RULE - 11




There was a time when kids skateboarded on the west side of Sidney Smith Hall, at the University of Toronto, where I work. Sometimes I stood there and watched them. There are rough, wide, shallow concrete steps there, leading up from the street to the front entrance, accompanied by tubular iron handrails, about two and a half inches in diameter and twenty feet long. The crazy kids, almost always boys, would pull back about fifteen yards from the top of the steps. Then they would place a foot on their boards, and skate like mad to get up some speed. Just before they collided with the handrail, they would reach down, grab their board with a single hand and jump onto the top of the rail, boardsliding their way down its length, propelling themselves off and landing—sometimes, gracefully, still atop their boards, sometimes, painfully, off them. Either way, they were soon back at it.

  Some might call that stupid. Maybe it was. But it was brave, too. I thought those kids were amazing. I thought they deserved a pat on the back and some honest admiration. Of course it was dangerous. Danger was the point. They wanted to triumph over danger. They would have been safer in protective equipment, but that would have ruined it. They weren’t trying to be safe. They were trying to become competent—and it’s competence that makes people as safe as they can truly be.

  I wouldn’t dare do what those kids were doing. Not only that, I couldn’t. I certainly couldn’t climb a construction crane, like a certain type of modern daredevil, evident on YouTube (and, of course, people who work on construction cranes). I don’t like heights, although the twenty-five thousand feet to which airliners ascend is so high that it doesn’t bother me. I have flown several times in a carbon fibre stunt plane—even doing a hammerhead roll—and that was OK, although it’s very physically and mentally demanding. (To perform a hammerhead roll, you pilot the plane straight up vertically, until the force of gravity makes it stall. Then it falls backwards, corkscrewing, until eventually it flips and noses straight down, after which you pull out of the dive. Or you don’t do another hammerhead roll.) But I can’t skateboard—especially down handrails—and I can’t climb cranes.

  Sidney Smith Hall faces another street on the east side. Along that street, named St. George—ironically enough—the university installed a series of rough, hard-edged, concrete plant boxes, sloping down to the roadway. The kids used to go out there, too, and boardslide along the box edges, as they did along the concrete surround of a sculpture adjacent to the building. That didn’t last very long. Little steel brackets known as “skatestoppers” soon appeared, every two or three feet, along those edges. When I first saw them, I remembered something that happened in Toronto several years previously. Two weeks before elementary school classes started, throughout the city, all the playground equipment disappeared. The legislation governing such things had changed, and there was a panic about insurability. The playgrounds were hastily removed, even though they were sufficiently safe, grandfathered re their insurability, and often paid for (and quite recently) by parents. This meant no playgrounds at all for more than a year. During this time, I often saw bored but admirable kids charging around on the roof of our local school. It was that or scrounge about in the dirt with the cats and the less adventurous children.

  I say “sufficiently safe” about the demolished playgrounds because when playgrounds are made too safe, kids either stop playing in them or start playing in unintended ways. Kids need playgrounds dangerous enough to remain challenging. People, including children (who are people too, after all) don’t seek to minimize risk. They seek to optimize it. They drive and walk and love and play so that they achieve what they desire, but they push themselves a bit at the same time, too, so they continue to develop. Thus, if things are made too safe, people (including children) start to figure out ways to make them dangerous again.

  When untrammeled—and encouraged—we prefer to live on the edge. There, we can still be both confident in our experience and confronting the chaos that helps us develop. We’re hard-wired, for that reason, to enjoy risk (some of us more than others). We feel invigorated and excited when we work to optimize our future performance, while playing in the present. Otherwise we lumber around, sloth-like, unconscious, unformed and careless. Overprotected, we will fail when something dangerous, unexpected and full of opportunity suddenly makes its appearance, as it inevitably will.

  The skatestoppers are unattractive. The surround of the nearby sculpture would have to have been badly damaged by diligent boardsliders before it would look as mean as it does now, studded with metal like a pit bull’s collar. The large plant boxes have metal guards placed at irregular intervals across their tops, and this, in addition to the wear caused by the skateboarders, produces a dismal impression of poor design, resentment and badly executed afterthoughts. It gives the area, which was supposed to be beautified by the sculpture and vegetation, a generic industrial/prison/mental institution/work-camp look of the kind that appears when builders and public officials do not like or trust the people they serve.

  The sheer harsh ugliness of the solution makes a lie of the reasons for its implementation.

Success and Resentment

If you read the depth psychologists—Freud and Jung, for example, as well as their precursor, Friedrich Nietzsche—you learn that there is a dark side to everything. Freud delved deeply into the latent, implicit content of dreams, which were often aimed, in his opinion, at the expression of some improper wish. Jung believed that every act of social propriety was accompanied by its evil twin, its unconscious shadow. Nietzsche investigated the role played by what he termed ressentiment in motivating what were ostensibly selfless actions—and, often, exhibited all too publicly. 

For that man be delivered from revenge—that is for me the bridge to the highest hope, and a rainbow after long storms. The tarantulas, of course, would have it otherwise. “What justice means to us is precisely that the world be filled with the storms of our revenge”—thus they speak to each other. “We shall wreak vengeange and abuse on all whose equals we are not”—thus do the tarantula-hearts vow. “And ‘will to equality’ shall henceforth be the name for virtue; and against all that has power we want to raise our clamor!” You preachers of equality, the tyrant-mania of impotence clamors thus out of you for equality: your most secret ambitions to be tyrants thus shroud themselves in words of virtue.

The incomparable English essayist George Orwell knew this sort of thing well. In 1937, he wrote The Road to Wigan Pier, which was in part a scathing attack on upper-class British socialists (this, despite being inclined towards socialism himself). In the first half of this book, Orwell portrays the appalling conditions faced by UK miners in the 1930s:

Several dentists have told me that in industrial districts a person over thirty with any of his or her own teeth is coming to be an abnormality. In Wigan various people gave me their opinion that it is best to get shut of your teeth as early in life as possible. ‘Teeth is just a misery,’ one woman said to me .

A Wigan Pier coal miner had to walk—crawl would be a better word, given the height of the mine shafts—up to three miles, underground, in the dark, banging his head and scraping his back, just to get to his seven-and-a-half-hour shift of backbreaking work. After that, he crawled back. “It is comparable, perhaps, to climbing a smallish mountain before and after your day’s work,” stated Orwell. None of the time spent crawling was paid.

  Orwell wrote The Road to Wigan Pier for the Left Book Club, a socialist publishing group that released a select volume every month. After reading the first half of his book, which deals directly with the miners’ personal circumstances, it is impossible not to feel sympathy for the working poor. Only a monster could keep his heart hardened through the accounts of the lives Orwell describes:

It is not long since conditions in the mines were worse than they are now. There are still living a few very old women who in their youth have worked underground, crawling on all fours and dragging tubs of coal. They used to go on doing this even when they were pregnant.

In book’s second half, however, Orwell turned his gaze to a different problem: the comparative unpopularity of socialism in the UK at the time, despite the clear and painful inequity observable everywhere. He concluded that the tweed-wearing, armchair-philosophizing, victim-identifying, pity-and-contempt-dispensing social-reformer types frequently did not like the poor, as they claimed.Instead, they just hated the rich. They disguised their resentment and jealousy with piety, sanctimony and self-righteousness. Things in the unconscious—or on the social justice–dispensing leftist front—haven’t changed much, today. It is because of of Freud, Jung, Nietzsche—and Orwell—that I always wonder, “What, then, do you stand against?” whenever I hear someone say, too loudly, “I stand for this!” The question seems particularly relevant if the same someone is complaining, criticizing, or trying to change someone else’s behaviour.

  I believe it was Jung who developed the most surgically wicked of psychoanalytic dicta: if you cannot understand why someone did something, look at the consequences—and infer the motivation. This is a psychological scalpel. It’s not always a suitable instrument. It can cut too deeply, or in the wrong places. It is, perhaps, a last-resort option. Nonetheless, there are times when its application proves enlightening.

  If the consequences of placing skatestoppers on plant-boxes and sculpture bases, for example, is unhappy adolescent males and brutalist aesthetic disregard of beauty then, perhaps, that was the aim. When someone claims to be acting from the highest principles, for the good of others, there is no reason to assume that the person’s motives are genuine. People motivated to make things better usually aren’t concerned with changing other people—or, if they are, they take responsibility for making the same changes to themselves (and first). Beneath the production of rules stopping the skateboarders from doing highly skilled, courageous and dangerous things I see the operation of an insidious and profoundly anti-human spirit.


More about Chris

My friend Chris, whom I wrote about earlier, was possessed by such a spirit —to the serious detriment of his mental health. Part of what plagued him was guilt. He attended elementary and junior high school in a number of towns, up in the frigid expanses of the northernmost Alberta prairie, prior to ending up in the Fairview I wrote about earlier. Fights with Native kids were a too-common part of his experience, during those moves. It’s no overstatement to point out that such kids were, on average, rougher than the white kids, or that they were touchier (and they had their reasons). I knew this well from my own experience.

  I had a rocky friendship with a Métis kid, Rene Heck, when I was in elementary school. It was rocky because the situation was complex. There was a large cultural divide between Rene and me. His clothes were dirtier. He was rougher in speech and attitude. I had skipped a grade in school, and was, in addition, small for my age. Rene was a big, smart, good-looking kid, and he was tough. We were in grade six together, in a class taught by my father. Rene was caught chewing gum. “Rene,” said my father, “spit that gum out. You look like a cow.” “Ha, ha,” I laughed, under my breath. “Rene the cow.” Rene might have been a cow, but there was nothing wrong with his hearing. “Peterson,” he said, “after school—you’re dead.”

  Earlier in the morning, Rene and I had arranged to see a movie that night at the local movie theatre, the Gem. It looked like that was off. In any case, the rest of the day passed, quickly and unpleasantly, as it does when threat and pain lurk. Rene was more than capable of giving me a good pounding. After school, I took off for the bike stands outside the school as fast as I could, but Rene beat me there. We circled around the bikes, him on one side, me on the other. We were characters in a “Keystone Cops” short. As long as I kept circling, he couldn’t catch me, but my strategy couldn’t work forever. I yelled out that I was sorry, but he wasn’t mollified. His pride was hurt, and he wanted me to pay.

