On Stupidity And Politicians

Looking at our politicians, one may be forgiven for wondering whether there is an inverse correlation between power and intelligence. That must, however, be quite unfair as long as politicians have to compete for the votes of the likes of thee and me. Where this is so, the stupid ones would appear to be ourselves. It is quite possible that politicians of all parties know full well what is feasible and what is not, as well as what are the true threats to human civilisation and national survival and what needs to be done about them – but cannot talk about it, because we are far too dumb to understand and far too selfish to forego our immediate advantage. Even the politicians who most pooh-pooh ecological concerns may in reality be just as wise as the green activists, but more realistic about flattering the voters.

It is a well-known fact that ordinary minds tend to hold an exaggerated view of their own capabilities. That being so, our leaders may be ordinary minds whom power (which the stupids have given them) has made especially delusional, or else they might be superior minds faking ordinary delusionality in order to get elected. I am not sure how we could tell.

(Change date to January 5, 2014)

Posted on June 17, 2017 at 17:39 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, The Anatomy Of Stupidity

The Sheep-Flaying Age

I do not know whether university students are still being taught the high-minded fictions of Politics 101, in which institutions are created to serve the common good, and whether the reason why reality cannot be spoken is because it is just too depressing.

For the truth about the human race is fully known to all psychopaths, while the rest of us still believe in the tooth fairy. We are a predatory species, and we predate on ourselves as well as on everything else. Most of us are food, end of story.

The “nation” is therefore a PR fiction covering a predation territory. Rulers are those who have staked a claim to a range and are prepared to fight others for the exclusive right to consume its resources, namely us. From this it follows that “globalisation” is actually predation gone global, with a functional rather than geographical definition of territory.

Most politics and most public employment is a sub-type of this predation, in that the lions cut the jackals in on a share of the booty in return for support against other lions. The output of the system, the behaviour of the so-called government or nation, is the resultant vector of the individual interests of these sub-predators. Wars and suchlike are partly about access to resources and partly the sum of individual diplomats’ career interests.

The most ludicrous part of the whole tooth-fairy story is the suggestion that rule by the top predators is a contingent outcome and that something else is possible. No, our choices are limited to: relatively benevolent plutocracy, in-between plutocracy and malignant plutocracy. An older age put this in terms of shearing the sheep contra flaying them. We are now entering a second age of sheep-skinning within a hundred years.

On Needing Your Bed Opened

Once upon a time I was staying at my first five-star hotel and wondering why the maid was obliged to make a second visit to my room in order to “open the bed”, as they called it, or turn it down as Brits would say. Out of sheer curiosity I enquired at the front desk and was told that, if the maid failed to do so, some guests would complain bitterly. Hello, I thought; are they then unable to climb into bed? Did they never learn to turn down the bedclothes themselves? Was this a form of mummy-dependency afflicting the entire plutocracy – who knew?

I have noticed in Hiltons, too, that some guests do not seem able to pour their own coffee and so cannot be given a whole pot on their breakfast table; a waitress has to pour each cup, or else they get caffeine abstinence. I truly enjoy the Hilton’s breakfasts, but I manage to pour my own coffee as well as open my own bed. So sue me!

Even in swish hotels in the West, one may exchange “Good mornings” with maids one passes in the corridors. At the Gran Via in Kyōto, however, the maids back against the wall and do an emperor-quality bow, bending at 90 degrees. I found that disturbing; and, just as I had wondered what manner of entity could not open his own bed or pour his own coffee, I wondered what manner of entity truly required such obsequiousness in order to feel good.

I never had anything to do with geishas, being not only unable to speak the language or appreciate the art-forms, but also quite unable to sit long enough cross-legged. But they tell me that one of the things a client expects of a geisha is for her to light his cigarette for him. Now, I do not smoke, but if I did, I should be able to light my own damn cigarettes thank you very much. There must be something wrong with me. Although I truly enjoy some aspects of luxury hotels, I seem not to have the gene for wanting people to bow and scrape to me, or run around doing these small tasks like opening beds, pouring coffee or (if I smoked) lighting cigarettes. Ordinary courtesy is all I want, and what I endeavour to give in return; which means that I am probably ignorant of the right way to treat lackeys. Why, they would probably be insulted by my treating them as fellow-humans doing their jobs.

