On Manual Work for Men

Those who rule us seek to stamp out masculinity. Over the past
several decades their attacks have been wildly successful, as a glance around you will show. True, in some families, boys are still raised to be men. But when they leave home, the never-ending attacks of the feminizers pick off many, because in every area of mainstream American life, masculine behavior is anathemized and punished. Only those willing to pay heavy personal costs can defy this never-ending coercion. Some men resist, and some even reverse the indoctrination, discovering and adopting masculinity on their own—although without broader social support and traditions, such self-taught men run the risk of caricaturing masculinity. What we need is a mechanism for any man, at any age, to begin centering and cultivating real, well-rounded, durable masculinity. Fortunately, such a mechanism is readily available and teachable—taking up tool-based manual work.

We will come to precisely what this means, and how it is to be done. First, however, I want to talk about two false solutions to feminization. The first is sportsball, often suggested as beneficial for boys, and believed to be masculinizing by many. This is a mirage. That sportsball for boys is still generally socially acceptable, even admired, and that the soccer mom, sister to the wine aunt, is a well-known archetype, should be clues that today’s sportsball is a trap and a distraction from activities that actually turn boys into men. True, boys, who naturally seek competition, are often interested in playing games. And certainly informal, pickup sports should be encouraged as tending to strengthen and develop the masculine virtues of agency, absorbing hurts, and independence. But no organized sport today is actually masculinizing. Because they involve massive time and money commitments from the entire family, they create a focus on the child himself which erodes independence, and in fact removes agency from the boy. Worse, in most or all organized sports, masculinity is directly curbed, by deliberate actions to reduce aggressive competition and the development of natural hierarchy, even often by requiring girls to be permitted to play on the same teams as boys. No, sports is not the solution; no future wars will be won on today’s equivalent of the playing fields of Eton.

[This article was published last year in the journal Man’s World. It is reprinted here for those who may have missed it, and I am also including, for the first time for this piece, audio and video versions. The popular Man’s World is edited by the pseudonymous Raw Egg Nationalist (who can be found here on Twitter).]


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A second false solution is for parents to choose the “right” school and expect masculinity to be inculcated. Perhaps avoiding the public schools, and choosing a nice private school? Nope, that’s not enough. Any boy who is not homeschooled (and even many of those) will be subject to a torrent of feminization. Private schools in general are no better, and often worse, than public schools. Even classical academies, or similar traditional schools, to which readers of this magazine likely gravitate, while vastly better than the average public or private school, are badly infected. In part due to legal fears and in part due simply to cultural osmosis, most have, perhaps without realizing it, adopted what forty years ago would have been regarded as insane levels of feminization. They insist little boys adopt the habits of little girls, for example sitting quietly and agreeably, and not pretending that sticks are guns (or even playing with sticks at all), or acting independently in any way. They assume that the goal for all children is to exude feminine kindness and to achieve consensus. They reject the creation of hierarchy determined by ritualized combat, when failure to achieve such a hierarchy is tremendously destructive. No doubt there are a few exceptions, and little of this is malicious in the way it is in the public schools. And no doubt every child should attend such a classical school, or be homeschooled, in preference to the alternatives. But even when they try to inculcate masculinity, they usually fail. Classical schools, for example, often teach excellent works such as Roger Lancelyn Green’s King Arthur, in an effort to suggest that chivalry is an ideal to which to aspire. That’s good—but it again shows the problem, for what such schools usually focus on as chivalry is obligations and traditional defined roles for boys, which benefit women, rarely obligations or defined traditional roles for women, which benefit men. It is not masculinity, and the proper roles and partnership between men and women, they teach, but a distortion of both.

A reader may object that he, or his children, or men he knows, are masculine, because they play sports without the defects of many organized sports (say mixed martial arts, although even there they allow women, repulsive and unnatural ones, to participate), or serve in the military, or are CrossFit aficionados. Maybe, and to some extent, it is true those activities are inherently masculine activities. Certainly, in comparison to men, women don’t really play sports, they can’t be actual soldiers, and they can’t perform notable physical feats, so such activities, done as they are meant to be done, can only be done by men. But being masculine is a multifaceted thing, not a narrow thing. Although I have a great deal of sympathy for “sun and steel,” the program associated with Bronze Age Pervert, and exercise is important, physical exertion as the chief focus of masculinity tends to narcissism and solipsism. As to soldiering, vast swathes of the military are entirely feminized. Even if a man is a Seal Team Six member, which I will agree is pretty masculine, more masculine even than me, killing other people is again a narrow, and not cost-free, manifestation of masculinity, and inadequate even for that man, much less men in general, to build a well-rounded masculine life in society. A man is a man most of all when he is firmly embedded in society, whatever the visceral attraction of being Conan the Barbarian.

