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Complex book about simple things people can do to improve their lives. Peterson weaves in a lot of history, psychology, and philosophy to back up his thoughts. Worthwhile to read, it’s substantial even on top of his other material (lectures, etc.).
The ancient part of your brain specialized for assessing dominance watches how you are treated by other people. On that evidence, it renders a determination of your value and assigns you a status. If you are judged of your peers as of little worth, the counter restricts serotonin availability. That makes you much more physically and psychologically reactive to any circumstance or event that might produce emotion, particularly if it is negative…Unfortunately that physical hyper-response, that constant alertness burns up a lot of precious energy and physical resources. This response is really what everyone calls “stress”…When operating at the bottom, the ancient brain counter assumes that even the smallest unexpected impediment might produce an uncontrollable chain of negative events, which will have to be handled along as useful friends are rare indeed on society’s fringes…When you don’t know what to do, you must be prepared to do anything and everything in case it becomes necessary.
That, in any case, that in which we subjectively experience can be much more likened to a novel or a movie than to a scientific description of physical reality. It is the drama of lived experience, the unique, tragic, personal death of your father compared to the objective of death listed in the hospital records. The pain of your first love, the despair of dashed hopes, the joy upon a child’s success. The domain not of matter, but of what matters.
Chaos, the eternal feminine, is also the crushing force of sexual selection. Women are choosy maters, unlike female chimps, their closest animal counterparts. Most men do not meet female human standards. It is for this reason that women on dating sites rate 85% of men as below average in attractiveness. It is for this reason that we all have twice as many female ancestors as male. Imagine that all the women that have ever lived have averaged one child. Now imagine that half the men who have ever lived have fathered two children, if they had any, while the other half fathered none. It is women as nature who looks at half of all men and says, “no”. For the men, that’s a direct encounter with chaos and it occurs with devastating force every time they are turned down for a date.
Yang and Yin chaos in order to make up the eternal transcendent environment of the living. To straddle that fundamental duality is to be balanced, to have one foot firmly planted in order and security and the other in chaos, possibility, growth and adventure. When life suddenly reveals itself as intense, gripping and meaningful. When time passes and you’re so engrossed in what you’re doing, you don’t notice it is there and then that you are located precisely on the border between order and chaos. The subjective meaning that we encounter there is the reaction of our deepest being are neurologically and evolutionarily grounded instinctive self indicating that we’re ensuring the stability but also the expansion of habitable, productive territory of space that is personal, social and natural.
Beauty shames the ugly. Strength shames the weak. Death shames the living. And the ideal shames us all. Thus we fear it, resent it, even hate it, and of course that’s the theme. Next examined in Genesis in the story of Cain and Abel. What are we to do about that? Abandon all ideals of beauty, health, brilliance, and strength? That’s not a good solution. That would merely ensure that we would feel ashamed all the time and that we would even more justly deserve it. I don’t want women who can stun by their mere presence to disappear, just so that others can feel unself-conscious. I don’t want intellects such as John von Neumann to vanish just because of my barely Grade 12 grasp of mathematics. By the time he was 19, he had redefined numbers. Numbers! Thank God for John Von Neumann. Thank God for Grace Kelly and Anita Ekberg and Monica Bellucci. I’m proud to feel unworthy in the presence of people like that. It’s the price we all pay for aim, achievement and ambition, but it’s also no wonder that Adam and Eve covered themselves up.
The next part of this story is downright farcical in my opinion. It is true that the idea of virtuous self-sacrifice is deeply embedded in western culture, at least in so far as the West has been influenced by Christianity, which is based on the imitation of someone who performed the ultimate act of self-sacrifice. Any claim that the golden rule does not mean “sacrifice yourself for others” might therefore dubious, but Christ’s archetype will. Death exists as an example of how to accept finitude, betrayal and tyranny. How to walk with God despite the tragedy of self conscious knowledge and not as a directive to victimize ourselves in the service of others? To sacrifice ourselves to God, to the highest good if you like, does not mean to suffer silently and willingly. When some person or organization demands more from US consistently than is offered in return. That means we are supporting tyranny and allowing ourselves to be treated like slaves. It is not virtuous to be victimized by a bully even if that bullying is one self.
Did his heavy Marijuana use play a magnifying role or was it understandable? Self-medication use of physician prescribed drugs for pain has, after all, decreased in marijuana-legal states such as Colorado. Maybe the pot made things better for Chris, not worse, maybe it eased his suffering, instead of exacerbating his instability. Was it the nihilistic philosophy he nurtured that paved the way to his eventual breakdown? Was that nihilism in turn a consequence of genuine ill health, or just an intellectual rationalization of his unwillingness to dive responsibly into life? Why did he, like his cousin, like my other friends, continually choose people who in places that were not good for him? Sometimes when people have a low opinion of their own worth or perhaps when they refuse responsibility for their lives, they choose a new acquaintance of precisely the type of proved troublesome in the past. Such people don’t believe that they deserve any better so they don’t go looking for it.
Why am I breaking myself into pieces? Striving to finish this project, each thinks when my new team member never breaks a sweat. The same thing happens when well-meaning counselors place a delinquent teen among comparatively civilized peers. The delinquency spreads, not the stability. Down is a lot easier than up. Maybe you were saving someone because you’re a strong, generous, well put together person who wants to do the right thing. But it’s also possible, and perhaps more likely, that you just want to draw attention to your inexhaustible reserves of compassion and goodwill. Or maybe you’re saving someone because you want to convince yourself that the strength of your character is more than just a side effect of your luck and birthplace. Or maybe it’s because it’s easier to look virtuous when standing alongside someone utterly irresponsible. Assume first that you’re doing the easiest thing and not the most difficult.
Carl Rogers, the famous humanistic psychologist, believed it was impossible to start a therapeutic relationship if the person seeking help did not want to improve. Rogers believed it was impossible to convince someone to change for the better. The desire to improve was instead the precondition for progress. I’ve had court-mandated psychotherapy clients. They did not want my help. They were forced to seek it. It did not work. It was a travesty. If I stay in an unhealthy relationship with you, perhaps it’s because I’m too weak-willed and indecisive to leave, but I don’t want to know it. Thus, I continue helping you and console myself with my pointless martyrdom. Maybe I can then conclude about myself, “someone that self sacrificing, that willing to help someone that has to be a good person”. Not so. It might be just a person trying to look good, pretending to solve what appears to be a difficult problem instead of actually being good and addressing something real.
It was easier for people to be good at something when more of us lived in small, rural communities. Someone could be homecoming queen. Someone else could be spelling-bee champ, math whiz or basketball star. There were only one or two mechanics and a couple of teachers. In each of their domains, these local heroes had the opportunity to enjoy the serotonin-fuelled confidence of the victor. It may be for that reason that people who were born in small towns are statistically overrepresented among the eminent. If you’re one in a million now, but originated in modern New York, there’s twenty of you—and most of us now live in cities. What’s more, we have become digitally connected to the entire seven billion. Our hierarchies of accomplishment are now dizzyingly vertical.
Here’s a hint. The future is like the past. But there’s a crucial difference. The past is fixed, but the future—it could be better. It could be better, some precise amount—the amount that can be achieved, perhaps, in a day, with some minimal engagement. The present is eternally flawed. But where you start might not be as important as the direction you are heading. Perhaps happiness is always to be found in the journey uphill, and not in the fleeting sense of satisfaction awaiting at the next peak. Much of happiness is hope, no matter how deep the underworld in which that hope was conceived.
Pay attention. Focus on your surroundings, physical and psychological. Notice something that bothers you, that concerns you, that will not let you be, which you could fix, that you would fix. You can find such somethings by asking yourself (as if you genuinely want to know) three questions: “What is it that is bothering me?” “Is that something I could fix?” and “Would I actually be willing to fix it?” If you find that the answer is “no,” to any or all of the questions, then look elsewhere. Aim lower. Search until you find something that bothers you, that you could fix, that you would fix, and then fix it. That might be enough for the day.
The Sermon on the Mount outlines the true nature of man, and the proper aim of mankind: concentrate on the day, so that you can live in the present, and attend completely and properly to what is right in front of you—but do that only after you have decided to let what is within shine forth, so that it can justify Being and illuminate the world. Do that only after you have determined to sacrifice whatever it is that must be sacrificed so that you can pursue the highest good.
She was out to produce a little God-Emperor of the Universe. That’s the unstated goal of many a mother, including many who consider themselves advocates for full gender equality. Such women will object vociferously to any command uttered by an adult male, but will trot off in seconds to make their progeny a peanut-butter sandwich if he demands it while immersed self-importantly in a video game. The future mates of such boys have every reason to hate their mothers-in-law. Respect for women? That’s for other boys, other men—not for their dear sons.
Imagine a toddler repeatedly striking his mother in the face. Why would he do such a thing? It’s a stupid question. It’s unacceptably naive. The answer is obvious. To dominate his mother. To see if he can get away with it. Violence, after all, is no mystery. It’s peace that’s the mystery. Violence is the default. It’s easy. It’s peace that is difficult: learned, inculcated, earned.
Take the case of the three-year-old who has not learned to share. She displays her selfish behaviour in the presence of her parents, but they’re too nice to intervene. More truthfully, they refuse to pay attention, admit to what is happening, and teach her how to act properly. They’re annoyed, of course, when she won’t share with her sister, but they pretend everything is OK. It’s not OK. They’ll snap at her later, for something totally unrelated. She will be hurt by that, and confused, but learn nothing. Worse: when she tries to make friends, it won’t go well, because of her lack of social sophistication. Children her own age will be put off by her inability to cooperate. They’ll fight with her, or wander off and find someone else to play with. The parents of those children will observe her awkwardness and misbehaviour, and won’t invite her back to play with their kids. She will be lonely and rejected. That will produce anxiety, depression and resentment. That will produce the turning from life that is equivalent to the wish for unconsciousness.
Here’s a fifth and final and most general principle. Parents have a duty to act as proxies for the real world—merciful proxies, caring proxies—but proxies, nonetheless. This obligation supersedes any responsibility to ensure happiness, foster creativity, or boost self-esteem. It is the primary duty of parents to make their children socially desirable. That will provide the child with opportunity, self-regard, and security. It’s more important even than fostering individual identity. That Holy Grail can only be pursued, in any case, after a high degree of social sophistication has been established.
Try as he might, Tolstoy could identify only four means of escaping from such thoughts. One was retreating into childlike ignorance of the problem. Another was pursuing mindless pleasure. The third was “continuing to drag out a life that is evil and meaningless, knowing beforehand that nothing can come of it.” He identified that particular form of escape with weakness: “The people in this category know that death is better than life, but they do not have the strength to act rationally and quickly put an end to the delusion by killing themselves….” Only the fourth and final mode of escape involved “strength and energy. It consists of destroying life, once one has realized that life is evil and meaningless.”
He was a powerful, consistent, fearless actor. He had the courage of his convictions. How could someone like him be expected to forgive and forget, given what had happened to him? Truly terrible things happen to people. It’s no wonder they’re out for revenge. Under such conditions, vengeance seems a moral necessity. How can it be distinguished from the demand for justice? After the experience of terrible atrocity, isn’t forgiveness just cowardice, or lack of willpower? Such questions torment me. But people emerge from terrible pasts to do good, and not evil, although such an accomplishment can seem superhuman.
First, there is excess food. Large carcasses, mammoths or other massive herbivores, might provide that. (We ate a lot of mammoths. Maybe all of them.) After a kill, with a large animal, there is some left for later. That’s accidental, at first—but, eventually, the utility of “for later” starts to be appreciated. Some provisional notion of sacrifice develops at the same time: “If I leave some, even if I want it now, I won’t have to be hungry later.” That provisional notion develops, to the next level (“If I leave some for later, I won’t have to go hungry, and neither will those I care for”) and then to the next (“I can’t possibly eat all of this mammoth, but I can’t store the rest for too long, either. Maybe I should feed some to other people. Maybe they’ll remember, and feed me some of their mammoth, when they have some and I have none. Then I’ll get some mammoth now, and some mammoth later. That’s a good deal. And maybe those I’m sharing with will come to trust me, more generally. Maybe then we could trade forever”). In such a manner, “mammoth” becomes “future mammoth,” and “future mammoth” becomes “personal reputation.” That’s the emergence of the social contract.
People watched the successful succeed and the unsuccessful fail for thousands and thousands of years. We thought it over, and drew a conclusion: The successful among us delay gratification. The successful among us bargain with the future. A great idea begins to emerge, taking ever-more-clearly-articulated form, in ever more-clearly-articulated stories: What’s the difference between the successful and the unsuccessful? The successful sacrifice. Things get better, as the successful practice their sacrifices.
If you cease to utter falsehoods and live according to the dictates of your conscience, you can maintain your nobility, even when facing the ultimate threat; if you abide, truthfully and courageously, by the highest of ideals, you will be provided with more security and strength than will be offered by any short-sighted concentration on your own safety; if you live properly, fully, you can discover meaning so profound that it protects you even from the fear of death.
As the Christian revolution progressed, however, the impossible problems it had solved disappeared from view. That’s what happens to problems that are solved. And after the solution was implemented, even the fact that such problems had ever existed disappeared from view. Then and only then could the problems that remained, less amenable to quick solution by Christian doctrine, come to occupy a central place in the consciousness of the West—come to motivate, for example, the development of science, aimed at resolving the corporeal, material suffering that was still all-too-painfully extant within successfully Christianized societies.
Dogmatic belief in the central axioms of Christianity (that Christ’s crucifixion redeemed the world; that salvation was reserved for the hereafter; that salvation could not be achieved through works) had three mutually reinforcing consequences: First, devaluation of the significance of earthly life, as only the hereafter mattered. This also meant that it had become acceptable to overlook and shirk responsibility for the suffering that existed in the here-and-now; Second, passive acceptance of the status quo, because salvation could not be earned in any case through effort in this life (a consequence that Marx also derided, with his proposition that religion was the opiate of the masses); and, finally, third, the right of the believer to reject any real moral burden (outside of the stated belief in salvation through Christ), because the Son of God had already done all the important work.
This is to say nothing other than that the future can be made better if the proper sacrifices take place in the present. No other animal has ever figured this out, and it took us untold hundreds of thousands of years to do it. It took further eons of observation and hero-worship, and then millennia of study, to distill that idea into a story. It then took additional vast stretches of time to assess that story, to incorporate it, so that we now can simply say, “If you are disciplined and privilege the future over the present you can change the structure of reality in your favour.”
Suffering is real, and the artful infliction of suffering on another, for its own sake, is wrong. That became the cornerstone of my belief. Searching through the lowest reaches of human thought and action, understanding my own capacity to act like a Nazi prison guard or a gulag archipelago trustee or a torturer of children in a dungeon, I grasped what it meant to “take the sins of the world onto oneself.” Each human being has an immense capacity for evil. Each human being understands, a priori, perhaps not what is good, but certainly what is not. And if there is something that is not good, then there is something that is good. If the worst sin is the torment of others, merely for the sake of the suffering produced—then the good is whatever is diametrically opposed to that. The good is whatever stops such things from happening.
Consider then that the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering is a good. Make that an axiom: to the best of my ability I will act in a manner that leads to the alleviation of unnecessary pain and suffering.
You can use words to manipulate the world into delivering what you want. This is what it means to “act politically.” This is spin. It’s the specialty of unscrupulous marketers, salesmen, advertisers, pickup artists, slogan-possessed utopians and psychopaths.
Someone living a life-lie is attempting to manipulate reality with perception, thought and action, so that only some narrowly desired and pre-defined outcome is allowed to exist. A life lived in this manner is based, consciously or unconsciously, on two premises. The first is that current knowledge is sufficient to define what is good, unquestioningly, far into the future. The second is that reality would be unbearable if left to its own devices. The first presumption is philosophically unjustifiable. What you are currently aiming at might not be worth attaining, just as what you are currently doing might be an error. The second is even worse. It is valid only if reality is intrinsically intolerable and, simultaneously, something that can be successfully manipulated and distorted.
If you say no to your boss, or your spouse, or your mother, when it needs to be said, then you transform yourself into someone who can say no when it needs to be said. If you say yes when no needs to be said, however, you transform yourself into someone who can only say yes, even when it is very clearly time to say no. If you ever wonder how perfectly ordinary, decent people could find themselves doing the terrible things the gulag camp guards did, you now have your answer. By the time no seriously needed to be said, there was no one left capable of saying it.
“Did what I want happen? No. Then my aim or my methods were wrong. I still have something to learn.” That is the voice of authenticity. “Did what I want happen? No. Then the world is unfair. People are jealous, and too stupid to understand. It is the fault of something or someone else.” That is the voice of inauthenticity.
For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? (Mark 8:36)
Set your ambitions, even if you are uncertain about what they should be. The better ambitions have to do with the development of character and ability, rather than status and power. Status you can lose. You carry character with you wherever you go, and it allows you to prevail against adversity.
As you continue to live in accordance with the truth, as it reveals itself to you, you will have to accept and deal with the conflicts that mode of Being will generate. If you do so, you will continue to mature and become more responsible, in small ways (don’t underestimate their importance) and in large. You will ever more closely approach your newer and more wisely formulated goals, and become even wiser in their formulation, when you discover and rectify your inevitable errors. Your conception of what is important will become more and more appropriate, as you incorporate the wisdom of your experience. You will quit wildly oscillating and walk ever more directly towards the good—a good you could never have comprehended if you had insisted despite all evidence that you were right, absolutely right, at the beginning.
And why not lie? Why not twist and distort things to obtain a small gain, or to smooth things over, or to keep the peace, or to avoid hurt feelings? Reality has its terrible aspect: do we really need to confront its snake-headed face in every moment of our waking consciousness, and at every turn in our lives? Why not turn away, at least, when looking is simply too painful? The reason is simple. Things fall apart.
Imagine, for example, a movie where nothing but terrible things happen. But, in the end, everything works out. Everything is resolved. A sufficiently happy ending can change the meaning of all the previous events. They can all be viewed as worthwhile, given that ending. Now imagine another movie. A lot of things are happening. They’re all exciting and interesting. But there are a lot of them. Ninety minutes in, you start to worry. “This is a great movie,” you think, “but there are a lot of things going on. I sure hope the filmmaker can pull it all together.” But that doesn’t happen. Instead, the story ends, abruptly, unresolved, or something facile and clichéd occurs. You leave deeply annoyed and unsatisfied—failing to notice that you were fully engaged and enjoying the movie almost the whole time you were in the theatre. The present can change the past, and the future can change the present.
