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Treatise On The Manchild

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There was once an individual known as the Manchild. He went on two legs, dressed himself, and appeared to be an adult person, but nevertheless in reality he was a child in a man’s body. He had learned much of all things that people of decent intelligence could, and he was a fairly clever fellow. What he had not learned, however, was this: how to be responsible for his own behavior.

The cause of this was that at the bottom of his heart, he knew (or at least he thought he knew) that he had never really grown into a man, but had remained for all his years a whimsical youth, skipping along the path of his unfettered will. Inquisitive minds could debate whether he was actually a pure, nascent soul unfairly saddled with the burdens of his age, or if he was in fact an adult man too spoiled and cowardly to feel any shred of personal accountability, or that both the entities of Man and Child within him were truly present yet at odds, and that whichever means he came into this neurosis may or may not have been within his ability or interest to control.

It might, for example, be possible that as an actual child he was coddled immensely by one or both parents, wherein he was given little to no opportunity to make choices for himself or was never criticized nor forced to make right his mistakes. It could also be that his upbringing was a traumatic one, wherein his unstable or controlling parents led him to retreat ever inward to an imaginary world without urgency or consequences. It could also be that the Manchild was once a promising go-getter, vital, virile, and motivated to achieve greatness, but being a sensitive soul, felt defeated by manhood’s early challenges, and therefore redoubled his path back into freeloading adolescence. In any case, he was a Child enshrouded by a thin layer of Man and was made to feel powerless in the face of external forces that he perceived to be conspiring against him and far beyond his control. On this subject many an amusing book could be written, yet the Manchild would be none the better for it. Regardless of what others thought of him (for he thought too little of these opinions to be concerned) or what he thought of himself (for his narcissism clouded all rational judgment), the Man and the Child remained ever at odds within.

The Manchild found himself miserable because, despite how highly he esteemed himself and made great effort to participate in the world’s affairs, its people always failed to appreciate the uniqueness of his perspective. Even in the moments when he felt as though he hated himself, the Manchild indeed only hated the particular part of himself that did not earn him validation from others (and to this end it could also be said that it was other people’s poor taste that he truly hated). The Child wished to be accepted for his unbound natural state, and the Man wished to tame the Child (or to create the illusion of having tamed him) so that he might at last be accepted into society and hope to achieve some form of authority over other people. But the Man was too preoccupied with his psychic conflicts to ever resolve his actual ones, and the Child had become rotten with this antagonism and sought only to sabotage the Man’s efforts. Herein lay the inner struggle, though he would wholly blame others for this schism (where in truth, others were only partly to blame).

Whether the Manchild had truly developed two distinct identities is a matter of perspective. From his point of view, these two beings were perfect halves of himself, each with independent motives. He believed the Child to be his ‘true’ self: willful, impulsive, and hungry for life. The Child was born a joyful, energetic, visionary being, but time and conflict rendered him selfish and sullen. His wailing demands for comfort and attention were but an unflattering side-effect of his fun-loving nature as he suffered from neglect (whether real or perceived) by those around him. It is likely that no gross amount of attention could ever sate his deficit. The Child had only short-term objectives, the desired outcomes of which were always some form of pleasure. He was rebelliously codependent: he undermined authority when he could get away with it yet supplicated to authority when it was advantageous to him. This included external authorities, as well as the flimsy internal hierarchy in which the Man ever struggled to dominate within himself. The Man was a confused mixture of his ego and the voice of a cruel, disembodied moral entity. In that voice were his parents, his teachers, his bullies, his ex-lovers, and even imaginary villains, for truly they were all the same: voices whom he “should” have listened to but were all terrible threats to his independence. The Man was obsessed with these conflicts, and in his mind stretched a battlefield containing every person, every thought, every impulse he had ever endeavored to evade or conquer. And in that same battlefield was the Child, skipping along with cape and wooden sword, poking at the corpses and play-acting his assured victory.

In truth, these identities were not fixed, nor were they even remotely halves, but loosely aggregated groups of insecure, mutually antagonizing personality traits that the Manchild, in his simplistic worldview, chose to make binary. The first group of traits, labeled “the Man,” by no means represented an absolute definition of manhood (for none exists but in the human imagination), nor the Manchild’s untapped machismo, but rather various characteristics that he considered “manly”. The second group of traits, labeled “the Child,” similarly did not represent the universal nature of children, nor his original childhood persona, but rather a collection of his in-born characteristics that had been repeatedly and traumatically suppressed by others and by himself, and had grown feral with neglect. Occasionally a trait from the “Child” group would mature or otherwise be resolved sufficiently to cross over to the Man’s camp, and sometimes a trait from the “Man” group will be rejected by society (or worse, by a lover) and would slink tail-tucked into the no-rules refuge of the Child. The Manchild’s greatest lesson, should he ever see fit to work on himself, would be to acknowledge the existence of not two selves, but innumerable facets of himself coexisting within his psyche that are fluid, mutable, and interdependent. It would also be valuable for him to understand that his envy of manhood (and of womanhood, for that matter), rather than his nostalgia, was indeed the greater poison.

