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Category: Humans

In these days of aging baby boomers flooding the media with all their nagging medical problems, we were bound to have this sad affliction shoved in our faces sooner or later. Male menopause, they’re calling it (or andropause if you’re a doctor who needs the business). These are the fancy names that boomers use to describe what used to be an inability to cut the mustard.

Let’s be clear from the start that nobody is certain that this malady even exists. There is some evidence that “low T” (for testosterone, hormone of the gods) can contribute to non-manliness, although no real man should ever admit that. Privately, I will concede that, as you get older, everything gets lower, T included. That, however, is not a medical condition. It’s old age, my friend, and a sign that you won’t be living forever.

That said, I do believe there is another condition, similar to menopause, that is visited on men once they turn 70. Let’s call it manopause. As with women undergoing menopause, it involves a shift in state of mind. (Yes, I know there’s more to menopause than that, but it’s pretty unpleasant, so let’s skip it.)

With women, the shift seems to include the sudden realization that they’re in their 50s, childbearing is out of the picture, and that there is no time left to be patient anymore about anything — particularly clueless men. Often, their view of life becomes broader and more practical, and they’re less willing to put up with any foolishness that gets in their way. (I should report here, in the interest of scientific inquiry, that my wife tells me I have my head up my ass, but that assertion on her part only confirms my hypothesis.) Anyway, I find these traits admirable, which is why I think we need more women, and possibly only women, in charge of running our government.

But what about men? Do we ever attain this praiseworthy clarity of mind? In my opinion, no. We do, however, undergo a similar transition — manopause. I have no doubt that low T is somehow involved, but once again I don’t want to dwell on unpleasantness. Symptoms are what is important, not root causes.

As I have said, the onset of manopause most often occurs in the 70s. It produces the same impatience, the same we-haven’t-got-time-for-this attitude we see in women. But for men, it’s different. At the same moment we are feeling the pressure to get things done, we’re also realizing that, hey dude, there’s no rush. I’m old, you tell yourself. Why should I rush anywhere at this point? This is the time to kick back.

In other words, we arrive at the same place that menopause delivers women, but by the time we get there, it’s too late to be bothered. We’re down for all that no-nonsense practicality, but also perfectly content to leave it to the young folks.

Manopause, more than anything else, means freedom, my brothers.
I do like robots. Really I do. They have been getting some bad press in recent years, but as I have said, I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m only human, however, and now some doubts have crept in about granting that benefit of the doubt.

Robots are only tools, of course, like hammers and pencils. If properly designed and made they do exactly what they are supposed to do. That certitude is their destiny. For machines, including robots, it is their strength…and their weakness. Unlike me, they simply do what they do and never have a second thought about it. That may be okay with pencils and hammers, but when it comes to robots, I’m starting to worry.

You may have heard the warnings from Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk about the possibly lethal dangers in the rise of artificial intelligence. And perhaps you noticed that IBM’s Deep Blue has opened several cans of digital whupass on mere human chess grandmasters. Steve and Elon are now wondering whether that kind of wicked smarts might someday turn into a genuinely wicked smarts and eventually push aside all of us poor, self-doubting humans. Their alarm had already got me looking sideways at robots, but now I see that the ‘bots have taken that superiority one step further.

This week, a couple of other smart dudes unveiled a robot that solves a Rubik’s Cube — complete with all the appropriate twists and spins required — in just over a second. A second! This little device somehow combines the braininess required to decide how to manipulate the puzzle with the lightning-fast dexterity to carry it out. It is an amazing thing to see. Simply place your cube carefully in the robot’s clutches and press the button. The machine executes its task in one graceless spasm. It is utterly sure in its movements and way too fast for the naked eye.

I think it is that sureness that spooks me most, especially when it is matched with all that speed and smarts. The robot functioned completely without hesitation. And why shouldn’t it? A machine has no reason to have second thoughts, no cause to worry about consequences. If it fails, the reason will always be human error because humans designed and built it…even if it is smarter and stronger and faster than its makers.

Humans, obviously, are less perfect than their machines. We make mistakes all the time. That is our nature, perhaps even our destiny. With that kind of track record, is it any wonder that I am hobbled now by doubts?

The doubt here is whether we might make a very big mistake by creating a machine that is better than us in every way and absolutely certain that it is doing the right thing. I sincerely doubt that I would like that robot.
Fear Not
Fear is the mind-killer, they say, and these days the brain-dead are everywhere. You see them at Trump rallies, you hear about them getting armed to the teeth, you read the polls. People are not only kinked up with fear and anger and cynicism, but it seems to have gone viral.

