The cult of masculinity is just another religion


Rev. Carlson & Father Rogan

I should be used to this by now. I spent decades punching back at the weaponized stupidity of creationism: I saw it as a pathological extreme generated by narrow domains of primitive religious thought, but I also recognized it as an expression of a peculiar human property of our minds. We seek out patterns to make the world comprehensible and predictable, and we are susceptible to latching on to whatever idea gives us security, and instead of testing and challenging it, we can instead fall into the trap of selectively reinforcing whatever makes us feel better about ourselves.

My error, though, was to think too small. Get rid of religion, we get rid of a major pitfall. I still think that’s true (but very, very difficult), but I did not anticipate that humanity would simply find another dangerously deep hole to fall into right away, and that encouraging people to find another path with that “reason and logic” stuff would lead them there so fast.

I also did not expect that our doom would be maleness, the new cult same as the old cult. Yikes. I’m a member of that club. So let’s get the perspective of someone outside the club, a woman, in this case Amanda Marcotte, who I think is spot on in her analysis. The noisy mouthpieces of the far right are dominated by a group of regressive jerks who are riding to personal prosperity on the backs of the fears and inadequacy of the worst men. Tucker Carlson, for instance, is an appallingly stupid person who has found a wild niche of pandering to angry men.

As feminist writer Jessica Valenti noted in her newsletter, in the past, Carlson has done segments of his show denouncing “fatherless” homes and claiming children brought up in them are “poor, uneducated and have disciplinary problems.” But now he, a father of four, is making fun of men who actually want to be present in their children’s lives. “Are fathers necessary for stable families and children, or is spending time with your kid a sign of weakness and something to be laughed at?” Valenti asks.

What this dissonance reveals, of course, is all the hand-wringing about “fatherlessness” is just a feint. After all, many divorced or separated fathers are deeply involved with their children’s lives. No, as the Proud Boys rally this weekend showed, what’s really at stake is anger at women for rejecting subservience. Single mothers, same-sex marriages, and egalitarian marriages all show that there’s nothing inevitable about male-dominated marriage. That threatens men who are attracted to the dominance fantasy of traditional marriage to silence their own nagging sense of inadequacy.

It’s not just Carlson and the Proud Boys who have figured out how to monetize male mediocrity and fragility.

Just to clarify, though, “male mediocrity and fragility” is not saying that being a man means you are intrinsically mediocre and fragile. Any group will have a subset of individuals who are mediocre and fragile, the weak links that a con artist can scoop up, organize, and turn into a force for evil. It means there is a troubling group of humans who have been recruited into a cadre with a stereotypically male flavor, who then send money to and increase the power of people like Carlson. You can find this in any group. For instance, right now we can see TERFs harvesting female mediocrity and fragility, and atheists profiting off atheist mediocrity and fragility. OK? Not all men. Not all women. Not all atheists. But there are still characteristics of those groups that can be manipulated and abused.

It’s also not just Carlson. She doesn’t mention him, but Jordan Peterson is another classic example of someone harnessing mediocrity for personal gain, and she does talk about Joe Rogan.

Podcaster Joe Rogan has made a mint off of appealing to the sea of men who want an easy boost to their self-esteem through chauvinistic chest-thumping, rather than developing real skills and a personality. Rogan can be a little more subtle than Carlson about it, but ultimately, they’re playing on the same set of anxieties and insecurities in American men, and prescribing the same toxic masculinity as a supposed cure.

In Rogan, it’s easy to see, for instance, how refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine got encoded for the fragile masculinity set as a way to “prove” their manly bona fides. He falsely claimed that “healthy” men who are “exercising all the time” don’t need the vaccine. He repeatedly suggested that vaccine mandates were somehow an assault on freedom, rather than what they are: a common sense health measure that helps free everyone from far more miserable pandemic restrictions. Taken together, it paints a picture of vaccination as the behavior of supposedly weak men. Unsurprisingly, then, Rogan ended up with COVID-19 and had to admit that he had kept finding excuses to put off getting a vaccine he had routinely insinuated was emasculating.

