Simulating the pursuit of honour creates a deathtrap for real-world solidarity
I agree. But I wonder what would have happened if this woman had said, “HEY! Honey, I need some help with the baby. Could you please get off the computer and help me with her? I’m at the end of my rope.”
Sometimes the problem is as simple as: Straight men compartmentalize more easily and stay absorbed in their work, gaming, or whatever even if their intentions to help with the baby (etc.) are good. Women multitask more naturally, are more attuned to what others are doing around them, and more inclined and socialized to jump in and help without needing to be asked.
Rather than recognizing this pattern, women get silently resentful - expecting their male partner to notice and act like another woman would - but still don’t speak up until the inevitable blowup comes. And men have no idea what’s been brewing until that happens and then they’re confused and everything can easily escalate and get worse. Because then everyone’s upset and loses the ability to communicate and listen more calmly and empathically.
A related issue is that the male standard for what constitutes doing a household task adequately is often lower than the female one. And women tend to assume that their higher standard is the obviously correct one and anything else is slacking at best. But really, in fact, it’s perfectly possible to live with a more or less messy house, etc.
In other words,sometimes the differences are real but more mundane and perhaps much more easily addressed. Not always, of course. Maybe not mostly. But often enough to consider and, when appropriate, test out and see.
"My hunch is that somewhere near the heart of the problem is the fact that the pursuit of honour is really, really important to a great many men..."
Don't get sucked into this silly mindset, Mary. Sounds like bronze age pervert nonsense. There are too many men making excuses for laziness or just being a d'bag. Most of the men I grew up around had jobs they weren't particularly proud of. It was work that put food on the table. That's masculinity even if it was sitting at a desk and writing reports. None of my dad's friends were out there honing their honor in daily combat with the world or digging ditches or risking life and limb. But, you know what they were doing? Making sure their sons and daughters were never missing a sports practice because they forgot about it. Lots of very masculine stuff like that - showing up. Using this one example, if that 'man' wasn't staring at a screen with headphones on he might find that he could use his hands to build a closet organizer or something. I'm not being facetious. Men need to show initiative and too often today it seems people let them off the hook because the world isn't providing ways for them to feel useful. One other thing - I found over the years that what made me feel the most masculine was when I happened to notice that the woman I was in love with had that look on her face like she'd absolutely had it and needed me to notice. Sometimes that involved cleaning up a mess she created that destroyed hours of hard work making a meal or preparing a batch of beer. There's 'domestic' stuff - plenty of it - that is masculine. It doesn't take much to find it. It just means you have to be present and not staring at a screen playing make-believe man games. Honor? That's BS and men are selling it to get sympathy for not trying to create a path for themselves so they will be useful to a woman.
A final thought - I grew up in and around intact families that were composed primarily of fathers/men that had desk jobs. Not very 'masculine' stuff. There's a word I never heard growing up - honor. You don't have to demonstrate your honor. You just need to grow up and take responsibility for yourself. And we had TV so there were all sorts of ways for men to waste their time sitting in front of a screen! Or drinking, or using drugs.
No excuses for today's 'men'.
Raising two boys in a culture that devalues them, even subtly, has opened my eyes. My sons are both athletes and I am grateful that they have that sense of adventure and honor and teamwork through play. I see it every day - what they get from the conquest, from bettering themselves to chase very big dreams. I know sports isn’t the avenue for all. Thus I am intrigued by your question of what do we do to change what’s on offer to boys and men. Thank you for putting it out there.
This is totally off topic, except your comments on the very disturbing picture reminded me of it. I recently went on a cruise. Now I am disabled and live a very isolated life, so I don’t see many people. Being on a ship with 2000 people is definitely a novel experience. I know Americans are generally overweight, I am myself, 2 or 3 dress sizes bigger than I’d like to be. I was still struck by two things. The vast majority of people, even quite young people, are very overweight. Many to the point where their bodies are out of shape, not evenly large but literally pendulous in some fashion.
Secondly, men seem much less masculine. Again, even young men. This isn’t a style thing, men dressed very effeminately in the 70’s but still were masculine. Many men move in a feminine, slinky way. Something seemed very off. I know no one wants to pay attention to this because it supports the idea that gender is fluid but it isn’t. Something is broken, something is poisoning us and no one is interested in finding out what is going on.
