Reviews of books for or about men, and on topics of interest to men.

Feature, Reviews

The Professor in the Cage

professor in the cage coverThe Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch

Jonathan Gottschall
Penguin Publishing Group, 2015. Kindle Edition
ISBN-10: 1594205639
ISBN-13: 978-1594205637



I downloaded Jonathan Gottschall’s The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch and started reading it the morning it came out. I stopped two chapters in, because I had to head to my boxing class.

Gottschall and I aren’t the same, but we know something about each other.

When a man on the far side of thirty-five decides to learn how to fight, he’s got some reasons. He doesn’t do it because he’s already good at it, and he doesn’t do it on a whim. He’s not trying to keep his lunch money away from the school bully and it ain’t about impressing girls.

When you’re in your twenties, if you have any sense of self worth, you figure you could to do just about anything if you really put your mind to it. After that, you start to realize that doors are closing behind you, and you can see more closing doors in front of you. Thirty and forty aren’t nearly as old as they seem when you are twenty, but they aren’t twenty, either. You can probably still do almost anything, and you can still surprise yourself, but you know that you can never go back and do some things as well as you could have if you’d started earlier. Fighting is one of those things.

Gottschall did two courageous things in the process of writing The Professor in the Cage. First of all, the man took a fucking MMA fight. That takes a plumper sack than you’ll find between four average football fans. It doesn’t matter if he won or lost. And that courage only reached its pinnacle in the octagon. As he wrote in one of my favorite passages, it would have been much safer to avoid training altogether:

“The very last thing I feel like doing most nights after dinner is getting in a series of fistfights with a bunch of twenty-year-olds — is doing anything requiring strapping armor to my genitals. But since I began work on this book , trading punches with twenty-year-olds has kind of been my job , and so I drag myself to the gym like a shift worker dragging himself to the factory. I limp onto the mat feeling tired and old, and after I warm up and get going . . . I have so much fun. The blubbery, congested sensation of incipient middle age gives way, and I feel young again, and strong. When I’ve competed well, and especially when I’ve held my own in the sparring, I leave the gym feeling so awake, my whole system revving with something purer than a runner’s high. I drive home knowing that I’ve been going through life half asleep, and I feel a euphoric gratitude for my living muscle and bone and blood.”

The visceral joy of a man being a man, of this beautiful thing that we are losing and that fewer and fewer men will ever feel or know or understand — it is right there, exposed and palpable.

The book wasn’t all like that. Gottschall’s accounts of his fears about training and fighting felt overplayed to me, and were a little cringey in spots. It even seemed like he wanted to lose his fight — like it was a kind of good-guy writer’s martyrdom. But he still fought, and I’d buy him a beer for that.

Social courage, on the other hand, is a lesser form of courage, but the metaphorical beatings come from more angles and the bruises hang around longer. If only the bitchy snipings of critics were as clean and simple as a punch in the face…

The second courageous thing Gottschall did was dismiss a lot of civilized groupfeel about gender, men, and violence. While he unconvincingly argued that manly bloodsport is no threat to the feminist project, he convincingly argues that men are and have always been more inclined to violent competition than women, and that it has as much to do with nature as it does with nurture. The increased male tendency to pursue violent competition is not merely verifiable in our species, it is consistent with animals with similar reproductive abilities and behaviors throughout the natural world. “Across species,” he writes, “most male aggression is ultimately tied to a shortage of female reproductive supply relative to male demand.” We do a lot of the same “monkey dances.”

And humanity hasn’t “evolved” past the point where this sort of male violence is no longer necessary, as many spoiled and sheltered airheads like to believe — it is simply contained and suppressed by state-sanctioned violence.

Wrapping up one of several entertaining and informative tangents in the book, this one on the rise and fall of dueling culture, Gottschall makes the point that the disappearance of the kind of honor cultures that made fighting and dueling a normal part of life is not owed so much to the “evolution” or “moral enlightenment” of modern people as it is to the rise of the efficient Leviathan. The highly policed state protects families and property, and punishes men who take matters into their own hands, so demonstrating publicly that you will stand up for yourself is not only unnecessary, but potentially more costly than doing nothing. In early America and pre-20th Century Europe, this was not the case, and it is not the case in failed or weak state pockets of the world where honor cultures thrive in various forms.

In several statements sure to be deemed heretical by his Chardonnay-sipping academic peers, Gottschall sketches out a familiar definition of masculinity that is rooted in both biology and evolutionary psychology. It’s not different everywhere, or completely subjective. The differences are differences of degree. He writes, “Masculinity is simply strength and toughness— of body and mind. There are many valid ways to be a man, things that cultures respect or disrespect, but there is no masculinity without strength.” Check. “…in every culture, men were seen as more active, adventurous, dominant, forceful, independent, and strong. And in every culture except for one (but not always the same one), males were seen as more aggressive, autocratic, daring, enterprising, robust, and stern.” Check. Further:

“stereotypes about masculinity became so entrenched for a reason: they are mainly true. To be timid, muscularly weak, and emotionally shaky is now and has always been unmasculine. Masculinity is not a cultural invention. It is not the result of a conspiracy by men against women. It is a real thing that has evolved over millions of years as a response to the built-in competitive realities of male life.”

Strong, Courageous and Able. He also notes that, everywhere and always, masculinity has been something that needed to be proved through rites of passage. Women simply became women through reproductive maturity, but, “To earn the status of a real man, not an ersatz one, a guy must prove he has the right stuff.” That is to say, he must prove himself to other men. He must earn his reputation, and be willing to defend it. He must have some sense of… Honor. The Professor in the Cage is the first mainstream book I’ve read that verifies the cross-cultural reality that the tactical virtues I listed in The Way of Men — Strength, Courage, Mastery and Honor — are the most basic components of human masculinity as a universal concept.

Gottschall also explores the connection between masculinity and violence, and the lingering desire in men to find something to fight, even if they don’t have to. He compares modern men to Don Quixote. “They conjure dragons just so they can try to kill them,” because something in them still wants to prove, “they have inherited the legacy of their grandfathers, the pure stuff of manhood: courage and strength.”