I was brought up in an age of opening doors for ladies. Now, I still do, but only in the sense of not letting a door that I am passing slam in their face – but then, I don’t let doors slam in the face of men either. Similarly, I expect people not to slam doors in my own face. But were someone to scurry ahead to perform the act of opening the door, as being beneath my own dignity, I suspect I would feel uncomfortable and even helpless. So I do understand why a later generation of women got snarly at the apparent assumption that they could not do anything for themselves. I just wish they understood the difference between scurrying ahead and not letting it slam behind you, that’s all.

(Fiddle date-stamp to June 1, 2012)

Revitalising The Economy

It is not particularly fresh news that religious institutions are first and foremost business institutions, engaged in the movement of money from some pockets into other pockets. We understand how all kinds of religious building function as tangible fixed assets for the purpose of generating a revenue stream, while for their part the customers, whether magnate or commoner, make pious donations as admission price or high-yield investment. To this end, the fixed assets known as churches, monasteries and shrines are bought and sold just like mills, bridges or customs posts, or else or divided into shares that are bought and sold likewise. Not exactly into thousandths of the capital, but the principle is the same.

We also understand how the question of how to run the collectively-owned businesses that we call medieval monasteries spawned a vast management literature, and how successful models were exported and copied, while models thought to be dysfunctional were forcibly reorganised or suppressed. Creative destruction, as Schumpeter would call it. Above all, those individuals thought to embody managerial prowess were headhunted from one location to the next. Such monks would have perfectly understood the modern invocation of “benchmarking”. It has also been suggested that a particular organisation within the Christian church, the Cistercians, were the pioneers of what would later be called factory production, standardisation and the multinational.

So far, so good. But that is all the more reason to take the final step. For, until the great age of the chartered town and its self-governing burgesses, the theologians and devotional writers were practically alone in thinking about how best to organise profitable corporate entities. We might therefore do well to enquire what would happen if, every time a twelfth- or eleventh-century writer talked about “the Church of God”, the “kingdom of heaven” and so forth, we were to replace this expression with our modern cant, “the Economy”.

If, we may often suspect, that modern hypostasis or abstraction, “the Economy” is really the name given by a particular class of people to their own extorted riches, well, the same may be true of the kind of people who spoke in proprietorial terms of “the Church of God”. If the substitution works, that does not prove that the twelfth-century writers consciously had producing and consuming, buying and selling in the forefront of their minds when talking about the Church. But it might nevertheless indicate that we have been missing something important.

The Norman Anonymous, to take just one example, would then be writing that, “The king ought, therefore, not to be excluded from the governance of the economy, that is, the Christian people, because the kingdom would then be separated from the economy and destroyed.” For the relationship between the secular and the ecclesiastic power was a perennial issue, and is perhaps not so very different from what we nowadays call “the role of the state in the economy”. We may have been in error in taking the rhetoric for a greater reality than it actually is, and vainly assuming that when they spoke of the body of Christ and so on, they were talking about something “spiritual”. If, in those days, most of the economy was in the hands of the collective owner caste that wore the cowl as their business dress, then what they might really have been talking about is the right to run the enterprise as they saw fit, free of interference by those claiming to represent the people in some different sense. Well, they would, wouldn’t they?
We might even find that the programme we call Gregorian, calling for the absolute autonomy of the clerics, might – if translated in the spirit of “follow the money” – sound like something not entirely unlike Ayn Rand.

Posted on April 20, 2017 at 16:37 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: GETTING MEDIEVAL, Spiritual Business

Tit For Tat And “The Good War”

It is often said that the shock of 911 was that the USA was for the first time vulnerable on its own soil to enemy action. This overlooks the little detail of the Soviet ability to exterminate every life-form on the continent, perhaps because this was both too abstract and too horrific to think about. Perhaps Moscow should long ago have launched a missile at Washington packed with party favours, just to make the point.

