The dangers of inaction and idleness have been well documented since time immemorial. The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus once said, “Idle people are slaves to their own desires or fears.” This is still true today as evidenced by the many modern-day issues of obesity, addiction, unemployment, mental illness etc.
The “art of manliness” is a blog that discusses the dangers of inaction and idleness. The blog highlights how these two things can lead to disaster.
“It is not required for a guy to be actively wicked in order to fail in life; just being inactive will suffice.” Nature has inscribed her protest against inactivity all over the place; anything that stops struggling, that stays passive, quickly deteriorates. Manhood and character are developed by the pursuit of an ideal, the persistent striving to go higher and farther.” James Terry White (James Terry White)
Major Dick Winters earned a rest after a year of grueling fighting. Winters had led his troops through a D-Day attack on German artillery, an assault on the French town of Carentan, a bayonet charge on a dike in Holland, the bitter cold of Bastogne, and finally to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest in the Bavarian Alps as the commander of Easy Company, dubbed the “Band of Brothers.”
In contrast, his next assignment, assisting with the occupation and demobilization campaign in Europe after victory, was a piece of cake. His new mission, however, proved to be more difficult than war in many respects.
Winters had to keep a watch on 25,000 Germans who had surrendered, but it was his own troops who caused him the most problems. The bulk of the combat-hardened paratroopers he’d served with had returned home, and their successors lacked the discipline and gravity of the old vets.
Units of once famous tenacity were “becoming lazy, both mentally and physically, and going to hell quickly” because they had “nothing to do, no motive to work.” “With demobilization, everything that supports morale in a military command — threat to the nation, combat potential, and the dread of the unknown — almost vanishes overnight,” Winters observed. It becomes a big leadership task to maintain discipline and morale.”
Because they lacked a clear goal and direction, many of the guys put out the bare minimum effort in their responsibilities and drifted into vices, partying, and creating mischief.
Winters himself was dissatisfied with his situation. Inspections, mild exercises, volleyball, reading, and sunbathing, which had been soothing at first, rapidly became monotonous. He’d discovered that “a fella can only take so much garrison life.”
As a result, although the major pondered a military career, he finally decided against it since he couldn’t imagine himself happy serving in a peacetime force.
“They could have everything.” I’d start by digging ditches… Now that the war was ended, there was simply too much chickenshit in this man’s army.”
Winters saw a long-standing contradiction and phenomenon: men have a harder difficulty becoming their best in times of calm than they do in times of crisis.
Idleness suffocates manliness.
Masculinity is a kind of energy that has to be released.
There are numerous ways to define masculinity, but one of the most effective is to think of it as a kind of energy that motivates men to take chances, compete, battle, and explore. It was this force that propelled men through history in their major roles as guardians, warriors, and hunters.
To retain this energy at its peak, certain circumstances must exist: danger and threat, whether from nature, human foes, or the hunger of one’s family. Men must be watchful and maintain their mental and physical skills strong in order to live and prosper in the face of these challenges.
Masculine energy as a whole fails in the absence of these circumstances — in a society that is reasonably secure and affluent. Individuals and organizations have a lot of buffer and margin for mistake at a period of security and comfort; a lot can go wrong and red tape may abound without lives being lost — at least not ones that can be traced back to a specific cause. Things continue to go on, ineffectively but essentially the same.
As a result, men’s standards deteriorate, and they become sloppy and squishy. They have the luxury of being able to take time off and opt out.
Men resort to vice to generate a little drama when there isn’t an external danger to give challenge and excitement.
The troubled culture around the Air Force’s nuclear missile officers is a wonderful case study of how this dynamic plays out in the real world.
Missileers, as they’re known, are in charge of the country’s intercontinental ballistic missiles, which can destroy cities halfway across the world with the push of a few buttons. Their work is vital — they actually hold the keys to averting or initiating global nuclear destruction — but it’s also mind-numbingly boring. Missileers rotate through 24-hour shifts in tiny, stuffy capsules sunk 60 feet below earth, far from the base. They have a lot of free time on their hands, apart from going through checklists and responding to practice alerts.
Things aren’t very romantic for the people sitting in subterranean swivel seats, in front of switches that even the missileers themselves sometimes wonder really accomplish anything, according to Air Force brass. Morale among missileers is typically poor, since they are tucked away on cold, bleak installations in North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana, distant from the action overseas, working in a sector of the military that appears outmoded, and in a job that consists of passive surveillance rather than aggressive movement.
