Brenda M. Hafera

Our Lost Boys

Written by Brenda M. Hafera |
Monday, April 24, 2023
Mimicry is perhaps the best answer we have as human beings. Explaining dutiful love theoretically is not as palpable as seeing the hands of a father made rough and strong through sacrifice. Boys learn much from the example of a good man….Virtuous femininity, masculinity, and marriages based on friendship draw us in with the attractiveness of goodness. Rather than pontificating in ivory towers about men and women, we are better served by going out into the world, finding good men, women, and marriages and imitating them.

Our Lost Boys
Multiple books have been released in recent years and the past few decades—The War Against Boys, The Boy Crisis, Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis, and Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do About It—that demonstrate with staggering evidence and statistics that our boys are suffering and lost. But we have not yet fully determined how to respond to these troubles, and reasonable voices on the topic can be hard to find.
Despite the presence of polarizing reactions, we cannot overlook the fact that our boys are floundering and bereft of purpose. Young men commit suicide at six times the rate of young women, and as the knowledge economy grows, and boys fall behind academically, even their IQs are dropping. The absence of fathers, technological and economic shifts, and an education system that does not nurture boys, are all contributing factors begging for commensurate solutions. If men and women can work in unique ways—ways that acknowledge our interdependence—to urge our boys to be conscientious and strong, this may help ameliorate the crisis.
Polarizing Reactions
Good-willed individuals agree that our boys are faltering, but we can become reactionary in our discussions and solutions.
Identity politics leftists tend to portray all masculinity as toxic. They do not have a vision of what healthy masculinity looks like, and are likely incapable of providing one, given that they deny there are differences between men and women and reject a conception of virtue grounded in an unchangeable human nature.
On the other hand, male advocacy often devolves into the discordant. Conservatives can sometimes fall into the trap of delivering sweeping generalizations about rigid gender roles that make constructive conversation impossible. Some writers even stoop to bombastic so-called “solutions” like an author in Crisis magazine who wrote: “We should do one really sound and sensible thing: take away women’s right to vote.”
Such folks insinuate that feminism is the cause of all ills, for men and for the family. They suggest that we should promote a strict division of roles as we had in the 1950s, with women leading private lives in the home and men pursuing careers and public life. This is a blunt description that doesn’t match the complicated realities and mysteries of the partnership between men and women. Nor is it what most women desire, as 60 percent of mothers with underage kids prefer part-time work. These arguments tend to alienate women and enflame young men, which does nothing for a crisis that will require the partnership of men and women to abate.
What is the boy crisis? Contributing factors include the absence of fathers, economic and technological churnings, and policies within our education system.
According to The Boy Crisis, written by political scientist Warren Farrell and counselor John Gray, the primary driver of the boy crisis is the absence of strong fathers and male role models in the community (single-sex spaces can help offset the missing example of a parent). Almost every school shooter is a dad-deprived boy, and such boys “are more likely to be addicted to drugs, video games, opioids, and online porn, more likely to be depressed, withdrawn and to commit suicide, they are even more likely to have their life expectancy shortened.”
In Men Without Work, American Enterprise Institute political economist Nicholas Eberstadt details how men of prime working age are willingly unemployed and spending a great deal of time looking at screens. (The elephant in the room is the rampant addiction to online pornography exacerbated by the invention of YouTube and the smartphone, which will require not only policy conversations but religious renewal to subside.)
In The War Against Boys, Christina Hoff Sommers, a senior fellow emeritus at the American Enterprise Institute, raised the alarm over 20 years ago about our education system. She wrote, “Boys today bear the burden of several powerful cultural trends: a therapeutic approach to education that valorizes feelings and denigrates competition and risk, zero-tolerance policies that punish normal antics of young males, and a gender equity movement that views masculinity as predatory.” Identity politics has ascended even more since that time, and men (particularly white, heterosexual ones) are the prime scapegoat. Young men have reason to feel deflated and cheated.
They also have reason to be pessimistic about their futures. As indicated in The Boy Crisis, the median annual earnings of men with high school diplomas have dropped 26 percent in the past 40 years, while men today are simultaneously earning just 38 percent of university diplomas. Alimony laws can be disproportionately punishing, and many custody laws favor moms.
Constructive Responses
We have yet to work through comprehensive responses to these issues, especially as some of them, such as the growth of the knowledge economy, are not the result of deliberate discrimination or maliciousness.
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Mapping a Woke Wonderland

