Man Disconnected #2: Why are young men in crisis?

Man Disconnected by Zimbardo and Coulombe is about the challenges young men face in our technological age. 

Chapters 8-15 review the main situational and systemic factors which lie behind the problems faced by young men reviewed in the first section of the book.

This post summarizes chapters 8-10. 

You might like to read my summary of the first 7 chapters of the book here: which deals with the evidence of the problems faced by young men today.

Chapter 8: Rudderless Families, Absent Dads

Today, children are brought up with much less contact with adults: they used to be surrounded by extended families, but today the average household size is just below 3 in the US and 2.4 in the UK, and on top of this, the typically teacher pupil ratio at school is 1:20.

It’s not just quantity of contacts, but quality: something like 50% of households feel the ‘time pinch’ to the extent that they cannot find time to sit down to meals together on most days of the week.

Zimbardo also cites the tired evidence on the increasing number of children being brought up in cohabiting households, which have twice the break up rate of married households, and the fact that today about 1/3rd of US children and ¼ of UK children are brought up in single parent (mainly mother) households.

Declining trust

In the US trust in the general public has declined so much that we no longer even trust the nannies we employ to look after our kids – as evidenced by the increasing sales of ‘nanny cams’.

The percentage of people reporting that most people can be trusted has fallen from 55% in 1960 to  32% in 2009.

Zimbardo now seems to link declining trust to divorce, citing evidence that divorced people have lower immune systems than married people (yes, there are measurable physiological effects!)

He focuses first on the effects of divorce on separated mums and their children: arguing that only around 25% of single mums report that they are happy, half the number of married women. He also argues that girls brought up in single parent households are given mixed messages – that they should put their kids first, and get a career, but there are hardly any examples of people who successfully do both!

He then turns the effects on the separated dads: who have a suicide rate 10 times higher than divorced women, suggesting that the typical experience is for them to spend time working for someone else, who is now distanced from them, and basically having to ‘suck this up’ because they are conditioned to not seek help from anyone.

High divorce rates makes children who experience them think differently about relationships – he cites Vaillant’s famous Longitudinal Harvard Study as an example of the negative effects….suggesting that such children are suspicious of relationships (they are less likely to trust adults!) yet they are still caught up thinking that stable monogamous relationships are for everyone (thanks to Disney).  

Zimbardo finishes off with the usual trawl through the ‘problems’ which the decline of the nuclear family create for society – arguing that countries with more stable families (basically a prosperous society is based on the nuclear family seems to be his argument) are correlated with higher employment rates, more wealth generation, better qualifications and lower obesity levels. Although he cites Charles Murray as part of his evidence.

Boys are affected relatively more than girls by family break up

The USA leads the way in fatherlessness, and for those who do have fathers, the  average school boy spends just 30 minutes a week in conversation with his father, compared to around 44 hours in front of screens.

Zimbardo basically goes on to make the argument that boys need father figures – but that way too many of the current generation are missing out on this – boys are growing up thinking that ‘being male’ effectively means avoiding parenting (this is something mothers do); he cites further evidence that men are basically afraid of hanging out with teenage boys.

Boys need men to offer reassurance and guidance, but they are less likely to get it now than in the past.

This is further compounded by the fact that girls have been taught how to evolve into both traditionally male and female roles, but boys have no role models to teach them how to evolve into both roles either: and when they fail at the traditional male role, as they increasingly go, they are left in the shit.

This problem is further compounded by the lack of positive male role models in the media, and especially porn, which offers teenage boys instant gratification with no need to learn how to communicate.

Chapter 9: Failing schools

Education systems are failing our boys.

The general gist here is that schools focus on ‘academics’ which require children to sit still and focus for longer periods of time, and they require this from a younger and younger age. This disadvantages boys because boys mature later than girls, and they are thus turned of learning, which explains why boys end up with worse GCSE results than girls and for the dramatic increase in female graduates compared to males since the 1960s.

Then there’s the fact that school play times have been cut and that hardly any teachers are male, all of which has resulted in a gynocentric education system which is increasingly shaped in the interests females, and works against male achievement.

Zimbardo offers up Montessori style education as an alternative.

Finally, Zimbardo suggests that we need to start educating our children about sex properly from the ages of 10-11, rather than leaving it to the porn industry!

Environmental Changes

In this chapter Zimbardo makes the argument that toxic chemicals in a whole range of day to day products (such as tins) are causing endocrinal (hormonal) disruption, resulting in increasing health problems for men: such as higher rates of testicular cancer and a lower sperm counts.

