I was raised with noblesse oblige, which, as we all know is a kind of almond and mare’s milk pastry made in the mountains of outer Mongolia and eaten at wedding feasts to assure good luck.
Okay, I lie. Noblesse Oblige is literally – as all of you know! However, let me unpack it, because sometimes it’s good to reflect on things we know – the obligations of noblemen.
In a world in which station was dictated by birth (most of the world, most of the time) the way to keep society from becoming completely tyrannical and the burden of those on the lower rungs of society from becoming unbearable was “noblesse oblige” – that is a set of obligations that the noblemen/those in power accepted as a part of their duty to society. Most of these involved some form of moderation of force.
The amount of moderation depended on the culture itself. For instance, in those lands in which the nobleman got first night rights (or claimed them anyway) it might be noblesse oblige to return the bride after that. It might also be nobles oblige to stand godfather to the oldest child, who, after all, might be more than a godchild. And in other cultures, though the first night thing wasn’t there, the godchild thing still applied. A small return for faithful service to closer servants and courtiers, etc.
In the same way, while you might treat your serfs or villains like dirt, you forebore to take their last crumb of bread and left them enough to live on. This might not be because you were smart or merciful or whatever, but because someone had dinged it into you.
Noblesse oblige, by that name or others, appears every time there is a gross imbalance of power in human society. Or that is, it appears if society is to survive.
Perhaps the society that did it with the most style were the English before the world wars, where children were raised in an entire idea of service. The entire White Man’s Burden is about that. In fact, that poem codifies the obligations of “White male privilege” more than any SJW could, and in a more rational way, which is why they scream raciiiiiisssss and sexisssss because like vampires they hate mirrors. (Is it racist? Oh, sure, in a way, in that if you confuse race with culture, it admits that some cultures are inferior to others and that the more functional culture has a duty to the less functional. But to think cultures are race is to believe that behaviors are hard encoded in the human genome to an extent that makes people automatons, and which determines everything you think and do. So, to believe cultures are races, you need to be a stone cold racist, yourself.)
Depending on the amount of Noblesse Oblige as way as the colonizing culture, this worked better or worse for the colonized. Imagine how different Brazil would be if colonized by Britain, and you’ll see what I mean.
But noblesse oblige was not just about nobility or about different cultures with an imbalance of power, like that between colonized and colonizer.
Noblesse oblige applied at all levels of society and between the genders, and in transactions. Every time there was an imbalance, you can bet – in a healthy, functional society at least (and more on that later) – there was a rule, an unspoken law about what you didn’t do, what was beyond the pale.
In financial transactions, this might mean harming yourself a little, not pressing home the last bit of advantage. You find this encoded in a lot of Victorian and Regency novels (written at the time) in which if an “evil businessman” left the desperate person he was trading with “without a cent to bless himself with” he was rightly despised by all right thinking people, even if he had done it wholly within the law and no one could touch him.
This is why the Industrial Revolution wasn’t the Dickensinian hell that Marx and, well, Dickens, described. (My son likes Dickens. I say for a novelist he wasn’t a bad propagandist, and he distorted history of the time more than Marx ever could.) (Yes, it was brutal and horrible, compared to our time, but we’re living in a time of superabundance and everything more than fifty years back seems brutal and horrid. I know. I grew up in a time bubble and sometimes I don’t believe my own childhood.)
In the same way, between men and women…
Men are bigger and stronger than women. We’re talking women on average, of course. I think right now I’m bigger than my husband, though he’s still stronger. And probably Lizzy Lifter is stronger than Geoffrey Geek who spends his entire time playing computer games and never sees the sun. BUT on average, over the population, men are so much stronger/faster/physically able than women that any random man can overpower any given woman.
So, why aren’t ALL women victims of domestic abuse? Why are women even outside, without being raped? (And if you think all women are victims, you must be living in an Arab country, where those two above are the pre-assumptions of the cultural norms.) How is this possible? Why don’t men press home their advantage?
