Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What's really behind the Man Rules

I think something interesting is going on in male culture right now. And it isn’t what it appears to be. The men driving the renewal often speak of what they are doing as something that has never been seen before but I think what they are doing is more of a renaissance of manliness. They are rediscovering something that was lost.

I caught an interesting example of this on a podcast at The Art of Charm that I listened to yesterday. It was posted on July 29 of this year and is called The  Man Rules and featured a sociologist named Dan Griffin. Griffin argues that there are a series of socially derived rules for being a man that we have all internalized and that these have positive and negative aspects about them. In order to not be sabotaged by them, a man needs to know about the rules and to be conscious of the ways they affect his life. So far so good.

You can guess a lot about where Griffin is going to go with this just in the language he uses. Note, for example, how he uses negative and positive formulations of the same rules. He didn’t intend to set these up as vice-virtue pairs but I’m going to do that for him and, when I do, you will be able to see that Griffin has accidentally uncovered some ancient wisdom.

There are two things going on here. The first, as is obvious when we look at the chart above, is that Griffin has rediscovered virtue ethics without realizing it. The second is something that Robert Glover showed us in No More Mr, Nice Guy years ago: that hiding your vulnerabilities is no way to be a man—that concealing your weakness is no way to be strong. To be a man is to accept that there are risks and that there are no safe ways to live if you want to have meaningful relationships.

That second point is not obvious from the above chart alone for it shows only binary pairs. To get it, we need to consider that there are two extremes for each vice. If you are swept up by everything that provokes an emotional response in you, that will destroy your integrity. You'' be able to tell one woman that you love and treasure her and then go across town and say the same things to another lover. So you have to know how to control your emotions in order to have integrity. Paradoxically, you also have to nurture your emotions to have integrity. If aren't afraid of losing someone, you'll never value her in your actions and you'll betray her not by cheating on her but by failing to love her adequately. Your claim of love will be an empty sham.

Griffin, interestingly, takes the manly values, beginning with the ones listed in the chart above, to be socially given, “from your parents, from the schoolyard". And that they certainly are but they are also built on a solid biological foundation. A powerful hint that this is so can be found in Griffin’s saying that the man rules are universal; that while there are local variations, you find these in every culture. And that ought to give us pause because the odds against every culture throwing up more or less the same set of gender rules are very high. These aren’t gender rules, they are sex rules. These are the rules that derive from your having both an X and  Y chromosome and all that follows from that.

And that jumps right out at us when Griffin and Art-of-Charm host Jordan Harbinger discuss sex. Griffin lays it out as categorically as he can:
You can take all the rules of sex and you can condense them into one sentence: have as much sex as possible, whenever possible with as many hot women as possible.
He’s wrong. There is a second sentence he doesn’t know about and I’ll get to that in a minute. The important thing to grasp is that what Griffin treats as a cultural determination is a biological fact. For men, there are two successful evolutionary strategies and one of them is the sower strategy, which is to attempt to impregnate as man women as possible so as to created better odds of your genes being passed on. And that is Griffin’s one sentence.

The second sentence, the one he doesn’t know about, is:
Form a solid and lasting bond with one woman, protect and feed her and help her raise the children you produce together.
That also improves the odds of your passing on your genes because any children you and this woman have will have a better chance of surviving.

Civilizations tend to be built on the latter of the two options. When civilizations crumble, the first will reassert itself. But the first never goes away. When things start to get unsettled—because social norms are abandoned, because the economy collapses or because the culture is put in danger because of war or disease—you see the first come back with a vengeance. Because it never goes away, all civilizations attempt to regulate and, where it can’t be regulated, accommodate these drives. Thus we have marriage and divorce laws, child support payments, prostitution, pornography and so forth.

One of the reasons these things never go away is that women have complimentary drives. The best way for a woman to get pregnant is to have sex with as many men as possible. On the other hand, the best way for her to ensure she has a partner to raise her child, and thereby increase the chance of their survival, is for her to be monogamous. The temptation to pretend to do the second while actually doing the first is always present. (The central sexual myth of our culture is not a false belief about masculinity but a false belief about the supposed moral superiority of women when it comes to sexual behaviour.) If you were to do a thorough-going genetic analysis of your family going back a few generations, you would almost certainly find a man in your family tree who was there in name only.

And I’ll end for now on a very MacIntyre note. What if there was a cataclysm in our culture and we didn’t notice it? Suppose that economic prosperity and peace concealed from us the fact that our moral culture was severely wounded. Perhaps what someone like Griffin is doing is not, as he thinks it is, a process of cultural criticism but an attempt to rebuild a manly culture out of the ruins.

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