There has been much discussion in recent years about how men define themselves in this world of constant change. Men traditionally were the providers whose efforts individually and collectively sustained families during a time when women defined their role in relation to their families. During that earlier period, men were often the sole earners while the majority of women cared for the home and the younger generation.
Over a period of centuries, the development of tools that eased the burden of labour slowly redefined the economy, communities, families, and even individuals. There was a time when men enslaved other men, women and children to perform physical labour. The development of crude tools allowed men to convert the physical effort of animals such as oxen, horses and mules to assist in the production of output. Men in the ancient world learned how to build waterwheels that converted the energy of a flow of water and used it for productive purposes such as grinding grain into flour.
Ancient traders who carried spices along the Great Silk Road between India and Asia Minor developed the base-10 positional number system that eased calculation. This number system eased calculation for trade, as well as in trigonometry, geometry and algebra. It resulted in scholars adding a vertical plank or keel to traditional flat-bottom trading boats and developing a moving sail. Earlier boats could only sail with the wind while slaves rowed the vessel in other directions. The later boat could sail along the coast and convert the energy of crosswinds into propulsion. The combination of sail and keel allowed the boat to convert energy from a headwind approaching from an angle of 30 degrees into forward propulsion.
The trading dhow was a labour-saving technology that could sail without the need for slaves to pull oars. Other major developments in labour-saving technology, including the cotton gin, the sewing machine, and the harvesting machine, occurred during the industrial revolution and so greatly increased productive output per worker as to make slave ownership uneconomic.
Women in the Workplace and State Dysfunction
Men developed the tools that eased the burden of physical labour and greatly increased productive output. The appearance of tools such as the foot-treadle driven sewing machine and manual typewriter provided employment opportunities outside the home for women. Over a period of centuries, men developed and refined waterwheels that made the power of rivers productive, using the flow of water as the beast of burden that drove machinery that even women could operate. At the present day, millions of women have jobs using a wide variety of easy-to-use, electrically powered tools that greatly increase their productive output.
Despite the large numbers of women who have entered the work force, a significant percentage still choose the role of wife and mother in a traditional family where the man is the sole or main wage earner. In a functional economy that is free from government intervention, the economy would have likely continued to develop and provide employment opportunities for interested and qualified candidates. Instead, massive numbers of manufacturing jobs disappeared from a malfunctioning government-regulated economy. Large numbers of men have been laid off from work and remained unemployed for extended periods of time.
During an earlier period, schools often assigned boys to all-boys classes that were usually taught by male teachers, thus providing them with appropriate male role models. Political control of education has reduced the number of male candidates who enter teacher-training programs, resulting in fewer male teachers at the junior, intermediate and secondary school levels. Government welfare has greatly increased the number of single mothers who raise children without a male partner. Much has been written about the problems of fatherless boys that include depression, anger management, drug abuse and a tendency to gravitate toward all-male gangs.
Men Seek to Survive
A significant portion of the male population today comes from mother-only, single-parent families often caused and sustained by state welfare. They likely have attended classes in problem-riddled, politically controlled schools that favor girls over boys. After finishing school, most men will seek employment in some sector of an economy made dysfunctional by a myriad of misguided government economic policies. In the modern economy, many men may endure long periods of unemployment that sometimes require the marriage partner to seek employment to provide family income. The alternative would be state welfare.
During this era, men face the challenge of seeking employment in an economy that offers fewer openings. While some men can undertake the job search challenge independently, that search overwhelms many other men. The inability to secure employment leaves men demoralized and exerts a toll on their home and family life. By separating young boys from inspirational older male role models capable of responding constructively to life’s challenges, also undermining the influence of religion during their early lives, the state has impaired men’s ability to respond productively to the challenges of living in a dysfunctional economy.
A famous statement advises that “No man is an island” and suggests that most men function better with a support system. Young pre-school aged boys may be hardwired or programmed by nature to seek the acceptance, approval and validation of older members of their gender. While older males may be unavailable to such boys from mother-only, single-parent homes, they do become available when these boys begin to attend school. A few fortunate boys will be assigned to a class taught by a male teacher from whom they can earn approval and validation.
Other boys may gravitate toward a gang or clique. As boys progress into adolescence and adulthood, they may become part of a social network of cohorts and former classmates. When a man encounters a setback such as a job loss, his social network can provide support and encouragement as well as possible referrals for a new job. A setback may be especially difficult for men without a social network that can provide needed support. During setbacks or other times of difficulty, some men may turn to mind-altering substances for some temporary relief from the distress.
When a man who is without a social network suffers a setback, the state welfare department is often available to provide a social safety net while the state employment office may be able to offer some job leads. Over a period of many decades, the state has been able to replace private charities and private support groups that previously provided help to men in distress. But in recent years, state adherence to unproductive economic policies has resulted in an economic slowdown in most of the world’s developed nations.
Economic conditions now compel many national governments to observe strict fiscal discipline. As a result, government welfare offices now provide less assistance and for a shorter duration, often requiring men who are in distress and without a support system, to seek alternative means by which to sustain themselves and their families. The ongoing economic slowdown has at times resulted in entire families having to take up residence at homeless shelters after the newly unemployed father who was without a social support network was unable to provide for his family.
An agnostic or an atheist man who is without a social support network may become overwhelmed by a setback and not know how to respond to the challenge. His self-talk may sound like a prayer and include such statements as, “I’ll never be able to ___” or “I am no good at ___.” By contrast, a highly spiritual man who might attend devotional services may respond quite differently to a setback, guided by religious scripture that tells devotees to “pray only for spiritual gifts—and that is what you will receive.”
The spiritual man may continually pray for the “courage and inner strength to persevere and persist through the adversity” and may eventually respond positively to his setback. He may start a home business to earn income to sustain his family, thus providing a role model to his family’s younger generation as to how a man could respond to a setback. The state school system does little to prepare boys to respond constructively to a setback and instead produces men who are alienated from their spirituality and with few inner resources to deal with the challenge of responding to adversity.
* Harry Valentine is a free-marketeer living in Eastern Ontario.