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June 20, 2014

Great Inflated Expectations

They took up several obviously wrong people, and they ran their heads very hard against wrong ideas, and persisted in trying to fit the circumstances to the ideas, instead of trying to extract ideas from the circumstances.

...“In a word, I was too cowardly to do what I knew to be right, as I had been too cowardly to avoid doing what I knew to be wrong.”

- Great Expectations

One of my favorite essays on the intricate dance of men and women contained the line, "A guy in a relationship is like an ant standing on top of a truck tire."

It's a funny line because it contains a painful truth. Several painful truths, actually. It illuminates by exaggerating: men aren't really - or all - as clueless and random as they often claim to be. And women aren't really - or all - as passive and helpless; as overly invested in (and trapped by) other people's needs and feelings as we claim to be. These are natural tendencies. But they are also excuses that prevent us from understanding the world we live in.

How we choose to respond to events beyond our control matters. In the battle of the sexes, the so-called enemy gets a vote.
But so do we. Every single day.

Whether you're male or female, a hallmark of adulthood is the capacity to look beyond our innate preoccupation with self and grapple with hard truths. One of these hard truths is that the world doesn't revolve around us and our feelings. In the real world, other people's thoughts and priorities and agendas matter, too. Our fellow humans don't exist to fulfill our fantasies or make us feel happy and secure. We can't rightly treat them as means to our peculiar little ends.

We're expected to behave like grownups, not toddlers.

The real world - as opposed to the fantasy world in our heads - is a place where choices have consequences; where decisions are (or ought to be) informed by inescapable tradeoffs between freedom and security; immediate gratification and long term happiness; independence and the sense of meaning, connectedness, and purpose that repay us for shouldering the duties and burdens of marriage and family life:

This social media outpouring makes it clear that some men pose a real threat to the physical and psychic welfare of women and girls. But obscured in the public conversation about the violence against women is the fact that some other men are more likely to protect women, directly and indirectly, from the threat of male violence: married biological fathers. The bottom line is this: Married women are notably safer than their unmarried peers, and girls raised in a home with their married father are markedly less likely to be abused or assaulted than children living without their own father.

So, women who intentionally select (and commit to) men who "mate for life" are statistically less likely to be abused or assaulted than women who admit casual sexual partners into the most intimate and vulnerable of places - their homes, their children, their beds? This is surprising news. Any moment now, some insensitive brute will claim that women who get drunk and hook up with men they don't know well are statistically more likely to be raped than women who recognize risk and avoid situations that place them in danger. Or that - can you believe this nonsense? - young men who get drunk and have sex with drunk women they don't know well are placing themselves at risk of being accused of rape, of fathering unwanted children, of enduring other unpleasant consequences.

Good Lord, what fools these pundits be! Don't they understand that it is the RIGHT of every human being on the planet to expect - nay, demand! - risk and consequence free sex? It's in the Constitution! The idea that intelligent, rational adults cannot go about blithely ignoring risk is an abomination. No one deserves to be forced to live in the real world. It's dangerous - we might get hurt! Something unfair might happen, and then where would we be?

This is the thing about the real world: ignoring risk doesn't make it go away. All other things being equal, people who deliberately refuse to consider risks are statistically more likely to be unpleasantly surprised by the shocking realization that that reality is.... well, real.

And sometimes, it bites.

There is a certain logical inconsistency in believing that men are violent and dangerous and potentially abusive while demanding the right (!) to behave as though the danger you're continually fulminating about did not actually exist. And there is a certain logical inconsistency in believing that women are more passive, less assertive, and physically weaker than men while expecting them to assertively and aggressively defend themselves from unwanted physical advances.

If you believe that testosterone makes men naturally more aggressive, less aware of conversational nuances and body language, more sexually adventurous than the average woman, then it logically follows that men are going to have to exercise greater self control than women in certain areas. This isn't sexism - it's a logical outcome of the male propensity to push the envelope, to aggressively reach beyond their natural grasp, to overestimate their attractiveness to women. We may actually have to teach some of them that rape is wrong, just as we teach them that theft, bullying, lying, and other behaviors are wrong.

Likewise, if you believe that women are naturally more cooperative, less comfortable with confrontations, more sensitive, more hesitant to assert themselves, then it logically follows that women are going to have to exercise greater care in certain areas. Again, this isn't sexism but rather a rational recognition of the very biological and cultural differences we use to justify treating women preferentially in a whole host of situations. We can't, as Nancy Hopkins did, complain that Scary Ideas give us the feminine vapors (can you imagine a man saying that?) and then turn around and claim there are no significant differences between men and women that might explain the dearth of women in science.

These differences - in culture, in training, in biology and hormones, in life experiences - are what make honesty and responsibility so important in dealing with our fellow humans:

It went from courting, to dating, to hanging out. Sometimes even hanging out reeks of too much commitment, in which case ‘talking’ can be used. And if talking sounds too serious, maybe we’ll start hearing ‘vicinitizing.’ That’s a word I just made up, and it means that you and your female friend are often in the same vicinity, but it doesn’t get all intense by insinuating that you’re actually in that general location together on purpose.

When did men become so afraid to make a commitment, to take the lead, to say what they want, to make long term plans, to set goals, to pursue, to talk about the future?

We are devolving into primates, losing the ability to even discuss our own behavior using words and sentences. The average single American man is now relegated to grunts and shrugs and ‘whatevers’ and ‘you knows’ when pressed to have a conversation about his dating habits. Or his vicinity habits. Or his whatever habits, because whatever, you know?

The Blog Princess grew up in the late 60s and early 70s. It was an intoxicating time - an age where the air smelt faintly of pot and a nation of permanent children experimented with the glorious freedom to pretend life was something other than what it demonstrably is: difficult, challenging, sometimes dangerous. Viewing that world through the obscuring haze of black light and florescent bromides ("You go your way and I'll go mine... and if by chance we touch... it's... like... beautiful") didn't change its essential nature.

Of course neither did the rigid, formulaic rules we grew up with, exactly. Like the "ant on the truck tire" line, they reflected things that are true. But they were also exaggerations of the real world.

Many women do want more out of life than marriage, a house in the suburbs, a passel of kids, and a white picket fence. We have intellects as well as emotions. We can be selfish and venal and foolish and nasty just as often as we are loving, self-sacrificing, nurturing, and steady. Men are not mindless, heartless sex-seeking missiles (in fact, every man I ever dated pushed for commitment and they were decent, kind, and often tender). The man I married has all these qualities along with the more stereotypical ones we associate with masculinity: aggression, forcefulness, a tendency to compartmentalize.

Our instincts are part of us, but they are not all of us. Civilization is based upon the suppression and channeling of innate tendencies, and the joy of committed relationships is that they force us to grow: to grapple with views of the world that could not be more different from our own, to understand things that mystify and upset us, to temper natural selfishness with devotion to something bigger.

One of the most chilling things I've ever read was written in response to the tragic story of a young man who threw a gigantic temper tantrum. But unlike the often comical rage of the frustrated toddler, this tantrum had deadly consequences:

All your life, your parents and teachers told you that you were unique and wonderful, that you could accomplish anything if you tried hard enough. But after puberty, effort actually makes things worse. The harder you try to ingratiate yourself with the popular kids, the more obvious it is that you'll never become their friend. The harder you try to impress a girl, the more you sound like Ralph Wiggum walking Lisa Simpson home on Valentine’s Day. (“So … do you like … stuff?”)

If relationships have anything to teach us, it's that we're really not the center of the universe. We have no right to expect others to understand us, like us, or make us happy. Some people will never like us, and many - most, perhaps - are not worth our time or attention. Some people are actively dangerous to us. If we ignore the warning signs and let them close, we have given them the power to hurt us where we're most vulnerable.

But we don't have to be helpless victims. Though there are no guarantees in life, there are things we can do to minimize risk and maximize the chances of getting what we want. Listening to the gender grievance peddlers on both sides, I often find myself thinking that no one can afford to be so clueless about the world we live in.

Some wag once opined that Hell is other people. But the real Hell is going through life with the ludicrous expectation that it's someone else's job to shield us from the consequences of our own freely made decisions. That's an equal opportunity observation that applies to both men and women.


Posted by Cassandra at June 20, 2014 07:12 AM

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When I grow up, I wanna be able to write like you.
0>;~]

Posted by: DL Sly at June 20, 2014 12:31 PM

This whole conversation could easily apply to the concept of the nanny state as well. Life is real, and it includes risks and dangers. Trying to legislate away all risks and dangers is futile; it should be enough to legislate against unreasonable risks and unreasonable dangers.

Which does not include playgrounds. They are meant to be places which challenge children, even if there is some slight risk or danger. I can't remember where I read that a sign from a 1900's playground read as follows:

Better a broken arm than a broken spirit.

Posted by: Rex at June 20, 2014 12:40 PM

That saying, Rex, reminds me of a story from my yout'. Seems that some of the mothers in the base housing area had been complaining about having to constantly clean the sand out of their houses. Where, pray tell, on top of the Oregon coastal mountain range, could one find enough sand for mothers to upset? Why in the playground. Their proposed solution?
Pave it.
Well, they didn't have sand in their houses anymore!
Four sprained ankles, two broken legs, two broken wrists, a concussion, untold numbers of deep, bleeding strawberries on every body part imaginable and a cracked skull later, they removed the pavement and put back.........sand!
Funny, no one complained after that.

Posted by: DL Sly at June 20, 2014 01:48 PM

My eye was caught by a comment to the Matt Walsh blog, complaining that people say "man up" when they're about to try to con you into doing something that won't benefit you. The guy seemed to have no concept of there being things you ought to do for some other reason than that you'll get immediate enjoyment or advantage. I wonder how his relationships are working out for him?

