Stoicism, Competitiveness, Dominance and Aggression

I have just been reading Red Dreher’s Manhood As Mental Disorder. When I started reading it, my first thought was “more of the same” from the growing swing back to Hitler’s Ubermensch and the New Soviet Man away from the liberalism that followed the 1960’s into our own times. All the same, it seemed a good idea to read the article all the same. The American perspective is different from ours in Europe (the UK is going off at a tangent with our language in common with the Americans).

Something coming from the left is always answered with the same with interest from the right. Every allusion to abolishing gender and promoting so-called transgenderism is answered by this idea of the masculine stereotype – taken to its extreme in American criminals gangs still at liberty and serving long sentences in those awful prisons over there. I have always been repelled by both extremes. I suppose I had a normal time as a small boy, doing boyish things but hating competitive sports. I don’t look back with relish at having been sanctioned by corporal punishment, though it occasionally happened to me. I was at school in the 1960’s and 70’s, the end of the “old days” typified by the idea some have of the idolised 1950’s.

The subject is a somewhat outrageous idea of something normal and natural being stigmatised by psychologists as a pathology. We should be neutral human beings and preferably becoming the opposite sex from how we were born. What seems to be meant, however, is the stereotyped notion of the man, the characteristics of stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression. This seems to put a new slant of things in spite of the usual ideological language used by the “liberal” “politically correct” scene. I have always been wary of that intolerant frame of mind that judged me at school for preferring more individual pursuits like reading, walking and music to football and talk in the dormitory about fictitious conquests of pretty girls during the school holidays.

Dreher seems quite fair in recognising that the old pressures on boys to make them define themselves by someone else’s stereotype has caused a lot of problems. It is very interesting to note that women have been researched a lot less, and issues like autism and learning disorders are much more difficult to identify in girls. For a long time, I have contended that questions of gender and role have been exaggerated and continue to put men and women into aggressive opposition. The real problems are those of forcing generations of children through an education system in which one size fits all. I still remember Stella, the black girl at my primary school in about 1967, and our being told to be nice with her. It never occurred to me to treat Stella badly because of the colour of her skin, because I came from a family in which tolerance and inclusion are values. Many boys I knew at school were brought up with other values, and they are now the louts harassing MP’s outside the House of Commons over questions of Brexit and immigration.

Indeed this article is timely. The hot button issues like same-sex marriage and transgenderism are addressed – they serve to create an even more radical rift between men and women as either sex became a caricature of the opposite. We also need to beware of the toxic spin of the mass media, given the effect it is also having in the current Brexit debate – creating a highly toxic and polarised society. Whilst it is timely, it is also very partial in its continuing to stereotype categories of human beings according to gender, race, social class, etc.

I have always maintained the idea of being ourselves and not what we think other people expect. What is “traditional masculinity”? I went to a school in York where the emphasis was on sport and competition, the quest for the best, for excellence. That is something noble, boys being told that they are to be self-reliant and resilient, the stuff of Baden-Powell’s scouting. The problem is what happens to those who are not the best and strongest. One ideology would eliminate them from their right to life. The opposite would lower the lowest common denominator. The solution is within ourselves – be really careful whom we trust. Rely on our own moral strength both to survive and do what we believe is right. We are not strong with everything, so we have to come to terms with our own weaknesses and not let the bullies exploit them.

Also, we have to beware of those who tell us that we are only of any worth if we are leaders. We are not all leaders, and the usual qualification for leadership these days is to be a bully, a criminal who has stolen the money and livelihoods from others, the kind of person that suffers no anxiety, fear or qualms of conscience. That is the perfect recipe of a modern politician – in it for what he or she can get. Forget traditional masculinity (or femininity for that matter) but the Mensch within us, what is human and constructive according to the other ideals we find in the teaching of Christ.

We are all different as persons, and our strengths and weaknesses are complementary rather than opposed. My education taught me to do the best possible with what I’ve got. I also have a high degree of empathy for others – and could not in conscience compete against others, because it is improving my own life at the expense of others. Mors tua vita mea, the very opposite of Christ’s teaching on self-sacrifice. That is the paradox of Christianity that makes it so useless and bereft of credibility in a world where human beings behave like ravenous dogs.

