The Divine Sword

I no longer remember where, but I once encountered the dictum that women see themselves as “divine swords against all traitors to Beauty”. Schopenhauer taught us that whenever a wife has a child with someone other than her husband, she is serving the interests of the species. Her instincts drive her to breed from the superior specimen. She was, he thought, quite unconscious of this her necessary role; but the above dictum about the sword implies a much greater awareness.

Women do well to be careful how they express their ferocious disdain of the inferior male specimen, a disdain that in all probability they feel and know that they feel. Why? Because it runs counter to the medieval belief that women are kinder than men, in which the Church staked out the claims to moral superiority still being heard a thousand years later. Euripides’ Pentheus would not have felt much of that kindness; and a contrarian female fantasy writer has shown us a cult of the Goddess as based on human sacrifice.

Any cult that sacrificed the biologically inferior in the sacred grove would of course be doing the race a favour. While they are at it, the worshippers should ritually cut the throats of all male geeks, for daring to be interested in something outside themselves and their roles as genetic assay devices and status points in the female hierarchy.

(Fiddle date-stamp to 18 October 2010)

Posted on November 26, 2021 at 14:57 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, Love Among The Uglies

What Happens When Words Disappear? Part One

One of Scott Fitzgerald’s early stories is called “The Jelly-Bean”. The collection naturally explained this as ancient slang, I think even Confederacy, for “idler”. The Wiki page, after describing the confectionery, makes no mention of Confederate idiom but summarises the Jelly-Bean as a Gilded-Age term for “a young man who dressed stylishly but had little else to recommend him”, more or less equivalent to “dandy” and “fop”. There is an illustration, from sheet music of the era.

Not only is “Jelly-Bean” quite unknown to Brits of my age, but I am not sure whether Modern Youf would know the word “dandy”, let alone “fop”. A character in Hamlet is listed in the Dramatis Personae as “Osip, a Fop”, as if no more need be said, as of course it doesn’t. But who remembers Shakespeare nowadays?

There are similar vanished terms, this time from my side of the Atlantic. I well remember the “lounge-lizard” and have heard of the “parlour-snake”. The “boulevardier” at least walks, perhaps picking up women on the way as well as exhibiting what Dickens’ Mr Turveydrop would call his Deportment, but the lounge-lizard does not even do that. He expects to be admired on the sofa, and perhaps get picked up from there. That is where Bertie Wooster remains while waiting for his aunts to leave him money. Now, what any women actually saw in Jelly-Beans and Lounge-Lizards remains a mystery to me; the only explanation would seem to be that a certain subspecies, being quite unable to see beyond their own clothes, cannot see beyond a male’s either.

I have not researched it by asking a sample of wired kids, but I have a terrible suspicion that “idler” is almost equally defunct as “fop”.

We should observe at once that an idler is not at all the same thing as a young man without anything to do because society has afforded him nothing to do and no income on which to do it. It may suit the book of the plutocrats and their sycophants to pretend otherwise, but the old-school “idler” was always well-off. According to Baudelaire, the equally prosperous “flâneur” and “boulevardier” were not doing nothing, but exerting keen powers of observation of the urban scene – the birdwatchers of the bourgeoisie.

No, the true “idler” probably maintained the décadent pose of being too sophisticated to lower himself to anything useful – which is not too far from what we now call “cool” – but it was equally likely that he was, and is, merely stupid and lazy.

But this brings us to the point of my whole projected series on vanished words. It is hardly possible any more to call a person “lazy”, because that will invoke long ages of plutocratic contempt for the poor and so insult and traumatise the poor fellow – if he can be bothered. The word “lazy” nevertheless still exists, although “shiftless” is under pressure, being redolent of the old distinction between the deserving and undeserving poor. Not everybody wants us to have the concept of personal irresponsibility. “Loafer” is hanging on by its fingernails, while “fop” has simply disappeared. “Idler” will, I think, soon follow it.
The principle I shall be advancing in this series is that the disappearance of a word does not mean that the thing no longer exists; rather the contrary, it means that we may no longer object to it. The omissions become a protected species. Cui bono? Who benefits from our no longer having a word for the well-off young man with nothing better to do but wear clothes? Surely the character best served by our not being able to call anyone an idler, or a fop, or a lounge-lizard, or a Jelly-Bean, is – drumroll! The Fop.

