Probably all hetero men like to look at women’s legs. Many use the feminine shapeliness of the legs as an important criterion of whom they will seriously try for. Contrariwise, for many men, thick legs are a major turn-off in themselves, even if the woman is not notably overweight in the usual other places.
So thoroughly do we take this for granted that we do not usually reflect on how little the legs mean to us if we finally get her to bed. There is a certain amount of stroking, to be sure, but less than the initial importance of the legs might suggest. If the lady is moving around the bedroom, we admire her legs to be sure, but then in the same way as we admired them on the street. We do not, on the whole, actually do much with them. And certainly not below the thighs, which we treat as foreplay to the pussy.
In part this is, of course, because most of the legs do not contain any particular hot-buttons. Although there exist toe-suckers and those who like their toes sucked, the lower legs in particular are hardly a trigger for either party – even though the calves may have been important in the initial impression. We read in books that the ankles were quite erotic to the Victorian man, but then how much time did he devote to them in bed? Geometry plays some role; when you are lying down, the lower legs are simply a little distant from the rest of the main theatre of love, you need to sit up, wriggle down or invert.
A solution to the paradox may be that beautiful legs are a bit less to do with sex per se than we might think. What they are to do with is beauty, and beauty is not actually the same thing as sex. There is an overlap, of course, but the relationship is actually quite complex. As I suggested in connection with watching slender Chinese newlyweds pose for the cameras, beauty may be a resource, and what men are actually doing when they admire legs on the street is pining for access to beauty, in and for itself, because beauty is usually something they do not have themselves. The drive to possess beauty, in whatever sense of the word, or admire it, is then sui generis, something irreducible, it just is.
Done in Bergen
(Fiddle date-stamp to May 20, 2010)
In: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Fine Feathers
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.
(Fiddle date-stamp to 5 August 2011)
In: THE LONGEST CON, The Longest Con, Miscellaneous
At any given time, Western media and activists are exercised about the fate of one or another woman in the Muslim world under sentence of death for – they tell us – adultery. Quelle horreur.
What they do not always tell us, or tell us only in the small print, or tell us but then hand-wave away, is that these women are actually under sentence of death for murdering their husbands, the adultery being more the motive for the killing than independent grounds for execution. Crime of passion, as we say in the West, the mainstay of Agatha Christie stories.
On the other hand, we often see severe jurisprudential problems with the murder conviction as such. The usual problems of forensics and evidence that may afflict indictments everywhere, of course, plus our suspicion that female accused do not get as fair a deal as male. When, for example, the wife is the accomplice of her lover in the actual murder, what sentence does he draw? A greater, or a lesser? Sometimes the courts seem far more vengeful against an adulterous woman than a homicidal man, so much so that, yes, it does look as if she is to hang just for having outlaw sex.
On the gripping hand, it equally well looks as if the Western activists are championing a woman’s freedom to kill her husband in order more easily to sleep with another man. Sometimes they have made this explicit, at any rate in case of “abuse”, which slippery term can stretch to much more than wife-beating and a killing to make it stop. Every woman can on demand make a case that she is “abused” by her husband, and being on Death Row certainly counts as a demand. Those who consider that all Muslim marriage is abusive by definition are thus implicitly committed to an absolute freedom to murder one’s husband. We may thus sympathise with the spokesman of the Foreign Ministry who called on countries criticising Iran to release all their murderers as well. Except that he may not have realised how many of our self-appointed judges actually do consider that all sanctions on an individual possessing an “innie” are illegitimate, whatever she may have done.
In most cases if not all, the accused wife is good-looking. As I have mentioned in connection with the bystander shot on the street during Iran’s failed “Green Revolution”, Neda Agha-Soltan, you don’t become a poster child for anything at all if you are physically unattractive. Whether it is the women who respond to the death-sentenced Muslim women on the basis of some half-conscious assumption that wives should be allowed to murder inconvenient husbands, while the men are climbing onto their protest bandwagon if the victim is pretty enough, would be an interesting and purely empirical question.
Done in Bergen
(Fiddle date-stamp to April 8, 2011)
In: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, The Life Beautiful
The “national drink of Austria”, of which I am myself very fond, is a mildly fizzy lemonade made of herbal extracts. Called Almdudler, literally meadow-yodeller, it plays on Heimat sensibility, or national-romanticism as we call it in Norway. The logo features a young farmer and his lady-friend clinking steins in front of Alpine peaks.
What intrigues me is how well-dressed they are, how far from Pythonesque mud-eating “peasants”. The boy has immaculate lederhosen, a neat green jacket with gold buttons, and a huge green hat dashing enough for D’Artagnan. The girl has a similar hat on top of her golden locks, and a dirndl with Snow White puffed shoulders.
