Gentlemen
February 16, 2014 9:15 PM   Subscribe

Gentlemen, Formerly. "A gentleman in 1720 could read Greek while mounting a running horse. Today’s gentleman reads GQ in the bathroom. From rapists to stylists, a history of the American gentleman."

The book named the governour

The Commonplace Book of William Byrd II of Westover

The Unofficial Goldman Sachs Guide To Being A Man

25 Skills Every Man Should Know
posted by homunculus (61 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
There's some good advice in there, mixed with some douchiness:

If it’s got velvet ropes and lines, walk away unless you know someone. 


Nothing more undignified than pleading with a door guy.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:25 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


Or, more realistically, today's gent has stopped reading magazines altogether and plays Candy Crush in the bathroom.

Still, better than raping your slaves.
posted by kikaider01 at 9:43 PM on February 16 [22 favorites]


He would be able to wield a sword and a battle axe, and would be able to mount a horse as it galloped past.

Because that's partly what a Frankish nobleman is: a warrior on horseback who can be called upon by his lord to fight in his host. Or by the Black Prince to run a chevauchée over the French king's domains. Or by miscommunication to charge into certain death.

Since our armies don't include horse-mounted cavalry anymore, there isn't really a need for a class of men to learn to ride and fight on horseback.

The other problem is that an idle class, by definition, needs somebody else to grow their food, etc. Only a fairly small minority of men could lead the lifestyle. So it's problematic to put the values of a privileged few as something all men should aspire to.

And I say: screw gentlemen. Most of my ancestors were peasants and artisans, and they were just as manly, if not more, than any jackass with a title and 2000£ a year.

And my ancestors had been enslaved so that 1720 asshole could afford to be genteel, I'd say good fucking riddance.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:50 PM on February 16 [48 favorites]


Yeah, it's hard to escape the classism of "gentleman." On one hand, you're supposed to emulate certain behaviors, but on the other hand, if you have to emulate them you are probably not a gentleman.

But the history of these books is interesting because they wouldn't exist (the books) without a sort of middle class / bourgeoise to read them, and who want desperately to be gentlemen but aren't sure how to do it. If you only have secure nobility and peasantry, there's no market: everyone knows what class they are and how to act. You only need a primer on being a gentleman when there are people gunning for promotion.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:03 PM on February 16 [10 favorites]


If it’s got velvet ropes and lines, walk away unless you know someone. 



The last time some friends tried to talk me into one of these kinds of parties, I looked at the line and said "There's nowhere on Earth worth waiting 2 hours in line for. By the time we even got in there, we could be good and drunk and watching sports." and went to the nice sports bar next door and settled in to have a good time. 2 hours later they finally got sick of standing there and wandered over to join me, already good and drunk and watching sports. I felt like I unlocked some serious wisdom that day.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:05 PM on February 16 [28 favorites]


Replace the scrambled eggs directions with Gordon Ramsay's.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:24 PM on February 16 [3 favorites]


That Esquire "piece" is laughably dumb. Typing "gogle.com" to save time is neither a tip nor does it have anything to do with being a gentleman (I assume the author of that bit of wisdom was writing from his 2003 IBM Thinkpad and has not realized that the all modern browsers support instant search from the address bar without the need to type ANY search engine's URL).

And I say: screw gentlemen.

Hear, hear. Even better, screw "manliness". Such tedious, old-fashioned bullshit. This whole blogosphere shtick-parade of listicles and wikis and how-tos on the "Art of Manliness" and "The True Gentleman" and "1001 Things I Will Teach My Son" is so. fucking. tired.

I appreciate that there is a need for practical advice about grooming, fashion, how to not be boorish at parties, refining yourself and become better, truer, more interesting. Books to read that will help you become more cultured, more able to converse with a wide variety of folks. Useful skills that will make you more efficient, more handy, even save you money. These are all good things.

This can be achieved without worshiping at the altar of patriarchy, and it can be advice applicable to all genders, all orientations, all people.

