Book Review: The Body Keeps the Score

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This should be required reading for anyone majoring in psych. Associate’s. Hell, standard grade school curriculum, if that weren’t such a joke. We all need to know this. This book isn’t just going to change your treatment approach, or the way you think about trauma. It’s going to change your life.

The first thing you need to know about trauma in general and PTSD in particular is also the last thing, and they’re both the title of the book. The body keeps the score. Every time you experience a traumatic event, especially of the kind that are so severe that your brain goes offline, your body, like a sketchy 3rd party emulator, takes a save state. There’s an evolutionary reason for this. Every cell you’ve got is convinced you’re facing annihilation – whether this is brought about by physical abuse, incest, or getting royally and publicly dunked on in gym class is only relevant in terms of depth of response – and the system that is You agrees that if you make it out of this alive, whatever you did to survive is obviously the plan you’ll need to stick to the next time something like this happens.

It’s adaptation, and our capacity for it brought us from being tall, gregarious monkeys to owning the world. In PTSD, the triggering event to implement that survival script can get a little overeager. Better safe than sorry, after all, even if the safety save state is blackout violence, a dissociative episode, or full catatonia.

And that, my beauties, is the process a veteran undergoes when he returns from the atrocities he witnessed and, in many cases, committed, and tries to integrate back into society. The fireworks go off, and they sound like gunshots. The save state is quickloaded, and you have to understand, it’s not remembering what happens last time. It’s a complete neurochemical and hormonal overhaul to match the conditions of “the last time this happened”. His brain replicates the circumstances of the war, his endocrine system double-times the adrenaline and cortisol he needs to do whatever it was he did the first time to survive. Obviously, the neighbor kid playing with firecrackers in the suburbs is not the same as his 12th straight day of being shelled in Fallujah, but it doesn’t matter. His body can’t tell the difference, and neither can his brain.

Same is true of an abuse survivor. (Tap out here if you think this might trigger you).

Someone who lived through being molested in their early childhood, when they were dependent on the adults in their lives to literally keep them alive, they internalize the necessity of cooperation, often to the point where they identify with their abuser and condemn their victimized self, because it’s easier to hate yourself than to be without the anchor points of your childhood world. The desire to escape or to fight will necessarily give way to the freeze response, and that “compliance” will go on to fuse with the frustration, the trustlessness, the self-loathing to form a melange of cognitive dissonance that the victim internalizes and eventually spills over onto their adult relationships.

The thing to remember is, should a panic attack and dissociative episode emerge at a triggering point (most likely when the victim is having regular, consensual sex with a significant other who cares about them), it’s not that they’re being reminded of their assault, or drawing similarities or associations. They are quickloaded into their childhood bodies. A flashback is time travel. They are reliving it, and they need to follow the script that let them survive it the first time. It’s not a mind over matter situation, and it’s not a decision they’re making. As far as the whole system of their selfhood is concerned, it’s their only way they’re going to live through what’s happening.

Heavy, right? The whole book is like that. When I say it’ll change your life, I mean it. No matter how self-possessed you are, you’re not going to walk through this particular thicket without getting some scars.

Van der Kolk is the last word in trauma treatment. He’s a psychiatrist (boo hiss) but he rails against overuse of psychopharmaceutical interventions (wooooo yea), especially the widely overprescribed antipsychotics that blunt the physiological responses causing most of the problems. In PTSD therapy, as in most things, the only way out is through.

Van der Kolk suggests that it’s an issue of integration. A good way to think about it is corrupted data. Once upon a time, saving things on a computer took more than a microsecond. If you turned off the power before the file was saved, the data would be corrupted and unusable, and every time you tried to open that file, something bad would happen. Maybe it would just be computer code gibberish, or crash the program, or short out the whole computer. Maybe it would fry your entire motherboard.

That’s trauma. We encode memories on the fly, integrating episodic information into the personal narrative that comprises our life, and from this narrative we extract the information of who we are. Our concept of self comes from our ideas about identity, which we draw from the stories about ourselves, and the only place we can source those are from our memory.

During episodes of extreme trauma, the encoding process shuts off. Huge chunks of the brain shut off. You can’t be running all that extra hardware right now, you’re fighting for your life. We go into shock. So we save bits and pieces of the information coming through – impressions, sensory data, feelings – but not a comprehensive understanding of what happened, because at the time of the trauma, it’s too horrible for us to comprehend, and our thinking brain simply refuses to the task.

