Privilege and Prejudice: Social justice in an age of male confusion
If we don’t initiate our young men into the tribe they will come back and burn the village down – or so the famous, slightly paraphrased, African proverb warns. In today’s social media driven culture this pearl of wisdom could easily be dismissed as apologising for male violence. But irrespective of the current climate of inter-sectional identity politics this old proverb, almost offensive in its simplicity, holds worryingly true.
I recently attended a youth club in one of Scotland’s many deprived communities. One young man, petite in stature though massive in the personality stakes, had caught my attention the previous week. He had a nervous energy about him which manifested as a hundred fidgeting tics on constant rotation depending on whether he was sitting, standing or in transit. Whether tapping his toe or warning other kids not to come so close to him, he was a ball of knots so evidently at odds with himself.
He bragged of how he attended a special school where teachers were allowed to physically restrain him and that he was always being suspended for misbehaving. Every now and then he would shoot up out of his seat and launch himself around the small enclosed space like a pinball, rubbing other people up the wrong way, gathering pace with every off-hand comment about his tendency for disruption.
I genuinely hoped, given more time, I could build a rapport with the young man but sadly the night took a turn for the worst.
His language was very bad and while I would never exclude a child for swearing, I also had to consider other members of staff who take a more old school view of profanity. This meant I had no option but to advise him to refrain from using bad language – even though I knew it would be totally futile and drive only a wedge between us.
When you confront a troubled young person you run the risk of creating a side-show and that’s exactly what happened. Before long the young man was tearing around the hall, leaping up pillars, climbing behind barriers, enjoying the thrill of the chase with a captive audience – who wouldn’t?
But our club wasn’t set up to accommodate any of this. Therefore, his mad attention-seeking dash couldn’t be interpreted as anything other than undermining our authority and so we couldn’t respond except to initiate some form of force.
I coaxed the young people into another room and asked the staff to withdraw from the situation as their attempts to exert control were now fueling his mania.
Once the audience was gone I got a glimpse of this little boy’s true nature.
As I exited the side room to check on him, hoping his angry flame had petered out in the absence of spectators, he confronted me directly in the church hall. Standing about twenty feet in front of me, he screamed: “Why the fuck are you even here you urny fae this scheme?” His high-pitched voice breaking with rage.
It was a genuinely upsetting thing to witness. I could hear him hyper-ventilating even from that distance.
Not only was I alarmed by his tone but I was also startled by the fact he was holding two long pieces of metal in each hand, gesturing as if to lunge towards me.
Thankfully, he accepted the game was up and dropped the coshes before escaping from the building via the fire exit.
This was just another chapter in what will likely be his long, predictable, story of complete social exclusion.
Reports will be written by community police, community centre management and staff. Money will be spent repairing the window he smashed as a parting shot before vanishing into the cold, wet February night.
But at no point in this process will anyone be seriously willing to consider the fact we failed him. I failed him. My club was not adequately prepared to accommodate his needs and for this reason he was eventually excluded. Not to be too hard on myself here but the fact remains: a lack of planning on my part led to this incident being poorly handled. The poster for the club says ‘’All Welcome’’. Which is not quite true. End of story.
It would seem the only tribe that’s so far been willing to initiate him into their ranks is the tribe that says: If you’re not from this scheme fuck you.
All Cops Are Bastards.
And we can all go home and shake our wee heads at the thought of these futile young men who visit so much violence and destruction upon our communities. Uninitiated and wayward, our prisons fill up with these young boys, who some believe suffer from privilege. Boys who do not know how to be men because we haven’t shown them.
While, on the outside at trendy activist rallies and public sector jollies it becomes worryingly fashionable to dismiss their experience as well as much of the hard science around why they are so unruly – because it’s politically incorrect to acknowledge it.
There are many theories you could apply to the young boy. In fact, you could pretty much extrapolate whatever narrative suits your argument which is why facts are good to fall back on. Nonetheless, social theory holds increasing sway in the public sector where its influence is both subtle and unaccountable, despite only being discussed by a small fraction of the public.
One social theory that could be applied to this situation is the notion of ‘Toxic Masculinity’. This theory states that, through a sense of powerlessness at being a child, the boy has unconsciously identified the force of his own masculine characteristics. By bringing these into play he can wield more influence over his current predicament – in this case a lack of power. The thinking is that he learns this behaviour because toxic masculinity is modeled to him everywhere in a patriarchal society; pervading his personal life, perhaps at home, as well as popular culture where he is exposed to endless examples of men using force to get what they want.