The conclusion drawn from this first actual demonstration of American heartland vulnerability has been, of course, that this Must Never Happen Again. So much attention has been paid to the prevention measures, to whether they will work and at what price in terms of civil liberties and global hatred, that nobody has stopped to point out the moral peculiarity of a demand for invulnerability.

For it is part of the human condition that no individuals, groups or nations are, have ever been, or ever will be, invulnerable to attack. As Hobbes famously wrote, “For as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machination, or by confederacy with others, that are in the same danger with himselfe.” The implied lesson here, that the strong and aggressive is likely to provoke a coalition of the weak and fearful to defend against him, is equally applicable to the life of nations. Let us imagine the consequences of an individual’s waking up one day and discovering that he was a superman who could in no way be harmed or restrained; the rest of us would not greatly enjoy the prospect of whim or conscience being all that stood between us and destruction or enslavement. Why should it be any different for a country? The invulnerable man or nation would not be a part of the moral order in which the rest of us live, in which our actions have consequences, and unpleasant actions have unpleasant consequences. For the invulnerable man or nation is unlikely ever to comprehend that the best way not to get attacked involves both a degree of strength, but also not giving intolerable offence.

Now, there is a name for the condition in which an entity fails to understand that it cannot do unto others without others doing back unto it – infantilism. The small child hits the other children, and when he is hit back runs screaming to Mommy; he does not yet understand that the bad thing that has happened to him is not only the same sort of bad thing that he had been handing out, but also its direct and inevitable consequence. If Mommy is sensible she will explain the link, and by dint of repetition of both the explanation and the experience he will eventually “get it”; but if Mommy is a moron and instead goes storming off to the day-care manager, he won’t. Then we get another narcissistic psychopath.

It may well be natural for human beings to contemplate only the wrongs done to them and never the wrongs they have done to others, even when the latter came first; but it is by no means desirable. Individuals must be brought to understand the connection between what they do and what happens to them; we call this a good upbringing. Nations must also be brought to understand the connection between what they do and what happens to them; we call this a good war.

It is said that Tit-for-Tat retaliation teaches small children both reciprocity and empathy; the mirroring of the action enables the perpetrator to understand what it feels like to be the victim, and even if he never makes that leap, he will learn about reactions and consequences. Children have a natural sense of justice and will therefore come to understand the limits of acceptable aggression – unless deluded adults intervene in the process to prevent the children themselves teaching one another the requisite lessons. Of course, this learning will initially be resisted, via the anti-Kantian reasoning typical of Libertarians and small children (but I repeat myself), namely, “But it doesn’t apply to me”; the well-adjusted members of society are the ones who have had this notion hammered out of them in the playground.

Might this socialisation process also apply to whole nations? The Germans once had a taste for military glory, imperial adventures and genocide, but through Tit-for-Tat were thoroughly cured. The Japanese likewise. Or does American moral infantilism go much deeper than German and Japanese militarism? After all, for almost all of its history the island nation minded its own business and wanted nothing more than to be left alone, so that the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere was ultimately an answer to Commodore Perry. The Germans were long known as a nation of philosophers, musicians and clock-makers, and their period of insanity from Bismarck to Hitler lasted less than a century. It is now more than a hundred years since the Americans inaugurated their overseas empire by slaughtering three million Filipinos who wanted freedom; before that was the Indian genocide and chattel slavery, all the way back to the colonial period. The Americans, therefore, have never really had a period of inoffensiveness, because no one ever helped to socialise them.

Given that about half of the American population failed to “get” Vietnam, it is perhaps not surprising that the main explanation of 911 was “They hate our freedom”. (Waaaah!!! They hit me for no reason!!! They’re just mean!) If the Tit-for-Tat needs to be more or less proportional to work properly, then the moral infantilism of the USA would need to be educated by a retaliation that is in keeping with its own deeds. And in that context, the attacks of 911 were pinpricks. The overthrows of elected governments, the vicious military dictatorships, the drowning in blood of popular movements for national or social liberation, the unleashing of death squads on trade unionists, democrats, liberals, human-rights activists and ecologists, the torture centres, the proxy wars, the aerial bombing, the destruction of social infrastructure, the dispossession of peoples, the economic exploitation and environmental degradation, the napalm, the defoliants and the depleted uranium – in a hypothetical spirit of Tit-for-Tat, all this could be visited on the Americans themselves. A propaganda machine of equal effectiveness with the Americans’ own could then portray this to the rest of the world not only as right, proper and necessary, but also as conducive to Motherhood and Tortillas. Radicals have calculated the body-count of American policy since 1945 as around 50 million. Should the Tit-For-Tat slogan therefore be, “Tell me when we reach 50 million”?

