Every man has a little outlaw in him. A part of his soul that could, if pushed, live life on the other side of the law by his own rules and on his own time. It’s a part of being a man to crave adventure that can only be found on the outskirts of civilized society, to be utterly and truly free, and yet not free at all. To be bound to a mission or a purpose so great that we’d surely risk our lives in its name, and kill those who stand in our way.
It’s the outlaw we’re drawn to as young lads. Jesse James, William Wallace, Robin Hood, and Billy the Kid. Each of them fed our bravado and sense of adventure enough to get us to dress up as cowboys and soldiers and warriors, gun in hand ready to take down any fool that dare oppose us. When we’re outlaws in our day-to-day, no matter how insignificantly, we feel strong, we feel manly. A man that feels manly, is manly.
This outlaw isn’t merely a man with a rebellious streak who has no purpose or mission attached to it, but a man who’s fighting for something he believes in so fervently that he’ll risk his life in its name, and he’ll take the lives of others who are in his way.
We envy the outlaw because he’s what we’d love to be, but can’t. We’ve got too much to lose. We’re civilized. We’re family men. We’re lacking that moment that drives us to the edge, that purpose that we connect with so closely that it becomes us. Within it exists our meaning in life. It’s a drug that has an unmatchable high.
We admire the outlaw, not always because of his values (sometimes they’re few), but because of his courage, his daring, and his gargantuan balls. We romanticize his life, making it one of pure adventure with the highest of highs and the deepest depths of despair. He lives, in the truest sense of the word. He experiences pain we couldn’t bare, and he takes risks we wouldn’t dare.
Most of us admire and even envy an outlaw from afar. We read about his exploits, we dream we were in his shoes or riding by his side. What we fail to recognize is that every man is an outlaw. It’s a lack of courage, purpose, and self-awareness that inevitably holds us back.
The Unconventional Outlaw
My parents had the foresight to start reading to me at a young age. Although I didn’t fully connect with books and become a passionate reader in my own right until a few years after I had finished high school, the stories they read have remained etched in my mind, surely shaping the man I am today.
Although I’m an incredibly flawed human being who has too many faults to count, what they read to me early on cultivated the good in me. One book stands out above all others. It taught me about courage and honor and passion. I learned about sacrifice and faith. I developed character and pride and a unique outlook on masculinity, all beginning with this one book; the picture Bible.
Instead of reading conventional stories, or even the Bible itself, my parents were given a comic version of the Bible. I saw Samson kill 1,000 Philistine soldiers with nothing but his strength, and the jawbone from a donkey. I also saw his weakness: women, and how it almost ruined his life and legacy. I saw David defeat Goliath. I didn’t just read about courage, I witnessed it in the pages of this wonderful comic book that let my imagination run wild.
I also learned about the most well-known outlaw ever: Jesus.
Take religion out of the equation for a moment. To look at the different “conventional” outlaws in history, it helps to discuss one who did things completely differently.
This was a man who had no platform. He didn’t write a book or have a web site or hold any political office. He wasn’t the leader of an army. He didn’t practice guerrilla warfare or cultivate a legend by robbing trains or banks. Yet, he became the most famous man the world has ever seen.
Because he was an outlaw.
He wasn’t the only man claiming to be the Christ, or the only man claiming to be God in human form, or the son of God, or the Savior. But he is the only one we still read about today. He’s the only one because he’s the only man to disrupt the flow of money that was going through the Temple (or the Synagogue), to a select few, and to the Romans.
His tirade in the Temple, where he flipped tables in an epic bout of rage was his last straw. His rebellion wasn’t merely one of personal vengeance or self-improvement. He was here to completely interrupt and change the order of how the world worked, not just his own life, circle, or community. That’s why he was killed. That’s why, out of all these self-proclaimed “saviors”, his followers continued to grow even after his death, compounding and growing for thousands of years after he’d already been killed.
