Sunday, 28 February 2010

Don’t Want To Be an American Idiot

I made an interesting discovery. The word idiot, within the context of Athenian Democracy, refers to someone who shunned his civic duty in favour of a self-centred and hedonistic lifestyle.

I had always thought of the word idiot as a person mentally retarded or impeded in some way, like an idiot savant. However, I was not far wrong from the Athenian definition.

A child's world is very small and very personal. A child dropping his ice cream is the adult equivalent of losing his job in its emotional intensity. As the child matures his Subjective Reality expands. He also becomes more self-sufficient. That is after all the very definition of maturity -- the ability of self-sustaining production.

Every animal must produce or die. This is nature's first law and its greatest axiom. Among the higher animals a parent teaches its off-spring how to survive – how to produce or how to avoid being the fruits of another animal's production. Therefore it is the first responsibility of a parent to prepare their children to be self-sufficient adults.

As the child's Subjective Reality expands it bumps into the realities of others and he has to deal with that. He also becomes aware of karma -- cause and effect. He learns how his actions affect others, how the actions of others affect him, and how to manage karma. In other words, he learns politics. This is what it means to be an adult.

A mature person who has not learned these lessons can be described as an idiot. Perhaps his parents and educators never taught him how to be an adult. Perhaps he was cared for so much that he never learned self-responsibility. Maybe he was protected from failure so he never learned from his mistakes, or worse his socialist artificial reality perpetuated his child state by accommodating his needs while fostering dependency and a sense of entitlement at the expense of others. The product of all these factors is a self-centred, arrogant, egotistic, hedonistic, undeveloped individual in perpetual childhood -- an idiot.

Now I will often preach selfishness and hedonism as virtues since the pursuit of happiness is the purpose of life. However, there is an important caveat. Reason.

Rational self-interest is not the same as being self-centred. A self-centred person sets their egoic emotional state supreme regardless of facts and negative consequences. He sees the existence of others as an end to himself, just as a child sees his parents, but he extends this relationship to the rest of the world.

A man of rational self-interest recognises that he exists for no ones ends, but neither do others exist for his ends. Every human life is an end in itself and the property of no other man or group of men. Therefore he must trade values with others as equal partners.

Rational hedonism adheres to these Epicurean principles. Pleasure with no negative consequence must be embraced. Pleasure that either has a negative consequence or prevents a greater pleasure must be avoided. Pain that defers a greater pain or leads to a greater pleasure is to be embraced.

The way of Epicurus is not a blind self-indulgent hedonism driven by pleasure as an end in itself. It does not condone a spend now, pay later, I want, I want, consumeristic lifestyle with no thought to the consequences.

The self-centred, hedonistic mantra of the idiot is summed-up in the following lyrics from Andy Prieboy.

I come from a race of white criminals and a species of creeps. Petty, venal, interchangeable as sheep, bleating and begging to my God up above, "If you give me more everything, I'll give thee more love. More pleasure, more silver, and prominence increase, make me the prettiest, my opponent the least. And yes one more thing, dear God, please let there be somebody somewhere who's waiting for me"

This passage describes a society desperately hungry for more. Now I'm all for getting more, but it has to be earned. Only an idiot demands something for nothing. What are you willing to produce and trade in order to get more love, money, fame, and success, or are you angry that the universe appears to have given to some and not to you even though you cried loud enough.

There was a day over a century ago when certain people were allowed to be idiots. Men were the primary producers and land owners were the most successful producers. These men were called "gentlemen". Beneath them were those dependent on his production, such as wives, children, and employees. If he fell, then they all fell. He had a sense of responsibility and his dependents respected and appreciated him.

It was because of this key position that only land-owners were allowed to participate in government, either directly or indirectly through the ballot. The working classes and women were not expected to take part and so they could opt out and be idiots with no social stigma.

I want to go on a short tangent here and write a bit about "man talk". As a post-feminist man, I was taught that men and women were equal and should come together as such. Women were not to be excluded from the gentleman's club. However, men and women are different and the gentleman's club was an environment tailored specifically for the male psyche and his world. Conversation was sometimes nonexistent as men often enjoy solitary, silent contemplation, or it revolved around production, politics, and other intellectual topics.

