Archive for the 'Objectivism' Category

Such Good People

by Jason Stotts

A friend of mine is an independent film maker and is looking for funding for his next movie.  Check out the link and show him some love if it sounds interesting:

Filmmaker Stewart Wade (Margolis), who previously challenged ideas about sexual identity in “Coffee Date” and “Tru Loved” is working on a new independent feature called “Such Good People.” Starring Michael Urie (“Ugly Betty” and the new “Partners” on CBS) and Randy Harrison (“Queer as Folk”), the movie also features Sandra Bernhard, Lance Bass, Jon Polito, Alec Mapa, Bree Turner, and Drew Droege. It’s a fun screwball comedy like they used to make in the 1930’s — but with a twist. The couple at the center of the zany action is two men, rather than a man and a woman.

If you’d like to learn more about the project and perhaps help Stewart get the project made, check out the movie’s Kickstarter site: www.kickstarter.com/projects/1873187344/such-good-people.

I think it’s great the the movie will feature a gay couple, but that that won’t be the focus of the movie, that being gay will be treated as just something normal about the couple.  To me, that seems like the next step in the progression of making homosexuality something normal and not aberrant.

Mistakes Couples Make about Sex: Philosophy in Action Interview with Diana Hsieh

by Jason Stotts

Last night I was interviewed on Diana Hsieh’s Blog Talk Radio show Philosophy in Action and we talked for about an hour on issues in sexual ethics and four common mistakes that couples make about sex.  It was really interesting being interviewed.  I’ve been writing for many years now, I’ve presented at multiple conferences, I even (briefly) started a podcast for Erosophia, and yet none of that was the same as someone else interviewing me.  I’m not sure if it was because I wasn’t in charge of the proceedings (since it was Diana’s show) or whether the knowledge that it wsa being recorded for posterity, but honestly I felt a little nervous.  Not in my beliefs or material, mind you.  Rather, just in that I would be able to present my views well in an interview setting and make it interesting.

Happily, I think the show went really well and the discussion was lively and interesting.  Diana later told me that we had over 90 live listeners!  And, so far, the feedback has been very positive.  If you want to listen to the interview yourself, check out this link: “Mistakes Couples Make about Sex.”  I also encourage you to leave feedback here after you listen to the interview, whether positive or negative.  While you’re on Philosophy in Action, you should check out some of Diana’s other episodes.  She does good work and I’m sure that there will be something of value to you there.

I want to thank Diana for having me on Philosophy in Action and hopefully it won’t be the last time.  I had a really good time and it might even have been what I needed to restart the Erosophia Podcast.

Inspirational Philosophy

by Jason Stotts

I’ve long had a problem with atheists; or, at least with some atheists.  And the problem is not that they don’t believe in the irrationality that is religion, because I don’t believe in that nonsense either.  No, the problem is that so many atheists spend countless hours arguing against the irrationality of others in an attempt to get them to move beyond their irrational beliefs.  Why is that a problem?  Atheism isn’t a belief, it’s the lack of a belief.  People do no have a belief in atheism; rather, they lack a belief in a particular kind of nonsense.  But people cannot hold negatives as beliefs.  A lack of belief in something important creates a cognitive vacuum that will be filled (“Shattered Illusions”).  This is why some people go from religion, to atheism, and back.  They never answered the real question and that void had to be filled, so they filled it the only way they knew.

If you focus simply on destroying your opponent’s arguments, even if you win, then what?  You need to give people something positive to believe in.  A vacuum will be filled by something.

I have the same problem with how some people handle the “pro-choice, anti-choice” debate about abortion.  Some people focus only on the negatives of the debate: they deny the religious arguments (on which all arguments against abortion are based), they deny the government’s right to control our lives, they argue against a woman being forced to carry a child to term she has no desire to keep, etc.  But what they don’t do is frame the argument positively and talk about how abortion can be a real value in a woman’s life.  They don’t make the positive argument that a woman’s long-term happiness can sometimes be best served by having an abortion.  By framing the arguments completely in the negative, they give the moral high-ground to the religion and save for themselves only that it might be “practical.”  But by ceding the moral high-ground, they are doomed to ultimately lose the debate.