  I crouched down and hid behind some bikes, keeping an eye on Rene. “Rene,” I yelled, “I’m sorry I called you a cow. Let’s quit fighting.” He started to approach me again. I said, “Rene, I am sorry I said that. Really. And I still want to go to the movie with you.” This wasn’t just a tactic. I meant it. Otherwise what happened next would not have happened. Rene stopped circling. Then he stared at me. Then he broke into tears. Then he ran off. That was Native-white relationships in a nutshell, in our hard little town. We never did go to a movie together.

  When my friend Chris got into it with Native kids, he wouldn’t fight back. He didn’t feel that his self-defence was morally justified, so he took his beatings. “We took their land,” he later wrote. “That was wrong. No wonder they’re angry.” Over time, step by step, Chris withdrew from the world. It was partly his guilt. He developed a deep hatred for masculinity and masculine activity. He saw going to school or working or finding a girlfriend as part of the same process that had led to the colonization of North America, the horrible nuclear stalemate of the cold war, and the despoiling of the planet. He had read some books about Buddhism, and felt that negation of his own Being was ethically required, in the light of the current world situation. He came to believe that the same applied to others.

  When I was an undergraduate, Chris was, for a while, one of my roommates. One late night we went to a local bar. We walked home, afterward. He started to snap the side-view mirrors off parked cars, one after the other. I said, “Quit that, Chris. What possible good is it going to do to make the people who own these cars miserable?” He told me that they were all part of the frenetic human activity that was ruining everything, and that they deserved whatever they got. I said that taking revenge on people who were just living normal lives was not going to help anything.

  Years later, when I was in graduate school in Montreal, Chris showed up, for what was supposed to be a visit. He was aimless, however, and lost. He asked if I could help. He ended up moving in. I was married by then, living with my wife, Tammy, and our year-old daughter, Mikhaila. Chris had also been friends with Tammy back in Fairview (and held out hopes of more than friendship). That complicated the situation even more—but not precisely in the manner you might think. Chris started by hating men, but he ended by hating women. He wanted them, but he had rejected education, and career, and desire. He smoked heavily, and was unemployed. Unsurprisingly, therefore, he was not of much interest to women. That made him bitter. I tried to convince him that the path he had chosen was only going to lead to further ruin. He needed to develop some humility. He needed to get a life.

  One evening, it was Chris’s turn to make dinner. When my wife came home, the apartment was filled with smoke. Hamburgers were burning furiously in the frying pan. Chris was on his hands and knees, attempting to repair something that had come loose on the legs of the stove. My wife knew his tricks. She knew he was burning dinner on purpose. He resented having to make it. He resented the feminine role (even though the household duties were split in a reasonable manner; even though he knew that perfectly well). He was fixing the stove to provide a plausible, even creditable excuse for burning the food. When she pointed out what he was doing, he played the victim, but he was deeply and dangerously furious. Part of him, and not the good part, was convinced that he was smarter than anyone else. It was a blow to his pride that she could see through his tricks. It was an ugly situation.

  Tammy and I took a walk up towards a local park the next day. We needed to get away from the apartment, although it was thirty-five below—bitterly, frigidly cold, humid and foggy. It was windy. It was hostile to life. Living with Chris was too much, Tammy said. We entered the park. The trees forked their bare branches upward through the damp grey air. A black squirrel, tail hairless from mange, gripped a leafless branch, shivered violently, struggling to hold on against the wind. What was it doing out there in the cold? Squirrels are partial hibernators. They only come out in the winter when it’s warm. Then we saw another, and another, and another, and another, and another. There were squirrels all around us in the park, all partially hairless, tails and bodies alike, all windblown on their branches, all shaking and freezing in the deathly cold. No one else was around. It was impossible. It was inexplicable. It was exactly appropriate. We were on the stage of an absurdist play. It was directed by God. Tammy left soon after with our daughter for a few days elsewhere.

  Near Christmas time, that same year, my younger brother and his new wife came out to visit from western Canada. My brother also knew Chris. They all put on their winter clothes in preparation for a walk around downtown Montreal. Chris put on a long dark winter coat. He pulled a black toque, a brimless knitted cap, far down over his head. His coat was black, as were his pants and boots. He was very tall, and thin, and somewhat stooped. “Chris,” I joked. “You look like a serial killer.” Ha bloody ha. The three came back from their walk. Chris was out of sorts. There were strangers in his territory. Another happy couple. It was salt in his wounds.

  We had dinner, pleasantly enough. We talked, and ended the evening. But I couldn’t sleep. Something wasn’t right. It was in the air. At four in the morning, I had had enough. I crawled out of bed. I knocked quietly on Chris’s door and went without waiting for an answer into his room. He was awake on the bed, staring at the ceiling, as I knew he would be. I sat down beside him. I knew him very well. I talked him down from his murderous rage. Then I went back to bed, and slept. The next morning my brother pulled me aside. He wanted to speak with me. We sat down. He said, “What the hell was going on last night? I couldn’t sleep at all. Was something wrong?” I told my brother that Chris wasn’t doing so well. I didn’t tell him that he was lucky to be alive—that we all were. The spirit of Cain had visited our house, but we were left unscathed.

  Maybe I picked up some change in scent that night, when death hung in the air. Chris had a very bitter odour. He showered frequently, but the towels and the sheets picked up the smell. It was impossible to get them clean. It was the product of a psyche and a body that did not operate harmoniously. A social worker I knew, who also knew Chris, told me of her familiarity with that odour. Everyone at her workplace knew of it, although they only discussed it in hushed tones. They called it the smell of the unemployable.

  Soon after this I finished my post-doctoral studies. Tammy and I moved away from Montreal to Boston. We had our second baby. Now and then, Chris and I talked on the phone. He came to visit once. It went well. He had found a job at an auto-parts place. He was trying to make things better. He was OK at that point. But it didn’t last. I didn’t see him in Boston again. Almost ten years later—the night before Chris’s fortieth birthday, as it happened—he called me again. By this time, I had moved my family to Toronto. He had some news. A story he had written was going to be published in a collection put together by a small but legitimate press. He wanted to tell me that. He wrote good short stories. I had read them all. We had discussed them at length. He was a good photographer, too. He had a good, creative eye. The next day, Chris drove his old pickup—the same battered beast from Fairview—into the bush. He ran a hose from the exhaust pipe into the front cab. I can see him there, looking through the cracked windshield, smoking, waiting. They found his body a few weeks later. I called his dad. “My beautiful boy,” he sobbed.

  Recently, I was invited to give a TEDx talk at a nearby university. Another professor talked first. He had been invited to speak because of his work—his genuinely fascinating, technical work—with computationally intelligent surfaces (like computer touchscreens, but capable of being placed everywhere). He spoke instead about the threat human beings posed to the survival of the planet. Like Chris—like far too many people—he had become anti-human, to the core. He had not walked as far down that road as my friend, but the same dread spirit animated them both.

  He stood in front of a screen displaying an endless slow pan of a blocks-long Chinese high-tech factory. Hundreds of white-suited workers stood like sterile, inhuman robots behind their assembly lines, soundlessly inserting piece A into slot B. He told the audience—filled with bright young people—of the decision he and his wife had made to limit their number of children to one. He told them it was something they should all consider, if they wanted to regard themselves as ethical people. I felt that such a decision was properly considered—but only in his particular case (where less than one might have been even better). The many Chinese students in attendance sat stolidly through his moralizing. They thought, perhaps, of their parents’ escape from the horrors of Mao’s Cultural Revolution and its one-child policy. They thought, perhaps, of the vast improvement in living standard and freedom provided by the very same factories. A couple of them said as much in the question period that followed.

  Would have the professor reconsidered his opinions, if he knew where such ideas can lead? I would like to say yes, but I don’t believe it. I think he could have known, but refused to. Worse, perhaps: he knew, but didn’t care—or knew, and was headed there, voluntarily, in any case.

Self-Appointed Judges of the Human Race

It has not been long since the Earth seemed infinitely larger than the people who inhabited it. It was only in the late 1800s that the brilliant biologist Thomas Huxley (1825-95)—staunch defender of Darwin and Aldous Huxley’s grandfather—told the British Parliament that it was literally impossible for mankind to exhaust the oceans. Their power of generation was simply too great, as far as he could determine, compared to even the most assiduous human predations. It’s been an even shorter fifty years since Rachel Carson’sSilent Spring ignited the environmental movement.168 Fifty years! That’s nothing! That’s not even yesterday.

  We’ve only just developed the conceptual tools and technologies that allow us to understand the web of life, however imperfectly. We deserve a bit of sympathy, in consequence, for the hypothetical outrage of our destructive behaviour. Sometimes we don’t know any better. Sometimes we do know better, but haven’t yet formulated any practical alternatives. It’s not as if life is easy for human beings, after all, even now—and it’s only a few decades ago that the majority of human beings were starving, diseased and illiterate. Wealthy as we are (increasingly, everywhere) we still only live decades that can be counted on our fingers. Even at present, it is the rare and fortunate family that does not contain at least one member with a serious illness—and all will face that problem eventually. We do what we can to make the best of things, in our vulnerability and fragility, and the planet is harder on us than we are on it. We could cut ourselves some slack.

  Human beings are, after all, seriously remarkable creatures. We have no peers, and it’s not clear that we have any real limits. Things happen now that appeared humanly impossible even at the same time in the recent past when we began to wake up to our planet-sized responsibilities. A few weeks before writing this I happened across two videos juxtaposed on YouTube. One showed the Olympic gold medal vault from 1956; the other, the Olympic silver medal vault from 2012. It didn’t even look like the same sport—or the same animal. What McKayla Maroney did in 2012 would have been considered superhuman in the fifties. Parkour, a sport derived from French military obstacle course training, is amazing, as is free running. I watch compilations of such performances with unabashed admiration. Some of the kids jump off three-storey buildings without injury. It’s dangerous—and amazing. Crane climbers are so brave it rattles the mind. The same goes for extreme mountain bikers, freestyle snowboarders, surfers of fifty-foot waves, and skateboarders.