Despite these differing perspectives, it shall be said for the sake of simplicity that the Manchild had two natures: an independent and an infantile one. This was his destiny, though it was by no means extraordinary. There surely have been many people –predecessors as well as peers— who have had something of a child remain within them throughout the decades of their lives and reap great benefits from this duality. There were those who, despite their hardships, retained the playfulness of childhood, and thus maintained good humor and adaptability throughout their adult lives. There were also those whose imaginations survived the homogenizing grind of school, labor, and domestic duties, permitting them the lifelong sanctuary of creative expression and lucid fantasies. There were also those rare few whose youthful aspect was maintained in physical form, where the momentum of powerful springtime energies carried bodily strength and elasticity long into their autumn and winter years. In these persons, their happiness was owed more to the Child than to their toiling adult counterpart. In contemporary society, the preservation of youth into adulthood is seen as a triumph: the careful cultivation of a hothouse flower against all odds and elements. However, immature tendencies are largely encouraged in women, and this –among many reasons which will be later discussed— caused the Manchild to deeply resent the sex that is not his own. For a woman of juvenile qualities is pleasant, entertaining, and easily digestible to the hungry eyes of the public; a man of juvenile qualities, however, is oft taken for a eunuch.

That he should be half a Child and yet not receive the same amount of respect as one whose persona is wholly Man was a great injustice to the Manchild, for he was certain that any person possessed of remotely masculine physical aspect has a natural right to authority, of which he had been mysteriously denied. That his Child-self’s harmless toddling should be punished by society was a problem whose root is buried deep within the world’s cruel heart, and therefore must be left for the world to resolve (in his favor of course). Any change to his situation, reasoned the Manchild, must come from the outside world, for his embryonic realm was one of self-preservation and a state which he incorrectly identified as ‘order’. It goes without saying that his sphere of influence was minuscule (if at all extant), but it should be noted that the hermetically encapsulated Man was completely oblivious to the wake of chaos left by the bawling Child. Alas, lacking agency on account of whichever childhood disfunction left him washed on this shore of self-pity, the Manchild would not ever reach outside of his bubble to seize his true place in the world. He would not even grasp the wheels of his own mind. The notion that he was an autonomous agent, an actor on the world stage whose actions affect others as much as theirs affect him, was little known to him— or if known, painfully and repeatedly denied.

He would, on occasion, cling to an idea or a piece of culture or fashion: some beautiful shiny thing in which he could see his reflection, and thus feel as though he were an important part of the phenomenon. But these obsessions, picked up with great enthusiasm by the Child, were later tossed aside out of boredom, and promptly disposed of by the Man-nanny. Otherwise, the Man, annoyed by the disorderliness of the Child’s obsessive play, would snatch it from the Child’s hands and smash it to pieces, aping absolute authority. Put simply, if the loss of novelty did not inspire boredom in the Manchild, then it inspired violent frustration. The Child in him would remain a victim, thrashing and screaming and in need of postnatal comfort, and this wounded self-soiling little bird has made the Man in him no more than an exhausted governess. Desperate for affirmation, he would look to others and, seeing them go about their daily business and ambitions, is confounded that they are not busy shaping the world into one that optimally suits him. For all his neediness, he cannot properly communicate his needs; the Child is non-verbal, and the Man is obstinate. He is a forgotten snow-globe of a being, and should any synthetic snowflake be out of place, it is because some awful, meddling hand had come upon his idle bliss and shook it.

The Manchild is not altogether a failure at communication, however, for he excels at the frequent and voluminous espousal of his personal opinions. The Manchild considers himself a connoisseur of information and of taste, and perhaps the most beloved aspect of his own psyche is his private, exclusive access to various cosmic Truths. For example, he knows for certain (for all facts known to him are certain) that women owe him comfort, that he is deserving of all which he desires, and that the best way to live is without effort. He is an expert on all important things, and every important thing is one in which he is expert (and this ‘expertise’ is simply the extent to which he is aware of any one thing). In simpler times, the Manchild would dissect and argue minute points of music, literature, theater, and politics with fellow pedants in private quarters over cigars and burgundy. The academic Manchild might even be so lucky as to have his thoughts printed on paper, to be dissected further by yet more pedants. Now, with the Internet at his fingertips, the Manchild has no obstacle between him and a public forum. He has no need to bother with education or research for his ideas to be considered by a vast audience (though academic achievement is extremely attractive to the Manchild, for it provides documented validation of his wit). He does not hesitate to publish his opinions online in any topic he might catch wind of, for he knows that he was born with an innate sense of the Truth, and should he bestow his Truths upon the world with enough persistence, reality will bend to his desires, and all the world will applaud his visionary genius.

