Friday, May 24, 2013

Going Benedict

During one of the recent presidential debates, moderator Candy Crowley, who is as objective as she is beautiful, cut to an audience member who asked the candidates what they would do to rectify the situation whereby females make “only 72 percent of what their male counterparts earn.” Despite the paucity of evidence for this much vaunted gap, Obama and Romney stumbled all over themselves in order to demonstrate how willing they were to help women.

Less than a month prior to the debate, an article in the Daily Mail noted that in the U.S., the labor participation rate for men had dropped to 69.9 percent, the “lowest level ever recorded.” A spurious wage gap between men and women is regarded as an occasion for Government to Do Something; if men are falling behind in the economy, they need to Man Up.

In her new book, Men on Strike, Dr. Helen Smith takes umbrage with this double standard and speaks up for the men who are reluctant to champion their own cause. In our haste to better society for women, we have eroded the institutional incentives which spurred a man to go to school, to work hard and to marry. Now, many men are going Galt.

She quotes the blogger Roissy: “Men slowly discover that the effort to win women's attention via employment is not rewarding them the way it did for their dads and grandads, and that now only herculean efforts to make considerably more than women will give them an edge in the mating market.” From a certain standpoint, dropping out is rational.

Probably the most important chapter of her book covers the kangaroo courts of family law. Men are routinely forced to pay child support for children that aren't their own; if they fail to pony up, they are sent to jail. Courts have even held that a boy who was statutorily raped by an older woman was liable for her child support. When it comes to procreation: women have rights, men have responsibilities.

Dr. Smith possesses a sympathetic understanding for the plight of men. Her book is filled with insightful anecdotes from men she has interviewed or who have commented on her blog. Since men are reluctant to bring their concerns forward, for fear of being seen as unmanly, Dr. Smith provides a helpful service in reminding men that they are not alone. The media remains oblivious to the extent, as well as the nature, of the man strike, but her book is a welcome addition to the trickle that will soon become a deluge.

There is a minor flaw in her book, or, rather, there is an unresolved dilemma among those who wish to supplant female privilege with justice. One camp argues that only a doctrine of separate spheres is sufficient to maintain a stable society; that female suffrage leads to civilizational collapse by way of unchecked hypergamy. A more moderate school of thought, to which Dr. Smith subscribes, wishes to replace our regime with one that, at least legally, treats men and women with genuine equality.

Regardless of the specific program, if the political problem proves to be intractable, more radical gestures may be required. For while opting out might work for individual men, the author astutely observes that such an approach is not good for civilization as a whole.

Perhaps a better model than John Galt, the striker, would be the great founder of monasticism: St. Benedict. Today's Benedictines would not need to be celibate like the saint and his monks. Instead, as the philosopher Alidsair MacIntyre suggested, we could start little communities with wives and children, far away from the evils of modern society. One might call it: going Benedict.

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