Monday, October 31, 2011

The Wings of the Dove

There is another reference to washing hands of someone in chapter 2 (page 27 in my edition). Kate's sister Marian is speaking:
But, all the same, if you wash your hands of me forever for it, I won't for this once, keep back that I don't consider you've a right, as we all stand, to throw yourself away.
This has to build our sympathy for Kate. Everyone she has dealt with so far with is making themselves out to be a Christ figure about to be sacrificed for Kate's sins while, at the same time, insisting, as Marian does here, that Kate sacrifice herself to their purposes.

Sort of political Monday

Suppose you were a member of a committee studying rape on campus and you and your fellow committee members have come up with a list of recommendations designed to reduce incidence of rape. Now imagine to your shock that you discover that the campus rapists also have a committee and they have put together a list of things that would make it easier for them to commit and get away with rape and, to your even greater shock, that the thing at the very top of their wish list is exactly the same thing you have at the top of your list of things that would reduce rape.

That would give you pause wouldn't it?

Some of the world's most powerful and wealthy people meet annually in Davos, Switzerland to decide what issues are most in their self interest. And this past January they considered that the most important issue might be exactly the same thing the protestors at Occupy Wall Street say is the most important issue:
The gap between the rich and the poor within both developed and developing nations needs to shrink to build a more sustainable economy that avoids the damage caused by asset bubbles. 
Think about that, a bunch of fat cats got together last January and said "we should be worried about inequality" and nine months later a bunch of protestors went out on the streets to tell the fat cats exactly what they wanted to be told. Is that upsetting your sense of moral clarity? If that isn't enough, consider this, big Wall Street donors gave more money to Barrack Obama than to any other candidate in history.

You're being had. Occupy Wall Street is not the 99 percent rising up against the one percent, it's a bunch of middle class college kids doing exactly what the most wealthy and powerful people in our society want them to do. This should sound familiar. I've written before about how the big counter-culture rock bands favoured by student rebels of the 1960s and 1970s managed to do exactly what their corporate masters wanted them to do.

The whole notion of "rebellion" has been reduced to nothing but a powerful marketing tool. Why? Mostly because of government and the uses it can be put to by the rich and powerful. Every "rebellion"ends up serving the interests of the people in power. Demand the government do something and it will do something.

Cognitive dissonance
Joe Nocera wrote a piece a while ago highlighting what he found to be eerie parallels between now and the depression. He'd just read a book about the 1930s called Since Yesterday. He generously allowed that the depression was much worse but went on to say similar things were happening. Now, let me pause to point out that some journalist manages to find parallels with the great depression in every financial downturn and that this is perhaps unsurprsing given that all downturns are, well, downturns. It would be more surprising if there were not parallels. But I digress.

The telling ommission in Nocera's piece comes out in two sentences. First there is a paragraph that begins with this:
And when Allen describes “Hooverville” — a large encampment of war veterans demanding promised bonus payments — Occupy Wall Street springs to mind. 
Then the very next paragraph begins like this:
In Since Yesterday, bankers are vilified; homes are foreclosed on; people desperately search for work — just like today. 
Well, actually, something else was vilified in the 1930s that isn't being vilified now.  You can get a powerful hint of it in the name "Hooverville". The government of the day and its president was vilified. Nobody, least of all Joe Nocera, is vilifying the government of our day.

I've been writing recently about how the Occupy protests are heaving influenced by anarchism. They are not, however, actually anarchists because anarchists oppose governments. The Occupy people are all interested in giving the government more power!

Here's something to ponder. Everyone agrees that inequality is growing. Okay, let's consider some of the things that governments have done to reduce inequality:
  • The public school system has been more and more heavily financed to provide the same quality education to the rich as the poor.
  • Health care is provided so that the rich will not have exclusive access to it.
  • A progressive tax system is in place to make sure the rich pay proportionately more of the cost of government.
  • Governments created huge agencies such as Fannie Mae to make it easier for people to get mortgages because home owners tended to be wealthier and making home ownership available to more people would reduce inequality.
  • On similar grounds, governments made huge investments in universities and made it easier for people to get huge loans to pay for university because that too was a thing the wealthy had and it was believed that making university education more generally available would decrease inequality.
I could go on and on and on but I'll stop there. The point is that for the last 80 years reducing inequality has been a major focus of government. Trillions of dollars have been spent and we have now arrived at the point where the programs designed to reduce inequality are beginning to (literally) bankrupt governments. The failures of some of these programs—first home ownership and now university education—have also begun to bankrupt a whole lot of individuals. And yet there is more inequality than there was before governments decided to fix it!

So even if we take it that wealth inequality is bad thing (something that is by no means clear), surely it ought to be obvious by now that governments are absolutely useless at reducing inequality. What governments have been very good at is using inequality as an excuse to put more and more money and power into the hands of a narrow group of interests. And when the going gets tough, governments show their true colours by bailing out Wall Street while leaving you smothered in student loans and mortgages.

And now that things have gotten really bad, the powerful people want you to go sleep on the pavement in a tent and protest inequality so that governments can have even more power to help out Wall Street even more. How many times are you going to fall for this trick?
The percentage you're paying is too high priced
While you're living behind all your means
And the man in the suit has bough a new car
from the profit he's made on your dreams (link goes to a video)
That lyric was written exactly forty years ago. The odd thing is that it was written by a man who really believed in rebellion; he didn't see any irony in his own lyric. Well, maybe the great rebellion was still young then. But if you honestly believe that the current Occupy rebellion is going to do anything but make the rich and powerful even richer and more powerful, you're stupid.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Religious language in The Wings of the Dove

Update: The original title was "Biblical references in ...,"

I'm noting these on the way through and will label the posts so anyone can find them all. These are all the Biblical references I find as opposed to all the ones that are there; I'm sure to miss some.

I'm using a Modern Library Edition, not the most recent. The front pages mention a 1930 and 1937 copyright by Henry James executor and 1902, 1909 by Charles Scribner's Sons. Other than that, the edition is singularly unhelpful about helping me identify it for others.

Anyway, on page 15 of said edition, comes the first Biblical reference I find (barring the title). Kate Croy and her father, Lionel Crow, have sort of reached a sort of agreement that she will accept her Aunt Maud's offer to keep her. Her aunt insists that she sever all connections with her father. He has proposed that she accept this until such time as she has a husband when, presumably free to ignore her aunt's wishes, Kate can then reconnect with her father.

Kate says,
Of course you understand that it may be for long.
He father response is this,
Her companion, hereupon, had one of his finest inspirations. "Why not, frankly, for ever? You must do me the justice to see that I don't do things, that I've never done them, by halves--that if I offer you to efface myself, it's for the final, fatal sponge that I ask, well saturated and well applied."
And the Kate gives her father one last chance to offer to take her and he lets it slide, whereupon, she takes the role of Pilate to his Christ
I'll engage with you in respect to my aunt exactly to what she wants of me in respect to you. She wants me to choose. Very well, I  will choose. I'll wash my hands of her for you to just that tune.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Feminism isn't about equality. It's about liberty.

That's meant to be provocative but it's also true. Short version: While feminism has always taken itself to be an egalitarian movement, its real appeal has always been as a libertarian one. Equality was part of it, to be sure, but what really inspired women was the example of liberty as given by iconic feminists from Mary Wollstonecraft to Germaine Greer. (Both these examples chosen because a lot of doctrinaire feminists find their personal conduct troubling.)

This came up in some discussion in response to an old post of mine last week. "If not equality, then what?" wrote one commenter named Annette. And if you read feminist writing for the last fifty years it all seems to be about equality.

And not just any kind of equality but Marxist equality as was identified by Joan Didion in what remains the best essay every written about contemporary feminism.
In fact there was an idea, and the idea was Marxist, and it was precisely to the extent that there was this Marxist idea that the curious historical anomaly known as the women's movement would have seemed to have any interest at all.
My commenter Annette, trying to come up with a general description of feminism in 2011, came up with a modified Marxism where women replace the working class as the primary engine for revolution:
 Just to get past this point, let's define the key idea of feminism as something like this: "the idea that everyone has the basic right to social, economic, and vocational equality" - this generally has an emphasis on women since they are the gender that have been most oppressed ...
There it is in all its glory.

And Didion identifies the very thing that made feminism and Marxism seem like such a natural fit.
Marxism in this country had even been an eccentric and quixotic passion. One oppressed class after another had seemed finally to miss the point. The have-nots, it turned out, aspired mainly to having. The minorities seemed to promise more, but finally disappointed: it developed that they actually cared about the issues, that they tended to see the integration of the luncheonette and the seat in the front of the bus as real goals, and only rarely as ploys, counters in a larger game. 
The most recent example of this has been gay men, whom, I remember reading in an essay in The Nation were "the class that couldn't be absorbed". Not until they were that is. IT's hard to think of any other rebel group who were absorbed quite so quickly.