The fact that so many people are so scared is now starting to frighten me. I really prefer to have fellow citizens who are not brain-dead. The more of them there are, I figure, the more uncertain my own future is and the more likely that I’ll be infected. So, in the spirit of community, the common good, and of protecting my own butt, let me share a few personal pointers about keeping the terrors at bay.

Get a grip. Okay, I admit that this is probably not very useful advice when you’re crazy with fear. It’s like telling a bald man to just grow some damn hair, ferchrissake! It doesn’t help, but it does make me feel powerful and in command to say it.

There’s always Hope, of course. And faith, and courage, and prudence, and patience, and blah blah blah. These are certainly all fine personal qualities that could, in theory, overcome whatever fear is plaguing me, but let’s be honest here. If I really possessed any of those noble traits in sufficient quantities, I’d already be fine. Infortunately, I’m afraid (see?) that I don’t.

Que sera, sera, or, whatever will be, will be. This attitudinal mind trick, which was popularized in the West by Doris Day (and won an Academy Award!), is a longtime philosophical staple in the Middle East. It’s really nothing more than good, old-fashioned fatalism. There’s nothing you can do about it, say the fatalists, so don’t sweat it. Similar, related mottos include: whatever, so be it, so it goes, and whatcha gonna do?

It is what it is. This is not so much fatalism as an absurd tautological loop that paralyzes the mind and keeps it from focusing on the object of fear. The idea here is that paralysis is a lot better than death. It should be noted, however, that this mantra protects us from all kinds of fear, even the ones we ought to pay attention to. For instance, we really should watch for falling rocks.

Laugh in the face of fear. Here, it is important that the laughter not sound phony or forced. It’s like whistling past the graveyard. If you’re off-key or don’t know the tune, the dead will surely drag you down into the pits of Hell to burn forever. So, to make this approach work, you need to find something genuinely amusing about being scared to death. Fear is certainly ugly, so you could start there (although making fun of appearances is a very shallow form of humor). Fear also has especially foul breath, however, and its fashion choices are notoriously ludicrous. As of this writing, it’s still okay to make fun of those things.

We have nothing to fear but fear itself. While not exactly true, FDR’s buck-up at the beginning of WWII still stands as one of the great pep-talk aphorisms. That was before the H-bomb came along, though.

Face up to your fear and vanquish it. I’m sorry, but I can’t sincerely recommend this method, even though I hear others confidently promoting it all the time. All that bravery and strength of character certainly sounds good, and who doesn’t like to do a little vanquishing once in awhile? Just remember, though, that Fear will be merciless if you are the vanquishee. Even so, don't let me stop you.

I can only hope that some of this has helped. If you’re already brain-dead, I’m sorry for your loss. Go ahead and vote for Trump if it makes you feel better.
Just Imagine
When I hear about kids who have imaginary playmates, I used to get a little jealous. I am told that more than a third of us have had one at some point, and I can’t help wondering why I got shut out of this wonderful alternative reality.

Recently, I decided that there’s no sense in dwelling on this blank spot in my life, and I prepared to move on. But once I let go of my longing, as so often happens, I was open to an epiphany. My imagination is as good as anybody else’s, right? Why couldn’t I have an imaginary friend whenever I wanted to? Even at this late date?

When I seriously thought about that possibility, however, I realized that my life is too complicated already. I don’t really want another friend. I just don’t have the time or energy for that kind of commitment. Instead, I have focused my imaginative powers on something a little more practical: an imaginary acquaintance.

His name is Joel, and he’s the only person I know with that name, so that makes him kind of special. But not so special that we to hang out together or anything. Instead, Joel and I run into each other by chance. We exchange pleasantries, talk about the weather, the news of the day, and ask after each other’s families (he got a kid in college, though I can’t remember her name). Then, one of us will look at his watch, say he’d better get back to his busy day, we say so long, and return to our lives. We have no expectations for our relationship, and we don’t think about each other between our chance meetings. It’s a friendly connection, but we’re not friends. We’re acquaintances. Imaginary acquaintances.

I can’t say that I get much out of my meetings with Joel. After all, we don’t really have that much in common. For one thing, I’m real, and he’s…well, you know. Still, it’s nice to catch up every once in a while, and that always makes me feel a little bit more connected to my own humanity. To my imaginary humanity, that is.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon