I iz back from Chicago

Actually, I iz back from Chicago two days ago, and playing merry hell at work trying to catch up.

Fun things in Chicago. dayo, sailing on a tall ship, Ferris wheels, kinky sex, three floors of dealers at IML(!), more kinky sex, and I missed all the drama drama of LiveJournal’s abuse team melting down.

More, including pictures and kinky sex, later. First, just a few quick notes:

1. Fair warning to anyone contemplating letting me near them with an implement of destruction in my hands: I am fucking surgical with a crop or a dragon’s tail. If I keep hitting the same spot again and again, it’s not an accident; it’s because I’m a great big meanie. dayo seems to think this is a feature, not a bug.

2. The LJ abuse debacle thing? It’s not a violation of your rights, or the rights of anyone else. Freedom of speech is irrelevant here. Six Apart is free to make any rules they want; their servers, their game. If they want to ban any journal that mentions wombats, nobody’s rights are being violated. You’re still free to talk about wombats somewhere else.

Yes, it’s ridiculous. Yes, LiveJournal and Six Apart got played by a white supremacist Christian Dominion group, which I will not mention by name (a) because they’ve had enough publicity–which was, after all, their goal–already and (b) because it appears their Web site is infected with a drive-by-downloading virus. (If you know what site I’m talking about and you’ve visited it using Internet Explorer for Windows, might want to check your system.) Yes, said Christian Dominionists gamed Six Apart but good, and it’s Six Apart who ended up with egg on face. No, it’s not the end of the world–just the natural and predictable result of living in a litigious and Puritanical society.

3. Red leather drop collar: $25.
Pyrex dildo: $180
Dragon’s tail: $15
Making your partner squirm and scream “Yes! Yes!” when you grab her by the hair and whisper “Are you a slut?” Priceless.

4. Ferris wheels are cool.

5. Funnel cake is good. Funnel cake with strawberry topping is an orgy for the mouth. It’s like a choir of angels singing with the voice of Heaven, only on a plate. All right-thinking people know this.

6. Airport security? A joke, but nobody’s laughing.

I’ve decided on my first two body mods.

No, I don’t mean tattoos or piercings or anything like that; I already have those. I mean real body mods. Functional body mods.

icedrake pointed me to this link, which in turn points to a larger article here, about researchers who are creating new senses by piggybacking onto existing senses.

It’s neat stuff. For example, researchers have taken a camera, connected its output to a device that you wear on your tongue (which has a very large number of sensory nerves crowded very close together), which “draws” a “picture” of what the camera sees onto your tongue using subtle electrical currents. Now hold on to your hat, Dorothy, ’cause this is the part where Kansas goes bye-bye…not only does this allow people to navigate blindfolded, but afterward, their memories of the experience aren’t memories of feelings on their tongue, but visual memories. This suggests, though it has not yet been confirmed by fMRI scans, that the visual cortex of the brain quickly and seamlessly takes over processing the information being presented to the tongue. And that suggests that our brain’s ability to interpret data from new senses actually outstrips our sensory system, meaning that adding new senses to human beings should be a pretty straightforward matter.

I already know the first two I want.

First, I want tiny neodymium magnets surgically implanted in my fingertips so that I can feel magnetic fields. (This is no surprise; I’ve talked about this before.)

Next, I want a series of tiny holes drilled all the way around the edge of my hip bone. Why, you ask? Why, for the piezo transducers, of course! I want a row of tiny piezo transducers implanted all along the edge of my pelvic girdle, all the way around, connected to a device (which I figure can be tucked in beneath one of my kidneys) which can detect which way is magnetic north and vibrate the transducer that faces north. Tat way, I will always have an immediate, unerring, and flawless sense of direction.

Dammit, this stuff should be easy. In fact, I’m even willing to forego having the flying car I was promised in kindergarten if I can get this instead.

Temperature play in BDSM: How to Make an Ice Dildo

Note: This is part 4 of an occasional ongoing "how to" series on BDSM.

Part 1 of the series, How to Tie a Rope Harness Part I, is here.
Part 2 of the series, How to Tie a Frog Tie, is here.
Part 3 of the series, How to Tie a Shinju, is here.

As you might well imagine, none of these posts is even remotely work-safe.

One fun aspect of sensation play that can spice up your sex life is temperature play. Many people have experimented with using ice cubes on their lovers in bed, and I’ve met many women who really, really enjoy the sensation of cold. But there’s more you cn do than just take an ice cube out of the freezer and stroke a bare nipple with it! Presented here is something to take that basic idea to the next level: instructions for making a customized dildo out of ice.

You probably don't want to click this link at work

Polyamory and the Prisoner’s Dilemma…

…or, how to quit worrying and love your partner’s other partners.

Right now, I’m about midway through reading the book How We Know what Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life, by Thomas Gilovich. As the title suggests, it’s essentially a catalog of the various cognitive traps, reasoning errors, and other fallibilities that lead to people to “knowing” things that aren’t true. (sarahmichigan, if you haven’t read this book yet, I suspect you’d quite like it.)

The book talks about a lot of reasoning problems that you might expect: confirmational bias, for example, and intuitive problems with randomness (the human brain is so highly optimized for seeking patterns that it’ll find patterns even in random data, and on top of that, random data do not necessarily “look” the way we expect them to, and in particular aren’t fractal in nature; it’s perfectly reasonable to flip a coin a bunch of times and see heads come up five or six times in a row…but I digress).

It also discusses people’s tendency to make evaluations based on missing or absent data; if, for example, you believe that people who have less than a certain GPA should not be admitted to college, because they would tend to do poorly, so you admit only people with a high GPA and you notice everyone doing well, you might be tempted to believe smugly that your decisions are good and your impulses correct, but you are missing the very data that would confirm or deny your hypothesis. because you refuse to let people with a low GPA in, you have no way to know if their performance would be poor or not.

And it discusses self-fulfilling prophesies, in the context of the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

A quick recap for anyone who may be unfamiliar with the Prisoner’s Dilemma: a Prisoner’s Dilemma problem is any situation where two people can choose to cooperate with one another or to work against one another, such that if they both cooperate they both gain something, if they both defect they both lose something, but if one cooperates and one defects, the one who cooperates loses catastrophically and the one who defects gains tremendously.

It got its name from the way it was originally couched: Suppose you and a complete stranger, who you’ve never had any contact with before, get together to commit a crime. You are caught in the middle of committing the crime and whisked away by police to separate cells, with no opportunity to speak to one another. The police interrogate you separately, and tell you that each of you is being given the following choice: you can keep quiet, or you can testify against the other.

If you both keep quiet, there is only circumstantial evidence against you, and you’ll both likely be convicted of lesser charges and go to prison for two years each.

If you both testify against each other, each of you can expect a ten-year prison sentence.

If one of you keeps quiet and the other testifies, the person who keeps quiet will be imprisoned for twenty years, and the person who testifies will get off scott-free. What do you do?

The best possible outcome is for both of you to shut up. However, if you have any doubt whatsoever about your partner’s willingness to shut up, then you better testify, because if he testifies and you don’t, you’re in big trouble! Since he is using the same reasoning as you are, then if he doubts you, his best course of action is to testify. Since both of you can’t predict the action of the other, what will probably happen is that both of you will testify (and spend the next decade behind bars) rather than both keeping your mouth shut (in which case oyu’d both be freed in one-fifth the time).

Things change a bit if you play this game iteratively. Suppose that you have money and you wish to buy something from someone else, but because of the nature of what you want to buy (maybe it’s illegal, maybe selling it exposes the other person to risk), you can not simply hand him the money and have him hand you the goods. So you set up an arrangement: the two of you will never meet or speak, but every week at the same time you will leave a bag under the old stone bridge with money in it, and he will leave a bag behind the mill with the goods in it.

Again, you have a choice. You can leave the money or you can leave an empty bag. He can leave the goods, or he can leave an empty bag. If you leave and empty bag and he leaves the goods, bonanza! That week you got the goods for free. If you leave money and he leaves an empty bag, suck! You lose the money. If you both leave empty bags, well, you still have your money, but what you really wanted was the goods. And so on.

Knowing that you will be repeating this transaction every week changes the situation a bit. Do you always leave the money? Sometimes leave money and sometimes leave an empty bag?

Gilovich, who is a psychology researcher, has run Prisoner’s Dilemma problems on a large number of volunteers, and writes about the trends he’s noticed. People who naturally tend to be cooperative spot that tendency toward cooperation in others, especially during iterative Prisoner’s Dilemma problems, and quickly adopt an all-cooperation policy. Every week they leave the bag of money, every week the other player leaves the bag of goods, and everyone is happy.

On the other hand, people who tend to defect–to turn against the other player–will force cooperative players to start to defect themselves, out of self-preservation. If the other person leaves you an empty sack two weeks in a row, you’re likely to stop leaving money in your sack, simply because you no longer trust the other person. In other words, his actions have made you begin playing a defecting strategy, even though your desire was to play a cooperative strategy.

This is actually a post about polyamory. Hang on, I’m getting to that.

Gilovich writes that people who start off adopting defecting strategies tend to have a world view that says other people are basically bad, the world is basically an evil place, others are motivated by selfishness and greed, and people on the whole generally suck. This world view is then confirmed by the fact that all the partners they play the game with defect, and start leaving empty bags. In other words, he says, a Prisoner’s Dilemma strategy of defecting against the other player is rooted in a self-fulfilling prophesy. You go into the game believing that the other player will defect, so you start out by defecting, and then–surprise!–the other player starts to defect. Even if his impulse was to cooperate. Your actions created the situation you expected, and thus, your view that the world is a hostile place is confirmed.

