In basic agreement with many Alpha Male-oriented websites, I believe there are underlying reasons for the perceived prevalence of Betaness in our society among males (not that I believe the meaning or implications of this perceived prevalence are the same).
But rather than complain about why there are so many “girlie men” and how public acceptance of blatant male chauvinism has diminished since the “good old days” due to the rise of “political correctness and feminism,” I think it would be more constructive to explain what compelled me to seek out a more Alpha way of living. That is to say, what made me Beta?
I was a very gentle and sweet child, always assuming the best of people. Always the tallest kid in my class, I was also burdened by severe asthma. Though I’d excelled in basketball and track and field, this condition prevented me from engaging in any organized sports after middle school.
My father, Michael, was only mildly dismayed by my inability to be an athletic son. Truly, he wanted me to grow and succeed in my own way. His greatest fear was that my younger brother and I would end up like some of my uncles, who were sheltered their whole lives into their 50s and developed “a fear of life,” as Michael put it. He didn’t worry as much about my older sister.
Michael himself came from a working class background, and the pressure he put on himself to provide for his family was enormous, intense, and constant. This led him to develop a keen work ethic, such that he worked hard all day long in the corporate arena at NYNEX (then Bell Atlantic, and finally Verizon), and saved all of his patience and collaborative spirit for his colleagues, having none left for his family upon returning home.
He never hit us, but his anger was oppressive. My gentle and kind nature never really developed a way to deal with it other than to become passive, an “accommodator.” All I wanted was for his yelling to end and for things to be calm again. I inherited this trait from my mother, who remained generally passive and oppressed by it. My mother and father divorced while I was in my late teens.
This characteristic “accommodating” carried through to being bullied throughout middle school. Upon moving to Upton, Massachusetts (the second of my three childhood residences) from Middletown, New York, I made fast friends. But within the first year, all of my new friends had turned on me and made a habit of verbally, physically, and psychologically victimizing me on a regular basis. Maybe because I was tall, or from New York, or just different. I never understood why; they never explained.
My response was based on the advice of adults—“just ignore it”—which I later realized to be among the worst advice anyone can give when it comes to dealing with irrational people that you’re exposed to on a regular basis. I eventually “had to” fight my next door neighbor, who’d been my first friend in Massachusetts and later my worst and most hate-filled enemy. And I did fight him. Even though he bruised me up badly, I came to school the next day and he didn’t, so everyone at school assumed I’d beaten him.
Did these violent encounters make me a stronger, more capable person? Did they help me “build character,” as we perceive to be the silver lining of totally unnecessary hardship? Yes, in a way. They made me more aware of what kind of people are out there: there are people who don’t care about your feelings or what hurts them, and who will go out of their way to hurt you because hurting people actually makes them feel good.
In a more obvious way, though, they made me feel less strong and less capable, because they instilled a great fear in me. I did not magically become better at dealing with adversity; my kind and gentle nature did not give way. I still assumed the best of people, and rather than assume the worst of some, as I’d learned firsthand might be prudent from here on out, I chose instead to distrust my judgment of others. Suddenly, I was kind and gentle, and full of fear. A born victim, a natural sucker.
This contributed to my Beta qualities of accommodation and passivity. I became nearly incapable of dealing with anger or any other “negative emotion,” except by suppressing it. Throughout early adulthood, I felt I could and would be victimized by others at any time, and would be completely unable to handle it.
It was during high school that I’d started to embrace the “role” of the the sensitive musician-poet type, as opposed to the jock, computer nerd, or whatever other stereotypes exist for kids to latch onto. I was living in Montclair, NJ at this time, where people and culture were far more civilized than in Massachusetts, and my interest in drumming and writing, and general uncategorizeability, had shuttled me, as social currents do, towards the less conventional crowd. Asthma had prevented any type of sport trajectory, and I was fine with that.
I soon started to believe that I simply wasn’t “made” to feel strong or robust, or express anger or any “lesser” human emotion, but rather was destined to be an “artist,” to record and depict all manner of beauty and the human condition, and basically be a victim to it.
When I was 18, my best friend died of a heart attack due to an unforeseen congenital heart defect. He was also 18 years of age. Needless to say, this occurrence reinvigorated the acute fear of my younger years, specifically of death and of losing people who were close to me. All of my writing from the years afterward was motivated, in large part, by feeling like I was going to die at any moment, like Stefan did.
It was only in my late 20s that I discovered a place for myself in the world of physical fitness. My father had also died by this time, of cancer, my longtime girlfriend and I had broken up, and my rock band of five years—Rocket Surgery—ended, all in one year. I was doing nothing but drinking alcohol and eating candy. I needed a new beginning, a “new me.”
