16 Responses

  1. Factory

    Hey! Thanks for taking up the discussion.

    First off, I’d like to point out that these principles are not my invention, but they are a basic set of guidelines that I can get behind to a large extent. That said, it’d be pretty mealy-mouthed of me to posit these things, and then refuse to defend them, so I will try and address my take on the spots that seem to concern you.

    “A threshold problem is that it is based on a rather Lockean discourse of rights — property rights, meritocratic rights, contract rights and so on. It can’t possibly be the case that masculinity is encapsulated or well-explained in terms of a neo-Lockean (or other) discourse of rights, precisely because it long predates any such discourse.”

    That whistling sound I just heard was all of that screaming over my head. I am not even close to well-read enough to understand even the basic gist of what you’re saying here, which is embarrassing, but bound to happen. Any chance of a layman’s explanation?

    “A further, and more fundamental, problem is the emphasis on self-sufficiency. This is certainly a misguided emphasis, and has more roots in contemporary political conservatism and libertarianism, and their respective roots in political philosophy, than it does in any enduring masculinity.”

    I look at this aspect of things as more or less recognition of reality. Self-sufficiency is a base requirement for mating eligibility, for example. It is also usually required for membership into such things as the teams you mention later that men work so well in. If a man is not *at least* self-sufficient, he is widely regarded as a net loss, and usually ejected from society rather than embraced.

    “The true expression of masculinity in a public/political sense is patriarchy, which is marked by men behaving as a band of brothers — competition and collaboration in tandem.”

    I would argue that the traditional male protector role is one of many interpretations of masculinity, and one that many men view as arbitrarily restrictive, indeed, a bad deal for men in general. The Traditional Patrilineal family model you refer to obliquely here is somewhat addressed, in my view, in the ‘Property Rights / Contract Law’ aspect of these principles, meaning entering into a ‘Traditional’ relationship should not incur unjust risk on either party.

    “Men work best in hierarchical collective efforts — sports teams, military brigades, corporate executive teams — competing against other hierarchical collective groups of men. It’s the opposite of self-sufficiency — it’s a model that embraces personal accountability, responsibility and merit, but in a setting that emphasizes the competitive collaboration with the rest of the brotherhood.”

    Agreed, which is why I usually espouse a ‘team based’ approach to mens activism (unfortunate side effect – circular firing squad). Men certainly do work best when looking to best their competitor (sexual selection at work). Don’t draw the focus too tight….this is not the intention of the framework. Men work in teams, yes, but they have to hold up their end, or they’re off the team. Men are self sufficient, yes, but they can accomplish orders of magnitude more when they work together. These are not self-contradictory statements.

    “And that very well may involve violence — certainly it has over history, and to suggest that non-violence is the definition of masculinity defies the mountain of historical evidence to the contrary. Whether violence is justified in a particular instance has been the subject of a mountain of moral and ethical writing, but never has it been suggested that violence in itself, as violence per se, is not masculine, precisely because it is wrong to do so. The proper exercise of masculinity necessarily involves violence from time to time — and that requires deep thought, and we have much of that already, about what the “time to time” circumstances are that justify the use of masculine violence — and that deep thought goes much further and deeper than contract rights.”

    The vast majority of men, for the vast majority of their time on Earth, go about their day doing non-violent pursuits. Most men, if asked, will prefer another kind of reaction to violence to most situations. Violence is almost always an option of last resort for nearly all men alive on the planet today.

    You are correct in asserting that a lot of violence is ‘male’, and even that agression as a characteristic is best applied to men (at least, the overt kind, anyway), but I think I can make a good case that nearly all ‘wars’ per se (acts of aggression from State to State) were simply an attempt to steal another’s property, and that other’s attempts to defend themselves. WW2, Gulf War, Afghanistan…you name it, I think it’s a pretty fitting description.

    I could be quite mistaken, but to my mind, nearly anything but “I wanna steal your stuff” coming as justification is essentially Propaganda. I could be a cynic though.

    “But masculinity itself is enduring, and is not to be found among the interstices of contemporary political ideologies — it is deeper and older and has nothing to do with them in itself.

