Men want to engage in righteous combat. They want it more than they want sex or VP titles. They fantasize about getting the casus belli to defend themselves against armed thugs that will never come, they spend billions of dollars on movies and TV about everymen in implausible circumstances where EA calculus demands they use supernatural powers for combat, they daydream about fantastical, spartan settings where war is omnipresent and fights are personal and dramatic and intellectually interesting, and they're basically incapable of resisting the urge to glorify their nation and people's past battles, even the ones they claim to disagree with intellectually. You cannot understand much of modern culture until you've recognized that the state's blunt suppression of the male instinct for glory has caused widespread symptoms of pica that dominate our politics, media, and online interactions.

And make no mistake - our half-hearted policy of deeming all such tendencies "toxic masculinity", and refusing men the option to engage in reciprocal or consensual violence against each other, has been a bigger failure than the war on drugs. Lots of ink has been spilled on sphere of influence conspiracy theories that attempt to interpret America's foreign adventures as rational power-seeking behavior. But the real truth is that men naturally form gangs, political cliques, and military theologies that attempt to justify violence within their existing legal and moral landscapes independent of any external incentives to do so. What they really want from all this is not some policy outcome but the self-actualization that comes from fighting the enemy, and the dearth of opportunities for them to challenge their opponents' honor on the battlefield in a rights-respecting way is a much more important misandrist failing than child custody bias or divorce law or anything I've seen red pill people argue on the internet about. Men who are down especially bad will take absurd pay cuts to join artificial and economically unmotivated criminal sects, solely so they get the opportunity to pick mortal battles with other people who've opted into the same social systems they have. 

There is no true modern substitute for these ambitions, with all of their cultural and social significance. Yet the compassionate solution is obvious. A naturally belligerent people, like Americans, require a social outlet like the arena; more than that they need a supportive, dueling-appropriate culture. Thus, a modest proposal:

  • Legalize all death matches between consenting adults.
  • Allow the commercialization of duels, side bets on outcomes, and customized sporting arenas for such venues.
  • Tolerate the return of America's premodern honor system. Resist the forces of media virtue-signaling and authoritarianism that have snuffed one of our greatest traditions.
I am not joking.
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28 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:56 PM

Counterpoint: while the "death" element is removed, the vast majority of videogames and virtually all of sports are some sublimation or simulation of this. Men have access to all manner of simulated warfare, up to and including actual violent combat such as boxing, kickboxing, wrestling and MMA. And of course, there are all sorts of actual wars across the globe, many of which make a reasonable use of volunteers or mercenaries. So if there really was this vast, widespread impulse to toss away one's life for honour, why aren't fighting leagues and gyms absolutely crowded with men brimming with this barely suppressed primal urge? Why isn't every able-bodied male in the west rushing to Ukraine?

Answer: because to actually do it is scary, and painful, and honestly a whole lot of fucking work. You gotta, like, train and shit. And there's still a fair chance of meeting lots of people who are just Better Than You and will kick your ass on the regular, and accepting that takes humility and a sense of proportion. Plus, a non zero risk of physical injury and/or death.

Revealed preferences tell the actual story here. Men don't want to fight. They want to win. And since not everyone can win, and winning is work, many men simply fold back to living boring peaceful lives, pretending that it's society that is depriving them of their God-given right to die a glorious death in battle with its dastardly emasculating ways; then they keep seeking their glory fix vicariously. If they're sane, usually they do so by rooting for this or that sports team, or playing videogames, and nothing else. If they're not so sane, they support demented warmongering policies and raging strongmen and then send their own sons into the meatgrinder, since they're now too old for it. But if they were younger, oh, they'd be there on the front lines, pinky swear!

If you reintroduced the Coliseum, it'd be people desperate for money and the occasional guy with the actual agency to live out his dream fighting in it, and the aforementioned vast crowd of whiners with no self-awareness would be watching it on TV all the same, while ranting about how incompetent those gladiators are, and that they'd be much better, if only not for [insert convenient excuse here].

Modern war is rather different from anything most notions of glory in battle or similar might optimize for. 

Our instincts evolved around tribal war. Real war is shaped by what tech is most effective. And as tech makes modern war ever more different from tribal war, then it fails to activate those instincts. 

Reasonable, but even so, while there are men who do indeed seem to enjoy and seek tribal war-like scenarios (a very common example could be hooliganism, as big chaotic brawls of two opposing groups in the street using no weapon more complex than some blunt implement or rock throwing is probably as close as it comes to warfare in the stone age) they're far from a majority.

Again, anyone wishing to practice violence has a number of sports open as options. I doubt that the lack of a high probability of death is what holds people back, as if these weren't hardcore enough options. In fact most people seek safety in a number of ways, and very few willingly court death or bodily harm. There is no fundamental social problem that would be solved by "reintroduce death games" because:

  1. non-death-but-still-pretty-painful games are already a thing and not nearly enough people seek them to suggest a vast unfulfilled need that only needs the right outlet;

  2. as things are, if the only change you introduced was to legalize death games, the results would not be significantly different from any other spectacular violent sport, with the probable exception that being a contestant would be more low status than being a boxer or MMA fighter due to the risk of death, and thus, it would not fulfil any broader societal need anyway. It would just open a dangerous loophole for Moloch to inevitably converge towards the creation of a poor people meatgrinder that maximises higher class amusement.

