January is the Curmudgeonly Month

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling the strain of all this cheer and good will toward men. Not that there is anything wrong with cheer and good will toward men, but they are not natural and so come at a cost.  That is why January is the curmudgeonly month, the month when all the costs of Christmas must be paid.

It’s like good grooming. It’s not natural for a man to be spruce and clean when everything in nature wants him to be rumpled and dirty. I must clip and comb, scrub and scrape, launder and mend, press and fold, in ceaseless battle against the grimy and disheveling drift of things. The world would have me a slovenly man, and it tires me to fight against the world.

No more is it natural for a man to be cheerful and giving when the world works to make him glum and grudging. As William Cullen Bryant put it, it takes “no school of long experience” to learn that “the world is full of guilt and misery,” not to mention “sorrows, crimes, and cares,” and it is therefore unsurprising that students in this school resemble the unregenerate Ebenezer Scrooge. Countermeasures can be taken—Bryant recommended periodic retirement into wild woods—but the drift of things is toward the curmudgeonly.

I’m tired of fighting against the world, and so will yield for a time to the drift of things. This is why January is the curmudgeonly month when I rest on my oars and give way to the pull of gloom. I’ve been rowing with a will all through Christmas, and my arms now need a rest.

* * * * *

A curmudgeon is the antitype of Santa Clause, sour and mean instead of jolly and giving. An old English Christmas carol recognizes this in the lines:

 

But as for all curmudgeons,

Who will not be free,

I wish they may die

On the three-legged tree. (1)

 

The origin of the word is disputed, but one source traces it to the Norman conquest of England. Free Saxon peasants were known as churls, and their bitter, resentful, and stingy attitude to the new, Norman overlords was called ceorl-modigan, or churl-mindedness. It is understandable that the churls of Norman England were curmudgeonly, but this history of the word should make us think twice before we surrender to the attitude it describes.

For a curmudgeon is, at bottom, a bitter loser. This is why the word is so often applied to sour old men who resent the fact that the world has passed into the hands of a new generation of overlords. This is also why it is so often applied to conservatives, who have been losing, and bitter, since 1649.  And there is something in bitter loss that tends to dry up the well of human generosity. This is why curmudgeon in many instances means a skinflint. Sheridan’s Dictionary of 1797 defines the word this way: “An avaricious churlish fellow, a miser, a niggard, a gripper [usurer].”

* * * * *

I have no wish to be a bitter loser, a skinflint or a churl, so I will merely rest on my oars in January. I will not cast them overboard. I will temporarily give way to the drift of things and naturally wax curmudgeonly, but before the month draws to a close I will once again ply the oars, buck the tide, and do my best to be a man of cheer and good will. January 25th seems an appropriate date to resume my labors, for this will be the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, and it was on the road to Damascus that Paul ceased to be a bitter churl and accepted the  new Lord.

 

(1) A three-legged tree was a gallows.

21 thoughts on “January is the Curmudgeonly Month

  1. Pingback: January is the Curmudgeonly Month | Neoreactive

  2. The Saxonism ceorl-modigan is wonderful. Ceorl indeed yielded the modern (more or less) churl; the second element, modigan, is perhaps closer to moody than to mindedness although “mood” and “mind” are obviously overlapping circles in the etymological Venn Diagram. The Anglo-Saxon element mod is also related to the German Muth, or courage. In fact, the curmudgeonliness of an Anglo-Saxon churl against his self-arrogating French master is perfectly understandable and even, from the churl’s perspective, admirable. I speak as one who resisted in curmudgeonliness the arrogant French takeover of the humanities in the 1980s. Eala! (Tom)

    PS. I was taken aback by your reference to W. C. Bryant. I am just finishing up an essay (“Will California Follow Atlantis”) for Angel Millar’s website that includes a reading of Bryant’s poem “The Prairie.”

    • Those moody churls need an attitude adjustment. That’s the way things always look to the ruling class. I’d like to read your essay on “The Prairie” when it’s finished. I know the poem and have a professional interest in Bryant. Although largely forgotten today, he was once very influential in popular culture. Almost all American schoolchildren up to my parent’s generation knew “Thanatopsis,” although few grasped its post-Christian pantheism.

    • Yes, the world is full of victims, and it is right that we do what we can for them. This is made difficult by the fact that the world is also full of pseudo-victims who would like their cut of our sympathy.

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  4. I received an email from a colleague that sponsors the “gender equality club” the school in which I work stating that his students wanted to discuss “reproductive rights” with conservative students in order to learn why people might feel differently than they do (he mistakenly thought I was the sponsor of the Young Republicans). I responded that if his students were really interested in learning they should read the best philosophical arguments against abortion, etc.

    Does anyone know of a good source that could serve as an introduction to a bunch of girls who presumably have never encountered any of the most fundamental problems of philosophy.

    • Robert George’s Clash of Orthodoxies might be a good start. It is telling that they think the onus of proof is on those who oppose abortion.

      • It’s telling that they apparently can’t even fathom how someone might not agree with them, and what they really wanted was to psychoanalyze their enemies. I don’t want to be too harsh, these are just silly little girls.

        Thanks. Coincidentally, I sent them a link to one of Robert George’s lectures on YouTube which gives an hour long defense of natural law ethics in general.

      • Silly little girls apparently “led” (to the gates of Hell!) by a silly adult instructor! This is one of the reasons the “universal franchise” is idiotic beyond belief; the idea that 18 year-old adolescents are somehow “qualified” and “equipped” to choose good leaders. Hogwash!

        This rotten culture is to blame for this sort of attitude among our youth, and girls (best I can tell from observation and personal experiences) are particularly susceptible to believe the general lie they are being told from virtually all sides. I even have a daughter who is 19, who has told me straight up that “as a woman (ha, ha),” she doesn’t need to “hear any of my lectures” concerning illicit sex and the consequences thereof. And she was homeschooled, and certainly never taught anything even remotely close to that attitude! Sometimes we get a good, hard lesson on inherited human depravity in our children, and often you don’t really see it coming until the damage is already done. But them’s the breaks and all that; I’m personally a big believer in “tough love,” so my daughter in question has a tough row to hoe (so to speak), until she wises up by necessity.

      • I don’t have any advice as to how you should handle your daughter, but I don’t think you should blame yourself for her present opinions with respect to sex. Insofar as our society still has sexual rules, they bear especially hard on nineteen year olds. The desire is there but the prospects of satisfying that desire, without violating the rules, are distant indeed. Under these conditions it is hardly surprising that the nineteen-year-old should denounce the rules as “outdated,” “unfair,” “repressive,” etc. This has been happening since the dawn of our race. What is new is that most adults now agree with the disgruntled nineteen-year-olds, and so encourages and indulges their fantasies of unrestricted sex. Of course those permissive adults are nowhere to be found when the chickens come home to roost.

      • If you had any advice for me, I’d certainly take it into serious consideration because, in addition to believing in exercising “tough love” when necessary, I also believe that “in a multitude of counselors, there is wisdom.”

        You’re right that these permissive adults are nowhere to be found when the consequences come to bear, and I’ve tried to explain that to my daughter on numerous occasions, but to no avail so far. To her mind, permissiveness in her adult advisors (which I call “indifference towards”) is loving her, whereas intolerance of her illicit behavior is the opposite of loving her.

        It’s a serious matter, and it concerns me greatly on many levels as her father, but on the other hand it’s actually comical the way her mind works when it comes to her *perceived* self-interest, female autonomy and all that. More or less, ‘those who most love me are those who most agree with me.’ Here again, that’s a purely cultural/societal influence; the only way I could have prevented it is to have locked her up in a closet.

      • In a traditional patriarchal society your daughter would be under your authority (and protection) until you transferred that authority to her husband at the altar. Women who were under no man’s authority were called “abandoned women.” This meant a woman who was not “tied” to a man (father or husband), not just a woman who had been deserted by her husband. Such women were often prostitutes. In our society almost all women are “abandoned” in their twenties, since abandonment and women’s liberation are synonyms. Very few of our women are submissive, in the Biblical sense of that word, which means to submit to patriarchal authority.

        Abandonment is not simply a rebellious state of mind. It is also an existential fact. Patriarchal authority is not simply a matter of a strong will and a loud voice. It requires objective social supports, none of which exist any more. This means that you will have to be resigned to the fact that your daughter is an abandoned (liberated) woman, and that there isn’t a great deal you can do about it.

