In 2010, Paul Elam penned a stunning piece. It is only in recent months that the full significance of his words illuminated themselves for me. I feel that it is his greatest ever work.
The article is, of course, The plague of modern masculinity. In it, he outlines the traditional notions of masculinity in terms of alpha, beta and omega, and charts the road that this has taken us down in recent times.
They [young men] have come of age in a time of coerced impotence, their nascent masculinity gutted and stripped long before having the opportunity to shape their character and their destiny. In that they are suffering from the loss of things never held, from things missing but never known. They are, quite literally, a lost generation of the walking wounded, wandering blindly from a battlefield on which they never knew they stood.
In that light, the path they are on is not really a road to manhood, but simply a retreat from the effacing malice woven into the very fabric of their developmental lives. And it takes them not to safe ground, but directly into a dismal culture of shallowness and self-indulgence; a realm of options without obligations; of self-gratification without self-awareness or self-discipline. It is the death march of the western male, destined for a withering end ensured by intellectual, psychological and moral atrophy.
This aimless, narcissistic existence is a forced escape from lives shrouded in shame; from manhood being reduced to an evolutionary joke in the eyes of a culture that holds it in contempt, even as the elders deny it is happening. With the wholesale whitewashing by society and abandonment by the fathers more or less complete, the newly (de)engineered young man is all but defenseless against this downward spiral into terminal insignificance.
In the final section, Paul Elam gives us an alternative to alpha, beta and omega with “zeta” — named after the star Zeta Persei with the mythological figures of Perseus and Athena as its emblems.
Perseus had a remarkable talent for slaying archaic monsters, Medusa the Gorgon among them, who as a mortal woman possessed great beauty, and was self enamored and struck with the power of her sexual allure until she was turned into a hideous monster by Athena, who later used her severed head as a weapon on her shield.
With regard the traditional categories of masculinity, I am not personally omega or beta. I have never been a follower. I’m sure as hell that I’m not alpha either. I can say that clearly now, and give two reasons:
- The idea of status and its symbols have always been meaningless to me. I have never sought to ascend some dominance hierarchy. This has meant, I realise, that I have never attracted certain kinds of women. Many may see this as a weakness, but for me it was all well and good. In any case, there has never been a shortage of more interesting and exotic women. All came with affection, which is something I often see lacking in the relationships of alpha males.
I am open with my personal flaws and emotions. An alpha would never ever do this because, again, it is generally regarded as a weakness in men. It is true that this has caused me some discomfort in the past. Far from being a weakness, however, I’ve come to regard it as a strength which allows me to do and be things that others will not.
The idea of detaching oneself from the dominance hierarchy appealed to me and I have, in the past, self-identified as MGTOW. I am attracted to the concept of autonomy and a healthy level of individualism, and I have become good at saying, “No!” when treated as a utility.
Late last year, I wrote an essay called Nihilism and Beyond for the Zeta Male in which I discussed the nihilism which ensues when we detach completely from the traditional value system which, in practice, may seem like detaching from life itself. I argued that we must find an alternative. I argued that we must be anchored somewhere. I wrote it under the assumption that Zeta Male and MGTOW were synonymous but, in truth, I was beginning to contemplate the idea that they are very different and this is why, I think, I had a preference for the term “Zeta Male”.
Shortly after my article was published, a youtuber by the name of Solitary Wolf produced a video called The Zeta Male in which he outlines his theory. He describes his video as “food for thought”. And, indeed, it is.
I’m going to express some thoughts on it as it stands in stark contrast to my own recent thinking, but I very much hope that my comments will be seen as part of an open and constructive dialogue rather than any kind of critical attack (which they are not). In short, I’m inclined to view the video as an expression of MGTOW philosophy, rather than that of Zeta and I will expand on this in what follows.
But first, I should say that I rather liked much of the early part of his video, although I did not necessarily agree with everything. As a side point, for example, Solitary Wolf says that, “Being a zeta male is to stop thinking in categories.” I’m not sure where this has come from. The Universe, even a tiny fragment of it, cannot be comprehended by the human mind. In order to function, human beings articulate internal abstractions of their surroundings — simplified mental models if you like. It is not possible to stop thinking in categories. And first and foremost, zeta males are human beings.
Solitary Wolf goes on to say that in order to leave the “system” it is necessary to “go inwards.” He says:
The zeta male is a state of mind. He is the man who temporarily detaches from his ideas, thoughts, his attachments — until his experience is reduced to the one thing that’s permanent — his awareness. …
I think it is the only way to be a man that’s completely outside the system. Zeta is the last and final letter of the alphabet. After the Z, there’s nothing. Only darkness. It’s one step from death … It’s a state of true indifference. Awareness doesn’t give a shit. It just watches. It sees the world passing by like clouds and doesn’t really care what it is.
