"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Why Do Men Stray– Keeping A Man Is Far More Complicated Than It Used To Be

Women have always had an interest in keeping their men.  After deliberate, calculated, and often mischievous attempts to secure an attractive spouse – good money earner, more or less tolerant, and a decent if not good father – a woman’s next task was securing him.  As women have always known, men go into marriage reluctantly, hesitantly, and against their better judgment.  Women are necessary for reproduction and legacy.  They have a sense of hearth and home and can be relied on to provide  nurturing, comfort, and help to their children even when their husbands are absent, vagrant, or indifferent.  They are useful, sexually convenient, and practical.  They tend to stray less than men – although the savvy man is always observant and takes precautions – and their needs are simple.  A certain fidelity, respect, and love.

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Most men after only a few years of marriage realize that the marriage contract, no matter how legalistically fair and equitable, is predicated on a stable but conventionally conceived relationship. . If the party of the first part complies with the reasonable requests and considerations of the party of the second part, the marriage is deemed reasonable and broken only after judicial consideration etc. etc. ; but that such a contract, like any, is subject to interpretation.  Who did what to whom is the fodder for daytime TV Divorce Court.  Far more money is spent on dissolving a marriage than legalizing it.  The world knows that marriage at best is an economic affair, an affair of dowry, bride price, trusts, wills, and powers of attorney than love, intimacy, and longing.

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So it is quite natural and normal for men to stray.  They willingly admit that they  were ignorant of the consequences of marriage and had no idea how soon the pound of flesh would be exacted, or how soon the contract manipulated.  Yet they are not vindictive or righteous.  They simply take what’s coming to them – sexual freedom.

Few women would admit such a Mephistophelean bargain – a philandering husband in return for taking out the garbage and equal rights under the trust – but that is how modern marriages work.  Men have never been feminized, and the politically insistent but practically desultory training to force men to hew the progressive  line of sexual equality has never gained traction.  While men talk the talk – gender equality, sexual respect and normality, and participatory, equal relationships – they have never walked the walk and never will.  Once demands have been issued, men walk.

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The marriage between Marfa Henderson and Brent Peters had gotten off on the right foot – romance, the excitement of social and economic promise (both were from prominent Boston families) Harvard pedigrees, and the usual,, for their particular milieu, intellectual integrity and artistic savvy – but soon sullied in the trenches of marital warfare.  Love, attention, concern, and solicitude vanished as the terms of the prenup became clear and in force. 

Both parties backed off – there had been enough emotional capital invested in the marriage that dissolution at this early stage was not a consideration – but both were left with a residual bad taste.  Not only the contract but the emotional relationship itself had been tried.  Marfa retreated from her demands and Brent called up reserves of patience and forbearance, and the marriage continued.

Nature abhors a vacuum and seeks equilibrium; and so it was that Brent and Marfa, despite their differences, sought compromise; but some issues are beyond compromise and the case of Marfa and Brent is indicative and illustrative.  Marfa was the daughter of Washington State ranchers, independent, individualist, rough-and-ready, Middle-American entrepreneurs. Her mother had come from good New England Calvinist stock, whose great-great uncle had been a  prosecutor in Salem, and whose great-cousin had been a founder of Yale; and her father whose particular provenance was unknown had been a herder, cowpoke, and shepherd since the earliest family records.  She came by her parsimony, thrift, and good economic judgment naturally.  While she had never been schooled in modern finance or economics, she had had enough of a family education to have learned the value of a dollar.

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Brent was the child of wealthy Southern Italian immigrants on one side and Brazilian slavers on the other.  He not only had never been exposed to Northern European Calvinism, but he had been immersed in Mediterranean hedonism, la dolce vita and que sera sera since his youngest days.  Money was to be spent to be enjoyed. Life was never to be ugly and brutal but beautiful, happy, and satisfying.  He had no use for wills, trusts, or codicils.  He felt no obligation to survivors, heirs, or beneficiaries.  Once the light at the end of his tunnel was extinguished, all lights were extinguished.
In other words, a marriage made at City Hall, to be dissolved in the State of Massachusetts, and consummated in Maryland, had no legs  It had no practical, emotional, or psychological staying power.  Her Cotton Mather and his Epictetus would never meet.  Yet, after 25  years of hanging in there, accommodation to tradition and society, it was time for a change.  Brent could put up with any more talk of  wills, trusts, roofs, exterminators, or garden swales. It was time for a break and about time to set sails for tropical shores.

Like most men Brent assumed that his sexual adventures and dereliction would go unnoticed; and even if they were caught in the enemy’s radar they could be explained.  Working late, a cancelled flight in Amsterdam, an extended contract in Port-au-Prince, all were reasonable justifications for his dalliances.  One not given to guilt, Brent still justified his vagaries because of his wife’s narrow, pedantic, and horribly insular mentality.  Yes, he had married Cotton Mather, but that did not mean he had to sleep with him every bloody night of his life.

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Brent strayed for logical, comprehensible, very understandable reasons. In fact circumnavigating a legal marriage contract was very American where contracts are made to be broken.  In that restrictive sense, Brent made a moral decision to right the imbalance of the marital contract.  His straying colleagues could not be afforded such respect. 

Henk, a  Lothario from Delaware who shared an office with Brent, had no moral qualms whatsoever. Infidelity was a male thing, purely and simply, no questions asked no justification required.  He risked discovery and could care less.  His maleness was based on and derived from male superiority; and while he gained certain, temporal sexual traction, his rather antiquated notions did him in.  His wife, empowered thanks to her women’s support group, said ‘No Thanks’, and took her money and her children and ran.

Other men stray incidentally, on occasion, or when the opportunity presents itself.  They neither have prolonged, nettling guilt or even a bad night.  it is what is, maleness playing itself out.

So what’s a woman to do? The easiest, simplest, most logical conclusion is to accept male tomcatting as genetically given, to dismiss it as a given, but to be alert to unintended consequences. Brent might have gone off with his Danish Ice Queen if it hadn’t been for an Italian interloper who had gotten there first; but her still, as most husbands do in the final accounting, return to home base.

Another is to deploy defensive perimeters – sophisticated spyware, sentient software, and state-of-the-art invasive technology – but this is degrading and humiliating.  Better to wait for a conclusive gotcha than to wait in the morally devious shadows of surveillance.

Another is to confront the miscreant.  “I know you have been fucking Myra Brandon” and muddle through the expected denials and disclaimers until you are worn out, discouraged and disheartened
None of the above will work. Men’s hardwired nature is to stray; and the  inventiveness of his denials knows no bounds.  Women, because of their own innate, natural tendency to preserve and protect family, hearth, and home are willing to resist only so much and so far  Men can leave unencumbered and fancy free but women have the children.

The best marriages are not marriages at all but fungible and easily deconstructed.  Yes, one must trade longevity and support for freedom and independence , but after all, one dies alone; and the requiem for a long life does not include longevity or fidelity.

The Value Of Money–Spend It Or Save It? A Philosophical Divide That Marriages Cannot Survive

Marfa Parsons knew the value of money and such value was absolute.  There was no such thing as relativity (opportunity cost), particularly and especially not that which considered affective response.  There was, for example, only one way of getting from Point A to Point B, the shortest and most energy-efficient.  The fact that this route was a complicated tangle of left turns, traffic lights, and inter-city traffic made no difference.  The subjective reactions of frustration and impatience had no relevance whatsoever.

According to her estimation a clothing item that cost $500 was simply too expensive, regardless of its quality, longevity, or style.  One could buy it for far less at any one of a number of discount outlets, and less well-known brands would do just as well.  Yet she ignored the opportunity cost – the time spent researching the item on the Internet and driving to the outlets down the most heavily-trafficked roads in the region.  Five-hundred dollars was simply too much.

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This valuation of money did not change once she was financially well-off and secure.  It still was a nettling irritation when money was spent rather than husbanded.  A hundred-dollar lunch twice a week, regardless of the ample resources in the family treasury, was wrong; and this was the crux of the matter.  Expenditure ipso facto was inherently less valuable than saving.  It made little difference that Marfa’s daughter was a spender – attractive but expensive furnishings, new cars, designer wardrobe, and the best New York restaurants – and would happily spend her inheritance rather than bundle, protect, and shepherd it for her children; and that her son was equally indifferent to financial legacy and, although without the high-toned taste of his sister, would indeed spend whatever was passed on by his parents on skiing, vacations in the Caribbean, a second home in Cannes, and Porsches. 

Marfa was disturbed by her children’s valuation of money, but added to their inheritance every year thanks to her parsimony and somewhat Puritanical approach to financial management.   Although they spent money faster and more freely than she ever had, they were not spendthrifts.  It simply grated on Marfa  to think that her Cotton Mather discipline and financial rigor would not be passed on along with her money.

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Hank Lefferts was a man of a different stripe.  Money was to be spent.  It had value only in the things it could buy, and spend he did.  As a successful businessman his income far exceeded even his most ambitious expenditures, and he was therefore unconcerned about his trust.   As long as there was enough to carry him through his old age, he would never worry nor think about the laborious mechanics of financial planning.   For him opportunity cost was everything.  As long as he had enough money to pay for home maintenance and repair, financial management, and the best clothes and cars, he would never sacrifice any free time for comparative shopping, online searches, hours of financial research, trips to factory outlets, or modest vacations. 

What was the point?  Life is short, and while fortunately for him never nasty and brutish, would still end in the same place as everyone else, dans un tas pêle-mêle, ignored and forgotten. It was indeed ironic, he thought, thinking of Konstantin Levin’s reflection in Anna Karenina, that God created Man with intelligence, wit, humor, insight, enterprise, and creativity; but allowed him only a few decades on earth before consigning him to eternity beneath the cold, hard ground of the steppes; but he never obsessed over such pessimism.  However long his life was to be, he would enjoy it.

The twain of Marfa and Henry will never meet, for valuation is perhaps the greatest divider of human beings.  Man is indeed an economic animal, but not in the strict socio-economic sense of Marx and Hegel.  Rather, every human transaction is of a contractual, and thus economic nature whether money is exchanged or not.  Marriages, while consummated in love inevitably end up in contractual disputes – who is responsible for what, who violated trust, honesty, and respect?  Men and women always angle for superior position regardless of intimacy.   Men calculate the risk of affairs relative to their benefits as carefully as if they were investing in sub-prime mortgages.  Women calculate the benefits of an in-house father against the costs of an indifferent husband.  Casual friendships are neutral, but they are not excluded from valuation.  Why continue a friendship when the intellectual tank is low, spirit and humor have been spent, and practical, supportive advice is tired?

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The concept of opportunity cost, however, is far more than one of economic principle. It is perhaps the one permanent, perennial feature of human enterprise.   The difference in approach of Marfa and Hank is illustrative.  In both cases, money was no object.  She, a successful attorney and he well-compensated executive had more money than they would ever need; but considered it in radically different ways. One felt that it had absolute value; the other only relative value – a dollar can never be just a dollar.  If one has the money to spend quickly and easily, then the additional cost of purchase is always well worth the unpleasantness avoided.  Not only did Hank and Marfa look at money differently, they looked at life differently.

Their great divide is a philosophical one.  Que Sera Sera and La Dolce Vita could not be farther from Northern Lutheranism, Calvinism, and American Puritanism where thrift, saving, parsimony, and husbandry are not simply practical hedges against bad times, but spiritually important.  There is something inherently wrong, these philosophical and religious ascetics say, about unnecessary expenditures, especially those that are made only for pleasure.  There is nothing wrong in such expenditures say Mediterraneans. In fact there is everything right in pleasure – bella figura, cuisine, elegance, and sensuality. 

For the Puritan, frugality is a means to a spiritual end.  For the epicurean, it is an illogical and senseless.  Not only does thrift deprive one of the pleasure of excess, but carries no weight either in the cold hard ground of the steppes or in the wasteful hands of spendthrift children.

Marriages between the likes of Marfa and Hank never last; for despite early romantic love, similar intellectual interests, or more profound Freudian attachments, opportunity cost, Cotton Mather, and la dolce vita always get in the way.  There is no way to resolve such fundamental philosophical differences.  Marxism has failed not only because of its suppression of individualism, enterprise, and personal liberty; but because it neutered both Puritan parsimony and la dolce vita.  It never gave individuals the chance to express their profound and widely differing economic natures.  Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of capitalism is its freedom of valuation, a strong but rarely acknowledged counterbalancing societal force.  A market economy would never prosper with only savers or only spenders; and if realized and acknowledged it can mitigate romance.

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While Marfa and Hank could never marry, valuation can have its soft edges – a concern for saving, but not obsessively so; free spending without excess; a love of life with some modicum of concern for one’s legacy – and marriages between such philosophically aware individuals can work.  Not without some masonry work, however, chipping away at rock-ribbed notions formed in childhood.  One is not borne with Cotton Mather’s genes but comes to be like him thanks to parentage and family; and so, hard as it is to round the masonry and sand the edges, few people have the patience; and such marriages, despite the best intentions, end in rancor and dispute.

