Partly in response to my article on biblical manliness, Douglas Wilson tagged up Tim Bayly and entered the ring. The rumble that followed seems to me, however, to end in Douglas wrapping himself up and tapping out without me even in the ring yet.
After a good bit about blurred lines and messages from Revoice, Douglas dragged in my views as an example of the kind of “small” compromises that grow into Revoice conferences. “The confusions often start, as should be expected, in the seeds that are sown,” and what I have said exemplifies the “seeds” of the “epic compromises that Revoice represent.”
First, this kind of “downstreaming” or “upstreaming” of people’s views with something truly objectionable is a classic slippery slope fallacy. This particular one reminds me of the repetition I hear from the racist critics of my slavery book: “Marxism!” After all, you know, Marx wrote to congratulate Lincoln for freeing the slaves. Therefore, McDurmon is a Marxist! For some reason, too, some of the more outspoken of those critics just happen to live in the general vicinity of Moscow, Idaho.
Slippery slopes ain’t cool, folks.
When we clear away the fallacy and look at how Douglas actually tries to sustain the argument, it doesn’t fly. He begins by returning to the picture which triggered it all. Remember this?
Bayly had condemned this pic as “vain and effeminate,” “robbing women of their glory,” and a “hippo [hipster] pimped out in peacock feathers.” It was everything that’s wrong with the feminization of men, today, all wrapped up in one picture.
I corrected what I saw as touchy, insecure, fragile masculinity protesting too much. I said,
There is nothing particularly effeminate about this man or his clothing. It is sad that touch of style and grooming is enough to elicit a reflex among outspoken would-be patriarchs. A suit? A hairstyle? A dance?
Following that, a few fellows turned an already unfortunate social media thread into the exact type of emotional chaos that makes so many people loathe the medium—but this time, all in the name of masculinity.
I have to say that in stepping back to view it, there is hardly anything more unmanly in my view than the behavior of a bunch of guys in knots trying to outdo to each other proving how much manlier they are than that guy in that picture. . . . and can you believe that guy would say otherwise! He must be a feminist! The passive aggressive sniping and rhetorical hair-pulling ranks right there with the best of catfights I’ve ever witnessed (and I went to public school), and the peacock virtue-signaling is just a cherry on top. Now that’s fancy.
Douglas now comes in to side with Bayly, but the way he does so isn’t very helpful to anyone: “I am driven to conclude that a would-be patriarch is someone who has eyes in his head.”
He goes on for several well-polished paragraphs relating the undisputed truth that images are intended to send messages. The twist comes in when he concludes, without argument, that in this particular case, the effeminacy and the intent behind it are “obvious”: the pic was was “examined,” “pondered,” “chose,” and “decided upon because it would vamp and advance the viva-la-femmy-vibe.”
How Douglas knows any of this, I don’t know. It’s certainly not revealed anywhere online. The original use of that image was for an internet special sale a Twillory shirts, and was “obviously” meant to portray a guy jumping for joy because he got $20 off. His image certainly reflects the targeted demographic, which some may call “metrosexual” style, but that hardly makes it automatically a hard left turn into Queerville. What Douglas is doing here is, without knowledge, projecting his conjectures as objective truth. There is nothing more than that. And that only gets us back to the argument itself, doesn’t it?
And it is at the real crux of that argument that Wilson is eventually grappling with himself. In the same moments as his conclusions about the clear, obvious, objective, undeniable, inescapable nature of this case, Douglas pens the walk-backs:
It is quite possible for a man to be dressed that way, and to have his hair done that way, have that color tie, and still carry himself in a masculine way. . . .
Is there no room for legitimate disagreement on a photo like that? Of course there is.
Perhaps the reader can see why any more work on my part is not necessary. But despite him pulling the mat out from under himself like this, Douglas thinks I am the one in corner:
So when Christians ignore the obvious in a thing like this, I can only think of three possible reasons for it, although there may be some others. First, they are illiterate when it comes to reading cultural signals. They can’t read them properly. Second, they are unwilling for the hassle that would come their way if they pronounced on a sin like ambisexual vanity. So they won’t read it properly. And third, they can’t abide the thought of being in agreement with someone like Tim Bayly.
Granted, I may struggle with point three there, but I mostly resonate with Douglas’ acknowledgment that “there may be some others.” (If you are tempted to think it’s option one or two, check out my archives at American Vision going back to 2008. Check out my work. I am that guy.)
At least one other option may be that my original article was right, and some people can’t take the fact that a slim, dancing guy in a pink tie can be just as manly as they are.
Some people, just for example, feel insecure in themselves and need to find someone else with an external image they despise to humiliate, compare themselves to, and use as a whipping boy to make themselves feel better. Indeed, there are seeds of all kinds of compromises buried deep in some people.
I am of course not saying this is true specifically of Doug or Tim. I do not have that knowledge. But I do know they protest this too much, and that their protests are fallacious and demonstrably weak.
One of the places this weakness is clearest is in Douglas’s closing. In taking liberties suggesting the man in the pic could legitimately be called “androgyny,” “metrosexual,” or “fancy boy cruising the bars,” he offers this:
Nobody gets to say “lumberjack,” or “long haul trucker.’
It is here that the strain becomes obvious. Who, at any point in this discussion, said looking like a lumberjack was the standard of manliness or masculinity? Thank you to my astute readers who are already calling “straw man” on their own.