A case can be made that “fop” and its ancient synonyms perfectly well cover social media influencers and their vast audiences. On the other hand, at least some of these influencers do things, while the aforementioned sheet-music picture of the Jelly-Bean shows an overdressed young man holding his cane and cigarette just so while three rich ladies in the distance look inclined to approach him. If he is doing anything it all, it is being a sexual object for the latter, and hoping to profit from their female gaze. Now that we have both social media and more sexually assertive females, we should be able to call this the Great Age of Foppery. But we can’t.

Posted on November 18, 2021 at 12:15 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: CULTURAL ODDS AND ENDS, Some Notes On Language

Higher And Lower Moralities

When I read Parade’s End, I found Ford Madox Ford talking about the Higher Morality in a manner that reminded me of Chesterton. But then again, I had never been sure what Chesterton meant by it. I was merely certain that, whenever capitalised, it was his enemy.

Searching for the phrase now gets me mostly Nietzsche, and adding Chesterton does not answer my question. Sometimes I think that, for the Edwardians, the phrase Higher Morality probably meant what we might now mean by humanist ethics, or an ethical system without a deity. If religion is 50% ethical philosophy and 50% grifting, such a thing as humanist ethics is perfectly possible. One simply throws away the collection plate.

I can nevertheless understand why calling humanist ethics Higher might get up the noses of devout Catholics and Anglicans like Chesterton and Ford. It does sound rather arrogant; absent any analysis of deeds, the freethinker’s assumption of ethical superiority to the believer must be just as offensive as its converse. Whether the Edwardian freethinkers ever accused the religious of having a capitalised Lower Morality, I cannot say. My own conviction is that the Christian-atheist divide runs orthogonally to that between mensch and asshole. Good people with a religion give it the credit for their niceness, while nasty people who get religion practice it nastily, that’s all.

Without being an expert on the period, I am left with the impression that a generation of non-believers were so defensive about the imputation to them of all vice, a libel that has sometimes lasted into my own lifetime, that they went onto a pre-emptive attack and claimed that their ethical level was in fact higher. Or perhaps they meant that, when not sanctioned by a Sky Man, any identical ethical level was disinterested. Immanuel Kant would certainly agree with me that it must be more praiseworthy to do the right thing for its own sake rather than for desire of reward or fear of punishment.

A second thing seems equally certain: namely that the claim to superiority among the bien-pensants is alive and well under another name, equally tendentious and equally insulting to the outgroup: “woke”.

In Chesterton, Higher Thought seems to be the slogan of grifters of the kind that would now be called New Age. If that cap fits the Woke, let them wear it.

(Fiddle date-stamp to June 1, 2018)

Posted on November 8, 2021 at 15:38 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: THE LONGEST CON, From Rationalism to New Age

Onward From The National Geographic Principle

The film critic Roger Ebert gave the name of The National Geographic Principle to the convention that breasts could be shown in magazines and on film provided that they belonged to black or brown “natives”. I have commented elsewhere on how this rule is not quite dead, in that the “avatar” or biotech remote in the Cameron film of that name voiced by Zoe Saldana could bare its breasts while that voiced by Sigourney Weaver could not, even though from the audience’s point of view both were merely CGI.

Thinking more about this, I suddenly realise that in almost every representation of bare-breasted hunter-gatherer societies I have ever seen, the women cover their genitals and the men do not. This does not seem to be a cinematic or other popular convention but the reality, and it occurs to me that I have no idea why. One would expect social anthropology to have addressed the question, but I remain in ignorance of their findings. Or could it be that something that goes so deep in the species that nobody has in fact asked the question?

One might be excused for expecting that it would be the men who cover up more, in that they have equipment of greater prominence. Some societies, however, not only let it all hang out but went to great lengths, no pun intended, to accentuate the penis, particularly in war; if I remember correctly it was New Guineans that used to mount a hollow column on theirs, with guy-ropes to the forehead. So that the warrior (and these guys were always fighting) looked as if he had a humungous erection.

In some hunter-gatherer communities, such as those of the upper Amazon, the women go as naked as the men, but I fancy that the scenario of the grass skirt (or fabric wrap) contra the dangling willy is far commoner. Assuming that this is correct, I ask myself why the female gear should have greater concealment. My Gnostic streak suggests a profound unease with or even guilt about the source of human life. Less radical, perhaps, would be an equally submerged unease with the male role. That is, the men may be proud of their junk and even paint, scarify or (ouch) pierce it, but at the same time they may want to tone down the reminder that they are being led around by the ahem, nose. Whether a grass-skirted tribeswoman is suffering under an evil male dictate or whether she is happy with having her genitalia specially concealed, and if so why, I do not know. I have never caught one to ask.