Except maybe women. They too saw liberation as the real goal and most had no interest in any larger game. As Didion notes in her essay, the real goals of feminism rapidly became the goals of self fulfillment and not revolution. The leaders were still talking revolution but the rank and file, well, they didn't even want to be rank and file.

By the mid 1980, most of the real goals that most women had wanted had been achieved. Things weren't perfect but they never are are they?

Meanwhile, an increasing number of women looked at feminism and feminists and thought, "that isn't me". Meanwhile movement feminists made things worse by sweeping aside the great feminist icons and role models—Steinem, Friedan,  Brownmiller, Greer—in favour of concepts, "women of color", lesbians and so forth. And there was the implied insult that went with that, for example, that other women are colourless. The craziest moment was when a group called MAW was set up. It's name came from Mothers Are Women, as if it needed to be said!!

I remember the way women at university with me in the 1980s started to say "I'm not a feminist but ..." so as to be able to take a stand but reject the identity. Even when there was an issue that all women at my university could get behind—the first Take Back The Night Marches, for example—they saw it as a one-time statement and not an ongoing project they would take part in every year.They wanted the specific goal, they didn't want to be part of the movement.

And that has been the story ever since. When feminism latches onto some issue that matters to women right now, they get on the wagon again. And then they move away again.

The glory days are over but it's not only that. The glory days  only happened because the movement was de facto individualist even thought its philosophy was egalitarian. It was a movement that succeeded without understanding the basis of its success.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Are men imploding?

Manly Thor's day special
I got a response to one of my posts the other days saying just that. The thing is the commenter thought he was agreeing with me when my point was very much the opposite.

Men are not imploding.

Now I should acknowledge that it is entirely possible that men could collectively implode. Perhaps estrogen from birth control pills in the water system is turning us into a bunch of losers but it is extremely unlikely.

Here's a lesson in how statistics can be deceiving. Have a look at this Bell curve from a site I won't identify for a moment.

Now here is some extra detail: there are more men than women in the low performers and there are more men than women in the high performers.

Perhaps you are thinking but I haven't told us what the graph is a measurement of? It doesn't matter. Unless we pick something that boys just don't do much, say skipping, boys will tend to predominate at the top and the bottom levels of performance. (The actual graph above was used to make a point about teacher performance. I used to work with a program that awarded top teachers. Even though women outnumbered men in teaching by a large margin, there always was more men than women in the very top performers that were awarded each year.)

If, for example, you pick a random group of 3000 seventeen-year-olds, and make them all do a challenging math test, there will be more boys than girls in the hundred worst performers and there will be more boys than girls in the hundred best performers. Men are always more likely to be on the extremes.

So any study that focuses on failure can easily be made out to make it look like men and boys are in trouble. If you focus on only the very top performers, on the other hand, it will look like the system is unfair to women. Any field where competition is really tough (think CEOs) or where there are stringent entrance requirements that are applied neutrally (think firefighters) will be dominated by men.

Now imagine what happens that if we do the mathematics comparison as above but we simply go on the grades these kids get as opposed to testing them. If the grading system is fair, you will get the same result. If there is grade inflation you will have a system where average performers are given top marks and that is going to shift the balance such that the men who usually stand out at the top of the system won't anymore. And that is what is happening in high schools and universities as well as in employment fields where merit is being devalued in favour of other considerations.

So, no, men are not imploding. What is happening is political. We live in a society that has taken equality of result to be an important goal rather than equality of treatment. That has tended to bias some aspects of our society (think universities) against men. We also love in a society where the greatest job growth has been in fields where individualism and self-reliance are discouraged.

Neither of those things can be sustained for very long so they won't be.

More on the anarchist roots of Occupy Wall Street

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a piece up about the anarchist roots of OWS. Here is a teaser:
But Occupy Wall Street's most defining characteristics—its decentralized nature and its intensive process of participatory, consensus-based decision-making—are rooted in other precincts of academe and activism: in the scholarship of anarchism ...
I've written about this here and here. The Chronicle piece adds some (ptretty speculative) detail about the genealogy. I'm not sure you can really be as precise as they try to be but it is pretty certain the protestors learned this stuff at university.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A follow up on enabling bullies

I was writing this morning about how victims of bullying enable bullies. The opening of The Lord of the Flies gives us a classic example in Ralph:

"My auntie told me not to run," he explained, "on account of my asthma."


"That's right. Can't catch my breath. I was the only boy in our school what had asthma," said the fat boy with a touch of pride. "And I've been wearing specs since I was three."
 That's a good idea, tell everyone what your weaknesses are. "With a touch of pride". You meet women who are like that; they tell all about their ailments and their failed romances and then wind up with how their last boyfriend used them. And then they wonder why they get used.

But this is even better:
"I don't care what they call me," he said confidentially, "so long as they don't call me what they used to call me at school."

Ralph was faintly interested.

"What was that?"

The fat boy glanced over his shoulder, then leaned toward Ralph.

He whispered.

"They used to call me `Piggy.'"

Ralph shrieked with laughter. He jumped up.

"Piggy! Piggy!"
Blame the victim? In this case yes.

If you get bullied once, it's the bully's fault. If you end up getting bullied everywhere you go, it's your fault.

Two things that can solve most of life's problems

There is a Bob Newhart sketch in which he plays a therapist who has patients describe their phobias and then tells them that, next time that happens, "Stop it!" The other day the Serpentine One and I were talking about something and she said, "I know why you like that sketch so much, it's because you really believe it."

She's right. I do.

I think it is one of two basic strategies for dealing with life. The other one comes from the Iron Duke.

I'm a big fan of cognitive therapy. It tells you precisely what to stop. Years ago when going through a rough patch I was reading Esquire, which was still worth reading in those days, and came across the sentence, "Stress isn't the car that cuts you off, it's your reaction".

And you can train yourself to react in healthier ways. Cognitive therapy teaches you how to train yourself. And it works.

A quick aside for any philosophers, that sounds a lot like stoicism because it is a lot like stoicism. But one philosophic response that grows out of stoicism is not very helpful. That is the one that says, "They can do anything they want to me but I can still choose the attitude I am going to take towards it". That may be useful in certain extreme situations where nothing else is available (if you ever find yourself being tortured as a prisoner of war). But it is nonsense to do what some philosophers do (Sartre) and treat all of life that way.

If other people keep doing the same cruel things to you, then you are probably enabling them somehow and need to learn how to stop it. The callous adult who tells the victim of bullying, 'Stop being such a pussy and man up,' may not score high for diplomacy or political correctness but he is right. (That advice goes for women too.)

The second strategy was described by Wellington in a letter to a young man who'd written him asking for help. The advice he gave was this, "As I see it, you've gotten yourself into a dashed difficult situation and now you must work dashed hard to get out of it."

Your welcome.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: the endgame

Late last week Ann Althouse said the OWS movement is hampered by not having an exit strategy.
You know, there's a real problem with this Occupy [Your City] protest format: It doesn't have an exit strategy. You come, you conquer, and then time passes, protesters get dirty and ugly, internal divisions crack them up, the nearby residents get disgusted, the local businesses get mad, and then what? There's isn't going to be a revolution. It's not Egypt. In the end, they'll have to break up and go home. Or hope the cops come in and bust them up so they can end with a bang. 
Althouse's critique resembles another which is that that the protestors don't have defined aims. But I'd suggest that the real issue here is that this movement is really anarchist in spirit. We're used to protests organized and run by doctrinaire leftists and this one isn't.

Anarchism, as I was writing just a little while ago, is all about community. They believe that our society is an artificial construct, an idol, and that when it begins to fail, natural community will spring up in its place. And when we consider that we can see how Althouse is wrong in a very important sense: they don't lack an exit strategy because the protest is the exit strategy. For most of these protestors, the whole point is being there and living in tents. They think they are living in the post-revolutionary world.

There are, of course, other people trying to manipulate this for their own ends but that is the way anarchists think. They think everyone else really wants to be like them. They especially think that young people want to be like them. As they imagine things, every person from age seventeen to twenty-nine watching this stuff on television wishes they were occupying too. (You can see this in their choice of a "revolutionary class". Working class , the choice of Marxists, and women, the choice of feminists, are both definable groups. The 99 percent, on the other hand is effing everyone.)

