Tag Archives: conversations with Conner Habib

Disintercourse: A Conversation with Samuel Delaney

10 Feb

sdIn 2013, I had a conversation with legendary author and theorist, Samuel “Chip” Delany, as part of my online course How To Start A (Sexual) Revolution. Chip is one of the most respected science fiction writers of all time; the winner of four Nebula Awards, two Hugo Awards, and author of classics like Dhalgren, Babel 17and Nova. He’s also written about race (notably in his essay about science fiction and racism), critical theory, the art of writing, and sex.

Or maybe instead of saying Chip writes about sex, stating that he writes with sex would be better, since sex pulses through and is a central concern of his creation. Many of his novels – including Tides of LustPhallos, and Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders – are pornographic and potently erotic. His landmark nonfiction work, Times Square Red, Times Square Blue explored the disappearance of sex shops, porn arcades, and gay cruising spaces in New York as the city became Disneyfied under the Giuliani administration. It’s a work of resistance, longing, and vision.

I’d met Chip once before, at a Marxism conference at the University of Massachusetts where I was a student. It was a brief encounter; we sat next to each other before one of the panels, talking about theory. During a break, I got up to use the bathroom, and he cautioned me, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” If you know anything about Chip, you know that this left me a lot of options.

In the conversation below*, Chip and I go all over the place, but we stay close to intercourse and discourse, trying to understand just what’s going on with desire anyway, in culture as well as in our personal lives. I’m honored to have spoken with him.

CONNER HABIB: Something you write about and consider a lot is the concept of discourse; there’s no quick definition of it, but I’m going to attempt to give one anyway: it’s the structure of our consciousness and concepts in the social context of our time. It’s our inherited metaphors, the stuff surrounding our ideas and conversations. You write about discourse a lot and you also write about sex a lot. Those two things intertwine deeply; for me, sex has been the greatest teacher about all the metaphors we’ve inherited, about who we are and how we speak to each other. So I want to know how you see those things as bound together.

SAMUEL DELANY: That’s a very interesting question. I think one of the things that makes sex fascinating is that it’s an appetite, and I think appetites in general are fascinating. I think the appetite for food is just as fascinating as the appetite for sex, the appetite for entertainment and art are just as fascinating.

Discourse goes back to the notion of understanding; the way we use language to understand things. It’s hard to understand anything without thinking about it in terms of words, and it’s very hard to use words without calling into play our understanding of various situations, terms, and subjects. So we talk about the discourse of sex, we mean the way we understand sex. The way we understand appetites.

All sexual relations are power relations, but all relations are power relations. You walk down the street and you’re in a power relation with everyone you pass on the street, whether you’re thinking about it or not. The policeman who walks by you has one set of potential power relations and vectors to you, the homeless person on the other side occupies another set, and everybody in between, as you identify them and think, “oh that’s that kind of person,” or don’t even bother to think, “oh that’s that kind of person” and just fail to see them. All of these have a subtext of the power relations there. So sometimes, talking about the power relations is like talking about the air, because it’s our complete surround. I think it was Whitman who said, I’m not interested in God because God is everywhere and who’s interested in something that’s everywhere.

On the one hand, taking a small part of the world and looking at the power relations can be useful, but most of the time we don’t. Most of the time it’s when something goes wrong that we begin to analyze, and we find ourselves facing off agains the police, or we find ourselves with a homeless person yelling loudly at us because they don’t like what we’re doing for some reason. That’s when the power relations have to be interrogated. 

One of the things you said when you told me you were interested in having this conversation was that you were interested in how to start a sexual revolution. I can only come up with one strategy, which is to be brutally honest about what you do and what you want, and to be willing to interrogate the distance between the two.

What’s the distance between what you do do and what you want to do? Some of us get them much closer than others, and some of us don’t. Some of us have our fantasy lives right here and what we actually do over there, and why is there that distance between them? I don’t think they ever join one hundred percent, nor that there’s a reason for them to join one hundred percent, nevertheless you can try to get them closer than many people do. And when you do bring them closer, that’s your revolution.

CH: Yes, the idea of bringing them closer: What do you do, and what do you want to do? image1-5And also: How do we know what it is that we want to do, and how do we know what it is we don’t want to do sexually.

To bring that to the point you made: it’s hard to understand our lives or anything without words, but sexually, there’s a difference between what we want to do and what we do that is related to words and not thinking in words. When I feel a draw to someone or something I have sexual desire for, a lot of times it occurs to me in image, it occurs pictorially. My thoughts evade my words. On the other hand, I know when I feel guilty about something, words arise more readily than image. Is there a way to investigate what we want sexually and what we do sexually, by navigating whether or not it comes to us in feeling and image or whether or not it’s words or language?

SD: What do you fantasize about when you masturbate? That’s a very good entrance into what you want to do. In what way does what you fantasize about, when you’re providing yourself with sexual pleasure, differ from what you do when you’ve got another person there? What are some of the differences? I think that’s a good place to start.

CH: I want to pick that up. In much of my adult and teenage life, I identified with “gay” but the older I get, the more attracted I am to women. Women show up when I masturbate more and more, which was of course a surprise for me. But there’s this whole thing about “gay,” which I’ve heard from other gay men as well, that we’re not supposed to talk about that. Don’t think about it. Don’t get into that. I’ve already done my sexual crisis, I can’t do another one! As if trying something new needs to be a crisis and shattering of identity! That’s so interesting, because…

SD: It’s interesting for me because it’s just the opposite! When I was younger I used to fantasize about threesomes, with one woman and two guys, and of course I’d be one of the guys. That went on and on until the women were there less and less, and now they’ve almost entirely vanished. Of course like many gay men most of my best friends are women.

I think it has something  to do with the standard Freudian explanation of the difference between perversion and neurosis. Freud specified that perversion and neurosis were the opposite of one another. As you go through your early life, you come to these contradictory situations and you have a choice, you can either incorporate it into your personality as a neurosis, at which point it really screws you up for the rest of your life, or you can turn it into a perversion. Freud was quite clear on it: sexualizing it was much more healthy than making it part of a character neurosis. One of the big problems with the misogyny of a lot of heterosexual guys is, in the Freudian explanation, that their relationship with women is often neurotic rather than sexual. Whereas gay guys, because we often don’t sexualize women – I mean there’s the Kinsey Scale of course, which has been around since 1947 – but because we don’t often sexualize women, gay men often have less neurotically fraught relationships with women.


CH: I want to talk about that scale a bit. People bring it up a lot. The scale is about behavior. And now people talk about that scale as if it’s based on identity.

SD: Yes! And it’s mobile. Because everybody changes. Some things stay and some things don’t.

hbOne thing that’s been part of my sexuality since I was five or six years old if not younger: men who bite their nails. And bite them badly. To the point that some people would find this anti-erotic. I think anti-erotic is a clue that it does have some erotic appeal for everybody, but anyway. This started with me when I was five or six years old. And still, it’s as large a part of my sexuality as it ever is. My partner of the last 24 years is a committed nail-biter and I don’t think we would be together if he wasn’t.

One has got to be honest and willing to talk about this sort of thing. I don’t reduce myself in any way by talking about this. I don’t lose any of my dignity. My dignity is something I carry with me. It’s not something that comes because I have or don’t have something people would call a sexual kink. It’s not a kink to me because it’s something I’ve been living with for sixty, onto seventy years.

CH: Do you bite their nails too? Or is that you’re watching?

SD: Sometimes I’ve been known to fantasize about it. But I’ve never done it. I’ve never particularly found myself wanting to do it.

CH: Something you’re making me think about is the intensity of certain sexual images. For me, maybe the equivalent is ears that stick out. They drive me crazy. The cars doors open on the side. It’s not like I’m going to fuck someone in the ear. I’m not going to do anything with it. There’s just something visual about it that’s so erotic to me.

Another example: When I was 15, the moment I realized I was very sexually attracted to

men, I went to Ocean City, Maryland with my family. And my older stepbrother brought his friend; they had their own condo. His friend was in the shower and he called out to me in the other room to say, “I don’t have a towel, bring me a towel.” I got him a towel and it was one of those shower doors with clouded glass, I could see the vague blurred outline of his body. I could see the flesh color, I could see the shapes. It was like sparks flying out of bolts in my neck. I was going berserk. I still, now, over 20 years later, masturbate to that image.


Something that’s so interesting, whether it’s nail biting, or big ears, or the shower glass is the intensity of those images. What did Freud say? That desire is repetition.

SD: Repetition is desire.

CH: There’s something about the patterning, the repetition, that reveals how intense the desire is. I know we can’t come to a definitive answer, but I want to talk around that.

SD: I think it’s nothing terribly more complicated than the fact that what turns you on, you return to again and again. Show me an image that comes up twice in a writer’s book, and then again in other books, and I will show you something that that writer likes. The repetition is an acknowledgment.

CH: I’m trying to get to a metaphysical level. A spiritual answer would be that there’s some sort of karmic philosophy, there’s something going on in your etheric body or your growth principle.

So much about our sexuality changes. I used to be attracted to certain types of guys when I was younger, and now I’m attracted to other types of guys. Okay, but there are these little things along the way that are actually a revolution – meaning they come around, and around, and around. So whereas everything else is changing, these things remain. They’re there as a sort of formative principle that the rest branches off of somehow. I don’t exactly know why that’s so.

SD: We seem to look at it and see that it happens again and again. It goes into the way the brain is put together or neurologically, about which one can speculate, but one would have to have tools a lot finer than any I’ve ever been able to get my hands on. I think we sexualize what’s different from us. That starts with the genitals as children. We look at our own; we look at the genitals of our parents and compare them to ours. There are enough differences in the genitals of an adult male and a male child, so that you can easily say, “Oh, what my father has is different than what I have. His has hair and veins, whereas I just have this little thing.” So sexualization – for ten to twenty percent of boys – of the same sex begins. It’s probably easier for a boy to sexualize the genitals of a woman. Because the difference is more marked. So you have the phallic other. The little boy wondering, “What happened to mommy’s penis?” This is a kid who’s going to be heterosexual, because the female genital place has been marked as, “Oh this is different than mine.” And I think women can do the same thing.

Something that nobody ever points out is that this has been around for millions and millions of years. All the animals we know of. There are no mammals that don’t have the same sorts of sexualities as we do. It’s got to have some real use. Things that are useless do not last or persist for millions of years. We don’t know why it’s important, but when someone figures out why it’s so important to persist in all species, we’ll all think, “Oh yeah, that’s so obvious!”

CH: Something not present in other animal species is monogamy. Even the animals that we thought were monogamous, we’ve learned are not. Maybe monogamy is so human that we’ve had to become preoccupied with it. It’s an invention that we have so much art about, so much frustration and fear around: monogamy and adultery.

SD: And of course the fact that something that happens with another species doesn’t determine what we do.

CH: We’re emerging from a period when people took certain cues from nature, and now we’re taking different ones. Without talking about natural and unnatural, when we need to question those terms anyway, let’s talk about it personally. In a personal context, my question for monogamy is, can we be intentional? Can we be intentionally monogamous or intentionally open, rather than just living out of insecurity of losing a partner (monogamy) or fear of commitment (openness). And is there something else at work? I mostly have open relationships, but there is a part of me that has a longing for, not monogamy, not possession, but sacrifice. I almost view this feeling of monogamy (which you can have without having monogamy itself) as religious sacrifice. We sacrifice sex at the religious altar of the relationship. That’s supposed to mean something. But why is it sex that has to be sacrificed? Why is that the only thing that’s supposed to work?