The Professor in the Cage is supposed to be about MMA, but it is more about masculinity than mixed martial arts. MMA fighters and fans won’t find much they don’t already know, though they may walk away with some academic ammunition for arguments about why they do what they do and like what they like. As a narrative about a nerd learning to fight, I preferred Sam Sheridan’s more straightforward and less self-deprecating A Fighter’s Heart. But as Gottschall and I are in the same age range, his experience was useful in helping me reflect on my own. As a book about masculinity, it deserves a place on a shelf right beside Harvey Mansfield’s Manliness and James Bowman’s Honor: A History. Like Mansfield’s Manliness, though, it ultimately seems to have been written more for women and fellow academics than for a general male audience. It’s more apologia than manifesto, explaining to “others” why men, despite strong efforts to turn them into nice little girls, still persist in being…masculine. It’s not because we fear the mystical power of women, or because we secretly hate women and want to oppress them. Men still want to behave like men because we like ourselves better that way.

I won’t ruin the story of Gottschall’s fight for you, but it is worth noting that the book wasn’t just a stunt. He may never take another real fight, but he’s going to keep training and sparring until he finally leaves the gym on a stretcher.

I’d buy him a beer for that, too.

Buy The Professor in the Cage on Amazon.

The Origins of Political Order
Blog, Links and Updates, Reviews

The Origins of Political Order – 5 Quotes

The Origins of Political OrderI wrote up a brief review of Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order for Counter-Currents.

Cohesive Societies Check State Power:
On Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order

The first part of the book, “Before The State” should be of particular interest to anyone studying tribalism and pre-state societies.

The rest should be of interest to anyone who wants to better understand where modern liberal institutions came from, why they don’t necessarily work everywhere, and why they may not last forever.

Here are six quotes pulled from my own notes on The Origins of Political Order:

On Patrimonialism

“…the natural human propensity to favor family and friends — something I refer to as patrimonialism — constantly reasserts itself in the absence of strong countervailing incentives. Organized groups — most often the rich and powerful — entrench themselves over time and begin demanding privileges from the state. Particularly when a prolonged period of peace and stability gives way to financial and/or military crisis, these entrenched patrimonial groups extend their sway, or else prevent the state from responding adequately.”

 On The State of Nature

“The state of nature might be characterized as a state of war, since violence was endemic, but the violence was not perpetrated by individuals so much as by tightly bonded social groups. Human beings do not enter into society and political life as a result of conscious, rational decision. Communal organization comes to them naturally, though the specific ways they cooperate are shaped by environment, ideas, and culture.”


“For the account of the state of nature given by Hobbes, Locke, or Rousseau to be correct, we would have to postulate that in the course of evolving into modern humans, our ape ancestors somehow momentarily lost their social behaviors and emotions, and then evolved them a second time at a somewhat later state in development. It is much more plausible to assume that human beings never existed as isolated individuals, and that social bonding into kin-based groups was part of their behavior from before the time that modern humans existed. Human sociability is not a historical of cultural acquisition, but something hardwired into human nature.”

 On Alpha Males

“An alpha male in a chimp colony is not born to that status; like a Big Man in Melanesian society, he has to earn it by building coalitions of supporters. While physical size and strength matter, dominance is ultimately achieved through an ability to cooperate with others.”

On The Struggle for Recognition

“Since human beings organize themselves into social hierarchies, recognition is usually of relative rather than absolute worth. This makes the struggle for recognition fundamentally different from struggles over economic exchange, since the conflict is zero sum rather than positive sum. That is, one person’s recognition can come only at the expense of the dignity of someone else; status can only be relative. In contests over status, there are no win-win situations as in trade.”

On Violence and Social Change

“Societies can get stuck in a dysfunctional institutional equilibrium, in which existing stakeholders can veto necessary institutional change. Sometimes violence or the threat of violence is necessary to break out of the equilibrium.”

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The Redwoods - CA, 2011
Blog, Reviews

On Ernst Jünger’s The Forest Passage

The Redwoods - CA, 2011


Counter-Currents just published my review of Ernst Jünger’s The Forest Passage, a short book with themes that tied in nicely with my recent to visit the Wolves of Vinland in the woods of Virginia.

The Forest PassageJünger’s narrative and his arguments meander more than they should, but The Forest Passage is highly quotable and somewhat prophetic. There are good bits in there about 4GW, the right to bear arms, and role of the poet or artist in revolt and some thoughts on the concept of freedom.

Read more at Counter-Currents…

A Tribe Among the Trees: Ernst Jünger’s The Forest Passage


Blog, Reviews

5 Quotes from Tacitus’ “Germania”

GermaniaA friend recommended Germania to me as a jumping off point for more research on European barbarians.

Germania has been called a dangerous book. That’s both hysterical and overly flattering. From what I can gather from introductions, research and from the text itself, it’s a kind of guide to the Germanic tribes pieced together from second hand accounts. Tacitus never traveled to “Germania” himself. Archaeology and other sources have verified many details in the book, but many more could be wrong, misleading or incomplete. There are familiar and inspiring segments worth reading, but they probably shouldn’t be read as absolute fact.

Here are 5 of my highlights. The first two are about the Germans, and the others are Tacitus’ general thoughts on strategy and life.


1. “The Germans do not think it in keeping with the divine majesty to confine gods within walls or to portray them in the likeness of any human countenance. Their holy places are woods and groves, and they apply the names of deities to that hidden presence which is seen only by the eye of reverence.

2. “On the field of battle it is a disgrace to a chief to be surpassed in courage by his followers, and to the followers not to equal the courage of their chief.”

3. “Speed suggests something like fear, whereas deliberate movement rather indicates a steady courage.” 

4. “…mystery begets terror and a pious reluctance to ask what sight can be which is seen only by men doomed to die.” 

5. “Bordering on the Suiones are the nations of the Sitones. They resemble them in all respects but one — woman is the ruling sex. That is the measure of their decline, I will not say below freedom, but even below decent slavery.”


I especially like the bit about the gods. It has a natural animistic feel to it, and reminds me of that Thomas Carlyle quote I used in The Way of Men.

Tacitus also noted that “Their food is plain — wild fruit, fresh game, and curdled milk.” Paleo plus dairy? Apparently the Germanic tribes also drank some kind of beer and partied a lot, and were known to debate frankly and honestly when they were drunk.  However, he wrote that the Germans ” debate when they are incapable of pretense, but reserve their decision for a time when they cannot well make a mistake.”

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The Paleo Manifesto
Blog, Reviews

Paleofuturism for the Man; Archeofuturism for the People

The Paleo ManifestoPALEOFUTURISM

There are 3 types of people in the world: People who haven’t heard of the paleo diet, people who have tried the paleo diet, and people who can’t wait to tell you how stupid it is.

People in the last group want to tell you how we’re still evolving, how different groups evolved differently, how you couldn’t live like our ancestors even if you tried, how the paleo diet isn’t sustainable for the world’s growing population, how SCIENCE! can produce superior health and athleticism, and how all that meat and fat will make you obese and give you a heart attack.

