Vote for America this November!

This is something I originally wrote for Facebook, but I feel it’s relevant to post here as well.

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Dear Friends and Family,

I do not know whether anyone will care to read this, as I haven’t been using Facebook lately for personal reasons, but my heart is heavily burdened by everything that is going on in the world today, and I am frightened by the future that I and my kids may inherent. I know that for many of you, these words will fall on deaf ears—but my conscience is telling me to speak out.

We have not been so divided in this country since the Civil War. America today is not the land I was born in. I remember an America that valued freedom and equality. I remember an America that cared about truth. More importantly, and this is something I feel gets overlooked in the media, I remember growing up in a country where I knew, with certainty, that we were the good guys. Every other nation looked to us as a shining example of what they could aspire to be. Now I do not tend to get sentimental when it comes to patriotism. I have never valued American lives over foreigners, because I hold equal measures compassion for all humanity. But I did get teary eyed when I visited the Statue of Liberty a few years ago. This had less to do with “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…,” and more to do with what the plaque, and its poem, The New Colossus, was expressing about what America represented. America was going to be different. This nation, built upon a foundation of liberal ideals, was to be the end of kings and tyrants and “rule through power.” Humanity was growing up, leaving behind the primitive mindset of tribalism, in the formation of these United States. The torch of liberty was a beacon for all nations to follow, into a future where rule of law would always prevail, and truth would hold more sway than greed and influence.

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Now I look at what is happening in this great country and compare it to everything I studied in college, and I am both disheartened and afraid. The history of the world is a dark tale, full of wars and oppression and devastation, where mostly evil men reigned, but where occasionally our better natures triumphed. It happened in Athens, Greece, and it happened during the early days of the Roman Republic, and again the torch of democracy was passed down through the ages to a bunch of young political philosophers who had the audacity to form their own government in these United States of America, based on the principles of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. It was not a perfect union by any means, blacks were still slaves and women could not vote, but they had planted the seeds for utopia. Democracy was and has always been a struggle toward a better world. But just as in Athens and Rome, I feel that the torch of democracy is fading.

We are scarcely a democracy when all of our politicians are bought and paid for; we cannot hope to cling to the illusion that rule of law applies when so many of us look the other way as our constitutional checks and balances are dismantled; we cannot pretend that we live in a land of freedom when a great many minorities are routinely treated with inequality.

I do not doubt that many of you, reading this, will think to yourselves, “Yep, I agree with you, Nick, and that’s why I am a Republican!” More than any time in human history, we are mired by the most powerful tool for propaganda ever conceived: the Internet. So, whatever your political affiliation, you cannot be blamed for believing the wrong things. It is so very difficult in this day and age to separate the truth from the lies. But perhaps the biggest lie we must address is that of “there are two sides to every argument.” Clearly, there are times when one side is wrong. If I were to say to you that 1 + 1 = 3, that would be incorrect, and it would not matter how many people I could find to agree with me. So our goal must always be to seek the truth, wherever that truth leads us, however greatly that truth makes us feel uncomfortable or tears down our illusions. The alternative to not seeking truth, to remaining complacent in a cocoon of lies, is to surrender everything that makes America what it is, and just as in Athens and in Rome, this grand experiment, these two centuries of freedom, will end.

So how do we separate truth from lies? I think there are three ways, that I use, at least:

1) Educate yourself. Don’t learn your history and your science from political pundits or web blogs. I don’t get my information from Fox News, MSNBC or CNN. Visit a bookstore or a library. Knowledge is inoculation from those who would manipulate you. Every tyrant who ever lived, from Hitler to Stalin to Kim Jong Un, worked to curb the flow of information.

2) Listen carefully to what the politicians actually say. Don’t judge them by any other analysis (this is called spin) but specifically by their own words and actions. Soon after the election, one of the liberal leaning sites I used to follow kept posting articles insisting that Trump had raped a thirteen year old girl. Is it possible that this happened? Of course. But, I did not believe there was enough evidence to warrant such an accusation, and I promptly unfollowed the site.

3) Who benefits? Ask yourself this question. Who benefits by stating that Global Warming is a hoax? Or that Obamacare will ruin healthcare? Or that gun control will lead to a repeal of all guns? And when you ask yourself that question, consider who has the most money and influence to disseminate false information. Is it the 98% of scientists who are the deceivers, who really have nothing to gain aside from the grants used to pay for their research, or the billionaire tycoons who rely on fossil fuel revenues to keep them in business? Are we to trust the insurance companies who stand to lose billions by offering health care to those who most need it? Are we to rely on the gun lobby, who represent not gun owners but gun manufacturers, when they tell us that any limit on the SALE of guns will turn America into Nazi Germany?

Perhaps America was not meant to last. But I do not want to live the last days of my life in a fascist state, and we have never leaned so closely to a fascist state before now.

Today we learned that pipe bombs were sent out to Obama, Clinton, CNN headquarters, and to basically everyone Republicans consider their enemies. Now, this isn’t to say I blame any Republican for this, although the never ending stream of vitriol certainly didn’t help dissuade anyone. What I will say is that this reminds me of something my mother used to ask me. “Why is it,” she would say, “that it’s always the good presidents who get killed?” And she was right. Lincoln was shot and killed. Kennedy was shot and killed. My answer to her was, “Well, because they were good, and their political enemies were evil.” When we have an evil president, the moral opposition cannot in good conscience commit an act of evil, even if to stop those who would do harm to society. And this is why we cannot rely on violence to bring about a better world. Sure, there have been exceptions. The Civil War. The two World Wars. But we are not at that point yet. We still have the power to affect change through peaceful measures.

I urge you, BEG you, to GO OUT and VOTE this November. You cannot possibly imagine how much this matters. And I pray that each and every one of you reading this tirade looks into their hearts and asks themselves, “Who are the good guys?” and votes their conscience.

 

Thank You.

“The Nudist Writer”

underwood_nude_1910sIt should come as no surprise by now that I choose to live my life sans clothing. Naked is my default state. I long for the day when I can be free from the branding of Polo and Ralph Lauren. I only feel myself when I am wearing nothing.

But far more important to me is writing. I eat, drink and breathe storytelling. On many occasions I have gotten out of bed with a plot in my head. From the time I was six, I have been coming up with adventures, and that was thirty-seven years ago. Story matters. As Ursula K LeGuin put it, “We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel … is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”

While Mark Twain famously advised to “write what you know,” LeGuin said, in response, that she writes about dragons because what she knows is dragons. Fantasy storytellers draw from personal experience while adding from the fruits of their imagination. Herman Melville tapped into his experiences on a whaling ship to create Moby Dick. In the same way, I know what it’s like to leave my clothes behind to explore the woods, to search rocky shorelines without a stitch to my name, to socialize without body taboos. I have also experienced the sense of shame imposed upon me by those who would judge my lifestyle as perverse or just plain weird, as have my naked heroes, Xandr and Thelana.

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Nudism informs my writing, even when my characters don’t think the way I do. Shame is a universal trait, and I would be a poor writer to neglect it. But what we wear, or don’t, is a big part of who we are. It is entrenched in our history and religion, and reflects strongly upon our values. A society’s attitude toward the human body speaks volumes about that society. Do they consider themselves a part of the animal hierarchy or apart from it? Do they shun the physical world, and the senses associated with it, or seek a more spiritual reality? Answering these questions provides a fictional world of greater richness and realism.

Having a unique perspective, we are told, is a good thing. But unlike atheism, LGBTQ+ or even, if Fifty Shades is any indication, bondage porn, I increasingly get the sense that nudism is just too different. Time and again, agents have rejected Ages of Aenya on the grounds that the concept isn’t “trending.” When I attempted to advertise my novel via social media, both Facebook and Twitter called the book, with its innocent cover of Thelana, “sex services.” Even Barnes & Nobles shied away from my offer to host a signing event, despite the many racier covers adorning their shelves. It would seem nudity is OK, but only in a sexual context.

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Sex services. Obviously.

It isn’t as though our sense of touch is entirely alien. Who doesn’t enjoy sunshine on their bare skin? A hot shower? Cool bedsheets after a session of lovemaking? Advertisers, all the while, continually use words like “nude” and “naked” to suggest their products are honest and all-natural. Clearly, nakedness is a good thing, and on some deep level we all know this.