A quick word on sport. I am not very fond of sports, but for many this is the defining quality of manhood and therefore male conversation. A man likes sports and action movies. For the gentleman, sports were always a secondary pastime and not the obsession it is today. The lower classes tended to live vicariously through the accomplishments real life athletes or fictional heroes, while the gentleman was too busy living to expend excessive time in such pursuits.

Some women take a keen interest in production and politics, however they are the exception rather than the rule. I suspect most women would find the gentleman's club rather dull. It might be nice for a visit, but it was not created for her.

Likewise modern men obsessed with sport and other entertainment such as films and music would also feel left out, unless of course the films illustrate important points of a more philosophical nature.

For example, think of Christian Bales' portrayal of Batman's Bruce Wayne persona in Batman Begins. This is a classic idiot, a man with money, power, and fame who does nothing but play. To him the world of gentlemen, the world of production and politics, is a point of humour. Sure, he feigns participation, but it is only part of his charade within a charade.

The world is full of such people who spend the majority of their time playing, but who occasionally still like to sound politically involved. So they spout whatever opinions they have as if they have actually studied political and social theory. Unfortunately due to their fame they are given the soap box and people actually listen to them.

In the old Victorian system the idiots knew their place. These days anyone over the age of eighteen can vote and some feel that they need to take some civic responsibility, however they have not done their homework. So they are hardly qualified to have an opinion on anything. Better they just go play and leave grown-up topics to the grown-ups.

During the 2008 US presidential campaign a woman was asked who she planned to vote for. She answered Obama. Why says the interviewer. His policies. Which policies? "Um, I don't know, my mother does. He danced on Oprah." Then we all have a laugh.

Among the Victorians this would have been acceptable because women were expected to be ignorant and have nonsense views, however these days such people can vote, and therefore have a responsibility to be either educated or opt out.

It is a shame that our language has been so corrupted that the word idiot has lost its meaning. An idiot is not defined as anyone who disagrees with me. Despite its negative connotation it is not necessarily an insult. Some people are idiots and that's okay because they may have other positive qualities.

My complaint is when idiocy becomes the socially accepted norm and gentlemen are seen as being socially "out of touch" rather than the leaders of men. I become frustrated by the media constantly elevating actors, pop stars, and sport figures to high status simply because they entertain us. This is the mark of a society of idiots.

I believe in the classical liberal dream of inclusion. These Victorian libertarians did not deny the natural hierarchy that put the gentleman's club at the top. They simply wanted to bring more people into the club. However, instead of creating the opportunities to allow inclusion, the Progressives shifted the power-base to include the lowest common denominator. Rather than raising people out of idiocy it empowered idiocy. Today the gentleman's club seems smaller than ever and yet they still rule.

It often shocks people when I say that I do not necessarily consider myself to be intelligent. I'm not feigning modesty or being insecure. Rather I consider myself to be culturally literate and good at making connections between concepts. I am very aware that even given my sub-genius intellect if I were to travel in time to the Victorian era, I would be considered an idiot.

In my lifetime I have witness the expansion of idiocy and the decline of reason. I look back to history and literature and I see that the decline has been occurring over the past century. I am a product of this idiot society, but I do not want to be an American idiot living in perpetual childhood. I want to be a gentleman. A bit of a rogue of course, but a gentleman nonetheless.

So what is an idiot? We define a thing by what it does, but the manifestations are not the cause. Idiocy is a child-mind that does not see the big picture, from the fundamental principles to the long-term consequences. It sees only their immediate, emotional state and the need to perpetuate a constant level of self-gratification in order to maintain happiness. That is the cause.

It manifests as a disinterest in politics or civic involvement and places a high-value on entertainment at the expense of production. It values image over substance, ego over self, pleasure over discipline, and whim over reason. It never grasps the concept that the virtues of substance, self, discipline, and reason lead to greater happiness and that is why they are virtues.

Again, these manifestations of idiocy were once considered acceptable and excusable traits for dependents, such as women, children, and the lower classes, but never for society as a whole, not as virtues. The goal was to raise people out of idiocy, not to encourage and promote it.

