Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Men's Rights

The last 60 years or more have witnessed an enormous amount of activity on behalf of rights that had previously been ignored or violated with impunity. African-Americans in their almost 400 years of struggle for justice made one more push during what we now call the Civil Rights Movement. Women gathered together to talk to each other about their positions in the family, as daughters as well as wives, mothers, or employees. Their protests were raucous and effective.
Women demanding equal rights, equal respect and equal pay challenged established versions of what it meant to be a man. Several different men's movements came into being in response to Second Wave Feminism.
Some men persuaded by the complaints of different feminist groups came together to change the role men played as husbands, fathers, friends or employers. They saw that men had, in the past, taken gross advantage of the physical labor as well as the emotional generosity of their mothers, sisters, wives and girlfriends and determined to mend their ways by doing their share of the housework and the childcare and surrendering their previous assumption that they were, in all respects, superior to the women whose services they demanded.
From the complaints of women about the emotional poverty of many men, their inability to be warm and just make friends, their inability to share their inner lives openly with others, another men's movement came to be that brought men together in groups to talk openly about much of what had before been hidden by each man or perhaps had even been unnoticed and certainly unexpressed. Men came together to cultivate their friendships, to learn to be expressive and share each other's inner lives with others. They learned to be more independent of the social skills and emotional availabilities of the women in their lives.
This second sort of men's movement did, at times have a misogynist edge. But that was certainly not the essence of it.
In recent years, a third men's movement has come to the fore and received a great deal of attention on various social media – a movement often referred to as the Men's Rights Movement. This movement is more often than not openly misogynist. It adapts the language of many feminist groups that complained about being oppressed by men by claiming that, instead, men are today being oppressed by women.
Those complaints are raised by different groups of men. One of those groups consists of divorced men whom the Courts compel to pay for the support of their former wives and the children who now live with their mother. Those complaints arise in different situations. If a family barely gets by to the end of the month without falling into debt, once it splits up as a consequence of divorce, there is not going to be enough money to go around. After the divorce the income that previously barely supported one family now has to pay for two households and that means rent on two different houses or apartments, at least two cars to get everyone to and from work, etc.. But getting divorced does not provide a better paying job and in many families the divorce brings with it serious economic deprivations. Many men believe that the legal compulsion to support their former wives and their children are a profound injustice. They feel oppressed, exploited and complain about violations of their rights.
A very different group of members of the Men's Rights Movement are the people who refer to themselves as "incel" or involuntarily celibate. These are men who cannot find a permanent girlfriend. Women are not interested in them. They regard them as odd and not material for serious relationships. They may be physically unattractive, incapable of listening to anyone else, excessively needy or unable to be supportive of other persons. Perhaps not surprisingly such men do not find the fault in themselves but blame women for not wannting to sleep with them.
Other men, for what ever reason, do not like women. They profess to be unable to understand women. They are afraid of them, they are afraid that women will make fun of them; they are excessively preoccupied with gender. Most likely they are not very sure of themselves and unskilled in establishing pleasant friendships to women or to men.
These different versions of men's rights makes sense for men for whom their gender is central to their identity. In relations to other men they talk about their sexual prowess and the ways they humiliate women. Much of this talk is just pretense. They are simply trying to impress other men with their powerful masculinity where being masculine means dominating women.
Instead of warm and enjoyable friendships, these men think of relationships as forms of competition in which domination is the goal. It is not surprising that women hesitate to be friends with them since being friends is a skill they lack. Nor is it surprising that women appeared to be mysterious since, more often than not, they are not interested in playing domination games. Since they think of relationships as competitions for power, they have difficulties understanding why their marriages don't last. Their ex-wives' demands for financial support is misinterpreted as part of a power struggle. At every turn they see illegitimate attempts at domination. They do not understand any other kind of relationships.
We could write these men and their claims about their rights off as pitiable failures, as rare human beings who did not learn elementary social skills while they were growing up. But these men who are fixated on their masculinity and their ability to dominate other men and especially women are not just unusual failures, exceptions to what most men are like in this is most obvious in business this society. Instead the men's rights movement is the product of important themes and tendencies in our society.
The desire to dominate, to be stronger, more violent, to make every situation into a competition, to praise men who are good competitors and who often win is a widespread attitude in this society. This is most obvious in business where winning out over the other party – putting them out of business – is the goal of competition. Cooperation is an option only where it makes money for both parties. Concern for a competitor is completely wrongheaded. The greatest admiration and praise goals to the people who get very rich at the expense of other businesses. Similarly, violent sports draw huge crowds of spectators every weekend. Boys, even quite young, are taught to play football or ice hockey – sports that require among other skills the willingness to cause pain to others. They are taught that winning is all important, that they should not be held back by physical pain, that being gentle and caring about the pains of others is not manly and should therefore be avoided at all cost. Members of the men's rights movement adhere to similar values centered on competition and winning at all costs in their relationships, especially to women.
The Men's Rights Movement holds up a mirror to American men and shows them the distorted and inhumane version of masculinity that they widely hold and respect. It shows how impoverished and pitiful that concept of masculinity really is.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Is the Government Our Enemy?

