Newsletter #57: Life's Not Fair
Welcome back to the Masculinist, the newsletter about how we live as Christian men and as the church in the modern world.
Life Isn’t Fair
As I noted in my retrospective on sociologist E. Digby Baltzell, the idea of fairness has traditionally been powerful in Anglo-American society.
But America is not fair and getting less fair by the day. There are many rules in our society that are highly asymmetric, and favor one group or person over another.
Many of these rules aren’t written down. It’s incumbent on us to discern them and act accordingly.
Often we fail to do this. We either don’t discern the implicit rule, or pretend as if we don’t know it because the rule doesn’t seem fair.
But life isn’t and never will be fair. We need to get used to it.
That doesn’t mean we can’t fight against rules that are unjust. Seeking to change unjust rules is praiseworthy. But even in doing that, we have to operate with an understanding of the true context in which we are seeking reform.
We might also choose to ignore or break certain rules. But we should do so intentionally, and with a full understanding of what we are doing.
Never Hit a Girl
There are several female Christian influencers who write about gender issues from an aggressively feminist perspective and in explicit opposition to conservative male pastors who believe in traditional gender theology.
I see men who disagree with them try to engage in debate or refute them on social media. This seldom goes well. These men get accused of abuse or harassment, frequently drawing the ire of other men and sometimes even getting in trouble for their words.
They forgot the first rule a boy learns on the playground is: never hit a girl.
We might live in a nominally gender equalist society in which we’ve transcended gender roles, but in reality, many of the old rules are still in effect.
So anytime a man starts getting in some sort of a twitter spat with a woman online, or in general any competition with a woman, he’s not likely to come out looking good.
If you are a man, it might not seem fair, but it is reality. A reality you should take note of. This rule is one reason so many male pastors trot out their wives to do the talking on some of their less popular teachings on gender roles.
Another one of our social rules: men are expendable. In general, social problems affecting women or children get lots of attention from society. Male ills get far less attention, funding, concern, etc.
#bringbackourgirls was an international hashtag sensation. Boys as victims in the developing world, not so much.
You might argue that this is unfair and we should work to change it. The Men’s Rights Movement exists to try to do that. They are attempting to complete the project of second wave feminism by deploying similar type arguments against the disadvantages suffered by men in terms of workplace deaths, child custody awards, etc. This is legitimate to do, but not many people seem to care about this and the movement comes across as pathetic.
Cassie Jaye made a documentary about the Men’s Rights Movement called The Red Pill. I reviewed it for the Institute for Family Studies and that review should give you a sense of their arguments and reception.
As another example, read a recent New York Times op-ed from Lara Bazelon celebrating the fact that she dumped her dutiful husband for no good reason as an “act of radical self-love.” If a man wrote something like this about dumping his wife, it’s unlikely it would be published at all and would certainly draw a firestorm of blowback. As I’ve noted many times, women initiate about 70% of all divorces, but Christian pastors spend most of their time bashing men for family breakdown. I’ve never seen even one of them mention or acknowledge the stat about who actually files for divorce.
These rules are very unfair to men in a sense. But they exist nevertheless. We need to be aware of them and think about the implications of them when we act.
Keep in mind, there are also rules that are unfair to women. Think about the infamous “double standard” in which a man who has sex with lots of women is called a “stud” while a woman who has sex with lots of men is called a “slut.” Or consider that men judge women’s attractiveness based almost exclusively on looks and age. No amount of feminist rhetoric has changed that.
Single women over the age of 35 to 40 also find themselves experiencing a steep drop in the amount of male interest they receive. Some are never asked out on dates. Their marriage prospects are not good. Men in this age range may not be seen as attractive as they used to be, but have more room to maneuver.
So rather than complaining that it’s unfair that men can’t aggressively debate with women online, remember that there are other rules that put women at a disadvantage.
Again, you might want to fight to overturn these rules. If so, please do. But in the meantime, remember that they exist.
