Updated July 10, 2014
At the end of the last post, I said that I would clean up the notions of real man and manliness before outright rejecting them despite how society defines and applies the terms. Can they be made precise, definite, logical and self-consistent – both in terms of definitions and criteria? If so, then we can (theoretically, at least) agree about what the terms mean and thus start a meaningful discussion about real man and manliness. I will do so performing the following steps:
First, I will build the definition based on traits mainstream society usually considers absolutely essential for manliness to at least a non-trivial degree. Each of these on certain criteria based on two characteristics: (1) logical, self-consistent, and coherent in terms each trait’s importance rank, and (2) have the most admirable positive connotations.
Second, Using these criteria, I will show just how contradictory are the ways mainstream society tends to use the terms, with special focus on how most peoples’ claim to value Civility over Social Dominance runs contrary to their real world social choices. I will assume that who someone chooses to socialize with is the most accurate reflection of who they consider a “worthy” person.
Third, I will look at the question from the other side of the issue. Even under my own definition of manliness, is manliness really necessary for a man to be respect-worthy? Also, is unmanliness really an appropriate mark for contempt-worthiness?
To be perfectly clear, I have no problem (theoretically, at least) with the notion that at least the ideal real man does deserve more esteem, glory, accolades, etc. than those with less manliness. Still, this opens up two other issues: (a) Is receiving glory, accolades, or otherwise high levels of social approval really the most appropriate measure by which to judge someone respect-worthy, and (b) is failing to qualify as manly truly a marker of contempt-worthiness?
DEFINING MANLINESS, REAL MAN, ETC.
I developed four criteria for manliness, all of which must be met to qualify for the ideal real man. Following the previous post, I divide the criteria into Social Dominance traits and Civilized / Humane traits (for the sake of brevity, this is called the Civility traits).
SOCIAL DOMINANCE TRAITS
(a) Personal power, confidence, courage, charisma, photogenic personality (even if in a calm and relaxed way) and other traits considered macho, yet not uncivilized in themselves, or otherwise superficially appealing traits.
(b) Having none of the so-called unmanly traits like timidity, oddity, weakness, dull-wittedness, low confidence, powerlessness, etc. (in short, having no traits which are the opposite of point a.)
CIVILIZED / HUMANE TRAITS
(c) Using those traits (specifically point a) in ways that add value to society and/or other people’s lives (i.e. helping other people, relieving the suffering of people who need such relief, etc.)
(d) Not using trait (a) in a way that cause pain or suffering among others that is pointless, avoidable, insufficiently compensatory to the sufferer, and serves no higher purpose than one’s own self-gain or the gain of those supporting them.
It is difficult to see how anybody can reasonably object to these four criteria, especially for people who claim that real men necessarily are at least as civilized and humane in his behavior toward others as he is socially dominant in most situations. However, I do allow that a male can still minimally qualify for a real man if only one particular criteria is missing – point (c). Still, a male must meet all four criteria to qualify for the ideal real man.
As discussed in the previous blog entry, popular culture holds the Social Dominance traits as the most necessary for manliness. The Civility traits I add because most people, when pressed to do so, will add at least point (d) to their own necessary criteria of a real man. This usually occurs when one sees a socially dominant male committing unmistakably unethical or inhumane acts toward others.
CIVILITY TRAITS: TRULY NECESSARY OR NOT?
As said above, many people, and certainly popular culture as a whole, will assign real man to males who qualify for (a) and (b) alone (Social Dominance) before they assign the label to ones qualifying for (c) and (d) alone (Civility), especially (d) alone. This is logically consistent if one thinks Social Dominance is the only necessary and legitimate criteria for being a real man, and in fact is the very definition of real man, manliness, etc.. If so, then real manliness, etc. does not actually require a male to have even the slightest hint of civility and humanitarianism. Thus, bullies and even the most brutal Mafia or drug cartel “hit men” must qualify as manly based on their Social Dominance alone, however outrageous we find them.
Yet, most people will quickly disqualify as manly any sadistic and cruel person, even the most socially dominant ones. Doubtlessly, this is because Social Dominance, no matter how strongly and favorably it impresses on our senses, no matter how immediately visible, and no matter how appealing to us – tell us nothing about how he exercises those traits toward others. Common knowledge shows these traits are used for hurtful, even evil, purposes as readily as for good or humane ones. If one insists that a qualifying for a real man also requires socially dominant males to have in abundance at least trait (d), then they concede some traits are indeed more important for manliness than Social Dominance, namely the Civility.
