Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Epigenetics are barely recognized as a new field, greatly expanding the number of questions we have about human bodies and how they work.   The research is tentative, complex, hard to assimilate.  The human genome becomes easier to “read” daily, but it is a only the basic manuscript.  Epigenetics are the annotations, the blue pencil remarks that indicate both additions and deletions: they can make all the difference.

One kind of annotations is the histones that are like the spindle or spine that the genes are wrapped around to make their helix, a kind of spiral, and they can make that helix -- sort of like the wire binding on a notebook -- tighter or looser, which can make the genes able to get their message out more easily or with more difficulty, as though the tighter the binding, the harder to turn the pages.

Another kind is methylization, a little molecule that says NOT.  It turns genes off.  (I’m now running into this term everywhere.)  It doesn’t remove a gene -- just shuts it down.  But then there’s another little molecule that adds to the methyl molecule and that says “TIS, TOO!” and turns it back on.

When the two-sided zipper that creates a new person by unzipping, then rezipping with someone else’s opposite zipper side, the father’s side loses all the methyl attachments -- all the notes are removed.  But some are guarded somehow.  And the mother’s notes are now applied to the father’s zip, with new results.

Environmental circumstances can write new methyl notes or wind the histones tighter or looser, and these can persist up to three generations or beyond.  It appears that my weight struggles may be related to my grandfather’s poor nutrition in Scotland at the turn of the 19th century.  This particular sequence affects females rather than males, for some reason.  The genes of each half of the zipper are marked with little tags that say whether they came from the sperm or the ovum, and they interact as well, so they can footnote methylization. 

Over a decade or so, ten per cent of a person’s epigenetics may change as they grow, move to a new environment, change practices.  There are drugs and strategies that will turn these epigenetics off and on, add and subtract, but the genes themselves are hard to alter.  In fact, one of the functions of the epigenetics is to guard the genes and repair them if they get broken.  It is the patterns that count more than the individual genes -- if 3, 5, 8, and 14 are off, the results will be different from 3, 5, 6, and 24 being off.

Early childhood abuse can alter at least two molecular pathways that create epigenes, one through the adrenals excreting cortisol -- I suspect also through direct damage to the adrenals since a favorite kind of abuse is a beating on the back right over the adrenals, which are on/above the kidneys -- and the other through the hippocampus which is the result of existing in a hostile social environment.  The research for this is done on a little mouse that is put into a cage with a big mean ugly hostile mouse.  Like a bad step-dad.  Or an abusive school situation where bullying is tolerated.  No doubt sexual abuse has its own pathways, but they are not in the book I’m reading.

This book is by Nessa Carey, an English scientist.  The title is “The Epigenetics Revolution” with the sub-title of “How Modern Biology is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease and Inheritance.”  There are many little side trails, one of which is about cancer.  Cancer drugs and HIV drugs have a good deal of overlap, and some of them work in similar ways -- adding or subtracting these small epigenetic elements.  The epigenetic approach works better on cancers of the blood, possibly because the “annotations” can penetrate into the script of the liquid genome more easily than they can get into the solid masses of other kinds of cancer.  Several kinds of epigene-triggered cancer affect T cells, which are part of the HIV puzzle.  The idea is that epigenetics confuse the cancer protection systems (cancer is a phenomenon of the broken genome control of the cell but may be a complex system of this-turned-off and that-turned-on) and that every virus is code, just like the genome.  In fact, there are several epigenetic phenomena either woven into the actual genome or showing up attached to it some way that are believed to have originated as viruses.

It’s almost scary that the parallel to computer code is so apt.  Punctuation in the wrong place, a stutter, a copy-and-paste in the wrong place, and the person is crippled to some degree.   The links don’t work anymore.  There’s an “upstream/downstream” which means that there are triggers, just as there are in software.  if you miss passing the trigger, the performance of the code changes.  

These are quite apart from mutations, which means actual genes added, changed or subtracted, which are far more permanent changes than epigenetic tags.  Red hair, blue eyes, and so on are gene mutations.  No one knows whether it might be possible to turn the gene for alcoholism off or maybe even turn PART of it off, in case the rest of that gene (which can be very long and full of code) is some kind of genius we don’t want to lose.  There is a notion of which gene it is that causes addiction to opiates, but no real plan for how to turn it off.  The same for amphetamines.

A new generation that thinks about human behavior problems in code instead of the persisting parent generations that have hung onto behavior-modification through reward and punishment might change our whole society.  We hope.  But maybe it would be worse.  What if genes could be methylated or not at will, maybe by plugging the whole genome into a computer system programmed to “heal” what is missing or what is overactive?  Who would decide what to put in or take out?  And then there is the constant problem presented by who gets access to such a treatment -- the rich, probably, and more likely in the developed world, which creates a moral problem.  Often risky strategies for fighting disease are tried out on people who have arrived at their last resort, which makes results hard to interpret, or on people no one cares about, like prison inmates -- which is a whole different moral problem.

The book constantly brings up the difficulties presented by things like Big Pharma and the problem of how to get meds into people (pills, IV, implant, maybe technically across the brain barrier, or through steady dedication to protocol).  We struggle on, “methylating” with alcohol or pot, rebooting with a nap or a long walk, maybe even reprogramming.  But increasingly we realize how complex this is, how woven together we are, how much everything changes all the time.  How much the culture “methylates” us.  This account of mine is indubitably at least partly wrong and certainly only a start of my understanding.  But this limitation is also true -- on quite a different scale -- in terms of the major scientists working on this stuff.  This book was published at the beginning of 2013.  It’s probably already out of date.  But the vocabulary is useful.

Monday, April 29, 2013


Oppositional defiance disorder” gets more hits than anything else I write about, even religion or sex.  We clearly need more thinking about it.  This time I’m starting from the idea that defiance is not a “disorder” but rather an addiction.  It is at its core an arousal addiction, which means the substance doesn’t come from street drugs nor from prescribed pharmaceuticals, but rather from the person’s own body’s ability to create drugs.  Some of these are:

dopamine (pleasure)
adrenaline (anxiety, energy) 
oxytocin (love, jealousy, maternity) 
serotonin (mood stability)
endorphins (mild euphoria)

They can be triggered by thoughts, by events, by personal interactions, by art, by music and by risk.  They can also be triggered by violence, sex, thoughts of suicide, pain, cruelty, and urban roof-top parcours.   And defiance, which is courting danger.  I know the feeling.  The more powerful the person or force one is defying, the greater the high.  Remember when kids were daring each other to lie down on the yellow line on a busy street?  You know how many play chicken on the railroad?  Gambling, of course, is notoriously addictive.  Oh, the risk!  The rush!