The Rules of Protest
There are also hidden rules of power and politics that are at odd with the nominal rules.
For example, consider activism. In a democracy, activism is treated as a means of democratic engagement, and things like protests are sacred constitutional rights.
In reality, activism generally only works when it is aligned with existing power structures in some way.
For example, a group of leftist protestors closed down the Golden Gate Bridge recently. Almost certainly nothing will happen to them. If protestors on the right did something similar, they might well be charged with terrorism or something.
Similarly, an illegal immigrant recently harassed Arizona Senator Krysten Sinema by following her around with a phone camera chanting, “Build Back Better!” This included following her into a bathroom and filming her there (a felony in Arizona). This person is highly unlikely to be charged with any crime, deported, etc. and the incident will quickly disappear from the press.
Meanwhile aggressive suburban school board protestors are already starting to be called domestic terrorists. The Justice Department announced it was going to start cracking down on school protestors the same day Sen. Sinema was being harassed again.
I always tell conservatives that what worked for the left won’t work for you.
This naïve belief in fairly applied rules when it comes to protests is potentially very dangerous to conservatives. Just look at what is happening to even non-violent protestors at the Capitol on 1/6.
Protests or other forms of leftist-style direct action by conservatives are more likely to be counterproductive than to work. And doing them in blue jurisdictions put conservatives in legal jeopardy or at risk of physical harm from violent counter-protestors.
If you are a conservative who wants to go to a protest such as the March for Life you can certainly do that. It is your legal right. And many protests turn out fine. There’s definitely a place for it. But you should be very aware of what you are doing and understand that your activism is going to be treated very differently from the left’s by the media and the state.
Purging the Innocent
Conservatives have at least one advantage when it comes to navigating these rules: they know at some level the elite institutions of society are hostile to them.
Those on the left are often blindsided by attacks because they naïvely believe that because they agree with all the right positions and are even working to implement the left agenda, they are the “good guys.”
They too often discover to their chagrin that this is not how it works.
For example, the head of the library system where I live was recently forced out after a black employee said the library was “run like a plantation.”
The woman who was library CEO was a progressive Democrat. In 2005 when she was on the city council, she was the sponsor of the Indianapolis Human Rights Ordinance that banned discrimination against LGBT people (at a time this wasn’t even popular among many Democrats). She rescued a community development corporation that served a black neighborhood after a corruption scandal. She actually closed a library branch in one of the city’s premier white gentrified neighborhoods while investing in minority ones. She even lives in a majority black neighborhood. And her husband recently died of cancer.
None of it mattered. Somebody called her a racist and she was tossed in the trash like yesterday’s newspaper.
There are some lessons to take from this episode.
First, no matter how impeccable your record is, it won’t matter when some opportunist attacks you. Even if you run an organization dedicated explicitly to racial justice, this won’t necessarily protect you from being cancelled.
Second, progressives in these situations often destroy themselves through foolishly apologizing when they’ve done nothing wrong. Sometimes when someone takes offense at something we’ve done, even if we don’t think we intended or even did anything wrong, we reflexively apologize for somehow making the other person upset. We often do this because the other person and our relationship with him is more valuable than being right.
But what works at the individual level doesn’t scale to the institutional level. If you are involved in a public matter like this, an apology is an admission of guilt. It’s just like signing the confession at the police station. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it improve things. The library CEO apologized for vague and unspecific events, suggesting she didn’t actually do anything objectively wrong. It didn’t help her at all.
Now, if you genuinely have done something materially wrong, then taking responsibility for that is the right thing to do. But publicly apologizing just to assuage someone else’s anger won’t work. There’s a reason politicians “never apologize, never explain.”
Third, when you are being cancelled, no one will defend you – not your close friends and associates, not mentors or former bosses, not any colleague who can personally attest to your character.
Now, you might get lucky and someone actually will defend you. Conservatives in these situations are more likely to have people publicly support them. But don’t count on it.
