Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Ethics of Violence

We live in a society that condemns violence of any kind, but can an argument be made that violence can actually be a moral necessity? Before continuing I will make my personal beliefs clear. I see violence as justified only in retaliation to violence with the use of reasonable force or in defence of one’s Natural Rights of life, liberty, and property. However, I am going to posit some other arguments concerning the use of violence simply to explore the subject further.

By violence I am referring to physical violence and not the use of lethal force, weapons, or verbal abuse. There are varying degrees of physical violence so I am limiting my discussion to range from an open hand slap to non-permanent physical damage.

When it comes to human conflict there are many ways to reach resolution including rational or irrational argument, intimidation, seduction, stubbornness, trade, bribery, or even calling on an external arbiter, like the police or courts. Of all the various means of reaching resolution, physical force trumps them all. To be blunt, you can simply beat your enemy into submission regardless of how intelligent, eloquent, seductive, stubborn, or rich they are. You can claim your rights, but rights are meaningless if your opponent does not recognise them and chooses to give you a beating.

Might may not make right, but it can win the day. This is why laws are passed against violence to prevent might from succeeding against right. Again, this only works if the perpetrator of violence chooses to acknowledge the law.

Now consider this situation.

What Sean Connery is describing here is a very important phenomenon. When I was a child and my parents fought, I always saw my father retreat in the end. I perceived this as a sign of weakness and a demonstration of female superiority. Later did I realise that he retreated not because he was weak or lost the fight; he left so that he would not hit her. Like the women described by Connery, my mother did not recognise the boundaries and did not know when to stop being provocative even when she had had the last word.

Before we begin any undertaking it is important to understand the risks involved. What are the consequences of our actions? If we remove violence from the equation, then the biggest risk in human conflict has been removed and therefore there is no immediate consequence for bad behaviour.  I am not writing just about women who do not know when to stop being provocative. The same applies to children. If they know that the worst thing that can happen as a consequence of their action is a tongue-lashing, then what deterrent is there to bad behaviour?

A few years ago I was punched in the mouth by a fifteen year old kid on the rampage with his friends. I was told later by the police that it was good that I did not hit him back because I would have been arrested for assault.

A friend recently sent me this message, “I went to a philosophy group last night. It was enjoyable until a socialist with an axe to grind showed up and started dominating the proceedings.” Again we see an example of someone who does not know the boundaries of self-control, decorum, and socially acceptable free speech (meaning, you’ve made your point now let someone else speak). Anyone shameless enough can tread all over everyone else with impunity.

Think of the well known trope where a character provokes another character until he gets punched in the face. “He had it coming”; “He asked for it”; or “He deserved it” is the usual justification. We accept this in films, but not in life. In the old days, bad behaviour was met with a duel or an invitation to “step outside”.

It seems the role of violence as a deterrent to bad behaviour is gone, which begs the question of whether this accounts for the rise in bad behaviour or general rudeness. One may argue that reintroducing violence into society can strengthen the violent by putting them in the position of judge and executioner, so to speak. As Connery said, “If the situation merits it” but who decides if the situation merits it? The perpetrator of violence does. What if he decides that not having dinner on the table at six o’clock merits it?

The word that keeps coming to mind is “equilibrium”. There are those who argue that violence in the home or society is never merited. I’m beginning to question that blanket statement. However, we do not want to live in a society where bullies are allowed to flourish and people live in fear of their fellow man. The answer must lie in-between these two undesirable extremes.

I do not have an answer to that question of equilibrium, but I suppose it might be similar to the gun issue. If guns are outlawed, then only outlaws will have guns. The boy who punched me is a child of violence, so such behaviour is as natural to him as breathing. I am not such a person. I lack the necessary social conditioning to have the will to violence. I am essentially the disarmed good guy while the bad guys are fully loaded.

So perhaps the problem is a lack of chivalry. If we look at the knight’s code of chivalry it can be summed-up as “the ethical use of violence”. Once violence is removed from society then so too is chivalry. So rather than discourage violence perhaps we should focus on teaching children to be chivalrous and thus make them better judges as to which situations merit violence and which do not.

The Code of Chivalry forbade the knights from violence towards women, children, and peasants. Women and children are generally physically weaker than men and peasants are not trained soldiers. Today, women and children are protected by law against violence and social aid agencies are in place for their protection against the violence of men.

Traditionally, the male role in the household was as judge, jury, and disciplinarian concerning all issues of bad behaviour simply by his ability to distribute violence. This duty required him to be a man of character, virtue, and fairness. The image of John Wayne as McClintock comes to mind where he punishes his unruly, shrew wife with a spanking over his knee for her bad behaviour as the town’s folk cheer him on for finally taking his responsibilities as a husband.

This may be a shocking statement, but can we suppose that the socially enforced removal of all violence from the household has contributed to men never learning chivalry, the ethical use of violence? The result is either arbitrary male violence against women and children because he lacks the moral training in how to be a fair disciplinarian or the complete castration of the male role in the household rendering him completely impotent (a virtual slave to a wife and children who know no boundaries).

I suppose it can be argued that men should learn to be disciplinarians without resorting to violence. Traditionally, women used “nagging” to keep an unruly man in line, but I have yet in all my many years met a man who nags and those who come close are easily silenced through a threat of force. At this point he either shuts-up or it moves into the physical stage. This does not work with women if she is confident that violence has been removed from the equation. Thus is the man rendered powerless.

Then there is the question of “Who put the man in charge?” Why should he be the dispenser of discipline? Studies into fatherless homes have found that boys tend to either submit to the mother and become spoiled and feminized or they rebel and she lacks the physical strength to control or intimidate him. In both cases the boy never learns to become a man. So again it is the man’s physical strength and its implied physical force that put him into that role.

Again, if that threat of violence is completely removed then discipline becomes impossible. I heard of a man who disciplined his daughter, not through force of any kind, and in retaliation she called child protective services claiming she was physically abused. They took her and her younger brother away, and when he spoke with his attorney he was told that the only way to get his children back was to lie by saying he had a problem, and then after therapy he would most likely have his children returned.

As far as relationships go, there is the phenomenon of emotional infidelity. This is when one person in a relationship, marriage or otherwise, begins a “friendship” with a member of the opposite sex. It begins innocently enough, but as the relationship progresses the mutual feelings become more intense. Technically, no infidelity has occurred because there is no physical relationship, but eventually the friendship begins to threaten the relationship as feelings become transferred from the partner to the friend.