SD: I think one of things about having a satisfying open relationship is to be aware of


Samuel Delany, 1960

the need of your main partner and to be able to reassure that partner that they’re Number One. If your main partner walks in while you’re actually in bed with someone else, you have to think about, what do you do?


Well, one of the things you can do is get out of bed and say, “Hi, I’m happy to see you!”You don’t sit there [makes blubbering noises].

You say, “Hey I’m glad to see you! Are you okay with this?” And if they show the least bit of uncomfortableness you have to be able to turn to the other partner, the casual partner, and say, “I’m sorry, you have to go now. Number One has come home, it’s his or her or our place, and you have to go now.” You do it politely but firmly, and then you go back to your Number One and you give them a hug. If you do this two or three times, they realize, hey, I’m Number One. If you don’t, if you blather, then yeah, they’ll be upset. And they have every right to be.

CH: Because repetition is desire! The repeated behavior will reveal the desire you have for your partner.

SD: I have a scene in Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, which is like that. And it works for the character. And I know it works because I’ve had to do it myself. A few times, not a lot! You should be aware that that’s what you have to do. And the other person should know as well.

CH: And make that move not just in the interruption, but in all sorts of situations.

SD: Yes!

CH: Before we open this up to questions, one place I want to move to is sex in public places. Because you and I have both written about it. And I’ve had sex in public places, I wrote an essay about sex at rest areas. And you’ve written about sexualized public spaces in New York and how they were zoned and that sort of thing. And here’s where my mind is with this: It’s the question of why confine sex to certain areas? Why cover it up, so it has to be behind closed doors? Of course right now, if everyone were fucking in the streets, there would be questions of consent, so I don’t want to take it there exactly. But why is it that this part of human life is totally concealed?

SD: I think that there’s nothing wrong with having certain spaces for certain things. You have restaurants to eat in. One of the reasons why gay men do as well sexually as we do, is that there are all these places where you go, where the moment you walk in, you know everyone is looking for sex. One of the things that happens a lot in bars – and because of this my heart goes out to our poor heterosexual brethren – you go to a bar, you talk to three to five different women and get rejected. And you have to go home alone. Maybe once a week if you’re lucky it’ll happen. This is not something we have to go through when we go somewhere to cruise. First of all we’ll go through approaching people at a much faster rate. And we may get the same number of rejections. But we get them five to ten minutes apart and we get an acceptance. So the rejections mean a lot less, because they’re offset by the acceptances. And you can get two or three acceptances a night. But this is only possible because they are limited social spaces. If it happened throughout society you couldn’t do that. We’d be in worse shape than straight guys.

CH: Also it’s unavailable to straight people is because there’s so much sexual violence between straight men and women. So sex continues to have a much more threatening element. Part of the price of all the bullshit men have done to women is that sexuality becomes pulled out of the realm of what’s available. So part of the enclosure is the space, but the gender.

People ask me, “When you put your dick through a gloryhole, aren’t you scared someone will bite your dick off?” And of course you don’t ever think of that. But you might be afraid of the police coming in to the rest room or porn store or wherever it is that the gloryhole is located. Because that’s when the heterosexual power model is brought into the space. And so they’re likely to “break it up.” There’s something about violence being kept at bay in all of this.

I think all of this is also why one grouping of heterosexuals that has any sort of cruising culture is BDSM culture, because they’ve ritualized aggression and pain and even violence, and they’re able to engage with each other in a ritualized way.

SD: One reason why most of us aren’t afraid of having our dicks bitten off in the gloryhole is that we’re very much aware that the person on the other side has one too. And so if you’re fellating someone, that’s a huge act of identification. Just to do it, just to suck someone (as a gay man) is identifying with their pleasure. You have the pleasure as a surrogate for them. If you’re aware of this, whether you articulate it or not, you know the biting isn’t likely to happen for the same reason they won’t bite their own off. Sucking becomes their dick in a funny way. At least it does for me when I’m sucking dick, which I enjoy very much.

CH: Me too! All right, now that we’ve both agreed we like sucking dick, let’s open it up to questions.

QUESTION. Why do you think gay male culture isn’t comfortable talking about attraction to occasional or persistent attraction to women?

CH: So why are gay men not welcoming to women, It’s a weird commonality with heterosexual men who are just totally repulsed by gay sex. But gay men say, “Oh vaginas are disgusting,” vehemently and violently. And of course you have suspicions about anything that comes up so violently like that.

SD: A lot of that comes from the consumerization behind gay culture. Nobody feels they’ll make money from the sexual attraction that gay men have for women.

CH: It’s easy to sell to people who have concrete identities. You only have to keep reinforcing “gay men are gay men and they should only be around gay men,” and then it’s pretty easy to sell a TV show or some dumb bric-a-brac at a gay store. There’s a whole economy that thrives on identity.

Q. How does sexuality and sex relate to creativity, specifically in terms of lack? If sex is as you say, intertwined with creativity, if you’re only attracted to men or to women, is there a lack there, if you’re only engaging in a single practice?

SD: Well I certainly don’t identify as a single practice kind of guy! What one does most of the time doesn’t necessarily mean what one does all the time. And I still enjoy getting sucked, I enjoy getting fucked, I enjoy fucking. So I don’t think of myself as someone limited to one kind of sex. I do have patterns, and I do have things that I do more of than other things. Largely because those are the opportunities the world presents me. Right now, I don’t find myself particularly missing anything. I have a couple of fuck buddies as well as my major relationship. I feel pretty satisfied. And anything I need? Well, there’s always imagination and masturbation. You know the joke, you meet a better class of people there.

CH: The imaginative landscape is part of my life. My thoughts are as real as objects to me. So my fantasy world is a real world as well. So if you’re asking if anything limits my access to creativity? I sometimes resent the human form and my materiality. But we are bound to certain laws, whether it’s being in a material body, being a man, being a gay man.