So what to do? The key is to realize that a natural tendency of boys and men, which sharply distinguishes them from girls and women, is their desire to create, and to be fulfilled by creating, lasting objects to be productively used, to create functional solutions to problems in the real world, and to offer those solutions to others. Philosopher Matthew B. Crawford (the apostle of manual work for men, and you should read all his books, especially if you want a more exhaustive, philosophical treatment of the topic of manual work), notes that such work “is meaningful because it is genuinely useful.” Making real things in the real world confers power, knowledge and wisdom; it is a fulfilment of men’s desire for agency in relation to the physical world, as distinct from the feminine desires to nurture and empathize. Therefore, to reclaim and rebuild masculinity, we should aggressively support men’s work in creating real things out of real materials. Instead, however, even men aware of the problem spend much of their priceless time on pointless fillers—very often watching others play sportsball and playing computer games, both nearly totally worthless activities.

The tool-based manual arts, what might also be called mechanics or craft, are not only firmly based in reality, but entirely revolve around typically masculine traits, such as problem solving, competition, and objectively demonstrating competency and prowess. They also often involve some danger (it is no surprise that all the most dangerous trades are utterly dominated by men). We should sharply distinguish between such arts, such craft, and what are commonly called “crafts”—silly art projects with cut paper and glue. Neither men nor boys have any interest in the manufacture of such decorative, superfluous items. The female hobby of scrapbooking is viewed as a female hobby for a reason. Instead, boys should be permitted to, and encouraged to, and men should choose to, work with tools—tools that are sometimes dangerous—to create physical objects, not primarily for aesthetic reasons, but rather for functional reasons (although both aims can be accomplished in a single object, and the creation of some purely aesthetic objects, such as sculpture, is not necessarily incompatible with masculinity).

Function is the dividing line, though not often acknowledged, between what men and women want to do. Any parent sees this immediately. Little boys want to play with tools and trucks that do things; little girls want to play with dolls and pretty things, that reflect their nurturing and creative nature. Any parent who says this is not a general rule is simply a liar—there are exceptions, but that usually shows a problem with the boy or girl, not an indifferent difference. A little thought shows why this is the dividing line—men want to accomplish, to have something tangible they can point to. And they thereby want to show their work, and themselves, superior to others. Women do not have this same drive—their similar energy is devoted, although it is fashionable to deny this, to children, the tangible contribution to the world that only women can create, and flowing from that, to creativity in general not as function or competition, but as an end in itself.

How can we execute a broad societal turn to manual work, to mechanics and craft, for boys and men? For boys, it is a question of providing exposure and opportunity. For men kept from manual work as boys, and needing remedial development, that is also necessary, but men also face the question of whether they will earn their daily bread by manual work, or pursue it as a side avocation. Some men are best suited to earn a living by their minds; there is no dishonor in being a history professor, or a software engineer (as long as the work produced is not socially destructive, as is a great deal of both history teaching and software creation today). Thus, for each man the path is likely to be different. The key is that each man must spend time creating functional objects with tools.

We would certainly all be better off if most men did not go to college, which generally is a finishing school for feminization, and instead spent much or most of their time in manual work (even if that is ultimately not how they make a living). For now, however, because manual work for pay is regarded as less socially prestigious, and assortative mating means that a man harms his chances of finding a decent wife by not pursuing a useless, or socially-negative, job involving desk work and a future as a pasty, fat, feminized man, most men will keep going to college. Maybe in the future this will end; we can hope. The only clear rule is that manual work cannot be omitted, whatever else a young man is doing.

