The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

American Society is Pathological

and it is getting worse.

The prevalence of depression is most likely up about ten times over the last century in the US(pdf).  Why? In principle, if you live in the US at this time you’re one of the luckiest people in history: music and other entertainment on demand; horseless chariots; good and reliable heating and cooling in summer and winter; a cornucopia of food which also costs far less than in the past, and various consumer luxuries that were unimaginable 100 years ago, let alone two hundred.

This should be the promised land.

Holefield brought to my attention this article on girls and young women cutting themselves:

researchers at Yale University recently reported that 56% of the 10- to 14-year-old girls they interviewed reported engaging in NSSI at some point in their lifetime, including 36% in the past year.  I know of no community survey of boys in any age group which approaches that kind of prevalence…

(another study) find(s) that 24.3% of girls were self-injuring, compared with 8.4% of the boys.

In California, the most recent killing rampage, by Elliot Rodger was based on a stunning level of misogyny.

Meanwhile, students at a California school have put out a petition to rehire a security guard who was caught on tape beating a teen with cerebral palsy for slapping him and spitting on him (admittedly, a provocation.)  This may be a racial matter: with those petitioning being primarily black, while the teen was hispanic.

All of these things are indicators of social pathology.

Let us start with attitudes towards women, and the unhappiness of women. Though the assertion is made that the increase in cutting is due to girls being more aware of cutting, an increase from 3% to somewhere between 30 to 50% shouldn’t be dismissed so lightly.  A lot of young women are frantically unhappy.

Cutting provides an endorphin rush, and it is often associated with self-punishment.  A young woman who feels that she has failed, or is inadequate, will cut herself.  This is a disorder very similar to anorexia: it is triggered by failure to live up to norms.  Young men and boys rarely cut (though when they do, it is far more likely to be a prelude to suicide.)  The young women who cut aren’t losers, they are often the most attractive and/or accomplished of their cohort.  They are, to outward appearances, playing the game successfully.

The simple explanation for cutting is that norms are too strict for women, especially young women.  They have to do well in school, they have to take on more social management than men, and they have to meet an ideal for beauty which is extremely high.  None of this is new, young women 20 years ago had the same requirements.  So what has changed?

One possibility is the rise of easily available online porn.  Up until the late 90s, porn just wasn’t that easy to get your hands on as a youngster.  Sure, every teenager had seen a tape or two and some magazines, but the society wasn’t awash in it.  The nature of the porn available has also changed: online porn, as a class, is much misogynistic than the previous generation of porn.  Really rough sex is common; shaming of women is common, treating women as “fuck-toys” is common.  The titles of porn clips often call the actresses sluts and bitches and worse.

A lot of this porn is nasty stuff, and it inculcates in young men some very nasty attitudes. Put simply, Pavlovian conditioning (orgasming to mistreatment of women) in porn, for young males, is very strong.  Young girls are viewing this stuff too, and are taking their cues from it: both in terms of some conditioning (arousal is automatic for women when viewing sex), and in terms of learning that this is how they should behave, and this is how they should look.

Young women are learning, in effect, that to get men, they have to not only meet a very high and often unrealistic standard of appearance (which men don’t have to meet, many males in porn are fat and ugly), but they have to allow themselves to be mistreated.  Because of conditioning, they may even learn to like being mistreated.  (Yes, some people have always liked rough sex, no there is nothing wrong with that, but the emphasis in much porn on rough sex, humiliation and treating women as disposable sex toys is far more intense than previous generations were exposed to.)

So young women have to look great, they have to allow themselves to be treated in ways that many will find humiliating at best, and in hook-up culture, casual sex, often with other people watching, is the norm.  (Not only do you have to look good, but your performance will be judged by others.)

It is hard for me to see any of this as good, or as conducive to happiness for most young women; to self respect, or to a sense of autonomy which allows women the right to define their own standards, looks and sexual preferences.

Everyone in America except the rich is under more economic pressure, and for the middle class and above, that has become an educational race: credentialism is in.  To get into the best universities, you have to have had good grades virtually forever and you must also engage in approved varieties of extra-curricular activities and sports.  Combined with the helicopter parenting so in vogue the last 30 odd years, you have little time to yourself.  This isn’t a primary driver of cutting in particular, but it is a driver of pathology in general: people who are constantly under surveillance (and having adults constantly watching you, then peers is surveillance) means a person does not develop an adequate backstage: an understanding of who they are that is not fully mediated through other people’s views of them.

Their self-worth, then, is based on others opinions of them to an even larger degree than normal (and humans are hypersensitive to social approval in the best of times).   Perfection must be maintained at all costs, because social approval is based on it, and ostracism, our ancient heritage tells us, is death.

Women now outperform men in general academics, but they also have to.  A woman needs to be better than a man in many fields, just to stay even.

So the pressure, on young women, is on: at school and socially (and later in work).

To be sure, it is on on men, as well, but they are not held to nearly as high standards of appearance and behaviour as women are.

They also, outside of prison, fear rape and violence much less.  Anyone who is trusted by their female friends knows that the worst stats are true: more than half of women, by their mid 30s, have been raped.  Men, outside of prison, fear rape far less (because of the US prison population and the perception that rape is part of the punishment, men are actually a little more likely to be raped than women in the US, but that is concentrated in a small portion of the male population and to a particular place and time.)

Men, especially young men, have been taught to view women as fucktoys, to treat them badly in bed, and to judge them by appearance norms that most women can’t meet.  The widespread view of rape as “punishment” means that many men feel they are justified in raping women (and often men) if they don’t like how they behave.  And many women, sadly, agree with those men.