  The boys who shot up Columbine High School, whom we discussed earlier, had appointed themselves judges of the human race—like the TEDx professor, although much more extreme; like Chris, my doomed friend. For Eric Harris, the more literate of the two killers, human beings were a failed and corrupt species. Once a presupposition such as that is accepted, its inner logic will inevitably manifest itself. If something is a plague, as David Attenborough has it, or a cancer, as the Club of Rome claimed, the person who eradicates it is a hero—a veritable planetary saviour, in this case. A real messiah might follow through with his rigorous moral logic, and eliminate himself, as well. This is what mass murderers, driven by near-infinite resentment, typically do. Even their own Being does not justify the existence of humanity. In fact, they kill themselves precisely to demonstrate the purity of their commitment to annihilation. No one in the modern world may without objection express the opinion that existence would be bettered by the absence of Jews, blacks, Muslims, or Englishmen. Why, then, is it virtuous to propose that the planet might be better off, if there were fewer people on it? I can’t help but see a skeletal, grinning face, gleeful at the possibility of the apocalypse, hiding not so very far behind such statements. And why does it so often seem to be the very people standing so visibly against prejudice who so often appear to feel obligated to denounce humanity itself?

  I have seen university students, particularly those in the humanities, suffer genuine declines in their mental health from being philosophically berated by such defenders of the planet for their existence as members of the human species. It’s worse, I think, for young men. As privileged beneficiaries of the patriarchy, their accomplishments are considered unearned. As possible adherents of rape culture, they’re sexually suspect. Their ambitions make them plunderers of the planet. They’re not welcome. At the junior high, high school and university level, they’re falling behind educationally. When my son was fourteen, we discussed his grades. He was doing very well, he said, matter-of-factly, for a boy. I inquired further. Everyone knew, he said, that girls do better in school than boys. His intonation indicated surprise at my ignorance of something so self-evident. While writing this, I received the latest edition of The Economist. The cover story? “The Weaker Sex”—meaning males. In modern universities women now make up more than 50 percent of the students in more than two-thirds of all disciplines.

  Boys are suffering, in the modern world. They are more disobedient—negatively—or more independent—positively—than girls, and they suffer for this, throughout their pre-university educational career. They are less agreeable (agreeableness being a personality trait associated with compassion, empathy and avoidance of conflict) and less susceptible to anxiety and depression,  at least after both sexes hit puberty.  Boys’ interests tilt towards things; girls’ interests tilt towards people. Strikingly, these differences, strongly influenced by biological factors, are most pronounced in the Scandinavian societies where gender-equality has been pushed hardest: this is the opposite of what would be expected by those who insist, ever more loudly, that gender is a social construct. It isn’t. This isn’t a debate. The data are in. 

  Boys like competition, and they don’t like to obey, particularly when they are adolescents. During that time, they are driven to escape their families, and establish their own independent existence. There is little difference between doing that and challenging authority. Schools, which were set up in the late 1800s precisely to inculcate obedience,  do not take kindly to provocative and daring behaviour, no matter how tough-minded and competent it might show a boy (or a girl) to be. Other factors play their role in the decline of boys. Girls will, for example, play boys’ games, but boys are much more reluctant to play girls’ games. This is in part because it is admirable for a girl to win when competing with a boy. It is also OK for her to lose to a boy. For a boy to beat a girl, however, it is often not OK—and just as often, it is even less OK for him to lose. Imagine that a boy and a girl, aged nine, get into a fight. Just for engaging, the boy is highly suspect. If he wins, he’s pathetic. If he loses—well, his life might as well be over. Beat up by a girl.

  Girls can win by winning in their own hierarchy—by being good at what girls value, as girls. They can add to this victory by winning in the boys’ hierarchy. Boys, however, can only win by winning in the male hierarchy. They will lose status, among girls and boys, by being good at what girls value. It costs them in reputation among the boys, and in attractiveness among the girls. Girls aren’t attracted to boys who are their friends, even though they might like them, whatever that means. They are attracted to boys who win status contests with other boys. If you’re male, however, you just can’t hammer a female as hard as you would a male. Boys can’t (won’t) play truly competitive games with girls. It isn’t clear how they can win. As the game turns into a girls’ game, therefore, the boys leave. Are the universities—particularly the humanities—about to become a girls’ game? Is this what we want?

  The situation in the universities (and in educational institutions in general) is far more problematic than the basic statistics indicate. If you eliminate the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs (excluding psychology), the female/male ratio is even more skewed. Almost 80 percent of students majoring in the fields of healthcare, public administration, psychology and education, which comprise one-quarter of all degrees, are female. The disparity is still rapidly increasing. At this rate, there will be very few men in most university disciplines in fifteen years. This is not good news for men. It might even be catastrophic news for men. But it’s also not good news for women.

Career and Marriage

The women at female-dominated institutes of higher education are finding it increasingly difficult to arrange a dating relationship of even moderate duration. In consequence, they must settle, if inclined, for a hook-up, or sequential hook-ups. Perhaps this is a move forward, in terms of sexual liberation, but I doubt it. I think it’s terrible for the girls.  A stable, loving relationship is highly desirable, for men as well as women. For women, however, it is often what is most wanted. From 1997 to 2012, according to the Pew Research Centre, the number of women aged 18 to 34 who said that a successful marriage is one of the most important things in life rose from 28 to 37 percent (an increase of more than 30 percent ). The number of young men who said the same thing declined 15 percent over the same period (from 35 to 29 percent ). During that time, the proportion of married people over 18 continued to decline, down from three-quarters in 1960 to half now. Finally, among never-married adults aged 30 to 59, men are three times as likely as women to say they do not ever want to marry (27 vs 8 percent).

  Who decided, anyway, that career is more important than love and family? Is working eighty hours a week at a high-end law firm truly worth the sacrifices required for that kind of success? And if it is worth it, why is it worth it? A minority of people (mostly men, who score low in the trait of agreeableness, again) are hyper-competitive, and want to win at any cost. A minority will find the work intrinsically fascinating. But most aren’t, and most won’t, and money doesn’t seem to improve people’s lives, once they have enough to avoid the bill collectors. Furthermore, most high-performing and high-earning females have high-performing and high-earning partners—and that matters more to women. The Pew data also indicate that a spouse with a desirable job is a high priority for almost 80 percent of never-married but marriage-seeking women (but for less than 50 percent of men).

  When they hit their thirties, most of the top-rate female lawyers bail out of their high-pressure careers. Only 15 percent of equity partners at the two hundred biggest US law firms are women. This figure hasn’t changed much in the last fifteen years, even though female associates and staff attorneys are plentiful. It also isn’t because the law firms don’t want the women to stay around and succeed. There is a chronic shortage of excellent people, regardless of sex, and law firms are desperate to retain them.

  The women who leave want a job—and a life—that allows them some time. After law school and articling and the few first years of work, they develop other interests. This is common knowledge in the big firms (although it is not something that people are comfortable articulating in public, men and women alike). I recently watched a McGill University professor, female, lecture a room full of female law partners or near-partners about how lack of childcare facilities and “male definitions of success” impeded their career progress and caused women to leave. I knew most of the women in the room. We had talked at great length. I knew they knew that none of this was at all the problem. They had nannies, and they could afford them. They had already outsourced all their domestic obligations and necessities. They understood, as well—and perfectly well—that it was the market that defined success, not the men they worked with. If you are earning $650 an hour in Toronto as a top lawyer, and your client in Japan phones you at 4 a.m. on a Sunday, you answer. Now. You answer, now, even if you have just gone back to sleep after feeding the baby. You answer because some hyper-ambitious legal associate in New York would be happy to answer, if you don’t—and that’s why the market defines the work.

  The increasingly short supply of university-educated men poses a problem of increasing severity for women who want to marry, as well as date. First, women have a strong proclivity to marry across or up the economic dominance hierarchy. They prefer a partner of equal or greater status. This holds true cross-culturally. The same does not hold, by the way, for men, who are perfectly willing to marry across or down (as the Pew data indicate), although they show a preference for somewhat younger mates. The recent trend towards the hollowing-out of the middle class has also been increasing as resource-rich women tend more and more to partner with resource-rich men. Because of this, and because of the decline in high-paying manufacturing jobs for men (one of six men of employable age is currently without work in the US), marriage is now something increasingly reserved for the rich. I can’t help finding that amusing, in a blackly ironic manner. The oppressive patriarchal institution of marriage has now become a luxury. Why would the rich tyrannize themselves?

  Why do women want an employed partner and, preferably, one of higher status? In no small part, it’s because women become more vulnerable when they have children. They need someone competent to support mother and child when that becomes necessary. It’s a perfectly rational compensatory act, although it may also have a biological basis. Why would a woman who decides to take responsibility for one or more infants want an adult to look after as well? So, the unemployed working man is an undesirable specimen—and single motherhood an undesirable alternative. Children in father-absent homes are four times as likely to be poor. That means their mothers are poor too. Fatherless children are at much greater risk for drug and alcohol abuse. Children living with married biological parents are less anxious, depressed and delinquent than children living with one or more non-biological parent. Children in single-parent families are also twice as likely to commit suicide.

  The strong turn towards political correctness in universities has exacerbated the problem. The voices shouting against oppression have become louder, it seems, in precise proportion to how equal—even now increasingly skewed against men—the schools have become. There are whole disciplines in universities forthrightly hostile towards men. These are the areas of study, dominated by the postmodern/neo-Marxist claim that Western culture, in particular, is an oppressive structure, created by white men to dominate and exclude women (and other select groups); successful only because of that domination and exclusion. 

The Patriarchy: Help or Hindrance?

Of course, culture is an oppressive structure. It’s always been that way. It’s a fundamental, universal existential reality. The tyrannical king is a symbolic truth; an archetypal constant. What we inherit from the past is willfully blind, and out of date. It’s a ghost, a machine, and a monster. It must be rescued, repaired and kept at bay by the attention and effort of the living. It crushes, as it hammers us into socially acceptable shape, and it wastes great potential. But it offers great gain, too. Every word we speak is a gift from our ancestors. Every thought we think was thought previously by someone smarter. The highly functional infrastructure that surrounds us, particularly in the West, is a gift from our ancestors: the comparatively uncorrupt political and economic systems, the technology, the wealth, the lifespan, the freedom, the luxury, and the opportunity. Culture takes with one hand, but in some fortunate places it gives more with the other. To think about culture only as oppressive is ignorant and ungrateful, as well as dangerous. This is not to say (as I am hoping the content of this book has made abundantly clear, so far) that culture should not be subject to criticism.

