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Newsletter #62: Building the Virtue of Self-Mastery
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There’s a lot of discourse today about rediscovering traditional masculinity, about courage, initiative, fortitude, strength, etc. – masculine virtues we see too little of.
But there’s another oft-overlooked masculine virtue that is also in deficient supply: self-mastery.
There are many examples of a lack of self-mastery today. One of the best is how Donald Trump was able to get under the skin of his opponents. Trump is certainly no paragon of virtue himself. But he understood that if he said something outrageous, his opponents and the media couldn’t help themselves and would respond with outrage in turn. This brought him immense attention, without which he would never have been elected President.
Had the media and many of his opponents been able to restrain themselves, they could have followed a much better strategy, which would have been to starve Trump’s campaign of oxygen by not paying attention to his antics. They surely knew this. It’s a time-honored way to deal with troublesome upstarts. But they couldn’t help themselves.
What’s more, many people said and did things that completely discredited them with their own constituency, and caused some people to in essence go off the rails. Bill Kristol may be the best example of this. He posted a variety of extreme takes, including basically calling for a deep state coup against Trump, writing, “Obviously strongly prefer normal democratic and constitutional politics. But if it comes to it, prefer the deep state to the Trump state.” Not every conservative who turned against Trump acted like this, of course. Some made more sober and considered breaks. But others seem to have blown a sprocket.
The truth is, most of us regularly fail to exercise self-mastery in the face of the many outside pressures coming our way. All too many of us are caught up in the “fray.” Every day brings a new hot topic we have to post about. We can’t resist giving our hot takes on elections, Covid, Ukraine, or whatever the event of the day is.
Many people are tossed here and there by the waves of social media, their attention shifted from one thing to the next. Our whole society seems to function that way at times. Covid went from the most important thing in the world to essentially over almost overnight, as soon as Russia invaded Ukraine.
Every day brings a fresh outrage – often something legitimately outrageous – that fires up our anger and sends our cortisol levels skyrocketing. But we forget that “the anger of men does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20).
As someone who makes a living posting his views on various topics in our world, I have to be reminded of the many Biblical proverbs about silence:
He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding – Proverbs 17:27
He who guards his mouth and his tongue guards his soul from troubles – Proverbs 21:23
Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him – Proverbs 29:20
If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless – James 1:26
These don’t mean that we should never speak up, that we should not challenge injustice, etc. Or that we shouldn’t use very strong language at times. (Jesus sure did). But we have to be in control of ourselves when doing so. (Not for nothing is “self-control” one of the fruits of the Spirit).
Also, many men are controlled by their appetites. They can’t stop watching porn. They can’t stop drinking or doing drugs. They can’t stop or limit their social media consumption. One reason that I annually cycle off alcohol and caffeine for a month is to make sure I control them and they don’t control me. If we find it hard to stop consuming a particular product, then that product has mastered us at some level.
If some people are in control of their appetites, maybe they are not in control of their thinking. We are constantly bombarded with powerful propaganda and media messages telling us what is important, what we should care about, and what we should think about those issues. It’s not always the case that these messages control our opinion on something, but they affect us in ways which we may not be aware of. There’s an old quip, the media can’t tell you what to think, but they can tell you what to think about. And attention determines how important we think something is. If we are paying a lot of attention to something, it is automatically rated as important in our mind.
What’s more, most of the things we are told are of high importance and that we should be caring about are things we actually can’t affect in any material way. So we are basically reduced to hashtag advocacy and similar such symbolic acts.
One reason so many men suffer in these ways is that they aren’t anchored in any greater purpose or mission in life. If you are just living day to day, doing your job, caring for your family, but without any greater sense of what you are working towards or trying to build, then it’s very easy to get blown off course.
If a man has a clear sense of mission in life – say an entrepreneur building a new company – then that can become a guiding principle to help us stay focused and on course. Even just having some ideas of your goals in life around family, career, community, etc. can help you stay on course.
None of us is all work, all grind, all the time. We all take time to enjoy a mindless movie or book. We all pay attention to current events at some level. But a key question to ask ourselves when we think about reading, speaking, tweeting, acting, etc. is: How is this advancing my mission? How is this getting me closer to my goals? It’s a good filter to apply, even if we don’t follow it rigorously.
