On Wednesday of last week, United States Marine Corps Commandant General Robert B. Neller told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense: “It’s a strategic issue that less than 30 percent of the young men and women of our nation are qualified just to join the military, either because of physical, mental or moral issues.”
Think about that for a minute.
It means that 7 out of 10 young Americans between roughly 17 and say 30 are NOT qualified to serve in the military for “physical, mental or moral issues.”
It’s part of a much, much larger matter, particularly involving men in America. I despise people that hang “crisis” around the neck of the topic de jour, but when looked at in the aggregate, the statistics involving American men by almost every measure are alarming, and have been for quite some time. Economics, crime, job losses and wage stagnation, drug use, suicide, illiteracy and education failures, illegitimacy rates, government dependence, homelessness — pick any of them, or pick your own.
Coincidentally to the General’s statement Wednesday, last Thursday Tucker Carlson on Fox News began a month-long series of reports on the decline of men in America. The video of his long introduction can be seen above. I recommend a viewing of it.
This blog site is a deliberately myopic one. I focus on Freemasonry and topics and events in the world that affect the fraternity going forward. That’s why I feel so strongly that this report from Carlson is an important one that brings up issues that are having profound effects upon American society at this very moment. And because they specifically revolve around men, they are vital to understand for the leaders of the Masonic fraternity, too. Because we have a job to do, and we’re failing at it.
Here are a couple of excerpts from the show:
- “The signs are everywhere. If you’re a middle aged man, you probably know a peer who has killed himself in recent years. At least one. If you’re a parent, you may have noticed that your daughter’s friends seem a little more on the ball than your son’s. They get better grades. They smoke less weed. They go to more prestigious colleges. If you’re an employer, you may have noticed that your female employees show up on time, whereas the young men often don’t. And of course if you live in this country, you’ve just seen a horrifying series of mass shootings, far more than we’ve ever had. Women didn’t do that. In every case, the shooter was a man…
“The average American man will die five years before the average American woman. One of the reasons for this is addiction. Men are more than twice as likely as women to become alcoholics. They’re also twice as likely to die of a drug OD. In New Hampshire, one of the states hit hardest by the opioid crisis, 73 percent of overdose deaths were men.
- “But the saddest reason for shortened life spans is suicide. Seventy-seven percent of all suicides are committed by men. The overall rate is increasing at a dramatic pace. Between 1997 and 2014, there was a 43 percent rise in suicide deaths among middle aged American men. The rates are highest among American Indian and white men, who kill themselves at about ten times the rate of Hispanic and black women.
- “You often hear of America’s incarceration crisis. That’s almost exclusively a male problem too. Over 90 percent of inmates are male.
- “These problems are complex, and they start young. Relative to girls, boys are failing in school. More girls than boys graduate high school. Considerably more go to and graduate from college. Boys account for the overwhelming majority of school discipline cases. One study found that fully one in five high school boys had been diagnosed with hyperactivity disorder, compared with just one in 11 girls. Many were medicated for it. The long term health effects of those medications aren’t fully understood, but they appear to include depression in later life…
“For men, the consequences of failing in school are profound. Between 1979-2010, working age men with only high school degrees saw their real hourly wages drop about 20 percent. Over the same period, high school educated women saw their wages rise. The decline of the industrial economy disproportionately hurt men.
- “There are now seven million working age American men who are no longer in the labor force. They’ve dropped out. Nearly half of them take pain medication on any given day. That’s the highest rate in the world.
“Far fewer young men get married than did just a few decades ago, and fewer stay married. About one in five American children live with only their mothers. That’s double the rate in 1970. Millions more boys are growing up without fathers. Young adult men are now more likely to live with a parent than with a spouse or partner. That is not the case for young women. Single women buy their own homes at more than twice the rate of single men. More women than men now have drivers licenses.
- “One study using census data found that single women in their 20s living in metropolitan areas now earn eight percent more on average than their male counterparts. By the way, the majority of managers are now women. Women on average are scoring higher on IQ tests than men are.
- “Men are even falling behind physically. A recent study found that almost half of young men failed the Army’s entry-level physical fitness test during basic training. Fully seventy percent of American men are overweight or obese, as compared to 59 percent of American women.
“Perhaps most terrifyingly, men seem to be becoming less male. Sperm counts across the west have plummeted, down almost 60 percent since the early 1970s. Scientists don’t know why. Testosterone levels in men have also fallen precipitously. One study found that the average levels of male testosterone dropped by one percent every year after 1987. This is unrelated to age. The average 40-year-old-man in 2017 would have testosterone levels 30 percent lower than the average 40-year-old man in 1987.
