One of my favorite writers is Jack Donovan, author of “The Way of Men” and “Becoming a Barbarian.” His works have been an indispensable guide for men such as myself seeking to understand masculinity and build male friendships within the context of 21st Century, post-modern Western culture.
Recently I spent an afternoon reading his latest work, “A More Complete Beast.” Like his other books, it is a relatively short read, but each page seems to contain at least one if not two paragraphs of hard-hitting truths and observations.
In reflection, here are some key takeaways that are relevant for any man searching for meaning and purpose in the West.
Masculinity today is an option, and few want you to choose it
“In most cases, people would prefer that you simply relax. Your irritating obsession with self-realization will just make everyone else uncomfortable,” Donovan writes. “In the absence of external pressure, masculinity either fails to develop in the first place, or slowly atrophies.”
As he explained in “The Way of Men,” masculinity is based on four tactical virtues; strength, courage, mastery and honor. Thousands of years ago, most men had to possess those qualities to some degree to survive. They had to be strong to endure harsh elements, brave enough to fight against rival tribes, adept in combat and hunting, and maintain their standing within the tribe to avoid being cast out.
Today none of those traits are needed. Manual labor has been replaced with automation and modern technology. Government laws and regulations make it difficult for a man to do something genuinely brave that is also not prohibited.
The default lifestyle makes men soft and weak, while depriving them of fewer and fewer opportunities to overcome challenges that win the respect of other men.
In bygone times, masculinity was a necessity to live. Today, a man must actively pursue it for its own sake. It is an accomplishment that many men will never achieve and who will resent those who obtain it.
But masculine men do more than discomfort people. To the powers that be, its existence is intolerable.
“Toxic masculinity” is a collection of traits that make you uncontrollable
Donovan writes: “If you want me to do what you believe is necessary – convince me that it is also in my best interest, or bargain with me, or make me an offer I can’t refuse. I’m not going to change who I am or invent my own values because someone, somewhere…tells me to, while offering me absolutely nothing of value to me in return.”
It is no coincidence that the same people who argue that masculinity is a fluid concept then turn around and argue in no uncertain terms that certain traits and behaviors compose “toxic masculinity.” Like so much deconstructionism that occurs today, they don’t have a clear definition of what something is when speaking of it positively, until they decide they want to attack it.
The debate over “toxic masculinity” fundamentally comes down who writes the narrative of a man’s life. “Toxic masculinity” contains traits that are both admirable and disreputable. A man who mistreats his girlfriends while belligerently attacking other men for no reason would fit the definition, but according to the American Psychological Association so would a father who teaches his sons to be stoic in the face of hardship and aggressive when pursuing excellence.
Contained within modern Western societal, cultural, political and religious institutions is a script for men, written by those who do not care about them nor have done anything to earn their trust. The role is for men to do what they are told, whatever the new orders and no matter how much they contradict previous instructions. Weak, insecure men will follow the script as directed and, like Boxer in Animal Farm, blindly and faithfully adhere to their role to the point of their own personal destruction.
However, masculine men will burn that script and write their own narrative, because their mental point of origin is themselves. Their strength and courage make them capable of resisting pressure to follow the script. Their sense of honor makes them loath the notion of taking orders from someone they don’t respect.
Always act. Don’t wait for something to happen first.
Donovan writes: “There is a persistent fantasy of complete civilizational collapse in which the strong will survive and the weak will be helpless against the forces of chaos unless they beg for strong for protection. You’re alive NOW. Memento mori.”
The present trajectory of the modern West could change tomorrow. Or it could change 20-30 years from now. Or it may change after those living today are all dead. Either way, a man’s narrative in life must be separate and distinct from what happens externally. That is one of the takeaways from my friend Aaron Clarey’s excellent book “Enjoy the Decline,” though he is making a different argument; accept the inevitable.
Donovan is saying that men should not make a potential future historical event a prerequisite for doing things in their own life.
At the same time, men should also understand the limitations of personal improvement.
