On Being a Good Man

There is a difference between being a good man and being good at being a man. An excerpt from Jack Donovan’s book, ‘The Way of Men.’

Read more about The Way of Men in “Defining Masculinity,” and an interview with book author Jack Donovan.

We see men of all kinds of professed creeds attain to almost all degrees of worth or worthlessness under any of them. This is not what I call religion, this profession and assertion; which is often only a profession and assertion from the outworks of the man, from the mere argumentative region of him, if even so deep as that. But the thing a man does practically believe (and this is often enough without asserting it even to himself, much less to others); the thing a man does practically lay to heart, and know for certain, concerning his vital relations to this mysterious Universe, and his duty and destiny there, that is in all cases the primary thing for him, and creatively determines all the rest. That is his religion; or, it may be, his mere skepticism and no-religion: the manner it is in which he feels himself to be spiritually related to the Unseen World or No-World; and I say, if you tell me what that is, you tell me to a very great extent what the man is, what the kind of things he will do is.

—Thomas Carlyle,
“On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History”

On Being a Good Man

Reducing masculinity to a handful of tactical virtues may seem crude, thuggish and uncivilized. What about moral virtue? What about justice, humility, charity, faith, righteousness, honesty, and temperance?

Aren’t these manly virtues, too?

Men aren’t heartless monsters and they aren’t machines. Men think about more than hunting and killing and defending. Men are capable of compassion as well as cruelty.

Thinking men ask “why.” It’s not always enough to win. Men want to believe that they are right, and that their enemies are wrong. To separate us from them, men find moral fault in their enemies and create codes of conduct to distinguish themselves as good men. One of the finest examples of this is the Christian knight—an ascetic committed to piety and violence, fighting in shining armor for goodness with God on his side. Most men would agree that it is better to be a good man who stands up to bad men. They would rather be heroes than villains. Most men want to see themselves as good men fighting for something greater than survival or gain.

When you ask men about what makes a real man, a lot of them will get up on their high horses and start talking about what it means to be a good man.

“A real man would never hit a woman.”

“A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”

“A real man takes responsibility for his actions.”

“A real man pays his debts.”

“Real men love Jesus.”

However, if you ask the same men to list their favorite “guy movies,” many of them will include films like The GodfatherScarface, Goodfellas, and Fight Club.

Don Corleone, Tommy DeVito, and Henry Hill were all ruthless racketeers. Scarface was a murdering drug lord. Tyler Durden was basically a domestic terrorist. There are scores of popular gang and heist flicks, among them: Oceans 11 (and 12, and 13), Snatch, Smoking Aces, The Italian Job, Heat, Ronin, The Sting, The Usual Suspects, Reservoir Dogs, and Pulp Fiction. [1]

The calculating, morally ambiguous hitman for hire has found an especially sympathetic place in the cinematic pantheon of manliness: The Professional, The Matador, In Bruges, The Mechanic, The American, Collateral, Road to Perdition, No Country for Old MenHitman was both a film and a video game. Two of the best-selling video game franchises during the last decade were Assassin’s Creed and Grand Theft Auto. Sons of Anarchy, a show about a motorcycle gang, is currently popular on television. Are its characters unmanly because they are outlaws? What about Tony from The Sopranos or Al Swearengen from Deadwood?

Was Darth Vader a pussy?

Gangsters are status conscious, aggressive, tactically-oriented, ballsy, brother-bonded men’s men. They are not good men, but they are good at being men.

Despite the moral posturing, men are attracted to these characters precisely because they are manly. Bad guys tend to operate in brutal, indelicate, and unmoderated boys’ clubs, and they seem to be particularly concerned with the business of being a man. Gangsters are status conscious, aggressive, tactically-oriented, ballsy, brother-bonded men’s men. The loner hitmen are portrayed as capable but careful smooth operators who are masters of their dangerous craft. They are not good men, but they are good at doing the kinds of things that have been demanded of men throughout human history. They are not good men, but they are good at being men.

Before film, men and boys were thrilled by tales of outlaws, pirates, highwaymen, and thieves. Whether these stories were romanticized or spun as cautionary tales, they captured the male imagination with adventurous accounts of daring and mischievous virility.

In Shakespeare’s The Life of Henry the Fifth, the King promised his enemies that unless they surrendered, his men would rape their shrieking daughters, dash the heads of their old men, and impale their naked babies on pikes. Today, if a military leader made a promise so indelicate, he would be fired and publicly denounced as an evil, broken psychopath. I can’t call Henry an unmanly character with a straight face.

Consider also the case of the prisoner. Do you truly believe that men who negotiate a violent, all male world every day are less manly than a nice guy who works 9 to 5 in a cubicle farm and spends his free time doing whatever his wife tells him to do?

What about suicide bombers? I’d say that hijacking a plane with a box knife and flying it into a building takes balls of steel. I don’t have to like it, but if I’m being honest with myself, I can’t call those guys unmanly. Enemies of my tribe, yes. Unmanly, no. Remember that there are hundreds of thousands of men and boys who regard suicide bombers as brave, martyred heroes who took substantial risks and made the ultimate sacrifice for a cause. We think of them as evil and flatter ourselves by calling them cowardly because they aren’t on our team, because they don’t share all of our values, and because they endanger our collective interests.

We want our external enemies to be defective and unsympathetic. Many have written about our tendency to dehumanize our foes. Emasculating them is another aspect of that—it adds insult to injury. We also want to puff ourselves up and psych them out. It’s good strategy. Insulting a man’s honor—his masculine identity—is a good way to test him. It’s a good way to get his blood up. It’s a good way to pick a fight.

We want our villains within to be equally unsympathetic. Portraying bad men as unmanly men is a good way to dissuade young men from behaving badly. Making your own cultural heroes seem bigger than life men elevates group pride and morale. It makes sense to want your young men to emulate men who champion your people’s values, and young men especially tend to choose the stronger horse.

Cultures have wrestled with the idea of what it means to be a good man for thousands of years. Waller R. Newell, a professor of political science and philosophy, collected a broad range of thinking on the topic for his book What is a Man? 3,000 Years of Wisdom on the Art of Manly Virtue. Newell criticized those who came of age in the 1960s for establishing a cultural orthodoxy prone to believing that “nothing just, good, or true” had happened before their time, and for causing the “disappearance of the positive tradition of manliness through relentless simplification and caricature.” [2] He showed what he referred to as an “unbroken pedigree in the Western conception of what it means to be a man,” which he defined as “honor tempered by prudence, ambition tempered by compassion for the suffering and the oppressed, love restrained by delicacy and honor toward the beloved.” [3] His sourcebook was filled with selections from Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Francis Bacon, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, and many others.

There is a movement to reclaim this idea of virtuous manhood—to show young men how to be good and manly men. In 2009, venture capitalist Tom Matlack started a “four-pronged effort to foster a discussion about manhood,” called The Good Men Project. The Good Men Project currently exists as a foundation, an online magazine, a documentary film, and a book. The book is filled with stories of men who are struggling to be good men in the 21st Century, and trying to figure out what that means.

The Art of Manliness website was founded by Brett McKay and his wife Kate in 2008, and boasts some 90,000 subscribers. [4] The McKays have published two books offering their take on the subject of manliness: The Art of Manliness—Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man, and The Art of Manliness—Manvotionals: Timeless Wisdom and Advice on Living the 7 Manly Virtues. The site itself reveres good, manly historical figures like “Rough Rider” Theodore Roosevelt, and it has a nostalgic feel to it. It’s a bit like a Boy Scout handbook for adult males, offering advice and “how to” articles to help out men who are trying to be good protectors, providers, husbands, and fathers. An Art of Manliness workout isn’t just a workout; it becomes “hero training.”

I asked Brett McKay about what he thought the difference was between being a good man and being good at being a man. He said that being good at being a man means, “being proficient in your ability to earn and keep your culture’s idea of manhood.” He elaborated, noting that while there were cross-cultural similarities, “Being good at being a man for the Kalahari bushman means being able to be persistent and hunt successfully. Being good at being a man for a man living in suburban Ohio probably means holding a job down to support a family, being able to fix things around the house, or if he’s single, being adept at interacting with women.” McKay told me he thought being a good man was simpler.

He wrote: “developing virtues like honesty, resilience, courage, compassion, discipline, justice, temperance, etc. A man can be a very virtuous and upright man, but be horrible at “being good at being a man.” Maybe he can’t hunt or he’s terrible around women or can’t use a hammer to save his life. It’s also possible to have a man who’s good at being a man, but isn’t a good man. You can be the best hunter or mechanic in the world, but if you lie, cheat, steal, you’re not a good man.” [5]

McKay seemed to say that being good at being a man is like fulfilling a job description, defined by what your culture needs (or wants) men to do, and being a good man has more to do with the kind of moral virtues that Newell advocated.

