Friday, 4 February 2011

The 7 Romantic Virtues: Enterprise/Self-Reliance

It has been a while since I have added to my collection of articles on the 7 Romantic Virtues, so before I proceed, here is a quick recap.

The 7 Virtues are listed below.  Some are paired as being predominately masculine or feminine.  This does not mean for example that a woman cannot cultivate enterprise or a man cannot or should not cultivate self-reliance.  Simply that one is primarily masculine and the other is in the secondary position, and vice-versa.
Since creating this list, I have also listed the vices that correspond on the right.

1.    Wisdom                                   Foolishness
2.    Pride (self-confidence)            Arrogance
3.    Magnanimity                           Selfishness
4.    Passion/Sensuality                  Sentimentality/Vulgarity
5.    Enterprise/Self-reliance         Cynicism/Co-dependency
6.    Chivalry/Grace                      Bullying/Rudeness
7.    Gallantry/Charm                    Cowardice/Bitchiness

One last reminder.  A virtue is a habitual pattern of behaviour that will lead to a positive outcome while a vice is a habitual pattern of behaviour that will lead to a negative outcome.
The virtue of enterprise is the willingness to undertake new or risky projects with energy and initiative; it is the creating and trading of values.

Anything I might write here pales in significance against the seminal book Self Help by Samuel Smiles (1859).  The book does not read like the numerous self-improvement and self-help books that have followed in its wake.  It is more of a collection of short biographies and illustrations highlighting men of genius, accomplishment, and greatness.

If I might instil all these tales into a single formula it would be: men, usually of poor or working-class backgrounds, driven by an overwhelming passion to know and to create who worked indefatigably for sometimes decades to produce a result.  They endured hardship, pain, loss, and struggle towards a singular goal and achieved it.  The result was glory, honour, prestige, position, or wealth.  Many of these men are taught in history courses as the pioneers of the industrial revolution while others, like Wedgewood, are still household names.

What this summary of mine lacks is the extent of these men’s labours.  Some taught themselves chemistry, or art, or mechanics through the process of simple trial and error that lasted years and years.  I suppose the modern equivalent would be someone with no knowledge of computers who is working in a retail store forty hours a week and learning computer languages and programming in his spare time who then creates artificial intelligence in his basement with an antique IBM computer and a couple of spoons after ten years of labour.

I am reminded of a news program that I once saw.  Unfortunately, I cannot remember where I saw it or the specific details.  The gist was that this middle-aged woman wrote a book about how the system is against you and no matter how hard you work you will never succeed.  To support this she used examples from her life’s experience in the workplace.  Of course this message received a positive response from the socialists in academia because it confirmed their worldview.  So she was invited to give lectures to students telling them how they are destined for failure and mediocrity.  One listener did not buy it.

This young man picked a random American city on a map and went there with only $20 in his pocket.  He checked in at a homeless shelter and eventually got a job with a moving company.  Within a year he had an apartment and purchased a car and other luxuries.  Then he too wrote a book about his experiences, but no universities invited him to lecture on how America is still the land of opportunity for those willing to work for it.

It was not just the work.  There was another component.  In the book written by the woman she mentioned purchasing expensive jeans which she argued was an earned luxury.  But this was a luxury the young man denied himself.  Part of his success lie in thrift.

This story illustrates a number of components in enterprise.  There is of course work and thrift, but also imagination, goal-orientation, passion, determination and commitment.  My old writing teacher taught his class that “commitment is the willingness to be uncomfortable”.  Another aspect is the ability to seize opportunity.
There is an old proverb that says opportunity is a woman with a long fringe (or bangs in America) but bald to the back.  Sort of like a reverse mullet.  To catch her, you’ve got to grab the front, because when she turns to run off there is nothing to grab on to.

I would presume that if we looked at these two books side-by-side we would see how the young man who built himself up from nothing possessed these values and virtues while the older woman lacked them.  Not only did she lack them, but then she blamed the system for her own failings in character.  This illustrates her vice – cynicism.
You may have noticed that I listed passion among the aspects of enterprise.  Passion is also in the main list as a virtue in its own right.  Passion is the state of high interested, also known as the flow state.  The corresponding vice to passion is sentimentality, or fake positive emotion.  When someone feels nostalgia for a misremembered past and ladles it with deep feeling then they are being sentimental.

