The Myth of the Able-Bodied Man as Man

This article was originally published at and

We need to fix the game of manhood.

Our society’s exclusive image of the ‘real man’ leaves us with a disgruntled majority of boys who view the coveted prizes of masculinity as out of reach. Although most boys are bound to feel painfully inferior at one point or another, our game is particularly skewed against certain boys, like those with physical, developmental, and mental disabilities.

Young disabled men often begin to feel distanced from manhood when the social emphasis on gender kicks in during adolescence. Boys are frequently taught that athleticism belongs to the able-bodied and that sexual attractiveness, portrayed in everything from clothing catalogues to violent, misogynistic pornography, too belongs to aggressive, physically dominant, able-bodied men. “Charm” also tends to follow able-bodied guys without psychological abnormalities, those whose looks, interests and proclivities are considered “normal.”

And we double down on this arrangement, first, by blindly prizing assimilation, and then “integration,” as the antidotes to disabled boys’ hardships. Even when our boys don’t like sports and suck at them, we urge them to go out for the baseball team. We tell them to change their cinematic, musical, and literary interests simply to fit in.  When that doesn’t work, educators try forcing friendships between able-bodied and disabled students, which ultimately doesn’t work either.

That’s only half of our failed approach though. Without offering our boys long-term opportunities to cultivate the interests and talents that can give them real self-confidence as young men, we simply send them off to counselors and therapists to be told that they “don’t have to be like other boys.” It’s a valuable message but an incomplete one nonetheless.

For years, as both a student and co-teacher, I cringed at many disabled (and otherwise excluded) boys’ affected efforts to fit in socially. Indignant about their inability to measure up to their ingrained conceptions of manhood, these boys would, for example, act like chauvinistic players. On one occasion, a camp friend of mine put on his ‘man face’ and broadcasted to a large group of guys that he likes to “use and lose” women, even though, in reality, he had never kissed a girl. Clearly, after numerous rejections, he was searing with resentment and, in a last-ditch effort to prove his manliness to himself and other boys, veiled his insecurity with ugly chauvinism.

Such affectations of masculinity were not always girl-oriented though. I remember one of my middle school students, a so-called “nerd” with a developmental disability, striking up a conversation about the NFL with some peers during recess. After five minutes, the other boys laughed him off when it became clear that this young man had no idea what he was discussing.

Alas, when other outcast boys pulled this kind of stunt, by acting up in class or pretending to love typical ‘boy things,’ they were usually called out for “trying too hard” or “being annoying.” Sometimes, their parents—usually their fathers—would push them to participate in stereotypical “male” activities, like videogames and roughhousing. But no matter how persistently these boys tried to be “real” guys, they usually couldn’t rid themselves of that fundamental differentness, that less-than-boyishness, that disabled-ness in the eyes of the boys who they were trying to impress.

Conscientious teachers would pick up on this social ostracism and, with the best of intentions, try to integrate ostracized students into groups of able-bodied, gleeful, popular kids. They would concoct project workgroups and assign class seats with the obvious purpose of bringing together students from different social circles. In grade school, they would encourage popular kids to hang out with unpopular kids during recess. Content with simply having done something, the teachers would then wash their hands of this unsettling business and declare: “Job well done!”

Sadly, they missed the mark entirely.

John Calmore’s critical understanding of racially integrative housing reforms in recent decades provides the necessary framework for understanding ability-based integration in school: “the ‘integration imperative’ legitimates the emphasis on desegregation rather than on simple nonsegregation and free choice as to where to live,” and, in this case, where and with whom to play and study. As a co-teacher, I wanted students of all abilities to be in the same classes, but I didn’t think that kids of different social groups should be forced to sit near each other, work together or play together, especially when these integrative arrangements left disabled students feeling even more isolated than before.

