December 16, 2009

Misconceptions of the Modern Man

Male-grooming is a chore.
Feminists hate men to be courteous.
In a fast-paced world, there is no time for civility and self-respect.
Quantity trumps quality.
Gadgets make life easier and better.
Style is a woman's thing.
The sword is mightier than the pen.
Taste is innate, not taught.
Domesticity is not for real men.
Masculinity is brawn, not brains.

All false.


  1. Doctor,

    let me take your points by number, if not in order:

    1. Why do boys hate washing?
    2. How is adult courtesy not consdescending?
    3. A fast-paced world is implicitly a permissive world.
    4. Democracy and quantity are next-door neighbors!
    5. Gadgets do make everything they deal with easier in the main.
    6. Sartorial vanity is a woman's thing.
    7. - And the gun is mightier than the sword.
    8. How could the young Mozart write otherwise?
    9. Ever since Odysseus the question stands...
    10. How many brainy men do you know, as against how many citizens there are in a modern republic?

    With due respect and some bewilderment,

  2. 1. That is why boys have/need mothers. Men generally don't have the luxury (or misfortune).
    2. Intention v. reception. Condescention might be in the eye of the beholder.
    3. I'm implicitly rejecting the fast pace.
    4. True, but that might just be an indictment of democracy.
    5. You have clearly had better experiences with gadgetry than I.
    6. I never mentioned vanity.
    7. Depends on your definition of 'might'. The gun is certainly the coward's weapon of choice.
    8. You elide talent and taste rather too easily for me.
    9. Indeed, the question stands.
    10. Sure, but manliness (which is what I should have written) is distinct from merely being a man. The judgment, discretion, and genius of the manly man sets him apart from those with mere muscle.

  3. 1. Then what are men without women?
    2. - But it needn't: do not you think a superior person ought to be courteous also to persons inferior to himself?
    3. a) What world are you not rejecting? b) Are you also rejecting a permissive world?
    5. Sans etre impolis, the manifold success of gadgetry shows with every picture every man takes.
    6. What is style (having something worth showing) without vanity (the neediness to show off)?
    7. Would you also call somebody with atomic weaponry a coward?
    8. Let me operate also the other obvious abstraction then: take ten preppies from similar circumstances and find out that it is somewhat difficult to find the most tasteless, but the one with taste will then show easily.
    10. Man (as in male, not human) - manly - manliness: let us indulge in no kind of castration now. I am not incpable of subtlety, but wary of ledgerdemain by sophistication. And what mortal coils bind together, let no genius set apart.

    P.S. I am leaving 4 and 9 for the end, when they will fit in nicely; for now, I am satisfied with our agreement.

  4. 1. Bereft.
    2. 'Ought' would be too strong, but I see no reason why he wouldn't if he was secure in his superiority.
    3. a) will probably become clear over time; b) yes.
    5. I don't see it that way. To use your example, when people had no choice but to use film cameras, they exercised discretion in the things they shot, since film cost money and so did processing. It was worth getting the thing right. Digital photography has cheapened things in every sense.
    6. Bespoke suit jackets have cuffs which actually unbutton, unlike off-the-peg suits. Yet it is gauche to leave one button unfastened for the purposes of display. It is enough to know that they work, for the self-worth and satisfaction of the wearer. The same would be true of high-quality clothing that does not display the label.
    7. If they pushed the button, perhaps.
    8. Indeed, and I would then seek to explain it by his family, his upbringing, his wealth, his exposure to culture, and his teachers.
    10. Emasculation not intended, but neither am I dealing in mere semantics. Our difference here is hardly surprising, since I am thinking in terms of enculturation and you seem to want to emphasise natural qualities. Being a man and being manly, I say again, are not the same thing. I would start up a blog on the former, but the task would be great and would require much care. Perhaps you will do it first.

  5. 1. This could either mean something terrifying or something merely contemptible, not to say innocuous, bordering on the indifferent; - I think the difference crucial; - on my knowledge of this phenomenon on, only beauty hides terror, but wit can only confuse it with hysteria.
    2. Without an ought, the superior man is impolitic on his discretion: there is nothing to bind him to his fellowmen, inferior as they are, which is to say: he is blind to their common, awful mortal coils.
    5. Rich men needn't care about money excessively - that is pettiness on a sickening scale and reeks of ignobility: cheapness however need not be petty. However, my suggestion was that what and how we shoot - poignant choice of words, I feel - are not only directly connected, but they may open the way to the question whether technology is irrepressible and what its conditions are. What you call - I think imprecisely - cheapening is the becoming rote of our concerns and their objects: reduction to industrial, technological or artisan.
    6. Men of taste and experience may know such things, as indeed they do - but this settles nothing as to the difference between the pleasure one affords oneself (which may be natural and is surely immediate, and even spontaneous at times) and the pleasure others afford one through their admiration, not to say envy, etc. (which may be natural as well, but is surely mediated). I think this is the crucial question.
    7. Mad is perhaps a better word, if I can revive briefly a Cold War-era pun. On a more serious note, however, you have redefined power to exclude courage and to aim at the destruction of the world: because no weapon can do anything but destroy, and weapons are not made but for the chance to use them. Surely, there is some mistake...
    8. I must disagree with this instinct to explain away - the current word is 'rationalize' - natural differences by way of environmental factors - loosely construed. Do you think nothing independent of environmental influences? Is there nothing before and nothing beyond convention? To educate means literally to take somewhere: hence the question about what is being educated, what substance is moulded, or tended to, or bettered...
    10. Natural qualities seem to me to have a good title to our attention: they are easily observed and they point to the possibility - remote as it may seem - of human nature; to ignore them is to risk not knowing whether manliness is good and, finally, whether it can be achieved.

    P.S. 3 is off the table, which I think will nicely fit with the other matters, and I hope by the end of this exchange to show to you how I understand the political implications of your position.

  6. 1. I really don't understand either of your alternatives here, but I have no doubt you will unfold your reasoning. Still, in the spirit of this blog's stated intentions, intending neither to preach what manliness should be, nor carving it in stone, it will be enough to say, perhaps, that I - a man - would be bereft without woman.
    2. Ok. To clarify, the ought does not come from external to the man; the sense of duty is internalised. I ought, yes. I leave it you what you think on the matter.
    5. I stand by cheapened, and wonder precisely what you mean by 'becoming'. The routines relating to our concerns and objects may be 'suitable', perhaps, but that still begs the question of the concerns and objects. If you mean 'pleasing', or some such, I am a long way from convinced.
    6. The two can and do, of course, go hand in hand on occasion. The experience of dressing well often brings unsought compliments. So be it. I would simply say that the latter consideration is not one I would entertain when getting dressed.
    7. The difference is our respective starting points when reading 'the pen is mightier than the sword'. I made this statement not as a maxim for those with nuclear arsenals, but rather, from my own experience of the way in which men react to situations in their personal lives. I am not, therefore, attempting to redefine power - far be it from me!
    8. Disagree if you will, but I see it neither as an instinct (which surely you don't mean), nor as explaining away. Of course there is something before culture. Of course. But not taste.
    10. Taking my response to 8 into account, I am bound to say that natural qualities are far from easily observed. I do agree that the possibility of human nature is most worthy of our attention. We can only aspire to say something of note on this head, but that may not be for us to judge.

