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Fallout 4, romance, and polyamory November 11, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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Check this out!

Fallout 4 may taken this sexual liberation even further. Early reviews are reporting that while only one companion can accompany the Sole Survivor at a time, the player can still romance multiple companions — in essence, be polyamorous. There appears to be no negative consequences or mention by the other companions of the protagonist’s polyamorous nature. If the feature remains, this takes RPG romancing to another level for queer gamers.

Read the rest here.

Since I’ll be roaming the wastelands a lot in the near future, let this post be a stand-in for what would normally be insightful, brilliant, and soul-stirring content.

Also, I’ll be playing Starcraft II, Legacy of the Void in upcoming days. Because even with games I am polyamorous…..

If you don’t hear from me, just toss some Hot Pockets and water into my room, and ignore the grunts of partial recognition of your presence, and possibly the lack of hygiene which I usually maintain.

The philosophy of political correctness November 9, 2015

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There has been a thought that my mind has been returning to in recent months.

The core of the idea derives from an idea that originates from my early education. Whether it was middle school, high school, or perhaps something I read outside of the school curriculum of that time period, I do not remember. Very basically, it is the following;

liberals and progressives tend to be more prone to describe and see the world in terms of nurture being the more important factor in understanding the world; we construct the world, and who we are has more to do with our life experience and construction. Conservatives are more essentialist or absolutist in their view of the world; there are definite facts, realities, and a nature to things, and what we are is dependent upon those realities. Who we are is based upon our nature. In short, the difference between liberals and conservatives is one of nurture versus nature.

This is an oversimplification, of course, but I think that there is something here worth thinking about, and some kernals of truth as well.

As an example of how this plays out, let’s take an issue which has been increasingly discussed in our culture, especially recently; gender issues. What is gender? What is sex? Are we essentially male, female, or some other gender or is this concept a social construction? And how do more progressive and liberal minds approach this issue compared to how conservative people think about it?

Take this article, for example, written by Crip Dyke at Pharyngula;

Online Gender Workshop: Detour, Social Construction Ahead edition

It’s an interesting article which clarified some concepts for me, in terms of what is meant by the phrase “gender is a social construction,” but also “sex is a social construction.”

Some snippets:

We choose the meanings to take from words and we choose the words we wish to embody our meanings. This is not unique to sex or to gender: this is the nature of language. To say, then, that “gender is a social construct” is nothing more or less than stating “gender is a word in a human language”. Therefore to say that “gender is binary” (or, conversely, to say it isn’t) is a choice we make about how to communicate meaning. The truth of the statement, or not, depends on the definitions we give to “gender”, “is” and “binary”.

and, later:

This is an inherently social process. We are interactively constructing the meanings of words (and thus concepts).

So: stars are real objects that really orbit each other, but binary is a social construct. Vulvae are real body-parts that really do communicate sensations to brains via neurons, but sex is a social construct. Thai food is made up of very real, nutritive substances, and a delicious subset of these are, objectively, the best foods a vegan can eat in southwest Canada, but cuisine is a social construct.

and, again…

Just as “social construct” doesn’t mandate the lack of a physical referent, neither does it mandate that one’s definition is bad or ambiguous. AT&T has a definition that is specific, non-ambiguous, and quite good in the sense that very few people will interpret you to be talking about something other than AT&T when you say AT&T. And yet, it’s impossible that AT&T as a term with meaning was arrived at without social interaction constructing the meaning.

read the rest for full context. It’s worth the time, and it it a worth-while conversation.

And yet, I’ll admit that when I started to read this article I I felt a bunch of philosophical red flags starting to fly. My anti-postmodernist leanings started to make me feel like I was beeing bambozzled by language tricks, and a part of me agreed with something the first commenter said:

Where you attempt to use linguistic deconstruction, Hegelian postmodernist games with language to deny and “spin” underlying reality.

But to use Pierce’s language, signs are noises or glyphs, and denote abstract types which to enable communication we assert as referencing generalizations of particulars. I don’t care whether you use “sex” or “gender” or “abracadabra” to designate the real physical dimorphism that exists, but it is a real physical fact of the world – the very reality that killed postmodernism – and you cannot change that reality by doublespeak.

And, I’ll add, that I felt like what was happening was that the idea that gender/sex is a social construct was a deepity. In other words, it was trivially true on the surface (all concepts are social constructions), but that there was a conflation going on related to how the real physical world really exists, and that saying that a description, or a referent, to the real world was a social construction seemed to be claiming that how we think about something changes its reality.

And this was too much like The Secret to be comfortable for me.

We are all in tension

But then something occurred to me. And then I felt like writing. To be clear, I don’t want to deal with the above issue; I’ll leave that for people more qualified than myself to deal with (but by all means, check out the whole post, because it is well-written and explores some important concepts). But I wanted to use this discussion as an example of the thing that occurred to me.

As I understand it, this discussion exemplifies what happens when the part of us that wants to hold onto certainty, familiarity, and simplicity interacts with the part of us which is curious and is capable of nuance and complexity. And while it’s way too simple to say that liberals are curious and want to understand complexities while conservatives just want their traditional comfort zones (many liberals, after all, accept concepts like karma, are susceptible to bullshit “science” trends like the link between autism and vaccines, and any number of other simple but harmful ideas which fit within their own comfort zones), it is true that the way conservatives deal with issues related to gender (the recent rejection of equal rights in Houston, for example) is based upon socially constructed, essentialist notions of what it means to be a “man,” “woman,” etc.

They think they are pointing to an obvious, objective reality about the differences between men and women, when they are stuck within the mire of traditional, binary, and (indeed) socially constructed concepts of gender.

And it’s similarly true that many progressive discussions do lean towards a postmodernist, anti-realist, and semantic-heavy framing, one which looks like (especially to conservatives) a denial of “simple reality.” Thus, it appears to conservatives as if those liberal hipsters are trying to tell them that our physical bodies, the general physiological dimorphisms (physical differences between men and women, IOW), are not real. And it sounds like bullshit to them.