If we don’t take a positive tack, if we don’t take the moral high-ground and argue on moral terms, if we merely attack and never build, then we lose.  In order to win, to truly win, an argument or a culture, you must present positive reasons why your course of action is the better one, how it is the moral one, and give people something to believe in and to fight for.

In order to win the world, you must give people a morality worth living for: you must help them find meaning.

I’ve long held these thoughts and problems with the way people were arguing, but I had never connected the various issues on which we were forced to fight defensively (religion, abortion, oil, global warming, ad nauseum) as all suffering from the same problem: we couldn’t win until we reframed the arguments and stopped fighting to only tear down and never build up.

I preamble so much to set the stage for what I think is one of the best ideas that I’ve seen recently, Alex Epstein’s “The Power of Aspirational Activism,” which I’m going to quote selectively below.

The Power of Aspirational Advocacy

By Alex Epstein, Founder of the Center for Industrial Progress

I have been writing about environmental and industrial issues for over a decade now. For most of that decade, my approach was essentially to focus on what was wrong with the “green” movement. For example, I would make the point that “green energy” policies, by forcing Americans to use expensive, unreliable solar and wind power, would be economically devastating.

But even though this point was true, and even though I could argue it articulately, I noticed that I had very limited success in inspiring audiences to fight for better policies.[…]

And then I realized why: people only really care about energy policy, good or bad, to the extent they understand there’s a crucial, positive value at stake. […] Thus priority number one needs to be: present a compelling, positive vision of the right values and policies.

There is a lot to learn on this topic from the “green” movement, even though they advocate all the wrong policies. They are able to gain a huge amount of enthusiasm for “green” policies because they connect those policies to crucial values…and they are able to gain the moral high ground against industrial freedom by portraying it as the source of short- and long-term environmental destruction–that is, the destruction of crucial values.

There is no reason that advocates of industrial capitalism can’t do the same thing, but much better and much more honestly.

[…]

When we offer an ideal, we can set the terms of the debate.

[…]

By contrast, if we focus our efforts on arguing against environmentalism, without offering a clear, defined, illustrated, inspiring alternative, then our best-case scenario is to get from bad to zero–from embracing “green” policies to disagreeing with them. But we want to get them from bad to good–to embracing industrial progress and industrial freedom.

I call this approach Aspirational Advocacy, because it means connecting our political policies to our audience’s deepest values and aspirations. […]

[Find out more about Alex Epstein by visiting www.industrialprogress.net]

Alex does a great job of capturing the essence of the problem: “When we offer an ideal, we can set the terms of the debate.”  And when we don’t, we can’t and we are forced to fight on the ground our enemies have picked for us.

When we inspire our audience by showing them how to make their lives better, we give them a reason to act and knowledge of why they are acting.  This is important in any debate we might wish to win, in any arena in which real values are threatened by false values or where human life is being attacked for the sake of non-humans (whether mythical, imaginary, animal, whatever).  We can’t win by being on the defensive.  We can’t win by fighting a battle that was stacked against us at the beginning. We can’t win by merely destroying: we must create.  We must show the value of a life lived well and the value doing so.

If we want to win the world, then we have to inspire people to our moral ideal and show them why our way is the only way.

On Purpose

by Jason Stotts

It’s interesting to me that one’s purpose in life is such an integral part of it, but for many people is completely opaque to them. It forms the core of who we are and how we live. It structures our life and gives us focus. Yet, there is really little to no guidance about how to pick a purpose in your life, which is problematic considering how important it is for ethics.

The standard way of thinking about your purpose in life is to think about what you are passionate about abstractly and then to try to find some way to match that up with a job in the real world. This works fine for many people, but for some of us it is less than instructive. What if the things I would want to do aren’t translatable into jobs?

Moreover, and more problematically, what if I’m not sure what I want to do with my life? What if there is no one thing that pulls me irresistibly to it? What if there are many things I enjoy and they don’t add up into a career? How do I go about creating a valuable and rewarding purpose that I can translate into a job? Let’s see if we can’t make some headway on this issue.

