Tuesday, June 20, 2017

comments from Cal P and hoosier bob at Mere Orthodoxy highlight a difficulty or two with the "man up" cottage industry

Over at Mere Orthodoxy a fairly predictable theme of the failure of young men in particular to man up and grow up has emerged courtesy of some ideas proposed by one Sasse.  This has also come up with reference to the "strenuous life" of one Bucer.  That inspired Cal P and hoosier bob to comment over at the following thread:


Cal P

Following Peter F's comment, I think this same recommendation falls into the same trap. A call for a Streneous Life, in the footsteps of TR and Muscular Christianity, is only a thin veil for the same identity-consumed narcissism that is all around us. Except now we are justified by our own self-perceived can-do attitude, and we can sneer at the "narcissist" namby-pambies who care about self-help and the therapeutic religion. But it's really only the flip-side of the coin. I don't see how this is much different than what Mark Driscoll tried to do, though with much more punch. This program is still just thinking about ourselves, but now refracted through the lens of other-oriented activity. Maybe we need to actually stop, and look around, and think about the local world around us. But many Evangelicals, like most Americans, are immune to reality, living off borrowed wealth and time.
This fits pretty well with the droning buzz of do, do, do, activity for the sake activity, etc. It fits pretty well with a world that is obsessed with activism and business. This piece seems like a straw-man, grounded in a shill politician trying to build his own brand of Conservatism. Maybe Sasse will be empty-headed and charming enough to become a new Reagan.

hoosier_bob Cal P
Another point that people gloss over is that many men correctly assess that the benefits of marriage don't outweigh its costs in our society. That's been the case for a while. Gary Becker wrote "A Theory of Marriage" nearly 45 years ago. Becker recognized that certain social and economic forces had changed the nature of what people are bargaining for in marriage. Even so, the "default rules" of marriage had failed to account for those changes. Thus, many people were entering into marriages under conditions that did not lead to transactionally efficient outcomes. Becker recognized well that no institution can survive that fails to produce benefits to its participants in excess of the costs of participation. For most women, marriage, as it is defined in our culture, still yields benefits in excess of its costs. That is not so for most men. For most men, marriage will fail to produce benefits in excess of its costs. [emphasis added]

Sasse and the "family values" crowd have been lecturing men for four decades now, trying to guilt them into entering marriage against their better social and economic judgment. But stigmatizing economically sound judgment can only last for so long. Moralism eventually loses its power.
If Sasse wants more men to marry, he should consider the reasons why many men have chosen to take a pass. It's one thing to exert "strenuous" effort if that effort is likely to deliver a payoff in excess of the effort. It's another thing to exert such effort when the likelihood of a payoff is dim. We easily forget that the "family values" take on marriage and family is largely an invention of late-19th-century social theorists. The "nuclear family" was invented as a social structure for transitioning people from the farm to industrial jobs in the city. We face different challenges today, and we need to reimagine again what family life looks like in terms of our current social conditions. Nostalgia for the good ol' days won't cut it. [emphasis added]


I find myself in basic agreement with Cal and Peter. This seems like the same kind of narcissistic, identity-focused, exclusionary vision of "manhood" that guys like Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Tim Bayly, Denny Burk, Owen Strachan, et al. have been pandering for a while. Perhaps we should welcome the fact that people are diverse in many respects and stop trying to create hierarchies that segregate the "real men" from some allegedly inferior breed of men who meet God's disapproval. After all, the phenomenon that this seeks to counteract largely evolved as a reaction to the "muscular Christianity" of an earlier era.

I was thinking about this Friday, when I went down to grab my morning Americano from the coffee shop in the first floor of my building. The local New Calvinist church was having a men's Bible study on the picnic benches out front. Out of the dozen or so guys, all but one had beards. The bears all looked about the same. A majority wore cowboy boots, despite the fact that none was likely a cattle farmer. All were carrying a few extra pounds around the middle. And while their physiques suggested that they may engage in some resistance exercise, it's likely that none of them participated in "effeminate" sports like running, cycling, yoga, swimming, etc. When I placed my order, I joked briefly with the cashier about how similarly styled these "real men" all were. He responded, "Yeah, it's the weekly insecure Christian dudes' Bible study."

