Tuesday, 19 July 2016

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I

There is a baffling return to tired old culture wars on the internet, especially concerning feminism. It appears to come, at least from my perspective, mainly from a sense of confusion among men about what constitutes the good life in the modern world. On the one hand, everything they were been told since pre-school was built on the future being a certain way. But nothing seems to fit those promises anymore, so the confusion is spilling over. 

In saying that, women seem not to understand what's going on either. Men want to agree how this post-feminist world is a good thing for everybody, but there's a niggling feeling they've lost too much without any reciprocity and replacement. This isn't meant to justify the reflex reaction to feminism thought and rhetoric, especially the nasty online responses and debates. Rather, the neat little packages of meaning - the signifiers - society once used to discuss each other's roles (gender or otherwise) have all been broken down and discarded. 

Their replacement is, well, decidedly not sufficient. The meaning of old words and concepts today don't make sense or aren't available to the vocabulary of polite people, limiting and adding new shackles to what should be simple communication. What hurts is that our brains continue to make those disavowed assumptions but our tongues can't follow through. This alchemy creates a dissonance, manifesting as impotent rage. Not that individually we are impotent, instead the rage shows everybody is discovering how none of us have any power over our lives, and that hurts more than anything in a world where we are supposed to be free. 

So upwards boils this reaction to the post-feminist woman's assertion of her power. These new feminists "took the power back" from men but they were misguided because, unlike the younger generation in the movement, they failed to realise what men have always known: women already have the power. Now that women know they have the power, are willing to assert it and know the power's effect on men - men are scared senseless.

Men rightfully worry that when enough women become aware of their overwhelming power, there is little role in developed society for men, maybe even in undeveloped society too. Look at any men's magazine to see images of a world men fear this one will become. Lots of smart, funny, attractive women who keep a guy or two around to help with the plumbing. They are afraid of this new world, because they don't understand it - at least not in its entirety. Men are vaguely aware women want different things, and that women their age are often annoyed by other things, but they don't really know what specifically is annoying them or why. 

II

Men are deeply convinced women are the gatekeepers of sex and are acutely aware of the changing sexual dynamic occurring in society. Ultimately, the male worry is about getting sex. How will they get sex from women who can get for themselves everything women of previous generations needed from men? Even worse, if women are independent free thinkers with an awareness of the power of their sexuality, what hope do the black-shirted, sneaker wearing, pimple faced, Xbox-playing men of the world have? Men worry that they, beckoned with a smile and a coquettish laugh, will be over at some girl's apartment installing her home theatre while she sits delicately talking to her alpha-male, MBA, banker boyfriend.

Enough men know how in a post-feminist world, human society will become like that of the bees. Men will be little more than drones, bumbling and stumbling into each other collecting food, building a home for the babies in the hope of a slight chance to mate a single time with the queen - before dying a cold and confused death. 

In other words, the post-feminist woman has reduced the pre-feminist male to operate on his most instinctive level. Men aren't worried about competition in the workforce or being outperformed economically. Instead, they're thinking, "Women are smart and sexy and they know it," and their next thought is, "OH MY GOD HOW I WILL I EVER HAVE SEX AGAIN?!"

Such women make men feel intellectually and socially inadequate, and in men, inadequacy nearly always manifests itself sexually. For evidence, look no further than gmail's spam folder. Men are flooded with solicitations to make their genitals monstrous and their ejaculations prodigious. If those ads weren't successful, they wouldn't keep sending them. So why the obsession? Because even though a drone can never be king, he can still be reproductively successful. Maybe she'll keep me around because, as the ad says, "IM HUGE!!!!"

III

There's another part to the felt confusion. It extends back to childhood and those intertwining, good-intention messages which simply aren't coherent anymore. Children receive signals too, except they understand things in the concrete, rather than the abstract, so those messages hit deeper and impact thought more directly. I can't be the only one who's noticed the discouragement for boys to be boys. I also won't be the only adult male to say how dangerous this message can be for most boys.

