Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Emerging Leisure Class

Maggie Gallagher marshalls up some more evidence in support of this growing thesis that men are suffering setbacks in education (particularly higher education) and marriage these days. In the course of her writing, I think she hits upon two important insights. First: Men don’t marry because they don’t have to. And second: The decline in marriage comes with a weakened inclination to work.

One of the guys she discusses has failed in two marriages, worked his way onto a third (a wife who--surprise--collects disability payments), and now spends the bulk of his time playing classical piano, reading history books and writing reviews for Amazon.com. What’s wrong with this picture?

Plenty. First, it appears that despite setbacks in "formal" education, some of these guys still have plenty of mental energy. The guy mentioned above argued that he found all available work to be either "demeaning" or "underpaid." I don’t know what kind of work the guy was looking to do, but I’m sure that whatever it was, collecting his wife’s disability check is alot easier. After all, like all philosophical sorts, he places a high value on his leisure.

That’s all very nice, in its way, but I doubt the federal government can sustain very many of these Amazon.com philosophers. I further doubt that there are enough disabled women to support this emerging leisure class.

Yet another emerging trend is that of middle-aged single men who have very little inclination to change their situation--even if it does mean a disability check. These guys, according to Gallagher’s account, fear marriage and also doubt their capacity to be faithful in a world where uncomitted free sex is a smorgasboard for guys willing to take it. Gallagher titles her column: The Trouble With Men but I wonder if "the trouble with men" might better examined in looking at "the trouble with women." The sad fact is that men are capable of all kinds of wonderful things when properly inspired. But they have very little interest in doing those wonderful things if they don’t get the proper kudos for doing them. Remember, as Mansfield said in his book Manliness, men NEED to feel important.

Discussions - 22 Comments

As Rousseau says in his letter to D’Alembert on the theatre, "Do you want to know men? Study women." He goes on to explain that "Never has a people perished from an excess of wine; all perish from the disorder of women." None of which should be used just as an excuse for men.

I think this points to the corruption of all things formal.

Formally (if you ask most economist to give you a number) two people cannot live on $1200 a month... Yet apparently it is possible!

Formally men are falling behind in education...yet the internet is lowering the cost of a genuine education. Colleges measure admission standards on "formal" standards...standards that may have nothing to do with the most important standard: the desire to learn. The ACT and SAT are somewhat biased in favor of women. High School grades certainly are(biased) because women aim more to please...while men struggle with stubborn identity issues. Social Security disability is a "formal" measure of how worthless you are: say 40% for back problems...100% for prostetic limbs...You are paid for being and remaining broke... not for overcomming or the desire to overcome.

How do the "formal" structures interact with self-interest(or broadly construed the desire or lack thereof to carve out your own forms)?

Julie - your description of the guy from the Gallagher piece sounds like he would be a perfect candidate to be...a blogger.

Hey, Craig, I resemble that remark.

J. Colman: don’t forget the similar (and earlier) footnote on men and women found in the First Discourse: "Men will always be what is pleasing to women. Thus if you want men to become great and virtuous, teach women what greatness of soul and virtue are. The reflections afforded by this subject and made long ago by Plato richly deserve a better develoment by a pen worthy of writing in the tradition of such a teacher and to defend so great a cause." (I don’t have the French in front of me, so I won’t vouch for the 100% accuracy of the translation.)
Back to work.

Actually I would say that the decline in marriage should bring about an increase in work...because of costs savings associated with shared living/security of marriage contract to long term planning...but supposing that people can live together without getting married this should be somewhat nullified...also if they are having fewer kids then there is less necessity to work...In any case the amazon.com historian got married...it would seem, in order not to work.

There is no trouble with men or trouble with women per se... the fact is simply that formal marriage like formal education isn’t always a good deal just because Economists tell you that ceteris paribus you will make more money, save more money and live longer if you partake in both.

Craig--Touche! A very good point that was not lost on me as I blogged away on the good graces of my husband’s income.

John--You are too smart to really believe half of what you say. I have conceded (and had you in mind as I wrote of that Amazon guy) that there is much that is true in the general thrust of your (very American) inclination to distrust experts and eschew formal trappings. You ask: "How do the "formal" structures interact with self-interest(or broadly construed the desire or lack thereof to carve out your own forms)?" The answer is: not easily. That is why the rare and (sometimes) wonderful exceptions can sometimes feel rather trapped in those forms. The great thing about such souls is that they are quite capable of working around those forms without disrupting them or, if they’re not, then perhaps they’re not as wonderful as they might like to believe.