A man can fail at the job of being a man, but still be a good person. I use person here, because these moral values are fairly gender neutral. Perhaps, along these lines of thinking, being a good man is a matter of balancing the cultural demands of manhood with a private commitment to moral uprightness.

McKay’s positive prescription for manliness is a welcome change from mainstream “men’s magazines,” which are more interested in creating sociopathic metrosexual super-consumers than writing positively about manhood. I’d agree with McKay that being good at being a man is rather like a job description, and that the description changes a great deal from culture to culture.

However, stopping there plays into the hands of those who say that being a man can mean anything anyone wants it to mean. Is manliness so flexible a concept that a community can re-write the job description however they wish? Not if we accept any model of human nature that acknowledges differences between male and female psychology. Over the past few decades, Americans have transitioned to a service economy and educators treated boys like naughty girls with attitude problems. Males have become less interested in educational achievement, less engaged in political life, less concerned about careers, and more interested in forms of entertainment that feature vicarious gang drama—like video games and spectator sports. [6]

Further, if the “job description” of being a man is written in such a way that the qualities which make a good man are basically identical to the qualities that make a good woman, then those qualities are more about being a good person than anything else. It is good to be honest, just, and kind, but these virtues don’t have much specifically to do with being a man. Manliness can’t merely be synonymous with “good behavior.”

I was raised by a decent family in rural Pennsylvania. I went to Sunday school. I was taught to be polite and respectful to others. I over-tip even when I get crappy service in restaurants, I hold doors for little old ladies, and I’m honest to a fault. When I treat people poorly, I feel bad about it—unless they really had it coming. Like many men, I rebelled against my parent’s values when I was younger. However, perhaps like Brett McKay or Tom Matlack, when I later began thinking seriously about masculinity and what it meant, the following phrase kept popping into my head: “I can’t think of anything better to be than a good man.”

I can’t think of anything better to be than a good man. I still can’t.

I still can’t. My first attempts to describe the value of traditional masculinity in print were laced with the kind of homespun morality I grew up with.

I respect men who try their damnedest to be good men—even when I don’t agree with them concerning every little detail about what that means. A lot of men choose careers in law enforcement, firefighting, teaching, or even the military because they truly want to be good men. Wars, laws, and policies aren’t always just, but I have to tip my hat to the men who rescue civilians and pull kids out of burning buildings. Only broken hysterics refer to all soldiers and cops as “cannon fodder” or “pigs” or “tools.”

However, unless self-sacrifice and restraint are to be masculinity’s defining qualities—unless masculinity is to be an ascetic discipline and nothing more—there is a point somewhere down a road of diminishing returns that being a good man is no longer a good trade. There’s a point where a man who wants to “feel useful” ends up “feeling used.” When the system no longer offers men what they want, how long can you expect them to perform tricks for a pat on the head? How long until the neglected, starving dog turns on its master?

I agree with Newell that there is a long, proud tradition of moral masculinity in the West, and from what I can gather, there are comparable traditions in the East. Muslim men pray five times a day because they, too, want to be good men in their own way.

However, Newell’s pitch itself contains a built-in duality: honor tempered by prudence, ambition tempered by compassion for the suffering and the oppressed, love restrained by delicacy—and so forth. Civilized religious and secular attempts to show men how to be good men all seem to include these kinds of checks and balances. These “good man” codes tell men to be manly—but not too manly. They advocate restraint. Restraint of what? It seems as though in one hand we have morality and in the other we have something else—a kind of maleness that must be guarded against.

If we allow the moralizers of masculinity to define masculinity for us, we either give ourselves over to the “one true code of masculinity” and become completely ethnocentric about it—which would be the historical norm—or we end up with an endless number of “masculinities,” get bogged down in the details of their myriad contradictions and declare, as one famous transgendered sociologist has, “that masculinity is not a coherent object about which a generalizing science can be produced.” [7] It is true that if a word or concept can mean anything, it means nothing. Raewyn “Bob” Connell wrote that “claims about a universal basis of masculinity tell us more about the ethos of the claimant than anything else.” [8] Connell was a feminist pacifist who advocated the de-gendering of society, as well as a man who wanted to be a woman. He eventually de-gendered himself. His claims about the non-existence of a universal basis of masculinity also revealed his own ethos.

All men and women have emotional and material interests when it comes to how masculinity is constructed or deconstructed. True objectivity on this subject is a more or less successful pose. We all have a horse in the race.

For whatever it is worth, scientific evidence for biological differences between the sexes and cross-cultural commonalities between men has continued to build since Connell published Masculinities in 1995, and it is not difficult to find repeated themes in the “hegemonic masculinities” of cultures across the world and throughout history. It is far more difficult to find “masculinities” that have nothing in common. Technologies and customs vary, but the similarities between cultural ideas of manhood offer more in the way of explaining what it means to be good at being a man than the ephemeral differences. What they have in common has more to do with the gang—with hunting and fighting, with drawing and defending the boundary between us and them—than it has to do with any culturally specific moral or ethical system.

It’s dishonest to pretend that men who don’t meet a given set of moral standards are unmanly men. Men may say that immoral men are not real men, but their behavior—including the public admiration for the virility of roguish and criminal types—shows that they don’t quite believe this.

To truly understand The Way of Men, we must look for where the masculinity of the gangster overlaps with the masculinity of the chivalrous knight, where modern ideas overlap with ancient ones. We must look at the phenomenon of masculinity amorally and as dispassionately as we can. We must find what Man knows for certain, concerning his vital relations to this mysterious Universe. The “religion” of Man is not a moral code, though a man may follow his own code to his death. A man struggles to maintain his honor—his reputation as a man—because some part of him is struggling to earn and maintain a position of value, his status and his sense of belonging within the primal gang. Men want to be good men because good men are well regarded, but being a good man isn’t the same as being good at being a man.

Men want to be good men because good men are well regarded, but being a good man isn’t the same as being good at being a man.

There is a difference between being a good man and being good at being a man.

Being a good man has to do with ideas about morality, ethics, religion, and behaving productively within a given civilizational structure. Being a good man may or may not have anything at all to do with the natural role of men in a survival scenario. It is possible to be a good man without being particularly good at being a man. This is an area where men who were good at being men have sought counsel from priests, philosophers, shamans, writers, and historians. The productive synergy between these kinds of men is sadly lost when men of words and ideas pit themselves against men of action, or vice versa. Men of ideas and men of action have much to learn from each other, and the truly great are men of both action and abstraction.

Being good at being a man is about being willing and able to fulfill the natural role of men in a survival scenario. Being good at being a man is about showing other men that you are the kind of guy they’d want on their team if the shit hits the fan. Being good at being a man isn’t a quest for moral perfection, it’s about fighting to survive. Good men admire or respect bad men when they demonstrate strength, courage, mastery or a commitment to the men of their own renegade tribes. A concern with being good at being a man is what good guys and bad guys have in common.

♦◊♦
Given enough time, every gang will create some sort of moral code or system of rules to govern its members. Men want to believe they are in the right, and they distinguish themselves by cobbling together some idea of what it means to be right. In early mafia culture, honour meant loyalty “more important than blood ties.” Mobsters swore not to make money from prostitution or sleep with each other’s wives. [9] They were expected to be family men and were discouraged from womanizing. If the quote “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man,” seemed familiar, that’s because it was from The Godfather.

Yakuza gangs modeled themselves after samurai, and increased their social standing within the larger community by showing generosity and compassion toward the weak and disadvantaged. [10]

One Mexican gang, known as La Familia Michoacana recently preached “family values,” passed out their own version of the Bible and used some of their profits to help the poor. [11] The leaders of La Familia are known to have been influenced by the “macho Christian writing of contemporary American author John Eldredge.” [12]

In dire times, men who are not good at being men won’t last long enough to worry about being good men. Strength makes all other values possible. As Han said in Enter the Dragon: “Who knows what delicate wonders have died out of the world, for want of the strength to survive?”

Men who have accomplished the first job of being men—men who have made survival possible—can and do often concern themselves with being good men. As the bloody boundary between threat and safety moves outward, men have the time and the luxury to cultivate civilized, “higher” virtues.

