Priorities, Neuroses, And Sex: The Best Non-Monogamy Advice I Ever Got, Part 2: The Blowfish Blog

I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. It’s a follow-up to last week’s piece about non-monogamy… which created far more of a kerfuffle than I’d expected.

Three people
For those of you just tuning in: Last week, I advised couples who are considering non-monogamy but have fears or concerns about it to look carefully at what — exactly — those fears and concerns are, and then tailor their non-monogamy agreements to address those fears and concerns. Somewhat to my surprise, a number of people objected to this advice, arguing that (a) it treats the outside participants as less special and valuable, with fewer rights and less autonomy; and (b) it wouldn’t work — in my proposal, the basic fears never get addressed and dealt with, and thus never go away.

In this week’s piece, I answer these arguments. (I know — very uncharacteristic of me.) It’s titled Priorities, Neuroses, And Sex: The Best Non-Monogamy Advice I Ever Got, Part 2, and here’s the teasers:

Let’s first take the argument that this model treats the secondary partner as less special.

Yes. That may be true.

So?

That came out a little more hard-assed than I meant. Let me clarify.

and:

Let’s take the argument that setting up your non-monogamy agreements so your anxieties don’t get triggered means your anxieties will never get addressed, and will never go away.

My response:

Yes. That may be true.

So?

That’s a little more flippant than I really meant. So let me give yet another example from my life to make myself clear.

To find out more about this philosophy of non-monogamy — and why I still think it’s valid despite the objections that were raised — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Priorities, Neuroses, And Sex: The Best Non-Monogamy Advice I Ever Got, Part 2: The Blowfish Blog

Greta in D.C. at LGBT Bloggers Conference/ Open Thread

Hi, all. I’m in Washington, D.C., attending the National LGBT Blogger And Citizen Journalist Initiative Thingie. Ironically, this means I’m away from my blog, and probably will be until Monday.

In the meantime, talk amongst yourselves. I’ll give you a topic. Butterflies are neither butter nor flies. Discuss.

Greta in D.C. at LGBT Bloggers Conference/ Open Thread

On Having Fantasies About Acting Out Fantasies

Please note: This piece discusses my sex life — specifically, my sexual fantasies — in a whole lot of detail. Family members and others who don’t want to read about that, please don’t read this one. This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.

Does anybody else do this?

I’ve been doing this for much of my adult life. And I’m starting to be curious about whether anyone else does it, too.

My secret garden
I’m talking about having sexual fantasies about acting out sexual fantasies. Or meta-fantasies, if you will.

I realize that’s a little oblique. So let me give a concrete example.

Lately, I’ve been having this very intense fantasy about acting out a coercion/ rape fantasy. Consensually, with a consenting partner. In this fantasy, my partner is a professional submissive, someone I’ve played with many times before. She tells me we’ve been playing for long enough now that she’s willing to forego her “no genital sex” limit; I ask her if that means we can act out a rape fantasy, and she agrees. Nervously, but excitedly. Enthusiastically, even. In some versions of the fantasy, she says she was hoping for that.

(Just to be clear: No such person exists. I tend to make up very elaborate backstories for my fantasies.)

In the actual fantasy part of the fantasy — as opposed to the backstory part — we both get deeply into our roles. It’s clear that she’s consenting to it, even that she’s getting off on it… but it’s also clear that the role of the victim is feeling real to her. Just like the role of the perpetrator is feeling real to me. So I get to experience those dark emotions of power, forcing myself against resistance and reluctance, making someone feel frightened and violated and helpless — and getting off on it. And I get to experience those emotions in an ethical context of consent.

And I’m wondering:

What the hell is this about?

Dreaming

It’s a fantasy, for fuck’s sake. Of course it’s in an ethical context of consent. It’s all taking place inside my own head. You can’t get any more consensual than that. Why can’t I just have a nice, normal rape fantasy, without adding in these meta- layers of detachment from it?

And does anyone else do this?

When I first started thinking about this, I thought the problem was how literal my mind is. Ridiculously literal at times. I have a reality check deeply embedded in my brain, and it goes all the way down into my libido. I don’t like impossible or implausible porn; I spend absurd amounts of time figuring out the backstories of my sex fantasies to make them believable; and I rarely have fantasies about things that couldn’t really happen.

Snape

(Except for the Snape fantasies. But that’s different. Don’t ask me why. It just is. Shut up, that’s why.)

