WARNING: This is a rant written in anger. Read at your own risk. All opinions herein are my own unless otherwise attributed. I am not speaking for my employers or their clients.
I’ve been reading this article by Vox featuring a comic by Aubrey Hirsch about the “male friendship recession” and I find it condescending and redolent of victim-blaming. I’m gonna try to explain why I find this article offensive.
Rather than burden Ms. Hirsch or the management of Vox with my objections, I am expressing them here on a website I operate at my own expense. If you agree with me and find Ms Hirsch’s work offensive, please express yourself on your own platform instead of bothering her.
If you find any aspect of my rant offensive, please save it for your therapist because I am not the space for your anger. I have my own to deal with, and posting rants like this on my website is one of the ways I do so.
If you are a right-winger and think I am sympathetic to your cause because I don’t trust feminists and progressives or scorn their methodology, then you ought to understand that not being wholly on their side doesn’t mean I’m on yours. I am on my side, I’ve got hatred enough for everyone, and I’m saving most of it for fascists like you.
You think men can’t put words to their feelings? That’s bullshit. I am perfectly capable of putting words to my emotions. I’m doing it right fucking now.
First, Ms. Hirsch’s comic is yet another opinion piece by somebody who wants to tell men how to be men. I don’t think men should police each other’s masculinity. I don’t see why women should be permitted to police men’s masculinity, either. Either accept people as they are, or do without them. Expecting them to change to suit you is a fool’s errand.
Second, this is yet another piece of “journalism” places the burden of responsibility for fixing systemic issues on the shoulders of individuals who had no part in the creation of these problems. Men grow up being socialized not to be well-rounded, healthy human beings; instead, we are socialized to bury our feelings, hide them behind a “stoic” facade, and devote ourselves to the service of anybody who will have us.
What is a man who cannot provide for others, who cannot protect others, who cannot pleasure others? Is such a person a man at all? Not in our society, and we blame him for it.
We warehouse children in schools that become ever more authoritarian and prison-like with each passing year, and subject them to ever harsher working regimens to prepare them for the bullshit jobs they will hold as adults. When do they get to learn social skills? When do they get time to cultivate the slightest semblance of an inner life? Not at school. They don’t get that time at home, either; they’re too damn busy doing homework or participating in extracurricular activities or just trying to survive.
It’s a miracle that neurotypical boys learn how to socialize at all, because we do a shitty job of teaching them social skills. Hell, nobody even bothered trying to teach me. My parents just told me to “keep a low profile” when they weren’t telling me that I was “smart” and should be capable of figuring it out for myself because I taught myself to read when I was four.
But I learned a few things about being a man. Yes indeed, I sure as hell did.
One of the first lessons in manhood a boy learns is that his feelings don’t matter to anybody else, and they shouldn’t even matter to him. We have mistaken emotional neglect for good parenting, and when we see men trying and failing to cope with the damage done to them we castigate them for not being in therapy.
- Are you lonely? Get therapy.
- Are you touch-starved? Get therapy.
- Are you struggling to date? Get therapy.
- Are you miserable because your job sucks? Get therapy.
- Are you afraid to leave your home because we’re still in the middle of a pandemic? Get therapy.
- Do you not feel safe telling people how you feel because you aren’t in fact safe? Get therapy.
- Do you have trouble imagining a future for yourself because you live in the shadow of impending environmental collapse? Get therapy.
- Are you getting therapy and it isn’t working? Get more therapy.
What the people pushing the therapy gospel are unable or unwilling to understand is that being in therapy is a privilege. There aren’t nearly enough therapists to go around. Most working-class men can’t access therapy, even if they have halfway decent insurance, because therapists tend to want their nights and weekends to themselves just like everybody else (and I don’t blame them).
I’m not finding connections with other people by “talking about my feelings”, but by overcoming self-selected and relatively low-stakes adversity alongside them. Once that bond is formed, we often talk about our lives and feelings.