  7. 1. I feel women civilize men and limit the anger and violent sport youths are wont to make of one another. A gentleman used to be a man who knew how to distinguish men from women and whose soul therewith profitted. I remind you of a note Aristotle makes in the Politics: the distinction between woman and slave bases civilization, as distinct from barbarism. - Consider Hobbes' state of nature: it abstracts from natural differences - startng an enduring trend... – else the war of all against all means women would be enslaved by men, and a contract between equals would become unlikely or impossible. - Consider, further, how much we are forced to follow this distinction in our ideas of citizenship and its bastard moniker, individuality. At its crassest, this would be saying: women should not vote because votes bring war, and it is men who get killed in wars, the losing of which impairs voting.
    2. I feel an ought is necessary here, indeed internalized as it must be: the road to gentlemanliness must not leads beyond society, else it subverts our regime: if men’s happiness meant falling below or rising above society - it should no longer be necessary - nor long endured.
    5.Not to impugn your freedom, doctor, but what are called market forces - people calculating how to satisfy their basest inclinations - show that people find choiceworthy the gadgets which infest our world (and gadgets are only replaced by other gadgets), the production of which goes on irrespective of our being human, as the case of atomic weaponry makes obvious: marvelous gadgets, but they could kill us all. Gadgets make that life easier which relies heavily on gadgets; I avoided your other question - but are they good? - because I think it comes in sharper relief when the nature of technology is understood: it makes things cheaper and easier to come by - and, presumably, cope with - but it removes from our habits what cannot be technologized. If an interstitial realm can be described plausibly, in-between the needs of survival that only technology meets and the whims of people habituated to act by proxy, you may criticize gadgets at your ease. But if gadgets are the price we pay for food, clothing, and shelter, a serious questions arises, and your criticism of gadgets must embrace the pre-modern alternative or the fully modernized alternative.
    6. Is your position plausible? Clothes do not exist by whimsy, a relation of sensual pleasure and what circumstances allow - it is facile and supercilious to abstract from the needs they meet, the conventions of which they are the ostensible manifestation, and the view they transmit of man's freedom or his enslavement, given the artisanship and commission they involve. Gentlemanly attire rather is part of politic comportment.
    7. The pen is mightier than the sword: this saw put the good life against life simply; at its lowest, the one is refined pleasure - at its highest, the other is honor. I meant to bring out power so as to see the relation between the good life and life simply, which the justification by science has concealed (notice how things nowadays called good need and pretend to the guarantee of science - and let me remind you that the modern political writers seduced their audiences with promises of a new science of nature, which would reduce artfully man's being human).
    8. Is not taste a general quality that describes a suite of particular situations, whose generality raises the question as to its nature? Things arbitrarily imagined are for that reason not of general purport; - further, taste in any of the imitative arts depends on the objects of art, which depend on the artisans, who cannot very well depend on yet others, in a regression ad infinitum. For people to comment on taste, some common arbiter - as it used to be, a great poet - is necessary, to delineate both the common ground and the point in contention.

    P.S. Satisfied with our common ground, I leave 10 out of the discussion.

  8. 1. You are not going to persuade me on this, and I fear I am unlikely to succeed in the other direction. Suffice to say I do not think your first sentence is true as a generality, although it may be true in individual circumstances. What is and has been meant by civilization (considered as a set of individual qualities) has more often been prescribed by men for men with some uncivilized other in mind, than it has been prescribed by women. Indeed, historically speaking, a woman's place has been defined and limited by man, her sensibilities too. If you are right, and men are now susceptible to a woman's civilizing hand (for the worse), then men are the victims of their own historical machinations. I do not think you are right, however. A case in point would be the violent sports you mention: their gradual historical reduction and displacements of violence rarely had anything to do with women as a particularly womanly issue. On the contrary, you will find a long process of men checking other men for some civilized end. Whether or not those ends were justified is perhaps the larger question here, but I would sooner discuss that and put the male and female to bed, as it were.
    2. Amen.
    5. I will merely point out the 'if' in your ultimate sentence and satisfy myself that as and where gadgets do what you say, you are right, and as where they don't I am right. As a rider, I would say that your 'gadget' is much broader category than I had originally intended to imply.
    6. I maintain that my position is plausible. Perhaps the common ground can be arrived at negatively, for I will admit that I have been most conscious of what not to wear, to the point of eliminating any false steps from my wardrobe. My available choices are still great, but necessarily limited by preconceived ideas of what is appropriate (importantly distinct from the vanity fair, which is abhorrent).
    7. Ok. I think we can let this one be.
    8. Your opening question is actually three, the answer to the first I would give in the negative, which of course negatives the other two. I find it unlikely that we can be reconciled on this one either. As for the artisan, it is plausible that he can depend on yet others, and while the process is not infinite, it practically seems as such. For the artisan does not blindly create without any mind to other art - the history of art - to which his/her art will be compared and judged. The arbiters of taste are/were more likely the patrons of the arts, whose demands on the artists reflected their own notions of how their power should be represented. But I here I fear that I am opening a new can of worms that will not help settle the question at issue. Perhaps as I write more, the question of what taste is will foster further discussions on from where taste comes, which would be welcome. For now, perhaps we should move on.

