What does it mean to be a man? We all know what it means to be a woman: a woman’s purpose in life is to produce a child. For the male, it is less certain. Today, we are told a man is “competent”, “responsible”, “stoical”, and even “empathetic”—really, everywhere there is doubt; and much of this doubt is created for malicious reasons. Here is the correction, to be a man means to take on existential risk: the more existential risk a male faces and overcomes, the more he has become a man. Unlike women, there are, as has been long recognised, males and men; not every biological male becomes a man. In the Iliad, there is a clear division between the warriors—the men—and the males, from whom certain things are not expected. There is nothing inherently wrong with not being a man—though many males will face criticism for failure to become a man—and, indeed, I think that throughout history most males have not become men; however, all males aspire to become a man—whether they achieve this or not.
A man is, therefore, a warrior: this is the highest form of existential risk, to risk your life in defence of the tribe—ultimately, in defence of your family. Women face an involuntary form of existential risk, childbirth; it is the male who faces a choice: he can be a farmer or a trader, a male put simply—or he can voluntarily accept existential risk and become a man. The greater the existential risk a male hazards, the greater man he becomes: the solo conquest of Everest is more manly than doing karate, but karate is more manly than playing a video game. Victory over an enemy or physical objective is desirable but not intrinsic to manliness; we can say, “He died a man.”
The secondary characteristics of manliness are useful for overcoming existential risk: men stand a better chance of survival if they are responsible, competent, reliable, suffer pain without complaint, and so on—yet all of these characteristics can be found in a male. The difference is that the man hazards his life, with the aid of the secondary characteristics. Women will involve themselves in existential risk to seek a man to mate with; but they have no inherent stake in existential risk and nothing to prove, they gain nothing by hazard—it does not make them prettier. A proven capacity to face and overcome existential risk is a demonstration of fitness, since women admire what is close to death—especially that which can inflict death.
Today, certain jobs remain intrinsically manly: a miner, for example, is automatically a man, as is a pilot—other males have to seek existential risk through mountaineering and similar exploits. Manliness is possible for intellectuals, yet this is often bungled. When Salman Rushdie was placed under death sentence for his writings about Muhammad he apologised, converted back to Islam, and asked the British government—whom he previously mocked as “racist”—to protect him. This was not manly. If Rushdie had bought a gun and not apologised then he would have been a man. By contrast, Jordan Peterson acted in a manly way by continuing to put his point of view forward in the face of death threats. Intellectuals attract existential risk through destroying a rival tribe’s idols—an act holy war—and so facing their murderous rage; and a shaman is often immolated by his own tribe if his spells fail. Similarly, scientists can face existential risk through self-experiment—generally the more self-risk, the better the results in any sphere.
Yet it is the warrior in the strictest sense who will always be the archetype of man. This is because life is war and so the person who is best at war in its purest form will be the most manly; even though, like Achilles, they can pout and sulk and be quite unreliable—nothing like the responsible and reliable man celebrated by conservatives.