the podcast on the “Making
of Modern Immaturity” a few months ago, and reading the
comments left on that post, I got to thinking about this question:
“What makes a man mature anyway?”
used to be easy to spot and define: a man got married, sired some
progeny, and got a job to support his family. He knew he was a grown
man and everybody else did too.
those kinds of markers are being put off more and more. There are
a variety of reasons for this, some cultural, some economic. There’s
nothing inherently wrong with this trend. While I’m a proponent
of working hard at your job and getting hitched to the right woman
once you know she’s the one, these things simply don’t
happen at the same time for every man.
And while I
personally believe that getting married and having kids is one of
the most effective ways to grow and mature as a man, I’m not
comfortable saying that men who don’t do these things aren’t
mature men. Otherwise, you’re stuck with the position that
men who are Catholic priests or Buddhist monks aren’t mature
men. If you believe that, you need to go say ten Hail Mary’s
and then rejoin this discussion.
is, in the absence of these old markers of maturity, guys don’t
know how to transition from boys to men. They may not find the marriage/kids/corporate
job gig appealing, but they also aren’t keen on remaining a
perpetual adolescent. They feel stuck between these two guideposts – no
longer boys but not yet “settled down” – and don’t
see any models on how to proceed. The gap has become a life stage
wasteland for men, where guys are drifting along like amoebas.
like to suggest a definition of maturity for our modern age. And
it’s embodied in this phrase:
Boys are consumers.
When they’re young, their parents set up their experiences
for them; their only job is to sit back and enjoy it. They live
in their parents’ house, eat their parents’ food, and
use their parents’ stuff. Their free time in used in amusement.
They consume their parents’ resources and are passive and taken
care of. They make little to no impact on the world and have little
ownership of their lives. They are dependent.
is that men aren’t outgrowing this passive role. Instead of
creating, they go on consuming. They may not depend on Mom and Dad
anymore (although sadly, they often do), but they’re still
dependent on stuff for their happiness. Consuming clothes, movies,
video games, cars, parties, fast food, and even travel to make them
happy. They live only for their own pleasures and amusements.
But it is boys
that live only for themselves; men fully enjoy life’s pleasure
but also live for a higher purpose. Boys try to find themselves
in what they buy; men find themselves in what they do. Boys base
their identity on what they consume; men base their identity on
what they create.
of men to transition from being shoppers and consumers to producers
and creators has four profound implications for the vibrancy of
of Man’s Free Agency
mentioned many times, men desire to be the captains of their destiny,
in control of their life. We want to be free agents and be able
to turn our ship in any direction at any moment.
feeds directly into this desire, but offers a simulated and easier
version of it. Consumption, being able to choose between many options,
a myriad of different products and services, is sold as the ticket
to true freedom and sovereignty.
In truth, this
kind of “freedom” is only an illusion. Mathew B. Crawford,
Class as Soulcraft, explains:
activity of giving form to things seems to be increasingly the
business of a collectivized mind, and from the standpoint of any
particular individual, it feels like this forming has already
taken place, somewhere else. In picking out your [Build-a-Bear's]
features, or the options for your Warrior or Scion, you choose
among predetermined alternatives. Each of these alternatives offers
itself as good. A judgment of its goodness has already been made
by some dimly grasped others, otherwise it wouldn’t be offered
as an option in the catalogue. The consumer is disburdened not
only of fabrication, but of a basic evaluative activity…The
consumer is left with mere decision. Since this decision takes
place in a playground-safe field of options, the only concern
it elicits is personal preference. The watchword here is easiness
as opposed to heedfulness. But because the field of options generated
by market forces maps a collective consciousness, the consumer’s
vaunted freedom within it might be understood as a tyranny of
the majority that he has internalized. The market ideal of Choice
by an autonomous Self seems to act as a kind of narcotic that
makes the displacing of embodied agency go smoothly, or precludes
the development of such agency by providing easier satisfactions.
The growing dependence of individuals in fact is accompanied by
ever more shrill invocations of freedom in theory, that is, in
the ideology of consumerism. Paradoxically, we are narcissistic
but not proud enough.”
offers so many choices that we fail to see that they all reside
within a predetermined box. The great paradox in the struggle for
modern manhood is that we simultaneously feel adrift because of
and cripplingly trapped because of consumerism.