Every few months, someone named Chaz Dongson goes viral for proclaiming that true men don't recycle, or use an umbrella, or eat unusually phallic chicken fingers. This is often couched in the language of "alpha males," implying that there's a minority of Huxleyan supermen lording their power and prestige over the rest of us. 

Ruin your YouTube history by searching the term, and you'll find countless guides on how to transform yourself into one of these titans. Except the whole idea is the domain of feckless grifters, because ... 

There's No Such Thing As An "Alpha" Human

You know this stereotype. Alpha males are assertive, dominant men. They get women and the corner office, and they don't care who they offend along the way. Everyone else -- the supposed beta males -- is left to pick through society's scraps. Women don't get their own terminology or free will; their biology renders them helpless against the enthralling presence of an alpha, probably someone named Lance or Hunter. And alpha males do exist ... among certain apes.  

The alpha and beta terminology comes from primate studies, where it was used for decades without interest to the wider world. But in the '80s, and especially the '90s, unqualified people decided to apply a dumbed-down version to humans. Supposedly, the lessons learned from watching two chimps fight for the best figs could somehow be applied to the office, which mostly just tells you what business consultants think of their clientele.

Sergey Uryadnikov/Shutterstock

This isn't really a good look after the discovery of fire.

But some dude at Esquire deciding that the jackass accounting manager needs a nickname isn't a substitute for careful research. There was never any scientific basis to the idea. And for an extra dose of pseudoscience, the oft-cited image of an alpha wolf dominating his pack was debunked by the very man who popularised the concept after our understanding of lupine behavior improved. Shockingly, human society is somewhat more complicated than societies of animals who fling feces at each other and communicate through butt sniffing, although it's easy to think otherwise if you spend too much time online. 

Studies on modern masculinity are relatively limited, possibly because it's considered unmanly to hang out with some dork sociologist, but it's clearly a nuanced subject. Confidence and assertiveness are generally attractive traits in men ... but so are sensitivity and kindness. That you can only be one or the other is a myth, like left brain versus right brain personalities or trickle-down economics. Being "dominant" gets you nowhere if you are also, to use the technical term, an "asshole." 

In other words, it helps to be a successful, sociable person, which probably isn't a shock. But you have to put effort into being a good person. You can't hack your way to attractiveness no matter how many YouTube videos you watch about using your handshake to establish dominance. Of course, given the choice between quick fix pseudoscience and taking a long, hard look in the mirror, people are going to drift towards the former. And so ... 

This Is The Realm Of Grifters And Hacks

If you're upset that women aren't throwing themselves at you like it's your God-given right, you can drop 18 bucks on Engineering the Alpha: A Real World Guide to an Unreal Life. If a book isn't enough, the Kamalifestyles Alpha Male Training Program will offer you 14 hours of personalized consulting for a mere $1,500. Oh, and don't forget to grab 70 bucks worth of Alpha King Supreme Elite Testosterone Booster. If these particular options aren't jumping out at you, don't worry. There are more. So, so, so much more.

Force Factor

Based on some of the store pages, we get the impression that FDA approval is seen as extremely beta.

These products promise to make you "legendary" or a "gladiator" or a "lion among sheep" or a "Spartan" because getting a promotion is just like putting down a Helot revolt. Whatever the terminology, you're told you'll transform into a fitter, smarter, sexier you. There may be graphs. 

But all this crap exploits the same self-esteem issues they claim to solve. One book warns that men over 25 "have already peaked." A course says your "misguided" beta thinking has given you "a false sense of how life works." Another book says the world is built for alphas, and everyone else has to "settle for scraps." The message, over and over again, is that if it feels like there's something wrong with you, you are absolutely right. 

Much of this is framed around affluence; a $500 a month course unironically claims "Beta men are continuously preoccupied with saving themselves from scarcity." But it inevitably comes down to getting laid. They're not talking about "building charisma" and "the power of mental programming" so you can charm the gals at your grandma's bingo hall; they want to teach you "the seduction game."

Thealphamalecoach.com

Yup, your 500 bucks a month are clearly hard at work right here.

That makes them sound like douchebags, and, well, if it quacks like a duck that argues "females" are inherently manipulative, maybe it's a duck you wouldn't mind seeing take a football to the cloaca. But we've come a long way from the days when Mystery (remember him?) told you to put on an ugly hat and emotionally manipulate women. Some of these products are quick to draw the line between confidence and bullying, and "you can still be a sweet, caring guy and still be an alpha" is a common sentiment. There are still plenty of creeps, and even the best of them probably aren't reading a lot of Roxane Gay, but it's progress. 

Laugh at this all you want (no, seriously, anyone who promises to teach "the basic Universal Truth that all Alpha Men know" deserves your scorn), but it exists for a reason. When mockery of this goes viral, the accompanying joke is often "Do men have a problem?" and the answer is "100% yes." All these books and courses and videos and podcasts start from the premise that men are struggling, but instead of asking why that is and what the implications are, they tell you that all you have to do is devour pseudoscience until you get everything you want. 

But what happens when the quick fix doesn't work? When "simple body language tricks" and "vital Alpha-Male traits" aren't enough? Do you move on and take a more nuanced approach to personal development? No, of course not. You start inventing new kinds of dudes.

And So The Dude Universe Keeps Expanding

The latest star in the penis constellation is the Sigma Male. Supposedly it's the "rarest male type," assuming you discount legendary males like Mewtwo. While not new (there's a cringe-worthy Urban Dictionary definition from 2014), it's reappeared as the latest trend in baseless pop psychology. Videos will ask if you've "heard about the excitingly mysterious Sigma Male," as though new personality type DLC occasionally drops into society.  

In short, Sigmas are ... the exact opposite of the Alpha male, but still cool and manly. They're socially reserved, but only because they want to be. They could hold leadership positions, but they don't want to. Perhaps this image will help:

TopThink/YouTube

Apparently, it's not "Alpha" to be good at graphic design. 

This is sounding more and more like astrological signs for dudes who think that reading a horoscope turns you gay, but what's interesting about the flood of "Habits of the Sigma male" videos is that they can't admit the whole fundamental concept of male archetypes is complete bullshit, so vague new archetypes have to be invented to cram into it. Have years of trying to transform yourself into an "Alpha" got you nowhere? Well, then maybe you're conveniently a "Sigma." It's not all complete nonsense; you just have to read 6,500 words of madness and hack your brain in a different direction.

The problem is that this is all connected to the, Jesus Christ, "socio-sexual hierarchy," or the idea that women are all master manipulators running complicated and secretive cost-value analyses on every man who wanders within eyesight. Again, this is all mythical; human sexual behavior is far, far too complicated to reduce to formulas, and every assumption these bozos are working from is wrong. 

So while YouTubers named AlphaPowerForce love to tell you that we're all still wired like our hierarchical prehistoric ancestors who clubbed each other to death for the best cavedame, evidence points to prehistoric societies being egalitarian. You had value even if you couldn't reproduce because we'd just be a bunch of loners getting ripped apart by tigers otherwise. 

Notably, the hierarchy and Sigma ideas are credited to white supremacist Vox Day, a minor sci-fi writer turned full-blown "The 2020 election was rigged, and the COVID vaccine will kill you!" lunatic. Day has argued that women voting and working destabilizes society, that feminism is literally Satanic, and that the Taliban's attack on Malala Yousafzai was justified because women's education is linked to societal decline. So while it's not surprising that he had to invent a whole new kind of man to convince himself that he's not a hateful cretin, he's not really someone you want to take dating advice from.

Theadultman.com

Apparently, it's not "Alpha" to know the Greek alphabet either. 

To be fair, the average guy making or watching a video on how wearing a tie will make you more like Keanu Reeves has absolutely no idea who Day is. But that's part of the problem ...

This Can All Take You To Dark Places

Watch a few videos on how to shake hands in a way that highlights your mighty penis, and you'll begin to feel like you're watching inept aliens attempt to blend into human society. These dudes give more thought to their posture than America gave to the Manhattan Project. Who meets their friends at the bar while thinking, "I only have 30 seconds to prove to the women here that I lord over them as a glorious alpha" without ruining those friendships? 

Again, some of this is relatively innocuous. "Don't be a jerk" and "don't let your past define you" is good advice, even if it's coming from a failed boy band member grabbing his balls and screaming at you. But if you start from a bad premise, you're going to get bad results, and there's a thin line between alpha brodom at its most encouraging and books whining about society's supposed "gynocentric world view." If you're told, "This worldview will get you laid," and then you still don't get laid, will you question the authority of a website called Cock Hack, or will you start listening to the guy who uses the same terminology to reassure you that you don't have to change because society failed you?

Qasioun News Agency/Wikimedia, Anthony Crinder/Wikimedia

... And wherever there are young men frustrated with society, somebody is ready to show up with an ideology and put that anger to work.

Because here's a video arguing that women are hardwired to secretly test and punish men with "sneaky" challenges. Here's a video on "How Sigma Males Keep Women In Her Place" that frames relationships as battles of willpower to break women out of the bad habits they've acquired in ordering "Betas" around. Here's a book that encourages men to analyze "the ROI on the Pursuit of Women" because history is nothing but men coming up with innovations to impress lazy women who aren't appreciative enough (Remember how Salk famously dedicated his polio vaccine "to all the fine ladies"?). And here's an "Alpha Male Coach" who argues that feminism is destroying society because men can no longer control women the way nature intended. Can you see how one of these beliefs would lead to the next? 

Bullshit doesn't spread in a vacuum; there's no shortage of insecure young men who are told they have no value if they aren't making enough money and having enough sex. Those are worries that can eat you alive, but viewing the world as a "sexual marketplace" powered by psychological tricks doesn't dissuade anyone of those anxieties; it just weaponizes them. "Life is a zero-sum struggle for sex, here's how to beat everyone else" might make you more confident, but it might also make you a fucking sociopath. 

Because, for an industry obsessed with self-improvement, there's not a lot of self-reflection. Saying that you should acknowledge your flaws is great, but if that's only to change how you're viewed "in the eyes of a female," then you're ignoring your biggest flaw (aside from talking like Quark). If you can't stop viewing relationships as transactional, no relationship will make you happy. Maybe you'll figure things out, but maybe you'll end up like this middle-aged "life coach" who sits alone in his home raving about how young women on Instagram are destroying society, insists that he's an "Alpha" who's more "rational" than his critics, and still sees human interactions as battles that must be won. And personally, that's not really who I'd look to for inspiration.

Mark is on Twitter and wrote a book.

Top image: Hecke61, Sabphoto/Shutterstock

Get a new true crime story in your inbox every day

It's true crime week in One Cracked Fact! Subscribe to get true crime sent to your inbox every day this week. Plus, one One Cracked Fact subscriber will be randomly chosen to win a collection of five true crime books. Sign up now!

Forgot Password?