Come to think of it I would happily pay cash money for a guide to becoming more modern, more skilled, and more mature without all the classist, heteronormative baggage (hmm, I wonder if the new Cool Tools catalog is a close match to this).
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:51 PM on February 16 [42 favorites]


This is such an obvious and misguided reaction to Post-Modernism. "The world is uncertain and confusing so the answer is obviously to go back to reading Greek classics."
posted by j03 at 11:29 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


Spot on, Doleful Creature. When you take out the "heteronormative baggage", most of the Twitter list is Basic Shit 101. The rest can get chucked as silly, bordering on self-important classist garbage. Thank god there's no mention of facial hair. And I do not. regret. my tattoos.
posted by the_royal_we at 11:31 PM on February 16 [5 favorites]


I liked the Morning News piece.
posted by cribcage at 11:45 PM on February 16


Oh yeah, all the links after [more inside] are mentioned in the Morning News piece. It's interesting to see how these kinds of guides have changed in ways over the centuries. And here's the one in the footnote:

An Essay Upon Study: Wherein Directions are Given for the Due Conduct Thereof, and the Collection of a Library, Proper for the Purpose, Consisting of the Choicest Books in All the Several Parts of Learning
posted by homunculus at 12:06 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


The other problem is that an idle class, by definition, needs somebody else to grow their food, etc. Only a fairly small minority of men could lead the lifestyle. So it's problematic to put the values of a privileged few as something all men should aspire to.

The issue is that the intersection of American egalitarianism and a code of behaviour invented by and for aristocrats (or aspiring bourgeoisie in aristocratic societies) leads to fundamental contradictions. Hence the over-emphasis on noblesse-oblige, since that seems to sit in the intersection on casual inspection. The error is to confuse the courtesy which marks traditional aristocratic codes with the friendliness that characterises egalitarian societies.

But the history of these books is interesting because they wouldn't exist (the books) without a sort of middle class / bourgeoise to read them, and who want desperately to be gentlemen but aren't sure how to do it. If you only have secure nobility and peasantry, there's no market: everyone knows what class they are and how to act. You only need a primer on being a gentleman when there are people gunning for promotion.

This is why the genre reached its height in the US and in the UK. One doesn't have a rigid class system, the other historically had a class system that was much more open than those on the continent1. Without the possibility of mobility, there is no market for aspirational behaviour codes.

(1) The reason that the British class system outlasted those of most European countries is that it was open to wealthy, clever social climbers in a way that the French of German systems never were. The feudal House of Lords survived for so long because the wealthy businessmen and well-educated middle classes who financed and organised the abolition of similar systems in continental Europe were co-opted into the system with titles and knighthoods.
posted by atrazine at 2:22 AM on February 17 [6 favorites]


“About one o’clock my Lord Percival came and stayed about half an hour. I read some English till 3 o’clock and then ate some brains.” (emphasis mine): gentleman, or gentlezombie?
posted by misteraitch at 2:57 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


Nah they just used to eat a lot more organ meat.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 4:49 AM on February 17


One thing I always hate about these lists of advice for men is that the subtext, if not the actual text, is always full of "never let anyone know what you're actually thinking and feeling." That has got to be a terrible burden for a lot of people. I mean, I'm sure there are a lot of people for whom it's their natural inclination and it works for them, but jeez. It's got to be tough trying to live your life with everybody telling you to keep it all to yourself.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:04 AM on February 17 [3 favorites]


I put some time a few years ago into using comics to educate people on how to be the most gentlemanly gentleman they could possibly be.

Although for real, 1000% what Monday, stony Monday said above.
posted by COBRA! at 5:11 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


I think 'Gentleman' is a slippery word which denotes several different concepts, each of them somewhat protean. People read into it whatever pleases them.

However, I still find it a bit hard to believe that early 1700s gentlemen were all able to wield a battle axe? Isn't that a little anachronistic?

(Although then again, who can't wield a battle axe? They're kind of easy to wield aren't they? So long as you can work out which bit to hold and which bit you hit people with, you're good to go with the wielding.)
posted by Segundus at 5:14 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm pretty sick myself of the whole "How to Act Like the Ruling Class" bullshit. You can look and act and feel and think like the ruling class all the live-long day, but unless you're born into it, that doesn't mean shit; you're just a hanger-on and a pretender.

And even worse, what difference does it make if you are in the ruling class? Who do you truly "rule"? I can't help but imagine that it's obligations all the way up, brown nosing till the cows come home, and all the other problems that we plebs face on a daily basis, writ in a different language.

Yeah sure you have benefits like insurance and the ability to go to france for the weekend. But I think when people want to be in the ruling class, it's not because they want to travel.
posted by rebent at 5:36 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


If one is aware of dear Judith Martin one know all one need to know. If ever in doubt (however unlikely that may be) take her advice and be content.


> (Although then again, who can't wield a battle axe? They're kind of easy to wield aren't
> they? So long as you can work out which bit to hold and which bit you hit people with, you're
> good to go with the wielding.)

There may be a bit more to it than that. Sir Henry de Bohun (died 23 June 1314) was an English knight, the nephew of Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford. He was killed on the first day of the Battle of Bannockburn by Robert the Bruce. Riding in the vanguard of heavy cavalry, de Bohun caught sight of the Scottish king who was mounted on a small palfrey (ane gay palfray Li till and joly) armed only with a battle-axe. De Bohun lowered his lance and charged, but Bruce stood his ground. At the last moment Bruce manoeuvred his mount nimbly to one side, stood up in his stirrups and hit de Bohun so hard with his axe that he split his helmet and head in two. Despite the great risk the King had taken, he merely expressed regret that he had broken the shaft of his favourite axe. ^

N.b pix or it didn't happen.
posted by jfuller at 5:43 AM on February 17


Don't police my masculinity bro.
posted by The Whelk at 6:21 AM on February 17 [11 favorites]


( also, yes, the instant middle classes or rich townspeople began to emerge the popularity of how-to guides for correct behavior exploded. )
posted by The Whelk at 6:24 AM on February 17


Since our armies don't include horse-mounted cavalry anymore, there isn't really a need for a class of men to learn to ride and fight on horseback.

Indeed. The appropriate skill-set for a modern ``gentleman'' would be closer to ``A gentleman is familiar with targeting via common electronic systems and would be able to sit down at the controls of an unfamiliar weapons system and deduce how to use it to rain destruction upon brown people.''

Nothing more undignified than pleading with a door guy.

Pleading with Reavers -- more undignified and even less useful.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:27 AM on February 17 [4 favorites]


I've tweeted from mid horseback does that count?

( as with most things in the high fiancé/high legal world the entire ideal is keeping a very very tight rein on yourself and hobbies, American business culture is WASP culture after all and who doesn't like purposeful restraint! ...unless of source you're now of the people low engh on the totem pole that not following these guidelines could get you into trouble. A good name or enough money excuses anything but failure.)
posted by The Whelk at 6:35 AM on February 17


I think there's a market for the idea that the Gentleman doesn't have to be someone who identifies as male, nor the Lady someone who identifies as female, if you happen to have fun with certain affectations. It's like... cosplay. Yeah, Wonder Woman comes with gender baggage, but if you're happy rocking it, rock it. I've met several people who identify more as butch lesbians who love these sorts of things. As gender prescriptivism it's bullshit, but at some point if it amuses you to roleplay as a certain trope from historical fiction, great. Just admit that it's roleplay, not rules for cis men (and only cis men) everywhere, and not necessarily based on actual history, which often really sucked. I think that's where it falls apart.

I am not shaped like Benedict Cumberbatch, I am not a detective, and I am not particularly well-off, but I feel particularly more confident when I walk out of the house in a particular sort of longer wool coat that I would not have bought if I weren't watching Sherlock at the time. It makes me feel more confident when I'm out and about. My class standing probably at this point dictates that I should be wearing something neon colored from Walmart. Should I just do that? I don't want to just do that. I think we can steal the bits of culture that we like and we don't have to take the rest.
posted by Sequence at 6:43 AM on February 17 [8 favorites]


Although I do wish there was more formal instruction on the conversation parts of it, I suppose that's a school thing they learn - the ability to talk and not say anything, not to follow up stories with your own stories, not to be too familiar without seeming too formal, not to blurt out or talk over people ( I come from a family where if you're not talking over someone you're not taking them seriously, this is apparently considered shockingly rude in some circles) how to not accidentally offend or imply or accidentally brag. It's a level of social grace I haven't sanded my way into and, if the amount of times I make an ass out of myself in public is any indication, then I still have a lot more sanding to do.
posted by The Whelk at 6:47 AM on February 17 [3 favorites]


Mallory on The Toast, when writing femslash Fridays on Brienne and Sansa ( search in your heart, you know this is correct) mentions that Gentleman Lesbians, dapper courtly ladies who manage to be models of suave politeness without ever being gross or affected about it. I'm for it, life is unfair, we should be able to pick and choose what we want to be.
posted by The Whelk at 6:50 AM on February 17 [4 favorites]


Metafilter: a Times New Roman in the streets and a Wingdings in the sheets.
posted by michaelh at 7:08 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


"Tommy Makem was a gentleman. By his own definition, a gentleman is a fellow who can play the bagpipes, but won't."

-Liam Clancy
posted by Flunkie at 7:17 AM on February 17 [3 favorites]


He can own a handgun but need not know how to hunt

Or the fact that one does not hunt with handguns.
posted by vorpal bunny at 7:26 AM on February 17 [4 favorites]


Even better, screw "manliness".

Why? Isn't the point that everyone gets to seek their own ideal, as long as it's not the the exclusion of others? If someone's conception of manliness is arm-wrestling a bear followed by poker and drinks, what is the problem with that, as long as you're not denigrating someone else's idea of what it is to "be a man"?
posted by spaltavian at 7:27 AM on February 17 [4 favorites]


Gentlemen (historical) someone who'se relatives killed an awful number of the right people.

Gentleman ( modern peroid ): someone with both the means and ability to consume a staggering amount of intoxicants without any obvious ill effect

Gentleman ( current peroid) : someone who knows what a napkin is, even if they have never personally seen one.
posted by The Whelk at 7:29 AM on February 17 [6 favorites]


Some of that "Unofficial Goldman Sachs Guide to Being a Man" reads like excerpts of a Patrick Bateman voiceover.
posted by Flunkie at 7:45 AM on February 17


If someone's conception of manliness is arm-wrestling a bear followed by poker and drinks, what is the problem with that

Because conceptions of "manliness" and for that matter being a "real man" or a "real woman" are ultimately harmful bullshit. There is no problem at all with wanting to drink and play poker but what the hell does it have to do with gender, exactly?
posted by windbox at 7:46 AM on February 17 [7 favorites]


I shudder in horror at the idea of someone who has never seen a napkin. I assume you mean a real napkin, The Whelk? A linen napkin?

Anyone reading this thread who has never seen a linen napkin in the wild, please report in thread on how such a feat may be managed.

My personal ambition was always to be a précieuse but without falling in love with a valet other than Jeeves.
posted by winna at 7:48 AM on February 17


Maybe the True Gentleman has The True Scotsman as his valet and is married to The Real Woman.
posted by The Whelk at 7:49 AM on February 17 [6 favorites]


Remember how some comedians, instead of "Ladies and Gentlemen," would say "Ladies and Germs?" Maybe we need books on how to be germs.
posted by jonmc at 7:52 AM on February 17 [3 favorites]


Hear, hear. Even better, screw "manliness". Such tedious, old-fashioned bullshit. This whole blogosphere shtick-parade of listicles and wikis and how-tos on the "Art of Manliness" and "The True Gentleman" and "1001 Things I Will Teach My Son" is so. fucking. tired.

