A Philosopher's Blog

Virtual Cheating V: Virtual People

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on June 30, 2017

In this last in the virtual cheating series, the focus of the discussion is on virtual people. The virtual aspect is easy enough to define—these are entities that exist entirely within the realm of computer memory and do not exist as physical beings in that they lack bodies of the traditional sort. They are, of course, physical beings in the broad sense, existing as data within physical memory systems.

An example of such a virtual being is a non-player character (NPC) in a video game. These coded entities range from enemies that fight the player to characters that engage in the illusion of conversation and interaction. As it now stands, these NPCs are quite simple—although players often have very strong emotional responses and even (one-sided) relationships with them. Bioware, for example, excels at creating NPCs that players get very involved with and their games often feature elaborate relationship and romance systems.

While these simple coded entities are usually designed to look like and imitate the behavior of people, they are obviously not people. They cannot even pass a basic Turning test. They are, at best, the illusion of people. As such, while humans could become emotionally attached to these virtual entities, it would be impossible to cheat with them. Naturally, a human could become angry with how involved their partner is with video games, but that is another matter.

As technology improves, the virtual people will become more and more person-like. As with the robots discussed in the previous essay, if a virtual person were a person, then cheating would be potentially possible. Also as with the discussion of robots, there could be degrees of virtual personhood, thus allowing for degrees of cheating. Since virtual people are essentially robots in the virtual world, the discussion of robots in that essay would apply analogously to the virtual robots of the virtual world. There is, however, one obvious break in the analogy: unlike robots, virtual people lack physical bodies. This leads to the obvious question of whether a human can virtually cheat with a virtual person or if cheating requires a physical sexual component.

While, as discussed in a previous essay, there is a form of virtual sex that involves physical devices that stimulate the sexual organs, this is not “pure” virtual sex. After all, the user is using a VR headset to “look” at the partner, but the stimulation is all done mechanically. Pure virtual sex would require the sci-fi sort of virtual reality of cyberpunk—a person fully “jacked in” to the virtual reality so all the inputs and outputs are essentially directly to and from the brain. The person would have a virtual body in the virtual reality that mediates their interaction with that world, rather than having crude devices stimulating their physical body.

Assuming the technology is good enough, a person could have virtual sex with a virtual person (or another person who is also jacked into the virtual world). On the one hand, this would obviously not be sex in the usual sense—those involved would have no physical contact. This would avoid many of the usual harms of traditional cheating—STDs and pregnancies would not be possible (although sexual malware and virtual babies might be possible). This does, of course, leave open the door for accusations of emotional infidelity.

On the other hand, if the experience is indistinguishable from the experience of physical sex, then it could be argued that the lack of physical contact is irrelevant. At this point, the classic problem of the external world becomes relevant. The gist of this problem is that because I cannot get outside of my experiences to “see” that they are really being caused by external things that seem to be causing them, I can never know if there is really an external world. For all I know, I am dreaming or already in a virtual world. While this is usually seen as the nightmare scenario in epistemology, George Berkeley embraced this view in his idealism—he argued that there is no metaphysical matter and that “to be is to be perceived.” On his view, all that exists are minds and within them are ideas. Crudely put, Berkeley’s reality is virtual and God is the server.

So, if cheating is defined such that it requires physical sexual activity, knowing whether a person is cheating or not would require solving the problem of the external world. And there would be the possibility that there never has been any cheating since there might be no physical world. If sexual activity is defined in terms of the behavior and sensations without references to a need for physical systems, then virtual cheating would be possible—assuming the technology can reach the required level.

While this discussion of virtual cheating is currently purely theoretical, it does provide an interesting way to explore what it is about cheating (if anything) that is wrong. As noted at the start of the series, many of the main concerns about cheating are purely physical concerns about STDs and pregnancy. These concerns are avoided by virtual cheating. What remains are the emotions of those involved and the agreements between them. As a practical matter, the future is likely to see people working out the specifics of their relationships in terms of what sort of virtual and robotic activities are allowed and which are forbidden. While people can simply agree to anything, there is the deeper question of the rational foundation of relationship boundaries. For example, whether it is reasonable to consider interaction with a sexbot cheating or elaborate masturbation. Perhaps Bill Clinton, with his inquiries into the definition of “sex” should be leading the discussion of this matter.


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Kant & Sexbots

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Technology by Michael LaBossiere on December 27, 2013

Robotina [005]

Robotina [005] (Photo credit: PVBroadz)

The Fox sci-fi buddy cop show Almost Human episode on sexbots inspired me to revisit the ethics of sexbots. While the advanced, human-like models of the show are still things of fiction, there is already considerable research and development devoted to creating sexbots. As such, it seems well worth considering the ethical issues involving sexbots real and fictional.

At this time, sexbots are clearly mere objects—while often made to look like humans, they do not have the qualities that would make them even person-like. As such, ethical concerns involving these sexbots would not involve concerns about wrongs done to such objects—presumably they cannot be wronged. One potentially interesting way to approach the matter of sexbots is to make use of Kant’s discussion of ethics and animals.

In his ethical theory Kant makes it quite clear that animals are means rather than ends. They are mere objects. Rational beings, in contrast, are ends. For Kant, this distinction rests on the fact that rational beings can (as he sees it) chose to follow the moral law. Animals, lacking reason, cannot do this. Since animals are means and not ends, Kant claims that we have no direct duties to animals. They are classified in with the other “objects of our inclinations” that derive value from the value we give them. Sexbots would, obviously, qualify as paradigm “objects of our inclinations.”

Interestingly enough, Kant argues that we should treat animals well. However, he does so while also trying to avoid ascribing animals themselves any moral status. Here is how he does it (or tries to do it).

While Kant is not willing to accept that we have any direct duties to animals, he “smuggles” in duties to them indirectly. As he puts it, our duties towards animals are indirect duties towards humans. To make his case for this, he employs an argument from analogy: if a human doing X would obligate us to that human, then an animal doing X would also create an analogous moral obligation. For example, a human who has long and faithfully served another person should not simply be abandoned or put to death when he has grown old. Likewise, a dog who has served faithfully and well should not be cast aside in his old age.

While this would seem to create an obligation to the dog, Kant uses a little philosophical sleight of hand here. The dog cannot judge (that is, the dog is not rational) so, as Kant sees it, the dog cannot be wronged. So, then, why would it be wrong to shoot the dog?

Kant’s answer seems to be rather consequentialist in character: he argues that if a person acts in inhumane ways towards animals (shooting the dog, for example) then his humanity will likely be damaged. Since, as Kant sees it, humans do have a duty to show humanity to other humans, shooting the dog would be wrong. This would not be because the dog was wronged but because humanity would be wronged by the shooter damaging his humanity through such a cruel act.

Interestingly enough, Kant discusses how people develop cruelty—they often begin with animals and then work up to harming human beings. As I point out to my students, Kant seems to have anticipated the psychological devolution of serial killers.

Kant goes beyond merely enjoining us to not be cruel to animals and encourages us to be kind to them. He even praises Leibniz for being rather gentle with a worm he found. Of course, he encourages this because those who are kind to animals will develop more humane feelings towards humans. So, roughly put, animals are essentially practice for us: how we treat them is training for how we will treat human beings.

In the case of the current sexbots, they obviously lack any meaningful moral status of their own. They do not feel or think—they are mere machines that might happen to be made to look like a human. As such, they lack all the qualities that might give them a moral status of their own.

Oddly enough, sexbots could be taken as being comparable to animals, at least as Kant sees them. After all, animals are mere objects and have no moral status of their own. Likewise for sexbots. Of course, the same is also true of sticks and stones. Yet Kant would never argue that we should treat stones well. Perhaps this would also apply to sexbots. That is, perhaps it makes no sense to talk about good or bad relative to such objects. Thus, a key matter to settle is whether sexbots are more like animals or more like stones—at least in regards to the matter at hand.

