We've had some rather heated debates on the discussion boards quite recently - and what better job can a forum do than to stimulate thought-provoking debate? - with one debate in particular centering on a report from one of the readers on a sexual encounter he had with a married woman.
In the report, the reader - The Byronic Man, a younger guy who's
fairly new to seduction and still more or less getting his footing down
- details an encounter that took place over several days with a
married woman who wanted to sleep with him, but had some reservations.
He persisted, slept with her, and she seemed to have gotten what she
wanted... though also seemed to have dealt with a bit of inner turmoil.
And here's where things get interesting. Another of our readers, Landlord, in his early 40s and experienced, weighed in to let Byronic know he was out of line, and had crossed a line, sleeping with a married woman - whether she wanted it or not, that was beside the point. This is simply not something you do.
Various commenters weighed in on one side of the debate or the other; some in favor of, a larger number against.
This post, however, is not about the morality or ethics of sleeping with married women. I'll leave that for the boards to decide.
What's more interesting to me than the moral debates themselves (which you can debate forever... if two parties' value systems fail to match up, or their empathy levels are dramatically different, they will argue past each other for 100 years and never sway the other) is a set of questions posed by Landlord, asking for more opinions on "what game means" and "what does it mean to be a man"?
I'd like to veer a little deeper off that topic and talk about what makes the difference between a civilized man... and an uncivilized one.
“In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently, not culture of the earth, no navigation, nor the use of commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
That's Thomas Hobbes on the state of man outside the confines of civilization. Without rule of law and culture, life must necessarily be bellum omnium contra omnes, Latin for "the war of all against all", as described in Hobbes's 1642 work De Cive and his 1651 work Leviathan.
Civilization is the moderating force. It is what curbs what our natural instincts drive us to be, something that is again described by historian Will Durant in his book The Lessons of History as "acquisitive, greedy, and pugnacious because our blood remembers milleniums through which our forebears had to chase and fight and kill in order to survive, and had to eat to their gastric capacity for fear they should not soon capture another feast."
I'm going to lean on Durant a good deal for this piece, because he's spent a great deal more time exploring and thinking about history than I have, much as it interests me - he simply has many more years on me at the time of his writing of History than I do at the time of the writing of this - and in any event his thoughts in History represent the distillation of a brilliant career consuming other brilliant historians (like Spengler) and thinking about the nature and environment of men on the scale of millennia, a perspective individuals enamored with the passing minutiae of celebrity gossip or minor natural disasters or small-scale wars or the latest sports match would be wise to take.
The question I think we must all answer for ourselves right now is, what stage of civilization is our civilization in right now, and what are our duties to ourselves and our fellow men within it?
The Stages of Civilization
Durant largely discusses the life cycle of civilizations thus, from birth to decay:
- New civilizations begin with pasture and agriculture,
- Then expand into industry and commerce,
- And luxuriate with finance;
- Thought passes first from the supernatural (gods),
- To the legendary (heroes),
- To those naturalistic (scientific) explanations;
- Experiments in morals loosen tradition and frighten its beneficiaries,
- And the excitement of innovation is forgotten in the unconcern of time.
He notes that every situation is different, and there is no guarantee the future will repeat the past. The overall trajectory of history, though, is one of a pendulum, with each civilization swinging back and forth between order (in the beginning) and freedom (in the end).
During periods of order, the emphasis is on following tradition, respecting the rules, and consolidating society to be more insular and exclusive. During periods of freedom, the emphasis is on tearing down tradition, violating the rules, and expanding society to be more open and inclusive. Both periods are needed; freedom, to challenge outmoded and stale rules and traditions; and order, to establish control and rein in man's baser instincts.
In The Republic, published around 380 B.C., Plato (through Socrates) details the collapse of morals in ancient Athens during a period of extreme freedom and rebellion against tradition:
“[The democrats] contemptuously rejected temperance as unmanliness. . . . Insolence they term breeding, and anarchy liberty, and waste magnificence, and impudence courage. . . . The father gets accustomed to descend to the level of his sons and to fear them, and the son to be on a level with his father, having no shame or fear of his parents. . . . The teacher fears and flatters his scholars, and the scholars despise their masters and tutors. . . . The old do not like to be thought morose and authoritative, and therefore they imitate the young.... Nor must I forget to tell of the liberty and equality of the two sexes in relation to each other. . . . The citizens chafe impatiently at the least touch of authority, and at length . . . they cease to care even for the laws, written or unwritten. . . . And this is the fair and glorious beginning out of which springs dictatorship [tyrannis] . . . . The excessive increase of anything causes a reaction in the opposite
direction; . . . dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme form of liberty.”
