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Masculinity Crisis: The Demise Of Guys

Famous Stanford University Psychologist Philip Zimbardo warns [1] of the dangers confronting men from overusing technology in his latest book, Man (Dis)Connected, which he also discusses in a TED talk and BBC radio interview.  Zimbardo reviews the data showing that boys are more likely to drop out of school, are outperformed by girls academically at every level of education, and are failing to establish meaningful relationships with girls.  This last failure, he speculates, comes from a fear of, or inadequacy respecting, emotional and physical intimacy.  While there have always been some difficulties for males in courting females, namely, fear of being rejected by the fairer sex, the reason for the inadequacies are shifting; they are no longer merely fears of a bad outcome, but rather, reflect an actual skill deficit.  Boys are exhibiting increased levels of shyness and social awkwardness because they don’t know what to say or what to do, they don’t know the language of face-to-face encounters that allow one to talk with another and listen to others.

Why the shift?

“Social Intensity Syndrome”

Zimbardo proposes that because men have always had a preference for the company of other men—which historically was met through organized means such as team sports, the military, and fraternal organizations—there has always been some challenge in encouraging socialization apt for family life.  However, now, he states, males are showing a preference for the asynchronous, internet world that is taking them further and further from the healthy, natural, spontaneous interaction in social relationships—what he coins “Social Intensity Syndrome.”  A similar concept, termed “hyperreality [2],” describes technologically-sophisticated ways of simulating reality, wherein “the entire web of human meaning-making activities has been transformed into the symbolic exchange of empty signs.”

A recent article [3] highlights the growing problem for Tech workers in Silicon Valley.  “To the [techie prodigy’s] mind, and his processing, there is no desire to prioritize anything other than [science].”  Therapists are quoted as suggesting that these men need the very basics of talking to women, to stop treating relationships like “a line of broken code in need of debugging, or a mathematical equation. ‘That’s the crux of trying to interact with a human….  [T]here isn’t a formula.’”

By whatever term, the causes of the phenomena are fairly obvious to identify: excessive internet use, gaming [especially in isolation] and pornography.  These are leading to a new kind of addiction, which might be called an activity addiction or arousal addiction, which in contrast to traditional drug addiction (in which one simply wants more of a substance) adds a new feature where the person wants ever-increasing variety.  Boys’ brains, then, are being digitally rewired for change, novelty, excitement or arousal.  Such rewiring is incompatible with the static, analog, traditional classroom where much learning still takes place, and with romantic relationships which build slowly, gradually and subtly, but steadily.

No wonder, then, that males are falling behind academically and romantically.  And the fewer boys growing into genuine men equipped to be husbands and fathers, the more children will be born at increased risk [4] for delinquency, suicide attempts, substance abuse, poor school performance, gender confusion and child abuse.

What most men are missing is an adequate connection to the deep and instinctual masculine potentials.   In the present crisis, we do not need, as some feminists are saying, less masculine power.  We need more.   But we need more mature masculinity.   We need to develop a sense of calmness about masculine power, so that men don’t feel they have to act out dominating, disempowering behavior in order to prove they are men.   One could argue that in contemporary culture, the four male archetypes (King, Warrior, Magician, Lover) have been collapsed into the Lover, and love has been collapsed into sex and sex into pleasure of any kind (cf. the pornography epidemic).

The impact on society of men seeking isolated pleasure is devastating, both for current family life which is already suffering from political attacks as well as negative trends in terms of frequency and fecundity, and for future families, as men who are less educated and less motivated will also be less attractive to eligible women who are open to marriage.

Old-Fashioned Remedies

As with many issues of this sort, parents bear a great responsibility in terms of monitoring and managing their children during the formative years, instilling in them an appreciation for genuine, authentic, face-to-face time and interaction so that the TV or computer do not become convenient babysitters amidst the hustle and bustle of modern life.  Going unplugged, an attractive quick fix, is not realistic for many, nor does it prepare our children for the challenges of the 21st century.  A moderate approach which follows age-old principles (Grandma’s rule… no desert until after the meal) which require the completion of duties (homework, chores, and family interaction time, aka, eating meals together) before the gaming begins, is recommended.  And then, of course, sensible limits on screen time, with some failsafe boundaries in place (like turning off the router, no electronics in bedrooms, etc.) set children’s expectations, and make clear the importance of family relationships over the endless novelty with which the web tempts.

Only with proper guidance will our boys grow into men.  And only then, will our daughters have the options they deserve.