Then there’s a more standard theory. One that you’d hear from his child psychologist, social workers and any cops who are paid a little more to think. This boy, by chance, finds himself in a deprived community. His caregivers, suffering the chronic stress of poverty, perhaps with duel addictions or mental health issues, have failed to instill in their son (because it was not instilled in them) a positive sense of self, strong enough to sustain moments of fear and uncertainty. For this reason, the boy is in a perpetual state of fight or flight and this manifests, initially, as challenging behaviour. The boy is, according to this worldview, presenting symptoms of mental and emotional distress which will lead to social exclusion and his environment and primary caregivers are the two main catalysts for his behaviour. But this is a less popular view to take the older he gets because once this boy becomes a man then he is fair game – from all sides.
Problems arise when yet unsubstantiated social theories begin to influence people with influence. It presents a variety of challenges both to professionals as well as service users, who can become pawns in a backroom ideological struggle between radical idealism and what, thus far, is proven to work.
I could go on but I won’t. The point is: with theory permeating all aspects of public life we now have more reasons than ever to disagree with each other about the nature of problems at precisely the moment where what we require is consensus and action.
In my view this child is a victim of circumstance. But what happens when he crosses the threshold of legal
culpability? What kind of world awaits this kind of man or men who hail from his kind of back ground?
There is much soul-searching going on within the collective male-psyche as the concept of being a man approaches its sell-by-date. Much like the vacuous self-help industry was on hand when religion fell out of fashion, consumerism will attempt to fill the hole left in masculinity following the collapse of industry.
Who’ll be there when the free market drops the ball? Surely social justice will be on hand to pick up the slack?
Well not exactly. You see, the last thing a lefty wants to do right now is stand up for young men. In every area of life the very concept of being sympathetic to the plight of the young male (white or otherwise) has become laughable.
With a genuine political need to make its values visible in a climate dominated by nationalism much of the left seems, understandably, eager to capitulate to non-rational outrage; using it as a Trojan horse to push its agenda into a public mind currently consumed by constitutional politics.
In this particular conversation the topic of male identity is often discussed in increasingly narrow terms and even referred to as an obstacle to progress, unless, of course, the male is aligned with the prevailing orthodoxy. This is a natural push back against male dominance and while difficult to traverse at times, is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
But what kind of conversations are going on beyond this echo chamber and what other tribes are on offer for a young man who might feel the left no longer speaks for him?
Let me give you an example of an issue that cuts diagonally across what many might consider ‘lefty’ politics.
Recently, Roosh V, a right wing, pseudo intellectual pick up artist, attempted to hold a gathering in Glasgow for his followers to meet and discuss their sexual exploits. This, in itself, is not a crime. The issue caused fury because Roosh is also a writer with some controversial opinions on extremely sensitive topics like rape culture.
In one ‘thought experiment’ he proposed the idea of making rape legal on private property as a solution to what he felt was ‘female responsibility avoidance’. He believes that the female should take more care and not go home with a man she does not know and that not getting raped is as much her responsibility as it is the rapists. Roosh, believes that is a rational intellectual position in the fight against gender-based sexual violence.
In other words, Roosh is a complete fucking douche-bag using free-speech to antagonise feminists for media exposure. This as well as clearly holding some retrograde attitudes about women which he cloaks unskilfully in a reasoned veneer.
One aspect of the debacle that many of us missed was the nature and intention of those who piped up defending his right to free speech. People, who did not agree with his views, but were alarmed nonetheless by many lefty’s eagerness to not only speak out against him but also intimidate and humiliate his followers. While targeting Roosh was completely understandable (and necessary) more attention could have been paid to the people on the periphery who were drawn to him for a multitude of reasons – not simply by a hatred of women.
We also missed the more skilled advocates of free speech who surfaced, not all raging woman haters, but instead, part of a school of thought gaining serious traction in the United States and elsewhere. We simply told ourselves that anyone defending Roosh’s personal liberty must be a bedroom-dwelling sexual failure or feminist-hating rape apologist.
Sadly, what’s coming is not going to be as simple or predictable as dealing with misogyny. What we’ll soon be dealing with is a groundswell of cultural libertarianism that has the progressive left firmly in its cross-hairs.
It’s time to wise up or receive the hiding of a lifetime.
This advancing libertarian movement is less concerned with Ron Paul-style economic liberty and free-markets and more with what it sees as encroachments, by the left, on the free exchange of ideas.
What they are fighting for is, on the surface, both tangible and morally-just. There is a simplicity in their message that resonates with a broad range of people and this coupled with a low-entry level to their ideas has made them the new go-to tribe for those frustrated at being shut down, hounded or shamed by lefties online. No doubt many of Roosh V’s more passive followers became radicalised that night and, in the absence of a lumber, took to Youtube in search of a worldview that did not diagnose them as the problem.
We’ve all been there.
This movement is giving expression to countless people, across the whole political spectrum, at the end of their tether with a left they feel is obsessed with identity politics.
That’s why it is absolutely essential that we realise we are not dealing with a band of neo-Nazi-skin heads or socially detached Tories. What we are dealing with is a new, improved version of ourselves.
This is an intelligent and focused intellectual counter culture emboldened by the new atheist movement of the early 2000’s – referred to pejoratively (and without a hint of irony) as ‘The Dark Enlightenment’ by socialists and progressives aware of its existence. But where Hitchens and Harris used delusional creationists as polemical target practice on bible-belt university campuses, this ascendant multi-faceted philosophy has turned its critical eye on the all-knowing religion of social justice.
This is a movement equipped for the social-media age, much like Scottish Nationalism, that sees itself as the antithesis of the intellectual status-quo. Like nationalism, its arbiters unite around a founding principle from which they can never be shifted, and this becomes the glue that holds millions of individuals in place. Online there is a new pantheon of polemicists, thinkers, writers, artists and philosophers championing the libertarian cause; responding to current events like the recent ‘no-platforming’ of biologist Richard Dawkins, among other things, with not only contempt but genuinely sophisticated (sometimes entertaining) arguments rooted in more than just reactionary emotion and vaguely articulated principle.
The aim of the game is to push back against, what it believes to be, a pernicious and pervasive progressive dogma that compartmentalises society into sub-groups based on arbitrary factors like race and gender, while super-imposing subjective, freedom-inhibiting, social theory onto every aspect of life.
Ironically, a mode of activism that makes meaningful class struggle more challenging as it, in its most absurd form, divides every pre-existing struggle into sub-struggles, aggressively competing with one another for cultural prominence.
The very movement the left adopted to stay relevant is now giving it a bit of an image problem but the sensitivity around some of the issues being discussed, like gender-based violence, mean people are anxious to challenge certain prevailing points of view, even if they disagree. Not only does this stifle the free exchange of ideas but also creates resentment which can quickly escalate to heated accusations.
In particular, advocates of victims of abuse hold more influence than ever before and some feel this can distort discussion of certain issues.
Enemies from all sides can smell blood while much of the left, unfortunately, is too caught up in its own conversation to notice. Those who are more aware are either considering defecting to a more libertarian viewpoint or naively underestimating the threat.
Led by Youtubers like Sargon of Akkad, Thunderfoot and the uncomfortably compelling, Stefan Molyneux, along with many others, this movement is comprised of individuals, many of whom can be easily dismissed as ‘zoomers’ but who, nonetheless, consider themselves radical free-thinkers, inspired by enlightenment values.
While lefties are seen as quick to dismiss their critics as racists, rape-apologists, scum-bags and misogynists without a second thought, these libertarians identify as the real defenders of free speech and human rights in the face of ‘neo-progressive’ tyranny.
Where many on the left would find it politically incorrect to call a spade a spade, as it were, this emergent counter culture is not only unafraid of slanderous accusations but they also come to the party armed to the teeth with facts and data supporting many of their controversial positions.
Positons that are usually associated with the political right but which are becoming more mainstream as Western media and politics adopts a more anxious and protectionist posture in the wake of global economic uncertainty and escalating military conflict. But while many of the issues raised by this movement are synonymous with the right, this new movement also has a healthy culture of open debate and intellectual inquiry and for this reason has become attractive to larger numbers over the last few years. This is not necessarily because of misogyny but more, the allure of reasoned, non-accusatory, discussion in age where the white man is much easier to dismiss out of hand.
