Courage and the Mask of Masculinity

Recently, Glenn Greenwald--hands down my favorite blogger--has been laying the smack down on some of these far right warrior-wannabes who, from the luxury of their Cheetos-stained keyboards, have been hypocritically lambasting two FOX news reporters who were willing to say they converted to Islam to save their own lives.

He unmasks these villians as the truly fearful ones:

The creepy spectacle of watching one warrior after the next insist that we must risk other people's lives and bomb more people so that we don't feel girlish and scared and submissive is repugnant enough, in itself, to have to witness on a daily basis. But the fact that these same people are the ones whose deep, irrational fears of The Terrorist override virtually all other considerations, and who demand that we change our nation and relinquish all of the values and liberties which have always defined it and which make it worth fighting for, all because they believe that doing so is necessary to allow them some marginally greater chance of avoiding death, renders their accusations and warrior dances -- on top of everything else -- an exercise in the grossest and most absurd hypocrisy.

Mark Steyn and his comrades think they are so courageous (as they make clear virtually every day). But a courageous act entails risk, and they never risk anything. Quite the contrary, they are desperate to eliminate all perceived risks to their "safety," regardless of the costs. Their entire world-view is based upon and driven by their deeply irrational fears, which lead to a never-ending desire to sacrifice liberty (theirs and ours) and a hysterical, risk-free insistence that the Bad Scary People (along with hundreds of thousands or even millions of others near them) be bombed, incinerated and killed -- all so that they aren't so scared any more, so that they can feel safe.

I find this phenomenon to be an interesting one, fascinating to observe were it not so dangerous, so tragic.

I see it as a great advancement that this kind of sentiment is today somewhat marginalized. While I do have a competitive streak in me, I have never felt the need to put on a show of excessive masculinity--I mean, I recently dyed my hair purple, for chrissakes.

But is this in any way a loss? Even if those who bewail the disappearance of "men with chests" are themselves men with bosoms, they may still point to a legitimate concern. Hypocrites aren't always wrong; tu quoque is a fallacy after all.

Yes, undoubtedly it is a travesty that men who used their privilege to escape fighting a senseless war have no problem compensating for their youthful cowardice by sending others to die in a yet more senseless one. This is testosterone at its most perncious.

But I still admire courage in individuals. Spinoza, for instance, refused to shut up about his unorthodox views of God and human happiness, even after he was offered money by his synagogue to keep quiet, and even after an attempt was made on his life. Really, it is an example like his that makes me want to forego anonymity in my blogging, even though I don't shy from controversy (that is, relative to academia, e.g., the entertaining of conservative ideas and arguments that are too often dismissed as unthinkable) nor from the occasional personal admission.

Do we cling too fiercely to our lives? I still recall my answer to an essay question in an ethics class, in which I tried to argue that nothing--no cause, no belief, no person--is worth dying for. Yet, today, I feel nauseated when I think of all those who are so eager to trade liberty for life.

Have we forgotten the advantages of adversity, the positive effect that hardships (up to a certain point) can have on character? My upbringing was a typical suburban one. My parents were reluctant to discipline--and I don't blame them (too much) for it, since they were partly reacting to their own childhoods, and they always acted with love and good intent. But I find myself lacking self-discipline at inconvenient times. Fear of unknown unpleasant things looms too large in my pscyhology.

Recently, I saw Howard Dean campaigning on behalf of the Democrats in favor of an approach to terrorism that was "both tough and smart". In addition to being an excellent slogan, it brings to mind Aristotle's classic example of prudent courage as a mean between pusillanimity and foolhardiness. This more balanced approach is what we really need in our foreign policy.

On top of that, I would make a case for the more (traditionally) feminine virtues of compassion and empathy. Spinoza is on to something when he echoes a classically Christian sentiment that love can defeat hatred. There is some good to be found in everything, so is it not better to reap the benefits of peaceful coexistence and cooperation than to annihilate our enemy, destroying not merely the bad but the potential good within?

Upon reflection, I reiterate that the decline of hypermasculinity is an advancement. Traditional gender roles are stupid, and still exert too much of an influence on our lives. It is just a myth that courage and compassion are incompatible.

(A personal aside: Speaking from experience on the issue of gender norms, I wish more women appreciated [more or less] straight guys who weren't afraid of their feminine qualities; the whole "metrosexual" movement gave me some hope on this front, but I feel as though it has declined. Certainly, I am attracted to women who have certain masculine qualities, like aggressiveness.

I have recently made great strides personally by encountering and embracing the more feminine aspects of myself: my body and my emotions, the nonverbal and the social. I feel like a more complete person. And isn't androgyny a more balanced expression of humanity? I find it appealing in both men and women.

Although I recognize that gender and sexuality are related but distinct, I still ask: Who wouldn't choose to be bisexual if orientation were really a choice? Too bad it's not. I mean, you could double your options without having to lower your standards!)

Arguing for balance and moderation is such a cliché, but I think it's worth stressing here. In ethics and politics, there are no easy answers--this is why dissent is so important. War cannot destroy terror; it can only perpetuate it. To be able to admit this, and live by it, is true courage.

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