And, as with the students who wanted the security guard who beat the teenager with cerebral palsy reinstated, their idea of proportionate is wildly out of whack.  The kid slapped the guard and spit on him, the guard hit him repeatedly in the head.  (This is not to say rape is EVER justified, I do not believe it is. Only that those who think it is, also have weird ideas about proportionality.)

Rape threats have become normal.  Men on the internet seem to assume they have the right to threaten to rape any woman they don’t like.   Other women and men will tell those women who were threatened that it’s no big deal, and they’re over-reacting.

Now I’m in my mid 40s and grew up in a different world: my father was a forester, my uncles farmers and the sort of engineers who supervised projects  by rough types.  My reaction to someone threatening to rape someone, is what I consider proportionate: if I thought I could win, I’d beat the fucker who made the threat to fucking pulp.  I certainly would have nothing to do with such a person in the future, I would try and have them fired, and anyone who wanted to be their friend would have to choose between me and them.

There was plenty of rape when I grew up, and tons of child molestation.  And it was often covered up. But I do not recall that it was considered publicly acceptable to threaten to rape someone.

That is a change.  And not a change for the better.

The pathology levels in American culture are off the charts.  This is visible in many, many ways, from depression, to how American soldiers act overseas and to the regular mass shootings, but nowhere is it more visible, to my mind, than in prisons and in the attitudes towards women which are now prevalent: now the norm.

American society, simply, is barely civilized any more.  The idea of basic consideration, of respect based on kindness, is dying.  People “deserve” rape, they “deserve” torture.  Vastly disportionate punishment is the norm for some crimes, while the crimes of the powerful are generally ignored or given a slap on the wrist.  The attitude is to do what you can get away with, and that power makes it all ok.  This may be true in all cultures, to some extent, but in America it has reached the level of pathology.

Nor is this limited to America, it is spreading.

A civilized society has lines: you don’t drive the banking system to collapse and expect to be bailed out, you don’t publicly threaten rape and expect to keep your job or the respect of any decent human being; you don’t torture.

America doesn’t.

(Edit: the section on Amber Lee Frost Jacobin article has been removed as I am convinced she was unfairly slurred, including by myself. My apologies.)


Egypt: those who make peaceful change impossible —


I guess the Tea Party isn’t finished


  1. Jeff Wegerson

    I read this with a bit of defensiveness. I like my porn and I am careful about what I consume. But at the same time I cannot deny the overall accuracy of many of your depictions of too much of it.

    My first concern is what is the cart and what is the horse and what are the causes and which are effects. Especially as your main thrust here is not pron but the general brutishness that current socialisms seem to be descending into. And yes that scares me as well. We all could go on and on with examples of the rise of brutism. Cops that used to be able to take jokes that now can’t sticks in my head. But how much of the brutishness, porn being an example, is an effect of if not simply one cause then various or several causes, like for instance the current celebre cause extreme inequality.

    But my second concern is a bit more iffy in my mind and that comes back to your starting point of statistics versus the media. One of the people I enjoy following is Lenore Skanazy whose stichk she calls “free range kids.” Her big point is that we allow the media penchant for the unusual and the extreme to instill in us a false sense of fear. Crime especially over the last 30 years has dropped dramatically. Yet parents have not returned to letting their kids have longer leashes.

    These are hard questions that you address, Ian. I am glad you are taking them on even as they create discomfort in me.

  2. bob mcmanus

    Well, well, well

    Here is Long Thread at LGM with much back and forth, mostly on Kendzior’s side. I don’t think your characterization, or hers, that Jacobin “viciously mocked” Kendzior is accurate.

    Here’s what Frost actually said:

    ” I just don’t think the diminutive label of “bro” should be to describe more insidious sexism, let alone violent aggression like rape threats. Let’s not mitigate our censure with cutesy fraternal nicknames.”

    Which originally included a link to a Kendzior tweet. Erickson may have gone too far, but by that time a twitter storm had been generated. I have seen at least three of these frenzies, one against Mark Davies at North Star, and one that drove Richard Seymour and China Mieville out of a leftist organization in Britain.

    Opportunistic ideological cleansing, always against the economic left.

  3. bob mcmanus

    Make that Mark Fisher, sorry.

    The plan is to force a choice, a commitment to blind loyalty. Are you with the women, these women as representing all women and all feminism, or against them?

    I of course don’t know why they have decided to destroy Jacobin.

  4. bob mcmanus

    I will link again to Mark Fisher’s Exiting the Vampire Castle, which is the best analysis I have read yet.

    Of course there are rape threats, and they are horrible, and we should all do what we can to stop them.

    But they are being used opportunistically by a faction to gain internal dominance in leftist discourse.

  5. Ian Welsh

    Perhaps it is not, and perhaps I should have used another example. Let’s just say that the article as a whole stands.

    In general, I rarely write about such issues, and the article was much more inspired by the data on cutting.

  6. Rhymes With Balkan

    Jesus Christ. When FIFTY PERCENT of women have been raped and EVERY woman writer I read has been threatened on an hourly basis, how can anyone’s response be anything but howling anger — frankly, I’m impressed with the RESTRAINT of the women I’ve read, who time and time again have put their efforts into identifying specific problems and speaking to those problems (as opposed to, for example, identifying the home addresses of their targets and musing about how the target should be ‘taught a lesson’) — yet again the male response to this is to complain about their own hurt feelings (source: the linked Fisher article). Ian is exactly on target here, bob mcmanus, and you are not.

  7. thepanzer

    Before Joe Bageant’s death a few years back he would write about how cruelty always lurked in the background of the American underclass and stemmed from both our Scotts-Irish and other Anglo-saxon origins. He repeated a saying from the south, and the fact that it’s so commonly understood to be used as a saying is bad in and of itself:

    “The best time to kick a man is when he’s down.”