Defiance is an addiction.  (The “oppositional” adjective is not needed.)  On the series “Homeland” the main spies, Carrie and Saul, both express addiction.  Carrie says she used to play chicken on the railroad and always won.  Neither will follow orders.  Neither will ever give up.

The basic process seems to be arousal, defined as heightened internal chemical states, which we generally interpret as emotions, that somehow crave repetition -- more, more, more.  I do not understand “cold blooded” emotionless risk, unless it is entirely driven by rational drive towards some advantage: money, status, control.  This discussion won’t touch that context.

The “problem” is that “this ‘addictive’ response is the underlying biological component that drives the dysfunctional behavior patterns of compulsive gamblers, shopaholics, sex addicts, and others who seek intensity as a means of self-soothing distraction.”  Like combat soldiers, surgeons, ballet dancers, artists, mountain climbers, etc.   That is, I’m saying that addiction in the sense of focused and constant preoccupation with a practice is what creates skill and mastery and is not a problem.  A person with a gambling addiction could become a helluva poker player and who would object?  It’s the dysfunctional behavior that either interferes with relationships or is illegal that creates the problem.  It may be that as we all live closer and closer together with more and more legal and regulation requirements, we are simply moving more behavior into the category of “dysfunctional.”

But if a person wants to change or is forced into counseling by the law, social workers and counselors likely use several strategies.  One is to form a group of peers who can support each other and discuss how to reach better control and why.  Another is to write out “boundary” contracts, voluntary agreement not to do whatever it is after negotiating with the counselor: basically operating off the morality of the counselor.  Maybe the least appealing treatment is prescribing drugs to counteract the “kick” from defiance.  The job of the social worker is to get compliance, to establish control, to be the one who knows.

“Oppositional Defiance Anonymous” programs do not exist as far as I know.  Defiance might be a conditioned reflex, might be self-protective, might be the product of fear, or might give the same chemical surges as other forbidden behavior.  The person who is defiant may not be doing it consciously at all.  Can one be addicted to defiance?  Why not?  But a written boundary contract as a remediation could not work because it would only present another opportunity to be defiant! 

There’s an old joke about a lecturer giving a talk at a women’s college.  He looked out and saw that some of the women were knitting.  He didn’t like that and quipped that knitting was a displacement of masturbation.  A woman looked up from her yarn and needles to say, “When I knit, I knit.  When I masturbate, I masturbate.”  In other words, she was not unconscious and knew the reasons for what she did.  In this case perhaps not wasting time while waiting for the lecturer to say something useful.  She was not susceptible to being shamed and knew what was appropriate, which the lecturer did not.  So which one was defiant?  Which one got the emotional surge?   

Can masturbation be displaced to knitting?  Can addictions be displaced?  To what would defiance be displaced?  Can a therapist join a client in a larger defiance, say against society’s misunderstanding?  What if the defiance were justified either in relationships where someone stood up against abuse -- the child refusing parental rape, the wife refusing to tolerate neglect, the colony refusing to accept imperial domination, the Chinese man standing in front of the invading tank?

Isn’t terrorism an oppositional defiance?

The most obvious first consideration when dealing with a defiant individual has got to address the reason for the defiance.  Otherwise we are only blaming the victim.  The point of the man who has turned informant in “Homeland” is that he sees good reasons to oppose his own country, like the use of bombs on schoolchildren.  The story turns the focus from his inner life -- which has been manipulated -- to larger patterns, in search of solidarity from the audience.  (Plot lines are always manipulations of the audience to generate emotional surges in them.)  

Justified defiance, allying with others in sympathy and solidarity, is an engine of historical evolution, like rebellion against empires.  Unjustified defiance with no outlet, no goal, no community, verges on evil, is certainly corrosive, and will probably cause the destruction of the defiant one.  Maybe a lot of people.

Must addictions escalate?  If the basic process is arousal, then it may find expression in  
intense fantasy, including conspiracy theories
urges, like rape or violence 
rituals, maybe shaped by religion like burning crosses 
and other behaviors 
as means of dissociating from or otherwise coping with internal and external life stressors, emotional pain, and uncomfortable feelings.  The nature of the behaviors defines the level of criminality and destruction. 

I’m reacting in part to a blog:  http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2012/11/neurochemistry-escalation-and-the-process-addictions/  I don’t agree with everything Weiss says.  The issue I was looking for was escalation Is it inevitable?  Clearly it is common.  Often it is stopped only by repentance after doing grievous damage to someone valued.  One clear escalation would be moving from the internally triggered emotional substances to street drugs.  There is also a phenomenon of expansion and elaboration:  planning, anticipating, considering strategy, preparing materials, teasing and afterwards boasting, hinting.  Weiss calls this -- he says as the addicted do -- “being in the bubble.”  Clearly Tamerlane the Terrorist was “in the bubble” for quite a while.

Shame and guilt are also powerful generators of internal chemicals.  The problem is the same as that for trying to control someone defiant -- the attempt to cure through these emotions simply feeds the addiction.    Can appeal to reason make a difference?   Or can one begin to supply a new set of prompts to the defiant one, evoking a different set of chemicals?  The feelings of safety, being loved, being successful, accomplishing goals set by oneself, achieving “flow” -- all these things can be provided instead of punishment, confinement, stigmatizing, criminalizing.  When the person learns to find them for himself, there can be rejoicing, a classic high.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


One of my earliest sci-fi moments was putting a question to the pretentious stuffed-shirt of a Presbyterian minister who was trying to browbeat my little 8th grade group (all girls) into being good church members.  I asked -- and I was quite serious about the question and quite blind to what the effect would be on the minister --  “Did Jesus die for whatever humanoids live on other planets and, if He did, was it necessary for Him to be crucified and if those humanoids had four arms, would those people wear asterisks on chains instead of crosses?”

Well . . . he never liked me even before I asked my question.  But it was clear that sci-fi and religion had a mixed and rather emotional relationship.  I have an anthology that was published in 1982, the year I left seminary to start ministry.  It’s just a little paperback called “Perpetual Light” that was edited by Alan Ryan, but the collection uses either traditional religious stories or concepts as springboards for sci-fi that’s not on the hard science end of a long continuum.  There’s a pretty blonde feathered angel on the cover.  The VERY first sci-fi I read was my father’s H.G. Wells’ short stories, often a tougher sort of speculation.  The first complete novel was “The Red Planet Mars.”  Robert Heinlein remained important for me and I’m sure he was for George Lucas as well, but I suspect that Lucas never made the connection I did between “The Martian Chronicles” and the Blackfeet nation.  My Blackfeet friend says “A Stranger in a Strange Land” is the story of his life.

