The former Washington Post columnist William Raspberry wrote a piece in 1999 that was so honest and courageous about the origin of so much that is wrong with our society that I used to keep it folded up in my wallet, until it was too yellowed and dog-eared to read anymore. It was called, “The Parable of the Elephants.” It told the story of the Kruger National Game Preserve in South Africa, where the elephant population had outgrown the ability of the park to sustain the herd. A decision was made to move some of the young adolescent male elephants to Pilanesberg, a new game preserve. But within months, park staffers at Pilanesberg were alarmed to learn that 39 rare white rhinos were dead. Rangers at first suspected poachers in the deaths, but the rhinos’ prized horns had been left intact. Rangers set up hidden video cameras and tracking devices and eventually discovered that the young male elephants were going on “wilding” binges, chasing down the rhinos, stamping them to death, and otherwise wrecking havoc in the park. Scientists concluded it was a case of an “overdose of testosterone.”
Raspberry recounts how someone made the decision to bring in some adult bull elephants. He wrote, “The gamble paid off for reasons both obvious and subtle. The big bulls established a natural heriarchy. After a few futile skirmishes with the adult males, the adolescents retreated and eventually learned the proper socialization and behaviors of adult males.”
It was 45 years ago that then-assistant secretary of labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan released his report, “The Negro Family, The Case for National Action.” In it, he described how the absence of husbands and fathers in inner cities across the United States constituted a ticking time bomb. Moynihan wrote that the black inner city community was a “tangle of pathology…capable of perpetuating itself without assistance from the white world.” He also argued the “matriarchal structure of black culture weakened the ability of black men to function as authority figures.”
Read today after all these years, the report comes across as wildly insensitive by present standards and—at the same time– refreshingly honest. In short, its findings are unburdened by political correctness, unfettered by the shame it might impose upon unwed mothers and the fathers who would leave them.
The report also reminds those of us in contemporary America that just as Moynihan feared, the ticking time bomb has exploded. But Moynihan could not have imagined the carnage. It is no longer limited to African-American populace of inner cities. It cuts across the culture and the races. It’s epidemic across the United States and Western Europe. But it’s not even seen as carnage. It’s now imbedded in the culture as an entirely acceptable lifestyle choice. Few people nowadays would dare criticize a mother for making a choice of single parenthood, or a father who evades responsibility for his part in procreation and child-rearing. Indeed, the Urban Dictionary’s first definition of the the term, “Baby Daddy” reads this way:
“Usually a broke ass black man; Who you met through a friend and had sex wit when you was upset and confused. Now you don had his baby and he don’t pay child support and denies yo son ray ray.”
There comes a point in the development of any male child—usually about the time that puberty and testosterone kick in—when maternal influence wanes and paternal influence becomes more important. If there is no paternal influence, the mother often loses control. The adolescent boy is, at the very least, growing physically stronger than his mother. In difficult moments, she can no longer discipline him, or in the worst case, restrain him. He knows it and takes advantage of his new found strength and freedom. But it’s an unbridled freedom that knows no limit. It runs wild. It wreaks havoc, because it doesn’t know the civilizing effects that only a mature adult man can bestow—things like wisdom, honor, modesty, restraint, sportsmanship, self-sacrifice, and patience.
The true tragedy in all of this is that popular American culture is making no effort to retreive this lost component of child-rearing. It, instead, glorifies the dysfunction of what psychologists call “hypermasculinity.” We see it in the NFL with the gorilla-like chest-thumping after a touchdown, in TV shows like Jackass, where young men take offensive, purposeless and painful risks. We see it in the emergence of countless “extreme” sports, in video games, Hollywood action movies. It makes up a huge percentage of the fare on local TV news—the (now) routine subway wilding incidents uploaded to Youtube, the murders, gang wars and road rage, on and on. But these incidents (despite my frequent protestations over the years to news directors and producers) are seldom presented in the context of the socio and psycho-pathologies that they represent. (We purposefully silence the voice of shame.) They’re all just another lead story… followed by another tv news staple—the obligatory and meaningless candlelight vigil or “take back the night rally.”
There is also a polar-opposite twin to hypermasculinity, brought on by the absense of male role models: “hypo-masculinity,” the absence of masculinity. And, again, portrayals of it abound in popular culture and everyday life: Metro-sexualism, the sensitive male, the banning of dodge ball, padded playgrounds, back and chest waxing, feminized scents and colognes, TV commercials that portray the father figure as buffoonish, incompetent or absent.
But there’s another manifestation that’s more troubling, and its track record is now undeniable. Author and therapist Michael Gurian writes about it in his book, “The Purpose of Boys.”
“Girls outperform boys in nearly every academic area. Many of the old principles of education are diminished. In a classroom of 30 kids, about five boys will begin to fail in the first few years of pre-school and elementary school. By fifth grade, they will be diagnosed as learning disabled, ADD/ADHD, behaviorally disordered or “unmotivated.” They will no longer do their homework (though they may say they are doing it), they will disrupt class or withdraw from it, they will find a few islands of competence (like video games or computers) and overemphasize those. Boys have a lot of Huck Finn in them—they don’t, on average, learn as well as girls by sitting still, concentrating, multitasking, listening to words. For 20 years, I have been taking brain research into homes and classrooms to show teachers, parents and others how differently boys and girls learn. Once a person sees a PET or SPECT scan of a boy’s brain and a girl’s brain, showing the different ways these brains learn, they understand. As one teacher put it to me, “Wow, no wonder we’re having so many problems with boys.”
The problems that Gurian identifies here grow worse as boys move through the educational establishment—culminating in drop-outs rates of up to 80% in some of the nations worst school systems. It continues from there. From school systems, to prison systems, or in the present recession, to unemployment lines. There’s a reason that some call our economic troubles a “man-cession.”
There is a dark red stone Gothic castle in the neighborhood where I grew up in Washington, D.C., that now houses The Lab School. The grounds are festooned with colorful, cheery modern art and signage. But when I was a child, the same castle sat on the hillside bare of ornamentation. It was dark and foreboding. It was The Florence Crittenton Home for Unwed Mothers. Strolling past it one day with my mother in the early 1960s I asked her, “Why are all those pregnant ladies there?”
She replied with a stern, furrowed face and pursed lips:
“That’s where mothers who don’t have husbands live.” She spoke in a shaming kind of tone.
I knew not to ask anymore. She spoke for the culture, a culture long gone.
Anchorman a well-known news anchor from a top-10, big city station. The Daily Caller has elected to redact his identity to protect his anonymity.