Memes are terrible. They are terrible because they present a brief, flippant argument, with no citation, and are more often than not intended to offend rather than inform. As amusing as they are, they do nothing to support reasonable discourse.
Recently, two mutual friends began to bicker of over a meme. The meme compared 18-year-olds in the 1944 and 2016 – the former storming the beaches to save the world from Nazism, and the latter requiring safe spaces on college campus. The objection to the meme was that it unfairly labeled the Millennial generation as overly sensitive, thin-skinned, and weak.
As one may expect, there was no truly reasonable discourse over this, because there was – as often happens online – no attempt to hear and comprehend the position of the opposition. But it got me thinking: why is my generation, the so-called “Millennials”, so distasteful, particularly to warfighters such as me and my closest friends?
Rather than post a meme, I decided to put that $25,000 piece of paper I bought on credit to work. I hope to show 1) what the nature of humanity and civilization is, 2) how the Millennial generation’s has rejected ancient, universal wisdom, and 3) why this has created such a disquiet in the beating heart of America’s warriors.
PROLEGOMENA: MANKIND AND THE AMORAL FOUNDATIONS OF SOCIETY
THE NATURE OF MAN:
First, I’m a product of the Church. I believe that mankind is fallen into sin, and that sin has touched every aspect of our being. Most of you are no doubt familiar with Romans 3:10, ““There is no one righteous, not even one…” But this concept of man as a fundamentally fallen creature isn’t restricted to certain sects of Christianity. Instead, it’s supported throughout history and philosophy as an accurate descriptor of our condition. Thomas Hobbes described the life of man without government as “nasty, brutish and short,” and his political philosophy was predicated on the basis of man’s inherently violent nature. So also, Nietzsche noted that the entirety of human interaction may be reduced to the “Will to Power,” which is each person’s conscious and subconscious effort to exact power over others in their surroundings and the people around them.
As a basis for understanding human interaction, I must start here. Society can only be understood through this lens. Attitudes that imagine humanity as higher evolved beings miss the fundamental nature of man, and this fundamental nature emerges in every community and group. This is why police forces exist. Moreover, in the event of the collapse of a civilization or society, this instinct of violence becomes paramount. Therefore, in order to construct and maintain a functioning society, it is imperative that we understand our basic, “brutal” nature, and the necessity our nature is borne of.
The concept of the Perimeter is the basis for understanding manly conduct in a civilization. If you’ll bear with me, I would like for you to read a lengthy quotation from Jack Donovan’s “The Way of Men.”
“You are part of a small human group fighting to stay alive.
The reason why doesn’t matter.
Conquest, war, death, hunger or disease—any of The Horsemen will do.
…You have to define your group. You need to define who is in and who is out, and you need to identify potential threats. You need to create and maintain some sort of safe zone around the perimeter of your group. Everyone will have to contribute to the group’s survival in some way unless the group agrees to protect and feed someone who can’t contribute due to age or illness. For those who can work, you’ll need to decide who does what, based on what they are good at, who works well together and what makes the most practical sense…
The first job of men in dire times has always been to establish and secure “the perimeter.”
People can’t fight and hunt and kill all day and all night forever. Humans have to sleep, they have to eat, and they need downtime. You need to create a safe space and set up camp somewhere.
You’ll also have to identify some desirable resources, like access to water and food. One of the first things you have to consider is whether the spot makes you vulnerable to attack from predators or unknown groups of men. Then you do some basic recon—you check out the surrounding area to see if there is evidence of another tribe, or undesirable beasts. Tired and satisfied, you and your pals set up a base camp and keep an eye on a rudimentary perimeter.
The survival of your group will depend on your ability to successfully claim land and keep it safe.
When you claim territory and draw a perimeter, that line separates your group from the rest of the world. The people inside the perimeter become us and everything known and unknown outside the perimeter becomes them.
Beyond the light of your night fire, there is darkness. They lie just beyond the flicker of your fire, out there in the dark. They could be wild animals, zombies, killer robots or dragons. They could also be other men. Men know what men need, and what they want. If your men have something that men want or need, you’ll have to be wary of other men. The things that have value to men—tools, food, water, women, livestock, shelter or even good land—will have to be protected from other men who might be desperate enough to harm you to get those things. The perimeter separates men you trust from men you don’t trust, or don’t know well enough to trust.”
