It was 15 or so years ago. I had spent a few years in private activism for men in the mental health field, but had just found my way into the then comparatively low tech forums, newsgroups and discussion boards related to men’s rights.
Like some men new to the movement, I was more passion than knowledge, well intended but green.
I stumbled into Rod Van Mechelen’s old Backlash forum, read a handful of posts there and promptly posted my ideas about why no one in that forum really knew men’s issues, but that of course, I did.
Some guy stepped out of the shadows there, dismantled everything I said with the skill and dispassion of an experienced surgeon, as though he were writing a grocery list or performing some other mundane task while he was eviscerating me and exposing my ignorance.
Then he invited me to “go piss up a rope.”
Many of you know that man today as Zed. And though he has been known by other names, his writings have taken him to iconic status in the minds of many men who have been at this for a while, this writer included. This has happened despite the fact that he has eschewed the path of self promotion and opted to speak from behind the persona of an archetype, maybe because of it. Either way, he has wielded a sharp sword from his underworld den, and worn the uniform of a warrior in the battle for sanity between men and women, though he might want to tell me to go piss up a rope for saying so. Recently, Zed agreed to an online interview regarding his personal experiences and perspectives, then and now.
So without further delay, an interview with the man himself.
What brought you into the men’s movement? Or if you don’t like the label, what started so much passionate writing about men and feminism in western culture?
I basically got thrown into it about 40 years ago when I entered the gauntlet of the mating years. I went to an ultra-liberal college just about the time feminism was starting to really take off. Most of the women who were my potential mates were either actively feminist or thought they were expected to be. Men in my age group were raised with one set of values and expectations regarding marriage and then suddenly, just about the time we were getting ready to do it, all the rules changed – or rather, all the “rules” got thrown out and people started making it up as they went along.
I had the luck to be in the right place at the right time to encounter some of the REALLY radical thinkers who harbored an unbelievable hatred for the social values of the time and were dedicated to changing and destroying them – the backbone of the COUNTER culture described by Theodore Roszak. I was certainly part of the Zeitgeist of the time – the “Woodstock Generation”, but neither fully immersed nor completely convinced. Some of what they were saying made sense, and some of it sounded completely wacko. Like many people at that age, I made the erroneous assumption that most people thought the same way I did and that the parts, which made sense, would get adopted and the rest of it dismissed.
One thing, which baffled me, was the seeming inability of so many people to recognize the profoundly anti-male foundations of feminist thought. It was a fairly common rumination of young women in those days “Can I be a feminist and still like men?” The effects of lesbian thinkers like Kate Millet on defining what feminism was and was to become made it impossible for feminism to be anything other than adversarial toward men.
By the mid-1970s it was becoming obvious that the target of the wedge to be driven between men and women was going to be based on sexuality. That is the foundation mechanism for bringing men and women together as men and women, and men were seen as sexual competitors by lesbians in their pursuit of sexual relations with women. Susan Brownmiller covered the “sexuality as victimization of women” angle with “Against Our Wills”, and Shere Hite covered the sexual satisfaction of women angle with her report on female sexuality. It was pretty obvious that one core strategy was to alienate women from men sexually, and thus attack the most fundamental force of the man-woman pair bond.
As this theme got carried forward by MacKinnon, Dworkin, and Koss, I kept expecting people to wake up and start to dismiss it. My opposition and counter-argument gradually intensified over a 30-35 year span of time, evidentially resulting in the level of intensity you see today in my writing – what you call “passion.”
If you were to give a state of the union address on the condition of modern men, what would some of the highlights be?
Unlike a lot of guys who hang around with “Men’s Rights” types, I’m far more positive about the condition of modern men than most of them. A lot of men are leading longer, healthier, lives than the average man ever has before in history. We have what is from a historic perspective a miraculous level of health care available to us. The modern world is full of convenience, and comfort, and simple survival is no longer the real challenge that it used to be for a lot of men.
I also think men have a great deal more freedom regarding life choices – if they choose to exercise that freedom – than the average man has in the past. The social changes of the past half-century have made the provider role optional for men. We are now free to choose lower stress ways to make a living and pursue that “work-life balance” which is one of the favorite buzzwords of our contemporary culture.
