Saturday, February 13, 2016

Should Catholic men be losers or jerks? A response to comments

Latin Mass Society Walking pilgrims enter Walsingham
My series of posts on chastity and chivalry (the most recent one is here) have been something of an experiment, in topics I have not previously tackled. The response in the comments box has been very interesting, with a lot of very positive feedback, but also a persistent tendency to misunderstand the issue in a particular way. In essence, when I say that it would really be quite a good idea for Catholic men (no less than for men in general) to avoid behaviour that brands them, without their realising it, as losers, a significant number of people respond by saying: oh, so you want them to be jerks?

I have avoided saying 'Catholics should be Alpha men' because the association between 'Alpha' and 'jerk' is so close. But the point of my most recent post was to argue that you don't have to adopt the morally bad behaviour of the jerk in order to stop being a loser. Let me make the point more explicitly.

The classic 'Alpha jerk' or 'Alpha bad boy' is someone successful with the ladies, while treating them badly. Promiscuity is part of the background to the discussion, but it possible for men to treat women badly in societies where promiscuity is not the norm (though the damage they inflict will be infinitely less). A century ago, in very different social conditions, these men were called 'cads', and two centuries ago it was all about 'leading on' women, and not (usually) going to bed with them, but the phenomenon was in essentials the same. It is a human universal, even if in some eras it is vigorously repressed. The question is: Why do women find these ghastly men attractive?

I marvelled at this baffling  phenomenon when I was single, and I know I was not alone. To understand it properly is to unlock one of the central mysteries of social life, and to remove the fog of incomprehension here is one of the most important things we can do for our sons and daughters entering upon adult life.

One suggestion from the com box was that cads/ jerks are just physically very attractive, which means that they can get away with bad behaviour. But this does not ring true. Being physically repulsive is clearly a big disadvantage in the dating game, but good looking men are not guaranteed success. Nor do jerks necessarily have other advantages, like money. There is another, more subtle, magic ingredient.

Another possibility is that women are engaging in self-destructive behaviour. Going out with a succession of people who will betray them emotionally and sexually is, I suppose, self-destructive, but the phenomenon is so widespread that we need to understand rather than simply label and condemn it. It would be better to say that these women are lacking in wisdom and discernment, but the question has not yet been answered: why are these men attractive in the first place? Why is there even a temptation here?

Let's look at the other end of the scale: the losers. These are men who may be perfectly good looking, and may have other gifts of nature and fortune, but aren't successful with with ladies. Again, this is a human universal, and I noted the vivid portrayal of the type by Shakespeare, in the form of Silvius is As You Like It. We can characterise these men using the words used by women to dismiss them: 'desperate', 'needy', 'pathetic', 'weed', 'saddo', 'wet'.  They are eager to please, they don't want to offend, they are willing to be walked on, humiliated and exploited, and their body language, their conversation, and their patterns of behaviour make this clear. It goes down very badly.

Why would a woman want to attach herself to a feeble man? Would she be proud to be seen with him? Would he seem like a catch? If anyone asks: why are feeble men less highly regarded than non-feeble men? here's another question. Would he be able to look after her?

Now, for all those in the com box who are influenced by the image of 'gentle Jesus meek and mild', as brought to us by 19th century sentimental spirituality, just ask yourselves whether Jesus or the saints could be categorised in these terms. Needy? Too eager to please? Weeds? I don't think so either.

The Christian ideal of manhood is not that of a doormat, a loser. It isn't that of jerk, either, obviously. But if we understand what is going on here, we can create some conceptual space for a conception of masculinity which is neither. You don't have to be a jerk to avoid being a loser.

To simplify somewhat, what it comes down to is that the jerk exhibits strength of character. Men who are too eager to please do the opposite. A man without strength of character would be no fun to go out with, and would not be much of a husband or father, either. As a matter of fact, the classic jerk has no interest in being a husband or father, because he has the alluring prospect of decades of promiscuity ahead of him, but a lot of women don't start thinking consciously about who would make a good husband or father until a particular stage in their life plans. No, in the context of (for example) student single life they are reacting instinctively to the trait of strength, which appeals not to their intellects but to their emotions.

It should be obvious that it is possible to show strength of character without engaging in the immoral sexual behaviour of the jerk. The jerk can use the immoral behaviour to reinforce the message of desirability, but it has its unattractive aspect as well, and a virtuous man who is not a weed can a appeal to a woman rationally as well as emotionally.