In order to back up his claims, Zimbardo cites a range of evidence from studies on animals who have been exposed to toxic chemicals over the long term, and admits the effects of chemicals on human biology remain inconclusive.

He rounds off the chapter by suggesting that many harmful chemicals are built up in body fat tissues, and we don’t really know what the effects of the release of these when (if?) fat cells get broken down will be.

All in all this is something of a speculative chapter.

 

 

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Grid Girls go Off-Grid for Good

Formula one is getting rid of its grid-girls: the scantily clad, typically young attractive women who hold up a card telling  drivers where to start.

Most Feminist leaning commentators, such as Janet Street Porter, see this as progress for gender equality and women’s rights: employing women just as ‘eye candy for men’ or ‘set dressing’ is just another example of sexism in which women are ‘valued’ merely for their looks, and is thus just another example of the objectification of women. Also being given the boot is the leering and bum-pinching from male mechanics which goes along with the job, according to Beverly Turner who covered the sport between 2001 to 2003.

However, writing in the Sunday Times, Camilla Long criticizes middle class Feminists for effectively ‘slut shaming’ the grid-girls, and effectively dismissing their working-class sister’s right to choose.

Meanwhile, some of the grid-girls themselves aren’t particularly happy about their chosen careers being given the axe either: Rebecca Cooper, for example, argues that it’s their choice to do what they do, most of them are fans of the sport, and the whole cat-calling thing: you get that everywhere in life anyway.

Finally, it’s worth reflecting on where we stand on women using their sexuality to make money more generally: if we are in the camp which thinks sex-work and pornography are ‘empowering for women’, we are going to have to be pretty nuanced in our critique of Grid-Girls!

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Who are the alt-right?

The Unite the Right Ralley in Charlotsville back in August 2017 was attended by various right wing groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, Skin heads, Neo-Nazis and various Militias, but the most newly formed in attendance, the so-called ‘alt right’, a disparate group of clean cut, smartly dressed, young white men, the latest ‘wave’ of white U.S. white nationalists who are unafraid to express their racist views.

The alt-right is an eclectic, decentralized movement of extreme-conservative, who want a white-only ethno-state: they mainly operate online, via forums such as Reddit and 4chan, sharing memes which support Donald Trump and Hitler, as well as those disparaging Barrack Obama.

But who are these young men, and how do they develop their racist views?

This article in the Washington Post is based on interviews with six young men, tracing their trajectories as members of the alt-right. The following themes stand out:

  1. Many self-radicalised on the internet, finding others with similar views, and they went through stages of meeting others at local and regional meetings and gradually learnt not be ashamed of their racist views.
  2. Thought most members don’t blame impersonal economic factors, many feel that there are no jobs for white people any more – they go to Walmart and McDonalds and see mainly ethnic minorities working in such places.
  3. There are also deeper ‘structural reasons’ – the decline of factor jobs, and the feeling of being left behind, having had the ladder kicked away, and feelings of loneliness and alienation.

NB – these are just the stand-out factors, there are also middle-class people in the movement.

The Charlotsville Rally represented a culmination of a movement that’s been brewing for years online, many drove hundreds, some thousands of miles to get there, possibly emboldened by Donald Trump, they came armed for violence, and of course were met by it.

Whatever you think of the alt-right, the underlying causes which have given rise to it, and the communications networks which maintain it aren’t going anywhere, so I think we can expect this to be a potent force in US politics for years to come.

NB – It reminds me of the kind of white nationalism expressed by the BNP, but just a step-up!

 

 

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A-level sociology numbers on the rise

More people took A-level sociology in 2017 than in any of the previous 15 years.

According to figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), a total of 34.007 took A-level sociology in 2017, compared to a total of 22, 720 candidates who took the qualification back in 2002, which represents a 53% rise in the discipline over 15 years.

In terms of gender, 77% of candidates were female compared to 23% male, which has remained stable over the years. The proportion of students receiving an A grade has fluctuated somewhat between 4.1% and 5.6%.

HOWEVER, sociology has not grown as quickly as its two major ‘sister disciplines’:

Political Studies has seen a 100% rise from 8770 to 17, 523 between 2002 to 2017, while Psychology numbers have grown by 69% from 34, 611 to 58, 663, over the same period.

Sources

BSA Network, issue 137

 

 

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Is Capitalism on the Wane?

John Mcdonnell, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor today announced Labour’s plans to renationalise the railways and many other public utilities at no cost to the public.

