An Alternative Enlightened Society
“Ah, friend, you too must die: why do you lament like this? Patroclus too is dead, who was far better than you…. Over me too hang death and violent fate. There comes a morning or an evening or some noonday when my life too some man shall take in battle, whether with spear he strike, or with an arrow from the bowstring.” —Achilles, before killing Lycaon, in the Iliad
“You should be able to be a monster, and then not be one.” —Dr. Jordan Peterson
There is an idea that I have been chewing on for some time now. From a Theravada Buddhist point of view it’s a flatly heretical idea, but I chew on it nevertheless. For many people who take Dharma very seriously it may seem counterintuitive even to the point of being utter nonsense—or for some it may even seem obviously evil. Even so, I consider that, overall, it’s no worse than what Dharma has become in the west, particularly as a model for an enlightened or fully civilized society. My idea is that such a society may be radically different from what many nowadays consider to be enlightened. If you read what follows, try to be open-minded.
It is generally taken for granted that a fully civilized or “enlightened” society would be totally peaceful and nonviolent. It is naturally taken for granted as completely obvious that war would come to an end, with swords beaten into plowshares, lions and lambs lying down together, and all that. It may even be assumed that all aggression, competition, and harshness of speech and action, if not of thought, would cease to exist. Militant vegans nowadays might insist that the killing of animals also would necessarily come to an end in any society truly called civilized—and there actually have been cultures in the past, for example in India, in which only the dregs and outcastes of society killed animals and ate meat. Meat, they say, is murder.
Gotama Buddha, probably the one person most responsible for India’s ideal of universal nonviolence, forbade his dedicated followers from harming any living creatures, including worms and insects; and he forbade his ordained monks from harming even plants. Yet, although he certainly did not endorse warfare between nations or tribes, he chose not to declaim against it very much, or the killing of animals for meat either (and in the oldest texts it is suggested that he ate meat himself); he denounced most strenuously, however, as a social evil, the religious practice of animal sacrifice. I assume the Buddha knew full well that denouncing war (or the killing of animals for food) would have been futile; defensive war, at least, was, and still may be, a political necessity, and society in general was not ready or able to be rid of it. Bloody animal sacrifice, on the other hand, was simply being outgrown by the civilization and was ripe for abolishment, so the Buddha acted to speed it along. Whether a Buddha today would insist upon ending all wars and all violence, including wars of self-defense and the killing of food animals and the insects that eat food plants, is doubtable.
Let’s play devil’s advocate and assume for the sake of argument that ending all violence is not necessary for a fully civilized society. I propose that it is not, and that an “enlightened” society may be quite masculine and aggressive, at least with regard to its ideology and social standards. Contrary to politically correct western “elite Dharma,” wisdom is not necessarily feminine, and the heart is not superior to the head. It may be that a culture in which people are instilled with masculine virtues such as fearlessness, unflinching determination, willingness to face danger and even death, willingness to fight for one’s freedom and honor, etc., may be equal in enlightenment and wisdom to a more feminine society based upon compassion, cooperation, sharing, and security for all. And not only might it be equally enlightened, but it might be far superior in promoting the survival and prosperity of the society. It might even be more in accordance with human nature, and thereby more realistic, more plausible, and, in some ways at least, less dysfunctional and more healthy.
A key point to bear in mind is that, in accordance with Buddhist philosophy at least, suffering is always self-inflicted. Let’s say somebody screams abuse in your face and then punches you in the nose. Now, setting aside the Buddhist notions of rebirth and fruition of karma from past actions, etc., we may assume, for the sake of argument, that the pain from the punched nose is involuntary and not self-inflicted. But, that pain is simply a physical sensation, and is not the same as suffering. Any unhappiness experienced from the screamed abuse and the punch in the nose is quite a different thing. Mental suffering or unhappiness, as opposed to physical pain, is a volitional act and is quite literally self-inflicted. Suffering is the direct result not of the pain, much less the screamed abuse, but of the desire for the pain not to happen. Suffering is a state of dissatisfaction with the way things are, a state of unease caused by insisting that reality be different than it is—and if one resists reality, one always loses, and reality always wins. In accordance with the Second Noble Truth, craving is the cause of suffering. So a culturally instilled philosophical understanding of this situation, much reinforced by living a life of mental self-restraint and self-discipline, can much reduce or even prevent the suffering that in a foolish, undisciplined individual would inevitably be the result of that punch in the nose, let alone the mere verbal abuse.
Thus a person brought up in a masculine enlightened culture which teaches the calm acceptance of discomfort and even pain, of harsh realities in general, could accept the aforementioned abuse and even the punch in the nose with a fair amount of composure. However, the person might not necessarily turn the other cheek with lamblike meekness: a fellow in such a culture might calmly demand satisfaction for the offense, with the disagreement resolved in a fight to the death on the “field of honor,” with both parties remaining calm, composed, and dignified, possibly even while one of them is lying on the ground dying of his injuries. Actions in and of themselves are not wise or foolish; it is the accompanying mental states—so wisdom may accompany just about any outward code of conduct, so long as the agents of that conduct remain calm and alert, and not motivated by anger, hatred, or some similar negative emotion.
The point is that a more masculine enlightened society could very well still endorse being friendly, charitable, and magnanimous, but would place great emphasis on a more or less stoic acceptance of pain and even death with fortitude and equanimity. People should be “nice,” but if the other person isn’t, there is no call at all for losing one’s composure and having an emotional meltdown. That in itself could spell disgrace not for the abusive other, but for the weak, hysterical object of the abuse. Inward self-discipline, and one’s conduct regarding oneself, may be rightfully viewed as having greater importance than one’s outward conduct toward others. Although of course both should be respected.
There have been attempts in the past to cultivate such a discipline- and honor-based masculine culture, generally in violent times of the past. Early Republican Rome and medieval Samurai Japan were attempts along these lines. They certainly did not succeed at being truly “enlightened” societies, although neither have more feminine attempts, as far as history can report. The most feminine attempt at Utopia that is known to me is the current fiasco of postmodern Sweden, now the rape capital of Europe, with violent crime rates several times higher, allegedly, than what is found in neighboring countries.
Nevertheless, if people want civilization to progress to the point of being a maximally developed, “enlightened” society, there certainly should be much, much more emphasis on the wisdom of accepting unpleasantness, including death itself, with fortitude and equanimity. The sort of undeveloped emotionality and dysfunction so glorified in postmodern victim culture would be seen in such a “wisdom culture” as pathetically, grotesquely dystopian—and quite a few people, with their numbers increasing daily, see it so even now.
The masculine enlightened society would presumably be based upon some ideological framework like stoicism, and emphasize fearlessness, the dignity and freedom of the individual, and honor, possibly going so far as to adopt a return to dueling and even (voluntary) gladiatorial combat. It would glorify courage and the calm acceptance of an honorable, perhaps even glorious, death. Some sort of military or quasi-military training could play a part in instilling into young men, possibly young women also, the ideals of the culture. All of this would involve a return to a more traditional, more conservative form of morality—not necessarily banning homosexuals, transsexuals, and sexually promiscuous women, but certainly not glorifying them either, unless they could still demonstrate an ability to live up to the “enlightened” ideal of austerity, fearlessness, self-command, and so on, or at least demonstrate their worth in other, socially acceptable ways. Being dysfunctional, marginalized, or otherwise unable to compete in a vigorous patriarchal society would emphatically no longer serve as grounds for special consideration, as it does in feminized, “progressive” societies today.
Nor would women be required by such a society to be masculine, although some toughness and fearlessness would presumably be encouraged. Rather, women would be honored for being feminine in a traditional and biological sense, which would include the now almost obsolescent virtues of modesty and sensual restraint. If a woman is capable of competing with men on a level playing field at traditionally masculine pursuits, then fine; but more women would presumably relearn the profound importance of being a devoted mother and wife, and of being the center and “heart” of a loving home. In other words, men and women would act more in ways that have been archetypal for them for countless millennia—men being protectors of and providers for the family, women being sustainers of it. Yet the system, being a relatively enlightened one, would not be completely rigid, and would allow considerable variation between various individuals.
Obviously, there might still be fighting, even war, within the context of such a society; although it would be best limited to a kind of gentlemen’s way of settling arguments honorably. Possibly war could even be transformed into a team sport, like in the old movie Rollerball. Obviously, in a world as technologically advanced as the one we are inhabiting, any organized aggression between states would have to be limited, as it already is now, and not full-blown nuclear armageddon. Masculine aggressiveness becomes trickier, more complicated, and more dangerous when there is access to nukes, smart bombs, battle robots, nano-weapons, genetically engineered diseases, etc.
Thus the emphasis of the enlightened society’s moral ethic would be not so much on the non-infliction of pain or unhappiness (although a code of honor would restrain one’s behavior to reject wanton cruelty, fighting those who are weak, and so on, as codes of honor have usually done), but more on accepting harshness and pain with fortitude, equanimity, and a sense of honor. If one does not positively forgive evil-doers, at least one receives their evil without hysterical howling and declaring oneself a victim.
The trouble is, that although this sort of rough utopia is quite possible in theory, and no doubt has been portrayed in fiction (including science fiction stories of warlike alien societies), we simply are not going to have an enlightened society composed of unenlightened people. That is always the main reason why utopias don’t exist, and may never exist. People, with few exceptions, are fools; we are quite literally a species of ape. So, what is probably best is to channel our unenlightened destructive urges in a relatively healthy direction, not castrate society to make us all too docile, weak, and timid to do anyone any harm. The latter option, cultural castration, appears to be what the new feminized left prefers; although it is already faltering and demonstrating its inferiority as a replacement for traditional patriarchy: a strong society must be composed of strong citizens.
The masculine alternative enlightened society outlined above is at least as possible in theory as a feminist version would be; and it is preferable to demonizing masculinity altogether and creating a feminized culture based on cultivated compassion, timidity, and weakness (let alone a feminazi reich). But to some degree I’ve just been playing devil’s advocate. Best of all would be a balance of masculine and feminine qualities, and thus a twofold ethic of not harming others, but accepting harm with some philosophical detachment when it occurs to oneself. Thus everyone would have two chances at perfection: the perfection of being good, as well as the perfection of facing evil with fearlessness and equanimity. At any rate it appears that western civilization is lurching away from the glorification of wanton dysfunction preferred by the new left, so the men of the west may find themselves suddenly requiring a robust pair of cojones. We’ll see what happens.