A friend directed me to comment on Mannerbund 101 by Mark Yuray. The article reminded me of The Way of Men by Jack Donovan who has spoken similarly about the ‘gang of men’ and their virtues and their role in shaping history. The connection become evident in this passage:

The Ur-form of the Mannerbund is undoubtedly the gang or team of men who act cohesively to defend and expand a perimeter, and the essential facets of civilized masculinity are undoubtedly derived from the behaviors necessary to defend and expand a perimeter in a team of men – courage, honor, discipline, strength, and so forth.

Such earthy and coarse narratives tend to be alluring because they appeal to our basal instincts but they do not sufficiently take into account the intricacies of human nature. We are, of course, animals in that we are by and large aroused and compelled to obey our instincts but we are also humans in that we assess our instincts and strive to control and direct them.

Mark declares Mannerbund as ‘the source of civilization … the source of property rights and sexual morality … the vehicle through which effective group action is performed.’  He defines it ‘as a group of men organized in an organic hierarchy that springs from the male competitive instinct … [it] forms quickly and naturally between any group of men because it is predicated on the male competitive instinct.’

They keywords are ‘organic hierarchy’ but while it can be easily admitted that a hierarchy spontaneously arises from interaction between men, the post does not delve deeper into the functioning of this hierarchy. Having said at the outset that the structure of the Mannerbund is hierarchical, the rest of the post treats the group of men as if they were comfortable with their order.

Surely if the Mannerbund emerged as a consequence of ‘one-upping, sizing up and competing’ between men, then the hierarchy remains in a state of permanent instability. The inferior will not stay resigned to his status but will continue to hanker after the post of the superior. The superior, in turn, will constantly remain suspicious of the inferior. A common goal or a common enemy, the desire for survival and prosperity, is the only bond that can hold such a group together. Evidently, this is not Mannerbund as Mark idealises it. For example, he says:

Five men who know each other for a week on a deserted island will have a Mannerbund for that week, but maybe not after they get rescued. That Mannerbund will be weak and mostly theoretical but still extant. Five men who grew up together and go to each other’s weddings after twenty-five years will have a much stronger Mannerbund.

The ideal Mannerbund thus expects strong camaraderie between its members. This is imaginable in a group of equals but how do you make it possible in a hierarchical structure? Just as it is natural for men to compete against each other and develop a hierarchy between them, so it is natural for the superior to despise the inferior and for the inferior to hate the superior. It is fair to say that equality is an artificial construct and so is instituted and maintained with great difficulty. The Mannerbund, on the other hand, is a natural product but what nature builds up, she also unravels. Humans were not deluded to come up with alternatives to the Mannerbund. There are inherent problems in natural groupings that humans have sought to address by conceiving other forms of organization. To claim superiority for the Mannerbund because it is ‘natural’ cannot get us far. Men, as I said above, are not just animals.

Consider the line ‘Mannerbund is the source of property rights and sexual morality.’ I find it quite bizarre for surely it is only in a condition of hierarchy that a superior man feels that he has a right to the property and women of the inferior man. It is only when men recognise equality between themselves and do not extend it to women that property rights and sexual morality can be secured.

I am not recommending such a case; I am only stating it as a fact. I am also not trying to suggest that attaining social equality is superior to the Mannerbund. My only point is that there are issues latent in the Mannerbund which Mark has not recognised, let alone addressed. In fact, it is evident that while he talks of the ‘informal’ and ‘organic’ hierarchy between the members of a Mannerbund, he regards them virtually as equal.

He compares the Mannerbund to telephathically controlled clones who act cohesively as a group. But clones are equals! Mark also speaks of the Mannerbund taking risks (activity ‘with an uncertain outcome’) such as playing sports or starting a business together, to build cohesion in the group through strengthening friendship, loyalty, etc. Now, while equality between men can secure property rights and sexual morality, in contrast to a hierarchy, such a group faces the problem of cohesive action since each member, as an equal, would demand to go his way. Therefore, it is a group of equals who need to develop cohesion and taking risks together would be advantageous to them. Of what good is it in a hierarchical structure where the order is clearly defined and cohesion secured through the priority assigned on the basis of rank differentials? If the hierarchical structure is natural then it should be able to shore itself up by its own bootstraps. It is only an artificial formation such as an egalitarian group that needs sustenance from external factors such as risk-taking activities.

