Untimely Observations

How to Start a Gang: The Co-op Gym

In The Way of Men, I argued that to create a legitimate honor culture, you need to create an honor group. It’s easy to assemble groups of like-minded men on the Internet, on forums and blogs and social networking groups, but a true honor culture must be proximate and “real-world.” Men need face time and history to develop trust, inter-dependency and a sense of fraternity based on more than empty platitudes. In his recent article “How and Why to Revive Manly Honor in the Twenty-First Century,” Brett McKay from Art of Manliness came to a similar conclusion, and put together some of his own theories about what men need to create an honor culture. Only face-to-face can you create an environment where men feel accountable to each other and develop a “healthy sense of shame.”

Creating a positive honor gang in the real world presents some logistical problems. Most men—and especially men who have families—have very little free time to spare for group activities. Further, mainstream American culture herds men into bars, or into mixed-sex and “inclusive” business ventures like gyms, martial arts studios, shooting clubs, etc. All of these things are fine, but because they are profit-oriented, the owners will try to cater to everyone. For-profit public gyms and clubs have turnover, and they always need more members. They can’t afford to discriminate or offend anyone, because they need to pay employees and keep the lights on. This is how bourgeois capitalism (in its broadest, least politicized sense) undermines fraternity. There’s nothing particularly insidious about it or the men engaged in such ventures, but they will have to follow the money to compete in the marketplace.

An honor culture can’t be “inclusive.” The male gang is by nature exclusive. It’s about creating an “us” that is differentiated from a real or abstract “them.” There has to be a member-operated gateway separating who is “in” from who is “out.”

In a recent series on Nietzsche, Sparta, fascism and the anti-bourgeois body, Mark Dyal wrote about the importance of transforming both the body and the mind. Nietzsche and the ancients understood that the link between cultivating the mind and the body simultaneously. With this timeless model in mind, I believe a cooperative private gym could provide a solution for restarting honor cultures in a modern context.

This is an open source idea. I’m going to lay out a loose framework, and many different types of men could theoretically make use of it to cultivate a gang of men with a shared philosophy and identity.

The Co-op Gym

The idea itself is fairly simple. It’s the basic, pre-commercial concept of the “health club” or “martial arts club.”

Rent the Gym

Get two or three founding “anchor” members together and rent a space together that could be used as a gym. It could be a house, an apartment, a garage, a commercial space, a storage facility, a barn, etc. All you really need is a solid floor, a wide open space, and a working bathroom.

As long as they can convince a landlord that they can afford the rent, and that one or two guys will be legally responsible for the space, any two guys can rent a space. Obviously, they’ll have to be men who are financially stable enough to carry the space by themselves. Alternately, you could just try to convince Lou to let you use the basement.

Furnish the Gym

To start, follow the CrossFit “box” model. You don’t need a bunch of expensive machines. Really, you just need some Olympic bars, some collars, a few benches, a very sturdy squat rack (weld one!) and a lot of Olympic weight plates. You can do almost any exercise worth doing with this much equipment. A lot of this can be picked up used from Craigslist. Weight plates are weight plates. Additional equipment can be bought or purchased based on the needs of the men involved. Start a bookshelf and bring in books on lifting, etc. to be used for reference.

A mod for this idea is a large wrestling mat. In fact, you may want to create a gym that is only for martial arts—in which case you need even less equipment. Commercial martial arts gyms tend to come with their own culture, and these days, that culture will be feel-good and all-inclusive, for reasons mentioned above. However, if you pay an outside instructor to teach what you want to learn in your own space, you get to control the culture.

Establish Some Basic Ground Rules

The founding members who made the initial investment need to establish some ground rules for use of the space and the equipment. Also, set up some basic guidelines for what kind of guys will be invited to participate, what kinds of behaviors will be acceptable and unacceptable, and what kinds of behaviors will get members kicked out. Formalize this and post it.

Recruit Members

The nice thing about a gym is that no one really has to sign on 100% to some kind of ideological platform. You’re going there to work out, first. If a prospect is OK with the basic rules of the co-op, that’s good enough. There are tons of guys who are grossed out by the corporate gym “scene” but who find working out at home boring or impractical. Invite men with similar fitness goals and similar ideas about the world. As the club grows, you may want to have the group vote in new members—as with old fraternities, etc.

Each new member should contribute to the collective treasury to help cover rent and utilities. You may want to sponsor some members who are “the right kind of guy” but who are unemployed and/or make less money. They may be asked to help with cleanup, etc.

Since you aren’t operating for profit, you don’t need contracts or much in the way of accounting or official documentation. You’re just two guys and their pals renting a space for personal purposes. It’s nobody’s business.

Develop a Culture

Cultures develop organically as men build friendships and shared histories, but you can influence the culture by adding elements into the mix. What these elements are will depend on what kind of culture you want to develop. The posters on the wall, the music, the shared library, what’s on TV (of there is one)—all of these cultural elements will give shape to the culture of the club. You can introduce moral and ideological elements to the group as it seems appropriate, but not in a heavy handed, dictatorial way, because most men won’t respond to that). Those who are amenable will stick around; some may become uncomfortable and leave. That’s OK, because this isn’t about making money—it’s about founding a brotherhood.


The co-op gym model offers several benefits:

It’s Under the Radar – Starting some kind of official organization draws attention, and it will probably keep away people who are wary of that attention. A private, informal, not-for-profit association offers a way to nurture a counterculture under the public’s radar. No one will have much of a right to say anything about the rules or culture of your informal, private association.

It’s Constructive – Most of the “countercultural” activities that men do together are self-destructive. Yeah, it’s great fun to go bar-hopping with a bunch of guys, and there’s something to be said for the collective suffering of hangovers and the bizarre circumstances that result from heavy drinking, but you’re basically uniting to make yourselves sick—to make yourselves worse. Gyms are about making each other better. When men try to improve themselves, the first thing they do is abandon their drinking buddies, who perpetuate dissolution and excess. When men want to improve themselves, they’ll naturally move toward guys at the gym who are also improving themselves. It’s a positive feedback loop instead of a negative one, and it’s more likely to inspire long-term loyalty. You’re building on success

It’s In Tune with The Way of Men – Women bond while talking and sharing in some kind of “sewing circle.” Men also bond through talking and sharing, but in a different context. Men tend to bond shoulder to shoulder, while doing some kind of work together, on the same team. As Lionel Tiger would say, they need to “aggress” together against something. A gym creates a regular, recurring opportunity for that kind of male social dynamic to take place within the context of the modern world, without it being overly “forced” or artificial—as it would be in some sort of formal club or intellectual discussion group. Lifting is also interactive and conversational. I’ve noticed men getting together in groups to go biking (for instance) but they will be separate and alone on their own bikes for most of the time. Gyms provide more time for interaction.

It’s Attractive and Accessible – We’re not talking about building a church or a compound, we’re talking about renting a space and buying some gym equipment. In many areas, you could probably rent an adequate space for less than $1000 a month. If you get 15 or 20 guys paying in, they’ll be paying the same price as belonging to a corporate gym. Also, while only certain personality types are going to be attracted to the idea of joining some sort of ideological club or organization, many types of men (and men of all ages) are interested in getting stronger or getting in better shape.

It Unifies the Mind and the Body – Men of ideas tend to stick with ideas, and end up separating themselves from men of action, and many men of action stick with action. So you end up with coffee house revolutionaries and meat-heads.

Wouldn’t it be better to have revolutionary meat-heads?