Friday, October 04, 2013

The Crisis of Masculinity

Article in the New Statesman by Alan White on the subject of gang culture:  http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2013/10/how-do-we-talk-about-gang-culture

Alan White links to Danny Finkelstein's depthless article Even now, we still don't understand the riotshttp://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/columnists/danielfinkelstein/article3836013.ece

However Diane Abbott MP has already explained, with great cogency, that gang culture is a symptom of the Crisis of Masculinity.

Diane Abbott made her speech approximately four months ago and it is probably the most important speech we have yet heard from her. Addressing the Demos thinktank, Ms Abbott talked about what she termed “The Crisis of Masculinity”. You can read the full speech here:

http://www.demos.co.uk/files/DianeAbbottspeech16May2013.pdf

The speech is important because a crisis of masculinity implies a crisis in society – potentially fifty per cent of the United Kingdom’s population. Unlike most of Diane Abbot’s pronouncements (which most people do not take seriously) this speech seemed well-prepared, carefully considered, and chimed with a number of observations that other social commentators have been making. Therefore I think we are justified in looking at her speech in detail and seeing if it has relevance to our own work in this area.

The speech makes forty points. Although generally and ostensibly non-partisan, Diane Abbott makes a number of ideological statements and draws predictable ideological conclusions. This bias is useful as it tells us how the left perceives the crisis in masculinity and what their policy options might be.

Her analysis is correct – there is indeed a crisis in masculinity. However Diane Abbott errs in representing this as primarily a crisis for men. It is actually a crisis for society, with political implications for both left and right.

Diane Abbott is quite wily in the way she interprets this crisis as a failure of capitalism. Predictably she does not take responsibility for helping (along with the rest of the Labour Party) to smash up the institutions that gave meaning to masculinity, helped to curb masculinity, and co-opted masculinity into the service of the nation state (the United Kingdom). We need to reassess the crisis in masculinity cross-referenced with Labour policies and the damage they have done to institutions (damage through incompetence and damage through deliberate malice masquerading as “reform”).

To go through some of the Diane Abbott's points:

“This generation no longer asks itself what it means to be a man”. The argument here is presumably that young men have become apathetic about their identity. Society’s repudiation of Weber’s Protestant Work Ethic (as a way of mobilising society) might be relevant here.

“And too often, women - particularly those who achieve success - wrongly get the blame”. This appears to be an attribution of resentful misogyny to the individuals experiencing the crisis of masculinity. Traditionally the concept of “chivalrous behaviour” tamed misogyny, but the transmission of this behaviour code has effectively come to an end (except perhaps in the public schools), and any attempt to revive it would be met with ridicule from the left.

“Tomorrow, too many British men and boys will wake up isolated and misdirected by a boundless consumer outlook, economic instability and whirlwind social change”.  Consumerism is the enemy of both left wing and right wing conceptualisations of society. Traditional forms of self actualisation have been destroyed (go to school, get a job, get married, have a family, participate in social rituals) and replaced by identity through materialist consumerism which is only available at a cost and in any case can never be fully achieved.

“…too many British men shouldering the burden of a growing economic mess they did not create will commit suicide”. Pessimism in society is a result of the failure of the traditional forms of consolation, particularly religious consolation. Derided by atheists as “pie in the sky when you die” religion (specifically Anglicanism) did at least console people experiencing social setbacks - people who are now left with no consolation.

“British society has given in to a fatalism about outcomes for boys…” Fatalism is a false philosophy (nothing can be done, therefore we should do nothing). It can only be erased by replacement with a more positive philosophy –how individuals can fit in to a historical and cultural continuum that gives meaning to their lives.

“A generation of British men without realistic heroes, who feel like they have been set up to fail”. Who has smashed up the British icons and replaced then with ideological models such as Mary Seacole? Young men increasingly feeling that this society is not designed for them, therefore is it any wonder they feel resentment?

“A ‘we’ve got nothing left to lose’ generation of British men”. This is the real crisis in the Crisis of Masculinity, that a growing section of society is of the opinion that they have nothing to lose, therefore they will be open to quasi-revolutionary solutions. Without institutions there is no bulwark against volatile changes in society, with the result that revolutionary options are an increasing threat.

“A nation of atomised, lonely, entrepreneurial boys, who often have lives without meaning”. The two thousand year traditional historical and cultural continuum was able to compensate have-nots with abstract concepts such as national loyalty (which was seen as two-way) and national belonging. Since the 1960s this tribal view of society has been systematically undermined, with nothing satisfying put in its place.