Being whole and being whole in our creativity is a move we make with all our enthusiasm and our integrity. It’s not something that can be given to us by external factors. It’s something we do inwardly.


photo: Maya Lassiter (click for her site)

SD: And I’d like to add: I feel I’m doing pretty well creatively!


I find myself very interested in sex as a topic, and in the last decade, that’s where a lot of my energies have gone in fiction. There’s one book called Dark Reflections, which is about a guy who basically has no sex. It’s a gay man who is celibate, who is not partnered, who does not have an active sex life. He kind of wants one, but he doesn’t, also, for all sorts of reasons. Whereas  …Nest of Spiders and Phallos are basically about having as much sex as you could possibly want.

CH: It’s important to remember all the romantics, too. That period of art was about longing, about restriction. And then there’s the Oulipo who gave each other restrictions to create new works. Creativity courses through limitation.

Q. Can we ever move beyond the paradigm of pairs?

SD: I would hope. I think that would be a very good idea. As far as I’m concerned, I’m all for it. One of my earliest books was called Babel 17. In that book, there is a tendency in society for people to hook up in threes. Those threeway relationships I told you before I was so interested in? I wrote about in that book. After that was published and was being considered for a Nebula Award, I was at a convention, just sort of standing against a wall and a young man came up to me and said, “Mr. Delaney? You’re the guy that wrote Babel 17?” And I said, “Yes.” And he said, “The people who get together in threes, is that possible?” And I said yes. And he gave a huge sigh of relief and walked away! I thought, okay, I’ve done something good. And the most recent book, Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, although the main relationship is a pair of guys, one of the things that happens is that people are doing political work to get the government to accept group marriages. All sorts of sexual associations. So in some sense I seem to have come full circle. I hope that’s a good sign!

CH: I love this question, I’ve been thinking about it so much lately. When I broke up with my last boyfriend, something I thought about before that moment of breaking up was, what’s the purpose of this sort of relationship? Why does everyone have to do it?

I’m not some sort of spiritual monist who thinks we’re all One. That’s interesting to me, but it’s much more interesting to me to engage with multiplicity and total individuality. So when I see another person and acknowledge them as totally separate from me, that’s when I’m the kindest. The more I recognize separateness, the less I feel like pairing off is necessary. The more I individuate, the more I see others and think I can let others in to include them in my life.

SD: When my daughter was born in 1973, I was living in  London.My wife at the time had a bookstore, and she had to go in every day. I was a stay-at-home dad. I had to go and visit a friend of mine who lived in a commune, a sort of free-flowing commune. In the commons room, at the back of the room, there was a sign that said “MOTHER IS A JOB.” It was around that time, too, that’d I’d read an article about how the average father spends less than 37 seconds a day with his less-than-one-year-old child. You know what happens when a person interacts with someone for that little? They die.

So I’d stay home with my daughter and we’d dance. I’d dance with her. And I think of that as our dancing lessons. We still like to dance and we also like to see horror movies together. But anyway, Mother is a Job. Not a gender, it’s something anyone can do if they figure out how to do it. So that opens up for me the notion that a bunch of people can get together. Not a pair. And form a group. Some will having the job of mother.

CH: In lots of cultures, more than a pair bring up the child.

SD: Right, the whole “it takes a village to raise a child” thing. Obviously that rings true.

Q. I’ve recently started being attracted to older men, so my question is about intergenerational relationships. What are the benefits and the challenges?

CH: Taken on a personal front, when I was younger, I was always attracted to older men, and nobody my age was attracted to me. Now that I’m older, guys who are 18, 19, are attracted to me. The first time someone calls you “Daddy” it’s shocking. Not in an unpleasant way, but it has a feeling for sure. My thought on daddies is that something happening in our relationships is that we’re becoming more individuated and personalized rather than just having a uniform or conforming idea of what we want. What could present more of a special regard than having a Dad? A regard for you as an individual. Of course, I’m attracted to daddies, although I am now open to younger guys as well…

SD: There are benefits of getting older!

CH: Exactly! But then one bad thing about it is that there are less and less people who are older than me. The daddy is eventually going to disappear from availability.

I just had a foursome with a group of guys in their early twenties, and we were talking during the act and I kept thinking, my gosh these guys are so smart! So much smarter than my generation. There’s a chance that people in their twenties are more intelligent than people in their thirties and forties in this moment in time. So I think there’s an interesting bridge because of connectivity, in part because of access to information via globalization and the internet. So I think some of the challenges are changing.

SD: Something Goethe said:“A man of 50 knows no more than a man of 20, they just know different things.” I was a pretty bright kid. I had an impressive IQ. I don’t anymore, the last ten points have filtered away along with an inch of my height! But when I was about 21 or 22, I suddenly realized that what I was interested in was not the people who knew the same things I did. How boring! I was interested in people who knew things that were different. And as soon as I became interested in that, all the stupid people in the world vanished. There were no stupid people, just people who knew things I didn’t know.

Attraction to older men is precisely that. A sexual predilection. Or liking younger men. I was always interested in older men, I still am, but as you say, there are less and less people who are older than I.

CH: Well don’t worry, Chip, Daddy is a job!


*This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and flow.

Infinite Crisis/Infinite Opportunity: Me + Phil Jimenez on Reimagining Creativity and Power

27 Jan

Your Friendly Neighborhood Goofballs

What would you do if you had superpowers? And why is the answer for comic book heroes always, “beat some asshole up and send him to jail!” Why do our imaginations seem to turn so often to just, sort of, tidying up all the bad stuff. Couldn’t we dream bigger?

I had to investigate this weird imaginative limit, so I called up one of the most imaginative people I’m friends with, comic book writer/artist/creator, Phil Jimenez. Phil is probably best known for his work on Wonder Woman, and for being one of the first mainstream comic creators to talk about being gay. He’s also worked with creative warlock Grant Morrison, has drawn Spider-Man, created Otherworldand he teaches illustration.

