How is it that boys seem to know, instinctively, that the world is a battleground? How do we know there are ruthless attackers out there in the world? Partly because we are little barbarians ourselves, and we can imagine how dangerous conflict can be, how much we might enjoy the thrill of it, and how much we might like to think of ourselves as the heroic good guys in a fight to the death.
So when we play in our forts, the drama is high if the imaginary enemy is a highly worthy opponent: determined, clever, wicked and treacherous. We organize ourselves to defend against this…to repel a life and death attack…and in so doing, we imagine our fitness for adult life in a dangerous world.
At the height of our fictional battles, we’re also evaluating each other. As we make up battle scenaria, we’re finding out what we know about evil. We’re comparing notes on how we would deal with it when it comes at us like a flood. When the battle’s over, whom do we want for our friends in real life? We want the brave aggressive guys. The guys who can be depended on to keep the perimeter.
As we grow older, we attempt to find the same brave sort of friend -- unless we vainly convince ourselves that there will never be any threat of any kind. But in the 21st century, the threats grow by the day. Writes Jack Donovan,
“When men evaluate each other as men, they still look for the same virtues that they’d need to keep the perimeter. Men respond to and admire the qualities that would make men useful and dependable in an emergency. Men have always had a role apart, and they still judge one another according to the demands of that role as a guardian in a gang struggling for survival against encroaching doom. Everything that is specifically about being a man—not merely a person—has to do with that role.” – The Way of Men