        One thing you can do is make clear that abandonment/liberation cuts both ways. A father has no automatic claim on the obedience of a nineteen-year-old daughter, but a nineteen-year-old daughter also has no automatic claim on the resources (protection) of her father. In liberating herself from you, she has also liberated you from herself. You should state this in a mild and matter-of-fact way, with nothing angry, threatening or vengeful about it. I certainly would not use words like “abandonment” or “abandoned woman,” but you might speak of “disentangling” your affairs. But what it comes down to is a truth as old as the hills: a woman who is not under your authority is not under your protection.

        This is, of course, easy for me to say because she is not my daughter, so she’s not breaking my heart. The ties between father and child are not a contract that dissolves when one party fails the hold up its end of the bargain, as the parable of the Prodigal Son tells us. Reading that parable we see a son an “abandoned” son who has repudiated his father’s authority and claimed for himself absolute liberty. When this comes to its predictable conclusion, his father does not “protect” him from the consequences. He lets him eat husks with the swine for a while. From personal experience, I can tell you that eating husks with swine is a salutary experience. As a father, you should of course keep an eye out to make sure your daughter gets enough husks (this level of “protection” you cannot disown), but if it comes to this, you must let her learn the full meaning of “liberation.”

        I hope it doesn’t come to that, of course, but it is more or less the way my father handled my rebellion, and that worked in the end.

      • Mr. Smith, I’m glad you took the time to write that! I’ll explain why in more detail in a longer reply later. Suffice it to say for now that as I read it to my wife, her expression went from mild surprise to utter disbelief by the time I was finished. She is astounded you were able to write, almost in precise detail, my approach to our daughter since this all started two years ago now. Your manner of expression is different, but the approach is precisely the same.

      • Mr. Smith, this is a private matter, so I won’t divulge certain things. On the other hand, I couldn’t have written about this just six months ago because it was too painful to talk about then, but I’m perfectly comfortable writing about it now.

        I have four girls (and four boys), and our daughter in question, believe it or not, was, up until just about 3-3 1/2 years ago, almost like a model daughter. She was one of those girls most any traditionalist father would be extremely grateful to have! Our father-daughter relationship was near perfect, so this all came as a big, BIG shock to me in particular. My wife too, but I took it harder than she did because she (our daughter) and I just always seemed to have a special kind of connection and bond. I’ve never been a great athlete or anything, but have always been athletic, and so is she. So there was a connection there between us, as an example, but she was also easy to teach, very disciplined and conscientious, and very “girly” or feminine even though she was athletic. Not to get too sentimental, but as a little girl she would climb up in my lap and ask “daddy, are you proud of me?,” and I never really understood why, but would always reassure her that I’m always proud of my kids, especially when they do good. In short, she was a joy to raise … until she went bad.

        It all started out with her lying to me; I knew, of course, that she was experiencing different kinds of emotions, hormones and so forth, and that I needed to be as patient as I could with her while at the same time not tolerating the lying. So we would have long discussions about the lies, why it was dangerous to form those kinds of habits, the “liar” reputation she would develop and so on. All to no avail (although she was telling me what she thought I wanted to hear, but the lying just continued and got worse). Ultimately (she was 17 by this time) things got so bad with the lying and her attitude became so sour, that after several warnings I finally made the very difficult decision to send her away for awhile (part of the purpose here was to eliminate her influence over the younger girls in particular, and to restore order in the home because she was creating havoc, literally). So I sent her away to her aunt and uncle.

        The aunt and uncle were consulted and chosen initially because they had always given us the impression they understood our traditionalist world and life view. This turned out to be a facade, so while the aunt (whom we were in contact with daily in the beginning) was telling us what we wanted to hear, she seized the opportunity to indulge our daughter’s fantasies, immediately put her on birth control and sent her out to get “sexed up,” and our daughter did so with a vengeance! This is when her attitude went REALLY BAD! Had our relatives done what they should have done, my sending her away for awhile would have had a chance of working, but as it turned out they were undermining me from day-one.

