Monday, March 16, 2015

Portrait of a Gamma: Notes from Underground, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Vox Day describes the gamma male:
Gamma: The introspective, the unusual, the unattractive, and all too often the bitter. Gammas are often intelligent, usually unsuccessful with women, and not uncommonly all but invisible to them, the gamma alternates between placing women on pedestals and hating the entire sex. This mostly depends upon whether an attractive woman happened to notice his existence or not that day. Too introspective for their own good, gammas are the men who obsess over individual women for extended periods of time and supply the ranks of stalkers, psycho-jealous ex-boyfriends, and the authors of excruciatingly romantic rhyming doggerel. In the unlikely event they are at the party, they are probably in the corner muttering darkly about the behavior of everyone else there... sometimes to themselves. Gammas tend to have have a worship/hate relationship with women, the current direction of which is directly tied to their present situation. However, they are sexual rejects, not social rejects.
 Dostoyevsky's novella Notes from Underground opens with this:
I am a sick man... I am an angry man. I am an unattractive man. I think there is something wrong with my liver. But I don't understand the least thing about my illness, and I don't know for certain what part of me is affected. I am not having any treatment for it. and never had had, although I have a great respect for medicine and for doctors. I am besides extremely superstitious, if only in having such respect for medicine. (I am well educated enough not to be superstitious, but superstitious I am.) No, I refuse treatment out of spite. That is something you will probably not understand. Well, I understand it. I can't of course explain who my spite is directed against in this matter; I know perfectly well that I can't "score off" the doctors in any way by not consulting them; I know better than anybody that I am harming nobody but myself. All the same, if I don't have treatment, it is out of spite. Is my liver out of order? - let it get worse!


The unnamed narrator, the Underground Man, is a man of thought and explicitly describes himself as such later in part one of the story. UM sees himself as the cleverest man in the room no matter where he goes. He seethes with resentment against perceived slights but can't bring himself to take action because he believes he can intellectually deconstruct any reason for acting. He compares the men of action to a raging bull, a stupid beast that gives up when it's faced with an insurmountable wall. The men of thought - or test tube men he calls them - to a mouse. The mouse is insulted. It builds up rage over several years, meticulously planning its revenge. The bull pursues revenge because it believes it's a matter of justice. The mouse doesn't believe in justice. It can neither forgive nor forget. But when the moment of truth comes, the mouse swallows its rage, retreats into its hole, and hoards its anger so it accumulates interest. Wallowing in the muck of its own anger, half-hope and half-despair, and smoldering resentment becomes its own form of degraded pleasure.

UM scorns the then popular notion of scientific socialism. He laughs at the idea that human beings are always rational egoists who will necessarily act in their best interests in all cases. On the contrary, he says, humanity cannot be reduced to a mathematical equation. Human beings will choose self-destructive behaviors out of spite, if only to affirm that they are individuals with volition.

Part 2 begins with a flashback to when UM was still working in the civil service. He hates his coworkers for not recognizing his genius and dislikes his own face because he feels it fails to adequately express his cleverness. One night he sees a tavern brawl break out, and he fantasizes about getting involved. A police officer physically moves UM out of his way without even glancing at his face. This pushes UM into paroxysms of anger. He smolders with resentment and hatches an elaborate scheme for revenge. He stalks the officer to learn his daily routine. UM borrows money to purchase new clothes. The day of reckoning arrives. UM is dressed in his new clothes. He sees the officer approaching him on the street. Finally, he thinks, he'll prove that he's a real man and not an insect! The officer is bearing down on him, UM is going on his way with head held high and shoulders back, and finally they collide. The officer bumps shoulders with UM and continues on his way without even noticing. UM is overjoyed and goes home singing in triumph.

The signature trait of the gamma is an unhealthy degree of introspection. He sees himself as a special snowflake and the rest of society as stupid for failing to recognize that he is unique. The police officer never knew that UM existed, and yet UM was obsessed with revenge for a perceived insult. He craves recognition while claiming he doesn't. Later on he invites himself to a farewell party for an alpha male acquaintance he doesn't even like organized by other acquaintances he barely knows (but hates anyway.) His social ineptitude gets him into trouble and he rakes himself over the coals trying to "control the narrative" and come across as more clever, bold, and domineering than he really is. Of course he only makes himself look ridiculous and ends up repeatedly insulting everyone present. They kick him out of their table but he remains in the bar, making a grand show of how he doesn't care when, naturally, he cares very much that they see he doesn't care.

He follows them to a brothel but they're nowhere to be found when he enters. He ends up sleeping with the prostitute Liza. UM can't make up his mind whether he wants to be Captain Save-a-Ho or to hurt her to soothe his own wounded ego. What follows is a monologue that pretty accurately describes the fate of all sluts and hookers: UM tells her that she's young and beautiful right now but that will disappear ever more quickly the longer she keeps riding the carousel. Nobody cares about an aging party girl who's been ridden hard and put away wet. No respectable man wants to wife up a woman who has the thousand cock stare.

Liza is still new enough to the lifestyle that she's awakened to her true position in life. UM gives her his address and leaves. Naturally he tears himself up over the next few days, wondering how he's going to control the narrative if she actually shows up to his squalid dwelling and sees his poverty. She does. UM breaks down in front of her. She pities him, but he rejects her pity, and sends her on her way with butthurt insults.

Examples of what not to do can be just as or even more effective than examples of what to do. One lesson UM teaches us is not to worry about a problem until it becomes a problem. He constantly worries about how he appears to people who don't care about him. UM wants to be the smartest person in the room but he can't take action because that would risk exposing his shortcomings. He's clever enough to invent any number of rationalizations for why he can't take action. When he's forced to take action he becomes flustered when others don't react the way he expects them to, or when he doesn't come up with the wittiest comeback. He's one of those guys who fantasizes about what he would have said once he's thought of something hours after the fact.

Are you an Underground Man? Do you know any UM? Personally, I found it liberating once I realized how little other people think about me. The world doesn't revolve around me, or you, or anyone. Stroll through life, pursue and take what you want, and don't worry what strangers think about it. Don't look for slights where none were intended. Even if an insult is intended, confront it head on instead of holding a grudge. If a UM-like personality, a gamma male, passive-aggressively insults you - and they almost always take the passive-aggressive route to give themselves plausible deniability if you take offense - the best response is to laugh in their face. They may pose as if they look down in Olympian disdain upon the petty squabbles of us mere mortals, but believe me, if you laugh at them instead of with them, they will be seething cauldrons of rage and hate on the inside.

Humility doesn't mean neurotically running yourself down; it means seeing yourself as you really are. It means seeing your true place in the hierarchy of being. I'm smarter than the average bear but so is pretty much everyone who writes a blog. There are probably millions of bloggers out there who are smarter or wittier or better writers than I am. I don't envy them their talents. I won't improve by being imitations of them. All I can do is be the best Beefy Levinson I can be. For that reason, I'm grateful to you, my four loyal readers.

1 comment:

  1. Any blogger who can use Dostoyevsky materially in an article is a-ok in my book. :)

    ReplyDelete