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Moral Futures

How will we approach these thorny problems tomorrow?

Racism

I find myself being prejudiced without noticing. I hear people making jokes about Blacks, Latinos, and Jews, and I laugh in spite of myself. It's subtle in New York, and the jokes are often made by a member of the group being mocked. I once heard a drunken man on the train talking loudly about Hasidic Jews sneaking into Manhattan to buy pornography and booze, and I nearly bit my tongue off in amused surprise at his story, then felt awkward about laughing. Certain kinds of prejudice and racism, sorting people into groups, are part of our makeup, but they are clearly not necessary for your own success and happiness, and can actually hinder you, so they should be discarded. One half of the world laughs at the other half, men and women, black and white, the French and everyone else on earth. You look just as stupid to them as they might look to you. The dominant idea seems to be to force these feeling down, but that's ridiculous; it just buries dormant fears and builds walls. So, is there ever an appropriate racism or prejudice? (Paul Ford)

I doubt there's any such thing as "reverse racism." People with power define race and ethnic lines to protecting their power. People without power use these lines to achieve solidarity and focus their anger, in order to gain more power. I think. (Paul Ford)

A good example: I've often heard white people say, "Black people can say 'nigger,' but I can't." Okay, go be Black, deal with all the attendant self-identity issues, with everybody telling you what you are supposed to be, and then say the word "nigger." Shit, Black people couldn't drink out of the same water fountains and before that could be legally raped for 200 years and you want to deny them a single signifying word? Fair is fair: you are whining like a baby. (Jess Cherbon and Scott Rahin)

Racism is all about class, anyway. There's enough money to go around now, so we should start spreading it. Give money to schools, for Christ's sake; it's disgusting to see kids not have books or safety when people are spending billions. (Jess Cherbon)

It's really hard to tell where the personal ends and the cultural begins. How responsible am I for what Black People think of White People? Or Mexican people think of Texans? Where does my culpability begin and end? Does my action make a difference, or should I opt out? (Paul Ford)

I doubt there's any such thing as "reverse racism." People with power define race and ethnic lines to protecting their power. People without power use these lines to achieve solidarity and focus their anger, in order to gain more power. I think. (Paul Ford)

A good example: I've often heard white people say, "Black people can say 'nigger,' but I can't." Okay, go be Black, deal with all the attendant self-identity issues, with everybody telling you what you are supposed to be, and then say the word "nigger." Shit, Black people couldn't drink out of the same water fountains and before that could be legally raped for 200 years and you want to deny them a single signifying word? Fair is fair: you are whining like a baby. (Jess Cherbon and Scott Rahin)

Racism is all about class, anyway. There's enough money to go around now, so we should start spreading it. Give money to schools, for Christ's sake; it's disgusting to see kids not have books or safety when people are spending billions. (Jess Cherbon)

It's really hard to tell where the personal ends and the cultural begins. How responsible am I for what Black People think of White People? Or Mexican people think of Texans? Where does my culpability begin and end? Does my action make a difference, or should I opt out? (Paul Ford)

Tolerance

I used to date a black woman in the 1970's, and she took me to a black theater, to see a blaxpoitation flick, and everyone was yelling at the screen, and I fucking hated it. The movie made fun of Lesbians, too, it had this awful prison scene, and everybody was saying cruel, abusive things to the women on screen. My friend wasn't out, and she was laughing, too, and she told me not to worry about it. I felt really ugly and alone; it was a terrible experience and no fun at all. That's why I think the word tolerance is so important. I don't want to be cool with that moviegoing experience, and I never want to do it again, but I also don't think it's all wrong or bad; in a very real sense I will tolerate it as something that comes out of a different cultural tradition, but not internalize it or force myself to participate in order to "be down," which I sometimes feel pressured to do.

I have young Black friends who grew up in the suburbs, and they're just as freaked out by that sort of experience as I am; it's not easy to resolve for them, but I think it's simple: you don't have to do what makes you uncomfortable, but if it isn't hurting anyone, you can't tell other people not to do it, or look down your nose on it, either. (Jess Cherbon)

I have young Black friends who grew up in the suburbs, and they're just as freaked out by that sort of experience as I am; it's not easy to resolve for them, but I think it's simple: you don't have to do what makes you uncomfortable, but if it isn't hurting anyone, you can't tell other people not to do it, or look down your nose on it, either. (Jess Cherbon)

Sexual Abuse

If you were young and you were molested, or if you were the young molestor, that is not probably as big a secret as it might seem. Many people were, and as many people did. The groups kind of overlap, and it is sad, and scary, but it is not the end of the world. You'll get better, you'll want to kill yourself, you'll have a lot of secrets, which other people will be fascinated and horrified to hear, and you'll always feel scared and guilty, whichever side of the grope you were on - but there's no point in just killing yourself.

