now playing: stumblin’ in by chris norman and suzi quatro

an anglerfish angling
lantern dangling
teeth with a body and an instinct algorithm

recently, and for no good reason, i find myself once again abstractedly tracking wikipedia rabbits down another wikipedia rabbit-hole. the apropos-of-nothing topic this time: sexual dimorphism. 

sexual dimorphism describes the differences that exist between male and female animals (mostly, and some plants*) – differences, that is, beyond the basic sexual equipment. 

*cannabis, for example. if you know, you know

humans exhibit sexual dimorphism. human males are (on average) taller, heavier, and physically stronger than females. they have a higher metabolic rate, greater lung volume, and larger hearts. they have more red blood cells and more haemoglobin. they heal faster from wounds, and have a lower sensitivity to pain following injury. 

human females (on average) have greater endurance than males. they have more white blood cells. they have more granulocytes, and more b and t lymphocytes. in other words, they have a stronger immune system. they produce more antibodies, and produce them faster, and so develop fewer infectious diseases, and recover from them more quickly. they have smaller brains but a higher ratio of grey matter. bigger isn’t always better. 

all of which sounds like a lot, and that’s just scratching the surface. we’re different in all sorts of weird and wonderful, gross, subtle, surprising, interesting and important ways. but compared to other organisms, we’re pretty much indistinguishable. almost boringly so. we don’t have horns, or brightly coloured spots, or ornate plumage. we don’t even have battle teeth ffs. 

we’re also approximately the same size, which is not true of pinnipeds. pinnipeds, or seals, exhibit the greatest sexual size dimorphism of all mammals. adult male northern elephant seals are three to seven times heavier than females. 

still, frankly, that’s fuck all compared to octopuses (or octopi, or as the cool kids say, octopodes). for example, female common blanket octopodes may weigh 40,000 times as much as males. if i was a male common blanket, my many-limbed full-figured cephalopod lover would be almost 150 metres tall, and weigh over 2500 metric tonnes. 

and since you asked, yes, octopus sex is super weird, and involves the use of a specialised sex-arm called a hectocotylus, which the male wrenches off and presents to the female. this is usually fatal for the male. then again, octopodes probably think love island is weird. 

and they’re right. love island is weird. it’s almost as weird as anglerfish.

anglerfish also exhibit extreme sexual size dimorphism. females may be up to sixty times the size of males. but that’s not even the strangest thing, as i discovered in [this article]. because while females may be big compared to males, they’re small compared to the entire fucking sea. that makes them hard to find, in the pitch black, aphotic thalassic, especially if you’re a male anglerfish, a one-centimetre-long bathypelagic jellybean with limited swimming ability. finding any one female is like finding the one

you find her. you decide to stick around. you lovingly bite your newfound ladyfriend on the belly. she doesn’t seem to mind. now you release an enzyme that digests the skin of your mouth and her body. so far so good. you fuse together your circulatory and digestive systems*. too much, too soon? too late. 

* interestingly, this should kill you both, but it doesn’t because you and your anglerfish inamorata have managed to turn off your immune systems, at huge evolutionary cost, so that your bodies no longer distinguish between your own cells and unfamiliar ones. the things we do for love… 

time passes. your relationship becomes depressingly codependent and transactional. she provides you with the blood-circulated nutrients you require in order to not die. you provide her with sperm. you feel a distinct lack of masculine purpose. you spend your days contemplating your questionable career choices, doomscrolling reddit and unironically bingeing architectural digest open door videos on youtube. would you look at that? bookshelf full of books they’ve blatantly never touched, never mind read. bathtub designed by de sade. another ‘bookmatched’ marblecake kitchen hellscape. quelle surprise. you begin to let yourself go. you stop looking after your mental health. you stop looking after your body. you atrophy into a sort of shrivelled testicle handbag accessory. gonads, with gills.

naturally, thinking for more than ten minutes about the submarine sex lives of anglerfish causes me to question my masculinity, my individuality, and my understanding of the basic concepts of self and other. so buckle up. 

