Thursday, February 11, 2016

Chastity, chivalry, and avoiding ridicule

Noli me tangere: Do not touch me.

One serious problem for young people attempting to live a chaste life, and therefore bucking the hugely powerful trend of modern western culture, is that they can too easily be seen as losers. A good deal of prestige goes along with sex and relationships, and those who miss out on these tend to lack prestige. I've been talking about women in the last couple of posts, in response to one article I quoted, but here I'm going to focus on men, and I am partly inspired by this article here.

The author, John Mallon argues that part at least of the reason some women don't get asked on 'dates' is because they are giving off some rather hostile vibes, quite probably without meaning to. He says that men prefer women who are 'kind', and these can be hard to find; a lot of women seem to make a point of negativity and cynicism in dealing with men. This is true. But his description of men and of their needs presents an image of the 'Beta' man. A man who can't really deal with women, who lacks the characteristics which women admire and find attractive. But this is a problem, and the ladies are not to blame for not giving off warm vibes to men they don't find attractive.



Let me illustrate the problem with a little personal anecdote, not from a romantic context but a purely social one. When I was preparing for my A-levels, some kind person thought it would be interesting or useful for me to have a chat with an Oxford academic he or she happened to know in my chosen subject. So it was arranged and off I went to Oxford. I met this lady academic in her college, but instead of going to her rooms she took me to the library where, she said, she needed to pick up some books. On the library desk there was an enormous pile of books, I suppose about twenty of them. They were put into two carrier bags, to go to her room. I immediately felt that this was something of a test. I gallantly offered to carry them both, and she accepted. We then went down all sorts of corridors, across quads, and up two or three of those narrow and steep staircases so characteristic of Oxford, and finally into her room. As a reasonably strong 17 or 18 year-old I would describe the weight of the books as on the painful side of bearable.

She then gave me a rather unpleasant and totally pointless interview, and I found myself on the street again in about five minutes. I had indeed been tested, and I had failed the test.

What had I done wrong? I had reacted as what we might call a nicely brought-up young man would predictably react. (I had many faults, but I was on my best behaviour.) I had been told over many years that gallantry towards ladies was expected and would be appreciated. It was indeed appreciated by pleasant old aunts and the like, but in the real world it could easily imply something else. I was inadvertently signalling not the superiority of a knight in shining armour, but servility.

The distinction is a crucial one, and is illustrated in Shakespeare's As You Like It. The shepherd Silvius adores Pheobe and follows her around like a spaniel waiting to be kicked. Phoebe finds it intensely irritating, and who can blame her? The older man, Corin, tries to reason with Silvius, in words which should be remembered by every young man who can't understand why girls aren't interested in him despite his devoted attentions.

'That is the way to make her scorn you still.'

The lady don may well also have justified her reading of my behaviour in feminist terms. For a feminist, the fact that men behave in a servile way on the strength of a chivalrous ideal theoretically based, not on servility but superiority, means that this kind of servility should be despised as an attempt to assert superiority. In short, it is patronising. As well as being patronising, it puts the man in a situation in which he is wide open to humiliation, and the feminist feels entirely justified in humiliating him.

What should I have done? If I had had the presence of mind, one way out of the problem would have been for me to tease her. 'What do you do when the library is closed? Get bags of rocks for your visitors to carry?' If done in a sufficiently charming way, such an approach could even have got her to laugh at herself. Such a strategy of course was totally beyond my social skills at the time, even if it had occurred to me.

I think I have an idea what one of those 'Pick Up Artists' (PUAs) would have done. These are people who pride themselves on presenting as 'Alpha' men, and attracting lots of women. I think such a person would have said, looking at those books, 'Oh! Let me help!' and then taken a single, slender volume from the pile.

We need to understand this strategy, even if we don't want to adopt it. It is the experience of many nicely-brought up men that all the most attractive girls devote themselves to jerks, and that their own gallantry gets them nowhere. There is a reason for this. The gallant behaviour I exhibited all those years ago was understood to signal the message, 'I am a doormat: walk on me'. The PUA behaviour is designed to signal 'I don't need you, but I can be amusing about it.' A person able to say the second thing seems to have a higher value than the person appearing to say the first thing.

We can draw a number of conclusions from these observations. Young men who want to live a chaste life are in danger of being put into the same category as the young men who can't get the girls because they are losers, so it is particularly important that they don't display the behaviour of losers. Talking about chivalry to high-minded young men is, therefore, very dangerous, unless some important distinctions are made. What they need to adopt is not servile gallantry, but the attitude of self-sufficiency which is, in fact, a central element of genuine knightly virtue. They need a masculine spirituality of self-discipline, and not a pseudo-feminine spirituality of passivity.

The 'aloof jerk' wins hearts precisely by not committing to relationships, precisely by not treating women well: not because women are masochists, but because such behaviour signals superiority and desirability: 'I don't need you'. The chaste man needs to find a way to signal the fact that he isn't 'desperate' (a word calculated to make self-respecting young ladies run a mile), not by casual infidelities and the like, but through strength of character and virtuous self-restraint.

