About 'Alpha+Good'

Alpha+Good (a bad wordplay on Orwell's "double plus good" and old machismo - I'm the realest after all) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear' or 'Unripe language'), the umbrella of several literary projects in Dutch.

This section is almost exclusively in English and comprises my ongoing thoughts on progress, gender, politics and various other social themes. Why is this in English why everything else in Dutch? Because I want to gun for a much wider audience here. Also, my literary English isn't good enough, otherwise I would always write in English.

Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Lonely as a rhinoceros

My virtual love affair with Laurie Penny just doesn't seem to stop. Every piece I read by her seems to drop another scent bomb into the daily bath of opinions I consume. Valentine's Day seemed like a good excuse for some other progressively-inclined friends to post her piece from last year, titled 'Maybe you should just be single'. And yes, why not?

No ifs and buts

It's almost darkly funny how on the Facebook friend's wall, the nay-sayers were all men, even if they agreed with parts of the article or came from a progressive, learned place, while Penny, for her part, describes exactly that happening whenever she opines on this sort of stuff.

So while I have hardly a word of criticism to offer and I'd like to say her mixed perspective of feminism and socialism on the issue of coupling, marriage and relationships makes a huge load of sense, I perhaps wanted to add a few points, coming from the place I'm coming from.

Failing at being a unicorn

I think that between ages 18 and 28, I spent a lot of time being the proverbial "horse with a horn", believing myself to be a unicorn. I don't say this as a guilt-wracked person looking to garner sympathy points. I truly wanted to be a good person to my partners, an understanding boyfriend who could fulfill the whole range of needs: emotional comfort, a sympathetic ear, bloody awesome sex and an overall sense of companionship as equals.

Needless to say, that didn't always go as well as planned and I certainly wouldn't say I'm a unicorn today. But then, who is? You can't be all the things, all the time. Also, someone's unicorn could be someone else's cockroach. There are awful men who are adored by their partners, and great men who are despised by their environments.

Learnings from the heart in a blender

My audience on this blog is mostly, so I imagine, men on the road to being a progressive and trying to get a grip on what that means in theory and practice. Women are very welcome to sniff around as well, of course. But (straight) guys, here's two few things I learned:
  • You can't be everything to someone. This pushes Penny to make a case for breaking the confines of the traditional non-monogamous relationship. That is fine. But there are lighter forms, too. Your partner is a fully realized human being and will always have needs that you cannot fulfill.
  • She can't be everything to you. Perhaps she doesn't give a shit about your taste in music or maybe she's not that good at bandaging your social wounds. Sort out for yourself what is important, but remind yourself that there are other people in your life that take care of different needs, as well.

Different animals

Other than that, since people tend to be a very heterogenous sort even when social power structures aren't involved, just like #notallmen are people who see a relationship as a reward or a mere asset to their life, there are also many women who definitely do not see things the way Penny does, or have arrived at her truths.

In my twenties, I lost count of the women who were looking for a surrogate father or gentle mentor figure and then turned out not to reciprocate any kind of emotional need. Or ostensibly progressive women who had no compunctions about taking advantage of my kindness and generosity. Mind, I'm not talking "oh I paid the restaurant bill" here, but driving them around, letting them smoke up my cigarettes and never getting even so much of an offer of kindness or thanks in return. Needless to say, these affairs never typically survived beyond a month or so.

As common as depression

And that's the thing: it's so depressingly common for men to be abusive, shitty and entitled, and it happens so much that female behaviour gets immediately interpreted in the most malign ways, that the truly bad they can do are swept under the rug. Yes, I realise some women resort to manipulation because assertiveness was heavily discouraged in them. And yes, patriarchy brainwashes women into expecting emotionally mute men who are just sort of there, mutely hanging around, mutely looking tough, mutely earning a salary.

Men who make honest attempts at being better people are necessarily no more wanted than men who don't. You'd think otherwise from the many pieces lamenting how awful men can be and how tough romantic existence can be for ambitious, smart women who don't fit the mold of the little housekeeper or the saucy "one of the boys" girl. But few women are holding out for the "unicorns" Penny describes, and I'm inclined to say a big majority isn't even interested in a person like that.

Ethics as a reward in itself

This isn't to say that "good" men are more entitled to getting what they want. What I am saying is that a lot of (o)pining on romance is ostensibly the public domain of women - men who get brought into the public eye generally talk more about sex, or about 'game', or to sanctimoniously get hoisted into the professorial chair, dispensing dispassionate relationship wisdom while apparently having no emotional lives of their own.

Trying to be a better person is a reward in itself, letting you understand others as well as yourself better, questioning society and questioning tradition, not for selfish gains, but because you're looking out for the betterment of all and irrational roadblocks to disappear. But men must also talk about their emotions. Engage with them and work through them. Feminists being nice enough to include us and admit that we have feelings, too, is not enough. We must do this job ourselves, and claim our joy, our hurt, our insecurities and all the soft bits that make us human, too.

Lonely as a rhinoceros

Yes, it is ironic that I'm writing this as a response to another piece - and by a woman, no less. But the fact of the matter is that these ideas have been swirling around my head for a long time. Let me extend Penny's unicorn metaphor into a Nietzsche metaphor. Friedrich Nietzsche - who was of course a famed misogynist, I might add - wrote that to be different was to choose a path in life that was "lonely like a rhinoceros's".

Luckily, I'm not lonely. I don't feel a dire need for a relationship and society isn't pressing that demand on me. But the playfield can be just as depressing for men, just in different ways. In my experience, many women still aren't looking around for an equal, and some among the more liberated types unfortunately seem to mistake liberation for adopting the shitty attitudes many men have been having about women for centuries. Liberation is not about perpetuating the patriarchal myth that men cannot be victims - why else would gross, objectifying language about men get an ostensible pass so often?

The things to do

So what is now ahead? On the one hand, I wholly subcribe to Penny's thesis that being single is preferrable to clinging to modes of life that hurt you or trap you in situations where you are unable to pursue the things that make you realize your greater human potential. Society no longer depends on couples or nuclear families to survive, what with so many other different modes of companionship at our disposal.

On the other hand, I wish this issue would not be confined to the "women's corner" as it so often is. We men must not only also be ready to have these kind of conversations and talk about intimacy, think about what it is we hope to find in relationships; and, politely turn the tables just a little. Some women are shitty human beings and deserve to be called out as such. This does not excuse misogyny or patriarchal attitudes in any way, but dialog should be a two-way street.

Lastly, we should subvert the world's capitalist order and install a federation of truly egalitarian republics I think we would do well to stop and think about what it is we seem to be chasing so often. To quote esteemed '90s intellectual rap paragon Maxi Jazz: "If you place a thing in the centre of your life that lacks the power to nourish, it will eventually poison you, and destroy everything that you are."