Quote of the Day:
We once thought it disturbing that someone like the Unabomber would demand that the world read his silly manifesto; now we’re surprised if a young man who engages in a gigantic crime of any kind doesn’t leave behind some kind of testimony for his imagined legions of fans on the Internet.
–Tom Nichols in "The Revenge of the Lost Boys" in The Federalist
In his alarming article, which is today's must-read, Tom Nichols ponders why Western societies are producing more and more violent young men, who in their most extreme manifestations lash out and kill. We are seeing mass murders with alarming frequency. What are the basic characteristics of these killers?
What they all have in common is their gender (male), their race (most are white), and their youth (almost all under 30 at their peak destructiveness). Beyond this, they seem to share little beyond a stubborn immaturity wedded to a towering narcissism. In almost every case, they dress their anger in the clothes of ideology: white supremacy, jihad, hatred of abortion, or anti-government paranoia. Stuck in perpetual adolescence, they see only their own imagined virtue amidst irredeemable corruption. In a typical sentiment, [Charleston church murderer Dylann] Roof wrote before his rampage that “someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”
This is the battle cry of the narcissist, and we’ve heard it before. Western societies are producing more and more of these Lost Boys, the fail-to-launch young men who carry weighty social grudges. Some of them kill, but others lash out in other, more creative ways: whether it’s Edward Snowden deciding only he could save America from the scourge of surveillance, or Bowe Bergdahl walking away from his post to personally solve the war in Afghanistan, the combination of immaturity and grandiosity among these young males is jaw-dropping in its scale even when it is not expressed through the barrel of a gun.
Obviously, I am not suggesting that Snowden or Bergdahl are killers. If anything, these lost young men seem to be impossibly sensitive souls. (I will leave aside the actions of Chelsea Manning in this context, whose story is more complex than I can comprehend.) Yet all of them committed immensely destructive acts, and for reasons that were as rooted in their own failed manhood and maturity as Roof’s.
Nichols posits that "frustrations about sex and identity" play a role in the horrific violence from these young men. Like Roof, who believed that African Americans were "raping our women," he notes wannabe jihadists in Canada a few years ago were inspired because they thought that Canadians were raping Afghan women. Elliot Rodger, who killed three people in Santa Barbara was angry about sexual rejection.
The angry loser is not a new phenomenon, Nichols reminds us, but social media is creating new ways to express this anger and now "a new breed of young losers insists on larger social relevance and mass recognition for their actions." And these are also young men for whom normal lives are generally not attainable: the find school "tedious" and so do not acquire rudimentary intellectual skills, and, while they may have a small circle of people with whom they get along, by and large they don't have the social skills to function in society. They are resentful and isolated. In other words, they are failures as boys or men.
They’re not entirely wrong. So they settle on every young loser’s fantasy: Revenge.
I'm afraid Nichols doesn't end with a cheery solution:
Here, however, I am at a loss for a solution, because the answer lies in some kind of long-term restoration of social order among young men. I don’t know how to do that: the multiple horses of promiscuity, affluence (even among “poor” kids), permissiveness, violent and ghettoized teen culture, and perpetual immaturity are so far out of the barn now, and so entrenched in American life, that I have no idea how to stop their corrosive influence on the weaker or less competitive males who are plowed under a society that moves faster than they, and we, can manage.
Older men can no longer mentor younger men in any meaningful numbers. There are not enough of us, and many of us are reluctant to engage in such work in any case. The traditional venues for male socialization (including marriage) have mostly vanished or, in the case of schools, been rendered safe havens from the normal behavior of males in need of discipline and maturing.
Nor can mentors or schools fight the epidemic of divorce, pop culture, the media, and the overall assaults on the creation of the kind of family life that channels men toward creation rather than destruction. There has to be a sea-change in social attitudes, but I’m stumped about how to make that happen in a nation as self-indulgent and as averse to hard introspection as ours is now.
We'll soon have the online booklet for IWF's "I Do . . . Or I Don't," our panel about the future, if there is to be one, of marriage. Maybe marriage, a family with two parents, who are committed to children, is a place to start.
Meanwhile, if you read one thing today, let it be Tom Nichols article.