Well, first because men aren’t a group with “group consciousness.” Contrary to what “feminists” seem to think, men are not alien creatures who reproduce by fission. They’re women’s children, friends, brothers, fathers. So of course, being human, they care for some women and they’re decent enough to extrapolate their feelings to strange women. (And Women’s Studies programs make a lot of those.)
But more than that, there’s a built in noblesse oblige that prevents men from pressing home their last advantage. Our society runs with it, and is soaked deep with strains of female privilege.
Well, take your three year old boy to a playground. Have him get in a fight with a girl. At that age, their strengths are equivalent, and the girl might be larger and stronger (girls develop faster.) Have him punch her. What do you do? You pull him back and say “you don’t hit a girl. Ever, ever, ever.”
At which point if the girl is a little sh*t who wasn’t taught her part in the bargain, she will beat him to a pulp, but never mind.
You do it because you have to. This is not some fossilized rule. It’s because if your boy doesn’t have that trained into him REALLY early, he’ll hit thirteen and seriously injure a girl. Worse, in an intimate relationship with a girl (should he turn out to like them) he will lose his cool (we all do) and suddenly become a wife abuser. Because the chances his wife will be smaller and weaker than himself are high.
So you tell your three year old this “arbitrary” rule and establish the boundaries of “female privilege” to stop him from becoming a monster when the imbalance of (physical) power sets in.
Of course, the rule has its opposite. Because women have power too, in the relationship. Oh, sure, not at three, when they’re just annoying, extra-whiney little boys as far as boys are concerned. (Average, statistical girls, that is. Some of us were Vengeance of G-d hellions.)
I tell you as the girl who was often pulled back from these with “girls don’t fight” or “girls don’t hit boys in public” but most often (my being outsized for my time and place) with “you don’t hit people smaller than you. Ever, ever, ever.”
This – ah – female privilege of course established “the way girls fight” usually underhanded, and without the adult noticing. Pinches, kicks to the ankle (my poor male friends in middle school) and also gossip and character destruction and other, less physical means of retaliation.
Because women are still human and will still fight.
But by middle school, we had it well established. A boy understood he would take whatever the girl dished out physically, if a girl were so uncouth as to hit him, and treat it as a joke. (And by that time they were that much stronger – thanks to testosterone – that they could do that, in most cases.) The girl in turn knew if she’d hit a boy, short of self-defense in a dark classroom, where he ambushed her, thereby putting himself beyond the protection of social rules, she’d committed a social sin and broken a major unspoken rule.
This kept fist fights between the sexes from happening. And most girls, though they might character assassinate one another, had learned to keep the boys out of it, because they weren’t adroit in the art and therefore were as vulnerable to that type of war as women to punches.
Or to put it another way, as the good professor says, “Chivalry imposed obligations upon both sexes.” And it can’t continue when one breaks the compact. The same way that other imbalances of power in society can’t continue unless both parts play by the rules.
When one part forgets the rules, they don’t leave the peasants enough to live on, and the peasants chop their necks off.
Look, I’m a libertarian and in the US. I believe all men and women should be equal under the law. But you can’t eliminate imbalances of power unless you stop being human. Communism fails, in large measure, because it wants to eliminate imbalances of power completely by making humans into something different. They believe they can shape a social ape into something more like ants or bees (don’t argue. Yeah, they do want to have rulers. One ruler over faceless millions. Because someone has to enforce equality. Yes, I know about the myth of the vanishing state.) Hence the myth of the homo Sovieticus, the selfless, perfectly acting man who would emerge once the distortions of capitalism were removed from the “natural” man who was of course a Rousseaunian noble savage. No, I don’t believe it. No one should believe it. The rejects of that culling program have filled a hundred million graves and bid fair to fill more. Because Rosseau was wrong and the mythology of communism is a hot and sticky repulsive mess.