The perimeter that Donovan describes still exists. In primitive cultures, those threats and dangers that must be defended totally surround the society. Thus, so-called primitive ideals of masculinity, the most basic of which we will discuss presently, are vital to the survival of the herd. In modern civilizations, those dangers have receded. We’ve built our cities away from the wilds, mitigating the threat of bear attacks. We’ve build infrastructure, mitigating the threat of starvation. In doing so, we require fewer men to defend this perimeter, and more and more men can stop dedicating their lives to the perfection of their warring, and spend more time pondering poetry, and developing codes of morality and law, which inform and regulate the inherent human – and particularly masculine, testosterone fueled – desire to compete and kill. These civilized advances are all positive things, and hugely beneficial to our species, not to mention our souls.
But it is vital that we recognize how quickly this façade can collapse. Even in the most complex, affluent societies, we can see a total breakdown of order in a matter of days and hours. It’s a truism that any civilization is three days of starvation away from total anarchy. Finding manliness in modern civilization is a balance of exemplifying the old and the new – or, as some have put it, one must be a good man, and one must also be good at being a man. The former is moral in nature, and constitutes virtues such as kindness, humility, and self-control. The latter is amoral in nature, being neither inherent moral or immoral. Donovan describes being good at being a man as the “Tactical Virtues,” but they are mirrored in nearly every society through time and geography. I prefer to refer to them as the Warrior Traits.
THE WARRIOR TRAITS
The Warrior Traits are ubiquitous traits found in common between warrior traditions throughout history – the Egyptians, the Romans, barbarians and Greeks, Crusaders, Samurai and Zulu alike. They are “simple, amoral, and functional virtues” — “the practical virtues of men who must rely on one another in a worst case scenario.” They are those attributes that make a person an asset during a crisis, rather than a liability. They are amoral because they are vital to the success of the group, regardless of whether or not the group is going good or evil. Being a good man requires that you act morally, but a Mafioso, mujahedeen or a contract killer could still be good at being a man, that is, displaying these characteristics, regardless of the actions they direct these characteristics towards. So let’s examine the Warrior Traits.
The traits of a warrior – those that transcend the quirks of culture, religion, geography, and so forth – are strength, courage, mastery, and honor. Strength is simply the physical ability to dominate or overcome an opponent, instead of being dominated. Courage is the will and the discipline to apply strength and physical prowess to a situation when one is tempted to cower or flee. Mastery is the skill and aptitude to employ the technical and tactical tools of hunting, survival, and fighting, or the possession and application of some knowledge that increases the survivability of the group. Honor, which is the cornerstone, is the reputation of possessing strength, courage, and mastery, as judged by other men. An honorable man must care about his reputation, because he recognizes that his strength, courage, and mastery – that is, his Warrior Traits – bolsters the group. I would like to focus on Honor in particular, because this is the trait that has been lost in the Millennial generation.
Honor is, in fact, largely lost in all of American culture. Ask a dozen people on the street what they think honor is, and they will give you a dozen answers. When pressed, however, most will define honor as some variation of “doing the right thing when no one is looking.” In our culture, honor is a private, internal virtue, something that cannot be taken away and is not subject to the approval of others.
This is not the traditional form of Honor, and in fact is closer to the definition of integrity. Anthropologist Frank Henderson Stewart argues that traditional Honor, which has existed throughout known history and is now disappearing in American culture, is composed of two separate types, which are Horizontal Honor and Vertical Honor.
Horizontal Honor is the “right to respect among an exclusive society of equals.” This is not some insipid “give me respect because I’m human” sort of thing. For Honor to mean something it has to be grounded in unyielding, absolute standards of excellence that apply equally to all members of the group – a yard stick by which every man is judged. For this to be true, you must have three elements: an Honor Code, an Honor Group, and shame.
The Honor Code lays out the standards and conditions that a person must reach to receive respect from the group. It is important to note here that Honor must be achieved, and it may be lost. Honor that cannot be lost is not Honor.
The Honor Group is the group of individuals who live by the Code of Honor. They are equals because they have all met the standards laid out by the code, and they all strive to maintain themselves in the standard described by the Honor Code. These groups offer respect to each other as equals, they are exclusive because membership depends on adherence to the code, and they are close-knit and intimate.
