagining this as unending.

I had professional reasons for going there too, as I am sketching out a script for a comic set in Hell, about how Hell just doesn't work, is an entirely pointless exercise. Inspired by civil disobedience movements like Gandhi's work in South Africa where they got arrested to destroy the fear of prison.

Anyway, one point is that if you are immortal and eternal in construction, pain then conveys no information. It is just pain for pain's sake. I should point out that I do not understand the actual intentions of the Indigenous people's ritual of the sweat lodge, I was just getting from the experience what I could.

Drawing hot, suffocating breaths, where the pain means nothing, and there is no recourse, and imagining that just being the basic atmosphere in hell, an environment calibrated to one in which no human being could survive, unless they couldn't die. Hell by most literary accounts, is probably overthought, and overengineered. One does not need much for it to be unbearable torture, just crank up the temperature and humidity, bury people in dirt with just a handful of air to gasp at and experience permanent claustrophobic suffocation.

The sweat lodge, was not hell, because in an environment where pain is meaningless, I wouldn't be sitting on dirt, but on the hot rocks themselves, such that there would be no relief in going to ground, no relief anywhere, ever.

The second session ended quite quickly, at least to my perception, I was doused in water what I felt was quite early on, which I then thought if there were no seconds, would make this session worse. But it ended after I think, or perceived, only two songs.

By the time it ended though, I'd been blessed with release from a nagging fear of the soul. That James was in Hell. Sure, only for on the scale of things, a blink of an eye before I joined him. But join him I would, and join him I must, for there can be no Paradise where someone I love is excluded. And that's the thing, once one person you love is consigned to a lake of fire, it's game over for the whole afterlife system.

I realised while cooking in that steam, that there could be no salvation for me, no paradise offered that excludes James or anyone for that matter. Nor could I be admitted to any paradise where I am given a reunion with James as necessary for my paradise, while James suffers for eternity simultaneously for his sins, for then there can be no souls, our essence are but programs, duplicated.

And no good person, dealing with eternity can watch their friends thrown into the fire and think of their own salvation and secure it at any cost. The suffering cannot escape, unless empathy can be escaped. I picture a paradise of cool breezes and people given an eternity to contemplate the suffering of those who were not permitted through the gates, so suffering cannot be escaped except for those few who care for no one but God. Who have the resolve to wash their hands by saying 'I warned them' to the sinners.

Thus, while I can appreciate that most people would conceive of Paradise and Inferno as night and day, to me they have no meaningful difference, something I've known for quite some time. Both are merely cruel meaningless forms of torture. The only paradise, release, is oblivion.

And so the second session ended and I no longer just knew it, but felt it. Having felt the frailty of my resolve in the minutes of steaming in the sweat lodge, the knowledge that I as a frail mortal pack of meat, could not last an hour in such conditions as those, would have no recourse but to endure much much worse in any conception of damnation. I could not be damned, I could not be saved and the same was true for all of us, whether they have the courage to believe it or not.

So I lay, and the guys around me lay where we could fit, as if we were all in kindergarden taking a nap. The purification was a re-calibration for me, laying drenched in sweat in dirt, I didn't care, the dirt sticking to me, painting me in a thin coating of sweaty mud, didn't bother me, nothing bothered me because I could breath, cool 32 degree air. I could drink room temperature water. The elder excused himself and his partner lead the next session.

The guy beside me, who sat closest to the firepit where the experience was most intense, requested for a pair of eagle wings for the next session. I had a hunch looking at the matron running this one, that it would be longer, harder than the second session and to brace myself. Here was someone that calibrated time possibly based on childbirth.

The doors shut, and the third session began. The guy in front of me flapped the wings, circulating the air inside the sweatlodge such that it was as hot at my feet as it was around my head. A new experience, an even harder one.

I was conscious of, and intune with my body. I found curiously that I could induce panic in my chest by thinking about panic, and just as easily think it away. Like I had my hand upon some panic knob.

Alejandra sang, and I still somehow had the presence of mind to think that this was an easier way to hear the girl of my affections perform, than sitting through a free jazz gig. She told me afterwards that she wanted to keep on singing that song, it had more words, more verses, but she sensed the mood was that it needed to end soon, and she obliged. I counted four songs in this session, which the matriarch kept calling for.

Somehow from lying down and sitting up, I'd repositioned myself such that the guy sitting near the pit was now blocking line of sight between me and the elder running this session. If she tried to douse me with cool water it was all hitting him except for a few droplets that landed on the edges of my arms and legs. This session was longer, was harder, for the wings and the lack of water dousing. I resolved to lay down. There are sacred directions, I could only move around the tent clockwise I think, so I didn't want to risk shaming the other guy by trying to move around his body.

The session eventually ended, the doors opened, but I was done after three. In halting bad Spanish I asked if I could exit, but probably said 'Can I am exit, please' and crawled out, kissing the dirt several times as I left, with the other participants taking my arm to steady me/keep me from falling into the fire pit.

Outside the door I was helped to my feet, where I just stood until I felt I could stand for my own volition. Then asked in which direction I should exit, and followed that direction until I could get my towel.

It took me hours and liters to get rehydrated to the point I could use a bathroom again. I noticed myself thinking again, became aware of my own consciousness, when I saw a hummingbird feeding. Not my first, but hummingbirds are rare enough it was pretty special.

I would later think that it would be even more special had the first thing I became conscious of was a giraffe, not native to Mexico that only I witnessed, before it snuck off. I would read much more meaning into that.

Alejandra lasted five sessions, in other words, all the sessions. It was not her first sweat lodge, I suspect she does it most months. I was asked by a participant if I would do it again, I politely told her that it's difficult because I would return to Australia in a few months, she told me a few more times I could do it then.

I don't think I will, because I feel I got what I needed to out of the ceremony. I am already committed to running five more marathons to get a green t-shirt by the time I'm 40. I feel for me, to rejoin the sweat-lodge again would be an act of masochism, not purification.

I regard all spirituality as such. It is a mine-field for hubris. To think that opening a third-eye permits for the closing of the other two. There is a feel, an energy best described as greed in my experience among spiritual practitioners. The experience for many is not often enough, just as it is, they have to reach for more.

I'm not referring to this specific custom, or these specific people. But more the people who will take a strange phenomena like deja vu, and try and pull a justification for telekinesis, telepathy, prescience through it.

For me the sweatlodge was that pill of absolute despair, but in a physical rather than emotional sense. In my first year of Uni, when my then partner dumped me, my first long term and intimate partner, it was James' number in my little black address book I had called in my absolute despair. I spoke to his mum through gasping tears, and she arranged for me to come to dinner and dispatched James to come pick me up and give me a lift.