Also, lots of people tell you that molestation and incest are about power, not sex, but this is not always true. Sometimes people who molest are just not aware of what's wrong, they don't connect the dots, and they got bad training themselves. As you get older, you'll see mirrors of them in yourself, and you'll ignore those reflections at your peril and to the peril of those you love. You have the power to stop that sickness with your generation; don't pass it on. (Rebecca Dravos, Scott Rahin, Paul Ford)

Also, lots of people tell you that molestation and incest are about power, not sex, but this is not always true. Sometimes people who molest are just not aware of what's wrong, they don't connect the dots, and they got bad training themselves. As you get older, you'll see mirrors of them in yourself, and you'll ignore those reflections at your peril and to the peril of those you love. You have the power to stop that sickness with your generation; don't pass it on. (Rebecca Dravos, Scott Rahin, Paul Ford)

"Unusual" Fantasies

For instance, I think if you like to fantasize about having sex with little boys (for some reason Ray knows many women who do, which we've discussed before), you should fantasize, and you should do it a lot, and figure out the things inside of you which cause the fantasies, and figure out what they mean for you. Always remember to draw the line between fantasy action and real action in big, black cerebral ink. But don't think my fantasies are bad, think I wonder what's inside here? And then you'll be resolved and safe, not crazy and hurtful. (Jerome Hammond)

There's a lot of regretful shit that happens between age 12 and 20, and you have to invent your own morality for it, because the signals from Jesus and the signals from TV and the signals from your dick or pussy and the signals from your friends and the signals from your parents and the signals from your school and the signals from the person who really wants you to go down on them are all in TOTAL CONFLICT. So you sometimes do stupid, manipulative shit that really hurts other people, whichever gender you are, and it can hurt and violate them even if you think it's love, and it'll hurt and violate you just as much when you do it. There needs to be a way to help younger people understand what's going on around them, and the political morality of the US will not allow it, and we'll stay sad and lonely and scared of each other as a result, trying to cover up the bombs we set off in our young lives. (Everyone)

There's a lot of regretful shit that happens between age 12 and 20, and you have to invent your own morality for it, because the signals from Jesus and the signals from TV and the signals from your dick or pussy and the signals from your friends and the signals from your parents and the signals from your school and the signals from the person who really wants you to go down on them are all in TOTAL CONFLICT. So you sometimes do stupid, manipulative shit that really hurts other people, whichever gender you are, and it can hurt and violate them even if you think it's love, and it'll hurt and violate you just as much when you do it. There needs to be a way to help younger people understand what's going on around them, and the political morality of the US will not allow it, and we'll stay sad and lonely and scared of each other as a result, trying to cover up the bombs we set off in our young lives. (Everyone)

Weird Shit

When we discuss this shit, I think we should remind each other that it's okay to get weirded out when people tell you crazy things, it's fine to have lines that can't be crossed. I've been told by 7 different women that they want to have sex with little boys, and it freaks me the fuck out every time. But when I talk about it, they usually can define where it comes from, the instincts, and understand it a little, and draw the line between reality and fantasy. If I'm sleeping with these women, we can explore those same emotions when we're humping each other like insane sexbeests, although an important part of this is clearly showing that I am not the little boy of their fantasies, that they need to figure it all out themselves at the same time. (Scott Rahin)

Sex Robots

If they have sex robots, life should be easier. Perhaps pedophiles can have sex with their Six-year-old-Sally-9000 and get their guilt and confusion out without killing and burying children in the basement. There's nothing wrong with humping a machine, as Paul Ford is well aware, as the bastard humps his disk drive nightly. (Scott Rahin)

Safety

Remember that it's wrong to let your needs take precedence over other people's safety, and that you can't EVER decide where hurt lies in other people, only they can. Most importantly, children don't have any idea, so their pants stay on. That's a rule, and if you break it then don't expect any sympathy or understanding. After all, there's a culture out there, and you're operating on its terms. People are only interested in what's wrong with you as long as you're not hurting others, otherwise they objectify you as evil and bad, like we do with serial killers. If hurting someone else is a cry for help for yourself, you'll find people more interested in hurting you than helping you. (Rebecca Dravos)

Loving Animals

There really isn't any reason not to engage in certain kinds of bestiality, except it is kind of nasty, but it doesn't really hurt the animals. We're just told it's awful, mostly through lots of funny stories, but apparently, according to surveys, bestiality is pretty widespread, especially on farms. I mean, does it hurt the sheep? Worse than shearing them? Does the dog really mind the sex? I mean, dogs eat feces and hump legs, maybe it isn't as big a deal as people make it out to be. Still, if anyone touches Elephant (Rebecca Dravos' German Shepherd) or Rockstar (her cat) I'll kick their ass so bad, so bad. So maybe I'm not so open minded, but in principle.... (Rebecca Dravos)

Rape

If you feel like you want to be raped, or rape others, that is not such a big secret. A lot of people feel that way, while a lot don't. A lot of us have improper reactions to all kinds of sexual stimulus. The reaction isn't wrong, it's the action you need to watch out for. What aren't you getting that being raped or raping would give you? How could you get it without hurting anyone, or hurting yourself? (Keeth Brown)

There's a big difference between thinking about it and doing it, like Lenny Bruce said, and it's too bad there's no safe place to explore the first. For instance, there was lots of controversy about some sociobiologists who feel that rape might have a genetic logic. (Keeth Brown)

That might be true. Here's an example: Ford is a 6'3" mountain of a man, and in today's society, that doesn't mean much except that he's fatter and taller than the average bear. BUT, as he told me, his tall-guy-who-stores-fat genes apparently comes from his Irish family of poor, starving sodbusters. And these people, through the depressing, hollow saga of Irish history, were bred by necessity to be big, strong, workers, but also able to go hungry (store food energy) through periods of time. Those who weren't died before they could reproduce. My biology is spotty, but there's at least some truth there.

