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22. X 2018
The disillusioned perspective distinguishes continually between life as we want it to be and life as it actually is. Conversion is a transparent attempt to lend meaning to the meaningless, possibly only through self-delusion, that is by allowing illusion to trump disillusion. (Karl Ove Knausgaard)
It is the eleventh hour for white American males. A collateral damage of capitalism’s global triumph, beaten in just about any game that matters, even the ones they invented, they are joining the ranks of excess population facing a threat of irreversible social displacement and marginalization. Tired of self-abuse, anesthetized by drugs and alcohol, angry and armed with guns, but otherwise powerless, American white men reside in the center of the disillusioned perspective, in desperate search for conversion, looking for a savior who will restore their lost dignity and self-respect, and reclaim, on their behalf, what had always been considered rightfully theirs, the basic white male privilege.
In that quest they have fallen victims to predatory seduction of anarcho-capitalists and global kleptocrats. These merchants of regressive nostalgia and self-proclaimed guardians of traditional values, who celebrate the idea of privatized utopias of gated communities, do not really need white male precariat as such, but are ready to offer them whatever leftovers they don’t need, in exchange for an exclusive right to manage their rage capital and for their voice in the ballot box. And white American males will take it and will fall under the spell of magical thinking of the Third-World-esque political pornographers just because, stripped of all other alternatives, male precariat has found itself lost in the blind alley of the disillusioned perspective.
The stories we tell ourselves and the stories behind stores: The emergence of male precarity
American men have been the main victim of the socio-economic changes and policy mix of the last 70 years, which saw its culmination in the ultimate downfall ten years ago. Although the prophets of supply side economics continue to insist that we are deep into the recovery cycle, a minimal dose of common sense points in the opposite direction — the economy and, especially, the society have never fully recover after 2008 – the crisis appears only to be deepening.
Here’s one way of slicing it. Conventional civilian unemployment rate represents a fraction of the labor force that is not employed. It is a superficial (and distorted) way of assessing the state of the economic health, the official statistics reported and referenced in the media and public discourse. It is compared here with the fraction of the US male population of working-age without a job (not including the people that are currently in prisons, so that its rise does not get confused with explosion of incarceration rate).
The histories of these two measures of unemployment share the same cyclicals: Their rise in recessions and decline during recoveries always takes place in a coordinated way. However, their structural parts are different. Although during each recession conventional unemployment peaks, it always returns to its “normal”, pre-recession level, somewhere in the 4-5% range. Male unemployment, on the other hand, follows a steady upward trend. For over a half a century, since 1960s, every six years the unemployment rate of American men has increased by additional 1%. For them, there is no “normal” unemployment — every recession creates a new, higher, normal unemployment rate they are required to tolerate.
In every recession, social costs of recovery have been financed by the rise of male precarity. And those social costs have accumulated to the point where they no longer can be ignored. Current male unemployment rate is around 14%, about 10% higher than in the 1960s. This is the unemployment gap that captures the level of male precarity. Nearly 10 million American men are currently without a job (in the 1960s they accounted for about 1.5mn), and with them probably another 10+ million of their immediate family members and/or dependents who are affected by that condition.
When compared to unemployment of women, which shows exactly the opposite trend, these numbers highlight the problem associated with the male condition. Starting with the 1960s only a small fraction of women worked and their unemployment rate was in the 60% range. It has since declined down to 25%, with a noticeable inflection in the 1980s, a consequence of significant socio-economic changes, shift of focus from manufacturing to service economy, women’s liberation, and a general emancipation trend.
As male unemployment tripled in size since the 1960s, female numbers declined to less than half of their initial value. All progressive forces, like general education, emancipation, or new technologies, which had been embraced initially as possibilities for improvements in the working conditions, leisure, and higher quality of life, eventually became new techniques of control and created the world of perpetual underemployment. These developments have inspired a massive wave of anti-progressive sentiment and emerged as the foundations of the disillusioned perspective, predominantly, of American white men.
Male precariat and the excess population
Over the course of the six decades, American men have become the main constituents of what Zygmunt Bauman has identified as the excess population: The volume of humans that are made redundant by the global triumph of capitalism has grown so much that it exceeds the managerial capacity of the planet. They cannot be re-assimilated into “normal” life pattern and reprocessed back into the category of “useful” members of society. This has emerged as the most challenging test of the existing socioeconomic paradigm, with no hint of possible solution in sight.
There are several shades of excess population. At the extreme end of the spectrum reside criminals and chronic outsiders, for whom there is no place within the boundaries of the enclosure inside which an economic balance and social equilibrium are sought. These people are transported outside of the enclosure, either sent to prisons, or confined to life in hyperghettos without access to traditional citizens’ rights.
The unemployed represent those who escaped transportation and remain inside enclosure; although temporarily redundant, they are earmarked for recycling and rehabilitation. However, all that changes once the drainage of the surplus of humans is blocked. The longer the redundant population stays inside and rubs shoulders with the useful and legitimate rest, the less the lines separating normality and abnormality appear reassuringly unambiguous. Assignment to waste becomes everybody’s potential prospect — one of the two poles between which everybody’s present and future social standing oscillates. As unemployment becomes chronic, the ranks of those who permanently drop out of the labor force swell and they become a burden to the society. Their temporary status comes under review and they face potential permanent exclusion.
