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.