Friday, July 9, 2010


A charge often leveled at molecular biologists is that they are too focused on cells to understand organs, organisms, species and ecosystems. Particle physicists are similarly accused by condensed matter physicists or system theorists of failing to see emergent phenomena by focusing too narrowly. In the affairs of humans, new age psychologists could benefit from a sociological and historical viewpoint. Movements such as The Forum, or The Work seem to focus too much on individual psychology, without the benefit of the larger view. I am not a great scholar of psychology, and so I am only aware of two psychologists who had this larger viewpoint--Erich Fromm and Paul Goodman, and both were much more than psychologists. There were and are many feminist sociologists who also made forays into psychology.

I just read one of these, Susan Faludi's "Stiffed-The Betrayal of the American Man". Faludi is a journalist, but also a sociologist, as she goes beyond reporting to making hypotheses about her reporting. I found the book engaging and insightful, an example of how feminism is still vibrant. There are several hypotheses, skillfully hammered home by a plethora of supporting evidence, akin to molecular biology papers that support their hypotheses through multiple experiments until there are no objections (did you think of this possibility--yes, and here is the experiment) remaining.

The first hypothesis is that the economy in the US shifted from primarily producing things to primarily producing images.
The second hypothesis is that masculinity used to be defined, pre-WWII by being of use (of service) to one's community, by teamwork and loyalty to one's society and that as the economy shifted away from production towards image, it also shifted from teamwork and loyalty to individualism and competition with one's fellow workers.

Why is service so important? We seem to be deeply social animals who find serving others deeply gratifying. And what kind of service? Service to a family, to the state, to a community, to a planet? Or service to one's highest calling? These can sometimes be antagonistic. A community may not want to support a mathematician or artist when there are food shortages or enemies on the border. What the state demands may be antagonistic to what the best interest of one's offspring are. And there is a difference between voluntary service and socially or state- imposed service. The peasants in Russia would probably have loved to share if they hadn't been forced to. Similarly, if society expects a man to be a provider for his family just because he's a man, it may be counterproductive. Or when one is forced to have sex from economic necessity, it is not usually as pleasurable as when done out of love. Men naturally want to be useful, of service, but they have to figure out to whom and how by themselves, without social expectations.

The third hypothesis is that sons need fathers to teach them useful skills and a relationship with their fathers that this passing on of skills entails, and that barring such a relationship (brought about by consumer culture) they experience a lack of meaning and abandonment issues.

I pondered how all this fits into my personal life. My father was never a silent or unemotive man. Luckily I did not get that kind of gender curse. I don't feel betrayed by him, I don't feel betrayed by the culture (like it owes me a job or a community). I have been trying to create my own work, so I am not dependent on the culture, and my own community. But I do feel like the culture is messed up in many ways and that is not on the side of joy, peace and justice.

My son probably feels somewhat betrayed and abandoned by me, and the feeling is mutual. I would love to get him back from the Eye of ornamental consumer culture. I would love to leave him a world of life, instead of what I perceive to be a world of death. I would have loved to teach him physics or biology or even a craft, but I am not a craftsman. I would have loved to pass on to him the values of service and a community that he could be part of.

The fourth hypothesis is that masculinity changed into what feminists used to complain about: becoming not of use but used by commercial interests (or by other interests), as in on display. I am guessing that being used as a baby making machine or a sex object feels about the same as being used as an ATM--horrible.

In my own life, I feel used by the culture (with my ex-wife being but a pawn expressing the prevailing view) to provide money that my son does not need. I am reduced to an image of an ATM instead of being able to focus my energy on being of true use to my son, the planet and the larger community.

These hypotheses are nested like layers of an onion, which Faludi calls layers of masculine betrayal. Each deeper layer psychologically affects the shallower one above it. Men's economic privilege going down is the outer layer of betrayal. The useful, productive jobs are mostly gone, replaced by slaves abroad, machines or service jobs (but not so much service to people as service to corporations). Underneath this layer is the layer of loyalty to something bigger than oneself (community or corporation) and integrity. Underneath the betrayal of loyalty and integrity to and from the community or corporation is the layer of betrayal by fathers who are absent or silent, who did not pass on a patrimony. And underneath that layer is a layer of the Eye of Sauron (my analogy, not Faludi's), media culture, always observing, always objectifying, commodifying both men and women.

I think there is at least another layer of betrayal, underneath the eye of Sauron. Why is it that people buy into consumer culture and are so mesmerized by images? I think at the root is the need for comfort and security, of which I've written before. Consumer culture loses its power when one no longer seeks what it offers, or can find it in other ways.

Faludi's concluding fifth hypothesis is that instead of trying to fit social expectations of what it means to be a man, it is more gratifying (for a man) to seek to be useful to a community of men and women and to seek one's bliss, and that this is also the task of women that feminists have been pointing out for a long time.

Why is being an image so bad? It is because the image is two dimensional, it has no depth, and it does not come from a place of creativity and goodness. It comes from trying to make money or manipulation. It does not contribute to real wealth, but only fictitious money. It is not concerned with what is really happening to produce basic needs, if it hurts other creatures or people, it is selfish. Imaging might be something that happens naturally in conscious systems, but this culture has carried it to hellish extremes.


  1. Interesting subject! As the single parent of a 15 year old son, I've been thinking a lot about this subject, Evolving into True Manhood in modern times; and notice how so many are lost and clueless. Perhaps because we don't have Initiation Ceremonies, or Rites of Passage for adolescents, beyond being "Naughty" and getting drunk, smoking cigarettes, or otherwise sampling "adult fare." Girls seem to get the message that their job is to look good, and have a perfect body....(this is media influence.) For boys, who knows what maturing looks like: there are so few "self-realized" men, and so many male "types" to imitate: (jock, worker, intellectual, artist, scientist, healer, etc.)

  2. I also wanted to comment on this quote from above: "Men naturally want to be useful, of service, but they have to figure out to whom and how by themselves, without social expectations."
    I am wondering if this is possible, because what I am observing in my son and his friends, is that boys this age seem to lack empathy for others, they are incredibly selfish and self-obsessed, and they tend to relate to others only when they need something from them. This is a tendency I would like to evolve in my son. He used to be more compassionate as a younger child, always befriending those at school that others shunned, with a generous spirit. With adolescence, I have seen a waning of this kindness and generosity to others. "Boy culture" seems mean, rude, hurtful, and indifferent at times, compared to the attitudes and behavior of girls of this age.
    Anyone see a way out for them? (Especially since good role models willing to help are rare as pearls!)

  3. Angela, the problem of manhood in modern America goes much deeper than lack of initiation ceremonies. It has an economic and psychological side. There is very little that can be done by a parent...You need to immerse the kids in a different culture, where they can see men being useful to the community, where they can learn how to care about people and things, where they can be deprogrammed. from the mainstream cult.

  4. Iuval, I totally agree. I am looking for this Utopian Haven, and seeking a Tribe. One difficulty is that the children are resisting the very proposal of a new life. I think that, with their limited life experience, they are afraid of the unknown, and feel like things can only get worse, not better. They don't share my Vision of Better! Part of the problem is the addiction to technology, cellphones, computers, video games, etc. Youth of this age are in love with cameras, media, movies, and stimulation of the senses. I've seen adults who are also addicted to being in the city, as opposed to living in a rural or natural setting.

  5. I really enjoyed your synopsis of Faludi's writing. It sounds very true from what you have written. I think my youngest son has been sifting through cultural expectations and his own heart to find his own truth. It's not easy to do and it would be great if he didn't have too, but the reality is that he does or is...What makes me happy is to appreciate that he does and to share (when it comes up) that I am going through the same process in my own way. With time it becomes easier to do so, and that makes me happy too. S Garrard