Posted on March 9, 2017 at 19:39 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!, Some Modest Proposals

The Lying Times

Once upon a time I talked to a bookshop assistant who had told me that she had learned on a university history course that the whole business of “The Burning Times” was a complete myth. I was astounded by the fact that she appeared to accept this information. For I would have bet folding money that any female student “young enough to know everything” would have greeted this attempt at debunking with a torrent of abuse of the professor centred on the concept of “patriarchy” and possibly even changed courses on the spot to get away from the evil. After all, any attempt to deny “The Burning Times” must be equated with a desire to start them up again and take part oneself. Well, so I was wrong, at least in this one case. Whether the professor was female or a boo-hiss I did not ask, and have no insight into any background factors that predisposed this particular student to accept the falsity of everything she had been told since she could walk.

For I knew that she had indeed grown up in an atmosphere that made questioning of “The Burning Times” an occasion of incredulity, abuse and ostracism. Males knowledgeable in real history have told me that this was a subject they could not raise with their wives on pain of divorce. It would be as futile as convincing the average African that there was no God (which is, by the way, something I have tried), and for the same reasons: early indoctrination, social censure and the self-interest of powerful forces.

Where I live, it used to be six million witches burned. Over what time-scale, in which period, in which countries and on what charges, no one was ever able to say. They “just knew” that particular factoid, the same way the African just knows that giving money to the preacher will lead to health, wealth and happiness, even when it doesn’t. It had to be six million, apparently, because this figure is the same as for Jews killed by the Nazis, thereby allowing any doubters to be tarred with the brush of Holocaust Denial. In some countries the latter is a criminal offence, and it will only be a matter of time before criminalisation of the other form of Victimhood Denial in the USA. If you said that six million Jews were indeed killed in the camps but six million witches were never burned in early-modern Europe, you would not be listened to, the tram of the other party was already speeding down the no-platform-for-evil track. The Holocaust parallel was so potent and convenient that I was never sure why the figure for the dead witches was one day increased to nine million. Probably it was tracking the Consumer Price Index.

Of course, increasing the fiction to nine million did carry with it a certain risk of implosion through self-evident absurdity, in that such a megadeath would be clearly visible in the demographics. Indeed, the true believers could be told that we would have gone extinct. That is not actually true either, but since these people tend to be mathematical illiterates anyway, it might have given them pause. And they also have no clue about the duration of the witch paranoia: nine million in two centuries would be one thing, but nine million women killed in a short time would put China’s gender imbalance in the shade.

One person, who knew that it had to be true because she “had read it in a book”, did actually see the point about there being not enough women left to breed from, but switched the location and claimed that every woman in a particular valley in her region had been killed. Really, you’d think someone would have noticed!

Neither was it any use to place the witch trials in post-Reformation Europe where they belonged. Assigning them to the Middle Ages fitted too well with the history learned from Dungeons and Dragons by people who thought that the period had to be awful because it was spelled “Mid-Evil”.

An even bigger no-no was trying to tell people that men were executed as witches too. And the gods help anyone who talked about motives for denunciations, about inheritance, village feuds or poisoning – or even about a paranoid moral panic over the new poisons at that time arriving from the New World. The fact that under Roman law, the property of the accused fell to his accuser was similarly an alien language. In Germany, I was once told by a historian, the typical “witch” was the burgomeister, and the typical accuser was the man who wanted to be burgomeister instead. No, not interested.

