On January 10 of this new year, my good buddy Jay Rollins started a fire.
It was the best kind of fire, the one which warms and illuminates. Similar campfires have been dotting the landscape ever since, prompting some seriously talented writers to add their own insights to Jay’s brilliant formulation of “tonic masculinity” as an antidote to our cultural and spiritual disease.
The beauty of tonic masculinity is that it is a team sport. To act as men is to build up the other men around us, so that together we can stave off the forces of entropy, chaos, mediocrity and evil. It pushes us to unearth those talents that are best suited for such a worthwhile purpose, not only in ourselves but in each other.
Thus far, John Carter, Harrison Koehli and L.P. Koch have gifted us with brilliant takes on the concept. Here’s just a small taste:
As the old saying has it, women are born, men are made. The distinction isn’t as pure as that, but there’s an essential truth to it. Even in the absence of good guidance, and saturated with terrible advice, a lot of females will sort of muddle through and figure out more or less how to become a woman through sheer instinct if nothing else. Males need to be shown the way towards becoming men. They need to be molded and tested by other men. They need to be torn down and built up, terrorized and encouraged, bullied and bantzed. All of that requires pre-existing social infrastructure. All those male bonding instincts that enable men to operate within male competence and dominance hierarchies are like the built-in ability of a baby to learn language. If the language isn’t there, Broca’s area shrivels and the ability to learn any language is permanently lost; if the social technology to turn boys into men is absent, the boy cannot mature into a man, but remains a boy forever. Deprived of the hunting party, he walks naked in the jungle, not sure how to hunt, or what to hunt, perhaps unaware that he’s hunting at all, but with only the vague idea that he should be doing ... something ... whatever that is.
The word itself derives from the greek tonos, meaning tension. To be tonic, in body and mind, is to have the proper level of tension. Not too much, not too little. Just right. Not so muscle-bound or high-strung that you can barely move or you snap at the slightest bit of pressure. Not too weak or neurasthenic that you either fail or do not even try.
For greatness, there must be tension. The tension of uncertainty inspires the quest for knowledge. The tension of disharmony, harmony. Dissatisfaction, innovation. Distance from the ideal, striving towards it. And yes, pain, gain.
A good relationship, therefore, is one in which both partners work towards aligning themselves with the higher, using their biological bodies as a gateway, a springboard, to access Reality in their own, male or female, styles.
As a consequence, they will work together as a team towards a common goal, each in their own way, and support each other reaching a higher level.
Some red-pillers might object that this sounds kinda unmanly. But look at it this way: supporting your woman in her soul development doesn’t mean meekly going along with everything. It requires serious demon slaying. For when you are weak and fragmented, that is, slave to your inner demons and cut off from the higher realm, you will push back against her for pathetic emotional reasons, and you will not push back out of weakness when the situation requires it. You’ll be the helpless reaction machine. You’ll get everything wrong, and you won’t be the man she needs: who can protect and inspire her. Clear away those monsters with your shining sword, and you’ll be on the right track towards actualizing the higher masculine principle.
Interestingly enough, these subsequent takes on the subject are themselves a example of tonic masculinity, revealing a kind of fractal verisimilitude without losing their individual intregrity.
This is men making each other, in the best possible way.
The process isn’t easy or pretty. Gilgamesh and Enkidu must wrestle in order to build each other, becoming brothers through violent struggle. As inhabitants of masculine forms, both mental and physical violence is immanent to our being. We are mainly suited to assaulting those kinds of problems that a require a singular focus, obtaining success through deconstruction of their wholes. In war, it is the deconstruction of other bodies. In science, it is the deconstruction of those objects, patterns, techniques, behaviors, and abstractions that we collectively think of as “the world.”
This masculine tendency to unbuild things isn’t inherently evil. However, like all unbridled tendencies, in can lead to ruin. For example, when Marduk’s arrow splits Tiamat in half, her deconstructed body forms the Heavens and the Earth. Through the lens of this founding story, the Babylonians saw violent destruction in itself as a form of masculine creation.
A review of the ancient Mesopotamian gods reveals similar mistakes on the feminine side of the ledger. The goddess Ishtar revels in the scheming, seduction, social climbing and wrathful vengeance associated with feminine power. And while it's as toxic as anything Andrew Tate has on offer on the Yang side, it is a form of evil power, rendered even more powerful for its many disguises and pitiable thralls. For toxic women, men are simple beasts to be placed under spells, and then manipulated in a vain attempt to sate their bottomless appetites. And lest we forget, it was Ishtar who by proxy murdered Enkidu, in order to punish Gilgamesh for swiping left on her Tinder profile.
These shrunken, hollow, vandalized versions of the masculine and feminine are the product of illusions (and, in my opinion, ones with both an author and a goal). Like all the most effective illusions, they tell some — or even most — of the truth. In the case of the masculine, our violence is elevated to godlike heights, with no limiting principles or counterweights to temper it. In this model, Gilgamesh must not only wrestle Enkidu, but must kill him to prove himself worthy of being king. In doing so, he would be emblematic of the “toxic masculinity” that inspired Jay’s initial article. Andrew Tate with a scepter, a bunch of slaves and unlimited coffers.
Other, better models exist. Shakespeare’s Henry V shows us the way at Agincourt, as does Aragorn at the Black Gate and Leonidas at Thermopylae. It’s in these tales that we come to know the truth of our condition. The answer to the riddle of our violent design is not dominance, but fellowship. Without it, we are reduced to monsters eating each other in swamps. With it, we can transform ourselves into society’s fierce protectors at a moment’s notice, bonded by something far stronger than mere flesh and blood.