Posted by: Texan99 at June 20, 2014 03:50 PM

You're too kind, Sly. But thanks :)

Life is real, and it includes risks and dangers. Trying to legislate away all risks and dangers is futile; it should be enough to legislate against unreasonable risks and unreasonable dangers.

Amen.

Posted by: Cass at June 20, 2014 04:18 PM

The guy seemed to have no concept of there being things you ought to do for some other reason than that you'll get immediate enjoyment or advantage.

I understand small children being entirely self centered. When I read things like that from an adult, I always wonder if they have any idea how childish they sound?

I'll admit to not liking the term, "Man up". Too often it is used in lieu of "Shut up" as in, "real men don't complain no matter what is done to them". I like "Person up" a lot, or even "grow up", as both suggest something more closer to what I'm thinking when those occasions arise:

"Take some responsibility for your own life. You can't control others, but you absolutely can control your own behavior and reactions."

I'm often struck on the Internet at how many people conflate childish behavior with masculinity. They aren't, or shouldn't be, the same thing. Very much the opposite, I think. When I see a man who is prudent and prizes self discipline and self control I think, "Now *that's a man." I admire such men tremendously. When I see men who allow their emotions or passions to control them, I'm always reminded of a toddler throwing a temper tantrum.

I think the same things about women - when I see a woman behaving in a selfish, irresponsible, or entitled manner I always think, "Good Lord, what a big baby she is."

Posted by: Cass at June 20, 2014 04:28 PM

Would like to echo DL Sly’s first comment: wonderfully written; lapidary in its precision; fluid in its presentation; not a wasted space.

Re: ”Don't they understand that it is the RIGHT of every human being on the planet to demand safe, risk and consequence free sex? It's in the Constitution!”

I recall two stories from my formative years. One had been of Wellington, if I remember correctly, and his counsel that a lady had little to fear in a barracks. The other had been of a Nevada silver mining town of which the newspaper routinely reported of miner’s physical responses to slurs against the “working girls”; and violence against them begat violence trebled.

Common sense may safeguard us from much but not presumptuous conceit.

Posted by: George Pal at June 20, 2014 04:30 PM

Thank you, George.

I value your opinion greatly. Even when we disagree, and there I often suspect (as I often do with Grim) that we differ more on details than essentials.

I had to look up "lapidary" - that doesn't happen to me often! You guys always have something to teach me :)

Posted by: Cass at June 20, 2014 04:50 PM

Here's an interesting link from the comments to the Slate article: http://www.mediacoop.ca/blog/norasamaran/30866

The author cautions against chivalry that's mostly a game you play in your own head, and counsels opening your eyes and ears to the real female human being in your presence. She says worry less about being a "perfect gentleman" and think more about being an ally.

I found the Slate article compelling as well. The author described a painful, confusing time in adolescence and young adulthood when he thought women were some kind of magic charm. It made all the difference to see them as people instead. When they were magic charms he might theoretically have held them in high regard, but in practice it didn't make him treat them well. He was just furious that he couldn't get to the magic.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 20, 2014 05:04 PM

More from the same author:

"Learn to recognize your own emotions. Consent requires honesty, and you can't speak honestly about your intentions unless you know what they are.

". . . Sex brings up emotion. That is just the reality of choosing to engage in sexual relationships. If you're not ready to work with the emotion to make sure everyone is ok afterwards, then you're not ready for the sex.

"If you don't know how you feel, or you're not sure, or you have conflicting or ambiguous or confused emotions, say that. Say 'I'm not sure what this means. Do you want to continue even if I don't know where we're going?' . . .

". . .'I need space' is not an acceptable response. You can take space to get your head clear so you can listen and know yourself better - but that kind of space is measured in hours, or at most days. If you want 'space' measured in months, you're not taking space, you're avoiding responsibility.

"Lest you be thinking 'but women don't want men who talk about feelings' or 'talking about how I feel is emasculating': . . . there are ways to know yourself and offer the truth in a responsive way that are not 'just the same' as what 'women' do necessarily. Masculine energy can be deeply protective and powerful when it is accountable in these ways, where emotions are present to heal, protect, and create shelter.

". . .Similarly, don't threaten to leave if emotions are running high. Those kinds of threats just exacerbate the situation. If you can calm your own knee-jerk tendency to avoid, and offer a grounded listening presence instead that honours your own emotions and those of the other person, you'll find that foundation reduces the intensity of the emotions coming at you quite a lot.

". . . If you find yourself disregarding something she is saying because she is upset as she is saying it, notice that this is sexism. You may have been raised to believe emotion is not rational and is therefore not legitimate. That is for you to unlearn, not for you to impose on others."

Posted by: Texan99 at June 20, 2014 05:30 PM

Not having read your link yet (I"m taking a course and today is my last day to access the lecture material) Here's where I think chivalry could go awry:

1. When it is practiced as superior to inferior (sort of the White Man's Burden way of thinking - women can't take care of themselves, so someone smarter/stronger/etc. must assume the burden).

This is distinct from something Grim has described once or twice: men and women complementing each other and protecting each other's weak spots. I think the essential difference is respect for the other person.

2. When it becomes so formulaic (Women are X, Men are Y) that we cease to see our opposites as people rather than stereotypes.

I think that when talk of chivalry gets my back up, it is generally for one of these two reasons. I'm a woman, and there are certain inescapable physical realities that flow from that.

But I'm also a person who grew up with a brother and who, in many ways, was more stereotypically "boylike" than he was.

I actually liked the Slate article. What bothered me so much was the excerpted quote. The first sentence encapsulates for me a way of looking at the world that I despise: the lens of entitlement and fairness as pertains to outcomes. The foolish notion that if you try and fail or if someone has more than you do, "unfairness/injustice" has occurred.

It's a vicious, destructive idea and I can't begin to express how much it terrifies me.

Posted by: Cass at June 20, 2014 05:36 PM

It's not chauvinistic to be polite or chivalrous.
The feminist movement is what tries to redefine chivalry as male chauvinism. However, if I were to take a straw poll right now on why men treat women differently than they do other men, I'm pretty sure most of them will agree that, fundamentally, we like women better. That's simple human nature.

The problems arise when people with agendas try to analyze why that is. Their conclusions always tend to prop up their ideology.

The flaw in their methodology(s) is that they fail to take into account that this kind of behavior is simple human nature.

No amount of social engineering or revisionist history will change that.

Posted by: Joatmoaf at June 20, 2014 05:47 PM

A lot of simple human nature needs improving in a big way.

Of course I agree that's it's not reprehensible to be polite, or even to be chivalrous in the sense of using any natural advantage to be generous and helpful rather than to impose one's will on anyone who's weaker. But if you were to read the linked piece, I think you would find that the author is only suggesting that we open our eyes and look at the real, living, other person before we decide what she needs and what we should provide for her out of our superior strength or ability.

I suspect most women would be grateful for the attentions of a complementary ally: someone who helps out with those things that don't come naturally easy for us. (Things that are actually true about us, and don't come out of a book, or someone else'e head.) Such a person would be quite unlikely to be charged with being ungentlemanly, unchivalrous, or chauvinistic.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 20, 2014 06:08 PM

To keep things in perspective, I was talking about the politeness extended to women we meet in our everyday lives and will probably never see again.
Good manners, if you will.
But the same principles should apply with wives and girlfriends.

Sometimes you just can't know the real person.
For instance, about a year ago I bought a car that's real fast and shiny. The next day my girlfriend at the time said she wanted me to buy her something that went from 0 to 200 in 6 seconds, so I bought her a bathroom scale.
That's when the fight started.
Go figure.



Posted by: Joatmoaf at June 20, 2014 06:44 PM

The author cautions against chivalry that's mostly a game you play in your own head.... "unlike in the world of chivalry, you don't make up the rules on your own..."

I think she was on stronger ground when she was asking questions. "What are men saying when they say 'I'm a gentleman?' We need to ask these questions - men need to ask these questions."

Chivalry is fundamentally about relationships: first and foremost, between the man and the horse, which is its true root. You can't work with a horse if you think you can just make it behave like a piece of technology -- it'll throw you every time. You have to learn to respect your mount to achieve the virtue. And learning to respect the mount, you come to be more sensitive to respecting other beings around you also -- which is just what she wants.

Chivalry is also only tangentially related to being a gentleman, as you can be a gentleman without being a horseman. But the root of the thing is about constituting yourself as a defender -- which is just what she wants.

The person she's talking about didn't know what either word meant. But few do, these days. The words are tossed about by people -- like her subject -- who have confused essence with accidents. The NYT did a whole series on chivalry once without ever thinking to ask "Just what exactly does this word mean?"

Posted by: Grim at June 20, 2014 07:15 PM

Joat:

It's not just feminists.

While I completely agree that courtesy is not chauvinistic (and that the VAST majority of men who are habitually courteous to women have only the best of motives) there really are some men who use that sort of thing in a perverse way.

The example would be a man telling a woman (even after being assured that she would prefer to handle something herself, that she enjoys and feels comfortable doing so) that "women don't do X".

Imagine a man's reaction to being told by a woman (as he's actually doing something) that "men can't/don't do that). It wouldn't be a positive one.

I ran into this a few times when my husband was deployed. Most of the time I truly believe it was well intended (the man thought, "She's being polite and refusing my help from a genuine desire not to put me out"). And I appreciate that and even honor it. I always assume the best of people and am seldom disappointed.

But there are some men who confuse "That's harder for her to do b/c she's a woman (which is sometimes true) with "She *can't* do that b/c she's a woman" (which in many cases is both demonstrably untrue and rather silly, as women do these things all the time and have done so for centuries). How the heck do military wives survive deployments?

I agree that feminists get over-touchy about offers of assistance from men. And I agree that courtesy and kindness are always appropriate. But let's face the truth here: men rarely welcome offers of assistance, especially from a woman. They take such offers as tacit suggestions that they must be weak to need help. Even when anyone in that situation would be likely to need help.

I've never quite understood why guys - who bristle so visibly at offers of assistance and rarely accept them gracefully - should be so surprised and take offense when women react the same way?

It seems to me that a little more benefit of the doubt would be useful all around.

Posted by: Cass at June 20, 2014 07:18 PM

To keep things in perspective, I was talking about the politeness extended to women we meet in our everyday lives and will probably never see again. Good manners, if you will.

For the record, I started this comment before the subsequent comments were posted, but got interrupted. Thanks for the clarification :)

Posted by: Cass at June 20, 2014 07:20 PM

"I value your opinion greatly."

Maaannnn, didn't value my opinion....
*kicks rock*


Fine.
0>;~p

Posted by: DL Sly at June 20, 2014 07:43 PM

Supply and demand, Sly. :)

Posted by: Grim at June 20, 2014 07:45 PM

Ladies, I am listening. I wanted to make a comment, until the light went on. Your comments are educational.

Posted by: Allen at June 21, 2014 10:39 AM

Tex, I just read the article and had very mixed reactions to it. Thanks for linking it.

There's a lot to digest. Parts had me saying, "Yes! I have felt that way so many times", and parts made me draw back a bit and think, "OK, that's a bit harsh - yes there are men who are like that but so many are not."

I have two immediate thoughts:

1. It's so hard - Grim has written of this before - for men and women to fully understand the different ways life presents itself to us. I guess the term is, 'to walk in each other's shoes for a moment'.

2. It seems to me that we all, from time to time, instinctively attribute some of the ways we're treated by the opposite sex to being male/being female. But that's not all there is.

The whole status thing, which is tied to respect for others, is very much tied to physical size. In general, men are more deferential to taller/bigger men than they are to smaller ones. So when they sometimes seem to treat women with an innate disrespect, is this because we're women? Or because we're just plain smaller and less of a physical threat?

I've even seen this with dogs - large dogs tend to challenge their masters more than small dogs. It's innate, subconscious, physical.

You have Obama attributing the nervous purse clutching of a woman to his blackaliciousness but he hasn't been a white man in an elevator with the woman (or even a very frail man in an elevator with a physically imposing young man).

Anyway, will probably try to tease something out from this and Grim's t-shirt post if I can gather more than 3 brain cells together.

Interesting (and disturbing, in parts) read.

Posted by: Cass at June 21, 2014 11:10 AM

Allen:

One of the things I love most about VC (and would be loathe to lose) is that willingness to listen. I hope you all know it's reciprocated.

I have learned so much from your arguments about things I didn't understand (and in some cases still don't fully understand, but can at least grasp now and appreciate the merits of, thanks to you).

Posted by: Cass at June 21, 2014 11:13 AM

"Supply and demand, Sly. :)"

So, you're saying I should supply a demand to have my opinions valued, too?
Well, that's an interesting way to go about it, but, hey, if that's what it takes....
Wait, how do I do that without being bossy or having to supply a trigger warning?
This sh!t is getting haaarrrrrrd.
0>;~]

Posted by: DL Sly at June 21, 2014 12:01 PM

To me, Grim and Blackfive have defined chivalry, but that's our way of thinking. A more common description is "doing the right thing without thought". A chivalrous man opens the door for a lady (regardless of her status) without thinking about it. These days, I'm supposed to think about it, lest I offend someone by opening the door for them. People can be offended about whatever they want, so that's a useless standard. I still open doors by reflex, but now I think about how the lady reacts; some are indeed ladies, and some are not. I don't consider that to be a fault of mine. I hate that my world has become more complicated because of this "simplification" of society.

Posted by: htom at June 21, 2014 06:10 PM

There definitely seems to be a mode of thought in which chivalry is something a man does according to how it strikes him, and that it hasn't much to do with the effect on the recipient. I think that's actually pretty close to the point of the linked article.

You know how sometimes people get a fixed notion that Aunt Melba likes teddy bears, and suddenly she gets them from everyone on all occasions? Heaven help Aunt Melba if she tries to intimate gently that it's a mistaken impression; then everyone gets hurt feelings; she's ungrateful; she's undermining their self-image. Sometimes Aunt Melba wishes they'd either stop giving her presents, or learn something about what she'd like. But they're not really all that curious, and it's easier to check off the teddy-bear box than to get to know her.

I'm not sure that "doing the right thing without thought" is all it's cracked up to be. It's great if it means we learn to make sacrifices without an agonizing delay. It's not so great if it means mechanical, inward-turned relations, especially with people who are more than casual strangers.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 21, 2014 10:48 PM

There definitely seems to be a mode of thought in which chivalry is something a man does according to how it strikes him....

There certainly seem to be people -- your author being one -- who think that's what it is. But it's got nothing to do with taming a horse and riding it to war!

Of course, people are free to use words the way they want to use them. I can only point out that, if you look at the way people talked about the essentially valuable qualities of horsemen in various times and places -- not only in the Christian West, either; there was a robust Arab tradition about the cavalry -- you begin to see that it has something to do with the qualities you need to work effectively with the horse. That's not surprising, or shouldn't be; that's what they spent their whole lives doing.

And out of it shakes something really like what you're wanting, too: an ability to relate to a living being -- quite different from yourself, far more different from a man than a woman is -- and understand, at least at some level, what is a tremendously alien perspective. It requires respect, gentleness, self-command, courage, and a number of other virtues that end up having effects on your character in other ways as well.

So, that's chivalry as I define it. If someone wants to use the word to mean something else, obviously they have the right; but it's going to make the conversation difficult if we end up defining it to mean diametrically opposite things! :)

Posted by: Grim at June 21, 2014 11:44 PM

I can only point out that, if you look at the way people talked about the essentially valuable qualities of horsemen in various times and places -- not only in the Christian West, either; there was a robust Arab tradition about the cavalry -- you begin to see that it has something to do with the qualities you need to work effectively with the horse.

I think...think, mind you...that this is missing something.

As I've always read of it, chivalry was the jus in bello of the late medieval world...a code that regulated violence between men. So, when William the Marshal (some say, the greatest knight ever) confronted Prince Richard in Henry II's rearguard, Richard held him off by complaining loudly that he wasn't wearing a mail shirt (i.e., it would not be a fair fight - a chivalrous concept). William, so the story goes (I read it there)responded by killing Richard's horse...and uttering the immortal line, "I leave you to the devil!" This wasn't, I think, the result of being the kind of man who could ride a horse into battle, but of a view about how contests of arms should be fought.

The idea of releasing prisoners on "parole" -- on the understanding that honor required them to keep their oaths and pay their ransom -- could be linked to building trust between man and horse, but could as easily be seen as a common understanding to the benefit of both sides in a conflict, in the same way that keeping heralds sacred would be.

(I got the last example from this author, who takes it further, and traces several elements of the modern jus in bello to their chivalrous antecedents. I'm not convinced the causality...for example on the prohibition of poisonous weapons...really runs that way.)

What I speculate is this: that the idea of chivalrous behavior towards women grew out of that same purpose...not because working with horses made men natural respecters of women or of "different kinds of people" in general, but because it was a way of regulating the very thing that would lead to the most uncontrolled violence in a court of virile warriors where men and women might mix.

(Courtly behavior is not the only solution to the problem. Many Islamic societies have solved the same problem by keeping the women under lock, key, and burqa. I think a way to test your idea would be to see how Turkish horsemen and Mamelukes treated women; did their acquaintance with horses make them respectful, or did their cultural background make them oppressive? I don't know the answer; do you? I enormously doubt that the Mongols practiced what you or I would recognize as chivalry; I know they didn't show much mercy to a vanquished foe; is there something I'm missing?)

Posted by: Joseph W. at June 22, 2014 02:15 AM

Joe,

First of all, it's delightful to see you again -- and after such a long time!

Second, just because I know you'll enjoy it, being who you are, I'm going to give you a long and technical explanation. :)

When I speak of the "essence of chivalry," I am speaking in a strictly Aristotelian way. Kathrin Koslicki gives a good account of what that means for Aristotle's scientific views in her paper "Essence, Necessity, and Explanation." (I mention it because you might be interested, and somewhat amused by the example of the camel.)

The idea is this: you can say what a thing is (i.e., define it) if you can give its essence. This is because its essence explains it: if you know what the essence is, you'll know both what its preconditions are, and what its consequences are. So if I can tell you that the essence of a triangle is to have three angles (which is the Greek way of speaking about triangles), you can derive that it will perforce have three sides.

Aristotle thought this applied to things generally, so he ends up giving an account of humanity as being essentially rational animals; and this explains, he says, the fact that they have long intestines. Why? Well, if you didn't have one, you'd have to be eating all the time. Then you'd have no time to think. Since your essence is to be rational, you need to be able to think, so you must have a long intestine.

In a similar way, the essence of chivalry is taming horses and riding them to war. This essence tells you what the preconditions are -- courage, a certain capacity for gentleness, etc. -- and what the consequences will be. The consequences of the practice will be to develop that understanding, further develop your courage, bring into actuality that gentleness, and so forth. Because of the war aspect, it will also develop in you a sense of military honor.

Now things that follow from the essence are not themselves the essence. Some of these things are nevertheless necessary, because the essence makes them necessary. Likewise, if something is a precondition to the essence, it is also necessary (because you couldn't develop the thing without it) but not essential (because it is not itself the thing). Courage, for example, is necessary to chivalry; but it is not the essence of chivalry. You can become fully courageous without ever seeing a horse.

So you have the essence, and you have certain necessary preconditions, and you have certain necessary consequences -- these latter are called "necessary accidents," because they are necessary but not essential.

