Why guys fight- and what it says about manlines

I doubt there are plenty of men out there who feel what I do, writes Scott Atkinson. We know that fighting is dumb, but we still have the subconscious desire to do it

About a year ago, I was incorporating lanes on the road during an hour-long trek to a job interview when, in my rearview mirror, I encountered a middle paw rippling furiously at me. Cutting the other driver off had been my fault, and so where reference is changed lanes to zoom up beside me I turned in my accommodate to ripple and mouth disease an overstated and lip-readable “I’m sorry”.

I could speak his lips, too.

” Pull over !” he was shouting. He had also switched thumbs, and was now pointing at the shoulder of the superhighway beside me.

This was where we were to fight.

And so I did what you do when you’re a radical guy who schools college writing and writes floors for a living. I shook my pate and squinted at him like he was a lower, more barbarian life-form, and I meant it. One of three outcomes was possible:

1) He beats me up
2) I beat him up
3) We square off until one of us backs down

In any scenario, the fact that I cut him off doesn’t change, and I’m late for the opportunity to pick up some freelance wreak. If my kids had been in the car, it might have been an opportunity for a good exercise: “thats how you” neglect an idiot.

All good reasons, and hitherto there was something else at work: a consuming, spine-level electrical humming I like to call The Fear. And with it, my subconscious was announcing me out.

” You have never been in a fight ,” it said.

I have never been in a real one, regardless- and by that I mean a streetfight with no rulers , no refs , no squishy skin-deep under our hoofs. This shouldn’t vex me but at times, I feel like I’ve missed a necessary rite of passage going to be a man.

I’m not supposed to feel this way. I am a suburban dad, a mower of lawns and packer of lunches. I miss my son and daughter to grow up feminists, and in an age when our presidential candidate openly talked about about the size of his penis, pandering in thinking about the perils of manlines exclusively redoubles my shame.


I started learning Brazilian jiu-jitsu at 17, about half a lifetime ago. My ears are now slightly misshapen and I have a small collection of medallions triumphed after twisting the joints of other souls until they have “tapped out”- that is, signaled they can take no more. I have rebounded in three barrooms and done the kinds of things one does in that job. I have sparred with MMA fighters, been tossed by wrestlers and perforated by boxers, and as a result have a pretty good intuition of what I am and am not capable of.

But then, maybe I don’t. And sometimes, I can’t help it: I want to know what I would be made of.

Modern humen, specially liberal ones, are not supposed to feel this direction, and so we experience a double shame. The first comes from a small voice late in our caveman brains, the one questioning our manhood if we back down from physical dissension. We feelthe second shame following the end of because manhood( and its arbitrary markers) is something we’re not supposed to be worried about any more- surely not the more base particular aspects of it, like violence.

” We have a creepy, weird, culture position toward savagery. We want to be above it very badly, and yet we’re absolutely obsessed with it ,” John Gottschall told me a few weeks ago on the phone. He’s the author of The Professor in the Enclosure: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch and once I started speaking his volume, I couldn’t stop. When I emailed him to tell him about my secret disgrace, he wrote back:” Wow. We are apparently the same guy .”

So we therefore.

Now a prof with mark, when Gottschall started the research for his work, he was in his 10 th year of adjuncting and feeling generally distressing about a lot of things. Across the street from its term of office was a mixed martial arts gym, which he assembled, starting a two-year expedition into work writing while preparing for his one and only MMA fight: his chance to finally see if anything fundamental “wouldve been” change for him after indulging in violence.

My interview with Gottschall was supposed to be serious, but it quickly turned into a cathartic rehabilitation conference. The most serious question I questioned “mightve”,” What the hell is wrong with me ?”

If there was anything I took away from our talk, it was that I wasn’t alone- and not just because Gottschall and I had so much better in common. In his notebook, he items how” a diverse display of species- from beetles to chicks to allows to mantis shrimp” all share strikingly similar “dueling” actions. In other texts, for every two guys you’ve seen at the bar puffing their chests at one another before returning to their tables to tell their onlookers what they would have done if, the committee is species all over the planet doing the same situation( I only wish we are capable of ask the beetle how it felt after it backed down ).

If you believe some strands of evolutionary psychology, there are lots of reasons we’ve evolved this direction. Sexuality is supposed to be a big part of it: the loitering notion that a strong man had been able to acquiring a fight is oftens seen as more desirable.

Maybe, but in my own home and others, evolution seems to have moved on. My bride is always more impressed with me when she comes home to our favorite beef stew made from scratch( I like to cook ), or when I blithely go to the theater( I was raised by musicians) than when I tell her storeys from the jiu-jitsu gym.

Growing up, a strict version of manliness was never instilled in me, either. My family owns a construction fellowship, but I never heard my pa or my uncles ever talk about contending when we were on a task site, and they seemed to have minds about those who would( idiots ). My dad didn’t go to the bar after employment, didn’t engage in tough-guy talk, and in the few moments I determined him have to stand his dirt he always did it in the way that I now do: with messages.

