Too Much Manliness

C&P Maxim #1: The beginning of all sophistry is the redefinition of words.

An ongoing conversation about the merits of manliness has been meandering about Western academia and media fronts for several decades now. “Are men finished?” Is masculinity itself toxic? TEDx seems to variously believe so, with Bill Pozobon, Joe Ehrmann, Ryan McKelley, Colin Stokes, and the greatly overpraised Dr. Jackson Katz all variously elucidating the ways in which atavistic remnants of a violent past embedded within our culture transform men into monsters. The message is essentially that we brainwash boys to put their emotions aside and “man up;” to act in spite of fear, anxiety, risk, or pain. This–we are to believe–is an intolerable evil, one that we should combat by redefining what it means to be courageous.

Consider, as a case in point, the following video from the former VP of JPMorgan Chase:

Embedded within this embedded video is quite a bit of background emotion surrounding the troubles, tribulations, and betrayals of Wall Street. Corruption, deception, fraud, outright sociopathy, all immediately come to mind when people begin to talk about that most infamous of financial districts. Kabir Sehgal–in this short little clip from the fairly well-known and respected BigThink program–links all of this to high levels of testoserone in the alluded-to investors. The problem isn’t a system that isn’t designed for humans with natural and healthy (in fact declining) levels of their natural chemicals; it couldn’t be that people are entrusting their money to an industry they know little to nothing about, after being given misleading messages about the degree of risk involved in such investments. It is the chemical core to male-identity–masculinity itself–that is the problem we wish you to associate with all of the problems of today’s banking and finance market; whatever you do, keep the personal responsibility of the companies and their officers out of focus.

Where is our BigThink video blaming over-population problems on excessive estrogen levels in society? Or the problems associated with loose shoe-laces on gravity?

But they do have a point. It’s not as though Sehgal is incorrect in pointing out the correlation between testosterone and a decreased aversion to risk-taking, after all. Lest anyone forget to notice, the link between testosterone and boldness directly contradicts virtually all of the TEDx expert consensus on society being at fault for the nature of boys and men. The traits are chemically innate, making all of the criticisms of society‘s treatment of boys a cover for a condemnation of male nature itself. I suspect this is unintentional, but the truth is anyone’s guess. In any case, by immediately associating the justified outrage towards Wall Street with the male hormone, the very carefully unsaid insinuation (“perhaps men need to be a bit less manly…”) casually shifts from a conclusion requiring evidence into a premise to be casually accepted. Who, after all, is tolerant of the misbehavior of Investors Inc.?

Let us then consider a world less saturated in masculinity. And although there was actually little risk in the white-collar adventures in sub-prime mortgage voodoo (as far as I’m aware, only one banker went to prison for all of the criminality culminating to a climax in 2008), let us suppose that some chemical reduction in male risk-aversion really could reduce instances of problems like Wall Street. Hypothetically speaking. What then?

Investment banking and stock brokering (or is it breaking?) are not the only jobs affected by one’s tolerance for danger, after all. Where would be our firefighters, our soldiers, our police officers? Where would be our journalists? Where would be the laborers and craftsmen–the carpenters, welders, and electricians–who must learn to work with dangerous tools? Where would be our truck-drivers, after they see another jacknife or roll off the road? I don’t think anyone would argue that such jobs would vanish in a suddenly testosterone-deprived society, since the demand for such work will always exist, no matter how many first-world academics believe, in their island of abstractions and theory, that we live in a post-industrial information economy. But the nature of the people operating them, and their effectiveness, would certainly change. How might a more “rational,” risk-averse lineman perform their job when high winds take down the power to your neighborhood? Would emasculating first responders to a disaster scene be better for society? How about the soldiers who guard you while you sleep from those you don’t have the power to similarly enfeeble?

It is easy to forget about the wall-plug you rely on (to type about how masculinity is longer needed) when you aren’t personally responsible for installing and fixing them. Even if maleness itself could held reasonably responsible for the corruption of the finance world, the harm would not outweigh the civilizational benefits of masculinity. As feminist Camille Paglia observed, one of the major benefits of testosterone is civilization itself.

Form follows function. This is not merely a rule of thumb for architecture; it is much more like a law of nature in human psychology. What is beautiful to us is mostly beautiful because it is beneficial for us to find it beautiful. Men like women with traits that indicate fertility and, lo! women are attracted to men with traits that indicate the capacity to provide and protect for them. Foremost among these traits: the emotional stability, confidence, and patterns of speech or posture that signal the prerequisite courage. It should also be noted that men look for these traits in other men, since the ability to pull one’s weight in a team–a quality as important in our ancestral past as it is today–is also highly predicated on one’s ability to subjugate your own self-interest for the sake of performance. In other words, risk tolerance.

In other words, courage.

So from a grand, bird’s eye view, and from a gut-level, emotional view, both men and women are attracted to men who are strong, honorable, and courageous. We like men who can take risks. It appears that only in the middle, between the very long-term and very short-term perspectives (or perhaps from outside civilization’s time-continuum completely?), do we find theories condemning the inborn nature of men and the culture that has come about to reinforce and celebrate that. Why these academics, pundits, and social critics work so hard to convince the public that men are everything wrong with society will have to be the subject of another post.

Two better-than-TED quality lectures about the nature and value of masculinity:

1. “Sex-seeking, Men, Women, and Dominance Hierarchies” by Karen Straughan (39:20)
2. “What is Masculinity? – An Introduction to The Way of Men” by Jack Donovan (7:21)

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