Saturday, September 14, 2013

Blinding Flash Of The Obvious Dept: On Being Fit To Live With

Our beloved InstaPundit, the old saw runs, reads the entire Internet every day ("so you don't have to"), selects the choicest bits, links them, and adds a brief yet penetrating comment ("Heh. Indeed."). For the benefit of the excessively credulous, this is not exactly how he does it. Probably not, anyway. But whatever his method, and however he finds material (or it finds him), he has a stellar record at unearthing all manner of interesting tidbits for his readers' perusal -- and not all of them are political in nature.

Here's one of the more poignant items from yesterday's crop:

21ST CENTURY RELATIONSHIPS: I’m single at 50. Why? Men hate me being brainier than them. I’m sure that’s it.

The linked article is practically a case study in how to be obnoxious about one's superior intellect and / or erudition. Have a few paragraphs for a taste:

Three months ago I went to Italy with my then boyfriend, Philip. As we were checking into the hotel, I struck up a conversation with the receptionist in Italian (just one of the five languages I speak). But while I was enjoying myself, chatting away, it became clear that Philip most certainly was not.

He shuffled from foot to foot, muttered something under his breath and rolled his eyes like a stroppy teenager.

Then in the lift he turned on me. 'I was wondering when you were going to let me join your conversation,' he snapped. I tried to laugh it off but I knew this was the beginning of yet another argument.

'You always have to be the star of the show,' he continued in our bedroom, as he began to systematically work his way through the mini-bar. Apparently I was argumentative, a know-all and an intellectual snob.

What had I done? It should be depressingly obvious. I had dared to dent his fragile male ego.

By speaking in a language Philip didn't know, I had managed to make him - a successful writer, ten years my senior - feel small. How selfish of me to embarrass him in public with my linguistic prowess!

Like so many of the men I've dated, it was clear he expected me to play second fiddle to him at all times. It wasn't the first time we had rowed about such things. One night, we ended up arguing over a BBC4 documentary on the origins of jazz. When he became annoyed that his attempts to outsmart my knowledge on the subject failed, he started singing loudly, to drown me out altogether.

Is further comment required?


Kate Mulvey, the author of the article cited above, is very likely to remain a spinster lifelong. One of the commenters to her article ventured to guess that she has few female friends. I find that quite probable.

Miss Mulvey might be very bright indeed. She might be a master of many intellectual fields, plus a few artistic ones for lagniappe. For all I know, she might be a mink with its tail on fire in bed. But whatever her attainments, there's a huge black mark against her that no one could possibly overlook, and few persons would deem worthy of overcoming: her need to demonstrate her superiority to others at every opportunity.

Why would anyone feel such a need? In all probability, no single explanation would cover all those who suffer from Miss Mulvey's malady. But it's not uncommon. Though it afflicts men and women both, it seems to attain the sharpest edge in its female victims.

There are a lot of possibilities for how the syndrome might originate and how it develops. However, all of them are speculative; not one can be substantiated with evidence or logic. Psychological conditions are like that, which is why psychiatry remains a hit-or-miss proposition in our time. There won't be much improvement in the field until medicine develops a technique for reading minds. I'd advise you not to hold your breath while you wait.

However it runs, Miss Mulvey's problem is obvious to any disinterested observer: her malady renders her unfit to live with.


Permit me a few words about pride.

It's rather a pity that we don't have a punchy monosyllable that means overweening pride. Pride of certain kinds and degrees can be justified. It's perfectly acceptable to take pride in one's own accomplishments, as long as one allows for the equally just pride of others. Granted, some persons' accomplishments don't look like much to others, for a variety of reasons. That's something the highly talented, highly accomplished person must learn to cope with. The proper measure for justice in pride is how the accomplishment stacks up against the owner's abilities, actual and potential. An imbecile with an IQ of 50 can and should take a just pride in having learned how to make his own bed properly, however trivial that would seem to a genius -- and the genius should be able to concede the justice of the imbecile's pride, rather than override it with his own attainments in his chosen field.

Overweening pride is different. It makes no room for the just pride of others. It constantly asserts itself to others' disadvantage. It leaves others feeling "shut out," that "the star of the show" demands that all the lights shine on him and him only, leaving others no role but to admire and applaud.

He who suffers from overweening pride is likely to be roundly despised by those who, for whatever reason, must endure his proximity. If you've ever known someone who "has opinions about everything" and insists that you hear and agree with all of them, you know what I mean.