Gangs of men with separate identities and interests of their own are always a threat to established interests. To protect the interests of those who run our civilized, highly regulated world, men and women are mixed to discourage gang formation. Feminists, pacifists, and members of the privileged classes recognize that brother-bonded men who are good at being men will always be a threat, but forget that some of those men are necessary to create and maintain order in the first place. There is a call to do away with what even the United Nations has deemed “outmoded stereotypes” of masculinity that are associated with violence. [13] “Outmoded” is a word you’ll see frequently in academic writing about masculinity. So-called experts talk about manhood like it was last year’s fad, in part because they subscribe to convenient but discredited blank slate theories about gender being “as lightly linked to sex as are the clothing, the manners, and the form of head-dress that a society at a given period assigns to either sex.” [14]

Both men and women have attempted to refashion men to suit their dream of a perfect world. No matter what creed they profess, whether they want to make “Democratic Men” or “Fierce Gentlemen” or “Inner Warriors,” they can’t seem to escape the gravitational pull of some basic ideas about the underlying religion of men. [15] To appeal to men, they speak of strength and courage. The moralizers and reimaginers of masculinity play on a man’s primal concern with his status within the male group, concern for his reputation, his distaste for being seen as weak, fearful, or inept—they appeal to his sense of honor. Their moralized and reimagined interpretations of strength and courage are simply tamed and pacified versions of the old gang virtues, suited to civilized life in a time of peace, plenty, and the sharing of political and economic power with women.

To protect and serve their own interests, the wealthy and privileged have used feminists and pacifists to promote a masculinity that has nothing to do with being good at being a man, and everything to do with being what they consider a “good man.” Their version of a good man is isolated from his peers, emotional, effectively impotent, easy to manage, and tactically inept.

A man who is more concerned with being a good man than being good at being a man makes a very well-behaved slave.

There has always been a push and pull between civilized virtues and tactical gang virtues. However, the kind of masculinity acceptable to civilized societies is in many cases related to survival band masculinity. Civilized masculinity requires male gang dramas to become increasingly controlled, vicarious, and metaphorical. Human societies start with the gang, and then grow into nations with sports and a climate of political, artistic, and ideological competition. Eventually—as we see today—average men end up with economic competition and a handful of masturbatory outlets for their caged manhood. When a civilization fails, gangs of young men are there to scavenge its ruins, mark new perimeters, and restart the world.

End notes:

  1. The author’s favorite (Godfathers I & II exempted), is a British gangster flick: The Long Good Friday (1980) [return to article]
  2. Newell, Waller R., ed. What is a Man? 3,000 Years of Wisdom on the Art of Manly Virtue. ReganBooks/HarperCollins, 2000. Print. [return to article]
  3. Ibid. XVIII. [return to article]
  4. “About Us.” The Art of Manliness. Ed. Brett McKay. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 June 2011. http://artofmanliness.com/about-2 [return to article]
  5. McKay, Brett. Message to the author. 30 June 2011. E-mail. [return to article]
  6. For more on this, read my short book No Man’s Land, available online at: http://www.jack-donovan.com/axis/no-mans-land/ [return to article]
  7. Connell, Robert William. Masculinities. University of California Press, 1995. 67-86. Print. [return to article]
  8. Ibid. 69. [return to article]
  9. Dickie, John. Cosa Nostra : A History of the Sicilian Mafia. 2004. 31. Palgrave McMillan, 2005. Print. [return to article]
  10. Kaplan, David E., and Alec Dubro. Yakuza : Japan’s Criminal Underworld. University of California Press, 2003. 17. Print. [return to article]
  11. Isikoff, Michael. “Feds Crack Down on ‘Robin Hood’ Drug Cartel.” The Daily Beast (Newsweek). N.p., 22 Oct. 2009. Web. 4 Oct. 2011. http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/blogs/declassified/2009/10/22/feds-crack-down-on-robin-hood-drug-cartel.html [return to article]
  12. Gibbs, Stephen. “’Family values’ of Mexico drug gang.” BBC News. BBC, 22 Oct. 2009. Web. 4 Oct. 2011. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8319924.stm [return to article]
  13. “Message of the Secretary-General for 2011.” International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women 25 November. Ed. Ban Ki-moon. The United Nations, 25 Nov. 2011. Web. 9 Jan. 2012. http://www.un.org/en/events/endviolenceday/sgmessages.shtml [return to article]
  14. Margaret, Mead. Sex and Temperament: In Three Primitive Societies. 1935. Harper Perennial, 2001. 262. Print. [return to article]
  15. For more on “Reimagining Masculinity,” see No Man’s Land, available online at: http://www.jack-donovan.com/axis/no-mans-land/ [return to article]

 

Read more about The Way of Men in “Defining Masculinity,” and an interview with book author Jack Donovan.

—Photo credit: Sam Howzit,  biblevector/Flickr

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About Jack Donovan

Jack Donovan honors the old laws, and hopes he lives to see the new barbarians fight each other to the death over the collapsed and smoldering ruins of your favorite shopping mall. He writes about manliness and tribalism for many sites, including his own at  http://www.jack-donovan.com/. Donovan is the author of The Way of MenNo Man's Land, and Androphilia, and co-authored Blood-Brotherhood and Other Rites of Male Alliance with Nathan F. Miller. He lives just outside Portland, Oregon with a shotgun and his loyal compadre.

Comments

  1. Reminds me of a much more robust version of Allan Bloom’s critique in The Closing of the American Mind, where he points out the difference between traditional and modern moral education for men. Traditionally, masculine passions were accepted as natural and good; virtue –which, of course, is rooted in the Latin word for man, vir– was a shaping and moderating of natural masculinity. Manhood was not overcome or erased, but seasoned and matured. You have to become a man before you can become a good man. A huge difference from the contemporary scene, so vitiated by rationalism and feminism, where masculinity is seen as a fundamental problem, even as the basic pathology of the human race. Modern “virtue” is really a kind of gelding, anti-masculine, trying to make men into females with dicks.

    Unless a society or religion or culture accept the bedrock realities, it will damage or destroy men as it aims for some utopian “higher” order. And in the end, it will fail.

    • You and Jack both treat this as more of an all-or-nothing proposition than I think it has to be. I see nothing wrong with teaching the tribal virtues – the tribe being all humanity, not just men, real men, or good men – while warning against the vices of groupthink, and without demonizing feminism. (Or rationalism. Who the hell wants irrationalism?)

  2. “Was Darth Vader a pussy?”

    How interesting … We insult some men by describing them in terms of female body parts. Being a married man with two daughters (both of whom I’m extremely proud), I can see why some women would take offense.

    Here we go again, defining masculinity. Those who would be categorized as “real men” must fit a particular rigid stereotype. Almost always in terms of machismo, despite the fact that some of the most courageous men don’t happen to fall into the approved category. Would Esquire Magazine, for example, ever have an article extolling the great courage of a nonmacho man such as Andrei Sakharov or Raoul Wallenberg? Of course, not. Because such men don’t confirm to the stereotype they approve. Sakharov and Wallenberg weren’t sexy. Esquire is not interested in what those men stood for, and is not inclined to honor them. They’re more likely celebrate a man who, in the course of his life, managed to have sex with a lot of women.

    Many of the worst enemies of men — and boys, for that matter — are other men. Boys who aren’t inclined to embrace machismo are likely to be categorized as being “feminized” without justification and have their spirits crushed.

    The fact of the matter is there is more diversity among men than many would be willing to admit. Mindless stereotypes are frequently ignored by boys and men who find their own way to achieve their masculinty. Since we comprise roughly half the human race, it would seem that diversity would be expected as being unavoidable.

  3. Well, Jack, I just took a look at your website. I just spent a few minutes there, but I think I saw enough. You sound just like another advocate of machismo. I would agree with you that there ARE differences between men and women, aside from the obvious physical differences; but machismo, as it views boys and men, frequently makes assumptions about individuals that prove to be wrong.

    A disclaimer for the record: I don’t exactly qualify for the label “feminist.” I happen to view an abortion as the killing of a child, and I’m adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage (which fact alone should offend a lot of the posters here).

    At your website I noticed your denigration of the “sensitive, bookish outcast” and the “outcast, omega or low status male.” I’m wondering if you regarded the “bookish” Dr. Sakharov as an outcast. Well, in the eyes of the Soviet KGB, he most certainly was! Wallenberg was one of the greatest heroes of World War II. Ironically, he wasn’t even a soldier (which observation is NOT meant to be taken as a slight at the men who have heroically served our country on the fields of battle). He used nonviolent means to save the lives of at least 10,000 Jews — all the while putting his own life on the line, surviving several assassination attempts. Photos of the man reveal him to have been slightly built. He even looks mild-mannered, yet he personally faced down German Nazi S.S. and Hungarian Arrow Cross thugs. According to his half-sister, he “detested competitive team sports.” So, in your view, was Wallenberg one of your “low status” males? Was he a pussy because he didn’t match your opinion of what it takes to be a “real man”?

    Getting a lot closer to home, consider the civil rights movement that fought Jim Crow. Were many of your macho guys involved in the civil rights movement, or were many of the men in that movement likely to be sensitive “feminized” males? (By the way, your hero John Wayne was a racist bigot who never fought in a war.)