I thought, “I could simplify Miss S’s life. I could say that her suspicions of rape were fully justified, and that her doubt about the events was nothing but additional evidence of her thorough and long-term victimization. I could insist that her sexual partners had a legal obligation to ensure that she was not too impaired by alcohol to give consent. I could tell her that she had indisputably been subject to violent and illicit acts, unless she had consented to each sexual move explicitly and verbally. I could tell her that she was an innocent victim.” I could have told her all that. And it would have been true. And she would have accepted it as true, and remembered it for the rest of her life. She would have been a new person, with a new history, and a new destiny. But I also thought, “I could tell Miss S that she is a walking disaster. I could tell her that she wanders into a bar like a courtesan in a coma, that she is a danger to herself and others, that she needs to wake up, and that if she goes to singles bars and drinks too much and is taken home and has rough, violent sex (or even tender, caring sex), then what the hell does she expect?” In other words, I could have told her, in more philosophical terms, that she was Nietzsche’s “pale criminal”—the person who at one moment dares to break the sacred law and at the next shrinks from paying the price. And that would have been true, too, and she would have accepted it as such, and remembered it. If I had been the adherent of a left-wing, social-justice ideology, I would have told her the first story. If I had been the adherent of a conservative ideology, I would have told her the second. And her responses after having been told either the first or the second story would have proved to my satisfaction and hers that the story I had told her was true—completely, irrefutably true. And that would have been advice.
A listening person tests your talking (and your thinking) without having to say anything. A listening person is a representative of common humanity. He stands for the crowd. Now the crowd is by no means always right, but it’s commonly right. It’s typically right. If you say something that takes everyone aback, therefore, you should reconsider what you said. I say that, knowing full well that controversial opinions are sometimes correct—sometimes so much so that the crowd will perish if it refuses to listen.
He suggested that his readers conduct a short experiment when they next found themselves in a dispute: “Stop the discussion for a moment, and institute this rule: ‘Each person can speak up for himself only after he has first restated the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker accurately, and to that speaker’s satisfaction.’”
Imagine that someone holds a stack of hundred-dollar bills, some of which are counterfeit. All the bills might have to be spread on a table, so that each can be seen, and any differences noted, before the genuine can be distinguished from the false. This is the sort of methodical approach you have to take when really listening to someone trying to solve a problem or communicate something important. If upon learning that some of the bills are counterfeit you too casually dismiss all of them (as you would if you were in a hurry, or otherwise unwilling to put in the effort), the person will never learn to separate wheat from chaff.
A well-practised and competent public speaker addresses a single, identifiable person, watches that individual nod, shake his head, frown, or look confused, and responds appropriately and directly to those gestures and expressions. Then, after a few phrases, rounding out some idea, he switches to another audience member, and does the same thing. In this manner, he infers and reacts to the attitude of the entire group (insofar as such a thing exists).
It is only when a car quits, suddenly—or is involved in an accident and must be pulled over to the side of the road—that we are forced to apprehend and analyze the myriad of parts that “car as thing that goes” depends on. When our car fails, our incompetence with regards to its complexity is instantly revealed. That has practical consequences (we don’t get to go to where we were going), as well as psychological: our peace of mind disappears along with our functioning vehicle. We must generally turn to the experts who inhabit garages and workshops to restore both functionality to our vehicle and simplicity to our perceptions. That’s mechanic-as-psychologist. It is precisely then that we can understand, although we seldom deeply consider, the staggeringly low-resolution quality of our vision and the inadequacy of our corresponding understanding.
Every one of the three hundred thousand unrevealed issues, which have been lied about, avoided, rationalized away, hidden like an army of skeletons in some great horrific closet, bursts forth like Noah’s flood, drowning everything. There’s no ark, because no one built one, even though everyone felt the storm gathering. Don’t ever underestimate the destructive power of sins of omission.
Maybe the demolished couple could have more precisely specified their desired manner of Being. Maybe in that manner they could have jointly prevented the waters of chaos from springing uncontrollably forth and drowning them. Maybe they could have done that instead of saying, in the agreeable, lazy and cowardly way: “It’s OK. It’s not worth fighting about.” There is little, in a marriage, that is so little that it is not worth fighting about. You’re stuck in a marriage like the two proverbial cats in a barrel, bound by the oath that lasts in theory until one or both of you die. That oath is there to make you take the damn situation seriously. Do you really want the same petty annoyance tormenting you every single day of your marriage, for the decades of its existence?
What can possibly compare to the pleasures of sophisticated and well-practised martyrdom? “She’s such a saint, and married to such a terrible man. She deserved much better.” That’s a gratifying myth to live by, even if unconsciously chosen (the truth of the situation be damned). Maybe she never really liked her husband. Maybe she never really liked men, and still doesn’t. Maybe that was her mother’s fault—or her grandmother’s. Maybe she mimicked their behaviour, acting out their trouble, transmitted unconsciously, implicitly, down the generations. Maybe she was taking revenge on her father, or her brother, or society.
If you refuse to tell your doctor about your pain, then what you have is unspecified: it could be any of those diseases—and it certainly (since you have avoided the diagnostic conversation—the act of articulation) is something unspeakable. But if you talk to your doctor, all those terrible possible diseases will collapse, with luck, into just one terrible (or not so terrible) disease, or even into nothing. Then you can laugh at your previous fears, and if something really is wrong, well, you’re prepared. Precision may leave the tragedy intact, but it chases away the ghouls and the demons.
Boys are suffering, in the modern world. They are more disobedient—negatively—or more independent—positively—than girls, and they suffer for this, throughout their pre-university educational career. They are less agreeable (agreeableness being a personality trait associated with compassion, empathy and avoidance of conflict) and less susceptible to anxiety and depression, at least after both sexes hit puberty. Boys’ interests tilt towards things; girls’ interests tilt towards people. Strikingly, these differences, strongly influenced by biological factors, are most pronounced in the Scandinavian societies where gender-equality has been pushed hardest: this is the opposite of what would be expected by those who insist, ever more loudly, that gender is a social construct. It isn’t. This isn’t a debate. The data are in.
Girls can win by winning in their own hierarchy—by being good at what girls value, as girls. They can add to this victory by winning in the boys’ hierarchy. Boys, however, can only win by winning in the male hierarchy. They will lose status, among girls and boys, by being good at what girls value. It costs them in reputation among the boys, and in attractiveness among the girls. Girls aren’t attracted to boys who are their friends, even though they might like them, whatever that means. They are attracted to boys who win status contests with other boys. If you’re male, however, you just can’t hammer a female as hard as you would a male. Boys can’t (won’t) play truly competitive games with girls. It isn’t clear how they can win. As the game turns into a girls’ game, therefore, the boys leave. Are the universities—particularly the humanities—about to become a girls’ game? Is this what we want?
The increasingly short supply of university-educated men poses a problem of increasing severity for women who want to marry, as well as date. First, women have a strong proclivity to marry across or up the economic dominance hierarchy. They prefer a partner of equal or greater status. This holds true cross-culturally. The same does not hold, by the way, for men, who are perfectly willing to marry across or down (as the Pew data indicate), although they show a preference for somewhat younger mates.
Why do women want an employed partner and, preferably, one of higher status? In no small part, it’s because women become more vulnerable when they have children. They need someone competent to support mother and child when that becomes necessary.
Consider this, as well, in regard to oppression: any hierarchy creates winners and losers. The winners are, of course, more likely to justify the hierarchy and the losers to criticize it. But (1) the collective pursuit of any valued goal produces a hierarchy (as some will be better and some worse at that pursuit no matter what it is) and (2) it is the pursuit of goals that in large part lends life its sustaining meaning. We experience almost all the emotions that make life deep and engaging as a consequence of moving successfully towards something deeply desired and valued.
People compete to rise to the top, and they care where they are in dominance hierarchies. But (and this is where you separate the metaphorical boys from the men, philosophically) the fact that power plays a role in human motivation does not mean that it plays the only role, or even the primary role. Likewise, the fact that we can never know everything does make all our observations and utterances dependent on taking some things into account and leaving other things out (as we discussed extensively in Rule 10). That does not justify the claim that everything is interpretation, or that categorization is just exclusion. Beware of single cause interpretations—and beware the people who purvey them.
