Are Men Less Than They Were?

It all really started with a Facebook comment.  A friend on social media mentioned that centuries ago, the average man was built like an NFL cornerback.  At that time, I simply filed that information under the “cool things to check out” folder inside my brain and went on.

Photo from Flickr, by Tony Alter
Photo from Flickr, by Tony Alter

That tidbit stuck with me, however.  While cornerbacks aren’t the biggest guys on the field, they do tend to have to balance speed and strength in ways no one else has to.  They need to keep up with speedy receivers, but lay a smackdown like a linebacker.  Could the average person have really been like that?

I sent a private message to the friend to ask where he got that tidbit from.  He said he’d have to re-find it, but a short time later he sent me this link to an article from 2009.

A new book claims even modern athletes could not run as fast, jump as high, or have been nearly as strong as our predecessors.

The book, Manthropology: The Science of the Inadequate Modern Male, by Australian anthropologist Peter McAllister, describes many examples of the inadequacy of the modern male, calling them as a class, “the sorriest cohort of masculine Homo sapiens to ever walk the planet.”

Given spiked running shoes, Indigenous Australians of 20,000 years ago could have beaten today’s for running 100 and 200 meters. As recently as last century, some Tutsi males in Rwanda could have easily beaten the current high jump world record, and bodybuilders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger would have been no match in an arm wrestle with a Neanderthal woman.

Twenty thousand years ago six male Australian Aborigines chasing prey left footprints in a muddy lake shore that became fossilized. Analysis of the footprints shows one of them was running at 37 kph (23 mph), only 5 kph slower than Usain Bolt was traveling at when he ran the 100 meters in world record time of 9.69 seconds in Beijing last year. But Bolt had been the recipient of modern training, and had the benefits of spiked running shoes and a rubberized track, whereas the Aboriginal man was running barefoot in soft mud. Given the modern conditions, the man, dubbed T8, could have reached speeds of 45 kph, according to McAllister.

McAllister also presents as evidence of his thesis photographs taken by a German anthropologist early in the twentieth century. The photographs showed Tutsi initiation ceremonies in which young men had to jump their own height in order to be accepted as men. Some of them jumped as high as 2.52 meters, which is higher than the current world record of 2.45 meters.

McAllister, interviewed in his temporary residence in Cambridge, UK, also said women of the extinct hominids such as the carried around 10 percent more muscle than modern European men, and with training could have reached 90 percent of the bulk of Arnold Schwarzenegger at his physical prime. Her shorter lower arm would have given her a great advantage in an arm wrestle, and she could easily have slammed his arm to the table.

Go read the whole article, because it’s interesting.  It was interesting enough that I picked up a copy of the book and read it.  Wow.

McAllister makes a case through the book that no matter what modern man thinks we’re the best at, we’re not.  Not really.  We’re not the best in pretty much any conceivable way except in having cool technology around.

Unsurprisingly, McAllister’s work has met with some criticism.  After all, he pretty much lays out the case that modern men are wimps, and some people don’t like that kind of talk.

However, the overall point stands.  We’re not anything particularly special.  Our brutal sports aren’t that brutal, our fastest ever may not really be all that fast in the grand scheme of things, and our strongest may not really be the strongest.

While some people may not be overly comfortable with this information, McAllister isn’t the only one to reach that conclusion.

If you were to cross paths with one of your farming ancestors (circa 7,500 to 2,000 B.C.), he’d shove you to the ground, kick sand in your face, and jog off into the sunset with your mate slung over his shoulder. And even with somebody else’s partner slung over his other shoulder, you’d probably never catch up to him. Such has been our musculoskeletal decline in only a handful of millennia.

“Even our most highly trained athletes pale in comparison to these ancestors of ours,” says Dr. Colin Shaw of Cambridge University’s Phenotypic Adaptability, Variation and Evolution Research Group. “We’re certainly weaker than we used to be.”

Alison Macintosh, one of Shaw’s PAVE colleagues, thinks so, too. She’s the one whose recent paper, “From athletes to couch potatoes: Humans through 6,000 years of farming,” claims that, when Central Europeans made the transition from hunter-gatherer societies to agricultural ones, men’s lower limb strength and overall mobility decreased (even more so than among women).

“Yeah, but we’re smarter than those guys.  While our bodies have gotten smaller, our brains have gotten larger, right?”

Not really.  It looks like our brains have actually gotten smaller.

Both McAllister and Macintosh seem to agree that ancient man was a monster, and they also seem to agree that as life got easier, we got weaker, which is understandable.

However, all is not lost.

In Manthropology, argues that the difference between those ancient men and today isn’t genetic, but ontogenetic.  In other words, our development during our own lifetime is the reason none of us are the monsters our ancient ancestors are.

Frankly, at the rate we’re going, this will be our future.

Photo courtesy of Disney.
Photo courtesy of Disney.

People laughed at the fat people in Wall-E, but we shouldn’t. We’re actually headed in that direction as it is.  Our lifestyles, great as they are, are making is into just that.

Don’t believe me?  Obesity is considered a disability by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under the Americans With Disabilities Act.  The courts appear to be listening as well, apparently.

Further, there is an entire fat acceptance movement at work in Western countries dedicated to telling people that somehow being overweight is fine.  They argue that you can be healthy at any size, but ignore the mountains of scientific data that links obesity to things like heart disease and diabetes.

So yeah, we’re headed that direction.  Some morbidly obese people already routinely use scooters to get around in situations when the rest of us walk.

The ontogenetic development has taken a turn for the worse, it seems.  But it doesn’t have to.

While it’s unlikely we’ll ever end up as the physical specimen that McAllister and Macintosh argue we once were, we damn sure can do better.

First, we need to keep our kids active.

When I was a kid, I was considered a couch potato, but I spent infinitely more time outside than my own son has.  In part, my wife has this weird fear of my son being kidnapped or something (if you knew here history, though, it wouldn’t be so weird), but my son also had little interest in playing outside.  He just didn’t care about it.

This is actually normal in this day and age, so we as parents need to do what we can to change that.

Our kids need movement, and they need movement with resistance in that movement.  As McAllister points out in Manthropology, our ancient ancestors began doing work very young, which meant they grew up and grew stronger at the same time.

Now, I’m not saying to not let kids be kids.  However, there’s no harm in also giving them tasks that will help improve their strength as they develop.  Carrying things, for example, is a way a child can help the parents while slowly developing strength.

Another thing that kids can do is climb trees.  This old staple of childhood involves movements much like pull-ups and dips, which develop the deltoids, back, biceps, chest, and triceps.  Sounds like an almost complete upper body workout to me.

This is especially true for boys.  Contrary to what some feminists would like to think, strength matters for boys and, by extension, men and no amount of whining about how that thinking is toxic will change it.  It’s an evolutionary trait that isn’t likely to go away because a group of women thinks it’s mean.

As I wrap this already long piece up, I won’t say that we have the opportunity to become gods.  That’s hyperbole beyond my own personal comfort zone.  What I will say is that mankind hasn’t change genetically all that much from our ancient ancestors.  We’re still capable of outrunning Usain Bolt or lifting half-ton boulders.  Genetically, we are.

Somewhere along the way, we let comfort become more important, though.  We embraced comfort and technology and turned our back on that peak level we once saw regularly.  Why?  Who knows.  The truth is that we could have held onto both, to some extent.

Now, maybe we can take it back.


Disposable Lives

Once upon a time, things were meant to last.  When you bought furniture, it was understood that it would most likely be the last piece of this you would ever need.  Oh, sure, you might buy another, but it was because the style had changed, not that the piece had fallen apart.

Photo by banjo d
Photo by banjo d

A lot of things were like that.  Hell, pretty much everything was like that.  It was just how things were.

Then one day, some executive figured out that they could sell a lot of something if it was disposable.  Take paper plates, for example.  This exec realized that paper plates were awfully convenient since you used and, rather than washing them, you threw them out.  This is attractive to consumers, and the paper plate companies like it because you’ll keep on buying paper plates rather than simply using the regular plates you already have.

Now, that’s not a big deal.  Might not be the smartest financial decision one could make, but it’s a balance between expense and the time it takes to wash dishes, a chore no one really enjoys.

Where the problem comes in is that somewhere along the way, everything became disposable.  In this day and age, even marriage is disposable. Continue reading “Disposable Lives”

Guest Post: Barbecue Basics: London Broil

There’s something about cooking over a fire that’s just primal.  There’s a reason that even the most ardent “cooking is women’s work” jerkwad will drop that crap the moment it’s time to start grilling.  Since that’s the case, I asked my favorite barbecue master, Jonathon LaForce to work up a series of guest posts on such tasty subjects as grilling and smoking meats.

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

Photo by Jonathan LaForce
Photo by Jonathon LaForce

So spake Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now. In the summer time, men and women all over North America try their hand at the use of flame outdoors to create meals. More often than not, the end result looks like any VC hiding in the tree line when that air strike came rolling in: Burnt, crispy, dry. That burger patty could be used for sandpaper, the hound just turned up it’s nose at your over-flambeed hot dog, and the chicken looks like it’s been damned to a flaming circle of hell.

It happens every year. Like clockwork. Never mind that you and your neighbors and kinfolk never do anything on the grill besides what I just mentioned. Oh sure, you looked good firing up your grill. You had the slick tools, the fancy grill gloves, your wife bought you a “Kiss the Cook” apron for Father’s Day. Your male friends all gathered around the grill telling you how nice it all looked and how manly you appeared as you plied your trade, the avatar of the fire god Hephaestus himself. And then they lied to you, as they choked their way through what had been meat and is now blackened carbon. Add a little more pressure to it and you could make diamonds out of it!

I see this every year. And it disgusts me. What happened to men who knew and understood that the proper application of fire to meat, fish, poultry and all sundry items given to us for consumption produces incredible results? I’m not sure, but I have ideas on why. Whereas humility is not a martial virtue, it is not one which I have made the effort to cultivate. Nor will I attempt to engage in it now. If I say do something in the course of these articles, it’s because I know by experience it works or doesn’t work. Simple as that.

