Saturday, June 30, 2018

on the never-ending crisis of men, of alphas and betas and incels as potential murderers and the scripts men do and don't get to fulfill

First off, a piece that discusses how male and female brains are not really different.  This may have already inspired some hand-wringing and objections from somewhat predictable complementarian quarters, perhaps, but it could be as easily said that the biological differences are pronounced below the neck in ways that impact the brain rather than having to do with some literal delineation of "male" as distinct from "female" brains and vice versa.

and then there's something at Slate about ... how male celebrity authors manage to sound confessional while exonerating themselves of their more or less Byronic excess and vice.

Donald Trump’s recent announcement that he has the absolute right to pardon himself was met with plenty of justified scorn. The assertion wasn’t merely extralegal and worryingly authoritarian: It flew in the face of what a pardon, at its most basic level, requires—a communal relation. It flattens the dialogue of one person’s apology and another’s forgiveness into a self-interested tautology. I forgive myself.
Outrageous as it seemed, Trump’s attraction to the idea of a self-pardon is less exceptional than symptomatic. Look around, and you’ll see self-pardons everywhere, often disguised as apologies. The high-profile self-pardon commonly involves saying “sorry” into the ether and considering the matter settled. “I’ve never talked to her,” Bill Clinton told NBC’s Today when he was asked whether he’d apologized to Monica Lewinsky, “but I did say publicly on more than one occasion that I was sorry. That’s very different. The apology was public.” When the New York Times asked the Arrested Development cast whether they would hire an actor who verbally abused his colleagues, the person who had verbally abused the female colleague in the room with him took it upon himself to reply. “I would hire that person if that person said, you know, ‘I’ve reckoned with this,’ ” Jeffrey Tambor said, noting that he had and continued to do so. The men in the room—to whom he’d done nothing—eagerly accepted this and considered the matter settled. It didn’t much matter to them (or to Tambor) that Jessica Walter, the injured party, did not.


“I never said that I’m a perfect person, nor pretended to be someone that I’m not,” said Trump after the Access Hollywood tape aired. He apologized to his family. He apologized to the American people. He didn’t apologize to Nancy O’Dell or Arianne Zucker, the women he’d been recorded objectifying. But he pledged “to be a better man,” and one month later, he was elected president.

Once you start noticing these one-sided displays of contrition in the media and in life, you’ll be shocked both at how often you see them and at how much pressure women are under to accept these nonapologies that were never made to them in the first place. And while Junot Díaz’s case isn’t the most egregious of these, it might be the most instructive. The Pulitzer Prize–winning author stands accused of, among other things, forcibly kissing a woman who invited him to speak and pulling a younger writer onto his lap at lunch after making her cry. He has himself admitted to mistreating women with whom he’s been involved. He has stepped down from one job (as chairman of the Pulitzer committee) and kept others (with Boston Review and MIT).

As writers go, he is a celebrity, but importantly, a celebrity writer who writes about self-pardons.


Now I'm not sure that this is really a distinctly male pattern of celebrity writerly practice.  It may be an American celebrity writer tendency regardless of male and female. The celebrity has the luxury of writing about being "real" and having flaws that are not obstacles for their continuing success since, after all, they have obtained success, in a way that would not be the case for someone else.

Let us consider for how many decades Weinstein was Weinstein before he was described as having done what he's described as having done.  It's admittedly jaded and cynical of me to note that it was only after the cumulative machinery of Hollywood failed to land the Oval Office for Hillary Clinton in a race against Trump (who, as a reality TV star was arguably even more "of" Hollywood than the Clintons could have been) that Hollywood apparently felt that #TimesUp and #MeToo were things to share.  Not that those things shouldn't necessarily be shared or that the wrongs perpetrated behind the scenes shouldn't get addressed; it's more that it has gotten me wondering why these things couldn't and didn't happen over the preceding twenty years. 

It's possible, per the observations about Junot Diaz, that the literary art of self-exoneration and self-forgiveness may have something to do with what has been called the first-person industrial complex. It may not really be journalism but it's possible a few writers can feel as though it could be journalism and while self-forgiveness may be a thread that can run through the first-person industrial complex its flip side, the story of accusation could also be its mirror image, and reflected in a variety of survivor blogs where the issue of church culture and cultural predation goes.  As reliable as a sunrise, there's also the learning to forgive myself because grace with the celebrity Christian, which is probably the more prominent and industry-sanctioned variation. The art of learning to forgive yourself of X so you can move on with your life of doing Y may be even more American now than the proverbial apple pie.  It's certainly something that can emerge in Christian writing.

