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Just Say No to Flex Culture

I was scrolling through Twitter the other day and noticed a phrase I’d never seen before but perfectly encapsulates where I think a lot has gone wrong. Weapon Outfitters, a shop I recommend a lot of the time and a killer photographer to boot, mentioned the phrase “Flex Culture” in the context of night vision and Instagram. The phrase has apparently been around for a while, but this was my first time seeing it and it’s stuck with me every since.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that this phrase touches on the very problem affecting shooting community and many others- especially fitness. The “flex” is showing off equipment or activities to make someone look more impressive, especially when compared to “the poors.”

The issue of flex culture shows up in two ways that I think are directly harming us, and I want to talk about that and what we can do to combat it.

FOMO and Gatekeepers

The flex culture coin has two sides here. The first is marketing personalities who for whatever reason have amassed enough wealth that they can buy (or receive as samples) nearly anything they want. I call these the FOMO types. The others are a group of enthusiasts who try to establish themselves high in the hierarchy through the application of money rather than performance.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)

This first group is your classic internet influencer. They go about showing off their toys on social media, particularly Instagram and YouTube, and start telling everyone else that they need to buy the “thing” or else you’re going to be ineffective (at best) or die (at worst).

It’s not just the gun world, but also fitness, amateur radio, survival, or really anywhere there is money to be made from presenting a particular image.

For folks who are relatively inexperienced, this drives a huge fear of missing out (FOMO). They don’t know what they don’t know, but the person they’ve come to trust is telling them they need something. So they make bad financial decisions and go into huge amounts of debt or put off investing in actual training that would serve them better than the latest “thing.”

Even worse is the influencers who lie about it. I see this a lot in the fitness space where shredded looking dudes make you think they got to where they are by doing silly exercises and eating a copious amount of broccoli, rice, and chicken. If you knew that they also took steady doses of steroids, then it ruins the image and message that “hard work and discipline are all you need to be like me.”

Gatekeepers

Whereas I think many FOMO influencer types range from disingenuous to downright malicious, the other side of the coin is the gatekeepers. I have a real problem with gatekeepers.

In nearly any community, especially online ones with some anonymity, you inevitably form hierarchies. All too often, the people at the top of the pyramid are those who give off the appearance of being the most committed or most talented.

Since this is the internet and you never really get to know people personally, and proper vetting is difficult, it’s easy to appear to be more capable by spending more money on ever more expensive equipment. They aim to be rather than do.

Invariably, the gatekeepers seeking their position higher in the pecking order through the application of money turn around tell tell others something to the effect of, “Well…if you aren’t willing to do what I’ve done, then you aren’t actually serious.”

Eventually, enough of these gatekeepers show up and pump each other up. This makes it look like consensus, and it exerts peer pressure on those “below” them.

This is the mentality that leads you to think that you need a $4,000 night vision monocular, or you aren’t serious. But if you have a single tube PVS-14, then you are still going to die because you should have gotten dual tubes. But even if you spent $10,000 on dual tube white phosphorus, you’re still not serious because you should have spent $30,000 on quad tubes GPNVG. Even then, you’re still going to die because you didn’t also spring for another $9,000 ECOTI thermal clip ons.

All the while, nobody bothered to ask the question of why the average person needed night vision to begin with, the actual probability of ever using it for more than just a toy, and just how far that person could go by practicing some tactical minimalism and becoming extremely skilled in the basics.

What to Do About Flex Culture

I should be clear about something. It’s not a secret that I advocate for a “buy nice or buy twice” attitude. I think there is benefit to spending enough money to get something that reliably serves you for the majority of your shooting needs. That doesn’t mean going to the high end of the market, either. If a $1200 rifle will do 90% of what an $8000 rifle will do, then I’m hard pressed to tell you that you need to spend that $8,000.

I will also never look down upon someone or tell them they aren’t serious because they chose to get the more affordable option. There’s a lot to be said for smart financial decisions, and a lot of people show poor judgement there by going into debt unnecessarily.

I’m not saying that there isn’t room to acquire nice equipment and tell you about it. Sometimes we all want to hear about that thing that might be a once in a lifetime purchase, or we’re just curious. The catch is that they’re honest about benefits and provide suitable alternatives when available.

It’s not a marketing pitch to make anyone feel like they made a mistake.

Remember the Basics

One active military member of the community relayed a story to me recently that I thought was relevant. While on an exercise in the Netherlands, they simulated an insurgency conflict with one “team” equipped with modern night vision, thermal, communications, and all the trappings. The other operated low-tech.

Knowing the technological disadvantage they were at, the low-tech insurgent team leaned hard into the basics of fieldcraft and infantry skills. After a few days of this without resupply, the high-tech team’s batteries started running low and much of their advantage faded away. Since they were relying heavily on their technological advantage rather than hard soldiering skills, the advantage flipped and the insurgent team took the lead.

I relay this story because I think there’s a lesson there. Despite the flexing of the latest and greatest by those who seek to impress you or make you feel inadequate, the real advantage will always go to those who master the fundamentals.

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Matt

Matt is the primary author and owner of The Everyday Marksman. He's a former military officer turned professional tech sector trainer. He's a lifelong learner, passionate outdoorsman, and steadfast supporter of firearms culture.

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18 Comments
Oldest First
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Randy
Randy
Guest

Being elite is performing the fundamentals well and on demand.

Paul
Paul
Guest
Replying to  Randy

Exactly right! Well stated.