what is masculinity? when i talk about masculinity, i’m not talking about the ladsladslads brand of banterific so-called masculinity. the stereotypical dicks out, down it, stag do shit. that’s not me. that’s never been me. i’ve never been to magaluf. i’ve never even been on a package holiday. i’m not a lad’s lad. i’m not a man’s man.

no, i’m talking instead about a different brand of manliness. a more complex, more complicated, multidimensional idealism. i’m talking about a topless brad pitt smoking a cigarette. i’m talking about this…

i’m talking about fight club masculinity.

a masculinity that’s not about winning a fight, but being in a fight. fighting. after all, how much can you know about yourself, if you’ve never been in a fight? physical strength plays a part. and skill. but masculinity is above all a mindset. and the masculine mindset is, above all, about individuality. 

men, real men, are possessed with, or by, a wild, wilful, wolfish individuality. they have a profound sense of self. and they have a singularity of purpose. 

real men are self-reliant

the masculine ideal portrayed by brad pitt et al. in fincher’s fight club appeals to me on several levels. i suspect it has significantly influenced how i think about my own masculinity. i find it both seductive and persuasive. i like the idea that I’m in control of my life. and who doesn’t want to fuck a late-nineties helena bonham-carter? or brad pitt? who doesn’t want to quit their job, punch someone in the face, and blow shit up? occasionally, at least.

having a strong sense of your individual self, and your purpose, is surely not a bad thing, right? but whatever i might consider admirable about this particular type of masculinity, it’s still just one type. it doesn’t define masculinity with any more authority or accuracy than any other fictional depiction.

and that’s a problem. which is why the following is total toxic bullshit.

real men do not dilute their singular purpose, their individuality, their masculinity, by compromising, cooperating, or collaborating. real men don’t water down their whisky*. they drink it straight, mother fucker. real men do not allow themselves to be part of something. 

*whisky is grim.

real men do not allow themselves to be vulnerable. 
real men do not make sacrifices for others. 
real men do not rely on others. 

real men are not pathetic sexual parasites. 

real men are fortified island nations. 

this all-or-nothing shit is not healthy. no man is an island. john donne figured that out in 1624. 

still, it’s so easy to be taken in. it’s tasty, highly-processed, toxic bullshit. it’s my favourite e-numbers. it’s a list of ingredients as long as my arm, on a packet the size of a postage stamp. it’s toothsome, but it’s probably not nutritious. it’s tempting, but i probably shouldn’t.

unfortunately, my masculinity and my individuality are inexorably tangled up together like a dead and decomposing rat-king mummy of random headphone cables in my random man-drawer. 

to be a real man, i must be a real individual. 
to be a real individual, i must be a real man.

to be a real man, i must be a single-minded individual driven by the determined pursuit of my self-defining purpose. i must know what i want, i must know what i’m doing, i must know where i’m going.

but what if i don’t know what i want? what if i don’t know what i’m doing? what if i don’t know where i’m going?

if i don’t know where i’m going, i’m going nowhere.

what if i need help?

without my individuality, without my hard-won, rough-hewn, hand-crafted masculinity, what am i?

just another human. another undistinguished, undistinguishable everyman. a normally abnormal cookie-cutter character. a faceless face in the crowd. one of lowry’s stickmen.

except i’m not. i’m the exceptional exception. i’m the anonymous anomaly.

i’m nothing more and nothing less.
i’m me.

… everybody is identical in their secret unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else.

David Foster Wallace – Infinite Jest

but what does it mean, being me? since society’s idea of masculinity is so intertwined with whatever we think we mean by ‘individuality’, i think it’s worth questioning what individuality actually is. can i be an individual, and therefore a man, and still rely on others?

where does self end, and other begin?

here is a male angler fish
here is a female angler fish
here is a female with a male attached
here is a male attached to a female

the question is – what is the fundamental unit of selfness?

is it the stomach or the brain?
does the brain exist so that we can feed our stomachs?
or does the stomach exist so that we can feed our brains?

or do stomach and brain exist so that we can just keep swimming long enough to attach our modified mouthparts to the underside of a fat female anglerfish and fuse together forever, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, in exquisite sexual symbiosis?