There could be something to the first-person style that illuminates Mark Driscoll's approach because within American evangelicalism the first-person portal into propositional claims is pretty pedestrian.  Whether it's a Mark Driscoll or a Rachel Held Evans the pretense of being "real" can be the same. 

While various tiers of celebrities and writers muse upon the power and self-forgiveness of their own it seems that for the more anonymous masses of men the power of the patriarchy is pretty unevenly distributed.  It might even seem more apt to say there is a constellation of male and female celebrity whose participants have a lot of prestige and the rest who have none.  For instance, whatever the sisterhood may be there are a lot of writers and journalists who don't think Anne Hathaway is legitimately part of it.  Hatha-hate seems to have coalesced into an expression that, as one woman put it, Anne Hathaway comes across like that girl who was practicing her acceptance speech for an award in a mirror since she was twelve years old.   I've written in the past about how women hating Anne Hathaway for being fake and liking Jennifer Lawrence for seeming "real" doesn't register for guys because, well, let's just set that off to the side because it seems like too obvious a point to make; instead I'll suggest that Hathaway has been disliked as the uber-alpha female by women in journalism and art criticism for being too successful and, as I've suggested in the past, for working in a way in which the work shows. 

Why is that stuff I bring up?  Because once we set our sights away from the intra-culture-making strata of the culture industry examining itself, it seems that swarms of men who don't even rate as people in that industry kill themselves, and ... sometimes other people, too. 

For people familiar with evangelical writing in general and Reformed writing in particular, masculinity has been in crisis long enough to legally be able to order alcohol and that assuming that this crisis was born decades ago and not emblematic of a concern that goes back to the dawn of, well, man.
American men are in crisis, the conventional wisdom goes. And, according to some experts, they have been for a while. For a few decades, perhaps. Maybe for more than a century.

But in a discussion about this “crisis” on Tuesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, which is co-hosted by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, panelists had varying notions of what that crisis entails, if it exists at all. For Michael Kimmel, an author and professor at SUNY Stony Brook, where he founded the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities, the crisis involves one type of man—heterosexual, white ones—who feel like their power “is slipping.” Tristan Bridges, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, agreed with Kimmel, adding that the crisis affects men who are now contending with “unchallenged entitlement.” For the writer Thomas Page McBee, the crisis involves men who are hurting in the face of society’s stereotyped expectations that they should be more inhumane than humane, more violent than empathic. For Joseph Derrick Nelson, a senior research fellow with the Center for the Study of Boys’ and Girls’ Lives, the crisis is hitting black boys who need support and the kind of unconditional love necessary to help them break free of certain damaging norms.

What the panelists did agree on is that the crisis is damaging American society—harming men’s educational outcomes, women’s well-being, and the public’s safety. Bridges pointed to research showing that when men feel like their masculinity is challenged, they are more likely to advocate for war, discriminate against homosexuals, express an interest in buying an SUV, and believe in the inherent superiority of men. They are also more likely to express attitudes supportive of sexual assault and coercion. Nelson contended that stereotypes about black boys as inclined to violence and disinterested in academics can lead to prejudicial treatment from teachers and parents who have internalized those stereotypes and then expect bad behavior.
The experts also agreed that acknowledging the existence of a crisis doesn’t mean giving special treatment to or forgiving men who are inclined toward spite and hatred, aggression, and abuse. “It’s unbelievable the amount of privilege men have,” said McBee, whose book, a memoir of his life as a trans man, is coming out later this summer. Many men, he stressed, are hurting, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be held accountable for the pain they cause others because they’re hurting; what they lack is emotional resilience and, perhaps, “feminine social skills.”
“Lots of men feel like they want to be on the right side of history here, but when they’re asking, ‘What can I do to be a good man?’ what they’re asking for is a recipe that will give them immunity from critique,” echoed Bridges.