This is all about the celebration. The drum banging, the breast baring, the public defecation, it's all a party. Trust me on this one, when a beautiful young woman decides she wants to show everyone her breasts, it's not because she is seething with rage. OWS people like to think they are anti-corporation, but the truth is they think in exactly the way corporations have taught them to think. Can you spot the difference between OWS and a cruise-line commercial:

Monday, October 24, 2011

She knows she's right

I read "Canada's National Newspaper" once a week, mostly for the style section. The news and commentary is only really useful for seeing how a certain sort of closed mind works. Elizabeth Renzetti's mind for example.

This weekend she set about to show us how illegals are "demonized". It's all done, says Renzetti, about the term "anchor baby". It's rare that you see an argument that contradicts itself as blatantly as this one does. Here we go in three quotes from her piece with a bit of emphasis added to highlight the contradiction.
  1. 'I admit it: I'm the mother of an anchor baby.'
  2. 'They're children born in the U.S. to illegal immigrants.'
  3. 'My own anchor baby was born when we were living in Los Angeles. I wasn't there illegally but on the sufferance of the horribly named "spouse visa".'
How can an intelligent person write something so obviously self refuting? Not only was Renzetti never an illegal immigrant, it would appear she was never any sort of immigrant at all.

There are all sorts of bizarre things going on here. Notice, for example, how Renzetti fails to see any real distinction between her own comfortable life and that of illegal immigrants. And notice how she, in fact, demonizes the people she is arguing against while complaining they are demonizing others.

But most of all notice how utterly and irredeemably stupid her own argument is. That's the staggering thing. No one with the slightest critical thinking skills could make such a stupid argument. Renzetti is so sure she's right, she's stopped paying attention to the blather coming out of her own mouth.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Hibiscus Day

Two blooms today.

Here's the yellow:

And the red:

Final thoughts on infidelity

Womanly virtues Friday
Final for now.

Before starting, I have written almost exclusively about sexual infidelity by women. That is not because I don't think men's infidelity issues aren't interesting. But far more has been written about men than women already.

A few years ago I used to go to a grocery store that was located next to what was at the time the only liquor store in Ottawa that opened before noon on Sunday. Walking across that parking lot at ten minutes to opening time on Sunday morning was tragicomic. And one of the things that really jumped out at you was that alcoholism is an equal opportunity affliction; you'd see the street person with his stolen shopping cart parked right next to the society woman in her Mercedes and they'd both be staring straight ahead with the same nervous expression on their faces.

Infidelity is also an equal-opportunity affliction. And not just on the receiving end. People of all types cheat on their partners. Even women who find cheating repugnant and who speak scathingly of others who have done this will surprise us and themselves by having affairs.

So it seems to me that the first thing anyone, woman or man, would want to do when thinking about love and commitment is to acknowledge that they are capable of cheating. Actually, that doesn't go nearly far enough. What you need to do is admit that if it ever felt easy and safe enough to get away with, you probably would. I say this because I've lived long enough that I've seen women—quite a few women—seriously mess up because they didn't worry enough about the possibility that they would cheat. They worried plenty about their partner cheating on them but it never occurred them that they could ever do such a thing themselves until they did.

And when they did really bad things happened. A serial adulterer already knows she is capable of such a thing. She may enter her most recent relationship fully intending to be faithful but she has cheated before and that means she has some established behaviours to fall back on if she falls off the wagon again. The woman who has never cheated and is firmly convinced that she never could cheat has no idea how to behave. I've seen women who were emotional and moral landmarks for all their friends go right of control.

From what I've seen, here are some hints about what not to to do:
  • Don't run to your partner or husband and confess everything. Fixing things between you is more important than confessing. He's better off not knowing.
  • Don't run to your best friend and tell her about it. You may feel you feel a need to talk to someone about it but she is the very worst choice. She'll give you bad advice because she is too much on your side. And then she'll tell someone else. And they'll tell someone .... Eventually, the man in your life will be the only one in the whole world who doesn't know he has been cheated on and he'll be a subject for gossip among all your friends. And one day he will find out and there will be nothing you or anyone else can do that will ever be able to fix the pain you have caused him.
  • If, on the other hand, you get caught, don't lie. Confess and grovel. If you don't want him to leave you, tell him so but accept that he might.
  • Don't continue any sort of friendship or ever see the guy the cheating happened with again. Any sort of insider relationship between the two of you is an insult and injury to the person you are in a loving relationship with. The only solution is to stop the affair and cut your lover out of your life absolutely in the most brutal fashion you can.
The other thing about women's infidelity is the other corner of the triangle. Men do indeed cheat on their partners more often than women do, although women are no slouches at it, but those men have to cheat with someone and there always seems to be no shortage of single women willing to have sexual affairs with men who are in a serious relationship with another woman.

Or just out of one. If you ever find yourself with a group of women chatting comfortably after  their second glass of wine, raise the issue of women who betray their best girlfriends by bedding their exes after a break up. Then sit down and make yourself comfortable because the stories will go on all night.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

On leaving

I hope it is clear enough that I do not advocate leaving a marriage unless there is something very seriously wrong going on. But other love relationships are another matter. If there is one thing most boys and men do wrong is that they stick with bad partners when they should dump them. Some research suggests that more than 80 percent of breakups are initiated by women. Men suck it up and take it far too much in relationships.

The point here is not about the women you do or don't leave. It's about you. To use the modern jargon, it's about setting limits. There is a stage in life where you are out meeting and dating girls but marriage just isn't on the menu because you are too young. If there is one lesson a boy absolutely needs to learn about love in those years it is how to get the hell out of Dodge if she doesn't respect your limits.

I know it seems hard but, trust me, the world is full of women and any guy twenty-five years or younger can be sure of meeting more.  Go ahead, dump her.

All of which is a good excuse to post this song.

"Protest group says it wants to be self-contained community"

Hmm, a "self-contained community". What could go wrong?

Read this and see if any of it sounds familiar:
Efforts by the Occupy Baltimore protest group to evolve into a self-contained, self-governing community have erupted into controversy with the distribution of a pamphlet that victim advocates and health workers fear discourages victims of sexual assaults from contacting police.
The pamphlet says that members of the protest group who believe they are victims or who suspect sexual abuse "are encouraged to immediately report the incident to the Security Committee," which will investigate and "supply the abuser with counseling resources."
They, not the law, will investigate and they will supply "the abuser" with counseling. In case, you don't recognize that philosophy, it's exactly how the Catholic church (mis)handled sex abuse in the 1960s and 1970s.

Forgiving infidelity

Manly Thor's Day Special
Perhaps it has always been the case or perhaps it is especially true of our post-feminist era but one of the things a man has to be ready for is discovering he has been cheated on. It's not a certainty but it happens enough that the odds of it happening to you are considerable. (Yes, it did happen to me in a previous relationship.)

In theory the solution seems straightforward: you'll dump her. Very few men do in practice. Not immediately anyway.  The first reaction is always to try and reach some sort of reconciliation. If you can dump her immediately, the truth is that you were looking for an excuse to get rid of her anyway.

It is only if efforts at reconciliation fail that you will dump her or let her go (these are not the same thing).

The really unfair thing is that you have responsibilities at all in this. She is the one who screwed things up and it only feels natural and right that it should be entirely up to her to make them right again. But what is making them right again? Worse, you will have certain entirely natural and justifiable reactions that you will have to control in order to make it work.

How women lie about sex
As Proust said, women lie in order to avoid lying when it comes to sex. If the woman in your life cheats on you, she will build a wall of lies around the incident. Every one of these lies is a roadblock intended to stop conversation from steering into the place the lie she doesn't want to have to tell is located.

Suppose you mention that a house belonging to the parents of a friend of hers is for sale and ask her what it's like and she says, "I don't know, I was never there." That's a nice, low tension lie. It can be delivered easily. Better, if you later find out it isn't true it can be easily deflected.

Now suppose a week later you meet the friend and ask about the house and she says, "Why didn't your girlfriend tell you, she stayed over back when we were single." So you approach your girlfriend and she says, "Oh that's right, I guess I forgot." She's doing all this so she can avoid talking about something else. Perhaps her friend's brother, perhaps her friend's brother's friend. Perhaps something that happened with her girlfriend while she was staying.

And all that effort is being made to hide a secret that dates from before she met you. It all goes triple if she cheats on you during your relationship.

The odd consequence of this is that you'll peel layers off the lie before you get to it. And that will make you into a bit of an obsessive before you even know whether you should be hurt or not.

