H L Mencken, who died on January 29, 1956, was the first celebrity intellectual and one of the greatest journalists of all time. He was a witty polymath, and knew more about the American language than almost anyone.
Today, the “misogyny epidemic” is much debated in the Indian media and social networking websites, but very few Indians have even heard of Mencken’s scholarly work, “In Defense of Women,” written way back in 1918.
Mencken knew that of all the delusions that are close to the heart of men, the most pathetic is their belief that they are intellectually superior to women. Rarely do we see a woman who can expatiate on inflation statistics or predict the size of our economy four decades from now with such great precision, with decimal points. Men are convinced that this makes them superior to women. Mencken held that this is a delusion.
Women are wise enough to sense that the petty tricks that men master are not worth their effort. These are matters of little importance. These might be tricks that make men successful on the market, but with rare exceptions, women have always shown a disdain reminiscent of the indifference a cat has towards its master. This explains why more intelligent women turn their backs on literature that uncreative men consume like drugs.
Mencken anticipates modern behavioral genetics when he says that the man without the touch of a woman is incapable of giving substance to his dreams. Geneticists have long established that that the macho bad-boy is not just emotionally and financially bankrupt, his children will also give a terrible time to any mother who loves a good night’s sleep. The implication is of course that women should be careful. To elaborate this point, I would hint that Mencken also understood that IQ tests are roughly right.
Women are also less delusional than men. They are less likely to go to the extremes, and hence less likely to believe the incredible. This is why many imbecilic philosophies that became hip among men had little effect on women. Women are less romantic, and when they hear of those grand plans men have for the world; they are silent because they intuitively grasp that this cannot be true.
“Women are saner than they appear. When a woman shares an op-ed on Facebook, claiming that her husband is an iconoclastic genius, her sensible friends know that this is a fraud. It is laughable to think that an intelligent lady can be conned by this man. This cannot be true.”
Women are not too easily swayed by their emotions in such matters and they know that beneath all the jargon, lays the corpse of illogic. This is also why women compliment each other’s bags when men discuss their grand plans. Women know that we live here, on earth. There are of course, exceptions and Mencken called them pseudo-males, or imitation donkeys.
Male philosophers and economists have been debating the technical minutiae of private property for centuries. But the philosophy started percolating down to intelligent laymen only after a lady said: “If you don’t know the difference between the United States and Russia, you deserve to find out!” Her readers intuited that she is serious, unlike the men who wasted time on charitable philosopher-to-philosopher exchanges. Women can see the big picture. They have such powerful intuitions.
It might be true that women do not write books like The 48 Laws of Power and The Prince, but from the power they exert on their men we know that they demonstrate without wasting words. This is also why men who lecture on such matters often end the talk abruptly saying, “My wife is waiting in the hotel. She will be angry.”
The cruel penalty that Mencken paid for humour is that such insights were not taken seriously. But, as Mencken observed, for the man on the street, Aristotle might have as well perished in the cradle.
PS: My old friend Virgin Mary (who loved Mencken) would have loved this. I remember an old conversation: “Me: It is said that Sara Haardt was a great writer who was overshadowed by her more illustrious husband, H.L, Mencken. She: Sad, isn’t it? Me: No. It is a great compliment. We would not say that Aristotle’s charwoman was overshadowed by him. She: Lol!”