That's probably the closest situation I've been to an emotional sweat-lodge session, when I get dumped. I don't think I'm in any actual danger, but it's the despair combined with an inability to escape it.

I don't know how many times I got the call from James, when he was drowning in despair, and subsequently bought him a few more days, weeks or months. He shared the despair around, which is to say the love, but I suspect I got the call and answered a few times, before he stopped calling anyone.

A year on, I sat on a cinder block, in the very yard-like back yard of a loving strangers house, feeling like a 32 degree day was crisp and fresh, as my sweat drenched singlet started to actually chill me to shivering. I had experienced perhaps, a pretty good opposite of XTC, of Heroin. A brief trip to hell, before coming down to Earth again. It is great to be alive, amazing.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

On Punching Down

I've heard the presumptive advice to 'punch up, not down' which I guess, and hope I receive with my best poker face, for I don't wish to cause undue offence to a well intended Bill Cosby type.

There's something truismy of course about a one way 'punch up' policy. If people who are 'down' are permitted to punch up, but people who are 'up' are not permitted to punch down, then they are defenseless, and anyone up becomes down, and anyone down becomes up.

To be clear, I have nothing against punching up, it is one of my favorite things and furthermore a cornerstone of liberty everywhere. Punching up is the core of free speech, of parliamentary privilege. One has to be able to complain about and criticize the King of England, about El Presidente, about the Government.

And there's a certain artistry to punching up in comedy in particular, Nassim Taleb's 'the height of charm is to insult someone without offending them.' or Dan Dennet's evolutionary theory of humor as 'debugging pleasure'. The comic debugs our system of government by finding ways to be seditious that avoid detection, censure, denial, defensiveness.

Humor is important because it is disarming, and by now I assume everyone is aware of the phenomena of motivated reasoning, confirmation bias, selective attention, double standards. A well reasoned argument as to why the solar system is in fact heliocentric and not geocentric, can bring about the frustrating experience of your audience refusing to look through the telescope less they be corrupted by the blasphemous evidence.

But people gifted with wit don't have to flex their rhetorical muscles they can often get right past people's defenses. Which brings me to punching down.

When Lee Mack says 'My own wife got offended by something I said on stage. On the last tour there was one joke I must promise never to repeat again. It was offensive to her, it was offensive to the children and I must promise never to utter those words again on stage.' I shudder with anticipation when he take's a moment's pause and says 'I'll tell you the joke: I always wanted three kids, but now I have two I only want one.' and then he double's down with 'It's a joke isn't it! Of course it is... I don't want any.'

Which you know, of course Lee could be completely mischaracterizing his wife and children in the service of the joke. So when Dave Chappelle in his stand up special 'Equanimity' confides that he received a letter from a trans fan reporting they were 'devastated' by a transphobic joke he told. And he says something akin to 'my first response was that I felt bad, that I had made somebody feel bad. But then I began to wonder what I had said that had been so devastating, and I suspect it is the joke I am about to tell...' [paraphrased] and then he goes onto do a Caitlin Jenner bit, that I won't reproduce for reasons of spoliers, given that ruin one Lee Mack joke in an hour long set is to spoil 1/200th of the jokes, ruin a Chappelle bit and you might ruin the whole show.

But I enjoy viscerally the brinkmanship of comedy that punches down. I enjoy being scandalized. I enjoy seeing audiences laughing at something they know to be wrong. Scandalization is like the beautiful, glowing twin sibling of offense. Such that when I hear people advocate 'comedy should punch up, not down.' it rings in my ears like saying 'Rollercoasters should only go up, not down' the down part of the roller-coaster is where all the fun is, because it's frightening, the pleasure of going up on a roller-coaster is the building of anticipation. Punching down, by my personal preference has to be the pinnacle of comedic talent, because it's so high risk. Fuck it up and the whole crowd is against you, fuck up punching up as Bill Maher often does and the whole crowd is often still with you.

How to make the case, not that I am not a horrible person, but that you should be more horrible too.

So I would put it as the Nadir of humor is puns, and god help us all if people find a worse form of comedy. With a lot of hard work, someone like Tim Vine can elevate puns to something entertaining, but to the children out there, why waste your life? The Zenith of humor is to say the exact wrong thing at the exact wrong time.

For example, imagine your physics teacher has just drawn out a diagram explaining how vision works, like a camera obscura with arrows donating light rays hitting the top and bottom of a poorly drawn tree and then travelling in straight lines to intersect at the pupil of a poorly drawn head and then replicating an inverted tree on the retina at the back of the poorly drawn eyeball.

A student that doesn't get it might say: 'Mr Knight you dickhead, the trees upside down' precipitating the teacher explaining that our brains actually unconsciously invert the information to the retina automatically and maybe tells an anecdote about Michelangelo after doing the Sistine Chapel, or experiments conducted with eyeglasses that invert our vision.

An intelligent student might say: 'So light reflects off objects in the real world that then travel in straight lines through the lens that adjusts the focal length so the corresponding optic nerves on the retina are stimulated sending signals to the brain.' reassuring the teacher that they have successfully discharged their duties and won't be fired after the whole class flunks their assessment.

A smartass student might say: 'So light comes from the eyes, shoots out and hits the tree and that absorbs the essence of the tree into the brain.' indicating to the teacher that they too not only understand what has been transmitted by the teacher, by saying something so heinously incorrect that they know exactly what is wrong. Furthermore demonstrating their erudition by actually voicing the psuedoscientific theory of sight espoused by ancient Greek philosophers.

In summary you can demonstrate you don't understand by saying the wrong thing, demonstrate you understand by saying the right thing, and demonstrate you understand by saying the wrong thing.

Such that sometimes the difference between the right thing and the wrong thing is not actually comprehension but sophistication. As confusingly, is the difference between the wrong thing and the wrong thing.

Here's one of my favorite examples of 'the wrong thing' which is the kind of ignoramus that doesn't get that racist jokes are most often anti-racist, as well as perfectly conveying the pain and suffering of someone with a sense of humor living in a largely humorless world:

That last guy's riff on the initial joke, demonstrates his actual values because the racism is inserted around the punchline.

