Donald Trump may get the nuclear suitcase, a cranky “park bench” socialist took Hillary Clinton to the wire, many countries are becoming less free, and the neo-Nazi party came very close to assuming power in Austria. I could list more such events.
Haven’t you, like I, wondered what is up? What the hell is going on?
I don’t know, but let me tell you my (highly uncertain) default hypothesis. I don’t see decisive evidence for it, but it is a kind of “first blast” attempt to fit the basic facts while remaining within the realm of reason.
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.
To borrow a phrasing from Peter Thiel, perhaps men did better in the age of “technological progress without globalization” rather than “globalization without technological progress,” as has been the case as of late.
Here’s a line from Martin Wolf:
Princeton professors Anne Case and Angus Deaton note, in addition, a sharp relative deterioration in mortality and morbidity among middle-aged white American men, due to suicide, and drug and alcohol abuse.
(Addendum: note this correction.)
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.