Monday, January 4, 2010

The Decline of the American Man

It may not have risen to the level of a harmonic convergence, but consider the following.

A week ago Sunday New York Times columnist Paul Krugman took a look back at the past decade and concluded that it all amounted to nothing: "It was a decade in which nothing good happened, and none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true." Link here.

Ignore the absurd hyperbole-- "nothing good happened"-- and Krugman's tendency to pretend that party-line propaganda constitutes serious opinion. It's typical Krugman... unworthy of very much attention.

Krugman, as is his wont, thought that nothing good happened over the ten year period because people believed in free markets and free trade, in competition and enterprise, in decorum and hard work.

In short, Krugman blamed the failures of the decade on the fact that we were all too manly for our own good.

Four days after Krugman posted his screed Times television critic Alessandra Stanley offered a look-back at the way men had been portrayed on television over the same decade. She concluded: "... men marked the last 10 years of television less as hellions and healers than as analysands-- fragile bullies who recognized they were damaged and sought help." Link here.

Assuming that the television portrayal shows us something that is alive in the culture, the American man was an introspective naval-gazer, guilt-ridden about his predations, repairing to the office of a therapist to receive some tender-loving care.

During the past decade Stanley saw the decline of the American man, accompanied by an ascendancy of more feminine values. And she argued, correctly, that the therapy culture was responsible for the problem.

To the extent that the therapy culture persuaded men that their manliness was a symptom of unresolved issues, it contributed mightily to the decline of the American man.

If we ask what happened to the American man, the answer must be that he became a person.

But what do we mean by manliness? Surely, we do not mean macho bravado, the every-man-for-himself, take what you can while the taking is good. The culture of greed that seems to have infected Wall Street does not embody true manliness.

In fact, machismo is really a caricatured masculinity associated with cultures that indulge in Mother worship. A female-dominant culture produces macho boys. See Michael Carroll's book: The Cult of the Virgin Mary.

Masculinity, per se, is best understood in terms of martial values. The military has always been the most manly of manly institutions and its values, its ethos, has always been used to define masculinity. Athletic teams and corporate cultures embody those values.

Military values involve competitive striving, winners and losers, sportsmanship and decorum, playing by the rules, uniform dress, status hierarchy, and subsuming individual interest in that of the group.

Once you exalt the value of empathy, the ability, as Bill Clinton said, to feel everyone's pain, you are rendering people less competitive. As we know, Bill Clinton considered a lady's man, not a man's man.

No one ever won a war or a race or a contract by feeling the pain he was trying to inflict on his opponents. Values like nurturance and caring have their place and their use. Just not in the arena, on the playing field, or on the battlefield.

As a cultural phenomenon the decline of the American man began in the 1960s with the anti-war counterculture. By the turn of the millennium it had already seeped into the school system. As Christina Hoff Sommers wrote in an article and book called "The War Against Boys," male students were falling behind, working less, and achieving far less success than their female counterparts. Link here.

Where Sommers blames it on feminism, I would respectfully disagree. No man is going to recover his manliness by blaming its loss on a bunch of mean women. If men sacrificed their manliness on the altar of introspective psychotherapy, they can start on the road to recovering it by being men enough to take responsibility for their loss.

What they don't need is yet another excursion to the feminine side. Yet, that is what the Obama administration has offered us as public policy.

Apparently, the administration, like Krugman, believes that the problems of the last decade were caused by excessive masculinity. They want to cure it by infusing the nation with a dose of feminine values.

What could be a more maternal initiative than the health care reform now on its way to becoming law. The administration sees the financial crisis as the wages of our manly sins. It wants to perform therapy, to cure the problem, by showing that we know how to take care of those less fortunate, the victims of capitalism.

The Obama administration abolished the language of war in favor of what I will call a softer and nicer foreign policy. Pres. Obama also decided that our nation did not need to compete against other nations; we would embody softer values by expressing our feelings and showing affection for everyone, indiscriminately.

Let us not forget that the administration has proposed that worship for the goddess Nature become public policy.

Beyond that, advanced leftist thinkers believe that we should no longer identify ourselves as citizens of the nation; we should be citizens of the world. Yet, being a citizen of the world is meaningless. It really means that we should not identify our personal interest with that of our nation.

Dare I say that the financial crisis was caused, in some part, by people who did not see their interest as the national interest. The banking system was cosmopolitanism run amok.

I imagine that some of you are uncomfortable with the stark division between masculine and feminine values and worlds. To some extent you would be right.

So, let's replace the division between masculine and feminine preserves, each with its values and ethos, with a division between public and private spaces, each with its own values and ethos.

And let us say that the nurturing private space, most often identified with the home, sustains the values of intimacy and kindness and caring, while the competitive public space, identified with war and commerce and sports, sustains the values of fair play.

It is a good idea not to mix the two up. Competitive striving within a marriage is not a good thing; it does not produce domestic harmony. Feeling empathic toward your competitor is not going to enhance your chances at victory.

Nurturing your children is a good thing. Nurturing your employees is going to make them feel and act like children. It will demoralize them and demotivate them.

Interestingly, we can also see this as a division between sacred and profane spaces, between church and state.

The private space of the church is a space of caring and soulfulness. The church welcomes the indigent and the homeless; it provides succor to the weak and to those who are not able to care for themselves.

The public space of the state facilitates commerce, protects the public by engaging in warfare, and provides basic social services.
When we say that a government has created a Mommy state, we are saying that it has promoted values that had best remain within the Mother Church.

For those who are not comfortable with the stark division between manliness and femininity, why not think of the division in terms of the separation of church and state.

If the state has become a welfare organization whose business is caring for the sick and helping the poor, then the separation between church and state has been breached. The same would be true of a man who had been influenced by the therapy culture to embody values that are better suited to the home than to the arena.


booboo said...

So glad I found this place!

[And I mean that in a manly sort of way; i.e., damned glad.]

Speaking of which, the chairman of my dept (I have my own department and my own chairman---in an "ed" school [G-d help me]--a person who happens to be female--recently confronted me regarding how I had spoken to my colleagues, who wanted to have a course on social justice, and whose syllabus included works by the foul toad, Billy Ayers.

I had told my colleagues that this course was nothing but crude marxism, and asked if they knew how many millions of persons had been put to death under the aegis of "social justice."

Naturally, they ran to her and called me a racist.

She told me that I had spoken too harshly. That I was overly critical. That I should ask questions rather than make assertions.

I replied, "You act as if my speech is wrong. It is merely male. That is the way MEN speak. You are asking to me to speak like (or as) a female. No thanks. YOU speak that way, if you'd like."

I can't tell whether left-liberals chose liberalism because they are morons, or whether that world view makes them morons.

Either way, they are morons.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you for the comment. I am still amazed and dismayed to see the thought police at work in what is supposed to be an educational institution. Apparently, some people are so habituated to group think that they cannot imagine that anyone could possibly disagree with them. I am also surprised the people who manifestly do not believe in free speech (or free markets or free trade) still call themselves liberals.