Now Australian's of a certain age probably recall this joke that was the other 'wrong thing' but simply failed to land:

A botched attempt at punching down. Such was the public furor that the show was suspended for two weeks, and resumed with an apology for the sketch. The joke was obvious, perhaps even derivative of the far superior (and longer) Mr Show sketch of two bumbling idiots setting up their own 'Dream of a Lifetime' foundation. Albeit that joke works differently because it is punching down on the two idiots that over-promise and under-deliver. Sean Micallef similarly did another 'Make a Wish' inspired sketch where a bed stricken teen wishes for 'a handjob from Lisa McCune' to which Francis Greenslade turns to Sean and remarks 'well she did do The Potato Factory.'

I'm not sure where the Chaser's sketch went wrong, I mean obviously the line was 'they're going to die anyway' was what was offensive, but why did the punch fail to slip past defenses?

There's a class of jokes of which at a pinch I can recall at least 5, and worse known as 'dead baby jokes' that in Australia at least are jokes you tell either while in primary school and blissfully unaware of the tragedy and suffering in the world, or in a hushed voice after looking over your shoulder to make sure you know exactly everyone who will actually hear the joke, as a measure of calculated risks.

And when I write 'you tell' and 'your shoulder' I do not mean to impute an ignorant understanding on my part that everyone tells these jokes. I merely suggest that if you are to take a crack at black humor, gallows humor, offensive humor, this is the way I advise telling it, because the repercussions are real.

But with the Chaser sketch, I don't quite know, I'm agnostic. The degree to which they are broadcasting makes me think that to construe that their intent was to upset sick children, their families and friends seems to be acting in very bad faith. Nor can I fully credit any slippery slope, or contagion based arguments.

I actually heard the joke 'What did the blind, quadriplegic boy get for Christmas? Cancer' from a weatherman on one of Australia's more conservative morning breakfast shows. (although they are all conservative). Yeah, and maybe they received a bunch of complaint calls and letters, but it makes me suspect that Chaser went wrong with timing, and not comic timing but hadn't anticipated living in the age of Moral outrage pile-ons.

And I hear progressives 'Yes, but' this with 'pile ons are a problem but...' which like 'I'm not racist but,' indicates what you will immediately hear is going to be an apology for pile-on public shaming behavior.

Jimmy Carr wrote a book on comedy that I have no intention to read, but on Qi he asserted that all jokes work the same way, by employing two narratives such that the listener thinks they are on one narrative and the punch line switches them to another. In the case of the weatherman's cancer joke, the setup fosters the expectation culturally that something nice is going to happen to this unfortunate child because that's the feel good fluff piece trope, and the punchline then works by subverting the expectation and forcing us to deal with something really horrible.

This is punching down in humor, the joke is that we know it is wrong. If we can't get there, we can't get the joke, if enough people can't get the joke and it's punching down, then it fails and therein lies the delicious risk, the pleasure of being scandalized. Something is at stake.

A joke that doesn't work anymore is 'Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side.' I was in my early twenties before it was explained to me through a dissection by Alan Moore, that the whole joke hinges on the listener presuming they are being asked why the chicken crossed the road, and why a chicken in particular for some good reason. And once I could empathize with someone hearing the premise and trying to deduce a chicken related punchline, I suddenly got how this joke could have been funny, some where, some when.

The chicken crossing the road, is actually despite it's reputation of being one of the oldest and lamest jokes in the book. (punching down pun on the lame not intended, I never intentionally pun) It actually can't be the oldest joke, because it's quite a sophisticated meta-joke. A joke about jokes. A variation of one of my favorite jokes 'what's brown and sticky? A stick.'

Chicken joke aside, how jokes work is so intuitive to me, what I really struggle with in defending and advocating for punching down, is that it's hard for me to get, what people don't get. I suspect it's why a lot of the people that push back, particularly comedians, suspect much of the moral outrage and sermonizing is conducted in bad faith. I suspect, it's the usual story of censorship, people advocating for censorship are never advocating on their behalf, that they don't get it's a joke, it's on behalf of the poor morons who won't get that it's a joke. Like the last guy to repeat back to Steven Russell the lawyer joke with extra racism. These censorship arguments in the words of Steven Russell are the province of 'fucking morons'.

Or maybe, it's that everyone has a sense of humor until the joke is on them. As my highschool running buddy use to say 'you can dish it but you can't take it' Here is the principle neatly illustrated by neat illustrator and generally left-wing artist Tom Gauld:

I went to Uni in the Bush Administration, and did a course that had me commute past the almost weekly protests driven by Bush's foreign policy or an emboldened IDF. Such that I can recall seeing the Lebanese community out on the state library lawns protesting the latest air strikes from Isreal, and thinking 'where were you all last week for the Iraqi protest?' which is equally true of where was the Iraqi community at this protest? It's just happenstance who the players were, but it struck me that the principle was a bit tribal. It's not that you are anti-war per se, it's that you are anti-war against your community. Which I feel isn't good enough.

Such that I respect the pacifists, and I respect the non-pacifists, but not the tribalists. This does somewhat undermine my opening remarks about the truism of 'punch up, not down' so allow me to steel man it, if unintentionally.

Punching up is fine, but in part it doesn't do it for me. Risk = reward, and perhaps in the domain of humor why I'm fine with punching up, is that when historically you've been on the side of the whip I have, (although statistically the odds that I am decended from a slave or multiple slaves is 100%, as are the odds I am decended on multiple occassions from rapists and the corresponding rape victims) those punches are quite impotent, flaccid, adorable even.

I recall fondly when my friend from Thailand complained audibly how 'white people fucking loooooove potatoes.' and my white friend remarked how he loved collecting white stereotypes citing an example of 'white people smell like cheese.'

Even as a stranger in a strange land, I thrilled to the novelty of having a Han Chinese in an upmarket Beijing restaurant wearing military uniform see me balk at the squat toilets and scoff before derisively saying 'guilo' or however it is spelled.

There may be a future where China comes to dominate the Pacific in such a way that I develop a sensitivity, but as of now, I don't.

But there are people who are 'upwards' in society that are clearly sensitive, and their moves to censure 'punching up' have to be resisted. Like when Australia passes a law criminalising any reporting on their offshore detention centers. Or in the world's most prominent example and psychological case study in how to share the misery: Donald Trump, you have a man who is ostensibly powerful, but doesn't feel powerful until such a time as he can do whatever he wants and nobody will criticize him, at which point I suspect his sensitivity will convert into full blown paranoia that nobody actually loves or respects him.

These are the types for which the ability to punch up is admirable and indeed vital.

I have no problem, if a new market is emergent and sustained for people who cannot enjoy punching down. Who's idea of a comedy special is Nanette. I believe that it's actually been a long emerging trend perhaps started by Daniel Kitson of the UK to basically do 'comedy' shows that are tragic one-man plans about people's struggles in life. The Athenians used to regularly watch tragedies, and talking about traumatic events and struggle and suffering is a good and healthy thing.

