Lets assume for a moment that Philip Zimbardo is accurate in the conclusions that he draws both from these statistics and as these statistics relate to his own research. I guess you could argue that boys have always been like this and so have men. Because I think that people tend not to change a whole lot I could go along with that … partially. But lets table that for the time being and respond simply to what Zimbardo is saying.
He opens up this discussion by citing it as fact that men are flaming out academically, wiping out socially with girls, and wiping out sexually with women. (Women, do you agree?) Throw in a fear of intimacy and a high level of social awkwardness and Zimbardo has made his opening case for the demise of guys. Even though it’s got to be more complicated, he sums it up by saying that men now prefer an asynchronistic Internet world to the spontaneous interaction of social relationship—I’m not totally sure that this is limited to men. This leaves men vulnerable to something he calls “arousal addiction”. That is, the constant need for something different. (Got to admit, that’s pretty interesting.)
So here’s what Agonistes thinks. Psychology, analysis, and the like can get us only so far, as valid as it is. We can sponsor research and draw conclusions that can address many of the issues raised in Philip’s introduction and be successful to a greater or lesser extent. What needs to happen, simply put, is that we need to expect more from men. Extended adolescence is the plague of postmodern masculinity. And, yeah, today’s world is definitely hard. For sure it’s a difficult place to navigate. But these circumstances should call out the masculinity, not suppress it.
The Tribes or Groups so common today (call the Friends Effect), the opportunity keep relationships at a distance, and the asynchronistic Internet world that Philp Zimbardo mentions have all, one way or another, provided men a place to hide-out. But so does the rescue. Entitlement programs, bail-outs, and political promises don’t exactly ask men to exercise the muscles of greatness. Instead what it asks men to do is … just wait. Hang out. That’s what the beer commercials suggest. And how many times have you heard a man’s mandatory”cave time” referenced. (Is that really what we need?) In other words, we need to our own “man on the white horse.” So essentially what you’ve got is not so much the demise of guys, but a generation of men that is yet to be “activated.”
So I’m reading a book called King Warrior Magician Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Maculine. It’s a different kind of read and—admittedly—over my head most of the time. It’s somewhat liberal (it is psychology, after all) but interesting in an on-again-off-again kind of way. The most interesting point the author has made—at least to me—is making a distinction between Boy Psychology and Man Psychology. There are healthy expressions of each, of course, but what left the most significant impression was the fact that without an initiation of some kind—some event, rite of passage, or ceremony—Boy Psychology remains for the most part in play and goes unchecked. The authors hypothesize that Western culture is by and large void of these initiations. Events like going off to college, military basic training, and athletics have saved us from absolute ruin I guess. Without a rite of passage of some kind, though, the mature masculine is never realized as Boy Psychology remains a man’s primary driver, ranging somewhere between the extremes of “high chair tyrant” and “weakling”.
This all says to me, unless the man is called out, the mature masculine will never step into the role our culture needs from him. Hard economic times have the ability to call out the mature masculine if we allow it to. Staring down adversity and dealing with the challenges at hand can conjure the man from the boy. Confronting life with all its nuances and unpredictability instead of retreating to the cave—that can call out the mature masculine as well. And yes standing face to face with someone of the opposite sex, as Zimbardo puts it, that gives off “ambiguous, contradictory signals” summons the man as well. But the industry—sports, TV, gaming, media to name a few—as Zimbardo says, has become very adroit and keeping men on the proverbial couch … and the mature masculine dormant. Our failure, however, lies in not calling the mature masculine into play and allowing (even encouraging) the boy into a life expectancy beyond what is healthy and normal. Maybe we don’t have so much a “demise of guys.” But maybe what we’ve got is actually a demise in expectation. And maybe men haven’t changed over the years, as we are tempted to conclude, rather the cultural environment has changed dramatically.
I was asked about possible solutions by a reader not too long ago. I think when it comes to reversing the demise of guys the solution can be relatively simple: guard the ground that’s been won and take back the ground that’s been lost. Consider this in light of the issues raised by Zimbardo.