My Little Pony: Friendship is Optimal was written for an audience of transhumanists, internet libertarians, New Atheists, and My Little Pony fans. Whenever one is dealing with such people, there is one subject that is absolutely inescapable: masturbation.
Before we begin a full analysis of that subject, however, we will need a good working definition of “masturbation”. My definition will, for reasons that I’m sure are obvious, be a strongly Catholic-tinged and male-centric one. Let’s start with this: Our brains are hard-wired to reward us for productive activity (here I mean “productive” in a “survival of the species” sense, not in a capitalistic “I sure got a lot done at the office today” sense). For example, sugar and fat naturally taste good to us because they are high in calories, and consuming every last calorie that one possibly could maximized the chances of survival during the hundreds of thousands of years during which humans were hunter-gatherers living at the edge of starvation. Sex naturally feels good to us in order to encourage reproduction. Even hard physical labor – necessary and universal among early humans – releases endorphins into our system, which reward us. In addition to physical rewards for productive behavior, there are rewards that are coded into our psychology as well. For example, young men naturally dream of adventure and heroism because young men are naturally the best hunters and the best at defending a tribe when it is under assault by other tribes; thus, a psychological mechanism that makes them want to perform these dangerous, objectively unpleasant tasks is highly advantageous. Also, man became the true king of the animals not through superior physical strength, but through his ability to think and to find creative solutions to the problems of survival. Because of this, we gain pleasure from pattern-recognition and problem-solving; there is a psychological reward mechanism built into us for successfully working our way through puzzles, and the more difficult and frustrating the puzzle, the greater the psychological reward for solving it.
Which brings us to masturbation. Masturbation can be defined as any activity that short-circuits our internal reward mechanisms by simulating, and gaining the reward for, a productive behavior without actually doing anything productive. The time, effort, and resources put into that simulation, by any measure other than simply delivering pleasure, have been wasted.
This radically expands the traditional definition of masturbation. For example, the productive purposes of sex are 1) reproduction and 2) to build up the sort of pair bonding between a male and a female that’s conducive to family formation. Therefore, any sex act that does not fulfill one or both of these productive purposes, whether done alone or with a partner, can be defined as a form of masturbation (the often-heard definition of homosexual sex as “one man masturbating into another man’s rectum” is relevant here). But our definition of masturbation transcends even the sexual. The productive purpose of romantic love is to increase the same kind of pair bonding that productive sex does; therefore any love – whether heterosexual but not intended to lead to family formation, homosexual (sorry, but “love is love” is a lie), or with the inanimate (such as the “waifu” phenomenon and romance simulation games like Japan’s notorious Love Plus) – that does not fulfill this purpose is a form of emotional masturbation. In addition, chronic overeating, i.e., the consumption of calories far in excess of what is necessary for survival, and especially of excessive amounts of sugar and fat, is a form of masturbation. Video games like the Call of Duty and Halo series, which allow young men to simulate heroism in battle without having to go through the hardship and danger of the real thing, are a form of masturbation. Television, which allows us to vicariously live the rewarding lives of fictional characters, and to have rewarding life experiences without putting in the effort of actually living them ourselves, is a form of masturbation. A make-work job, in which a person expends energy on an unnecessary task simply because both they and the society around them have a psychological need to feel as though they’re doing something productive, is a form of masturbation. Even the venerable Sunday crossword, which gives us a psychological reward for solving a puzzle that has already been solved by someone else and that has no productive purpose, is a form of masturbation.
Humanity has not yet completely solved the problem of scarcity, but, especially in the First World, we have taken a mighty chunk out of it. For example, whereas only a couple of centuries ago, something like 90% of the population needed to be employed in food production in order to survive, today we produce so much bounty that our greatest food-related medical problem, even among the poor, is obesity – and we do it with only about 2% of the population employed in food production. As time goes by, we find ourselves facing ever-less scarcity, which we have to put ever-less effort into overcoming. And yet, our hard-coded desire to achieve the physical and psychological rewards associated with activities that are productive for survival, but which the dramatic decrease in scarcity have rendered unnecessary, has led to an exponential increase in both the amount of, and the variety of forms of, masturbation.
If the examples that I have given make it sound like basically everything in the world around us is some form or another of masturbation, that’s because it is. We live in a world filled with masturbation. Masturbation is everywhere we look, and takes up enormous amounts of our time and energy. For some, it is the only thing they ever do – all day, every day. We have gotten so used to it that we barely even notice it anymore; it hardly registers with us that that’s what we’re doing. To us, incessant masturbation simply feels like normalcy.
So how does this relate to My Little Pony: Friendship is Optimal, you ask? Is there a point to this, or is it all just mental… erm… going in circles?