I acknowledge that he uses the term “temporarily detaches”, rather than “permanently detaches”. I acknowledge also that it is often necessary for us to temporarily withdraw from emotionally difficult situations, and it is something I do myself. But Solitary Wolf then suggests that the man should be reduced to the one thing that is permanent: his awareness. The idea of being “reduced” has become a critical concept for me because I have come to think in terms of the opposite. It has become clear to me that awareness without attachment is devoid of meaning and value. And a state of true indifference — one step from death — is the very opposite of what I argued in Nihilism and Beyond. I argue for engagement, not detachment. I argue for life, not death!
Solitary Wolf adds:
A zeta male doesn’t care about the fact that he just lost his job, his wife and that his friends let him down. These are things in the past which he cannot change. He doesn’t care about respect, opinion of others, ambition and doesn’t desire sensual pleasures. The zeta male is completely and utterly content. By reducing his desire for external things to zero, he has just wrecked the whole system. No one has power over him and no one can affect his contentment.
The idea of detaching from the traditional dominance hierarchy is, indeed, a powerful concept. If you do this, then it is true that people will lose power over you. This is the primary MGTOW aspect that I internalised and ascribed to. What Solitary Wolf articulates in the above excerpts, however, is not simply this, but detachment from everything — an idea which has become an anathema for me. I suspect he may relate the human dominance hierarchy with all that there is. This is a natural thing to do, and something I can identify with because the dominance hierarchy may certainly appear to be everything when you begin to unpick things in your personal life.
I was struck also by his phrase, “It [zeta awareness] just watches. It sees the world passing by like clouds and doesn’t really care what it is.”
Our Fathers, our Mothers (Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter) is a German TV mini-series which follows the lives of five friends from the outbreak of war in Nazi Germany. I have, on occasion, entertained myself with a fantasy of being a time traveller to the events of 1930s Germany and watching from the side-lines with indifference as they unfolded — like a tourist. I mention this because I’ve consciously tried to apply this very idea to myself in my own time — a time I regard as being not too dissimilar to that of 1930s Germany in terms of social madness. It was a kind of emotional survival technique, we could say.
It didn’t work.
While watching Our Fathers, our Mothers, I realised that I do care and nothing is ever going to change that. If I were to find myself time travelling in 1930s Germany for any appreciable period, then people like those portrayed in this TV mini-series, both men and women, would be my friends. And I would give a shit!
Moreover, he suggests that the Zeta Male doesn’t care about the loss of his job, wife or friends. I suspect, however, that the loss of children would be on another level entirely. I really don’t wish to seem too critical because, while I have no children, I know something of the distress it takes to contemplate emotional detachment — it is a survival strategy born out of pain. I’m glad he produced his video and admire him for speaking against “resentment and aversion”, which he does briefly in another part of the video.
But my point is that I no longer believe that anything resembling a complete detachment can lead to a life of contentment, rather it something we must go through and come out of. Yes, perhaps we need to go “inward” for a while, but we cannot remain there. We must come out and fully engage with life in the end. And we must find a way to do it through a form of engagement that is outside the traditional value system.
Now, in his depiction of Zeta Male, Paul Elam writes:
He has no allegiance to tradition or nostalgia for the past, and in fact is charged with plotting a new course.
He concludes with:
He doesn’t seek power, but justice. And he has one overarching feature largely absent in the world around him. He cares about those lost young men who were ambushed coming out of the womb. And he will strive to make himself an example, living proof that there are other roads to take than the ones that lead to self-hatred and self-destruction.
This is the very opposite of nihilism, with the overarching feature being that the Zeta Male cares! Yes, we must sever allegiance to tradition and nostalgia for the past, but the rational and the very act of plotting a new course is engagement with life, not detachment from it.
When we stare into the abyss, it seems to me that we have three options:
- When it stares back, we can turn away and seek safety in the very traditionalist value system which gave rise to the abyss in the first place, or:
We can give ourselves over to it. Perhaps it’s possible for some to stand at the boundary in terms of a personal lifestyle choice. For me, it is looks more like a noble gesture of suicide, both metaphorically and, in extreme cases, literally. It is one step from death, as Solitary Wolf so rightly suggests.
The third option is to fill the abyss. Not an easy prospect, I know. Moreover, it will not be a task for lone wolves.
The concepts of Zeta and MGTOW are distinct in my view. Given what I have just written, I no longer feel that MGTOW is the road for me personally. Perhaps it’s true, I realise now, that I was never fully MGTOW at heart but a Zeta Male.