For the Narcissist Lover in You…

Archive for May, 2011

Fake Men

I’d love to come up with an amusing introduction to this, but maybe it’s best just to state it bluntly–  I don’t like a lot of men.  I thought I understood the reason for this.  I thought it was because I grew up as a male oddity, not interested in sports, somewhat distanced from my own father who didn’t know what to do with his strange kid, and generally unable to relate to the typical male mind.  But I’ve realized, only recently, that there’s more to it than that.

Most men are fake men.

How’s that for a provocative statement?  I’ll try to explain.  Bear in mind that I am still figuring this out.

Culture (specifically American culture) has for the past decade or two loudly proclaimed that men are all lumbering dolts– mere cavemen in pants (if we’re lucky).  Most men have absorbed this message, at least subconsciously.  As a result, they have tried to invent a new version of manhood.  The new manhood is sensitive, tolerant, non-judgmental, and even a little mistily poetic.

More than this, however, the new manhood is nervous.  This is because the new man knows that his persona is a total facade, and he lives in fear that the facade will be discovered.

The New Man is sucking in the beer gut of his more traditional manhood, desperately trying to hide the socially uncouth aspects of his masculine nature.  This requires a constant, concerted effort, and results in a sort of knee-jerk defensiveness whenever his facade is threatened.

I don’t like the New Man, and I don’t like the men who try to be him.  It’s not that sensitivity, tolerance, non-judgmentalism, etc are bad.  It’s just that, in this context, they are totally fake.  They are a costume worn under the pretense of being the real thing, and I, for one, find it trite and obnoxious.

Examples:

In the past, the Traditional Man was unafraid to admit and discuss uncomfortable truths.  He called a spade a spade, with no apology, albeit (in the best of cases) diplomatically.

The New Man still knows a spade is a spade, but will never, under any circumstances, admit it, for fear of being labeled judgmental, intolerant, imperialistic, etc.  The New Man clings (despite what he knows in his heart) to the preposterous notion that truth is a myth, no one can really know anything for certain, and therefore any statement of fundamental reality is horribly arrogant.

The Traditional Man knew that the struggle between right and wrong is real and active, with actual bad guys and good guys.  He was adult enough to know that peace didn’t come without cost, because there really were people in the world who did not want peace, and needed to be forcibly stopped.

The New Man rejects the whole notion of right and wrong.  He insists that in every struggle there are only sides— perspectives to be understood and balanced.  The New Man pretends that all conflict can be avoided if we all just listen, understand, and have deep, meaningful discussions.  He condemns any suggestion that one side might be evil– seeking to destroy simply for the sake of destroying– or good– simply trying to live at peace and not be destroyed.  For the New Man, it is never a matter of good triumphing over evil, but always of two equal sides simply finding balance, compromising, understanding, and learning to get along. This mentality, of course, is due to the aforementioned aversion to calling a spade a spade.  If one cannot call bad guys what they are, then he cannot condone any forcible action to stop them.

The Traditional Men knew women were different from him.  He acknowledged those differences and enjoyed them.  Unfortunately, he often took this understanding too far, treating women (“the weaker sex”) like property, or as if their physically smaller size equalled mental inferiority.

The New Man does not make this mistake.  He makes the opposite mistake of insisting (against patent reality) that there is absolutely no difference between the genders.  To prove this, he essentially transforms himself into a woman, negating or denying all of those socially unacceptable aspects of traditional masculinity.

The irony of all of this is that, deep down, I don’t think women respect the New Man.  I think they are vaguely disgusted by him, although they try to deny it.  They marry a lot of New Men, expecting them to maintain the neutered facade their whole lives, but unconsciously detesting it, poking at it, challenging it, until the husbands turn into spineless blobs and the wives resort to fantasizing about “bad boys” via romance novels and trashy movies.

Look at the popularity of shows like Mad Men, where the men are unabashedly sexist, dominant, and judgmental.  When was the last time you heard someone condemning the men in that show for being so horrible, uncouth and backward-thinking?  Ever?  How often, on the other hand, have you heard people talking about how inexpressibly cool those guys are (women included)?

I suspect that nobody really likes the New Man, but nobody wants to admit it.  In our hearts, I think we all long for the Traditional Man.  I know I sure do.  Sure, he may have been a bit of a lout.  He may have needed some tough-minded women to keep him balanced.  He may have been the source of a lot of social problems.  But he was real.  He could be reasoned with because his masculinity wasn’t a fragile facade, liable to be knocked aside by the slightest challenge.  It was the bedrock of who he was, imminently challengeable because it was so utterly himself.  Calling the Traditional Man judgmental and unbending is like calling a hill high.  He doesn’t mind, and the best of his kind is willing to hear it, to learn from the critique, and to become a better man because of it.