    As things get worse economically we seem to be growing more desperate as a society and defining decency ever downwards. One of the biggest shocks for me is the normalization of torture in our society. It used to hold the same taboo status as slavery, rape, and incest. In the span of less than a decade it was essentially normalized in our society.

    Likewise our culture’s total fascination with the “Game of Thrones” series is making me ill. After having grown up on a steady diet of violence in games and movies i’m still frankly stunned by the level of gore, violence, rape, and general steady brutality in the series that’s just eaten up by our culture. It’s so culturally widespread, like a virus, you literally can’t get away from it short of totally avoiding most internet culture and news sites…which report on the latest developments every week.

    Is this an outgrowth of empire? Or from the decline of our empire? Has it always been this brutal and the internet just allows it to propagate more freely? Is it due to the economic declines?

    I know longer recognize my own country.

  8. bob mcmanus

    My feelings have been hurt very little. I am mostly interested in the twitterstorms as a political or sociological phenomenon, and what is interesting about them are the shift in the targets from the obvious misogynists to those who should be allies but are not considered outraged or empathetic enough. Mark Fisher is not a monster, and Jacobin is not the online forum for rape apologetics. Yet that is always, always the way these frenzies turn.

    It is getting very ugly, for women, for everyone. Yes we are getting pathological…again. Note the “we.” How about you?

    To shorten what could be a long discussion with a lot of sources, I think we are in an imperialistic age very much like 1850-1950, and the energies and madness that was then directed into nationalism and imperialism is now being directed to more personal forms of tribal identification. This is not a distraction anymore than World War One was a distraction. The passions and crimes and differences that generate the viciousness and violence are very real, even if ultimately caused by another capitalist crisis. Max Weber and John Dewey were forced into terrible choices and so will we all.

    For the record I will be on the side of the feminists against the misogynists, but I expect everyone to lose this war. Except the rich.

  9. kgasmart

    thepanzer, more than Game of Thrones, look at the soaring popularity of MMA, mixed martial arts, far more brutal than boxing ever was. We are developing quite the taste for depravity here in America, depravity as spectacle, as entertainment.

    Ian: Fanstastic call on the effects of porn on women, but I’d go further. The type of porn you describe drives misogyny, and here’s where liberalism/feminism goes off the rails: You can’t be agaisnt misogyny and then defend porn as empowering. Whom does it empower? The guy whom it teaches to treat women as disposable fucktoys? Exactly how does porn in general, but especially rough porn, create a climate of respect for women, when the fantasy is ofteen involves, specifically, contempt for women? And even in “normal” porn, the focus is the woman’s body, the woman’s performance – how does this teach respect for women as individuals, as people with intellect and talents outside the sack?

  10. guest

    This all seems very circumstantial and anecdotal. I grew up gay in the 60’s and 70’s, and while economically things are a whole lot worse now, I don’t think modern US culture is nearly as fucked up and poisonous as it was then.
    And Ian also doesn’t note any of the changes in young men, such as the more common male versions of body dysmorphia – steroids. I’m gay, so I notice how much has changed, and I see teenager boy’s with muscular bodies men in their primes would have killed for back in the 70’s and 80’s. And many many cops and military men are unnaturally built too. Not to mention completely shaved of any hair below the neck. When I point such men out, many people are so conditioned to seeing that as normal that they don’t believe the men in question are really unnatural and doubt my ability to recognize it. As if the upper level of natural fitness is not really so hard to achieve in a few months or so distinct from steroids.
    Not to mention the body graffitti call “ink” that seems to be a universal self defacing phenomenon.
    It also seems like smoking, especially “vaping” e-cigarettes is at epidemic proportions among the young. I wouldn’t be surprised if nicotine addiction goes back to 1950s levels in the next decade.
    I’m not ready to make sweeping generalizations about what any of this means (beyond my judgement that it can’t be healthy) like Ian is. Yes things are very fucked up, but they always were really really fucked up, and lots of people used suffer and die because of the fucked upness of it, but mostly nobody noticed or cared (I don’t see nearly as much alchoholism as I used to see as a child, and so maybe folks have just changed their preferred modes of self destruction)

  11. I largely agree with what you say, Ian, except that you overstate the connection between rape and porn. There is no question that much of what you say about the effect of porn on the attitude and treatment of women is absolutely accurate, but rape is not about sex; it is about rage and control. Porn contributes to rape, but will not do so in the absence of anger and a feeling of powerlessness.

    To say that rape and threats of rape are a product of the flood of porn is, I think, and oversimpliflication. The flood of porn is an ingredient in a wicked stew. Add what is increasingly seen as a repressive government and an economy which offers no upward mobility and you have the undirected rage and sense of lack of control that connects with porn to make rape the outlet.

    We see the pathology in countless symptoms. In the shootings, in attacks on and by police, in citizens who say that torturing prisoners is okay if it keeps us safe, in the surrender of civil liberties in the name of safety, in the increase of racism…

  12. arrrrgggggghhhh

    Excellent post, as usual.

    Breaking Bad’s finale made me realize how utterly fucked up Americans are. When the series was winding down, I was certain that the writers were going for a certain angle, in which Walter White’s entire family, and everyone he knew, would be killed off, and that he would be the last one to survive. I thought that Breaking Bad’s finale would be something akin to a Greek tragedy and a cautionary tale of rampant individualism; yeah, you may be “free”, but everyone you cared for is dead. I thought, the writer’s were going to tell us how utterly stupid it is to reach for perfect freedom, when you’re going to sacrifice your own family to get it.

    Nope. Instead, Breaking Bad’s finale was one of the worst fucking apologies for libertarian bullshit I’ve ever seen. Instead, WW comes off as this heroic individual who saves Jesse, says goodbye and ties up the loose ends with his wife whom he abused and lied to, and even gets to see his kid one last time, and then goes out on his own terms.

