There’s a reason dogs are known as “Man’s Best Friend” while cats are primarily associated with batty spinsters. It’s CALLED SCIENCE.
Here’s the proof from the book 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot:
There are many ways in which a dog can make you feel better. Scientists have conducted numerous studies that examine how you might benefit from having a four legged friend.
Some of the best-known research, run by Erika Friedmann at the University of Maryland, and outside colleagues, investigated the possible relationship between dog ownership and cardiovascular functioning. After carefully following the recovery rates of patients who had suffered a heart attack, Friedmann discovered that those who were dog owners, compared to those who were without a canine pal, were almost nine times more likely to be alive twelves months later. This remarkable result encouraged scientists to explore other possible benefits of canine companionship, resulting in studies showing that dog owners coped well with everyday stress, were relaxed about life, had high self-esteem, and were less likely to diagnosed with depression.
…Interestingly, the same cannot be said for cats. Some studies show that living with a cat may help alleviate negative moods, but is unlikely to make you feel especially good, and others suggest that cat owners may actually be more likely than others to die in the twelve months following a heart attack.
On the upside for cat fans, the failure of cats may be related to some sort of consistently horrible defect in the sort of people who prefer cats over dogs, as opposed to the general awfulness of cats as pets.
But, all kidding aside; this makes perfect sense. Dogs are loyal companions who are thrilled out of their minds every time you return home while cats are generally indifferent to your existence, but are willing to tolerate you as long as you are giving them food and they’re allowed to use you as a scratching post.
Very seldom do liberals and conservatives agree on much of anything these days, but there is one area where we should have some common cause. Over at the liberal website Alternet, Bill Berkowitz has written a piece called, “Cruel Country: Debtors Prisons Are Punishing the Poor Across America”:
In the 1990s, Jack [Dawley's] drug and alcohol addictions led to convictions for domestic violence and driving under the influence, resulting in nearly $1,500 in fines and costs in the Norwalk Municipal Court. Jack was also behind on his child support, which led to an out-of-state jail sentence.” After serving three and a half years in Wisconsin, Dawley, now sober for 14 years, is still trying to catch up with the fines he owes, and it has “continue[d] to wreak havoc on his life.”
…The jailing of people unable to pay fines and court costs is no longer a relic of the 19th century American judicial system. Debtors’ prisons are alive and well in one-third of the states in this country.
In 2011, Think Progress’ Marie Diamond wrote: “Federal imprisonment for unpaid debt has been illegal in the U.S. since 1833. It’s a practice people associate more with the age of Dickens than modern-day America. But as more Americans struggle to pay their bills in the wake of the recession, collection agencies are using harsher methods to get their money, ushering in the return of debtor’s prisons.”
…This year’s ACLU report….points out that many poor “Ohioans … convicted of a criminal or traffic offense and sentenced to pay a fine an affluent defendant may simply pay … and go on with his or her life [find the fine] unaffordable [launching] the beginning of a protracted process that may involve contempt charges, mounting fees, arrest warrants, and even jail time. The stark reality is that, in 2013, Ohioans are being repeatedly jailed simply for being too poor to pay fines.”
According to the report, Ohio courts in Huron, Cuyahoga, and Erie counties “are among the worst offenders. In the second half of 2012, over 20% of all bookings in the Huron County Jail were related to failure to pay fines.
…CBS Money Watch’s Alain Sherter recently reported that “Roughly a third of U.S. states today jail people for not paying off their debts, from court-related fines and fees to credit card and car loans, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Such practices contravene a 1983 United States Supreme Court ruling that they violate the Constitutions’ Equal Protection Clause.”
Wreaking havoc on ordinary peoples’ lives
Jack Dawley: “You’d go do your ten days, and they’d set you up a court date and give you another 90 days to pay or go back to jail… It was hard for me to obtain work, so I fell back into the cycle of going to jail every three months.”
Paying money to people you owe can’t just be an “optional” thing. The government must be allowed to force people to pay their debts or our entire system of commerce would break down. That being said, it’s immoral, unconstitutional and even counter-productive to put someone in jail for being truly unable to pay his debts. How are you going to earn enough to pay what you owe if you’re in jail?
Above the desk I work on every day there is a Culpeper Minutemen Flag, a Dream Board, a Ronald Reagan bumper sticker autographed by Ann Coulter, and 10 slogans. I spend hours of each day with those slogans in the corner of my eye, burning into my brain.
Because we’re constantly being hit with other people’s slogans. Advertising jingles, billboards, songs, TV shows, comments from friends, orders from the boss — all of those are being inputted into our subconscious each day.
Well, it’s important for us to control some of the information that goes into our brain as well. Here are the slogans I find so essential that I want to be exposed to them daily.