If Kant’s argument has merit, then the key concern about how non-rational beings are treated is how such treatment affects the behavior of the person engaging in said behavior. So, for example, if being cruel to a real dog could damage a person’s humanity, then he should (as Kant sees it) not be cruel to the dog.  This should also extend to sexbots. For example, if engaging in certain activities with a sexbot would damage a person’s humanity, then he should not act in that way. If engaging in certain behavior with a sexbot would make a person more inclined to be kind to other rational beings, then the person should engage in that behavior. It is also worth considering that perhaps people should not engage in any behavior with sexbots—that having sex of any kind with a bot would be damaging to the person’s humanity.

Interestingly enough (or boringly enough), this sort of argument is often employed to argue against people watching pornography. The gist of such arguments is that viewing pornography can condition people (typically men) to behave badly in real life or at least have a negative impact on their character. If pornography can have this effect, then it seems reasonable to be concerned about the potential impact of sexbots on people. After all, pornography casts a person in a passive role viewing other people acting as sexual objects, while a sexbot allows a person to have sex with an actual sexual object.

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Hotel Inconsequential

Posted in Philosophy, Reasoning/Logic, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on June 12, 2011
Hotel in Regensburg

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Strauss-Kahn made headlines for allegedly assaulting a hotel worker. The folks at Newsweek decided to follow up on the story with a bit of sensationalism. In “Hotel Confidential“, Bernstein and Ellison begin with “It’s the dirty secret about business travel. Many married men expect sex along with their room service, according to a NEWSWEEK poll.”

The poll asked about what the men did on business trips.  8% claim to have cheated on their spouse. 3% claim they made a pass at a hotel worker with a reported 55% failure rate and a 27% success rate. 9% claim they booked a massage via their hotel and 11% claim an attempt at sexual contact occurred. Interestingly, none of the men claimed to have initiated this. 2% claimed they had sex with a hotel worker, 6% claimed they had paid for sex and 21% admitted they had thought about cheating.

Now, let us crunch the numbers and subject the key claim (many married men expect sex along with their room service) to some critical thinking.

The claim itself could be taken at least two ways. One interpretation is that many married men expect sex while traveling on business. The other is that many married men expect sex to be provided sex by people associate with the hotel. This could mean that they expect sex from the people who provide room service or that they expect to be provided sex via the auspices of hotel employees but not with said employees.

Taking the numbers as presented, 21% of men thought about cheating. That cannot reasonably be taken as counting as expecting sex. The 8% who claimed to have cheated can probably be taken as expecting sex when they travel (but even that is an inference), but that hardly counts as many. The 11% of the 9% who booked massages in which sexual contact was attempted also does not seem to constitute a many. The 2% who claimed to have had sex with hotel workers is also not a many. The 3% who made a pass and presumably expected sex also do not seem to constitute a many.

Of course, it would be an error to take the numbers as presented. After all, polls have a margin of error that must be taken into account when considering the results. Assuming that the survey was done properly, the margin of error for a survey of 400 people is 4.9%. While this means that the percentages could be higher, it also means they could be lower (although not reduced to 0%). Given the small size of the survey and the rather small percentages, it would not be very reasonable to take much away from this survey. It certainly does not support the claim that many married men expect sex along with their room service (taken in any of the ways mentioned above). I have no doubt that some men do, but no evidence is given that shows that many do.

This discussion should not be taken as dismissing the harassment of or assaults on hotel workers. That clearly happens and is reprehensible. It is also good that the matter is getting media coverage. However, Newsweek seems to have rather dropped the ball on this matter.

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The End of Men II

Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on June 29, 2010
Former CEO of Hewlett-Packard Carly Fiorina
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This blog continues my discussion of Rosin’s article “The End of Men.”

Rosin’s next step is to consider the nature of the current, “postindustrial” economy. She argues that this economy favors women. The basis for her case is that the male’s advantages in size and strength do not provide an edge in this new economy, rather social skills (such as communication) and the ability to “sit still and focus” are the dominant skills. While women do not have a monopoly on these traits, she does consider that these attributes might be held predominantly by women.

Interestingly enough, her view rests on the classic stereotypes: men are strong and woman are social. Of course, when women were regarded as the weaker sex because of this difference, feminists argued that these were unjust stereotypes. However, now that these traits are advantageous, they are lauded. One might infer that the rule is that stereotyping is acceptable, provided that it stereotypes men as being at a disadvantage and women as being superior. Naturally, the reverse of this is still to be regarded as unacceptable.

Those who are rather against stereotyping might point out that this approach is still stereotyping and be critical of such an approach. Also, those who were concerned about how women fared poorly in the past economies should now be concerned about the situation faced by men. If the plight of women in the past was a bad thing, then the comparable plight of men today should also be a bad thing. However, there seems to be an unfortunate tendency to laud the “fall of men” and there seems to be, at best, modest concern for the plight of men.

In fact, as Rosin points out, there is a tendency to blame men for the current woes. She cites Iceland’s Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardotti’s expressed desire to put an end to the  “age of testosterone.” While this probably involves the usual political rhetoric, comparable attacks on women would no doubt be seen as sexist and hateful. However, consistency requires that what is hateful for one sex should also be hateful when applied to the other.

Following the standard approach, Rosin notes that although women have made significant advances and dominate higher education, they still fall behind men in wages. However, she is quick to point out that this is changing and that the  “modern economy is becoming a place where women hold the cards.”

While Rosin might be right, it is also possible that her prediction is mistaken. While the male dominated aspects of the economy have slumped badly, it is risky to make predictions from this situation. After all, the economy might very well shift again during the course of the recovery. As such, the plight of men might not be as dire as she predicts. That said, the general trends do seem to favor women over men.

To be specific, the current prediction is that there are 15 jobs that are likely to experience the most growth. As Rosin notes, only two (janitor and computer engineer) are currently male dominated. The other 13 jobs are dominated by women and, ironically, consist of traditional female jobs such as nursing, child care and food preparation. As Rosin notes, while women have expanded into jobs traditionally held by men, the reverse has generally not occurred-at least not yet. Some, such as Jessica Grose, have claimed that men seem to be stuck in their roles and are largely unable to adapt to the changes.

Rosin and Grose seem to be fairly accurate in this point: while women face cultural obstacles when entering fields traditionally dominated by men, men seem to face even greater obstacles. One difference is that the obstacles men face seem to be internal. That is, men are not being excluded by external forces but by their own decisions not to enter such fields. For example, there have been significant attempts to recruit men into the field of nursing, but men seem to be largely reluctant to enter that field.

If this analysis is correct, then men largely have themselves to blame for this aspect of the situation. If men could adapt as women did and enter non-traditional roles, then this would counter (to some degree) the new gender gap. Making such a conceptual switch would require redefining what it is to be a man, much as women went through a conceptual change when they began entering male dominated fields.

Men might be able to do this and, in fact, might be forced to do so by the realities of the new economy. While it might be unmanly to work in childcare, it might be seen as less unmanly than being unemployed.

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Viagra For Women

Posted in Medicine/Health, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on May 25, 2010
Symbol of the planet and Roman goddess Venus, ...

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Well, not quite. However, a drug that is supposed to boost a woman’s libido is being considered for approval by the FDA. This drug, flibanserin, is supposed to have three positive effects: 1) increase in sexual desire, 2) greater sexual satisfaction, and 3) a reduction in emotional distress. Roughly put, it promises better sex through chemistry.

Since men who suffer from erectile dysfunction have various erection corrections to chose from, it seems only fair that women have a similar opportunity to rectify their sexual problems. Given the delay in the development of comparable drugs for women, it might be suspected that old attitudes about female sexuality were a factor. After all, the old stereotypes are that while men are always interested in sex, it is natural for women to lack sexual desire and to merely endure sex without experiencing pleasure. As such, one might claim, a lack of sexual desire and pleasure are not conditions that need correction but merely the natural state for women. Of course, research seems to show that this is not the case and thus the drug would seem to be addressing real problems.

Rather than get into a debate about the true nature of female sexuality, I will instead address the matter of medication. If the drug is addressing a medical problem, then it seems reasonable for women who have that problem to use the drug. This would be analogous to the situation of men who medically need Viagra and to the situation of people who need blood pressure medication.

However, the drug might also be used in cases in which the conditions it is supposed to address are caused by factors that the drug itself does not correct. For example, if a woman is not experiencing desire because of stress or a poor relationship, the drug will merely cover up those problems with a chemically created pseudo-desire. As another example, if a woman is not enjoying sex because she and her partner are not doing a very good job, then the drug will merely cover up that problem as well. As a final example, if a woman is feeling distressed because of real problems, then the drug will merely mask the feelings without doing anything to solve the problems.

It might be replied that even in such cases the drug would be a real improvement because it would enhance the woman’s quality of life: she would feel more desire, more pleasure and less distress. Surely, one might argue, that would justify using the medicine?

That is, of course, a reasonable point. After all, when I take aspirin because of a running injury, it does not help heal the injury. It merely reduces the pain. But, of course, taking the aspirin is fine. That is, provided that masking the pain does not interfere with addressing the underlying cause of the pain.  If it does, then the aspirin will actually contribute to making things worse. An even better analogy might be alcohol: it is said that alcohol can help with sexual desire-but that is hardly a desirable solution.

Likewise for the drug-if a woman medicates herself and does not address the underlying problems, then these problems will remain unresolved. They would either tend to remain the same or even grow worse, perhaps requiring more or new drugs. As such, it would be more sensible to address the underlying problems rather than masking them.

Another reply might be that this criticism would seem to be yet another example of sexual stereotyping. After all, why single out this drug for criticism?

This is a reasonable concern and would be a serious objection if my view were limited to this drug. However, my view of this drug is based on a general principle about drugs, namely that masking problems using drugs is not a wise approach. This is not to say that I am opposed to drugs. But, I think that we have created an unfortunate approach to medication and health issues that has been partially fueled by the pharmaceutical companies. To be specific, there is a general tendency to over-medicate.

In the case of this specific drug, I have no issue with women who have a legitimate medical need for treatment. However, I think it would be a poor choice to use this drug without first determining the cause of the problems and the possibility of addressing them. While I am no expect on female libido, I suspect that in many cases the cause is not a medical disorder but a life problem (the relationship, work, stress, and so on). While a drug might address the effects of life problems, it would not address the causes.

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Sex Ed

Posted in Ethics, Law, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on April 9, 2010

While sex ed often leads to controversy, the latest incident is rather interesting. Wisconsin recently passed a new law that requires teachers to educate kids how to use contraceptives. In response, Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth sent  a memo to schools warning that teachers who follow this law could be arrested.

It is illegal for minors to have sex in Wisconsin, but he law requires teachers to show minors how to use contraception. So, according to Southworth,  the law requires teachers to encourage kids to  “engage in sexual behavior, whether as a victim or an offender.” This would, he reasons, make the teachers liable because they would be endorsing illegal behavior.  Southwort  goes on to use an analogy: “it is akin to teaching children about alcohol use, then instructing them on how to make mixed alcoholic drinks.” Not surprisingly, the main alternative being proposed to the new law is sex ed that focuses on abstinence.

If Southworth is right, then the teachers would be in a bit of a dilemma: if they follow the sex ed law, then they could be arrested for encouraging the delinquency of a minor. If they do not follow the sex ed law, then they would be breaking that law.  Of course, this assumes that Southworth is correct.

An important issue here is whether or not teaching minors to use contraception encourages them to engage in sexual activity.  Another important issue with whether or not teachers should be held accountable for the actions of the minors should they engage in sex.

In regards to the first issue, it could be argued that learning about sex and how to use contraceptives could encourage sexual behavior. To use an analogy to advertising, when people are exposed to information about a product and shown how to use it, they would be more inclined to buy and use that product. Sex ed of this sort could be seen as an infomercial that will lead minors towards sexual activity.

The analogy does, however, break down a bit. After all, an infomercial is explicitly trying to push a product whereas sex ed is presumably not aimed at getting minors to have sex.

