I miss the best conversations over the weekend. Morgan talked about Millennials and masculinity, then Severian had a great take, and now I’m left to play catch-up.
We’re pretty well-saturated with the idea that manhood is not very welcome nowadays. People have been writing books books about it, and starting websites to counteract it. There are memes, and memes, and yet more memes. And on the flip-side of this, there’s the common laments for the coming generation for as long as new generations have come, right back to when Cain struck down Abel.
More recently, Steven Taylor was singing:
“As we watch the family die an orphan choir rehearses
Their daddies left without a goodbye
Will you, my man, buckle under these curses?”
That was in 1993, when Gen-Xers such as myself were just getting through college. So the question is, has the trend accelerated since then – is there a difference this time, or is this something where the skeptics are right and we should really just relax?
Put my checkmark in the “no, let’s not relax just yet” column. I think there are differences of substance between what was lamented in my father’s time, and my time, vs. now…
For one thing, I see as a symptom that a significant subset of men are themselves fully on board with becoming vestigal organs in the body of society. This isn’t the sentiment of someone just keeping his head down for the sake of a more peaceful life; he and the many others like him are all-in on a sort of vichy masculinity that takes its cues entirely from its enemy, with full knowledge and approval.
(EDIT – I don’t use the word “enemy” lightly. They are real, and their frequent incoherence doesn’t make them less dangerous.)
That difference walks hand-in-hand (or ball-in-chain) with another – one by one, all the traditional outlets for excess male energy are being stopped up. Pro sports are icky and violent, and you’re not allowed to like the men’s leagues more than the ladies’ leagues. You can’t knock back with television or books or movies or comics without Grrrrl Powrrrr! as a mandatory element – especially when it also means the poor hapless boys are incompetent, backwards, simplistic, and immature. Every guy who isn’t gay is allegedly one misstep from being a violent, raging spree-rapist. (Perhaps this explains why we are to reflexively rejoice upon hearing about somebody’s same-sex preferences, or else.)
Another difference is that nobody else seems willing to pick up the slack. Losing one’s own father is a terrible thing, but we’re meant to act as if it isn’t, and to not be an example of healthy fatherhood ourselves. I can recall all sorts of good role models in addition to my own father: my Scoutmaster, uncles, teachers, adult friends of my parents. It was more than acceptable for them to reinforce my parents’ discipline. AND – they were engaged with each other, and not with their personal gadgetry.
None of that holds to the same extent today. We live in such terrible isolation. Read any books you like, print out and comment on all those articles – but does that actually raise a boy to manhood? A tool like the Internet that serves to connect far-flung e-migos such as ourselves isn’t supposed to then detach us from everyone we meet face-to-face. Nor is reading (or writing) about anything a substitute for getting out in the world and getting things done.
The other day in line somewhere – and it was a very short line, at that – I overheard a snotty pre-teen girl grousing about the heat and the sun and why can’t we just go already, mouthing off to her mom, who made precious little protest. Had I or my wife turned around with any sort of a mild reproach, we would have been the jerk in mom’s eyes, as if we were showing her up instead of helping her out. Nine-year-old me, raised in an era when distraction wasn’t immediately beamed into a handheld device, would have had to occupy himself with imagination, or learn patience. Had I failed I would have gotten the business from Dad and Mom and perhaps other onlookers. Those are huge advantages we had in Gen X over the Millennials.
What to make of the historical refrain of “Kids These Days”? Well, I’ll spare you my Paul Lynde impression in favor of saying these two things which should be unremarkable:
- There’s nothing wrong with every generation fretting over doing a good job with the current generation. Such things are proof that people take child-raising seriously, and want to see that they succeed in taking up the torch of civilization and spreading its light.
- Just because every generation of parents has said this, doesn’t make them wrong.
Both of those things seem painfully obvious to me. Every generation has unique challenges, and the way to meet them is to be grounded in certain universal principles. Watching people struggle with those challenges and fail to apply the principles leads to these warnings. We appeal to those strong models we remember from our own childhoods to inspire the current crop. Get out there and fight, kid! Lately, it’s not just that people are failing to meet the standards – that is, indeed, another universal – nor even that people think some of the standards are bunk. People are increasingly of the opinion that the very concept of a standard is the thing that needs to go. “That’s just, like, your opinion, man,” is the new Golden Rule, leading simultaneously to two very bad outcomes: first, nobody accepts that anybody can ever be wrong about anything. Second, nobody can ever rebut another’s opinion, nor prefer (or even express) their own.
There’s been a systemic attempt to undermine every standard-bearer in Western Civilization: once upon a recent time, for example, every single mainline Christian denomination (and most non-Christian faiths) held a single line against divorce, contraception, abortion, and pre- and extra-marital affairs; a good majority of the population at large would have agreed. Now the Catholic and Orthodox churches are the only ones left.
But even the dullest realizes that, absent any general consensus as to the grounds rules and enforcing them, the clashes are bad for everyone. The fallback is to make new standards out of the opinions of the people in charge – and therefore the greatest good is to make sure that you’re the people in charge, because you fully expect that should the tide ever turn and sweep you out of power, those you persecute will return the favor. Why wouldn’t they, if there is no objective standard that says they ought not to… and even if there was, you ignore that standard, why wouldn’t they?
So the warnings seem fainter, and the skeptics much louder, at precisely the time when these warnings are most needed. This is not encouraging. People are losing the idea that those prohibitions are not merely arbitrary restrictions, but steps to prevent undermining the positive good of family life and peaceful society. They see no intrinsic value in it or in its basic components, the masculine and feminine, and the resulting division of parenthood and childhood, nor the process of slowly training the next generation to be ready to shoulder responsibilities. They destroy the very concepts of obedience, virtue, and rationality, and then foolishly expect such feral people to respect mere law and force. They gleefully hack down the plant and sow the earth with salt, and then wonder where all that desert came from.
We will always have slackers, and we will always have achievers. The warnings, the standards they are meant to protect, the larger society’s encouragement and effort, are not meant for either extreme end of the bell curve – the incorrigible or the uncorruptible – they are meant for the great mass in the middle who can be swayed, if by nothing other than habit, to keep moving onward and thus help their fellows to do so. Should the warnings stop, then it’s time to head into the woods with your kinfolk and your survivalist gear… because the instant we stop encouraging the new generation to meet the old one’s standards – or any standards – is the moment things will go spiraling over the cliff. “That can’t happen here” is never more false than when it is most believed. Not only are the warnings universal – so are ignoring the warnings, and the consequences. It takes effort to avoid disaster, and both effort and disaster are being dismissed as fairy tales meant to frighten and control us, to keep us from enlightenment.
Civilization, like any other great pioneer and explorer, will often meet crisis, forced back on only resolve and ingenuity. At those points – exhausted, starving, shivering in the gale – he is always tempted to lie down and feel that sleepy peace come over them… and rise no more. The worst feeling in the world is the one where you shake yourself, and again take up the unbearable burden, and force yourself to make the first step toward a goal you despair of reaching, for reasons you no longer recall. But that most uncomfortable and painful point is exactly what’s called for, and we are raising a generation that’s ill-equipped to rise to that occasion, because our society idolizes comfort, worships self, and refuses to fix any outward goals. What resolve and ingenuity has a society that slanders both concepts? We seem, in large numbers, almost violently allergic to even discussing the subject, content that we will merely avoid disaster by being hip and enlightened.”It can’t happen here…” Well, what else do you think is likely to happen instead, when so few want to avert it and so many refuse to even learn what is most likely to help prevent it?
That sounds familiar…
“In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
(I keep telling everyone, reading that book is all you need to to get everything going on right now. ;))
It was probably there in my subconscious waiting to inspire my lesser version… “castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful” is as good as the analogy can get.