Several readers have asked about the meaning of the Conflict Bindrune that appears on the back cover of Becoming a Barbarian.
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.
I wrote up a brief review of Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order for Counter-Currents.
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:
“…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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
I recently participated in a (virtual) round table discussion about Fight Club (1999) with Alternative Right editors Richard Spencer, Andy Nowicki and Colin Liddell. We covered a lot of ground — the enduring appeal of the film’s grunge aesthetic, the neo-primitivist philosophy of Tyler Durden, the vacuousness of modernity, Friedrich Nietzsche‘s Last Man and Fukuyama’s End of History.
Alternate link here.
Here are some notes referenced in the podcast.
Fight Club (1999)
Andy’s Fight Club-inspired article at AltRight
Summary of Nietzsche’s concepts of “Passive” and “Active” Nihilism
David Fincher filmography
Francis Fukuyama’s End of History and the Last Man (1992)
Jack Donovan “Something Worth Doing”
Mark Steyn, “In the Absence of Guns”
Attack The System — Pan-secessionism from Empire
A few decades ago, only B-movie buffs and Michael Jackson cared about zombies. Now, there’s no escape from the undead. From feature films, popular TV dramas and comic books to Zombie walks, pub crawls and 5ks, the people want zombies like zombies want brains. America’s growing appetite for zombietainment has been called a commentary on cubicle life and brain-dead consumerism, and it’s been attributed to fears of economic instability and bioterrorism, but those explanations don’t quite cut it. Zombies aren’t like other monsters or aliens — they’re other people who suddenly turn on us. It’s because zombies are humans who become sub-human that the “Zombie Apocalypse” has become America’s safest shorthand for our most taboo tribal fantasies.
Last week, my gun-nut pal came back from the magazine rack with a copy of the premier issue of Zombie Nation. Intermedia Outdoors — the company that publishes Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times and Bowhunter — dreamed it up to cover the growing zombie niche of the weapons trade.
That’s right; gun manufacturers are producing real guns to appeal to people who want to protect themselves from imaginary monsters. And they’re coming up with some pretty cool shit.
Take, for instance, the “Zombie Muzzle Thumping Device” (ZMTD). For 200 bucks, you can attach it to the end of your assault rifle and use it to stab a zombie in the face in case you run out of ammo — or don’t want to make noise that would attract more zombies. You can get it from Specialized Tactical Systems, or you can just buy the complete “Zombie Slayer,” a “uniquely zombie” AR that ships with the ZMTD and a copy of the Zombie Survival Guide.
Mossberg has come out with the ZMB series of zombie-themed pump-action shotguns for your Zompocalypse needs. The editors of Zombie Nation argue convincingly that shotgun ammunition will simply be easier to obtain in the end times, because military and law enforcement will consume most of the NATO-spec ammunition while fighting the initial outbreaks.
The producers of the classic USMC KA-BAR knife have put out a line of bladed weapons with toxic-green grips.
There’s also a fully functional zombie-killing chainsaw that you can attach to the end of your AR to “cut through a cord of firewood” or “chew through the rotting flesh of the reanimated dead.”
What’s more, Valkyrie Armaments has developed a series of mods for your AR-15 to help you determine for yourself if happiness really is a belt-fed weapon. Zombie Nation assures us that their goal wasn’t to create a “civilian-legal machine gun.”
Of course it wasn’t. Don’t be ridiculous. What kind of decent red-blooded American man would want to own a thing like that?
To get you in the end times spirit, Hornady has come out with a line of zombie-themed ammunition. In cooperation with the National Guard, they’re also hosting a “Zombies in the Heartland” shooting event in Nebraska this July.
Companies are selling zombie-themed shooting targets (there’s a freebie foldout in Zombie Nation) and even zombie dummies that bleed when you shoot them. (Undead character options include “The Ex,” the “Terrorist,” and of course… the “Nazi.”)
Zombies may be completely fictional sci-fi monsters, but rest assured that all across the heartland, God-fearing Americans are preparing to blow them to smithereens…just in case.
Writing for Alternet, Kristin Rawls recently supposed that Zombiegeddon was the greater of two evils, an imaginary external “doom that we cannot possibly defeat,” contrasted with an “impending self-destruction” that “offers us a shred of agency.” For Kristin, zombieland is a wanton escape from the overwhelming moral burden Americans must feel in a world with “diminished standards of living and growing inequality.” She also believes zombie fantasies actually ease our fears and anxieties about an uncertain future because the prospect of social, political and economic decline isn’t quite as terrifying as rotting corpses clawing their way into our condominiums.
Isn’t that cute?
What Kristin Rawls is either too naïve and solipsistic to comprehend or too uncomfortable to mention is that not all Americans are so deeply troubled by inequality or the coming collapse. Not everyone navigates solely by guilt and fear.
My guess is that for every smug, spoiled liberal rending her earth-friendly active wear and gnashing her privileged teeth over each and every HuffPo headline, there’s a guy out in ‘Merica whose pants got a little tighter when he heard about those homeless dudes caught chewing off each other’s faces.