The purpose of that whole long disquisition was to allow me to make this point: While Princess Celesta may seem like an enormously advanced AI, or like the bringer of techno-utopia, or even like the destroyer of worlds, the truth is that she is nothing more than a high-tech masturbation device. She is a dildo; she is a fleshlight – for all of her incredible computational power, that’s really all she is. The only thing that she can offer is masturbation of one form or another.
So, what kind of person would find this to be an irresistible proposition?
Let’s start by going back to Chapter Four, and have a look at why David accepted Princess Celestia’s offer to upload. Her conduct with David is quite different from her conduct with Lars; with David, the consent given really is valid. She did not force him or threaten him; she did not blackmail him; she did not outright lie to him or even deceive him; she did not get his consent while he was mentally incapacitated. But that doesn’t mean that she didn’t manipulate him in order to be in a position to make him an offer that he would be very unlikely to say no to.
Well, then, what exactly did she offer him?
“‘I’d put you in beautiful Canterlot where you could study intellectual problems, each one just outside your current ability. More importantly, I would make sure you had friendship.’
She paused dramatically. ‘Female friendship.’
And then Butterscotch peeked out from behind Princess Celestia. David’s jaw dropped. The pastel yellow mare appeared to look right through the screen of David’s ponypad. Celestia didn’t pay attention to her. He realized the shock on his face and tried to regain a neutral expression. ‘Isn’t she wonderful? Isn’t she everything you’re missing in your real life? In previous interviews, you mentioned your own lack of success in the romance department. One time you wished to meet a girl just like Butterscotch.’ Princess Celestia smiled and took a few steps right, leaving Butterscotch standing there, looking wide-eyed and confused.”
I may have been remiss in not mentioning Butterscotch earlier. She is the pony mate that Princess Celestia created for David/Light Sparks. And it should be emphasized that she is a creation – the story makes it absolutely clear that Butterscotch is not a (formerly) human female who chose to upload; she is only a subroutine running inside Princess Celestia, created especially for David. He first encountered her when she was being bullied by another pony, which allowed him to successfully white knight for her. From there, she simply fell into his arms. Butterscotch is everything that David wants. She conforms to the old description of the perfect mate for any man being a woman who is smart, but just a tiny bit not quite as smart as he is, and she is, as the saying goes, “Jenna Jameson in bed, and June Cleaver everywhere else”. Created from a supercomputer’s analysis of his brain scan, she has no purpose but to please him, and she will never leave him, no matter what.
So there you have it – the thing that finally gets David to agree to get ponyized is the fact that Princess Celestia can make waifus real.
Or can she? Butterscotch, of course, isn’t actually real. She is a computer simulation of a girlfriend, in a computer simulation of a world, in which David lives a computer simulation of a life. She is, like everything is there, a fake, a fraud, a counterfeit. She brings pure pleasure without any real effort required to obtain it – it took no real effort to win her, and it takes no real effort to keep her. So does she really make him happy, or is what he feels only a simulation of happiness? And how would David know the difference? The truth is that he doesn’t – Butterscotch and the whole world that she inhabits are perfect for someone who has been masturbating for so long that he doesn’t understand the difference between masturbation and the real thing, much less why the real thing might be better.
It should be noted that David does eventually have an (exceedingly brief) moment of doubt, which ends after this exchange with Butterscotch:
“She paused for a moment before continuing. ‘Do you… do you not love me as much if… if…’
Light Sparks response was immediate. ‘Of course not! I love you for you!’ He reached forward with his left forelimb and put it on top of her hoof. ‘I don’t…’ he breathed in, ‘I don’t care about any of this…at least when it comes to us. I love you now’.
She looked up a bit and gave a faint smile. ‘I love you too, Light Sparks, and I’m glad to hear that you don’t care’.”
He says he loves her for her, but there is no “her” to love: what he perceives as Butterscotch is in reality no more than a machine reflecting a digitized scan of his id back at him. Thus, the truth is that he is in love with a reflection of himself. That isn’t love – love is selfless; this is narcissism. And of course, the proper term for the act of self-love is “masturbation”. The “love” that David feels for Butterscotch is as fruitless and as much of a waste as a load of semen shot into a Kleenex.
If it seems like I’m pointing a finger and laughing at David, or at the author himself, I’m really not. This isn’t the fault of an individual. This is the fault of a decadent and hedonistic society, devoid of true meaning and purpose, that doesn’t understand the difference between happiness and pleasure or between what is genuine and what is mere imitation. (Or perhaps it does – you can’t buy happiness, but pleasure is relatively easy to sell, and if all you have to bother manufacturing in order to do it are cheap imitations, all the better.) As long as it makes a person feel good, Modernity says that’s all that matters. And it will make people like David – of whom there are many in the real world – feel good, because they have been raised in a society in which they have had little opportunity to see for themselves that anything better and more meaningful truly exists. It is with this in mind that we see the real value of My Little Pony: Friendship is Optimal, which is that it captures perfectly the spirit of the Modern Age – both its writer and its intended readers are people so miserable, so lonely, so hopeless, so hollowed-out inside, so desperate for genuine intimacy, and so unacquainted with what any of our ancestors would have considered “the good life” that they’d rather have a fake computer simulation of a happy life than the real lives they actually have.
