I read The Bell Curve, written by Richard Hernnstein and Charles Murray, when it first came out in the 90s, and was impressed mainly because it addressed issues, such as the heritability of intelligence, that are usually swept under the rug or vociferously resisted by the PC brigade. Today people pretty much take it for granted that smarter people tend to have smarter children, but not long ago there was still a strong, widely-accepted conviction that environment was the determinant in just about every human difference. Murray and his co-author Richard Hernnstein were largely responsible for shattering this myth, which, incidentally, formed the basis for second wave feminist ideology. Perhaps it was The Bell Curve, among other associated trends, that persuaded feminists to finally drop the absolute equality dogma in favor of playing the perpetual victim and bashing men as evil, irresponsible trash.
Unfortunately, if F. Roger Devlin’s review is any indication, Murray is only adding to the invective, describing working class men in very unflattering ways, and suggesting that what they really need is just more good old fashioned virtue. To a divorced or never-married guy, that just sounds like another social conservative threat; e.g. “what they really need is a good ass-whipping, then they’ll get to work and support those poor, pure little ladies.”
Devlin writes the following in response to Murray’s description of the working class “Fishtown” neighborhood of Philadelphia:
Murray writes that “being a single mother is tough, and it is appropriate to sympathize with women who are in that situation.” He does not say it is appropriate to be sympathetic to the manchildren of Fishtown, and most readers will be left with the impression that what they need is a good kick in the pants. Yet I wonder whether the same factors did not produce the undesirable behavior of both men and women that he notes today.
No, Murray, it is not appropriate to be sympathetic toward “single mothers.” Widows perhaps, but not those who are single mothers on account of their own choices. A woman who left an impossible marriage may be morally neutral, but these days, given the guarantees of support, there’s no reason to be particularly sympathetic to her, and one who left her husband to have an affair or got knocked up out of wedlock in hopes of securing the resources of some victim (the man or the taxpayers) deserves no sympathy whatsoever.
If Murray holds that the “virtues” are men’s responsibility alone, he is simply contributing to the problems that have devastated the American working class. In fact, he is part of the problem. Anyone who refuses to hold single-mothers-by-choice accountable is part of the problem. If women don’t need men, and men have absolutely no guarantee that honest, dedicated labor will reward them with a fulfilling family life, then no amount of coercion or high-minded lecturing is going to convince them that it’s worth it to act like responsible husbands.
It’s getting to the point where I’m tempted to just write these older conservatives off. If they haven’t been through a contemporary, post-Bradley Amendment divorce themselves, they will never get it. Younger men, on the other hand, seem to understand it intuitively. Men under 30 are far more clued in than I was at their age, and it hasn’t even been a decade since then.
Following the above quote, Devlin really gets into it. He is one of the only academics out there who writes honestly and accurately about the real problems. Whatever one may feel about his politics, Devlin’s critiques of feminism are some of the best out there. The only other professionals who eloquently and honestly address the issue from time to time are family law attorneys themselves, because unless they are clinically delusional, it’s impossible to ignore the inherent dysfunction of the system. The main problem with academics is that feminist power in universities is so entrenched that the overwhelming majority of social scientists dare not breathe a word in dissent against feminist orthodoxy.
More from Devlin:
beginning in the 1960s, women became convinced marriage was an imposition to be ‘outraged’ about. Helen Gurley Brown began whispering in their ears that an independent career path could be filled with exciting romances involving attractive men, free of the ‘drudgery’ to which marriage consigned their mothers. The family income was abolished in favor of ‘equal pay for equal work.’ The law was changed to permit women to divorce their husbands unilaterally and without grounds. (Wives are responsible for around ninety percent of divorces.)
None of this much affects the men at the top of the income and status hierarchy. They make enough money that even women with personal incomes perceive them as supporters and are willing to marry them. If a wife leaves after the baby is born, child support payments are manageable and a replacement wife is easily found.
The Fishtown girls who might have married working men in 1960 may well be earning more than such men today just by sitting at desks entering data. They can obtain higher quality sperm from more desirable men without submitting to the constraints of lifelong monogamy; the ‘ex’ and/or the taxpayer is made to provide for any resulting children. They even enjoy the sympathy of male commentators for the terrible hardship all this supposedly represents. Is it any wonder such women are reluctant to devote their lives to raising the children of ill-paid construction workers?
The contemporary Fishtown man, his wages reduced by female competition and the ever-decreasing market value of upper-body strength, has correspondingly slim chances of earning enough to make himself an acceptable suitor to any woman with an income of her own. These men are not ‘retreating from the marriage market’; they are being driven from it as a matter of deliberate policy.
Even if a particular working class man beats the odds and finds a girl to marry, he cannot expect the satisfaction of supporting her; she may well end up supporting him. And what self-respecting man wants to end up like that poor sap uselessly tagging along behind his wife who just bought all the groceries?
But this is still not the worst. Prospective husbands stand a good chance of losing everything in the divorce settlement within a few years of the wedding. Child support is not so easy when it must be paid through low-skilled labor. Even if you avoid being jailed as a ‘deadbeat dad,’ you will certainly not have enough left over to contemplate a second marriage.
In short, the American dream of a home and family through honest labor is now far out of reach for an increasing number of low-status men. Under these circumstances, what is such a man to do with his life? I’d say an unconstrained bachelor existence with plenty of time for amusements looks very much like a rational choice. The male commentariat may make you out to be a bum, but that sure beats years of performing all the hard work traditionally required to support a family and then not getting the family.
What Murray doesn’t understand, and Devlin suggests (although he doesn’t emphasize it strongly enough, I think), is that living according to the old virtues will, as often as not, result in punishment. What else could you call loss of one’s children and forced servitude to an adulterous wife? It’s about the most humiliating thing that a man can face, yet it is taken for granted in the US that this is how we should deal with those men who get married and have children.
It’s good to see that Devlin is still calling foul when women get a free pass from the likes of Murray. Although I respect Murray, and am sure he means well, like most of his generation he’s got a huge blind spot where women are concerned. You have to reach all the way back to the Greatest Generation before finding more than a meager handful of older men who have a realistic attitude concerning women, and they are mostly dead by now; if not they are typically in some stage of senility.
However, this is why I remain optimistic that things will change soon. The older boomers, who are set in their ways, are on the way out. This is probably Murray’s last great work, for example. The younger ones are not as fixed in their ways, and younger men, influenced by men like Heartiste, are going to have an entirely different attitude. Murray describes, but fails to understand their behavior, so perhaps his book may have some value as a portrait taken from a different place — from inside a bubble.