Individual excellence will not change externalities.
“Marriageable women will not magically materialize simply because men make themselves more marriageable,” Donovan writes. “There are problems in the world that cannot be fixed merely by fixing one’s self.”
Men don’t like the idea of resignation over a problem. We like to overcome it or fix it, especially when it affects us. However, there are things truly beyond our grasp. A man can lift weights, study history, learn new languages, improve his speaking skills, cultivate a sharp wit, develop good fashion tastes – none of that will change societal and cultural norms around him. None of that changes the political discourse.
In some ways, it might actually make a man depressed, because he is taking a path few will walk and that will isolate him from others. The contrast between his own accomplishments and the standards of the world around him will be accentuated even more.
To hate is to honor; to be hated is to be honored.
Donovan writes: “As one who believes that he is and strives to be good, noble, might beautiful and loved by the gods – he holds the weak ones, the craven and crafty ones, the perpetual victims…in contempt. He dismisses them with disgust or perhaps even observes them with some small passing measure of pity. But he cannot be moved or bothered to ‘hate’ them.’”
Also: “To hate someone is to acknowledge them as an enemy at the very least – a dangerous equal. To hate is to honor. And to admit you hate some foe because they have power over you, preventing you from doing something, exerting strength and thriving – this is not only a great honor, but an upturning of the hand.”
This is probably the most profound concept in Donovan’s entire book. Men naturally dislike being hated by others. That is understandable. But the problem with that is when we assume that being hated indicates something is wrong with us, rather than the source of that hate. We change ourselves in order to be liked.
Our culture and society strongly implies that, unlike other groups, for men to be the object of hate means they are in the wrong.
It is quite the opposite. If you are hated by someone, know that they believe you are more powerful than them, stronger than them, and control their life. They believe that you are preventing them from achieving what they want to do, good or bad.
It doesn’t matter if it is true. CP3O wasn’t a god and had no power over the ewoks, but that didn’t stop them from honoring him as one.
People pity those they dislike who are weaker than them, but they hate those they dislike who are stronger than them; they also dwell on it constantly. In The Hobbit, Bilbo chooses not to kill Gollum because of pity for an inferior creature. No one pitied Sauron.
If you hate someone or a group of people, you are making a case for their superiority. That is one of the most original arguments I can think of why men who seek greatness can show pity or contempt for others who rightfully deserve it, but never hate them.
For men who have been conditioned to feel ashamed or humiliated when hated, understanding this is a life-changing truth. When we hear, see or read hateful rhetoric or statements made against us, do not see it as a mark of disgrace. View it as form of honor.
When someone accuses you of “male privilege,” they are honoring you with their hate. When they tell you that you must rid yourself of “toxic masculinity,” they are acknowledging their belief in your superiority. When you are tempted to hate, remember that the person or people do not deserve the honor.
The Noble man pursues greatness; the anti-Noble man pursues ressentiment
“The Noble Beast, like the ‘effective man’, also approaches the world with an ‘abundance’ mentality,” Donovan writes. “He sees more than one way to win and sees multiple opportunities for those around him to win as well. The ignoble, ineffective man sees that someone else has won, and resigns himself to being one of the losers.”
If you understand this, it is easy to see where people truly stand regarding who actually hates who. The masculine man who strives for glory in his life pities or despises the anti-Noble man and wants nothing to do with him. He doesn’t hate him, because he has no time to hate an inferior being. He does not want to be associated with such a man, identify with him in any meaningful way, or maintain any connections. He is unconcerned or indifferent to what the anti-Noble man thinks, says, or does. The Noble man is ruled by his insatiable desire for greatness.
The anti-Noble man is ruled by his ressentiment, a mindset that comes from a position of powerlessness and hate toward those whom the person believes is responsible for their condition. Rather than try to bring himself up, he remains in a perpetual state of claiming grievance and seeking revenge. The anti-Noble man is fundamentally defined by his state of hostility to the Noble man who gives him little thought or care.