The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, July 03, 2008


I wanted to start talking about relationships, and maybe the disastrous "Hancock" isn't a distraction from this. Take away the ability to reproduce, or protect and nurture your offspring, and a species dies. The question of building and sustaining a healthy relationship is inextricably connected to either the rules of relationships as learned culturally or in observation of parents, or arises from a deep well of love within you.

Love for self, brimming over until you have love to offer others, is a perfectly good starting place, and from my perspective, the very healthiest. It connects you to your survival drive, both being kind to yourself, and being disciplined enough to push through fatigue and emotional detritus to achieve disciplined excellence. Second Chakra is sexuality. While not everyone wants children, I believe we should not open this Pandora's Box before we are mature and focused enough to create goods and services that can be exchanged with our community LEGALLY to put food on our table and a roof over our heads. This is one of the doorways to adulthood.

A healthy relationship between two adults which includes sexuality should, therefore, be in alignment with the pair bond instinct. Pretty silly to fight against it! Gay or straight, birth control or no, there is no down side to having the most basic aspects in place. And I think that they are:

1) Self-love and love of others.

2) Financial security. More relationships break up over money than sexual infidelity.

3) A body in alignment with your own values: in other words, you would be physically attracted to yourself.

4) Honesty and trustworthiness.

5) Passion for life, which translates into sexual passion, the heat that forges a bond between human beings.

If we have these things, there is the potential for creating a long-lasting connection that would protect the life and security of a child. And if you don't want children? I can't imagine there being a disadvantage to being ABLE to provide security for a child, even if you don't want one.

Everything here is vital to an individual human life. To a partnership. Or the health of a community.

When abortions like "Hancock" come out, it is glaringly obvious (from my perspective) that something has gone very wrong. The consistency with which it "goes wrong" when the films deal with black or Asian males, strengthens my belief that there is a core, essential cause that can be isolated and examined like a pathogen.

This isn't about "are white people racist?" "are men racist?" or "Is America a racist country?" I feel the need to say this over and over again, because I don't want o be misunderstood. It is about the universal human instinct toward tribalism, and the way it manifests in our purchasing patterns.

In a classic science fiction story, "The Screwtape Solution", aliens trigger an atavistic response in human beings so that men kill women. If you disrupt the breeding patterns of a species, you can destroy the species. The aversion to watching mating behavior in members of a group you are in competition with is the unconscious expression of just such a drive, and we must be very careful of it.

What could they have done in Hancock to save it?

1) Cast a Latina. History has proven that casting a Latina opposite a black man offends far less than casting a blonde white woman...or, oddly enough, casting a black woman.

2) Have Theron's character not actually married to the PR guy. Girlfriend, or fiancee, perhaps. People still would have been uncomfortable , but not quite as much.

3) Play their relationship as tragic, but give Hancock a romantic possibility at the end. Like, say, the policewoman he rescued. Have her transfer to New York to be near him at the end, offering a ray of hope rather than the "black man sacrifices so that white folks can have hot sex" thing that made "The Green Mile" one of the vilest films ever made.


Enough of that. We want healthy relationships, and want to pursue them in a way that is in alignment with having a healthy body, and a healthy financial life. Starting with passion, health, self-love, empathy, and honesty is great--these are all things that we need whether we are seeking a relationship or not. We need these things to survive and thrive as individuals. It is critical that if we are to grow as a species or society, it starts with individual action. Ultimately, WE are all we can affect. In that way, every hour of every day can be occupied making the entire world a better place. When you love yourself, and love life, it is easy to be kind and loving to others. The sanskrit word "Namaste" means: "The divinity within me perceives and acknowledges the divinity within you." That is a hell of a place to start changing the world: to find God within ourselves, and to learn to see Him (or Her) within every other human being we meet.

Makes sex REALLY interesting as well. Lovemaking as prayer...sign me up.


Anonymous said...

I follow your blog with interest, but I feel I have to call you on this one. You seem to be taking for granted that humans have a "pair-bond instinct." On what basis can you assume this? If you look at all the other animals in the world, the link between sexual dimorphism and pair-bonds seems clear: species with pronounced dimorphism don't bond in pairs; they breed and move on. Although there are some social pressures that could arguably extinguish it, up to this point, modern humans have displayed considerable sexual dimorphism. This would seem to suggest that any urge you or I feel to bond with a partner is socialized, not instinctual.

Pagan Topologist said...

I think I agree with the anonymous last poster. Pair bonds are a largely social construct for our species. My own orientation is definitely poly and I think that only a minority of people naturally form pairbonds. Our society tries to force us into this mold which fits some but not all. Maybe not even a majority.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

From what I've read, people are in the middle of the range for sexual dimorphism, so we'd be expected to have some innate pair-bonding, but it's not a simple default.

Unknown said...

First, what Nancy said.

Second, as far as only a minority of people naturally forming pair bonds, that's the opposite of my experience, since I see most of the people I know being drawn into pair bonds all the time, with enthusiasm. Only a minority of people are never attracted to anyone outside a pair bond, I could buy, but a minority forming pair bonds? Hardly. Making those pair bonds last, though, that's not so easy a default.

