Are Muscles Useless?

Author Yukio Mishima, photographed by Eikoh Hosoe.

The “Meterosexual” has been replaced by the “Spornosexual”. You’ve seen him. He is the male that inhabits gyms, pumps his body up, and tans and grooms himself purely for show.

A cynic might describe his physical body as essentially “useless.” And “useless” is not the way we want to be described. “The protestant work ethic” — so entrenched in America, at least — tells us that man is only truly valuable when he is “productive.” Personally, I disagree. The sentiment is utilitarian, even communist. Worse. It lacks style.

Author Yukio Mishima, photographed by Eikoh Hosoe.
Author Yukio Mishima (above) believed later in his life that it was necessary to perfect the physical body.

Don’t get me wrong, I want artists, athletes, etc., to be productive. But I don’t want their art to serve a purpose. “All art is quite useless,” said Oscar Wilde, not because he was against art, of course, but because he wanted to make it clear that we need things whose sole purpose is aesthetic. Because, aesthetics, in his view, is the highest expression of society. Likewise, Japanese author Yukio Mishima comments in Sun and Steel that “bulging muscles are as unnecessary as a classical education is to the majority of practical men. Muscles have gradually become something akin to classical Greek.” It is the lack of function that gives muscles, art, etc., a purpose.

I remember being shocked, many years ago, on hearing a snobbish, upper-Middle Class lady on British television. She was saying — in her very posh voice — that churches should be turned into “something useful.” I’m not a Christian, and the point I am making is not about Christianity, or about religion.

But I’d ask you to imagine a society where only “useful” things are valued — no art, no sculpture, no cool graphics, no music, no subcultures, no fashion, no styles, no humor, no laughter, and a very much reduced diction. Such societies have been tried — and were brilliantly depicted in Orwell’s 1984 — and they don’t work. What we need, deep down, is what is functionless, what is useless — the beautiful.

I acknowledge that I can see the degeneracy in the “spornosexual”, in the obsession of men to build up their physical bodies, but I see it precisely where they do not do it not to create beauty, but merely to snag an attractive mate, or to obscure their insecurities. They make the useless useful, and degrade it by that fact. Muscles can have a use, it turns out.

But the highest purpose of muscles is to pursue what has been called “The Way” (Tao): to elevate the mind through the body and experience the spirit. Whether that occurs through martial arts, athletics, sport, and so on, it doesn’t matter, what is required is that the individual is orientated to something higher than himself, and that there is, as such, an element of danger.

Angel MillarAngel Millar is an author, blogger, and the editor of People of Shambhala.

3 Replies to “Are Muscles Useless?”

  1. The final paragraph, especially the last sentence, is difficult to swallow.

    Why is the “highest purpose of muscles … to pursue … “The Way'”? According to what? And what other candidates of higher purpose might there be? There’s no mention of the practical purpose of doing physically-demanding work, for instance.

    “… what is required is that the individual is orientated to something higher than himself, and that there is, as such, an element of danger.”

    –Is the “spornosexual” not orientated to something higher than himself, even if it is “merely to snag an attractive mate, or to obscure their insecurities”? And do these goals not posses an element of danger?

    (for the future)

    1. Thanks, TJ. Regarding the practical use of muscles, we clearly do not see much of that in major Western cities, where muscles are developed purely for show, especially for attracting sexual partners. We encourage the use of muscles, e.g., through martial arts, but, again, not as a “sport” but as a “Way” (Tao). This means, that as in Zen, for example, one practices an art, skill or vocation as an entrance way into higher perceptions.

      The spornosexual is not oriented toward something higher. He is orientated toward satisfying his base instincts. “snag[ging] an attractive mate, or […] obscur[ing] insecurities” is obviously nothing that could remotely be described as “higher.” But, to clarify, by “higher,” we mean the cultivation of courage, wisdom, humility, brotherliness, and so on, through a way of life that demands such qualities, and, ultimately, by these, to push beyond ones physical, mental and spiritual limits.

      According to who? While we are of course interested in spiritual, religious, and metaphysical traditions and teachings, at the end of the day, we’d have to say: according to us.

      1. yes. thanks.
        “according to us” is butter. I can now eat the toast.

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