I just enjoy it more when people make fun of trauma, struggle and suffering in an artful way. And I hope just as I wouldn't want to tell people how they can spend $120 on a Saturday evening, people will not tell me how to spend mine. It's possible in certain quarters, certain markets, what I find funny will have to go underground, and my only consolation is John Waters who complains that it was more fun to be a homosexual when it was illegal and all underground.

What would scare me is if the zeitgeist got such that genuinelly funny comedians had to perform to the Ku Klux Klan or Neo-Nazi's thanks to their experience of running clandestine meetings. That would be a really bad development.

I also feel entitled to come down hard on the position that academics have no place nor say on comedy, particularly stand up comedy. Comedy is a practice, not a profession. It is the only artform that has to be practiced in front of a crowd, which is to say the only way you can practice stand up is through the practice of stand up.

And in a situation where Chappelle, or Tosh, or Louis CK, or Anthony Jeselnik, or Ricky Gervais tell a joke that punches down, and it results in a pile-on of thousands, or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of anonymous people online expressing their moral outrage. In a situation where it is one against a mob, who is punching down and who is punching up?

Jon Oliver might argue that all those men are public figures, powerful celebrities and also that they are all notable for their unapologetic ability to withstand a pile on, but you don't get to their level (with the possible exception of Gervais) without cutting your teeth on open mics, college tours, comedy clubs.

Or whether some civilian like Justine Sacco deserves to have her life ruined by making a racist joke on twitter.

If people can't hone their craft at punching down, such that they can successfully ridicule the ridiculous, then it will be the case that 'punch up, not down' will become a truism, because having the position to punch up will be the position of privilege if you cannot punch down.

Comedy is definitely a domain where it is especially true that 'those that can't do, teach' and I think since the whole SJW vs Alt-right polarisation broke out, I always knew which side I was on. I am on the side of the comedians.

It'll be interesting, as it is interesting to see how this plays out. Because a philosophy that defines speech as violence, and violence as contingent on privilege and not contingent on intent, is fundamentally incompatible with the existence of comedy. Nor do I suspect, is an edict of 'punch up not down' even sincere. I do not believe that people who espouse it for example, think that a wheelchair bound Nigerian lesbian comedian could do a set of vicious racist jokes about Asians, even though she would technically be punching up.

When I see compelling evidence of an efficient causal chain between say racist jokes, and race hate crimes or sexist jokes and domestic violence, I might actually entertain notions of censorship. However to my knowledge while the causal arguments exist, and lived experience narratives exist, and are worth hearing, the causal evidence does not. I suspect because it cannot, and other correlates prove more compelling for these social problems such as the presence of austerity, economic inequality and honor cultures (of which much progressive thought resembles).

 I feel like I should end on a lighthearted note so here:

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Unpacking my Superficiality Part 5: Age, Height and Single Motherhood

Aka the 'Misc' section. And for anyone who might be wondering 'part 5? what happened to parts Twix, Trix and Quix?' (and kudos for adopting my highly unpopular and impractical base-6 counting system) the answer being, those are larger subjects than this grab bag and so are sitting around in draft form.

Had I the discipline and clarity of thought to have banged them out, I'm sure they would have established by now, that I'm far more persuaded by the 'nature' explanations for my superficiality than the 'nurture' ones that I can only assure you, unpublished as the earlier components are, I attempt to entertain and explore. At the very least, even assuming I have simply been taught my preferences arbitrarily and could reteach myself, the sheer pragmatism of my preferences doesn't incentivize myself as an individual to reprogram myself.

So whether such a conclusion horrifies you or not, I must apologize for I won't make the argument here. But when I do this dead text will become a link to it.

In the meantime let me talk about superficial preferences I have that strike me as being in my interest to reprogram, or work around otherwise. Handled in alphabetical order.


Lee Mack refers to 'the French Rule' half your age and add 7. In Australia I believe the legal age of consent is 16, which by the French Rule would be 8 + 7 = 15 and the French are in trouble. Or if you are somehow under the misapprehension that the French Rule is the law, might find yourself a registered sex offender. but by 18 it's working pretty well (16) and if you're 70 (42) and if you are 30 (22) and then Lee Mack invokes the 'Thai Rule' which is half your age, then half it again. And the Geordie rule which is 'forget the age, count the teeth'.

But presumably all these rules, with the latter ones being most likely made up by Lee Mack, imply the independent variable is male. Now the zeitgeist has in recent years attempted to introduce the concept of 'cougars' and prior to that there was of course 'Milfs' and perhaps predating both was the concept of 'boy toy'. However my perception and I would feel it uncontroversial would be that the scenario of a man dating or wedding a much younger woman could be described as a trope. A brief consultation with our availability heuristic might have us all recalling our parents gossiping about some doctor or lawyer they are vaguely connected to leaving their wife and marrying a much younger woman.

It may also be a natural bias of my own sex, but I know men whose ex girlfriends either left them for or rebounded onto old men with distended testicles (I assume). And while I know cases of women going younger, in contrast of the trope like status of men snatching from cradles, I would regard women dating significantly younger men as the exception.

I have however never read Germaine Greer's art history book 'The Beautiful Boy' But I do know it exists.

But this is supposed to be about my superficiality, so let's get into it. And some pictures please. Consider the following two women:

Exhibit Ix (not to be confused with roman numerals IX)

Exhibit Twix

Now apart from questioning why I'm still using my impractical base six counting system inspired by confectionery, you might be wondering whether my confusion lead me to unintentionally reproducing the same image twice. I did it on purpose, because I want to compare apples with apples. This woman ticks several of my boxes which I would have established in previous installments of this series if I hadn't published this first. But she has the indicators of physical health: long lustrous hair, healthy BMI, clear skin (which I don't care about so much) and social cues like the ability to assemble and wear with confidence a look, general coordination, and a degree of sprezzatura

Now though the information is that through some extraordinarily unlikely coincidence these dopplegangers are in fact two different women, one of whom is aged 22 and the other aged 37.
This then is my opinion on the matter of age, even though visably these two women are identical, I would say the 37 year old is more attractive. Or at least should be more attractive.

Yes, in an ideal world, I would dispense a valuation of an age premium. Something that helps with this are heavily visually based dating aps like 'Tinder' and 'Hot or Not'. Anyone who has used these aps for 5 minutes has a good chance of being able to sympathise with me when I say, swiping is hard work. Hot or Not in particular encourages you to 'like' 50 people a day, and the law of diminishing returns certainly applies, where it is pretty easy to find 20 people I like the look of. 30 is a slight effort, 40 is tedium and the last ten often take as long to resign yourself too as the previous 40 took all together. 

