Bnonn Tennant (the B is silent)

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Was Jesus an alpha male? Part 1: a trick question

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10 minutes to read Christians should not be forcing their view of authentic masculinity into a simplistic dichotomy based on evolutionary psychology—no matter how central that is to the conceptual nexus of the manosphere. God’s design for men is exemplified in Jesus; not in natural selection.

There is much that is helpful in the nonetheless excruciatingly-named manosphere. For anyone who believes the Bible’s claim that patriarchy is the foundation of good social order, and wishes to understand how we might recover such patriarchy, the red pill community contains many fruitful insights, since it represents the aggregated observations of millions of men about the realities of intersexual behavior.

However, because the manosphere is a follow-on effect of the feminization of society, and the feminization of society is a result of a protracted rejection of God’s design for social order, the manosphere is resolutely secular. Even the few Christian outposts are compromised to one degree or another—whether by presupposed acceptance of evolutionary psychology, or by a preference for preaching repentance to blue pill Christians at the expense of red pill unbelievers. This means that an unusual degree of discernment is required in sorting through red pill views—and I believe this is nowhere better illustrated than in the ubiquitous concept of alpha and beta men.

The alpha/beta dichotomy is so central to red pill awareness that to question it will be taken by many as a repudiation of red pill truth in toto. But I am not debating the general behavioral facts that drive people to recognize the alpha/beta distinction. Nor am I questioning the hypergamous sexual strategy hardwired into women—this “alpha seed/beta need” psychology is validated in any number of ways, including in how women’s perception of men changes across their ovulatory cycles, and how their mates are conditioned to respond. [ Martie G. Haselton & Steven W. Gangestad, Conditional expression of women’s desires and men’s mate guarding across the ovulatory cycle in Hormones and Behavior (49) (January 2006), 509–518. This is just the first of many studies adduced by Rollo Tomassi in Madonnas and Whores on The Rational Male (December 2013).]

What I am denying is the worldview that forms the foundation for red pill discussion; the worldview that reacts so heavily against the feminized nurture of post-revolution western culture that it tries to swing all the way back to the raw biological nature of humanity; that assumes the only forces worth considering in establishing the definitional framework of a red pill worldview are the forces of natural selection.

Alpha as babe-magnet

In red pill awareness, true masculinity is conflated with being alpha. This isn’t a universal rule, but at an intuitive level red pill men want to be alpha and not beta. The problem with this is that some so-called beta characteristics are masculine virtues according to Scripture, and many so-called alpha characteristics are vices (at least as typically practiced). This is exacerbated by the manosphere’s obsession with women—it is much less about recovering authentic masculinity, restoring right social order, and much more about a guerrilla counter-revolution against the occupying forces of feminism. This unhealthy narrow-mindedness leads to alphaness itself being understood almost exclusively in terms of the ability to pull women.

What arouses women just is what is alpha to many red pill pundits. Hence Heartiste can define as beta those men who, despite possessing a wide gamut of superficially alpha qualities, lack success with women:

Many want to believe that getting girls is ancillary to being a true alpha male; that the real measure of an alpha lies in his ability to dominate other men, or his command of his environment, or his thirst for swashbuckling adventure. While these are admirable alpha traits, they are nothing but a means to an end. Make no mistake, at the most fundamental level the CRUX of a man’s worth is measured by his desirability to women, whether he chooses to play the game or not. Pussy is the holy grail. That is why the obese, socially maladroit nerdboy who manages to unlock the gate to the secret garden and bang a 10 regularly is an alpha male. And that is also why the rich, charming entrepreneur who because of an emotional deficiency or mental sickness lives mired in parched celibacy is not an alpha male. [ Defining the Alpha Male on Château Heartiste (September 2007).]

By the same token, Dalrock adopts Heartiste’s category of “greater beta” for himself, since as a Christian he can’t be alpha (he is not interested in affairs or harems), but as an unplugged man he can’t be a nice-guy beta herb either. [ This is What a Beta Looks Like on Dalrock (July 2010).] Indeed, Dalrock is highly cognizant of the moral confusion inherent in the alpha/beta paradigm, and rightly discerns that it is wildly exacerbated by feminism within evangelicalism, where arousing male traits are equated with virtue:

In a post decrying the wickedness of sexual immorality, Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. (President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), explains that by God’s design a wife’s sexual attraction for her husband is a barometer of the man’s righteousness:

Put most bluntly, I believe that God means for a man to be civilized, directed, and stimulated toward marital faithfulness by the fact that his wife will freely give herself to him sexually only when he presents himself as worthy of her attention and desire. [ Don’t blame Heartiste for the equation of alpha with virtue on Dalrock (June 2015).]

