Bruce, Catylin, and “Being ‘Normal'”

Bruce (now Catylin) Jenner’s sex change is by no means the first, as such procedures have existed for almost 65 years, starting with Christine Jorgensen. Even after all this time, though, much of society still has not fully come to peace with transgendereds and transsexuals. These people consider it “weird”, “abnormal”, and a psychological disorder; often using those precise words in a hostile, scornful way, full of sense of kneejerk contemptuous distaste. Some go even further, expressing outright hatred against such people for being who they are, with some driven to suicide in the process.

You would think that after all these generations of social justice movements society would finally see that “abnormal” does not equal scorn-worthy. After all, we’ve accepted the rights of many groups to participate in society to the maximum extent their work ethic, opportunities, and talents. We’ve allowed to groups plainly not White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant middle class and wealthy males: women, religious minorities, racial minorities, and GLBTQ to take their rightful place at the table. Yet, for all this, society apparently still has a long way to go before accepting “abnormal” or somehow “deficient” people as fully human members of society. To a great degree, this still includes, but is by no means limited to, transsexuals and transgendereds.

“Abnormal” Does Not Equal “Scorn-Worthy”

“Normal” and “Abnormal” are vague terms that are easy to misuse (i.e. equivocate about), which itself is liable to render fruitless any meaningful discussion at a party or the bar. Only for the sake of argument, I will assume that transgenderism and transsexualism are indeed disorders and are indeed abnormal, at least in the most demonstrably provable sense of the word, the statistical sense (e.g. only a tiny fraction of the population is such).

Applying the “disorder” label to “abnormal” people only proves that mainstream society considers the “abnormality” undesirable for some reason. It does not prove it is intrinsically a threat to the well-being of others or one’s self the way. True, cancer, AIDS, polio, smallpox, etc. are actual abnormal conditions, but the difference is that each of these are or were indeed such an intrinsic threat to that person or (sometimes) another person, which is why nobody objects to labeling them undesirable conditions. This cannot be said of transgenderism, transsexualism, homosexuality, or any other non-mainstream sexual/gender phenomenon. None of these conditions can plausibly be deemed a threat to the person’s or another’s life, health (physical or mental), human rights, political liberties, property, money, or anything of value (however slight). Indeed the American Psychological Association removed homosexuality from its diagnosis manual in 1973. I have not researched why the APA removed homosexuality from its diagnosis manual, but I can tell you my own view of why it was right for them to do so, for what it is worth.

For a condition to be worthy of eliminating, it must present the threat to life, health, etc. as explained above. If the condition does not intrinsically cause those negative consequences for anybody else, then it is difficult to see how the condition can truly be called a disorder. Furthermore, whatever negative states occur to the “abnormal” person are almost solely based on societal prejudice rather than the condition itself. In other words, that gay men, as a group, are prone to suicide, depression, etc. at above average rates is true only to the extent that his social environment considers him worthy of scorn or other severe mistreatment. Gays living in more open-minded social environment are much more likely to be in good mental health.

For these reasons, I personally have discarded the idea that “normal” means within the statistically predicted range of human functionality / abilities and more toward “normal” meaning not in and of itself a plausible threat to one or another’s life, health, etc as described earlier. Thus, I stand by my assertion that appealing to transgenderism, transsexualism, etc as a “disorder” is a “red herring”, even assuming it were objectively true to label transsexuality and transgenderism “abnormal”.

Though I’m as statistically “normal” as a person can get, I will risk a presumption about transsexuals and transgendereds’ perspectives anyway. I strongly suspect that no transgendered or transsexual insists on being considered statistically “normal” so much as insists that their statistically “abnormal” condition be divorced from “worthy of condescension at best, contempt at worst”. In fact, other “outsider” groups insist on being considered “normal” only to the extent that mainstream society places negative connotations on at least their own “abnormality”, and if they are consistent they will insist society purge negative connotations from all harmless “abnormalities” in general. At the end of the day, transsexuals, transgendereds, etc. only insist that “scorn-worthy” and “mock-worthy” be severed from the “abnormal” label. That’s all.

Closing Words About “Normality”

As I implied in my post about “stupid” people not deserving scorn, over 20 years ago I, completely lost faith in mainstream definitions and criteria for “normal” behavior and “respect-worthy” person, especially given the history of the past century and especially half-century. Mainstream society proved wrong about non-Protestants 100 years ago, racial minorities 50 years ago, GLBT 20 years ago, and depressed/mentally ill people almost as long ago. This is why I no longer just swallow mainstream definitions of “normal”, “respect-worthy” and “scorn-worthy” (not just on sexuality and gender identity issues). The recent publicity about Bruce (now Catylin) Jenner’s sex change only further reinforces these views. It is time for mainstream society to completely discard the narrow definition of “normal” (i.e. conforming to society’s expectations of what ought to be the case) and to my broader definition based on how prone the condition intrinsically is to harm the person and to others.

Killing the Disabled or Weak is Bad For the Able-Bodied and Strong

To most people, the claim in the title is so obviously true that there’s no need to discuss the matter. I disagree, because so many memes exist in cyberspace claiming or suggesting the contrary (mostly of extreme Libertarian, Randian, Neo-fascist, Neo-nazi and Social Darwinist origin)  that I feel compelled to respond. Killing or otherwise rendering of second-class esteem the mentally or physically challenged or otherwise nonproductive in the name of some “higher cause” like survival or “preservation” is simply a foolish idea for the strong, smart, and brave as well as for the weak, stupid and timid.  Not content to simply label the idea “Nazi-like, and therefore evil”, I’m going to explain why the practice is not only evil, but ultimately contrary to the long-term well-being of even ‘normal-functioning’ people.

At the same time, I intent to show that by defending the rights of those who are a ‘drain’ on society (real or merely claimed to be)  you are defending your own right to be considered more than a mere production machine. Specifically this means your right to be seen as a human being – an entity with their own  consciousness, their thoughts, their own will, their own desires, their own capacity to feel pain or pleasure, their own needs, and so forth. In other words, this is about your own right to not be seen as a mere interchangeable part of the vast production / economic machine (that’s what robots are for, so long as they themselves lack the capacity for human-like qualities) as much as it is about the rights of those who lack the capacity to be productive individuals.

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The claim that  being non-productive (especially being unable to be productive) automatically means being of low to negative worth assumes a person’s intrinsic non-economic worth equates with their productivity level. This in turn assumes that humans are nothing more than mere production machines. In doing so, it trivializes the feelings, will, desires, etc. of people in general.  A closely related concept to individual productivity is that a person’s intrinsic value depends on their independent survivability, that is, the ability to survive independently through one’s own wits, strength, and courage. If this is true, then it follows that a person’s value depends on his or her ability to survive lawless “dog eat dog” kinds of physical or social environments.

The problem with this concept is that the most violent, extreme kinds of criminals are better equipped to survive such torturous physical or mental environments than the average person. Yet few, if any, people seriously believes the said criminal has more value than the ordinary everyday person. The reason being that the former use their survival abilities to hurt, harm, or degrade the dignity of others while the latter is much less likely to do so, or when they do so, they don’t inflict as severe a hurt, harm, or degradation of another’s dignity as much as the said criminal would.  In fact, most people would rather a civilized, humane person to survive longer than the said criminal precisely because the criminal’s acts and general mentality are so repugnant while the humane, civilized person is willing to offer comfort and aid to others in distress.

This shows why the claim that a person’s value depends on their productivity lead to other conclusions that simply do not stand up under further scrutiny, even in examples less extreme than the criminal / humane dichotomy. If personal productivity alone were the standard by which to judge the worth of an individual, then self-made billionaires have more intrinsic value as a person than anybody you likely know in real life, and more than likely any online acquaintance as well.

If productivity is the most important value there is, then we also reduce kindness, generosity, helpfulness, and (in a case where “NOT” is as or more important than “IS” or “DO”) not hurting or harming or degrading the dignity of others to a mere consolation prize for those not as productive as others; and that at best. In fact, it’s questionable whether the civilized and humane traits would truly be all that important at all. From here, it’s debatable whether there should be any informal behavioral codes, formal ethics codes, or even any kind of laws at all that prevent us from hurting, harming, or degrading the essential personhood of others.

