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The Trouble with Squares

[1]1,695 words

Author’s Note:

I enjoyed Jef Costello’s recent review [2] of my book, and it inspired me to elaborate a little about why I wrote The Way of Men [3], and how I think it could be useful. 

Last month, I learned how to braise beef.

If you’re in a hurry, braising a nice cut of meat takes about five and a half hours. It’s better if you put the braising liquid somewhere cold overnight to let the fat separate from the broth.

The ingredients are simple: some carrots, onions, salt, and pepper. After the first hour and a half, you add some stock or some wine, along with some fresh herbs. You simmer it for a few hours, dump the carrots and onions, and degrease the liquid. Reduce the braising liquid by about half, then cook the beef in it for another hour and a half — flipping and basting it along the way. The natural sugars in the liquid caramelize on the beef and give it a sweet, crispy crust that complements the tender, slow-roasted meat.

The result is a rich, complex flavor that people will drop $20 a plate for at fine restaurants.

Once I got the process down, I started braising everything and varying the ingredients. I was coming home at two in the afternoon and chopping vegetables for dinner at eight — sometimes just for myself.

Braising meat isn’t brain surgery, but I wouldn’t have figured out the process on my own. It’s a technique that was the result of experimentation over time, passed along and refined through the generations until there was some kind of general consensus as to what worked and what didn’t. It’s a civilizational sweet spot, a golden mean, a culinary culmination of technology and tradition.

The thing is, I really don’t need to eat braised meat. It’s a refined luxury. It’s a luxury I can afford because I’m not hungry. I can wait five and a half hours for dinner.

What my body wants—what it needs—is animal protein and fat (and amino acids, iron, vitamins, and a bunch of other stuff).

Without that protein and fat, I’m left sitting with carrots, onions, a cookbook, and an empty stomach.

If I’m hungry and you offer me a burger, I’ll be happy to take it. I might even eat it raw.

Most people aren’t going to spend five and a half hours making dinner, but they’ve had the taste of good food — high food — so they try to simulate the flavor by cutting corners to get something that isn’t quite as good, but “good enough.” There are all kinds of pre-made dinners and commercial gravies with additives and fillers to replicate the thick sauce that you can make with simple ingredients and a little time. In fast food, the sauce overcomes the meat, and the meat is often of low quality.

Here’s your pink slime and ketchup, sir. Would you like fries with that?

When I was writing The Way of Men, I was looking for the protein and fat in a pink slime and ketchup culture. I wasn’t looking for braising recipes. I wasn’t looking for high manhood or refined manhood. I wasn’t looking for simulations of masculinity that were “good enough.”  I was looking for the most basic components of masculinity. I wanted to figure out what men really want, what they really need.

I think most men are starving.

When people write about fixing what’s wrong with men today, they are handing guys a dollop of pink slime and telling them how to braise it.

What good is talk of temperance to boys who have been coddled all their lives, who have never been in a fight, whose thumos has been checked at every opportunity, who have been medicated just for being male?

I shake my head when I see people tell young men that they should be secure about their masculinity. How could they be? How can untested men learn to trust themselves? How can guys who are rarely allowed to form male groups without a female interloper or chaperone get a sense of what kind of men they are? Who is going to teach them to be men?

Single moms? Guidance counselors? TV?

The big problem with the West is that we try to sell the virtues of an advanced patriarchy to men living in a declining matriarchy. It’s no wonder they aren’t buying. Honor codes and ethical systems that kept our ancestors from lopping each others’ heads off in anger seem completely absurd in a world where boys get suspended for bringing two inch plastic toy guns to school. Teaching chivalry to boys is hilarious when the girls have more money than they do, and have already been ass-banged by the basketball team.

The manly excellences teach boys to moderate their passions before they gain too much power and become dangerous. Teaching boys to be good men is teaching self-mastery. It’s part of the civilizing process. Teaching boys to be good men and offering them no power, ever, is teaching self-denial without end. It’s obedience training. It’s what you do with pets who will always be dependent, who will never run free, who learn to shake hands for Beggin’ Strips®.