My husband and I decided very early in life that raising a large family was our quest. Providing the financial resources for that project has been his responsibility, satisfying in its own right even when, as now, the work has been frustrating. His success has allowed us to continue to provide a little help for our adult children who are struggling in the current economy.
It must be very difficult for men whose wives make more than them, or nearly as much, to have this same sense of accomplishment and investment. Men need to be needed if they are to find the kind of satisfaction in the family that makes them want to continually interact. So much more is involved here than housework. Is the family the number one priority? Has the baby been presented as the wife’s “project”, largely her decision as to timing and number of children? Is the pursuit of material goods more compelling than a family culture? If the mother’s idea of family life is a couple intense years with baby then turning the child over to the toxic culture to raise there isn’t much for dad to get his teeth into.
Raising a family today is a counter cultural heroic act, a grail quest which would enthrall many a man if they had the opportunity to provide and protect a woman willing to prioritize it. It is folding laundry but it is also carefully gatekeeping what your children are exposed to and taking an active part in real life activities that displace virtual ones for all of you. It’s very hard, but I think it is the challenge most men and women need if they are going to thrive.
Women need to stop acting during pregnancy like they are super heroes who don’t need special treatment. This is the time to get men in training for when you really will need the help once the baby comes. Don’t even think about taking out the trash or carrying the groceries in. If they haven’t done it before teach them to clean a bathroom, you won’t be able to lean over the tub soon enough and the chemicals aren’t good for you anyway. Don’t carry laundry, hampers, etc.
For me, another word for "honor" is "respect." Are men respected by the culture, by their partners? Are they respected by other men, do they do respectable things?
The TikTok video; that looks like simple lack of communication. Are we teaching our kids to communicate? I know I do. I've been married for nearly 27 years now, and I think it all comes down to communication. I don't do gaming, but my hobby is equally time consuming. I ride the bike a lot. If I just toss my leg over the bike, and head off for a three hour ride and don't communicate with my wife what's going on, what my other plans on the day are, or what else I will do to help her out around the house, then I wouldn't be married for all these years. I was riding and racing my bike when the kids were babies, and now that they're both in college, I still ride and race. But it's all about communicating with each other, so there's none of this guessing/assuming going on. That's what wrecks a marriage more than anything, in my opinion.
Great article. Loved it...
Counterpoint: "Honor" is a dangerous concept, and one whose importance our culture is better for having downplayed, because of just how often it gets misunderstood.
"Sir, you have besmirched my honor, and I demand satisfaction." Be honest, when you read those words, you heard them in your mind's inner voice in a Deep South accent, didn't you? It brings to mind images of an earlier time.
There's a reason for that. The Antebellum South had a real problem with what's known as "honor culture," the idea that a man's honorableness is very important to him, and any insult to it must be defended, with physical force if necessary. As you can imagine, this led to a lot of unnecessary strife and violence. (For example, the famous feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families, who lived in Kentucky and West Virginia at the end of this period, was largely sparked by the dishonorable acts of a Hatfield boy with a McCoy girl, which may or may not have resulted in an illegitimate pregnancy. It escalated into dozens of deaths on either side.)
One of the things Star Trek got very right was in its portrayal of honor culture among the Klingons. Their proud warriors, largely patterned after the samurai culture of Imperial Japan, was obsessed with their honor, but the more it shows of them, (particularly in Deep Space Nine,) the more clearly we see that what they truly care about is not being honorable, but *being perceived by others as honorable.* The only Klingon we see who is truly, consistently honorable in his conduct is Worf, the one who was raised by humans, who idolized heroic stories of Klingon warriors without ever actually being immersed in the truth of their culture. Other Klingons are always finding sneaky ways to stab rivals in the back and try to get away with it without anyone noticing. The only true "problem" for them, we see again and again, is to get caught at it and be "dishonored" thereby. This turns them into a corrupt society full of brutal thugs.