The first step is for parents to aggressively push tool-based creative activities to boys, and only to boys, not to girls. Parents should invest in tools that assist boys to follow their particular interests as they become apparent; most basic tools are quite cheap (here the easy availability of cheap Chinese products is helpful, although hopefully soon such goods will be entirely barred from American markets). Manual work should not be optional for boys, but required from very early years. Sharply limiting any use of electronic devices is crucial here; digital platforms not only waste time, but the passive “fun” they offer encourages a retreat into unreality, and is thus the very opposite of masculinity, which requires actively facing and dealing with the world as it is. Unless parents set their boys on the right path, life will be exponentially harder for their boys later.

In all schools, shop class covering core types of tool work should be restored, expanded, and made mandatory (and single-sex). For those homeschooling or attending a not-well-heeled classical academy, a shop, with instructors, can be created and shared, formally or informally, by groups of parents themselves. You cannot learn only from books; as Crawford discusses in his works, well-executed manual work is largely the result of tacit knowledge gained from direct experience with the relevant materials. But an extensive library of books, electronic versions if necessary, though preferably physical, should also be obtained to allow both a survey of possible activities and basic learning about methods, prior to actually laying hands on tools.

Many different types of manual work are possible, and each boy and man will likely gravitate to some over others. Working with wood is an easy entry into such work; here especially materials and tools are very inexpensive and readily available. For some, this will tend to forms that are both functional and potentially beautiful, such as whittling, carving, or sculpture. For others, it will tend more towards craft, the production of items such as chairs, tables, or trebuchets. This variation is true of all tool work. Working with metal, whether fabrication such as welding or precision metalworking, is another possibility—more costly in terms of tools and materials, but also more functional and valuable in certain instances, and something that allows an endless stretching of the mind. Working with the natural world, plants or animal husbandry, is a third, quite different type of manual work—and, being largely conducted outdoors, one that many men likely prefer to working inside a building. But this only scratches the surface of the options, from masonry to engine building to gunsmithing to glasswork.

With manual work, differences in skills, whether inherent or merely due to the level of experience, are easily accommodated. Those who are especially talented will likely be attracted to work that requires high skill, such as precision metalworking that requires complex mathematics. Those who are less talented, or simply have less ability to devote time to developing necessary skills, can choose work that has a shallower learning curve. We should remember, however, that as Crawford often points out, all manual work with tools, without exception, is cognitively demanding and engages (and therefore enhances) our capacities. Those who have or acquire great skill can achieve true excellence. But the feeling of accomplishment, of self-reliance, of being on the path to mastery of the physical world, comes to any man doing manual work, even if he is not a Michelangelo of metal or wood.

To be sure, manual work by itself is not a complete solution to the failing of masculinity in today’s world. It is necessary but not sufficient. The positive virtues of masculinity include others beyond self-reliance, the creation of order, and the handling and use of physical things. They also include, for every man, physical bravery ranging towards aggression; protection at any cost of his family, friends, and others deserving of protection; provision for his family; and bold, quick action. Those virtues must also be acquired. But manual work is key for men, and not for women, because there is little overlap at all between manual work and the feminine virtues: nurture; kindness; grace; empathy for people and creatures; the creation and formation of life; counsel before action; cooperation; and passing wisdom down through the generations. Together, in different measure for different people, across the whole range of humanity, all these virtues form the coherent human whole, a functioning society, to which each person contributes what he or she does best. For men, regular manual work takes them at least halfway to fulfilling their obligations in reaching this goal.

Moreover, the pursuit of manual work has social benefits beyond building masculinity. In a world where manual work dies or is denigrated, the result is a more general societal degradation, the creation of a world drained of ties to reality, abandoning the search for excellence and ignoring the link between competency and actual achievement. Part of this degradation is shown by our throwaway culture and consumerism, which is necessarily opposed to manual work, because we become used to a disconnect between our desires and how they are satisfied, intermediated by fake money earned by fake jobs. Pushing back on these falsehoods helps restore our society. And, most importantly, manual work teaches every one who performs it that there is a Truth (in Crawford’s words again) against which our wishes are irrelevant. The natural, material world always sets limits. The recognition of what is reality is the most important matter for a decent society, and the axis along which our current clown society fails the most. Working with our hands makes us realize that we are not autonomous, but rather dependent on much that is outside us; it is therefore an attack on Enlightenment pseudo-emancipation that has been so destructive for our society. Therefore, by making our boys men, and turning our men back to masculinity, in more than one way we help rebuild our future, each time we pick up a tool with the aim of creating a functional item.


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