Despite the Child-self’s eager consumption of the cake that is his life, and the Man-self’s waffling between passive admonition and prideful defense of his own childish behavior, the Manchild feels a great deal of shame for his condition, which is both self-imposed and derived from the judgment of others. In some cases, being shamed –or, alternatively, the denial of any such shame— is an essential part of the Manchild’s identity.

At once part Man, part Child, each entity ever locked in petty conflict with its opposite, our unfortunate fellow cannot reconcile his inner turmoil any more than he is able to resolve his differences with the people around him. The Manchild is deeply perplexed by the reactions of family, friends, and lovers to his dual nature, for he feels as if simultaneously his juvenile traits are as celebrated as they are derided. Though the Manchild’s unwillingness to curate his personality is largely to blame, his kin (and peers) are also culpable for his condition, for perhaps his twain selves would not be so divided were he not constantly given mixed feedback.

For example, a Manchild may be beloved by his family for his submissive obedience (and he thrives on the comfort and safety that this provides), yet he is ceaselessly browbeaten for other expressions of that very trait, such as his lack of ambition (or idle contentment), ill fortitude (or passivity), and unwed status (or, if sired, a disinterest in his own offspring). A major paradox lies in the family’s treatment of their Manchild, for one cannot treat a man like a child and expect him to become mature, just as one cannot treat a dog like a wild beast and expect him to happily perform tricks. Whereas a boy who is given respect, responsibilities suitable for his age and ability, and whose budding masculinity is acknowledged, secured, and given room to grow, the Child’s stewardship over himself will, with time, transform him into his very own kind of Man. But the Manchild, in his youth, may not have been taught how to respect himself and others, nor offered responsibilities, and his social environment may have been too full of extremes to inspire confidence in himself. Indeed, these would be great misfortunes begetting an unfortunate man.

For these shortcomings, the Manchild often blamed the influence of his female family members. Their provisions of comfort were, throughout his life, either too much or too little to balance his twin selves. Either they spoiled the Child and robbed the Man of his vigor, or they terrorized the Child and left behind a tough and bitter shell of Man. Whichever way he sees it, or whatever else might be true of his early years, the details are of little consequence to his resulting attitude. The fact no less remains that the Manchild is physically and psychologically dependent on the women in his life, whether they appear to him as refuge or scapegoat. He requires them for all his comforts and believes that his personal condition not only depends on women, but that his happiness is consciously (and often conspiratorially) controlled by them. This includes women whom the Manchild knows intimately, as well as women whom he is remotely associated with, women he has never met, and the abstract delusion of ‘all women’.

In his various multimedia obsessions, the Manchild is attracted to stories with male protagonists whose narrative arcs are only complete upon the acquisition of a female trophy, or the intervention of a female companion whose sole function is to bring him to enlightenment. (The responsibility of entertainment-media brainwashing for the condition of the Manchild is a heavy subject deserving of its own treatise). The Man is fascinated by the image and idea of women, of the ways in which they could be of service to his pursuit of pleasure and prestige, but the Child remembers the womb of oblivion from whence he came and as much as he longs for natal comfort, he is terrified by their physical reality. The Manchild avoids confronting the vulvar terror by indulging heavily in fantasy and pornography. In these fervid realms, the Manchild is the protagonist of his own narrative and is free to conquer any feminine thoughtform. Herein lies the heart of darkness, which will not be discussed any further for the sake of good taste.

What is most curious is regardless of the Manchild’s sexual proclivities, he is averse to all biological realities but his own. Despite his attraction to feminine people, for example, he cares only for the feelings and ideas associated with femininity according to cultural dictation, and never the breathing, bleeding, physical experiences of femininity. The Manchild struggles greatly with his carnal lust, though the essence of that desire is more to do with his psyche and delusions of sexual power differentials, than it is to do with the actual bodies of those he fancies. This is ironic of course, because he is also fervently obsessed with analyzing and criticizing what others choose to do with their own bodies, their appearances, and their expressions. His disgust of biology conflicts with his obsession with it, as much as the Child and the Man conflict with each other. The Manchild considers every variant of human body and identity besides his own to be aberrant: they are Other, and therefore too complicated to exist in his austere conception of the world. He persists in trying to bend reality to fit his ideas, and not ever has he thought to alter his ideas in concordance with reality. As mentioned earlier, the Man is fixated on his private world of ‘order,’ and in this world he will preserve his singularity and simplicity at all costs. His body is the only one that is ‘right,’ the only appearance and orientation that makes sense to him. All Others must be made sense of via conquest and possession.