The New Man cannot learn to be a better man because the foundation of his masculinity isn’t real to begin with.  The best he can hope for is to connive an even better mask.  The New Man isn’t a man at all.  He’s a 24/7 poser.  He’s been at it so long that even he barely knows that he’s a fake.

In that vein, I don’t strive to think about my manhood at all.  My goal is just to let it be, regardless of the pressure from all the New Men around me to be more enlightened, to get in touch with my feminine side, to not be so chauvinistic and judgmental and black-and-white.  Screw that.  Screw it to hell.  Fortunately I have one of those strong-minded women who helps me keep it all in check.  It isn’t always easy, but it’s a damn sight better than the alternative.

So.  For any of you guys that I know who sense that I am a little distant with you, who wonder why I like your wives but maybe not you (women simply do not suffer from the same kind of self-gender-hatred as men, although I am sure they have plenty of their own problems and you can be sure that I don’t really want to know about ’em), if you are one of those men who knows me and senses that I’d prefer not to spend an afternoon chasing a little white ball around the golf course with you, now you know why.  It’s because I think you’re a New Man, and I know that I will never be able to have a meaningful, honest conversation with you.  I can predict what you’ll say every time, and it bores the hell out of me.

The New Man is just too damn tame.  He gives me politically-correct-compassion-fatigue.  He wallows in too much unnecessary guilt and pretends not to know things that I know he damn well knows whether he likes it or not.  He’s a poser and a fraud.  I only don’t tell him that to his face because I pity him too much.  He thinks he’s doing the Right Thing, and he’s probably long forgotten that he’s even doing it at all.

Fortunately, I believe that social culture is a pendulum.  Societies swing back and forth between polarities.  I think the New Man’s time is nearly up, and the Traditional Man is on the way back.  I hope so, at least.

Until then, some broad pour me a beer, light my cigar, and sit here on my lap for awhile.  Tell me how awful I am.  Maybe, just maybe, I’ll actually listen.

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If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can’t, same thing.

This will have nothing to do with writing and it will probably make a load of people nail-spittin’ mad.  Just remember: for a short time, I was a teacher.  I’ve taught at every level from pre-school to college.  Also, let me point out that what I am about to say, LOADS of people think.  That doesn’t make it right, but it does make it something that any self-respecting teacher would benefit from considering.

You know those bumper stickers that talk about the relative budgets of schools and the military?  They go something like this:  “Someday our schools will have enough money and the air force will hold bake sells to buy new bombers”.  Sweet and poignant, innit?  Problem is, as of 2005, the United States is tied with Switzerland for spending more money per student on education than any other country on earth.  In terms of educational outcome, however, we rank 18th of the 36 industrialized nations.  Thus, anyone with a second grade math education (all right, a sixth grade math education, considering what we’re talking about) can see that more money does not equal better education.

Ironically, news outlets recently revealed that the Navy Seal team that successfully eliminated the world’s most wanted terrorist have annual salaries equal to or below the average American teacher.  Fortunately, the Seals work year ’round and don’t storm the White House demanding collective bargaining rights against American tax payers.

A dear friend of mine who is a teacher (and if she reads this, I hope she knows that I love her despite what follows) recently submitted two news articles for consideration.  The first one argued that merit pay for the best-performing teachers was “a red herring. A waste”, insisting that teachers do not get into the profession to make money but to change the world, and are therefore not motivated by financial bonuses.  “There are good teachers and there are bad teachers in every district,” the author says, “Pay doesn’t really make a difference in a profession where people aren’t motivated by money because they never expected to get rich in the first place.”

The second article, submitted a week or so later, lamented “The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries“, stating that “68 percent [of top tier college students] would consider teaching if salaries started at $65,000 and rose to a minimum of $150,000.”  The author dismissed the question of how to pay for these budget-busting salaries by asking how we paid for other grand expenses, like the Interstate Highway system and the moon landing: “We had the vision and we had the will and we found a way.”  Well then, that was easy!

Am I the only one that thinks those two articles absolutely contradict each other?  Somehow, merit pay is a waste because teachers don’t teach for money AND paying huge six-figure salaries will bring in more teachers.  I guess the point is that more money only motivates teachers if it isn’t in the least related to anything so trivial as job performance.  Getting paid more for actually doing a better job?  That’s for non-union jugheads.  Besides, what IS a good teacher?  How can you quantify that?  Why the very idea is insulting.

Except it isn’t.  Sure teachers have wildly complicated jobs, dealing with dozens and hundreds of unique student situations, all of which put a potential strain on their ability to learn and mature.  I remember it well.  I remember that being a teacher also meant being a psychologist, a sociologist, a mentor, a social worker, and even sometimes a prison warden.  In an environment where parent involvement is often completely non-existent, teaching means compensating in ways that far exceed the curriculum.  But this is not unlike any other career that requires resourcefulness, mental flexibility, and constant passion.  My career (computer animation) requires these things in spades.  In fact, it is this very requirement that makes it so very easy to spot those who excel.  Good teachers are good precisely because they exhibit these traits.  Not all teachers do.  It’s as easy to judge a good teacher as it is to judge a good artist: just look at what they produce.

