The Great Amnesia

In my youth all girls who had read a book and called themselves feminists were quite, quite sure that women had been forced to stay “at home” while the men “went out to work”; and this from the beginning of the world. Because they were middle-class, knew no history, and thought that Virginia Woolf was a valid historical source for anyone outside the servant-keeping haute bourgeoisie of Bloomsbury, correspondingly for Ibsen and his Nora, they failed to remember even farmers’ wives, let alone the industrial proletariat.

Of course women have always worked independently, whether outside or physically inside the home (as if the location matters): they made textiles, brewed beer, gutted fish, sold farm produce at market, kept shops and engaged in a thousand such professions. The less fortunate did domestic service, which overlapped the sex industry. In those days, you either had a servant or were one. When some trades were moved into the new invention of the factory, women followed, until a movement arose to restrict them on the grounds that the hours were too long – and this opposition was by no means motivated by male chauvinist exclusion. On the contrary, it was couched in terms of protection of the physically weaker sex, sometimes in language that seems proto-feminist. But there again, in those days opposition to divorce was equally a woman’s cause, as later generations forgot or never knew.

The other day my local newspaper belatedly discovered the rather large female workforce that existed between the wars and served us with pictures of the women toilers at the machine or gutting-table. Well, duh. It went on to explain, quite correctly, the now revolutionary idea that housewifery was all about the aspiration to be middle-class. It was not men who first stuffed their wives into the doll’s house, it was the wives who wanted the upward social mobility of being supported in leisure. The interesting thing here is not the reality, but how it came to be forgotten. Was it because all the Sixties feminists who misunderstood Nora were themselves second-generation middle-class, or was it mauvais foi – blaming someone else for the vicious social climbing of their own mothers?

Done in Bergen,

(Fiddle date-stamp to June 12, 2013)

Posted on October 19, 2016 at 09:42 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment

The Guild of Hairdressers

In the African city where I lived seven months, it seemed as if fully one-third of all sales outlets were hairdressers and manicurists. Or perhaps one-half. If you never wandered into the section of the Central Market that sold cannibalised European car parts, you might get the impression that nothing else was bought and sold in that city except hair. And hairdressers, as these seemed to be the equivalent of Terry Pratchett’s Guild of Seamstresses. Reality was sliced and diced differently there: a “prostitute” meant someone who stood at a particular location and took all comers, whereas all hairdressers seemed to be available for an introduction and a present. And perhaps all market traders too. All high school teachers or tax auditors, probably not, but perhaps that was only because I was never introduced to any.

It was in consequence easy to think of hairdressers not as artisans but as cogs in a sexual machine; for, when not actually selling their own tails, were they not assisting everyone else to sell theirs? This was, after all, the whole business of life. Rightly or wrongly, whenever I saw a young lady whose demeanour suggested that sexual display was the first and last thing she thought about, I assumed she was a hairdresser.

When I returned to Europe, it did not seem so different after all, with the proportion of traditional street shops selling the means of sexual display approaching African levels, as I do not think it had done in my youth. Butchers and bakers and candlestick-makers, all those shops and workshops in low-rise streets are now hairdressers, piercers and tattooists. Are modern European hairdressers similarly available for presents? I do not know, but given our time’s immiseration of everyone other than corrupt businessmen, that pattern cannot be far behind. It would not be the first time; to be available for an introduction and a present was probably true of all working-class women a hundred years ago, which is why the bourgeois lady was so paranoid about having her “respectability” recognised. In historical terms, a young female artisan not being obliged to sell sex on the side is probably an aberration, and people of my generation have seen something unique and unlikely to be repeated. Just as in Africa, I see young ladies here who give the impression that sexual display is the first and last thing they think about, but somehow they manage to survive as students and then get jobs in the indolent bureaucracy. They should enjoy their privilege while it lasts.

Done in Bergen

(Fiddle date-stamp to Feb 9, 2012)

Posted on October 13, 2016 at 10:14 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: The Matrix of Exchange, THE NAME OF THE GAME

The Parlour Game

One of Dostoyevsky’s novels features a parlour game, in which the players have to describe the worst thing they have ever done. In the end only one person actually complies, as the party is hopelessly distracted by arguing about the rules and whether it ought to be permitted at all. One man asks, what if his disgraceful story cannot be told before ladies? No doubt it was some sexual escapade, but one wonders about a society in which women cannot be allowed to hear what men get up to with other women (or perhaps with one another, or minors), even though this would give them fresh ammunition for their cannonade of “All men are beasts”. Perhaps that is the real reason, and yet the respectable women would no doubt be the first to shriek and stop their ears and those of their younger sisters, before the men could get round to it. Indeed, one has the feeling that the men do not tell such stories before the women for fear of the women. Perhaps they enjoy prostitutes so much just because they can tell them about real life.