All the young women were brought up with the absolute, unquestioned and not-to-be questioned conviction that all these witches were women, had all been burned by men, with all other women opposed. There would be no women-on-women unpleasantness, because women “are” by nature altruistic and cooperative and nothing is ever their fault. The students were similarly convinced that the witches had been burned because they were women, purely for being women. Particularly if they knew herbalism or enjoyed sex. It was simply assumed that the tracts about diabolism circulated by certain demented monks were not merely efficacious by themselves, but were the only cause of what was going on. The only reason they would admit for the whole two-century phenomenon was that “men” desperately hated women.

Which may give us a clue about what was going on in the minds of whole generations of women. First of all, there is a perverse satisfaction in believing that you are hated, especially if the fact that no one seems to be doing anything much about it makes it cost-free. This fits right into both the natural adolescent’s conviction that nobody understands her and the spoiled child’s conviction that the world is out to get her – read, out to deny her some of her wishes. For such juveniles, the attempted genocide of their entire gender causes a wonderful frisson and provides much narcissistic supply. For being even indirectly associated with genocide means that you must be important. Even though no one is trying to burn you personally at the stake, you may vicariously enjoy the righteousness always imputed to the victim in sub-Christian culture.

Secondly, this victimhood is not merely a matter of sentimental solidarity with women in a far-off time of whom you actually know nothing. This currency is fungible. Whenever a member of the enemy sex opposes you, inconveniences you, contradicts you, fails to believe you or neglects to give you the unconditional support and praise that a spoiled youngster requires, he may be firmly identified with the burners of witches. The question thus becomes what incentive there would be for abandoning the knee-jerk denunciation in favour of interest in facts and truth. Until I spoke to that bookshop assistant I would have said that the thing was impossible, because too much benefit was riding on the myth. I never did find out what kind of magical de-glamourising spell the professor used, or how the student carried on living without being able to blame all the men around her for nine million witch-burnings if they did not toe the line.

Thou Shalt Not Gun Down Beautiful Girls

Some airport-bookstall novel, I no longer remember which, features the following sentence: “She was beautiful, very beautiful, and I would do anything to keep her safe.” Can we imagine the adjective being replaced by “kind” or “intelligent”? We cannot. May we expect to read in another pot-boiler the variation: “She was well-read, very well-read, and I would do anything to keep her safe.” We may not. Beauty is a neural hack that compels us to respond with self-sacrificial devotion.

This principle may be seen per contraria in the cinematic genres of action, horror and torture porn. That is, whereas in real life we hold that beautiful girls are not to be harmed, whatever may be done to the rest, in our fantasy lives we are interested in nothing other than the endangerment of the beautiful. (I say “we” from outside; personally I avoid all three genres.) Bond girls have to be beautiful, not only so that we may take pleasure in imaginative identification with 007 when he beds them, but because they are so often in danger and need rescuing. No one would care about the bad guy threatening ugly women, any more than they would care about ugly women in the haunted house, or ugly women being chased by malignant hillbillies, or ugly women being tied up and dismembered by psychopaths.

The rewards for beauty can also be posthumous. Neda Agha-Soltan became the poster child for the failed Iranian revolution, not because she was the only victim, or the first, or the last, but because she was a beautiful young woman. Tariq Ali pointed out that on the very same day an American drone attack killed 15 equally innocent Pakistani villagers, but that this event never made it into our news at all. This he relates primarily to the Americans’ inability to understand their place in the world, but we might also imagine that if the Basij had killed only men, or ugly women, in Teheran that day, whereas one of the Pakistani villagers had been a beautiful young woman, and her death had been filmed and posted on the Net, she might today be as well-known as Neda.

Posted on January 15, 2017 at 10:49 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · One Comment
In: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, The Life Beautiful

Trading Up To A God

Euhemerism is, in the words of the Wikipedia, an “approach to the interpretation of mythology in which mythological accounts are presumed to have originated from real historical events or personages”. It is common to see gods as exaggerated memories of historical kings, and their rapes of mortal women as badly-remembered incidents or accidents.