This brings up a major problem in how we assign the labels real man and unmanly to other males (and by implication, respect-worthy and contempt-worthy).
BRINGING CONSISTENCY TO MANLINESS, ETC.
In the real world, the terms manly and real man practically always carry the idea of “outright high respect-worthiness”, not merely “deserving no disrespect”. This is meant in the most gladly-bestowed, not grudgingly accepted, sense of the terms. If at some point Civility trumps Social Dominance, that means, also at that same point, the Civility-alone males must better qualify for at least non-contempt than do the Social Dominance-alone males. By extension, Civility-alone males do come closer to qualifying for real men than do Social Dominance-alone males, even if they do not actually qualify for manliness. We can debate where to draw the line, but that does nothing to defeat the basic principle that Civility must at some point take precedence over Social Dominance.
This explains why most people grant higher regard to Civility-alone males who give up entire Saturday afternoons to be a “Big Brother” to an underprivileged child than to any Social Dominance-alone male who not only fail to use their dominance to help others, but use that dominance to outright hurt others, even to only a moderate degree. The non-dominant man, whatever his lack of actual manliness, at least provides a child with proper guidance; which is more than can be said for men with high-dominance only. Only the most fervent true believers in society’s archetypical gender ideals would doubt this.
Merely Not as Uncivil: Give or Deny the Pass?
Even the less extreme versions of ‘Social Dominance First’ do not rescue the notion that the Social Dominance traits trump the Civility ones. In this case, some may insist that whatever dignified treatment the (d)-alones deserve, still more deserving are the moderately low-Civility, high-dominance males.
Despite escaping the worst aspects of Social Darwinism discussed in the previous post, this claim still implies that low-Civility high-Social Dominance males still deserve more regard and/or less disregard than merely civilized and humane men – at least so long as the dominant male does not stray too far into society considers highly unacceptable behavior. Even this is still a case of judging the Civility traits as less valuable for manliness (and hence respect-worthiness) than the Social Dominance ones. Thus, even in its watered-down forms ‘Social Dominance First’ still works at cross-purposes to the notion ideal real man necessarily have both (c) and (d). Therefore, even mild forms of the ‘Social Dominance First’ are ultimately incoherent.
All of this means that the ‘Social Dominance First’ assumption of manliness has got to go, however strange or distasteful some may find throwing it away. The ‘Civility First’ traits must the basis for any credible definition of manliness, and again, by implication, respect-worthiness, that may somehow exist. To say otherwise is to be either confused, wallowing in denial about ‘Social Dominance First’ being mistaken, or just plain dishonest – unless that person ultimately believes that right or wrong depends on the personal views of the strongest people present (i.e.“might makes right”). This brings us back to the Social Darwinist assumptions of how males ought to be, addressed in the previous post along with all its problems.
Thus, from the standpoint of many people and much of popular culture in general, the shoe is on the other foot. It is the Civility-alone males who come closer to manliness than the Social Dominance-alone ones, on account of being less worthy of disrespect, if nothing else. This remains true even by the consistent interpretations of prevailing societal definitions of manliness, however incoherent and contradictory the latter definitions are.
Civility First: Is ‘Do Good’ or ‘Do No Harm’ More Important?
Now we weigh the relative importance of points (c ) and (d). When all is said and done, it seems (d) is the most important criteria for manliness. The most basic reason is there is nothing about doing good that prevents one from also doing harm. A famous instance of this is Mafia dons supporting and promoting charitable causes within their communities. On a larger scale, one common counter to defending a bad person on the basis he or she did good things is “Sure that is true, and Hitler built the Autobahn”, or “…and Mussolini made the trains run on time”, etc..
Finally, on a general note, claiming that doing good trumps not doing harm turns goodness into a kind of currency by which we can “purchase” the right to do bad things that nevertheless benefit ourselves and the groups who support us. If part of doing good necessarily includes elimination or lessening of bad things, then goodness-as-currency runs at cross-purposes to itself, which practically renders goodness ultimately pointless. Why bother doing good at all if good is mainly done to support a person’s badness?
