For the next month or so my small group is going through G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. Reading his chapter “The Maniac” for our meeting this week I thought of pickup artists or the ‘alpha’ male.
In the chapter Chesterton is talking about the insanity of a lot of modern dogmas. By insanity he isn’t using Einstein’s definition (which personally I’ve always found completely inadequate), he is referring to how the minds of insane people works. As he states, “Everyone who has had the misfortune to talk with people in the heart or on the edge of mental disorder, knows that their most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail; a connecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze.” In short, the problem with their minds is not that it is unreasonable but that it is too reasonable. Their minds’ sickness is its inability to accept and engage with the full lived experience which is more than rational.
He uses this analogy to critic the philosophy of materialism in the chapter. As I read it I found it to be the critique I have always been looking for in reference to the philosophy of pickup artists and the alpha male. Over a year ago I read The Game: Penetrating the Secret World of Pickup Artist and have off and on read the blogs of the pickup artist Roissy. I read them because of a friend who has since assimilated many of their ideologies if not all of their practices. Though there is some truth in their view of human relations it is very limited. Though there is some value to be taken from them, not much. But it has been hard to argue against. In part this is because I’m better at making positive arguments than negative ones but also because it is as hard to argue against as the insane man’s logic.
Like Chesterton’s statement about the mad man’s view of the world, “if we attempt to trace the error in exact terms, we shall not find it quite so easy as we had supposed. Perhaps the nearest we can get to expressing it is to say this: that his mind moves in a perfect but narrow circle. A small circle is quite as infinite as a large circle; but, though it is quite as infinite, it is not so large. In the same way the insane explanation is quite as complete as the sane one, but it is not so large. A bullet is quite as round as the world, but it is not the world.” Reducing human relationships to sex, power dynamics, ‘creating value’, control and manipulation may work. It may encompass some aspects of human relationships but not very many (and none very healthy). Pickup artists insistence of why women like assholes may “explain a large number of things, but it does not explain them in a large way.”
I feel a similar objection to their ideologues as Chesterton has for a man in Hanwell (an insane asylum) who thinks himself God and for the materialist. “If the man is Hanwell is really God, he is not much of a god. And, similarly, if the cosmos of the materialist is the real cosmos, it is not much of a cosmos. The thing has shrunk. The deity is less divine than many men; and the whole of life is something much more grey, narrow and trivial than many separate aspects of it. The parts seem greater than the whole.” If the pickup artist is correct, the whole of men-female relationships is much more toxic, much less enriching, and much less attractive. Friendship is grander than romance (and not friendship with an alpha male).
Just as the insane man’s understanding of the world is depressingly inadequate, his life becomes depressingly isolated. Too wrapped up in his limited view his life becomes limited, as does that of the alpha’ male. Or at least so it has been with my friend. Even Roissy seems like a pretty lonely guy. (Otherwise I don’t know how he has the time to post as many entries as he does). To both I have wished to say what Chesterton wants to say to the maniac, “How much larger your life would be if your self could be smaller in it; if you could really look at other men [and women] with common curiosity and pleasure; if you could see them walking as they are in their sunny selfishness and their virile indifference!” “How much happier you would be, how much more of you there would be, if the hammer of a higher God could smash your small cosmos, scattering the stars like spangles, and leave you in the open, free like other men to look up as well as down.”
But just as it’s impossible to reason with the maniac, I don’t know how possible it is to reason with the ‘alpha’ male.