But not only is that symptomatic of the distribution and frequency of women in a 20 km radius that meet my superficiality, it's that these sites (though probably skewed) show the precipitous drop off in age v attractiveness. 

I feel like in A Song Of Ice and Fire there's a scene where Cersei meets the distant relative that Robb Stark married causing him to break his betrothal, and she comments on how she is beautiful but it's the kind of beauty that comes with youth, not like her own beauty.

And indeed, as Lilly Allen lamented in her song '22' 'It's sad but it's true how society says her life is already over' which in the context of the song is actually referring to the age of 30, a sentiment echoed in Bridgette Jones' Diary and I'd point out this bleak outlook comes in both cases from British sources so grain of salt as the British are known for being the least attractive people in western Europe if not the entire Anglo-sphere.

But I digress, there appears to be a precipitous fall, in a lot of communities where one loses their looks rapidly in their twenties. Part of the problem with my sample of course is that I don't know how much the data is skewed by women feeling pressure to game the search preferences of dating aps, knock ten years off their age. 

At face value though, here in Guadalajara the population of the dating ap world is 90% attractive up to the age of 25, 60% up to 28, 40% up to 30, and scratching 10% by my age of 35. Here then is the age premium, with some disclaimers... in fact forget I said 'here then' here are the disclaimers.

Presuming that Mexicans are less likely to divorce because of the Pope, attractive women may just progressively be marrying themselves out of the dating app pool and or migrating to Ashley Madison. A kind of inverse survivor bias. This means as you get older, the more likely the people on dating aps are the ones who struggly to make it past the swipe phase. This probably plays a role, however I'm sure lifecycle and lifestyle factors are more explanatory.

Here finally then, is the age premium: women who are attractive at age 23 offer little predictive insight as to whether they will be attractive at 35. Both the longevity of their genes and their ability to maintain a healthy lifestyle are untested. Whereas, a woman who is attractive at 35 is more likely to remain attractive longer. 

Consider Jessica Simpson and Madonna if you will. When Jessica Simpson was last in the headlines and talk of the town for her reality tv show 'Newlyweds' back in 2005, Madonna released her album Confessions on the Dance Floor, looks far more like 2018 Madonna than 2005 Jessica Simpson looks like 2018 Jessica Simpson.

That's all surface though, a kind of application of the Lindy Effect to perishable human beings. There's another basis for the age premium, in my case, which is as a general rule I have always much preferred the company of older relative to younger people. It's not that older people are more intelligent, but they tend to be wiser. Specifically age is one of the great remedies to the Dunning Kruger effect. Very much "The Effect of Our Times" not only are people more likely to develop a degree of epistemic humility with age, they are more likely to offer me the valuable feedback as to the extent to which I am in the grips of the Dunning Kruger effect.

And for the trifecta, the third reason by which I would give age a premium as an attribute, is emotional maturity. It's another probabilistic argument, but young people can cruise through life for a good long time without precipitating the kind of crisis that exposes how out of touch they are with their emotional life. I would describe emotional maturity as the development of emotional competence, being able to recognize your affect as it is occurring, to recognize how it is shaping your thoughts and behavior, and knowing how to self regulate. As we age, the more likely we are to experience the kinds of insults from reality, the kinds of crisis that serve as catalyst to developing these skills and becoming emotionally mature. 

And emotional maturity makes life so much easier.

So really, I should be able to say, that given your attractiveness meets my superficial standards, the older a woman is, the better in my books. Well, yes, in the friend zone certainly, and to a limited extent, romantically.

I don't know what my rule would be mathematically, but when I was 18 I was involved with a girl who was 19 for the first six months, then she dumped me and I as then serial monogamist got entangled for the next three years with a 21 year old who thanks to relativity and both remaining on planet earth travelling at sub speed of light speeds, remained 2 years older than me when she dumped me whence I was going on 22. I managed to then address my own emotional immaturity and held off for a year before at 23 I began dating a 25 year old. 

After that the trend of increasing age got arrested. Because I ran into the biological clock, as well as a bunch of other issues. The biological clock though is the real kicker.

Because it would be nice as I am figuring things out, to partner up with people on an even keel with me, who have had as much time and life experience as I have to figure shit out. I'll go one better and say it is nice. Except we aren't on an even keel so far as family planning is concerned. I have much more time and leeway to make mistakes than my female contemporaries. That is, if having children is important to them. 

I guess rationally I am stoically indifferent, as should be my philosophical disposition, however honestly I don't think I am indifferent to the extent that if I found an attractive career woman with no ambition to have children, I would be ready to resign myself from parenthood nor invest serious time in playing around with our hearts together.

But I frankly am by and large unimpressed with younger women. This no-good generation of which I am apparently still a member of the self-same generation as people 10 years my junior. Their immunity to the current idiotic zeitgeist is frankly horrifying, and judgement often prompting sympathetic embarassment that they themselves do not feel. Basically the Dunning Kruger effect is at Jesus-Christ-Monkeyballs level with people who got facebook and smartphones while they were in highschool.

And alas, as will be made laboriously clear, much of what I find physically attractive is highly predictive of and correlated with youth. Probably because it has been a selective pressure to identify partners who are fertile, very fertile throughout all of human history.

In this regard though, as near as can be verified that delayed gratification can be said to predict success, the authors of 'Fuck Feelings' a set of practicing clinical psychologists said the secret to healthy relationships was the ability to hold out until you find a good partner. Such that women who remain physically competitive with women 8 to 10 years their junior, indicate genes that might produce daughters that can be more selective with their own choice of partner. Or it indicates good judgement, not that life is fair and time and chance don't happen to us all. But as was/will be discussed with my superficiality regarding body image, the great under-discussed cause of unhealthy BMIs and WHRs is in my view, not the media environment but the industrial relations environment. The time poor, sedentary, malnourished, addicted and indebted likelihoods of 21st century living. 

A woman who is in the physical condition of parentally financed 1st year uni student, indicates an ability to navigate this environment that is hostile to physical and mental health.

I really like the term 'Jailbait' which is another reason I like to avoid any women that even indicate they may be dipping below the double-decades.

I would like to avoid the risk of Jailbait altogether if I can, and so this is an area of my own superficiality where it makes sense for me to find younger women more attractive, I am actually sympathetic to a technological solution that could make reprogramming my prefences pragmatic. As in the development of artificial surrogates, a cost effective, completely ethical solution to the biological inequality between male and female fertility.

I would imagine in a post biological clock world, that guys preferences including my own, be still skewed toward peak fertility and health age cues. We wouldn't suddenly be talking about how much we'd like to do Hillary Clinton in the locker rooms. And yeah, there's a degree to which we are already living in a post biological clock era now, with egg freezing and IVF and surrogates. Except that there's a premium on conceiving the old fashioned way to the tune of several if not tens of or hundreds of thousands of dollars upfront.

One should be cautious though, of evolutionary game changers. The pill was one such game changer (and I've read about how problematic the pill is, even as a massive game changer) but in terms of sexual relations, though the pill enabled women without a doubt to gain control of their own fertility, increase their likelihood and longevity of tertiary study, pursue careers previously kept from them and in time sit on regulatory and research bodies to improve their own contraceptive and fertility treatments (in theory). In terms of market power, the major benificiary of the pill are men.

It should make women suspicious that I as a man, am pro a device that would change the evolutionary game theoretic of fertility. It could be a corrective to the market power handed to me by the introduction of the pill, or it could accelerate it. I haven't thought it through and the market probably won't either in it's rush to meet demand with supply. (two immediate thoughts would be how to overcome the developmental hurdle of a child in gestation attuning itself to the mother's heartbeat and mother's voice/accent, and also the psychological fallout of placing women in a sudden situation where they are expected to maintain the physique and beauty standards of 28 year olds well into their 50s as par for course while working 47 hours a week. When women are given equal biological clock time as men, it doesn't necessarily follow that men will become as un-visual in their preferences for partners as women are.)

Onto height.


I first used Tinder in Italy, and quickly learned that for the most part, Italian's don't use Tinder in Italy. Makes sense when your home town is daily bombarded with a transitional population of backpackers on Tinder, it is not a good place to look for a relationship.
The other thing, that's a lie, I noticed a million depressing things that an app like Tinder does to women, but one of them was noticing the plight of tall girls. The first thing in their profile description was '178 cm, no short guys thanks' or '5'11" only 6'+ need inquire' and to some extent it is heartbreaking. I was immediately picturing these women's early forays into app-based dating where they uploaded some photos of themselves in bikini's, in the volleyball team uniform, in a club dress for the annual medical students ball, and were inundated with matches. 
Only to go to date after date with guys of average height where they either a) kicked themselves for wasting their time or b) had their date floundering for an excuse to get out of their as soon as possible. Training themselves quickly to disclose their height. 

The one time I ever felt the momentary negative emotions of rejection on Tinder was on a chat with a match that spent no time asking my height, telling me it was okay because we were the same height, then I made a joke about how I don't wear heels though, then she just unmatched and killed the chat without so much as a 'thanks but no thanks'
At the very least I may have contributed to her re-calibrating her minimum height standards. 
More to the point though, was that opening a conversation with 'how tall are you?' screams desperation to me, and any thought that taller women might be spared the awfulness of 'choice overload' online dating apps plague people with, kind of disipates into it's hard enough to find one person you are actually interested in on Tinder, you don't need the extra restriction of height.

Alas, my own dating history has the Shakespearian qualities of 'little' and 'fierce'. A statistical analysis would suggest that I like them short, and I like them scary. Some kind of female Napoleon complex, though Napoleon himself was apparently not short, but the average height for his time. It's just your standard piece of British propaganda. 

Thing is, it doesn't make sense to me. My NBA ambitions that are now vicarious should have me gravitating to the tallest women I can find, given that shortness is apparently recessive and typically a mother is destined to be the shortest member of the family. Our children could be 6'3" and refer to me lovingly as 'little dad' but when they use their first (W)NBA paycheck to buy my tall wife and I a house with a little 5'9" 'daddy flap' installed in the doors so I can come in and out of the house without my wife getting up to operate the doorknobs I cannot reach and am not smart/coordinated enough to operate myself.

Oh and I could be the little spoon while spooning more often. 

On paper it's all upside, particularly given that one of the biggest predictors of corporate success should our progeny fail to make the NBA cut, is height with 6' plus individuals being over-represented among CEOs. Yes, it isn't just a man's world, it's a tall man's world.

One obvious obstacle though is that equal to my preference for shorties (or short fiercies?), and non-preference for tall women, is the inverse well attested to and backed by data preference by women for tall men and non-preference for short men. 

I've heard competing claims, Dan Ariely for example says when you run a labor analysis (multi-variable regression analysis) for a 5'9" male to be considered as attractive as a 5'10" male he needs to earn about $40,000 more per inch of height he lacks. Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller says guys who are short are at a disadvantage but it isn't a big deal, guys who are overweight are at a disadvantage but it isn't a big deal. Ariely concedes the search functionality of a dating site can take a bias and exaggerate it (if for example the women are using height as a search criteria, Tinder has no search function, just age, gender and distance preferences). And what I see on the streets suggests that it isn't so extreme as men of average height need to be in the 1% to get any attention.

But it is extremely rare to see men who are shorter than their female partners. I don't know but at some point shall investigate how lesbians tend to handle the height differential. Does it for example follow the fem-butch dichotomy? I don't know, and fem-butch couplings/role adherence aren't universal among lesbian parings and even social groups.

But due to the recessive nature of shortness genes, it's hard to explain more so why men, and particularly I care about the height differential. My preference for women who are below average height (women who are short, among women) is fairly irrational, though it tends to inversely correlate with meek and mild personalities. 

Curiously, some of the funniest women I know are tall, and taller than the average man. This appears to be the inverse of the trend among males, where the taller a man is, the more boring and blase he tends to be. Of course there's exceptions, but they are exceptions that tend to prove the rule.

So as near as I can guess, the superficialities of height are probably what most people intuitively hit upon - insecurity. Like body-hair norms and cosmetic norms, I'm guessing due to us being a species of sexual dimorphism, just as less body hair indicates more female, and more body hair indicates more male, and higher contrast in facial features indicates more female and lower contrast more male. 

I'm guessing the general rule is that in the same lazy heuristic way, taller suggests masculinity and shorter suggests femininity. So if your preference is for ladies, your preferences will follow to be less hairy, more contrast in facial features and shorter. 

Of course, there's thresholds with me and I would expect with the population in general. It can't be the rule that 'the shorter the better' because at some point a lack of height will start to disturb an individual in the suggestion of some genetic defect or that a child is masquerading as an adult (pedophillic) the same I imagine goes for body hair, and there's a more obvious threshold of overdoing makeup to the point it becomes war paint and scares people away.