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The nude archetype persists in our subconscious. We all wish for the same confidence, strength and beauty embodied by the heroic nude. It is an expression that has been with us since the Ancient Greeks, and continues to this day in the form of the superhero, who is all but nude but for the coloring of the skin, and in ESPN’s celebration of athletes.

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The heroic nude in modern times

We are simultaneously repulsed and attracted by the human form. This dichotomy, I believe, stems from an overemphasis on demographics. Fiction must be placed either in the Children, Adult, or YA sections, and nudity can never fall into any category but porn, because in our modern world nudity = porn. And it should be noted here, that DC’s recent adult comic, Batman: Damned, showcasing Bruce’s penis for the first time, is far from a nudist portrayal, as his genitals are made the emphasis of the panel, existing for no other purpose but to shock.

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Enlightened heroines are expected to wear full plate armor, without so much as hinting at the female shape beneath. This is considered progress, an improvement over the hyper sexualized covers of the 60s and 70s, and likely the reason Thelana isn’t trending. But it is progress leading to a more sterilized world, where neither sex is recognized. Equality could just as well have been achieved by giving the female hero agency, and stripping the male of equal parts clothing. Gone are the gods and heroes of church ceilings and museum walls, the renderings of mankind so proudly and masterfully born of the hands of Leonardo and Michelangelo, and this to me is a tragedy, because in censoring how we portray others, we turn every person into a potential object, a thing to satisfy our most basic urges.

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The modern heroine

This isn’t to say women in chainmail bikinis are preferable. On the contrary, Brienne of Tarth, and Netflix’ She-Ra, is a welcome change. What I am saying, rather, is that a woman need not be objectified, regardless of what she is or isn’t wearing, and that we need not choose between our sexuality and our humanity. In our current MeToo generation, we pretend to have matured beyond smut, while creating secret identities to wallow in the worst of PornHub. Instead of learning to express our desires in meaningful, honest and healthy ways, or reaching out to better understand the opposite sex, we have chosen to don the facade of robots devoid of passion. This societal schism, this partitioning of people into categories, cannot lead to a better world. More than anything, we need the heroic nude, our David and Heracles, our Mowgli and Tarzan and John Carter and, dare I say, our Xandr. We must embrace role models that embody the full gamut of what it means to be human, sexuality and all.

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Fantasy covers of the 70s

I am a nudist and a writer, and my fear is that I will be pigeonholed, that my work will be confined to an esoteric niche group. After all, we don’t typically call people gay writers, or Catholic writers, or Japanese writers—or by any other aspects of their identity—unless that identity becomes a focal point of their work, “feminist writer,” for example. Still, nudism is far from a fetish. It addresses a much broader spectrum that includes feminism and environmentalism, and it speaks to our most revered cultural values. While you may not see Sam Harris or Jordan Peterson debating the merits of nudism any time soon, it should be noted that they both conform closely to societal norms, of not simply wearing clothes, but wearing very specific types of clothing. Whether it’s President Trump or Barack Obama, Ken Ham or Neil deGrasse Tyson, ties and jackets are mandatory if one is to take your arguments seriously. This only goes to show how entrenched body taboos have become in our world. But while my upcoming second and third novels will have no naked heroes in it, to shy away from calling myself a nudist would betray everything I am, and rob the literary landscape from a rarely heard voice. Like Benjamin Franklin, Walt Whitman and Robert Heinlein, all of whom shared nudist proclivities, I stand outside of convention, and challenge the status-quo. I am Xandr standing at the gates of Hedonia, calling out against hypocrisy, searching for the lost innocence of Ilmarinen.

It’s time to end race.

If there’s one thing I can agree with the KKK, the white race is going the way of the dodo. According to Neo-Nazi “literature,” white people are like glasses of milk. Add a drop of Hershey’s syrup to the mix, and BAM! you’ve got yourself chocolate people. Now  supposing we could be certain as to who a white person is (according to her medical records, my brown-skinned wife is white) racists should have figured out by now that their entire team is woefully pathetic, in that they can be wiped out by a single drop of impurity. The black race, by contrast, is seemingly indestructible. Consider our first African American president. Technically speaking, Barack Hussein Obama is half-white on his mother’s side, but nobody ever mentions this. One father from Kenya is all it takes to represent an entire race. White-supremacists consider this a negative, but for me, it’s a super power. You can’t un-chocolate your chocolate milk, but you can always make it darker.