Phil and I go all over the place here, but we’re always circling the potential of creativity pjand trying to avoid the word “power.” Why is everything framed in terms of power, anyway? To that end, we talk about Tempest, a DC character he revamped, Chris Claremont’s X-Men (particularly the Siege Perilous story lines and the Asgardian Wars – but don’t worry, you don’t have to speak comic geek to get it, we lay it out), the difference between collections of comics and absorbing the content of comics, and more.

Of course, it all relates back to the world at hand: Where many people are just learning to be heroes now. We’ve got all this creativity available to us at all times. So now what?

There’s a little mismatch between the audio and the video; I’m working on upgrading all my stuff, so if you have any desire to help me get better equipment, hit me up. In the meantime, I’m working out the best way to turn these videos – including the one I just did with Caitlin Doughty, the poetry reading by Martin Pousson, and my discussion with Dr. Chris Donaghue – into downloadable MP3s. I HAVE an Mp3 for this one, but I’m working out the best way to offer it as a downloadable file. Does that mean I’ll be a podcaster? Ahhhhh!

The Little Death and the Big One, Too: Me + Death Expert Caitlin Doughty

19 Jan

mecLife starts with sex and ends with death, and the middle is basically just lots of thoughts about both. These are fundamental aspects of being human, yet serious considerations of either are too often left out of our politics, our revolutions, and even our most passionate efforts to recreate our world.

So, okay, I invited my friend, the death expert Caitlin Doughty, over to talk. Caitlin is a trailblazer in the death positive movement, a mortician, and author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory.

First we filmed a quick, fun video for her channel – Our 3 tips for how to have a better relationship with death and with sex in 2017.

But Caitlin and I wanted to keep going. So we had this longer and more in-depth discussion, which you can watch below. We talked about how we can use sex and death in our politics and activism, how to conceive of your own death, sexually radical thinkers like sex magician Paschal Beverly Randolph and utopianist Charles Fourier,some guy named Donald Trump, Darwin’s Worms, and more.

This video is part of my yearlong effort to radiate a sense action, excitement, and creativity in the world we live in now. This month, it culminates in my online course, Radical Undoing: Decolonize Your Mind with Sex, Science, the Occult, and Philosophy, which you can sign up for here!

Follow Caitlin on twitter, and buy her book. And also, expect more from us together in the future!



10 Jun

If you want to hang out with me inside your ears (just let that be weird, it’s okay), you’re in luck!

I’ve been on a bunch of podcasts in the past few months and they are some of the best podcasts I’ve ever done. I’m not just saying that. People seem to be excited to talk with me about a variety of issues now, instead of just asking the basic porn questions, which at this point have become boring to me (and probably you, if you’ve been following along for awhile). So please listen and feel free to comment, and tell your fav podcast host to have me on. I love conversation.

Here’s a quick rundown:

First up, Rune Soup with the mighty Gordon White! I met Gordon through a series of synchronicities (that’s what people who aren’t crazy call “coincidences”) and suddenly, there we were, talking about fantasy novels (On A Pale Horse, for example), the problems of materialism in the occult, punk rock, and more.

You can click here to download, or just listen below.




On futurist podcast The Singularity Bros, I got to talk stuff few people give me a chance to talk about, but that I love considering. Particularly: the end of work and why we don’t need jobs anymore. I also talked about the future of sex, dissed virtual reality and the occulus rift, and said Buddhist monks could probably fly. It’s good stuff.

Click here to download/listen!



WTMatt Baume is the funny, thoughtful, and warm-hearted host of The Sewers of Paris podcast. I had no idea what to expect, and the episode wanders from topic to topic in a great, organic way. He’s an amazing interviewer. We start with The Superfriends and it all unravels from there. The book of spell I stole from my middle school library, the guys I wanted to fuck in high school. And at some point, I say I have superpowers. Click here to listen.


MiriamFinally, I got on Miriam Seddiq‘s podcast, Not Guilty No Way. Miriam is a criminal defense attorney and force to be reckoned with. We met via a scuffle on twitter. There were insults and jabs, and then we were both like, “But, um, why are we doing this, you seem awesome?” Not atypical for Arabs, by the way. There’s the fast and furious expression of anger followed by embrace and trust. We know how to do peace pretty well. Miriam is one of the only podcasters that said she researched me by watching my porn. Bravo to her. She’s brilliant, and I had a great time. It’s very, very conversational. Without the back story, you’d think we’d been friends for a long time.

You can click here to download or listen below.

Fight Science with Science: A conversation with Skeptiko host, Alex Tsakiris

9 Dec

This is the most interview-y photo I could find.

Over a year ago, I conducted a series of interviews with thinkers/scientists/artists who were pushing on the boundaries of our world views.  I planned on releasing these interviews as part of a podcast.  I decided to scrap the podcast (maybe I’ll work on another one sooner or later), but the interviews were just hanging out on my computer.  So I’ll be posting them periodically on here.  

Alex Tsakiris is author of Why Science Is Wrong…About Almost Everything and host of the Skeptiko podcast, where every week or so, he has a conversation with near-death experience researchers, skeptics, debunkers, neuroscientists, philosophers, conspiracy theorists, UFO investigators, and other people in the great cultural battle over the shape and worth of science.  Almost everyone who comes onto Skeptiko is pushed on (sometimes pushed on quite hard) to confront their own assumptions, prejudices, and holes in their logic.  It’s sort of like a how-much-can-you-endure reality show for thinkers.

Many critics of the show point out that Alex can misunderstand science, that he can be a bully, that he “sandbags” his guests.  You can listen to the episodes and see for yourself whether or not you think that’s true.  I certainly don’t agree with all of Alex’s positions, nor the thinkers he sometimes champions.  Often, while listening to the show, I’ll be yelling out loud to no one like a crazy person – But why didn’t you say THIS, Alex?  My disagreements inform my own thinking, but are irrelevant to my enjoyment of the show, or what I find so valuable about it.

The value of Skeptiko isn’t that Alex is correct all the time.  Sometimes he is, sometimes he isn’t, and sometimes I don’t know how to tell which is which.   What’s valuable is that, each week, Alex confronts his own assumptions and prejudices.  To listen to Skeptiko is to hear Alex’s world view changing and his understanding of science refined, little by little.  This display of personal growth is inspiring, particularly since he’s constantly talking with people who are deeply attached to and embedded in their own perspectives.  A shift in world view, without some serious trauma, is a slow and grueling process.  Alex exposes himself to this shift with every conversation, subjecting himself to the revealing and sometimes painful Skeptiko mission statement, “Follow the data… wherever it leads.”


Conner Habib: What are the red flags for you when you’re talking to people in paranormal/spiritual communities that you’re not getting a consistent story or rigorous investigation?


Alex Tsakiris

Alex Tsakiris:  I think it’s challenging on so many levels because when you get into the paranormal there does get to be this degree of strangeness no matter where you start.  You walk in and you wind up in this very strange spot.  I guess I’m kind of an idealist in that I’ve always felt like I should get a straight answer.  I’m upfront and I should get the same back. 

I have to say, when I first encountered the skeptical crowd and found out the deception that was going on and how they’re not consistent in any kind of logical way, I really felt compelled to push on that because it directly contradicts the front that they’re putting up that they are interested in critical thinking, that they are interested in the scientific method.

Take Hazel Courteney (author of Countdown to Coherence on Skeptiko episode 136) for example – I love her message, and I think her topic is extremely important – this spiritually transformative experience that totally knocks someone on their butt.  I think those things happen and I think they can be a real distressing moment – an extremely unsettling part of someone’s life.  People right now are locked up in mental institutions in a very dark place all over the world because they’ve had some kind of amazing transformative spiritual experience and they’re unable to orient that with in a way that our culture can understand and accept.  So I feel challenged when someone like Hazel goes through that experience.  You better be on your game! Don’t go through that and start mixing it up with some other new age mumbo jumbo.  You have an important story to tell and an important job to do, go do it!

I want to hear the message, but I want to hear it’s coming from someone who’s applying good critical thinking skills.

CH: How is that different from science proceeding from a series of wrong pathways and wrong alleys and having its foundation resting on something that’s not correct?

AT: My point is: There’s a standard that all of us that are seeking this higher degree of truth need to hold to.  And it’s not some sort of impossible standard.  It’s just common sense.

We all bring our personal credibility to the table, and we also bring our process to the table.  I love being public in the way that I am.  I love doing posts and putting my name on them, and then you (the audience) are my fact checkers.

CH: Skeptics do things the other way around – they investigate individuals under the shadow of dismissal.  You’re saying, I talk to each person and try to get a feel for what they’re doing and how true what they’re saying is.  I wonder if there are any phenomena where you think, “I don’t think so. This doesn’t seem to be true to me at all as a phenomena,” from the outset.”

AT: That’s a tough one because I  feel like I’ve been proven wrong so many times.  I’d say “no way that that’s true,” and then six months to a year later…

CH: In materialistic science it’s the same thing, where so much seems crazy and then I realize, whoa, that’s true!

But for me, it’s sort of backwards – I’d say a materialistic universe isn’t possible.

AT: I agree! That’s off the table.

CH: Interpretations can seem wrong to me.  Retro-science UFO stuff, that UFOs built the pyramids, stuff like that.

AT: I’ve been digging into the UFO stuff and like you was pretty dismissive and really if you look at the evidence, it’s just overwhelmingly convincing that there’s a real phenomena there.

And the government cover up has been completely outed.  You have thousands of documents from the FBI after saying for years they had no documents.  CIA, army, navy – thousands of documents where you have lie after lie after lie.

What you really have to do then is step back with that as a base and say if the deception is that well-orchestrated and complete, then where do we draw the boundary on what’s really happening here?

On all this stuff, you have to consider the deception.

Without knowing the motives, you just have to look at the data.

The same is true with scientific-spiritual stuff.  Like near-death experience (NDE). If you look at study after study, it’s backed up.  But then these insignificant little studies that seem to refute NDE data, suddenly become hot topics.  Why?  It’s so easy to look at the refuting data and say it doesn’t amount to anything.  How could that really stand up to any of the data in favor or NDEs?

CH: I think that’s something scientists and scholars of science have trouble seeing – power structures in the scientific community, and then beyond that power structures of intentional deception. 

There are power structures in science itself as well.  I wanted to talk about one of those –

I want to talk about how people in power in certain positions in discussions about science what the argumentative moves are made.  Because when I hear your show, I hear those moves again and again.


Lynn Margulis (1938 – 2011)

It’s not just between skeptics and believers.  It’s between people in science and other people in science.  The best example I can think of is this debate between my teacher Lynn Margulis – who is pretty much a naturalist/materialist – and Richard Dawkins.  Dawkins has a meager body of scientific work – not many people know that, of course. 

So Lynn had a different theory of evolution based on symbiosis called symbiogenesis.  I don’t want to get into all the details of symbiogenesis and its merits or problems, but let me go through a debate she had with Dawkins.  It was at Oxford and you can hear it at Oxford Voices.

So Lynn was invited there to be a professor, and she’s debating with Dawkins and other neo-Darwinists.

The challenge starts when Lynn says during the debate,

“You give me any example, documentation either in the fossil record, in laboratory cages or in the field, any case where it’s documented from the beginning to the end: this is one species, these are the events that are the accumulation of random mutation and this is it transforming into another species.”

This is a direct challenge, and the first move Dawkins makes is interesting to me.  He doesn’t respond, because he can’t.  He realizes that he has no documentation.  So what he does is he moves into a sort of dismissive I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I assumption.  He says, “Well you don’t have the documentation either!”  (It’s interesting to note here that he is admitting there is no documentation).

