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Repost: Céad Mílle Fáilte

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Categories: St. Patty's Day, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

I originally posted this last year on St. Pat’s, and I still feel the same way. Enjoy my thoughts on Saint Patrick’s Day, Irishness, and green beer:

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Now put down the dyed-green beer and listen up.

There was a time in my life when I would get bent out of shape at the idea of the green beer, corned beef and cabbage, and asinine “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” pins. That time has since passed.

In 2004, I had the distinct pleasure of going to Ireland with my blushing bride for our honeymoon. It was probably one of the happiest weeks of my life. We had a week of B&B vouchers, a rental car with unlimited miles, and no plans but to see where the road would take us. The narrow, winding roads took us to a beautiful old cemetery (or twelve) and  cows grazing in the ruins of some ancient building or another. The roundabouts lead us to the weight of history and the lightness of a fair pint of Harp. The path we chose crossed with Ute, the super friendly German tourist, and Anne and Michael, lovely proprietors of the Gables B&B. The stops on the road were at Gaby’s in Killarney (home of the most delicious seafood I’ve ever had in my entire life) and some God-forsaken hotel in Kilkenny (where we were served “a selection of local farm cheeses.” I can only assume the local farm was located in Hell.) We ate and drank and breathed Ireland for a week on the wing.

And while a week was not nearly enough, I felt a connection to that place that has not faded in the past five-some years. Hell, the people there all look like I look and have names like my name. More than my surname or big head, though, is a feeling of kindred spirit. You see, the Irish take the good with the bad and smile all the while. Irish history is full of examples of this mentality; dance a jig at your best friend’s wake, for he’d surely dance one at yours.

And as much as the faux-Irishness of the American St. Patrick’s Day pains me sometimes, I do so enjoy the holiday. Because for every green-beer swilling wannabe hooligan drowned in hops and yeast, another chap is getting his first taste of Yeats. For every nasty plate of corned beef and cabbage, somewhere else is served a proper shepherd’s pie. As Murphy, from the movie Boondock Saints, put it, “…it’s St. Patty’s Day, everyone’s Irish tonight.” So put on your silly pin and your green clothes if you must. Hell, if you’re cute, I may even French you ’cause you’re Irish!

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Dragonfly

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Categories: Poetry, Tags: , , , , , ,

The dragonfly is flitting to and fro! My poem, “Dragonfly,” has now been published in Writer’s News Weekly (first publication), the Fall 2010 edition of Rock Valley College’s Voices art and literature magazine, and at Fictionaut. I’m proud of the little guy!

This is one of my best poems, if I do say so myself. If you have a moment, please give the piece a gander and share your thoughts with me. My fragile artist’s ego could use a boost after the lousy week I’ve had. Thanks in advance.

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9360

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Categories: Family, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

My apologies for the delay between this and my last post. College is back in full swing, I recently moved, and I’ve been working my butt off on my super-secret project. Recent events, however, have prompted me to write. I need to get something off my chest.

First, a little biography. I’ve never met my father. He has never been a part of my life, having left my mother and me when I was but a wee babe. I know very little about him, except for a few minor details. [Apparently I look quite similar to him, which is a credit to him. Despite the other things he might be, at least he’s goddamned sexy. ;)]

Last night I was contacted on Failbook by my half-sister. I’ve never met her, though I’ve known of her existence for about ten years or so. I’ve never tried to contact her before because, frankly, I could care less about her or my half-brother. I already have a sister, and her name is Mirel Vera Allegra Jones (though hopefully her last name will be Santiago again soon enough, but that’s a topic for another day).

I do feel for Jennifer, my half-sister, because she did not know for certain that I existed until last night. In that, we have something in common; we’ve both been wounded by the man who calls himself Allen and whose genetic material Jennifer and I share. My empathy for her situation does not change the fact that she is a stranger to me, however. My mother always told me never to talk to strangers…

This morning, then, imagine my surprise when I received another Failbook message from a stranger: my absentee father’s current wife. I’m taking the liberty of re-posting her message here:

Hi Darius my name is Melody Duncan I am Jeniffer Duncan’s step mother..yes that means Allen Duncan is my husband..I am not going to feed you a line of BS why he didnt stand by you or your mom, but I know sence I have been with himfor the last eight years he has been a good man …I do know when he was younger he drank alot and smoked a lot of pot. it wasnt until his other son David was 13 did he finally get his sh.t together…It look like you have done well for yourself and you should be very proud of how you turned out…you see neither one of his other two kids finished high shool, and I see you went to college..and you have a beautiful wife and child… and you are there for them.. I think he couldnt handle what ever was going on at that time in his life you and David are only 7 month apart…so how do you choose which family to stay with?? I do know you do cross through his mind form time to time… but there is nothing he can do to turn back time and make things right with you..I do wish you the best in life in everything you do.. Take care and may god always watch over you and your family………sincerly Melody Duncan

And here’s my reply:

Melody-

I would argue that a good man would try to make amends for the mistakes of his past, even if he knew they were doomed to failure. It is the attempt that speaks to a man’s character, not the results. A good man would have revealed the truth to his other children. Therefore, your description of Allen as a “good man” rings hollow. Actions, indeed, speak louder than words.

It is true Allen cannot turn back time, nor is there much chance of making things right with me. If I do cross his mind from time to time as you say, I wonder if the number 9,360 crosses his mind as well. That is the number of dollars the court ordered him to pay to help support me. If one were interested in making amends, that number would be a good place to start.

You see, Melody, in my thirty years of life, I’ve let go of the hate and anger and shame of being a bastard child. All that remains is a sense of injustice and a desire for retribution. I don’t feel owed love or compassion or affection. There is simply the matter of an unsettled financial obligation. Thankfully, time has a way of sorting these things out and making them right.

To that end, I’d prefer not to hear from you again unless it’s to tell me of Allen’s death. I harbor you no ill will; I simply have nothing else to say to you. If Allen wants to contact me himself, my info is pretty easy to find in cyberspace (and has been for quite some time).

-Darius McCaskey

I’m not really sure why I feel the need to share this, except that I am a believer in calling bullshit when people are deluding themselves. Maybe I’m hopeful I can shame someone into doing something they ought to have done of their own volition long ago. I dunno. Maybe I’m just an asshole. >shrug<

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New Essay: “The Duty to Die”

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Categories: Essays, Writing, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

For the record, I am not a utilitarian, and this essay helps explain why. I hope you can at least appreciate the logic I employed in crafting my thesis. Without further ado, here is my essay, “The Duty to Die”:

For those existing with the intense pain of a terminal illness, the right to life sounds like a cruel joke. Every day becomes a choice: continuing to endure the pain of disease, taking powerful pain medications to ameliorate the discomfort, or ending one’s life. Which option to pursue can become a moral dilemma to someone battling excruciating bone cancer or advanced HIV/ AIDS. Some may choose to grit their teeth and bear it, believing they must preserve their mental clarity in the final stage of their illness. Others seek comfort in the form of potent narcotics that may render them incoherent. The morally virtuous instead choose to die on their own terms, either by their own hand or with assistance.

The moral theory of utilitarianism requires us to always choose the action that maximizes pleasure and minimizes pain for all those affected by the action. Thus the terminally ill patient must perform a wicked calculus; which of the three available end-of-life treatments will maximize pleasure and minimize pain for everyone involved? Obviously, in the situation of someone who is terminally ill, it’s doubtful there’s any hope of maximizing pleasure. Therefore, the patient needs only focus on minimizing pain.

This eliminates the possibility of sustaining one’s life without benefit of pain management drugs while maintaining moral correctness. As noted by Foley et al, “the suffering of an individual radiates throughout households, neighborhoods, and villages.” Toughing it out certainly does not minimize pain. In fact, it does the opposite; it maximizes pain and minimizes pleasure. The second option available is to continue existence with palliative drug treatments. While this does minimize the pain of the patient, the family and friends of the terminal patient continue to suffer. In their February 2010 article on Scientific American’s website, psychology professors Robert Emery and Jim Coan state:

During a particularly stressful experience, the anterior cingulate cortex may respond by increasing the activity of the vagus nerve – the nerve that starts in the brain stem and connects to the neck, chest and abdomen. When the vagus nerve is overstimulated, it can cause pain and nausea.