And in some extreme cases, the language that such progressives, social justice activists, etc use seems indistinguishable from the meaningless word salad of Lacan, Deepak Chopra, etc. (See the Sokal hoax, for some context on my, and other skeptics, view of how postmodernism often bleeds into nonsense).

Bottom line; we are all capable of this exact tension within ourselves between gripping the flawed familiar and being tantalized by the nuances of complexity. So long as that grip is loose and we don’t allow the poetry of words, like the Sirens they can be, to lure us away from reality, we will be fine.

And the boundaries of these tensions present, to us, the space for conversation. And both the desire for nuance and certainty can grip us, and we can become too attached to whatever we associate with. Let go, and escape the endless cycle of attachment and pain, and float into the nirvana of maybe, perhaps, and let’s see. Let’s test what might be true, possible, and not hold onto what is comfortable. Slave owners were comfortable. But at the same time, let us not be lured into slavish illusion presented by false hopes.

Dream, but do so with our feet on the ground.

Clarification of an old idea

There is a thing I used to say a lot, some years ago. I’m not sure how true it is, but I think it’s at least partially true; today’s liberals are tomorrow’s conservatives. In recent years I have come to think that this formulation is the best way to articulate what I think I mean. Let’s try this:

Today’s cutting edge social movements will be the socially constructed, traditional, and normal concepts of tomorrow. And in a few of generations, those cutting edge, controversial, and new ideas will be defended by conservatives as traditional and obvious;they will become the new, solid ground. And the cutting edge, controversial, and new ideas that their descendants will espouse will seem to shatter their comfortable worldview, will be looked at with skepticism, will not be understood, and they will chafe against them the same way today’s conservatives do.

So, my thought is this; is it meaningful, at all, to say an issue itself is a progressive one? Right now, gender equality is a hot topic within social justice crowds (and I’m glad that it is!), but will there come a time when gender equality is as conservative a value as individual freedom is now? Was individual freedom once a social justice issue? And, if so, is the fact that individual freedom is held up as a strong conservative value a lesson for us all?

I don’t know.

What I’m increasingly aware of, however, is that the arguments, such as the one inherent in the Crip Dyke post from above, is that the conversation is less one between liberals and conservatives per se as it is a conversation between two aspects of the human mind, expressed socially as a divide between different types of people (whether feminist/anti-feminist, liberal/conservative, etc).

The question becomes whether that tension, that dichotomy, within the human mind is a real distinction or one we socially construct. And that, right there, is the meta-question. Because all of our concepts are based, ultimately, on a real physical reality. The question is whether our construction, our concepts expressed through language, are reliable representations or not. Also, whether that concept itself is meaningful. And on and on, through many meta-layers of potential analysis.

At bottom, many conversations about social justice boil down to metaphysics, epistemology, and linguistics. It’s all philosophy, long before it’s politics. I believe I can only comprehend a small piece of the surface of the problem, but I am fascinated that this philosophical conversations will probably continue so long as there are people to have them. And I’m glad that there are people out there who can express the conversation, and understand the problems, in ways that I do not, because that serves to feed my own cravings for nuance, complexity, and thwarts the conservative parts of me that will settle into comfort. It also stops me from gripping “reality” too tightly.

Time, perspective, and healing November 2, 2015

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Last week, I ran into this 6 word story in a listicle:

Strangers. Friends. Best friends. Lovers. Strangers.

and when I reached this story, I sort of froze inside. How many times have I experienced this? Too many? Just the right amount?

Not enough times?

Someone I used to think fairly well of used to say that relationships ending isn’t always a bad thing. A transition of a relationship from one thing to another is often good, and I have people in my life who have transitioned from lover to friend (and sometimes back again) and other transitions, in various directions, numerous times. I am on very good terms (even if we have often grown distant) with most of my previous lovers and partners, with a few glaring exceptions. Some people I thought I would never speak to again are now people I’m closest to. Others, who I thought I’d never be apart from, are now strangers.

Nonetheless there have been a number of relationships that have ended where even a friendship could not be maintained. Sometimes it was due to a mistake, miscommunication, or other problem one one or both of our parts, but quite often it was just because things changed, and our relationship changed. And, sometimes, we drift apart completely.

And, in time, no matter how I felt at the time, perspective is gained. Time heals all wounds? Maybe.

And sometimes that perspective provides greater truth and understanding, but not always. Sometimes, our own biases create stories that leave our memory of a person, and what happened with them, as a work of creative fiction. And while I try to avoid this (as all decent people try to do), I am as susceptible as anyone else (although I suspect I think about this more than most).

And through this process of greater understanding, perspective, and internal narrative creation I have come to look back on some relationships as failures (on one or both of our parts), some as escapes from something terrible, and some as really stupid misunderstandings which cannot be fixed because of one or both of our feelings (often pride and hurt).

Sometimes it’s just best to walk away, and leave a stupid situation be stupid, even if it’s for stupid reasons.

It’s frustrating, but there’s little we can, in general, do about it.

The last year

My life has changed very significantly in the last year. I was married, and now I’m not. 2014 was a tumultuous one of a household breaking up, dealing with unwanted drama, and all the people involved acting pretty terrible (yes, all of us. Some much more than others). And then my marriage went to shit (long before she left), partially due to the immense amount of tension from that situation, and it left me feeling unstable and perceptually afraid and hurt. Eventually, everything was awful and I suffered through months of the deepest depression I have ever known.

Now, I speak to none of the people I used to think of as my poly family two years ago, and have no desire to be involved with any of them again. I do not expect that to change, but I leave that to the future. I believe that nobody, no matter how awful, is completely beyond redemption. I’m just not holding my breath for any of them.

And I think I’m better off that way.

