Conservative commentators have been bemoaning the decline of the American man almost as long as the American man has been in existence. As it turns out, they are right: Men these days are a mere shadow of what we once were. We've become physically weaker than our ancestors. We're slower runners. We can't jump as high as we once did. As Peter McAllister, an archaeologist with the University of Western Australia and the author of the new book "Manthropology: The Science of Why the Modern Male Is Not the Man He Used to Be," puts it, we might be the "sorriest cohort of masculine Homo sapiens to ever walk the planet." I, for one, blame guyliner. (Thomas Rogers, “The dramatic decline of modern man,” Salon, 14 Nov. 2010)
Ice Age aboriginal tribesmen, he discovers, were able to run long distances at approximately the same speed as modern-day Olympic sprinters. Classic Grecian rowers could attain speeds of 7.5 miles an hour, which today's rowers can only attain for short bursts of time. Our culture may be obsessed with muscles: He notes that, since 1982, G.I. Joe's Sgt. Savage has gotten three times more muscular and Barbie's Ken now has a chest circumference attainable by only one in 50 men, but the luxuries of our contemporary lifestyle have caused a steady decline in genuine physical power.
[. . .]
Up until about 20,000 years, Homo sapiens were very, very robust in comparison to what we are these days. It's not that we're so different from those robust Homo sapien males, but our bodies are actually geared up to respond to pressures that we don't get anymore. There's the example of aboriginal runners who, we know from fossilized footprints, could run as fast if not faster than [Olympic sprinter] Usain Bolt. And the reason why is that they did it from a very early age. The Greek trireme rowers could do feats that can't be duplicated by modern rowers. Greece was a very tough country to make a living in. Everybody walked everywhere. The people lived as shepherds, it was a very rough existence. Our bones are about 40 percent less mass than the bones of Homo erectus, but genetically ours are not that different. It's just that we don't get put under that kind of pressure. Arm bones of tennis players, for example, are almost as thick as those of Homo erectus.
There are some interesting statistics there about how hard people could work during the Industrial Revolution -- these rather small, malnourished men were able to wield these incredibly heavy sledgehammers all day, and the same phenomenon still applies to Nepalese hill porters. These little guys of about 55 kilos carry 90 kilo weights for about 75 miles over a period of days. It doesn't seem to have any degenerative effects on them as well.
[. . .]
There's been this movement all through history. The dandies, the macaronis and other feminized males were popular during times of great assurance, when England ruled the waves. That people want those stronger, more masculine figures in times of crisis makes sense to me.
[. . .]
It says something about the substitution of pomp and show for real manliness. There is an inherent male and female attraction to muscularity -- it's an instinctual thing. Big muscles are very, very sexually attractive. There's no doubt about that.
[. . .]
I've cited some studies of children of the Viking Berserkers [a group of notorious Norse warriors known for their aggression], and found that these are hyperviolent men and actually did have more children than comparable warriors in that society.
[. . .]
Nearly every group I've ever come across does it [i.e., hazing] in some way, and the fact that the civilized, affluent West still does it shows that it's, for want of a better word, a very natural practice. One of the paradoxes is that this very violent, abusive treatment actually serves to greatly heighten the need of the initiate to belong to that group. It strips away their own personal power and individuality, it makes them crave belonging to the group and it makes them bond more tightly to it. I'm not arguing, at all, in favor of hazing. I'm just pointing out that it does seem to have a very strong resonance within the heart of masculinity.
It seems to be a very deep, masculine thing. I think it relates to human societies being so patrilineally based. And incidentally, we could argue that's largely why there's malaise among men these days, because we're naturally so geared to being a part of a band of brothers. It seems to be a very deep, inherent thing. At the moment, I'm in an area of Australia called the Little Sandy Desert, and I'm dealing with Martu aboriginal men. In about a month, they're going to round up all the young men from all the settlements and they're going to take them out to the bush and circumcise their penises. Just a little way over they actually subincise them. (Peter McAllister, interviewed by Thomas Rogers, “The dramatic decline of modern man,” Salon, 14 Nov. 2010)
Displaced into the city
RE: "I'm dealing with Martu aboriginal men. In about a month, they're going to round up all the young men from all the settlements and they're going to take them out to the bush and circumcise their penises. Just a little way over they actually subincise them."
I wonder how this would look if we replaced the periods with exclamation marks?
"I'm dealing with Martu aboriginal men! In about a month, they're going to round up all the young men from all the settlements and they're going to take them out to the bush and circumcise their penises!! Just a little way over they actually subincise them!!!!"
Yes, as I thought, more honest. I hope you enjoy the show of what finely-muscled Martu men can do to boys they've taken out into the bush (take a break to sneak-peak on the boys just a little way over "actually being subincised"!?). Remember, though, if ever back in the city you see a lot of men rounding up street kids for maybe something similarly penile-related, you probably ought to switch modes and report it rather than report ON it. I'm sure they're actually just being made manly men, but displaced into the less virile, less vigor-appreciating city, it'll be deemed wrong.
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What do we expect from anthropologists?
Anthropologists find that our earliest ancestors were greater athletes, less "weak," than we are. It seems near frustratingly difficult to argue for the virtues of apparently effeminate civitas, in their company. But what should we expect with those who stayed all the way? For if at some point before certification they judged their studies' brawny performance a bit of a no-thing, juvenile, a bore, wouldn't they have soon-thereafter abandoned apish men for the couth and actually interesting?
