Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Men in the Post-Industrial World

Tyler Cowen wonders what connects the rise of  Trump, the Berniebros, and the near victory of a far-right president in Austria, and comes up with this:
The contemporary world is not very well built for a large chunk of males. The nature of current service jobs, coddled class time and homework-intensive schooling, a feminized culture allergic to most forms of violence, post-feminist gender relations, and egalitarian semi-cosmopolitanism just don’t sit well with many…what shall I call them? Brutes?

Quite simply, there are many people who don’t like it when the world becomes nicer. They do less well with nice. And they respond by in turn behaving less nicely, if only in their voting behavior and perhaps their internet harassment as well.

Female median wages have been rising pretty consistently, but the male median wage, at least as measured, was higher back in 1969 than it is today (admittedly the deflator probably is off, but even that such a measure is possible speaks volumes). A lot of men did better psychologically and maybe also economically in a world where America had a greater number of tough manufacturing jobs. They thrived under brutish conditions, including a military draft to crack some of their heads into line.
Cowen notes the oft-cited evidence for declining life expectancy among middle-aged white American men, and adds, "For American men ages 18-34, more of them live with their parents than with romantic partners."

Trump’s support is overwhelming male, his modes are extremely male, no one talks about the “Bernie sisters,” and male voters also supported the Austrian neo-Nazi party by a clear majority. Aren’t (some) men the basic problem here? And if you think, as I do, that the incidence of rape is fairly high, perhaps this shouldn’t surprise you.

The sad news is that making the world nicer yet won’t necessarily solve this problem. It might even make it worse.

Again, we don’t know this is true. But it does help explain that men seem to be leading this “populist” charge, and that these bizarre reactions are occurring across a number of countries, not just one or two. It also avoids the weaknesses of purely economic explanations, because right now the labor market in America just isn’t that terrible. Nor did the bad economic times of the late 1970s occasion a similar counter-reaction.

One response would be to double down on feminizing the men, as arguably some of the Nordic countries have done. But America may be too big and diverse for that really to stick. Another option would be to bring back some of the older, more masculine world in a relatively harmless manner, the proverbial sop to Cerberus. But how to do that? That world went away for some good reasons.

If this is indeed the problem, our culture is remarkably ill-suited to talking about it. It is hard for us to admit that “all good things” can be bad for anyone, including brutes. It is hard to talk about what we might have to do to accommodate brutes, and that more niceness isn’t always a cure. And it is hard to admit that history might not be so progressive after all.

What percentage of men are brutes anyway? Let’s hope we don’t find out.
A few thoughts: first, the supporters of politicians like Trump and Austria's Norbert Hofer are majority male, but they still get plenty of female votes: Hofer won 60% of men but nearly 40% of women, and 40% is a lot. So the politics of anti-establishment anger are not just a male thing.

It is true, I think, that a shift from an economy based on industry, agriculture, mining and logging to one based on services hurts men more than women, but it does hurt plenty of women, like the ones who used to sew clothes in factories across the US.

And, of course, those numbers about declining life expectancy among middle-aged white Americans apply to women as well as men.

But all that being said I think it is true that western culture is getting more feminized, and the western economy is moving away from the sort of hard, manly work that defined masculinity for millennia, and plenty of men are dealing very badly with this.


David said...

Two comments come quickly to my mind. First, what the writer says may be both important and only true of a small (say, 10%) of the population or even only of males. Social movements are usually driven by small, irrationally-energized minorities. And one can hypothesize that, even if only 10% or even 5% of men should be classified as "brutes" in Tyler's scheme, if many of those men are moving in the same direction, that will be visible and important, especially if (as one may well imagine) they in turn draw another, perhaps larger percentage who identify with brutes or (for example) like the feeling of protectedness that brutes can convey to non-brutes they like.

Second, perhaps it is a blind alley to think of this in terms of biological gender. Feminine and masculine are here only labels for congeries of traits that both women and men can possess and display. There may be many (again, let's say 10%) biological women who have some of the most important of these brutish traits--respect and nostalgia for low-skilled physical labor, ambivalence about intellectual authority, paranoia about outsiders, hypervigilance about respect for rules, respect for and a tendency to feel anger. One of the things that has struck me in all these movements is the key role in them of anger as such: feelings of it, displays of it, resentment toward authority that discourages it. And even if one allows the possibility that biological males are more prone to anger than biological females, there are still plenty of women who feel lots of anger out there (and, one may, most of them are probably not just angry about injustice or something politically correct like that).

pithom said...

Here's my (deleted) comment at the Marginal Revolution:

This is clearly not Tyrone, just Tyler being his old clueless self.

Let me tell Tyler what happened.

*NATO caused the migrant crisis.

*SJWs took over the New York Times and the rest of the media.

*Obama egged on the rioters in Ferguson

*The E.U. began to suck.

Trump isn’t really bringing up the issues of 2015 America. He’s bringing up the issues of 1992 America. At that time, outsourcing and illegal immigration really was a huge deal, and were, unlike today, happening rapidly. But America’s present situation is pretty sucky, as it was in 1992, and the effects of immigration and outsourcing (weak or no manufacturing employment recoveries) have become more widely seen, so the issues resonate.

The park bench socialist never had a chance, and is just your typical Principled Elderly Gentleman -like a Ron Paul of the Left. Unlike Trump, his support isn’t correlated with unemployment or low income.

And there are actually plenty of Bernie sisters.

“It also avoids the weaknesses of purely economic explanations, because right now the labor market in America just isn’t that terrible.”

-Look at the percentage of unemployed over 27 weeks. It’s not extremely bad, but definitely a cause for concern.

This is not an age of disruption, as the 2003-2007 era was. It’s an age of stagnation. Global interconnectedness works in an alliance against a common foe or in an age of common prosperity. The present situation has neither.

“Nor did the bad economic times of the late 1970s occasion a similar counter-reaction.”

-And Reagan and Thatcher were what? Non-entities? “Let’s Make America Great Again”? Hello, Tyler, anyone there?
Wages aren’t stagnant; they’re soaring. It’s weak compensation, weak productivity, and high-ish long-term unemployment among the unemployed.

Immigration is important.

People, stop missing the point.

G. Verloren said...

Back when women were fighting for the vote, it was argued that they were being absurd because women weren't naturally suited to anything other than making babies and tending the homestead, and that they were mentally unfit for the rigors of education or decision making, and consequently shouldn't be allowed to vote.

Suffragettes at the time responded with scathing sarcasm about how men shouldn't be allowed to vote, because they weren't naturally suited to anything other than being soldiers and fighters, and that even the merest hint of politics inflamed their passions and led to senseless fighting and chaos as evidenced by brawls between supporters of opposing sides at events as trivial as baseball games.

If America's men are too often brutish, it is because we do too little to prevent them becoming so through our means of nurture, and likewise do too little to accomodate those whose nature is so extreme as to overwhelm all other courses of development.

We don't properly instill in our children a sense of good behavior. We particularly make excuses for young boys who show problematic tendencies growing up - "after all, boys will be boys" we tell ourselves, hoping to ignore the problem with a vague hope it will go away on its own. "He'll grow out of it", many parents think for the sake of comfort, and the sake of not having to make the effort needed to fix the problem.

And to be fair to many parents, life is hard enough as it is - far too many are overworked, underpaid, and perpetually stressed out and busy. The last thing most of them want to do is sit down with Junior and have a difficult talk about nebulous, hard to grasp things like feelings, and societal biases, and evolutionary biases, and the sorts of things a growing boy needs to do to learn how to be a nice person and not a miserable brute.

Or even if they do, they don't have the time for it, or the emotional stability to handle it, or the education and presence of mind to even be able to analyze the psychological situation in play with their son and forumalate a solution which they can adequately express. And of course they're loath to seek help from a psychiatrist or psychologist - in our culture that's often seen as shameful, or even outright dismissed as total bunk, the work of charlatans and crooks. And even when parents -are- willing to seek such help, they often can't afford it, or make the time for it, or even know where to start in going about finding a doctor who they can trust and feel comfortable seeing.