    Americans are a bunch of sociopaths, and they are able to turn on and off their empathy like a light switch.

  13. RJMeyers

    As usual, great piece.

    For those in the comments, some additional interesting pieces I have come across recently:

    Disciplining Women” by Elizabeth Stoker.

    But unorthodox views can, especially for women in left academic feminism, result in precisely that form of discipline: withdrawal of community, overwhelming assassination of character, a very sudden onslaught of negative feedback and demands for apology. It strikes me that this method of disciplining members is another symptom of the problem Amber gets at in her article: the community is not so concerned with what is true or false as with who is good and who is bad.

    The Sixth Meditation on Superweapons” by Scott Alexander.

    Now the feminists would say that I too have a superweapon called “patriarchy”, and that they’re just continuing the arms race. This is true, but it doesn’t lead to a stable state like what the guns rights advocates claim would happen if everyone had guns where we would all be super-polite because nobody wants to offend a guy who’s probably packing heat. It leads to something more like a postapocalyptic anarchy where everyone has guns and we’re all shooting each other. If there’s a conflict between a man and a woman, and the people involved happen to be old-fashioned patriarchalist types, then the man will automatically win and everyone will hate the woman for being a slut or a bitch or whatever. If there’s a conflict between a man and a woman, and the people involved happen to be feminists who are familiar with the memeplex and all its pattern-matching suggests, then the woman will probably win and everyone will hate the man for being a creep or a bigot or whatever. At no point does everyone become respectful and say “Hey, we’re all reasonable people with superweapons, let’s judge this case on its merits instead of pattern-matching to the closest atrocity committed by someone of the same gender”.

    Not saying I agree 100% with them, but I do recognize their concerns. I have to admit, I’m starting to see chunks of the social justice movement and feminism (at least, in their online incarnations) as being pathological too.

  14. BlizzardOfOz

    From the “Disciplining Women” article:

    If you ask other women writers on the left, I’m a rank misogynist because I’m pro-life and not particularly compelled by Belle Knox’s claims of liberation-via-porno

    Is there any coherent definition of “misogyny” other than “someone whom the feminist making the accusation doesn’t like” or “someone who disagrees with feminist dogma”? This kind of Orwellian abuse of language should be a canary in the coalmine when it comes to evaluating an ideology …

    @bob mcmanus

    Opportunistic ideological cleansing, always against the economic left.

    You write as if you’re still wondering whether this is a coincidence. Sixty years ago, feminists were the counterculture, but now they are the establishment. Well ok, they are not the real economic elite, but they are the media and cultural elite — and the two are, if not friendly, at least in symbiosis, as evidenced by the former allowing the latter to dominate the culture. At what point do you recognize the happenstance of feminism tearing apart your dissident movement, as the establishment’s natural tendency to undermine dissident movements? I haven’t seen much of that recognition from the left, but it seems evident to me …

  15. sheenyglass

    “The prevalence of depression is most likely up about ten times over the last century in the US. ”

    I think this statement can use a bit of attention too. Googling around, I couldn’t find an exact match for the original source, but what I did find seems more or less in tune with it (perhaps a link to the original source could be edited in later?). I’m curious about whether the rates of depression for men and women have increased at different rates. I think there is evidence that women are more likely to be categorized as depressed than men, but it’s not clear how this interacts with the lower likelihood that depressed men will seek treatment for depression.

    In other words, is this increase in depression rates only or primarily affecting women? I’m assuming that its not, but as a man who has dealt with depression for a while, I’m not exactly unbiased.

    The reason I think this could be important is that men and women can react to depression differently. Men with depression are more likely to react to depression with aggression directed outward, such as by raging at other people while women are more likely to direct it inward, with self-blame. I think this ties into how boys are girls are socialized; boys are socialized to abhor weakness in themselves and react to threats with aggression in an attempt to gain dominance, while girls are socialized to be meek and to react to demands with acquiescence (i.e. tend and befriend taken to self-negating levels). Obviously, this isn’t a hard and fast rule for everyone (I myself tend to take the more inward approach of self blame), but it seems to be generally valid in the aggregate.

    So if both men and women are suffering from increased rates of depression, I think there is the potential for a kind of toxic feedback loop where depressed men become more aggressive and demanding of submission from women while depressed women find it more difficult to avoid internalizing these demands, which leads to more depression in women and more toxic behavior from men, fueling even more depression in both men and women as truly sustaining relationships between men and women become more difficult.

  16. hyper-masculinized anti-feeling patriarchal culture

    Hi Ian. Been a long time since I first read your blogs on FDL.

    Thanks for spotlighting this.

    Proliferation of porn is not at the root in my opinion. It is one more symptom. It deserves attention.

    The rapes and sexual assaults on both men and women in the military and on campuses. The lack of responsibility — ability to respond — by those in power in the patriarchal and authoritarian culture. The torturous conditions of our prison system. The corporatization and militarization of our school system.

    The patriarchal culture has always been around but it has become all the more ramped up. We need a paradigm shift to humanism, empathy, partnership and cooperation. Instead we get power, greed, competition, control addictions all the more grotesquely extreme. The media is a dark force in this as well as a sell-out, pimped out, amoral political class.

    I was physically threatened by a male coworker and that trauma was followed by the trauma of having middle and upper management (mostly women) and coworkers (mostly women) treat me as a troublemaking pariah for calling out a charming but seriously troubled guy. I was suddenly on the other side of a cold, hard wall. Blame the victim on steroids. The guy was popular but so was I.