Modern communications technology has made ignorance of any subject a choice – the internet alone puts far more information resources at anyone’s fingertips than even huge university libraries had when I was growing up. Transportation technology gives us mobility that was only dreamed of barely a century ago. I can literally get to almost any part of the world in a few hours – instead a few weeks or months. The real barrier today to a man’s horizons is his motivation, drive, and interest – compared to times past when the simple act of traveling a few hundred miles was arduous and challenging.
And, something which a lot of people don’t think about is the fact that there are fewer men from the United States – both in terms of raw numbers or as a percentage of the population – who are walking around crippled or mutilated as a result of war than at probably any time in the past; certainly in the past 150 years or so.
Statistics and factoids, unfortunately, do not do a very good job of capturing a sense of what an environment is really like. To try to illustrate what social conditions were like in the past compared to today, I like to use the example of building the Panama Canal. Approximately 25,000 men died during its construction. Now, try to imagine for a moment what social conditions must have been like for so many men to find it attractive to take that kind of risk with their lives. How many men do you know today who would volunteer to head off to the jungle and face a high probability of death? The pressures going on in the lives of those men are probably beyond anything we can imagine today.
Or, take the “White Feather” campaign. Imagine being so sensitive to social pressure that having a woman hand you a white feather would be shameful enough that you would sign up to go to war in order to avoid it. I think a lot of men today, probably most if we are talking about younger men, would say “Take that feather and shove it where the sun don’t shine.”
Or, consider the “Mormon Migration.” Between 1846 and 1868, thousands of people made the arduous 1300-mile journey from Nauvoo, Illinois (or Independence, Missouri) to the area of Salt Lake City, Utah. Many made the trek on foot pushing the sum total of their worldly possessions in a handcart. Many perished along the way.
Imagine a life so hard and hopeless that walking a thousand miles or more dragging everything you own in a handcart was an attractive alternative. Then look around at the life you lead today and try to tell me with a straight face that you don’t have things pretty darned good.
You’ve said that the provider role for men is “optional” in modern times. Some might argue that this is true, but primarily in the abstract. What would you say to those that would point to the combination of female expectations being relatively unchanged with the fact that most young men are still raised with the provider role as the mandate? Doesn’t this give the word “choice” a slightly different meaning?
I suppose it is a matter of comparative degree. I don’t see anything like the pressure to live up to that role that men my age were subjected to. When I was 4-5-6 years old my old man would kick me out of bed at oh-dark-thirty in the morning to go hunting because “We have to provide for the family. That is our job as men!” Even with that sort of upbringing, I was able to shed my own expectations that I would live up to that role like a snake sheds its skin when I started hearing that providing for women was “oppressing” them.
It may simply be my situation, but when I look around at the world in my local vicinity I don’t see that much pressure on young men to be the sole provider. My great-niece is a young married with a 2 y/o child and I don’t think her being a SAHM and not working was ever on the table with her and her husband. It seemed to be just assumed by both of them that she would use the college degree her father paid for her to get and contribute to the maintenance of their lifestyle. Even among my age and social group, unemployed wives are rare. In my personal experience, shared breadwinning is the norm and the man doing it alone is rare.
I don’t think that single mothers can indoctrinate a boy into believing that role is part of his identity the way that fathers used to. With 40% of children being born to single mothers these days, and something like 60% of all children spending some of their childhood years in a single parent family, the father, as “provider” is no longer the norm at all. I think the subtle shift from resident parent to payer-of-child-support which fatherhood has gone through in the past few decades will have a profound effect on the way future men view their role, with the unfortunate effect that children will become bills to pay – more like the cable bill and utilities than actual direct involvement in their lives.
In the UK within the past couple of years a survey of school-aged children found that a full quarter of them did not see a “father” as an essential part of a “family.” It is also the case there now that the mother can put the name of anyone she wants on the birth certificate in the blank labeled “Parent B.”
So, as opposed to boys who grew up in families which were “mom and dad and the kids” who saw all those roles as being part of a “family”, a lot of kids are growing up with absent dads who are somewhat to largely unknown to them except as senders of checks. I don’t believe that a boy who grows up without a man in that role to be a model for it and pass it on will see it as an integral part of his identity.