If a child was left to its own devices he may try to live on sweets and other junk food. Adults enjoy sweets too, but they don't try to live off them and they certainly never pretend that they are good for you. Likewise, idiots may be beautiful, sexy, fun, thrilling, and entertaining, but that does not excuse striving to be one. I've tried to be an idiot most of my life, and frankly I'm tired of it.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Dandyism Revisited

I have heard told that when Rudyard Kipling finished a manuscript he would put it on a shelf for a year and then return to it fresh to complete his editing. There is something to be said for immersing yourself in a subject and then returning to it years later with a fresh perspective and new knowledge to bring to the table. With this in mind I have decided to return to a topic that once filled my thoughts.

Whenever I am asked to define a dandy I choose to avoid the mainstream definition of "a man who places particular importance upon physical appearance, refined language, and leisurely hobbies, pursued with the appearance of nonchalance in a cult of Self." Rather I prefer a little story.

Once upon a time the vast majority of the population were trash. Really. Probably well-over 90% of the population were filthy, illiterate, and generally ignorant. On top of this, they lacked any real concept of self. The minority in this population were the nobles. They had power, strength, beauty, refinement, knowledge, and a greater sense of personal identity. Thanks to the Black Death, the rediscovery of Aristotelian philosophy, which led to the Renaissance, and rise of Capitalism all this began to change. Gradually the common man was in a position challenge the nobles. Not just politically, but also to become better men -- to become Gentlemen.

Today we still use the word "noble" to describe the best of humanity and the word "vulgar", which means common, denotes crass, dirty, and low. All those quality assigned to dandies in the above definition are really just a part of this greater pursuit of nobility and to rise above the vulgar. It is the quest to become the self-made man.

Charles Baudelaire noted that democracy is the enemy of dandyism. I understand that more now than ever. The dandy wishes to demonstrate that he is just as good as the people at the top. In this he recognises the social hierarchy. In a merit-based society the cream rises to the top and those who wish to challenge the elite to either join or topple them must prove their merit.

A democratic Republic also recognises the hierarchy; however a Social Democracy does not. In such a state there is the claim that all men are equal and when they are not they must be made equal through "social justice" enforced through the state. Under a democracy the individual is made subservient to the will of the masses. In our modern age, the masses are routinely propagandised through education and media to vote according to the will of the elite and powerful interest groups. Where then does that leave the dandy and his cult of the self?

Just as the original dandies challenged the authority of the nobility by proving themselves to be their equals, so too do modern dandies challenge the premise of social equality and the modern emphasis on the common man. However, the common man has a voice and the vulgar is the norm across the social spectrum. This makes the modern dandy seem all the more eccentric, pretentious, and irrelevant than ever before. And yet it is the dandy's nature to stand defiant.

Over the past few years I have been studying material on the modern Men's Movement. For those not in the know, this began in the 90's with Pick-up artists teaching other men how to get girls. This got men talking about their experiences with women, including the common sad tale of the nice guy getting his heart-broken. The outcome of all this was the realisation that women are attracted to men, real men, but thanks to feminism most modern men are emasculated. So to attract women a man must be a man. The problem is that many men do not know how. So now we have a Men's Movement – sort of a backlash against decades of feminism – to teach men how to reclaim their manhood.

As I was watching one such lecture given by Owen Cook (aka Tyler Durden) called The Blueprint Decoded, it occurred to me that what he was talking about was dandyism. Not specifically of course, but many of the attitudes that he was teaching his audience how to achieve are those associated with dandies.

Dandyism is not commonly associated with masculinity these days. A man who is overly concerned about his appearance is seen as feminine. Apparently, real men burp, fart, don't wash, and wear raggedy clothes. In other words, a real man is vulgar. Men who are not so inclined are seen as gay or metro-sexual, in other words, straight gay men. Dandyism is actually quite the opposite of all three of these things.

The man credited as the founder of British Dandyism is Beau Brummel. His greatest claim to fame was the men's suit. Perfection achieved and thus men's fashion has not changed in this regard since 1800. I read somewhere that his motivation for this creation was masculinity.

Those unfamiliar with dandyism often equate dandies with fops. These are two different creatures. A fop is fabulous, over-the-top, and camp. The pre-Brummel fashions of men in powdered wigs, painted faces, and stockings are associated with foppery. The dandy on the other hand is elegant. He is sleek, streamlined, and simple. This allows his attitude to speak through his clothes rather than corrupt it.