Shame holds these together. When one fails to live up to the group’s code, they lose their Honor — their right to the respect of the other Honor Group members. Shame is the recognition that a person has failed to live up to the Honor Group’s code. When individuals stop caring whether they’ve lost their right to respect in the group (i.e. living without shame), honor loses its power to compel and check individuals’ behavior. Honor systems are therefore contingent on shame.
Horizontal honor is a zero sum game. Members of the group either have the respect of their peers or they don’t. Bringing dishonor upon oneself by failing to meet the minimum standards of the group (or showing disdain or indifference for those standards) means exclusion from the group, as well as shame. Thus, in an Honor Group, horizontal honor serves as a dividing line between us and them, between the honorable and the dishonorable.
Vertical Honor, on the other hand, consists of admiration and laudation to those within the Honor Group who have far exceeded the others. This is where merit, prowess and experience become hierarchy within the group. But in order for vertical honor to exist, one must have horizontal honor first. Without mutual respect among equal peers, winning praise and esteem are subjective.
Since our society has built a stigma against Honor Codes – because “amoral” is easily confused with “immoral” – one may be left to wonder how one can be a Godly Warrior. By this I mean, how one can hold the precepts of Christianity, which form a Moral Code, together with the amoral nature of Honor Codes. I will remind you that because the Warrior Traits are amoral in nature, the two do not conflict unless the Honor Code violates the Moral Code. Moreover, violence itself is demonstrably amoral in nature, being dependent on context to assign moral value. For instance, God commanded His people to wage wars in Canaan, Jesus Himself cleared the temple with a whip, and in Ecclesiastes we learn that there is a time for war and a time for peace. As to the morality of man before government, Jesus gives simple instructions – “Render to Caesar what is Caesars, and to God what is God’s” – and Romans 13 gives authority to human government to use violence. There are excellent, practical reasons for this, which Jack Donovan lays out in beautiful clarity in his essay, “Violence is Golden.” I will not burden you with homework, but I strongly recommend that you read the essay.
Here is the link. http://www.jack-donovan.com/axis/2011/03/violence-is-golden/
The end result is this: All civilization and order depend on the Warrior Traits, for without these, a civilization would be unable to defend its perimeter – and all the Warrior Traits depend on Honor. For a highly complex society such as ours, the value of Honor can be overlooked and deemed obsolete – and indeed, this is the sentiment of our age. But the foundation of civilization – and the only hope for a civilization on the brink of collapse, when such a time comes – is Honor. It is therefore of great benefit to society to be able to call the concept of Honor and the Warrior Traits back to the forefront of our minds, when we find ourselves in crisis.
THE ATTRIBUTES OF MILLENNIALS (MENTAL AND INTESTINAL WEAKNESS)
Now that I have explained the basis of my beliefs, I can address my grievances against my generation. Millennials, I believe, are the product two distinct phenomena. The first is our economic success – that is, our affluence. The second is the practical outworking of postmodernist philosophy, which is the loss of truth.
As a result of the postmodernist movement and the rise of relativism, Millennials largely value the question over the answer. There is the perception that someone who doubts is more clever that someone who is confident. But at the same time, humans cannot believe in nothing. We are bound to perspective – so Millennials, rather than remain true to postmodernity, have adopted a split personality. They will say out of one side of their mouth, “That’s your opinion,” and out of the other side of their mouth they will say, “That’s a scientific fact.” One need not look far: LGTBQ+ is a perfect example. Once gender was declared subjective, our generation became deeply conflicted. The result is that it is now established in our social conscious that it is a scientific absolute that there is no absolute gender – that is, the objective truth is the subjectivity of truth, which violates the Law of Noncontradiction ( P cannot result in Not-P.) The cognitive dissonance is intense – but undetected, as it is buried deep in the social consciousness.
Simultaneously, the Millennial values the self over the group. This originated in the earlier half of the 20th century, particularly in the Hippie Era – the drive to “find yourself” replaced the drive to build a family and provide. One could call to mind the glorification of the “barista – artist”, who works a low-skill, nonphysical job while he enjoys his 20’s playing jam bands, living the bohemian life and backpacking in the mountains. Compare this to the outright disdain for the “farmer – mechanic”, who toils long hours developing trade skills in a highly physical environment. If you think this is not an apt comparison, read the Huffington Post, or Slate, more carefully. The editorials are rife with condescension against the true working class man. The wisdom of Ecclesiastes is ignored, as is the wisdom of any previous generation.
Identity politics is another manifestation of the devaluation of the group in favor of the self. Going beyond LGBTQ+ and race, the story of each individual as a special, unique person has taken precedence over the larger issues of society. The rise of democratic socialism, then, is particularly odd – one would expect such an intensely individualistic society such as Millennials to hold true to their self-centeredness. However, on examination, the justifications and arguments put forth by the Young Turks, by Bernie Sanders, and by other prominent democratic socialists are intensely individualistic. The basic argument is that the government must mandate and fund our self-absorption. At the cost of the economy, at the cost of the evil corporations, at the cost of anything – we must enable each individual to have exactly the same ability to explore and experience life in whatever manner they want. For the first time in history, collectivism is sold to an individualistic society, and it is only possible through profound selfishness on a deep, societal level.
This is why Millennials disdain “Honor”. Honor depends on the approval of others, through a code of conduct. Millennials reject anything that they perceive as limiting their happiness. Honor does not permit self-absorption. This is why Americans, particularly Millennials, redefine Honor to mean “personal integrity,” and when presented with true Honor, dismiss it as obsolete and outdated. You can see this in the “shaming” prohibition – where it is now taboo to “shame” someone for being overweight, promiscuous, or lazy. For Honor to exist there must be shame – but since shame interferes with the pursuit of the self, shame and Honor both must be discarded.
Invariably, Millennials face disappointment, as they realize that the world is not concerned with their identities, as they realize they cannot financially support their journey to find themselves, and they realize that others have succeeded in ways they have not.
I saw a post the other day that got me thinking. The post was, in classic Millennial form, a series of screen shots taken from a Twitter feed. The tweets argument – in 120 word segments – was that poor white voters gravitated towards Trump because American culture has conditioned them to believe that poorness is a failing. If being poor is a failure of work ethic or cleverness (or even morality, in a prosperity-Gospel setting), and Trump is clearly a successful businessman, then it is reasonable to assume that Trump has good work ethic, is clever, and is basically moral. The post then argued that if poor white voters understood how they were victimized by the 1%, then they would not vote for a man like Trump. They would properly understand that leftist, “democratic socialist” candidates would have better represented their interests, and they would have voted accordingly.
There are many points in this argument that need to be addressed – starting, perhaps, with the pervasive claim that poor white voters are as simple-minded as the author believes – but I don’t want to address those here. Buried in the post, as a groundwork, in the mentality of a victim. I think that understanding why people see themselves as victims – and why some other people do not – may demonstrate why two groups of people with similar goals (such as building a strong economy, rooting out political corruption, and making the processes of government work better for all members of society) could reach such different positions.
The author of the post believes that the elevation of work ethic, the assumption of personal responsibilities over one’s failings, and even a positive view of the self, are actually problems. Instead, one could infer, we shouldn’t correlate hard work with success. We ought to identify how our failings may be ascribed to other’s actions, and we ought to see ourselves as the victim. This is an interesting position to take, and while it makes me extraordinarily uncomfortable to consider myself a victim, I was curious as to why. Was the author of this post correct? Ought I to recognize that I am a victim?
So, like any free-thinking human, I actually looked into victim mentality, and I found some reading that helps me understand my liberal friends. Specifically, I found “The Drama Triangle,” a dysfunctional trifecta of psychological confusion first described by Dr. Stephen Karpman.
Karpman argues that the three roles one typically takes in a given situation are the Victim, the Persecutor, and the Rescuer. The Victim may or may not have experienced actual victimization. (We all do – and in fact, some live constantly being victimized – but we are not obligated to submit to it.) The Victim is frozen in fear of the situation because they believe the dynamics of the situation are out of their control. They submit to feelings of hopelessness or powerlessness. The Persecutor may be a circumstance or a human actor – in either event, the Persecutor dominates the Victim and prevents them from achieving their goals and dreams.
