Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Man Oh Man

The Ultimate Man's Survival Guide is now available online or at fine retailers near you. Divided into seven sections entitled: survivor, provider, athlete, hero, romantic, cultured man, and philosopher; the book teaches you everything from how to set a dislocated joint to picking out a good bottle of wine.

The author, Frank Miniter, was interviewed over at National Review, and made a very thoughtful comment that I wanted to share. When asked by NRO Editor Kathryn Lopez, "Does a man have to run with bulls in Pamplona to be 'manly'?" he responded as follows. "Of course not, but he does have to find a path to manhood. Cultures used to have rites of passage, physical tests of skill and courage boys had to pass to become men. Today we have ages instead of feats — when you’re 18 years old you can smoke, 21 you can drink — which are earned by living, not doing. This is why we have to search for our own hurdles to prove ourselves and thereby learn what we’re capable of and what we’re not. Learning our physical limitations is critical to becoming men, because when a man is faced with a real crisis — a car accident, someone attacking another, an injury — he has to have the skills and understanding of his strengths and weaknesses in order to keep his bearings and be the hero of the moment."

A lot of ink has been spilled about the slow death of masculinity in American culture, and I think that he hits on an important idea here. In the book Wild at Heart, John Eldredge makes the point that manhood is bestowed. Previous cultures had rites of passage, and even in America, you became a man in the eyes of the larger community by taking on certain responsibilities. Marriage, providing for a family, purchasing property, or serving in the military all combined to take the place of more primitive rituals. As these pieces of adulthood have been slowly dismantled (people marry far later because premarital sex and cohabitation obviate the need for marriage, children can be avoided with birth control, and dependants will be cared for by the state), society has no means left by which to determine manhood other than age.

The attack on manliness is undoubtedly in part an active one, as little boys are told to never fight, sit still, ignore their distinct nature, etc and older men are told that they offer nothing special to society while they see their gender ridiculed in the media. However, a big part of the problem is simple neglect. When men don't have manhood bestowed, they look for it in exaggerated caricatures of what they imagine manliness should be. Hence they seek affirmation through reckless sexual behavior, financial success at the expense of all else, drinking, etc. Society, especially among Christians who affirm a Biblical view of manhood and womanhood, needs to begin looking for ways to channel young men back into healthy paths to true manhood. Maybe learning to fight a bear while discussing the Epicurean ideal of the good life isn't such a bad place to start.