Many of us are disappointed in ourselves and disappointed in our fellow men. We wonder where the men of honor, courage, and adventure have gone.
You can find an answer in an analogy of soil.
There is a kind of “soil” that produces men like the Beowulfian heroes of old, men who would skillfully live and fight and die together. That soil is close community, close contact to nature, exposure to danger and novelty, and commitment to transcendent values.
Conditions of hardship and limitation required trust between men. Trust required men to be honorable and courageous. And the desire for honor and love for community drove men to train as masters in sword, spear, bow, and horse.
This soil that produces heroes is now rare – stripped in some places, changed over centuries in others. We no longer “need” close community to meet our needs, we no longer “need” contact to nature, we no longer seek exposure to dangerous novelty, and we no longer believe in transcendent values. And this state of affairs has existed for enough generations that we are all effectively “orphaned” from the tradition of manhood that these conditions created.
So we are wrong to expect men to just look up from their current state, shake off their chains, and regain the greatness of the Spartans or the Norse. We live in a different, impoverished soil now. For us to be heroic would in fact be surprising given the topmost layer of soil in which we are rooted.
It will take a great deal of what we might call “artificial” fertilizers to restore natural manhood. We will have to make awkward attempts at forming male friendships and mentorships and institutions. We will have to create our own rituals and codes (or adopt them from groups much different and long dead). We will struggle to reconstruct masculine histroy and culture. We will have to train for violence and danger which most of us will never see. And it will feel forced, like play-acting.
But we should not shrink from taking the extra, stumbling steps which we as men – orphaned from the tradition of manhood – must take. We should not feel shame or frustration that manhood does not come more easily. It takes a long time to rebuild depleted soil.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash