Discover more from Intimations of a New Worldview
On War and Warriors
The function of masculine values in an age of peace
There’s something wrong with men in the Western world. In the United States there are currently about seven million men of prime working age who do not have a job, are not engaged in an educational pursuit, and are not looking for work. These are, in Henry Olsen’s words, “men who can work, who choose not to work, and who spend their time doing little but entertaining themselves, usually in the purely private pursuits such as watching television.” (Eberstadt, 2022 p. 157). Some are ex-convicts or on disability. Many are living off of their parents, girlfriends, or other relatives. I suspect that many of these men have replaced real-world adventure with video games and real-world sexual pursuits with pornography. Besides dropping out of the workforce, men are also underperforming in education. Girls today make better grades than boys throughout school. Women have surpassed men in the attainment of bachelor’s and graduate degrees. Women today are outperforming men by nearly every measure of social and vocational well-being.
I am particularly interested in what has happened to intellectual culture through the influx of women into graduate schools. There have been some obviously beneficial effects of this influx. For example, many talented women who may have been previously excluded (for whatever reason) are now able to participate in the scientific enterprise. Many of my favorite scientists, including a few who I will cite in this essay, happen to be women. In a previous age these same women may have been arbitrarily excluded from the scientific enterprise and I’m grateful that that is no longer the case. Increasing the talent pool for scientists through the influx of women into the universities has undoubtedly accelerated scientific progress, especially in my own field of psychology.
There is no such thing as a free lunch, however, and the influx of women into the universities has also had some less desirable effects. University culture has largely been taken over by the highly effeminate (and pernicious) ideology of “diversity, equity, and inclusion”, which obviously appeals more readily to women and seems to instinctually repel a large number of men. In a blog post, Arnold Kling listed some of the shifts that have occurred in intellectual culture, which he believes may be partially caused by the influx of women:
1. The older culture saw differential rewards as just when based on performance. The newer culture sees differential rewards as unjust.
2. The older culture sought people who demonstrate the most competence. The newer culture seeks to nurture those who are at a disadvantage.
3. The older culture admires those who seek to stand out. The newer culture disdains such people.
4. The older culture uses proportional punishment that is predictable based on known rules. The newer culture suddenly turns against a target and permanently banishes the alleged violator, based on the latest moral fashions.
5. The older culture valued open debate. The newer culture seeks to curtail speech it regards as dangerous.
6. The older culture saw liberty as essential to a good society. The newer culture sees conformity as essential to a good society.
7. The older culture was oriented toward achievement. The newer culture is oriented toward safety.
I think that’s a pretty accurate description of the feminization of academic culture (see also Kling’s recent update). In each case, changes to the culture can be traced to psychological differences between men and women that evolutionary psychologist Joyce Benenson refers to as the “warrior” mentality and the “worrier” mentality, respectively.
My experience indicates that many men who would otherwise be interested in academia are now being steered away from the profession because of their unwillingness to give lip service to the new ideology (e.g., by crafting “diversity statements”) and because they accurately perceive that dissent will not be tolerated if they want a career in academia. I am one of these men. In addition to those who are actually driven out of academia, there are many more who privately dissent from the orthodoxy but keep their mouth shut in public because of careerism and cowardice.
More generally, current intellectual culture is often overtly hostile towards masculinity. For example, the American Psychological Association published a set of “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men” in 2019 that was widely criticized for its open disdain for “traditional masculinity” (aggression, stoicism, confidence, competitiveness, etc.). John Wright (2019) summarizes:
Backed by 40 years of science, the APA claims, the guidelines boldly pronounce that “traditional masculinity” is the cause and consequence of men’s mental health concerns. Masculine stoicism, the APA tells us, prevents men from seeking treatment when in need, while beliefs rooted in “masculine ideology” perpetuate men’s worst behaviors—including sexual harassment and rape. Masculine ideology, itself a byproduct of the “patriarchy,” benefits men and simultaneously victimizes them, the guidelines explain. Thus, the APA committee advises therapists that men need to become allies to feminism. “Change men,” an author of the report stated, “and we can change the world.”
The APA guideline is clearly a political document, not a scientific one. In addition to its blatant disdain for men and masculinity, it displays an anti-scientific insistence that masculinity is an “ideology” which is “socially constructed”. The erroneous blank slate view of human nature is still alive and well in certain corners of psychology. The fact that this document was somehow approved and defended by the APA is a good indicator of the ideological climate at these kinds of institutions. In response to the criticism they received after releasing this document, the APA doubled down, releasing a statement signed by three of its presidents in which they defended the guidelines.
Despite being ideological claptrap, the APA document on boys and men does serve a useful role in directing our attention towards a real tension about masculinity within Western culture. On the one hand, traditionally masculine men tend to be more attractive, physically competent, and well-liked. Besides that, emasculated men are often far more dangerous than their masculine counterparts.
As profiles of school shooters have shown us, the most dangerous male is not one who is strong, aggressive, and successful; the most dangerous male is one who is depressed, unable to partner or raise children successfully, unable to earn a living, unable to care for his children. The most dangerous man is not one with power but one who feels powerless. (Gurian, 2019)
It would be a mistake, however, to assume that only powerless and emasculated men engage in socially destructive behavior. There is clearly a socially destructive element inherent to masculinity. As a general rule, men are far more violent than women and far more likely to engage in all kinds of physically destructive behavior, with violent crime and warfare being the most obvious examples. That is true not only of Western culture, but every culture we know of, both now and historically. It’s even true of our close cousins the chimpanzees, among whom males commit more than 90% of homicides (which is also true of us). There are good evolutionary reasons for why men tend to be more physically aggressive (discussed here). The propensity for physical aggression inherent to masculinity is not a bad thing in itself, of course. For most of human history it was necessary. The barbarians have always been at the gates (or, equally likely, we have been the barbarians at the gates), and those same physically aggressive men who seem troublesome in times of peace would be indispensable during times of war.
There is tension, then, between the apparent benefits of masculinity and its potential for social destructiveness. This tension is exacerbated by the fact that we now live in an unprecedented period of relative peace. Might there be a way to resolve this tension? Could the aggressive, war-like instincts inherent to masculinity be harnessed in the service of more relevant endeavors? I think so. My claim in this essay will be that the natural, war-like aggressiveness inherent to masculinity can be a useful and even necessary motivation if harnessed correctly. Masculine aggression can be socially destructive, but it can equally be harnessed for the purpose of creation. By sacrificing “traditional masculinity”, we would also be sacrificing this creative potential. Modern intellectual culture has already done this, to all of our detriment.
There is a crisis of masculinity in Western culture. On the one hand, a large number of men have basically dropped out of life, apparently finding no good reason to leave the comfort of their homes and strive for their own betterment. Many of these otherwise capable men end up addicted to drugs or committing suicide. Even if we don’t care about them, we should at least care about the loss of productivity and innovation that necessarily results from their lack of participation in the workforce. This is also a problem for women, who are generally more attracted to socially successful men. As the pool of socially successful men declines, there will necessarily be fewer options available to women who want to have a family.
On the other hand, many conventionally successful men who participate in mainstream intellectual culture appear to be the equivalent of domesticated poodles. They get along because they are harmless and conformist, having no desire to challenge the mainstream culture in large part because they benefit from it. These domesticated men cannot inspire any admiration in those other, more war-like men who might think of pursuing an intellectual career. Thus, intellectual culture becomes increasingly occupied by poodles, and increasingly tends to expel or repel anyone with a spine. This poses a real dilemma, as the ideological capture of the universities may spiral out of control more than it already has if most of those who would be inclined to resist it self-select (or are expelled) out of the system.