And then there is the Rescuer, who wants to help the Victim, but does so in a way that reinforces the victimhood of the Victim. The attitude of, “I will save you,” serves to reinforce the attitude of, “I can’t do this.” Saying, “Poor you,” validates the Victim’s harmful self-image.
Now, call me absurd if you will – but did I just describe the Democratic Party? A voter block that sees themselves as powerless against their oppressors, the 1%, who will be saved by Bernie Sanders and the magic of democratic socialism? It begins – critically – with that initial sense of powerlessness that the victim feels. And the evidence that this is, in fact, an apt comparison is not hard to find. Look to the failures of leftist municipal governments, like Chicago, Detriot, Atlanta, New York, San Fransisco, San Diego. Look at the left’s total failure to address the needs of minority communities. It’s all in the approach – by promising to create programs and systems to drag down the “Persecutors,” be it white cis-gender males, or the evil corporate overlords, the DNC “Rescuers” tell their constituency “You poor little guys, don’t worry, we’ll help you.” And the benefactor of this is the most cynical of Rescuers, who profit off of the Victim mentality of their supporters. This is how Jill Stein collected millions of dollars to sue for a recount she knew wouldn’t work – and kept the change. And note that – in the case of the Drama Triangle – this dynamic describes a dysfunctional and in the case of human interaction, abusive relationship.
Not to pick on the Dems, though – blaming immigration for a poor economy, any given Muslim for ISIS, or “The Gays” for the decline of Biblical morality is exactly the same sort of thing. The difference, though, is that the GOP does not rely on Victimhood to operate, and – at least culturally – the proponents of conservatism, GOP or independent, are drawn to policies that empower them to act themselves, rather than promise to solve their problems for them. In fact, conservative policies and their groundwork philosophies glorify instead the Creator, the Challenger, and the Coach – the healthy correlatives of the Victim, the Persecutor, and the Rescuer. And of course, there is not hard data on this – but it is my inclination to believe that if one possesses strength of character, if one has been victimized but has the mental resilience to rise above, and if one sees oneself as basically in control of turning points in their life and in control of the attitudes they hold towards the things they cannot control, that person will tend to vote conservative, because they see that the strength and resilience they possess are virtues that tangibly make their lives better and more peaceful.
I do not mean to downplay instances of true oppression and persecution. There is real victimization in the world, to be sure. There is real injustice and there is room for reform in even the most functional systems. My objection is to the attitude of Victimhood. Glorifying Victimhood neither addresses the needs of the individual who has been victimized, nor does it actually deal with the conditions that led to victimization. As it is said, “Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day – teach a man to fish, and he will eat for the rest of his life.”
If you have watched the TV show “How I Met Your Mother,” then you know that I have described a more honest and less ideal version of Ted Mosby. The character embodies the way Millennials see the Millennial spirit. He is sweet to a fault, spent his 20’s having irresponsible adventures, is employed in a soul-fulfilling white collar yet artistic job as an architect, sleeps with many women and yet is somehow still a respectful feminist, is physically weak and has never been in a fight, fears weapons, reads poetry, and believes in nothing except that the Universe is leading him to his destined Love. While it is unfair to compare an entire generation to a sitcom character, the show’s immense success says a lot about the characters relatability.
Part 4: WHAT MAKES THE GREEN GRASS GROW?
I enlisted in 2007, at the age of 19. When I went through my Basic and Advanced Individual Training, I was among the last training cycles to experience “wall-to-wall counseling” and bayonet training.
Unlike the rifle, the bayonet is a deeply personal weapon. It must be employed ferociously, violently, without remorse, and close enough that the combatants can taste each other’s sweat. As we attacked first the mannequins and then each other, the drill instructors would shout, “What makes the green grass grow?” and we would shout back, “Blood, blood, bright red blood, drill sergeant!” There is no room there for tact, or kindness, or compassion. Such attributes which must be paramount in ordinary human relationships – in civilization – will only result in your death on the field, should you entertain them. While bayonet fighting rarely happens in war, the Army held onto the training in Basic, so that every soldier would learn to kill with their hands and face this simple truth.
