On menstruation

Dear Hannah,

My anthropology professor once told me that in certain bushman cultures, a menstruating woman gets put into a hut until she stops menstruating.  My first thought on the matter was that they locked her away because she was a nuisance, but I was wrong.  It turns out, according to my professor, they hid her because they believed menstruation made her too powerful, and the power made her too dangerous.

This may have been a bit of sophistry on the man's part.  How do you lock a woman away when nobody's been smart enough to invent any locks?  You can't (or shouldn't) threaten your wife with violence -- or, at least, almost everyone knows this except the man who wrote the Qur'an; so you have to reason with her.  So you tell her she's too powerful for you and she's full of magic, and you send her away for a couple of days by keeping her in plain sight.  They say flattery will get you everywhere.  Or if you're one of the unlucky men whose wife is obnoxious, it may send her anywhere. 

The question is whether anyone's stupid enough to believe him.  I suppose if you tell a lie too many times and get enough people to say it, people will assume it's true just because everybody else is saying it.  This is why it's a good idea to question your customs.  Maybe the man who started the whole thing was an artful, pragmatic kind of liar -- the kind who told stories to get people to be tolerable -- and his story became kind of a myth, and his myth became kind of a creed.  But if the bushmen really believed that women were most powerful when they were their most reckless, then I would argue that they've misunderstood the value of power.

There are of course plenty of ways to look at power, and plenty of different books written about it.  People like Plato's Thrasymachus think that being powerful means being impulsive and reckless and bossy.  In times past, we used to say that men like King Henry VIII were powerful because they threw tantrums and fought popes and killed their own wives.  Nowadays we say that bossy women are powerful because they throw tantrums and fight husbands and make their coworkers want to kill themselves.  The truth is that neither Henry VIII nor the bossy woman are worth copying.  Anyone who's subjected the world and is incapable of mastering himself is a fool -- and she'll always be a fool, whether or not he's powerful.  Solomon says it's better to master yourself than to conquer a city, because a well-run home is better than an ill-governed kingdom.  Ben Franklin says a man who masters his passions is a master, and a man who's subject to his passions is a slave.  Moses gave us the moral limits of kingship.  Locke said that political power existed for the good of the majority, with their consent.  The bushman called a woman powerful when she couldn't even beat up her husband.  Her "power" wasn't powerful and it wasn't useful.  The bushman has power wrong like he has nearly everything else wrong, which is why he lives under a bush.  Which is why I shouldn't have spent any time studying him in college.

But I did spend time learning about him in college.  Way too much time.  I also spent a lot of time learning about how he endorsed post-birth abortions, and about the Maasai tribesman who didn't know the meaning of chastity, and some American Indians who celebrated the cross-dresser, and another kind of Asian tribe who believed in the concept of matriarchy. Which is suspicious not only because all these people are completely irrelevant, but also because their philosophies coincide very nicely, when strung together, with the worst of the American leftists.

I don't remember ever hearing about Athens or England or Israel or Rome or Sparta in this class; not even about brown Persia, which one would think would be mentionable -- if not for their notable contributions to civilization (mostly through Xenophon the Greek), at least for their postage system, or maybe the sheer size of their empire.  Of course there's a reason we never heard about any of them.  If we study Athens too closely, we might run into someone sensible like Aristotle talking about a knowable reality -- which angers the postmodernist.  If we run into Rome, even at its worst, we'd find men talking like Cato and Cicero about manliness and citizenship and common sense -- which angers the effeminate.  Even if we talk about Nero we end up talking about Seneca, or the dangers of tyranny.  Israel, of course, unless approached by someone completely senseless, would mean that we'd end up talking about wisdom or production like Solomon --  which offends the fool and the welfare statist; and if (heaven forbid) we talk about England, why, we'd end up talking about Locke or classical liberalism, which would mean we'd end up talking good about America -- which offends nearly every "progressive".  Much better to stick with the world's bushmen, who don't have any great orators or philosophers or artists or heroes, because they never produced any internationally renowned men.  They never built a beautiful empire, or even a beautiful building.  A "modern" anthropologist is happy to find the unknown society, not only because the unknown society can occasionally be found to do something only a leftist or a half-wit would do, but because they haven't done the things that end up in Western Civilization.  

We all know that fools exist; but only the worst fool will trek the furthest parts of the world to find fools who agree with him.  Learning is finding a new and better way to think about something. In a world with a history as rich as ours, to look for confirmation from the nobodies is the surest way to prove oneself an idiot.  Only a moron would go to the Maasai herdsman when he could go to Seneca or Samuel Johnson.  Only a dunce would confirm his political positions with a man without a polis.  A wise man takes Cicero from the Romans, and leaves them Mark Antony.  A fool like my professor scours all of Asia for a lonely tribe of promiscuous matriarchs, and completely ignores Confucius.

Your father,