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In search of a post-political masculinity

By Mark Christensen - posted Thursday, 21 February 2019

Jordan Peterson believes men occupy a distinct biological category. Apart from the apparent anatomical differences, data show we're more interested in engineering and tech, while females prefer nursing and early-childhood education. Gender distinctions are real and can extend to morality. The violence hinted at when a couple of men argue, for example, "can't be brought to bear with women."

"It's not obvious," he tells the Rubin Report, "how men and women should go to war."

Yet war we have. An escalating one. So, perhaps we men, including Peterson, need to think harder about what is really going on. Be daring and look outside the box.


Fellow traveler Jocko Willink recently marked out some customary battlelines.

Masculinity - stoic, autonomous, rational, aggressive - is essential because life is hard. People aren't always benevolent and kind. It would be great if they were but "that world doesn't exist."

"If you show your emotions," claims the author of Extreme Ownership, "you might get taken advantage of. If you make emotional decisions, they will likely lead you in the wrong direction."

The former Navy Seal goes on to recognize this isn't the entire story. Men who ignore their feelings forego the ability to empathize and connect with others. Any success is liable to be empty, devoid of joy and shared happiness. Having to be right or win all the time can leave us brittle and insecure.

Such insights notwithstanding, I think it's fair to say modern Western man has yet to find that elusive sweet spot, the delicate balance between head and heart. Then there's order and chaos. The material versus the spiritual. Free will and fate. Animal lust and a higher love. Avoid a holistic approach that integrates otherwise opposing elements, and everything unravels.

In his popular Bible series, Peterson describes how the hemispheres of our brain are adapted to help resolve the dualism of reality and self. Habitable order has its limits. Some chaos is actually desirable, as it keeps us alert and actively engaged. The aim is to live with one foot grounded in the knowable, familiar to the left side, and one foot in the aesthetic or moral realm, what is mystical but somehow familiar to the right. Symmetry brings about a deep sense of meaning. What's astonishing is how a neuro-physiological process effectively confirms "the forces of the cosmos are properly balanced in your being at that moment. That's why it feels so good."


But here's the thing: all this makes a mockery of reason and male identity. Our end-game necessarily incorporates right-side considerations that are, due their infinite qualities, expressible only through myth and narrative. Order plus chaos always translates into incomplete knowledge and control. No matter how clever, human cognition won't ever fathom the human heart. And so on.

How, then, are we to justify rules-based hierarchy and temporal power? As Willink infers, touchy-feely, even if universal, is not a sound base for managing human affairs. It's a perplexing situation, especially as man is predisposed to pursue comprehensive answers that can be systematized and made relevant to all.

Which brings us to this strange cultural moment and the charge of toxic masculinity.

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This was first published by the San Francisco Review of Books.

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About the Author

Mark is a social and political commentator, with a background in economics. He also has an abiding interest in philosophy and theology, and is trying to write a book on the nature of reality. He blogs here.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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