The forms, however imperfect or sometimes corrupted, serve the rest of us poor souls rather well I would argue. At their best and in their best form, they serve to illuminate the path toward those higher things that make life worth living. And, for those (apparently like you) of a higher nature than the rest of us, the forms at least keep us occupied and out of your hair. If we are well governed, then you won’t have to deal with our messes so much.

Your attempt at an argument against formal marriage misses the mark in this sense: you focus on the parties in the marriage. From the point of view of society, I care not for them or their good. I assume that the two of them are adults, they have been given every possible freedom of choice, they have made a decision and I expect them to abide by it--in most cases--not so much for their good but for the good of their children and of society. (I have always found it funny that those of a more libertarian inclination with respect to private relationships bristle so at any suggestion that society or government take an interest in who or how one marries--but they seem to have no problem with embroiling the government in the messy and sordid details of their divorces!) So, by all means guys--educate and fornicate yourselves to your heart’s content and to the extent you are able (o.k., now I’m half kidding)--but at some point would you just get married and get a job already?!

I am sorry if I am just spamming. But I always get the feeling when reading such things that the solution is something along the equivalent lines of what sitting in the middle front of the class is to getting better grades. I am somewhat of an economist and certainly empirically minded...but I don’t think that the complaints of the type being made have any meaning. Magie Gallagher is closest to meaning when she states her own subjective interest in the matter when she says that her motivation comes from seeing her brothers and male friends failling. Julie is close to having a meaning when she suggests that the problem with men may be a problem with women...perhaps she blames feminism, I might blame the welfare state, but I also sense that all of this is running in circles. Essentially choice or freedom within a certain structure is creating inequality. Not everyone is able to keep up. With more choices available comes more differentiation. I suppose you could blame some of the differences on g(IQ)... Supposedly women with a high g and correspondingly high levels of education are have difficulty finding mates...so they complain and project an entire thesis upon society? Essentially part of the problem is to be found in why we think it is a problem...and this goes back to Toqueville’s observation that americans love equality more than freedom. Males with low levels of g are falling behind in the new economy and women with high g while doing a bang-up job are being alienated from the essential right to marriage...which I suppose they believed men were somehow previously forced into?

In any case I digress...my whole point wasn’t originally to "objectify" the problem but rather to argue that because the problem stems from human choices and freedom and the attending consequences...it defies any such objectification...it is our desire for equality that prevents us from seeing this? Any attempt to quantify or objectify the problem in an empirical sense essentially deprives the innumerable individuals that comprise society of the richness or perhaps poverty of his or her own choices. An approach that goes beyond statistics...to a recognition of meaning within the constraints of the possible(which would vary from person to person) is needed.

Julie, I posted that before I saw your reply. Thank you for the compliment, but as you note accurately I may not deserve it.

In your reply you say: "From the point of view of society, I care not for them or their good." I should think you too smart by half to mean that... although I don’t disagree with the context or explanation in the rest of that paragraph.

In my opinion it is precisely "them and their good" that we should be talking about...otherwise any talk of having a societal point of view is rather meaningless.

Also my argument wasn’t for divorce...but for why people are not getting married...or why they are searching for something that is somewhat/somehow different from traditional marriage, or else postponeing it...and if you want an answer to that you have to look to understand "them and their good".

In any case I don’t disagree with you... I am just saying that the commandment: get a job! can’t be abstracted from the jobs available to the individual(and if he can get away with not getting one...oh well...you know that in my opinion we need less of a nanny state, but that it is also true that some frictional unemployment is a good thing) any more than the commandment: get married can be abstracted from the women available to the man or the men to the woman.

I would actually like to propose that dealing with this empirically is rather impoverished...but since I just remembered the concept of frictional unemployment...let me suggest the corollary concept of the "frictionaly unwed". Otherwise it seems to me that the grand solution is that anyone will do and it might as well be an arranged marriage.

Now I am spamming... But as you all know there is a Non-inflationary rate of employment...what is to say that there is not also a corollary in the group of people eligible for marriage? Some people perhaps are unfit for marriage....and others are perhaps unfit for any of the suitors...if you showed up for a ball and everyone there was a monkey...would you dance? Only if you were also a monkey...or perhaps only if you really liked monkeys for some reason.

John, you confuse me a bit here. I do not suggest or propose or even want any governmental solutions. Are you being a typical man and confusing my complaining about the state of things with a commandment to FIX SOMETHING? I don’t think government is going to fix this and I don’t really think it should try. I just think it is good to look at these things and adjust our collective attitudes to the consequences we have wrought with our new morality. And, obviously, on some level I do care about the well being and happiness of the parties involved in a marriage (or whatever new construct we create) because--as you note--their apparent unhappiness is what seems to be causing alot of our current mess. But I very much doubt that there is any "new" solution to what ails these folks any more than there is any "new" solution to the problem of weight loss. The old hard way is probably the only thing that works.

John--you really need to get out more! Monkeys?

Might this not be related to the "malaise of modernity?" As people become "affluent," status symbols become ubiquitous (you can even lease a BMW if you want to). Real status markers, like the McMansion and "stardom," are simply out of reach for 90% of the population of men. Given that attainable status markers are 1) easier to ’fake’ and 2) so common that they lose much of their status value, is it any wonder that millions of people just redefine their way out of the status struggle (at least, they fool themselves that they have escaped).

The related problem is that our communities just don’t have the muscle to insist that people struggle for status. With affluence (and/or welfare) comes autonomy...it’s much easier simply to ignore "peer-pressure." Why marry, hold down a job, live a responsible adult life? Who’s gonna notice, care, or insist on that?

Craig great call on the blogger. I was also thinking...men and women who read books, produce nothing, and generally receive there salaries via government subsidies and grants--PROFESSORS!

The problem of men not working extends beyond some masculine American malaise. It is a problem in the nations of Africa, for example, Kenya, with a 50% unemployment rate. It is a problem in the nations become independent of the former Soviet Union, where alcoholism among men is epidemic and women work because men won’t. What about this
which is surely a related phenomenon.

It is a modern problem, unless history has misread the relationship between the genders. It may seem to be caused by affluence in the US, but if it is a problem in other countries, and it is, then the cause of the problem lies elsewhere.

There was a saying in the Soviet Union during World War II about "working for oneself and for that man," (rabotat’ za sebya i za tovo parn’ya), referring to making extra effort to replace all the men who were away at war.

After the war, the saying stayed around. It’s usually applied to women because, like Kate said, unemployment and alcoholism among men have become major problems in Russia and the other CIS countries. The thing is, it applies very well to the majority of Russian women -- they do the work, and the men (even if they have jobs) do not.

Well, it’s true about Africa and Russia, but has it always been true? At least in this country, men have worked and worked hard. It was men who built the canals, laid the tracks, strung the telephone poles, hauled the goods...and for the most part, it’s still men who do these things. It’s a class of men who are refusing to work (and maybe a class of women as well). The challenge is to discover WHY they lack ambition.

The monkey business came about because I couldn’t remmember the Shaupenhaeur quote involving a ball and the lack of suitable suitors. Monkeys seemed a good enough stand-in.

I agree with Dain. Before we can say anything meaningfull we have to agree upon why people lack ambition. But People lack ambition for multiple reasons. The men in Africa get away with not working because they can dominate the women and make them work. The men in Russia get away with not working because Vodka became a cultural habit in the gloom of communism. The tiny and hardly representative leisure class in america gets away without working either because of government dole or living with parents...and if you are willing you can live on a budget...you don’t really need all the material things in life. Men flourished in days of old on less than is available to the amazonphilosopher. And Dain is 100% correct in his assessement of Modern Malaise...but I have to ask...Is the problem in america really that people don’t struggle for status? I don’t think so. Perhaps the problem is that some people don’t struggle for "status" in the sense in which we conceptualize "status"...because status is either unatainable for them, or they think it is...or because they are not inclined towards the various versions of status "idolatry". If the priest can withdraw from the world, if Schaupenhaeur can withdraw from the world the common man can also wall himself away. The mountain man can create his own private Idaho... these are drastric examples...and yet?

Julie is somewhat wrong to call them rare souls...or to suggest that I necessarily belong to that class(I am much too worldly) but I would suggest that Shaupenhaeur was overly pesimistic if not about sucess then at least about the numbers that would make the effort in some fashion. But if you really think about it aren’t these in a sense idolatries themselves(private status quests?)? Tell me that if you trully believe in the alienating effects of modern society you wouldn’t consider withdrawing. I am saying that if you really look at the big picture there is a sense in which you can see good and bad to every side of the coin known as life(provided you can detach yourself enough to switch lenses) We don’t see this when we conceptualize society under the lens of a single philosophy/epistemology(and this is what I was really attacking when I said that "this points to the corruption of all things formal")...because we cut out the richness/diversity (of the mostly strange ideas/religions out there that subsist because of problems people believe exist on an existential level..and perhaps they do...or perhaps they are the real result of faulty thinking/feeling) There are so many strange views(philosophies or religions) out there...that if in essence Dain is correct in that it is society that upholds morality...then we are in deep caca. Because in essence a liberal democracy/Republic is going to allow people the freedom to pursue these religions/philosophies/modes of thinking. So if Rousseau is right and all americans are alienated...then the manifestations of this alienation are to be expected in some form or another. If Dain is right and the problem rests in communities not having the muscle to insist on a particular tailoring of status(or standards)...well this is also a problem inherent in a liberal democracy...

