Friday, March 31, 2017

A Quick And Unpleasant Speculation

     Developments from the relatively young field of genetic engineering have already rocked the world. Genetically modified crops are increasing yields beyond anything previously achieved. Progress is being made toward the swift improvement of various food animals by genesmithing, as opposed to the much slower path of selective breeding. It might not be much longer before the genome in a human zygote can be edited to undo conditions such as Trisomy-21 (Down’s Syndrome). All this makes the amount of money and brain power being poured into genetic engineering technology easy to understand: the prospects for further profits are considerable.

     There are other prospects as well, not all of them as savory as the correction of disabling conditions in a new human. We’ve heard the scuttlebutt about “designer babies,” but we’ve mostly comforted ourselves with self-reassurances that that possibility remains far off. Sex selection, okay. But babies designed from conception onward to be exactly what their parents want them to be? Not gonna happen real soon. We certainly don’t need to trouble ourselves over the moral implications just yet.

     I don’t think we can be confident about that any more.

     As if you needed to be reminded, I write fiction as well as these grotesquely fatiguing op-eds. The overwhelming majority of my stuff is speculative: fantasy, science fiction, and the occasional dab of quasi-horror. To write speculative fiction one must speculate: i.e., one must begin with a “what if” that departs from reality as we experience it today. The possibilities inherent in the genetic engineering of Mankind are a rich vein that spec-fic writers have tapped liberally.

     But as in all things human, motive matters. Some who practice genesmithing will do so with little or no thought for the well being of the creatures they produce. Some will be outright villains, intent upon turning out subhumans...or slaves.

     Think about this for a moment: There’s a lot of curiosity about human evolution. We have an incomplete fossil record of the progress of the hominid family. Australopithecus, Homo Habilis, Homo Erectus, Homo Neanderthalensis, Homo Sapiens... There’s something missing in there, some genetic long-jump that brought human intellect to its current elevation. How could we explore it most directly, discover the cause with the greatest degree of confidence? Why, by recreating all the links in the genetic progression, of course!

     Scared yet?

     The same techniques that could conceivably end all genetically-occasioned birth defects could also be used to produce monsters.

     Who would do such a thing, and why? Men of little skill or understanding, unaware of the consequences of their undertakings. Cruel men, who like to watch others suffer. Men with skill but without moral or ethical standards, who would produce distorted caricatures of humans for wealthy others ready, willing, and able to pay them. There may be other possibilities, but those are sufficient for now.

     The base stock for such horrors would be readily available: zygotes “left over” from in vitro fertilization efforts. Many would-be parents are unaware of what happens to such “leftovers.” Others are unconcerned about their fates; they’ve got their babies, so nothing else matters.

     Just about as soon as it can be done, it will be done – and no law or exercise of State power will prevent it.

     It is, of course, a commonplace to complain that men have hitherto used badly, and against their fellows, the powers that science has given them, But that is not the point I am trying to make. I am not speaking of particular corruptions and abuses which an increase of moral virtue would cure: I am considering what the thing called `Man's power over Nature' must always and essentially be. No doubt, the picture could be modified by public ownership of raw materials and factories and public control of scientific research. But unless we have a world state this will still mean the power of one nation over others. And even within the world state or the nation it will mean (in principle) the power of majorities over minorities, and (in the concrete) of a government over the people. And all long-term exercises of power, especially in breeding, must mean the power of earlier generations over later ones.

     [C. S. Lewis, The Abolition Of Man]

     Scientific and technological knowledge cannot be kept “under wraps.” Nature’s laws are written in the largest of fonts, readable by anyone with the wit and the will. It has never been possible to prevent some from learning and using what others have discovered. It never will be. The genetic engineering of human beings, or of creatures whose base stock is human, is coming.

     All the barriers to inhumanity and cruelty our prior incapacity placed around us will have fallen. All that will remain to inhibit the genetic engineers is whatever moral and ethical codes we manage to instill in the generations to come...and we may be sure that some will shrug those codes aside for the satisfaction of their curiosity, for sadistic gratification, or for profit.

     I’ve been writing about this: working title Innocents. Watch for it.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Nice-Guy Revolt

     It isn’t often I read an angry article that warms the cockles of my spiny little heart:

     You had your chance on our first (and only) date. I held the door open for you and bought you dinner at that 5-star restaurant you so slyly worked into the conversation. You looked amazing and I went all out to impress you. You walked through the door I held open for you without a thank you or really any acknowledgement of my little gesture.

     I asked you about your hopes and dreams and listened to you bitch about your ex-boyfriend as you ordered that $100 bone-in ribeye and the wine with the fancy vintage you just had to try. You finished the wine but took most of the steak home in a doggy bag. I only now realize that it was the ex-boyfriend you were texting all evening, I hope he enjoyed the steak I bought him. By the way that “emergency call” you got after dinner didn’t fool anyone. I’m not stupid, unlike most of the guys you’ve dated.

     I was wonderful to you, I was a gentleman. I treated you with respect, like a lady deserves to be treated. I enjoyed your company and you had my full attention. I didn’t expect anything in return except a chance to win your heart. I’m stable, I’m a good provider, I want marriage and kids in my future. I’m the man of your dreams, but you couldn’t see that. Or maybe you just didn’t care. You were pretty preoccupied with your texting.

     But now you’re ready to date me? Really? You’ll excuse me if I’m not jumping for joy. You’ve dissed me, rejected me, took advantage of me, dodged my goodnight kiss and couldn’t wait to get away from me. Now suddenly you want me? Sorry, I’m not buying it.

     Please read it all. It speaks volumes...volumes an awful lot of women, now that the ticking of their bio-clocks has become audible, should deign to hear.

     During the years I was “between wives,” I had one date like the ones outlined above. One. (There was a minor difference: at that time, very few persons had cellphones and “smartphones” – i.e., cellphones made for idiots, obsessive-compulsives, and the terminally bored – were unknown.) It was shocking enough to put me off dating for several years, which, given the changes washing over the social environment during that interval, was probably a good thing.

     (A not-so-brief tirade-within-a-tirade: Rarely these days do I see anyone without a cellphone in his hand – and women are the worst offenders. Why that should be, I leave to the brain-care crowd. It irritates me so greatly that I resolved never again to see or speak to a friend of thirty years’ duration when, during our first get-together in several months, he never once let his PDA out of his grasp. The message is quite definite, whether or not the offender is aware that he’s transmitting it: Anything and everything I can access through my device is more important than the person I’m with.

     Glory be to God, people! Get off your BLEEP!ing phones! Power them down and put them away! Your life is being lived here and now. Take some interest in it – and I don’t want to hear any “my phone is an extension of my brain” garbage. No, it is not; it’s a BLEEP!ing crutch, a salve for your inability to endure an interval of stillness or silence.

     It’s just after noon EST as I write this last bit. I’ve just returned from the car wash, where I sat waiting for about twenty-five minutes. During that period there were three other customers. All three were women. All three were on their cellphones throughout. Two spent their time complaining into some distant ear about the men in their lives. The third, from what I overheard, was listening to a friend complain about the man in her life. I am not fabricating this, nor am I exaggerating it. End of tirade.)

     A man who’s been properly raised will know how to treat a woman, especially one with whom he’s exploring the possibility of romance. I’ve known enough such men to conclude that despite all the adverse propaganda from women’s magazines and feminist crap-spouters, we are a majority. But I’ve known enough women – single women – to conclude that today’s typical single woman doesn’t begin to appreciate the value of such a man until she’s at least thirty-five years old.

     A well-raised man with good morals, ethics, and manners – i.e., a nice guy – will open doors for his date. He’ll ask for her preferences about hours, food, and entertainment; if he can’t oblige them, he’ll say so, courteously, with an explanation if it wouldn’t be excessively personal. He won’t even touch his phone, unless he must do so to confirm their restaurant reservation. He’ll ask nothing from her except some conversation and the pleasure of her company. And he’ll respect her preferences, whether explicit or implicit, about physical contact.

     And it is profoundly heartening to note that there are more men declaring themselves in this fashion than there have been in years. The Bad Boy Interregnum might be ending after all. But best of all would be if good men were to decide not to take it any more.

     And maybe, just maybe, that time is upon us.

     Talk, of course, is cheap. Deeply discounted in preference for observable action. And while many a man will “talk the talk” of swearing off women, not many have “walked the walk”...until recently.

     Lately, we have a rising trend toward self-imposed celibacy. It’s especially strong among men who’ve been burned in a divorce, but it’s extended some filaments among never-married men who’ve become disenchanted with the ways of American women. And while I’d be the last person to encourage celibacy as a life choice for anyone other than a Catholic priest, I must say that the reasoning I’ve heard from such men strikes a chord.

     “It’s not worth being on tenterhooks all the time,” said one.
     “I have enough demands on my money and energy,” said another.
     “As soon as they set the hook they stop treating you well,” said a third.
     “Prostitutes are a lot more honest about what they’re looking for,” said a fourth.

     Tragic. Typical, but tragic. Not because these men have elected to forgo marriage and children – such a decision can be reversed, after all – but because American women are forfeiting the possibility of mating with some of the best men in this country.