Two short stories have remained with me for more than fifty years, though I don’t know who wrote them.  Both were based on classic Greek mythology-religion.  In one story a space sailor went to a planetary brothel where the female intimacy-provider was wearing a big turban.  Settled in a small private room, she unwound her turban, revealing not snakes but worms and not ordinary worms.  They were electric, slithery with the gel used for a sonograms.  They were long and there were a LOT of them.  The sailor was enveloped in ecstasy beyond anything he had ever known.  Finally emptied, the sailor was absorbed by the tentacles into the Medusa.

The other story was about a beloved woman, a dancer, whose body died.  Scientists kept her brain alive and gave her a new body made of golden bangles, cleverly shaped  in rings which fitted together in sequence and reproduced the woman’s shape.  They were held together by magnetic forces.  Eurydice could dance more beautifully than ever before, glinting as she moved.  I forget what equivalent to “looking back” this futuristic Orpheus couldn’t resist, but somehow her brain, her identity source, died.  Maybe the music stopped.  The golden rings showered to the floor, scattered and chiming.

The best science fiction mixes “hard science” with human truths, like the series of stories about the children who survived an alien spaceship crash.  They appeared to be human, but could fly and read minds.  Far from being recognized as “above average,” they were resented -- maybe the way science nerds are in high school -- and had to work out strategies for sticking together.  Prejudice is not always against the stupid or ugly.  Sometimes a person can be too good.  

Or there is another beloved scifi story that comes from the Old Testament fantasies about what an angel might be like.  An old lady is washing the dishes and glancing at her backyard through the window over the sink.  With no warning, straight down out of the sky, an angel crashes, the traditional bare young man with wings.  She rushes out to help him, carrying a mug of warm milk she had made for herself.  Impulsively, she holds up his head and gets him to sip it.  This brings the life back into the angel and he is soon well enough to fly off.  Then she realizes that touching him had brought a kind of radioactive force into her that has healed her rheumatism.

The metaphors go back and forth: sometimes the idea is the mythical Ouroboros, the snake with its tail in its mouth, and sometimes it’s the benzene ring.  There are levels:  science hardware builds the computer, software science writes the programs and algorithms, and the human wetware yearns to go beyond -- tries to capture the unknown, even the unsuspected, maybe by writing stories.  The hard science is intriguing: I recall an essay describing the metabolism of green blood, copper-based, that worked on methane instead of oxygen.  I can’t remember the particulars, just that it was so detailed and possible.  But then the implications:  could a red-blooded human love a green-blooded alien?

The answer to the asterisk vs. cross question is that sentient beings draw meaning from their material culture according to their perceptual means and the issues that concern them.  Crucifixion was specific to the Romans, a penalty imposed on hundreds of people so that the early Christians understood that Jesus was given a common death, to diminish Him, since He dared to rouse the rabble.  On this planet the matrix of vertebrate evolution has been tetrapods -- though the “pods” might be fins or wings -- therefore, a cross.  On another planet there might indeed be people with four arms, but they might not have necks, so nothing to hang jewelry from.  Maybe no impulse to self-adorn anyway.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_religious_ideas_in_science_fiction  is an interesting summary revealing that either all sci-fi or the maker of the list is focused on ideas from a Judeo-Christian context, though they may be reinterpreted.  Not Islamic or Buddhist stories. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Religion_in_science_fiction makes a list of stories that include religions.  So far most of the writing I know about is either trying to explain miracles scientifically or depicting an invented institutional religious system.  Few, if any, writers have enough theological or comparative religion background to get below descriptions of material culture or moral systems, but that’s not always a problem.  I remember one tale about a planet that was mostly sea so that the sentient beings that had developed were like our earthly seals except that they were all empathic.  Every individual had full awareness of what was in the mind of every other individual, no matter how distant on the the planet they might be.  As it turns out, there was a pretty dark side to what would seem like a major advantage -- and this was written before the Internet was invented.  Now we’re living out that story.

A new scientific realm is barely opening now: neurofunction in the brain and body.  It has become clear that a lot of what we know is in the muscles and gut, and in the subconscious parts of the mind, but possibly traced and understood through acute technological monitoring.  First came the explanation of how we are conscious, then how we feel we are a “self,” and then an awareness of how much thought is “under” words -- far more than Freud ever suspected.  A human being appears to be a process, like a fire, running on oxygen, never the same from one minute to the next, but unwilling to see things in a new way because it does not know how.  Our work is cut out for us.

Saturday, April 27, 2013


The Far Pavilions” is a strange movie to watch right now.  It was a book published in 1978 (the year I started seminary) about events almost a hundred years earlier on the northern border of India, at the same time James Willard Schultz came to Montana and fell in love with a Native American woman.  In the 1870’s -- while Americans were populating the prairie --  the British were fighting in Afghanistan to maintain the Empire.  The fighting was cavalry and cannons, nothing like our present weird mix of predator drones and isolated outposts as portrayed in “Restrepo. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DjqR6OucBc

The latter, taking place roughly in the same high mountains, was a recent documentary, showing a small outpost of men high up in the mountains where  people live on the edge of existence.  The two dimensions that have remained through time are the difficulty of communicating across what is not just a language but a world view and the mystery of why soldiers were up there "conquering" villagers anyway.  “The Far Pavilions” are an imaginary place in the high mountains of Afghanistan.  The idea of the movie’s conclusion is that living there would be a kind of Shangri-La where lovers from different contexts could live happily.  The reality shown in “Restrepo” is no such thing. 

Around the world we’re still wrestling with the problem of people marrying across social barriers, except that now they’re often gender-based.  “The Far Pavilions” has a gay tone sort of threading around subliminally, but when one princess declares a love for the other princess so deep that she will stay and die for her “sister” rather than leave with her lover (how could anyone leave Ben Cross?), we are clearly meant to understand that is a good, beautiful and pure thing.  It's just a sahib marrying a half-caste that is forbidden.  Rumer Godden loved the book.  (Godden’s book “The River” and its movie incarnation directed by Jean Renoir are heart-key scriptures for me.)  "The Far Pavilions" was meant to be in the style of “The Jewel in the Crown,” and indeed both films were successful.  Mollie M. Kaye was a petite blonde married to a General who spoke Pashtun.  She knew what she was writing about.  www.mmkaye.com

These movies about the Empire in India (and the same in Africa) are as archetypal as “Star Wars.”  Long rueful films proceeding at a stately pace, savoring the pomp and ceremony without any interpretation -- they offer no alternatives to Empire even as they hint at coming disaster.   "The Far Pavilions" is really a boy’s movie with beautifully painted elephants, balky camels, and those strange narrow long-legged horses with curly ears.  There’s a sassy prince in most of the story and lots of boys roaming around in the background.  The love story is passionate enough, but the real story is the camaraderie among men.  Honor!  It is the highest goal to die in defense of what you believe!  Old-fashioned.  Though Restrepo, the soldier for whom the documentary was named, presumably died for honor, too.