Ronald Reagan's conservatism insisted that the government is the enemy of the ordinary citizen. When the government makes its appearance you had better watch out. Contemporary conservatives still hope to reduce the scope of government involvement in the lives of ordinary citizens. This is an attractive position. Everyone has stories of being frustrated by the demands of official bureaucracies. There is very little any citizen can do even with his or her private property without the intensely annoying need to ask permission from some government bureau.
But government does not only regulate where we often feel regulation to be unnecessary or even destructive – destructive of citizen initiative and self-determination - government also supports significant portions of the population. In some parts of the country such as coal country in Kentucky, more than half the population is supported by government payments for food, for healthcare, for housing. (NYTimes, Saturday, December 22, 2018)
One would think that the people who effectively live off government support would not vote the Republican ticket. They would not buy the anti-government propaganda because they know that were it not for the government, specifically for the federal government, they would starve and so would their children. In different parts of the country the jobs that maintained parents and grandparents – jobs in the mines, in steel mills and in manufacturing, well-paying, skilled jobs that maintained previous generations - are no longer there. Those jobs did not make anyone rich but they maintained families without too many financial worries and they created a working class that took pride in their accomplishments. The paycheck they took home at the end of the week, they felt, was earned by hard work and by skills they slowly learned on the job.
But now these jobs are gone and for many there are no other jobs available, other than temporary work that rarely lasts. In some of these areas about half the people are pretty much out of work and live, as we would say, "on the dole."
The surprising fact is that in spite of their dependence on the government, many of the citizens support the conservative position and vote for Donald Trump, regarding the government that actually keeps them alive as their enemy. One of the sources of Donald Trump’s support is actually in areas where work is scarce, does not pay well and many people are dependent for their livelihood on government handouts.
Not surprisingly that has perplexed a lot of observers. How could people dependent on the government be hostile to it? The explanations usually offered are that these segments of our population are mostly poorly educated, not very intelligent people who voted on their feelings instead of thinking about where their real interests lie. It seems undeniable that they vote against their most pressing self-interest and no one would do that if they were paying attention or if they had average intelligence.
However reasonable that explanation may seem, it has left many people uncomfortable. Why should our political enemies all be mentally deficient? Is there no one on our side who does not fail to think hard about political choices and is inspired by random emotions instead of careful thought? The explanation that poor people support the champion of the rich, Donald Trump, because they are plain stupid does not appear to be satisfactory.
Observers who hesitate to question the intelligence of conservatives sometimes try instead to explain their apparent voting against their own interests by portraying them as victims of propaganda. The poor people who vote against their own interest, it is said, are confused by the constant drumbeat of propaganda in the media, in entertainment, and in religion in favor of capitalism, in favor of the system that enriches some and leaves many others without work they can be proud of. But of course accusing people of being deceived by propaganda which would not for a moment deceive you and me is drawing an invidious distinction which is no more acceptable than calling conservatives stupid.
Now comes a professor from Cornell who, in a recent book, argues interestingly that the hostility against government does not only consist of hostility to government regulation – although that is an element in this conservative stance. (Suzanne Mettler, The Government Citizen Disconnect). The hostility to government is a result of putting people on the dole, paying for their food and lodging, making them completely dependent on various government bureaucracies. The complaint of workers in coal country, in towns supported by steel mills or heavy manufacturing plants is that there is no work for them. Working, especially if the work requires skills, supports self-esteem. Doing a good day's work that produces valuable goods, that leaves you tired at the end of the day gives you satisfaction. If the work requires skill you can be proud of having those skills and of doing what not everyone could do.
But those jobs have disappeared and no one in the government is at all concerned to bring them back or to replace them with comparable work. Just giving out of work miners or workers in the steel mill money so they can live and feed their children these miners and workers see as profoundly disrespectful. No one cares about their lives, no one cares about whether they can do work that is a real contribution, whether they can stand tall for being workers in what ever industry.
This is an interesting and important insight. It raises questions about what the role of government should be. Many people , especially on the left, are perfectly content to think of the government as a dispenser of funds to support the livelihoods of ordinary citizens. The role of government is to help people. But here now is a different conception of the role of government. It needs to create the conditions for citizens to have good lives, lives that satisfy, lives that one can look back on proudly with the sense that one has made a contribution to the betterment of all, that one's life had been worth living, that one’s goal had been more than simply not starving or freezing as a homeless person. What is valuable is not merely biological existence but life as a member of a community where one makes a contribution that is needed.
Given current economic realities, given the rise of robotics as a serious threat to human activity, no one, including governments, may be able to find good work for everyone. If that is so, governments need to be the agents of finding alternative activities for everyone to do their part in the life of their communities. What such activities that government might foster would look like is not totally clear. On the one hand, there is necessary work, for instance, rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, that the government should set in motion by financing it (instead of enriching the super rich through tax cuts.). On the other hand, the New Deal Projects like the Civilian Conservation Corps, or the WPA suggest how to think about creating good work.
Merely objecting to the government is not helpful here. If the role of government is going to change in a positive way towards enabling people to have good lives instead of merely staying alive, we need many different positive suggestions and reflections about them. Significant social changes is needed to resolve the challenge of men and women whose work has disappeared.
The people who may seem to vote against their own self interest are not unintelligent, they are not confused by propaganda. They need their society to care enough about them to develop new possibilities for leading lives that are worthwhile because they make significant contributions to this society.