But the brain is continually referring to previous experiences for reference, especially in what it deems similar situations. So the brain tries to load that corrupted data, and the whole system crashes, and there’s the sudden onset of explosive PTSD symptoms, dissociation, panic attacks, numbing, crushing depression, and whatever might naturally follow from these experiences (risky behavior as self-soothing, self-harm, suicidality, etc.)

Van der Kolk’s answer is surprisingly direct and intuitive. Integrate the trauma. The flashbacks offer a doorway directly to the trauma, and if we can descalate the physiological response sufficiently to reintegrate the data into our story, we can accept the trauma as “something that happened in the past” and move on, rather than an ongoing experience we continually live and relive.

Since the brain is slackin’ ass, which is the entire problem, and trauma is stored in the body, the body is how treatment is approached. Trauma survivors usually have terrible relationships with their bodies. Eating disorders, obesity, dysmorphia, self-harm, chronic pain, alexithymia, you name it, all born of a disconnect from the body’s wants and needs, originally developing as a mechanism to survive the trauma. “If thine eye offend thee,” and all that. The first step is reconnecting the survivor with their body. Any physical modality will get them there, so long as there’s an element of interpersonal connection to it – martial arts, dance, gymnastics, theater, most forms of structured group exercise. In theory, crossfit would do the job, although weight training alone might be too isolationist, and can worsen things like body dysmorphia and eating disorders. Van der Kolk himself is absolutely horny for yoga. I’ve never heard anyone pop off about yoga with such fanatical adoration. Like, I’ve known a lot of yoga practitioners and teachers, and they tend to be like, “yeah, it’s pretty nice”. Van der Kolk is straight up yoga street-teaming.

It makes sense. The point of yoga is reintegration with the needs of the body, releasing the energy from the muscles, being kind to yourself and compassionate to others. Those are exactly the issues of PTSD. It’s an ideal counterbalance.

Once the body is grounded, the trauma work itself can begin. Van der Kolk is dismissive of “just talk therapy” to the point of contempt, which is not normally what you want to see from a guy who prescribes psychotropic drugs, but he acknowledges it’s a necessary component of childhood trauma processing. The trauma is stirred up, brought to the surface, then “experienced” and processed along with the new arsenal of improved bodily awareness, often “dipping the toe in” a little at a time until the whole of the traumatic experience can be mapped out and integrated into the memory. The reflexive responses that the body needed at the moment are manifested, allowed, and released. The system’s job queue is cleared, and the trauma can be accepted as something that happened, not something that’s happening. The physiological responses to it die off, and the PTSD just… disappears. It goes away. The spirits are exorcised.

Van der Kolk also talks about fringier approaches like EMDR, IFS, and biofeedback, all of which have seen fantastic results in certain populations of PTSD sufferers, and all of which are pooh-poohed by establishment shrinks and researchers because they’re expensive and difficult to understand empirically (beyond the demonstrable improvements in patients), and everybody in the field just wants to rave about how great CBT is, rather than gamble with their tenure.

It’s an incredible book, and everyone should read it. Not just every clinician, not just everyone who’s been traumatized. Every living person. If we all knew this information and we all applied it, it would be a much, much better world.



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Book Review: The Culture Code (Coyle)

The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Daniel Coyle

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


One of my favorite books is also called The Culture Code, so I figured I’d try my luck again. It panned out!

Unfortunately, the culture Coyle is talking about is not the interesting kind, with folklore and recipes, but the corporate kind. That would be enough to turn me off in most instances. I/O psychologists are barely better than advertisers, and advertisers don’t deserve to sleep indoors. But the studies that Coyle pulls and the conclusions he draws all generalize out of the office and into the parts of life that matter. And it was pretty well written, too.

“Safety” is the take home. The more rigid the hierarchy, the worse the performance. The more comfortable and familial the environment, the more people will collaborate, the better the output and happier the participants. It’s not rocket science, but it is actual science, and backed up with a bunch of blind experiments.

Four stars, because that’s the highest rating I can give a business book and maintain my integrity.



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Book Review: Talking to Crazy

Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life by Mark Goulston

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


It’s sort of like a pop psych version of The Prince, but instead of manipulating snooty European nobles with “near truths” and tactical surrenders, you use it on coworkers and loved ones when they’re acting screwy.

Goulston gives examples of the various crazy people will act out in their day to day lives — focusing primarily on every day, garden variety crazy, not axe murderer crazy — and how to disarm it. Most of these disarmaments require a sacrifice of dignity. You’ll be flattering them unduly, you’ll be lying about their capability, you’ll be pretending they’re right or that you’re scared or something like that as a means of “leaning into their crazy” which gives you the leverage to frog-march them back into sanity.

He seems like an excellent psychiatrist, if duplicitous. I like the prospect of leaning into crazy. People get really embedded in delusional thinking, and to challenge that delusion challenges their whole self-concept, which feels like an attack not only on the individual, but on the whole foundation of the individual’s world. Burning it down and salting the earth. So when you try to talk somebody out of crazy, it feels like bombardment, and they’ll start deploying whatever weapons they have to stop what they perceive as your assault. And guess what? Those weapons? Real crazy.

Whereas, leaning into crazy, it’s like a trojan horse. They won’t realize you’re dragging them back into sanity until it’s too late, at which point they won’t be irrational anymore, which is the point.

Goulston’s methods are sketchy because yes, they are deliberately, premeditatedly manipulative. In that respect, it reads like a pick-up artist book. Here’s a list of canned responses and insight into the psychology of others to coax them into doing what you want. It’s just, in this case, doing what you want is “acting like a reasonable adult”, and I think that’s probably the greater good.




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Book Review: Dispelling Wetiko

Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the Curse of Evil by Paul Levy

My rating: 1 of 5 stars


Incomprehensible and charmless, Dispelling Wetiko attempts to answer questions nobody asked with more meandering, answerless questions that don’t really even pertain to the initial question. Through the fog of schizoid babble and overuse of the meaningless signifier “nonlocal”, Paul Levy attempts to argue… something. He borrows heavily from Lovecraft in that, “Wetiko cannot be put into words (except the word Wetiko), Wetiko is so powerful and ultra spooky and pervasive that if you talk about it, it controls you, but if you don’t talk about it, it also controls you!”

Wetiko, as near as I could decipher, is being selfish and willfully noncreative. It’s etymologically linked to the indigenous concept of the Wendigo, who ate people; Wetiko as a “psychic disease” eats humanity by robbing us of what it means to be human, locking us in a non-generative box of self-absorbed consumption, something about “ego is a delusion” because Levy’s into Buddhism, blah blah, you get it. Oh, look, I used words to describe the indescribable.

He’s a miserable writer and it’s made worse by his flagrant self-obsession, which he props up on meaningless New Age jargon like an unconvincing scarecrow, periodically name-dropping Jung and Rollo May in an effort to salvage credibility.

The worst part is, it’s a book pretending to be about psychology, but no psychologist was even peripherally involved in its production. In the intro to the book, Paul Levy explains how the manifestation of Wetiko crept into his dreams, manifesting its vampiric and oogidy-boogidy nature by his recurrent dreamland dalliances with Dracula.

Multiple dreams about Dracula. One where they’re sitting in his parlor just vibing out, chatting, but Dracula keeps staring at him, eyes beginning to glow with a bestial hunger. In the second one, he and Dracula are laying in bed together, and Levy realizes “Wetiko” is aiming to consume him vampirically, so he jams something in Dracula’s mouth while chanting a Buddhist mantra that symbolized a very specific guru whom Levy idolizes.

Now, if at any point in the editing process, Levy had checked with a psychologist, therapist, psychoanalyst, or even a first-year psych student, they would have said:

“Paul, these Dracula dreams sound horny. The ‘charismatic, vampiric’ force manifesting in the form of Dracula, staring at you in a way that makes you feel desired and uncomfortable, literally sharing a bed with you… could that be your unconscious grappling with something latent? Maybe that’s why you chose to dissipate Dracula’s dark and alluring power with the sigil of your Buddhist father figure, who provides a channel by which to communicate that ‘compassion’ and ‘lovingkindness’ for other fellas? Is that maybe why you felt you had to mention waking up next to your girlfriend in the very next sentence?”

Not my pig, not my farm, not my client. Maybe if he were my client, I would have finished this book. As it stands, there’s no way I’m sitting through 12 hours of this. If that means I stay wracked with Wetiko, it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.



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Book Review: The Chimp Paradox

The Chimp Paradox: The Acclaimed Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness by Steve Peters

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I know it looks like get-up-and-gotivation office jockey tripe, but it’s a ruse. The market for business books is probably better than the market for self help. Nobody wants to do things “for themselves”, especially in America, but everybody wants to make more money.