None of these objections are very good responses to positions paleo advocates actually advocate.

Of course humans are still evolving. Of course different groups adapted to different environments and circumstances. (My 23andme profile — SCIENCE! — says I’m probably not lactose intolerant based on my ancestry, and I’m not, so I ignore the anti-dairy aspects of paleo that could be completely relevant for someone else.) No one is saying you should or could actually live exactly as our primitive ancestors did in the modern world. The world’s growing population is not sustainable, full-stop. And no, everything produced in a lab is not evil. Yes, some of it is very helpful. But, given the recent history of SCIENCE! telling us something is good for us — and then 20 years of deaths and side-effects later, DISCOVERING! that it is actually terrible for us –it makes sense to minimize one’s exposure to synthetic “nutrition.” (One could actually call this “dietary conservatism.”) Finally, over the next 10 years, look for Western nations and medical bureaucracies to begin revising what they’ve proclaimed, ex cathedra, about fat.

The paleo diet is an attempt to approximate a diet closer to the diet of our ancestors. Modern humans are partially domesticated animals with wild ancestors. Just as you’d try to feed a trained monkey what it would eat in the wild to improve it’s health and happiness in the zoo, it makes sense to feed people what they evolved to eat in the wild.

John Durant makes this point in his recent book, The Paleo Manifesto, and takes it a step further. The Paleo Manifesto covers the basic guidelines of the paleo diet in plain and sensible language, but it’s not another diet book and it’s not a cookbook. The Paleo Manifesto pushes a total lifestyle change. Durant isn’t just concerned with what you eat, but when you eat, how you exercise and how you work. The big idea is to bring all of this into better harmony with the lifeways we adapted to in our species’ first few million years on the planet.

However, John Durant is not the unabomber. He lives in New York City, and he’s not trying to get you to move to a cabin in the woods. He wants to help you live happier and healthier in the modern zoo. This is the mainstream appeal of The Paleo Manifesto, which is full of fun facts about fasting to beat jet lag, standing desks (I became a fast fan), the footwear industry, sunscreen, cancer, thermoregulation and sleep. It’s an easy, engaging read and a jumping off point for further thinking on how to use what is known about evolutionary biology to improve the way primal humans interact with modern technology and the demands of life in the 21st Century.

Durant is often called a caveman, but The Paleo Manifesto doesn’t argue for some ascetic retreat into ooga-booga primitivism. Durant looks forward with a reference to and some reverence for the past. In a recent presentation for Google, he called the paleo lifestyle “biohacking.”

The Paleo Manifesto is paleofuturism.


ArcheofuturismDurant’s paleofuturism complements Guillaume Faye’s subversive idea: archeofuturism.

Archeofuturism was published in 1999 as a response to the conservatism and negative (anti-) tendencies of the Right. Faye wanted to create a positive vision of the future that corrected the foolishness of enforced egalitarianism and what is often called secular humanism — but isn’t truly human at all, because it rejects any realistic understanding of human nature in favor of feel-good blank slate fantasies.

Faye writes that “over the past 50,000 years, homo sapiens has changed very little, and archaic and pre-modern models of social organization have proven valid.” Instead of seeing man as an “asexual and isolated atom possessing universal and enduring pseudo-rights,” Faye believes that should see him holistically, as the Greeks did — as social animal who properly belongs to a human community.

Instead of rejecting technological development and yearning for a return to total primitivism, as many on the Right do, Faye wants us to embrace technological movement and human creativity, but balance it with a rational understanding of human nature and a respect for forms of social organization that have been natural to the human animal throughout its history.

According to Faye, when “egalitarian hallucinations [..] have been sunk by catastrophe, humanity will revert to its archaic forms, which are purely biological and human.” He lists the archaic forms as follows:

  • the separation of gender roles

  • transmission of ethnic and folk traditions

  • visible and structuring social hierarchies

  • the worship of ancestors

  • rites and tests of initiation

  • organic communities (family and folk)

  • de-individualization of marriage (marriage as a concern of the community)

  • prestige of the warrior caste

  • inequality among social statuses (not implicit, but explicit and ideological)

  • definitions of peoples and groups (tribalism vs. globalism)

While somewhat idiosyncratic in its preoccupations, this list overlaps with Donald Brown’s list of “human universals.”

Faye tells us we should dream of the future and plan for the future, but temper this futurism with archaism, which he defines not as backward-looking nostalgia, but an understanding of and respect for the “founding impulses” of human social organization.

Using what is known about evolutionary psychology and tried forms of human social organization to inform humanity’s march into the future corrects the built-in mistake of modern life — which is truly driven by greedy commercialism and merely rationalized and pseudo-sacralized by “progressive” neophilia. In what passes for “social science” today, there is a tendency to throw out any traditional idea about human nature which cannot immediately be explained by scientific inquiry — some quick “study,” or the current perception of the barely understood brain — in favor of some theoretical form of social organization completely untried and unknown to our species. It was from the abstract academic fancies of a few, not collective human experience or wisdom, that the disastrous and inhuman experiment of feminism and the absurdity of “diversity is strength” have been imposed.

Together, Faye’s Archeofuturism and Durant’s Paleo Manifesto offer a total, positive approach to the future that is informed and guided by what is known about the human animal, both physically and socially. The details of either book can be debated and elaborated on, but the big, combined idea of looking to human evolutionary and social history as we envision the future is a philosophical starting point that could be a useful for many different kinds of people who find themselves increasingly wary of the social, psychological and physiological costs of runaway global commercialism and commercially driven, abstract notions of human “progress.

Siberian Education

About The Wolves Who Run With Men

Siberian EducationOn Nicolai Lilin’s Siberian Education

Nicolai Lilin’s memoir about growing up as an outlaw in Transinistra will probably make a good movie. (The film, with John Malkovich starring as the Lilin’s grandfather Kuzya, now appears to be in post-production.) Lilin’s written narrative spends as much time in back allies as he and his friends did. By the time it emerges onto a main street, you may find yourself trying to remember where it was supposed to be going.

“Oh, yeah, they’re killing the guys who raped the autistic girl.”

The book lays out a sizeable take of offbeat characters and evocative sketches of his alien, defiant world. It’s an unrepentant recollection, and a romantic one. I was hoping to learn more about Russian criminal culture. This is the wrong book for that. It opens with a disclaimer, saying that “certain episodes are imaginative recreation,” and I found it difficult to confirm the accuracy of his portrayal of Siberian criminals. Lilin notes at the end that his people no longer live as they did, that the strict codes his criminal family followed have since been relaxed or corrupted.