Wil
Wil
Guest

Well said Matt. I’ve notice it’s also the same low self esteem people who propagate this flex culture. You pretty much nailed it

Paul
Paul
Guest

Good topic Matt! I guess at some point one has to do a reality check and assess one’s own ‘needs’ and ‘goals’ rather than the ‘shiny object’ over there. I’ve finally hit a personal ‘wall’ and have settled on letting the training curve and your ‘pyramid’ determine what I may need rather than stuffing my ruck and spare room with likely unnecessary and expensive gear. I’ve never been one to worry about the ‘popular’ people and let them do the worrying about being popular! I discovered your website after being disenfranchised from ‘gatekeeper’ military and AR15 websites where I was just looking for real information. It seems ‘social media’ technology has offered a ‘concentrated platform’ for both ‘wannabes and ‘elitist’ type. Life does exist in places other than the WWW, YouTube and Instagram – glad I’m familiar with them. Keep up the ‘good work’ Matt!

Jon
Jon
Guest

Excellent message that is on point, as always. When it comes to firearms, it’s easy to get flexed on, and I can’t blame those who blindly follow a “Flexor”…we all do it subconsiously at different levels and at various points in this journey. Guns and gear all revolve around life-and-death scenarios, whether altercations on the street, or in a invasion/disaster scenario. The average person doesn’t want to get “Kilt in da streetz”, and so they’ll attach themselves to a persona or piece of gear that they believe will give the the advantage. It’s much harder to convince yourself that you don’t need to spend $ on micro-niche “Advanced tactics class” or some high end accessory, and it’s far better to train fundamentals with the gear you already have. The worst is when you realize that social media fueled trends which you initially interpreted as “improvements” in setups/training methods are in actuality a few influencers speaking their mind about what they want to explore/push next, and the rest of the fans propagate it and echo it throughout the firearm ecosystem. It gets super tiring for those who bought belt kit and LPVO to be told that chest rig and prism scope is superior, or vice versa. Just learn the benefits/drawbacks of each and make a decision to stick with a system, or if you are passionate about gear, then get one of each to be familiar with and for the fun/interest factor. As far as items like night vision or a… Read more »

Justin
Guest

Excellent article, Matt. I find gatekeepers to be just as insufferable a douchebag as vegans, and as soon as they show themselves I immediately ignore anything they say. I’m not rich, but I do have the gear that I think will help me survive most circumstances, and I make up for the lack of gear I don’t have by training and practicing. Maybe some day I’ll be able to drop several grand on a good pair of NVG’s, but as for right now, I’ll work on my shooting and survival skills. Thanks for putting into words the thoughts I’ve been having about internet experts for some time now.

Paul
Paul
Guest

Technology is awesome and that train isn’t stopping soon. I’ve combed the 2023 SHOT Show catalogue of new products and I’m telling you just put last year’s ‘junk’ in the trunk! Marksmanship, basic tactics and physical conditioning will serve Joe ‘lunch box’ better than $20,000 worth of NVG, GPS and laser trajectory scopes ever will. I might emphasize ‘physical conditioning’ again….you just can’t ‘buy’ your way to strong fundamentals – they’re earned.

Tyler
Tyler
Guest

As a “newbie,” this was really nice and refreshing to hear.

i go out of my way to vet hosts of blogs, channels, etc and weed out those with questionable/unknown repute, but even then, plenty of guys with perfectly legit clout still heavily push “gucci gear” because they get it for free and are being paid commission to push it on others. I get that it has become their job, but it is very off-putting to normal “civvies” like me who are just trying to do what I can to balance it with a mortgage and daycare and groceries.

I could probably be a hell of a lot more proficient too if companies mailed me this stuff on the house!

I am statistically at the upper threshold of “middle class” and it is still hard to economically justify even budget friendly gear. An $800 AR was a big investment for me – not to mention the costs to outfit it with just the basic/essential accessories.

I just cannot understand how anyone who isn’t in the upper 10% can afford most of what these guys are “recommending.” any ‘normal’ person would need to be doing some pretty shady things to make extra disposable income, or is putting their family is a ton of debt to strut around like some larping warlord peacock.

Paul
Paul
Guest
Replying to  Tyler

Many drawn to using firearms for self defense and sport are also drawn to the training culture. At the high end of training there are air soft, mil-sim and organized militia type of training where NVGs and high end communication set ups are required to participate in squad size tactics in simulated combat conditions. As Matt mentioned in the post many of the scenarios the civilian community or individual most likely would encounter would not require this level of tactics and equipment. I’ve never seen a patrol police officer with NVGs on his head! Effective applied fundamentals with basic capable firearms will do the job quite well. In any given human social group there will always be those who ‘need’ to have the latest and greatest shiniest most expensive toy to establish their ‘status’ within the group. Some train to the levels where this high end gear will benefit them should the circumstance arrive but being really good at the basics or ‘capable’ as Matt likes to say will serve most of us well – this is where I concentrate my effort.

Gil
Gil
Guest

Thank you Matt. This needed to be said.

Andrew
Andrew
Guest

Brilliance in the basics. The only difference between Special Operations and the infantry is budget and mission set. SF dudes and the like are guys who trained for thousands of hours to do basic tasks extremely well. At least in all the aspects of warfighting. I have been around a number of guys who never served in the military and believe the amount of money they put into their builds and kit equals out to what they can sustain in the real world. When they cant hit a target at 100M, cant hike under weighted load for more than 3 miles, and cant do one single pull up.

I don’t fear a gucci gunner with quad toobs and an ecoti, I fear the 25 year old kid who grew up in the backwoods of Tennessee with a bolt action .22 who had to find varmint to feed his family from age 10, until he joined the Army at 18, and spent 4 years in the Infantry. That person, is cock strong as an ox, won’t be stopped come hell or high water, and can drop a threat at distance or with his bare hands if he needs to.

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