And when you do find the lie, it might be harmless. It might be that the thing she has been protecting is the memory of a boyfriend who was gone years before you arrived on the scene. It may be that she is protecting the memory of the guy who hit on her and she turned down but she feels rather good about the fact that he tried. Or it may be an affair.

So the first question you have to ask yourself is whether you even want to find out. You may not.

Why you think she lied
From the outside, as you slowly turn into some clever Sherlock slowly unmasking her, it feels like she is lying for one and only one reason: to hurt you. That's extremely unlikely. So, right off the bat, we need to get our own nightmares off the table as they blind us to what is really going on. There are two nightmares here. One is common to men and women and the other is peculiarly male.

The common one was a favourite of my mother's. She'd say, "Do you lie just to torture me? You know how this hurts me." And I'd stay silent because the truth was that it was precisely because I done something that I knew would really torture her that I lied to protect her.

The same dynamic is in place when a woman cheats on you. She didn't do it to hurt you because she planned to get away with it. No one, least of all you, was ever going to know.

The other, peculiarly male reason you think she lied is to hide what you are terrified to think may have been the best sex of her life. You think she went to another man to get something that she finds lacking in you. Again, this is exactly backwards. The problem is not what he did for her but that she did for him something she is only supposed to do for you.

An aside, when people start any new relationship, including an affair, one of their first thoughts is often how much easier things are than their last relationship. They think that they don't have to work at it. The truth is that things are going so well in the new relationship because they are working ten times as hard at this new relationship than they did the last one. That is what should bother you: that she worked so much harder at this affair than she did with you.

When she met this other guy, she was always on her best behaviour. She didn't dare put him through one of her moods because he could have left so much more easily than you would. She had to earn his attention and she did. She always dressed so as to feel confident and beautiful and she always arrived  ready to have a good time. She complains that you don't spend enough time on foreplay but every time she saw this guy she had already been priming herself for hours if not days before he even showed up.

Here's a basic truth about women's sexuality that she'll never admit to herself: sex can only be as good for her as she is willing to let it be. If the sex was good with another man it was mostly because she made it that way. And that's the real problem: she should have been doing all that for you. She robbed you.

Why she really lied
She lied to keep the secret. I know, that sounds tautological but the whole point of intimacy is to be intimate and intimate is secret.

And, crazy as this may seem, that's understandable. She probably hasn't done this sort of thing often. (If she has, what the hell are you doing with her?) From a male point of view, it seems like it's easy for women to get sex; it seems like all they have to do is say "yes" to some guy. But it doesn't feel that way to her. From her perspective the problem is, "How does she make this happen in a way that feels good for her?"

Again, you'll obsess about that "masterful lover" who made things happen for her. For her the real thrill is that she actually managed to make this other guy come after her. That's really quite the trick and she is proud of having done that. (By the way, she'll lie in exactly the same way if it was disaster because that will make it a matter of shame and anyone else knowing about her shame will only make it worse.)

It may well be that she has wondered all her life whether she could do such a thing. She has watched other women do it and publicly sneered at them for doing so but all the time she has privately worried that the real reason she never has never done this is because she can't.

Here's a dark secret, she will never hate the memory of this affair. She may hate herself for giving in to it. She may hate herself for hurting you. She will never hate the thing that happened. If it was good, she will privately treasure this for the rest of her life and, crazy as this will sound, you should let her get away with that. (One of the odd aspects of this is that one of the counter-intuitive results of a woman cheating on you is that in some cases your sex life with her suddenly gets better because she feels better about herself.)

You, of course, do hate it and you think you want her to hate it too. You think you want to destroy this intimate secret and make it awful in her memory. Or, to be more accurate, you tell yourself this is what you want. You don't because the only way you could achieve this is by degrading her.

What you should want
You should want absolute and unequivocal acknowledgement from her that she wronged you. No fudging allowed. No, "I was feeling insecure and needed reassurance." Sorry, Honey, everyone feels insecure and needs reassurance. And while it may be perfectly true that you have been difficult, none of that excuses her cheating. There are no excuses and no qualifications. This is her fault and she has to unreservedly acknowledge this and apologize for it.

And you want her to work hard to restore trust and love. There are two parts of this. First you forgive her and second you decide whether you can trust her enough to continue a relationship with her. The first does not imply the second and you should tell her this.

One thing you want to be on the watch for is the apologizing-to-Rachel-Lynde phenomenon. This is an apology that does no real work. One thing people, including women people, will do when they know they are in the wrong is to get so torn up about how awful they have been that you end up suffering twice as much. First you got cheated on and now you have to live with this sackcloth and ashes routine where she is impossible to live with because she feels so miserable and she can't do anything about it because she feels so lousy. You meanwhile are left alone and moping.

Odd as this may seem, you want her to cheerfully throw herself into making it better. She should react to your being willing to consider trusting her again the same way she would react to being told the test was negative and she doesn't have cancer after all. You shouldn't have to explain this to her. If she doesn't figure it out, dump her. Don't make it a  condition. Don't say unless you do this, I'm out of here. Just wait and see. If she fails, go. Don't explain, just leave.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Infidelity part one

I quoted this line from Iris Krasnow yesterday.
Save abuse or serial adultery, every marriage is salvageable with a big caveat that there’s “trust, respect and intimacy, both emotional and physical".
I think that is right. You might call it an update for our times of Matthew 19:9. And let's note in passing that while women are somewhat less likely to cheat and far less likely to be serial adulterers, there is credible evidence suggesting that women commit abuse at least as often as men do.

When we think about not serial adultery but single instances, the obvious question is, How do you restore trust, respect and intimacy in the face of infidelity? Well, I'll be writing about that over the next two days. Today I just want to note a crucially important fact.

When Krasnow says "salvageable" above she is really saying, whether she realizes it or not, is that pretty much anything that troubles a marriage save these two offenses is forgivable. "Forgivable" means nothing unless someone forgives.

A woman the Serpentine One and I heard talk about marriage a few years ago now told us about an interesting bit of research she did. She'd given questionnaires to a whole lot of young couple about to get married and asked them what they could imagine forgiving and not forgiving. They all agreed they could NEVER forgive infidelity. What's interesting about that is that in practice, couples actually have a fairly high success rate of dealing with infidelity.

No, I'm not saying go ahead and cheat. What I am saying is, go ahead and become the sort of person who would forgive their spouse for cheating. We never spend much time thinking about that do we? Most people wonder if they'd ever cheat and most people can imagine their self righteous anger at someone else cheating on them. But imagine* forgiving someone. What would that take?

More tomorrow and Friday.

* By the way, one really interesting aspect of the famous John Lennon tune is that he only imagines achieving peace by eliminating things be believed to cause strife between people. There isn't so much as a single hint in the song about forgiveness. That says an awful lot, and none of it good, about the people who believe that song says something profound and important.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Anne Kingston's ongong attack on men

Anne Kingston writes for Macleans magazine here in Canada. What stands out about her is her relentless attack on men in her writing. The latest example of this is a piece that is called "How to Stay Married" in the online version. The teaser on the cover, which I do not have in front of me, is something more along the lines of "The extraordinary things wives do to stay married".

What we read in the article is a series of anecdotes of things some women have done to put their marriages at risk. Here is the first example:
Cynthia is a 68-year-old woman in a 45-year “committed marriage” who has figured out how to keep it that way. Every other month or so she goes out to lunch with her college boyfriend Thomas, who is also married and has no intention of leaving his wife. Usually their outings end in a hot and heavy “petting session” in his Mercedes. Sometimes, he rubs Jean Naté lotion, the scent Cynthia wore in college, onto her legs and compliments her beautiful feet. They’ve never consummated their relationship, nor do they intend to. Being with Thomas is “like a balloon liftoff,” Cynthia reports, one that eases some of the tensions between her and her 74-year-old physics professor husband. “I’m a nicer, more tolerant person because of this affair,” she says.
Are you as happy as I am to see that Cynthia has concluded that she is a "nicer, more tolerant person" because she is cheating on her husband? Would you buy it if I told you that I regularly commit petty theft and that I was a better person because of it?

By the way, for the benefit of readers under the age of fifty, "heavy petting" is a term that people Cynthia's age use to use to mean touching, kissing and fondling so as to bring each other to orgasm. When Cynthia says the affair is "unconsummated" she most likely means that the only thing she hasn't let Thomas do is to penetrate her.

And do you think many women would accept this going the other way? Jim meets his old college girlfriend every month or so and they have a few drinks and then get into her car and make out, during which she licks his favourite flavour chip dip from college days off him. Actually, we know they wouldn't because any number of statistically valid polls have established have established that women have much stricter standards for what counts as cheating than men do.