Progressives and feminists are worse than useless when it comes to addressing the concerns of lonely young men. When they aren’t blaming young men for the damage done to them by their parents and society, and telling them they need therapy, they gaslight men by telling them that their problems don’t matter as much as those people who are “actually oppressed”.
Such emotional triage may be necessary, and may even be justifiable, but to those getting the short end of the stick being told to wait their turn is just another cruel indignity. When you’re in pain you don’t care that others are suffering more than you are. You want your pain addressed, or at least acknowledged. Being told that you aren’t being oppressed enough to matter isn’t the help lonely men need, and it doesn’t surprise me that men alienated by bad experiences in progressive spaces try to get what they need elsewhere.
Now, let’s be honest here: we treat young men like shit. We police them less subtly and more harshly than we do girls. We don’t teach them how to deal with or express their feelings in a constructive fashion, and then we clutch our pearls and call the boys we neglected “criminals” when they act out. If they avoid the school-to-prison pipeline and survive military service, trade school, or college relatively unscathed we then expect them to work themselves into early graves to prove they have the right to live with a semblance of human dignity. We structure our society and habitats to make it all but impossible for men to not be lonely. We blame men for not being impervious to the harm we do them. We call the consequences of generations of childhood emotional neglect and outright abuse “toxic masculinity”. Then we have the temerity to tell them their anger is toxic or unjustified?
We have made friendship a privilege and then add insult to injury by blaming those who lack this privilege for their deficit.
There’s an African proverb that seems relevant here: “a child that is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth”. If you see neglected, lonely, and justifiably angry young men turning to fascists, misogynists, and the like for validation that their pain isn’t entirely their fault, you should be afraid, because these are the ones who will burn the world to the ground just for a few moments of warmth – or because they aren’t content with discreet suicides that do not inconvenience the wider world but are instead determined to make the entire world their funeral pyre.
However, the men who turn to right-wing ideology for community are the least of your problems. You fear evil men. You fear the inaction of good men in the face of evil. These fears are justified. Nevertheless, you should be all the more frightened of the indifference of men who no longer care about being somebody else’s idea of “good men”. You should be most afraid of men who have realized that the only good cause they ever needed was their own happiness, with or without friends.
I happen to be one of them. Ms. Hirsch suggested it’s time to rethink what it means to be a good man, but I’ve been doing that my entire adult life. I eventually came to the conclusion that there’s no percentage in being somebody else’s idea of a “good man”. I would prefer to be my own man. This determination to serve no cause but my own does make it harder for me to gather friends, but even as a child I knew that loneliness was the price of freedom.
It’s been a price worth paying thus far. Therefore, while I won’t set the village ablaze myself you shouldn’t count on me to join the bucket brigade if somebody else does. However, if you ask nicely, I might share ome of the weenies I’ve roasted over the smouldering wreckage.
Away, then, with every concern that is not altogether my concern! You think at least the “good cause” must be my concern? What’s good, what’s bad? Why, I myself am my concern, and I am neither good nor bad. Neither has meaning for me. The divine is God’s concern; the human, man’s. My concern is neither the divine nor the human, not the true, good, just, free, etc., but solely what is mine…
Max Stirner, The Ego and His Own (1844)
You say that people are inherently social creatures, but if men can restrain the urge to solve every problem with violence, then they can likewise learn to not need other people. It is possible to not need friends, especially if the only friends available are of the fair-weather variety or the type who depend on you but can’t be relied upon in turn. If your enemies are more trustworthy then your friends, why bother with friendship?
Perhaps what I am about to say will appear strange to you gentlemen, socialists, progressives, humanitarians as you are, but I never worry about my neighbor, I never try to protect society which does not protect me – indeed, I might add, which generally takes no heed of me except to do me harm – and, since I hold them low in my esteem and remain neutral towards them, I believe that society and my neighbor are in my debt.
Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo (1848)
Perhaps, in an ideal world, every man would get therapy. But that would be your ideal world. It isn’t mine. The only thing therapy ever did for me was help finally diagnose me as a person with autistic spectrum disorder decades too late. Perhaps, if I had been diagnosed and given support in the 1980s, my life might have been better, but I doubt it. If you were autistic enough to get diagnosed in the 80s you were autistic enough to get institutionalized.
In my ideal world, we’d be encouraging men to work out together, help each other train, build each other up, and read and discuss quality fiction in their native language or in good, unexpurgated translations. I learned more about being a kind, patient, and tolerant man from reading the science fiction of C. J. Cherryh than I ever learned from my parents, at school, or in therapy on those occasions when I had a day job that provided decent insurance and offered enough flexibility to let me get therapy in the first place.
Most of Ms. Cherryh’s sf is social or anthropological in nature. She commonly writes about human men alone and immersed in alien cultures, trying to understand and either create, maintain, or improve peaceful relations between these cultures and humanity. This was first evident in her Faded Sun (Mri Wars) and Chanur novels, and culminated in her twenty-one volume (hopefully with more to come) Foreigner saga, which I wholeheartedly recommend. It’s got linguistics, anthropology, economics, sociology, assassinations, politics, tea-parties, a badass grandma, tea parties, and (later in the series) adventures in babysitting.
Also, Bren Cameron has seen some shit. He deals regularly with reactionaries who resent his influence, would happily see humans wiped off the planet, and are determined to halt technological progress accelerated by the presence of humans. He does this while immersed in a language and culture that forces him to live poised on a knife-edge where he must think like his hosts while retaining his humanity, but without making the mistake of trying to understand his hosts in human terms. He must do this while also coping with opposition at home, both in the halls of political power and at the hands of isolated academics determined to micromanage him, keep him on as tight a leash as possible, and remain ignorant of the true nature of his office. He occasionally gets beat up, chased across the countryside, and shot at, but he’s no action hero. He’d rather talk to people than shoot at them.
I’m lucky if I can get one hour-long therapy session a month, it comes with “homework”, and the therapist makes no effort to explain why I should do this homework or how it will benefit me.
Likewise, I recommend reading The Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas the elder because Edmond Dantes (who becomes the titular Count) is an Odyssean figure somewhat better suited to modern sensibilities. Here is a man worth upholding as an ideal of masculinity. He repays kindness with benevolence, and punishes cruelty and betrayal with meticulously planned and targeted vengeance. Nevertheless, he stays his hand once his vengeance spirals out of control and threatens to harm innocent bystanders.
He is urbane, cultured, educated, and still capable of physical action when the situation demands it. He is proficient in a broad variety of skills. He lives entirely for himself, caring nothing for anybody else’s cause unless he has made it his own, but when events remind him that he is not in fact a god or God’s avenging fist he humbles himself and accepts that his mastery over the world around him is necessarily limited.
Is Edmond Dantes lonely? He had been when consigned to the Chateau d’If without the slightest semblance of due process, without even the token courtesy of a show trial in a kangaroo court to condemn him for a specific offense, no matter how arbitrary or trivial. But once he was free and possessed of the means to become his own master, his loneliness abated. He could meet others as an equal and thus truly befriend them – if he wanted to.
At this point you’re probably ready to screenshot this page and go on about how men will literally blog instead of going to therapy. Knock yourself right the fuck out. Hell, I’ll even give you a list of shit I will literally do instead of going to therapy:
- listen to heavy metal, jazz, European classical music, and synthwave
- read 20th century science fiction and 19th century Romantic literature
- write bad science fantasy fanfic
- write egregiously bad poetry
- butcher Yngwie Malmsteen guitar solos on a viola
- go to the gym
- pet my cats
- wash dishes
- do laundry
- cook for my wife
- hug my wife and tell her that I’m upset but it isn’t her fault
- read existentialist philosphy
- play JRPGs like Persona 5, MMORPGs like Final Fantasy XIV and action-RPGs like Elden Ring
- discreetly talk with my coworkers about forming a union
Why? Because, as I said before, even when I could get therapy it doesn’t help much. Talking to a shrink about one’s feelings feelings might help the women who extol the benefits of therapy, but it does fuck-all for me. When I was at my lowest and seriously considering suicide, it wasn’t friendship or therapy that saved me. It was music by heavy metal bands like Judas Priest, Metallica, Queensrÿche, Slayer, and Black Sabbath that reignited a Promethean flame of defiance within me and helped me find the strength to fight.