I was lucky to have a pa who would come home some periods in coveralls, take a shower, and leave in a tuxedo, trumpet speciman in hand, to play a gig with the concert. In retrospect, it’s probably from him that I learned the lesson that has driven much of “peoples lives”: that it’s always possible to remain calm, and calm means you’re in control.

Tribalism is another reason Gottschall cites- the need to protect your owned, people and pride. It’s also another area where I impressed out. Even in high school, I could never muster the necessary school flavor to work on the homecoming floats. Didn’t my classmates understand that had they been born even five miles away they’d be at another academy, claiming to detest the exceedingly beings they were now with, based on arbitrary boundary lines sucked by others?( I wasn’t much fun at defendants .)

But for my buddy Mark, it was all about honour. We recently went to a local hockey activity at a rink where we’d both played growing up. Back then, Mark was the team fighter. He pointed to the far angle of the rink and told me that was where he’d gotten in his biggest oppose- not biggest in matters of blood spilled( although there was that) but the one where he’d had to fight the toughest person on the competitive school’s crew. His reputation, which he’d deserved through his contends, was on the line.

” I never craved developing a reputation ,” he told me.” But once I had one, I grasp to it desperately. You just don’t shun it. It’s like a golden cape. It’s a capability, whether falsely created or not .”

I must not have wanted one severely enough. I played hockey more, and formerly I nearly get in a fight by pushing a person in the back when he turned away from me. I do remember that I wasn’t really mad when I did it, either. Instead, it felt like I should have been mad. And so, with the same sort of curiosity with which someone might take their first puffed of a cigarette at that age, I shoved him, and the refs stepped in.

Later, in the car, I recollect my mom asking me what that had been all about before are saying that she understood, that it was so hard sometimes to walk away.

But the thing was, it hadn’t been hard, and so the only lesson I could draw from it was that my mommy, elementary music educator, vocalist, and master of hugs, had more push in her than me.


When I told my partner I was writing about this, I was humiliated- not because I’d never engaged, but to admit that I sometimes thought about it. We were in the kitchen, and she leaned across the island counter and said she had no doubt that I would oppose if I needed to. No mistrust, she repeated. And there it was, my golden cape.

She had no doubt, but I still do. I called one of my first jiu-jitsu tutors, Matt Thornton, is assisting figure out why. When he’s not teach, he’s traveling countries around the world, schooling and chiding about martial arts and savagery. He’s also been at work on a volume that explores what he calls” a healthy affair with violence “.

So I asked him what that meant.

” Just like with procreation and fornication, if you talk to someone who doesn’t have a health tie-in with the topic, they’re going to end up on one of two extremes ,” he said.” They turn it into a fetish where it’s something they’re attracted to in an unhealthy direction, or they are in a position demonize or repress it … My argument would be that neither of those is healthy .”

What is healthy, he said, is acknowledging it.

We talked about why someone like me would think about these happens, but( this is how Matt learns) he employed the question back to me.

” Why wouldn’t you think about that ?” he asked me.” I absolutely get it, that’s the culture standard you’re taught, but why wouldn’t you think about that ?”

Matt argues that we’ve progressed this route. We still carry around DNA of our more murderous ancestors, he says, and it’s instilled in us a natural propensity toward brutality. He’s not the only one to reach that statement: evolutionary psychology pins a lot of our worst behaviours on more vicious ancestors. But the results of this analysis- the entire realm of studies, actually- have now been harshly criticized as a cop-out for those working behaviors.

The thing is, whether it’s from ancestors or not, brutality is in me. It’s in a lot of us. And what matters, Matt said- and this is what persisted with me- is how we choose to deal with it.

It’s about the kind of men we choose to be.


The man in the car followed me for about 15 miles the working day, past abundance of departures. Certainly, he gave me plenty of opportunities if fighting was what I required, but I passed them all until his vehicle finally slowed down and disappeared in my rearview mirror.

I knew I moved the right choice, but I still pushed him in the thousands of imaginary battles in my imagination afterwards- equal proportions heroic and pathetic.

Watch with me. Watch as he throws a right cross that I am, due to all my years of training, able to pas as I remove my center of gravity to be established the double-leg takedown, filming my shoulder into his waist and driving him to the dirt. Perhaps I’ll finish with fists, or maybe jiu-jitsu, taking his arms between my legs and wrenching until I listen the gristly popping of a hyperextended elbow.

Can you discover him?

Can you ascertain me, victorious?

I’ve seen it too, but it doesn’t last long. It’s rapidly replaced by embarrassment and I push myself to think of other things. Events that matter: my kids’ education, the lawnmower that needs its oil changed, my wife’s birthday- or the interview that I will soon go to, and humble, before I attain the long journey home and tell my wife of my success.

I might even keep telling her the story of an idiot I appreciated on the road who wanted to fight me, and her eyes will widen at the barbarity that still exists in this world-wide before we move on to other topics. And beneath all our talk, somewhere deep in a situate I’m not proud of, I’m still back there on the road, chin down, fists up, itching for a fight I know I’ll never choice.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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