Jack Donovan’s “The Way of Men” answers a lot of questions I have had the last two decades on why things don’t seem to make sense anymore in the World of Men. Donovan traces the decline of the role of men in society as their innate virtues have become less essential in modern times.
We live I a unique time. We did so many things the same for so many millennia, and yet now we are going in a completely different direction from what we have been used to – particularly for men. I think that is a large part of our collective angst. We are entering unknown territory. Our ancestors would look at the sky to discern the weather. Will we eat or starve in the coming winter? In my day as a child during the Cuban Missile Crisis I cannot remember a time when I looked at the sky and sometimes wondered if that day would come when I would see an apocalyptic mushroom cloud. That is how expectations had developed so quickly in a generation. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. said that the Depression kids of his childhood equated prosperity with happiness, and yet in the 1960’s their kids threw it back into the faces of their parents.
Warfare is or was a man thing. It started out and continued for a long time as small bands of bonded men who would try and take each other’s stuff. Men tended to self-arrange into gangs, every member of which contributed to survival of the gang, and their families, not only to protect their perimeters, but to use violence to take what they needed, or wanted, before another group did the same to them. They sought the better hunting grounds, fisheries and berry patches. You needed strong men to fight other strong men doing the same.
That lifestyle was particular to men. In contrast, women are less mobile during pregnancy, burdened with lesser size and strength, and often with children in tow. Today’s woman in the Defense Services can push a button to launch destruction of an enemy as well as a man.
As long as man has walked the planet he has been part of a gang for mutual protection. A loner had to ask for help. Chances of survival were better in a gang. Solitude may have been a choice sometimes, but often a man wouldn’t fit in with a gang. In the world of those former days, men would be concerned about a weaker man being in their group. There had to be trust. Women don’t feel that way about other women, they don’t need to.
But it wasn’t only the ability of fighting others that was needed. A large mammal could provide protein and fat for the group for days, so good hunters were also honored. A man may have been blessed with speed, strength, and stamina, but he also had to have courage. Courage exercises strength. Courage led David to slay Goliath. Courage implies risk. The leader isn’t necessarily the strongest but rather the one who would take the lead.
People are more likely to leave you alone if they fear harm from you and yours. When I was in High School in Kellogg I lived up a gulch where there were several other boys my age. We used to see a station wagon drive by slowly once in a while full of kids from Wallace High School. There were often fights between kids of the two rival school districts. We would be playing basketball at an old hoop in a driveway and we were worried we might get attacked. We tried to look tough and eventually the station wagon would drive away. A few years later one of my friends worked at a mine in the District and he met one of those boys from Wallace. That boy said all they had wanted to do was to play basketball with us, but we looked so mean they would leave. We probably would have made new friends if we had taken the risk to invite them to play. Still, toughness was admired when there was a perceived threat.
The Earth has seen many heroes whose exploits were sung around the campfires by their brothers in arms, until they also perished. It didn’t take long to live out a life in those days when life was short and brutal. Not many men lasted long enough to have crowns of grey, but the older men were respected for their knowledge. They knew the strategies that led to victory or defeat. They actually knew the men whose legends were still sung when all seemed lost, but experience proved hope was right around the corner. Those stories inspired others. There used to be a way to be a man whose goals were the virtues of strength, courage, mastery, and honor. That is not to say a weakling couldn’t’ contribute to the group, by making arrows or drawing water, but there had to be a bond among those whose lives depended on each other. Homer was blind, but a great entertainer with stories about lineages, religion, and history. There was an interdependence of all men in the spectrum of the gang.
There had to be training too. Boys would engage in play fighting to determine future leaders. As they got older play fighting could grow into the real thing that could lead to injury, but that was just another phase in growing up to be part of the group. Fighting is discouraged nowadays, and the school resource officer will be called upon to break it up, and possibly expel kids for following their inherent nature. In the old days fighting was encouraged because weakness could be infectious and threaten the entire people group. What kind of men do you want at your back? Winners were honored, and losers would be motivated to train harder. A Man’s reputation will keep other men from messing with him. A weaker person is more vulnerable. Such groups who had honor and esprit de corps could often defeat a larger group.
Honor is concern for one’s reputation. Men honor each other through counsel and imitation. Honor could be wearing the crown, or the signet ring. Today we have the Stanley Cup and Super Bowl rings. Men who are good at being men earn respect and trust. True honor has to be earned. At the very least men of honor die more peacefully.
In the 1970’s I went to Army Reserves in Hillyard at the Pfc. Joe E. Mann Center, since torn down. One Saturday at weekend Drill there was a dedication to its namesake. Private Mann’s widow was there. The feat that Joe Mann was being honored for from WW2 was that he threw himself on a live grenade, and was killed while saving those around him. Hardly Audie Murphy. Yet without much thought he automatically did the noble thing. It was a natural reaction to a man who was a hero at heart and was being recognized as such. Today, our returning troops from Afghanistan and Iraq have high rates of suicide for no reason.
There is a code to follow that serves one’s reputation. There is a proper and improper use of violence, for instance, not beating up weaker men or women or children. Men are capable of cruelty and compassion because they have souls. Being good at being a man develops honesty, justice, and temperance, as opposed to lying, cheating, stealing, or betrayal, all of which overshadows manliness.
The way of men is to fight each other and nature. Civilization comes at a cost. Civilization requires men to abandon their gang and be absorbed by the State. Patriarchy and brotherhood are lost. Men in a dying civilization, where their virtues can’t be exercised, stop having children, drop out, drug out, and become obese as long as they have enough stuff already. Today men seek risk free jobs. Men find themselves competing with women as providers, so they aren’t needed as much. A woman can kill indirectly with a drone, or even a robot can kill. When men try to prep or form militias they are ridiculed.
For Baby-boomers our mothers began to teach us how to be a good man. Do as you’re told, exercise restraint, compromise, don’t play with guns, be a slave to the state. It’s about control.
From the futurist document: “’Silent Weapons for Quiet Wars’ The man of the household must be housebroken to ensure that junior will grow up with the right social training and attitudes. The advertising media, etc., are engaged to see to it that father-to-be is pussy-whipped before or by the time he is married.”
Ward Cleaver of 50’s television sitcom, ‘Leave it to Beaver,’ morphed into Archie Bunker and Homer Simpson. But the way of men is about the way of the game. Civilization erodes their innate virtues. We are turned into something we aren’t supposed to be – slaves. Today, men are encouraged to de-gender themselves. Male testosterone levels are in decline. Western Civilization’s goals are to be safe and sedentary. Maybe we have plenty of stuff now, but no bureaucracy or global corporation can love you. The challenge today is “How do I be a man in modern society?” Are we facing the end of real men?
We are not wired for a one world tribe, or hive, or nest. It may take centuries before a new Age begins with its new challenges, but it could be a time where the type of man needed emerges, and where groups of men re-start the world through strength, courage, the mastery of skills and honor.