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Weekly Digest: American Men Are Lost
Welcome to my weekly digest for July 14, 2023, with the best articles from around the web and a roundup of my recent writings and appearances.
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American Men Are Lost
Christine Emba wrote a long essay on the challenges facing today’s men in the Washington Post. It went viral and generated a ton of discussion. Although I’m not in the piece, I talked to her for about 90 minutes about it last fall when she was researching it. And she hits some of the themes I raised that will be familiar to you.
Suddenly, the 20-something guy in front of me swung around. “Jordan Peterson,” he told me without a hint of irony in his voice, “taught me how to live.” If there’s a vacuum in modeling manhood today, Peterson has been one of the boldest in stepping up to fill it. He has gained fame, notoriety and millions of book sales in the process. And he’s only one of many right-aligned masculinity gurus — of better and worse quality — who have amassed huge audiences over the past decade.
What’s notable, first, is their empathy. For all Peterson’s barking and, lately, unhinged tweeting, he’s clearly on young men’s side. He validates his followers’ struggles and confusion. He also tells them why they’re still needed and why they matter. No, it’s not just you — school is tailored to girls. Yes, it does suck that a house and a family feel so out of reach! You’re right: It is harder to be a man today.
This is especially compelling in a moment when many young men feel their difficulties are often dismissed out of hand as whining from a patriarchy that they don’t feel part of. For young men in particular, the assumption of a world built to serve their sex doesn’t align with their lived experience, where girls out-achieve them from pre-K to post-graduate studies and “men are trash” is an acceptable joke.
Then there’s the point-by-point advice. If young men are looking for direction, these influencers give them a clear script to follow — hours of video, thousands of book pages, a torrent of social media posts — in a moment when uncertainty abounds. The rules aren’t particularly unique: get fit, pick up a skill, talk to women instead of watching porn all day. But if instruction is lacking elsewhere, even basic tips (“Clean your room!” Peterson famously advises) feel like a revelation. Plus, the community that comes with joining a fandom can feel like a buffer against an increasingly atomized world.
As one therapist told me: “I have used Jordan Peterson to turn a boy into a man. I used him to turn this guy without a strong father figure into someone who, yes, makes his bed and stands up straight and now is successful.” The books, she said, “do provide a structure that was clearly missing.”
It’s also important that the approach of these male models is both particular and aspirational.
Click over to read the whole thing.
Best of the Web
Samuel James: The Church in a Time of Gender War
I admit that my views on this have changed, but six years ago, I didn’t see any problem with the way that many evangelical books and pastors talked about singleness and single Christians. I agreed with these resources that the number one issue for the church and singles should be to normalize being unmarried, to work to remove any pressure or expectation that people should try to wed, and to hold up single people in the church as exemplars of faithful Christian ministry. I don’t think this anymore. I’m not saying I’ve decided that single people cannot be faithful Christians or even elders in the church. I’m not saying that we should ridicule singles or instinctively distrust them. What I am saying is that I now believe most evangelical churches should look at their single members with both eyes open: an appreciation for the wonderful potential of their season of life, but also a desire and strategy, as the Lord permits, to find ways to get these people Christian spouses. In other words, I don’t think we should fear admitting that marriage is, in the majority of situations we will come across, preferable to singleness.
Palladium: The Triumph of the Good Samaritan
The activist defenders of the tent cities had seized on a moral language deeply ingrained in Western societies. The notion of duty to neighbors, especially those who are poor and vulnerable, is a particularly strong inheritance from Christianity. But they were using concepts they did not care to understand. For the activists, the homeless weren’t neighbors in any reciprocal sense, just a battering ram to use in their own conflicts with society. By rhetorically re-premising neighborly duties as a one-way relationship of tribute and deference paid to the wretched by society, they rendered the very moral concepts they invoked useless. They demanded neighborly duties from strangers but provided no possibility of those involved ever becoming anything like real neighbors to each other.
It was not until the experience of the little Byzantine church that I fully understood the difference. Both used a language of neighborly love and leaps of faith on others. But one operated on the basis of a compelling form of life. Their radical charity extended an open hand toward others with the intention of integrating them into their own functional pattern of life. They did not see charity as an open-ended license to parasitic behavior.
Michael Lind: Break Up America’s Elite
There is a better way: a system of plural elites, each with its own admissions standards and internal promotion mechanisms. Examples of vocations that are structured along these lines are the US military and the clergy of the more organized among the organized religions. In the case of the military, not only is working your way up through the ranks one way to become a general or an admiral, it is the only way. Likewise, the papacy isn’t an entry-level job open to people who spent most of their lives outside of the Catholic priesthood….Today, sadly, America is becoming a society with lessening vertical mobility and increasing lateral mobility at the top. We can be thankful, however, that at least some barriers to lateral occupational mobility among elite university grads remain: America will be spared an Adm. Obama or a Donald Cardinal Trump.
The Hill: A record share of Americans is living alone - Almost 30% of Americans are living alone #lonelyplanet
NYT: E.R. Visits for Teenage Girls Surged During the Pandemic - ER visits for mental health by teenage girls were up 22% during the pandemic.
NYT: Once hailed for decriminalizing drugs, Portugal is now having doubts - Portugal became a global model when it decided to decriminalize drug use. But this led to a transformation of the relationship of drug use and society. No surprise, people there have discovered that they don’t like living in a neighborhood full of druggies.
NBER: White Flight from Asian Immigration: Evidence from California Public Schools - This economics paper finds that for every one Asian student that moves in to a school district, 1.5 white students move out.
NYT: New York rail tunnel gets $6.9 billion from the feds - This is a good example of how Democrats smartly fund their constituencies and interest groups. Chuck Schumer takes care of his city. Republicans by and large don’t do this, which is pretty dumb.
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New Content and Media Mentions
This week in the podcast I had a great conversation with Paul VanderKlay about the future of the Christian Reformed Church. This denomination had been trending liberal but has reversed course and tilted in a more conservative direction. VanderKlay explains what’s going on.
Paid subscribers can read the transcript.
Also new this week:
You Have to Be Willing to Make the Direct, Audacious Ask - A practical tip on how to get more out of life: you need to ask for it.
Localist Living in a Shrinking Age - Population decline, once limited to Rust Belt cities, is about to get much more pervasive. This has profound implications for our society - and for how churches operate.