Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Not This Topic Again!

Life update: two days in, the job is pretty good. Classroom training again. This time I'm on a Windows system. I haven't touched Windows for more than a decade and today I remembered why.

How do offices function? They oughta spell it Windoze. S-o-o-o-o s-l-l-l-l-o-o-o-o-o-w-w-w-w. How I love waiting for a program to load at half the speed of smell. I can't stack windows properly, I can't leave virtual sticky notes on my screen, and I get warning messages CONSTANTLY. "Your computer is low on memory, close the following program..." (Umm, I just booted this thing up. I've done literally nothing else, including open the offending program.)

Other than that, I'm provisionally happy. The shift is going to suck: the place is unionized and my juniority (wow, didn't know that was a word!) dictates the late shift (1:30-10:00) once I graduate from training. That's bad enough--Eva will be asleep before I even get off, let alone home) I am intensely curious what "my share of weekends" is going to translate to. Three in four is okay (well, it's not, but I'll suck it up); more than that and I'm going to be looking for something a little less retailish.

On to tonight's meat: David French, bloviating here on a topic I've called him out on before: Masculinity, and what it means.

Tonight's article is headlined "Grown men are the solution, not the problem," and who could argue with that? Certainly not I. Delving in, I find out that a "grown man" is Tough. Physical. Courageous. Overpowering.

Well, then.

Tough is good: a grown person (gender doesn't matter) should be resilient.  Physical, well, there's nothing wrong with being physical so long as (a) you channel it properly (a  point French does make several times, to his credit) and (b) you recognize and respect that not every man fits that mold.  For many physical men, (b) kind of falls by the wayside, I've found.
Courageous, of course, and again, this should by no mans be restricted to men. Overpowering?

Yeah, I have a wee problem with that word.

In the context of sports, sure, you want to overpower your opponent. That's how French couches it, but he makes it clear (at least to me) he believes that men should be overpowering in general, and

"Power WITH, not power over". "Withpowering" isn't a word: it should be. A "grown-ass" man seeks not to overpower but to withpower, to share his power at every opportunity...with other men, with women, with children.  Women and children should do the same. (Anyone who doesn't think children have power: sit back and really watch how they interact with the world. You'll learn something valuable, I guarantee it.)

"Building toughness requires enduring pain", says French, and of course I agree with that, it's axiomatic. Getting everything handed to you as a child ensures you won't learn anything worth the knowing, and true success is stronger and more cherished for embracing failure. But then we get this, and here's where we go right off the rails.

Effective leaders have to have a degree of stoicism, but it can be hard to suppress natural emotions to see reality clearly.


I'm okay with everything up to the comma. "A degree" of stoicism, in fact, is perfect. Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy thats chief tenet is, you guessed it, the suppression of emotion. In moderation, it's great: it means you never allow yourself to get too up or too down. So far, so good.

but it can be hard to suppress emotions to see reality clearly.

You know, David, emotions don't always cloud reality. Often, they clarify it. It's especially helpful, I've found, to remember that everyone brings their own emotions to a situation. And suppressing/repressing emotions is never a good thing.

Oh, goody, I get to do my emotion mini-lecture. Have I ever done this here? (searches) Wow, I haven't. This is from this blog's predecessor, a red-covered written diary called Past, Present, Fuschia, written November 26, 1998.

There are five natural emotions: grief, anger, envy, fear, and love. The last two, fear and love, are not only emotions but also the wellsprings of all emotion. Therefore, any natural expression of an emotion includes love, while an unnatural emotion is a natural emotion distorted, or corrupted, by fear. Suppression/repression of an emotion is another way to corrupt it.

NATURAL EMOTION      filtered through love    distorted by fear

Grief .                                  sadness, mourning       despair

Anger .                                  compassion, urge to .  rage
                                              correct and heal

Envy                                     impetus for growth .    jealousy

Fear                                       caution, bravery          panic

Love                                      freedom                       possessiveness


Men, of course, have since time immemorial been taught to repress any "negative" emotion that isn't anger. For that matter, most of them aren't taught the difference between anger expressed with love and that corrupted by fear. "Compassion...healing"...those are women's words.

Well, no, actually: those are human words.

French says

while the process of raising that grown man isn’t easy, it is necessary. Evidence of its necessity is all around us. While a male elite thrives in the upper echelons of commerce, government, the military, and sports, men are falling behind in school, committing suicide, and dying of overdoses at a horrifying rate, and their wages have been erratic — but still lower (in adjusted dollars) than they were two generations ago.

Well, yes, again, men have been socialized forever to be the "providers". Which I find sort of amusing going all the way back to prehistoric times: the gatherers were just as important as the hunters, you know! Even within rigid gender roles, elevating one gender over another is pretty wrongheaded. I hate to keep coming back to it, but in this sense as in so many others, there is no better and no worse, there is only different.

Why are men suffering? French is right, they are, and social, economic and cultural changes are partly to blame. I have to laugh, though, ruefully:

but then [some conservatives] wrongly ascribe an immense share of the negative results of immense social, economic, and cultural changes to the malice or indifference of elites, with solutions wrongly centered around government action.

(Some editor. "Immense" twice in eight words. Ugh.)

French walks right over the problem and says it isn't the real story. "The malice or indifference of elites" is very real. It's why well-paying jobs in factories have all but vanished. They've been very deliberately offshored. To be fair, it's not just the elites that have done this: we've all been complicit in our never-ending desire for cheap crap, and damn the labour and environmental consequences. But as I have said before, in this world there is no God but Greed, and Dollar is His Profit. David French writes for the NATIONAL REVIEW: he won't deny the sentiment I just voiced, but he can't decry it either. Greed, for want of a better word, is good. Right?

The economic changes are part of the story. Another part is, as French says, cultural and social.l

I think we're starting to raise boys better now, but there's no doubt there's a lost generation that never got all the tools of the emotional toolbox. Men who don't know how to communicate. Men whose natural emotions are often distorted, corrupted, suppressed and repressed.  Men who can only build themselves up by knocking others down. Men who think crying is for sissies and sissies should be beaten because "building toughness requires enduring pain."

Trust this sissy: you beat a sissy and over time one of three things happens:

  • he breaks down completely into a pit of despair, possibly leading to suicide;
  • he stifles his anger at the injustice of being tortured for who he is until it boils over and he brings a gun to school;
  • lastly, and I'm not sure how likely this is, he makes of his pain a crucible and defines his toughness by his unwillingness to let others define him.

Quite honestly, I can't tell you when I'm a third-way sissy. My mom and stepdad had a lot to do with it, I think. You know what part of it undoubtedly was? Nobody inside my home ever told me it was wrong to cry

French gets to talking about men's "essential nature" and laments that scientists (some of whom are presumably male) now say socializing boys toward “anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence” — has been shown to “limit males’ psychological development, constrain their behavior, result in gender role strain and gender role conflict,” and negatively influence mental and physical health.

It seems obvious to me that being "anti-feminine" isn't the sign of a healthy male.
Nor is "eschewal of the appearance of weakness". You build up the weak among you--and you don't do wit with violence, either. Risk-taking? In moderation, sure, but it's one big reason men don't live as long as women. 

God, I loathe that phrase "essential natures". You'll see a lot of that in the pages of the NATIONAL REVIEW: they think that there's such a thing as human nature and that it's inherently evil. I'm so glad I was raised better than that, that I was taught to look for the better angels. 

French lionizes Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and his philosophy of "blood, sweat and respect". This, he suggests, is manliness. And yeah, he's a pretty good specimen of a certain kind of man. By all accounts he's well-adjusted, too...not just a Muscles O'Greasestain. Good for him.

What about Bill Gates? What about his philosophy:

Don’t compare yourself with anyone in this world…if you do so, you are insulting yourself.

Is Bill Gates not a man? Is he not extremely successful? I'm sure The Rock could beat him up with with both hands closed and one eye tied behind his back, but what of that? Moreover, isn't Gates' philosophy at least as ennobling and freeing?

French closes with a wonderful story about how he recognized he was going soft, did a whole lot about it, and was thus able to, in an emergency. carry his seriously wounded son up a wooded hill (spelled by his wife, I think it's important and gratifying he included that detail). Were he "less of a man", he would have failed his son...who might have died. Probably WOULD have died.

Getting stronger and more well developed physically is a good thing. I have to do it this year, or I run serious risks to my own health.

It doesn't make me a better man. Maybe a better person -- more well-rounded by being less well-rounded, if you catch my drift. But not a better man. Physical strength does not have a gender. Ask my cousin, who is a short woman that can kick higher than my head. Ask one of my new colleagues, who is going to be an underwater welder...ask HER if physical strength is somehow uniquely male. Ask Eva: you underestimate her strength, physical or otherwise, at your peril.

There are times I don't follow Bill Gates's advice and compare myself to another man, and yeah, the thing about comparisons is that you always come up short. Any time I venture down that road, however, I remind myself what Kathy calls me.

Big guy.

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