Then you also have non-necessary accidents, things that merely happen to have accrued to the thing by chance. These are easy to distinguish from the things that follow from the essence because they aren't explained by it.

When we talk about chivalry, we can identify a few things that are necessary accidents (and follow from the essence); and we can identify some things that are accidents simply. It is a necessary accident that you develop a form of military honor in order to be able to ride the horses to war successfully, because you can only do that in a unit. A lot of the specifics of that code, though, are going to be dependent on culture -- simple accidents. To take your example of William Marshal: to participate in the honor code of his fellow riders is necessary accident of chivalry, but it is expressed in a different way in his culture than in Saladin's (e.g., there's no big deal in England about eating a host's salt).

What we should see among the Mongols, etc., is thus this common core of essence and necessary accidents -- the things that obviously, and logically, follow from the essence. We shouldn't expect to see the simple accidents, because they aren't necessary.

If what is wanted is the Western Christian expression of chivalry, then, you need both the horse and the Western, Christian culture that provided the simple accidents.

Now both of those things are things I've spent the last several years defending, so I certainly agree! I just want to point out that the quality of the chivalrous man will be better independent of other factors, because the practice of working with horses in this way necessarily develops a lot of the virtues. Chivalry is thus a good in itself -- it is itself a virtue.

Posted by: Grim at June 22, 2014 09:00 AM

htom wrote (on chivalry):

A more common description is "doing the right thing without thought". A chivalrous man opens the door for a lady (regardless of her status) without thinking about it. These days, I'm supposed to think about it, lest I offend someone by opening the door for them. People can be offended about whatever they want, so that's a useless standard.

I think that's what's so hard for me to grasp. If I'm near a door and get there first, I hold it for the person behind me. It matters not, really, whether they're male or female. That doesn't even register with me.

But that's simple politeness, I think, and not chivalry (which is more - in the modern usage most people are thinking of when the subject is raised). Modern "chivalry" wrt women is more like walking all the way around the car to open the door for your date, or seating her at dinner, or standing when a lady enters the rooms.

All of which extremely few men do, anymore. I know I don't expect these things, and if I do encounter them, they are generally in the context of a sexual or romantic relationship (IOW, not something all men do for all women, but things a particular man does to convey his interest in/regard for a particular woman, even if he never intends to have sex with her).

I can remember when a man at a restaurant would almost always pull out a lady's chair and help her off with her wrap or coat. I think such formal manners have mostly fallen by the wayside.

What I speculate is this: that the idea of chivalrous behavior towards women grew out of that same purpose...not because working with horses made men natural respecters of women or of "different kinds of people" in general, but because it was a way of regulating the very thing that would lead to the most uncontrolled violence in a court of virile warriors where men and women might mix.

That is very much my sense, Joseph. The rules of courtly love, for instance, provide a framework in which a married man could view another man's regard for his wife as a compliment to him rather than as a challenge to his masculinity or an attempt to cuckold him. It restrained the behavior of both the admirer and the husband so as to avoid violence.

A breach of the code clearly put the admirer in the wrong where he could be dealt with violently if need be.

As for discussing chivalry, I think it is valuable for people who have studied it to point out the historical roots (whatever they might be). But the reality is that the vast majority of people discussing the topic aren't thinking of Medieval times or history, but rather what I'd call "modern chivalry".

They're not the same thing, and while the history is enjoyable and interesting, it doesn't really have much bearing on whether modern chivalry is good, bad, or some mixture of the two.

Posted by: Cass at June 22, 2014 09:07 AM

That's only true, Cass, if there is no relationship between what we do now and what has been done historically. If the thing has an essential core that is virtuous -- that grows out of some virtues and develops virtues necessarily -- then the thing is itself a virtue.

If the problem is that people have come to use the word in a completely different way, then the problem is that we're not talking about the same thing at all. But here is where it is most useful to think about the history: we can show just what the distinction is between the virtue, and the bad behavior that has been traveling under its name.

...that the idea of chivalrous behavior towards women grew out of that same purpose...not because working with horses made men natural respecters of women or of "different kinds of people" in general...

Working with horses develops a man's capacity to understand different sorts of minds. That, in the West, it translated to trying to apply that capacity in men toward a better understanding of -- and respect for -- women is due to the Medieval Christian shift towards viewing women (and womens' souls) as important. It lines up with the shift in Christian marriage law in the 1000s away from marriage-as-family-to-family-contract and toward marriage-for-love-with-consent-of-the-parties.

That's why I wrote, in my piece on 'What Chivalry is Not,' that chivalry "is not chiefly or principally about relations between men and women at all. Those ideas fall out of it, but are not the core of it. If you think of it chiefly in those terms, you are mistaken about it and its value."

Chivalry is valuable because of what it does, what it makes of men. But the particular treatment of women is an accident of it, not the essence of it. Essentially it is about working with horses. That capacity can be used in a helpful way to create also a respect for -- as Joe says -- women or people who are different in general. Whether or not it does so is dependent in part on the rest of the culture.

Posted by: Grim at June 22, 2014 09:30 AM

Let me say a few more words about what's motivating this project philosophically. It'll help explain the reason why a historic understanding is of current and future importance.

In the Laches, Socrates is asked to consult on the question of how to inculcate a virture -- courage -- in young men. It's a real problem, because courage isn't perfectly heritable -- brave fathers had produced bad sons in living memory -- and it wasn't really clear how to train for it. Socrates asks a reasonable question: can you say just what it is you want to produce in your sons? His companions were brave men and veterans, as was he, but they couldn't frame a definition.

So that's what's motivating Aristotle's project. If you can say what the essence of a virtue is, you can then logically figure out what its preconditions are, and what its consequences will be. It's not just an academic understanding of "what is this thing?" but a practical sort of engineering for virtue: "How do we develop this thing?"

When we find a method that regularly and reliably produces virtues, then, it is valuable for itself. Chivalry is essentially valuable because it is a method of inculcating virtues -- and raising young men well is an interest of mine, as much as is the question of a just relationship between men and women.

There's a kind of objection I haven't seen anyone here raise, but which is easy to understand: you could object that the reason for a man to respect women is because of their common humanity, and not out of some analogy to a stupid horse!

What I would say to anyone raising that objection is that they aren't wrong, but they are missing the point. Virtues don't come into being full-blown. They're perfections of what begins as an animal nature. The objector has identified the proper goal, in other words, but the goal is in a sense unrelated to the starting point. The question is how you get from here to there.

Chivalry is useful for this purpose -- among the other purposes for which it is essentially valuable -- because it develops a capacity in men that is itself a precondition for respecting women: the ability to respect, and the drive to try at some level to understand, a mind that is quite different from your own.

That quality doesn't appear full blown in the human male. It's there potentially, but the potential has to be developed. And this is one way to develop that capacity.

That capacity, in turn, is one of the preconditions for developing a just respect of women.

So it's an engineering question, in a way. It's about the technology to take the raw material -- a boy -- and refine it into the kind of man you ultimately want. Where we find a technology that generates proven results, across a wide range of virtues, it's a valuable technology. That's true today as yesterday, because human nature doesn't change much over time.

If that technology also produces a precondition for another desired end -- a further refinement -- all the better!

Posted by: Grim at June 22, 2014 10:57 AM

If the problem is that people have come to use the word in a completely different way, then the problem is that we're not talking about the same thing at all.

That's pretty much my point :p

Posted by: Cass at June 22, 2014 01:12 PM

We agree about that.

I take it that you want us to stop talking about the virtue of chivalry, and to accept what you are calling the "modern usage" as the thing under discussion; and the virtue as a kind of anachronism that has only historical interest.

For the reasons just laid out, that strikes me as an unwise sacrifice of something tremendously valuable and worthy. Rather, I think we should return to the practice of inculcating the virtue of chivalry as much as possible.

The "modern usage" is what should be abandoned. Both the practices it names, and the use of the name for those practices.

Posted by: Grim at June 22, 2014 01:40 PM

"But it's got nothing to do with taming a horse and riding it to war!"

Now there's a point on which we're in violent agreement.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 22, 2014 02:03 PM

Thank you, Grim. I hope I'll be able to come by more often, at least for the next year or two. There's no other place like these. It's just a matter of having time to give comments like yours the attention they deserve.

And you're right that I absolutely did enjoy your explanation. I think I have your point about the "essence" - but I don't yet agree with it. Firstly I don't believe that this view of essences is correct, but I will pass over that and assume it is to say this: I'm not convinced that "fighting on horseback" is the right essence, as opposed to "jus in bello, without regard to horses." As an example -

It is a necessary accident that you develop a form of military honor in order to be able to ride the horses to war successfully, because you can only do that in a unit.

My memory from Turney-High's Primitive War is that some Plains tribes were (to his soldierly mind - and note that he was one of our last horse cavalry soldiers as well as an anthropologist) horrifically disorganized about warfare...and utterly incapable of fighting as a unit the way he understood that concept, even if they were great at riding into the enemy's camp, as individuals, to count coup or something worse.

On the other hand, primitive peoples, even those who were perpetually at war with their neighbors, often lacked of fighting as a unit...yet they certainly did have forms of honor without having horses. That suggests to me that warriors' honor is not dependent on horseback fighting or even the need to fight in formations, but on man's capacity for violence and need for trustworthiness within the group.

Fighting effectively on foot requires unit action just as much as fighting effectively on horseback. Probably more so - because the horse gives the warrior a swift means of escape from disaster.

On the other hand, my reading (from Turney-High and elsewhere) is that fighting men, no matter how unsophisticated in the ways of warfare (they may be primitive with regard to formations and maneuver, absolutely hopeless with respect to supply and exploitation of victory) always seem to have some kind of code to regulate their fighting, some notion of what is and isn't right for the fighting man to do, which often limits how much damage they try to inflict, or when they can do it. It doesn't always take the we'd recognize as chivalry but it always seems to be there.

Must run for the night...but I'll chase your link when I can.

Posted by: Joseph W. at June 22, 2014 10:47 PM

My sense is that "honor" and "chivalry" are separate things, Joe: though they are certainly related (honor is both a precondition and a necessary accident of chivalry, the first because you must have some to start the project, and the second because you will develop more as you practice it).

But I also think jus in bello -- or justice in general -- is conceptually separable from honor. In fact, I'm working on a small formal piece just now that explains why. In short, I think honor is the natural law component of justice. To have any functional society that might have a developed concept of justice, you must have honor in the sense of the members of the society being willing to sacrifice of themselves for this greater good they are trying to build.

But justice itself is bigger than honor: it has more things in it than just the honor code. We think of political justice in this country as embracing the idea that the candidate with the most votes gets the office; but that's not necessary, since other societies think that offices should be appointed if justices is to be satisfied. Neither is it part of the honor code.

So with "chivalry" -- the root of the word is the Latin word for horse -- we're talking about something specific to what it takes to ride a horse in this warlike way. It's closely related to honor in important ways: it both requires it, and produces it. In a way, that's one of the things that makes it valuable. It's a reliable method for developing a capacity for honor, which is the natural law aspect of justice.

So it's no surprise that your Plains tribes had honor even if they did not have formal units: they had to have that, to begin to ride the horse; and riding the horse would make more of it. If they didn't have 'units' in the sense we would find most efficient, they nevertheless managed to work together in some sense. There's a cultural preference for formalized units in the West, somewhat justified by their effectiveness on the field. But if you are mostly fighting other Plains tribes, formal units may not have been necessary.

(Also, remember how short the Plains' tribes history with the horse actually was. The Lakota, who were the greatest of them, had the horse for not earlier than 1730 -- and the Indian Wars are usually said to have ended by 1865, although some put the date as late as 1924. Again, these things don't spring up fully formed! Potentials have to come to actuality, and that takes practice.)

Posted by: Grim at June 22, 2014 11:13 PM

I take it that you want us to stop talking about the virtue of chivalry, and to accept what you are calling the "modern usage" as the thing under discussion; and the virtue as a kind of anachronism that has only historical interest.

I don't think that's what I said at all. Such sweeping statements are not at all characteristic of my way of thinking and I typically reject them out of hand. And it has never been my practice to ask anyone to stop talking about anything so long as they are not abusing each other.

That said, I don't think there's much doubt that the modern usage is what's under discussion. Few of us have the background to discuss the historical model intelligently - we live with the contemporary one. That is what we know. And we don't think like people did in the Middle Ages, we're not living in the Middle Ages anymore, and none of us has direct experience with that system.

We can discuss it as an abstract idea, but we lack firsthand knowledge of it.

The vast majority of men do not customarily go about armed these days. The majority of men have never been in battle. And our society isn't structured anything like the societies of that time. Historians don't even agree as to what it was like - they are reconstructing from various sources that, just as in today's world, don't always agree with each other.

So, while we could subordinate a discussion of what most people today think of when the word "chivalry" is used to discussion of the virtues of a historical system no longer in use, that makes discussion very difficult and confusing.

I know from prior discussions that it's very important to you that people agree that the old system is a virtuous one, and while I see enormous value in that system in its time and place (it was better than what came before) I'm not prepared to agree that it's categorically better for the times we live in.

It's very difficult to lift rules developed for a social order that no longer exists and graft them seamlessly onto a social order that could not be more different from the one in which the historical model of chivalry was developed.

We have people in the modern world whose mission it is to protect the weak: the military, and the police. You have often expressed a belief that police are fundamentally corrupt and abuse their power (generally citing some abuse or other). I think that view is unbalanced by the many, many times the police *do* perform their intended function - *do* use their power to protect the defenseless. And I am pretty sure - human nature being essentially unchanged through the ages - that power was abused in the age of chivalry too.

It's not a cure all. Even religious faith has not been a cure all - great evils and horrific abuses of power have been carried out in the name of religion yet I doubt you are prepared to condemn the Church.

And you are right not to do so, because great good has also come from faith. The reason I constantly try to remind you of the big picture is that you cannot fairly characterize an entire institution as good or evil without looking at ALL it has accomplished, for good and for ill. Perspective is important, and any time I see someone only arguing one side I can be relied upon to point out that there is always another side, and looking at only part of a thing distorts its nature.

Posted by: Cass at June 23, 2014 05:47 AM

I woke up with this thought in my mind. One of the concepts strongly associated with chivalry -- per the story I recounted about William -- is the notion of a fair fight, of not taking advantage of an enemy who's unarmed.

(Shakespeare, in massive anachronism, makes Hector of Troy an exemplar of this kind of chivalry in Troilus and Cressida, and expects it of his opponents. His last words - Achilles catches him without his breastplate on - are "I am unarm'd / Forego this vantage, Greek.")

Yet in much of the military history I know, the real primary use of cavalry was for the most unfair part of the battle at all...exploitation. Cavalry weren't so good for charging unbroken infantry formations -- as the French found out at Waterloo. But they were incredibly good at chasing down fleeing men and lancing or sabering them in the back -- as the Zulus found out at Ulundi.

This -- like the treatment of women we associate with that word -- makes me admire chivalry more than if it naturally resulted from the business of taming horses and riding them into battle. Consistent with their natural military role as the "exploitation arm," mounted knights could have easily developed an ethic that said, "Take advantage whenever you can. Never get into a fair fight if you can help it." Yet instead they came up with the contrary ideal.

If, as I believe, fair fights and courtly behavior towards women do not necessarily follow from the basic business of taming horses and riding them into battle, then I have to question whether you have really found the right origin, or the "essence," of the things we admire about chivalry.

Posted by: Joseph W. at June 23, 2014 06:43 AM

(I was typing my post while you created yours, so I didn't see it when I posted.)

Posted by: Joseph W. at June 23, 2014 06:44 AM

Now perhaps I should be clear that by jus in bello I do not mean "justice." Jus in bello is that part of the Law of War that deals with the conduct of the war...such as the prohibition of poisoned weapons (chivalry) or poison gas (Hague, Chemical Weapons Convention), or respect for heralds (chivalry) or the white flag of truce (Grotius). It's nothing to do with whether the war is just in the first place.

There is something about human nature that leads men to develop limits like this...to add an element of ritual or restraint to the act of war. (Which at first seems really strange - war being one of the most "unrestrained" things we do to each other.) And I think the origins of chivalry, or at least the "fair fight" portions of it, lie there rather than in something to do with horses.

Posted by: Joseph W. at June 23, 2014 06:54 AM

This seems like a good time to duck out for moment.

I need to see a man about a horse :p

Posted by: Cass at June 23, 2014 09:45 AM

Here's an interesting link from the comments to the Slate article: http://www.mediacoop.ca/blog/norasamaran/30866

There were a lot of things that rubbed me the wrong way about this article. The author claims to speak for all women - and not just for their experiences but for their wants. She believes she has a right to tell men (and, really, women) how they must behave, what their responsibilities are. And, most uncomfortably for me, she gives others an awful lot of power over women's lives; for example:

If she doesn't happen to need or want your chivalry, if she would rather your ear and your honesty, do not force her to ignore her own healing and downplay her perceptions in order to protect herself from yet another male ego, one that can't even handle hearing what she has had to live.

That a man - even a man I'm close to - may "pout" or "feel rejected" or "feel less important" or take his feelings out on me "in a million small and big ways" isn't *forcing* me to do anything. The author goes on to say:

Every woman knows the instinct to placate, whether we listen to it or choose to risk speaking our minds.

To me, that's the key: the choice is women's. I don't discount the author's recitation of what women go through (although I do reject what she's learned from it and her frame for it). However, as long as women believe that the world in general and men in particular must change in order for women to say what they think, do what they believe in - for just that long the world in general and men in particular own women.

As I remember it, a big part of Second Wave feminism was about releasing women from their servitude to societal expectations - especially the expectations of men. This article seems to be saying that after 40 or 50 years that hasn't worked out too well. It turns out women can't actually free themselves from those expectations after all and what they really need is for men to change. I sincerely hope the author is wrong about that because if she's right, things look very bleak for women - and for men.

Posted by: Elise at June 23, 2014 09:53 AM

I know from prior discussions that it's very important to you that people agree that the old system is a virtuous one, and while I see enormous value in that system in its time and place (it was better than what came before) I'm not prepared to agree that it's categorically better for the times we live in.

I accept your right not to accept that the old system was categorically better. :) I defend the old system vigorously because it is usually painted as categorically worse, and I think it was positively better in important respects.

But in holding this position, I don't intend to suggest that I demand your agreement. I don't expect you to agree; I just want you to understand why I think so as well as possible. You are fully entitled to your own views, and one of the things I respect about you is your defense of your own principles at all occasions.

It's very difficult to lift rules developed for a social order that no longer exists and graft them seamlessly onto a social order... you cannot fairly characterize an entire institution as good or evil without looking at ALL it has accomplished...

One of the areas of confusion between us may be that you think I'm talking about a social institution built around chivalry; what I'm actually talking about is the virtue of chivalry proper. I'm talking about a habit built around working with horses, which takes particular characteristics that are virtuous in a young man and refines them. It also produces other good qualities, some of which are preconditions for further virtues.

The social order that attended that in 1000 AD or 1200 AD is one of those accidents: the order isn't the same here or there. What I'm painting as wholly good is the virtue itself. The accidents may be better or worse, here or there. But it's reasonable (I think) to say that a virtue is a good thing.