And it's true - Paul Ford looks more at home with a shovel or a football or a donkey or a big stick up his ass than he does reading a book. But the society he lives in defines his role entirely differently than if he'd been born 200 years earlier. His biology hasn't changed, his fundamental makeup hasn't changed, but his role is entirely different. I would imagine Paul will have a better, longer life than if he'd been a drunken sod farmer. So things change fundamentally over time, over accumulated lifespans; the same forces that keep Paul's nose in a computer screen in this modern era and off the plow can be applied to change other major cultural forces, and to stamp out rape, but only if we dump a lot of bullshit and open the conversation with all the facts. (Scott Rahin)

There is no risk in discussing rape as a function of our evolved, physical selves. Rape is wrong, and it will continue to be so, as long as human beings have social relationships across the gender line. If the biologists are wrong, the worst thing feminists can do is censor them - it'll just give them more credence where you don't want it. And if they're right, then we'll be able to actually do something. (Paul Ford)

There's a big difference between thinking about it and doing it, like Lenny Bruce said, and it's too bad there's no safe place to explore the first. For instance, there was lots of controversy about some sociobiologists who feel that rape might have a genetic logic. (Keeth Brown)

That might be true. Here's an example: Ford is a 6'3" mountain of a man, and in today's society, that doesn't mean much except that he's fatter and taller than the average bear. BUT, as he told me, his tall-guy-who-stores-fat genes apparently comes from his Irish family of poor, starving sodbusters. And these people, through the depressing, hollow saga of Irish history, were bred by necessity to be big, strong, workers, but also able to go hungry (store food energy) through periods of time. Those who weren't died before they could reproduce. My biology is spotty, but there's at least some truth there.

And it's true - Paul Ford looks more at home with a shovel or a football or a donkey or a big stick up his ass than he does reading a book. But the society he lives in defines his role entirely differently than if he'd been born 200 years earlier. His biology hasn't changed, his fundamental makeup hasn't changed, but his role is entirely different. I would imagine Paul will have a better, longer life than if he'd been a drunken sod farmer. So things change fundamentally over time, over accumulated lifespans; the same forces that keep Paul's nose in a computer screen in this modern era and off the plow can be applied to change other major cultural forces, and to stamp out rape, but only if we dump a lot of bullshit and open the conversation with all the facts. (Scott Rahin)

There is no risk in discussing rape as a function of our evolved, physical selves. Rape is wrong, and it will continue to be so, as long as human beings have social relationships across the gender line. If the biologists are wrong, the worst thing feminists can do is censor them - it'll just give them more credence where you don't want it. And if they're right, then we'll be able to actually do something. (Paul Ford)

Masturbation

Masturbate. There is nothing wrong with it, and there never will be. (Jess Cherbon)

If I couldn't absolutely every day whack my knob into oblivion I'd end bursting like a semen-filled hydrogen bomb. It is the only thing that makes it worth getting up, and I don't get up until I've done it, sometimes twice, and often while thinking of really evil, twisted shit, like consensually sodomizing a whole squad of one-legged cheerleaders. (Scott Rahin)

If I couldn't absolutely every day whack my knob into oblivion I'd end bursting like a semen-filled hydrogen bomb. It is the only thing that makes it worth getting up, and I don't get up until I've done it, sometimes twice, and often while thinking of really evil, twisted shit, like consensually sodomizing a whole squad of one-legged cheerleaders. (Scott Rahin)

Homosexuality

If you are homosexual, or bisexual, that is not such a big secret. Really. If people don't understand, if they scare you with their fear of you, and you can't take them on in a fight, work hard, save up, and move to New York. You can find a roommate and live cheaply. You'll still be confused and unhappy, because that's how people are, but you'll be able to see your sexuality as just a part of yourself, rather than seeing it as the sum of your identity, which is crazy-making. (Jess Cherbon)

Violence

If you feel violently about things, well, we all do. I get so angry I want to kill people, and I feel okay about that. I wish I could spit dynamite when the train is late and I'm tired and someone wants to tell me something. (Paul Ford)

Employment

If you are certain you are a bad, lazy worker who never seems to get things done, then you are the same as your boss or your underlings. We all feel like total lazy fuckups who can't finish anything that matters. That's because most of our work is boring. A novel you read in 2 hours might take 3 years to write. All of us, no matter how creative or cool we are, in order to create consumable goods, we must work savagely hard and do fundamentally meaningless things over and over. So laziness, exhaustion, and apathy - remember, apathy is "a response to unattended suffering" - result. (Paul Ford)


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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