In defining alpha, Rollo Tomassi I think walks a saner line when he observes the muddiness caused by every man associating it with what he takes to be manly virtues—and no two men agreeing on what those are. His answer is that alpha isn’t a set of behaviors; it is a mindset that can produce various behaviors. [ Rollo Tomassi, Alpha on The Rational Male (October 2011).] This mindset itself, or the personality bound up with it, arouses women—regardless of whether it is virtuous or not. So alpha is a neutral trait that must be combined with a worldview to produce something positive or negative. Moreover, he makes the valuable observation that alpha can be highly context-dependent—a point I shall circle back to eventually later in this series.

At times, Rollo explicitly denounces the idea that alpha = masculine, beta = feminine, and speaks of alpha characteristics as being broader than mere indicators of sexual success. [ Rollo Tomassi, Alpha Tells on The Rational Male (November 2014).] The trouble is, given his exclusive focus on intersexuality, this nuance is lost; practically speaking, because he is always speaking of alphaness with regard to women, the effect is of equating alphaness with female arousal. This is understandable, but it has the unfortunate effect of equating skill at arousing women with masculinity.

For any man who doesn’t reckon his worth in terms of potential mates—or even just wants a better-rounded understanding of true masculinity than one that defines it exclusively in terms of female arousal—the terms alpha and beta become functionally meaningless in the manosphere. They also, despite Heartiste’s protestations, get things manifestly backwards: masculinity should be arousing to women, but that doesn’t mean that masculinity is exhausted in what arouses women, nor that women are always aroused by what God intends masculinity to be. Indeed, the whole concept of alpha feeds off a worldview in which reproduction is the driving force for intersexual relations, sexual morality is a mere social convention to support one or other gender’s sexual strategy, and biological imperatives are therefore the only imperatives that ultimately matter in understanding human sexual psychology. There is a vicious circular logic to it that is consistent and reasonable as long as you’re inside the loop, but looks suspiciously like justifying the desires of the flesh if you decide to break out. The secular worldview takes biological imperatives as foundational to human nature; the Christian worldview takes moral imperatives as foundational to human nature.

I don’t have a problem with unbelievers defining alphaness in these terms, just as I don’t have a problem with unbelievers doing most things that make sense given a false and wicked view of the world. But it should be obvious that if this is what alphaness means—and meaning is dictated by usage—then it isn’t of much use to us as Christians. It doesn’t do us any good to start sneering at “beta providers,” as if providing is inherently unmasculine, or a pathetic capitulation to a socially-conditioned expectation; one that a “true man” won’t defer to. It doesn’t do us any favors to start imagining an alpha as someone intrinsically attracted to spinning plates, [ Rollo Tomassi, Plate Theory on The Rational Male (August 2011).] and repelled by monogamous commitment, as if he has no spirit willing to command his flesh (Matthew 26:41). It doesn’t do us any good to think of men as the manosphere does, any more than it does to swing—as we have—all the way to the other extreme and think of men as feminism does: instilling oneitis, [ Rollo Tomassi, There is no One on The Rational Male (August 2011).] promoting the power of romance to purify icky carnal sex, [ D. Bnonn Tennant, Evangelical complementarian leaders mostly just teaching feminism (January 2017).] and taking masculinity as inherently toxic until sanctified by a woman’s inherent virtue. [ D. Bnonn Tennant, Gyneolatry (January 2018).]

Both of these paths are simply contrasting ways of conforming ourselves to the spirit of this world. Both therefore turn out to be ugly and divisive once you get past the inviting gateposts with the pretty information plaques. Neither achieve shalom between the sexes in how they relate; rather the opposite. Neither glorify the differences between the sexes in how they image God; rather the opposite.

Alpha as jerk/jock

There’s considerable overlap here with what I’ve canvassed above; the “alpha cad” is a staple of red pill awareness, as is the attraction of women to dark triad personalities: psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism. However, this understanding of alphaness permeates well beyond the manosphere, precisely because these attractions are so readily observed in day-to-day life. Since the term alpha has become part of popular awareness, and since sexual complementarity makes female attraction—more correctly: arousal—a major part of masculinity, alpha has come to be associated with certain kinds of personalities.