Posted by: Grim at June 23, 2014 10:02 AM

Joe,

Now perhaps I should be clear that by jus in bello I do not mean "justice." Jus in bello is that part of the Law of War that deals with the conduct of the war... It's nothing to do with whether the war is just in the first place.

I'm aware of that distinction. You can read a longer piece on the subject of Just War theory, by me, on the subject of the Iraq war's justice. That should let you know roughly where your understanding of it and mine line up (or don't).

But jus in bello and jus ad bellum are both subsets of jus. They are thus parts of justice, at least when we are discussing them theoretically (e.g., asking, 'What should the standards be?'). They certainly aren't the whole of justice -- not justice proper -- but they belong to it.

Posted by: Grim at June 23, 2014 10:07 AM

Elise,

As I remember it, a big part of Second Wave feminism was about releasing women from their servitude to societal expectations - especially the expectations of men. This article seems to be saying that after 40 or 50 years that hasn't worked out too well. It turns out women can't actually free themselves from those expectations after all and what they really need is for men to change. I sincerely hope the author is wrong about that because if she's right, things look very bleak for women - and for men.

That's the interesting philosophical question raised by Harvey Mansfield in the piece linked here (see third comment). I think that he may be wrong in his characterization, but insofar as he's right, he has raised a serious problem for those he intends to criticize.

Posted by: Grim at June 23, 2014 10:10 AM

Elise: I understand the linked author to be addressing herself to men who have bought in, in large part, to the feminist argument that society was arranged very unfairly for women for aeons and has to be corrected now. She also assumes that her audience agrees with her on a number of principles of socialism and collectivism, including a whole bundle of automatic duties to nurture and cure each other even at great cost. I'm a skeptic on many of those assumptions. She expects to be coddled in her natural instinct to placate and to give up her own rights, and expects the man to bend over backwards to draw her out and heal her. Not that that wouldn't be an awfully nice attitude to stumble into, now and then!--but it's a lot to ask, and very dangerous to expect.

I did appreciate her message that a man who claims to care would do well to listen and learn something about her actual needs and wants, instead of imposing what he assumes is a gift and then either expecting gratitude for it, or resenting and denigrating any woman so lacking in essential femininity or basic human worth (from his perspective) as to reject it. (Remember Grim's poster: "Not all women like it. Only the ones worth dying for."

Posted by: Texan99 at June 23, 2014 12:40 PM

Do you take it as a measure of "basic human worth" that a man would elect to die for you? That's surely not quite what you mean to say. Basic human worth can't even justify not killing someone, let alone dying for them: Osama bin Laden, say, was entitled to whatever 'basic human worth' entitles one.

If a man elects to die for someone, it's not an expression of equality! It's an expression of the most unequal kind: a valuing of the other so complete that it entails his own destruction.

What makes someone worth dying for -- assuming you really are dying for them, and not for yourself (i.e., not because it's the kind of man you want to be, but rather because you want to save them at any cost to yourself)?

True love, I would say: not just romantic love but parental love, or the love of a deep friendship. That is not, and cannot be, an entitlement of basic human worth. Love of that sort is much deeper, more personal, and more intimate.

What I take the poster to say is that a man should love a woman who loves what's best in him. Chivalry is a virtue -- you surely understand that I think it is one, even if you disagree -- and I think it's what allows a man to perfect a lot of his core virtues, and sets the ground for others.

I suspect you like those qualities in me, though you hate the name that I put to them. Certainly I think you're worth dying for, if it came to it. But I don't think so because you're a human being -- just any human being at all.

Posted by: Grim at June 23, 2014 01:25 PM

"Do you take it as a measure of 'basic human worth' that a man would elect to die for you?"

Isn't that backwards? I take it as a hostile position to say, "The world is divided into two groups: the women 'worth' dying for, and the women 'not worth' dying for. You've in the second category." It's hard to get past the word "worth" embedded right there in the slogan. I assume it's connection to "human worth."

I wouldn't feel at all the same about a man who was skeptical whether any women not, say, his wife, was "worth dying for." I don't expect men in general to be leaping for the privilege of dying for me.

But do I take the poster's message as deeply hostile and insulting to women who are skeptical of chivalry* and therefore not among the "girls who like it"? Yes, I've said so on several occasions. I know you don't mean it that way, which puzzles me extremely.

[*Not "chivalry" in the archaic sense, but in whatever sense is relevant to whether "girls like it" or not.]

Posted by: Texan99 at June 23, 2014 02:49 PM

T99: I did realize, rather belatedly, that the author was directing her piece at a particular group. Even then, it disturbs me but point taken.

I did appreciate her message that a man who claims to care would do well to listen and learn something about her actual needs and wants,

Agreed but, to stick with my individual motif, I think that's true across the board not just advice for men when it comes to women - or for any Group A when it comes to any Group B. For example, she says that when a man says, "I'm not like that" instead of saying what she wants him to say, he is being like that. I understand she wants something different and can even say that what she wants would be "better". But maybe what the man wants and needs at that point is assurance that she realizes he's not like that, that she's not lumping him in with whatever jerk she just encountered. The author appears to recognize this possibility in the previous paragraph but pushes aside what a man may be feeling and thinking to insist he give her what she wants and needs.

And where is it written that if an individual man says, "I'm not like that" the individual woman to whom he's saying it can't say, "That's not what I need to hear right now. Right now I need to hear that you understand that I'm feeling beat up and will do what you can to help me." If he can't handle hearing that, what the heck is she doing relying on him for support anyhow?

I dunno. Maybe I'm just feeling contrary and cranky but today this whole idea that we can change other people to be who we want, to act the way we want, to never do stuff we don't like, to always be responsive to us in just the way we want - that all seems like a recipe for constant, unending disappointment, self-pity, and resentment - and a nice way to avoid taking charge of and responsibility for ourselves.

Posted by: Elise at June 23, 2014 02:50 PM

I think, Tex, that many men stand ready to die for the protection of women in general -- but out of a sense of what it is to be a good man. (Many women seem to assume that they have a right to this level of defense, too: that story from Ranger Up's Nick is a story of a woman who felt instinctively that the right response to a lion was to jump behind the man and shove him toward it as hard as she could!)

I share that sense, and wouldn't think much of a man who didn't step up if he had to (or, worse, protected himself by shoving the women toward the lion). But that's a man dying not for her, but because that's what a good man does.

Even then, though, if a man did step up and the response of the woman was not to value his death in her service -- to snort at it, the way that the Westboro Baptist Church snorts at the sacrifice of the soldiers who died for the freedom they use to protest the soldier's own funeral -- I would think it said something about whether she was really worth the sacrifice of a good man's life.

Now, let me say something a bit challenging (but not intended to be provocative -- just challenging).

I think this discussion is the flip side of the argument you are making about how women ought to be treated by men. It shouldn't be a game in the man's head, you're saying, about what the woman ought to want or ought to appreciate. He should learn what she really wants, what she really appreciates.

The inverse of that argument is that a woman should really care about what's important to a man in the same way. There's one distinction I would make, which is that what's most important to a man isn't what he wants, it's becoming the best man he can be. It is, in other words, virtue.

Would the woman be wrong to say that he is worth less if he doesn't value virtue? Not obviously; that's a very ordinary thing to say, and I think I'd have to agree with it. So in a way there's an objective standard for him -- but it isn't whatever standard is in her head, or what she wishes men were like. The standard is in the man: it's a developmental process of his own nature.

This is what bothers me about your author: her inability to see that side of things. It's about her and her needs, certainly. But it's also about him and his.

And if it turns out that there's something about the nature of a man that he is improved by working with horses -- or, horror of horrors, even by war and war's training -- then it's not really a question of whether he ought to be that way according to a standard in her head. If she respects him the way she wants him to respect her, she'll accept that fact about him.

That gives her a right -- in my opinion -- to judge what a man is worth. It doesn't give her a right to judge him by standards that she drew out of herself without reference to him, his nature, and the actual facts about what makes a man excel in virtue.

Posted by: Grim at June 23, 2014 03:09 PM

If a skepticism about chivalry strikes you the same way as a woman snorting at a man's sacrifice as a Westboro Baptist might, I can see why you would not consider it unduly insulting to tell her "you're not worth dying for," if only because no insult could be too severe for the circumstances. What troubles me is the message you expect someone like me to get. Do I seem to be snorting ungratefully and scornfully at your potential sacrifice for someone like me? Do you not believe it's possible for a woman to be deeply troubled by the multifarious tradition of chivalry without falling into that error? I have always assumed that you do think it's possible, because you don't treat me with cold hostility, even though you know very well how I think on this subject. . . . And then I look at that poster and wonder.

I take your point that no one wants to throw away a sacrifice on someone who doesn't value it. But there's a difference between scorning the sacrifice and believing that the code that calls for the sacrifice also calls for many other things, not all benign. It's worth considering that the other side of this hard-and-fast division of humanity might want to consider the system as a whole package before signing up for it without reservation--even if they steer clear of the ugly crimes of scorn and ingratitude.

About the author's inability to see the exchange from the point of view of the man: two things, I guess. One is that she's advocating something very much like affirmative action: a cure for past injustice. Of course she's not much interested in looking into how to cure the past injustice for the man; she probably doesn't believe there is any. The other is that, even if she did, it wouldn't change the need of the man to look at what she needs, rather than what he imagines she needs. Yes, she'll have the reciprocal duty when it comes to his needs, if he wants her to fulfill any of them. They're probably going to trade off, if they're like most people. But whenever either of them is trying to meet the needs of the other, they'll do well to look at the needs that are really there, not following a script. Otherwise they're doing the equivalent of giving each other fruitcakes every year for Christmas. (I happen to like fruitcake, but you know what I mean.)