I never wanted to be divorced, so I waited to get married until a little later in life, and married someone I thought was someone who would be a good partner. I was wrong. The transition has been painful, anger-inducing, but mostly just disappointing. But I’m happier now than I have been in years, and I have, in fact, learned and grown significantly.

Anyone reading this who continues to scapegoat me as an abusive asshole can fuck themselves right off a cliff. I made mistakes, and I have always admitted my responsibility, and I will not accept your brushstrokes as reality. I’m not afraid of you, the truth, nor of myself (that, in itself, was a huge step for me). I accept the nuances that we all erred, we all had reason to be angry and hurt, and I can only hope that time will offer all of us the wisdom that it was all stupid and avoidable, even if not salvageable.

I’m responsible for my journey, and I will leave you all responsible for your own.

Am I angry? Damn right I am. But most days, now, I’m not. Most days, I’m actually doing very well. But I am angry, sometimes, and it’s for very good reason. The transition to get here has been shitty, but enlightening. And the goal is not to rid myself of the anger (that would be pointless to try, anyway), but to focus on the future rather than the past. The past is for learning, not for living.

The hardest part of the transition was forcing myself to remember that I made mistakes and hurt people. It’s so easy to allow the self-defensive narrative to write itself in my own head. Yeah, this person was awful in this way, and they did this, but I also fucked up. The other side of that is not taking all the responsibility; to stop punishing myself for mistakes I made because those mistakes happened in a specific circumstance, and I can learn both from the circumstance and from knowing how it felt to be responsible for hurting someone who trusted me and cared about me.

People who are now strangers.

And so I kept asking myself a set of questions; OK, so I fucked up. Now what? Am I going to stay the person who made that mistake or am I going to change? Am I going to solely blame others, or take responsibility? (those two are really the same question). Am I going to hide in a hole, allowing mistakes to define my whole life? Am I going to accept unquestioning support from people who sometimes said to me “they aren’t worth your time,” they are assholes,” “fuck them” or will I ask them to help me better understand what I did wrong and what I need to do going forward? When the people around you just tell you what you want to hear and feed the tribalistic impulses we all have, that’s not friendship or love; that’s part of what keeps narcissism alive.

And, perhaps most importantly for me, am I going to keep punishing myself, or am I going to remember that I made those mistakes because I was hurting, and because I tolerated people hurting to me for too long. Because I understand why I made those mistakes; I didn’t defend my boundaries and I allowed resentment turn into anger, and anger turn into being mean to people I cared about. Abuse happens for a reason, and where I have acted abusively I will simultaneously accept responsibility and fix the cause; and the cause is not that I’m an abusive person inherently, it’s that I am a person who has experienced abuse myself, over many years, and that cycle has to stop somewhere.

The Quakers have a saying, as part of one of the songs I learned while in (hippie) school;

“Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

Well, let the cycle end with me. I will try, very day, to no longer pass on the pain given to me by others because, as I have been working on for months now, I will defend the boundaries I need for myself better. I will no longer allow resentment and hurt build up until I hurt someone because they are (or someone else is) hurting me. In other words, i will not punish myself nor others for any pain, from any source. I don’t accept the threats of punishment from an illusory god, and I will not accept the punishment for an illusory sense of personal justice. When I, previously, saw the response to being hurt or injured as Justice rather than compassion, I internalized the same megalomaniacal fury of an insecure bronze-age god (YHWH/Allah/Elohim/etc) that I have been decrying for years.

Hypocritical as shit, I know. But at least I’m figuring it out now.

(I’ll point out, here, that Nietzsche has been trying to tell me that for years, but I wasn’t seeing it clearly enough. Thanks, Nieztsche, for trying.)

And I have never felt better about myself, my relationships, and my future. There will always be work to do, but I’m no longer controlled by the pain I have dealt with all of my life. And I no longer, as I said, fear myself. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but it did happen. I’m supremely glad about that, because being afraid of oneself is, perhaps, worse than hating oneself (which I have also experienced).

Coming clean and moving forward

I have made some pretty awful mistakes in my life. Most recently, I hit my ex wife with a pillow and yelled some pretty awful things at her while I was immensely hurt and angry at her for reasons which are not relevant here, mostly because they are not excuses. I still have nightmares about it ever since, although they are increasingly rare these days. And while many people close to me have sympathized with my own pain, and in some cases even argued that what I did was not bad enough to warrant the marriage ending, that is not my nor their decisions. No matter how much I disagree with that decision and wished there had been any room to try to go a different direction, I have done my best to respect it and made no attempt to fight the request for a divorce.

And now it’s all over. I’m mostly OK with that, I just wish it had been possible to make the divorce a transition, rather than an ending. I simply could not accept the terms I was given, to make it a transition. Had I accepted the terms I saw in front of me to try and rebuild a friendship, I would have been capitulating to what I saw as a lie. I will defend my boundaries, where previously my insecurity would have sacrificed by thoughts, feelings, and very self in order to save the relationship. That will never happen again.

Due to that same insecurity, I’ve lived through many relationships with people who were terrible to me in many ways. And rather than create firm boundaries I allowed my resentment, anger, and fear build up until I would throw a stool, hit someone with a pillow, and yell hurtful things.

And then, of course, I don’t have much of a leg to stand on in pointing out my own pain because I’ve moved the attention to myself. I throw a stool, so it doesn’t matter if this guy is being an asshole and making other people’s lives a living hell. He can just point to the stool I threw, and now I’m the focus.

Or, I hit her with a pillow so now all the reasons I had for being furious with her are irrelevant and can be brushed off and ignored.

That’s been the pattern, most of my life and with too many people. Not in all cases, mind you, but especially with people who trigger certain insecurities within me. Had I not buried the anger, allowed resentment to build, and let fear govern it all I could have avoided the outbursts and the alienation I felt.

I have understood aspects of this over years, but it is more clear to me now, after the least few years, than previously. And I will work on, every day, making sure that this cycle is not perpetuated.

Mea culpa

To whom it may concern

So, those of you who are reading this and don’t trust me, think I’m an abusive person, or who might continue to make my mistakes the primary story…well OK. Cool story, bro. But we define ourselves not only by our decisions and mistakes, but also by how we respond to them. I will not ignore or merely dismiss your accusations and judgments, but i will only accept them as part of the story (unless they are true fabrications, which I have also had to deal with). I will learn from you, even if you have no interest in helping me, because there might be some truth to what you say, even if it is biased, embellished, or malicious. If I ignore that, I am merely pushing the narrative closer to my own comfort zone. That won’t stop the cycle, but merely inches along rather than strides towards growth.

Changing just enough as you have to is almost as bad as not changing at all.

And I will offer the same to you (all of you, out there). If you have made, or continue to make, mistakes, my judgment of your character will also be informed by how you respond, and not merely what you did. We all hurt people, to varying degrees. Own it, grow, and in time those you hurt may forgive you. In some cases, they never will. That’s hard.

Finally, those of you who have been there for me over the last year (or years, in some cases), I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I love you all, and I owe you a lot for your listening, emotional support, and trusting me enough to see that I am not the person that others say I am or are afraid that I am. You believed that I cannot be defined by my mistakes, and made an effort to see me through the work I had to do, when it would have been far easier to abandon me. You understood that if you really believed that I could grow beyond a set of mistakes, learn from them, and truly grow and heal, you had to stick around to see it.

Alternatively, If you said that you believed I could get through this but made no attempt to stick around….

Then perhaps you are not the person you think you are either.

I know who I am, and I like that person a lot.

Pacific University of Oregon Survey about Polyamory October 28, 2015

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Survey-saysMy friend alerted me to this, so I’m passing it along.



Good morning! October 23, 2015

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I never adjust well to early work days.

Most of the last couple of years, I had work which didn’t need me to be in work until around 10:00. Sure, I work later in the evening, but the ability to sleep until 8:30 (let’s be honest, more like 9) was quite good for me. My current job has me get into work around 7:30-8:00, and the adjustment is…hard.

For many years–mostly when I worked with kids as a counselor, teacher, coach and so forth–I worked early days, getting into work (in some cases) as early as 6:30 or 7:00. Not farmer hours, but early. And I did it for years, and was almost always on time. I never adjusted to it. I was always tired in the morning.

I’ve noticed that I feel best when I sleep from the times of 1am -9am, approximately. That’s my natural schedule, and the closer to it I can sleep each night, the happier I am. This job I’m working at is a contract, and it will last another couple (or a few, depending) months, and I will try (if possible) to get more accommodating working hours.

Last night, I was having a conversation about school hours. My interlocutor is a teacher, and she was telling me how they shifted the school day a bit earlier, which was a bit annoying because it gave her less time to get prepared for the day. The reason? The football team often needed to travel for games, and the whole school adjusted their schedule to accomodate the football team. Because the football team is what received millions of dollars, and is what matters.

No matter that numerous studies (see these articles; one, two, and three, for example which link to some of these studies) show that earlier school starts are problematic for most students, because football is what matters.

Don’t get me started on how much I dislike football, and football culture, in America. All the bros watching well paid men give each other head injuries which will, possibly, give them long term cognitive problems. And, of course, the college, high school, and kids leagues which participate in this culture, which leaves many kids prone to similar problems. All the while academics are left behind, in many cases. And for what? A game?

Granted, I like some sports. I enjoy watching hockey, soccer (the real ‘futbol’), and even baseball occasionally, but I would not miss any of them, significantly, if they disappeared. They are not what I value about our civilization. I would not mind if they ended up, in the future, being semi-pro leagues which people mostly play for fun, than what we have now. Our modern day gladiator matches are not raising us up, they are distracting us from things that actually matter.

I don’t run into the world of sports all that often. Most of my friends and acquaintances are fairly separate from this world, and so this is not a thing which I spend a lot of time thinking about. But last night’s conversation left me feeling angry, disappointed, and frustrated with our culture.

We are at a time, in the next few decades, where our culture will shift in some significant ways (I hope). As the older, and more conservative, generations die off, we will see shifts in voting patterns, how the media and entertainment worlds communicate with us through newer technology, and we will have to see if and how this aspect of our culture evolves.

More likely, the cultural divides will remain in place, and nothing will fundamentally change. That is, after all, how it;s been for centuries.

Meh, so much for optimism.

Good morning!

Time October 21, 2015

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Always loved this album cover

Always loved this album cover

I’ve been thinking, a lot, recently.

I mean, sure; I have a degree in philosophy. It’s a thing I do.

But, I mean, a lot more than usual.

I’ve been reading, too.

More than usual. History of Tea, Tennyson, Norman Mailer, Montaigne, Neil Gaiman, and some others which are not coming to mind right now.

But I have not been writing.

And here’s the thing, I’m OK with it. If you had asked me, a year ago, if I was OK when I wasn’t writing, I would have said no. I connected (conflated?) writing and mental soundness in a way that, I’m seeing now, is not the only way I know how to be.

I don’t know, going forward, how much I will write. I will write. I love writing. It is a part of my healthy thinking and emotional expressive self, but it is not necessary. I love it, but I don’t need it in the same way. If I don’t have it, I am still me, and I can still thrive.

(Oh, God yes, that’s also partially metaphorical and symbolic. The day my writing is not is the day they take away the degree in philosophy, OK?)

But I still love writing, and I always will.

And that’s all I have to say, right now.



I was listening to Pink Floyd’s, Dark Side of the Moon just now, and i intended to come over here to write about how this album is more than 40 years old, how that felt weird, and how the song that was playing was Time. Hence the title above, which will remain because fuck titles.

Also, that album came out when my mom was in high school (or around when she graduated, if memory serves). That’s weird to think about. Hell, my daughter (given up for adoption many many years ago, I don’t think I’ve mentioned that here, previously) is in high school by this point.

