ROTTERDAM – So far we have noticed that the Art of Manliness has a romanticized view of the past in which Great Men did Great Things. Thanks to the empowerment of women and the feminization of society, these Great Men do no longer exist. Their existence is obliterated and their relations are no more. For now we can only long to imitate their Greatness and aspire to it whilst fully knowing that this sense of meaninglessness and the void of senselessness we find ourselves in as Men is our only obstacle to being Great ourselves.
Which is why the Art of Manliness refers to the friendship between the members of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet (future Secretary of State, William Seweard and his friend David Berdan) as the ideal type for male friendships:
Together, the young men attended the theater, read poetry, discussed books, and chased after women. Convinced that Berdan would become a celebrated writer, Seward stood in awe of his friend’s talent and dedication. All such grand expectations and prospects were crushed when Berdan, still in his twenties was “seized with a bleeding at the lungs” while sojourning in Europe. . . The illness took his life…Seward was devastated, later telling his wife that he had loved Berdan as “never again” could he “love in this world.”
Such intimate male attachments as Seward’s with Berdan, or, as we shall see, Lincoln’s with Joshua Speed and Chase’s with Edwin Stanton, were a “common feature of the social landscape” in the nineteenth century America, the historian E. Anthony Rotundo points out. The family-focused and community-centered life led by most men in colonial era was transformed at the dawn of the new century into an individual and career-oriented existence.
As the young men of Seward and Lincoln’s generation left the familiarity of their small communities and traveled to seek employment in fast-growing, anonymous cities or in distant territories, they often felt unbearably lonely. In the absence of parents and siblings, they turned to one another for support, sharing thoughts and emotions so completely that their intimate friendships developed the qualities of passionate romances.
While much has changed in our world since Lincoln’s day, are we not still a society where we head from our hometowns to far flung locations in pursuit of career or college, and are we not still at times, if we can admit it, “unbearably lonely?”
Yet unlike the men of the 19th century, the men of today do not seek even closer friendships to enrich their lives and lend them support. Instead, under the excuse of being too busy, and out of the fear of being called a homo, we often distance ourselves from other men, trying to be the lone wolf. Or, as Wayne has pointed out, we look to female relationships to cure all of our hunger for intimacy.
I am now interested in Wayne. Wayne writes:
We have a few generations of men who have habitually sought out the feminine to solve their problems, to heal their wounds, to make them happy. However, after the short-term thrill has worn off, the men are just as miserable, maybe more so. Why? Because we need to fix our problems. By retreating to the feminine-be it serial monogamy, recreational sex, porn, hookers, etc.-we’re not fixing our problems, we’re just getting another “fix” for our addiction. So, we wake up the next morning feeling even worse. What most men don’t know is that what ails them is a lack of connection with masculine energy, with the masculine within, with our fathers. That’s right, we are our fathers’ sons. And to be the man you want to be, one of your challenges will be to come face to face with that original relationship with a man, your dad.
The Modern Man has to realize he is no island. He is not alone in his life, destined to be surrounded by only women that will try to “fix him” and “talk about your feelings”.
Insofar I can understand the line of argument, Wayne laments the lack of two things in his life: the lack of Greatness and the lack of connectiveness. The idea of a higher purpose and the intellectual, mental, physical, and overal individual strife towards that goal whilst still being connected to those around you having the same or similar conceptualisations of this higher purpose gives our life direction, meaning, and comfort. The feminine mentality of trying to “isolate” men from this purpose, engaging in meaningless conversations about how we’re feeling and whatnot, is the anti-Christ to this entire narrative.
Brett moves on:
We are isolated more than ever before. According to a study conducted by the American Sociological Review in 2006, over the past two decades, the number of confidantes Americans feel comfortable discussing important matters with has shrunk by a third. 25% of the study’s respondents said they had no one with whom they felt comfortable discussing important matters, more than double the percentage who felt that way 20 years ago. And 20% said they had only one person with which to do so. The greatest drop in confidantes occurred in non-familial relations. Or in other words, our friends.