Does this mean that Jeremy Corbyn’s rejection of contemporary capitalism is now the new mainstream, and/ or does this represent the end of Capitalism as we know it?

It does seem that Capitalism has become something of a dirty word ever since the financial crash of 2008, and in a recent poll, most British people regard capitalism as ‘greedy, selfish, and corrupt’; and many are more sympathetic towards socialism, and favor the renationalisation of the railways and utilities.

 

However, the ideological scare-mongers are out, claiming that re-nationalisation will be far from free, and it will be interesting to see how much genuine public appetite there is for bringing back services into public ownership!

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The State COULD be watching you: and other lessons from #Hunted

In case you’ve been living in the dark-ages and missed it (like me) Hunted is a T.V. show in which ordinary individuals take on the role of fugitives on the run from ‘Hunters’ who take on the role of agents of the state (think of MI6 meets special ops).

Hunted C4

The latest C4 series kick-started with 9 individuals (although 6 of them paired-up, so really just 6 targets) bailing from a van in Manchester city center, and then spreading out to the four corners of the UK. If they can evade the Hunters for 25 days, the survivors each get a share of £100K.

The ‘Hunters’ consist of some serious (and not particularly pleasant, although that may be dramatic license) intelligence professionals based in  London HQ, who steer a number of ground-teams, some of whom are the ‘Hunters’ who are empowered to ‘arrest’ the fugitives, and some of whom are just covert surveillance operatives who aren’t allowed to reveal their identity.

I must say, I caught the second half of episode 5/6 entirely accidentally during a Thursday evening channel hopping session last week, and enjoyed it so much I binged-watch the entire series over the next couple of days.

At time of writing (5 episodes in to a series of 6), 4 out of the 6 targets have been captured by the Hunters using a variety of surveillance and closure tactics, and 3 remain: because one original pairing has split up.

Despite enjoying the show, I couldn’t help but do a little sociological analysis:

Sociological Observations of Hunted

We may as well start with the obvious – YES the state has deeply-penetrating powers of surveillance.

Without giving too much away, the ‘Hunters’ use the following techniques to track down the fugitives:

  1. CCTV – obviously
  2. Bank card transactions which PING an alert at hunter HQ as soon as they’re used (should’ve used steem)
  3. Phone taps – some of the fugitives use ‘burner phones’ to avoid detection, the problem being that as soon as they ring someone in their network, the Hunters have that burner phone on record and can tap it.
  4. Bugging computers – the Hunters are allowed access to the fugitives’ network to interview them and use USBs to hack into their computers so they can take control of them (whether this happens in real-life, I don’t know)
  5. Car tracking devices.
  6. Analysis of the fugitives’ social media profiles.
  7. Network analysis – this actually proves to be the most important aspect of tracking people down, simply analyzing the network of family and friends and focusing surveillance on these is what typically leads the ground teams to the fugitives.

Secondly – the show demonstrates the extent to which we live in a ‘Network Society’

The Hunters have access to the fugitives’ phone and social media records, which clearly show the fugitives’ recent life-histories mapped out, and, crucially for most of the captures, the ‘densest’ lines of communication within those networks.

With some of the individual fugitives, we really get to see the ‘strength of weak ties’ – especially the guy who is ‘Deputy Mayor of Sheffield’, whose network is huge. However, there is one person who stands out, and this is what gets him caught in the end.

With the three pairs, what is further apparent is that all of them have quite different personal networks, despite being very close to each-other, which really goes to show to complexity of networks in contemporary Britain.

Hunted2.png

The Network Analysis which ultimately led to the capture of the Deputy Mayor of Sheffield. 

Thirdly – the show demonstrates dramatically the continued importance of local and family connections

Interestingly, MOST of the fugitives return to their home turf, and most to the support of their local friends and families – so it is clearly not correct to say that our networks are free-floating and virtual – our meaningful relationships are still very grounded.

Finally – it gives us a nice insight into Multi-cultural Britain!

I don’t know if it was a deliberate ploy of this year’s recruiters to demonstrate British multiculturalism, but it’s very interesting to note that 2/6 targets were African Immigrants, all from different countries: it’s actually quite rare to get such an in-depth insight into the back-stories of black-Britons, quite a nice escape from the usual, generalized tokenistic representations we get in ‘black history month’ for example.

Very Finally – what I probably find most interesting about the show (although this might just be me) is that it does put you on the side of the fugitives… you do want them to win, and this is a potentially disruptive show… it wakes you up to the awesome surveillance powers of the State: the extent to which they can penetrate into our daily lives, especially if we leave an electronic trace… although it might also be performing a subtle ‘social control function’ by sending out the message that….

