Matt Forney
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The Measure of Man


This is a guest post by Maximus.

He hath set the measure, that ye exceed not the measure, but observe the measure strictly, nor fall short thereof.

measureWhile the opening quote above is from Scripture, I want the reader to strip away all preconceived religious stereotypes and biases that has become so much baggage on the topic of religion in the 21st century.

I am not hear to preach. I want you to think.

If you will allow yourself, read the quote and those words for what they are and what they contain.

What is the measure of man?

Is there a marker?

Who or what set the mark, and therefore judges if man has met it?

Is there such a judge of said measure?

How do we know, as men, if we are meeting the measure of who we truly are?

Do we not judge ourselves and other men by a moral and ethical standard? A standard that we believe to be universal and good and one which we all should be striving to attain?

Do we not know when we have overstepped that mark, or fallen short of it, as well as when others do so over the course of a lifetime of lived experience?

Why do we strive for any measure of man at all if no objective and absolute measure exists? Is that not what the men’s movement is all about? A redefining of ourselves as men toward some mark of excellence?

Or are we just supposed to enjoy the decline, the mantra and motto of many young men in the ‘sphere today?

This line of questioning, self-reflection and contemplation was sparked by the Tony Gilroy film Michael Clayton.

MICHAEL: I’m not the enemy.

ARTHUR: Then who are you?

Who are you?

Not what per se, but who.

Man’s being.

Man’s essence.

Man’s very reason for existence.

I had not watched this film in over two years. I remember being impressed by it, but nothing more than that even in subsequent prior viewings.

On the surface, Gilroy appears to have written nothing more than a smart script about the well-worn theme of corporate greed and evil and the various players on the stage—the heroes, the villains and the rest nothing more than bit parts and extras, background filler.

True to form, both lead characters discover the lie that is their life and resolve it by exposing the truth and are better for it, the secondary character’s “crazy” behaviour being the catalyst for the title character’s inner transformation and realization of the truth of his life as the plot unfolds.

That, on the surface, is what I got out of the film the first few times I watched it.

This time, however, I found a lot more, and my analysis begins with something all men in this fragmented movement are striving for.

A return to truth and justice.

An absolute measure for which every man is held to account, in this life or the next.

A measure that science cannot measure, because the measuring is within man, and the measure to be met is set outside of himself.

The atheist/agnostic/secular among the readers here at Matt Forney’s blog will no doubt simply claim mid-life crisis for the two main characters in the film. That these two men simply woke up and came to realize the truth of their lives and then acted on that truth in a hackneyed and predictably formulaic way, nothing more to see or think about here, and certainly nothing to write about. You would also most likely yawn and ho-hum at the more reflective, heartfelt and poignant moments of inner reflection by these characters and the cliched plot devices—walking up to horses in an open field at dawn, wandering the urban cityscape staring up in transfixed wonder of the dream around you—to be beneath your intellectual consideration as anything more than childish fantasies best left to children, not grown adult men.

But I ask the atheist/agnostic/secular this…

Why do the other men in the film not wake up?

Why do the other men all seem so much more”normal?”

Why does the transcendental inner transformation of the two main characters put you ill at ease and have you rolling your eyeballs in derision?

And the most important question…

What is the transformational motif that triggers an inner awakening to the truth?

Why is that motif, in the entirety of human literary and artistic history, always one and the same?

Man contemplating something GREATER than himself.

Something more than genes and memes. Something beyond the bestial race to mate, the will to power, the insatiable greed for material satisfaction and ego worship.

Something outside the bounds of material reality.

Something so great, so humbling, it always forces man to his knees in abject humility should he come within even a whisper of comprehension of it.

There are, in my opinion, two types of men being shown in the film.

The one… asleep.

Practical, realistic and utilitarian, either submissive or dominant. Corporate CEO or beat cop, it matters not, for these men are all the same no matter their particular walk and talk in life. These type of men simply live–they eat, they sleep, they work, they die. They play the game that everyone else is playing and by the rules that particular style of game imposes on them both. Some of them may even believe they are awake and not asleep, like the zombified masses, and therefore living life by their own rules and on their own terms.

The other… is awake.

The man who steps outside of himself to see the bigger picture of the true nature of reality and our purpose within it. A man who may suddenly find himself very much lost and at a loss as to how to proceed now that he is awake.

The man who steps outside the bounds of his material self begins to realize that life is not a game, or at least not the one everyone else is playing. That the rules we have all been told to follow, especially in the so-called modern and progressive 21st century, are all wrong. That the game everyone is playing is only a dream, it’s not real. That the real game is far, far different, with only one set of rules to follow. But no one wants to play that game and everyone tries to ignore it, for as long as possible, their entire lives.

The man who is awake… is a man who contemplates a greater reality outside of himself and that his life may be nothing more than a dream. This man is the only one capable of waking up and becoming free.

This truly awakened state of man is only shown to be in two characters throughout the entire film: the crazy Arthur Edens and Michael Clayton’s young son Henry.

MOM: Did you eat?

HENRY: Yes I had a waffle.

MOM: Since we’re out of waffles, I don’t see how that’s possible.

HENRY: It’s a miracle.

A miracle… indeed.

The thematic thread that binds these two awake male characters—one elder, the other a child—is a book titled Realm & Conquest, a fantasy story and world that comprises a card and computer game, much like Dungeons & Dragons.

One key scene has Arthur and Henry having a phone conversation about a chapter in the book titled “Summons to Conquest.” In this chapter, all the characters are having the same dream. They are all being summoned to congregate at the same place. None of the characters know why they are having this dream or why they are being summoned. All of them think they are the only ones having the dream and yet they find themselves in the same place with everyone else, but unable to talk about it for fear of being called a crazy person.

ARTHUR: Bu… du… do they know… do they know they’re all having the same dream?

HENRY: No, that’s what’s so cool. They all think it’s just them. That maybe they are like going crazy or something. So they don’t want to admit it.

ARTHUR: Yea, but they’re not crazy are they?

HENRY: No, it’s real. It’s really happening.

ARTHUR: Yea, it is happening isn’t it. Something larger than themselves. And they are not ready are they to… to hear it.

The men who are asleep are fully engaged and obsessed in playing the game, the game of life in the material world and their role in it, in total and complete slavery and bondage to either their own egos or someone else’s in winning the wrong game.

The men who are awake are out of sync with the other players in the game, the ones who are still asleep. These sleepwalkers view players who are awake as hostile threats to be eliminated, outsiders, an annoyance, a problem—i.e. difficult people who are making their lives difficult and who need to shape up and get with the program everyone else is plugged into, or else.

The only difference between men who are awake, and those who are asleep, is always one and the same.

An openness to the transcendent and a greater purpose and destiny to man’s life than simply living it as an animal in the jungle (i.e. work, eat, sleep, shit, repeat).

The dialogue from the scene above is the key to the whole movie, linking youth to old age and the realization that in our adult years, we are all asleep and that many of us, far too many, never ever wake up and realize the truth that children can so often see so much more clearly in their simple and uncluttered young minds.

If man dismisses entirely the idea, or even just the concept, of metaphysical and absolute truth, of a transcendent reality that is beyond his existence and that of this material world, he will never wake up and never be free. He will always be chasing after a fantasy in this world and missing out on the reality of the next one.

Neither of the two main characters in the film, Michael Clayton or Arthur Edens, is religious. In fact, there is no talk of God or religion at all in the film.

But Gilroy did not need to actually say God or refer to a metaphysical transcendent reality, much in the same way Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings just assumed everyone would know God exists and is everywhere in the kingdom of Middle Earth. There was no reason to explicitly write about God or a transcendent reality because it is implicit in the nature of man and communicated by the very nature of the allegorical themes of the film.

It is these very themes and concepts traditionally understood to be associated with contemplation of God, the transcendent, the metaphysical, the existential, which are loud and clear in the film.

Why am I here?

What is my purpose?

How should I live?

Every man in this film could be like any man you might meet in the street.

Focused on making money, paying bills, feeding a family, running a business, building his career and generally doing “what is right and expected” of a “normal” person to succeed in life, whatever they decide the definition of success means to them.

In other words, a man doing everything but confronting and dealing with the truth of his existence.

And the truth is… man is here to meet a measure, a standard, a mark of excellence.

The measure of man is his ability to accept that he is not king of the universe, lord of the cosmos, master of his domain.

The measure of man is not his intellect or his ego and his childish drive to feed them both to the point of narcissistic obesity.

The measure of man is not his wealth, his family, his education, his career, his sex life, his toys, or his car.

The measure of man… is his meeting the mark of upholding truth and justice.

Of living rightly and being righteous to the best of his ability, given his capacity for sin and vice if he should stray from the straight and narrow path.

And this is the very reason Gilroy wrote the film. Reality truly is stranger than fiction. I Googled Realm & Conquest at this point in my writing to find out if this was a real book, or not and this is what turned up.

Committed to a fully developed back story, Gilroy spent a good deal of time establishing the details of Realm and Conquest with production designer Kevin Thompson. “Right from the beginning, when I first read the script, I could tell that Realm and Conquest was going to be a key prop. In the movie it’s a metaphor for truth and justice,” explains the production designer.

In creating the details of the fictional novel, Thompson generated original visuals inspired by German Expressionistic images cut from wood blocks, and Gilroy wrote the first two pages for three chapters of the book. They even went as far as designing a Realm and Conquest card game for a scene between Henry and Michael. Thompson offers, “This detail was important to Tony because, in his own life, novels and games similar to Realm and Conquest allow him to connect with his son in a meaningful way.”

Michael Clayton and the Book Realm and Conquest

Truth and justice, in story and metaphor, set in a fantastic world entirely unlike and outside our own, being passed down from father to son, generation after generation, as a means to stay connected—to themselves, to each other, to the past, to the future and to that which is transcendent and beyond them both.

This is the purpose of religion and contemplation of God and a transcendent reality.

Where do you find truth and justice in a materialistic, our fate is in our genes, the entire universe and our being is but chance having arisen from absolutely nothing?

How do you arrive at any measure of truth and justice when your basis for measurement is rooted in that which is always changing and forever expiring?

For there to be an absolute measure of truth and justice, it cannot have a beginning or end because if it does, it will forever be in flux to the whims of men and their egos.

I am pretty sure there is a death ideology that is based on the idea that God is dead and religion is nothing more than the opiate of the masses. What was that guy’s name again? I keep forgetting but it seems his ideas and that of a few batshit crazy females have pretty much taken over the entirety of Western culture and civilization that used to base itself on an ethos of some absolute monotheistic creed or other that also escapes my mind at the moment.

But I digress.

I am not asking anyone to agree with me.

What I am hoping for is that you will think and reflect as to whether what I am saying is true or not.

Truth and justice.

That is the true measure of man and each man must for himself determine if he is living his life to meet the mark or not.

Exceed the mark, and you become vainglorious. Someone living for only his version of the truth and justice only for himself.

Fall short of the mark, and you become a reprobate. A man who will never have the respect of any man striving to meet the mark. You will be used, abused and taken advantage of (or do so yourself to others) because you have demonstrated that you do not care for truth or justice and will not stand up for either.

But in order to find the measure of man, you have to be willing to accept that truth and justice can only be found outside of yourself. That to rely on any material or empirical marker is to accept slavery to the idea that might makes right, that the strong rule over the weak, and that rhetoric is the shaper of truth because after all, all truth is relative right?

Or, as Gilroy tag-lined his film… the truth can be adjusted.

Could you find a more apt description of the times we live in?

So many of the young men who are rebelling and revolting against the way things are—feminism, political corruption, corporate greed, economic disparity and poverty—are falling right into the very trap that will enslave them forever to these forces; the rejection of any concept of the divine or transcendent, the only locus for absolute truth and justice beyond the machinations of evil, immoral and unjust men.

While there is great discussion of God or the transcendent in many parts of the manosphere, I don’t sense a coming together, a meeting of minds, an awareness of this important fact of man’s existence. This is why for me, much of the manosphere is completely off the mark and entirely missing the measure. It shows me just how far we have yet to go before real men of true measure walk the earth once more.

For all the ills religion and God has visited upon man in history, what cannot be denied is that it united men from all walks of life and gave them a reference point upon which they could claim universal truth and justice for all.

If the sum and total of the men’s movement results in nothing more than an embracing of Nietzschean nihilism, to just sit back and enjoy the decline, the sacrifices of all our forefathers who had hoped for so much more for their future progeny will have been a complete and utter waste.

But such are the times we live in it seems. Young men wallowing in self-indulgent pontification about the decline of civilization, the hollowness of relationships and the debauchery of our culture while the world around them burns to the ground in chaos, darkness and death.

Is this the new masculinity?

A return to the pagan tribe and every man for himself?