Right. Turning anti-vaccination sentiments into a chest-thumping display of masculinity is the new trap. We can turn any stupidity into a virtue if we couple it to some aspect of stereotypical manliness. See also America’s gun obsession.

Once you’ve got your in-group of weak, gullible men (in this case) you have to find a target to push around. What use is your power, otherwise? So here we go. Let’s go after the transes! And the gays! And the libs!

Carlson went after a gay man with a breastfeeding joke. Rogan’s preferred target for exercising his gender anxieties is all too often trans people.

Rogan has repeatedly used his show to make fun of trans people, paint being trans as a perversity, and elevate anti-trans bigots as somehow experts on the subject. Now that comedian Dave Chappelle has joined in making being transphobic a point of pride, unsurprisingly, he and Rogan are going on tour together. The obsession with trans people isn’t just gross, it’s a little confusing. Why do these cis men care so much about the lives of trans people who have nothing to do with them?

The ugly truth is that trans people, because they’re a small and misunderstood minority, just feel like an easy punching bag for these insecure men to take their gender anxieties out on. The very existence of trans people is a reminder that gender — and therefore gender hierarchy — is a social construct, and therefore can be analyzed, criticized, and even changed. Or, as in that famous 2019 rant from a One America News Network host, transgender penguins are a threat to the “family unit” and everything conservatives hold dear.

What’s also interesting here is how easy it is to spot these self-appointed leaders dragging us down into a sewer. It used to be we could just lock in on televangelists and such, who would happily label themselves with an easy and contemptible myth, and overlook all those people who seized on other myths that we didn’t think were so contemptible (like being a man), and churned them into red meat to feed their followers. We have to get better at spotting these charlatans, and they aren’t all going to be conveniently wearing clerical collars. Some of them just sport testicles.

Hey, here’s another insecure fraud who’s making bank off male mediocrity and fragility: Steven Crowder.

Warning: that video contains what I think is the most tasteless, cruel, pointless “comedy” routine I’ve ever seen, in which Crowder and his cronies pretend to act out the George Floyd murder to show that kneeling on someone’s neck is totally harmless. That didn’t get him instantly demonetized and evicted from social media channels everywhere? That’s another part of the problem, that these fools and liars are enabled by toxic social media rules.

Comments

  1. birgerjohansson says

    I am both mediocre and fragile, but self-aware. I am reasonably familiar with my flaws, and can usually spot when ads and people try to sell me the Brooklyn bridge.
    .
    As for organic lumps like Tucker Carlson I think you should adopt the Brit nomenclature and call them “gammons” after the red nuance of angry faces.

  2. cartomancer says

    There is an oft-overlooked economic-social dimension to this modern cult of toxic masculinity, particularly in the US.

    It must be noted that the traditional, mainstream US version of masculinity from the 1950s onward tended to centre around the ability to get a good job with a wage that could support a non-working wife and enough children to replace you when you were gone. This was a direct product of New Deal policies and US economic supremacy, which meant that for most (white) men it was an entirely achievable goal. Other societies undergoing periods of prosperity have tended to develop similar conceptions as well – we might look at Athens in its classical heyday in the 5th Century BC, when citizen men had a prosperous and privileged existence on the back of Imperial hegemony and slavery, and could expect to inherit a stable place in society.

    These certainties were destroyed by the Neoliberal policies of the last 40 years. Nowadays that ideal of the steady job that can support a dependent family is almost impossible for most. But the rhetoric and ideals have not changed to fit. The patriarchal attitudes and expectations have not been cleared away sufficiently, and a new model of modern masculinity has not supplanted them to a great degree. So we see the exaggerated excesses of things like guns and testosterone pills and anti-vaccine nonsense and pick-up artistry and transphobia and right-wing politics stepping in to soothe the wounds (wounds which, ironically, right-wing politics opened up).

    Which also, conveniently enough, explains why it’s mostly white men who tend to be the victims and purveyors of this tripe.

  3. raven says

    Turning anti-vaccination sentiments into a chest-thumping display of masculinity is the new trap.