The criminals in Lilin’s world are not thugs looking to get rich and lose themselves in a trailing haze of hookers and blow. He portrays his people as an ethnic group set against all forms authority but their own. His “Urkas” are anti-materialist; thieving is a means of survival and a rejection of external law.

He who wants too much is a madman, because a man cannot possess more than his heart is able to love.

Their morality is anarchic spite set against Russian Orthodox iconography, guided by in-group loyalty and hierarchical man-code.

The Urka’s religious treatment of weaponry is particularly interesting. Weapons used for hunting, a purifying pursuit, are kept as ancestral cult objects within the home. These “honest weapons” are distinguished from the impure tools of the criminal’s trade, and the Urkas are careful not to contaminate pure weapons by placing impure weapons in the same room.

Lilin’s criminal underground is a world of men. Women have a place in it, but not the same place as men. Some women—mostly the women of other men and outsiders—are known to be whores, but Siberian women are portrayed as Madonnas. Their women are protected and revered. Siberian Education has much to say about manhood, both directly and indirectly. Siberian manhood is archetypal and tribal. It’s about “us” and “them.” Its Byzantine codes of manhood are always about identity, about what “we” do, about who “we” are.

Early in the book, Lilin tells a story about a starving wolf pack. One wolf rejects the rules of the pack, rationalizing his decision by saying that filling one’s belly is more important than following a code. The wolf leaves the others and begs for food from men. The men feed him. The wolf lives among the men and hunts with them. One day the men shoot an old wolf, and the wolf who runs with men realizes that the men have wounded the patriarch of his former pack. As the old wolf dies, he says to the young wolf:

‘I have lived my life like a worthy wolf, I have hunted a lot and shared many prey with my brothers, so now I die happy. But you will live your life in shame, and alone, in a world to which you do not belong, for you have rejected the dignity of a free wolf to have a full stomach. You have become unworthy. Wherever you go, you will be treated with contempt; you belong neither to the world of wolves nor to that of men . . . This will teach you that hunger comes and goes, but dignity, once lost, never returns.’

Though the storyline sometimes wanders too far off the road, Siberian Education is well worth reading for its reflective moments, its rituals, and its exploration of a wholly masculine ethos.

Siberian Education: Growing Up in a Criminal Underworld
Nicolai Lilin, Translated by Jonathan Hunt
W. W. Norton & Company (April 4, 2011)
ISBN: 0393080854

Nicolai Lilin’s Official Web Site

Other Reviews of Siberian Education

The Guardian: “We could learn a lot from the honour code of a Siberian criminal caste, says Irvine Welsh”

Manning up

Kay’s Man-child Revisited

Kay Hymowitz’s piece for the Wall Street Journal, titled “Where Have The Good Men Gone?” drew a lot of criticism from men and women alike. It’s old news now, but I just got around to reading her book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys.With either help or direction from her publishers, Hymowitz baited readers with a yellow op-ed, insulting cover art and a goading thesis. At least Micheal Kimmel deigned to call his frat-boy scapegoats “guys.”Hymowitz refers to those guys as “child-men” and the book cover shows a baby dressed as a man. It was a sensationalistic and trashy move, but we live in a  sensationalistic, trashy culture.The real problem is that this belittling  pitch detracted from the more measured — and often sympathetic — tone of the book itself.

Hymowitz knows that the 20-something, Gen-Y guys she is talking about aren’t children. Her argument is that they are stuck in an extended adolescence — what she calls “preadulthood” — that was a necessary byproduct of the knowledge economy.

My paternal grandfather never graduated from high school. He went straight to work. After spending WWII in the Navy, he ended up working for the Pennsylvania Railroad, and stayed on there until he retired.

Jobs like that are few and far between these days. Kids raised in the 80s, 90s and aughts were  raised to go to college and “find themselves” in some fulfilling career, working with their heads instead of their backs. The stable lunch pail jobs were often outsourced, and replaced with job growth in more creative, exciting jobs.

These jobs require education and many offer no linear career path, so if young people want to be “fulfilled” by their careers, they often have to put off getting married and having children. This is true of males and females alike, and while Hymowitz makes much of the “New Girl Order,” she acknowledges that those successful girls are also stuck in a kind of pre-adulthood, too. However, they hear their biological clocks ticking, and they are up against a pressure to get things underway that simply isn’t as pressing for males.

Hymowitz overplays the size and importance of the creative class — while those jobs abound in major metropolitan areas (like New York — Hymowitz lives in Brooklyn), there are too many aspiring graphic designers, web designers, script writers and photographers everywhere else. She also seems to inhabit a mental world where everyone went to Brown or Wesleyan or some posh east coast school, and one wonders if she is writing about the sexes in America, or just Sex in the City.

She is correct, though, that the knowledge and service economies demanded skills which matched female tendencies. Hymowitz concedes that whether nature or nurture is to blame — she’s not sure herself — “manufacturing’s loss has been women’s gain” She also notes that while males aged 13-34 have eluded marketers, young females buy a lot of stuff, and it made sense for employers to look for women to help them create designs and promotions that appealed to their target demographics. This is easy enough to verify. I’ve noted for years that design seems to be getting “cuter” and virtually all of the new businesses in a neighborhood near to me were created by and for women. My favorite is “branch and birdie : retail catering to the modern home, woman and child.” (Notice who is missing…) She writes of the “Bridget Jones economy”:

“the uncomfortable truth is that youthful female careerism is closely intertwined with the growth of consumption for two reasons. First, working women make and spend a lot of money. Second, women can find satisfying (passion-filled?) careers centered around the sorts of products on which women like to spend money.”

Refreshingly, the author doesn’t blame the ad agencies or the media for pandering to women or to her child-men; she understands that most successful marketing trends exploit an existing demand.

When it comes to feminist heroes and doctrine, Hymowitz is not afraid to criticize Betty Friedan, who she portrays as being a bit spoiled and delusional, or Micheal Kimmel. She dismisses Kimmel’s tired 1970s neo-Marxist race and gender “entitlement” narrative tidily:

“The college-educated inhabitants of Kimmel’s Guyland never knew a world where women weren’t lawyers and managers or where slayers named Buffy didn’t take care of the vampires.”