It's definitely important to behave in an honorable manner. Vitally so, in fact. But that's an internal character attribute; the pursuit of honor-as-social-status is a toxic and destructive plague upon every society that embraces it. The Southerners eventually turned away from honor culture as time went on, but it's still left its traumatic stamp upon America to this day, because their slaves picked it up from them, and in the cultural isolation of the terrible time that followed, their descendants have retained it. It's well understood that black Americans commit highly disproportionate amounts of violent crime. It's considered impolite to draw attention to this fact — saying it out loud is a good way to be accused of racism — but it's clearly not a racial predilection, because other black people don't behave the same way. Africans in other countries don't, and black people in America who are recent immigrants also don't. But the descendants of slaves all too often do, and there's some good scholarship showing that it can be attributed to the honor culture that their ancestors inherited from Southern slave owners.
If we wish to find ways to restore traditional masculine strengths, it would be far better to emphasize dignity and virtue (the latter word even derives from a Latin term meaning "manliness") than honor, because honor is far too easy to get wrong, and to get wrong with disastrous consequences.
Ladies, listen and listen well, if things don’t change you are looking at a not too distant future where the majority of men will choose to have nothing to do with women unless when required to such as in the case of the work place. Men are accustom to rejection and to being alone and they can do this for long periods. Heterosexual women aren’t accustom to that and can not go for long periods without some level of male attention. I know most heterosexual women don’t want to admit it but it’s true that women desire male attention and men desire to give said attention; it’s how we are built. Women are also very much social creatures who become very depressed when alone. There of course are exceptions so I am speaking of the majority, in general and to heterosexual women only.
I’m a father of 2 teenage girls and I am VERY concerned about their future because of what modern feminists are doing to the system and society. We’ve codified into law female preferences and I’ll give you several examples. In the UK if a woman says you are the father you are legally disallowed from using a DNA text to challenge that claim. In the UK if a woman who files for divorce and claims the man engaged in assault the government will provide legal counsel for free. What women filing for divorce wouldn’t lie about assault so she can get free legal counsel? It’s not as if there are any penalties for lying about that. Scotland is looking at passing a law that will criminalize misogyny, not misogyny and misandry just misogyny. If this passes it will mean acts of misogyny are illegal yet misandry is fine. You may think these legislative acts are great because they empower women but they also encourage men to avoid women more and more.
Technology is advancing very quickly. We’re not that far away from being able to create a suitable AI based android that is human like enough to satisfy every mans most basic needs. We already have love dolls that have a sizeable following so the physical side of this is there. Now it’s just a matter of a sufficient AI than can mimic the personality of a female. In a normal pre-woke, pre-feminist world I would say the love doll industry will never replace traditional marriage but with where things are headed that’s no longer true. If you think the majority of men won’t opt to use one of these Ai powered love dolls which can be made to look physically perfect (possibly even to look like a celeb or sexually attractive adult entertainer), never age, are never rejecting or argumentative and avoid all the risks that come with engaging with a woman/marriage than you’re not paying attention. If they can also make a doll that can move around and even do things like cook and clean then it is absolutely game over. This will leave reproduction as the only reason for men to have anything to do with women. With the work that’s being done on an artificial womb it won’t be long before the only thing needed is an egg in which case men will offer to by a woman’s egg and there will be plenty of women who aren’t financially successful who will opt to sell their eggs.
I know this sounds like some SciFi dystopian story but this is where we’re headed if things don’t change. If you think by codifying female preferences into law that this will somehow get men to change how they act you’re deceiving yourself. Men are built to work a certain way just as women are. The difference is there’s not been some ideological movement that for decades has convinced men to operate differently from how there are biologically designed to work. You can’t have your cake and eat it to. For example, women in general want to be approached by men and men will do this but you cannot at the same time make it so that if a man you find unattractive approaches you he risks being arrested and charged for harassment. If you want men to be men, to be a male who seeks to achieve success and who is masculine and protective than you’re going to have to accept the fact that men will sometimes act in ways you don’t like. I don’t mean actual physical assault I mean flirting with you when you’re not interested possibly repeatedly, guys in a public setting joking around about women and you happen to be near by and are offended, engaging in sex and the next day just accepting the fact he was only interested in you for a one night stand and so on. You can’t use the law to force men to behave the way you want and still expect to get a man that you will desire. You have to accept that there are trade-offs and I don’t mean actual physical assault that has been illegal for a long time. I’m talking about things that you find offensive that are not actual physical assault. If not you will see a future divided between the sexes and in that future it will be women who suffer the most and that’s NOT what I want for my girls.