    The antivaxxer men aren’t being fearless and showing any sort of courage. What they are is obvious cowards. Afraid of a needle injection that takes a few seconds and that most people barely feel. With minor side effects for the Covid-19 vaccine for the vast majority of people. Three fourths of people who get the vaccines report no significant side effects.

    They are also irresponsible to their friends, families, coworkers, and society. They can spread the virus to anyone they have contact with. It’s not unusual for a parent or both parents to die and leave children behind as orphans.

    The antivaxxers are cowards, irresponsible, and being dumb about risk assessment. You can call that manly if you want, but even most men wouldn’t agree. Because, 67% of men got…vaccinated.

  4. Akira MacKenzie says

    …in the past, Carlson has done segments of his show denouncing “fatherless” homes and claiming children brought up in them are “poor, uneducated and have disciplinary problems.” But now he, a father of four, is making fun of men who actually want to be present in their children’s lives.

    In the world of the hyper-macho Right, fathers are there to be all loving and nurturing. That’s WOMAN’S WORK! No, the point of fathers for the right-wing are to be domineering tyrants who lay down the rules and keep their children discipline through beatings and threat of beatings. Children only end up delinquent–or vote left-wing, or reject Right-wing authority, or become LGBTQ, etc.–because their fathers didn’t whip them with a leather belt. Any male who does not–or worse, will not–become an abusive authority figure is not a “REAL Man (TM).”

  5. stroppy says

    The madness of crowds. Call it flocking, swarming, herding, mobbing, whatever.

    Echo chambers, monkeys hooting in the treetops…
    sports fans. Hey, “We are all Caesars.” Check out Caesar’s sports book commercials.

  6. Akira MacKenzie says

    Unsurprisingly, then, Rogan ended up with COVID-19…

    Did he? Whether it’s Rogan, or Denis Prager, or even Donald Trump until I see the test results or the obituary, I don’t believe any of these Right-wing assholes caught COVID. I suspect they’re only claiming to have had the virus so they can claim that’s it’s really no worse than a cold, thus eliminating the supposed need for vaccines, masks, social distances, washing your hands, etc..

  7. PaulBC says

    I also did not expect that our doom would be maleness, the new cult same as the old cult.

    I think in retrospect, this should not have been surprising. My hunch is that people will find a substitute for religion based on what they’re getting out of it. If it’s patriarchy, then cut out the middle man and just do that. If it’s mysticism, a sense of security, or some other thing, other substitutes may emerge instead.

  8. PaulBC says

    That didn’t get him instantly demonetized and evicted from social media channels everywhere?

    Like they say: you can demonize me, just don’t demonetize me. (OK, “they” don’t, but maybe it’ll catch on.)

  9. says

    Get rid of religion, we get rid of a major pitfall. I still think that’s true (but very, very difficult), but I did not anticipate that humanity would simply find another dangerously deep hole to fall into right away, and that encouraging people to find another path with that “reason and logic” stuff would lead them there so fast.

    I thought this was clear ever since Rebecca Watson said, “Guys, don’t do that.”

  10. consciousness razor says

    I’ll say it again. If Trump had won and was out there peddling the vaccine right now as his miracle cure, then all of these jokers would be on the other side of the fence with him. It might be a complete failure and rack up a huge body count, but they wouldn’t care at all.

    If some dudes had misgivings about it, they would definitely be maligned as “unmanly.” Because everybody knows that what real men do is bravely risk their lives without hesitation for the sake of their wives and children — won’t anyone think of the children? — just like the patriots who sacrificed themselves at Iwo Jima, the Alamo, Yorktown, etc., to protect our precious freedoms and to defeat communism. It would be your duty to get the shot as soon as possible, so you can get back out there and buy another big TV to watch football with all the guys.

    Or you can make up a million other variations on this and fill in the blanks with whatever the fuck you want, because the content is pretty arbitrary as long as it includes enough mindless chest-thumping.

  11. Allison says

    My error, though, was to think too small. Get rid of religion, we get rid of a major pitfall…. I did not anticipate that humanity would simply find another dangerously deep hole to fall into right away, and that encouraging people to find another path with that “reason and logic” stuff would lead them there so fast.