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It doesn’t work the other way!

The problem of racism falls under the much larger umbrella of tribalism. It’s the conflict that arises due to people’s differences. You don’t need racism to hate. Religion will do, or sex, or political affiliation. If Naked & Afraid has taught me anything, it’s that survival on the African savannah was tough. For a couple million years, humans fought over limited resources, and those resources could only be gotten by smallish groups, or tribes. So while one guy tended to the fire, his wife was thatching roofs, his son was gathering kindling, and his cousins were out chasing buffalo. This arrangement helped guarantee survival, until, that is, strange-colored people arrived with their weird hair, weird face-paint, and even weirder clothing, to steal your hard-earned dinner. This is where our apprehension for differences comes from. Feelings of racism were, at one point in time, a survival instinct. But we’re not living on African bushland anymore (well, not most of us, anyway). The tribalism that leads to racial strife is the same that leads to religious and political conflict. Our pattern seeking brains are constantly working to determine who is the “us” and who is in the “other” crowd. This is why people in cities tend to be more accepting of different cultures. New Yorkers living and working around Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs can more easily accept foreign-born groups into their tribe. “Hey, we’re all New Yorkers here!” Unfortunately, midwesterners from tumbleweed towns find more in common with white Russian hackers than “Black Lives Matter” protesters.

When you really think about it, we’re all just monkeys. Stupid, stupid monkeys, acting on very primitive programming. Here we are in 2018, with nuclear weapons and the Large Hadron Collider, and yet we’ve still got Flat Earthers and people voting for “In God We Trust” signs to ward off school shooters. The Internet has given the least evolved of us a platform, which is how we ended up with an illiterate president, but also, the constant rage machine directed at “forced diversity,” SJWs, and “identity politics.” Yes, folks, this isn’t your grandfather’s racism, this is Racism 2.0! And hey, how’s that for hypocrisy? Everyone who complains about identity politics never seems to shut up about “the left.” To be fair, not every anti-SJW is a racist or sexist. Sam Harris appears genuinely interested in doing the right thing, and yet he is oblivious to the ways in which a vocal majority can turn otherwise sensible arguments into weapons of hate. According to The Bell Curve author, Charles Murray, black people tend to have, on average, lower IQ scores than white people. This has turned Murray into a villain on the Left, to the point at which he received threats of violence, and is banned from speaking at universities. Free speech aside, I am forced to wonder, did Murray really not think of the consequences of his study? Did he never consider how such a book might empower hate groups the world over?

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This brings us to the very real important issue of our day: Star Wars. If you haven’t been on YouTube lately, just type “Star Wars” into the search box and prepare for the floodgates of Hell to open! Everyone is entitled to hating works of art, but bullying actresses like Kelly Marie Tran to the point that they quit social media, or calling for the termination of Kathleen Kennedy or Rian Johnson due to their “pro-feminist agenda” is simple absurdity. When the Ghostbusters reboot becomes the most down-voted video IN YOUTUBE HISTORY, you have to wonder, what the fuck is going on? Did these same people not see the equally horrific Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remake? Or any of the vomit-inducing Transformers flicks? I think they did, but then again, Optimus Prime wasn’t turned into a girl robot. Look, I get it. For many of us jaded 40-somethings, these franchises are sacred. We don’t want to grow up. We want to fly on pixie dust and fight pirates forever. Making She-Ra with smaller boobs and a longer skirt forces us to see change, and change reminds us of the inevitability of aging and death. Take it from me, a guy who watched She-Ra religiously in the 80s, and wrote She-Porn in college, I understand the sex appeal. And yet, all of our manly, sexist arguments dissolves to nothing when we recognize that the children of today are currently living their own childhoods, and could care less that the original Ghostbusters were a bunch of dudes, or whether Adora’s boobs make her look like a boy. My eight year old loved the new Ghostbusters, and my thirteen year old can’t wait for Netflix’ She-Ra. Consequently, none of my kin so much as noticed the “SJW agenda” in The Last Jedi. For my girls, Rey was unquestionably the hero, in the same way I never once bothered to ask myself why Luke Skywalker had to be a boy. Love her or hate her, Rose Tico is now a part of Star Wars canon, and while I am sure my kids didn’t think much about her Asian features, I am equally certain that many Asian children were only too happy to (finally) see themselves represented in Star Wars. (Seriously, name ONE Asian character from the original Star Wars. Go ahead. I’ll wait.)