The Far Pavilions” I watched by streaming on Netflix, but parallel I’m watching “Homeland” on discs.  It’s a woman’s movie: spying, figuring, maneuvering, never able to leave well-enough alone and always confronted by men out for themselves: dishonest, tricky, trying to take control, be the alpha dog.  It’s not about war but the aftermath of war in Iraq and all the tangled loyalties.  Contemporary.  Sleeping with the enemy.  Neither main character is quite sane.  Being half-breeds would be a mild problem compared to the split identities of these two, one bipolar and the other an Irish redhead.  The glamour of the military is now plainly only an illusion.  

Recently I've also watched “Crossing Over” (2009), an Indie film weaving several stories together, all of them about people trying to become naturalized citizens of the United States.   This border is the northern edge of Mexico.   Now the “military” are internal police, the immigration service trying to keep them out.  The idealization of patriotism and willingness to die is in the ordinary little people now. A sort of confusion of prosperity with personal salvation drives these stories.  

Harrison Ford (AKA Han Solo) has the umbrella story which is the simplest: a woman who walks up from Mexico with her young son, but is deported.  The other vignettes are ripped from the headlines: an idealistic Bangladeshi girl who defends freedom of speech a little too intensely, a wannabe movie actress from Australia who becomes a victim of her sexy appearance, a young Korean who gets pulled into a gang, a young British man who pretends to be Jewish and is helped by a wise rabbi.  These are LA-based stories so naturally the Village Voice hated them, sneering at the “lurid” stories while using obscene language to show how hip New Yorkers are.  (Someone ought to do a movie about the bicoastal cultures hating each other.)  “Crossing Over” is written, directed and produced by Wayne Kramer who is from South Africa where they know a thing or two about empires.  

The movie wasn’t the right kind of cynical for the politically correct and the critics, even those lesser than the Manhattan caliphs, hated the film.  I don’t think their dislike was based on cynicism about the naturalizing ceremony in which a lady judge gives a very a nice sermon.  I doubt that any critic knew these kinds of lives in real life.  It was released in the shadow of 9/11 and I was watching it in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing.  That has made a difference.

Maybe the difference is recognizing that the Empire, ANY Empire, triggers desperate behaviors both by holding their citizenship up as though it were access to Shangri-La and yet at the same time enforcing borders with bureaucracy and military-style raids.  It is a fabulous Eden!  But you can’t come!  Such a situation is a magnet for crime, corruption, and a million tiny tragedies that add up eventually to hatred of the nation, coming both from outside and from inside.  We know examples of this system clear back to the 12th century.  Like the Crusades it’s a system based on us-against-them and wanting to take possession of them.  So maybe the bottom line is what is addressed in “Homeland,” the psychotic confusion between the two categories (us v. them) and the desperate need for a new way of looking at nations and religions, entitlements and means that overwhelm the ends.  We have internalized so many “third world ghettos” that national boundaries to keep undesirables out seem redundant.  They are already in our prisons.

We know about “Star Wars,” the Empire striking back, but we need to think more about “Star Trek” and it’s basic principles of respect for other cultures.  I haven’t seen the newer versions of "Star Trek", but I think I should.  In fact, I’m finding a need to revisit the whole oeuvre of science fiction.  The past seems to offer more negative solutions than new ideas, so maybe visiting the future will work a little better.   I’m eager to see Ben Cross as Mr. Spock’s father. 

 This insight is from Carl Pettit.  http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/the-good-life-conspiracy-man/  It’s only under the cover of a seemingly inexhaustible supply of astute, crazy and almost always contradictory conspiracy theories that the actions and misdeeds of the less-than-benevolent among us can be hidden in plain sight.”  

Often we figure the conspiracy is fomented by the government itself.  Pettit suggests “Which makes me wonder how the same group of folks who’ve botched disaster relief, entire economies, military occupations and the day to day governance and protection of common citizens (guns laws, health care, immigration) could carry out conspiracy after successful conspiracy throughout the annals of history.”  Today we expect Obama to be Mr. Spock.  He tries, baby, he sure tries.  

(I’m picking up Pettit at http://goodmenproject.com/ where you can read about men who are heroes or NOT, in their own words.)

Friday, April 26, 2013


Religion etherized upon the table.  I’m finding parts and putting them in Pyrex containers, but expect to relabel them.  This is equivalent to those crime scene walls where they pin up photos of the victims, criminals and suspects, drawing lines and arrows with comments.

The earliest evidence (gotta have evidence) of ceremonial actions connected to something resembling our modern sensibility is the strewing of flowers in Neanderthal graves.  Elephants are also known to cover the bodies of dead comrades with boughs, which suggests that such ceremonial actions are deep in our mammalian ability to react to grief with patterned and symbolic actions. 

Artistic expression
Nearly as old are the cave paintings, which have persisted a very long time in their hidden locations, but I suspect that the first painting was on the human body and it persists today as tattoos.  In fact, we seem to be in a renaissance of bodily ornamentation and alteration.  We do find jewelry in graves and commonly there is red ochre paint almost everywhere.  Maybe because it suggests blood.

It was a great revelation to me in seminary when Don Browning explained the various ways people derive and maintain their ideas of right and wrong.  The list includes rules (the Ten Commandments), principles (the Golden Rule), obedience to authority, according to origin, according to goal, imitation of a great example, reasoned greatest good for the greatest number.  Often morality means clinging to the status quo (from Is to Ought) but it can also mean the defiance of society in the name of justice or love.  Or direct clashes between two groups with opposite standards.

Theory of existence
Trying to figure out where we came from has undergone a massive a change.  Little clay dolls brought to life (man made first and woman made from his rib), dropping down from outer space, rising up from a world within the planet, scrambling out of a clam shell -- survivors, intruders, or evolved animals?  Now we’ve gone even beyond “monkey” evolution to see that we are code: each body a colony of coded cells interacting.  The nature of a human being is not a set-in-stone identity, but a kind of dance of molecules connected to everything else but holding identity long enough to intend, to act, to be dissipated.  Hard to grasp -- not yet registering in “theology.”

Belonging.  Self-presentation.  Confidence and self-esteem.  Motivation.  Self-control.  Maintenance of the body in a healthy state.  Or self-hatred, self-destruction, fleeing.  Or possibly, again, caught between two groups.

Guide for human arrangements, a framework for practical daily living 
How do we take shelter?  Who prepares the food and cleans the abode?  Where do we sleep and with whom?  Must we come home at night?  Do we sleep the day away?  Should we take the seventh day off?  Must everyone know where you are?  What are the uses and rights of children?  How should we dress?  Should there be prayers at the doorway, beside the bed at night, at a household altar?  What possessions can be kept private?  What about bathing?   