    I made waves and being difficult in the stepford, militarized corporate culture was forbidden and my unfortunate reality provoked punishment. In a normal economic world I would have left for another job. In a normal judicially supportive world I would have committed to defending my rights and even if there were no witnesses the ensuing treatment of corporate management was grossly unethical in my view and should have been addressed judicially. But I did not have the trust in it or heart for even more trauma and betrayal.

    I weathered the storm having to continue to work with the even more hostile man, naturally since I had reported him, He eventually left the company on his own steam.

    Most of us assume that if we encounter a crisis we can reasonably expect decency and common sense responsiveness. Not in a patriarchal, anti-feeling, blame the victim society. I was traumatized twice, by the road raging physically threatening guy and the corporate management in charge and even coworkers I respected and expected basic respect from.

    Collective pathology is sobering and needs to be addressed by those of us not caught up in it. I think of Kevin McCarthy’s plight in the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I also think of the awesome work of Alice Miller. One of her books is called Thou Shalt Not Be Aware!

    When George W. as frat prez at Yale tried to “brand” pledges with a Texas cattle branding iron, Yale Daily News heard of it and reported it. The Yale establishment scolded young George and told him that he could only use burning coat hangers to brand the pledges. WTF????

    I think of the torture program that blossomed so fully under Bush.

    Patriarchal anti-feeling society now on steroids.

    best, libbyliberal

  17. cripes

    Another outgrowth, or perversion, of bullsh*t diversity is the tendency to rally around and defend bad actors/actions merely because they belong to the “tribe” or gender, race religion or hairstyle or your allegiance. Undermines decency, citizenship and justice. Has people rooting for dolts who punch disabled kids, stoopid farmers, horrible presidents ad infinitum, just because they’re in my tribe. Works great for oligarchy. Man they must be cackling in their lear jets.

  18. Ian Welsh

    Source for depression is linked in article.

  19. libbyliberal

    3 things I meant to mention about my corporate story above. The road rage guy was so unsafe while he was in that mode that night (apparently the ferocious irrationality was triggered by the tone I had used on an FYI post-it to him) that I left the building for physical safety — left my shift early.

    Corporate management refused to let me swap shifts with a willing male coworker, which meant I must continue to overlap my shift with the hostile coworker’s alone for a period for my work shift.

    After the guy finally left the firm, I found out from someone who worked with him at another firm that he had been terminated there before coming to mine for assaulting or nearly assaulting a woman! Something that could have easily have been discovered by the management of my own firm if they had made ANY effort to explore my complaint.

    best, libby

  20. RJMeyers

    Just had a small mental breakthrough, related to this blog post and other readings. Forgive the half-formed thoughts as I cast about in the dark, but maybe something is useful here:

    It seems clear to me that the post-WWII 40s, 50s, and early 60s were socially quite regressive compared to the 20s and 30s. I’m used to thinking of this regression more as anti-communist, pro-America, women in the kitchen/home, whites living in mono-culture suburbs and blacks subject to Jim Crow, and generally more conformism and stifling of creativity. The pressures from this regime, combined with a youth demographic explosion, led to the social turbulence of the 60s and 70s, feminism, and the Civil Rights movement.

    In recent conversations, my wife and I have expressed the uneasy feeling that we are in a similar era of regression, but its much harder to pinpoint–there is definitely some resurgence of “traditional” gender roles in the media, and the racial, class, wealth, and education gaps have increased in recent decades. However, we live in an ostensibly liberal, progressive social era. Virtually everyone is anti-racist and anti-patriarchy, even if they don’t put it in those terms. No one who is taken seriously stands up for racism or male-domination, though obviously there are still plenty of people who hold such opinions and sometimes let them slip. And just look at the strides that have been made for gay rights. Even if they haven’t spread everywhere, these changed attitudes have been making lots of progress. Our society at least sounds so much better on these fronts, even if we don’t always act better too (pay gaps, wealth gaps, crime stats, etc.).

    And yet something feels wrong. As Ian points out, torture, violence, and economic deprivation seem to be much more acceptable in the popular imagination. So why does a society with so much “progress” and “openness” feel so stifling?


    Our current era is one of essentialism, but, paradoxically, it’s an open, post-modern, taxonomic essentialism. Not the monolithic, one-size-fits-all, assembly line essentialism that we see when we look back at the 50s. Whether that’s actually how it was, I can’t say–but it is what we see today. Instead, it recognizes diversity and difference, but it does so by creating hard boundaries that define unique taxonomic categories of human existence, within which one must fit and is expected to stay. You are free to define yourself how you want, as long as you provide a static definition and it does not conflict with any existing ones. Boundaries will be policed. Much like how we have happily paid for our own surveillance devices (cell phones, computers), we are ecstatic to find the category of our beings with the larger society. Build your private identity box and register it online please.

    And we don’t recognize the return to essentialism because much of it is coming from the political left.

    Even the movements designed to fight essentialism end up basking in it. Gay marriage proponents countered social conservatives with an argument for genetic determinism–people are born gay, nothing they can do about it. To fight the wave of harmful women’s body images in the media and fashion industry, the idea that “real women have curves” was established–yet women come in a variety of shapes and sizes, some of which are curvy and some of which are not. I’ve seen online debates about whether someone who is half-black is allowed to comment on racism in the US due to their ancestry and upbringing–and when they do, it is taken as an act of aggressive “silencing.” If you’re white and male then it is accepted by default that you benefit from the patriarchy/racial hierarchy–but this leaves out the enormous number of poor whites who do not, or who are at least derive minimal benefits and who should be allies rather than targets.

    People are pattern-matched into ready made categories. Thought-terminating cliches are used to end conversations. Some conversations are simply refused due to the skin color, gender, or upbringing of an individual. The irony is that these tactics are those that have traditionally been used by conservative, white, male, patriarchal culture. Instead of disarming those individuals, we have armed everyone else in the hopes that an armed society is a polite society. It’s not.

    It’s also very dangerous to play this game, because the right can turn it around on the poor and use the exact same arguments to justify (for example) that those in poverty are born that way–some character defect or maybe genetics. It’s been done before, it can be done again with sufficient forgetting and ignorance. Forming your ideology around essentialist arguments instills habits of thought that exist separately from your goals, and if those goals are ever warped or corrupted that way of thinking will remain–in the service of some other, likely less noble end.

    In times of great inequality and low solidarity, when the cost of failure and loss is severe, people will play a zero-sum game to defend whatever scraps of land and wealth they have. I think the same is true for identities and ideologies.

  21. someofparts

    Well, seems to me that Ian pretty much gets it right. I’d argue that the problems are deeper and more longstanding, but I basically agree with the assessment here.

    As to the waxing and waning misogyny in this nation, I don’t see it as an American problem. I see it as being perpetuated by the three big daddy-god monotheisms. Didn’t our new, kinder pope just tell us we should have babies instead of pets? There’s your problem people.

  22. libbyliberal

    Faux-feminists or at least patriarchal women role models. Someone in a comments section I read recently called Hillary, Samantha Power, Susan Rice, Anne Marie Slaughter was it (not sure about that last fourth) the 4 horsewomen of the Apocalypse!

    Hillary Clinton has to out-machismo the boys in war mongering violence to make her bones in the patriarchal mafia. We thought we were getting the anti-John McCain with Obama but Obama wants to prove he’s no wimp when it comes to military violence.

    His running as anti-Iraq War candidate was simply a shameless posture for votes. No commitment to that base after he won. He won’t even acknowledge the betrayal.

    We need a paradigm shift from patriarchal to humanist. An anti-feeling culture indoctrinates. We need a pro-feeling culture of empathy, partnership and cooperation. Of conflict resolution and diplomacy NOT military might makes right.

    Knee-jerk political correctness has replaced common sense humanism and empathy, in all dimensions including so-called modern day feminism, which is so not robust.

    Women can make the best zombied-out cronies to the bastards of the universe because they climb on board that paradigm or at the very least serve it inspired by the “community-crony” spirit.

    Plastic faux-feminism will begin to ramp up as Hillary’s campaign does. The exploitation of identity politics. Obama betrayed minorities and the far left. Hillary will betray women and humanist issues and the far left.

    Meanwhile, moral bankruptcy and social Darwinism will play out among the elites.

    best, libby

  23. scruff

    I really don’t think we can keep blaming misogyny primarily on the Abrahamic faiths any longer. The kinds of conversations that helped to enable Elliot Rogers to justify his actions happen all around the internet in anonymous forums every day, and they sound nothing like traditionalist Judeo-Christian patriarchal ideology. No, the new misogyny is trying to support itself with ‘science’, talking about sexual selection strategies and how scientific and economic contributions to society break down by gender. Even this is the minority position; the vast majority of misogynist speech I see seems simply opportunistic. For a long time, you could find jokes about how women shouldn’t be out of the kitchen under maybe 70% of all youtube videos made by a woman. What I’m seeing everywhere now is the idea that women are just untrustworthy and unfaithful in relationships, that they should be preemptively treated like shit to account for it.

  24. Celsius 233

    There is a timeline for this misogyny going back roughly 6,000 years. Riane Eisler’s excellent book, The Chalice and the Blade chronicles the end of the goddess culture. One of the notable features of which was villages with no defensive walls or armories of weapons. All evidence points to an egalitarian culture.
    First was the Kurgan invasions of the Mediterranean regions (Anatolia, Samara, Minoa, etc.) and the final blow was the Yahweh cult with it’s war god and patriarchy.
    Sociopathy, psychopathy, call it what you will; IMO, it’s just our extreme natural selves and shows just how thin our vaunted claims of civilized evolution are.
    We have failed one of the greatest aphorisms of our short history; Socrates’; Know thyself.
    Without that one is lost…

  25. Spinoza

    I’ll out myself as a youngin with the following but I’ll never forget an incident from a high school several years ago. We got the announcement that the principal wanted to address the entire student body on a serious matter in the next period. At the bell the students began to file into the auditorium. Once everyone was settled our hippyish, bearded, Bob Dylan loving principal went to the lectern and cleared his throat. He began to discuss violence and all the consequences, the average number of students expelled because of it, and the like. Then he said that the number of fights had gone up dramatically. To paraphrase: “The number of fights from the previous year to now have tripled in number”. There was a moment of pause.

    And everyone cheered.

  26. Spinoza

    ought to say “my” not “a” high school.

  27. Sean Paul Kelley

    Why was Jacobin targeted? It’s the first almost real socialist magazine to become credible in 30 years. Run by smart, Occupy-aged adults. That’s why.

  28. Syd

    I’m sympathetic to the theme of this post, but I have to admit that the evidence is mixed. Yes, our laws have become more authoritarian, but rapes are down 58% in the last 2 decades. Gays are treated better. Overt racism is less prevalent.

    I can’t believe these trends can continue as we throw more and more people into the economic thunderdome, but in many ways our plutocracy does seem gentler than the middle class society of 40 years ago.

    BTW, China is a good example of how I imagined things would be like here:

    “The continual accumulation of unmarried men of legal marrying age,” admits the Communist party’s mouthpiece, the People’s Daily, “greatly increases the risk of social instability and insecurity.” In this context, Hong Fincher writes, single, educated women “threaten the moral fabric … for being free agents, unnatural in failing to perform their duty to give birth to a child and tame a restless man”.

    Now there’s an example that reinforces my leftist prejudices: an elite campaign of mysogyny to stabilize society by taming and co-opting young men. They don’t even try to hide it!

  29. Given that some set of women report having been raped, is every single woman in that set telling the truth?

    There is such a thing as false rape accusation.


  30. Peter Cowan

    Ian, have you taken a look at data from the underlying study? It costs money and I don’t want to pony up, but I am taking it with a healthy dose of skepticism. First of all, NSSI is a very broad category that includes things like scratching yourself and picking scabs. By this criteria, I am guilty of NSSI myself. I agree with you that America is a pathological society in many respects, but there is also a lot of highly questionable advocacy data out there and this one smells like the to me.

    Also, fwiw, I took a mental health break from the internet recently and all this stuff just went away. Now, I’m not saying they it doesn’t exist–quite the contrary–but the internet, especially social media, really brings out the worst in people.

  31. Ian Welsh

    No, but I do find it credible in the sense that the majority of mental illnesses have been increasing. Some of that is clearly an artifact of the desire to prescribe more drugs, but much of appears real.

    I have also removed the section about Amber, and issued an apology.

  32. Celsius 233

    Definition of MISOGYNY

    : a hatred of women
    From M-W online.

    It has nothing and everything to do with feminism. Think about it…

  33. Celsius 233

    …and then there is this gem from George Will;

    So, you think this is going to end soon? You’ve got 6,000 years that says you’re wrong…

  34. The Real Peterman

    “the most recent killing rampage, by Elliot Rodger was based on a stunning level of misogyny.”

    Is that why he killed twice as many men as women?

    “The simple explanation for cutting is that norms are too strict for women, especially young women. ”

    Why, then, are 3 out of 4 people who commit suicide in America men?

  35. The Real Peterman

    “Men also, outside of prison, fear rape and violence much less. ”

    Really? Men are far, far more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than women. 75% of murder victims in America are men. Homicide is the leading cause of death for black men aged 15-35 in this country. Homicide and suicide are among the leading causes of death for Hispanic men in this country. Murder isn’t among the top ten causes of death for any group of women in America.

    And how is it even remotely possible that half of all women in America will be raped, yet a man is slightly more likely to be raped thanks to the prison population which is such a small percentage of the country? How does a few million inmates balance out 50 million rapes?

  36. The Real Peterman

    “To say that rape and threats of rape are a product of the flood of porn is, I think, and oversimpliflication.”

    That’s putting it mildly. By any metric, the availability of pornography has skyrocketed in the past 30 years, yet the incidence of rape (and all other violent crimes too) has dropped.

  37. The Real Peterman

    “Given that some set of women report having been raped, is every single woman in that set telling the truth?”

    Women usually tell the truth, but ideologues often don’t. Take the famous “1 in 4 college women will be raped” statistic which is so often trotted out. That comes from a study in which the administrator decided who had been raped based upon her own criteria rather than what the women she surveyed said. So for instance, every woman who said she regretted sleeping with a particular man was counted as a rape victim. In reality, less than a quarter of the women she felt to have been raped actually considered themselves rape victims.

  38. The Real Peterman

    The most popular pornography website in the world, by far, is a site called I have never used this site but it’s easy to learn what it’s about. It’s a web camera site in which the customer talks to the woman on the other end and tells her what he’d like to see her do. She does it, and he pays her. Not a lot, but it’s work.

    I wouldn’t want my sister or daughter to work for Undoubtedly most women who work for it don’t have a lot of opportunities in their lives. But to say “online porn, as a class, is much misogynistic than the previous generation of porn” is missing the boat, not to mention saying that men who watch pornography are taught to hate women. I just don’t see how paying to talk to someone indicates hatred of that someone.

  39. someofparts

    This is how the national malaise of dysfunction Ian describes plays itself out on the job site –

    The emphasis on avoiding accountability could describe the office where I work. I’ve watched businesses I’ve worked at trend this way for over three decades now.

    This is how working people survive when, as Bill Black has pointed out, our economy has been in the throes of control fraud for decades. Control fraud being the FBI term for people who used companies they own to commit fraud.

  40. cripes

    Agree. Advocacy statistics are notoriously unreliable. Prostitution, rape and “child sex trafficking” stats uncritically accepted in popular discourse have proven false and continue to be peddled by organizations with a vested interest in government/foundation funding, “rescuing” women and peddling right-wing christianity to asians. Debbie Nathan has written extensively on this. Let’s not forget the phony ritual murder convictions or the 1980’s that provided a template for witch-hunting moral hysteria politics.
    To acknowledge these truths does not suggest approval or condoning actual rape, violence or misogyny. And yes, men are by far the greater victims of violence around the world. They commit more violence, too. But as always, we must save the women and children.
    Given the invasion of psychiatrists and drug peddlers into schools and televisions, any statistics on mental illness in the US must be viewed with extreme skepticism.
    Aside from this, i do notice a pronounced tendency in american culture to glorify violence/oppression and to heap blame on the losers. They must be cackling in their learjets.

  41. kgasmart

    “By any metric, the availability of pornography has skyrocketed in the past 30 years, yet the incidence of rape (and all other violent crimes too) has dropped.”

    And yet misogyny as a whole doesn’t seem to have decreased, and may in fact be rising. So why do we think this is?

    Occam’s razor. When you objectivize women, some people will treat, and view, women as objects.

  42. Trixie

    Ian, I understand the bigger picture you’re painting here, but regarding that original Jacobin piece…[insert 8k more words].

    TL;DR: For obvious reasons, linking to the tweet (then de-linking and changing the subject) was a bro move. Some would even say a dick move. And a colossal one at that since size matters here.