This issue is actually made all the more poignant for me because I am suffering under it. I don’t have a purpose in life right now. I mean I have some vague purposes like living well and seeking knowledge and having good meaningful relationships with good people. It’s not like my life is a mess. But my career hasn’t begun yet. I’m still working at a job and it’s frustrating for me to know that I am very intelligent, hard-working, and motivated, but yet I don’t know how to focus my attention and get a real career off the ground. A large part of this is due to me not understanding the issue of passion.

In order to help me with this issue, my wife found a couple of articles from this blog Study Hacks that make an interesting case that I may have been going about this entire process incorrectly. I’ve taken quotes from two different articles “Beyond Passion: The Science of Loving What You Do” and “Are Passions Serendipitously Discovered or Painstakingly Constructed?” and I’m going to link it up in a way that’s slightly different than the author does (go read the originals first though). Also, I hope the original author doesn’t mind my light editing to abstract the general principles from the context of the article.

From “Beyond Passion: The Science of Loving What You Do.”

1. Mastering a rare and valuable skill is the key to generating a remarkable life — much more important than following your “passions” or matching your career (or academic major) to your personality.

2. The introspection principle [matching your work to personality traits and interests is the key to finding a job you love] elevates [erroneously] the act of self-reflection to be the most important for making big life decisions.

3. To be happy, your work must fulfill three universal psychological needs: autonomy, competence, and relatedness.
• Autonomy refers to control over how you fill your time…if you have a high degree of autonomy, then “you endorse [your] actions at the highest level of reflection.”
• Competence refers to mastering unambiguously useful things.
• Relatedness refers to a feeling of connection to others.

4. [Pick a subject or career and] strive to become excellent at it…your love of the subject will grow with your sense of autonomy and competence.

5. Autonomy, competence, and relatedness are the key to loving what you do. So how do you get them?
1. Master a skill that is rare and valuable.
2. Cash in the career capital this generates for the right rewards.

From “Are Passions Serendipitously Discovered or Painstakingly Constructed?”

1. Passion: The feeling that arises from have mastered a skill that earns you recognition and rewards. [Also thinking this skill is important?]

2. [The belief that in the course of your regular life you will develop passions for various pursuits] posits that passions exist a priori of any serious engagement with a pursuit; [as though] they’re some mysterious Platonic form waiting for you to discover. This is a dangerous fiction.

3. Passion is the feeling generated by mastery. I submit that this concept is liberating. It frees you from obsession over whether you are doing the “right” thing with your life. A mastery-centric view of passion says that aligning your life with passions is a good thing, but almost any superficial interest can be transformed into a passion with hard work, so there’s no reason to sweat choices such as an academic major or you first post-college career. Your real focus should be on the long road of becoming so good they can’t ignore you.

4. The mastery-centric view denies that a priori passions exist. There’s probably no new job that would immediately grant [a person] the feeling of passion he seeks. That can only come from mastery.

Now that we have some of the material I want to work with, let’s start connecting the dots together and see if we can’t find a better way to understand purpose.

If your passion is not some innate thing that you just have, and framing it this way makes it sound less plausible in the first place (tabula rasa anyone?), and is, rather, a cultivated emotion that is a response to mastering a particular skill, then it seems a quite bit easier to achieve passion for your purpose, as passion stops being some mystical emotion that one cannot act to bring about and becomes something that one could work to achieve. That is, if you want to be passionate about something, you need to become great at it. If this is true, it means that we’ve always been taught to do it backwards, that the cause and effect have been reversed.

Although I’m not sure I’ve completely bought into the idea yet, I certainly think that it solves a long-standing question for me in what seems to be a very reasonable way. It also helps me to see that, in some ways, it doesn’t matter what I pick as I’ll develop a passion for it.

On the other hand, in my situation it doesn’t exactly provide concrete advice. I know that my passion is to keep working with ideas and to try to clarify different issues in human life through the application of reason and intelligence: basically, I want to actually do philosophy. But it’s hard to get people to pay you for ideas, when most people in the culture don’t realize the dire importance of ideas, that ideas move their lives and the world itself. While I think I’ve mastered many of the ideas in sexual ethics, and created a passion for it in my life, it’s still not clear how to monetize this and make a living from it.

I know that if I had to pick a single word that I would like to describe me, I would pick the word “philosopher.” I would be proud to earn that title and I think that I have new and good ideas. So, maybe I should go back into academia and get my doctorate and teach and write in philosophy. But, at the same time, I want to do philosophy as applied to life and not engage in the conundrums of philosophy apart from this. So, I’m not sure if I would be happy there. Certainly, however, I would be much happier there than I am in my current position, so even if it’s not ideal, it would be much better. If I could get my book done quickly and its well received, perhaps I could become a “public intellectual,” writer, and speaker, which I would really enjoy. But that’s a pretty open goal with a lot of variables that would have to fall in place that I wouldn’t be able to directly control, so that’s not ideal.

So, after all, perhaps I haven’t solved my practical problem. But at least I’ve made it easier and have a better grasp of how to solve it, instead of looking for some mystical purpose from nowhere.

ATLOSCon 2012 Recap

by Jason Stotts

As you probably know, I’ve been on vacation for roughly the last week in Atlanta for ATLOSCon 2012.  It was a great experience like last year and I had a really good time reconnecting with old friends and getting to know some new people.

Thursday night was the opening banquet and I got to see a lot of people I hadn’t seen in a year and meet lots of new people.  It’s funny that people tend to assume, because I’m a blogger and I write about sex, that I’m very extroverted.  That is, however, just not true.  I wouldn’t say that I’m shy per se, but I’m certainly not extroverted and if I didn’t come up and say hi, it wasn’t you, it was me.  If you want to meet me and we don’t have mutual friends, you’re going to have to just come up to me and introduce yourself.  I’m very friendly, though, so don’t fear for your life or anything.

I took several interesting classes while at ATLOSCon, one of which was Jenn Casey’s and Kelly Elmore’s class on temperament that I took friday morning.  I  learned some really interesting things and also learned that temperament is one issue that I will be looking more closely into in the future as I think that it may have a bigger role in relationships and even ethics in general than it is generally believed now.  If anyone has a good book recommendation about general temperament or personality theory, I would appreciate it.

I also took Miranda and her dad Antonio’s class about what it was like growing up as an objectivist.  I personally can’t imagine having grown up an objectivist and it was interesting to hear them talk more about it (I also saw this last year).  I think my biggest take away from their class was that if you want your children to be objectivists when they grow up, you shouldn’t force ideology onto them, but rather model the virtues and teach them how to think independently.  I think this is an important point for all parents.

Friday night I went shooting with the Objectivists, which was a lot of fun and I took my mom shooting for the first time in quite a while.

Saturday morning I took Jenn and Kelly’s positive discipline class for parenting and the more I learn about positive discipline, the more it seems like the best way to raise a child.  I may not be about to have kids yet, but it’s never to early to start learning things about it.

Saturday afternoon I gave my talk “Sexual Attraction and Fantasy: a Philosophical Exploration” and it was well received.  I think that people really liked the talk and there were some really good questions.

Saturday evening was the big ATLOSCon party at the Casey house and I had a good time hanging out with everyone.  I talked about a lot of things, but somehow sex kept coming up.  I just want to point out that it’s not always me bringing it up, people seek me out to talk about sex.  Which I like.  But I think that some people think it’s all I talk about, when it isn’t.

Sunday morning I was back at the Casey house to see Diana Hsieh do her Philosophy in Action webcast live, which was very interesting.

Sunday afternoon I saw Rachel Miner give a talk on Romantic Extras, or things that one can and should do in order to maintain love and intimacy in relationships.  There was a lot of good concrete advice and she did a good job with the presentation.  I followed that by the OHomos panel, where several gay Objectivists talked about their experiences growing up gay, becoming Objectivists, and fielded questions from the audience.  Nothing surprising here for me, but it was interesting to hear their stories.

