Dreaming of Transhumanism Remixes

Last night, I had a very long, incredibly detailed, and incredibly high resolution dream about Battlestar: Galactica.

Well, kinda sorta.

This isn’t actually a post about BSG, though the show is definitely a springboard for it. I liked the show a great deal, but in truth didn’t much care for the take-away lesson from the last episode, which cut for spoilers, which you don’t really need to read to get the rest of this post

It’s a whacky, whacky world…

So today the charming stranger who gave me candy at Frolicon has put me in her Web comic. Woot! Now my roommate the-no-lj-d and I have both been immportalized in Web comics for things that happened at conventions.

And, the kittycat Liam has made it on to LOLkink! (Note: That link is safe for work; the rest of LOLkink most definitely is not.

Tracking the Unicorn

Anyone who’s been around in the poly community has met, on at least 724 occasions, a married couple looking for a hot bisexual woman to come be their “third.”

In the interests of presenting a public service, I’ve prepared this handy guide to unicorn hunting–a flowchart for people looking for that hot bi babe. You can all thank me later.

This actually popped into my head while I was in the shower this morning, and refused to quit bugging me ’til I did something about it. Clicky on the picture to embiggen.

Some thoughts on British linguistics

The Brits have it right.

This morning, while I was in the shower, I was thinking about snogging.

Not the practice of snogging (which, I hasten to add, I’m strongly in favor of), but the language of snogging. Which is something where we on this side of the pond have got it all wrong.

I quite like the word “snogging.” It’s a fun word. A playful word, kind of like the act itself. The American term, “making out,” is dreadfully dreary by comparison. You can see the Puritan work ethic here; only the Puritans could make it sound like a manufacturing process.

Yes, I think about language in the shower. Hush.

In many ways, I think British English gets it wrong. And I don’t want to hear any “they did it first, so that makes them right by definition;” American English is English 2.0, the bugfix release of the original. Like calling the trunk of a car the “boot” for example–I have often stored things in a trunk, but the only thing that gets kept in my boots is my foot, thank you very much. (If they’re using boots for cargo storage and transportation over there, I don’t want to know about it.)

But in the language of physical intimacy, American English kind of falls down flat, with a sort of shocked expression on its face, and then lies twitching in the gutter for a while. “Bumping uglies.” “Doing the horizontal mambo.” “Doing the nasty.” “Hot beef injection.” Ugly language for a beautiful act.

It’s not all this bad, of course; I’m kind of fond of “the act of darkness” as a sexual euphemism. And the Brits have their own ungainly words as well; “bonk,” “bugger,” and “shag” are all perfectly ridiculous in their own right.

But “snog”? Yes, I quite like that word.

Some thoughts on sex negativity

“Quand la morale triomphe, il se passe des choses tres vilaines.” (When morals triumph, many very evil things happen.)
–Remy de Gourmont

The extent to which people confuse sexuality with morality never ceases to amaze me.

It shouldn’t be amazing, really. I’ve been participating in various fora related to sex and sexuality for my entire adult life, after all; that’s plenty of opportunity to come into contact with all sorts of attitudes about sex, including attitudes that I find, frankly, to be bizarre in the extreme.

Yet every so often, I still encounter some set of ideas that boggles me.

On another forum I read, I encountered a woman who believes that all sexual activity involving more than exactly one lifetime partner is inherently Bad And Wrong. Nothing new there; it’s just the ordinary, dreadfully boring sort of pedestrian sex-negativity we run into all over the place. Hard to turn on the TV or shake a stick in American society without smacking into this sort of mundane sex-negative attitude.

But she took that ordinary, dry little kernel of sex negativity and from it built a monument to sexual hostility that would make the architect of the Taj Mahal weep and gnash his teeth in artistic impotence. So convinced was she of this premise that she asserted, with a straight face, that it is utterly impossible for a celibate person to commit an immoral act.

And when confronted with serial killer David Birnie (who was quite proud of his vow of celibacy), or with the case of the Rev. John Skehan (a Catholic priest who ended up in legal trouble not for the run-of-the-mill sorts of sex scandals that often bedevil an empowered but celibate priestly caste, but rather for the more earthly sin of embezzlement), she reasoned that since they were bad people, they must not have been celibate at all, but instead must have been lying about their celibacy.

And that’s not even the good part.

Moral myopia is nothing new, of course. It’s the mainstay of many of the boringly predictable scandals that periodically rock American society. Charles Keating, the anti-porn moral crusader who produced anti-sex films and served on Ronald Reagan’s Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography, spent his entire life as a crusader for public virtue before embezzling $1.2 billion from Lincoln Savings and Loan, singlehandedly triggering the collapse of the entire S&L industry. This same story repeats itself regularly: anti-sex crusader believes sex to be the beginning and end of all morality, commits immoral acts without even blushing because he can’t see beyond sex when thinking about his own ethics.

But in the conversation in that other forum, we veer wildly from this dull and predictable tale into all sorts of breathtaking new ways to twist up sex and morality. The good part goes beyond your typical religious loathing of sex and your traditional, homespun moral double-standards, and into radical new territory that speaks directly to the Platonic ideal of a very pernicious human mental failing whose shadows can be seen in everything from Creationism to the mindless pseudoscience of “Doctor” Masaru Emoto, who claims that water molecules can do things like respond to human emotion and read written Japanese.

The Platonic ideal, which has ensnared so many people throughout human history, is the notion that humanity is the grandest of all of nature’s accomplishments, and that all the forces of nature and all the divinity we can imagine revolves around our place as the center of the universe.

A couple of weekends ago, when my friend Jan was visiting, we went to the Georgia Aquarium, which bills itself as the world’s largest.

I like aquariums. I particularly like the exotic, deep-sea life forms you find in environments like undersea thermal vents–these weird, bizarre organisms that live their lives in totally isolated ecosystems entirely disconnected from ours.

I snapped this picture of a lionfish while I was there. Lionfish are predatory fish with venomous spines and, which is most relevant to this post, a complete disregard for the affairs of man. They’re not edible, nor are they useful to us in any way; like the weird things living by volcanic vents, they’re removed from the sphere of human existence, except insofar as the fact that they’re an invasive species sometimes means they’re a pest.

Which is often the way it goes with nature.

You might think that deep-sea aquatic life has little to do with sex-negative attitudes about morality, but hang on, I’m getting to that.

When asked why she believes that sexual morality is the beginning and end of all morality, the person on this other forum replied that she’d had this epiphany while thinking about sexually transmitted diseases. Why, she wondered, do such diseases exist? What is their purpose?

Her conclusion, naturally enough, was that they exist for the purpose of telling human beings when they are doing something morally wrong. STDs, she reasoned1, must be nature’s way of telling us how to live. All other diseases, according to her, can not be avoided; they are inevitable. But not diseases transmitted sexually! Those, she said, could be avoided just by not having sex; therefore, they myst serve some purpose, a purpose different from other diseases.

To be fair–and it is very hard to be fair in the face of such lunacy–she’s not alone in this particular failure of thinking. A recent Boston University study shows that people seem predisposed to believe in purpose–to subscribe to “promiscuous teleology,” the false idea that things exist for a purpose. Young children might believe that rocks have rough edges so that animals can scratch their backs, while their older, better-educated, wiser siblings might believe that the sun produces light so that plants can make energy.

So she’s not alone in looking for purpose;she’s following in the erroneous footsteps of many misguided people before her.

Still, it’s hard to know where to start with this nonsense.

First, thee’s the notion that people who contract certain diseases do so because they choose to, and they could just as easily choose not to by changing their sexual behavior. We are as a culture conditioned to believe that certain categories of diseases are ‘dirty’ and the people who have them do so because of their bad behavior; anything that finds new hosts through sexual contact tends to get stuck into a different mental category than other diseases, at least for most folks.

Think about how differently you respond emotionally to the thought of having chlamydia than to the thought of having strep throat, for example. Both are bacterial infections, potentially dangerous if left untreated but usually easily cured by antibiotics. But we don’t think of folks with strep throat as being “dirty,” and we don’t have the same moral repugnance to it that we do to chlamydia.

And what about HIV? Most of us would say that AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease, but in reality there is no such thing as a disease that is only transmitted through sex. When I was on the radio promoting Onyx, one of the people who called in was HIV positive. The result of a sinful, morally bankrupt lifestyle? Not quite. He became infected when he witnessed a serious traffic accident and rushed to help save the life of a woman who’d been thrown through the windshield. In the process, he came into contact with her blood, and you can guess the rest.

Of course, a different choice on his part would have prevented it from happening…but would it have been the moral choice?