Few would argue dealing with a loved one suffering from a terminal illness is not stressful. Therefore, simply by being terminally ill – whether one utilizes pain management or not – a patient is causing pain to his or her friends and family. The death of the patient is also stress-inducing, and the pain of losing a loved one can last for years, decades, or a lifetime. Friends and family suffer their own pain while the ill person is dying, and after their death. The final solution available is to terminate one’s life. Suicide, whether assisted or not, can be accomplished painlessly. The terminally ill patient’s pain ends at the moment of death. This means less pain for the patient than if they had foregone medication, and the same amount (or less) than if they had opted for palliative care. The friends and family of the patient will still experience the pain of that person’s passing in the same way as the previous two options. They will, however, be spared the pain of watching their loved one languish away. The friends and family of the ill person will skip the pain caused by watching the patient slide closer and closer to death, and move directly to the pain caused by the death itself. This means less pain for those affected by the patient’s passing than if they had continued to suffer with their disease, medication or no.

Clearly, then, of the three options available to the terminally ill patient in pain – palliative medicine, no medication, or death – self-euthanasia is the option required of the morally righteous, according to the utilitarian thesis. It is the choice that maximizes pleasure and minimizes pain for all those affected by the action. The patient’s pain ceases; the suffering of family and friends is diminished. Terminally ill patients in pain not only have a right to die, they have a moral duty to pursue their own death as quickly and painlessly as possible.

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New Essay: “A Contract of Love”

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Categories: Essays, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Gays are not very gay when it comes to the issue of marriage. In most states, they are not allowed to marry. In some of those states, civil unions offering a smattering of the same rights married couples enjoy are allowed. In a tiny minority of the United States, homosexuals are granted full marriage rights equal to heterosexuals. Gays and lesbians are upset in the states that offer no legal standing for their relationships because this relegates them to second-class status. They are simply not treated in like fashion to their straight peers. Some homosexuals are unhappy in states that offer civil unions as a supposedly equal alternative, claiming these unions don’t offer the same host of rights married couples enjoy. Others are angry they are branded with a different term, seeing a civil union as not equal to marriage in that the difference in language creates a prejudice against them, even if the union grants them the same set of rights as a married, heterosexual couple. Some straight couples, on the other hand, are upset the laws governing their marriage have changed. They see granting of marriage rights to gay couples in the states they’re allowed as fundamentally changing the nature of their heterosexual marriage. Other straights are angry they did not have the option of a civil union, instead being pressed into a marriage, which has a different social expectation attached. Furthermore, some heterosexuals are frustrated there’s a debate over gay marriage at all; they would prefer sexuality remain a topic that stays “behind closed doors.” In response to these varied – and often conflicting – frustrations, federal and state government officials have proposed numerous pieces of legislation in an attempt to balance the wants of their constituents. In 2004, opponents of gay marriage even proposed a Constitutional amendment to ban any marriage not between one man and one woman (Kuykendall). Yet, for every new proposal, a new round of angry condemnations and frustrated protests emerges. Lawmakers are in a fight they cannot win; they can’t please all of the people all of the time. Based on the frustration and anger generated on both sides of this issue, it’s evident a rational solution that works in the interests of most citizens must be found. The best solution to the issue of gay marriage is for state and federal government to replace current marriage regulations with domestic partnership agreements for all citizens.

Domestic partnership agreements would be structured in much the same way that business partnership agreements are set up now. In the simplest terms, a domestic partnership agreement would be a legal contract recognized by state and federal government as binding the parties for the purpose of creating and maintaining a shared household. The agreement would stipulate who is party to the agreement, the rights and responsibilities of the partners, and how changes to or dissolution of the agreement would take place. As with any contract, parties to a domestic partnership agreement would have to be legal adults. A domestic partnership could have more than two partners, provided all parties were in agreement with the arrangement. It’s also possible a person could be party to more than one domestic partnership, but this could present legal challenges depending on the wording of the individual agreements. Like a business partnership, a domestic partnership would have certain minimum rights and responsibilities conferred on the partners: right to make binding decisions on the partnership’s behalf, responsibility to act in the partnership’s best interests. Provisions could be added to the domestic partnership agreement allowing for other marriage-like rights and responsibilities, such as medical power of attorney and required monogamy. If the partners wished to amend the existing agreement, they would have to enter into a new agreement that supersedes the current partnership, or they could have stipulated a process for making changes to the agreement in the original contract. If one of the partners violated a provision of the domestic partnership agreement, the other partner would have cause to sue them for breach of contract in civil court (divorce).

