Justice, Trauma, & Healing

Man. I don’t know how to clear­ly write about this; it will be long & messy. I’ve spent a few weeks think­ing about the gestalt of the sex­u­al assault & harass­ment sto­ries that have per­me­at­ed the news. At first I was hap­py to see that ser­i­al offend­ers, who had used their pow­er cor­rupt­ly, were receiv­ing actu­al con­se­quences for their actions. At the same time, I felt like the con­se­quences were being enact­ed by unin­volved, non-author­i­ta­tive par­ties. I think now that my per­cep­tions there we formed by the way the sto­ries were framed in the media. To be hon­est, I think the deci­sions were made because it’s just good busi­ness to virtue sig­nal in this way. They are shocked, shocked to find gam­bling going on here!

Justice

I’m still unsure how I feel about this kind of moral jus­tice. I go back, again and again, to my Catholic upbring­ing:

Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. And ear­ly in the morn­ing he came again into the tem­ple, and all the peo­ple came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Phar­isees brought unto him a woman tak­en in adul­tery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Mas­ter, this woman was tak­en in adul­tery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law com­mand­ed us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempt­ing him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his fin­ger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they con­tin­ued ask­ing him, he lift­ed up him­self, and said unto them, He that is with­out sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being con­vict­ed by their own con­science, went out one by one, begin­ning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman stand­ing in the midst. When Jesus had lift­ed up him­self, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man con­demned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Nei­ther do I con­demn thee: go, and sin no more.

John 8:1–11, KJV

And now see that I’ve prob­a­bly missed a few points in this les­son. I’ve always tak­en it to mean sim­ply: You, a sin­ner, should not con­demn oth­ers who sin. Yet this is only a wise moral func­tion when you have the pow­er, and the accused does not. With­hold­ing con­dem­na­tion of those who abuse their pow­er per­pet­u­ates that abuse.

I do not begrudge the anger and sense of vic­ar­i­ous vengeance that women are feel­ing as these pow­er­ful men are held to account. Injus­tice should always be appro­pri­ate­ly addressed. Yet at the same time, I am look­ing for, but not see­ing a path of mer­cy or restora­tive jus­tice avail­able here. Maybe it’s there and I’m miss­ing it? More like­ly, I think, is that this is just white guys final­ly get­ting a taste of what women & minori­ties have lived with for thou­sands of years. If I under­stand this par­a­digm cor­rect­ly, I am wor­ried about it. I want to assume that our goal as eth­i­cal, empa­thet­ic beings is to cre­ate a soci­ety where insti­tu­tion­al­ized forms of oppres­sion cease to exist because all peo­ple are look­ing out for all peo­ple. That’s tough though, because we’re trib­al & clique-ish by nature. Vengeance and vig­i­lan­tism are trib­al behav­iors. So while I do not begrudge the feel­ings, I also do not know what goal they progress us toward.

For chil­dren are inno­cent and love jus­tice; while most of us are wicked and nat­u­ral­ly pre­fer mer­cy.

G.K. Chester­ton, On House­hold Gods and Gob­lins, 1922

Trauma

Of all the pow­er­ful or car­niv­o­rous ani­mals… the wolf seems to have been the most impor­tant for the Indo-Euro­pean war­riors. Reflex­es of the old word wlk­wo, “wolf,” are found in lit­er­al­ly hun­dreds of prop­er names, and [in the names of] numer­ous peo­ples, such as the Luvians, Lycians, [et cetera]…Stories of lycan­thropy are well known among the Greeks, Romans, Ger­mans, Celts, Ana­to­lians, and Ira­ni­ans, and these would seem to be trace­able to these ancient war­rior prac­tices.

In Ger­man­ic myth and leg­end, say Brown and Antho­ny, these fer­al war-bands “are called Män­ner­bünde… a label often applied [by schol­ars] to all sim­i­lar Indo-Euro­pean insti­tu­tions.” Män­ner­bünde means “men-league,” league of men.