(Fiddle date-stamp to September 1, 2011)

Posted on October 22, 2021 at 12:44 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: AGAINST NATURE, Against Nature, Miscellaneous

On Gammons, Ockers And De Sade

When in the first decade of this century I was struggling to find a satisfactory term for George Bush voters – what have subsequently been called Movement Conservatives and also conspiracy theorists, Deplorables and worse – the word “gammon” had not yet been invented in the UK. Or if it had, I remained unaware of it until Brexit. For the benefit of any foreign readers I will therefore explain that a “gammon” is an angry middle-aged white man, with his face always red – primarily with rage, but often assisted by capillary damage from heavy drinking. Rage against what? Foreigners, mostly, thus the European Union (the wogs begin at Calais, as they used to say), and probably also gays, feminists, intellectuals, the BBC and many other such irritants. In other words, pretty much everyone except royalty, plutocrats posing as self-made men, and other gammons. I may have missed the creation of the word, but I certainly knew the thing – after all, I grew up among them, braying the latest memes from the Daily Wail and the Torygraph as their own inventions and calling for the flogging and hanging of criminals and the shooting of trade unionists. Which they regarded as the same thing.

Living at a safe distance from Brexit, I was at the same time coining my own nickname for a certain local tribe, the people on the bus who could get from “Nice day” to “Bloody foreigners” in ten seconds. For their distorted expressions and the metaphorical stream of dirty water flowing from their mouths, I called them “gargoyles”. This was before Nôtre-Dame burned down and most of my hearers had no idea what the word meant. Apart from the fact that “gammons” is used about men and my “gargoyles” came in all genders, they seem to be much the same thing. But as “gammons” may not be understood outside the UK, while “gargoyles” is my own coinage, we are still short of a universal descriptor for a particular human type. Australians have their “ockers”, but this is not globally understood either.

Anyone who doubts that there really is such a human type, on the other hand, should look at old photographs of the early Sturmabteilung: I am confident that members and victims could be distinguished in a blind test. Nowadays, I suspect that you might have difficulty telling the neo-Nazis from the extreme antifa; indeed, I once proof-read a doctoral thesis about how they are often the same people, switching back and forth according to chance or their latest girlfriend, seeking both a sense of belonging and a good punch-up. But distinguishing the street thugs of both sides from ordinary people by looks alone, this might be possible. I am still looking for a universal term for the marginally less violent variety of right-wingers.

So how does De Sade come into this? Obliquely, in that he wrote that the lowest form of criminal tended to vote for conservative candidates. Now, in probably the Seventies I read a scientific article claiming that if you plotted political affiliation against ethical level (which they purported to measure somehow), then the Left included both the best and the worst individuals, with the conservatives in between. That seemed to make sense back then, when conservatives were suits rather than shamans, but things have changed. One might say that the conservatives have lurched towards the criminal end of the spectrum.

Although the gammons of my youth were forever ranting about how most other demographics ought to be hanged, they never executed anyone personally. January 6, 2021 showed us that this is changing very radically. It will continue to do so, probably in consequence of some brilliant worldwide organisation. The successful export to Europe of ideological anti-masking may be just the precursor. All the more reason, then, why we should find a term that is accurate and intuitively recognisable.

Posted on October 13, 2021 at 15:48 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!, The Shadow In The West

What We Least Want To Know

It may be men who spout the laws, said Céline, but when things get serious it is always the ladies who decide. According to Aphra Behn, often cited as a pioneer feminist, the whole business of a royal court is in the hands of the “she-favourites”; and I get the same impression from Ottoman history. Suppose, just suppose, that we have gotten everything just precisely ass-backwards: just suppose that Homo sapiens sapiens is a disguised matriarchy and that the real driver of the species is the female hierarchy. We would then resemble elephants more than apes.

Suppose, just suppose, that women’s prime directive is to become the head of their group, and that males are attached as ancillaries to that group, in the capacity of revenue sources, status symbols (for keeping score), sperm donors and hired security. Now, hired security sometimes runs out of control, in the same way as the praetorian guards could make and unmake emperors, often fatally; but abusus non tollit abusum.

History could then be rewritten in terms of the eternal and inevitable struggle between female lineages, in which males are hired to nobble the offspring of competing women. Again, this is a strategy that can backfire, as when a woman marries a protector who abuses the children of her first marriage, reducing her overall genetic success though not his. As for war, it should be remembered that the women of a defeated and raped nation are not expecting to lose. They are expecting to have their male ancillaries hand it out to the rival lineages.