     There’s no salvation to be found in non-American women. The attitudes that make American women a trial of a good man’s endurance have spread throughout the First World. Many non-American women are implacably hostile to child-bearing and child-rearing. Some are completely averse to sex. Moreover, a non-American woman being courted by an American man will be aware of the prize to be won. That can cause her to radically alter her behavior...until she has a ring on her finger.

     The question before us is whether the upcoming generations of American women can free themselves from those pernicious, bad-boy-chasing, milk-him-and give-him-nothing, I-want-it-all-and-I want-it-now attitudes. The evidence is inconclusive.

     A genuine, conscious revolt among good men – a resolution not to tolerate any further crassness from or exploitation by women – would help immensely. To the extent that it’s already in progress, I applaud it. Of course, it would help even more if American fathers were to ensure that their sons become good men and their daughters appreciate them, but that should go without saying.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Looking Deeper

     Several other commentators have already taken up this extraordinary article, which at first glance seems too ridiculous to be real. Several have suggested that Cosmopolitan may have intended it as satire. Unfortunately, that turns out not to be the case.

     As absurd as are author Hannah Smothers’ notions, it’s not quite enough to dismiss it as such. Miss Smothers is plainly aligned with the fringe of feminism that regards men as “the enemy:” evil straight from the womb. To such a woman, nothing a man ever does is innocent. Nothing a man brings to a woman may be viewed as beneficial to her without imposing a still greater burden or cost upon her. There can be no truce between the sexes, in such a view.

     Given that, as Camille Paglia has said, had men somehow never existed women would still be living in caves, and given that that’s about as self-evident as the right to life, one must question the mental health of such a woman. But let’s stipulate, entirely for the sake of argument, that Miss Smothers is sufficiently competent to come in out of the rain without being dragged on a leash. What could motivate her to displeasure over a man’s satisfaction at providing his woman with the sexual fulfillment of an orgasm?

     I propose: Envy.

     Men are goal-focused and achievement-oriented. It’s integral to our natures. It’s normal for a man to take satisfaction from achieving a conscious aim -- any conscious aim, regardless of whether tangible benefits flow to him from having done it. He’ll seldom care overmuch what others think of it, or of him for pursuing it. Women, in contrast, are acceptance-focused and consensus-oriented. Women who will actively pursue achievement in preference to acceptance by their peers are a minority. Worse, women are aware that “the other lobsters in the bucket will pull her back down:” that an enterprise staffed by women allows no individual woman to rise beyond her peers’ reach.

     Miss Smothers has apparently reached her “lobster limit,” and is aware at some level that she can aspire to no higher plane of achievement. If she’s infected with the contemporary “a woman can have it all, and if she doesn’t get it all, she’s being cheated” meme, which appears likely, that’s a source of great frustration to her: frustration sufficient to require that she lash out. But she can’t lash out at the other girls; that would be wrong! Besides, it’s men who are the real enemy. Somehow, men have contrived the barriers she faces. Never mind that men are essentially irrelevant to the composition and publication of trivia such as Cosmopolitan.

     To such as Miss Smothers, for a man to take pleasure of any sort in having done something for a woman must be wrong. If the something is orgasm – the supposed fulfillment of a sex act well performed – the wrong is doubled. A woman’s pleasure is for herself alone! Can’t let any grubby man horn in on the satisfaction from it...even if it costs her nothing whatsoever and contributes to the pair bonding that makes marriages last.

     (Might Miss Smothers’ envy be about lack of orgasms? Might she lack a man who’ll regularly give her orgasms? Unknown. Nor do I intend to research the matter.)

     We have still other reasons to doubt Miss Smothers’s mental health. Quoth Stacy McCain:

     The symptoms of Ms. Smothers’ insanity are obvious. After all, no psychologically healthy person would leave the great state of Texas and move to a tiny apartment in Brooklyn. Beyond that, however, Ms. Smothers exhibits a morbid obsession with killing babies. She is a bloodthirsty pro-abortion fanatic, for whom maintaining federal funding for Planned Parenthood is a sacred crusade. Advocates of infanticide are not nice people, and the feminist movement’s pro-abortion agenda attracts heartless monsters who consider baby-killing a “right.”

     Hannah Smothers has the three crucial traits of a feminist — the craziness, the cruelty and don’t forget, the dishonesty.

     A feminist must always engage in semantic games intended to conceal reality, to hide away evidence that she is the source of her own problems.

     Envy, we are told, amounts to hatred of the good for being the good. If it is good that a man bring his woman pleasure, then to resent his satisfaction at having done so and to want to mar it constitutes envy of the first water. She who would act to prevent such occasions is acting to destroy something good – good for both partners! How much more could we ask? – with no gain to herself. She’s either mentally ill or consciously evil.

     Much of the ranting of feminists can be explained in such a fashion.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

No Law Abridging

     [I have a heavy schedule before me today, so please forgive yet another resuscitation from the ancient past. In this case the ancient past is December 12, 2003, when the following essay first appeared at the late, deeply lamented Palace of Reason. In light of the current foofaurauw over “free speech” versus “hate speech,” it strikes me as timely. -- FWP]

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

     The citation is, of course, Amendment I to the Constitution, an integral part of the document and one of the most revered legal proscriptions, both in theory and in practice, in the history of the world. There are only two possibilities for interpreting that passage:

  1. It means what it says;
  2. It means nothing.
This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.

     The second citation is from Article VI of the Constitution of the United States. It's the most important paragraph in the whole document, for it sets the dictates of the Constitution above all other considerations. There are only two possibilities for interpreting this passage:

  1. It means what it says;
  2. It means nothing.

     The late Associate Justice Hugo Black liked to say "I have always read 'no law abridging' to mean 'no law abridging.'" He said it often. And indeed, it is rather difficult to evade the plain meaning of those three plain words.

     If the Constitution means what it says -- that is, if choice 1 in both cases above is the correct one -- then two days ago, the Supreme Court declared itself to be a lawless organ in service to a totalitarian State. The five Justices who voted to uphold the clearly unConstitutional McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act placed their notions of "compelling government interest" and "the good of society" above the Supreme Law Of The Land, which for two centuries it has been the Court's sworn duty to safeguard.

     Let that thought sink in for a moment. Five Justices of the Supreme Court have abrogated the very contract from which their authority and responsibilities derive. There's no room for hedging here. They didn't just interpret an ambiguity in the Constitution in a way that, though novel, could be squared with the public meanings of words and the traditions of Constitutional law. They dropped the document in the mud and pissed on it.

     No, it isn't the first time, only the most egregious. Only the most appalling.

     It appears that power has gone to the Justices' heads. Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes once said, "We are under a Constitution, but the Constitution is what the judges say it is." The warning sounded by this statement has gone unheeded.

     As long as freedom of speech and of the press were respected, there was a chance that the country might rally, might right itself and demand the rolling-back of government's usurped powers in a voice too loud to be ignored. If matters as of Tuesday are permitted to remain as they are, that chance is gone.

     The Supreme Court is not alone in its perfidy. The McCain-Feingold Act passed by hefty margins in both houses of Congress. President Bush signed it. The three supposedly counterpoised branches of the federal government have colluded to nullify the Constitution from which they derive their powers.

     Perhaps the legislative authors of the bill hoped that President Bush would rescue them by vetoing it. If so, they misled themselves.

     Perhaps President Bush hoped that the Supreme Court would rescue him by striking the Act down on First Amendment grounds. If so, he misled himself.

     The five Justices in Tuesday's majority had nothing to hope for. Nor does the country, unless We The People rise in anger and defiance. If this Supreme Court ruling is not completely disregarded by the press -- if it is not the explicit subject of an overwhelming campaign of civil disobedience -- the word "freedom" will have lost all meaning for Americans.

     A man is not free because he's permitted to vote for his political masters. The subjects of the late, unlamented Soviet Union enjoyed that "right." So did the subjects of Saddam Hussein.

     A man is not free because some portion of his earnings is still his to spend on a variety of attractive goods. Not if the government can punish him for choosing goods it has not approved.

     A man is not free because the long arm of the law has not yet descended on his neck. That's more properly called a stay of execution.

     A man is free if, and only if, he has the unchallenged right to do as he damned well pleases with his life, his property, and with any other responsible, consenting adult, provided only that he respects the equal freedom of all other men. That clearly includes the right to buy space for a political ad from any newspaper or broadcast organ willing to sell it to him.

     So long as speech was protected, Americans could claim with some justice that we were in some sense free. If Tuesday's Supreme Court decision prevails, we will not be able to call ourselves even partly free. We will be a people in chains. Chains forged to protect incumbents from having their records in office publicized in the press as they stand for election. Chains forged to increase the power of the Old Media, granting their journalists and editors the last word on political campaigns. Chains forged by (and for) men to whom "the people" are not only not sovereign, but are a force to be fastened down and made to do as they're told by those who know better.

If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home.... We ask not your council or your arms.... May your chains [sit] lightly on you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen. -- Samuel Adams

     "No law abridging" means no law abridging!

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Problem Of Irrelevant Perspectives

     Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely – John Edward Emmerich Dalberg, a.k.a. Lord Acton

     The central problem of all political systems is the perverse distribution of decision-making authority. No matter what scheme is attempted – direct-democratic, federal, parliamentary, oligarchic, autocratic – authority will always come to rest with persons who, for whatever reason, won’t have to bear the consequences of their decisions.

     The great Robert Townsend, author of Further Up the Organization, was adamant that decision-making authority belongs with those to whom it will mean the most: i.e., those who would bear the consequences of the decision. A worker needs tools? Very well: give him a budget and let him select them. A supervisor needs another subordinate? Very well: Let him do the interviewing and hiring, and since his other subordinates will have to work with the new hire, encourage him to seek their input. It’s an entirely reasonable approach, and yet virtually no company actually uses it. Concerning political systems, the thing is quite literally impossible.

     In a quasi-parliamentary system such as ours, legislative authority rests with legislators (surprise, surprise) most of whom can exempt themselves from the consequences of their enactments. Their principal considerations are electoral: How would this affect my prospects in the upcoming election? Among those, the most prominent ones are the special interests who purport to command substantial funds and blocs of votes. Those who captain the special interests are often wealthy enough, influential enough, or both to avert the consequences of the legislation they lobby for. Then there’s the rest of us, who have virtually no recourse when our tax rates rise, our medical insurance is perverted, or our neighborhoods are flooded with Third Worlders who have no interest in assimilating to American norms and standards of conduct.

     To the legislator, our perspectives on such things are nearly irrelevant. If asked, we would express the same view of his perspective...but we have little capability for changing the distribution of decision making power.

     So it is, and so it will always be.

     It is said the ancient Greeks used a simple method to stop the multiplication of "laws." Perhaps we should try it on our Congress. Anyone wishing to propose a new law had to do so while standing on a platform with a rope around his neck. If the law was passed, the rope was removed. If the law was voted down, the platform was removed. – “John Galt,” Dreams Come Due: Government and Economics As If Freedom Mattered, First Edition.

     The problem is insoluble. Even the mechanism suggested in the semi-facetious quote above would fail. Only in the complete absence of government is it completely absent...but as I’ve written before, anarchy is as unstable as government. Every anarchy eventually births a State, through the same process that gives rise to the problem of irrelevant perspectives: delegation.

     Let there be an anarchic society that enacts a law in some fashion. Let it be one upon which every decent person would agree: perhaps a law against murder. Very well: we outlaw murder, fix a punishment for it, and deem ourselves done and well done. The problem is that we aren’t:

  • Who is to decide when a murder might have been committed?
  • Who is to pursue the alleged murderer?
  • Who is to determine whether he will be punished?
  • Who is to arrange for and carry out the punishment?

     The impulse to delegate each of those functions is irresistible. Though we might insist that the authority actually inheres in the law itself – the de jure authority certainly does – we have granted the de facto authority to particular persons. Those persons have acquired, willy-nilly on our part, an automatic and irremediable discretion over their realms of authority.

     Perhaps our delegates will exercise their authority responsibly for a time. But all men are mortal, all men grow weary, and so in the fullness of time they will be replaced. By whom? Who is likely to want those authorities? Among them, who is most likely to succeed in acquiring them?

     I’ve written about this before. So has Friedrich Hayek, most particularly in the chapter “Why The Worst Get On Top.”

     Strain as we might, over six millennia of recorded history we’ve found no escape route. The impulse to delegate the arduous and unpleasant tasks attached to any law whatsoever has never been successfully resisted. The dynamic that takes over at that point is inexorable. It’s why I maintain that just as every government eventually decays to an unsustainable absolutism and collapses, every anarchism eventually gives birth to a government.

     God grant that I’m wrong...but I don’t think I am.

     In the Foreword to Freedom’s Fury, I wrote:

     I shan’t attempt to deceive or misdirect you: I’m horrified by politics and all its fruits. I consider the use of coercive force against innocent men the greatest of all the evils we know. But I try, most sincerely, to be realistic about the world around us. In that world, peopled by men such as ourselves, anarchism—the complete abjuration and avoidance of the State—is unstable. In time, it will always give way to politics. Hammer it to the earth as many times as you may, you will never succeed in killing it permanently. The State will rise again.

     However, as we’ve learned to our sorrow these past few centuries, the State is unstable, too. It always deteriorates and falls, though not always swiftly. What follows it varies from place to place and era to era.

     As one who passionately loves freedom, I’ve striven to understand the processes involved, and to unearth a path to a stable free society. I’ve failed to find one.

     I haven’t ceased to look. Nor will I say a priori that one cannot be found. But the central problem is the process of delegation, which embeds the automatic production of perverse incentives via the creation of irrelevant perspectives. Averting the delegation of authority and responsibility is the key...but who has proposed a way to do that?

     I yield the floor to my Gentle Readers.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Music Of The Icosahedrons: Love In A Time Of Combat

     [Every now and then a reader from the old Palace of Reason or Eternity Road days will ask me to recycle some essay from back when. The request I’ve honored today is for the following three essays, the first of which appeared in November 2005. They encapsulated my view on the corruption feminism and the destigmatization of free-for-all promiscuity have worked on relations between men and women. They still do. -- FWP]

     Fran here. Today's subject isn't one suited to the Curmudgeon's voice, so today you'll get me unfiltered by his circuitous yet grandiloquent bombast.

     The stimulus was this post by the esteemed Charles Hill of Dustbury, long one of my favorite citizens of the Blogosphere:

Just friends

     Alicia at LOOK@OKC distrusts the term:

I have decided that it's possible for men and women to be friends if neither of them want anything other than friendship. Of course this mutual lack-of-nookie & love-seekin' is rare. I spoke with an older male friend of mine who admits that many men will lurk about waiting for their chance ... yet after knowing a female for years, he finally accepted that nothing would happen. In a way, he accepted his role as a friend to her.

     I have also decided that men and women can be friends if one or both of them is ugly and non-sexual. In my opinion, men find it hard to be on platonic terms with a female they'd want as a bedmate. Women may find this situation equally frustrating, but speaking from experience, there is a line one can draw between "friend" and "other" that is fairly easy to ascertain and respect.

     So, I think men can be friends with women they find unattractive. And vice versa. However, once sexual desire and want come into the picture, the rules change ... as do many of the motives.

     Well, maybe. I haven't run up against this particular wall, but this is only because my acceptance "that nothing would happen" usually falls within the first twenty seconds of meeting someone.

     And I'm not prepared to argue, as Laura does, that "men do not have a clue how to behave around a woman"; surely some of them must, or the species presumably would have died out years ago.

     (Apologies for lifting the whole thing, Charles; I didn't see a reasonable way to excerpt it.)

     There's a great deal of contempt hidden in the articles Charles references and links. Contempt for men, of course; that's the only sort that's currently permissible in discussing inter-gender relations. A man who expressed the inverse sentiments would be tarred, feathered, and ridden out of the Blogosphere on a rail, wouldn't he?

     Well, we shall see.

     First, a couple of prefatory remarks. (Yes, I know that's a redundancy.) I speak for no one but myself. There may be persons with similar views, but they can be trusted to express them for themselves. Also, please remember that generalizations of the sort you're about to read will normally have numerous exceptions, just as the statement that "men are taller than women" doesn't insist that there are no five-foot men or six-foot women. Also, please consider the following contentions confined to American men and American women; my knowledge of the behavior of other cultures is more academic than direct.

     Finally, for the gentleman who asked, in reference to this post, why I styled it "The Music Of The Icosahedrons": Well, mostly because it tickled me. But also because of the imagistic play against the well-known cliche: "as smooth as the music of the spheres." Spheres are smooth; it's a defining characteristic. Icosahedrons are not. I'll make use of this meta-title for essays about social, cultural, and philosophical matters where I perceive a certain roughness, or where the introduction of a little roughness to what appears to be a "settled debate" strikes me as likely to do good.

     Consider yourselves warned.

     The typical American woman, of whatever age, height, weight, race, color, creed, or walk of life, is a profoundly confused creature. This is inescapable; most women don't have the intellectual horsepower or the strength of character to deal with the barrage of conflicting dictates and desiderata to which being an American woman in the year of Our Lord 2005 subjects her. Therefore, the typical American woman lives a life marked most plainly by incoherence and bafflement. In short, she's out at sea, with no buoys nor moorings in sight.

     Women would like to blame this on men, but it's at least as much their own fault.

     When a creature rebels against that which has been pre-programmed into it by genetics and reinforced by natural selection, it will be badly stressed. If the rebellion is conscious, some of the stress will be intellectual and emotional. Here is the foundation for American female malaise, and for its low-grade hostility toward American manhood.

     The syndrome manifests itself most visibly in single women, whether never married or divorced. Married women, if they're to make a go of married life, learn to thrust it out of their conscious minds, to bury it as deeply in their subconsciouses as possible. Those whose marriages succeed have done an adequate job of interring it; it's a necessary condition. Those whose marriages fail have often allowed it to rise again. Like the South, this is a cause lost well in advance.

     Our typical case should have a name; let's call her Mary Smith. For starters, let's imagine her to be single, self-supporting, and living on her own rather than with a husband, lover, or any other variation on that theme. Let's have a run-through of typical Mary's typical day.

     She rises early, as do most working Americans, and heads for the shower to bathe and groom herself. What to wear? Well, dress codes, except for a very few customer-contact-intensive businesses, are all but extinct, so she has her choice. But here's where her conflicts begin.

