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Ryan Michler's Masculinity Manifesto
A decade ago, the online men’s sphere was made of mostly smaller, pseudonymous bloggers. Since then, the market for men’s gurus has exploded. The biggest name is Jordan Peterson, obviously. But there are also people like Joe Rogan or the now-jailed Andrew Tate with huge audiences as well. And beyond them a host of major and minor figures with significant followings. Some, like Peterson and Rogan, appeal to both genders but with a male audience skew. But many explicitly target men.
These figures are extremely diverse. Peterson is a mostly anodyne, mainstream figure. Andrew Tate is extremely edgy and flaunts an outlaw lifestyle (unfortunately for him, doing it too literally). But this seems to be the major division between the various men’s figures. Some are socially legitimate and resemble traditional motivational speaker type figures. Others like pickup artists deliberately flout respectability and traditional moral norms.
Many of you are probably familiar with Brett McKay, who runs the site and podcast Art of Manliness. He’s a great example of the respectable genre. McKay was an early entrant who got big due to some viral hits and what was at the time a whitespace field. He is a fully respectable figure who make sure to stand within the bounds of mainstream acceptability. Although he’s been at it a long time, he continues to do a journeyman’s job in turning out quality podcasts and other content.
A similar figure who more recently emerged is Ryan Michler, who runs a podcast called Order of Man. While not quite at the Rogan level, he has a large and growing audience probably now comparable to McKay’s. He does a combination of interviews of interesting men’s figures, including some with big names like Jocko Willink or Ben Shapiro, as well as other interesting people. He also answers reader questions, and gives coaching on how to be a better man and have more success in life. In addition, he presides over the Iron Council, which is his proprietary fraternal society.
Michler is clearly among the respectable figures. He wants men to live in ways that are healthy for themselves, their families, and their communities. At the same time, he’s explicitly conservative and is not afraid to rightly reject many of the most ridiculous elements of today’s elite consensus. He also explicitly talks about God and faith, something you don’t see as much of today. (I believe Michler, like McKay, is a Mormon). So unlike Brett McKay, who is very normie friendly and mostly publicly compliant with the elite consensus, Michler is a respectable figure with something of an edge - a good place to be in a crazy society if you ask me.
Michler recently released a new book on Regnery’s Salem Books imprint called The Masculinity Manifesto: How a Man Establishes Influence, Credibility and Authority.
The title basically sums it up. This book provides interesting insights into why men turn in droves to men’s sphere figures like Michler, but not to the church or specifically religious institutions for guidance. Because Michler himself is religious, and promotes a message that’s compatible with the teachings of Christianity, it’s especially worth taking a look at what’s different about him and his message.
Evangelical teachings to men have had two core elements that sound good in theory, but in practice are off. The first is the drill sergeant motif of the “Man up!” message. The second is the call to being a “servant leader.”
Michler hits both of these themes - to a point. But he has some important nuance. His message is basically that if you want to change the world, start by changing yourself. He writes, “It’s much easier to assume that once the world around you changes, your perception of it will as well. While that may be true to a degree, it is much more effective and efficient to change yourself first and allow the outside world to adapt to you.” As one application of this, he says that if your marriage is in trouble, you should make sure to deal with your own internal issues and not just the external dynamics of the relationship.
He also talks about road of masculinity as being a hard one, and that we should embrace that hardship. He writes:
It’s crucial that you understand something about the journey you’re about to embark upon: It’s a burden. It isn’t easy. Sure, I could sugarcoat it and pretend that this is a book about making you feel better about yourself and your current choices. But I don’t think you would have picked up a copy if all you wanted was to hear how good you already are and that you’re doing all the things you should be doing. The truth is that you’re not. You know it. I know it. There is no escaping it. Well, actually there is one way to escape it—start doing the things you know you should.
He also has lines such as, “The truth is that comfort makes you complacent. Complacency leads to unnecessary hardship,” “In the absence of hardship in modern society, you need to learn to manufacture it,” and “You’re not supposed to be comfortable with where you are.”
And he believes genuine masculinity is about service to others. He write:
With all that said, if you believe, like me, that the ultimate objective is to live a life of fulfillment and you can see, at least to some degree, that proper leadership (service to others) is the path to get there, the question that begs answering is, “How do we then lead more effectively?”
He also says, “Make your new, improved life about service to others” and similar such thoughts.
However, with some of the same starting points, Michler’s book makes clear that his view of how to accomplish this is very different than the church’s. In the evangelical world, servant leadership is all about service but has very little to do with leading. Men are essentially called to be doormats, sacrificing themselves and their desires to others in every case, using things such as a limited subset examples from the life of Jesus to justify it. Yes, Jesus said that he came not to be served but to serve. He also said that if you love me you’ll keep my commandments. And he’s the one who decides what form that service takes. The commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself, not to love him instead of yourself.
