"I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers. How ill white hairs become a fool and jester.
Today we shall discuss beards, or rather facial hair, computer love m'body. I have talked about beards before. If you search Google for my name, and the word beard, you get 44 results, and if you search for my name and the words facial hair you get another ten. That is my legacy of twelve years on the internet. Some of those results have nothing to do with me, but I want you to know that, although they can take away our toys, they can't stop the music.
As I think these thoughts and write these words, in the early years of the twenty-first century, facial hair is at a crossroads. In certain parts of the world it is normal for grown men to wear beards, just as it is normal for some men to wear skirts, and for some men to ride horses. In my part of the world, however, it is not normal for a man to wear a beard, although it is not yet socially unacceptable. The two trends clash. I cannot say which will win. Western Society tends to frown upon the bearded, but does not exclude them outright, although there are styles of beard and of manner that can accentuate or minimise the shock of the beard. A decade ago it was not exceptional for a young man to wear a neatly-trimmed goatee-style beard and, as with so many other things, a rich and confident man is free from beard shame. Foreigners who live in the West are allowed to wear whatever facial hair they please, because they are more earthy and in touch with nature than the stiff, unnatural robots that we ourselves have become. Perhaps they see us in the same way that we see them; perhaps we are not so unalike. I wonder if scholars before me have written about the social and cultural impact of facial hair? What does hair tell us about society? There are plenty of books about clothes and fashion. Of hair, I have found nothing.
For every man whose beard does not attract attention, there are men whose beard is the icing on a cake of hate. I was inspired to set down these words after discovering "Jew Watch", a regular feature on the internet video sharing website YouTube. The man behind Jew Watch has a beard. It is an extroverted beard. It precedes him, and it is impossible to ignore. He knows this. Wearing his beard, the Jew Watch Man resembles one of my mental stereotypes of the aged white North American; he is overweight, he has wavy grey hair, and he probably becomes angry whenever people disagree with him, or when people suggest that there are other ways of thinking. I imagine he has studied the US Constitution, and understands it in a way that other people do not, in a uniquely pure way that is unique to him alone. I enjoy him, because he reinforces my preconceptions of North Americans. I have never seen one of his videos, or visited his website, indeed I have no idea what he has to say about Jews. Only his appearance matters to me. He has a big grey beard, like Santa Claus, or Uncle Arthur from Only Fools and Horses. There was a time when old men who wore big beards seemed jolly and cheerful, but society no longer holds that opinion. Society now holds a negative opinion of old bearded men, just as society now holds a negative opinion of men who enjoy camping in the woods with young boys. I am a product of society, and I share its opinions. Certainly a beard does not help an old man to woo ladies. I wonder how much money an old man would have to have, in order to counteract the negative effect of his beard?
Nonetheless, and notwithstanding, there comes a time in every man's life when he wonders what it must be like to abandon his face to nature, to metaphorically allow his chin to run naked through a field of corn. I can only speak of Western society, in which a man's beard is an aberration. There are societies in which children allow their facial hair to grow naturally, as they mature into manhood. There was a time when men in the West did not contemplate beards or facial hair, because beards and facial hair were natural and inevitable, and far more pleasant than the alternative. Arabian men of today do not contemplate beards, because beards are a fact of life in the Arab world. In contrast to this, bearded Western men exist on the fringes of society. Shipwreck survivors and those who are raised by wolves have more important things on their mind than personal hygiene. The permanently sedated and lunatics do not contemplate much of any consequence. I am not sedate. I am the opposite of sedate. I contemplate more things in my lunch break than most people contemplate in a whole afternoon. And when I have finished contemplating, I contemplate some more.
"The bullets pass, Mussolini remains"
I would like to set down my thoughts, opinions, and experiences of facial hair in one place, in definitive form, so that people of the future will be able to understand Western society of today. Perhaps the men of tomorrow will be able to build on our triumphs, and avoid our mistakes, or at least lessen the pain of failure. I can only speak of the male half of Western society. I am sure that women worry about facial hair, but it is not the kind of question I can ask of a woman. And if I was to ask the question, I doubt that I would want to hear the answer. There are some things best left unknown, some mysteries that are sweeter in vaporous form. And it is the case that women worry about everything. In the words of Bob Marley, "my feet is my only carriage / so I've got to push on through". Adele Stephens, the nude internet model, clearly does not worry about her facial hair, although she must surely be aware of it. Perhaps she believes that her target audience is not interested in her philtrum. She is wrong.
