Where Have the Good Men Gone?

by Michael on February 23, 2011 · 4 comments

The mythical perfect family.

I’ve already written about the “New Macho,” the idea that men have to somehow “find a new manhood” to “adapt” to “modern life.” But the onslaught continues (I refuse to call it “misandry,” that’s become a code word for the men who feel the whole world is their enemy).

A piece in the Wall Street Journal titled “Where Have the Good Men Gone” pimps the new book, “Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys,” by Kay Hymowitz, author of an entire series of books on how life has supposedly gotten confusing and complicated in our “post-modern age.” Judging by the sales status and number of reviews of her book on Amazon, it’s likely the WSJ article will be far more widely read, so let’s concentrate on that.

It’s Always the Women’s Fault

First, the rationale that women are responsible for men becoming boys is a slap in every man’s face. Women have been in men’s lives since there have been men and women on Earth. They’ve held jobs en masse for a half century, yet the supposed “evidence” that they’re taking our jobs, and therefore our manhood, is embodied in a chart that logs only the past five years. (Let’s see: women make less on average than men, in a depressed economy companies would rather lay off the more expensive workers…this hardly adds up to a “radical reversal of the sexual hierarchy.”)

In fact, her article (and I would assume book) is all over the place, claiming the “problem” began variously with the industrial age, in the ’70s/’80s, and/or when the economy tanked four years ago.

Then random observations on the average age we first marry suggest what—that women are spurning us until we grow up? It’s more likely that higher education means we no longer marry at 20, instead choosing to get at least our first job before tying the knot. But blaming grad school and a desire for stability would shoot this whole men-are-becoming-idiots thing in the foot, no?

The point is, Mrs. Hymowitz’ book is not a study, it’s an observation. And observations are highly colored by one’s background. She’s spent years writing about how the world’s gone crazy, so it stands to reason that’s what she’s going to see in the tea leaves.

What Are Men Doing Anyway?

The one point I’ll give the author(s) is that more men are visibly acting immature. I say visibly because reality TV and YouTube have basically taken the dumb crap young men used to do in the privacy of their own backyards and put it on public display. A guy like Tucker Maxx can blog the dumb stuff he’s done and find an audience.

So what? Men have always drifted at times in life, and done very dumb or lazy things. Young men in the 1950s didn’t spring up all-knowing (the authors have apparently never watched “The Wild Bunch” or “Rebel Without a Cause”). What caused us to seek marriage at 20, babies at 21 and a “career” at 22 were society’s pressures to do so. In fact, the cherished 1950s were an anomaly: Americans married younger in that decade than any time before or since. That “traditional roles” are somehow defined by what we did in one semi-mythical decade is one of the biggest problems we have with facing the present.

While “slacking” wasn’t the word for it, men have backpacked through Europe, hitchhiked across the country, “found themselves” and/or lived in big communal houses for more than a half-century now. Because now you see them doing it doesn’t make it much more insidious.

And in answer to the female comedian who seems to only attract boys and not men: there are plenty of women making similar life choices and behaving as negative stereotypes. For example, a lot of comedians.

An Embarrassment of Riches

While an author with clear vision would see that this all means society now offers freedom and choices for both sexes, she chooses not to celebrate it. Instead, she decides that we’ve been herded like cattle into the slacker-boy-man corral, and our despair over women’s “power” and the pressure of the media have caused us to devalue strength of character:

Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete, even a little embarrassing.

Embarrassing? Really? Tell our young military men in Afghanistan their courage is embarrassing. Tell Captain Sullenberger we don’t value his fortitude. That no one admires Kurt Russell’s fidelity (oh, and P.S., he still isn’t actually married). The fact is that the qualities of strength are never “obsolete” and never “embarrassing.” They’re almost always respected. Men are in the news every day for their valor and courage.

Men are hungry to learn resilience, to make their way in the world. I talk to them all the time, and the links and Google search strings men use to find articles here show they value integrity, fitness, and how they carry themselves as men in various situations.

The “fathers are now optional” line is simply too stupid (yes, stupid) to even address, considering all we know pointing to an even greater knowledge of the need for male role models.

Furthermore, today’s “post-modern world” actually means that anyone, man or woman, can learn any skill they have the mental capacity to take on, and be anything they want to be. The reality is that we’re “held back” less than at any time in our history.

Junk Food Journalism

It’s the junk food junkie who looks past the dozens of great Italian, Vietnamese, Southwestern restaurants in their city because they’ve allowed their existence to be framed by the McDonald’s and Taco Bell whose big signs are right there at the street corner.

Mrs. Hymowitz seeks out society’s junk food, gorges on it regularly, then complains that she’s surrounded by junkies. Maybe she should get out a little bit.

Update: yet another take on the unmotivated, lazy American man was posted by Mark Regnerus, associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin. His premise: young men have lost their will to succeed because, as he puts it, “sex is cheap.” Interestingly, new studies show the opposite: over a six-year period, virginity increased significantly in both males and females age 15-24. Maybe even sociologists are fooled by media images of constant sex.


Question Your Gurus

by Michael on September 20, 2010 · 0 comments

...or scarf your idols, either way... (Photo by Haversack)

This post is inspired by Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity, but it’s something I’ve believed for a long time. Sit down, pour yourself a beverage, and ask yourself these hypotheticals:

  • What if you found out that a “fact” you use as the basis of a belief is not a fact at all, but a falsehood?
  • What if the world is significantly different from the way you believe it is?
  • What if someone you trust and respect is wrong?

If you’re reading this, you’re part of the Internet generation, and you’re inundated with ideas and statements. Some are good ideas; some are ideas doomed to fail. Some statements have grounding in fact, others were created because they fit that person’s narrative.

It’s hard to sort them all out. We can’t fact-check everything we read. So over time we come to trust some sources over others. And that can be good. On the other hand, we often trust our sources, our leaders, our gurus too much.


We Want Structure

Everyone develops a world view—the set of internal rules that make sense of everything around us and gives us structure in a complex world. But world views are as different as people:

  • One man believes it’s perfectly rational to rush and weave through traffic if he’s late for an important appointment; another curses out the obviously crazy guy who just cut him off on the freeway.
  • One believes creating jobs through government projects is the way out of a recession; another believes that tightening the belt and cutting taxes is the answer.
  • One believes the way to get women is to head to the clubs and out-Alpha the other men in the room; the other believes in striking up in-depth conversations with girls in the local coffee shop.

Once we’ve developed a world view, we seek out leaders who fit it. Again, this isn’t necessarily bad. They can teach us, and put the world into terms we can understand. But there’s a point when it becomes a problem: when our leaders, our gurus, choose to give us what we (or they) want to hear—what fits best into that world view—instead of what’s right or appropriate.

Talk radio hosts are the epitome of these “salesman” gurus: with hours of air time to fill every day, and their reputations created from strong opinions, they will extrapolate and magnify a speck of logic into an enormous ideological leap. And it works for them: the hosts with the strongest opinions are often the highest-rated. But there’s a tipping point when their desire to create fervent listeners trumps the need to dial back opinion and insert more facts. (This is not just about political commentators, sports-talk hosts are often just as guilty.)

When Facts Don’t Fit

When this support system inflates and strengthens a world view, a curious thing happens: facts that would weaken the world view are downplayed or ignored entirely. A recent study showed that faced with facts that directly contradicted a previously stated falsehood, most people chose to continue to believe the falsehood. In some cases, confronted with the truth, people believed the falsehoods even more!

Clearly, this is a difficult problem to solve. On a large scale, that’s simply how human beings operate. But on an individual level, how do you prevent falling for false or exaggerated statements, especially when you want to believe them?

Ask Questions for a Clearer Picture

In the study above, the researchers found that the best way to have people look at actual facts was not to keep repeating the facts: instead they asked questions that would force the respondent to question what they believed. To this end, the best way to fact-check your own world view is to constantly ask yourself questions. What in specific do you believe? What is open for debate? Let’s look at the above examples:

  • How much time do you actually gain with frequent lane changes in traffic? How much are you dependent on other drivers when you’re making fast lane changes? Do you trust them that much? What behavior are you willing to accept from other drivers, and do you agree you should adopt the same behavior?
  • What is the historic role of government in previous downturns? (Use multiple sources.) How did we exit the Great Depression, for example? What services should we cut in order to cut taxes? Do you know exactly what percentage of the budget the tax cuts and services account for?
  • Do the girls you meet in clubs have personalities you really want to be around when you wake up beside them? What if you instead befriended the other guys at the club and traded off as wingmen?

After you’re done questioning yourself, question your leaders. You may not be able to do that directly, so instead look for exaggerations and inconsistencies. Ask yourself whether a piece of the puzzle is missing. What are others saying? Are consequences really so bad or potential benefits really as good as they’re being portrayed?

Finally, use critical thinking to see the “other side” of each issue or bold statement. Give yourself quiet time to meditate and sort out your thoughts and develop new ideas. Learn that your world view is not, and cannot possibly be, a fixed perspective. The world changes. People change. Take new sources of information—especially sources you may not initially agree with—and incorporate them. Learn to sit down and ask polite questions of everyone, no matter what they believe.

I’m a born skeptic. (The best term would be “skeptical optimist,” but that would require more explanation.) Usually I assume there are holes in anything I read, and I look for them. Does that mean I think everyone’s full of crap? No, I just think nobody’s perfect.

Make your life’s goal one of learning, instead of preserving a fixed world view, and your life will improve in so many ways.

Yes, that’s a bold statement, and yes, feel free to ask me about it.

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Hump-day Links XVII

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