Which brings me to the next point, the source of the "data" for Kingston's article. The occasion for the piece is a book by a journalist named Iris Krasnow called The Secret Lives of Wives: Women Share What It Really Takes to Stay Married.The problem with Krasnow's book, as is so often the case with "lifestyle journalism", is that its a just a collection of anecdotes masquerading as research.
Krasnow spoke with more than 200 women, married between 15 and 70 years ...
Well, I'm impressed. Actually, it's much worse than that. Let me give you the rest of the quote.
Krasnow spoke with more than 200 women, married between 15 and 70 years, who report taking separate holidays, embarking on new careers, establishing a tight circle of female friends, dabbling in Same Time, Next Year-style liaisons and adulterous affairs, and having “boyfriends with boundaries.” Yoga and white wine also feature predominately. 
Are you maybe getting a picture of the women involved?  "Yoga and white wine" featured prominently! There is a heavy hint of just how fraudulent the whole thing is later in the article when Kingston writes, "Many of the women Krasnow interviewed are like her—educated, smart, with enough disposable income to spend summers painting in Italy or travelling to ashrams." (Emphasis added) I'd love to see how Krasnow located these 200 women. I'm willing to bet they don't even come close to a representative sample of successfully married women.

The funny thing is that the over-all gist of Krasnow's book is morally conservative. She and Kingston come across as aging women trying desperately to avoid facing the fact that all the available data shows that what their generation considered liberation was a disaster for women:
“The real secret to staying married is not getting divorced,” Krasnow writes, in a tautology. Save abuse or serial adultery, every marriage is salvageable with a big caveat that there’s “trust, respect and intimacy, both emotional and physical.”
That's absolutely true as is another Krasnow observation that women (and men) who make successful marriages don't count on their spouse to make them happy. I'd go even further and say that it is a duty of marriage to be happy.

But all of it comes wrapped up in this weird double standard where it is suddenly not just okay but a good thing for wives to cheat. You may be wondering how what Cynthia does with her ex-boyfriend in the example above is squared with the need for “trust, respect and intimacy, both emotional and physical”? The lame excuse here is that women cheat for different, and better, reasons than men do:
Unlike husbands, wives are driven to extramarital affairs not as a way of exiting their marriage but remaining in them. One woman says her husband’s sexual unresponsiveness justified her cheating.
Come on, that wouldn't fly even for a second going the other way. It's also not true. Women in fact leave their husbands three times as often as the other way around and there is no end of evidence that most men who cheat are not looking for an exit from their marriage. (A generation ago, women like Kingston and Krasnow used to complain about the plight of the single woman having an affair with the man who would never leave his wife. See, for example, When Harry Met Sally.)

A final thought, notice how much that first paragraph reads like chick lit. What possible reason is there to identify the brand names of the ex-boyfriend's car and the lotion he rubs on her legs. Surely the salient fact is that her pants or pantyhose have to come off for this operation to take place. If you want to advertise yourself as a non-serious person, write the way Kingston does. (Funnily enough, when a female sex columnist at a guy website tackles the same subject going the other way, the result is far more serious and more fairly balanced than what you get from a woman writing for what is supposed to be a respectable magazine.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

A primer on anarchism

Sort of political Monday
I had thought to write something about the various Occupy protests but I see that others have already hammered down the salient points. Except the media, that is, who seem to be entranced by what are really pretty small protests. The only thing I'd add is that these things are yet another failure for social media.

The only important thing about the Occupy movement that hasn't had much said about it is that it has a lot in common with anarchism. Some of us were talking about that on the weekend and it soon became obvious to me that most educated people have no idea what anarchists believe in. So here is a primer.

Now, to do a good primer, I have to present anarchists in the best possible light, so no take downs today. This is a short presentation of the thinking behind anarchism.

Anarchists, like all sorts of post-Hegelian political movements, believe that society in it's current form carries deep faults that will eventually lead to its failure and that when it fails, something better and more natural will grow up in its place. That's where they differ from you or me. Most of us worry that widespread social failure will lead to a dark age of violence, poverty and meaninglessness. Anarchists believe we already live in a dark age sustained by an unjust social order and that collapse will free us.

Anarchism is a sort of bipolar belief in that there are times when anarchists can convince themselves that they see the signs of the coming collapse and believe all they have to do is to call attention to this so everyone else will join into push the idol over. And that, of course, is what the Occupy protests have been all about. They see the current economic difficulties as an opportunity to promote unrest. What the protestors are hoping is millions of others sitting at home following this on Facebook or on television will see what is happening and decide they can all rebel or, at the very least, that the tension against the fault lines will be ratcheted up just a notch more.

There are other times when anarchists think that they need to seed the storm. This is when they resort to violence but they don't believe they can overthrow society by violence. To the contrary, anarchists believe that any successful rebel group that did overthrow society would inevitably become a new tyranny. Anarchists believe that the only overthrow that will yield a better world is one that spreads widely (and wildly) throughout society and thus the point of the violence is always to inspire others to rise up against society.

Anarchists also believe that one of the ways that society demonstrates its illegitimacy is by overreacting to anarchist violence. As a consequence, some anarchist violence is intended to be sacrificial. One of the recurring strategies is to frame every successful action police and governments take against anarchists as brutal repression of human rights and freedoms and anarchists have gotten to be very good at playing the media to help them do this.

You can always find some anarchists on both sides of this peaceful-means versus use-of-violence divide and you find other anarchists who swing back and forth.

The really important thing to grasp about anarchists is that they aren't all that interested in destroying society themselves. As crazy as this may seem, anarchists believe that most people are seething with anger and discontent. They think the only reason we don't all riot all the time is an illusion of order and authority. The things they do are always intended to form cracks in what they see as just an illusion. They think that the rest of us are in a state of tension such that we are ready to let go much the same way that a storm cloud can be primed to let go earlier, or as an avalanche can be triggered or a tinderbox set aflame.

Why do they think this would be a good thing? Well, think of what happens when systems fail. A few years ago we had giant ice storm up here that closed roads, shut power off (sometimes for days) and generally brought everything to a stop. In the aftermath, many people helped one another. They shared food and comfort, they formed little groups to help dig out the little old ladies, they made sure that anyone who needed to get to the hospital did. Anarchists imagine that widespread social collapse will produce the same sort of cooperation on a much larger scale. And you can see that they really do believe this in the way that their movement tends to always coalesce around things like tent cities. (From the very beginning anarchism has tended to be an urban phenomenon and that shouldn't surprise us. For similar reasons, anarchism is always and everywhere opposed to individualism.)

It is in their belief that something like what happened here after the ice storm will happen on a grand scale after social collapse that anarchists differ most profoundly from Communists. Anarchists do not believe that any sort of special worker class or any revolutionary elite is necessary to build a new society after the old one has collapsed. They believe, and yes they are incredibly naive to believe this but they do, that a better, more peaceful society will naturally spring up based on "real" needs.

The flip side of this is that they believe that the current unjust society is being sustained by a relatively small subset of people who do well out of the system as it currently exists. And it is one of the inherent weaknesses of anarchism that they  tend to demonize these people and can convince themselves that appalling acts of violence against them are justifiable. Anarchists are also prone to antisemitism and the anarchist movements seem to inevitably traffic in some of the ugliest anti-Jewish stereotypes (this has not been much reported, but ugly demonizing of Jews has been a small but significant part of the Occupy protests).

The other really crazy thing that pretty much inevitably happens with anarchism is that some small group or lone actor will convince themselves that some act of really brutal violence against an authority figure or iconic public monument will trigger a revolution. They can even imagine that they themselves will be killed in the process but that their death will trigger change. So they sit alone in their parent's basement, or out in the garage or maybe in some small apartment somewhere building a bomb or planning an assassination. Most of these plans never get carried out, and the majority of the small number that are attempted fail but every once in a while, one of them will succeed. My suspicion is that however miserable a failure the Occupy protests are, the risk of some nasty act of violence in the aftermath is very significant.

Friday, October 14, 2011

"The common denominator in all your failed relationships is you" Pt2

I’d spent the past year with a handsome, commitment-minded man, and these better qualities, along with our having several interests in common, allowed me to overlook our many thundering incompatibilities. 
That's Kate Bolick describing herself at thirty-six. She is a woman who always assumed she would get married and I think we can safely say that a woman at thirty-six has had at least ten years to find a compatible partner. And here she she is "with a handsome, commitment-minded man" but they have "thundering incompatibilities".

