The Atmosphere of the ‘Manosphere’ Is Toxic

To understand the state of men in this country, it’s necessary to know three things.

First, millions of men are falling behind women academically and suffering from a lack of meaning and purpose. Second, there is no consensus whatsoever on whether there’s a problem, much less how to respond and pull millions of men back from the brink. Third, many men are filling the void themselves by turning to gurus to guide their lives. They’re not waiting for elite culture, the education establishment or the church to define manhood. They’re turning to Andrew Tate, Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson and a host of others — including Elon Musk and Tucker Carlson — to show them the way.

Not all of these influencers are equally toxic. Tate, for example, is in a class by himself. He’s a pornographer who is facing human trafficking and rape charges in Romania. Peterson, by contrast, mixes good advice with a bizarre ideology. He’ll swing between compassionate insight and wild conspiracy. I’ve known men who genuinely improved their lives through elements of Peterson’s teaching. But to spend time watching and reading these gurus as a group is to understand why men continue to struggle even though the market is now flooded with online advice.

It’s as if an entire self-help industry decided the best cure for one form of dysfunction is simply a different dysfunction. Replace passivity and hopelessness with frenetic activity, tinged with anger and resentment. Get in the weight room, dress sharper, develop confidence and double down on every element of traditional masculinity you believe is under fire.

Yes, men are absolutely feeling demoralized, as Richard Reeves put it in his brilliant book “Of Boys and Men: Why the Modern Male Is Struggling, Why It Matters, and What to Do About It.” But what is the influencer advice in response? Lash out. Fight. Defy the cultural elite that supposedly destroyed your life.

I’m reminded of my colleague David Brooks’s distinction between “résumé virtues” and “eulogy virtues.” As David described it, résumé virtues “are those skills you bring to the marketplace.” Eulogy virtues, by contrast, “are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?” Most of the “manosphere” influencers look at men’s existential despair and respond with a mainly material cure. Yes, some nod at classical values (and even cite the Stoics, for example), but it’s in service of the will to win. Success — with money, with women — becomes your best revenge.

The problems with this approach are obvious to anyone with an ounce of wisdom or experience, but I’m reminded of a memorable line from “The Big Lebowski”: “I mean, say what you want about the tenets of national socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.” It’s hard to counter something with nothing, and when it comes to the crisis confronting men and boys, there is no competing, holistic vision for our sons.

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