Some people will always be taller, larger, stronger. Some will be smarter. Some will, for whatever reason like “my ancestors got here earlier” have the advantage of a better adaption to the society they live in.
I, for instance, got both sides of the noblesse oblige speech because I was taller than most of my male teachers by 13, and probably stronger too. It took. Sort of. I knew how to subdue a badly acting male without hitting him by the time I was 20, and only psychopaths did not respond. (And for those there was hitting, hence the weaponized umbrella.)
Because I WAS a walking imbalance of power, frankly.
Noblesse oblige is needed to keep things from coming to extremes.
Unfortunately for us, starting with Rousseau, someone mistook those rules for “arbitrary and unnecessary.” Now, a lot of them were, of course. Human societies acquire unspoken rules, a lot of them dross, like a dog acquires fleas. And yep, if you follow all the unspoken rules, you’ll reinforce the power of the elites because that’s what the rules are designed to do. (Like, you know “you shouldn’t vote in the Hugos unless you’re a truefen” and “you can’t publish a list of suggestions, like the ones we’ve been passing around behind the scenes for years.” [What, me? Say anything? Nevah.])
But the Rousseau attempt to change those rules started from the idea that all unspoken societal rules were wrong. ALL of them. And that absent them, humans would live in a sort of paradise.
I wish he’d been acquainted with some savages, not the least because then he probably wouldn’t have lived to pen his awfully misguided ideas.
His ideas have been bouncing around society for a while, aided by Marxism (Marx MUST have been Asperger’s. No, I mean that. He looked at society and had no clue why things functioned, and couldn’t see people as people but as widgets belonging to particular groups which MUST of course be opposed to other groups they interacted with) in its feminist and racialist versions, cut the threads of things that were actually important, functional, and so early-set-in that they were never spoken of.
So women didn’t see the two sides of the bargain and just saw the way their side of it “oppressed” them, which led them to lose the power they did have in society, and now they want it back – see the way they’re racing back to the fainting couch where men can’t touch them or look at them – but since they don’t understand its origins, they’re trying to get it back in all the wrong ways. It’s all “check your privilege” but without ever checking their own privilege, even as it causes white knights to run to their defense.
I don’t know how long a society or a culture can last like this. Every time I know of in history, it ended in tears or guilhoutines.
I do know that humans are hierarchical apes who crave rules. The astonishing number of western converts to Islam (astonishing considering what Islam is as a way of life) particularly the women shows the craving for rules, spoken and unspoken is far stronger than rationality. And the fact that young men aren’t converting en masse to Islam (which gives them a much greater power than any western culture) means some traces of Noblesse Oblige remain. The idea of keeping your women imprisoned and veiled for their protection; the idea that those other men will of course rape them and hurt them; the idea that strange women are fair game, are still revolting and repulsive to men who were told “never hit a girl. Never, ever, ever” as little boys.
Which gives us some time to rebuild.
But rebuild we must. And that doesn’t mean teaching your boy he can’t hit girls, but teaching your girl that she has no obligations because patriarchy and she should go for the throat, every time. It means teaching your girl that what she is and what she can do will reduce most men – even strangers – to mush brains after puberty. And that her greater verbal ability (on average, statistically) doesn’t mean she should eviscerate and character-assassinate the poor bastage.
It also means teaching both sexes not to press home their every advantage in a business deal and not to use inside knowledge to eviscerate the defenseless financially.
It’s much better than “check your privilege” which requires you to apologize for the crimes of people you never met or heard of and then denounce yourself. It’s “Mind your noblesse oblige” which means if you find yourself in a position of overwhelming power over someone else, pull that punch. Because nothing is permanent, what goes around comes around, and guillotines in some form or another have a way of appearing when the imbalance gets too great.
Now eat your noblesse oblige like good boys and girls. Mare’s milk and almonds don’t grow on trees. Except the almonds. In outer Mongolia.*
*Yes, the writer is slap happy having delivered the cursed book. You should deal with it and be noble, for a change.