He had a few important characteristics that every outlaw shares, and every man has within.
a. He disrupted the “natural order”.
The Pharisees were using their church and their God to make money. They were using their power to collect money from their people to fatten their own pockets. They were using their power to appease the Romans, to get in good with their rulers. This lit a fire under Jesus’ arse that brought about retribution.
Where he differs from most other outlaws is in his “final battle”. We can draw some parallels to Jesus and William Wallace in that they both gave their lives for their cause. But Jesus did this willingly. No fight. No last stand. He even healed one of his captures when one of his followers drew his sword and cut off the Roman’s ear.
In the end, it’s this sacrifice that really disturbed the natural order of things.
There’s a lesson to be learned here for all of us. While our tendency is to want to fight back, the cause can be furthered far more through other means. Each situation is different, though. Had William Wallace sacrificed himself, his men wouldn’t have been led by his courage, or seen his ferocity in battle. Ferocity and courage that eventually led to a free Scotland.
b. He was an original.
We’re all influenced by other people, books, or situations in life. It’s inevitable. One could argue that there is no longer any true original, not since the first humans bedded one another and had babies that they eventually influenced.
The outlaws we remember, however, are as close to true originals as there can be. Each of them walked to the beat of their own drum. They created their own path in life rather than following someone else’s. They didn’t do the “go to college because that’s what’s expected of me” routine. Or if they did, they dropped out and started their own company (Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg, all unconventional outlaws).
Jesus was an original, and then some. If he were merely a copycat “savior”, we wouldn’t still be reading about his story and his message.
c. A willingness to take his cause to the death.
It’s the cause that separates the great and legendary outlaws from the ones that fail to connect with the common man. Again, these are all intensified versions of who we can be. Most of us, though we may believe in something very strongly, we aren’t willing to die for it.
Death to the outlaw is already a foregone conclusion. Jesus knew he was going to die at 33. Jesse James knew he was going to be killed by Robert Ford. William Wallace, when he finally started killing the English, had no delusions of living a long life. He’d already lost his motivation to do so when those scumbags killed his wife.
You have to come to grips with the fact that you will one day die, ’tis merely a matter of time. If you truly come to grips with the notion that you’re going to die it opens up an entirely new world of possibilities void of the fear that keeps you living a small life, of the procrastination that allows you to put things off day after day as you ignorantly act with an infant’s view that life is endless. Death is a constant. Allow this fact to enhance your life rather than keeping it small, quiet, and content with mediocrity.
I’ve never been more impressed by a man as I am by Lee. He’s uncompromising in his values. It’s these values that made him an outlaw – they’d make him even more of an outlaw in today’s spineless, valueless society. A man that stands and lives by his values and morals is a rarity, if not extinct.
No matter the situation he felt it necessary to do the right thing. And his actions proved this to be true, not his words.
In reading about Lee I was exposed to an alternate narrative of the American Civil War. It makes sense that, with all of the major news organizations being in New York or Boston or Philadelphia, especially in the mid 1800’s, that we’d hear the narrative from the North’s perspective (that is, the rest of the world). Being a Canadian, I’ve only heard the war from this perspective, likely, so have you.
I’ve read how the North was fighting to end slavery (not actually why the war began), and how the South was, in essence, evil. Like most historical events or eras that are told by one side, there is another side to the story, and a side I needed to read.
Without getting too much into the details of the Civil War, let’s discuss the part that peaked my interest about James: the conduct and leadership of both sides.
As I mentioned, Lee is one of the most respected, honorable men in history. Churchill has called him the greatest general the western world has ever produced, and Theodore Roosevelt, who’s father worked under Lincoln, called him America’s greatest general. This honorable, moral man was the leader of the Confederate Army throughout the War. He had very simple, un-wavering rules regarding civilian violence; soldiers were not to harm civilians in Northern States as their army moved closer to conquering their enemy.