However, it could be argued that merely learning about sex and how to use contraception will motivate minors to have sex. However, I suspect that biology provides considerable motivation-far more than what a sex ed class would provide. Also, minors are no doubt getting information about sex outside of school, such as via the internet. Finally, minors were having sex long before this law was passed. As such, it seems unlikely that this sort of sex ed would be a significant causal factor in leading minors to have sex.

Even if sex ed does encourage sexual behavior, this should be weighed against the benefits of such education. If minors will have sex anyway (which they clearly will), it seems preferable that they know how to use contraceptives and the consequences of not using them (as well as the consequences of sex). Such knowledge would most likely reduce the number of pregnancies and the spread of STDs. While it would be better for minors to wait until adulthood before having sex, if they do not it is better that they do not get (or get someone else) pregnant or catch an STD.

As far as abstinence based education goes, it is reasonable to educate students about the value of abstinence. However, to rely primarily on preaching abstinence as a problem solver would be a serious mistake. After all, it tends to be rather ineffective.

In regards to the second issue, it does make some sense that teachers would be accountable to a degree. To use another analogy, if a teacher shows students how to make pipe bombs and some students blow themselves up while trying to make them, then the student would have some responsibility for this.

This can, however, be countered by another analogy. Consider, if you will, a drivers’ ed class taught in school to minors. Obviously enough, this class teaches people how to drive and these people cannot legally drive on their own. Using Southworth’s logic, the drivers’ ed teachers would be responsible if one of the students jumped behind the wheel of the family car, took it for a spin, and got arrested. As such, driver’s ed should be changed from showing people how to drive to focusing on telling minors why they should practice automotive abstinence.

Three Types of Cheaters

Posted in Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on December 19, 2009

Put in very general terms, cheating involves straying outside a committed relationship in order to have sexual relations with another person or persons. People cheat for a variety of reasons, but there are two main motivations that are almost certainly present in every case. First, the cheater believes that s/he is not getting something she needs or wants from the existing relationship. For example, a person might not be receiving the amount or type of sex s/he wants. As another example, a person might not be receiving the emotional intimacy s/he needs. These unsatisfied needs are what motivate the person to stray outside the confines of the relationship. Second, the cheater believes that s/he is getting something of value out of the existing relationship or is avoiding something undesirable by remaining in the relationship. Obviously, if the cheater got nothing from being in the relationship, then s/he would most likely end the relationship rather than cheat. What the cheater gets from the relationship can vary greatly. One person might remain in a relationship out of love, but stray because her sexual desires are not being gratified. Another person might remain in a relationship for financial security, yet wander because his partner is emotionally distant. A third person might remain in a relationship out of fear of being harmed, yet cheat in order to attempt to have a relationship that is not based on threats and coercion.

While people cheat for a variety of reasons, it is generally desirable to avoid having someone cheat on you. Laying aside the moral harms, cheating is harmful in two very practical ways. First, there is the matter of physical health. There are many sexually transmitted diseases in the world and some of them, such as AIDS, are life threatening. If someone is cheating on you, the odds of you being exposed to one of these diseases increases significantly. Second, there is the matter of emotional health. Being committed and loyal to a person who does not reciprocate this loyalty can be quite devastating when this infidelity is revealed. The extent of this emotional harm increases the more you are committed to the person and commitment tends to increase with time. Given that both the chance of being harmed and the extent of the harm depends on the amount of time on is a victim of a cheater, it is reasonable to think that the sooner a cheater is exposed, the better.

To spot a cheater, you need to know what types of cheaters you might be dealing with. There are three types of cheaters: the traitor cheater, the stealth cheater, and the open cheater. Each of these types will be discussed in turn.

The traitor cheater is the classic cheater. The cheater is cheating with a person who is aware of the relationship that the cheater is violating. This is analogous to historical traitors who secretly betray their alleged loyalties to another party who is fully aware of their traitorous deeds. A traitor cheater can be hard to catch because s/he has a willing accomplice who will probably aid the cheater in concealing the cheating.

A stealth cheater is a person who cheats on one person with another person who is ignorant of the cheater’s other relationship. The cheater is thus cheating on both people because only s/he knows about the cheating and the others believe they are in a committed relationship.