        Meanwhile our daughter, who had by this time developed quite the hatred towards me, and the habit of being a very effective liar and manipulator, began to ‘work’ the extended family and effectively turn them against me (who can resist the temptation of believing a balling 18 year-old girl over her “tyrant” father?!). I stand amazed, even today, that they all fell for it so easily, but they did, and it created alot of tension in the family. During this entire process, though, I kept warning everyone that her true self would eventually come out (it always does!), and that they would, in turn, look and feel like idiots for taking the word of an emotion-driven, defiant female with vengeance in her heart over her perfectly rational, perfectly stable father. On the other side of things I was warning her that her sins would eventually catch up to her (they always do!), that her advocates would catch on, and that, in turn, they would turn away from her as quickly as they’d come to her defense (such is the nature of unprincipled men). None of them would listen to me, with exception of my mother who had made the exact same mistakes as a young girl and understood it perfectly.

        Well, all of that has now happened – she’s ruined her reputation with the extended family because she played them for fools, and no one, even the most dyed-in-the-wool liberal, likes being played for a fool. The only advocates she has left at this point are her boyfriend and his family (his father’s a “preacher,” btw), and the aunt and uncle I originally sent her to stay with.

        Now, this is tricky stuff – I mean, following your suggestions (which I’m perfectly in agreement with, and have done, as I said) is fine and all, but according to what timeframe do you do all of this? How much “husk eating” do you thrust on her in the beginning, and how many opportunities do you give her at redeeming herself before you pretty much cut her loose completely? Lots of second-guessing yourself goes along with this, but at the end of the day you have to (prayerfully) trust your own instincts.

        At this point she is an “abandoned woman” in the truest sense of the term. Her boyfriend (whom she is desperate to ask her to marry her) is not reliable because he still lives with his parents, (1), and his half-hearted, delinquent work ethic amounts to stocking her refrigerator with cokes and supplying a little drinking and movie entertainment once in awhile, nothing more. As to her emotional needs, same thing. At the same time he is completely, utterly ill-equipped to understand the importance (for his own future good as much as anything else) of developing a proper relationship with the father of whom he *says* he intends one day to marry. Meanwhile, we have had an illegitimate pregnancy and miscarriage, and my wife and I are the *only* ones in all of this who know about it. Why? Because shortly after the miscarriage the trauma began to weigh on her, and she contacted me about it, and only me. Her boyfriend, by this time, had already come to grips with it, of course. “No biggie, just move on,” right? This is when I banished him completely from speaking to me at all because that nonchalant, cocky little juvenile attitude towards the whole thing was fixing to get him into deep sh*t with yours truly.

        But at the end of the day all of this is either a direct, or indirect, result of my daughter’s defiant attitude towards authority and her poor decision making as a manifestation thereof. I don’t blame him, I just want to protect him (third time’s a charm and all that).

        I do not initiate contact with her at all anymore, but to this point she can still contact me if she likes, and she does occasionally when she gets into a bind and has exhausted all of her other options. But these sporadic occurance have all, so far, ended badly because, as you say, when she liberated herself from my authority she also liberated me from any responsibility on my part to protect her. Things can only get worse from here, until they get better. But it’s telling on her in all kinds of ways I won’t get into. I fear that she’ll eventually turn to drugs, and/or alcohol, as a way of coping with what she’s done and is doing. I’m also afraid she’s going ruin her boyfriend’s life, and I *suspect* she may have tried to hook him into marrying her by getting pregnant, but I don’t know that, of course.

        Anyway, I know I wasn’t a perfect father to her, but on the other hand (and this is where my wife has tried her damnest to get through to her, but may just as well be beating her head against a wall for all the good she’s doing), she had a pretty darned good upbringing (raised in a garden, as I say often) and a very good relationship with her father that she simply chose to throw away like it was nothing. Again, this aspect of it just baffles my wife; she cannot, for the life of her, understand why she was apparently so ready and willing to throw away her relationship with me. And neither can I. Bad situation all around!

      • I can understand why this sad story has grieved you and your wife. Estrangement from a child must always be painful, but must be particularly so when one once enjoyed a special affection. My oldest is sixteen, so I have no personal experience as the parent of a rebellious teen, although I did put in some time as a rebel and have seen this in other families. As I said above, I think the parable of the Prodigal Son is your best game plan, since this is way our Father treats us in our waywardness.