Related: a discussion of Alice von Hildebrand's notion of female holiness.

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22 comments:

  1. Your reflections are interesting, but I am not sure who they are aimed at. Is it to Catholics? In that case, the argument against promiscuity has to start from moral and religious considerations, and the reflections on psychology and the relations between the sexes need to be fitted in to that. Is it to non-Catholics? Then your reflections are not going to have any effect. Non-Catholics with the partial exception of evangelical Protestants are not going to see anything wrong with promiscuity, are not going to refrain from it, and are not going to be able to refrain from it, because chastity requires a grace that they do not have. Of course many Catholics will think along the lines you indicate. But I don't see an alternative to getting them to stop thinking along these lines at the outset.

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    1. I criticised Joyner in part for ignoring moral considerations. This reflection on intersexual relations is indeed fitting into my moral arguments about promiscuity.

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    2. Moral and religious considerations have to be considered together - partly because an essential part of the moral turpitude of promiscuity is that sin is an offence against God, and partly because it is in practice impossible for the great majority of people to avoid sexual sin without availing themselves of the grace and means of sanctification offered by the Church. You omit to mention that in fact sexual relations are pleasurable and refraining from them is unpleasant; this is probably the main explanation for unchastity, and renouncing the pleasure and accepting the mortification is not going to be done by the average person except on the basis of faith - and the strength for this renunciation is not going to be available without grace. Joyner's discussion falls down on this issue, since her experience was of unpleasurable promiscuity; this is common but not universal. She gave up promiscuity after a short time; if she had enjoyed it that would probably not have happened. (I would not say that Joyner completely avoids moral considerations by the way, as the reasons she gives against promiscuity accurately describe much of why it is a morally bad thing, and the reasons she gives for marriage describe much of why marriage is the only good option for sexual relations.)

      Your discussion makes good points related to your previous remarks about how chivalry can be confused with passivity and weakness by men as well as by women, and about the bad effects of such confusion for a man. Nonetheless the women who think and respond in the way you describe above are not going to be responsive even to a good form of chivalry.

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    3. Not only have I not denied that impurity can be pleasurable, I have criticised Joyner for basing her argument on the contrary contention. I make quite explicit the self-denial which is required for chastity.

      My assumption is that a chaste man who does not come across as a loser is considerably better off than a chaste man who comes across as a loser. This would seem hard to deny. He will be in a much better position to find a girl who is willing to go along with his preferences if he avoids being intensly irritating, patronising, or just 'Beta'. The behaviour enjoined on many Catholic men by their moral teachers has the serious danger of making them irritating etc.. This is a problem which should be exposed.

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    4. "My assumption is that a chaste man who does not come across as a loser is considerably better off than a chaste man who comes across as a loser."

      I'd be curious to know why you make that assumption. My life is the story of total failure and humiliation, and, you may think this presumptuous, but I take that as a sign of personal closeness to Christ. Which, therefore, should envy the other? The chaste "alpha male" or the chaste "beta male?" Or is that distinction completely meaningless?

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    5. Jesus was not a doormat. It isn't spiritually beneficial to be one.

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  2. I have been following the series so far and I have found the perspective you present to be very interesting.

    But is it not possible that the population on which some of the argumentation is based on may be biased too? For an example, you mention how many women like "jerks". So isn't it possible that many women have simply being conditioned by the media? Or that men who are "jerks" probably developed that type of behavior because they were physically attractive?

    Also, if we accept the premise that we live in a time where both men and women have disordered expectations and inclinations in regards to spouses or other moral matters of life, then should we be pursuing arguments that appeal from these inclinations/expectations? Is it not better to nudge society in the direction of making such moral judgement based on something more objective?

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    1. If you can noticeably and reliably nudge society in the direction you intend on a regular basis, then you are several steps ahead of most of us. For most of us, it is difficult enough to make right judgements ourselves, or to teach this to our children or other charges. Society is out of our hands.

      And in any case, encouraging the making of objective moral judgements on any sort of large scale would require peeling back a number of accretions that few folks these days are willing to give up. I blame the nominalists.

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    2. I see what you mean. But if we do not change the society, then we inevitably end up being forced to play by its rules. So in this particular case, men are going to have live up to some distorted standard that the women find pleasing and vice versa.

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  3. Many popular "men's movements" in the U.S. over the last few decades (at least) have conflated virtue with what is attractive to women. Some of them (such as Ed Cole, now deceased) even go so far as to make this connection explicit from time to time. The end result is neither virtuous nor pleasing to women.

    The PUAs, are still obsessed with what women think, and even still constantly trying to please women. PUAs, though, noticed a disconnect between virtue and what pleased women, Rather than try to force a match like the first group, they just dropped virtue and homed in straight on what pleases women. How successful they are is open to debate (Zippy Catholic has compared their techniques to a placebo), but that's what they go for.

    The correct answer, of course, is to solve the disconnect by dropping what is pleasing to women and homing in on virtue. That this will mean not catering to a woman's every whim and thus often (not always) make one more attractive to women is just a side effect.

    Speaking as someone who is attempting to live a chaste life in the world, the most helpful thing I have found is it is easier to do without half-measures. A consciously celibate life is much easier than a life where one is seeking a wife, or even merely open to the possibility of a wife. Plus, simply not playing the game is a good way to mitigate the contempt without seeming desperate, and not going out of one's way for a woman for fear of being thought interested has the added bonus of avoiding servility.

    The second most helpful thing I have found is to expect a certain amount of contempt for virtuous practices. Again, we have an ironic bonus: not caring much for what most people think of you often (again, not always) helps mitigate their contempt. Not drawing undue attention to oneself helps, too, and is a good rule of thumb for those struggling to increase humility in any case. But we are told the world will hate us, and I sometimes find myself torn between gratitude and anxiety when I think how little scorn I do get.

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    1. Ignoring what is pleasing to women while focusing on virtue is another way of missing out on both. It is part of the (natural) virtue of a young man that he is able to please women. There is nothing in the teaching of the Church which says we must be annoying and pathetic, but avoiding those two characteristics is a lot of the battle about pleasing women.

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  4. Simply excellent. More of this.

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  5. Right on the money. A couple of points occurred to me which I think are worth considering:

    1) From my own experience, it seems that Catholic men who are positively committed to being chaste before marriage have a scarcity value which can work in their favour. My fiancee tells me that events like Youth 2000 are packed with very eligible young women trying to make the best of the few available men (most of whom apparently come across as a bit wet). So really the Catholic sub-culture should be a happy hunting ground for properly disposed and reasonably attractive men.

    2) A delicate point. With all due sympathy for young women trying to navigate a difficult situation, it is a fact that a man will find a chaste relationship much easier to maintain if the woman has been chaste with other boyfriends (if other boyfriends there have been) in the past. This is human nature.

    A very devout man may well be able to tolerate not receiving the favours that have been bestowed upon his predecessors, and as Catholics we would all agree that he ought to forego them, but he will find chasity much harder than he would have done otherwise.

    To put it awfully bluntly, a Catholic man who knows how to conduct himself around women will do very well in Catholic circles, and may attract a more attractive woman that he would have managed in the wider world. But in human terms, as a quid-pro-quo for his own chasity he will want his girlfriend/wife to have a track record of conducting herself chastely in the past.

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  6. Normally, obliging a total stranger to do you a favor of that scale is a mild social discourtesy. Teasing your Oxford friend for inflicting a mild social discourtesy is, itself, a mild social rebuke, and would be understood as such.

    A man who is willing to rebuke a woman who is publicly discourteous to him is a man who radiates self-sufficiency -- he is not concerned with her pride, and does not feel the need to appease it just to enjoy her company a while longer. That self-sufficiency is understood as vitality:
    "here is a man who is REAL, who resists me and my unreasonable demands, not a mere ghost or sponge through whom my will passes unopposed. And it is, of course, attractive."

    This sort of advice is great, and it's stuff that fathers used to teach their children and no longer do. The PUAs are succeeding precisely because they are filling a void left by the abdication of Christian patriarchs (albeit twisting that role horrendously in the process -- but what more can be expected of them? They are degenerates).

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  7. When I think back, about how it was that I fell in love with my wife, I think it was because she was kind to me.

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    1. Oh! I've read a little further. Does that make me a "beta male"?

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    2. Not necessarily!

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    3. I started to wonder how far down the alphabet the categories went. But then I realised that an alpha male would not wonder so, and I have therefore banished all such thoughts.

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  8. "My assumption is that a chaste man who does not come across as a loser is considerably better off than a chaste man who comes across as a loser."

    But this ignores the fact that the female population might be suffering from a disordered expectation. The disordered female population is more likely to see a guy as a winner simply because he was capable of sleeping around and having multiple partners.

    I don't think looking self-sufficient is then going to change anything much from that perspective.

    From what I have seen, usually when the woman is done playing around, then she usually settles for a "loser" guy anyway because she knows she can't keep the "winner".

    The entire problem with our society is that this way of doing things is unacceptable. So looking a winner or loser within this framework is not going to change anything I feel. What needs to happen, at least in my humble opinion, is that this present framework must be abolished.

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    1. There is nothing disordered about not wanting to go out with a doormat.

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  9. Well - my chaste pennyworth here: If you're adjusting your behaviour to validate the feminist expectations of some blue-stocking spinster then you've re-calibrated your compass to her terms and compromised your very soul. I don't actually recall ever having kissed a girl West of the Rhine and I doubt I ever shall - I am literally a non-sexual entity when on the island. The solution for any modern bachelor is quite simple: learn to barn dance and use small arms then marry the daughter of some small town Mississippi Sheriff or something. Social internationalism will be the death of feminism because, in the end, feminists still need masculine power to get stuff done and masculine power can go to where it is rewarded by female virtue.

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    1. Sorry - forgot to add - 'and feminism is a biological adaptation to overpopulated resource-abundant societies.'

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