The struggle to keep order.   Who is the boss of whom?  Which authority takes priority, church or state?  Within the church how to keep order.  Descent from the founder, authorization by a founder, authorization from a supernatural source, written authority, democratic process, internal inspiration, crowd-sourcing?

The source of sustenance, kinds of work.  Attitude towards the very rich and the very poor.  How much is enough.  At the heart of profit is inequality: people want what someone else has.  But what about those who cannot pay?  At what level does the society as a whole become responsible for those who suffer?  What are the limits of luxury, the evils of investment and credit as a source of profit rather than direct action, the dynamics of what is craved but destructive.  When is it justified to buy and sell people themselves or parts of them or to assign values as insurance companies do?

Physical ecology 
This is in part the source of the above: what natural resources, what social interactions, what inventions and elaborations will add up to a living?  If there is coal, there will be coal miners -- but will those miners go underground with picks or will they drive humonguous trucks in a giant pit?  How does the individual then interface with social bodies?  What is the role of organizations in mediating between profiting corporation and individuals damaged in the course of exploitation?  What is the proper protection for the earth itself?  How much can we remove and destroy before we hit limits?  Are we stewards or is this all put here for our use?

When is violence, force, embargo, poisoning, and other forms of defense justified?  What does war do to those who fight and what does the whole owe the subgroup that fights?  How do people believe that war is justified when all that is at stake is ideas or identity?  What is the difference between war by remote control and war fought in one’s own collapsed house next to the bodies of one’s family?

Material culture, science, and metaphor
Humans can only access what is outside themselves through their sensory apparatus which is far more subtle and yet more limited than five senses.  We know now that brain is “built” by its experience -- in terms of the actual cells, their interactions, sub-organs, and memories.  The potter who makes clay into containers is not different from technicians who design electronics except in terms of their experiences.  The science of art, the art of science, are interwoven.  What gives it sacredness is its meaning to the maker and to the user.  A burning candle or a time-lapse photo of star birth in deep space both have meaning -- but not to the same people.

Goals some consider “religious”
Participation in life itself
Privileged status
Contributing to one’s human community 
Reaching an internal sense of the Holy  
Coming to terms with death  
Sex in service to intimacy and devotion

Obviously this is only a beginning and when one gets really “into” it, “religion” that is not owned by an organization or by historical continuity or by written material or by traditional story, dissolves into human life in all its aspects.  It has become conventional to speak of religion stripped of its organizational husk as “spirituality.”  But that is uncomfortably close to the idea that “religion” is a matter of something supernatural, that the impossibility of really capturing and controlling the Holy Spirit comes from its superiority, immateriality, and entirely Other and Greater power.   It is alien.

This point of view misleads individuals into trying to capture some of that “magic” for their own uses.  Our recent helplessness as the world tries to integrate -- a task that took Europe thirty years to approximate -- and the recurring sporadic eruptions into violence, has made Superheroes more appealing than they’ve been since WWII.  The struggle to understand how economic forces really work and how to keep them from shifting so suddenly and radically that thousands of people are suddenly impoverished and homeless has made us search for magic formulas, whether they come from scientific think tanks or from obsession with ideologies.

In the background lingers the growing understanding that we are destroying our only planet and thus will disappear ourselves.  Sacred meaning has to be defined as that which will make us confident in finding better ways to live.  This not a matter of organizing something.  It must be a shift in how to be human.  There’s not time to grow a new organ, but there is time to change the code and the way the human brain sorts and enforces it.  “Religion” is too narrow a concept.  The whole planetary culture must let what is Sacred well up from within.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


I’m working on an essay for a science fiction magazine about how scifi relates to religion.  I’m writing it in chunks, which is a natural way for me to consider a series of issues, and with Dzhokhar and Tamerlane still on my mind, claiming the destruction they caused was in the name of some proud mountain tribe’s religion (Islam rejects them), it seems timely to focus on young men, usually the major sci-fi fans.   (I’ve got 74 hits on that D & T post by now.  Usually I get about thirty.)


First of all, religion itself is a composite of several categories: ritual and artistic expression, morality, theory of existence, guide for human arrangements -- mostly fitted to the physical ecology through material culture, economics, science, hierarchy and war.  Different cultures organize these categories in different ways.

There has always been science of a kind (an accumulation of information about how things work) from the very beginning, as in hunting.  Only ten thousand years ago humans moved to agriculture and settlements, which allowed the development of math, writing, and an accumulation and sharing of knowledge by specialized persons.  “Religion” was quick to claim all that, including dedicated property.  In the specialization of roles, they relied heavily on mysteries and secrets, but in the best of situations they provided a framework for practical daily living plus an “ultimate” goal, such as achieving immortality, participating in life itself, attaining privileged status, contributing to their human community, or reaching an internal sense of the Holy.  Often there was special attention to death.  Or sex and birth.

All of this was built on a mammalian substrate of physical function, including the brain and its management of the body.  Evolution, defined as persistence through survival of individuals and groups, has only recently reached the point of being able to observe its own operations on a molecular level.  New technology has taught us how much beyond our senses there is a cosmos and how unconsciously our bodies proceed without us.  But also it has taught us how our senses deliver information to our brains and how it is processed, censored, elaborated, and resolved into identity which is shared and embedded in human relationships.  Bits of the brain, evolved before there was such a thing as a human being, still control our actions regardless of our beliefs.

Exploring these interrelationships and speculating with vivid illustrations what would happen, if there were changes in the actual body or in the culture-sphere that includes “religion”, is the work of science fiction, launching the imagination instead of magic.


If the land in question is desert where the skies are wide and crammed with stars, the religion will focus on that, as well as the practices that are necessary for desert survival.  The metaphors of the texts, the management of birth and death, the over all moral “style” will be those necessary for survival in the severe desert.  That means chieftains, polygamy, abstinence, control, and rivalries among tribes.  In a coastal warm-climate place where there is plenty of food, there are likely to be elaborate arts and religious mechanisms for distributing plenty or even destroying some of it, as in the Pacific Northwest ceremonies of breaking and throwing away “coppers,” sheets of embossed metal, sometimes of great beauty.  Order will be kept by family circles, who share.


For a religion to form protocols in one ecology and then move to another, is problematic.  Those that are more detached from the land and dependent on human relationships are more likely to make better transitions -- as the Christians who depend on the father-mother-son nucleus -- but even they are now being challenged by the social deconstruction of families caused by economic shortfalls: so many men out of work.  It has been suggested that the new patriarch is simply the government -- issuing the checks and making the rules, even providing the habitation -- so that the essential family is only mother and children with no place for a father.  Insemination is random, childbirth is unclaimed, and yet the inseminator can be identified even if he was introduced via a turkey baster or through violent rape -- without anyone being able to explain what that means in terms of the male role.  

Males without families are often males without any religious patterns in their lives, vulnerable to substance abuse, crime, and depression.  Young males -- no longer children but not yet adults -- are in limbo, accumulating incredible amounts of information without enough sorting mechanisms.  In their drive to find an anchor point they might attach to young women, to their own mothers, to powerful men, to religious leaders, to military contexts, to gangs, and to exo-cultures.  The most interesting ones are the more daring ones, signaling their status on the boundary by exotic ornamentation and secret signals.  Sometimes flirtation with death.  Interesting is not the same as safe.


It’s tough for theists to get their head around the Death of God.  They’ll talk about how they’re atheists, but then they start talking about God again in some roundabout way.  Pretty soon you realize they’re talking about their father and then pretty soon it becomes clear that they’re talking about all the male authority figures in their lives and how they have failed -- deserted them, attacked them, turned out to be weak fools.  They talk about how some big strong man should take hold of the situation and make everything good again.  They’re wrong.

The real problem is not the death of God, who in the end is only a minor character in a very long and complex story in which his Son finally outshines him.  The real problem is the death of religion itself, because religion is a made-up category, the general term for an assortment of forces in human life  See above:  Ritual and artistic expression, morality, theory of existence, guide for human arrangements  -- mostly fitted to the physical ecology through material culture, economics, science, hierarchy and war.   They’re related, but they’re not the same.  Somehow we’ve been lumping all these things together and calling them religion and then assigning them to organizations (corporations) that we call religious because they integrate the forces into dogma.

But we are in a time of radical paradigm shift -- we are deeply questioning what life is about and it’s hard to tell who the “good” people might be.  It is religion itself that has died.  This is called “nihilism.”  It’s a good thing if you can stand it.  Some of us remember blackboards and how even a felted eraser left a gray cloud of dust.  To get that board really black again took a wet cloth -- rain, tears, saturation.  Then you can find the chalk and start over again.  Don’t push hard or the chalk will snap -- it’s only a frail little metaphor.  Not justification for a bomb.

Old-fashioned?  Okay, look at this:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8TssbmY-GM  This is real Science.  Wringing out a washcloth in space -- what will happen?  So what does THIS metaphor mean?  I think it means that even something as natural and ever-present as water behaves entirely differently when the paradigm shifts.  If the religions we know developed out of all the different places on the surface of the planet, what is the religion for space, the planet seen whole?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


I haven’t heard how the big Brothel Tour in Great Falls went this past weekend.  It was sponsored by the Downtown Chicks (businesswomen) who rented the GF Historic Trolley for the tour after the group gathered at a no-host bar.  According to the GF Tribune, Michelle Chenoweth (don’t know whether she’s related to the Idaho Hen -- er, Chick) said, “We’ve done lots of research in the last several months.  It’s an amazing amount of unheard stories that people are going to be thrilled to hear.”  Chenoweth estimated that at its peak, Great Falls was home to between 40 to 50 brothels, although she said it’s hard to pin down an exact number.

“We really encompass this historically and also bring it up into the modern day,” she said, “(But) we want people to understand that we don’t condone in any way what has taken place.  it happens and it’s a neat history that needs to be told, and that’s why we’re doing it.”  Tickets are $25 and there is a waiting list for the next tour.

Right.  What can she say when the fairly recent former mayor owned a “Really Windy” bar with a “private room” in back.  But it was outside the city limits, so not on the tour.  He and Ms. Chenoweth will be disappointed to realize that the federal government will not give grants to anyone who supports prostitution in any way.  Not Planned Parenthood or any programs to help people with HIV-AIDS or all that other stuff.  The churches can do it, if they want to, and the government will give THEM money, but -- I assume -- only if they aren’t of a faith system that includes temple whores.  

I was in Fort Benton when their historian patriarch mentioned he was writing a book about the last whorehouse in that town.  “How do you know?” I asked innocently.

He was startled.  “What do you mean?

“How do you know that was the last one?  How do you know there’s not someone doing business now?”  The women present all laughed and agreed.  Finally, I took mercy.  “Oh, it’s probably not a red plush love nest now -- more likely a phone number on a business card.”  He still looked confused.  To him prostitutes were Miss Kitty who never so much as kissed Marshall Dillon.  (Amanda Blake, the actress who played Miss Kitty, died of AIDS contracted from her openly bisexual husband.)  “Soiled doves” were a phenomenon of history like stagecoaches.  Not the Asian massage parlors on today’s Tenth Avenue.

I’ve never asked around Valier about prostitution.  I wouldn’t know how to define sexworkers in a small town.  There are girls who “put out,” and couples that kind of trade around, but nothing very formal, I guess.  Once someone thought it would be a good joke to put my house on Google as a “whore house.”  No one was stupid enough to come knock on the door but if they had they would have found a very limited selection and a bad-tempered one at that.

But seriously, the US government is saying that no NGO dispensing funds for HIV-AIDS is allowed to use money to help prostitutes.  This is like saying you can go swimming so long as you don’t go near the water. Who do they mean?  I presume they mean people who allow intimate access to their bodies in exchange for profit, not necessarily profit for the person with the body.

Do they mean the little undocumented boys of color who will either clean your windshield or (ahem) an alternative for $5?   Do they mean Polish teenaged girls kidnapped and trafficked or do they mean the ones from a Minneapolis mall pimped after running away?  Have they considered guys for hire?  Do they include “walkers,” the suits who “make nice” for old ladies with small dogs and diamonds?  What is sex work and what is sex play and what is not sex at all anyway?

In 1961 in Great Falls I was attending my first Montana Education Association meeting.  I couldn’t afford the Rainbow Hotel, which was the high end in the those days, but at day’s end after all the meetings, as I passed the “Silk and Saddle,” which was the lounge of the hotel, a man stepped out of the shadows and peed on my feet.  Indignant but not afraid, I told him off and marched squishily on my way to my cheaper hotel.  The shoes were tennie runners and went into the washing machine.  It never occurred to me to report the incident.  It was NOT sex work.  It was perversion, but I didn’t even figure that out until years later. 

Twenty years ago a tribal person told me that a prize-winning author (now dead) who had stayed with the family fifty years ago while writing a book about her ancient grandfather had molested the children of the household.  That was NOT sex work.  It was not literal pedo-philia in the sense of loving children.  It was sexualized abuse of the vulnerable.  Including the very old chief.