Granting access to domestic partnership agreements to all citizens addresses the concerns of homosexuals that their relationships have no legal recognition. Domestic partnership agreements put homosexual relationships on equal footing with heterosexual ones, at least in the eyes of the law. The two-tiered system of civil unions and marriages would be cast aside in favor of a system that treats everyone as equals. Even if the pre-existing civil unions and marriages had like rights, the language in a domestic partnership is the same, thus eliminating the subtle prejudice the difference in words creates. Heterosexuals who are already married would see little change in how their marriage is treated for legal purposes. Their existing marriage would be converted to a “standard” domestic partnership agreement. For straight couples looking for a legal recognition of their relationship, but adverse to a traditional marriage, the domestic partnership agreement provides a handy solution to their dilemma. Further, for those who prefer such topics remain “out of sight, out of mind,” allowing domestic partnerships for all creates a veil of uniformity by eliminating the dichotomy between civil unions and marriages. From a legal standpoint, no one will care that the names on the partnership agreement are Bob and Mike. Finally, the domestic partnership solution eases pressure on politicians. They can allow the gay marriage debate to move from the legislative chamber back to its rightful place – the pulpit. Marriage is a religious institution made legal. By eliminating marriage from the public policy sphere entirely, politicians can focus on legislation that tackles critical issues with real impacts on people, such as the economy.

Of course, there will be objections to any change in marriage laws. Some will oppose changing marriages to domestic partnership agreements on the ground that what we have now is good enough. These objectors will claim the current system works fine, and just needs a few tweaks. They will oppose such a radical shift in our policies as disruptive to the status quo. These objectors are right: such a tectonic shift in American laws on marriage will disrupt the existing order. But, as we’ve seen in our country’s past, sometimes such a radical swing in policy is needed to exact social justice. Without intercession wildly opposed to popular opinion, yet just and fair, women in the United States would not be allowed to vote, and blacks would still be property – only 3/5 a person. Other objections will come from the religious right. They claim marriage as a holy institution that must be protected from those who would pervert it. They will also decry homosexuality as abhorrent and sinful, and that state sanction of homosexual relationships erodes the moral standing of our country. As anti-gay-marriage activist Brian Brown puts it, “… the marriage issue is the last frontier in the fight [to protect families and ensure religious freedom] …ultimately, same-sex marriage is not true” (Conant and Maloney). By enacting domestic partnerships for all citizens, the objections of these religious dissenters can be overcome. First, marriage is a religious doctrine, and as such should be debated in the appropriate forum – church. The free exercise provision of the First Amendment to the Constitution allows religious factions to determine for themselves whether or not to perform a religious marriage ceremony for homosexuals. Free exercise and free speech also grant religious individuals the freedom to speak out against homosexuals as sinful, abhorrent, and morally lax. The equal protection clause of Amendment XIV, however, grants gays and lesbians those same rights. Further, it affords homosexuals the right to equal legal recognition of their relationships.

Domestic partnership agreements are the rational solution to the gay marriage debate. They would afford equal protection to gay and straight couples, eliminate the controversy surrounding the use of the word marriage to sanctify homosexual relationships, and separate the legal recognition of a relationship from the religious one. As noted in her essay “The President, Gay Marriage, and the Constitution: A Tangled Web,” Mae Kuykendall writes “our Constitution as written supports gay marriage.” However, by taking the word “marriage” out of the debate, many of the opponents of same-sex rights would be silenced. Consenting adults would be granted the privileges and duties spelled out in their agreement with their partner(s): polygamists, homo- and bisexuals, and heterosexuals would all be equal under the law. Existing marriages would be largely unaffected by a shift to domestic partnerships, and politicians would be freed to tackle more pressing issues. For these reasons, a change from marriage defined by the state to domestic partnership agreements contracted between loving, consenting adults is needed.