    Here you touch on the real reason this attempt is even being made. There is a lot of noise coming from all sections of the Gendersphere, trying to ‘define’ masculinity, usually in a manner that supports whichever ideological agenda is espoused at that source. This is an attempt to grab the frame of that discourse, and make it both as definitive, and as flexible, as possible, while providing a tangible answer to the question “What makes a man, a man?”

    They’re big shoes…we need a lot of feet to fill them, so thanks for giving this some thought.

  2. donalgraeme

    ” The true expression of masculinity in a public/political sense is patriarchy, which is marked by men behaving as a band of brothers — competition and collaboration in tandem. ”

    The two best examples of this in action are the classical hunter/gather society hunting party, and a modern basketball team.

    In both of them, each member wants to succeed for himself as much as possible. That means elevating his position/status by the achieving the most results. For a basketball team that may mean scoring the most points, while in a hunting party it may mean scoring the killing blow or catching the most prey.

    However, that only works so long as the “team” succeeds. Individual success means nothing if the team fails. So a player or a hunter has to ensure that the teams wins. Whether it is winning a game, or bringing down a significant prey animal, the team needs to win. For a basketball player, a team failure because you care only for yourself means that you aren’t a “team player”, and will sidelined. In a hunting party, a team failure can mean death, perhaps of the whole hunting party. So in a way the need for the team to succeed creates a boundary on your own behavior.

    This dynamic between individual achievement and team success drives much of what we understand to be masculine behavior.

  3. Eric

    The essence of war isn’t violence, though the threat of violence is at least implied. A war can be won or lost without a bullet fired. The essence of war is change – creation upon destruction (with or without violence). Breaking down a civilization is part of making another civilization. If men mean to be builders, then we must also be willing destroyers.

    I’ve been watching a lot of Ray Mears’s shows on youtube recently so I appreciate the hunter-gather model of masculine social identity. The depiction of modern-day hunter-gatherers who wrestle with their relationship with modern industrial society is reminiscent of the red pill transition. The difference is they have a ready fallback position. It stands out that hunting-gathering men, despite apparent self-induced poverty, are nonetheless self-sufficient, satisfied in their social place, and secure in their masculine identity compared to the anxiety and angst of modern men.

    Minor point re “military brigade”: Military units are functioning teams in terms of an interpersonally connected group up to company level. While brigades operate with a company-sized headquarters, the brigade echelon is more about administration, coordination, and management than leading a working team on the ground.

  4. Factory

    “The idea I see in that list is from John Locke — that is, everyone is on his own, borders delineated by rights, mostly around property. It’s one of the philosophies that informed the founders of the US.”

    Well then it’s not bad company to be in, those were some smart dudes.

    A lot of what I am seeing here is different interpretations of the same idea, in relation to expected outcomes. If that’s the case, I take it ironically enough as a sign of rhetorical strength of the positions, but I should explain what i mean before crowing…

    The concept of ‘self-sufficiency’ is not strictly limited to ‘man as island’ type inferences. The ability to produce more than you consume is a commonly heard refrain, for example, when asking a woman about mate selection criteria. And what team wants a man on the court (or in the office) that can’t even pull his own weight, let alone contribute to the team? I think donalgraeme has it pretty much nailed in this instance.

    “This is again coming from a rights discourse. The roles in a family are set, and are not based on rights or contract. It’s based on human nature.”

    This is most emphatically not true. For the vast majority of human evolution, men and women were around their children constantly. The men taught the boys, and the women taught the girls, from the time the children were old enough to be ‘useful’….mostly because the ‘teaching’ and ‘getting the work needed for survival’ were the same damn thing. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that the so-called ‘natural’ separation of parental roles we enjoy today came about.

    This is not to discount the fact that we have to recognize and deal with the reality we face, rather than the ideal we wish for, but it is important to realize Parenthood is every bit as important for men as it is for women. Any definition of masculinity must necessarily encompass this.

    “It isn’t about war, per se, although it sometimes may come to that. It’s about the will to use violence to enforce what is right.”

    I would say this is a product of morality more than anything else. I was going to read the principles again, but I can’t get into my blog…hmmm…

    ” It’s customary today to think that this is no longer done because there is no consensus on what is “right” — but there is a consensus. It’s a consensus among those who control the violence wielders. The problem isn’t the use of violence against those in the wrong, the problem is rather in the definition of who is in the wrong. And that’s where the rubber well and truly hits the road.”

