The double poison of masculine emasculation, self-inflicted and societal-inflicted, is a phenomenon that plays out in depressed, withdrawn, repressed and often passive aggressive male behaviour. It also plays out in behaviour of bullies, ‘macho’ Alpha Male exhibitionism. Each stereotype, while only partly an exaggeration, limits the potential positive influence of millions of men on a world starving for creative, sensitive, adaptable, collaborative and disciplined leadership.
It handicaps fathers, husbands, lovers, executives, accountants, lawyers, doctors, scientists, and journeyman labourers. And it helps to injury mothers, wives, fiances, trustees, colleagues and all organizations led by impoverished, emasculated, (especially if they are unconscious or in denial of their own emasculation) and severely “bent” men.
Raised on a cultural, intellectual, political and clearly career diet of “motivating for success” many western men fall victim to the hype. And the monumental propaganda machine(s) that promote this ‘brass ring’ of success for men, funded as it is by the same machine that is attempting to recruit additional generations of acolytes, churns out ever more scintillating, seductive, luring messages of promises of success measured by the only benchmarks it knows, corner offices, stock options, supervisory status, benefit packages, and the keys to the “inner circle” of all of the other “successful” magnets, now numbering both men and women. Preferred “table” status at the preferred dining rooms, preferred key-times at the preferred golf course, preferred parking spaces in the preferred underground lot, first access to corporate perks like entertainment tickets, vacation retreats, and even access to the corporate jet, if available….these are among the menu of envisioned crowns signifying success to the modern man.
However, as was observed as long ago as 1902, by one trained as a physician, writing on the psychology of religion, in his renowned Varieties of Religious Experience,” William James writes these words:
“take the happiest man, the one most envied by the world, and in nine cases out of ten his inmost consciousness is one of failure. Either his ideals in the line of his achievements are pitched far higher than the achievements themselves, or else he has secret ideals of which the world knows nothing, and in regard to which he inwardly knows himself to be found wanting.” (James, Op. Cit. p 119)
A little further down the page, James summarizes how the world “stamps” each of us every day.
“Failure, then, failure! so the world stamps us at every turn. We strew it with blunders, our misdeeds, our lost opportunities, with all the memorials of our inadequacy to our vocation. And with what a damning emphasis does it then blot us out! No easy fine, no mere apology of normal expiation, will satisfy the world’s demands, but the very pound of flesh exacted is soaked with all its blood. The subtlest forms of suffering known to man are connected with the poisonous humiliations incidental to these results.
And they are pivotal experiences. A process so ubiquitous and everlasting is evidently an integral part of life. ‘There is indeed one element in human destiny,’ Robert Louis Stevenson writes, ‘that not blindness itself can controvert. Whatever else we are intended to do, we are not intended to succeed; failure is the fate allotted. Our business is to continue to fail in good spirits.” (James, op. cit. p 119-120)
Humans, both men and women, struggle in the face of the world’s constant barrage of judgements, put-downs, rejections, alienations, abandonments, and a deeply ingrained perception of what amounts to self-sabotage, as well as a shared, cultural sabotage, sometime conscious, often unconscious.
However, it is not merely the impact of society’s demeaning tendency that encircles each of us; it is also something more ethereal too that rises to the surface of our consciousness, at some point often in late adolescence, or in early adulthood, the existential moment, that moment in which we each realize that our life is, in a word, meaningless. And, further, that if it to have any meaning and purpose, it is our obligation individually, uniquely to put that meaning into it. This, itself, is another of the rites of passage to which western culture pays little to no attention.
Much has been written about the various rites of passage to which young men are exposed in various cultures, rites from which the North American young men are significantly deprived. Religious rituals, like Bar Mitzvah, Confirmation, circumcision, marriage, continue in some religious communities. Nevertheless, millions of young men never enter into the mysteries of rites of passage, in the secular world where most now live.
The question, then, of not only how to “parent” a young man growing in a culture so addicted to reproducing the “success/happiness” model, but how even to think and reflect on the various under-girding realities that plague millions of what are coming to be known as “lost souls” among men between 18 and 40.
Tough love, that hard-assed masculine form of “berating” sons and nephews by older and “wiser” men, as a part of the “toughening-up” of the next generation, is an approach that has generated considerable angst, even ennui. Williams borrows from professor Ribot, a word coined by Ribot, that merits reconsideration a century after its coining. Williams writes these words:
One can distinguish many kinds of pathological depression. Sometimes it is merely passive joylessness and dreariness, discouragement, dejection, lack of taste and zest and spring. Professor Ribot has proposed the name anhedronia to designate this condition.
Having experienced this dreariness, discouragement, dejection and lack of zest, firsthand, and also witnessed it on hundreds of faces especially of young men I am somewhat troubled by this dynamic phenomenon that could be underlying a number of demographic trends. One such trend is the large number of men who have withdrawn from the workforce in the U.S.; another is the high incidence of opioid use among both young men and women in both countries; another is the drop-out rate of young men from the education system.
Policies, at the urban, provincial/state, and national levels that continue to continue to leave questions of human development to parents and teachers, and the occasional clergy and athletic coach, while tossing fiscal band-aids in the direction of social agencies for which the decision-makers have little first hand consciousness about their roles, and for which those decision-makers place even less value on their work. Turning the transformation of a culture over to its judicial system (as trump is doing by appointing hundreds of right-wing judges) while defunding its public schools (as both trump and Ontario premier Ford are vigorously doing), is a sure path to a spike in anhedronia, even if there are no sociological measuring devices to demonstrate that development.
The question of how a culture, as well as an individual, views evil is another “unplumbed” variable by which to unearth some of the dynamics lying deep in the soil of that culture. Borrowing from Williams again, he writes:
There are some people for whom evil means only a mal-adjustment with things, a wrong correspondence of one’s life with the environment. Such evil as this is curable in principle at least, upon the nature plane, for merely by modifying either the self or the things, or both at once, the two terms may be made to fit…But there are others for whom evil is no mere relation of the subject to particular things, but something more radical and general, a wrongness or vice in his essential nature, which no alteration of the environment, or any superficial rearrangement of the inner self, can cure, and which requires a supernatural remedy. (Williams, op. cit, p. 116-117)
Whether an individual adopts a “sunny” view of his own lot, and of the nature of evil, or a more dour view of both one’s lot and the permanence of evil, a culture too can be diagnosed in a similar manner. Given the recent history of both the U.S. and Canada, it would not be inappropriate to posit that, with the explosion of the prison system in the U.S. and the almost total rejection of remediation, and reconciliation in that system, as compared with the continuing attempts to reconcile prisoners (again mostly male) in Canada, the U.S. has a much more depressed and depressing view of the nature of evil, when compared with the Canadian perspective.
That perspective, including the need for the state to punish, in a state-sanctioned tough love attitude, adds to the reduction of hope among young men and contributes to a cultural perspective of disdainment of the establishment. Add into the mix, especially in the U.S., but Canada is not immune, the existence of deep-seated racism, bigotry, sexism, ageism among law enforcement and the deployment of attitudes of contempt for those seen to be committing evil, (again most male) and the indulgence in personal power to excess, and we can start to see some of the underlying dynamics, not merely of anhedonia, but also of withdrawal, depression, anxiety and the rising rate of male suicides.
We do not need an army of vans hitting the streets of our towns and cities to rescue all those many young men from themselves, and from the rest of us. However, we do need a very different perspective on the nature of evil, as well as on the point at which individual male lives intersect with the body politic.
We can no longer justify, promote and seduce young men with a stereotype of “success” as measured by those perks mentioned above. We also can no longer avoid our collective responsibility for the rise of the forces of radical racism (including religious bigotry, sexism) that continue to plague western culture. Let there be no mistake, the current occupant of the Oval Office is among the leaders fomenting racial, religious, ethnic and sexist language, attitudes, and perversions of integrity among his Attorney General office.
As a man, first, and only later a failed “developer” “reality-tv-host” the American president is portraying the most contemptible attitudes of how power is to be deployed, narcissistically devolving into that old aphorism from the French Revolutions, “L’etat, c’est moi!” as the New York Times so aptly put it.
And his “vision” is not without its religious, fanatic cult: evangelicals like Franklin Graham, have not merely sullied their reputations, and the reputation of the Christian faith by the complicity with this president. The whole hoard of the religious fanatics on the right have demonstrated their desperate need for and emptiness of their own power, and the empowerment that has formerly been linked to discipleship in the Christian faith. They have become so enamoured, even-infatuated by this charlatan in the straw wig, that they have endangered, along with their Republican Senators who are so frightened and so disempowered by this single person, not merely their faith and the legacy of hope it once promised to adherents. They have also endangered their country, to serve their private, narrow, narcissistic, and literal/reductionistic hermeneutics of scripture.
In the course of their own debasing self-sabotage, they have endangered the lives of millions of immigrants, refugees, and potentially millions of their own countrymen and women through environmental threats and health cuts, not to mention the eventual and undeniable overturning of Roe v Wade as soon as the administration can bring the right case to the Supreme Court.
As official “presider” over the Impeachment Trial in the Senate, My Justice Roberts performed his role with serious dignity. However, if and when a woman’s right to choose comes before his court, there is little doubt among close observers that he will join his right-wing colleagues to overturn, unless the state devolution occurs first.
And let us not forget, that it is mainly men, weak, and unhappy and deeply flawed and insecure men, even and especially those with success written all over the public reputations, who are making decisions on behalf of millions of voiceless men and women.
And the most secretly failed men among us are ultimately the most dangerous, for their’s is an untenable psychic, and faith position of all and they will try to do more than they can or should, alone, or with whatever cult they can attract.