Maybe you’ve heard about the book: Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do About It, by Richard Reeves. There’s an interview with Reeves here, and he’s been on a bunch of podcasts too. OF BOYS AND MEN shows that boys and men underperform women in education and, eventually, work. Rates of male suicide are rising; more and more men are doing video games instead of work, socializing, hitting on women, or raising families; rates of obesity and sexlessness are rising; and yet these ideas are getting little play in the legacy media, which is wedded to a narrative of women as helpless, hapless victims of men. In the media, the social power of women is too often wrapped up in victimhood. Although the data have changed, the media narrative hasn’t. What’s going on?
In THE MATRIX, there is a famous scene in which Morpheus tells Neo that some rules can be bent, and others broken. It’s a good scene! We all want to imagine ourselves being the rule breakers, not the dutiful rule followers (who are inevitably presented as boring, droning cucks in legacy media products), but I’m not so sure that this ideology of “breaking good, following bad” is universally good and adaptive. We live in a world with lots of temptations and lots of justifications for seizing those temptations. Temptations are everywhere: high-sugar foods, driving instead of biking, messing around on the Internet instead of learning, arguing with strangers instead of meeting your neighbors, hyper-addictive opioids… the list could go on. I’ve been rolling an idea around in the mind: “What is good for the average or median may not be ideal for the extremes.” This applies to things like education through the school system and, for very smart people, following direction. Some drugs enhance the lives of highly capable of people, while other drugs ruin the lives of those who become addicts. Are “drugs” good, or are they bad? Both, and neither. A key skill in life is figuring out which rules can be bent or broken, and which should be followed. For most people, in most situations, following the rules is probably wise.
The situation is analogous to evolution: most genetic mutations are deleterious… but some are not. The relatively rare positive mutations are in fact vital to the advance of life itself. That is how many rules and principles for living a successful life work, too: they help us channel impulses in productive directions, and most of the time the society’s rules and principles are there to be followed. But the larger media narrative right now is pro-chaos and anti-institutional: it sees oppression everywhere, even though we need some amount of order if we’re going to live successful lives. Indeed, this is one of the fundamental problems of the current social order and we see it from both sides of the political spectrum. Don’t like what you hear or read? “Not real.” Didn’t get the job you wanted? “It’s misogyny, racism, or discrimination.” Nothing is real, in this world view, even as reality is all around us.
We’re seeing millions of guys respond to people like Jordan B. Peterson, David Goggins, and Rob K. Henderson (an essential Substack subscribe), all of whom are not institutionalists, exactly, but all of whom are telling a large number of guys that many basic, classic virtues are good, even though the media and educational system says the opposite. Rules and boundaries are not inherently oppressive.
Before Peterson got hooked on pills in the late 2010s (those pills seem to sadly have destroyed his ability to be articulate, to think, to see multiple sides of an issue, and other capabilities, so I’m not sure he’s good to listen to right now, today), he was a guy who came along and told young guys to do basic, rule-following-type stuff that the Victorians might have recognized: get up, make your bed, clean up your room, go to work, avoid knocking up random chicks who claim they’ve got an IUD, etc. We seem to need to re-learn the basics of rectitude every generation… Goggins has a book telling guys to work hard, get up in the morning, maxx out our capabilities, etc. It’s what I’d call basic life stuff, which many guys aren’t getting from their families. Henderson is writing articles like How I went from troubled foster kid to scholar at Yale and Cambridge (answer: join the military, impose structure on his life, apply his intelligence). While the media narrative is all about destroying structure and institutions, these guys are interested in discipline and success.
But, if you listen to some elite guys, like Balaji, they are all about starting startups, not being part of the herd, identifying new opportunities, not listening to the man, etc. If you are like me, you’ve absorbed a set of ideas that can go by various names, but I’ll call the ideas “anti-institutional” because I don’t know what other term to use. The anti-institutional mindset tells us that schools are factories for drones, that big companies are sclerotic and need to be disrupted, that most people are leading lives of regimented tedium, that freedom is good, that innovation can and should be applied everywhere, that the mainstream narrative is wrong, etc. The Thiel Fellowship is an instantiation of these ideas. The anti-institutional ideas are not wrong, not entirely, and they have some truth in them, but they have some danger in them too. They work best for creative, high IQ, high capability people, and less well for people towards the middle of many character trait distributions.
Elite guys are often right about doing things differently than they’ve been done previously, as a source of growth, innovation, and change. Often, the rules can be bent, or broken. A rule might be something like “companies should make more money than they spend.” This rule is simple and intuitive and, over a long-enough period of time, correct. In ye olden days, some companies would take bank loans for startup costs, but banks are conservative and usually want to get paid back relatively quickly. Smart people eventually realized that one could fund companies without banks, and thus early venture capital firms like Davis & Rock “broke the rules” of company finance. In startup companies, it’s possible in some circumstances to go for long periods of time without making money; Facebook is an example of this, since it took somewhere between six and maybe as many as ten years after its founding to show that it would really really make money.
If you’re in the venture capital or startup business, you want to look for rules that you can bend or break while still succeeding. Most early VCs backed hardware startups; software startups were weird for a long time, and it arguably took until the Internet really took off in the late ’90s for software startups beyond Microsoft and a few others to make sense. VCs make their money by being contrarian. But it’s dangerous or even foolish to be contrarian all the time: if you don’t think working hard is good, you will not succeed. The contrarians almost all have a strong base of knowledge, high IQ, hard work, etc.
For the average and even above-average person, though, it is in fact a good idea to try hard at school and basically do what your teachers tell you to do. Don’t be an automaton but if your teacher is like “The assignment is due at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday,” for most people that is what you should do. Most people are not working out the ideas that will eventually become Ethereum, like Vitalik Buterin. When your manager says, “You have a shift on Thursday from 4:00 p.m. to 8 p.m.”, you should go to the shift. Huge numbers of guys can’t or won’t do this and blow off the basics, then suffer for blowing off the basics. Most of them are not blowing off the basics because they’re geniuses with better things to do… they’re doing it because they’re fools.
Girls are likely doing better than boys in school because they do what they’re told, when they’re told. Their brains mature faster. Hang out with a group of six- or ten-year-old girls, then an equivalent group of boys, and you’ll see, which is why Reeves advocates for “red-shirting” young boys. We have a school-centric society in which doing well matters. Girls are more agreeable, boys less agreeable. “Agreeableness” and conscientiousness are useful in school. Most middle-class jobs today require some school, and most of the guys who don’t do well in school aren’t rebels changing the system like famous dropout Steve Jobs. They’re guys struggling to pay the rent, struggling with life, struggling with themselves and giving in to their own demons.
Most people should also do some form of school after high school, though it should be vocational in nature for many people. To do that, however, demands basic skills like showing up on time, listening, executing instructions, etc. Henderson’s chaotic family upbringing likely denied him the ability to develop and channel those skills. He had to develop them in the Air Force. Look, I’m not a school apologist and many of the high-quality critiques are right. But the critiques are not relevant to the average guy.
There is a sub-plot point in THE MATRIX that you may have forgotten: Cypher is a weasel who betrays his friends, the other humans, to Agent Smith. When he kills a few of the crew, he cites one reason as being that he is stuck only doing what Morpheus tells him to do. But we see no indications that Morpheus is a bad boss, and in fact everything in the movie tells and shows us the opposite. Submitting to honest authority is good. Cypher won’t do that, which is bad. Sometimes it is right to do what you’re told. You know who says “I don’t have to do what you say?” Children. Fair parents reiterate that the child does in fact have to do what the parent says. Children crave discipline and failure to give them appropriate boundaries is a common adult failing today. We see the results of overly permissive parenting everywhere. It’s part of the crisis of masculinity. The military enforces that idea, however, that an individual must do what his superior officers tell him to do. The alternative is to be someone like Cypher, which is usually the wrong thing to do (unless you are, for example, an officer in today’s Russian military, in which case your main duty to your family, your people, and to humanity as a whole is replacing the leadership).
It used to be that society produced and enforced behavioral guardrails (religion served this purpose, for example). Society, parents, family: everyone told young guys to get up in the morning, get to work or school, and make something of themselves. The route to sex went through a girl’s family. Society, parents, and family told girls not to f**k before marriage, to learn useful skills, etc. The ‘60s dismantled many of these guardrails that restrict freedom but also work to reduce the probability of disaster. I don’t want to romanticize this era and obviously the rhetoric was different from life on the ground for many people. For me, the modern era is better in nearly all respects. “Freedom” and “responsibility” are the same thing, however. Lots of people demand freedom while ignoring the “responsibility” that comes in freedom’s wake. Institutions, including religions, exist to strengthen individuals and help individuals overcome our weak, negative impulses. They are not exclusively negative. Strangely, however, the legacy media minimally emphasizes this. Everyone wants to be the rebels, and no one wants to be the empire.
But what happens when the rebels win?
There’s a tie to game in this essay. Guys who do the game successfully and write about it seem to be above-average IQ, reasonably successful in a financial / career sense, but not very successful with women, and they can’t figure out why. Then they get into game, much of which is about how to bend/break some social “rules” intelligently, and they have the smarts to figure out how to apply it, along with the advice about fitness, nutrition, etc. Guys who do this are able to have somewhat long time horizons. A lot of the more successful guys also get into game in their 20s; I’ve heard from some guys who get into it later, often in their mid 30s, and who can’t really execute. They have health or other problems. They don’t have good jobs/living situations. They are the guys who would probably be better off forming a primary relationship and focusing on having a family. No one wants to talk about these guys, but they’re out there.
A lot of guys, I believe, end up in places like this one. Decisions have consequences. Not all poor decisions made while young can be unmade later on. I say this not because I think guys should cower from challenge, but because it’s useful to have a sense of direction in life, and, if the direction you’re currently pursuing stops working, change.
Game is a kind of bending of social rules, and it’s also useful for guys who don’t understand what’s possible. If you’re a guy who only colors inside the lines, who absorbs the ideology of the education system regarding sex relations, who didn’t have masculine role models as a kid (and maybe doesn’t have them as an adult), etc., you’re likely to underperform in your sex life, maybe substantially. The problem, however, is that some guys who are “rebels” in the game sense, over-extend that rebellious impulse to other domains. So we get the conspiracy theorists and others who think that, because institutional opinion is wrong in one domain, it is wrong in many or all domains.
When you read a book like OF BOYS AND MEN, and you read it against a background of guys who do really well in the game, it’s reasonable to wonder why most guys don’t do better than they do. There’s never been a better time to be a player. Women thirst for masculine guys who are assertive but not aggressive, for guys who know how to open, how to flirt, and so on. The knowledge of how to be such a guy is out there, here at Red Quest not least of all. Most guys aren’t bothering to learn any of this, however. The ones who learn, don’t implement. I guess those guys can’t get out of bed in the morning, make their beds, and organize their lives effectively. The ones who can, are reaping the insane rewards of modern life. The ones who can’t, are all around us, showing up in Reeves’ data, living lives of quiet desperation and denial.