Both sexes can be guilty of emotional infidelity, but it is most common among women. Unfaithful men tend to prefer the old fashioned sexual infidelity. The cuckolded man knows something is wrong and becomes clingy in an attempt to maintain the relationship. The grasping makes her feel even more trapped, divided, and inevitably she leaves her partner. Studies have shown that the man in this situation has only one tool in his box. He must force her to choose or reject her. This does not ensure success, but every other option ends in guaranteed failure.

In this day and age it seems barbaric for a man to deny his partner a male friend, especially when some girls prefer the company of men to women. However, again we see the lack of enforced boundaries. Should a man discipline his wife before she strays and finds herself in a position where she may throw away a perfectly good relationship over transient emotions? They say women are more emotionally driven than men, so is it the man’s place to ensure she does not make poor emotional decisions? Should he be her disciplinarian? Some say yes, but I would like to believe that in a proper relationship that would not be necessary.

In this Socialist Age the collectivists see people as part of groups. There are men, women, minorities, gays, children, rich, poor, conservatives, liberals, and so on. They pass over-reaching legislation, create quota, and such to help or hinder each group. The problem is that they cannot see the trees for the forest. Individuals are unique. Not all white men hold positions of power and oppress everyone else. Not all Blacks favour affirmative action and welfare. Not all poor people want to go to university. Not all women want to be engineers to address the imbalance of the male to female ratio of students in that field.

Likewise I’m not sure all violence is wrong. Yes, some men beat women and children, but some men use moderate physical force ethically to correct bad behaviour. So I’m no longer completely convinced that violence is unwarranted. Perhaps sometimes instigating violence is ethical because it enforces important boundaries in behaviour. Violence then becomes a tool like any other and with it should come moral education to use it justly. Traditionally, this education came from family and religion, but with the breakdown of both we have instead a State enforced ban on violence leaving only the violent with the capacity to use it.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The False Divide: Emotion and Reason

I have often called this the Age of Feeling in contrast to the Age of Reason. I fear I may have been in error. I was recently introduced to the idea that emotions and reason are not in opposition as is so deeply ingrained in our culture and began pondering this notion and its implications.

Once you reject the false dichotomy of reason vs emotion you have to start thinking differently. What distinguishes the so-called rational man from the emotional one is not about feeling or not feeling. It has to do with the nature and quality of the thoughts inexorably attached to the emotions.

So what are thoughts? They are a mental representation of an individual’s perceptions and reconfigurations of reality. For example, we may make a mental representation of an existent tree or a mental reconfiguration drawn from our library of mental representations to imagine Obama wearing only boxer shorts and playing the tuba while sitting on the back of a pink unicorn. Representations of the real and the unreal continuously flow through our minds in what writers call “the stream consciousness”.

You might say that thought in its most elemental form is the very definition of subjective, but part of being human is communicating those thoughts to others. This requires language. We label our thoughts with words to define and delineate one mental representation from another. Language gives structure to thought.

This allows for thoughts to become the building blocks of more complex ideas and concepts which build into even higher abstractions. Thus does the edifice rise from the primordial foundational thoughts of the hidden unconscious, to that semi-awareness of the twilight trance state, to the light of consciousness, and continue to rise into the heights of complexity. At these soaring heights it is easy to forget that in their most basic form these abstractions championed by reason began as ill-defined thoughts indistinguishable from emotions.

Emotions are a response to thought, and thoughts respond to the emotions. We may choose to make a distinction between emotion and thought but even if that be the case their interactions are so fast and so interwoven that they might as well be considered one flesh. This symbiosis of emotion and thought is the psycho-emotional make-up, or more poetically we may call it “the soul”. So what then is the distinction that people choose to make when they pit emotion against reason?

When we describe someone as being emotional, what are we really describing? To put a positive slant on it, when we say someone is emotional we might also call this person “in touch with their feelings” implying positive feelings like sympathy and compassion – a so-called sensitive person. The negative implication of someone being too emotional is that they are being irrational, morose, or hyper-sensitive taking things too hard or too personally.

We are not describing the passion of a mathematician transfixed by a complex equation that he is resolving or the obsession of the inventor. So what types of thoughts distinguish between the emotions of the mathematician and those of the positive and negative implications of being emotional?

Emotions are a response to thoughts and all thoughts are internal, but some are reactions to our perception of external phenomenon and others to internal phenomenon, like memories and other imaginings. This divides emotions into two types; there are those focused internally and those focused externally.

The intensity of the emotion is in relation to the thought’s value and the most valuable are typically the really really deep primordial unconscious ones. In this rolling subterranean sea the thoughts have not even been given labels, remaining unknown and unclassified, but creatures do emerge from these depths to make their presence known in the conscious mind. These are the most basic emotions of happiness, desire, sorrow, and fear.

Happiness is the gaining of a value and desire is the imagined gaining of a value. Sorrow is the loss of a value and fear is the imagined loss of a value. So we see here examples of emotional responses to either the real or the imagined. Whenever we call something “a value” it is important to determine who the valuer is. In this case, it is the primordial semi-conscious self usually called the ego. When it comes to these four basic emotions the valuer is at the centre and the key value is the ego itself. It is positive when it gains or might gain for itself and it is negative when it loses or might lose what it perceives to have.

Going back to my skyscraper metaphor, think of this primordial unconscious place as the foundations or point zero. From here we move straight up in increments from total black, through shades of grey, and eventually into the white penthouse suite at the top, and the view is spectacular.

The penthouse is all about the view. The Morlocks in the basement are constantly looking inward to check the well-being of their ego as it balances its fear and desire. They are self-conscious, self-obsessed, and solipsistic. But the penthouse is all about the view. This is the point of self-awareness and is constantly looking outward. The focus is not on the ego but on the world outside your window.

Up here the emotions are much less turbulent so the connections between Reason and Emotion seem severed. Emotions, or being emotional, are associated with the basement level while being at the top is considered cold and rational. We see this played out in society where the lower classes are commonly perceived as emotional and the upper classes as “uptight” with the middle-class as a mixed balance of the too. But this is a false divide.

Just as the thoughts in my conceit become more complex from bottom to top, then so too do the emotions transcend from the basics of happiness, desire, sorrow, and fear into emotions like passion, bravery, and love. The emotions begin to resemble something more akin to virtues.

I feel the need to pop in a disclaimer here because of the nature of this metaphor. I am not suggesting that people who are more capable with dealing with higher abstract concepts or who have a higher social status are somehow enlightened beings. The rich and intelligent can be Morlocks too, the difference is that they hide it better because of social demands. Likewise, you can have the simple, down-to-earth type folks living in the penthouse.

What I am illustrating here as my central thesis is that the rift between reason and emotion is an illusion. The true spit is between our base thought/emotion level characterised by the ego and our higher and more complex thought/emotion level characterised by self-awareness. The true conflict is not Reason vs Emotion. It is about the Ego vs the Self. The Ego is its own highest value and therefore anything that feeds it or deprives it elicits strong emotions. The Self finds value outside of itself in people, places, ideas, experiences, and yes, even in self-understanding; the difference is that it is not the life and death struggle between fear and desire that we see in the ego, rather it is an understanding and acceptance of the self.

I’m compelled to comment on sentimentality. Just as the Self looks outside itself for values, the Ego can pull a trick where it confuses what is with what is imagined. It works like this. When you have a dream about a person you are not dreaming about them, but rather your idea of them. They are a symbolic representation of your thoughts.

I watched a documentary that covered a tribe of Indians in Washington State whose culture revolved around whale hunting. They stopped this practice in the 1920’s because of environmental concerns. In recent decades the species of whale they hunted was taken off the endangered list and the Indians resumed whaling. The program showed this activist sobbing in hysterical tears crying for the poor whales and at her perceived betrayal by the Indians. This is an example of sentimentality.

The activist was not crying for the whales, rather her idea and associate feelings for the whales. The betrayal by the Indians was based not on their actions but on her assumption that they were the clichéd stereotype of a people “one with nature”. She was crying for her own collapsed worldview.

Sentimentality is when we feel emotions regarding our ideas of reality rather than through a direct experience of reality. If the activist had worked at an aquarium and raised a whale from a calf and formed a bond with the animal, then the tears would be valid. If she knew the Indians personally and they claimed to be environmentalists and then killed her whale, then the tears would be valid. However, in this instance she was not crying over the whales or the Indians but rather her personal mental constructs of them – she was crying for herself, her ego. The tragic thing is that she cannot see this. She thinks that evil was done in the world rather than the truth that this is all about the symbolic representations of her thoughts and her ego.

Just to clarify, yes, all emotions are a reaction to our thoughts. The difference is that when I have an emotional reaction to my cat these are a response to thoughts derived from direct experience. If I were to have an emotional reaction to starving children in Africa of whom I have no direct experience, then this is sentimentality. I am reacting to an idea without an experiential anchor in reality.

I fear that it is incredibly common for people to think that they are living in the world, looking outside themselves, being compassionate and sympathetic, or fighting for just causes but in truth all these things are just masks for the ego. They may appear on the surface to be living in the penthouse of enlightenment, but are really just Morlocks in pretty clothes. The best way to deceive others is to deceive yourself first.

“Stick and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”. If you ever find yourself hurt by the political or ideological views of others, or offended by politically incorrect language or opinions, or even if someone says something that just plain hurts your feelings, then chances are that the ego is involved. The source of your pain in this instance is simply another person’s thoughts being contrary to your mental construct of reality and nothing more. Perhaps they might see you as not having as much value to them as you wish they did or they may speak unpleasant truths that you resist.

This is why the concept “Nothing is true, everything is permitted” is so important. It is not a disregard for objective truth nor is it a license to act without ethics. It is an acceptance of the fact that the mental constructs that you call truth are merely a collection of your thoughts/feelings, just as the truths of others are the same to them. To embrace this maxim is to escape the tyranny of the ego and live life in the real and present.

When we say someone is too sensitive or overly emotional we are mislabelling the phenomenon. It is not an excess of emotion, rather an excess of ego that is to blame. Likewise, someone who has learned to manage, control, and even transcend ego is often perceived as being cold, unemotional, or too rational. This is because their emotional responses have become so complex as to no longer resemble anything that an egotistical person can even conceive as being emotions.

So we are not living in the Age of Feeling, though I may insist on calling it that. We are living in the Age of Ego where perception and base feeling is more important than reality. We live in a world where to offend another person is a punishable crime regardless of whether real harm was done. The ego is sacred and must be preserved against the thoughts of others at the expense of truth. For example, in Britain a man who calls his fat wife fat is technically guilty of domestic abuse.

The list of such ego-preserving legislation on both sides of the Atlantic goes on and on. When what a man thinks is deemed a crime because of how someone might choose to respond to those thoughts, then how long before such thought crimes are more thoroughly prosecuted to insane levels? The irony is that every major religion and philosophy has some concept to describe the transcendence of ego, and yet in the name of morality society seeks to preserve, promote, and feed the ego. One product of the ego is arrogance. Contrary to the phrase, it is not pride that precedes a fall but arrogance.

The film Equilibrium depicts a world where emotion is seen as the cause for man’s self-destruction, therefore all emotions, emotional displays, and anything that might evoke emotion is banned. The true danger is not the emotions. It is the ego.

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Romantic and the Feminine

The most common use of the word Romantic in our daily lives is to denote love. There is the Romance section in the bookstore and the Romantic-Comedy section in the DVD store. Both these are largely considered as being for a female market, and so therefore is the word Romantic often associated with femininity.

The word Romantic originally meant Roman-like to describe the pigeon Latin that emerged in Western Europe after the fall of Rome. These dialects eventually evolved in what we call the Romance Languages of French, Italian, and Spanish.

In time, a particular type of story came to be referred to as Romances because of the languages in which they were written. All of these stories have four main features: love and adventure in the form of knights and maidens, scenic locations, and some sort of supernatural element, like magical beings or events.

From this we have four uses of the word Romantic. It can be associated with love, but also with adventure, a beautiful bit of landscape, or the strange and supernatural. I do not believe that anyone would assign a specific gender label to a film like Raiders of the Lost Ark, if anything they would call it masculine. In that story we have all the Romantic elements present. It is an adventure story; there is a love interest; it does not focus on landscape like many Westerns, but that element is there; and of course the supernatural element.