If it turns out that she needs him to be emotionally open with her, and willing to look at her as she is, and his most basic need is never to do either of those things, then their relationship is hopeless. But she assumes there's some room for give and take, or she probably wouldn't bother writing about it.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 23, 2014 04:27 PM

What troubles me is the message you expect someone like me to get. Do I seem to be snorting ungratefully and scornfully at your potential sacrifice for someone like me? Do you not believe it's possible for a woman to be deeply troubled by the multifarious tradition of chivalry without falling into that error? I have always assumed that you do think it's possible, because you don't treat me with cold hostility, even though you know very well how I think on this subject. . . . And then I look at that poster and wonder.

You've written movingly about the very quality that I think is being symbolized there -- about Aurora, and elsewhere.

Look, we can try this as an exercise in this principle of trying to see in the other what is really there. You've got a conception of history with which I disagree. We've discussed that at great length, and don't need to rehash it: the point is that the world you think we live in and the world I think we live in is different on this point. It's the same world in fact, of course, but our concepts of it differ.

So should it offend me that you draw different conclusions about the meaning of a word? Of course not: it's logical given what you believe to be true about the world. I'd be a poor philosopher if I insisted that you should draw illogical conclusions to please me.

So that's what I see going on in your mind, and why it doesn't offend me. What's going on in my mind is that your moving pieces about Aurora and so forth are an endorsement of the virtue I think lives under that name. You call it by a different name; or maybe you just don't name it. But we don't disagree about its value, just its name (and, I suppose, its proper symbolic representation).

Thus, of course I don't think you're guilty of the Error of Westboro. In fact I don't think you're guilty of anything. We just disagree about some things.

Posted by: Grim at June 23, 2014 05:57 PM

If I may raise an analogy, it's somewhat for me how I assume it is for you when you read my writings on Feminism. Now you know that I reject Feminism root and branch: I reject also Modernity, of which Feminism is an offshoot. I reject the idea that it makes any sense to talk of human equality except in the Medieval sense, for one thing: the Moderns seem to have disposed of the only grounds on which it makes any sense to think of human beings as true equals.

I am aware that you think of yourself as a Feminist (a radical one, you just said on the othe discussion), such that it is tremendously important to you and your view of justice.

Somehow, however, we seem to get along in an atmosphere of mutual respect -- even though you reject Chivalry and I reject Feminism. More than that, though on the surface we are each rejecting the core of the other's belief system, we actually end up agreeing on practical questions of justice on a very regular basis.

That suggests to me that we may be disagreeing more about the words and the history than about the values underlying our conceptions of justice. In any case, it's no more difficult for me to respect you than it is for you to respect me. (At least, I assume you do! You generally seem to, exceptis exicipiendis. :)

Posted by: Grim at June 23, 2014 06:24 PM

We can agree on the value of the sacrifices inspired by chivalry; I think that the main disagreement is over the pricetag--whether, as I think, it exists at all and whether I should be prepared to pay it.

As I see it, you're inclined to notice the sacrifices but not the pricetag, so if a woman declines the bargain, you see her as denigrating the sacrifice. I don't think that's what motivates her at all. You don't have to agree with her estimation of the pricetag to see that it's what's motivating her.

But, my brother, it's something we've never been able to make each other see! And I feel much better merely having unburdened myself of the conflict I feel when I see you--as it seems to me--denigrating women who prefer to opt out. I absolutely know you don't see it as denigrating, and you may never understand why I do. That's enough to enable me to set aside any grievance I felt I had.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 23, 2014 06:30 PM

I'm glad this talk has made you feel better. I certainly intend to give no cause for grievance!

As far as the price goes, I only know what price I ask. It may be worth asking if pricetags are necessarily present -- and if they are, what they ought to be.

I certainly don't intend to denigrate anyone, least of all someone who is refusing to pay an inappropriate price. Indeed, here you are on ground where what is normally a frustrating idea of mine will be welcome: the idea that there are things that have intrinsic value, and that you should not use a position of advantage in a market to extract a higher price. Of course my sympathy will be with the person who elects not to be extorted, and to resist such extortion (even with force). That's as true here as in the cases where we usually have the talk, e.g., price gouging after a natural disaster.

You would find me an ally in condemning men who use their natural strength to extend only a mafia-style protection racket in place of true chivalry.

Posted by: Grim at June 23, 2014 09:17 PM

I want to come back to this "essence of chivalry" thing for a moment, here.

If I understand what you're saying...to you "chivalry" includes only those elements that are necessary for, or necessarily derived from elements that are necessary for, training horses and riding them to war.

So an experienced horseback fighter from a long tradition would be expected to practice chivalry...the essential parts. In other words, chivalry the way you've been defining it isn't the behavior of a man like William the Marshal. It's the behavior William the Marshal has in common with Genghis Khan -- the king of the ultimate horse warriors.

Now the thing is, I think this does have something to do with relations between the sexes...but not in the sense of honor or respect. Temujin was the man who uttered this famous quote:

“The greatest happiness is to scatter your enemy and drive him before you, to see his cities reduced to ashes, to see those who love him shrouded in tears, and to gather to your bosom his wives and daughters.

(Yes, I know, he may have stolen the first part from somebody else. I read a biography of Tamerlane which gave a longer version of the quote - where he goes into more details about the delights to be had from the bodies of his vanquished enemy's women.)

...that said, I don't think we can say the culture of warfighting on horseback, even after centuries of doing it successfully, necessarily leads men to be respectful of women, to die for them, or to treat them as better than chattels, things we normally associate with chivalry. That's why I don't think that respect really follows from horsemanship in the way you propose above.

Yet it does have certain implications, as I learned from, well, you. Specifically that a good horseman has to be able to project confidence when he hits a dangerous stretch of trail...and to "show that, no matter what, you're feeling relaxed."

Now that quality is key to a man who wants to foster sexual attraction in women...whether for honorable or dishonorable purposes. And doing that is more important than it used to be, for a man who wants to marry, especially young. But I don't think that's what you're about when you suggest (as I have seen you suggest in the past) that chivalry might be a good way to improve relations between the sexes now.

Posted by: Joseph W. at June 23, 2014 10:07 PM

..to you "chivalry" includes only those elements that are necessary for, or necessarily derived from elements that are necessary for, training horses and riding them to war.

That's not exactly right. You can talk about it in a few different ways; you just have to be clear which way you mean. (Aristotle was very sophisticated about his use of language. "Being is said in many ways" is one of the most quoted parts of the Physics, because he was careful to distinguish many ways of speaking.)

So you can talk about chivalry as a virtue, which is how I've been talking about it. And this virtue is the virtue of a man who can tame a horse and ride it to war. There are other virtues that are necessary preconditions of this one; and still others that are necessary accidents of developing it. Essentially chivalry as a virtue is just 'the quality of being able to tame a horse and ride it to war,' though -- not its preconditions or necessary accidents. So you could say that William Marshall and Tamerlane and Genghis Khan have this quality in common. And you can say -- with confidence! -- that they will have its necessary accidents as well as its preconditions.

You can also talk about chivalry as a system, which is how Cassandra was talking about it. Now you're not talking about the essential virtue at all; you're talking about a whole lot of things that accrue around it, many of which are not essential or necessary accidents or preconditions. They may be pure accidents.

And you can talk about chivalry as a tradition, which is what Tex was mostly doing, whereby you're trying to look at an even bigger host of things -- many systems, over many eras, with different accidents.

My claim is that you'll find the essential virtue in all the systems in the tradition; and so you'll also find its preconditions and necessary accidents.

A lot of what we think of as the "system" (and especially the "tradition") of chivalry are non-necessary accidents: things that accrued to it for reasons not essential nor necessary. Many of those things came from Christianity: the early Christian knighthood was apparently a pretty rough crowd too, probably not much better than Genghis Khan in many respects, before the Peace and Truce of God movements began to try to refine their code by introducing things essential to Christianity to things essential to chivalry.

What I think is necessary to chivalry (a necessary accident) is the development of what I'm calling gentleness: an ability to learn to understand something about the workings of a mind different from your own, and interact with that being in a way that earns its respect and trust.

That, I think, is a necessary accident. You'll find it in Genghis Khan -- but he may have stopped developing the quality with horses, and not extended it to women or, say, Persians.

That's the way virtues work, though, at least on Aristotle's account: they come to be like anything else, moving from potential (which he calls a 'first actuality') to full actuality. The way virtues come to be is through practice. The more you practice something, the more you are moving from having a potential to do it to having the fully actual capacity to do it.

So my claim is not that you get 'respect for women' from 'gentleness' learned by dealing with horses. The claim is that you get a necessary precondition in gentleness -- you are practicing and developing your capacity to engage with a different sort of mind, and understand it at some level. You could stop there, as Genghis Khan did, leaving 'respect' as a mere potential you never bothered to actualize. But you'd have a capacity to actualize it that you'd not have if you never developed the precondition.

So does 'respect' follow from chivalry? Not necessarily! But something necessarily does follow from it that is a necessary precondition for respect. You can get 'gentleness' elsewhere, to be sure. But this is a reliable way to get it, and reliable ways to inculcate the virtues are valuable technologies for engineering young men into good men.

Posted by: Grim at June 23, 2014 10:39 PM

I apologize if I am intruding but what - or who - is Aurora?

Posted by: Elise at June 23, 2014 10:45 PM

I wondered that myself.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 23, 2014 10:57 PM

Ah--the theater shooting, and the men protecting their women from the shooter.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 23, 2014 10:58 PM

Ah - thanks, T99.

Posted by: Elise at June 24, 2014 08:20 AM

I'm coming in a bit late, and I am still trying to wrap my arms around the bit about ants and truck tires. On the one hand, for the ant to simply sit there while the tire beneath him rotates through 180 degrees towards his increasingly impending doom doesn't seem to paint the ant as a particularly bright character. On the other hand, the "hallmarks of adulthood" thing requires that we stop being so preoccupied with ourselves and accept "hard truths" such as the world not "revolving around us." Well, hell. How'd all that work out for our ant? All that time spent convincing his adult self that the world really didn't revolve around him, and damned if that old world didn't instead just revolve right over him. Hard truths, indeed.

