The Rise of Men

by marin mikulic

What is a government?

The Oxford Dictionary defines it as the group of people with the authority to govern a country or state. An unsatisfying definition. Circular. If a government is that which governs, then a blizzard is that which blizzards.

A government is a monopoly on violence. That’s it. Rules and regulations don’t matter if no one enforces them.

Violence is rooted in physical strength. There it finds its most primal expression. It’s the reason gladiators and MMA fighters draw in such audiences. Violence is feral, raw, and tantalising. It is the most direct exercise of government over another human being. Long before we understood ideas of human rights, we understood the threat of violence, injury, and death.

Cain slaying Abel, painted by Peter Paul Rubens

Violence is the language of our history. Violence between individuals, families, tribes, governments, nations, and religions drove most of our progress. We’ve only become ‘civilised’ in the last few centuries. Before that, the world was a hostile place, where living was a shady bet. To be human meant to strive for a monopoly on violence. It paid to be strong. 

And men have physical strength.

No matter whether you look toward Asia, Europe, Africa, or any of the other continents, the tale remains the same. Men in positions of power. Men exercising that power. History is his story, built with physical strength, rooted in violence. 

Women have held a secondary role. It varied from culture to culture, but it was diminished. Subservient to fathers and husbands. Women could not rely on physical strength, education, property, income, marriage, control over her body, suffrage, or equality in the eyes of the law and custom.

This power dis-balance is maybe best summarised in a bit of classic dark humour from The Dictator. When the protagonist Aladeen finds out his wife is with a child, he’s overjoyed and asks:

Is it a boy or an abortion?”
The only reason why there are only men in this important-looking event is our physical strength. (painted by Henning P. Jürgens)

The dis-balance deepened with the discovery of agriculture. Prior to widespread farming, people were a nomadic species that roamed the plains in search of food. Roles were more fluid because nothing was certain. No one had much because there was not much to be had.

This changed once we discovered agriculture. We stopped moving, inhabited a single place, and called it a home. Fields yielded an overabundance of food. We multiplied. First seeds of civilisation took root. 

Thee novel life also invited novel problems. What happens when bad weather destroys the crops? Or when a hostile tribe arrives to the nearby valley? In the nomadic days, the groups could just move. Find a a better place. They were already on the move anyway. Constant migration was a constraint on violence. But you don’t migrate once you've called some place a home. You dig in. Erect defenses. Invent myths. Go out on raids. Wage war. 

War parties demanded men. One reason is our innate physical strength and another is that if a man dies… well, a man has died. If a woman dies, then all the children she might have had die with her. That’s a harder blow to the tribe. This combination of immense value and a lack of physical strength cemented a woman’s role as a secondary being, one that needs protection. One that needs telling what to do.

Returning war parties had the upper hand because they carried food, slaves, land, weapons, gold. Assets and income. They could sell, buy, bargain, and hoard. Women could do none of that. They found themselves in a place of no property, no say, and no obvious road to freedom.

“The challenge to prosperity is precisely that predatory violence does pay well in some circumstances. War does change things. It changes the rules. It changes the distribution of assets and income. It even determines who lives and who dies. It is precisely the fact that violence does pay that makes it hard to control. “ from The Sovereign Individual

In a world where the primary language was direct violence, the women were mute.

Men's monopoly on violence did all the talking. Our sheer physical strength allowed us to enforce any arbitrary opinion. For example, that women are inferior to men. There's no grounds for this opinion, non whatsoever, except physical strength. In the words of John Stuart Mill, the inequality of rights between men and women has no other source than the law of the strongest.

Might is right. A monopoly on violence allows governance. Men governed women because women couldn’t enforce their disagreement, except through other men. Indirect means, secondary role, one which was forced to preoccupy itself with the wants and wishes of men.

Now, should the tables have been reversed? Women in power and men subjugated? Would our history have been better?

Maybe, maybe not. There’s no way to tell. We’ve never run that experiment. At most, we've proven that we can survive under a man’s governance, but there’s change in the air. The tables are reversing. Women are stronger, bolder now, abandoning old definitions of womanhood.

The repercussions are impossible to ignore.  More men see that being capable of violence does not justify being violent. The voice of women is no longer mute. Yesterday it was muffled, today it’s clearer, and tomorrow… well, who knows what tomorrow brings? My wager is that women will develop into a center of power, of gravity.

A genuine counterpart to the male one.

Queen of Hearts, painted by Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh

History is replete with examples of men in power, both when it amounts to good and when it doesn’t. Women will increasingly find themselves in similar positions. When faced with choices of their male predecessors - war, pollution, science, religion, sacrifice, corruption, altruism, hate, envy, support, compassion, violence, discussion - what will women in power do?

What a question! There’s not a man on this planet who doesn't feel the ground shifting. Things changing, skin prickling.

And why? Because history is indelible. Every choice leaves a mark, and the mark of men is a troubled one. Like children caught in mischief, we now look around, trying to predict the consequences of our actions. The question “What will my parents do now that they’ve found me out?” changes to “What will women do now that they’ve found us out?”.

If women opt for the age-old rule of an eye for an eye… well, that’s one way to regress. Yes, men will be hurt by this, but so will women. They will have gambled away a chance to prove history could have been different, better, more compassionate. Men will hurt and women will too - morally.

And if women reject retribution and focus on mutual benefit, they will have proven the choices of men weren’t unavoidable. And that will hurt beyond measure… for who can bear being proven misguided? Only a healthy ego, one that can realize it's mistakes, learn, and rise again.

Which brings me to the title of this essay - The Rise of Men. I intend this in the sense of boats on the water, not as nostalgia after a patriarchy lost (to paraphrase Milton’s Paradise Lost).

The rise of men is unavoidable should women rise because a rising tide lifts all boats.

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