Not a single civic leader in Indianapolis publicly defended the library CEO. From that we can deduce that when someone tries to cancel those leaders, no one will defend them either.
If you are the leader of an organization or in any public position, you’d better have your crisis plan ready to go if and when something like this happens. You can’t rely on getting a fair hearing or any support in the face of a cancel mob.
Making an Example
Especially in the positive world church, people tend to advocate for an aggressive, high conflict, confrontational approach versus the culture, including in areas with strong secular taboos like race or gender.
This can work for some people, especially those who have achieved a degree of antifragility. Most bigname people in that world do have this, otherwise they would have been destroyed long ago.
But for most people, this can put them at high risk of getting fired or suffering some other very negative personal consequence.
A lot of Christians look back at how persecution and the martyrs helped grow the early church, and conclude that this would be the case today. So they are blasé about the effects of things like cancellation.
But sometimes cancellations function differently. There’s a famous line in Voltaire that says, “It’s good to kill an admiral from time to time in order to encourage the others.”
In other words, making an example out of someone instills fear in other people.
In today’s world, my observation is that cancellations are more likely to make people afraid than to strengthen their resolve or credentialize people and movements. If you are antifragile and get attacked, this might work out well for you personally. Donald Trump rode that effect all the way to the White House.
But if you are not antifragile and get yourself cancelled, keep in mind that this is only likely to make other Christians more afraid and be damaging to their morale.
I don’t believe you have to walk directly into the line of machine gun fire in order to prove your faith is serious. And even in the early church it was frowned upon to try to become a martyr.
In summary, if you are a man, here are some things you need to be aware of and take into account in your decision making.
It is typically unprofitable to get into an online debate with women.
Nobody is likely to feel sorry for you when something bad happens to you.
Protest and activism are unlikely to work for conservatives and even poses risks when undertaken in blue jurisdictions.
You are always at risk of being cancelled, even if you’ve done nothing wrong.
If you apologize when publicly attacked, you are confessing to having done wrong – pleading guilty to the crime.
If a cancellation attack comes, especially if you are more progressive, most of your friends will probably abandon you, at least in public and maybe privately too.
If you are successfully cancelled, this will make other people more afraid of being cancelled and weaken not strengthen your movement.
Some of these are unfair, but that’s life. If you want to work to change them, by all means do. But until you’ve succeeded, they remain in effect.
This doesn’t mean you need to operate in a fear mode, just a smart one. You might decide to move forward with organizing a protest or criticizing a female author on twitter anyway. You might take a stand that gets you cancelled, believing that it’s the right thing to do no matter what the consequences. But at least do so with accurate knowledge of the context in which you are taking action.
When I decided to launch the Masculinist, I personally decided to say things that are outside the Overton Window, knowing that this came with risks. My bet was that the good I could do was likely to outweigh the possible negative outcomes. You might make similar choices.
The idea then is not to live in fear, but to be smartly and strategically courageous.
One of the things I take away from today’s world and these rules is the need for Christian men to work towards becoming more antifragile. Antifragility is a term coined by Nassim Taleb that refers to things that grow stronger when subjected to disorder or stress. I wrote about antifragility in Masc #14 and you can download my notes on Taleb if you are interested. Antifragility gives you more freedom to smartly “break” the rules.
Going into detail on that is beyond the scope of this issue, but thinking about how to make yourself less vulnerable to outside pressures is key to enabling more bold action. Check out my writings on financial life in the negative world for some starter ideas.
Some jobs and professions are fragile to reputational harm, something that in the age of the Internet cannot possibly be controlled—these jobs aren’t worth having. You do not want to “control” your reputation; you won’t be able to do it by controlling information flow. Instead, focus on altering your exposure, say, by putting yourself in a position impervious to reputational damage…..The first step toward antifragility consists in first decreasing downside, rather than increasing upside; that is, by lowering exposure to negative Black Swans and letting natural antifragility work by itself. Mitigating fragility is not an option but a requirement.
– Nassim Taleb, Antifragile