Nudity, Censorship and Discrimination

Facebook

Imagine you are a gay man or woman happily married to someone of the same sex. To celebrate your love, you post a vacation photo with your significant other, kissing on the beach. None of your friends or family members object to the image, because they have known you and your spouse for many years, and they are accepting of your relationship. Except, of course, for Uncle Fred. Uncle Fred is a Bible-thumping evangelical, and he strongly opposes gay unions. For him, homosexuality is wrong. What’s more, Fred believes that the sight of two men kissing is harmful to his children. They might get the wrong idea, he argues. God forbid, his kids might even turn gay! So Fred contacts Facebook, marking your content as inappropriate. You are hence banned from Facebook for a week. In addition, you are told that if you post such an offensive image again, your account may be suspended for life. The message this sends is clear. Being homosexual is wrong, and for the “good” of the community, you must hide your perverse lifestyle from the public eye.

Gay Pride Is Celebrated In London
In today’s enlightened world, Fred’s complaint would go unheeded. We now recognize that anti-gay rhetoric is discriminatory. We accept the LGBT community because we know that different forms of sexual identity are not the result of mental illness, and that the sight of two men kissing will not harm our children. We have sufficient evidence that children born to gay parents turn out to be upstanding and productive members of society. Whatever harmful beliefs were once directed at the LGBT community were largely based on the Book of Leviticus, and early Judaism, and have no place in our modern world.

And yet, Facebook continues to discriminate against a minority group. Naturists were once treated with the same level of condemnation and hostility as the LGBT community. Like social lepers, early nudists lived as outcasts, in the most isolated parts of the country, and were subject to police raids and arrests, even when their activities were hidden behind closed doors. Most naturists I know do not tell people what they do on weekends. Many of us live in a state of anxiety (I know I do) over how we might be judged. I have met people who traveled outside the country just to be free of clothing, yet refuse to visit the club a mile from their house for fear of being discovered. I have known people who have lost their jobs because of their online naturist profiles. But while acceptance of the LGBT community continues to grow, naturists remain marginalized and misrepresented. By acting on our beliefs, we risk placement on the Sex Offender Registry List, to be forever associated with rapists and pedophiles. While nudists are permitted to promote their ideology in writing, we are never allowed to act upon that ideology. In being censored, we are silenced, and our arguments made ineffectual. There is no greater proof of nudism than to see whole families, on the beach, at campgrounds or in family pools, naked and innocent.

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I have heard the argument that the nudist movement cannot be equated to the LGBT movement, because people decide whether or not to become nudists. But a similar point was made against homosexuals. Because they are not a race, it was argued, they could not be afforded civil protections. But what mattered to the courts, ultimately, isn’t whether someone chooses to be gay, but whether a person has the right to make that choice. Just as we have a right to choose how we live our lives, whether to be Christian, Jew, Muslim or atheist, we have the right to live without shame. But while many will contend that we have that right already—nobody is arresting nudists in their homes anymore—how can we say we are free, when we are banned from social media for expressing what we believe, or arrested in public for acting on it? Would we say that a Christian was free to be Christian, if we were to ban photos of him at church? Or arrest anyone wearing a cross in public on the grounds that it was indecent and offensive?

Disapproval of naturism stems from the same archaic traditions that once stigmatized homosexuality. After eating from the Fruit of Knowledge of Good and Evil, man realized that he was naked, and that he should not be so. To challenge this view is to challenge the story in Genesis, and by extension, a belief in God. Fortunately, we no longer base our ethical intuitions on the writings of sheep herders who lived thousands of years ago. In the study of social science, we concluded that the LGBT community poses no harm to others, but this same methodology is neglected with regards to nudism. It is assumed—on no evidence whatsoever—that the sight of nudity must be harmful to children. On the contrary, statistics show that greater censorship is detrimental to our youth. Compare teen pregnancy rates in the United States to countries where nudity laws are lax or nonexistent. According to the CDC, teens in America are six times more likely to become pregnant than in The Netherlands, four times more likely than in Germany, and three times more than in France. Clearly, our beliefs regarding nudity, children and censorship does not stand up to scrutiny.

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Kids grow up differently in Europe.

What is most hypocritical is the fact that, even if we were to ignore the evidence in favor of religious dogma, we cannot truly shield our children from nudity. The question is not whether they will see it, but when, and in what form. Will it be natural and wholesome, or perverse and degrading? Your child is going to run across a penis or a vagina at a friend’s house, or when they become curious enough to search Google. Whenever it happens, they are more than likely to learn the wrong things about themselves and their bodies. If they watch porn, they are going to develop unrealistic and harmful conceptions about intercourse. With a partner, they may be told, at some point in the relationship, that they are too fat or too skinny, or that they don’t measure up in some way. Without reference, they may begin to hate themselves. By censoring all nudity, no matter the context, social media platforms like Facebook rob its patrons from learning what humans look like, and by extension, perpetuate the very unnatural, unrealistic and unhealthy depictions of nudity permeating the Internet. Some people will counter that it is not up to social media to teach kids values, but studies show that parents have a small influence on their children’s lives, as little as 20%. Kids are smarter and more curious than we give them credit for, and they will seek answers on their own. So just what are we teaching them, when the only nudity they are ever exposed to is a Google search? All the while, my children are subject to scenes of violence, drug use and torture, none of which Facebook chooses to censor.

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I was told by a close friend that Facebook has the right to ban me, because I agreed to their TOS (Terms of Service). In the same way, African Americans acquiesced to “Colored” restrooms at their place of work, and gays in the armed forces agreed to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. “If you don’t like it,” my friend told me, “don’t use it.” But with over a billion customers, Facebook has become more than a business. It is an essential part of modern life, a crucial way to connect to friends and family, a virtual space for people of every background and belief system to meet and exchange ideas. It is a place where everyone is free to express his or her identities. Except nudists.

To be fair, Facebook has rewritten their TOS policy dozens of times as a response to public outrage. Breastfeeding mothers were the first to win the battle against censorship, followed by women who have undergone mastectomies. Frederic Durand-Baissas, a 57-year-old Parisian teacher and art lover, had his account suspended without warning, for posting Gustave Courbet’s 1866 “The Origin of the World,” a painting Parisian schoolchildren can see on field trips to the museum. Since then, Facebook has included special concessions for paintings.

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The Origin of the World. Makes sense.

Now a case can be made, that if Facebook can censor pornography, why not nudity? Where does one draw the line? But acts of sex, by and large, are private matters. To my knowledge, there are no social movements advocating for public sex. While exhibitions may put their sexual activities on display, their intent is to shock and offend. There is also an element of sexual gratification to exposing oneself. Nudists, by contrast, do not care to be seen—and most nudists I know are shy, abhorring attention altogether. For a nudist, nakedness is a non-issue. We wake up naked, eat breakfast naked, watch TV naked, and go to bed naked. It is a way of life.

Facebook bans two things outright: hate speech and nudity. And yet, it is utterly absurd to equate those things in any way. Hate speech incites hatred, which in turn causes harm to others. But how does censoring nudity help anyone? The only thing nudity can inspire is confidence, the confidence to love and accept oneself. By equating nudity with hate, Facebook places nudists, the KKK, Nazis, and other White Supremacist groups, into the same camp.

A supporter for the Ku Klux Klan and the Confederate flag yells at opposing demonstrators during a rally at the statehouse in Columbia

Allowed on Facebook

There was a time when people were offended by the sight of a black man dating a white woman, or in seeing two men or two women kissing. In both cases, offense was used as a justification for discrimination. Even when offense is justified—I am offended, for instance, by the Confederate flag—I do not insist that my eyes be protected from it. I respect those who disagree with me. If Fred the evangelist hates nudists, he has the option to block my account, or to curse me out. To live in a free and just society, is to allow both the exchange and rejection of ideas. Only in this way can we find what is true and do away with misconceptions. But when expression is censored outright, understanding is censored, and acceptance is censored, and then censorship becomes the very thing it purports to defend. To censor expressions of identity is to censor the people who hold and cherish those identities, and in doing so, marks those individuals as something lesser, immoral. It is to discriminate and ultimately, to hate.

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Not allowed on Facebook: This is what I was banned for!

 

Fighting censorship and discrimination is a recurring theme in my work. Ironically, the nudist heroes in my book, Xandr and Thelana, are often confronted by the same kind of prejudice as their portrayals in real life. Time and again, I have had to fight Facebook for the right to advertise even the most innocent depiction of them. Not a nipple, butt-crack, or genital orifice is visible, and yet they reject it on the grounds that it is “implied nudity”—whatever the hell that means. This makes promoting nudism, and by extension, healthy depictions of the human body, all the more challenging.

The only way to fight censorship is exposure. The sight of the human body must become commonplace in all of our media, on TV, in games and in movies. And yes, in storytelling, which has a time honored tradition of challenging and reversing the status-quo.