When teachers entirely re-configured classes in this way, disabled students were often separated from the couple friends they had and were forced to work with peers who detested these teacher-imposed social structures as much as they did. Usually, the less popular students were less confident, and their dissatisfaction was only made worse when they were forced into intimate situations with other students who seemed unenthusiastic about working with them. As a result, students in different social circles constantly complained that yearlong workgroups took them away from their friends.

At the end of it all, many disabled boys were, and still are, directed to a counselor or teacher to talk through their social difficulties. Having that adult backup is certainly helpful, but it isn’t enough for most boys. Right after putting them in social situations in which they are forced to worry about what others think of them, we, in a bizarre reversal of course, tell our boys with physical and psychological abnormalities that they actually shouldn’t worry about what others think of them, that the kids who don’t give them the time of day “aren’t worth it anyway,” and that if they simply maintain a positive attitude, everything will be OK.

Unfortunately, after all of the mixed messages, feel-good therapy sessions and naive integrative measures, many boys with disabilities aren’t OK. In fact, a lot of them are hurting pretty badly. The physically disabled are often troubled by the fear of their physical limitations in an able-bodied society, children with learning disabilities are still “more likely to have negative perceptions of the self, their environment and the future,” young men with intellectual disabilities are at an increased risk of depression, and children with severe disabilities are prone to display “irritability, anger or screaming, self-injurious and aggressive behavior.”

Young men with disabilities neither are nor should be convinced that they can be happy without social lives and fulfilling hobbies. I have found that if there is anything in the flawed model of masculinity that we ought to keep—and are anyway forced to keep—it’s the natural human longing for confidence, love, and enjoyable work (as Freud taught us). Guys don’t need to play COD, hang out with the cool kids, look like movie stars, have vision, be neurotypical, or be able to walk in order to be “real men,” but we all need passions, for passions give us the productive energies that make us attractive to ourselves and others.

Our emphasis, then, has to move away from the broken assimilation-integration paradigm. No boy has actually ever boosted his self-esteem by taking on false interests and false credentials in order to fit the “man” mold, and the top-down friendship model has rarely worked. If we are serious about giving disabled students equally gratifying social lives, then we should stop forcing them into uncomfortable situations and instead focus on giving them opportunities to self-actualize among those with similar interests.

Educators can spur this process by establishing in-school outlets for isolated children to pursue their goals. For example, when a teacher discovers that a shy, excluded student is a budding musician, the teacher should give him music-oriented assignments that can help cultivate his abilities. If no such opportunity exists in the classroom, the teacher should refer him to an extracurricular musical band. Ideally, the boy would eventually gain enough confidence to present his work to the class and discuss it with his peers openly and confidently.  The social integration would thus come after the boy has achieved the self-esteem associated with meeting a personal goal.

Guardians should also resist the temptation to force their boys to participate in activities simply because the activities are typically male. Eventually, the dissonance between the boys’ true interests and his parents’ interests will surface, and the boys will only be further destabilized. Guardians, like teachers, should instead encourage boys to pursue their true passions.

As for the rest of us, let’s remember that a man need not look or think a certain way to retain his masculinity, that if he finds purpose and esteem in a less-than-expected lifestyle for a guy in the 21st century, he nonetheless deserves our support and validation as an ever-elusive ‘real man.’

Left Turn Ahead?

You may be reading this because you are a subscriber to this blog and have received an email notice. Although our postings here are certainly informative and worthwhile, much of the SDUSA chatter takes place on a Yahoo group also named Socialist_Currents. Look for our torch logo if you are interested in joining the conversation.

The conversation this past week has been about Kshama Sawant. Ms. Sawant is a member of the Socialist Alternative Party; she is a software engineer who immigrated from India. She was recently elected to the Seattle City Council. What are we to glean from the fact that voters in a major American city have elected not just a Socialist, but indeed a Trotskyist, to City Council? Opinions within our ranks vary from “it’s time to embrace the S word instead of running from it”, to “the rise of a Socialist Labor third party is on the horizon”, to “our current course remains the correct course”.

