Last week's Weimerica Weekly podcast was on the tragic state of American masculinity. I focused on the fictional character Bruno Clement from Houellebecq's "The Elementary Particles" as the poster boy for what we see around us today. This might sound off using a character from French literature, but once you understand Bruno's life, you see the way he symbolizes 21st century and desperate masculinity. A major problem is that society's rules and structure creates poor modeling for modern boys and young men to think about for future selves or aspirational roles.
Humans are a mix of nature and nurture. To be a hard genetic determinist is as misguided as the blank slate egalitarians. It starts in youth, but we model our behavior and future behavior on what we see, not just what our genes lead us to. We all lament the breakdown of the American (Western) family. Due to family court shenanigans, it hits men and women differently. It cuts to a core identity issue in men.
A father is the primary guide for how do you behave in the future. It is the primary role model for men. The moment memories start forming around age three, you the son are watching dad for cues on how to interact not just with mom, and by extension all women, but in every social situation. This is why I am quick to criticize the leftists that say children born to unmarried parents still often have a father present. For how long? Far greater percentage of cohabitating couples are separate after 10 years compared to married couples. What matters more for the child, being there at age 0-3 or being present age 3-10 as a little soul is molded?
We know the numbers. Forty percent of kids are born to single moms, forty percent of marriages end in divorce, and more children grow up with intermittent contact with their fathers than ever before. This has a huge effect on the day to day modeling a boy makes on what it means to be a man, but there is also an rarely discussed element that hurts young boys. Smaller family sizes.
As the fertility rate has dropped, each generation has fewer close contact same gender family members to observe for cues and model behavior. A child born now might have an aunt or uncle on either side of their family. If in a divorced home, their contact with one side may be limited. On top of this, multiple generations of broken home or failed family formation social trends, means kids may only know of one grandfather. A boy of 2017 might have zero males to come into contact with on a daily or weekly basis.
The ancillary men in our lives help young men see different adult forms of what it means to be a man. I was fortunate to have multiple uncles, two grandfathers and a dad in my life. Added to that number were the men who married my aunts and even my father's or an uncle's best friend that was a consistent presence in my social circle. While these men were three dimensional humans with flaws, they were also all very different in their adult male form. Some were white collar, blue collar, quiet men, tough guys, etc. but they all viewed one another as fellow men.
My sons are both named after two men in my circle. One is my grandfather, and the other is a great family friend. Both are dead now. My grandfather was an obvious model due to the grandparent-grandchild relationship. The family friend was different. He was a smart kid from a rural area who went to an Ivy and then lived in 'the big city'. His tales were awesome, but he never forgot where he was from, and always came home for family emergencies. He also showed me that you can 'make it' without forgetting your roots. He lived an honorable life and set a fine example. Is life meaningless? He died alone while biking one morning, but he influences my life still.
Without this collection of men, what would I have had to use for modeling? I would have had to rely on my mother's family and just my dad. Sons of single moms suffer from relying on mom knowing her dad or having a brother (less and less likely now), dealing with mom's lovers if she does date, or worse, relying on the television conception of masculinity. Ultimately, the strongest messaging would be from the cultural mandarins behind today's television and movie products. This centers the locus of message creation outside the home, outside the social circle and into the creative department of Hollywood studios.
A black acquaintance sent a link showing 2/3 of black 8th graders expected to be professional athletes and a smattering expected to be other jobs. He lamented this, but I said "Definite lack of father cause". He was confused a moment as the pro athlete thing is idiotic for 2/3 of black 14 year olds to believe will happen, but I reminded him of the illegitimacy issue. How many men do similar work as their fathers? How many men do their dad's exact job? How many hear suggestions from their fathers? How many see an uncle with a great job and want it? Without these basic, immediate models, children will grow up modeling and aspiring to whatever is on television. Black men grow up in a matrilineal and matrilocal society now.
Charles Barkley famously said he was not a role model in a sneaker ad and received hell for it. Criticism was that he was shirking his role in the public eye. Lost in this were his exact words from the ad that you are responsible for your kids. The dangerous truth unspoken or implied in the advertisement was that we as a society had removed fathers, especially the basketball fans' fathers, from children's lives entirely, forcing them to seek role models where they should not. Barkley was not shirking the job; broader society was.
Pundits have said Trump supporters have bought into his fake Alpha machismo. Building an empire of billions, bedding models and disdaining the conventions of sissy pundits is what men consider being a man. Money, babes and a ZFG attitude are it. The problem the pundits have is that they have spent a generation emasculating men and seeking to redefine what being a man is, that they cannot comprehend men modeling a money-babes-aloof persona as male. President Obama was praised for a different type of masculinity, but for those of us outside the media bubble, we did not see masculinity but a gelded cash cow for a harpie wife. Obama was our first black president, and in the words of some, our first female president.
Simply LARPing as a mogul is ridiculous. Flashing money and taking selfies next to a strippers ass is putting on a costume. Putting together the business profile to get to those points is entirely different. Acting like Trump with the trappings of his style is play acting a form of crass masculinity. That simply sets up vicious machismo games like late '90s rap videos did in the ghetto.
Applying the masculine aggression and risk taking that he employed to build, go bankrupt and rebuild is not play acting but living masculinity. Men disrupt and innovate. A healthy society has many men building small empires and many men exhibiting the many different ways it is to be a man for young men to model, copy, synthesize or reject. The next generation can watch and take cues from men building rather than LARPing and build a healthier society.