Thoughts on Fear

One of my goals in deleting Facebook a little over a week ago was to use the time I previously spent on Facebook to write more. Unfortunately, the power cord to my computer broke, and I was unable to post  here until my new cord arrived in the mail today. However, I did manage to put my time to good use, reading Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Orwell’s 1984. And while I’m glad to have taken a step closer to literacy by perusing two books that have contributed so much to thought and conversation, neither book impacted me as much as a 23-page short story that I re-read this week, and have read several times in the past: Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”

The fact that Francis Macomber dies is of no more import than the fact that Winston Smith lives–Macomber experiences more of life in his few minutes of manhood than Winston does in his entire existence. And the victory over himself that Macomber achieves is far more worthwhile and laudable than the victory over himself that Winston Smith achieves.

I also find it interesting that in a story published in a woman’s magazine (Cosmopolitan) in 1936, Hemingway identifies an issue that has become prominent in American social commentary as of late–the self-neutering of American masculinity. The people who seem the most disturbed by this trend are not the men themselves, but women. Women write articles in the Wall Street Journal asking where the good men have gone, and before I deleted Facebook I noticed an amazingly large proportion of my female friends “liked” a website called The Art of Manliness, which is a men’s website dedicated to reviving traditional manliness–everything from being handy around the house, to taking the initiative in dating and relationships, to chivalry. And while the term boy-man is often used in these bemoanings, it is always presented as a relatively recent phenomenon. It is interesting then, to see that Hemingway used the same term in 1936.

It’s that some of them stay little boys so long, Wilson thought. Sometimes all their lives. Their figures stay boyish when they’re fifty. The great American boy-men. Damned strange people. But he liked this Macomber now. Damned strange fellow. Probably meant the end of cuckoldry too. Well, that would be a damned good thing. Damned good thing. Beggar had probably been afraid all his life. Don’t know what started it. But over now…. Be a damn fire eater now. He’d seen it in the war work the same way. More of a change than any loss of virginity. Fear gone like an operation. Something else grew in its place. Main thing a man had. Made him into a man. Women knew it too. No bloody fear.

Macomber hated being a cuckold. However, up until this point, his wife consistently takes advantage of him because he is afraid of her. That fear makes him not quite a man, but it also makes him manipulable. When he loses his fear, when he becomes truly a man, it scares his wife because she knows that she will no longer be able to take advantage of him and control him. 

“You’re both talking rot,” said Margot. “Just because you’ve chased some helpless animals in a motor car you talk like heroes. “Sorry,” said Wilson. “I have been gassing too much.” She’s worried about it already, he thought. “If you don’t know what we’re talking about why not keep out of it?” Macomber asked his wife. “You’ve gotten awfully brave, awfully suddenly,” his wife said contemptuously, but her contempt was not secure. She was very afraid of something. Macomber laughed, a very natural hearty laugh. “You know I have,” he said. “I really have.”“Isn’t it sort of late?” Margot said bitterly. Because she had done the best she could for many years back and the way they were together now was no one person’s fault. “Not for me,” said Macomber.

Fear is the ultimate emasculator. Francis Macomber conquered fear, and though he died, he died a man. Winston Smith, on the other hand, was conquered by fear in Room 101–if not before–and though he lived, he lived as less than a man. It is better to be unafraid in death than afraid in life. In the words of Shakespeare’s Francis Feeble, as quoted by Hemingway’s Robert Wilson, “By my troth, I care not; a man can die but once; we owe God a death and let it go which way it will he that dies this year is quit for the next. “

Facebook No More

I’ve made some changes in my life lately. You could say that I’m downsizing, but that wouldn’t capture the essence of it. You could use the word simplifying, but that isn’t quite it either. Perhaps the best explanation is that I’m primitivizing. Every meal I’ve cooked in the past two weeks has been in a cast iron skillet–I haven’t even touched the microwave. And my foods have been simple, single ingredient foods: eggs, milk, turkey bacon, gluten, cheese, spinach, almond butter, and the like. And I think its time I made some changes in how I use technology.

Writer Jack Donovan responded to popular articles bewailing the growing number of young men who delay “entering the real world” in favor of immersing themselves in sports and video games in their parents’ basements by claiming that modern technology has largely rendered the type of physically active, large motor movement work that men are biologically suited for–and mentally predisposed to–obsolete. In his view, sports and video games are a way of vicariously experiencing making a difference through physical action–a simulation of an experience men used to regularly gain through work before physical labor came to mean taping boxes shut.