1) On attitude: “When a lion wants to go somewhere, he doesn’t worry about how many hyenas are in the way.”
2) A standard: “If every day was like today, would it be enough to achieve my goals for 2013?”
3) On dedication:
“7 months straight. No stopping, no maintenance weeks, no cheat meals. Why? Because if someone beat me, I didn’t want to look back at any cheat meals and ask ‘what if.’ I did what it took every single day, and THAT is why I looked the way I did. You either want it or you don’t. Just so you know, there wasn’t a day that went by in the last 8-10 weeks of that prep where I didn’t want just ONE extra yogurt, or 5 less intervals of cardio. But, I was not going to be outworked! I was NOT going to be denied! And you know what? It was all worth it.” – Tommy Jefferson
My good friend John Hawkins has decided to take a few weeks off from his weekly PJ Lifestyle article. So now seemed like the appropriate time to finally do what I’d been meaning to for some time: begin compiling together collections of some of his best articles. For almost two years now John has tackled all kinds of issues — from self improvement to popular culture to male-female relationships. He’s established himself as the section’s most popular writer and I’ve enjoyed watching him explore and experiment. When John comes back we’ve decided to brainstorm a new direction for him to focus on developing. I’m not sure yet what it should be — though I don’t doubt that John and I could probably come up with something within 15 minutes of brainstorming. The problem is that there are simply too many ideas where John could succeed! As this collection of his 5 most-heavily trafficked articles of 2012 shows he has developed himself into a versatile, witty writer who can craft engaging pieces across a number of subjects. Please leave your suggestions in the comments for the particular direction you’d most like to see John develop his writing in the future.
This is the first of a series of what will become an ongoing collection of The Best of PJ Lifestyle. I have plans for several more John Hawkins’s Greatest Hits Collections featuring compilations of his commentaries on Self Improvement, Movies, Entrepreneurship, Humor, Internet Culture, and other subjects. I hope that these collections can showcase the work of a talented writer I’m proud to work with who I’m excited to see continue to grow into one of his generation’s most distinct and consequential voices. In the coming months I will release similar compilations celebrating the work of other regular PJ Lifestyle contributors who have made editing this publication such a perpetual joy. It’s time to take a retrospective look back at the fantastic work of such frequent PJ Lifestyle contributors as Kathy Shaidle, Walter Hudson, Paula Bolyard, Charlie Martin, Jeanette Pryor, Theodore Dalrymple, Robert Spencer, P. David Hornik, Andrew Klavan, and Bob Owens. (And that’s just the beginning!) And as I publish these compilations now is the time to express your views on the directions you’d most like to see these writers take in the future. The ship has its crew; it’s time to set sail. Now we just need to chart our destinations.
-David Swindle, PJ Lifestyle Editor
Jump to the article of your choice or read them counting down to John’s biggest smash hit:
5. Originally published January 27, 2012: The 7 Most Penetratingly Brilliant Quotes of All Time
4. Originally published May 18, 2012: The 5 Behaviors That Make You Trash
3. Originally published September 29, 2012: The 5 Unique Ways Intelligent People Screw Up Their Lives
2. Originally published September 10, 2012: 5 Simple Mind Hacks That Changed My Life
1. Originally published March 14, 2012: 7 Mistakes Women Make With Men
If Chuck Norris gets a pedicure so that his toes will feel more comfortable when he kicks people in the face, will you think he is a wimp? No. If R. Lee Ermey wants to drink a Cosmopolitan because he feels that it will keep his throat perfectly primed to yell at people, he can get away with it. If UFC light heavyweight champion Jon “Bones” Jones likes to unwind by watching Twilight after choking someone unconscious in a cage fight, who are we to argue?
Still, there are some things that even the manliest of masculine manly men can’t get away with on their most masculinely manly days without having their man card permanently pulled. For example:
1) Geeking out on children’s entertainment
It’s one thing for a man to listen to the awful music of Justin Bieber and think, “Wow, that’s not the worst thing I’ve ever heard.” It’s quite another to actually go to one of his concerts for the fun of it or, worse yet, refer to himself as a “Belieber.” Wanna go to a comic-book convention? Ok, but if you’re a dude who dresses up like Thor and starts speculating about whether you can defeat the Hulk in a fight, you have a “man problem” you need to address. Don’t even get me started on being a damn brony and walking around in public talking about My Little Pony. Are you a five-year-old girl? If the answer to that question is “no,” then you don’t have any business being a fan of a show aimed at five-year-old girls.