Peters hammers the reader with any number of meandering analogies that are impossible to keep track of, comparing aspects of the personality to various structures in our solar system including, for some reason, the Kuiper belt, and describes reflexive unconscious schema as either “autopilot”, “goblins”, or “gremlins”. He’s English, and maybe there’s a more pronounced and innately understood cultural difference between goblins and gremlins there. I’m an American. I will not learn about English culture under any circumstances.

Where the book and the theory really shines is the divvying up of the Freudian id and ego/superego into “chimp” and “human” aspects of our mind. The chimp is irrational, easily angered, highly defensive, functionally feral. The human is logical, rational, capable of delaying gratification to get two marshmallows later, that kind of thing. However, both in your head and in real life, chimps are 5x stronger than humans per square inch of muscle, and you will never overpower your internal chimpliness with sheer force of will.

Fortunately, you don’t have to. You just have to be on good terms with your chimp. Just like you positively condition a dog with treats to get it to do what you want, you bribe, bargain, and placate your chimp into cooperation. When it gets worked up and “makes you anxious”, give it ten minutes to vent. Let your chimp bitch and moan. Once it’s done, the human steps in and says, “I know it sucks. It’s okay. How about we pound through the homework assignment right quick, then after we can get a drink with the lads?”

A well-exercised chimp is much more manageable. Take it out, let it run around. Let it scream itself out when it needs to. Your chimp likes creature comforts like food and sex and smoking weed, but it also likes things that remind your body that you’re alive, like exercise, cold showers, and social achievement (as the chimp is deeply concerned about its place in the troop at all times).

Peters presents a concise owner’s manual for fruitful chimp companionship. Take care of your chimp (and your body). Address your chimp’s need to chimp out (your emotions). Distance yourself from those irrational aspects of yourself, but stop punishing yourself for feeling things strongly! There’s a chimp in there, but he’s not necessarily you, in that you are more than just the chimp.

You don’t need to fly into a rage and regret it later when the chimp is exhausted and the human needs to pick up the pieces, which in turn humiliates the chimp, creating a feedback loop of rage. You can get the chimp out of the crisis zone, let him hop around in the jungle for a while, then come back at this when he’s contentedly eating bananas and you can actually steer the damn vehicle.

Excuse the mixed metaphor. Chimps shouldn’t drive, unless they have demonstrated a natural talent.

An excellent book for anybody with even a passing interest in psychology. I’ve been pushing it on a bunch of people, even though nobody ever takes my book recommendations. I don’t take it personal. Reading is hard, especially for a chimp, and if you didn’t have chimp management issues I wouldn’t be pushing the book on you in the first place.



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Book Review: What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite

What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite by David DiSalvo

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Fisher-Price My First Neuroscience book. Somebody should have stopped him from publishing the introduction, it was so awkward that I almost stopped reading the book.

If you make it through that, it’s a primer on neuroscience and cognitive psych, citing the usual bunch of studies you would have learned about in a Psych 101 gen ed. The gorilla basketball experiment, the marshmallow one, monkeys creating a token economy, you know the drill.

The science was sturdy and the takeaway is that our brains are organized to prefer short-term benefits over the long-term promise of benefits due to an innate understanding of uncertainty, which served us fine living in the caves, but doesn’t fly as well trading crypto.







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Book Review: A Billion Wicked Thoughts

A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the World’s Largest Experiment Reveals about Human Desire by Ogi Ogas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I loved this book. I’ve got this problem when I love books too much, I’ll wait to review them so I can let everything percolate and get my thoughts in order. Problem is, much like when you don’t write down a dream right after waking up, you lose details. I finished this one over a week ago and I’ve been turning it over in my head ever since, but it was so convoluted that I’m worried I’ve lost some of the plot.

Here we go. The Largest Experiment wasn’t an experiment, but a comparative, blind meta-analysis of porn searches across gender, age, and orientation variables. The results wind up falling in lockstep alignment with the narrative pushed by evolutionary psychology since its inception in the 50s, which is why there’s so much high-pitched keening from all these other reviewers. Evolutionary biology and its appendages have decidedly not been asked to the prom in 2021.

The beauty of this non-experiment is all the data is naturalistic observation, beamed in directly from the crusty consoles of these degenerate perverts without their knowledge. Seems unethical, doesn’t it? That’s what makes it so hot.