More than 100 years ago, Friedrich Nietzsche saw much of this coming. He did not, of course, predict the influx of women into academia, but he did suggest that intellectual culture in Europe was becoming increasingly feminized and that this feminization would have some pernicious effects (see here for a review of these effects in modern academia). Nietzsche looked forward to a new intellectual age, when the masculine instincts, most especially the instinct for war, would be redirected and harnessed in service of the pursuit of knowledge. In this essay I am going to update Nietzsche’s prediction. I will review modern scientific theory and evidence which suggests that there is an evolved, reliably developing, masculine instinct (or set of instincts) for warfare. Because of the advent of nuclear weapons, total war between nations must now come to an end. What will we do with this war-like instinct in the absence of warfare? We will either suppress it or harness it. I will make the case that this war-like instinct can and should be sublimated (i.e., redirected) in the service of more relevant endeavors, most especially the pursuit of knowledge. In order to do that, however, we will need institutions of knowledge that are not actively hostile towards masculinity, as our current institutions so obviously are. I will lay out some initial thoughts about the values that might characterize masculine institutions devoted to the pursuit of knowledge, along with some suggestions about how we might participate in their creation.
The Instinct for War
Evolutionary psychology is a psychological paradigm that conceptualizes the mind as consisting of a large number of “psychological adaptations”, which evolved in response to the recurrent problems that faced our ancestors (see here for a more detailed overview of evolutionary psychology). Over thousands and millions of years, psychological adaptations were selected on the basis of their contribution to the reproductive success of our ancestors. One of the most pressing recurrent problems for our male ancestors was warfare. Women did not typically participate in warfare and the evolutionary consequences of losing a war weren’t as dramatic for women. Women’s reproductive success wasn’t massively enhanced in the case of victory (as it often would be for men), while in the case of a loss they would typically be captured instead of killed.
Thus, ancestral men gained evolutionary advantages to the extent that they were better at winning wars. We have sex-differentiated adaptations that reflect this long history of warfare. Evolutionary psychologists John Tooby and Leda Cosmides summarize these adaptations:
Males are designed by selection to be physically stronger; to threaten or deploy aggression more readily; to have sensorimotor and motivational adaptations to combat; to participate more readily and effectively in formidability-based coalitions, and to identify with them more strongly; to respond more to the potentiality of coalitional aggression by other groups; to have a more elaborated aggression-based coalitional psychology; to be aesthetically attracted to weapons and their skilled use; to be more interested in information and observations relevant to aggression; to have an appetite to improve one's formidability and maximize one's reputation for high formidability; to exhibit greater courage in potentially lethal physical encounters; to scrutinize and police others' perceptions of their formidability, status, courage, pain thresholds, competence in emergencies, and alliances; to represent others in terms of their formidability; and to be attentive to the skills and natural aptitudes in others relevant to formidability. Male status will be more based on formidability than female status. Men have more to win and to lose in intergroup conflicts. (Tooby & Cosmides, 2010)
From a very early age, boys (relative to girls) are more attracted to weapons, more readily join teams with other boys to play war games (or sports, which act as a kind of simulation of war), and more readily form hierarchies with leaders and followers in the service of their shared goals.
The “Enemy Fighting” Instinct
Important for my purposes here is the fact that boys (relative to girls) display an instinct that the psychologist Joyce Benenson calls “enemy fighting”. In her 2014 book Warriors and Worriers, she reviews evidence that boys and men naturally and intuitively construe the world in terms of allies and enemies. Their fear of “the enemy” manifests in their behavior and language from a very young age:
What do boys fear? Based upon my years of study of children and, more recently, adults, I believe that boys’ and men’s specialty is worrying about enemies. The enemy is their problem, and it is their responsibility to defeat it. Because the enemy is not always present, boys and men don’t worry all the time. Nonetheless, I believe that confronting the problem of the enemy has allowed human males to evolve a whole suite of instinctive reactions that still exist today. The intuitive preoccupation with enemies is so strong that when modern men fight other forms of danger, they end up recasting these as the enemy. For example, men fight wars on drugs; they battle cancer; they attack illiteracy; they combat infection; they defeat bad attitudes; they assail political beliefs; they assault stereotypes, and so forth. Girls and women use these terms much less spontaneously. It is the enemy who has got hold of boys’ and men’s attention and resources. (Benenson, 2014 p. 24)
Benenson goes on later to say:
The clearest evidence that this represents an intuitive, biological reaction comes from research with young children. Enemy fighting requires a combination of intuitive reactions. A boy’s brain seems to propel him to enjoy play fighting. Combine his enjoyment of play fighting with a fascination with enemies, and the recipe for enemy fighting begins to take shape. Add in boys’ love of competition, and investment in other boys, and a combination of conditions arises that makes human warfare possible. These are biological ingredients that permit groups of males to engage in group warfare against another group that I call the enemy. The enemy is not a group of people, with their own personalities. They are one: the enemy. (p. 26)
Boys naturally and instinctually identify “the enemy” and form coalitions to defeat the enemy. They spend much of their childhood preparing for this endeavor by joining into make-believe coalitions to play-fight and engage in war games or sports. Boys do this despite the fact that some misguided adults do everything in their power to stop them from playing with toy weapons or playing rough. Boys more than girls spontaneously engage in play-fighting and wrestling, play violent video games, choose weapons for toys over dolls, and play make-believe games where they fight imaginary enemies.
There are some so-called “social constructivists” (like those who wrote the APA guidelines) who will insist against all reason and evidence that this inclination for war-like behavior in boys and men is not an instinct, but is rather the product of socialization. This is despite the fact that these differences are found cross-culturally, that they appear even in very young boys and girls (e.g., 20 months old in one experiment), and that they tend to appear even when children are raised in “gender-neutral” ways. As Benenson points out, it is highly improbable that all over the world (both now and in the past), parents have socialized only boys to seek out enemies and play with weapons, even in infancy. It is much more likely that boys have enemy-seeking, war-like instincts in the same way that beavers instinctually build dams.
Navy SEAL Jocko Willink describes how this preoccupation with “the enemy” manifests in the psyche of someone who was an actual warrior:
I wake up early, at 4:45. I like to have that psychological win over the enemy. When I wake up early in the morning and I don’t know why, I’m thinking about the enemy and what they’re doing. I know I’m not active duty anymore, but it’s still in there, that there’s a guy in a cave somewhere and he’s rocking back and forth and he’s got a machine gun in one hand and a grenade in the other hand and he’s waiting for me. (Jocko Willink & Akira the Don, The Enemy)
Coalitions and Hierarchies
Boys’ preoccupation with “the enemy” is related to another difference between boys and girls. Benenson reviews evidence that boys more readily form large, resilient coalitions to play competitive team games. Girls tend to form smaller groups, while their games are less competitive and don’t tend to last as long. Part of boys’ ability to form longer-lasting, larger groups is their propensity for forming hierarchies. Boys tend to naturally put themselves into a leader-follower dynamic, while girls tend to maintain more egalitarian relationships.
This is understandable in the context of warfare. There is a reason why every successful military that ever existed has had a strict hierarchy of command. Hierarchical organization is the most efficient way to make collective decisions quickly, which is obviously necessary in the context of warfare. We may think that hierarchical military organization is a learned behavior, but Benenson’s study of young boys suggests something different:
Amazingly, the US Army is organized the same way that 7-year-old boys are organized. While the army probably prides itself on having thought up such a clever arrangement, the boys thought of it first! Actually, this kind of organization has existed for millennia in various armies. Could boys have somehow learned about this? Well, since most boys couldn’t describe exactly what they were doing, and certainly there is no evidence that they have much contact with military expertise in their early primary school years, this is very unlikely. Instead, boys and young men appear to have an innate, biological intuition about the best way to organize competitive groups. It is this intuition that gets translated into the most effective military structures that characterize both ancient and modern armies. (Benenson, 2014 p. 112)
Groups without clear leadership structures cannot coordinate their actions and fall apart easily. This is largely why girls’ play groups are less stable than boys’. When boys are allowed to play together without the interference of girls or adults, they naturally form hierarchies with leader-follower dynamics. As Benenson points out, girls tend to avoid overtly bossing each other around.