Rather, acknowledging the existence of a crisis simply entails raising public awareness about the contradictions society imposes on them and the consequences of those contradictions. Kimmel described this paradox as “the tensions in men’s heads between what it means to be a good man and what it means to be a real man.” Once, when he asked cadets at West Point what it means to be a “good man,” their responses included things like honor, duty, sacrifice, responsibility, standing up for the little guy—i.e., being a good person. When he asked them to “man the f up”—to be a real man—their responses shifted: being strong and stoic, never showing your feelings, playing through pain, getting rich and getting laid

The conflict seems to be between observable ethics and demonstrable status.
Slate has a piece about how "we" are socializing men to die by suicide.  Precisely who the "we" is seems to be tacitly assumed rather than defined but here goes:
In a survey my organization, Promundo, carried out with support from Axe, of 1,500 young men aged 18–30, we found that nearly 1 in 5 thought about suicide in the past two weeks. Which young men were more likely to think about suicide? Those who believed in a version of manhood associated with being tough, not talking about their problems, and bottling up their emotions were twice as likely to have considered suicide. Studies in other countries have found the same, namely that men with more restrictive ideas about manhood are more likely to think about suicide than young men who aren’t so stuck in the “man box.”
So what gives? Being a man in the U.S., and around the world, too often means learning to suppress our emotional experience, so much so that we as men often lack even the language to express or understand our emotions. Some psychologists have called this alexithymia—the inability to connect with and communicate one’s emotions—and identified it as more prominent in males. Quite simply, if men can’t recognize negative or troubling emotions, and can’t or don’t seek help or talk about them, we don’t know what to do when we face them.
Here’s an example of how this works. In Promundo’s work with young men and young women to question and challenge harmful ideas about manhood, we use an activity we call, “Expressing my Emotions.” We ask young men which of five emotions they feel the most comfortable expressing, and which they can’t express. Consistently, young men say that anger and happiness are the easiest emotions to express. Affection, sadness, or fear? No way, they say. Real men can’t show those.
Our ideas about manhood mean that asking for help is seen as weak, feminine, or even gay. Seeking medical support and mental health support by men is not only frowned upon, but also seen as unmanly. To even recognize pain—physical or emotional—is to risk being told by your male friends or family that you’re not a “real man.”
The CDC’s recent analysis of factors contributing to the increase in suicide rates in the U.S., released June 7, reads like a list of disproportionately masculine traits: mental health problems (often untreated or undiagnosed); alcohol or drug use (higher for men than women and often a solace for failed manhood); social or personal problems (for which men are not supposed to seek help); and access to firearms (again, mostly men).
Our ideas about manhood mean that asking for help is seen as weak, feminine, or even gay. Seeking medical support and mental health support by men is not only frowned upon, but also seen as unmanly. To even recognize pain—physical or emotional—is to risk being told by your male friends or family that you’re not a “real man.”
The CDC’s recent analysis of factors contributing to the increase in suicide rates in the U.S., released June 7, reads like a list of disproportionately masculine traits: mental health problems (often untreated or undiagnosed); alcohol or drug use (higher for men than women and often a solace for failed manhood); social or personal problems (for which men are not supposed to seek help); and access to firearms (again, mostly men).
Suicide is far more common among white men in the U.S., the same category of men who feel the world owes them a well-paying stable job, and the respect that comes with that. They have lost employment or face a personal stress, often divorce or estrangement from their families. Current data show that between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 working-age men—about 20 million—aren’t working, three to four times what it was during the 1950s. Many men among those feel a sense of what sociologist and masculinities expert Michael Kimmel calls “aggrieved entitlement.”
Which gets to the theme of the "incel", involuntarily celibate, as a risk variable in shootings.

and from a couple of years ago

That there are people who advocate that the solution for all of this would be to normalize sex work is not something that seems to need much detailed discussion here, but it may be something to mention because one way to look at the potential social threat incels are perceived as presenting as men who could go on murderous rampages if they can't get laid is to argue that SOMEBODY has to be willing to have sex with these guys so they don't become potential killers and if there are brave professionals willing to do so should they be illegal?  Whether that's an argument to be taken seriously isn't necessarily one I plan to really get into.  It's a for instance.  But it seems we're at a place where some people would argue that the thing that's as dangerous as alpha males at the top of the pecking order or those guys at the bottom of the social hierarchy as they perceive it who want to get revenge for their low status.  These are probably not guys who would accept with any grace a comment to the effect that they could be regarded as the off-scouring of the world.

The guy who can't get laid as a failure can seem to be a given in journalism, such as a glowing review of the Ghostbusters remake that it said it was the movie we need and how the villain was some guy who probably couldn't get laid.  What stuck with me about that casual proclamation was that in some way it was  not different from the vibe I got around Mars Hill about single guys who were not yet married, they were not yet really men because, well, they hadn't gotten laid yet.  Whatever functional adult manhood is it would seem it should entail producing more than you consume as a rule of thumb rather than whether or not you are "getting some". 

If resentment at lost opportunities or unrealizable possibilities is thought of as catalyzing a vote for someone with false promises to give those opportunities the alternative on offer has come from those who, already being able to negotiate at least some of what the cultural script offers, feel that we don't need to make America great again because America already is great, for those for whom it is already great anyway. That's good news for those who regard themselves as somebodies, not nobodies; that's good news for those nobodies who want to be somebodies rather than to be real nobodies; that's good news for the somebodies who feel the wrong somebodies are getting to have too much of the spotlight or admiration of nobodies as an aspirational model.

Is there a solution for aggrieved entitlement?  No.  There won't be one because if there "is" a solution to aggrieved entitlement it would involve some variation of meditating on Psalm 49.  Rather than remind ourselves to not envy what evil people gain by evil means we get tempted to consider why we don't have that kind of stability.  We can forget that that stability is illusory, for one, and that it really can be more blessed in the long run to be a nobody than a somebody.  But a lot of that does hinge on belief that this life is not the only life to consider. If  you don't see things that way then the prosperity of the evil is something to be envied because the pie is only so big and there really can never be any punishment for the wicked that isn't instituted by someone. 

You can try to tell people who are failing according to the scripts of a culture that the scripts of that culture might be terrible but a culture in which incels are considered a threat because guys who can't get laid may become murderers might have to ask a few questions.  Even if we assume that having sex is both a physiological as well as psycho-sociological need why would desire in itself be rewarded?  We do not all live in Adam Sandler films, after all, where merely having a desire for X means X should be the reward the protagonist receives by movie's end.  But what if what is called aggrieved entitlement were turned around as a thought experiment and presented as a crisis of faith in a culture script that could be thought of as a lie?  That may be how incels and red pill types view things.  It hardly makes their proposed range of "solutions" correct or ethical but it might illuminate some topics for consideration.  Even the incel and the red pill type seem to take as given that what is promised in the script of prescribed manhood should be available to men who want it.  Suggesting that that script itself is the problem is not necessarily something team blue wants to grant any more than team red, blue state types are more likely to go in for traditional marriages at this point, aren't they? 

Our stories are about how one person can "change everything". Our films and novels are about the special someone who can change things for the better.  This isn't new stuff.  We've had Joseph Campbell's influence on popular culture for a while but the hero's journey in the past might have been a heroic journey emblematic of a community's sense of identity.  The hero or heroine was so by way of a story that defined who "we" are. 

Having finally slogged through a couple of books by Adorno what I find useful in his critique of the culture industry (even if I feel his Marxist-Leninist master narrative of history is as wrong-headed and confining as Francis Schaeffer's fall of Western Christendom is similarly wrong-headed and confining) is that he pointed out that a philistine is someone who won't invest in art unless he sees himself in it and gets something from it.  In that sense the old Marxist lefty Adorno anticipated and damned what would known be known as intersectionality in the arts.  There is no reason at all to think that the new culture industry of higher education and the entertainment industries is going to be more just merely because all the colors of the proverbial rainbow are in there. What could be the abuses and dehumanizing influence of globalism or capitalism "here" is simply a different set of labels for a parallel set of dynamics "there" in what at one point were Soviet bloc countries or in China or where ever else oppression and repression happen without a patina of democratic process or on-paper free trade. 

In other words, Babylon the Great runs things in the world as it is now regardless of the labels.  The ideological labels of left and right are fig leaves for those within those camps to exempt themselves from observing that all the powers in the world are the powers of the world.  Thus my occasional acid, dry jokes about how kids who can afford to go to private liberal arts colleges cannot imagine that merely because they can quote Walter Benjamin (or Gramsci, for that matter) that they are not still part of a ruling elite in culture-making terms. 

Back to Adorno and the culture industry.  What this industry sells is a range of scripts for living, and in the sense that incels reject the status quo they are in a sense rejecting not the script of manhood and adult sexual realization through sexual relationship, they are rejecting what they regard as a society willing and able to sell these scripts without providing any corresponding opportunity to fulfill the scripts.  That's why writers at The Stranger can say the villain of a Ghostbusters remake film is some guy who can't get laid as if that were in some way emblematic of what made him the bad guy, how he responded to his inability to get laid.  The villainy in his response whereas if there were just a different sociological and economic context the failure of a person to fulfill an expected script would and could be seen as an evil of globalism or capitalism ... but not where it comes down to getting laid.  That differentiation would be something to mull over if I didn't feel like I'd gotten to the point of writing about enough for blog posts for a weekend today.  There's such a thing as writing and practicing music and stuff. 

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