The State COULD be watching you.

Final thoughts:

I think the addition #Hunted really needs is a ‘how to avoid state-surveillance’ guide… and what would my strategy be? Actually I’m not going to say, I fancy a pop at this for season 4!

 

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The Suffragettes and the Historic Battle for Women’s Votes

Who first called for women’s votes?

The first appeals for women to be given the right to vote date from the early 19th century. One of the first calling for such was Jeremy Bentham, who first suggested that women should be given the right to vote in his 1818 ‘Plan for Parliamentary Reform’.

Women at that time had no political rights at all, they were deemed to be represented by their husbands or their fathers.

A second historic call for women’s formal political equality was made by the radical MP Henry Hunt – who in 1832 presented a petition drawn up by Mary Smith, a rich Yorkshire woman, asking that unmarried women who owned property and paid taxes should be allowed to vote.

NB – to put this in context, following the 1832 Reform Act, only 18% of men had the right to vote, which was linked to property-ownership at that time.

When did the campaign really get going?

The first campaigning women’s groups weren’t formed until the end of the 19th century, initially focusing on the lack of education and employment opportunities for women and their lack of legal representation, and the vote gradually became the central symbolic and practical issue for these groups.

In 1867, Barbara Bodichon and others form the London Society for Women’s Suffrage; other committees then sprang up all over the country and in 1897 the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), led by Millicent Garrett Fawcett was formed.

millicent-fawcett

Millicent Fawcett

How were their arguments received?

The issue gained traction throughout the later half of the nineteenth century. The philosopher and MP John Stuart Mill tabled an amendment to the 1867 Reform Bill, calling for all householders to be enfranchised. And, as the suffragists pointed out, the Reform Acts of 1867 and 1884 had enabled about 60% of men to vote, some of whom were barely literate; yet well-educated, taxpaying women still did not.

Motions were debated in Parliament throughout the 1870s, but they were defeated on the arguments that women were less able than men, that their natural sphere was in the home, that they were unable to fight for their country, or that they simply did not want the vote.

This later was at least partially true, and supported by some women: Florence Nightingale declared in 1867 that she had ‘never felt the want of a vote’.

What about the Suffragettes?

In 1903 the Women’s Social and Political Union was formed in Manchester by Emmeline Pankhurst and other campaigners. The WSPU, frustrated by slow progress on women’s rights, was committed to ‘deeds, not words’.

In 1905, Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney repeatedly shoted over a speech by the MP Sir Edward Grey, asking ‘Will the Liberal government give votes to women?’. They assaulted police officers when asked to leave and were arrested. A series of mass processions followed: more than 250 000 women protested in Hyde Park in 1908, shocking Edwardian England.

How effective were their protests?

Most historians believe that the suffragettes were very effective in mobilising women around the campaign for votes for women. Many were arrested and treated brutally, with prisoners on hunger strike being force fed for example.

Over time their tactics became more radical: smashing shop windows and setting fire to letter boxes, libraries and even homes…. and in the most famous event of the period, Emily Davison threw herself under the kind’s horse on Derby Day, 1913 and was killed.

However, at the time, it was thought these violent and dramatic tactics were a step-backwards for their cause.

The First World War and Vote Reform

It was the First World War which finally brought the vote for women. The sacrifices of the war bolstered support for expanding the suffrage to women. The war saw more than a million women employed outside of the home – in munitions factories and engineering works for example, and the vote had traditionally been based on occupational status.

In 1918, The Representation of the People Act was passed be an enormous majority which gave women over 30 who were householders or married to one, or university graduates, the right to vote. However, the act also extended the vote to nearly all men over the age of 21.

It was not, however, until 1928, with the Equal Franchise Act, that men and women had equal voting rights.

Sources 

The Week, 3rd Feb 2018

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White Working Class Men

Professor Green’s fronted an excellent recent documentary on the lives of 6 white working class men for Channel Four, which aired in January 2018.

In an interview with John Snow (about the documentary), Professor Green (who is himself white working class) says the show was born out the fact that only 10% of white working class men will go to university, and this show sets out to explore some of the problems 6 of these men face in just ‘getting by’ in the world today.

It’s well worth a watch: in the first episode he follows one young man whose parents both died when he was 17, and documents how he’s effectively slipped through the welfare net; another guy whose living with his nan, and is something of an entrepreneur, and a guy who has an offer from Cambridge, and has basically re-crafted his entire image so he looks and sounds ‘posh’.