Monday, December 10, 2018

What do you think about prisons?

According to common wisdom prisons serve several functions. The most important one is to punish people who break the law. The purpose of punishment is not just to seek revenge on people acting badly but also to discourage lawbreakers. The expectation is that someone who is tempted to break the law, will think twice for fear of getting caught and being sent to prison for a long time.
Prisons are often called "correctional" institutions. We expect that during their time in prison, inmates will learn not to break the law again. We expect them to learn to be better persons, better citizens, to learn to control their antisocial impulses, to learn to get along with their friends and neighbors and people at work. Prisons are supposed to "rehabilitate" prisoners.
Prisons are expected to mete out punishment and thereby deter potential lawbreakers and to really train and improve actual lawbreakers. There seems to be no doubt that prisons are important and valuable institutions in our society, well worth the cost of building, and maintaining, and running them.
In recent years, historians and social scientists have looked more closely at the history and functioning of prisons. They have found that the common wisdom about prisons is not as self-evident as we have thought. Prisons have served and still serve quite different functions. It is not as obvious, as it often seems, that prisons are valuable social institutions.
First, let's look at the past. At the end of the Civil War we passed the 13th Amendment which outlawed slavery. Slavery and involuntary servitude were abolished "except as punishment for crime, where all the parties shall have been duly convicted." The condition of slavery was no longer legal except in the case of convicted criminals. Former slave owners made elaborate use of this clause in the 13th Amendment. Many southern states passed so-called "Black Codes" – laws for which only black people could be convicted. Thus former slaves, just recently freed from having to work without pay, could now once again be subjected to penal servitude. Black codes made vagrancy illegal. Anyone could be declared a vagrant who was "guilty of theft, had run away from a job, was drunk, was wanton in conduct or speech, had neglected job or family, handled money carelessly of was in other ways, an idle and disorderly person." Almost any black person could be arrested and sent off to prison. Once in prison, convicts were leased out to private parties. Convict labor, not at all or barely remunerated, produced the bricks that paved the streets of Atlanta, Georgia. Convicts were leased out to cotton farms to do the work they had done as slaves. Convicts worked in mines, built railroads, and labored in steel mills.
In some respects, the condition of convicted laborers was worse than that of slaves. When buying the slave, the owner had invested a certain sum of money; they were not interested in working the slave to death. The mine owner who leased a convict had no investment in that person and did not hesitate to push them beyond human limits.
The prisons after the Civil War populated primarily by black men did not serve to punish or rehabilitate. They served to produce a new class of quasi-slaves. The purpose was to provide the cheapest labor possible in order to enrich the capitalist owners of steel mills, coal mines, and other profit-making enterprises. These prisons were difficult to justify. They were racist, unjust institutions in which the state made common cause with large capitalists to exploit the labor of black Americans. There was no possible justification for maintaining those kinds of prisons.
Convict leasing is still being practiced albeit not in quite as brutal form as previously. But inmates of American prisons are producing all kinds of products – license plates are the best-known but not the only ones. For this work inmates may earn two cents an hour or some other ridiculous pay. The purpose of prisons remains the same: to provide free labor to industry and commerce.
In our day prisons have acquired a new function which has little to do with punishment or rehabilitation. Prisons have become private enterprises designed to make as much money as possible. The more inmates a prison has, the more profitable it is. Private prison companies are therefore lobbying state legislatures to pass new criminal laws, or to increase the punishments mandated for any given crime. The prison companies manage to have more inmates and to keep them for a longer time and the only purpose of those changes is to increase the profit of the prison company. The well-being of inmates, their re-education are of no interest. Profit for private corporations is the only goal.
The common sense understanding of prisons is clearly defective and wildly incomplete. Responding to these facts a movement of "prison abolition" has become powerful. But the meaning of that term – prison abolition – remains unclear.
The best way of thinking about prisons is to ask ourselves what the purpose of different prisons are. Some of them are clearly illegitimate. Prisons designed to make money for private companies should be abolished. Prisons that provide more or less free labor to capitalist enterprises should be abolished. If prisoners work in prison, they should be paid a decent minimum wage.
Prisons are populated through the so-called "school – to – prison – pipeline." Students, primarily students of color, are expelled from school for being difficult, they are arrested by police in the schools, and before we know it they are locked up in juvenile detention centers and from there in adult prisons. Prison abolition means, in practice, that this school to prison pipeline must be closed.
Prisons are today used to warehouse patients with mental illness. That is a practice that should be condemned and ended. Prisons are often used to lockup patients with addiction problems. Rich people can go to addiction clinics that charge more than $1000 a day. Poor addicts are incarcerated. Clearly that is an unjust and destructive practice. We need treatment facilities for all addicts who want them.
There is much more to think about. What shall we do with women who have children? When their mothers are imprisoned there is no one to look after them. What does it take to rehabilitate someone?
The role of prisons and our society is very problematic and extremely complicated. Common sense accounts are lazy ways of avoiding this problem.

Monday, November 19, 2018


I have always had a special fondness for Thanksgiving. Coming to the United States from Europe, barely a year after the end of World War II, life here seemed blessed and free. The policeman in the street had absolutely no interest in me or my papers. I did not have to show my identity papers to anyone; people did not carry identity papers.

Providing food involved no more than going to the A&P down the street. It was not a major effort that took up most of any day. I was very thankful for this liberation and celebrated Thanksgiving wholeheartedly.

That was almost 75 years ago. The world has changed a great deal since then. Some of the most ominous changes have not come to an end. The same processes continue and do not bode well for the future.

Thanksgiving today is a celebration deeply embedded in a commercial environment. Retailers have invented Black Friday, a frenzied grabbing for "bargains" which more and more appear to be often deceptive, a covert technique for unloading undesirable merchandise on people too tired or too ramped up to notice. Thanksgiving has become the prologue to a major fleecing of the public by big box stores. More recently this sorry event has been extended over the weekend to the next Monday.

"If people want to join that frenzy" you say, "they should be free to do so." That is of course true but  Black Friday and everything connected to it shows us how commercial interests will shamelessly take a gentle and lovely family celebration and turn it instead into something quite different, robbing it of much of what made it so valuable. Our traditions count for nothing. Making loads of money is all that matters. And as ordinary Americans, we have no say and really no recourse to restore our older culture.

If you don't believe this watch for the next five or six weeks. Did you notice that Christmas has changed from what it was when you were a child? If not, watch what is about to happen.

It is not pretty.

Ask your grandparents what Christmas was like when they were children. For myself, as a child in Germany, the during the Great Depression, there were presents but they were very practical and they were homemade. My mother would knit me a pair of new socks and that was pretty much it.

Compare it to today!

Thanksgiving also presents us an illustration of the utter ruthlessness of our commercial culture. Many Americans will cheer on their favorite football teams during the afternoon. (Perhaps that will be a way of avoiding embarrassing disagreements about Pres. Trump and his stewardship of the presidency.)

But credible evidence has emerged in the last few years that playing football is very bad for the players and that a certain number of them end up with serious brain injury. So far the teams and, more importantly, their owners have downplayed this evidence. The fans might not like it if the violence on the field were reduced and that would revenue. And so, once again, it's money that talks loudest and the health and well-being of exceptional athletes counts for less.

Thanksgiving has changed because what we we give thanks for is no longer the same. With only about 3% of Americans engaged in agriculture we are not giving thanks for the harvest unless it be for the tomatoes and corn in our home gardens. We are giving thanks for bargains which may be deceptive – we may be giving thanks for being duped by the box store. We are giving thanks for the profits that roll into the pockets of football team owners.

Not the same, is it?

Our commercial culture is transforming our traditions. America is changing even as we live in it. We need to open our eyes to see the changes and protest them if they are not acceptable.

Wake up !

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Shootings in Pittsburgh
Coming on top of the murder of two black men at a grocery store in a Louisville Kentucky suburb, and the many packages with pipe bombs sent to prominent Democrats, the murders in Pittsburgh raise terrible questions about what is going on in America. Some commentators I have heard on the radio take the easy way out and blame it all on Pres. Trump. But that is not helpful. Pres. Trump did not invent anti-black or anti-Hispanic racism; Pres. Trump did not invent anti-Semitism or the mass murder of Jews. The most one can say about him is that he is encouraging the open expression of different forms of hate.
Hate is everywhere. Conservatives hate liberals. They can't stand to listen to them. Their beliefs and arguments seem so transparently faulty that it is difficult to see how anybody with just a grain of intelligence could be a liberal. A lot of liberals hate positions they regard as extreme, for instance, the people on the political left who want to abolish capitalism and replace it with democratic socialism. They have equal disdain for people on the far right who want to reduce the role of government to that of the policeman who keeps the peace in the streets.
Red Sox fans genuinely hate supporters of the New York Yankees and Yankees fans feel the same about supporters of the Red Sox. But they do not go out and kill each other. Conservatives don't ambush liberals. Liberals do not murder leftists or extreme libertarians. But the hatred that comes to the surface in America today is murderous hatred. It is the hatred that animated both parties in the Civil War. It is the hatred that animated lynchings of Black Americans and progroms against Jews in 19th and early 20th century Eastern Europe. It is the hatred that wants to kill. It is not all hate that concerns us but the hate that needs to destroy or that applauds the destruction wrought by others.
Not all killing is motivated by hate. There is a great deal of killing in our world which does not particularly involve hatred. 17 years ago after 9/11 we "had" to invade Afghanistan in order to show that we were not weak and that we were going to punish the people somehow involved in the attack on the World Trade Center. I'm not sure we hated the Afghanis; we had no reason to hate the Iraqis. We had other reasons for killing them.
In lynchings, in progroms, in killings of black churchgoers or Jewish worshipers the victims somehow threaten the survival of their killers and their people. Whereever they have lived among Christian people, Jews have been felt to be a threat to these Christian communities. Whites often feel threatened in their identity as whites by the existence of black communities, especially by thriving black communities. The church and synagogue shootings were not perpetrated by white people just because they did not like black people but by people who thought their white identity required destroying black persons. Typically far right white supremacists talk about the white identity being under threat and needing to be defended. They talk about being the victims of "white genocide." The survival of whites requires that Blacks, and Jews, be killed.
If we are going to understand these shootings in churches and temples we need to understand the persons whose identities cannot coexist with other groups of people. The shooter did not only detest members of the group killed. He could not continue to be himself as long as they lived. His identity was under acute threat.
"Well," you say, "these people are more or less insane. The threats they feel are unreal. What we need is better mental health care for people like that."
That is a comforting thought and if there are only a few persons who go out and commit murder, who are motivated by some completely unrealistic fear for their existence, it would, of course, be very sad and upsetting, but it does not show that anything is amiss in our society, except that we let people out in the street who should be locked up.
But this morning's New York Times reports there were a sizeable variety of pages on Instagram with names such as "#jewsdid911" in "a torrent of anti-Semitic images and videos uploaded in the wake of Saturday's shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue."
The shooters may have gone over the edge and acted out their fears about their white identity but there are a significant number of people in the America today who feel under attack by the mere existence of people who are different. The mere presence of a group of may be 4000 impoverished and frightened central Americans 1000 miles away from our borders in Mexico causes them acute anxiety. These people are different. They make the Americans feel terribly insecure.
This is not just an odd fact. It is a display of a social disease, of a widely distributed personality disorder. The support for racist attacks and murders is not the only symptom of this widespread personality disorder. There are a number of reports that the counties that gave exceptional support to Donald Trump in the 2016 election are also counties with exceptionally high rates of drug use, drug overdoses and suicides. Groups that fear people who are different who feel their white identity is being threatened by people not classified as white feel extraordinary insecurity about their own identity and their own worth. Drug abuse and suicide may well be the result of those profound insecurities.
This is not an underhanded attempt to blame the President for wide-spread drug abuse or suicide. It is instead to point out that the president's supporters are frequently persons who hate persons different from themselves and feel mortally threatened by them. Their sense of themselves, their sense of their worth and the worth of people like them is feeble. They do not know who they are other than that they are different from people with brown skin, from people practicing a different religion from theirs.
There is a goodly number of such people in the US and when someone murders people by whom they feel threatened, they applaud.
The difficult question with which the murders in Pittsburgh, or in Louisville Kentucky confronts us has to do with the existence of significant numbers of Americans who are seriously afraid of people different from them so that they welcome when someone murders black people, Jews, Muslims. Our culture is seriously deficient because it does not allow everyone to grow up feeling secure in who they are so that they can tolerate differences.
We need to look at our national cultures to understand this problem, at what we teach young people about what makes life, their life, and their person worthwhile, at what we teach young people about what is really important in life.
The nation needs to ponder these questions in the wake of the latest mass murders.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Men and their Manhood