It thus appears that while Mark is talking about a Mannerbund based on the hierarchy between men, it is an organisation that is miraculously egalitarian at the same time. There is a Freudian slip, I believe, in that Mark does not speak at all about the problems inherent in a hierarchical setup but instead addresses a disadvantage that tends to afflict egalitarian groups.

Equally weird is the manner in which Mark deals with the issue of sexual morality. He regards women as the property of men, of the father or the husband, and points out that you would not ‘hit on your friend’s girlfriend in front of his face … [because] your friend’s girlfriend is your friend’s property, and if the two of you are friends, you are members of a Mannerbund … She is “his” not yours, and hitting on her would be just as bad as reaching for your friend’s wallet.’ He gives the example of alpha male Dan Bilzerian who ‘stole the … girlfriend’ of alpha male Ryan DeLuca ‘and publicly humiliated him about it.’ It happened because these ‘two men [are] without solid Mannerbunds … and for that reason have no sexual security, despite wealth and fame.’

There are two points to note in this regard. Firstly, you respect your friend’s relationship with his girlfriend because you regard him as an equal, not because you are members of a Mannerbund. In fact, the process of stealing the woman of another man can itself be regarded as a step in the process of Mannerbund formation. As Mark tells us at the beginning of his post: ‘Two men will instinctively “one-up” each other in every possible way until one of them submits to the other’s perceived authority.’ Thus, one could say that by ‘stealing’ DeLuca’s girlfriend, Bilzerian was demonstrating to DeLuca where they stand in the hierarchy and on this basis will emerge their Mannerbund. In other words, Mannerbund is the cause of the problem of sexual morality, not its solution. This is the confusion in Mark’s writing: he admits the hierarchy between the members of a Mannerbund but expects them to treat each other as equals.

Secondly, there is no agency for women in Mark’s scheme. You hit on your friend’s girlfriend. Bilzerian stole DeLuca’s girlfriend. The girlfriend, as the propery of some man, apparently has no agency in the matter. I take issue with this not on moral but on practical grounds. We ignore the agency of women at our own peril. According to Mark, the feminine ‘capacity for violence – physical, but also psychological – is negligible compared to that of men’s, and for this reason [women] are de facto property.’ This is just out-and-out rubbish. Yes, the physical capacity of women for violence may be less than that of men, but their capacity to inflict psychological violence and to inspire men to commit violence for their sake, should not be underestimated.

This whole ‘gang of men’ narrative is frankly immature and merely a sophisticated expression for some guys out on a lark. To think of them as architects of human civilization is laughable. One can understand the romance of Western reactionary thinkers with the Mannerbund due to the havoc that ideology-based socio-political formations such as individualism, rationalism and egalitarianism have wreaked in their society. But if they are looking for the alternative of societies based on alignment with natural human tendencies such as hierarchy and so on, then ancient Indian texts are a good place to begin.

Yes, men spontaneously form hierarchical structures but for them to function effectively and fairly, the superior and the inferior need to understand their obligations towards each other, what the ancient Indian thinkers refer to as svāmin-dharma and bhṛtya-dharma, the duties of the master and the servant. Briefly, the superior needs to protect and nurture the inferior while the inferior needs to obey and defer to the superior. They must also learn about the consequences that arise when they transgress their duties i.e. when the superior exploits the inferior and the inferior commits mischief against the superior.

Ancient Indian thought also recognised the contradictions inherent in men and women. Yes, men are primary agents of order but at the same time they also suffer from a realisation that ordering is ultimately futile in a world inherently driven to chaos. Likewise, women follow men in upholding the order they have instituted but they are also characterised by a wildness that makes them challenge and transgress the male-instituted order.

It is within the context of such a profound understanding of human nature that one must begin to think of civilizational orders, of property rights and sexual morality. Either we can work within the framework of these contradictions, as the ancient Indians tried to do, or we can seek to eliminate the contradictions, as the rationalist schools in the West have sought to do. But this concept of Mannerbund is neither here nor there and betrays a lack of understanding of human nature.