The hierarchical structure of boys’ play groups is not typically determined by dominance or force. Instead, boys tend to flexibly appoint leaders based on competence in the current endeavor. Benenson reviews a study of two groups of boys at a summer camp who were pitted against each other in a variety of competitions:
As the intergroup competitions began, each group flexibly adjusted its ranks to ensure that the experts led, so that their own group would be victorious. Regardless of who may have been respected most overall, when it came to playing baseball, the best baseball player directed the shots. Likewise, in a tug-of-war contest or during a midnight raid, those boys with the greatest skill in the particular pursuit led the way… Yes, boys and men relish internal competition and the status and roles it generates, but they flexibly allow another boy to hold higher status if that boy would improve the performance of their group vis-à-vis another group. The group takes precedence. (pp. 115-116)
In the context of intergroup competition, boys naturally form hierarchies of competence based on the specific needs of the task at hand.
The evidence reviewed above does not suggest that boys and men have any conscious desire for engaging in real warfare. Rather, we see that boys have natural propensities to play with weapons, identify enemies, and form large, hierarchically organized coalitions based on competence. Evolutionary psychologists have proposed that these propensities evolved in large part because they would have been useful in the context of warfare. The more physically peaceful, egalitarian propensities of girls and women reflect the different problems faced by women throughout human evolutionary history.
In summarizing the evidence for war-like propensities in boys, Benenson sates that:
Boys seem uniquely equipped with intuitive behavioral preferences that in the right circumstances allow them as young men to rapidly form an efficient fighting force with fellow male community members. These preferences start with young boys’ enjoyment of play fighting, fascination with enemies, and desire to compete. These individual preferences draw young boys to other young boys who share the same basic tendencies. The most attractive male peers are those who are physically and emotionally tough and self-confident and who follow the rules and demonstrate valuable expertise. Together, these young boys organize themselves into a group. (p. 121).
Men have other psychological adaptations for warfare besides the ones I have reviewed here, but these are the ones that will be most important for the purposes of this essay. In the next section I will discuss some implications of the fact that total warfare can no longer be an option for resolving disputes among nations. The threat of nuclear destruction is such that we must find a way to maintain peace. War is no longer an option. In Nietzsche’s terms, we must find a way to sublimate our war-like instincts.
I have discussed the importance of warfare for cultural complexification multiple times on this substack (e.g., here), so I won’t belabor the point here. As Robert Wright argued in his book Nonzero, and as Peter Turchin more recently argued in Ultrasociety, 10,000 years of warfare has propelled us from small, relatively egalitarian groups of nomads to massive, hierarchically organized societies of millions or billions. Given the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons, that process must now come to an end. Razib Khan explains our situation nicely:
War has made and remade our species innumerable times, driven almost every major field of human innovation, and if you take the long view of history, the most lasting spoils are often the newly superior cultural and technological innovations that fueled the victory in the first place. Which, dependably spread among victors and vanquished alike. War and conquest have always super-charged human development… Over our millennia of existence, competition and specifically bloody war has been the engine of human progress, a hell for those unlucky enough to live through it, but a massive net positive for the species’ posterity.
At least until recently. The hell that paradoxically gave our species civilization and so many of its greatest innovations is perhaps today solely an atavism that will finally prove our unmaking. War made us what we are as a social species. But our global civilization has reached a point of fragile interdependence and interconnectedness where this most primal urge to band together and fight some evil “other” no longer has an upside, not the faintest glimmer of a silver lining, even over the long-term. (2022)
The relative peace of modernity is nothing to complain about, but it does mean that we are faced with what evolutionary biologists refer to as a “mismatch”. Our adaptations for aggression and warfare evolved in a context that is no longer relevant. We evolved for adventure, war, and conquest but now find ourselves in a situation where these instincts cannot be discharged freely without social consequences. Nietzsche believed that this mismatch has made us sick. We consciously or unconsciously crave adventure, conquest, and camaraderie because these cravings served our ancestors well. Modern civilization gives us nowhere to turn in order to discharge these instincts (except, more recently, video games). The peaceful, stable life provided for us by modern civilization has apparently rendered our more war-like propensities obsolete. This mismatch can be a source of great internal conflict and leads, ultimately, to a kind of psychological illness. Nietzsche referred to this illness as “the bad conscience”:
I regard the bad conscience as the serious illness that man was bound to contract under the stress of the most fundamental change he ever experienced—that change which occurred when he found himself finally enclosed within the walls of society and of peace. The situation that faced sea animals when they were compelled to become land animals or perish was the same as that which faced these semi-animals, well adapted to the wilderness, to war, to prowling, to adventure: suddenly all their instincts were disvalued and “suspended.” From now on they had to walk on their feet and “bear themselves” whereas hitherto they had been borne by the water: a dreadful heaviness lay upon them. They felt unable to cope with the simplest undertakings; in this new world they no longer possessed their former guides, their regulating, unconscious and infallible drives: they were reduced to thinking, inferring, reckoning, co-ordinating cause and effect, these unfortunate creatures; they were reduced to their “consciousness,” their weakest and most fallible organ! (Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals II. 16)
Nietzsche suggested that the relative peace brought about by the advent of civilization is one reason that philosophers and priests have so often pitted “instinct” against “reason” or “the body” against “the mind/soul”. In our natural, healthy state, there is no conflict between instinct and reason, or body and mind/soul. Modern civilization has created this conflict because our instincts evolved in a very different context to what we find ourselves in today. The humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow, seemingly independently of Nietzsche, discovered a very similar pattern in the people he studied. Neurotic people, who he also referred to as “sick”, were mired with inner conflict. Healthy people, engaged in the process of “self-actualization” were much more internally integrated. Their instincts were aligned with their rational choices such that what they wanted to do and what they needed to do ended up being the same. To quote Maslow on this point:
In healthy people only is there a good correlation between subjective delight in the experience, impulse to the experience, or wish for it, and “basic need”for the experience… They spontaneously tend to do right because that is what they want to do, what they need to do, what they enjoy, what they approve of doing, and what they will continue to enjoy.
It is this unity, this network of positive intercorrelation, that falls apart into separateness and conflict as the person gets psychologically sick. Then what he wants to do may be bad for him; even if he does it he may not enjoy it, even if he enjoys it, he may simultaneously disapprove of it, so that the enjoyment is itself poisoned or may disappear quickly. What he enjoys at first he may not enjoy later. His impulses, desires, and enjoyments then become a poor guide to living. He must accordingly mistrust and fear the impulses and the enjoyments which lead him astray, and so he is caught in conflict, dissociation, indecision; in a word, he is caught in civil war. (Maslow, 1962, p. 135)
Maslow is describing here the same condition that Nietzsche called the “bad conscience”. When our instincts are not integrated with what we must do to get along in society, there will exist within us a kind of civil war between “instinct” and “reason”. The goal, as both Nietzsche and Maslow recognize, is not to suppress our instincts or to act unreasonably. Rather, the goal is to find some higher-order synthesis so that our instincts can be expressed in socially valuable, “reasonable” ways. This is the meaning of what Nietzsche called “sublimation”. Walter Kaufman comments on Nietzsche’s concept of sublimation in the context of sexual and aggressive instincts:
Nietzsche believed that a sexual impulse, for example, could be channeled into a creative spiritual activity, instead of being fulfilled directly. Similarly, the barbarian’s desire to torture his foe can be sublimated into the desire to defeat one’s rival, say, in the Olympic contests; it can even be sublimated into the rivalry of the tragedians who vie with each other for the highest prize, or into the efforts of a Plato to write more beautifully than the poets—and the entire Socratic dialectic could be construed as a sublimation of the same ancient striving to overwhelm one’s foe. (Kaufman, 1950 p. 220).