  Consider this, as well, in regard to oppression: any hierarchy creates winners and losers. The winners are, of course, more likely to justify the hierarchy and the losers to criticize it. But (1) the collective pursuit of any valued goal produces a hierarchy (as some will be better and some worse at that pursuit not matter what it is) and (2) it is the pursuit of goals that in large part lends life its sustaining meaning. We experience almost all the emotions that make life deep and engaging as a consequence of moving successfully towards something deeply desired and valued. The price we pay for that involvement is the inevitable creation of hierarchies of success, while the inevitable consequence is difference in outcome. Absolute equality would therefore require the sacrifice of value itself—and then there would be nothing worth living for. We might instead note with gratitude that a complex, sophisticated culture allows for many games and many successful players, and that a well-structured culture allows the individuals that compose it to play and to win, in many different fashions.

  It is also perverse to consider culture the creation of men. Culture is symbolically, archetypally, mythically male. That’s partly why the idea of “the patriarchy” is so easily swallowed. But it is certainly the creation of humankind, not the creation of men (let alone white men, who nonetheless contributed their fair share). European culture has only been dominant, to the degree that it is dominant at all, for about four hundred years. On the time scale of cultural evolution—which is to be measured, at minimum, in thousands of years—such a timespan barely registers. Furthermore, even if women contributed nothing substantial to art, literature and the sciences prior to the 1960s and the feminist revolution (which is not something I believe), then the role they played raising children and working on the farms was still instrumental in raising boys and freeing up men—a very few men—so that humanity could propagate itself and strive forward.

  Here’s an alternative theory: throughout history, men and women both struggled terribly for freedom from the overwhelming horrors of privation and necessity. Women were often at a disadvantage during that struggle, as they had all the vulnerabilities of men, with the extra reproductive burden, and less physical strength. In addition to the filth, misery, disease, starvation, cruelty and ignorance that characterized the lives of both sexes, back before the twentieth century (when even people in the Western world typically existed on less than a dollar a day in today’s money) women also had to put up with the serious practical inconvenience of menstruation, the high probability of unwanted pregnancy, the chance of death or serious damage during childbirth, and the burden of too many young children. Perhaps that is sufficient reason for the different legal and practical treatment of men and women that characterized most societies prior to the recent technological revolutions, including the invention of the birth control pill. At least such things might be taken into account, before the assumption that men tyrannized women is accepted as a truism.

  It looks to me like the so-called oppression of the patriarchy was instead an imperfect collective attempt by men and women, stretching over millennia, to free each other from privation, disease and drudgery. The recent case of Arunachalam Muruganantham provides a salutary example. This man, the “tampon king” of India, became unhappy because his wife had to use dirty rags during her menstrual period. She told him it was either expensive sanitary napkins, or milk for the family. He spent the next fourteen years in a state of insanity, by his neighbours’ judgment, trying to rectify the problem. Even his wife and his mother abandoned him, briefly, terrified as they became of his obsession. When he ran out of female volunteers to test his product, he took to wearing a bladder of pig’s blood as a replacement. I can’t see how this behaviour would have improved his popularity or status. Now his low-cost and locally made napkins are distributed across India, manufactured by women-run self-help groups. His users have been provided with freedom they never previously experienced. In 2014, this high-school dropout was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world. I am unwilling to consider personal gain Muruganantham’s primary motivation. Is he part of the patriarchy?

  In 1847, James Young Simpson used ether to help a woman who had a deformed pelvis give birth. Afterwards, he switched to the better-performing chloroform. The first baby delivered under its influence was named “Anaesthesia.” By 1853, chloroform was esteemed enough to be used by Queen Victoria, who delivered her seventh baby under its influence. Remarkably soon afterward, the option of painless childbirth was available everywhere. A few people warned of the danger of opposing God’s pronouncement to women in Genesis 3:16: “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children …” Some also opposed its use among males: young, healthy, courageous men simply did not need anaesthesia. Such opposition was ineffectual. Use of anaesthesia spread with extreme rapidity (and far faster than would be possible today). Even prominent churchmen supported its use.

  The first practical tampon, Tampax, didn’t arrive until the 1930s. It was invented by Dr. Earle Cleveland Haas. He made it of compressed cotton, and designed an applicator from paper tubes. This helped lessen resistance to the products by those who objected to the self-touching that might otherwise occur. By the early 1940s, 25 percent of women were using them. Thirty years later, it was 70 percent. Now it’s four out of five, with the remainder relying on pads, which are now hyper-absorbent, and held in place by effective adhesives (opposed to the awkwardly placed, bulky, belted, diaper-like sanitary napkins of the 1970s). Did Muruganantham, Simpson and Haas oppress women, or free them? What about Gregory Goodwin Pincus, who invented the birth control pill? In what manner were these practical, enlightened, persistent men part of a constricting patriarchy?

  Why do we teach our young people that our incredible culture is the result of male oppression? Blinded by this central assumption disciplines as diverse as education, social work, art history, gender studies, literature, sociology and, increasingly, law actively treat men as oppressors and men’s activity as inherently destructive. They also often directly promote radical political action—radical by all the norms of the societies within which they are situated—which they do not distinguish from education. The Pauline Jewett Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies at Ottawa’s Carleton University, for example, encourages activism as part of their mandate. The Gender Studies Department at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, “teaches feminist, anti-racist, and queer theories and methods that centre activism for social change”—indicating support for the supposition that university education should above all foster political engagement of a particular kind.

Postmodernism and the Long Arm of Marx

These disciplines draw their philosophy from multiple sources. All are heavily influenced by the Marxist humanists. One such figure is Max Horkheimer, who developed critical theory in the 1930s. Any brief summary of his ideas is bound to be oversimplified, but Horkheimer regarded himself as a Marxist. He believed that Western principles of individual freedom or the free market were merely masks that served to disguise the true conditions of the West: inequality, domination and exploitation. He believed that intellectual activity should be devoted to social change, instead of mere understanding, and hoped to emancipate humanity from its enslavement. Horkheimer and his Frankfurt School of associated thinkers—first, in Germany and later, in the US—aimed at a full-scale critique and transformation of Western civilization.

  More important in recent years has been the work of French philosopher Jacques Derrida, leader of the postmodernists, who came into vogue in the late 1970s. Derrida described his own ideas as a radicalized form of Marxism. Marx attempted to reduce history and society to economics, considering culture the oppression of the poor by the rich. When Marxism was put into practice in the Soviet Union, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and elsewhere, economic resources were brutally redistributed. Private property was eliminated, and rural people forcibly collectivized. The result? Tens of millions of people died. Hundreds of millions more were subject to oppression rivalling that still operative in North Korea, the last classic communist holdout. The resulting economic systems were corrupt and unsustainable. The world entered a prolonged and extremely dangerous cold war. The citizens of those societies lived the life of the lie, betraying their families, informing on their neighbours—existing in misery, without complaint (or else).

  Marxist ideas were very attractive to intellectual utopians. One of the primary architects of the horrors of the Khmer Rouge, Khieu Samphan, received a doctorate at the Sorbonne before he became the nominal head of Cambodia in the mid-1970s. In his doctoral thesis, written in 1959, he argued that the work done by non-farmers in Cambodia’s cities was unproductive: bankers, bureaucrats and businessmen added nothing to society. Instead, they parasitized the genuine value produced through agriculture, small industry and craft. Samphan’s ideas were favourably looked upon by the French intellectuals who granted him his Ph.D. Back in Cambodia, he was provided with the opportunity to put his theories into practice. The Khmer Rouge evacuated Cambodia’s cities, drove all the inhabitants into the countryside, closed the banks, banned the use of currency, and destroyed all the markets. A quarter of the Cambodian population were worked to death in the countryside, in the killing fields.

Lest We Forget: Ideas Have Consequences.

When the communists established the Soviet Union after the First World War, people could be forgiven for hoping that the utopian collectivist dreams their new leaders purveyed were possible. The decayed social order of the late nineteenth century produced the trenches and mass slaughters of the Great War. The gap between rich and poor was extreme, and most people slaved away in conditions worse than those later described by Orwell. Although the West received word of the horror perpetrated by Lenin after the Russian Revolution, it remained difficult to evaluate his actions from afar. Russia was in post-monarchical chaos, and the news of widespread industrial development and redistribution of property to those who had so recently been serfs provided reason for hope. To complicate things further, the USSR (and Mexico) supported the democratic Republicans when the Spanish Civil War broke out, in 1936. They were fighting against the essentially fascist Nationalists, who had overthrown the fragile democracy established only five years previously, and who found support with the Nazis and Italian fascists.

  The intelligentsia in America, Great Britain and elsewhere were severely frustrated by their home countries’ neutrality. Thousands of foreigners streamed into Spain to fight for the Republicans, serving in the International Brigades. George Orwell was one of them. Ernest Hemingway served there as a journalist, and was a supporter of the Republicans. Politically concerned young Americans, Canadians and Brits felt a moral obligation to stop talking and start fighting. 

  All of this drew attention away from concurrent events in the Soviet Union. In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, the Stalinist Soviets sent two million kulaks, their richest peasants, to Siberia (those with a small number of cows, a couple of hired hands, or a few acres more than was typical). From the communist viewpoint, these kulaks had gathered their wealth by plundering those around them, and deserved their fate. Wealth signified oppression, and private property was theft. It was time for some equity. More than thirty thousand kulaks were shot on the spot. Many more met their fate at the hands of their most jealous, resentful and unproductive neighbours, who used the high ideals of communist collectivization to mask their murderous intent.

  The kulaks were “enemies of the people,” apes, scum, vermin, filth and swine. “We will make soap out of the kulak,” claimed one particularly brutal cadre of city-dwellers, mobilized by party and Soviet executive committees, and sent out into the countryside. The kulaks were driven, naked, into the streets, beaten, and forced to dig their own graves. The women were raped. Their belongings were “expropriated,” which, in practice, meant that their houses were stripped down to the rafters and ceiling beams and everything was stolen. In many places, the non-kulak peasants resisted, particularly the women, who took to surrounding the persecuted families with their bodies. Such resistance proved futile. The kulaks who didn’t die were exiled to Siberia, often in the middle of the night. The trains started in February, in the bitter Russian cold. Housing of the most substandard kind awaited them upon arrival on the desert taiga. Many died, particularly children, from typhoid, measles and scarlet fever.

