Pat Ford wrote a heart-wrenching piece on the suicide of a close family friend in his Northern Agrarian blog. I hope you give it a read, and, if you say them, offer up a few prayers to all those who have been profoundly affected by what happened.
Pat, one of the sharpest (if not, most well-written) political minds I have the privilege to know, is thoughtful and well-reasoned in his critique of what is far too often (by definition?) an inhuman capitalist system. He writes of today’s man:
Although he is more dependent on others–and on government–than ever before, he is the victim of a system he has no control over. If we’re shipping jobs overseas, we say: “Tough. Learn a new trade. These jobs weren’t staying here anyway.” What about the immeasurable human toll this takes?
The failure to acknowledge the toll capitalism takes on women and transgendered people by discussing the modern man can be construed as sexist. I ask that for the purpose of this analysis we put to the side the fact that American capitalism is skewed against people who are not straight white men.
I want to instead talk about how frighteningly intertwined being a man, and being on top of the capitalist game are. Masculinity today requires a man to be a strong provider. If you’re not wealthy, you’re looked down upon. I’ve seen too many friends’ parents buy their children the newest video game system to create a false sense of comfort and prosperity for their children. I wish more and more that my parents had invested the money my father made for the years before we became a two-income household in something other than myself and my brothers.
Things for themselves, weekend vacations for two, charitable causes, a rainy day, any of that would have been just fine for me in retrospect.
My family has been overwhelmingly privileged in that I have been able to go to all of the camps I could dream of, writing seminars at the age of 12, band trips, etc. When money has been tight, it’s still been okay. But what if it wasn’t? When you spend all of your time wanting something, asking Daddy for something what happens when the answer is more “no” than yes? What is a man to do when he feels he can’t provide enough? Who is he then? The stress and lack of identity this causes is dangerous. Without self-worth, how can a man love himself and his family? How can he go on?
I have always been a firm believer in capitalism, but with perhaps impossible caveats. With the development of social networking, Yelp, Twitter, blogs, Facebook, etc., we as a society should be able to contribute to a more just system by identifying injustice, mistreatment, and rewarding those who do well by their employees with our business. I believe that a more responsibled capitalism, enforced by the consumer and combined with equal access to education for citizens, can move the human race to a safer, more comfortable, happier existence for all.
However, in instances like these, I confess I am afraid. Recent conversations with friends about whether or not I want to have kids have left me disturbed. I want to be great at what I do. I want to fight and work and ensure myself the opportunity to be competitive in the workplace and thereby create work by my own terms. I want a degree of economic comfort for myself and whoever I settle down with to marry. But kids? Will I be able to be a good father? Can I do that without working my tail off? How do I be a good “man,” defined by my ability to be protector and provider, and a good “Dad,” teacher, lover, guide, friend?
My father has tirelessly managed to do both extraordinarily well, but the physical and emotional toll is clear. As the economy worsens, and the profit margins shrink, you cannot help but look around the office when you walk in for the pink slip. And if my father lost his job (again) at this critical juncture of college education for his sons, would he still be able to call himself a man?
I don’t know the answer, I’m afraid, but somehow, we as a society need to be able to definitively answer yes.
This argument is so critical. Eventually (and I promise I will), I’ll post some old readings from a class I took about this very issue. As the pace rat in the race starts moving faster, we need to reevaluate before this gets out of hand.