Based on the comments so far, there doesn't seem to be any consensus about what "honor" means. People substitute other words: respect, glory, doing the right thing over the easy thing, etc. Even the critique of "honor culture" doesn't come to grips with what honor actually is. I think that a more specific discussion of honor will also have to be a discussion of shame.
Fascinating take - I've never thought of pursuing honor as the reason men might check out of life. I do think video games feel incredibly purposeful (as a former player of many). They also provide a rush at times that used to be reserved for war or other dangerous activities. Perhaps if teenage boys were taught honor-driven and purposeful things to do that felt satisfying, video games would lose some of their luster.
For me, they felt really fun and entertaining. A rush and distraction without the need to do anything difficult. I found other satisfying pursuits that were slower-paced (relationship with my wife and with God, hiking, yard work). I'm not sure the different motivations for other men.
That's an interesting take. Squeezing people into capitalism's ideal unhuman form (like a cat, tied to a stick, calm, fitter, healthier and more productive) is producing weird distortions and these distortions are sexed because our basic humanness is sexed.
I'd maybe frame it as modern professional life lacking anything that's meaningful and worthwhile in a male framing, but then maybe honour is a helpful way to present the sexed nature of that lack of meaning. If you're not protecting or providing - fighting Russians or farming - then all that's available is a feminised status game, horror at which manifests itself in all kinds of different phenomena, from MMA to middle-aged men finding God.
As for suggestions, I struggle to get beyond "burn it all down".
I've spent several days thinking about this honor problem for men.
Someone here mentioned that honor and shame are connected and I think they're onto something, but we lack common agreement on what is shameful. today. Many university literary professors report being unable to teach The Scarlet Letter; their students don't see that Hester Prynne did anything shameful. That's a microcosm of THE philosophical disagreement of our age: are there natural limits to what man ought to do? The victor of all the battles in the last 70 years answers that question resoundingly, "No!" What place is there for shame in such a philosophy? And without shame, what place is their for honor?
Can honor be derived from another source? The ancient Greeks found honor in battle but also in philosophy. Aristotle found honor in the pursuit of a well regulated mind, the conquering of the passions and lusts so that reason might prevail. Christian teaching via Saints Paul, Augustine and Aquinas teaches something similar. While this can certainly be honorable within a certain subculture (the Greek stoics were a fringe group) it can not replace physical contests.
Tribal societies often feature a rite of passage that must be completed to attain the social rank of "man". Plains Indians made young men hunt a buffalo. Pain and tattoos often feature in such quasi-religious rituals -- the ability to withstand pain being considered a mark of manhood, an unknowing echo of Aristotle's desire for reason to defeat emotion. African tribes practice these sex specific rituals even today. Fraternities are an echo of this (a poor one). There are religious subcultures that retain a specific "right of manhood" -- a bar mitzvah in Judaism for example. Demarcating the transition from boy to man seems to me a critical component of any system of honor, since it allows a reset of the honor clock. All the stupid stuff you did as a kid is forgotten; now your actions matter, so behave well. Industrialized, Western society is terrible at this though.
There are actually America subcultures that do retain honor systems. Read Hillbilly Ellegy by J.D. Vance: “In the southwest Ohio of my youth, we learned to value loyalty, honor, and toughness,” It's highly dysfunctional (as Vance admits) but what he describes is a society in which honor still matters, a 3rd class echo of 18th century European dueling. Similar cultures exist in the Louisiana bayou, as well as in the urban underclass. The only place you see honor today is among the poor and outcast groups, although I for one have no desire to emulate Appalachian hillbillies or urban gang members. Successful groups tend to compete on economic and social status (the latter is kind of a feminized form of male honor culture, but one that can not fulfill the needs of men) .
After writing all of this, I'm struck with just how hard this is. How to pull men from the simulated honor of video games? How to resist the pull of the Andrew Tates of the world? (Who are just a different type of honor simulation.) Christian monasticism could do it, but we're not a Christian society any longer. A cultivation of Aristotalean virtue seems like the only way. Merge Plato with the online manosphere and you might have something useable. If you want men to live "in the world" though, you have to give them reasons to do so, and for most men, those reasons need to be physical: killing (war or crime) or building (things or themselves). Both are easier and more rewarding in our various forms of the Matrix; AI and VR are already making that worse.
