In our modern-day parlance we try to avoid the judgmental “virtue” designation and veer toward the more tolerant word choice of “values”, as a way to avoid being deemed intolerant. Semantics aside, many people feel uneasy and unwilling to speak out on virtues and only hesitantly willing to put into words what the late academic and political scientist, James Q. Wilson, gave voice to as, “the moral sense” (his book carries the same title as the quote).
Wilson divides “The Moral Sense” into chapters tackling the aspects of our moral senses, those moral sensibilities ordinary people feel, but often hesitate to express. He delivers not a sermon on virtues or a philosophical treatise on morality, but a very fascinating exploration of scientific and historical research on human development and behavior, that challenges many of the trendy theories that hold sway in pop culture. “The Moral Sense” is one of those books where I read a paragraph or two, then spent days thinking about it, before moving on to consider more of Wilson’s profound ideas and new ways of considering the moral issues we confront in everyday life. It’s a book worth sharing with your friends.
Wilson devoted a chapter to “gender”, in which he offers scientific evidence to show that men start off less advanced neurologically than women and thus less amenable to socialization. He states, “In every known society, men are more likely than women to play roughly, drive recklessly, fight physically, and assault ruthlessly, and these differences appear early in life.” As industrial societies developed the very male traits, like aggression and hyperactivity, that were adaptive and beneficial in more primitive societies, create problems for the socialization of men today, he argues. He describes how circumstances led to a societal need for rules to regulate aggression among men and to ensure that they care for their wives and children, leading to legal codes. He adds that laws alone weren’t sufficient to moderate male behavior, so in Western societies, particularly in Great Britain and America this informal teaching peaked during the nineteenth century, in what is commonly called “Victorian morality” and the invention of a “gentleman”.
What exactly is a gentlemen, well, the definition isn’t an exact one, but it includes a man who behaves with civility, paying close attention to the desires and needs of others. A gentleman always comports himself in a way that is respectful to women. The morality required of a gentleman was understood by everyone in Victorian society, where a gentleman lived strong and confident, neither chest-pounding macho nor a sissy, but a confident, honorable, steady anchor for civilized society. Of course, the enforcers for this code of conduct were women, who wielded more social power over society, to include men, than any modern day feminist harpies.
Contrary to the modern feminist view, our Victorian era forebearers weren’t all insufferable hypocrites or closet perverts. Along with this personal code of conduct, came a social construct that allowed women to call the shots on manners and morality, in other words they were the true bearers of something, feminist icons, like Hillary Clinton, blabber on about, but don’t really understand – these Victorian women wielded immense “soft power” and many used it quite effectively and ruthlessly to insure men towed the line on behaving according to their rules of civility. –>