  43. Whodathoughtit

    Ian, thank you for another thought provoking article. the increased pathology we experience is definitely a serious issue, and the concern you describe regarding the impact on girls and women is a clear indicator of a society that is completely out of balance.

    I think this attitude that some women make false rape reports is a big part of the problem regarding misogyny as an acceptable point of view. It goes hand in hand with the idea that women are bitches, liars, cunts and fucktoys. Most women who are raped don’t report it to authorities. And yes, at least fifty percent of the women I know have been raped, most by someone they knew, many by their spouse or significant other. At least a quarter of the women I knew in college had been raped during their college years. Rape is a very different circumstance than regretting a hook-up. Women are not stupid and they can tell the difference. There is a lot of research on this (both the correlation between being female and having a functioning IQ and based on a clear definition of rape the percentage of women who are raped in college and during other periods in life, with the caveat that the numbers are low due to underreporting).

    The bottom line is that for us to live in a society that encourages mental wellness rather than pathology we need to strive for an equal distribution of power among all “stakeholders”- men and women of all colors, creeds and religions. The stranglehold of power among a specific strata of the white male population is the root cause of many of our current ills.

  44. peter cowan


    Read the abstract of the study:

    I would take those numbers with a huge grain of salt. It’s a small sample size, and the group of interviewed girls is not a representative sample of the US at large. In the context of the study that’s fine though, because its goal was not to determine society wide NSSI rates, it was look at the relationship between emotional distress and cutting as a coping mechanism. (Also, it’s not even a recent study)

    I agree that mental health issues are have become more prevalent, but it’s also the case that the number of mental health issues has proliferated. What’s more, the criteria for diagnosis has been relaxed enough to include many people who are just experiencing the human condition.

  45. Tony Wikrent

    Ian – you have bravely and admirably stated what many sense, but fear to articulate. The past few months, the repeated stories of police brutality visited on the elderly, the infirm, and the disabled have caused me to wonder “what has changed?” That, and the increasing militancy of the “bear arms” (and bare brains) movement, plus the ‘stand your ground” laws, point in a very ugly direction.

    While many readers may be sidetracked by the titillating debate over the effects of porn (and I think you are exactly correct in your analysis), I think the most important point is the one you make at the beginning: the explosive growth in psychological depression. And here, I would like to point to another fundamental cause which is the direct result of post-industrialization and financialization. It comes down to how does a person identify him- or herself.

    Up until relatively recently in human history, an individual’s identity was almost entirely based on the work that individual did. For most people, this created a positive self-identity: being a farmer, or a blacksmith, or a machinist, or an iron worker or a teacher, or a seamstress, or a home maker, or a nurse, or whatever, where all much more than mere employment, they were avocations. The Quakers were quite keen on this point, and on helping young Friends identify what their “calling” was. In almost call cases, these avocations were widely viewed as providing a general good to the commonwealth. Besides the general positive mental health of the society, this had extremely important ramifications for the general functioning of the economy. Anyone who is concerned by these questions will benefit greatly by reading at least the Introduction and first chapter of Thorstein Veblen’s 1918 The instinct of workmanship : and the state of industrial arts The Instinct of Workmanship, and the State of Industrial Arts.

    The spread of material affluence, ironically, led to a major shift in self-identification, away from what a person did for a livelihood, to what a person was able to consume and accumulate in material goods. I don’t think you could have had Trekkies or Sci-Fi Cons a century ago. I might be mistaken, but I also think there was not anything comparable to Trekkies or Sci-Fi Cons a century ago.

    Now, an interesting problem arises when you have a population that grounds its self-identification in material consumption, but is denied the purchasing power to readily afford that material consumption. That’s what is happening as elites continue to squeeze the population with lowered wages and more and more austerity. Very similar to what you describe for girls and women in how they are expected to perform to meet an almost impossible standard.

    I will stop here, because this is something I have only thought about occasionally, but have not yet tried to fully research and understand.

  46. Ian Welsh


    I thought you meant the depression study, not the cutting study. I’ll go back and look at the cutting data. Even if you take the study that showed 30%, though, that’s still a huge #.

  47. cripes

    Yes. As repulsive as some porn is, i suppose a population trained to desire, and judge social status, on unattainable consumption, would be afflicted by self-laothing. Could porn be another manifestation of this larger sickness, along wirh unhealthy fixation on consume/destroy. Isn’t that the original meaning of the term?

  48. peter cowan

    Oh, I hadn’t noticed the second study, it looks like a much better study. my quick glance over it shows that > 60% of the self harmers tried it between 1 and 3 times and never did it again (so 6% did it more than 3 times). this sounds like within the bounds of normal behavior for adolescents. they don’t include scab picking in this study, but they do group cutting, self-hitting and scratching into one category, which is rather annoying. anyway, i’ll be interested to see what you find. i don’t mean to derail this discussion by nitpicking numbers, i just find that nearly every time i check the source of a provocative or concern-inducing article these days, the actual numbers don’t back up the narrative. another good example of this was the story about how people don’t take female named hurricanes as seriously, the underlying data was inconclusive at best, but it made for a great headline that resonated with a lot of people.

  49. Stephen Kriz

    Ian – very interesting and hard-hitting post. As a 50-something male, I can certainly attest to the fact that porn was not nearly as available as it is now. If we could get our grubby little adolescent hands on Playboy, we were in masturbatory heaven. Now, anyone can go to Pornhub or Xhamster and have access to free videos of the most nasty, depraved porn you can imagine. It isn’t even sexy or titillating, it is just sick!

    As others have noted, between this and MMA and gun violence and violent video games, we are one sick society!

  50. ProNewerDeal

    Ian, perhaps you could guesstimate how Canada & other OECD nations are in relation to US pathology? Is Canada about 0.50X US pahtology level?

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