Just as enterprise and passion go hand in hand, so too does sentimentality and cynicism as positives and negatives of the same concept.  Cynicism is fake negative emotion.  At first glance you might think that the corresponding vice to enterprise would be sloth, but sloth is born of cynicism.  It asks “why bother”.  What’s the point of hard work when the odds are stacked against you? Why bother with enterprise when the system ensures your failure? Sometimes it even takes a moral spin.

I received a negative comment last year from someone who viewed my Youtube video on the 7 Romantic Virtues.  He wrote:
Don't you think that pride is among the 7 sins of Christianity? together with lust, here represented with charm.  Enterprise of the conquistadors, Chivalry you talk about!! Yes, America and Israel is being so chivalric indeed. Killing so many people and calling it chivalry! What has the white men brought to world? 2 world wars, atom bombs, industry, pollution, degradation, corruption, colonisation. Would you like me to count more? Self Reliance! dont make me laugh you sons of Cortez and gangsters

Aside from the man’s general ignorance and provocative attitude, I noticed how he appears to equate enterprise with colonialism, nation-building, and conquest.  Overall, he has a largely cynical attitude.  He is riled-up with fake emotion over perceived negatives.  I say charm and he hears lust.  Cynicism always assumes and presumes the worst and that prevents enterprise by promoting fear of progress.  In this instance, the fear is that we might step on someone’s toes.

Nonetheless, this is an important point to address.  Here is an excerpt of one of Samuel Smiles’ mini-biographies from Self Help:
Perhaps one of the most interesting is that connected with the disentombment of the Nineveh marbles, and the discovery of the long-lost cuneiform or arrow-headed character, in which the inscriptions on them are written,—a kind of writing which had been lost to the world since the period of the Macedonian conquest of Persia.

An intelligent cadet of the East India Company, stationed at Kermanshah, in Persia, had observed the curious cuneiform inscriptions on the old monuments in the neighborhood,—so old that all historical traces of them had been lost,—and amongst the inscriptions which he copied was that upon the celebrated rock of Behistun,—a perpendicular rock rising abruptly some 1,700 feet from the plain, the lower part bearing inscriptions for the space of about three hundred feet, in three languages,—the Persian, Scythian, and Assyrian. Comparison of the known with the unknown, of the language which survived with the language that had been lost, enabled this cadet to acquire some knowledge of the cuneiform character and even to form an alphabet. Mr. (afterwards Sir Henry) Rawlinson sent his tracings home for examination. No professors in colleges knew anything about the cuneiform character; but there was a clerk of the East India House,—a modest unknown man of the name of Norris,—who had made this little-understood subject his study, to whom the tracings were submitted; and so accurate was his knowledge, that, though he had never seen the Behistun rock, he pronounced that Rawlinson had not copied the puzzling inscription with proper exactness. Rawlinson, who was still in the neighborhood of the rock, compared his copy with the original, and found that Norris was right; and by further comparison and careful study the knowledge of the cuneiform writing was thus greatly advanced.

So let me get this straight.  This 1700 foot rock had been sitting here for thousands of years and none of the locals thought to attempt a translation, even though one of the languages was currently indigenous to the region and it took a British army cadet from over a thousand miles away to make one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the Nineteenth Century.
Here is another on the subject of Richard Arkwright, the inventor of the spinning frame that allowed for mechanised cotton production:
Arkwright's labors, however, were, comparatively speaking, only begun. He had still to perfect all the working details of his machine. It was in his hands the subject of constant modification and improvement, until eventually it was rendered practicable and profitable in an eminent degree. But success was only secured by long and patient labor; for some years, indeed, the speculation was disheartening and unprofitable, swallowing up a very large amount of capital without any result. When success began to appear more certain, then the Lancashire manufacturers fell upon Arkwright's patent to pull it in pieces, as the Cornish miners fell upon Boulton and Watt, to rob them of the profits of their steam-engine. Arkwright was even denounced as the enemy of the working people; and a mill which he built near Chorley was destroyed by a mob in the presence of a strong force of police and military. The Lancashire men refused to buy his materials, though they were confessedly the best in the market. Then they refused to pay patent-right for the use of his machines, and combined to crush him in the courts of law. To the disgust of right-minded people, Arkwright's patent was upset. But though beaten, he was not subdued. He established large mills in other parts of Lancashire, in Derbyshire, and at New Lanark, in Scotland. The mills at Cromford also came into his own hands at the expiring of his partnership with Strutt, and the amount and the excellence of his products were such, that in a short time he obtained so complete a control of the trade, that the prices were fixed by him, and he governed the main operations of the other cotton-spinners.