Stories that focused primarily on the supernatural were called Gothic Romances. Westerns were likened to the Historical Romances of Sir Walter Scott. So too might we call Space Westerns, like Star Wars, Science-Fiction Romances instead of Space Operas. Most genre fiction in literature, cinema, television, and even narrative video games could be called Romances.

Regarding the Historical Romances and Westerns, people tend to forget that Clio was one of the nine muses who inspired the arts. Her speciality was history. G.M. Trevelyan in his essay Clio, a Muse observed, “The great antiquarian and novelist [Sir Walter Scott] showed historians that history must be living, multi-coloured, and romantic if it is to be a true mirror of the past.”

Another misinterpretation of the concept of the Romantic that is prevalent in our modern language is to associate the word Romantic with the unrealistic, fake, fanciful, or far-fetched. This stems from the supernatural aspect of the Medieval Romances as being improbable.

The truth is that the less-than-factual elements of the Romances made them more interesting. Besides, how many people became historians or archaeologists because of Raiders of the Lost Ark? Or became involved in the sciences because of Star Trek? The Romances inspired attitudes and actions in real life despite being fiction.

The goal of the Romance writer, be it Historic, Gothic, or Science-Fiction, is not to be real, but to be realistic. The objective is the achieve verisimilitude. This is where a Romantic film like Batman Begins succeeds and a camp film like Batman and Robin fails. It marks the difference between a genius like Christopher Nolan and a hack like Joel Schumacher.

It’s unfortunate that we have come to limit the scope of the word Romantic to describe genres strongly associated with the female market when traditionally the word Romantic was either non-gender specific or primarily masculine. Likewise, it is unfortunate that we associate the Romantic with the fake when it is telling us the deeper truths through fiction.

Due to the modern common association of the Romantic with love, to the exclusion of elements that were once more dominant, like action, adventure, and the supernatural, the Romantic is viewed as being a feminine concept. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s funny how critics of the Romantic have blamed Romanticism for The American Civil War and both World Wars, and yet today the Romantic is associated with love and not war.

A few of the key by-words for the Romantic are volition, energy, and action. Why? Because these qualities drive the narrative, whether in a fictional adventure story or in real life history. More importantly, these are considered to be predominantly masculine qualities.

If we look at Romanticism from the perspective of Cultural Philosophy as opposed to literature we see that not only is Romanticism predominately masculine in nature it is also anti-feminists. This is not to say that it is anti-woman by any stretch. Romantics love women, but they are anti-feminist.

The reason is that there are two opposing premises. The Romantics, as represented by the Victorians here, believed that men and women are different both biologically and psychologically. That being the case, then men and women can never be equal because it is logically impossible for two different things to be equal. Although an apple and an orange are equally fruit, they are different and can therefore never be equal, however they can be complimentary. It was this complimentary relationship that was the goal of the Victorians in terms of relationships and the familial division of labour.

The Feminist stance is that men and women are equal except in instances where women are superior to men. This fosters a competitive relationship between men and women rather than a complimentary one and thus the battle of the sexes was born.

The primary casualties in this war have been women forced into the labour market, children in single parent households, and men being socially devalued and alienated from their children. The primary benefactors have been political, financial, and social institutions who feed off the problems caused by the destruction of the family unit and the absence of men.

I am not saying that the Romantic goal is to return women to the home. In the Nineteenth Century, women had yet to prove themselves as doctors, for example, but in the Twentieth Century they have proven their capability, therefore it would be ludicrous to deny any qualified woman such a job.

The Romantic stance is “if you can, then you may”. No person should be denied their chosen profession and its just rewards provided they are capable of performing the required task. However, the competition for these jobs must be fair without any special privileges or considerations.

There is a problem here. Life is not fair because men and women are different. The tool for levelling the playing field for women is the contraceptive pill because it takes reproduction out of the equation. The only way for women to compete with men is for them to sacrifice reproduction.

Contrary to the popular rhetoric, she cannot have it all. There is a choice every woman must make between career and family. Actually, that is not true. The choice has been made for her before she was born.

The way the current economy has developed few women have the luxury to choose between being a housewife caring for the children and a job because few men are in a position to afford a wife and family. It takes two these days. Where in 1911 a man could live a middle-class lifestyle supporting a home, wife, children, and servants while employed by a bank as a common clerk, today’s man would have to be in a much higher paying job to support the same.

Therefore any responsible couple has to examine their joint financial situation before committing to children. The only way she can have it all is through state intervention either through regulating businesses to force them to pay maternity leave (which men do not require) or through state benefits. The third alternative is of course a wealthy husband.

That’s only half the story. Recent government figures in the United Kingdom show that 50% of children are born out of wedlock. According to The Telegraph (12 Sept 2011):

A recent academic study claimed that the Government's benefits reforms have encouraged family breakdowns, since they meant women who left their husbands were better off financially after leaving their husbands because they could claim higher welfare payments and better child care. The introduction of the Working Families Tax Credit in 1999 had a "substantial impact'' on the divorce rate among the poorest households, prompting a 160 per cent rise in separations, the report published in the Economic Journal claimed.

The traditional male figure based on the Romantic model of the man of independent action who voluntarily takes responsibility for protecting and providing for his wife and children is now obsolete due to social forces largely engineered by government. So now government moves in to fill the role. The father is forced-out, the mother is either on benefits or working, and the child is raised by the State as its surrogate father.

Romanticism is primarily a masculine phenomenon and women love the Romantic because most normal women love men just as normal men love women. What a man wants in a woman is a partner and helpmate with whom he can raise children and grow old with. He does not want a battle of the sexes.

To avoid such conflict he will typically simply leave the situation. The result is men rejecting women simply because he has learned that on balance she is not worthy of the sacrifices that he is prepared to make. More and more it seems as though the so-called toxic women glorified in the media in shows like Sex and the City are outnumbering the women of virtue that men truly desire.

So men use the party girls for sex and move on because logically that is all they are good for. To linger too long in the relationship is only to invite emotional hardship. If that seems hard to believe, consider that men are three to four times more likely to commit suicide after a failed relationship than women.

