Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Evolution of Markulinity: combining a blue collar Jesus with an initiation process to solve a problem of male lethargy or disposability in urban settings, Dead Mean as initiation rite

aka cult creation by solving the problem of male disposability in a setting where blue collar guys are losers.

As we've discussed already the conflict between generations and the conflict between the ethos of the "hippies" and "hardhats" was prominent in the early years of Mark Driscoll.  This was not yet the formation of Mark Driscoll's Testosterone Gospel, but the seeds for Markulinity were surely planted.  But what was going on in the Dead Men phase can be described in sociological terms as an elaborate initiation process. Rather than simplistically dismiss that period as just cult formation, let's consider that while we may disagree with Mark Driscoll on viable solutions, the problem of unskilled labor and males isn't exactly a trivial one.

Mark Driscoll keeps coming back to the claim that God did amazing things through his yelling at the guys to grow up.   Driscoll told Brian Houston, “ … I mean no one would say young men are, in the Western world, highly impressive and we're all encouraged.”  The shortcomings of modern young men generally don’t seem to be in doubt across the ideological spectrum these days, unless we count the young men themselves. 

That said, let’s return to the idea that the blue collar man is worse off now than he was before.  The blue collar Jesus Mark Driscoll formulated can be seen as developing a religious symbolic idiom through which to address problems with a demographic Driscoll has repeatedly said he’s considered a problem.  Young guys won’t grow up.  We can debate whether Driscoll’s ideas of “grow up” have merit somewhere else.  What’s striking about the 2000-2001 era Driscoll and leaders at Mars Hill is that for a time they seemed to find a way to solve that problem within their community. 

It doesn’t seem too far-fetched to propose that if you solve the sociological problem of young male capacity for competition and aggression; and take their social need to belong and find a useful outlet for that by giving them something to do then, well, you’ve created a cult by default.  Not a cult in some pejorative sense, a cult in the sense that a culture has been formed.  Driscoll and the other leaders of Mars Hill were certainly targeting the young men they believed could be the future establishment, but if that was all they did they would have failed early and failed hard.  What Driscoll’s blue collar Jesus approach also accomplished was appeal to the kinds of young men without “skilled labor” options and gave them a vision of something they could be part of.

Dead Men, perhaps true to the frat boy image Driscoll has so often conveyed, can be seen as a massive hazing ritual for those men who were considering becoming truly invested members of Mars Hill.  We can benefit from a little help in an essay at Ribbon Farm. Cue up a little something by Sarah Perry:

Costly signaling is a framework within which the “irrational” sacrifices and acts of ritual can be made sense of. Costly signaling comes from evolutionary biology, and posits that a signal that is very costly to produce is especially likely to be honest. A peacock’s tail is the classic example: only a very healthy and fit bird could get away with growing such a ridiculously impractical tail. Similarly, sacrificing a great deal for one’s group is a costly signal of loyalty, and therefore more likely honest than mere “lip service.”

In my view, this “costly signaling” theory takes us only halfway to understanding ritual effectiveness. Richard Sosis and Eric Bressler’s study of the longevity of communes found that costly signals in the form of behavioral sacrifice (for example, food prohibitions and sexual restrictions) were correlated with the longevity of religious communes – but not secular communes. More demanding religious communes lasted much longer than less demanding communes. And, importantly, non-religious communes had poor survival no matter how much they demanded from their members. The other half of the secret to ritual is the mental states evoked by ritual. A ritual that does not produce the proper mental states will not be effective at facilitating cooperation

Dead Men was, basically, a months’ long initiation ritual that would determine who was in and who was out as a contributor to the culture of Mars Hill.  It was around the 2000-2001 period Driscoll and others were preaching through Proverbs and discussing the development of a counterculture. 

Progressives from religious and secular circles may benefit from being open-minded here.  We’ve seen Driscoll has repeatedly indicated that young men are at risk of being violent and delinquent and that the people most likely to be harmed by this web of maladaptive conduct are women and children.  In Driscoll’s understanding of things the solution is to get the men to behave responsibly and give them a positive outlet for otherwise malignant tendencies to compete or do battle.  If you pull that off the rest would, Driscoll has clearly supposed, fall into place.  Get the young men and, eventually, you get everything else.  Fail to inspire the young men and you ultimately get nothing.  Tempting though it is for progressives to view this as Driscollian misogyny (which, of course, it can also be), let’s consider the possibility that what made Mars Hill capable of being a cult is that it proposed that its attending young men were not just not disposable but indispensable. 

Social psychologist Roy Baumeister has written and spoken of how the core way in which men create and preserve culture is through disposability.  No one man is ever essential to any institution or movement that lasts.   This was something that got discussed broadly at Wenatchee The Hatchet at the following post.

The men described in that post were men who were, at one point, part of Mars Hill, with one exception. From about 2000-2004 Mars Hill was a place where men were urged to be useful members of the community and told they had a necessary role to play.  If Mars Hill was a cult, it arguably became a cult by making an appeal to young men with the promise, “If you join us you’ll have a social life and a legacy.” Who would fall for this?  As Phillip Zimbardo has put it, "Who would fall for such appeals? Most of us, if they were made by someone we trusted, in a setting that was familiar, and especially if we had unfulfilled needs." Rather than try to define “cult” in pejorative terms so common to evangelicalism, we can propose that a cult is essentially any social system or organizational dynamic that gets people to cooperate toward a shared goal. That’s all a cult is and in that broad sense, cult-formation is the entire aim of the human species. And as Driscoll has insisted across 18 years of public ministry, he wants the young guys to grow up and think in terms of legacy.

In the early history of Mars Hill a bunch of us thought that legacy was going to be something we could explore creating together for the benefit of the Puget Sound region.  Or at least Wenatchee The Hatchet labored under that illusion for years.  Perhaps we could put it this way, it may have truly started that way for a lot of us, even most of us.  What seemed to happen over time was that the legacy of “us” seemed to mutate into a narrative in which Mark Driscoll described that legacy more and more in terms of “me”.

If we’re going to discover healthier and more positive alternatives to what happened at Mars Hill we need to try to understand what legitimate social and emotional and economic needs the culture of Mars Hill managed to meet.  As former pastor Bent Meyer wrote a few years ago, try to take seriously the crisis of productive males as a thing to be addressed.  For Driscoll’s most ardent defenders this will remain a fixed point, they will see Driscoll as pro-women.  Grace Driscoll recently told Brian Houston she never saw Mark Driscoll as being misogynist.  Any attempt to suggest otherwise will be rejected or ignored by Driscoll’s supporters. They have enough of their identities invested in that understanding of who he is they will defend their own identities by way of defending Driscoll. 

To find a healthier path we need to get some sense of what needs were being met and find healthier ways to meet those needs. If we want to talk grand, sweeping policy across the land then what can reduce the likelihood of a Mark Driscoll fomenting a cult around a cult of personality could include restoring the unskilled labor market.  Driscoll, after all, spent a lot of time making fun of people who were “educated beyond their intelligence” and “had more degrees than Fahrenheit” but were, of course, stupid. It would not be until the stunts and controversies of 2012 that Driscoll would shift from his blue collar street cred narrative to his “I have credentials” narrative, and it’s striking that he invoked the second narrative in public settings against journalists or institutions. When it came time to raise money on the home front he’d shift back to the blue collar working stiff narrative who was just amazed at the unimaginable opportunities to change the world for Jesus. That contrast between in-speak and out-speak could be an entire post of its own.

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