Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Virtues 2.0
In 1726, Benjamin Franklin formulated a list of virtues—13 of them—which he strove to implement into his life. He’d focus on one of them each week, and slowly over time hoped to—in true Enlightenment fashion—arrive at “moral perfection.” A lot having changed (yet not changed) since then, I’ve presumptuously taken it upon myself to create a new list of 13 virtues for the Modern Male.
These days we’re constantly beset by a million and one distractions, our various electronic devices being mostly to blame. In such an environment, it’s absolutely essential that we maintain some self-discipline and concentrate on what we’re currently doing, whether it’s eating dinner, walking down the street, or taking a piss. The more scattered your attention and powers, the less rich life is. Multitasking’s a myth.
Snarkiness and sarcasm dog us like hellhounds. They’re modern defense mechanisms, no doubt about it—protecting us from what, I’m not exactly sure—but the continuous detached irony has got to stop. Not saying we all have to be dour schoolmarms or achingly earnest all the time, but a bit more seriousness is definitely in order. After all, existence is a life and death matter.
It’s a sad fact that we mostly define ourselves by the products we buy. It’s the obvious outcome of living in a capitalist society, of course, and capitalism—although a serious flawed system—may just be the best system there is (at least at this stage in the game). But no man—no matter if he’s gay or straight—should take such a fiendish delight in shopping. No, nor woman neither.
A lot of people are skeptics in matters of religion nowadays, but we shouldn’t stop there. We should also be Doubting Thomases when it comes to the particular political parties we belong to, the cultural assumptions we’re brought up to have, the underlying messages of ads, the dubious subtexts of the TV shows we watch and the movies we see, the current “thing we’re really into.” Sacred cows should be ground into hamburger.
In order to take full advantage of the unprecedented freedom we currently have at our disposal, we need to step out of our comfort zones every once in a while. The pleasures of travel, the diversity of ethnic groups, the multiple means of self-expression and self-realization—none of them can be exploited if we don’t push ourselves into new environments and adapt. In today’s world, if you’re not at home everywhere, you’re not at home anywhere.
The main side effect of testosterone is the tendency to be a douchebag: thinking you’re king shit, constantly harassing women, bloviating about every topic under the sun, flaunting that “shoot from the hip” attitude that we believe endears us to all. Tone it down, hombre.
Once we get too comfortable, once we get a good job and find an okay place to live, we become complacent and just drift along with minimal effort. It’s human nature. But if you’re going to spend the precious hours of your too, too short life doing something, you might as well pour your heart into it. And if you don’t think it’s worth your time pouring your heart into it, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.
Going along with the above, with the sheer abundance of creature comforts all around us and the mental crack of the Internet, it’s all too easy for us to just sit on our cans and consume, consume, consume—whether it’s food or entertainment or information. But surely this is not how the human animal was meant to be. We have physical bodies which also crave exertion—so go forth and exert thyself.
Regardless whether or not you believe in man-made global warming, there’s way too much ugliness and waste and garbage in the world. Try not to be such a parasite on this earth. If you don’t see some value and beauty in Nature and wildness and non-human life, there’s something wrong with you.
I know full well that many people decry the prevalence of the Peter Pan syndrome amongst modern males. And I know exactly where they’re coming from—but what I’m talking about is not continuing to act like teenagers but instead imitating little kids. And in saying that I know little kids can be complete shits sometimes: greedy and selfish and manipulative and cruel. But what I suggest is aping the better angels of children’s natures: their inquisitiveness, their un-self-consciousness, their sense of wonder, their love of fun. Every person I actually enjoy spending time with has a spark of this selfsame childishness.
How can I say this and not sound like my dad? These days, everyone sees themselves as a budding genius, a future celebrity, a great artist who will transform the world. Everybody’s got their eyes pointed at the stars, but the ground beneath our feet can be just as beautiful. Maybe instead of stardom we should shoot for something a little more practical: doing something concrete that somehow contributes to society.
Recent research indicates that chronic masturbation—especially among the younger generation-–is having a deleterious effect. It feels good to have a good wank every once in a while, no doubt about it—but for the most part, our desire should be saved for real live women. As Kevin Costner said to a British rustic about to whip out his penis in a classic scene in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, “Save it for the ladies.”
Saved this one for the last because it’s the hardest to explain. In the modern world, things have become uber-efficient, uber-organized, uber-streamlined. It’s called progress, I guess—but there is such a thing as too much progress. As men, it behooves us to be a little more untamed and a little less preoccupied with how others think of us. Let’s get our hands dirty, let’s mix it up, let’s not be so controlled by social convention. Don’t plan and schedule everything out, don’t be so damned professional. Leave some things to chance. Live.