Camille Paglia summarized the problem in Art Sex and Culture 30 years ago: "Male sexual energy is the most potent creative force in the universe. Men will do almost anything for sexual access to women." They will walk over hot coals, change their personalities, build monuments, even turn monogamous. But women have to 1) refuse sexual access to those men who won't do these things, and 2) grant something so wonderful to those who do that other men want to emulate it. Both sexes are failing at these today: boys are refusing to grow up and girls are trying to become men. Neither works well. Perhaps these two will move back toward each other in parallel: women becoming more willing to let men lead again, and men being challenged to cultivate the virtues that leadership requires.
I love your writing! Just starting to get into it.
I think you are on to something, but I'm not sold that current un-engaged state of many men is 100% the fault of feminism, or, anything specific to women. Maybe we're a little to quick as women to assume this can all be laid at our feet, and something we have the ability to influence.
My silent generation grandfather BBQ'ed, kept a perfect lawn, and had excellent woodworking and handyman skills. These activities were a point of pride for him. He was proud of his house, which he financially contributed to, and proud of maintaining aspects of it, even if that was only the more male-gendered tasks. My grandmother worked; they were blue-collar middle class people (not sure if that exists today), so it was not in their experience that the man would work and the woman did not. My grandmother raised babies, and went back to work to make money when she could. My grandfather was one of the most masculine people I've ever known. At some point in recent history, there was a narrative about how masculine men participated in building families and homes. I believe you've said this yourself.
Even if it was within traditional gender roles, I think many women would be ecstatic about a modern man that was interested in investing in their home, be it fixing cars, handyman work, yard work, you name it. But this is increasingly hard to find. Its like many men are in a perpetual existential crisis, so that they don't invest in much other than maintaining some base status quo.
What about the previous generation of fathers? What did they teach their children? Is there something about male spaces or masculine culture that makes men more susceptible to addictive modern technology? I'm not particularly against porn per se, but I think the sheer volume and ready access of porn on the internet is not serving most people well, especially men. I know that there have been sex positive feminist movements, and that has been associated with lifting some taboo from porn and sex work during the last 50 years. But, as they say, prostitution is the oldest profession in the world; and I'm not sure the meeting of pornography and the internet can be laid at the feet of women, rather than an inevitable outcome. And men aren't dealing well with it.
Perhaps women should be more demanding of their men? When my eldest daughter first got married to her boyfriend of 8 years - they met in college - I would observe her insisting that he help with the Thanksgiving dishes and other chores. I was at first shocked, I wanted to jump in and say, "that's okay, I'll do it for you". The urge was tremendous not to make a man do domestic chores. But she was right. He needed to chip in to make it work for her as she not only has a very demanding job but now also a new baby. She was in effect training him to be a full member of the household. Instead of complaining and whining, she just told him what needed to be done. He adores her so that he did it without complaint. Now he does things on his own and their marriage has turned out to be quite lovely. Everyone needs to be taught how to do things and when to belly up to the bar.
Christ explained to men that their search for glory needed to be completely reconceptualized:
Matthew 20: 25-28
John 13: 4-8
A man who seeks glory should re-see the glory of serving his wife and child, re-see the glory of washing her feet. What would Jesus be doing in that home--playing video games, or picking up the bowl of cereal? And what kind of society is created thereby? Please rethink this, MH.
Is honour a thing be pursued? To be sought? Or is it a thing with which to act? This has come up at an interesting time for me, as I’ve been thinking of this very topic after finishing an epic fantasy novel by Brandon Sanderson called The Way of Kings. The central tenet of that story is a message delivered from Godlike figure to one of the main protagonists: ‘Act with honour and honour will aid you.’ I’ve been deliberating on this message a lot and see in it some conservatism that I find appealing. It’s about doing the right thing over the easy thing; it’s about helping my family, about exercising, eating well, avoiding excess. These are just a few of the many ways in which I can choose to act with honour. It’s not something one pursues; it’s something one chooses as a guiding principle.