Monday, January 8, 2007

Beards, Barbers, and Santa Barbarians

We share an inherited trait among the males in my family that enables us to extrapolate from the barest of facts to insights into great human truths. We call it McQing, though the women in the family have a less noble name for it. In our defence, my brother has pointed out to his girlfriend that McQing is far more interesting than saying the simple truth, which is, usually, "I dunno." The girlfriend wasn't convinced, which is to say, she is now the ex-girlfriend.

So, as I was shaving this morning, I thought I remembered reading somewhere that clean-shaven men were the mark of western civilization since the time of the Greeks. The others, the ones with beards and no barbers, were the barbarians. Thus, even in its inception, civilization was defined by men becoming more like women, that is, less hairy. This path led eventually to Paris, that most civilized and most feminine of places, where all wine and food are exquisite, love rules all relationships in and out of marriage, and all the gargoyles match.

In North America, where men tamed the west and women civilized western men, the most civilized place is 100 miles west of Los Angeles, in Santa Barbara, which is, in the same pattern as Paris, a most feminine place, where streets and beaches are clean, poverty is well-hidden, and mayors, newspaper mavens, and billionaires are all (or mostly) women. The city patron saint is also, of course, female, which makes us not barbarians but civilized Santa Barbarians.

After finishing my shave, I wondered whether these thoughts on beards and barbarians crossed that murky line from memory to McQing. And since the women in the family have actively encouraged this epistemic skepticism, I've learned to distrust my memory and its logical implications. I did some actual research on the history of shaving. Sure enough, the Greeks, notably Alexander the Great himself, popularized clean shaven faces to distinguish Greeks from barbarians. But he did so only because beards provide too easy a handle during hand-to-hand combat. A clean shaven face, it turns out, did figure in the advance of Western civilization, because it enabled a more effective form of brutality.

What does this say about the smooth-faced mayors and mavens of Santa Barbara? "I dunno."


George said...

Don't know if you've been by INOTBB, but I gave you some homework. Figured you needed to have to answer a meme to be a real blogger.

James said...

Came by way of George's blog to say welcome to blogging. I have no beard, so I guess that makes me civilized except when I forget to shave when I revert to a half-savage state.

Noelle Aguayo said...

McQing, eh? I believe this trait runs in my family too! So perhaps the beard has been lowered in western civilization and replaced by the tie--a great tool for grabbing your opponent and quickly strangling them with their westernized noose, all ready to go. I never thought about the feminine leadership of Santa Barbara, but it seems undeniably true. There must be something to this McQing knowledge!

George said...

Oh, not to shoot down completely the feminine leadership of SB thing, but that's just because you're seeing it through the lens of your time here. Hal Conklin was mayor a long time and would have been longer, probably, if not for term limits.

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