Save the Males
So Many Men Telling Men How To Be Men. Why?
Why aren’t I talking about race, class, etc?
This incredible article — “On Christian Masculinity” by Michael Witcoff — was Gab’s Post of the Day on December 10th. Gab, if you did not know, is what would happen if Facebook and Twitter had a baby but the baby didn’t work very well and was also racist.
Just look at that featured image. Gaze into the piercing blue eyes of this magnificent Aryan specimen. Admire his resplendent military dress. The very picture of masculine strength and competence from the glory days of Western man.
This man, chosen by author Michael Witcoff as avatar of masculinity, is none other than Tsar Nicholas II, a leader well known for his soft and vacillating personality and his deferral to his wife Alexandra in matters of state. The guy who lost his crown because a bunch of women got really angry and his own soldiers were like “yeah, they’ve got a point.”
Great beard, though.
With a start like that, the obvious thing to do is roast the absolute shit out of Witcoff’s article and call it a day. And believe me, “On Christian Masculinity” is Kalua-pig-level roastable: juicy and hilarious.
Do we really need another roast, though? I’m pretty sure half the Internet consists of people making fun of men telling men how to be men. All it does is provide some laughs for people who hate the same things I hate and alienate the people who don’t.
Men keep writing these articles because there is a seemingly bottomless appetite for them. Why? What problem do they address? Why do they resonate so hard with a certain type of young and angry man?
Before we try to answer that, though, we do kind of need to know what the article says.
So let’s have a tiny roast. Just a little one. As a treat.
How to Be A Man
“With every passing generation, men become weaker and more confused.”
Witcoff holds this absolute banger of an opening sentence to be self-evident: that all men are created Weak and Confused, that they are endowed, by their Society, with certain unalienable Problems, that among these are Low Testosterone, Single Mothers, and Female Schoolteachers…
It’s OK, though. Witcoff is going to teach us how to reclaim masculinity using the power of scripture.
This is no easy task. After all, gender is a very complicated thing. What, precisely, is the masculine? Where did it come from? How do we parse the myriad contradictions inherent in the concept and--
Beards. The answer is beards.
Hygiene generally is suspect, as it turns out, but razors are especially problematic. “The beard signifies the courageous,” said Saint Augustine. “For the law says: You shall not mar your beards,” commands the Apostolic Confessions. Clement of Alexandria, however, really goes all-out:
“For one who is a man to comb himself and shave himself with a razor, for the sake of fine effect, to arrange his hair at the looking-glass, to shave his cheeks, pluck hairs out of them, and smooth them, how womanly!”
It turns out a major bulwark separating the genders is a razor and some shaving cream. No wonder gender fluidity is a thing.
(No word on what all this implies for men who do not grow facial hair. I’ve reached out to Witcoff on Gab and asked about this. If I find out, you’ll be the first to know)
Order, Obedience, Authority
It is, of course, not enough to simply have a glorious beard. One must also act like a man.
Witcoff isn’t like the other male self-help guys, though. He isn’t one of those hedonistic, “Nietzschean” materialists from the pick-up artist (PUA) scene. And he’s not entirely wrong about that. A lot of PUA and manosphere-based ideas of masculinity center around the acquisition of stuff: mostly money, cars, and women. The alpha male and the successful capitalist are indistinguishable. The manosphere exists entirely within the status quo.
Witcoff does not say any of that stuff about capitalism, of course. Instead, he just points out that this kind of hedonism does not center God and then does what every other right-wing self-help guru does eventually: advocate for rigid, patriarchal authoritarianism.
As a Christian, Witcoff’s authoritarianism features God at the top, man in submission to God, and woman in submission to man. Simply fit yourself properly into this paradigm, grow a luscious beard, and find yourself the manliest of men.
Depresingly predictable. Boring as hell. Whatever the problem, whatever the presentation: authoritarianism is always the far-right solution. More hierarchy. More structure. A place for everyone, and everyone in their place. Obey the people above you. Control the ones below.
Hard to blame them for sticking with a winning formula, though. Authoritarianism has incredible appeal.
A Spiritual Crisis
Let’s read that first sentence one more time:
“With every passing generation, men become weaker and more confused.”
We are so used to rhetoric like that on the right that we no longer register how profoundly strange it is to feel that way about oneself. Try it with some other groups and watch what happens:
“With every passing generation, women become weaker and more confused.”
“With every passing generation, Black people become weaker and more confused.”
I enjoyed typing neither of those sentences, and I suspect neither group in question enjoyed reading them. As a woman, my reaction to an article that started with such a sentence would not be “Tell me more,” but instead “We’re done here, goodbye, fuck off.”
Young men, however, line up around the block to hear that shit about themselves. I mean this literally. I have personally stood in a line that wrapped around a city block to hear Jordan Peterson speak.
Peterson is the most infamous self-help grifter of our age, but he’s far from the only one. And none of these grifts work without a large pool of unhappy customers filled to the brim with self-hatred and insecurity.
This is a very sad thing.
It is both tragic and disturbing that an enormous number of young men feel this awful about themselves and their future.
Jordan Peterson and Michael Witcoff cannot solve that problem, but it is a big problem.
The knee-jerk reaction of most left-of-centers to this kind of white male angst is a big eyeroll and a jerking-off motion. Oh look, the white men are sad. The most privileged group in America feels unfulfilled. Read the fucking room, guys. The American legal system is essentially a meat grinder for Black men, trans people experience violent crime four times more often than cis people, one out of every six women will experience rape in her lifetime. Stop crying.
Imagine a shipwreck. No rescue in sight. There you are, treading water, and someone floats by clinging to a spar of wood. That person is doing a lot better than you, but both of you are going to die if someone doesn’t come along soon and change this situation.
This is true even if the guy with the spar of wood is being a total dick about it.
Things Could Be Better
Some of us are doing better than others. But the world, right now, is pretty bad for everyone. There are plenty of reasons to feel isolated, alone, and powerless in America right now.
78 percent of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. One in four Americans have no emergency savings. Over 20 percent of Americans are either unemployed or underemployed. As of September 2021, almost 10 percent of Americans faced food insecurity and a staggering 33 percent faced possible eviction.
Americans move far more often than people in Europe do, often because of work. Many of us are always just passing through; eternal strangers. These moves also take us far away from extended family. Nuclear families aren’t exactly robust either: a third of American marriages end in divorce.
(I am not saying that moving and divorce are necessarily bad–I live very far away from my family and am divorced. But family does not dependably provide us with community)
We are a rootless people, forever forging and breaking connections. No wonder, in 2019, over 20 percent of Americans reported feeling “serious loneliness.” That number skyrocketed to 36 percent of the overall population during the pandemic, and 61 percent of people ages 18-25.
The myth of democracy seems quaint when we look at the obscene amount of power wielded by someone like Elon Musk, who regularly moves the stock market with a single tweet. Shadowy corporate donors pour fortunes into political projects. Lobbyists regularly override public opinion and expose the lie of our supposedly democratic system. The Senate recently voted 67-30 to sell arms to Saudi Arabia to facilitate continued Saudi murder of the Yemeni people, even though 64 percent of voters across the political spectrum oppose the deal.
Don’t even get me started on Jeffrey Epstein.
In what meaningful sense can we call this rule by the people?
With so much helplessness and such little prospect of change, you’d have to be crazy not to struggle with feelings of emptiness and sadness right now.
The concrete effects of this broken and dangerous system weigh heaviest on women and minority groups. But the emotional fallout, I think, hits men the hardest.
The concept of masculinity centers the ideal of individual power, control over one’s destiny. Ambition. Aggression. Competence. When a man feels weak, or powerless, or unable to provide for himself, it reads as an attack on identity. A crisis of economics, or isolation, or political corruption, becomes a crisis of masculinity. Men do not feel this way. Something is wrong with me.
Dismiss that spiritual pain at your peril. Mental health problems kill people all the time. Suicide is the second most common cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 34. And rates are skyrocketing.
And guess what group kills themselves most often? Like, 3.7 times more often?
Authoritarianism seems to offer a solution for emasculated men: a guaranteed and relatively-privileged place in society. A simple role to fill. Some people will be in control of you. You will be in control of some people. You will, by default, possess the things men are supposed to possess, whether that’s a shiny car (PUAs) or an obedient Christian wife (Orthodoxy). You will be able to stop worrying. Things are going to be OK.
Except, no. Things will not be OK.
The biggest reason to oppose authoritarianism is the massive amount of impoverished, exploited, miserable people required to man the very bottom of the pyramid. But even if you don’t care about that–even if you’re OK with sacrificing justice for your physical/emotional/spiritual comfort–it still won’t work.
In practice, authoritarianism requires someone like God at the top: someone incorruptible, capable of dispensing justice. But even if God exists, the people who claim to speak for Him are human, and humans are often trash. Rulers and leaders are anything but infallible. You expect justice from above? You expect stasis and harmony?
Have you met people?
But even if it worked as advertised, authoritarianism would still suck. At its best, rigid power structures offer absolute security. Zero agency. The life of an infant. The comfort of never facing challenges, never dealing with change.
This is not freedom from unhappiness, but a prison that binds you. It is the ultimate emasculation.