Indeed, Hymowitz is a lot more sympathetic to the plight of young men than Kimmel. She acknowledges that there are demographic, economic, technological, cultural and hormonal reasons why young men haven’t “evolved” into “postfeminist mensches.” Despite the fact that she hysterically called Roissy an “evil” misogynist, she recognizes that the guys who she calls “Darwinians” have “the preponderance of evidence in their corner.” Males and females, according to Hymowitz, have biological clocks running at different speeds, and due to feminism, technology and changes in the economy, males and females alike have little motivation to marry early or produce a population-sustaining brood.Hymowitz matches Kimmel’s bitterness, sublimated envy and ideological blindness with a schoolmarmish, obsessive horror of crude boyish humor — which is I imagine how she justifies the “child-man” moniker. But when she’s not wagging her finger or harrumphing about Maxim or Adam Sandler movies, she seems to understand that our society has made it clear that men are expendable as fathers and even in the workplace — so they sometimes act accordingly.

Hymowitz believes that most men want families, albeit after the age when women want them, and she says that men will have to “man up” if they want to have those families. This feels like an afterthought, because while she spends the entire book outlining the problems young men and women face she offers no solutions whatsoever. She admits that the modern young man is “free as men have never been free before,” but gives no suggestions as to changes that could be made to encourage men to invest in families and careers before they’ve had their fill of beer and sluts.

Perhaps she realizes the kind of changes that would be necessary, and doesn’t dare.

(Originally published at



Stay Male and Fail

On Guy Garcia’s The Decline of Men (2008)

In The Decline of Men, Guy Garcia begins and ends his discussion of the American male’s loss of power at the Burning Man festival. In front of a sign that says “TRUTH” he sees an effigy of a man who is half-built, headless. The image of a man is being reconstructed after having been burned to the ground by surprise, ahead of schedule. Garcia sees the first man as traditional Western patriarchal man, and the burning symbolizes his loss of economic and political primacy in the United States and around the World.

After speaking to Gerald Levin, Garcia concludes that men will re-discover and re-build themselves and adopt a more feminine approach to life, once they abandon the “arrogance of power.” Levin was the architect of the disastrous AOL/Time Warner merger, and is now the Managing Director of the Moonview Sanctuary in Santa Monica, which specializes in New Age therapy and holistic healing. Garcia doesn’t get into it, but The Moonview Sanctuary story was chronicled in New York magazine in 2007. When a reeling, failing Levin started talking about bringing “the poetry” back into life during an interview with Lou Dobbs, his future wife and business partner called to request a meeting with him. Laurie, former talent agent 14 years his junior, already had a business plan for a boutique wellness clinic catering to high profile clients. Instead of approaching him initially for an investment, Laurie started talking with the distraught man and involved herself in his emotional world. She even cased his history and eventually decided to approach him with the idea of spiritually communing with his own murdered son. Levin left his wife of 32 years to help Laurie build her rehab for the rich and famous, which supports her combined interests in hippie dippy bullshit (brain painting and “holotropic beathwork”) and shopping for “lavish antiques.”  Levin, now a full convert who attends men’s drumming circles, asserts that ultimately his mission is to “break down male culture.”

Garcia’s final words on The Decline of Men are:

“The Levin lesson is clear. For men to rediscover a better, more balanced, more enlightened version of themselves, they don’t have to join pagan parades in the desert or ingest brain-warping drugs. All they have to do is fail. And through this failure and destruction they just might gain the freedom to re-create themselves as the men they know they can be.”

He’s reaching here with a subtle scold, projecting thoughts into the heads of men that may or may not be there. (His attempt at a bit of that “communing” stuff, perhaps?)  Having read Levin’s story, a more “truthful” restatement might be that after men have failed, men will have the opportunity to be whatever women would like them to be, and to be used however women wish. Whether or not the success of women in ventures like The Moonview Sanctuary — and in a postmodern service economy that produces nothing — is a sustainable basis for a nation is a question that Garcia never tackles.

Husbands Without Wives, Or Wives Without Husbands?

One particularly odd dystopian scenario that Garcia imagines is a future where men are desperate to find wives, but wives don’t need them or can’t find any suitable men who make a sufficient amount of money or hold an acceptable number of academic credentials. He muses:

“The jarring notion of a man waiting by the phone for Ms. Right to call may seem ridiculous to some, but it’s no longer far-fetched. If present trends continue, men will soon find themselves in a position that used to be associated with single women. At the very least, they will find out — if they haven’t already — what it feels like to be the financially dependent partner in a romantic relationship, assuming they can find a woman who will take them. While young women are increasingly willing to forgo Mr. Right for Mr. Right Now, it may be partly because they’ve simply given up on finding a man who meets their expectations.”

This is odd, because during the same year, Micheal Kimmel complained in Guyland — which shares much in common with Garcia’s book — that women were desperate to find men who were ready and willing to commit, because men were in no hurry. This is a pop culture commonplace, and is more believable from the way things look on the ground than Garcia’s fantasy. Kimmel wrote, more convincingly:

“Countless movies and TV sitcoms remind men that marriage and parenthood are women’s victories over the guys of Guyland, and that once they are permanently attached to nagging wives, they’ll never again have sex or any other kind of fun again.”

It is women, less than men, who seek a spouse and family to “complete them.” Women are encouraged to be sexually adventurous and promiscuous, and are providing sex to “Mr. Right Now” — so more young men are probably getting more of what they want from women than ever before in history. At the same time, more and more men are waking up to the fact that marriage isn’t what it used to be. They are looking at a 50/50 chance of a divorce that will probably put them in relative poverty and make it extremely difficult for them to maintain a meaningful and positive relationship with their offspring.  I think most men like the “idea” of having a family “someday,” but it will increasingly be women who will be put in the position of selling marriage to men, not the other way around.

The bulk of The Decline of Men is a fairy standard catalog of men’s issues with a particular emphasis on pop culture. His perspective feels very tony and coastal, and his understanding of blue collar men outside of New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles seems to be confined to observations in the “I once had a friend who had a friend who dated a blue collar guy once, and this is what she said about him after they broke up” insight bracket.

