How to be a super man

When I was a teenager in the 80s, a family friend gave me a book titled Man's Body: An Owner's Manual.

It was an incredible publication; densely researched and exhaustively illustrated, it covered every function and use you could conceive for the male rig.

It's been 20 years since I've seen the book - someone stole it when I took it to high school - but I've often thought it was the sort of guide every young man should be given so he has a no-nonsense reference source to answer all his sticky questions - instead relying on the ignorance of peers, mythologies of older boys and embarrassed half-truths of parents.

If there was a hole in the work, it was it veered away from being prescriptive about what were accepted, acknowledged and desirable modes of male behaviour.

Granted, there was and is an incredible spectrum of masculinity to choose from, depending on your sexual orientation, religion, nationality, IQ and, which football team you barrack for - if you even barrack for sports at all.

So culturally, we kind of leave it at that: we give young men plenty of information on the hardware (their bodies) but little on the software (their brains).

Of course, if you're lucky enough to go to the right school or you've got an older role model like a sports coach, they might educate you in some the more obvious dos and don'ts, perhaps even show you what it means to be a "gentleman".

After that?

You're on your own ... unless, of course, you subscribe to GQ.


It seems to have become a staple of lad's and men's magazines to compile lists of "things guys should know" (or be able to do), which inevitably includes such horseshit suggestions as "know how to tie a tie", "light a BBQ" or "wear the right amount of cologne".

No doubt lists like these are meant to be breezy and entertaining, however, I'm usually left staggered that, with thousands of years of culture to lift ideas from, all the writer could come up with is a list of attributes bearing the hallmarks of a caricature dad in a crappy car commercial.

Knows how to change a tyre? (Check). Knows how to make a woman orgasm? (Check). Iron a shirt? (Check).

As regular readers of this blog would know, I don't mind a bit of history and philosophy and usually find the thoughts of dead people who lived on the other side of the world far more inspiring than anything you can find disgorged from the head of today's so-called experts.

Take, for example, Aristotle's "Portrait of the magnanimous man" from Book IV of The Nicomachean Ethics.

He does not expose himself needlessly to danger, since there are few things for which he cares sufficiently; but he is willing, in great crises, to give even his life, knowing that under certain conditions it is not worth while to live.

He is of a disposition to do men service, though he is ashamed to have a service done to. him. To confer a kindness is a mark of superiority; to receive one is a mark of subordination.

He does not take part in public displays. He is open in his dislikes and preferences; he talks and acts frankly because of his contempt for men and things. He is never fired with admiration, since there is nothing great in his eyes.

He cannot live in complaisance with others, except be it as a friend. Complaisance is the characteristic of a slave. He never feels malice, and always forgets and passes over injuries. He is not fond of talking.

It is no concern of his that he should be praised, or that others should be blamed. He does not speak evil of others, even of his enemies, unless it be to themselves.

His carriage is sedate, his voice deep, his speech measured; he is not given to hurry, for he is concerned only about a few things; he is never prone to vehemence, for he thinks nothing very important. A shrill voice and hasty steps come to a man through care.

He bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of his circumstances, like a skilful general who marshals his limited forces with all the strategy of war.

He is his own best friend, and takes delight in privacy whereas the man of no virtue or ability is his own worst enemy, and is afraid of solitude.

Thus is the super man of Aristotle.


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