In Vino Veritas

Have you noticed that the easiest way for a man to demonstrate his manhood is to drink? Of course, there are other ways, like driving recklessly, espousing violent sports, and trash-talking women, gays, and minorities; but drinking is #1.

My ancestors in Finland were woodsmen, tradesmen, and farmers. They demonstrated their manhood by working hard on their farms and at their forges, by fathering children, and when necessary by standing up to the bear in the woods and killing him. Spared the burden of an imperial tradition, they went about their business while the princes of the world strove with each other all around them. During one of the wars between Sweden and Russia in the early 1800's, my blood relatives moved their farm, piece by piece, miles back into the woods to avoid the press gangs. Even so, the Finns, when necessary, defended their farms with matchless sisu on many occasions, the latest being the Winter War of 1939.

Modern men, on the other hand, live in a technological society, with laws, police, and animal control officers to intercede between ordinary predators and ordinary folk. The real predators today are not bears, they are humans: sociopaths, despots, bureaucrats, corporate executives -- few of them obvious, and few of them morally unambiguous.

Standing up to the bear is a risk that has meaning: bringing home food, eliminating a threat to the village. So is defending your farm against an invading army. There are meaningful risks today too, but who has the manhood to take them? How many men are willing to blow the whistle on corporate practices like chiseling customers, exploiting illegal immigrants, and stiff-arming environmental authorities? It's so much easier to turn ones' eyes away and console ones' ego with meaningless risks: drinking, or weaving a fast car down the expressway, or skiing down the black diamond slope.

Where Finns still look to the ideal of sisu, Americans still love the ideal of the cowboy, with his independent spirit and private code. How sad it is, that most American men can only survive by submitting their independent spirit and private code to The Boss. The days of agrarian autonomy are past for Finland, too; and I don't think it is coincidence that alcoholism has been a problem in Finland for years.

In the end, we can't determine the economic and social environment we live in. What we can do is accept our place in that environment, without illusion. And, having accepted that, find the only way we can live in that environment with some shreds of human dignity and moral integrity.