In fact, we already have something of an example of what this would look like - let's indulge another ever-present male urge and Think About the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire is the go-to reference when thinking of death games because gladiatorial battles were basically just that, and in many ways, the Roman Empire was closer to our consumeristic society than many of the societies that came afterwards, so we can actually see the gladiatorial battles as a proper entertainment industry of sorts, which aside from the occasional Emperor-sponsored games had to earn its keep with paying spectators. And what do we observe?

  1. the death battles weren't very often to the death. Obviously they were very unsafe by modern standards, but still, training a gladiator to be a good fighter that provided a cool spectacle was expensive and you didn't want to throw that away at the first loss;

  2. gladiators may have been very famous and even have fans - but ultimately, they were mostly slaves. Maybe some very high status, pricey slaves, among the most likely to be able to buy their freedom (though given the nature of their job I'd assume not with the best rates of survival-to-manumission), but still slaves. The highest of the lowest remain pretty low. Freemen who chose gladiatorial combat existed, but they were usually considered also very low in the social hierarchy, like prostitutes;

  3. while the average male Roman citizen did have to perform military service, I would say the Roman way of war was already different enough from anything you'd have witnessed in the stone age to count as out-of-distribution from the ancestral environment, though of course not as much as anything after the age of gunpowder, let alone modern war. Regardless, most of it wouldn't be exciting man-to-man combat, but gruelling marching, building camps, and/or dying of dysentery in the muck of some Jupiter-forsaken German forest. So I don't think you can count it as satisfying the need already enough. War after all has to always be dictated by maximizing chances of victory, not being fun even by whatever definition one could possibly call deadly combat "fun".

I see no reason why the same exact logic wouldn't apply today. Military service is open to anyone willing but doesn't alone fulfil this supposed need. Economics of gladiatorial death games would quickly converge towards minimizing death anyway, so they'd become a merely slightly deadlier combat sport than MMA or American football. Possibly not even as deadly as some other extreme sports. Being a gladiator would quickly become low status compared to other types of sports, a profession attracting mostly antisocial types and desperados with no other option. So most respectable people with good prospects and social ties, even if they did have such a craving for violence to satisfy, would still not do it because on the balance it wouldn't be important enough to forgo a better paying career, or a family, or a good social status. Because obviously "risking your life only because you crave having a chance of killing others out of sheer bloodlust" is always going to be seen as antisocial and barbaric, even by societies who enjoy watching the resulting death games. The gladiators are merely monkeys dancing for the amusement of their betters.

So the proposal of the OP doesn't solve a problem that we aren't even sure is a problem at all, and introduces for sure more ways for Moloch to exacerbate inequalities and kill people for no good reason.

If you reintroduced the Coliseum, it'd be people desperate for money and the occasional guy with the actual agency to live out his dream fighting in it, and the aforementioned vast crowd of whiners with no self-awareness would be watching it on TV all the same, while ranting about how incompetent those gladiators are, and that they'd be much better, if only not for [insert convenient excuse here].

 

Indeed, the NFL exists, and you have described it to a tee. Given the amount and severity of injuries, I would say it's a very close substitute.

Hah! Being European, I'm used to regular ol' football, which while may have fans just as obnoxious, it usually doesn't result in lethal injuries or permanent brain damage (though you may be excused if you thought otherwise after seeing the grand displays of pain players can make whenever a potential penalty is on the line). But yes, the NFL (or things like Nascar racing for that matter) is barely a couple step removed from straight up gladiatorial fights. I'd be curious in comparing survival statistics; it's not like Roman gladiators actually fought to the death every single time either, after all.

Fair, I wasn't aware of this! Though I'm going to guess that American Football still is uniquely bad in the rates of such injuries? This paper suggests that:

https://doi.org/10.4088/PCC.20br02653

I think there's going to be some repeated trauma involved in lots of sports (e.g. skiers stress their knees a lot and have a lot of risk of fractures, lots of team sports involve risks of collisions with other players, deep divers often black out on resurfacing, boxing literally requires one to cause some kind of head trauma to the opponent as one condition to end the game, and so on so forth).

I would guess football, hockey, rugby, boxing, kick-boxing and MMA to be amongst the worst sports for this stuff. Wrestling too possibly though obviously in that case it's more like the result of performances gone wrong.

" football, hockey, rugby, boxing, kick-boxing and MMA to be amongst the worst sports for this stuff." - - I'm not up to date on the current literature but I'm pretty sure this list is rather wrong. I don't remember all the details of the study I do remember (and I don't have time for a lit review) but in it women's high school soccer actually had the highest concussion rate (idk if it was per participant season or hour or per game minute or...).

Countercounterpoint: I just wanted to fight in rationalist fight club and it was great fun, I don't really care about winning (and not much about training).

That looks pretty fun and also fairly distant from a "death battle". I'm down to engage in even more brutal forms of combat, such as with those giant cotton buds while balanced on a beam above an elastic mat.

In order to make such things more real, I propose a format where the loser is contractually obligated to get a vasectomy.

So if there really was this vast, widespread impulse to toss away one's life for honour, why... isn't every able-bodied male in the west rushing to Ukraine?

Because it's not their country. When people's own tribe are attacked the rates of volunteerism are much higher; and when people are defending their personal honor in the right social context the rates of volunteerism are higher still. I can't find the source but apparently one motivation for American armed forces' anti-dueling provisions was that more people were dying in duels than dying in the actual fighting during the war of 1812.

And I would say that MMA, boxing, civilian sport shooting competitions etc. are as popular as they are because of this instinct.

When people's own tribe are attacked the rates of volunteerism are much higher

That sounds less like "the men crave warfare" and more like "the men like their homes, their wives, their children, and will fight to defend them if someone tries to destroy them". The war is the means, not the end. I'd bet if you asked the Ukrainian soldiers, most of them will say that they'd rather this war didn't happen.

I can't find the source but apparently one motivation for American armed forces' anti-dueling provisions was that more people were dying in duels than dying in the actual fighting during the war of 1812

Duels were also about peer pressure. In a social circle in which everyone expects you to defend your honour by duelling, if someone insults you, you duel, because the alternative is to become a social outcast, and that's worse. That doesn't mean that there was a lot of martial thrill involved. Lots of actual descriptions of real duels sound like the duellists were scared and not particularly into it (cf. Philip Hamilton vs George Eacker) and things like shooting up in the air (deloping) were developed precisely as a way to try reconciling the social need for the duel with the personal need to not fucking die.

And I would say that MMA, boxing, civilian sport shooting competitions etc. are as popular as they are because of this instinct.

All sorts of sports that involve some kind of more or less simulated aggression certainly draw on our natural aggression (which obviously women possess too in some measure, since these sports aren't unisex). But your claim is stronger, that there is some pressure so large that there would be a literal need for coliseums and gladiator fights to fulfil it. And I'm saying that that can't be the case because if it was there would not be enough gyms for all the MMA fighters around. Anyone who doesn't have the guts to get on a ring surely would never go into a deadly gladiatorial battle. The point remains that people might crave a sensation or a vibe in abstract, but that vague desire doesn't actually survive impact with the reality of any form of actual violence - pain, fear, danger, fatigue, and lots, lots, LOTS of hard work before you even have a prayer of fighting on even ground with a professional.

There is Boxing/MMA or even Softair, depending in the Social Outlet required. What's the added benfit that trumps an (from my perspective negative) increased normalisation of real world violence?

The honor system sucks ass. Men want to fight for fun or to defend their tribe (I did both!) but not to be compelled into a fight by any random moron insulting them or they'll face social repercussions from within their own people.

The decline of dueling coincided with firearms getting much more reliable. Duels should have the possibility of death, but should not (usually) be "to the death".

True, but to be fair, wasn't this the point of duelling pistols? Much like fencing swords aren't like real swords, duelling pistols weren't crafted to be the most accurate or damaging firearms possible. And they came in pairs so the duellists would both have the same exact standing.

Of course, if you have to impose artificial restrictions on your supposed deadly combat to make it less deadly, you might as well simply remove the death element at all and make it a game of paintball.

The decline of dueling coincided with firearms getting much more reliable.

Possibly, but I don't really buy it. Dueling declined first in the northern United States, and then was ended in the south only after public opinion changed, not before. It persisted in places like Peru until well into the mid twentieth century, when people surely weren't using flintlock pistols. There are also studies like this one (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0147596720300378) that claim that the decline of dueling was pretty closely connected to either economic development or the presence of the federal government (as measured by post offices).

"Normalize pub fistfights" is a statement I agree with wholeheartedly.

I am not sure I agree with this post.

This norm sucks for anyone who wants to be in a pub and not get caught in a fight.

Well there has to be some compromise here. Can the berserkers get some wild west region where pubs aren't policed as heavily?

i meant two man fistfights, not brawls

Was this post shared somewhere? Why is it getting a bunch of attention now?

This post is stolen valor. We just ended a 20-year war against some of the most horrible people in the world in 2021. Anyone over age 20 who claims to long for righteous combat who didn't enlist during the Global War on Terrorism (or make a serious attempt and have it denied for reasons fully beyond their control) is a liar. As is almost anyone who makes this claim now and hasn't signed up to be a mercenary in Ukraine (special exception for someone who needs a valid US security clearance and would put it at risk by joining a foreign army). Policy should not cater to their fake preferences. 

I guess I should make explicit that I'm a pussy who would almost certainly avoid the arena, because life involves other joys which together outweigh any interest in combat. But arenas should be allowed to exist as regulated venues.

Also, one of the benefits of duels is that they're not entire career choices; you can duel someone and then run for office later or whatever, whereas fighting for Ukraine is kind of a long term commitment.