A lot of the debate about these issues among Christians takes this conclusion as a starting point, sometimes explicitly and sometimes implicitly, and goes on to discuss exactly what kind of behaviour truly exhibits strength of character. The problem is that many of the ideas in circulation are self-defeating, a key example in the Catholic debate being Chivalry. Many of the people promoting Chivalry want to suggest the idea of a strong man, while actually advocating the behaviour of servility - a 'bait and switch'. 'Yes', they say, 'woman want and need strong men, and here's how to show you are strong: do whatever they say regardless of the cost to you.' I need to say more about why this is happening.

Support the work of the LMS by becoming an 'Anniversary Supporter'.


  1. "One suggestion from the com box was that cads/ jerks are just physically very attractive, which means that they can get away with bad behaviour. But this does not ring true."

    But why does this not ring true, in general? I thought it was quiet established within various studies that women (and men), in general, are attracted to physically good looking people and tend to see them favorably.

    I also feel that the way the issue is tackled implicitly assumes that there is a logical reason why women choose John over Jack. Throughout history, women have fallen prey to "jerks" because they usually know how to "pick-up". The more one frequents with women, the more one realizes how to please them through flattery, sweet talk, arouse curiosity and so forth.

    So the real problem, and it has always been in regards to women who go after jerks, is that they do not make logical decisions. Same is true of the men in history who go after really notorious women like love sick puppies. As soon as one puts feelings/emotional appeal first over objective reasons (is he/she a good Catholic? does he earn enough? does he have qualities of a good father? does his family background agree with mine? can his immediate family get along with mine?), they will make illogical decisions based on the most random of things that appeal to them. This abandonment of reason is a flaw in those persons.

    Today, this "attraction to jerk" problem is widespread because society encourages both men and women to throw out reason in regards to matters of love. They've succeeded to the point that men and women feel no need to even make sure whether the person they attracted to is of the opposite sex. So naturally, both men and women tend to make decisions based on some base instinct. So physical attractiveness, flattery, sweet talk, are reigning supreme when it comes making choices in regards to picking a "mate".

    What needs to happen is a change back to evaluating potential spouses based on objective reasons. Parents (or someone reliable in their judgement) need to get involved in helping men and women pick their spouses. Children need to be taught to evaluate and make final decisions in this regard based on objective reasons and not rely on physical attraction etc.

    This is why I think that rationalizing the random reasons why women (or men) today go after a particular spouse is not the way to go.

    1. T-C the post explicitly says the process is not entirely rational.

      I fear however that the immaturity of your comment is beyond the powers of a comment box to rectify.

    2. Dr. Shaw, you are someone I deeply respect. But I would like to point out here that your comment actually reeks of immaturity. You do not present any reasonable refutation. Instead, you resort to dismissing what I wrote as simply being immature. That would sadly be the very definition of immature behavior when it comes to a discussion (which I expected someone of your stature to be aware of).

      The issue, as I have explained, is with your "evidence". It is anecdotal. Whether things "ring true" to you or others is really irrelevant. But you don't seem to get that. You simply refuse to look at the data because of some personal bias. Perhaps you were also one of the victims of an illogical generation that choose your spouse based on some gooey feeling you had. But that does not mean you need to justify your own failings.

      I would also like to point out something that you, and your friend Queen above seem to miss. You are both appealing to anecdotal evidence to dismiss claims. If someone says physical attraction is the dominant factor in regards to success of jerks, you appeal to your anecdotal evidence by saying "it doesn't ring true".

      At the end of the day, I honestly do not care whether you think I am immature or naive. But I do have to say that you need to "man" up and be able to take some criticism. There are occasions when you just might be wrong. This might just be one such occasion.

    3. While I agree with your thought that people are interested in attractive people, I think we need to realize that attraction is very subjective, even to the simple preferences for dark hair, or blue eyes, or any other accidental traits, not to mention mannerisms, etc. Perhaps men are a bit less dependent on 'types' but I think that even for men there is something of an 'ideal' appearance that inclines them. And of course, one person's idea of 'attractive' may be totally opposite that of another.

      I'm not sure where the interest comes into play, of some women, for the 'bad boy' character. Is it to delay the onset of the reality of married life, and thus immaturity on the part of the woman? This character has been given a lot of attention in the movies and in books.

      The topic is certainly interesting, and while I don't pretend to great understanding, I am hopefully learning something to pass on to my children with this discussion.

  2. My boss , a mechanical engineer...a.happily married man I left work on the Friday, to be married the next day , he wished us both happiness and the added " Austin always remember that a man operates by logic and reason , but a women's mind operates primarily on intuition . Remember to take that into account "
    I consider , after 60 years of marriage to be generally true.

  3. What are the sources that are teaching Catholic men to be losers under the guise of chivalry? Some indication of this needs to be given if you are not to simply be attacking a straw man.