The somewhat antiquated conclusions drawn from this ironically voyeuristic analysis of internet voyeurism is that men are cocked, locked, and ready to rock at virtually all times, assuming normal amygdal function and dopamine sensitization, because men tend to be attracted to individual parts. Not like in an Ed Gein way, normally. But men can do just fine looking at a super zoom-in of tiddies, because their brains are typically wired to respond to visual cues.

As contrasted to the average woman, where the arousal process tends to be much more psychological and convoluted. The odious comparison they draw in the book is with someone named Miss Marple, who I am too young and cool to know about, but by context clues deduce that she’s some sort of horny, geriatric detective. Women need a sequence of different things for arousal – very few of them can just look supercuts of big ol’ donguses and be ready to go – and the usual suspects tend to include things like status, attention, emotional connection, power, safety vs danger (which operates on a sort of sliding scale, both with their moistening potential), and actual physical attractiveness across several domains, all added somewhere in the mix. You don’t need all of them, but you need at least a couple.

Another fascinating little quirk of female arousal discussed in the book is there’s often such a significant disconnect that the brain doesn’t realize that the body’s aroused. In a neat little experiment they gauged the physiological, sexual readiness of both men and women when exposed to pictures of straight porn, gay porn, lesbian porn, neutral stimuli, and monkeys having sex, then asked the participants to rate how aroused they were by each stimulus in the moment.

Men had a direct 1:1 correlation. If they were gay, gay porn did it for them; if they were straight, straight and lesbian porn did it for them, and their self-report arousal matched what it said on the pressure cuff around their ding-a-ling.

Women’s results were all over the place. In most participants, physiological arousal was triggered by every sexually charged image, including – INCLUDING! – the monkeybang, whereas self-report of arousal varied widely between women, but generally across categories you’d expect (straight women generally preferring straight and gay images, lesbians preferring lesbian images, though by no means with the same numerical frequency or intensity as happened for the men). The take-home is that lady parts were pretty much always ready to go when sex as a concept was present, but were so often vetoed by the frontal lobes, and so quickly, that the woman herself wasn’t even aware of it, or of her own physiological arousal.

Because of the differences, the book tried to make the comparison that porn is to men as romance novels (or smutty fanfiction) are to women. It seems counterintuitive from whichever side of the road you’ve been assigned, but when you look at the data they compiled, especially subscription rates to these paysites across gender lines and their, ahem, use… it tracks. Especially when you consider that both of these things are peddling an unrealistic fantasy.

In porn, women are rendered objects. There’s no emotion or personality in the mix, unless some kink requires it, because the end-all is that these digitized dreamgirls are the sum of secondary sex characteristics. Sex objects in the purest conceptualization, and distillates of these visual, sexual cues, breasts and butt and legs and hips and, if you can spare one, a half-decent face. The fantasy sold to habitually porn-consuming men (Coomers, in the parlance) is of compliant sex robots frankensteined together from all the best parts for rapid, goal-oriented, emotionally vacant sex. If the woman speaks, it is to insist that her life is changed by the present sexual experience taking place, and upon completion (as defined by male orgasm, of course) there is an immediate decoupling and everyone goes their separate ways, no muss, no fuss, no further words spoken.

This type of sex is possible, of course. Through Allah, all things are possible. But it’s the exception, and not the rule. And if you’re cranking your hog to porn a few times a week (or a few times a day, in the case of the addicted), the expectation of that fantasy encroaches on your understanding of reality, and supplants it. That’s a tall order for your average woman, who has never even watched porn.

Because she’s busy reading The Baron’s Secret Mistress and getting… maybe not equivalently hot and bothered by it, but comparably. The sex is sort of an afterthought in lady smut, because the sex isn’t the point so much as is the emotions surrounding the sex because, as established, female arousal is a psychosexual Rube Goldberg machine.

The love interest in these works trend to type, too. They are dark, brooding, strong, dangerous. Mention will be made of their chiseled jaws, and perhaps of their powerful thighs. They are sought after, and unfailingly rakish. They are powerful. They occupy a high strata in whatever society they’re in – if he is a Viking he will be a chieftain, if he is a pirate he will be the captain, if he is a brigand he will be a sort of jacked, smirking Robin Hood, never a Little John or a Friar Tuck.

They will be rich. There isn’t much of a market for “The Long-Haul Trucker’s Concubine” or “The Forbidden Doublewide Trailer”, for some reason.

They will be heartbreakers. They will sometimes even be rapists; that’s an alarmingly popular trope in this kind of fiction.