Occasionally one runs across women who are living with men they don’t love, cooking and cleaning for them and sleeping with them though they don’t enjoy it, because they don’t think they have any other way of earning a living.  It’s an ancient situation but not necessarily illegal.  Is it sex work?  Does it depend on whether or not they are “married”?  What about Clinton’s intern who wasn’t doing him for money but surely expected rewards?  What about Prince Charles’ two women: one for heirs and one for comfort -- which one was doing sex work?  Is it all right if one is important enough?

What is the difference between sex work that is paid for as a frank transaction of two people and sex work that is enforced by a third party?  Is sex work inside marriage or some other legal arrangement (harems) different from free lance?  Then what about Thomas Jefferson’s two families:  one legal because of Christian marriage and the other one legal because of American law (slavery).

Or does it all hinge on male dynamics: something men pay for so they won’t owe anything except money and presumably won’t get emotionally involved, because to them sex must be separated from falling in love.  For a lot of women it’s the romance that’s the compensation and what divides sex work from freely given intimacy.  What an American idea.  In Africa the custom had evolved of little circles of voluntary sexual relationships that included both men and women, married or not, children or not, all of them necessarily sharing the same HIV virus.  No money was exchanged.  Was this sex work?  

We are totally confused about all this, particularly in terms of the larger social context and the obligation of the government to guide and protect citizens.  We want prostitutes to be punished by just letting them die, but some are thriving better than the norm.  We want prostitutes to be “other” and exotic, or maybe distanced by the past, but we want them to be accessible on demand and not powerful.  Most of all, we want everything to be their fault, even as we beg them to tell about their customers.  We very rarely prosecute the customers.

The Downtown Chicks would not like to be mistaken for Downtown Chippies, but they like to dress up like dance hall girls.  They know Charlie Russell loved to hang out in brothels, but they skip over the part where he and Nancy were sterilized by VD infections and loyally claim he was only a friend to his ladies.  Tickets on the Trollop Trolley are $25.  Don’t expect a government subsidy.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


“That to which you are blind, will bite you in the behind.”  That’s the motto I commend to the climate change deniers.  A few people are feeling teeth marks right now.  It’s not JUST climate change but also deniers of the past in many of its aspects.

My two outbuildings, a double-garage that is half-shop and a little “hired man” bunkhouse, were trucked thirty miles to this town lot after the rebuilding of Swift Dam, so they’ve been here about thirty years, the last ten with me in residence.  They were built to be temporary and show it.  I was in Browning when this flood hit and have told the story on other posts.

“Swift Dam (National ID # MT00581) is a dam in Pondera County, Montana, on the southern end of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.

“The original dam at this location was originally constructed around 1910, with a height of 157 feet. This structure gave way on June 10, 1964, after heavy rains caused flooding on Birch Creek. The dam collapsed and sent a 30-foot wall of water down the creekbed. The nearby dam at Lower Two Medicine Lake also failed, and at least 28 people were killed.

"The current concrete-arch structure was completed in 1967, with a height of 205 feet, and a length at its crest of 573 feet. The reservoir is also contained by a secondary earthen dike (National ID # MT00580) with a height of 53 feet and a length of 457 feet, also completed in 1967. The dams and reservoir are owned and operated by the local Pondera Canal & Reservoir Company."

This past Sunday the Great Falls Tribune (April 21, 2013) front page story was about this same Company.  ponderacanalcompany.com/  If you go there, you will find the bare outlines of the founding story.  The names are local names (Stokes, Wheeler, Christiaens, Connelly) and so is the name of the family who has brought this system to crisis, Gene and Cheryl Curry.  The originators of the company were the Conrad brothers, young survivors of the Civil War who came to this area to get rich and did, earlier with open range cattle.  I’ve posted about the flood, about the Conrads, and about some of the history of the Town of Valier.  I’ve even posted about the Foley Report, which itemizes the many ways that the US Government was supposed to be developing irrigation on the Blackfeet Reservation but didn’t.  Ivan Doig has written a novel about the building of the dam (“The Whistling Season”) and Sid Gustafson is writing about the actual flood in a novel called “Swift Dam.”  Both men have local roots.

Bob Scriver (my deceased ex) used to say “people will do whatever they can do.”  So the Conrads built Swift Dam without asking permission, didn’t bother with the rights of the Blackfeet, made their money, sold to Cargill and got out.  They are now an international, bi-coastal, sophisticated family -- not because of the money, but because the money let them find elegant and educated wives.  Think “Downton Abbey.”  

A clerk at Curry’s, the only grocery store left in Valier, is a retired ditch rider from the Canal Company.  I asked whether he started his career on horseback, but he’s not THAT old.  He said the real change came with the big “circle” irrigating systems, huge wheeled industrial-scale pumps and sprays that are far beyond a ditch that a guy goes along on a 4-wheel all-terrain vehicle with a shovel and some plastic tarp dams.  But he’s only half-right.  The real change came when enough Blackfeet had gone to college for the tribe to read its treaty rights and to pencil out the profits from circle pump irrigation.  The first reservation irrigation canals had been dug with horse teams and “scrapers” -- sometimes even by married couples with hand shovels trying to get water to their garden patches.  Since then they had slumped, been invaded by brush, and the proper paperwork was lost.  One of my own favorite sayings is “to get something done, first you have to think of it.”  They did.  Suddenly they saw that their half of the water rights in Birch Creek were literally going south.

The Curry family is known as aggressive and political.  Sometimes they just fired up the heavy machinery and took the water they wanted, and other times they went to court.  If the original Conrads had been involved, there might have been a shooting war, but now it just means nasty dynamics among people whose best chance for survival is to get along.  Of course, the lawyers are doing well.

What we’re really talking about is the remnants of the great North American glaciers of ten thousand years ago that built this land, carrying in soil and gravel from far to the north, building up unimaginable amounts of ice in the Rocky Mountains, and then melting so quickly that it dug waterways, including Birch Creek which is the boundary between the Blackfeet Reservation and Pondera County.  That’s the real canal and irrigation system.  Every year the farmers watch the snowpack levels, hoping they will provide enough renewed run-off to fill Lake Francis and water the fields.  Every year, regardless of rainfall or snowfall, the glaciers that have been the backup systems since the Blackfeet were dog people are a little smaller, a little higher, a little thinner.  The huge aquifer under Montana that holds whatever glacier melt sank underground gets a little more depleted every year.

The only way to renew it is to bring back the continental glaciers.  That will probably happen eventually, but there may not be any humans here to witness it.  We are creatures of the earth’s surface and have developed to fit it, but that means that since the crust shrugs and shrinks and splits on a scale far beyond our control, that we occasionally come to grievous harm.  Sometimes its fast, like an earthquake or volcanic eruption, but other time it’s a slow change like this one we’ve brought on ourselves with our emissions and irrigations.