Because the stealth cheater does not have a knowing and willing accomplice, they can sometimes be easier to catch. In fact, one of the people involved with the cheater might accidentally expose the cheat. For example, a person who is unaware that s/he is involved with a cheater might stop by the cheater’s place unexpectedly when the other person is there.

An open cheater is someone who, as the term states, is open in his or her cheating. While s/he remains in a relationship, no attempt is made to conceal the cheating. The notion of an open cheater might seem rather odd. After all, cheating seems to almost require secrecy by definition. However, such cheating does occur and occurs enough that there are slang terms for those who engage in it. People who are open cheaters have been called “swingers” and “players.”

The good thing about an open cheater is that there is no need to expose the person-they are open about the cheating. The bad thing about an open cheater is that s/he is still a cheater.

A single person might conceivably be a cheater of multiple types. For example, a person might be cheating with one person who is aware of his infidelity while he is also involved with a third person who is unaware of the first two. However, most cheaters tend to fall into just one type.

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Throwing it Away

Posted in Ethics, Relationships/Dating by Michael LaBossiere on December 10, 2009

In the wake of the Tiger Woods’ affair (well, affairs) folks such as CNN personality Cafferty have been asking why people “throw it all away.” Naturally, he is talking about people like Tiger Woods. Woods was on the top of the world and raking in millions from endorsements. However, the revelation of his alleged affairs have brought the Tiger down. For example, his ads have quietly faded from TV. While he still has his millions (soon to be less, of course) he has taken a serious hit. Given the cost of his affairs, one wonders why he decided to act in that manner.

There are two easy and obvious answers. The first is that cheaters generally do not expect to be caught. In many cases they think that they are too smart to get caught. Obviously, this was not the case for Woods (or Spitzer or many others). This explanation is especially plausible in the case of celebrities-they tend to have rather healthy egos and this no doubt leads them to over estimate their abilities.

The second is that people tend to let strong emotions (such as lust) interfere with their better judgment. This applies to everyone, not just famous folks.

Of course, there are other possibilities. Famous folks are often accustomed to having things their way and also used to not being held as accountable as normal folks. To use an obvious example, celebrity drug addicts go to rehab, while normal folks usually go to jail. Given the sort of star treatment that stars receive, it is hardly shocking when they seem to think they will get away with misdeeds.

Another possibility is that some people seem to have a need for whatever it is that such affairs offer. It might be the sex, the lure of doing wrong, or even an emotional need. Just as drug addicts will give up so much for their drugs, affair addicts will also give up the greater good for their affairs.

Of course, even celebrities get brought low by their affairs. For example, Spitzer lost his position as Governor and Clinton ran into all sorts of trouble. But, a celebrity brought low often still flies far above the common herd:  Clinton is still wealthy, influential and well respected. Spitzer is still a celebrity of sorts. He has written for Newsweek and has been invited to speak at various events.  So, the lesson seems to be that affairs will cost a celebrity, but that the fall is generally not all the way to the ground. So, while Woods will suffer from his misdeeds, he will still have millions and can still play golf. He will also suffer no shortage of women, should he desire more. Yes, he paid a high price. But, he is still vastly better off than the overwhelming majority of people (well, aside from the moral aspect).

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 26, 2009
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The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy is an amazing bit of doublethink. One one hand, any homosexual who is honest about his/her orientation cannot serve in the US military. On the other hand, any homosexual who is discrete about his/her orientation and says nothing, can freely serve. So, the policy essentially says that it is okay for homosexuals to serve, provided no one says anything. That is, of course, rather weird.

A friend of mine recently presented his view of the matter. His approach was rather interesting and he looked at it in terms of practicality and human sexuality. He began by noting that the military does permit men and women to serve together, but still keeps the two sexes separate in many ways. Men and women do not share the same barracks areas and they do not shower together. The reasons for this separation is rather obvious: social norms about the mixing of the sexes and also the problems that would arise if young men were showering with and bunking with young women. In other words, it is a sex thing.