I wonder what those were? Perhaps there were serious reasons to believe that a marriage wouldn't work. On the other hand, the ten plus years from your early twenties to age thirty-six is lots of time to find someone with whom you don't have thundering incompatibilities.

After a while you get to thinking that maybe the difference between people who find their way to marriage and those who don't is that the winners understand that marriage means living with certain tensions and losers don't. Or, to put it another way, that one person's dynamic tension is another person's thundering incompatibility.

Take sex, which, along with money, is one of the most common sources of marital stress. Most men have a far more frequent desire for sex than most women. Every marriage comes with an inevitable sexual incompatibility. That means that a successful marriage will necessarily be a partnership between
  1. a woman who will have sex far more often than she would choose if it were only up to her, and
  2. a man who will have sex far less often than he would choose if it were only up to him.
There will be times when their desires line up perfectly and there will be lots of joy and pleasure here, it is sex after all. That said,  for substantial portions of her marriage, a woman will push herself sexually for the sake of her husband's happiness. And for substantial portions of his marriage, a man will deny himself sexually for the sake of his wife's happiness.

That example it tells us a lot about what "compromise" means. As a strategic matter we think of a compromise as something that makes tension go away. Real compromise is an agreement to live in tension. If either partner just wants the stress to go away, the compromise and then the marriage fails.

Womanly virtues Friday

"The common denominator in all your failed relationships is you"
I know, that's not a nice thing to say when there are so many people out there struggling.  Kate Bolick and Juliet Jeske for example. Both are interesting examples of how feminism has taught women to blame everything but themselves for their failures.

 Katie Bolick writes a long (far too long, given how little she has to say) piece in The Atlantic that is all about her not being married.
Today I am 39, with too many ex-boyfriends to count and, I am told, two grim-seeming options to face down: either stay single or settle for a “good enough” mate. At this point, certainly, falling in love and getting married may be less a matter of choice than a stroke of wild great luck.
 In the course of the piece, she considers the failings of men, sexism, economics, ratios of men to women and other issues as well, all of which she puts under the general rubric of "a crisis in gender". One possibility, however, that never comes up is that there might be something wrong with her moral character.

Along the way, she makes what ought to be a staggering admission, except that she doesn't see the significance of it.
... the majority of my personal experience has been with commitment-minded men with whom things just didn’t work out, for one reason or another. 
Relationships don't fail, the people in them do. There are only two-and-a-half possibilities when a relationship fails: it's my fault, it's your fault or (highly unlikely) we're both at fault. If you've had too many relationships to count, it simply cannot be the case that it's always been the guy's fault.

Here is how Juliet Jeske begins a much linked piece in the Huffington Post:
Since I left my husband I have been unable to do a number of things -- the most frustrating lost skill is the ability to date. After nine years in a committed relationship, I have extreme difficulty navigating the nuanced dance that is dating.
That's not true. I don't know Juliet Jeske, I've never even met her, but I'm certain she was never comfortable dating. Why am I so certain? Partly because everyone who says what she says is lying. Not to us but to themselves. But there is more than that. One of the things she does is talk about normal things like they were  problems. Here is the very next sentence:
I have learned I can't be too direct, eager, needy, desperate, clingy, emotional, commitment pressuring, or baby daddy seeking. I also have to avoid looking cold, aloof, bitchy, mean, shallow, negative or distant.
You've learned that? Someone had to tell you that those things were a bad idea? Did they also need to tell you that sticking sharp sticks in your eye is a bad thing? I hope this isn't too intimidating but people who get dating never need to learn those things.

Another interesting thing about Jeske is that she divorced her husband after discovering that he was gay. He hadn't mentioned this before they got married and he didn't mention it afterward. She had to discover the truth. And if you think about that a bit, you'll realize that there had to be a moment when she didn't suspect a thing. There had to be a moment when everything seemed not just okay but really good. Think about that 'cause I'll get back to it.

Shockingly enough Jeske's case is not as rare as you'd think. There are women all over the internet who write about how their marriage ended after they discovered their husband was gay. And I've known more than one woman who this happened to.

Now, before I get harsh about this, let me say right up front that the villain in this scenario is the gay man who misleads a woman into a relationship and/or marriage. That said, there is a valuable lesson to learn here if this has happened to you. There is no way to sugarcoat this so I won't even try. Sit down alone somewhere and ponder this: you were in a relationship with a man who wasn't sexually attracted to you and that was just fine with you. This is a problem with you. There is something deeply wrong with you that it didn't bother you. It should trouble you a whole lot and you should be trying to fix this.

I know, I wouldn't like anyone pointing that out to me either. It's tough love.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Manly Thor's Day Special

"I'm worried that you're not happy"
Always beware of the person who worries that you're unhappy. It's almost always the case that they are really unhappy with you and they are projecting that unhappiness onto you.

Case in point, William J Bennett. He has a piece up on CNN in which he talks about how men are in trouble and gives us a bunch of statistics about how men are getting fewer university degrees, are less involved in family life and are earning less. You might think, given that intro, that he and other conservatives are upset with the way post-feminist society treats men. You'd be wrong about that.
The truth is that Bennett is deeply angry and disappointed in men:
Man's response has been pathetic. Today, 18-to- 34-year-old men spend more time playing video games a day than 12-to- 17-year-old boys. While women are graduating college and finding good jobs, too many men are not going to work, not getting married and not raising families. Women are beginning to take the place of men in many ways. This has led some to ask: do we even need men?
(He forgot to add that these men also vote for liberals :-)

People can be irrational, so it would be entirely reasonable to worry about one guy doing this. But when a whole bunch of guys all run out and start behaving this way, you can be sure there is a reason they are doing so.

What is that reason? Well, let's look at a parallel example: Why are little girls so into being princesses? Because it's a response to their parents who are forcing them to grow up with no clear distinctions in sexual roles. And when the princesses get past puberty and start dressing like sluts, it's for the same reason. And note, the statistics we have tell us that most of them aren't actually acting like sluts but rather just dressing like them. Flashing your breasts around is a way of asserting that you are, indeed a girl and she does that more for her own sense of identity than anything else.

The same calculus applies on the other side of the ledger. Why are so many men growing up to frittter away their lives in front of video games? Because they had grown up in a society that has willfully trashed separate sex roles.

And don't think those guys sitting around are being unmanly. The problem is that they are being a little too manly. Go back and read the Bible and notice how social roles are filled out there. All the work in the Bible is done by women and by men with no property. Male property owners have a lot of leisure time and they make the most of it sitting around the gate talking and then laying around the table talking and ... well, it all involves talking. When they aren't talking they are doing risky, irresponsible things like fighting wars or whoring around or both combined.

That's how you prove to yourself that you're a man. A a young woman asserts her status in society by drawing attention to her awesome breasts and a young man does so by showing everyone that he knows how to make rich use of leisure time and that he isn't scared of dying.

It's always been that way. Check out this song and notice the contrast between the boastful macho lyrics and the nerdy wimp who sings them:

That was 1956 and you can already see the pathetic combination of traits that make men stars today (even if the only place they are stars is their own narcissistic fantasy). And that isn't surprising because it's what young men do if all they have to fall back on is biology just as dressing like sluts is what young women do if all they have to fall back on is biology.

I look at those young men and sometimes I feel the same way that William J Bennett does about them. But, really, why would they do anything different.  It's not like he has a solution. Here is some of his diagnosis of "the problem":
The data does not bode well for men. In 1970, men earned 60% of all college degrees. In 1980, the figure fell to 50%, by 2006 it was 43%. Women now surpass men in college degrees by almost three to two. Women's earnings grew 44% in real dollars from 1970 to 2007, compared with 6% growth for men.
But turn that data around. As any feminist of the time would cheerfully have pointed out, in 1970 women were only earning forty percent of college degrees. If you make college a more female-friendly environment, you make it less male friendly. And vice versa. It's inevitable and unavoidable, you can't pretend that men and women are the same in anything.

Bennett is also upset that men aren't getting married and they aren't involved in raising their children but, again, why would they be. There is no longer any any social role for them to play.

There areas where men still thrive, of course. Men dominate the high risk, high pressure fields like science, high finance and politics. And war. There is always war.

Whatever else you might say about all those girl princes and male princes out there, you can't accuse them of buying into the notion that it's all about gender roles. The results could be good or they could be disastrous but. either way, they are tearing down the feminist revolution one brick at a time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Mad Men: The MacGuffin

I've sort of drifted into this idea of a series of posts on Mad Men while the show is on hiatus. I started with this post and then this one. This, then, is the third in the series.