And it is with this brute philosophy that the Man seeks out a mate to take over as the Child’s caretaker. (For the sake of this argument, the ambiguous “lover” will be used to refer to the Manchild’s paramour, though the examples which follow will refer to cisgender, heterosexual couplings to account for the petulant majority.) The Manchild is adored in courtship for his boyish charms, naïve outlook, his curiosity, and his playfulness. The Manchild devotes himself to his counterpart because he is satiated by the exclusivity of their attentions. He is not –nor has he ever been—one to share, so polyamorous arrangements are rare and tenuous. His lover is his captive audience for whatever subject of interest he chooses. He does not converse with his lover, but rather buries them in volumes of opinion and anecdote. Even if they are intellectual peers, he will speak to his lover as if they were a layman. His paramour becomes his echo chamber: a womb to be decorated and settled into like a private study.

Yet with time, his lovers –some more or less quickly than others—realize that the relationship cannot develop past this initial ‘dating’ phase, and so they either rapidly lose interest or, in the case of his more domineering or desperate counterparts, will try to their wit’s end to force the Manchild into the next stage of commitment. Though there are inherently no rules and no actual ‘steps’ in any relationship’s progression, for the sake of this argument we can assume that beyond dating, the next step of commitment calls for deeper investments in which each person takes a more active role in their partner’s physical and emotional wellbeing. The Manchild is alas not capable of such an arrangement, as he is only interested in remaining on the receiving end of care.

When his lover finally communicates their needs to the Manchild, he does not understand their turn from gaiety and playful lovemaking to a ‘sudden’ confrontation of domestic demands. In one scenario, for example, imagine: the Manchild’s girlfriend appears angry, behaves insecurely, and makes demands of him. She accuses him of prioritizing his private interests –which she condemns as mere juvenile distractions— over the health and security of their future together. Her distress had been long precipitated, but alas the Manchild had been too obsessed with his navel to notice, so he perceives this dilemma as happening all at once and for no apparent reason.

‘How could she accuse me of being selfish’, asks the Manchild, ‘for isn’t this relationship my most valued private interest?’ How could she say such hurtful things about his passions and hobbies, which, after all, they share to some degree? How could his ladylove be so cruel as to suddenly eschew the adorable quirks of his Child-self, which had once been so endearing? The Manchild is at a loss for understanding why his lover has changed overnight from a manic pixie dream into a bitter shrew. He is consumed by this confusion and lacks the language and confidence to communicate his feelings or to ask any clarifying questions. His tongue is tied, and he does not know why. It cannot be his fault. He is not too simple a Man! The needs of others are just too complex!

Onward the Manchild marches, kicking rocks in every direction. He blames his lover for their frigid turn of favor, blames society for its misrepresentation and abandonment of men like himself, and blames this good world (and even God, if he believes) for doing nothing to protect him from human folly.

Fear not, Manchild, for there is hope! There is another world that is free of confusion and betrayal. It is not far, and you need only the Man’s perspective and the Child’s voice to reach it.

Our destination is this very same world we share, friend. However, there is one distinct detail: it is a world in which the Manchild can stand to look at his mirror image and laugh at himself. Do not worry, o suffering cringe, for this is not the laughter of ridicule. Shame has no place here, and there is no tyrant Man to hide from nor any Child to admonish. They never existed to begin with. There is only You and your reflection and the forgotten threads that still connect you to the rest of humanity. When the mirror trembles with your laughter, the faces of every Other will surround you and join in chorus. Here in this crystal illusion lies your coveted Order: not the imaginary within you, but the reality without you.

Your face will reflect the same follies as all those others; those lived realities whom you have so futilely tried to avoid and obscure. You must hear the laughter of every age, every body, every language, in your own voice, else be utterly buried and forgotten by they who will survive you and your bitterness. In your heart you must forgive your parents, friends, lovers, and enemies for their own follies, and in doing so you shall conquer the lie that your pain is unique. You will at last be content to step back and join the dancing procession of life as not only Yourself, but as One of Many.

This treatise may not be of much consequence to the one known as the Manchild, and its conclusion may not be as climactic as any reader might hope. That which began as a dissection of a tired old trope has finally run its course. All that remains is the desire to move on.