Approximately 40 years after Plato noted this situation in democratic Athens, Philip of Macedon marched down into Greece with his phalanxes and became the new emperor of Greece, restoring some measure of order, and swinging the pendulum back in the other direction (though not for long; the Greeks remained relatively morally lax, and Durant credits their later immigration to Rome as helping to undermine the Roman democracy, clearing the path for the Caesars).
Durant notes that, at least in 1965 when he wrote the book, one major difference between ancient Greek and present-day Western sexual mores was the lack of widespread and open homosexuality in the West; and while we're not quite where the Greeks were today, I'd say we've moved a fair bit closer to that in 50 years than Durant might have expected back in the 1960s.
It seems clear that we are deep into the "freedom" side of the pendulum in the civilization lifecycle; order is cast off, resented, and thought of as unnecessary, while freedom, equality, and lack of restriction on individual rights and privileges of all kinds is hoisted up as the ideal to strive for.
Indeed, I doubt a website like this one could exist in a civilization in the midst of much order; there would be too many powerful people who would be too quick to censor it, and too few common men who would feel anything but unpatriotic and immoral to read about such things as pursuing sex and viewing conversation and seduction as a skill to be learned rather than a necessary evil to spend as little time on as possible before securing a wife to build a family with.
A Civilized Man in an Uncivilized Time?
It's neither fair nor correct to say that periods of freedom are "less civilized" than periods of order; when order is carried too far to the extreme, it, too, becomes completely uncivilized; an overly rigid, unbendable structure stifles growth and innovation and change perhaps as much as no structure at all.
Rather, I think we want to describe the "most civilized" times as being those with the greatest balance between freedom and order; the more extreme you get into either order or freedom, the less civilized and more Hobbesian individual behavior towards one's fellow man becomes:
In times of extreme order, those in high positions wield almost god-like power over those in low positions, a situation that leads to frequent abuses of power and (as can be seen in any study of individuals in rigid power hierarchies, like the famed Standford prison experiment) inhumane treatment of others. Everything becomes about maintaining one's place in the hierarchy, and gradually elevating it above others
In times of extreme freedom, restrictions on behavior greatly loosen, encouraging individuals to act with less concern for their effects on others, as social institutions - legal and moral - become too weak to enforce more "civilized" behavior, and society descends into another version of Hobbesian "war against all"
You would never see, for instance, the vitriol against men that you see in the feminist sphere, nor that against women that you see in the men's rights sphere, which you see today during a period of order. Conversely, you would never see the vitriol against lower classes and minorities that you'd see during a period of order in a free period like today.
Here's the part that's relevant for you as a man: during a period of order, unless you are very powerful, it is next to impossible to end up in a position to sleep with very many women, and to follow anything other than the conventional path of one wife, early into life.
You will never elevate your position, most likely. There are no
Internet billionaires in a period of order. Mark Zuckerberg is
finishing up his apprenticeship in an engineering workshop today in a
period of order, destined to be a low-ranking member of the merchant
class forever, rather than building his own global IT empire in his 20s.
But during a period of freedom, the restrictions recede, and we revert to a more natural state of being: one in which we collectively give free rein to our acquisitiveness, our pugnacity, and our lust.
The manners of your grandfather are quaint, dusty, and forgotten. Likewise, the women you meet have generations since set aside what it meant to be a lady, and have much lower empathy levels and consideration for you, as a partner or a paramour, than they once did.
Entitlement mentalities run rampant - people around you want and expect more from you than they did half a century ago, for much less in return.
It's far from a total switch. There are still plenty of people that cling to some of the old mores and manners; and many that try their best to be "good people" - "good men" and "good women."
But even among these traditionalists, the best of them are no better than the midlevel of yesteryear; the times now are different, and, like the Greece of Plato, the citizens chafe impatiently at the least touch of authority, the child has no shame or fear of his parents, and the liberty and equality of the sexes in relation to each other is unprecedented for our civilization.
There are still plenty of "good people", but the measure of what
makes a man a "good man" has laxed as our civilization's moral code has
As after the rise to power of Augustus in ancient Rome, we see "women dizzy with freedom, multiplying divorces, abortions, and adulteries," and, widespread throughout our society, "a shallow sophistication prid[ing] itself upon its pessimism and cynicism."
In a time when "good men" are shunned as weak men, when assholes command harems of lustful women, and when the most sexual men clean up while the majority of respectful men sit astride the bleachers and watch with confusion and disillusionment, should you be a civilized man in an uncivilized time?
I am wary of those who speak too emphatically of ethics and morals. The handful of individuals in my life who have opined most frequently on and judged most harshly the morality of others have universally turned out to be the most unscrupulous, amoral, and depraved individuals I have known, once their veil of morality and ethics was cast aside and their true colors stretched out for the drinking in. And I have noted lesser trends in individuals less fervent than (though similarly pushy to) these.
Yet, embracing your place as a civilized, respectable man with a healthy dose of appreciation for his fellow man - and a love and nurturance of women - seems to me to be one of the highest ideals to reach for... and I know it's not just me.
If you examine the most revered individuals in history, they are nearly all "good" men - men who thought highly of their fellow man, who went out of the way to stem their natural urges if said urges would result in the unnecessary suffering of another, and who saw themselves as caretakers of their respective civilizations.
The thing worth noting, however, is that almost none of these men began this way - and this one point is a central one to what I see as the core debate between Landlord and Byronic.
The Hero's Journey
It's easy to read that thread on the boards and view Landlord as the hero, and Byronic as the villain. There is Byronic, preying on the wife of a married man, and not even a wife on the way out - she's one who wanted sex, yes, but she was far from decisive about it. Landlord steps in to point out the lack of concern for the sanctity of this marriage Byronic shows - he has little consideration for what he is potentially destroying, nor the potential conflict he is introducing into these other people's lives.
And Landlord has a good point here.
But again, this post isn't about the morality of sleeping with married women or not. This post is about the civilized man... and the journey one must make to get there.
In one of his posts in the thread, Landlord notes that he's "been on both sides of the fence and everybody suffers greatly" - in other words, he's been there, done that, and now realizes (after having seen the consequences of his actions) that a man's better off not doing this.
Byronic is, alternately, just starting out. He hasn't been there and done that. This is new ground being broken for him.
And this is the inherent conflict you see time and again between the young and the old; Durant discusses this in the audio book version of The Lessons of History, noting that the young struggle to throw off the old, to rebel, to live, and to experience, while the middle-aged struggle to conserve tradition, to stem the passions of the young, to steer and direct, and the old come to accept that the world is the way it is, with the young straining against the control of their elders, and the elders straining to temper their successors.
When I scan back through history, looking for great and notable men, I find a distinct trend: almost none of them are pure. From Gilgamesh to St. Paul to Augustine to Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates, most of the men who go down in history start off to small extent or large extent as "bad guys", and only with time and experience and the cooling of passions do they come to realize the error of their earlier ways, rein themselves in, and focus on doing good... and lecturing the young to do as they do now, not as they did before.
Why is it that saints like of Francis of Assisi, who was destined for sainthood from childhood, when he ran after a beggar to give him everything his father had given him to sell, are not nearly as revered in the Christian pantheon as St. Augustine, who ran the streets of Carthage with the pickup artists of that day and bore a child out of wedlock before converting to Christianity and becoming one of its greatest saints?
As human beings, we have a natural distrust of those who have yet to drink from the cup of experience. We pat them on the head and pay them passing respect; we say, "My, what a good person he is," about the nice guy who's never harmed a fly, never broken a rule, and doesn't have a rebellious bone in his body; but we view him as a child, not a man.
In human society, the view of a REAL man is, for all intents and purposes, inextricably tied to that of experience... the real man is the one who is able to say, "I have done things for which I am ashamed, and things that I probably should not have done... but, I have learned from my mistakes, and I am a better man because of it."
Thus, paradoxically, we often end up with a situation in which the real men - those who have lived fully, experienced fully, and done wild, rebellious, chaotic, and occasionally even bad or harmful things - with the quelling of the passions that time and experience brings, caution young men to avoid those things altogether for which they themselves now feel ashamed - but without which they would almost certainly be considered less "men" than they currently are today, when all niceties are peeled aside.
The Young Man's Dilemma
Do you then live a debauched youth, filled with rule-breaking, wild actions, and devilish deeds, only to mellow out later in life... or, do you heed the wisdom of your elders, and lead a more temperate life - one of goodness, decency, and respect?
This is a bigger dilemma than you might think, especially if you've had good counsel from intelligent people on how to live better and avoid the mistakes they themselves made as youths. It's difficult to plead lack of a father figure or growing up in a bad environment for your youthful indiscretions if you had other influences around you guiding you toward the light.
Yet, when you forego too many of these experiences, you end up the worse for it. The man who has slept with married women has far more moral ground to stand on when he says, "Don't sleep with married women; it's no good," than the man who has not slept with married women; the man who has not slept with married women has never done it, he's never tried it, and his advice comes merely from theory, and from what others have told him, or perhaps simply from fear of being outgunned by the more experienced man.
But if a man listens to the experienced man, and foregoes the experience because he knows the experienced man is right, he then deprives himself of the experience, and is poorly suited to influence others later on in life, or to command the full respect of others as a man who has experienced life fully - the good parts and the bad.
The moral man here interjects and says, "But of course someone should not do [X] just for the experience! [X] is bad, therefore it must not be done!"
Then, the question becomes, how does the moral man know this? Is it because:
He has done it himself? Then his words have some weight - yet, he is in fact guiding men to be not like him, rather than like him - telling them to do as he says, not as he's done - which means if he is a respectable man, young men ought not to listen to his words and rather copy his deeds, if they aspire to the same kind of respect he commands; and if he is not a respectable man, they probably do not want to be like him or care to hear his thoughts regardless
Has he not done it himself? Then he is repeating hearsay given to him by other individuals, or speaking from fear and ignorance
Things get murkier as you veer into progressively darker moral terrain. Does this mean everyone ought to kill someone, purely for the sake of having done it? If not, do you say this as someone who has taken a life yourself, and now regret it, or as someone who has not done so, and knows that to do so is bad only through what others have told him, or through his fear of living in an anarchistic society in which he himself or his loved ones may be slain at random?
I think it's obvious to point out that you should not kill, at least not in non-life-or-death self-defense situations. But even the boundaries on that can be stretched - if every human being on Earth is wiped out, except you, another man, and a woman, and it looks as though this other man will monopolize the woman for himself, leaving you to live and die alone, is it still wrong to murder him?
Thus, we find that even the most unspeakable of evils in some moral climates becomes open for debate in other moral climates. I'd argue that sleeping with another man's wife is one such act open to debate in a moral climate like the one we currently find ourselves in. Though I would normally not support it myself, except in some extenuating situations, I think it seems clear it is something that at least must be talked about, rather than dismissed out of hand, censored, and silenced at mere mention of.
What Should You Do?
This is a difficult question for every young man out there, particularly in times as morally lax and sexually tempestuous as ours right now. Unlike in times of greater order, you are not faced with any one cohesive moral world view that everyone around you subscribes to; rather, you are buffeted about by a great diversity of forces, all of which command you to behave in strikingly different ways, and each of which will judge you as weak or depraved if you follow a path different from the one it demands that you follow.
I wish I could tell you "do this and do that, and you'll be doing
the right thing," but I can't, especially with sticky situations like
married women, where maybe the husband is hurt if you sleep with his
wife, and maybe you destroy the marriage; or, maybe if you decline
sleeping with her, you're condemning the wife to suffer in misery and
isolation inside a marriage she's deeply unhappy with, but has
difficulty leaving because the husband keeps her inside of it with
guilt trips or other forms of emotional leverage and manipulation. When
it comes to situations like these, with incomplete knowledge of the
feelings and mental life of the other parties involved, simply saying,
"I will not get involved, and spare myself liability through inaction,"
is not good enough; it is failing to assess what your real
responsibility is to each person. There is no easy answer, and there
are no shortcuts.
In morally contentious situations,
everyone has his own strong opinions, and everyone, by and large, is
mostly blind to the opinions of others and mostly devoid of empathy for
them; but I'd urge both the man who favors adultery and the one
who rails against it to step off the soapbox for a moment and see the
world through the other man's eyes, without imagining inhuman
characteristics in him as a shortcut to other him. I doubt this is
likely to happen, and because of this it is a gulf that will never
close; but if both men could do this, it would allow true dialogue to
open up, rather than closed-minded lecturing by one party and
defensiveness by the other, as you see in all arguments of moral superiority.
Imagine, instead, that he is you - only, he believes differently on
this single matter. Why does
he do so? What is it he is valuing differently than you? Assume
nothing... because chances are, what you assume is the core driver of
his motivation, the core reason he's made his decision, is very
different from what it actually is, and without understanding this, you
will never convince him of anything.
The young are, so often, wild, unruly, and uncivilized; they are driven to learn, explore, indulge, and experience, to the fullest extent possible. In times of greater order, they are reined in by parents and societies, and in times of greater freedom they run amok until they reach an age where they reflect on their indulgences and settle into a more temperate place.
In parting, I will leave you with a quote from Durant, on the nature of youth:
“A youth boiling with hormones will wonder why he should not give full freedom to his sexual desires; and if he is left unchecked by custom, morals, or laws, he may ruin his life before he matures sufficiently to understand that sex is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume in chaos both the individual and the group.”
We live in a world lacking in most of the constraints societies traditionally rely on to bank and cool that river of fire. But even in a world filled with constraints, in order to become the truly respected civilized man, society demands that a young man must break some of its rules, and do some of the things it tells him he must not do. Things it will be angry at him for doing when he does them, but that will enable it to look upon him with great respect later on for having experienced, thought better of, and later renounced.
Ours is a world that celebrates its prodigal sons more than the good
sons who have never left home, and it always has been, and probably
always will be.
To become the truly respected man, the civilized man others hoist up as hero and scholar and defender of civilization, you must come up to the brink, and perhaps go over it, and from there you must return. Each man's journey is his own; though I hope you will not do anything that will damage the lives and psyches of others, at some point you may regardless; the only guidance I will leave you with is this: "do no harm, if you can avoid doing so at all."
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