There’s also an element of taboo at play, which doubles up as entertainment, as these libertarians are not shy to speak out against many of the left’s sacred cows; strident celebrity feminists like Anita Sarkeesian who invoke ‘safe spaces’ to exclude a diversity of opinion and insulate themselves from criticism while launching lucrative crowd-fund appeals to perform relatively simple tasks like point out obvious things about violent computer games; Islamic extremists, sections of the left tend to sympathise with, who pose more of a threat to the feminist plight than media savvy opportunists like Roosh V.
Just seeing other people say this stuff out loud offers catharsis to thousands of people who would otherwise identify as lefties, but who are increasingly at odds with how issues are discussed and advanced. There is a feeling that this particular strain of well-intentioned progressivism inadvertently implicates everyone, but the progressives themselves, in industrial scale cycles of abuse; every human interaction being part of a wider, sinisterly orchestrated power dynamic.
But ultimately, beneath the politics and rhetoric, people are flocking to see the world through this particular lens because they feel rejected for being honest about how they feel. While many of the high-profile libertarians may be of genuine concern to us, many of their followers are just everyday people who are confused and isolated in the cacophony of modern life. They look online and are attracted to the idea of being accepted, unconditionally, into another tribe. A tribe where it’s acceptable to be their authentic selves without being accused of apologising for rape and structural violence.
Everything else follows from that and this is what we must understand.
Over here we only seem to talk about what we are against or who we’re shutting down next. I know this is not the case for those involved in grassroots activism, but this is the dim-light we currently give off to the wider public. Over in shiny-new libertarian land our traditional open and shut topics like immigration and rape culture can be openly discussed and debated without accusatory language and condemnation. It’s a movement that prides itself – unjustly so at times – in the art of debate, where a firm grasp of the facts is underscored by an unshakable belief in the free exchange of ideas.
And unsurprisingly there is a lack of concern for protecting people’s feelings – least of all those who would thoughtlessly impede on personal liberty all in the name of personal liberty.
We have to separate what parts of this movement we could constructively engage from the parts we need to fight. The first instinct would be to attack its moral failings, but their response would be brutal, reasoned and devastatingly entertaining to hear. By dismissing it as misogyny we’re playing the man and not the ball and we are being willfully aloof to the fact that the intellectualisation of prejudice is something every one of us is guilty of from time to time.
We should be unafraid to own up to our absurdity and, in fact, welcome the critical gaze from within our own ranks as well as behind enemy lines.
How do we show our better side to the people we disagree with, those who are more moderate and likely to engage? May we be out of step on some issues or out of intellectual shape in terms of spotting where we’re falling short?
Can we, for example, concede that some feminist activism is unhelpful while also asserting, unequivocally, that society as a whole benefits from gender equality and that it’s the opposite of rational to generalise all feminists based on the misguided actions of a few? Why not explain to them that new-atheist poster-boy and legendary polemicist, Christopher Hitchens, was a strong ally of women globally and when he wasn’t going after Bill Clinton for sexually abusing them he was talking about how the empowerment of women is the only known cure for poverty. He even went after Mother Theresa, so angered he was with her ‘poverty is the friend of the poor’ nonsense and hated religion partly because of the way it subjugated women, not only to men, but false Gods.
Can we accept that while nebulous, thorny, self-referential and indulgent, identity politics can also be a transformative vehicle for empowerment and has already contributed greatly to the enhanced rights and freedoms of all people – including white men? Are we able to detect when it’s disappearing up its own arse and gently make one another aware or will we continue to walk on egg-shells around socially-mobile, relatively privileged activists who rarely have to interface with every day people?
Can we accept that some women, whipped up into a frenzy by radical feminists, have inadvertently denigrated the very concepts that were created to support those who have suffered genuinely harrowing abuse? Safe spaces and trigger warnings have now become a source of misunderstanding as libertarians cite countless examples of privileged women using them in absurd ways. We hear stories of women who claim tweets can trigger their PTSD and see examples of ‘safe spaces’ being invoked in public places, while a growing culture of ‘no-platforming’ stifles debate. In the case of ‘trigger warnings’, while completely rational and understandable concept, can we also engage with an argument that says there is no real evidence to suggest that being protected from recalling distressing memories is conducive to a healthy recovery from a traumatic event?
(As someone who is ‘triggered’ from time to time I can say with certainty that any attempt to re-order the external world and its inhabitants around my own personal difficulty has ended in complete failure. Grief must be faced head on if it is to be understood and overcome.)