Post-modern political correctness has pushed us to the opposite extreme in which elites are either abolished or reversed. We are expected to be what we are not. Feminism becomes as toxic as masculinism, because much of it is reversed sexism. My experience of marriage has shown me how much women sometimes want to be more powerful and aggressive than men, but their entire way of thinking and feeling is different. My experience of what psychologists call Aspergers has for me broken down those walls and enabled me to empathise with the feminine without becoming a caricature of it.

I have had to reflect a lot about politics and the differences between conservatism and liberalism. Some comments I have had on this blog have represented the extreme of one or the other and have been quite painful to read. My understanding of the meanings of these words is different from that of most people. I do believe that a father of a family should be able to defend his wife and children from enemies and criminals, even with the use of weapons when no other way is possible. I think many non-dominant men would be capable of such action under the degree of provocation.

Stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression? We all have to live with adversity in differing degrees, and I find it difficult to deal with people who are always complaining of their aches and pains – unless I can do something about it. The English stiff upper lip is not a bad philosophy, but we can’t keep things bottled up forever. If we have no one to trust, then there is nothing shameful about closing the door of a bedroom to have a good cry – and then pick ourselves up again. No one else cares. Why should they? Sometimes, friendships can be lights in the cold and hostile darkness of our world. Competitiveness? I’m not interested. We can do our own best without taking it away from other people. Dominance? It was not Christ’s way, since more was achieved through self-sacrifice than the brutal Kampf of the Waffen-SS goon. As for aggression, I was once fishing as a boy and a bully decided for some reason to break my fishing rod. I lost my temper and beat him up quite badly. That experience has made its mark on me. Aggression like anger is something we have to master and keep under control. This stereotype of masculinity is indeed toxic, even if we have sometimes to be stoical. We have to learn to be ourselves, comparing ourselves with ourselves yesterday to check for progress in learning, becoming stronger, more human – and not comparing ourselves with other people whose lives were totally different from our own. The grass seems greener on the other side of the fence, but it isn’t. There’s no reason to be jealous of other people. Think how unhappy a given billionaire might be with all that money, but far from the Kingdom of God.

We don’t always come up to our own mark, and that is our combat in life. Don’t let others judge you for cowardice if you know that it wasn’t cowardice but just not having the means to fight. It is reasonable not to fight unless you have a reasonable chance of winning or at least of defending yourself and your loved ones. The answer isn’t clear in all circumstances. Beware of fashions and stereotypes! They are illusory and seek to steal the image of God from our own spirit.

What is being bandied about by conservatives (or the caricature because conservatism also represents noble values) these days is the old perversion of Nietzsche’s Ubermensch. The Nazis sought every corner of the earth for the old Aryan race, believing it descended from the super-race of Atlantis or the Hyperborean regions. Their notion was materialistic and illusory. I believe that Nietzsche sought a nobility of spirit that would enhance humanity, and not merely physical strength. The Ubermensch has his own values and is independent, seeking to influence others for the good and provide meaning and purpose to life. Unfortunately Christ ceased to be the incarnation of that Ubermensch, and another idea had to be sought.

I have not addressed homosexuality and transgenderism here. For the former, I know what the Church teaches and have read the harsh words of St Paul. We either have to have a totalitarian system like Nazism or American Fundamentalist theocracy, or attempt a pastoral approach. It’s a hot button issue and gets people excited and angry. It doesn’t make same-sex sexuality right objectively, but we need to deal with persons rather than ideologies. Like with abortion, those who cry the loudest have no care for those concerned and seeking a solution. Abortion is murder and sinful, but sometimes the lesser of two evils. See the persons concerned and seek God’s will in that situation…

I have already written on transgenderism. But what can I say? It is outside my own experience of life. I have only once in my life met a woman who had “become” a man. That was in something like 1976, and people had to be careful what they said in those days, especially in the north of England. The person seemed pleasant enough and living her / his own life. It’s beyond me, but not beyond that person. Either we are going to set up the dystopian vision of Christian totalitarianism with lots of hangings and burnings, or we have to overcome our depravity that leads the self-righteous to their own hell.

I wrote Conservatives and Liberals a few days ago, and now I find myself turning over the same concepts in my mind. I think we need to read or watch The Great Inquisitor:

I’m glad to see that the film is still there on YouTube – things tend to get pulled very quickly because of copyright issues. It is all about our soul, our freedom, our nobility against the machine of conformity. It may seem to be a sell-out and a compromise with evil. Sometimes a greater evil is committed by trying to combat against evil. Let us think profoundly about these things and decide whether we have any self-esteem and belief in ourselves as human beings – and then do to others as we would have done to ourselves.