  The “parasitical” kulaks were, in general, the most skillful and hardworking farmers. A small minority of people are responsible for most of the production in any field, and farming proved no different. Agricultural output crashed. What little remained was taken by force out of the countryside and into the cities. Rural people who went out into the fields after the harvest to glean single grains of wheat for their hungry families risked execution. Six million people died of starvation in the Ukraine, the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, in the 1930s. “To eat your own children is a barbarian act,” declared posters of the Soviet regime.

  Despite more than mere rumours of such atrocities, attitudes towards communism remained consistently positive among many Western intellectuals. There were other things to worry about, and the Second World War allied the Soviet Union with the Western countries opposing Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito. Certain watchful eyes remained open, nonetheless. Malcolm Muggeridge published a series of articles describing Soviet demolition of the peasantry as early as 1933, for the Manchester Guardian. George Orwell understood what was going on under Stalin, and he made it widely known. He published animal Farm, a fable satirizing the Soviet Union, in 1945, despite encountering serious resistance to the book’s release. Many who should have known better retained their blindness for long after this. Nowhere was this truer than France, and nowhere truer in France than among the intellectuals.

  France’s most famous mid-century philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, was a well-known communist, although not a card-carrier, until he denounced the Soviet incursion into Hungary in 1956. He remained an advocate for Marxism, nonetheless, and did not finally break with the Soviet Union until 1968, when the Soviets violently suppressed the Czechoslovakians during the Prague Spring.

  Not long after came the publication of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, which we have discussed rather extensively in previous chapters. As noted (and is worth noting again), this book utterly demolished communism’s moral credibility—first in the West, and then in the Soviet System itself. It circulated in underground samizdat format. Russians had twenty-four hours to read their rare copy before handing it to the next waiting mind. A Russian-language reading was broadcast into the Soviet Union by Radio Liberty.

  Solzhenitsyn argued that the Soviet system could have never survived without tyranny and slave labour; that the seeds of its worst excesses were definitively sowed in the time of Lenin (for whom the Western communists still served as apologists); and that it was propped up by endless lies, both individual and public. Its sins could not be blamed on a simple cult of personality, as its supporters continued to claim. Solzhenitsyn documented the Soviet Union’s extensive mistreatment of political prisoners, its corrupt legal system, and its mass murders, and showed in painstaking detail how these were not aberrations but direct expressions of the underlying communist philosophy. No one could stand up for communism after The Gulag Archipelago—not even the communists themselves.

  This did not mean that the fascination Marxist ideas had for intellectuals—particularly French intellectuals—disappeared. It merely transformed. Some refused outright to learn. Sartre denounced Solzhenitsyn as a “dangerous element.” Derrida, more subtle, substituted the idea of power for the idea of money, and continued on his merry way. Such linguistic sleight-of-hand gave all the barely repentant Marxists still inhabiting the intellectual pinnacles of the West the means to retain their world-view. Society was no longer repression of the poor by the rich. It was oppression of everyone by the powerful.

  According to Derrida, hierarchical structures emerged only to include (the beneficiaries of that structure) and to exclude (everyone else, who were therefore oppressed). Even that claim wasn’t sufficiently radical. Derrida claimed that divisiveness and oppression were built right into language—built into the very categories we use to pragmatically simplify and negotiate the world. There are “women” only because men gain by excluding them. There are “males and females” only because members of that more heterogeneous group benefit by excluding the tiny minority of people whose biological sexuality is amorphous. Science only benefits the scientists. Politics only benefits the politicians. In Derrida’s view, hierarchies exist because they gain from oppressing those who are omitted. It is this ill-gotten gain that allows them to flourish.

  Derrida famously said (although he denied it, later): “Il n’y a pas de hors-texte”—often translated as “there is nothing outside the text.” His supporters say that is a mistranslation, and that the English equivalent should have been “there is no outside-text.” It remains difficult, either way, to read the statement as saying anything other than “everything is interpretation,” and that is how Derrida’s work has generally been interpreted.

  It is almost impossible to over-estimate the nihilistic and destructive nature of this philosophy. It puts the act of categorization itself in doubt. It negates the idea that distinctions might be drawn between things for any reasons other than that of raw power. Biological distinctions between men and women? Despite the existence of an overwhelming, multi-disciplinary scientific literature indicating that sex differences are powerfully influenced by biological factors, science is just another game of power, for Derrida and his post-modern Marxist acolytes, making claims to benefit those at the pinnacle of the scientific world. There are no facts. Hierarchical position and reputation as a consequence of skill and competence? All definitions of skill and of competence are merely made up by those who benefit from them, to exclude others, and to benefit personally and selfishly.

  There is sufficient truth to Derrida’s claims to account, in part, for their insidious nature. Power is a fundamental motivational force (“a,” not “the”). People compete to rise to the top, and they care where they are in dominance hierarchies. But (and this is where you separate the metaphorical boys from the men, philosophically) the fact that power plays a role in human motivation does not mean that it plays the only role, or even the primary role. Likewise, the fact that we can never know everything does make all our observations and utterances dependent on taking some things into account and leaving other things out (as we discussed extensively in Rule 10). That does not justify the claim that everything is interpretation, or that categorization is just exclusion. Beware of single cause interpretations—and beware the people who purvey them.

  Although the facts cannot speak for themselves (just as an expanse of land spread out before a voyager cannot tell him how to journey through it), and although there are a myriad ways to interact with—even to perceive—even a small number of objects, that does not mean that all interpretations are equally valid. Some hurt—yourself and others. Others put you on a collision course with society. Some are not sustainable across time. Others do not get you where you want to go. Many of these constraints are built in to us, as a consequence of billions of years of evolutionary processes. Others emerge as we are socialized into cooperating and competing peacefully and productively with others. Still more interpretations emerge as we discard counterproductive strategies through learning. An endless number of interpretations, certainly: that is not different than saying an endless number of problems. But a seriously bounded number of viable solutions.Otherwise life would be easy. And it’s not.

  Now, I have some beliefs that might be regarded as left-leaning. I think, for example, that the tendency for valuable goods to distribute themselves with pronounced inequality constitutes an ever-present threat to the stability of society. I think there is good evidence for that. That does not mean that the solution to the problem is self-evident. We don’t know how to redistribute wealth without introducing a whole host of other problems. Different Western societies have tried different approaches. The Swedes, for example, push equality to its limit. The US takes the opposite tack, assuming that the net wealth-creation of a more free-for-all capitalism constitutes the rising tide that lifts all boats. The results of these experiments are not all in, and countries differ very much in relevant ways. Differences in history, geographic area, population size and ethnic diversity make direct comparisons very difficult. But it certainly is the case that forced redistribution, in the name of utopian equality, is a cure to shame the disease.

  I think, as well (on what might be considered the leftish side), that the incremental remake of university administrations into analogues of private corporations is a mistake. I think that the science of management is a pseudo-discipline. I believe that government can, sometimes, be a force for good, as well as the necessary arbiter of a small set of necessary rules. Nonetheless, I do not understand why our society is providing public funding to institutions and educators whose stated, conscious and explicit aim is the demolition of the culture that supports them. Such people have a perfect right to their opinions and actions, if they remain lawful. But they have no reasonable claim to public funding. If radical right-wingers were receiving state funding for political operations disguised as university courses, as the radical left-wingers clearly are, the uproar from progressives across North America would be deafening.

  There are other serious problems lurking in the radical disciplines, apart from the falseness of their theories and methods, and their insistence that collective political activism is morally obligatory. There isn’t a shred of hard evidence to support any of their central claims: that Western society is pathologically patriarchal; that the prime lesson of history is that men, rather than nature, were the primary source of the oppression of women (rather than, as in most cases, their partners and supporters); that all hierarchies are based on power and aimed at exclusion. Hierarchies exist for many reasons—some arguably valid, some not—and are incredibly ancient, evolutionarily speaking. Do male crustaceans oppress female crustaceans? Should their hierarchies be upended?

  In societies that are well-functioning—not in comparison to a hypothetical utopia, but contrasted with other existing or historical cultures— competence, not power, is a prime determiner of status. Competence. Ability. Skill. Not power. This is obvious both anecdotally and factually. No one with brain cancer is equity-minded enough to refuse the service of the surgeon with the best education, the best reputation and, perhaps, the highest earnings. Furthermore, the most valid personality trait predictors of long-term success in Western countries are intelligence (as measured with cognitive ability or IQ tests) and conscientiousness (a trait characterized by industriousness and orderliness).  There are exceptions. Entrepreneurs and artists are higher in openness to experience, another cardinal personality trait, than in conscientiousness. But openness is associated with verbal intelligence and creativity, so that exception is appropriate and understandable. The predictive power of these traits, mathematically and economically speaking, is exceptionally high—among the highest, in terms of power, of anything ever actually measured at the harder ends of the social sciences. A good battery of personality/cognitive tests can increase the probability of employing someone more competent than average from 50:50 to 85:15. These are the facts, as well supported as anything in the social sciences (and this is saying more than you might think, as the social sciences are more effective disciplines than their cynical critics appreciate). Thus, not only is the state supporting one-sided radicalism, it is also supporting indoctrination. We do not teach our children that the world is flat. Neither should we teach them unsupported ideologically-predicated theories about the nature of men and women—or the nature of hierarchy.

  It is not unreasonable to note (if the deconstructionists would leave it at that) that science can be biased by the interests of power, and to warn against that—or to point out that evidence is too often what powerful people, including scientists, decide it is. After all, scientists are people too, and people like power, just like lobsters like power—just like deconstructionists like to be known for their ideas, and strive rightly to sit atop their academic hierarchies. But that doesn’t mean that science—or even deconstructionism—is only about power. Why believe such a thing? Why insist upon it? Perhaps it’s this: if only power exists, then the use of power becomes fully justifiable. There is no bounding such use by evidence, method, logic, or even the necessity for coherence. There is no bounding by anything “outside the text.” That leaves opinion—and force—and the use of force is all too attractive, under such circumstances, just as its employment in the service of that opinion is all too certain. The insane and incomprehensible postmodern insistence that all gender differences are socially constructed, for example, becomes all too understandable when its moral imperative is grasped—when its justification for force is once and for all understood: Society must be altered, or bias eliminated, until all outcomes are equitable. But the bedrock of the social constructionist position is the wish for the latter, not belief in the justice of the former. Since all outcome inequalities must be eliminated (inequality being the heart of all evil), then all gender differences must be regarded as socially constructed. Otherwise the drive for equality would be too radical, and the doctrine too blatantly propagandistic. Thus, the order of logic is reversed, so that the ideology can be camouflaged. The fact that such statements lead immediately to internal inconsistencies within the ideology is never addressed. Gender is constructed, but an individual who desires gender re-assignment surgery is to be unarguably considered a man trapped in a woman’s body (or vice versa). The fact that both of these cannot logically be true, simultaneously, is just ignored (or rationalized away with another appalling post-modern claim: that logic itself—along with the techniques of science—is merely part of the oppressive patriarchal system). 

  It is also the case, of course, that all outcomes cannot be equalized. First, outcomes must be measured. Comparing the salaries of people who occupy the same position is relatively straightforward (although complicated significantly by such things as date of hire, given the difference in demand for workers, for example, at different time periods). But there are other dimensions of comparison that are arguably equally relevant, such as tenure, promotion rate, and social influence. The introduction of the “equal pay for equal work” argument immediately complicates even salary comparison beyond practicality, for one simple reason: who decides what work is equal? It’s not possible. That’s why the marketplace exists. Worse is the problem of group comparison: women should make as much as men. OK. Black women should make as much as white women. OK. Should salary then be adjusted for all parameters of race? At what level of resolution? What racial categories are “real”?

  The U.S. National Institute of Health, to take a single bureaucratic example, recognizes American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black, Hispanic, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and White. But there are more than five hundred separate American Indian tribes. By what possible logic should “American Indian” therefore stand as a canonical category? Osage tribal members have a yearly average income of $30K, while Tohono O’odham’s make $11K. Are they equally oppressed? What about disabilities? Disabled people should make as much as non-disabled people. OK. On the surface, that’s a noble, compassionate, fair claim. But who is disabled? Is someone living with a parent with Alzheimer’s disabled? If not, why not? What about someone with a lower IQ? Someone less attractive? Someone overweight? Some people clearly move through life markedly overburdened with problems that are beyond their control, but it is a rare person indeed who isn’t suffering from at least one serious catastrophe at any given time—particularly if you include their family in the equation. And why shouldn’t you? Here’s the fundamental problem: group identity can be fractionated right down to the level of the individual. That sentence should be written in capital letters. Every person is unique—and not just in a trivial manner: importantly, significantly, meaningfully unique. Group membership cannot capture that variability. Period.

  None of this complexity is ever discussed by the postmodern/Marxist thinkers. Instead, their ideological approach fixes a point of truth, like the North Star, and forces everything to rotate around it. The claim that all gender differences are a consequence of socialization is neither provable, nor disprovable, in some sense, because culture can be brought to bear with such force on groups or individuals that virtually any outcome is attainable, if we are willing to bear the cost. We know, for example, from studies of adopted-out identical twins,  that culture can produce a fifteen-point (or one standard deviation) increase in IQ (roughly the difference between the average high school student and the average state college student) at the cost of a three-standard-deviation increase in wealth. What this means, approximately, is that two identical twins, separated at birth, will differ in IQ by fifteen points if the first twin is raised in a family that is poorer than 85 percent of families and the second is raised in a family richer than 95 percent of families. Something similar has recently been demonstrated with education, rather than wealth. We don’t know what it would cost in wealth or differential education to produce a more extreme transformation.

  What such studies imply is that we could probably minimize the innate differences between boys and girls, if we were willing to exert enough pressure. This would in no way ensure that we were freeing people of either gender to make their own choices. But choice has no place in the ideological picture: if men and women act, voluntarily, to produce gender-unequal outcomes, those very choices must have been determined by cultural bias. In consequence, everyone is a brainwashed victim, wherever gender differences exist, and the rigorous critical theoretician is morally obligated to set them straight. This means that those already equity-minded Scandinavian males, who aren’t much into nursing, require even more retraining. The same goes, in principle, for Scandinavian females, who aren’t much into engineering. What might such retraining look like? Where might its limits lie? Such things are often pushed past any reasonable limit before they are discontinued. Mao’s murderous Cultural Revolution should have taught us that.

Boys into Girls

It has become a tenet of a certain kind of social constructionist theory that the world would be much improved if boys were socialized like girls. Those who put forward such theories assume, first, that aggression is a learned behaviour, and can therefore simply not be taught, and second (to take a particular example) that, “boys should be socialized the way girls have been traditionally socialized, and they should be encouraged to develop socially positive qualities such as tenderness, sensitivity to feelings, nurturance, cooperative and aesthetic appreciation.” In the opinions of such thinkers, aggression will only be reduced when male adolescents and young adults “subscribe to the same standards of behavior as have been traditionally encouraged for women.” 

  There are so many things wrong with this idea that it is difficult to know where to start. First, it is not the case that aggression is merely learned. Aggression is there at the beginning. There are ancient biological circuits, so to speak, that underlie defensive and predatory aggression. They are so fundamental that they still operate in what are known as decorticate cats, animals that have had the largest and most recently evolved parts of their brain—an overwhelmingly large percentage of the total structure—entirely removed. This suggests not only that aggression is innate, but that it is a consequence of activity in extremely fundamental, basic brain areas. If the brain is a tree, then aggression (along with hunger, thirst and sexual desire) is there in the very trunk.

  And, in keeping with this, it appears that a subset of two-year-old boys (about 5 percent) are quite aggressive, by temperament. They take other kids’ toys, kick, bite and hit. Most are nonetheless socialized effectively by the age of four. This is not, however, because they have been encouraged to act like little girls. Instead, they are taught or otherwise learn in early childhood to integrate their aggressive tendencies into more sophisticated behavioural routines. Aggression underlies the drive to be outstanding, to be unstoppable, to compete, to win—to be actively virtuous, at least along one dimension. Determination is its admirable, pro-social face. Aggressive young children who don’t manage to render their temperament sophisticated by the end of infancy are doomed to unpopularity, as their primordial antagonism no longer serves them socially at later ages. Rejected by their peers, they lack further socialization opportunities and tend towards outcast status. These are the individuals who remain much more inclined toward antisocial and criminal behavior when adolescent and adult. But this does not at all mean that the aggressive drive lacks either utility or value. At a minimum, it is necessary for self-protection.

Compassion as a Vice

Many of the female clients (perhaps even a majority) that I see in my clinical practice have trouble in their jobs and family lives not because they are too aggressive, but because they are not aggressive enough. Cognitive-behavioural therapists call the treatment of such people, generally characterized by the more feminine traits of agreeableness (politeness and compassion) and neuroticism (anxiety and emotional pain), “assertiveness training.”  Insufficiently aggressive women—and men, although more rarely—do too much for others. They tend to treat those around them as if they were distressed children. They tend to be naïve. They assume that cooperation should be the basis of all social transactions, and they avoid conflict (which means they avoid confronting problems in their relationships as well as at work). They continually sacrifice for others. This may sound virtuous—and it is definitely an attitude that has certain social advantages—but it can and often does become counterproductively one-sided. Because too-agreeable people bend over backwards for other people, they do not stand up properly for themselves. Assuming that others think as they do, they expect—instead of ensuring—reciprocity for their thoughtful actions. When this does not happen, they don’t speak up. They do not or cannot straightforwardly demand recognition. The dark side of their characters emerges, because of their subjugation, and they become resentful.

  I teach excessively agreeable people to note the emergence of such resentment, which is a very important, although very toxic, emotion. There are only two major reasons for resentment: being taken advantage of (or allowing yourself to be taken advantage of), or whiny refusal to adopt responsibility and grow up. If you’re resentful, look for the reasons. Perhaps discuss the issue with someone you trust. Are you feeling hard done by, in an immature manner? If, after some honest consideration, you don’t think it’s that, perhaps someone is taking advantage of you. This means that you now face a moral obligation to speak up for yourself. This might mean confronting your boss, or your husband, or your wife, or your child, or your parents. It might mean gathering some evidence, strategically, so that when you confront that person, you can give them several examples of their misbehaviour (at least three), so they can’t easily weasel out of your accusations. It might mean failing to concede when they offer you their counterarguments. People rarely have more than four at hand. If you remain unmoved, they get angry, or cry, or run away. It’s very useful to attend to tears in such situations. They can be used to motivate guilt on the part of the accuser due, theoretically, to having caused hurt feelings and pain. But tears are often shed in anger. A red face is a good cue. If you can push your point past the first four responses and stand fast against the consequent emotion, you will gain your target’s attention—and, perhaps, their respect. This is genuine conflict, however, and it’s neither pleasant nor easy.

  You must also know clearly what you want out of the situation, and be prepared to clearly articulate your desire. It’s a good idea to tell the person you are confronting exactly what you would like them to do instead of what they have done or currently are doing. You might think, “if they loved me, they would know what to do.” That’s the voice of resentment. Assume ignorance before malevolence. No one has a direct pipeline to your wants and needs—not even you. If you try to determine exactly what you want, you might find that it is more difficult than you think. The person oppressing you is likely no wiser than you, especially about you. Tell them directly what would be preferable, instead, after you have sorted it out. Make your request as small and reasonable as possible—but ensure that its fulfillment would satisfy you. In that manner, you come to the discussion with a solution, instead of just a problem.

  Agreeable, compassionate, empathic, conflict-averse people (all those traits group together) let people walk on them, and they get bitter. They sacrifice themselves for others, sometimes excessively, and cannot comprehend why that is not reciprocated. Agreeable people are compliant, and this robs them of their independence. The danger associated with this can be amplified by high trait neuroticism. Agreeable people will go along with whoever makes a suggestion, instead of insisting, at least sometimes, on their own way. So, they lose their way, and become indecisive and too easily swayed. If they are, in addition, easily frightened and hurt, they have even less reason to strike out on their own, as doing so exposes them to threat and danger (at least in the short term). That’s the pathway to dependent personality disorder, technically speaking.  It might be regarded as the polar opposite of antisocial personality disorder, the set of traits characteristic of delinquency in childhood and adolescence and criminality in adulthood. It would be lovely if the opposite of a criminal was a saint—but it’s not the case. The opposite of a criminal is an Oedipal mother, which is its own type of criminal.

  The Oedipal mother (and fathers can play this role too, but it’s comparatively rare) says to her child, “I only live for you.” She does everything for her children. She ties their shoes, and cuts up their food, and lets them crawl into bed with her and her partner far too often. That’s a good and conflict-avoidant method for avoiding unwanted sexual attention, as well.

  The Oedipal mother makes a pact with herself, her children, and the devil himself. The deal is this: “Above all, never leave me. In return, I will do everything for you. As you age without maturing, you will become worthless and bitter, but you will never have to take any responsibility, and everything you do that’s wrong will always be someone else’s fault.” The children can accept or reject this—and they have some choice in the matter.

  The Oedipal mother is the witch in the story of Hansel and Gretel. The two children in that fairy tale have a new step-mother. She orders her husband to abandon his children in the forest, as there is a famine and she thinks they eat too much. He obeys his wife, takes his children deep into the woods and leaves them to their fate. Wandering, starving and lonely, they come across a miracle. A house. And not just any house. A candy house. A gingerbread house. A person who had not been rendered too caring, empathic, sympathetic and cooperative might be skeptical, and ask, “Is this too good to be true?” But the children are too young, and too desperate.

  Inside the house is a kind old woman, rescuer of distraught children, kind patter of heads and wiper of noses, all bosom and hips, ready to sacrifice herself to their every wish, at a moment’s notice. She feeds the children anything they want, any time they want, and they never have to do anything. But provision of that kind of care makes her hungry. She puts Hansel into a cage, to fatten him up ever more efficiently. He fools her into thinking he’s staying thin by offering her an old bone, when she tries to test his leg for the desired tenderness. She gets too desperate to wait, eventually, and stokes the oven, preparing to cook and eat the object of her doting. Gretel, who has apparently not been lulled into full submission, waits for a moment of carelessness, and pushes the kind old woman into the oven. The kids run away, and rejoin their father, who has thoroughly repented of his evil actions.

  In a household like that, the choicest cut of child is the spirit, and it’s always consumed first. Too much protection devastates the developing soul.

  The witch in the Hansel and Gretel tale is the Terrible Mother, the dark half of the symbolically feminine. Deeply social as we are in our essence, we tend to view the world as a story, the characters of which are mother, father and child. The feminine, as a whole, is unknown nature outside the bounds of culture, creation and destruction: she is the protective arms of mother and the destructive element of time, the beautiful virgin-mother and the swamp-dwelling hag. This archetypal entity was confused with an objective, historical reality, back in the late 1800s, by a Swiss anthropologist named Johann Jakob Bachofen. Bachofen proposed that humanity had passed through a series of developmental stages in its history.

  The first, roughly speaking (after a somewhat anarchic and chaotic beginning), was Das Mutterrecht—a society where women held the dominant positions of power, respect and honour, where polyamory and promiscuity ruled, and where any certainty of paternity was absent. The second, the Dionysian, was a phase of transition, during which these original matriarchal foundations were overturned and power was taken by men. The third phase, the Apollonian, still reigns today. The patriarchy rules, and each woman belongs exclusively to one man. Bachofen’s ideas became profoundly influential, in certain circles, despite the absence of any historical evidence to support them. One Marija Gimbutas, for example—an archaeologist—famously claimed in the 1980s and 1990s that a peaceful goddess-and-woman-centred culture once characterized Neolithic Europe. She claimed that it was supplanted and suppressed by an invasive hierarchical warrior culture, which laid the basis for modern society. Art historian Merlin Stone made the same argument in his book When God Was a Woman. This whole series of essentially archetypal/mythological ideas became touchstones for the theology of the women’s movement and the matriarchal studies of 1970s feminism (Cynthia Eller, who wrote a book criticizing such ideas — The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory—called this theology “an ennobling lie”). 

  Carl Jung had encountered Bachofen’s ideas of primordial matriarchy decades earlier. Jung soon realized, however, that the developmental progression described by the earlier Swiss thinker represented a psychological rather than a historical reality. He saw in Bachofen’s thought the same processes of projection of imaginative fantasy on to the external world that had led to the population of the cosmos with constellations and gods. In The Origins and History of Consciousness and The Great Mother, Jung’s collaborator Erich Neumann extended his colleague’s analysis. Neumann traced the emergence of consciousness, symbolically masculine, and contrasted it with its symbolically feminine, material (mother, matrix) origins, subsuming Freud’s theory of Oedipal parenting into a broader archetypal model. For Neumann, and for Jung, consciousness—always symbolically masculine, even in women—struggles upwards toward the light. Its development is painful and anxiety-provoking, as it carries with it the realization of vulnerability and death. It is constantly tempted to sink back down into dependency and unconsciousness, and to shed its existential burden. It is aided in that pathological desire by anything that opposes enlightenment, articulation, rationality, self-determination, strength and competence—by anything that shelters too much, and therefore smothers and devours. Such overprotection is Freud’s Oedipal familial nightmare, which we are rapidly transforming into social policy.

  The Terrible Mother is an ancient symbol. It manifests itself, for example, in the form of Tiamat, in the earliest written story we have recovered, the Mesopotamian Enuma Elish. Tiamat is the mother of all things, gods and men alike. She is the unknown and chaos and the nature that gives rise to all forms. But she is also the female dragon-deity who moves to destroy her own children, when they carelessly kill their father and attempt to live on the corpse that remains. The Terrible Mother is the spirit of careless unconsciousness, tempting the ever-striving spirit of awareness and enlightenment down into the protective womb-like embrace of the underworld. It’s the terror young men feel towards attractive women, who are nature itself, ever ready to reject them, intimately, at the deepest possible level. Nothing inspires self-consciousness, undermines courage, and fosters feelings of nihilism and hatred more than that—except, perhaps, the too-tight embrace of too-caring mom.

  The Terrible Mother appears in many fairy tales, and in many stories for adults. In the Sleeping Beauty, she is the Evil Queen, dark nature herself—Maleficent, in the Disney version. The royal parents of Princess Aurora fail to invite this force of the night to their baby daughter’s christening. Thus, they shelter her too much from the destructive and dangerous side of reality, preferring that she grow up untroubled by such things. Their reward? At puberty, she is still unconscious. The masculine spirit, her prince, is both a man who could save her, by tearing her from her parents, and her own consciousness, trapped in a dungeon by the machinations of the dark side of femininity. When that prince escapes, and presses the Evil Queen too hard, she turns into the Dragon of Chaos itself. The symbolic masculine defeats her with truth and faith, and finds the princess, whose eyes he opens with a kiss.

  It might be objected (as it was, with Disney’s more recent and deeply propagandistic Frozen) that a woman does not need a man to rescue her. That may be true, and it may not. It may be that only the woman who wants (or has) a child needs a man to rescue her—or at least to support and aid her. In any case, it is certain that a woman needs consciousness be rescued, and, as noted above, consciousness is symbolically masculine and has been since the beginning of time (in the guise both of order and of the Logos, the mediating principle). The Prince could be a lover, but could also be a woman’s own attentive wakefulness, clarity of vision, and tough-minded independence. Those are masculine traits—in actuality, as well as symbolically, as men are actually less tender-minded and agreeable than women, on average, and are less susceptible to anxiety and emotional pain. And, to say it again: (1) this is most true in those Scandinavian nations where the most steps towards gender equality have been taken—and (2) the differences are not small by the standards whereby such things are measured.

  The relationship between the masculine and consciousness is also portrayed, symbolically, in the Disney movie The Little Mermaid. Ariel, the heroine, is quite feminine, but she also has a strong spirit of independence. For this reason, she is her father’s favourite, although she also causes him the most trouble. Her father Triton is the king, representing the known, culture and order (with a hint of the oppressive rule-giver and tyrant). Because order is always opposed by chaos, Triton has an adversary, Ursula, a tentacled octopus—a serpent, a gorgon, a hydra. Thus, Ursula is in the same archetypal category as the dragon/queen Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty (or the jealous older queen in Snow White, Lady Tremaine inCinderella, the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, Cruella de Vil in 101 Dalmations, Miss Medusa in TheRescuers and Mother Gothel in Tangled).

  Ariel wants to kindle a romance with Prince Eric, whom she previously rescued from a shipwreck. Ursula tricks Ariel into giving up her voice so that she can have three days as a human being. Ursula knows full well, however, that a voiceless Ariel will not be able to establish a relationship with the Prince. Without her capacity to speak—without the Logos; without the Divine Word—she will remain underwater, unconscious, forever.

  When Ariel fails to form a union with Prince Eric, Ursula steals her soul, and places it in her large collection of shrivelled and warped semi-beings, well-protected by her feminine graces. When King Triton shows up to demand the return of his daughter, Ursula makes him a terrible offer: he can take Ariel’s place. Of course, the elimination of the Wise King (who represents, to say it again, the benevolent side of the patriarchy) has been Ursula’s nefarious plan all along. Ariel is released, but Triton is now reduced to a pathetic shadow of his former self. More importantly, Ursula now has Triton’s magic trident, the source of his godlike power.

  Fortunately for everyone concerned (except Ursula), Prince Eric returns, distracting the evil queen of the underworld with a harpoon. This opens an opportunity for Ariel to attack Ursula, who grows, in response, to monstrous proportions—in the same manner as Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty’s evil queen. Ursula creates a huge storm, and raises a whole navy of sunken ships from the ocean floor. As she prepares to kill Ariel, Eric commandeers a wrecked ship, and rams her with its broken bowsprit. Triton and the other captured souls are released. The rejuvenated Triton then transforms his daughter into a human being, so she can remain with Eric. For a woman to become complete, such stories claim, she must form a relationship with masculine consciousness and stand up to the terrible world (which sometimes manifests itself, primarily, in the form of her too-present mother). An actual man can help her do that, to some degree, but it is better for everyone concerned when no one is too dependent.

  One day, when I was a kid, I was out playing softball with some friends. The teams were a mixture of boys and girls. We were all old enough so that the boys and girls were starting to be interested in one another in an unfamiliar way. Status was ecoming more relevant and important. My friend  Jake and I were about to come to blows, pushing each other around near the pitching mound, when my mom walked by. She was a fair distance away, about thirty yards, but I could immediately see by the change in her body language that she knew what was going on. Of course, the other kids saw her as well. She walked right by. I knew that hurt her. Part of her was worried that I would come home with a bloody nose and a black eye. It would have been easy enough for her just to yell, “Hey, you kids, quit that!” or even to come over and interfere. But she didn’t. A few years later, when I was having teenage trouble with my dad, my mom said, “If it was too good at home, you’d never leave.”

  My mom is a tender-hearted person. She’s empathetic, and cooperative, and agreeable. Sometimes she lets people push her around. When she went back to work after being at home with her young kids, she found it challenging to stand up to the men. Sometimes that made her resentful—something she also feels, sometimes, in relationship to my father, who is strongly inclined to do what he wants, when he wants to. Despite all that, she’s no Oedipal mother. She fostered the independence of her children, even though doing so was often hard on her. She did the right thing, even though it caused her emotional distress.

Toughen Up, You Weasel

I spent one youthful summer on the prairie of central Saskatchewan working on a railway line crew. Every man in that all-male group was tested by the others during the first two weeks or so of their hiring. Many of the other workers were Northern Cree Indians, quiet guys for the most part, easygoing, until they drank too much, and the chips on their shoulders started to show. They had been in and out of jail, as had most of their relatives. They didn’t attach much shame to that, considering it just another part of the white man’s system. It was also warm in jail in the winter, and the food was regular and plentiful. I lent one of the Cree guys fifty bucks at one point. Instead of paying me back, he offered me a pair of bookends, cut from some of the original rail laid across western Canada, which I still own. That was better than the fifty bucks.

  When a new guy first showed up, the other workers would inevitably provide him with an insulting nickname. They called me Howdy-Doody, after I was accepted as a crew member (something I am still slightly embarrassed to admit). When I asked the originator why he chose that moniker, he said, wittily and absurdly, “Because you look nothing like him.” Working men are often extremely funny, in a caustic, biting, insulting manner (as discussed in Rule 9). They are always harassing each other, partly for amusement, partly to score points in the eternal dominance battle between them, but also partly to see what the other guy will do if he is subjected to social stress. It’s part of the process of character evaluation, as well as camaraderie. When it works well (when everybody gets, and gives as good as they get, and can give and take) it’s a big part of what allows men who work for a living to tolerate or even enjoy laying pipe and working on oil rigs and lumberjacking and working in restaurant kitchens and all the other hot, dirty, physically demanding and dangerous work that is still done almost totally by men.

  Not too long after I started on the rail crew, my name was changed to Howdy. This was a great improvement, as it had a good Western connotation, and was not obviously linked to that stupid puppet. The next man hired was not so fortunate. He carried a fancy lunchbucket, which was a mistake, as brown paper bags were the proper, non-pretentious convention. It was a little too nice and too new. It looked like maybe his mother had bought it (and packed it) for him. Thus, it became his name. Lunchbucket was not a good-humored guy. He bitched about everything, and had a bad attitude. Everything was someone else’s fault. He was touchy, and none too quick on the draw.

  Lunchbucket couldn’t accept his name, or settle into his job. He adopted an attitude of condescending irritation when addressed, and reacted to the work in the same manner. He was not fun to be around, and he couldn’t take a joke. That’s fatal, on a work crew. After about three days of carrying on with his ill-humour and general air of hard-done-by superiority, Lunchbucket started to experience harassment extending well beyond his nickname. He would be peevishly working away on the line, surrounded by about seventy men, spread out over a quarter mile. Suddenly a pebble would appear out of nowhere, flying through the air, aimed at his hardhat. A direct hit would produce a thunking sound, deeply satisfying to all the quietly attending onlookers. Even this failed to improve his humour. So, the pebbles got larger. Lunchbucket would involve himself in something and forget to pay attention. Then, “thunk!”—a well-aimed stone would nail him on the noggin, producing a burst of irritated and ineffectual fury. Quiet amusement would ripple down the rail line. After a few days of this, no wiser, and carrying a few bruises, Lunchbucket vanished.

  Men enforce a code of behaviour on each other, when working together. Do your work. Pull your weight. Stay awake and pay attention. Don’t whine or be touchy. Stand up for your friends. Don’t suck up and don’t snitch. Don’t be a slave to stupid rules. Don’t, in the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, be a girlie man. Don’t be dependent. At all. Ever. Period. The harassment that is part of acceptance on a working crew is a test: are you tough, entertaining, competent and reliable? If not, go away. Simple as that. We don’t need to feel sorry for you. We don’t want to put up with your narcissism, and we don’t want to do your work.

  There was a famous advertisement in the form of a comic strip issued a few decades ago by the bodybuilder Charles Atlas. It was titled “The Insult that Made a Man out of Mac” and could be found in almost every comic book, most of which were read by boys. Mac, the protagonist, is sitting on a beach blanket with an attractive young woman. A bully runs by, and kicks sand in both their faces. Mac objects. The much larger man grabs him by the arm and says, “Listen here. I’d smash your face …. Only you’re so skinny you might dry up and blow away.” The bully departs. Mac says to the girl, “The big bully! I’ll get even some day.” She adopts a provocative pose, and says, “Oh, don’t let it bother you, little boy.” Mac goes home, considers his pathetic physique, and buys the Atlas program. Soon, he has a new body. The next time he goes to the beach, he punches the bully in the nose. The now-admiring girl clings to his arm. “Oh, Mac!” she says. “You’re a real man after all.”

  That ad is famous for a reason. It summarizes human sexual psychology in seven straightforward panels. The too-weak young man is embarrassed and self-conscious, as he should be. What good is he? He gets put down by other men and, worse, by desirable women. Instead of drowning in resentment, and skulking off to his basement to play video games in his underwear, covered with Cheetos dust, he presents himself with what Alfred Adler, Freud’s most practical colleague, called a “compensatory fantasy.”  The goal of such a fantasy is not so much wish-fulfillment, as illumination of a genuine path forward. Mac takes serious note of his scarecrow-like build and decides that he should develop a stronger body. More importantly, he puts his plan into action. He identifies with the part of himself that could transcend his current state, and becomes the hero of his own adventure. He goes back to the beach, and punches the bully in the nose. Mac wins. So does his eventual girlfriend. So does everybody else.

  It is to women’s clear advantage that men do not happily put up with dependency among themselves. Part of the reason that so many a working-class woman does not marry, now, as we have alluded to, is because she does not want to look after a man, struggling for employment, as well as her children. And fair enough. A woman should look after her children—although that is not all she should do. And a man should look after a woman and children—although that is not all he should do. But a woman should not look after a man, because she must look after children, and a man should not be a child. This means that he must not be dependent. This is one of the reasons that men have little patience for dependent men. And let us not forget: wicked women may produce dependent sons, may support and even marry dependent men, but awake and conscious women want an awake and conscious partner.

  If is for this reason that Nelson Muntz of The Simpsons is so necessary to the small social group that surrounds Homer’s antihero son, Bart. Without Nelson, King of the Bullies, the school would soon be overrun by resentful, touchy Milhouses, narcissistic, intellectual Martin Princes, soft, chocolate-gorging German children, and infantile Ralph Wiggums. Muntz is a corrective, a tough, self-sufficient kid who uses his own capacity for contempt to decide what line of immature and pathetic behaviour simply cannot be crossed. Part of the genius of The Simpsons is its writers’ refusal to simply write Nelson off as an irredeemable bully. Abandoned by his worthless father, neglected, thankfully, by his thoughtless slut of a mother, Nelson does pretty well, everything considered. He’s even of romantic interest to the thoroughly progressive Lisa, much to her dismay and confusion (for much the same reasons that Fifty Shades of Grey became a worldwide phenomenon).

  When softness and harmlessness become the only consciously acceptable virtues, then hardness and dominance will start to exert an unconscious fascination. Partly what this means for the future is that if men are pushed too hard to feminize, they will become more and more interested in harsh, fascist political ideology. Fight Club, perhaps the most fascist popular film made in recent years by Hollywood, with the possible exception of the Iron Man series, provides a perfect example of such inevitable attraction. The populist groundswell of support for Donald Trump in the US is part of the same process, as is (in far more sinister form) the recent rise of far-right political parties even in such moderate and liberal places as Holland, Sweden and Norway.

  Men have to toughen up. Men demand it, and women want it, even though they may not approve of the harsh and contemptuous attitude that is part and parcel of the socially demanding process that fosters and then enforces that toughness. Some women don’t like losing their baby boys, so they keep them forever. Some women don’t like men, and would rather have a submissive mate, even if he is useless. This also provides them with plenty to feel sorry for themselves about, as well. The pleasures of such self-pity should not be underestimated.

  Men toughen up by pushing themselves, and by pushing each other. When I was a teenager, the boys were much more likely to get into car accidents than the girls (as they still are). This was because they were out spinning donuts at night in icy parking lots. They were drag racing and driving their cars over the roadless hills extending from the nearby river up to the level land hundreds of feet higher. They were more likely to fight physically, and to skip class, and to tell the teachers off, and to quit school because they were tired of raising their hands for permission to go to the bathroom when they were big and strong enough to work on the oil rigs. They were more likely to race their motorbikes on frozen lakes in the winter. Like the skateboarders, and crane climbers, and free runners, they were doing dangerous things, trying to make themselves useful. When this process goes too far, boys (and men) drift into the antisocial behavior which is far more prevalent in males than in females. That does not mean that every manifestation of daring and courage is criminal.

  When the boys were spinning donuts, they were also testing the limits of their cars, their ability as drivers, and their capacity for control, in an out-of-control situation. When they told off the teachers, they were pushing against authority, to see if there was any real authority there—the kind that could be relied on, in principle, in a crisis. When they quit school, they went to work as rig roughnecks when it was forty bloody degrees below zero. It wasn’t weakness that propelled so many out of the classroom, where a better future arguably awaited. It was strength.

  If they’re healthy, women don’t want boys. They want men. They want someone to contend with; someone to grapple with. If they’re tough, they want someone tougher. If they’re smart, they want someone smarter. They desire someone who brings to the table something they can’t already provide. This often makes it hard for tough, smart, attractive women to find mates: there just aren’t that many men around who can outclass them enough to be considered desirable (who are higher, as one research publication put it, in “income, education, self-confidence, intelligence, dominance and social position”).  The spirit that interferes when boys are trying to become men is, therefore, no more friend to woman than it is to man. It will object, just as vociferously and self-righteously (“you can’t do it, it’s too dangerous”) when little girls try to stand on their own two feet. It negates consciousness. It’s antihuman, desirous of failure, jealous, resentful and destructive. No one truly on the side of humanity would ally him or herself with such a thing. No one aiming at moving up would allow him or herself to become possessed by such a thing. And if you think tough men are dangerous, wait until you see what weak men are capable of.

  Leave children alone when they are skateboarding.





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