Toward their con­clu­sion, Brown and Antho­ny spec­u­late on the psy­cho­log­i­cal ben­e­fits of a sym­bol­ic trans­for­ma­tion into a beast of prey. The wolf war­riors, they sur­mise, “would feel no guilt for break­ing the taboos of human soci­ety because they had not been humans [at the time].”

Find­ing some way to deal with guilt must have been cru­cial, not only for indi­vid­ual mem­bers of the leagues but for their soci­eties as a whole. This is because mem­ber­ship in the Män­ner­bünde last­ed only for a set peri­od. If you were still alive at the end of that time, you had to inte­grate your­self back into your old com­mu­ni­ty. In order to per­form the roles soci­ety now need­ed you to per­form — fam­i­ly man, work­ing stiff — you had to shed your taint­ed and bloody sav­age iden­ti­ty.

For some, this would have been impos­si­ble, no mat­ter what psy­cho­log­i­cal mech­a­nisms were deployed to help. But many oth­ers must have man­aged the rein­te­gra­tion well enough. The rota­tion back into nor­mal­cy is doc­u­ment­ed in the Vedic texts: “At the end of four years, there was a final sac­ri­fice to trans­form the dog-war­riors into respon­si­ble adult men who were ready to return to civ­il life. They dis­card­ed and destroyed their old clothes and dog skins. They became human once again.”

Eliz­a­beth Scham­be­lan, League of Men, N+1 Mag­a­zine, Spring 2017

A few days ago, on my 37th birth­day, I woke from a night­mare into a pan­ic attack about my father’s emo­tion­al and phys­i­cal abuse. Stuff that hap­pened 24 years ago! I chose to not inter­act with him after I was 13. He’s dead now. I haven’t con­scious­ly felt any need to deal with it for years. But that trau­ma is still inside & hops out always unex­pect­ed. So while I might not be able to empathize with the par­tic­u­lars of a trau­ma, I know what it is like to be sub­ject­ed to it in gen­er­al.

There’s no time lim­it on trau­ma, and peo­ple don’t seem to be very good at acknowl­edg­ing that or help­ing oth­ers deal with their own. The entire­ty of the arti­cle I quot­ed above is worth read­ing. It offers a well con­struct­ed anthro­po­log­i­cal argu­ment that humans have essen­tial­ly been punt­ing on how to deal with the trau­ma caused by “men as wolves” for longer than record­ed his­to­ry. Soci­eties give men tac­it per­mis­sion to inflict any man­ner of destruc­tion, but no tools for pro­cess­ing what they inflict or receive. I have shared deeply held, vul­ner­a­ble feel­ings with close friends and fam­i­ly this year, and have been told by on mul­ti­ple occa­sions, by women, to suck it up and be a man.

I also see the ampli­fi­ca­tion some­thing like this receives:

and the pop­u­lar­i­ty of #menare­trash and I get real­ly frus­trat­ed. This kind of behav­ior is func­tion­al­ly no dif­fer­ent than per­se­cu­tion that’s been direct­ed at women for­ev­er. It comes from trau­ma, but just cre­ates more. Everyone’s life is a teach­able moment. If men are trash, and not sup­posed to learn from the expe­ri­ences that women have, then how are we sup­posed to get bet­ter? Many men are not equipped to fig­ure this out on our own. Many of us lack any sort of emo­tion­al sup­port net­work for our own trou­bles, and typ­i­cal­ly peo­ple don’t look to men to pro­vide emo­tion­al sup­port. I don’t know how else peo­ple are sup­posed to grow and under­stand each oth­er as a com­mu­ni­ty, if not by learn­ing about each other’s lives, being open to that shar­ing, under­stand­ing that harm will hap­pen, and being will­ing to accept and work through when it does.

