The Thinking 

Thought and Its Nature

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Should Smart Women Sweep?

August 25, 2009


Mopping and sweeping floors goes with the territory when you are a woman at home. The broom is the universal and most primitive of kitchen appliances. No home which is truly lived-in goes a single day without need of sweeping. There is constant precipitation from above.

Sweeping has the reputation of being boring and mindless, but I can’t say that it is. I rarely think about the floors. I look at them, technically speaking. But, I am elsewhere. I think of other things.  “Laborare est orare,” said Benedict. To work is to pray. To work manually is also to think. There is some mysterious harmony between the hands and the thoughts, between a mere broom and the highest flights of the imagination.

It’s myth that women have been freed from drudgery by working outside the home. In fact, they have been further chained to drudgery. The woman who never engages physically in homemaking, or does it only in a hurry, leaves uncultivated an integral part of the self and the mind. We are not lessened by these tasks; we are made whole. Women are innately territorial. They crave to put the physical stamp of personality on their homes, which is the projection of their inner horizons. There’s nothing low or animal about this impulse. It is part of our higher nature and so too is any physical task that goes into cultivating it. It protects our separateness and our intellectual integrity.

The physical chore is not a violation of our higher nature, but in accord with it.  We can’t both want the freedom and independence of our domestic worlds and yet scorn what it takes to set them apart, to make them physically and spiritually distinct. To make our own meals, sweep our own floors and tend our own gardens is not servile. To depend on others at all times for these things is.

More importantly, sweeping is fascinating, captivating, deeply intriguing. Why try to sell it’s virtues when they so clearly speak for themselves? We are alive. As we sweep, we are alive and our minds are free. It’s impossible to fully articulate how this sense of liberty pervades our lives. The mind – even more than the body – longs to be free.






More on Discrimination

July 26, 2009


Sara Rogers writes:

In your article Why We Must Discriminate, you said:

“Women provide an unseen defense against moral enervation. They cannot provide this defense when they are preoccupied with money and highly consuming work. I think that’s the big difference between some of my critics and me. This invisible task, which can never be fully put into words, is something I think they do not acknowledge or respect.” 

I think this is one of your most important observations.  An understanding of the essential life and death issues  –  abortion, homosexuality, marriage, feminism, loss of masculinity, euthanasia, sex, marriage etc. all depend upon and will never be resolved, in a culture that denies the importance of the ‘invisible’. 

In my experience it is the recognition of the invisible world and invisible forces that separates non-Liberal Traditionalist and Left/Liberal worldview.  The many discussions I have had with Liberal friends and acquaintances, usually reach a dead end when I try to explain what I mean by this. 

It is as if they simply do not perceive anything outside of observable world.  They may acknowledge psychological or even aesthetic values as ‘invisible’, but they do not see how these things have their origins in a transcendent truth.  Nor do they acknowledge certain invisible energetic truths – such as that men and women encapsulate different polarities, which interact creatively and in a way that simply doesn’t happen between people of the same sex. I believe one of the reasons that the Liberal agenda has been so successful is because fewer and fewer people intuit these things, certainly fewer and fewer have the chance to develop them via a healthy family life. 

 In regard to Karen’s observations, I think part of the lack of agreement between you two is to do with the fact that she has the UK model in mind.  In the UK, it is true that there are many upper middle class working women, who still operate within the ghost of the British class structure.  I would guess that this structure is similar to the Asian model in so far as both societies have stronger class traditions than the American model – (although the positive aspects of the British class system have almost vanished there is still a residual ‘form’ in place amongst the upper middle classes).  In the more class-bound societies upper class women have always had the option of being ‘more than’ a ‘housewife’.  In contemporary terms while may of these uber-women  are able to have high flying careers,  they have never quite forgotten about or abandoned the privileges that come from being properly married, or their duty to provide their children with a ‘proper’ upbringing.  The American situation is quite different. Americans are much more deracinated and usually have not retained even a residual memory of ‘what makes a good, haute bourgeois life.   Of course you are right – these women are in a completely different economic, social and psychological situation than the great majority and their lives should not serve as role models for everyone else. 

Also, there will always be individuals who are not suited to marriage and family life.  Women in this position should be free to pursue whatever they want to do.  But, the truth is (in my view at least) that most women would indeed be happier to be ‘just’ homemakers and being  ‘just’ a homemaker should return to being the central honoured option for the sake of the overall good of society.   The point is that you can’t have it all there is a choice to be made, and whatever the choice, there will be both rewards and sacrifices. 

