Graceful Humility

In America, we are not very good at being poor.

We are quite good at not staying poor; that is one of the core concepts of our national mythos.  Steinbeck is reported to have said:

Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.

The attribution and exactness of the quote is disputed; but that it has been repeated often enough to be (possibly) misquoted is merely evidence in its support.

To be American—that is, to aim for the values that Americans hold dear, to not merely be “a good American” but good at being an American, to exemplify American-ness, is to seek to be wealthy.

Once we’re wealthy, to our credit, we do OK.  Americans are very generous, and even our most wealthy tend to overindulge in proletariat pleasures (houses and vacations) rather than make attempts at immortality through patronage.  “American art collector” is something of an oxymoron, or at least a New York thing.

We’re not perfect, and essays can and have been written on the havoc that can be wrought by our generosity and egalitarian aspirations, but this really is one of our strengths.  Progressive over-charity is bad; but it’s at least a virtue distorted rather than an uncomplicated evil like open, vicious pride of wealth.

So.  We’re good at getting rich, and we’re good at being rich.

Are we good at being poor?

I don’t think so, and I think this is both obvious when thought about, and highly troubling afterwards.

Consider the phrase: “I am but a simple man, sir, but honest and true.”  Is that an American utterance?  Doesn’t it sound like it belongs more to a medieval romance, or a German fairytale?

If you’re American and poor, virtue consists of honesty, hard work, thrift…in other words, of trying not to be poor.

Shouldn’t it be enough to simply be virtuous?

America is about a lot of things, but two big ones are money and God.  While we’re not so big on God anymore (though relative to most of Western Europe, we at least say the words), we’re definitely still about money!

What does our consolation for the poor look like?

First, we’re charitable.  Which is of course good.

Second, we do in fact try to help the poor escape poverty.  How to do this is a matter of much disagreement, but at least no one is making the argument that we shouldn’t try.

Third, we teach that there is honor in non-material things.  Oh, wait, we don’t.

Maybe we say the words.  But for American culture as a whole—including much of Christian culture, which by default will be American culture without correction—wealth and respect are tied.  I have trouble coming up with an exception.  Perhaps the Amish?

This is actually not that bad when everyone is rich.  A social pattern I’ve noticed in myself goes something like this:

Speaker 1:  I am awesome because of x, y, and z.

Speaker 2: Oh, hi, I’m not really that awesome.

Speaker 1: YES YOU ARE.  Do you do a?

Speaker 2: No.

Speaker 1: Do you do b?

Speaker 2: Well, yeah.

Speaker 1: B is awesome.  Therefore, you are awesome.  We are both awesome.

 

On the face of it, this is really quite an innocent interaction.  Speaker 1’s intentions are good.

The pattern fails, however, when there is nothing particularly noteworthy about Speaker 2.  Worse, should Speaker 1‘s fortunes take a dark turn, despair is not merely imminent, but logical.  Hold your head high by merit, drop it in shame by merit.

This is basically the American pattern.  It is, to our credit, responsible for a lot of material wealth.  But it is also why people are dying of opiate addiction in small towns and why the marriage age is rising even in chaste men and women.

Here’s how the conversation ought to go:

Speaker 1: Hi.

Speaker 2: Hi.  I’m not really that awesome.

Speaker 1: Who cares?  God will provide.  Come over for a barbecue.

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The barbecue makes it still American

Regarding small towns and opioids:  does society have a model for the honorable poor?  I don’t think we do.  The RighteousⒸ thing to do is leave.

Regarding the marriage age: attraction lives and dies based on the man’s self-confidence.  Among the chaste, he certainly won’t be getting that from his sexual conquests.  What other traits has he been taught to respect in men?  So often he gets it from his ability as a provider.  Which, for young men, is going to be predictably…subpar.  And par is what matters, because how do you measure material wealth if not relative to others?  Thus the rich marry and poor don’t.

A useful exercise:  What does “successful poor” look like?

Peace

My grandfather was dying.

He had been for years, really.  He got sick at about sixty and stayed that way for the next twenty.

My dad, one of eight children, went to his side.  My grandfather was in and out of consciousness, so there was not much conversation.

After some time, my dad went to leave.  But first my grandfather grabbed his wrist with his bony arm.

“[My dad’s first name],” he said.  “You’re a great man.”


The word “great” implies a certain context.  It’s larger, longer.  The reason that jokes like “Yes, this will go down as one of the great sandwiches of history” are funny is because “history” implies hundreds or thousands of years, which is not a sandwich-friendly timescale.


Religion is often referred to as a “faith,” but it is, additionally, a work.  People talk about “God’s plan for my life,” but: do God’s designs start at birth and end at death, like millions of unconnected, episodic TV shows?  Surely divinity is capable of a grander design.  Perhaps God isn’t really concerned with your life in particular at the moment: are you (and am I?) doing your part to fulfill His plan for someone else’s life?

To be religious is to be a foot-soldier; to be committed to a cause larger than oneself.


I am fortunate beyond measure.  In the late nineteenth century my great-great-grandfather left his homeland for his religion—four generations later, I can think of him, and everyone in between, cheering me on.  We are, and have always been, on the same side.


 

It is fun, and easy, to indulge one’s pride over lip-service to a cause; fun can be and is made of this in media with priggish types protesting that “My family has ______ for generations!”  But when you actually believe it, you start to wonder: do I measure up?  Were I to die, could I do it with the serenity of Theoden?

This is the context in which my grandpa grabbed my dad’s wrist and told him that he was a great man.

A kinder deed, I have trouble imagining.

From Sour to…Nourishing

I recently finished watching (er…binging) Jonathan Nolan’s Person of Interest.  I won’t spoil anything—it’s five seasons, highly recommended, available on Netflix, etc.

 

One notable feature is that the writers went into the final season with more than an inkling that it would be the final season.  As such, when the series ends, it ends.  The finale does not lack for, er, finality.

What surprised me was how much I was affected emotionally.  Whenever this happens, I try and discern why.

It will not reveal too much, I think, to say that while the show is about a lot of things, the part that gets you where you live is its treatment of relationships.  Everyone in the cast has been through hell, and they have mostly gotten out of it by virtue of their association with each other.

And it is hell.  Recurring themes of the show are guilt, loss, despair, and isolation.  No character escapes.

But, in the end, this only serves to throw the…well, not happy, exactly, but good portions of the show into stark relief.  Having seen them at some very low lows, the characters’ achieving merely “medium” becomes that much more meaningful.

And meaning is the thing, isn’t it?  As opposed to happiness.  If the ruling progressive order represents a refrain of “Hey man, just be happy!  Whatever you want—fake affirmation (social media), fake pleasure (porn), or fake achievement (video games), it’s yours!  Every circuit in your brain—there’s an app for that!” then Reaction (at its best) represents a refusal to disconnect from the real world, and instead seeks to take a risk and attempt to live in and improve it.

Even this is a victory.  Moving from pleasure to sorrow certainly doesn’t feel great, but sorrow (as opposed to simple pain) is at least conscious.

There’s a strange feeling  that occurs when leaving a world that, though now inconsequential, left its mark on us.  It’s evoked by the end of Inception; I felt it on the plane home from my two-year mission; I suspect it occurs immediately before and after death.  It’s not exactly happy or sad; more of an attempt to grapple with the enormity of what we’ve just experienced.

Cyberpunk was the prediction that, contrary to the shiny Jetsons flying-car-and-atom-power utopian future, technology and capitalism would dissolve our social structures, atomize us, and destroy meaning.  Post-cyberpunk might be described as the “Alright, so then what?” response, pointing out that despite this, humans will continue to be human and crave meaning.  It’s no accident, I think, that this genre is popular among a motley internet group of tech-awares dissatisfied with modern malaise.

Go love someone.

 

Our Fates Are Bound—And Some Good News

I’ve been reading with interest Scott/Elspeth‘s joint post “June Cleaver might be unmarriageable right now,” as well as the comments.  It’s worth a read.  But until then, the gist:

Manosphere conventional wisdom: Any half-way decent looking woman, in her late teens/early twenties who is marriage minded can easily snag a good, hard-working provider to have babies with if she would distinguish herself by being sweet, and signaling a willingness to be a quiet, deferential, submissive, peaceful help-meet.

Alternative Hypothesis: When accounting for variables such as race, geography, church size, etc., the marriage market for such a woman is more complex and difficult to navigate than this.

I generally agree with this, while also agreeing with the ‘sphere’s trope of Joe Churchgoer being undervalued.

I had a lot of thoughts on the topic, and read some old stuff, and thought some more.  Some of that thought will surface in future posts.

For now, though, I wanted to focus on one particular insight that jumped out at me:

If there’s a gender war, both sides have already lost.

Concept 1:  Marriage requires pre-marital cooperation, and therefore intersexual societal trust

Good grooms and brides do not simply appear from the ether.  Eligibility requires work and self-denial from both sexes, for many years before marriage.

Much of the motivation for this work and self-denial comes from the carrot of marriage.  But for this to work, young people must believe that somewhere in the world, their opposite number is doing the same thing.

My mother used to teach middle-school/high-school-aged girls as part of her service in the church.  A few years ago she had a lesson on modesty coming up and asked me:

Mom: So, there were girls in our church that you went to high school with.  Did their modesty or lack thereof affect you?

Dropit:  Well, let’s be real.  99% of the girls I went to high school with weren’t in the church.  So if it was an issue of protecting my innocent eyes, that just wasn’t going to happen regardless of what they did.  It would be more…like, what the hell?  It would be nice to have some moral support, you know?

What I was groping for, but didn’t quite grasp, was the importance of young people trusting that the opposite sex is also preparing for marriage.

(As a sidenote: as far as I can remember (not well) the girls in my ward when I was in high school were actually pretty modest.  This was more of a hypothetical.)

Concept 2: The Weakened Signal, or: Dalrock’s Revenge

Dalrock has written extensively on this topic at a macro level.  To summarize it:

Men in their early 20’s are observing that marriage and girlfriends aren’t in the cards, and this reduces their incentive to work hard to demonstrate provider status.

To put it another way: young men have generally ceased to believe what Concept 1 says it is very important that they believe: that they stand a reasonable chance of marrying well.  In response, they work less hard to be eligible husbands.

The standard conservative response has been: No problem, we’ll just lie to them.  Or yell at them.  And that actually worked for a surprisingly long time, but as Dalrock details, that train is running out of steam.

Concept 3: A man shortage means more sluttiness, not less

Romanceless men eagerly anticipating a future Great Wail from women, where the man shortage means men will have more market power, are in for an unpleasant surprise.  Men will be in more demand…by women who generally lacked faith that marriageable men would be available, and thus saw no point in preparing themselves for marriage.  Just as porn and the Xbox are better than the girl who doesn’t show up, Netflix and Chad are better than the man who won’t show up. Ladies can enjoy the decline too.

When you think about it, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise.  It is merely the gender-flipped version of the “Weakened Signal” phenomenon above.

The situation will be less like a shortage that some men may be anticipating, and more analogous to an economic depression, where no one works because they doubt anyone can afford their products.

In simpler terms:

“Why prepare for marriage? Guys will always be available”

leads to

“Why prepare for marriage?  There are no girls available”

leads to

“Why prepare for marriage?  There are no guys available.”

Revenge fantasies may imagine a transition from arrogance to penitence, but there likely is and will be a large cohort that instead moves to despair.  This can create a vicious cycle that I really do not enjoy contemplating.

Be of Good Cheer—Or Else

What we are hitting upon here is the importance of morale.  We could aptly describe current failures in the marriage market as a cyclical “Morale Crisis.”  We should start talking about this!

Salt, Leaven, Light…

Realizing that a major part of this problem is perception kind of flipped a switch in my brain.  Christ’s analogies to salt, leaven, and light all held one factor in common: a very small thing having a wildly disproportionate impact on its surroundings.

There is a sense in which working to make oneself more visibly eligible for marriage — through appearance, career, chastity, and pretty much anything you can think of — is an act of service, in that it reassures the opposite sex about the ROI of whatever sacrifices they are making.  What’s great is that the worse your surroundings, the more impact it has.  This is the stuff I exult over; I see in it God’s ability to transform tragedy to triumph with a flick of the wrist.  It is exactly the kind of thing I imagine the Adversary would rage at as  “unfair.”

Worth Saving

Some years ago, I was very enamored of a certain programming language.  I won’t delve into why, because I love my readers and have no desire for them to die of boredom.  But let’s just say that I had found the Way, and I knew it.

When I moved from one state to another, I started looking for a job where I could use this language.  Where I was going was a relative tech backwater, but I did find one small four-man startup.  With me, it became five.

Why was I excited to work there?   Why were they excited to have me?  It wasn’t because they were paying me a ton, or because I was an amazing engineer.  Actually I was pretty mediocre.

Rather, it was because we were in agreement as to what constituted the Good, at least in this small corner of life.

 


 

“Cease ye from man, whose breath is in his nostrils; for wherein is he to be accounted of?”

Humans, looked at objectively, mostly suck.  Most of them are poor.  Even more of them are dumb.  The vast majority of them die without having done anything important, except maybe to other humans, who (as stated above) are dumb anyway, so who cares what they think.  And maybe someone you know is an exception.  Whatever.  In a hundred years they’ll be dead and no one will remember them.

Here is the great thing about humans, the thing that is awesome, that is beautiful, laudable, and pure: they don’t like the above state of affairs.

Do you prefer light over darkness, truth over falsehood, kindness over cruelty, laughter over sorrow, friendship over strife, life over death, pleasure over pain?  Then how can I not be on your side?

This is the thing that Man has over the dust of the earth, even if the dust is more obedient:  we want Good—even if only in the abstract, because we are afraid of it, too lazy for it, or wrong about it.

This is the seed without which all else is worthless.

Kindness

In the spirit of the virtue that has no name, I have been contemplating a virtue that I would like more of.

“Kindness” is, so far as I can tell, a yet uncorrupted word (“love” long since littered with booby traps) in the modern vernacular.

 

Perhaps the reason for that is that it has a very personal connotation.  One can “do good” in the abstract in a variety of impersonal ways: donate to a charity, start a non-profit, write open-source software…the list is infinite.

But the abstract is not good enough, and it will never be good enough.  No one would be so foolish to comfort an individual in the midst of heartbreak with the news that the Gates foundation is doing wonders in Africa.

Kindness, then, is an act or expression motivated by love and compassion, from a definite personto a definite person.  It is one of the sweeter parts of the Gospel that I can think of.

Here in the reactosphere we talk about Big Ideas.  This needs to happen, and is good.  But one of the chiefest of our Big Ideas is that Big Ideas have limitations: that often what is wanting is personal character rather than correct understanding; that particularity often triumphs over top-down decree.

It turns out there isn’t much to say about kindness.  It is an uncomplicated good: to be sought after more than talked about.  But, lest we forget.

“The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden—that is what the State is there for.” ~ Mere Christianity

 

 

Big Damn Heroes

After reading a post by Ace on the feminine need for pain and suffering — whether externally or internally sourced — I was feeling pretty low.  The question you ask yourself is why?  It’s the same question the beta asks himself after a breakup:  We had a good thing going.  Why’d you have to go crazy?  It’s the same question a self-aware woman asks herself:  why do I shit-test?  It’s the question a newbie to the manosphere asks himself: why do I have to become a jerk to attract women?

Here’s the answer, I realized: because women are crazy.

I don’t mean that in a throw-my-hands-up, aw-shucks, whaddya-gonna-do way.  I mean destructively crazy, prone to doing things that cause ruin and suffering:

And thinking about this, I got pissed.  How many nice girls dating douchebags, and becoming like them?  How many men checking out?  How many abortions?  How many families delayed or prevented?  How many unhappy women?  How many unhappy men?  How many lies peddled by popular culture?  How many years of adolescent angst extended into adulthood?  How many condoms in the landfill?  And any of it for any redeeming purpose?

And in the midst of my anger and frustration, I gained conviction: the world is crazy, and I am not.

As long as I’ve been around these parts, I guess I’ve been waiting for the world to “get it,” eliminate feminism, yada yada.  “Oh, sure, I’m part of what almost amounts to a persecuted religious sect at the moment,” I thought subconsciously.  “But someday reality will assert itself, and…”

Now I realize: sure, reality will assert itself someday in the future, in terror and smoke.   But you can’t approach mass culture as though it’s run by reasonable adults.  It’s the mob, and must be treated as such—loved, but not negotiated or reasoned with.

I am the reasonable adult.  In some ways this is a small death because it places an awful lot of responsibility on your shoulders.  But it is also a huge relief to be able to say unshakeably:  I know X for certain, and I don’t need anyone else’s opinion to validate that.

Here is what I wrote at Ace’s:

If you’re a dude and this pisses you off, good. That means you’re sane. Part of your purpose on this earth is to survey this feminine tendency to self-destruction, shake your head, and say, “No. This is madness that can only lead to suffering and sorrow. I will not allow it.”

Faith before fear.


In the science fiction TV series Firefly, a girl with psychic powers is about to be burned at the stake by backward townsfolk that believe she’s a witch.  Her doctor brother, after trying in vain to talk down the witch hunters, steps on to the platform to burn with her.  It’s a very touching scene.

…Until the captain of their ship shows up and says, in effect, “Yeah this is tender and all, but how about instead of you two burning to death I have my buddy train a giant gun on everyone and we avoid all this.  And by the way you guys are all hicks.”

Notice the music change when the ship appears.  This is a frame change.  Like a woman awash in her own storm of emotions, the doctor and his sister are caught up in their own internal preparations for dramatic and noble death.  Then the captain and first mate show up trading one-liners and just overriding the situation.

I almost wrote a phrase here: “This is crack to chicks.”  But that’s not quite true.  a) The emotional obsessing beforehand  is crack to chicks, not the rescue, and b) crack is badthat’s the whole point!


 

A final observation, from the second clip:

Townsman: The girl is a witch!

Captain Fillion: Yeah, but she’s our witch. (cocks shotgun) So cut her the hell down!

Here it bears mentioning that the girl is kind of crazy.  She’s murdered a few people.  It would not be insane for her to be thinking, “Yeah, I deserve to be burned here.”

In a world without Christ, this would be the plight of all humanity.  “Why reach toward God?  We are forever unworthy.”

Christ replies, “Yeah, but you’re My  unworthy people.  So start acting like it!”

Also.