I’m sure you’ve seen or heard the following quote a few times in one form or another:
“Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times.”
I’m also sure you’ve noticed that the ones who love to repeat this phrase are usually conservative traditionalist types.
According to Goodreads, the quote is apparently attributed to a G. Michael Hopf who is a novelist of post-apocalyptic fiction; specifically, the quote is stated to come from his 2016 work Those Who Remain. I know absolutely nothing about Mr. Hopf, his works, nor his precise intent and context of this phrase. I’m not here to talk about him at all. Instead, this essay will serve as my reaction to the use of this phrase by conservatives in this woke era.
If common usage of that saying is not intended as a reaction to things like the woke phenomenon, modern society with its comforts, and the “decline and collapse of Western civilization”, then I don’t know what the intent is. The following is what is likely in the minds of these traditionalist conservatives as they chant the slogan:
Men are supposed to need these “hard times” to become strong. Because we have these hardened “strong” men of service, our lives and our civilization is prosperous. But lo and behold, our civilization is so prosperous and value is so abundant that life isn’t hard enough for men to be whipped into shape! And because of these men who are clearly slacking and not sacrificing enough, they are to blame for the hard times we currently face!
Does that sound about right?
Some no doubt find some sort of inspiration in this slogan. What form this inspiration takes, I have not the slightest idea. Instead, I find only two things: sheer futility, and another excuse to blame men for any given problem in the world.
One would think that the futile nature of this slogan would be obvious enough that it would be more discouraging and a cause for pessimism than any inspiration in a positive sense. It is even more futile and pessimistic than the occasional talk about “the pendulum swing” in societal attitudes.
Here is what I mean: when somebody speaks about the liberation and mainstreaming of Social Issue X, which then leans to aberrant behavior that results in reactionary backlash, what they commonly would add is that “the pendulum has swung too far.” There is supposedly a pendulum that is swinging, implying that society is doomed to hopelessly alternate between states of collective attitudes. Nobody learns a lesson. For every supposed virtue, there is an extreme it goes to that necessitates the swing the other way. Then, the cycle repeats. This is an expression of no moral certainty; I would almost say it is comparable to moral relativism.
The “Hard Times Create Strong Men” Loop should be recognized as at least as despairing due to the very fact that it is a loop. For all the hard work of the “strong men” created by hard times, it all is meaningless: it comes crashing down to hard times. None of the praises of strong men mattered because they end up creating the very thing, the hard times, that they were trying to save mankind from.
Consider the following illogicality: If hard times create strong men, then hard times are good, because strong men are good. It follows then that the good times are bad, because they create weak men, who are bad. But then weak men create the hard times – are weak men good or bad for doing this? Is this not a desirable situation, since they create good strong men? But then if strong men create the thing that creates the weak men, why is anyone complaining about the weak men? What’s more, they lead to the good thing that makes thing strong!
I could go on, but suffice to say that I’ve given this more thought than anyone who just want to throw around a loopy quote to sound sophisticated.
Let’s talk about my second point, about blaming men:
“Hard Times Create Strong Men” – Men are tasked with getting society (once again, by society I mean “mostly women”) out of the hard times. They are useless unless they risk their lives all for the sake of others who don’t – others who aren’t admonished like these men are.
“Strong Men Create Good Times” – Men, having already been tasked to eliminate the hard times often at their own expense, must make things better and produce a plethora of goodness. Create the good times, or you (men) are useless.
“Good Times Create Weak Men” – Society changes its mind. Men, having been asked to build the good times, are facing attack on two fronts: for becoming “weak” because things are much simpler and there is less strife and thus more reason to enjoy the fruits of unsacrificed life, and secondly for creating the thing that ushered in these “weak” men. Talk about biting the hand that feeds.
“Weak Men Create Hard Times” – Life begins to suck, people (mostly women) freak out, and instead of any self-awareness of the fact that they asked for all this, focus on blaming men because they got us out of the “good times” as strong men, and because they created the “hard times” as weak men. Man almost realizes that he can’t win, but opts for compliance and pleasing the women anyway.
“Hard Times Create Strong Men: The Next Generation” – As men are tasked once again with getting society out of the hard times, they are reminded of how much they are to blame.
Do you think I am being too hyperbolic with these scenarios? Frankly, with such a clever-sounding yet actually stupid causality loop, I can’t help but be so hyperbolic; it is necessary to illustrate the moronic take that it is.
