Friday, January 15, 2016

The problem of Chivalry

Hercules overcoming Hippolyta
Bishop Olmstead has reiterated his call to men to take their responsibilities properly, this time in a short but slickly produced YouTube video. I addressed his pastoral letter on the subject on this blog, here.

The content of the video reflects Bishop Olmstead's letter. My comment on that was that it didn't get to the heart of the problem, which is that the reasons why earlier generations of men were hard-working, dependable, and willing to commit to marriage and children, have been systematically removed, to a large extent deliberately, in response to feminism. To tell men that they ought to 'man up' and marry and stay married when the marriage deal is no longer a rational choice, is unbalanced. It wasn't men who asked for these changes, and, interestingly, it is often women complaining about their consequences. The Church's intellectual leadership ought to be pressing these contradictions with a view to reversing some of the policies which make marriage unattractive, instead of, or at least as well as, lambasting men for failing to take leave of their senses to marry anyway.

Indeed, the Church has actually made things worse, depriving men of the kind of liturgy which appeals to them, as I have discussed on this blog. Another ecclesiastical policy which is truly insane in the conditions of today is failing to discourage 'mixed' marriages - marriages of Catholics to non-Catholics. Another, of course, is the smoothing of the path to annulments. Today, the Church herself cannot escape blame for undermining the permanence of marriage. Not that I lay these failings at the feet of Bishop Olmstead, and I give him credit for addressing the problem at all.

The video expresses the bishop's appeal by reference, at least implicitly, to the ideal of chivalry, and this raises another problem, because the concept of chivalry is often used in a very strange way. In video the suggestion appears to be simply that men put themselves on the line, take risks, for the sake of women (and children), without any thought of self. This sounds nice, but in reality it opens up generous souls to exploitation, and can look to women like the kind of 'putting them on a pedastal' which is unattractive and, quite reasonably, intensly annoying. If this is the take-home message, we are setting up young men for failure and unhappiness.

The American Evangelical blogger 'Dalrock' puts his finger on the nub of the problem when he points out that key to the classical conception of chivalry is the contrast between strong, high-status men, and the weak and vulnerable people they help.

...the feminists and the white knight boot licker brigade want to appeal to the power of the contrast (the bait) while substituting an obligation of subservience in its place (the switch). I think most of us sense this in our gut, and many of the commenters on my last post articulated this problem quite well. However, I strongly suspect those advocating chivalry as male obligation haven’t really considered the feminist water they are carrying. They are only repeating the anti male slogans they have been drilled in since birth. Our homeschooled blogger provides perfect examples of this frame of mind:

"And guys for the most part (especially those of my generation) are a waste of skin. Too harsh? I think not."

Since real chivalry comes from a position of strength, it can only be offered by a man who is actually powerful and offers his assistance with full freedom and knowledge of his own worth.

The 'obligation of subservience' can be illustrated from the history of this blog. Long-time readers will recall one of my most-read posts, a counter-attack on Professor Tracey Rowland, an Australian theologian who decided to season her liturgical conservatism, which might seem friendly to the Traditional cause, with an attack on the dress-sense of women who attend the Traditional Mass. This was a really, really nasty attack, which went around the world on YouTube and reappeared the following year, unrepented and largely unedited, in the published version of her lecture. She said, among other things, that Traditional Catholic women looked as though they had 'escaped from a Amish farm'. In the video, Prof Roland was dressed as a blue-stockinged frump, so I gave her both barrels - rhetorically, that is.

And what happened? I was attacked for my lack of chivalry. Chivalry has come to mean, by many good-hearted Catholics, not as the defence of the weak, but as subservience to aggressive women, and the more prestigious and powerful the woman, more subservient one should be. This attitude cripples many priests in dealing with aggressive women in their parishes, and it has crippled the Church as a whole in dealing with feminism. What Dalrock calls 'white knights', men who don't identify as feminists but rather as cultural conservatives, twist the narrative of the strong man helping the weak woman out of charity into a narrative of the weak man serving the strong woman out of obligation. They do so even when there are real, vulnerable, females who do need defending, such as the victims of Rowland's disgusting attack. They aren't, in the end, interested in the vulnerable, or in justice; they are just scared of the feminists, and think this version of the chivalric ideal will play well with them.