But here’s the thing that really irritates a lot of us who aren’t (or aren’t any more) teachers:  it’s the tacit demand of respect, regardless of actual job performance.  It’s the self-righteous insistence by a vocal minority of teachers that educators can never be questioned, that their results can never be evaluated, and that they should always be paid more– more!– across the board and regardless of outcome (while still being granted the noble honor of teaching for purely altruistic reasons).

To my teacher friends:  it is insulting to many of us that your unions demand we pay you more while you whine to us that you have two whole weeks to go before your months of summer vacation.  Most of us don’t get to take summer vacations at all.

It is infuriating to many of us that you call merit pay for better performing teachers a “waste” while we all live with the simple reality that doing better work means the difference between thriving and simply staying employed.

It strikes many of us as the height of arrogance to march vocally for collective bargaining rights against us taxpayers, many of whom are glad just to have jobs at all and who already struggle under the crushing weight of taxes.  It is hard for us not to hear, in your shrill demands, an attitude of “who cares about the financial consequences to the rest of you and your children?  Who cares if state budgets are breaking like a million camels’ backs!? I WANT MINE!  I DESERVE MINE!  GIMME!”

I know you don’t like hearing it.  I am willing to acknowledge that most teachers don’t think that way at all.  I would wager that most teachers are hard-working, dedicated, passionate people who just want the best for their students and their families.  But thanks to an extremely vocal minority– those who stampede state capitals with signs and surly attitudes, those who distribute fake doctor’s excuses to explain their absences and who drag their students along with them like propaganda tools– this is the perception your occupation is gradually being defined by in the eyes of a growing number of people.

The thing is, traditionally, people do respect teachers.  Traditionally, people do recognize the value of supporting schools, both financially and in less tangible ways.  But people also get pretty annoyed when respect is shrilly demanded from them as if it was a birthright.  They get angry when money is confiscated from them over and over for a seemingly failing system, and are still vilified for not paying enough.  And they get downright pissed off when they are told that no teacher can be held responsible for performance, when the rest of us live with that elementary reality every day.

So, to all of you good teachers– the vast majority of you who strive diligently, who love your work and your students, who respect the taxpayers who struggle to support their schools– it behooves you to speak a little louder against your labor leaders.  Tell them to tone it down, before the reputation of the educational community is completely destroyed in the eyes of a financially over-stressed population.  Tell your fellow teachers to stop treating students as pawns in a game of Risk.  Spread the idea that we are all in this current financial crisis together, and that creating an us-and-them mentality is not only counter-productive but downright destructive.  Encourage the rewarding of excellence and the active weeding out of bad teachers.  They exist, and you totally know who they are.  Stop protecting them.  Stop letting the unions protect them.

In short, do what’s right.  We’re all in this together.  We can’t afford not to.

And to the vocal minority of you educators and teacher’s union rabble rousers– the ones who made a monumental mess of the Wisconsin capital, who drug impressionable students out to marches as if they were human shields, who demand what you think you’ve got coming regardless of the cost to the rest of us, who make it virtually impossible to remove bad teachers and suction up tax money like it was a bottomless piggy bank while insulting those who actually pay those taxes– I have two words, two words that perhaps only speak for myself, but I seriously doubt it.  Those two words are:

Back. Off.

And you thought I’d end on a funny note, didn’t you?


My Non Self-Help Book

 I wanted to title this, “The Self-Help Book I Will Never Write” but I have to admit that I haven’t fully abandoned the idea.  I may indeed someday write such a book and if that day comes I will obviously hope nobody remembers this post, since I am going to reveal the only really important bit of the George Norman Lippert How-to-Succeed-at-Almost-Anything-Plan* right here.

Are you ready?  Here’s what I will put on the back cover of the paperback edition:  “If you are planning to buy this book, save your money, because it won’t help you.  If you believe reading a self-help book will give you the tools to become great at whatever it is you want to do, then you are already doomed to total insignificance.  No wildly successful person has ever attributed their accomplishments to a self-help book.  If they did, they’d not write their own self-help books, would they?  Still, I might just be teasing you.  I might be testing your commitment to getting rich using my simple 1-2-3 formula.  You’ll never know unless you buy the book, will you?  Stupid.”

Seriously.  I think that this would be a monumental best seller.

Seriously again, I believe that the world is made up of two kinds of people: those who do stuff, and those who talk/think about doing stuff.  The first group is too busy doing stuff to have time to read self-help books instructing them on how to do stuff.  The second group is too busy reading self-help books instructing them on how to do stuff to actually do stuff.