The narrative as to why a man might be averse to a taller woman, and not just a woman who is taller than most of the male population, but taller than them, so she could be average height and my male ancestor be actually short, but just a relative height differential. Here then is what I mean by insecurity, if given that height is in part nutrition, but largely hereditary what I suspect a tall woman indicates is that her surviving male relatives will then be taller than her, and therefore taller than you. 

That's the insecurity, the stigma, is that you would be marrying into an extended family where you are not so much pushed around by your violent and physically dominant wife, but by your in laws. My suspicion, guesstimate, inkling is that the importance of height in male hierarchies and social security, mean that a woman's height works against her rather than for her because of the immediate impact, rather than the long term benefit of having taller sons than you would have with a partner shorter than you.

Furthermore, it would explain why women ostensibly care more about height than men, that for all my ambitions to vicariously live through my taller children, I may find no women willing to sign up. For one, if she can find a taller partner not just than me, but than her, then the advantage is more likely to compound. Thus for her own basketball ambitions for her children she has no incentive to shack up with me. There may be a better case for corporate ambitions, albeit my own sample of corporate success was brief. I haven't had a 'real' job in over a decade.

The tragedy I see playing out on Tinder is probably driven by a survivor bias. Tinder tends to accumulate people who don't match easily, as the ones who do, find a partner and drop their profile. Owing to sexual dimorphism, a woman who is above average height for women doesn't really have a problem. If you are 5'9" (174 cm) as a male you are as tall or taller than some 58.6% of men in their twenties in the United States. If you are female and 5'9" you are taller than 94.1% of women in their twenties in the United States. So a 5'4" woman is tall, by female standards but the majority of the male population is taller than her. No sweat.

But if you are female and 6' then you are taller than almost 80% of men in their 20s in the United States. So it is women who are tall in absolute terms that will struggle with a slim pickings situation, and necessity/scarcity may force them to relax or work against their own preference for men who are as tall or taller than their father. 

This of course would mean that in terms of genetic contributions to the height and wellbeing of our children, I then am bringing nothing to the table. There's something selfishly 'altruistic' about me gravitating to statistically short women with an implicit 'I can help your children out of your little situation'

Onwards to 

Single Mothers

A potentially fraught topic to discuss, aside from body image, it's the one I can intuit a sensitivity 'out there' to. So let me start with single dads. 

A specific subset of single fathers. Excluding a father who is bereft the mother of their children, a widower who is left to recalibrate the family to one where he provides 100% of his dependents' needs. I don't want to pick on those guys, no more than their female equivalents. I also would concede that there's probably a rarer variety which is fathers whose co-parent abandoned the family for whatever tragic reasons she felt the need to. A Kramer vs Kramer type situation.

And of course it's 2019 so there will be single fathers who had to turf out their deadbeat or abusive male partners, their co-father, in same sex couples.

I want to beat up a minute on the single father that is a father that has been dumped. The mother broke up with him because they found him wanting and so imposed a harsh judgement upon him - that for all the stigma, and financial disadvantage, and romantic handicapping that comes with being a single mother. She decided she would be better off on her ownsome than to allow you to tag along.

That's harsh. But not necessarily unfair. I am pro divorce. But it seems to me, that this kind of single dad, this one who has been judged a burden to the family they would keep at a remove. I would expect them to suffer by it, suffer the most by their status as a parent. That in all the dating markets that exist, this single dad would and should be struggling the most.

And they don't seem to. With this perplexity in mind, let me turn to the perplexity now of the single mother.

Most of my exploration of my own superficiality, is that aside from the look, the clothing, the aesthetics. Everything else I cue into, and particularly give priority to with my attention and attraction skews toward the triumvirate of signals: fertility, health, kindness. Which can be combined into the divine singular of: mothers. I'm not conscious of it, but I am attracted to motherliness.

Not my own mother, though there isn't nothing to Freud's Oedipal complex, attachment theory and bio-psycho-social factors certainly apply to me and I well understand them.

So why would single mother's, people who have literally demonstrated their fertility and ability to keep a child alive, particularly at a socioeconomic disadvantage to co-parents, have difficulty in the dating market?

Well, I have to plead ignorance. I don't know that they do have any problems on the dating market. It is a well worn hollywood trope that the non-custodial father has to deal with a step-dad who's a great and decent guy. Painting a world in which there's seemingly always available men who will be much better parents and much better lovers than the biological father.

On some level, this must be true. It is the presence of children that possibly changes the equation and which causes me, personally, confusion.

I read a book on the Comanches that made somewhere in it a claim that the horseback nature of their society lead to high rates of female infertility, such that, women who had proven their capacity to bare children commanded a premium in the marriage market. I don't recall it talking about infanticide, and I feel given the history of racism that crops up with nativist movements among white settlers, infanticide among the Comanche Nation feels like something that would come up if it ever happened. 

Suggesting there are circumstances, where men prefer single mothers. Just... nothing recently.

Crazily, if there's a 'rule of thumb' I have learned to employ the hard way in my own dating life it is that regardless of my intentions to actually have children or not, if I wouldn't put a child in a woman's arms, I won't put myself in them either. This rule may seem stupidly obvious, if you have never met human beings. But curiously most people seem to picture themselves as thick skinned adults that will put up with far more physical, psychological and emotional abuse than they would ever wish on a child.

But for the most part, intimate, sexual relationships exist as a form of test-driving potential co-parents. Even I suspect, a dynamic that dominates same-sex couples, and it's true most lesbians I know wind up with a bunch of cats.

Alas, I'm straight, so I'll get back in my lane. I watched a horrible video, by a horrible person giving a lecture to horrible people that for as near as I could discern had no qualifications and was just espousing his personal opinion. And this video and guy is so horrible that I won't link to it. Alas, it was within his competence to raise the very real concerns men should have when dating single mothers.

I'm reluctant to watch it again to jog my memory, however the valid concerns that men should look down the barrel of including but are not limited to: being an obstacle to reconciliation for the estranged father who often legally cannot be excluded from your partners life, breakups come with multiplied heartbreak, you cannot compete nor command attention...

and it gets uglier. I forget who now, but it was an evolutionary psychologist fielding a question on the incidence of false paternity, where women get pregnant by one man and another man unwittingly raises children he believes biologically to be his own. Though it does happen, it is rare but the psychologist fielding the question (I can't recall if it was Heather Hayes or Diana Fleischman) referred to a colleague defining any case where a man raises another man's children as a cuckold. 

Which is true in a biological sense, even if they aren't ethical equivalents in the domain of consent. From the position of investment in offspring, they are one and the same.