Healing

I don’t know that any­one is good at inter­per­son­al heal­ing right now. The trend con­tin­ues toward polar­iza­tion in all things. I am nat­u­ral­ly inclined toward coop­er­a­tion & peace­mak­ing. I want to wel­come the repen­tant & prodi­gal back into the fam­i­ly. But heal­ing & for­give­ness can only occur when all sides want it. While I’m quite moti­vat­ed to cre­ate accord in most things, I have almost zero inter­est in heal­ing & for­give­ness when peo­ple hurt me deeply. At the same time, I have no desire to call them out on it. After I jumped out of my dad’s car, he was dead to me. It’s been the same way with any­one who has betrayed my trust on a fun­da­men­tal lev­el: friends, fam­i­ly, & part­ners. That’s prob­a­bly not healthy, it’s def­i­nite­ly not heal­ing, & I think it relates direct­ly to what peo­ple refer to when they speak of tox­ic and/or frag­ile mas­culin­i­ty. But I’ve got no oth­er tools to deal with it.

I like to think I’m pret­ty good at solv­ing prob­lems, but not in this case. I’m unsure what tools I need, and have not had good expe­ri­ences when I have asked for help in learn­ing to be more deft with the ones I have. I’m not even sure most folks are inter­est­ed in devel­op­ing restorative/redemptive meth­ods to heal divi­sions of any stripe. It’s way eas­i­er to just say ‘fuck ‘em’.

I have no con­clu­sions. I don’t even know where to go from here.

Practice

I did not let my son hug me
because he did not ask

I watch him with the other
children practicing Gong Bu

spindling limbs learning
those constant corrections

then Ma Bu aches their legs
these bodies young horses

grown eager
he quick bows and

runs to hug me, again
I refuse him

because he did not ask
first first

of all the things
I don’t want to do is

not hug my son
he has always been

both archer
and arrow like me

he is a wreck of tears and
fire Kung Fu he says

calms his mind he
needs a hug and

when I ask
he refuses

we are never at war
we are more at work

in wilds full of errant wind
chamfering together

our best honest voices
learning to ask the ground

with each fresh step
how best to walk upon it

What’s Missing in #menswear?

There is a dis­tinct lack of inter­est­ing takes in the world of #menswear (defined in terms of peo­ple who care about what men wear). There are two gen­er­al camps: peo­ple who tell you what to wear, and peo­ple who tell you how to dress. They are both inter­est­ed in “ele­vat­ing” the lev­el of how men dress, but the “tell you what to wear” folks don’t tell you why, and the “tell you how to dress” folks expect you to already know why.

I think there’s a gen­er­al igno­rance of design prin­ci­ples here that would be of greater ben­e­fit to men try­ing to dress well than just being shown what to wear or told how to dress, which, to be frank, are both patron­iz­ing. To abuse a cliche, what we have in menswear is giv­ing a man a spe­cif­ic fish and telling him how to cook it instead of teach­ing him to catch what­ev­er he wants and pre­pare it in a vari­ety of ways.

There’s also, quite clear­ly, a cap­i­tal­ist incen­tive for most of these sites — they make mon­ey by telling you about sales, pick­ing the items they think you should buy, and get­ting you to come back to the site using the most pow­er­ful 4 let­ter word: SALE.

There was a time when I was dressed by the inter­net. I made a lot of mis­takes devel­op­ing an aes­thet­ic, and I’m sure I’ll make more as it changes. In gen­er­al I’d like to see more dis­cus­sions of per­son­al aes­thet­ics and how a per­son devel­oped it. Dif­fer­ent nuances of taste, rather than style or fash­ion. Not every­one wants to be a hype­beast, pea­cock, or basic. If you pay too much atten­tion to how peo­ple say you should dress, you run a seri­ous risk of look­ing like you’re in cos­tume when you go out.