Fortunately both Hank and Marfa married likes and their marriages persisted.  How happy was Marfa’s as restricted as it was by thoughts of legacy and parsimony is another question altogether; and I can only attest to Hank’s.  I went to his daughter’s wedding recently – a fabulous affair held at an elegant country club near Carmel – and he, his wife, and his daughter were as happy as can be.  In the end run, it is hard to argue with Hank’s way of thinking.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Hopeless Tedium Of Soccer–Bring Back Blood Sports

Mainstream professional sports are being tamed down and feminized.  Professional football, while still a grunt-and-bang affair, is far from the toothless days of leather helmets, eye-gouging, and low blows of Knute Rockne’s day. Rules limiting physical contact have neutered the game.  The play at the plate,  a violent, deliberate, no-holds-barred collision; and the take-out slide at second, a similar attempt to destroy the off-balance, vulnerable player during his pirouette to first have been outlawed.   The only  sports which have been spared – boxing and hockey – will soon fall to the concussion protocol.  Boxing will soon require protective headgear and softer gloves, and the all-out brawls which are hockey’s principal draw will be outlawed.

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There have been two reactions to this trend – the rise of super-violent sports like Mixed Martial Arts where fighters wear no protective gear, no holds are barred, and beating an opponent into submission, not just winning if only by technical knockout, is the goal; and the parallel rise of soccer, a game which appeals to a softer audience for whom on-field violence is simply an expression of generalized male aggression.  While physical contact is a part of soccer, and the feared concussion protocol is in the wings, it is not a game where – unlike football, boxing, and hockey -  intentional disability is encouraged.  It is a game girls can play.

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Of course with the advent of Title IX girls’ sports have flourished, often at the expense of boys’ programs, but that was the point.  No one should be deprived athletic opportunity and physical expression, and girls have been encouraged to play all the sports that boys play, plus their own (field hockey, synchronized swimming).  Yet it is soccer which has really caught on for girls and boys.  Concerned mothers are happy to have a cheap, simple, uncomplicated, safe, participatory game for their children – no fear of getting hurt, plenty of opportunity for parental involvement, and above all, gender-equality.

However, the trend is reversing. According to a recent article in the NY Times (July 2018):

The real threat, however, to [the] mission to make soccer one of America’s pre-eminent sports is here at home, where youth players are abandoning the game in alarming numbers.

Over the past three years, the percentage of 6- to 12-year-olds playing soccer regularly has dropped nearly 14 percent, to 2.3 million players, according to a study by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, which has analyzed youth athletic trends for 40 years. The number of children who touched a soccer ball even once during the year, in organized play or otherwise, also has fallen significantly…

The decline has been felt everywhere: recreational leagues in longtime soccer hotbeds here; high-profile traveling teams from Maryland to California; programs targeted at Latino and immigrant populations in South Texas. High burnout rates from pushing children into travel soccer too young as well as the high costs of programs have also contributed to the lower numbers.

While liberal critics have blamed organized soccer for ignoring minority talent and for making it more a game for the masses (over 35 percent of parent families earn over $100,000 per year) than for the underserved, the real reason may be found elsewhere.  Talented young people are likely to be lured more by the professional sports famous for multi-hundred million dollar contracts than they are by the relatively low salaries and lack of prestige of MLS; but as importantly it is possible that the safe-haven of soccer – a parent-friendly, distinctly non-violent, no hands, low-visibility, fatiguing sport – is becoming passé.   Extreme sports are on the rise.

Last year in West Virginia, 28-year-old Avishek Sengupta was running the Tough Mudder, a grueling 10-plus-mile race littered with merciless obstacles that take participants over blazing pits of fire, through dark trenches and into pools of water laced with electrical wires that deliver 10,000 volts…Tough Mudder, calling itself “Probably the Toughest Event on the Planet,” is run by a Brooklyn-based company that is one of a growing number catering to the booming industry of obstacle course racing. As sports enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies hunt for ever-more-hardcore events to test their physical limits, it’s a pastime that has gained popularity in the past five years…

Television has played its role in increasing the popularity of these sports with shows such as World of X Games and the Extreme Sports Channel. Energy drink company Red Bull has also been on the forefront of the extreme sports movement, with events like the Red Bull Cavemen triathlon, which involves running, mountain biking and kayaking, and the Red Bull Stratos, a space-diving event that in October 2012 featured a skydiver who jumped from nearly 130,000 feet. (ABA Journal).