Regular readers will know that I have identified two distinct zeitgeists; The Romantic (1776-1929) and The Socialist (1929-present). The Romantic Era was a more masculine period driven by the male qualities of invention, risk taking, and competition. The Socialist Era is more feminine with the rise of government central planning and social programs intended to control citizens under the pretext of care. Winston Churchill observed:

"The women's suffrage movement is only the small edge of the wedge, if we allow women to vote it will mean the loss of social structure and the rise of every liberal cause under the sun."

This has indeed occurred. According to voting trends, women are more inclined to vote for politicians promising greater social welfare programs at the expense of individual responsibility. The result is greater state authority as votes primarily from women sustain the mostly men in power who arrogantly believe that they can regulate both the economy and society and historically do so to the detriment of both.

If I am correct in my hypothesis that the Romantic is primarily masculine, then it is equally true that the ideal man is the Romantic Man. So how does the Romantic Man function in the predominantly feminine Socialist Era?

This is the existential crisis facing modern man. We do not know what to do. We are lost. We are fish out of water. Some men are not men at all but boys lacking the self-discipline of manhood. Others are frustrated Alphas looking for a fight and not finding a morally acceptable one. Some are simply deluded and think that the old rules still apply. While others still have accepted to role of “mangina” catering to the whims of females as “white knights” and “orbiters” who are more than happy to feed a woman’s ego in return for her validation.

Among the Romantic Men there are various points of view. Some figure that the best course is to keep your head down and enjoy life until the inevitable crash, whether that enjoyment means a solitary pursuit of wisdom or social hedonism. My chosen course is to be openly Romantic regardless of the social mores of political correctness and hope someone listens. I suppose it is for each man to make his own choice.

Whether you look at Romanticism from a literary, historic, philosophical, or cultural perspective, I believe that it is clearly a masculine phenomenon. I would go so far as to suggest that attacks on Romanticism are attacks on the masculine virtues themselves and the common perception of the Romantic as feminine is nothing short of a blatant attempt to strip a man of these virtues. If anything the word represents one more territory to be reclaimed in the common social discourse.

We live in an age where narrative fiction is the primary form of entertainment; be it television programs, films and even video games side-by-side with the traditional forms of written fiction stories and the vast majority of these narratives are Romantic. We have been raised on them. The result of this is that we want adventures; we want to be Indiana Jones or Han Solo or Malcolm Reynolds or Captain Kirk. But then the nanny state steps in and says, “No, you might hurt yourself”. The sad thing is that we obey because it’s the law.

If change is going to happen then it’s a spiritual change that’s needed. I don’t mean God or some New Age awakening. It’s a fundamental break from our existing social programming. The truth is that we are asleep while they live. The purpose of the Romantic life is to live and they live at our expense. I for one won’t stand for that.

Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars [Romantics]. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off. -- Tyler Durden: Fight Club

Monday, 5 September 2011

Romanticism as Cultural Philosophy

In the appendix to his book, Classic, Romantic, and Modern, Jacques Barzun provides examples of no less than twenty-two different usages of the word Romantic. I cannot think of any other phenomenon in all of cultural history as diverse, loved, hated, misunderstood, and argued as much as the concept of the Romantic. So it is irresponsible for anyone to discuss or write on the topic without saying what they mean when they use the word Romantic.

This is not to say that there is no definitive meaning of the word. Simply that there is no consensus of meaning. Writers on the subject may share particular spheres of general commonality or touch on common points. They may also disagree on key features, for example, there is the question of whether the Romantic Movement was a reaction against the Classicism of the Enlightenment or a natural manifestation of the Enlightenment when it was put into widespread action. On this point, I believe that a surface reading of the Romantic would lead one to the first conclusion, but a deeper reading would lead one to the second.

My approach to the Romantic is similar to that of Jacques Barzun, Ayn Rand, and others who have approached the Romantic Movement by looking at the common denominators that linked all of these diverse writers, artists, and philosophers labelled Romantic. Their most basic conclusion is that Romanticism is individualism. Or, as I say, the Romantic can be summed-up by one word – I. Admittedly, this is an over-simplification, but it gets the essential point across.

There is a key point where I differ from any writer that I have read on the subject of the Romantic. Most authors focus on the Romantic as an intellectual and artistic movement whose most narrow parameters are set between 1780 and 1850. The more generous critics see the movements that followed Romanticism to be merely variations on established themes and therefore extend the dates from 1780 to 1918. Where my approach differs is that I do not see Romanticism solely as an intellectual and artistic movement but more importantly also as a zeitgeist.

The word zeitgeist means “spirit of the age” and essentially describes what we might call the culture of a particular time and place. My unique interpretation and usage of the term Romantic is to describe the prevailing culture of the West from 1776-1929. What this does is shift the focus of the Romantic from the intellectuals and artists who produced the works that we label Romantic and looks to the prevailing attitudes, beliefs, rituals, social philosophy, and material production and consumption of the people themselves. When we do this, historical figures like Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Washington Roebling, and Wyatt Earp become just as much Romantic figures as Byron, Shelly, Hugo, and Goethe.

The result of this shift takes Romanticism out of the established pigeon-holes of academia and releases it into the world. As a religion, Shintoism has a key weakness. Because it is ancestor worship, the practicing of the faith is bound to the land of Japan. It is not portable. Whereas, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam demonstrate that by having a textbook faith it becomes not only portable but exportable. Likewise, if we look at Romanticism as a cultural philosophy and codify it, then the philosophy gains living power and is not imprisoned within the ivory tower. That is what I am attempting to achieve in these articles.

When I write that Romanticism is a cultural philosophy I must add that as far as I know this is as original as a concept can be these days. For all I know someone else has explored this and given it a different name. I’ll explain the notion.

Cultural philosophy is basically looking at the zeitgeist of a particular period and extrapolating a general belief system derived from the cultural evidence. In a sense, it is the opposite of the traditional approach to philosophy. Rather than an ideology being codified and put to action, the action is codified into an ideology.