Also, there are multiple hormones that have been found that influence human mating, which make both for bonding and for raw lust; this fits with observed behavior, in which people in a variety of cultures seem to find it natural to bond with those they sleep with, but in which lust doesn't always track neatly with bonding. Which also fits with our being somewhere in the middle of the species range in tendency toward pair bonding.

Josh Jasper said...

I'm poly too, ad I think that monogamy is inherently more stable than polyamory. It's a simple concept - the more independent moving parts you ad on to a struture, the more times things will go wrong.

Which isn't to say we don't have an urge to "stray". But I think most people would rather deny it exists, or deny it happens to them.

Lust is all well and good, but having enough time and patience for a full time partnership with more than one person is rare. It's not impossible, just rare.

Anonymous said...

I've heard that the original script for "Tonight he comes" is at in pdf if your interested in comparing it with the movie. It's supposed to be a hard R.

John M.

Anonymous said...


Make that


John M.

Mark Jones said...

I don't think it's as simple as "humans pair-bond" or "humans don't pair-bond." If you look at the animal world, researchers have discovered that a lot of allegedly monogamous species do a considerable amount of cheating. Humans are no different.

For that matter, most "carnivores" aren't above a little scavenging if they get the chance. It's the same deal. Their primary survival technique is clear, but taking advantage of opportunities when they occur has survival value too. Ditto for straying from the bonded pair.

There are benefits to monogamous pair bonds--but keeping all your eggs in one basket is risky. A little hanky panky if the chance arises has its advantages too, as well as its risks.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,
I read your blog with great interest, but had no comment until I read the first comment (I did read all of them posted when I started this diatribe) by anonymous. What you are talking about, the pairing and mating of African Americans in the movies with people of any race is essential not only to the specie's perpetuation, but to the civility of our society.

This messing with the relationships of black people and really all poor people, started in real life, not the movies, in the 1960's when the welfare regulations denied welfare to a family when an unemployed adult male was in the household. (I truly believe that most of these men were sincerely looking for work, but if discrimination stops you from getting a job ....) This was an assault on the father of the family. It broke up countless families, because any good man (and some not so good men, too) left the family unit because the mother and children needed the food stamps or the cheese or whatever to get along. Of course it wasn't aimed at blacks (yeah sure) since white folks were affected to. The affect was to totally screw up poor families, black and white.

The father needs to be with his family. Families don't just happen, they are intentional groups that have to be planned, nurtured and supported. but 40 odd years ago, the government, the ultimate support network said "fuck fathers." (We had the Vietnam War to fight.) This has had a huge negative action on children and mothers, and society in general. A few years later, some of the same social engineering made divorce and child support a casual and discretionary situation. This has plunged about 70% of divorced mothers of all races into poverty (child support is/was a hard-fought income), with a proportionally higher percentage of black mothers adversely affected. Don't take my word for it, Google it and learn.

Forty plus years later, less than 50% of parents of adolescent and younger children have ever been married to each other. Includes blacks and whites in USA, but less certain about other races.

This problem goes far beyond Smith "getting laid" in the movies. When your young son is old enough to ask the questions, you can point to both of your marriages as hallmarks of your intent and integrity.

The pre-feminist I was read all about this kicking out of the father, and my take away was that the powers that be thought that poor women and children only attracted men to leech off of them. I looked around, and I saw a lot of people working hard to make it. I never bought into the leeching part of "pair bonding." A few years later, about six if I recall correctly, some high-profile feminists (chosen by the media as high-profile for their own reasons) said that marriage was prostitution. It is all part and parcel of the same thing -- destroying the family unit.

The child in me wants to know why women come in only two flavors in the movies, the frigid mother figure (say wah?), and the whore. The whores get all the good lines, btw. The movies reflect the attitudes of the hyper-wealthy. They rest of us are shit to be ground under their heals and utilized until be die.

Keep fighting the good fight. When Will Smith gets laid, make sure it is with a good woman and not a whore. The discussion on this topic can go on to infinity.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

mjholt, that reminds me. After seeing Hairspray, Willie Wonka, and (I think) The Candidate (the movie about the high school girl using a sexual harassment suit as a threat against a male teacher), are there any movies about mothers who are legitimately ambitious for their children rather than villains?

Maybe I'll go read some Dick Francis. He seems to actually like middle aged women.

Unknown said...

Josh - You may be right re: stability of mono v. poly, to some extent. First, I think it depends on the rules you establish in your poly relationship. Second, I think it probably depends on the type of poly relationship you have. If you establish rules which say "multiple partners within the relationship, no relationships out side of the poly group," it might attain the same level of stability of a mono relationship. Also, some of the research indicates that group marriages with 4 members (2 couples) who see themselves as married each to all are as stable as 2 person marriages, and more stable than 3 person marriages. But 3 member groups are better at resolving conflicts within the group, because the conflicts become an attempt to convince the 3rd person to side with one side of the argument or the other.
Given that last aspect, I think, perhaps, you are wrong to compare relationships to mechanical things, though - consider, a stool with 3 legs is more stable than one with 2.

Mike R said...

Hey Steve,

Just saw WALL-E yesterday. Fantastic movie. Really loved it, and had an interesting discussions with the wife afterwards about it.

One comment about something that you said earlier after seeing this movie;

> This one, I honestly believe, is baked in the cake: the Earth cannot sustain our current population AND the American lifestyle. <

I completely and totally disagree. Because, presumably, any country that has an American lifestyle will also contribute to scientific and technological advances on a scale similar to that of America. And if starting in 2008 all 6.6 Billion people were contributing to science on the American scale? Damn, science and technology would have at least 5 times the resources, scientists, and technological infrastructure that it has now. So in 2028, AsRichAsAmericaWorld might be where our world would be in 2108. Compare the resources humans can devote to a problem in 2008 compared to what they could do in 1928. Science and technology creates resources (1) and solves problems in increadible ways, and rich countries contribute far more to advancing technology and science than poor ones do.

(1) Don't think technology creates resources? Ask yourself this: Are the asteroids resources? Not really, because we can't reach them. But if we had the technology to economically reach them, then *poof* more resources have been discovered. 50 years ago lots of oil under the seas was unreachable, but thanks to technology a not insignificant amount of oil comes from deep sea drilling. *Poof* Resource creation.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

What Mike said, mostly. We do need to evolve toward more sustainable living habits as a country and as individuals -- anyone out there heard of the 100 things? I'm very interested in that ...

But I'd rather have the problems of wealth than the problems of poverty. I'm not worried about lack of water; we'll filter seawater or other non-potable water, and there'll be enough. I'm not worried about oil; it was always a transition technology. It's too expensive, we'll transition. (By not worried don't read "don't care." Half the world doesn't have clean water, which is appalling. It's costing me $600 a month right now to drive my family around to and from school and work.)

What worries me is that there are too many damn people in the world. The only solution to this is wealth. Nothing else slows the growth of more people on this planet. Going back is not an option.

Marty S said...

Steve I think you missed an important aspect of a strong relationship. I would call it the best friend aspect. I just enjoy spending time with my wife. We have fun together.

Mike R said...

>What worries me is that there are too many damn people in the world. The only solution to this is wealth. Nothing else slows the growth of more people on this planet<

I disagree. The US, for instance, has a total fertility rate that is higher than Iran, Moldova, Mongolia, Thailand, Cuba, or Romania (poor countries from a wide range of cultures and governments). Being rich seems to help lower birth rates, but it's by no means required.

Fertility rates are dropping all over the world, even in the poor countries that haven't had that high of growth rates. Even in as little as the last 8 years there has been a number of substantial drops;

Almost every country listed shows dropping birth rates, including those countries that haven't seen significant increases in wealth.

The world's total fertility rate is down to 2.5 or so (down from around 6 in the 1970's, that is a tremendous drop), and will probably be below replacement levels (2.33 at current death rates for the world, 2.1 for the first world) sometime in the 2020's at the latest. Demographic inertia will make it so that the world population will continue to grow, but at a slower rate. I'd be willing to bet money that the population of the planet will not be more than 2 billion larger than it is now in the next 50 years.* And by the 2040's or 2050's it will probably start dropping in absolute numbers, and it could drop very fast. There could be more people alive in 2001 then in 2101.

This is not all good news of course, as the above means that dependency ratio's will be awfully high, and that can slow growth rates substantially. China, for one, is likely to be old before it is rich.

* Unless life-extension technology comes along that ads actual years to the maximum human lifespan instead of just allowing us to keep older sick patients alive for longer, then all bets are off. In that scenario we could see some truly amazing population growth rates.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Mike, latest projections I've seen have the global population above 9B by 2050 ... which is more than 2B more than we have today.

I hope you're right, suspect you're being optimistic ... but this is an area where I'd love to be wrong.

film feminista said...

I know this is a bit late but please comment some more about Hancock. I am a Black woman and I am DEVASTATED by that excuse for a film. As soon as I saw the semi drunk Hancock staring at the blonde Theron character, I thought " Oh no, please don't go there." My stomach clenched up. I know that Will's wife Jada is Black, that they are a successful couple with gorgeous kids... but DAMN! I was sooo angry I almost started cursing in the theater! I agreee that the producers and editors buthered the film and yes they could have cast a Latina in the role instead. Its just not normal- obviously so.

Mike R said...

The 9 billion figure in 2050 comes from the UN's "Medium Variant" projection.

Historically, the UN's medium predictions have been too high, the chief reason for which is that they assume that falling birthrates will hit 2.1 (replacement levels) and then stabilize. This assumption has proved to be false (multiple countries have dropped below 1, for instance) but the UN's predictions still assume it will turn out to be true. Don't ask me why, beuracracies move slowly when faced by reality.

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