“Is it finally ON?”
Zombie Nation and Mossberg aren’t catering to the people planning to face the end times sobbing with their heads in their hands, wondering what they could have done differently. This isn’t about the red wine and Seconal set.
It’s about people who see the same problems in the world, but see in civilizational collapse an opportunity to fight for their own survival. Even as they fear disaster, they crave it. The tagline for The Walking Dead comic is, “In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.” Our world offers measured indulgences and meaningless distractions; the Zompocalypse promises meaning and life-or-death immediacy.
For most of human history, survival wasn’t a “human right” owed to you by some benevolent bureaucracy; it was something you worked for — something you had to fight for. Humans have always wondered what they would do if outsiders came to kill them — if the “shit hit the fan.” Survivalists are often treated like tinfoil hat crazies or dangerous psycho gun-nuts, but what they are doing is the most natural thing in the world.
My pal reminded me it wasn’t so long ago that folks in the NRA’s demographic were waiting for the Russian invasion and World War III. During the Cold War, the Russkies were our sworn enemies. It was OK to talk about Russians as if they were all Bond villains and lab rats who bled pure evil. Now, the Russians are just foreigners, and we’re fighting Muslims — but we’re killing them to win their “hearts and minds.” We’re not supposed to hate them or treat them like they are really our enemies. The general idea is that there are bad Muslims and good Muslims and we’re all supposed to agree that the bad Muslims are merely “misinformed” or “confused” about their own religion and what kind of lives they want for themselves.
These days, actually saying that you want to kill any people — really ‘em dead — will get you into trouble in polite company. We’re not supposed to want to feel those kinds of feelings, because we’re supposed to be better than that.
We’re supposed to be more “evolved” than that, but that’s not exactly how evolution works. The engines of evolution aren’t fueled by bumper sticker sentimentality. We’re still basically the same bellicose bipeds who went to war with neighboring tribes over women or honor or resources — or just because we were bored and thought we could win.
We’re not much more evolved, but we are a lot more civilized. We’ve all been taught to say “please” and “thank you” and to love our neighbors or at least pretend we do. We’ve been taught that we’re all part of the same big, happy multicultural human family and that it’s wrong to judge others who look different or behave differently or who have customs that seem strange to us. As Kristin Rawls would surely agree, when people threaten us, we’re supposed to say and believe it is because they’ve been improperly socialized, or because they’ve somehow been disadvantaged.
All of this goody-goody, nicey-niceness relies on a cultish faith in a perilous dogma, and even Kristin somehow senses that its spell is breaking and that the elder gods — the Gods of the Copybook Headings — will return with terror and slaughter.
Prepping for the Zompocalypse gives the more adventurous folks on your cul-de-sac a way to dip their big toes into a kiddie pool of tribalism and get used to the feel, texture and temperature of blood. It allows them to work through primal gang survival scenarios using live ammo without looking like psychos. Zombiegeddon also gives tactically-minded parents a socially acceptable way to train their overly sensitive, public-schooled children how to kill without freaking them out about stranger danger or blowing Bambi’s head off.
It’s only the zombies. It’s only for fun. It’s just a game, like on the Xbox — but louder.
The Zombie threat fantasy gives normal people a way to work through separating “us” from “them.” Dehumanizing outsiders is a survival strategy, and given the “one world tribe” re-education Americans have received over the years, they are bound to be a little rusty. The Zombie Apocalypse helps nice people separate the humans from the “sub-humans.”
Zombies are socially acceptable substitutes for the people we’re afraid of, the people we worry we might have to kill if we don’t want to be killed. Zombies are stand-ins for violent “youths,” for the hungry poor, for criminals and gangs and the people out there who want to break into your house and take your stuff.
Prepping for the Zompocalypse is training wheel tribalism. It offers Americans an atavistic fantasy, a way to return to barbarian life as a pastoral nomad, to a simpler form of social organization, to a group where everyone who is “in” really matters — and everyone who is “out” is dead meat.
Head down to your local gun shop and have a snicker about stocking up for the Zombie Apocalypse. They’ll get the joke. It’s lighthearted shorthand for something even scarier — the idea that you’re getting ready and maybe even getting a little excited about the idea of killing other people. You might even think to yourself that, when things get ugly, if they’re not coming to help you — if they’re not “us” — “they” might as well be walking corpses.
When Cynthia Cockburn and Ann Oakley wrote about the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women this year, they decided to skip writing about violence against women. Instead, they criticized the “culture of masculinity”—and men, generally—for perpetuating all forms of violence.
Steven Pinker is a smart guy.
Pinker’s book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature showed how smart people—specifically scientists, anthropologists and academics—have often been guilty of bias on the topic of human nature. Many smart people have knowingly or unknowingly used their academic clout and expertise to forward a view of humanity that was harmonious with their own left-leaning ideologies. In the process, they created a series of pleasant fictions for their friends and allies to point to as they taught people lies about themselves.