Nonetheless, I do not understand why our society is providing public funding to institutions and educators whose stated, conscious and explicit aim is the demolition of the culture that supports them. Such people have a perfect right to their opinions and actions, if they remain lawful. But they have no reasonable claim to public funding. If radical right-wingers were receiving state funding for political operations disguised as university courses, as the radical left-wingers clearly are, the uproar from progressives across North America would be deafening.
The fact that such statements lead immediately to internal inconsistencies within the ideology is never addressed. Gender is constructed, but an individual who desires gender re-assignment surgery is to be unarguably considered a man trapped in a woman’s body (or vice versa). The fact that both of these cannot logically be true, simultaneously, is just ignored (or rationalized away with another appalling post-modern claim: that logic itself—along with the techniques of science—is merely part of the oppressive patriarchal system).
What about disabilities? Disabled people should make as much as non-disabled people. OK. On the surface, that’s a noble, compassionate, fair claim. But who is disabled? Is someone living with a parent with Alzheimer’s disabled? If not, why not? What about someone with a lower IQ? Someone less attractive? Someone overweight? Some people clearly move through life markedly overburdened with problems that are beyond their control, but it is a rare person indeed who isn’t suffering from at least one serious catastrophe at any given time—particularly if you include their family in the equation. And why shouldn’t you? Here’s the fundamental problem: group identity can be fractionated right down to the level of the individual. That sentence should be written in capital letters. Every person is unique—and not just in a trivial manner: importantly, significantly, meaningfully unique. Group membership cannot capture that variability. Period.
We know, for example, from studies of adopted-out identical twins, that culture can produce a fifteen-point (or one standard deviation) increase in IQ (roughly the difference between the average high school student and the average state college student) at the cost of a three-standard-deviation increase in wealth.
It is to women’s clear advantage that men do not happily put up with dependency among themselves. Part of the reason that so many a working-class woman does not marry, now, as we have alluded to, is because she does not want to look after a man, struggling for employment, as well as her children. And fair enough. A woman should look after her children—although that is not all she should do. And a man should look after a woman and children—although that is not all he should do.
If they’re healthy, women don’t want boys. They want men. They want someone to contend with; someone to grapple with. If they’re tough, they want someone tougher. If they’re smart, they want someone smarter. They desire someone who brings to the table something they can’t already provide. This often makes it hard for tough, smart, attractive women to find mates: there just aren’t that many men around who can outclass them enough to be considered desirable (who are higher, as one research publication put it, in “income, education, self-confidence, intelligence, dominance and social position”).
And maybe when you are going for a walk and your head is spinning a cat will show up and if you pay attention to it then you will get a reminder for just fifteen seconds that the wonder of Being might make up for the ineradicable suffering that accompanies it.
What does all that mean? Orient yourself properly. Then—and only then—concentrate on the day. Set your sights at the Good, the Beautiful, and the True, and then focus pointedly and carefully on the concerns of each moment. Aim continually at Heaven while you work diligently on Earth. Attend fully to the future, in that manner, while attending fully to the present.
As long as my still-anxious but self-transforming and determined visitor continues down his current path, he will become far more competent and accomplished, and it won’t take long. But this will only be because he accepted his lowly state and was sufficiently grateful to take the first equally lowly step away from it.
It is better, proverbially, to rule your own spirit than to rule a city. It’s easier to subdue an enemy without than one within.
I see my Mom and Dad about twice a year. We generally spend several weeks together. We talk on the phone in the interim between visits. But the life expectancy of people in their eighties is under ten years. That means I am likely to see my parents, if I am fortunate, fewer than twenty more times. That’s a terrible thing to know. But knowing it puts a stop to my taking those opportunities for granted.