Intent on the god as actor, we neglect to consider how these stories may contain a profound truth about the other side. For the ancient maidens and nymphs in the myths are always trading up. Their abduction by the god may thus be a euhemeristic retelling of their elopement with a richer and more powerful man than their arranged husbands, or even than their own chosen boyfriends. Just as men can always see a sexier one, women can always see a richer one; and coercion by divine power makes them look less mercenary when they drop everything to get him.

Mislaid
(Fiddle date-stamp to 5 August 2011)

Posted on January 12, 2017 at 21:38 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: THE LONGEST CON, The Longest Con, Miscellaneous

Towards A Science Of Bad-Guy-ology

In my youth I remember a university tutor praising me for saying that Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative was nothing but a Teutonic pomposity for what we have always known as the Golden Rule. Forty years on, I now feel a sense of shame at this, somewhat ameliorated by a suspicion that I am not alone in failing to give Kant the credit he deserves.

It may well be the case that what Kant thought he was doing was creating ethics ab nihil, deriving moral rules from logic in a godless universe. What I have learned from him, however, is something different. I see the Categorical Imperative as a corrective to or a denial of a particular thing. To scholars I leave the question of which approach the historical philosopher actually meant; this is my own personal take-away.

The Categorical Imperative may thus be a negative, a warning, telling us not what is ethical but what cannot be. The most fundamental moral law is not do-as-you-would-be-done-by, although you are free to enact that if you want. Even the inverse formulation do-not-do-as-you-would-not-be-done-by is a mere application of a principle more general still. This I would express as follows: it does so apply to you. The implied justification to which this is a response is the infantile wail, “But – but, it doesn’t apply to ME!” Yes, sunshine, it does. It applies to everybody. In other words, you are not special, you do not get an exemption.

The virtue of standing the Categorical Imperative on its head is this way is, I fancy, that it now becomes better able to combat what may even be regarded as the root of all evil, namely the attempt to apply special rules to oneself.

It is, human beings usually feel, different when it is we ourselves who want to do something and are told we can’t. In order to argue that it is different for us, we take refuge in either one or the other lines of argument, and I cannot see that any third line exists. Either the situation is different from that of other people who seem at first sight to be making the same choice, or else we have some sort of special dispensation. The first case is at any rate possible, and so it is always worth discussing whether our situation does actually fall under the rule or not.

The second case seems, or should seem, a priori unlikely to everybody other than the wailer who wants ethics not to apply to him. Why should he be special? Some people peddle a Great Sky Fairy that can tell them that they are special. Others do essentially the same thing in more secular words, as when someone claims to incarnate or be the voice of History – as if History is a spirit and not just a word for, as the man said, “one damn thing after another”. For history read also Destiny, whatever that is supposed to mean, or the deserving social class, or the nation, or some principle or other, some truth that only the wailer can discern. He might be right about discerning truth, of course, while all the other claims are almost certainly bunk. It is probable, however, that all of these are mere protective coloration for the primary sense of being special.

And why does he feel special? Well, it follows from the essence of living creatures that they perceive the world through their own senses and thus not through anybody else’s senses. Everybody is indeed the centre of the universe. They are the centre of the universe in that they are inevitably of the universe-as-perceived-by-them. By definition! Some mystics have claimed that they can perceive other universes, can look through someone else’s eyes, but then we need to ask whether this is just another claim to be special and thus exempt from the Categorical Imperative.

Since being the centre of a, repeat, A, universe is in fact the human condition, then for someone to regard himself as the centre of all possible universes is really not so very unnatural. He exaggerates, that’s all, and then he extrapolates to moral entitlement. As Aristotle said, to live alone we need to be an animal or a god, we are social creatures. Ergo, we need something more than feeling, something to tell us that everyone is the centre of his universe, no more and no less, and that we are thus not in the slightest degree unique and privileged. This we call ethics. It is an act of the understanding and an act of will. If the constructors of ethical philosophies cannot, after all, derive an “ought” from an “is”, then perhaps we should cut the Gordian Knot by a decision to act as if they can. For the alternative is letting the It-doesn’t-apply-to-ME wailers have their heads, and then we shall be in the soup.