Even without the “goodness as currency” problem, placing doing good above not doing harm would permit us to concentrate on achieving gains (goods) while being indifferent to harms (bads). At best, this is never-ending treadmill, turning a blind eye to new bads arising that have to be dealt with – bads that neither existed before nor had to come into existence. This diverts personal energies otherwise available for doing actual good or confronting other already-existing bads toward confronting those newer bads that did not have to exist.
Perhaps this is why the Hippocratic Oath taken by newly graduated medical students is “Do no harm” instead of “Do good”; for as said earlier, admirable traits can be used for evil as well as good. It is a lesson we non-doctors would be wise to keep in mind when constructing our own criteria for who deserves respect and who deserves contempt (the latter to the extent a person does at all). So it is that for these reasons even the (d) alone male deserves contempt less than does a moderately uncivil socially dominant male, even if that male qualifies for all points barring (d).
For these reasons, it still remains the case that males qualifying for criteria (d) alone, no matter how lacking in dominance the (d) alone males may be, still deserve at least less disrespect than even the moderately uncivil high-dominance men. At least the (d) alone male has the most important criteria for a real man – that he does not commit pointless and avoidable harms against others. This is perhaps more important than doing actual good, for there is nothing in doing actual good that prevents the same person from doing actual harm to others – including those he performs good acts for.
UNMANLINESS: CONTEMPT-WORTHY OR NOT?
As I stated earlier, I have no problem in principle with a definition or connotation of manliness that implies deservance of greater respect, glory, admiration, etc due to their greater Social Dominance – so long as the person said to be a real man unambiguously and decisively qualifies for (d), or better yet both Civility traits ( (c ) as well as (d) ).
However, whether an unmanly male deserves contempt due to his low-dominance alone is another question. Assuming the low-dominance male does no harm even if he does no good, it is difficult to see how he does deserve contempt, given all I wrote so far about this topic. I already discussed how Civility ultimately supersedes Social Dominance in the rank hierarchy of traits important to manliness. Likewise for the importance of doing no harm than it is to do actual good. One exception to this: when doing good is absolutely necessary to prevent actively doing harm, to the extent that the person is able to actually do that good thing.
Given all this, a person only deserves contempt when the person is actually able to do a particular good thing for the sake of preventing harm to others and deliberately chooses not to do so, whether because of his or her indifference to another’s well-being or with malicious intent.
A lack of Social Dominance, even in males, does not rise to the level of a contempt-worthy act because such males do not intend to be non-dominant, nor, more crucially, do they intend harm to befall others. Thus, anyone claiming that even a striking lack of Social Dominance is contempt-worthy shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what the proper role of contempt and even scorn is.
Contempt’s and scorn’s proper role is to socially punish a person who consciously and deliberately, with malicious intent, commits acts he or she plausibly knows will impart harm or indignity to others that are pointless, avoidable, insufficiently compensatory to the target or the greater society, and serve no higher purpose than the self-gain of the scorner or those who the scorner supports or those who support the scorner. Because a high Civility yet non-dominant male generally does not act with malicious intent toward others, such males generally do not deserve scorn from anyone. Thus, if anything, rather than placing blame on the low-dominance high-Civility males for their low dominance, the more proper targets of the scorn are the scorners of the low-dominance high-Civility males themselves.
Just Do It? Or Do We Overestimate Free Will?
Some will claim that a low-dominance male chooses to be non-dominant, and thus deserves whatever scorn he gets on account of his choice. However, this is difficult to believe, especially given that even in the best of circumstances for the strongest, smartest, and bravest people their free will is not infinite: some people simply do not have the intrinsic ability to accomplish certain tasks (that is why most of us are neither elite athletes nor Nobel Prize winners, just to name two). So while I do not subscribe to “hard determinism”, that does not prevent me from recognizing that there are limits to human free will. Thus, any discussion about personal choice and responsibility cannot be credible without taking these limits upon our free will into account.
If in normal circumstances a person chooses to either lack an intrinsically good trait, or have an intrinsically bad trait (whether for one’s self or others), that assumes the person prefers a life of polite condescension from others (mere pity, sympathy-filled hugs and other relatively positive attentions) to genuinely treatment as a human being of equal worth to most others. Other than diagnosable psychological disorders, this rarely the case, Even if this is the case, the person still should not be held responsible for a circumstance beyond his or her ability to recover from on his or her own. This is why the legal system does not hold clinically insane people responsible for any crimes they commit if no other explanation for exists for their act other than their insanity.