Add to that the fact that boys have been somewhat driven out of higher education, and men simply won’t be in a position to be able to live that role. At that point, yes, the word “choice” does kind of drop out of the picture and they won’t have much choice to live up to that role if they choose to have families. If they choose to only support themselves, which I think a lot of men will do, then they do still have choices.
What are your thoughts on modern marriage? Is it advisable for men, women? Are the problems ”fixable?”
Marriage as most people understand it and think of it doesn’t exist any more. Around the net you will see this idea reflected in it being called “Marriage 2.0? to distinguish it from what people normally think of when they hear or see the word “marriage.” It has been transformed from a core social institution – one of the hallmarks of full adulthood and citizenship – to a vehicle for personal gratification and entertainment. The current expectations and beliefs about marriage are far too unrealistic to work for most people.
And the value systems which emphasized delayed gratification and long-term planning over immediate gratification no longer exist
I think trends are emerging which reflect a return to marital patterns of several hundred years ago – relatively affluent people are using marriage to pool and aggregate resources, while the less wealthy are more likely to be involved in a series of temporary relationships – with or without children.
You pointed to the trend toward transience in modern relationships, with or without children, particularly in lower socio-economic groups. Do you see an impact from this on social factors like crime? Do you think that humans as a species can eventually adapt effectively to the resultant norm of so many children being fatherless? And by adapt effectively, I am saying maintain rule of law and continue technological progress.
Good questions. There is certainly a “narrative” among MRA types that a descent into a more matriarchal social structure is going to lead to increased crime and decreased progress, I think there are whole lot of X factors out there which may not necessarily be being taken into account in those grim predictions.
First, one has to question how many scientists, etc. a culture actually needs in order to progress. Second, one has to define some sort of guideline for rate of progress
To illustrate what I’m trying to convey here – the US population crossed the 200 million mark between 1967 and 1968. Let’s take a hypothetical 1% of the population involved somehow in technological progress – 2 million. The years since 1968 have been no slouch in that department. Now that the population is 300 million, do we need the same 1%, or 3 million now, to maintain the same rate of progress? Or will the same 2 million maintain us at the same rate while another million make us progress faster?
The issue is less what happens at the cultural level than what is likely to happen to subgroups within the culture. Fathers certainly tend to motivate children to achieve, and being a father – a father actively involved in a child’s life, that is – certainly motivates men to be as productive as they can. What I think you will see is a progressive two-tier culture in which the ones in the top tier are not doing badly at all, and the ones in the bottom tier have very difficult lives. The UK seems to be is ahead of us in terms of fatherlessness, and indications are that the rate violence is going to go up and even the upper tier group is going to be less safe.
I’m a bit more concerned about the overall levels within the economy and the drain on it represented by the lower tier in terms of public benefits. As the number of producer’s shrinks and the number of non-producing dependents grows, eventually I think the economy will stall. At that point I do think general technological progress of the culture as a whole will slow down, and violence will increase – look at what happened in Argentina
Many members of the MRM seem to fall into more conservative camps. Do you think modern conservative politics, as they are practiced, hold any promise for men in general? Is this a better option than the other side of the partisan fence?
No. The biggest problem is that there is no real coherent body of conservative thought any more. Every ideological camp is approaching value systems like cafeterias of beliefs from which they can choose the ones they think “taste” best. At best what we have today is the choice between full-bore leftist and a sort of “liberalism lite.” The so-called “conservative” political leaders of the past few decades have expanded government as much or more than any of the fire-breathing radicals could dream of.
The biggest flaw with what passes for conservatism these days is that most conservatives refuse to acknowledge that times and social conditions have changed radically in the past 50 years and they are trying to hold men to standards of behavior that were part of a system of values that no longer exists. I always think of the old Biblical story of the Exodus and the incident where the Pharaoh reacts to Moses by saying that he would no longer provide straw for the people to make bricks – that they would have to gather it from the fields at night – but they would still be required to produce the same number of bricks. All of the social support systems for men living up to those old traditional roles have been progressively de(con)structed, but men are still expected and required to produce the same number of bricks.
There is a lot of pressure from the SoCons (Social Conservatives) to hold men accountable for the traditional male role, while women are allowed to do whatever they please. They have attempted to replace social values and pressure with an extensive legal enforcement system, and live in denial that conditions are such that it is just about impossible for the average man to live up to their traditional ideas of manhood.
It isn’t working, and the more it doesn’t work the more that both sides of the political aisle bash men for that fact.
Do you think women, at least in western culture, were ever oppressed? Why or why not?
No. And this is one of my sorest spots. Life used to have a lot of challenges and survival was by no means assured for ANYONE. Simply surviving required everyone to do what it took to survive, whether they wanted to do that or not.
Instead of looking at all the advancements made by civilization, all the comfort and relative safety we enjoy now, and regarding that as a monumental achievement; the “oppression” mentality interprets how long it took to achieve this level of relative wealth, safety, comfort, and convenience, not as a measure of how great the achievement really is, but rather as evidence of malice on the part of someone for not giving them near-utopia sooner.
Do the problems men face today lie in the laps of women? In gender politics? Or in men?
Of the three, I think men have the most power to address their “problems”, and therefore bear the greatest responsibility for doing something about them. Gender politics is certainly a mess, but I have a somewhat colder and more detached view of how that plays out than many people have.
There is no getting around the fact that “men” have been the primary agents in developing the anti-male legal and educational climate in which we now live. So right away we’ve already divided “men” into a couple of different groups, which have conflicting agendas. Mike Nifong and Joe Biden are both “men”, as far as I know, and both have been very active agents in pursuing courses of action which have harmed other men.
So, we actually have three groups here instead of two – men who burn other men, the women they do it on behalf of, and the men they burn. Of these three groups, only the last sees that there even is a problem. There is no way to convince people to address a “problem” that they do not perceive as existing.
Thus, the responsibility lies squarely on the people who think there is a problem to come up with ways to address it. If they have not, or will not, they are the ones who suffer, which would cause most rational people to expect them to be the ones to be most motivated to do something about the “problems.”
The problem with the “problems” is that they are far older and far larger than feminism. The area of North America that became the United States practiced slavery for hundreds of years, and many people did not see that as a “problem.” The Bill of Rights of the US Constitution very explicitly spelled out some rights which the government could not take from the people, which would lead to the reasonable conclusion that the framers of the Constitution had studied enough history to know that certain patterns of human behavior crop up over and over.
The fact that these patterns of mass behavior are beginning to manifest themselves again really should not be that much of a surprise to anyone who has studied much history. And, confronting the obtuseness and resistance of the average person when trying to make them aware of the dangers inherent in the growth of government power makes a lot of history more understandable.
Women for the most part are not coming after men with guns and forcing them at gunpoint to give the women what they want. Almost every “problem” that is affecting men these days began with a situation in which the men participated voluntarily and then conditions changed in a way they did not like.
While I am not without compassion for men who followed social rules and values in conducting their relationships with women and got burned as a result, my general level of compassion does go down a little each day as I encounter men who either ignore or flatly refute the evidence right in front of their own eyes. It’s difficult to feel much empathy for someone who stubbornly engages in willful denial.
You and I have been on enough discussion lists together to know that what “men” seem to do more of and better than they do anything else is chew each other out for not doing enough to fix the problem, call each other names, and brag about how much smarter they are than everyone else. Many times I have observed the impossibility of convincing a man that there is a problem any time up until the divorce papers hit, and frequently even afterward.
Personally, I have given up on wasting my time trying to convince men like that, and am quite happy these days to let life experience make my points to them for me. I think when the number of men who have been burned by the system reaches critical mass that we will see a rather abrupt and significant shift in the prevailing attitudes.
Until then, it is on the men who are aware of the problems to take whatever measures they have to in order to minimize their own risk.
Feminists have attempted to re-engineer masculinity over the past 40 years. Has it worked? Are men inherently different than they were in 1969?
I think we have to separate the biological attribute of maleness from the social expectations of what “being a man” or social masculinity is about.
First of all, I totally reject the nonsense of “gender is a social construct.” That is truly messed up thinking and exists on the same level as belief in magic. Sex is a biological fact. Most people are born in some variation of two standard models of human beings and there is a lot of recent research showing that there are some fundamental differences in the average expression of those two models.
There are some disturbing biological findings that indicate environmental pollution may be causing some severe effects on masculine development. Supposedly both sperm counts and testosterone levels have fallen in men over the past 50 years. Populations of both humans and animals are experiencing a shift in sex ratios of births, and males of some species are showing distinct signs of feminization.
But, setting those considerations aside for a moment as being more issues of degree than kind, no I don’t think men are substantially different than they were in 1969 – biologically.
However, the social definitions of manhood and masculinity have changed somewhat. But, bear in mind these are more issues of fad and fashion than actual substantive changes. If you take a quick survey across human cultures and history, the ways that cultures developed to manifest and manage natural human traits are almost infinitely variable. For example, in 17th Century Europe (France, for example) men commonly wore powdered wigs, high-heeled shoes, fancy stockings and lots of lace – all things we associate today with feminine fashion.
You might be surprised at what I see as the major change – which is not in how men actually are, but in our expectations and definitions of manhood or masculinity. I think we have seen less change in how men are actually behaving than in mass media influenced archetypes of manhood. We have this John Wayne mystique as a template for the archetypal “REAL Man(tm)” which is completely bogus and unrealistic. Even “John Wayne” never actually behaved like the character he created of “The Duke.” The reality of the man behind the myth is of someone who was named “Marion Robert Morrison” when he was born, and who never once actually engaged in any of the wartime activities of so many of his movies – but rather sat out the war as a studio pretty boy getting manicures, hawking war bonds, and chasing the wives and girlfriends of the men who were actually doing what he only pretended to do.
I think this one-dimensional caricature of manhood/masculinity is very confining and destructive. First and foremost, it is BOGUS, it is fiction. It bears no relationship at all to reality. That is a fundamental point. Most people are grounded enough in reality to realize that they are not Spiderman, or Superman, or Batman – those characters are clearly artificial and thus can be part of harmless fantasy. The problem with the character of “The Duke” is that it is believable – people can mistake that for reality, or a prescription of what reality “should” be like.
Compare a guy like John Wayne, “Marion Robert Morrison” (hmm? “MRM”, that’s kind of catchy ), with an authentic and genuine man like James “Jimmy” Stewart. Not only was Stewart AUTHENTICALLY a soldier, the characters he played as an actor almost invariably had more depth and substance than the one-dimensional characters that Wayne portrayed. They were actually realistic in having a mixture of strengths and weaknesses, human failings and a desire for nobility. Think of his character in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” George was a “real”, genuine, authentic, man.
Perhaps you have heard of the term “Generica” used to describe the homogenization and blanding which have come about as a result of the growth of national branding. It used to be that each region of the US (and other places as well) had their own character and there was a distinct difference in the atmosphere between, say, a town in the Northeast and one in the Southwest. But, the generification of the ubiquitous shopping mall eliminated a lot of those differences.
I believe the same thing has happened with manhood/masculinity – that we have been force-fed a media created and promoted, one-size-fits-all, view of masculinity that is extremely distorted, unrealistic, and destructive.
And, tying this back to your earlier question about “conservatives”, I think that the SoCons are among the most deluded who have bought in to this John Wayne mythos and are trying to be like Procrustes and force every contemporary man into their own preferred dreamed-up mold of manhood.
For every genuine “John Wayne” type of man, there was also a Walter Mitty. Men are not stamped out with cookie cutter molds in “man factories” creating a single type and model.
My goal for my involvement in the MRM is to reclaim the right for men to lead full human lives as their authentic selves.
You make a pretty clear statement regarding the fallacy of gender as a “social construct.” I am not going to press you for a broad analysis of sexual differences, but I am curious if you think that feminism taught us anything about the similarities between men and women, or if the women’s movement shed any real light on women’s capabilities that wasn’t already a part of the collective consciousness?
The most basic axiom of the study of individual differences is that the variation within a group on any particular measure will always be greater than the differences between the averages of two groups on that same measure. Broad and rigid generalizations about the differences between those groups will therefore almost always be wrong.
“Men” in general are taller than “Women.” This obviously does not mean that any and all men are taller than any and all women. The differences in height between the shortest and tallest man, and the shortest and tallest woman, are going to be much greater than the difference between the average height of men and women.
Feminism promised that both sexes would be “liberated” from the rigid stereotypes which used to exist in the form of “(all) Women are _______ ” or “(all) Men are _________ .” If feminists had actually delivered on that promise, I think it would have been to everyone’s benefit.
But that is not what happened. The feminist narrative skillfully mixes very rigid positive stereotypes of women and very negative stereotypes of men with hysterical outbursts if anyone so much as mentions the possibility of a difference that may not advantage women – e.g. Larry Summers. Thus, they hold tightly to the “all women are better nurturers than ANY man” to maintain their advantages like child custody following divorce. And they viciously defend the stereotype of the pure moral woman when it comes to things like Domestic Violence and false accusations – “women don’t lie”, “women are only violent when they are defending themselves from abusive men.”
I think if the changes of the past 50 years have taught us anything, it is that women are capable of every bit as much human destructiveness as men. When the cult of the moral woman is destroyed, and people begin to accept women as human beings with capacity for both good and extremely bad behaviors, then maybe a path will be cleared to something resembling real equality.
Where do you see men in 10 years? A hundred?
Don’t have a clue. And I’m not really being a smartass here. If you want a great stock tip, ask me what I would do and then do the opposite. My crystal ball was consistently so worthless I just tossed the fool thing out.
I think men will adapt, that’s about all I can say. There may be a lot of people who don’t like HOW they choose to adapt – the advocates of “Game”, for example – but they are going to adapt to the culture the best they can.
In recent years we have seen some new additions to the MRA lexicon. Words like “mangina.” We have also seen much more of a challenge to the concepts of chivalry and traditionalism, even a growing rejection of what Farrell coined as the male role of being “disposable.” Your statement that you don’t have a crystal ball has been duly noted, but I am curious if you see the possibility of this mentality becoming the norm for western men?
Yes, I do. What I see happening culturally is like one of those old cartoons with a character who has each foot on something that is moving apart from the other foot. Eventually the feet are going to move so far apart that the character does the splits and falls down. The short term ability we have seen of the culture to practice doublethink – holding two contradictory and mutually exclusive beliefs to both be true – will eventually give way to evidence and changing cultural perceptions.
I just saw a comment on The Spearhead –
“Men used to be chivalrous with all women because it was assumed that most women are virtuous. Now that most women aren’t virtuous, chivalry is dying.”
The new narratives among young men about female hypergamy, young women loving bad boys and passing over nice guys, and the whole “party away your 20s, then find some affluent man to pick up the bill” show that younger men see women entirely differently than older men do. Guys with ex-wives who have taken them to the cleaners in family courts and kept them from seeing their children simply are not going to have on the same sort of rose colored glasses when they look at women that older men who still think women are like they were 50 years ago have.
And, here is where I think fatherlessness is going to have the greatest impact. Boys raised by mothers with mental issues who did not have a father to counter-balance that and give them some sanity and stability in their lives are not going to have any source of traditional values and the whole set of ideas and beliefs are going to be completely alien to them.
What do you make of the overall state of women in modern culture? Has feminism helped women toward the constitutional ideals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
Back in 1970 or ‘71, Norman Mailer came out with a book called “Prisoner of Sex.” In his introduction he mentioned his belief that women had “the better half of the deal, already.” I agreed with him then, and still do. I think women have lost far more as a result of feminism than men have. They enthusiastically threw away that “deal”, thinking that men had it better, and now that it is gone there is no way back for women.
Just look at the foundation premises (not all the victimhood which is just the natural feminine character overlaid on the ideology) – women, as they were and acted 50 years ago, had something wrong with them. The only way they could be considered valid human beings was to become more like men and do what men did.
In short, “feminism”, contrary to its name, actively threw away any uniquely female identity. A lawyer is a lawyer, not a woman.
Personally, I believe this is a big part of what is behind the unbelievably overt and outrageous displays of female sexuality which have become characteristic of women – without all those “oppressive” social positions which women used to occupy outside the fast lane of earning money, the only uniquely “female” identity women have left is the sexual one.
The Men’s Movement has been stuttering phenomena, with a lot of false starts. We seem to be gaining some traction recently, but it’s not the first time for that, either. Do you get disenchanted with this? How do you keep yourself going with so little move in the movement?
It’s a mental orientation that few people seem to share. It begins with the idea that I, and no one else, am responsible for the quality and conditions of my life.
To play the devils advocate for a moment, what in the world do we NEED a “men’s movement” for? I think that if you dig down under all the layers of rhetoric, you will almost universally find that what most people are saying (both in and out of the MRM) is “I wish other people would change so that the world would become more like I wish it was.”
People get trapped by their values and beliefs about how things “should” be. And, they want everyone to get together and behave in a way that brings that about. The problem stems from the fact that people’s beliefs are all over the place and there is very little consensus regarding which particular set of “shoulds” are going to be implemented.
My generation of men was tremendously affected by the Vietnam War, so maybe using that as an analogy will illustrate something, which is fairly subtle and goes against the grain of most people’s thinking.
When I was in my teens the US was involved in the war and young men were being conscripted to fight it. What they wanted or preferred was simply not on the table as anything to consider – they were forced to go whether they wanted to or not. Any guy who didn’t show up at the induction center when ordered to was hunted down by federal marshalls and dragged there in handcuffs and leg irons.
It really sucked, but that was the way it was.
They went through basic training, and then were shipped over to SE Asia and plopped down in the middle of the jungle where people shot at them, dug pits and lined the bottom with poisoned sharpened bamboo stakes, and generally did everything they could to harm or kill the young men who didn’t really want to be there in the first place.
It really sucked, but that was the way it was.
Over the years I have developed the view that I live in a sort of “gender Vietnam.” I have absolutely no legal protections from a woman who decides to behave in a sociopathic manner. If I trust a woman and she betrays that trust and burns me, the most likely cultural reaction I will get is that it is my fault for trusting her.
It really sucks, but that is the way it is.
It all boils down to accepting the risks inherent in the environment and taking appropriate measures to manage them. I can do whatever I want to try to change that environment, but must bear in mind that it isn’t changed yet, so I have to live in it as it is – not as I wish it were.
Doing that requires certain mental adaptations that are not the most fun things in the world, but are not absolutely horrible, either. In the grand scheme of things, simply making sure that I am never alone with a female co-worker without witnesses present, for example, in order to protect myself against a bogus “sexual harassment” accusation, requires nothing more than a slight adjustment to my thinking. Moving women from the mental category of “potential romantic partner” to “potential false accuser” has other benefits as well.
So, the short answer to your question is that I do what I can to change the world I live in to what I want it to be, at the same time I realistically assess the world that I DO live in and conduct myself in a way which minimizes the hazards it contains for me.
If there were any single piece of advice that you could give a young man coming of age in modern times, what would that be?
“Never get yourself into a situation that you can’t get yourself out of.”
It is a serious mistake to depend completely on someone else for our own salvation and well being. They may rescue us, and they may not. To whatever extent a man can control his own circumstances and destiny, he will benefit from doing so.
First, a word of thanks, Zed, for taking the time to answer these questions and for so many years of writing that have compelled many of us to challenge the thinking of others and our own thinking as well. If you would please, tell us about the meaning of the name Zed. It is one of a small handful of names you have used in your writings. Does this indicate you are still a work in progress?
Mike LaSalle nailed it in a comment to one of my pieces here on MND – it comes from the movie Zardoz, which I think has a lot of allegorical meaning for our current circumstances. . The name Zed is a literary device indicating some sort of end. The last letter of some alphabets is often called “zed” – as in “From Ah to zed”, A to Z. As Zed in the movie was the agent to end the boredom and ennui of the “immortals”, trapped by their own success at dealing with all the nasty un-fun tribulations of real life into a sterile existence which drove them insane, in my more melodramatic days I dedicated myself to being an agent for bringing about the end of some forces and trends which I saw as being very destructive.
This concludes my interview with Zed. I mentioned at the beginning that my introduction to the man was a tad frictional. It wasn’t the last time there was friction, either. But through some of the lessons I have learned to view that friction in pretty good context. Because, you never know. The fellow that tells you one day to go piss up a rope might be your mentor or your friend the next.
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