And now, as I’m typing these words, my favorite part of the album approaches.

“The lunatic is on the grass…..” That’s where I was at that point, if you’re curious.

I also listen to a lot of new stuff. I love the new albums by The Bird and the Bee, Made in Heights, and The Arcs (for example).

You know what, I’m not even editing this shit. Y’all are just gonna have to deal with that.

I’m back, people. I’ve been away for too long. But I’m happy, healthy, and I am optimistic for the first time since my shitty road started years ago.

and into the river we’d dive August 24, 2015

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I have a thing about heights. Being up high, or even just standing next to subway tracks, is a source of sometimes significant anxiety, and it has always been that way. Thus, whenever I have been invited to sit on an outside patio on a high-rise building, take a look at a beautiful view from a cliff, or found myself in a position were falling was a possibility, I have a stew of unpleasant emotions stirring within me.

As a kid, when waiting for the subway (which I rode to and from school, and later work, every day), I would occasionally be faced with the reality of my mortality, and of the fear how easy it would be to just jump into those tracks at any moment.

Or slip. Or be peeking to see how close the train was along the tracks, and then lose my balance and just fall.

Or, you know, what was actually stopping me from jumping? And this last thought was not about depression or suicide, it was just a realization that I could, if I wanted to, just jump off that platform, that cliff, or that high-rise patio. This was a disquieting realization, that I started having when I was around 7 or 8, if my memory serves me.

(this is not me rope-swinging, as I had no camera on the river with me on Saturday)

This is not me rope-swinging, as I had no camera on the river with me on Saturday. The rope we swung from was actually somewhat higher than this one appears to be.

Later, when I was in high school and I discovered philosophy, I read bits and pieces of Jean-Paul Sartre’s work, and was somewhat relieved, but also somewhat gobsmacked, that this experience was not mine alone.

Sartre describes the experience of radical freedom, and being burdened with the realities and consequences of that freedom, and I felt like I had found someone who understand what it was like inside my head, most of the time.

Because did I distrust myself? Was there reason to think that, given the radically free choices I could make, I could make one which could end or significantly damage my life? Always.

Sometimes, what becomes most clear to me is how easy it would be to destroy everything, how fragile it all is, and how even if you were to act in such a damaging way just because you can, you cannot take it back. Because knowing that you could have not done something (whatever that means, right Dan Dennett?*), when in fact you did is not sufficient if you did it, right?

Perhaps. But I think that we know ourselves best when we can tell the difference between something we could not help doing and something we could have done differently, but didn’t do so for bad reasons. And what’s worse is that when those who have been on the receiving end of those actions cannot understand, will not hear, or don’t care about that distinction.

River Tubing, Ropes, and climbing that tree

Cut to this past weekend.

A few weeks ago, I went to party at a college-friend’s house. I had not seen him in a couple of years, I had the day free, and so I drove out to the Lambertville area to see him with my girlfriend Kristen and some other people close to me, and we had a great time eating, drinking, and enjoying his well-kept grounds on a lovely summer day.

At the party, my friend mentioned that he was going river tubing on the Delaware, north of New Hope, PA, and this sounded like a lovely idea and so Kristen and I planned to go. While tubing (which was awesome), someone mentioned a rope swing. Having a good time and being carried away by their enthusiasm, I proclaimed some interest in swinging out on a rope. And we floated on some more.

And then I saw the rope.

I saw people swinging out, and it looked like fun. And then I saw the rickety steps going up the side of the tall tree from which the rope hung, and as I thought about climbing up to the platform (which was essentially some wood nailed to a tree), I felt my stomach tighten. But I climbed up anyway (not to the highest platform, because I’m not crazy like Kristen is, who climbed up there like she was strolling in the park), and grabbed a solid hold on the rope and felt the acceleration of gravity swing me over the water, until I felt the rope reach it’s maximum height, before it would swing back, and I launched myself into the air and landed safely into the water.

It was so much fun that I did it again. And, of course, my stomach clenched as I climbed the side of the tree the second time, but it didn’t stop me. The fear was still there. It was unpleasant, but I knew that the effort would be worth it. I would not allow my fear to prevent me from enjoying the thrill of flying through the air before plunging into the cool water on a hot summer day.

And then we got back onto our tubes, rafts, and inflatable boats and kept drifting down the river with friends.

And I’ll do it all again, if I’m lucky enough to have the chance.


We all have our internal emotional and psychological landscapes, and we all have these little things that are terrifying to us which seem like nothing to other people. Climbing up on that tree was not easy for me, but I knew there was a payoff that I wanted. And the second time climbing up? It was slightly less scary. Perhaps the 3rd and 4th, next time I float down the river, will be easier yet.

Boundaries are important to recognize and to communicate, both with ourselves and to others. But we need to push those boundaries from time to time, or we stagnate. Is something scary? Fine, but don’t let that, alone, stop you from making the attempt to find out why it is scary, if perhaps the fear is unfounded,, and maybe to see if there is something on the other side of that fear which is worth investigating anyway.

If you don’t push your own boundaries, and if you ask that others do not do it for you, then you will never grow. And sometime, the scariest things are the things we should challenge the most.

Carpe Diem (et noctis)!

FYI, The title of this post is derived fro a lyric from Bruce Springsteen’s The River, which was a favorite of mine from my childhood. Here it is, for all of you not familiar with The Boss’s deeper tracks.


* “l have not yet touched the central issue of free will, for I have not yet declared a position on the “could have done otherwise” principle: the principle that holds that one has acted freely (and responsibly) only if one could have done otherwise. It is time, at last, to turn to this central, stable area in the logical geography of the free will problem. I will show that this widely accepted principle is simply false.”

“The “could have done otherwise” principle has been debated for generations, and the favorite strategy of compatibilists – who must show that free will and determinism are compatible after all — is to maintain that “could have done otherwise” does not mean what it seems at first to mean; the sense of the phrase denied by determinism is irrelevant to the sense required for freedom.”