Hence Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay, and other crooked CEOs, politicians, etc. would be more worthy of dignity and respect than a kind-hearted, generous janitor or fast food worker. Given the part I brought up about the doubtfulness of the sensibility of even formal laws forbidding harmful things, I can also add Pablo Escobar to the list as well.

If you disagree that rich corrupt criminals deserve more respect than the said kind-hearted janitor, then you imply that some things are indeed more important than mere productivity; and hence you do not truly see human beings as mere ‘production machines’. If we and others are not mere ‘production machines’ but people with our own will, feelings, capacity to feel pain and torment, etc. then any claim that the mentally disabled deserve to be euthanized or otherwise killed off based on their mere inability to be sufficiently productive is simply disingenuous – not too mention barbaric.

So to repeat, by defending the dignity, well-being, and right to live of the “drains on society”, you are defending (however indirectly) your own right to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of how productive you yourself are!  Therefore, even assuming survival ability is the proper measure of a person’s worth, it is still the case that the best way to survive in the long run is to treat all harmlessly deficient people with dignity and respect, to protect yourself and to keep your society from killing someone who may not pass for “acceptable” under the Productivity/Survivalist criteria but who nevertheless do have talents, aptitudes, or abilities that society has failed to tap into.

Why I am not Charlie, nor am I Voltaire

or, Why I am not a Free Speech Absolutist

I know I’m late to this party, but I didn’t want to simply post a big rant back in January. Rather, I wanted time to process the facts and arguments I read regarding the limits of free speech, particularly in light of the killings almost five months ago.  Then, a few weeks ago, came the Garland, Texas attack (basically a much smaller scale Charlie Hebdo, Act II), which happened less than a 30 minute drive from my place. At the end of the day, I do hold the gunmen responsible for the shooting. They had a choice – either vociferously object to the art exhibit through civilized and human means or take up firearms. They chose the latter.

All this said, there are some things that need to be said about freedom of speech, free will, personal responsibility, and our responsibilities to our fellow human being.  Note well I am not going to address the letter of the Constitution, nor go into Constitutional Law, for this goes beyond and deeper than such things. If Constitutional Law is what you are looking for, then you will be disappointed.  This post will focus on what ought to be the proper bounds of speech regardless of what the First Amendment says.

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The First Amendment says  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. ..”.  To free speech absolutists, “no law” means just that, no restrictions on the expression of truthful ideas; meaning they still support band on slander, libel, defamation of character, or even violation of privacy.  Most would also, to a certain degree, support the government classifying information of vital interest to the nation that a foreign nation can use to attack its security.  Other than that, freedom of speech they consider an absolute right.

Regardless of what Founding Father’s meant by “no law” and “free of speech”, the ultimate purpose of speech is to allow free and constructive communication of meaningful, needed ideas of vital interest to the broader society’s or individual’s well-being; or at the very least information that does not harm societal well-being. For example, exposing government corruption or presenting information that holds government officials accountable for their actions.  This also includes information about deep philosophical, scientific, or social issues – such as whether or not God (or any other deity) exists, how much economic freedom is needed to maintain a society’s prosperity, the proper distribution of wealth, how our nation should conduct foreign relations, and so forth.

Mockery, belittlement and other forms of abusing others essential personhood (i.e. dignity), whether in content or tone, does not meaningfully contribute to the overall well-being of either society or the individual. In fact, such tones (totally aside from the bedrock basic substance of the information communicated) can easily lead to civil disorder, hate crimes, and – if carried far enough – outright armed conflict.  At the very least, it closes the minds of others to what you have to say. It certain doesn’t inspire a spirit off problem-solving among the disputants.  This itself is a precursor to the terrible consequences listed above.

Consider a Serbian born in the late 60s/early 70s – of prime combat age for the Bosnian War of the 90s. Do you really think those Serbs spent their childhood thinking “When I grow up, I want to massacre, rape, and ethnically cleanse a lot of Bosnians and Kosovars”? The same thing goes for Germans born in the early 20th century. “When I grow up, I want to build a big camp so I can gas all the Jews in the world”.

No, this hatred didn’t just pop up out of a vacuum. It has its precedents. I have little reason to doubt that those hatreds came in MANY cases from repeated bad personal experiences with the group they hate, or hearing tales (true or not) of bad personal experiences their friends and family had. Hate speech, and even mockeries and belittlements most people within social acceptability, does nothing to illuminate the larger public as to the substance of the issues at hand, let alone provide real, sustainable answers to the issues at hand. It only adds the proverbial fuel to the fire.  The only use I can see for such tones or messages is to either release frustration or to encourage the audience to marginalize or ostracize “the other” on a deeply personal level.

Being denied a frustration release of this sort is not a substantive threat to anybody’s psychological health or otherwise well-being – especially in the long run. Nor, as I said earlier, is this kind of frustration release going to encourage the moderate faction of “others” to take a chance to talk it out with the moderate faction of their opponents (in the recent cases, Muslims, but any “other” throughout history also works).

Because of all this, mockery or degradation of others is so ineffectual at providing real, sustainable solutions to the social problem; any pleasure or relief gained from that mockery so short-lived, and thus any good secured or bad prevented through deriding/degrading your opponent so trivial — that any benefit gained or harm prevented through such belittlement of another’s personhood is clearly outweighed by the greater need to NOT degrade the dignity and humanity of those you oppose. Actually, this explains why Washington is so much of a food-fight these days, not to mention gridlocked; but that’s another topic.

That’s also why I refuse to watch or listen to the likes of The Daily Show, right-wing talk radio, etc.: that form of “entertainment” I find immoral on its face. No matter how blatantly erroneous a person’s beliefs, there are other ways to combat those views that do NOT involve degradation of their personhood. Such forms of expression only make people more resistant to opposing views and – worse yet – poisons the image of the civilized, decent people who agree with the sarcastic person’s essential views, even if not that person’s tone. This further hampers communication between people with different points of view. When people stop communicating and start shouting and screaming at each other, that can easily be the beginning of political gridlock at best, civil disorder at middling, and if taken far enough outright warfare.

Thus, politeness and respect for your opponent is not only the civilized and humane thing to do (so long as such a thing is possible or reasonable), but it’s also a damned cheap form of political stability insurance (not to mention both medical and property insurance as well). Yes, in this age in which Freedom of Speech has a level of devotion scarcely less intense than what religion often generates, this is not going to be a popular position.  Nevertheless, this does not change the fact that too much of anything good is a bad thing, and often there is indeed too much “free speech” when that speech is used even in part to denigrate or belittle the dignity of others.

What Should Be the Limits of Personal Choice?

A common catchphrase is that people should have the right to do whatever they want with their lives as long as it doesn’t hurt others. While it sounds great in the abstract, in the real world it creates a lot of problems – namely tacking on an arbitrary condition (“as long as it doesn’t hurt others”) that, so far as true freedom to act on personal choice goes, contradicts itself. Either you think the rights of the individual are worth more than the rights of others or you don’t.

If a person ought to be truly free to act on his or her personal choices, then that person should not have to worry about how his or her acts effect others. The usual response is to add the phrase “as long as it doesn’t hurt others”. However, if it’s true that the right to act according to one’s personal choices is the most important right there is, then I see no reason to qualify this with any admonition against hurting others if it is to his or her advantage to do so, no matter how slight that advantage to the person who performs the act. This is even more true if assuming that obtaining pleasure for one’s self is more important than avoiding pain for others.

Even were that add-on legitimate, it does not help matters. The phrase “as long as it doesn’t hurt others” still has interpretation problems, particularly if you claim the other person also has rights of to have their own personal choice honored as well. If the individual’s exercise of personal choices is the paramount right that individual has, then if that person hurts others, it is the person who commits the action who decides what is hurtful for the other person – at least while remaining consistent with the notion that a rightful act is defined by one’s subjective personal choice. This is especially true when making a distinction between the tangible and non-tangible realms (hurt with immediately visible or quantifiable results versus hurt that lacks one or both elements). In this case the actor has the right to decide what kind of damage is valid to consider and what is not. When the damage is immediately visible and obvious (evidence of physical attacks, stolen or damaged money or property, etc.) it is harder to deny that damage to another might be “bad enough”*. At best, the add-on as portrayed here, is merely a general rule that effectively glosses over the idea that the act’s recipients may have rights at least equal to the individual agent. At worst, it renders meaningless practically the entire field of ethics and even the notions of right and wrong.

So personal choice advocates, to be truly consistent, have to concede that the rights of the individual committing any act are always paramount to the right of the recipient individual (no matter how horrible the act may be). This more or less legitimizes anarchy in the most negative sense of the word. If they insist on adding the qualifier “as long as it doesn’t hurt others”, then they admit that sometimes the rights of others do indeed supersede the right of the individual. This includes the right of those others to have at least equal (perhaps even more) say in how hurtful an act would be, especially one that negatively effects themselves or others they may rightfully speak for.

Therefore, the whole idea of acting on one’s personal choice being paramount above all others, including the qualifying add-on itself, is not the most important right there is, unless one seriously believes that any justification for rules, morals, ethics, even laws, rest on no solid ground at all.

*Even “bad enough” is not particularly valid here, for “bad enough”, from the agent’s perspective, implies the agent will choose to stop doing the act. When the issue is “bad enough”, that usually implies other people would have a legitimate say in when the agent should stop performing the act (or not perform the act at all). This runs contrary to the notion that individual choice is paramount.

Suicide Justifiable Only in Narrow Circumstances

NOTE: This post deals with suicide committed by people in reasonably good physical health and even likewise good mental condition (see * for explication of the latter), in other words “Ordinary Suicide”. It does not deal with physician-assisted suicide or any other issues typically surrounding the “Death With Dignity” movement. Those issues are outside the scope of my reasons. For the record, I have no problem with physician-assisted suicide committed just before the patient or otherwise incapacitated person is unable to add anything substantively new to the lives of their family and friends (or even what they can add to their family ‘s and friend’s lives does not justify the suffering and/or self-assessed indignity they are going through).  Also, though I certainly would not encourage it, I would not condemn anyone for committing suicide when placed under highly agonizing emotional stress, especially when in their state of mind they have lost all hope of their circumstances getting meaningfully better.

*Brilliant pupil’s ‘logical’ suicide – News – The Independent

Reasons I favor discouraging most suicides

Basic reason: we have a duty to prevent suffering of others that is pointless, avoidable, insufficiently compensatory, and serves no higher purpose beyond our own self-interest. To deny this opens the door to justifying anarchy (not in the political science sense, but in the sense of no-rules lawless dog-eat-dog free-for-alls).

Suicide usually violates this duty in the following ways.

*Whatever gains the suicidal person would make for him/herself are more than offset by the amount of anguish and suffering their family and friends would be forced to endure. In short, net suffering in the world increases while there is no increase in net pleasure.

Related to this…

*Suicide denies others your future suffering prevention/reduction efforts.

Suicide denies your support to others (individuals or groups) who are fighting the same practices and acts you oppose. Supporting these groups and denying support for the thing you oppose is much more effective than simply ceasing your support than the thing you oppose (e.g. buying “Sweat Free” clothes AND ceasing purchases of sweatshop-made clothing is more effective than merely ceasing purchases of sweatshop clothing. Same thing for “Fair Trade” ™ products and products produced by slave or semi-slave labor). The same principle applies even to smaller-scale matters (but no less real ones) that won’t come even close to making headlines.

ANTICIPATED RESPONSES

Objection 1:The individual’s rights trump those of other people’s.

That claim opens up a lot of ethical problems; and as I will soon explain, opens up the door to anarchy or nihilism. If we may pursue our own interests even when it likely will cause for others anguish levels typically experienced when a close one commits suicide, then it’s difficult to see how we can censure people who pursue their interest when the consequences for others would almost certainly be less anguishing (e.g. pilfering small amounts of money or other things from their close ones, verbal abuse to them, spreading rumors or other embarrassing private information about them, other acts that highly embarrass the family or friends). This even includes acts unmistakably illegal yet still almost certainly less anguishing to others than a close one’s suicide would be (stealing $1000s of cash or property from them, whiskey bottle to their face in anger, major white-collar crimes, etc).

It does no good to say these examples are acts by one person against another whereas suicide is only an act against one’s self. It doesn’t matter who the direct recipient of the act is. All that matters is that an act is committed and it causes great degree of anguish to others. To say we shouldn’t discourage an act due to how anguishing it might be to others is to deny the very basis for having ethics/morals (however you distinguish between them), formal rules, and even formal law codes in the first place. After all, if a hard punch to your face not requiring medical attention did not emotionally disturb you in some non-trivial way, then it would be difficult to see any point in having laws forbidding this act against you or others. This seems to support the idea that an act’s tendency to cause non-trivial emotional disturbance in others is a good reason to forbid it on at least ethical grounds to the extent that the person is honestly able to resist it.

I’m not saying attempted suicide should be illegal, for governments are meant to regulate direct acts between individuals that do not affect the wider society as a whole (a suicide may deeply affect one’s immediate social circle, but not the society as a whole). Besides, legally enforcing anti-suicide laws would divert so many resources from preventing acts more harmful to society as a whole that society would suffer more from such rigid enforcement of any suicide laws that may be on the books than it would from simply decriminalizing suicide, however tragic and anguishing that act may be for the immediate social circle of the suicide.

Nevertheless, despite that we should discourage suicide for the reasons I gave above, I do not judge harshly anyone who does indeed commit or attempt suicide. Sometimes the pain of the moment can be so severe and/or frequent for a person that they cannot think of anything other than an immediate escape from the severe short-term anguish they experience. Instead, people with suicidal tendencies should be sent to psychological counseling and/or hospitalized, depending on the exact circumstances of the situation.

The most people who call for no moral/ethical restrictions against suicide proved is that we should treat suicidal people and incidents on a case-by-case basis. Even in this case I do not favor any encouragement or even lack of discouragement to commit suicide, for it is extremely likely that one’s self-death both causes more anguish in others than the suicide prevents for the suicide him or herself and it denies others future suffering prevention efforts. Given the above, it is difficult to conclude that suicide, whatever benefit may come to the person because of it, does society as a whole more harm than good – even if the harm does not rise to and/or impact on areas of law and criminal justice.

Objection 2:  There is no social contract among individuals and certainly not one that offers us benefit equal to what it demands of us

Merely being a conscious individual does, in fact, obligate us to unspoken but obviously present code of conduct to (at minimum) not cause harm to each other, at least not without a very compelling reason to do so – with or without laws and other formal rules. Even assuming this is necessarily a subjective matter, the fact remains that we all have obligations to consider how hurtful would be the consequences of our acts for others before we actually commit them. If you doubt that such an unspoken but present social contract exists, then what else justifies the social shaming of people who publically make obviously contemptuous remarks about people who are of certain race, religion, sexual orientation, etc.? This is beside the other acts that are extremely to cause harms less intense than those typically generated by one’s suicide.

As for the benefits of living among others being equal to what they demands of us, it depends on how you define benefit, which inescapably is at least partially subjective. Even in this case, we still are obligated to not commit actions that create more net harm to all (i.e. “net negative benefit”, if you will), whether to ourselves or (perhaps especially) to others. If no such obligation exists, then why have any moral rules, codes of conduct, ethics, or even formal laws at all?

Objection 3: It is selfish for family and friends to insist that the suicidal person stay alive just for the sake of not putting them through anguish, especially if the suicidal person him or herself is going through great anguish.

See response to Objection 6 for specifics. Beyond that, the response to Objection 4 also covers this.

Objection 4: If I commit suicide, family and friends will eventually get over it, but if I don’t I may be ongoingly depressed and never recover. If you want to look at it mathematically, which of those appears to have a larger negative value?

As I stated, both 3 and 4 go together to a great extent, so the reader may treat this response as a large part of the response to 3 as well.