I still think this is a small problem...because not everyone will take such a gloomy view to modernity(or the potential for attaining some form of happiness or contentment)...Status is not in its death throes, for every man who is detached or alienated from the prospect of wealth and status, there are at least 2 or 3 who worship the dollar, and perhaps 4 or 5 who worship the familly, some who worship freedom, some who are prostestant, some Jewish, some Muslim... you get the point? In sort people lack ambition in areas that the "status" symbol they worship fails to hold up as the ideal of the good life.

And you can say that this is all just philosophy of a poor sort...but isn’t the world animated by human beings animated by ambition itself animated by concepts and conceptions put foward in diluted forms by philosophy and religion? Men choose or are chosen by these idols...and all else follows. But of course women are in general the most idolized possession of men...they aren’t the only idol...one must not appopriate a single lens to objectify all men(but if you have to pick only one this is probably the best)

Enough with philosophy already... I am off to watch American Idol.

"A very good point that was not lost on me as I blogged away on the good graces of my husband’s income."

As you continued to pass down your judgments on strangers from second-hand summaries of their lives, I question if it really wasn’t lost. The tongue wasn’t bitten, the fingers tapped away, and we got this:

"First: Men don’t marry because they don’t have to. And second: The decline in marriage comes with a weakened inclination to work."

Immediately followed by, somehow, this (example?):

"One of the guys she discusses has failed in two marriages, worked his way onto a third (a wife who--surprise--collects disability payments), and now spends the bulk of his time playing classical piano, reading history books and writing reviews for Amazon.com."

So, was the emphasis on "men don’t marry?" If so, why has this guy made the big commitment three times (I presume you wouldn’t prefer him to be single)? Or was the emphasis on the "because they don’t have to" part of the equation? If the man from the example doesn’t have to marry, and that would presume, among other things, his being and/or feeling financially independent, then we shouldn’t assume that he’s taking advantage of this woman’s disability income, and that he married for the most sincere reasons, no? I also like how, after speaking of a "weakened inclination to work," you condescendingly say that he "worked his way onto a third (wife)," seeming to imply that he’s, basically, a conniving bum. Well, at least you could celebrate his hard "work" of "gold"-digging (although I suspect that he’s hardly struck gold with disability payments, but I’m sure there’s a new-Cadillac story for that one, too)! It should also be noted that the original article pointed out that he’s also collecting from his 401K - that’s his right to do so, no?

Do you know something about his wife (the woman who - "surprise" - collects disability?) that indicates she’s cheating the system?

The man you referred to, Alan Biggerow, worked for 30 years in a steel mill, and has also taught math courses at a local college. He sounds neither lazy nor dim to me. He’d just rather avoid, or put off, the fries-with-that employment that he could have, as long as possible. It hardly sounds like he’s wasting his time. It sounds like he’s giving himself his own post-high-school education now, since he apparently missed it before. Rather than Gallagher’s Reader’s Digest Condensed version, I recommend the original New York Times article. I think it goes a lot further in telling the complicated stories of these people’s particular situations, than does the Gallagher piece.

AUTHOR: Debu Banerjee
EMAIL: debu16@hotmail.com
IP: 203.212.234.94
URL:
DATE: 08/10/2006 04:13:00 PM

Craig...well, that wasn’t trollike...harsh, but not trollike. Congrats.

Julie has a sharp rather Puritanical judgmental streak (although I don’t guess she’s Calvinist). I for one appreciate that...if we had more such people then we’d have the kind of community "social control" we once did that helped us avoid so much social "pathology." Our culture (or rather, our liberal elite) has disparaged "church ladies" and "parochial mindsets" for decades now, and what do we have as a result? An increasingly narcissistic society without discipline or enforceable standards of behavior.

Of course, you may "call me" on that assertion. Feel free to do so...

the problem is that too many women are raising boys by themselves. men don’t have a strong male figure in their lives to teach them how to be men.

ex. pennsylvania. no work and instead of moving to an area where a man can provide for his family, they just claim disability
( another form of welfare). i just moved here from an area where both husband and wife work to provide for their families and i am astounded at the rate of men who do not work and are on disability, but manage to fish and hunt and ride around all day visiting.

i am also astounded at the number of illegitimate pregnancies, in most cases the girl doesn’t know who the father is because of so many partners. it is heart breaking.

i am also astounded that it is no big deal because the government will supply the money to take care of these problems
so there is no urgency to marry or try to support the child.

this is a cycle that has to be stopped somehow.

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