Without a doubt, the political winds are changing. Polling in the past 5 years has demonstrated that young people have realized that they are pretty well screwed economically for the next 20 years or so. Which in fact means that they’re pretty well screwed for the duration. Pensions? That something your grandfather had. Paid vacation and sick days? That’s something your parents had. Hopes of upwards mobility? Forget about it. Safety net? Yeh, that’s called living in your parents’ basement. And it doesn’t matter whether these young people are Republicans or Democrats. They all know the situation they’re in.

The end of the Wall Street friendly presidents?

The end of the Wall Street friendly presidents?

It would be easy enough for us to blame Republicans, but the fact is the Democrats have been complicit. The Clinton strategy was to move the DP toward the right and capture the center. That’s where most of the voters are. This would supposedly ensure that the DP would hold power in Washington for decades. Give Wall Street whatever they want, and give the voters a liberal agenda on social issues. While 9/11 derailed that plan, the new millennium has proven both the conservative and liberal agendas to be failures. The under-30 crowd is not happy with where the “limousine liberals” have taken them.

The electoral implications of this shift were described in an excellent essay by Peter Beinart in September (before Sawant’s election) in The Rise of the New New Left

And just this weekend by Zach Goldfarb in the Washington Post in More Liberal, Populist Movement

Beinart’s piece was more on target because it focused on the economic issues and particularly on Elizabeth Warren’s attack on Wall Street. While Goldfarb also points to Warren, he errs by confusing liberalism and leftism.  This has always been a common error, but not one that a political journalist should make.  Both writers refrain from labeling anti-Wall Street positions as socialist, instead using the terms populist and liberal.  Clearly there is still reticence to using the S word.

What lessons should SDUSA be taking away from this? It is our clearly stated strategy that we mainly work within the Democratic Party to push our economic and civil liberties agendas. We have no interest in splitting the left vote when it comes to electing a president; after all, the president nominates Supreme Court justices and we have seen the criticality of that power. However, there are many other election battles other than the presidency. There are congressional elections, state office elections, and municipal elections. During the past 20 years the Left has lost many battles in Congress over Social Security, unfair trade agreements, and wars. In our states we have seen union busting from our governors and state legislatures. We have seen voting rights jeopardized in over a dozen states. There is entirely too much focus on the presidential election. The presidential election makes good press in Washington, but it’s in the legislatures where laws are passed and budgets are approved. Therefore, does it make sense for us to “trickle down” our election strategy to state-wide elections? Absolutely. In state-wide elections it is still very difficult to run a third party candidate. In my home state of Pennsylvania, election laws are so rigged against third parties that it is practically impossible. In places like PA it is still necessary for us to maintain the strategy of working inside the DP and pulling it to the left as best we can. If there is truly a socialist or social democratic groundswell, then we should be able to nominate and elect leftist candidates inside the DP. If they have the votes there is no reason for them to run away from the term socialist.  And it’s the same is for municipal elections. While small parties can have isolated victories like Kshama Sawant had in Seattle, that’s not a successful strategy for most of us. I do not expect SDUSA to change its strategy of running Social Democratic candidates within the Democratic Party.

While I support the SD electoral policy, I admit that my vision is skewed because I live in Pennsylvania.  As noted above, PA is a party machine state.  In PA, only 12% of the voters are registered Independent. These voters do not participate in the Republican or Democratic primaries. They can not therefore help pull the Democratic Party to the left in the primaries. In theory, the Independent voters could field a leftist candidate who could knock off a neo-lib Democrat in the general election— except that there aren’t enough Independents to pull that off. Yet. This was not the case for Sawant. In Washington, 40% of the voters are Independent and not tied to a party. This might indicate that our electoral strategies should vary from state to state. We should carefully monitor the rise of the Independent voter. But again I come back to the basic premise of our strategy: run as a Social Democrat where you can; run as a Democrat where you must. Still sound philosophy. Your thoughtful comments are always appreciated.

Posted in Domestic Politics Uncategorized by Rick DLoss. 2 Comments

Hungarian SD president visits New York City

Craig Miller and Andor Schmuck

Craig Miller and Andor Schmuck

President of the Hungarian Social Democratic Party (MSZDP), Andor Schmuck, visited New York earlier this month. The main purpose of his visit was to speak at the UN, where he chairs the Working Group on Aging. He was accompanied by György “Georges” Suha, Secretary General of the party. In addition to official business they took time to visit the 9/11 memorial and museum, and they took time out to meet with our Co-Chair Craig Miller.

The Hungarian SD is a small party with ties back to the anti-Communist Social Democrats who were prominent after WWII.  Their website features a picture of Willy Brandt which should give any European social democratic party instant credibility.  While they hold seats in various regions of Hungary, including industrial parts of Budapest, the party has consistently received less than the 5% minimum vote to gain seats in Parliament. Like the situation in the US, faction fighting within competing left parties has hurt them badly during the past 20 years. And audit reports have demonstrated the party has been mismanaged from inside, in violation of legal requirements.  Schmuck and Suha have taken on the task of trying the rebuild the party.  One of the goals in coming to NY was to meet with expat Hungarians who have the right to vote in Hungarian elections.  Schmuck believes the MSZDP message will resonate with these voters.  Schmuck is popular with senior citizens back home due to his long standing support for pensions.  By demonstrating a real constituency— both home and abroad, getting their organization back in legal order, and obtaining recognition from other European social democrats, Schmuck and Suha believe they can bring life back to the Hungarian SD.  Their mission is important, even critical, as right wing nationalist groups gain popularity in Hungary.  These parties are often racist and anti-Semitic, and any efforts to push back against the right wing extremists deserve our support.

The US visit was covered in a number of Hungarian periodicals including this article in the Hungarian political blog, kormanyvaltas. (if you open this link in Chrome it should automatically ask you if you want to translate to English). The article references the meeting between Hungarian SD leaders and SDUSA.


Posted in Foreign Affairs by Rick DLoss. No Comments

The Creation of ‘Black Crime’

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The laziest pundits in this country would have us believe that there are two types of crime: crime and black crime. Odious media outlets’ coverage of the recent “knockout” phenomenon is evidence of this faulty distinction’s widespread promulgation.

Reporters have started covering the national string of random “knockout” attacks perpetrated against unsuspecting pedestrians. The quick and brutal attacks conclude with the offending bands of young rapscallions scurrying and laughing away. Any decent human being who sees video footage of these onslaughts is immediately appalled.

But Michael Savage and Bill O’Reilly and Bernard Goldberg  and Colin Flaherty and Thomas Sowell and American Thinker, here and here, and Richard Swier and a whole host of others insist that denouncing these crimes as “crimes” is insufficient. These black crimes committed against white people apparently require a special type of repudiation.

What’s the difference between a crime and a black crime? Simple. A crime reflects a moral failing of the individual who commits it, whereas a black crime (necessarily committed by a black person) reveals a moral failing of the entire black community.

Mainstream acceptance of this distinction means that more than 49,936 individual white people can commit murder between 2000 and 2010 in the United States without so much as a peep from pundits about “diabolical pathologies” in the white community. It means that white people, who are “almost six times more likely to be killed by another White person than by a Black person,” never hear about an “intra-racial” war being waged within the white community. It means that the Sandy Hook and Columbine and Aurora shooters are called “troubled kids” and not “troubled white kids,” that there isn’t a proselytization of the white community whenever a stupid person with white skin stabs someone vindictively, and that we mustn’t abide lectures about the white family’s “deterioration” every stinkin’ time some Timothy McVeigh-look-a-like decides to shoot up a public area.