Men have no friends because for men, the Hobbesian war of all against all never actually ended. All that has changed is the rules of engagement.
Incidentally, let’s talk about going to the gym versus going to therapy. I’m lucky if I can get one hour-long therapy session a month, it comes with “homework”, and the therapist makes no effort to explain why I should do this homework or how it will benefit me. My gym membership cost me about $500/year. I can go every day if I want to. I can bring my wife along so that she can work out, too. I have the privilege of being able to afford sessions with a personal trainer. He explains things to me in plain English and doesn’t expect me to trust him because he’s the expert. He encourages me to push myself and do better that I did before. The gains I earn at the gym are quantfiable, which allows me to encourage myself. Other people see me working out regularly, they see me getting stronger and fitter, and they encourage me. It’s not friendship, but being seen and encouraged is what I actually need right now, not some other asshole’s idea of friendship.
Likewise, let’s talk about FFXIV a moment. It’s somewhat anomalous in that it’s much friendlier to players who prefer a mostly solo experience than most MMORPGs are reputed to be. Nevertheless, I’m part of a small clan. I’ve never met the other players, so I view them as cordial acquaintances rather than friends. Nevertheless, they recognize my efforts to help them. I’m mainly a healer and a tank, so in dungeon crawls, raids, and multiplayer boss fights other players depend on me and if the team loses it’s most likely because I fucked up. But when the team wins, I acknowledge the other players contributions and am acknowledged in turn. That is also something I need, rather than some journalist or psychologist’s notion of friendship.
I’m not finding connections with other people by “talking about my feelings”, but by overcoming self-selected and relatively low-stakes adversity alongside them. Once that bond is formed, we often talk about our lives and feelings.
I’m not sure psychologists or journalists get this. I’m not convinced women understand how men connect with each other, or care enough to try. It doesn’t matter how much psychological research you do. You cannot assume that because a man doesn’t have friends he is pathologically lonely and needs friends. Perhaps there isn’t anybody around worth befriending. Perhaps he isn’t in a place where he can be somebody’s friend.
Shallow articles that pathologize one of the less pleasant aspects of the human condition and prescribe shallow, one-size-fits-none fixes like “go to therapy” and “make more friends” are worse than useless. They don’t address the fundamental problem, which is that we have made friendship a privilege and then add insult to injury by blaming those who lack this privilege for their deficit.
You want to talk about “normative male alexithymia”? You think men can’t put words to their feelings? That’s bullshit. I am perfectly capable of putting words to my emotions. I’m doing it right fucking now. I just know better than to do so in places or around people where it is not safe for me to do so. As I wrote earlier, the first lesson I learned in becoming a man was that my feelings only matter to me, and that my feelings should not matter even to me.
I learned this lesson from my mother. I don’t remember the entire context, but I do remember that I was dealing with feelings I was too young and inexperienced to know how to handle and reached out to her for help. She told me to wait for a commercial. Watching Dallas was more important to her than her son’s feelings.
Looking back, I can understand that watching this soap opera was one of her few pleasures in a life complicated and impoverished by my presence. All she had wanted was to get laid after divorcing a man who couldn’t be bothered to consummate the marriage. She just wanted some dick; she wasn’t looking to have childrens when my father knocked her up, and my father was only eighteen himself and just wanted some pussy. She was on the pill and he was wearing a condom. However, both methods have non-zero failure rates and the odds did not work out in their favor.