    Finally, what about rugged athletic guys such as Brian Sims and Esera Tuaolo who happen to be homosexuals? I wonder how they figure in your view of men.

    (Another disclaimer: I’ve been pumping iron at a health club for several years. I just don’t go around judging some men as “effeminate” simply because they’re not strong physically.)

  4. Jack Donovan says:

    Bill, so far everything you have written has been about you, not about me or anything I have actually written. It’s a running list of things you want to say to men who you want to dismiss quickly as advocates of “machismo.”

    Your last question suggests you didn’t spend very long on my web site at all. If you are missing obvious details and asking foolish questions, what else are you trying really hard not to see? How good is your perception and your understanding of what you are lashing out about.

    You’re stereotyping and offering a canned response, based on emotion and prejudice.

    We disagree. Profoundly. But you’d come off smarter if you took the time to figure out exactly how and why.

    • I’m not denying I didn’t stay very long at your website. I specifically said that. I keyed in on the expressions you seem to have used in a derogatory way — “sensitive, bookish outcast” and “outcast, omega or low status male” — which, in fact, are based upon negative stereotypes themselves. I guess there’s the possibility I could have missed the context, but I’m afraid I was not mistaken.

      I’ve heard it all before for many years. I was reminded of Professor Patricia Cayo Sexton’s book The Feminized Male published decades ago. She denigrated nonathletic boys as supposedly being “feminized” and claimed they were a potential threat to society. She was being hateful to kids, mind you. When I read her diatribe, my first thought was “Now I know how a Jew or a black person feels who examines racist hate literature.” For example, she claimed the assassins of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and Senator Robert Kennedy in 1968 were “feminized males,” as if no other factor played a role in their criminal conduct. She specifically railed against bookish men. Several decades later she would denounce scientists (a word-for-word quotation here): “Beware of scientists. They’re pencil-necked geeks.” (I’d think anyone in academia who would denounce scientists, of all people, as “pencil-necked geeks” would have to be a fool. I wonder why she ever became a professor in the first place.) These sentiments are part of machismo.

      I mentioned several facts about myself so no one would assume that I had been influenced by feminists to dislike machismo. Feminists didn’t need to say anything to me. I encountered the mindset as I was growing up, long before the current feminist movement appeared on the scene.

      You say that I’m stereotyping when I speak of machismo. Well, I grew up with negative stereotyping. I know all about it. Personal experiences can be quite relevant in making a point For the sake of brevity, though I shall not go into detail, except to say that machismo is full of prejudice.

      Machismo itself stereotypes to the extreme. For example, if a boy has no interest in sports, he’s a sissy or gay, according to machismo. And I dare say that machismo has little appreciation for moral courage — hence, the lack of appreciation for a Sakharov or a Wallenberg or one of the civil rights pioneers. After all, someone like Joe Namath is sexier and is therefore more deserving of admiration.

      I still stand by the questions I raised, which I believe illustrate the shortcomings and absurdities of machismo. Even if they’re not applicable to you (which I’ll admit is a possibility), they do apply to many others (such as Professor Sexton) in their rigidly stereotypical views as to what supposedly constitutes manliness or manhood, whatever you want to call it.

      I appreciate your civility. Thank you. An online forum such as this one is not always the best place to discuss ideas, which cannot be adequately expressed in only one or two sentences. I could be wrong, but I believe there’s even more of a possibility of misunderstanding than there is in real life. Perhaps in real life we wouldn’t disagree over much.

      • Jack Donovan says:

        What you’re saying is that you have made up your mind about a cluster of ideas that you refer to as “machismo” (which is about as subjective as you want “masculinity”) to be, and you’re responding to my work as if it were the straw man for which you have already prepared a basket full of torches.

        Most of your arguments were summarized in the 1976 book “The Forty-Nine Percent Majority,” written primarily by profeminist males of what appears to be your era, and I have responded to those arguments at some length to these arguments here:

        http://www.jack-donovan.com/axis/no-mans-land/iii-misrepresenting-masculinity/

        Whether you call yourself a feminist or not is immaterial if you are making the same arguments for the same general reasons.

        If you want to discuss anything specific about the post above, I may be able to spare a few moments. However, it’s not really much use to me or to those reading along for me to field comments about your perception of “machismo,” which is, in its own way — like hypermasculinity — implicitly a derogatory term.

        • Interestingly enough, the link you posted contains the very same derogatory expressions of yours that I quoted above. Apparently, you subscribe to Professor Sexton’s view that bookish, nonathletic males are deserving of utter contempt, regardless of their own strengths. Yet I have blown your view of such men out of the water by citing the examples of Sakharov and Wallenberg. Oh, but the extremely courageous Wallenberg (who saved the lives of thousands of people who couldn’t save themselves) really wasn’t manly because he didn’t like sports?

          As far as my own personal views are concerned, they are based upon my own personal experiences (some of which are quite bitter), not upon the writings of feminists. I’ve never read a single book by a feminist, nor have I ever had any desire to do so. (Well, I guess I should point out that Sexton herself has claimed to be a feminist, for whatever that’s worth.) I repeat, I’ve based my views upon my own personal experiences, not the declarations of NOW. Also, since I’m a Christian, I believe that homosexuality is a sin. So, I don’t exactly conveniently fit into your formula. You have chosen to completely ignore these statements of mine so you can construct a straw man out of me so you can burn me. Well, it won’t work. You’re barking up the wrong tree.

          I wonder how you feel about the issue of school bullying. Oh, my, I’m not sure I’d like to know … You probably defend it as “a rite of passage” or “boys will be boys” or “it’s just part of life.” You probably have a social Darwinist contempt for bullied kids, and you probably consider nerds to be effeminate wimps.

          When I was about fifteen years old, an incompetent psychologist sent me to a dojo to take judo lessons from an instructor who had formerly played football and subscribed to machismo completely. I always felt like an outsider in his judo classes. While taking no real interest in me, he patronized me. (The truth was he couldn’t have cared less if I lived or died. All I ever was to him was another source of money. He truly was the coldest man I’ve ever known, a perfect example of what machismo can produce.) He promoted me to brown belt, a promotion I clearly did not deserve. I didn’t even have to take any kind of test for this “promotion.” After three years of this nonsense, I quit — expecting to hear from him objecting to my decision, but receiving none.

          Eight years later I paid him a visit. He said, “Bill, I saved you from homosexuality.” The supreme insult! Strange, but I thought you could save someone from something only if it was about to be forced upon him against his will. The truth is I never had any homosexual tendencies; and even though I was physically weak at that time in my life, I didn’t have any effeminate mannerisms, either. You see, he had stereotyped me from the very first day. Since I was a slightly built boy who had no self-confidence and no interest in sports, I just had to be a sissy; right? And you talk about me stereotyping! It is to laugh. On another occasion around this time he said only athletes and men in certain blue-collar professions were “real men”; and, amazingly, he even disparaged Dr. Sakharov, who had more courage and compassion in his little finger than he did in his entire misshapen body (beer belly). Sounds to me like this judo instructor is your kind of man, a fine example of a “real man.”

          The John Wayne you defend was an actor, just a symbol. Acting is not real life. The fact is, in real life John Wayne was a racist bigot who never fought in a single war. Feminism has nothing to do with it.

          Just as Jews recognize anti-Semites for what they are and people of any race recognize racists for what they are, even though I’m traditionally masculine in many ways, I recognize those who would try to demean me as a man according to their own phony standards of masculinity are not to be counted upon as friends.

          • Jack Donovan says:

            I was born in 1974. John Wayne died in 1979. Why are you talking about him? I’m not. In all my years of writing I can’t recall ever using him as an example of anything. John Wayne didn’t write the Iliad, or the Tain, or the Hagakure, or the Epic of Gilgamesh. John Wayne didn’t invent masculinity. You’re right. He was just an actor. And he’s basically irrelevant to the discussion of masculinity in 2012 except as a historical footnote.

            Why do you feel the need to spit on the grave of a man who has been dead for 30 years, and offer it as some kind of proof that all masculinity is evil or fraudulent? Again, this seems to have more to do with your personal emotional wounds than anything.

            Isn’t it about time you stopped being angry about things that happened to you as a youth?

            Every man has had another man make him feel undervalued. Myself included.

            Why do we have to reimagine masculinity so that no one ever feels undervalued? Is that even possible?

            If everyone wins, then no one really wins at all.

  5. I love any essay that is willing to quote Han from “Enter the Dragon” (one of my favorite movies ever). Your final sentence, “When a civilization fails, gangs of young men are there to scavenge its ruins, mark new perimeters, and restart the world” reminds me of a quote by Robert E. Howard in one of his Conan stories: “If that’s true, then answer this priest, why are we in these pits, hiding from some animal?” Conan asked “Someday, when all your civilization and science are likewise swept away, your kind will pray for a man with a sword.”

    • Jack Donovan says:

      Thanks. I’m didn’t take it from Howard, but I am a fan of his work. And if you like that quote about the sword, you’d probably enjoy the book.

  6. severian says:

    “This is an area where men who were good at being men have sought counsel from priests, philosophers, shamans, writers, and historians. The productive synergy between these kinds of men is sadly lost when men of words and ideas pit themselves against men of action, or vice versa. Men of ideas and men of action have much to learn from each other, and the truly great are men of both action and abstraction.”

    I really like that you brought up this notion of synergy between men of different, but complementary skills. Masculinity may refer to a set of physical traits, an ideology, and a moral code, but it’s also a skill, and it’s nearly impossible for most people to master more than one skill. Obviously, it would be ideal if a society could generate scores of men who were both physically and mentally brilliant, but it usually requires the entirety of someone’s productive years directed with narrow focus on a single skill or a small set of closely related skills to develop mastery, and even then only when that focus is on an ability that someone already has a propensity for.

    My question is since masculinity typically refers to statistically male abilities that meet the mechanical needs of a society, what would the benefit be to society to try to develop traditionally masculine traits in a man who is physically frail, but mentally brilliant (I realize there are mental abilities that are traditionally masculine, but they’re not the one I’m referring to) if that man’s intellectual abilities would be of greater value than any physical power, bravery, or cunning he could develop? And if a man develops a mental skill that is male dominated but not related to personal power, is that a type of masculinity?

    • Jack Donovan says:

      Good question.

      Here’s the thing. There are plenty of smart women. Unless you want to make the argument that men are overwhelmingly smarter than women in the same way that they are overwhelmingly stronger, more aggressive, less risk-averse, etc., then intelligence isn’t going to be a major part of what we recognize naturally as masculinity.

      There does seem to be such a thing as a masculine brain, and exceptionally nerdy guys may indeed have exceptionally masculine brains, but I think there’s a difference between what we instinctively recognize as manliness and what we would sometimes like manliness to be.

      My project in The Way of Men was to identify what men everywhere recognize specifically and viscerally as masculinity — being good at being a man. I am reasonably intelligent and articulate, but there are men who are manlier than I am. It’s just a fact of life. Men want to be well thought-of by other men so powerfully and emotionally that they tend to try to redefine manliness in their own images to make themselves feel better. It’s common, but it’s a bit self-deceiving. I think it’s better to be honest about what manliness is, and self-assured enough to understand where you are in that particular hierarchy.

      Being smart and being manly are not and never really have been mutually exclusive. It’s kind of a teen movie cliche, and a way that young tough guys pick on other guys. Look up the number of guys in Special Forces with advanced degrees. I know two competitive powerlifters, some of the pound-per-pound strongest men on the planet in their age groups, who run companies and are highly intelligent.

      Why would it not bet better to be smart AND as manly as you can be?

      As I see it, only men who repudiate the idea of masculinity are not “real men.” And that’s their choice more than mine. If you hate the idea of masculinity, you can’t rationally be offended when men say you are not like them. I’m not selling how to become a “real man.” I’m saying, “this is what I think manliness is.” And it is better and more satisfying, I think, to push ourselves to be manlier men. We can’t all be the top dogs in every way, but being strong is better than being weak. And redefining strength to call yourself strong is a cop out. Strength is what it is.

      In the book, I go into what I think the basic “tactical” manly virtues are. In the section on Mastery, in particular, I make the point that men who have other talents bring their skills to the table. Nerds probably invented the first catapults, and their manlier pals were probably glad to have them around.

      • I don’t believe in manliness as hierarchy. That’s something that’s socialized into us. What it is to me, among other things, is the courage of one’s convictions and a certain embodiment in the physical world. None of that is about being top dog, or even wanting to be. Sure, it’s natural to want to rate ourselves, but it creates as much suffering and hate as it does good.

        I don’t hate the idea of masculinity. But that doesn’t mean I want it defined on some sort of collective instinctual basis. We’ve come too far as a civilization to throw things back on collective instinct. Yes, the tribe’s call is powerful and makes us feel alive. It can also eat us alive.

        I don’t trust statements like “strength is what it is.” They tend to short circuit discussion. You may think discussion is deadly in times of threat, and you’re probably right about that, but defining anything as “what it is” is reductive and ultimately self-serving. You ask us to accept enough old commonplaces already.

        • Jack Donovan says:

          “I don’t believe in manliness as hierarchy. That’s something that’s socialized into us. ”

          By whom, from where, and why in the mainstreams of most cultures throughout human history? Get 5 average guys in a room and they will figure out an informal hierarchy. The idea that it’s socialized into us is, frankly, socialized into us. It’s been the academic orthodoxy for decades, and is constantly repeated by ideologically driven “experts” in the media.

          “Sure, it’s natural to want to rate ourselves, but it creates as much suffering and hate as it does good.”

          What it creates has nothing to do with human nature or the “why?” That’s a belief statement how you would like things to be, not how they are. Believing up a new version of human nature is a game that humans lose all the time, because belief and evolution aren’t the same thing.

          “We’ve come too far as a civilization to throw things back on collective instinct. Yes, the tribe’s call is powerful and makes us feel alive. It can also eat us alive.”

          It can, it will, and it does. That’s the way of things. If you think we’re all going to hold hands and sing Kumbaya in 50 years…I’ll take that bet.

          And progress, in terms of how far we’ve come, is also somewhat subjective. The book asks the Conan question: “What is best in life?” I don’t know that, based on their answers, everyone –especially men– likes the version of the future our handlers have in mind for us.

          “I don’t trust statements like “strength is what it is.” They tend to short circuit discussion.”

          Is that the reason, or is it because you don’t like the answer, because the answer sets up a hierarchy with winners and losers? Humans aren’t equally gifted. We aren’t all equally smart or tall or strong or fast. Celebrate “diversity.”

          • Not only must we have hierarchy because all people aren’t just the same, but we have to brand the outliers losers, too. Sometimes it seems we’re more obsessed with making and branding losers than we are with winning. But hey – I guess it is what it is what it is.

            • You couldn’t be more wrong. If anything, our culture has become overly obsessed with artificially propping up “self esteem” of and mollycoddlling failures. If you have any doubt that this is a counterproductive phenomen, you should look at the effect its having on boys in school. The promise of “everyone gets a trophy” neither excites nor engages. Men (jocks and nerds alike) thrive on competition and, yes, hiearchy.

            • OTOH, maybe you’re just too far over on the other side. No one in everybody-gets-a-trophy discussions (which are about half myth-based to start with) talks about healthy vs unhealthy competition. In fact, no one interrogates the idea of competition at all. (Oh dang, I forgot – it’s our nature, so it’s harmful and freedom-hating to question it.)

              Are you closet social darwinists? Why not nut up and admit it?

            • Why are you so angry?

            • Seeing people invest so much thought, speech and reasoning in the service of reductive trope-like ideas kinda pisses me off. I’m just like that, I suppose.

            • Jack Donovan says:

              If you’re accusing me of *hiding* far right wing views, you’re just being lazy.

              No one actually self identifies as a Social Darwinist, because Social Darwinism is a straw man of the left, referring to a set of beliefs — some reasonable and some wrong — that many Americans had before “ze Nazis” made discussion of certain ideas taboo.

              From Wikipedia, which is accurate in this instance:

              “The name social Darwinism is a modern name given to the various theories of society that emerged in England and the United States in the 1870s, which, it is alleged, sought to apply biological concepts to sociology and politics.[1][2] The term social Darwinism gained widespread currency when used in 1944 to oppose these earlier concepts.”

          • Jack, you’re a genius

        • Jack seems to define masculinity solely in terms of physical strength. The example of a Sakharov or a Wallenberg doesn’t seem to impress him. That is because they don’t fit into his simple formula of athlete = good man, nonathlete = inferior wimp. He’s not willing to admit that men have different strengths and weaknesses. If a man (or a boy) doesn’t meet his own personal standards of “manliness,” he is to be discarded, if not destroyed. If a man (or a boy) does meet his standards of “manliness” but has dishonorable traits or oppresses others, it really doesn’t matter to him. “Masculinity” trumps all. The mindset of a bully. Doesn’t sound like Good Men Project material to me.

          • He’s an essentialist. Maybe not a biological one, but a societal one, which is kind of a new tack to me.