First, to the last sentence. Obviously there’s a certain subjective element in this matter.  Nevertheless, people (and social scientists) can predict pretty accurately how at least 90% of people will react in a given situation in very similar circumstances.  Certainly one can plausibly predict how their family and friends would react to any one type of occurrence within certain circumstances.  In fact, the whole credibility of sociology, psychology, and allied fields ultimately rests on the assumption that we can, in fact, predict how people will behave in certain situations.  Given all this, regardless of how subjectively pain and suffering are, we nevertheless can go beyond mathematics and judge suffering levels qualitatively.  So despite that we cannot judge suffering levels with mathematical precision, we can judge reasonably well the qualitative elements of how strongly an act can affect others.

What this means is that we can plausibly predict how at least our family and friends would react were any of us to commit suicide for reasons well outside those usually brought up by the “Death With Dignity” movement.

Back to the first line, “get over it”.  This implies that any act, no matter how egregious, is ethically permissible so long as the person hurt by the act is able to emotionally recover from it (i.e. “get over it”).  By that standard, it is all right for a ten-year-old to steal money from a classmate’s bedroom or give a student on the playground a “wedgie”, based on the assumption that they will get over it in a few years at the very most.  The same goes for a complete stranger calling a “provocatively” dressed 19-year-old female a slut or whore. After all, she is likely to get over it as well.  When all is said and done, the “get over it” line amounts to little more than blithely handwaving away the feelings of others, no matter how painful or how long in duration, when deciding to say or do something.  Again, if “they’ll get over it” is a legitimate defense even in matters that are likely to cause intense pain and long-lasting (if not lifelong) anguish, then there is no reason to have any kind of moral rules or formal laws against any acts at all.

As for “ongoing depression”, this again is a subjective judgment.  Despite this, in our day and age, there are many medications and counseling techniques that can relieve the burden caused by depression, PTSD, etc.. Therefore, I find suicide even less justifiable today than thirty years ago, at least not without trying every readily available technique or drug that holds meaningful promise of managing, if not controlling, the depression or other highly negative mental states.  Also, to be clear, I did not say that we should endure all kinds of pain no matter what.  What I do mean is that we do have an obligation to endure as much pain as we can to the best of our own inner strength before committing any act that causes great and grievous harm to others.  That’s a long way from saying we should simply endure any act no matter how painful or anguishing for the sake of others.

If my point is still unclear, perhaps an analogy may help. At some risk at offending combat veterans (given I’ve never been in the military, much less experienced combat), I offer the following. Imagine that during a firefight with about 30 or so heavily armed insurgents, about 3 or 4 soldiers are cut off from there rest of the unit. The soldiers are forced to take cover in a small store. A few insurgents manage to throw 2 grenades and a Molotov cocktail into the building, the resulting flames trapping the soldiers inside. They soldiers themselves know that, cut off from their unit, they have no chance of escaping the store alive and in fact judge it very likely they’ll be burned alive.

Personally, I believe the soldiers should fight the insurgents so long as they are able to escape the flames and avoid significant smoke inhalation, although I do think it unreasonable to insist they endure being burned alive as a result. As such, I think it reasonable for the soldiers to kill themselves as quickly as possible with their own firepower if the only alternative is to endure the almost literal Hell of being burned alive, even if by staying alive they do kill a few more insurgents. As such, if the suicidal person feels the psychological equivalent of being burned alive, then I have no objection to their suicide. Even so, I think suicidal people still have a duty to revisit their evaluations just to make sure you haven’t missed some important element before they commit the ultimate act.

If they did think long and thoroughly about the net harm vs net benefit to others and yourself and still decided to end it all at whatever time you have in mind, more power to them and in fact, I commend  them for it. Even so, IF they did their best possible analysis, that still implies – regardless of their final calculation – that they have at least some degree of belief in the duty to others I described above (“pointless, etc”).

Objection 5: Suicide intrudes into one’s private life. It’s not anybody else’s business if someone commit’s suicide

Sometimes our private lives and thoughts sometimes do impact on others, especially if we publicly express them or act upon those thoughts. So there are limits to this “not intruding into others private life”. Intruding into someone’s pain and private life is legitimate if they seem likely to act in ways that are hugely detrimental to others physical or psychological well being. Otherwise the whole notion of outside intervention to prevent that person from hurting others would make no sense (other example, someone obviously in need of anger management training); this in addition to the already-mentioned acts that every society clearly deems well outside the bounds of proper human behavior.

Objection 6: A person’s natural death still greatly affects family and friends anyway, so why not die by suicide right now if that person wants to die now?

Actually, suicide committed outside health reasons is likely to create more anguish in loved ones than would that person’s natural death – even after taking into account health reasons. An person whose elderly parent dies peacefully after a few months illness is much less anguishing than losing a perfectly functional young adult and especially a juvenile. At most, it’s debatable even among the experts whether suicides are no more anguishing than natural death. Me, as someone who lost both my grandparents AND both my parents within a 12 year period, I can assure you that as sad as it is to lose loved ones through natural causes, it would have been much more anguishing had they died while in perfectly good health through suicide. If you’re still not convinced, the following articles on the ncbi server should give food for thought. They are only abstracts from published research papers (except the .au one, which is a PhD thesis, and long). This seriously undermines your assertion to the effect there’s no difference in grief between natural death and a suicide.

Grief shortly after suicide and na… [Suicide Life Threat Behav. 2006] – PubMed – NCBI

Effects of loss from suicide, accid… [Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2007] – PubMed – NCBI

Suicide survivors’ mental health a… [Suicide Life Threat Behav. 2008] – PubMed – NCBI

The grief experiences and needs of bereaved … [J Affect Disord. 2002] – PubMed – NCBI

http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/researc…D01?sequence=2

http://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/researc…D01?sequence=2

Again, the most those saying it’s OK to commit suicide for reasons NOT related to reasons not in Death With Dignity Acts of various states is that we should such things on a case-by-case basis. Here, this means that suicide should be the absolute last card to be played, when it’s impossible to endure one’s pain and torment any more (or when whatever good you can give to your family and friends does not justify your remaining in this realm). It certainly is not a license to go willy-nilly about individual rights and not give a damn about how greatly grievously our own acts can negatively impact on others.

Why I Am Not a Real Man, Nor Aspire to Be (Part 2)

Updated July 10, 2014

At the end of the last post, I said that I would clean up the notions of real man and manliness before outright rejecting them despite how society defines and applies the terms. Can they be made precise, definite, logical and self-consistent  – both in terms of definitions and criteria? If so, then we can (theoretically, at least) agree about what the terms mean and thus start a meaningful discussion about real man and manliness. I will do so performing the following steps:

First, I will build the definition based on traits mainstream society usually considers absolutely essential for manliness to at least a non-trivial degree.  Each of these on certain criteria based on two characteristics: (1) logical, self-consistent, and coherent in terms each trait’s importance rank, and (2) have the most admirable positive connotations.

Second, Using these criteria, I will show just how contradictory are the ways mainstream society tends to use the terms, with special focus on how most peoples’ claim to value Civility over Social Dominance runs contrary to their real world social choices. I will assume that who someone chooses to socialize with is the most accurate reflection of who they consider a “worthy” person.

Third, I will look at the question from the other side of the issue.  Even under my own definition of manliness, is manliness really necessary for a man to be respect-worthy? Also, is unmanliness really an appropriate mark for contempt-worthiness?

To be perfectly clear, I have no problem (theoretically, at least) with the notion that at least the ideal real man does deserve more esteem, glory, accolades, etc. than those with less manliness. Still, this opens up two other issues: (a) Is receiving glory, accolades, or otherwise high levels of social approval really the most appropriate measure by which to judge someone respect-worthy, and (b) is failing to qualify as manly truly a marker of contempt-worthiness?

DEFINING MANLINESS, REAL MAN, ETC.

I developed four criteria for manliness, all of which must  be met to qualify for the ideal real man. Following the previous post, I divide the criteria into Social Dominance traits and Civilized / Humane traits (for the sake of brevity, this is called the Civility traits).