What motivated me to get into fitness? I wanted to feel strong, robust, to have some “stopping power,” to be able to fuck someone up if they were trying to fuck with me. I wanted to be able to defend myself and others, instead of being scared of conflict, to which my father’s anger had built up an extremely entrenched aversion. I was tired of getting pushed around (mostly by myself and in my mind, constantly anticipating conflict with others that did not materialize) and feeling vulnerable everywhere I went.
And what does this 6’6″ tall vegetarian ectomorph look like now, five or six years later?
I can honestly say that basically nobody fucks with me or gives me any shit. But guess who still anticipates conflict? Guess who still doubts his judgment? Guess who’s still often shy and withdrawn and afraid of being disliked by others and rejected? Me.
These occurrences in my life have made me who I am. The simple fact is that this world is not made for kind and gentle people, it is made for those who don’t worry about how they appear to others or even really how their actions affect others. They assume the worst of everyone and mistrust kindness and compassion. They respond to adversity by becoming a source of adversity themselves to whomever or whatever is causing their adversity. They are not passive; they are aggressive. When they feel their rights or freedoms are being trodden on, they are not quiet; they are the squeaky wheels who get the oil. Such people, if they are relatively intelligent, go far in life, and they are often perceived as Alpha.
My father was, in fact, somewhat passive at work. He was always Mike, the “nice guy.” He never made a big deal about getting the recognition he deserved. He let others take credit for jobs that they had actually messed up and that he had fixed. And he never quite got ahead, while nearly everyone around him was promoted. Sure, we lived a comfortable middle-class existence. But the actual comfort of that existence—the peace, the leisure, the enjoyment, the reduction of stress, more time with the family—never came to him, and subsequently it never came to us either, because he was always yelling at us and ruining our calm.
When he died, I largely blamed this sick, self-defeating morality he had imposed on himself: work yourself to death, and always “just ignore it,” and you’ll get what you deserve because the world rewards hard work, and even though “nice guys finish last,” they do finish. Well, he didn’t, except in a casket at 54.
Obviously, there are people who have had much more difficult childhoods or lives than I did. We were not poor or starving; I was never the victim of physical abuse of any kind (except a few swats on the bum). But I feel now that the material comfort of my middle-class upbringing coupled with the spiritual discomfort—issuing from my father—that I witnessed and experienced on a regular basis created the sense of being incapable of dealing with the world. I was both sheltered and subjected.
This type of dynamic is, in my opinion, why Betaness seems to be prevalent these days. Being raised middle-class and/or on middle-class, materialistic values, coupled with the spiritual discomfort of watching a self-contradictory lie unravel before their eyes—that of parents doing jobs they hate to provide unneeded things to kids who don’t appreciate them, in the midst of a governmental system rife with corruption, bald self-interest, and institutional violence—leads to both a sense of entitlement and a sense of being ill-equipped to deal with the frightening, dog-eat-dog world, to take on real challenges, to embrace failure.
Or, perhaps worse, reinforcing that materialistic value system within a spiritual vacuum, where no other values are instilled, no real hopes or confidences; a child is told simply to “succeed” or end up a “failure.” My father was mean but at least he wanted me to “succeed in my own way,” as I said above. He felt that principles and individual expression are important.
Many people don’t. They raise their children to just go with the flow forever, and to never deviate or question the powers that be. Happiness is not important, nor is pleasure or intelligence. Never take a chance, never jeopardize your position or your standing, whatever it is. Just do whatever is required of you at any time to stay afloat. Grow up, get married, have kids….your own will and sense and conscience are irrelevant. Pretty soon, you’ll be manager of the hardware store, or the car dealership, or the office.
I am not saying there is anything wrong with managing such places or wanting to manage them. I am saying that being raised with material comfort as a value but little else creates a person devoid of a sense of self, and I believe it a sense of self that allows a person to become Alpha, to become someone who is strong, confident, and passionate enough to address real conflict and adversity in an assertive way.
The underlying cause of my Betaness is not feminism or political correctness. On a material level, it is my father’s self-destructive quest for “success” that was built on a foundation of sand. It was the poor parenting skills of the folks in Massachusetts, who didn’t teach their children not to be sadists. It is basically “life” which took my friend from me at a young age.
On an ideological level, the underlying cause is much more vast: it is the hollowness and contradictory nature of our society and its values, which produce people who are terrified of hardship and adversity and failure, because they have never known it materially, only spiritually, and therefore remain overcome by such fears, as I have.
And on top of all that, they feel alone. They know that it’s “every man for himself” in this life, and that the people who have the power to help them—the successful ones—won’t, because if they’d been helping people all their lives, they wouldn’t be successful. So it’s our own fault if we need help, and “nice guys” get what they deserve: a mediocre and anxious existence.
But at least there are sports, women, and minorities for us to take our aggressions out on.