That paragraph makes sense if you read it again.  Go ahead.

Admittedly, a great deal of the efforts produced by people who do stuff is abject crap, in the same way that a great majority of the free throws tossed by somebody ardently practicing to be a pro basketball player are misses.  Those who do stuff know that they need to fail an amazing amount of times before they can ever hope to succeed.  Granted, they emphatically believe that they will succeed each and every time (just as the amateur b-ball player believes he will sink every shot) but when an effort misses, they don’t give up.  They mourn it for a few minutes, then move onto the next effort.

Those who talk/think about doing stuff, if they ever actually get to the point of making an effort that fails, spend months, years and lifetimes lamenting that failure and trying endlessly to jolt it back to life, like Frankenstein’s monster.

We all know this deep down.  We all know the man who calls himself an artist, who owns lots of paints and canvases and books about art and who attends a lot of art shows and museums and is chock full of opinions about art,  but who rarely, if ever, actually paints anything (or spends months and months lovingly, critically tweaking a painting that everybody else awkwardly knows is crap).

We all know the “writer” who is the charter member of their local literary guild, who loves to discuss “the craft”, who has attended endless seminars by famous writers, who owns every copy of “The Writer’s Market” for the past decade, and who can loftily critique (usually negatively) any book on the bestseller lists, but who has been tinkering with the same hundred pages of mediocre prose for years without ever actually finishing a single story (if they actually write anything at all).

On the other hand, we don’t often know about the “real” writers and artists (etc).  They don’t talk much about what they do.  They just do it, over and over, almost secretly, virtually compulsively.  They don’t think about “the craft”.  They don’t waste their time learning how to do it.  They just do it, and to a large extent they do it very poorly– abysmally, horribly, awkwardly.  They plug through doing it badly not because they long to get better, but because they just can’t help themselves.  They NEED to do it.  Doing it is its own reward.  Making the art, writing the stories, shooting the free-throws, anything and everything, whatever is the passion that drives them, they do it not to succeed, but because doing it fulfills them— even doing it badly.

To a large extent, people who do it don’t care about pleasing anyone but themselves.

And then, at some point, for at least some of them, an amazing thing happens: they do it enough that they become great at it.  They do it enough that others take notice.  I think that sometimes this shocks the people who are doing it.  They look up from their passion and realize that the world is watching, and they say “what?  This?  I’ve been doing this for YEARS.  What’s the big deal?  It’s a hobby.  It’s just something I have to do.  What’s everyb0dy looking at?”

Those who talk/think about doing it watch this and feel sick with jealousy.  After all, they are too busy watching other people do it (and reading and talking about doing it) to actually do it themselves.

The point is, everybody is born as one or the other– either a person who does it or a person who talks about doing it**.  Call it fatalistic, but I think it is the very rare person who is able to alter this ingrained mentality.

Thus, in short, if you are the sort of person who reads books about how to do it (and by “it”, of course, I mean any passion that drives you), then it stands to reason that you are not actually doing it.  Furthermore, it is doubtful that any book will succeed in making you do it if your own passions weren’t enough to begin with.  If you are a person born to do it, then you are far too busy doing it to take time to read books about how to do it.

Of course, sometimes even those who do it have to learn a bit more about how to do it better.  Even they have to take classes and read a few books.  You can always recognize them, however.  They are the ones who seem annoyed by it, who are impatient, who aren’t paying attention because they are already trying to put what they’ve learned into action.  They just can’t help themselves.

I suppose this all sounds pretty elitist.  Maybe it is.  But that doesn’t mean it may not also be true. Right?

So.  The last page of my self-help book might go something like this:  if you want to succeed at whatever it is you want to do, then stop reading this stupid book, stop pussy-footing around, stop trying to get perfect at your passion without actually doing it.  Do it.  Just go do it, and do it with glorious, unabashed horribleness.  Be awful at it.  Create something atrocious.  And then do it again, and again, and again.  It’s the only way.  Know that making terrible things is the ONLY path to eventually making something great.  Know that each failure is a sign-post on the way to success.

The alternative is to just sit at the start of the journey studying the map, never even starting, stymied in the belief that there MUST be a route to success that does not include endless failures.  The inescapable fact is that no such route exists, no matter what the self-help books say.

So what do you think?  Would my self-help book be a best-seller?

Fortunately, the fact that I am talking about writing it means that I will probably never actually do it.

*Of course, it remains to be seen whether this Plan works at all, since I myself have not experienced anything resembling wild success. 

** I suppose I should add that there really is a third group– those who neither talk about doing it or who do it.  These good folks are simply happy to enjoy the fruits of the labor of those who do it.  To those people, I offer a huge, wet kiss.  Figuratively.