SOCIAL DOMINANCE TRAITS

(a) Personal power, confidence, courage, charisma, photogenic personality (even if in a calm and relaxed way) and other traits considered macho, yet not uncivilized in themselves, or otherwise superficially appealing traits.

(b) Having none of the so-called unmanly traits like timidity, oddity, weakness, dull-wittedness, low confidence, powerlessness, etc. (in short, having no traits which are the opposite of point a.)

CIVILIZED / HUMANE TRAITS

(c) Using those traits (specifically point a) in ways that add value to society and/or other people’s lives (i.e. helping other people, relieving the suffering of people who need such relief, etc.)

(d) Not using trait (a) in a way that cause pain or suffering among others that is pointless, avoidable, insufficiently compensatory to the sufferer, and serves no higher purpose than one’s own self-gain or the gain of those supporting them.

It is difficult to see how anybody can reasonably object to these four criteria, especially for people who claim that real men necessarily are at least as civilized and humane in his behavior toward others as he is socially dominant in most situations. However, I do allow that a male can still minimally qualify for a real man if only one particular criteria is missing – point (c). Still, a male must meet all four criteria to qualify for the ideal real man.

As discussed in the previous blog entry, popular culture holds the Social Dominance traits as the most necessary for manliness. The Civility traits I add because most people, when pressed to do so, will add at least point (d) to their own necessary criteria of a real man. This usually occurs when one sees a socially dominant male committing unmistakably unethical or inhumane acts toward others.

CIVILITY TRAITS: TRULY NECESSARY OR NOT?

As said above, many people, and certainly popular culture as a whole, will assign real man to males who qualify for (a) and (b) alone (Social Dominance) before they assign the label to ones qualifying for (c) and (d) alone (Civility), especially (d) alone. This is logically consistent if one thinks Social Dominance is the only necessary and legitimate criteria for being a real man, and in fact is the very definition of real man, manliness, etc..  If so, then real manliness, etc. does not actually require a male to have even the slightest hint of civility and humanitarianism.  Thus, bullies and even the most brutal Mafia or drug cartel “hit men” must qualify as manly based on their Social Dominance alone, however outrageous we find them.

Yet, most people will quickly disqualify as manly any sadistic and cruel person, even the most socially dominant ones. Doubtlessly, this is because Social Dominance, no matter how strongly and favorably it impresses on our senses, no matter how immediately visible, and no matter how appealing to us –  tell us nothing about how he exercises those traits toward others. Common knowledge shows these traits are used for hurtful, even evil, purposes as readily as for good or humane ones.  If one insists that a qualifying for a real man also requires socially dominant males to have in abundance at least trait (d), then they concede some traits are indeed more important for manliness than Social Dominance, namely the Civility.

This brings up a major problem in how we assign the labels real man and unmanly to other males (and by implication, respect-worthy and contempt-worthy).

BRINGING CONSISTENCY TO MANLINESS, ETC.

In the real world, the terms manly and real man practically always carry the idea of “outright high respect-worthiness”, not merely “deserving no disrespect”. This is meant in the most gladly-bestowed, not grudgingly accepted, sense of the terms.  If at some point Civility trumps Social Dominance, that means, also at that same point, the Civility-alone males must better qualify for at least non-contempt than do the Social Dominance-alone males.  By extension, Civility-alone males do come closer to qualifying for real men than do Social Dominance-alone males, even if they do not actually qualify for manliness. We can debate where to draw the line, but that does nothing to defeat the basic principle that Civility must at some point take precedence over Social Dominance.

This explains why most people grant higher regard to Civility-alone males who give up entire Saturday afternoons to be a “Big Brother” to an underprivileged child than to any Social Dominance-alone male who not only fail to use their dominance to help others, but use that dominance to outright hurt others, even to only a moderate degree.   The non-dominant man, whatever his lack of actual manliness, at least provides a child with proper guidance; which is more than can be said for men with high-dominance only.  Only the most fervent true believers in society’s archetypical gender ideals would doubt this.

Merely Not as Uncivil: Give or Deny the Pass?

Even the less extreme versions of ‘Social Dominance First’ do not rescue the notion that the Social Dominance traits trump the Civility ones. In this case, some may insist that whatever dignified treatment the (d)-alones deserve, still more deserving are the moderately low-Civility, high-dominance males.

Despite escaping the worst aspects of Social Darwinism discussed in the previous post, this claim still implies that low-Civility high-Social Dominance males still deserve more regard and/or less disregard than merely civilized and humane men – at least so long as the dominant male does not stray too far into society considers highly unacceptable behavior. Even this is still a case of judging the Civility traits as less valuable for manliness (and hence respect-worthiness) than the Social Dominance ones. Thus, even in its watered-down forms ‘Social Dominance First’ still works at cross-purposes to the notion ideal real man necessarily have both (c) and (d). Therefore, even mild forms of the ‘Social Dominance First’ are ultimately incoherent.

All of this means that the ‘Social Dominance First’ assumption of manliness has got to go, however strange or distasteful some may find throwing it away.  The ‘Civility First’ traits must the basis for any credible definition of manliness, and again, by implication, respect-worthiness, that may somehow exist.  To say otherwise is to be either confused, wallowing in denial about ‘Social Dominance First’ being mistaken, or just plain dishonest  – unless that person ultimately believes that right or wrong depends on the personal views of the strongest people present (i.e.“might makes right”). This brings us back to the Social Darwinist assumptions of how males ought to be, addressed in the previous post along with all its problems.

Thus, from the standpoint of many people and much of popular culture in general, the shoe is on the other foot. It is the Civility-alone males who come closer to manliness than the Social Dominance-alone ones, on account of being less worthy of disrespect, if nothing else. This remains true even by the consistent interpretations of prevailing societal definitions of manliness, however incoherent and contradictory the latter definitions are.

Civility First: Is ‘Do Good’ or ‘Do No Harm’ More Important?

Now we weigh the relative importance of points (c ) and (d).  When all is said and done, it seems (d) is the most important criteria for manliness.  The most basic reason is there is nothing about doing good that prevents one from also doing harm.  A famous instance of this is Mafia dons supporting and promoting charitable causes within their communities.  On a larger scale, one common counter to defending a bad person on the basis he or she did good things is “Sure that is true, and Hitler built the Autobahn”, or “…and Mussolini made the trains run on time”, etc..

Finally, on a general note, claiming that doing good trumps not doing harm turns goodness into a kind of currency by which we can “purchase” the right  to do bad things that nevertheless benefit ourselves and the groups who support us. If part of doing good necessarily includes elimination or lessening of bad things, then goodness-as-currency runs at cross-purposes to itself, which practically renders goodness ultimately pointless.  Why bother doing good at all if good is mainly done to support a person’s badness?

Even without the “goodness as currency” problem, placing  doing good above not doing harm would permit us to concentrate on achieving gains (goods) while being indifferent to harms (bads). At best, this is never-ending treadmill, turning a blind eye to new bads arising that have to be dealt with – bads that neither existed before nor had to come into existence.  This diverts personal energies otherwise available for doing actual good or confronting other already-existing bads toward confronting those newer bads that did not have to exist.

Perhaps this is why the Hippocratic Oath taken by newly graduated medical students is “Do no harm” instead of “Do good”; for as said earlier, admirable traits can be used for evil as well as good. It is a lesson we non-doctors would be wise to keep in mind when constructing our own criteria for who deserves respect and who deserves contempt (the latter to the extent a person does at all). So it is that for these reasons even the (d) alone male deserves contempt less than does a moderately uncivil socially dominant male, even if that male qualifies for all points barring (d).

For these reasons, it still remains the case that males qualifying for criteria (d) alone, no matter how lacking in dominance the (d) alone males may be, still deserve at least less disrespect than even the moderately uncivil high-dominance men. At least the (d) alone male has the most important criteria for a real man – that he does not commit pointless and avoidable harms against others. This is perhaps more important than doing actual good, for there is nothing in doing actual good that prevents the same person from doing actual harm to others – including those he performs good acts for.

UNMANLINESS: CONTEMPT-WORTHY OR NOT?

