Unless all lives matter, none does.
To Survive Our Slavish Regime, Master Yourself
A field guide to manning up in an incapacitated age.
After a few months of national madness, supposedly as mandated and supervised by “science,” we have been told what we should have known would follow from the way we are governed: the lockdowns will continue in many places, indefinitely. Or if it’s not lockdowns, it’s city-wide curfews as rioting breaks out across the country.
If you’re one of the many decent people who really still believe our governing classes, state and federal, in government and universities, know what they’re doing, I’m not sure I have anything to offer you, except to say, Godspeed! But if you’re a young man going crazy as the country around you goes through unprecedented changes while pretending everything is under control, you might benefit from reading on. We really are living through troubling times, and the epidemic itself is only one part of that. Economic, political, and cultural reactions to the epidemic are going to be far more important for defining America and the fate of the generation now facing adulthood.
There will be continuous struggles everywhere between elites and populists, with many of us caught in-between, online even more than off. This blurry double vision will test our sanity more than the epidemic has. Everyone will have many lies to tell to hide weakness—elites will pretend they’re not responsible for the catastrophe, and populists will pretend they didn’t need all the elite institutions.
We don’t need to become involved in these conflicts—we don’t need to go in search of an identity in either camp. There is an alternative: Self-mastery. But the path to it is obstructed by the tempting ideologies of the day, which all fundamentally say the same thing: Being told what to do, how to live in fear and obedience in just the right way, is not at all unmanly or humiliating. You shouldn’t blush; you should certainly not disobey. The government will fix your life.
Make Your Own Decisions
The crisis we’re going through has this merit: being a man is now trouble, and many are tempted to believe it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Until recently, American men just managed to bear the humiliation of the liberal press as it celebrates the harassment, drugs, and punishment to which boys and men are subjected by the institutions our liberal ideology has warped into a new pharmacological-therapeutic state.
But the pandemic has brought us inescapably to the root of the problem. To be a man is to be doing things, living your own life—and now there’s nothing to do. The future for young men has been swept away, to be replaced by an economic catastrophe engineered by elites unlikely themselves to suffer. All these elites know is that they will be the ones distributing the government money according to their discretion in future. You, on the other hand, can count on hardship and suffering.
So you have to discover what you really believe, not how to conform to the pieties that were supposed to lead you to some kind of success. Your path to a good life is now revealed to be full of obstacles that require moral strength. I have friends who are going crazy because of the quarantine in various ways—loneliness and uncertainty about the future, boredom and enervation—and all of them are now suddenly asking serious questions about who they really are.
To deal with these problems, you need to do two things. First you need to find out what’s driving you crazy: what would you need to be reasonably happy? Secondly, you have to deal with where you live. It’s no good striving for happiness in an environment designed to thwart it. You might want to move back home or go somewhere there’s a new opportunity. Or maybe it’s about looking for ways to own your own property, however small. What you need, though, is to get serious about fixing these issues. Here’s how.
Learn to Take Yourself Seriously
For one thing, you have to get back your self-respect. It’s not just that this catastrophe is ruining lives. It’s also revealing how weak so many among us really are, regardless, often, of what we can bench press. It’s painful to watch, which is why nobody has the toughness of mind to say it plainly. Don’t imitate this timid delicacy; look instead to people you trust and tell them what’s killing you. Take advice, be ashamed of yourself, and improve.
Undisciplined men, men without good habits, are worst hit. It seems millions of young men already sensed this—after all, they made Jordan Peterson and Joe Rogan popular, and both (especially Everyman Rogan) are national treasures. Take their advice and take care of yourself—eat right, sleep right, work out, and take control of wherever you lay your head to rest. You’ll feel better, you’ll get some self-respect, but most importantly you’ll develop habits that will stand you in good stead for life.
Some part of self-mastery is rule of your body; another part is doing your duty to other people. Loneliness kills men in America more often than it does in any other civilized nation. In recent years, deaths of despair have shocked the country. But the self-loathing that powers our social media corporations is just as bad. People behave miserably, and feel miserable, more or less exclusively for the sake of avoiding boredom and making a few Silicon Valley billionaires that much richer.
But there’s no such thing as a virtual man. You have to put aside the distractions and return to real people. A bit of bad luck like this epidemic has revealed to many young men something that now scares them: They live like prisoners. A smartphone and a computer are not a life.
Lots of people have noticed, too, that there’s no one helping them out. Disturbing as it may seem, this is a prison that you have to acknowledge before you can escape it. If you’re in a situation where few people if any really care about you, but everyone is mostly nice, run.
Get an Education
Things that popular panic or a governor’s edicts can take from you are not things you should depend too much on. Look at all you’ve lost from this pandemic and learn to think about self-reliance. Seriousness means acting by habit to take care of yourself and your duties; those duties are tied to the basic facts of life: love and friendship, family and work. You have to decide to pursue these things. They don’t materialize on their own.
You probably spend too much time online. And you probably do the wrong things while you’re there. But if you have read this far, there’s at least one part of you that knows the difference between trash and what’s worthwhile. Act on that judgment; stop wasting time on trash. To learn anything about the world, you have to understand first of all why you have a capacity to be proud of yourself or to be ashamed.
This we call nobility, and it requires education. It is not the same as expertise or peddling talent. Nobility is a judgment of character—it is your belief that another man is better than you and you would be better yourself if you imitated him. This is the essence of education: what you learn from others, you then have to do for yourself. No one else can do it for you. No one can work out in your place, and no one can think in your place, either.
Above all, read—and read about—great men. Always avoid reading polished mediocrities on the great. The great speak for themselves and for each other, and what they say is: being human is worthwhile. You know you can trust them because they lived out greatness. Their actions prove what they believed.
Read histories, especially biographies, and learn what it means to be a man. For all our modern powers, we are weak. Notice how quickly civilization was crippled by a virus that seems rarely ever to actually kill anyone. Technology and the globalized economy can turn you into a robot or feed you fantasies as though you were a child, but they cannot strengthen your character with good habits and examples of great men. You have to do that for yourself and, when possible, with your friends.
Self-Mastery and Greatness
Self-mastery is not self-obsession or even self-involvement. It’s closer to self-knowledge. When you’re ashamed of yourself, that teaches you something that you might not even want to admit but which is nevertheless true. When you find things funny, that too, teaches you something important that you hadn’t considered.
It’s knowing what kinds of people there are and how they live that constitutes self-knowledge. Being a man is in part doing the things we have always done—making friends and family—but it is also a never-ending contest to make a good order of the madness and chaos. Work is a part of this, but knowledge of the souls of men is a bigger part.
In all this, you can only trust noble men to help you. Everyone else might love you or even want to assist, but they cannot show you by example how to be what you must become. This is why we are not happy to isolate ourselves among very few people and simply ignore the world. We know there is greatness out there and it calls to us. It is out there: in the books of the great, in the statesmen of old, in the man you can become. Find it, or die trying. No other life is worth living.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.
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