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New Review: The Emperor Gaius (Caligula) by J. P. V. D. Balsdon

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Categories: Reviews, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Emperor Gaius (Caligula). (Caligula)The Emperor Gaius (Caligula). by John Percy Vyvian Dacre Balsdon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

John P. V. D. Balsdon wrote his comprehensive biography of Emperor Gaius in 1934. As a fellow at Exeter College of Oxford University, Professor Balsdon’s book is intended for a scholarly audience. While the thoroughness of the research is impressive, the book is definitely geared toward fellow scholars. Without a mastery of Latin and Ancient Greek, several passages are unintelligible. Mr. Balsdon presents several ideas in the original Latin or Greek and provides no explanation of what they mean. He expects his readers to be familiar with ancient concepts already. Further, due to the age of the work and its British origin, some of the language used is unfamiliar to modern American readers. Likewise, some of the grammar and punctuation is not in line with common usage now.

Compounding the language barriers is the awkward organization of Professor Baldson’s treatise. The biography begins with Emperor Gaius’s predecessor, Tiberius. Balsdon intersperses his discussion of Emperor Tiberius with the story of Gaius’s childhood. In that discussion, Gaius’s father, Germanicus, is also covered. From this opening chapter, the biography moves into the first three years of Gaius’s reign as emperor. After covering the first three years, Professor Balsdon narrows the book’s focus to the young emperor’s activities in Germany and Gaul. His campaign against the barbarians is discussed in some detail. The next chapter details the many conspiracies against Gaius (some real, some imagined), his eventual assassination, and the ascension of his uncle to the head of the empire. Inexplicably, the next chapter of Balsdon’s biography is devoted to Gaius’s treatment of the Jewish population in Judea and of the Diaspora. Rounding out the book are two general assessment chapters. The first focuses on the emperor’s government and administrative skills: the last on his character.

Despite these substantial shortcomings to the average reader, Professor Balsdon’s book has a few notable bright spots. First is a fold-out family tree, showing the complex branches of the Julio-Claudian line. Second is a detailed time line of the major events of Emperor Caligula’s life. The biography also contains a fourteen-and-a-half page index: quite thorough, even for a scholarly work. The three appendices expand or clarify information presented in the text proper. Appendix C, in particular, carries a comprehensive discussion of the primary and secondary sources of information on Gaius’s life.

In all, Professor Balsdon presents a clear, objective, scholarly assessment of Caligula’s birth, life, and death. Some questions about Gaius will remain shrouded by time, but for those who think they know the story of Caligula, Balsdon’s biography answers many previously unknown questions and dispels many of the more outlandish rumors perpetrated by his detractors. For the serious scholar, Professor Balsdon provides an intense examination. For the casual reader, however, the biography may be difficult to comprehend.

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New Essay: “Who Is John Galt Having Sex With?”

