I returned recently to a copy of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (or The Evening Redness in the West), because it had a lot to teach me, in a literary way, about masculinity and violence.
I was brought to those words when I thought of the pattern of violence in schools, and how not only the tools of these massacres a pattern, but also the boys and men carrying them out. Here are ten gleanings, drawn mostly from the words of the antagonist, Judge Holden:
- The Bible is right, in that those who live by the sword die by the sword. The tools of violence are a calling that bring their means upon themselves as ends.
- Violence will always endure on the earth, so long as man is a son of Cain. There will always be someone to worship violence.
- To wage something is man’s greatest calling. The devil has made him believe the great thing for him to wage is war on other men.
- It is hard for a man to separate any other hobby or trade from the prospect of violence, not because it is in his nature, but because it often becomes his culture.
- Young men cannot help but be radical at some point. Their will is strong and will exert itself on something to conquer. And so many turn to embrace something violent in them. Many old men, having seen that flame come and go, yearn to see the fight in younger men.
- Children want to play more than they want to work, and they never really grow out of it. Even when they are men, they treat their work as they treat their play, and sometimes vice versa.
- Males are prone to risk because they see value in risk. To wage a war is to wage our lives. It is not hard to send us to a war for an unworthy cause if we know our lives will be risked, because risking our lives is a way to show the value of our lives.
- A man can easily find purpose in competing for the authority of his own will. Through a contest of luck and skill, even to the death, a man can deep down believe he is divining the will of God, the gods, the universe, or whatever force he believes, even if that force is only his.
- Thus, men often cannot help but be tempted to believe that might makes right, because by might a man exerts his will.
- To wager that he himself is God, this has been the call to violence for many a man, young and old, but mostly young. If he wins the violent contest, he can believe he has put his moral view to the test and won. If a man, seeing himself as God, overtakes another with violence, his will is made manifest like the will of God.
If all this is true, this is why we as men are drawn to physically dominate something, and why it seems second nature for that to result in violence.
It is not enough to tell boys not to be violent. It is not enough to tell them to hold their anger in.
In the absence of God—not God as all-powerful ruler and judge, but God as suffering servant, good doctor, son of Man—in the absence of this God, man will be called to take up the robes of the warmonger, if for no other reason than to commit the deed and exert his will, to be a champion by might.
We cannot train our boys to be brave, strong, masculine warriors without giving them direction, holding them responsible, and asserting that an even greater force is looking out for them, loves them, and expects from them nothing that they cannot do.
Our boys will find ways to wage something radical and forceful in the world. We do not want them to grow up to warmongers and spillers of blood. But to the extent that we have handed these robes over to our children, what more could the adversary ask of us?
May God have mercy on us all, and be nothing like what we invoke in our own earth.