"Freedom is not merely the opportunity to do as one pleases; neither is it merely the opportunity to choose between set alternatives. Freedom is, first of all, the chance to formulate the available choices, to argue over them -- and then, the opportunity to choose." ~ C. Wright Mills
The Incredible Shirking Man
By 1998, the last year of my overstay as a public school teacher, I'd learned to get along better with my students by sparing them my unsolicited advice about their personal business. However, on one occasion, I couldn't stop myself. I was teaching ninth grade math in an urban school with majority poor students. My class was mostly girls, 15 or 16 years old, because most of the boys on my roster did not come to school.
Four of my girls were working together on a classroom assignment while I graded papers at my desk a few feet away from them. If I remember correctly, two of them had babies and a third was pregnant. One of my mothers was chatting about the day-to-day details of raising her child and her plans for having a second baby. At that point, I put down my papers and interjected myself.
'Just wait, a minute,' I jumped in, 'you're still in high school! Don't you want to give yourself time--build a successful life for yourself so you'll have something to offer your children?' With a patronizing (though kind) tone, she told me adults exaggerated the difficulty in having babies, and that it was no big deal. Ironically, I remember thinking that hers was the voice of experience. My oldest son was still a few months from being born.
Up close and personal, I viewed yet another example of how the natural relationship between men and women is skewed for the worst by the interfering state. With standard obliviousness, our rulers have taken hold of the reins of interpersonal relationships. Once you comprehend the nature of the state, the negative results are predictable. What struck the deepest impression upon me from the girls' conversation was that there was no mention of husbands, boyfriends or even sperm donors. Just baby clothes, government checks, body changes due to pregnancy and the like. The fathers of these children, past and future, were not even topics of discussion. Sadly, a bureaucratic 'sugar daddy' had displaced them completely. I could not tell that the girls even missed them. I'll hazard a guess that the boys were happy to not be included beyond the procreation part.
My evidence is anecdotal, but I'd argue the side effect of women's political ascendancy is a shrinking, shirking male. Increasingly, as women gain more influence over the levers of government power, legal force has been applied to constrain male power and authority. As a direct result, greater numbers of men are reneging from their traditional roles and responsibilities. But I am not arguing for a return to a state structure designed to protect male power. Rather, I think the example above and others like it argue that the state does not belong in interpersonal relationships at all. While my personal belief is that a societal order centered on voluntary free-market exchange would give the mass of us a much better deal (it would be much less inclined toward looting and mass murder), I think a majority of folks would settle for a state cabal that limited itself to deterring thieves, killers and foreign invaders. Relationships should be left to individual, familial, community and religious authorities. After all, they have a stake in the outcome, and their interest means they'll do a better job nearly every time.
Twenty-first Century western man is retreating on multiple fronts. Increasing numbers of him are not getting married and not willing to make sacrifices for his children. Fewer of him bother with school. His physical courage has sunk in social regard and he now exhibits less of it. But looking at the trends rationally, the disappearance of these traits makes sense. In terms of self-interest, these are all 'sucker bets.' The return on time, risk, and material investment can be shaky. A wife can make him miserable. Children can turn out rotten. Many educational tracks lead to nowhere. And facing physical danger can even kill him. Personally, I'm surprised that as many men are as vested in the system as there are. A fast and irresponsible life can yield a lot of good times, and when youthful vigor fades, he can always move into his mother's basement. But most men don't go that path because there is a return for investing his life in the above tasks. Born either of his heart or perhaps hardwired into his brain, he wants to be a part of a family and community, and for millennia, parents, wives, peers and children have given him love, respect and appreciation in return. Remove those incentives, and you'll get fewer volunteers for the job, 'Be a Dad' TV ads notwithstanding.
When I look in my crystal ball, I see the same cabal of nitwits making the rules, so I believe people's relationships--which have evolved over thousands of years--will continue to be distorted unnaturally by the state. Again, I don't see 'good old days' in the rear view mirror. In retrospect, for the first three-quarters of the 20th Century, governmental gangs seemed to be involved in little other than industrial mass murder. People's interpersonal relationships were generally better because they were left alone. As a change, western states seem to have ratcheted down on the war making and turned their destructive impulses upon their own civil institutions. So be it. A wise person deals with the world as it is.
Today, I glean three lessons from my student mothers (may God bless them). First, state interference in relationships is harmful. It's financed through stealing other people's money and moves through natural society like a distorting cancer. It fosters irresponsibility, which, in turn, degrades civil society. Second, a state political game is at work in human relationships, so if we acknowledge it in reasoned decision-making, we can blunt its adverse effects. Today, men and women are less insulated from their stupid actions, men in the short term, women in the long term. Make a stupid choice of a mate and you may be visiting your children from across country or raising rebellious, irresponsible teenagers alone. The whiners who moan about the dirty hands dealt them by their mates are about as credible as the smokers who testify in courtrooms that they didn't know smoking was bad for them when they took up the habit. Third, live a life of principle so that you can be a free person independent of society-at-large. Liberating your soul happens between your ears. Granted, like a woman, freedom is expensive and high maintenance. If you can seize it, you may not be able to hold onto much else. Your life may even end prematurely and bitterly. But considering that you'll be returning to the earth in any event, you may as well try to live life on your own terms.