A crisis of masculinity?

I noted a long time ago that one thing conspicuously missing from most modern (or, at least modern Western) societies is any kind of cultural test and/or ritual to mark the passage from childhood into adulthood. Such rituals were (as I recollect — from reading about them, not from personal experience) a common part of most pre-modern cultures.

Without those formal rites-of-passage, young people can easily pass from childhood into adulthood with no self-demonstration of their worth in themselves and their value to the community, with no acknowledgement of that value from the community, and, all-too-often, without any clear sense of what their role in the community is or ought to be and without any confidence that they can fulfill it.

Making that worse, my sense is that modern Western culture has, for a long time, been systematically and inexorably “communalizing”.

As part of that, we have culturally de-emphasized and de-valued autonomy, independence, personal prowess, courage, and competition — precisely the ‘masculine’ qualities that have aligned with our historical cultural views of male-gender roles and, arguably, with basic human male psychology and physiology; and we have emphasized and prized the collective, inter-dependence, emotional dexterity, tenacity, and cooperation — precisely the ‘feminine’ qualities that have aligned with our historical cultural views of female-gendered roles and, arguably, aligned with basic human female psychology and physiology.

Is it any wonder that leaves men adrift?

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Deterrence

Regarding W.F. Buckley’s musing on whether or not, in the end, Ronald Reagan would actually have given the order to launch our nuclear response, I must point out that such ambiguity was always at the heart of the policy of Mutual Assured Destruction — that it is, in fact and by its nature, at the heart of any strategy of deterrence.

For deterrence to be successful requires two elements that must both be present:

    • That your opponent believes you have the capability to retaliate
    • That your opponent believes you have the will to retaliate (including the will to depend on retaliation, rather than backing down)

Note that neither element requires that your threat be ‘real’ — that is, that you actually have the capability in the first instance and that you actually have the will in the second.   What matters is that you can make your opponent believe both are real.

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“One-Time” Millionaires

In her front-page commentary piece about ‘one-time millionaires’ — largely small business owners who sell their businesses at retirement — Shirley Leung expresses very little sympathy — bordering on contempt — for the notion that such people might run afoul of the proposed new “Millionaire’s Tax”. Says she,

Let’s be real here. It’s hard to have sympathy for people who stand to make a lot of money from selling their businesses…

Unlike Ms. Leung, I find myself capable of great sympathy, indeed, for their plight…

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From the Archive: Road Etiquette

From the letters I’ve read, it seems those on the side of slowing down, including Mr. Roadshow himself, have done a good job of stating the case and describing what we speed-freaks should not be doing; I would like to propose a few rules of thumb for the slowpokes, from the other perspective:

    • If there are cars lined up behind you and open road in front of you, it’s a good bet that you are impeding the flow of traffic, so let them go by.
    • If you are in the passing lane and the lane to your right is empty, you are in the wrong place.
    • If you are in the passing lane and going the same speed as the car to your right, you have created a rolling roadblock; either pull ahead or fall behind, but move over.
    • Many of our freeways have three or more lanes, and people are in the habit of cruising along in the middle, leaving a lane to pass on the left and avoiding the entering and exiting traffic on the right. That is fine — but, during carpool hours, the left lane is off-limits to most drivers, and the center lane is the de-facto passing lane; please treat it as such!
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Why is “the right” so hostile to “climate change”?

The American “right” latched onto an “anti-climate change” attitude — and took that to the ridiculous extreme of being proof-of-membership-in-the-group — in large measure as a direct response to the early (and, alas, continuing) attitudes of the American “left” toward the subject.

From the earliest discussions of the potential for climate change and what we might do about it, the left succeeded in tying “climate change” nearly inextricably to “highly coercive and disruptive government mandated emergency command-and-control remedies”.

In that environment, there was simply no way to be both ‘conservative’ and accepted as someone who took climate change seriously. You were either wildly progressive or you were a “denier”. As far as the green left and the media that echoed its talking points was concerned, there was nothing, and no room for anything, in between.

To the extent that the “left” succeeded in transforming “climate change” from a legitimate scientific and policy debate into merely another excuse for getting what it had always wanted anyway and for other reasons — a self-righteous justification for telling us all how to live our lives coupled to yet more coercive authority concentrated in the hands of politicians and government bureaucrats (to be guided, of course, by academic intellectuals) — it did mean that the opposition from the “right” to “climate change” was much more about opposing that coercive policy agenda than it was about the science, itself.

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Musings on Abortion

Apropos of the big news of this week — the leak of what is presumed to be the Supreme Court’s position (if only in draft form) that it will overturn Roe vs. Wade and return the issue of abortion to the state legislatures — here are some excerpts from the chapter on Abortion in my book, American Conservative — Reclaiming Conservatism From the Right (2016).

A snippet from the conclusion:

An embryo or fetus with the higher cerebral functions not yet engaged – pre-sentient and without the consciousness from which may eventually emerge self-awareness and free will – has the potential to become human not the quintessence of humanity.  In my areligious worldview, with no faith in some revealed and ancient catechism to instruct me on whether or not a soul exists independent of corporeal sentience and on when such a soul might manifest, I cannot justify surrendering to government unfettered authority over a palpable liberty that already exists in the defense of some ineffable essence that may yet come to be.

And yet, I must agree with the religious conservatives – not out of any theological insight but out of a humanist and libertarian respect for human dignity – that such potential for ineffable essence has value.  And, therefore, I equally cannot countenance the view that discarding such potential is an act utterly without moral import.  Nor can I countenance the view, extreme but seemingly common on the far “left” and particularly among the feminist fringe, that such ineffable essence somehow suddenly and miraculously materializes at the emergence from the birth canal and not an instant before.

It seems clear, to me at least, that at some point, after the cerebral cortex begins functioning and prior to full-term birth, the potential of a human fetus transforms into the quintessence of a human baby.  It seems equally clear that by exercising one choice – to carry a pregnancy to that point of quintessence – a woman, herself, circumscribes other choices including, in particular, the choice to have an abortion thereafter.

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Expertise and Ego

I sincerely hope that ‘experts’ of all stripes — and not merely economists — take note of your admonition toward humility.

The kind of humility you advocate, however, is something one rarely sees among the ‘experts’ — within government and think-tanks and academia — who routinely proclaim to us all that they know “the truth” and that the proper role and responsibility for the rest of us is simply to shut up and do as they say.

That may not be completely fair: it may be that the apparent hubris of expertise is exaggerated by reporters and a news media that is besotted with the idea of ‘expertise’ and, therefore, amplifies the voices of the most self-certain while muting the voices of the humble.  It may be that many or most experts are, indeed, well  aware of their self-limitations but that their voices are not the ones that the media chooses to tell us about; or, it may be that the various caveats and disclaimers with which they accompany their assertions never make it through the filter of the reporters’ perceptions into the news stories and analyses written about them.

And, it may also be that those, in particular, who choose to go into government are self-selected from among the most hubristic precisely because their very self-confidence leads them to the belief that they should also have the power to impose their chosen “solutions” upon others.

Regardless of the reason, however, what is presented as ‘expertise’ for public consumption is, all too often, the farthest thing from your humble ideal:  it is, rather, most often arrogant; and it is, far too frequently, also condescending.

And that arrogance and condescension is exacerbated by the fact that such experts frequently extend their claims to ‘expertise’ beyond what is justified by their training and experience.  A medical researcher will discover some (perhaps tentative) connection between a chemical or a food and some health state, like heart disease.  They will then not only exaggerate their certainty, proclaiming that the evidence of such connection is irrefutable and unequivocal (Eat this and you will die!), rather than provisional and subject to chance, but will also proclaim, with equal certainty, that a particular policy prescription — Ban that chemical! — is, by extension, mandatory; and they will claim that their policy prescription is simply a matter of “following the science” and, therefore, also wholly within their ‘expertise’, as if such policies have no other economic or practical or emotional or moral dimensions beyond the narrow realm of “science” that might require consideration.

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Absolution and Responsibility

Among the civilizing aspects of modern culture is the fact that ancient traditions of personal retribution have been supplanted by a socially-administered system for public accountability. Victims and their families may no longer take the law into their own hands by seeking vengeance on predators.  Instead we, as a society, promise to see justice done on their behalf.

But that is a compact that goes both ways:  if society demands authority over the administration of justice, then it also assumes responsibility for it.  If we have promised to see justice done, then delivering anything short of justice is a breach of that promise.

Within such a system, justice demands that sentences we assign are and should be proportionate to the moral severity of the crimes committed. Ensuring, then, that those proportionate sentences are, indeed, carried out is how we fulfill society’s moral obligation to the victims.

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What picture of America do we carry in our heads…?

In today’s Wall Street Journal, in an article about the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, Peggy Noonan asked this question:

Why did the White House think the 20th anniversary of 9/11 was the right date for a pullout? What picture of America do they carry in their heads that told them that would be symbolically satisfying? It is as if they are governed by symbols with no understanding of what the symbols mean.

It occurs to me that the question — “What picture of America do they carry in their heads…?” — is much broader than the context of our policy in Afghanistan. It is, in fact, the question at the heart of nearly all the cultural and political divisions rending America these days.

The right asks that question of the left.  The left asks that question of the right.  And both left and right — and the vast middle that both left and right disdain and ignore — fear and despise the answer that they think and feel — or, all too often, imagine — the other side would offer if it was ever to be explicitly articulated.

That is, perhaps, the most important conversation of our generation: What picture of America do we carry in our heads? And can we come to some, if not consensus, then at least forbearance on what that picture looks like?

If not, we are truly lost…

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