NOTE: This article was originally published at In Mala Fide on April 11, 2012. I’m re-posting it here as the site is now defunct.
During my first semester at college, I had the misfortune of having an emo for a roommate. Everything about this guy was effeminate and despicable: he talked with a lisp, he wore his hair long with bangs, and all of his friends were girls. We clashed on almost everything, from his habit of making out with his girlfriend underneath the sheets to our fights over the thermostat (he always bitched that it was too hot, even when it was five degrees out). Living with him was like being married. I initially just tried to avoid him, spending most of my non-class time hanging out with my friends or other stuff, only coming home to sleep, but things eventually came to a head and I ended up transferring to a new room.
But despite his general obnoxiousness, Emo Roommate had one thing over me: he got laid. All the time. With reasonably cute girls. During the short time I lived with him, he basically had a rotating harem of three or four girls at any given time, inexplicably drawn to his fey mannerisms and pissy passive-aggressive behavior. In fact, one Sunday morning I came home from a long night of drinking Keystone Light and striking out with the ladies to the sight of his girlfriend making out with a redheaded girl on his bed while he grinned. I suppose it was a violation of the bro code to cockblock him like that, but I couldn’t have cared less at the time; served him right for being an unbearable prick.
As desperate as I was to remake myself, I had my limits. Emo Roommate may have been getting more pussy than I was, but he was something I didn’t want to be. He was a fag.
I’m from the generation for whom “fag” and “gay” were common taunts, much to the consternation of our teachers and parents. To a bunch of third-graders jostling for social status on the playground, faggotry was like porn: they couldn’t define it, but they knew it when they saw it. Faggotry doesn’t refer specifically to homosexuality, though a lot of homos happen to be fags. Faggot, gay, girly-man, fairy, fruit: these are all terms to describe men who fail at being men. More than that, these men not only don’t care that they’ve failed at being men, they revel in it and demand the world reorient itself to accommodate their failures.
I couldn’t have articulated all this a decade ago, but at a certain instinctual level, I knew it. So did my friends, and so does any man who’s ever used “fag” as an insult. So does society at large, never mind their claims of gender being a social construct. Look at all the mindless “man up” shaming coming from the media today. Implicit in using the phrase “man up” is that there is a fixed definition of “man” that the males of today have failed to meet. More importantly, “man up” implicitly states that manhood is something that males must earn. There’s no equivalent phrase for women, nobody calling on them to “woman up.” The reality that Bill Bennett, Kay Hymowitz and the rest acknowledge but won’t say aloud is that women are born and men are made.
Jack Donovan’s latest book, The Way of Men, is not a self-help guide. Reading it won’t get you laid, make you money or give you bigger abs. The Way of Men is an attempt to answer the questions, “What is masculinity? What does it mean to be a man? What is the essence of manliness?” It’s an articulation of what makes men men, unencumbered by ideology, philosophy or religion, the truth that we all know and have known for millennia but could not find the words for.
This is going to sound like hyperbole or ass-kissing, but The Way of Men is easily one of the best, most valuable books I’ve ever read. Decades from now, when the current dystopia becomes nothing but a bad memory, Donovan’s book will be seen as one of the seminal works of the alt-right/manosphere canon. I hate even using this analogy because it trivializes the sheer impact of Jack’s work, but it’s the only way to make my point: The Way of Men will do for men what The Feminine Mystique did for women.
The Way of Men is important precisely because Jack approaches masculinity from an objective, amoral, almost mathematical standpoint, a perspective that is literally absent in the past few decades’ writing on the subject. The problem with defining masculinity is that every single clique in the world wants to repurpose masculinity and men to serve their own interests. Ask a dozen people what manliness is and you’ll get a dozen different answers:
- To a traditionalist Christian, being masculine entails getting married, having children and going to church every Sunday.
- To a gamer/manospherian, being masculine entails having sex with lots of women.
- To a feminist, being masculine means serving the interests of women every minute of every day.
Donovan dispenses with all this noise and distills manliness down to its core attributes, independent of culture and morality. These are the virtues that define men throughout space and time, whether we’re talking about the samurai of feudal Japan or the knights of medieval Europe:
To understand who men are, what they have in common and why men struggle to prove their worth to each other, reduce male groups to their nucleic form. Sprawling, complex civilizations made up of millions of people are relatively new to men. For most of their time on this planet, men have organized in small survival bands, set against a hostile environment, competing for women and resources with other bands of men. Understanding the way men react to each other demands an understanding of their most basic social unit. Understanding what men want from each other requires an understanding of what men have most often needed from each other, and a sense of how these needs have shaped masculine psychology.
