Friday, July 23, 2010

The Warrior Ideal and Global Warming by Andrew Bard Schmookler

Have you ever wondered why people who are willing to spend hundreds of billions of dollars every year to protect the United States against any possible threat from an external enemy, nonetheless say we can’t afford to sacrifice much of anything to combat the threat of climate change that could make our world, and our country, less livable?

Part of the answer involves money. The U.S. has giant corporations that want us to spend a lot on defense, and even mightier corporations that don’t want us to kick our fossil fuel habit. So the big money wins both ways.

But the more interesting and maybe more important answer goes deeper into our culture. It has to do with the traditional concept of manhood.

For thousands of years, human communities have perceived the greatest threat to their survival as coming from enemies outside their borders. So they have made warriors their heroes, and warrior virtues their ideal of manhood.

We have been taught that it’s manly to arm ourselves and to prepare to fight our enemies. There is no shame if we invest too heavily in armor. Nobody thinks it unmanly if a president spends unnecessary billions for defenses against an exaggerated threat.

But with concern about environmental dangers, however clear and present, it’s different. Here the dangers do not come from the power of other men, but rather from the excessive and irresponsible use of our own powers. The remedy does not involve more action, but more restraint. We are challenged not to make ourselves larger, but to limit ourselves to fit into something larger than we are.

“Real men” in America are not supposed to accept limits. “Real men” don’t “take care of things”—that’s what women do. And real men certainly don’t take care of things by reining in their powers to exploit nature and extend their material empires.

With spending for defense against uncertain military threats, it’s damn the uncertainty and full speed ahead. With uncertainty about possible climatic catastrophe, it’s wait and see and “we can’t afford it.”

Our concepts of manhood may have been adaptive during most of history, but the exponential growth of the human impact on the earth has made these old concepts inadequate.

There is a different ancient image of what a man might be. It is the image of the good steward, the man to whom the care of things can be entrusted. Until the good steward seems to us as manly as the vigilant warrior, our national security will be in jeopardy.

Holding too narrowly to that traditional warrior ideal of manhood may prevent our coming to grips with what may be the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced.

 --Andrew Bard Schmookler lives in the Shenandoah Valley and maintains the website


  1. Thoughtful. A different perspective. Probably quite close to the mark, and a bit disquieting because if true, it makes the situation feel even more hopeless. Nonetheless, a beautiful essay. Thank you.

  2. Really, really great essay! Thanks for sharing your ideas Andrew. You have inspired me to think big. In fact, I suggest that perhaps the idea of the masculine warrior and the ancient idea of a good steward are no so far apart. Perhaps we need not shy away from the masculine warrior. As you suggest, that would ask us to overcome thousands of years of cultural evolution… Perhaps we should embrace the masculine warrior within and layer on top a simple concept: choose your battles wisely. Here is the choice. Ask all those macho warriors to use their brains, their gut feelings, their natural competitive instincts and answer this question: Which would you rather fight for, your country or your planet? Let’s inspire the warrior within us all. Let’s take on the biggest battle of all. Let’s save the planet!

    Bravo Andrew… Bravo!

    Jeff Holt