That one of history’s greatest philosophers wrote a seminal work that, if I have read him aright, was designed to combat the root of all special pleading, ought to tell us something. Just as Schopenhauer wrote a sardonic vade mecum called the Art of Controversy, listing the dirtiest tricks of argumentative rhetoric, so too might we isolate and identify the tricks of self-exculpation. It may already have been done, though I would bet that if so, it has been done not by a moral philosopher, but by an American self-help hack with a fictitious doctor’s title. I should like to see it done by a philosopher of Schopenhauer’s calibre, if any can still arise, and be called something along the lines of A Science of Bad-Guy-ology.

Instead of preaching to us about what we ought to do, such a work would analyse just how human beings go to the bad, and above all, what they are telling themselves as they become more and more rotten. For no man is a villain to himself, and he is greatly helped to maintain his self-love amid even his worst atrocities by the self-exculpations that other men have dreamed up, even if they themselves never did anything frightfully wicked. The enablers, as always, must bear their share of the responsibility. And it goes without saying that we should be on our guard if we hear any of these Bad-Guy-ological lines, and beware of using them ourselves. We may expect a priori that the Bad Guys do not want us to deconstruct their techniques of exculpation, wherefore their attempts to raise a dust ought all the more urgently to be subjected to a cold-eyed analysis.

Done in Bergen

(Fiddle date-stamp to July 5, 2013)

Posted on December 20, 2016 at 19:22 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, A Theory Of Everybody

Escaping Felurian

The figure of the dangerous enchantress goes back at least to Homer’s Circe. She does not appear to have enslaved Odysseus sexually, merely to have turned his crew into pigs (which one would expect the usual suspects to admire her for), but plenty of her successors took some hapless male to their grottos under the hill or fairy realm and released them centuries later if ever. One of the latest incarnations of this meme is Patrick Rothfuss’ “Felurian” in The Wise Man’s Fear.

Naturally, in this day and age this character, if we can call her that, attracts the attention of the women-can-do-no-wrong brigade, saying for example that, “female characters written as The Evil Demon Seductress are portraying women as manipulative, conniving and controlling. These demon women always have ulterior motives, their sexuality is dangerous, and they’ll probably bite your head off. The harmful, misogynist myth that this trope reinforces is that women primarily use their so-called sexual power as a way to manipulate, trick and control men.” Of course, in the non-magical world no woman ever has ulterior motives, no woman ever manipulates or tricks, no woman ever uses her sexuality to control men and no woman is unable to tolerate being left. So that’s all right then, and the distillation of universal male fears of attractive but unethical women into an imagined supernatural figure is an evil and wicked thing to do. Universal female fear of unethical males is, of course, innocent and even mandatory. And it is no defence to say you are warning about an individual, as anything you say about a particular nasty female means you hate “all” women.

My own response to Felurian is more along the lines of wondering what she does all day when not fucking the brains out of some unwary mortal and leaving him dead or insane. Sudoku? All right, she’s other-worldly and she loves sex, but is that enough to live on? Perhaps the ideologues would have done better to explore the male inability to conceive of their sex-goddesses having any existence of her own when not busy coupling with them; except that the same complaint of objectification can be turned back on the women. (What does the Demon Lover do all day?)

When Rothfuss’ hero, or perhaps anti-hero, tricks Felurian and escapes intact, she is furious. For that she hardly needs to be supernatural, the female inability to accept being ignored or abandoned is not a stereotype but a general truth. (But would that work the other way round? No one seems to walk out on demon lovers. And they never reject you, only damage other men about which you might care.) Kvothe’s unforgivable sin is not, after all, the objectification but the having of a life, the having of business in the world, apart from the female’s needs. The faerie siren does thus stand for all women, but not perhaps in the way the ideologues have in mind.

Is there a male equivalent of Felurian? Not precisely, because the point of the “demon lover”, about which in the real world women fantasise just as much as men fantasise about sex-goddesses, is that he never rejects. He is thrillingly dangerous all the same, because he damages. On the third hand, what he damages is mostly other men, so that’s all right.

(Fiddle date-stamp to August 30, 2016)