As I stated earlier, I have no problem in principle with a definition or connotation of manliness that implies deservance of greater respect, glory, admiration, etc due to their greater Social Dominance – so long as the person said to be a real man unambiguously and decisively qualifies for (d), or better yet both Civility traits ( (c ) as well as (d) ).

However, whether an unmanly male deserves contempt due to his low-dominance alone is another question.  Assuming the low-dominance male does no harm even if he does no good, it is difficult to see how he does deserve contempt, given all I wrote so far about this topic. I already discussed how Civility ultimately supersedes Social Dominance in the rank hierarchy of traits important to manliness. Likewise for the importance of doing no harm than it is to do actual good. One exception to this: when doing good is absolutely necessary to prevent actively doing harm, to the extent that the person is able to actually do that good thing.

Given all this, a person only deserves contempt when the person is actually able to do a particular good thing for the sake of preventing harm to others and deliberately chooses not to do so, whether because of his or her indifference to another’s well-being or with malicious intent.

A lack of Social Dominance, even in males, does not rise to the level of a contempt-worthy act because such males do not intend to be non-dominant, nor, more crucially, do they intend harm to befall others.  Thus, anyone claiming that even a striking lack of Social Dominance is contempt-worthy shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what the proper role of contempt and even scorn is.

Contempt’s and scorn’s proper role is to socially punish a person who consciously and deliberately, with malicious intent, commits acts he or she plausibly knows will impart harm or indignity to others that are pointless, avoidable, insufficiently compensatory to the target or the greater society, and serve no higher purpose than the self-gain of the scorner or those who the scorner supports or those who support the scorner. Because a high Civility yet non-dominant male generally does not act with malicious intent toward others, such males generally do not deserve scorn from anyone.  Thus, if anything, rather than placing blame on the low-dominance high-Civility males for their low dominance, the more proper targets of the scorn are the scorners of the low-dominance high-Civility males themselves.

Just Do It? Or Do We Overestimate Free Will?

Some will claim that a low-dominance male chooses to be non-dominant, and thus deserves whatever scorn he gets on account of his choice.  However, this is difficult to believe, especially given that even in the best of circumstances for the strongest, smartest, and bravest people their free will is not infinite: some people simply do not have the intrinsic ability to accomplish certain tasks (that is why most of us are neither elite athletes nor Nobel Prize winners, just to name two). So while I do not subscribe to “hard determinism”, that does not prevent me from recognizing that there are limits to human free will. Thus, any discussion about personal choice and responsibility cannot be credible without taking these limits upon our free will into account.

If in normal circumstances a person chooses to either lack an intrinsically good trait, or have an intrinsically bad trait (whether for one’s self or others), that assumes the person prefers a life of polite condescension from others (mere pity, sympathy-filled hugs and other relatively positive attentions) to genuinely treatment as a human being of equal worth to most others. Other than diagnosable psychological disorders, this rarely the case, Even if this is the case, the person still should not be held responsible for a circumstance beyond his or her ability to recover from on his or her own.  This is why the legal system does not hold clinically insane people responsible for any crimes they commit if no other explanation for exists for their act other than their insanity.

Mental disorders aside, It is simply implausible to assume a person will choose to lack a good trait or take on a bad trait, especially when that flaw (real or perceived) is hugely unpopular with mainstream society – which is precisely the case with low Social Dominance in males. To believe this, we would have to believe an at least adequately capable person will actually desire to, and actually begin, behaving, carrying themselves, and generally dealing with others in ways they knows will bring about scorn, ridicule, and other disapprovals from others and general, not to mention lose highly desirable opportunities to better themselves over their present position. In the meantime, this choice to possess this undesirable trait would significantly lower their social status (formal or informal) to levels they did not previously have to experience.  Furthermore, this adequately capable person will choose to experience frequent, if not constant, humiliations and degradations from others, and generally choose to be in a significantly worse state than they very well could be despite his being fully able to stop having that undesirable trait at any time they choose. On top of all this, they would actually desire this new state of being over their formerly better, easier one.

Common experience does little to render this a sensible claim. By this claim’s logic, we would also have to believe that dyslexic children who face a hurdle overcoming their condition actually prefer to remain unable to properly read (and by implication do very poorly in school) than to be able to read on his or her own – fully realizing that many of his or her peers would belittle him or her for being unable to read well.  For more mature people, we would also have to believe that abused spouses have no physical, financial, social, or psychological obstacles that enable them to leave their abusive partner even when they clearly know that they would better their situation in the long run. If this line of reasoning is absurd where it concerns discouraged dyslexic children and broken spirited abused spouses, then how is it difficult to doubt its absurdity concerning low-dominance males, especially very low-dominance ones?

If all the above is true, then it seems the basic capacity for Social Dominance (in whatever way) does indeed vary greatly in males. This claim is certainly more plausible than saying that a low-Social Dominance male (or anyone else for that matter) chooses to have that trait fully realizing all the life’s difficulties he would inevitably face due to that low Social Dominance. Thus, holding a low-dominance male responsible for his own low dominance places an unreasonable heavy burden upon the male, for similar reasons that holding a battered spouse responsible for not moving away is unreasonable: at some point, all of us have limits to our free will, and some of us have more capacity to determine our fate than others.  Therefore, despite any superficial appearances to the contrary, low-Social Dominance high-Civility males do not deserve whatever scorn they get due to their low-Social Dominance alone – unless we abandon all notions that a person should not be held responsible for matters beyond his or her ability to control.

CONCLUSION

When all is said and done, despite society’s current and very arbitrary standards for determining who is manly and who is not (especially regarding worthiness of respect or contempt), there is a way to build definitions for manliness and real man that respects both society’s traditional standards for manliness / respect-worthiness and places primary emphasis on the civilized and humane behaviors, the latter without which our society would certainly fall apart. This is the best way I know of to rescue the terms manliness and real man from the whirlpool of incoherence and contradiction, not to mention from inhumanity.

Thus while it is possible to argue from my criteria that certain socially dominant males can and do indeed deserve more outright esteem from their peers than a non-dominant male but civilized and human male, this can happen only when the socially dominant male is at the very least no more likely the non-dominant male to cause pointless, unreasonable hurt to others (better yet, when in addition he uses those traits to help even the “least” of others). If I am correct, it is clear that we, individually or as a society, would benefit drastically from a major overhaul of the terms manlyreal man, and related terms, particularly the arbitrary way we seemingly assign the terms to any dominant male before it is clear he does not use such traits to unjustly hurt others. This criteria shows one way in which this is possible.

The claims that non-dominant males are more deserving of contempt, and that moderately low-Civility high-Social Dominance males deserve less contempt than low-Social Dominance high-Civility ones fall apart under scrutiny. Undoubtedly, this popular, widespread assumption comes from society’s uncritical acceptance of ideas which support Social Darwinism, if not Social Darwinism itself; not to mention crude understandings of both free will and personal responsibility Result: castigation of “wimps”, “cowards”, “fragile men”, “emos”, etc.  do not deserve nearly as much contempt as many people say they do, if they deserve it at all; for the same basic reasons given in my post against scorning “stupid” people

I’ll directly address contempt for weakness, etc. into this in a later post. For now, it’s enough to say that this tendency likely comes from a reptilian basebrain impulse that is, at best, unsuitable for the 21st century’s most economically and technologically advanced nations.

Why I Am Not a Real Man, Nor Aspire to Be (Part 1)

Revised November 22, 2014

The ideas of manliness and real man (presence or lack of in a male) heavily influence how we determine the value of males. In fact, this is often the main yardstick by which to measure a male’s worthiness of dignity and respect. Likewise for unmanliness being the main measure for a male’s worthiness of disregard, even contempt-worthiness. Our minds soaked up these ideas so thoroughly that we rarely give them a second thought, any more than fish think about the water they swim in. But are manliness and unmanliness really sensible ways to determine one’s worth? Going deeper, can we even agree on what manliness, real man, etc. mean? Still deeper, is manliness even necessary at all for a male to deserve respect, or not being unmanly for deserving no ridicule and contempt?

Short Answers:

*It depends on the exact meaning of manliness and similar terms.

*In theory, yes. In practice, I have doubts.

