Not so recently, I told someone I had a blog and it was called Journeyman Philosopher and they couldn’t stop themselves from laughing. I said, ‘Yes, it is a bit wankerish.’ Especially for an Aussie. But I’m not and never will be the real thing – a philosopher, that is – yet I practice philosophy, by attempting to emulate the credo I have inscribed at the top. The truth is that none of us, who value knowledge for its own sake, ever stop learning, and I’ve made it a lifetime passion. This blog does little more than pass on and share, and occasionally provide insights. But I also attempt to provoke thought, and if I should ever fail at that then I should call it quits.
So this post is one of those thought-provoking ones, because it challenges centuries of culturally accepted norms. I’m a single bloke who’s never married, so I’m hardly an expert on relationships, but this is a philosophical position on relationships garnered both from experience and observation.
Recently, I took part in a discussion on Eli’s blog, Rustbelt Philosophy, whereby I cited Nietzsche from Beyond Good and Evil that most people take a philosophical position on visceral grounds and then rationalise it with an argument. As I commented on Eli’s blog, I think this is especially true for religious arguments, but it has wider applications as well. The more we invest in a theory (for example) the less likely we are to reject it, even in the face of conflicting evidence.
I’m currently reading Roger Penrose’s latest book, Cycles of Time (to be the subject of a future post) and he readily acknowledges his personal prejudices in outlining his iconoclastic theory for the origins of our universe. The point I’m making, and its relevance to this post, is that I too have prejudices that shape my views on this topic.
In the last decade or 2 there has been a strong and popular resurgence in Jane Austen’s novels (through film and TV), which indicates they have strong universal themes. Jane Austen suffered from the prejudices of her day when women were not supposed to earn money, and the class structure, in which she lived, precluded intelligent women, like herself, from attaining fulfilling lives. Everything was dependent on them marrying the right bloke, or more clinically, marrying into the right family. I have to say that I’ve seen examples of that narrow-minded thinking even in my own lifetime. Austen had her novels published through a male intermediary and on her grave there is no mention that she was an author because it was considered a slight for a woman to admit she had a profession.
But the theme of every Austen novel that I’ve seen (I haven’t read any of them) is that the woman finds the right bloke despite the obstacles that her society puts in her way. And the right bloke is the one who demonstrates that he’s a genuine friend and not someone who is playing the social game according to the rules of their society. Austen was an iconoclast in her own right, and the fact that her stories still ring true today, indicates that she was revealing a universal truth.
Somewhere in my childhood I realised that women are in fact the stronger sex, and that whilst men can’t live without women, they can live without us. But this is only one reason that I believe women should do the choosing and not the men. The mechanics of courtship also indicate that it is the woman who chooses even though the bloke thinks it’s him. I remember seeing a documentary on speed-dating once, and the facilitator made the exact same observation. Personally, I wasn’t surprised.
In many respects, I think the best analogy in the animal kingdom is with birds. The male really just wants to have sex, so what does he do? He sings or he flashes colourful plumage or he performs a dance or he builds a bower, and then the female chooses the one she thinks is best, not the other way round. Now, this is an analogy, but I think it applies to humans just as well. Whilst it is the woman who might arguably wear the plumage, she does the selecting, and it is the men who perform. We show off our wit and conversation, we drive flash cars and buy big houses and use whatever talents we may have to impress. I read somewhere recently (Scientific American Mind) that in mixed company it is the men who tell the jokes and the women who do the laughing.
So my argument is that we woo but women select. I believe this is the natural order and centuries of cultural, religious and political control have attempted to overturn it. All our institutions have been patriarchal and marriage is arguably the most patriarchal of them all.
And this is where my argument reflects the sentiment expressed by Nietzsche, because I have a rational justification to support my intuitively-premised prejudice. It is the woman who has most to lose in a relationship because she’s the one who gets pregnant. So what I’m arguing is that it should be her choice all the way down the line. It is the woman who should determine the parameters and limits of a relationship. It is she who should decide how intimate it should become and whether marriage is an option, not the bloke. I would even argue that men cope with rejection better than women. Our sex drive is like a tap, easy to turn on, not so easy to turn off, but that’s what masturbation is for.
Anyone who has read my book, Elvene, will recognise a feminist theme that pretty well reflects the philosophy I’ve outlined above. It wasn’t intentional, and it was only afterwards that I realised that I had encapsulated that theme into my writing. Considering it’s set in the future, not the past, it has little in common with Jane Austen. As one of its reviewers pointed out, the book also deals with relationship issues like respect, honesty and generosity of spirit.
In essence, I think the patriarchal cultural mores that we’ve had for centuries are not only past their use-by-date, but are in conflict with the natural order for human relationships. Our societies would be a lot more psychologically healthy if that was acknowledged.
Addendum: Yes, I changed the title.