As a result, it’s no surprise that the Air Force’s nuclear force has had challenges in recent years. After failing badly in inspection and mishandling launch codes, seventeen officers at the Minot, North Dakota facility were deprived of their power to operate and fire missiles and forced to complete 2-3 months of remedial work training in April 2013. A missile unit at Montana’s Malmstrom facility failed a safety and security examination in August 2013 owing to “tactical-level” faults. After spending an important trip to Moscow getting drunk, carousing, and being nasty to his guests, a two-star general who controlled the whole nuclear command was stripped of his responsibilities in October 2013. Then, in 2014, a probe into illicit drug usage (ecstasy, amphetamines, bath salts) revealed rampant cheating among nuclear officials on monthly competence examinations. The cheating ring encompassed at least 20% of missileers (with insiders estimating it to be closer to 90%), and 14 mid-level commanders were fired as a consequence.
The nuclear missile force has a court martial rate that is double that of the Air Force overall, with offenses ranging from drug usage to rape to violence.
Boredom, feelings of insignificance, a lack of recognition for their work (the Secretary of Defense visited them in 2014 for the first time in nearly 30 years), the disconnect between the purpose of their job and how effective they feel, and the lack of action-oriented outlets for their energy sap the missileers’ morale and esprit de corps.
The issues that the nuclear missile force faces are a microcosm of the problems that plague all contemporary mankind.
Modern men (ideally) acknowledge that they serve a vital function, yet they often feel unimportant and unappreciated for their efforts, and they struggle to find ways to channel their restless energy.
We want to be prepared to respond in a crisis, but it’s difficult to remain watchful and maintain an edge when nothing appears to happen that requires us to use our skills. We’re lulled into indifference and complacency as our drive to keep sharp dwindles. As a consequence, men’s standards, self-esteem, discipline, and overall toughness deteriorate.
Manliness is suffocated by idleness.
Survival requires action.
Staying active and smart was a question of need and survival for early man. He had no idea when another community might attack, when a bear would cross his path in the woods, or when a lightning strike would spark a wildfire. Simply procuring food required physical exertion and, on sometimes, danger.
This is why tribal rites of passage almost always featured severe tests of a man’s stoicism and hardihood, as well as public displays of ability and expertise in the arts of fighting and hunting. A kid had to establish his masculinity before being given the title of “man.”
But the exams didn’t end there; they continued throughout his life. A man had to constantly demonstrate bravery and prowess in the face of danger and peril, as well as be prepared to stand up and fight his fellow soldiers when they were challenged. Primitive men almost universally participated in regular physical sports and contests — often wrestling or plain old brawling — as these activities provided them with opportunities to hone their physical skills and fitness (i.e., preparation for hunting and battle) as well as compete publicly for status with other men.
Male energy was typically exploited as civilization progressed by introducing universal military conscription. Men had to learn not just work skills and/or a humanities education as citizen-soldiers, but they also had to learn the arts of battle.
The re-instatement of the draft appears exceedingly improbable now, barring the occurrence of another global catastrophe. Even if every male wanted to join the military freely, they wouldn’t be able to; the military is downsizing, and present commanders are being forced out.
Some argue that another global war like the ones that before it will never happen again, but even if it does, we in the West are now enjoying a time of calm.
So, what is a man to do at a period of safety nets, when he isn’t required to be healthy and ready for any emergency, when the seeming absence of a danger tempts the majority to follow the road of least resistance?
Is There a Moral Equivalent to War?
“An ever-successful peace economy cannot be based just on pleasure.” –William James (William James, William James, William James, William
In an article published in 1910, William James, a distinguished philosophical psychologist and fervent pacifist, struggled with this subject. Though deadly and expensive, James agreed that war had much to recommend it: it reawakened innate traits of manliness, reawakened the ability for heroism, and put to the test values like hardihood, faithfulness, energy, bravery, and creativity like no other trial or crucible.
As a result, James sympathized with martial enthusiasts who considered war as having enormous value and worried that without it, manliness would deteriorate and society would become soft. He summed up their arguments against a future that was completely peaceful as follows:
“The idea of a sheep’s paradise like that, they argue, revolts our higher imagination.” Where would the life’s cliffs be then? On this perspective, if war had ever ended, we would have to re-invent it to save life from flat deterioration.