    I’m surprised it took you this long to realize that. When the most prominent professional atheists turn out to be just as scummy as any of the professional theists, it’s hard to maintain that it’s the religion that’s the true source of the scumminess.

    I would submit that back when religion was the main way that humans conceptualized their world, the professional scoundrels wrapped themselves in religion. When nationalism took over from religion, they started wrapping themselves in this or that flag. When SCIENCE(tm) became the authority on TRUTH(tm), they started wrapping their crap in “SCIENCE.” What endures through the ages is the scumminess.

    And what has also endured is the propensity for a lot of people to fall for whatever slogans seem to promise a quick and easy way to happiness and the illusion of being smart. Maturity is a lot of work and acceptance of a lot of hard realizations.

  12. birgerjohansson says

    YOB @ 16
    These gammons provide an essential service; to make jokes about after Bond has killed them with ease.

  13. says

    The thing about mediocre is that by definition, most people are. That’s the big fat bulk of Gauss’ distribution. And there’s nothing wrong with being in it. Exceptionalism is another toxic cult. Being is enough. You don’t even have to give your best every day, because nobody can.
    As for the Rogans and Carlsons and Petersons of this world: They’re hurting men so much. They’re propagating a world that is long gone and that isn’t to come back. Not only is the economy not going to return to white man’s paradise, women aren’t going to do so either. I keep saying that in the last 60 years, women have changed a lot, and men haven’t kept up. And now a woman expects more out of a relationship than “not getting beaten”.

  14. kathleenzielinski says

    I used to have this recurring fantasy in which I had the power to go back in time and keep bad stuff from happening. So I went back and prevented 9/11, only to then say why stop there? Why not go back even further and prevent the Vietnam War, the Holocaust, slavery, the Inquisition, and on and on and on. Until finally it’s a quarter million years ago, and I’m standing in front of the very first humans trying to teach them to not be tribal, not take more than what they need, treat others the way they wish to be treated. Only to realize that they already know all that; the issue isn’t that they don’t know better, but that they don’t choose better. All I really have to contribute is to tell them about the direct consequences of bad behavior, but, being human, they completely ignore that warning too.

    So maybe we’re just hopeless.

  15. wzrd1 says

    There is precisely one reason that the vaccine is evil.
    A license request didn’t arrive until a week after the god-king emperor lost his election.
    So, it’s forever evil, because “they” plotted against him.
    Hence, why we have Typhoid Tucker and his all girl band.

    I do know for a fact that the vaccine works, as around 4 hours post dosage, my deltoid was madder than hell with me, I was feverish and general malaise set in, as is typical with my receiving a set of immunizations. ;)
    Next day, it was long past, as also is usual with me.
    Note to self: Get flu shot and booster…
    Thought about getting a flue shot, but I’m in no mood for masonry today. ;P

  16. davidc1 says

    @13 &15 .Yes ,but nothing beats sleeping with Cheetahs .

    @1 Ah ,gammons ,so stupid ,they are too stupid to realise how stupid they are .

  17. PaulBC says

    kathleenzielinski@19 Maybe go back before the KT event and see if dinosaurs do a better job with this whole “intelligent life” thing.

  18. lumipuna says

    Giliell wrote:

    The thing about mediocre is that by definition, most people are. That’s the big fat bulk of Gauss’ distribution. And there’s nothing wrong with being in it. Exceptionalism is another toxic cult. Being is enough. You don’t even have to give your best every day, because nobody can.

    Good point about exceptionalism, which I think is especially pervasive in the US. I get a sense that in US English, the word “mediocre” has evolved to mean “inferior; below expectations”. When someone or something is derided as mediocre, it might mean literally mediocre, or truly low-achieving. The distinction is meaningless, because in any case it’s not deemed good enough.

  19. birgerjohansson says

    Kathleenzieliski @ 19
    It is not hopeless, it is just a very long-term project. GM the hereditary aspect of “human nature” to make people less likely to become utter bastards (an incredibly difficult task as there are so many factors) or create “strong” AI (with inherent inhibitions against cruelty). I would rather share the universe with the Eschaton* than the usual politicians who climb to the top.
    .
    *from books by Charles Stross

  20. garnetstar says

    kathleenzielinski@19, that is very interesting: that ancient people, and everyone else up to and including now, do have the knowledge, but choose not to do what would end up being best.

