Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Remember to always shave your mustache

My dear Hannah,

I'm not joking when I say this: I have actually encountered a woman with a very wiry and very thin, but very real goatee.  The damned thing drives me nuts.  It drives me nuts first because it's ugly, and second because I know the power of a razor.  She could shave it in an instant, and within a few seconds be rid of something which is obviously an offense against everything we know to be aesthetic.  Even if it was fashionable for women to grow facial hair, it isn't even a good goatee.

Everyone knows that a woman shouldn't have hair on her lip, and she certainly shouldn't have hair on her stomach: I have now unfortunately seen both cases, and I curse Mexico every time I think about them.  Mohammed, despite his barbarism, if I remember correctly, even taught that women shouldn't have hair by their unmentionables.  This, to me, proves that he wasn't entirely insane -- or, at least he knew how to lie to get the things that he wanted, and was very very sure what he wanted.  The man loved riches and power and getting laid.  He said whatever he had to say to get them.  I suppose some men, like Thrasymachus in Plato's Republic, who thought the highest good was getting what you want without anyone being able to resist you, would think this makes Mohammed very smart.  If he's burning in hell, I would say it makes him very dumb.

I've thought a good while about the goateed woman: it's entirely possible, because I'm in Seattle, that she could be a he, or maybe she's a she who's going through hormone therapy to become more like a he; or maybe she's a part of a circus, and doesn't shave because it's part of her routine.  Maybe she just wants to be an individual, and so this is her way of having people remember her.  It's easy to get lost in a city, and some of us aren't very good at being exceptionally good, most of us are very dumb, few of us are beautiful, and almost none of us are rich.  It's much easier to think we can be individuals by doing the things that nobody else will do because there isn't any good reason to do it -- in other words, to excel in everything that isn't excellent.  This is why green hair dye and cheek piercings exist.  Neither requires any talent, and they only cost us an awkward introduction to nearly everyone we meet.  Maybe if we have enough of some other real quality, in time we can overcome people's annoyance at our bad taste, and then they can realize that we're actually very exceptional people.  But if this is the case, then I don't see why we should stand out in any unexceptional way. 

What I do know without any kind of doubt is that it's more difficult to enjoy being in the presence of someone who purposely makes herself unattractive.  It doesn't make our duty to be kind and just any less pressing; it simply makes it less fun and more awkward.  As I've said before in another essay, nobody thanks a man for being kind to a beautiful woman, because he has all the incentive he needs.  But Kant, despite his ivory tower madness, was really right about moral actions: we know we're doing things for the right reasons when we have no other reason to do them but because they're right.  Moses and the Apostle James taught that we should never favor the rich over the poor; Jesus taught that we should invite the poor, the lame, and the blind to dinner, because none of them could pay us back.  The truth of the matter, and what I believe they were trying to say, isn't that having a worldly incentive to do something good means we didn't do anything good; it simply means that we have to check ourselves to make sure were aren't only doing things for the worldly incentive.

This is how you should think, but know that the world runs on exactly the opposite advice.  You should always think about whether you're doing good for goodness' sake; other people, or at least the overwhelming majority of them, will be doing things because you have something to offer.  This is purely reflective of our need to survive, and is partially moral in itself: if we weren't looking to maintain or improve ourselves or propagate the species, there wouldn't be anyone to love or any pursuit of happiness in the first place.  If everyone always gave and never took, given enough time there wouldn't be anyone to give to.

As such, I don't expect that you'll grow up to be unattractive, but never give people good reason to believe you're willingly unattractive, unless your safety depends upon it.  If you want people to work with you for your good, give them every moral reason to: dress yourself modestly, but attractively; keep yourself in good shape; speak clearly, and thoughtfully, and in an educated manner; have good etiquette and a healthy amount of respect; always be hygienic, and -- I say this as a man who unfortunately spent some time on the dating scene -- never be caught spending time with men of obviously low class.

You will probably be poor, but you never have to be tasteless and disheveled.  Drive an old car, but never let it be dirty.  Never be the fat lady in sweatpants at the supermarket.  Never be the person with tattoos on her face, who complains because people won't hire her for her good work ethic.  If you give someone an unnecessary reason to dislike you, it is your own fault: if you don't give them a reason to dislike you, it is their loss.  And remember: different things are offensive and respectable to different people: know your audience, and don't complain if you misjudge their tastes.  If Paul can be a Jew around the Jews and a gentile amongst the gentiles, then certainly this isn't indicative of fakeness.  It just means he's flexible with the things that don't matter, so he can get the things that do.

And for the record, when your father was young, he had a very bad "fashionable" haircut and wore eyeliner and women's pants.  Most of the pictures, to my knowledge, have been... misplaced, over time -- the memories, on the other hand, are perfectly accessible.  I mention all of this because I purposely ostracized myself from all the respectable people, not only with my behaviors, but with the way I carried myself about.  You're welcome to learn this on your own, if you'd like.  I'll still love you all the same.  Other people will not.

Your father,

1 comment:

  1. A decade or two ago, an essay like this one might have been prompted by a woman with a tattoo. A tattoo, even a small one, makes any woman ugly, no matter how attractive she might otherwise be or seem. Tattooed women, however, despite their repulsiveness, or maybe because of it, have become so commonplace that our youth culture's appetite for ugliness has had to find new outlets. In a decade or two, perhaps goateed women, too, will be too common to elicit comment.

    What is it about a sclerotic, dying culture that disdains the beautiful and that exalts and seeks the ugly?