Saturday Snippet: Self-esteem (yeah, right!)

The iconoclastic Fred Reed has been writing his columns and publishing his books for several decades now.  Lately he seems to be less humorous and more ponderous, although he’s still worth reading.  However, I think I prefer vintage Fred.  He can make me laugh harder than almost any columnist, while still dispensing nuggets of homespun (?) wisdom in among the blarney.

Here’s a column from his 2002 collection “Nekkid in Austin“.  (I normally post a picture of the cover of books featured here, but this one is NSFW, so you’ll have to click on the link to see it.)

Why Mama Doan’ Low No Self-Esteem Roun’ Heah

If I hear anyone say “self-esteem” again, I’m gonna get my duck gun.

What I figure is, we’ll catch all the varmints that talk about self-esteem— those pale radishy psychotherapists and feeble-minded educators and enormous talk-show ladies who look like slabs of fatback, only a scientist spilled radiation on it and it sprouted legs. Then we’ll get one of those medieval catapults, the kind that can chuck a ton for a mile. I reckon Oprah would carry at least twenty feet. We’ll fill it with the varmints. Then we’ll put it next to an alligator swamp and invite all the duck hunters, and holler, “Pu-ll-lllllllllllllllll!” What the duck hunters missed, the gators wouldn’t.

Then we’d go for beer and ribs.

This self-esteem business has gotten out of hand. Turn on the TV, if you don’t have better sense, and you’ll probably get some gal talking about how her self-esteem has gone rancid, and has warts on it, and maybe sags where it shouldn’t so she’s thinking about an implant.

Usually it’s a woman. Men doubt themselves, but they respond differently.

When a man gets to feeling sorry for himself he drinks himself into a stupor.  If he really means it, he loses his job and ends up living under a bench. He may get into bar fights. Maybe he’ll just get moody and sulk or inflict a short-man’s complex on everybody. But he won’t tell Oprah how pitiful he is on national television. He doesn’t want anyone to know.

Now, there are reasons for low self-esteem. If you’ve started a war, for instance, or burned down an orphanage for the insurance and forgot to take the orphans out first, or you’re a televangelist and got old people to send you their savings so now they’re living in cardboard boxes and eating Vienna sausages. Do the rascals who do these things feel bad about themselves? No. They’re happy as bugs on a picnic sandwich.

The folk with low self-esteem are perfectly good people who can’t get dates. (An awful lot of this self-esteem stuff seems to boil down to exactly that.) Or maybe they had unhappy childhoods (who didn’t?) or didn’t get as far in life as they had hoped to (who does?). At bottom they’ve got a case of ordinary life, which ain’t all collard greens and ham hocks. They don’t need low self-esteem. There’s nothing wrong with them.

Maybe the reason they have low self-esteem is that people think television is real. If you lived in a small town with no TV, you’d know that everybody was tolerably miserable—the banker was a drunk, the preacher cheated, the mayor and his wife hated each other.

But the fantasy box tells you that the world is chiefly populated by glamorous hunks and gorgeous babes. They live like James Bond and don’t have problems.  Maybe guys watch this stuff and start thinking, “Geez, I don’t have a Maserati, I’ve never been in a gunfight with international drug lords, and I’m the only man in America who hasn’t married Elizabeth Taylor. Oh, how I’ve failed.”

How many of us would worry about self-esteem if the box didn’t tell us we were supposed to? Personally, I don’t know whether I have any.

Further, I don’t care. If I’m not interested in my self-esteem, I can’t imagine why anyone else would be. I’ve just got other things to do.

Honky Tonk Confidential, my favorite bar band, is playing at Whitey’s next week. And I’ve got a new Glock in .45 ACP that I want to shoot.

Now, the way I figure it, if I went to a therapist lady to get my self-esteem checked, and found out I was a quart low, I’d still have the Glock and I’d still want to go to Whitey’s. On the other hand, what if she told me I had splendid self-esteem—triple-chromed, with low cholesterol and a good credit rating—I’d still want to go to Whitey’s, etc.

Suppose I found that I was nothing special? Just a semi-bald Presbyterian in a cowboy hat? Or that movie starlets were not lining up at my door in wild desperate hopes of carnal knowledge? I’m used to it.