I appreciate that there is a need for practical advice about grooming, fashion, how to not be boorish at parties, refining yourself and become better, truer, more interesting. Books to read that will help you become more cultured, more able to converse with a wide variety of folks. Useful skills that will make you more efficient, more handy, even save you money. These are all good things.

This can be achieved without worshiping at the altar of patriarchy, and it can be advice applicable to all genders, all orientations, all people.


Okay. But I would bet money that for every item on your list of good character traits, I could find a blog or a Tumblr or something that is passionately against it. Grooming standards are arbitrary, classist, appearance-ist. Any list of classic books will silence some oppressed voices; the very idea of making such a list is hugely problematic. Being more efficient and saving money is just buying into the Protestant work ethic/capitalist machine. Etc., etc.

And I think this stupid-Tumblr point of view is just as wrong and harmful as the gentleman-listicle point of view. So obviously the right answer is to find a balance, which can in fact be done. It is eminently possible to have meaningful personal standards and goals without setting yourself up as inherently superior to other people. Fine. But the ability to find the right balance is itself a pretty sophisticated personal skill, which takes some work to acquire, and which not everyone has. Ideally it's something you would do during adolescence as you bounce between identities and eventually settle into one that works for you, but not everyone gets there.

This is all to say that I think it is completely plausible that there is a huge group of people out there who can only hang onto some amount of worth and competence by "worshipping at the altar of the patriarchy." The idea that I have to "be a man" is much simpler than the idea that there are many different personal and social virtues, and I have to find a balance between them that preserves my independence while at the same time not setting myself too far apart from the community. And crucially, simpler ideas are more motivating than complex ones.

Even more simply, this all to say that for a lot of people, life is hard enough. If old-fashioned ideas about being a gentleman make it a little easier for some people (as crazy and unlikely as that seems from the outside), I don't really feel qualified to have a problem with that. Whatever gets you through the day.
posted by officer_fred at 7:52 AM on February 17


Maybe the True Gentleman has The True Scotsman as his valet and is married to The Real Woman.

The one with the curves?
posted by Ham Snadwich at 8:00 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


windbox: Because conceptions of "manliness" and for that matter being a "real man" or a "real woman" are ultimately harmful bullshit.

Again, how, unless it's seeks to exclude other conceptions? There's a big difference between one person's ideal and a prescriptive, exclusionary view. Notice how I didn't say anything about "being a real man".

There is no problem at all with wanting to drink and play poker but what the hell does it have to do with gender, exactly?

If gender is a social construct, then that's in the eye of the beholder.
posted by spaltavian at 8:12 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


But would they have known what to do if a Wordpress update broke a plug-in? Pfffft.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:56 AM on February 17


A 'gentleman' in 1720s could own, buy and sell slaves.

That's not a fucking gentleman.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:22 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


So the ultimate American gentleman is one who can cut his hair in the classical Greek fashion while raping a horse?
posted by ocschwar at 9:26 AM on February 17


Gentlemen

Where? Where?
posted by Splunge at 9:46 AM on February 17


a Wingdings in the sheets

I'm sorry, but where, exactly, were you planning on sticking that tiny airplane?
posted by evidenceofabsence at 9:48 AM on February 17 [3 favorites]


Why? Isn't the point that everyone gets to seek their own ideal, as long as it's not the the exclusion of others? If someone's conception of manliness is arm-wrestling a bear followed by poker and drinks, what is the problem with that, as long as you're not denigrating someone else's idea of what it is to "be a man"?

N.B. I do not have a horse in this race, and I'm not trying to femsplain. I'm just chiming in because I read j03's original comment a different way and wanted to offer an elaboration based on that reading.

If that's how it's arrived at (individuals seeking their own ideal), no, I don't see any problem. However, I've very rarely seen it arrived at like that in practice, through an individual drawing all of his own conclusions by himself without prescription from others (like all the articles listed in this FPP). And if one's own conclusions on the subject are strong, it's incredibly common to have and voice opinions on the conclusions of others when they differ greatly.