Keep in mind, the origin of this picture is a men’s clothing magazine. It was originally meant to portray a man leaping for joy at receiving a $20 off coupon for a shirt. This is a clothing magazine for causal shirts. Do we really expect there to be lumberjacks and truck drivers all through it?
Come to think of it, I don’t see “lumberjack” at Men’s Wearhouse, Brooks Brothers, or any of the other classic men’s clothing websites.
I have however, seen “lumberjack” as a theme not unpopular among certain homosexual niches and, in fact, there is a “Man Trend” afoot specifically called “Lumbersexual.” For those not all the way into that, there is also “MetroJack.” Look (it’s safe).
But, you say, that’s a caricature of the real thing! Exactly my point, too. It’s amazing how shallow, deceptive, and sometimes pointless surface appearances can be, right? Homosexuals and culture zombies may dress up like lumberjacks for their own surface reasons, but self-professed manly men who have their own problems may just mistakenly fall for such facades, too. These are stereotypes for a reason.
There are also homosexuals—flamboyant fems as well as lesbians—among long-haul trucker culture. There is even a book on it: Semi-Queer. The authoress is now working on anecdotes from homosexuals in the steel industry: Steel Closets.
On the flip side, you could can find all kinds of manly men in slim-cut suits, soft colors, and well-groomed styles all over the place. How about Tim Tebow? Is he gay? (Guess what, some people think so.) Please, I don’t have time for this.
When burning down straw men, one should be careful the flames don’t blow back and get them, too. After all, I doubt we’ll find any pics of Douglas Wilson or Tim Bayly that make us say, “Lumberjack,” either. And by the way: there is also a “bear” culture among homosexuals who prefer fat, hairy white guys. Again, just for example.
Judging by appearances
But even if we did have a picture of any of these guys or me as a lumberjack, what would it prove? Is there any lesson more fundamental in Scripture than the deep trouble we can get into when judging by appearances? Didn’t Eve bite on that fruit partly because it was good to the eyes? It comported with her sense of how good fruit is supposed to look. I can hear her repeating Douglas’s standard: she’s just “someone who has eyes in her head.”
This is not to say eyes count for nothing. A man in a dress is a man in a dress; but this case is trying to draw those lines where they are not clear and God has not clearly spoken, “Thou shalt not.”
In regard to the lack of a “Thou shalt not,” we may take note of just how fundamentalist were acting right now. Douglas, who has certainly made the point once or twice in his career, that those who run from God’s law into pietism end up creating all kinds of legalisms: don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew. . . . What are these men doing now in this case? Don’t style, don’t trim, don’t wear light blue. . . . In quivering fear that the homos are gonna get us, they start erecting new rules beyond God’s word for true believers and to shame those who disagree.
Without something being either revealed and truly self-evident, it is legalistic to try to impose your own opinion as objective righteousness. You’ll just end up being unjust, dishonest, or trying to shame others out of your own insecurities. It is idolatry.
And then, the real hammer comes when all the honest folk just stop caring what other people think about them, especially the agitated pundits. A guy like me may wear that pink tie just because you think it’s wrong; but the majority, when they come to themselves, will wear it because they like it and they just don’t care what you think any more. That’s part of becoming a man, too, by the way.
Is there any Bible lesson clearer than this? Jesus said, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24). That somewhat puts a bridle on “anyone who has eyes in his head.”
God tells Samuel, when choosing a new king, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam. 6:7).
And what Bible character is there more like that dude in the picture than David himself, dressed in light linens, playing his harp (manly by today’s standards, eh?), and leaping for joy before everyone in public. Sure enough, there were Douglas and Tim looking on with something to say about it:
Michal Saul’s daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart. . . .
And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself!
And David said unto Michal, It was before the Lord . . . therefore will I play before the Lord.
And I will yet be more vile than thus, and will be base in mine own sight: and of the maidservants which thou hast spoken of, of them shall I be had in honour (2 Sam. 6:17, 20–22).
What did she accuse him of again? Faux glory? Being “vain”? Something tells me she may have called him “effeminate,” too, had she not already shared the marriage bed with him. But I think I’ve heard this all somewhere before. Frankly, it’s all a bit old by now—a few thousand years old.
Are we really seeing masculinity in these objections? Or are we seeing something more like mask-ulinity? A façade. I’ll let you judge; just be real careful when you try to judge it from mere appearances, will you?
If you poke a lumberjack, the outfit may just deflate and crumple. There may be a hollow man inside, or a child. The outward façade may look like a steel worker or lumberjack, but inwardly they are in diapers. If you poke a pink shirt, you may find a girly man. Or, you may find iron underneath. In general, judge the person, not the clothes, not the appearance. And this cannot be done from conjectures about pictures.
But Douglas has offered us nothing on this issue other than his conjecture, based upon knowledge he does not have of the true intent and design of a picture. It is said to communicate to us the feminization of western civilization. Watch out, the barber-arians, and the hair stylists, are at the gates, and my acceptance of their style is the seed of our destruction.
There are legitimate culture wars still to be had, but I don’t cower to this fear or the alleged conspiracy here. The only seed here is the one that dropped on Douglas’s head and made him think the sky is falling. But where’s the proof? There are only opinions and rhetoric.
The rhetoric is finely polished, I’ll give you that. But be careful: when you spend too much time polishing things, I am told, it’s effeminate. I would say all the grandstanding is effeminate, too, but that would be an insult to women.