[The following is not based in any social or behavioral science, but merely represents the guesswork of an undereducated blowhard with a blog.]
I’ve been thinking a bit about societal roles of late; not so much that it gives me a headache (economic theory accomplishes that), but enough to prompt me to organize some of my ideas.
Philosophically, I think I’d describe myself as a progressive traditionalist (yes, I’m aware of the contradiction) — meaning, I believe that the abstract principles of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity are realized by consistent social pressure and the necessary adjustment of law. On the other hand, I think those societies that have lost touch with the eso/exoteric wisdom of the past are condemned to the kind of existential malaise and empty materialism so prevalent in post-industrial nations such as the US.
But this post is about “masculinity” — particularly as defined by those who like to put people into tidy categories. Now, before we get to it, keep in mind that I believe that it’s absolutely essential to allow everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, their Constitutional right to pursue happiness (and this means marrying whoever they damn well please). Yet I also think that there have been important shifts in heterosexual male self-identification, and they haven’t all been positive. Luckily, The Contrarian is here to help qualified straight men transcend dude-brah and wuss archetypes.
Traditional behavioral assignments for heterosexual males follow (possibly flawed) logic familiar to canine breeders. Meaning, most fellas in a society are commonly grouped into “alpha” or “beta” categories. Now, we all know the supposed traits of the alpha: Leadership, fearlessness, aggression, protectiveness, etc. The beta essentially functions as the alpha’s shadow, taking on support obligations that, while probably essential to a functional society, don’t score him a lot of points with the pack (or with the ladies, for that matter).
This is bullshit.
Although there may well be such a type as the “alpha male,” what many assume to be beta traits are actually “kappa” characteristics. In my view, kappas constitute the majority of heterosexual males one might encounter on any given day. Kappa males feel more comfortable being called “boys” rather then men (irrespective of their actual age), and are prone to starting “indie” bands. They represent the cultural fallout from the Alan Alda “sensitive male” explosion of the 1970s, which elicited a temporary backlash in the “alpha-is-everything,” Wall Street-dominated culture of the 1980s. (It can be argued that the alpha male never really goes away; he just finds different outlets for his energies, including date rape and fantasy football leagues.)
A true beta does not evince the namby-pamby, go-with-the flow qualities of the kappa male majority, nor the brash, “go with mah gut” style of the alpha minority. Betas are as capable — perhaps more so — of affecting outcomes and achieving aims as their alpha counterparts, they just do so much less noisily. Betas prefer seduction to swagger, insight to instinct, strategy to belligerence and will steal your woman and make it up to you by cheerfully offering advice on how to avoid such a situation in the future. Betas use alphas where appropriate, often identifying the proper mouthpiece for their ideas. Betas can be charismatic and funny, and often make effective public figures. But if given a choice between the spotlight and achieving desired ends, they’d choose the latter every time. Karl Rove is a beta; Dubya is an alpha. Suffice it to say, betas make excellent intelligence professionals and, at their most extreme, have been know to start religions or cults (probably as an overreaction to perceived alpha competition.)
Despite their natural gifts, betas have many less-than-desirable characteristics. They tend to over-think things, considering all angles before deciding on a course of action. They are inclined to compromise, at least superficially, which may lead people to question their loyalty or integrity. They are more prone to vanity than their alpha counterparts (believe it or not), which can color their decision-making. They have a tendency to view people as merely pieces on a chessboard, which, despite noble intentions, can lead to ugly consequences (see Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger).
With Barack Obama in the White House, we are witnessing a kind of “coming out” for beta males. Actually, I’d go as far as to say that Obama is the “alpha” beta (which looks confusing, now that I type it).
Lord knows, I’m sick of the over-representation of kappa males in popular entertainment, from movies to music. But there may be a silver lining. With betas again appearing in positions of prominence (particularly within the Obama administration), young fellas struggling to behave like kappas because a), they know they’re not alphas, and b), girls think Michael Cera is adorable, should feel more comfortable letting their beta flag fly.
On behalf of my beta brothers everywhere, I salute.