This is factually incorrect. Somehow, the idea that our (post)modern societies have rendered us isolated and helpless, stripped of meaningful interaction in a city where you do not know your own neighbors, has permeated our understanding of human interaction. 15 years ago, Robert Putnam wrote his seminal work Bowling Alone, on the increasing loneliness of the American individual. Our ties to other people have become weakened, he writes. We know more people but in less meaningful ways. We have hundreds of Facebook friends, yet feel lonely.
In actuality, the average number of close friendships people have has not decreased in the last decades. The average is around 2-3 with a psychological limit of 5-6 (i.e. you can only invest so many resources and emotional connection in people without becoming too busy with keeping the friendships intact).
What a lamentable state of things. Can we get by without any friends? Surely. But can friends enrich our lives and make us happier? Most definitely. There’s something invaluable about knowing that you are not alone in the world. That no matter what, there’s a guy out there who you absolutely know has your back. A friend that would come to your side if you were beset with a crisis.
So what was the difference between them and us? They weren’t as distracted from what’s important in life as we are. They didn’t labor under the belief that watching Lost was an adequate substitution for friendship. And they didn’t think that checking a buddy’s Facebook update was equivalent to catching up with him.
It’s amazing that with the proliferation of time-saving devices these days, we feel busier then ever. Yet, it’s all relative. We’re not busier than ever. And if we feel that way, it’s because we aren’t prioritizing the right kinds of things in our lives. And that’s going to change this month, starting with today’s task.
If we’re not becoming lonelier, then what is being lamented here? A lack of purpose? An absense of community? Wouldn’t we all like to have meaningful and intellectual correspondence that, decades after our death, is still read by others because of its pivotal importance? I would love to write to friends in the same way Freud wrote to Einstein or Thomas Jefferson to John Adams.
I actually own a typewriter, and I have tried to be intellectual on it in the way that is being described above. I wrote letters to friends using that romanticised vision hoping it would somehow strengthen my bond with them, make it more meaningful in a way. Maybe somehow connect it in my head with the coffee houses of the 19th century where intellectual men came together to solve the world’s problems. They had a higher purpose they shared. I sometimes miss that.
But my letter writing never made me feel any different. I aspired to a romanticised interpretation of the past that cannot possibly be real because it never was.
That vague sense of frustration and hopelessness that embodies us all at times is so ultimately clearly expressed here. These writers want to aspire to Greatness. They read about people who did, and then they look at their own lives, and realise that they worry too much. They care too much about what other people think. They read too many self-help books on self-esteem and self-fulfillment, and you wonder, – I am sure Abraham Lincoln never read those.
The lack of a better understanding of the rut we are in as post-modern beings, this is being called the feminisation of society. We were somehow robbed of our Manly Greatness, and who else to suspect then the only suspect pool we have? Precisely, it was taken from us by women.
But we were never that great. We’d like to think we were, but romanticizing the past does not make it real. We dug our own grave, and this sense of purposelessness is in no way reserved for men only. We as men have shaped societal, political and cultural discourse, and now we are slowly losing grasp of it. Some of that loss of control is deserved, some of it is through our own laziness and lack of understanding. Our ideological emptiness we have encountered as a species.
We can’t be Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. And we shouldn’t want to be, – we should leave those poor bastards alone and move on. Being Great is not achieved by imitating dead people, but by creating your own vision of reality.
By the way, this was the task of today:
It’s not as if men like Speed and Lincoln had an edge on this friendship business because they stayed in one place their whole lives. Men back then were just like you; they made close friendships and then often went their separate ways. The difference is that they made the effort to stay in touch. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were apart from each other for 14 years, yet they kept their friendship alive by writing 158 letters to each other.
So your task today is to make like men of old and reconnect with a friend, either by letter, phone, or email. Wild dogs shall be released upon any man who attempts to complete this task via Twitter.
Man-meter: I reconnected with an old friend. It was nice. Didn’t make me feel more manly at all, though.