The connection between a hostile Prisoner’s Dilemma strategy and self-fulfilling prophesies was new to me, and naturally, it instantly created a new connection between Prisoner’s Dilemma problems and polyamory in my head.

I tend to see a lot of people in poly relationships who are very uncomfortable with the idea of meeting a lover’s other lovers. This is among the single most common source of angst I’ve noticed for people who are polyamorous, especially if they’re fairly new to polyamory.

Meeting a lover’s other lover presents a host of opportunity for cooperation or defection. You can reach out to the other person and try to make that person feel welcome; you can be closed up and defensive to that person; you can even be actively hostile to that person. And, of course, your lover’s lover has similar choices.

Reaching out to someone makes you vulnerable. If two people both reach out to one another, then things will tend to go more smoothly; but if one person reaches out and the other is defensive or hostile, the consequences for the person who reaches out can be pretty dire. A strictly rationalistic approach might suggest that the best strategy is to be defensive, because if you’re defensive, you have nothing to gain but nothing to lose either, whereas if you reach out, you might gain something–but you might lose a great deal, as well.

And there’s no question that your expectations about the other person, and your behavior upon meeting that other person, can easily become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Suppose you start out, prior to the meeting, by believing that your partner’s new love is a conniving, self-centered bitch (or bastard), determined to undermine your relationship and to take your partner away from you. If you go into your first meeting with this belief, I guarantee it’s going to show. Your partner’s other partner is going to be able to tell that you don’t trust him (or her), that you’re looking for reasons to dislike him (or her). So that person is likely to behave defensively, even if the first impulse might otherwise have been to reach out to you. You look at the defensive reaction, and say “See, look! I told you this person was bad news!”

And that’s before we even get to the issue of confirmational bias, which is a whole ‘nother can of worms altogether.

So are we left, then, with the grim conclusion that the only rational way to meet a lover’s new lover is to be defensive, even knowing that this defensiveness is likely to trigger the very thing we believe we’re defending against?

Thankfully, no.

In 1980, a pair of researchers studying Prisoner’s Dilemma problems sponsored a tournament. Attendees were invited to write computer programs that played iterative Prisoner’s Dilemma games against each other. Each could use whatever algorithm the attendees liked. The goal was simple: maximize one’s profits.

ow, at first blush it might seem that an all-defect strategy is the best way to do this. Problem is, if everyone adopts this strategy, then nobody profits at all. So people submitted a number of strategies, some of them very complex. Start out cooperating, then start defecting if the other program cooperates, and you’ll get the booty for free. Or cooperate much of the time, but randomly defect. Some programs attempted to analyze the other programs, looking for patterns in their moves and then computing a strategy for maximizing profits against those patterns.

In the end, the program that won, consistently, was also one of the simplest. It employs a basic strategy that can be summed up in the words “cooperation” and “forgiveness,” and it goes by the name “Tit for Tat.”

Tit for Tat is an incredibly simple approach: On the first round, cooperate. On each additional round, do whatever your partner did last time. If your partner cooperated, continue to cooperate. If your partner defected, defect, then see what your partner does this round; if your partner’s defection was a one-time deal and he cooperates, go back to cooperation.

This is an amazingly resilient strategy. Against a player who defects all the time, it defects all the time; against a player who always cooperates, it cooperates. Against a player who occasionally defects, it occasionally defects, but it doesn’t hold a grudge; if the other player returns to cooperation, it returns to cooperation. Simple as it is, in iterative Prisoner’s Dilemma problems, it’s virtually unbeatable.

That’s a good strategy for life, too. I’ve seen, and been involved in, relationships that were wrecked because one partner entered a relationship with another partner from an attitude of suspicion and mistrust, and then created the same suspicion and mistrust in the other partner. Tit for Tat shows that when we start from a spirit of cooperation, we both come out ahead; winning does not need to be done at the other person’s expense, and indeed, in an ongoing relationship, there is no winning at the other person’s expense. Either both players win or both players lose.

Tit for Tat is not naive; if the other person defects, so does Tit for Tat. But Tit for Tat doesn’t hold grudges either; if the other person then begins cooperating, then Tit for Tat does, too. Forgiveness is simply sound strategy.

In a very literal sense, you make the social environment you live in. People take their cues from you. Even in a world of people who adopt a hostile, defecting strategy, it is possible to do well. On your first move, cooperate. Open yourself. Invite this other person into your life. Only if it is not reciprocated–only then do you become defensive, and stay that way only for as long as the other person is defensive.

Sometimes, it’s the simplest approaches that work the best.