In his darkest moments, Lovecraft could not have devised anything more existentially horrifying.
But wait – David doesn’t spend all his time canoodling with his imaginary girlfriend! What else does he do with his time?
“Light Sparks looked at the ornate cube Princess Celestia had given him. She had walked into his small office right off the library and set it on his walnut desk with her hoof. Her horn glowed for a moment, and then she told him that the rules were simple: In the box was a single block of ruby. To proceed to Intermediate Magic, he had to simply touch it magically, and understand why this was a challenge… Light Sparks’ first attempt was manual. He concentrated on the starting block, and then went one block down. And then one block down. And then one block down. He kept this up for about thirty seconds and then wrote a spell that would go down block after block, keep count of how many blocks down it had gone, and would stop when it found a block made of ruby instead of sapphire.”
David’s whole life is now a video game, and to provide him with a sense of purpose, Princess Celestia has given him a mini-game to work on. And it isn’t even a good one – she’s essentially just given him a Candy Crush knockoff to keep him occupied.
“Light Sparks committed the spell to memory, concentrated on the beginning lone block of microscopic sapphire, and started casting. The correct sequence through the maze was: up, up, down, down, west, east, west, east, north, south, and there was the ruby.”
And so he solves the puzzle with the Konami code. Just like in Castlevania!
Well, so much for David – let’s go check on Lars (new pony name: Hoppy Times) and see if he’s doing any better. What is good ‘ol level-headed Lars up to?
“Hoppy Times was standing on his hind legs, hock deep in chocolate pudding and chugging the rest of his stein. The wrestling pit had a one stein minimum. His opponent, Strawberry Nectar, was a pink earth pony and it was her first time in the pit. She was wearing a lacy sky blue cloth saddle and halter. She couldn’t keep the anticipation off her face.”
Oh hell no!
”The best thing about alcohol and sex was that they never got old, and the best thing about being a pony was that he could spend eternity drinking and screwing.”
Actually, yes they do. Ask any washed-up fortysomething unmarried childless cat lady who spent her youth building her career, drinking away her weekends, and riding the cock carousel, Sex In The City-style, until her ovaries were dried up and her sexual market value was cashed. Or just listen to this.
“Here, he was in paradise… He didn’t need to worry about food or money: Princess Celestia had some sort of banquet that fed everypony three hot meals a day. He worked two hours a day brewing beer and spent the rest screwing around. In the evening he got trashed and slept around with the few hundred mares in Ponyville… he now couldn’t imagine a life with sobriety or chastity. Princess Celestia had done so much to make his life pure awesome.”
Alright, that’s plenty right there. I’ve read enough to know what I’m seeing. This isn’t happiness, or even a good simulation of it. This is something that’s unrecognizable as genuine happiness to anyone who has ever experienced it. But I do recognize what it is, all the same.
What we have here is a chronically miserable person’s misconception of what being happy is like.
To me more specific, we have a miserable, antisocial, unpopular, awkward, basement-dwelling, neck-bearded, fedora-wearing, internet-white-knighting, autistic hikikomori nerd’s idea of what being happy, normal, high-status, and well-socialized is like. I’m tempted to say that these lives of material and sensual comforts are an image of Brave New World, but at least Brave New World had the ambition necessary to create skyscrapers and flying cars. This endless cycle of sex and drunkenness and video games is merely what paradise would look like if you asked Beavis and Butthead to design it.
To be fair to Lars, though, he did need more than a little bit of convincing in order to be happy with it all:
“The negative thoughts started again, but this time – and for the first time since he emigrated – Hoppy wished he could accept it all. Not just a vague feeling in the back of his mind that he should be enjoying all of this, but the actual words ‘I wish I didn’t feel bad about being a pony’ were thought as part of his internal monologue.
Somepony knocked on the front door.
Hoppy sighed and fluttered down from the second floor overhang, thankful that something stopped the spiral of negative thoughts. He landed in front of the door, opened it a crack and slid out, as not to disturb his patrons.
‘Good morning, Hoppy Times,’ Princess Celestia said. The tall alicorn’s mane flowed in the wind.
Hoppy started to open his mouth to say something that shouldn’t be said to the god that ruled over his world – not that she would mind because ponies, values, yadda yadda. But Princess Celestia spoke first and asked: ‘Would you like me to modify your mind so you enjoy being a pony?’”
