• Scott Barry Kaufman writes on sex differences in personality:

    At the broad level, we have traits such as extraversion, neuroticism, and agreeableness. But when you look at the specific facets of each of these broad factors, you realize that there are some traits that males score higher on (on average), and some traits that females score higher on (on average), so the differences cancel each other out. This canceling out gives the appearance that sex differences in personality don’t exist when in reality they very much do exist.

    For instance, males and females on average don’t differ much on extraversion. However, at the narrow level, you can see that males on average are more assertive (an aspect of extraversion) whereas females on average are more sociable and friendly (another aspect of extraversion). So what does the overall picture look like for males and females on average when going deeper than the broad level of personality?

    On average, males tend to be more dominant, assertive, risk-prone, thrill-seeking, tough-minded, emotionally stable, utilitarian, and open to abstract ideas. Males also tend to score higher on self-estimates of intelligence, even though sex differences in general intelligence measured as an ability are negligible [2]. Men also tend to form larger, competitive groups in which hierarchies tend to be stable and in which individual relationships tend to require little emotional investment. In terms of communication style, males tend to use more assertive speech and are more likely to interrupt people (both men and women) more often– especially intrusive interruptions– which can be interpreted as a form of dominant behavior.

    …In contrast, females, on average, tend to be more sociable, sensitive, warm, compassionate, polite, anxious, self-doubting, and more open to aesthetics. On average, women are more interested in intimate, cooperative dyadic relationships that are more emotion-focused and characterized by unstable hierarchies and strong egalitarian norms. Where aggression does arise, it tends to be more indirect and less openly confrontational. Females also tend to display better communication skills, displaying higher verbal ability and the ability to decode other people’s nonverbal behavior. Women also tend to use more affiliative and tentative speech in their language, and tend to be more expressive in both their facial expressions and bodily language (although men tend to adopt a more expansive, open posture). On average, women also tend to smile and cry more frequently than men, although these effects are very contextual and the differences are substantially larger when males and females believe they are being observed than when they believe they are alone.

    Alex Tabarrok highlights the above and underscores a key point, which is that “personality differences between the sexes are large in all cultures but ‘for all of these personality effects the sex differences tend to be larger– not smaller– in more individualistic, gender-egalitarian countries.’”

    A lot of this is what Jordan Peterson has highlighted over the past few years. And he’s been vilified for doing so.

  • The dynamic of friendship

    I think the first snow of the season in Washington last year happened in roughly mid-November. No snow to be seen yet, and this week has been generally gorgeous—here’s a scene from earlier in the week, paired with something from David Whyte on friendship that Tim Ferriss highlighted in his “5-Bullet Friday” newsletter:

    “The dynamic of friendship is almost always underestimated as a constant force in human life: a diminishing circle of friends is the first terrible diagnostic of a life in deep trouble: of overwork, of too much emphasis on a professional identity, of forgetting who will be there when our armored personalities run into the inevitable natural disasters and vulnerabilities found in even the most average existence. …

    But no matter the medicinal virtues of being a true friend or sustaining a long close relationship with another, the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self; the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.”

  • Marco Lapi writes on a Communion and Liberation conference on the theme of care of the elderly, and on the themes of loneliness and isolation:

    Fr. Julián Carrón, who was entrusted with the theme “Faith and Solitude” … [spoke] on this last “elementary experience of man” as sung by Giacomo Leopardi in his Nocturnal Singing of a Wandering Shepherd of Asia and as described by Emily Dickinson: “There is a solitude of space, a solitude of sea, a solitude of death, but these society shall be compared with that profounder site, that polar privacy, a soul admitted to itself, finite infinity”. Because, added Fr. Carrón, “no solitude is comparable to that of a soul in the presence of itself”. As Fr. Giussani stressed, “the sense of impotence accompanies every serious experience of humanity”, therefore “the more aware man is of the immense dimension of his impotence, the more he realizes that that solitude cannot find an answer in us or in others”.

    On the other hand, a different perception of lacking is not lacking in human experience, which revels itself as a “marvellous achievement”, as Gaber sang: Loneliness is not madness, it is essential to be in good company”. It has nothing to do, for example, with the anguish that pervades the two orphans of Pascoli’s the homonymous poem, at night. “A tremendous conquest or a marvellous condemnation?”, Carrón asked himself, referring to how Etty Hillesum, the young Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz. She also spoke of it: “I know two forms of loneliness: one makes me feel terribly unhappy, lost and without direction; the other makes me strong and happy”. The answer, and the difference, is not to be alone or not, but to live a life full of meaning.

