The Coming Return of Competence

While others on this blog discussed one of the defining qualities of the masculine, namely, one’s ability to control his own emotions, I was zooming out, wondering what other characteristics could reasonably be assigned to manhood. 

It was not that long ago that Howard Hughes began designing aircraft. I’m old enough to say that Hughes’ life intersected with mine, if only in my early childhood. I have memories of riding on the banana planes of Hughes Airwest, a company which Hughes made productive. He was able to design airplanes and build aircraft thanks to directing a series of big budget Hollywood films. He came to these industries completely unschooled, with little more than some seed money from the family business, and a desire to be the best at whatever task was set before him.

The competence displayed by men like Hughes was so demanded, that extremely competent men had the liberty of behaving like complete jackasses. Howard Hughes, for example, broke his girlfriend’s jaw in a fistfight. (Her name was Ava Gardner.) Nothing happened, because he had pimped enough of his actresses out to politicians that he was effectively untouchable.

While not every ultra-competent individual was the sort of libertine Hughes was, many were just as crazy. Moreover, finding a highly competent man meant finding a man who had focused the majority of his time and energy on one discipline, and this often came with a social cost which would never be paid in the world of today. Go through the history books, and find a radical innovator, who lived before the late 20th century, and likely as not, the thinker or inventor will not have been a normal family man, working a nine-to-five. It is quite common to find them extremely competent in one specific area, while being raving nutcases in every other part of their lives. On the bell curve of crazy genius, Tesla and Gates were not the outliers.

The great historical shift of recent decades, then, is not merely the enforcement of conformity above all else, it is also the loss of progress, which usually comes at the whim of a man who is so utterly dedicated to competence that he lets other parts of his persona slip away to their bare animal substrate. Competence itself has gone from being highly prized, to being a detriment in the workplace. Hiring a competent man means hiring someone who will illustrate everyone else’s mediocrity, and this simply cannot be tolerated by the four-eyed woman who runs H.R..

Competence certainly still exists. Today you find it exclusively among individuals and small groups, who will face catastrophe as a consequence of thoughtlessness. Underwater welders, drill rig operators, hard rock nickel miners, test pilots: these are islands of competence in an incompetent world.

When I see younger men today, I see men who are lacking communion with their inner Howard Hughes. Bear in mind that I would never prescribe his personal lifestyle to anyone. I don’t think becoming a manic, sadomasochistic bisexual, who gets political favors by pimping his employees, is a particularly honorable career move. Rather, I hope that men rediscover their drive to find some avenue toward greatness, and follow the path to the becoming of their best selves. Whether anyone wants to admit as much, incompetence is likely going to become increasingly expensive, as the social order continues to unravel, and good for those boys who channel their internal Howard Hughes, as they will stand to profit at the decline of the feminist age.

Boycott Hollywood

Cinema attempts to manipulate its viewers, usually by shoehorning tragic characters into heroic roles. It does this by emphasis and omission. One of the most common characters in film is the divorced father, who finds peace in the raw deal he is forced to suffer, and turns around to become an action hero. Another common character one sees in the movies is the overworked single mother, who nonetheless lovingly cares for her children, and who doesn’t hate her ex-husband, despite his cruelty, and despite his part in forcing her into an unenviable position. In repeating these stories, movie producers normalize the divorce industry. They humanize the vultures who make an easy living, feasting on the decaying carcass of society.

Nearly all divorced men, in reality, are men who have been victimized by an unfaithful woman who made their lives intolerable, before dumping them. Nearly all such men did their part, while their ex-wives took them for all they were worth. In contrast, nearly all divorced women filed for divorce, and during the divorce process, did everything they could to inflict as much harm as possible, on the men they promised to respect and obey, for as long as they lived. This is the situation as it plays out in the world, rather than on the movie screen.

Seeing Hollywood films offers the viewer a glimpse of a fantasy, which at first seems only a short way removed from his everyday reality. It offers hope to the hopeless, who would be better off working through their anger at being shafted.

Do What You’re Afraid Of

It was shortly after New Year’s Day, nine long years ago, that I got the talk. The divorced guys know the talk. It’s always some variation on “I love you, but I am not in love with you.”

I was thirty-nine, and terrified.

After the customary period of moping around, I realized that, at some point, I was going to get over her betrayal. Realizing the inevitability of overcoming gave me the power to face the challenges every day brought, and every day brought some. Her lawyer tried to humiliate me. Her family spread horrible rumors about me. I lost most of my friends. I kept it together because I knew, someday, I’d have forgotten her.

While my ex-wife tried to destroy me, she actually gave me the greatest gift that anyone could ever give me. She gave me the template to overcome any obstacle.

Most of us have reasonable fears. Fear keeps us alive and out of trouble. Some of our fears aren’t reasonable. These sorts of fears keep us in bad relationships, they keep us from growing. Unreasonable fears keep you from being the man you were born to become.

If you are afraid of something, ask yourself why. Often the reason will be nebulous and ill-defined. Ask yourself what is the worst consequence of your fear.

I used to be afraid of heights. I also used to be a roofer. My fear of heights motivated me to finish school and get a real job; but in the interim, it also kept me from becoming the best roofer I could have been.

After my divorce, I went skydiving. That fear was not entirely unreasonable. A fear of great heights is legitimate.

It’s possible I could have died, when I left the plane. If I’d have died, then I’d have done so boldly facing my greatest fear. I didn’t die. I twisted my ankle, and it was fine a week later. In return, I have the knowledge that I overcame.

Every man’s imperative is to become his best self. If fear is impeding your progress toward this destination, then do what you’re afraid of.

The Water of Life

My daddy taught me many things, and one of his most enduring lessons was an appreciation for single-malt Scotch whiskey. Whiskey, he used to tell me, is a man’s drink. Thanks to him, I’ve never been caught in public, with a fruity concoction sporting an umbrella.

Whiskey used to be called aqua vitae: the water of life. These spirits originate with barley, a grain which was originally used to feed livestock. Human beings didn’t like it, until they figured out how to distill it. Now we love it.

Single malt refers to malting the barley, which is the process whereby the kernels are soaked until they germinate. When they are in the perfect stage of sprouting, they’re dried and killed off. The malting of the barley allows for some enzymatic changes in the seeds, which enhance the output of the distillery. Once the barley is malted and dried, the mash is made, and through natural processes, a carbohydrate-rich solution is allowed to ferment. A few months in, a filtering process is completed, and the solution is allowed to continue fermentation in casks made of Spanish Oak. Traditionally, these casks would have previously stored sherry wine.

After a minimum of three years, the casks are vented, and the solution is filtered at least one more time, before bottling. The color and flavor of Scotch is potentially complex, and Scotch aficionados rival wine-tasters for their appreciation.

If you want to embark upon the journey to an appreciation of single malt Scotch, know your definitions. There are “Scotch whiskey” varieties which are blends of single malt with Bourbon or other spirits. Johnny Walker is not single-malt, though it contains some single-malt. Suntory makes an excellent single malt whiskey which is not Scotch, but Japanese.

Beginners often enjoy Glenmorangie’s original. It’s a medium bodied Scotch, with hints of citrus and vanilla. My favorite is Oban 18, for its honey and caramel overtones. If you have expensive tastes, you can’t do better than 30-year old Macallan.