Men without work

Brian Rottkamp writes on Nicholas Eberstadt’s latest book “Men Without Work: America’s Invisible Crisis”:

For centuries, philosophers, theologians, and social scientists have contemplated the distinction between leisure (the basis of culture as per Josef Pieper) and idleness as defined by the cardinal sin of acedia. Modernity tends to blur the difference between spending time in a way that elevates the individual and society and a way which is unproductive and/or harmful. By utilizing various research conducted by the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor statistics annual American Time Use survey, Eberstadt is able to show how prime-age men not in the labor force (NILF), unemployed men, employed men, and employed women spend their time. What comes to fore is that prime-age NILF men with their free-time dividend of over 2000 hours/year spend no more time assisting with household care than employed women and less time than unemployed men. Out of the four groups, these men spend the least amount of time in religious and volunteer activities—despite the much greater amount of free time they possess. Instead, this time is spent engaging in “personal care” which includes sleeping and grooming, and most notably, a huge amount of time spent in “socializing, relaxing, and leisure.” Especially telling is the fact that prime-age NILF men watch nearly five-and-a-half hours of television and movies each day which far surpasses all of the other sub-categories and is a full two hours per day more than unemployed men. Seeing as NILF men are much more likely to use illicit drugs and visit gambling establishments, while less likely to attend religious services, read the newspaper, or vote in a presidential election, the parallel of entertainment media to the soma of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is unavoidable and deeply troubling. It is a crisis for the individual, the family, and society at-large.

The macroeconomic changes which can be deemed responsible for this male flight from work in the United States are varied. Increasingly, the influence of innovation, automation, and globalization is seen causing a fundamental shift in the nature of work. The large-scale incarceration of men—especially black men following the “war on crime”—unquestionably plays a major role, given not only the time each prisoner spends in jail but also the scarlet letter of a previous conviction that marks him when attempting to re-enter the labor market. Interestingly, Eberstadt also references a rapid increase in disability and social welfare claims which is perceived as inhibiting gainful employment. As Eberstadt makes clear, his intent is to create awareness of this crisis and open the discussion rather than providing all of the possible solutions. Without question, this book and the subsequent surprise victory of Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential election has led to an increased awareness of the plight of these “forgotten men.” The social reformers of Riis’ era clearly understood the effect that housing had on the individual and the family. One can only hope that we can be as wise to value the many benefits that work provides for men and society and develop the economy accordingly. The tenements are long gone but the challenge to develop virtue and character remains.

Nicholas Eberstadt writes: “Today’s received wisdom holds that the United States is now at or near “full employment.” An alternative view would hold that, by not-so-distant historic standards, the nation today is short of full employment by nearly 10 million male workers (to say nothing of the additional current “jobs deficit” for women). Unlike the dead soldiers in Roman antiquity, our decimated men still live and walk among us, though in an existence without productive economic purpose. We might say those many millions of men without work constitute a sort of invisible army, ghost soldiers lost in an overlooked, modern-day depression.”

Like J.D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy,” Eberstadt speaks to a serious issue that’s seriously under-addressed…

‘Spirit of generosity’

Charles Marohn of Small Towns writes on his recent trip to Washington, DC with his family, and specifically on his experience of Arlington Cemetery in light of the recent mobs for/against statuary. Charles riffs on the idea of a “spirit of generosity,” which I’ve seen others write about using similar words: warm-heartedness, empathy, etc.:

We walked almost the entire cemetery. As we did, it occurred to me how our view of ourselves has changed over time. In the older parts of the cemetery, our “blue blood” heritage was visible in the headstones; the markers of the privileged and affluent were larger and more ornate than the others. As we got closer to modern times, the markers became more standardized and numbingly ordered way we envision in photographs of military cemeteries. Death is an experience shared by all classes of society.

There are exceptions, however. The Kennedy family – President John F. Kennedy, his wife and two of his children along with his brothers Robert and Edward – have a special place of reverence and reflection in Arlington. We could demand historical focus on their many human flaws – from their bootlegging endowment to a Chappaquiddick bridge – or we can, in the way societies have long honored their dead, big and small, have a generous spirit towards their many positive attributes in the hopes that they will inspire us to greatness. I’m happy we have chosen the latter.

One part of Arlington Cemetery has the Confederate Monument surrounded by the graves of many soldiers who fought for the South during the Civil War. It was authorized in 1906 and completed under President Wilson in 1914. As I looked at it, it occurred to me how difficult it must have been for many to accept, but how important if must have been for others to see it built.

Again, it gets back to the regular troops, the ones who make the difference. I’m from Minnesota and served in the Army National Guard. I’ve always had a great deal of pride over the 1st Minnesotan, which turned the tide of the battle, and subsequently the entire war, in a suicidal charge at Gettysburg. I have this pride even though I know none of them. I’ve tasted none of their pain or suffering. Felt none of their fear or relief.

As I stood there, my generous self envisioned thousands of blue and grey troops coming together at Arlington in 1914 to honor those who died in the struggle, people the attendees would have known first hand. I can imagine the stubborn pride on some, the shaky hand extended by others, the shared smile between others. Aren’t we lucky to be here, right now, in this place.