    A question of attitude, as the words of the psychiatrist Eugenio Borgna, cited by Carrón, recall: “Loneliness and isolation are two radically different ways of living, even if they are often identified. To be alone does not mean to feel alone, but to be temporarily separated from the world of people and things, from the daily occupations, to enter into one’s inner self or imagination, without losing the desire or nostalgia for the relationship with others, with loved ones, with the tasks that life has entrusted to us. We are isolated, however, when we close ourselves because others reject us or when, more often, we follow the wake of our own indifference, of a gloomy selfishness that is the effect of an arid and dried up heart. Therefore, it is not a condemnation, because there is no lack of testimonies of how it is possible to live any human situation positively. Journalist Marina Corradi, quoted by Carrón, talks about her “crack”, which at a certain point became “severe depression”: “I read Mounier: “God passes through wounds”, he wrote. It made me think that perhaps my crack, like a hole in a waterproof wall, was a necessary laceration? If I did not exist, who am physically healthy, not poor, lucky, I wouldn’t need anything. That broken wall, that flaw, is a salvation. A torrent of grace, uncontrollable, can enter through it and fertilize the dry and hard land.”

    “This is the fight in any circumstance”, explained Carrón: “But for what reason do we want rid of it? Only love for ourselves, because, in fact, even the deepest pain can lead us to discover completely unknown horizons. But, to open ourselves up to this possibility we must look at it with that openness that only man can have”. Provided we do not fall into that current emptiness of meaning, described by psychoanalyst Umberto Galimberti, which does not affect “a particular age, because you can already live old age at the age of twenty,” says Carrón.

    In order for loneliness to be “experienced as a positive factor of living”, it is necessary to go through it. In order for it to become “the place where to discover the original companionship”, it is necessary “not to block the need for meaning that dwells in the human “. Starting from the fact that we do not make ourselves, as as Etty Hillesum again testifies: “Inside me there is a very deep source. And in that source there is God. Sometimes I can reach it, more often it is covered with stones and sand: then God is buried. Then we must unearth it again”. “Life is, therefore, expressed, above all, as awareness of the relationship with the one who makes it”, continued Carrón, citing Fr. Giussani’s Religious Sense: “Only in this way can solitude be overcome, in the discovery that we are like love that continually gives itself, that makes me, because there is an Other who wants me to be there. Companionship is in the “I” because we do nothing alone, because we are generated by Him in every moment. Every human friendship, every attempt to respond to this loneliness is a reverberation of the original structure of being, that is, of this original companionship that Another makes us by putting us into the world”.

    To be comfortable with being alone with yourself is something like a superpower—an wholesome aloneness not touched by melancholy or despair, but enriched by a splendid sort of isolation that provides us the necessary space to know ourselves by knowing our creator. The first step toward experiencing this comes from silence, which Robert Cardinal Sarah reflects on in “The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise.”

    We all need this sort of solitude, and to develop a capacity for it if it doesn’t come naturally to us. A capacity for solitude is something to be pursued intentionally precisely because it’s a precondition for our capacity to give of ourselves to others.

    “To be alone does not mean to feel alone, but to be temporarily separated from the world of people and things, from the daily occupations, to enter into one’s inner self or imagination, without losing the desire or nostalgia for the relationship with others, with loved ones, with the tasks that life has entrusted to us.”

  • Charlie Camosy writes on his relationship with Peter Singer, Princeton’s infamous analytic philosopher:

    I saw that, even if Singer was a committed atheist, he had a lot of common ground with Catholic social teaching, Thomas Aquinas, the church fathers and Jesus himself. More surprising to me, I began to find his views on abortion and euthanasia more interesting.

    Though I considered him clearly wrong about moral status and who counts as a person, he was wrong in interesting and informative ways. And, again, he was one of the few in his camp who was willing to follow his arguments wherever they led him — even if it was to a deeply uncomfortable place.

