Belmont Club


The word “happenstance” is used to describe things that coincide by chance. This week has brought two instances, the first when I wrote The Late Great Manly Man and the second when mentioning the possible reinstatement of canceled insurance policies under Obamacare.

As it happens Rich Tucker wrote about the campaign to eliminate manly men on the very same day. In an article titled Embracing the Difference, Tucker reviewed Hanna Rosin’s claim that the days of men are numbered, as summarized in her article The End of Men.

What if the modern, postindustrial economy is simply more congenial to women than to men? … Once you open your eyes to this possibility, the evidence is all around you. It can be found, most immediately, in the wreckage of the Great Recession, in which three-quarters of the 8 million jobs lost were lost by men. The worst-hit industries were overwhelmingly male and deeply identified with macho: construction, manufacturing, high finance. …

Women dominate today’s colleges and professional schools—for every two men who will receive a B.A. this year, three women will do the same. Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U.S., all but two are occupied primarily by women. Indeed, the U.S. economy is in some ways becoming a kind of traveling sisterhood: upper-class women leave home and enter the workforce, creating domestic jobs for other women to fill.

The other coincidence came today, when the White House announced another delay — don’t say “suspension” — of yet another Obamacare provision. The Washington Post writes: “For the second time in a year, the Obama administration is giving certain employers extra time before they must offer health insurance to almost all their full-time workers.”

As word of the delays spread Monday, many across the ideological spectrum viewed them as an effort by the White House to defuse another health-care controversy before the fall midterm elections. The new postponements won over part, but not all, of the business community. And they caught consumer advocates, usually reliable White House allies, by surprise, particularly because administration officials had already announced in July that the employer requirements would be postponed from this year until 2015.

Anyone who has followed the travails of Obamacare knew something like this was in the works. I wrote just yesterday that “eventually the exemptions become the rule and Potemkinism becomes general. Industry analyst Robert Lazewski notes that Washington is now mulling the possibility of reinstating all the policies that Obamacare canceled for at least 3 more years. The health program is so great they are thinking of exempting everyone from it for a time. It will be Potemkin all the way down.”

But as Tolkien observed so many decades ago,  happenstance may just be another term for events ripening. Things come together, though we realize it only after the fact. And we say it just so happened.

When you think of the Battle of Pelennor, do not forget the battles in Dale and the valor of Durin’s Folk. Think of what might have been. Dragon-fire and savage swords in Eriador, night in Rivendell. There might be no Queen in Gondor. We might now hope to return from the victory here to ruin and ash. But that has been adverted — because I met Thorin Oakenshield one evening on the edge of spring in Bree. A chance-meeting, as we say in Middle-earth.

Guessing that Obamacare would get another exemption was easy, and I’ll explain why in a bit.  But before I do, Rosin’s thesis deserves some attention. One should point out that the “macho man” whose demise she predicts is not the manly man in the sense Homer understood.

Men were defined in Homer, not by their muscles, but by their place in culture.  Describing the Shield of Achilles Homer outlines the defenses of civilization. He places the heavens in the outermost sphere and within them fields and vineyards and bountiful cattle; and cities where law and weddings abide defended by men with “refulgent arms” who guard against the hosts which would pillage and despoil the circle enclosed.

Rosin seems to think that biceps make the man. That was never true. The manly men of Homer were not mindless brutes, but defenders of the worthy and esteemable. And so it remains today.

A fair idea of what a society consider heroic can be gleaned by reading citations for the Medal of Honor. A surprising number of Medal winners have nothing to do with killing the enemy or performing prodigies of strength. Many awards are simply to someone who rolled over a hand grenade. It’s been awarded to pacifists like Desmond Doss who carried 75 wounded men to safety on an Okinawan battlefield. It was awarded to a chaplain, the Jesuit Joseph O’Callahan who led fire-fighting teams into red-hot munitions magazines and administered the Last Rites to wounded men all over the burning and fragment-swept deck. The nation gave it to Howard Gilmore, skipper of the USS Growler, for nothing more than, when finding himself wounded on the bridge, ordering his men below and leaving him behind on that lonely perch before issuing his final order: “take her down”.

There may be cultures where manliness is a mere athletic attribute, measured by the number of heads one can lop off. But at least until recently, Western manliness meant not brutishness but culture. Being a bulwark of “the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his gods”, a circle on the Shield of Achilles. Rosin may think the time for such things has passed; that we can safely do without them, or breed such things out of existence; condemn them as unruly, inapt to lessons, over-reluctant to sit down. But I think we shall find future coincidences to suggest the contrary.

It may be opportune to point out that nature keeps repeating certain motifs. The Tennesean notes the rise in atheist churches.

East Nashville’s places of worship get moving mid-morning on Sundays, a suit-wearing man arranging traffic cones outside Liberty Christian Bible Church, a white-haired woman easing herself into East End Methodist, the doors of Woodland Presbyterian flung wide to reveal a banner bearing a cross flanked by flames.

At Five Points, people file into The Building, many holding paper coffee cups from the shop across the street, for the first of two services of the atheist group Sunday Assembly.

Launched in London just over a year ago by comedians Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, the group has grown to 37 Sunday Assemblies across the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States….

In some ways, a morning at Sunday Assembly Nashville looks a lot like church. A band played as people walked in, but the jazzy tune was more New Orleans on Saturday night than Nashville on Sunday morning.

Parents dropped their kids off at the nursery, but instead of reading Bible stories and coloring pictures of Noah’s Ark, children watched “Happy Feet” and made Valentine’s Day cards for a senior center.

It’s trend that even the New York Times has noticed. Pippa and Sanderson Jones describe their atheist church in London.

The Sunday Assembly’s goal is to help people enjoy more of the former, and avoid the latter. In essence we want to help people (ourselves included) to live better, help often and wonder more.

Thus, instead of atheism making the world a cold, unfeeling and alienating place, it can make it richer, deeper and more profound. Compared to the eternal nada that awaits, transcendence can be found in a breath of wind on your face or in a mouthful of custard tart. Now, please, close your eyes, open your hearts and join me in a prayer to Richard Dawkins.

About all one can say is they are late to the party. Before Pippa and Sanderson there was Karl with his Worker’s Paradise, the Other Jones of the People’s Temple in Guyana.  For some reason people just seem drawn to doing the same things, even if they label them differently. The recurrence of themes — happenstance if you will — suggests that modernity, with its fads and schemes to redo the world from its beginnings has insufficiently accounted for Eternity. It cannot filter out the context within which man evolved and the forces with which he contends in the universe.

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That should not be surprising. That is precisely what the anthrophic principle  argues: that what we call coincidence is the outcome of the fact that we are tuned to the universe; and having arisen from that ground our thoughts and instincts bear its signature.

From that point of view reality is real; or at least it is not wholly fictive. We cannot escape it or simply dismiss it as a cultural construct which can be declared live or dead according to the whims of intellectuals or bureaucrats.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. The reason it was so easy to predict that Obamacare would need exemptions is that nobody beats arithmetic.  In such an environment the same themes recur, not because we play them, but because the spheres were humming the background beat all along.



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