At the time, the Army also still permitted “wall-to-wall counseling”, which simply put is when a soldier’s superiors could provide corrective training through physical violence. Recruits and soldiers who did not respond to other forms of corrective training, such as verbal counseling or doing physical exercise, could be struck, slapped, pushed, or grabbed to get the point across.
As cruel as these things may seem to my more sensitive readers, they are extremely valuable training tools. Soldiers, who must experience and inflict violence, should not shy away from physical pain. (As one of the first exercises in the Modern Army Combatives course, we make recruits stand in a “slap line”, where each recruit slaps the recruit standing behind them until the slap is passed all the way down the line, at which point the slap is returned back down the line. Thus, every recruit becomes familiar with the sensation of being struck and with striking, so that should they engage in an actual fight, the sensation is not surprising to them.) So also, in the case of wall-to-wall counseling, it is an effective method to inspire learning in adults, and – more importantly – it reinforces the value of Honor over shame. Taking one’s punishment for failing to uphold the standard of the Honor Code is virtuous, and builds courage and resilience in the face of anguish and struggle.
These two things have been removed from the Army’s training, at the behest of the Millennial generation and the mindset that formed this generation. The reason for the removal of bayonet training was largely logistical – it was not seen as “valuable training time” by the Army Doctrine command. I disagree – I believe that bayonet training was a valuable tool to expose recruits to the physical nature of combat. The restriction on wall-to-wall counseling, however, was made because of fears of abuse, fears of hazing, and – I believe – the devaluation of Honor and Honor Codes in the military, imposed by our civilian overseers. They believe that individual, regardless of their infraction, must be treated with respect and kindness. To a degree, this is true – but it is of little use to the warfighter.
In losing these elements – whether it was the right decision or not – the military has changed, and the results are concerning. Privates are coming to me now who are woefully unprepared for the reality of infantry work. They are afraid to get their hands dirty, afraid to get bruised, unable to march on bleeding and blistering feet after sleeping for days in freezing, wet conditions, because they lack the intestinal fortitude – the “guts” – to endure pain in the service of the Honor Group. When I went through Infantry School I broke my foot about two thirds of the way through the course. There was no question as to what I should do. I walked the final week, including our forced marches, on a broken foot, carrying every pound assigned to my kit. It was agonizing, but what I did was not exceptional to the infantry of my time. Rather, as a matter of Honor, it was the expected standard for anyone who wished to wear the coveted blue cord and crossed rifles.
Part 5: WHY I’M CONCERNED:
All of this begs the question: why is it an issue? Surely every generation has been reviled by their parent’s generation, and has in turn reviled the generation that follows them. What leads us to think that the idiosyncrasies of the Millennial generation merit such distaste?
It is, in brief, because the mentality and culture of Millennials cannot exist outside of their affluent, postmodern society. Self-absorption is more than moral failing in primitive communities – it is a survival liability for the whole group. Millennials have a very limited understanding of civic duty and societal obligation – rather, the conversation about social safety nets, free college tuition and even less extreme manifestations of the age, such as identity politics, is framed around the empowerment of the individual, under the guise of concern for the group. The existence of the idea of “microaggressions” reveals in stark detail how comfortable this generation truly is – and how petty is their “great cultural war”. Compared to previous generations – the men in the trenches in 1915, the hedgerows in 1944, the sands of Inchon, the mud of the Mekong Delta, who believed in Honor, believed in giving themselves for the service of their nation and in service to their friends – the Millennial generation sounds, in all media, in all publication, and to my ears, like screaming children demanding toys.
My generation has no stomach for privation. Turn off the cell towers in a region and we all lose our minds. Turn off the water and I have seen college students weeping in fear. “Adulting” is a hashtag – 26 year old humans, taking to social media to get advice on how to perform basic household tasks, much less the Warrior Traits upon which society and order rest. And so we mistake not having cable for being “poor”. The richest 1% of the world’s population claim “poverty.” It’s insanity.
“Hard times produce hard men. Hard men produce good times. Good times produce weak men. Weak men produce hard times.” I am concerned because my generation has cast out the amoral qualities upon which civilization is built, they are demonstrably too weak to endure a real crisis should it come to our country, and I worry that my children will have to endure the hard times this weakness begets.
The bulk of the Prolegomena was taken from various articles published by Jack Donovan, The Art of Manliness, and other sources.