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NOW AVAILABLE

 

Can Nudism Save the World?

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Can nudism save the world …?

Not really. No. Thanks for stopping by.

OK, wait. There’s more! But you probably guessed that, right? Nudism/Naturism won’t save the world, but it can make the world a better place. Now, I am not going to go into the usual spiel about body acceptance and freedom. Too much nudist rhetoric is hyperbole, and its end-goals arbitrary. Like I wrote in my earlier post, Why Nudism is Wrong*, we don’t need to expose our genitals to see that humans come in all shapes and sizes. Rather, I intend to examine the concrete, practical effects of a world without clothing taboos, a world where public nakedness is not only accepted, but the norm, a world where words like ‘naked’ and ‘nudist’ are superfluous. What kind of world would that look like? And what benefits could we derive from such a world?

First and foremost, we should dismiss the idea that rape, or sexual violence, would increase in a naked world. Compare the rights of women in Scandinavia, where body freedom is more commonplace, to those in repressed states like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. We might instead end up with a more sexually liberated community, but this in itself isn’t a bad thing.

In the middle ages, much like today, there was the fear that nakedness could only lead to sex. More specifically, the patriarchal societies at the time feared wanton sexuality in women. As acts of rape were sanctioned by the Church during the Crusades, wives awaiting their husbands to return from war were said to be forced into chastity belts. Myth or no, the chastity belt emphasized the need to curb female sexuality, as an unwanted pregnancy was a great burden, and having a bastard childborn of a cuckoldwas a worser fate.

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But we are living in a post-Pill age. Moving into the future, newer contraceptive technologies are divorcing the age old connection between sex and childbirth. For women, this has had mostly positive effects. Women are no longer required to devote their lives to raising a dozen or so children. Like no other time in history, they are free to choose the life they want to live, whether that means earning a college degree or starting a career. And they can do this without giving up sex. More importantly, birth control leads to less children being born, which is a net benefit for the environment and on humanity as a whole.

Almost every problem we face today can be directly related to population. With more people comes a greater need for land, water and food. A shortage of these resources leads to poverty, starvation and war. An increased human population causes an increase in pollution, resulting in the devastation of our oceans, the razing of our forests, and the mass extinction of animal species. According to Seastewards.org, Americans generate 10.5 million tons of PLASTIC waste a year but recycle only 1 or 2 % of it. An estimated 14 billion pounds of trash–most of it plastic–is dumped in the world’s oceans every year. Christine Dell’Amore, at the National Geographic, reports, extinction data revealed a rate of 100 to 1,000 species lost per million per year, mostly due to human-caused habitat destruction and climate change. […] That analysis revealed that before humans evolved, less than a single species per million went extinct annually. The study authors suspect that the extinction rate will only increase if trends continue—possibly resulting in what scientists call the sixth mass extinction in Earth’s history. 

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I can foresee a future where children are born outside of the womb, in birthing pods. This would give women even greater freedom, from pain and the health complications associated with delivery. Birth defects could be detected earlier and more easily. DNA editing, enacted outside the body, could affectively eliminate diseases like diabetes and cancer. In this not-so-distant future, sex will exist purely as a social construct, for pleasure and ritual. It will become, for better or worse, what kissing is today. In such a world, fear of nudity leading to sex will not exist, because fear of sex will not exist.

Now, we might look at the above example as putting the cart before the horse. Certainly, we don’t need to be naked to become more sexually liberated, or to curb unwanted pregnancies. We should not confuse correlation with causation. However, there are other major benefits we can directly relate to a global nudist movement.

 

Clothing and Resources

There will never come and time when humans stop wearing clothes altogether, and no nudist or naturist I’ve ever spoken to has entertained the possibility. And yet the myth persists, that nudists want to do away with clothing in the same way textiles (that’s you non-nudists) enforce mandatory dress codes anywhere and everywhere. From a nudist’s perspective, the textile world is utterly obsessive. When you sleep, you wear pajamas, or underwear. When you wake up, you take a shower and immediately put on something casual, like an undershirt and shorts. You leave the house, you change again into a T-shirt and jeans. You visit the beach, the pool, or go camping, you need a bathing suit. It’s just clothes, clothes and more clothes!from the moment you are born to the moment you die. Even when you’re lying dead in your coffin, you’re in a tux. Nudists, on the other hand, dress when appropriate. You won’t find me in zero degree weather without a coat on. That being said, why do I need clothes on a perfect day? Every summer, I find myself sweltering under the Florida sun, my shirt and pants trapping all of the heat trying to escape my body. Why do I suffer? For no other reason but an outdated, cultural taboo.

Now imagine a beautiful spring day. It’s 74 degrees, without a cloud in sight, and there’s just the slightest breeze, and your body is simply begging to experience the sensations around you. In our post-textile world, boys and girls could run freely about the lawn, dashing through sprinklers, jumping in mud, perspiring, drinking Kool-Aid, without any concern for stains. If it rains, take a second to towel off, and you’re dry as a bone. All the while, dad can do yard work, wearing only gloves, without the hems of his clothes turning green. If the temperature pushes past a hundred, there’s no better way to adjust to the heat than allowing the body to regulate itself. Want to jump in the pool? Or into the lake? No need to run home for a bathing suit.

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As the sun melts into the horizon and the mosquitoes start to wake, the family gathers inside. Nobody needs to change. Everyone sits on their bare butts for dinner and, later on, a movie. Mom doesn’t need to do laundry, as she only ever washes for winter and the occasional formal outing. It’s a beautiful, practical world, although a bit 50’s inspired. The future is likely to be far stranger. But in our hypothetical nudist world, we could greatly help the environment by saving on water, and by using our land exclusively for crops. We would also eliminate the pollution that comes from clothing production.

The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world … second only to oil,” Eileen Fisher, industry magnate, told a stunned Manhattan audience earlier this year. Fisher was honored by Riverkeeper for her commitment to environmental causes.

When we think of pollution, we envision coal power plants, strip-mined mountaintops and raw sewage piped into our waterways. We don’t often think of the shirts on our backs. But the overall impact the apparel industry has on our planet is quite grim. Fashion is a complicated business involving long and varied supply chains of production, raw material, textile manufacture, clothing construction, shipping, retail, use and ultimately disposal of the garment.”

While Fisher’s assessment that fashion is the second largest polluter is likely impossible to know, what is certain is that the fashion carbon footprint is tremendous. Determining that footprint is an overwhelming challenge due to the immense variety from one garment to the next. A general assessment must take into account not only obvious pollutants — the pesticides used in cotton farming, the toxic dyes used in manufacturing and the great amount of waste discarded clothing creates — but also the extravagant amount of natural resources used in extraction, farming, harvesting, processing, manufacturing and shipping. While cotton, especially organic cotton, might seem like a smart choice, it can still take more than 5,000 gallons of water to manufacture just a T-shirt and a pair of jeans. Synthetic, man-made fibers, while not as water-intensive, often have issues with manufacturing pollution and sustainability. And across all textiles, the manufacturing and dyeing of fabrics is chemically intensive. Globalization means that your shirt likely traveled halfway around the world in a container ship fueled by the dirtiest of fossil fuels. A current trend in fashion retail is creating an extreme demand for quick and cheap clothes and it is a huge problem. Your clothes continue to impact the environment after purchase; washing and final disposal when you’re finished with your shirt may cause more harm to the planet than you realize.

As a nudist, it seems utterly absurd to me to waste so much energy and resources, when a lack of energy and resources is fast becoming the greatest challenge to human survival. There are certainly times when clothing is necessary, for comfort and survival, but those times are far and few. Mostly, we dress because society expects us to.

 

Our Warming World

Most of the electricity we use goes to lowering the temperature in our homes. But if cultural norms did not dictate that we remain clothed even indoors, we could greatly diminish our dependence on air conditioning, saving energy, and reducing our carbon footprint. According to the Department of Energy: Three-quarters of all homes in the United States have air conditioners. Air conditioners use about 6% of all the electricity produced in the United States, at an annual cost of about $29 billion to homeowners. As a result, roughly 117 million metric tons of carbon dioxide are released into the air each year. This is an awful waste, just to maintain a taboo from the middle ages.

The irony here is that, as the carbon in our atmosphere increases, the global temperature continually rises, necessitating a greater need for AC, requiring more and more energy. 2017 was the hottest year on record, followed by 2016, which held the previous record, as did 2015 before that.

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We are seeing a definite, upward trend toward a hotter, muggier world. Clothing was largely developed during the Ice Age, when most of Europe and North America was covered by glaciers. Today, the glaciers are receding, as other icy landmasses, like Antarctica and the Arctic circle, are disappearing. Perhaps, in our inevitable future of hotter temperatures, communal nakedness will become the only practical solution.

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Security and Safety

OK, you may be thinking that the environment isn’t all that important, or that changing the culture to lessen the effects of global warming is a long shot. How can nudism help me today, you may be asking? This is an inherent problem when dealing with global issues. Having lost jobs in coal, many Trump supporters care little for rising sea levels. We haven’t yet evolved to consider the impact of our actions on the people who live furthest from us.

That being said, there are still everyday, practical benefits to a clothes-free world. Imagine a gunman trying to shoot up a school, where the only permitted uniform is bare skin? Forget taking your shoes off at the airport, if everyone were to simply board the plane naked, terrorists would have nowhere to hide their guns, knives or bombs. This may seem ridiculous, at first, until you discover how lax airport security really is. According to Fortune magazine, Just a few days after the busy summer travel season started—a time when inexperienced and nervous air travelers clog the nation’s airports—word leaked that the TSA screeners missed 95 percent of mock explosives and banned weapons smuggled through checkpoints by screeners testing the system. This means that if a terrorist were to try and sneak a weapon onto a plane, airport security would only catch the guy 5% of the time! Now, if we were to ban both carry-on luggage and clothing, that percentage could only go up. Heck, I can’t imagine anything short of 100%. Even if we were to contemplate a man fitting a bomb up into his anus, it’s unlikely anyone of the Islamic faith would attempt it. For one thing, nudity is forbidden in Islam, and secondly, any member of ISIS posing as a nudist could only recoil at the sight of hundreds of naked women. Again, boarding a plane in the buff may seem absurd, until you ask, why do we think so? Many things were considered absurd before becoming commonplace. More importantly, planes will be hijacked, no matter how much money we throw at security. Are the lives of hundreds of people worth maintaining an outdated cultural taboo?

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Health

So far, we have looked at the environmental impact of clothing manufacturing and the effect a nudist world would have on terrorism, but how well do these arguments hold up to the genital test? I discussed the genital test at length in my other post, Why Nudism is Wrong*, the basic premise being, we don’t have to go Full Monty to attain many of these benefits. Surely, we can trade in our pants and shirts for simple briefs. We can hold on to our modesty, or taboowhichever word you preferwhile greatly diminishing waste. And a terrorist may be just as hard pressed to hide a weapon in his underwear. But there are still other, undisputed benefits to nudism that require we expose our genitals.

Firstly, nudism is more hygienic. Some people consider the opposite to be true. The fear is that fecal matter and urine spread more easily, unconstrained by clothing, onto surfaces that then come into contact with your (in this case) exposed skin. But most infections we suffer from are cultivated by our own bodies. Poop is poop and urine is urine, and whether it’s someone else’s or your own, it’s just as unsanitary. Usually, we are forced into the same undergarments throughout most of the day, without a proper place to change. There is nothing more disgusting than (sorry!) the soiled textiles we keep pressed against our nether regions. This often leads to urinary tract infections, which is caused by bacteria, bacteria that grows in dark, damp places (where the sun don’t shine!). In my nudist world, I would have a shower kiosk (similar to those at the beach) stationed randomly throughout town, where anyone could clean themselves should the need arise. These could be as common as bathroomswould literally be bathrooms. Think about it this way, we wash our hands only so far as our hands are exposed.

Secondly, and far more importantly, nudity offers early warning signs of serious illness. When I last visited my dermatologist, he told me I had a lot of moles. Too many. I’d say I have more moles than there are stars in the universe, but I digress. He recommended he check me over, finding a number on my back that looked questionable. “Six months,” he said. “All it takes is a six months, and if it’s cancerous, you could be the richest man on Earth and it wouldn’t matter. There’s no cure.” But here’s the thing, the doctor checked me everywhere except … you guessed it, my private area. Why? I imagine it had a lot to do with my least favorite taboo. So, even as he’s stressing the dangers of cancerous moles, he’s neglecting a large section of my body because of what some Christian monks impressed upon our culture a thousand years ago. And, as it so turns out, I do have them “down there,” and I did have him check, and more were removed. You could argue that I check myself in the mirror, but how easy is it to see yourself, every part of yourself, even in the best of mirrors? In our naked world, hundreds of eyes would be upon me, everyday, all the more to notice something dangerously wrong.

 

The Future 

Cultural taboos are often difficult, if not impossible, to change. But all that is required is the will to change. Nobody could have imagined, twenty years ago, how embraced the LGBT+ community would become. As I suggested in Nudity is the Future, in forty years time, what we deem indecent will undergo a dramatic shift. Our nation has been leaning left for hundreds of years, our religion is losing its influence, and we are fast becoming a society in which personal identity is paramount. Current and future generations will be raised on PornHub. We simply cannot remain prudes forever. Kim Kardashian, Miley Cyrus and Orlando Bloom, among others, have already exposed themselves with little to no outrage.

One day soon, nakedness will take the place of bathing suits. Nudity will be a thing for the home, for backyards and public parks, for beaches, pools and camping. Showing up naked at a restaurant, school or office building will not invite shock, or calls to the police, but amusement. Clothing will continue to be worn, of course, but its function will change. It will no longer be associated with status, morality or shame, but be customary, a matter of tradition, of personal expression. Just as no one is judged by their sexuality or sexual orientation, no one will be judged, or condemned, by what they wear or don’t wear. This is the world I dream of. Perhaps by then, our cities will have moved, our religions will have become myths, and a hundred-degree weather will be the norm. But it will be a better, freer, more enlightened world.

It Can Happen Here 3: Orwell’s 1984

 

1984

This can’t be a coincidence 

 

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Rarely do words fail me like this, but after finishing George Orwell’s 1984, I am utterly at a loss for what to say. Nothing I can put into words, other than the words Orwell uses himself, can accurately describe the depth of despair, the hopelessness, the utter nihilism bound in this book. The most tragic ending you can imagine cannot begin to prepare you for the story Orwell has written. Something along the lines of Hamlet might as well be a Disney cartoon. At least Hamlet gets his revenge, and is ultimately vindicated. Nothing of the kind can be said of 1984. In the world of the book, there is no glory, no heroism, and no possibility for happiness. You couldn’t make a heavy metal song about this, because even the darkest metal lyrics contain an element of rebelliousness, a strength fueled by rage and angst. This kind of fuck you to the world is not permitted in Orwell’s universe, because freedom of thought is not permitted. What I once regarded the ultimate expression of nihilism, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, cannot even come close to 1984, because the life of Hester Prynne, however awful, becomes a stepping a stone to a greater future for others. I am also reminded of the absurd controversy over the ending of Mass Effect 3, with its supposed “nihilistic ending,” that somehow ruined the franchise. To these people, I say, you do not know the meaning of nihilism until you’ve read 1984.

Even if the entire world were obliterated in a nuclear holocaust, I would greatly prefer it to the future imagined in 1984. Or send me to Westeros on the worst day. In the Hub of All Worlds, board up the door leading to 1984 and let’s never speak of it again. As you may have probably guessed, 1984 is a dystopian novel, the standard by which all other dystopias are judged. Having read Brave New World, The Hunger Games, Cloud Atlas, Never Let Me Go, The Giver, The Man in the High Castle and The Plot Against America, among others, I thought I was ready for this book. I wasn’t. And yet, 1984 is of paramount importance to the literary world, serving as a warning, and a very likely prophecy we must do everything in our power to escape.

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Imagine a world where you are not allowed to think, or to believe, what you want. Imagine a world where your sense of logic, your reason­—sanity itself—is torn down. To resist is to commit thoughtcrime, and thoughtcrime can be anything that contradicts Big Brother, the physical embodiment and face of “the Party.” It isn’t simply a matter of professing allegiance to a particular ideology. There is no real ideology in 1984, only total—not obedience—but agreement with the Party. Obedience is too easy, as it leaves room for hope, and for freedom within one’s own soul. Anyone can be made to obey, while sheltering rebellion in his heart. The black plantation slave could still sing about freedom while imagining a better day for himself or for his children. Under the Party, the Negro would be forced not only to work under the lash, but also to love working under the lash.

Long before the start of the novel, the Party has determined that the only way to maintain total control is to force its people into agreement. To avoid the Thought Police, you must believe, in you heart of hearts, that what you are being told is true. The Party manages this by brainwashing everyone from birth. Every book, film, newspaper, and TV channel is a carefully manufactured work of propaganda. No evidence contradicting the Party is allowed to exist, and when propaganda is the norm, it becomes impossible to separate the truth from the lies. In essence, the lies become true. Even the dictionary is used as a tool of obfuscation, as no words are permitted within the language to allow for seditious thought. In the most disturbing example of the politicization of reality, the main character, Winston Smith, is forced into believing that 2 + 2 = 5. Again, he does not have the luxury to simply state the truth of this claim. He must literally believe it. Winston is also forbidden from having basic human emotions, other than devotion to the Party. No one can love their spouse, or their children, only Big Brother. This might not be so bad if the world were composed of unfeeling robots, or if the Party was in possession of some Borg-like technology, but the price for thoughtcrime is imprisonment and torture. If you are even suspected of guilt, you are made to suffer until you sincerely believe you are in the wrong.