The North lacked this singular leadership. Although Lincoln was surely a great man, he wasn’t a General, and soldiers need a strong figure at the helm. So as Lee defeated a string of alternating Union Generals who couldn’t withstand his prowess on the battlefield, nor his aggressive tactics, the Union army never experienced that steady leadership from an honorable man like the Confederates did.
As a result, the Union soldiers lacked discipline and accountability.
Again, I’ve heard the narrative of the Union army fighting a valiant battle against an evil, slavery-loving foe. But while the Confederate soldiers, on the whole, – while there were obviously cases of brutal acts from Confederate soldiers against Northern civilians, they seem to be far fewer than Union soldiers’ rape and pillaging of Souther towns – didn’t harm civilians. If they did they were punished by death. The Northern Soldiers, however, who were far better funded, clothed, and fed, would rape the southern women, burn their homes and churches and crops, and murder their women and children and civilian men.
Yet, though he could have fed his men, clothed them, and possibly gone further in the war had he done what his Union enemy was doing, he didn’t. He didn’t take the easy way, but the hard way. He didn’t take what wasn’t his, but asked for permission and aid. And when it wasn’t given to him, he stuck by his values and hung any man who went against them.
Lee was a rebel in his goodness, his honor, and his character, and later in his life he became somewhat of an outlaw because of how he stuck to his guns and stood by his morals. Though not an outlaw in the same sense that Jesus or Wallace (read about him next) were, there’s a different sense of rebellion with Lee, and a sense of rebellion that’s just as important, especially in today’s society.
Lee disrupted the natural order, he fought tyranny. He was definitely an original, and one of the great archetypes for manliness we have today. And he was ready and willing to take his cause to the death.
As a side note, Lee, like most Southerners, wasn’t for slavery, as a moral, honorable man such as himself couldn’t be. In fact, he inherited slaves by marriage, but free’d them within 5 years after teaching them the skills they needed (such as money management) to thrive on their own. He was also Lincoln’s first choice for General of the Union Army, but turned it down because he couldn’t fight for the North who were waging war on his countrymen. His loyalty was to his state of Virginia, and the people in it whom he’d grown up with, people that never wanted a war.
Freedom is something we all desire. We rebel as youth against the slightest constriction, and against the most insignificant of rules simply because we don’t want to be held down or confined. We rebel again as teens. We fight, we drink, we do some of the stupidest shit we can possibly do all in the name of acting like we’re free. But we’re not. We’re still held to the rules that our parents set out for us.
Then we grow up. We incur responsibilities and our actions begin to have more severe consequences, so we toe the line. We become domesticated and civilized. We never fail, however, to dream of being free.
We dream, quietly or aloud, with a beer or another beverage in our hands, surrounded by pals, possibly circling a campfire, about the things we’d do if we weren’t tied down by our jobs, our families, and our responsibilities. We talk about the journeys we embark on, the businesses we’d start, the trips we’d take, even the women we’d bed. We speak of being a man we never would actually be, and that’s why we admire the outlaw, because he is that man.
Most of us today aren’t actually free. We can’t choose how we spend our money – the government is doing this more and more for us. We can’t chose how we raise our kids – the government is again “guiding us”. We can’t travel where we want for as long as we want as nations around the world heighten restrictions on visas and work permits. We can’t live where we want – a few years ago I thought about living in the States for a while thinking that, being a Canadian, it wouldn’t be all that difficult a thing to do. I was wrong. Very wrong.
We can’t eat what we want to eat (example: raw milk is illegal in Canada). Freedom of speech is supposed to be a right for any American or Canadian, but that’s no longer so – unless you agree with those printing and reporting the news. We no longer truly “own” or property as we’re not free to do what we want on our property. Our freedom is an illusion. It’s outlaws like William Wallace that connect with us, the men of the world, most, because they’re utterly and incredibly free.
Born into a Scotland that was under the rule of England and subject to its laws, Wallace wanted freedom. But he wasn’t willing to fight and die for it like his old man did. He needed a push.