    1. As far as I can see here, Dr. Shaw has a personal notion that he has crafted for himself on what it means to be a "winner". Then his argument resorts to doing some arm-chair postulating without actually looking at the data. This is a flaw. The argument presented by Dr. Shaw operates by presuming that there exists this personality men should strive for that will make women attracted to them. But he completely ignores the fact that women today (and men) are too reliant on feelings/attraction rather than anything objectively of value.

    2. What data, T-C, should I look at?

    3. John yes sure I'll do that, but remember I started the series noting the fuss over my comments on Pof Rowland which I am sure you will remember. They illustrate the present point exactly.

    4. You may find some of these studies interesting. I think the idea of alpha male actually comes from comparative psychology, which is usually repugnant to Christianity. It's worth bearing in mind that a person's behaviour is very much situation specific.

  4. How very odd to categorise men into one of two personalities.

  5. No one is analysing men into just two personality types. If you look at discussions of 'alpha' 'beta' etc. there are number of subtypes and other types (eg gamma, obviously). In any case, we are considering a men in a one-dimensional way quite deliberately, in a specific context. No one is saying other factors than behaviour are not important. Google 'calculate sexual market value' if you are interested. By no means am I committed to the whole set of views that go alomg with that; I'm making a very limited point here.

    1. Oh and I think a study asking female undergraduates to rate descriptions of tennis players is going to capture animal magnatism. These researchers need to get out more! Quite literally.

    2. That study was more about assessing the participant's assessment of personality through non-verbal communication (watching various silent videos), based on the subject's interaction with same-sex peers. The same male/female was observed behaving in two different ways. Despite being very categorical, it drew some interesting conclusions, especially on the distinction between sexual attractiveness (favouring dominance) and suitability for a long-term relationship. Perhaps this goes some way to demonstrate some of the behaviour, or "animal-magnetism" of Prof Rowland's destructive behaviour.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Hope you all remembered the red roses for your ladies this Saint Valentines Day!

  7. When I was first married my grandpa told me "there are two words you need to have a happy marriage: yes dear." While he was obviously making a joke, I find that this is actually the reality in many marriages (at least where I live in the Midwestern United States). I meet older men all the time who ask me if I'm married and then explain their actions with something like "you know how women are" by which they always seem to mean something like "we all know marriage inevitably becomes constantly giving in to a nagging wife who doesn't respect you, and hoping that she gives you enough free time to pursue some meaningless hobby."

    1. Perhaps your Grandfather followed the same school of thought as T-C?!

  8. Dr. Shaw, you asked me what data I would like you to look at. For starters, have you looked at the following:-

    1) Are there any studies that have taken a look into physical beauty and perception? If so, what do they say?

    2) Have you looked at any studies that outline the differences in the basis used to make choices when a woman is looking for sex vs. a stable relationship?

    3) Have you looked at the success rate of marriages that begin with two people making decisions against the advise of their parents or someone else that knew them (there are some that follow up studies of this sort)? (I understand that this might be a sensitive issue for you if you yourself have done the same. It may also be true that your marriage is the most successful one on this planet right now. But I would like to remind you that we are speaking of outcomes in general, and not in regards to a particular case which may very well be at deviance from the generally observed norm)

    From what I have seen in regards to the above, I stand by what I wrote in the first comment of this post.

    I also do not think that I have said anything entirely groundbreaking. Your own English ancestors were well aware of the tendency within young men and women to make unreasonable marriage choices driven by passing attractions. So if anything, what I suggested in my post is actually traditional.

    May I also remind you that Isaac, the son of Abraham, found his wife by listening to his father's advise as well. Same with Tobias who loved his spouse even before seeing her because she was his by law. I am sure that the blessed Virgin Mary did not choose St. Joseph for herself as well. Now living in the 21st century, all of this may seem immature to you. But I would like to propose that their was much wisdom behind the actions of these persons.

    1. Joseph is Scottish, not English - not the same thing at all!

    2. Perhaps you would be so good T-C, as to give some references for all those conclusions. I would love to be able to prove I am a special anomaly, as I've always expected!

    3. Queen,

      Thanks for the information. I guess your point is that Scottish folks were never into the whole idea of listening to their parents regarding marital advise?

      Look, I understand that many of you folks are probably persons who contracted marriages as many in the 21st and 20th century generally did. But that does not mean that your way of doing things is that great. Just look around at the divorce rates.

      In case you are thinking it has something to do with the Catholic faith of the spouses, do think twice about that too. Look at the articles such as this one

      So what is my point? My point is that we have constructed a culture which promotes practices that usually tends to disaster on average. The argument style from personal experience you use Queen can be used by cohabiting couples and so forth. They in-fact DO use it!

    4. Matthew,

      You are an anomaly because of what exactly? If you are looking for some support for the following proposition:-

      Two people who are in "love" are the worst judges regarding their compatibility for marriage.

      then all you need to do is pick up a Social Psychology text that discusses this issue. Those texts will usually have some citations to the relevant studies.

      My point, first and foremost, was that doing arm chair postulations without looking at these studies that have looked into human behavior, is bad. But Dr. Shaw was doing just that. He was drawing from his personal experience, as many erroneously do.

      But if we keep drawing from our own personal sample, then we are in trouble. The cohabiting couple that has lived together for 60 years+ will start telling the world that cohabitation is good. The gay couple who is still happy after 25 years of "marriage" will start telling the world that their lifestyle is excellent!

    5. Two people who are in "love" are the worst judges regarding their compatibility for marriage.
      It all depends on what the love is based on. If you love somebody because (for instance) he is kind, perceptive, honorable, amusing, good-looking, attractive [add qualities as appropriate], then why should that not be a good basis for marriage?

    6. Little Black Sambo,

      Yes, those are indeed some good items to check. But the issue is that when two people are "physically attracted" or in that zone of "being in love", they usually do not make objective judgments on those very items. They tend to see only the good and everything starts to look rosy. Sometimes, some may even go so far as to suppress any of the negative things they see about them.

      This is why it is, in general, better to have an objective third party take a look. Friends can fulfill this role too but friends in general can be a bit untrustworthy. This is why parents tend to be a better option (since parents in general do care for the well-being of their children).

    7. T-C as a matter of fact I don't think that arranged marriages are necessarily a disaster, as long as the couple have genuine informed consent. But they only work where the social and cultural expectations of the two parties can be matched. This in turn works in traditional societies: in a traditional society it is possible to find a young man and a young woman from essentially identical backgrounds, with the expectations to match. That is impossible in the West today (at any rate among Christians).

    8. Dr. Shaw,

      I do agree with you. I am also not in particular referring to what is traditionally understood as an arranged marriage as well.

      I am just pointing out that an objective input is needed when making these choices because more often, the couple is likely to see everything as rosy. Arranged marriages do happen to naturally avoid that part of the problem.

      (As something unrelated, I do also think that the impossibility we see in matching background, social and cultural expectations within the West is perhaps a central problem that affects many other issues as well. As long as these things cannot be matched, there is always a potential conflict waiting to happen when this disparity becomes the focus of an issue. In fact, when the passion has died off, it is my understanding that this is exactly what ends up happening in most marriages.)

  9. The article Matt Doyle linked to is very interesting; showing some of the complexities involved; demonstrated initially by women watching tennis players.... (Researchers have to begin somewhere Joe!)
    Your posts on these issues are most interesting. I'm sure you aren't suggesting men fit only into one, two or even three boxes....
    I would like to add that, the true success of a marriage isn't merely in how a couple were first attracted to one another, but rather in their ongoing willingness to have the 'servant heart of Christ': which is neither weak nor pathetic l: but courageous, always serving out of true Charity: given to those who will accept it, from our God, who came to give His all for Love of us.

    1. A considerable body of research has already been accumulated e.g:

      Some highlights from the above study:

      "Pathogen disgust was positively correlated with women’s masculinity preferences when judging the attractiveness of men’s voices (Study 1) and when judging the attractiveness of men’s faces and bodies (Study 2). Moreover, and as we had predicted, the positive correlations were independent of the possible effects of women’s sexual and moral disgust. These findings complement DeBruine et al. (2010c) and extend their findings for facial masculinity and pathogen disgust to two other domains of men’s attractiveness (voice and body attractiveness). That pathogen disgust predicted women’s preferences for masculinity in men’s voices, faces, and bodies in such similar ways supports the proposal that male masculinity in multiple domains advertises common underlying information about men’s mate qualities (e.g., Feinberg 2008; Fink et al. 2010). On this point, we note that the correlated preferences for masculinity in men’s faces and bodies that was observed in Study 2 also support this proposal (see also, e.g., Feinberg et al. 2008; Little et al. 2011a; O’Connor et al. 2012)."

      The above study concludes as many others do that Feminine men trigger pathogen disgust in women and masculine men do not. It concludes that moral disgust has no effect on this.

      Obviously the pathogen disgust mechanism in women is not the only factor that contributes to mate selection as Matt's article indicates or indeed a healthy marriage for that matter.

      Yet, if a husband is triggering pathogen disgust in his wife, even if he is morally virtuous in all other respects, then it is hard to see how that marriage can be considered a success or how it can be considered holy.

      There's nothing in Josephs article to suggest that there are not other criteria that must be met to achieve a successful marriage.

  10. Catholic men and Catholic women who live their lives as faithful Catholic Christians are the ultimate winners.