And then, over time, the hypermasculine caricature that is the love interest will realize, often after a chance encounter with the protagonist’s magic hoo-hoo (operant definition provided by Ogi Ogas), that his life of freedom and philandering has been a sham leading up to the moment that he met the heroine, and he has been able to think of nothing else since. This culminates in a climactic, over-the-top declaration of love, “It’s you, it’s always been you” style, which the heroine will magnanimously accept, resulting in happily ever after.

In the same way the average woman cannot do that thing you want her to do from porn because she can’t hold her breath for four minutes, the average man will never become unhinged in his obsession with your “beautiful and unique you-ness” (ill-defined as that may be even in the novels) and ejaculate the innermost workings of his heart aloud to you on some windswept Scottish crag during a pounding storm, the rain plastering your hair to your head, his muscled chest heaving, his eyes, previously so commanding, now desperate, pleading for your answer.

The average man will, however, play Call of Duty for hours, and fart into the couch.

The book spent more time on porn than on romance novels, presumably because the data was much more direct and much more available. It drew some peculiar conclusions about popular trends in pornography, and in the sociosexual landscape of our age in general. I could pontificate about it for hours, but I’ve got things to do, and I’m sure you do too. I’ll try to make it brief.

Age was the most sought-after category and one of the most significant cues for men, but that could be due to how it was factored in. “Teen”, “mature”, “milf”, “stepmom”, etc. all got swept into the same category, whereas something like “nurse” had less wiggle room. The early chapters comparing different categories of porn and their popularities were eye-opening.

Ogas’ postulation on the growing popularity of cuckoldry was especially fascinating, since it seems like such a counterintuitive thing, with our main evolutionary drive as men being certainty of paternity. The suggestion is that’s exactly the point. Evo bio has a grody old chestnut that says the scoop shape of the penis and the presence of specialized cells in semen that are only there to kill other, foreign sperm suggest that the sexual encounters of early sapiens could get somewhat… crowded. From a perspective of natural selection, seeing another male potentially impregnating the female on whom you called impregnatin’ dibs could serve to arouse you (the cuckold) because it is critical to the survival of your genes that you get in there NOW and undo what he just did!

Which was a possible explanation for why men are so obsessed with wieners. The female eye tends to gloss right over them, taking them in as part of the totality, but the studies suggest that males, regardless of sexual orientation, find them train-wreck fascinating. And that sensitivity to the penis as a sexual cue was then used as a potential explanation for why transsexual porn is overwhelmingly consumed by heterosexual men; gays rarely found it to be very interesting.

Another peculiarity was the establishment of gay men being attracted to traditional markers of masculinity, and so much of gay porn is “about” straight men. I’m a cishet shitlord so I’m trying to step carefully in my paraphrasing, but the take-home was that, although the stereotype of flamboyance serves as a sort of marker to identify other gays in the wild, the overwhelming majority of gay men are more attracted to stubble-and-calluses machismo.

Which would also serve to explain their general disinterest in tgirls. It seems circular, I know, but I’m leaving out hundreds of citations and data points. If you want to be convinced, read the book.

In fact, if anything of this struck you as interesting, (and it should if you have a pulse), read the book. Draw your own conclusions. It might make you mad, it might make you disgusted, but it’ll certainly make you think.





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Book Review: The Furious Method

The Furious Method: Transform your Mind, Body and Goals by Tyson Fury

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Hands down, the best depression book I’ve ever read. And I’ve read a lot of depression books. Especially for being such a happy-go-lucky fella.

I picked this up expecting it to be a diet book. Tyson Fury lost 10 stone, which means 140 lbs in units used by real people. He mentioned in interviews he did so via “Dirty Keto” which meant a bunch of eggs, sausage, and Diet Coke, for some reason. Health and wellness book, written by a pro athlete who had just lost a manlet worth of weight in preparation for a championship match, it’s reasonable to assume the book would be about nutrition and exercise.

And in a way, it was, but only as a vehicle to battle depression. The Furious Method is the best compendium of practical coping skills I’ve found. It’s part self-help instruction manual, part mental health confessional, part autobiography, but the whole thing is done with a directness, an honesty, and a compassion I found totally disarming.

I didn’t know a lot about Tyson Fury before picking up this book. I knew he was a 270 lb British heavyweight champion who looked like an ogre but didn’t fight like one. I knew he stressed fundamentals and finesse. And I know he goes by “Gypsy King”, which I don’t think I’m even allowed to say, but I also know it’s a title earned by beating up all challengers within the traveller community. Yeah, you go ahead and tell him he’s cancelled.

So I naturally assumed this lumpy monolith was going to be a braying oaf. I was mistaken. He’s down-to-earth, eloquent, and a hell of a writer. The book is a forthright account of his struggle with bipolar depression and addiction, and exactly what was going through his mind at his highest highs and lowest lows. It’s a book that needed to be written, and a powerful blow against the stigma surrounding mental illness. There’s this lingering Puritanical boomer belief that if you got the depresso you suck it up and tough it out and you don’t talk about it. Don’t be a pussy. Well, Tyson Fury is the heavyweight champion of the world, and he’s a real piss-and-vinegar fighter, none of that slick cherrypicked Mayweather trash. If he struggles with mental illness, then it’s not strictly the purview of pussies, huh?

The advice is salt-of-the-earth, direct, and clinically accurate. Exercise. Eat well. Sleep enough. Get outside. Push yourself to do it. Reach out and get help. It’s the stuff we all know, but nobody really takes seriously, like mom telling you to make sure you wear a coat. Yeah, yeah.

Well, it’s fuckin cold out. Wear the coat.

If you’ve ever dealt with depression, I urge you to read this book, and do what it says. You can probably skip the My First Warmup sections of every chapter, but replace them with some other kind of functional cardiovascular exercise, because that is deadass THE way to beat depression. The studies have demonstrated, conclusively, that it works as well as or better than all those magic pills they keep heaving into our collective mouths like the Big Bertha arcade game.

Great book. Great fighter. Great dude. Yeah, okay, so he’s British. We all have our shortcomings.




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Book Review: The Wim Hof Method

The Wim Hof Method: Own Your Mind, Master Your Biology, and Activate Your Full Human Potential by Wim Hof

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


Here’s the thing. The method is sound. Wim Hof unlocked a bizarre neo-yogic biohacking technique that allows him to manually override functions of his autonomic nervous system. All you have to do is breathe in an incredibly unnatural way for twenty minutes and boom, you’re immune to external temperature changes for a while. The same concept can also be applied to pain.

And if this book were just a how-to manual on how to hotwire the meat shell that limits us all, I would have given it five stars. Unfortunately, it’s also an autobiography of Wim Hof, who seems like a deeply unlikable man.

That’s not to say he’s an unpleasant man. He really leans into that 60s throwback peace and love shit you get from every white dreadlocked ketamine dealer who lives in a van, and they can be decent conversationalists, in small doses and accompanied with doses. What rankled me is how he kept using the hippie-dippie shtick as a means of justifying his lifelong, jubilant parasitism.

He begins by talking about his sustained joblessness, give or take a paper route. He brags about squatting in an abandoned punk house for ten years, which really helped him center his chi, do yoga, and play guitar. For ten years. He eventually met a wife in his punk house – the fact that she was also a career squatted could serve as a sort of Chekov’s gun for her emotional stability – and pumped her full of a veritable fleet of welfare babies. Fortunately, Hof continues to boast, the Netherlands has among the most comprehensive and developed social programs in the world. He fails to mention the Dutch tax rate is around 50%, but that’s probably because he’s never paid them.

But he explains to the foolish wagie reader that this multigenerational mooching was imperative to his development of the Wim Hof method of controlled hyperventilation. He also demonstrates its efficacy by setting arbitrary world records whenever he gets into an argument with someone, if his anecdotes are any indication.

“And to prove it’s okay to drink beer, I am going to go outside in the winter and hold a martial arts horse stance… for three hours!”

Okay. That’s cool. I’d be much more impressed if you held something like a job, to support your five children.

Of course, he has money now, and his kids all work with him at the Wim Hof Foundation for Cold Showers and Goofy Breathing. In pursuit of peace, love, and the circus, of course. He has only ever wanted to give back his endless, beautiful, shining, perfect cascade of love back to all of humanity to bring us closer and unite us as one, etc.

He talks like a cultist. Much of the book is hard to get through because he goes off on these peacenik rambles about the connectedness of human beings, and how all you need is love.

But for as much as I dislike this person conceptually, I’m glad he stumbled on this method, and I’d like to see it get more clinical traction. Early trials have demonstrated that the Wim Hof method can be used to combat and, in some cases, eradicate certain chronic diseases, including intractable autoimmune and gastric diseases like fibromyalgia, Crohn’s, IBS, a whole mess of them. Diseases that are typically treatment and medication resistant.

The thing is, these diseases often have a pronounced psychological component that nobody likes to talk about because so many people conflate psychogenic symptoms with malingering. And since the Wim Hof method does, by his own admission (and unbearable blustering) operate on a personal and emotional level, grounding the practitioner and allowing them not only to become acquainted with themselves but also to learn physically active coping skills that recalibrate the CNS and sort of speed-meditate… it’s possible that the physiological benefits of the method, with regard to chronic pain, only become physiological by patching the leaks in the psyche.

For the record, I think he’s nuttier than squirrel shit, but less of a quack than many actual doctors. Cold showers, deep breathing, and outdoor exercise do attune you with your nature, which does improve every aspect of your physical and mental well-being. His little toolkit can be used to do impossible things, like climb Mt Everest in a day without altitude sickness. He has done things that should have killed him, and they didn’t, and he has taught other people to do them, and they didn’t die either. That’s proof enough.

But don’t buy the cult of personality hype. Wooks is wooks, and you can pursue an agenda of universal holism and be responsible enough to hold a job at the same time, no matter what they tell you.



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Book Review: Pathways of Bliss

Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation by Joseph Campbell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Joseph Campbell’s work is always best consumed through audiobook. He’s a dry writer. Unfortunately, he’s an even drier speaker, as career academics usually are, so you’ve really gotta hunt for the audiobooks where they hired professional narrators to read it, instead of the recordings of his university lectures that they try to pass off as books.

The ideas contained in the work are gold, especially if you’re a Jungian or some other kind of witch. Human beings think in terms of the mythological. These archetypes help us understand aspects of ourselves, and we call on them the way that voodoo practitioners let the loa ride them, or how ancient Greeks invoked the protection of situational gods, color-coded for easy reference

The main idea of pathway to bliss is We Live in a Society and we lost the plot, which is why we have such a hard time figuring out what makes us happy. The first step is initiation, the transformation from the comfort and protection of childhood to suddenly having all the responsibility of adulthood thrust on us. In many cultures, this is a highly ritualized process. In American culture, it’s not, which is why there are so many cringy “adulting” jokes. Women get menstruation, which serves as a pretty undeniable threshold, but men just kind of stumble along and eventually segue into what their interpretation of proper adulthood and conduct is.

The other function of initiation is to unite the mentalities of the tribe with regard to what the values of the tribe are, and to provide a clear, concise set of rules for the aspiring initiated to follow and uphold. A code. We don’t have a code anymore. Instead, we have a selection of half-ass codes that we spend all our time arguing about, because as mythologically-minded creatures, we want the meaning and purpose provided by a unanimous code.

There’s a vague blueprint, though. You graduate. You get a job. You marry. You produce 2.3 offspring. You provide for them. You keep all those plates spinning until the kids grow up and launch along their own ill-defined trajectories, and then you retire, and then…

And then?

Campbell talks about how it’s at that point you’re free to pursue your bliss, even though time has almost run out. You spend your whole life working toward the golden years where you’ll finally be able to fish in peace, and once you’ve squared away the rest of your requirements and you have your lifetime boxed up nice and tidy, you get in your little boat and row out. And sometimes, after a week, you realize that fishing is boring, and holy shit, I wasted my entire life.

There is no formalized initiation. There is no clearly defined rule set. We have interpretations of the expectations foisted on us, but interpretations are all they are, since our culture is without a true moral compass. The main message of the book is that we don’t need to put our bliss off until we’re almost dead. In fact, it’s the worst move we can make. Our lives belong to us foremost, and we contain all the archetypes, and maybe some would resonate with us better than others if we gave ourselves the chance to explore those sides of ourselves.

Maybe you weren’t meant to be a fisherman. You thought you were, but you waited and scrimped and saved for 50 years, and now you’re out there, and fishing is boring. Maybe your true passion is base jumping. Well, you’re 70, so you’re not going to go base jumping. Not more than once, anyway. It’s tragic to deny yourself the best life you could have had, and the best you that you could have been, because instead of pursuing some ridiculous bliss dream off the beaten path, you followed what you thought was expected of you — but which was never really expected of you in the first place!

Go on out there, chase your bliss. The Gonzo kids would say “Let your freak flag fly”. Do that, if it makes you feel better. It’s your life. You’re the protagonist of the story, and I think that the real and deep-down origin of neuroticism is the cognitive dissonance that comes from knowing yourself to be the hero of your personal mythology while observing yourself constantly acting unheroic.



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