That’s one of the things I find most odious about these perceptions of STDs–the insidious idea that those folks who have them somehow did something to deserve them.

I bring up chlamydia in specific because the the chlamydia organisms (technically, chlamydia is a genus of several related bacterial species) are among the most wide-spread of parasitic bacterial species, and are capable of infecting a wider variety of hosts than any other single known genus of bacteria. Chlamydia can infect humans, cats, rodents, parrots, lizards, guinea pigs, horses, cattle, seagulls, sheep, dogs, rabbits, ducks–you name it.

It’s also a remarkably promiscuous organism, leaping easily from species to species. Humans have become infected by handling infected animals, by inhaling the bacteria from animals with respiratory chlamydia infections, and by contact witht he droppings of infected animals.

Young animals, such as kittens and puppies (and, it should be pointed out, humans) are particularly prone to chlamydia infections, often through their eyes or mouth, because their immune systems are not completely developed. This poses a challenge to the notion that STDs are nature’s moral guideposts; is nature trying to tell us not to play with kittens?

The idea that “nature” is some kind of sentient thing that strives to do things to the benefit or detriment of human beings is a mental aberration I’m not quite sure I fully comprehend. The notion that nature has any capacity whatsoever to make decisions or to act with purpose seems to me to be a particularly specific form of superstition born of one part wishful thinking, one part anti-intellectualism, and one part desire to believe in some sort of Higher Purpose; we talk about the “balance of nature” as if there actually was such a thing, and we revere nature as the source of all things good (and, by extension, our own enterprises as the source of all things bad) while forgetting that nature gave us rabies, lightning strikes, giant venomous spiders2, and gangrene.

There’s a sneaky thing about human beings, though. We are not animals who reason; we are animals who rationalize. More often than not, we decide things based entirely on irrational feelings, then bring our big monkey brains to play to justify the decisions we have already made. Oh, we like to think we make decisions for reasons that make sense, but mostly that’s not true. The reasons we give for doing what we do and believing what we believe come after, not before. And so skilled are we at doing this, half the time we don’t even know it.

I’ve written before about how when someone believes some damn fool thing, it’s usually a garbled, twisted-up expression of some hidden emotional state. The anti-vaccination nutjobs who insist that vaccines cause autism and that viruses and bacteria don’t even cause disease to begin with are expressing an internal emotional state: they feel helpless to protect their children from scary things, and they view the “medical establishment” with uncomprehending suspicion. The folks who say Obama is secretly a Muslim terrorist are expressing an emotional state: they feel frightened, and they feel the government is not adequately defending them from the monsters under the bed. And so on.

So I don’t put a lot of stock, really, in the lessons of nature as the real reason why folks believe such weirdly over-the-top things about sexual morality.

The attitude that all of morality is reflected only in the people one has sex with and the positions in which one does the deed is, I think, also a garbled expression of some deeper emotional state. I’ve talked to folks who hate and fear sex because it presses against their insecurities (“If my partner values sex highly, and I fall short in that department, then I might lose my partner!”), because it feels threatening (sex is, after all, a very powerful thing, and evokes very powerful feelings; anything powerful can be threatening); because we’re taught to fear for our lives in the face of it (abstinence-only sex education in a nutshell: if you FUCK you will DIE!!!); because it can be intoxicating (“If I feel free to have sex when and where I want, I will soon lose control of my life, and sacrifice everything for sex!”)…it’s a mess, no mistake.

Now, don’t get me wrong; sex and morality really are intimately tied up together. A great deal of someone’s moral values are revealed by the way he treats his lovers, no question about it. It seems obvious to me that a lover who has had a thousand sexual partners and treated all of them well is far better a person than the lover who’s had only one sexual partner but treated that person poorly. Seems obvious, right?

Of course, in the end, it doesn’t really matter why folks do the things they do in the bedroom. People have all kinds of reasons for making all kinds of sexual decisions, and that’s their own prerogative; for the most part, I don’t care who the vast majority of the world chooses to fuck or not to fuck, and care even less for the reasons why they do it or don’t do it. I’m content to concern myself with such things only within my own monkeysphere and let it go at that.

If other folks want to believe that a kindly Mother Nature, or an invisible man in the sky, or UFO aliens think they shouldn’t be doing the nasty, that’s actually fine with me. A bit silly, I might think, but no matter.

I do wish they’d extend the same courtesy to me, though.

What I’d like to propose, to the people who for whatever reason believe that sex is Bad And Wrong, is a simple and I think equitable arrangement: I won’t come into your bedroom and make you fuck, and you won’t come into my bedroom and make me not.

I think adoption of this simple principle would probably do much to change almost every aspect of society, culture, and ethical philosophy. Since all these things as they stand now are without fault, I fear this must argue against my proposal.

1 For some value of the word “reason.”
2 If you’re afraid of spiders, you really, really don’t want to click that link.

Link o’ the Day: Trans-simianism

With a tip of the (virtual) hat to figmentj:

Enough is Enough: A Thinking Ape’s Critique of Trans-Simianism

Klomp predicts that through a technology called ‘hygiene’ we could extend the simian lifespan well into the late 20s or possibly 30s. What exactly will the post-simian do with all that time? Do we really want to live in a society populated by geriatric 27- year- olds? In living so long and spending so much time ‘thinking,’ do we not also run the risk of becoming a cold, passionless race incapable of experiencing our two emotions (fear and not fear)? How much of our simianity are we willing to sacrifice for this notion of progress?

Rest assured that while Klomp may have accrued a recent following, there is no reality to his fantastic claims. What is concerning is the increasing number of young apes spending less time clubbing animals and more time ‘inventing,’ ‘thinking’ and ‘creating,’ none of which contribute to the preservation of the simian way of life. These sorts of fads come and go, however, and this author is confident that in a short while everyone will have forgotten about Klomp and the notion of being anything more than an ape.”

Fragments of Atlanta: Oakland Cemetery

When my friend Jan was visiting a couple of weekends back, I decided to do something I’ve not done in the three years since I’ve been in Atlanta: play tourist.

Atlanta is not exactly the tourist Mecca that, say, Orlando, with its fun frolicksome army of intellectual propery attorneys, is. Nevertheless, it is home to some interesting places, including the world’s largest indoor aquarium and to Oakwood Cemetery, an old 19th-century graveyard with a fascinating history.

The place was founded in 1850. In 1864, Confederate general John B. Hood directed the Battle of Atlanta from within the cemetery (a fitting place, one might argue, from which the leaders of the agrarian South could conduct their ruinous war against an industrialized opponent). Today, it’s a public park, situated smack in downtown Atlanta’s runaway urban sprawl.

And it’s beautiful.

The entrance to the cemetery is gorgeous, all Victorian brick walkways and enormous oak trees. The back of the cemetery descends a rolling hill in carefully designed terraces:

The place is so interesting, in fact, that when dayo came into town for Frolicon, I brought her there as well.

The rest of this post has a very large number of massively bandwidth-crushing pictures, so I’ll put most of them behind cuts for your browsing pleasure.

As we wandered through the cemetery, which is huge beyond reason, one of the things that struck me was how much of a society’s social values and social norms are reflected in the way a society commemorates its dead.

Everything from gender roles to priorities to class hierarchies can be seen reflected in the headstones of an old graveyard. What are we to make, for example, of the Trotti family plot, which delineates expectations about gender and family norms with astonishing starkness:

Strange things are afoot at the Waffle House

A couple weeks ago, my friend Jan was in town for a visit. A couple of Fridays ago, we jaunted down to the Waffle House for some waffles before heading to Oakwood Cemetery, about which more later.

On the way to the Waffle House, a cop car flew pas us, lights flashing and siren screaming. Then another. And another.

“Someone’s having a bad day,” I said.

Then another and another. By the time we reached the Waffle House, which is right down the road from where I live, nine cop cars had gone flying past.

So we get to the Waffle House and sit down. Another cop car flies by, then another one.

And then they all turn around and start screaming into the restaurant parking lot, which isn’t the sort of thing you see every day.

About ten seconds later, there were twelve police officers crowded into the Waffle House. Some guy was sitting at the counter, probably wishing he were somewhere else–preferably somewhere where he wasn’t the subject of great interest by a large number of armed men.

So they did the whole “Put your hands on the counter where we can see them” and “Everyone move away from this man” thing, then shortly thereafter led him out in handcuffs. The whole thing was very “Quentin Tarantino goes out for breakfast,” only with fewer fatalities and nobody losing an ear.