          • Implicit in Jack’s comments regarding hierarchies is a defense of bullying. Morality be damned! We’re just a bunch of animals! (Actually, as history shows, at times we act worse than animals.) What’s next on the agenda? Rape and bullying are in the genes? (as some actually believe!)

            • Jack Donovan says:

              While your John Wayne references are extremely dated, your focus on bullying on the ultimate evil is a bit trendy, isn’t it?

              Boys traditionally, have always picked on each other, and sorted out their own hierarchies. They’d probably be better off, and far less obnoxious, if we taught them to be as decent as we could and let them sort out their own business.

              A little more Tom Sawyer and a lot less helicopter parenting and general hysteria would be welcome as far as I’m concerned.

            • I’m pleased to hear you say we should teach boys to be decent, Jack, but I do think it contradicts the raw-meat of your message. If we taught boys to really be as decent as we can, wouldn’t we be contaminating their pure natural tribal instinct with feminizing, humanist, collectivist twaddle?

          • William McFarland says:

            Well, Bill, if you actually read the book you will find that is not merely physical strength that contributes to the gangs success, but also other non-physical or non-fighting virtues. Be it a sense of a humor, a philosophy, or inventions.

  7. severian says:

    “Look up the number of guys in Special Forces with advanced degrees. I know two competitive powerlifters, some of the pound-per-pound strongest men on the planet in their age groups, who run companies and are highly intelligent.”

    The reason why these men are admirable is because they’re exceptional in a way that’s not simply due to motivation and diligence. You’ve mentioned before that one of the reasons why it’s so hard for some men to accept traditional masculinity is because it disallows the narcissism of being a “special snowflake.” There IS a natural hierarchy. In the same way, only a vanishingly small percentage of men will be capable of being exemplary in a well-rounded and diverse way. Most people are only capable of being really good at one specific thing, if that.

    “Why would it not bet better to be smart AND as manly as you can be?”

    Being smart and being manly both take effort and time. Obviously, concentrating on one or the other should never result in a man becoming either frail or ignorant, there’s a base requirement of both smarts and physicality for being a man, but I’m concerned about excelling as much as one possibly can. Most men could stand to be more masculine, but is there a point where pursuing masculinity will slow down the mastery of someone, who will always be low in the hierarchy of manliness, whose adapt at mental pursuits? And would that be a detriment to society as a whole?

    “As I see it, only men who repudiate the idea of masculinity are not “real men.” And that’s their choice more than mine. If you hate the idea of masculinity, you can’t rationally be offended when men say you are not like them.”

    I’m not trying to repudiate the idea of masculinity, trust me. We need clear, precise definitions for terms in order to understand the world around us. But I think relegating men who are not very manly, but have very valuable and pronounced male abilities to the category of “talented person” isn’t precise either. I agree that there is a line that separates the Alexander the Greats and the Albert Einsteins, and if that line is masculinity/manliness, fair enough. The degree to which definitions communicate is correlated to the degree to which they are elitist. But what separates the Albert Einsteins from the Sylvia Plaths?

    • Jack Donovan says:

      “Most men could stand to be more masculine, but is there a point where pursuing masculinity will slow down the mastery of someone, who will always be low in the hierarchy of manliness, whose adapt at mental pursuits? And would that be a detriment to society as a whole?”

      I think we all make our bargains. I’ve been typing responses to you guys, and I should be at the gym. I couldn’t do what I’m doing now if I tried spent as much time learning manly skills as have studying and thinking about the idea of manliness.

      My main point is saying that manliness is what it is, not what we wish it to be, and that it’s OK that all men are not equally manly. But, yes, it’s better to be manly as possible, and giving yourself an excuse for unmanliness is sometimes exactly that. It seems like you get where I am coming from in that sense.

      As far as slowing down society…don’t you think we’re moving a bit too fast as it is?

      “The degree to which definitions communicate is correlated to the degree to which they are elitist.”

      Very well put. People really hate that reality most of the time.

      And with that, I’m going to head to the gym.

      • severian says:

        “I think we all make our bargains.”

        I’m not really talking about personal bargaining. I’m imagining a situation where every man’s approach to masculinity has a noticeable consequence on his tribe. It may be true that for 95% of men in this situation, developing manliness over all/most other skills would be the most useful route, but I imagine it would behoove a society/tribe to encourage the remaining five percent to pursue a difference primary goal, because one, impressive masculinity is not in their grasp, and two, their other abilities are very useful and require massive dedication.

        “As far as slowing down society…don’t you think we’re moving a bit too fast as it is?”

        I don’t think a society/tribe can ever move too fast, only too fast and loose. If masculinity is the result of inter-tribal competition, slowing down or making bad strategic moves only encourages other tribes to use that advantage.

  8. I think this is all ok, as long as you don’t have a problem with women trying to be manly as well if they are feeling strong and courageous. And as long as you recognize that it is important for men to be good at “womanly” things too.

    And if you’re ok with that, then is it really necessary to gender those positive qualities at all? Isn’t everyone kind of a unique mixture of strengths and weaknesses?

    The part that will really stick with me, I think, is that what is emphatically NOT ok is redefining terms to mean what we want so we can feel that the traditionally good adjectives apply to us all the time. Coming up with ways to face how objectively strong and courageous (or sensitive and delicate) we are is important. I’m not so sure that it is important to sort these adjectives into two bins and make all the people with dicks feel worse about not being as gifted with a certain set of them (or worse, give them excuses for NOT cultivating the rest of the, or still worse and more commonly, make the people without dicks feel like a certain set of them is out of their reach).

    • “I think this is all ok, as long as you don’t have a problem with women trying to be manly[.]” Maybe there IS a problem with it though. Shouldn’t a woman strive to be good at being a woman, first and foremost?

  9. Jack Donovan says:

    It seems as though the first focus here is making sure no one ever feels left out or gets his feelings hurt.

    Is that really progress? Is re-valuing masculinity according to the terms of the downcast progress or simply power exchange?

    And, if we must make sure that women are never offended by how we define masculinity, aren’t we effectively offering them the authority of veto — the final say? Is that progress or power exchange?

    When those who were lower status repudiate and re-shape the values of those who were higher status, there’s a vengefulness and envy to it. It’s not justice or nobility or moral superiority. It’s merely ressentiment.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ressentiment

    • severian says:

      “Is that progress or power exchange?”

      Co-opting terminology is a sly tactic. Lexical definitions can change instantly, but connotations linger. Words like “masculine”, “hero”, and “brave” have historical and cultural prestige. This is partly due to the fact that they refer to valuable characteristics/deeds, but also to their exclusivity, so of course people will try to make them easier to access. Changing their meanings allows people to bask in the prestige of term without accomplishing the same things as the people who gave the term that prestige to begin with. Expanding their definitions is basically socialized semantics.

      • OK then…how do you feel about someone who’s said to have “courageous ideas” (provocative, incisive, ahead-of-time) or “a strong voice” (for advocacy, argument, debate)?

        If those are cooptions of “true” courage and strength, then we’re defining courage and strength as explicitly OUTSIDE the realm of ideas. In so doing, we make lesser men of our thinking men.

        • In my experience people definitely respond positively to these expressions of strength and courage (provided they understand the ideas)… if you believe strength and courage are evolutionarily selected for in human males this would indicate that they are valid expressions.

          But perhaps Jack is suggesting they are inferior expressions of manliness and today’s women are simply settling for what they can get? Who do you suppose is perceived as more manly, the guy who eloquently incites the labor mob to strike and take back what’s theirs, or the broad-shouldered demonstrators who actually hold the line against fire hoses and truncheons? The manliest guy would do both I guess, and that’s what Jack is saying: why not try to be smart AND tough?

          And here I say he’s got a point: be a doer, not just a talker. That’s one thing traditionally recognized as manliness. My only problem is why label it manliness? Everybody should be that way.

          • Jack Donovan says:

            Lucas,

            I actually used a similar example in the interview that goes live tomorrow. Be sure to read it.

            There are some feminists who would label you a patriarch for seeing things from a male perspective. “Why is action better than feeling? How phallocentric! The hegemony, even!”

            I know it feels like a positive thing to want everyone to simply be “better” but the reality is that people have very different ideas of what “better” is.

    • It’s not about keeping people from feeling bad about being cowardly and weak. as you said, not all men are going to be stong and courageous and it’s important that we acknowledge that when it happens so we don’t forget what real strength and courage is. This will hurt some feelings.

      But manly values aren’t the only values, and if you think manly values pertain specifically to men, then there must be some womanly values out there too that are also important for humanity. All I’m saying is who cares which set of values a particular individual goes for as long as we still have them all? I can think of 2 reasons why this could be a problem:

      1) The “manly” virtues are superior to the womanly virtues, so nobody should ever aspire to anything but manliness. Striving for anything else doesn’t make sense.
      2) Women will always be worse a exemplifying certain virtues, and that’s why those are the “manly” ones. so men have a special responsibility to take those on.

