Surprised by a hunger in myself to be more serious, I recently decided to devote the remainder of this term to thoughtful and informative reflections on issues of public importance. To this end, I picked up the new winter edition of American Affairs, a silly-clever magazine which used to describe itself as ‘the intellectual engine of Trumpism’ until its editors decided Donald Trump was nasty and dumb. Nowadays, the magazine is willing to publish anyone, left or right, who is prepared to have a tilt at China, ‘neoliberalism’, or people who like Lizzo.
My spotless progressive credentials notwithstanding, my curiosity was piqued: how would the journal respond to President Trump’s eviction from the White House and the forthcoming neoliberal restoration? (Christ, I already sound like a dork.) Of the fourteen articles featured, five were about economics, one was about the ‘sociology of wokeness’, one was about how Utah is really cool and six were about how it would be even cooler if Team America no-scoped the Chinese.
That left one piece on ‘The New Superfluous Men’, by Alex Gellner, a writer, who, like most of the planet’s writers, lives in New York. Gellner begins by wondering aloud why men everywhere have been acting weird lately. From America to Iraq to Germany to Sudan, ‘The world’s most dysfunctional people are nearly all male’. Gellner adds that the rise of ISIS could also be considered an example of men behaving oddly.
Gellner adds that the rise of ISIS could also be considered an example of men behaving oddly.
Smugness trickled through my soul like ketamine down a clubber’s throat. Dysfunctional? Weird? I rubbed my eyes, reached for my fourth white-chocolate cookie of the morning and listened to the sounds of silence in my room. Surely not.
Gellner’s explanation for the ‘global crisis of masculinity’ is that most men are completely unnecessary for the operation of society. (This doubtless excludes Cambridge humanities students.) It is a biological fact, he observes, that whereas one man can get lots of women pregnant, one woman cannot get lots of men pregnant. If I understand him correctly, he goes on to argue that the only men who have ever actually had sex are Genghis Khan, Augustus the Strong and Moulay Ismail ibn Sharif (shag tally: 600). This means that most men are melancholy loners who never get compliments or hugs. This makes them act weird.
Much as I admire the rigour of Gellner’s argument, I’m pretty sure all you have to do to prove that some men get laid lots but most not at all is spend a term plugged into the Peterhouse gossip loop. And if you’re arguing from biological premises, then the question remains: why are men acting sus right now?
Gellner’s explanation: back in the old days, societies grasped the threat posed to them by surplus sadboiz. When you leave lanky beer-sodden losers to their own devices, ‘organised crime, religious sectarianism and civil unrest are usually not far behind’. (Ample evidence for this is provided every Friday night in the boys’ house where I live.) Traditionally, the solution to this was to send the poor bastards on a lads’ holiday somewhere like Agincourt, Borodino or Stalingrad. This is unfortunately impossible now that woke students have abolished war. Labouring the point, Gellner quotes an academic paper about how CIA drones are ‘genderqueer bodies’ which ‘queer the experience of war’.
Traditionally, the solution to this was to send the poor bastards on a lads’ holiday somewhere like Agincourt, Borodino or Stalingrad.
Of course, besides being cannon fodder, sub-Chalamet expendables were once useful as factory components. This outlet has also been shut off ever since the neoliberals offloaded the West’s manufacturing capacity to Yu Know Hu. Under the postmodern service economy, there is no real point to men. As Gellner puts it, women are ‘less threatening, more pleasant to customers, and more likely to show up sober and on time’. It’s for others to judge whether I’m threatening or pleasant or neither or both, but Gellner’s article certainly left me in need of a stiff drink. I mean, it can’t be true that most men are destined for a life of sour obsolescence. It can’t possibly be true.