Could it be that once modern wo/man is finally past all its primitiveness fetishizing, its astute angling over others amongst the civilized, s/he will conclude that there is in fact nothing much interesting to be learned from past shells, our discards? Rather than just evolution taking us a different way, maybe we just grew moral, considerate and considering, and moved on ... for a reason.
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Shakespeare's 2 cents
"Let me have men about me that are fat; Sleek-headed [i.e., bald] men, and such as sleep o' nights. Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; He thinks too much: such men are dangerous."
"Julius Caesar" (Act 1, Scene2) (austinboy, response to post)
This article is exhibit one.
What a dumb premise. How do we define fitness? Brawn? Speed? Virility? Then why aren't the chimps running things?
And which ancestors? Paleolithic, neolithic? The romans? From this perspective it's been nothing but downhill since the days that H. erectus was cock of the walk with their weakling smartypants use of fire and refined toolmaking and cooked food. (dogu44)
"The British archers at Agincourt could draw a longbow at about 150 lbs with good accuracy. This is more than twice the draw of modern longbows of about 60 lbs. The archers started training as young boys."
This is true (though you may have overstated the draw weight of those bows).
Yet, the English would eventually put aside the longbow in favor of the musket, even though your average musketeer was less deadly than your average longbowman (until rifled cartridges became more available).
So why the change? Because musketeers were a more reliable option. Lost longbowmen could take upwards of a year to replace; musketeers a matter of weeks. This made armies that utilized musketeers more effective, since losses could be replaced much easier.
My point? Longbowmen may have been physically strong and effective specialized troops, but technology (in this case, muskets) made an average man the match of a highly trained longbowman. Society doesn't need to count on large numbers of men to be exceptionally strong or athletic, thanks to technology. (moidalize)
Society's Development and Evolution
This article completely ignores the fact, as a society...we have evolved to the point where intellectually man can develop since he is no longer tasked with basic needs every day.
This specialization has allowed development since innovation happens around those circumstances.
The non-scientific humour seems trite and precocious to me.
Thank you for wasting my time, Thomas Rogers.
You made no mention of the size of mankind's brain dwindling, just the size of his dick. Thank you for that. (Ra_earth_wind-Fire)
One example that came to my mind is that in the running of the first "marathon", the runner died. After running 26 miles. Today, tens of thousands compete in marathons without ill affect. If ancient men were so fast, fit and hearty, shouldn't a long run like that have been a piece of cake? Or the death noted as really unusual?
One thing you can't argue with it that people used to live far shorter lives -- nasty, brutal and short. Again, as Silence points out, generation after generation of men killed themselves in pointless, endless wars of aggression. Women died in childbirth. The average lifespan was roughly 45-50, and THAT assumes you didn't die in childbirth or from some infection or plague, or got killed in war. Women didn't even live long enough, on average, to go through menopause. (Laure1962)
It could have been that our ancestors were not in fact stronger and faster than we are, anthropologists could have uncovered that by 20 they were in fact so beat upon they had the constitutions of modern-day 90 year olds, bones of brittle not hard metal, so long as we concerned about perhaps lost virility no one who once ranged about the plains, prepared to prey on or otherwise be preyed upon by beasts and other men, can easily be apprehended by the brain as "weak." For me, it doesn't do to show how those physically-softened but strong-in-mind are truly more potent, or to show how the flabby are more predictable and less riseable -- and therefore actually better for the overall health and maintenance (the sturdy constitution) of the "commonwealth": our complaint must rest with those concerned to make the "issue" about strength and weakness in the first place, for such people are orienting / priming, setting parameters around a debate which will leave no room for valuing things most valuable about our finally becoming civilized.
Men don't become "strong" when, rather than abuse their boys through the kinds of "hardening" rituals they themselves might have been subject to, they instead seek to free them from all that trauma and seek another way -- they grow kind, compassionate. When we start finding extreme physical exertion a bit exhausting to watch / experience, and hard to imagine anyone want doing / celebrating, we haven't gone soft, but become a bit more mature in our tastes. Chimps weren't our ancestors, but I would suggest that when we're in the right frame of mind there's nothing about virile homo erectuses or now-"redeemed" bone-hardened 4 ft- tall Victorian factory workers that should draw us to agree to recognize much of a link with them either. Our concern is how to make our world more kind and fun -- not more virile or more fit. I know that the 18th-century liberal Brits fended off their conservative "kin" by arguing that you could have as much, a nation of shopkeepers, of fanciful fops, and still also the strongest navy and most assured nation ever known, but this still tipped the hat too much to those primitive-enough to still insist at-bottom it has to be about meek and strong, meek and strong: as if to move too far away from that, is to lose all that is most truly, assuredly, human. Their fancy is okay, but BECAUSE it's proved itself just another variant of the strong: the first stretches of a kind, welfare state -- the 18th-century genteel were for animal rights, child-safety, against slavery -- may have been defended by such thinking, but it wasn't born out of it.
If we agree to this, to argue in terms of virility and strength, we are agreeing to enter into a darker period of human existence: for no age built on commerce, entertainment, experimentation and self-growth, is not ever surely insusceptible to being charged luxurious and fallen -- better to go back into base mode, less ample mode, more restricting, more striving mode, where just being part meant demonstrating you had it in you to live in tough times. But later, a more mature generation will emerge, that will shirk you off like the Tudor courtiers did their numbskull, French (effeminacy)-fearing, dark age ancestors. They might relapse too into numbskullery, but at some point humanity will streamline, and then just grow, peacefully on.