In her magnificent little book Talk To The Hand, British writer Lynne Truss succeeds in condensing the principles behind good manners into a single memorable sentence:

"Remember that you are with other people; have some consideration."

Gentle Reader, were I ever to discover that I'd said or written something half that insightful, I'd count my life fulfilled. Why, I might even allow myself to run around correcting conspicuous misuses of the apostrophe with a Magic Marker®...but perhaps that's a subject for another time.

Consideration has two facets. The first of these is the more obvious one: Don't inflict your idiosyncrasies on those around you, uninvited. Do you have any "tics?" Obnoxious or socially unacceptable habits? A tendency to mutter profanity to yourself or "break wind" in a crowded elevator, perhaps? Do you have a tendency to raise your voice on certain subjects, even when surrounded by strangers? Or perhaps it seems unnecessary to you to shower and brush your teeth regularly? Such oddities can render you noxious to those around you. To yourself you seem wholly unobjectionable; to them, you're a nuisance or worse.

The less obvious facet of consideration receives less air time and fewer column-inches, yet it's quite as important as the other, if not more so: Make a modicum of room for the nonthreatening ways of others, even if they strike you as a tad eccentric. Yes, it's a bit odd how the fellow on the seat across from you keeps scratching himself, but you don't know why he needs to do so, and it's certainly not affecting you in any way. Or take that gentleman be-bopping his way down the boulevard to whatever's coming through his earphones. Yes, he's being a bit more flamboyant than you would allow yourself to act in public, but what of it? He's smiling pleasantly and hasn't elbowed anyone. Consideration demands that you make room for such minor deviations from your notion of perfect deportment.

Consideration, when practiced routinely, tends to elicit reciprocal consideration. The process does take time -- sometimes it seems like geological time -- but there's no other way, short of mass bloodshed, to produce a generally courteous and considerate society.


The discussion immediately above is about consideration in public, when surrounded largely by persons unknown to oneself, to whom one's connection is random and transient. Consideration in private, or in the company of intimates and / or friends, is a more interesting matter.

The phrase ringing through my head as I type this is domestic dictator.

There are persons who must have their own way, about everything, in all places and times. In Robert A. Heinlein's phrase, such a person must be "the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral." In the presence of a DD, to pay attention to oneself or one's own priorities is simply wrong, a tragic misallocation of one's precious lifespan. What's that you say? You disagree with the DD on some matter of interest, however minor? Be grateful that murder is still illegal, my friend; you've committed lese majeste.

Put two DDs into a room, close the door and lock it from outside: only one will emerge.

A DD cannot have a successful marriage. A spouse with even a little self-regard won't tolerate being reduced to a spectator in someone else's heroic epic. Some DDs become serial marriers, who accumulate divorces in equal number; others, like Miss Mulvey, remain unwed lifelong.

One of the most striking instances of a maritally unsuccessful DD I know involves a man about my own age. His wife -- now parted from him -- is a sweet, intelligent, and tolerant woman with many attainments of her own. I didn't know either of them when they first married, but not long after that she "shut down:" she simply would not speak in her overbearing spouse's presence, out of aversion to the arguments that would inevitably follow. He would order her about as if she were a deaf-mute servant. Her opinions and preferences, regardless of the subject, did not matter to him; at any rate, he never asked about them. The dissolution of their marriage came as a surprise to no one who knew him, for he had left his wife no room in which to exist.

The irony of the thing overwhelmed me when I came to know her and realized that she was dramatically his superior in every important respect: intellectual, commercial, and personal. He had "married up," though he would never, ever admit it even to himself. But that hardly mattered to the ultimate outcome, for he was -- and is -- simply unfit to live with.

DDs are like that.


I don't often go on at length about a subject of this sort. Most Gentle Readers come to Liberty's Torch for a bit of ranting and raving about some political subject; that's our reputation, and that's the sort of material that dominates the pieces here. But just a moment's reflection would lead anyone to the realization that good politics depends on goodness in the body politic -- the people. A people beset by overweening pride, truculence, and the need to demonstrate one's superiority to all others at every opportunity could have a Constitution and a corpus of laws handed down by God Himself, and their nation would still amount to a slice of Hell on Earth.

Have a little Alexis de Tocqueville for the capper:

In the end, the state of the Union comes down to the character of the people. I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there. In the fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there. In her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits, aflame with righteousness, did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.
Alternately, there's this observation from the great classical liberal writer Albert Jay Nock:
"There's only one way to improve society. Present it with a single improved unit: yourself."

From the soul of the individual flows all else that matters -- to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

8 comments:

  1. You said the rant wasn't political.....and at the end....pow! Right between the eyes!
    Thankyou.
    Differ

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  2. I saw a similar commentary Miss Mulvey's antics over at Vox's Alpha Game site. It's interesting that the sort of attention and acknowledgement of her superiority that she desired has likely mutated into a near-viral meme describing how not to behave.

    Francis, you are an astute gentleman and quite above the usual ranting, raving and cursing that is so common on today's Internet.

    I, however, am not. Miss Mulvey is an ungrateful bitch, an old woman behaving as if she were young. Perhaps this is partially the fault of us men, for when a woman is youthful and attractive, men generally allow her to behave poorly and still provide her with friendship, attention and support. It never crosses Miss Mulvey's mind, I suspect, that she should show the same consideration.

    Now she is no longer youthful and attractive, and so men are less inclined to put up with her bad behavior. She cries foul, like a toddler forced to use the toilet for the first time instead of merely depositing his waste wherever he sees fit.

    Solipsism, poor attitude and outright narcissistic greed will be the death of America. And while many men engage in such behaviors as well, it is near-ubiquitous among the younger generations of women. There will be many more Miss Mulveys in the future.

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  3. Ingratitude is the key. God gives us our gifts, all of them.

    A friend (a man) told me something about growing old: that we are reduced to our essence. Often, women who were very beautiful in their youth, don't bother to improve their essence/inner being. And when they grow old, when that outer shell of "beauty" falls away, that atrophied being is all that's left. Ugly, indeed.

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  4. Clearly, Petrucchio missed his entrance about 30 years back. That's all I'll say about shrews named Kate.

    I have to ask, however, what kind of numbskull marries a woman he considers to be his inferior on purpose? I have seen a few men of previous generations who suffered from male chauvinism and one who went so far as to insert himself into a conversation his wife initiated with me on the subject of the slowness of her computer. He parrotted everything I said as though he ought to have been the one giving the advice. Even in such a case, I would expect a man to regard his wife as better than most women in regards to cooking, or mothering, or general sense.

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  5. If that is indeed a picture of Ms Kate Mulvey we have a saying out here in the Southwest. She "looks like she has been rode hard and hung up wet". I worked in emergency rooms for a number of years and she represents what we called "psycho bitches from hell".

    Enough about her.

    The best part of Francis article was indeed the discussion about consideration of others.

    All families and indeed all individuals suffer from some degree of dysfunction. In my family the worst degree of dysfunction is with my father-in-law who is the perfect example of the DD Francis wrote of. His remaining three children tolerate him at best. The man never met a subject he didn't have an opinion on and his opinion was the only correct one. I have ignored and avoided him for a number of years.

    The second is the borderline personality in my sister. Again I avoid communication with her as often as I can. Her manipulation and bitterness is incessant.

    On a lighter note. When I read this I couldn't help think about the DD character in the British citcom, "Keeping up with Appearances".

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  6. Thoughts in no particular order:

    1. Shouldn't it be "Men hate my being brainier than they?"

    2. I'm not seeing the difference between overweening pride and hubris. But I'm not a Certified Galactic Genius, either.

    3. DD - my father in law is one. He has abandoned his grown family to practice his dark arts in Australia. I can't weep. I know that I married up. Sadly, sometimes Mrs. 'Bix confuses my actions with DD's pathologies. Kind of like a Hank Williams song.

    4. "nonthreatening ways of others" On a recent vacation, we saw a skateboarder in headphones. He would intermittently roar out a guttural growl. It made me think of the term Death Metal - maybe they make that sound in that genre. At any rate, it made our sit in the park that much more amusing, and we didn't bother him with our opinions.

    5. I rather enjoy it when you go on about subjects of this sort. Plus, de Tocqueville AND Nock for closers. It doesn't get much better than this.

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  7. Seems to me that Mulvey's male friend might have been deeply pissed off by her lack of manners, not her allegedly superior intellect.

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  8. Are you sure that quote is from de Toqueville? It sounds suspiciously like something Bill Clinton would make up; in fact, I believe he did make it up.

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