Of course I know that “countryfolk” was not synonymous with “scruffy” or “ragged”. Even if poorer smallholders, cottars and labourers might have been quite dowdy, what we are looking at in this illustration is probably the fat cats of their valley. In the Alps these were likely to be allodialists (yeomen) rather than tenants and manorial serfs. It was the same in rugged Western Norway. There was a smaller pyramid above them than we might expect from over-reliance on the feudal paradigm. After the bishop, they were pretty well the social summit of their mountain districts. They may have thought of themselves in the same way as aristocrats in the lowlands; and in Switzerland they ran the show and had statues of themselves in armour.
This handsome young couple on the Almdudler bottle, therefore, may serve as a standing reminder that fine feathers are not reserved to the national elites – should we ever be so foolish as to forget it. Inasmuch as there ever was a time when well-off people were content to go round looking like bums, that era was very, very brief. Our green-hatted yeoman would not have understood the fad for distressed jeans, for example, any more than Indian farmers do. The Beautiful People of their valley can afford not to have holes in their clothes, and until recently this is what it had always been about. We may see subtle social codes in how the jeans are distressed, enabling the wearers to look down their noses at people who have gotten it wrong, but the codes of the meadow-yodeller were surely simpler, more direct and perhaps even brutal.
Done in Bergen
(Fiddle date-stamp to May 18, 2011)
In: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Fine Feathers
A good friend of mine, with artistic training, claims to be able to see in a person’s face whether there is anyone “at home” or not. For practical reasons I have never been able to conduct a clinical trial. To do this, one would need to be able objectively to identify who had nobody at home, then measure this against his intuitive perceptions. And to do this, one would in turn need to be quite sure what was meant by nobody being at home.
He is surely not alone in this suspicion, however. In People of the Lie, the psychiatrist Scott Peck wrote about malignant narcissists, seeing in them something of the serpent’s unblinking gaze. Is the outright evil analysed here, though, the same thing as nobody being at home? Peck saw incorrigible evil in terms of an absolute refusal to admit fault, but there is probably an overlap. What may be visible in the face of another, whether testably or not, might be the absence of anything other than a tactical algorithm. What we incautiously call his personality may be nothing other than a procedural manual, a suite of techniques, a set of If-GoTo logic gates. His aim is the animal agenda modified by the family romance, as is true of most of us; the difference is that, behind his eyes, we look in vain for anything else.
In one sense it is obvious that there is someone “at home” – behold, there is the tactical algorithm looking back at us. When we use this phrase, then, it is because we desperately want there to be something to a human being over and above the procedural manual for satisfying the animal agenda. A noble hope, to be sure, but perhaps one that says more about ourselves than about him. Our next question could then be, “How does it come about that a person wants there to be someone ‘at home’ in his neighbour?” Then what sort of thing would we recognise as a “someone” behind his eyes other than the tactical algorithm, that would tell us that there was a person “at home”?
Perhaps we are deceiving ourselves, and there is nothing else, which would mean that we have nobody at home too. Or perhaps we have never bothered to think out what we mean by this someone being at home, something to a person other than the tactical algorithm, relying instead on lazy shorthands like “souls”. Or perhaps we do all recognise the presence or absence of this “someone at home”, but it is just very difficult to put into words, much less set up a scientific experiment about.
Done in Bergen
(Fiddle date-stamp to April 4, 2010)
In: Beings and Gentlebeings, MONKEY BUSINESS
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, 3013)
In: A Theory of Everybody, MONKEY BUSINESS
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 and no woman ever uses her sexuality to control men. So 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.
Done in Bergen
(Fiddle date-stamp to August 30, 2016)
In: Towards A Male Separatism, TOWARDS AN INTELLIGENT MISOGYNY
Gordon Gecko can open his mouth and pronounce the phonemes, “Greed is Good”, but by doing so he convicts himself of a stunted vocabulary. For “greed” is one of these words that conveys our disapproval. A more neutral term would have been “acquisitiveness”. You may, if you wish, say that acquisitiveness is good; but the word greed means an acquisitiveness that the rest of us consider so extreme as to be wicked. Are Gecko and his real-life imitators, therefore, almost a kind of Satanist, saying that the rest of us are mistaken, because the extreme acquisitiveness that humanity has almost universally condemned is in fact good, despite what everyone has said? Or are they trying to move the goalposts, suggesting that their own acquisitiveness is not so extreme as to deserve the condemnation, while allowing the possibility that a deplorable acquisitiveness exists further on? Or are we merely looking at people whose acquisitiveness has not left them time to learn the meaning of words in their native language?
Done in Bergen
(Fiddle date-stamp to December 30, 2011)
In: RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!, Resistance is Futile, Miscellaneous
Awareness of the needs and interests of others is in all religions and ethical philosophies considered a virtue. We may extend that awareness into empathy with the situation of others. Not hurting or insulting others is obviously an ethical directive too.
Now, awareness of and empathy with the needs of others gets itself also called “sensitivity”, but here lurks a very dangerous double meaning. For sensitivity has also meant a prickly amour-propre of the kind that impelled past aristocrats to avenge imaginary insults in blood. Something of the same mentality is found in the modern gangbanger who does not permit himself to be dissed, minus of course the aristocrat’s good manners.
Now, if we urge ourselves to be sensitive to the needs of others, this is accounted a good deed; but that does not mean that urging ourselves to greater sensitivity to our own needs is equally virtuous. Above all, if a man cultivates sensitivity to slights, putting everything under the microscope to magnify the alleged offences of others, this is not the same thing at all and not a good deed. It is united with ethical considerateness only through the word itself, for which alternatives are in fact available.
The danger, of course, is that obsessive sensitivity to imagined slights may hitch a ride on its homophone, sensitivity to the needs and interests of others, and so put in a thumb and pull out a plum and say “What a good boy am I!” Well, no, you’re not. I do not, however, expect to live long enough to see humanity come to its senses and say so.
Done in Bergen
(Fiddle date-stamp to September 5, 2009)
In: The Offence Kleptomaniacs, WHAT WOULD MS. GRUNDY SAY?
I was probably somewhat unusual in the way the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq made me immediately flash on the Fourth Crusade. This crusade, like the others called subsequent to Saladin’s recapture of Jerusalem in 1187, was intended to recapture it back. The method was to be an attack on Egypt, the financial heart of Saladin’s power. Whether what actually happened was premeditated all along, when and by whom, is an open question.
First of all, most of the Crusades were purely entrepreneurial ventures. No states stood behind them; the warriors paid their way and might recoup their expenses with loot and lordships in the East, or might go bust. The leaders of this particular one found themselves facing a huge transport bill from the Venetians, which had been negotiated as a flat fee in the expectation of far greater numbers than actually answered the call. The Venetians demanded as part-payment that the Crusaders should aid them in retaking Zara, a Dalmatian city that had gone back and forth between Venice and Hungary all the preceding century.
In the background was lurking a young man called Prince Alexius, the son of a deposed Byzantine emperor, who had escaped to the West and joined the court of a Swabian magnate. This Philip, his brother-in-law, was contending for the throne of the Western Roman Emperor. Another member of this circle was Boniface, the leader of the Crusade. While the fleet wintered at Zara, the three of them discussed diverting the Crusade to Constantinople, so as to impose “regime change” and make Alexius’s father emperor again. The rich Byzantine empire would then pay off the Venetian debt and provide additional troops, ships and subsidies, thus refinancing and saving the crusade, which would sail happily onward to Egypt and the reconquest of Jerusalem.
It seemed like a win-win, but was actually an example of a delusion that has afflicted rulers probably since the Pharoahs – the dream of a war that would pay for itself. The Bush version was set forth in the think-tank programme known as Project for a New American Century, whereby an American-ruled Middle East would be financed by the resources of the countries themselves and cost the taxpayer little or nothing. For Alexius Angelus read Ahmed Chalabi, the self-promoting would-be American client ruler. Exiled politicians have been inflating their claims and their domestic support probably since the Pharoahs again, but it is the job of the host country to scrutinise these claims and think independently about the situation, which neither the Crusade leaders nor the Americans appear to have done.
It all ended in tears. The crusade fleet arrived, there was no insurrection in favour of Alexius, but a nasty little war, which led to a big chunk of Constantinople burning down. The crusaders did succeed in finally installing him, but the obviousness of his clienthood in itself provoked a nationalist reaction, and there was another nasty little war, resulting in more destruction, the brutal sack of Europe’s premier city and the disintegration of the Empire into assorted Greek and Western-ruled fiefdoms. It has been said that the Crusaders dealt with the whole polity like selling off the individual parts of a fine watch; hardly surprising that it never ran again properly. Sound familiar?
In the long run, the West had contrived to destroy the major bulwark between themselves and the Muslim powers, leading to Suleyman’s siege of Vienna and many centuries of Ottoman rule over the Balkans. Whose Christian subjects have to this day, eight hundred years later, never forgotten or forgiven. It remains to be seen whether the effects of the “self-financing” Bush-Blair venture will last as long.
Done in Bergen
(Fiddle date-stamp to July 13, 2010)