The truly scary thing about 1984 is how plausible it all is. We will likely never be invaded by aliens, or be taken hostage by AI, but the Party feels right around the corner. Orwell paints so complete and convincing a picture, in fact, it all seems inevitable. The technology now exists, from hidden cameras to microphones, to record everything a person does, from your facial expression to the pitch of your voice, to determine what you may be thinking. Modern day computers can make the process even more efficient. We know, thanks in part to Edward Snowden, that the NSA can be watching your every move. Before Orwell, I had never fully appreciated the Right to Privacy. I had always considered, quite erroneously, that if I had nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of, privacy doesn’t matter so much. But when a political party comes into power that criminalizes the things you strongly believe in—being a nudist, an atheist, or LGBTQ+—then privacy is the only way in which you can be protected. Already, we are seeing our right to privacy being eroded. Add to this the dilution of our cherished values, the right to a fair trial and laws against torture, both of which were diminished following the Patriot Act, and 1984 edges closer to reality.

I started this series, It Can Happen Here, as a response to the Trump election. But even after comparing Trump to Hitler, I am hesitant to mention Orwell’s Party in the same breath. There is no greater evil than Big Brother, no more Hellish a place in all of literature than the world of 1984. Mitch McConnell’s wildest imaginings have yet to touch upon such a dystopia. That being said, Orwell has forced me to reevaluate and even to course correct some of my earlier assumptions. The Party is, after all, a government institution, and conservatives have long maintained that the greatest thing to fear is big government. Between the out-of-control capitalist corporatocracy in Cloud Atlas and the Party of 1984, I’ll take the former any day. No doubt, many conservatives turn to Orwell to reaffirm their ideals. But the most pressing question at the moment is whether the current administration resembles the Party in any way. To this I would answer that the parallels are too close for comfort, particularly when it comes to matters of science, history and, to a finer extent, truth itself. Consider how conservatives perpetually strive to rewrite the history books, to omit the atheist assertions of Thomas Jefferson, to refute slavery as the cause of the Civil War, to continually insist that America was founded as a white Christian nation. Consider their opposition to evolution and climate change. In 1984, the very idea of history and science, and of objective reality, has been expunged, politicized to the point of losing all meaning. What is true or not true is based on the dictates of Big Brother, which is how 2 + 2 = 5.

Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes; only in the mind of the Party […] Whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth. 

p. 222

While the relative nature of truth may seem absurd, at first, Orwell’s antagonist argues the point with such twisted logic, he almost convinces the reader. After all, how can we be certain that 2 + 2 = 4? Or that George Washington was America’s first president? Or that the year is really 2017? Or that the Earth is round? Everything we know or think we know was taught to us in a school, and public schools are government institutions. The same paranoid sentiments are echoed today by the Flat Earth Society, who accuse teachers of brainwashing children with the “globe theory.” And while we can make simple observations to determine the shape of our planet for ourselves, it is easy to see how everything we believe could turn into a matter of politics, particularly if we are forced into a left or right leaning bubble, wherein lies become omnipresent.

To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient […] to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies …

p. 191

Considering the book was written in 1949, it is remarkably prescient when looking at how carelessly Trump lies, and how his adherents are expected to deny or to accept objectifiable truths. We have never seen a political movement like this before. It has given rise to anti-intellectualism, anti-science, anti-vaxxers and the Flat Earth Society. At this very moment, the Trump administration is robbing us of our health care, our clean air and water, and every institution established to help the sick and the needy. They threaten anyone who stands beyond their control: the free press, the scientific community, any and all educated “elites” who disagree with them. All the while, those who voted the administration into office stand to lose the most, and yet they are convinced that every action taken by Trump and his cronies is for their own good, that while big government is the enemy, it also, paradoxically, represents their own interests.

All that was required of them [the lower classes] was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working hours or shorter rations.

p. 63

Orwell called this doublethink, holding two contradictory beliefs in your mind simultaneously. So while millions of the poorest Americans will lose their health care, it’s all for the best, because the government says so. In this nation, facts are ceasing to matter. You can no longer argue objective reality because reality has been politicized. Stating that a million people attended Trump’s inauguration, or that hundreds of thousands of voters were bussed-in from other states to vote illegally, is equivalent to two plus two equaling five. Evolution, climate change, even the shape of the Earth is being called into question. And so now I ask you, what year is it? Are we living in 2017? Or are we closer to 1984?

I can think of only three authors whose names have become adjectives: Shakespear(ean), Lovecraft(ian), and Orwell(ian). What greater mark on society can a writer hope to achieve? Without question, Orwell is deserving of his spot on this mantle. His brilliance is effortless, his writing without flaw. But more impressively, his insight into human nature, political philosophy and metaphysics and the interplay between them is without peer. 1984 is a timeless masterpiece. It is a story that, quite frankly, needed to be told. And it is as important today as it ever was, perhaps more so.

****

Sex, Nudity and Science

Generally speaking, young children are more boisterous than their parents. Much of this has to do with physical limitations. My seven year old does handsprings across the living room all day long, while my seventy year old mother would likely break in half attempting the same. Doubtless there is a mental, as well as a physical component to these differences. Older people don’t do cartwheels largely because they don’t feel like doing cartwheels, just as collecting dolls or watching cartoons loses its appeal after a certain age. Likewise, when a girl in first grade asked me to be her boyfriend, I told her no, because eight year old me thought kissing was gross. I was also deathly afraid of showering in the buff in view of my classmates. Not surprisingly, puberty changed my mind about locking lips with girls, and also led me down the path to becoming a nudist.

As we move through life’s stages, chemical changes in our brains determines our perceptions, our feelings, and our behavior. Neuroscientist Sam Harris asserts that every decision we make, however innocuous, stems from brain chemistry. For this reason, he argues, free will is merely an illusion. What you perceive as choice is, in actuality, something beyond your control. Now, while I do not fully prescribe to this claim, I do believe that a great deal of our lives is dictated by chemistry. Whether you’re waving a rainbow flag at a Gay Pride Festival or holding a sign that reads “God Hates Fags,” it’s the neurons firing impulses across your gray matter that’s making it happen. And it makes sense, if you think about it. Our brains are products of our inherited DNA, and can differ widely between race, sex and gender. Consider what would happen if you could turn a KKK member into an African American, or change a Bible thumping anti-gay pastor into a homosexual. OK, it’s been said that the most vociferous anti-gay proponents are gay themselves. Oftentimes, self-hate is the greatest hate of all. But I do not doubt the old wisdom about walking a mile in another man’s shoes, or the adage that states, “nothing happens until it happens to you.” Our nation has not been this divided since the Civil War, and understanding why and how we differ is as important as ever.

I came to realize the affect brain chemistry had on my nudist proclivities several years ago, when I mysteriously lost interest in sex. My doctor prescribed Cialis, because, as I suspect, he thought I was trying to boost my performance. What he had not understood was that my problem was entirely mental. I regarded the unclad female form to be the apex of beauty in the universe, but on that day in his office, women were pretty in the way you might call a flower pretty, or a rainbow, or a painting. A part of my brain had stopped working. When I looked at a girl who was, for lack of a better word, au natural, nothing was activating, and it scared me. Beyond just a lack of libido, I felt like I had aged about thirty years, like I was closer to sixty-five than thirty-five. At about the same time, I gave up on nudism. It isn’t as if my ideals had changed. I still believed in the basic right to be nude in public, and could find nothing offensive about the human body. But on a personal level, I just didn’t feel like it anymore. The longing to visit a beach or a resort, the desire to feel the wind and sun and water on my body, just wasn’t there. And the weird thing is, while I did not quite miss being naked, I did miss the wanting to be naked. Like sex, nudism had given me a great deal of joy, and now that part of me was missing. Months later, I had an MRI and was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor. The tumor was blocking production of testosterone, but thanks to a tiny round pill, the blockage shrank to almost nothing and I felt myself returning to normal. My libido shot back up, as did my enjoyment of nakedness.

For a naturist, nudity is innocent and natural. Textiles, by contrast, may see the unclothed body as crass, repulsive, or simply sexually stimulating. Scientists say DNA determines 80% of our personalities, from whether we are late or morning people to the types of foods we like to eat. In the same vein, the DNA of someone who loves being nude must differ from that of a person who dresses immediately after a shower. Genetic variations affecting behavior are manifested in the brain, but how and why environmental stimuli can alter it remains a mystery. For this reason, I would suggest that naturists themselves do not fully understand what drives them to the lifestyle, and that there is a lot more going on internally than a mere a longing for comfort.

