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Utopia: The End of Men, Sweden, and the Progressive Endgame

Recently, Hanna Rosin, a journalist for the Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other outlets, wrote an article called “The End of Men” in which she asks:

What if the modern, postindustrial economy is simply more congenial to women than to men? For a long time, evolutionary psychologists have claimed that we are all imprinted with adaptive imperatives from a distant past: men are faster and stronger and hardwired to fight for scarce resources, and that shows up now as a drive to win on Wall Street; women are programmed to find good providers and to care for their offspring, and that is manifested in more- nurturing and more-flexible behavior, ordaining them to domesticity. This kind of thinking frames our sense of the natural order. But what if men and women were fulfilling not biological imperatives but social roles, based on what was more efficient throughout a long era of human history? What if that era has now come to an end? More to the point, what if the economics of the new era are better suited to women?

What is fascinating is that in trying to answer those questions, Rosin’s article strikes a tone of uncertainty and fear, rather than triumphalism as one might expect from a bona fide contemporary feminist, a founder of DoubleX.  One result is that there is a debate on both the left and the right on whether Rosin is right, what the causes of the decline of men in the workforce and society might be, and what the consequences may be.

On the left, the criticism appears to be that Rosin is misinterpreting the evidence.  It’s not the end of men, you see, but the end of pernicious gender stereotypes:

It’s disappointing that, despite a history of sharp observations about gender and 5,000 words to work with, Rosin makes the same oversight as all of the other hand-wringing articles about the state of the American male. She thinks the problem is men; really, it’s traditional gender stereotypes. The narrow, toxic definition of masculinity perpetuated by Rosin and others — that men are brawn not brains, doers not feelers, earners not nurturers — is actually to blame for the crisis.

On the right, the response seems to be to focus on the consequences of the shift, and to criticize the policies that have led to the shift:

If boys are being conditioned to see themselves as academic failures and if the curricula tend to overemphasize subjects at which they are less adept, it should not be surprising to see them underrepresented in colleges and universities. Not because of any natural progression but because policies have been established to diminish them.

Are we really surprised that young men who are brought up without fathers in the new feminist dystopia are drawn to gangs and crime. We have seen exactly the same thing happen in the American inner cities over the past few decades. Single-parent families, headed by women, do not produce a cohort of healthy young males. See Kay Hymowitz‘ article here.

Such large questions as to whether masculinity and femininity are products of biological imperatives or social conditioning, and whether the consequences of an economy and a society that punishes ‘traditional’ masculinity are net positive or net negative cannot be answered one way or the other with any confidence.  One can, however, look at societies where such ideas have gone further.

Canary In The Coalmine: Sweden

Sweden is one such example.  Katrin Bennhold writes in the International Herald Tribune (a subsidiary of the New York Times), as part of a series called “The Female Factor”, that in Sweden, “men can have it all” and that as a result, a new definition of masculinity is emerging there:

In perhaps the most striking example of social engineering, a new definition of masculinity is emerging.

“Many men no longer want to be identified just by their jobs,” said Bengt Westerberg, who long opposed quotas but as deputy prime minister phased in a first month of paternity leave in 1995. “Many women now expect their husbands to take at least some time off with the children.”

Birgitta Ohlsson, European affairs minister, put it this way: “Machos with dinosaur values don’t make the top-10 lists of attractive men in women’s magazines anymore.” Ms. Ohlsson, who has lobbied European Union governments to pay more attention to fathers, is eight months pregnant, and her husband, a law professor, will take the leave when their child is born.

“Now men can have it all — a successful career and being a responsible daddy,” she added. “It’s a new kind of manly. It’s more wholesome.”

Sounds lovely.

Reading the whole article, I am struck by just how wonderful Sweden seems (or at the very least, just how wonderful Bennhold thinks Sweden seems) with its enlightened policies.  It is as if the former Vikings have created a Scandinavian utopia.

That the American Progressive currently in control of our government, our media, our educational system, and our cultural institutions admires the northern European social democracies cannot be doubted.  That many of their most contentious policies, such as government healthcare, environmental legislation, and the like, are aimed at emulating Sweden (and others like it) seems clear.  And from Bennhold’s article, I confess that living in such a society seems like a wonderful thing.

Except…

There are a couple of hints that not all is well in paradise — Bennhold even suggests some of them.

First, we get this throwaway sentence: “In this new world of the sexes, some women complain that Swedish men are too politically correct even to flirt in a bar.”  That’s… interesting.  Because at least in Portland, OR in the U.S. of A., that sort of political correctness is apparently a problem for women:

“There are so many shy guys,” Laura, 27, said. “And there’s a fine line between coming on too strong and helping them to overcome their shyness.”