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10 Responses to Stoicism, Competitiveness, Dominance and Aggression

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Thank you for this! Herewith some scattered observations:

    Re. “with abortion, those who cry the loudest have no care for those concerned and seeking a solution” – I’m not sure I remember every encountering an example of this – not, e.g., the Blessed Mother Teresa, who I remembering stressing two things when visiting the UK: guess which was not reported? And not all the people I know who provide the possibility of real choice by providing food, shelter, and many more necessary and useful things to women who do want their babies killed in utero, and non-directional counselling to those contemplating it, or who have chosen it and experienced the inner consequences.

    “We either have to have a totalitarian system like Nazism or American Fundamentalist theocracy, or attempt a pastoral approach” and “Either we are going to set up the dystopian vision of Christian totalitarianism with lots of hangings and burnings…”. Many illuminating things could be said about the interactions of Church and State since, say, the reign of the Emperor Theodosius II (or that of King Tiridates III of Armenia), but I would be interested to know a lot more about Church discipline prior to 313 and continuities with it thereafter as to the scope and contours of pastoral approach. I don’t imagine many Church-State relations prior to, say, the 1950s would be easily restored, much less at least ‘Christian-theocratic’ totalitarianism with State power established.

    I wish I was better read in Nineteenth-century writing, but George MacDonald certainly has interesting (inadequate gerundive!) things to say about Christianity and masculinity and femininity and men and women.

    Meanwhile, one of the many reasons I have been glad to be introduced to ‘filk’ music:

    Which is not to give any uncritical ‘blanket endorsements’ to Kipling, Fish, or Ecklar. Perhaps it’s worth noting Kipling apparently wrote this in 1911, amidst lively times in the Women’s Suffrage ‘wars’ in the UK (and 7 years before any got the vote, there – the Isle of Man excepted), and nearly 20 years into his happy marriage with his American wife, Carrie. And, perhaps of related interest, the Wikipediast tells me, “In 1903, Kipling gave permission to Elizabeth Ford Holt to borrow themes from the Jungle Books to establish Camp Mowglis, a summer camp for boys on the shores of Newfound Lake in New Hampshire. Throughout their lives, Kipling and his wife Carrie maintained an active interest in Camp Mowglis, which is still in operation and continues the traditions that Kipling inspired.”

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Eek – classic omitted ‘not’!: “to women who do NOT want their babies killed in utero.”

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Even the lengthy selection by Fish and Ecklar is short of Kipling’s whole poem… And, I suddenly wonder if “She who faces Death by torture for each life beneath her breast” includes any specific reference to the ‘eugenics wars’ of that time – of which, e.g., assorted things I’ve read by Dean Inge give hair-raising evidence of the ‘eugenic’ push. I don’t have a good sense of where Kipling stood in the ‘eugenics wars’, but this is interesting:

      https://www.irishtimes.com/news/kipling-kept-his-head-when-replying-to-feminist-1.265380

      • These demons are very deep in our human existence and history. Christianity has tended to remove the devil and the demons from this world and their influence becomes more abstract. The Gnostic view is that much more concrete and has a much more developed mythology with the notion of the Archons. There are plenty of books and articles where we can study this notion of the “principalities” of which St Paul speaks. Here what I find astounding is the attraction people have to such darkness.

        I notice the spirit of jingoism and British imperialism in Kipling, a kind of spirit I encountered in the English public school tradition of competitive sport, fagging and a kind of class system within the community of pupils. The film “If” of Lindsay Anderson is a caricature, but I recognised many things of what made up such a regime of the cruellest race of all – the English schoolboy. There is a lot of convergence between the UK and Germany culturally. I am myself a Germanophile and conscious of this link, but Germany is not Nazism. English politics appeased Hitler for a very long time before Churchill made his decision of conscience to declare war in September 1939. There was a lot of rot in England – Moseley and the black shirts. Eugenics remains in modern medicine and science, evidenced by the drive to genetically edit babies and create “bionic” beings with the use of artificial intelligence. It goes way beyond the wildest dreams of Josef Mengele! Science fiction films perpetuate the tradition begun by Mary Shelley when she wrote Frankenstein. The greatest intuition of Romanticism is its sensitivity to this creeping post or anti humanism and the desire to affirm true humanity. Like Nazism was a disease Germany suffered from like a malignant cancer, England’s disease is its imperialist ambitions built on an arrogant belief in supremacy and cruelty against both humans and animals. The concentration camp was a British invention during the Boer War. Hitler thought Britain would be a walkover and that we would just lap up his ideology.

