In The Revenge of The Lost Boys* Tom Nichols begins with a familiar question:
What’s going on with young American men?
Nichols focuses primarily on examples of men that Vox Day categorizes as gammas:
Beyond this, they seem to share little beyond a stubborn immaturity wedded to a towering narcissism.
Stuck in perpetual adolescence, they see only their own imagined virtue amidst irredeemable corruption.
…the combination of immaturity and grandiosity among these young males is jaw-dropping in its scale even when it is not expressed through the barrel of a gun.
These young losers live through heroic fantasies and constructed identities rather than through work and human relationships.
…these man-boys are confused about their sexuality and frustrated by their own social awkwardness, and seek to compensate for it. They turn into what German writer Hans Enzensberger called “the radicalized losers,” the unsuccessful males who channel their blunted male social impulses toward destruction.
Yet as the title and opening question both suggest, Nichols isn’t just concerned about a handful of destructive gammas in the news. Nichols is concerned about the overall loss of masculine virtue. He also has a basic understanding of what has gone wrong:
What we don’t really want to think about, because it challenges our cherished political narratives, is why modern society creates such destructive outcasts…
We, the adults, have made this generation of young men by allowing, over the course of some 40 years, the eventual construction of a hyper-sexualized, publicity-obsessed, winner-take-all twenty-first-century culture in which success means money, sex, and fame at any cost. Young males no longer live in a world where there’s a Jack for every Jill, or where social institutions like schools, the police, churches, or the military—all decimated by repeated social attack since the 1960s—provide some kind of equalizing effect among men, protecting and building up the weaker boys while disciplining and maturing the stronger ones.
This is true, but there is more to it than this. As Novaseeker points out, there is also the problem of perverse incentives. Men are motivated by sex. When society was ordered around lifetime marriage, the way for a young man to pursue sex was to focus on becoming an attractive potential husband. With our embrace of female promiscuity and disdain for traditional marriage, we have created a system where from a practical perspective men are foolish to seek marriage as their path to sex.
The links between men, marriage and civilization.
As a society we benefit enormously from men who are channeling their energy towards first becoming and then being productive husbands and fathers. However, like so many others Nichols misunderstands the relationship between men, marriage, and civilization:
The traditional venues for male socialization (including marriage) have mostly vanished…
Marriage isn’t what socializes and civilizes men. Marriage is the incentive for men to first work to civilize themselves, and then to lead and protect civilization. But the incentive of marriage isn’t limited just to sex. In a healthy society marriage offers an even more powerful reward for men than sex. In a healthy society, marriage and fatherhood confer something even more precious to men, respect.
Respect is a more powerful motivator for men than sex.
This may at first glance seem unlikely. Sex is an incredibly powerful motivator, especially for young men. There is also the problem of overlap, as for men gaining respect is generally a path to sexual success. However, we can both untangle the two and behold the incredible power of respect as an incentive for men by looking at what respect will motivate men to do that promises of sex cannot.
While men will take great risks in part out of a desire for sex, the desire for respect goes even further. The men who willingly gave their lives at Thermopylae did not do so with the expectation of being rewarded with sex. There were no 72 virgins promised to these men. Nor did they entertain the fantasy that they would somehow route the Persian horde and return in triumph. Their motivation, their goal at the Hot Gates was to die an honorable death and thereby earn the profound respect of their society. Likewise the nearly 4,000 Kamikaze pilots in WWII didn’t expect to return home and be lavished with sex. Honor was the only reward for their act of sacrifice.
Withholding respect from the respectable.
As a society we have become incredibly miserly when it comes to respect for men. In addition, the respect we do offer tends to be for men who are working against and not for civilization. Men who work to become husbands and fathers are viewed with either contempt or deep suspicion.
This disdain for respectable men isn’t only coming out of secular Hollywood or the radical feminists leading Women’s Studies departments. This same disdain for husbands and fathers is held with surprising fervor by conservatives, especially conservative Christians. It has become a tradition for pastors to use Father’s Day, a day set aside to honor fathers, as a day to tear husbands and fathers down in front of their families. Christian media is no better. Just like secular movies, Christian movies portray husbands and fathers as villains, failures, and buffoons. Respect is offered to the wise and sexy tattoo artist biker, while respectable husbands and fathers are trashed.
Even when we talk about the family courts, the issue of respect is front and center. Family courts put into concrete action the disdain our society has for fathers. In response to our society’s disdain and contempt for fathers, they have made their primary mission the removal of husbands and fathers from the household. When we talk about the problems of the family courts, we need to consider not just the punishments the courts stand ever ready to meet out against husbands and fathers, but the profound disrespect these punishments represent.
What is most surprising about young men today is not that a handful are acting out in cowardly and destructive ways, nor that a larger but still small number are less conspicuously** opting out of the respectable path as we treat respectability with contempt. What is most surprising is that most men still pursue marriage and fatherhood despite how hard we have been working as a society to discourage them from doing so. What should frighten us isn’t that decades of trashing marriage and fatherhood have produced a small number of men who eschew these responsibilities, but that eventually a generation of young men will arrive which fully internalizes what we are quite loudly telling them:
Only chumps get married, and only a fool would become a father.
*HT Hugh Mann
**It is surprisingly difficult to find good data on the “Peter Pan” manboy phenomenon so often discussed in the media. While there does seem to be something going on, nearly all white women are still able to marry, and to the extent that men are coasting economically, this appears to be about unmarried men choosing to work like women.