In His Time: The Importance of Being Ernest
[M]en have softened or gone to pieces nervously.…
—“THE SHORT HAPPY LIFE OF FRANCIS MACOMBER”
It’s Papa’s religion and it is a frightfully old religion.… I pray for beer, for meat and for a new wife.…
—TRUE AT FIRST LIGHT
Men have a problem. We know in our hearts—in our DNA—that we are mindless, reckless, pleasure-seeking violent slobs. (This is not the problem.) But we are torn between masculinity and modernity. Our estrogen-fueled popular culture and so-called education system fill us with empathetic sensitivity instead of primordial brutality, thus denying the crucial essence of our existence. We feel guilty for simply being alive.
And we should feel guilty. Our technological brilliance makes us lazy and decadent. Mankind has accumulated more collective knowledge than ever before, but the individual man knows less. Our information comes from Wikipedia, not experience.
We can all search Google and update our worthless status messages on Facebook—we’re too busy posting online about our lives to actually live them—but few of us can hook a fish, navigate by starlight, climb to the apex of a mountain, or transform majestic creatures of the Southern Hemisphere into piano keyboards with a double-barreled rifle, a hacksaw, and a little elbow grease. (Also: a little elephant grease.)
The real tragedy isn’t that we’re incapable of doing these wonderful things; it’s that we see no reason to do them. We spend our days at yoga studios, vegan restaurants, Pilates classes, frozen yogurt parlors, gluten-free cupcake bakeries, alcoholism recovery groups, and other such abominations. The closest we come to genuine adventure—genuine danger—is watching IMAX 3D superhero movies and playing video games like children.
If you dropped us in the middle of the wilderness, we would die within an hour. We cannot hunt, build shelter, start a fire, nor utilize any other skills that have kept our species alive for millennia. If the electrical grid fails, and our cherished iPhones run out of batteries, the average man will have a lower chance of survival than the average Cub Scout.
Even combat, the manliest sport of all—except for bullfighting—will soon be a neutered, joystick-toggling simulation orchestrated halfway around the world from the physical battlefield. Just another video game, a perfect metaphor for our age.
But plunging a Nintendo controller into thin air is no substitute for plunging a bayonet deep into the heart of a Francoist insurgent. (This is easy to do because Francoist insurgents are, like, a hundred years old now.) A Global Positioning System is no substitute for uncharted exploration. Predictability is no substitute for possibility. And our era is the most predictable of all.
A better time once existed.
We can undo this calamity.
All we need is a teacher, a savior.
Not a messiah, but a mansiah.
All we need … is Ernest Hemingway.
He called himself “a man without any ambition, except to be champion of the world.” And goddamnit, he was champion of the world until the day he munched a bullet sandwich: a great writer, a great hunter, a great fisherman, a great womanizer, a great drunkard, and a great man. (But mostly, a great drunkard.)
“It’s the life we lead. Just the ceaseless pursuit of pleasure for pleasure’s sake.”
Hemingway, or “Papa” as his friends called him—and anyone with a pair of testicles was his friend—never sat around the house watching Netflix to pass the time. He chased adventure in Spain or Cuba or Africa or the nearest boxing ring or squalid brothel.
The New York Times, in its obituary, predicted that “generations not yet born of young men” would study Hemingway’s masculine philosophy. We must be that generation, lest the Y chromosome vanish, a biologically unfit victim of natural selection. We must answer the question that Hemingway posed to our forefathers: “Do we want big men—or do we want them cultured?”
Correct answer: WE WANT BIG MEN WITH ZERO CULTURE.
However, our cultural gatekeepers—ambiguously gendered Ivy League professors, misanthropic animal rights activists, and the jealous has-beens of Alcoholics Anonymous—want small men. They sneer at Hemingway’s marvelous accomplishments, and remove his brilliant novels from school curriculums, just as the Nazis burned any book they disliked. But Hemingway knew that “fascism is a lie,” and “the best ammunition against lies is the truth.”
Even if teachers dared to expose pupils to his works, nobody has the attention span anymore—thanks, Internet—required to slog through an epic tome about the Spanish Civil War, or even a breezy novella about a geriatric fisherman. We barely have the attention span for a minute-long YouTube clip of kitties playing with string.
CAN MEN OWN A CAT?
Owning a cat—singular—is effeminate, unless it’s a dead lion. But it takes a real man (or a crazy old widow) to hoard fifty-two felines at the same time. Hemingway loved each of his kitties as a family member—he grew agitated and nervous whenever one disappeared for a brief time—and would leave his baby son alone with a cat named F. Puss: “There was no need for baby-sitters. F. Puss was the baby-sitter.” People warned him that it amounted to child endangerment, but he dismissed them as “ignorant and prejudiced.” Papa was basically like Martin Luther King Jr. when it came to dreams of equality.
Hemingway could tell us so much, if we only knew how to listen. Fifty years have passed since this giant walked the earth, but his wisdom is timeless and infinite. Therefore it is necessary to condense and streamline his judicious commandments, so we feeble infantilized eunuchs may realize our full potential—as drunken, unshaven, meat-devouring, wife-divorcing manimals—by reaching the zen-like nirvana of this Butch Buddha.
The Heming Way is a difficult path, brothers, and not for the weak. But it is the right path; it is the true path. And truth is manlier than fiction.
Copyright © 2011, 2012 by Marty Beckerman