Even more noteworthy was that how party resolved nem. con. that the ladies were excused from telling their own stories. Even stories that had nothing to do with sex, stories about dishonesty perhaps or unprovoked spitefulness, they were excused. What could possibly be the rationale for this, other than the sentiment that a woman could never do anything disgraceful, or perhaps that all dishonesty and unprovoked spitefulness had ex officio to be ignored. One should like to ask Dostoyevsky why that might be. While waiting for him to answer his e-mails, we might note what a wonderful privilege this would be for any category of human being, to have all their nastiness swept under the rug.

After that we might ask what would happen if this parlour game was proposed today. Surely the women would be all agog to hear the worst things the men had done, particularly if it could not be told before nineteenth-century ladies. That women would be, like the Romanov-era ones, excused from relating their most reprehensible deeds would be equally above question, on the grounds that women cannot commit reprehensible deeds. We have gone further than Dostoyevsky’s society, as no one in his novels ever actioned her critics for hatecrime.

Done in Bergen

(Fiddle date-stamp to May 30, 2009)

The Mind’s Construction In The Face

Nobody now believes in physiognomy as a science or discipline, but nevertheless people cannot be persuaded to refrain from making snap judgments on each other on the basis of their faces. From what I hear, there is some sound reality behind this: laboratory subjects shown photographs get a surprising amount right about personal history. This is unlikely to be driven by the classic “bumps” on the head, but clearly we may be right in extrapolating somehow from exterior to interior.

What is it, then, that we are picking up? If people born with a given proportion between facial dimensions, the sort of thing biometrics read, really do have certain psychic qualities such as dishonesty (“his eyes are too close together”), then science needs to rethink its business. If not bone structure, it must be acquired characteristics: if dishonesty is not caused by a certain ratio of dimensions, which would conflict with what we think we know about the world, it may be that dishonesty has effects on the face, via lines and the small muscles and so on. If you live dishonestly behind a face, might it show through? Stupidity ought to be more easily recognisable yet: many of us look at a person and conclude that “nobody is home”, but I should be interested in having this tested in the laboratory.

Most of us feel that certain men look wicked and brutal. I used to see a man on the street who looked exactly like the caricature of a bestial Fenian terrorist from the pages of the nineteenth-century Punch: it would have been easy to harbour prejudice accordingly, but for all I knew this man was an unsung saint. Is there, I wonder, some objective measurable reality behind what we perceive as “coarseness” in a face? Because in settings ranging from speed-dating to job interviews, this is something we fancy we can see – even if we might have trouble defining “coarseness”.

The next thing I wonder is to what extent females get a free pass. We can recognise, again without being able to define it, the quality of “blowsiness” and generally dislike it, but it is not certain that we ever see the brutal coarseness of the “Fenian” caricature in a woman. Is that because women cannot be brutal and coarse, or is there something about the female face that makes it difficult for us to see it? And if the latter, is that our own biases or does the female physiognomy somehow bury these qualities? How about stupidity, whose incidence in women cannot be doubted ¬– is this as recognisable in a female as in a male? As far as I know, none of this has ever been studied.

The reason it deserves more attention than it has so far received is that if there is something about the female face or our own response to it that prevents us recognising evil in a woman, this is a gift to those who contend that women cannot be evil in the first place. The Wicked Witch is not a manipulator and poisoner, but merely a natural leader libelled by the patriarchy, and so on ad infinitum and ad nauseam. And anything that prevents us calling out evil women on their wickedness also makes it easier for the evil woman to justify herself and wallow in her evil.

Done in Bergen,

(Fiddle date-stamp to May 12, 2010)

Posted on September 30, 2016 at 09:55 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, The Life Beautiful

Taking The Secular Cowl

If violent crime is, as some say, mostly a matter of competition for women among young, unemployed, unmarried men, what might we do about it? I have elsewhere discussed the baleful effects of polygamy. Social stability in harem-keeping societies can be improved by introducing the principle of “every man his own wife”. Even in officially non-polygamous systems like ours, competition between young men cannot but be aggravated by the amassing of trophy wives and young mistresses by elderly plutocrats, who thus sequester the women who should belong to the next generation and create an artificial shortage. It is hard, however, to see how we might practically prohibit this practice, given that plutocrats well know how to circumvent the laws passed by their clients the legislators.

A vigorous quasi-monastic movement might solve the problem from the opposite end. If only testosterone-crazed young men would dedicate their energy to goals other than acquiring women, such as science and art, exploration (but hopefully not imperial expansion, which was once much the same thing), or the achieving of peace and social justice in either Christian or Communist guise, then this would be preferable to continually killing or screwing-over one another in the competition for nookie. Just don’t hold your breath waiting for it to happen.

