Men under fire in a new book called ‘Manthropology,’ which says modern males are weak sisters compared to earlier versions.
By Dave Shiflett
Have men gone limp?
Totally so, according to “Manthropology,” in which author Peter McAllister argues that contemporary men are a faint shadow of their shaggy forebears.
Modern man, he declares in his first sentence, is “the worst man in history.” A thorough indictment, though not every reader will be convinced.
Mr. McAllister is an entertaining writer whose book is full of interesting information, especially regarding male-sponsored mayhem.
In a section on initiation rights, for example, he dismisses modern-day “blood pinning,” in which military insignia are jabbed into soldier’s chests, as minor league at best. The Sambian men of New Guinea, he notes, initiated their young by jamming cane splints up their nostrils, vines down their throats, and slitting their privates with bamboo blades.
Similarly, while we cringe at waterboarding, it’s pure affection compared to the 17th century Native American practice of not only scalping victims but “heaping hot coals onto their scalped heads.” Which in turn is nothing compared to the attentions lavished on an ancient Christian named Apphianus, who was racked for 24 hours, scourged so hard “his ribs and spine showed, and then had his feet soaked in oil and burned to stumps.”
On a vaster scale, Mr. McAllister writes that recent wars are comparatively wimpy. While World War II killed 3 percent of the world’s 1938 population, the 17th century’s Thirty Years War took out 30 percent of Germany’s people. Which was not all that impressive when compared to the brutality of Genghis Khan’s son Tolui, who killed nearly every inhabitant of Merv in Turkmenistan, then the world’s largest city: as many as 1.3 million were butchered. All told, Mr. McAllister writes, the Mongols killed as many as 60 million people during their 90 year reign. “Al Qaeda and its affiliates,” he adds with something of a sneer, “succeeded in killing 14,602 people worldwide in 2005.”
All true enough, though by some readings Mr. McAllister is describing a positive development.
He also roughs up modern soldiers, noting that Army recruits are required to run only 12 miles in four hours compared to Wu Dynasty soldiers in the sixth-century BCE, who did 80 mile runs without a break. Then again, one scrawny grunt armed with a mini-gun could hold off all the ancient armies combined with one hand while downloading porn with the other. If the ultimate mission is to get the killing done, modern soldiers have plenty of the right stuff.
He also sees decline in the world sports. “Ultimate fighting,” Mr. McAllister writes, is “a ridiculously safe form of combat” when compared to Olympic boxing back in the good old days – 490s BCE – when a boxer named Cleomedes killed his opponent Iccus “by driving his hand into his stomach and disemboweling him.” Yet who misses that, or post-game revelries such as the 532 CE “victory” riot in Constantinople, led by charioteer Porphyrius, which claimed some 30,000 lives?
Roy E. Baumeister, another male writer, is not ready to lower the Y-chromosome to half-staff. In his feisty “Is There Anything Good About Men?” he argues that men have been “exploited” by the cultures they have created, which consider them much more “expendable” than women.
This is reflected not only in wartime casualty rates. While men tend to hold the highest levels of power in politics and business, they also die more often in work-related accidents, make up the bulk of the prison population and for the most part are supremely disadvantaged when it comes to sex.
Women, Mr. Baumeister writes, don’t pay for sex because “they don’t have to. Women can get sex for nothing. Men usually can’t.” He notes that when women offer themselves to male celebrities, men often jump at the opportunity. When men do the same to women celebrities, they might expect a visit from the security detail.
Mr. Baumeister, a professor of psychology, writes with a hopeful air, insisting that while men and women are different they are also able to create partnerships based on complementary skills and that men are willing to share power. And so merrily we’ll roll along, perhaps toward ever-better days.
Both books leave the impression, perhaps not intentionally, that while mistakes have been made things could be far worse. Mr. McAllister points out that rapper 50 Cent has composed some 6000 lines while Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey” contain 27,803. While this is offered as proof that contemporary bards are no match for the ancients, aren’t 6000 lines of 50 Cent enough?
And, all told, aren’t men much better off these days?
Mr. McAllister answers the question at book’s end by envisioning a male Homo erectus from 1,000,000 BCE plucked off the African plain and plunked down at a NASCAR event. By his reading the visitor would be horrified by the wimpy moderns and bellow (if he could indeed speak) “My sons, my sons, why have you forsaken me?”
Yet there is an alternate view. If ancient erectus were told his “sons” had driven to the event at 70 miles per hour in cars outfitted with a televisions and satellite radios; that they lived in climate-controlled houses whose refrigerators are full of steaks from Argentina, sausages from Germany and wine from France (none of which comes with a side order of intestinal parasites); and if he knew they would bedding down with wives who smelled nothing like his missus, whose olfactory signature is frightfully close to that of a decomposing pig, then he’d likely bellow, “My sons, you have found the Kingdom of Heaven!”
And, comparatively speaking, he’d be right.
Dave Shiflett posts his journalism and original music at Daveshiflett.com
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