Amy moved here from Iowa last year and says she doesn’t recall a man ever approaching her. Nina says Portland men are like the weather — soggy — and unwilling to go out on a limb.

“Men here don’t take initiative,” she said. “They don’t look at you twice or come up to you.”

Apparently, women — even liberated, high-achieving Swedish women and their kindred in spirit living in Portland — still want to be pursued and courted by men.

Second, it appears that not everyone has bought into the ideals of the New Swedish Man:

Among the self-employed, and in rural and immigrant communities, men are far less likely to take leave, said Nalin Pekgul, chairwoman of the Social Democratic Party’s women’s federation. In her Stockholm suburb, with a large immigrant population, traditional gender roles remain conspicuously intact.

The self-employed and immigrant communities aren’t into the new gender roles of Utopian Sweden you say?  One wonders why that might be, and further, one wonders whether there may be different reasons why the self-employed doesn’t take paternity leave vs. why immigrants don’t.

The self-employed, of course, do not enjoy the vast array of payments, benefits, government-enforced leave time, and the like.  If they don’t work, they don’t eat.

The immigrants — of whom we get no real detail from Bennhold — might have different ideas about masculinity and femininity that the average former-Viking.  And though the NY Times doesn’t want to dig much deeper, the Swedes apparently do:

From his party’s office in the basement of a Stockholm parking garage, Jimmie Akesson is running for Parliament, preaching sharp cuts in immigration and calling Islam the greatest threat to Swedish society.

That message until now has gained little traction in Sweden, but polls are predicting gains for Akesson’s far-right Sweden Democrats that could give them a king-maker role in national elections this year if neither mainstream bloc wins an outright majority.

One does get the impression that the Swedish men of say Malmo or Rinkeby (a suburb of Stockholm) aren’t likely to be the kind that Bennhold had in mind.  Given the differing birthrates between native-born Swedes and the foreign-born, mostly Muslim, immigrants, one wonders just how successful the ideas of the New Swedish Man would be in a generation or two.

Third, apparently Swedish businesses — particularly the small business — are having some ah… financial issues with social engineering of men:

Companies, facing high payroll taxes and women and men taking leave in unpredictable installments, can be less sure.

Small businesses find it particularly tricky to juggle absences, said Sofia Bergstrom, social insurance expert at the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, which represents 60,000 companies. Worse than parental leave, she says, is the 120-day annual allowance for parents to tend to sick children, which is impossible to plan and which is suspected of being widely abused.

Nonetheless, the Swedes have apparently accepted the new way of doing business:

But in a sign that the broader cultural shift has acquired a dynamic of its own, a survey by Ms. Haas and Philip Hwang, a psychology professor at Goteborg University, shows that 41 percent of companies reported in 2006 that they had made a formal decision to encourage fathers to take parental leave, up from only 2 percent in 1993.

Or… have they?  Because buried within the story — another throwaway observation that a liberal wouldn’t notice — is this:

Taxes account for 47 percent of gross domestic product, compared with 27 percent in the United States and 40 percent in the European Union overall. The public sector, famous for family-friendly perks, employs one in three workers, including half of all working women. (Emphasis added)

One in three workers is employed by the government.  Nearly half of the GDP of Sweden is in the form of taxes.  What “product” is created by tax is not yet known to mankind, but there you have it.

So on the one hand, we have reports that Swedes are famously generous, love the socialist system, and companies are getting behind this new parental leave for men.  On the other hand, we have data that shows private employers hire only 2 out of 3 workers.  What is unknown is how many workers are employed by small businesses, rather than the giant conglomerates such as Ikea.

But Why Should We Care?

That’s all fine and good, but why should Americans care about Swedish manhood, Swedish immigration issues, and Swedish policies?  To me, the answer is again, buried in the NY Times article:

If the Social Democrats win Sweden’s election on Sept. 19, as opinion polls predict, they will double the nontransferable leave for each parent to four months, said Mona Sahlin, the party leader who would become Sweden’s first female prime minister.

Mrs. Sahlin, who had three children as a member of Parliament with her husband sharing the leave, knows that this measure is not necessarily popular.

“Sometimes politicians have to be ahead of public opinion,” she said, noting how controversial the initial daddy month was and how broadly it is now simply expected. (Emphasis added)

Did you get that?  Sometimes, politicians have to be ahead of public opinion.