Relieved of moral pretense and stripped of folk costumes, the raw masculinity that all men know in their gut has to do with being good at being a man within a small, embattled gang of men struggling to survive.
The Way of Men is the way of that gang.
This short section should give you an idea what Jack’s writing style is like: direct and unpretentious. This isn’t a dry academic work full of puff words and run-on sentences. Donovan is economical with his words and doesn’t waste your time. Indeed, he actually cut a section out of the book because he felt it was a diversion; he released these chapters for free as No Man’s Land last November.
Jack’s concept of the “gang” being the way of men informs the entire book, specifically his analysis of the central traits of masculinity: strength, courage, mastery and honor. The “gang” is the basic unit of male organization going back to the caveman days. All effective male organizations, from the police to the military to the mafia, are gangs in which the four aforementioned virtues are necessary to survive and advance the group’s interests. Drawing on evolutionary biology, history and philosophers from Aristotle to Hobbes, Donovan breaks it down:
People like to make friends. Being on the defensive all the time is stressful. Most people want to trust other people. Most people want to be able to relax. If you are smart, until you know them,they will remain out there on the other side of the perimeter. Even if you let your guard down to cooperate or trade with them, they may or may not be absorbed into us. As long as other men maintain separate identities, there is always the chance that they will choose to put the interests of their own ahead of your interests. In hard times, agreements between groups fall apart. Competition creates animosity, and men will dehumanize each other to make the tough decisions necessary for their own group to survive.
Donovan also distinguishes between the concept of a being a good man (“good” as in moral) and being good at being a man (being masculine), noting that most people confuse the two:
A man who is more concerned with being a good man than being good at being a man makes a very well-behaved slave.
It goes without saying that certain figures would do well to read that quote carefully.
The second half of The Way of Men is concerned with the state of men today, serving as a great antidote to all the “man up” articles coming out of the media today. Society has gradually crippled mens’ ability to be manly by making the world safe and neutered, yet the Bennetts and Hymowitzes of the world wonder why the Millennial generation has no interest in anything aside from porn and video games. The chapter “The Bonobo Masturbation Society” drives the point home:
If you’re a good boy and you follow the rules, if you learn how to speak passively and inoffensively, if you can convince some other poor sleepwalking sap that you are possessed with an almost unhealthy desire to provide outstanding customer service or increase operational efficiency through the improvement of internal processes and effective organizational communication, if you can say stupid shit like that without laughing, if your record checks out and your pee smells right— you can get yourself a J-O-B. Maybe you can be the guy who administers the test or authorizes the insurance policy. Maybe you can be the guy who helps make some soulless global corporation a little more money. Maybe you can get a pat on the head for coming up with the bright idea to put a bunch of other guys out of work and outsource their boring jobs to guys in some other place who are willing to work longer hours for less money. Whatever you do, no matter what people say, no matter how many team-building activities you attend or how many birthday cards you get from someone’s secretary, you will know that you are a completely replaceable unit of labor in the big scheme of things.
This is a woman’s world; we men are just visiting.
But it won’t be a woman’s world for much longer. With the slow-motion collapse of the economy and the government’s impotence, it’s only a matter of time before new gangs of men arise to take their place. Donovan is critical of the men’s rights movement’s first principles and pessimistic of their chances of success, though he does praise the work they do. The future of men is the same as their past: the Way of the Gang, good, bad or wretched.
A while back, the author of the Danger & Play blog Tweeted something to the effect of “this is the first generation of males who were not taught how to be men.” Generation Zero is the generation of Sesame Street and Ritalin, a generation raised without any memory or first-hand knowledge of a world in which masculinity was encouraged and celebrated rather than punished. The Way of Men is the first complete roadmap to masculinity ever published, the truth your fathers never told you. For the men of my generation, this book is beyond invaluable.
But even if you aren’t a Millennial, you have to own The Way of Men. There is literally nothing out there like it: a book that describes the fundamentals of manliness without getting bogged down in religion or politics. It is a guiding light out of the darkness.
And whatever you do, don’t be a fag.
Click here to buy The Way of Men.
Read Next: Women Are Just as Socially Retarded as Men