Because we built each other up. We wrestled one another to learn and construct, not to dominate or destroy. Men need their own construction sites to pull this off, rendered just as off-limits to women as the ladies’ locker room should be to men. The fact that both men and women need their own sex-segregated spaces used to be obvious five minutes ago. Sadly, the likes of Ishtar, Baal and other demon-gods are on the march again, their banners sailing everywhere.
But hope is far from lost.
For all our flaws, humans are very good at rapid adaptation. All we need is the right kind of stories, and the cultivation of better languages and words. In this sense, tonic masculinity isn’t just an antidote to postmodern toxins. It’s a feedback oscillator humming to life, a snowball at the top of a hill given a gentle push. It’s a potential wellspring for all those better words and stories that we sorely need.
Treatises on tonic femininity are sure to follow. I don’t think I’m suited to write one of those myself. It’s not that women are an absolute mystery to me, or that I fear being accused of “mansplaining” by some blue-haired, radFem commie whore. I just think it’s likely I’d miss out on some important aspect of Yin that I can’t properly simulate or model in the Yang.
In fact, I’d wager that’s unavoidably the case. The feminine form is dazzlingly beautiful to my eye, and to be dazzled by a quarry is to pursue it half-blind. And besides that, I can’t truly ideate the twin horrors/miracles of menstruation and childbirth, or how this quality of being may bind women differently to notions of Time and Pattern. I also don’t know what it’s like to love us either, or to lust after our — to my eye, blocky and unappealing — forms. However, there are many brilliant female Substack authors in our circles whose insights and spiritual alignment are equal to the task of shredding toxic femininity and proposing some cures.
I can’t wait to read those articles too. I want this fire of ours to spread far and wide, the quicker the better. I believe expressing what’s best in both the masculine and the feminine is what will save our sorry asses in the end. When put properly to use, each form serves to temper and complete the other, rendering us nigh-invincible in the process.
Our enemies have either forgotten this truth or never knew it. The dazed geldings and spayed bitches of their ranks were never any match for our manly men or womanly women. Neither are their toxic, misshapen gods, who war with each other just as they feast upon us.
The day may come when good men and women must rise up together, to restore all that which was lost and stolen. As a man, I know my role must be on the front lines, in the thick of blood and flame. I would never ask my woman to take my place on that bloody field, any more than she would ever beg her man to turn traitor or run away. Perhaps that’s the start of a recipe for tonic femininity; knowing when to let men do what we must without complaint.
In the meantime, I will try to change a certain aspect of myself, in order to better serve our mutual cause:
For much of my life, I have often operated more or less as a lone wolf. That isn’t to say I’ve been extraordinarily selfish or detached. I’ve always provided help to friends and family when asked, when it’s within my ability to do so.
However, I have an ingrained tendency to over-assist. That’s to say, what begins as “help” often translates into a process by which I reassign ever more tasks and responsibilities to myself. It’s not a matter of me becoming a project’s “leader.” Rather, I will shapeshift into its sole owner and employee. Similar to many of my professional endeavors, I lack the trust necessary to delegate. This is a net-negative for everyone involved. I see that now.
Therefore I’ve decided to commit myself to the path that Jay and others are currently carving through the ash and dust. This lone wolf must finally come in from the cold, and rejoin the pack by the firelight.
I must learn to allow other men to help build me up, as I will help build them. I will lead when my leadership is required, and assist in more trusting ways when it ain’t. I will also try my best to mentor young men in the ways of discipline, focus, courage and resolve, and to impart all the hardest lessons that I’ve learned from my mistakes. I won’t do so in a some morose or regretful manner, but as a happy warrior who’s in tune not only with my destroyer’s tools, but with those that create and protect.
We will always be outnumbered in this game. As Daniel D recently put it, “there’s probably a bell-curve distribution when it comes to virtue,” as there is for literally everything else. But numerical advantage speaks nothing of quality. When it comes to the tools and talent, we easily make up the difference. And because we raise each other up, sharpen one another’s tools, wrestle with kings and commoners alike, our own advantages have no ceiling.
This is the way.
Like all good men who came before us, we will wrestle and test each other along this rocky path. Men who make themselves and each other inevitably become that fearsome force, the unshakable fellowship that sends devils back into hiding, and their swarming, babbling minions to their doom.
We happy few.
P.S. If you found any of this valuable (and can spare any change), consider dropping a tip in the cup for ya boy. I’ll try to figure out something I can give you back. Thanks in advance.
"The answer to the riddle of our violent design is not dominance, but fellowship. Without it, we are reduced to monsters eating each other in swamps. With it, we can transform ourselves into society’s fierce protectors at a moment’s notice, bonded by something far stronger than mere flesh and blood."
Brother Mark, I want that carved on my tombstone. Fucking gold.
Mentoring is very key here. There is an art to doing it effectively and gracefully. Right now my mentoring relationships with younger people are the brightest parts of my life, certainly my work life. (Right now I am mentoring only men, but I have mentored women in my field as well and that is fine too.)
However, I lack male fellowship on the plane of equals -- especially spiritual fellowship -- and that weighs on me. I have some particular challenges here, challenges that relate to some abstract questions at the margins of the subject of tonic masculinity and tonic femininity. But for another time, maybe...