To grass huts, war parties and a gang of men raping and pillaging with the concept of absolute justice and truth for all men nothing but a dream, the mere whisper of which makes it disappear?

Diversity of opinion in the manosphere is something I truly love about what is happening in this part of the Internet. I hope my words are received in that spirit, just another point of view for you to think about.

Personally, and this is my own biased opinion, I just don’t see how we can make things better without going back to that which has always been of service to man throughout his entire history—a recognition of the divine, the transcendent, the majestic, the merciful, the true, the just, the compassionate, the loving—a measure, and measurer, of man and men once again.

But I did not write for those men still asleep.

I wrote for those men on the verge of waking up.

God created the heavens and the earth in justice/truth, in order that each soul may find reward for what it has earned, and none of them shall be wronged.

Read Next: Douchebag vs. Gable: The Clash of Masculinities

  • E. Dantes

    Hear! Hear!

    I’m a 51 yr old judge with an interest in masculine archetypes, truth, justice and virtue. I have been waiting for a discussion like this to open up in the world of men. To the author I recommend the book ‘After Virtue’ by Alistair McIntyre. He will recognize many of the themes but approached from the opposite direction.

    McIntyre looks at the world of ancient Greece and sees a culture that did not understand the concept of ‘Man’ in the way we do. They understood men as a being that plays many roles; father, politician, husband etc. Each role has a purpose, one easily and widely understood. As such it is possible to say one is a good ship’s captain if one can navigate a boat successfully. Each role has a ‘virtu’ and arete is the ability to be effective. ‘Man’ per se, standing outside of his communal roles, was literally ‘nobody’. He had no relation to a greater whole and therefore stood outside of all ability to be judged. For the Greeks banishment was a fate worse than death for this reason.

    With the rise of Christianity, a notion of virtue that transcended a man’s place in the community and spoke rather to his relationship to God was introduced for the first time. That notion was grafted onto the language of virtue the Greeks used and fundamentally changed its meaning. The result has been a general incoherence in the language of virtue that means people arbitrarily choose their first principles (life is sacrosanct, for instance) and build logical arguments upon it and arrive at conclusions i.e. all abortion is wrong. Others choose a different first principle (the absolute right to choose) and do the same. They arrive at a different end point. The ensuing arguments are interminable because the reasoning is attacked but the choice of ‘first principle’ is not subject to logical debate. Nietzche saw this and called it what it is, an outright personal assertion about what is ‘right’ that is supported only by the strength of one’s personal power.

    This is the world we have inherited and it is on steroids. I am pleased to see some men are finally both seeing it for what it is and asking how a man develops an identity as a Man within this culture and makes a positive contribution.

    I consider you a true brother Maximus.

  • MaximusTheMerciful


    Thanks for your comment. I am in no way asking young men to discard the pursuit of this world (i.e. money, hot chicks, etc). Let me be clear on that.

    What I am asking is for you to question HOW MUCH of your life is consumed by it? And in finding the answer ask if it is consuming you?

    The Roman virtues of masculinity became archetypes for a reason – they were arrived at by much thought and inquiry by men of FAR greater depth and intelligence than you are I.

    Here are two Wikipedia notes on archetypes:

    – a Platonic philosophical idea referring to pure forms which embody the fundamental characteristics of a thing;

    – or a constantly recurring symbol or motif in literature, painting, or mythology

    Do young men in the man-o-sphere not want to know what the ideal masculine man is? Do they not believe there is such a thing?

    Men once strove for ideals. For truth. For justice. To embody and enact these ideals to better ourselves and society. i.e. Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Ethics – the core of western governance and law/ethics.

    It amazes me how much young men decry the fall and decline of the west into hollowness and debauchery, but have no interest in the very ideals and values that birthed it.

    What are young men asked (told?) to define themselves by today?

    Hot chicks and lots of money? Being your own boss, a good capitalist and consumer?

    Where do you get truth in a court of law from banging a hot chick?

    How does money buy you justice if the other guy can simply spend more and out bribe the judge you thought you had bought off?

    What is the point of influencing people if all you use that influence for is to spread lies and corruption?

    Sound familiar? Sound like present day America?

    I have no doubt this is not what you would do with great power and influence, but with no ideals of truth and justice, there is nothing stopping the guy next to you from doing EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING to screw you over and still call himself a ‘man.’

