03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Cowardice of Machismo

I was surprised by Bill Moyers' recent show airing taped conversations between LBJ and his advisers about the Vietnam War. I had naively supposed that these men believed at least some of their Cold War rhetoric -- the 'Domino Theory', and so on. But it was clear from the tapes that everyone involved knew the war would be a disaster for all concerned. They saw with crystal clarity precisely what would happen. They knew the 'Domino Theory' was hokum (as events proved), and that the United States had nothing to gain by the war and much to lose.

None of them wanted to escalate. Yet they all kept coming up against the same -- apparently insuperable -- obstacle: if they didn't escalate the war the American people would think they were weak. Furthermore, they thought, the world would think America -- despite having the largest military establishment in the world and enough bombs to destroy every human being on the planet -- was weak for not attacking a small Third World nation with an infinitesimal fraction of our firepower.

This is what it means to be macho: you have to be a compulsive bully because of the fear of looking weak to other males with the same inner dread. In any potential conflict situation you're always too cowardly to make tough, intelligent choices. You kill anything that moves, you swagger and boast, you rush blindly into disaster ("theirs not to reason why/theirs but to do or die"), you never stop to think things through (that's 'dithering'), or respond to reality and change your mind (that's 'flip-flopping') You 'stay the course' no matter how idiotic that course may be, because you're scared silly that some other guy who's even more uptight about looking weak than you are will call you a wuss, wimp, sissy, or girly-man.

You don't have the guts to say, "Are you crazy? We're not going to do anything that stupid!"

To make matters worse, you don't even have the guts to save the next generation from the same blind stupidity and cowardice. You'll raise your son to be 'all boy', that is loud, obnoxious, insensitive, egocentric, arrogant, belligerent, and dull. From the moment of birth you will want to know what gender not only your kid but any other kid is, so if it's a boy you can train him properly to take his place in a bygone world of perpetual hand-to-hand combat. You'll talk louder to the infant, treat it more roughly, make sure it has the proper tunnel vision to function well in, say, 5th century Mongolia, or 9th century Scotland, or 20th century Somalia.

We live in a world today in which the problems we face are all planetary. Where hiding behind national boundaries is ultimately suicidal. A world in which conventional warfare -- army vs. army in pitched battle -- exists only in the movies, TV, and video games. A world in which women are outnumbering men not only in colleges, but in all the professions, because they aren't mentally crippled by the overwhelming irrelevancy of traditional male gender training -- a training that robs those imbued with it of the mental flexibility necessary to deal with the complex world we actually inhabit. Making boys macho today is condemning them to irrelevance.

(To understand the cultural paradigm shift we're undergoing today -- the shift that both Right-Wing fundamentalists and the Taliban have resisted so fiercely, see my website for information on The Chrysalis Effect: the Metamorphosis of Global Culture).