Podcast: Play in new window
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.
While there I noted that I’ve been in the NODs space ever since BE Meyers was kind enough to lease us space for a bit back in 2014-15, and it’s been nuts seeing the night vision market explode.— WeaponOutfitters.com (@WeaponOutfitter) January 21, 2023
We believe it was driven by Instagram and flex culture
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.”
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.
Being elite is performing the fundamentals well and on demand.
Exactly right! Well stated.
It’s a simple concept that I think too many people don’t understand. The basics don’t change, and the very best performers- from competition shooters to special operations, are really just showing off mastery of those basics.
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
Thanks, Wil! There’s a lot of validation seekers out there.
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… Read more »
You know, I do think there’s a level of experience involved here. Eventually, people do get burned out on the hype of the “next great thing.” Of course, some people go the opposite direction and want to become gatekeepers themselves.
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… Read more »
Very well said, Jon. Nothing is really off limits, but it should come as part of a natural progression and based off of realistic needs and skills assessments. To top it off, often far too much is made about the nuanced difference between item A and B when both work well.
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… Read more »
Thanks, Justin! That’s the right mindset right there. Master the equipment you have and consider something “next level” when it makes sense.
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.
Right on, Paul!
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… Read more »
Hey Tyler, thanks for commenting! You’re right on the money. There’s a very small part of the population who would actually have the funds to buy all the stuff they post online. The vast majority are either sponsored, or making poor life/financial decisions to give off the image.
When it comes down to it, I think the difficult thing for almost anyone is finding the balance between building trust and credibility and the need to treat things like a business.
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… Read more »