Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Death of the Respectable Bachelor


It was not so long ago that if a woman failed to marry at a certain age she might earn the title “old maid”. Now, after the rise of Feminism and freedom of choice, the idea that women are breeding machines that have failed in their natural purpose by not walking down the aisle has become quaint at best.

Contrary to this is the death of the respectable bachelor, who has been forgotten in all the long suppressed social strides of his female counterpart. It is true that in the past, men were also expected to marry and “do their duty” but, if a man chose to put off his duty till death might intervene, well, it could be overlooked. Today nothing seems sadder than the middle-aged bachelor. Many may know, or have in their own family, the stereotypical uncle about whom you just don’t feel right. Who sits alone at family gatherings and seems a source of concern for the grownups.

The idea now of a man who chooses bachelorhood (or has it chosen for him by temperament or circumstance) without at least the appearance of an active social life, is considered intolerable by most people, especially other men. Such a person is believed to be somehow deficient in some fashion, either mentally or physically. An inadequate male specimen. And while the modern businesswoman becomes an image of energy and virility, the retiring gentleman seems to lose face.

Not everyone, however, is suited to family life. Had Immanuel Kant not taken so long to propose to a young girl, philosophy might have lost the Categorical imperative. Likewise, if Edward Gibbon had been a bit more romantically inclined, the massive project of the Decline and Fall may have been waylaid by the pitter-pat of little feet. Even Karl Marx, who had a large family, was obliged to spend many long hours in the British Museum Reading Room. One wonders if not so much for the research material as to escape to an island of solitude.

In literature I am brought to mind of those two eternal bachelors, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, in the adventures of which there is even a story entitled The Noble Bachelor. Though it is never quite determined if Watson is married or not, he would never give an impression of a dutiful husband as his relationship with Holmes is almost like a marriage in its self, something that has led a few to speculate upon homosexual tendencies in Conan Doyle. The idea that in the Victorian age, as in most eras before the present one, men had their closer relationships among other men is seemingly overlooked.

A few studies have shown that married people live longer and healthier lives than single ones. Reading one of these studies, I found a woman comment that, considering the hell her ex-husband put her through she was much better off alone. Obviously, it is important to find the right mate, not just anyone will do.

Love is more a matter of chance and personality than anything else. Some of us are born commoners of the heart, capable of finding our one and only every day of the week in the communities where we were born, but some have higher standards. Those few bachelors and bachelorettes are the aristocrats of romance, for they are never willing to settle for less.

In old terminology, a bachelor was a young knight. For me, still a young man, the definition seems fitting. Many men and women like myself are still questing, still seeking to fight windmills and save their Dulcinea's----or Quixote’s. And perhaps many of those who have grown old in the quest see it more fitting to walk the road alone than to abandon their ideal. Though their quest may seem antiquated and unreasonable, I think no one could deny it is respectable.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Truthiness

“The truth shall set you free”, “the truth hurts”. These old sayings are two sides of the same coin of course, but few people I believe ever truly think about what they are saying. I always claim to desire the truth above all and desire to know it without delay in all its horrors. But when I have been put to the test (and thankfully there have been few horrible truths revealed to me in my life) I wince.

Nevertheless, as I gained acceptance of the truth I did indeed feel liberated by it. Liberated in the sense that I had learned something horrible, either about myself or someone I cared for and now, having learned it, need never learn it again. And though the truth uncovered was deeply painful, it did not kill me as I thought it might, and so a sense of victory.

One “horrible” truth I have had to accept, and one that should be dispensed with at maturity, is the need for certainty. Heraclitus teaches us that all things are in a state of flux, that the only certainty is change. And yet, like so many phantoms from childhood too many of us continue this search doomed never to end. Perhaps that is the point. Some Biologists believe evolution has fitted us to be self-deluded. If we lose the illusion that we are in control many might break down under the strain. Habit and the rituals of religion give us some sense of continuity, and thus their continued existence, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

God is just, “ asserted Rousseau in the midst of his paranoia, “he wills I should suffer, he knows I am innocent. That is what gives me confidence.” Yet even he had adopted the motto: 'devote your life to truth'. Had the Rousseau of the Reveries not the solace of his fine imagination, and knew what we know of the human mind, could he have hoped to claim such peace?