Where I Get My Information

  • Dap­pered — This is a good site for find­ing deals on basic stuff. They nev­er get out of “stan­dard white sub­ur­ban guy who works in finance” zone. I pret­ty much only keep an eye out here for plain stuff that I need for work, as they do a good job with sale round-ups.
  • Per­ma­nent Style — Simon Cromp­ton does an amaz­ing job chart­ing the world of lux­u­ry bespoke menswear. I can’t afford a damn bit of it, but I’ve learned a lot about cloth & fit from read­ing this blog. The next time I need to buy a suit, I’ll do a much bet­ter job from what I’ve learned here.
  • Put This On — This site is prob­a­bly clos­est to what I’m look­ing for in terms of help­ing you define an aes­thet­ic. They do a great job find­ing good sec­ond-hand pieces and help­ing you search on a bud­get. They’re way too LA-cen­tric though, and also want everyone’s to always wear a sport coat/blazer, cuff links, and pock­et squares.
  • Well Spent — Dai­ly rec­om­men­da­tions on well-craft­ed, not inex­pen­sive clothes. Very occa­sion­al­ly they’ll pull some­thing in a lit­tle off the wall, but typ­i­cal­ly they pick stuff that’ll appeal to the widest vari­ety of guys, or are offered by their spon­sors. I vis­it here to learn about new brands.
  • Union­made Goods — This is a store. Their clothes are always unique & I reli­gious­ly fol­low their look­books, as they get quite cre­ative. I’ve made more than one mis­take try­ing to make one of their looks work for me, though.
  • GRAILED — eBay for qual­i­ty menswear. Once you know what brands you like, you will find inter­est­ing stuff here, usu­al­ly at a deep dis­count.
  • eBay — The OG. Even with cus­tom, very refined search­es, it’s still like find­ing a nee­dle in a haystack.

What’s in an Aesthetic

I haven’t talked about this much. But I do think there are some gen­er­al prin­ci­ples to fol­low if you want to devel­op your own taste after nav­i­gat­ing past the peo­ple yelling about style and/or fash­ion.

  • Know the basics. — Learn what clothes are best for your body type. Learn about what clothes are expect­ed in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions. Think about what your social life is like and don’t buy clothes for sit­u­a­tions that are infre­quent to you.
  • Learn about col­or. — You can’t go wrong with neu­tral tones, but you should fig­ure out which actu­al col­ors are good for you, and stick with those.
  • Looks mat­ter. — I argue with my kid about this all the time. Your appear­ance gives clear social cues to those around you. If you look like trash, peo­ple are going to have assump­tions about that. If you are way over­dressed, peo­ple are going to have assump­tions about that. Do you care about this? If not, then why are you read­ing this?
  • Spend wise­ly. — Don’t buy stuff that’s on sale just because it is on sale. Shell out for a some­thing that’s exact­ly what you want, or wait to find that item sec­ond-hand else­where. I wait­ed 4 years to find a $200 shirt I want­ed (but didn’t need) on eBay for $20. I wait­ed 2 years to find the a 2 per­son kayak on Craigslist for $200. I spent a year look­ing for the right priced antique oak kitchen table, and end­ed up get­ting one for $30 from a neigh­bor a few blocks away. Noth­ing slows your devel­op­ment of taste than con­sis­tent­ly mak­ing deci­sions based on whim.
  • Feel con­fi­dent  & com­fort­able. — Most impor­tant rule. If you are pick­ing out/trying on clothes and you have any lev­el of uncer­tain­ty, don’t get it. You should wear stuff you want to wear, that makes you feel great.
  • Bend the rules hard. — Once you feel con­fi­dent, you will feel okay bend­ing the hell  out of the rules. Gonna wear black and brown at the same time? What­ev­er. You can make it work.
  • There is no God. — Every­body claims author­i­ty on how to dress. Don’t buy it. Only you know what works for you.

Those bul­lets are the areas I’d like to hear more about, from peo­ple who have devel­oped their own unique taste & design for their lives. How do the mate­ri­als in a person’s life reflect how they under­stand them­selves? This pro­file of André 3000 is a pret­ty good exam­ple, even if his style won’t work for 99% of the pop­u­la­tion.

My son & I delib­er­ate­ly dressed like hype­beasts for Brite Win­ter Fes­ti­val in Feb­ru­ary 2017