The Alt Right’s infatuation with white nationalist fantasies of utopia is widely recognized and decried, because even those who quietly harbor racist tendencies know that openly assenting to racism is Not Nice, and the best way to deflect criticism for lite racism is to throw up one’s hands in horror at overt racism. This is most easily accomplished when one can point to toothless hicks flaunting confederate flags, but now we have white nationalists in fancy suits, and they too must be denounced – even if it’s just virtue-signaling, or deflection.
But another facet of the fantasy that has gained far greater acceptance, and not only covertly, is male dominance. Many who claim to distance themselves from the racism and the nationalism openly embrace the Alt Right’s ideals of male supremacy, perhaps imagining that these ideals can easily be peeled away from the larger narrative of supremacy – or, perhaps, not really caring that they can’t.
The intertwining of white supremacist with male supremacist attitudes has a long, unpleasant history. And that it carries on today is apparent in one of the most commonly utilized Alt Right slurs: “cuck”, a derogatory term for a male who is deemed weak, has racist overtones, drawn as it is from the usage of the jolly old term “cuckold” to designate the role, in porn, of a white man who lets his female partner have sex with a man of color. A “cuckservative” is a conservative who is too nice to liberals, social justice warriors, feminists, Muslims, or anyone else whom a Real Man would not hesitate to kick into a ditch.
The prejudice is clear: a Real Man is a White Man, and he will respond with manly, glorious violence in defense of pure white womanhood.
Or at least, with manly, glorious, internet insults.
Because, yes, the average Alt Right chappie is playing at machismo in his own safe spaces. Yes, he needs a nap, and a submissive woman to tend to his needs, and never to disagree with him, because that hurts his feelings. But even if he really were the Great White Superman he tries to project – bench-pressing 5,ooo and eating a raw bull for breakfast every morning before ejaculating a stream of white super-babies into the stratosphere – most of us would probably just roll our eyes, and hum Gaston’s song from “Beauty and the Beast.” It’s like the guy with the giant souped-up truck with unnecessarily huge tires. He thinks he’s cool. We think he’s compensating.
While white nationalism is more obviously terrifying – especially for those of us in demographics specifically targeted – obsession with a masculine ideal is more difficult to combat, rooted deeply as it is in the loam of the Western imagination. Think of Achilles, dragging Hektor behind his chariot. Think of David, threatening to slaughter every man amongst his foes who “pisseth against a wall.” We admire Achilles, and David, but they belong in their time. Attempts to resuscitate them would lead, quite frankly, to acts of sociopathic mass murder.
The early Christians, driven by the flame of charity, followed Christ instead of Achilles, but Achilles came creeping on back, less admirable – and less honest, because no longer can he beat his breast and shout aloud his rage; he has to deck himself out in Christian rhetoric, preen with a thin veneer of Christian virtue.
And because male supremacy was already enshrined dubiously in our tradition, the less militantly anti-Christian elements in the Alt Right have cozied up nicely with a species of right-wing Christian who ought to know better.
Taylor Marshall, for instance, who apparently has a PhD in philosophy, but contributes to the “Maccabee Society” – which on top of a plethora of other idiocies, blatantly misuses the term “husbandry.” Or maybe they think being married to a woman is one and the same with “the care, cultivation, and breeding of crops and animals”? – writes such passages as:
Are alpha’s (sic) an accident of nature or can a man actually study the “arts of manliness” and assume alpha characteristics? Most men assume that alpha-ness can be acquired or approximated by discipline, practice, and self-improvement. But what is being alpha?
He goes on, in his article, to equate alpha male-hood with breeding capacity:
Nature awards the title of alpha to the man who can persuade a high level female to make the investment to bear and rear his genetic progeny – his children. If you pick up a 9/10 in Hollywood Hills and she later aborts your unwanted child, that’s not really a display of alpha-ness. It translates to the woman saying: “You are not worthy of having a baby with me.”
The Final Goal of Being Alpha: Successful Progeny
The laws of attraction between men and women establish the natural outcome of more humans. For humans in the state of nature, the pater familias or patriarch is the alpha. If we want to define alpha-ness, we must look at the finality or goal of being alpha. The goal is successful children. That’s alpha.
Wait, what? Aside from the really disturbing rhetoric of eugenics (because, I suspect Marshall is not thinking of Muslim or Black men who have large families – his Islamophobia is well documented) – what about priests? What about religious? What about men who never marry? What about men who find themselves unable to reproduce, or married to women who are unable to reproduce? What if, for whatever reason, a man and his wife opt to have a smaller family?