So what happens? Nothing. The parents are too busy or troubled. The schools don't care and don't have the resources even if they did. And years go by with young boys routinely getting into trouble and being punished, but never being given the help they need to stop being brutes.

Then they graduate, and the problems are still there below the surface. Some go to college, but just as before, the schools don't care about the mental health of their students unless it causes a problem - the brute either is tolerated, or punished for rocking the boat. Same thing when they get a job - either their employer turns a blind eye to their brutishness, or fires them for it. The military works the same way, just in reverse - they reward brutishness, because it can be weaponized, and the insufficiently brutish fail and wash out of the system.

At every step, our society fails young boys with brutish tendencies. There's only ever punishment or allowance - never any true help which might lead them to overcome their tendencies and become nicer people. And thus the problem persists, and will always persist, until we get fed up enough to do something about it at the root of the issue, and not just react to the symptoms.

David said...

G., re "true help which might lead them to overcome their tendencies and become nicer people." Part of the message of current Trump-style discontent is a direct rejection of this very idea: that they are people who need "help" from authority (which, to them, includes therapists and other nurturing types) and that, for everyone's benefit, they should "overcome their tendencies"--and basically, learn to be other than who they are. It seems to me many of these folks know their own minds and love what they know, and their answer to another person who says, "No, let me help you and you can overcome your tendencies" will be hostile, understandably so. I wouldn't disagree with them that the imposition of help to overcome tendencies, unless a person asks for it on their own, is essentially a nice way of demanding compliance.

G. Verloren said...

Well of course they might resist with hostility. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't still try to change their minds, and should just leave them to continue acting like brutes and being destructive and hurtful.

When Gandhi fought for the independence of his people, he was met with hostility, but he didn't abandon his cause, and didn't respond to their hostility with his own. When Martin Luther King fought for the rights of African Americas, he was met with hostility, but he too held firm in his beliefs, and refused to stoop to their level. When the suffragettes fought for universal voting rights, they were met with hostility, but they went about promoting their cause with dignity, rationality, patience, and determination.

None of these people were afraid to "demand compliance" - just the opposite, in fact. And other people were moved by their bravery and their dedication - even many "brutes" were won over by their "feminine" displays of non-violence, forgiveness, and respectful discourse.

We need a similar effort against brutishness. We need to refuse to sit idly by and allow our young men to grow up angry, violent, hateful, and destructive. We need to "demand compliance" by making it absolutely clear that we will no longer tolerate and enable their toxic, unjust, amoral behaviors. People will of course respond with hostility, but we must stand firm in our convictions of what is right, and we must refuse to further tolerate the abuses of "masculine" behaviors such as these. Being biologically male does not force anyone to be a wretched, vile person, nor does it excuse it.

We need to promote "feminine" behaviors of not being awful, miserable people. We need to convince parents to not simply overlook their sons behaving badly, but instead inspire them to foster nicer, kinder, less brutish children. We need to convince private businesses and organizations to provide productive outlets and avenues for young men, and to expose them to ways of thinking about their identities and behaviors that they may not receive at home. We need to convince our lawmakers to pass legislation and set up government programs which work to counteract the brutishness in our culture through all reasonable means.

Because the alternative is to let people continue to be brutes, and to let them continue to hurt other people, and for the problem to never go away.

David said...

I'm bemused by your analogy between Gandhi taking on the British Empire, and your essentially coercive, top-down project of social control.

Here's one of my contradictions: I detest bullies and anti-anti-bullying rationalizations, but I'm also repulsed by plans for mass personality transformation and compliance imposition. Oh well.

Shadow Flutter said...

Reminiscent of those who insist gays should seek psychiatric counsel to change their sexual orientation.

szopen said...

Not just man. The female happiness in US, AFAIK, also nosedived during last few decades.