There is something very disconcerting about the faces of the five young men arrested in Cleveland last week for planning to blow up a bridge on a federal highway. Ordinarily we're accustomed to seeing the faces of bearded Middle Easterners with some kind of turban on their heads and malevolence in their eyes. Instead, these were home-grown Americans. Granted one had a weird hairdo and they all looked pretty scruffy, but it wasn't anything you wouldn't encounter in your average grunge band.
If this is the new face of terrorism, we're in big trouble. And it seems very likely. You see lots of the same type among the crowd at Occupy Wall Street crowd or in those fanatical environmental groups that chain themselves to a grove of trees or burn down a luxury condominium. (In fact, these five were first tailed by police after talking anarchist violence at Occupy Cleveland.) There's a kind of helpless fanaticism to all these young men, as if the world is stacked against them and only the wildest act of desperation can have any impact.
America seems to be producing a lot more of these types today. My guess is that most of them have grown up without fathers and seem to have no connection with any adult male. The world of Father Knows Best is unknown to them. They're angry at not having role models but they've also incorporated their divorced mothers' jaundiced view of the world of men. In terms of personal and social roles, they have nowhere to go.
Ordinarily you would hope such wayward youth would eventually find themselves, settle down, get married and raise a family. But we no longer live in that kind of world. We've already had one Fight Club generation, "raised by women" as the Brad Pitt character put it, and it looks like we're headed for another by default. These young men are not very good marriage material. Television watching and video games are their major vocation. They haven't done well in school -- but then most boys never did. In the old days, however, there was always a factory job or outdoor work that offered the possibility of making a living. These jobs no longer exist. Unless they have a father or an uncle who's in some father-and-son labor union, they're out of luck. They're the kind of whom their girlfriends will say, when they finally gets pregnant and decide they don't want to get married, "it would be like having another child."
Meanwhile, those girlfriends are already doing better in school and are marching into the job market, for whatever that's worth. This pattern cuts across racial and ethnic lines. As the young Cambodian girl tells Clint Eastwood in Grand Torino, "in this neighborhood, the girls go to college and the boys go to jail." There are already more women than men in college and the gap keeps widening. Just last week the Gallup poll found for the first time that young women have more career ambitions than young men. It's not surprising to find that when they reach the point of family formation, many of these women will decide they have better options -- either the welfare system or their own resources.
All this illustrates what Charles Murray says is happening throughout blue-collar America. Cultural norms are breaking down and nothing is taking their place -- except perhaps the system where everybody becomes a ward of the state. There's the usual nattering about men staying home to raise children while their wives go out to be breadwinners but that's limited to a slice of the population barely big enough to give some CNN reporter the idea that she's got a story. In the vast reach of an increasingly undereducated America, young men raised in homes dominated by women find no appeal in putting themselves in the hands of another woman. Better to hang out with the boys and get high. And so the cycle continues.
So far there's very little pushback against this gathering calamity. The dogma of women's liberation says that anything women do to gain their "independence" is heroic, even if it means becoming a single mother with five illegitimate children and going on welfare. When black sports stars revert to the old African custom of collecting as many wives as possible, the press can only gape in admiration. (Reported BBC-CNN last week: "As he celebrates his 28th birthday today New York Jets cornerback, Antonio Cromartie, has another reason to raise a glass -- he now fathers 10 children… from a total of eight women across the country.") When Hollywood decides to investigate Mormons, it doesn't concentrate on the highly moral and successful majority that plays a central role in the Boy Scouts, but concentrates on the few remaining polygamous cults and gives us Big Love.
No wonder that, when confronted with a breadwinning family man married to the same women for forty years with a healthy brood of children and grandchildren, the Obama Administration immediately responds by branding Mitt Romney as "weird."
THERE IS, HOWEVER, a glimmer of hope. Deep in the bowels of academia, a handful of scholars are beginning to acknowledge that there may be something worth salvaging in Western culture.
In a paper published by the Royal Society last January entitled "The Puzzle of Monogamous Marriage," three scholars -- Joseph Henrich, of the University of British Columbia, Robert Boyd of UCLA and Peter Richerson of UC Davis -- have done the unthinkable: offered an anthropological/sociological/psychological defense of the Western monogamous tradition.
Why monogamy, sexual fidelity and fatherhood ever emerged in human culture, they admit, is a bit of a mystery. Physiologically, we are probably better suited to polygamy. In fact 85 percent of all human societies have allowed men to have multiple wives. The only exceptions have been: 1) hunter-gatherers, who deal with their challenging environment by practicing a fierce egalitarianism, and 2) "some of history's largest and most successful… societies," i.e., the West plus China, Japan and India, which have now adopted its mores.
What is the particularly salubrious about monogamy is that it "shrinks the size of the pool of low-status, risk-oriented, unmarried men, " Otherwise, "[f]aced with… little chance of obtaining even one long-term mate, unmarried, low-status men will heavily discount the future and more readily engage in risky status-elevating and sex-seeking behavior. This will result in higher rates of murder, theft, rape, [and] social disruption." Only by giving undereducated men a meaningful role in life will their energies be harnessed to the greater social good.
The five footloose, forlorn young men who decided that blowing up a bridge in Cleveland would trigger anarchistic rebellion across the country are probably only the vanguard of a cohort that has been marginalized by the economics of welfare, the feminization of education, and the cultural bend for celebrating everything women do over anything that men do short of winning the Super Bowl. Western society owes its success to assuring that even the lowest status male is given the opportunity to participate in fostering institutions and fathering the next generation. As these norms break down, the peace and prosperity they have produced is likely to erode as well.