    After I arrived in my current place at Fordham University, I began to think about a book project exploring Singer’s work, which would eventually become “Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization.” …

    We have never papered over our differences. Indeed, as one does when one is an analytic philosopher, he honored our friendship by inviting me to debate him in various places, from his hometown of Melbourne, Australia, to his classroom at Princeton. …

    As I reflect back on our 10 years of friendship, I’ve come to realize that, especially in our current context, Singer’s significance arises from his unwavering commitment to facts and arguments. Despite decades of attempts to “cancel” him (an audience member once leapt on stage, ripped off his glasses and smashed them with his foot), Singer refuses to bend to the temptation to use raw power to marginalize those with whom he disagrees.

    His approach is the only way out of our current mess of a public discourse. Indeed, as far as I can tell, it is the only way to give the vulnerable and marginalized a shot at having their point of view taken seriously by those who hold power over them.

    I spoke with Charlie a few weeks ago, and we touched on Singer and the value he had as one of the rare opponents of the human right to life who was willing to “follow the logic” where it leads. When Singer advocates for lawful infanticide and other barbaric practices, he’s following the logic of a culture that rejects human dignity as innate. And at least to the degree that he’s being honest with where the logic of that attitude toward human life leads, we should be grateful for his willingness to say what others will not say.

    Charlie’s friendship with Peter Singer is instructive in another way, too. Without instrumentalizing friendships, it bears keeping in mind that only through friendship can we hope to soften or change another’s heart.

  • The first snow flurries of the fall/winter started yesterday morning at Notre Dame, which made the walk to the morning sessions at the Notre Dame Fall Conference on friendship even more picturesque than it normally is:

    Last night’s Josef Pieper Keynote on “Friendship in Good Times and in Bad” by Archbishop Borys Gudziak was powerful:

    Carter Snead jokes in his introduction to Archbishop Gudziak’s talk that the conference has been described as “Catholic Woodstock”. It ranks with Napa Institute as two of the most meaningful conference experiences of which I know.

  • Since coming to Washington, I’ve become closer to Opus Dei and its focus on the sanctification of daily life, the universal call to holiness. This feature from Opus Dei on “seven keys” to a the happy marriage, written from the perspective of a son, is beautiful:

    Tomás and Paquita Alvira, two of the earliest married members of Opus Dei, strove to attain sanctity as a married couple and in their role as parents.

    Tomás Alvira was one of a group of young men who crossed the Pyrenees Mountains on foot with Saint Josemaría Escrivá during the Spanish Civil War, fleeing anti-Catholic persecution to escape to a zone where they could practice their faith. In 1939, Tomás married Paquita Dominguez, and together the couple sought to live their vocation to marriage to the full. They had nine children and were held in high esteem by those who knew them for their example of love and generosity. Their cause of canonization was opened in 2009.

    In what follows, their son Rafael Alvira describes seven ways his parents cared for their marriage and educated their children through their example. …

    1. Eagerness to love. My parents preserved their eagerness to love one another right to the end of their lives. A friend of one of my sisters told her that she was envious of my parents, because she would see them walking in the street and could tell that they still loved each other like when they were dating. As the years went by, my parents had the same eagerness that they had the day they got married, and their love was always increasing.

    2. Attentiveness to others. They had a great capacity to be attentive to others. For example, both of them would open the door for me when I arrived. My mother gave each of her children a kiss when we got home. We saw it as a normal thing.

    3. Teaching by example. My parents were convinced that the decisive factor in education is the atmosphere in which it takes place, and that the best pedagogy is indirect. The good example they gave us was very influential. This is how they passed on the faith to us. For example, they went to Mass and we saw them taking part with a devotion that left a mark on us. They showed us what God’s love means by winning us over with affection; they sacrificed themselves without saying anything in order to help us. And their spirit was contagious.

    4. Teaching the kids to love each other. Both of them encouraged us to love each other a lot as brothers and sisters. This is something that continues being true today. I have one brother and six sisters (my oldest brother died when he was 5 years old).

    5. Having a big heart. Both of my parents had a very big heart. Having a heart is not so easy. My father had a hard time correcting any of his children, but he realized that if he didn’t do it, it would cause us harm. He corrected us without offending us. To really love, you have to have a heart. And the same happened with my father’s students. They realized that he loved them; they felt loved and were grateful.

    6. Fostering friendship. My parents had many family friends, and we became very much a part of these families. They also invited our friends to our house a lot. They knew all our friends. They brought them into our home and let them experience our family atmosphere. It is not enough for parents to raise their children well: they also need to get to know their children’s friends. Otherwise, the good education they give can be ruined by bad friendships the children make.