Can we accept that progressivism has an image of being largely about middle class white people assuming the role of spokesperson on behalf of others and that class, therefore, must be at the forefront, running parallel to any other social theory being discussed or debated?
Can we accept that the social theory of privilege is probably best served as a means of articulating one’s own experience but is maybe not the best way to pitch social change to other individuals and groups? Namely as it tends to implicate them in horrendous acts of oppression with no recourse to dispute the accusation? Is acknowledging some of this admitting defeat or just whittling our task down to a more manageable size?
Surely some of you are already pondering these things but are anxious to say it out loud?
When it comes to foreign policy and immigration can we accept that opposing points of view are not necessarily immoral?
Can we present rational arguments for our assertion that casting a critical eye on the institution of Islam itself, as opposed to just extremist elements, will do more harm than good in the struggle to fight terror? Can we, essentially, make a positive case for a religion or does this contradict our secular, rational leanings?
How does political correctness affect our ability to discuss uncomfortable facts?
How can we say gender based violence is a problem for men because mostly men perpetrate it but on the other hand skip over the fact most terrorism is perpetrated by radical Muslims?
Is it a crime to even think that thought?
Most of all, can we humble ourselves to accept when a rational idea originates in the mind of a disagreeable person? Can we accept, for example, that while we see a net economic benefit from immigration, that this benefit is never felt by the poor and disadvantaged and, therefore, can we empathise with those who question the logic of letting migrants re-settle poor communities already under immense social and cultural strain?
Which of our positions are about standing by principle and which are about outdated, rigid dogma? Let’s not be afraid to confront this question openly and without fear.
With the very concept of masculinity up for renewal it is extremely important that we do not, in our virtuous attempt to make overdue space for marginalised voices, inadvertently set up an esoteric talking shop that sneers at the very thought a man (white or otherwise) may have an opinion on his place in this new plural society.
We cannot allow a small, obtrusive, strain of activism that views the male as an obstacle to progress pervade leftist politics because there is no progress unless a majority of men (white or otherwise) are on-board. This is surely a practical conclusion to draw as opposed to one overly-steeped in idealism. It’s easy to stay in your own conversation and lose sight of how your politics actually plays out in the real world.
Visit a prison and you’ll see where the concept of male privilege runs into problems.
This new tribe is advancing because they promote a world view where the men don’t have to change: this is where they are most deluded. Still, they absorb disaffected men in droves every single day by offering a world view where they can be the good guys. All while we focus on nationalists and take our position on the political spectrum for granted.
Much like the Unionist politicians and press not so long ago, we may find ourselves totally supplanted by this new, taboo and altogether simpler way of thinking – with nothing but our petty sense of entitlement to blame.
We have forgotten how to engage with opposing ideas in a respectful and constructive way. At least, in the public’s eyes we have and this is what counts ultimately. This lack of self-awareness, coupled with a right-on, slightly trendy, cowboys and Indians world view, which otherises the darker aspects of human nature in favour of moral posturing, is driving people away from us and into the arms of a movement which is sure to find political expression soon enough. And mark my words, we’ll be the first thing they come after.
You’re likely harbouring some in your ranks right now who are just keeping their thoughts to themselves for a quiet life.
We need to be ready.
We need to become champions of freedom of expression as well as arbiters of social justice and we have to reflect on which of our mutually exclusive, non-negotiable, principles are incompatible with each other – free speech and insidious political correctness I’m looking at you. We do not have to agree on everything but we have to respect people with other ideas and remain mindful of the young men our all-inclusive echo-chamber nonchalantly excludes.
Whether we like it or not young men, as a social group, wield such a level of potential force in society. It doesn’t matter if that is fair or not it’s simply a fact. We absolutely must handle this evolving issue with care and understanding and be ready to reign in the zealots in our own ranks who allow personal prejudice to fuel their politics under a veil of social inclusion.
Partitioning ourselves off from the complexity of the male experience and ignoring the implications of pursuing non-rational, ideologically driven, politically correct solutions to male violence and misogyny will only suffice for so long. If we continue engaging in our own exclusive conversations, where people must agree with certain non-negotiable precepts or be excluded, then don’t be surprised when the young men we inadvertently shun eventually find another tribe.
And be even less surprised when they return to the debating village one day with fire torches – and it won’t be to perform a juggling show.