So she responds with details.  She says, no, this isn’t a guess.  She gives one example of flatworms that show beyond any doubt that new species arise from symbiogenesis.  The example is established and irrefutable by any scientist.  So she gives these well-documented and concrete, observable examples of how her model works.

So then the next move Dawkins makes – since she does have documentation – is to say, “Why on earth would you want to bring symbiosis into this when we have a perfectly good theory over here?”

Notice here it doesn’t do anything to substantiate his own theory.

I love her response.  In response to why would you want to bring symbiosis into it, she laughs! And she says, “Because it’s there!

So it’s there – can you (Dawkins) incorporate this into your model or not?

So then Dawkins is forced to contend with it being there.  So then he says – and I hear this move from skeptics on Skeptiko a lot – that she’s using a really isolated example.

“Once in a blue moon!” Dawkins says.

No, she says, it’s multiple examples.  And she then proceeds to give multiple examples.  Example after example of how it’s true.

So the debate goes on, and as she’s talking, he chuffs and says, “We don’t want another anecdote!”  Anecdote?  She’s providing verifiable scientific evidence.  And who is “we” here?

So now all evidence is anecdotal.

And then the final move, which is the most interesting to me:  Dawkins goes on to detail his version of evolution, and instead of talking about organisms you can see or concrete examples, he gives this long story about fire and a blue flame jumping to another patch of fire and he creates this completely imaginary example.  It’s powerful, but totally imaginary.  And he says that that shows how neo-Darwinism could completely work.  So in the end, he overturns all the concrete evidence by presenting an imaginary example.  And that’s supposed to trump what’s really there.

You’ve interacted with these moves all the time in your show.

AT: There’s a lot to pull apart there.  I love the final bit – we have to pull it apart from the psychological aspect of the individual and the sociological angle and the political angle…

As far as the moves, one of the things I’ve come to understand – and it’s comforting in a way – is how different people seem to be wired for how much change they allow in their worldview.

My worldview is pretty open to reinterpretation based on the evidence. Encountering people who aren’t that way is comforting to me in a way, because it helps me understand how the world really works. 

There are people who will just not change no matter what the evidence will do.

The moves you’re talking about in a lot of cases are often basic psychological tricks people are playing with themselves to preserve their ego.  The real goal is: Please don’t require that I change the way I think!

I think we have to look at that whole phenomena differently than the higher power structures – whether there is someone nudging things this way or that way.  I think a lot of these people are useful idiots.  They’re doing the bidding of other folks without even realizing it.

For example, when you connect our society with materialism, you step back in awe and you think, “My gosh, all our power structures are based on materialism.”  And I used to say, “materialism? you mean scientific materialism, not consumer materialism,” until someone said “no, they’re both the same!” 

And they are; there’s no one without the other.  So if you see materialism and how totally enmeshed we are with it, then you start to see just what’s at stake, and why it plays out the way that it does.  Those are the ideas that will be advanced in science, in academia, regardless of the data.  And then you’ll have the players that emerge on their own and play out these little scripts. Like Dawkins: No one has to wind-up Dawkins.  he just goes on his own. You just identify who these people are and promote them through the ranks.  It becomes a self-sustaining system.

CH: The “selfish gene” is in complete lockstep with the economic system.  So you don’t have to have a vast conspiracy, you can just have people who are participating in  capitalist economic systems seize onto this version of evolution because it’s so much like the rest of their lives.  So this is the version of evolution that gets the most airplay.  It just seems right because it matches up with buying stuff and cost-benefit analysis.  So there is that level of it.


Alfred Russell Wallace (1823-1913)

AT: A few episodes ago we did a show on Alfred Russell Wallace (covered in both Skeptiko episode 149 and Skeptiko episode 247).  Fascinating, fascinating to me. I was not that familiar with it.

It’s so clear that from the beginning that Darwin completely stole the idea of evolution.  If you go look at the time stamp when Alfred Russell Wallace sent the letter to Darwin and then Darwin says, “I didn’t get it for six months later!” and then he sends another one and Darwin says, “that one was delayed by 18 months!” as well… You know, fool me once!

The point is here’s Wallace, who unlike Darwin, from the beginning stated the obvious: survival is more of a group function; survival of the fittest is survival of the fittest group. 

But you can understand what the political and social implications of survival of the group.  Oh that’s socialism, communism! We don’t want that! Survival of the individual, that’s individualism, capitalism. 

Let me say, I have benefited greatly from the capitalist system, and if I look at capitalism, I sure as heck would choose that over socialism just in terms of functioning of a society.  But as you’re saying, and as I’m saying too, we have to separate that from the best evidence we have for a scientific theory.  It just doesn’t match up.  And this neo-Darwinism does seem like a script to sell us a political and economic idea, which it doesn’t need, because I think it has merits on its own.

CH: That presents us with a challenge.  As these more spiritual, less materialistic ideas start to filter into science there’s a certain point that we’re going to have to filter those out.  It’s not like we get over that hump.  We’re going to have all sorts of new challenges – whether it’s Dean Radin’s work or whoever, the people you talk to.  How do we separate them? I think it’s important to always be vigilant and not forget once we have this one victory.

AT: Right, I think it gets back to the old axiom: Science is a method, it’s not a position.  If you just hold to that, then it’s a method of discovery and to that end, you’ve got to look at skepticism too.  One of the things that I’m exploring more and more is that we’ve been conditioned to believe that skepticism has a place in science. A key place in science. What if it doesn’t?  What if that’s a false thing we’ve been sold?

I can credit Dr. Peter Bancel (experimental physicist on Skeptiko episode 102) who was working on the Global Consciousness Project.  He said, “Look, science is about asking questions, and we just continue asking questions.  Skepticism doesn’t really come in other than it’s another question.  Oh you did this experiment?  Did you apply this control?  Was your method better done this way or that way?”

