I read this book because the guys at Danger and Play enthused about it, and inspiration might be found in the oddest places. It’s New Age. Every fibre of my being does not like New Age. I must have been feeling lost or in need of something. Anyway.
This was written in 1990 and is part of the “masculinity in crisis because men have no initiation ceremonies, nor village elders to lead them” movement, whose figurehead was Robert “Bongos” Bly. No wonder nobody took the nascent Men’s Movement seriously.
Right at the end, the authors recognise that men are not going to get the guidance they need from the village elders and so have to make it up for themselves. They should have started over right away with that insight right up front, but, well, publishers have deadlines, and sometimes it’s hard to see that a throwaway comment is actually the real thesis.
When anyone starts talking about “mature” and “immature” men, I flip the safety on my Glock, because I know I’m going to get something moral foisted on me in the name of psychological insight. The authors of this book try their hardest, but since the whole thesis is that young men were not getting the Manly Guidance they needed to “man up”, I mean, “mature”, shaming is pretty much implicit in the thesis.
What does the “mature man” look like? Surprise! A 1950’s Norman Rockwell Golden Age father: married, monogamous, has vanilla sex (the authors don’t like bondage), is employed, has children, mentors others, keeps his head when all around him are losing theirs, bounces out of bed every morning to greet the new day, and accepts his wife’s “mortality, finitude, weakness and limitations” by way of experiencing her as “a unity of body and soul, a complete person with whom [he has] an intimate, human relationship”.
This man never existed. In fact, it’s worse than that. He’s a child’s idea of what a man is: a confused and lonely small boy’s idealised view of the perfect father. The last thing a young man seeking guidance and help needs is a fantasy being passed off as an attainable goal.
However, if you dump that 1950’s crock in the garbage where it belongs, and reject the whole “mature man” thing for the female-centric manipulation that it is, then there is some good stuff here.
The authors present four archetypes: King (goal-setting, rules and boundaries), Magician (knowledge and insight beyond the “advanced beginner” level), Warrior (action, decisiveness, dedication to a goal outside your own desires) and Lover (sensuality, sympathy, empathy). These have a Good Side and a Bad Side (bad Kings can be bullies, bad Lovers can be addicts). A lot of the descriptions of each draw on tribal this and mythological that, much of which is very optional.
So the authors are saying that a man needs self-discipline, skill, energy, dedication, sensuality and empathy, in the unapologetic service of his chosen ambitions and objectives. They can’t let go of the idea of being balanced, which is a shame, because the really interesting ideas arise when we try to deal with men who aren’t well-balanced. Should hard-core Warriors, who have set the trivia and dramas of domestic life behind them, even think of getting married and becoming fathers? I say they should not, and nor should they compromise themselves so that they can give their wives and children their needed attention.
The insights are a mixture of inspiring and irritating. The Warrior, dedicated to a trans-personal goal, tends to regard sex as recreation and women as sport. This is a neat thought. They follow it by saying that it is the source of wartime rape. No, no, no. Most soldiers do not rape. The Bosnian Serbs had to find special drunken psychopaths to staff their rape camps. It’s as if the authors were making sure their feminist mistresses at the publishing house would approve their message.
A typology needs a questionnaire to be effective (astrology asks only when you were born, and the MMPI asks 567 questions) and then needs to do more than re-hash the answers to be informative (astrology is the ultimate non-re-hasher). There is no questionnaire here, and this leaves the reader with the logically unsound process of inferring their archetypal behaviour from the symptoms.
This is especially awkward as the same behaviour can have different causes. Treating women as playthings can be a sign that you are under the influence of a Bad Lover, or it can be your Good Warrior un-smoothed by a Good Lover. You can acquire skills as part of an impersonal dedication to a trade or profession (Warrior) or to make a living from having rare skills (Magician). And so on. Again, exploring these ambiguities would have been interesting.
The authors are therapists, so they don’t understand that the help men need is to understand what is their temperament and character, their core beliefs about people and relationships, and how they can build on that to make a living, maintain physical fitness and emotional stability, live well but modestly, travel, and take as much part in what passes for “society” as they can without compromising themselves. This isn’t that book, and I can’t think of one that is.