On Guy Garcia’s The Decline of Men (2008)
In The Decline of Men, Guy Garcia begins and ends his discussion of the American male’s loss of power at the Burning Man festival. In front of a sign that says “TRUTH” he sees an effigy of a man who is half-built, headless. The image of a man is being reconstructed after having been burned to the ground by surprise, ahead of schedule. Garcia sees the first man as traditional Western patriarchal man, and the burning symbolizes his loss of economic and political primacy in the United States and around the World.
After speaking to Gerald Levin, Garcia concludes that men will re-discover and re-build themselves and adopt a more feminine approach to life, once they abandon the “arrogance of power.” Levin was the architect of the disastrous AOL/Time Warner merger, and is now the Managing Director of the Moonview Sanctuary in Santa Monica, which specializes in New Age therapy and holistic healing. Garcia doesn’t get into it, but The Moonview Sanctuary story was chronicled in New York magazine in 2007. When a reeling, failing Levin started talking about bringing “the poetry” back into life during an interview with Lou Dobbs, his future wife and business partner called to request a meeting with him. Laurie, former talent agent 14 years his junior, already had a business plan for a boutique wellness clinic catering to high profile clients. Instead of approaching him initially for an investment, Laurie started talking with the distraught man and involved herself in his emotional world. She even cased his history and eventually decided to approach him with the idea of spiritually communing with his own murdered son. Levin left his wife of 32 years to help Laurie build her rehab for the rich and famous, which supports her combined interests in hippie dippy bullshit (brain painting and “holotropic beathwork”) and shopping for “lavish antiques.” Levin, now a full convert who attends men’s drumming circles, asserts that ultimately his mission is to “break down male culture.”
Garcia’s final words on The Decline of Men are:
“The Levin lesson is clear. For men to rediscover a better, more balanced, more enlightened version of themselves, they don’t have to join pagan parades in the desert or ingest brain-warping drugs. All they have to do is fail. And through this failure and destruction they just might gain the freedom to re-create themselves as the men they know they can be.”
He’s reaching here with a subtle scold, projecting thoughts into the heads of men that may or may not be there. (His attempt at a bit of that “communing” stuff, perhaps?) Having read Levin’s story, a more “truthful” restatement might be that after men have failed, men will have the opportunity to be whatever women would like them to be, and to be used however women wish. Whether or not the success of women in ventures like The Moonview Sanctuary — and in a postmodern service economy that produces nothing — is a sustainable basis for a nation is a question that Garcia never tackles.
Husbands Without Wives, Or Wives Without Husbands?
One particularly odd dystopian scenario that Garcia imagines is a future where men are desperate to find wives, but wives don’t need them or can’t find any suitable men who make a sufficient amount of money or hold an acceptable number of academic credentials. He muses:
“The jarring notion of a man waiting by the phone for Ms. Right to call may seem ridiculous to some, but it’s no longer far-fetched. If present trends continue, men will soon find themselves in a position that used to be associated with single women. At the very least, they will find out — if they haven’t already — what it feels like to be the financially dependent partner in a romantic relationship, assuming they can find a woman who will take them. While young women are increasingly willing to forgo Mr. Right for Mr. Right Now, it may be partly because they’ve simply given up on finding a man who meets their expectations.”
This is odd, because during the same year, Micheal Kimmel complained in Guyland — which shares much in common with Garcia’s book — that women were desperate to find men who were ready and willing to commit, because men were in no hurry. This is a pop culture commonplace, and is more believable from the way things look on the ground than Garcia’s fantasy. Kimmel wrote, more convincingly:
“Countless movies and TV sitcoms remind men that marriage and parenthood are women’s victories over the guys of Guyland, and that once they are permanently attached to nagging wives, they’ll never again have sex or any other kind of fun again.”
It is women, less than men, who seek a spouse and family to “complete them.” Women are encouraged to be sexually adventurous and promiscuous, and are providing sex to “Mr. Right Now” — so more young men are probably getting more of what they want from women than ever before in history. At the same time, more and more men are waking up to the fact that marriage isn’t what it used to be. They are looking at a 50/50 chance of a divorce that will probably put them in relative poverty and make it extremely difficult for them to maintain a meaningful and positive relationship with their offspring. I think most men like the “idea” of having a family “someday,” but it will increasingly be women who will be put in the position of selling marriage to men, not the other way around.
The bulk of The Decline of Men is a fairy standard catalog of men’s issues with a particular emphasis on pop culture. His perspective feels very tony and coastal, and his understanding of blue collar men outside of New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles seems to be confined to observations in the “I once had a friend who had a friend who dated a blue collar guy once, and this is what she said about him after they broke up” insight bracket.
Garcia consults an odd collection of experts, but with the exception of some space given to the authors of Why Men Don’t Iron: The Fascinating and Unalterable Differences Between Men and Women, he rarely looks at issues from more than one side. For instance, his contribution to the “women in combat” debate is asking a man who has been advocating for women in combat from an ideological perspective since the 1970s and publishing his comments at length. No counter arguments are entertained seriously, and none of what this one “expert” (who seems to be at odds with the entire US Military establishment, as well as every male soldier I’ve ever talked to seriously about this issue) says is ever questioned thoughtfully. Garcia also mentions “matriarchal cultures where the sexes have lived in harmony for thousands of years” in passing, which caught my eye because I’ve still yet to see truly convincing evidence of one successful culture run by women for any extended period of time. Later in the book he makes reference to the work of feminist archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, who developed a “portrait of a society that lasted 25,000 years and which practiced equal rights between men and women on a social, political, and spiritual level.” He never mentions, however, that many regard her theories as being highly questionable. Lawrence Keeley’s War Before Civilization, previously mentioned here, takes apart the myth of peaceful and matriarchal prehistory. Men have probably always engaged in some kind of warfare, and as women represented the future of the tribe, it is doubtful that they ever participated equally in war-making or politics, and as Garcia even notes at one point, women have the least to gain by going to war.
The Golden Age of Goddess Worship
There is a recurring New Age “return to the goddess theme” with a lot of these authors (Keen, Bly, now Garcia) who are grasping for some way to envision a future where men and women share power. They share the same clichés, the same sources and the same faults of reasoning. One cliché is the idea, repeated and bolded in The Decline of Men, that “Biologically speaking, all human beings begin as females.” The fact that males must be XY and not XX to begin with, and that any XY is going to be male from the moment of conception unless something goes wrong is never mentioned. The point of repeating this idea is to make it seems as though women are some kind of human default and that men are a temporary mutant aberration. However, there has never been a human society consisting solely of women. Men have always been part of the human equation. There is no pre-male society that women are “going back to.” All primates are sexually dimorphic, and all have some sort of separate gender role breakout in terms of division of labor. We borrow the term “alpha males” from the study of animals, and the tendency of violent males to create power based hierarchies and fight over access to females. The idea that humans abandoned normal primate behaviors during some Goddess-worshipping golden age of peace and sexual harmony and then returned to patriarchy and jungle law once they discovered agriculture seems so far-fetched that you have to want to believe it — like feminists Margaret Mead and Marija Gimbutas.
If this Golden Age never happened, then Garcia’s vision of a future where we “return” to (after we fail) is based on a manufactured past. In a recent lecture, Hanna Rosin (of “The End of Men” fame) talked about the rise of women as a “bridge.” If we take this bridge based on false premises, we are likely to find that it is a bridge to nowhere.
A 12 Step Program for Men
Garcia wants men to acknowledge that, as a group, they are failing, and comes up with a 12 Step program a la Alcoholics Anonymous. Here are his “steps:”
- Admit that we’ve got a problem.
- Make a fearless inventory of ourselves.
- Apologize to those we have hurt.
- Admit our mistakes.
- Break the trap of male silence.
- Make peace with Mr. Hyde.
- Seek strength in brotherhood.
- Embrace change.
- Never blame women.
- Remember that respect comes in many forms.
- Share our experience.
- Don’t follow The Rules.
He never really develops this program very well, and some of the steps represent ideas that aren’t explained anywhere in the book. However, number 9 sticks out, and he asserts throughout the book that, even as men are supposed to abandon traditional rules of masculinity and reimagine themselves completely, it is unmanly to blame women. This is a powerful statement of Garcia’s part. Men must abandon any recognizable masculine ideal, admit their mistakes and embrace change, but women must remain blameless!
Really? Men and women are supposed to share power honestly and equally, but women must remain free from blame? Men are to assume that women are always behaving fairly and decently, never playing the system to their advantage, still sweet sisters in struggle looking for a fair shot? Equality means that questioning how women wield their newfound power is verboten?
Garcia did bravely allow one of his experts to mention the fact that many men are actually financially unable to pay their child support, and that this will only increase as women gain ground in the workforce and men lose ground. But his failure to engage the powerful feminist ideologues, lobbyists and policy makers who actively and knowingly contribute to the decline of men reveals for what he truly is. Guy Garcia is just a media-saavy opportunist, trying to make a buck off The Decline of Men by expanding his claim to expertise as a speaker and media consultant who helps corporate clients interpret the new marketplace, without offending or challenging women (likely his potential clients) in any way. The Decline of Men flatters the egos of women, and offers no real direction for men beyond some sort of New Age awakening to grateful goddess worship and uncritical subservience.
Garcia’s 12 Steps might as well be condensed to three.
- Stay Male
** If you enjoyed this article, please click “like” on my Facebook page to keep up with my work on this and other sites.