Wikipedia: Sam Hood

I’ve seen the greatest men of my generation crushed by the assumption that their contributions were unwelcome. We live in a society that’s increasingly lacking a positive identity for men. In that vacuum, young men are increasingly isolating themselves and falling into depression. The biggest killer of young men under 45 in the UK is suicide. Now, I’m not handing you that statistic to shock you. Maybe you already know. I’m just trying to set the stage for a discussion that I think needs to be had.

Maybe it’s worth talking about what we mean by “masculinity”. I don’t think it’s a concept that we can simply do away with. Masculinity is just the best way for a man to be. It implies nothing. We might as well call it “goodness for men”. Masculinity can’t possibly be bad; we can only have ineffective conceptions of masculinity. Clearly, there are better and worse ways for anyone to be. Otherwise, this discussion would be redundant.

“In schools, boys are increasingly considered to be rowdy and troublesome”

I think we’re currently possessed, as a culture, by increasingly dualistic and unhelpful views of masculinity. I grew up, fortunately and unfortunately, with access to the cultural pressure-cooker that was the internet in the 2000s and early 2010s: this is the birthplace of the Alpha-Beta dichotomy. I don’t know why it emerged, but it did. And it might be easy to brush off as the sort of ridiculous nonsense thought up by disenfranchised young men, because that’s exactly what it is. But ridiculous nonsense can be dangerous, and it can be harmful if it’s left unaddressed.

The conception of “Alphaness” is along the lines of an incredibly independent, disagreeable, socially dominant, sexually prolific, and physically superior man. Not only is this just a caricature, it’s not even a particularly good one. When you look at chimps, our closest relatives, you find a few interesting facts. One of the first ones is that the leaders of troops tend to be the most pro-sociable and agreeable. Another fact is that – other factors being controlled – independence and disagreeability is actually a very bad predictor for mating success. This is echoed in one recent study that showed that (controlling for physical attractiveness), trait pro-sociability had a multiplicative effect on attractiveness. Though this was found to be the case for both sexes, it does seem to contradict the popular notion.

“How could we possibly hope for any disenfranchised young men to work for something good?”

So then why has this popular notion emerged? I think it comes from a place of deep self-resentment. In schools, boys are increasingly considered to be rowdy and troublesome. We’ve all heard the story of the kid who got expelled from his Baltimore-area school for chewing his poptart into a gun. Maybe that doesn’t do anything to convince you. That would be perfectly fair, it’s only one example. But it’s also true that almost 20% of American boys are diagnosed with ADHD, and subsequently drugged up for their “hyperactivity”.

Now you might be thinking: what’s the upshot here? Why hand me all this doom and gloom for no reason? Well, there is an upshot. I was lucky enough to participate in the Ark Schools Summer Internship in 2017, where I got to see Ciaran Thapar run his “Hero’s Journey” program with a group of underachieving upper GCSE students with what some might call “behavioural issues.” Over the course of the talk he told his own story: how he came to found the program, talking about the work that he’d done with young gang members in Brixton through mentorship programs. At the end, he extended an invitation to the group to mentor younger students who were equally disengaged with school. The message was clear: he was telling these young men and boys that their experience was valuable, that their desire to lead was important.


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Mountain View

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The clinical psychiatrist Jordan Peterson has been making some waves lately. Maybe it would be controversial to bring him up here. But I have to, because of his effect on me and my own experience. I’m going to be hyperbolic here, but I think he’d agree with me: young men are dying for something to die for. “They’re desperate for a discussion about responsibility… to hear the idea that their lives actually matter! That they could have a positive effect on the world!” These were his words in his recent BBC Radio 5 interview, likely overshadowed by the controversial Channel 4 interview shortly thereafter. And we really ought to keep an eye on that sort of overshadowing. So much of what makes could make men’s lives useful, happy, and beautiful is being overshadowed by discussion of pathological masculinity. But without discussions like his, Cairan Thapar’s, or even this one that I’m writing, how could we possibly hope for any disenfranchised young men to work for something good?

We all need stories to contextualise our lives. That’s evident enough to me. Think about the sheer amount of money and effort put into something as seemingly banal as the Avengers movies! Narrative helps us to transform our own personal journeys into something transcendent. At one point, religion served that purpose. I’ve read stories of early Christians in ancient Rome willing to die in horrible ways for their faith and it’s no wonder. To die for yourself is a tragedy; to die like your very own god for the good of all mankind is something to be pretty pleased about. Maybe we should extend the same benefit to young men. To live for yourself in the body of a rowdy, useless, patriarchal troublemaker is hell; people in hell tend to live like demons. To live for those around you in the useful form of a strong and capable individual is something closer to bearable

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