Rigorously Defining Masculinity

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Most people who have their eye on modern day masculinity agree that our current concepts of masculinity are confused and misguided. We, as a society, can’t seem to bring ourselves to think of masculinity beyond anything besides a 1960s caricature of a ‘tough guy’. Those more enlightened may have read books or articles, but these largely fall into two camps: appeals to biological naturalism or appeals to spirituality.

Appeals to biological naturalism are slightly the worse of the two, because they’re riddled with fallacies and errors. A biological naturalist claim takes the form of such: ‘X is a good characteristic for a man to have because X evolved in such a way that it was beneficial to reproduction among Y group in achieving Z result, therefore you should model X behavior in order to achieve Z’, more or less. For example in Jack Donovan’s ‘The Way of Men’ he says that in order to be a man, you need a tribe, or need to be courageous because we evolved in tribes of hunters that had to be courageous and work together to kill animals. He makes similar claims about chimpanzees versus bonobos and their various social structures. The problem is I’m not a tribal hunter and I’m not a fucking chimp. And this is not to trash Jack Donovan because I appreciate the effort and it’s a mistake we all make. Just because characteristic X applied to group Y at the time doesn’t mean it necessarily holds true in modern day. But you might say that there are characteristics so deeply ingrained in our biology that they will always hold true, like our hunger response or propensity to sleep. This is something I sympathize with, but there is a difference between saying something is or was the case and making a value or moralistic judgment on it. This is known as the naturalistic fallacy, a narrower distinction of Hume’s Is-Ought problem. You cannot take a fact of the natural world, like hunters were courageous (however you define that), and make a normative claims about it, or a judgment about how we should act. The one simply does not follow from the other because one is about facts and one is about values. I don’t see evidence why we should care if something is natural or evolved or deeply biologically ingrained, why do those things tell me how I should act? Lastly, in a real way every behavior is biological or a product of evolution because we are biological beings that are the product of evolution. Alphas, betas, omegas, zetas, all products of evolution. Men crying, begging, throwing hysterical fits, arguably all the product of evolution or at least natural biological responses. Doesn’t mean any of it is masculine.

This is why something like TheRedPill subreddit tries to avoid moralizing and instead talks about achieving Z result through X behavior/technique, but they aren’t even always able to avoid it. The problem is any comment about masculinity automatically makes a value judgment and thus can not be based on naturalistic explanations.

Appeals to spiritually tend to avoid such claims, relies much more on things like intuition and things like the root of your being, spirit, or core. But are often muddled and confusing without any supporting evidence. It can also be difficult to get actionable advice. Take for insistence “The Way of the Superior Man” by David Deida, one of my favorite books. He tends to make a lot of claims about deepest and truest purpose/self, being all loving, all being, all present, etc. The problem lies where I think his analysis is spot on, I think he’s mostly just positing things and that leaves the door open for people who are all talk with no authority or concrete useful information to say a lot of random things about what it means to be a man.

So if either of these is problematic what can we actualize say about how to define masculinity, something that does not draw hasty conclusions but is also backed with structure and explanation? This is where we turn to philosophy. Philosophy has for thousands of years explored the ideas of what the essence of a man is, how to be a better man, the ethical and moral responsibilities of a man, and the ways in which a man should express who he is into the world. While David Deida does this with eastern philosophy, one needs the rigor and constancy to do this with western philosophy, truly developing a thorough and well defined system of what it means to be a man, if we can in fact find that out.

YAMS