As we will see, Nietzsche believed that our war-like aggressiveness could be sublimated in the service of creative endeavors. Through sublimation (rather than repression), we become more internally integrated and less prone to internal conflict. Both Nietzsche and Maslow suggested that people who are able to integrate themselves in this way become more creative:
The upshot of all of these developments can, I think, be summarized as an increased stress on the role of integration (or self-consistency, unity, wholeness) in the theory of creativeness. Resolving a dichotomy into a higher, more inclusive, unity amounts to healing a split in the person and making him more unified. Since the splits I have been talking about are within the person, they amount to a kind of civil war, a setting of one part of the person against another part. (Maslow, 1964 p. 124)
I believe that many men within Western culture are afflicted by this sickness, which Nietzsche called the “bad conscience”. There is clearly an underlying drive for adventure and conquest, as can be seen through the popularity of video games like Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, etc. When we are unable to act out these impulses in real life, a simulation becomes increasingly tempting, even if that means foregoing real-world responsibilities.
In their 2018 book The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt document the many ways in which “safetyism” has overtaken Western culture. We increasingly raise our children as if they are fragile and easily damaged. For example, schools have increasingly moved away from long periods of free play at recess, typically citing safety concerns. The education system often punishes boys for expressing their war-like, aggressive instincts, e.g., through having snowball fights or playing tackle football at recess. Sometimes this is taken to ridiculous extremes, such as when a second grader was suspended from school for chewing a poptart into the shape of a gun. If boys are continually punished for acting out their natural instincts (e.g., being drawn to weapons, playing rough, etc.), we should expect them to develop a certain amount of inner conflict.
A small number of men are able to find a socially acceptable venue for expressing their war-like propensities by playing sports. Others join the military. For most men, however, there does not seem to be a socially acceptable way to get together with other men, form coalitions, and do battle with “the enemy”. The possible exception is video games, which are of course massively popular. League of Legends is a video game that allows players to join up in teams of five and do simulated battle with other teams. As of 2022 it had 100 million monthly active players with an average of 1 million hourly users. About 87% of players are men. I have nothing against video games in general, but as somebody who once put way too many hours (hundreds, thousands?) into this particular game, I am well aware of how easy it is to forego other responsibilities to participate in an activity which so naturally appeals to our deepest instincts (to form coalitions, to do battle, to attack the enemy, etc.).
There must be other, more socially acceptable avenues to express these instincts or men in the Western world will continue on their downward spiral towards mediocrity. Nietzsche foresaw a new intellectual age where the war-like instincts would be redirected towards the pursuit of knowledge. In his book The Gay Science he described this coming age and the preparatory human beings who would be needed to usher it in:
I welcome all signs that a more virile, warlike age is about to begin, which will restore honor to courage above all. For this age shall prepare the way for one yet higher, and it shall gather the strength that this higher age will require some day—the age that will carry heroism into the search for knowledge and that will wage wars for the sake of ideas and their consequences. To this end we now need many preparatory courageous human beings who cannot very well leap out of nothing, any more than out of the sand and slime of present-day civilization and metropolitanism — human beings who know how to be silent, lonely, resolute, and content and constant in invisible activities; human beings who are bent on seeking in all things for what in them must be overcome; human beings distinguished as much by cheerfulness, patience, unpretentiousness, and contempt for all great vanities as by magnanimity in victory and forbearance regarding the small vanities of the vanquished; human beings whose judgment concerning all victors and the share of chance in every victory and fame is sharp and free; human beings with their own festivals, their own working days, and their own periods of mourning, accustomed to command with assurance but instantly ready to obey when that is called for — equally proud, equally serving their own cause in both cases; more endangered human beings, more fruitful human beings, happier beings! (The Gay Science, 283)
Nietzsche believed that this coming age would necessarily be accompanied by the creation of a new aristocracy — not an aristocracy based on the privilege of birth, but rather an aristocracy of the intellect. Taunton (2020) explains:
Nietzsche’s new aristocracy is not one based on birth, wealth, or even social class. It is a meritocracy of the mind, based on natural ability and personal qualities. What renders this as radical is not only the fact that it redefines the meaning of aristocracy, but that it advocates recognition of the fact that not all people are equal in capability, and that only those who are exceptional should be entitled to occupy a position of power or responsibility. Nietzsche asserts that this “aristocratic society [is] a society which believes in a long scale of orders of rank and differences of worth between man and man.” This renders it as a meritocratic hierarchy. (pp. 100-101)
The recognition, inherent to every aristocracy, that people are not equal in their capacities is anathema to our modern democratic ethos. It is especially anathema to the hyper-egalitarian culture of modern universities. This hyper-egalitarianism is not unrelated to their feminization. As reviewed earlier, it is boys and men who more naturally form flexible hierarchies of competence in order to pursue shared goals while girls and women tend to maintain more egalitarian relations. In the following section I will describe what the values of an “aristocracy” devoted to the pursuit of knowledge might look like.
The Aristocracy of the Intellect
Elite universities in the Western world have largely been overtaken by the hyper-egalitarian, hyper-effeminate ideology of “diversity, equity, and inclusion”. I have no hope that they will recover from this disease. Anyone who opposes the new ideology is smeared, openly or privately, as a bigot. Fear of this kind of moral condemnation keeps most people in line, whether they agree with the orthodoxy or not. I suspect that many men (especially young, unmarried men) in academia are especially fearful that the women in their immediate social circle will turn against them. As I mentioned in the introduction, anyone who would be inclined to oppose the orthodoxy is likely to be selected out of the system early, regardless of their intellectual talent.
Trying to provide a precise definition of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” is difficult. There is no precise, widely agreed-upon meaning for any of these terms, which is in part why they are so divisive. Despite their nebulosity, these terms have become the defining values of higher education in the West. Here I will briefly comment on these terms in order to contrast them with the values that would characterize a masculine institution devoted to the pursuit of knowledge.
Diversity is clearly about increasing the representation of women and minorities in academic life, but how that should manifest in detail is often unclear. This seems fine, of course, until it’s revealed that (for example) some hiring committees are giving massive advantages to anyone with the right skin color, ancestry, sexual preferences, and/or genitals, to the extent that multiple women have been caught lying about their ethnicity in order to advance their career in academia. An institution devoted to the pursuit of truth should not care what people look like, who they have sex with, or what kind of genitals they possess. But “diversity” as a value has nothing to do with the pursuit of truth. As best I can tell, it is largely motivated by the desire to avoid the uncomfortable fact that if admission and hiring decisions were made on the basis of talent alone, then sex, race, and other visible categories would be far from “equally represented”, especially within elite institutions. In a previous essay I discussed Western intellectuals’ historically peculiar moral aversion to the existence of any kind of natural inequality. In his 2019 book The Assault on American Excellence, Anthony Kronman describes the atmosphere of orthodoxy that characterizes discussion about diversity in higher education:
The few faculty who challenge the prevailing conception of diversity thus not only find themselves opposed by a much larger group who enthusiastically embrace it, they also face an entrenched bureaucracy armed with the power to impose its vision on others. In our colleges and universities, the question of whether diversity, defined in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender, is good or bad for higher education is one that for the most part has ceased to be debatable at all. I can put the point more strongly. In an environment in which diversity of this sort is almost universally assumed to be an educational good, diversity of opinion as to whether the assumption is justified now barely exists. No one is forbidden, of course, from challenging it. But the culture of disapproval for dissenting views, backed by an administrative regime whose role is to enforce the regnant ideal, ensures that those who question the value of diversity, defined along these now-orthodox lines, keep their mouths shut for fear of being condemned as bigots. (pp. 106-107).
In its original usage, “equity” typically referred to “equality of opportunity”, but it is now often used to mean “equality of outcome”. This muddying of the water around the term “equity” does not appear to be accidental. On the one hand, some equity measures (e.g., equalizing access to textbooks) are clearly meant to ensure equality of opportunity, something that most people (myself included) would be inclined to agree with. Other measures introduced under the banner of equity, however, ensure inequality of opportunity in the service of equal outcomes. This includes, for example, explicit discrimination on the basis of race at elite universities to ensure that the racial composition of the student body is sufficiently “diverse”. The term equity, therefore, is not a singular principle, but a nebulous term that can apparently be re-defined at will based on the particulars of the situation.
Inclusion is perhaps the most insidious of these three terms, since the insistence on “inclusive language” is so often used as an excuse to exclude anyone who doesn’t display sufficient adherence to the values of the new ideology. It is Orwellian double-speak par excellence.
There are versions of all of these values (diversity, equity, and inclusion) that I think are important. Diversity of thought can be important. We want people with different perspectives tackling the same problem in order to achieve the most objective view of the issue. Equality of opportunity (the old version of equity) is important in order to ensure that the most competent people are allocated the greatest responsibility. Avoiding arbitrary exclusion based on irrelevant traits is also important.
But the way these values are currently used in the university often leads to the opposite outcomes. Diversity of thought is unwelcome, equality of opportunity is sacrificed for equality of outcome, and the insistence on “inclusion” is used as a tool to exclude people who think differently.
My sense is that the values of an institution that was singularly devoted to the pursuit of knowledge would look very different from “diversity, equity, and inclusion”. An aristocracy of the intellect would, implicitly or explicitly, be devoted to precisely the opposite values as those currently being promoted in the universities. Not diversity, but unity. Not equity, but hierarchy. Not inclusion, but exclusivity. I think those values would look something like this:
Unity: We will be unified in the service of our shared goal, the pursuit of knowledge. Diversity of thought may be an important asset in this pursuit because the conflict engendered by diversity of thought represents potential out of which a higher synthesis can emerge. “Diversity” is valuable, therefore, only as a means to an end. On the other hand, we certainly don’t care about your ancestry, who you have sex with, or what’s between your legs. The only thing we care about is your commitment and potential to contribute to our project, the pursuit of knowledge.
Hierarchy: We recognize that people differ in their skills and talents. We recognize that some people are more intelligent, conscientious, and/or creative than others. We will allocate power and authority in such a way that our shared goal is pursued in the most effective way possible. “Equity” can be important if it is understood as the effective allocation of power (i.e., the avoidance of arbitrary discrimination), but is utterly pernicious if it is understood in terms of righting historical injustices or guaranteeing “equal representation”. We don’t care about any of that. We have a singular goal, and everyone is judged according to their potential to contribute to that goal. Equity, in the sense of avoiding arbitrary discrimination, may be a useful means to achieving that goal but is never understood as a goal in itself.
Exclusivity: We will exclude those who are not sufficiently committed to the pursuit of truth. We will exclude the incompetent. Ours is an elite enterprise. We do not, however, wish to exclude people on the basis of irrelevant traits because that would detract from our ability to pursue our goal. In that sense, the value of “inclusion” may be useful if it means avoiding the exclusion of competent people for irrelevant reasons (e.g., sex, ancestry). It would be detrimental, for example, to exclude somebody who is competent simply because they look different. It would also, however, be detrimental to include somebody simply because we feel sorry about their personal hardships. A place in our enterprise will be earned through demonstrations of competence and never through demonstrations of victimhood. What do we care about your victimhood? Pity may be a useful emotion for dealing with infants, but we are not infants, and neither are you. Pity has no place in an institution of warriors.
It is obvious that an institution like that could never emerge in the hyper-egalitarian, hyper-effeminate world of current intellectual culture. Although I suspect that John Vervaeke might disagree with me about this, our collective allergy to the term “aristocracy” is itself a symptom of the meaning crisis. Aristocratic values only make sense in a culture in which there is widespread agreement about what constitutes a valuable or meaningful life. In the absence of this agreement, no way of living and no set of values are deemed to be any better than any other. All hierarchies are then seen to be illegitimate or suspect. This rejection of any stable hierarchy of value simply is modern nihilism. As Anthony Kronman put it:
Given the variety of views about the definition and meaning of a good life, it is impossible to organize the whole of society according to any one definition of it and to distribute power and authority on its basis without alienating those who hold some other view of human fulfillment and feel entitled to a share in their country’s government too. It is therefore imperative to find ways of distributing power and authority that are agnostic with respect to the question of what constitutes an excellent life overall. This… eliminates the possibility of every type of aristocratic rule, which always assumes some basic agreement as to what makes certain lives better than others in a general sense, and one way of living the best of all. (2019, p. 25)
It is in this sense that Nietzsche’s project and that of the humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow are concordant. Maslow devoted his working life to scientifically understanding (in Kronman’s terms) “what makes certain lives better than others in a general sense, and one way of living the best of all”. Given the requirements of a modern, global, scientific culture, this “best life” must transcend cultural boundaries and make sense within a scientific framework. Maslow (1962) summarizes the collective problem that faces us because we have no agreed-upon ideal, and his potential solution to that problem:
Every age but ours has had its model, its ideal. All of these have been given up by our culture; the saint, the hero, the gentleman, the knight, the mystic. About all we have left is the well-adjusted man without problems, a very pale and doubtful substitute. Perhaps we shall soon be able to use as our guide and model the fully growing and self-fulfilling human being, the one in whom all his potentialities are coming to full development, the one whose inner nature expresses itself freely, rather than being warped, suppressed, or denied. (p. 15)
For Maslow, the process of “self-actualization” was the objectively valuable ideal to strive for. I cannot do full justice to Maslow’s characterization of self-actualization in this essay, but it is important to note that self-actualization involves the unification or integration of opposites:
At the level of self-actualizing, many dichotomies become resolved, opposites are seen to be unities and the whole dichotomous way of thinking is recognized to be immature. For self-actualizing people, there is a strong tendency for selfishness and unselfishness to fuse into a higher, superordinate unity. Work tends to be the same as play; vocation and avocation become the same thing. When duty is pleasant and pleasure is fulfillment of duty, then they lose their separateness and oppositeness. The highest maturity is discovered to include a childlike quality, and we discover healthy children to have some of the qualities of mature self-actualization. The inner-outer split, between self and all else, gets fuzzy and much less sharp, and they are seen to be permeable to each other at the highest levels of personality development. Dichotomizing seems now to be characteristic of a lower level of personality development and of psychological functioning; it is both a cause and an effect of psychopathology. (Maslow, 1962 p. 170)
Interestingly, this unification of opposites is precisely how Nietzsche describes the Übermensch or overman, as summarized by Eva Cybulska (2012):
Indeed, coincidentia oppositorum (coincidence of the opposites), a concept borrowed from Heraclitus, is a propelling force in becoming the Übermensch. The constant tension and energy of the conflict becomes a source of inspiration and creativity; the strife leads to “new and more powerful births”. The superabundance of any force inevitably produces its opposite and an inner balance can be achieved by uniting (or overcoming, to use Nietzsche’s term) these opposites. The restoration of equilibrium is the essence of healing. The Übermensch advocates a new ‘great health’ which he equates with an all embracing totality whereby “all opposites are blended into a unity”… In the process of ‘becoming what one is’, the Übermensch unites reason and passion, order and chaos, discipline and ecstasy.
We can surmise, then, that it is the self-actualizers who will act as the “preparatory courageous individuals” that usher in the new intellectual age (and even, potentially, the overman). Nietzsche had some advice for these “warriors of knowledge”, which I will review in the next section.
Nietzsche described how his own war-like instincts had been redirected into his philosophical project.