We humans keep trying to find strategies:  we divvy up the territory into districts, we issue shares to companies and describe rights, we delve into history and tell stories about who did what, we try to exclude some of the parties involved -- but always the driving force is control, profit, like a consuming fire generating black-hearted smoke.  People think they can move to Valier and find a calm, safe place to live next to a pretty little lake.  Illusion.  Always the illusions.

I had the idea that my little bunkhouse would be a fun place for company to sleep.  They find it too primitive by half.  I thought I might develop a kind of studio in the big building, but the roof is caving.  Always the plans.  Always the potential.  

Monday, April 22, 2013


I googled this unlikely combination and found a wealth of valuable thinking.  Of course, I’m more a Taoist than I am Christian anyway, unless you mean expertise in Taoist writings.  I just mean I depend on “felt” concepts as much as books/authorities.  The head of the google list (after the paid entry) was  http://thetaobums.com/  where there are ongoing discussions.  Almost everyone posting is male.  Interestingly, one of the most vivid voices is a handsome man from Portugal, a most “macho” country.  I would not have expected a Taoist there. 

In ten minutes of cruising these are the issues relevant to thinking about porn that I found:

separation from other human beings
feeling bad about oneself
bad practices in the industry (victimization of the actors)
cultural pressure to feel badly about it
being out of control of oneself
bad karma
prevents satisfaction of the “real” hunger -- it’s a diversion, a symptom, a means
being controlled by underlying biology (esp. male/female)

The goal of Taoism, as I understand it, is both freedom and harmony.  “We” (Americans) tend to find these two mutually exclusive, to assume that freedom must amount to fighting our way out of confining circumstances, like being born, and that this struggle means foregoing safety because growth comes from risk rather than harmony.

There is nothing I saw in the Taoist discussion about “writing about illegal sexual activity” because the guide is not in written law.  Rather the guide is within the “felt” world of the person and its effect on that person’s behavior.  This is not about police coming to knock on your door and impound all your copies of Playboy or Playgirl.  This is about waking up in the morning feeling “icky” (their word), regretful, and sore.  It’s about being out of control, avoiding reality by settling for illusion.  

If one is happily perusing photos or videos or whatever even though they might shock your neighbors, then there’s just nothing wrong with it.  If one is creating it without damage to oneself or others, then it’s simply another art form.

These Taoist discussers do understand that porn is an aid to wanking.   It IS arousing.  That’s the POINT.   But what’s wrong with being aroused?  It’s the behavior that results that counts.  Maybe a guy is a sperm donor in a small closet, trying to get his wife pregnant in vitro, or maybe he’s a donor for commercial purposes.  In this use porn is more often images than words.  Top of the google list I got (you might not get the same list since it’s controlled by algorithms) was a Chinese company marketing a detector of image porn for the purpose of censoring.  The opium of the masses.  Male, anyway.   First: porn, second: control.

The omissions in this discussion are obvious: women and children.  Pornography, when it is illegal and based on illegal activity, includes the categories of women and children only as objects and victims -- not buyers and users.  Their experiences and opinions are ruled out. There’s porn for women (euphemized as romance) but few write about the eroticism of children, which can be extinguished and distorted by using them for the pleasure of adults, esp. when there is physical control and, inexcusably, pain and fear -- big oppressing little.  

The advantage of pornography as image or writing is that it eliminates the element of disease.  Disease makes the passive person powerful in a covert way.  The spirochetes and viruses that thrive in the sensitive tissues of a human being don’t care about motive or gender or strength or privilege.  All it takes is contact in order have revenge.  STD’s can be passive, undetectable, and a time-bomb.  But they add risk and some who pursue violent or commercial sexual contact find that an advantage, an added element.  The false friend of sexwork is the fatalistic conviction that one’s life is short -- that it doesn’t matter what one does.  Flirting with danger, adrenaline-surfing, is part of the deal. 

Danger is in opposition to porn, which is valuable because it is “safe.”   But a secondary thrill would come from secrecy, the feeling of privileged access.  No “skin in the game” if it’s a quiet exchange of money for paper stimulation, little risk of detection by disapproving significant others, like wives or parents.  No passing on diseases to them.  Displacement to writing, video, photos, the telephone, thus is safer but less stimulating unless -- like any addiction -- there begins to be escalation.  More outrageous, more secret, more strange tales -- like ordinary media stories -- are pursued because they keep the customer present and paying.  Part of that will be customers who try to make the illusion become reality by finding the person portrayed or writing -- even though they might not be living anymore.  Of course, some people might welcome hookups, either commercial or not.

The Tao attitude would be that porn is not essentially morally wrong, but that it can interfere with the reality of being in the world, of recognizing one’s relationship to all other existence.  It can prevent constructive intimacy with other people.  The judging of porn would require personal internal “felt” results within the terms of one’s own life -- not the scrutiny of laws that are written and rewritten to fit a whole category of people, and that require constant rewriting.  “Law & Order SVU” provides a steady stream of case studies in which written laws may or may not provide justice.  It’s harder to find dramatized narrative exploration of Taoist points of view outside of the therapeutic and self-improvement websites.  They tend to become exercises in the supernatural, like mind-readers or angels who intervene.  And then there are the bodice-rippers, hardly realistic.

Taoists have no difficulty understanding that sex is only part of life as a whole, even that humans are only part of this planet as a whole.  This reduces the need for porn, allows people to take delight in many things -- including each other -- without oppressions and exploitations.  The attitudes and structures of the rule-defined, power-based world allow the compartmenting of porn by stigmatizing and criminalizing.  Then it doubles back to justify confinement, punishment, exclusion and and even torture that increases the level of suffering in the world.  It supports rather than interdicting addictions like drugs or alcohol.  It ghettoizes polyamorous, same-sex relationships, and supports strange practices like body surgery, either on genitals or faces, or fetish objects.

Worse than that, so long as we obsess about porn with the idea of suppressing or eliminating it, the economic and political forces that push people into desperate actions in order to survive never get addressed.  That preoccupation is as much of an addiction as the porn itself.  Of course, smart porn purveyors know that if it becomes legal and accepted, the money will go out of it.  One of the uses of religion is to generate the kind of stigma that produces profit.

Interestingly, the generation born since maybe 1990 has already made a cultural shift towards Tao thinking.  There are some people who suggest that Jesus himself was an instinctive Taoist or Zen person whose ideas were captured by the Roman Empire and exploited into an instrument of control.  The impulses of Tao came back into the US through Transcendentalist and later “Aquarian” surges of thought.  They are always there, organic and immanental rather than dependent on “otherworldly” or supernatural sources as captured by institutions.  The Pope must always be on guard against the planet.