Let us compare mythologies
Suppose we reverse the myth at the centre of Mad Men?

Imagine that Don Draper survives the explosion in Korea and Dick Whitman dies. Draper takes the body back to Pennsylvania and stays for the funeral. Staying with Dick's family, he realizes that no one cares or ever cared about Dick except for young Adam, who is only a child.

Thinking about this "life that should have been" and his unhappiness with his own life and loveless marriage, he decides to stay a while. He learns as much as he can about Dick Whitman and then, instead of going back to his wife, he burns all his clothes and ID and goes to Illinois and starts living as Dick Whitman.

While there, he works as a used car salesman. A few years later,  young Adam, Dick's half brother, hears from someone that his brother Dick (who is supposed to be dead) is in Illinois. Adam goes and discovers Don Draper pretending to be his brother. The two reach an accommodation. Adam also tells Don/Dick that the only other people who might expose him, Abigail and Uncle Mac, are now dead.

Dick moves to New York and begins a double life where he is Dick Whitman in New York City and Don Draper when he goes back to Pennsylvania to visit Adam. He rises to success in advertising and milks his reputation as the poor white trash boy who makes good. He takes great pleasure in correcting people who call him "Richard" and telling them that his birth name was "Dick" and that his mother was a prostitute and all the rest of the Dick Whitman lore he has collected. He gets married to Betty who has no idea he really is Don Draper.

Unfortunately for him, Anna sees his picture in a magazine after he wins an award and tracks him down and confronts him. She wants him to renounce Betty and go back to her. He tries to buy her off and tells her he never loved her. He appears to succeed as she takes the money but she actually goes back to her hotel and commits suicide. Before doing so, she puts the album of their wedding pictures in a box and mails it to Dick and Pete Campbell intercepts that package.

And away we go into the series.

That story might work. It might even be just as successful as the actual Mad Men premise but it would be less arresting and less subversive. Why? Because it would be too familiar. The story I've just made up is one we heard over and over again in the 1960s. It's the story of a person with a comfortable middle class existence who adopts a false personna taken from one of the repressed areas of American culture.

Let me give you some examples:
  • Robert Zimmerman is a middle class Jewish kid from Minnesota. He changes his name (and the move from "Robert" to "Bob" is just as important as the one from "Zimmerman" to "Dylan") and he tries to become more authentic by playing folk music rather than rock and roll and acting like he is Woody Guthrie, a man he actually has nothing in common with.
  • Michael Phillip Jagger was a middle class kid at the London School of Economics but he really wanted to be a blues singer and completely immersed himself in the culture of poor American blacks.
  • Bettye Naomi Goldstein went to Smith and had an active and interesting life in political and cultural circles. As Betty Friedan, however, she pretended to have been a repressed housewife she had never actually been to write The Feminine Mystique.
  • Janis Joplin was a white middle-class girl from Port Arthur, Texas who moved to San Francisco and tried to pretend she was a new Bessie Smith.
  • Leonard Cohen was a middle class boy from Montreal who went to McGill University and was well-established in the Canadian literary community. As a boy he had dreamed of being a country singer and when the 1960s folk scene popped up, he ran away to New York and Greece to create another sort of persona for himself. (I stole the title for this post from him.)
 And there are many many more. In each case, the person assumed an identity that is every bit as false as Don Draper's: they all lived a lie. The difference is that they all tried to adopt a persona that (to them anyway) felt more authentic even though it was a lie. What is most telling about these personae, is that they involved assuming an identity of a socially repressed person by someone who actually had it pretty good. They believed this gave them authenticity. The thing about Don Draper—I think the really great thing—is that he has assumed persona that is completely and utterly inauthentic.

And it this, and not the living a lie, that really angers some people about him. Don Draper takes the standard mythology of the 1960s and turns it on its head. It's as if Benjamin Braddock had said, "Plastics! That's it, that's the thing I've been looking for to make my life meaningful. Dad, Dad, I have wonderful news. I've found my vocation in life."

This idea of having access to "authenticity" through the persona of some white poor boy or suffering black blues singer was absolutely crucial to a lot of baby boomers. When Albert Goldman wrote a critical biography of Elvis Presley, Greil Marcus didn't just challenge its accuracy, he called the book "cultural genocide". Go read the history of what the Nazis did to Poland and then come back and contemplate that for a while.

Marcus overreacted the way he did because the "authentic identity" of Elvis Presley was a big part of his personal mythology:
But because the book is having its intended impact, and because Elvis Presley is so large a figure, intertwined with the lives of millions of people in ways that have hardly begun to be examined, a good deal is at stake. What is at stake is this: any book that means to separate a people from the sources of its history and its identity, that means to make the past meaningless and the present incomprehensible, is destructive of that people's ability to know itself as a people, to determine the things it might do as a people, and to discover how and why those things might be done. This is precisely the weight of Goldman's book, and it is precisely the weight of the cultural genocide he wishes to enact.  
There is only one problem with all that: it's just a fable. It's just a lie that Greil Marcus and some others desperately wanted to believe.

Here's the thing, Don Draper, on the other hand, has some real basis in American history. My Grandfather ran away from a dirt poor farm in Quebec to join the Navy and then to become a pilot. Millions of others did this. My Irish grandmother was so poor, her parents had to put her into "service" as a maid at age twelve. She made her way up by whatever means she could and some of those "means" were well onto the dark side. But she did it all not so she could wallow in her repressed identity but so that she  could shed her "authentic" accent and culture along the way in order to adopt the identity and values of the WASP family she worked for.

These stories and millions of others like them are stories of real achievement and rising above circumstances. The stories of their rise, including the often dishonest and desperate lies they sometimes lived, ought to be an inspiration to us. The stories of a bunch of spoiled middle class brats who wanted to pretend they were poor folk and blues singers in the 1960s that culminates in a field in Woodstock ought to be a source of shame.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Why we hate the media

Having been away the last four days, I hadn't seen the weekend Globe and Mail until this afternoon. I was not disappointed, the front page teaser is for a story so bad it's hard to believe this isn't really a parody.

Here's the teaser:
Teaching kids what to eat and why is as important as teaching them to read and write, so why is Canada the only G8 country without a school lunch program?
Think about that for a while. It gives a lot away right off the top.

For example, is there anyone other than the school system who might teach them these valuable skills? Maybe those people children typically refer to as "Mummy" and "Daddy" might manage the job. Or maybe we could teach children how to read and write and then tell them to figure it out for themselves?

And would it be too impolite to point out  that schools aren't doing such a hot job on the teaching-them-how-to-read-and-write front.

The absolute gem in the piece, however, is this quote from Paul Finkelstein:
If we don't change the way kids eat, we're doomed.
Doomed! Well that clinches it, sign me up for higher taxes to pay for this.

And then there is this stunning bit of logic:
Youth obesity rates in Canada have doubled over the past 30 years; among children aged 6 to 17, the rate tripled to 10 percent of the population ....
Okay, but let's step back a minute. The other countries in the G8—you know, the ones that already have school lunch programs—what is their youth obesity rate? Because, unless those other countries are doing much better (and they aren't) this data, while it definitely points a problem somewhere, does not suggest that a school lunch program will make any difference.

And notice something odd about the sources quoted in the story:
  • Debbie Field: a director of FoodShare, an advocacy group pushing for more food education in schools.
  • Evan Fraser: author of Empires of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations.
  • Mary McKenna: who is with the Canadian Research Institutefor Social Policy at The University of New Brunswick
  • Paul Finkelstein: a culiary arts teacher who already runs "an entire operation" that is "aimed at teaching children the value of real food and how to to make it for themselves".
That's all of them. Gee, I wonder what journalism school the writer Jessica Leeder went to that they didn't teach her that a story that quotes only people who are advocates for the cause the story is ostensibly "reporting" about is totally #$%^ing biased! And whatever happened to those people, I think they are called editors, whose job it is to make sure that crap like this doesn't gets into the paper? How is it that, rather than sending Ms. Leeder out the door with a stern warning that if she she really wants to keep her job, she needs to do better than this.

No politics this week

I was away celebrating all weekend so there was no Monday political post this week. Political posts are now the most read ones on the site and that is not terribly surprising as the most popular blogs are heavy on politics.

The thing is, I'm pretty certain that politics is bad for the soul and that is why I limit myself. I can't help but think most people would be a lot happier if they cared about politics a lot less than they do. This is doubly true if, like I do, you live in an urban area.

Anyway, no politics until next Monday.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Womanly virtues Friday

On failure
Many years ago a woman I had been in a relationship with for a long time went to her parents' place for dinner. The next night at my place she said, "My father was talking about you."