 

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Asian: a new alien race

The anti-SJW crowd have become outraged by all of this “forced diversity,” despite the fact that for nearly a hundred years, every non-white race was forced to sit through the opposite, and every woman was forced to see herself depicted as little more than a damsel in distress. If we need to force ourselves to recognize that other races do, in fact, exist, isn’t that a good thing? How can the supreme white male be so insecure as to want anything less? Again, I can agree with the KKK in that we may lose our whiteness, and white skin can be pretty nice, I suppose. My hero growing up was the Nazi ideal, with his blond hair and blue eyes. Heck, he even wore a German Iron Cross on his chest, and fought lots of colored villains, including a blue Skeletor, a red Beastman, and a green Merman! He never had a black friend until Clamp Champ, who wasn’t introduced until the very last year of the toy’s run. And let’s not forget his perfectly Aryan sister, She-Ra, now a pawn of the SJW-agenda due to her lack of boobage.

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The new She-Ra: Ruining 40-year old virgin’s fantasies.

 

Whiteness isn’t a culture, a heritage, or even a race. It’s nothing more than an aesthetic, and is not worth keeping, not at the expense of countless lives—lives that do, in fact, matter—not when millions can be made to suffer as a result. We need to grow up and accept the inevitable change happening in our world. If women takeover, I say bring it on. For ten-thousand years, men have called the shots. We’ve had a good run, but in many ways managed to screw things up. If the human race is to turn brown, I say, let’s chocolate it up, baby. The only real solution for racism was discovered two-thousand year ago, by Alexander the Great, who forced his Greek soldiers to marry Persian women. Racism is a continuing problem in America, and there’s only one real solution. We need to end race. We need to fuck our way to a better future.

Digital Heroin

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Remember chatrooms? Thirty or more strangers blinking from your computer screen, with names like poonsnack6324, rambling simultaneously and incoherently, with tortured spelling and non-existent grammar, while that one guy tried to impress everyone with his keyboard doodles as half a dozen others are engaged in a text-orgy? Those sure were the good ol’ days, amirite?

Nope.

AOL was a black hole, destroying all sense of decency, nuance and meaningful discourse. It revealed to the world the darkest and most depraved inner workings of the human animal. Before AOL, I used to think the world would be a better place if we all had telepathy, if we knew what everyone was thinking. Now we know that what everyone is thinking is gross. We are in dire need of a filter, a tradition of civility to keep civilization from descending into chaos, what is sorely lacking when social interaction is coupled with anonymity. As if chatrooms weren’t bad enough, we have also discovered the dangers of Instant Messaging, and random profile searches. This early feature appears, at first, like a vast technological improvement over Facebook. Want to talk to someone from halfway around the world about your favorite My Little Pony episode? Just look for MLP, under Hobbies, and you’ll find someone, maybe a guy or girl who lives nearby, or is of the same age, or potentially a romantic interest. The problem became apparent when men—mostly men—started stalking preteen girls, pretending to be girls themselves. The producers of To Catch a Predator, a show built around catching online predators, were shocked and dismayed by the success of their show, owing to the sheer number of adult males looking to rape underage girls. Eventually, AOL got rid of their pedophile search feature, but they couldn’t remove the ugly truth we learned about humanity.

Back in the 90s, we were enamored by AOL. It was never as interesting, fun or helpful as a visit to the library, but we were amazed by the technology. Suddenly, you could talk to anyone anywhere from the comfort of your own bedroom! Problem was, we just didn’t know how awful other people could be. We assumed, as we often do, that newer means better.

In hindsight, the AOL era seems absurd. It’s like we collectively fell under a Jonestown-like spell, and now that it’s over, we are embarrassed by the hours we wasted on it. This begs the question: will we eventually come to feel about other social media platforms the way we do about chatrooms and Instant Messaging? I think the answer is already coming to fruition. Facebook users are dropping like flies, especially among the youth, who no longer see it as the thing of the future. Nobody cares what you had for breakfast, or wants to see your vacation photos, or your newborn baby. And what kind of narcissist do you have to be to share the minutia of your everyday life anyway? Do we really need to connect to everyone we’ve ever known since elementary school? Over the years, Facebook has morphed from a virtual space for friends and family, to a pop culture news channel. I use it to learn about D&D and Marvel movies, so there’s that.