This was certainly not what I learned in my philosophy classes, even on an undergrad level, where it was recognized that the human person is not a means to an end, but an end in oneself – that the person has intrinsic value and must never be regarded instrumentally – that the dignity of the person inheres in deep, incommunicable “thisness,” not in any passing outward characteristics of the sort that might make one ratable as a “9/10.”Steve Skojec, another Alt Right Catholic with similar tendencies, but worse manners, has been throwing around the “alpha” language (and cuck, of course) on Twitter. While different right-wing males may define the Alpha concept differently, they are very eager to keep the concept alive – preferably in a way that will allow them to fit into it.
While I’m not especially interested in engaging with these fellows, I do want to address this idea of the “Alpha Male” in the context of our Christian faith.
First of all, there is really no such thing as an “Alpha” among humans, at least in the sense derived from animal behavior. And it may not even be relevant for animal behavior:
…unfortunately for the PUAs and other manospherians the notion of the Alpha male is based on bad science. The notion of Alpha dominance, as the definition above notes, came originally from studies of wolf packs. Even if we assume that wolf behavior is somehow a good model upon which to base our understanding of human romance – as manosphere men and evolutionary psychologists tend to do – the science behind the Alpha male wolf has now come completely undone, with many of those who promulgated the theory in the first place decades ago now explicitly repudiating it.
The problem, you see, is that the studies underlying the notion of the alpha male wolf, who aggressively asserts his dominance over beta males in order to rule the pack, were all based on observations of wolves in captivity. In the real world, wolf packs don’t work that way at all. Most wolf packs are basically wolf families, with a breeding pair and their pups. When male pups reach adulthood, they don’t fight their fathers for dominance — they go out and start their own families.
Which would seem to lead us back to Marshall’s thesis, except that – again – humans are not wolves; human social structures are entirely different from wolf pack structures; you can’t abstract “alpha male” from its broader context in the fabric of wolf social organization, and plop it down into human social organization, any more than you could plop it down in feline or equine social organization (for one thing, in many horse herds, it’s a mare at the top of the “pecking order”).
Once one begins looking at the complex interactions that go into creating types of dominance even in a single animal community, it becomes apparent that there’s almost no point in talking about alpha males at all. It’s too sloppy a term. We could talk about aggressive men, socially dominant men, sexually dominant men, men who produce a lot of offspring, man who actually care for their offspring – so we’ve gone a progress, basically, from Christian Grey to Jim Gaffigan.
Secondly, unless you want to define and redefine and twist the concept until it has no consistent designation, the idea of the alpha male has no place in the Christian ethos. The end goal of a man is not to dominate, rule, overpower, fight, or have the most sex – it’s not to reproduce the most “successful” progeny with a hot pale-ish sort of female. The end goal of a man is the same as that of a owman, and that is to follow Christ – down a path which has nothing to do with worldly accolated, principalities and powers.
This should be especially apparent during Holy Week. The Son of God emptied himself and took the form of a slave. He rode into the Holy City, not on a warhorse, but on a tiny donkey. He gave his back to the smiters. He could have called down hosts of angels to protect him, but he didn’t. He told Peter to put up his sword, and instead of destroying his enemy, he healed his enemy.
A pop Nietzchean analyst would respond: yeah, because Christianity is for weaklings. Slave morality! Ressentiment!
While the pop Nietzschean has a point, with respect to some elements of a watered-down Christianity – especially when it comes to creeping Gnosticism – this has nothing to do with Christ, nor with the genuine call to follow Christ, into a realm beyond the dominant / submissive binary, into the dimension in which freedom is love, and power is gift.
Outside the power binary, one does not fret about whether or not one is dominant, testing one’s potency through control over others. It’s not even about recognizing that with great power comes great responsibility: that’s a phase of what Kierkegaard would term “the ethical”, yes, but we’re talking about something that transcends this – the religious. Here we move beyond the idea of goodness as simply moral goodness – virtue – and step into the glow of the numinous, the goodness of being itself. It’s a kind of falling in love, perhaps, with all of creation – as God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.
God, the omnipotent, came not to rule but to serve. With this in mind, there are many excellent conversations we can have about power, types of power, power and responsibility, power and gender, illicit power, right rule – but, talking about whether or not one is an alpha is just silly. It’s like, if I were to make a fish-face in the mirror and wonder: “am I an “it” girl?” Even if it turns out that I am (and, I’m not) – this has pretty much nothing to do with my vocation as a Christian.
(Postscript: two friends just pointed out that I missed a perfectly good opportunity to note that while Jesus is not AN alpha, he is THE Alpha and Omega – in the realm of the numinous, indeed.)
image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alpha_male_(712)_of_the_Canyon_pack_in_the_Lower_Geyser_Basin_(cropped).jpg