Laura writes:

Thank you for your excellent points. There is such a chasm between those of us who acknowledge this invisible role mentioned at the opening of your remarks and those who do not.  You say that it seems fewer and fewer people “intuit” these things. That’s an interesting observation. Women’s intuition is a fragile thing, susceptible to being killed off altogether.  Women’s minds are de-feminized by modern higher education and career preparation. I think the years of late adolescence and early adulthood are decisive. I’ve often referred to the “schizophrenia” of modern women and I think that’s what it is: a war between the rational and intuitive faculties. “Taken from a natural sphere in which they are superior, [women] are set to wandering between two worlds,” Richard Weaver said.

Women are not all intuition and I’m not saying they shouldn’t receive higher education. But, they can’t be as rushed or as driven without risking their inner world and its ability to radiate common sense and higher intuition, to respond to subtle realities. The minds of women need to retain this pliancy, a softness or elasticity that isn’t in the minds of men. This elasticity makes it possible to care for children as they develop and to care for men, but also to react to moral events, to observe what the rushing world misses, to pursue the ideal without fully understanding what it is. Both men and women have what Socrates referred to as an inner daemon, a voice that counsels and checks, that follows the unwritten Tao, but men often lack the luxury of indulging it because the world calls on their rationalism. The minds of men and women truly are complementary.

As I’ve mentioned before, there is a beautiful scene in Anna Karenina. Levin and Kitty have just gotten married and he notices that she is not doing much of anything. It bothers him because he is filled with activity and plans. Then he has a moment of insight. He realizes she is busy. She is preparing herself mentally, summoning inner faculties. It’s a form of invisible gestation. As Walt Whitman said, maternity is  “an emblematical attribute,” the outward manifestation of something highly abstract.


A Pointed Criticism

July 25, 2009


Jen writes:

I enjoy your site, but wonder why you don’t have any pics up; or even some insight to your everyday housewife occurences.  Your site, as interesting as it is, seems to favor the more simplistic, dowdy demeanor that is characteristic of men’s preferences.

So I wonder…are you really a “housewife” or a man? Just wondering.

Laura writes:

I know this website isn’t hip or cutting-edge, but I don’t think it’s dowdy. Perhaps I should seek professional advice. As for photographs, the human face is stimulating. At least it is to me. Every face is a story. However much it may be reminiscent of other faces, every face carries the impression of one.  I doubt I will include photographs of myself or family because I rarely view a face, except in passing, without feeling distracted and intrigued. Faces are overstimulating. 

Yes, I am a woman. I think I’ve been outrageously personal about my life in posts about dusting and cooking tarts and viewing clouds. I guess we have different standards about what is personal.

I admit that some of my best friends during my years as a housewife have been men, most of them long dead. There are very few housewives where I live and most of my women friends are not housewives. More importantly, I found only men were expressing and affirming the universal truths that underlay my vocation. Men such as Tolstoy and DeFoe, Dickens and Plato seemed to approve of my femininity in a way my women friends did not. The most I could get in the way of affirmation from other women was something to the effect of, “Well, everyone should just be what is best for them.” Dickens, on the other hand, through his portraits of Mrs. Maylie and Mrs. Joe and Agnes Wickfield, said, “Yes, you are a woman. And, nothing will change that.” DeFoe understood, better than many women today, the consuming task of making a home. Women need men to tell them who they are. 

So, contrary to being masculine, I consider myself almost too feminine for my times.

By the way, the title of this blog, The Thinking Housewife,  is not in reference to my own thinking so much as it is to an idea that lies behind everything I say. I believe the decline of domesticity threatens thought.




On Intellectual Revolutions and Liturgies

July 2, 2009

Kristor writes in response to Intellectual Revolutions:

Intellectual revolutions are almost my favorite thing. I love the feeling of things falling simultaneously apart and back together, into a better, stabler order of thought, the way that water flows back into the hole one creates with an oar, vortices upon vortices. When they say that nature hates a vacuum, what it means is that nature hates the absence of beauty. I remember many of my intellectual revolutions, better than I remember where I was when I heard Kennedy was shot. I remember understanding integral calculus deep in my heart, the tears rolling down my cheeks at the beauty of it. I remember learning why Evil is not a Problem (for Christians and Jews, that is). I remember finally “getting” Whitehead’s metaphysics. I am still working away, deep underground, at the Trinity. Dense earth indeed, that. 

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The Pythagorean Woman

June 12, 2009


There are many beguiling legends about Pythagoras, one of the most revered of ancient philosophers and a monumental presence in the history of Western thought. According to one account, the Greek philosopher was speaking to followers in a house in his adopted city of Croton when a local faction of men who opposed him came to set the place on fire.  Pythagoras’  followers threw themselves into the flames and made a bridge with their bodies for the elderly philosopher to flee.