Garcia consults an odd collection of experts, but with the exception of some space given to the authors of Why Men Don’t Iron: The Fascinating and Unalterable Differences Between Men and Women, he rarely looks at issues from more than one side. For instance, his contribution to the “women in combat” debate is asking a man who has been advocating for women in combat from an ideological perspective since the 1970s and publishing his comments at length.  No counter arguments are entertained seriously, and none of what this one “expert” (who seems to be at odds with the entire US Military establishment, as well as every male soldier I’ve ever talked to seriously about this issue) says is ever questioned thoughtfully.  Garcia also mentions “matriarchal cultures where the sexes have lived in harmony for thousands of years” in passing, which caught my eye because I’ve still yet to see truly convincing evidence of one successful culture run by women for any extended period of time. Later in the book he makes reference to the work of feminist archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, who developed a “portrait of a society that lasted 25,000 years and which practiced equal rights between men and women on a social, political, and spiritual level.” He never mentions, however, that many regard her theories as being highly questionable. Lawrence Keeley’s War Before Civilization, previously mentioned here, takes apart the myth of peaceful and matriarchal prehistory. Men have probably always engaged in some kind of warfare, and as women represented the future of the tribe, it is doubtful that they ever participated equally in war-making or politics, and as Garcia even notes at one point, women have the least to gain by going to war.

The Golden Age of Goddess Worship

There is a recurring New Age “return to the goddess theme” with a lot of these authors (Keen, Bly, now Garcia) who are grasping for some way to envision a future where men and women share power. They share the same clichés, the same sources and the same faults of reasoning. One cliché is the idea, repeated and bolded in The Decline of Men, that “Biologically speaking, all human beings begin as females.” The fact that males must be XY and not XX to begin with, and that any XY is going to be male from the moment of conception unless something goes wrong is never mentioned. The point of repeating this idea is to make it seems as though women are some kind of human default and that men are a temporary mutant aberration. However, there has never been a human society consisting solely of women. Men have always been part of the human equation. There is no pre-male society that women are “going back to.” All primates are sexually dimorphic, and all have some sort of separate gender role breakout in terms of division of labor. We borrow the term “alpha males” from the study of animals, and the tendency of violent males to create power based hierarchies and fight over access to females.  The idea that humans abandoned normal primate behaviors during some Goddess-worshipping golden age of peace and sexual harmony and then returned to patriarchy and jungle law once they discovered agriculture seems so far-fetched that you have to want to believe it — like feminists Margaret Mead and Marija Gimbutas.

If this Golden Age never happened, then Garcia’s vision of a future where we “return” to (after we fail) is based on a manufactured past. In a recent lecture, Hanna Rosin (of “The End of Men” fame) talked about the rise of women as a “bridge.” If we take this bridge based on false premises, we are likely to find that it is a bridge to nowhere.

A 12 Step Program for Men

Garcia wants men to acknowledge that, as a group, they are failing, and comes up with a 12 Step program a la Alcoholics Anonymous. Here are his “steps:”

  1. Admit that we’ve got a problem.
  2. Make a fearless inventory of ourselves.
  3. Apologize to those we have hurt.
  4. Admit our mistakes.
  5. Break the trap of male silence.
  6. Make peace with Mr. Hyde.
  7. Seek strength in brotherhood.
  8. Embrace change.
  9. Never blame women.
  10. Remember that respect comes in many forms.
  11. Share our experience.
  12. Don’t follow The Rules.

He never really develops this program very well, and some of the steps represent ideas that aren’t explained anywhere in the book.  However, number 9 sticks out, and he asserts throughout the book that, even as men are supposed to abandon traditional rules of masculinity and reimagine themselves completely, it is unmanly to blame women. This is a powerful statement of Garcia’s part. Men must abandon any recognizable masculine ideal, admit their mistakes and embrace change, but women must remain blameless!

Really? Men and women are supposed to share power honestly and equally, but women must remain free from blame? Men are to assume that women are always behaving fairly and decently, never playing the system to their advantage, still sweet sisters in struggle looking for a fair shot? Equality means that questioning how women wield their newfound power is verboten?

Garcia did bravely allow one of his experts to mention the fact that many men are actually financially unable to pay their child support, and that this will only increase as women gain ground in the workforce and men lose ground. But his failure to engage the powerful feminist ideologues, lobbyists and policy makers who actively and knowingly contribute to the decline of men reveals for what he truly is. Guy Garcia is just a media-saavy opportunist, trying to make a buck off The Decline of Men by expanding his claim to expertise as a speaker and media consultant who helps corporate clients interpret the new marketplace, without offending or challenging women (likely his potential clients) in any way. The Decline of Men flatters the egos of women, and offers no real direction for men beyond some sort of New Age awakening to grateful goddess worship and uncritical subservience.

Garcia’s 12 Steps might as well be condensed to three.

  1. Stay Male
  2. Fail
  3. Obey


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Only Feminists are REAL MEN

On Micheal Kimmel’s Guyland.

(Originally posted on The, Nov. 2010.)

As far as Michael Kimmel is concerned, everyone else is just a “guy.”

In Guyland, Kimmel describes and analyzes young American males with all the civilized horror of an eighteenth century missionary reporting on the customs and activities of naked heathen cannibals. These savages, born innocent and full of childish wonder, learn early to fear the scorn of their male peers and become so desperate for male approval that they will engage in bizarre and often criminal behavior. Enter “Guyland,” a human terrain inhabited by young men that Kimmel maps only by the most extreme and sensational accounts of fraternity hazing, excessive gambling, sports obsession, drunkenness, video game addiction and gang rapes. Kimmel is at his most even handed and truthful when, as an avid sports fan, he writes about sports talk with his son and the influence that sports have on men’s lives. But for most of Guyland, he’s a critical outsider looking in – Kimmel, a Jew, offers that he was unable to join a fraternity in college because of the ethnic restrictions of the era, and Kimmel’s C.V. shows that he’s spent the majority of his adult life seeking the approval of feminist women. (He was one of the first males to attend and graduate from Vassar.)

Like many women and bookish solipsists, Kimmel looks at the male world and sees fear of social disapproval as a primary motivator for typical male behaviors. But this is spin and half-truth. For instance, if you only read Kimmel and had little firsthand experience dealing with “guys” in real life as peers, you’d think that young men only drank heavily because of peer pressure, campus rituals and outmoded masculine ideals. You’d think that men only drink out of fear for being ostracized by other men for not drinking. I read I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max alongside Guyland. Max’s stories about drinking and “hooking up” filled out Kimmel’s caricature and reminded me that men often drink together to create conflict and excitement out of the sense of boredom with polite, modern society that Kimmel acknowledges but fails to truly understand. Men drink to relax, and sometimes to wallow in self-pity, but men drink in packs for the story. Lionel Tiger was correct when he observed that men bond during aggression, and heavy drinking puts average guys in “safe crisis.” They fight their own bodies, concoct strategies to pick up girls, narrowly avoid or get into fights with other men. They do and say things they normally wouldn’t. Crazy things happen. Young men drink together because they’re looking for a good bad time, a story to tell, proof that something happened. While Tucker Max’s tales often involve boasting, they are just as often self-deprecating and have an honest humanity to them that doesn’t come across in Kimmel’s ethnography. For Kimmel, the only “guys” with any humanity – the only real men — are the ones who resist or reject the culture of “guyland.” Coming from the leading feminist scholar of “men’s studies” in America, this thesis feels more than a little self-congratulatory.

Guyland isn’t really an attempt to understand “guys.” It’s ultimately more of an exercise in telling women, feminists and frightened parents the horror stories they want to hear about the “privileged” white American male.

Unlike their male counterparts, Kimmel says that young women today don’t feel defined by any particular ideal of womanhood – they believe they can be or do anything. He says that young “guys” however, adhere to a strict “Guy Code.” The “Guy Code” includes a handful of sayings and slogans that Kimmel says young males have internalized and repeated back to him in interviews and classroom situations. He offers a top ten list of examples including phrases like “Boys Don’t Cry,” Take it Like a Man,” “Just Do It,” etc.  The list feels a bit doctored, but Kimmel correctly identifies the unifying theme of these sayings as an aversion to “showing emotions or admitting weakness.” However, by framing this observation with a bunch of goofy sayings and slogans that men like, he takes a simple and relatively cross-cultural phenomenon and casts it as arbitrary, commercialized, harmful, culturally specific and ultimately unnecessary. The phrase “showing emotions” is weaselly, and “aversion to admitting weakness” could just as easily be re-stated in the positive as “preference for cultivating and portraying strength.” What successful culture has encouraged the majority of its men to show weakness and discouraged them from cultivating strength?

It’s one of the great magic tricks of feminists that they’ve somehow managed to get us to consider the possibility that normal and consistent patterns of male behavior over the last few thousand years were actually psychologically sick and evil. Apparently men have been “doing it wrong” all this time, we can only trust women and feminist academics to finally show men how to “do it right.”

Kimmel holds up the more fluid or flexible gender identity of women as an ideal, and in Guyland the refusal of young men to abandon The Guy Code is conveniently blamed for epidemic levels of casual sex (“hooking up”) and binge drinking among both young males and young females. Kimmel blames lagging male academic performance and a general lack of direction on The Guy Code, too, and he refuses to entertain the possibility that feminist influence on the educational system has played any role whatsoever in hindering the intellectual development of boys. He accepts natural difference uncritically when he supports the behavior of women or homosexual males, but his whole position relies on the assumption that men behave the way they do for the most part due to the culturally constructed “Guy Code.”

Drawing from his sociology background, Kimmel uses a set of markers to define adulthood, and to draw a line between what he sees as boy behavior and man behavior. A man establishes a career, gets married, has children, assumes responsibility, and abandons the world of boys and “guys” for family life. These are traditional distinctions and they have some value, but seem at odds with a modern feminist reality where fathers and husbands are regarded as an extra paycheck, a gateway to motherhood and homeownership, a “kitchen bitch” who puts up shelves and makes the bouillabaisse. (Really, click on the link. Sandra Tsing Loh’s “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” is a shockingly honest window into the mind of the stridently feminist “wife.”) Kimmel gropes around at this, summarizing some of the reasons why “guys” are in no big hurry to abandon Guyland. He admits that our culture portrays manhood as the end of all fun, and that television husbands are “infantilized by their wives, unable to do the simplest things for themselves, clueless about their kids’ lives, and begging for sex—or reduced to negotiating for it in exchange for housework.”

Guys are not as stupid as women think they are. Every man knows at some level that in this post-patriarchal arrangement, his kids are generally regarded as her kids first, and while she will likely work outside the home, the household is still ultimately her domain. Feminist Hanna Rosin recently called on women to reclaim the kitchen because her husband turned out to be a better cook, and she felt that he’d infringed upon her rightful domain. Women everywhere are making it clear that “equality” means they call the shots and get whatever they want, and that husbands are the new wives. Many of the men who achieve Kimmel’s markers of adulthood can only hope to graduate to the status of renter and supplicant, living on borrowed time.

The idea that guys are not men is repeated throughout the book, but climaxes in this paragraph toward the conclusion.

And feminism also dares to expect more from men. Feminism expects a man to be ethical, emotionally present, and accountable to his values in his actions with women—as well as with other men. Feminism loves men enough to expect them to act more honorably and actually believes them capable of doing so. Feminism is a vision that expects men to go from being “just guys,” accepting whatever they might happen to do, to being just guys—capable of autonomy and authenticity, inspired by justice. That is, feminism believes that guys can become men.

This gloss of what feminists want from men seems reasonable enough at first glance, though it includes a lot of built-in and arguable assumptions about what it means to be “emotionally present,” honorable or authentic. When compared to Hanna Rosin and Sandra Tsing Loh’s own accounts of what men can expect from their feminist wives in real life, the whole proposition is revealed as a farce. While it is true that not all women are self-centered, neurotic shrews like Rosin and Tsing Loh—I’d like to count my two sisters as examples of sane women capable of compromise and cooperation with their husbands — Kimmel doesn’t ask women to make any sacrifices or take any active role in making modern manhood more appealing.  Male readers of Guyland are ultimately left with nothing but Kimmel’s scolding, scare tactics and empty feminist platitudes about “justice” and “humanity” as reasons to “grow up” and become kitchen bitches.

In dismantling the patriarchy, feminists have disincentivized family life for men. It is disingenuous to withhold the mantle of adulthood from these men by holding them to the higher standard of a system that no longer exists or serves their collective interests. Men can be motivated to do just about anything. When they had to, they did support their families and shoulder enormous responsibilities. They built cities and crossed oceans.  What feminism lacks is something to offer that the majority of men actually want.

It is a regular hypocrisy of pro-feminist writing by men that while these authors portray traditional masculine norms as oppressive and absurd, they set up their own benchmarks for who is a man and who is not, and emasculate other men accordingly. Like the Newsweek writers who recently told men to “Man Up!” and take jobs they don’t want, Kimmel takes aim at jocks and frat boys – claiming they are not men because they don’t follow his own example.  This is ressentiment. Kimmel is inverting strength based masculine virtues and aiding the creation of an ad hoc moral system that elevates his own servile and sensitive intellectualism. In spite of his admiration for fluid feminine identities, Kimmel just can’t help himself. He isn’t abandoning The Guy Code, he’s just fashioning a new code to separate the men from the “guys.”


An Empty Stomach

On Sam Keen’s Fire in the Belly.