Nevertheless, social media remains a powerful force in our lives, and the kids have moved on, to Instagram and Snapchat, and stuff I am too old to care about (I stopped at Twitter). What differentiates these forums from previous ones isn’t that they provide more features, but less. Twitter gives you 280 characters (up from 140) to get your point across. Instagram exists primarily for photo sharing, because nobody has the time to actually read what you have to say. Thanks to a never-ending bombardment of information, we’ve lost our ability to focus, and still hunger for more. We struggle to keep up, to separate everything that might interest us from the noise, but it’s sensory overload. If you’re reading this, you may start to wonder why you’re even here, when you could be watching Netflix, or finishing the last thing you bought for PS4, or better yet, reading a book. Our attentions have become the world’s greatest commodity, and entertainment companies are competing over it the way governments fight for oil.

Now I want you to ask yourself a simple question. Do you love Facebook? Or, if you don’t use it, some other platform? Have you ever heard anyone say, “I love Instagram!” the same way they might talk about their favorite heavy metal band or movie or book? I haven’t, and I am betting you haven’t either. And yet, according to TIME magazine, Americans look at their phones 8 billion times a day, or 46 times a day on average per person, and it’s not just for Angry Birds (fuckit I’m old). But if we are not loving what we are doing, what could be the cause of our obsession? The answer, I think, is obvious. Social media is digital heroin. I have spent my life avoiding addictions, abstaining even from beer, and yet here I am, hooked on this little plastic rectangle in my pocket. Even when I am watching my favorite TV show, I’ll pause to check the damn thing. It’s a demon that’s taken over my life, and that might be a good thing, if I truly loved my phone, but I don’t. I feel about it the way an addict feels about heroin—he doesn’t want it, but he needs it.

Like any other drug, there is a chemical component to this addiction. Every time we receive a like, or a positive comment for something we’ve written, a tiny dose of endorphins gets released in our brains. I am always looking for that next fix, and I can get pretty high whenever somebody tells me they loved my book, or found my latest post worthwhile. But just like heroin, the reward-center of our brains fails to deliver over time, and we are forced to do more just to get the same feeling. When we can’t get a like, when we feel that nobody out there truly cares, we fall into a depression.

Life is chemistry, and what separates happiness from despair is simply a matter of the chemicals running through us. Almost everything we do is for the sake of those sweet sweet endorphins, or dopamine or oxytocin; or serotonin, which you get from love and chocolate. This makes anything and everything a drug, and our brains is the biggest dealer. Food is a drug. Sex is a drug. Exercise is a drug. Drugs are drugs. But this isn’t to say that all drugs are equivalent or necessary. The purpose of our happy-chemicals is to make life rewarding, but when we choose something like heroin over, say, friendship, we are cheating the system, and this more often results in destructive consequences.

Social media is cheating the system. We become addicted to ‘likes’ because we crave approval, because we are inherently social creatures. We all have a need for belonging, for acceptance and love. But there are crucial differences between interacting online and a face-to-face chat. Online, we remain anonymous, and can disappear at a whim. Imagine walking up to a person, saying hello to them, and then watching that person simply walk away without acknowledging your existence. Such behavior borders on the cruel, and yet it happens everyday on Facebook. Aside from how we treat one another, we miss out on seeing a human face, reading another’s expressions, or hearing a tonal inflection. Wordless communication is as important as the words themselves. Social media also doesn’t take into account the sense of urgency, the sense of presence and sense of the present one finds when sharing physical space with another person. You are forced to pay attention to your loved one when they are focused on you. This makes your time together all the more meaningful, because you can’t scroll past them. This is what Facebook has failed to provide us, and as we spend more time away from real human beings, we begin to lose our sense of self. We become invisible, begin to feel inconsequential, because to almost everyone you meet online, you are.

This isn’t to say we need to rid the world of social media. Facebook brings people with diverse beliefs and opinions together. Atheists, nudists, and those among the LGBTQ community can find each other readily, particularly if they are living in the Bible Belt. Before the Internet, I used to think I was the only one who liked to go nude, or collect action figures, or play D&D. Now I know that I am not alone, that my interests are in fact common.