Now, supposing, just supposing that this were the real story, what would be anybody’s motivation for pretending otherwise? Men have none whatsoever. If any man was capable of realising that men were merely genetic assay devices to determine which sperm donor the client would do best to select, it would have to be an elderly one who had never reproduced and never wanted to. Like me. So too for everything that goes together with the package, such as the insight that young women do not dump us but manoeuvre us into setting them free to play the field again. It is deeply humiliating for men to realise that they are objects, spear-carriers, easy tools, here to swell a progress or start a scene or two – in short, Fools.

But then we must ask whether being actually in charge is something the women would ever like to admit. Why, that would turn a stronger spotlight on the puppeteering, and they might be held responsible for the results. Above all, they would lose the opportunity to claim the emotional high ground, to play the victim, to weep and rend their clothes whenever they lose a rubber of the game.

So if men have absolutely zero motivation to describe the human race as it really is, and women have absolutely zero motivation to describe the human race as it really is, who does that leave? We will always remember Teiresias, but modern transsexuals have enough on their plate. And I do not know enough about them to say anything intelligent.

(Fiddle date-stamp to March 1 2013)

Posted on October 1, 2021 at 15:20 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: MONKEY BUSINESS, A Theory Of Everybody

A Belated Frankness

Hard as it may be to believe, I was over sixty when I first kept company with ladies who were frank about their sexual needs. Their bodies seemed to work on the hydraulic model that throughout recorded history has been taught about males, namely that pressure builds up until released. If there were an obvious female equivalent for the word “despunking”, these ladies would probably have used it to describe what they required.

This may seem blindingly obvious, especially to the modern young. The fact remains that in the time and place in which I grew up, nobody talked like this. Dorothy Parker may have spent an Atlantic crossing not under the weather but under the steward; well, not only had I never been anywhere near New York, but I very much doubt that anyone in my family would have even heard of Dorothy Parker. The British aristocracy held house parties for what they called “indoor decorating”, and nourished conventions about a gentleman never refusing a request to do his hostess; but we were a long way from aristocrats.

In fact, the provincial English middle classes were so in love with the Merchant-Ivory version of the past as exhibiting their prissy selves but in more expensive dresses that they would have been hard put to it to find any sex in the Bronté sisters, let alone in Jane Austen. Because “sex” would have to mean something explicit, which of course those writers never were. Of Byron and his predecessors, the great libertines of the 18th century, they knew absolutely nothing. The verb “to bowdlerise” refers to an edition of Shakespeare with all the dirty bits removed; well, for those growing up in my time and place, the entire past was bowdlerised, starting yesterday. For my parents were of the generation that had sometimes copulated with strangers on Underground platforms. A perfectly sensible thing to do when German bombs are falling overhead, but this was not at all what they meant when braying about recovering the “spirit of the Blitz”.

As I have written elsewhere, the conspiracy of silence about female need suited both sexes: the women because it raised the price of their favours and enabled ready positioning as the victim of every transaction, the men because the idea frightened them. I can hardly emphasise too often, however, the stupendous effort put into this. Nor can I imagine growing up in a time and place where girls can call themselves horny and openly admit to masturbating.

What I understand better is Camus’ remark about the petit-bourgeois opposite of the Absurd: that everything is what it seems to be, and the meaning of life is what the neighbours will say. That rings completely true: I grew up in a different world, where everything was exactly as it appeared to a proudly ignorant person.

(fiddle date-stamp to August 6, 2011)

Houellebecq Precisely The Wrong Way Round?

Since I “discovered” Michel Houellebecq in 2020, I found much of what he writes to be an anticipation of my own thinking, so that – just as with Schopenhauer ¬ – I seem to have reinvented the wheel. There are, however, exceptions. When a Houellebecq character says, “For me, love is nothing more than gratitude for the gift of pleasure”, I slam on the brakes. Perhaps because my youth was mostly about unrequited infatuation, perhaps because for all my atheism I retain a streak of loyalty to the idea of agape or caritas, or even perhaps because I am less narcissistic than he is, I find Houellebecq’s narrators to be repulsively obsessed with getting blow-jobs and astonishingly uninterested in female pleasure. If one is to be “grateful” for anything, I fancy, it should be for the mere existence of the Other.

Quis Custodiet Quangones?

The other day I was reading, in what it matters not, about the vast expenditure of both the Ancien Régime in France and its supposedly more democratic British neighbour upon what were then called placemen. This word has long been in disuse. In the context of the Commons it used to mean Members bribed to be utterly servile to the government, lobby-fodder nonentities, but encountering it in France too suggests to me a wider usage. Sinecure is an equally obsolete word that is related: a fake job that puts you high on the public payroll, in reward for services rendered or expected. Or merely out of nepotism. The actual practice, however, is alive and well, particularly in Paris and Washington; it seems to be merely the term that is in eclipse.

I was reminded of Byzantium and the Sinosphere, both having elaborate hierarchies of bureaucratic titles. In Byzantium these could be awarded to foreign rulers or agents of influence, carrying not only prestige and presumably protection but also substantial salaries; I think the same was true of China as well. It seems indeed to be a constant of human governance, a particular form of patronage. I should not be surprised if Rameses and Hammurabi put people on palace supplies merely to keep them sweet.

Given that the particular words placemen and sinecure are pretty well forgotten, by what name do we now call this eternal practice? “Jobs for the Boys” was once an umbrella phrase, though one that I have not seen lately. At one point in the UK there was a lot of talk of Quangos. This word sounds Latin but isn’t; it was coined from Quasi-NGO, denoting various agencies that claimed to be non-governmental when convenient and took public funding when convenient. If that sounds derogatory, so be it; there was a time when the British public knew enough to despise these hybrids and distrust the closed circles that ran them. Jobs for the Ruperts, one might say. Well, perhaps some of them actually did useful work, as do a few “consultants” here and there. Governments often promised to prune this undergrowth, but since the governmental method of reducing bloat is generally to appoint additional personnel to report on bloat-reduction, nothing much ever came of this. Quango is another word I have not seen lately, probably because the principle of corrupt hybrids of public and private later got renamed New Public Management.

And then we have Consultants. Not the hospital title, nor yet the specialised engineer, but the growing practice whereby a public servant gives a contract to a consultancy company, which via a chain of offshore shell entities comes back to himself.

Another word we could use is Subsidies. To any objective economist, paying pals of the government to outcompete non-pals must fall under this rubric, but for some strange reason the word is used only of aid to the arts and new inventions, rather than powerful lobbies that got their drinking-straws into the state coffers a century ago or more. Subsidies to the oil industry, for example, are like Chesterton’s “mountain too large to be seen”, and fake export subsidies are surely as wasteful a form of patronage as ever were the sinecures of Rococo courtiers.

Well, then, if the previous popular British expression for useless but obedient legislators has fallen into disuse, might we not make a plea for the revival of “placemen”? And then let us note that the enormous drain on the public finances to pay for sinecures helped bankrupt the Ancien Régime and bring on the French Revolution.

(Fiddle date-stamp to June 1 2020)

The Very Hungry Ape

The man who wrote “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” has just died. I had never actually read the children’s book myself, but I fancy that the title plus basic knowledge of caterpillar behaviour tells me all I need to know about the plot. Well, In addition I gather from news items that the continuous chomping was somehow justified or even made inspiring by the fact that the larva was destined to turn into a butterfly.

But wait just a minute. The thing about that insect family is that it is not possible to say that the creature “is” the caterpillar, or “is” the pupa, or even “is” the imago. If we assume the third thing, that is merely our bias in favour of something that we enjoy seeing. One might just as well say that the imago is the genitals of the caterpillar. It would probably be best of all to say that the creature “is” the DNA, which takes some very different morphological forms. The plant world is not dissimilar, as anyone knows who has tried to get rid of dandelions or bindweed; whatever we see above ground is not the really important stuff.

In any case, I know of a Very Hungry Beastie that munches and munches and munches, stripping bare everything around him, and who notably fails to pupate and re-emerge as something more beautiful. It is called a Human. And this is where I would start my Gnostic indictment of creation in general and our creation in particular. Some human cultures do not eat every day, but starve or gorge according to availability. I think we can safely say that this is culturally learned, and that the human being as most of us know him is a sort of Very Hungry Caterpillar.

Particularly in my lifetime, sit-down “meals” have almost ceased to exist, and the youngsters snack continuously like cows grazing. Not to wax superior; in fact both models cause me unease. To me the need to eat every day is a burden rather than a joy, and whenever you get refugees piling up against a barrier, as so often nowadays, the world in general gets a sense of that burden. I have no faith whatsoever that any green-technology transformation will save seven billions of this Very Hungry Human.

Posted on June 21, 2021 at 14:41 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: AGAINST NATURE, Defying The Demiurge