Arkwright was a tremendous worker, and a man of marvellous energy, ardor, and application in business. At one period of his life he was usually engaged, in the severe and continuous labors involved by the organization and conduct of his numerous manufactories, from four in the morning until nine at night. At fifty years of age he set to work to learn English grammar, and improve himself in writing and orthography. When he travelled, to save time, he went at great speed, drawn by four horses. Be it for good or for evil, Arkwright was the founder in England of the modern factory system, a branch of industry which has unquestionably proved a source of immense wealth to individuals and to the nation.

I would draw your attention to the activities of the mob against Arkwright.  These men represented the infamous Luddites who believed that the invention of machinery would put those who laboured by hand for their living out of work.  In theory it seems a sound concern, however the result of the factory system was more employment, a better standard of living, and cheaper goods for the consumer.  The Luddites were wrong and cynical about the future.

The stories of the British army cadet and Richard Arkwright and the Luddites illustrate the perils of enterprise.  Why did the Persian natives not decipher the rock?  Because they did not care.  Perhaps they took it for granted.  Who knows, but it took a British cadet with the curiosity and passion to discover an answer.  He had an enterprise that the natives lacked, just as the Luddites lacked the enterprise to see the benefits of industrialisation.  Just as the presence of the British Army in Persia can be seen as imperialism so too can the inventors and entrepreneurs of the Industrial Revolution be seen as forcing a new world upon the common man.

With enterprise comes greatness, be it large or small greatness.  The man who works hard to create a small business is greater than the people he employs.  He earned that small level of greatness by his hard work.  Meanwhile, his employees sneer at him behind his back for bossing them around, regardless of the fact that without him they would not be employed.
These same principles apply on the next level of greatness where a man functions on a national rather than a local level.  Here the effects of the entrepreneur’s actions are intensified.   Each decision he makes can have profound impact on the lives of people he has never met to which the on-lookers might declare either positive or negative.
Now let’s take this one level further.  Suppose it is not an individual entrepreneur but the collective enterprise of an entire nation? Now whose lives are being affected?  This is cynically called colonialism, or imperialism, or globalisation.

Business in the Seventeenth Century was a rough.  During the Middle-Ages, the privilege of engaging in commerce was granted by the monarch.   By the Renaissance, companies had been formed under a Royal Charter with the permission of the government to engage in trade with the government getting a cut.  Often companies from different countries were competing with each other for markets abroad.  When I say competing, I mean they shot at each other.  These companies essentially had their own armies and navies for the sole purpose of competing with other companies.  This was the age of mercantilism.

The most famous of these companies was the British East India Company.  Expansion of business in those days was not unlike today.  The drive was to open markets which took the form of trading posts.  These posts overtime developed into trading regions, which in time developed into complete ownership.  This is how India became part of the British Empire.
In Britain during the Industrial Revolution you had factories starving for raw materials from abroad.  The locals in the far flung corners could not keep up.  So to get things moving the companies would develop a region and if need be fight off bandits and so forth.  So when I say develop a region, what I mean is to make the area economically viable for the modern age, often at the expense of the locals.  The same process that brought us the Highland Clearances brought us colonialism in India.  The lives of the locals were turned up-side-down as many were pulled kicking and screaming from the Stone Age into the Nineteenth Century.