-Daniel Dennett


Bubbles and Reality August 18, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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forever_blowing_bubbles_by_nac_nud-d4antnuPicture a child blowing bubbles, those glistening balls of air floating on the breeze, dancing, colliding, bursting, and perhaps a few being carried up and away until it leaves our vision. These generally spherical objects, puffs of air derived from within us, are compelling aesthetically, scientifically (because surface tension is a thing), and perhaps philosophically.

We use the concept of a bubble in a few ways. We use them as a metaphor for things like our social and/or cultural circle. In economics, it’s a metaphor for a period of growth which is artificially inflated, and thus will burst at some point leading to price crashes (like in 2007-2009, with the housing market crashed). In cosmology and theoretical physics, some use the analogy of a bubble to explain the topology of the universe.

In short, we like bubbles and use them as imagery for all sorts of things (including everything, it seems).

But, let’s get back to actual bubbles for a second. Essentially, a bubble is a segment of the environment we live within (an atmosphere of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other constituent parts of the “air,”) separated from the rest of the atmosphere by a thin layer of liquid. Usually soap if we are “blowing bubbles.” There is no fundamental difference, generally, between what is inside and outside the bubble, it’s just that there is a barrier which is permeable, breakable, flexible. And yet it persists and separates what is within from the rest of the world. It is the barrier which defines the bubble, not its contents.

A bubble is a shape of reality, separated by a thin film which creates a temporary definition and shape isolated from the rest of the environment. It’s sort of like our worldviews. Our conclusions, opinions, and our very being, and our community all exist, metaphorically, like a bubble to the environment of humanity. Those opinions are made up of the same stuff as other people’s opinions, just shaped, prioritized, and arranged differently. Once again, it’s the barrier, the structure, and the perspective which separates one worldview from another, not the constituent parts.

living-in-a-bubbleWe all are made of the same stuff. We have brains, organs, and bodies which have some basic similarities. We float about in our human environment, and our perceptions, experiences, emotions, and cognitive abilities are a permeable barrier which defines what is within us and what is not. And if you have ever gone through enough trauma, significant change, or have simply changed your mind in some significant way, then you might understand what it means to have your bubble “burst.”

But, perhaps similarly, if you have ever found yourself faced with something difficult to comprehend, tolerate, or believe, then you know what it’s like to have that surface tension hold.

And, unfortunately, the truth is not the criteria by which that surface tension holds or bursts. More often than not, it is our comfort, our emotional experience, which is the arbiter of this tension. Because in many cases, that surface tension holds in lies, holds back the truth, and sometimes that bubble is as much a hindrance towards understanding as it is a defense against harm, lies, and manipulation.

We love our own bubbles, and sometimes when we form that new bubble we shape it in comfortable ways. Sometimes it seems as if we were to allow our bubble to burst, we would cease to be. But this is an illusion. Our subjectivity, our pride, our fear, and our little bubbles of reality–our very identity–are made of the same stuff as what’s outside of it, and we might be better, more often than not, of simply bursting that bubble ourselves, from time to time.

We might be better questioning the wisdom of holding onto our identity, our voices, and our limits too tightly.

If you don’t believe me, then consider this; if you have ever seen someone you distrust, dislike, or disagree with in their ridiculous bubble, remember that you aren’t immune to the same psychological bubble maker in your own mind, and you are very likely doing the exact same thing they are doing.  You are comfortable in your bubble just like they are.

Your insistence that you are right, you are better, and that you are different from them might be a complete lie created through the refraction of that liquid barrier between you and the world. That barrier, its tension holding together your very identity, acts like a lens to bias everything you see, and it might be better to break that lens now and then, insofar as you can, than to continually take pride in it because it is yours. That is the seed of narcissism and self-absorption.

We all are comfortable in the little lies we tell ourselves in order to make ourselves comfortable.

All of us. Without exception. Yes, even you, dear reader. And yes, even me.

Don’t let your pride and comfort keep you separate from reality. Burst your god damned bubble already.

Experience, bias, and precaution August 17, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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I have some experience, in my life, with people who are skilled at making themselves seem innocent when they are not, at directing a narrative which suits their needs, and cultivating followers who will stand up for them even when they act egregiously. Whether such people are sociopaths, narcissists, or just your common douchemonkeys is up for debate, but in any case such people will use small segments of truth to bend a narrative which will make them look like the victims.

And, I think, I found someone else who might–just might–fit into this mold. And what I have been asking myself, for the last couple of days, is whether I’m biased to see this pattern or if it’s actually what’s happening. So, dear reader, here’s a story about some of my weekend.

Resistance is NOT futile

Resistance is NOT futile

I play this GPS-based, augmented reality game called Ingress. In fact, I downloaded the game just over a year ago as you can see from this post. On Saturday evening, I got into my car with two other Resistance agents and went to take down a long set of level 8 Enlightened portals along Germantown Ave, starting in Mt. Airy all the way down near Broad street (which will make sense to other Philly folks). It’s a significant stretch of road, with dozens of portals, and it take a fair amount of effort to destroy them all.

As is natural, whenever any agents attack and destroy heavily upgraded and shielded areas, it’s an annoyance for the other faction. People will defend, and will ultimately rebuild their area, and sometimes it will lead to some complaining, personal (but generally harmless) animosity, and often retribution on your own areas where your faction holds more control.

It is, after all, a game.

Except some people take it way too seriously. About half way through our “booming” of Germantown Ave (AKA, destroying the virtual portals along the road, with our virtual bursters, which are virtually placed along the actual Germantown Ave), I received a few text messages.

text1OK, so I don’t have this number stored in my phone, and I don’t recognize it. So I ask who it is. Nothing abnormal here; every once in a while I get a strange text which someone has sent me by accident or from someone who I just recently gave my phone number.