Questions about what it means to be a man in America in the 21st century come up in the background of the Kavanaugh hearings debacle. But similar questions, complaints, outrages are at work all over our culture today. The federal government has just indicted four white supremacists for causing riots in Charlottesville, VA last year and in other places. These four men are members of what they call the Rise Above Movement. Their description of their movement speaks of "emasculated white men needing to reclaim their identities by learning to fight and engaging in purifying violence." Here male identity is the source of serious complaints. Men have been emasculated. They can reclaim their masculinity only through serious violence, including murder.
Male identity is the topic of a flood of books. In all of them masculinity is presented as problematic or endangered. Different authors regard the threats as more or less serious. Some see problems; others see masculinity destroyed.
Often the problems of men are blamed on women and more specifically on feminism. The feminist movement has focussed public discourse on the problems of women, on the ways in which women have been and still are disadvantaged by unfair practices on the part of men. But no one sees the problems of men. No one cares to help out when they need assistance.
Others attribute the erosion of masculinity to the absence of fathers in many families. With the divorce rate shooting up, more boys are raised by their mothers without a father in the house. With mass incarceration separating more men from their families male children are suffering the absence of a father.
Others cite economic causes: many well-paying manufacturing jobs have moved abroad, to China or to Mexico. With men earning less, their wives need to leave the home to earn a living and the traditional family with a male breadwinner and a stay-at-home mother and wife has become a rarity. His authority is undermined by the mother also working and often earning more than her husband. Men are no longer the deciders in the family. It is not uncommon for the father to stay home and to mind the house and the children while the mother goes out and earns a living for all. The traditional role of the father and head of household can no longer be maintained.
Men therefore have trouble understanding what it means to be a man. The traditional answers--that men support their families, that men are the ultimate decision-makers, that men are autonomous, strong, and can be depended on to defend their families-- are losing their plausibility. They no longer make sense. They no longer can reassure men that they are valuable and important.
As a consequence of all these changes, men feel adrift. They are unsure of who they are. They do not understand their social position or their positions in the family. They do not know how to meet their emotional and sexual needs or what role they are to play in relation to their children. So it is not surprising that some, at the extreme, for instance, members of the Rise Above Movement cited earlier, try to regain their previous male dominance through street fighting.
What are we poor men to do? How can we find new answers to the ancient question of what it means to be a man?
It is useful, for a moment, to look at the question and ask ourselves what we are looking for. For ever and ever men have defined themselves in contrast to women. The most devastating criticism of a man was, and is, that he is effeminate. He is too much like a woman and therefore is not a real man. The fundamental defining feature of men is that they are not women.
As a consequence men have for thousands of years restricted the range of women's activities. They have been confined to the house, they have been limited to having and bringing up children. They have been kept out of the public life outside the house. Men then could claim that dominating women and all public spheres was their appropriate role. Often men claimed even that God himself placed them in this powerful position. With women able to escape these limitations, men's roles have become unclear and they feel thoroughly threatened.
The remedy is to think differently about what it means to be a man. Defining manhood as being not a woman leads us into a complete dead-end. According to that way of thinking one can be a man only by dominating women. The existence of powerful men demands that women be unequal. Once we commit ourselves to the equality of all citizens regardless of their gender, we commit ourselves to minimizing the difference between men and women.
Yes men and women have different genitals and therefore play different roles in perpetuating the race. Once the child is born, men and women can play equal roles in rearing it and seeing that it grows up to be a productive citizen.
There are, today, other differences between men and women. Women are more emotional; they are better at maintaining relations to friends and relatives. But these are social differences, a consequence of the man's search for differences from women. Men can learn to recognize their own emotions and those of others and learn appropriate responses to them. Men can learn to maintain their own friendships and family relations without needing their wives or female partner to play the role of social secretary.
The crisis of manhood – that men no longer understand what their special role in society is – is made by men themselves. By defining themselves as different from women, they can only be real men at the expense of equality for women. Once the society commits itself to equality for women, the old male paradigm as the dominator in the family and in society at large is outdated and needs to be rejected.
Men can find an identity for themselves by recognizing that what they have in common with women is central and that being a man, rather than a woman, deservedly has lost all meaning. Men will find a proper identity when they learn to honor their feelings and those of others, and when they learn to foster and maintain their own relationships as carefully as they memorize statistics about their favorite team.
Women go into combat in the Marines. Soon a woman will be elected President. There is nothing men do that women are not showing they can also do. There are no biologically based differences between men and women besides those having to do with procreation. All men need to do is to acquire the skills they have refused to learn because they were thought to be skills of women—living their own emotions and caring about those of others, being open to others instead of hiding behind a jokey facade. They must learn to live in the world of feelings.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Poverty in the United States