It’s about questions, not the idea we’ve been sold about skepticism, that you have to be skeptical, which is an idea that’s come about to support the atheistic materialistic skeptical community that really extends way beyond the James Randis and Michael Shermers.  It’s really entrenched.

CH: Something I hear you banging your head against sometimes is the scientific method itself.  I wonder if you’ll begin to question the method itself in the way it’s practiced now.  I remember when you interviewed Tom Clark (Skeptiko episode 24) and he said that with science, “the method isn’t a moving target.”

In fact, that’s not entirely true.  The method and the way science has been practiced over the centuries has drastically changed and has become something now that it wasn’t always. 

So with Peter Bancel he says, “we’re supposed to keep asking questions,” well that to me seems like a way that science isn’t practiced now.  That would be the of gathering data first and letting conclusions arise on their own, rather than blocking everything off by a framework of assumption.  That blocking things off is the way a lot of people practice science now. 

I studied the way Goethe practiced science, for example.  It’s also the way Da Vinci and

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 – 1832)

other geniuses practiced science, and that’s not what he did. He just observed and observed and observed. 

And then there’s this other component that the skeptics leave out completely, which is that Goethe included his inner experience of his observation of the phenomena as part of the data he gathered.  So it was, I was thinking this when I looked at it, I felt this when I looked at it.

In other words, laying everything bare that was in the interaction, and observing his own interaction with the phenomena he was studying as part of the science.  Sometimes he’d do that to get some truth about the phenomena from those observations of himself, but a lot of it was just to wave away the clouds.  Skeptics don’t do that at all.  The skeptic line is, “I’m going to be objective, I’m not interacting with the thing I’m studying, and I have a detachment from it.”

AT: I love your quote from Tom Clark, the naturalism guy, because I think you’re spot-on, I hadn’t thought of it quite in that way.  To say, “science is not a moving target”?  Yeah, it is a moving target, and I love the example with Goethe because it really gets us back to the whole consciousness thing.  Because we know with quantum theory that we are totally enmeshed in what we are observing and that the observer is affecting the outcome.  It also gets back to what we were talking about before (the interview started) – this whole game is being played in what we call consensus reality. 

You’re observing the green in the trees, well it’s not really green, it’s just we get together and collectively say that those photons hitting us makes green, and well that poor guy is colorblind it’s not green to him, but hey for the most part it’s green and that’s how we’ll go.  That goes on over and over again.  And it’s just a game, it’s a convenience we use.  And I think you’re right to extend that to science, it’s a game, it’s a rule, and we’re trying to nudge ourselves a little closer to a better understanding that helps us sleep better at night.

CH: And there probably is a reality to green, to use your example, but we have to understand our inner reaction to green to be able to bring the reality of it out.

AT: But it would be an individual reality, right?  Because otherwise I’d say, “see that bug outside my window crawling on that green leaf, he’s not saying, ‘wow, this is green!’”

CH: I mean that it’s not an outer objective reality, but it’s a shared inner experience.  Can we talk about that shared inner experience as well as the “objective” outer reality in our science? That’s something that doesn’t really happen, so the shared inner experience is just sort of left out.  But in fact, the inner experience is what’s connecting us in consensus, we just pretend it’s the outer phenomena.

AT: I think that touches on a really important word, “experience.” Look at what a challenge it is for science to deal with it. 

You asked me earlier what’s a red flag.  A red flag for me is the wholesale dismissal of a large body of human experience. 

Using the anthropological example – that really struck me (before the interview) – when you said “look at experience, experience, experience” in cross cultures.  When I see that, I say, “there’s something there!”

People having the same experience, well that’s a reality.  I think that’s so important, because you look at the issues we wind up spending a lot of time fighting about, which we really shouldn’t because they’re obvious. 

So: near death experience? Come on! There are too many people experiencing that to dismiss it.  Deathbed visions, medium experiences, ghost encounters: Too many cases to wholesale dismiss it.  I don’t have to pin it down or say what’s causing it, but don’t tell me it’s an illusion, it’s delusion, or give a stupid explanation.  It just doesn’t fit.

CH: As I was delineating Dawkins’s moves before, it’s like that. Before they’d say, “that’s not real!” And now a lot of people say, “well we all admit the phenomena is real.” Like they always admitted that which we know they hadn’t.

AT: Right!

CH: And at this point, we’re at the move of, “we don’t need another anecdote.” All of it is supposed to be an anecdote somehow, it’s not evidence.  On an even grander scale than just dismissing experiences of individuals in present time, what science as it’s practiced is doing now is dismissing literally all the experiences of every culture that existed before this Western materialistic culture, and all the ones that exist now aside from that.  And that to me is just preposterous.  You really think that every one is history and every other culture was and is wrong? Really?

AT: Good point!

CH: When you talk to Tom Clark or James Randi, there’s this funny assumption that people bring to the table, when they say, “anything paranormal that’s explained would suddenly be ‘normal’ if we could explain it.”  And that’s something else I want to talk about with the moving target of science.  Because if we could begin to talk about this so-called paranormal world, wouldn’t that raise the normal world up into it?  It wouldn’t be “normal” in the way we think of it now. 

I wonder if you have a vision of what would happen as these phenomena become more and more accepted.

AT: It kind of irks me a little bit when even people I like and respect in the paranormal are quick to say, “well this won’t really change things too much. It’s gonna be business as usual, we’ll just have to tweak this or that.” 

No, I don’t think we should say that.  One of the things that comes to mind is what you were mentioning – the different conceptual consciousness frameworks that different groups might have.  If we look at it from that standpoint, an anthropological standpoint, and look at our own cultural bias, we think, “wow, the limits are even lifted up higher in terms of what that new knowing might mean for us.”  That goes beyond a little tweaking of our scientific model.

At the same time I don’t think we have to worry about that too much, I don’t think that’s our job.  I think our job is just to push forward with what’s on our plate right here and kind of let that stuff happen.