Where traditional philosophical criticism looks for the application of reason and logic in the codified arguments of a single person or school of thought, cultural philosophy applies an interdisciplinary approach to identify a general philosophical expression of a particular group, which may involve specific philosophic influences. Once identified, it can be codified in the form of general principles. This process involves looking at both the top of the intelligential hierarchy as well as the bottom and understanding the dynamics in-between

This idea of cultural philosophy is in itself a Romantic notion. From the Romantics comes the idea of Nationalism. This is often misrepresented as a worship of the State, but more accurately it stems from the Romantics valuing different cultures as representative of the general will of all the individuals within that society and the belief that a culture could be seen as an ideological entity unto itself’ as often portrayed as a national symbol, like Columbia, Uncle Sam, and Brother Jonathan in America; John Bull and Britannia in the United Kingdom; or Marianne in France. Just as we can recognise a national spirit, so too can we recognise a temporal one.

Romanticism, like national culture, can be defined in similar terms as the dominant cultural philosophy in the West during a specific period of time (1776-1929). We can observe all the different people of this vast era and still recognise a general similarity that distinguishes them from the Classicists who went before and the Socialists who followed.

To illustrate, imagine two men are walking down a street and encounter a homeless man. One man says, “Isn’t this tragic, I can’t believe that we live in a society where people are still homeless”. The other man says, “Isn’t this tragic, I can’t believe someone could mess up his life so horribly”. Each archetype represents two distinct zeitgeists, the Romantic (1776-1929) and the Socialist (1929-present). The key differential between them is that the Romantic is individualistic and believes the man should have done more for himself while the Socialist is a collectivist who believes that society, in the form of the State, should do more to help the homeless in general.

In this example I am not referring to any high minded ideological conflict to be fought by quoting Adam Smith or Karl Marx. For each individual the zeitgeist manifests as a general feeling of what is right that he may never fix to an established codified ideology or assume a set label recognised by academia. The more inquisitive individual may study and find philosophers to justify their sense of reality, but it is important to recognize that their sense or feeling of truth precedes their understanding of any concrete ideology.

One of my favourite films to illustrate this temporal cultural divide is Kate and Leopold which depicts the clash of cultures and attitudes between a Nineteenth century duke and the people of the Twenty-first century world he finds himself in. Remember that the word attitude means orientation. The feelings we describe as attitude are simply the product of a person’s orientation to reality, that is, their philosophy of life. Understanding and codifying this is the process of cultural philosophy.

By emphasising the importance of cultural philosophy it is not my intention to discredit the role of the philosophers, writers, and artists, especially those associated with the Romantic. It is important to understand the connection between these creators and the cultures that they influenced.  Far too often academics focus on the literary and material products of the few at the top because that is their critical expertise and ignore the movements of the much larger cultural mass at the bottom which requires the skill sets of a social scientist or cultural historian.

Richard Dawkins coined the word meme to describe how ideas move through society. A meme is "an idea, behaviour or style that spreads from person to person within a culture." Malcolm Gladwell describes a meme as "an idea that behaves like a virus--that moves through a population, taking hold in each person it infects."

The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau was written in 1762 and yet it is cited as one of the key influences of the French Revolution of 1789. That’s a twenty-seven years span. The Communist Manifesto was written in 1848, and yet we do not see the first Communist nation until seventy years later.

Memes take time to spread and often when they reach the stage of widespread cultural influence the ideas presented often become diluted, misinterpreted, or misrepresented, like Chinese Whispers. The source of the ideas may be unknown outside the true believers, but the ideas are still there, imbedded in each person’s general sense of life.

For example, the British free newspaper The Metro had this from a girl who had participated in the London Riots of 2011. The message is watered-down and converted to common perception, but if you look closely you can see Karl Marx’s message, “Property is left”.

One of the girls bragged about ‘getting a couple of free things’, before insisting: ‘It’s the government’s fault. I don’t know. Conservatives, whoever it is. It’s the rich people who’ve got businesses and that’s why all this happened.’

Likewise, the ideas of Romanticism spread like memes through Western Civilization and became the key defining feature of Nineteenth Century culture. This was supported by the laws, governments, institutions, and social codes of conduct that developed and reaffirmed among the people by their attitudes and actions.

When of my favourite little stories that I repeat often is that of the American outlaw Curly Bill Brocious. He had just evaded conviction for murdering of the marshal of Tombstone, Ed White. After the trial, he and a friend rode into a town and went to a restaurant where they forced the patrons to undress and dance at gunpoint. A passing deputy saw this through the window and formed a posse. A gunfight ensued and a horse in the livery where the posse held-up was killed in the crossfire before Bill escaped. The following day a messenger from Bill paid compensation to the livery owner for his loss.

So here is a cruel man who takes pleasure in humiliating people, has no regard for the law, and had just narrowly avoided a murder conviction and yet he felt obligated to take personal responsibility for the livery owner’s property losses. I find that incredible. Compare that attitude with the girl from the London riots or try getting a parent to pay for an item in a shop broken by their child. Even the lowliest criminal of the Nineteenth Century showed more respect for the property rights of others than the average person today. If Bill robbed someone, then that was intentional, but killing the horse was an accident to be repaid. Amazing thought process by our standards.

Here’s in another example of the Romantic attitude from the National Review dated 19 April 1999 called Paying for Beauty - motion picture 'Titanic' misrepresents the social codes of the wealthy.

Yet Cameron-who, as I say, did his homework-knows that there were many true gentlemen in first and second class who indeed, according to their code of behavior, "did the right thing." For example, we see in a cameo shot Isidor Strauss and his wife. They are lying together on a bed in their stateroom, waiting for death. Cameron knows that their real story is more complicated and much more poignant.

Isidor Strauss created the great department store Macy's. In his late 60s, rich and retired, he toured Europe with his wife. They were now heading home on the Titanic. As the ship sank, Mrs. Strauss was allowed to board a lifeboat. She pleaded that her elderly husband be allowed to board too. This was allowed. But Mr. Strauss refused to board. He said, "I will not go before the other men." That was that. She said that she had spent her life with him and would not leave him now. She stepped out of the boat, and they sat on deck chairs to watch others load.

The point here is that the upper-class gentleman's code of that era was deeply felt and sternly enforced. It involved "setting an example" for the rest of society. When things went wrong, one bore it with stoicism, or irony, or humor. Perhaps above all, one was deferential to women.

Col. John Jacob Astor, whose ancestors first earned their money in fur trading, also makes a cameo appearance in Titanic. He was traveling with his second wife, young and pregnant. She pleaded that he be let into a lifeboat with her. Second Officer Lightoller refused: "Women only." Without complaint, Astor withdrew. Apparently while swimming in the ocean he was crushed by tons of steel as one of the funnels tilted and crashed. Benjamin Guggenheim, of the great steel fortune, met a similar fate and asked a departing passenger to tell his wife he had died "like a gentleman."