Britain and America did the same thing in the Twentieth Century when companies sent men to the Middle-East to develop the oil industry.  Before their arrival the people were living a millennia old pastoral lifestyle and lacked the knowledge, skill, industry, and enterprise to develop their natural resources.  However, once this industry was created by foreigners the governments nationalised the oil fields and held the world to ransom.  Today the protestors chant “no blood for oil” but in the Nineteenth Century, the British East India Company would have sent its private army to the region and prevented the nationalisation of the oil fields that they had created.

You see, there is a tradition in the West.  If you find an empty plot of land and you build a house on it and maybe a farm, then you have developed the land, made it productive, and therefore own it.  So it might be argued that such an action by our hypothetical modern East India Company against our hypothetical Middle-Eastern government would be a defence of property rights and therefore a moral conflict.

Enterprise is often despised or misinterpreted because the actions of entrepreneurs, for good or ill, affect the lives of those weaker than themselves.  Here’s one thing that I hated about high school.  The jocks were all assholes.  During PE while the rest of us shmucks were plodding around the track, the football players were in the gym lifting weights to become bigger, stronger, and more capable of kicking our asses.  On rare occasions, they were brought out to play football with the rest of us.  Not exactly fair.  But enterprise is like that.  Through hard work, determination, passion, and perseverance the weak become strong and enter the competition of life with what many call an unfair advantage.  So your choice is to either plod around the track of life with everyone else or to go to the weight room and earn that “unfair” advantage for yourself.

Like the cynical Luddites, there will always be people who fear the progress made by enterprise.  After the fact, they will still call it shit.  They will ignore the positive outcomes and focus on the human cost.  In term of colonialism or globalisation, they will denounce enterprise destroying the lives of people, but ignore that vastly superior life that they were given in return.
If you look at a graph of global Gross Domestic Product you will see a flat line for most on human history.  Then in 1800 it suddenly rockets up at an alarming rate and is still climbing today.  In 1800 most of the world lived in shacks and today most live in houses.  This is the result of the British and American spirit of enterprise.  However, the cynics would rather the Industrial Revolution never happened because they claim to feel bad about the cost.

It is in the Nature of man to produce.  I call this the curse of Adam.  “That man shall toil by the sweat of his brow”.  But really, it’s not much of a curse.  I believe that contrary to popular opinion the defining characteristic of a man is to work.  Some would say violence, but violence is only a means to an end should the need arise.  We are wired to produce, build, create, discover, and compete.  Sometimes that competition turns violent.

This is how Camille Paglia can say, “If civilization had been left in female hands we would still be living in grass huts”.  Yes indeed, women can be fantastic exemplars of enterprise and men can be cynical, lazy, good for nothing, slobs.  However, when a woman is being enterprising, she is exhibiting masculine traits.  The lazy man is not and most men would deem him worthless for it.
Even though a woman can be enterprising, it is not a natural feminine trait.  Rather it is a masculine trait that some women have successfully cultivated.  So in terms of virtue, then what would be the feminine counterpoint to masculine enterprise?  It seems to me that the answer is self-reliance.

It is in the nature of Man to do stuff, which often leaves the Woman alone.  In times past he might be at work all day, or be on a business trip lasting months or even years, or he might be in the military, or today he might want to spend Saturday tinkering in the garage or building model ships in his study.  If he has side-projects, he might come home from a hard day’s work and then start on his other work.  For me that is writing.  So where does that leave the Woman?

In times past she had her own work which involved household chores and routine tasks, but today, labour saving devices have reduced that workload considerable.  The stay at home wife has a lot more time on her hands than her predecessors.

Currently, I am in a position where I have a day job and I write at night.  I have no woman waiting for me, but I do have my cat, Voltaire.  When I get home and set myself to writing he will sit on my bed and meow for attention.  Even as I write this he is running about like a wild kitten wanting to play.  I see him like that poor woman all cooped-up and alone all day waiting for her man to return, but when he does all he wants to do is either relax from one piece of work or start on another.

This is where self-reliance comes in.  Traditionally, it has been held as the quality of a virtuous woman to be self-reliant so that she is not emotionally dependent on her man.  She has the power to find her own work, her own amusements, and her own life.  The corresponding vice is co-dependency.  This is a state where she is so dependent on his emotional support and validation that she almost does not exist without him.  This is unhealthy for her and an incredible burden on him.