After, I saw Stephen Bourque’s “Exploring Ayn Rand’s Theory of Concepts” and it was the only talk at ATLOSCon that I didn’t like.  Perhaps I simply know too much about epistemology, but I thought the class was poorly executed.

Afterwords, we went out to a rushed dinner and then to my Practical Sexuality Workshop.  We were a couple of minutes late, which I was pretty annoyed about (it wasn’t anyone’s fault, but I hate being late), but the workshop went really well.  There was a running trivia challenge throughout the presentation and there were three teams competing.  We started with sexual anatomy, then moved to different orgasm techniques, and finally to anal.  People seemed to have a really good time competing in the trivia contest and I think everyone learned something new.  Although there was quite a bit of hype leading up to “the orgy” (which, incidentally, I appreciated all that free advertising), there was no nudity or even anyone injured.  I had a lot of fun putting on the workshop and I definitely would like to start doing more workshops and helping to spread sexual knowledge and good technique to people.  Sex is, after all, a skill that can be learned and mastering that skill will make your sex more pleasurable and help your relationship with your partner.

Overall, I thought ATLOSCon went really well and I had a great time attending.  There is a great sense of belonging being in a group of people who share your fundamental ideas and who are working to help bring them into reality with you.  It is that same sense of “being in the valley” that one gets at OCON, but with a warmer Southern hospitality element.

Some administrative comments, with the understanding that I thought everything went really well this year, are:

1. Less time between sessions.  Having 45 minutes between morning and afternoon sessions was just too much.  In the evenings it also made it nearly impossible to have dinner before the evening activity.

2. Starting at 10am was much better than starting at 9am, since inevitably, we’d stay up way too late having fun.

3. Can we get a little ribbon on name tags or a special speaker badge so that we are more easily identifiable?

4. I realize that the Cherokee recreation center is well suited to the conference and I’m sure it’s not expensive given where it is, but it’s hard to have so many of the other events 30-45 minutes from the conference site.  This may not be feasible, but it would be helpful if everything were closer together.

So, that’s just a couple of little things.  I thought the conference went really well and that things were very organized. I want to thank Jenn Casey and Kelly Elmore and the rest of ATLOS for inviting me out and having such a nice conference.

Finally, if you want to help support Erosophia, buy a copy of the lecture I presented on Sexual Attraction and Fantasy or my Practical Sexuality Workshop.  I’ve decided, just to make it a little cheaper, to sell each for $10, which is less than I was initially going to price them at.  Additionally, if you attended either of my events, you can purchase either for half-price!  I prefer Amazon or Paypal payments to Jason(at)JasonStotts.com, but I’m open to other avenues. The descriptions of the talks are below.

Sexual Attraction and Fantasy: A Philosophical Exploration

What causes sexual attraction? Is it simply a physical response to a person’s body or is there something more going on? In this talk, I will delve into the deeper nature of sexual attractions and examine the cognitive element of sexual attraction and how it can enhance or destroy attractions. Further, we will look at the role of fantasy both by itself and its role in sexual attraction. Through this, we shall come to see that sexual attraction is more than merely a physical response and is, in fact, a robust phenomenon that ties together much more of ourselves than is commonly thought.

and

Practical Sexuality Workshop

Join your fellow conference attendees in a workshop on practical sexual skills hosted by Jason Stotts, author of Erosophia (one of the top 100 sex blogs of 2011). The workshop will be in three parts. The first part is an in-depth inquiry into anal eroticism, including anal sex and prostate play. The second part is all about orgasms, both male and female, including orgasmic edge play (also called extended orgasms or massive orgasms) and orgasm denial. The third part will be open Q&A where the floor will be opened to questions from attendees who can either ask questions there or submit them in advance if they’re not comfortable asking in front of the group. The workshop will be interactive and participation is encouraged. Price: $10 per person.

The workshop is obviously adult oriented in nature and no one under 18 will be permitted to attend. The workshop is open to singles, couples, poly-groups, and everyone of any orientation.