People, particularly women, need to understand something about boys. It's cute to dismiss puberty as "raging hormones." Testosterone takes males from slightly androgynous little boys and increases their muscles and bone size without any exercise. It makes them huge and hairy. The hormone basically rebuilds the plucky li'l tikes specifically to make them heavier, stronger, faster, taller, pain resistant and quicker to heal from injury. In other words, the biological purpose of puberty in males is to enable them to have sex with females by literally beating the cheese out of other competing males. Circle of life, law of nature, red in tooth and claw, etc.

That raging testosterone hormone allowed Alexander the Great to subdue an untameable horse, then to ride that horse across the known world battling, conquering, or fornicating with everything and everyone in his way. The Iliad is about the rage of Achilles whose temper is only slightly cooled by ten years of a brutal war of attrition on the forgotten Aegean coast.

The chemical making boys huge and hairy is taken by professional athletes allowing them achieve feats of physical greatness which remain beyond the reach of their peers, despite decades of constant physical training and conditioning. 

More to the point, people need to understand that testosterone is an anabolic steroid, and that boys experience "'roid rage" just like adults who take testosterone. In fact, they experience it more acutely because the change is so dramatic. Some boys get so angry - inexplicably - that they cry. How many mothers have stories about their son's shouting at them over the slightest perceived offence, throwing things or slamming doors when as they become angry and losing control of their emotions, when only a few years earlier they were perfectly normal?

This isn't madness. This is Sparta.

Exercise probably can't cure it, but it can cool it. The unpredictable effects of puberty on the emotional state of even the most normal of boys makes for a volatile condition, and at the very least one should try to mitigate the effects of the hormones. If nothing else, boys should expend their energy on the field, in the weight room, or on the heavy bag instead of at home. Your mileage, as always, might differ.

People can't fear this. They have to understand that boys naturally become more aggressive, and if that aggression finds no outlet in sex, sports, or physical labour, then the aggression becomes violence. It can't be suppress, the boy can't be told to control himself because he is quite literally under the influence of a massively powerful substance. Boys can however be conditioned to express this aggression in socially acceptable ways. But for the love of Jupiter, don't tell them they shouldn't acting like boys. 

IV

Freud famously asked: “What do women want?” Notice how the doctor didn’t ask what men wanted - perhaps he thought that he’d figured that one out. 

But what men want is a question advertisers, media executives and cultural entrepreneurs have pondered a lot in recent years. They hire psychiatrists who pretend to probe the depths of the human psyche, but are actually hucksters trying to figure out how to trick men into handing over their money. Advertising doesn't ask the tough questions, it tries to figure out what men are like so they can be sold to. 

Despite all this semiotic confusion assaulting the modern man's mind, knowing what men want today is as easy as it ever was: sex, money, power, glory and fame. Each man differs only in how he ranks them, and each man's ranking will change over time. This has been true forever. There is an argument in the post-feminist discussion that men feel threatened by female empowerment and in their anxiety, they cling to outdated roles.

There's an element of truth to this, I suppose, but men's anxiety does not manifest as clinging to outdated roles. What these female thinkers do not understand is that what drives a juvenile 20-something male is the assiduous attempt to avoid becoming their fathers. They grew up watching their fathers be grown-ups, take responsibility and follow a career path. And they saw their fathers regret it.

They saw the dead end terminating most career paths. They saw their fathers, despite raises and promotions, earn just enough money to stay afloat. They saw the frustration in their fathers who knew they were stuck on the same track because they followed their own fathers before them, with each generation regretting not doing something else.

This is why, while most professions are increasingly becoming staffed by women - and more women than men are enrolling in law and medical schools - most high risk ventures are still undertaken by men. More start-ups and small businesses are started by men. More men drop out of college to undertake these ventures. Men by and large understand the traditional career path is a slow death. I think that's why men are happy to let women fight for and take these jobs. Women have succeeded in joining the working world of the 1980s. Now, they "get to have it all."

Well, perhaps they can phone back when they're 65 and realise, just like our fathers did, how they've devoted their lives to memories behind a desk in exchange for earning a few measly dollars. By all means, women can and should have it all. A lot of men today, especially my age, want nothing to do with it. Been there, done that, and we don't want to cry over our fathers' graves because of it.