Action movies are just as American as motherhood, apple pie, and capitalism. Movies like Unforgiven, Gladiator, Rooster Cogburn, Conan, Dirty Harry, Die Hard, The Dark Knight, High Noon, Man on Fire, Red Dawn, Tombstone, and True Grit speak to men in a primal language that transcends the story line on the screen. Men like these films because they capture qualities we’d like to think we have ourselves. We like the idea of being billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne and fighting crime in our spare time, pointing a gun at a punk and asking him if he feels lucky, or responding to the question, “What is best in life?” with “To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women!“ While there are dozens of deserving action movies, there are seven that are particularly good at revealing parts of the male psyche.
1) First Blood
John Rambo is a damaged character. His fighting in Vietnam left him with mental problems, made him ill-equipped to fit into society, and led to him ultimately having a difficult and lonely existence. However, there are two things about him that make the character click with men. The first is this:
Teasle: Are you telling me that 200 men against your boy is a no-win situation for us?
Trautman: You send that many, don’t forget one thing.
Trautman: A good supply of body bags.
Rambo doesn’t pick the fight, but when he is backed up against a wall, he is a one-man army. This theme is repeated over and over in action movies because it’s something men aspire to all the way down in their souls.
The other, more subtle thing that makes Rambo appealing is that he shares a grievance that most men have on some level or another: his sacrifices are largely unappreciated. He went through hell to do what had to be done, paid a terrible price for it, saw his suffering shrugged off by men unfit to say his name, and was left holding the bag. There are millions of men who feel the exact same way. They’ve provided, they’ve struggled, they’ve done things they didn’t want to do for other people, and, ultimately, they found that it wasn’t valued. That makes it easy to relate to a character like Rambo, even if you’re not planning to shoot at anybody with a machine gun.
It would be hard to argue that, one hundred years ago when women couldn’t vote or hold the same careers as men, our society wasn’t tilted against the fairer sex. However, those days are long dead and gone, and women have largely achieved the sort of parity with men that the feminists of the sixties were demanding. In fact, we’ve gone beyond that point now and what we’re finding is that many women want to have it both ways. They want to be thought of as just as strong, tough, and capable as men while simultaneously demanding all sorts of special protection. In fact, it’s considered bad form to even suggest that men aren’t privileged and that, yes, in some cases, women are the ones who have an advantage because of their gender. We’re not even supposed to ask the most basic questions about the terrible trials women supposedly face because of their sex.
For example, it’s fine to complain that women earn 76 cents for every dollar that men earn, but any reasonable person should agree that’s not sufficient to show that there’s a problem. To prove there’s a real imbalance, you need to ask tough questions. Are women working the same long hours that men do week in and week out? Why should the woman who only works 40 hours so she can have a “balanced” life make as much as the man putting in 60 hour weeks to get ahead? Along similar lines, if a woman takes three months off to be with her child after she has a baby, while a man whose wife has a child just takes a weekend, isn’t he more dedicated to his job and thus more worthy of a promotion? What about a female secretary and a male coal miner with the same skill level? Even if their education and level of ability are the same, shouldn’t the one doing the dirty, dangerous, unpleasant job make more money? Moreover, from a common-sense perspective, if you could actually get by with paying women 76 cents on the dollar to do the same work that men do, wouldn’t all-female firms dominate every field because of the reduced overhead? You don’t hear people who complain about women making less discuss relevant questions like these because when you compare apples to apples, that pay gap disappears. That’s why on average you find that a never-married, college-educated woman actually makes more than a never-married, college-educated man.
Most people think Marv is crazy, but I don’t believe that. I’m no shrink and I’m not saying I’ve got Marv all figured out or anything, but “crazy” just doesn’t explain him. Not to me. Sometimes I think he’s retarded, a big, brutal kid who never learned the ground rules about how people are supposed to act around each other. But that doesn’t have the right ring to it either. No, it’s more like there’s nothing wrong with Marv, nothing at all — except that he had the rotten luck of being born at the wrong time in history. He’d have been okay if he’d been born a couple of thousand years ago. He’d be right at home on some ancient battlefield, swinging an ax into somebody’s face. Or in a Roman Arena, taking a sword to other gladiators like him. They’d have tossed him girls like Nancy, back then. — Sin City
Ever watched a classic action flick? Of course you have. Movies like Die Hard, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lethal Weapon, First Blood, and 300 have become fixtures in the American psyche. All these movies feature either a lone man or a small group fighting in a desperate, violent struggle and yet, somehow, coming out on top. Throughout most of America’s history, the average man could more easily relate to the experiences in those movies the way someone who shoots hoops at the park could relate to watching an NBA game. Sure, they might not have been able to do what they were seeing on the screen, but they were well-acquainted with violence. Either they had inflicted it, suffered it, or seen it up close and personal. We’re a nation that was birthed in a bloody revolution, where feuds and dueling were frequent occurrences, where intermittent battles with Indians occurred until the twenties, where roughly twenty percent of the male population served in WWII, and where fist fights and brawling were relatively common.