Notions of masculinity and effeminacy are often somewhat culturally construed. I'd much prefer that evangelicals just focus on faithfulness, and spend less time trying to identity properly engendered construals of what faithfulness looks like.

Cal P hoosier_bob
I think part of the problem is the concept of gender as it was worked out over the 19th and 20th centuries. There is a fixation on some 'ousia' of our sexed bodies that can be abstracted and analyzed. Therefore, the discourse switches from sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers to masculinity or maleness. This is one of the major conceptual differences between Puritan and Victorian moral literature. Both were concerned with how men acted, but they had some different notions of what that actually meant. Can we understand masculinity and femininity as a binary pair abstracted from the concrete roles worked out within our given sexed bodies?

Quite clearly, the problem lies in the root causes of labor changes in the 18th century, with growing plantation slavery, the Industrial Revolution, and the rise of the Bourgeoisie as a distinct class. It's too much for a comment, but I think if the crisis of gender is to be addressed (and it is a problem), we shouldn't dismiss it with an appeal to fidelity. Rather, the insecure bearded Calvinists represent the problem with the gender discourse from the ground-up. It's a similar phenomenon in what we see in the Alt-Right as identity politics, or in how sexuality discourse has turned sodomy into questions of homosexuality. The grammar of these ideologies constrains our ability to perceive the world.

In sum, the guys who tell other guys to "man up" by way of a cottage industry of polemical publishing rarely seem to recognize that they quite literally have the luxury of doing so. 

Back when I was at Mars Hill some guys recommended the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.  I tried reading one of their books, the big one.  The introduction itself put me off from taking the rest of the book very seriously.  Manhood was defined as a kind of disposition toward womanhood and vice versa.  The definitions were not just incomplete but entirely circular.  Defining manhood is worth nothing if it necessitates that a man must literally be in the position to impregnate a woman for it to have the practical meaning a Christian social conservative of the Anglo-American variety wants it to have.  At this point there's very little opportunity to misunderstand that this is generally what is meant by a certain strain of John Piper admiring new Calvinist as it is. 

But since people mentioned Driscoll, it seems worthwhile to mention that in Mark Driscoll's case, and by his own account, he couldn't have gotten where he got to without the patronage of men who decided to give him things he didn't qualify for on the basis of his own credentials or credit.


Confessions of a Reformission RevMark Driscoll, Zondervan 2006
ISBN-13: 978-0-310-27016-4

page 119
[this season begins in early 1999]
I had worked myself to near burnout and was still the only paid pastor on staff although there was enough work for ten people.

[remember that at this point Mike Gunn and Lief Moi still had full-time jobs, Driscoll's work was apparently part-time and he had a stipend from the advisory board and supplemented his income in other ways]

page 120
A friend in the church kindly allowed me to move into a large home he owned on a lease-to-own deal because I was too broke to qualify for anything but an outhouse. The seventy-year-old house had over three thousand square feet, seven bedrooms on three floors, and needed a ton of work because it had been neglected for many years as a rental home for college students. Grace and I and our daughter Ashley, three male renters who helped cover the mortgage, my study, and the church office all moved into the home. [emphasis added] This put me on the job, literally, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, as the boundary between home and church was erased.

We ran the church out of my house for nearly two years, including leadership meetings and Bible studies for various groups on almost every night of the week. It was not uncommon to have over seventy people a week in our home. Grace got sucked right back into the church mess. She was a great host to our guests. But I started growing bitter toward her because I was again feeling neglected.