What we need is not a regression into an imagined dusty age of stultified certainty, but an entirely new way of being. What we need is leftism.
Leftist thought can parse the root causes of these problems. It can offer real solutions that elevate everyone’s quality of life. It can fix these systemic problems and offer something better.
So why isn’t the Left writing these self-help articles for men?
The far right exploits spiritual agony to recruit armies of the furious disaffected into their ranks. They offer bad solutions to real problems, and seduce countless unhappy people into a world of fury, violence, and misery.
Why has the left–a movement with actual solutions to problems faced by masculine people–ceded that ground entirely to the far right?
We’ll talk about that next week.
The Weekly is a substack about whatever I want. Sometimes it’s like this. Sometimes it isn’t. Subscribe and get one every Tuesday.
This Substack is free, but Patreon and donations make it possible. Feel free to donate/join if you would like to!
(Please do not feel pressured to do this if it would even slightly make your life more difficult. I’m just happy you are here)
I have a lot of thoughts on this and I'm interested to see what you say next week.
It's interesting, after a lifetime of struggle I finally gave up and went to therapy six, seven months ago. And while there are moments that hurt, or are uncomfortable, it's not... like... hard. I wanted solutions as a man to the shit in my life that was endemic and therapy is helping me build a tool kit that lets me deal with what's going on in my life. The stigma of doing that kept me away for a long time. I'm supposed to be stoic. I'm supposed to take it. Grunt through it. And let's face it, I had shit insurance that didn't cover therapy so I couldn't afford it even if I admitted I needed it. All these masculinity gurus offer a *free* entry gate that might give some short term ego boosts but ultimately are there to squeeze you for money, for attention, for loyalty. For a man desperate enough to ask for help but broke enough and angry enough to not look for good help, these outlets offer hope. Or at least comfort and commiseration.
I was thinking about similar subjects today. I may be older than the target demographic but for years I realize that I am a *prime* candidate for those masculinity grifts and for the alt-right further down that path. Single aging male, not in great shape, introverted, alone, rarely in a relationship, stuck in job after job that pigeon holes me and never gives me a chance to move up or to achieve. There's a certain primal seductiveness to being told "it's not your fault". Hell even my therapist has me push back on some of my thought processes, although instead of "it's not my fault" it's "Shame isn't completely fair- you did what you could with the tools you had to survive." Still, being told that your pain is justified? That's liberating. In therapy it can be a complex reason why. For Jordan Peterson, it's simple.
I'm not sure why I didn't go down that path. Maybe part of it was seeing the hypocrisy in so many of the points of view offered. Maybe I hadn't given up on people, maybe I just didn't like the idea of who I'd be if I red/blackpilled.
I'm kind of drifting but I learned the other day that my grandfather, that I always saw as a very stoic, very self-controlled, very quiet but firm man was an opium addict for like... 50 years. My dad said when cleaning his stuff out of his parents' house he found prescription pad after prescription pad and realized the percocet and darvocet prescriptions that were omni-present (he had *hundreds* of empty pill bottles in the garage to store everything from pennies to bits and bobs) probably weren't actually prescribed to him- he was a good artist and probably could forge a signature really well.
I'm not sure why he got on those to begin with. I know why he stayed on them though. That knowledge kind of changes how I saw him. He wasn't stoic, he was kind of loaded. I still love him and miss him and in some ways admire him but... fuck man that kind of masculinity where whatever is wrong with you you just become a 50 year opiate junkie quietly and go through life until your brain explodes from a series of strokes is not any kind of man I want to be. It's like, the answer to masculinity and suffering was to either medicate or blow your heart/brain out as young as you can.
Always good when an article makes me actually consider people in my own life.
Years ago, a friend had a "save the males" bumper sticker. All of the toxic stew you describe was twisted up in this guy and constantly at war with his basic nature: at his core, he was one of the kindest people I've ever met. He was raised hyper-Christian and politically libertarian/right. His father was a fairly classic male archetype, who worked in heavy industry at a management level (having worked his way from the bottom of course) and had facial hair that Tsar Nicholas would have approved. My friend on the other hand was a gifted artist and musician, not really interested in any of the classic things that "men" are supposed to be interested in, and to top it off, I'm pretty sure he couldn't have grown a decent beard.
Honestly, this guy is practically an avatar for all the contradictions you mention here, up to and including repeated attempts at suicide. He died a few years ago in a single car accident that his (Christian conservative) family adamantly swear was not a suicide. Whatever gives them peace, I guess. For my part, I just hope my friend finally found some peace, whether intentionally or not.
Anyway, sorry for the melancholy ramblings.