In an age of doublethink, the confusion of stated and revealed preferences is a cardinal sin easily committed. Nothing, however, is more deadly to clear thinking about politics than social trends. In the modern era it is often stated that the preference for old-school masculine behaviours is a thing of the past. Such stated preferences, however, are usually subverted by revealed preferences, which often tell a different story.
Take the US Presidential election. Faced with the Trump phenomenon, the other candidates have desperately sought to re-establish their masculinity in the eyes of the voters. This is no easy task when confronted by a swaggering, ruthless billionaire who is entirely immune to shame and who, thanks to The Apprentice, is already firmly established in the minds of the average American voter as a supreme alpha male.
Nevertheless, they have tried. Marco Rubio, as Mark Stern intelligently noted for Slate, was the first to begin this trend, reminding his audiences of his love of America football after purchasing a gun, purportedly to protect his family from Isis. As terrifying as the San Bernardino terror attacks were, I suggest that Rubio's purchase was mostly for the purposes of advertising what kind of man he is.
A man even more in need of a boost to his masculinity is Jeb Bush, who has been publicly humiliated by Trump time and again over the past six months.
Trump can smell out weakness better than a ferret detecting a rat, and has zeroed in on Jeb accordingly.
Jeb has never been able to escape Trump labelling him "low energy", and has frequently been on the receiving end of some of The Donald's best zingers in the debates.
Worse, Jeb has had some horribly awkward moments on the campaign trail, finding himself unexpectedly removed from a Rotary Club event and being reduced to begging for applause from a New Hampshire audience. Unsurprisingly, several YouTube contributors have compiled these moments into mercilessly hilarious videos.
Jeb's attempt at a reboot comes in the form of a photo of a newly purchased handgun with his name inscribed, tweeted alongside the caption "America". The purpose of this is not to identify Bush with the protection of Second Amendment rights: in this day and age, that is essentially taken for granted among Republican candidates. Instead, it tries to establish Bush's ethos as a man, grown-up and responsible enough to be trusted with lethal force.
In America's role as global guarantor of security, the American nation itself holds unparalleled powers of life and death over not just its own citizens but also those of all its client states. The president wields that power on behalf of the nation. Hence the gun is not just a symbol of the Republican side of cultural conflicts.
Writer and friend Will Duffield once pointed out to me that America is a martial nation at its heart: a country born in war that purged its original sin - slavery - through another war. Through yet more wars America established itself as the global superpower. The gun is seen as a giver of life as well as death, especially by in the primary inheritors of that martial tradition, Middle America WASP core.
Whatever Kipling's great poem says, in humans the male of the species is more deadly than the female. Over millennia of evolution, natural selection has built the human male for combat, so that effective physical violence is considerably easier for your average male than it is for your average female, both physically and psychologically. Hence the cultural identification of warfare with masculinity is extraordinarily deep and powerful, not something easily altered by 21st-century elite norms.
As easy to mock as Jeb's tweet is, he is attempting to ally himself with a very powerful evo-cultural meme. Whether it works remains to be seen. Nevertheless I suggest that it will not, because Jeb is faking it. He is not the kind of man to whom gun ownership is akin to owning a fridge. Jeb is a child of America's cultural elite, an elite that, as world-leading sociologist Charles Murray documents in his book Coming Apart, has increasingly drifted away from the working class.
This drift is both geographic (a result of increased housing segregation) and cultural, as rituals and norms evolve. In such circles the proof of excellence is test scores, not hunting kills. Sex-neutral intelligence is prized over sex-typical traits such as nurturing and fighting.
Jeb is at his heart a wonk, not a warrior. For this he should not be despised. The world needs both sorts of men. He has the misfortune, however, to be running for president at a time when Middle America, beset on all sides by increasingly globalised labour markets, mass immigration and cultural decay, has run out of patience with elite wonks, and is searching for a warrior who understands their hearts to fight as their champion.
To many – myself included – it is all too easy to look with distant eyes at statistics showing rising mortality rates amongst lower-class whites, associated partly with labour market competition from China and attributed partly to alcoholism, opioid abuse, and suicides. But to the man or woman whose uncle recently got laid off and swiftly drank himself to death, these are not just statistics in economics journals. They are everyday reality, increasingly common but no less terrifying for all that. It will take more than a photo of a gun for these Americans to believe that Jeb Bush is the man to protect them from encroaching evils.
Andrew Sabisky is an independent research worker and writer. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSabisky