What lifestyle advice do you have for readers?
Josef Pieper points out in Leisure: The Basis of Culture that modern people think that the sin of "acedia [often translated as sloth] is the lack of economic ambition or enterprise," but this is asinine. Let's leave aside the fact that neither party quite knows where the decent jobs are going to come from for most people in the future, nor are they even seriously dealing with the problem of the rise of bots and automation. Have rural whites been committing suicide and falling into addiction to opiates in higher and higher numbers because they are all simply lazy and don't want to earn a living?
This narrative about the poor can sometimes be true but ultimately it is a tiresome, hollow, all too modern narrative that the political Right has been tempted to embrace in the past decades. Is this ever the whole story of any human being, ever? Laziness? Are we kidding ourselves? Of course we are. Laziness becomes the cardinal sin when economic productivity becomes the highest virtue, which is why one now sees an elite that prides itself on not engaging in true leisure, as their meaning and worth is derived from "what they do" - which is work as high-level technocratic managers.
The underlying problem is never laziness. Yes, you might indeed be lazy. But the real problem lies deeper and closer to an underlying sense of worthlessness, hopelessness, and lack of purpose: an idleness, restlessness, and unease within oneself that gives rise to empty workaholics and an often banal start-up culture among the ruling class no less than addiction and welfare among the poor. And papering all this up by translating everything into economic terms and policy alone is just to turn to the disease as if it were some kind of cure.
"The code of life in the High Middle Ages [held] that it was precisely lack of leisure, an inability to be at leisure, that went together with idleness; that the restlessness of work-for-work’s-sake arose from nothing other than idleness. There is a curious connection in the fact that the restlessness of a self-destructive work-fanaticism should take its rise from the absence of a will to accomplish something."
As Pieper points out, for the medievals, acedia was not a sin against earning one's living, or work, but a sin against your own nature as a human being: a refusal to be fully human. Acedia was not a sin opposed to industriousness, but the Sabbath: acedia is the lack of will to accomplish anything, which is ultimately not opposed to everyday work but to a meaningful resting in and celebration of a higher purpose and cause. As he cites Aquinas: "The goal and norm of discipline is happiness."
This is a bit vague but, as they used to say about “difficult” albums, “rewards repeat listening.” Sniff out the implicit parts of your life and pitch your tent there. People today are hitting walls of attention and experience as, every day, they wake up, log on, and obsessively explain and be explained to. This practice of explaining and being explained to in turn is unlike the ruling and being ruled in turn that Aristotle described as the process of good politics.
Our explanomania arises from and leads us ever deeper into a conviction or desperate wager that the explicit will save us—whether it’s explicit accounts rendered through dreams or data, fantasy or fact.
We know it isn’t working in our search for fruitful life. We hunger to inhabit a different realm of living, one where experience shows and understanding knows that life teems in the implicit, in the things that can’t be dissected or vivisected on the table of explanation.
This is a realm different from the merely numinous. I’m not talking about that indescribable feeling of transcendence or oneness or in-tunedness. This is used today as an excuse or justification for the prevailing culture’s worse-than-vague “spirituality”. The implicit realm I mean is the one of rich human relationships, of our relationship with nature and with God, relationships even with ourselves, which show forth in their richness only over time and with intimacy—like a long conversation at the campfire full of stories and wonderings and recollections and variegated emotional registers, or like, probably, your favorite novel.
I don’t think we talk enough about the implicit life, in part because it can’t be hauled out in chains and made to explain itself in our court of explicitude, but in part because we are losing the habits and vocabulary to keep its reality known and its presence intuitively robust. Try it out. Gain a good sense for where it lives. Live there more yourself—sometimes making yourself at home, but just as often making yourself more of a pioneer or pilgrim.
My father likes to repeat—and this is more just to mess with me—that every man should plant a tree, rear children, and write a book. He’s done all those things, and I’ve only begun the children part, which isn’t close to over (count no Bahr lucky until he’s dead, as they say).
One thing that should be added to this list, I think, is the need to assemble a library. This is not a pretentious thing. It can be, and some people collect books for that reason, but most people who enjoy sitting in the company of their books, don’t do it for frivolous reasons. They do it because it stimulates thought, because the collection can (and ought) to be shared among friends, because the delight on the face of one’s child first selecting a book on the shelf is one of life’s profound joys.
Sitting with old authors has been a rare source of comfort during COVID. It beats television and it beats Twitter. Some days, it beats hanging out with the wife and kids.
Next week I will discuss about how to begin one’s library (hint: it’s not done at once) and the story of how I lost all my books in a great flood.
Lifting weights has become a conservative thing. Here is why: the progressive effort to make a blank slate of the human person has extended below the neck to include the whole body. It was not enough to say that anybody could be smart, funny, and brave: if we are to build heaven on earth, everybody must also be beautiful and healthy and strong. Since everybody is not beautiful, healthy, and strong, it required a massive effort of imagination and feats of linguistic acrobatics (the two are related) to attain the requisite Nirvana. Hence “body positivity,” “fat pride,” etc.—the whole suite of elaborate efforts to force a critical mass of people into conceding that ugly and unhealthy things are beautiful and good.
The natural corollary of this is that anybody who acknowledges objective standards of health and desires the best for his body is operating according to “right-wing” principles. Some on the Right who understood this, or felt it viscerally, responded by doubling down on physical fitness as a priority and a value. At its extremes this amounts to the Very Online phenomenon known as “vitalism”—think Twitter accounts like Bronze Age Pervert that “poast physique” and invite (or command) others to do the same. In more commercial form, the Right’s renewed interest in fitness finds expression among content creators like Steven Crowder or Zuby, whose brands revolve around their art and commentary but include a “lifestyle” dimension in the form of fitspo and workout tips.
Now, the wokescolds have about one-fifth of a point when they note with alarm that the equation of physical excellence with moral virtue has a dangerous history of excess. And for about one-fifth of a second this left me wary of the gym bro strain in right-wing media. But (as those who follow me on Twitter will have grasped) I have become significantly more in favor of a little gainzpoasting. Because in point of fact, whereas it’s perfectly true that there are virtues besides fitness, it’s also the case that fitness is a virtue, in the old sense of an excellence(aretē) achieved in a given dimension of human endeavor. And—excepting edge cases where tragedy makes it impossible—fitness also bespeaks certain other virtues of what Aristotle might have called a more “ethical” nature.
Those are the virtues we’re sorely lacking and in danger of making taboo out of misguided sensitivity: discipline, commitment, focus, resilience. It’s important for people—and yes, I think especially for men—to cultivate those virtues and develop a language for being open about wanting to cultivate them. In our era of lockdowns, lifting culture has also taken on an air of defiance in the face of government oppression. The courage, integrity, and independence of thought which such defiance requires are also virtues of which we are very deeply in need. It is no small thing to train them daily.
Here, then, lies the received wisdom behind the Greek word kalos, which means both “beautiful” and “good.” And while Greek philosophers puzzled over the slippage between those two things just as agonizingly as we do, still there must be—if only aspirationally and in an ideal world we never quite attain—some link between them. “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” the poet says of the Grecian urn, and again—though complications abound—we must instinctively agree.
All this is by way of justification for what will be continued gainzpoasting from me, and weekly fitness advice on Fridays here in the Substack. This being The American Mind, one needs a solid intellectual framework and justification for launching into a lifestyle column. But since I believe such a framework is fully available and tolerably articulated above, I hope our readers won’t begrudge me a little reflection and advice in the weeks to come about how to develop The American Muscles.