Every president, including President Obama, has sent a wreath to the Confederate Monument on Memorial Day. I choose to interpret that generously as well.

I think any statuary that was erected specifically to proclaim “white supremacy” (as was the case with one of the New Orleans monuments) should have come down years ago. And I don’t think that should not be a controversial attitude. Meanwhile, Robert Mariani offers a counter-intuitive perspective on how other Confederate-era monuments can be understood as acceptable public statuary, and Robert E. Lee’s perspective has resurfaced as it seems to every few years.

A society that can accommodate remembering and living with some of its most difficult history is a strong society. It seems to me that the present debate, allegedly over statues, has underlying it a much more difficult conversation about whether America is still a land of opportunity, and whether life is tolerable for huge numbers of our people.

Free societies require pluralism

James Damore, a Google engineer, was fired after a ten page memo he wrote on corporate culture went viral within the company, and then in public. He reflects on his firing:

… I committed heresy against the Google creed by stating that not all disparities between men and women that we see in the world are the result of discriminatory treatment. When I first circulated the document about a month ago to our diversity groups and individuals at Google, there was no outcry or charge of misogyny. I engaged in reasoned discussion with some of my peers on these issues, but mostly I was ignored.

Everything changed when the document went viral within the company and wider tech world. Those most zealously committed to the diversity creed—that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and all people are inherently the same—could not let this public offense go unpunished. They sent angry emails to Google’s human-resources department and everyone up my management chain, demanding censorship, retaliation, and atonement.

Upper management tried to placate this surge of outrage by shaming me and misrepresenting my document, but they couldn’t really do otherwise: The mob would have set upon anyone who openly agreed with me or even tolerated my views. When the whole episode finally became a giant media controversy, thanks to external leaks, Google had to solve the problem caused by my supposedly sexist, anti-diversity manifesto, and the whole company came under heated and sometimes threatening scrutiny.

It saddens me to leave Google and to see the company silence open and honest discussion. If Google continues to ignore the very real issues raised by its diversity policies and corporate culture, it will be walking blind into the future—unable to meet the needs of its remarkable employees and sure to disappoint its billions of users.

What did Damore write? Read “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” to understand for yourself. Conor Friedersdorf’s “A Question for Google’s CEO” is worth reading. So is Erick Erickson’s perspective. Excerpting/re-ordering some of Damore’s TL/DR here:

At Google, we talk so much about unconscious bias as it applies to race and gender, but we rarely discuss our moral biases. … People generally have good intentions, but we all have biases which are invisible to us. Thankfully, open and honest discussion with those who disagree can highlight our blind spots and help us grow, which is why I wrote this document. …

  • Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.
  • This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.
  • The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.
    • Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression
    • Authoritarian: we should discriminate to correct for this oppression
  • Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership.
  • Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.

… I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more.

I’m mentioning and excerpting all of this primarily in order to look back on it in the years to come as a way to understand whether what Damore believes will come to pass, and whether Google will achieve an equal gender balance in its workforce.

Damore suggests that advocates of diversity now define that as meaning that “all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and all people are inherently the same.” I haven’t heard it defined this way before. If it’s an accurate definition, it would explain why so many people naturally react against what “diversity” has come to mean in practice which isn’t the old “achieving a pluralistic society wherein many different peoples and ideologies coexist peacefully” but is something closer to a “diversity of universal sameness.”

I believe in tolerance and pluralism, and I’m basically egalitarian at heart. But I don’t believe that “all differences in outcome” are due to differential treatment. I believe that all people are created equal and possess inherent human dignity. But I don’t believe that “all people are inherently the same” in the sense that age, race, gender, sexuality, and religious conviction, et al are simply social/artificial/meaningless constructs.

Isn’t the reason that tolerance and pluralism and diversity are worth embracing in the first place because they recognize that people are inherently complex and characterized by fundamental difference? Despite our differences, we can still be “one people.” E pluribus unum.

Human dignity’s roots

Josh Herring writes that the notion of human dignity is a uniquely defining characteristic of Western culture:

I teach in a secular classical school, where we uphold transcendence and human dignity as educational principles, but without the doctrinal apparatus of theology to support our claims. Instead of the direct claims of theology, we follow the winding paths of wisdom derived from the humanities. Grounded in the Western tradition, we study literature, history, and philosophy, with an eye towards building a sound anthropology. By the time they leave Thales Academy, students should hold firm convictions about the value of the human person and live in light of those convictions. The study of history is complex, allowing students to see the different ways humans have lived, believed, and thought, and weigh which patterns lead to flourishing. …

Later studies in Greek thought reveal another vital dialectic that contributed to human freedom. Hesiod’s poetry shows humanity as puny creatures in the Greek cosmos, echoing Homer’s portrayal of the Trojan War as a game for the entertainment of bored gods and goddesses. With the flowering of Greek philosophy in classical Athens came the teaching of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle (alongside their contemporaries), who asserted that man, the “rational animal,” is capable of comprehending the world around him. This rational impulse allowed true sciences to develop through the centuries (although it gave rise to theories like Thales of Miletus’ conviction that all things are composed of water).