The whole business gets worse. It isn’t just adults. The dumb lobby uses self-esteem as another excuse for making children into whimpering robotic imbeciles. I keep hearing about how teachers want to stop giving kids grades so as not to hurt their self-concept. It’s nuts. The schools won’t teach the white kids to spell, or the black kids to speak English, because being corrected might embarrass them. Really.

Maybe I’m just a country boy, and don’t understand things like I ought. But I have to wonder: Who is going to have the most self-esteem? A baffled semi-literate who reads four years below grade level and isn’t sure what country he lives in? Or a high-school grad who reads fluently and has the self-respect that goes with it? I guess I’m missing something.

It looks as if whimpering is replacing doing. Used to be, a stripling kid might have all manner of doubts about his manhood. So he’d join the Army and become a paratrooper. He’d leap out of airplanes and run seventy miles with a 1200 pound pack, uphill, in a snowstorm.

Backwards. That’s what paratroopers do. They don’t have any better sense, which is why they’re good people.

Today the kid would be sneered at, by people frightened of a dark night in suburbia, because he had something to prove. That’s exactly what he had. And he proved it. It works. Afterwards he doesn’t have to worry about what he’s made of. He knows.

Herewith a radical theory, copyright me and trademarked to the gills. It could put therapists out of work. (If the alligators miss any. I’m only going to use alert alligators.) It might restore learning to the schools, grow hair on bald men and eliminate cellulite. This is it: If you want to respect yourself, do something you will respect yourself for doing.

How’s that for forty-weight insight? You could lube a diesel with it.

I think that’s a great idea – but it’s not politically correct in today’s world.  No wonder Hillary called us “deplorables”!  For a couple more examples, relevant to today’s urban reality, see “Getting Shod at Berkeley” and “Race and the Inevitability of Behavior” in the same collection.



  1. I lived in the DC area during the first few years of the Washington Times, and one of several reasons to read that paper was Fred's Column. It was in once of them that he enumerated the classic "Stupid comes in three grades; Dumb, REAL Dumb, and Invading Russia".

    I have several of his books. His account of working for and analysis of SOLDIER OF FORTUNE magazine is hysterically funny and rings very true. In my happily misspent youth I worked for a Comic Book Store back when such stores mostly made the rend by selling something else. In our case it was HUSTLER and SOLDIER OF FORTUNE, and the buyers of the latter were a collection of pathetnoids that made the purchasers of the former look like pillars of the community.

  2. I did not swear an oath to the government but I did swear one to the Constitution of the United States. So there it is. I and those like me tend take this rather seriously.

  3. Hey Peter;

    Fred was on to something with the "Self Esteem" thing, this explains the present "disruptions" going on right now, you have several generation of kids that haven't been told how to handle rejection and that "Life occasionally Sucks" and that you have to "Embrace The Suck" to be well adjusted. This is where all the snowflakes have come from.

  4. Hey Mr. Grant (sounds kinda like 'hey mister WIL-SOOOOOOOON', doesn't it?):

    Might be time to update the spam filters again, judging from 'Lynne Wilson's' post. Ick.

    On topic, though: self esteem can't be given or granted or even gifted. It's something you have to develop for yourself. Too many kids think it's something to be handed out when it's something you have to -cultivate-.

  5. A quart low???? My doc x-rayed my head and tole me I was a quart low up there. Well , it was "off the top". I am a mite lite-headed.

  6. Some genius saw successful people had healthy attitudes about themselves,,
    They Esteemed themselves Worthy,, AFTER they had accomplished a few things..

    Along comes genius,, and connects the dots,,
    Successful, happy people have healthy self esteem!
    Well,, Now,, Lets INstill Self Esteem in the children! Then They will grow up and BE successful!
    No, You Idiot, theyll be insufferable, unteachable, conceited dolts who never know the pain of remorse…
    Low self esteem can be very good as a motivator. Or, society could just bend over backwards and tell you youre okay, even when youre not..

  7. I like Fred.

    Oprah? I remember her, said Uncle Hant reflectively. "Looks like five hundred pounds of bear liver in a plastic bag?"

    One Christmas I bought my brother Big Mike two of Fred's books. They arrived, and upon examination I noted that the wrapping paper had been carefully cut with a razor so as to reveal the contents without completely the wrapper.

    A US Postal worker looking for a Christmas bonus, or some kind of US super-spook group searching for contraband?

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