The average man may have seen hundreds of thousands of murders on his TV screen and committed tens of thousands more playing video games, but he has also probably never struck another human being in anger in his entire adult lifetime. In other words, he may be captivated by the imagery he sees at the movies, but he goes home knowing that he will never even live out a pale imitation of what he’s just seen.
Are cats really the Honey Boo Boo of the animal world? No, Honey Boo Boo is the Honey Boo Boo of the animal world, while cats are more like the Lindsay Lohan of the animal world — difficult, unpredictable, hard to like, and probably high on catnip. Oh, cats look cute when they’re in the bobblehead kitten stage or swatting away at yarn, but as you get to know the little beasts, you start to realize that they’re merely trying to lull you into complacency so they can steal your breath after you fall asleep. An old wives’ tale? Well, is it just an old wives’ tale that if a cop beats a hippy with his nightstick then he’ll have good luck for seven years? I think not. On the other hand, dogs are superior to cats in every way and if you don’t agree, well then, good luck with your empty life without a soul.
1) Dogs are much smarter than cats.
Can you teach a cat to sit? To roll over? To come when it’s called? No, because cats are stupid. Granted, dogs are stupid, too, but they’re probably on the same level as your two year old. A cat is closer in intelligence to a geranium — if a geranium had claws and a certain feral cunning it could use to track, torment, and kill smaller plants for its own amusement. Is that what you’d want for a plant you loved? To be at the mercy of a hateful geranium? You cat people are just sick! Sick!
It’s no secret that there are guys out there who get on everyone’s nerves — the male feminists, the bronies, and dudes who need to pull their pants up. But don’t get too high and mighty, ladies, because no matter how much perfume some of you put on, your crap still stinks, too.
1) The No-Drama Mama
Whenever a woman announces that “she doesn’t do drama,” start slowly backing away to avoid being caught in the planet-sized gravity field of drama that surrounds her. It’s like telling the room “I don’t kick puppies” or “I don’t shake babies” out of the blue. Shouldn’t that go without saying? Would you let a person with a “I don’t drop kittens off the roof” shirt on near a tall building with your kittens? No, because you don’t want your kitty cats splattering on the cement while she points to her shirt and proclaims her innocence. If you want to avoid all hell from breaking loose around you on a regular basis, apply the same principle to the No-Drama Mamas.
1) “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” — Muhammad Ali
2) “Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody else expects of you. Never excuse yourself. Never pity yourself. Be a hard master to yourself – and be lenient to everybody else.” — Henry Ward Beecher
3) “Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” — Winston Churchill
4) “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not: Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” — Calvin Coolidge
5) “The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open.” — Chuck Palahniuk
Do you ever look at another human being and just want to say, “Stop it!” — except, before the words leave your mouth, you realize that what you really want the person to do is to stop being himself? Asking a complete ass to stop annoying you is like asking a bird not to chirp or a fish not to swim. No matter how much you try to wish it away, it’s just what he’s chosen to be.
1) The Male Feminist
Maybe no one has informed you of this, but you are a dude. A man is not supposed to be a neutered, pansy-ass, emasculated weenie who trashes his own sex and spouts off lines Gloria Steinem didn’t even really believe when she first said them. Are guys like this trying to impress chicks? Were they brainwashed in a women’s studies class in college? Are they just uncomfortable with the fact that they have a penis? Whatever the case may be, these losers are so irritating that you get the feeling that even most liberal feminists have to choke back the intrinsic revulsion that they feel for these Nancy Boys.
Cheating always seems like such a black-and-white issue, doesn’t it? Of course, in one sense, it is. You cheated? Then you’re the bad guy (or girl) and your partner has every right to be upset, angry, hurt, and to never forgive you.
However, if you know a few people who cheat, you start to find out it’s not always so simple. That doesn’t mean the cheater’s justified, but it does mean he may have reasons for what he’s doing that go beyond not being able to keep it in his pants for more than five minutes at a time. The truth that no one likes to hear, especially after a person has been two-timed, is that happy, intellectually stimulated, sexually satisfied people who are deeply in love aren’t the ones who are playing around. Again, that doesn’t mean it’s okay or that the one who was cheated on is at fault, but cheating usually doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
If you know a lot of men (and women), what you’ll find is that there are a lot of common themes that come up.
1) He’s morally okay with cheating on his partner
Not everybody who cheats will cheat again, but on the other hand, the first question you should ask about whether someone will be faithful is, “Has he cheated before?” If it wasn’t so sad, it would be funny how many women have an affair with a married man and then are shocked when he later does the same thing to them. It’s not as if you have to give women hints and signs about what they need to look out for because they already know; it’s just that they believe it won’t happen to them, too.
1) Body Language Is Crucial.
Ever heard someone say, “Ninety-three percent of all human communication is nonverbal“? That’s a mangled attempt to explain a study done by Albert Mehrabian back in 1967, and while it’s not true, dogs show that it’s not all that far off the mark. Dogs, which are actually below Honey Boo Boo on the brains scale, manage to effectively communicate with us and each other without ever saying a word. They can also interpret tone freakishly well. If you don’t believe that, after your dog gets sick and poops in the house, say “Who did this?” in a deep voice and he’ll put his head down, and slink into a corner looking as guilty as if he were personally responsible for Old Yeller getting rabies.
This is why you should try to keep a nice, even tone to your voice. When you walk, throw your chest out, because it tends to line your posture up correctly. Keep your head up, move deliberately, spread your body out, and don’t overreact physically to stimulus. On some level, people pay just as much attention to tone and body language as dogs even if they don’t hump your leg to let you know they’re interested in getting to know you better.
Thanks to pick-up artists who’re convincing men that women love jerks, being a jerk is back in. Of course, maybe we should be pointing the finger at the women who really do like jerks instead of the guys in goggles and top hats who point it out? On the other hand, given that gossip mags do nothing but breathlessly report on celebrities acting like jerks and ordinary jerks are being given their own reality shows left and right to showcase their “jerkiness,” maybe they’re to blame? Could the increase in jerkiliciousness even be just a general degeneration of manners caused by South Park, the Internet & the existence of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo?
Whatever the case may be, jerks tend to be a lot more tolerable in theory than in practice. Not only does their personality make them fail, it makes you want to see them fail. Of course, not every jerk is doing it on purpose or is completely irredeemable. Sometimes, you may act like a jerk without realizing it, which is why it should make you a little bit nervous if you sound like this….
5. Arrogance: I can top that!
Forget about having a healthy ego and ante up a little Kanye-West-style bluster. Show off, brag, dominate the conversation, grab the mike to express your displeasure at an awards show because you disagree with the judges’ choice. It’s all about you, after all. These peons you’re talking at? They’re lucky to be standing near someone like you and they need to be made aware of it. Whatever they do, you can do better, and these little people need to know what a big, big man they’re talking to right now!
No wonder every kid grows up wanting to be a superhero. The comic books make it sound awesome: your life is exciting, you’re important, you’re famous, and being a hero is part of the description of what you do on a regular basis! It’s like being a celebrity-astronaut-Seal who can lift a car over his head. Who wouldn’t want to do that? Well, maybe YOU wouldn’t once you realized that in practice, it would be about as much fun as being Mark Sanchez’s quarterback coach.
1) It Would Be Impossible to Hide Your Secret Identity.
Most comics only make a cursory attempt to explain how superheroes could hide their identity. Superman just wore glasses. Glasses on, Clark Kent. Glasses off, “Hello, Superman!” Batman wore a mask and disguised his voice, but he was obviously an incredibly wealthy, athletic man with access to advanced technology who lived near Gotham. If you asked the Bat Computer to tell you how many people fit that description, the only answer would be, “Bruce Wayne.” Peter Parker was a photographer who, completely coincidentally, was selling pictures of Spider Man to the Daily Bugle every week. Like no one could figure that out.
It doesn’t exactly take Stephen Hawking to crack the mystery of those secret identities, and the real world is much more sophisticated. You’d have every intelligence agency on the planet trying to figure out your identity, gossip mags offering to pay millions for evidence, statistics junkies mapping every place you’d ever been, tens of thousands of bloggers and journalists trying to figure out who you are, and tens of millions of Internet junkies on fan sites spending hours every day trying to piece together who you are when they’re not writing erotic fan fiction imagining you being seduced by the evil lizard queen of Mars. Eventually, someone would snap a cell-phone picture of you coming out of your lair, some long forgotten cousin would remember you picking up a jeep when you were five, or someone would figure out who you were from the DNA on a can of Coke you drank while you were visiting orphans. Then, you’d have super-villains showing up at your house, people kidnapping everyone you ever said “hello” to in public, and even worse….
Your behavior is influenced by information that surges through three different channels — your conscious mind, your subconscious mind, and your instincts.
Your conscious mind is easy to explain. Think about how you use your conscious mind and, congratulations, you’re using your conscious mind. Now, think about what that means — and again, you’re using your conscious mind and you know you’re doing it.
Your instincts are a little trickier and many people would even categorize them as part of your subconscious mind. However, because they’re more instantaneous and easier to read, i.e. “This just doesn’t feel right” or “Something tells me that guy is lying to me,” they deserve to be treated as distinct from our conscious and unconscious mind.
That brings us to the subconscious, which is the most fascinating of the three because it so often steers us without our being able to feel its misty hand on the reins. It’s like The Matrix Revolutions except with mediocre special effects and no Keanu Reeves. One day you’re a computer programmer and the next thing you know, you’re engaged in a seemingly endless stream of philosophy class banter while you wait for your ten-minute fight scene at the end of the movie with Agent Smith, which is the only cool thing left in the atrocity you call a movie…ehr, a life.
The message: Your life doesn’t have to be as crummy as The Matrix Revolutions. You can be better than that by spotting and correcting these psychological defense mechanisms.
In C.S. Lewis’s classic The Screwtape Letters, a devil instructs his nephew to try to corrupt a man by
(aggravating) that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious. You must bring him to a condition in which he can practice self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office.
Actually, it doesn’t take a devil to pull this off. Unless you have honest friends, a good psychologist, or are unusually introspective, that’s probably a good description of you as well. Taking a tough, unsparing look at yourself is painful and even scary because when you find problems, you feel compelled to change to fix them. Denial may be easy, but ultimately it’s those who know themselves best who go the farthest in life.
I never imagined what being 40 would feel like, because it never occurred to me that I’d ever be 40. I didn’t think I wouldn’t be, mind you. It was just too boring to enter my brain, and it seemed like forever from now. — Stephanie Dolgoff
Been there, done that, got the postcard. Haven’t we all (I’m not including you whippersnappers in “all” — and P.S.: get off my lawn!)? When you’re a kid, people who are middle-aged almost seem like a different species. You’re young, energetic, and have your whole life in front of you. You’re the male lion of the human world, and they’re not the hyenas you’re going to surpass or the antelope you plan to eat; they’re more the hippos of the human world. You see them around, moving from one task to another, doing things you don’t. You don’t hate them or eat them, but you don’t want to be them either. The idea that you’ll be like that one day seems almost beyond belief.
Theoretically, you understand that it’s going to happen to you, but your brain blocks it out because it seems so far-fetched. “Me? Middle-aged? Like my parents? Well, if….oooh, I like that song. Hey, that’s shiny” and next thing you know, you’ve forgotten about it. Then one day, you wake up old. At least that’s how it happened to me.
True story: from the time I was 25-39, I FELT like I was the same age the entire time, 25. When I moved from 39 to 40, it was almost like I aged 15 years in a day. It was like I went to bed at 25 and woke up at 40.
Unsurprisingly, since I had trouble conceptualizing being middle-aged, it was hard for me to know what to expect. That made aging a wonderland of delightful surprises — if by delightful surprises, you mean taxes I didn’t realize I had to pay and bouts of bursitis in my hips.
1) Declining health: When you’re young, you can stay out all night, work all day, take a physical pounding, and still recover in a day or two. The first one, I can still do. If I have need to go three or four days in a row with minimal sleep and get up at 5 a.m. on the last day, no problem. Granted, I might lie around listening to the alarm clock for five minutes before I peel myself out of bed, but I can do it.
On the other hand, like a lot of people, I’ve accumulated a number of little minor physical problems over the years. My feet are a little too flat, and that, combined with being overweight, proved to be too much for me when I got up to jogging a mile and a half a day on the treadmill. It led to an attack of plantar fasciitis. I’ve always had a bit of a bad back, but over the last couple of years I started to develop some hip pain from spending so much time each day writing in front of a computer. Happily, I took care of that with the help of a chiropractor, but I now have to stretch a couple of times per day, not so much to improve, but just to maintain the most optimal level of health possible.
Is there anyone in the world who couldn’t see this coming? I mean, we’ve all met old people, right? We’ve seen professional athletes who’ve gotten old and noticed that they couldn’t play in the NFL anymore, haven’t we? But somehow, you never quite expect it to happen to you. You’re going to remain just as young, vital, and strong as you were at 20 forever — until you don’t and you’re left scratching your head wondering why it takes so long for your bruises to heal.
To understand evil, we must set aside the comfortable belief that we would never do anything wrong. Instead, we must begin to ask ourselves, what would it take for me to do such things? Assume that it would be possible. — Roy Baumeister
Many people consider monsters like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin somehow uniquely evil. They imagine them as malevolent, abominable, nearly inhuman entities who spent their days scheming to inflict misery on other humans for the sheer sadistic pleasure of it.
The truth is much more terrifying: human beings as evil and ruthless as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao are so common that we pass them on the street daily, see them on TV, and may even have the misfortune of knowing them personally. The real difference between these notorious butchers and the guy in a federal prison is not so much the degree of depravity, but the unchecked power needed to make his darkest desires reality.
Once you set aside Hollywood’s caricatured portrait of evil and accept the normalcy of villainy, you see how a “normal person” just like you or me could embrace evil. Moreover, sometimes the shift from human to fiend can have murky beginnings. Some people step over a line and come back. Others follow that tragic path described by C.S. Lewis,
The safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
Here, at least, are a few signposts that will alert you to stop, pause, and take stock to make sure you’re not on that gentle slope.
1) I/You vs. I/It.
We’re all sometimes guilty of treating others like objects instead of human beings with families, feelings, and dreams, just like us. Without that ability to objectify other human beings, pornography couldn’t exist. It’s also one of the reasons for Internet rudeness. When we type something cruel to janeeschmoe8765, we don’t see the crushed look on her face, watch the tears roll down her face, or know that her brother died last week so she’s feeling particularly vulnerable.
Oftentimes, the “morally challenged” among us tend to see themselves as real people, but they look at most others as “things” to be manipulated in any way that benefits them. The thief views a house the way you’d view a gold nugget you found underfoot in a stream instead of thinking about how he’s taking things that another human being may have worked for months or years to pay for. A man who tells a woman he loves her just to seduce her and then never call again only thinks of her as an object for his gratification as opposed to a person. A professional hit man looks at the targets he kills as a pay day. Ultimately, the perpetrator looks at himself as an “I” and his victim as an “it,” like a coffee maker. Few people have moral qualms about what they do to a coffee maker.
Ever heard someone say, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me?” I get that on a very personal level, except in reverse, because I didn’t become a social conservative, social conservatism came toward me. Granted, many social conservatives who would be reluctant to count me amongst their ranks, and as someone who has been saying for years that I’m more socially conservative than the average person, but not an actual social conservative, I wouldn’t blame them.
After feeling guilty about stealing, I deleted my downloaded MP3 collection and bought it all from scratch legally, but it still contains everything from gangster rap to raunchy pop.
I don’t drink, smoke, do drugs, or gamble and I rarely curse, but it has nothing to do with moral concerns.
I try to be a good guy, but politics is a knife fight in a phone booth where nice guys finish last, so if need be, I can be as vicious as just about anyone you’ll run across on the Right.
You don’t just wake up miserable one day and stay that way. To the contrary, producing a nice, consistent level of misery takes a lot of work. Do you ever hear anyone say, “Wow, that guy does whatever it takes to be miserable!” Of course not. Everyone is too busy patting the happy people on the back. “Wow, I wish I could be as happy as she is!” “They’re just such a happy couple!” “Wow, what a happy child!” How about a little appreciation for all the work people put into being utterly miserable? After all, as you’re about to see, depression takes effort!
1) Don’t pursue your ideal self.
Abraham Maslow once said, “If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.” So, take his advice to heart. Make comfort your highest priority. Surf the web as much as possible at work and do the same things, day after day, year after year without making any effort to improve. Veg out in front of the TV every night and channel surf. Don’t read, don’t take classes, do the same old, same old. Get yourself into a nice deep rut and then, as an extra added bonus, blame your spouse or kids for “holding you back” and keeping you from achieving the dreams you haven’t made any effort to pursue for years. That’s just the sort of stagnant life that will help keep you down in the dumps.
“Vocabularies are crossing circles and loops. We are defined by the lines we choose to cross or to be confined by.” — A.S. Byatt
“As names have power, words have power.” — Patrick Rothfuss
Just as the Colorado River carved the Grand Canyon, your thoughts have shaped your life. According to the National Science Foundation, we have as many as 50,000 thoughts per day. Many of them are basic: “step,” “grab that,” “move.” But there are also many repeating messages. These ideas matter more than most realize because just as our beliefs and actions impact the words we use, the words we use shape our beliefs and actions.
This principle is well understood at the highest levels of politics. Politicians know that if they can get you to accept their choice of words, they can probably get you to accept their way of thinking as well. Whether you think of yourself as “pro-life” or “pro-choice” on abortion, view illegal aliens as “illegals” or “undocumented immigrants,” or regard tax cuts as “giving people back their own money” as opposed to “giving a tax break to the rich” likely determines which way you fall on an issue. When the words change, the feelings tend to change too.
1) Controlling your temper.
If you’re a human being, you’ve gotten in arguments with other people. It just goes with the territory. But how you DESCRIBE that argument can change how you view it. Was it a “knock-down, drag-out fight” or a “minor disagreement”? Did you “fly off the handle” or “get into a kerfuffle”? Show me someone who can’t control his temper and I will show you someone who habitually uses words like “enraged,” “explosive,” and “furious” to describe his feelings when someone with better self-control would use words like “perturbed, “peeved,” or “mildly annoyed.” If, for example, you label your reaction as “mildly annoyed,” it’s difficult to justify screaming or being upset for hours, isn’t it? By changing the words you habitually use, you can eventually turn yourself from a raging wolverine into a lamb.
According to Martha Stout, in her book The Sociopath Next Door, 1 in 25 Americans is a sociopath who has no conscience. These are people who could cut your throat from ear to ear because they don’t like your haircut and then go out for dinner and dancing before drifting off to a good night’s sleep. The good news is that the vast majority of these sociopaths aren’t inclined to be violent. In fact, many of them have even gone on to enjoy long, successful careers in Congress (sadly, I’m not joking about that).
Unfortunately, this is not always the case — particularly when a child who already has those inclinations also endures horrific abuse or a serious mental illness. When you put together an inability to feel guilt with a perverse desire to inflict physical suffering, you have a lethal killing machine that is all the more dangerous because he often looks just like everyone else. Remember what neighbors and friends always seem to say about serial killers and mass murderers: “He might have been a little strange, but he was quiet and kept to himself. I never thought he’d do anything like this.”
That’s probably just what the victims of these killers thought as they wandered into the grasp of these butchers like flies caught in the web of a cold, remorseless spider. The serial killers you’re about to read about don’t necessarily have the highest body counts, but their bizarre and sadistic behavior makes them stand out even in the ranks of America’s worst murderers. (Note: What you’re about to read is genuinely disturbing and not for the faint of heart. Please don’t say that I didn’t warn you).
7. Ed Kemper
Number of Victims: 10
Fate: Life imprisonment with the possibility of parole
To get an idea of how lethal Ed Kemper is, keep in mind that he’s 6’9″ and 300 pounds. He has an IQ of 130 and has been diagnosed as a violent schizophrenic. How violent? At 13, Kemper murdered his own grandmother because he “just wanted to see what it felt like to kill Grandma“ and then he killed his grandfather because he was afraid of what his reaction would be after he discovered the murder.
Kemper was released from psychiatric care at 21, moved in with his mother, and began killing hitchhikers and engaging in necrophilia with their corpses after fights with his mother. After six murders, Kemper beat his own mother to death with a claw hammer, decapitated her, had sex with her head and then used it as a dart board. For good measure, he invited his mother’s best friend over to the house and killed her, too. Afterwards, Kemper called the police and turned himself in. Despite requesting the death penalty, which was apparently a childhood fantasy, Kemper was sentenced to life in prison.
Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive are two of the most perversely entertaining shows on television. Both feature efforts to help people who’ve crammed their homes with so much trash, animals, or gaudy treasures that it’s almost impossible to move. Most of the time, they have trouble using the bathroom and have to cook in tiny, dangerous spaces. They often end up sleeping on garbage. Some of these people even end up crapping in buckets and sharing their crumbling houses with lizards and rats because there is just so much junk in the way that they don’t feel like they have any other choice.
It’s easy to feel superior to someone so damaged that he’d live in a cluttered pile of filth that most of us wouldn’t let our dogs wander into, but there are actually some deep insights into human behavior that you can pick up from watching the shows, even if your house doesn’t look like it was picked up by a tornado and dropped into the city dump.
1) We can become accustomed to even the worst of problems instead of fixing them.
Many of the hoarders you see on those shows have gotten used to living in homes where they hear rats rustling around at night or where it smells so bad that first-time visitors struggle not to vomit. That’s possible not just because we humans are very adaptable creatures with a talent for lying to ourselves, but because we take many of our cues about what’s acceptable from the people around us. Since hoarders are ashamed of the mess they live in, they tend to isolate themselves from other people who might note that they shouldn’t eat food with mold on it or just start peeing in a jug every day instead of getting the toilet fixed. Give it a few years for things to deteriorate and next thing you know, it makes sense to a hoarder that they slept on a four year old bag of doughnuts last night.
Human beings, by their very nature, are all vulnerable to this same process. So, it’s worth asking yourself, “Have I let my standards slide and told myself there’s no other choice? Is there anything I’m doing that I’m so ashamed of that I have to hide it from people? Have I accepted something in my life as ‘just the way it is’ when I should be doing the hard work it takes to make my life better?”
Tony Robbins has noted, “The only way for us to have long-term happiness is to live by our highest ideals.“ Whether it’s hoarding or some other problem, ultimately our happiness will depend on tackling it rather than learning to live with a self-imposed limitation.