But here’s the thing. I can and do enjoy fantasies of force and coercion and even rape… as long as I’m the victim. If I’m the victim in the fantasy, I can let go of my desire for plausibility and realism. I can get into the fantasy of feeling forced and violated, humiliated and powerless… even though I know that the reality would be an appalling nightmare. I don’t have to have fantasies about acting out a fantasy of being raped. I can just fantasize about being raped.

It’s only as a top — as the coercer, the abuser of power, the rapist — that I insert these meta-levels of detachment. It’s only as a top that my fantasy life gets an ethics committee, making sure that even the made-up characters in my head are all having a good time before I can get off.

So I don’t think plausibility is the problem.

Prisoner of conscience

I think the problem is a hyper-active conscience. A conscience that has a hard time even imagining doing things I know I shouldn’t do.

Even in my dreams. I almost never have dreams where I’m having sex with someone who, in real life, I want to fuck but shouldn’t. Instead, I have dreams where I almost have sex with someone I want to fuck but shouldn’t… and then back out and say No. (And then wake up, totally annoyed with myself, going, “It was a dream! It would have been okay! Nobody would have gotten hurt!”)

It’s not that I think there’s anything wrong with having coercion/ force/ rape fantasies without the “meta-fantasy” distancing technique. I don’t, at all. I feel very strongly that no fantasy in this world — not a fantasy about being Hitler molesting a kitten, nothing — is unethical. Fantasies are, by definition, consensual. No fantasy is bad.

But apparently my conscience is as deeply embedded in my libido as my reality check. I know that having a fantasy about an unethical act isn’t unethical… but my libido, apparently, knows nothing of the kind. When I get deeply wrapped up in a fantasy, my libido takes it seriously. It thinks it’s real. And if it’s a fucked-up fantasy where I’m being a bad person, it can’t do it.

Which is kind of annoying. It’s not a big deal or anything. It’s just kind of annoying. Kind of ridiculous. And, okay, if I’m going to be totally honest, kind of funny.

And so I ask again:

Does this happen to anyone else?

And if so, what’s your take on it?

On Having Fantasies About Acting Out Fantasies

Atheist Meaning in a Small, Brief Life, Or, On Not Being a Size Queen

Blink

If there’s no God and no universal consciousness, and human existence is an infinitesimally brief, infinitesimally tiny eyeblink in the vastness of space and time… then what the heck is the point?

After I put up yesterday’s post (How Perfect Is the Universe, Anyway?), I realized that I left it on a bit of a downer. Something I don’t normally like to do. I wrote this whole piece about how it makes no sense to see the universe as having been designed so that human life could come into existence, since the possible lifespan of the human race is pathetically short compared to the ultimate lifespan of the universe… and I pretty much left it there. “Tough cheese, pals,” I basically said. “Suck it up.”

Sorry about that.

Today, I want to take that view of the universe, and try to respond to it with some actual humanist philosophy.

Now, the hardassed, “Reality doesn’t care if it hurts your feelings” response is… well, that reality doesn’t care if it hurts your feelings. The fact that you find reality upsetting doesn’t make it any less real. “I don’t want to live in a world without God” is not an argument for God’s existence. Tough cheese, pals. Suck it up.

But is there a more compassionate answer? A more joyful answer? An answer that doesn’t amount to “Life sucks, then you die”?

Planets2008

Can there be meaning and joy in a universe where human life is essentially an unusual chemical process on one hunk of rock orbiting one of a hundred billion stars in one of a hundred billion galaxies… a chemical process that’s only been going on for about 200,000 of the Universe’s nearly 14 billion years, and that’s pretty much guaranteed to end in another billion years, if not sooner, while the Universe continues to expand forever into an enormous expanse of mostly nothingness?

I think there is.

But it means letting go of a big chunk of ego.

I think this can be one of the hardest things about letting go of religion. It certainly was for me. I hated the idea that my soul wasn’t going to live forever; that there was no God or World-Soul animating the Universe for all eternity who nonetheless cared about my little contribution to it. I found it profoundly upsetting. (Yeah, so I have a bit of an ego. I like to think of myself as important. What’s your point?)

Earth in hand

When you let go of religion, your life can still have meaning. You just have to let go of it having meaning on an immense, universal scale. You have to let go of the arrogant belief that the very source and guiding hand of the Universe cares about what you do. You have to scale down the sense of where your life is lived: down from the cosmic, eternal scale, and onto a human, finite scale.