     Glamorous clothes tend to be less comfortable than not-so-glamorous ones, but there's that nice Ben over in Marketing, whose eye she thinks she might have caught. She'd like to explore that possibility further, and dressing attractively might help. But it might also bring more of the attentions of Larry, her pantingly overeager coworker in Accounting, and that she definitely doesn't want. Also, her work involves some to-and-fro in a largish building, so form-flattering clothes and high heels have some practical negatives attached.

     But she's thirty-two, unmarried and childless. Her job, her fitness regimen, maintaining her apartment, and practicing her pastimes have sharply limited her social opportunities. If she doesn't snag a mate at work, what's she supposed to do? Sleep alone forever? The bars are no help, and don't even think about the lonelyhearts' ads.

     She decides one way or the other, agonizes in the same fashion over makeup and perfume, and heads out to her car to drive to work.

     Oh damn, the car won't start. It won't even crank; she's left the driver's door slightly ajar, and the cabin lights have drained the battery. Well, at least it isn't raining.

     She unearths the battery charger her most recent boyfriend urged her to buy, and pops the hood on her car. There's the battery, those are the terminals: red for positive, black for negative, just like the color codings on the charger leads. Just clip red to red and black to black, plug the charger into the extension cord, and plug the extension cord into the wall. What could be simpler?

     In prying the protective cover back from the red terminal, her grip slips and her hand flies into the propped-open hood. She bruises her hand and breaks a nail.

     Crap! That manicure was only five days old. Money is tight; she hasn't the thirty bucks she'd need to get her nails redone. To say nothing of the swelling, which looks as if it might blossom into an impressive bruise. She'll just have to hope no one notices. She certainly hopes Ben and Larry don't notice, albeit for different reasons. Unfortunately, some of her cattier coworkers are odds-on to spot it and mention it in public. Competition never ends in the single career woman's world.

     Thirty minutes later, the car starts, and she's off to the Place of Little Appreciation where she earns her daily bread. Traffic is no worse than usual, but the usual is quite bad enough. Unfortunately, the alternative is moving into the city, or the quasi-urban belt around it, and that's something she just can't afford. The combination of traffic delays and her automotive mishaps puts her forty-five minutes late in getting to her desk. Heads come up as her coworkers note her tardy arrival. She doesn't see The Boss, but he'll know as well. He has his ways.

     Work is, well, work. There's too much of it, and little of it is rewarding apart from the salary she gets for it. She keeps to her desk, straining to maintain her concentration as the life of the office swirls around her. Some of the girls are sporting flattering new outfits and hairdos. Suzie, that transparent trollop, came to work in a tight silk blouse, skin-tight leather toreador pants and five-inch sling-back stilettos. All morning she parades around as if demanding admiration -- and she gets it. Mary can't help but notice the comments: barely polite lust from the men, unconcealed resentment from the women. Suzie bathes in it. Mary wonders about her own relatively conservative habits of dress, and whether she'll have to modify them to have a chance with Ben, or with any of the office's other single men. Whatever else she might say about Suzie, at least the girl is never alone.

     To avoid having to stay too late, Mary declines an invitation to join her coworkers for lunch and works through her lunch hour, munching a vending-machine sandwich as she ages trial balances and projects exposure ratios.

     The afternoon is just more of the same. Ben doesn't stop by to chat her up, but then, neither does Larry. At least no one comments on her bruised hand or her broken her hearing.

     By the time Mary's ready to leave, it's dark out, and there's no one else on her floor. She's moderately frightened of the dark, as most women are, but she'll be damned rather than ask the male security guard to escort her through the parking garage. However, she makes it to her car without incident, gets in, and heads off.

     Let's see: is this a Yoga night? No, not on Wednesday. But she's low on several staples, so she can't go directly home. Damn. A stop at the supermarket means she'll miss tonight's episode of Survivor: Buried Alive In A Manila Landfill. Well, it's that or not eat.

     At home, she discovers that her cat has knocked over her amaryllis plants and peed into the soil. Damn cat. She ponders yet again whether having something to love is worth all this trouble.

     There's a message on her answering machine. Her mother wants her to come home for dinner on Sunday. Except when the invitation is for a holiday, that's a sign of trouble. Trouble meaning a set-up with one of her friends' unmarried relatives. They're all so dull, so earnest, and so conventional. Granted, they're all employed, they all make decent livings, and she can't imagine any of them being actively dangerous, but where's the thrill in that? They'd all want her to give up her job and stay at home with the kids, and what's a woman without a job? Just a homemaker. Mom is much too ardent for grandkids. She's being a Thirties throwback with these introductions. Mary can do her own penis-hunting. She decides not to return the call.

     Half an hour later, the groceries are away, the mess has been cleaned up, and Mary is perched on her sofa before the television, her Caesar salad made from packaged, pre-shredded lettuce and packaged, pre-cooked chicken strips, dressed with bottled raspberry vinaigrette from a socially conscious maker, nestled in her lap. There she'll while away the two hours she has available for leisure and personal maintenance.

     The shows are all about glamorous single people with glamorous lives, pursuing and being pursued by other glamorous single people with glamorous lives. They seem to spend all their money, time, and energy on sex and clothing. It's unrealistic, two-dimensional, even bizarre to imagine that these are representations of real lives she's seeing...but the faces, bodies and clothes are so beautiful, the settings are so appealing, and the lifestyle so magnetic...

     That's what you want, whispers a tiny voice in her backbrain. She's heard that voice many times over the years. Indeed, what she sees on the screen is a refined, upscale version of the life she lives...set out to live. Maybe she hasn't gotten anywhere lately, but there's still time.

     At ten o'clock, she shuts off the TV, undresses, removes her makeup, and slides into bed. She has no alternatives: she has to get up at six to make it to work on time, after all. She notices on her nightstand the book she'd been reading, but that she'd neglected for three nights running: The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. Lots of good stuff in there about men's oppression of women through fashion and popular standards of attractiveness. It has to go back to the library by the weekend, so she'd better get cracking.

     Mary's too tired to read with attention. A page or two is all she can manage. But the book stirs her thoughts and pulls her away from the threshold of sleep. Even after she's masturbated, she can't relax enough. Men are exploitative, dictatorial thugs. Why should a woman have to primp and preen and decorate herself to catch a man's eye? Why should she have to strain to be attractive and desirable to fit into the happenin' world? Why should it make a difference whether she looks young, fit, and vital, or like a puddle of dissolving flesh? Doesn't she have a right to a passionate, exciting marriage, children, and relief from all this pressure? Doesn't she have a right to be happy?

     Where are her answers to come from?

     Mary marks her place, puts down her book, and turns out the light. She falls asleep with tears leaking from the corners of her eyes.

     Mary Smith might be a composite, but she's important nonetheless. She's an American Everywoman: determined to Have It All, clueless as to what that really means, bombarded with conflicting desires and enticements, and seriously underequipped for the life she's set out to live. All women are.

     The array of opportunities and enticements offered by the Official Portrait of the Glamorous Life contains a number of important contradictions. Mary simply cannot Have It All. The parts conflict. Until consciously admitted, the conflicts seriously strain a woman's psyche. In particular, she becomes incapable of a relaxed relationship with the opposite sex.

     That's bad enough, but there's worse. Much worse. The emphasis on sexual desirability trumpeted by the entertainment media and our popular tastemakers applies almost solely to women's presentation of themselves to men. Men's appearances, within a relatively generous envelope, don't matter that much to women. Women sense that men are far more relaxed about their dress and grooming than they, and they resent it. Why us? seems the most common reaction, as they do all they can to stoke the mostly-visually-triggered fires of men's lust.

     The ongoing myth about male oppression of women and the continuing insistence that a woman must maximize her sexual allure to get and keep a man's love are mutually immiscible. These things require that a woman simultaneously believe that a man is an elusive prize to be won only by daunting, unceasing effort and self-discipline, and an enemy, sworn to break his woman to his will, who should be fought with every weapon to hand.

     Torn by these conflicting dictates, many American women -- millions, if not tens of millions -- go quietly, undetectably insane. They simply haven't got either the intelligence or the emotional fortitude to work their way through to the truth. Worse yet, their strongest traditional bastions in times of trial, family and faith, have been excoriated by the very taste-and-opinion-formers who promote the conflict from which they suffer. The family is a source of traditional wisdom about a life well lived. It's so five minutes ago! And you'll never see our Mary at church on Sunday. It's unfashionable. The characters on television don't go to church! Besides, one of her coworkers might see her. She wouldn't want that. She might get a reputation one of those Christians.

     We're creating a womenfolk peppered with lunatics and child murderesses.

     Men are under far less stress from the influences outlined above. This makes quite a lot of women hate them.

     I've been there. Whatever you might think of me from my writings here, I'm a laid-back sort, disinclined to press myself or anyone else. I've been blessed with reasonable looks, reasonably good health, and enough charm to get away with a modest degree of roguishness without being murdered in my bed. Those gifts have served me adequately well in my dealings with women. As a single man, I didn't obsess about anything. As a married one, I'm content. Apparently, so is my wife.

     My experiences appear to be typical of American manhood. We simply don't ask that much. Oh, certainly we know what we like. Certainly, given the opportunity, we can overdose on it. But we focus better than women do. For one thing, it's hard-wired into our genes. For another, we know what women really respond to most powerfully: comfort, security, and status. (And shoes. Lots of shoes. The C.S.O. insisted that I throw that in.) So we concentrate on amassing those things, mostly by striving for advancement financially and in our occupations.

     A woman under stress might denigrate men for their "simplicity," but she envies us as well. What, after all, does it take to make John Doe happy? A bit of sex, some time and space to call his own, and a firm grip on the remote control! Compare that to the endless list of things Mary Smith needs for her pursuits, and tell me which would be easier to satisfy.

     Envy converts to hatred with appalling speed and efficiency.

     You might think I've overstated the case. (If you're a woman, you almost certainly think so.) You'd be wrong. If anything, I've understated it. Look at some of the things I haven't mentioned:

  • The female horror of aging.
  • The female fear of male infidelity and sexual caprice.
  • The numerous publications marketed solely to women, all of which promote some consumption- or glamor-based approach to achieving love and happiness.
  • The endless lists of products pressed upon women for beauty or glamor enhancement, all of which carry a subliminal message.
  • The pressures upon women to emulate male sexual aggressiveness and male proclivity toward polyamory.
  • The pressures upon women not to have children, against all the urgings and needs of their bodies.
  • The insistence by various cultural elements that, despite women's yearnings for male companionship, support and protection, "a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle" -- that women owe it to themselves to be independent of men, and that any compromise on that "ideal" is a form of self-betrayal, and the betrayal of the female sex.

     The synergy among these pressures could unhinge any woman. That we have as few female lunatics and child murderesses as we do speaks to some hidden reserve of endurance in the American woman's psyche.

     Men understand perfectly well how to relate to women. That's really what women fear:

  • Is she a "nice girl," unlikely to drop her drawers prior to marriage? Then marry her or let her be.
  • Is she a "liberated woman," who'll sleep around just to prove it to herself, regardless of what that might do to her? If it's just sex you want and you're willing to bear the costs, take her.
  • Is she a "career woman," who's decided that ascending the slippery pole of success justifies anything and that nothing else can take precedence? If you can offer her an increment of career altitude, she's yours; otherwise, forget it.
  • Is she a "castrator," out to prove that she can beat any man at any game and revel in the victory for that reason alone? Cross the street and walk quickly.
  • Is she a "total loss," too erratic to conform to any stereotype and too flustered to adopt any role, whose attitudes and behavior fluctuate with company, pharmaceuticals, and the phase of the moon? Look for her in a forthcoming Ken Russell movie, but otherwise keep clear.

     Men, no matter who they are, all want the same things:

  • Sex.
  • A mother for our children.
  • A calm and stable home.

     No, we don't want all these things from every woman we meet. The only things we want from every woman -- from every man, too -- are respect and some space in which to maneuver. And we understand that these are not going to be conceded to us by right; we have to earn them.

     When a normal, more-or-less sane man meets a woman he regards as attractive, he ponders, at least for a moment:

  • Whether she's sexually and / or matrimonially available;
  • Whether she's worth the effort;
  • What the costs and the consequences would be.

     It doesn't matter whether he's married, single, or in any in-between state. That's his natural reaction, just as deeply graven into him by genetics and natural selection as is a woman's desire for a protector, a provider, and children. With the exception of criminals, we learn to control it, but that doesn't mean it isn't there.

     Women have been indoctrinated into the belief that this natural reaction is somehow a threat, or a denigration of their "strength," or both. This might be the worst of all the deceits the cultural engineers have put about. Strength is confident before desire. It doesn't run and hide. It doesn't pretend insult where there's an implied compliment to be savored. A mature, sensible woman will understand that, but sadly, their numbers are declining.

     Women's ever-deepening ineptitude at dealing with men is drawing near to crisis levels. As an illustration of this, I offer a snippet of a conversation I had some time ago with a beautiful young colleague, as best I can reproduce it. It began with irrelevancies, but she later steered it into a stock gender-war condemnation of men -- "present company excepted, of course."

     I: Why do you except me? What makes me somehow different from all these generic "men" you condemn?
     She: Well, you're nice, and you're settled, and you don't undress me with your eyes whenever you see me.

     I: (laughing) You need new glasses, kid. It's all I can do to keep my hands off you.
     She: (badly flustered) But -- aren't you married? You've never done or said anything like that!

     I: Yes, I'm married, but I'm still a man, and you're a very attractive young woman.
     She: So you're saying you want to sleep with me?

     I: Well, what I'd really enjoy is the stuff that comes before sleep, but you've got the general idea.
     She: But you've never --
     I: And I never will. I'm married. But why do you assume the desire isn't there? What makes you think I don't share the sexual aggressiveness you've found in all the other men you know? I'm not that old!

     [A long silence followed.]

     She: I guess I don't understand you.
     I: No, I think you're bright enough to understand me, or any man. You might not want to, though. Why do you dress and make yourself up as you do?

     She: I want to look nice!
     I: And you want to look nice because...?

     Gentle Reader, she had no answer. As God is my witness, she could not, or would not, tell me why she wanted to dress, make up her face, and style her hair attractively. Take my word for it: her efforts in that direction were both considerable and very successful. That was an intelligent twenty-six-year-old woman pursuing a career in military engineering, a field that's 95% male.

     Perhaps time will allow her to become more candid with herself about what she wants and what she does to get it, but for the present, she's following a script -- and the dialogue between her and the male half of her species is composed strictly of typeset condemnations of everything we are and do.

     I could wind this up in a number of ways, but the point I'd like to press home is the overwhelming importance of being honest with oneself about one's desires and fears.

     The typical American woman of today is so thoroughly confused about what she desires and what she ought to desire, what she fears and what she ought to fear, that honesty even in the privacy of her own skull comes at a terrible price. The mutually contradictory directives from her body, from her peers, from her family, from feminist "leaders," and from the entertainment media pull at her with extraordinary power. Such is her desire to conform -- women are far more sensitive to social pressures than are men -- that even to inquire of herself what she really wants, and what she's willing to do to get and keep it, is a struggle. What if the answers aren't acceptable to her parents, to her coworkers, to her friends and acquaintances, or to Gloria Steinem and Helen Gurley Brown? How can all these demands, all this stress, or this welter of mutually exclusive goals be fair?

     You won't often see me write this, so look sharp: It isn't fair. But then, neither is life. Some women are given perfect skin or teeth. Some are given beautiful faces or figures. Some are given high intelligence. Some are born into wealth. Each of these is a currency with which some of the good things of life can be bought -- but not the same goods, not in the same amounts, and not forever.

     The woman who wants to improve her relations with men will first clarify her own appreciation of what she wants, including (of course) what she wants from a man. That and only that will make it possible for her to be honest with men -- and to know how to deal with them not as enemies, and not with contempt, but from a position of strength.

     Gentle Reader, if you're a woman, and if the above offends you, or if you consider it ridiculous, incoherent tripe from one whose possession of a Y chromosome has handicapped his thinking, well, you're entitled to your opinion. Just remember that reality is indifferent to your opinions...and, come to think of it, to mine as well.

     That is all.

          Love in The Time of Combat, Continued

     I expected the previous essay on this topic to generate some commentary, but I seriously underestimated the volume, both in number and in stridency. All the same, I'm confident that the nerve I touched is one that needs a good firm massage. People don't write either to praise or condemn you unless you've penetrated to the pinnacle of their priorities -- or their private pain.

     Part of the confirmation is present in this ludicrous Maureen Dowd essay from a week ago's New York Times Magazine. I shan't trouble to recap it for you; it's still on-line, so capture it while you still can. (I have a feeling Dowd will soon be wanting to live it down, if she doesn't already.) A substantial number of women near Dowd's age (50) are in her position: mateless, unable to find attractive male prospects, and without the slightest clue why.

     It is possible to possess a huge number of great gifts -- good looks, high intelligence, affluence, social grace, the ability to put 9 out of 10 rounds through the X-ring at 100 yards -- and still be unable to mate happily and securely. There are factors in the mix that no individual, male or female, can control. Moreover, they dwarf the things one can control, utterly and irrevocably. Therefore, it's-just-not-fair plaints about one's romantic difficulties or defeats are pointless; indeed, they indicate an inability to grasp the essential nature of reality.

     What are these uncontrollable factors before which even the most gifted of us are powerless? Other individuals.

     If you want to guarantee yourself a life of helpless frustration in everything you do, here's the shortest route:

When other people's desires clash with yours, simply declare them to be wrong.

     If we omit the special case of hatred -- the desire that harm come to an innocent person -- there's no such thing as a "wrong" desire. In the nature of things, there cannot be. There are wrong actions, of course, but simply to want is above all judgments but God's -- and lately He's been silent on the subject.

     Inasmuch as courtship is a two-person pursuit, which can be ended by either party with no need for the other's consent, it should be obvious that to keep the thing going requires each participant to accommodate the other's desires. Partnerships of any sort require some of this, of course, but on the field of romance it's the sole, indispensable glue that holds two people together.

     I've written about this before, in other ways and venues:

To love is to risk. To love is to drop one's general defenses to let another inside, and to extend the borders of self to enfold that other person, despite any flaws or maladies he might carry. To love is to incorporate the well-being of another into one's own highest priorities, even though one can never protect another half as well as oneself.

     To love is to grow.

     The emotional crescendo of love involves the dissolution of "I" and "thou" into "we." Your priorities gradually merge into hers, and hers into yours. At its completion, on essential matters at least, neither of you could fail to want what the other wants, nor could either of you fail to detest what the other detests. Each ego is not submerged but enlarged by the incorporation of the other.

     This approach to love has some important corollaries. First, when love fails, it's because that merger has come undone. The egos begin to see themselves as distinct from one another once more. When clashes of desire arise, the partners can't quite remember how they melded them long before. Drivers that propelled the original coalescence appear no longer to function. Which is why one should practice well the habits of love -- the "doing," apart from the "feeling" -- to sustain him through his rough patches. We all have them, even the strongest, wisest, and most passionate of us.

     But second, and more important to the unmated, there are persons with whom we are irremediably incompatible. It doesn't matter how strong the sexual attraction is, if one or more of her essential desires strikes you as loathsome. And of course the converse is true as well.

     Many persons will split hairs over this, will claim that "you can get used to almost anything," and that a sufficiently strong willed commitment will trump even the deepest revulsions. To which, if I may borrow a page from the oeuvre of my colleague the Curmudgeon, I must reply:


     An essential desire is one that is "of the essence;" that is, it's a value integral to the nature and identity of the person who holds it. If you're to merge with her, it must become one of your essential desires as well -- and if it really, truly repels you, how on Earth will you manage that?

     There might be exceptions. For example, you might harbor strong but irrational prejudices against the sorts of persons she prefers as friends. Perhaps you could unlearn them. Alternatively, if they really are lowlife scum, perhaps, in the light of your company, she'll come to see them for what they are. But if she's a militant atheist and you're a devout Catholic, or she's unalterably averse to having children and they're your fondest wish, or she's a passionate socialist and you're a passionate libertarian, forget it! You have no practical chance of making it work.

     Compatibility of essential desires is not sufficient, but it is necessary. I speak from experience.

     Over the millennia, men have remained more or less constant in what we require from a generic mate:

  • Sex,
  • A calm and stable home,
  • A modicum of emotional support in our times of trial,
  • Space and time for our autonomous pursuits.

     Because our essential desires are few, and because some of them don't demand that others share them or participate in them, as a rule we're fairly easy to please. We have a few "thou shalt nots" -- keep your cotton-pickin' hands off the remote control, babe -- but apart from the desires enumerated above, we have virtually no "thou shalts." You want your own friends, ladies? Your own involvements? A career outside the home? Fine, just as long as none of it compromises the home itself.

     Because we're so easy to please, and because ours is the sex upon which the romantic / sexual initiative has been bestowed by Nature, most of the human race eventually marries. Granted, a lot of modern marriages don't last, but at least men still set forth to get mated, and we almost all succeed at that much.

     At this point, I'd like to digress a bit to cover a contentious topic that badly needs elucidation: sexual allure.

     Do men prefer certain female somatotypes? Yes, we do. So do women. Moreover, they're the same ones. They're not the ones sported by supermodels. Women that fragile, that dependent on clothing and makeup to attain desirability, and whose bodies are that likely to be ravaged by the passage of years into something stooped and desiccated are not appealing as long-term partners. The mind boggles at the image of one of those praying-mantis figures sporting the bulge of a full-term pregnancy. How could such a woman survive, unless she did what Victoria's Secret icon Tyra Banks did: cast off the emaciated look demanded by the fashion photographers and allow her body to develop?

     With regard to glamor and its appurtenances, these have their place. A woman who knows how to use them, and uses them when appropriate, can add sparkle to her life, and to her husband's eyes as well. But a sensible man knows better than to expect the missus to make dinner in movie-star makeup, a Givenchy gown, and five-inch heels. At least, not every night.

     As for women's desires, a key component of this fascinating but terrifying subject is how little some women know about them -- their own desires, that is.

     The aforementioned Maureen Dowd essay is a perfect demonstration. Dowd appears to have invested more of herself in what the dominant feminist voices told her to want than in anything natural and heartfelt. So at fifty, she's still alone and wanting to be otherwise, still muddled about what she really wants in and from a man -- and berating men for her ambivalence. Worse, she castigates women who conform to the traditional model of the feminine partner for assorted betrayals of their sex, and hints darkly of emotional, social, and political tragedies to befall them and their female progeny.

     So we have here a single woman well into her middle years, who isn't quite clear in head or heart, who holds a number of nebulous grudges against men and their norms, and who can't get a date. Given that she's laid the responsibility for her condition on everyone and everything but her identity, values, and preferences, what could her prognosis be, other than spinsterhood all the way to the grave?

     Imagine the sort of man who, knowing Dowd for what she really is, what she believes and how she feels, would still be willing to bed her. What could one call it other than "combat sex?" And what could one expect from it but stained sheets and morning-after angst?

     The bottom line is simple:

  1. One must have a basic, if unarticulated, understanding of love to love successfully.
  2. One must somehow find a mate whose essential desires are compatible with one's own.
  3. One must learn to do love as well as feel love.

     Everything else is peripheral, marginal, or superficial. Great loves and enduring families do not form around couples united mainly by their fanaticism for Toad the Wet Sprocket, the New York Rangers, or pepperoni pizza. They don't form between persons who badly want to get laid and find one another sufficiently un-repulsive to do it with. They don't form between persons obsessed with themselves and their extrinsic goals in business or commerce. They form when a man and a woman with compatible values allow each other's desires to become equal in importance to their own, and commit themselves to the sort of life and the sort of self-discipline that implies.

     There's a word I've been hesitating to use, in part because it's so seldom mentioned in connection with love and romance, and in part because I use it so often. But I can resist it no longer; it's too critical to this whole matter of allowing one's beloved's desires to enter the space where he keeps his own, and to blend with them inseparably.

     The word is humility.

     The humble man accepts that certain things are beyond his control. Among other things, it requires that he accept what he is by virtue of being a man -- or a woman. Among the many things over which we have no control, our natures as men and women must surely be numbered. Were we to accept ourselves as what God made us, and our opposites in their turn, a tremendous fraction of the romantic / sexual malaise that stifles and hampers relations between the sexes would be dissipated at once.

     Apparently this is easier said than done.

     (P.S.: Anyone who writes to upbraid me for my use of pronouns above will receive a large wad of personalized, guaranteed non-sexist abuse by return mail. Consider yourselves warned.)

          Love In The Time Of Combat Part 3.

     Fran here. A few months ago, I penned an essay on the deterioration of mental health among American women. It elicited a wide range of passionate responses. I expected that it would do so; the fragility of the female psyche is a topic generally deemed off-limits to male exploration. And indeed, those who differed with my theses attained a degree of stridency that approached apoplexy.

     So potent a subject deserves an update from time to time. As it happens, FOX News has provided the seed material with an article today:

Call it "Bachelorettes Gone Wild." While grooms are tempering their stag night shenanigans, brides-to-be are kicking stuffy traditions to the curb and getting rowdy to celebrate the end of their single lives.

     "It was a blast," Margie Parsons, of Huber Heights, Ohio, said of her bachelorette party at a strip club. "I got handcuffed to the stage and two women gave me a lap dance."...

     April Masini, author of "Think & Date Like a Man," says part of the reason for the change is that the women's liberation movement, for better or worse, has changed the meaning of marriage.

     "It used to be seen as women were not giving anything up when they got married; they were gaining a husband," Masini said. "But now it's seen as their last hurrah because they're giving up their single life instead."

     Do tell. What would account for this inversion of the older attitudes toward the entrance into the married state?

  • Do today's women truly feel that the exchange of their "singles' freedom" for the marital bond is a loss rather than a gain?
  • Is the life of the single American woman typically that much of a revel?
  • If it's not that much of a revel, is the "girls gone wild"-style bachelorette party an attempt to sow oats never previously contemplated?
  • What consequences for the bride-to-be's attitude toward her marriage, and her prospects of future happiness and contentment, might flow from these bacchanals?

     Single Americans, of either sex, have never before in history been as free to do as they please with their bodies and their leisure time. Relations between the sexes have never before admitted so many alternative arrangements. The broadening of the mores has applied to both sexes equally: where it was once commonplace for men to "get away cleanly with behavior for which women would be roundly denounced, today's sexual ethos no longer discriminates between them. What has happened to the old notion that, were women as "free" as men to do as they please, all the courtship and mating differences between the sexes would attenuate to nothing? Why are they exchanging patterns instead?

     It's possible that no such exchange is actually in progress: that to generalize from the cited article, plus conformant anecdotal evidence from one's personal knowledge, would lead one astray. But it's also possible that the article has identified a genuine trend. How can we know?

     For the moment, I would posit that we can't. The reported excesses of a segment of American women might or might not be representative of the whole; similarly the seeming "stodgification" of American men. Far more data, more broadly gathered and over a longer span of time, would be required to reach any firm conclusions. Given only what's been reported in articles such as the above, we can't know.

     But that is precisely what makes this the time in which to contemplate what sort of results we'd prefer, and what sort of changes we should make in the instruction we give our children.

     For some thirty-plus years, American children have been bathed in suggestions, intimations, and proclamations that there's no downside to commitment-free physical indulgences of any sort. The mantra of the prevailing gospel has been "If it feels good, do it." It would take an unusual degree of credulity to maintain that all those exhortations can have no relation to the changes that followed them:

  • 1,500,000 abortions every year;
  • Three out of every ten babies born out of wedlock;
  • A divorce rate nearly half of the marriage rate;
  • Surveys that put the percent of adulterous spouses at over 30%;
  • An unprecedented number of "blended families" ("lumpy families," in Maggie Gallagher's phrase) composed of children from two or more sundered marriages;
  • A rising degree of marital unhappiness, as evidenced not merely by the divorce rate, but also by the great popularity of marital counselors and institutions that vend services for the relief of marital distress.
  • Last but not least, the steady advance of the average age at first marriage:
    • Median age of bride in 1970: 20.8 years.
    • Median age of bride in 2003: 25.3 years.
    • Median age of groom in 1970: 23.2 years.
    • Median age of groom in 2003: 27.1 years.

     (NOTE: It's usually the case that one who presents statistics such as these will then cry for government action of some sort. I have no such intention.)

     The case could be made that the above trends demonstrate a widening rift between the sexes: increasing distrust, increasing unease about the risks of long-term bonding, decreasing effort going to the maintenance of the marital bond, and decreasing interest in progeny. What interests me most particularly is the possibility that changes in female behavior arising from the new, heavily promoted sexual hedonism, have stimulated the changes in men's attitudes toward women, matrimony, and family-making.

     Correlation is not cause. Correlations merely suggest an avenue for further investigation. But the correlations presented here, coupled to the sociological trends suggested by the cited article, are food for thought, particularly to him who wonders at fiftyish divorcees who grocery-shop in tube tops and Daisy Dukes, while single men in their forties seek lesbians to be host mothers to their as-yet-unconceived children.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Sturdy Wisdoms: The Worst Habit

     [Just yesterday, after a jaunt on which I spent far too much money on cheese – it’s one of my more difficult-to-resist vices – I received an email from Dystopic of The Declination. He drew my attention to his most recent essay, and mentioned that he’d come to an opinion about mortgage debt that differed greatly from his original one. He wrote that the change was because of the essay below, which first appeared at Eternity Road on December 13, 2006. In appreciation of his missive and the implied compliment...and yes, in recognition of the folly of spending so much on exotic cheeses that I was moved to inquire of the cheese shop proprietor whether financing might be available...I repost it here. -- FWP]

     Your Curmudgeon is rather older than most wanderers of the World Wide Web, including most of those who hawk their opinions to a general audience. He received a different sort of upbringing from most, too. As his years lengthen, he finds himself ever more frequently revisiting the teachings of his youth and reviewing them for continuing soundness and applicability.

     Many of those lessons are still quite serviceable -- infinitely more so than the guff that's displaced them in more recent years. In part, that's due to an underlying shift in premises; half a century ago, no one would have dared to posit that right and wrong are relative, or that there can be no absolute moral standards, or that "good for you" and "bad for you" are anything but matters of opinion. Today one seldom hears anything else. If you don't believe it, either you don't have children or you haven't paid enough attention to what their "teachers" have been telling them.

     Accordingly, your Curmudgeon has decided to trot out, one by one, the sturdiest and most useful of the simple wisdoms with which his own parents and teachers equipped him. It is his opinion that their promulgation could do quite a lot to correct the faults of modern American society, and even more to quell the rising tide of dissatisfaction with life that afflicts so many of our teens and young adults.

     Of course, opinions will vary. Read on, and judge for yourself.

     High among the homiletic primaries is this one: don't allow yourself to form bad habits. From the ordinary meanings of the words, this would seem self-evidently wise. For a "bad habit" is a behavior pattern that does harm to oneself. Of course, there's a heavy murk around that word "bad," whose variable interpretation has been the ingress for a lot of irrationality, but we'll get to that some other time.

     There are any number of habits on whose badness Americans would generally agree -- and not by thin majorities, either:

  • Avoidance of exercise;
  • Routinely bad nutrition and overeating;
  • Impropriety of disclosure (i.e., the habit of revealing sensitive facts about oneself or one's family, friends, and acquaintances to persons who ought not to be told);
  • Excessive television watching;
  • Smoking;
  • Drinking to excess;
  • The use of recreational drugs.

     The above is, of course, a partial list. Other bad habits less dramatic in their effects would draw general concurrence as well. But there has been a sea change in American attitudes so complete, yet so quiet, that the very worst of all habits, by which millions of persons have utterly destroyed themselves and their kin beyond all hope of renewal, is almost never addressed. Indeed, when it's mentioned, most persons either refuse to acknowledge it or turn away to conceal their embarrassment.

     The habit of which your Curmudgeon speaks is living beyond your means.

     This venerable phrase has almost been effaced from our culture. Yet our nation's habit of living beyond its means is a regular news feature, reported through innumerable channels at least once per month. What else does the federal deficit signify? What else does the American trade deficit signify? What else does it mean when the dollar drops in value against the currencies of other lands? (It's been quite a long time since a physician last clapped your Curmudgeon on the shoulder and told him that he's "sound as a dollar," and not because your Curmudgeon is quick to take umbrage at insult.)

     What's bad in the large is just as bad in the small, yet nearly all of us do it, and very few of us will admit to it.

     Likely you, Gentle Reader, are nodding, perhaps a bit reluctantly, at the unwisdom of "living beyond your means." But you haven't seen your Curmudgeon's kicker yet:

If you've borrowed money, for any reason whatsoever, that you can't immediately pay back out of your own reserves, you're living beyond your means.

     Yes, that includes home mortgages and car loans.

     A century ago, "mortgage" was a dirty word. (Car loans were, of course, unknown.) In fact, the word means "death pledge." It denoted a promise to return the mortgaged property to the legal ownership of the mortgagee -- the lender -- upon the mortgagor's -- the borrower's -- death. Indeed, it still means exactly that.

     Mortgages in the Nineteenth Century were almost exclusively the province and the bane of farmers. Private housing in non-farm areas was very seldom mortgaged. The income tax, the rise of the lending industry, and the demographic and financial conditions that prevailed after our two World Wars were the impetus by which Americans were goosed into thinking that living in homes they do not own, that could be ripped out from under them at any moment, was perfectly all right.

     It's hard to get reliable statistics on the matter, but according to a financial professional of your Curmudgeon's acquaintance, no fewer than 75% of all private homes are mortgaged. The deeds to those homes are encumbered in such a fashion that the persons who "own" them could be stripped of them at any time. It would not surprise your Curmudgeon too greatly if those provisions were invoked to put force behind a Kelo-esque eminent domain proceeding; financiers and politicians have always traveled in the same circles.

     But even apart from the hazards involved in living in mortgaged housing, it's almost always unwise to undertake a mortgage for reasons of simple financial prudence:

  • It's a long-term obligation, typically 15 years or more;
  • The lender is legally privileged over the borrower -- that is, nearly all the options rest with the lender, nearly none with the borrower;
  • The borrower's income, upon which he depends for his debt service, is almost never guaranteed;
  • A default on a mortgage is regarded as the worst of financial sins, and in the worst case can ruin an individual's financial standing for the rest of his life;
  • In the event of a default, the borrower seldom recovers any significant percentage of his notional equity in the mortgaged property.

     If a mortgage, which is secured by real property and carries tax advantages that are attached to no other form of debt, is unwise, then what need one say about chattel loans on cars and other movable property? What need one say about credit-card debt, which carries extremely high interest rates and has ruined millions of families in the past quarter century alone?

     Many a reader has been saying to himself "But how could I get the things I need without incurring these debts?" for several paragraphs now. Such questions arise from a perverse sense of "need" far more often than not. Americans are hooked on material self-indulgence; easy credit is the pusher that feeds our habit. Most of what we have, we do not need. We want it, and we certainly enjoy it, but those are far different things.

     "Need" is the gateway drug. "Need" is habitually "defined down" over time: from a house, to a car, to better clothes, to a better car, to a really nice house in a "suitable" neighborhood, to designer jeans and sneakers for the kids, to the latest iPods®, to a PlayStation 3 ® and all the "hot" games for it, to a Giant Economy Size bottle of Chivas Regal to dull the pain from having to pay for all that stuff.

     Man's needs are food, clothing, shelter, and heat. All else is discretionary. The truly prudent man does not incur debt to pay for discretionary items.

     Let it be admitted that most Americans, despite their debt anchors, manage to skirt the shoals of financial disaster. But an appalling number do not, and a significant fraction of those never quite recover from the wreck. Compound interest, which master financier Baron Philippe de Rothschild called "the eighth wonder of the world," is in fact the eighth horror of the world for those habituated to debt. Its ability to drain all the vitality from one's present and hope from one's future is unequalled by anything but cocaine and heroin.

     In what might be the supreme irony of ironies, innumerable Americans look for their salvation from their government. Not only is our government the most egregious abuser of credit in the history of the world, it has an unadmitted interest in encouraging debt to the widest possible extent. Widespread severe debt is the motivator for governmental abuse of the currency: inflation. Inflation in our fiat-currency system gifts Washington with billions of "free" dollars with which it can increase its power over the rest of us. But Americans with substantial savings will not tolerate inflation; Americans deeply mired in debt, seeing the chance to pay down their obligations with "cheap" money, will embrace it eagerly.

     If you're a young person who has yet to acquire any debts, don't! Live beneath your means; acquire savings. Only borrow when utterly forced to do so, and only as a capital investment in yourself: that is, for tools or an education. Be ruthless in assuring that every dollar you make arrives in your pocket with no debt-service strings attached.