If you think this is just praise for men and crediting them for it, you should realize it is a backhanded and false praise. You’re being set up for a Catch-22. Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. It doesn’t matter if the cycle makes it futile, for that is what your life’s worth is defined by. If anything, the futility is necessary, so that the man need not know that anything outside the cycle, outside the pendulum swing, is even possible,
With such a mindset that charges men with the task of holding up society, and the blame for not holding it perfectly enough, we can make further assumptions. Nothing wrong that happens is women’s fault. Either women don’t have the obligation to contribute to making the good times, or they do merely by existing. And, if those God-darn males would please stop screwing things up then we won’t fall into hard times again! Such is the mindset behind the culture of male toil and disposable usage.
In light of all this, what is a strong or weak man anyway? As we know, strength has multiple contexts.
In terms of physical strength, it is well-taken that the more technology progresses, the less manual labor men have to perform in certain areas due to automation. But the existence of facilities to work out in, from our more modernized gyms to the very outdoors where we can walk and run, proves that there is always every opportunity to actually make oneself stronger or at least fit no matter how advanced the technology is.
In terms of strength of character, there could be much more potential for confusion. It is of course the height of irony for a gynocentrist to be preaching about a man’s strong character considering that gynocentrism requires weak male character. Because nothing says “strong man” like going on one’s knees to propose marriage to a woman and acting as if they were pathetic unworthy creatures requiring the kindness of the iteration of The Great Mother; nothing says “strong man” like someone at the beck and call of their wife or their mother, because you know what they say about happy wives and unhappy mamas.
I will offer a thought: a proper masculine strength of character involves the willingness to set boundaries and one’s own standards. It is the willingness to embrace what has been always denied him: the right to exist on his own terms.
Lastly in terms of spiritual strength, I have to say there is even more potential for confusion. The particulars of spirituality are subject to debate, and they should be in this world of philosophical vibrance and multiple points of view and backgrounds. But much of the “spiritual” argument for the “strong man” has manifested in terms of breaking men. Mortification of flesh, physical mutilation and psychological self-torture has often been taken up as rites of passage for boys to become men, even though the fact that these particular acts are man-breaking is not cloaked.
The most egregious form of male torture as a marker of “on the path to manhood” is one we’re most familiar with: male genital mutilation. Different from those who think the procedure is painless and results in no harm, instead the traditional conservative is fully aware of the pain, some of the damage, and the fact that the infant could die – to them, the pain is “good for the boy,” “it will make them men,” and “it is a covenant with God”. The refusal to see the cruelty of inflicting it on infant boys will always be cloaked in the veneer of a sacrificial take on masculinity by it’s gurus and salesmen: the likes of Matt Walsh and Jordan Peterson. Such is their version of spiritual “strength”. Such is the pressure to be a “strong man” so unreasonably high that they must presume to ensure it at the earliest days of Year Zero of the male.
Regarding genuine spiritual strength, I would offer similar advice about strength of character. The particulars of your spirituality are yours to decide, but make no mistake: they are yours to decide. Be absolutely sure that your spiritual strength comes from the how whole you feel, and how uncompromised you are. Recognize when your spirituality and sense of wholeness is injured, especially when it has happened at infancy, and find that strength to heal.
With these recontextualizations of strong men, could we bring some meaning to the slogan at hand? Frankly, it is not worth it. Remember, it is a futile cycle anyway. If strength for men is to actually mean anything, it should serve to reject such oversimplistic catchphrases, not for consign men to it.
What I can do is offer an alternative narrative, that actually has a purpose and endpoint. A goal post, if you will. Consider the following:
Good times do not lead to hard times, certainly not by virtue of being good times. Hard times are caused by complacency. Complacency is the direct result of not realizing we have choices to make. We do, in fact, have a choice to make at each given moment during the good times. We are not doomed to fall into hard times because good times make us inevitably weak. It is not inevitable.
Oftentimes we hear words of doom spoken regarding the rise and fall of civilizations in human history. Of course, the fall of a civilization is as inevitable as our own deaths as human beings. However, it is a mistake to think a civilization has to go that way at any point. So long as human beings can make the choice to stand up against those that seek to bring the hard times and act accordingly, civilization will not die. Good times aren’t doomed to lead to bad times. Quite the contrary, good times exist to fight the hard times.
If men are in trouble, and they are, hard times are the cause, not good times. If men find themselves weakened in any meaningful sense of the word, the causes are found in the hard times. It’s time to stop this preoccupation with bromides that are feedback loops glorifying pointlessness. We should instead find guidelines that make for a lasting vision for men’s greatness that values them for their own sake, not as scapegoats.