Posted by: spd rdr at June 24, 2014 07:09 PM

mr rdr, please step to the front of the class and hold out your hand.

WHACK WHACK WHACK WHACK WHACK!!!!!!

After class, you will type "I will not mercilessly mock Sister Mary's romantic insect metaphors any more" a gazillion times :p

Posted by: Sister Mary Bag O'Metaphors at June 24, 2014 08:19 PM

Fine. But deep down, you know I'm right about that dumb ant.

Posted by: spd rdr at June 24, 2014 08:56 PM

Grim - thank you; that does make things much clearer. I wonder if your theory applies to Osama bin Laden, by all accounts an accomplished horseman...but apparently also a good family man, whose wives apparently didn't mind sharing him with three others apiece, and who impressed many visitors with his charm. His "gentleness" just didn't extend to infidels and apostates, concepts he defined pretty broadly...

But I have a couple of bones to pick with chivalry as you define it being useful now. One is this - why do you have riding the horse into battle as an element? Don't you have to learn this gentleness, and to deal with "another" mind, even if you're just going to ride the horse around the farm and roadways? (And a good thing too; since no one rides horses into battle these days, how could a person cultivate the "virtue" of teaching a horse to do that, when that is something that is never done? What, never? Well, hardly ever.)

I assume that to learn this virtue you'd have to train an actual horse...I mean, I don't think you can "learn to deal with another mind" just by being told about it. Which leads to other concerns:

If learning to train horses is a reliable way to learn an important virtue, then isn't it terribly limited by the fact that hardly anyone is in a position to do that these days? There might be something to building character by flying jets, too, but only so many young people are ever going to do that.

Also, how many different people could train a single horse before it was trained already? And what would you do with a hugely increased population of trained horses, if you were able to make this cultivation a mass taste? There are only so many people who want to keep a horse for its whole lifetime -- I always seem to like those people when I meet them, but there are only so many.

And I wouldn't want the horses themselves in any other hands, only those of real "horse people" who are willing to take on the responsibility of treating them right 'til they die. Someone who gets it wrong, because of bad character or simply lacking the aptitude, might well inflict needless cruelty on the horse and to himself.

(Socrates, in the Meno, uses inductive reasoning to suggest that virtue can't be taught at all; in the Apologia, he points out that only a small fraction of the population, the horse breeders, is able to improve and cultivate horses - and if natural aptitude is a big part of that, as it so often is in human affairs, that leaves open the question of just how many people really can do it. Do you have a notion?)

In a few generations we may have AI's that really could teach masses of young people to deal with minds different from their own or any human's -- without the healthy outdoor exercise, or the great danger, of training and riding a horse; but those might be sought out in other ways.

Posted by: Joseph W. at June 25, 2014 01:12 AM

What Socrates says in the Meno is that you already know -- and just need to remember -- the virtues you're trying to 'learn.' He has a concept of reincarnation here. It's a position philosophically compatible with neoplatonism, though: the idea that our minds (and indeed reality generally) are subdivisions of a greater mind, for the purpose of exploring in depth particular concepts and experiences. You don't then need reincarnation: the place you're 'remembering' from is not a past life, but the unified mind that contains all things.

Aristotle didn't like any of that, so he talks about these things in terms of potentials and actualities. Yet here too there's a nod to the problem of the Meno: the idea isn't that you're learning something wholly new, but that you're bringing into further actuality something that is already actual in a way. A potential is a first actuality: an actual potential, that is, something I really could do if I put in the effort (as opposed to something impossible for me to do).

That's closer to your idea that only some people have the aptitude. But both Plato and Aristotle have political programs built around the idea that the good life is the life of virtue, and that the most complete virtues aren't available to everyone because of natural capacities and drives. Most people, Plato says in the Republic, are driven by pleasure. A few are driven by honor (in the sense of being respected). A few more are driven by reason, so that they can see the good in doing the things for which one would be honored.

You can get a good society, they both conclude, if you arrange things so that those with the capacities have the opportunity to develop them, and are put into leadership roles. Aristotle goes on beyond that to develop some recommendations for less-ideal societies, including something very much like Jeffersonian Democracy: a democratic society of farmers, who won't even want to serve in politics because all their interests are in their crops at home. Such a society still requires an honor code, but it is largely limited to 'do your turn at the irritating government work when it comes, so you can get back home to your business.'

Your AIs sound to me like a kind of neoplatonic capacity to 'remember' things from a central mind. I don't know how much I believe that such things are an actual potential, though. :)

But the horse is: horses are really there. If you take the Aristotelian (or even the neoplatonic) line, there isn't a logical problem with learning from horses. You have an actual capacity because you have the actual potential, which can be developed because it already exists. You can start by riding broken horses, and develop it until you can tame horses. (Hector's epitaph in the Iliad: "Breaker of Horses." And he was the greatest of the Trojan heroes!)

Posted by: Grim at June 25, 2014 09:10 AM

Fine. But deep down, you know I'm right about that dumb ant.

"Yes, dear" :)

Posted by: Cass at June 25, 2014 06:42 PM

""I will not mercilessly mock Sister Mary's romantic insect metaphors any more""

And instead you will begin at once mocking both shamelessly, with insincerity and without remorse.

Posted by: The Wyzzyrd uv Izz at June 25, 2014 08:12 PM

What Socrates says in the Meno is that you already know -- and just need to remember -- the virtues you're trying to 'learn.'

That's one of the things he says, yes (and it's based on a pretty simple logical error - he convinces a slave to figure out some basic geometry, which the slave hadn't been taught; but he presents a false dichotomy: that all knowledge that hasn't been taught must be "recollection" -- which leads him to some very strange places in the Phaedo, I recall).

But in the earlier parts of the Meno he's asking whether virtue is a kind of knowledge and whether it can be taught. Interestingly, given his reputation for deductive reasoning, goes at it inductively. "You know this guy...and you know his son...and you know this guy...and you know his son...These are virtuous men who would teach virtue if they could" - implication: the boys didn't learn it because it couldn't be taught. That was the part I was referring to.

I enjoyed your exposition but my questions remain: to cultivate chivalry the way you define it, don't you have to train an actual horse? And if that's so, doesn't our current economic, geographic, and social reality mean that only a tiny fraction of the population can do that?

Posted by: Joseph W. at June 25, 2014 10:23 PM

"You know this guy...and you know his son...and you know this guy...and you know his son...These are virtuous men who would teach virtue if they could" - implication: the boys didn't learn it because it couldn't be taught.

The same argument is made in the Laches and in the Protagoras. In the Laches it's a problem as it is in the Meno, but Protagoras ends up giving a fairly strong (and kind of proto-Aristotelian) answer.

"But why then do the sons of good fathers often turn out ill? There is nothing very wonderful in this; for, as I have been saying, the existence of a state implies that virtue is not any man's private possession. If so-and nothing can be truer-then I will further ask you to imagine, as an illustration, some other pursuit or branch of knowledge which may be assumed equally to be the condition of the existence of a state. Suppose that there could be no state unless we were all flute-players, as far as each had the capacity, and everybody was freely teaching everybody the art, both in private and public, and reproving the bad player as freely and openly as every man now teaches justice and the laws, not concealing them as he would conceal the other arts, but imparting them-for all of us have a mutual interest in the justice and virtue of one another, and this is the reason why every one is so ready to teach justice and the laws;-suppose, I say, that there were the same readiness and liberality among us in teaching one another flute-playing, do you imagine, Socrates, that the sons of good flute players would be more likely to be good than the sons of bad ones? I think not. Would not their sons grow up to be distinguished or undistinguished according to their own natural capacities as flute-players, and the son of a good player would often turn out to be a bad one, and the son of a bad player to be a good one, all flute-players would be good enough in comparison of those who were ignorant and unacquainted with the art of flute-playing?"

In short, then, of course virtue can be taught; but only insofar as you have a capacity for it already. So the sons of good men often lack the extraordinary capacities of their fathers because they didn't have the same natural capacities to excel. Nevertheless, we try very hard to teach our citizens how to be good citizens, and you can see that they're better citizens than places where no such education is provided.

I enjoyed your exposition but my questions remain: to cultivate chivalry the way you define it, don't you have to train an actual horse?

That's the very question I end with in my "What is Chivalry?" piece, above. It's an open question, I think: I know it can be done with the horse, but whether you can develop those same capacities without it is not clear. That's why chivalry is its own virtue, as opposed to a nexus of other virtues: it's not just courage or self-mastery or gentleness or honor, nor is it just the unity of them. There's a particular excellence associated with it that the union of those other virtues would lack.

Of them all, gentleness -- that ability to understand and work with another kind of mind -- is the hardest one to develop without the horse. There are other kinds of animals that have minds, or seem to have: dolphins, for example. Dogs, too. And I think you get something similar by working with them. But these animals don't call for the same degree of self-mastery, not being prey animals who will panic if you do.

I'd like to think there's a way of doing it, but it may be the horse is essential. And if that's the case, well, if you have a son you should make a point of getting him some riding lessons. It's worth purveying for them, because 'there's something about the outside of a horse that's good for the inside of a man.'

Posted by: Grim at June 25, 2014 10:56 PM

Thank you, Grim - very interesting. Childless here, I'm afraid, so I won't be able to take up your advice.

(I suspect you're right on different sorts of animals...dogs, I've heard, have co-evolved to be emotionally dependent on humans, and are frightfully easy to manipulate.)

Posted by: Joseph W. at June 26, 2014 10:03 PM

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