        Not knowing your daughter, I am hesitant to offer much in the way of analysis. I’ve known other cases of the perfect daughter who suddenly “went bad,” and believe this was more a change of circumstance than of character. The sweet little girl was not a submissive little girl. She was getting everything she wanted and sweetness was the best way to keep it coming. Some of the sweet things that she said were lies, but they were pretty and agreeable lies, so no one recognized them for what they were. But once this girl began to want things she could not get through sweetness and pretty lies, she sought to get them through nastiness and ugly lies. One of my sons had a spell of lying, but this occurred when he was eleven or twelve, and so much more easily corrected than a child of seventeen.

        I think it is significant that your mother understands your wayward daughter best of all. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, as they say, and she probably sees something of herself in the girl. Hopefully this will take some of the guilty feelings off of your back, since your daughter’s actions flow at least partly from her nature, and are not entirely the product of her childhood environment.

        From your description, she is ruthless in the pursuit of her desires, resentful of anyone who stands in her way, and credulous of anyone who tells her what she wants to hear. This means she’s human, like the rest of us, but also ruthless, resentful and credulous to an uncommon degree. Take this extraordinary willfulness, combine it with robust sexual desire, smash it into a strict and determined father, and the situation you describe is more or less inevitable.

        Obviously your daughter’s life strategy has begun to run into some fairly serious difficulties. On the sexual front she’s managed to half rope in a bum, her circle of enablers has shrunk to five, and her grief after the miscarriage has made her think that life has unexpected dimensions. She’s begun to eat husks with the swine. You ask how long you should let this continue. I say, as long as it takes. Returning to the parable, it is the Prodigal Son and not his father who decides that the husk-eating has gone on long enough. And there’s no guarantee that husk-eating will lead to repentance. Plenty of people spend their lives gnawing husks and cursing the world for making them do so.

        If I were you, I would simply keep the lines of communication open. Find something to talk about other than the past, or those aspects of her life you deplore. This will allow you to take on a new type of paternal authority, if that is what she wants. I mean the paternal authority of an advisor rather than a commander.

      • Well, how did Zippy put it in the Painted Strumpets thread?: “Every day is opposite day,” therefore honoring our daughter’s womanhood means treating her like a child not accountable for her own actions. But in her case it means even more; I’m to *endorse* her self-destructive, juvenile behavior, while at the same time (at least) paying lip service to her vaunted womanhood.

        She doesn’t want my advice. What she wants, or at least says she wants in a roundabout sort of way, is to have a relationship with her family of origin in which she is never held accountable for her misdeeds in any way whatsoever by myself or her mother. To include, for example, bailing her out with her landlord when she’s three months behind on rent. She’ll take the money, but not the advice that comes along with it. And etcetera.

        In this case it’s virtually impossible for us to have the sort of relationship you’re talking about because I simply won’t cross certain boundaries with her, and in that sense it’s not possible for me to abdicate my authority. An example of what I mean here is that she says she would *prefer* that I endorse her relationship with her boyfriend, but she’ll take the alternative if I won’t agree to her terms. That simply will not ever happen because it’s not in my power to abdicate authority here, even were I so disposed. Besides, there’s too much at stake; I have two daughters younger than her, and it would set a bad precedent. (She already accuses me of being a hypocrite for treating our son and daughter-in-law’s pre-marital relationship differently than her’s. She is right that I treated it differently in certain ways, but what she rejects out of hand is the fact that I had damn good reasons for treating theirs differently in those ways.)

        But what I’m really trying to say is that I can’t be an advisor to her (or anyone else, for that matter) when the only kind of “advice” she’ll accept from me is the kind that is either an endorsement of, or indifference towards, her self-destructive behavior. In the meantime, if I don’t allow her four and five-year-old siblings to go spend the night with she and her boyfriend, this is the most ridiculous exercise of arbitrary authority she has ever heard of! Not to mention “childish.”

        Because everything is about her all the time, and she has the attitude that any rules I enforce against something she wants amount to nothing more than an attempt on my part to oppress or discriminate against her in particular, the sort of relationship you’re talking about would break down almost immediately because she would raise some issue or other that I couldn’t possibly go along with and she would demand to know why even as I would be telling her “we agreed to not talk about this.” Matter of fact, we’ve already done all that, which is the reason I know it won’t work.

  5. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2016/01/10) – The Reactivity Place

  6. Pingback: Father Knows Best: Mid-January Curmudgeon Edition | Patriactionary

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