It is possible that Cameron intuited that a modern audience would scarcely believe that any such code of honor existed. Yet I think he never considered for a moment trying for genuine complexity here, because he had a very different, more up-to-date ideal in mind: that of Jack Dawson.

The author makes a chilling point. We of the Twenty-first century can scarcely imagine how people could possibly be so noble. Remember, this is not a foreign culture. This was us one hundred years ago – next year will be the century anniversary of the Titanic.

We can learn just as much on how to live our lives as Romantics from the examples of the people who actually lived according to the Romantic philosophy as we can in studying the raw material of Romanticism as taught in university literature, political science, philosophy, and art history courses.  You might say that being a modern Romantic requires abandoning your native culture to emulate that of Victoriana.  In its ideal form that is what subcultures like Goth and Steampunk seek to achieve.

When coming to understand Romanticism it is import to know the works and ideas of the key individuals involved in the movement during its first sixty years, but Romanticism cannot be limited to that relative minority. The real Romantic revolution is to be found in the unwritten cultural philosophy and history of the millions of people who participated in the zeitgeist created by those ideas and together created the modern world that we have inherited.


I appreciate that in writing this I found I had to explain the concepts of zeitgeist, cultural philosophy, and memes and in doing so I never actually elaborated on the Romantic principles I say are inherent in the Romantic zeitgeist.  So I will abandon my responsibility to defend my position and simply list a few here that I have gleaned from my research.

Equilibrium:  Life is full of contradictory extremes that must be held in balance.  For example, man is an individual creature but also a social creature, therefore the needs of the individual and the legitimate needs of the group must be balanced.  Life is full of such things requiring balance.

Emotion and Reason:  Romanticism rejects the false dichotomy separating emotion and reason.  You cannot have an idea without an emotion or an emotion without an idea.  When someone is accused of being too emotional, we are actually judging the quality of their thoughts and how they act on those thoughts.  Likewise, when we accuse someone of being too rational, we are denying that they are feeling but choosing not to act in an demonstratively emotional manner.

Volition: This is a fundamental component.  Romanticism is an action oriented philosophy so there is strong emphasis on the will to act, take risks, and try new things.

Energy: This pairs with volition for the purpose of action.  The Romantics glorified men of will and energy who accomplished  great visions.

Natural Rights:  The high value placed on individualism requires a high value also be placed on the importance of the Natural Rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. If the man of will and energy accomplishes his vision at the expense of the rights of others, then he has violated the key rules that define the Romantic.

Karma:  This is cause and affect.  With actions come consequences and each man must take ownership of his actions.  This is positive if he reaps rewards and negative if he brings hardship.  Everyone has the right to keep their justly earned rewards and a responsibility to rectify their mistakes against themselves and others.

Self-Awareness and Acceptance: The Romantic must accept himself for who he is and not be afraid to be honest and open about that.  This ties in with individualism.  You own your life, so it stands to reason to know yourself.  The converse of this is ego, self-consciousness, and self-obsession.  These are forms of fear, and fear is after all the mind-killer.

Diversity, Tolerance, and Acceptance:  The world is a diverse place with diverse opinions with every piece playing its part in the whole dynamic.  Uniformity is never the goal.  This means tolerating things you cannot bear, like the free speech of others with whom you disagree, and accepting those  things that you cannot change. Diversity does not mean allowing people of other cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds walk all over you and yours for fear of offending them, but it does mean respecting the rights of others to act and if need be holding them accountable for their words and deeds.

Social Responsibility:  Humans are social creatures and we choose to join groups for our benefit.  With this comes a responsibility to carry your own weight, so to speak, and see that others do the same.  This also means being someone of your word.  Do what you say and say what you do.

Faith:  As Shepherd Book tells Mal, “I don’t care what you believe, just believe”.   A common trait among all the Romantics was that they had faith is something bigger than themselves whether that be God, or forces of nature, or the nation, or even science.  I call this the great mystery and I think Romanticism needs mystery.

Truth: This is one of the higher Romantic values. It is a honest and un-prejudicial pursuit of understanding the reality the things.  It is a fearless desire to know what is no matter where that journey takes you.

Heroism: The Romantics believed in heroes as exemplars of their values, as models to emulate, and as people worthy of praise.  This ties in with a few other principles: the denial of ego, the respect for other individuals and their achievements, and the will to achieve your own greatness.

Finally there is the Romantic’s idea of the purpose of life.  The answer is simply to live.  Have experiences, find the high places and the low, be brave and bold, search every corner that interests you, take risks, and make life interesting.  Do not be content with the office cubical lifestyle or even a hedonistic routine.  You are an individual, so go and think, feel, and act.


Thursday, 1 September 2011


If I were to give a short list of recommended reading on the topic of the Romantic, then it would be in no particular order: The Romantic Manifesto by Ayn Rand, Classic, Romantic, and Modern by Jacques Barzun, and Inventing the Victorians by Matthew Sweet.

One common thread that runs through all three books is the hostility displayed by the Twentieth Century academics, artists, and intellectuals towards the Nineteenth Century. Both Barzun and Sweet use the analogy of a child’s hostility towards their parents and both point the book Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey as the first volley as he and his fellow members of the Bloomsbury Group set the tone for the coming century by devaluing the last.

Have you ever arrived late to a party and everyone there is well into the party mood and all the frivolity seems foolish to you until you get to that mental state as well? Romanticism is like that. If you do not believe in it, then it all seems foolish to you. Herein lies a key division between the Romantic 19th Century and the so-called Modern 20th Century.

The so-called Moderns cannot comprehend the attitudes and accomplishments of the Romantic so they want to expose the truth of them, tear them down, ridicule them, and then elevate themselves in the process. Here’s an example.

According to Bloomsbury Group member Virginia Woolf, the modern world began in the spring of 1908 when Lytton Strachey noticed a stain on Vanesa Stephen’s dress and inquired, “Semen?”. With the publication and popularity of Sigmund Freud’s theories, which revolved around sex, we see the beginnings of what Barzun recognises (in 1941!) as our zeitgeist’s obsession with sex as a symptom of our rampant self-conscious egotism. It was Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, who created modern advertising, and we all know that sex sells.