Conversely, when a black crime is committed, Bill O’Reilly takes the opportunity to enumerate for black people all of the things they’re doing wrong. He contends that the “knockout” phenomenon “goes back to an alienation of young black men in this country for a number of reasons, but primarily they’re angry that they didn’t have a family and their father abandoned them” and that “they’re sold a bill of goods by the civil rights people—that white society is at fault—that because you’re unhappy, it’s the whites doing it to you.” Never mind that no more than 0.017% of black children in fatherless homes have participated in one of these knockout sessions and that only about 0.7% of African-Americans violently attack a white person each year. For some reason, pundits still warn us that “this thing could really get out of control” and that folks pushing for racial equality are actually provoking feral black-on-white hatred.

Because some Americans still haven’t connected the dots, I will, in the simplest of terms, explain what these gross media distortions demonstrate: these “journalists” have a political agenda. Nothing that they’re saying about the “knockout” phenomenon is an outright lie, but it certainly isn’t the whole truth. When a pundit like O’Reilly, with 2,831,000 viewers, spends more than 5 minutes on his show reviling “young black Americans” for “committing senseless crimes” against white people—without iterating how aberrant and antithetical such attacks are to the sensibilities of most black folks, without mentioning that less than 0.3% of white people are violently victimized by blacks every year, without stating that fewer than 1 in 250,000 white people is killed by a black person annually, without discussing the anti-crime initiatives of so-called “race-baiting” civil rights activists—he is pushing a paranoid racial agenda. No question.

To his credit, Bernard Goldberg recently told O’Reilly, “most black kids aren’t doing this,” but went on to say that “a disproportionate number are either doing that or are walking into stores and hauling entire racks of clothing out onto the street.” Goldberg loves to argue that if white people were committing the crimes that black people commit so frequently, “there would be an outcry among the media.” The fact that not every news outlet has picked up on this story indicates, in Goldberg’s view, that the mainstream media are antagonistic towards white people.

Does such a widespread anti-white bias really exist though? If it did, then every arrest of a young white male drunk driver would spark a national discussion about how “young white Americans” are being neglected by their parents and brainwashed by their leaders to disrespect the laws of our land. Such claims would be corroborated with real statistics proving that white adolescents are more likely to drive drunk than their black counterparts. For good measure, some pundits would probably mention the fact that “white students are more than twice as likely as non-white students to use illicit drugs including marijuana and ecstasy,” and for that reason, are in dire need of “better role models.”

We can start talking about a media bias against whites once major news outlets make a habit out of dissecting “white crime” in this fashion. Until then, let’s not lose sight of the real bias that abounds.

Explaining Reparations to the Anti-Tax Crowd

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Some people believe that it is “wrong”—in fact, “theft”—for the government to tax an estate passed down from one generation to the next. The “death tax” takes away the hard-earned bucks that “mama bear” and “papa bear” earned through the sweat of their brow and intended for their children to have. As one editorial put it, “People should not be punished because they work hard, become successful and want to pass on the fruits of their labor, or even their ancestors’ labor, to their children.”

It’s a sentiment that we can all appreciate: let people enjoy the fruits of their parents’ labor and their ancestors’ labor. In fact, it’s a point that other folks were making for decades before the modern “estate tax” debate even emerged. While “free market economists” were still railing against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for its “violations of economic privacy,” civil rights activists were demanding that the impoverished descendants of slaves be compensated for centuries of their ancestors’ unpaid forced labor. The logic is impeccable: if we operate under the assumption that we are all entitled to the wealth for which our ancestors worked, then we must compensate people for every penny withheld from their enslaved and brutalized ancestors.

Of course, because slave owners didn’t keep time sheets or file withholding taxes, it is difficult to determine precisely how much money slaves’ descendants are owed. However, one estimate settles on an accumulated debt of “$97 trillion, based on 222,505,049 hours of forced labor between 1619 and 1865, ‘compounded at 6% interest through 1993.’ ”

Here, we are talking about a multi-trillion dollar debt owed to African-American descendants of slaves, true “theft” of family wealth in the strictest sense of the word, but interestingly, we never hear the “let my family keep what it earns” crowd call for the restitution of trillions of dollars to slave-descended African-Americans. These activists seem only concerned with protecting wealth that may actually have roots in racist institutions and corporations. Some of these ideologues are my dear (and wealthy) friends, insistent that they are “part” of their parents’ and grandparents’ acquisition and maintenance of wealth, and that they thus deserve to keep everything for which their antecedents worked so hard.