Thankfully, I have a job where I can make a difference though physical action. However, I’ve found that I’ve been simulating another important experience–social interaction. For me, Facebook has become a sort of masturbatory form of communication where I trick myself into thinking I’m interacting with friends when in reality I’m clicking on a tiny drawing of a thumb. Let’s be real; clicking on a thumb is in no way meaningful communication.

For a while now, my main reason to check Facebook has been to see if any of my highly attractive female friends have posted photos of themselves. I’m going to miss that aspect of the site for sure. However, for every pulchritudinous photo in my newsfeed, there were bound to be several solipsistic statuses and even more solipsistic photos of what someone happened to be eating for supper. I have come to the conclusion that Facebook feeds solipsism.

So, I’m deleting Facebook. I’m going to make a conscious effort to send more emails, make more phone calls, and write more letters (revolutionary concept, I know). In fact, I’ve already started. If you want to connect with me on a real level, my email is I’d be happy to call or write you, if you send me your contact info at that address. And if you are one of the aforementioned pulchritudinous females, you are more than welcome to send me photos. 

Guns and Violence

A gun is an instrument of violence.

Sure, a gun is an inanimate object, a simple tool, but all tools have a purpose, and the purpose of a gun is to kill. This is different than being a weapon: hammers, axes, and shovels are all weapons, but each of them has a practical application other than the application of violence. Firearms have no other such applications. Of course, firearms aren’t the only tool whose only practical use is the application of violence; other prominent examples would be swords, spears, bows and arrows, bombs, artillery, and tanks. What sets firearms apart from the other examples is that firearms are the most advanced and effective dedicated tool for the application of violence commonly available to the average individual. The more advanced tools generally require either specialized knowledge  or a team of operators, or both, while the less advanced tools require increasing physical prowess. It is only the firearm that allows the technically untrained and physically inept individual to apply violence against others.

Guns give the capacity to perform violent actions to those who would not otherwise have that ability.

Think about the school shooters covered endlessly by the media. They were all large, muscular football player-types with the ability to physically impose their will on their peers, right? Oh no, that’s right–they were frail, wispy fellows who were picked on by their peers and lacked the physical ability to stand up for themselves until they upped the ante and brought a firearm. Guns transformed them–in both their minds and reality–from the vulnerable to the powerful in a way that spears would not have.

Guns democratize violence by making it equally available to the strong and the weak–and this democratization of violence is necessary in today’s society.

In the past, the application of violence required a level of physical prowess and skill. Whether it was spearing bison from horseback or going to war against a neighboring tribe, men were simply more biologically suited than women to perform the violent activities necessary for the day-to-day continuation of society. However, these activities were inherently risky, which resulted in men bearing the brunt of physical risk in society. In compensation for the expectation of being subject to much greater risks, men naturally developed certain privileges, which were proportional to risk in order to ensure that men would remain willing to risk their individual lives for the benefit of the tribe. However, modern society decided to do away with that arrangement. Now that women earn up to 8% more than men with comparable jobs, and any type of male privilege is looked on as reprehensibly evil (although for some reason female privilege is still ok), there is no reason that men ought to feel any duty to bear the lion’s share of physical risk. In theory, women ought to have to register for the draft at 18, as there is no justifiable reason to require men to pay the majority of the cost of maintaining a society that benefits women more than them.

Of course, all that is at the societal level. However, those societal influences have led large numbers of both men and women to reject the traditional marriage model, in which the male provided physical and financial security in exchange for the domestic and sexual attentions of the female. The prevalence of divorce and of female-centric divorce laws that almost invariably award custody to the woman have further contributed to the redefinition of the family. Furthermore, the average US male is now so out of shape from sitting behind a desk all day that he lacks the physical ability and confidence to stand up for himself, much less for others. All these factors have erased the old system in which the strong protected the weak, and replaced it with a system in which the strong are discarded and the weak protect the weak. And when the weak protect the weak, weakness abounds.

When weakness abounds, the only way to apply the violence necessary for the continuation of society is through a tool that does not require strength or skill–and guns are the only tools that fit that description.