Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Well-Lived Life vs Teenage Sex

With no restrictions, there's little art to life; the well-lived life is too easy to obtain. Aside from the ghostly psychological influences of things like pursuing sex as much as these people do, there's no true way to truly screw up your life completely the way a hunter-gatherer or early farmer could do. The danger of unplanned children isn't that dangerous, and certainly no one is going to starve to death over it.

The strongest argument I can marshal is simply that these teenagers and their ancestors are going to regret this attitude, because they will wish they spent more time developing real human relationship skills, instead of a crass physical satisfaction that isn't, in the end game, all that satisfying.

Being the master of your habits instead of the other way around has always been a factor of a mature human being, though of course this principle has been taken overboard by various power-structures in an attempt to rein in the massive personal power of an adult human. Certainly, if you want sex, you should go for sex, but you should not let sex dominate you as these teenagers so obviously are, though not for any transcendent reason, but for the simple reason that it leads to a shallow personality. Every moment spent obtaining easy sex isn't a moment spent getting to know yourself, a moment not spent deciding who you want to be, a moment not spent developing nuances in response to life.

A well-lived life is one where the joys are of a purer kind, less dependent on other people and yet more involved with them in general. Our instincts with regard to sex make it very easy; to say a person is incapable of having children for social reasons is to imply a staggering degree of social dysfunction. We have also long known that the power of sex is used to patch up holes in personal development, as a system of overwhelming disappointment in the self.

I want to say that because sex is so unchallenging, especially for these 'liberated' young people, it
leads to a kind of apathy where their huge personal power as a human is going to waste, and they know it. Is Tiger Woods satisfied by a single round of golf against a middle manager? Then why do you think an adult forged in this kind of sexual environment is going to be satisfied with their life? I don't actually know if this is true or if I'm already becoming a old stooge. But it seems to me that a large part of the more traditional pleasures that wise old people have touted for millenia - personal relationships and the overcoming of personal challenges - is simply because they use our powers to their fullest, that they spur us to actualize completely in an attempt to meet them.

I would like to add to that the joy of a clean and natural landscape. We have parks for a reason - our cities look like ugly grey fungus from space - most humans prefer greenery. I'd rather live in a solar-powered wooden bungalow surrounded by tended wilderness than a McMansion with the works surrounded by other McMansions. I would like my children to be able to explore a rich world, full of details to excite their curiosity and imagination. Something else we've know forever - personal joys trump social standing. It's hard to see this, naturally, which is why it must be said at all, and why it keeps being repeated. Social competitions are often vague and shallow, benefiting no one except those at the top.

What better way to end your life knowing that you mean a lot to a few people that mean a lot to you, and having raised a powerful, happy, and self-confident children? What regrets can you have when you know you've done your best, at whatever you attempted to do?

You may notice that our society, with or without these teens, does not promote this kind of goal. Even attempting to raise your children without cruelty, such that they may in fact like you at the end, is a huge endeavor if you start at the status quo. Yet why wouldn't you cooperate with your children? Your goals and their goals are the same - for them to live a happy life. Yet it seems that our culture has allowed adults and their children to be locked in battle, a quagmire a thousand times more painful than an Iraq, where the goals are equally murky and the victories more compromised. Each protests that "I only want the best" yet a detached analysis reveals only power struggles, where dominance is the only goal.

It is accepted that parental visits are to be dreaded, but this is a symptom of a disease that wreaks more havoc than cancer. Supposedly, you love your parents, and supposedly they have the same goal as you do. If their presence is an obstacle to your goals, they're doing something wrong - very very wrong. If corruption is obtained by twisting the natural order, then there is nothing more corrupt.

I don't count here exasperation, which is a much lesser disease. Certainly there's no guarantee that you and your parents are personally compatible, that you would hang out if you weren't related. Long stays can be trying. But if they demand you call and you wish they wouldn't, they've fucked up worse than Bush ever did (except with his own children).

Unfortunately if you're now a teenager or adult, the best thing they can do is get out of the way - it's far too late to fix Iraq, and it's far too late to make up for parental cruelty once the children are grown. Grown children can defend themselves, (though rarely do) which means that a parent's protestations of reform and fresh good will are no longer credible. If the parent was cruel and selfish when the child was helpless, but stops when the child no longer is, then you cannot logically believe that they are anything but a cruel coward. While indeed some parents may repent, it's impossible to distinguish them from the ones that simply deceive themselves.

This is in fact the main reason that advising these teenage sex-berzerkers doesn't work. The parents burned all their credibility long ago. Your children are far more invested in the family than you ever are - it's their entire world - and they can see through you just as you saw through your own parents. Your choices as a parent are honesty or pitiful hypocrisy. Most apparently choose the latter, vehemently.

Still, teenagers are shortsighted. This is something else well-known yet little considered. Of course many of them are going to take the easy way out, despite any advice, credible or otherwise. And indeed, I would have been ecstatic as a teenage boy to explore no-consequences sex with a variety of partners, at least at first.