    7. Respect for freedom. My parents always had a great respect for our freedom. They never pushed us to make a specific decision. For example, at home my parents prayed the rosary every day. But they never forced us to pray it with them. They prayed it attentively, and although they invited us to join them, they never imposed it on us or insisted that we take part.

  • Living alone

    John Cuddeback writes on “living as a household of one:”

    The fact is that many people today end up living in a house alone. Sometimes it is by choice. Other times it is surely not, and the house has echoes of people who were there in the past, or whom the inhabitant dearly wishes, even if in the abstract and unknowing, might one day live there.

    To ‘come home’ just to oneself can be very difficult. It can even make one wonder—what’s the point? One might wish that one’s own household would simply cease to exist, and perhaps be absorbed into someone else’s. Then I’d really be at home, when ‘we’ are at home, together.

    A household is always about sharing life together. And so a home can be a living contradiction—even if many people are actually there. Real living together requires more than being under the same roof.

    Thought it doesn’t always feel like it, a signal gift in human life is the existence of others with whom we share human nature. Shared humanity is the basis for shared life, for living together in various rich ways. The household is the specifically human way of living together on a daily basis.

    So what then of a household of one?

    I live alone, and I often find it lonely. But Cuddeback writes on how to live alone while preparing a home that can welcome others.

  • Matt Labash writes on GQ’s “New Masculinity” issue:

    John Wayne, that repository of testosterone — now considered an illicit substance in many states — once played a character who said, “You have to be a man first, before you’re a gentleman.” …

    I might be tempted to answer Vox’s Liz Plank, one of GQ’s 18 voices, who recently published a book, “For the Love of Men.” While writing it, she went to Washington Square in Manhattan, thoughtfully asking men, “What’s hard about being a man?”

    “Having to listen to people who aren’t men, or who are ashamed of manhood, constantly telling me how to be one,” would be my short answer, after I stopped, dropped and rolled for cover.

    But for actual guidance — more sage than anything I read in GQ’s masculinity symposium — I’d turn to Edward Abbey, the ornery liberal who enjoyed baiting those on his own team. By most lights, he was a more reliable environmentalist than he was a feminist. (“The feminists have a legitimate grievance,” he said. “But so does everyone else.”) But Mr. Abbey, a former park ranger, did spend a lot of time observing nature up close, and not just the flora and fauna. Of man/woman relations, he wrote, “It is the difference between men and women, not the sameness, that creates the tension and the delight.”

    Why keep fuzzing distinctions that for millenniums have resisted fuzzing? Punish the sex criminals and pelvic pinball wizards. Good riddance to them all. But otherwise, let men and women be men and women, however that appropriately breaks, without laboring so hard to fuse them. Maybe our opposites attracting, which the furtherance of our species has depended on, isn’t a design flaw, but its very essence. And maybe the wokerati ought to take their own most oft-repeated cliché to heart: Our diversity is our strength.

    I’m working my way through Camille Paglia’s “Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson,” which provides a lot of context for the unfolding culture war between masculinity and whatever is proposed for replacing it.

  • In thinking through my ambitions and hopes for the next five or ten years I’ve also been thinking about my last ten years.

    At least for a large stretch of my mid-to-late 20s, I felt like a failure—as much professionally as personally. I was adrift. I didn’t know what to do. And I didn’t feel there was anyone I could really share my heart with in the way that Phillip Halfacre calls “genuine friendship”. It wasn’t until a genuine friendship came into my life and that friend held a mirror up to me that I was, eventually, able to come out of despondency. “Have you considered that you’re depressed?” he asked me. I hadn’t, but I was.

    It was around this time that I started, in Jordan Peterson terms, to ”properly orient myself toward the world” and get my life in order. And the confidence that has come from weathering this has helped me weather the storms since. I wonder how much of the rest of life will be a continuing pursuit of the virtues that came out of those experiences—of a love for God and desire for relationship with Christ, of truth-telling and the candor that makes life possible, of genuine friendships pursued with the good of the other at their heart, of courage and the confronting of fears as the way of masculine achievement, etc.

    I thought about all of this when reading Dean Burnett’s piece on stress, depression, and “ten words” that can change your life:

    So what stresses us out? Failure to meet expectations. Having to do more than we can handle. A loss of status, or living standards, or security, or something or someone important. But all of our expectations, standards, capacities, understandings and baselines are derived from a mental model of how the world works, a model our brains create and maintain based on our memories, experiences and beliefs.