The Census Bureau reports that about 13% of the US population lived in poverty in 2017. The recovery from the 2008 recession has improved economic conditions for many Americans but has not touched the poor. There are as many poor people today as there were 10 years ago.
The White House denies this. They criticize the methodology used by the Census Bureau. The way they calculate poverty only 3% of Americans are poor. But most economists and statistician do not accept that conservative view of poverty.
Who are the poor? Conservatives try to tell us that people live in poverty because they are unwilling to work. Hence there is a big push to deny any kind of assistance to citizens who do not go to school or have a job. But this is sheer prejudice. 35% of the poor are children, 25% have jobs, often more than one. 10% are disabled, another 10% are senior citizens. 8% of the poor are caregivers – they cannot go out and work because they are needed to care for children, or a sick, or elderly, or disabled family member. 3% have taken early retirement, 7% are enrolled in school. There remain 3% who are not working. The other 97% are poor because they are prevented from working by their age, their occupation (such as caregivers), or their disabilities. A quarter of the poor do work, another 7% are students.
These official numbers, moreover, ignore some important additional categories. In the United States there are more than 2 million people in prison. They and often their families are unable to make a decent living. To that we must add a significant number of undocumented workers who earn less than the legal minimum wage. Their employers can pay them illegally low wages because the undocumented will not complain about their mistreatment.
It is worth noting that 25% of the poor are working but their wages are so low that they do not have enough money to pay for rent and food and other necessities. By some estimates, 25% of all workers in the US earn less than $10 an hour. Such low wages are clearly one important cause of the continued poverty of our fellow citizens.
Different sources will provide somewhat different numbersfor different categories of poverty but the general message is the same: poverty is very significant in our country and, even in a growing economy, the percentage of poor people remains the same, year in, year out.
These facts are clearly scandalous. Poverty in the United States is much more serious than in other developed countries. The United States is not only the richest country in the world but also the developed country with the highest poverty rate. It is also the poorest country among the Western capitalist countries.
It is not difficult to see what needs to be done to drastically lower the rate of poverty. The federal minimum wage needs to be raised to $15 or $20 an hour. We need to seriously reduce the number of prisoners and make sure that families of prisoners are taken care of. Welfare payments must become more generous. We must make sure that everyone, without exception, has enough food, a decent living space, and access to healthcare and education.
These are the initial steps that we must take but there is tremendous opposition against those not only in the White House but across all of America. The poor are the targets of harsh prejudice. They get blamed for their own poverty. They are said to be poor because they refuse to do a day’s work, because they are self indulgent, and lack basic skills. The poor are thought to be largely teenage (black) women who have children at 14 and 15 years of age. They are thought to be sexually licentious--an inclination inherited from the African ancestors of several hundred years ago.
Some of these accusations are clearly ridiculous and others, as we have already seen, false and unjust. The poverty rate of Black and Hispanic Americans is higher than that of Whites. But the white population in the US is much larger than the black and hispanic population. Almost 59 million Hispanics are poor, as are 42 million Black Americans. 195 million of Whites live in poverty-- more than twice the number of Hispanic and African-Americans poor. If you encounter a poor person the chance is one in two that you meet a White person.
Why do prejudices against continue to be so powerful? That question has different answers for different portions of our population.
Our leaders, from the White House on down, believe, like most Americans, that a good life is a successful life. Success they define as making lots of money. By those standards, the poor are complete failures and are therefore deserving of nothing more than contempt. The chief policymakers in America, accordingly, look down on the poor and never hesitate to disparage them.
But the people in charge not only have no respect for the poor they actively hate them. Congress is constantly considering legislation to tear the social safety net, to put stricter limits on who is eligible for food or rent aid. Elected representatives compete with each other for proposing further inroads in the already limited support for the poor.
Conservatives keep talking about the blessings of capitalism, of the so-called "free market." They believe that the economy should not be regulated by the government. This amounts to saying that unfettered capitalism without any regulations to protect consumers or workers would be to everybody's advantage. The fact is, however, that even a regulated capitalism, as we have it, leaves more than 10% of the population living in poverty. Capitalism is not in everybody's interest. It leaves significant number of citizens in dire poverty. The existence of large numbers of poor people in what we like to call "the richest country in the world"show that capitalism is not the boon our richest fellow Americans believe it is. The poor in America stand as an indisputable proof of the inadequacies of capitalism.
Rich capitalists, like Donald Trump, hate the poor for that reason: they constitute a living refutation of the quasi-religion of the free market.
The hatred of the poor has a large component of racism. Different sections of the population have different reasons for perpetuating it. Middle-class Americans have failed to get rich; they just get by. Given the prevailing idea that getting rich is the mark of success, the middle class is not successful. They can console themselves over that failure by distinguishing their own work ethic from the, actually mythical, laziness of the poor.
The lower middle class, a section on the population always in danger of descending into actual poverty, can reassure itself that it will not end up genuinely poor by trotting out the myth of the lazy poor. They, the lower middle class, work hard. They faithfully go to the job every day whbere they are underpaid. They are virtuous, they are not like the poor, lazy and without skills. So they don't, they think, have to worry about being really poor-- until the next recession when they face real, grinding poverty.
Different sections of the population have different reasons for subscribing to the mythology of the poor as indolent, unable to control themselves, lacking basic skills. They all share the same set of values that wealth is the sign of success. One has lived one's life well if one has accumulated lots of money and property.
That is the ethic that goes with capitalism. The goal in life should be making more money than the next guy. Little value is placed on integrity, on being a loyal life partner or friend, on being a good parent or child to those parents. Public service, loyalty to one's country is given lip service but do not really count. Its all about being rich, owning a bigger house, a vacation home at the shore, a big cabin cruiser, etc.
America's relationship to its poor not only shows that capitalism is a failure as an economic system but, even more importantly, it is a failure as the basis of our national ethic and our ideas of what makes human lives good lives and lives worth living.