I began working seven days a week, trying to save the church from imminent death. I had decided to go for broke and accepted that I would either save the church and provide for my family or probably die of a heart attack. I lived on caffeine and adrenaline for the better part of two years, ate terribly ,and put on nearly forty pounds. 
Then there's a sermon from 2001 where Driscoll mentioned what he decided to do to land some work:

starting at 54:45
Proverbs 29:21, “If a man pampers his servant from youth, he will bring grief in the end.” These guys are pampered; totally pampered. Okay? And again, this is not a boasting on me. This is a – this is actually a tribute to my dad. I was eleven years old. I was going out for the little league all-star team, and I needed a new glove. My dad said, “Good. Go make some money.” I said, “Hey, dad, I’m eleven.” He said, “Well, you’re taller than the lawn-mower. I’m sure you’ll figure something out.” True. So, I get the lawn-mower, and I go and I mow lawns to get my glove. And I come back and my dad says, “You owe me gas money. You used my gas.” It’s the nicest thing my dad ever did. Up until that point, I didn’t know gas cost money. Now, I do. Now, I appreciate gas.It comes to the point where I’m 15 and I wanna get a car. I said, “Dad, I need a car.” He says, “Good. Go get some money.” I said, “Okay, fine.” So, I falsified my birth certificate, I lie about my age, and I get a job at a 7-11 selling lotto tickets and liquor and cigarettes to people that are twice my age. I was not a Christian, so – I shouldn’t have done it anyways, but I wasn’t a Christian. And so, I’m 15, working at a 7-11 selling stuff. And I make a decent living, and I buy my first car, a 1956 Chevy that I should’ve never sold. That’s a whole other sermon. And – and so I’m 15, driving myself to work without a license, because I gotta go make money to pay for my car. [emphasis added] Okay? And again, I was not a Christian. Okay? So, I’m not saying, “Thus sayeth the Lord.”

And I realize that, since I was young and I was strong, I could make more money. And so I started dinking around trying to figure out where to make more money. And I find out that guys in unions make a lot of money. And – at least compared to me working at the 7-11. And I got tired of getting robbed and held-up, too. ‘Cause if you run a 7-11 behind a Déjà vu, somebody’s gonna put a gun at your head. And after a couple of those, you realize, “For minimum wage, I’m not taking a cap. You know? I’m not gonna get shot for, like, a pack of cigarettes. I’m not gonna do that.” So, I lied about my age. I falsified my birth certificate again, and told them I was 18. Got a job working long-shoring down on the docks in Seattle. And I would go throw 100-pound sacks of peas, and unload trucks, and work hard. And they paid me tremendous money. [emphasis added] At the time, it was like $10.00-something an hour. This was, like, in 1986 or ’87 or something. And I’d work 40 hours a week, and over-time was double-time. And none of the guys would wanna work over-time. Usually it was on Friday, ‘cause they had to get containers out, and those guys all wanted to go to the topless club.

And so, I would work all the over-time at $20.00 an hour as a 16 year old kid. This is in the mid-‘80s. Right? So, I’m loaded. I have money, money, money, money. So, I buy a car, and I start saving for college, doing my stuff. And with my dad – I thank God for my dad. My dad’s like, “You’re a guy. You work. You pay your way. Good. It’s good for you.” And you know what? He’s right. He was totally right. Thank God for my dad. My brother and my other brother and myself, we’re all doing great, making good money, doing fine. My brothers are all in management leadership running companies or businesses. It’s great. You pamper a guy from his youth, and he just – he gets this course of action. All of the sudden he feels like if his hands are dirty, or his muscles are sore, or if he put-in a long day, or thought something was tough, that’s unusual; that’s abnormal. And so, he avoids it.

So by Driscoll's account he misrepresented his age to get a job he would not otherwise have been able to get back when he was in his teens.  Later, when he was married, he was given a lease-to-own deal for a home he wouldn't have been able to afford if the whole matter of buying a home had been a matter of what he qualified for with his own credit rating.  Even in this case Driscoll recounted that he and his wife rented spare rooms in the house to at least three single guys--the irony of Mark Driscoll holding forth as William Wallace II against irresponsible single guys not growing up was that without single guys renting the extra rooms not otherwise being used in the house Driscoll himself might not have been able to afford to stay for very long in the house he was in thanks to a lease-to-own deal he would later describe in his 2006 book.

One of the pervasive problems with any kind of Mark Driscoll or Doug Wilson-and-his-offspring approach to masculinity is that these are the kinds of American men where  a case could be made that without the benefits of high-rolling generosity on the one hand or a cultural industry that is not entirely averse to nepotism on the other these guys who sit in the seat of Moses to define masculinity could not have even gotten to the seats they now so often like to sit in.