    ‘Might makes right’ and ‘He who is victorious, writes the History’ are not new concepts. Neither, really, is Moral Relativism, if you look at Religion in a certain light… The basic difference I can see you referring to here, is the way in which men tend to stand up for principle, and women tend to go along to get along. Considering we are trying to define masculinity to some degree here, I fail to see the problem.

    The main intent here, though, is to do precisely this…to explore the limits of the simple definitions that appear before the hyphen, since the short descriptions of examples are just that, short examples. The idea that this is unassailable is silly, but it’s proving to be a pretty good framework for discussion if nothing else.

    1. Novaseeker

      It’s helpful to discuss, I very much agree. My main hesitation is about the emphasis on self-reliance. If we mean competence, we should say competence, rather than self-reliance, because the latter implies an isolation that the former does not. In this, I agree very much with donal, in that it is about individual competence used in the context of a band of brothers — a team. That defines successful masculinity much more than ideas about self-sufficiency and property rights.

      1. Factory

        I don’t know Nova…..I am almost grateful for the ambiguity if for no other reason than defining too narrowly such definitions will have a straightjacket effect on men, much like the ‘traditional’ role men play now. I do agree that a STRICT definition of ‘self-sufficiency’ could lead to such conclusions, but when you think about it, differnt interpretations of the same concepts are the strength, not the weakness, of Humanity. Maybe saying something like ‘competent self-reliance’ or somesuch, because I agree it’s important to convey that no man is an island…but is there a danger in too defined of a role? I kinda think so, others may disagree.

  5. Spoos in August

    Violence should be an option of last resort, for both moral (or ethical) and pragmatic reasons. Persuasion, shaming, or intimidation can often achieve the desired result with much less effort, and much less risk to the group. When the group is larger, the risk reduction tends to be both absolutely and proportionately larger, which is why small gangs often settle feuds with gunfire, and nation-states go to war far less often.

    That being said, a large part of what it meant, means, and will mean to be a man is being ready to do violence on behalf of one’s family and tribe. If someone tries to mug me, should I meekly acquiesce or should I resist? If someone breaks into my home, should I ask him politely to leave, or should I (as is my right) defend myself?

    As to why men are the primary death-dealers… fighting is risky, eggs are valuable, and sperm is cheap. You can’t re-engineer a concept that has a fundamental biological underpinning by theorizing about what modern masculinity “ought” to be. I’m not trying to be -too- offensive, here, but I see that as a major flaw of the various attempts (Jackson Katz, etc.) to redefine masculine virtue (but I repeat myself).

  6. Morticia


  7. Escoffier

    I will partly disagree with Brendan.

    He mentions only Locke but it’s true of all the early moderns: the focus is entirely on rights to the exclusion of duties. The exception is Machiavelli but in the end he is just as modern, only starting from a different point. Or, rather, he lays the foundation, Hobbes and Locke make the corrections.

    What they do share, however, is the idea that “goodness” in the people (i.e., the masses) comes to mean obedience and not much more. Hobbes especially is very concerned about sectarian fighting, which has caused later scholars to assume that his thinking is a purely a project of his time, i.e., a reaction to religious warfare. This is not wholly wrong but it does ignore Hobbes’ explicit statement that he is the first to have ever put political principle on a firmly scientific basis.

    The best thing one could say for the early moderns, I think, is that a change in circumstance from the ancient and medieval world necessitated a change in the way thought was related to action. New principles had to be enunciated to address these new circumstances. The underlying truth of the nature of things had not changed but the way we deal with “the facts on the ground” had to change. And a sort of rights-based commercial republicanism was the best we could do in modern times (this is Montesquieu’s argument).

    It’s too simple to say that Locke=America (not that you said that) and it would be wrong to infer that for Locke violence is never justified. Locke does want to get to a political state in which violence is sharply curtailed and a “monopoly of the state.” But that’s true of nearly every great thinker. War is always for the sake of peace. Machiavelli is again an exception, but only partially. Machiavelli writes a great deal about war and seems to celebrate it. In fact, he thinks that war and threat of war are very useful tools in keeping men and states from going totally slack and becoming corrupt. What he recommends is a sort of league-alliance system that keeps all the states on their toes without letting any single one dominate, and in a balance of power that makes the outbreak of war less likely and wars, when they do happen, short and not too bloody.