In Western society beards are rare. Perhaps the reason for this is that beards require commitment, and commitment is rare in Western society. Commitment and passion are inextricable, and passion is also rare in Western society. Weastern Men and Women who fall in love do not experience passion, and often do not commit themselves to each other, despite being genetically programmed to do so. Very few employers in the West encourage or expect commitment, and I have never felt passionate whilst at work, despite having had several different jobs. Pets encourage commitment, but pets do not live for very long, with the exception of parrots and tortoises, which are passionless creatures. It is hard to love a parrot. I do not love parrots. Thus Western society veers from commitment. It is odd to think of a beard as requiring commitment - it is, after all, an inevitable natural process. The alternative to a beard is the act of shaving, which is traumatic and unpleasant. No-one enjoys shaving. It is possible to enjoy most other bodily functions, but shaving is not one of them. Some people enjoy washing themselves. It is a fact that certain men of a certain age and temperament enjoy going to the toilet, and staying on the toilet for longer than is necessary. But shaving is horrible, undeniably horrible. I hate it. I wish I could be done with it. But I am caught up in Society's net, and I cannot resist. I have never gone all the way up the river.
I have often contemplated the growing of a beard, because all men are dreamers, and I am a man. Even the most successful man imagines a better world for himself. I often wonder if my little toes are supposed to look as they do. I have been on the internet, and seen the little toes of other men. My own toes do not seem so unusual, but they could be better. Those men who are satisfied with their lot in life still dream - they dream of more life, of perpetual satisfaction. I have dreamed of a beard, just as I have dreamed of a fluorescent owl, but only recently have I made this dream real, my dream of a beard, or rather my dream of growing a beard. Over the past week, I have determined to grow a beard. During this time I came to respect John Lennon, and George Harrison, and the other Beatles, who moved effortlessly from clean-shaven to moustachioed, and then clean-shaved, and then bearded, and then clean-shaven, and then sometimes stubbly. George's beard, in particular, was a Biblical beard], the beard of a prophet. It was the beard of Zardoz, the giant flying stone head. I would not argue with George Harrison's beard, or its pronouncements. Lennon's beard was voluminous, but it seemed to exist as a separate module attached to his chin. Ringo's was perhaps the most natural beard, and remains with him today. His beard will live on, after he is dead.
But after one week my beard resembled that of Paul McCartney, which is to say that it was not a sincere beard, it was instead an affected beard, a dilettante beard. The beard of a dabbling man. Beyond the first day my beard did not seem to thicken or grow. It did not become any more dense. By the end of the week it had not yet grown long enough to form curls, which is perhaps why the skin of my face was still visible. I felt no pain as the stubble emerged. I came to the conclusion that I would need to grow my beard for months, perhaps years, if it was to reach a satisfactory volume, and for what? All that worry, the unease, the itches, the ridicule, for what? To look older, and more distinguished? By the end of the beard-growing phase I would not need to look like an old man, because I would actually be an old man, a considerably older man. In the long run it would be far worse for me to look distinguished, but not to be distinguished, than for me to not look distinguished, but be distinguished, or the other combinations of those two statements. When a spring stings, does it sing?
So then, I did not try to grow a beard for the sake of my appearance. I am beyond caring about my appearance, so long as I look good. I would never write naked, or poorly-dressed. It would feel wrong. It would be like speaking on the telephone after having eaten garlic. No, I grew a beard because I wanted to know if I could, in the space of a week. Some men wonder if they can become multi-orgasmic; I wondered if I could grow a beard, in the space of a week. It is a characteristic of myself that I chose to embark on this task without the money or patience to succeed. I have always chosen the easy path. By restricting the beard-growing period for a week, I will remain curious as to how large my beard would eventually grow, if I did not stop. I do not feel less of a man for having failed to grow a beard in a week. I have learned about myself from failure. But again, I find that there is a gulf between knowing a thing, and being able to act on a thing. A wise man who knows the nature of an approaching hurricane will die unless he has access to a fast car, or the forethought to leave the area well in advance of the hurricane's arrival; an oblivious and stupid man may go through life unscathed if he is fleet of foot and slippery. It is not enough to be wise. I am no better than the next man, at the game of squash. But life is not a game of squash.
As the farmer's wife said to the master of ceremonies, whilst the deer were lined up for sacrifice, "Who chose those does?".