Michler understands that without developing and caring for yourself, you can’t effectively serve others. He writes, “What defines a man is his ability to harness his birthright (maleness) toward productive outcomes for himself, his loved ones, and those for whom he has a responsibility (manliness).” Note that he includes the man himself here. He also correctly observes, “If you treat yourself like garbage, you might as well give everyone else express permission to treat you the same way.” And he notes the importance of a man having self-respect and drawing boundaries, saying, “Spend a little time thinking about the respect you deserve, draw lines in the sand, communicate those boundaries to others, and enforce them ruthlessly.”
If you let people walk all over you all the time, then you probably aren’t in a great position to be serving people. He also rejects the idea that servant leadership means white knighting, or over-functioning for people in ways that undermine their long term success and flourishing. He says, “Look, if you truly want to serve others and lead, stop telling them what to do. Stop rescuing them. Stop solving their problems and find a way to help them solve their own.”
There’s obviously a place for helping or even recusing others, but if you keep bailing your alcoholic cousin out of jail every time he gets himself arrested, are you really helping him? We need to be helping people with a long term view by helping them to build their own capacities, not constantly filling the gap for them.
He also draws the obvious and straightforward conclusion that if you genuinely want to serve others, you should develop yourself to the max. And as you do so, seek to be in authority so that your good motives and high competence can be used to structure the world in ways that benefit others. He says:
How many lives could you impact if you decided that you were going to dominate your life, not at the expense of others but for them? I believe the real question is, which is more dangerous to you, your loved ones, and society as a whole: you surrendering who you have the potential to become, or you dominating every single aspect of your life so that you may serve as many people as possible?
And he says:
If your heart is pure and you have the desire to serve others through effective leadership, you should seek authority—not shirk it in fear of what others may think of your ambition.
Evangelicals seem horrified by the holding and exercising of authority. But this is one of the key ways that we actually serve others. Somebody is going to be in charge. Wouldn’t we want it to be high quality people who are competent and want to serve others and promote the general welfare? I do. Taking the next step, we should make sure that we become that person.
In addition to noting that men should take care of themselves, should have standards and boundaries in their expectations of others, and should actively seek credibility, influence, and authority, he also provides practical insights on how to start getting there. For example, he lays out an approach similar to one I called “the ratchet” back in newsletter #6:
I echo something similar: Take the next first step. The path to making a hundred sales calls this week is the first call. The path to kicking addiction starts with one simple win against temptation. The path to paying off all your debt is to make one extra payment.
We don’t get our lives in order instantly. Taking the first step, and then incrementally building is often more effective than trying a radical, overnight makeover. (Though in some cases, the radical change might work with some people’s personalities). Here’s another example from the book:
Here are a few exercises that will help: Say no to something you would normally say yes to and, for an added bonus, don’t give the other person a reason. Just say no. And let that be it. When someone asks for your opinion, give it to them straight. For seven days, ask for a discount wherever you go to buy something—the restaurant, grocery store, movie theater, mall, etc. Just ask everywhere. The point of these exercises is to make yourself uncomfortable and get you familiar with asserting yourself in a situation where you ordinarily would just want to slink away and hide. You can’t know how to harness your aggression if you don’t know where the line is. Be willing to cross it to find out.
Michler’s podcast has a ton of practical, actionable insight for men to use to get better. He doesn’t just beat people up or tell them they are all worthless and weak. He and the community around his podcast are about helping to build men up from where they are.
My analysis above is not the way Michler lays out the book. Instead, he walks through eight characteristics of masculinity that he discusses in a chapter each: stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, aggression, vigilance, violence, honesty, and self-respect, unpacking what he means by these. A lot of it is stuff we already know we should be doing but aren’t, at least not to the extent we should be. And some of it is material that shouldn’t require restating but does because so many of the messages we receive from society are contrary to reality.
I personally don’t resonate with most self-improvement literature. My life experience has been dominated by external events rather than my own efforts. This is one reason I’m so influenced by the work of Nassim Taleb. Nevertheless, this book is a good pick me up motivational. By the end of it was thinking I needed to work harder, get more serious, etc.
In the world of the online men’s sphere, Michler is one worth checking out. He’s interested in upright behavior, wants men to develop their potentialities, and is not bought into the absurdities of today’s “clown world.” The Masculinity Manifesto will give you some insights into why men are turning to the online men’s sphere instead of the church for guidance, in ways that aren’t tainted by the hedonistic or Nietzschean sensibilities of too many of these figures.
I’ll leave you with a few additional quotes from his book:
“Reject the idea that you should do less than you can because someone is incapable or unwilling to keep up.”
“Strong, bold men who know what they want are a threat to the powers that be. These men (the type you likely have a desire to become) are much more difficult to control.”
“Producers are a different breed. Where consumers see problems, producers see solutions. Where consumers see obstacles, producers see opportunity. Where consumers are skeptical of others and life in general, producers are optimistic in their outlook.”
“Courage is the antidote to cowardice, and courage is all that is required to tell the truth. It takes courage because there is an overwhelming amount of risk involved with being honest.”
“Truth requires sacrifice. It requires you to sacrifice other people’s feelings. It requires you to sacrifice the way you feel yourself. It requires you to say and do what needs to be said and done so that others may live more fully.”
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