A guy like Driscoll in particular has spent decades lecturing men as though the key problem is what he thinks they just don't want to do, when the problem may well be, as hoosier bob proposed, that the costs of doing the marriage thing as a Mark Driscoll prescribes it are so prohibitive nobody below the upper middle class these days might realistically be able to consider it and pursue it on those terms.  Mark Driscoll himself, by his own testimony, apparently couldn't do it without getting a hand up or two over the last twenty years. 

The idea that the nuclear family is an economically sustainable variant of family life in the post-industrial West has never seemed like a compelling long-term option to me.  When I was at Mars Hill I had a chance to survey, though briefly, just how many young married guys who invested in real estate went the "life together" or "community living" route.  These were often extended family systems of a literal or informal kind. 

So when yet some other guy holds forth on how it's a shame young men won't man up, it's a shame if the sort of guy who does this doesn't just so happen to be a senator, for instance, or a megachurch pastor.   As a certain Jewish teacher once put it, there are people who sit in Moses' seat and you should do what they tell you to do but be sure you don't follow their example.


chris e said...

There's an article over on the cardus site which reviews the book:


Tangentially, it points to the fact that Sasse is very fond of some forms of 'self empowerment' but presumably less in favour of others (I assume if all the Talia Janes unionised, he'd have a coronary).

I'd also push back somewhat at Peter F's comment here:

"This is certainly a helpful corrective of the emotional and spiritual coddling of the millennial world. At the same time, I would want to differentiate between a "strenuous" life of the kind that Bucer lived and the frenetic life many moderns lead"

Are millennials really that 'coddled' - sure there is much *talk* of safe spaces and the like, but most of reality is the more prosaic under-employment and (possibly) zero-hours contracts, which I'm sure has a disabilitating effect all of its own.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Since Blue's Clues turned twenty last year I'm thinking of how they had that movie musical with a song declaring to kids "you can be anything that you wanna be". As an admonition to follow your dreams it's boilerplate but the idea that the millenials bear the entirety of responsibility for being "coddled" under the inculcative tendencies they were given by the generation that bred them seems daft. I caught Moana or a decent chunk of it a while back and the knowing winks to the Disney princess trope withstanding, it doesn't seem that mysterious how or why a generation of Americans raised on Luke Skywalkers might get the idea that they, too, are unique Chosen Ones. Not that the "problem" is superhero/mythic tales in themselves. All the President's Men and Spotlight could be construed as superhero movies in which journalists do battle with evil. I wonder if the generations that coddled millenials don't want to cop to the full extent to which SOMEONE had to coddle these people. They didn't coddle themselves, if they're coddled.

Or, as you alluded to, what if the generation that now complains about the coddled generation had some role in outsourcing the unskilled labor jobs that in earlier generations would have been the coddled generation's first steps into the workforce?

Not that I like to frequent mens' rights blog realms but the handful of times I did try reading some of that, there was a current of venting that indicated that, per hoosier bob's comments, the cost of initiating investment for "manhood" was so high younger men pre-emptively decided to opt out. Some people act as if this were some new kind of thing but since I've been a Joan Didion fan my whole adult life she wrote about coming across people who pre-emptively dropped out of "normal" adulthood half a century ago in Slouching Toward Bethlehem. It was apparent she didn't understand why those people would choose to opt out then and that she may have some ideas why now.

Self empowerment in Sasse's taxonomy of adulthood probably means doing everything in your power to "opt in" to society. What I've seen of the checklist looks pretty much the same as Mark Driscoll's checklist of adulthood. The thing Driscoll was so slippery about was the extent to which the patronage of higher status men was necessary for his rise. This wasn't just the case of getting a Jon Phelps on board with literal bank-rolling, though that was no doubt an important part, too; it's also that Mark Driscoll needed the social capital of co-founders Moi and Gunn who had deeper roots in the Puget Sound community through construction work and ministry connections (Gunn went to Talbot Seminary).