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Female Envy, Merits of Fatherlessness, Jews in Europe, Comedy, Richard Hanania
"For bodies cannot pierce, nor be in bodies lost"
“85 percent of all British prime ministers, from Robert Walpole to John Major, and twelve U.S. presidents, from George Washington to Barack Obama, lost their fathers as children… Perhaps early loss can sometimes inspire people to great achievements?”
— James Dyson
“Chips on shoulders put chips in pockets”
— Josh Wolfe
In this Kvetch:
The merits of fatherlessness?
Jews in Europe
Tyler Cowen’s conversation with Noam Dworman
Richard Hanania’s new book
1. Female envy
This by Grazie Sophia Christie is a razor sharp, devastating portrait of female envy. Its blades are so finely tuned I almost had to avert my gaze reading it. A gorgeous read.
There are many quotable lines. This is one of the best:
the horrid boy I desperately love, who pretends to love me, studying K’s legs on the trampoline. We are seventeen, and I study them too. Up and down, slender, hairless, vanishing up the thighs, into the sun… What I want is for those legs and the mat of the trampoline to go rigid, to snap, for her bones to spray and splinter, to pierce me through the eyes, so I cannot look at either of us anymore.
It reads like the mirror image of a man’s desirous gaze. Where Christie’s gaze looks to snap that beauty in fevered envy, a man looks to bask in it, to own it, to consume it somehow. Where she looks to kill, the man yearns to self-sacrifice. Her impulse is to lash out at such beauty, his is to kill himself. Neither can merely wallow in its presence — she must surpass, he must possess.
Roger Scruton wrote of this frustration in Beauty (I apply it to the male gaze, he was more gender neutral):
Nor is there a specific thing that you want to do with the person you desire and which is the full content of your feeling. Of course, there is the sexual act: but there can be desire without the desire for that, and the act does not satisfy the desire or bring it to a conclusion, in the way that drinking satisfies and concludes the desire for water. There is a famous description of this paradox in Lucretius, in which the lovers are pictured in the attempt to become one, mingling their bodies in all the ways that desire suggests:
Just in the raging foam of full desire,
When both press on, both murmur, both expire,
They grip, they squeeze, their humid tongues they dart,
As each wou’d force their way t’other’s heart:
In vain: they only cruise about the coast,
For bodies cannot pierce, nor be in bodies lost . . .
Christie’s portrayal of her total and lifelong devastation makes me want to invest heavily in products that feed off this: Instagram, make-up and beauty behemoths. These are the financial manifestations of the visceral intra-sex competition that defines the fairer sex.
The author herself does not appear to justify the insecurity — far from homely. Which may reflect the narcissism of small differences — would she feel such envy if she were much plainer? Does the slight burn so intently because dominance is just out of reach? One astute eye-rolling female commenter on Twitter noted maybe this observation was the whole point: to elicit a bunch of “she’s actually quite fine” from strangers.
My wife has a friend who by her own description is very plain. She’s spoken to my wife about this. She’s described it as an enormous weight off her shoulders. She is married and focused on her settled life. She never has to wonder what it would have been life to savor the lusts of men — it was never an option for her.
2. The Merits of Fatherlessness?
We read a lot about the growing problem of fatherlessness, but could it be that it has its upsides?
British inventor James Dyson writes in his memoir Invention: A Life about his father who he lost at the age of eight:
I did miss my father. Many years later, I was intrigued to learn in a book by Virginia Ironside that 85 percent of all British prime ministers, from Robert Walpole to John Major, and twelve U.S. presidents, from George Washington to Barack Obama, lost their fathers as children. It would be wrong to say the loss of a father is some sort of macabre ticket to success. Perhaps early loss can sometimes inspire people to great achievements?1
Josh Wolfe — co-founding of Lux Capital and raised by a single mum — likes to say:
Chips on shoulders put chips in pockets
I noticed reading about the US Civil War (in particular the excellent lecture series by Gary W. Gallagher Robert E. Lee and His High Command) that many top Confederate Generals had no fathers. Stonewall Jackson, Jubal Early, Joseph Johnston, Nathan Bedford Forrest: all their fathers died when they were kids or teens. Robert E. Lee’s father was absent (evading his creditors).