“There is no upside to this. Lower testosterone levels in men are associated with depression, lethargy, weight gain and decreased cognitive ability. Nothing like this has ever happened. You’d think we’d want to know what exactly is going on and how to fix it. But the media ignore the story. It’s considered a fringe topic…”
Pick it apart, take issue with this stat or that one, obsess over some point where you think Carlson overstated all you like. If you don’t like him or you don’t like Fox News, then pretend it’s Rachel Maddow or Edward R. Murrow if you like. The point is, something grim is happening to the American man in society today at almost every sociio-economic and racial level, and it bodes ill for all of us.
This is far from a whole new controversy or topic, and Carlson is by no means alone in sounding this alarm bell. He’s just the latest to highlight it, and he’s got a big platform from which to spread the word. After the clip above ended, he interviewed Jordan Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist, cultural critic, and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. Peterson is hated in many circles for bringing issues like this up at all, but he’s one voice among many now. It’s been going on for quite some time.
Recall the specifically Christian-centric “Promise Keepers” movement in the 1990s, which was partially organized to attempt to halt the decline of masculine character in America. It too was publicly excoriated at the time in some quarters for fighting against the accepted cultural norms, and for celebrating what were seen as old fashioned, pseudo-Neanderthal morals and attitudes about men and women, and the very real, very serious, very honest, biological, physical, and mental differences between the sexes. But Promise Keepers, as large and as successful as they were at the time, was just a drop in the bucket, and they have largely faded from the landscape today.
Freemasonry has been around for at least three centuries, and we long ago adopted the catch phrase that we “make good men better.” So, do we? Do we really? Maybe the bigger point is that there seem to be less and less good men out there to start with, however you define “good.” That’s because the society and the culture aren’t even preparing them for the future anymore. While Freemasonry is not, and never has been, a home for wayward boys or a rehabilitation program, it has always been a philosophy and institution to encourage self-improvement through association with other men who are worth emulating. We are needed now more than ever before in a society that has left vast swaths of men unprepared to deal with life, men who are simply giving up. We can and must fill a void that exists by doing our part in helping to fix society at this critical moment in time. But we must also come to grips with the fact that the men who are joining the fraternity today (and who are already members) are NOT the men who joined 50 or 100 years ago, by any measure you may choose: in temperament, stability, knowledge, motivation, competence, competitiveness, faith, morality, education, and personal responsibility.
That’s just a plain fact. And it’s not a pretty one.
Civilization is a long game, not easily analyzed in ten year spurts, much less in five minute news reports. But these stats have been trending this way since as far back as the 1970s, as traditional male roles have been made more and more diminished, and even obsolete, by almost everything, everywhere you look. On the family side of the equation, there was Dr. Pincus’ invention of the birth control pill, followed by the legalization of abortion on demand, no-fault divorce, combined with the huge expansion of the social safety net that encouraged the destruction of the extended family. On the morality and virtue side of the equation, there has been the complete dismantling of any and all religious considerations, or even gentle guidance, in the public square, along with the plummeting rates of those who will even acknowledge a belief in a Higher Power, however that power may be conceived. Laws and regulations have completely replaced what people used to do or not do because it just wasn’t right before, or the neighbors would talk. Now, the neighbors don’t know who you are, don’t care, and they don’t dare talk about you anyway. Judges and legislators used to discuss crimes that were “an affront to God and Man.” Now, neither can even be mentioned, if only as an abstract construct, in a public policy statement or ruling, or much of anywhere else outside of a church, synagogue, temple, or mosque.
Meanwhile, consider the huge shift in attitudes about adolescence and adulthood itself. As recently as World War II, it was not an uncommon story to hear about men lying about their age to join the military as young as 16 or 17. In the 1960s, there was an insistent clamor to reduce the age of consent lower, and the drinking and voting ages were dropped from 21 down to 18 to coincide with the draft age (and in time for the 1972 presidential election) — the 26th Amendment giving 18 year olds the vote was passed by the states faster than any other Constitutional amendment in history. But in the last decade, something quite bizarre has happened. Smoking ages and drinking ages have been almost uniformly increased by state laws back UP to 21, and now states are attempting to raise the age of various gun purchases to that higher age, as well. It seems that 18 year olds are deemed less trustworthy or less responsible than they were in 1970 in the public perception. Likewise, when the Obamacare laws were enacted, the age of child dependents permitted to stay on their parents’ insurance plans rose all the way up to age 26 — further reinforcing the social acceptance that the age of childhood could now be prolonged beyond a quarter of a century — nearly a full third of the average lifespan today. Indeed, more 25 year olds today are still living with — and off the labors of — their parents (or even grandparents) than at any time in recorded history. And a substantially higher percentage of these 25 year old, at-home children are men than women.