     A young man with a white-collar salary, who restricts his consumption for just ten years and puts his unspent balance into conservative investments (i.e., steady 3% to 5% returns), can usually produce the entire purchase price of a house at the end of that period. He'll have no trouble affording the cash purchase of a used car. Does it mean that he'll live in a less opulent style than that enjoyed by his coevals? Yes. But it also means that the fangs of the debt habit and the shackles of compound interest will have no chance to snag him.

     An older man who has lived free from debt can be certain of mobility and security. He will have savings. No occupational reversal will have the power to dispossess him. Neither will misfortunes of nature render him helpless. He will have leverage in all negotiations that a man chained to debt and beholden to creditors would not possess. He will be as free as his individual efforts can possibly make him. When he passes from this world, he will be able to leave his progeny a substantial patrimony. More, he will have already shown them an invaluable example.

     A sturdy wisdom indeed.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Psychopathy And Sociopathy And Where To Find Them

     From a recent conversation:

     FWP: I’m starting to think there’s no point in doing this any longer.
     CSO: Why?
     FWP: The whole lead-a-horse-to-water bit.
     CSO: When did you start writing?
     FWP: Not long after I met you. Call it twenty-five years ago.
     CSO: So what’s changed about people since twenty-five years ago, eh, genius?

     There are worse afflictions than having a smart wife with no governor on her mouth. (No, don’t send applications for the position, please; I’ll stick with what I have.) Anyway, she’s right: people have always refused to see that which clashes with what they prefer to believe. They read opinion-mongers like me – if they read them – mainly to wallow in confirmation bias: the reassurance that comes from being told what they already “know.”

     It can be daunting to confront one’s inability to change minds. Yet many thousands of us post tirades such as this every single day. I actually feel somewhat guilty when I need to take a day off from it. Never mind that there’s no money in it. (The fringe benefits aren’t much, either.)

     Yet the recognition can be a blessing as well. It reminds me that I do this for my own benefit: to gratify my need to express myself, and to enable me to confront my own preconceptions and biases by setting them down in black and white multicolored pixels. If others derive some benefit from these screeds, that’s merely lagniappe.

     Having said all that, it’s time to address the subject in the title of this piece. And before you ask: Yes, Gentle Reader: I believe that by the time you reach the end of it, you’ll see the relevance of this opening segment.

     Political tags - such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth - are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. -- Robert A. Heinlein

     The use of certain words formerly regarded as technical jargon properly reserved to psychologists has become commonplace. The words I have uppermost in mind this fine Friday morning are psychopath and sociopath.

     There’s some variation in the “definitions” associated with those words, because they’re taken to denote mental aberrations that can only be inferred (and not with confidence) from behavior. Yet simple encapsulations apply to each of them:

  • A psychopath lacks empathy: i.e., the ability to resonate with others’ emotions.
  • A sociopath lacks conscience: i.e., the sense of others as persons with rights.

     Owing to the cheapening of all discourse (but especially psychological jargon), we frequently read statements from supposedly learned persons to the effect that “everyone’s at least a little [psychopathic | sociopathic].” I’m not going to take a position on that; there are enough subjects to write about. However, if we take it as a recipe for adjudging the behavior of others, it leads to certain classifications that can be useful in sociopolitical analysis.

     You may have heard of Bill Clinton. He has a famous wife, who was at one time the Secretary of State. (He also used to be a governor somewhere. Arkansas, I think.) As is the case with many persons whose spouses throw them into the shadows, he had a problem with sexual fidelity. It got some play in the popular press, if memory serves.

     That often happens to a man who marries a psychopath. Sex isn’t principally about physical sensations, though those are pleasant enough...if you’re doing it right, anyway. For the emotionally healthy person, it’s about the emotional implications of physical intimacy: This person cares enough about me to let me inside his defenses. If that kind of affirmation is absent from the sex act, it falls to a level below masturbation.

     The psychopath, unable to resonate with another’s emotions, is incapable of affirming them sincerely. He must play-act. He must say to himself, “If I really cared about this person, I would say and do thus and such. Do I want what he has to offer me, long-term or short? If so, then I must say and do those things.” His decisions are more or less cold profit-and-loss calculations.

     One who comes to the conclusion that he married a psychopath is chilled to the bone by it. It can lead him into channels of thought and action most of us would at minimum deplore. I submit that this model for the behavior of Bill and Hillary Clinton is consistent with the evidence.

     Sociopathy is an even scarier condition. To the true sociopath, the rest of us are no more than components in his schemes. At worst we’re obstacles to be driven around, over, or through. The ambitious sociopath – i.e., he who has outsized ambitions – will sweep as many other persons into his plans as he believes he must to get to his goals. He won’t care how many others he hurts, or who they are.

     Like most mental conditions, this one can be found in persons of all levels of practical competence. The incompetent sociopath will eventually be known as such. His schemes will be inept. More, their callousness will be ineptly concealed. A moderately competent sociopath will be more successful, both at achieving his aims and at concealing his sociopathy. When things come-a-cropper for him, he’ll often be able to get others to attribute it to human fallibility (alternately, “that’s how the cookie crumbles”). The highly competent sociopath has the potential, at least, to become known as a magnificent humanitarian and a great benefactor to Mankind, despite the utter indifference he feels toward others’ rights, prerogatives, and well being.

     In Robert A. Heinlein’s science-fantasy saga Glory Road, his co-protagonist Star, “Empress of the Twenty Universes,” at one point refers to a sociopath of extreme competence: an earlier Emperor who succeeded brilliantly despite a deep loathing for the very people he served. Glory Road is filled with insights such as that one: a breadth and depth of understanding of Mankind, both along its normal axes and at its extremes. It’s Heinlein at his very best...and its depiction of political figures and processes is indispensable to an understanding of how all political systems mature, deteriorate, and destroy themselves.

     The highly competent sociopath is a natural politician: a lead-pipe cinch to achieve high federal office. Whether he uses that office for “good” is wholly secondary.

"Government's a dubious glory...You pay for your power and wealth by balancing on the sharp edge of the blade. That great amorphous thing out there -- the people -- has turned and swallowed many governments. They can do it in the flash of an angry uprising. The way you prevent that is by giving good government, not perfect government -- but good. Otherwise, sooner or later, your turn comes." [Frank Herbert, The Godmakers]

     Yes, I’ve used that quote before. More than once, I think. Today it rings loudly in my ears for one particular, seemingly innocuous phrase: “the people.”

     What is “the people?” More to the point, how does the successful sociopath turned federal official view “the people?” Fisher Ames, a relatively unknown Founding Father, wrote that “The people, sir, are a great beast.” Herbert’s “great amorphous thing” formulation is, as the lawyers would say, on all fours with that viewpoint.

     Hearken to the Web’s favorite Bookworm:

     Is it redundant to say “the sociopaths in Washington D.C.”? Probably. But what I want to talk about is the spying that the Obama government committed against Donald Trump and the way that Obama himself signed an executive order allowing that illegally swept up data to be widely disseminated throughout the administrative state, ensuring leaks.

     Actually, I don’t want to talk about it. I want you to read John Nolte’s article explaining why Nunes’ announcement yesterday about the government’s surveillance revealed a scarily broad spying apparatus (affecting all Americans, something I’ve written about before); improper interception of communications from Donald Trump and his team; the reasonably inferable fact that Obama, who must have been briefed about the improperly swept up and identified communications, assured that they would be leaked to a happily complicit American media.

     If your mental and emotional calluses are heavy, you might shrug at the notion that The State has been monitoring everything you say and will happily and remorselessly use it to destroy you should it serve the State’s purposes. That, you might say to yourself, is the nature of the State, a “soulless machine” (Mohandas K. Gandhi). If you’re still enough of a cockeyed optimist to imagine that people go into politics and government out of a true desire to serve “the people,” you’re likely to be outraged: “If they could do it to Trump, they could do it to anyone! Hang them from the lampposts!”

     If you’re like me – i.e., inclined toward the analysis of men’s motivations and the evolution of social and political systems – you draw trend lines.

     The political class we suffer under today is the final stage in the evolution of sociopathy in a quasi-democratic order. To them “the people” are lower than beasts. “A great amorphous thing” isn’t an adequate description of our standing in their eyes; we’re clay to be molded into weapons, serfs, or toys. We exist to provide them with power, privileges, and perquisites. Those are the only reasons they tolerate our continued existence.

     I realized shortly after the election of Donald Trump that he represents a threat to our master class and its cushy arrangements. I’m only coming to realize how great a threat he is. Every other node of power or influence in Washington, and no few in the state governments, is maneuvering to neuter and destroy him. It has nothing to do with his supposed vulgarity or plebeian origins. Sociopaths cannot abide the company of honest men. When the honest man attains an elevation over theirs, he becomes a mortal danger to them and all they’ve built.

     Don’t ask whether Washington’s sociopaths agree or disagree with Trump’s values. They have no values of significance to the rest of us. How could they? We’re nothing to them. We’re votes...campaign workers and contributors...pieces in a game. The players don’t worry about the well being of the game pieces.

     And now, should the fit take you, you know where to find the most competent sociopaths currently walking the Earth.