I am warlike by nature. Attacking is one of my instincts. Being able to be an enemy, being an enemy—perhaps that presupposes a strong nature; in any case, it belongs to every strong nature. It needs objects of resistance; hence it looks for what resists: the aggressive pathos belongs just as necessarily to strength as vengefulness and rancor belong to weakness. Woman, for example, is vengeful: that is due to her weakness, as much as is her susceptibility to the distress of others. The strength of those who attack can be measured in a way by the opposition they require: every growth is indicated by the search for a mighty opponent—or problem; for a warlike philosopher challenges problems, too, to single combat. The task is not simply to master what happens to resist, but what requires us to stake all our strength, suppleness, and fighting skill—opponents that are our equals. (Ecce Homo, I. 7)
Those of us in whom these instincts are strongest require worthy enemies to attack, or else our lives become boring and meaningless. The warlike philosopher or scientist therefore requires problems that are worthy enemies. As Joyce Benenson pointed out earlier, “the enemy” is an abstract notion that can take on many forms. Navy SEAL David Goggins similarly described how the instinct to “attack” translated from the actual battlefield to life in general:
I chose this world to be a warrior. And I would choose it again if I came back to this world. It still works for me in life, as far as attacking things. No matter what avenue I choose I want to be the very best. And the very best may not be “I’m #1”. The very best is: “Did I leave everything inside of me out there?” So attacking is not like, “I want to win this or win that or be the best”. I’m running against myself in everything I do. I attack myself. I’m always questioning myself. I’m always holding myself accountable. (Goggins & Akira the Don, Warrior)
Nietzsche had some advice for those of us who share this warlike mentality. The following principles can be extracted from his writing. These are:
Don’t waste time
1. Embrace suffering
I have often asked myself whether I am not more heavily obligated to the hardest years of my life than to any others… And as for my long sickness, do I not owe it indescribably more than I owe to my health? I owe it a higher health—one which is made stronger by whatever does not kill it. I also owe my philosophy to it. Only great pain is the ultimate liberator of the spirit… Only great pain, that long, slow pain in which we are burned with green wood, as it were—pain which takes its time—only this forces us philosophers to descend into our ultimate depths and to put away all trust, all good-naturedness, all that would veil, all mildness, all that is medium— things in which formerly we may have found our humanity. I doubt that such a pain makes us “better,” but I know that it makes us more profound. (Nietzsche, Nietzsche Contra Wagner)
One of Nietzsche’s most famous aphorisms is “Out of life’s school of war: That which does not kill me makes me stronger”. This is ancient wisdom. We require suffering in order to grow. This can, of course, be taken to an absurd extreme. Nobody gets stronger by being run over by a freight train. But the voluntary exposure to that which we are afraid of is a catalyst for growth, more often than not. In his book Antifragile, Nassim Taleb (2012) explains:
Just as spending a month in bed… leads to muscle atrophy, complex systems are weakened, even killed, when deprived of stressors. Much of our modern, structured, world has been harming us with top-down policies and contraptions… which do precisely this: an insult to the antifragility of systems. This is the tragedy of modernity: as with neurotically overprotective parents, those trying to help are often hurting us the most.
Unlike most of our ancestors, we are born into a world that seems to do everything it can to make us comfortable. I appreciate air-conditioning as much as the next person, but the fact is that comfort can be a poison if we allow it to be. Nietzsche referred to the modern hyper-focus on the avoidance of suffering as the “religion of comfortableness”:
If you, who adhere to this religion [of pity], have the same attitude toward yourselves that you have toward your fellow men; if you refuse to let your own suffering lie upon you even for an hour and if you constantly try to prevent and forestall all possible distress way ahead of time; if you experience suffering and displeasure as evil, hateful, worthy of annihilation, and as a defect of existence, then it is clear that besides your religion of pity you also harbor another religion in your heart that is perhaps the mother of the religion of pity; the religion of comfortableness. How little you know of human happiness, you comfortable and benevolent people, for happiness and unhappiness are sisters and even twins that either grow up together or, as in your case, remain small together. (Nietzsche, The Gay Science 338)
Nearly everything that is worth doing in life requires our voluntary acceptance of suffering. As David Goggins put it, “if you can get through to doing the things you hate to do, on the other side is greatness.” (Goggins & Akira the Don, On the Other Side is Greatness). In a music video made by Akira the Don, Jordan Peterson describes the process by which voluntary exposure to that which we fear brings out the best in us.
Imagine that somebody’s pursuing a goal. Some of the things they have to accomplish or confront on the way to that goal frighten them and they start to avoid, and then they get more afraid and their ability to pursue or accomplish their goal deteriorates because they’re avoiding it. If you’re a psychotherapist or even a friend or a supportive loved one you’re going to encourage the person to voluntarily face the challenges that are making them afraid. What happens as a consequence of that is that the person usually is able to overcome those fears and develop the necessary skills and to prevail. That’s not so much because they get less afraid, but because they get more skilled and more courageous…
If you want to become everything you could be then you look into the abyss itself, which is the darkest place that you could possibly contemplate – the terror of mortality and insanity and of suffering and malevolence… it would be like looking into hell I suppose. By voluntarily doing that you call upon the strongest part of yourself to respond… if you do it forthrightly, then you discover who you could be as a consequence, and who you could be is the solution to malevolence and suffering. (Jordan Peterson & Akira the Don)
2. Don’t waste time
What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”
Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: “You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.” If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, “Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?” would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal? (The Gay Science 341)
This is Nietzsche’s doctrine of the “eternal recurrence”. It is a doctrine of ultimate weight and ultimate responsibility. What if every moment of your life would be repeated again and again into eternity? How would you treat each moment? As if it were something precious? Or would you resent the “meaninglessness” of it all? Would the eternal recurrence be, for you, a gift or a curse?
Amor fati, love of fate, is the mark of greatness for Nietzsche:
My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendaciousness in the face of what is necessary—but love it. (Ecce Homo, II. 10)
The only thing that can facilitate this kind of greatness is the adoption of the greatest possible weight and responsibility. That means understanding and accepting the ultimate significance of every moment of your life.
The clock is ticking. This is the only life you’ve got. Don’t waste it, please! Fight that ticking clock with everything you’ve got.
3. Live dangerously
For believe me: the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is — to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships into uncharted seas! Live at war with your peers and yourselves! Be robbers and conquerors as long as you cannot be rulers and possessors, you seekers of knowledge! Soon the age will be past when you could be content to live hidden in forests like shy deer. At long last the search for knowledge will reach out for its due; it will want to rule and possess, and you with it! (The Gay Science, 283)
Western culture is obsessed with safety, as Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt demonstrated in The Coddling of the American Mind. Safety culture seems to have the best of intentions. We just want to protect people from danger, right? The fact is, however, that we live in the safest time period in the history of the world, and that overprotection is a far greater danger to the well-being of most people than any imagined or real physical threats.
We need danger, adventure, and hardship as much as we need love, safety, and peace. Those who seek safety without danger can only ever achieve mediocrity, and mediocrity is hell. Joe Rogan explains the importance of taking a dangerous path in life:
The only way you ever get where you want to go [is that] you have to take a path that’s dangerous. Most people want to take the safe path, and that leaves you stuck in quiet desperation almost every time. It’s hell. You’re selling insurance or some other shit that you care zero about. The only way you can change [is]… you have to come to the realization very clearly that you fucked up and got yourself stuck. Whatever you’re doing you have to do it like your life depends on it. Whether you’re trying to be an author and you’re working 8 hours a day plus commuting plus family responsibilities… whatever time you have you have to attack like you’re trying to save the world. (Joe Rogan & Akira the Don, Take a Path That’s Dangerous)
Live dangerously if you want to live at all.
In my essay “Intimations of a New Worldview” I presented scientific evidence that there is a general process of complexification that runs throughout the whole of nature, which occurs at the border between order and chaos. I presented evidence that our participation in this process is biologically and psychologically optimal. This process is the same as the one that Bobby Azarian described in his 2022 book The Romance of Reality:
As the universe evolves through time, it tends to move toward an increasingly ordered, complex, and functional state. This cosmic developmental process enables the emergence and evolution of life, which in turn enables the process to continue indefinitely, or until maximal complexity and computational power is achieved. (p. 33).