Impotent etiquette and failing moral codes remind me of the John Waters film Cry-Baby. Set in the 1950s, its plot revolves around a conflict between the uptight “Squares” and the rock n’roll white trash “Drapes.” The Squares are big snobs, but all they have to brag about is inherited social status, their quaint, inoffensive pop culture (they sing “Sh-Boom” in the movie [4]), and superior etiquette. The Drapes are wild, tough, and although they’re a little dumb, they don’t take shit from anyone.



Baldwin, the leader of the Squares, wears nice sweaters and follows some grandma around. His girl feels herself drawn to adventure and the virility of Baltimore bad boy, “Cry-Baby” Walker.  When Cry-Baby challenges Baldwin to a chicken race at the film’s climax, he tells the crowd he’s going to sing, “Something hill-billy . . . something colored [6]!” Prissy Baldwin is horrified, but agrees to the race to defend his vestigial honor. In the end, he is proved a chicken, and the girl runs away with her “High School Hellcat.”

Recently, a few bloggers noticed [7] that white men seemed to be less relevant in pop music, but the “wigger” phenomenon is old news. Young white men have been trying to imitate black men for decades.


Because black men run wild and, like the Drapes, they don’t seem to take shit from anyone.  A huge percentage of them may be in jail, but they seem to be free in all of the ways that white men are not. White men ask women for permission, black men tell bitches “who run it [8].” It may be half a pose, but it’s effective.  Delicate, androgynous white men like Coldplay croon in castrati falsetto about their feelings while black men tell us with authority — and at least an octave lower — how they roll and what they gonna do. The numbers may say different, but when it comes to appearances (in the words of Charlie Sheen) black men look like they’re #winning.

Young men want to be winning. They want to show that they’re strong and unafraid. They want to look like they have everything under control. They want to show that they are not the kind of men who get pushed around.

White men and black men may be different, but they’re not that different. In fact, I like white men too much to suggest for a moment that they couldn’t be equally capable of ruthlessness and savagery if push came to shove.

Isn’t it common knowledge that we’re all ruthless, jack-booted bastards waiting step on the neck of any brotha who tries to come up?

Only a few generations ago, the Scots-Irish were tearing each others’ eyes out in the Southern backcountry [9]. Ultimate Fighting was for the most part a white thing until it reached a tipping point in the mainstream media. White men sought it out. They were hungry for it. They were hungry for meat, blood and guts—protein and fat.

White men still want to be winning.

If all the West has to offer them is history, old culture, etiquette, and an inherited sense of superiority—then men will look elsewhere. That’s not enough. Men will look for the group that seems to be winning. They will look for a group that makes them feel strong, unafraid, and capable. They will look for men who are admired by women and feared by men, and they will imitate those men.

When most men write about masculinity, they write about “man in the ideal.” I understand the appeal, but I want to understand man as he is. I believe that if you truly understand man as he is, you’ll have a more realistic vision of all that he can become. The fatal error of the “progressive” American mainstream is that it lies about who man is. The progressive vision of the future is based on a lie about the present.

A better way is to take a cold, hard, unromantic look at the nature of men and build a future that both satisfies their natural appetites and offers an aspirational ideal—a way to be a better man.

I see The Way of Men as a guide for any movement that is willing to be realistic about who men are, and wants to attract the energy and strength of the kind of young men who will ultimately determine its success or failure.

If you want men on your side, you have to appeal to their most basic needs and wants. You need to give them enough protein to survive. Civilized virtues are for the strong and the settled, not for men facing existential threat.

Aristotelian excellences are not for the powerless, starving, untested men treading water as their dying matriarchy sinks into the ocean.

To win the hearts of men, you need to offer them opportunities to show that they are Strong, Courageous, and Competent. You have to give them Honor.

And whatever you do, don’t be the Squares.