Northern generals were similarly fatherless. Grant’s father was absentee, and Sherman and Sheridan’s fathers died when they were young.2
In Arnold, the excellent three-part Netflix series on Arnold Schwarznegger, Arnie’s (abusive) father is a looming force in Arnie’s life. I tweeted about it, but it was nothing short of shocking when after telling us how broken his father and the men of Austria were after losing the war, Arnie recalls how he wondered (hoped!) whether his dad was not his real dad, whether it might not be some American soldier instead.
I was watching Treasure Planet with the kids — an overlooked and charming picture from 2002, albeit not excellent — which I saw as a story about fatherlessness.
The protagonist Jim Hawkins — a nod to the slaver-cum-British naval commander John Hawkins — begins as a fatherless hooligan on the outskirts of the galaxy before he is sucked into adventure. The story becomes one of his searching and ultimately finding a father figure in a villain-cum-good guy. Like his namesake, young Jim Hawkins finds leadership and institutional authority at the end of his adventure. A story of a fatherless boy compelled to greatness.
I don’t have an answer in the unrelated scraps of impressions above. Maybe studies exist. Maybe most men in the Americas of the 19th century died young, leaving kids fatherless — explaining both the US Presidents (partly) and Civil War Generals. It’s hard to know where causation lies. Returning to Dyson’s memoir, he admits that his sons have the same knack with their hands — despite having their father:
I am someone who likes to learn on my own, by experiencing failure and discovering my own way to make things work. I could put that down to not having had a father after the age of eight to show me how things are done. Yet I have noticed the same trait in both my sons
3. Jews in Europesummarises the dangerous life for Jews in Europe today. For a decade or more it’s been miserable to watch synagogues attacked across Europe, Jewish children gunned down, shoppers murdered. Countless demonstrations in France crying “death to the Jews”. Strange that in so many parts of Europe today Jews can’t walk around with kippot or other identifying symbols. My uncle recounted with sadness and amazement trying to attend a synagogue in Paris: mounted machine guns, barbed wire, army guards.
At least the Jews have Israel. As Houellebecq said: “There is no Israel for me”.
4. Tyler Cowen’s conversation with Noam Dworman
A deeply charismatic conversation. For many reasons, but at its heart it’s wonderful to hear a deeply talented, smart man take an unusual, independent path. Such a path, by the way, is far more possible and common in the US. It’s almost unimaginable in Australia.
Dworman says people are too woke — which is one thing I said.
Tyler had two good responses I hadn’t considered:
COWEN: We seem to be getting funny bits in different ways, and they’re more condensed, and they come at a higher information density, and we can pull them off the internet or TikTok whenever we want. It seems that sates us, and we enjoy the feeling of control over comedy, which you don’t quite get when you’re watching, say, a hundred-minute film. That would be my hypothesis.
But it could also be audiences are themselves less funny. They’re more depressed, they’re more neurotic. We see some of that in the data, at least for young people.
I certainly relate to the first point — attention spans have shrunk and if we can digest comedy in smaller bites we do.
I loved this:
Comedians only like to hang out with comedians for these reasons, and they die a thousand deaths when they have to go to a dinner with people who are not comedians. They really don’t like it, because they cut out all the nonsense.
I feel this way about my best friends and about Twitter. After biting down on the concentrated form of intellectual richness or rancor that is Twitter, it can be hard to engage in the small talk of a professional networking event. Life’s too short.
I admit I fantasise about doing a standup show. I’ve even kept a running sheet of bits. Maybe one day.
5. Richard Hanania’s new book
In my conversation with Richard I asked him whether he’s driven by money, fame or power.
Richard: It has to be one of those? Not money. Fame? I mean I tweet a lot, I’m self aware enough to know I want fame. But power would be nice, I’d take power.
Misha: You’d actually change things?
Richard: Yeah. But I haven’t lived my life that way. Like I could have lived my life that way where I had a career in politics. I’ve sort of blocked that out for myself, and I think more fame… maybe I want intellectual power, I want to influence, that kind of power. But yeah, probably not money.
It feels like Richard’s getting to a point where he might make a difference. He’s self-aware of his ambition and it’s playing out. Good for him. I’ve pre-ordered his book:
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I note I could find no comparable pattern among Australian leaders, but that’s neither here nor there. Are there any global studies on this?