Homosexuals thus short circuit the system. Since a homosexual is attracted to his/her own sex, s/he will be bunked with and shower with the sex /she prefers. Allowing this would, of course, be on par with allowing straight men and women to shower and bunk together. As my friend contended, until human beings are able to deal with their sexuality, this will always be a problem. If men and women (well, mostly men) had an adequate handle on their sexuality, then men and women could freely mix. This would also permit homosexuals to be mixed in as well-after all, if men and women can be naked in the showers with each other with no problem, then homosexuals would be fine as well.

Sex is, of course, the problem. As noted above, the military handles the sex thing between men and women by keeping the two sexes separated in various ways. Thus suggests one rather awkward and jury rigged approach to the problem: gay soldiers could be separated out from the straight soldiers in the same sort of way. For example, there would be straight male showers and barracks, straight female showers and barracks, gay male showers and barracks, and gay female barracks and showers.  Of course, there are many problems with this approach. One obvious problem is that while the men who like women will be separated from the women who like men and the men who like men will be with the men (likewise for the women who like women). Naturally, putting the gay women with the straight men and the gay men with the straight women would not work well.

My own view is this. Since the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy went into effect, we know that a significant number of homosexuals have served in the military-mainly because some of them did tell. The main concern that people have expressed about allowing gays in the military is that doing so will create all sorts of dire problems. However, these problems do not seem to have ever manifested themselves. As such, homosexuals do not seem to be any more problematic than heterosexuals (and there have been plenty of problems between heterosexual males and females in the military). Thus, there seems to be little compelling reason to keep up the weird policy of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Of course, some people would argue that if gay soldiers told, then this would cause all sorts of dire problems. Many of these arguments are, of course, virtually identical to the arguments given against racially integrating the armed forces. Integration worked out well and there seems to be no reason why allowing gays to serve openly would be beyond the ability of the military to handle. After all, our soldiers are professionals and citizens of a democracy that endorses equal rights for all.

For the cautious, we could always have some gays agree to come out and serve openly. Then we could watch for any dire consequences. If these do not arise, then more people can gradually come out of the closet. If that continues to be fine, then the process can be stepped up. Folks who are against gays being in the military should be fine with this approach. After all, this would give them the chance to have solid empirical evidence for their views. The only reason to be against such a test would be the fear that their views are actually unfounded and are mere prejudice-rather than being legitimate concerns about how gays would harm the military.

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Porn Star as Senator?

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on February 9, 2009

One piece of light news is that porn star Stormy Daniels is being urged to run for a senate seat. If she runs, she will be up against another person who (allegedly) was involved in the sex industry as well. This is, of course, Republican David Vitter. He is perhaps best known  for having his phone number appear  in records of the escort service run by Deborah Jeane Palfrey (better known as the “D.C. Madam”). In 2007 Vitter admitted to having “a very serious sin” in his past. Naturally, he claims that his wife forgave him. Despite this sin, he has managed to keep his position and it seems likely that he will continue to serve in the senate. Unless, of course, Stormy can beat him.

Naturally, there are some concerns about having a porn star running for the senate. Some might say that it is degrading to the high office of senator. However, I think that past scandals have sufficiently degraded the office to the point that a porn star would fit right in.

There is also the concern that the porn star candidacy idea is a joke or a poorly conceived slap at Vitter for his past sins. Politics, some might say, should be serious business and not tainted by such things.

This does, of course, have some merit. It would be preferable to have political contests run with grace, dignity and moral nobility. But, obviously enough, that sort of contest is the exception rather than the rule.

It might be argued that a porn star is morally flawed and hence not suitable for public office. The idea of having high moral standards for office is certainly appealing and I would certainly support the following of the true moral standards-once they get worked out. However, working as a porn star does not seem to out Stormy on a lower moral footing than most politicians. After all, simply review the usual folks who fill political offices-good luck finding the morally pure (or somewhat pure).

One obvious advantage of having a porn star run for office is that her sexual history is well known. In fact, there is no doubt an extensive video record of those activities. As such, there would be little to worry about in terms of some surprise sex scandal. At least with a porn star, you know were they stand. Or lay down. Or whatever position they happen to take.