    This is what I am talking about. A larger, deeper discussion of masculinity than just the surface of getting laid and having lots of cash to spend and the freedom to enjoy it in being your own boss (should you be so lucky).

    The Romans all prized what you do, but they ALSO prized arete, excellence, in man. They considered fine women, wealth and power good OUTER reflections of a man, but the CORE of a man was his adherence to truth and justice. If it was not, Plato would have been out Gaming hot chicks in Athens instead of writing about how to create a society that enables the good life.

    If Plato had chosen just to Game hot chicks, we would still be living in caves worshiping the almighty goddess. Period.

    The actions of GAME philosophy (as you describe excellently) can lead to virtue, but if you DO NOT DEFINE what virtue is and actively strive for it, then all you are doing is pursuing ego and your own will to power, the very problems that are now plaguing the west and bringing about its collapse.

    This is why I was writing to show what awake and asleep men look like. Gazing up at the stares does not distract from the jungle we have to live and survive in. It puts it in perspective because if you don’t, all you have is the jungle and that is exactly what the ancient Greeks and Romans, with their ideals, dragged man out of.

    If all there is to man is fighting and fucking, can you truly call yourself a man?

    This is what the Greeks and Romans asked of themselves. Why are we not as well? EVERYTHING the west has, and once venerated, comes from the Greeks and Romans. And now, young men could care less about such ancient and antiquated notions of masculine and manly archetypes and ideals.

    Again I ask… is this the new masculinity?

    Truth and justice is what founded the Roman REPUBLIC.

    Corruption of truth and justice is what caused the collapse of the Roman EMPIRE.

    There was a difference. There still is.

    A republic… if you can keep it.

  • MaximusTheMerciful

    @ E. Dantes.

    Thank you for your kind words. I find it interesting that the first two comments on my post reflected both poles of the generational divide perfectly, and where I find myself in the middle trying to bridge the two. And yes, I do see providence in it.

    I will look up that book. Thank you for the recommendation.

    Ironically, I am doing intensive research of the Greeks right now for the book I am writing. Your book will help I think in that process.

    As for your comments, I think my article still holds true even in light of McIntyre revelations about the role of man in Rome. Yes, he may have been defined as father, politician, husband, etc. But there was a CORE uniting principle in the republic that united them (in my opinion). And that was truth and justice.

    In fact, the start of Rome was an act of truth and justice.

    By about the end of the 7th century the rulers of Rome are kings from a more developed civilization to the north, that of the Etruscans. Etruscan rule in Rome is brought to a sudden end late in the 6th century.

    Roman legend provides a dramatic story to account for a rebellion by the Roman people., The Etruscan king, Tarquin the Proud, has a son, Sextus Tarquinius, who rapes a Roman lady of exceptional virtue, Lucretia. She makes public the crime and then stabs herself. The outrage provokes a public uprising, led by Brutus. The Etruscans are driven from Rome.

    The rape of Lucretia later becomes a favourite subject in art, as do other stories about the Etruscans and Rome. One concerns the two sons of Brutus, who conspire to restore the Tarquin dynasty. Brutus himself condemns them to death, putting the interests of the new republic above family ties.

    Truth and justice. The foundation of the Roman Republic regardless of a man’s role within it.

    Your observations of the Christian transference of thought of community to that of God (if I have understood you correctly) is on point, though I have not researched it myself.

    I think what you really nailed down, especially as a judge, is the problem of logic and arguing from first principles that are never questioned. This I think is not a result of the re-imagining of virtue in light of Christianity’s absorption of Greek values (I don’t know if that is what you meant by bringing it up), but instead, just plain ignorance and willful disregard for the methods of arriving at truth or even caring to, a core point in my article.

    We don’t believe in ideals, fundamental principles anymore. In a feminist world, with ‘all voices heard’, to stand up and declare we should search for the one TRUE voice is now blasphemy.

    Hence, people take a first principle entirely based on their own opinions and beliefs and nothing more, and than vomit a logical argument that proves their first principle to be right.

    It’s insanity. But, that seems to be the way of the female unfortunately. (Not all ladies of course, so just relax. Your panties won’t be in a bunch for too long, but you will have to wait in line.)

    Brothers is all we can be when we all focus on truth and justice. An amazing unifying force truth is, I hope we see a search for it in the man-o-sphere in earnest from now on.