Friday, January 27, 2012


Words have always fascinated me, unlike numbers which do not seem to register very well in my brain. I have some favourite words, like crepuscule and merry and jubilant. I like it that words often have histories, like families.
The other day I talked about charisma. Today I'd like to mention virtue. Virtue is like charisma in that its original meaning is not the same as its present, popular meaning. When we talk about virtue today- usually in some amusement- we mean something like chastity or goody goodiness, even something a little sissified. But the vir part of the word is the Latin word for man. So by my amateurish etymological reasoning, virtue must originally have meant manliness.
Now there's something that's decidedly out of fashion. Manliness now means too much testosterone. Macho, another word that has faded from common use, is a word that caricatures the male of our species. The captain of the Costa Concordia, by the looks of him, would be the perfect picture of the Macho Man. Of course it was only a pose, there being nothing virtuous about deserting his sinking ship and leaving his passengers and crew to die.
It was another beautiful day in Lotus Land, a beautiful day for walking along our working waterfront, and for enjoying a coffee on the patio of the Fol Epi Bakery. I also spent $8.00 for a loaf of their delicious sourdough bread. It's a busy little place and almost idyllic where young mothers (and dads, since we are so enlightened now) bring their toddlers and dogs, and watch the ducks on the ponds and the rowers in the harbour. None of them have the look of people who ever get their hands dirty except when they plant tomatoes in their balcony pots. They are all good looking, seem intelligent, and I'm sure they eat the right organic foods and cycle to work.
I would guess that I was the only one who enjoyed the sound of Lafarge Cement's gravel crusher chugging away across the water.
It used to be that women did all the hard jobs while men sat around and polished their swords while listening to tales of heroic battles or memorable hunting expeditions. In the Middle East I think that's still the way it works. In many ways a woman's status there is worse than a slave. A slave at least represents a valuable investment, but a woman is disposable. In most native American cultures women did the fieldwork, built the houses, made the clothes, cooked, cleaned, and carried away the sewage. Such work was despised by any self-respecting Arapaho warrior, and was one of the reasons they despised white men.
That's where the word virtue comes into it. Virtue came to mean a man doing his duty, even if it meant going down with the ship while the women and children got away. That's the way it worked when the Titanic sank a hundred years ago. Things are different now.
At some point in our history manliness (virtue) meant supporting a family, protecting a family from the hardships of life as much as possible... in other words, work. Of course, there have always been men who sought to escape those kinds of duties, but all evidence indicates that those who work are much happier than those who don't. Quite simply, there is something immensely fulfilling about spending your life doing useful work.
For some reason that has always escaped me, feminists have done there best to return things to the old ways, where women do those hard jobs. And it doesn't matter that it is now pretty well established that children raised in a family consisting of a father and a mother where the father has the primary responsibility of providing food and a home are happier than single parent environments, that children grow up healthier and happier, and that the whole community benefits.
We've done pretty well under that system. Too bad it's gone out of style.

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