Fixing Broken Brotherhood: Reimagining Male Connection

George Mullen

All too often, the news is filled with examples of anti-social, isolated young males resorting to various forms of violence in numbers disproportionate to any other demographic in America. 

I wrote about this here, where I discussed the status of males in America compared to girls, specifically in the areas of education and crime. 

Sometimes when it comes to our politicians, the disparity between the status of males and females can seem like a zero-sum game, especially when it comes to our focus on females. There is no National Commission on the “Status” of Men, whereas there is very much a focus and emphasis on the status of women, and as the data clearly shows, females in America today are doing pretty well.

We want a society where both males and females are doing well because when males in our society do well, females do well too, and vice versa. And yet, as a matter of public policy, the concern is almost entirely on females to the near total exclusion of males. By examining both genders, we can ensure that our efforts towards things like equality are inclusive and comprehensive.

As we grapple with these issues it remains painfully evident that our nation is not only facing a genuine social crisis but a political crisis too. Our civil society is fractured, and our politics are broken. The lack of civility on social media especially is troubling. Here's one example:

With respect to anti-social behavior, sociologists attribute the problem to various factors. Often, but not always, with a focus on the impact of fatherless homes and the alienation young men feel from once-ubiquitous social and civil institutions. 

Moreover, the recent pandemic-induced lockdowns further contributed to a sense of isolation, separating millions of our youth from their peers for extended periods. And now we're discussing doing it again!

On a broader scale, as church attendance and membership in local service clubs continue to decline, young men find themselves increasingly lacking a sense of purpose, community, and fellowship. The alarming reality is that many have found solace not solely in online communities where extremist views are shared and encouraged, leading to radicalization and the normalization of anti-social behavior, but also in offline communities. 

As a father of a son and three daughters and as a concerned citizen, I have been reflecting on this issue for a while. I have sought answers and solutions, engaging in discussions with other men I respect in my life. I think a critical factor in the challenges faced by young men today is the absence of fathers in the home, but also a lack of a healthy form of brotherhood, which historically connected young, middle-aged, and older men to help build a peaceful and civil society. 

Even as a committed free-market capitalist, I find myself questioning whether the decline of America's labor unions over the past several decades has contributed to a downward spiral of purposeful, employable, and engaged males in our communities. 

We’ve all heard about the hollowing out of our manufacturing base and, with it, the disappearance of good-paying blue-collar jobs that once supported families for multiple generations. These jobs were outsourced to countries with cheaper labor, enabling Americans to buy inexpensive goods. Economically, there’s much to continue supporting in that. After all, lower trade international barriers and more global cooperation equals lower costs for the goods and services that working families need to sustain their quality of life.

However, it is hard to avoid the other reality which is that it has exacted a toll on the economic fabric of the American family. Men who relied on these industrial manufacturing blue-collar jobs now seem to lack a sense of connection, solidarity, and meaning. This has left an entire generation of young men disconnected from the camaraderie and purpose their fathers, uncles, and grandfathers once took for granted - a feeling Oliver Anthony tapped into with his runaway hit, "Rich Men North of Richmond."

There is inherent virtue in honest work, especially when it adds economic or social value to others. Thus, have the macro-forces of economic determinism left our boys without a sense of direction in this new world that exists in the midst of creative destruction? 

Perhaps our society requires a paradigm shift in the relationship between "capital" and "labor." Free enterprise and democratic capitalism remain the best engines for working families to experience upward mobility and the morality of prosperity, far surpassing any other economic system devised by mankind. 

However, the bottom line is that certain values transcend the bottom line on a ledger sheet. Reintroducing this generation of males to a brotherhood organized around accountability and meaningful work, purposefulness, friendship, goal-setting, teamwork, and mentorship can be transformative and a positive vision worth capturing. 

In days past the aforementioned labor unions, in addition to other fraternal orders, provided many of these essential experiences to generations of men. Might it be time to revive and reinvent some of these once esteemed American institutions, but modernizing them to reflect the brutal realities of modern society, including the digital and increasingly global economy? Can it be done? I think it needs to be tried.

America won’t flourish with an "each man for himself" mentality or political philosophy. While it's a great slogan, I believe we even can do better than "Make America Great Again" - especially if that call to action causes some to question if they're included in whatever is being suggested by the "Again" part.

Perhaps it's as simple as, we are better when we all do better? 

We need to open more doors for our youth, particularly our male youth, and level more playing fields, and in the end create a stronger, more resilient democratic capitalist economy that provides the current and future generations of American males with value-added work that leads to a sense of pride, and optimism about a future with far less cynicism, isolation, disconnection, and despair.


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