People have asked me, repeatedly- “Jon, what’s the secret to your barbecue tasting so good? Is it the wood? Do you have a special butcher you use? What is it?”

Don’t be afraid. Shall I repeat myself? DON’T BE AFRAID. Continue reading “Guest Post: Barbecue Basics: London Broil”

Disposable Marriages

I’ve done some thinking about Brian Holcomb’s excellent guest post on Saturday.  When he and I were talking prior to that post being written, I made the comment that my wife’s sticking with me through all the crap we’ve been through actually made her hotter than Kate Beckinsale to me.

Photo by Ben Stephenson
Photo by Ben Stephenson

I did some thinking as to why that is, and I think I’ve hit on it.

You see, in this day and age, guys are bombarded by stories of women bolting from the marriage after the guy loses his job, or of leaving their husband for someone who makes more money, and so on.  It’s terrifying to think that someone you swore to spend your whole life with is really only looking for a paycheck.

The thing is, my wife has been with me when I was literally making nothing.  She was there when my business collapsed.  More importantly, she stayed.   Continue reading “Disposable Marriages”

Interview With The Catholic Geeks

Last night, I sat down with Declan Finn of The Catholic Geeks to discuss this site, my books, and masculinity in general.  While you can’t hear it live (sorry), you can catch the archive here.

It was a two-hour show, all about this stuff, and I easily could have gone on for another two hours.  Plus, Declan and I are friends and he knows how I am about this stuff.

Go check it out.

A New Breed of Duel

Honor is an important thing.  However, honor doesn’t strictly depend on what you do.  It’s also about how others view you.  Being honorable is hard, and people want to be acknowledged as honorable.  Unfortunately, some other people will want to tear you down as well.

Photo courtesy of Fondo Antiguo de la Biblioteca
Photo courtesy of Fondo Antiguo de la Biblioteca

In days gone by, dueling was how this was dealt with.  Two men would draw swords and go after one another.  Still later, it was pistols at 20 paces.  Regardless of the tool, there was a definite risk of life which made it costly to be insulting.

Then, we became more “civilized” and dueling was banned.  That didn’t end the practice but pushed it underground.  Further, it gave the dishonorable sort an out.  After all, now all they had to do was claim to be law abiding citizens.

For a while, boxing took the place of dueling.  Two men would put aside their swords or pistols according to the law, and hopped into the ring to settle their disputes.  In many schools, even in relatively recent times, the gym coach would put gloves and headgear on two students having issues and let them duke it out.

This system worked well enough until “civilization” reared its ugly head and decided that violence never solves anything.  Ever. Continue reading “A New Breed of Duel”

Why Talk About Violence

I was talking with a friend yesterday when they asked, “Dude, what is up with this preoccupation with violence?  I thought you were running a blog on being manly and stuff, not some ‘warrior’ blog.”

Photo by John McStravick
Photo by John McStravick

It’s a fair question.

After all, I do spend a fair bit of time talking about violence as well as sharing information I find on how to administer it to the deserving.  I’ve spent a lot more time on that than probably any other subject thus far.

The reason for that is simple: It’s the aspect of masculinity that’s being the most repressed by society. Continue reading “Why Talk About Violence”

A New Agoge Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I outlined various things a father can do to prepare his son to be effective in protecting himself and his family in later years.  After all, knowledge is power.


Photo by Thomas Xu
Photo by Thomas Xu

However, no man is an expert in everything.  He is either an expert in a handful of things or, like me, someone who knows some on a great many topics but can’t truly be called an expert in anything.

Either way, there’s holes in any man’s knowledge, and it’s virtually impossible not to pass those along to your son.  That’s not a good thing, obviously.

Imagine, if you will, a building; maybe it’s an old barn or a warehouse, but it’s fairly isolated and relatively empty.  You step through the door with your son the first time, and what do you see? Continue reading “A New Agoge Part 2”

A New Agoge: Part 1

Spartan boys, when they reached a certain age, were pried from their mothers and put into a special state-run school called “the agoge” where they were taught to be warriors.  It almost had to be state-run because few parents would subject their children to such brutality.

Photo by Rolands Lakis
Photo by Rolands Lakis

By the time they were finished, they were Spartan warriors, and ready to defend their city from any attacker.

Today, most of us put our children in state-run schools as well…and the results aren’t anything like the agoge.  In fact, they may well be the opposite of the agoge in many ways.  While the Spartan school sought to turn boys into men, in many ways public education seeks to turn boys into girls. Continue reading “A New Agoge: Part 1”

Honor and Duty

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about resurrecting honor.  Unlike most posts here, this one took off and blew up thanks to a link  from Instapundit.  It also spawned some interesting discussions on Facebook.  Since that first post was never intended to be all encompassing–it’s not a subject you can write about in a thousand words and call it done–it may be worth a second look at honor based on those discussions.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

You see, several people argued that honor is intimately tied to the idea of duty.  They have a point.

Honor is, in part, based on how one performs his duty.  It doesn’t matter what that duty is, what matters is how you perform it.  The janitor who takes care in cleaning the building has infinitely more honor than the CEO who just uses his job for the perks while he’s running the company into the ground. Continue reading “Honor and Duty”