Then there is the matter of men in the workforce. Automation has rendered the natural physical strength advantage of men over women unimportant now. Jobs once reserved exclusively for men that were considered too strenuous or too dangerous for women are overwhelmingly being replaced by machinery or technologically advanced tools. Wage stagnation has driven far more women out of domestic life and into the workplace than any sense of ‘liberation’ or ’empowerment’ has. Until the 1980s, it was absolutely possible and probable that a mature, responsible man could support a wife and two or more children on his salary alone. Two-income households have become a basic necessity now, regardless of family size, and not just a decision based on some sense of personal fulfillment. But automation is not just robbing men of jobs anymore. Women are being supplanted too, putting even further downward strain on households and on earnings. Tens of thousands of formerly middle class Americans are now living in second hand trailers and motor homes, traveling the countryside like nomads, chasing low-paying, seasonal jobs just to survive. Amazon even has a program for these people, calling them their CamperForce. We seem to be living through a modern-day Grapes Of Wrath period. But these aren’t just Okies fleeing the Dustbowl anymore. They used to be our neighbors, and they’re from everywhere.
Stir all of that soup together, and the result has been an almost complete transformation in five decades of men from the supporters and protectors of their families and society into what is today obsolescence. In a world where all gender roles (and even genders themselves) are interchangeable, men have been rendered, as the British so chillingly refer to it, “redundant.” This hasn’t been a gradual evolution over centuries or epochs, but of just a few recent decades or less. What was most admirable and successful about men vs. women for tens of thousands of years that enabled the human species to endure and flourish has been pushed overboard in less than half a century by America and much of Western civilization. To quote Ned Beatty in the movie Network, we have “meddled with the primal forces of Nature.”
Good, bad, or something in between, it doesn’t matter. This is where we are right at this moment in time.
We’re fifty years away from the pivotal year of 1968 (the “Summer of Love”) that became 1969 (the “Summer of Regret”), and that gives enough distance to compare what we were before with what we are now. In the world of Freemasonry, grand masters everywhere are currently obsessing single-mindedly on how to appeal to “the Millenials,” and starting to sniff around about the generation coming after them, too. The reason young men are coming to us is because they are searching for something. They want to fill an emptiness at the center of their lives.
Often, these young men have been raised without moral or religious instruction, or any sort of fraternal bonding at all. In that regard, an increasing number of them equate Bible passages that make up the very foundation of Masonic rituals as being no more or less significant than both ancient and new age mystical manifestations or charlatanism; who learn their own moral code because nobody from their mom to their schoolteachers to the cop on the corner wants to impose upon their own sense of self-discovery and self-esteem. They are seeking something that the culture used to provide but lost the keys to the car for a couple of decades ago. Often, they don’t know WHY they want to join the fraternity themselves, they just know that SOMETHING IS MISSING FROM THEIR LIVES. And distracted parents, shrinking families, unstable jobs, nonexistent friendships, and churches they’ve never been in haven’t provided that ‘something’ to them.
This is not mere evolution going on today. Evolution takes time. But we are experiencing a terrible rending of society itself right now, a society that no longer trains the very people who will soon inherit it, run our governments and our corporations, and decide whether to shut off your life support machine on some not too distant morning. A society that DEPENDS on the passing of knowledge and culture and ideas and history and moral and spiritual values, or it will implode when its own people who have the control panel in their hands don’t know how or why the damn thing doesn’t work anymore. Wikipedia has become our national memory and replaced the need for anyone to have one of their own anymore, and the collective consciousness of internet groupthink, of Facebook likes or Reddit upvotes, has replaced our own conscience and moral compass. As Masons, self-improvement has always been a cornerstone of improving the society around us. That’s supposed to be our mission. But we can’t improve the world if we can’t even improve our own members, or keep them long enough to even try. Or just simply attract those men “who can best work and best agree” that we are all supposed to be emulating in the first place. Society isn’t like a faulty iPhone that can be fixed by just tossing it out and getting a new one.
