Alexander Hellene

Nothing to Die For

Fantasy and historical fiction resonate with male audiences because they feature brave, selfless leaders who inspire those in their charge to great heights of glory for noble causes that matter. There is a reason why stories like The Lord of the Rings, Braveheart, Gladiator, The Odyssey, The Iliad, Master and Commander, Captain Blood, action fare like Commando and Rambo, and even superhero stuff are so popular with men: they fill a need for adventure, bravery, and purpose in a gray, boring world of efficiency, production deadlines, and self-serving leaders who openly despise those beneath them.

These two features of the modern world—a lack of purpose and a lack of leadership—go hand-in-hand. First, the modern world is boring. A man is born, spends their entire youth in school following the rules laid down for him, goes to a university that trains them to be a cog in the machine, enters the workforce for 40 or 50 years, and then dies.

And what is this man working for? What are they hoping to attain? A house of their own? A little land? A family? This stuff can be achieved, but it’s difficult because everything has a high cost. Bills, mortgages, loans, debt, interest, and of course taxes. A man in the 21st century is just as much a slave as the peasant who had to work the land. However, instead of a feudal lord who at least offers to physically protect the land and those in it from invading barbarians in exchange for a share of a man’s crops, a man today toils at gunpoint for a regime populated by people who hate him and invite the barbarians in to settle next door.

Economic Man is a wreck, less-free than his ancestors.

“Look how much better our material circumstances are!” one might say. I agree that this is a good thing, to a point. Indoor plumbing, modern sanitation practices, and a good chunk of modern medicine are the things that I, personally, would have difficulty living without. I can take or leave the rest of it.

Herein underscores the crux of the problem with the boring nature of modernity. Yes, there is a lot of economic activity. Too much, perhaps. We feel chained to our jobs, especially those of us in the rapidly-expanding service economy. I refuse to call it the “knowledge” economy because very little of the information that passes through our channels of communication approaches the level of knowledge. We can only mention the word “wisdom” to lament its absence.

The end result of this economic activity is materialism, the substitute of stuff for actual meaning. One can have a giant house (financed by debt), an education from a top-tier university (financed by debt), a shiny new car or two, a boat, a vacation home (again, all financed by debt) and still be miserable. Maybe a wife and kids are in the picture. But even though having a family helps add meaning to life, if a man has no spiritual purpose and is relying on the accumulation of physical goods to fill that hole, they’re destined for unhappiness.

Our leaders (more on them later) have fooled us into thinking economic well-being in the form of the GDP is the equivalent of happiness, of the good life, of thumos, flourishing. A few generations have shown us that this is a hollow substitute for actual spirituality. In what used to be called Christendom, this had been found through the worship of Jesus Christ the Son of God. As recently as your great-grandparents generation, men thought they were fighting for the glory of the Lord. They might not have had as much stuff as we do, and what they had was not as advanced, but they were arguably more fulfilled.

Life can be harder yet still filled with more meaning. Ease and comfort is not an essential component of happiness and contentedness.

Those days are gone. So enter escapism. As it has been said elsewhere, there are no dragons anymore, but man still has the need to slay them.

This brings us to our leaders. Why do characters like Aragorn, Maximus, Odysseus, the doomed Hector, and even Captain America strike such a nerve with men? There are two main reasons: first, they have earned their positions through competency, and second they actually care about their people. Much like great military leaders of the past like Napoleon Bonaparte, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar Genghis Khan, George Patton, Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, and George Washington, these fictional men are able to inspire because they lead by example.

A modern man stuck in the boring, gray world of the post-industrial economy looks around and sees boring, gray leaders, men and women with no actual accomplishments save for going to the right schools and coming from the right families with the right connections, ruling over them. Utterly incompetent morons hold the power of life and death over a man, and they are there because they have convinced fifty-percent-plus-one of the population to vote for them.

Further, a man understands deep down that voting merely provides a patina of credibility and approval to what the ruling class was going to do anyway.

What we have is a noble class minus the actual nobility and everything that word entails. There is no sense of duty on the part of these leaders, no love of their people. Oftentimes, our leaders are not even of the same people. They are there to enrich themselves, the big money interests who helped them get to their position, and a small slice of their constituency. There is no servant-leadership in these United States, only self-serving leadership.

