Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Straits of men

Note: This is a companion piece to “What men want.”

The prevailing gender paradigm is postmodern man’s Scylla and Charybdis. On one side is the gaping mouth of women’s liberation and equality, a gaping maw into which the current of cultural life unstoppably flows. On the other side is the immovable rock of innate masculine duty and self-control, which, if he’s lucky, he learned from his non-absentee father.

Many a sitcom are based on men trying to navigate this narrow strait while being laughed at. The rules are too complex for him to discern, so basically he needs to be told what to do. Emasculation is funny.

When you don’t like the rules of the game, you have three options:

  1. Adapt to the rules. “Man up!” (Comedy ensues.)

  2. Stop playing. Go it alone. “Go Galt.”

  3. Play the game you want to play, the way you know it should be played.

The third option requires the hardest discipline. It means holding yourself accountable to a standard, rather than being dictated to by the powers of this world.

Dr. Helen Smith, claiming the rational self-interest of men, advocates the second option, a roguish, nihilist, damn-it-all severing from expectation and duty. (Smith’s blog is linked on the left sidebar.) The Weekly Standard’s Andrew Ferguson reviews her book Men On Strike. I’ve bolded the really good parts.

There’s evidence that a significant percentage of men are shying away from the social institutions that historically have required male participation for success, for both their own flourishing and that of the institutions themselves. For Dr. Helen, the reasons are straightforward. A right-leaning libertarian, she is a believer in homo economicus. The general retreat of men from their traditional responsibilities, she reasons, reflects a rational calculation of costs and benefits. When men go on strike, she says, they “are acting rationally in response to the lack of incentives today’s society offers them to be responsible fathers, husbands and providers.”

A cost-benefit analysis, including the meddlesome social and economic incentives put in place by a futile, waning culture, is an empty calculus. No man rules his life by points on a ledger. It’s more a matter of answering—or not—the call to be the man God made you to be.

Ferguson goes on to make a critical point:

You don’t need a long look to see that the men’s movement Dr. Helen hopes to advance is a mirror image of the movement it’s reacting to. This is why it’s disconcerting to see the men’s movement taken up as a conservative cause. In its ideological DNA is the same heedless individualism that bred Second Wave feminists, who likewise reduced every human interaction to a confrontation of legally enforceable “rights.” Gender warriors think alike, no matter which army they’re in.

Like 1970s feminists, Dr. Helen and her comrades place the blame for injustice squarely on the fuzziest possible malefactor​—​not specific individuals or even discrete groups, but vague entities like “society,” “the media,” “the culture,” “today’s PC climate,” and of course “the environment”: the working environment, the current environment, the college environment ... all of them hostile, all of them subjecting men to unbidden terrors.

To these dimensionless clouds of ill will the gender warrior attributes stupendous powers. The environment or society or the culture or the climate is responsible for how we see ourselves, whether we choose to marry, what kind of jobs we’re offered or interested in, the number of children we have or whether we have them at all. Second Wave feminists saw the American woman the same way, as a creature gone limp, a hopeless chump subject to endless manipulation. Like those earlier gender warriors, Dr. Helen thinks the root problem is that society​—​you know, society​—​doesn’t treat the objects of her pity as “autonomous beings.” Personal autonomy is her lodestar. The movement’s ideal is a person stripped of all responsibilities and constraints except those he freely chooses for himself. The ancient view that we are embedded in obligations that are not of our own choosing and which should not be quickly discarded​—​and which are finally the source of life’s richness and deepest rewards​—​is as foreign to her as it was to the theorists of feminism.

It doesn’t get any better than that. I would only add the conflicting expectations by society—yes, society: culture, the palpable spirit of our age, plying with ever greater ease via TV and the Internet—holds sway over impressionable minds.

Take, for example, the university. Students come from all over the state, from all over the country, from different backgrounds, and assimilate within a few months. Is there a more dramatic picture of conformity than the university? There’s little resistance to it, much less impulse on freshmen’s part to change it. This is the way things are. You don’t change the way things are. To an extent, environment is responsible for how we see ourselves.

Rather than eking out a meager, utilitarian existence (i.e., “going Galt”), I suggest a sturdy regimen of deprogramming, preferably in a Christian enclave where men and women are encouraged to be godly men and women, and social institutions are in place to help them make it into Heaven.

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