as though everyone had value

Many people I know would assume that pretty much anything published by Breitbart is not worth rebutting, and particularly not this missive by Milo Yiannopoulos, arguing that the real source of America’s perpetual mass murder problem is, of course, feminism. Yiannopoulos argues that these lone wolf killers, like the one responsible for the horrific recent Oregon community college attack, stem from a sense of resentment and marginalization felt by men in a world where men are supposedly no longer valued. To stop them, he claims, we have to rebuild the patriarchal world in which, according to Yiannopoulos, men were truly valued. I don’t blame you if you find this self-refuting.

But I think it’s worth saying that what he’s saying is not just wrong, but just about the opposite of the truth. These men are expressing rage not towards a world where men are not valued, but where they personally are not valued, where they haven’t received what they think they deserve. The culture of traditional, competitive masculinity that Yiannopoulos advocates could never heal these men. That’s because what Yiannopoulos is celebrating is not a culture that values men but a culture that values certain men, and not many of them. The whole point of the school of masculinity that Yiannopoulos defends is to shrink the number of individual men who receive validation and treasure. The cultures of violence and aggression that Yiannopoulos praise are ever-tightening hierarchies, competitions that shrink the number of winners relentlessly. The term “alpha male” — a cross-species analogy based on thoroughly discredited science — implies one, one at the pinnacle, and a world full of varying levels of loser beneath them. Yiannopoulos poses as a societal solution a set of norms and practices designed to reward the very few. (Indeed, very often the various laurels of macho competition are pursued so zealously precisely because they are so exclusive.)

This competitive ideology seeps into and ruins everything. It makes every good contingent on that good being enjoyed by a small and shrinking few. As a guy, this competitive urge is a contagion, it gets in everywhere. I love guitars but hate guitar stores; I like lifting weights but I hate the weight room. Those places are poisoned by male competition and the male insecurity that attends it, almost inevitably.

I suppose I share with Yiannopoulos one thing: I do believe that preventing this type of horrific violence will ultimately require reducing the rage these men feel by stopping their pain. Some people see that as offensive; it seems to place the onus on society to keep these men from killing, rather than on the men themselves not to kill. I understand that perspective. But these incidents are so constant, and their effects so horrific, that we have to do whatever we can to end the conditions that cause them. My solution is pretty much the opposite of Yiannopoulos’s: egalitarianism, a society based on the universal recognition of all people’s value, and a recognition that in the world of shared abundance we’ll build, there’s no need for men to feel that they have to be on top to be treated with respect.  A collaborative, communal culture of masculinity would be one in which all men could find value and meaning. These men kill because they think it makes them powerful; they desire power because their culture teaches them that if they don’t have it, they will be preyed on, humiliated, discarded. It’s the weak who feel the need to tell you that they’re strong, after all; the strong never feel the need to prove it. Fear is the source of this anger. We attack that root fear by building a society based on the notion that we are all responsible for each other, that we all are born in the business of helping each other survive and excel.

Lately, some conservative forces have questioned the left’s commitment to this vision. They claim that, in its antiracism, feminism, and similar movements for equality, we simply work to invert the status pyramid, not to create equality but to create an inverse of current inequality. That’s a caricature of left-wing practice. Statements like “All Lives Matter” speak to this fundamental misunderstanding. We say “black lives matter” and not “all lives matter” not because some lives shouldn’t matter but because right now, black lives don’t matter, not to our cops, our courts, our lenders, our employers…. To say “all lives matter” in an America whose black people are harassed, impoverished, degraded, assaulted, and murdered is to direct attention away from one of our most pressing moral challenges. We embrace feminism not because we want to pursue some matriarchal world of a conservative fever dream but because gender inequality is one of the most powerful and pernicious impediments to the kind of egalitarian world we need to build. It is natural to pursue the cause of equality by focusing our attention on the clearest victims of inequality. But the cause is equality, and the cause is a just and bountiful world  for everyone, and if men are willing to set aside their desire to always come first, they will find that this cause is ultimately the only one that will secure their own well-being.

Whatever you choose to call left-wing practice, of my kind of left-wing practice, that is its goal, its only victory: a world in which every life is protected and given what’s necessary to flourish because of the universal recognition that every life has value.