We need to find a sense of balance. You can have your online-only friends, but it’s just as important, if not more so, to spend time with actual flesh and blood people. But it’s not just social media that’s robbing us of our humanity. Too many of us spend hundreds of hours in front of a screen, whether it’s binge-watching Netflix, or substituting life with their favorite MMORPGs.

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Real fun with real people!

Good thing is, society is waking to the dangers of this infant internet technology, which might explain the sudden and unexpected explosion in board games. Twenty years ago, you couldn’t find a lonely chess set at my local bookstore, now there’s an enormous section of everything from Pokemon cards to Catan. Honestly, if you had told me five years ago that D&D would enjoy it’s most profitable year in 2017, I would have laughed in disbelief. But video game systems, despite their exponentially growing processing power, cannot replace genuine human interaction. When I am sitting at a table with friends and family, rolling dice, I get a sense that I am having a real experience, something I will remember and cherish. I can also say the same for the books that I’ve read. Sure, it’s all imaginary, but it’s still more rewarding than a funny meme, because there is a greater depth of meaning to be found in the pages of a carefully crafted story. Books, board games, sports (ok, I don’t do sports) endure the test of time because their value lasts in our memories, and the endorphins we get from them push us not away from life, but toward it. That’s why I can say I love D&D, and reading, and riding my bike. But I may not do those things as often as I should, because things of lasting value take time to earn, and to attain these things we must remember how to focus, and how to have patience.

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A day of cycling never feels wasted

 

I guess what I am trying to say is, click the X in the corner of this screen and pick-up a book. Or a d20. Or, use your phone as phones were intended and call a friend. Get off your lazy butt and do something. Reality is waiting.

Nudity, Censorship and Discrimination

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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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Can Nudism Save the World?

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Image courtesy of Searching4Eden

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.

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Nude is more hygienic and more environmentally friendly than sportswear

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.

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I’d like to give special thanks to the amazing photographers over at Searching4Eden, who continue to capture the spirit of naturism in their art!

You can find them on Twitter and Instagram and support them on PATREON!

 

It Can Happen Here 2: “The Plot Against America”

md8057491406TRUMP SUPPORTER: “What’s that you’re reading?”

ME: “Oh, it’s a book about Charles Lindbergh winning the presidency.”

TRUMP SUPPORTER: “I remember that.”

ME: “What?”

TRUMP SUPPORTER: “I learned about that in school.”

ME: “Charles Lindbergh was the first man to fly a plane over the Atlantic, from New York to Paris.”

TRUMP SUPPORTER: “Right. And then he became president.”

ME: <<rolls eyes>>

It should not surprise me that Trump people don’t know their history. If they did, they would never have voted for a fascist. In our universe, of course, Lindbergh never ran for office, and Roosevelt went on to win an unprecedented third term in office, wherein he lead the United States into World War II. It’s easy to paint a rosy picture of the past, to imagine a government full of wise, determined men like Roosevelt, who, with little opposition from the American people, bravely charge into Europe to save the day. History is murky, however, and the history of politics even murkier. While it may seem a no-brainer that America should have joined the war effort, in the 1940’s, there was considerable contention over the matter. Republicans, namely, felt the need to “put America first,” and not get involved. Sure, Hitler may have been massacring Syrians Jews by the millions, but that wasn’t America’s problem. We had our own economic depression to worry about. But thanks to the charismatic leadership and foresight of FDR, the isolationist America First-crowd lost the argument, and the world as we know it is free from the grip of fascism (at least so far). What Roosevelt understood, even back in 1940, was that the world’s problems eventually become our problems. It isn’t only unethical to ignore the plight of nations, but downright dangerous to our security.

 

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At least Lindbergh was a looker! And he could fly a plane!

 

This is the crux of Philip Roth’s novel, The Plot Against America, wherein Charles Lindbergh defeats Roosevelt in his third run for president, leaving America deaf to the genocide across the Atlantic. In both reality and in the novel, Lindbergh was a Nazi sympathizer. The result of his presidency was to delay America’s insurgency in World War II, as Lindbergh and Hitler agree to a treaty of non-engagement, leaving the Nazi blitzkrieg to steamroll over Europe and into Russia with only Great Britain to contest them. Aside from the odious politic of non-intervention, what I found most timely and disturbing is how accurately the book mirrors current events. If I did not know better, I could accuse Roth of blatantly ripping the plot of his book from today’s headlines. Here’s just a few of the similarities between Lindbergh’s and Trump’s presidencies:

 

  1. Before his election, Lindbergh is demonized for his racist comments.
  2. As a non-politician, Lindbergh becomes the surprise Republican nominee, winning against great odds and considerable controversy.
  3. Lindbergh is said to speak off the cuff, without prepared notes, telling it “like it is.”
  4. Lindbergh runs his campaign his own way, frustrating Republican leaders.
  5. Lindberg runs on a platform of putting “America First.”
  6. Lindbergh loses in the polls, but wins the presidency anyway, to the shock and consternation of many, against a popular career politician and Democrat.
  7. After Lindbergh is sworn in as president, he tones down much of his racist rhetoric.
  8. Lindbergh is said to admire a foreign power (Hitler) and is accused of having secret ties with Germany.
  9. Lindbergh is repeatedly accused of being a fascist.
  10. Lindbergh’s followers belong to white supremacist groups. They commit acts of violence against Jews, destroying businesses and synagogues.
  11. Lindbergh stifles the free press. Those in the media who speak against him lose their jobs.

 

Did I mention the book was written in 2004? Which begs the question: Is Philip Roth a time traveler? Or does he simply understand that people are predictable in their hatreds and prejudices, and that such happenings (albeit with eerie specificity) are simply inevitable?

While political in theme, The Plot Against America is far from a political treatise. Roth does not seek to find or give answers here. Instead, he examines fascist America from an intimate perspective, the story unfolding through the eyes of a young Philip Roth in a kind of pseudo-autobiography, wherein the author imagines the childhood he might have had—had Lindbergh won the presidency in 1940. This unique approach helped lend credibility to Roth’s reimagining of the past, and I do not doubt that anyone reading this book, ignorant to history, might take it for one. Roth conjures real world people, places and events, tweaking them just enough to service the story.

It doesn’t happen right away, of course. But ever so gradually, the rights ensconced by the Constitution are eroded away. And as always, it is the minorities, the immigrants, the others who are made to fear, and ultimately, to suffer. What I found particularly poignant was the way in which the author portrays America. Through the lens of his Jewish heritage, he paints two contrasting pictures. We are a nation of promise, where differing ethnicities, races, and religions find acceptance and equality. The other, more sinister portrait, is the hidden face of America, with its undercurrent of prejudice waiting to burst at the emergence of a demagogue—someone to push into the fore the undying resolve that the only true American is white and Christian.

I had planned to review this book in the usual way, critiquing for style and content, and if you are questioning whether you should pick up this book, I will only say that Roth’s style can be off-putting, at first. He leans toward page-long run-ons and has a tendency to trail into wild tangents. But when I consider the importance and, dare I say, necessity of this book, especially now, these seem like minor quibbles. The Plot Against America is a warning against fascism and the politics of hate. I found myself reading ahead just to see how everything was going to turn out, as if it was a book of prophecy, with a chance to quell my fear of the next four years.

How tenuous is our democracy, really? Can the Founding Fathers’ checks and balances endure the onslaught of a tyrant bent on dismantling them? A man who runs on a platform of discrimination? Who challenges the right of the courts? Who demonizes the Free Press? Who puts America first at the expense of the world?

 

kkk-america-first

This has happened before.

 

Without giving too much away, I found Roth, ultimately, to be an optimist, and his love for America all the more genuine in that it stems from his Jewish roots. Only here, in this country, could his people have found a respite from the hatred that has dogged them for millennia. America is defined by its inclusiveness. It is a promise, and owing to this promise, people have chosen to live here from all over the globe. But that promise has never come without challenges. In The Plot Against America, it is Lindbergh against the Jews. Today, in the story that is our lives, Trump is the villain, and Muslims and Mexicans the protagonists. But what kind of a story are we living in? A tragedy? A triumph? A cautionary tale? Only the ending can tell us, can give answer to the question—will the promise of America endure?

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.