(Morpheus offers the two pills to Neo, Matrix, 1999)
Last time, I have argued that the modern Stoic movement has three internal problems, which I called $toicism, Broicism, and stoicisM. The first one is the notion that Stoicism is a conduit toward becoming rich and famous, and it is popular in Silicon Valley and among sports coaches. I have argued in the first post of this series that while Stoic techniques may indeed be instrumental for all sorts of goals — after all, they are at the roots of modern cognitive behavioral therapy — Stoic philosophy is about just the opposite: do away with concerns with externals such as wealth and fame, and focus instead on the improvement of your own character.
Next time I will address stoicisM, the perversion of our philosophy that has been welcomed by the Military. Today we will talk about the second issue: Broicism, an attitude that seeks in Stoicism the philosophical foundations — or at least some high-powered philosophical help — for the jumble of ideas popular within the so-called Manosphere.
Entering the Manosphere is not for the faint of heart. For one thing, because the writings of its members are scattered, disorganized, and more often than not somewhat incoherent. I spent several hours doing online research on the connection between the Manosphere and Stoicism, running mostly into blog posts (at places like Return of Kings) as well as a bunch of commentary threads on various subreddits, like r/marriedredpill, and of course on the Red Pill Network. It wasn’t fun, but I didn’t want to rely only on second-hand information, such as the one famously reported and discussed by Donna Zuckerberg in her Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age.
First, what is the Manosphere about? I’m going to quote from the sourced Wiki article, which pretty much reflects my own understanding as formed while doing research for this post:
“The manosphere comprises various online groups who promote certain forms of masculinity and are generally hostile to feminism. They include men’s-rights activists, pick-up artists, and fathers’ rights activists, among others.”
“Manospherians believe that feminists and political correctness obscure the feminist dominance of society, and that men are the victims of a misandrist culture and must fight to protect their existence. … ‘Red Pill’ philosophy is a central tenet of the manosphere, which concerns awakening men to the supposed misandry and delusions of feminism.”
Of course, the term “Red Pill” was inspired by this famous scene in the 1999 movie Matrix, where the protagonist, Neo, is offered by another major character, Morpheus, a simple option: to take a blue pill and forget all the disturbing things he learned about how the world really works, or to accept the red pill and see “how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Too bad a perfectly good sci-fi movie has been taken as inspiration by a bunch of seriously troubled people, but so it goes.
[I should add that in this post I am simply taking for granted, not presenting an argument for, the notion that RedPillers, Manospherians, Incels, & co. are seriously misguided in their basic philosophy. If you don’t think so, you may want to stop reading now and check some good criticism of those movements, for instance here, and of course Zuckerberg’s book, among others.]
If you start frequenting the sites mentioned above, you will often find positive references to Stoicism, though it is hard to see well developed arguments for why our philosophy should be connected in any way with the Manosphere movements.
For instance, a post at Red Pill Reviews, introduces a guest author who runs through the basics of Stoicism. The introduction states: “Having recently studied stoicism [sic], I believe this is a concept that will benefit many of you. It’s a philosophy of life that goes well with Red Pill viewpoints and will therefore appeal to some of you.” (Interestingly, I am positively mentioned in that article.)
A typical “argument” connecting the Manosphere and Stoicism is the following, found at The Red Pill Network: “If you asked this question of Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, or Epictetus they would answer that it means to live with virtue. In fact, vir is the Latin word for ‘man.’ The word ‘virtue’ finds its roots in the Latin word for manliness, which is ‘virtus.’” Later on in that article we find such allegedly Stoic pearls of wisdom as “If you’ve been holding off on something, it’s time for you to take Nike’s advice and just fucking do it.” Turns out, one of those things you should “fucking do” is to cold approach women and, naturally, practice martial arts (the latter is not necessarily bad advice, by the way).
Stoic & Zen explains the connection we are discussing in the following way: “we believe that the concept of Red Pill is essential to understand the True Nature of all things in our modern societies. The cultural, social, economical and sexual dynamics influence our perception of the world, shape our values and directly affect our relationships with the opposite sex. … If you are not ‘Red Pilled,’ your intuition is likely to play tricks on you and negate whatever alarm bells it triggered. As for the rational side, you need to make a rational choice, on your own, to swallow the Red Pill and switch how you perceive the visible reality and the invisible dynamics that rules it.” And apparently it is Stoicism, with its emphasis on rationality, that will guide you in this process.
One post at the marriedredpill subreddit explains in some detail why Stoicism is a tool for The Red Pill: “Stoicism is a noble philosophy — an excellent philosophy for silver men. … [The Stoic man] takes utter and complete responsibility for his actions, and is indifferent to everything else. This indifference — is not because he does not care about others around him, nor the tendencies of the oblivious (Blue Pill men) and the irrational (hypergamous women at the mercy of their emotional tempests) around him, but he remains indifferent because they are out of his control. … In living with accordance to nature, the stoic philosopher examines the nature of the human condition (an example would be using a Red Pill lens to examine and navigate the Blue Pill world around us). … If you extend the olive branch to your wife after increasing your SMV [Sexual Market Value] and she still refuses to fuck you, you continue improving yourself, seemingly unphased [sic] and with complete outcome independence (the stay plan is the same as the go plan). … You become Red Pill aware and begin gaming women while married to increase abundance mentality and dread, and others (Blue Pill men) judge you? Who cares. … This explains how stoicism can be used, as a tool, in combination with the Red Pill.
Finally (though there are many, many more examples out there), a post again at The Red Pill Network expounds on why Marcus Aurelius is a good model for manospherians: “I will be highlighting the inherent problem with our friends over at The Blue Pill since I wandered over there to watch the ignorance and irrationality unfold. … We here at TRP want to steer you toward greatness. No matter how old you are the past is the past. No sense dwelling on it. It happened. It is done. It is dead. It is up to you to make sure the rest of your life is better and properly lived. … Marcus Aurelius dealt with a lot of different people. Some rational and some irrational. I went to The Blue Pill prior to this sentence to see what the state of the sub was. I poked around and realized why this sub is not of quality. It’s because it’s inherently shallow and unreasonable; the definition of irrational.”
It should be self-evident why none of the above Manosphere-Stoicism connections makes much sense, and indeed why Stoicism (the actual philosophy) is in fact incompatible with the core manospheric ideology. But let me spell it out, just in case.
Let’s start with the notion that “virtue” comes from the Latin “vir,” which in turn means man and is the root for manliness. This is all true. But the author above seems to forget (or does not know) that the Latin vir is actually the translation of the gender neutral Greek arête, which means excellence, both generally speaking (as in “this is an excellent knife, because it cuts very sharply”) and more specifically in moral terms. As I have explained, the goal of Stoicism is to make us into the best human beings we can become, and this is by no means restricted by gender. Indeed, Seneca explicitly denies any such restriction:
“I know what you will say, ‘You quote men as examples: you forget that it is a woman that you are trying to console.’ Yet who would say that nature has dealt grudgingly with the minds of women, and stunted their virtues? Believe me, they have the same intellectual power as men, and the same capacity for honorable and generous action.” (To Marcia, On Consolation, XVI)
As for following Nike’s “advice” and “just do it,” you’ve got to be kidding me. A major aspect of Stoic philosophy is that we should not give in without thought to automatic impressions, but always pause and question them, since they are often misleading:
“So make a practice at once of saying to every strong impression: ‘An impression is all you are, not the source of the impression.’ Then test and assess it with your criteria, but one primarily: ask, ‘Is this something that is, or is not, in my control?’” (Epictetus, Enchiridion, 1.5)
The connection argued by “Stoic & Zen” between embracing the rationalism of Stoicism and seeing the world as it “really” is, that is, the Red Pill’s way, is actually an example of rationality’s evil twin: rationalization. That is why the Stoics were keen on the study of applied logic, as Epictetus makes clear here:
“When one of his audience said, ‘Convince me that logic is useful,’ [Epictetus] said, Would you have me demonstrate it? ‘Yes.’ Well, then, must I not use a demonstrative argument? And, when the other agreed, he said, How then shall you know if I impose upon you? And when the man had no answer, he said, You see how you yourself admit that logic is necessary, if without it you are not even able to learn this much — whether it is necessary or not.” (Discourses II, 25)
I think it is the whole Red Pill and associated movements that engages in rationalization and wishful thinking, ironically refusing to see the world as it is while loudly proclaiming the opposite. These are people in need of help at multiple levels: psychologically, philosophically, and in terms of a good course on critical thinking. Someone who writes things like “If you extend the olive branch to your wife after increasing your Sexual Market Value and she still refuses to fuck you, you continue improving yourself” has a deeply flawed view of what “improving yourself” means, and could truly benefit from an immersion into Stoicism. But only after he has managed to throw away his red-tainted glasses, or vomit the red pill back out, whichever metaphor you prefer. Seriously, can you picture Marcus Aurelius saying something along the lines of “you become Red Pill aware and begin gaming women while married to increase abundance mentality and dread”?
The broader problem with Broicism is that it (conveniently) neglects several of the fundamental tenets of actual Stoicism, while distorting a good number of others beyond recognition. Let me remind my Broic brothers of the basics:
- Stoicism is a cosmopolitan philosophy that values all rational beings qua rational beings. As Seneca explicitly says above, this includes women.
- There are four cardinal virtues, not just courage — on which many manospherians tend to focus — and they are completely interconnected, so that we cannot practice one without the others (see the second figure in this post). The virtue that is persistently neglected by Broics is that of justice, defined by Plato in part as “The unanimity of the soul with itself, and the good discipline of the parts of the soul with respect to each other and concerning each other; the state that distributes to each person according to what is deserved … social equality.” (See here.) I would argue that this is entirely at odds with much of what one finds in the Manosphere.
- As mentioned above, the goal of Stoicism is not to become manly (vir), but rather to excel as a human being (arête). Not only they are not the same thing, but a pursuit of the first in the Red Pill sense positively gets in the way of a pursuit of the second.
Stoicism is not about one’s Sexual Market Value, an intrinsically demeaning concept if ever there was one. It is not about improving yourself so that your wife will be willing to fuck you. And it is certainly not about ignoring the realities of the world we live in, where it is still women who are discriminated against, harassed, and sexually assaulted by men out to prove their “virility” while forgetting about their arête. Let us get serious and work together to redress all of that to the best of our abilities. That is a program I can imagine Marcus rallying around.
(Next and last: stoicisM, the problem with Stoicism and the Military.)