Possibly the most depressing moment is when Professor Green attends a Britain First Rally.

Britain First

He says of the experience that he didn’t want to give them a voice, but how else can you understand the white working classes without at least listening to them…. at one point he says in the documentary that maybe the reason for the growing popularity of Britain First is that ‘whiteness’ is all working class men have left, and thus they cling to it?

From a methods point of view, this is also an excellent example of Interpretivist style unstructured interviews, boarding on participant observation.

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Man Disconnected

Amid shifting social, economic and technological climates, young men are getting left behind, at least according to Philip Zimbardo and Nikita D. Coulombe in their 2015 book ‘Man Disconnected: How the Digital Age is Changing Young Men Forever‘.

Zimbardo Man Disconnected.png

The two authors cite a range of anecdotal and research-evidence (some of it primary) to put forward the argument that men are ‘flaming out academically’, falling behind in the world of work, failing to connect with women and struggling with addictions to porn video games and drugs (both legal and illegal).

In order to understand why men are increasingly disconnected, they develop a three part analysis:

  • firstly they highlight the individual dispositions (such as ‘shyness’ and ‘impulsiveness’) related to male disconnectdness
  • secondly they look at situational context – such as widespread fatherlessness and the ease of availability of online games and pornography
  • Finally they look at structural factors such as changes in the labour market.

These three factors together have resulted in many men lacking purposeful direction and lacking in social skills: may would rather live at home with their parents, often extending their childhood into their 30s, (on this note, you night me interested in this post on the increasing numbers of young people living at home with their parents, UK focus).

Rather than face up to the complexities of adult life, more and more young men stay at home, distracted by an online world of gaming and porn, which further reinforces their social isolation and awkwardness.

The book is split into three sections:

  • the symptoms (or you might say indicators) of men being disconnected, which I deal with in this post
  • the causes of men being disconnected.
  • Finally, the authors offer some solutions for dealing with what we might call a ‘crisis of masculinity’.

The Symptoms of Male Disconnectedness 

In this (short) section the authors simply trawl through a range of evidence to outline the problems faced by young men in many societies about the world. NB the evidence cited is mixed – some is global, some US and UK focuses, some not particularly well referenced at all.

The authors break ‘the symptoms’ down into seven major sections:

  1. Disenchantment with education – girls are outperforming boys in every subject at every level of education around the world.
  2. Men opting out of the workforce – the male unemployment rate globally has increased nearly fourfold since the 1970s – from 2% in 1970 to 7% in 1990/
  3. social intensity syndrome – this is a phenomenon in which increasing male shyness means men prefer the company of other men… they’d rather have bromance than romance.
  4. excessive gaming – this is a weekly evidenced section – we are told that the average person will clock up 10k hours of gaming before they are 21, but in terms of gender, we are simply told that the majority of gamers are male, and informed that in a couple of pieces of research of couples where only 1 person was into gaming, that person was male 70-80% of the time.
  5. becoming obese – this section focuses mainly on the US where 70% of US men are overweight, 1 in 3 are obese.
  6. excessive porn use – the average boy watches nearly 2 hours of porn ever week, and 1 in 3 are heavy users, meaning they can’t even count how much they watch. The problem with porn is that it teaches young men (with no prior sexual experience) to treat women like sex objects rather than as human beings.
  7. over-reliance on medications and illegal drugs – this is a poorly written section, the only statistical evidence cited is that 85% of medication for disorders such as ADHD are given to males.

 

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Mexican government still struggling to control drugs cartels

There were 29,168 recorded murders in Mexico in 2017, or 20 murders for every 100, 000 of the population, more than at the height of the country’s drug war in 2011. (Source: The Guardian).

This dismal new record is being blamed on intense drug-related violence and turf wars – owing in particular to the rise and spread of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

Jalisco Cartel

Analysts also believe the spike could be related to a number of autonomous groups emerging in the vacuum created by the capture of several major cartel bosses.

This is of obvious relevance to the Crime and Deviance aspect of A-level sociology – it demonstrates the continued power of organised (or dis-organised?) crime in countries through which drugs travel and the relative powerlessness of nation states to get this problem under control!

To put Mexico’s homicide rate in context, it’s more than 20* higher than the UKs, and yet smaller than Brazil’s and Colombia’s (27/ 100, 000) and El Salvador’s, which stands at 60.8 per hundred thousand.

Further sources used: 

The Week, 27 January 2017.

 

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