A Greek warrior catching an Amazon by the hair,.
The existence of this attitude makes appealing to the chivalric ideal problematic. When Bishop Olmstead calls for manly, self-sacrificial, service of the family by men, the 'white knights' are telling us that this means that men should emasculate themselves. To deal with the point at more length, I need another post: in the meantime, just remember Hippolyta. You know, Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons.

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  1. I have been reading Familiaris Consortio and have got to the paragraph 23 on Women and Society. It is perhaps unfair to compare an Apostolic Exhortation with the Relatio of the recent Synod but the former speaks to me as much more relevant to the modern world than the latter. Still I suppose we must wait for Pope Francis's Exhortation to see whether he deals with the problem which barely gets a mention in the Relatio.

  2. As you hint at in the blog post re: the pastoral letter, the Church (in America at least) herself has contributed heavily to disincentivizing men to marriage: the annulment factory makes her neck-deep in complicity with frivolous divorce (in the States, something like 70-80% of divorces are initiated unilaterally, by the woman, for reasons the Church considers illegitimate). Now a man's wife can not only divorce him without grave cause and rake him over the coals in divorce court, she can do so potentially safe in the knowledge that the Church will, with pastoral solicitude, endorse her abandonment of her spouse and children and even her shacking-up with another man afterward.

    It is rather rich that the Church, having abandoned all discussion of the idea of patriarchy and the spiritual headship of husbands and fathers, and so many of her clerics (whom we call "father") having conducted themselves in obscene and undignified ways, for decades, should now lay the blame for the foreseeable catastrophe at the feet of generic "men," without a hint of repentance on her own part.

  3. This is a very important blog posting. The whole 'war' between the sexes at the moment, especially in America where the preponderance of blogs about MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way - i.e. refusing to marry because it makes no financial or emotional sense in the current legal climate), and about the so-called Manosphere where blogs about giving men advice about 'picking up' women (or as it is now called 'Gaming'), treating women as objects for sexual gratification in part as a retaliation for perceived 'Hypergamy' (which is the theory that women, once freed from the constraints of traditional marriage and the shaming of lax sexual morality, become entralled to constantly re-valuing their current relationship and trying to 'trade up' to someone more gratifying or with more 'status', social or sexual). This 'hypergamy', which is seen as some sort of evolutionary imperative that is now out in the open following the arrival of the Pill, no fault divorce, loss of Faith, loss of real communities of people with shared values, is an interesting concept and may even explain the rise of divorces instigated by women, for whom the 'grass is greener' elsewhere and who are encouraged by a divisive culture and it's constant message of sociopathic narcissism to seek 'the One' man, the illusive Prince Charming who, it turns out, doesn't exist.

    This social 'war' is a disaster. I recommended readers to look at some of the blogs in America which are often rude and crude but well-reasoned (and well-written), even if they are incompatible ultimately with the correct definition of Chivalry. Although it's a sewer to have to wade through these sites to look into Gaming, Pick-Up Artists (it really is massive in America and increasingly infulential so it can't be ignored), Hypergamy and the ridiculing of 'White Knights' (mean who haven't been taught to understand the dynamics between the sexes correctly), it is very instructive and is actually a cry of despair by thoughtful modern Western man which needs the Church to take the good from and utterly reject the bad. The Church is in no state to do this apart from it's Tradionalists. The funny thing that is repeated on these sites is a longing for Tradition - I think there are a lot of confused and angry men out there who need the intellectual depths of the Church to back them up and not to succumb either to the despairing desert of MGTOW or the satanic and cruel narcissism of trying to ape the Pick-Up Artist, with serial notches on their bed. If men really want to engage with women, and women with men, I believe that Tradition and Traditionalism are a fertile ground (forgive the pun) for men and women to find people who reject Satan and all his works, and all his empty promises.

  4. Yup. Looks like the narrative of human dynamics has passed through a period of Disneyesque romantic idealism and emerged into a more enlightened era. I'm so glad to see that people within the Church are aware of what is going on. Now that the social and financial economy of the entire society (including the Church), can no longer afford to sustain the extravagances of the sexual economy, we're seeing this and other dynamics portrayed with the same stark scientific rigidity of the utopians who promised to sweep away the need for self sacrifice and pursuit of virtue. This article is an attempt at explaining something similar to the blog post above: