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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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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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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Risk, Part 2: Fear and Control

Part 2 of a 2-part sequence on different aspects of how American society deals with risk:

It seems that government policy – and social convention, and cultural aspiration, and the tyranny of public opinion expressed through social media mobs – is now all too often fashioned by a destructively self-reinforcing partnership between those, on the one hand, who have lost all trust in their fellow citizens and who want so badly to be protected from risk, and even from discomfort, that they will trade away almost any freedom for a promise of a bit more security; and those, on the other hand, whose innate and fervent proclivity is to tell everyone else, with great piety and self-assurance, how to organize and operate their lives.

The more we have come to – and the more we have been taught to – rely on government to regulate the behavior of others, the less we have come to rely on – and the less we have been taught or practiced – the virtue of regulating ourselves. The more success the solipsistic fringe – economic more than cultural on the “right”, cultural more than economic on the “left” – has had in attacking and emasculating the economic and religious and social and cultural mores that historically disciplined such self-control, the less able we are to count on self-regulation and the more pressure there is to empower government to impose yet more external regulation upon us.

We can no longer negotiate and compromise – we can no longer embrace a shared process for governance rather than seeking a raw power over others – because we no longer trust each other either to have empathy or, more importantly, to act in good faith.  Why are we intolerant of risk?  Because we feel a lack of control.  Why do we feel a lack of control?  Because we don’t trust each other to do the right thing, either as individuals or as a polity.  In the absence of trust, even small risks loom large.

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Why Do Mass Murderers Murder?

What most mass murderers — and, for that matter, ordinary murderers — share is a form of solipsism, a mental landscape in which other people have no innate value but exist, rather, merely as props to facilitate the action in the murderer’s own self-scripted and self-focused drama.

That would appear to be the result of a moral disease, not a psychological one.

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Socialism, Capitalism, and the Liberal Republic

It is true that people — not only ignorant self-described “conservatives” but also many ignorant self-described “Socialists” — often throw the word “Socialism” around without seeming to understand what it means.  But,it is also true (OK, it is at least my not-so-humble opinion) that the many articles published recently trying to explain why various brands of “liberalism” are not actually the same as “Socialism” have been overly narrow and parochial in their view of what Socialism is and entails, limiting their argument to the simplistic (and flawed) formulation that it can’t really be Socialism if the government doesn’t “own” the means of production.

But, if that isn’t the defining nature of “Socialism”, then what is? For that matter, what is the defining nature of “Capitalism”? And how do either interact, for better or worse, with the moral premises and practical structures of our Liberal Republic?

In six parts:

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Security, Liberty, and one of my “Triggers”

That is why America is more risk tolerant than other countries and societies in the world: because to guarantee security you must always sacrifice some amount of liberty; and, in assessing that sacrifice, Americans have traditionally factored liberty higher in the equation than have most other peoples.

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A Trifle: Does the “right wing” really control EVERYTHING?

I don’t like the current administration and its boosters any more than you do, but really? In what country are you living where they control “nearly every element of our government and society?”

It seems to me — and much to their obvious chagrin — that there are vast swaths of society — and even significant portions of government — over which they exercise very little control at all…

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“Republican or Conservative, You Have to Choose”

Since I gave Greg Weiner a shout-out for his New York Times piece about what it means to be an American liberal — and since the topic is dear to my heart — I’ll give David Brooks’ take on what it means to be an American conservative equal treatment. It’s worth reading.

For my part, anyone paying attention will know that I made my choice — conservative over Republican — many years and many presidents ago…

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