In The Blank Slate, Pinker effectively “pantsed” the left.
He did this in the name of SCIENCE, naturally.
Last night I showed up at The Bagdad to hear Steven Pinker talk about his new book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.
Pinker stuck to his guns on human nature. Hobbes was right; Rousseau was wrong. He showed evidence that humans have always been violent, and that early humans were actually far more likely to die violent deaths than modern humans. A picture of a mummy with a rope around its neck got lots of laughs. And I think I can say the Pinker lecture was the first time I’ve been in a room with a thousand liberals who thought genocide was laugh out loud funny. Pinker asserted that throughout human history, genocide has been a norm. He joked that most humans have believed that “genocide is an excellent thing if it doesn’t happen to you.”
Being of ze Tribe, it must have taken some great big matzo balls for Pinker to imply to ze Jews that their Twentieth Century rough spot was neither the most important nor the most impressive example of attempted genocide in human history. He talked around it a little, but he made the point.
Pinker’s new book is about the decline of human violence, and while he attempts to be controversial by pooh-poohing modern media hysteria about violence, his presentation was essentially an apologia for modernity. Pinker says we have become less violent not due to changes in human nature, but due to a “civilizing process.” We are not becoming less violent simply because we are more “enlightened”—though he said that was part of it, too. He acknowledged that tribalism and violent behavior are disruptive and inconvenient for people with established financial interests. Global commerce has helped to reduce violence, because your trading partner is usually worth more to you alive than dead. Violence is high in pre-state societies, and declines as the state expands and exerts more influence to protect its interests. Progress away from violence means giving the state a monopoly on violence.
These “Occupy Wall Street” folks should think about that for a minute. We live without threat of major war from our biggest competitor because, as Pinker said, “China needs us as a consumer base and we owe them too much money.”
First World nations will happily use violence to bring upstarts into the fold (or replace them) when their collective financial interests are disrupted. Ask Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi.
We live in a less violent world because global corporations find violence disruptive and inconvenient. They help to expand state control of violence and “educate” us in the direction of non-violence. They “spread democracy” to secure their interests, because warlords are a pain in the ass.
My problems with our less violent world shake out to questions about what is best in life. Does “better” mean safer, fatter, weaker and more dependent? Does “better” mean ever-pettier dramas and the loss of life-and-death conflict narrative? Is the loss of identity “better” simply because it makes us safer—and better consumers?
Pinker seems to suffer from the prejudices of his fellow academics who believe that the world must be made safer for those who research, write and invent, and that the little people should shut up, eat their bread, watch their circuses and learn to love their world of peace and plenty.
Pinker’s liberal biases were evident in his cheerleading for the “rights revolution.” Listening to him, it was as though reduced hate crimes against blacks and homosexuals were the ultimate yardsticks of civilization. Rates of black on white crime were never mentioned. The idea that homosexuals are some kind of stable but vulnerable minority population that should be protected—like retards or the blind—was a starting assumption.
Toward the end of his talk, he said that acknowledging the decline of violence should cause us to reassess modernity. He seemed to say that nostalgia for traditional families, as well as patriotism and other sincere faiths, was counterproductive, and that the way forward was more state influence on our lives, more globalism, more democracy and better education.
Is Steve Pinker running for president?
Despite a wealth of great source material, by the time he stepped back from the microphone, I felt like I was listening to another Harvard monkey selling hope and change.
Pinker said that the decline in violence was not inevitable or guaranteed to last. I wondered if I was the only guy in the room who hoped he was right about that. I wondered if I was the only guy waiting for his trend line to bounce.
After the lecture, they went to questions. As I left the balcony I heard some nervous voice ask the man something about “growing tribalism.” As something of a tribalist, I might have been interested in Pinker’s response.
I fucking hate callers.
A lot of people like to think they are “non-violent.” Generally, people claim to “abhor” the use of violence, and violence is viewed negatively by most folks. Many fail to differentiate between just and unjust violence. Some especially vain, self-righteous types like to think they have risen above the nasty, violent cultures of their ancestors. They say that “violence isn’t the answer.” They say that “violence doesn’t solve anything.”
They’re wrong. Every one of them relies on violence, every single day.
On election day, people from all walks of life line up to cast their ballots, and by doing so, they hope to influence who gets to wield the axe of authority. Those who want to end violence — as if that were possible or even desirable — often seek to disarm their fellow citizens. This does not actually end violence. It merely gives the state mob a monopoly on violence. This makes you “safer,” so long as you don’t piss off the boss.
All governments — left, right or other — are by their very nature coercive. They have to be.
Order demands violence.
I wrote it specifically for the site, and it seems especially fitting that it was published on Veteran’s Day. Without fighting men, all but the smallest, simplest and most isolated tribes are doomed. As Han said in Enter the Dragon, “..it is strength that makes all other values possible. Nothing survives without it. Who knows what delicate wonders have died out of the world, for want of the strength to survive. ”
I met Arthur the Viking a few months ago. He’s the real deal.