We once either attracted men who were the pillars of the communities, or we taught the ones who would become those leaders. Masons didn’t need to beg those men to join, or provide one day classes or reduced proficiency, or form study groups to “peer into their mindset.” They were attracted to us because of our reputation — a reputation we’ve been living off of for well over half a century now, that we don’t earn or even deserve any more. Where are our Masonic mayors and councilmen and school principals, and sheriffs and judges and business leaders and shop owners and congressmen and presidents today? Much less, our philosophers who debated the issues of the Enlightenment that we were living out within the walls of our lodge meetings before any nation put them into practice? Not many of them can be found in our lodges now.
The Lodge of the Nine Muses that Benjamin Franklin shared with Rousseau in Paris was studied by an academic historian in the 1960s, and he called it the United Nations of its era. Do we have any lodges like it anywhere the U.S. today? The truth is that when we circulate lists of famous Freemasons now, we’re lying. Those lists are like a phantom limb that our brain remembers from before it got blown off in our more recent past.
We once demanded the very best in our membership, but we also CREATED the very best, too. The most admired men in any society don’t often start out that way. But they became the best over time, in their family, their little towns, their states, their fraternity. Masons didn’t hunt for them, they hunted out Masonry.
Of course we are all on the level. But there’s a flip side to that, of our responsibility to lead and improve society around us every day, in ways large and small, regardless of how we start out. That’s what George Washington meant when as a teenager he wrote down the aphorism in his copybook, “Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.”
Children in single-parent families now make up 40% of the kids born in the U.S. today, and in the African American community, that percentage soars to 67%. They have been raised by daycare centers, drugged to be calmer and more manageable, staring into TV sets and smartphones, isolated behind backyard privacy fences or closed up in apartment cubicles, and never even knowing their who next door neighbors are (even the ones who don’t move away after a year’s lease expires). A growing handful are now home schooled, and never physically interact with other students until they reach high school, or even college. They have more virtual friends online than real, flesh and blood ones. Teenagers have lost the desire to learn to drive a car or be independent of their parents. They’re even giving up the most basic concept of the mating ritual: dating.
And yet, young men today are looking for a mystic tie to other men. They are looking for enlightenment. And undeniably, they are looking for a connection to the past that maybe their parents, friends or other institutions were never able to give them. Most of all, they are seeking a connection to something larger than themselves. They come looking for the Masonic lodges of Washington and Franklin and Hancock, of Mozart and Goethe, of Thurgood Marshall and Rudyard Kipling. Of festive boards and philosophical discussions and toasting to the King, the Queen, or the President. Lodges of the world’s oldest, largest and most legendary gentleman’s fraternity the world has ever known. They’ve read all about it. But if what they find instead is peeling plaster, foul smelling furniture from the Coolidge Administration that should be cleaned and then burned, suspicious meat sandwiches, generic pop, and three hour business meetings about when to hold the fish fry or bitching about who’s going to fix the toilet, followed by a bunch of guys stabbing each other in the back out in the parking lot, they won’t be back.
Like it or not, we’ve suddenly had a big fat awesome responsibility shoved onto our shoulders as Masons, and especially as Masonic leaders, that have never existed before. That’s now on your head and mine, because we’re still here and we keep coming back every week as these men cycle through our lodges. You can bitch about “kids these days” like your own parents used to, but like it or not, they are ours to raise now. We’re stuck with the job because society won’t do it anymore. Countless of them are moral and spiritual ciphers, hunting something they can sink their teeth into that reaches into their heads and hearts, without understanding why they need it. They just know that they do. But they won’t find what they need and we won’t have the opportunity to help them find it if they flee the building before anybody has the chance to help them discover that ‘I’m spiritual but not religious’ vacuum they recognize they lack.
The current wave in sociology, in education, and even in government is to attempt to completely deny basic human nature, and basic biological wants and desires that are baked into our cakes since childhood, and to instead alter them by fiat and by passing laws and constantly repeating theoretical utopianism that is just not true. The current state of the American Man and society at large shows that these attempts have taken a horrible toll. When human beings no longer have anything to strive for, no greater purpose to live up to, no horizon to conquer, no common belief or shared sense of mission, no sense of duty for even the children they give birth to, nothing to defend or protect or provide for, and no worth of any kind because they have no responsibility to succeed at anything anymore, they are capable of doing tragic and even horrible things, if only for revenge or out of despair. Or that most horrible of all dragons: sheer boredom.
History is something that happens when you aren’t paying attention. But we ignore this growing crisis of the decline of men in society at our peril, and at the peril of our communities and nation as well. As Masons, as citizens, as fellow creatures, it’s long past time that we rolled up our sleeves and start fixing each other before there’s nothing left to fix.
By Christopher Hodapphttps freemasonsfordummies