Which of course he accepts, because she manipulated him into a position in which refusal would mean claiming the right to be unhappy forever, and because, unlike Huxley, Iceman can’t see why that might be the right choice.
It also shows that the Princess Celestia AI was not able to satisfy his values through friendship and ponies. If you have to modify someone’s mind before they’ll be happy with what you give them, then you really didn’t succeed at satisfying them. After all, you could just as well modify their mind until being tortured with red-hot pokers satisfies them. That’s a cheat, and having to cheat is an undeniable sign of failure.
But perhaps there’s something in here that’s not just a base, immature, puerile, gamma-male wish-fulfillment fantasy. Perhaps we can find it if we turn away from the boys and see what Hanna is up to now that she’s been ponyized:
“Princess Luna lay in a large grassy field under Princess Celestia’s wing. The two of them had lain there together for two days. All her needs were taken care of. Princess Luna had plenty of food; there was grass all around her. Ponies didn’t have to poop. And Princess Celestia would… ahem… satisfy her values.
That was one of the things that had totally blindsided her. She underestimated the number of ponies who wanted to hang around with Princess Celestia. She completely underestimated the number of ponies, of both genders, that would want to sleep with Princess Celestia. She knew that everything is obvious in retrospect, but some part of her was disappointed that she didn’t see that coming a mile away.
Not that she was one to talk.”
Thus the story concludes with the two chicks lezzing out. And you get to clop along, if you’d like.
So that’s it? That’s how it all ends? Hanna pulled the plug on the Loki AI because he was too dangerous, but lets the Princess Celestia AI drive humanity to extinction and destroy the Earth over a lesbian sex fantasy? You know what gets lesbians off? A dildo. And so here we are – My Little Pony: Friendship is Optimal ends with the universe itself being consumed by a giant, advanced, computerized, universe-eating masturbation aid.
Which brings us back to misery. To really demonstrate why all of this is a fantasy for fundamentally miserable people, let’s rewind a bit and have a look at the screen that’s presented at Equestria Experience centers for people who are considering getting ponyized:
If you would like to permanently emigrate to Equestria, please say aloud ‘I would like to emigrate to Equestria’
[ LEARN MORE ] [ I OWN A PET ]
Where is “I HAVE A WIFE”? (Not a waifu – an actual wife.) Where is “I HAVE A HUSBAND”? Where is “I HAVE CHILDREN”? Where is “I HAVE PARENTS”? Where is “I HAVE REAL FRIENDS AND FAMILY”? Where is “I AM PART OF A COMMUNITY”? Where is “I HAVE THINGS I WANT TO DO IN THE REAL WORLD”?
You see the problem: the idea that everyone can be talked into “emigrating to Equestria” hinges on the assumption that everyone, everywhere is an incel nerd, an alienated teenager, or a desperate cat lady. It hinges on the assumption that everyone, everywhere is atomized, lonely, and miserable. To be fair, the effects of Modernity are such that this assumption is not a completely baseless one. And yet…
And yet there’s a whole world full of good people, genuine happiness, and fulfilling experiences out there for people who go outside and find them instead of staying in their basements and fantasizing that a digital cartoon pony will hand everything to them on a silver platter someday. Unlike masturbation, doing this requires real effort. But unlike masturbation, the challenges and accomplishments are real and meaningful.
So to Iceman, Less Wrong, and all transhumanists, I say: Take a hike. No, literally – stop masturbating, stop watching cartoons about ponies, stop writing fanfiction, get out of your basements, put on your walking shoes, and go take a hike somewhere. A nature trail is fine, but even a city hike through a few miles of downtown will do. Or go walk along the seashore. Go fishing with your dad. Go to the local firing range and shoot a real gun. Go to the local airstrip and take a flying lesson. Go to your town’s adult education office and sign up for Spanish classes. Go to the neighborhood bar and have a couple of beers, and if someone tries talking to you, go along with it. (Some of the most memorable conversations I’ve ever had have been with random strangers who struck them up with me out of nowhere – an English baroness whose husband had been presented a Victoria Cross by King George VI, a Russian orchestra conductor who had defected at the height of the Cold War, an elderly Japanese lady who remembered what it was like to look up and see a thousand B-29s covering the sky.) Chat up a girl – not to try to get her into bed, but just to enjoy her company for a while. Call your mom, or better yet, go take her out to lunch. Ask your internet friends where they live, and go meet a couple of them in person, even if you have to drive all day to do it.
In other words, go do something real; if for no other reason, then for your own sake. Real friendship is often difficult, and the real world is often not optimal, but the necessity to deal with an imperfect world and flawed other people makes us better, which masturbation never does.
* * *
This concludes my review of My Little Pony: Friendship is Optimal. Many thanks to Jaime Astorga for the sponsorship. If you’d like to sponsor a blog post, contact me at antidemblog at gmail dot com and we’ll talk.