I thank Ferdinand Bardamu for responding to my article at Counter-Currents, “In Defense of ‘Squares,'” which was in itself a response to Jack Donovan’s “The Trouble with Squares.” Greg Johnson has also weighed in on this matter in an incisive and valuable article “Be Yourself?” in which he proposes a kind of synthesis of Ferd’s and my respective arguments.
Given the amount of responses and counter-responses that have already flown in this exchange of ideas, I don’t wish to clutter things up unnecessarily with excessive further commentary. That said, I would like to address just a few things Ferdinand has mentioned in his rebuttal to my initial article, just to clarify my stance, which I think may have been slightly misunderstood. Afterwards, Ferd can have the last word, if he wishes.
In “Can You See the Real Me?” (I dig the Joseph Conrad reference in the title, by the way), F.B. gets “personal,” though not about me, his interlocutor and — on this issue, anyway — intellectual adversary. Though he indicates that he finds my objection to “game” familiar and tiresome, Ferd seems eager to cut me some slack, declaring that I’m probably not as big of a nerd as I make myself out to be. Since the question has been raised, I’ll leave it to your readers to decide if I’m being too hard on myself. Here is a picture of me at age seventeen: skinny, gawky, and awkward, with really bad hair:
But a lot has changed in the last two decades. Now I have no hair:
Still, I am happily married to a fine woman, and the father of two beautiful children, so bitterness is not an option. . . . In any case, when I read Ferd’s amusing and poignant account of his childhood as a lonely fat kid, and his later transformation into a studly “bearded pseudo-hipster” and determined, thorough, and remorseless babe-bagger, I flashed back to two moments of particularly mordant and melancholy significance in my adolescence and young adulthood.
I recall being 15 or 16, and having this one acquaintance decide to help me out. He took me aside once, and let me know that I’d do better with girls if I just stopped using so many big words all of the time. My egregious propensity towards untenable polysyllabism rendered me a dork, he said, and in essence, chicks just don’t dig dorks.
“But who says I WANT to be liked by girls?” I asked, somewhat defensively.
“Oh, you’d like it if you tried it, believe me,” was his smug reply.
The kid was right, in a way. I did want to be popular with the opposite sex, truth be told. But even at the time, I recognized that the price to be paid was far too steep. And I found this well-meaning but somewhat condescending would-be adviser rather insufferable. In order to get girls to like me, I was supposed to talk dumber? Was this for real? Count me out, I decided.
In fact, all through my high school years, there were similar, mostly unspoken strictures in place, markers by which one signified himself as “cool,” and thus sexually desirable. One wore certain types of clothes, had a certain kind of hairdo, and listened to a certain style of music. One went to parties, and drank beer. In defiance, I opted to become a teetotaler and an unrepentant “square,” one who swore off dating and eschewed the notion of making my life into a Porky’s-style 80s teen sex comedy. In short, I became a proud Luke Skywalker in a school full of boys who wanted to be Han Solos.
Did this stubborn disinclination to be “cool” make me happy? Not exactly — I would like to have had more friends, and didn’t particularly groove on being a loner and an oddball. Was I often self-righteous in my non-conformity? No doubt I was at times well-nigh intolerably sanctimonious, expressing myself with all-too typical teenage arrogance. Still and all, I’m happy with myself for the choices I made at the time. I’d happily hold myself up as a model for my own son to follow, though it should go without saying that I hope he makes more friends, meets with greater acceptance, and is altogether happier than I was.
A second memory that I have is a few years later, during my college years. I was sitting in the lunchroom reading a book, and an attractive girl approached and struck up a conversation with me. She seemed to like me, I blearily discerned (there’s no accounting for taste — see my above picture), and the dialogue went smoothly for a while. Then she asked what I was reading. “Kierkegaard,” I replied, showing her my cover of Fear and Trembling. “Oh, it’s for a class?” she asked. “No, I’m just reading it on my own,” I said.
Something changed between us just then. I felt a distance from her that I hadn’t felt before. She seemed to think me rather unpleasantly weird for reading morose, complex Danish existential theology for my own enjoyment. We parted ways soon afterwards, and I had a clear sense that I had again transgressed the prescribed strictures of my social setting. Was I stung by a sense of rejection in this case? Sure I was, a little. But I no more felt like transforming into a different person than I had all those years before, when my “alpha” schoolmate let me in on the supposed secret to success with the ladies. I wasn’t about to forsake Kierkegaard for the sake of sex. Screw that.
My rejection of the pursuit of carnal delights will be looked upon with incredulity by many, and mocked by self-styled “gamers,” for whom sex is the be-all, end-all, and willed celibacy on the part of any man is pathetic and beneath reproach. Still, I hold that my choice was in fact the manly one. A boy meekly conforms with the strictures of his society in order to get laid and be rewarded with the mantle of “popularity.” A man rejects conformity and popularity for the sake of authenticity.
Ferdinand argues that in making an effort to change himself from a geek to a stud, a “beta” to an “alpha,” nothing essential in his personality was lost or betrayed. And I do not criticize him for choosing to lose weight, excercise regularly, eat healthy, and become more assertive. But I wonder . . . in all of the time when he was playing in a “shitty” alternative-rock cover band and trying his best to look like the guy from the Spin Doctors, complete with fuzzy goatee and presumably a wardrobe full of groovy shirts, did he never feel like he was being led by the nose, or made to jump through hoops in a manner most degrading, like a circus monkey? Did no part of him want to say, “Screw you, ladies — I’m tired of trying to be the man you want me to be. Your fickle tastes are shallow and worthless — Cobain today, Bieber tomorrow — and much as I’d like to bed as many of you as possible, I’m not such a slave to my sex drive to play these worthless games . . . Sayonara, bitches.”
If you are a “gamer,” and if “game” works for you, then salut, and all that; I’m sure you’ve worked hard at your “craft” . . . but, do you never ask what the point of it all is? Are you in it for the hedonistic enjoyment of the sex, or the ego-boosting feeling of “scoring” a lot? Is the slavish pursuit of pleasure and status really what being a man is all about? Is that really the “alpha” way to be? Wouldn’t Tyler Durden himself beg to differ?
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