in other words, am i my brain, or my body, or both?

and why stop there?
why stop with my physical body?

as a species, we’ve put a lot of time and effort into externalising this slippery, elusive self of ours. maybe so we can get a better look at it. maybe so we can get rid of it. this is nothing new. we’ve been doing it since the invention of art. 

recently though, we’ve been getting extremely, worryingly, good at it. we externalise our memories, our cognitive functions, our decision-making, our social interactions. ask yourself, what would you miss more – your smartphone or your spleen? 

we are cyborgs. we are human-machine symbiotes. but which part of the human is machine, and which part of the machine is human?

in any case, humans aren’t even mostly human. human cells make up less than half of the body’s total cell count. the rest are microscopic colonists – your microbiome [source – here]. 

to be an individual, is by definition to rely on others.

to be a self, is by definition to be an other.

i type out a sentence. which part is me, and which part is the sentence? brain, body, fingers, fingertips, keypad, the letter p, the letter s. 

press press press.

follow this line of reasoning to its logical conclusion and you will understand that you are not independent of the world. you are the world. and at the same time, you are part of the world. you are a happening, an event, a beautiful butterfly wingflap in the great cosmic game of cause and effect.

Every thing in the world, every event, is like a dewdrop on a multidimensional spider’s web, and every dewdrop contains the reflection of all the other dewdrops.

Alan Watts

individuality isn’t about being apart from the world – it’s about figuring out who you are.

masculinity isn’t about being an individual – it’s about being yourself.

maybe you’re here to make love
or music
or money.

maybe you’re here to change the world.

maybe you’re here to stick shit stickers on every fucking lamppost in scotland.

maybe you’re an anglerfish
and you’re here to make more anglerfish.

maybe you’re me, and you’re just here to write about weird sex things and weed.

and that’s ok. i’m man enough to admit it.

a note on ai

in the lower right-hand corner of my screen is a benign-looking turquoise-tinted button, featuring three little stars. it seems like a friendly-enough fellow, if somewhat soulless, like a lifeless mr clippy. it offers to ‘help me write’. i click on it. 

dolly zoom. a cold-water wave of existential horror washes over me. 

never again, i tell myself. never again.

it’s hard enough staying motivated in a world where everything i do can be done better by somebody else. i try to forget, but every now and then i’m forcefully reminded of the utter futility of it all. 

ai can draw better than me.
it can write better than me.
it can think up cool, weird shit better than me.
what the hell am i doing?

eventually, i realise, or rationalise post hoc to myself, that nothing has really changed. well, everything has changed, but everything changing doesn’t change anything. not for me.

if ai can be a better artist than me, it can also be a better engineer. and i’d rather have fun as a pointless artist, than be bored as a pointless engineer. 

once upon a time, there was a set of attributes that we used to believe defined us as men. strength, courage, independence, leadership, assertiveness. then women started wearing trousers.

until very recently, there was a whole set of attributes that we used to believe defined us as humans. intelligence, for example. then machines started thinking.

and just as a woman with a job doesn’t make me any less of a man, a machine that can write poetry doesn’t make me any less of a person.

it doesn’t make us not human. it doesn’t make us machines, either. it just means that some of our assumptions were invalid, and we have to think again about what it is, deep down, that defines us. which, if you think about it, is a good thing. it means we’re one step closer to the truth.

and maybe it’s just me, but i happen to care about whether a piece of art was created by an actual human, whatever that is.

so this is my reminder, and promise, to you, dear reader, and to me, dear me, that this post, and every past and future post on pseudoliterary, this plastic pumpkin cornucopia of fruitlessness, this faux-fur furbelowed palace of pointlessness, this glorious, laborious stately-home garden-maze of going-nowhereness, is, has been, and always will be, written by me, by only me, and me alone.

well, the 43% of me that’s actually me.

sure, ai can do it better than me. 
but it can’t do it meer than me. 

and neither can you.

Today you are You, that is truer than true.
There is no one alive who is Youer than You.

Dr. Seuss