Written by Brenda M. Hafera |
Monday, September 26, 2022
The book does not aim to explain identity politics writ large or the evolution of feminism. Rather, Trueman’s niche is to explain expressive individualism, an important concept that touches both. This narrower focus fulfills the purpose of the book. As noted in the introduction, it is a concise book geared toward non-academics who are seeking to understand this strange new world that has seemingly come into being very rapidly. 

While divided on certain issues, conservatives are generally united in the belief that French and German intellectuals are to blame for our current mess. Customary offenders include Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche. In this aspect, Carl R. Trueman’s Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution offers a familiar analysis.
Still, his arguments are profound, and the slender book is a valuable guide for understanding our tumble into this modern world, this woke wonderland. Trueman is an Englishman, a professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College, and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His latest book seeks to explain the Sexual Revolution and the assault on the human person. In doing so, he does not limit himself to feminist thinkers, providing the standard account of the development of the first, second, and third (or subsequent) waves of feminism. Nor does he delve into the Lockean debate that is so common among conservatives. His focus instead is on the ascendancy of secular “expressive individualism.” His is a unique, nuanced, and convincing contribution to the dialogue on the Sexual Revolution.
Prophets of Expressive Individualism
Trueman sketches an accurate portrait of our post-Sexual Revolution world and explains how the ideas of select intellectuals, strengthened by technological and historical developments, now almost instinctively inform our moral imagination (what he calls “social imaginary”). The examples pervade not only our politics, but also education, poetry, and literature.
The first portion of the book is an intellectual history of the progression of “expressive individualism,” which details how that notion was politicized and sexualized, using helpful examples to illustrate. The main culprits fall into three groups: René Descartes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and the Romantics; G. W. F. Hegel, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche; and Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Reich (with some Herbert Marcuse and Simon de Beauvoir sprinkled in later for good measure).
According to Trueman, the modern idea of the self is defined by expressive individualism. Descartes, Rousseau, and the Romantics are responsible for giving pre-eminence to feeling and the inner psychological life of the individual. By their account, our true self is characterized by our spontaneous emotions. Believing that human beings are born good and later corrupted by society, these thinkers insist that the inner self is inherently moral. Hence, tutoring or controlling one’s desires is an oppressive and backward approach that should not be used to subvert free and authentic expression.
Still, this first wave of thinkers stubbornly held to the belief that our common humanity provides a guiding moral structure. Confronted with nature, the French surrendered. Enter the Germans.
For Hegel, human nature evolves over time and will be fully realized at the end of history. His student, Marx, continued his work but insisted that economic relations have the most “profound impact upon our self-consciousness and our identity.” According to Marx, all human relations are economic relations, and when economics shapes everything, everything becomes political. Marx held that the advantaged secure their position by using religion and its inherent moral claims to subdue the masses. For example, the poor are taught they will be rewarded in heaven so they will accept their lower conditions in the city of man.
Nietzsche too views religion and morality as manipulative ways of maintaining power, because all human relations are fundamentally about power. God is dead, and so humans, free from all constraints, can create themselves in their own image, becoming gods themselves. The strong will do so, finally shattering religion’s residual moral (including sexual) codes, knowing that those codes are mere preferences and that human nature is malleable.
Trueman’s final intellectual stop is with Freud and Wilhelm Reich, a psychoanalyst even Freud considered extreme, who internalized and politicized sex. Freud believed that sex is foundational to human happiness, a happiness centered on seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Reich was a Marxist who contended that sexual morals maintain the bourgeois capitalist structure. So for Reich, children are taught to be deferential to their fathers so that they will later bow to state leaders; the nuclear family is built on and enforces authoritarian principles and so must be dismantled.
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