“A society where British manhood is now shaped more by market expectations – often unachievable ones - than by fathers, family values, a sense of community spirit and perseverance”. The left has relentlessly promulgated policies designed to destroy the institution of the family (divorce, abortion, permissiveness etc). Even a very modest attempt to support marriage through the tax system has been met with ferocious opposition.

“…there is a powerful role for fathers”. And yet the left routinely attacks the “patriarchy” of traditional families with fathers in influential roles. We need to assess what is the cost to society of patriarchy, what is the cost to society of an absence of patriarchy, and what is the cost-benefit analysis comparison?

“…we need to work towards creating a society and an economy in which young boys and men can talk about their identity, and find their way in the world without shame, isolation, or feelings of resentment.” Who decides what identity we are going to have? Pre-1960s western cultural identity grew organically over two thousand years but post-1960s this organic identity has been subverted and there is no general agreement on what to put in its place.

“Yesterday’s heroes, in the fantasies and the realities of British life, were affirmed, in part, by physical strength, silent stoicism, and athletic daring. Fewer men than ever are able to connect the fabric of their lives to those archetypes”. Here Diane Abbott seems to be talking about Manliness Archetypes and the way they were celebrated through institutions (educational establishments, sporting clubs, the armed forces etc) and popular culture.  If young men are not given manliness archtypes to emulate they will invent their own.

“The decline of heavy industry and manufacturing jobs has left a lot of men in a position where they don’t feel the jobs on offer – particularly service jobs – are ones they feel comfortable with.” The occupational roles may have gone but the physical bodies remain. Not everyone is going to want to sit at a desk all day, and some thought needs to be given to this.

“The masculine predilection for risk and violence, far from saving national pride, often collides with modern workplaces, industries and our outlook in Britain today”.  And yet the predilection for risk and violence remains. It is not going to disappear because of lecturing and hectoring, it needs to be tames through social institutions.

“Many British men have no authentic voice”. You can say that again. The elite increasingly represents only itself – this is a problem for all of us, but young men with a predilection for risk and violence are in a position to do something about it.

“For many, what makes a man in modern Britain is his ability to flaunt consumer power”. Money has corrupted society. Politicians have corrupted society.

“Hard work, love, community, and family are no longer necessarily part of a British right of passage (sic)”. A rite of passage going where? The traditional historical-cultural continuum took individuals on a journey through society and the expectations of society - the deliberate junking of concepts such as duty, loyalty and responsibility (even to mention these words is to invite ridicule) has resulted in people living lives devoid of social meaning.

“I’m particularly troubled by a culture of hyper-masculinity – a culture that exaggerates masculinity in the face of a perceived threat to it”. Unless masculinity is tamed by social institutions it must result in hyper-masculinity. One only has to make anthropological comparisons to understand what men will regress to if no longer controlled by society.

“At its worst, it’s a celebration of heartlessness; a lack of respect for women’s autonomy; and the normalisation of homophobia. I fear it’s often crude individualism dressed up as modern manhood”. It is silly to say that the fault is individualism. We are really witnessing a reversion to physical instincts as opposed to intellectual reasoning.

“Look into the eyes of many of the men sitting in the cubicles of bureaucratic English office, with a disintegrating family life”. Is it any wonder family life is disintegrating when the family as an institution has been so thoroughly undermined? Families are the building blocks of society and without traditional families the situation is increasingly volatile.

“It’s an unfortunate political landscape that catches many men between the belief that all human beings are essentially equal, and the collapsing pillar of patriarchy that mistakenly says men are naturally superior to women”. The Crisis of Masculinity is a crisis for feminism also – it is not “patriarchy” that is claiming male superiority but the animal instincts of the natural world. Without social institutions there is no bar to an increasing reversion in some sections of society to animalistic impulses of varying degrees (an ape does not respect the autonomy of a female ape, nor is there gender equality among the apes).

“But the messages being sent to our boys are just as limiting and restrictive: be macho, be strong, don’t show your emotions”. How does society control machismo? Traditionally this is done through social institutions but many of these have been warped by political interference so that they no longer work properly.

Anyway, I have probably written enough for now, and you will have your own lines of enquiry to follow.

Following Diane Abbott's speech I did some research of my own in this area which I hope to write up in the next few days.

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