Moreover, it is not obvious what would result from proportionately fiercer female competition for such men as are then left behind by the noblest of the sex, who have now transcended the flesh. Perhaps the women would even become the violent sex, so to speak clubbing and dragging men back to their caves by the hair.

No mass recruitment to new Knights Hospitaller need be expected, therefore, but there might nevertheless be room for a smaller-scale withdrawal, in the mode of Ayn Rand’s heroes and heroines going on strike against the world, or Ursula Le Guin’s “Those who walk away from Omelas”. What would happen if the best of us took a cold look at what the competition for women actually does to us men, to society and to the species itself, and pronounced a cosmic No?

Done in Bergen

Is The Universe Great?

When believers say Deo volente or Insha’allah, it would seem that they are not telling us any more than that something might or might not come about. The stuff that does actually come about they can then call the will of God, especially when they welcome it. To suggest that anything can happen without being the will of God would be the rankest heresy of impugning God’s omnipotence; although in fact Dualism is alive and well in fundamentalist circles, as it allows pastors to lucratively both frighten and gratify their flock by connecting the final victory of Satan to whatever they don’t like.

If someone passes his examination, by calling it the will of God are we really saying anything other than that he did actually pass? If someone loses their child, does saying that God chose to take her really tell us anything other than that she did die? In both and all other cases, we already know what happened, and the religious does not seem to be telling us anything about the facts. Perhaps he is merely perhaps urging us to accept it, which is not a contradiction. But people can be fatalistic without believing in a cosmic intelligence responsible for ensuring that what happens, happens. Que sera, sera, we say, and counsel one another not to kick against the pricks. Acceptance of what happens can be entirely godless.

There remains, however, a problem for those who parse God as just a name for “whatever happens”. That is, what on earth do people mean by saying “God is Great”? If we interpret their eructations about the will of God in a Spinozan manner, and apply the same pantheism to the latter saying, then what they are saying is that the universe is great. If they mean great as in big, well, yes, the universe is indeed big; but then so, exactly, what? Is this the toadying to a Hellenistic monarch so well brought out by the Pythons with their “Oo, Lord, You are so big, so absolutely huge”? Or perhaps the universe is said to be great in the sense of admirable. This would be what is called affirmation, or what Nietzsche taught us to call yea-saying. Apart from the minor detail of whether we are familiar with any alternative to the universe we are evaluating, such affirmation may reasonably be regarded as healthy and a good thing. But again, it can be entirely godless.

If a jihadi shouts, “God is Great!” before blowing himself up in a concert hall (and there are not so dissimilar phenomena in Christian history as well), is he then affirming the universe in the Nietzschean manner, or doing something else? If something else, are we then seeing a collapse of the Spinozan unity, so that what is affirmed as Great is something quite apart from the universe? I do not know whether that would be a heresy in which versions of Islam, but it would seem to follow that if God is something quite different from the universe, his interests and actions might be inimical to it. Certainly if God is conceived of purely in terms of a particular political and social arrangement, and it is this that is being affirmed by “God is Great”, such divergence is entirely possible. That would approach the idea of a God only of a particular tribal hustle, which funnily enough is how this whole thing got started.

Done in Bergen

(Fiddle date-stamp to June 19, 2009)

Posted on September 26, 2016 at 10:14 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Shit Happens, THE LONGEST CON

The Three Sides Of A Relationship

Some men feel excluded from their girlfriend’s conversation about the health of their relationship. In the words of one of them he is just a “passive witness to the process”. “At its arbitrary conclusion,” he says, “I will be dictated a narrative about that ‘relationship’ into which I have had no input.” Insofar as this sense of exclusion is sometimes inchoate, this comes from the male failure to analyse exactly what it is that the women are doing.

As I have written elsewhere, the trouble comes from a category mistake. Women can learn, from one another direct or from magazine advice and so forth, to see their relationships as something other than what it says on the tin, namely the interaction between two players, a two-hander, a relation between themselves and their man. Were it really such, then it would have no existence beyond the relation (there is no good synonym here) between John and Mary.

But this is not in fact how many women think of their relationships. To them, it is not a relation at all, but rather, by process of hypostatisation, an entity that subsists independently, quite apart from the players. As an independent entity, the Relationship can have its own interests, which do not need to be the same as the interests of the two persons supposedly involved in the relation. (“It would be so much better for our Relationship,” says a character in what is often considered a feminist cartoon, “if you were a Scorpio”; this suggests that the Relationship has a higher ontological status than the other party, who should conform to it as best he can.)

In practice, of course, the interests of Mary and the interests of her relationship with John are one and the same, but John is now outvoted. John has one vote, Mary has one vote, and the Relationship has a third vote, which it always casts together with Mary’s.