Today’s reflective apologists for war all take it very seriously. It’s like a sacrament… It’s a perfect good, we’re told, since it’s human nature at its most active. Its ‘horrors’ are a small price to pay for salvation from the sole alternative posited: a society of clerks and instructors, co-education…of ‘consumer’s leagues’ and ‘linked charities,’ of unbridled industrialism and unapologetic feminism. There is no longer any disdain, toughness, or heroism! “Woe to such a scumbag of a world!”
“Human existence without the value of hardihood would be despicable,” James concluded. History would be dull if there were no risks or rewards for the brave.”
As a result, James believed that you couldn’t merely get rid of war without replacing it with another great mission/purpose/challenge. He admitted that “our predecessors have bred pugnacity into our bone and marrow,” and that “thousands of years of peace would not breed it out of us,” and that men’s energy would have to be channeled into a different form of “battle.”
“We must continue to expose ourselves collectively to those severities that correspond to our true status on this only partially hospitable earth,” James advised. “We must create fresh energies and hardihoods perpetuate the manliness” that was previously established via martial undertakings in times of peace.
As a result, James recommended creating a “moral equivalent of war.” Instead of a “war on man,” he advocated for a “war on nature.” He didn’t aim to destroy nature; rather, he meant to tame and govern it, constructing new things from its basic ingredients. James envisioned a national service program in which armies of young men — wealthy and poor — spent a few years constructing roads and bridges, fishing, mining, and other projects. Hands-on initiatives that would improve the nation while breaking down class boundaries, improving men’s fortitude and discipline, and giving men the opportunity to feel the struggle of working by the sweat of their brow. Similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps, which was established during the Great Depression.
This “war on nature,” James believed, would foster the same kinds of qualities that conventional combat elicited, if not to the same extent, then at least to a greater extent than would be possible without such an experience. It would provide a rite of passage that would benefit both the country as a whole and each individual guy who took part:
“Our golden kids [would] be sent off to have the childishness pounded out of them, and to return to society with healthier sympathies and soberer ideals, according to their choosing.” They would have paid their blood-tax, done their part in the ancient human fight against nature, walked the earth with pride, women would hold them in higher regard, and they would be better fathers and teachers to the next generation.”
Personally, I am a strong advocate of forced national service for both men and women. In theory, at least.
I wouldn’t offer people the option of doing community service or joining the military since I’m neither a pacifist like James or as confident as he is that a permanent end to war will be achieved soon. However, I’m not hopeful that such a program will ever be implemented for three reasons: 1) It would have to be managed efficiently and successfully, yet our current government is incapable of doing even little tasks without tremendous bloat and red tape. 2) Because our contemporary society has largely abandoned the concept of civic duty and self-sacrifice for the greater good, the proposal would almost certainly elicit shouts of outrage from a wide range of people. 3) As a result, it’s nearly certain that it’ll never pass in Congress. To get the most out of it, participants should be separated by gender, so males may experience the particular dynamics of brotherly bonding that occur in all-male “platoons.” Of course, no one in our contemporary political and cultural society would approve of such a concept.
As a result, I don’t believe anything like James predicted would occur very soon.
So, what does this mean for the individual?
How can you find the drive to grow the four tactical qualities of masculinity when they aren’t urgently required, to cultivate hardihood and toughness when you can get by with being mediocre, and to remain sharp and become your best when you can get away with being mediocre?
To be honest, there’s no way to be as driven to preserve your edge when you’re not in danger of being attacked by an opposing tribesman hiding behind a tree or being called up to serve in combat. This is particularly true on a cultural level for the culture of masculinity; when they aren’t forced to do differently by an external prod, the majority of males will just choose the route of least resistance.
On a personal level, though, certain men — those who will never be satisfied with the status quo — may remain sharp and ready by relying only on internal drive.
How do you cultivate that inner drive while living in a secure and rich era?
That’s what we’ll talk about the next time.
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“masculinity websites” is a term that has been used to describe the idea of men being dominant. However, this term has also been used in a negative way. “The Dangers of Inaction and Idleness” is an article that discusses how inaction can lead to personal problems.
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