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The Guardian reports

It is hard to find exact figures on the popularity of extreme sports, but it is even harder to find anyone who thinks that they aren’t booming. In 2006, the British Parachute Association recorded 39,100 first jumps. Last year there were 59,679. Numbers of “full members” – regular skydivers – have been rising at a similar rate. The British Mountaineering Council had about 25,000 individual members in 2000. Last September there were “almost 55,000”. The number of people climbing Everest has rocketed since the 1990s. The proportion of women climbers is increasing too, up from about 16% in 2002 (BMC figures) to 36% now (Sport England figures). Hang-gliding numbers have suffered since the 1990s, according to Michelle Lanman at the British Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (“The kit is so much heavier”). But paragliding and paramotoring (paragliding with a giant fan) are doing very nicely. SurfingGB also reports that “British surfing continues to grow rapidly”…

And these may still be early days. According to a report from the US entertainment company Delaware North, 100 hours of GoPro video are uploaded on to YouTube every minute, and sales of action cameras are growing at 50% a year. “By 2020, extreme sports will challenge professional and collegiate team sports for the title of most-watched category of sports content,” the report says. “Today they’re a blip on the screen compared to the big business of professional sports, but participation in action and adventure sports has surpassed conventional sports at the recreational level.”

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It is no surprise that in a highly-regulated society like the United States, young men seek release from overbearing correctness in extreme sports; or at least in those mainstream sports which offer complete physicality, macho superiority, and male camaraderie.  There are no women – yet - in men’s locker rooms; and there still can be nothing like the complete expression of individual physical ability that basketball offers.  It is perhaps the one sport where every natural human ability – running, leaping, coordination, strength, and psychological ability – are combined.  Not only that, the NBA has deliberately marketed itself as the sport of tough street creds – pimp walk, posturing, trash talk, intimidation, and back-downs.  Why would any supremely gifted black athlete from the inner city play soccer?

Extreme sports have been around for a long time; and it was no accident that the Roman Coliseum was filled to overflowing for bloody, fight-to-the-death gladiatorial contests.   Wars, while fought over territorial claims and petty disputes, have been battlefields of glory.  If it were not for an innate desire for glory and the expression of individual courage, there would be fewer wars.  The Aztecs and other pre-Columbian societies of Mesoamerica fought battles dressed in the skins of wild animals, so the bloody fights on the Mexican plains were especially savage, brutal, satisfying, spiritual affairs.  How could they not be as much a part of pagan life as human sacrifice?

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There is no denying the international popularity of soccer and its working class appeal.  Boys in the favelas of Rio and the streets of Liverpool need nothing more than a round something, a few players, and a two parallel sticks for a goal to play soccer.  No need for equipment, nets, grass, or referees. It is the world’s most democratic game, the most universal, and the most common.  Boys have been kicking things since the earliest human settlements.   Yet the United States in its soccer diffidence is not so much an anomaly as the avant-garde.

Many American television viewers have seen the comedian/talk show host Bill Maher’s rant about the feminization of men, the taming of the wolf. As paraphrased by Dana Antiochus, Maher believes that:

The inversion of nature that we have experienced as a culture, and the subversive aspect of flipping traditional roles, with its subsequent destruction of society, serves as a signal that we live in a dying system.  It has led to a pussified, sissy, pathetic, lovey-dovey/touchy-feely country of wimps, who put emotion over logic, feeling over reason, in our nurture-heavy/nature-deprived, culture” (Renegade Tribune)

But is Maher right? Have feminists turned the country into a nation of sissified wimps who value feeling over reason? On the one hand, feminism has changed men’s discourse, at least in public where they nod approvingly at news reports about glass ceilings, rape, abuse, and discrimination.  On the other, men in private share none of these sentiments. They know that biology,  human nature, and male chromosomes have not changed since the Paleolithic.  Men raid, kill, and pillage.  Women cry a lot, like to share their feelings, and want strong men as partners.

Soccer in America is an expression of this ‘wussification’ of America; and the continued popularity of physical, contact sports and the rise of extreme sports is a reaction against it.  Men will not go quietly, and boys in Southeast will still play a tough, male, aggressive, violent playground game and take it to the NBA.