I’m sure most of us have seen Braveheart. You know the event that pushed him over the edge, that ignited his rage, the murder of his new wife and love of his life. His battle was one part revenge, and one part justice. He wanted to kill the men who enacted the prima nocta law that eventually led to the death of his wife. He wanted revenge for her death. But he also wanted freedom that he felt was long overdue. He needed freedom.
Any man who’s had wrong done to his family can resonate with Wallace’s story. We all want to murder those bastards that rape our daughters or wives, or kill our families because they were drunk when driving. We want to bring down the system that limits our freedom, that thinks it knows what’s best for us when it clearly has no clue.
It’s a different time, is what we usually say or think. Our rational brain takes over. The unlikelihood of success stops us before any real action is taken.
Justice will be served, it’s out of my hands, we think as we watch the rapist get thrown in prison, or the murderer the same. We want to kill and burn and pillage, but calmer heads always prevail.
Wallace did what we all want to do. And I use harsh words because Wallace, as the movie only slightly shows, was a savage, a killer, a man who matched the brutality of his enemy, then too it one step further. I’m not saying that it’s right to kill someone who has done you wrong. I’m not sure that it’s always justice. It may be, but that’s not how our society can function. Regardless, he took on an unbeatable enemy, and at least formed a chink in its armor that would one day, after his death, be opened, exposed, eventually leading to Scotland’s freedom.
Again, Wallace was an original. As a boy he was taken by his uncle after the death of his parents. An uncle that taught him different languages, and introduced him to literature not available to him back on his farm in Scotland. The events of his life, and his innate character and charisma, led to him being one of the most legendary outlaws of all time.
He wasn’t afraid of death. Everything that mattered in his life had been taken from him. His family, and then his wife. His love was gone. Death wasn’t a worry, more like a welcome friend. It’s in his acceptance of death, just like in Jesus’ and James’, that their lives were given room to grow and evolve into the epic tales that they each eventually forged.
Alas, he also disrupted the “natural order”. He fought against the establishment, just like Jesus and Lee did. He took on a great enemy. He fought back against an entity that wasn’t likely to defeat. And he didn’t defeat them. He did, however, start the events that eventually led to the destruction of his nation’s oppressor. If he didn’t, first, disrupt the natural order, England wouldn’t have given Scotland their sovereignty.
Every man is an outlaw.
Or at least we’re born with that capacity. With each year on this fine planet, our societies expectations weigh on us more. They suffocate our warrior’s spirit. They quell the anarchist in each one of us. These expectations and “rules” crush the gunslinger.
Men are born wild, and then we’re domesticated.
The outlaws, however, maintain at least a part of that wild nature that served us so well when we were protecting our tribes from the greatest beasts the world had ever seen. It’s that wild nature that allows them to create massive change in the world, even in their world, disrupting the natural order of things with each act of rebellion.
It’s not enough to envy these outlaws. We have to do more than that; we have to be them.
I said it earlier, but every one of us has a purpose in life. We all have a dream, something that interests us, something we’re passionate about. The outlaw follows that passion. The outlaw fights the injustice that each of us face daily. The outlaw has accepted that his death is inevitable, and decided that the prospect of death isn’t a good enough reason not to do something because the prospect of life is far greater a motivator than death is a deterrent.
So as society aims to domesticate and emasculate you. Stay free. Stay wild. Hold on to the fighter you are within. You’re going to die. It’s inevitable. You’re dying right now. But are you going to live?
Etch your name in the pages of history with other rebels like Mandela, Robert E. Lee, and Theodore Roosevelt, men who didn’t do what was expected of them, but what they thought was right and just and manly. It’s these great man who exist within us, their spirit is alive and well in any man who acts with courage and daring, who faces his fears and the evils of the world, protecting the weak and punishing the wrong. Face your fears. Accept your inevitable death. And finally live.