Too many men are busy paying attention to and working on what other people tell them to, so buy advancing other people’s agendas and goals that their own get neglected.
We need to learn to master ourselves so that we are not enslaved to appetites, can resist self-destructive or counter-productive behavior, and stay focused on our own mission and purpose in life.
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Professional Class Labor Exploitation
Here’s another entry in what I’ve called urban America’s labor exploitation racket. Labor economist Chloe N. East and Andrea Velásquez just released a paper called “Unintended Consequences of Immigration Enforcement: Household Services and High-Educated Mothers’ Work.” I can’t give a technical assessment of this study, but the conclusions are interesting.
Basically, East and Velásquez find that increased immigration enforcement (i.e., deporting illegal aliens) reduces the number of mothers with college degrees who work by raising the cost of domestic services like childcare and maid service.
Our primary finding is that working-age (20-64) college-educated U.S.-born mothers of young children significantly reduced their labor supply in response to SC [an immigration enforcement program] exposure…. We next provide evidence that an increase in the price of outsourcing household services is an important mechanism driving the observed changes in high-educated mothers’ labor market outcomes.
The effects in their study are small, but it’s interesting nevertheless.
I have observed that but for exploited immigrant labor (legal and illegal), many urban professionals would not be able to afford to live in high-cost cities like New York. Virtually every nanny on the Upper West Side of Manhattan was an immigrant, for example. Most of them are being paid under the table, without proper tax withholding, benefits, etc.
When the cost of these services increase, such as by insisting on a living wage and full payment of all taxes and benefits, for a number of families it no longer makes sense for the mother to work because her income can’t offset the costs of child care and other services.
This shows that at least some percentage of female careers are underwritten by exploiting illegal immigrants. The self-interested nature of upscale demands for large scale immigration cannot be overstated. Beyond child care, this extends to food costs (restaurants and delivery especially), laundry, taxi type services, etc.
Immigration is only one dimension of this exploited labor problem. Child care in general is an extremely low paying field. As I previously noted, the average pay for daycare workers is only $12.24/hour. Many people could not afford child care if the workers were paid a decent wage, showing that they are doing economically marginal labor that doesn’t even pay enough to offset their own costs. Rather than subsidizing day care to force women into these economically marginal jobs for the benefit of some corporation, it would be better to just subsidize the mother to stay home with her own kids instead.
“Conservatives” on the Take
The National Pulse recently published an article that the American Conservative Union, the organization which puts on the annual CPAC conference, took $200,000 from a far-left dark money group called the New Venture Fund, funded by George Soros among others. I personally downloaded the New Venture Fund form 990 and confirmed the donation.
ACU is just one of the many “conservative” organizations funded in part (or in some cases almost entirely) by left wing megadonors, Silicon Valley tech firms, etc. who are not exactly friendly to conservative voters and their preferences.
I try not to commit a deliberate sin. I recognize that I’m going to do it anyhow, because I’m human and I’m tempted. And Christ set some almost impossible standards for us. Christ said, “I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman with lust has in his heart already committed adultery.” I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times. This is something that God recognizes I will do—and I have done it—and God forgives me for it. But that doesn’t mean that I condemn someone who not only looks on a woman with lust but who leaves his wife and shacks up with somebody out of wedlock.
Christ says, Don’t consider yourself better than someone else because one guy screws a whole bunch of women while the other guy is loyal to his wife. The guy who’s loyal to his wife ought not to be condescending or proud because of the relative degree of sinfulness. One thing that Paul Tillich said was that religion is a search for the truth about man’s existence and his relationship with God and his fellow man; and that once you stop searching and think you’ve got it made—at that point, you lose your religion. Constant reassessment, searching in one’s heart—it gives me a feeling of confidence. I don’t inject these beliefs in my answers to your secular questions.
But I don’t think I would ever take on the same frame of mind that Nixon or Johnson did—lying, cheating and distorting the truth. Not taking into consideration my hope for my strength of character, I think that my religious beliefs alone would prevent that from happening to me. I have that confidence. I hope it’s justified.
- The Playboy Interview with Jimmy Carter, November 1976.