        We are looking at the Abyss, against which questions of the EU fade into insignificance, because the same is rearing its head all over Europe. It will break our hearts unless we have made our pact with it. I am at one with Thomas Mann as he faced it in the 1930’s. It isn’t yet advanced, but the seeds are planted again after this long period since Hitler’s defeat and the end of the Nuremberg Trials. Two films of great importance are “Nuremberg” and “Conspiracy” starring Kenneth Branagh as SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich. The former is a brilliant study of Göring’s psychopathy and refusal of any guilt for his acts and the millions who died.

        Oh yes, I am afraid, and only God can deliver us as he did in 1945. It keeps coming back again and again. Is it within each one of us, or do we allow ourselves to be influenced and absolved from morality when those who rule us are psychopaths? Perhaps Kipling was only a good Victorian gentleman, born as he was in British India, but we can certainly tease many implicit things out with a sharp and critical mind.

  2. Dale says:

    “with abortion, those who cry the loudest have no care for those concerned and seeking a solution” –

    Yes, I have also heard this supposed argument ad nauseam as a justification for abortion; and as David has so well pointed out, without a smidgen of proof. It seems to be one of those Big Lies that the hard left are so adept at using to further their own agendas.

    • It’s all too polarised. The result of the toxic extremes will be making people (including abortion doctors) go underground and take things to a different level. Of course I’m against abortion (because it is sinful) but I am for the pastoral care of the women in tragic situations in question. At least listen to them and offer an alternative. It’s a bit like stealing, which is a sin – so you can start hanging people for theft of food after having made sure they can’t find jobs to earn the money needed for an honest living. That’s how it was in early 19th century England with the increase of hanging offences. There have to be firm principles but flexibility in application. As I say, preach against abortion once you have set up centres to help women in a crisis of life – and help them find an alternative to abortion.

      • Dale says:

        I am afraid that I really do not understand the need to go back to the 19th century in this issue. Unless you feel that it in some way bolsters your position; but personally, I do not see it; unless of course they are still hanging children in England for stealing bread.

        In the United States there are all sorts of social programmes for children and mothers funded by tax dollars. This includes Aid to Dependent Children, Section 8 Housing (which is free housing), Food Stamps (free food, usually about $800 per month for a family of four, and it increases with each child), free utilities. For a woman to apply for all of this, they only have to show proof of pregnancy, they not actually have to have a child in arms. So I do not know where these poor oppressed, starving on the streets mothers-to-be are located, at least in the United States, perhaps it is different in France?

        This does not include the stellar work done by Christian denominations to help women and children in distress. and the many homes for pregnant women run by religious groups as well. I am not aware of any such services offered by caring atheists who tend to think that abortion salves any and all problems.

        What I find strange is that truly poverty stricken nations, mostly in Asia and Africa, which do not have any of these services have a very low abortion rate, children are not seen as a burden. So it does not seem to be the lack of services that you seem to implied, but a deeper social and moral issues.

        This all reminds me of mostly liberals in the United States when WW II started and their refusal to help Jewish refugees come to the country, because no system was in place to receive and look after them. Of course that problem eventually solved itself too.

      • I’m very happy to know that there are things being done to help people in a situation of crisis. Yes there are social, moral and cultural issues and I don’t go along with left-wing agendas. I just try to stay independent whilst keeping to Christian norms of morality and what is right and wrong.

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      One of the big and terrible pushes one sees now throughout the west is that for non-doctor abortions – whether for legally enabling/compelling midwives, nurses, assistants, etc. to perform abortions, or making abortifacients available ‘over the counter’ whether with or without prescription so every woman can be her own abortionist – without medical supervision.

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    This makes me realize how little I know in detail of 12th- and 19th-c. Italian history, but also makes me want to know more:

    https://www.hoover.org/research/europes-deep-localism-and-populism

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