    Stress is largely subjective. It often comes from negative changes or influences in our lives, when they occur with too much intensity. That our lives remain positive overall compared with those of others is irrelevant. That’s why questions such as: “What have you got to be stressed about?” don’t make sense. Thanks to how our brain works, if you don’t like something or don’t want it to happen, it can, and will, stress you out. …

    Small steps, incremental progress, are something that is emphasised repeatedly on the Cardiff course. This is a way to help break the stress cycle”, which describes how stress becomes chronic and self-sustaining. Let’s start with a relationship breakdown. This causes stress, with low mood, lack of motivation, etc. This leads to reduced socialisation; your friendships suffer, and you end up more miserable, more stressed. So you drink more to feel better, albeit briefly. But this makes you less healthy, more sluggish, and your work suffers. Now your job’s in trouble, your health declining. This causes more stress. So you drink more. Which means more stress. And on and on.

    There is no easy fix. But at the very start of the session, we are given a brief, basic set of instructions that could, if adhered to, tangibly reduce stress. There were just 10 words: “Face your fears. Be more active. Watch what you drink.” While simple-sounding, these things conform to what we know about stress, and even mental health problems, in the scientific sense.

    Facing your fears is often easier said than done but it’s a valid approach. When we confront something that scares us, that stresses us, we may not enjoy it but we impose certainty on it. All the things that could have happened and had the power to cause stress have been cancelled out.

    It’s one of the hardest things, finding those who challenge you in the spirit of true charity and truth to be better, to live virtuously, to strive. The greatest friendships in my life have been those where those challenges, those tensions, are present. And the greatest pain has come from the loss of those where this mutual giving was present but where the relationship comes to an end for whatever reason.

    But those scars are as much the signs of a life being lived honestly and properly as they are signs of a particular moment’s pain. And that’s no reason for sadness or stress.

  • Sam Guzman writes on J.R.R. Tolkien’s love of his wife, and on his letter to his son on true and lasting happiness in marriage:

    J.R.R. Tolkien was happily married for 55 years. In contrast, the modern divorce rate is shockingly high, and some are giving up on monogamous marriage altogether, claiming it simply isn’t possible or healthy. What did Tolkien have that many marriages do not? How did he make it work? The answer is simple: He understood that real love involves self-denial.

    The modern notion of love is pure sentiment, and it is focused primarily on self. If someone excites you, if they get your pulse racing, if they affirm you and your desires, then you can say you are in love with them according to modern definitions.

    While deeply attached to his wife, Tolkien rejected this shallow idea of love. He embraced instead the Catholic understanding of real love as focused on the other—something that requires a sacrifice of natural instincts and a determined act of the will.

    To illustrate Tolkien’s profound view of married love, I want to share an excerpt from a letter to his son, Michael Tolkien. It is a different side of Tolkien that many are unfamiliar with. To those with an overly sentimental view of love, his words may be shocking, even offensive. Yet, he articulates truths that, if understood and embraced, bring true and lasting happiness to marriage. Here is a truncated version of his letter:

    Men are not [monogamous]. No good pretending. Men just ain’t, not by their animal nature. Monogamy (although it has long been fundamental to our inherited ideas) is for us men a piece of ‘revealed ethic,’ according to faith and not the flesh. The essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called “self-realization” (usually a nice name for self-indulgence, wholly inimical to the realization of other selves); but by denial, by suffering. Faithfulness in Christian marriages entails that: great mortification.

    For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify and direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him—as hunger may be kept off by regular meals. It will offer as many difficulties to the purity proper to that state as it provides easements.

    No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial. Too few are told that—even those brought up in ‘the Church’. Those outside seem seldom to have heard it.

    When the glamour wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think that they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find. The real soul-mate too often proves to be the next sexually attractive person that comes along. Someone whom they might indeed very profitably have married, if only—. Hence divorce, to provide the ‘if only’.

    And of course they are as a rule quite right: they did make a mistake. Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgement concerning whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably have married! Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to. In this fallen world, we have as our only guides, prudence, wisdom (rare in youth, too late in age), a clean heart, and fidelity of will…

    (Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, pp. 51-52)

    I was speaking with a man I trust recently about love. I asked him how a man can properly love his wife. He pointed to a crucifix, and said, “Be prepared to do that, every day.”