A clearer statement of statist philosophy is difficult to find.  It’s one I’m familiar with, having been one until 9/11.  As Lenin’s vision of a communist revolution depended upon intellectuals who would educate the proletarian workers as to their true interests, ultimately becoming the political system of Party insiders and everyone else so richly mocked by Animal Farm, so does modern Progressivism rely upon and ultimately become a game of noblesse oblige wherein the enlightened leadership has to go ahead of the ignorant public.

The Progressive project is revealed, therefore, as being less of an exercise in government and politics, and more of a semi-religious movement that seeks to save men’s souls.  Christians once called it ‘evangelizing'; the NY Times calls it “social engineering”.  The end goal is the same: changing human nature to create a better world.

The difference between the Christian (particularly the Protestant) vision and the Progressive vision lies in two distinctions.  First, the Christian vision contains within it a sense of tragedy — the sinfulness, the fallibility of human beings, and the essential unchanging realities of a harsh here-and-now are never forgotten.  As Jesus says in Matthews 26:11, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.”  Even as they struggle for a better world, Christians understand at their core that the mission is hopeless: the world is as it is, not as one would have it be.  Second, the Christian vision is fundamentally voluntary — yes, society should be changed for the better, but it is through changing an individual at a time that the Kingdom of God might come to be.  It cannot be doubted that Christians throughout the ages have fallen short of the fundamental understanding of free will, having instituted religious governments, persecutions, crimes of blasphemy, and the like where the power of the State was wedded to the power of the Church.  But as history has shown, within Christian understanding itself was the seed of human freedom and the recognition that the realm of government and the realm of spiritual should be separate: Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

The Progressive vision admits no such tragedy as the fallen nature of Man.  Poverty is not an eternal condition, but a socio-economic injustice created by greed, fatcat bankers, and greedy corporations.  Violence is not inherent in man, but the result of a war-loving patriarchy with roots in barbarism.  Men are not men and women are not women, except through social gender roles, leaving aside the inconvenience of biology (which technology and social advancement make unimportant). Enlightenment would cure them all.  The optimism of the Progressive is, in some respects, to be admired.

Furthermore, the Progressive vision is less concerned about individual free will and far more interested in society as a whole.  Rather than changing society by changing one individual at a time, Progressives are more interested in top-down change.  Sweden is but an example:

Introducing “daddy leave” in 1995 had an immediate impact. No father was forced to stay home, but the family lost one month of subsidies if he did not. Soon more than eight in 10 men took leave. The addition of a second nontransferable father month in 2002 only marginally increased the number of men taking leave, but it more than doubled the amount of time they take.

Clearly, state money proved an incentive — and a strong argument with reluctant bosses.

Clearly.  Penalizing the non-compliant with the power of the State does in fact provide a strong argument.  I’d imagine there was also a fair amount of other incentives: regulations, possible litigation, negative publicity….  Ah, the nature of free will in Progressive society!

The Endgame & The Gods of Copybook Headings

There in Sweden, we see the endgame of Progressivism.  It is a Utopia, much beloved of the American Left.  Not only is it easier for women to work, make time for family, not only are men able to do the same, but are now expected to by society.  Being but an American, with a wife who has a career of her own, I find myself envying the Swedish Dads.  For him, there is not the constant struggle to figure out who can drive the kids to childcare, who will pick up, who can make time to take them to a doctor’s appointment, whose career should take a hit for the sake of the children… all of the problems of parenthood in 21st century America.

Undergirding such a wonderful society is a veritable web of governmental social services:

  • 390 days of paid leave, usable by parents however they want to, up to the child’s eighth birthday
  • Full-time preschool guaranteed at a maximum of about $150 a month and leave paid at 80 percent of salary up to $3,330 a month
  • 120-days every year to take care of a sick child
  • Completely free schooling for the children, including college

And so on.  Who wouldn’t love living in such a society?

Yet… and yet… one wonders if masculinity itself is subject to such redefinition by governmental policies, no matter how benevolent.  One wonders how long the Swedish Utopia can last with 47% of its GDP coming from taxation, and one of three employees working for the state, and a growing ‘immigrant’ population that doesn’t subscribe to the Progressive vision.  One wonders if men and women really are the same, except with different sex organs, and therefore the End of Men is really the End of Gender Stereotypes.  One wonders if men would indeed quiescently abandon thirty thousand years of tradition in exchange for 120 days of sick child care.  One wonders how the New Swedish Man might respond should he find that in fact, war is not obsolete, and Russia decides it would like some ports on the North Atlantic.

And I am reminded once again of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, The Gods of the Copybook Headings:

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Or perhaps, as the Progressive so earnestly hopes, The Gods of the Copybook Headings have been slain.

These people in Sweden have some thoughts on that:

-TS

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