ATLOSCon 2012

by Jason Stotts

The Atlanta Objectivist Society’s Mini-Conference ATLSOCon is coming up in just a couple of days and I’m really excited to be going again and presenting not only a class during ATLSOCon proper, but also a special workshop on practical sexual techniques (no, it’s not an orgy).  If you haven’t already registered, you should get on it as a lot of classes are already full!

This year I’m again going to offer copies of my lectures for sale as papers after the conference to help pay for my travel expenses.  I know that I ask for money a lot, but if it weren’t for one donor, Erosophia would run in the red and doing all this fun stuff that adds value to your life isn’t free.  This year I’m offering pdf copies of my Sexual Attraction and Fantasy class for $10 before the conference ends and $12 after and copies of my Practical Sexuality workshop for $13 before and $17 after.  Of course, you can also donate more and that’ll make me really happy and help keep Erosophia going.  You can send a PayPal payment to Jason(at)JasonStotts.com, send me an Amazon gift card to the same address, donate via the donate button on the right sidebar on Erosophia, or contact me for more options.  If you want to donate some money but think that I’m asking for too much, let me know and maybe we can work out something.

In case you don’t recall what classes I’m giving, here are their descriptions:

Sexual Attraction and Fantasy: A Philosophical Exploration

What causes sexual attraction? Is it simply a physical response to a person’s body or is there something more going on? In this talk, I will delve into the deeper nature of sexual attractions and examine the cognitive element of sexual attraction and how it can enhance or destroy attractions. Further, we will look at the role of fantasy both by itself and its role in sexual attraction. Through this, we shall come to see that sexual attraction is more than merely a physical response and is, in fact, a robust phenomenon that ties together much more of ourselves than is commonly thought.

and

Practical Sexuality Workshop

Join your fellow conference attendees in a workshop on practical sexual skills hosted by Jason Stotts, author of Erosophia (one of the top 100 sex blogs of 2011). The workshop will be in three parts. The first part is an in-depth inquiry into anal eroticism, including anal sex and prostate play. The second part is all about orgasms, both male and female, including orgasmic edge play (also called extended orgasms or massive orgasms) and orgasm denial. The third part will be open Q&A where the floor will be opened to questions from attendees who can either ask questions there or submit them in advance if they’re not comfortable asking in front of the group. The workshop will be interactive and participation is encouraged. Price: $10 per person.

The workshop is obviously adult oriented in nature and no one under 18 will be permitted to attend. The workshop is open to singles, couples, poly-groups, and everyone of any orientation.

If you’re a regular reader and you’re going to be in Atlanta, introduce yourself and let me know.  I love meeting new people and I’m always open to talking about sex.

Review: Living Proof

by Jason Stotts

As a writer myself trying to get my first book published, I know how hard it is to get a book in front of a publisher, let alone get them to read it.  To actually take it all the way to publication is quite the achievement today, when publishers would much rather go with established writers, even if their work is trite, than to try something new.  So, my cynical side thought that this was going to be one of those books that was crap, but that got published anyway because Leonard Peikoff is Kira’s father and the publisher thought they could leverage that fact.

I was, thankfully, very wrong.

Living Proof is an excellent book and an amazing book for a first time author.  The writing is tight, the plot is motivated, and the story is gripping.  Living Proof is one of those books that you don’t want to put down until you’re finished.

The story is set in a dystopian future (is it dystopian if it’s nearly real now?) where the christian religion has taken control of much of government and has declared all fertilized eggs to be full legal persons and their death to be murder.  This complicates everything from miscarriage to in vitro fertilization.  The heroine, of course, is not happy with that state of affairs and has a very selfish reason to motivate her to want to work against the laws.  I dare not say too much more lest I give away interesting plot points, but if you’re looking for a good book and you want to support a great up and coming Objectivist author, go buy Living Proof!

Happy Earth Day!

by Jason Stotts

How can we hope to have healthy and successful lives, including sex lives, if we feel shame at the things that are necessary to maintain our society?  If you don’t support free markets, then you don’t support freedom of the individual and it’s only a matter of time before someone will be along to take control.