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Naturists see things differently

Nudists have long insisted that there is no correlation between nudity and sex. I have made this claim myself. But after taking a trip down low-T lane, I am not so certain. What I do know is that the human brain is much more complex than we realize, and our sense of sexuality is equally complex. I am not suggesting that nudists are in it for the sex. This is patently untrue, as I have never seen an orgy breakout at a resort, and overt displays of lewd behavior will typically get you thrown out. But this isn’t to say that, at the level of the neuron, there isn’t something being triggered by the sight of genitalia. Sexuality plays a role in almost everything we do, from using the bathroom to our choice of swimwear to the way we dance. Subtle changes in facial expression, in body language, even in the pitch of our voices, can send signals of interest to the opposite sex without you even being aware of it. Sex is an integral part of being human and goes far beyond A + B. To suggest that nudism has “nothing” to do with sex, I feel, is either disingenuous or a symptom of mere confusion.

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Innocent but sexy

Why is it that every nakation travel brochure features young, attractive models? Even The Bulletin, the American Association for Nude Recreation’s own magazine, tends to display their more attractive members. The stars of pro-naturist films, like Free the Nipple and Act Naturally, are typically younger, and bloggers Felicity Jones and Lady God1va have many more followers than I will ever have, in part due to their sex and, let’s be honest, their attractiveness. At a naturist resort I visited with my wife in Cancun, the athletic young couple who happened to be vacationing there were treated like celebrities. That being said, I am not calling nudists out for hypocrisy. On the contrary, I am a firm advocate of the pro-body philosophy, and in fighting the harmful stereotypes of beauty so narrowly defined by Barbie dolls and Playboy. However, even nudists cannot deny the basic processes that go on in the brain, and that we all, on some level, harbor our own sexual biases.

The problem, I believe, stems from our lack of understanding how the brain works, and how it works in relation to sex. What we need is more research in this area, and while I do not have the means for it, I am calling for those in the nudist community to scrutinize the lifestyle from a scientific standpoint. If we are to be honest with ourselves, we must consider the possibility that when we slip off our clothes, the parts of our brains associated with arousal also light up.

It would not surprise me if some nudists were to protest this idea, in that it may somehow derail the movement, in that textiles will say to us, “Aha! I knew it! You’re all a bunch of perverts!” But for me, honesty and transparency has always been an integral part of nudism. In going naked, we choose to hide nothing. And when it comes to our inner thoughts and feelings, we should be equally forthcoming. Doing this might even help our cause. For too long, we have pretended that we see no difference between a clothed and a naked person. Even to argue that everyone is equally attractive is, I feel, disingenuous.

No matter our beliefs, we should never be afraid of scientific scrutiny, because science does not dictate moral action. The purpose of science is to help us make informed decisions. It may turn out that there is no relation between sex and nudity, or that, what I feel is more likely, that the associations we make are largely dependent on the individual. But even if it turns out that there is a greater connection between them than we like to let on, I do not feel it should dissuade us from our core principles. Naturism is the belief that human beings, regardless of sex or sexual orientation, have the capacity to treat one another with respect. And in showing the world that nudists are, in fact, human—that we have desires and prejudices and biases like everyone else— we may become more relatable, and the movement more attractive to newcomers.

***

For this article, I wanted to reach out to two of my fellow naturists, people I have known for a long time, who have devoted much of their lives to the movement. Keep in mind, the views of two people is statistically insignificant, and does not make for scientific study.


 

Steve Willard has been a naturist for 40+ years, and is the founder of All-Nudist, an online resource dedicated to separating real nudist sites from those peddling smut.

NICK: How old were you when you got into naturism, and what drove you into it?

STEVE: Growing up, my family was pretty casual about nudity, but not serious about it. I’d always been attracted to it and got naked, inside and out, whenever I could. Real beach and club nudism began in my mid-forties with my former wife. Not long after that I started All-Nudist as a counter to the smut usually found on the Web. We’ve tried to maintain a benchmark of social nudism that folks, especially newcomers, can use to compare with other versions they run across. Not everyone agrees with our viewpoint, but we feel that a conservative approach shared worldwide is a good start!

NICK: I agree there are a lot of so-called nudist sites that do not represent the movement at all. People seem to be stuck in this mindset, that it’s either all about sex or that we belong to some anti-sex cult. There is no happy medium. It should come as no surprise that people gravitate toward pictures of younger, attractive females (and males). Even your logo, I would argue, has an element of sexuality to it. What is your view on this?

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Sexy logo?

STEVE: Mea culpa, our logo could be seen as somewhat of a sexual appearance. Or is it ‘art’? Our original one was a line drawing of Adam and Eve, but this one is more ‘attractive’ and implies more than just old-fashioned concepts. But you won’t find gratuitous pics posted just for the sake of viewing; they’re used to illustrate an article just like any other legitimate information source does. Porn is and will continue to be associated with nudity, but a greater danger comes from those who wish to be part of social nudism, but want to change it to suit THEIR desires. They dilute and weaken the bonds that have formed over a hundred years. Those folks never embraced what nudism/naturism is in the first place.

NICK: No need to apologize for the logo. I really like it. But my point is, I feel that despite our beliefs, we cannot separate ourselves from our basic natures. Let me ask you, were there ever times in your life when you doubted the whole thing? Or, maybe you just didn’t feel like being nude anymore? Or are there days you’d rather just not be nude, even if it’s warm?

STEVE: Doubted? Never. I would be naked 24/7 if I could. Unfortunately, after a surgery gone bad, my metabolism has flip-flopped and I find myself bundled up in layers, while [my wife] Angie is nude on the couch! Not fair!

NICK: So, would you say you feel as interested in naturism as you were at 40? Or when you were in better health?

STEVE: Absolutely.

NICK: OK. Now I want you to imagine this hypothetical situation: you’ve been hooked up to a brain scan, and it has been clearly determined that the part of your brain associated with sex is also associated with the enjoyment you get out of nudity. How would you feel that would affect your ideas regarding nudism? Would you be surprised? Or would you be indifferent?

STEVE: I guess the short answer would be ‘indifferent’. As we’ve repeatedly affirmed on our website, just because we’re nudists doesn’t mean that we can’t appreciate an attractive person. ‘Attraction’ is inherently sexually motivated, as are nearly all things. That’s Nature at work! Attraction is essentially a desire to be closer to someone, for personality or sexual reasons. We wish to possess that person for ourselves. Nudists are just better at finding others attractive for reasons other than ‘beauty’ or sex appeal. It’s not as important as appearance is to Textiles. People are always talking about the sensual feeling of grass, wind and water on a bare body. True, and sensuality is a close friend of sexuality. There’s no reason not to let them mingle on occasion, or to enjoy the company of other nude people, but if sexual thoughts dominate the nudist experience, it may be time to find another place to pursue that and reconsider what it means to be a nudist/naturist. It’s not for everyone. As an aside, have you ever been at a nudist venue, perhaps in the pool, when a pretty young woman shows up? Watch the old men flock to make her feel welcome!

NICK: Yes! Young, beautiful couples tend to be treated differently, which seems to go against the nudist ethos, but I see nothing wrong with that. We are all products of our evolution. But what I have yet to see at a resort is harassment, or a woman being treated disrespectfully. No doubt it happens, I just haven’t seen it. Visit any nightclub and you’ll see a lot worse!


 

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Felicity after the pudding toss at the annual Northeast Naturist Festival

Felicity Jones (not the Rogue One star) is the co-founder of Young Naturists America, an organization dedicated to free-body activism. She does more than just write up naturist articles, however. Felicity helps to organize meet-ups with free-spirited individuals like herself, whom she calls ‘nudies,’ and arranges for special events like Body Painting Day, with artist Andy Golub in NYC. For Felicity, naturism goes hand-in-hand with feminism and a positive body image.

NICK: You’ve been involved in the naturist movement for a long time. When did you realize an interest in naturism? Or were you born into it?

FELICITY: I was born into it. My parents were naturists and I was raised in a naturist family. We belonged to a nudist club in NJ called Rock Lodge and so growing up I spent a lot of time there every summer.

NICK: Do you see a big difference between people introduced to the lifestyle at a young age and people coming into it later in life? How so?

FELICITY: Yes, for sure. People who get into nudism later in life tend to be a lot more enthusiastic, excited and dedicated to it. I guess that’s just the natural result of people growing up with something that’s accepted as normal, vs. choosing it for themselves later as something new and different. Beyond that, of course kids who grow up as naturists often have a more positive body image and healthier attitudes towards nudity and the human body. I believe the younger you are when you first try it, the more of a positive impact it can have on your psyche. It can work as a bit of an antidote to all of the negative messages we get about our bodies.

NICK: It has been my experience that men and women take to naturism differently. Men seem to want to be fully nude more often, and women seem to take comfort in simple accessories. I saw a lot of sarongs at a clothing-optional resort in Cancun!

FELICITY: Yes, I’ve written at length about the gender imbalance in naturism and how men seem to gravitate towards social nudity. It’s hard to pinpoint any one reason for this, but I’ve discussed a few social / cultural factors that I think are primarily to blame – body image, safety and rape culture, etc. Here’s my article about this – https://youngnaturistsamerica.com/nudist-women-why-naturism-has-lady-women-problem-today/

NICK: I know there’s a big misconception that nudists want to be nude 24/7. That being said, barring cold weather, are there days you simply prefer being dressed? If so, how do you feel your mood/self-image plays into that decision?

FELICITY: Well, it’s a misconception that that’s what it means to be a nudist, when really there’s kind of a spectrum. Some say they want to be naked all the time, but I think the majority are fine with wearing clothes sometimes. I wouldn’t really describe myself as a dedicated home nudist. Mostly I lounge in comfortable clothing when I’m home and it doesn’t have much to do with my mood or self-image. What I really like is being naked outdoors when it’s warm, and as far as my mood, I’m definitely happier that way [in the buff].

NICK: I believe there are differences in the brain between naturists, textiles, men and women that could explain differences in our behavior, outside of cultural and environmental aspects. Unfortunately, I have no real evidence to support this claim, but it is something I think we need to explore. For instance, my wife hates to be nude at home. I think most women are like this. Me, I prefer nudity 24/7, and I think that is true for a lot of guys.

FELICITY: I don’t *hate* to go nude at home. I’m just indifferent to it, or a little more comfortable in some kind of pants at least. I do get cold very easily, ha-ha. Unless I’ve just come from outside where it was blistering hot, then I’ll go in and strip down. But anyway, there could be some biological factor that makes men want to be naked. Who knows? There do exist women who want to be naked 24/7 too, so what would account for that difference? I still think the aforementioned cultural / social factors inhibit a lot of women from participating in naturism much more so than any brain / biological difference.

NICK: Lastly, I want to talk about sex. There seems to be a lot of contention about sex in nudism, with most nudists saying the two are entirely unrelated. I’d like to get your view on the subject.

FELICITY: I think nudists have had to work so hard in past decades to convince and assure everyone that nudism is a wholesome family activity, in the hopes that it would be accepted by society. But now things are different and I think it’s disingenuous to say, “Nudism isn’t sexual, at all, ever.” Humans are sexual beings, and that doesn’t change whether clothes are on or off. You don’t stop experiencing sexual feelings or being sexually attracted to someone in a nudist setting. The difference between sexual nudity and non-sexual nudity is in the behavior. Nudists don’t act on their sexual impulses. It’s all about context – there’s a time and place for everything. That’s a lot more explaining involved than saying “nudism is not sexual,” but I think nudists today need to acknowledge these distinctions instead of loudly insisting on that simple phrase.

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Body painting day!

 

My friends voted for Trump

I have a problem, and it’s a problem that I think many Americans share. My friends voted for Trump. The fact that they could do this utterly mystifies me. Since the day we elected this monster, I have been trying to rationalize the choice they made. But as news reports continue to lend credence to the very worst of our fears, any excuse I can imagine falls apart. It might be different if my friends were to show some measure of remorse, if one were to say to me, “Hey, I didn’t realize it would be like this. Sorry, I was duped.” But that hasn’t happened yet, and I do not imagine it will.

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I am truly at a loss for what to do. I don’t want to excommunicate people I have known for decades, who have gone out of their way to help me in times of need. Of my co-workers, friends and family who are Trump supporters, I have only discussed the matter with one. The others, I suspect, are aware of my disappointment. I haven’t hung out with my cycling buddy since the election. It’s not that I hate him, or don’t ever want to see him again. It seems a petty thing to end a friendship over politics. Aside from that, I feel it’s important to keep the channels of communication open between people with dissenting views. To do less would further the harm caused by our echo chamber culture. A divided house cannot stand. We need allies to fight tyranny. But the hurt inside of me is great, and the normalcy of my relationships has been irrevocably disturbed. How can I be expected to go on like nothing unusual has happened? News breaks daily to confirm we are living in a dystopian nightmare.

Trump wants to bring back torture. Trump wants to sell federal parks and landmarks to private business owners. Trump wants to get rid of the Endangered Species act. Trump bans Muslim immigration and denies visas to Muslim countries (except for those countries with whom he has business dealings). Trump makes it so that Christians can enter the country more easily. Trump wants to make a Muslim registry. Trump wants to report on all illegal activities by immigrants, legal or otherwise. Trump wants to build a border wall, a 20 billion dollar project at taxpayer expense, while breaking up Mexican families. Trump wants to take away healthcare. Trump wants to take away tax breaks for new home buyers. Trump removes mention of civil rights and LGBT rights from the White House website. Trump appoints Exxon CEO and climate change denier to head the EPA, and threatens the jobs of any scientist believing in climate change. Trump appoints a Wall Street banker to head the Treasury. Trump calls the news media liars, and limits their access to the White House. Trump appoints a white supremacist to his cabinet, to write his speeches, and in doing so fails to mention Jews in his visit to the Holocaust memorial. 

This is just off the top of my head. Have I left anything out? Any one of these things should disqualify him from the office. And we’re only weeks into his presidency. What is the country going to look like in four years, if he is not impeached? Is there any doubt he is an evil man? A criminal bent on the destruction of every value we hold dear? That all he does is for his own personal gain? Whether you are Muslim or Mexican or white Protestant, how can you watch your rights be eroded day after day, and not begin to fear? How can anyone put their faith in a man so clearly delusional, who argues facts—like the size of the crowd at his inauguration—as if they could be debated? We can see the pictures for ourselves, and yet we are supposed to accept what he is telling us, and ignore reality. We are supposed to shut our ears to the media because, according to him, they are all liars. Trust in him alone. Because his ego matters more than the state of the union. Are these not the words of a tyrant? The actions of a dictator? A Hitler?

So I am forced to ask, are my friends not aware of all this? Do they not watch the news? Are their Facebook feeds really so different from mine? I find it hard to believe, when all anyone can talk about these days is Trump. And if my friends see these things, as I suspect they have, what does that mean?

I tried to illicit some sympathy from my friend, explaining to him that I was scared. For my wife. For my friends. I could lose them, I said. If not from Trump directly, from those he has inspired, from bigoted fanatics, Nazis and KKK members encouraged by the knowledge that the president echoes their sentiments. My friend argued that he was more afraid of Clinton. How? What did Clinton threaten to do to him? To his family? I suspect it may have had something to do with his NRA leanings, but Clinton was never in favor of banning the 2nd Amendment, whereas Trump made his threats clear. To export millions of immigrants —calling them rapists and drug dealers—and to ban those traveling from undesirable countries, many of whom are women and children seeking asylum. Assuming Clinton had run on an anti-gun platform, a gun is a material thing. You cannot equate banning a material thing with banning a human being. You cannot equate a disagreement over the minutia of the 2nd amendment with a show of outright hostility toward religious and racial minorities. My friends’ vote, however insignificant, reflects the values they most care about.

I had a black friend in college named Marcus. We weren’t that close, but I thought he was a cool guy, and a great writer. Now, if I had come to school wearing a shirt that read, “I Hate Niggers,” how could I expect our friendship to remain unaffected? I could argue, “Hey, it’s just a T-shirt.” I could go so far as to say, “Listen, this shirt isn’t really going to cause you any harm,” and it most likely wouldn’t. And yet, wearing the shirt would be indicative of my beliefs about Marcus and those of his race. Now I’ve heard the argument that not every Trump supporter is a racist. A lot of them can honestly claim they voted for Obama, but that this time around, for want of better jobs, better lives, they threw their hats in for the man they thought could best deliver. But still I ask, “How could you?” Does your personal, financial situation matter to such a degree, that you throw out all other values? Do guns matter so much, does abortion matter so much, that you risk destroying the lives of those closest to you? Does your compassion for others—for minorities, religious groups, LGBT people—STOP at the first sign of personal hardship?

Before I was married, I thought I understood racism. I’d seen movies. TV shows. Then, during the Bush years, I came face to face with the ugliness and, more importantly, the fear of bigotry. While waiting for his pizza in my restaurant, an older gentlemen started to rant about a certain group of people. “Even if I saw one dying in the street, I wouldn’t raise a finger to help him.” Hearing him say that got my blood boiling. I wanted to reach across the counter to punch him. I was dizzy with rage. Shoving the pizza in his face, I told him never to come back. I recall another incident where I had to tell my wife and daughter to sneak out the back door. A guy had walked in wearing a trench coat with a huge swastika emblazoned on it. Let me reiterate, if you’ve never had an experience like this, you do not know what racism is, and I still can’t even imagine what it must feel like to be black or Hispanic or Muslim. To be the object of scorn. The object of violence. There is no excuse for a racist president. No excusing your vote for one.

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I am scared and I am angry. And I am forced to wonder, is there a tipping point? A point at which Trump will do something so heinous, that even his most ardent supporters will be forced to open their eyes? When did Hitler’s most vocal advocates realize they’d made a mistake? Was it when the ovens started? When friends and neighbors started losing their lives? And in that point, could any Jew truly call a Nazi his friend?

The Hub of All Worlds

There is this crazy theory that’s been rolling around in my head for quite some time. It’s the idea that, given enough time and space, all fictions are non-fiction. Take your favorite book or movie, The Lord of the Rings, Harry PotterStar Wars. Somewhere, at some point in time, these things must have happened. I know I know, call the men with the white jackets, but hear me out for a sec.

hub-space

A growing number of astrophysicists have been arguing in favor of the multiverse theory, which states that there may be more than one universe, and in all likelihood, an infinite number of them. Neil deGrasse Tyson has stated that every time humanity thought there was only one of something, one Earth, one solar system, one galaxy, we were wrong. So why stop at one universe? The multiverse theory helps to explain a number of astronomical enigmas, including the origin of the Big Bang, the identities of dark matter and dark energy, and the inexplicably rapid expansion of space. One needs only ask, if our universe banged into existence, from where did it originate, if not some nether region beyond itself? If it is expanding, like a balloon, what space is it expanding into, if not some outer-outer space? What is perhaps still more interesting, if there is in fact more than one universe, astrophysicists argue, it is very well possible that each of these are governed by physical laws different from our own. If the gravitational constant deviated to the slightest degree during the early formation of the cosmos, stars may not have formed, and without stars you cannot have planets, or life. Life may be unique not just to our planet but to our universe as well. But if the multiverse has no boundaries, there would have to exist an infinite number of universes containing life, and in every conceivable form. Consider the limitless ways in which subatomic particles can come together, and the possible arrangement of atoms that follow, and the DNA strands constituent of those atoms. If these quantities are infinite—and only if they are infinite—some random Big Bang would create the right conditions for some random planet to randomly form Westeros from Game of Thrones, and the myriad details those books contain. Not only that, but we would also have a Westeros where things are slightly skewed, where Ned Stark doesn’t get beheaded, even one where everyone lives happily ever after. There would exist so many possible Westeroses, that finding the one you are look for would be as impossible as finding any Westeros, and by impossible, I mean it would take you an infinite number of years. This is the problem with the number infinity. It’s a difficult concept to grasp, even for mathematicians, and it makes for some profound if not absurd proofs. There are several other problems with this theory as well:

 

  1. There may NOT be a multiverse at all. According to Lawrence Krauss’ A Universe from Nothing, one universe is all we need, and everything about the Big Bang and its consequent expansion can be explained by our current understanding of physics.
  2. If the multiverse does exist, it may not be infinite.
  3. The only number that can mathematically affect infinity is infinity itself. So all the kids at the playground one-upping you with, “infinity +1” are wrong in thinking their number is bigger. Infinity +1 = Infinity. Infinity -1 = Infinity. Heck, Infinity minus a googolplex is still Infinity. I bring this up only because, in the previous paragraph, I made the assumption that where time and space are infinite, variation is not. Imagine I left you alone with a certain number of LEGO blocks, and I gave you until forever to arrange those blocks any way you wanted. Eventually, every car, house or boat you could possibly make, you would. However, if I were to give you an infinite number of LEGOs, you could not arrange them in every way possible, no matter how long you tried, as these two infinities would cancel each other out. Infinity – Infinity = 0. Now, replace LEGO blocks with atoms, and you get the same result. Given a limitless number of ways a universe could exist, we might never, ever produce Westeros.

 

Now let’s assume, for the sake of this thought experiment, that a multiverse definitely exists, time and space are indeed infinite, but there are just so many ways atoms can be ordered. Given these statements, we still run into the problem of infinity itself, because, as stated before, even if there is a Westeros somewhere, or a Middle Earth or a Hogwarts, we most likely could never, ever find it. Even after a million years of technological and biological evolution, having built starships to make the Enterprise look like a wheelbarrow, we still would never be able to find our favorite fictional world out there, though we might be able to prove, mathematically at least, that those worlds exist.

In his short story, The Library of Babel, Argentinian Sci-Fi author Jorge Borges imagines an infinitely-sized library, containing not just every book ever written, but every book that could ever be written. The people perusing the library seek to find books containing a record of their own lives, but given the nature of large numbers, they never do.

library

The Library of Babel

From a pragmatic standpoint, such metaphysical-mathematical musings are a waste of time. If we can never know, why bother? We could make the same case for a much more plausible scenario. At this very moment, as you are reading this, some alien being is reading a near identical theory, in a thriving civilization on the opposite side of the universe, some 13 billion light years away. Even if we could freeze ourselves in a starship, to travel for that length of time, the alien civilization would certainly fizzle out by the time we got there. In fact, after 13 billion years, entropy would eliminate all trace of any such civilization having ever existed. Its star could go supernova and the gases surrounding it could reform into a new star and a new system before our arrival. If that weren’t enough, after 13 billion years, the rate of the expanding universe will exceed the speed of light, so even if we were to travel as fast as any particle can go, we would still never, ever meet our alien neighbors on the opposite side of our universe, or even find evidence of their existence. They would be as elusive to us as non-fictional Westeros. William James, founder of pragmatism, would likely argue that, if no evidence can ever be presented of something being true, it is equivalently untrue.

Not so fast, William James, because here is where art comes in, to exceed the limits of math and science and philosophy. For while we may never be able to literally travel to our favorite fictional worlds, we can get there instantaneously, using the vessel that is the human mind. This is what we do whenever we think. Or use our imaginations to create worlds. Authors, painters, video game developers, and the like, are all in effect explorers, and the space in which they explore is that of probability (in Sci-Fi) and possibility (via fantasy). Now it may appear that I have made a kind of logical fallacy, an argument from semantics. Fiction is something we consider to be untrue, because we can’t ever really know if it’s untrue, or, in other words, we believe something is false only because we can’t know whether it’s true. For a writer, however, this need not be a matter of contention. Writers do not seek absolutes, after all, but uncertainties, and to some extent, falsehoods. By entertaining metaphorical realities, we give fodder to those seeking literal realities. And even then, what exists solely in the mind possesses its own inherent value. At the very least, this thought experiment can help us rethink and reassess the purpose of creativity, and how it can play a larger role in the big questions posed by science and philosophy.

The realm of possibility and probability, where fiction and non-fiction dance around one another, is a place I like to call The Hub of All Worlds. It is an imaginary center, similar to Cosmos’ spaceship of the imagination, from which we can traverse the multiverse. And, while the theory that everything is true, given sufficient time and space, may not have any real-world applications, it makes for good storytelling.

What is Free Will?

Let me preface this post by admitting that I have a deep admiration and respect for philosopher Sam Harris. I listen to his podcast weekly, highly recommend his books, The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, and Islam and the Future of Tolerance, and I agree with most of what he has to say regarding religion and Islamic-inspired terrorism. But when Harris asserts an idea I don’t agree with, with a certainty unbecoming of Socrates, I find myself itching to debate him, and here I would like to tackle his assertion that there is no such thing as free will.

Most modern-day philosophers, Daniel Dennet and Sam Harris among them, agree that free will does not exist. That we have any choice in what we do from day to day, in how we shape our lives, is merely an illusion. According to Harris, if you decide to eat a ham sandwich for lunch, it’s not really you making that decision. There are all kinds of neurons firing in your brain, conspiring without forethought, to impress upon your consciousness the belief that, “I want a ham sandwich.” In reality, your body settled on two slices of bread with ham, Swiss and mayo before you could even realize it. Take something less innocuous, like murder, for instance. Harris states that becoming a murderer is really beyond your control. It is determined by countless little factors like brain chemistry, parenting, and a history of violence. He is quick to point out, however, that while the freedom to murder does not exist, we are equally bound by whether or not to excuse it. Society and nature dictate that we act to discourage murder from happening. In that we are in full agreement.

Now the problem I have with the issue of free will is twofold. Firstly, there is tapestry theory, which states that the whole cannot be defined by the sum of its parts. Van Gogh’s Starry, Starry Night ceases to be a painting of stars once separated into its constituent drops of paint, nor does the essence of the painting reside anywhere within those droplets. In like fashion, when it comes to free will, I do not limit my focus to neurons in the brain. By extension, a human being is greatly more than the contents of his body. So while the neurons in my brain are telling me to eat a ham sandwich, I would ask, how did those neurons get that way? More than likely, my digestive system sent subtle suggestive signals up into my head. Perhaps there is even some deficiency in my blood a ham sandwich might help to remedy. Furthering that, how could I know to want a ham sandwich if I never learned what a sandwich is, or what ham is? So memory plays a role. Then again, I cannot possibly remember something that does not exist. No doubt, space and time are equally determining factors regarding free will, which brings us back to murder. My wanting a ham sandwich, just like the guy wanting to kill his wife, is determined by countless factors that go back to the beginning of Time. Heck, without the Big Bang, I also could never want a ham sandwich.

But all this begs the question: what the heck is free will? In simplest terms, according to the OED, free will |ˌfrē ˈwil| is

noun

the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.

I would ask Sam Harris to imagine what it would be like if free will did exist. What would that look like? Is it even possible? I say not. Why? Because when philosophers talk about free will, what they really mean to say is cause and effect. Never mind humanity. Can a universe exist without cause and effect? I, for one, cannot imagine there being one. Our universe is one of physical laws, with one thing acting upon another thing ad infinitum. When we talk about wanting a ham sandwich, yes, the neurons are firing in the direction of ham + bread + mayo, but those neurons are further composed of atoms, and those atoms act according to the strong and nuclear forces that bind them. We’re all just things being acted upon by other things. Arguing against this is a moot point. Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku seems to have understood this when he said, in a discussion on StarTalk Radio, that free will most definitely can exist, because of quantum theory. Subatomic particles are not bound by cause and effect. Quarks blip in and out of existence for no apparent reason, and move in undeterminable patterns, in what is better known as the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. What Kaku understands is that the argument over free will is an argument over physical laws, but in the subatomic realm, these laws start to breakdown.

Sandwich

a ham sandwich

Now I am not about to use the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to argue against Sam Harris. That’s a bit of a stretch. But I do feel we need to better define our terms when we argue philosophy, and not fall into the trap of semantics. In some sense, I agree with Harris. We cannot make decisions irrespective of causality. But this isn’t how the free will debate is worded. When you vehemently argue that people’s lives are preprogrammed, that any decision they make is illusory, that we are all in a sense slaves, this causes the mind to protest. I am not suggesting, however, that Harris make his philosophy more palatable, but rather, that in using terms like freedom and illusion, his argument makes false implications. You cannot claim to be a slave when freedom not only doesn’t exist, but cannot exist. You cannot claim something is an illusion where there is no reality. There is no difference, in this case, between wanting a ham sandwich and believing that I want a ham sandwich. The person who thinks himself as free is free.

And now I really want a ham sandwich.

It Could Happen Here: A Review of The Man in the High Castle

I’ve already been a victim of hate speech. This wasn’t your normal troll variety flaming. This guy got eerily personal, digging deep into my life to attack my lifestyle, my beliefs, my career, and most disturbingly, the person I chose to marry. Sadly, he concluded I should leave the country. People like him have never understood what America is and what it stands for. But to understand America, you have to look no further than its founding document, The Declaration of Independence:

 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

 

You won’t find “white Protestant Christian” mentioned anywhere in our founding document, but you will see it in Jefferson Davis’ traitorous Articles of the Confederacy. Our constitution specifically states that ALL MEN are created equal, and that they have a right to Life, Liberty, and Happiness. This is what it means to be an American. This is our founding ideal. If these ideals are threatened or abolished, if people of color or those of differing religions are cowed by an institution of fear, then the U.S.A. ceases to be. We won’t need to leave America because America will have left us. Honestly, it amazes me how these trumps claim to be patriots. These same folk insisted our first black president must be a Muslim terrorist dictator, born in Kenya. They want to kick us out to make America what it isn’t. To them I say, Go back to Germany!

In The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick imagines the allies losing to the axis powers during World War II. In this sobering alternate history, America is no more. The land is still there, as are its people, but its founding principles have been abolished. Nazism is law and the ideals of aryan superiority. Jews are forced to change their names, to better hide their identities, and blacks, Indians and handicapped people veer close to extinction, and it’s all due to the ramblings of a paranoid, narcissistic strongman.

Now I didn’t plan to be sitting here writing this review as this nightmarish scenario edges closer to reality. But life can have a sense of irony. In all honesty, I picked up The Man in the High Castle because of the Amazon show, and because Philip K. Dick is among the greats of the Sci-Fi genre. His novels adapted to screen include Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Bladerunner), We Can Remember It For You Wholesale (Total Recall), Super Toys Last All Summer Long (A.I.), and The Minority Report. Bad titles aside, Dick is known for his mind-bending concepts, deeply couched in philosophy. In Bladerunner and A.I., he challenges our notions of consciousness and sentience, and our ethical intuitions with regards to synthetic life. In The Minority Report, he imagines a totalitarian world where a prescient police force can stop and punish a crime before it happens. Stop and frisk? But The Man in the High Castle deals not with some far flung future, but post-America circa the 1960s.

It isn’t difficult to imagine this happening, and it can be argued that, by the slightest tweak of events, our world might appear totally alien to us. Consider what would have happened had the German scientists behind the V2 rocket made the atomic bomb? A single nuke, dropped on New York City, and we might all be shouting, “Sieg Heil!”

Looking at the story of the human race, you come to see repeating patterns and the same foolish mistakes being made again and again. The Roman Republic collapsed due, in part, to xenophobia. Julius Caesar was charged with protecting against northern incursions, acting preemptively and genocidally in the name of Rome. Shortly after his military campaign, he declared himself emperor, but was assassinated, stabbed by sixty senators on the senate floor. The political factions dividing the Republic went to war, and when the dust settled, democracy was no more. A similar thing happened in Germany after the first Great War. Hitler was elected chancellor, owing to his impassioned rhetoric regarding German exceptionalism and a pure Arian race. He was viewed as an outsider and a strong man, someone who spoke his mind and could get things done. He blamed all of the nation’s problems on immigrants, particularly the Jews, but those with disabilities as well. It is impossible to talk about these events and not think of Trump. To a student of history, the parallels are all too clear, too frightening. This is why a book like The Man in the High Castle matters.

Alternate histories show us a startling picture of what could have been, shaking us out of our complacency, helping us to recognize the invaluable lessons of the past, lessons we too quickly forget. Dick offers a startling reminder of a world we fought so hard and sacrificed so much to escape, a world where every man, woman and child are judged not by their character, but by their race and nationality. The picture he paints is often haunting. There is no cooperation in his Nazi world. No NATO. World leaders show courtesy to one another so far as they prepare for the next war. In this hellish setting, the only remaining powers are Japan and Germany, with America divided between them. Nuclear devastation is a forgone conclusion, because the Nazis do not want peace, only to conquer, to prove their superiority. Humanity be damned.

All that being said, it’s unfortunate The Man in the High Castle isn’t a better book. Philip K Dick is a rare genius, but his genius too often gets the better of him. His book diverges into wild philosophical tangents that have little bearing on the plot. While his characters run the gamut from an antiques salesman to a Nazi undercover assassin to a Japanese diplomat, they all lose themselves in thought. Dick has a lot to say about the human condition, the nature of suffering, the psychology of cruelty and the politics of race. It’s far too much to condense, and it’s an admirable literary endeavor. I, for one, look for meaning in every story, but here the story seems to take a back seat to whatever meaning the author is trying to convey. Given the subject matter, it’s a shame he couldn’t have been more focused. He only hints at the axis victory and how it played out, and we learn just as little about the bomb dropped on Washington or the global genocides perpetuated by the Third Reich. Dick does, however, give considerable detail regarding the manufacture and selling of antiques.

As I neared the final pages, I anticipated some great reveal, something akin to Life of Pi. In a meta-fictional twist, The Man in the High Castle involves a fictional account of the allies winning the war. A lot of mystery surrounds this book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, and its author, but the payoff just left me confused and wanting more.

I have a need to understand how the very worst of things can happen, and whether they can ever truly happen here in America. So I picked up Philip Roth’s 2004 novel, The Plot Against America, wherein a Nazi ascends to the White House. Look for that review soon!

The Death of Truth

This is something I have been thinking about for quite some time now. I originally planned to write a (more lengthy) post about this, and I probably will someday, but after this past election, wherein Americans voted for a Fascist, I felt compelled to express my concerns.

It is a dangerous time for civilization when truth no longer matters, when the difference between fact and fiction becomes a matter of political preference, when science can be challenged by ideology. Truth matters. Facts matter. With climate change, the destruction of the environment, the mass extinction of species, Islamic terrorism, and nuclear proliferation, facts matter now more than ever. We are living in a unique time in history, a time when we have the power to destroy all life on Earth, including our own. We are caught in a race between ignorance and knowledge, and a growing anti-intellectualism that threatens our very existence. Without truth, we cannot make the  necessary decisions to steer clear of the apocalypse. This is not hyperbole. This is not some sandwich-board doomsday prophesying that has yet to come to pass. No. We are witnessing the results of our ignorance on a daily basis.

When we elect, as leader of the free world, someone who rejects the findings of science, who does not understand the dangers of nuclear war, who appoints a climate change denier as head of the EPA, and another who denies evolution as secretary of education, when we accept these things, we reject reality. And how did we get to this point? It happened when journalism became entertainment, when history and science textbooks gave way to political subjectivity, when the Internet became a haven for those seeking refuge from reality and a confirmation of their biases. This has happened before. It happened in Athens and in Rome; it happened to the Aztecs and the Islamic Empire. No civilization has ever endured the loss of truth. Ours won’t either.