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Posts Tagged ‘Rome’

All things must end…life depends upon the deaths of other organisms, and…old, decaying things must be cleared away – sometimes forcibly – in order to make way for new, younger and often better things.  Old people must pass on to make room for new children; dilapidated buildings must be demolished to pave the way for new construction.  And old, moribund governments which serve only the entrenched and wealthy must be removed if we are to build new ones which better serve all of the people and protect minorities from oppression by both majorities and other, more privileged minorities.  –  “Cleansing Fire

Every year on November 1st I remind my readers that death is not only not an evil to be feared, but a good to be celebrated; all things are mortal, and old things must die to make room for and feed the new.  And four days later, again every year, I remind my readers that this is no less true for nation-states than it is for living organisms.  Countries and empires, like organic beings, are born from other cultures; they grow, mature, age, fall into decay and eventually die, and their remains nourish the next generation of nations.  But those new nations aren’t necessarily foreign, so to speak; sometimes dead things are dragged off and devoured by creatures from elsewhere, but very often they rot where they fall and give rise to new life right there in the same soil.

fall-of-romeIf you don’t quite get where I’m going with this, remember that the ancient cultures of Mesopotamia weren’t usually succeeded by invaders from elsewhere, but by their own former subjects; the Assyrians were once subjects of the Babylonians, and the Chaldeans and Persians subjects of the Assyrians.  And when the Roman Empire collapsed, individual countries arose from what had once been Roman provinces, and Spain, Portugal, France, England and Germany each became world players with empires of their own.  The British Empire in turn spawned a number of powerful nations as it fell apart, and now the American Empire is decaying and will collapse within the lifetime of some of you who are reading this.  I myself will probably not live to see it, but it’s a virtual certainty that those of you now under 30 will.  The United States, however, is no more a monolith than the Roman and British Empires were; it contains within it 50 independent states and a number of territories, not to mention its many satellites around the world.  As the central government loses control and implodes, the governments of the various states will need to take up the functions Washington is no longer willing or able to provide (I consider the slow procession of states abandoning the cannabis campaign of the drug war to be an early harbinger of this).  Several states already have populations and economies that would put them among the largest countries in the world if they were independent, and even the poorest and least-populous states fall within the spectrum of sovereign nations.  Once the central government is gone or slowly descends into a mere symbol like the Papacy or the title of Holy Roman Emperor, the states will begin to function as independent nations; they will form alliances, trade with one another, and war amongst one another; strong states may conquer neighboring weak ones, and groups of small states may combine into new nations or even claim to be the legitimate successors of the American tradition, just as Constantinople and the aforementioned Holy Roman Empire both claimed to be the legitimate successors of Rome.  And just as nobody in Odoacer’s time could’ve predicted that the rather small and isolated province of Britannia would one day rule an empire far larger than that of any Caesar, so it’s impossible for any of us to predict which American states might one day come to rule many or all of the others.  And when that day comes, I hope its rulers remember the fates of the great empires that came before it, and perhaps learn from their mistakes so as to slow that New Empire’s descent into tyranny and collective hubris.

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Obviously, she didn’t come out of it well.  –  Danielle Bargala

Another Halloween cartoon?  Yep.  Pleasant dreams.  The links above it are from  Tim Cushing (“fascism”, “serves” and “hope”), Jesse Walker (“machine”), Amy Alkon (“shoes”), and Women With A Vision (“cops”).

From the Archives

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Valentine’s Day 2016


Most Valentine’s Day pinups aren’t much better than most valentine cards, but this Gil Elvgren piece from 50 years ago is a notable exception.  The only other thing I’d like to say, I already said last year: “I don’t care much for Valentine’s Day…I like the classical Roman Lupercalia much better; dudes running around naked and hitting women with whips seems to me a much more exciting way to celebrate than being given a box of chocolates I can’t eat without worrying about my waistline.

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Valentine’s Day 2015

An obligatory “gift” of a certain expected value which must be presented at a certain time in order to retain a woman’s sexual favors is not a love offering, but rather a whore’s fee.  –  “St. Valentine’s Day
Kitten Valentine
Regular readers know that I don’t care much for Valentine’s Day, mostly because it’s so nakedly hypocritical but also because, as I explained last year,

…while all the others are inclusive, this one is exclusive.  Holidays are times for friends, families and others to gather and celebrate together, but Valentine’s Day festivities (except, perhaps, for polyamorists) are exactly the opposite.  Lovers tend to seek every available excuse to be alone together anyway; it hardly seems necessary to set aside a special day for that, especially one on which the show is celebrated above the substance.

In fact, I like the classical Roman Lupercalia much better; dudes running around naked and hitting women with whips seems to me a much more exciting way to celebrate than being given a box of chocolates I can’t eat without worrying about my waistline.  Even most Valentine images are annoying or even creepy, which is why I like the little kitten one above so much.  SEE HOW CUTE IT IS??? Major, major cute.  7.5 on the Richter scale of cuteness.  And therefore one of the few I can stand.  Starting next year, I’ll be generating my own images for this occasion, but until then you’ll have to settle for…no, I can’t say it; some puns are just too awful, even for a Valentine.

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Dr. David Ley is a clinical psychologist and author who often writes and speaks about sexuality issues, especially those that others are unwilling to discuss; he is probably best known to readers of this blog as the foremost critic of the “sex addiction” myth, and he writes a blog on Psychology Today entitled Women Who Stray.  But since PT can be rather staid, I asked him if there were any topics he wanted to write on, but couldn’t in that venue; this was his reply.

I first encountered the “creampie fetish” in 2007 as I was interviewing for my book Insatiable Wives: Women Who Stray and the Men Who Love Them (2009), which discussed the psychology and biology behind couples who deliberately shared the wives sexually with other men.  In that lifestyle the creampie, or a man’s ejaculate, trickling slowly from the woman’s vagina, is celebrated as a sort of Holy Grail, demonstrating the wife’s defilement by another man (though the word defilement sounds much, much meaner than these couples usually intend it).  In Insatiable Wives, I discussed the creampie it related to the psychology of this lifestyle.  But, over recent years, the creampie fetish is no longer relegated to the cuckold fans, but appears to have gone “mainstream,” popping up in porn and sexuality discussions at a much broader level.

Since 2005, Google searches for “creampie” have quadrupled, with the most frequent searches involving “creampie porn” and “anal creampie.”  Pornhub recently released interesting user data, also showing that creampie is a highly sought-after form of porn, especially in more politically conservative states.  Jokes about creampies are found in movies and late-night comedy talkshows, and Miley Cyrus even performed at a “Christmas Creampies Concert” in 2012.  Despite these interesting data and trends of sexual interest, no one has written about the potential psychological and sociological implications of growing interest in this fetishistic desire (like many of my colleagues, I use the term fetish to describe a strong sexual interest or predilection, and do not imply that this desire is inherently pathological or evidence of disturbed sexuality).

zebrasSperm Warfare is a theory describing behavioral and biological adaptations which exert influence over whose sperm is most likely to fertilize a woman’s ovum.  Accepting the premise that humans evolved in a promiscuous, nonmonogamous environment where a man’s sperm had to “compete” with the sperm of other men in a woman’s vagina, sperm warfare suggests that natural selection acted upon the physiology and psychology of males, females, sperm, eggs, sex and procreation.  The quantity and quality of a man’s sperm at ejaculation is affected by conscious and unconscious beliefs that the woman might have had sex with another man, and the shape of the human penis works like a plunger to remove the semen of another male, if present.  (In zebras, there is an immediate, dramatically expulsive fountain of sperm that the female ejects from her vagina during intercourse with a male – if you don’t believe me check out this video, but be warned, it’s not for the faint of heart).  When a man believes that he and his sperm may need to compete, the man is more likely to thrust harder, ejaculate more forcefully, and get physically excited again, sooner, in order to put more of his soldiers onto the battlefield.  Deeper, more vigorous thrusts are more likely to dislodge any sperm from another man, or even to dislodge an already fertilized egg.  Modern research shows that semen contains surprising levels of psychoactive hormones, and ingesting or absorbing semen is associated with decreased depression.  Women’s orgasms act, in part, to exert some control of which man’s sperm is most likely to fertilize them, and when being unfaithful, women are more likely to orgasm with the other man, and to wait at least 24 hours (enough time for conception and implantation) before having sex with their primary mate.

Sperm warfare is a powerful theory, but I firmly believe that human behaviors are complex, and multiply determined, especially when it comes to sexual behaviors.  It is rare, in my opinion, that any complex behavior has a single explanation.  Aside from the biology and psychology of conception warfare, many people eroticize semen itself.  Semen holds a powerful symbolic status, from Onan in the Bible, who spilled his seed outside of a woman’s body in what was probably the first creampie in recorded history, to modern porn where cumshots are augmented with cornstarch cream shot by devices to create impossible gushing jets of ejaculate.  Many of the cuckold couples I’ve interviewed specifically eroticized the semen of other men, commenting on it as a powerful visual and tactile symbol of a woman’s sexual connection with another man.  Men and women have described with me the tactile feeling of penetrating a woman’s vagina after another man had ejaculated within her, and attributed significant emotional impact to this experience.  Among the Romans, where women were forbidden to drink wine, husbands would sometimes kiss their wives to detect the taste of wine in her mouth; similarly, it has been suggested that oral sex might actually have developed as a strategy to detect evidence of sexual infidelity.  Cuckold fetishists take this anti-cuckoldry mechanism and turn it on its head, fantasizing about performing oral sex on their wife, while her vagina contains the ejaculate of another man, and celebrating the fact.  Those who celebrate cuckolding creampies usually describe the sensuality of dominance, submission, taboo, violating social norms, exploring direct and indirect bisexuality, and the clear visual evidence of their wife’s sexual contact with another man.

But, the current popularity of the creampie is not limited to the cuckolding lifestyle.  Beyond the generally relevant reason of sperm warfare, why does it seem to have gained popularity in a mainstream audience?  Here are a few speculations, but at this point, we have little evidence or research upon which to evaluate these theories:

  • It has been suggested that the demand for condom-free sex in pornography represents people’s desires for fantasy, consequence-free sex of abandon, where STD’s and pregnancy are meaningless.  The cumshot, and more so, the creampie, demonstrate visually that the actors are embracing and living that fantasy;
  • We are inundated by messages and marketing that porn is fake, and doesn’t reflect “real sex.”  While I agree with aspects of that message, there is something very, very “real” and complete about the sex that leaves behind a creampie;
  • The quantity of a man’s ejaculate is correlated with the size of their testicles, and is commonly believed to reflect something of the man’s masculinity.  When a man leaves a large quantity of semen, enough to be readily visible, is this a sign of his virility, such that the viewer can more readily see the man as iconic?
  • Internet porn has changed the pornography industry, creating financially viable niches for genres of porn which wouldn’t have been popular or lucrative enough in the past.  It seems possible that there have always been those who were or would be, interested in creampies, but that what has changed is the ability of the market to recognize and respond to this desire, rather than the creation of a new desire.

creampieThe fertile fluids of the genitals, semen, and female prostatic fluids, have always been eroticized, and treated as powerful symbols of sexuality and virility.  The heady brew of the effects of these fluids, involved as they are with feelings of sexual pleasure and arousal, are intrinsically involved in the physiological and psychological experiences of people.  The modern popularity of creampie porn is popular because it expresses and triggers many powerful psychological and biological mechanisms of human sexuality.

*Note – I often write for Psychology Today, but this topic is slightly too edgy for them – I once had trouble after writing about the psychology of a man who put his own semen in yogurt samples he distributed to strangers.  I’m indebted to Maggie for the invitation to draft it for her own blog.

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This essay first appeared in Cliterati on June 15th; I have modified it slightly to fit the format of this blog.

Emperor JulianDuring the reign of the Emperor Julian a man named Numerius, who was governor of Narbonensis (what is today southern France), was accused of embezzlement by one Delphidius; because Numerius was a high official his trial was presided over by the Emperor himself.  Numerius’ defense consisted entirely of denying his guilt, but since Delphidius had no actual evidence this was enough.  When it became clear that his attempts to trick Numerius into self-incrimination had failed, and that the charge would fail with them, Delphidius cried out, “Oh, illustrious Caesar!  If it is sufficient to deny, what hereafter will become of the guilty?”  Julian’s famous (and quotable) reply was, “If it suffices to accuse, what will become of the innocent?”

The principle was not new in 4th century Rome; it is clearly stated many times in Roman law, appeared in both Athenian and Spartan legal codes, and traces of it appear in Deuteronomy.  From Rome it passed into the Western legal tradition, and it is one of the pillars of English common law.  Indeed, every schoolchild knows that a person on trial is presumed innocent until proven guilty.  However, this is no longer true in many cases; all over the West, but especially in the United States, this powerful defense against tyranny once enjoyed by everyone from beggar to prince has been slowly eroded away in the name of expediency.  Prosecutors eager to “score” convictions take advantage of the vast arsenal of overlapping laws to charge people with so many different crimes for one supposed act that conviction on even a small fraction of them would result in decades of imprisonment; the frightened (and often completely innocent) victim nearly always agrees to some lesser charge rather than face the prospect of spending most of his life in a cage where he may be repeatedly raped, tortured  and denied even the respite of death.  Intimidating a victim into confession circumvents the need to have any evidence at all, much less enough to secure conviction in court.

In some kinds of cases, however, prosecutors don’t even need this kind of barbaric threat to induce a confession, because the presumption of innocence is either directly weakened or effectively nullified by other prosecutorial weapons; or, the accusations are handled in special kangaroo courts where the presumption does not exist; or, the accused is simply punished directly by the police without the need for a trial, evidence or anything else.  And what kind of crime, you may ask, is so heinous that it justifies undermining a venerable principle and virtually ensuring that huge numbers of people will be punished for things they did not do, or else receive punishments that are wildly disproportionate to something they did do?  Mass murder, perhaps?  High treason?  Burning down orphanages?  Stealing war widows’ pensions?  Plunging whole countries into economic depression?  No, something that in the minds of American is far worse than any of those:  pleasure-seeking, especially sexual pleasure.

In many American states, if a neighbor calls the cops because the couple next door is fighting, “the husband is arrested…no matter what the wife says…and prosecuted.  Because many wives rightly refuse to cooperate with such proceedings, the Office on Violence Against Women…authorized so-called “evidence-based” prosecutions, kangaroo courts in which…hearsay…is allowed and the accused man is denied the constitutional rights of confrontation and cross-examination.”  On university campus, a similar third-party accusation can subject a young man to a “campus tribunal” such as the one described here:

…the tribunal does pretty much whatever it wants, showing scant regard for fundamental fairness, due process of law, and the well-established rules and procedures that have evolved…for citizens’ protection…the…allegations were a barrage of vague statements, rendering any defense virtually impossible…Nor were [they] supported by any evidence other than the word of the ex-girlfriend.  The [accused]…was expressly denied his request to be represented by counsel…The many pages of written documentation…were dismissed as somehow not relevant…witnesses against him were not identified…nor was he allowed to confront or question either them or his accuser… 

The war against people who enjoy ingesting substances spawned an even viler abrogation of the presumption of innocence:  civil asset forfeiture, by which the police or a court can steal a victim’s property under the ludicrous pretense that it (the property) has committed a crime; since inanimate objects have no rights, the state can take it unless its owner can prove its innocence (a reversal of  the normal burden of proof).  From the drug war the practice expanded to the War on Whores, and in the US and UK the police now routinely rob sex workers and clients of money, vehicles and other property.  And when there’s nothing else for greedy cops to steal, there’s always a victim’s reputation:

[St. Louis, Missouri] police are reviving a push to…humiliate…those prowling the streets for prostitutes.  “Johns”…will receive postcards…admonishing them for their crime, giving reminders about…sexually transmitted diseases and listing their court dates…In addition, police say they plan to routinely provide local news media with mug shots of those charged with prostitution crimes…

Pillory stocksThese so-called “Dear John” letters are not unique to St. Louis, nor even to the United States; the practice of publicizing “mug shots” on television, the internet  or even billboards is also widely used.  The pretense used to justify this is that these shaming tactics are not punishments but merely “public records”; I’m sure people who lose their jobs or families due to these actions are comforted by the distinction.  The truth is obvious to anyone whose mind is not warped by the “law and order” sickness:  all of these practices – the extrajudicial punishments, the legally-sanctioned robbery, the kangaroo courts, the plea bargains – are just ways to get around the inconvenient necessity of actually having to prove a person has done something wrong before subjecting him to violence.  Oh, well, presumption of innocence had a good run, almost 3000 years; I suppose we should be grateful for that much.  But it sure was nice while it lasted.

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History is the interpretation of the significance that the past has for us.  –  Johan Huizinga

Those of you who were paying attention in world history class may remember that the Western Roman Empire ended on September 4th, 476 AD with the accession of Flavius Odoacer as King of Italy, and that the Eastern Roman Empire was thereafter known as the Byzantine Empire.  But this is merely a convenient lie invented by historians; to the citizens of Rome, Italy, areas of Europe still dominated by either Eastern or Western Empires and foreign governments who had dealings with the Romans, 476 was very much like 474 and 475 had been, and nobody noticed much change in the years 477-493, either.  To be sure, the Empire under Odoacer was quite a different place than it had been under Augustus, but then the same could be said of the Empire under Hadrian, Constantine, Honorius or Justinian.  The laws, structures and political realities had changed dramatically (and not for the better) since the end of the Republic, yet even when the vast territory was divided in two (temporarily, then later permanently) it was still called the Roman Empire, and its people still thought of their government as continuous with what had gone before.  The term “Byzantine Empire” for the eastern half is a total fiction; it was still referred to both officially and in popular use as the Roman Empire (even after its territory had shrunk to only part of the area of modern Turkey) until Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.  And even then, Germanic kings who had been granted the title of Roman Emperor by Papal edict continued to use it until the last of them, Francis II, abdicated the title to Napoleon in 1806.

By the 14th century it would have been obvious to all but the dullest historians that neither the German nor the Greek pretenders to the title of “Roman Empire” were remotely the same as the original entity which had borne that name, and unconnected to it by anything other than a long and winding chain of historical events.  But it would not have been so obvious to an historian of the 10th century, and one of the 6th would probably have violently disputed the claim (at least in the case of the Eastern Empire).  Modern scholars looking at the events from over a millennium later decided that after 476, things began to change so dramatically and so quickly that a different name needed to be applied to the political entities existing after that date so as to make the difference clearer for purposes of study and discussion.  But the people living at that time had no such historical perspective; few of them would have agreed that the differences between Odoacer’s reign and that of Julius Nepos were any more meaningful than those between the reigns of Constantine and Constantius, and probably less significant than the difference between the reigns of Diocletian and Aurelian.  They were emotionally invested in the name “Roman”, and the changes in both the Empire and its people had been so gradual that only by viewing the events from a period completely removed from them could a meaningful line be drawn between “Roman” and “Post-Roman”.

Rome is an especially prominent and striking example, but by no means the only one; except in cases where a culture is completely overrun by wholly alien invaders (as in the case of the European conquest of the Americas), most lines drawn between historical periods and most names given them by historians are rather arbitrary and only make sense to people of later eras.  Those living at the time see no seismic shift, no change of identity; the English still considered themselves English after the Norman Conquest, and the lives of peasants were largely the same in 1067 as they had been in 1065…but historians regard the unified England of the late 11th century as a different thing from the Anglo-Saxon realm of a generation before, and not only because the rulers were speaking a different language.

Declaration of IndependenceExactly two months short of exactly 1300 years after what we now think of as the end of the Roman Empire, a group of colonies belonging to a country which had itself once been a Roman province declared themselves independent of their parent nation.  And though colonies, provinces and other dependent entities had done this sort of thing many times before, what made this one unique in world history was that the revolutionaries were not merely the followers of a rival monarch determined to wrest the territory from its legal ruler by military force; instead, they were philosophically-inclined sons of the Enlightenment who argued that human beings had certain unalienable rights which no ruler, no matter what his titles or antecedents, had the right to abrogate.  This was such a new idea that historians recognized it as a dividing line as soon as the British government did, five years later…but for the average working man, not much really changed, and for the slaves absolutely nothing did.  Even most of the laws of the states and cities of the new country were the same laws they had before the revolution…laws based on traditions dating back to the time when almost no educated person would have agreed that the Roman Empire was a thing of the past.

But less than a hundred years later, that began to change; the United States now bears more resemblance to the bloated, top-heavy, militaristic, moribund Roman state inherited by Odoacer than the lean, minimal government conceived of by the Founders.  Yet for now, the people of the US are still so emotionally invested in the label “American” and so blindly devoted to worship-words like “freedom” that they are unable to recognize that we’ve already crossed the line future historians will draw between the American Republic and the American Empire.  When did we pass from one to the other?  Alas, I’m in the same forest as you are; only the perspective of time will allow us to determine that.  Perhaps they’ll draw it at the end of the Cold War; perhaps even earlier, at the end of World War II.  Maybe they’ll make it simple for student memorization by setting it at the beginning of the 21st century.  But one way or another, it is insulting to the Founders’ memory to associate any patriotic feelings you have for the memory of the nation they created with the repressive fascist police state that now occupies its territory; the 4th of July is now a memorial rather than a celebration, and the Spirit of ‘76 is nothing but a ghost.

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