To a person who is obsessed with sex anyone who is not must seem sexually repressed, and that is exactly how the Bloomsbury Group and countless writers, academics, and even historians and filmmakers have painted the Romantic Victorians.

The Romantics had lots of sex alright, but it was not an obsession for them. It was the Moderns who coined the phrase “sex life”, whereas the Romantics did not feel the need the set one aspect of life apart and distinct from the rest of life. As Barzun puts it, food is an important part of life too, but we don’t go around asking people how their food life is going or criticise Charles Dickens because his novels are not food-filled.

We see this pattern across the board in the criticisms and faulty perceptions of the Romantics coming from the Moderns. The Romantics respected property rights, so they are materialistic and did not care about the poor. Whereas, we Moderns have created government social programs. Gee, aren’t we superior. Well, no. When the welfare state came into full force in Britain in the late 1940’s only 4% of the population required benefits. Today, it is nearly a quarter of the population.

Both Barzun and Rand see the central pillar of the Romantic to be individualism and both emphasize the role played by the faculties of volition and energy. They also agree that the man of will and energy is to be praised, but if those faculties are used to oppress the individualism of others then it is to be condemned. Barzun calls this “false romanticism” and cites Napoleon and Hitler as examples.

The Moderns on the other hand are driven by their ego. Where the Romantic promotes self-awareness and self-improvement derived from a desire to be a better person, the Modern is self-obsessed and self-conscious and seeks self-help driven by self-loathing. The ego is constantly looking for social validation. It’s hyper-sensitive to what others are doing so they can fit in or rebel and what others are thinking about them.

The Romantic accepts that greatness and failure go hand in hand and like other apparent opposites he seeks equilibrium. In politics, this is the balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of society. The Moderns on the other hand demand consistency.

Last week a random on Facebook left a comment condemning Thomas Jefferson and it seemed this is because he was a rapist. I assume her logic was that he had children by his slave Sally Hemings and as a slave she could not refuse his sexual advances and therefore he was a rapist and we should discount anything he wrote because as a rapist he is obviously an evil man.

This typifies the Modern perspective. We must tear down the great. We must find that fissure in the rock and explode it. Like Strachey had done, we must find any flaw, any inconsistency, any action that does not fit our moral precepts, find the true story, and expose the fraud. We must destroy the fallacy that men can be great.

As you judge so shall ye be judged. The Romantic extolled the men of will and energy so their heroes were inventors, industrialists, politicians, scientist, and of course traditional heroes of fiction. They accepted the equilibrium of greatness and weakness. They accepted the whole of man and judged him on balance.

The Modern ego cannot tolerate this. The result of the destruction of man is desolation. There is no enlightenment, no deeper meaning, and no self-righteous justification. All that remains is the fear and self-loathing that has become more and more rampant as this age has progressed. Our epitaph may read “Man stopped believing in Man”.

Ayn Rand noted in The Romantic Manifesto that the character of James Bond in the novels is a Romantic hero, but the Moderns do not believe in heroes. They are a joke. As a result the films became increasingly disconnected from Romantic Realism and devolved in camp silliness. Likewise, compare the Romantic Batman trilogy of Christopher Nolan to the camp versions of Joel Schumacher.

That said, pop culture is in many ways the last refuge of the Romantic. The academic and intellectual elite, be they actually so or simply in their own minds, still denounce the Romantic. Just look at how the art community in Britain attacked the Romantic paintings of Jack Vettriano which the consumers adored, meanwhile the annual Turner Prize for art went to Tracy Emin and her filthy bed complete with skid-marked underpants.

Matthew Sweet points out that where modern interior design is constantly looking for the new and innovative the mass market still prefers pseudo, neo-Victorian “chintz”. In this particular chapter of Inventing the Victorians, he takes yet another shot at Virginia Woolf demonstrating how her concept of Victorian décor, which she spread through her writings, was completely false and founded on nothing more than her personal speculations filtered through her prejudices. Nonetheless, it created the false modern preconceived notion of drab and dreary Victorian décor.

In politics, those who promote the Romantic values of self-determination, personal responsibility, and accountability are branded as cold, heartless, and ignorant by the intellectual “elite” of the left who are promoting programs for the poor that will ensure greater power to themselves and promote dependency. One accusation is that the promoters of individualism want to return us to the dark days of Victoriana. Again painting the Romantics in a negative light when the economic report cards show the Victorians as getting high marks in most departments and we are failing.

Because the Romantics are not sexually obsessed like the Moderns, they are accused of being sexually repressed. Because they are not cynics, they are accused of being fanciful idealists. Because they promote individual action and responsibility, they are accused of being anti-society. These are but a few of the constant assaults on Romanticism.

I believe that Romanticism is man’s natural state, but I, and you my dear reader, have been socially conditioned for this Modern society. The sins of our fathers that we bear come not from the Nineteenth Century, but from the self-doubts, fears, cynicism, and egoic motivations of the Twentieth Century. I see it as a virus I have contracted that is eating my Romantic soul. I too find myself lacking the will and energy that defines Romanticism and I still carrying the burdens of my personal perceived failures that manifest as a self-defeating attitude.

But I stand defiant. When I self-examine I see the Romantic qualities that I promote and I see the Modern qualities that I denounce. For those who, like me, believe in the Romantic it becomes a constant war with both our inner programming and our outer programmers to maintain our faith. It is a faith in the self and by extension humanity despite the seemingly contrary evidence promoted that we are all just petty and vile creatures.

According to all three authors, Barzun, Rand, and Sweet, the Romantic Era ended with World War I. I do not see it that way. The Great War was a blow, to be sure, but the final battle was the advent of the Great Depression in 1929. But that was not the end. Romanticism persists and we see examples of it throughout the Twentieth Century, mostly in popular culture.

The fifth branch of philosophy is Aesthetics and it acts as a summary and manifestation of the other four branches. We can say in art what it takes chapters to say in prose and we imbibe those ideas with greater emotion than they possess on their own.

Much of what is written by me and from the authors mentioned here can be seen in the art still existent. One such example is the song and lyrics below which serves to summarise and fully express this aspect of the Romantic.