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Categories: Essays, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Human sexuality is a complex and diverse issue. Pornography, homosexuality, sadomasochism, other so-called perversions have real moral implications and affect real people. An issue as intensely personal as sexuality calls for a moral guide just as personal. Thankfully, in moral egoism, we have a theory of morality and ethical behavior centered on the individual. Proposed by philosophers like Ayn Rand, moral egoism in its simplest form states that an action is right for a person if, and only if, it promotes their best interests. As a consequentialist moral theory, egoism posits that the results of an action are what determine the moral worth thereof. Moral egoism also accounts for circumstantial relativism – the idea that the situation surrounding an action helps determine whether that action is right or wrong. If a given act in a given situation produces (or is likely to produce) outcomes that advance a person’s agenda, it is right. If not, it is wrong. Applied to sexual ethics, egoism requires individuals to rationally examine the potential outcomes of a sex act in a given situation to determine if engaging in the act is in their best interests. A sex act, then, is perverted (morally wrong) inasmuch as it opposes a person’s best interests. Through this lens, sexual activities that have traditionally been viewed as morally corrupt – such as promiscuity, sodomy, and masturbation – are actually morally acceptable behaviors.
Promiscuity, for example, is morally acceptable so long as the promiscuous person is honest with their partners that the relationship is purely physical in nature and safe sex methods are used. Sex is a near-universal desire in humans. Thus it is in most people’s best interests to have sex. If a person desires a large quantity of sexual contact, or multiple partners, being promiscuous could be in that person’s best interests. Desire alone does not make promiscuous behavior acceptable, however. As a consequentialist theory, moral egoism is concerned with the results of an action to determine moral rightness. It is for this reason that the would-be Lothario or Jezebel is morally obligated to practice safe sex and honesty about relationship expectations with potential partners. Unsafe sex has the potential for results not in the promiscuous person’s best interests, namely disease and unwanted pregnancy. Dishonesty with partners could create vindictive responses. Obviously, jilting Glenn Close’s character from Fatal Attraction is not in one’s best interests. Sodomy is also morally acceptable between consenting adults who find the act mutually pleasurable and perform the act safely. The egoist sodomite is morally required to use safe sex practices when engaging in anal or oral sex. As with promiscuous behavior, sodomy carries the risk of disease. Contracting a sexually transmitted is in no one’s best interests. Further, consent and mutual pleasure are morally necessary. Non-consensual sodomy carries the obvious legal ramifications of arrest and potential conviction for rape. One would be hard pressed to argue an arrest to be in one’s best interests. Masturbation is morally acceptable for those whose sexual desires cannot be met in full by their partners. Some people desire more sex than they receive from their partners, and it is in their best interests to relieve their sexual needs by themselves in lieu of engaging in rape or soliciting a prostitute.
Some will object to “deviant” sex on religious grounds. They will appeal to divine commands as condemning the immorality of non-missionary, non-heterosexual acts. The Christian Bible, for example, contains many prohibitions against sodomy and masturbation, and any sex outside of marriage is forbidden by church dogma, much less having sex with multiple partners out of wedlock. These dissenters appeal to the divine command theory of morality that states that an action is right if, and only if, God commands us to do it. According to this perspective, because God commands us not to have any sex other than vaginal sex with our spouse, these acts are immoral. Others may claim that engaging in promiscuous acts cheapens sex or fails to honor the other as a person. Deontologists like Immanuel Kant would likely take this perspective. Kant’s first Categorical Imperative states that we should only act on maxims we can will to be universal law. If everyone were to engage in promiscuity, the first Imperative argues, no one would form lasting, non-physical relationships. The second Categorical Imperative proposed by Kant states that we should always treat people as ends unto themselves, never as a means. Followers of CI2, then, object to promiscuity as failing to respect the personhood of the one-night stand. Still others object to sodomy and masturbation as defying natural law. As one of the natural functions of a human being is procreation, any sex act that does not (potentially) result in fertilization of an embryo is immoral.
Unfortunately, the objections of religious zealots appealing to divine command theory are essentially meaningless. As the existence of God cannot be proven, any morality derived from the deity is suspect. The egoist can look to studies, facts, and statistics to help determine what is in his or her best interests sexually. The first Categorical Imperative objection fails to conceive that some people might prefer not to be promiscuous. Egoists may be promiscuous or not, depending upon what best serves their interests at any given time. Kant’s second attempt at outlining a moral code also fails in condemning promiscuity adequately by failing to take into account the will of the seduced. It presumes the seducer is acting upon the seduced with no input from the seduced party. Egoism, on the other hand, only provides moral sanction to promiscuity if both parties are consenting. Appeal to the natural law theory to object to deviant sex relies on the premise that humans have a natural function. However, proving what this innate function is is impossible. There is no “functionometer” to measure how well a human functions and no means to adapt that function to varying situations. Moral egoism, however, takes into account that what’s in one’s best interests can change over time and in relation to differing circumstances.
Religious leaders and intellectuals alike struggle to rationally explain why “deviant” sex acts like promiscuity, sodomy, and masturbation are immoral. The theory of moral egoism provides a rational explanation that justifies these kinds of acts as morally acceptable in certain circumstances for a particular person. A given sexual behavior is therefore immoral only if it hinders a person’s best interests. As such, laws banning acts like sodomy and social stigmas regarding promiscuity and masturbation should be reevaluated. As there is no logical moral objection to the acts and no harm to society by engaging in them, there’s little reason to perpetuate antiquated ideas regarding these common aspects of modern sexuality.

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Word Snobbery

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Categories: Writing, Tags: , , , ,

Last night, my wife explained how she had felt sick to her stomach earlier in the day. After she told her story, I thanked her for using the right word: nauseated.

I’ll admit I’m a bit of a word snob sometimes. When people tell me they feel nauseous, my internal dialogue says, “Yes you are.” You see, there’s a big difference between being nauseous and being nauseated. One means “something that causes nausea” and the other “to be afflicted with nausea.”

As the dictionaries show, the distinction is blurred in common use, but as a writer, I’m always looking for the most accurate way to explain a situation. If you make other people sick to their stomachs, say you’re nauseous. If you feel sick to your stomach, say you’re nauseated. If you can’t remember the difference, I’d prefer you use a different expression entirely. Unless you want word snobs like me to laugh at you.

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Getting Enhanced

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Categories: Politics, Rant, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

There’s been a lot of hullabaloo recently over the “enhanced pat-downs” being doled out by the TSA. Some people, like Penn Jillette, think this amounts to assault. Others claim it’s a needed part of our security apparatus. Whether enhanced pat-downs make us safer or not is not the real issue, however. What’s important is how our government can make our lives better through enhanced language.

You see, there are many distasteful and morally repugnant things going on in the world today. Thankfully, the government has enhanced our lives with their words. They’ve sanitized the horrible things they do to make us happier. Shouldn’t we be happy they’re working so hard to make us happy?

Take torture, for instance. No one likes torture. But it’s OK, because the US government didn’t torture anyone by electrocuting them or practically drowning them; they gave them an enhanced interrogation. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it?

Now, if you’re going to fly on an airplane, you get an enhanced pat-down. That’s much better than an embarassing public violation of your Fourth Amendment rights that borders on sexual assault, don’t you think?

I don’t think the government should have a monopoly on enhancing our lives though. Businesses and private citizens should enhance the world too. I’ve put together a list of enhancements for you to keep in mind. I’m sure, once you start thinking about it, you can come up with many other ways our world has been enhanced over the last few years. Feel free to comment with your own enhancements. Your fellow citizens thank you for enhancing their enhanced understanding of enhanced speech.
 

  • Four Loko is not a potentially dangerous alcoholic energy drink; it’s an enhanced beer.
  • Unwelcome sexual advances at work are not sexual harassment; they’re enhanced compliments.
  • The rent’s not too damn high; it’s got an enhanced price.
  • The Earth’s not undergoing global warming; it’s developing enhanced temperatures.
  • Fellatio is not a blowjob; it’s enhanced kissing.
  • Politicians are not deceitful, dishonest douchebags; they tell the enhanced truth.
  • Religious fundamentalists are not zealots; they’re enhanced believers.
  • Things are not awesome; they’re enhanced good (though I suppose “plusgood” would be an acceptable enhanced alternate word.)
  • I’m not a loudmouthed asshole; I have enhanced opinions.

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New Essay: “Our Darkest Parts”

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Categories: Essays, Writing, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Our Darkest Parts

Since the earliest days of humanity, there have been legends of the dead returning to life. The most familiar tales of the undead in western culture are those of the vampire and the zombie. Countless novels, comic books, movies, and video games are devoted to portraying these night stalkers, these predators of predators. Both vampires and zombies return from death to feed upon the living; vampires drink blood and zombies consume flesh. As apex predators, humans are unaccustomed to thinking of themselves as prey. The thought of being another creature’s food is atrocious to us. It is not the fear of consumption that makes vampires and zombies horrifying, however. It is the mirror which they hold up to our culture, reflecting our darkest parts, that makes the undead terrifying. Vampires and zombies, in their opposing extremes, reveal American fear of that which is outside the mainstream.

The way in which one is turned from normal human to vampire or zombie reveals our twin fears of individualism and collectivism. The act of turning someone into a vampire is intimate and personal. The progenitor vampire is often portrayed in fiction as stalking its victim and learning everything about their lives. The vampire then seduces the would-be convert. The victim is told only they are worthy of the vampire’s gift of immortality; only they are special enough among the teeming throngs of humanity to be elevated above their peers. Zombies, on the other hand, are equal-opportunity undead. They transmit their infection through bites and scratches delivered to their unlucky victims. Rich or poor, young or old, black or white matters not to a zombie. If you are alive, you’re a valid target. If you escape one zombie attack alive, it’s simply a matter of time before you become one of the shambling dead yourself. You will be assimilated into the undead collective. This is one of the most common themes in zombie movies. Inevitably, one of the minor characters of the movie will be bitten, conceal the violation, and turn into a zombie at the most inopportune moment.

Americans pride themselves as individuals, but understand we are all part of a linked society. Neither the vampire nor the zombie operates within the confines between the extremes of egoism and collectivism: vampires holding themselves above the masses, zombies dragging everyone down with them. We loathe equally people being swallowed by the collective and being held up as better than their peers. Should an American hold themselves to be of a status far beyond the lot of common folk (as is often the case with celebrities), we feel the need to knock them down a peg or two. Our independent streak, however, prevents us from embracing the other extreme, collectivism (or communism).

The societies vampires and zombies exist in reveal our dual fears of autocracy and anarchy. Vampires form autocratic societies centered around a “head vampire.” This head vampire becomes the center of a cult of personality, its members made up of the converts it previously exalted. We see this theme frequently in the cinematic portrayal of the vampire. The heroes in vampire movies frequently are on a mission to destroy the head vampire in order to save a loved one from the curse of vampirism. The vampiric autocrat echoes the tradition of dictators like Hitler or Stalin, convincing its followers to commit unspeakable acts without hesitation. Conversely, zombies need no prompting to kill and devour. They are uncoordinated packs of ravenous cadavers. No one zombie directs the others; no vote is taken to determine which unlucky victim is to be consumed. Zombification is anarchy. Zombie novels often focus on the random nature of these beings. Living characters may be attacked at any time, in any situation.

Americans cherish democracy, where every voice is heard, but understand restrictions need to be placed on individuals for the common good. Neither the vampire nor the zombie respect this balance: vampires trampling democracy with their autocratic machinations, zombies disobeying all laws in their hunt for flesh. The American Revolution was fought to throw off the shackles of a tyrannical monarch, and our hatred of autocracy is deeply ingrained in our culture because of it. On the other hand, we are a rational people. Our rationality makes it impossible for us to abandon all government and laws in the other extreme.

The symbolic results of destroying a vampire or zombie reveal our opposing fears of existing without reason or emotion. Vampires are killed with a stake through the heart. The heart is seen, traditionally, as the seat of emotion. Thus, destroying a vampire with a stake through the heart is symbolically the same as destroying its emotions. Ironically, vampires are cold, calculating monsters, devoid of emotion. Nearly every vampire-themed comic book, game, story, or movie has the stake through the heart as a means of destroying the vampire, or at least immobilizing it. Zombies, conversely, are ended by destroying the brain. As the brain is seen as the organ of logic and reason, putting a zombie to rest is akin to the destruction of reason in the creature. This is again ironic, as zombies are mindless, flesh-eating corpses. The annihilation of grey matter is always a means to eliminate a zombie in fiction and folklore.

Americans use reason and emotion in harmony, striking a balance between what is practical and what feels right. Neither the vampire nor the zombie have this harmony: vampires abandoning emotion for cold logic, zombies eschewing rationality in their hunt for flesh. We fear being subsumed by emotion as much as being caught in the icy grip of dispassionate logic. Most Americans believe, as the ancient Stoic philosophers did, that being ruled by emotion limits one’s ability to make sound decisions. On the other hand, we also believe capitulation to pure logic limits one’s ability to sympathize with other people.

Vampires and zombies are truly terrifying creatures. The undead feed on our very flesh and blood. They devour those we love; they make a lie of our predatory supremacy. The terror engendered by vampires and zombies is not due to their consumption of human fluids and tissues, however. It’s due to the extremes in our culture they represent. We see the danger in collectivism or extreme individualism. We fear anarchists as much as dictators. We prize emotion and logic, and avoid the destruction of either. Vampires and zombies embody the extremes of thought we seek so desperately to balance in life. Perhaps it is because these monsters are not alive that we are able to project our faults on them so easily. In any case, the undead have become the examples of our darkest parts, and we fear them for it.

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