*A plain and simple “No”.

Truth be told,  I see a lot of problems with real man, manliness, etc. as they are usually defined, plus the ideas they carry. In fact, I would frankly be embarrassed for myself if anyone described me a real man or similar such terms. Nor will I go near those terms to describe any male I liked, admired, and respected; even if a lot of people think of him as a card-carrying members of the alpha male club; at least not unless popular culture cleans up those terms. There are three basic reasons for this.

First, both the concepts and terms are vague and muddled.  Even when there appears to be some agreement among people as to what the terms mean, they are still likely to disagree about which particular trait is more manly than another, or even if a trait should or should not qualify for manly at all. Second, they carry a lot of baggage,  particularly about what kinds of traits males ought to have and what behaviors they should engage in, and even what kinds of males deserve disrespect and why. Third, the terms unwittingly promote Social Darwinism, a highly destructive meme for society – for the strong as well as the weak, especially in the long run.

Also, though not specifically part of manliness itself, the opposite terms promote the frankly ignorant idea that unmanly males deserve whatever disrespect that comes their way, regardless of any other positive qualities he proves to have. This is especially true when people regard any of those “other positive qualities” an unmanly male has more as a consolation prize than as  a trait of  equal or greater actual worth than the oft-called manly traits. Because so many of us consider manliness and unmanliness as deep measures of worthiness of respect or contempt for a male, were I to approve of being called manly – at least its most popular and oft-spoken form – I would be contributing to the idea that unmanly males deserve whatever disrespect comes their way, however indirectly. If and when mainstream society overhauls the term I would abandon this stand, but for now I would rather be known for those genuinely admirable traits than I would for being a real man, even if that means being unmanly.

 

MUDDLED, VAGUE DEFINITIONS

The definitions of the terms depend on who you ask.  Even when people do agree on a definition, they will still give different weights to each trait making up the definition of manliness and allied terms. Some say that being ready, willing, and able to dominate others and handle tough situations is the most important. Others say that kindness, civility, and humanitarian traits are more important. Still others claim carrying and presenting yourself in a certain way trumps all.  The same goes for hard work, having grace under pressure, and so forth.  So even with agreed upon criteria, the terms still carry the airs of a mere opinion at best. But the most popular, often-heard standard definitions seems to center on possessing what I call the Social Dominance traits, although at some point they must be tempered by what I call the Civilized / Humane traits (both explained shortly).

Inconsistent, contradictory definitions and criteria. I will go into more detail in my next post. For now, I will give an overview of this matter. But first, some background. I see two basic sets of traits in most people’s ideas of an ideal real man, which I call the Social Dominance traits and the Civilized / Humane traits. Social Dominance traits are what people usually associate with manliness: strength, toughness, courage, assertiveness, airs of power, swagger, charisma, confidence with a touch of cockiness, aggressive when needed, etc.

The Civilized / Humane traits (henceforth called Civility for clarity’s sake) are those concerning how fairly and justly one should interact with others: politeness, kindness, mindfulness and concern for other’s needs, an open mind, tolerance of trivial faults, not assigning a low value to a person based on those trivial traits, compassion, giving help to those who need it, and so forth.  People also consider these traits the mark of a real man, or at the very least claim a real man will not use his power to hurt others when it is unreasonable to do so.

I add the above because if Social Dominance alone were sufficient for manliness, then bullies and even the most violent, extreme criminals must also qualify for it. Few people will claim those types are more manly than even physically weak and emotionally sensitive men who nevertheless spend ten or more hours a week volunteering to help the needy and underprivileged. So most people will say that, at some point, Civility trumps Social Dominance; even those most fond of throwing around terms like manly, unmanly, real man, etc.

Yet, for all this, many people will give more regard to moderately uncivil high-dominance males well before they give it to highly civil low-dominance males. Correspondingly, these people will be slower to reject the former than to accept the latter, or even accept the latter before the former – even among those claiming to value Civility over Social Dominance. Some of them go even further – outright disparaging the high-Civility low-dominance male while by comparison being merely annoyed by the moderately uncivil high-dominance male.  A lot even go so far as to claim that non-dominant highly civil males “ask for” any disrespect they get from others because of their low Social Dominance alone.  For people claiming to value Civility over Social Dominance, this is a discrepancy difficult to explain, except in Social Darwinist terms. More about this later.

Given all this, the terms real man or manly says nothing more than he has high Social Dominance yet not so uncivil that he inspires widespread loathing in others. It says nothing precise about how actually civil or humane he is, even if this trait is ultimately more important to his manliness than is his Social Dominance. Thus, the popular uses of manly and allied terms are incoherent.

 

CARRIES A LOT OF BAGGAGE

In principle, I have no problem with the idea of building a definition of manly that necessarily includes Social Dominance, for one can either place a positive or negative value judgment upon the term or the idea that supplies the term’s meaning.  I also have no problem in principle with the idea that Social Dominance is a good trait in and of itself.  The problem comes from the overall connotations of manliness (i.e., the unspoken but obviously present undertexts most often associated with a term beyond its strict dictionary definition) and especially its opposite term unmanliness.

The terms often idealize a macho brand of masculinity. In particular, the idea that males only need to be able to dominate tough situations and tough people to get high regard from others, never mind if he very much lacks civilized and humane traits.  At the very least, people tend to more slowly reject moderately uncivil high-dominance males than they accept high-civility low-dominance males.

This tendency, unfortunately, is a major feature of our culture. It reinforces the idea that a male must at least look like he can display an aggressive “masculinity” in order to deserve avoiding approval from others.  By doing so, we as a society keep giving life to the idea that a male’s value comes primarily from mainly from his immediately and easily visible Social Dominance abilities,  and only secondarily from his Civilized tendencies; even for highly dominant males with tremendous kindness, civility, and humanitarianism.

From this, one gets the impression that society treats the Civility aspect of manliness more as a boring-even-if-important add-on rather than as a trait of equal or greater value than Social Dominance. This shows itself  even in situations not requiring strength, assertiveness, swagger, etc.:  people will still size up a male’s worth in terms of his Social Dominance more than in terms of his Civility.

The messages males get: It is more important that you be dominant than to be civilized and humane; and being a jerk is not nearly as bad as being non-dominant, barring extreme cases. Both notions are a recipe for all kinds of social problems, both for the public and for one’s own household. This leads directly into the next reason why I do not want to be considered a real man.

Could slander a high-civility high-dominance male.  Manly as commonly used often groups together two types of socially dominant men who otherwise have nothing else in common. In this case high dominance males who do abound with Civility traits and those who do not.  Linking two groups together in this manner can easily imply that each is of equal esteem, given the justifiable assumption that society in practice tends to value in men their Social Dominance over their Civility (again, up to a point). This not only removes incentive for moderately uncivilized dominant men to change their ways, it practically slanders socially dominant men who do abound in civility and humanity.

I would not want to be called a real man if that label applies just as readily to despicable jerks as to a civilized humane man, because I want no confusion in other people’s minds as to the type of person I really am. This is exactly what positively connoted terms do when equally applicable to good and bad people.

 

PROMOTES SOCIAL DARWINISM

Social Darwinism is a distortion of the theories of evolution and natural selection, based on the popular but oversimple notion that evolution leads to “the survival of the fittest”, especially if “fitness” seems defined primarily in terms of possessing Social Dominance. It is the assumption that “Nature” – in the law-of-the-jungle dog-eat-dog competition sense – provides the most appropriate model for both how to improve the human situation and how humans should interact with each other. The implication is that the strong, smart and brave deserve to survive and thrive simply because they proved themselves able to survive challenges and hence the best at providing good things for society while the weak, “stupid” and timid deserve to be shunned aside and not cared about because they are supposedly a drag on society.

While the terms manly and real man do not always carry this idea, they do so frequently enough to convince many people to see social dominance in a “survival of the fittest” sense. This is not a post about Social Darwinism, so I will give only initial reactions about just how counterproductive this popular but oversimple notion is to our society.  For more comprehensive critiques, see Richard Dawkins’ hour-long documentary Nice Guys Finish First and J. Wes Ulm’s essay What Darwin Did Not Mean (also may be titled Cachet of the Cutthroat). There are many other criticisms by professional academics, far too numerous to list in this post; but these two are the most far-reaching, clear, and convincing I have seen.