Now, there are many situations where becoming a step-dad may be quite agreeable even desirable. A man may know he possesses genetic predispositions that he cannot in good conscious pass on to another generation having suffered himself, but still possess the paternal instincts that have him want a family with kids running around. Or you may have a Brady Bunch situation where the couple have both produced offspring, albeit not with each other.

I'm in neither of these situations though. 

Ostensibly, I have nothing against dating or coupling with a single mother. Part of me is curious as to what it is like to enter a relationship where I am incapable (or should be) of becoming the person they love the most in the world.

However along with my felt curiosity, is more overwhelming felt responsibility. Which is to say, I can't imagine that it is good to have a strange man enter a child's life and compete with them for attention for 3 months and work out and process their relationship to this new person in their life after which mum and this guy call it quits and he disappears then repeat.

I again have to plead ignorance as to what the actual effect on children of single mother's (or separated parents is for that matter) having an active love life. It may just be their sense of normal, that the cast rotates and changes. I just suspect that this being a very modern phenomena, it probably is less than optimal for healthy childhood development.

Compounding it, I imagine is, a the step-sibling phenomena. Apparently, it's emotionally hard enough for an eldest child to have to cope with the arrival of the next sibling. My mother once told me, what I'm sure is pure speculation, but that it would be the equivalent of her being told by my father that a second wife would be arriving soon. I don't know if it is comparable, probably not, and historically I imagine half-siblings and second wives occurred a lot more frequently than they do now, at least in relative terms. 

Alas, I don't think I have the stomach to do that to a child. Which is a good time to point out that I really only have a felt conundrum for the stage of life I am at. If I were dating in my 50s, and dating a 50 year old who had a grown adult child off at University, I don't give a shit. There is literally no difference to me then than if I was dating a woman with no children. 

I'm not going to enjoy Christmas day anyway, I never have and probably never will, with the sole exceptions of my Christmases in Japan and Mexico.

So I don't know, just as it seems unethical for me to compete in full contact mixed martial arts with a 6 year old girl, I don't feel I should compete in the much higher stakes situation of a mother's attention.

Of course, this is an ugly thing to feel because it kind of writes off single mothers to lay in the bed they did not necessarily make for themselves. In which case, my feeling is that I'm hesitant but open to the idea, and on the question of being brought into a strange child's life by the mother, as she is their guardian I would defer to her judgement.

Which brings me to arguably something uglier, which is the subject of judgement. If anything could be said to be worthy of repulsing people, it should be poor judgement. And there's no way to slice it in my thought experiments where you don't have this evident piece of poor judgement. 

What's the most charitable case I can imagine? A couple meet in Medical School, they stay together throughout their 20's and purchase a house together and get married in a modest ceremony in front of 200 of their friends, and then after both have turned 30 decide to have a child, and then in the later terms of her pregnancy the guy goes through some kind of personal crisis to which he reacts by committing an act of infidelity, sloppily such that she discovers it and she isn't having a bar of him. 

To all extents and purposes, she had every indication that she picked a guy who was a non-financial burden that was committed to sticking around. And yet, after the fact it appears evident to me that she has picked the wrong guy to have a child with. I should cite here, Esther Perell, Belgian Couples Therapy psychologist that has written and spoken on the subject of infidelity whom has cited the Clinton-Lewinsky scandel as inspiring her interest, because in Franco-speaking culture the scandal isn't infidelity but divorce - one of irresponsibility. In other words, in which case it isn't 'how dare a man take a mistress' but 'how dare a man abandon his family' so there's a different cultural lens to see even this scenario through, albeit in this scenario the lens seems to suggest the guy going off to fuck some other lady is less culpable than the pregnant wife kicking him out. 

One way to reconcile it would be to say that the man not knowing how his wife would react to the discovery of his infidelity was in that regard being irresponsible. I don't really care though because I am not the product of French culture, I'm from the far more repressed British influence.

So I haven't checked the stats recently, but last I heard, being a single-mother was one of the most debilitating things that can happen to an individuals socio-economic status, and most impactful on one's future. And the risks are disproportionately borne by the mother of unplanned parenthood. It appears in most nations, they haven't figured out a way yet to reliably get dad's to pay their child support.

And stearing back to deadbeat dad's that have been dumped into single-fatherhood status, the non-payment of child support is an empathetic space I really struggle to enter. It may be that I am making an error of affect forecasting, but I don't know how they would justify to themselves not paying to support the welfare of their own child. Because it seems remarkably common practice. I put it in the same category as the young guy that used to work in a department I interacted with telling his coworkers that he'd lost his license but was still driving because 'what else am I going to do?' which similarly boggles my mind as to what sense of entitlement or sheer stupidity one must have.

An inability on my part to accurately affect forecast how I would feel if my partner and mother to our children cast me out may inform my superficiality on this point. I am reluctant to be with someone who made such an egregious error on one of the most important decisions of their life. Just from a purely consequential framework.

Both parties made either a tremendous risk-assessment error, or a tremendous forecasting error or probably both. There is something small and petty inside me that I won't disown, that resents any suggestion that I should pick up any part of the tab.

Which isn't true. I would be happy to pay taxes that fund services that support women in this situation. However, the archetypal Comedy is 'two people are in the wrong relationships' in the modern era we refer to these as Rom-com's or even Romances.

But when Elizabeth finally realizes that Brad is wrong with her and Eugene was who she should be with all along, I'm not sure that Eugene shouldn't have the self respect to say 'fuck you Elizabeth, it should have been obvious that I was a better match.' That may be more a commentary of a lack of skill on the part of writers of comedies and rom-coms and romances. Or the necessity for drama.

Real life is more complicated, with various psychological phenomena coming into play, including but not limited to self-validating partner selection, white-knight pathologies, the suite of personality disorders, attachment theory etc. that make more obvious criteria less obvious from another person's shoes.

The thing is, my experience has been that when I truly look at who a person is on the inside, I make much worse judgments than when I pick my partners superficially for all the above mentioned psychological reasons. 

Yet core to my identity is much sympathy, as an artist I believe in experimentation, exploration, risk taking and of course mistakes. I believe in the sanctity of human life and the equal dignity and intrinsic value in all people. 

Dating mother, and subsequent child that comes with, is perhaps made more of a conundrum for me though in that I have recourse. For all the potentially rewarding challenges that might come with this new experience, I simply don't have to deal with it if I don't choose to. 

I can date single women with no child to complicate the equation. Women equal in dignity and intrinsic value to single mothers, that also crave love and attachment and caregiving and sex, and should no less be denied it. They no doubt have more options too, so on this matter I remain agnostic and hesitant.