Leapdragon 2016 - Aron Hsiao Was Here

Trick question: Why is it not okay to be a man?  §

“One of the first roles of marketing is to foster reassurance that what we’re doing isn’t weird and doesn’t stand out.”

— Rory Sutherland

— § —

In recent weeks I finally feel as though a plan is coming together—as though there are a series of goals creeping in at the edges around which I can organize my own development apart from regular income-producing life.

(This being in service of the notion that I am one of those people that always has “side projects” and that needs these, basically, in order to plausibly survive).

It all revoles around masculinity and manhood. And products. And blogging.

Still not sure how it all fits together, but here are some rough outlines:

  • I have a Ph.D. in sociology and can read and distill the tough stuff. My interest in a lot of the academic fluff is waning as I grow older and get distance from the academy and begin to realize how ideological and unempirical most of it is. But I do have a growing interest in some classical tough stuff—aspects of philosophy considering the virtues, traditional roles of masculinity and its relationship to metaphysics, etc.
  • I increasingly want to write about this. To come to public appearance about this. And to support a better future for my son, who is destined to grow into a man in a male-hostile and at the same time, and paradoxically, desperately male-deprived world.
  • I have product and merchandise and marketing interests that are beginning to run in this direction. For a while I was considering a business organized entirely around cameras, typewriters, and wristwatches. There was some connection between them that for a while I struggled to suss out, and then that for a while I thought was all about creativity, but I am beginning to realize that the connection is actually masculinity. These are traditionally masculine things and speak to a certain worldly, initiative-driven, adventurous (in the true sense, not in the hitting-the-bars-for-a-one-night-stand-and-spicy-food-I’ve-not-tried-before sense) persona that was once the archetype of the sort of masculinity that society revered, but now has lost sight of entirely. This archetype needs to come back.
  • I am interested in exploring my own male preferences and identity, finally without the female influences in my life. What are the little pleasures that I enjoy in life? Which things help to foster in me the sense that I am living as my best self? Which things enable the kinds of productivity and being-in-the-world that I desire to sustain?
  • Men need support. Young men in particular. The ladies will scoff at this and that’s fine, scoff away, I don’t mind. The more hysterical (I use that word intentionally) will imagine that I’m about to go off the alt-right deep end. Not the case. And the fact that people immediately go there illustrates the problem—to be a young man and not reject yourself, your biology, and your experience of the world entirely is now to be pathologized. But it’s beyond uncomfortable living as a man in a woman’s world—to have the entire social, emotional, and behavioral universe framed in ways that don’t feel at all natural or clarifying to you. And you believe that you are alone or on an island or somehow broken when feeling this way in secret. Yet when men come together and talk and interact apart from women (something that society is desperately trying to do away with), you find that other men feel the same way, and that the “good ones” aren’t speaking out for fear of doing or saying something wrong or hurtful. But we are not women and that’s okay. It’s time to say that publicly.

Hence, on the last point, the Rory Sutherland quote. I think that’s important.

I think there is a massive universe of lost men out there, men who are desperate to embrace their identity, to be and feel the man that comes naturally to them, but who don’t have the socialization, training, experience, support, or material surroundings and artifacts to help them to do this.

They were raised in an environment devoid of these things and they are now struggling to come to terms with themselves and a strange existence in which they continuously feel like a fish out of water who at the same time has no reason to exist and whom society feels could really simply be done away with and we’d all be better off. They are searching.

The alt-right and the McVeigh-isms have stepped in to fill this void, but they’re pathological. They’re not-unpredictable reactions, but not healthy ones. The reason that they’re succeeding is because there’s essentially no alternative. Someone needs to come up with an alternative.

— § —

This weird mixture of essayism, politics, and products is not conventional and is also not entirely comfortable. In a lot of ways, it makes entirely no sense.

And yet at the same time, this limitation is also entirely a matter of social norms in the broader sense (i.e. social not just in the terms of non-economic social interactions, but in terms of the complete configuration of society—production, consumption, interaction, and so on).

I have the sneaking suspicion that these norms are also in some way feminine impulses—the notion that values, politics, and products ought to be separate. There is much research to be done and much history and philosophy to be read.

— § —

Uncomfortable for me here is the question of political identity.

I have spent my entire life as a person on the left—at my most involved an ardent anticapitalist and at my least involved a farther-left-than-most third-party voter in the United States.

I do not, in fact, believe that I have suddenly become a conservative. There is much about the conservative project and ethos that doesn’t sit well with me. And yet at the same time, there is now also much about the “progressive” project in the United States and Europe that doesn’t sit well with me.

I don’t quite know where I fit. I do know that I have become a fan of an assortment of things that most would say don’t go together and are incoherent:

  • Rod Dreher, Camille Paglia, Bernie Sanders, and Penelope Trunk
  • The American Solidarity Party
  • Antiquty’s classics
  • The body of the world’s great religious texts
  • Cameras, typewriters, and mechanical wristwatches
  • College football and the idea that it is violent and dangerous and also noble
  • etc.

It’s not that I embrace everything from each of these; there is much in each that is either wrongheaded or untenable. And yet each is also carrying the torch for something in particular that is increasingly missing in our society. It is about what each brings to the table that no one or nothing else is bringing to the table.

It’s a mishmash right now, all this stuff swirling around in the back of my mind. But the sensibility is gradually coming to coherence. It is a matter of trying to have thoughts in substance and method that are verboten in your social and cultural milieu. It is not easy to do so, and requires much groping and work.

— § —

Jose Martí had three prescriptions for becoming a man—plant a tree, have a child, and write a book. Hemingway, having been a Cubanophile, expanded this list to:

  1. Plant a tree
  2. Have a son
  3. Fight a bull
  4. Write a novel

I think Martí’s start was a good one, but that in fact Hemingway got it right. And the fact that so many bloggers have taken the time to try to pillory Hemingway’s list tells me that I’m not alone—in their consternation, these bloggers give away the game and their own insecurities, which I’m going to wager have to do with the credence that they wish they weren’t giving to this list in some deep, dark place.

There is a lot of this insecurity about, which is the source of much of the ultimate discourse and in fact production and consumption in the American economy today; “methinks all these folks do protest too much,” etc.

The giant posters at Whole Foods explaining its virtues loudly cover the fact that many aren’t quite successful in convincing themselves of them—but are compelled by the fallacy of sunk costs and the discomfort of the harshness of reality to not confront this possibility.

For men, the thing is to rehabilitate this reality—to make it seem okay to be a man again, and to maybe resurrect the dialogue on what malehood is, but emphatically not in either academic or theological space, as the former is currenly pure ideology and social gamesmanship and the latter is personal.

Public, everyday masculinity needs to be come a viable product again. I suspect that the demand is huge, if it can be made to be okay again to be a man—to speak like a man, to think like a man, to shop like a man, to live like a man.

— § —

We need more bullfighting, more football, more courage, and more sons. Not less or fewer of these things. There has to be some way to bring this all to market in a genuine way.

It’s not that we have to dismiss women or stop listening to them as men. We just need to learn to say, and to have the courage to say—as women have now been doing for decades—it’s okay, you can’t possibly understand because you’re not a man. We need to rediscover and embrace the unique value that we bring to the world, and to society—to stop being ashamed and scared and to learn how to be impressive and authentic once again.

It’s not about fostering toxicity, it’s about loving truth.