(Originally published at The Spearhead, Nov. 2010)

Sam Keen’s Fire in the Belly, like Robert Bly’s Iron John, is around twenty years old this year. It remains in print, and remains on the very short list of “men’s studies” books written by men who don’t identify themselves explicitly as pro-feminist  – though like Iron John, Fire in the Belly is far more friendly to feminism than many feminists would like to admit. Keen differentiates between two kinds of feminism, what he calls “prophetic” and “ideological” feminism. He feels that the difference between them is “largely a matter of mood, tone of voice, focus, emphasis, feeling-tone.” Ideological feminism, for Keen, is about blaming, scapegoating and maintaining a state of total war between the sexes; it’s what others have called “female supremacism.”

Some of the most helpful messages Keen imparts have to do with female power and the way that an internalized, idealized “WOMAN” can keep men in thrall. His estimation of this power is sometimes dead on, but at other times so overblown and mythic that it evokes Camille Paglia’s work.  The best advice he gives comes in a recounted story from his youth, wherein a man tells him that:

“there are two questions a man must ask himself: The first is ‘Where am I going?’ and the second is ‘Who will go with me?’ If you ever get these questions in the wrong order you are in trouble.”

This much is true. If a man doesn’t know who he is, and he looks to a woman to complete and define him, she will inevitably walk all over him and will probably never respect him. A man who looks for a mother will probably find one, and she will treat him like a little boy. Like Bly, Keen believes manhood requires a move away from the world of women. Keen wants men to spend time in the world of men and define themselves as men and as individuals before they can truly love an ordinary woman. This is probably a good idea, but it also has an upper-middle class air of self-indulgent escapism about it. Life requires most men to get to work. This pre-marriage escapism would have to occur at roughly the same age when men would theoretically be starting careers and families. To what ripe old age can a viable civilization afford to extend adolescence?

The notion of “prophetic feminism” flows from Keen’s vision for the future. Keen believes that we “urgently need new visions of manhood and womanhood,” and that “as men, our challenge is to grow beyond the myth of war and the warrior psyche and to create a new form of ecological economics that will preserve the earth household.” Although he doesn’t always seem sold on the idea himself, Keen envisions a peaceful future where men and women coexist harmoniously and men become “fierce gentlemen” whose manhood is defined by their commitment to certain “vocational passion” and a set of values and morals.  It is because of his “gentle and earthy” vision of the future that the book becomes less about manhood and more about adapting the culture of men to serve his own philosophical and political ideals. In this, Keen shares much in common with feminists, who also believe men must change to accommodate their comparably gilded and utopian future of gender-neutral peace and prosperity. If “ideological” feminists were able to put aside their parochial refusal to allow men to have any distinct and meaningful gender identity of their own, they’d be passing Fire in the Belly out to all of the males in their lives.

The first problem with Keen’s idea of where men are going is his unlikely interpretation of where they’ve been. Keen, like many of his contemporaries, believes that early humans were relatively peaceful goddess-worshippers. He blames much of the current state of masculinity on traits that were necessary to maintain the “warfare system.” While it is very reasonable to suggest that culturally constructed aspects of masculinity help to prepare men for the stress of combat and associated trauma, the notion that early humans lived in relative peace and harmony is not supported by evidence. In War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage, anthropologist Lawrence H. Keeley makes a convincing case — using both archeological evidence from thousands of years ago and accounts from recent tribal societies — that early humans not only made war, but that they were also pretty darn good at it. Primitive peoples generally engaged in guerilla style warfare and wars of attrition that were often devastating to their comparatively small populations.

In a particularly striking disparity, Keen mentions the Tahitians as people who “encourage men to be gentle, easy, graceful, generous to strangers, slow to take offense, and unconcerned with defending masculine ‘honor’.” (Even Keen admits that people like this are rare.) Keeley, on the other hand, notes that:

“In Tahiti, a victorious warrior, given the opportunity, would pound his vanquished foe’s corpse flat with his heavy war club, cut a slit through the well-crushed victim, and don him as a trophy poncho.”

Grisly examples, based on hard archaeological evidence (like mass graves, decapitated heads, arrowheads in skulls, etc.) abound in War Before Civilization, and Keeley believably explains why some of his predecessors chose to de-emphasize this evidence and “pacify the past.” Keeley is careful to remind readers that humans are not necessarily destined to be warlike simply because peace between humans has been rare, but that lying about the past isn’t the way to solve problems in the present. However, in light of evidence provided by Keeley, a good chunk of Keen’s storyline about how the warfare system corrupted men and masculinity caves in on itself. Humans are violent for approximately the same reasons they’ve always been violent. For another outstanding refutation of the noble savage mythos, see Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature.

The second problem with Keen’s call to reimagine a kinder, gentler, earthier man is that it fails to acknowledge the hard realities of cultural and demographic competition. This “reimagining masculinity” is, for the most part, a SWPL meme. The idea that well-off, highly educated, completely protected Westerners can set the moral bar for the world and that everyone else will leap to follow them is a hubristic fantasy. Asians and swarthier folk aren’t moved by the same guilt complexes (after all, according to the SWPL belief system, they didn’t ruin the planet and everything else). As Keen’s fierce gentlemen belly-ache about violence and social justice, hold spirited debates, buy recycled toilet paper and explore their personal woundologies — a poor kid in the ghetto is getting jumped into a gang, and that kid is going to rob his remodeled urban homestead and rape his narcissistic vegetarian wife. Both Keeley and Keen’s peaceable solutions, if put into practice on Earth, would require one world government and the forced redistribution of wealth by a near police state. The truth is that not everyone is going to sit around having spirited debates. The people who enjoy that have a natural aptitude for it. Not everyone is burning to explore their individuality and inner creativity. (Most people aren’t that creative or interesting.) Someone is still going to have to scrub the toilets and mow the lawns and build the buildings, and those people are going to want the same things average people have always wanted: food, shelter, stuff, entertainment and sex. The calm and sober delights of pampered patrician philosophers do not necessarily appeal to the conflict hungry, reality TV-loving rabble. As Gracchus said in Gladiator, “The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the senate; it’s the sand of the coliseum.”

Like all books explicitly about manhood, Fire in the Belly is really a philosophical treatise. The question “what kind of man shall I be” is a highly philosophical question, and your answer is going to draw on some of your most basic assumptions about the human nature,  politics, ethics and what makes life worth living. Keen is an engaging if sometimes uncomfortably confessional writer, but to sign on to his program, you have to agree that the world he envisions is possible and desirable. Twenty years on, it seems neither.