A nebbish is still a nebbish. But the post-Enlightenment social theorists offer no special affirmation.Now comes Tom Nichols in The Federalist, also looking at disaffected and destructive young men, and suggesting "these are not men in any [traditional way]".
And nowhere are there institutions or conventions strong enough to give the nebbish something to constructively push against (as Emerson would have it) or to encourage the nebbish to interact constructively with other people.
This is a disturbing charge, but consider for just a moment the ways in all these young men are similar, rather than different. They are aloof, and their peers generally do not understand them. They may be liked in a small circle of people, but they also make those same people uncomfortable. Their adolescence, which should have been shed years earlier, has stayed with them like a worn t-shirt or a beat-up pair shoes they couldn’t bring themselves to throw away. Whether fascinated by hip-hop culture like Lindh and Jihadi John, or living a virtual life online like Snowden, they do not move on to the responsibilities of adulthood.These alienated young men have no structure, and they see others apparently enjoying themselves despite not playing by any rules.
The mainspring of their actions is a juvenile narcissism that grows out of social resentment and a failure to mature. And this should matter to all of us, because when society breeds too many narcissistic males determined to get even with a world that denies them their due—the fame, recognition, or sexual mate they think they deserve—we’re all in danger.To Mr Nichols, the responsibility for these men failing to launch rests on a common culture without proper launching pads for young people.
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.But the institutions are too far gone to be reconstructed.
The result is that today American youth, and especially the males, live in a kind of “Lord of the Flies” domain where the Wild Boys act without restraint and the weak kids fall off the ledge, without even a noble Ralph to mourn them. The already-anarchic environment of adolescence has been turned completely toxic by the absence of responsible adults and especially of male role models. In the jungle, the strong and aggressive rule, and in that world, the losers, the “kind of a loner” geeks, the misfits, feel they have no place.
They’re not entirely wrong. So they settle on every young loser’s fantasy: Revenge.
I am at a loss for a solution, because the answer lies in some kind of long-term restoration of social order among young men. I don’t know how to do that: the multiple horses of promiscuity, affluence (even among “poor” kids), permissiveness, violent and ghettoized teen culture, and perpetual immaturity are so far out of the barn now, and so entrenched in American life, that I have no idea how to stop their corrosive influence on the weaker or less competitive males who are plowed under a society that moves faster than they, and we, can manage.Dr. Helen expresses similar pessimism.
Older men can no longer mentor younger men in any meaningful numbers. There are not enough of us, and many of us are reluctant to engage in such work in any case. The traditional venues for male socialization (including marriage) have mostly vanished or, in the case of schools, been rendered safe havens from the normal behavior of males in need of discipline and maturing.
Nor can mentors or schools fight the epidemic of divorce, pop culture, the media, and the overall assaults on the creation of the kind of family life that channels men toward creation rather than destruction. There has to be a sea-change in social attitudes, but I’m stumped about how to make that happen in a nation as self-indulgent and as averse to hard introspection as ours is now.
It is hard to love a country that doesn’t love you. It is hard to have monogamy and a wife when the laws and cultural milieu from grade school to college and beyond say that you are a predator who is out to hurt women when you can’t even get one and that is a tough pill to swallow for a regular guy, much less a mentally disturbed one. To learn morality for many, one must see others act in a moral manner.The danger is enhanced, argues Tyler O'Neil, because in an environment where every challenge becomes a call for government action, the patient rediscovery of institutions that work is thwarted.
In today’s world, we rarely see morality acted out by others, and young men are said to be the most immoral creatures on the planet as anyone with a Y chromosome knows full well. Immorality becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy after hearing that you are a danger for so long. To treat others well, one generally needs to be treated well themselves and rewarded for decent behavior. This often does not happen for young men. The decent are often treated with contempt by society and if male, by many women who don’t want a decent guy until later in life, if at all. The cultural message to women is “You go girl!” but to men, it is “You suck, you dangerous perverted rapist!” How is a young man to learn morality with this message?
The current dynamic in our society is to punish the moral, decent and monogamous male with a combination of contempt, unfair marital laws and apathy to his emotional life. And yes, the narcissistic and entitled are often rewarded so these characteristics can be combined with emotional disturbance to create a disaster. Add to this the lack of intervention into these young men’s mental health issues and you have some ticking time bombs ready to explode when the time seems right.
The classical Greco-Roman virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance mixed well with the Christian virtues of faith, hope and charity. This bedrock of character formation was the centerpiece of the medieval university, and even the modern colleges and universities throughout early America and past the Civil War.And, I would argue, from rejecting the postmodern snake-oil that denies the very notion of coherent beliefs.
The moral foundation behind such men as George Washington and William Wilberforce taught young frustrated men to direct their passions toward positive pursuits, and helped create a culture of freedom and virtue.
While some argue that restraining sexual energy and focusing it on marriage and on fulfilling one’s duty is “repressive,” this alternative lifestyle actually cuts down on sexual frustration for less successful men. If even the most impressive hunk has to limit his sexuality to one wife — or at least make a show of doing so — that leaves more available women, and makes other men less jealous. Monogamy may seem repressive, but it actually promotes social cohesion and sexual equality.
The path toward restoring this view does not require draconian laws which restrict movies, television or video games. This is a spiritual and cultural struggle — not necessarily a political one. While reintroducing the Bible in schools and teaching Judeo-Christian history and heritage without an anti-religious bias would make a huge difference, legislating these moves is the wrong approach.
Rather, Christians need to speak up, and historians need to re-examine where our values come from. The virtues of the Enlightenment — science, limited government and free markets — can also be found in the writings of the Spanish scholastics, and to some extent in the medieval university. The heritage of rights and learning we so prize today does not come from a rejection of faith — but from the very bedrocks of the great cathedrals, and from the words of a certain Galilean.