Having moved through historical, literary, and philosophical studies in antiquity and the classical era, students recognize the value Christianity bestows on the human person. Within the context of a Roman pursuit of universal justice and law, they study the birth of Christianity. Suddenly, the pieces fit together: this image-bearing yet fallen creature capable of rational thought contains such worth in the eyes his Creator that Christ came to redeem mankind from the rule of sin and death. This perspective makes sense of C.S. Lewis’ claim in The Weight of Glory when he writes:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are in some degree helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”…

The West has long celebrated freedom, but that freedom did not develop in a vacuum. The ability of human beings from around the world to act freely in economic, religious, social, and political spheres grows out of key convictions that contribute to the rich tapestry of the Western tradition. It is not enough to celebrate freedoms without understanding how they developed. If we cut off the roots that nourish our concept of freedom, the tree of liberty will collapse under the rot of licentiousness. Cultivating an historical consciousness and a sense of gratitude to those men and women of the past reminds us that we are the heirs of many blessings. It is our responsibility to know our inheritance, act as good stewards of it, and pass it on to the next generation.

Jimmy Carter’s example

Darren Bernhardt wrote earlier this month on Jimmy Carter:

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter received medical attention for dehydration while in Winnipeg on Thursday, where he is helping build a Habitat for Humanity home. The statement from the organization said that Carter was being rehydrated in hospital, and his wife was with him.

A Habitat volunteer told CBC News he saw Carter, 92, collapse after he’d been working in the sun for about an hour, using a handsaw to cut wood for a staircase.

The projects are part of a Habitat for Humanity “blitz” aiming to build 150 new homes — including 25 in Manitoba — between July 9-14 to commemorate Canada 150. Carter started Thursday by leading a morning prayer service…

Every president brings something different to the office, and after their time in office the best ones reflect different virtues inherent among the American people. We’re going to miss Jimmy when he’s gone.

Novus ordo seclorum

In “Strangers in a Strange Land,” Archbishop Charles J. Chaput reflects on where the genius and strength of the American founders came from. In short, in an ability to live both as Christian and Enlightenment thinkers:

Memory matters because the past matters. The past is the soil out of which our lives and institutions grow. We can’t understand the present or plan for the future without knowing the past through the eyes of those who made it. Their beliefs and motives matter. For the American founding, there’s no way to scrub either Christianity or its skeptics out of the nation’s genetic code.

Nearly all the Founders were religious believers. Most called themselves Christians. In practice, John Adams and his colleagues in revolution were men who had minds that were a “miscellany and a museum,” men who could blend the old and the new, Christianity and Enlightenment ideas, without destroying either. Biblical faith and language saturated the founding era. Even Thomas Jefferson, stopped by a skeptical friend on his way to church one Sunday morning, would say that “no nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can [it] be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has ever been given to man and I, as chief magistrate of this nation, am bound to give it the sanction of my example.”

Religion and sin, of course, can share the human heart quite comfortably. The evils of America’s past—brutality to native peoples, slavery, racism, religious prejudice, exploitation of labor, foreign interventions—are bitter. But they’re not unique to America or to religious believers. Nor do they define the nation. Nor do they void the good in the American experiment or its uniqueness in history.

Asked some years ago if he believed in “American exceptionalism,” the French political scholar Pierre Manent said, “It’s difficult not to, because it is the only political experiment that succeeded … the only successful political foundation” made through choice and design. “[I]f you are not able to treat the United States for the great political-civic achievement it is, you miss something huge in the political landscape.”

The good in our history is real. America’s “exceptional” nature, however, doesn’t imply superiority. It doesn’t even suggest excellence. It implies difference. It involves something new in governance and liberty, rooted in the equality of persons, natural rights, and reverence for the law. And it’s sustained—or was intended to be—by national traits of industriousness, religious faith, and volunteerism.

America is exceptional in another way as well: It’s the only society with no real history of its own before the age of progress. The continent, for the Founders, was not just vast and pristine. It was a blank slate for a new kind of political order, unlike anything that had come before. When the Founders stamped the words novus ordo seclorum—“a new order of the ages”—on the national seal, they meant it. And they proved it. A special genius of law, institutional structure, moral imagination, and an idea of the human person animated the American founding and its development.

From the start, religious faith has been the glue and rudder of the American experiment, its moral framework and vocabulary—at least as people have typically experienced it. That rudder and glue no longer seem to apply. We now really do have a new order of the ages. And it has shaped a new kind of human being.

Michael Novak has written on this dexterity of the founders in describing the founder’s marriage of faith and reason as the two wings that give flight to the American experiment.

What a nation is

Ernest Renan writes:

“A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things … constitute this soul, this spiritual principle. One is the past, the other is the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present consent, the desire to live together, the desire to continue to invest in the heritage that we have jointly received.

“Of all cults, that of the ancestors is the most legitimate: our ancestors have made us what we are. A heroic past with great men and glory … is the social capital upon which the national idea rests. These are the essential conditions of being a people: having common glories in the past and a will to continue them in the present; having made great things together and wishing to make them again.”

The French helped us win our independence. It seems only right to reflect on the words of one of her historians and philosophers on a day like this. Happy Independence Day.