Another word for a dandy is a "gallant". In my personal studies of masculinity and female attraction I long ago discovered that women want a good, strong man. Unfortunately most men are either good (wussies) or strong (assholes). About a year ago I discovered the concepts of chivalry and gallantry. Women all say that they want a knight in shining armour. Well, they do.

Chivalry means being kind socially but strong in battle. It is moral code for managing strength. Strength can be defined as, "a predominately masculine quality characterised by the ability and drive to exert one's will over objects, over nature, over other men, and over oneself." This can be used either positively in the creation and defence of values, or negatively in the destruction of values. To be chivalrous is to be the good/strong man.

Gallantry is courage, but more importantly it is nonchalant courage. To be gallant is to be possessed of an easy going nature. As Owen Cook says, "walking through the world with ease". It is born of an absolute faith in oneself and an acceptance of reality so as not to live in a state of fear, worry, or defensiveness. Hard times and challenges are met with self-confidence and wit. Not unlike James Bond.

Another aspect of the dandy is manners and respect. The euphemism "I'm going to teach him some manners" means "I going to fight him". All manners are born of the threat of force. In our modern society I am reminded of the scene in the film Fight Club where the men go out to start a fight and encounter men completely unprepared for it. They ignore the attack, or try to reason, or run away. This is because we are conditioned not to fight and to avoid conflict at all cost. As a result we fall easy prey to those in our society more prone to violence. We look to the state to defend and protect us.

The dandies of the Nineteenth century were far more prepared for violence than we are today. The practice of carrying of a cane was more than a fashion. The cane was used for protection and the threat of force maintained the social order and the social hierarchy. Therefore manners were of the utmost importance as was mutual respect. The alternative could have been a sound thrashing.

Dandyism is about far more than fashionistas, lay-abouts, or peacocks. Being a dandy is not motivated by ego or some need to impress. It is about being centred in ones self; being able to appreciate material as well as immaterial values; and it is about personal growth towards a gentlemanly ideal of chivalry and gallantry. However its branches spread wider than that and its roots go deeper.

There used to be a group of people called critics. Their job was to analyse works of art and uncover the themes and ideas being expressed. They went deeper to articulate those things that people could perceive but not really see. Critics gave the art meaning and relevance. Unfortunately critics have succumbed to intellectual elitism reserved for the academic establishment while others became thumbs-up or thumbs-down purveyors of opinion. We prefer experiencing our art for ourselves without someone trying to tell us what it means.

The same holds true of modern Dandyism, or Goth, or Steampunk, or any other sort of Romantic lifestyle or cultural consumption. People want to play and enjoy without someone telling them what the deeper meanings are. I have no problem with that. What does bother me is when people deny the deeper meanings even exist and they certainly have no time for critics like myself.

I understand them though. When you codify something; you define it. When you define it; you create boundaries, rules, laws, expectations of behaviour, and beliefs. This forces some people to have to choose between enjoying the cultural commodities for its own sake and accepting an ideology.

There are those who love the culture of dandyism and perhaps have become experts in the field, but dandyism is more than clothes. Charles Baudelaire called it a religion. I see it as part of the greater Romantic philosophy which includes things like Goth and Steampunk.

Philosophy consists of five connected branches: metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. Being any sort of Romantic requires you to swallow the whole pill and not a bit from here or there. It's all connected. Achieving true dandyism requires understanding the whole and complete faith.

Perhaps this is why I have not written much on dandyism over the years. I have instead been concentrating on all those little tendrils connected philosophically to it. The result is that I have a better understanding and feeling for being a dandy than ever I have before.
I'll conclude with Charles Baudelaire's final passage from his great essay on Dandyism. Gentlemen, this is your goal.

For here we surely have that ease of bearing, that sureness of manner, that simplicity in the habit of command, that way of wearing a frock-coat or controlling a horse, that calmness revealing strength in every circumstance, that convince us, when our eye does pick out one of those privileged beings, in whom the attractive and the formidable mingle so mysteriously: 'There goes a rich man perhaps, but quite certainly an unemployed Hercules.'

The specific beauty of the dandy consists particularly in that cold exterior resulting from the unshakeable determination to remain unmoved; one is reminded of a latent fire, whose existence is merely suspected, and which, if it wanted to, but it does not, could burst forth in all its brightness.