How you see the outside world—and how you govern your relationship with it—matters most to your earthly success and happiness.
I have not figured everything out. But I have a pretty good handle on the functional basics of our species. It turns out that there is a logic both to rising and falling in this world. This is the logic that we aim to uncover.
First, it’s useful to “Know Thyself” at the species level. Who is this “neither beast nor god” apex predator called man?
Because there is a nobility to our species, we should look there first. The Golden Rule is found everywhere. It’s a signal in the noise composing all peoples and all cultures everywhere: “Treat others how you would want to be treated.” As a species, collectively and in the abstract, we know what is right, good, and just. Kudos to us!
The problem with the Golden Rule is that mankind’s follow-through is bronze level, at best. Sometimes, we don’t even medal at all. Slavery and genocide are two obvious examples—and to my historical recollection, no nation’s hands are clean. We are all descendants of Cain—the nice brother, Abel, got his head smashed in by his twin and our forefather.
How do we make sense of it? Human beings are capable of knowing what is true and what contributes to the well-being of society. But what do we do with that insight? Not much.
In short, the human species is a selfish, shortsighted, zero-sum asshole. Zero-sum thinking is natural to humans. As a species, our default setting is on covetous Karen. (See, Karen is the new C-word). My source for this information is the Ten Commandments.
The same creature who can see the social utility of the Golden Rule has baked into his and her monkey mix some anti-social behavior that needs recognition and redress. At its core, the Ten Commandments—and its “Thou shalt not” dressing down—is a simple set of instructions for a selfish, covetous creature who is inclined to kill, lie, cheat, and steal in order to get what he wants. Moses was a master sketch artist of the human condition.
The reason the Ten Commandments are carved on the walls of courthouses is that they capture the existential rules that got us out of monkey business and into civilized life. They are the on-the-ground, effectual recipe that, if scrupulously followed, create Golden Rule moments. In short, if you want to live in a Golden Rule reality, leave the other guy’s wife—and his ass—alone; be happy with what’s yours, leave the killing and justice to the courts, love, respect, and care for your parents—and know that your Creator wants you to be more than a covetous Karen.
Now this covetous species of ours comes in two primary flavors—man and female—connected by shared toxic covetous behavior.
For our species to exist, we need to procreate, and how nature does this is through sexual differentiation. Men and women have different plumbing that, for some reason, fit nicely together. Along with our different and interconnected bodies comes a division of labor to provide for the needs of the next generation—the fruits of our loins. Both natural roles have their downsides: men die in war and in work and women do likewise in childbirth and toil.
Let’s now try teasing out the nature of man. What makes a man a man? Thanks to the biologists (and not Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson), we know that what distinguishes a man from a woman is a Y chromosome. What comes with the difference outside the ability to pee standing up?
Here is my blurred recollection at explaining the difference to my son.
There was a moment in the evolution of our species when male and female achieved a level of sexual self-knowledge. The male was sitting at the cliff’s edge, sharing a sunset with the hairy women of his dreams—and then came a moment of “I am man” cognition. He looks down at his sexual equipment and says, “Because of you, I am going to have to work very hard.” Having her own cognitive reverie, she looks down at hers and says, “With this, I can feed myself, my offspring, and shape the course of history.”
We hear a lot of bitching, moaning, and complaining about a patriarchal society and its subjugation of women. Spilled-milk alert: The arc of history makes widows. Since the beginning, the lives of the mass of men have been nasty, brutish, and short.
Men don’t bitch, moan, and complain about their lot in life because they know that neither their fellow man nor the opposite sex gives a shit. No one cares.
The call of our species’ and civilization’s survival is: “Women and Children First.” Men exist to protect and serve their family and their state—with their lives if necessary. Men are the expendable ones. I bring this up as a point of honorable distinction between men, women, and children. Father’s Day is Hallmark’s way of saying, “Thank you for your service.”
If you want to be functional and succeed as a man, you need courage. Courage is a habit of dealing with and managing the fear of violent death. It turns out that not everyone can run away from violence and the likelihood of death. Society survives and prospers because women and children go one way, and men are expected to stand and defend the ground in between. Look at what is happening in Ukraine to see this noble and necessary division of labor.
To develop the type of men required for the survival of our species and civilized life requires some functional tuition. We call this honor. Remember, we are not a particularly sharing animal. Men—at least those who can defend and feed society—require honorable competition—to distinguish themselves. The opposite of “honorable competition” is dishonorable competition, which results in a war of all against all.
Boys need to be boys, and men need to be men for the sake of civilization and its survival. Teamwork, friendship, and loyalty are functional requirements of being a man. The maintenance of civilization needs them at scale.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article appeared at Planned Man.