As Azarian points out, this process is anti-entropic. It is the flip side of the second law of thermodynamics. Both entropy and complexity increase together over time. There is no contradiction here, as the increase in entropy is, properly understood, the same as the increase in complexity, although explaining why that’s the case would be outside the scope of this essay (see section 1 here).
As Azarian pointed out in the passage above, complexity and “computational power” are ultimately the same. I would rather drop the word ‘computational’ and just say ‘power’. In that sense, the process of complexification and Nietzsche’s concept of the “will to power” may not be so different. That is, in fact, exactly what the philosopher Paul Curtis argued in his 2022 dissertation “Nietzsche’s Will to Power: A Naturalistic Account of Metaethics Based on Evolutionary Principles and Thermodynamic Laws”. In concert with Bobby Azarian, Curtis states that:
The evolutionary ‘drive’ toward greater complexity is also the evolutionary ‘drive’ toward greater power, in line with the second law of thermodynamics, trying to dissipate an energy gradient. (pp. 30-31)
The implication of Curtis’ thesis is that Nietzsche’s concept of the will to power is the same as the process of complexification I described in my “Intimations” essay. In this emerging worldview, one might then say that “the enemy” is the opposite of complexification and power. The enemy is degradation, decay, and extinction.
Nietzsche believed that in some people the will to power had become corrupted and had turned against itself and against life. In these sick people, the will to power had become transfigured into a will to nothingness. In their sickness, these individuals had become allied with the opposite of power, i.e., with degradation, decay, and extinction. The third essay of Nietzsche’s great book The Genealogy of Morals can be thought of as a drawn out warning to us about the effect that this will to nothingness has had and will continue to have on Western culture. The final paragraph of that book states:
We can no longer conceal from ourselves what is expressed by all that willing which has taken its direction from the ascetic ideal: this hatred of the human, and even more of the animal, and more still of the material, this horror of the senses, of reason itself, this fear of happiness and beauty, this longing to get away from all appearance, change, becoming, death, wishing, from longing itself—all this means—let us dare to grasp it—a will to nothingness, an aversion to life, a rebellion against the most fundamental presuppositions of life; but it is and remains a will! … And, to repeat in conclusion what I said at the beginning: man would rather will nothingness than not will. (GM, III. 28)
I mentioned earlier that many philosophers and priests have set up a dichotomy between “instinct” and “reason”, or “body” and “soul”. Invariably, these philosophers and priests have put reason or the soul on a pedestal and cast judgement on the instincts and on the body. This elevation of “reason” over “instinct” is the ascetic ideal.
In The Genealogy, Nietzsche suggests that the ascetic ideal was originally a product of the priesthood, who took advantage of periods of peace (when the warrior caste became relatively less important) to erect the ascetic ideal as a countervailing force in order to gain power over the warrior caste:
One will have divined already how easily the priestly mode of valuation can branch off from the knightly-aristocratic and then develop into its opposite; this is particularly likely when the priestly caste and the warrior caste are in jealous opposition to one another and are unwilling to come to terms. The knightly-aristocratic value judgments presupposed a powerful physicality, a flourishing, abundant, even overflowing health, together with that which serves to preserve it: war, adventure, hunting, dancing, war games, and in general all that involves vigorous, free, joyful activity. The priestly-noble mode of valuation presupposes, as we have seen, other things: it is disadvantageous for it when it comes to war! As is well known, the priests are the most evil enemies—but why? Because they are the most impotent. It is because of their impotence that in them hatred grows to monstrous and uncanny proportions, to the most spiritual and poisonous kind of hatred. The truly great haters in world history have always been priests; likewise the most ingenious haters: other kinds of spirit hardly come into consideration when compared with the spirit of priestly vengefulness. (GM, I. 7)
Powerful, flourishing, healthy individuals do not typically choose the life of an ascetic priest. It is the “impotent” and the sick who must choose that life. It was these impotent priests who codified the dichotomies between reason and instinct, being and becoming, soul and body, altruism and egoism, all of which amount to “good” and “evil”. They did this so that they could call themselves (weak, meek, peaceful), the “good” and the warrior caste (powerful, violent, war-like) the “evil”. The ascetic ideal was born out of the impotent hatred of the priests for the warriors.
That is the action of their will to power. This is why Nietzsche encouraged us to go “beyond good and evil”, which means to go beyond the false dichotomies created by the priestly caste. In his book The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, the english poet William Blake also picked up on this dynamic, although he uses somewhat different language to describe it:
“Without contraries is no progression.
Attraction and Repulsion, Reason and Energy, Love and Hate, are necessary to human existence. From these contraries spring what the religious call Good and Evil. Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active, springing from Energy. Good is Heaven, Evil is Hell.”
“All Bibles or sacred codes have been the causes of the following errors:
“1. That man has two existing principles, viz., a Body and a Soul.
“2. That energy, called evil, is alone from the body, and that Heaven, called Good, is alone from the soul.
“3. That God will torment man in Eternity for following his energies.
But the following contraries are true:
“1. Man has no Body distinct from Soul, for that called Body is a portion of Soul discerned by the five senses, the chief inlets of soul in this age.
“2. Energy is the only life, and is from the body, and reason is the bound or outward circumference of energy.
“3. Energy is eternal delight.”
— William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
As Blake suggests, it was the religious (i.e., the priests) who originated the errors of dichotomization. As the psychologist Abraham Maslow pointed out, self-actualization is a process of overcoming these errors in our own lives by transcending the dichotomies imposed on us by our culture. As Maslow said, “At the level of self-actualizing, many dichotomies become resolved, opposites are seen to be unities and the whole dichotomous way of thinking is recognized to be immature.” Given that these dichotomies were created by the ascetic priest in opposition to the warrior caste, we might expect for men who transcend these dichotomies to become more war-like and less priest-like, which means more independent, more adventurous, more courageous, more aggressive, and more powerful.
Those who remain trapped in the dichotomous mode of thought are often fully convinced of their own righteousness. It is those who most vehemently defend these dichotomies (which they see as the difference between “good” and “evil”) who Nietzsche referred to as the “good and the just”. These individuals stand in the way of the process of complexification, which equally means that they stand in the way of the will to power and self-actualization. That is the meaning of their will to nothingness. It is for this reason that they represent the greatest danger to the future of mankind:
O my brothers, who represents the greatest danger for all of man’s future? Is it not the good and the just? Inasmuch as they say and feel in their hearts, “We already know what is good and just, and we have it too; woe unto those who still seek here!” And whatever harm the evil may do, the harm done by the good is the most harmful harm. And whatever harm those do who slander the world, the harm done by the good is the most harmful harm.