But it’s not like the human scale is any less real for being relatively small and relatively brief.

Quarks in proton

Here’s a way of looking at it that I find comforting. Let’s pretend, for a moment, that quarks and other sub-atomic particles have consciousness. And think of the quarks in the atoms of, say, your hand. To them, through their quarky little eyes, you would be as big as the galaxy is to you; heck, even as big as the Universe itself, if I’m doing my math right. And the atheist quarks might be having all sorts of identity crises because they’ve realized that the Person doesn’t have any personal knowledge about them, and doesn’t care about them, and that their existence is on an unbelievably minuscule scale compared to that of the Personverse.

But it’s not like the subatomic scale isn’t real, and isn’t important.

In fact, when you let go of the idea of a creator or a world-soul, the whole question of which scale of things is the most important suddenly becomes moot. Because when you let go of the idea of a creator or a world-soul, you then have to ask yourself, “Important to whom?”

Galaxy

Being an atheist means that you don’t have to be a size queen. There’s no reason the cosmic scale of galaxies and universes is objectively more important than the human scale… any more than the human scale is objectively more important than the subatomic scale. We are, in the immortal words of Mickey Mantle, children of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, yada yada yada.

We’re just no more than the trees and the stars, either.

Crowd 2

In an atheist world view, the only thing that cares about us is other people. Other flawed, crazy, messy people, living on the same human scale that we are. (Well, plus some cats and dogs and stuff… but you know what I mean.) There’s no immense, eternal, perfect being watching our every move, feeling elated at our triumphs and devastated by our failures. Just a bunch of other screwed-up bags of water and flesh, with their own problems.

And this can be a hard pill to swallow. It can be hard to ask yourself, as Douglas Adams put it in the first Hitchhiker’s book, “Does it really, cosmically speaking, matter if I don’t get up and go to work?”… and have the answer be a pretty resounding, “No.”

But it also relieves us of a certain amount of responsibility. I mean, I have a hard enough time feeling hyper- responsible just on a human scale. I have a hard enough time with the burden of responsibility for the effect I have on poverty and racism and corporate imperialism and global warming. It’s kind of a relief to not have to worry about whether I’m letting down the World-Soul as well.

Rivers and tides

And I think it’s a mistake to think that longevity is the truest measure of importance or value. A five-minute dance in the park can be more valuable than an ugly abandoned building that never gets torn down; a half-second of transcendent joy and connection with a lover can be more important than a boring job that you slogged through for ten years. The movie “Rivers and Tides” was a profound influence on me for that reason: it reminded me that fleeting moments are every bit as valuable as stone monuments. In fact, fleeting moments are really all we have. We should make the best of them.

And finally, if you want to be all egoistic about it…

As far as we know, we’re the only beings in the Universe with consciousness. (Well, again, us and maybe dogs and cats and stuff.) And that doesn’t just mean that we get to create meaning for ourselves. It means that we get to decide which scale is the important one. In fact, if we are the only beings in the Universe with consciousness, our scale is the most important one, pretty much by definition… since “importance” is a concept that only makes sense if you have consciousness. The scale of living things is arguably the scale that matters most… since livings things are the only things to whom anything can matter.

Contrary to the canards that get tossed around about atheists by people who’ve never bothered to talk to one, atheism doesn’t mean that life has no meaning. It simply means that we get to create our own meaning. The meaning of our lives isn’t handed to us by someone else: we get to choose the meaning of our lives, based on the wiring of our brains and the values of our culture and the experiences that we and we alone have had.

Crowd

And the same is true for the importance of our lives. Being an atheist doesn’t mean that life isn’t important. It means that we get to create our own sense of importance. The human scale is where we live. It’s what we have. And if we decide that that’s the most important scale for us, there’s nobody out there to tell us otherwise.

Atheist Meaning in a Small, Brief Life, Or, On Not Being a Size Queen

How Perfect Is the Universe, Anyway?

Before I start: A quick apology for the unscheduled blog break over Thanksgiving. I kept thinking I’d have time to blog over the holiday, and it kept not happening. My bad.

Galaxies

So how perfect is the universe, anyway?

There’s an argument I’ve been seeing a lot lately in support of religious belief. It’s sort of a cosmic version of the argument from design (the idea that biological life is too complex and too perfectly balanced to have just come into being on its own). Now, when it comes to the development of biological life, anyone who understands the theory of evolution knows that the argument from design is a non-starter. But the cosmic version of it has been making the rounds, even among people who completely accept evolution… and it’s what I want to hammer at today.