Anyway, a few days later, this sign appeared taped to the Waffle House window:

Now, two things strike me about this picture. First, the guy in this sketch most definitely isn’t the guy who got hauled out in handcuffs, which makes me suspect that this guy is that guy’s partner, or this guy had nothing to do with that guy and it’s all some bizarre, Tarantino-esque coincidence, or maybe, just maybe, the cops got the wrong guy on the first go-round.

Second, “Both teeth on either side of his two front (middle) teeth are edged with silver.” That’s a pretty striking characteristic. If one is to make one’s living sticking up restaurants, perhaps one might consider another option, such as not changing one’s appearance in an easily-remembered way that makes one stand out, or maybe one should, I don’t know, wear a hood or something. Seems to me that once they get this guy, the positive ID is going to be a no-brainer.

Might as well tattoo ‘poor impulse control’ on his forehead, really.

Fragments of Frolicon: Candy from Strangers

Back when I was a kid, my parents always told me never to accept candy from strangers.

I don’t know why they told me this. I grew up in a town of 242 people; there were eight kids in my middle school class, and it was the largest class the school had seen for years. Nobody was a stranger. In fact, not only did everybody know everybody else, everybody had rather strong opinions about everybody else’s business, and shared these opinions, daily. Passing commentary on the business of other folks was what served the town as a social venue in place of going to a mall (and speaking of malls, I never saw one until I was almost in high school). But I digress.

It wasn’t until much later in life that I learned “don’t take candy from strangers” is terrible advice. Strangers have absolutely the best candy! So when a stranger offered me candy at Frolicon (and folks at Frolicon are often stranger than most), of course I accepted. Mmm, stranger candy.

This is the stranger who offered me candy.

Of course, stranger candy is not without its risks. Strangers who offer candy often want something in return for their candy, like for example want you to pet the cute puppy they have in the back of the van.

Somehow–I’m still a bit hazy on the details–after I had the candy, she ended up with my booty. I think it was–

Wait, I best back up a minute here.

One of the ongoing Frolicon “things” is booty. Booty in this case is a small coin attached to a pin, which you get one of when you register for the convention. The objective of the game is to collect as much booty as possible; at the end of the convention, the person who’s plundered the most booty gets a prize of some sort or something. The details of the booty-related transactions are, of course, left up to the people involved.

Anyway, I ran into her while waiting in line for the elevator1, and somehow, within a few minutes, I had candy and she had my booty. I think it was her sexy voice; imagine Demi More, back in about 1984 or so, when she still had that low, growly voice guaranteed to loosen your necktie at 120 paces, only with a British accent.

So she gave me candy and took my booty. And, as it turns out, she recognized the name “Tacit” on my badge and mentioned that she’d wanted to buy some of my posters of the Map of Human Sexuality, and I mentioned that I’d brought some with me, and this precipitated much mad dashing about the hotel to collect the posters and a shipping tube and all that sort of stuff.

So as it turns out, her name is Maxine and she does a Web comic and does painting and portraiture and is organizing a Frolicon-like event in London and gives good hug. Really, really good hug. And I’ve never before been hugged by a stranger dressed as the Easter bunny in a top hat after taking candy from said stranger and giving up my booty.

Frolicon is cool.

1 Note to con-goers: When you are budgeting time to do things like check out of the hotel, get lunch, and/or snog that person you met in the dungeon the other night, allow for at least 20 minutes to get on the damn elevator. It will come more often than that, but it will mostly be full. Mostly.

Fragments of Frolicon: Surprise figging!

There are probably folks reading my blog who don’t know what Frolicon is. There may even be folks on my blog who aren’t familiar with cons in general, which is a damn shame, and those folks should definitely see to that sometime soonest.

For folks familiar with cons in general but not acquainted with Frolicon, imagine Dragon*Con. Now make it a lot smaller and get rid of all the folks in stormtrooper outfits and all the folks wearing Katamari Damacy T-shirts.

Got it? Okay, good. Now, with the remaining folks, make about half of ’em wearing a whole lot less. (I know it’s hard to imagine folks wearing less than they do at Dragon*Con, but work with me here.) Now, add a lot more corsets, and replace most of the geek shirts with leather fetishwear.

Still with me so far? Excellent! Now replace the panels on UFOs, Star Trek, and how to make ice cream with liquid nitrogen with workshops on flogging, figging, and needle play. Finally, imagine a huge open space filled with all manner of dungeon furniture, and picture an open play party every night.

And oh, yes, we played.

Saturday night, we Cut for kinky sex