The strange thing is: some lives do matter more than others. In particular, female lives seem invariably to matter more than male lives. The rule applies in all communities. Today, it is most evident in African-American communities.
One does not know how this proves the persistence of patriarchal oppression, but black women are more successful in life than are black men. They are more likely to graduate college and to pursue careers. And they are less likely to be incarcerated and less likely involve themselves in gang wars and criminal behavior.
David Goldman notes:
Parts of black America appear determined to destroy themselves—black men, that is, rather than black women, who graduate from university at twice the male rate and hold more full-time jobs. Call it genosuicide, the self-willed extinction of a people, and it happens all the time, especially when young men decide that to matter, they must assert themselves violently.
As the nation’s politicians and media figures gnash their teeth about police misconduct, young black men are producing a crime wave that is killing, for the most part, other black men.
The numbers are staggering. Goldman writes:
To demonstrate that they matter, young black men kill other young black men in appalling numbers. The Economist notes that if black America were a country, it would have the highest murder rate in the world, adding, “Black Americans are still eight times more likely to be murdered than whites and seven times more likely to commit murder, according to the FBI. An incredible one-third of black men in their 30s have been in prison.”
Think about it: blacks are eight times more likely to be murdered and seven times more likely to commit murder. Black Americans have the highest murder rate in the world. It boggles the mind.
At the least, it tells us that the social programs that were designed to improve the lot of black Americans have failed… miserably.
Goldman argues that what he calls “genosuicide” has occurred throughout human history. As a rule, and in the examples he cites, it occurs at certain moments in wars, when a nation on the brink of defeat throws more and more young men into the fray, causing more and more casualties.
In Goldman’s words:
The lives of a third of young black Americans have been ruined. That is an important statistic: wars never are fought to the point of actual extinction, but rather to the point at which there are too few prospective fighters to continue the war. Violent self-assertion is the common theme in such wars. Before the dawn of civilization, in fact, that was the norm of the human condition: two-fifths of prehistoric males typically died in tribal warfare, according to the anthropologist Lawrence H. Keeley.
Wars of near-extinction are not universal but are remarkably common in ancient as well as modern history.
Goldman’s analogy is not quite as good as it appears to be. Largely because young black men are not fighting for their nation or for a cause. They are fighting and dying in order to prove themselves as gangsters. It’s not about manliness; it’s about machismo.
Goldman recognizes this aspect of the problem:
To “matter” in the hip-hop culture that predominates among young black men is to be tougher and more rapacious than one’s fellows, to be indifferent to the prospect of prison or death, to get rich or die trying.
The gangster culture is a caricature of military culture. The ongoing slaughter in America’s inner cities more closely resembles the activities of Mexican drug cartels than it does the German army during World War I.
One suspects that machismo exists primarily in matriarchal cultures, cultures where men are deprived of a meaningful way to earn their place in the male status hierarchy. Clearly, America’s inner cities are far more matriarchal than are other parts of the nation.
But, why are men so drawn toward cultures that see warfare as a way to accede to the status of adult male? It’s not just that they want matter.
Unfortunately, the willingness to risk one’s life, the willingness to take another life in a socially sanctioned way seems to be endemic to manliness. Women are less likely to get involved in such activities because their bodies are more valuable, reproductively speaking, and more difficult to replace.
Does the test of manhood always involve risk to life and limb? Or, was William James right to suggest that commerce and industry can serve as a moral equivalent of war. Of course, this assumes that people who compete in the marketplace are following a martial ethic.
If James is right, his idea could explain why young men work such long hours at their jobs, without much regard for their health or for work/life balance. It also explains why they work so hard to win out in competition.
Women are less inclined to work such long hours because they are hard-wired to avoid risking their reproductive potential. Normal communities respect women’s choices in this area.
But, is the work more killing and more deadly when the cause is lost? Such is Goldman’s contention and it is worth considering.
Even though Goldman has mistakenly confused military campaigns with gang violence, he still offers an interesting observation when he says that in conflicts like World War I and the American Civil War the greatest number of casualties occurred when the wars were basically lost.
For the losing side, in particular, wars end when there is no longer anyone left to fight them.
In Goldman’s words:
… casualty rates typically rise in inverse proportion to the probability of victory. The young men who fight great wars are not game theorists, calculating the likelihood of dying in battle against the probability of victory. On the contrary, casualty rates typically rise sharply after hope of victory has faded. What matters is to “matter.”
Of course, we may entertain other possible interpretations.
In some cases, a nation that is facing defeat will be unwilling to accept it. Its leaders might believe that one last counteroffensive—throwing everything it has against its enemy—will snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
In other cases, men might believe that an honorable death is better than ignominious defeat, or, in a more Darwinian sense, that the members of a defeated army should not be breeding the next generation. This would be the rule until a nation faces the possibility that there might not be enough men left to breed.