There’s been quite a kerfuffle among the center-right commentariat over the past few days. Fox’s Tucker Carlson started it with a ten-minute opinion piece on some of the ways in which this culture denigrates men and boys to everyone’s detriment. Many of Carlson’s points hit the nail on the head.
His was followed by an article by David French in the National Review, and it’s French’s on which I’d like to remark today (National Review, 1/7/19).
French is right about most of what he says. He points out that the process of raising boys to be men – i.e. the type of men we desire and society needs – is a long and difficult one.
And if you’re a father of a young boy or spend much time with young boys — especially if you coach boys in sports — you’ll note a very human paradox. Even as they want to become the grown man they see in their father or in their idols, they’ll often fiercely resist (especially at first) the process. They’ll find the discipline oppressive. Building toughness requires enduring pain. And who likes enduring pain? Effective leaders have to have a degree of stoicism, but it can be hard to suppress natural emotions to see reality clearly.I would add that it’s not just “effective leaders” who need a bit of stoicism, but everyone else as well. The type of self-discipline required to accomplish anything difficult involves the ability to deal with failure, often repeated failure. The ability and the willingness to try, fail and try again requires that degree of stoicism to which French refers.
And French rightly points to a few of the indicators of male lack of well-being.
But while the process of raising that grown man isn’t easy, it is necessary. Evidence of its necessity is all around us. While a male elite thrives in the upper echelons of commerce, government, the military, and sports, men are falling behind in school, committing suicide, and dying of overdoses at a horrifying rate, and their wages have been erratic — but still lower (in adjusted dollars) than they were two generations ago.That of course just scratches the surface of all the things men and boys are suffering in today’s society, but French didn’t propose to offer an exhaustive list.
So far so good, but then French tells us,
We are in the middle of an intense culture war focused around men, dominated at times by two kinds of men-as-victim narratives. On the populist right, you’ll get those voices — such as Tucker Carlson — who see these trends and rightly decry them, but then wrongly ascribe an immense share of the negative results of immense social, economic, and cultural changes to the malice or indifference of elites, with solutions wrongly centered around government action.Unfortunately, it’s the same, tired claim we’ve heard from the Right for decades – if men are having problems, then they need to man up and improve themselves. Indeed, after a brief detour through the recent Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Men and Boys of the American Psychological Association, French offers himself as an example of the process to which he refers. Once a nerd – nay a weakling – French tells how he got out from behind his desk, got strong, joined the Army, got stronger, deployed to Iraq, got stronger still and returned a new man. Good for him. But does his experience provide a solution for men and boys? It’s the Right’s common contention, but can it work?
His casual dismissal of Carlson’s criticism of elites and “solutions wrongly centered around government action” betrays a vast ignorance of the issues confronting men and boys. Few people are as critical of governmental behavior (or the lack thereof) as I am, but to pretend, as French seems to, that the problems experienced by boys and men can be solved simply by their own improved behavior is simply false. If French doesn’t believe me, he could ask any good father how he made out in divorce court. Should French’s wife ever decide to leave him, take the children, half their assets and much of his income, perhaps he’ll find himself better informed. He is, after all, one of those grown men, tutored in stoicism, to whom that calamity could never, never happen, right?
I hope that doesn’t happen of course, but something needs to shock the Right out of its complacency about the plight of men and boys.
The Right has always relied on its doctrinal and deep-seated suspicion of government for its do-nothing attitude toward men and boys. In so doing, its practitioners fail to notice the obvious – that it is precisely government that’s produced so much of the problem men and boys wrestle with every day. And since it is governmental policy that did so, we must reform that policy in order to improve things.
Mr. French, it is federal and state laws, regulations and their application by judges and bureaucrats that separate fathers from their children. We must alter those laws and regulations in order to make conditions better for boys and men. When the Judge tells Dad that he can only see his kids four days per month, what is Dad supposed to do? Has he not already done what he can to be a good father, to provide for his wife and children, to be a mentor and guide and sounding board? Mr. French, do you not understand that the best behavior by Dad may avail him nothing? The finest fathers are routinely sidelined in the lives of their children by judges who can put them in jail if they deviate from their orders.
And when they are, exactly the sort of social, educational, emotional and psychological deficits tend to crop up in their children. And children raised without fathers tend strongly to fail to become the grown men French rightly exalts.
Just two days ago I posted a piece about an outrageous law in New Jersey that automatically and unconstitutionally suspended the driver’s license of any non-custodial parent who fell behind on his child support payments. Those fathers were given no opportunity to demonstrate an inability to pay based on loss of a job, accident or illness. The license suspension meant the loss of a job for almost half those fathers. So tell us, Mr. French, how is a father supposed to solve that problem himself? He was laid off his job, fell behind on his payments and now has no reliable transportation. According to you, he can, in some way, man up and deal with the situation.
Tellingly, you never say how.
I could go on and on, but the point should be clear. Government created many of the problems faced by men and boys and therefore it must be government to fix what it broke. No one else can. Governments pass laws, some of them bad ones. When they do, only they can amend them to make them better. To pretend that government can’t be part of the solution to a problem government created makes no sense.
Many of the problems besetting men and boys stem from a lack of grown-up male influence in boys’ lives. Much of that lack stems from governmental policy. The Right’s default position that too much government is at the root of many or most of our societal ills, has some truth. But it is precisely that government now impedes father-child relationships that demands that it stop. If French and others want to perceive that as less government, it’s fine with me. But however they perceive it, the solution to the problems of men and boys is not for government to do nothing, but to, at long last, do the right thing.