Make Men Interested Again

The loss of aspiration among young men isn’t helping anyone

"You have allowed him two real positive Pleasures,” scolds the senior demon Screwtape in C. S. Lewis’s classic, The Screwtape Letters. His nephew, Wormwood, makes the rookie mistake of thinking that actual pleasure is a net positive for sin and for Satan. Wormwood’s human “patient,” a young man, had read a book he actually enjoyed and walked through countryside, refreshing his soul and putting him inexorably up against what all the forces of Hell want most to keep us away from: something real.

It doesn’t take much effort to retrieve evidence of the mental health crisis affecting today’s youth. Jonathan Haidt and Jean Twenge have documented the trending loss of life satisfaction among members of Gen Z, while others, like Stanford’s Anna Lembke and cultural critic Ted Gioia, call attention to the “dopamine culture,” in which instant gratification is making real life, with all its messy demands and beauties, all the more unappealing.

More than that, it is no longer considered “fringe” to call notice to the crisis among young men. It’s now recognized by honest scholars on both ends of the spectrum that the men aren’t all right. Of course, mainstream culture, including TV, news media, and the academic community, continues to neglect it, even as the crisis lurks at the muddy bottom of our discourse. Barbie, 2023’s highest-grossing film, paints an apt picture of today’s emasculated man in the character of Ken. His options are either domination or submission, but not strength. He can either be a phony overlord or a doormat. He can’t be a true man.

The data, though, speaks for itself—fewer men are entering college and trade schools. They aren’t getting married. Increasingly, they aren’t doing anything. Western men are settling for resignation, a sense that because a man is no longer needed or appreciated in society, the obvious thing to do is to abstain from participation. I look at the trends, see resignation and numbness infecting my own mind and soul, and then think about what Screwtape said to Wormwood: don’t let him be interested in anything.

Ambition gone mad can turn into tyranny, but the neutered alternative, represented in today’s depressed couch potato scrolling YouTube and watching porn, can’t be the solution. The backlash against men, the acceleration of technology, and the absent father in the home have all combined to create today’s resigned young man who doesn’t know who he is or what he wants. He may remember the joys and interests that delighted him as a boy, like playing basketball, or drawing pictures, or building imaginary cities with erector sets, or conquering worlds in the woods. But in his teens and twenties, with the onslaught of the dopamine culture, the lack of father figures and healthy models of masculinity, he no longer knows what to aspire to or even what he’s needed for.

Author Warren Farrell, commenting on the crisis back in 2019 for USA Today, writes,

With fewer boys defining their purpose as future warriors by being disposable in war, and fewer defining masculinity as being a sole breadwinner, millions of young men are experiencing a “purpose void.” Inspiring young men to become “Father Warriors” can fill that purpose void. But this also involves inspiring women to value father warriors.

Digital media’s way of diminishing genuine sources of pleasure, like serving up candy versus a well-cooked steak, along with the lack of masculine validation has made our generation of men lack not only aspiration but also interest in life. A hallmark of depression is a loss of interest in the activities that used to bring a sense of purpose.

Allowing men “two positive Pleasures” might not be the solution to the masculinity crisis, but it couldn’t hurt. In fact, as Farrell mentions, it goes much deeper than just the phones. However, escaping from the virtual world of resignation and getting back in touch with one’s interests could help the male retreaters reenter the real world, the workplace, the dating pool, and the brotherhood.

Make men interested again! That should be the motto. Interested people are the interesting people, after all—and are the marriageable material. Make men interested in woodworking, art, politics, and science, creative writing and naval warfare, crocheting and cooking, water polo and ornithology, civil engineering and Robert Frost.

Screwtape and his demonic minions wanted to make their crop of human beings pretend to be interested in the “right” things for inclusivity’s sake, crafting a false sense of belonging. The task today is to tell men it’s great to aspire to be dentists and oil riggers. It’s great to love mythology and Tolkien. It’s great to want to help people grow their wealth through investment opportunities. And above all, it’s a great and good thing to want to be a good man. And it’s to everyone’s benefit when men band together as brothers and aspire together towards excellence.

Peter Biles is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories. He graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 2019 and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications, including Plough, Dappled Things, The Gospel Coalition, Salvo, and Breaking Ground.

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