“All the world’s a stage.”
– William Shakespeare
Some time ago, I read an article expounding on the theory of 20th century playwright and anthropologist, Robert Ardrey. In his book, The Territorial Imperative, Ardrey states that once a creature’s survival needs are met (Think Maslow’s hierarchy: food, clothing and shelter), there is a hierarchy of psychological needs. Ardrey posited that these needs are identity, stimulation and security — in that order. Let’s look at each one in light of the state of contemporary masculinity.
The foundational psychological need is to have a correct view and knowledge of oneself. One of the earliest lessons an infant learns is the difference between himself and others — as Cloud and Townsend in their book, Boundaries, said it – “the difference between ‘me’ and ‘not me.'”
I have said before that this culture has deep-rooted ambivalence toward men and masculinity. On one hand, people envy and desire men’s strength, ingenuity and protectiveness, but it also seems plenty of people are happy to enjoy the fruit of men’s labor without compensating them.
At the level of the state, government taxes men’s labor and redistributes their income to provide for others. The recipients include the worthy poor, who have fallen on hard times but are doing all they can; but they also include the professional beneficiaries who make no pretense of looking for work.
Societally, men’s strength is regarded as a net negative. If you doubt this, consider that on police domestic disturbance calls, the responding officer will escort the man from the premises — even if he’s the one who placed the call. On college campuses, an allegation of sexual misconduct is sufficient to derail a man’s academic career, no matter how scant or ambiguous the evidence.
This is not an endorsement or defense of the abuse of masculine strength, but it does show how the presumption falls. I point this out to illustrate how the message to men of goodwill is: “Your strength is something to be ashamed of.” Or at the very least it’s “Men aren’t all that special any more.”
This is causing a crisis of male identity. Is a man supposed to be a caring
neuter nurturer a la Stuart Smalley, or a swaggering lothario? As if those are the only choices! Unfortunately, it seems even some churches are confused about the specifics of maleness — the calling and giftedness of being a man — as opposed to interchangeable “persons.”
I affirm what scripture teaches, even when it’s uncomfortable. However, the misuse of the verse stating that there is “neither male nor female” doesn’t invalidate the purpose for which God made men and women nor the respective roles of each. We are all equal before God, but that does not equate to each of us having the same mission. God loves me exactly the same as He loves LeBron James or Aaron Rodgers, but I am not suited to either man’s job. I’m fine with that.
This same crisis is also present in the family. When fathers are absent, by their own volition or against their will, it creates a void. Who will step in to confer on a son his true name, to affirm the masculine in him? There are signs that fatherlessness is hereditary — that is, if you didn’t have a dad, chances are your children won’t either. You can, however, decide now to be a father to your children.
The term “love child” is a euphemism for what we used to call a bastard — a son with no name. It is unfair to tag a kid for his parents’ wrongs, but the old stigmas used to motivate people toward doing right by their children, whatever the circumstances of their conception.
Consider how fatherlessness and the deterioration of marriage has caused us to be less sure of ourselves. We’re rootless, isolated and unsure of our identity. Worse, the fundamental institutions that used to confer identity — family, church, country — are in too many cases sounding an uncertain trumpet. They seem ambivalent, unable to define themselves, let alone to affirm the identities of men.
Should God’s men be in doubt regarding who — and whose — they are? I admit it’s late, but it is not too late.
Think of the many ways we have to overcome boredom. The internet — boon that it is — can also be a scourge to those with an unmet need for stimulation. Now it’s possible to visit the virtual equivalents of seedy hotels, casinos and brothels without the risk of being found out. Gambling and pornography are just two of the ways a man can get into trouble online.
Then, of course, people resort to social media to attract attention to themselves, or to engage in the two minutes’ hate of social media shaming or outright slander. The cost and the consequences for the perpetrators are very nearly zero. Creating offense or feeling outrage is a pale substitute for really living, but at least the ones who do these things feel something.
In a previous role as a worship leader, other leaders and I would discuss how to distinguish between leading people into worship versus entertaining them. I argued then that the conflict isn’t between worship and entertainment. To entertain simply means to hold the attention of others. A leader can direct that attention toward God or toward himself. No, the conflict is between entertainment and amusement. Where entertainment holds one’s attention, amusement seeks to distract.
The economic climate is hostile, and the lack of meaningful or challenging work is a contributor to boredom. But rather than seeking distraction in fantasy worlds or stimulation in tormenting others, how about seeking stimulation through the creation of value? There are still opportunities to make a difference — and even if serving others doesn’t pay your bills, it will hold your attention and teach you how to apply yourself to solve problems. Ultimately, that’s how all of us get paid.
Ardrey explained that security was third because it was the most contingent on one’s place in the biome. Large predators with no predators of their own to fear, had less of a need for security than prey animals down the food chain.
Most men in the west don’t have the kind of existential peril from lions, tigers and bears, instead our security is threatened by economic uncertainty and relationship instability. Part of the Marxist feminist project I wrote about previously was to supplant America’s culture by destroying the American patriarch — by destroying men. Understand that strategy and you’re prepared to defend against it. At its heart, it’s about convincing a lion to believe he’s a fixed housecat. Unless you’ve had the surgery, it isn’t necessary for you to go along with this.
Security rises or falls with identity. The less sure you are of who you are and what you stand for, the less secure you’re likely to be. The more secure you are, the less prone you are to boredom. All of this in spite of employment status or bank balance.
And the remedy is?
I’m so glad you planted that question in my head as I was writing this! Let’s go back to the top of the list. Identity is foundational and non-negotiable. You simply must know who you are. God has revealed Himself as our Father in Heaven, so we must start by asking Him to tell us our true name and to affirm our masculinity.
From there, we must understand our purpose and our mission in life. The right mission will carry you through your entire life, and if you are allocating time for work, rest and play, you can avoid the boredom that leads to fruitless stimulation. Mental masturbation is as fruitless as its real-world counterpart. You and I were made to build things, to create, to come through.
Our security derives from understanding our place in the universe. A man who places himself under the authority of God has a rock solid identity as a son and an heir. He has a purpose to fulfill and a job designed for him.