The Virtues of Dominion — Alastair’s Adversaria

In response to Aaron Renn’s recent conversation starter over on the Theopolis blog, I’ve written on the subject of what is missing in many Christian approaches to masculinity. What the manosphere and others of the teachers that Renn identifies recognize is the importance of manliness, of the traits that make a man apt for the […]

The Virtues of Dominion — Alastair’s Adversaria

A characteristically abstract, but still fantastic essay about the masculine virtues that our entire culture is so afraid of.

Hey Young Writers, Don’t Expect your Significant Other to Read your Stuff Necessarily

Hi young writers. This post is going to be loosely written (and it’s late going up) because this week was … whew. Well, it was a week.

This is just a little tip for how to be happy (happier, at least) in your life as an artist or novelist.

You may or may not end up having one of those amazing literary marriages where the person you married is also a writer, or at least an avid reader, and where they “get” books and specifically your genre, and where you get to bounce ideas off them, they read your drafts, and they are your harshest, most loving critic and your biggest fan.

Such marriages do exist, I am told. Stephen King has said that his wife does this for him. I think it would be tremendous to be in such a relationship, and when I hear about such marriages, I admit I am a little jealous.

But this is not a must-have for your writing life.

Some people are readers and some just … aren’t. If the person you are with does not happen to be a person who reads fiction for fun, then trying to force them to read your stuff is a ticket to misery.

Unless they are conversant in fiction (and preferably in your genre), they won’t get out of your novel what you were hoping. And you won’t know whether this is because your novel has failed to communicate as you had hoped, or whether it’s because your s.o. is not among your intended audience. So you could end up in despair over a novel that’s good (or has the potential to be good) because your s.o. didn’t enjoy it, or you could end up discounting legitimate criticisms on the basis that “he/she just doesn’t get me.”

Which leads to the second point. Showing your work to close family members puts an awful lot of pressure on the relationship. We all know how much of ourselves we pour into our works of art, how emotionally charged they become. We all know how hard it can be to accept criticism from people we see only occasionally, let alone people we have to live with. Even if your s.o. is capable of giving informed feedback, do you want to make the relationship about his or her opinion of your work? Are you that emotionally strong, that capable of detachment?

Some people are, apparently. But, “know thyself.” Perhaps you aren’t. This is especially true if you are younger rather than older, and it is especially true in the early days right after you have finished a manuscript (or while you are working on it). I don’t know about you, but my tendency is to show my work to others too soon, at which point it is still a little rough and also I am still a little too excited about it to think clearly.

Another potential problem: if your s.o. is concerned about what other people think, then your work may be emotionally loaded for him or her as well. They may be thinking, “What if this is published before the world? Will it be misunderstood? Will it make my spouse look bad? Will it make me look bad?” This might always be an issue, but it’s going to be exacerbated if you are showing them early drafts, when all they can see is the roughness, not the glory that is in your head.

But, you ask, why in the world would you date or marry someone who doesn’t “get you”? Well, first of all, while your work is very important to you, it is not all there is to you. Secondly, it’s possible that the same s.o. who does not “get” your work when he or she sees it in draft or idea form, will manage to enjoy it when it has been vetted and edited by people who know what they are doing, published in all its glory, or made into a Hollywood blockbuster (ha!).

Thirdly, consider that if you are an author or an artist, there might be benefits to marrying someone who has a different calling … perhaps one at which it is actually possible to make a living, for instance.

I always kind of assumed that I’d meet some poet type in the English department in college and marry him and we’d go on to live a Bohemian poet life together. I’m frankly really glad that didn’t happen because I am happy not to be in academia right now. The man I married does share my values and many of my interests, and he does enjoy a good story, but he is not a reader. He’s got social skills and practical skills that I don’t have. I am happy to have him. We like each other. We can build a life together, raise our kids, go on camping trips without bonding over my writing. (He also doesn’t get the point of visual art. He is never going to rave over one of my paintings. I don’t expect him to. I hope for that from other visual artists.) When I do publish my books, maybe my husband will read them or maybe he will wait for the audio book, but I don’t expect him to get super excited because he does not normally go around reading sci-fi or fantasy or any fiction, really. He takes in stories through audio and movies. He is not part of my intended audience.

I hope this is helpful to you.

And to any family members who have read my drafts and are now trembling in your boots: It’s OK. I’m over it. I’ve moved on.

“Don’t Eat My Family”

Here is Ikash, who was a teenager when he was the protagonist of my novel The Strange Land. Now he is a husband and father, and he is doing what husbands and fathers do … trying to protect his family from the scary things in the world. (Of course Hyuna could help with this too, but as you can see, she recently had a baby, so she needs him to do the heavy lifting.)

This exact scene does not happen in my third book (at least not yet!), but it does illustrate his basic stance throughout that novel.

The black and white drawing did not scan great … a lot of detail was lost … but I needed something to post.

Are you perhaps feeling like this right now?

Finally Read This

TBR Naya Nuki
Naya Nuki by Kenneth Thomasma, Grandview Publishing Co., Jackson, Wyoming, 1983

This children’s book is based on actual events. At the age of eleven, Naya Nuki and her friend Sacajawea (yes, that Sacajawea) were kidnapped during a raid and marched about 1,000 miles to the east, into what is now North Dakota, to serve as slaves of the more prosperous Minnetare.

Naya Nuki determines to escape. She begins preparing before the outbound journey is even over, memorizing landmarks and so on. (Luckily, in order to get back to her home country, she basically just has to follow the Missouri River.) She then busies herself being a model prisoner, while also obtaining and hiding the things she will need for her journey, such as a buffalo robe (basically, a winter coat/sleeping bag), moccasins, extra food, and even a knife.

Sacajawea isn’t interested in trying to escape, being fairly sure that the girls will be quickly run down and killed by their captors. Shortly before Naya Nuki’s escape, Sacajawea tells her that she has been sold to a white man. (I knew Sacajawea was married to a Frenchman, and I’d always wondered whether it was a romantic interracial love match. Turns out, not so much.)

Naya Nuki cleverly waits for a stormy night to escape. She travels by night at first in case she is being tracked and continues to think like a fugitive throughout her journey. Once she gets well out of range of her captors, she then “only” has to deal with things like illness, snowstorms, and even a grizzly bear.

This little eleven-year-old girl walks all the way back to her people. She seems so capable throughout most of the book. It’s not until the end, when she and her mother are crying and embracing, that she seems like a little girl again. Her people change her name to Naya Nuki, which means Girl Who Ran. We don’t know what her name was before that, so Thomasma calls her Naya Nuki throughout the book.

Four years later, Sacajawea shows up at the Shoshoni camp again, this time in the company of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and carrying the baby she had with her French husband, Charbonneau.

I’ve always admired Sacajawea for making that journey with a baby, but Naya Nuki … wow.

Here are some charts I’ve created to illustrate my reaction to this true story.

Strength Chart

Naya Nuki, while a lot physically stronger than yours truly, is still an eleven-year-old girl, not a grown man. She doesn’t have unlimited strength, speed, or endurance.

Toughness Chart

But her mental toughness knows no bounds.

Anthropic Quote of the Week

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me. No, nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.

Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2

Spear vs. Grindstone

The grindstone: approved usage

Another post in the series on The Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age by Richard Rudgley. (You don’t really need to see another image of the book cover, do you?)

A great deal of emphasis has been placed on the role of hunting in the Old Stone Age … Hunting has been given an inordinate status both by archaeologists and by hunting peoples themselves. In the latter case this is largely due to the fact that it is the men who do most of the hunting and they therefore pride themselves on their own achievements and tend to play down the considerable contribution of women. Prehistorians are presented with an archaeological record that contains far more information on hunting than on gathering activities … owing to the poor survival of botanical specimens.

Rudgley, p. 158

Of course, hunting is also more glamorous, riskier, and it generates better stories than “that time we found all those berries.”

According to Rudgley, in the case of modern hunter-gatherers, up to 80% of a community’s diet can consist of “gathered foods,” which includes edible plants but also such things as eggs and shellfish. We can’t assume that ancient people’s diets were exactly the same. The world has changed quite a bit (there is less big game, for example). Still, this is suggestive that people were processing and eating plants long before the supposed advent of agriculture.

The Noble Savage Myth and the Wild Yam Question

Speaking of modern hunter-gatherers, there is actually some question as to whether it is possible for people to survive on pure hunting and gathering. It is extremely difficult to find a modern hunter-gatherer group that does not get some of their calories from trade with nearby agricultural peoples, and/or “paracultivation.” Paracultivation is practiced by the Central African Pygmies, who re-plant the tops of rain forest yams (a main source of starch for them) after they harvest them, and by people in Central Borneo who depend on the sago palm for starch, who will cultivate patches of palms that they can return to and “gather” later. The so-called Wild Yam Question, first raised by Thomas Headland, postulates that in tropical rain forests there is not enough naturally occurring food for people ever to have survived there without at least paracultivation. This has been hotly debated among anthropologists. You can read an overview of the debate here: “Could ‘Pure’ Hunter-Gatherers Live in a Rainforest? : A 1999 review of the current status of The Wild Yam Question”

Was Agriculture Really a Revolution?

Implements normally associated with agriculture – mortar and pestles, sickles, grain storage – are found in the Natufian culture of the Levant (c. 10,500 to 8000 BC). I can’t resist pointing out that this is the exact time period which, in my books, comes right after the Tower of Babel and only a few hundred years after the Flood. In that, possibly true, alternate universe, these “first farmers” could have been people to whom the knowledge of agriculture was not new, but who were having to resettle the earth after a series of society-shattering disasters.

Could there have been farming before the Flood and before the Neolithic “agricultural revolution”? Mortars and pestles have been found that are at least (with the usual caveats about dates) 80,000 years old (California); 43,000 to 49,000 years old (South Africa); 30,000 years old (Australia); 44,000 years old (Ukraine); and 40,000 years old (Spain). Various stone artifacts from even farther back (Lower Palaeolithic sites, including Olduvai Gorge) have been speculated to be pounding stones, also used to process seeds or grains. (Rudgley p. 159 – 160)

The Oft-Under-Appreciated Grindstone

The grindstone may not be as glamorous as the spear and spear-thrower, but it can be used as a weapon in a pinch:

Abimelech son of Jerub-Baal went to his mother’s brothers in Shechem and said to mother’s clan, “Ask all the citizens of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you: to have all seventy of Jerub-Baal’s sons rule over you, or just one man?'”

The citizens of Shechem were inclined to follow Abimelech. They gave him seventy shekels of silver, and Abimelech used it to hire reckless adventurers, who became his followers. He went to his father’s home in Ophrah and on one stone murdered his seventy brothers. Then all the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo gathered beside the great tree at the pillar in Shechem to crown Abimelech king.

[Things go bad between Abimelech and the people of Shechem, and he ends up razing their city.]

Next Abimelelch went to Thebez and besieged it and captured it. Inside the city, however, was a strong tower, to which all the men and women – all the people of the city – fled. They locked themselves in and climbed up on the tower roof. Abimelech went to the tower and stormed it. But as he approached the entrance to the tower to set it on fire, a woman dropped an upper millstone on his head and cracked his skull.

Hurriedly he called to his armor bearer, “Draw your sword and kill me, so that they can’t say, ‘A woman killed him.'” So his servant ran him through, and he died.

Judges 9:1 – 6 and 50 – 55

But we all know she did.

The grindstone: alternate usage.

Complete Nonsense, Delightfully Expressed

Had we but world enough, and time,

This coyness, lady, were no crime.

We would sit down, and think which way

To walk, and pass our long love’s day.

Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side

Should’st rubies find; I by the tide

Of Humber would complain. I would

Love you ten years before the Flood;

And you should if you please refuse

Till the Conversion of the Jews.

My vegetable love should grow

Vaster than empires, and more slow.

An hundred years should go to praise

Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze

Two hundred to adore each breast;

But thirty thousand to the rest;

An age at least to every part,

And the last age should show your heart.

For lady you deserve this state;

Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear

Time’s wing-ed chariot hurrying near;

And yonder all before us lie

Deserts of vast eternity.

Thy beauty shall no more be found,

Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound

My echoing song: then worms shall try

That long preserved virginity:

And your quaint honor turn to dust,

And into ashes all my lust.

The grave’s a fine and private place,

But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue

Sits on thy skin like morning dew,

And while thy willing soul transpires

And every pore with instant fires,

Now let us sport us while we may;

And now, like amorous birds of prey,

Rather at once our time devour,

Than languish in his slow-chapped power.

Let us roll all our strength, and all

Our sweetness, up into one ball;

And tear our pleasures with rough strife,

Through the iron gates of life.

Thus, though we cannot make our sun

Stand still, yet we will make him run.

“To His Coy Mistress,” by Andrew Marvell (1621 – 1678)

Did any of you fellas talk like this when you were dating your lady?

Perhaps you did. This is, after all, just a better-expressed version of the old line, “Do you want to die a virgin?”

That’s why I call it complete nonsense. Come on, Andrew Marvell. Was this girl really expecting you to wait centuries for her? Or was she just hesitating for a few weeks? I’m guessing probably the latter. And you decided to bring the specter of mortality before her in order to guilt her in to your bed immediately.

But I honestly can’t dismiss this poem because, oh my gosh, it is so well expressed! I hope you laughed several times while reading it, because so many of the lines are funny and clever. The AA BB CC rhyme scheme is flawless, and the rhymes, together with the four feet instead of five per line, run through the middle of sentences in order to hurry us along through the poem. We want to get to the next rhyme, just as Marvell wants to get to the next … thing. And many of these images are so evocative that they get quoted frequently: “deserts of vast eternity” … “time’s slow-chapped power” … “all our strength and all our sweetness.”

I think the content of this poem is a huge piece of eye-roll worthy male manipulation. But the form is so terrific that I love the thing despite myself. I almost have it memorized. It’s a 17th century ear worm.

Marvell has taken a quintessential line, and he has elevated it, through the magic of poetry, into something else entirely.

Love Ruins Everything

OK, not everything that Nicholas Cage’s character says in this little seduction speech do I endorse. For example,

“I don’t care if I burn in hell. I don’t care if you burn in hell.”

This recklessness is indeed what we sound like when we’re in the grip of headlong love (or lust), but I still don’t recommend saying it to your significant other.

But.

The way he winds up the speech is just … brilliant.

“Love don’t make things nice. It ruins everything. It breaks our hearts. We are here to ruin ourselves and love the wrong people and break our hearts … and die!

Right on, Nick! The only thing that loving another guarantees us is heartbreak. No one knows this better than our Lord. He definitely “loved the wrong people” … and it got Him killed. Sure, love wins in the end, but let’s not skip over this part. The stories we tell will ring hollow if we skip the part where love ruins everything.

Factory Settings

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

Today’s post is about cognitive science. But it’s also about love, in ways that will become clear.

In this post, I will regurgitate what Jordan Peterson has said about the Big Five personality traits, and then I will have a comment about them. If you doubt my word, or want to hear the same things said in a much more detailed, professional, and actually egg-headed manner, please feel free to watch the JP video below.

I have posted before about the MBTI, a personality typology which some people find insightful, but which was developed by amateurs. The MBTI makes a lot of intuitive sense to many people, but it was still made up. And it is not the only one with this problem. Peterson points out in this video that most personality typologies started as a theory which the developers then tried to apply to actual people. Not so with the Big Five. These are personality traits that emerge naturally from data. (JP says that much more convincingly than I do, of course.) They vary among individuals within every culture, and they are fairly stable throughout a person’s life. These traits are on a continuum, not binary. Each of us comes into this world falling at a certain point on each of these continua. As we mature, we expand our range along the continuum, but we are never going to move our set point from one end of a continuum to the other.

The Big Five Personality Traits

This will be easier to understand if we look at the Big Five.

Extraversion

Neuroticism

Agreeableness

Conscientiousness

Openness (to new experiences)

Very extraverted people draw energy from being around others. Very introverted people are drained by this. (This is the only trait from the Big Five that shows up, with the same terminology, in the MBTI.)

People with high neuroticism are more susceptible to negative emotion.

People with high agreeableness want to please others. Less agreeable people are less motivated to please others and more motivated to reach their own goals.

People with high conscientiousness are more industrious and more orderly than people without.

People with high openness tend to be creative types. They are also more likely to be politically liberal. (I am high openness, but due to a long personal journey, not politically leftist. My politics are spite of my temperament. This does mean that typical conservative arguments often don’t appeal to me.)

The Big Five and the Sexes

This is an aside, but Peterson often refers to the Big Five traits when talking about average differences between men and women. Women are, on average, more agreeable than men, higher in neuroticism, and slightly higher in conscientiousness. It is easy to see why these traits would flow from being designed to be moms. Even a greater tendency to negative emotion is an advantage when you’re taking care of preverbal children and you have to be sensitive to their distress.

These Are Factory Settings

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It’s easy to see how a person could feel inferior by virtue of having any given one of these traits. It’s also easy to imagine how people who are proud of their trait could think there is something seriously wrong with people on the other end of the continuum.

  • Why don’t you want to be around other people?/ Why can’t you ever entertain yourself? (Extraversion)
  • Why are you so sensitive?/so insensitive? (Neuroticism)
  • Why are you so domineering?/so wishy-washy? (Agreeableness)
  • Why are you so lazy and irresponsible/so uptight and controlling? (Conscientiousness)
  • Why are you such a stick-in-the-mud/a hippie? (Openness)

Relax, people.

All of us have character flaws. And sure, they fall along the fault lines of our Big Five traits, no doubt. But having any given one of these traits is not the same thing as having a sin nature. Conversely, not a single one of these traits will make the bearer a perfect person, either. These are just the factory settings.

And now we get to the love.

I was thinking about these traits as I sat in a Sunday School lesson about the love of God. To be specific, I was bemoaning that my natural tendency is to be low in conscientiousness. This has often caused me trouble with loved ones who are higher in conscientiousness. How can that be a good thing? Why didn’t God set my natural conscientiousness level a little higher? What was He thinking?

In a move typical of people who are high in openness but low in conscientiousness, I was lost in my thoughts rather than paying close attention. But then, the topic of the Sunday School lesson abruptly broke in upon my consciousness.

He loves me.

He loves me, and He made me, and, for some reason, He chose to make a person who is a bit low in conscientiousness. In fact, He chose to make people with all different Big Five factory settings. Ergo, all of these factory settings are by design. He must think we need all kinds.

Ergo, He likes your settings. Even if someone else doesn’t. Even if no one else does.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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