Wednesday, March 6, 2013

I Am a Stupendous Badass - Well, Sort of

Since I am the end result (actually the apex) of three billion years of evolution I am a Stupendous Badass in almost everything I do. For example, I am a pretty good cook. Although it sounds easy to cook bacon, it's not. I have found the best way to fry it is in Kerry's Irish butter, using Trader Joe's apple-cured bacon. It's close to a culinary orgasm, so much so that when I fix it for women their clothes fall off. My success rate is 80%, which conforms to Pareto's Law and illustrates why one should study statistics and logic. And people say intellectuals are nerds! They're just envious of the fact that in the long run we are going to take over the world and make it a much better place.

What I'm pointing out here is that being a man involves being competent at several things. Being good at it. Being excellent at it. That's how you get self-esteem. You don't get it through some silly teacher telling you, "Well, that's kind of close, and that's good enough."

As Vince Lombardi said, "The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor."

He also said, "The difference between a successful man and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather in a lack of will, because the character rather than education is man's greatest need and man's greatest safeguard, because the character is higher than the intellect." In a word, you have to be motivated.

Lombardi is not pointing out anything new. As I have commented several times, the phrase "the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence is a mistranslation of the Greek eudaimonia, which translate as "well-being" or "flourishing" (same thing, actually). It's achieved by arete, or excellence. (The word "phronesis", often translated as "practical or moral wisdom, is also used.)

One of the purposes of life is to fulfill yourself to your greatest potential. In fact, that is the purpose of education: a teacher is supposed to identify your inborn talents and help you develop them to their fullest. As the philosopher Brand Blanshard put it, "I'm inclined to think the person does the most for the world by being his own self in the fullest measure."

Spinoza noticed the same thing Blanshard did a long time ago: "Men, I repeat, can wish for nothing more excellent for preserving their own being than that they should all be in such harmony in all respects that their minds and bodies should compose, as it were, one mind and one body, and that all together should endeavor as best they can to preserve their own being, and that all together they should aim at the common advantage of all."

You can only achieve excellence - developing yourself to your fullest - through freedom, which is what the United States was originally founded on. It doesn't surprise me at all that the words "freedom" and "liberty" are European concepts. Those concepts and those words do not exist in any other culture.

It takes more than freedom (let's call it autonomy) to be happy. It takes that excellence (let's call it mastery), and it takes meaning and importance. In a sentence, to achieve well-being, to flourish, you need freedom and mastery of what you are good at, and that is usually inborn.

Phronesis, practical or moral wisdom, means, among other things, having gratitude or appreciation for the good things you have, forgiving the small stuff (not holding silly grudges),seeing problems as challenges, not making excuses or blaming your problems on innocent people, being absorbed in what you are doing (what Mihály Csíkszentmihályi called Flow). The Four Cardinal Virtues are essential: prudence, justice, temperance (self-control), and courage.

Let's just me for an example. I am nothing special. But I taught myself to cook. I taught myself to fix cars (I am a pretty good backyard mechanic and have more than once got my car running after it broke down in the middle of nowhere). I taught myself how to build computers from scratch.

I am in many ways a competent person. Not in all ways of course, but in a lot of ways. And that competence means I have confidence. And that confidence is something else a man is supposed to have. But you cannot get that confidence unless you are competent. And that is how you get true self-esteem.

Unfortunately our schools and our society is set up to take away competence and confidence - and motivation - from boys. What kind of men do they turn into? Ones who don't achieve excellence and therefore don't flourish, ones who end up lost, anxious, depressed. That's bad for men and society.

Men are the ones who create culture, science and technology. When men's confidence, competence and motivation is taken away, it not only damages them, it damages society. I'm going to repeat what Blanshard said: "I'm inclined to think the person does the most for the world by being his own self in the fullest measure."

In a sentence, the quicker the decline of men, the quicker the decline of the world.

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