The asshole jock getting the cheer-leader is a staple of popular culture. More recently, Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey have illustrated in graphic financial terms the value of dark triad men in the psychology of women. At a more generic level, “alpha” is also associated with so-called type-A, aggressively ambitious personalities, which are not necessarily dark triad, but tend to embody similar attributes at a superficial level. And unfortunately, evangelicalism has had its share of type-A personalities AMOGing us all, trying to convince us that biblical masculinity is just being really aggressive about men’s failings. [You probably already know who I'm talking about; here’s a good example: Mark Driscoll Screaming How Dare You on YouTube.] Hence Tony Merida can observe, with better theology than grammar, that Biblical manhood is often portrayed as some macho, type A, bold quarterback of a guy. [ Tony Merida, You Don’t Have to Be an Alpha Male to Plant a Church on The Gospel Coalition (January 2018).]

Obviously understanding alphaness in these terms is no more helpful than the red pill perspective. There’s nothing about how God exemplifies masculinity in Jesus that is jerkish: although he is assertive, he is not overbearingly aggressive to those who challenge him, and he evinces considerable compassion for those who seek him (e.g. Matthew 15); although he makes war, it is not for war’s sake, but for the sake of his people and his holiness (Exodus 15; Revelation 19:11ff). Peter, perhaps, was jockish, and the sons of thunder were occasionally jerkish, but Jesus was neither.

In any case, I assume I don’t need to explain why defining alphaness in terms of generally-despised character traits makes the concept of being alpha useless to a Christian view of masculinity.

Alpha as commander-protector

The etymology of the term alpha is in canine studies, where Dr. David Mech used it initially to refer to the leader of a pack—literally the top dog; the one who mated with all the females and got first dibs on a kill. As Marc MacYoung notes, not only has Mech spent the rest of his life disavowing the concept, but what people tend to associate with alpha behavior—jerk/jock attributes—is actually more likely beta behavior. Alphas, if we’re likening ourselves to wolves, are the ones who give everyone a place and make everyone feel cared for. They look out for the group, are trustworthy, and have strong communication skills. [ Marc MacYoung, Alpha/Beta Street Status on No Nonsense Self-Defense.] It is only when their boundaries are transgressed that they become aggressive—and so the kind of aggression typically associated with “alpha” behavior is more likely to be seen when someone unsuited is forced into an alpha role and tries to appear tougher than he is.

Although I think the commander-protector kind of alpha is closest to what the Bible defines as true masculinity, I mention it only for completeness; as a definition it is hopeless, because usage dictates meaning, and only a very few sticklers and nerds hold out for this usage. It is almost the opposite of what most people take alpha to mean.

Alpha as useless category

All this now said, I propose that Christians should entirely abandon speaking of alpha or beta traits. The terms are too loose, ambiguous, and steeped in anti-biblical categories to be useful in the first place; and they frequently encourage or accompany an attitude of pride or contempt.

Instead of these terms, I propose we speak of command and compliance.

I am not suggesting that these perfectly map onto alpha and beta; indeed, depending on the conversation you’re having, I strongly hope they won’t. Rather, I am suggesting that using these terms will reframe our thinking about masculinity in ways that more accurately conform it to what God has revealed—both in his word and in his Son. Command and compliance will correspond quite closely with what Rollo, in his better moments, calls alpha and beta—especially inasmuch as they are not synonyms for masculine and feminine. They will correspond very poorly with what PUA-oriented pundits want to define as alpha and beta—especially inasmuch as they explain female arousal in terms of masculine attributes, rather than vice versa. And ironically, they won’t correspond at all to what the major red pill voice for Christianity talks about—because there is no category for “greater beta” here.

 5 comments

Dominick

Thanks for taking the time to address this. Such a great help to have a thoughtful and biblical response in this arena where few provide much substance to navigate the philosophies that underpin the red pill phenomenon. I have found a lot of helpful insigh and challenging advice, yet have struggled to reconcile it with the Christian life at times. Looking forward to the next part.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Hey Dalrock, thanks for taking the time to clarify this. I’ve updated my post to reflect this more recent article, which I think makes some excellent points btw. I hope you don’t think I am being overly critical of you, since I have found your work extraordinarily helpful.

I think your insight that feminists are at least as much to blame for the equation of alpha with virtue as PUAs is well worth noting. However, if anything, that only underscores the urgency of my proposal to establish a new semantics here. The natural desire of men to be “alpha” leads to a great deal of moral confusion, and the fact that feminism is only exacerbating it makes me want all the more to abandon the term.