Atom

The cosmic version goes like this: The universe itself — indeed, the basic laws and forces of physics — is all perfectly set up to allow life to come into being. Too perfectly. The force of gravity, the forces that hold atoms together, all that good stuff… if any of it had been even just a tiny bit different, the universe would look radically different, and would be completely inhospitable to any life, much less human life. It would have all flown to pieces in an instant, or collapsed back in on itself, or something. But the way it turned out was perfectly suited for life on Earth to come into being.

Therefore, the universe had to have been designed.

Dice

I’ve talked about this before. I’ve pointed out how human- centric this argument is; how it assumes that, because we are here, therefore we were required to be here. I’ve pointed out that the fact that you, personally, against astronomical odds, were born, doesn’t mean that you were required to be born, or that we need to come up with an entire philosphy or theology to explain your birth… and the same is true for our species. I’ve pointed out that if you roll ten dice and they come up 4636221434, that particular pattern is wildly improbable  but the fact that it’s wildly improbable doesn’t mean it was designed to happen. If it hadn’t happened — your birth, the existence of life, the roll of 4636221434 on ten dice — then something else would have happened instead. Something equally improbable.

But today, I want to make a different point.

How perfect is the universe, really?

Big bang

Let’s take a quick look at the past. The post- Big- Bang universe is about 14 billion years old. The Earth has only been around for about 4.5 billion of those years. Life on Earth has only been around for about 3.7 billion of them. And human life has only been around for a ridiculously puny 200,000.

And now let’s take a quick look at the future. The surface temperature of our Sun is rising. In about one billion years, the surface of the Earth will be too hot for liquid water to exist, thus putting a big ol’ kibosh on this whole Life on Earth project. And if our current understanding of astronomy is correct, the universe itself is just going to keep expanding and expanding forever, until everything in it is dissipated into atoms drifting in space.

In other words:

The post- Big- Bang Universe is about 14 billion years old. The slice of that time that includes life is only 3.7 billion years — less than a third of its total existence. And the slice of that time that includes human life is only 200,000 years — one 7,000th of its total existence so far.

Sun_Red_Giant

And even if human beings defy all evolutionary odds and survive for the entire existence of life on Earth… well, life on Earth won’t be around past another billion years. And even if the insanely improbable happens, and humankind somehow figures out interstellar travel and planetary colonization and thus survives past the Sun’s big Red Giant kaflooey… well, planets themselves aren’t going to be around forever, what with the universe’s eternal expansion and all. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold, as the great W.C. Fields once said. If current astronomy is correct, the life-span of the universe is going to be far, far longer than the life-span of humanity.

How, exactly, is that perfect?

I don’t know about you, but I find this something of a buzz-kill. And it sure as heck doesn’t look like a universe perfectly designed to make human life possible. A nice, calm, steady-state universe, where everything just hangs around in more or less its current form forever, would have been a lot more human-friendly. It sure would have looked a lot more like a universe designed for life and humanity than this one does.

Puddle

The great Douglas Adams (of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” fame) made a point that’s very pertinent to this idea. In his posthumous book, The Salmon of Doubt, he said, “Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!'”

He was talking about the evolution of life on Earth, and the hubris of assuming that, because we fit so neatly into our environment, therefore both we and our environment must have been specially designed. But his argument applies equally well to the cosmic version of the argument from design, every bit as much as the biological version.

Earth

The hole for the puddle of life on Earth has a maximum life span of about 5 billion years before it dries up. The hole for the puddle of human life on Earth has a maximum life span of about one billion years. In the life span of the universe so far, that’s pretty minor… and in the life span of the universe from here to eternity, it’s a tiny blip on the radar. It is the height of arrogant, human- centric hubris to assume that the entire vastness of the Universe — including planets and stars and galaxies that we can’t see and will probably never see — was deliberately designed by a loving creator so that the chemical process of life could, for a relatively brief span of time, come into being, and then flicker out again.


UPDATE: I realized after I posted this piece that I ended it on kind of a downer note. I have therefore written a follow-up, Atheist Meaning in a Small, Brief Life, Or, On Not Being a Size Queen, that explores some possible ways to find positive meaning and value and importance in this particular world view.

How Perfect Is the Universe, Anyway?