    Anyway, Locke defends the right of revolution and inspired two: the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the American Revolution of 1776. So the necessity of violence in certain circumstances is absent neither from Locke nor from the American political tradition.

    I agree completely regarding self-sufficiency but for deep support we have to leave the moderns altogether and return to the ancient idea of man being by nature the social and political animal. He is never self-sufficient, except perhaps in his thoughts, but even then a high level of thinking requires a certain level of civilizational attainment, which requires men to act collectively.

    One can imagine, perhaps, a perfectly self-sufficient mountain man who lives entirely off the land and makes all his tools himself from the raw materials at hand. But such a man would be little more than a very clear beast, with no chance whatsoever to develop those traits in him that are uniquely human. Man, as man, must live among other men to become fully man.

    1. Novaseeker

      Good comment. Thanks as always for the philosophical context and clarifications.

  8. Escoffier

    Just to flesh this out a little:

    What separates man from the beasts and makes him in the image of god is reason or speech or (to use the Greek) logos. This all over Plato and Aristotle and, I think, not coincidentally, appears three times in the very first line of the Book of John. This is THE distinguishing characteristic of man.

    On a basic level, logos simply means speech. So there is no need for it if a man has no one to talk to. The “perfectly self-sufficient’ man therefore has no need of speech, therefore is he really a man?

    Beyond this, the Great Tradition holds that the closest to self-sufficiency a man may achieve is philosophy. But even the philosopher is not self-sufficient. He needs speech not merely to articulate his ideas, even to himself. He needs friends with whom to converse and test and refine his ideas. And, lest his circle of friends become a “sect” crippled by “subjective certainty,” he must leave the sect and test his ideas in the market. Socrates must go to the Agora.

    So, really, self-sufficiency is contrary to the definition of man-as-man, to those things distinguish man from the other beings.

  9. Escoffier

    I had another though, also drawing on ancient philosophy. Should have occurred to me earlier, sorry.

    In place of “self-sufficiency, ”we should substitute the classical virtue of “equanimity.”

    I will let Machiavelli state the principle: “Strong republics and excellent men retain the same spirit and their same dignity in every fortune.”

    What is asserted here is not independence from other men—which is both impossible and undesirable—but independence from “fortune,” that is, the inevitable ups and downs of life. The masculine man does not become prideful and overweening in good fortune nor does he become weepy and despairing in bad fortune. Whatever life throws at him, he accepts and deals with in the same, consistent, calm, measured spirit.

    Livy said that the nature of the mob was either to rule proudly or serve humbly. The virtuous man avoids both extremes.

    1. Escoffier

      I came across this when re-reading Polybius (VI 1.2) this morning:

      “… those who pronounce in private on the character of bad or good men do not, when they really resolve to put their opinions to the test, choose for investigation those periods of their life which they passed in composure and repose, but seasons when they were afflicted by adversity or blessed with success, deeming the sole test of a perfect man to be the power of bearing high-mindedly and bravely the most complete reverses of fortune …”

      Same basic idea.

  10. Alcestis Eshtemoa

    I disagree with the whole “look towards the male group model of hunter gatherers”.

    That’s barbarian, and modern civil society resembles barbarianism.

    I wrote some parallels here —> http://traditionalchristianity.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/liberalism-is-barbaric/

    Maybe agricultural pastoralists is a better fit?

  11. Gruesome

    Jack Donovan gave us a “SCH(e)M(e)” to define masculinity in his book The Way Of Men: (S)trength; (C)ourage; (H)onor; (M)astery. Thus far, I’ve seen no better framework for masculine living than Donovan’s SCHM. It’d be quite hard to top this because SCHM is rooted in “human nature” and transcends “traditionalism”, “conservatism”, “liberalism” and/or “progressivism” – all of which are creations of “human nature”. Strength is uniquely masculine (physically, at least) in humans and other primates. So is courage, which is primordially linked to strength. Honor is a necessary control to the wanton exercise of both strength and courage among men in a group (otherwise group stability and individual safety would not exist in a social setup). Mastery is competence that can be traded within the group for sustenance. None of these masculine elements can be said to be uniquely feminine. In fact, their exact opposites are what might be said to be unique markers of the female gender.

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