That's part of the reason I'm suspicious - are teenage girls equally well served by this phenomenon, or are they allowing themselves to be manipulated by the culture? Another well-known but little discussed fact is that teenagers and girls in particular desperately want to be accepted. The fact that sexual pleasure physically reinforces the behavior may be producing a deadly kind of double whammy for them.

A triple whammy, in fact, where their parents are engaging in exactly the same shallow behavior, producing a tacit endorsement. Mommy brings home a new guy fairly often, why can't I take it one step further? Why bother with one guy at a time?

But this is ostensibly an article about a well-lived life. So let's review, what's the purpose of life? Existence has no intrinsic purpose; the concept doesn't even make sense. However, you are conscious, which means you can assign it any purpose you like, which inevitably means you're going to choose happiness by definition - you're going to choose the positive emotional end-in-itself.

I've been considering this definition since I wrote it down, and there does appear to be some holes in it. But for the moment, the immediate corollary works - what 'happy' is to you and how you in particular reach it is unique to you.

There are some broad similarities, however.

For example, we can apply it to these sexually uninhibited teenage girls. Is this relationship-free and by extension human connection-free social scene upholding their goals and dreams?

If it is, by all means they should continue.

However, I know at least in one sense that it is not, and I've alluded to it above. Every moment spent obsessing about sex is a moment not spent getting to know your self-selected purpose. Not every detail is under your control, and if you want to live your life well, with skill and confidence, you need to know which details of your purpose are your choice, and which are chosen for you.

Sex is straightforward. Tab goes into slot. It has to be easy because otherwise the species would die out in times of crisis. There are variations, but there's only one criteria; which variation makes the tab and slot the happiest?

Nearly every other good thing in life is not straightforward, because they are complex, interrelated, and often unique to each individual.

The most difficult is relating to other people in the way that lets you feel 'connected.' Its difficulty is related to the reward in two ways, first is the reward of overcoming a challenge, but also if it weren't so rewarding, no one would go to the effort. The difficulty is that while dealing with one set of complex, interrelated goals is hard enough, dealing with two interacting sets, especially with finesse, is probably the most difficult task on earth. This is why love and compassion is considered such a high virtues - in reality it is a proxy to identify people who are deft in this skill.

Yet this is exactly the task that every child demands of their parent, and it's exactly the skills our teenagers have been neglecting. Not just lately, but for decades, possibly as long as 'teenagers' has been a recognized concept.

They explored the good things in life, but stopped at sex. While this happens to be an extreme, it's the end result of a long social trend.

The tragedy is that this trend appeared alongside the incredible scientific and technological advances that oil energy has brought us. While preindustrial societies had, I think, a very good excuse for vice - the daily fight for survival - now, and especially with the pill, there's no reason to stop any person learning to live their life well; to figure out what it means to them to live life well and then to do it.

I know from experience that living my life the way I think it should be lived is far more satisfying than casual sex or drug highs could ever be. The problem of vice has never been a societal problem, but always a personal one. Depravity and evil are insipid and painful. A truly vicious person can always be cast out of a society, but vices cannot so easily be dealt with intrapersonally.

But there is the other side of the issue as well. In the visual arts and increasingly in video games, artistic limitations are falling to better technology. What we're finding is that a large part of the creative process is the conflict between artistic vision and limitations. Ye Olde Painters had to choose their subject and lighting carefully, as their choice of pigments was limited. Their technique was determined by their tools. The best art was that which overcame these limitations most skillfully, by outclassing them, by cleverly avoiding them, or by outright incorporating them into the overall design.

With modern artists, few limitations remain. Too many choices confuse and burden the modern artist just as a grocery shopper confronted with a hundred types of pasta sauce feels bewilderment. Anything imaginable is representable, so what is there left for the artist to do? Simply choose something someone wants to see, and implement it. We can see the resulting artistic stagnation.

There is a similar phenomenon in the art of living well. Between technology and the welfare state, your life no longer has to convolute around strict physical demands. The space of possible working lives is now getting too huge to explore by trial and error, which is one reason these teenagers are so enthralled - they never get burned, so never learn to hold back.

Similarly, maturity is now overrated as a survival mechanism. College students grow up to 'play adult' and never truly actualize their true power and responsibility.

Because these dysfunctional lifestyles can be made to work, because ghostly psychological issues are the most pressing, it's difficult to prove that they are, in fact, dysfunctional. If a person achieves children, financial success, and declares that they are happy, how am I supposed to prove otherwise? All I can say is that in past times, such undeveloped people were among the worst off in emotional terms.

I don't believe the average 'you' is happy. I think the average 'you' has never known happiness and thus doesn't know the difference. Teenagers often declare their undying love, but it's generally accepted that they rarely achieve the real thing. With immaturity spreading, happiness has become another victim of children too full of worldly knowledge to know their way around their inner world.


There's some science behind the idea that women just aren't well-served by this kind of social phenomenon.

No comments: