“If you were offered the chance to live your own life again, would you seize the opportunity? The only real philosophical answer is automatically self-contradictory: “Only if I did not know that I was doing so.” To go through the entire experience once more would be banal and Sisyphean—even if it did build muscle—whereas to wish to be young again and to have the benefit of one’s learned and acquired existence is not at all to wish for a repeat performance, or a Groundhog Day. And the mind ought to, but cannot, set some limits to wish-thinking. All right, same me but with more money, an even sturdier penis, slightly different parents, a briefer latency period…the thing is absurd. I seriously would like to know what it was to be a woman, but like blind Tiresias would also want the option of re-metamorphosing if I wished. How terrible it is that we have so many more desires than opportunities.”
—Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22
Desire, expectation, whatever you choose to call it, it is a prison. There is a tragedy in our persistent focus on being more that is undeniably a root cause of our suffering. I would be horrified if it was revealed to me the number of hours in my life I spent plotting, planning, or imagining a different experience than the one I was living in that moment. Much of this comes down to measuring suffering on a scale as well—putting our suffering into perspective—where a ten would be physical and mental torture and a one, you can’t find the sock you lost. This way of living is only partly our fault due to the ocean of manipulative advertising in all its forms we are bombarded with from childhood. Having the media, we interact with permeate our lives with a constant suggestion that this thing or that will make us whole has a compounding effect on our suffering. However, there is much of this desire that can be negated through our own due diligence.
Desire also has a dark side. Beyond the persistent monkey-mind ramblings in your head of needing a new pair of shoes, a better car, or everyone’s favorite more money, desire can manifest itself into power dynamics that aim to control others to gratify ourselves. This is acutely true for white men by orders of magnitude over any other classification. White men with power, either through money, celebrity, position, or physicality—or all of the above—are at risk of letting their desire become a monster that imparts suffering to others.
The media is awash with stories lately of white men letting their selfish desires create great suffering for women. From Harvey Weinstein to Louis C.K., and sadly our own POTUS, men are being exposed for their sexual advancements, harassment, and even rape. Each of these men’s egregious actions was a result of them losing control of their desire. Power, in whatever form it took, vaporized their empathy because the wanting of something, in this case, sexual fulfillment, became more important to them than being alive in the moment. Their positions gave them an unfair advantage over women, and instead of earning the privilege of a woman’s companionship, intellect, and sensuality, they bullied their way into a manipulative and aggressive control as a shortcut to fulfilling their immediate impulses. This blind drive of wanting isn’t an inherently male quality as I’ve heard some people suggest. Men are not born sexist pigs who cannot control their sexual desires and roam this world looking to overpower women and abuse them. No, that type of disgusting behavior is taught. These men and many others like them have both learned from their parents, teachers, and mentors that power and control are more important than empathy, as well as being supported by a network of people over the years who chose fear over rationality.
Many years ago I fell into a job while temping as the executive support for the president of a landscaping business in Texas. This man, a professed church-going Christian and family man used to make sexist remarks to the women in the office on a regular basis and thought shouting orders at people was the appropriate way to communicate to your employees. I worked for him for over a year before one day I had enough of his shouting across the hall at me, accusing me of losing something he lost, or just being an asshole in general, and I walked across the hall and laid into him verbally. It wasn’t the best way to handle the situation, but it was a reaction to a kind of PTSD that I had been dealing with for a long time until my emotions took control. Amazingly I wasn’t fired on the spot, and he changed his tone with me for the few months I remained before quitting. The point here is I was willing to risk my livelihood to stop bad behavior. That was a relatively painless choice for me being young, able and a white male. If I had been a single mother, that decision would have been infinitely harder. That is why this enabling structure around men like the Weinstein’s of the world has to be tempered by other men, and preferably other men with some power.
Imagine if one of the male stars of Hollywood had walked over to Weinstein when he was an aggressive, inappropriate sexual predator and told him to stop it or they would make it publicly know that he was a horrible man. The public shaming should have happened years ago by those who could afford to deny Weinstein and others like him, his power. I have no doubt that in Weinstein’s case people witnessed his ugly behavior around women and let it go as merely being sleazy without extrapolating the possibility that sleaziness often leads to assault and rape. We let other people’s desires run free when we lack the presence of mind to follow where that desire could lead. We also excuse it because of our own desires and the shame we hold around those desires. Men in this world have a lot of work to do in letting go of our desires, especially as they relate to the female sex. All of us know what is appropriate and what isn’t from the first time some jerk guy says something inappropriate to a woman at a party and she tells him to fuck off. Men who let their wants control them live empty lives because they fail to see the richness and never-ending fulfillment that empathy brings.
For all of those men out there who find themselves feeling less a man because you don’t have the sexual fulfillment you want, take a step back and start to think about what it must be like to walk around all day long as an object, instead of another human being with the same needs as you have. Use the filter you were naturally born with to maintain a level of self-control the allows you to operate in the space of empathy and self-awareness instead one of blind desire. And for all of the men who are exposed to other men misbehaving toward women, take some responsibility for our gender and shut those men down, in the moment. You can afford to take that risk far more so than the woman who is the object of the abuse, to begin with. It isn’t really very hard to tell the difference between flirting and inappropriate sexual advances.