Warrior-Kings in a Peaceful Democracy
A soft-bellied man holds a log and screams as he does squats under the pressure of a roaring waterfall; two wolves snarl and snap at each others’ throats before the weaker one crumples and submits; an unsmiling man in a suit gets out of a Lamborghini and holds up a sword that frames his face in two halves as he stares at the camera, one side in shadow and one bathed in light, both sides looking very angry and very very intense.
Those are three images from three different ads that I’ve seen on Facebook in recent days. It feels like ads now take up somewhere around 40% of my feed, and the great big ad algorithm that runs the show has figured out two things about me: I’m willing to spend money on personal growth experiences, and I’m male.
Being male means that I’m somehow required to perform masculinity at all times, especially when dangerously un-masculine things like tender feelings and vulnerability are involved. So if you’re a male and particularly concerned about the consequences of failing to perform masculinity as you grow, you can sign up for a breakthrough experience with one of the groups advertising above and get yelled at in distress positions a lot and come through with a title like ‘Warrior King’ which indicates that you have violently defeated the weakness within and are prepared to do so indefinitely.
Equating masculinity with the dream of a society soaked with violent hierarchy seems to be the North Star for many of these boys-only growth groups. Unless you enlist in the military, your chances of being a literal warrior are quite slim; your chances of becoming recognized as some sort of monarch are even slimmer. The fact that this is the case is the cause of all sorts of social evils, according to their worldview - violent hierarchy is a fact of nature, the source of all stability and excellence, and egalitarian ideals have thrown the modern world into a state of wretched degeneracy.
Contemporary degeneracy has not abolished these facts of nature, instead merely covering them up - so it really just takes strong men yelling at you to cut through the bullshit covering up your natural masculine power, a power which has been there all along and which is rightfully yours by birth, if you rise up to fight and defeat all the frailty in the way of you claiming it.
I don’t personally see a path to growth weaving its way through masculine ideals. Masculine aesthetics are fun and fine, but the need to constantly appear strong, including to yourself, creates the conditions for all kinds of instability and fragility down the line. It generates and amplifies the perception of threats - in one way by nailing your identity to the relentless quest to identify and crush threats in general, in another way by nailing your identity to anything at all.
A lot of what drove my own misery, long ago, was attachment to a particular identity - the identity of being a precious child genius who is inevitably destined for greatness. Once I became too old to seriously self-identify as a child prodigy I completely fell apart, and the years since then have been about building another identity altogether, an identity that is self-conscious as an identity. I’ve been building a new life for myself knowing full well that this one too could completely fall apart for reasons beyond my ability to predict and understand. It would be very disorienting and painful if that happened, but this time I would have the foundational knowledge that it has happened before, and that just like last time I can ultimately survive.
That, to me, is the deepest kind of strength that I know - not attachment to a particular identity, nor attachment to a particular metaphysical source of identities, but instead the freedom to move through life knowing that if one identity falls apart that another one can be created in its place, and that all identities that one assumes in one’s existence can always be refined and renewed according to one’s own authentic design. The old attachments to the useful myths of various cosmic orders are fine and can be helpful to some people, but at the end of the day they are temporarily useful tools, ladders that can be climbed all the way to the top and then, without consequence, harmlessly kicked away.