Mental disorders aside, It is simply implausible to assume a person will choose to lack a good trait or take on a bad trait, especially when that flaw (real or perceived) is hugely unpopular with mainstream society – which is precisely the case with low Social Dominance in males. To believe this, we would have to believe an at least adequately capable person will actually desire to, and actually begin, behaving, carrying themselves, and generally dealing with others in ways they knows will bring about scorn, ridicule, and other disapprovals from others and general, not to mention lose highly desirable opportunities to better themselves over their present position. In the meantime, this choice to possess this undesirable trait would significantly lower their social status (formal or informal) to levels they did not previously have to experience. Furthermore, this adequately capable person will choose to experience frequent, if not constant, humiliations and degradations from others, and generally choose to be in a significantly worse state than they very well could be despite his being fully able to stop having that undesirable trait at any time they choose. On top of all this, they would actually desire this new state of being over their formerly better, easier one.
Common experience does little to render this a sensible claim. By this claim’s logic, we would also have to believe that dyslexic children who face a hurdle overcoming their condition actually prefer to remain unable to properly read (and by implication do very poorly in school) than to be able to read on his or her own – fully realizing that many of his or her peers would belittle him or her for being unable to read well. For more mature people, we would also have to believe that abused spouses have no physical, financial, social, or psychological obstacles that enable them to leave their abusive partner even when they clearly know that they would better their situation in the long run. If this line of reasoning is absurd where it concerns discouraged dyslexic children and broken spirited abused spouses, then how is it difficult to doubt its absurdity concerning low-dominance males, especially very low-dominance ones?
If all the above is true, then it seems the basic capacity for Social Dominance (in whatever way) does indeed vary greatly in males. This claim is certainly more plausible than saying that a low-Social Dominance male (or anyone else for that matter) chooses to have that trait fully realizing all the life’s difficulties he would inevitably face due to that low Social Dominance. Thus, holding a low-dominance male responsible for his own low dominance places an unreasonable heavy burden upon the male, for similar reasons that holding a battered spouse responsible for not moving away is unreasonable: at some point, all of us have limits to our free will, and some of us have more capacity to determine our fate than others. Therefore, despite any superficial appearances to the contrary, low-Social Dominance high-Civility males do not deserve whatever scorn they get due to their low-Social Dominance alone – unless we abandon all notions that a person should not be held responsible for matters beyond his or her ability to control.
When all is said and done, despite society’s current and very arbitrary standards for determining who is manly and who is not (especially regarding worthiness of respect or contempt), there is a way to build definitions for manliness and real man that respects both society’s traditional standards for manliness / respect-worthiness and places primary emphasis on the civilized and humane behaviors, the latter without which our society would certainly fall apart. This is the best way I know of to rescue the terms manliness and real man from the whirlpool of incoherence and contradiction, not to mention from inhumanity.
Thus while it is possible to argue from my criteria that certain socially dominant males can and do indeed deserve more outright esteem from their peers than a non-dominant male but civilized and human male, this can happen only when the socially dominant male is at the very least no more likely the non-dominant male to cause pointless, unreasonable hurt to others (better yet, when in addition he uses those traits to help even the “least” of others). If I am correct, it is clear that we, individually or as a society, would benefit drastically from a major overhaul of the terms manly, real man, and related terms, particularly the arbitrary way we seemingly assign the terms to any dominant male before it is clear he does not use such traits to unjustly hurt others. This criteria shows one way in which this is possible.
The claims that non-dominant males are more deserving of contempt, and that moderately low-Civility high-Social Dominance males deserve less contempt than low-Social Dominance high-Civility ones fall apart under scrutiny. Undoubtedly, this popular, widespread assumption comes from society’s uncritical acceptance of ideas which support Social Darwinism, if not Social Darwinism itself; not to mention crude understandings of both free will and personal responsibility Result: castigation of “wimps”, “cowards”, “fragile men”, “emos”, etc. do not deserve nearly as much contempt as many people say they do, if they deserve it at all; for the same basic reasons given in my post against scorning “stupid” people
I’ll directly address contempt for weakness, etc. into this in a later post. For now, it’s enough to say that this tendency likely comes from a reptilian basebrain impulse that is, at best, unsuitable for the 21st century’s most economically and technologically advanced nations.