Even the term “Survival of the fittest” did not originate with Darwin, but with the philosopher and sociologist Herbert Spencer, five years after Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of the Species. In fact,  Darwin himself never intended to suggest his theory of how evolution works, natural selection, should be a basis for increasing present-day human fitness; in fact objecting that his theory should be used in such a way.  According to Ulm, Spencer simply saw Darwin’s theory of natural selection as a convenient framework upon which to support his longstanding idea that the wealthy and/or strong deserve to enjoy all the fruits of their labor whole the poor and weak deserve to fade away. From here, it is not much of a creative leap to transfer this notion to the social pecking order in general, formal or informal such orders. In fact, much of the strategy of the Pick-Up Artist community and their associated promotion of “Game” (skill at seducing women) is based on this faulty interpretation of the Theories of Evolution and Natural Selection.

On the surface, Social Darwinism does have an intuitive common sense kind of appeal. Under more detailed and relentless criticism, though, this understanding of how human societies survive and thrive proves to be not just simplistic, but plain wrongheaded. Today, every major evolutionary biologist rejects Social Darwinism as intellectually fragile, for the simple reason that the evidence does not support the theory (e.g. Ulm recounts primatologist Franz de Waal describing field research reporting of  ape communities caring for their sick and injured, yet still described as thriving, “robust” to be precise).

This is because Social Darwinism, if put fully into practice, would actually weaken societies, especially the economically and technologically advanced nations. It ignores other, non-dominance, traits that are at least as advantageous to survival as strength, intelligence, and assertiveness – the Civility traits, without which no civilization could function. It is doubtful that even “primitive” tribal societies at a Stone Age level of development could function without them either. Therefore, as counterintuitive as it seems, “survival of the fittest”, at least in the dog-eat-dog cutthroat competitive sense, does not lead to a stronger, smarter, braver society but a more brittle one, even if it remains seemingly strong and impressive on the surface.

The reason the above is true is that “dog-eat-dog” “law of the jungle” environments force people to divert energies otherwise available for truly and sustainably beneficial tasks toward making immediate short-term gains (usually at the expense of long-term well-being) and even toward mere survival. It also denies the so-called “unfit” opportunities to use their non-survival talents to further increase the gap between ill-being and society’s present position, further worsening the productivity problems.

The problems get worse as the talented oppressed, the more civil, and the more independent-minded people who know a better way but blocked from making necessary changes at every turn start to leave the society for less cutthroat fend-for-yourself ones. This later leads to a declining quality of leadership in societies and organizations adopting a Social Darwinist model, with the successful being more skilled at office politics and “street smarts” rather than those most knowledgeable and talented at accomplishing the tasks on which their society or company is based. For these reasons, Social Darwinism would be disastrous for any society or organization based on it, especially in terms of human resource cultivation.

At best, Social Darwinism is fit only when the absolutely only way to gain and secure more resources is to simply be still more stronger, smarter, and braver than you rivals – including fellow species members. That may be the way of some animal species but not for we humans, who have moved far beyond those raw animalistic methods of making a living. In short, Social Darwinist ideas of a real man imply that male humans have no more capacity for rational thought, free will, and morality than do the wild animals. Thus, it is supreme folly to assume this model of evolutionary improvement would give humanity the results it actually wants.

If being a real man means that I adhere to superficially clear understandings of how the world works that appeal only to my instant intuitions, even when the course of history compels us to drop that understanding, then I would not want to be a real man. The same goes for believing that I am more deserving to survive than someone weaker than I am for that reason alone, even if he does have greater civility and humanity than I do.  The same goes for any cultural attitude that makes it permissible for me to be indifferent to the well-being of those whose dog-eat-dog survival abilities are less than those of most other men. I would not want to be known as a real man if that phrase draws a lot of its meaning from Social Darwinist ideas. Nor again, would I use that term to describe a male I respect, even if society does consider them the ideal real man.

Despite my plainly low opinion of the terms, I will discuss a way they could be rescued, at least in theory. I’ll get to that in the next post. For now, I’ll say “Yes, but”, meaning that ideal real men do deserve more respect than other men, yet say that men unmanly men as described in this post do not deserve contempt for that reason alone.

 

INHERENTLY BIGOTED ANTONYMS

Unmanly is not completely comparable to “ugly”, “fat”, and other terms that, while admittedly unflattering and even derogatory (especially against women), still do not carry  nearly the stigma that unmanly does for men.  The average people in society will usually come to the defense of “ugly” and “fat” women much more quickly than they will come to the defense of non-dominant males (read “wimpy”, “cowardly”, “emo”, “weak”, “broken-spirited”, etc). especially if they disregard  Even worse is the idea that very low-dominance but highly civil males deserve whatever disrespect comes their way for that reason alone, which is highly objectionable.

Assumes that low-dominance alone merits indifference or contempt from others. Regardless of any other positive qualities they have. This springs from a fundamental misunderstanding of the proper roles of scorn and contempt. Legitimate scorn, rejection, disrespect, and contempt can occur only in a very narrow set of circumstances; namely when the person consciously and deliberately commits truly harmful or degrading acts (including speech) against others. Even in this case, the scorn and contempt must be in proportion to the wrongdoing or wrong ideas expressed or implied by their acts.

By contrast, lack of social dominance is not a conscious, deliberate attempt to hurt or degrade others. Neither is it a wilfully indifferent to the other human beings fundamental concerns. Only deliberate acts of wrongdoing, unkindness, or willful indifference against another’s deep and legitimate concerns deserve scorn and / or rejection.  Nothing about a lack of social dominance comes close to equating with actual unprincipled acts (e.g. lies and other dishonesties, cheatings, theft, exploitation, abuse, etc.).

This means the mere lack of social dominance does not qualify for even legitimate snubs or condesensions, let alone mockery or ridicule. Social non-dominance is not an actual wrongdoing, and thus neither the trait nor the males who have it deserve scorn, rejection, ridicule, etc. This brings up a deeper point concerning unmanly and traits easily construed as being unmanly.

Unmanly and allied terms are not neutral descriptors of a characteristic – these are expressions of disapproval, frustration, and even contempt. As explained above, this is not legitimate grounds for social rejection or otherwise punishing an individual. Thus the term is inherently derogatory, even bigoted, especially if used even in situations not requiring social dominance for the slightest iota of success.

Worse, even when acknowledging a non-dominant male’s positive traits, many people still treat them more as consolation prizes than intrinsically valuable traits relative to the Social Dominance ones. This only strengthens the impression that – for all their lip service praising the Civilized / Humane traits – many people’s tones, actions, and social judgments still imply they value in males Social Dominance more than Civility, at least outside extreme cases of violent felons and the calm and mild males.

If a positive term’s opposite implies a person deserves low regard despite they do nothing reasonably said to hurt or degrade others,  I would not want to be known primarily by that positive term no matter how genuinely good it is or how much outright respect I would get for it. Once again, manly qualifies as such a trait.

 

CONCLUSION

In the end, the popular culture ideas of manliness and real man are incoherent at best and meaningless at worst.  They are both too vague and too contradictory to be useful descriptors of what kind of person a male is.  Because its primary focus is on Social Dominance and only in second place Civilized / Humane traits, it combines two types of socially dominant males who otherwise have nothing in common: those who are Civilized / Humane and those who are not.

Still worse, real man and manly sometimes are applied even to men who are outright uncivilized and inhumane, contrary to any claim by those who assert Civility trumps Social Dominance. Worst of all, people who use those terms unwittingly promote Social Darwinist, even outright bigoted, attitudes toward men with low social dominance, even if they do have high civility; because non-dominant yet high-civility men are often labeled unmanly, a highly pejorative label.  Due to all these problems both the words and the concepts surrounding and connoting manliness, both the terms and concepts should be either used more coherently and consistently or outright purged from our vocabulary and our popular consciousness.

Speculations, thoughts, and my general musings about society, the world, and the universe.