Out of respect for them and their view, I offer them a choice.

If we declare, uniformly, that everyone deserves everything for which their ancestors labored, then we must not only allow Bill Gates to pass down all of his wealth to his descendants, but we must fully compensate the descendants of slaves whose wealth was stolen from them. Corporations with a role in slavery, like JP Morgan and Wachovia, will have to pitch in millions of dollars for this project. The US government, which itself used slave labor to construct the Capitol, White House, and other government buildings, will be liable for billions more. We will even have to hunt down the African tribes that kidnapped people and sold them off to the European colonists. It will undoubtedly be a bureaucratic nightmare, replete with tedious discussion of who owes what, and will not ultimately remedy the indelible psychological and emotional trauma that slavery imposed on generations, but it will, nonetheless, be a move in the right direction.

Once the reparations for slavery are handed out, we will only be getting started, for we will then have to repay people for the opportunities their ancestors were denied under our post-slavery system of apartheid. We could start by paying people for the economic harms afflicted by the Black Codes, a legal doctrine that systematically re-enslaved southern African-Americans through the enforcement of shoddy laws against loosely defined acts like “vagrancy.” We will be obligated to pay off the descendants of tens of thousands of African-American WWII veterans who were unfairly denied bank loans and saw their claims for GI Bill benefits denied by the US Department of Veterans Affairs, at a time when the white middle-class was soaring to prosperity. The progeny of the thousands of African-Americans who were barred from college because of their skin color will also have to receive reparations for their ancestors’ lost wealth. It will be hard, if not impossible, to assign a dollar value to all of these grievances, but it will be better than no redress at all.

The anti-“death tax” crowd might protest that no living American was either enslaved or owned slaves. That’s true, but coming from them, the point is plainly irrelevant. If we’re not willing to hold people financially accountable for the wrongs from which their ancestors benefitted, then why should we reward those same people with the money their ancestors made? In apportioning wealth, the two propositions must go hand-in-hand—we either consider the economic activity of people’s ancestors, or we don’t.

If we determine that people should be held accountable for the means by which their ancestors made money, it doesn’t mean that we’re calling white folks “guilty,” as some commentators might suggest. If I steal a thousands dollars from you and give it to my child as a birthday present, my child isn’t “guilty,” but he still is not absolved of his responsibility to give you the money back. For centuries, skin color unfairly conferred upon white people a set of economic opportunities that produced inheritable and still-existent wealth, meaning that the injustice must today be rectified.

If we mended this injustice through the means described above, then every dollar would be inherited, but so would every outstanding debt. Even though I would not principally object to this arrangement, I suspect that it would not go over so well with the “spend less, tax less” crowd, which, thus far, has not endorsed the direct payment of reparations to oppressed peoples.

So, instead of doling out cash to slaves’ descendants, “calling it even,” and then letting laissez-faire capitalism unravel as it will, we could instead provide more indirect reparations to all disadvantaged people, of all colors, by making long-term societal investments in social welfare programs that keep people afloat. Providing all people access to affordable healthcare, education, and housing will give them the tools for self-actualization that their ancestors may have been denied. Under such a system, no individual slave’s descendant would have a direct economic claim against a party that profited off of slavery, but the economy would be structured to maximize the resiliency of all communities, including those that were, for generations, unfairly disadvantaged. And yes, this would require an understanding from wealthy Americans that they, like the descendants of oppressed people, will not receive a literal check, paid in full, from the order of their ancestors.

The choice is ours. But if we are to maintain any semblance of economic justice in our country, these are the two defensible options.