The debate over “the end of men” has been raging for some time, and shows no sign of abating. The Munk Debate held in Toronto a few weeks ago was on the topic of “Be it resolved, men are obsolete“, entertainingly engaged with an all-woman panel. While the crowd in that debate veered slightly toward the “men are not obsolete” side, it was only by a thin margin, and they lost much ground they had going in.
But are the “dropout” men being held up as the “end of men” really being obsoleted? Or is something else going on? James Taranto at Wall Street Journal suggests that the problem lies with faulty psychological assumptions.
The problem with Hymowitz’s argument, however, is not one that behavioral economics can solve. Rather, it is an error in applying the H. economicus model. She substitutes for “self-interest” her own normative ideas about male aspiration–for instance, that “a life of shelf stocking” is unworthy.
The real revelation comes in the first paragraph, wherein Hymowitz laments nonelite boys’ diminishing “chances . . . of becoming reliable husbands and fathers.” To be sure, this columnist is acquainted with any number of men who fit that description, and by and large they report that family life is a source of great happiness. But we can’t recall ever hearing such a man describe himself, nor can we imagine one describing himself proudly, as a “reliable” husband or father.
Hymowitz would like men to organize their lives around maximizing their usefulness to women and children. Hey, what woman wouldn’t? But in invoking H. economicus, she ends up equating the goal of serving others with individual self-interest–an outright inversion of the latter concept.
He goes on to distinguish between “rational” action from the perspective of species-wide self-interest and “rational” action from a purely self-interested perspective. The whole article deserves reading.