I had something of a ride last week following the publication of something I wrote for National Review.
Being the flagship publication of conservatism I expected it. Left-wingers tend to hangout on the periphery of things like National Review. So when the trolls descended I wasn’t surprised. There was a call to harm me that went out on Twitter, but I saw it early and managed to turn the person in to the Twitter police.
I did get some kudos from folks–Alec Steele sent me a thank you via Twitter, Brett McKay at the Art of Manliness told me he liked it. And there are others. Sales of my book took a nice jump. So, I’m grateful for that. Anyway, here it is–reproduced for your reading pleasure (or pain).
I don’t watch much cable television; I’m not even into Netflix. Instead, I subscribe to a dozen or so channels on YouTube.
One of my favorites features a bespectacled 19-year-old blacksmith from the United Kingdom named Alec Steele. (Yes, that’s his real name.) He puts out a smartly crafted episode each weekday. His enthusiasm is quite marvelous, and his craftsmanship even more so. I just finished watching his three-part series on the making of a Damascus-steel straight razor. It is beautiful, if somewhat useless — the kid is barely old enough to shave. Besides, who needs a straight razor when you can get those disposable plastic jobs with five blades down at the CVS?
Nevertheless, I think I’d like to try his razor. I stopped using those disposable razors a while back. They were so stinking expensive, and they gave me razor burn, to boot. I’ve been using an old-fashioned safety razor ever since and I even use a badger-hair brush to lather up. Now, I’m not a hipster. I made the switch to save money, and my face. But the straight razor may even make for a better shave, and since it eliminates the need to throw anything away that would end up in a landfill, it’s the socially responsible way to go. Yet most people consider straight razors (and blacksmiths) obsolete.
In a roundabout way this gets me to something that I’ve been thinking about for a while: Are men-as-men obsolete?
Some people think so. Hanna Rosin published a book with the help of her husband a few years back entitled The End of Men: And the Rise of Women. I’ve not read it, but I am familiar with how the story ends. It ends with traditional guys like me winking out of existence. According to the story, if we ever served a purpose, which is doubtful, we’ve been replaced by things like robots and the internet. Then there’s the welfare state, which magically meets the needs of women and children better than men ever did.
I thought the disposables made my life easier, that I was in effect buying convenience. It was only the pain of a burnt face and an empty wallet that got me to try the obsolete technology known as the safety razor.
Traditionally, men-as-men made things. And of all the things they made, households in the old-fashioned sense were the most important. One of the supposed benefits of convenience is freeing up time. That’s what we’re really after in the end: more freedom to do as we please. And we have more choices than ever today. But while we like choices, we don’t like having to choose, because a used choice is a lost choice. The freest man of all is the guy on the sofa who won’t put the remote control down because he’s afraid of missing something. Except he’s not.
I don’t think Alec Steele watches much television. I don’t think he has the time; he’s too busy making stuff. And he’s free to do so because he can. But this is a very different kind of freedom than that guy on the sofa enjoys. The 19-year-old blacksmith has agency, the freedom to do something worth doing. This freedom is not so much a right as it is an achievement. It has no doubt cost him something else, which limits him in a way. But there’s one thing I’m sure of: He’s happier than our theoretical sofa guy.
We used to depend on men with agency like Alec Steele. Today we depend upon the machinery of the welfare state and forms of employment more fit for insects than for people. True, we have more choices. But are we happier?
Well, that’s a good part of it. But you should really finish reading it over at National Review. Follow the link below.