Not a promising opening. What came next was even worse. What he said to her was, "When a guy reaches his age and he hasn't settled down, he never will."

And then my girlfriend went to sleep and I sat up most of the night worrying. I thought that he was right. You see, I deeply admire her father and he has been a huge influence on my life. In retrospect, he was a much bigger influence on my life than she was. And it turned out that he was, as a friend of mine put it later, very close to getting it right.

The facts certainly supported his view. His daughter and I had been together for years and my life was not settled. I was only getting by and was living as if everything was on hold pending my finally settling down.

We broke up a couple of years after that and it was years before I realized that he said what he said because he was pushing her to leave me. I just couldn't see it.  I just couldn't see a lot of things.

We broke up in May of 1991. I spent a lot of that summer trying to convince her to reconsider. I was so shattered, I didn't tell a soul we'd broken up until September of that year. I had put everything I had into that relationship and even saying out loud that I had failed was too much for me to do. I had dated other women but those were the sorts of temporary relationships you have in high school and college, knowing that you'll move on. This was the first time I had ever aimed at life-long love and, if you had asked me at the time, I would have bet it was my last because I thought another failure would kill me. Later that fall, the Serpentine One and I had our first date. A few years later we were married. We will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of that date this year along with sixteen years of marriage.

My ex also started dating someone else that year. And then they broke up. And there may have been others. I didn't keep tabs on her. I do know that after the Serpentine One and I had been married almost ten years, my ex also got married. Her marriage lasted about five years. After that I don't know what happened. I know she lived with a  guy for a while and I know she was single for a while. I saw her last winter and she was living with another guy and that may or may not be working out for her.

The thing is, both her father and I were too close to the situation to judge all those years ago. We both thought I was the one who wouldn't settle down. It was about fifteen years later, shortly after another friend told me that my ex had separated from her husband, that I saw for the first time that there was indeed someone in that relationship who wasn't ever going to have a stable life. It wasn't me though.

The funny thing is that relationship with me turns out to have been the single most successful relationship in her life so far. It lasted longer than her marriage. Or, to put it another way, the reason my life was unsettled in those days was because she was in it. The reason her life was unsettled is because her life will always be unsettled because that is the kind of person she is. All this is terribly obvious now.

There are, I think, two lessons in this.

The first is that our society reflexively blames the man. He is the expendable one. When something starts to go wrong with a couple, everyone rallies around her. It's a lot like custody battles: unless she does something really extreme, the judgment will be in her favour.

And that's okay. We're men, we are supposed to take it. Publicly.

The second lesson is the reason I started this blog and it's this: moral life is not about making moral judgments. Moral life is about becoming a certain sort of person. My ex, her father and I all assessed the situation back then in a  way that was exactly backwards but that is not the life lesson here. The thing that really mattered in the longer run was not what we thought but who we were.

You can make all sorts of mistakes in moral judgments and it doesn't matter that much.  What matters is your moral character.

Blundering fool that I was, I was a blundering fool who'd spent his still-young life blundering towards a settled life. I'd made mistakes and I made more after we broke up. To this day I'm not quite sure how I managed to find the Serpentine One. It feels like a miracle and I look at her with awe.

My ex had spent her even-younger life having fun. Nothing was serious. Not just her relationships, she spent her time at university having a good time and not learning. That was why she picked Queen's University, which is a party school first and only a centre of learning as an incidental matter, for her degree.

She didn't do this unconsciously. Her idea was that she'd party it up a while and then stop. But when she tried, she couldn't. She made what I now know is the most common mistake young women make. They think, "I'll just settle down later". The problem is that we form our character during those years. The time from puberty until the end of college is about a decade (and nearly half your life at that age), if you spend that time being a party girl, you'll set your moral compass for life.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The "white male" effect

I had not heard of it before reading about it at Althouse this afternoon but I can't say I'm surprised to learn that such a thing has been "discovered". "Invented" is a better word.

Here is how Wikipedia describes it:
Risk-perception researchers have documented that white males are less concerned with a wide variety of risks than are minorities and females, a phenomenon known as the "white male effect" in the risk-perception literature.
 I don't want to all John-Wayne on all you pilgrims, but guys who are "less concerned with a wide variety of risks" sounds to me like just the sort of guys you want to have around in a crisis.

That this is just, as Althouse notes, political bias masquerading as science comes out in the last sentences of the Wikipedia write up:
White males in general appear to be less concerned about risks only because a discrete group of white males who subscribe to hierarchical and individualistic values are extremely skeptical that activities important to their cultural roles (commerce, gun ownership) impose harm on society generally. This finding does not imply, however, that white males or white hierarchical and individualistic males are uniquely prone to form risk perceptions that are congenial to their social values and roles.
"Commerce" is a risk factor? As my father would say, "Don't eat that Melvin, it's horseshit."

Yeah, white males "are not uniquely prone to form risk perceptions that are congenial to their social values and roles", they are just uniquely prone to believe things that left sociologists don't want them to believe.

Manly Thor's Day Special

Celibacy is easier than marriage
Don't take my word for it, listen to the Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza. Arguing against the notion that the priest shortage is a consequence of the celibacy requirement, he cites some statistics:
More than 40% of marriages fail, while only 2% of priests fail in celibacy.  The crisis in the sacrament of marriage as one and indissoluble is obviously greater magnitude than is the decline in the number of vocations to the priesthood.
The underlying claim here is true but before I get to that some qualification is necessary.

One qualification, as most readers have probably already spotted, is that he is not comparing apples and apples. For example, he is comparing the percentage of marriages that end in separation or divorce with the percentage of priests who are discovered failing in celibacy*. We should also insist on only looking at the failure rate for first marriages, which is significantly lower than the failure rate for all marriages, and that is an important qualification to make if we want to do an honest comparison as there is no such thing as a second priesthood. But even if we make these qualifications, we will still end up with a significantly higher failure rate for marriages; there is no denying that marriage is harder than celibacy.

And that shouldn't surprise us—there are two people in a marriage and that doesn't, as Edward G. Robinson explains below, make it twice as easy, it makes it ten times twice as hard**. Robinson is talking about committing murder together rather than committing marriage but the same level of difficulty holds, as he says, whether it is love or hate.

The other person who explains this is Jesus in an often misread section of the Bible:
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
Notice that, whatever else Jesus is saying here, he cannot be saying that marriage is for those who are too weak for celibacy. The bit above makes no narrative sense if you read it that way. The disciples think it better not to marry because marriage is too hard if you can't divorce. Jesus tells them that marriage is one way of "making yourself a eunuch". ***

And you are thinking, why would I want to get married if it means making a eunuch of myself? Well, if you think like a child, the way Brian Wilson does, for example, you may believe that the point of marriage is to get regular sex with someone you love. But the real point of marriage is to give yourself unreservedly to another person. So yes, you do, in a sense, make yourself a eunuch for her.

Here is what happens. You give up, completely, the independence and power that goes with being a man on the prowl.  And, don't kid yourself, the guy who does not surrender that does have more power over women. For a man, to get married means to give up power, and even to give up the potential to have that power.

For her part, she is giving you herself and a significant part of what she is giving you is sexual but she isn't giving you the the power to have sex with her at your willing, she is giving you her willful surrender of herself, just as you are willfully surrendering yourself to her. But what she gives is a subject I've already gone on about elsewhere

The key part here is that it isn't conditional. This isn't a contract whereby you agree to surrender yourself if she does the same. Again, if you allow yourself to think like a child for moment, you can see how that would break down; think of how many kid's attempts to end a fight founder on the reef of "You first". 

Marriage is a commitment you enter with promises but no guarantees. You can see, in this, one reason why the success rate for the priesthood is higher. No man ever prostrated himself before the Bishop to become a priest without fully grasping what he was really vowing. Lots of people enter marriage thinking, "I'll hold something back just in case." But if you do that, your marriage won't even be a marriage to begin with.

* I should note that, while celibacy is a daunting requirement, it is far from the most daunting thing that a priest vows to be.

** Catholic priests may step in here and insist that their commitment is also between two persons. That is true enough but it is a commitment in which one of the persons is unfailingly compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love and in a marriage between two human beings that is something we can only aspire to be.

 ***  The priest enters into the same exclusive commitment as a husband enters into by accepting his vocation as priest. He too makes a eunuch of himself. If a priest tried to marry to a woman as well as making his priestly vows, he would be like a man getting married to two women at the same time and that cannot be done as two vows of exclusivity (forsaking all others) cannot be fulfilled at the same time.