I ran into my sister-in-law, then my brother, at indoor lacrosse this week. We don’t see them much but it is always a pleasure. Yet at nearly every encounter something is said which highlights for me how different that side of the family is from mine. No recitation of the words and description of facial expressions would reveal to an outsider what I mean by that. Yet many of you will recognise the phenomenon from your own families.
I became a cat in a dog family when my mother remarried. (I hate cats and would like to stick them with that side of the description, but they are dog people and very good ones, so it would be unfair.) Such introductions are usually a prelude to criticising relatives, however subtly, in the manner of a 19thC novelist gaining revenge on those who did him wrong. 20th C too, come to think of it. If anything, this is the opposite. Twenty years ago, I would have made an effort to show that my microculture, my tribe, had superior qualities, illustrated by anecdotes that put them in a bad light, however subtly. My review is more mixed now.
Describing one microculture versus another lends itself to phrasing that sounds critical. If I say “they don’t tend to be a reflective people,” that sounds just a touch disdainful in my culture. Yet I am increasingly convinced that much of the reflectiveness in my A& H culture is a waste of time. Only in the minds of a few does reflection actually produce much of value. For the rest, it is mostly dreaminess, rationalisation, rumination. That trait is essential to the survival of all tribes, but like most traits, a lot of it lies around in the population without visible positive effect. Thus, not being “reflective,” means one has energy left over to do other things. Which my stepfamily does, and very well.
I should note that I consider such qualities to be largely hardwired, though both the reflectives and the actives believe the others could be like them if they “just tried.”
Steve Sailer notes that we have excellent and numerous ways of measuring intelligence, but none for “energy,” which is perhaps equally important;
My father is 94. He never smoked, drank only moderately, and comes from a high energy family that needs to be moving all the time. His nephew, my hippie cousin, for example, was an organic farmer for decades, and now that he has a desk job, he spends about 25 hours a week at the gym. When my cousin came for a visit to his parents in Arcadia, CA, at the age of 51, he hiked to the top of Mt. Wilson, a 5,000 foot ascent, every day for two weeks. It's unfortunate that social scientists don't seem to have a reliable quick test of energy the way they have tests of intelligence, since it's obvious that energy differs widely among individuals and is important in influencing life outcomes.I have said “adaptability, switching sets” will be the ability that will knock intelligence off its perch as most important going forward; most self-help business strategies have ideas of focus and discipline at their core. Those who succeed often credit hard work, and there is certainly a great deal of truth in that, however much data that overlooks and self-congratulating it sounds. I think there is a strong relatedness to these described qualities, and I agree we do not measure them well. They don’t present similarly. The manic hustle of the entrepreneur looks nothing like the more linear focus of my stepfamily (they never dabble in anything, they either do or don’t do) but I think there is some commonality. There is a personal energy in them that is not merely cultural and trained, but seems present from birth. Culture and values reinforce this and refine it, but it is simply visble in them from the start.
Nor is it a single, off-on quality among even those who have it, but a continuum.
My mother used to say that my stepfather was unable to do nothing. Mind and body were always working. Not plodding – he was too sharp for that word to apply – but dogged, certainly. He had few activities outside of work, but those few received due focus and attention in their time. He acquired more activities the longer he was married to my mother and our culture. He was Connecticut Yankee, whose many family lines had come to Hartford and New Haven in the 17th C and generally prospered – none spectacularly, but many significantly. They seek prosperity and security, but great wealth doesn’t seem to hold much temptation for them.
They are the heart of the Business Tribe, certainly. All traits need to be found in all tribes for anyone to produce anything of value, but there are skill sets more common in one group than another. I am quite puzzled over the whole issue of focus and direction for this energy. The Arts & Humanities Tribe*, whatever my criticism of us, displays far more focus over short bursts than the Business Tribe – a laser intensity for hours in rehearsal, editing, and performance. At the other end of the spectrum, the Science & Technology Tribe is simply legendary for ability to put in 100-hour weeks for weeks or months to bring a project to fruition.
Perhaps that is its own answer – those who can switch their focus, not in distraction but by design, are the ones who use their energy most efficiently. Again, I’m not sure one can change oneself by simply deciding to. We can bend ourselves somewhat at need, but I doubt not permanently. Dei Gratia Sumus Quod Sumus By the grace of God, we are what we are. (motto of the prior borough of Barking, in London.)
*Upon further review. Only Arts, not Humanites, for that manic intensity.
Some thoughts about athletics.
People will claim that sports develop disciplined effort – Benjamin Spock states definitely that “Crew made me,” giving him the discipline he needed to make it through med school. Others will say that sports simply reveal it. Let us grant that there are different sports requiring different skills, and that most or all virtues that sports teach could be learned elsewhere – in scouts, in music, in part-time jobs.
Nonetheless, there is correlation between athletics and energy, fairly obviously, and the further connection to the Business Tribe may not be simply a case of Old Boys’ Network in play. Athletics does not create the energy, and may not be uniquely good at developing discipline. But teenage participation in athletics may be an indicator that the person has the requisite energy. This connection between adolescent sports and adult status seems stronger in the white, black, and native communities, less pronounced in the hispanic, Asian, and Jewish communities. These latter groups may in the past have participated largely to obtain status in majority-white communities.
All sorts of people participate in youth athletics, and there are many ways to succeed. I don’t think there has ever been much of an automatic ticket that youth sports punches for later success. Rather, they may both result from the same quality of disciplined energy. I wonder if reflexes and hand-eye coordination are even more specific correlates. Successful adults get together for all manner of activities – it was clubs, bowling, and bridge in the 50’s, – but in business, golf predominates with racquet sports second. Skiing, far more of a suburban upwardly-mobile pursuit than skating or snowmachines, is a reflex, controlled aggression sport, and foot-eye coordination may be identical to hand-eye. (What other sports do business gravitate toward in non-snow areas?)
The mention of athletics comes in because my stepfamily excels at them – sorry I didn’t make that explicit. Multisport, All-State, several were DII or DIII All-Americans. They largely drop those after college and switch to golf, with some tendency for women to ski. Their sports of choice were lacrosse, baseball, hockey, basketball, soccer – all team, all hand-eye. But though it was their pattern which spurred this line of thought, I was specifically excluding them while writing the last section, not wanting a dozen individuals to be my sample set. I am casting about in my mind among the people I remember from school, those my boys went to school with (and their parents), folks I work with or go to church with now, folks I have read about. I would greatly appreciate all of you doing the same, reflecting – hey, that’s our culture, right? – on your own families and coworkers. I’m trying to build a theory here. I am operating from the traditional view that this energy - this gumption, this pep, this moxie, vim & vigor, dynamism, get-up-and-go, animal spirits – is more pronounced in America than elsewhere, and one of our defining traits.
These sorts tend to marry each other, correct? A man from the Business Tribe may take a Science & Technology or Arts & Humanities wife, yet is she ever one of the driven obsessive or dreamy reflective ones?
Socially, are they all over the map in tendency? Do we see the same percentage of the garrulous, the standoffish? How does the energy play out socially?