A friend of mine recently described a first — and last — date with a young woman he met online. Things went fine at first, but then he mentioned that he liked going to the gym and — worse still — that he felt that men should be physically strong. Although this would not offend anyone of any culture prior to the modern era, nor anyone of a non-Western culture today (masculinity is seen as normal and valuable in Middle Eastern and African cultures, for example), my friend found himself being lectured on why this was inherently evil and why he was on the wrong side of history.
Most women don’t think badly of a man if he works out or thinks that he, as a man, should be strong and muscular, of course. Most women are still attracted to strong — or, at a minimum, healthy-looking — men. Indeed, for all the lecturing that my friend was subjected to, his date was also attracted to his gym rat body when she saw him online. Her desires told her one thing and her politics told her another. She couldn’t live the way she felt she, as a member of the caste of the morally pure, should — which is probably why she overreacted.
But, it is true that masculinity is now regarded as something dirty and shameful by a section of Western society — male and female — and social media seems almost purpose-built to amplify the negative and the hateful and to elevate such voices over the creative and constructive. For this conglomeration, though, physical strength, attraction to women, male bonding, masculine imagery, etc., are all signs of evil. But feminity in women is also highly suspect.
I should perhaps restate that I do not regard myself as stereotypically masculine. I train physically. I practice martial arts. I like masculine aesthetics. But I also write, make art, have written poetry, and like feminine aesthetics as well. I am probably seen as too masculine by some and as too feminine by others, depending on how stereotypical they are. But I regard myself as a man in the classical mold — someone who develops the intellect, the physical body, and the spirit; creativity, courage, and compassion — and it’s that classical way of being that I encourage men (and women) to develop in themselves.
I have mentioned these two warriors before but as historical examples of that way of being, I would point to Miyamoto Musashi (the famed Japanese samurai, who was also a painter, calligrapher, and landscape gardener) and (although a more controversial and extreme example of this merging of the hard and soft arts) Egil Skallagrimsson, a Viking warrior greatly feared for his bloodthirsty nature and yet greatly revered as a poet.
But why is physical strength in men regarded as a bad thing by some people in Western (but probably not non-Western) society?
Perhaps like a Victorian Darwinist looking at an ape, for the morally pure of today, looking at a physically strong man is essentially looking at a throwback. He seems to embody everything that society has worked to rid itself of.
Western society has worked to elevate and exalt the mind over the body. Economists and social theorists tell us that it is good that technology has replaced most low skill work and that it will replace more blue collar jobs since this will enable the lowest of our society to avoid dirty, physical labor, and to somehow magically rise up the ladder to work on a nice clean computer in a nice clean office.
It isn’t solely the fault of intellectuals, though. A few decades ago, physical strength seemed to be inseparable from a low IQ. Today, a physically strong man can be sensitive, polite, and have a range of interests, but there is still the idea (in the universities, for example) that the intellectual cannot be physical, and even that the physical is a kind of social construct.
But the unthinking physical man of yesterday isn’t what’s behind today’s hatred of all things masculine or male. We have politicized society. And politics offers no experience of other people unlike ourselves but tells us exactly what we should think of them. My friend and his date probably had several things in common. They share the view that there is something wrong with contemporary society, and, had politics been set aside, and a sense of kinship established, presumably talk of strong men, strong women, vegetarianism, and so on could have led to a clarified and deeper understanding of what solutions could be found in their own lives. And perhaps they might even have found some common ground.
Politics pushes out the romance, not only between men and women but within the culture in general. Embodying Liberty in a statue, building monuments to great men and women, etc., this embodies a romantic spirit that sees greatness in us, in the landscape, in the human drama. Art, music, literature has always expressed the human drama, man’s connection to the spiritual or divine, our ability to transcend, the beauty of small interactions, etc. But politics gives voice to the coarse, the cliched, and the ugly. Its purpose is only to assert the status quo or to critique it. It offers option A or option B. Nothing more.
As with blaming other groups in general, suspicion of manhood comes also, I believe, from an inability to realize that evil lurks in the heart of us all, and that we have to go deep into our own souls, or psyche, to see — and to face — who we really are. Recently, I was out with some acquaintances — male and female — when their conversation turned to politics. Guns are evil and should be banned, they asserted. Ten minutes later they were still going at it, but now they were delighting in the prospect of those on the other political side being shot. So unreflective were they that they could not see the contradiction, and so convinced of their own moral goodness were they that they felt entitled to revel in the idea of people being murdered.
They are not bad people. When politics isn’t in their heads, they are decent, caring individuals. they are the kind of people who couldn’t bring themselves to squish a bug. But they are also the kind of people that find secret pleasure in imagining their political opponents being killed.
Politics is very much about reaction. Each side reacts against the other. But to react against or to feel the pressure to conform is merely to choose option A or option B. It is, in a sense, to fall into a life-sucking trap. Life is bigger than A or B, and we have the power and the individual creativity to forge our own way, create our own movements, and to shape ourselves and those around us for the better.
This takes persistence, and persistence requires belief, vision, a sense that there is light at the end of the tunnel, even though the passage may be winding.
The recovery of manhood cannot be the imitation of men from the 1980s or 1950s. Authentic manhood is not about owning the biggest car, laughing at intelligence, or catcalling women. If there will be a recovery or rise of authentic manhood in the West then it will require that those who are part of it not only train their bodies but train their minds and spirit.
Every warrior should be an artist:
Learn a creative art: Learn to write, learn to speak publicly, or learn to paint or to express yourself and your thoughts visually. If none of this appeals, learn to cook — make it an art; learn about diet, nutrition, ketosis, and so on. But persist with something so that you learn about yourself by going through periods of success and failure, despondency and elation, and learn to handle the ups with humility and learn to be able to talk yourself through the failures.
Every artist should be his own priest:
Read the ancient texts of cultures both East and West — Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations, the Poetic and Prose Eddas, the Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammapada, the Tao Te Ching, and so on. Don’t try to imitate the style, but learn from and absorb the spirit of the best of the teachings, which will sustain and support you in life. Develop a regular meditation or spiritual practice. Learn to tame the thoughts so that they act in your service instead of dragging you around.
Every priest should be a warrior:
Train the body. Learn a martial art or some kind of self-defense. Learn to face your fears and to get back up when you’ve been knocked down. Train yourself to face and defeat your own petty emotions and self-deception. Learn that a life worth living is one you have to fight for.