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Won't somebody stop these darn women from aging?!
Written by Bo Winegard.
One fashionable message among rightwing populists is that conservatives need to stop being polite and start telling the truth—the harsh truth and the whole truth—in their battle against the cultural hegemony of progressivism because although the truth is often unpleasant, it is better than empathy-fueled fantasies.
In many ways this message is admirable. We all like the encouraging mother who tells us that we can grow up to play shortstop for the Yankees, but it’s also good to have a realist father who advises us to make different plans. The future of excessive compassion is a world in which all students get A’s; all athletes, trophies; and all employees, raises. It’s a world of equity in which excellence is submerged in a dull sea of uniformity, and it’s a world of euphemisms in which language is made insipid by platitudes and equivocations.
Some, however, take this penchant for the unvarnished truth too far. They contend that excessive decency and civility are symptoms of decadence, signs that a culture is no longer capable of handling the arduous challenges of life and that its soul, weakened by affluence and privilege, has grown as soft as a marshmallow. In some corners of the internet, this attitude manifests as an almost perverse delight in boorishness and provocation. The more rude, crude, or crass the statement, the better.
A recent tweet by Jon Miller perfectly illustrates this. In it, he commented on a screenshot of Emilia Clark’s Instagram, “Lmao wow Daenerys Targaryen didn’t just hit the wall she flew into it full speed on a dragon.” For those who are unfamiliar, Daenerys Targeryen was a popular character on the wildly successful HBO series Game of Thrones played by Emilia Clark, a 36-year-old British actress. In other words, the tweeter denigrated Emilia Clark for appearing old (“hitting the wall”) and for having lost her sexual allure.
Although some trolls and pseudonymous users enthusiastically agreed with the tweet, claiming that although harsh, it was true, most people seemed to respond with disgust, decrying the misogyny and cruelness of the sentiment. Some even used it as a moment to reflect upon the ethos of the modern right, which they criticized for being full of bitter, aggrieved men. Fair or not, this criticism has some bite. And conservatives should reflect upon it. For if the right, at least the online right, embraces the unrestrained expression of strident, grating, or unpleasant truths as an abrasive alternative to effete lies, then it will be condemned for such boorishness and will alienate potential allies.
Furthermore, conservatism—the ideal kind of conservatism that should be endorsed by traditionalists and even reactionaries—stands for precisely the opposite values than those espoused in the tweet about Emilia Clark.
Conservatism stands for restraining humankind’s bestial appetites, their impolite impulses, and their focus on the ephemeral. Conservatism is about disciplining and shaping and elevating. And it is about turning humans to the lasting and the permanent and away from seductive surfaces. The crooked timber of humanity may never yield perfection; but through the tempering influence of civilization, it can be improved.
Being civilized means being polite and respectful. It means suppressing unedifying insults. In other words, being civilized is the opposite of being a social media troll. This should not be confused with a feckless submission to the progressive status quo. One does not have to accept the claim that men can become women to be a civilized person. Fighting for one’s values and ideals is dignified. And that requires steadfastness, even, at times, intransigence. But it does not require gratuitously insulting people.
And conservatism is about embracing natural beauty and the graceful process of aging—of accumulating wisdom and, yes, wrinkles. This embrace is necessary for promoting monogamy and for encouraging people to think about more than raw sex appeal. Women should not be reduced to sexual or aesthetic objects. And conservatism should welcome a kind of difference feminism that recognizes and applauds the uniquely feminine and that discourages and indeed assails the crude sexualization of girls and women.
Disparaging a woman’s appearance as she ages is not telling an important truth; it’s reducing her to flesh and belittling her for not being able to stop time. And mocking a woman for aging also incentivizes industries that sell the promise of perpetual youth while at least implicitly endorsing the men who judge their own wives more for their ability to turn heads in a restaurant than for their character, their decency, their erudition, their faithfulness, their femininity, or any of other innumerable traits that are vastly more important.
The populist movement, especially online, has brought attention to many problems and issues that mainstream thinkers, left and right, have ignored for too long. And they have laudably fought back against the increasing influence of effeminizing forces in the modern West. Men can be men. And there is much to praise about masculinity. And the populists are right that politeness is not more important than the truth. Sometimes one must stand firmly and unapologetically against pernicious policies or ideas, even if that means appearing callous or rude.
But this does not justify gratuitous cruelty. And it certainly does not justify it if the idea behind the cruelty is mistaken. In the real world of flesh, blood, and bone, humans age. Instead of lamenting or mocking or condemning this, we should embrace it. And we should especially embrace those of us forced or willing to age publicly with grace and dignity. A confident conservatism can fustigate bad ideas without denigrating humans for the universally shared sin of being mortal and finite creatures.
Bo Winegard is the Executive Editor of Aporia.