      While I haven’t read enough of your work to know if you would agree with either of these, my guess is they’re not too far of a stretch. I guess this because I clicked through to your article on the reimagining of masculinity exemplified by “The Forty-Nine Percent” (a book I’ve never read but I agree sounds awful). At the end of this article you state that women are “a slightly different type of human animal with a competing reproductive strategy.”

      I was fascinated by the lack of real scholarship about the absence of traditional sex roles in pre-modern cultures. I have always heard that somewhere out there cultures existed where men and women “naturally” have different roles from the way we conceive them in the West today, but it sounds like that’s just wishful thinking. Even so, I and many readers here at The Good Men project are unwilling to cede that women are fundamentally different creatures with whom we have to compete. That may have been evolution’s way, but I think we can do better. (I also don’t think men and women are interchangeable – the truth, I think, is somewhere in between – and working out which of our differences are unavoidable and which are holding one or the other of us back is one of our big tasks.)

      What drew me to The Good Men project in the first place was that the idea seemed to be “can we be Good Men, AND AT THE SAME TIME remain good at being men?” Are they always at cross purposes? Is even embarking on this project just a way of being to easy on ourselves? I don’t think you’ve made an argument that it isn’t at least wotrth a shot.

      • Also just wanted to note Jack that I saw your blurb on why you don’t have comments on your website – I don’t agree that the only way to say stuff is on your own blog obviously, but I did want to thank you for coming out here and taking time off from the gym :) to answer some of our questions.

        • Jack Donovan says:

          Lucas,

          I didn’t say it was the only way, I said it was a more productive way. Any anonymous commenter can make up any handle and say anything about themselves and expect us to take it as face value. I could log in with another name, say that I’m a Navy SEAL with a Master’s in Anthropology, and speak with authority, and you’d have to accept that as truth.

          As a writer who uses his legal name, I have to stick by my words, and discussions are more productive when other people do, too. I honestly just jumped in on the comments here because they were running slow and I wanted to generate interest.

          Anyway, thanks for appreciating that I responded. At a certain point with a book, the answer to any question is “read the book.” I could break things into 250 word blurbs, but in doing so, you lose all of the more nuanced arguments and qualifications and a sense of the whole. It leads to a lot of knee jerk responses, questions that I’ve already answered in the book, and a lot of misrepresentation and misinterpretation.

          Online, people squabble about details to score meaningless points.

          I’ve always said that one of the reasons I write books is so that I can think out what I really mean and say it the way I want to say it — so that I can refer to those longer arguments in shorthand later.

          So, if you liked some of the points, give the book a read. I can’t think of the last book I read where I agreed completely with the author, and I don’t expect that of my readers, either.

          I’m going to unsubscribe to this thread at this point, because while people think they are making game-ending points here, in reality I haven’t heard a single argument that I haven’t already considered. Most of these folks will always be playing for a different team, and I expected that from skimming this site over the past year or so.

      • Jack Donovan says:

        Hi Lucas,

        I can’t say I’m surprised by your comment about the supposed “absence of traditional sex roles in pre-modern cultures,” because the real money in the social sciences is in telling feminists and progressives in academia and the media what they want to hear. But there’s more evidence available than you seem to think. A lot of the supposed “negative instances” about gender roles have been refuted — most famously in the case of Derek Freeman and Margaret Mead. There’s also every reason to believe that men and women would do the kinds of things they are obviously better at. Here are some starting points for further research:

        Steven Pinker’s /The Blank Slate/ “The Modern Denial of Human Nature” is a challenging but worthwhile read. I still consider Pinker a liberal and a modernist, but there is a ton of information there. Specifically, he cites this list:

        http://condor.depaul.edu/mfiddler/hyphen/humunivers.htm

        For a while, it was fashionable in the scientific community to say things like “pre-civilization humans were matriarchal or gender neutral” and “pre-civilization humans were peaceful” but these were basically lies invented and popularized by men and women who were, predictably, openly feminist and pacifist. Sam Keen repeated a lot of that silliness in “Fire in the Belly.” For more on pre-historic violence, see “War Before Civilization: the Myth of the Peaceful Savage” by Lawrence H. Keeley, which is actually kind of a fun read.

        A lot of the ideas in my book were influenced by the book “Demonic Males” which was actually written by feminist pacifists, but despite their bizarre advocacy of one world government and the near-eugenic neutering of men, there is some great material there.

        • You seem to be assuming that because the “prehistoric cultures were matriarchal and peaceful” theory was refuted, that must mean that they followed traditional western gender roles. It doesn’t work like that. You’re treating it like a dichotomy when it’s not.

          • Jack Donovan says:

            Your refutations all tend to be belief statements that appeal to your own authority.

            Patriarchy isn’t a western invention, as far as I’m aware. It’s a cross-cultural human norm (see above link), with very sparse and poorly understood exceptions that really aren’t that far from patriarchal norms. There are Asian patriarchies and African patriarchies. There are Muslim patriarchies and patriarchies in tiny little tribes in South America (as I recall, one of the most frequent causes for warfare in pre-modern tribes is wife-stealing)

            There have been “matrilineal” cultures, but gender roles are not necessarily so unfamiliar in those, either. In most cultures we know of, men have traditionally done most of the hunting and fighting. They are better selected and better physically equipped for it, as you well know.

            You’re not really offering any evidence that things were different. You’re just saying they might possibly have been, because there are occasional exceptions to rules. That’s the best argument you have, and while it is certainly possible that the core of the moon is made of cheese, your argument is weaker than making reasonable assumptions based on how humans have behaved throughout recorded history and in most primitive societies that have been studied in-depth.

            If there’s an point about human prehistory being made here (and I added in the book that things generally shake out the same way in disaster scenarios, so my arguments don’t depend solely on shadowy ideas about our past) it’s that for most of our history, men have done the majority of hunting and fighting, because they are on average better suited for it, and there is a high probability that they were selected for it, and that “guardian” role contributes to what makes men different. (And possibly also what makes most of them “happy.”)

            Ultimately, unless you are willing to make the absurd –but possible in the way that the Mayan apocalypse is possible — assertion that men probably did not do the majority of hunting and fighting in prehistory, you’re grasping at straws, trying to find some way to support your feminist belief system, and therefore really don’t have much to add.

  10. Wow, what a night! This has been quite a reactionary thread, something I wouldn’t have expected of this website. (And I’m not even very liberal by today’s standards!) I feel like I’ve met the son (or grandson) of Patricia Cayo Sexton. If I could, I’d give this thread a thumbs down. I guess it won’t be long before bullying in the schools is defended here at Good Men Project with the “blame the victim” line. Stay tuned, folks!

    • The comments threads always range more widely in the opinions held than the articles can. It’s the nature of the discussion. That said, I doubt you’ll see a defense of bullying in the schools on the GMP. And that said, someone will write one and send it to me. (He says to the universe.)

  11. But why? If manliness is just a set of virtues, why does it matter what gender you have if you want to be more virtuous in a particular way? I do reject the idea that men and women are interchangeable, but I also think it’s common for the strongest, most courageous person in the room to be a woman.

    Why shouldn’t a man cultivate “womanly” virtues or a woman cultivate “manly” ones? It only sounds like a problem when you group the values that way. And it makes people more likely to claim they have the virtues associated with their gender, rather than the virtues they actually have, and then to make the move Jack describes, redefining those values so they describe whatever that person is already doing, leading to the degradation of those values.

  12. Robert Wilkins says:

    Jack,
    Great to see your new book getting the attention it deserves.

    Clearly the problem with the modern Occidental male today is his (her?) complete and utter lack of “balls.” But can you blame him? He lives is a society that wants nothing more to feminize him into a culpable eunuch of multiculturalism. This sorry state of affairs, combined with the repulsive slave morality of Xtianity, is, in my opinion, the root of all the West’s problems.

    Remove the Xtian/multiculturalist/Marxist infection and return to a traditionally based culture of male superiority. That’s how you’ll fix things.

  13. You go on waiting, hoping for the failure of civilization, then. Let us know how it goes.

    • No sh!t. These cats are setting the stakes pretty high whether they’re right or wrong. Makes you wonder if the whole thing isn’t all a huge (anti-?)intellectual j.o. session.

  14. Very interesting, and powerfully written. I certainly agree that the “performativity” of gender roles has been grossly overstated as compared to any basis these roles might have in human biology. There do seem to be traits that are fundamentally masculine in nature, though clearly not exclusive to men, and the majority of these traits are in some way related to aggression, risk-taking, and violence. It would seem to be equally profitable to try to stop the sun from rising as to try to remove violence from any coherent, positive assessment of masculinity. Nor, ethically and practically, should we, for a society that denies the concept of legitimate violence is surely bound for collapse and takeover. But violence is in many ways a GIGO concept, as is aggression, though risk-taking may be more unambiguously positive. Hmm. Interesting thoughts to develop.

    • “It would seem to be equally profitable to try to stop the sun from rising as to try to remove violence from any coherent, positive assessment of masculinity.”

      More like, “It would seem to be equally…remove violence from any coherent, positive assessment of humanity.” Gender is a performance and a social construct…but that doesn’t mean that the human behaviours that we have attributed to gender don’t actually exist in human beings. What we define as “masculine” behaviours do actually exist…the questions is just whether those behaviours are inherently masculine. I go with no…largely our division of behaviours between masculine and feminine is a cultural construct.

      • Jack Donovan says:

        “Gender is a performance and a social construct”

        That’s a loaded, political feminist belief statement, not a fact. It’s near-religious dogma. Repeating it doesn’t make it true, though it does encourage people to repeat it.

        Feminists were saying that before they had evidence to support it, then they made up evidence to support it, then that evidence was found to be false, and now you’re in the “believing” stage again — though these days feminists can’t seem to agree on whether they are better than men because they are different, or whether they are essentially the same as men, only better because they don’t have the baggage of “toxic masculinity.”

  15. Tom Matlack says:

    Jack where the heck have you been hiding? You are a way more literate version of the crap that I spout off pretty much every day. As you will see from the piece that will go up on this site in a few hours (which I promise you I wrote well before reading this) we are in violent agreement on much.

    One of the things I repeat often is that I have had to go in search of men who look on the outside as different from me as possible in circumstance to find out about my true nature. Going inside Sing Sing, talking to men on the ground in Iraq, men who don’t share my skin color or my religion. THOSE are the guys who broke down the barriers of manhood and goodness for me in ways that helped transform me into something better than I was before.

    I hope you will continue this discussion since, as you will see in my upcoming piece, I think THIS is the real mission of what we are doing here.

    • Jack Donovan says:

      Hi, Tom.

      In plain sight, of course. I actually read The Good Men Project book a year or so ago with the intent of reviewing it, but I ended up being unsure of what to say. And I kind of liked that about it. I particularly remember the story of the photographer, and how ambivalent he seemed. That’s healthy, and I think it’s typical of a lot of unsheltered men. I do the same thing — I don’t have as much access to people as you do, but I run my ideas past truck drivers and soldiers and my best pal and the infantry guy I know who is fighting in Afghanistan as we speak.

      Glad you liked the excerpt! I thought it would be relevant for the site.

  16. David Byron says:

    This is interesting. I need to attempt to summarize Jack Donovan’s views (in the pieces I’ve read so far) so I can get an idea of what it’s saying. I’d like to compare and contrast also with my understanding of feminism.

    Jack says that masculinity is socially defined, but there are limits on it. One year Viking society says to be good at being a man means you get on a ship cross the North sea and pillage, a hundred years later once the Vikings have moved to settling England, the definition has changed to being a good farmer. But society can’t push men too far from the standard that was created as primitive tribes practised hunting. Presumably this is the evolutionary argument here. Our minds were evolved to get good at what humanity spent a hundred thousand years doing. Jack comes up with four virtues which represent this primitive state (strength, courage, mastery, honour). Pushing men away from this primitive definition of masculinity is possible but requires constant pressure. Like a rubber band. But what happens when you pull the rubber band too far? You can’t. It’s more like a heavy steel spring coil. It’s always going to be there.

    Although the picture so far is of an amoral gang of primitive young men, honour is one of the representative virtues and Jack says men will naturally form their own code of rules.

    Civilizations need to enforce rules uniformly so they try to prevent the formation of natural gangs of men by mixing men in with women. Men relate differently to other men while women are present.

    Though it is not said, the implication is that it’s wrong to try and limit men this way, or that some sort of negative consequence will come about if you try. Possibly there’s a hint that men who don’t get their gang fix somehow will suffer somehow? Civilizations create faux gang experiences with sports to alleviate this need in a way that won’t threaten the society.

    The relationship between men and women is not really explored except as women are a pacifying effect on men. I don’t sense that the pacifying effect is seen as bad, except when used by society to completely eliminate the gang experience. But I didn’t see much about how masculinity relates to being a father or a family man in the stuff I read so far. Presumably it’s in there though, as it’s defined in terms of the needs of a society, the roles men are expected to play, and that always means looking after women, or did until very recently, and so the primitive gang state must include that role too.

    While Jack describes his Eden state as groups of men hunting, the feminist Eden is one of a sort of female led mother earth worshiping pacifict and peaceful primitive state that transitions to a male dominated society upon agriculture being invented. So they go opposite ways. Civilization (agriculture) creates male dominance according to the feminist view and according to Jack it limits masculinity.

    Both Jack and feminism have a similar view as men being amoral initially although this is treated differently. To Jack this primitive state is a necessary prerequisite for goodness and civilization. For the feminist it represent how men are oppressive of women by nature. However both also see man as capable of goodness. Jack says this goodness is tempered by the needs of the primitive masculinity (although even in its pure form it has a code of honour), and the feminist says that under female political influence men can be trained to be good and respect women, a process which would eventually return to the mother worshiping pacific Eden state. Jack identifies this with a civilization that tries to pull on the spring of masculinity too far and hints that such a civilization is not only impossible, but attempting it is likely to cause the civilization to collapse in on itself.

    There’s also a good dollop of libertarianism in there about the balance of freedoms between a sort of nanny state where the virtues of masculinity become irrelevant to survival and a more natural state where greater freedom to fail means the masculine virtues are exercised.

    How was that? I’m a bit late to this party.

  17. I feel like the author’s concept of manliness derives from Psychology Of physical differences between males and females.

  18. ” …hijacking a plane with a box knife and flying it into a building…”

    That line made me want to stop reading…

Trackbacks

  1. http://www.jack-donovan.com/axis/2012/06/read-on-being-a-good-man-at-the-good-men-project/ The Good Men Project posted an excerpt from The Way of Men today — the entire chapter “On Being A Good Man.” On Being a Good Man [...]

  2. [...] hunter or mechanic in the world, but if you lie, cheat, steal, you’re not a good man.” - Brett McKay Rate this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like [...]

  3. [...] the end of your chapter entitled “On Being a Good Man,” you say that established interests discourage the formation of new, competing gangs. How does [...]

  4. [...] hooks, because it encapsulates two of Donovan’s arguments about masculinity. The first is that there is a difference between being a good man and being good at being a man, and that men admire the latter a great deal more than the former. The second is that when it comes [...]

  5. [...] have added the author’s site to the blogroll on the right. This is the excerpt that got me to buy the book. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to [...]

  6. [...] to me, and really, are just traditional ideas in a slightly different form. Marriage is good. Men should be in control. As I have noted already here, the vast majority of the actually heinous [...]

  7. [...] If the monarch does not defer and does not make good decisions, he will be overthrown. If his advisors plan behind his back and work against him, they will be executed. If the child does not defer and chooses bad things, she will not have a fun childhood. If her parents are too controlling, they will not have a good time as elderlies. All optimal relationships are symbiotic. If the quote “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man,” seemed fa… [...]

  8. [...] If the monarch does not defer and does not make good decisions, he will be overthrown. If his advisors plan behind his back and work against him, they will be executed. If the child does not defer and chooses bad things, she will not have a fun childhood. If her parents are too controlling, they will not have a good time as elderlies. All optimal relationships are symbiotic. If the quote “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man,” seemed fa… [...]

  9. [...] On Being a Good Man — The Good Men Project. This entry was posted in General. Bookmark the permalink. ← Unpalatable [...]

  10. [...] Read a Sample Chapter online  - “On Being a Good Man” [...]

  11. [...] men for crying, for being weak, for giving up, for being dependent, for failing at being good at being men. Like feminists, they want men to be seen as people — as humans — unshackled by [...]

  12. [...] how to do things rather than what to attempt to attain. It is why one who is good at being a man is not necessarily also a good man. This means I take as relatively set, there are universals for men across all [...]

  13. [...] reading from his diary, speaking (presumably) to his sons. These lines show a man struggling with the conflict between being good at being a man, and being a good man who has to balance what he believes is right with what the people he loves want. Jax is already [...]

  14. [...] the subject is the good man in the 21st century, I felt that Donovan’s main ideas—that there is a difference between being a good man and being good at being a man, and that men admire the latter a great deal more than the former—were exactly what we should [...]

  15. [...] to be good at being a man means wanting to be a lion, and despising in yourself and other men the nature of the [...]

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