John may not understand how a relationship supposedly with him can demand something he does not want or cannot provide, but this is an artefact of the trilateral concept; if there were only two entities and John was unhappy, the relationship would then be over, perhaps to be replaced by a new one. Given three parties to the transaction, however, it makes perfect sense, within this conceptual world, to say that the Relationship is unhealthy and will cease to suffer the moment Mary gets her own way. If John is considering the relationship from the point of view of his individual giving and getting contra her individual giving and getting, this is a grievous error; for she won’t be.

The result is, therefore, a bad deal for John, to which he cannot object because he is nothing but a bit player strutting and fretting his hour upon the stage. The leading players are Mary and the Relationship. His unhappiness with the bad deal may be regarded only from within this closed world, this conceptual bubble, where it will be painted as a childlike “inability to sustain a relationship”. Such a model is not used in other partnerships; if the Chinese factory does not want to produce your widget at a price you want to pay, you do not accuse it of violating the interests of the Deal or being unable to do business in general, you walk away.

It may seem elementary, but men should likewise walk away from incipient relationships if they have no chance whatever of getting what they want, and if this lack of prospects is due to the woman’s refusal to accept that he is half the relationship and not a poor-relation third party – if it is due to her insistence that the Relationship is a formally independent arbitrator that will nevertheless always find in her favour. Once this conceptual world is entered, male frustration is not contingent but guaranteed. But men really want relationships with women, you say. Very well, but this sort of thing isn’t a relationship with a woman, but sitting in the audience for a narcissistic monologue onstage. If that is what you want, so be it; but if not, leave the theatre and go climb a mountain instead.

Done in Bergen


One Dostoyevsky character says of another, “He thinks that by saying he’s vile he can get away with it.” Indeed his characters sometimes seem in competition with one another for vilest-of-the-year award. Such posturing is hardly comprehensible except against the background of centuries of teaching about humility, crossed with the human thirst for one-upmanship. Self-justification through knowledge of one’s own vileness is no doubt a subspecies of the well-known phenomenon of “pride in one’s Christian humility”.

Making yourself out to be worse than anyone else is precisely the same thing as making yourself out to be better than anyone else: you are still Number One, and it’s all about you. Rejoicing in your pre-eminent position is a lot easier and much more fun than ceasing to be vile. Why, you would risk falling short of heroic virtue and ending up only moderately vile, far down the list, and what would happen to your self-love then?

Done in Bergen,

(Fiddle date-stamp to February 13, 2010)

Posted on September 15, 2016 at 09:53 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Religion as Emotional Tech

The Coming Female Violence

Criminologist Vibeke Ottesen says, “It is our deep-rooted assumption that women are the good guys”. She should know, working in a country in which many voices loudly insist that women can do no wrong. Even in Norway, however, the years 2002-2013 saw a doubling in prosecution of women. Feminist journalists will of course claim that these figures are a patriarchal fake, and yet (formally contradicting themselves, but then, logic is male oppression anyway) assert that it is a good thing that women are venturing to do the same bad stuff as men. The police jurists, most of whom are now female, sometimes disagree with both explanations and dare to put delinquents behind bars, even if they do share their genital plumbing.

The picture from the USA of 2012 is the same: crime generally is down, but female crime is rising. Can this be attributed to the progressive voices calling for women to act out their desires but not to suffer the same consequences? Surely any human group is going to respond to such a message in the same way. If bald men were told that we should assert ourselves by robbing more banks, whereupon we would be regarded as the victims of the hairies, it would be out with the stocking masks.

It is beginning to be recognised that the most violence is perpetrated, against both spouses and children, by women – though not of course the most serious violence. Is that because women pull their punches or because they are simply not as good at it? They are on average smaller and less beefy than men, which is why they have an objective interest in chivalry: if they are bound to get beaten in a fair fight, the obvious strategy is to enshrine in statute the old moral code that they cannot be hit back while they are thumping us. Nice work if you can get it.

Done in Bergen

(Fiddle date-stamp to September 22, 2011)

Posted on September 10, 2016 at 09:50 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: All Men Are Rapists?, WHAT WOULD MS. GRUNDY SAY?

The Love Potion

Reading about how sexual attraction is based on pheromone-borne messages about the genetic benefits of combining the friend-or-foe recognition codes of two different immune systems, how can we fail to remember the way in which the Ancients regarded Love as a malignly irrational force? The Ancients would definitely have enjoyed learning that the blood serotonin levels of people in love are similar to those with obsessional states. Cupid’s arrows took no account of social order, life-plans or good sense in joining lovers together, and neither do these airborne chemicals. The literary device of the love-potion probably reflects human uneasiness about the irrationality of sexual attraction. And that uneasiness is only right and proper; Titania in love with Bottom the Weaver is no more absurd a sight than can be found in any metropolitan coffee-bar.


(Fiddle date-stamp to September 13 2012)