O my brothers, one man once saw into the hearts of the good and the just and said, “They are the pharisees.” But he was not understood. The good and the just themselves were not permitted to understand him: their spirit is imprisoned in their good conscience. The stupidity of the good is unfathomably shrewd. This, however, is the truth: the good must be pharisees—they have no choice. The good must crucify him who invents his own virtue. That is the truth!…
“Whom do they hate most?” The creator they hate most: he breaks tablets and old values. He is a breaker, they call him lawbreaker. For the good are unable to create; they are always the beginning of the end: they crucify him who writes new values on new tablets; they sacrifice the future to themselves—they crucify all man’s future. The good have always been the beginning of the end. (Zarathustra, III. 12. 17)
Who represents the greatest threat to the pursuit of knowledge? It has always been those who believe they already know, i.e., those who believe that adaptation is already complete. Those who already have the answers must regard those who continue to search for answers as nothing but troublemakers, since those who search could potentially reveal the insufficiency of current knowledge, and more importantly of current morality. This presumptuous, moralistic arrogance is our enemy. As Socrates famously pronounced, the wise man knows that he doesn’t know, and it is this humility which serves as the precondition to the heroic thirst for knowledge. That moralistic arrogance which says “I already know” is what separates us from them, and, more importantly, what separates who we are now from who we could become:
Acceptance of mortal weakness is the paradoxical humility that serves as precondition for true heroism. The heroic attitude is predicated on the belief that something new and valuable still exists, to be encountered and assimilated, regardless of the power and stability of the current position. This belief is further based upon faith in human potential—upon faith that the individual spirit will respond to challenge and flourish. Such belief must be posited—voluntarily, freely—prior to participation in any heroic endeavor. This is the necessary leap that makes courageous and creative action possible; that makes religion something real. Humility means, therefore: I am not yet what I could be. This an adage both cautious and hopeful. The adversarial position, deceit, is predicated on the belief that the knowledge of the present comprises all necessary knowledge—is predicated on the belief that the unknown has finally been conquered. This belief is equivalent to denial of vulnerability, equivalent to the adoption of omniscience —“what I do is all there is to do, what I know is all there is to know." Inextricably associated with the adoption of such a stance is denial, implicit or explicit, of the existence, the possibility, and the necessity of the heroic — as everything worthwhile has already been done, as all problems have been solved, as paradise has already been spread before us. (Maps of Meaning, p. 333)
This is an enemy that exists both within and without. The enemy within consists of all those parts of ourselves that were born out of fear and weakness, which culminate in our fear of the unknown. Our “inner bitch” (as Joe Rogan called it) can only be conquered through voluntary confrontation with, and acceptance of, that fear and weakness, which means voluntary confrontation with the unknown. This is another characteristic that Maslow saw in his self-actualizers. It’s not only that the healthy person loses their fear of the unknown, it is that they come to positively enjoy it:
Our healthy subjects are generally unthreatened and unfrightened by the unknown, being therein quite different from average men. They accept it, are comfortable with it, and, often are even more attracted by it than by the known. They not only tolerate the ambiguous and unstructured; they like it. (Maslow, 2019 p. 154)
Externally, those who are consumed by their own moralistic arrogance (which is one outward manifestation of the fear of the unknown) seek to punish and ostracize anyone who violates one of their presuppositions, which means they will ultimately seek to punish anyone who is capable of independent thought. Our universities and other institutions of knowledge have ceded too much power these weak, arrogant, vengeful individuals, i.e., the little crypto-priests and authoritarians who love to punish and ostracize anyone who says anything to violate the prevailing orthodoxy of “diversity, equity, and inclusion”, etc.
The second law of thermodynamics is typically understood as the inevitable decay of everything. Except it’s not inevitable, at least at this particular time and place in the universe. Through the accumulation of knowledge (broadly defined), life on planet Earth has continually overcome the tendency towards disorder and decay. In the final paragraph of his book The Romance of Reality, Bobby Azarian describes the cosmic importance of the pursuit of knowledge:
Knowledge is enlightenment, knowledge is transcendence, and knowledge is power. The tendency toward disorder described by the second law requires that life acquire knowledge forever, giving us all an individual and collective purpose by creating the constraint that forces us to create. By becoming aware of our emergent purpose, we can live more meaningful lives, in harmony with one another and with the aspirations of nature. You are not a cosmic accident. You are a cosmic imperative. (pp. 279-280).
That is what we are up to. We are always waging war against our own extinction, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
If integrated information theory (IIT; a mainstream theory of phenomenal consciousness) is correct, then the process of complexification described by Azarian is equivalent to the development of consciousness. Integrated information theory identifies consciousness with a measure of complexity called phi or Φ, and that measure of complexity is identical to the intrinsic cause-effect power of a system (in other words, complexity = power = consciousness):
Intrinsic causal power is the extent to which the current state of, say, an electronic circuit or a neural network, causally constrains its past and future states. The more the system’s elements constrain each other, the more causal power… According to IIT, these causal powers are identical to conscious experience, with every aspect of any possible conscious experience mapping one-to-one onto aspects of this causal structure. (Koch, 2019 p. 79)
This means that the more complex we become, the more simultaneously powerful and conscious we become. In his first book Maps of Meaning, Jordan Peterson made the claim that consciousness was a “mythically masculine principle” which was narratively represented by the figure of the “revolutionary hero”. In a previous essay I suggested that this claim is, strangely enough, consistent with and supported by mainstream theories of consciousness, including IIT. The revolutionary hero is narrative representation of the “mythically masculine” process by which we continually become more complex, powerful, and conscious:
The "revolutionary hero" is embodiment and narrative representation of the action of consciousness itself. This mythically masculine principle emerges from its identity with chaos and culture, and stands as an independently divine phenomenon, equivalent in potential strength to the destructive, generative, protective and tyrannical forces that make up human experience. (Maps of Meaning, p. 283)
To extend the domain of light, of consciousness, of complexity, of knowledge, of power — that is our conquest. In this conquest, our war-like instincts to attack the enemy, to self-organize into hierarchies of competence, and to live dangerously are not hindrances. They are necessary. That is the function of masculine values in an age of peace.
I will end by relaying Nietzsche’s message to what he thought of as the future “warriors of knowledge”. I’m sure that I couldn’t say it any better than he did.
ON WAR AND WARRIORS
We do not want to be spared by our best enemies, nor by those whom we love thoroughly. So let me tell you the truth!
My brothers in war, I love you thoroughly; I am and I was of your kind. And I am also your best enemy. So let me tell you the truth!
I know of the hatred and envy of your hearts. You are not great enough not to know hatred and envy. Be great enough, then, not to be ashamed of them.
And if you cannot be saints of knowledge, at least be its warriors. They are the companions and forerunners of such sainthood.
I see many soldiers: would that I saw many warriors! “Uniform” one calls what they wear: would that what it conceals were not uniform! You should have eyes that always seek an enemy—your enemy. And some of you hate at first sight. Your enemy you shall seek, your war you shall wage—for your thoughts. And if your thought be vanquished, then your honesty should still find cause for triumph in that. You should love peace as a means to new wars—and the short peace more than the long. To you I do not recommend work but struggle. To you I do not recommend peace but victory. Let your work be a struggle. Let your peace be a victory! One can be silent and sit still only when one has bow and arrow: else one chatters and quarrels. Let your peace be a victory!
You say it is the good cause that hallows even war? I say unto you: it is the good war that hallows any cause. War and courage have accomplished more great things than love of the neighbor. Not your pity but your courage has so far saved the unfortunate.
“What is good?” you ask. To be brave is good. Let the little girls say, “To be good is what is at the same time pretty and touching.”
They call you heartless: but you have a heart, and I love you for being ashamed to show it. You are ashamed of your flood, while others are ashamed of their ebb.
You are ugly? Well then, my brothers, wrap the sublime around you, the cloak of the ugly. And when your soul becomes great, then it becomes prankish; and in your sublimity there is sarcasm. I know you.
In sarcasm the prankster and the weakling meet. But they misunderstand each other. I know you.
You may have only enemies whom you can hate, not enemies you despise. You must be proud of your enemy: then the successes of your enemy are your successes too.
Recalcitrance—that is the nobility of slaves. Your nobility should be obedience. Your very commanding should be an obeying. To a good warrior “thou shalt” sounds more agreeable than “I will.” And everything you like you should first let yourself be commanded to do.
Your love of life shall be love of your highest hope; and your highest hope shall be the highest thought of life. Your highest thought, however, you should receive as a command from me—and it is: man is something that shall be overcome.
Thus live your life of obedience and war. What matters long life? What warrior wants to be spared?
I do not spare you; I love you thoroughly, my brothers in war!
I love you thoroughly, my brothers in war.
Thanks for reading Intimations of a New Worldview! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.