V


On another side of this post-feminist world of male confusion is the strange subculture of self-hating nerds and their inevitable evolution - the pick-up artists. Seeing either group makes my eyes go Sauronic, but I have discovered an entirely new dimension of loathing. So it's not all bad, I guess.

Nerds have to take responsibility for their own lives. Plenty of them were nerds in high school, and high school for nerds is horrible in every way imaginable, for either gender. But once they make it to university, there are no more exclusionary cliques, no more baggage and no more parents. They are on their own. If two months into college the person is still alienated and ostracised, it's probably their fault, not society's. They lack crucial social skills others have forged, and this deficiency holds them back. This doesn't magically stop after university, by the way, it's something everyone must work at.

For some reason, it became socially acceptable for nerds to retreat into computers and wallow in their alienation, instead of trying to improve themselves. The inability to talk to girls, strangers and adults became a source of pride. Nerds have built a subculture for themselves which is so cripplingly insular, they've actually convinced each other the rest of society is backwards, while they're the smart and enlightened few. And of course, when these males (generally they are men, although women occupy a significant minority in nerdish cultures) hear about how feminism poisons maleness, the ideology becomes a perfect target on which to pin blame for their plight to avoid pinning it on themselves.

Truth be told, it is very easy to talk to women once it is realised they are people with a mind and something interesting to say. Women aren't a collection of sex parts behind a security system needing to be bypassed before they can be accessed. If a man is thirty and can't talk to women, he probably needs to see a psychologist. Acknowledging this is part of the solution, but not the entire solution.

The idea of pick-up artistry appeared because nerdy men couldn't talk to women and hated that other men could. They want an entirely interpersonal interaction extending beyond conversation collapsed down to the level of polite, iterative questions. That is insane.

What awful non-humans these people want to be. Where is the love of romance? Where is the passion? Don't they want to have the chance to be charming, to be charismatic? Don't they want to connect with someone on so deep a level they make themselves vulnerable to them? Don't they want to do the same? Don't they want to look into someone else's eyes and explore the unfathomable mystery found there? 

Or have they convinced themselves that charisma, charm and wit are "tricks" which men ply to dupe women into sex? Understand that for most people - most healthy people - sex isn't the objective, the relationship is the objective. A connection with another person that remains even during physical separation. A connection so deep and profound it makes physical intimacy both frightening and exhilarating, no matter how experienced they are.

VI

Often these wretched people don't get far. Although what's worrying is the sheer number of them especially, again, on the internet. Rather than fix their anxiety the computer is enabling social interactions they are not otherwise able to have.

A habit or pastime rises to the level of a disorder when it interferes with life or inhibits personal growth. If someone is unable to form deep and lasting social attachments in the real world, but does so on the computer, the computer (the internet) will prevent them from ever overcoming whatever problem is inhibiting them in real life. This is the definition of a problem. But many people have taken to computers precisely because they feel the world is too confusing and difficult to navigate given all the reasons outlined above - and more.

Much as an alcoholic might think they are a social drinker because they only drink in bars or parties, a test for these people could be asking them if they'd go to a bar or a party without any alcohol.

There is a lot of denial among nerds for whom the physical isolation coupled with the illusion of social connectedness offered by the internet has made them feel empowered and/or socially capable when they otherwise were not. This denial is manifestly real and a powerful and destructive thing. In many people, the denial has decelerated what was otherwise slow or delayed social development, bringing it to a complete halt. Users who find themselves able to make connections online but not in real life should ask what it is about real life that makes it difficult, and what it is about being online that makes it easy. 

In addition, they need to recognise how spending hours on the computer is actually harmful to one's real life experience. If there are people in their lives, such as a spouse or children, time on the computer is time not being spent with them, and that amounts to denying someone else the time and attention to which they are entitled.

It's not clear whether internet addiction is a disorder on par with others in the DSM, but for many people it is a problem, and most of those people are still stuck in the denial phase.

I refuse to believe the world is more confusing. More complex, maybe, and there's certainly more ways to spend time towards ever-expanding distractions. The way I see it though, men need to realise that in the end women want the same thing as men - pleasant company and a decent meal every once in a while. The only thing culture wars do is subtract us from this truth.

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