I was their malignant miracle, a cruel joke on the part of a cold god. My mother could have gotten an abortion, but chose to carry me to term. She did her best to be a better mother to me than her mother was to her. My father stepped up and did his best to be a better father to me than his father was to him. However, neither of them knew what the fuck they were doing, and I’m still paying the price of their failures.
The second lesson in manhood I learned is that my place in the world is one of sufferance. I am not welcome anywhere. I am not wanted. I am merely tolerated, and that tolerance is entirely dependent on my utility to others. I am not valued as a human being, but a human doing. If I am not doing for others, I am worthless to them and no longer worthy of tolerance or a place in their world.
A society that does not treat every individual as an end in themselves instead of a means to other people’s ends is a society that ought to be burned to the ground so that we might enjoy its warmth.
When a man grows up knowing that his feelings only matter to him and that his place in society and his very claim to humanity is wholly conditional and contingent his ability to please others, is it any wonder that he armors himself? Is it any wonder that he turns his back on the world at the first opportunity?
Men are not stupid. We know that we are not loved, and that we are not valued for ourselves. We know that even our very manhood is conditional and can be taken from us for the slightest infraction. Men have no friends because for men, the Hobbesian war of all against all never actually ended. All that has changed is the rules of engagement.
Leftists pretend this isn’t the case. Right-wingers do not deny this reality, but instead embrace it. They tell lonely, desperate young men that it’s not their fault, but it’s their responsibility to learn how to navigate a world that wasn’t made for them – and then sell them strategies for doing so. This is why a lot of young men drink fascists’ Koolaid. And if the strategies they buy don’t work for them, well, they’re used to blaming themselves for their failures.
It is for these reasons that I have nothing but contempt for progressives and intersectional feminists. They fight fire with empty words while the banks get fat, the poor stay poor, the rich get rich, and the cops get paid to look away as the 1% rules America and runs it into the ground. The left has nothing to offer but book clubs and struggle sessions. Their politics are boring as fuck. Their notion of “mutual aid” is anything but. Their concern for the loneliness of men is hollow, self-righteous, and self-serving.
People who claim to be concerned about male loneliness only do so because they don’t want to be in the line of fire the next time an angry young man decides he wants not only to die, but to make as much of the world as he can into his funeral pyre. They fret over men’s perceived lack of friendships, but do nothing meaningful to help, and even if they tried to befriend the friendless themselves that friendship would come with ulterior motives that would poison the relationship.
If you want men to have friends, then either help us make a society where men are not things or sit down, shut up, and get the hell out of the way.
They are incapable of helping, and have nothing of value to say about the problems men face. They presume to speak for men when we are more than capable of speaking for ourselves. We are speaking for ourselves. You just don’t listen because you don’t like what we’re saying or how we say it. That’s your problem, not ours. You can’t keep dismissing generations of emotional neglect and outright abuse and trauma as “toxic masculinity”.
Nevertheless, while I don’t claim to be a feminist I understand feminism well enough to accept that women are not things. They do not exist for the benefit or convenience of men. However, men do not exist for the benefit or convenience of women either. Nobody exists for anybody else’s benefit or convenience. A society that does not treat every individual as an end in themselves instead of a means to other people’s ends is a society that ought to be burned to the ground so that we might enjoy its warmth.
Do I know how to fix it? No. I can debug software, but I’m not capable of debugging societies – and I don’t get paid enough for that shit even if I could. I do know that you can’t fix people. People have to fix themselves, if they can. All you can do is get out of the way, and help make the effort worthwhile.
If you can’t accept people as they are and meet them where they are then you don’t deserve to be part of their lives. If your first impulse is to turn other people into projects and try to fix them, you are objectifying human beings.
Things do not have friends, and you are no friend to the people you reduce to the status of things. Do this, and you’re just another asshole imposing yourself on others, and the loneliness you pathologize in others will be your likely and well-deserved fate.
If you want men to have friends, then either help us make a society where men are not things or sit down, shut up, and get the hell out of the way. And while you’re at it, get your shit together and learn how to meaningfully resist fascism, because your current praxis is worthless and weak.