Saturday, September 28, 2013

Judgments and Natures: A Non-Political Discourse

As one aspect of my involvement in indie fiction, I write a large number of reviews and critiques. When I first set out on this path, I had to struggle against my impulse to measure others' approaches to plotting, characterization, narration, and style against my own approaches and preferences. It was difficult then, and it remains difficult today. That's the downside of strong opinions and tastes.

Over time, I realized that critical or evaluative judgment of any sort requires a particular orientation. Before he sets out to comment on some specific work of a man's hands, the would-be judge must be sure he has the correct standard clearly and firmly in mind. That is: One can only judge a thing rightfully if one is aware of the nature of that thing, and applies the standard proper to that nature.

You mustn't judge erotica by a standard appropriate to a psychological novel. You mustn't judge a wallpaper design by a standard appropriate to a Rembrandt. You mustn't judge a book by a standard appropriate to a doorstop...well, most books, anyway. Each of these things should be measured against the criteria pertinent to its nature: the sort of thing it is. Thus, the critical process must proceed as follows:

  • Determining the nature of the thing to be judged;
  • Locating the appropriate standard;
  • Comparing the thing to that standard and noting both excellences and incongruities;
  • Evaluating the thing on the aggregate of those observations.

That probably sounds obvious to some Gentle Readers, but I will pause here (yet again) to note that the Latin roots of obvious mean overlooked. In any event, it only became crystal-clear to me after I'd sat through quite a number of dog shows.

The observation applies with equal intensity to the judgment of persons, singly or in aggregate.

Jane had gone into the garden to think. She accepted what the Director had said, yet it seemed to her nonsensical. His comparison between Mark's love and God's (since apparently there was a God) struck her nascent spirituality as indecent and irreverent. "Religion" ought to mean a realm in which her haunting female fear of being treated as a thing, an object of barter and desire and possession, would be set permanently at rest and what she called her "true self" would soar upwards and expand in some freer and purer world. For still she thought that "Religion" was a kind of exhalation or a cloud of incense, something steaming up from specially gifted souls toward a receptive Heaven. Then, quite sharply, it occurred to her that the Director never talked about Religion; nor did the Dimbles nor Camilla. They talked about God. They had no picture in their minds of some mist steaming upward: rather of strong, skillful hands thrust down to make, and mend, and perhaps even to destroy. Supposing one were a thing after all -- a thing designed and invented by Someone Else and valued for qualities quite different from what one had decided to regard as one's true self? Supposing all those peoples who, from her bachelor uncles down to Mark and Mother Dimble, had infuriatingly found her sweet and fresh when she wanted them to find her also interesting and important, had all along been simply right and perceived the sort of thing she was? Supposing Maleldil on this subject agreed with them and not with her? For one moment she had a ridiculous and scorching vision of a world in which God Himself would never understand, never take her with full seriousness. Then, at one particular corner of the gooseberry patch, the change came.

What awaited her there was serious to the degree of sorrow and beyond. There was no form nor sound. The mould under the bushes, the moss on the path, and the little brick border, were not visibly changed. But they were changed. A boundary had been crossed. She had come into a world, or into a Person, or into the presence of a Person. Something expectant, patient, inexorable, met her with no veil of protection between. In the closeness of that contact she perceived that the Director's words had been entirely misleading. This demand which now pressed upon her was not, even by analogy, like any other demand. It was the origin of all right demands and contained them. In its light you could understand them, but from them you could know nothing of it. There was nothing, and never had been anything, like this. And now there was nothing except this. Yet also, everything had always been like this; only by being like this had anything existed. In this height and depth and breadth the little idea she had of herself which she had hitherto called me dropped down and vanished, unfluttering, into bottomless distance, like a bird in a space without air. The name me was the name of a being whose existence she had never suspected, a being that did not yet fully exist but which was demanded. It was a person (not the person she had thought), yet also a thing, a made thing, made to please Another and in Him to please all others, a thing being made at this very moment, without its choice, in a shape it had never dreamed of. And the making went on amidst a kind of splendor or sorrow or both, whereof she could not tell if it was in the moulding hands or in the kneaded lump. [C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength]

Julian O'Dea has set out upon a path so rarely trodden these last few decades that one comes upon it with a sense of shock. Specifically, he and a guest poster who goes by the cognomen of Content Woman have attempted to argue for the following closely intertwined propositions:

  • That women are innately inferior to men;
  • That a woman must admit this to have a happy and fulfilling life;
  • That it's proper for a woman to submit herself, humbly and willingly, to her man;
  • That no other relation between the sexes is conducive to the happiness of either, or to social harmony.

Female Gentle Readers of Liberty's Torch are likely to be caught between astonishment and outrage that anyone should dare to advance such propositions in this day and age. That alone marks O'Dea as unusually courageous, whether you agree with him or not. However, what most important about O'Dea's contentions is the way he has founded them: as evaluations of women (and men) that proceed from his overall assessment of their nature: the what of the human female, as distinct from the who of any specific woman.

The most concise summary of the matter comes from Content Woman:

Egalitarians try to make the sexes equal and interchangeable while often taking great pains to explain that this doesn’t mean they are the same; but this fails to recognise the inherent inequalities between men and women. Even the complementarity argument fails eventually since it is easily subverted and subsumed into the egalitarian “equal but different” rhetoric. Equal value in the eyes of God becomes an argument for equal “rights” on Earth, and that is clearly not what God meant when He created woman as a helpmeet for man. Woman was created for man; man was not created for woman.

For normal women, it is hard to imagine being sexually attracted to an inferior person, so it is women who try to be equal to men thinking that will make us more appealing to them. In the gospel of Oprah, we are commanded to become the man we want, as if that will attract that man, as if a man wants a piss poor imitation of himself. Of course, this is a lie, and man does not want a bad facsimile of himself. Women don’t seem too happy with this arrangement either, given all the divorces they file and happy pills they take, and the simple reason for this is that a woman does not want an equal, but a superior. Her heart knows that she is inferior and that she is designed to be that way but she won’t just relax and accept that her place is to serve a man in return for his care and protection.

The evidence is manifest in all sorts of ways, but most obviously in our physical bodies. A man’s genitalia are external, made to act upon a woman. A woman’s genitalia are internal, yielding, and made to receive. To think that this doesn’t matter in the bigger picture is ludicrous. Our sexuality is central to who we are, otherwise why would we even be having any discussions of this nature to begin with?

Content Woman's argument is utterly independent of any particular identity. She doesn't trifle with irrelevancies. She goes directly to the natures of the sexes and how they compare to one another. Given that there are billions of women and billions of men, individual exceptions to any statement comparing the sexes' natures will surely exist.

Herein lies the rub: nearly every woman in Western Civilization will immediately assert, regardless of her inability to refute the argument from nature, that she is any man's equal and will submit to none. Even a woman who would agree with Content Woman's thesis would all but certainly qualify it by asserting that she, personally, is an exception.

Apparently we have an easier time with such arguments and comparisons when they don't demand anything from us personally.

"When a dog pisses on a fire hydrant, he's not committing vandalism, he's just being a dog." -- Tom Clancy.

There are more categories applicable to human beings than just the genders: Leaders versus Followers versus Independents; Thinkers versus Doers versus Critics; Prudent versus Impulsive versus Insane; and so forth. Some of these approach the stature of natures, in that he who fits one of them often finds it difficult to the point of impossibility to break out of it.

If a category presents us with bounds near to impermeable, the path of wisdom is to regard it as a sub-nature of our broader human nature, and therefore something we might be best advised to work with rather than to struggle against. This proceeds from an essential premise -- indeed, the essential premise, the premise of Essence:

We are "of our natures."
Our natures are not "of us."

That being the case, our natures are an integral part of the explanation for all else about us. More, they constrain what we may individually become. And though such a constraint will sometimes feel confining, it is also liberating: It frees one from the need to measure up to any standard other than the one his nature has already applied.

Feel the freedom your nature provides as well as its limitations.