  9. Doctor,

    1. I made no historical points, but was writing from what might be called common sense, a doubtful witness in intellectual debates, I admit. I didn't meant: overtly or covertly, women rule - hence civilization! In fact, I find it difficult to understand what matter it makes to what civilization is that men have been in power not. Historically, in various ages different answers came up, but that doesn't mean some weren't right and the rest wrong. For my purposes - citizenship, gentlemanliness - I look only at republics: ancient writers came up with a fairly coherent definition from Plato to Cicero that has been revived since the Renaissance: from Hobbes and Locke to Cato's Letters and Hume - British writers have taken very seriously the ancient view of republics and civilization. Or consider Machiavelli's admiration of the Roman republic... Leaving Germans aside, I turn to Americans: the Federalists signed Publius (Valerius) collectively. American pamphleteers would sign under Roman names, usually citizen-heroes, defenders of the republic - Hamilton signed himself Cincinnatus. - This proves nothing, but it points any sensible man to the questions: how did these writers understand the texts they quoted? and were the ancients right? I do not wish to hide the quarrel between early moderns and ancients regarding politics and psychology, but they did all differentiate women from men for political purposes. Recently, the political question vanished and the psychological one has become thematic: after the political philosophers, the novelists took up the men-women issue.

    - You attack with modern history, - I reply with ancient history, as well as political philosophy and poetry. However, modern history is newfangled, and so it must answer. Further, elegance may persuade you. This age, some form of history or another is almost always argued up and down, and people seem to think much of it - but even in the times of the first modern writers, nobody thought history worth anything. - To side with the Zeitgeist is at best prudent, but inelegant and lacking in that inquisitive turn of mind that has made gentlemen famous in previous ages: surely, if politenss means anything, it must mean skepticism of one's own habits, as well as those with which one is most acquianted and to which one is most accustomed. Let us not be children of our times.

    To the point, beyond the quoted remark, Herodotus has a habit of showing that women are excessively pious (which comes up in Rousseau as well, the religious belief especially of young women) and that the Spartans are the most pious Greeks. Aristophanes wrote two comedies where the heroine is a woman (political themes) and a third where the plot revolves around women (religious theme). The ancients may be wrong, and they don't say the same thing - but they did all consider women and men valid categories of analysis. It sometimes seems like they thought the meaning of the constitution and its worth can be explained by understanding men and women both in what distinguishes them and in what they have in common. Rather than put to bed, they were first taken apart and then put back together, in what way the thinker thought best.

    Finally, and this really is the clincher, Shakespere's plays, especially the comedies, show what women are like, he thought, and how the world must be for their happiness to happen, for it to be also just, etc. How different the men behave in the different situations, say comedy vs. tragedy, is eloquent about this crucial difference. May we now take them out of bed?

    P.S. I am satisfied about 2,5, 6, and 7, and I think we shall come to see our differences quite clearly now. As for 8, we do disagree, but there is nothing to be done about it now, the matter of taste does require a whole discussion by itself.

  10. I can definitely live with the last three sentences of your penultimate paragraph (not including the post script). I think that gives us a great deal to discuss in future, and leaves a lot of open ground. In some ways it reflects the ways in which modern history, new fangled as it may be, goes about questions of man and woman, though I would be the first to own that its eyes, though open, often are short-sighted. I trust that I suffer from no such historical myopia, and beg to leave our male and female coiled together (as Plato representing Socrates representing Aristophanes would have wished), until such time as we may rudely awaken them once more.


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