I continue to boom Germanton, destroying portals and moving on to the next cluster, and my phone buzzes again, but I don’t read it immediately because I’m busy Ingressing.

And, I want to point out here, that it’s not uncommon for people to send messages, usually in game, to attackers. Sometimes it will amount to whining, playful taunting, and sometimes to actual annoyance.

Reaching out to agents of the other faction happens frequently, and in fact I’m in a Google hangout dedicated to cross-faction (X-faction) conversation and event planning (which I sometimes attend, because there are some very nice and fun people on both sides–and it’s a game which we play together).

But what happened next was beyond simple line-crossing.


Yeah… So that happened.

In recent weeks, I had been hearing, through conversations with other players, that there has been some drama with some players who were cheating, harassing, etc other people in the game. One of these players, and possibly some of his friends/cronies, had been a nuisance to people I know, and the week prior (the last time I boomed Germantown Ave) I was actually followed, by a car, by two Enlightened agents as I did so. One of those agents was this same person who I had heard bad things about, recently.

Now, being followed, whether in a car or on foot, while playing Ingress is not unheard of, and it’s usually actually harmless. After all, the game is location-based. It might be considered obsessive to do so for long periods of time, but it is a relatively normal part of the game. But this car was right on my bumper, and I managed to lose them (twice) because my car has a better turning radius than theirs and because I’m secretly a government agent trained in advanced urban driving techniques.

That last part might not be true.

What I didn’t know, but suspected (as do leaders of both factions still suspect), is whether the person who texted me is the same person who has been responsible for some recent harassment, cheating, and who was recently kicked out of PIE (the local Philly Enlightened community, which has many wonderful and very friendly people, despite their poor choice in factions :P).

Yeah, don't bother with these...RESIST!

Yeah, don’t bother with these…RESIST!

(All I’m saying is that if you receive a cryptic message from an alien source which promises to help you transcend to the next level of human evolution, compare it to those promises of registry cleaners and other software that promise to make your computer run faster, and choose to not install the software (because it’s probably malware). In other words, resist the offer of infection. I’ll get off my Resistance soapbox, now.)

Anyway, I don’t know if they are the same person, but the coincidences seem too convenient for them to be purely random. This agent (who I will not name, publicly, until I’m sure) was the owner of many of the portals I was attacking, so he would have received notifications of my destroying them immediately. The last time I did so, he showed up within 15-20 minutes to follow me in my car (so he knows what me and my car look like). He has been accused of harassing other players as well. And, as I have found, he has previously been involved in a local NAZI skinhead organization (now, apparently, he’s associated himself with anti-fascist organization, become a vegan, and so seems to have turned around those aspects of his life). But he was also involved with a murder in 2000.

A murder.

Apparently, he got probation, possibly due to his cooperating with law enforcement, but he has a past with organizations and individuals capable of violence, and now he’s [potentially] writing me threatening text messages, which make reference to people to whom I have, or have had, close relationships. This is a person who spent some effort to find out who I am, who I’m close to, and how to contact me.

And then, yesterday, as I’m walking my neighborhood, I see him walk into a restaurant very close to where I live. And he looks right at me. And then he destroys the portal that the restaurant sits on (which is fine; that’s part of the game). But then that player, who may or may not be the same person who sent me the texts, messages me in game saying he wants to talk to me, face-to-face.


Now, I’m reading this and I’m thinking a few things.

One, It’s possible that this man, nor any of his immediate friends, sent me that text message. It’s possible that he’s being falsely accused, and he’s trying to talk with me about it, perhaps to reassure me.

Two, it’s possible that he wants to beat the shit out of me, in broad daylight, in my neighborhood knowing he’ll be suspected and not care.

And three, (and this is the one that bothers me the most because it’s so familiar) He wants to talk really nice to me, face-to-face, because he knows he’s made a mistake and he wants to make himself look, especially to his friends, harmless and an innocent victim. In other words, he wants to massage his image to people around him as not a transgressor of common behavior and a person who threatens people’s health and possibly life over a game, but as a nice, misunderstood, reformed man.

That last possibility is scary to me because I have seen this behavior too many times in the last couple of years. Having lived with Wes Fenza, who is quite capable and willing to lie, manipulate, and twist the perceptions of the world around him to make himself look like the victim of everyone he harms, I have learned to recognize the signs of such behavior.

And then I start to self-doubt. I start to say “Am I priming myself to see this everywhere, now?”

Maybe. But what if I’m right? What is the price of trusting this man, and giving his friends, the community, etc more reason to think twice about a person who might be capable of harassment, assault, or even murder over a game is to risk my own safety? What if my willingness to trust him leads to his further harassing others because he’s able to make himself appear innocent, just like other people formerly in my life continue to do to this day?

My experience has taught me that some people simply do not care if they hurt people, so long as they can distract everyone to look the other direction, that they are the victim, etc. Hell, in some cases such people can apparently have their own partners change their mind about the severity of their own trauma when it’s exposed that their own husband did similar things to other people; gotta keep that cognitive dissonance in check after all, right? If the only way to keep your savior complex alive, after said savior has assaulted and traumatized several people, is to make that type of behavior not actually assault, in your mind, then that’s what you do. Hence, months of therapy, anger, and blame against other people who did the same to you must simply be washed away for the sake of the comfort of your soul.

But back to the question at hand; am I being overly-cautious? Am I biased to see manipulative behavior even when it’s not there? Maybe, but the simple fact is that I was told by other people I know that this person is manipulative in this way that I have seen so many times. I have been told to be careful with this person. And I have heard this from people from both factions, and that has to mean something.

Because, for example, much of last year was about making sure that the poly community knows that Wes Fenza is a dangerous predator, potentially a sociopath, and that he will not hesitate to fabricate, embellish, and seek out information which will make any of his accusers appear incredible, dangerous, or unstable rather than face his own mistakes. And this effort has paid off, as many people in the local and national community have distanced themselves from him (some simply don’t know, care, or are so dependent upon him that they ignore the claims against him). Others are complicate in his actions. Whats’ worst about it is that many of his cronies are people I’ve heard him shit-talk about several times. You know; before people started abandoning him and he had to hold onto like the pilot fish they are.

And it seems that some people have made similar efforts against this person with whom I interacted this past weekend. I want to say that where there is smoke there is fire. I do not want to simply dismiss the warnings from other people who have experience with this person, because the risk is too high. I will leave some small doubt that I might be wrong, but I will not risk my health and life to find out, so I’ll stay away.

Because even if I am biased (which I certainly am), I’ve decided to take the precautions necessary to keep me away from this person, just in case they were the person who sent me threatening texts. I have created a police report with all of the pertinent information, I have informed the local Ingress community, and I have told many people close to me about this so that they know that if I’m harassed, attacked, etc that there is someone to look into.

Because in the unlikely event that this person is who I suspect he is, he follows through with his threats, and the police catch him, then perhaps he won’t be able to weasel himself out of prison. Guilty people walk free in our communities all the time, unreformed, unrepentant, and they sleep well at night because they have convinced the world and themselves that they are innocent or they are incapable of the feelings of guilt or responsibility which most of us feel when he make mistakes.And since they keep getting away with it, they’ll be much more likely to keep harassing, threatening, and maybe even following through occasionally.

Such people need to be indicated, so that we all can know that there is reason to be cautious.

Because even if people can learn, change, grow, and rehabilitate, some simply do not want to. I’ve certainly made some mistakes myself (although, if you listen to some people those mistakes are much much worse than the truth, because some people have a casual relationship with the truth), and I have paid for those mistakes. The problem is that sometimes people don’t feel the need to learn, change, or grown because they never accepted their responsibility, and they will have no compunction about continuing to do what they want to do without the pang of conscience or remorse. And we should all make sure to be aware of such people, and keep ourselves safe.

Good luck, out there.

And if you decide to play Ingress, just remember that the Enlightenment want you to be brainwashed by aliens who claim to want to help us evolve. They’ll couch it in terms of transcending what we are now (which has some obvious Nietzsche-esque qualities), and creating something better for our future, but they probably also checked the box, when installing Flash Player, to include all the Yahoo crap. The Resistance simply want you to not accept this free gift of salvation, because most free gifts of salvation are bullshit.

And yet, there is that murderous AI ADA… Lesser of evils?

It’s just a game….


Power (a snippet) July 22, 2015

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
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In continuing the saga of this series, I wanted to re-read a few sections of the first book in order to remind myself where I left off with certain characters. Here’s a little bit of a teaser from a latter chapter of that first book:

….He wanted to apologize, to ask forgiveness, but knew that there was too much to forgive. He tried to imagine a life without the control he had gotten used to. He tried to imagine living contently knowing what he did, knowing that it was his fault. He was so very angry at himself for allowing all of this. How had he been so proud, so certain, so wrong as to allow a lifetime as long as this to go without introspection? How had he not seen this.

But he was doing it again. He had thought about this. Deep down, he knew. But all the times that the thought poked its head out, he would turn the device up, stare into the cosmos, travel somewhere far and new, and shove it aside and drown it out. He allowed his desire to overshadow and protect his need to heal, grow, and to look at himself honestly. And now he couldn’t hide from it.

But he knew he would, again. He knew that as soon as this mood passed, he would hide it again, and all would be back to normal. How many times over the cycles had he cried like this, alone somewhere far from anyone else. How often had he thought it was time to give it up. Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? He just didn’t know. As he thought about this, Camen’s voice interrupted and Mezar was startled into attention. Camen, looking at his old friend with his red eyes, wet cheeks, and quivering lips, said,

“Zuzek, we have a lot to catch up on. We still have work to do. There is much that you, as well as the others, can contribute. Please, Zuzek, work with us.”

Mezar didn’t protest the name this time. He looked at his friend as a decision reached him, and a sort of calm acceptance filled him. He would not let this cycle continue. He would not allow himself to relapse back into a new obsession to drown out the pain, the hurt, and the uncertainty. And in this moment he felt again like the Zuzek Damula he had once been, but yet still unable to erase the Mezar he had inhabited for so long.

And the quivering lips stopped, his eyes, still red, look at Camen with genuine affection and a smile—wide and unrepressed—slipped onto Zuzek Damula’s face as he spoke.

“Camen, I wish you the best in this work. I’m afraid that I cannot join you in it, as I have other plans. Take care, my friend. I’m so sorry, but I cannot help anymore. It’s, too much. Too hard. Perhaps there is something…easier.”

The armor, so strong it had become over the centuries, simply dissolved. And in a moment of sorrow, grief, and resignation, Zuzek Damula lived again. For a moment there, Mezar dissolved and Zuzek sat, with Jul’s arms around his chest as she sat behind him and held him, in the sunshine of disappeared history. The young, ambitious, ideological man lived again. But that man had come to realize that this feeling was temporary, transient, and that reality would flood back soon enough and it would all start again. That reality was too heavy, and so he allowed the moment to linger just a bit more, before the decision would come. Camen started to smile at seeing this, but the smile faded as something in Zuzek’s eyes worried him.

“No more,” was all Zuzek Damula said.

What are you doing? Camen thought.

Zuzek smiled contently at Camen for another moment before he closed his eyes. The crowd around them had gathered and were watching, silent, unsure what to say or do. Zuzek basked in the waning moments of that contentment and then watched for it to begin to fade, as it most certainly would. And as he felt the sadness deep down below, pushing itself through the contented smile the weight of the inevitable grief was too much.

Too much.

There was no protection from its inevitability, and so with the gravity of memory, responsibility, and with what power he still had, Zuzek happily decided that it was enough. In the moments before that inevitability began to overtake him, Zuzek’s spine shook a bit and he took a deep breath and concentrated.


Any more than that would be too much of a spoiler.


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