Monday, July 06, 2009

Long Live the Male

"[F]or men in America, the only plausible ideal of conduct is the idea of the Gentleman. What else is there? The Rock Star? The Cowboy? Norman Mailer's White Negro? The Underground Man? Huck Finn?" -- James Burnham to Jeffrey Hart

Well, let's take the winding road today. This has been overtaken by events a little bit. But sometime last week, when Sarah Palin was governor of Alaska and it appeared that she would remain so for a while, Stacy McCain kicked the hornet's nest again. I won't dwell too much on homosexuality here, except to note that this is actually tangentially related to my complaints against the dissident conservatives, relating in particular to the modern male sex role.

It took a while for me to figure this out, but one thing that turns me off from the dissident conservatives is their lack of manly loyalty. We've been made to understand ad nauseum that their aspirations are higher than George W Bush's approval rating or Mark Levin's book sales figures. Great, then what exactly are they supposed to be loyal to, if not that? Whatever it is, they haven't told us.

Men without loyalties outside themselves are perceived to be weak, and men who are perceived to be weak are not respected by other men, in particular me. This is particularly topical right now because the current economic travails are subtly affecting our perceptions of sex roles in ways that might actually help the much-beleagured bourgeois American male.

For at least as long as I've been alive, there's been a certain empty boorishness inside the typical American male. Not that all of us are mindless jerks, but most of us wouldn't know how to be a genuine article gentleman even if we tried (this applies men of just about every race and ecnomic class, btw). In fact the very concept of gentleman has shifted to reflect this very fact. Instead of referring to a man who serves as a visible marker of civilization by virtue of his standards in dress, bearing, and manners, we now speak of a gentleman as a good-hearted mensch in his personal relations. I'm sure it's possible to make a bigger deal out of this than it really is, but it's there nonetheless.

With the current economic crisis however, the bourgeois American male is challenged to do things that he actually has a chance of being able to do, and that are worthy of accomplishment. Until very recently, it was possible for anyone for anyone with an ounce of energy or at least as much intelligence as average houseplant to earn his own keep. Given that was the most demonstrable accomplishment of the American male, no one was very impressed. Well, that's a bigger deal now than it used to be. And given the fundamental sector shift the economy is going through, it will likely be an ever bigger deal in the future.

Reihan recently wrote an interesting article about this, where he largely sees it the other way, going so far as to call the current economic crisis a "he-cession." I would be more sympathetic to his thesis if the future of economic growth was a simple battle of brains vs. brawn. But I don't think it is. In fact I think we crossed that particular bridge a long time ago. Instead, we need energetic perseverant visionary leadership toward creating things (and careers) that don't exist yet, the foundation of a new economy we don't understand all that well. And as much as I love the girls, that's not who I'll be putting my money on to do it. And from what I've seen of the dissident conservatives so far, I'm not betting on them either.

Finally, let's give best wishes to our friend Boethius on the occasion of the anniversary of American Independence, a foremost accomplishment of visionary perseverant males. It's one of his favorite days of the year, being the patriotic Roman-American that he is.

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