Let me elaborate a bit on that last sentence. I'm not talking only about saying things like "Real men don't eat quiche," if you see a man eating said dish. It could also be something like, "I'm off to arm-wrestle a bear - you know, man stuff." The implication is that, by the process of elimination, non-participants in ursine arm-wresting fall outside the category of "men."
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:54 AM on February 17


If you just set out to be like Cornelius Bear from Achewood you'll do okay.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:59 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


I have figured it out.

The only definition of gentleman we can use these days is based on a close reading of Afghan Whigs lyrics.

God help us all.
posted by winna at 10:25 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


This is such an obvious and misguided reaction to Post-Modernism. "The world is uncertain and confusing so the answer is obviously to go back to reading Greek classics."

If it's good enough for the Romanticists, dammit, it's good enough for me.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:42 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


As gender prescriptivism it's bullshit, but at some point if it amuses you to roleplay as a certain trope from historical fiction, great.

It Happened To Me: I'm Living Like I'm In the Victorian Era -- From Corsets to Washing Bowls to Writing in Liquid Ink.
posted by homunculus at 11:00 AM on February 17


I am far too privileged to be sure of myself, here.

It might be neat to have three listicles:

Performing femininity
Walking in heels, application of makeup and sodomy could go here.

Performing masculinity
Tying bow-ties, exercises for muscle bulk and sodomy could go here.

Being human well
You could put things here like programming computers, changing diapers, treating wounds and choosing wines. And maintaining a car, balancing a budget, loving well, stoicism, kindness, film appreciation, wilderness survival, elegance, politics, humor, conversation and joy.

The definition of sodomy is broad, and the third list is where all of the important stuff goes. Of course, not everyone has to do any of this stuff. Not everyone can, either.

I'm also a little confounded about the oxford comma in those first two.
posted by poe at 11:03 AM on February 17 [4 favorites]


I think we can steal the bits of culture that we like and we don't have to take the rest.

On one hand, yeah, sure. But keep in mind that there are going to be people who take bits of culture and reject others in a really shitty way too, so there's something to be said for making it a "total package" (but at the same time making the package as a whole not too shitty).

E.g., it might be better in some ways if it wasn't easy for repressive cultures to pick and choose the parts of western modernity that they want. As in, "yes please we'll take the iPhones but not female empowerment and maybe also machine guns but not so much the middle class" and so the cultural artifacts which are the product of a technologically advanced society and evolved alongside social change in the same societies become decontextualized, e.g. as the playtoys of people who want to maintain 17th-century social orders using 21st century force magnifiers. It's like the worst parts of bad time travel stories, thanks to the way the future becomes unevenly distributed. That sucks. And it doesn't need to involve technology; it can just be behavior and cultural practice.

I don't think there's a ton of problems going the other direction (playacting at old-timeyness without the retrograde social baggage) but I'm wary of the "everyone should get to pick and choose everything! do what you want!" attitude because, well, the extreme end of that is a bunch of Saudi sheiks. Sometimes there's a benefit to packaging and grouping cultural practices and not allowing unlimited piecemeal appropriation.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:24 AM on February 17 [1 favorite]


If you want me to purchase a "handcrafted shotgun" then Purdey and sons will have to make a proper 12 bore trenchgun
posted by Iron Rat at 11:46 AM on February 17


We can, of course, try to emulate other gentlemen
posted by The Whelk at 1:46 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


February 17th. The locals Proteste about my Halberd and my Moustache. I eat brains at 3, enjoy a Walk to M. Q_d_n_nc's, play Whiste, and take a Gelatine dessert.

Then I have them all Flogged.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:55 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Or the fact that one does not hunt with handguns.

There are regulations governing the practice in several states, including mine, and I've encountered personally at least three people (my father and two hunter safety instructors) who have done it.

Because of the obvious requirements for power and accuracy, the handguns in question tend to be very different from what one usually thinks of as a handgun -- I was considering awhile back a revolver that fits in this category that has a 7" barrel and mounts for a scope -- but they're definitely still handguns, and definitely used for hunting.

On the plus side, some of the fancy single shot hunting handguns look kind of piratical and olde tymey, so would not look entirely out of place if one wanted to tromp around in the woods with it while wearing a suit and bowler hat. I mean, more out of place than one already would be, of course.
posted by sparktinker at 1:57 PM on February 17


"This can be achieved without worshiping at the altar of patriarchy, and it can be advice applicable to all genders, all orientations, all people."

Yeah, but you still need some sort of label for it. That way people can find other similarly-minded people. Any ideas?
posted by I-baLL at 10:12 PM on February 17


American business culture is WASP culture after all and who doesn't like purposeful restraint!

Once upon a time, maybe, but these days, not so much. Businesses like Amazon and Walmart serve only themselves, and call it serving tyhe customer. They do little or nothing, however, for the local community, much less the other businesses which serve them. (I thought the Walmart ads currently interrupting the Olympics, the ones about revitalizing American manufacturing, are an interesting straw in the wind. Walmart, who helped jumpstarted the Chinese economic miracle in disposable plastic crap - What’s up with that?) Compared to someone like Milton Hershey, or even, God help us, Henry Ford, the Bezoses, Jobses, and Waltons of this world are utter Morlocks.

A 'gentleman' in 1720s could own, buy and sell slaves.


So could anyone else with the cash. (Mind you, slave merchants were considered pretty low class; By 1860, Nathan Bedford Forrest was rich, but not considered a gentleman.)

The other problem is that an idle class, by definition, needs somebody else to grow their food, etc. Only a fairly small minority of men could lead the lifestyle. So it's problematic to put the values of a privileged few as something all men should aspire to.

“Idle class.” Hm. A mischievous person or libertarian could suggest you’re talking about welfare recipients. (BTW, who grows your food?) As to the values, did you not read the footnote at the end of the first link? I quote:

“The proper Business of Gentlemen…” essayist John Clarke wrote in 1731, “is to serve their Country, in the Making or Execution of the Laws.” Clarke also includes in a gentleman’s duties “finding out Ways and Means of employing the Poor” and “the Encouragement of Virtue.”

Sound like a pretty good aspirations to me. You can argue the details, but this is hardly a call for dissipation.

The thing is, you don’t have to be rich to be a gentleman. These days, in fact, it could be an impediment. Some of the most courtly people I have ever known (and not in any stinky, superior kind of way) have been pretty threadbare. A gentleman, regardless of circumstance, always strives to make others feel comfortable, always strives to improve himself and his community. You can see how that's a bar too high for most, regardless of background.

Anyway, without a over-class, a lot of folks wouldn’t have any easy targets to get their hate on, and nothing’s more fun than getting your hate on. (Not for gentlemen, however. Vitriol is considered strong medicine, rarely if ever, to be indulged. Thus the code of the warrior is to respect the enemy, not dehumanize him for easier killing.)
posted by IndigoJones at 8:12 AM on February 18


The Unofficial Goldman Sachs Guide To Being A Man: If you want a nice umbrella, bring a sh*tty one to church.

Am I being uncharitable when I read this that they are fleecing churchgoers, swapping a bad umbrella for a good one?

Stay classy, Goldman
posted by I am the Walrus at 10:48 AM on February 18


Yeah, but you still need some sort of label for it. That way people can find other similarly-minded people. Any ideas?

Champions
posted by Apocryphon at 11:04 AM on February 18


I don't mean idle in a pejorative sense. Simply, a gentleman didn't need to work for a living. Otherwise he wouldn't have been able to serve his country and meddle with the affairs of the poor; MPs didn't receive compensation until 1911 in Britain.

Warrior codes are all well and good, but they're not very useful in wars waged with high explosive shells and machine guns. The world wars were won through hard work and competence, not politeness and brass polishing.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:14 PM on February 18


Keep Smiling: For the origins of the selfie, look to the dandy.
posted by homunculus at 10:27 AM on February 22


« Older When can I spot the Space Station? The Internatio...  |  Together, they resolved to inv... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments