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My Wall Street Journal Op-Ed on Why Men Turn to Online Influencers
Men are turning away from mainstream authorities and toward online figures
This Saturday I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on a critically important topic: why men turn to online influencers instead of traditional institutions and authorities.
I don’t claim to have every answer to this, but I highlight five things that distinguish the online influencers from traditional authorities and institutions when it comes to the way they address men.
The online influencers are men speaking to men, whereas many if not most mainstream figures writing on men’s issues are women.
They treat men as ends not just means, viewing men and their well-being, hopes, dreams, and aspirations as important in their own right.
They provide an aspirational and appealing version of manhood in ways mainstream figures don’t.
They give practical, actionable advice to help men improve and obtain their goals (to be clear: those goals are not always moral ones).
They create community.
I can’t repost the entire piece here because the Journal has an exclusivity period, but here’s an except:
Gavin Newsom is a concerned father. “I really worry about these micro-cults that my kids are in,” California’s governor told Bloomberg’s Brad Stone in an interview this month. “My son is asking me about Andrew Tate, Jordan Peterson. And then immediately he’s talking about Joe Rogan. I’m like, here it is, the pathway.” Mr. Newsom isn’t alone in his concern about the exploding popularity of online influencers among young men—or in failing to see important distinctions.
Many offer teenage boys an aspirational vision of manhood. Some, like Mr. Peterson, say men are important for the sake of others, but present it as part of a heroic vision of masculinity in which men flourish as well. “You have some vital role to play in the unfolding destiny of the world,” he writes in “12 Rules for Life,” his 2018 bestseller. “You are, therefore, morally obliged to take care of yourself.” Traditional authorities, especially in Protestant churches, talk about men being “servant leaders” but reduce that primarily to self-sacrifice and serving others. Pastors preach sermons wondering why men have so much energy left at the end of the day, or saying men shouldn’t have time for hobbies. No wonder young men tune them out.
The good news is mainstream figures and traditional institutions that want to reach men can easily re-create the online influencers’ success. They can have men talking to and about men. They can acknowledge that men are important in themselves, not only as servants to women and children. They can craft an aspirational vision of manhood that includes elements of sacrifice and service. They can build men up with practical insights and advice, even when the truth is unpopular. And they can crystallize community around them. None of these things are objectively hard to do.
Click over to read the whole thing.
I will also be writing a forthcoming series going into more depth on each of my five points, so even if you are not a Wall Street Journal subscriber, you won’t be missing anything.
A Jubilee Year
I quoted and alluded to Matt Chandler in that op-ed, something I’ve done from time to time because he has been a good example of how evangelicals talk to and about men.
But I’m going to try to avoid using those quotes going forward.
Before I started my newsletter, I spent quite a bit of time researching this topic, including going through in detail the gender and marriage sermons, books, and writings by people like Chandler, Tim Keller, and John Piper.
However, much of this material is now a decade old. Younger guys like Chandler often evolve over time. I know I’ve done so. I don’t know how much that’s true of him specifically, but he did give an excellent Father’s Day message earlier this year.
I don’t want to hold sermons Chandler gave 10+ years ago over his head forever. So like in the Bible, I’m declaring a personal jubilee year, and will be treating those older statements from younger pastors as past the statue of limitations unless I see from newer material that they still hold to their older views.
We all know there’s way too much attacking people today over old social media posts from years ago. Just as we ought to be careful about doing that, we should also similarly give people the opportunity to change on other older content.
There may be cases where I need to refer to some older material from these folks, but I’m going to make an effort not to do so going forward. And if, like with Chandler’s Father’s Day sermon, I see positive examples from the present, I will make an effort to highlight those.
My goal is not to endlessly relitigate the past, but to encourage people to move in a better direction for the future. So I want to make sure my own actions are consistent with that.
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Cover image credit: Anything Goes With James English, CC BY 3.0