Generally, there is a consensus that co-dependency is a bad thing.  The image that comes to mind is this desperate woman, but there is another angle.  Think instead of the empowered woman.  She gets what she wants from life and on her terms.  Most of all, she does not put-up with any shit.  Sounds cool, but how does it play out?
If her idea of female empowerment means that her man should be paying her attention and attending to her needs rather than working, then really it’s just an aggressive and pro-active form of co-dependency.  The source of her happiness is him.  He is responsible for keeping her happy or she may dump him.  So he lives his life with the Sword of Damocles over his head.   If I do not emotionally satisfy her, then she will leave me and break my heart.  So he sacrifices his identity, which is his work, to keep her emotionally secure.  When his soul is broken, then she laments that he is “just not the man that I fell in love with” and eventually he gets dumped anyway.  In this stereotype scenario the man is self-sufficient in his work, but the woman is not self-sufficient in her emotions. 

To be fair, just as many women have cultivated enterprise, so too have many men cultivated the vice of co-dependency.  Women fall in love with men, so they find the men who exhibit the masculine quality of enterprise attractive.  Generally, the more successful the man the prettier the woman is on his arm.  At a young age men recognise the pairing of beauty and success.  The hot cheerleader is with the captain of the football team.  Also, the attraction that comes with love is equated with beauty.  This leads to the false belief that if a man can attract and keep a beautiful woman, then he is successful in life.  This false belief leads to co-dependency in a man.  She is his emotional validation therefore he is not self-sufficient and he abandons his work, his identity, to please her.  Again this leads to the inevitable break-up and the cycle resumes.

It might be argued that as men of enterprise invented machines to make housework easier, the women had more free time to fill.  In looking for things to occupy themselves they exerted greater autonomy than before.  With that new found liberation came social activism, suffrage and eventually the feminist movement.  As more and more women were forced by social pressures to cultivate enterprise, more and more men felt less social pressure to be enterprising.  I doubt many modern men would, like their predecessors, take their financial situation into account before proposing marriage.  Today, both parties are expected to bring the fruits of their labour into the marriage.  As the need for real success is no longer a requirement in attracting a mate, the man can focus on love instead, which leads to the state of co-dependency.  Just a theory.

The female stereotype is in a difficult position.  She is attracted the man of enterprise because of the qualities required to be enterprising and the fruits of enterprise.  However, these same qualities force her to go it alone sometimes and to be emotionally self-sufficient so that he can get on with the work that he needs to do to be a man.  She may feel that he is ignoring her or does not love her, however it is that dynamic that keeps her interested in him.  Should he abandon his work, give her what she wants, and become co-dependent, then she will lose interest in him.  The only solution is for him to work, give her some loving, and then get back to work.  The rest of her time is hers to employ, but she must resolve herself to the constant state of wanting.  But that is okay.  From what I know of female psychology, women love the feeling of unfulfilled desire.

Lord Byron was not much of a London socialite like Beau Brummel.  Byron was too busy working and writing to party with the Dandies.  Brummel’s claim to fame is that he invented the men’s suit.  Other than that, he was the first person to be famous for nothing as he lived off his celebrity.  Eventually Brummel ended life in exile from Britain avoiding debt and quite insane.  Brummel proves the adage “pleasure unearned consumes”.

It is easy for modern Romantics to romanticise the Romantics.   We are seduced by a flamboyant image or attitude and those who make the list are those whose image gives us what we want to see.  I think few people would list people like James Watt, Adam Smith, Richard Arkwright, Robert Stephenson, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Charles Babbage, Washington Roebling, or Nicola Tesla as Romantics.  People like Byron and other Romantic authors gave us a body of entertainment through their tireless labours, whereas the other men of enterprise left us technology and in some cases engineering marvels that we use and take for granted daily, but they are no less part of the Romantic cannon.

I might venture that they did more for the cause of Romanticism because rather than create Romantic figures in literature, they acted in the real world.  They exerted their individuality through their enterprise, often at the expense of their long-suffering and self-reliant wives, for the benefit of all who came after them.  The modern Romantic may do better to model themselves on these men rather than the fictional characters or public image that drew them to Romanticism in the first place.