American males have been falling through the cracks for decades. Angry and growing in size, they epitomize the excess of population, a burden to the society for which there is no solution. And when under pressure of persistent hardship all the energy of the young age wears down and body and soul capitulate, they become a part of the “dark statistics”. Mortality of the white American males 45-54 – the age when the emotional and physical immune system gives up – is on the rise, while everyone else’s condition (including that of Hispanics American) is improving.
What accounts for this dispersion is hardly surprising. While the biggest killers, such as lung cancer have been on a steady decline, death due to poisoning (read: “drug OD”) has more than tripled, suicide rate (i.e. depression) doubled, and death due to chronic liver diseases (alcoholism) increased by 50% since the beginning of the century. Together with prisons, as graduate schools of crime, drugs, depression, and alcoholism are the three main ideological tools for drainage of the excess of population.
Dark America: Nonsense with a purpose and political pornografication
Populism has become the ideological response to the disillusioned perspective, an attempt to lend meaning to the meaningless, to trump disillusion through self-delusion. When process of growth and change becomes chaotic and overwhelming, individuals experiencing such episodes feel that their sense of identity is breaking down, that their old values no longer hold true and that the very ground beneath their personal realities is radically shifting. This is the point at which the new identity politics inserts itself.
Joblessness of men, predominantly whites, has been the cause of multiple side-effects and various forms of social vulnerability. With time, white men’s social dislocation created a fertile ground for a simmering resentment towards those superficially perceived to have been the causes of their job losses, and with it, their social status and, ultimately, self-respect. This made them receptive to predatory politics of the right wing populism. Instead of questioning capitalism’s responsibility for its crimes, their discontent was articulated in a displaced mode, as a cultural struggle.
The main culprits of their condition have been (miss)identified as women, minorities, immigrants, globalization and emancipation in general. Misogyny, resurgent racism, and xenophobia emerged as major mobilizing forces of the conservative right, championed by the NRA, right-to-lifers, and white supremacists, and fortified by the alliances with the vulgar materialism of Christian fundamentalism in the background. These became the voices of the disillusioned perspective that outline the contours of Dark America, which found its way to the ballot box in 2016. Such distribution of factors and their misidentified causes could struck resonance with the fundamentalist narratives and paved the way for a full blown relapse towards strict patriarchal order inspired by nostalgia for times when social coherence was firm and stable due to rigid family structure and racial segregation.
This is where Christian fundamentalism meets its lost Islamic twin and other monotheistic siblings. Nothing illustrates better this civilizational relapse than the words of Mark Harris, pastor turned Republican nominee for Congress in North Carolina’s 9th district. This otherwise marginal and utterly insignificant individual, has distinguished himself by repeatedly questioning the health of women’s pursuit to prioritize their careers and independence over their biblical “core calling”. His colorful sermons condense the core republican views in an unedited form:
Wives, please hear me this morning. You’re not to ever submit because your husband demands it, but you do it because the Lord ordained it. Now ladies, you can rebel against that command, but just please understand you’re not rebelling against your husband, but against the Lord … submission is not about inferiority in any way, any shape and any form. It simply reflects a God-ordained function of things.
When put in context, the message is clear: Emancipation is a sin, modern women are the offenders, getting ahead of men is a rebellion against God’s order of things. “So get over this inequality thing – because that’s not the point of submission,” he concludes.
By retreating to their households and assuming the subordinate role of housewives, women would exonerate themselves from sin and, at the same time, participate in an economic and social reform. Youth crime would decline, as would unemployment when women, grateful for an opportunity to please God, begin to leave the workforce to care for their children. The problem of excess population and unemployment (together with budget deficit!) would be solved in one stroke — here is your conservative fiscal policy right there.
This is one of many techniques of submission of women, the main ideological pillar of the right wing identity politics, populist and mainstream alike, which speaks directly to, and resonates strongly with, their sole constituency who are, at the same time, the main victims of its ideological predation — the white male precariat.
Unlike intellectuals, who experience the world with their brains, poor and uneducated arrive at their convictions through their empty stomachs. One cannot confuse them by opening new horizons or perspectives (e.g. with empty promises of centrists’ narratives). However, they remain blind to conversion. The disillusioned gaze sees through everything, sees all the lies and the pretenses, the only thing it doesn’t see is its own origin, its driving force. White men are at the end of the rope; they have fallen victims of their own creations. And this is the biggest irony of this otherwise tragic story.
 There are currently around 60 million men and about 70 million women age 25-54 in the US
 Zygmunt Bauman, Wasted Lives: Modernity and Its Outcasts, Polity (2003)
 This reform would go along the same lines as described by Michel Houellebecq inSubmission
 Reflections of the SS StandartenfÃ¼hrer Heinrich Steinbrecher, in How to quiet a vampire, B. Pekic, Northwestern University Press (2003)
 Karl Ove Knausgaard, Michel Houellebecq’s Submission, NYT (2-Nov-2015)
3 thoughts on “It Is The Eleventh Hour For White American Males”
Fantastic essay! The worrisome part is to come when (if not already) they (the precarit) go all-in. The author has opened my eyes as to the structural underpinnings of what seems so absurd about what’s happening in the US. Makes perfect sense. Really terrific thoughts. I’m glad you have your original stable of pals mostly (still sans Stockman?) back. Knausgard’s pieces have been WAY over my head previously, but I can completely grok this one.
Blistering stuff. Thanks for re-posting.
Beautifully written, this sad story has been unfolding since ‘73, to my eyes. I was hoping Finland’s universal income plan would be a success, and an inspiration to Western nations…but I guess not. So where do we go from here?