    I just read a review of an anthropologist’s book, “a brilliant new account that upends bedrock assumptions about 30,000 years of change”, that says that modern archeology and anthropology research proves just that. Ancient people had the knowledge, but didn’t make the right choices, just like the rest of us.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/11/graeber-wengrow-dawn-of-everything-history-humanity/620177/

  21. stroppy says

    Inherited brain features/bugs including pareidolia, mentioned in the OP, need to be recognized in order to be trained out. We’re still learning, too slowly, how to educate to the scale of increasingly large populations and complex societies, IMO. It’s a meta thing.

  22. stroppy says

    @ 27 continued…

    IOW, we don’t do the best we can, we do the best we know how… at best.

    The history of science could be described as the development of tools to keep us from fooling ourselves. Still working on that.

  23. lotharloo says

    Nah, this analysis is too shallow and bullshit. Tucker, Rogan, and JP operate at very different levels with different appeals and the reality is much more complicated than this simplistic analysis.

  24. birgerjohansson says

    Stroppy @ 28
    Re. The history of science.
    Off on a tangent a little bit.
    A recent study shows that the number of researchers that support the idea that human activity is causing climate change has risen to 99.9%.
    .
    Apart from the statement “apples fall downwards” I doubt there are many other ideas that has reached the 99.9% level in the research community….
    (this leaves self-appointed ‘experts’ at Fox and social media.
    “The tide goes in.The tide goes out. Never a misscommunication” ).

  25. sophiab says

    Honestly, I’m scared.
    I feel we’re at the Iranian revolution, almost. Pandemic put gender disparity in a highlight. But it was short.
    I doubt my fertile life will be without (unwanted) forced pregnancy/ children/ disincentives (best case). The longest we can run this out is the best with me.
    That sounds really dark, but…I don’t feel crazy

  26. unclefrogy says

    the problem does seem to be an essential one, not just religious belief though belief does play a large part in it. I do think that at the root you will always find that sense of inadequacy, that sense of being small and powerless in the face of existence, of helplessness and fear in the face of the realization that I am mortal and will some day soon (it will for ever be soon regardless of how long that time will be) i will simply stop. I know nothing about any after but my memories of those gone.
    It is kind of like the infinite perspective vortex in the hitch hikers guide to the galaxy . most people who look into it go mad only Zaphod did not though that point could be debated (what is madness?) That first realization in childhood that can set up a long series of behaviors in a struggle to make those feelings disappear. A fruitless and endless endeavor which will always fail because we are exceedingly small and insignificant anyway.

  27. springa73 says

    lumipuna @23

    I get a sense that in US English, the word “mediocre” has evolved to mean “inferior; below expectations”.

    In my experience as a lifelong US resident, this is true. “Mediocre” tends to be used as a synonym for “inferior”, rather than a synonym for “average”. It also seems that nobody in the US wants to think of themselves as average, let alone below-average. It’s sort of a part of the “American Dream” idea that anyone can excel in life if they are willing to put in enough effort. In some ways, the drive to be above average is a good thing, as it motivates people to try to improve their lives in a variety of ways. In other ways, though, it can be very damaging, giving people unrealistic expectations or an unrealistic opinion of their own abilities. I think that it can also make people more vulnerable to political, social, or religious movements that draw people in by helping them to feel special and superior.

  28. birgerjohansson says

    I expressed myself poorly @ 30
    99.9% refers to studies and articles about climate. The point is, there is no “controversy ” in science. It only exists in the words of paid liars like Tucker Carlson, paid troll farms and delusional people on social media.

  29. birgerjohansson says

    The toxic masculinity could have Mussolini as symbol (I know it is ideology- independent, but M. is the most well-known example).
    I considered using professional wrestling as an example, but most of those will be decent people outside the role they are playing.
    Also, M was and is the most known example of failure and empty boasting.

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