The interest in these figures, and the vehemence of the reactions against them—both sometimes justified—show that these issues are important. But no one seems to know what to do about them.
A year ago I wrote a column on femininity, and why it now seems such a problem. I mentioned that men also have problems, but the women’s difficulties appear more prominent, so I talked about them first.
I said that the basic problem for women and femininity today was technocracy, the attempt to turn society into a big machine for producing and distributing satisfactions. In such a society, traditional arrangements are rejected in favor of uniform treatment of men and women as consumers, lifestyle hobbyists, productive resources, and bureaucratic clients.
Under such conditions, femininity loses purpose and definition, and comes to look like an arbitrary imposition. Even so, it remains a basic part of the human world. It forms women’s lives, and so exerts enormous power. But that power, although inescapable, seems irrational, undefined, pointless, and tyrannical. Not surprisingly, this situation bothers many people.
But men have problems as well. As with women, their basic problem is that our economic and political system, with the support of all social authorities, wants to turn them into cogs in a machine. Men don’t like that and they’re not suited to it. The alternatives are apparently to be going along, which denatures them no less than it denatures women, or rebelling and putting together a new manliness that rejects man-as-cog in favor of man-as-hero—or at least man-as-man.
As a practical matter, the latter project starts by telling young men to get their act together. They should make their beds when they get up, not dress like slobs, drop the porn and video games and alcohol, eat red meat instead of carbs, lift weights, and read good books—especially ancient and perhaps medieval literature, along with unsentimental social and political analysts like Ibn Khaldun, Nietzsche, and Carl Schmitt.
All of which seems a fairly good antidote to what young men are fed today. I would hope that whoever goes this route soon broadens his reading list. But you have to start somewhere, and in an age of lies, spin, and obfuscation, a hard look at crude realities is useful for shaking off indoctrination. And men should know about such things because they need to deal with them.
But if crude realities are all there are what’s the point? The Norse idea of heaven was to do battle all day and drink all night. That’s all very well for comic books, but most of us would get tired of it even if we survived any length of time. And that is the main issue for the whole tendency. Once you have self-discipline, a sound mind in a sound body, and a clear realization that it’s a big world and you’ve been lied to all your life, what then?
Here the basic issue is the attitude toward women and Christianity. Some don’t much like either, because they’re a drag on their idea of manliness. Others think women and Christianity are needed for the setting that ultimately gives the whole effort its point and enables it to become a self-sustaining aspect of a good way of life people can actually live by.
The first tendency has provoked excessive alarm. Critics worry about a supposed fascist threat, but the social conditions aren’t there, so it’s basically a matter of fantasy for all involved. The latter tendency is more serious, and offers hope for a better way of life, but there’s a lot in present-day Christianity that makes it difficult.
A technocratic society treats Christianity as mostly irrelevant. That makes it decorative rather than functional from the standpoint of mainstream, well-adjusted people. So in its respectable forms it’s become feminized and suburbanized—an adjunct to a safe and comfortable way of life. When it gets tired of that, and wants to establish its practical importance, it still wants to maintain respectability. So it ends up working with the same secular forces that are trying to turn everyone into a cog in the social machine.
Its role is then to baptize the effort. Perfecting the machine means abolishing standards and connections other than the economic and bureaucratic ones now considered useful. Today’s mainstream Christianity has therefore become a matter of outreach, inclusion, nonjudgmental accompaniment, and concern for marginal cases. The result is that natural, traditional, and religious standards and connections, although they may still exist in theory, are deprived of effect: pastoral tenderness tells us no one should ever be held to them. That leaves money and bureaucracy as the sole effective social authorities.
So respectable Christianity doesn’t help men’s problems. Nor does it do much for its intended oppressed and marginalized beneficiaries—not a surprising result for a project of comfortable middle-class people who want to remain so. People with lifestyle issues are pleased when religious critics shut up but then mostly forget the matter. Why shouldn’t they, when they’ve been assured everything is OK? And people who are truly at the bottom of the social heap would rather join the Pentecostals or take fentanyl than bask in the nonjudgmental accompaniment of ecclesiastical bureaucrats.
Nor is present-day Christianity good for women. Men’s and women’s problems are only different aspects of the problem of the sexes and their relationship, so you can’t fix one without fixing both. As discussed in my previous column, that would require getting rid of the technological ideal that is fundamental to secular progressive social justice, and allowing natural and traditional arrangements like family and inherited cultural community to grow back. Then masculinity and femininity could once again be related functionally, and men and women live cooperatively and productively together.
That is easier said than done. In a social order as industrialized as our own, conventionally minded people who model themselves on their social superiors find it an incomprehensible fantasy. It is therefore at odds with today’s respectable Christianity, which increasingly joins its secular progressive allies in defining as “hate” support for arrangements like the natural family and specific cultural community that involve attachments, standards, and boundaries a technocratic order finds irrelevant and therefore pointlessly oppressive.
But such arrangements are necessary for a setting in which ordinary people can carry on dignified and rewarding lives—something entirely inconsistent with being a cog in a machine. Under such circumstances, I can’t help but wonder, since God is a God of surprises, whether a little “indietrismo” might actually be forward-looking.
We need a social world that works for normal people who do things like getting married and having families. In the past, people have thought that love of Christ is consistent with political prudence and support for natural social functioning. A Christian could be a soldier or policeman in good conscience. There were royal saints who were effective rulers. And when people violated everyday standards that promote good social order, that could be condemned.
The Pope’s comments on the mafia, which say nothing about welcome, acceptance, or nonjudgmental accompaniment, suggest agreement that the last principle still applies in a proper case. If family and particular cultural community are necessary for a humanly sustaining way of life, then we should defend them just as we should defend the security of person and property. And that will often involve identifying and pushing back against bad conduct.
Accepting such a view wouldn’t resolve all social and cultural issues. But it would put their discussion on a very different and far more useful footing that recognizes that “culture war” issues are not specifically religious, or simply issues of private morality, but a matter of social justice: they have to do with what we owe arrangements that enable people to live decent lives.
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