Thinking the Unthinkable

A couple weeks back I showed up at the usual watering hole, at the usual time, but the usual crowd wasn’t there. Or rather, the usual crowd was only partly there – and the part that was there was all male. Usually, the crowd is female dominant, not just in number, but in organization. It is usually what I’d call women and their husbands. This time was different for some reason or other, and the conversation was – on account of this difference – unusually interesting and real for me.

My mind leaps back to a Munk debate from a few years ago organized to argue the question: Are Men Obsolete? You can find fragments of it on YouTube if you’re curious. Finding that debate was part of what we might call my enlightenment, or my descent into deplorability, depending on your perspective. How in the fuck, I wondered, could so patently offensive a topic be publicly discussed? What kind of society discusses the irrelevance of half its members?

But, hanging out at the usual watering hole, at the usual time, the irrelevance is palpable. Of course there are practical uses for men in doing this or that. It’s more that the male identity has lost its mooring and is being pulled by the tide out toward the horizon. Fortunately, there’s plenty of whiskey in the hold. It’s a booze cruise to oblivion.

These are poetic images, and I don’t want to get into a large scale social analysis at the moment, but instead to get back to the flow of the conversation at the time, which turned – eventually – to the question of why young men of my nephew’s generation are so colossally lost. An acquaintance with whom I’ve previously tangled passionately declared that it certainly had nothing to do with attempts to empower women after centuries of oppression.

I wasn’t able to really articulate much of a counter position, but later on, after leaving, it struck me that as a man who worked in a university setting, he would suffer an enormous – and very likely fatal – social penalty for thinking anything different on the matter. I don’t mean he’d be literally killed. I mean he’s be ostracized and ultimately fired. Therefore, his assessment amounted to a sort of coerced testimony. He doubtless believed it as far as he was aware; but I am equally certain that he’d never considered the social cost he would suffer in not believing it, nor the extent that the threat of this cost played in forming his belief. And there, perhaps, is the nub, the nexus, where the social vector toward the liberation and empowerment of women meets with the degeneration of men.

What is the psychological cost of surrendering the freedom to think for oneself, particularly in a culture that was supposedly founded on the freedom of conscience?

I got in something of an argument last year with a now ex-Facebook friend, over a comic she loved that I found creepy.

I’d never seen this comic before, and since then I’ve come to loathe more or less everything about it. At the time, though, I was just disturbed by the idea presented in the comic that being a real man consisted entirely of heaping praise on women, who would respond with a sort of disdain – so as to demonstrate that they didn’t have even the slightest need of your praise, though for some reason it was still vitally important that you give it. “My work here is done”, the nitwit dad declares with delusional self-satisfaction, thinking he’d successfully conveyed the Alpha and Omega of manhood.

The dad here is like an anti-Jehovah, declaring his creation to be good. He’s set up the gender dynamic of the next generation like an idiotic watchmaker who can now recede into the mist of time, trusting that this pattern will keep playing out.

I objected to my then friend that this pattern – of men praising women who express disdain in return – wasn’t healthy. She responded that it was a necessary corrective to many generations of oppression. When I answered that it struck me as dangerous to attempt to impose the weight of history on children, she declared herself uncomfortable and the conversation ended.

Turns out that the guy who writes this comic, the quasi-eponymous Lunar Baboon, started on the project to alleviate his own anxiety and depression. Seems to me that what he’s done is unintentionally express the social and cognitive constructs that keep him in a place of anxious sadness. The vapid and superficial manhood expressed in the above four-panel puts the whole thing in a nutshell.

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