Some thoughts on the closet as self-imposed exile

Go to any meeting or join any mailing list on alternative subcultures, especially sexual subcultures, and one of the most common topics of conversation you’ll see again and again is the conversation about “coming out.” Do your parents know that you’re gay? Do you share the fact that you’re polyamorous with your co-workers? Do your fellow game enthusiasts know you’re kinky?

You’ll find a huge range of responses, ranging from “I am who I am and fuck anyone who doesn’t like it” to “I would never, ever dare breathe the slightest whisper to suggest that I did not conform to social norms in every way.” And you’ll find just as many reasons for these attitudes.

On the “I am completely closeted” side of the equation, many of the reasons center around a few simple ideas: fear of tangible loss (“If my ex found out I’m poly, he might try to take custody of my child,” “If my boss found out I’m gay, I’d be fired”), fear of being judged (“My parents would never approve,” “My friends would think I’m a slut if they found out I have two lovers”), fear of emotional loss (“My friends would not like me any more if they knew I was bisexual,” “My mother would disown me if she knew I have two husbands”), and that sort of thing.

On the flip side, you’ll find the same arguments often trotted out to counter these ideas (“If more people asserted their rights to child custody who were openly pagan/gay/whatever, the social structures and stereotypes that allow such people to be cast as unfit parents would fall,” “if someone loves you and then, after learning the truth about who you are as a person, withdraws that love, then that person never loved you to begin with,” “you can not love someone you do not know,” “if your friends only like you as long as you project a false image of yourself to protect their own prejudices, you need a better class of friend.”).

You’ll also see arguments in favor of remaining closeted based on the specific situation of the person in the closet (“I’m in the military,” “I work for a church that condemns homosexuality”) and arguments that rebut those arguments (“You had a choice about joining the military,” “If you’re gay and working for an organization that promotes disenfranchisement of gays, you’re shooting yourself in the foot and working against your own interests.”) And ’round and ’round it goes.

Now, I’m firmly on the side of “I am who I am and fuck anyone who doesn’t like it.” I do not see the advantage of pretending to be someone I’m not, nor see any compelling reason to protect others from the emotional consequences of their own prejudices. But that’s not actually what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about a more subtle, and potentially more insidious, problem that can arise frm remaining tightly closeted, especially in polyamorous relationships–with acknowledgment to feorlen for starting me thinking along this path.

Doing the abuser’s work: the closet as exile

One of the first, earliest hallmarks of a classic abusive relationship, counsellors and mental health professionals will say, is a relationship in which one person seeks to isolate his or her partner, cutting the victim off from friends and family, controlling who the victim may socialize with, and seeking to limit the victim’s contact with other human beings.

This is a useful tool for an abuser. A situation where one or more people are denied access to contact with other people creates an environment where a person may not notice destructive, unhealthy aspects of the relationship. Often, a relationship’s dysfunctions are invisible from the inside; without someone from the outside to say “Whoa, dude, that’s totally fucked up!” it becomes easy to be blinded to even the most blatantly destructive, unhealthy things in a relationship.

Even outside the context of abuse, the presence of extra, uninvolved pairs of eyes is often useful for finding the broken parts of a relationship. Little, everyday problems are seldom unique; in a world of billions of people and fourteen thousand years of recorded history, someone somewhere has had whatever problem you’re having before. Experience is the best teacher, the saying goes..but sometimes the tuition is very high. Learning from other people’s mistakes is less costly than learning from your own. Having a support network of friends who are close to you makes solving problems of all sorts far easier.

But what happens when a person digs himself a nice little cave at the back of the closet?

In extreme cases, he does exactly what an abuser would do to him, only he does it to himself. When a person refuses to share the reality of who he is with the people around him–even with friends and family–e does more than live a lie, and he does more than project a false façade to appease the prejudices of others. He cuts himself off from his support mechanisms; he isolates himself from the very people who might be there to say “Dude, that’s fucked up!” if things start to go wrong. He creates barriers between himself and those people who might be able to help him solve problems or spot weaknesses in his relationship. He removes his own ability to bounce ideas off of others. He creates a breeding ground where unhealthy habits can fester and grow, unchecked by the light of day.

And that really sucks.

In discussions about the values of openness, i often see people arguing the perils and potential consequences of coming out. What I rarely see, though, is acknowledgment of the fact that remaining closeted has a price, as well.

And the more I think about it, the more I think the price of remaining closeted can sometimes be greater than what might at first be obvious.

The culture of secrecy can lead to a mindset of avoidance, of not talking about uncomfortable things even within the relationship. If one builds a reflexive habit of concealing the truth, it’s hard to put down that habit even when talking to someone on the inside. At worst, in the most extreme cases, it can lead to precisely the type of dark, inward-burrowing isolation that the abuser seeks to impose on a victim, only self-inflicted and therefore even more internalized.

Your life is your own. It belongs to you and to nobody else. Live it as you will–but be aware of all the potential costs of your decisions.