Is it any wonder why what are derisively called “guy” books or movies stubbornly remain so damn popular?

The recent glee, some ironic and some regrettably serious, to Afghanistan’s Taliban driving the United States out of their country after a twenty-year occupation, provides a similar example of this phenomenon. Nobody serious in the United States would rather live in Afghanistan under the Taliban; our regime is horrible and destructive, but it beats the alternative. This is not to say that the United States are the good guys in this situation either. There are no good guys. But a man suffering in the stultifying confines of American society can’t help but look and see these virile, adventurous men with their guns and cool uniforms storming into Kabul to drive out a technologically superior foe, the world’s sole superpower, and not feel their blood start to surge with the thrill of excitement.

Who are the leaders in America worth fighting and dying for? What are the causes worthy of your life?

An American Christian has a heavenly leader worth fighting and dying for. But we still spend the first part of our lives here on Earth in the material world. We need an earthly purpose combined with our spiritual one.

Here is another wrinkle: men interact with each other through hierarchies. Men judge the status of other men they meet, gauge it against their own, and fall in line accordingly. All hierarchies need leaders at the top, they need lieutenants loyal to the leader, and they need men who will do as they are told in exchange for respect of their competency.

Hierarchies are inevitable. It would just be nice to have leaders at the top who actually belong there.

– Alexander

8 thoughts on “Nothing to Die For”

  1. Pertinent and cogent article, Alex! Thank you!

    Roll this into the interminable Campbellian “Hero’s Journey” that Hollyweird uses (or rather misreads and misuses) and the perpetual reboots that entertainment does (specifically movies and comic books). If there are no real consequences, then the event has no value and no meaning. Men and boys especially resonate with this.

    Myth and historic tales had meaning because the world was changed for better or worse by the actions of the characters in the story. Heroism meant you might help to make the world a better place. Your “Economic Man” only knows that Movie Y and Book Z sold well, so ‘let’s do it again’. The past is erased to make way for the new hotness. [Insert Red Letter Media — “Get Excited for New Product” meme here.]

    Create stories with meaning and real consequences, and the audience will see the difference.

    1. That’s a really good point. Reboot/remake mania to keep the same seven IPs alive creates an attitude that bleeds over to the actual stories. Nothing matters because there’s no way Batman or whomever will ever be retired.

      It’s part of the reason most comic books bored me a few decades ago and why I was able to put down the hobby so easily: nothing mattered. Therefore, how noble and just can a character’s sacrifice be if they’re just going to be revived a few issues later?

      1. Alexander

        Fascinating article. You touch many themes that resonate with me. And I’m exploring in my novels/creative writing. About hiereacy Brian just posted an article about old money that compliments your post.

        However let me begin Mediterranean anarchist and be very skeptical of hierarchies. I’ve always regarded them as largely illegitimate even if necessary.
        The very important questions
        1) are hierarchies ever legitimate?
        2) who do they really benefit?
        3) hierarchies ossify into insufferable caste systems where the top people not only perpetuate but make damn sure the castes remain fixed forever
        4) gamma/soyboy/effeminate crisis is precisely because the hierarchies are ossified into castes. So the marginal guy who could’ve transformed into less gamma or even deltas are locked out and stagnate This dynamic parallels the male/female sexual dynamic where both are increasingly dysfunctional mentally morally and physically.

        Eventually the ossified casteism will blow up as it’s contrary to reality. Hierarchies are like springs there has to be some movement for people to go up, down or even laterally. when the spring stops or is too compressed it breaks

        xavier

        1. Xavier,

          I did see Brian’s article (here, for reference), and yes it does complement my piece somewhat. The issue linking both articles seems to be do the people in charge of power and wealth deserve it? Have they earned it? Are they worthy of it? The answer to all of these questions when you look around 99.9% of those in charge of the Western world is a resounding “Hell no!”

          Now, about hierarchies generally, I can’t say that I agree with all of your points. It’s okay to be skeptical about those in authority, but skepticism doesn’t necessarily make any and all authority a de facto bad. Hierarchies, like all authority, are necessary–humans are hardwired for this, and in fact hierarchies and authority are divine in nature. Therefore, I’ll have to channel my ancient Greek Mediterranean nature and say that I don’t think Earthly leaders and Earthly causes are bad, as long as they are bent to an objectively good, noble, and Godly purpose.

          To your questions, which I agree are quite important:

          “1) are hierarchies ever legitimate?”

          Yes. Of course they can be legitimate. You are a Catholic–is the Catholic hierarchy legitimate? Was the divine right of kings more or less legitimate than fifty-percent-plus-one popular voting with universal franchise whereby politicians promise Group A that they’ll confiscate Group B’s money and spend it on programs to benefit Group A?

          “2) who do they really benefit?”

          Ideally, they’d benefit the people. We know, however, from direct and first-hand experience in the United States, and I’m sure anywhere in the West, that this is not the case. The people need a mechanism to overthrow or otherwise get rid of hierarchies that do not benefit them. In oh so advanced Western democracies, we have less recourse than peasants did in the so-called “Dark Ages.”

          “3) hierarchies ossify into insufferable caste systems where the top people not only perpetuate but make damn sure the castes remain fixed forever”

          Okay. So that means we should have no government? I’m not sure what the question is here. And nothing human lasts forever. People thought the Soviet Union would last forever. People think the United States will last forever.

          “4) gamma/soyboy/effeminate crisis is precisely because the hierarchies are ossified into castes. So the marginal guy who could’ve transformed into less gamma or even deltas are locked out and stagnate This dynamic parallels the male/female sexual dynamic where both are increasingly dysfunctional mentally morally and physically.”

          I would counter that this isn’t a function of hierarches qua hierarchies, but of our degraded, Godless age and the degraded, Godless people it produces.

          “Eventually the ossified casteism will blow up as it’s contrary to reality. Hierarchies are like springs there has to be some movement for people to go up, down or even laterally. when the spring stops or is too compressed it breaks”

          I don’t disagree, but this seems to counter your earlier points. A bad hierarchy is bad, and a bad hierarchy is good. As with anything. This is not unique to hierarchies. I’m not sure I understand if you’re saying all hierarchies are bad, or that bad hierarchies are bad.

          I stand by the point I made in this post which is that hierarchies are necessary and natural, especially among men. I should also add that we should strive for good hierarchies filled with the worthy who have earned their positions through competence and duty to those in their charge.

          1. Alexander

            Thanks for taking the time to respond to my long post.
            You’ve helped me to reevaluate my thinking. And I need to reflect my presuppositions.

            My worry is man’s fallen nature creates a tense cyclical relationship where hierarchies and elites was and wane.
            I guess I’m deeply bothered by the cyclical nature and have to accept there’s no solution until our Lord comes. In the meantime I need to balance my disdain, contempt and suspicion for hierarchy with complying with rightful authority.

            I need to work on this gamma ressentiment tendency. So I’ll introspect in the meantime.

            xavier

            1. I didn’t think you were being a gamma at all. I just honestly wasn’t sure where you came down on the question. Your use of the word “cyclical” here makes a lot of sense.

              And I agree that it’s no fun being on the bad end of the cycle. It’s the “strong men create good times, good times create weak men, weak men create bad times, bad times create strong men” idea. And we’re firmly in between the weak men and the bad times, and I’m with you: it’s not a good place to be.

              1. Alexander,

                Thanks. The events in Kabul not only repulse me, but fill me with a lot of foreboding. China will definitely invade and occupy Taiwan and will compel the Pakistani to eventually invade Kashmir to distract the Indians and others through strategic deception.
                The Iranians and the Arabs will settle their long war in the ugliest possible manner, and so on.

                So the world has become far more dangerous, and I’m exasperated I can’t leave a better place for my kids. All well and nice to reform our homes, but is it enough, and will we cultivate new elites in time?

                xavier

                1. These times are dangerous. If North America can’t shore up its own defenses and protect against the remote possibility that conflicts thousands of miles away will come to our doorstep, they don’t deserve to exist in their current form.

                  Our leaders act like people who actively want foreign conflicts here. It’s indeed nefarious, some might say demonic, and you’re right to feel uneasy. But don’t ever lose hope.

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