The boy is given only the most bare-bones instruction on how to use his weapon: just aim and shoot. Don’t think, just react. He’s told to carry the gun at all times because his enemies are numerous and relentless. Attacks can come from any direction at any moment, and the boy should always expect the worst-case scenario.
“If you see a bad person,” the boy is reminded, “don’t hesitate to fire. Better to be safe than sorry. Be merciless. In case you were wondering, most people you will meet are the bad ones.”
The toddler is then sent out into a war zone, with minimal preparation and no further support from those who armed him. Indeed, those who gave him the gun could very well be added to his exhaustive list of enemies. The toddler grows into a man, always on high alert, never able to relax, with one hand eternally on the gun.
You may find this allegory disturbing, and you should. Because many men are taught a weaponized version of masculinity from a very early age.
Note: before someone raises the inevitable “you just think all masculinity is toxic because you’re a simp to the feminist agenda” argument, let’s just stop you there. That is nothing but a big, fat strawman and everyone knows it. I’m not saying being a man is evil. Why would I? I’m a man! I have a vested interest in our collective well-being as a sex.
I’m also not saying men don’t have access to the full range of human emotions, or that they are inferior to women, or that there are no unscrupulous, violent, or otherwise negatively socialized women in the world. Are we all clear? Great, let’s continue.
What I’m saying is we are foolish if we deny the existence of a powerful and insidious oral tradition of shallow machismo that claims to teach boys to become “real men.” It is a limited set of “acceptable male behaviors” enforced by other men who have previously been duped into believing a “real man” must be a “tough guy” always looking for a fight, and eternally balance a huge chip on his shoulder. If you’re a guy who strays from the “true path,” your fellow “macho” men (not some fantastical secret cabal of feminist Illuminati) will shame you or relegate you to “beta male” status.
This distorted view of manhood takes the inherently positive aspects of masculinity and twists them until they become exaggerated caricatures of how a man should act. Why be confident when you can be an ego-maniac? Why merely stand up for yourself when you can continuously intimidate other people and preempt any suspected attempt to mess with you and walk around with a hair-trigger temper? Why engage in honest competition when you can destroy any person or ideology that opposes you?
The Pitfalls of the “Life Mercenary”
Too many men have been socialized by the “Cult of Machismo” to live each day like a battle. They labor under the perception that the world is fundamentally skewed toward chaos and conflict, what my dad (a staunch member of the Macho Cult) refers to as a “dog-eat-dog world.” But let’s use some common sense, folks: while our planet absolutely contains depraved human acts, it is also the place where we create incredible beauty and peace with one another. Those who deny the existence of either horror or happiness are blindly naive.
But men indoctrinated into the “man as life mercenary” mindset have a diminished capacity to engage in the positivity that’s possible in the world. They cannot “show weakness” or “let their guard down” long enough to appreciate the good things in life because they must always be “combat ready” to fend off the dangers of a terrible world that operates under the ruthless laws of social Darwinism.
For the life mercenary, there is always someone to be suspicious of, someone who wants to “take you down.” Other men are a threat to your person, your possessions, your relationships with women. Speaking of women, according to the Macho Doctrine you can’t trust them either, because they are driven purely by the biological imperative to seek men with only “the best genes” and the most money.
With this worldview, a man becomes extremely isolated. Unlike real-world soldiers, a life mercenary can’t rely on help from others with the same mindset, because the very nature of the Macho worldview casts suspicion on cooperation with other males. This means there’s no close-knit unit of companions to depend on, and no reinforcements to help during tough times.
But unlike warfare in the physical world, you can never escape the combat zone. To borrow a lyric from Rage Against the Machine, “the front line is everywhere.” When the war is in your mind, there is no option for retreat.
Is it any wonder, then, why so many men are committing suicide? Is it any wonder why so many men seem constantly angry, cynical, disenfranchised, and disillusioned? When you’re in constant high-alert mode, there is no rest, no relief from the stress, no respite from exhaustion and fatigue. We know that when the mind is subjected to repetitive stress and trauma, human beings can become chronically fixated on negativity and severely depressed, among other debilitating symptoms. In short, guys, we are voluntarily inflicting ourselves with PTSD.
The Path of the Peaceful Warrior
The good news is, there is an alternative to the Machismo Cult, one I like to call “the peaceful warrior.” Yes, the term seems like a contradiction, but it represents a way of living that balances power with wisdom. It’s another way to apply the mythic hero mindset to daily life. In heroic legends, adventures often encompass cycles of battle and peace, rather than just constant fighting.
In contrast to a life mercenary, a peaceful warrior:
- Is self-confident, but that self-certainty doesn’t come from seeing others as inferior to oneself.
- Cultivates personal power through mental and physical development, but has the wisdom to know there’s a time and place to use one’s power, usually in service to others.
- Accepts that the world contains both negative and positive aspects, and approaches both with an open, solution-based mindset.
- Maintains situational awareness of his environment while staying in control of his emotions, and avoids living in a near-paranoid level of constant suspicion and barely contained aggression.
- Is willing to see other men as potential partners for collaboration, not just competition.
It takes work to shift one’s perception to the more disciplined and tolerant way of the peaceful warrior, but with time and effort, anyone can escape the Cult of Machismo. Even the most cynical and jaded of us can defect from the ranks of the life mercenary and become peaceful warriors.
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