Such was the devotion to Pythagoras, a man who is alien to the modern mind in many ways. He was both scientist and seer, mathematician and saint. Here was a reconciliation between rationality and transcendent truths, the starting point for both Western science and religion.

Pythagoras, whose fascinating history is described in Kitty Ferguson’s book, The Music of Pythagoras, is best known for the Pythagorean Theorem, which states the square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the square of its sides.  It is unlikely he was the first to discover this formula, but it was only one of his famous accomplishments, which include discovery of the musical scale. His most profound theory was the idea that mathematical structure underlies all things.

Through his work with the seven-stringed lyre and a single-stringed instrument, Pythagoras, who lived in  sixth century B.C., discovered that mathematical ratios undergird harmonies and pitch, forming the basis of what became known as the musical scale. He reasoned that the harmonies of music are the physical expression of abstract relations between and among numbers. From there, he came to the idea that all things are ultimately numerical. All things are relational.

In the Pythagorean scheme, the universe is the physical representation of a divinely rational order. The human soul possesses a natural kinship with all of nature.  Unlike the pantheists of our day, who see the soul as harmonious when attuned to itself, the Pythagoreans believed in a moral order external to the self. This natural order is comparable to the perfect triangle never found in real life. It is the ideal for human behavior. Virtue may ultimately lead to immortal perfection. Pythagoras believed in the reincarnation of the soul, but thought the cycle of rebirth could be broken.

In his ethical ideas, Pythagoras foreshadowed the moral philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. Aristotle expressed a Pythagorean truth when he said, “There seems to be in us a sort of affinity to musical modes and rhythms,  which makes some philosophers say that the soul is a harmonia, others that it possesses harmonia.”

To a Pythagorean, justice is numerical. Marriage is number. So are masculinity and femininity. The philosopher established a community of followers who lived out his precepts. They were devoted to learning and the virtuous life. Marital fidelity, sexual restraint, kindness toward children, strict rectitude in those who govern – these were among their honored ethical precepts.

Granted, much of what is known about their community is uncertain. The sect observed a code of secrecy. But, it appears to have embodied some of the most enlightened and wholesome ideas about the role of women in Western history. Pythagoras opened his learned society to women, who were free to philosophize and pursue arcane studies. At the same time, Pythagoras did not believe in masculinized women; he perceived the difference in male and female functions.

The Pythagorean community stressed motherhood, believing in the centrality of begetting and raising children, and the practical duties of femininity. One of the greatest of evils was to separate parents from their children. The young Pythagorean woman learned philosophy and literature, but also child-rearing and  the domestic arts.  Years later, throughout the Greek world, “Pythagorean women” were revered as the greatest exemplars of femininity.

People today often talk about achieving “balance” in a woman’s life, but what they often mean is creating a life that merely fits the most important things in. Balance is a euphemism for doing everything. Balance is disequilibrium, the attempt to walk on a narrow beam though weighted down on one side. It is mathematically incorrectThe very rhythm of our days is mathematical.

The Pythagorean woman may have achieved the true golden mean. She was learned. She was respected for her intellectual potential. But, she never sacrificed for these her fidelity to husband and home. To a Pythagorean, mind is not separate from soul. Our powers of reason are related to our efforts toward virtue. Here is one of the greatest insights of Greek thought. Here is the kernel of Western progress. The true and the good and the beautiful are one.




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The Idle Thought

May 29, 2009


The mind longs to roam. We try in vain to keep it running toward a fixed destination. The path across a meadow, a trail through the woods, the rocky descent down a steep ravine: these beckon and it yearns to follow. It wants to remember. To wonder. To wander.
When we speak of freedom of thought, we usually mean the freedom to think certain things, the freedom, say, to argue the claims of the weak against those of the powerful. But, there is another freedom of thought, scarce in a world of political liberties. That is the freedom to think at all.

The act of reflection has lost its rightful place. The stream of consciousness is no longer a stream. No law or program, no frantic pace of living or economic imperatives stopped its flow.

At bottom,  respect for ideas is not itself an idea. Nor does it spring from idea. At the crux of things intellectual is something profoundly different from idea. What is it?



On Intellectual Revolutions

May 5, 2009


Much has been said and written about civilization’s great intellectual revolutions, the breakthroughs in thought that have led to ages of enlightenment and darkness, to waves of technological innovation and new ways of living. History is the story of ideas. It is an ongoing intellectual thriller with the slow and boring pages followed by scenes of fast-paced drama.

The micro-revolutions of history, however, interest me more. These are the intellectual revolutions that occur in a single mind. About these, their general nature and characteristics, much has been said, but not nearly enough. 


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