What happens when societies have more men than they know what to do with?
Many years ago, I was allowed to observe a Sun Dance at the Pine Ridge reservation. One of the tasks in preparation for the ceremony was to cut a large cottonwood tree, carry it to the site, stick it firmly in the ground and tie the various cords and banners to it. This was all done by a large group of strong young men, and an elder explained to me that this was a way to channel their energy in service to the tribe rather than to disruptive activities like drinking alcohol and so forth. Then, of course, there was the dance itself, which also required men to prepare for a year in advance in various ways, and to focus their strength, energy and prayers on the tribe. This was a really positive way of harnessing male energy in service to the community. I realize that it probably only works on a small scale, but small scale is probably where we need to go and is probably what the planet is going to force on us eventually anyway.
I always suspected (tho fortunately not from experience) that women are underrepresented among the homeless because they "trade in kind" for a roof over their head in much the way you did.
You're analysis of the "Surplus Male Problem" feels intuitive and eye-opening.
Could you expand on this paragraph a bit:
"Yeah, I’m a bitter old Marxist (well, 45 in a few days anyway), so I’m still going to point out that there was an alternative collective identity proffered, that of the worker. Sure, it didn’t work out so well for communist states, who themselves ground up their surplus males in wars and gulags, but it did offer something better to men (and to women) than tacitly-legal rape, drug-addiction, gang warfare, or a life sleeping in your own piss on the street."
How do you envision identifying as a worker would improve homelessness and address surplus males? As you already point out, communist societies have attempted this and yet it didn't seem to solve the problem.
“While woke ideology argues this is because of racism (and they are at least partially correct here), it cannot possibly address the larger issue of what those men might be able to do instead within modern societies.”
This is huge. Really clarifying sentence.
When I read the title, my first thought was "That is what wars are for." Your analysis of the win-win for the ruling class is pretty spot on. As a former, no ex-Marine, I saw the channeling of anger into unit loyalty and community. Although there was, as is, still at least as high a rate of sexual assault in the military per Capita as there is in theU.S. society, and racism was and is still pretty rampant. When I was in (1977-1991) the Marines were disproportionately white.
I agree with the discussion between you and Sylvia, and it does require smaller societies. But so many of those societies can become closed loops, especially those which form around a shared religious belief of what ever flavor.
As an even older, and dismayed, Marxist I agree with your analysis of the "better" social function of the former USSR, but I would not want to go there either.
There does need to be a purpose of value for all people, capitalism has turned most people into cogs whose sole purpose is to serve their owners through wage labor and gross needless consumption
Where did Kropotkin write that he wanted to see people slaughtered in war?
As a homeless surplus male with a few weeks of hostel living fumes left in the tank, I'm excited about my bright future of suicide, war, drug addiction, or sleeping in my own piss. Despite this, I'm still talking to potential employers to find yet another opportunity to be exploited in order to have the privilege of handing my paycheck to a landlord, as I've been doing for 35+ years now. A couple see some potential profit in me yet, despite my advancing age and declining ability to fake much enthusiasm for chasing the electronic rabbit around the track any more.
Spoiler for bright-eyed youngsters: you never catch the rabbit. It's designed that way.
This is something I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about with respect to both the military and prisons.
Prisons in the US have long been a place to house surplus men as you point out. Conveniently, the 14th amendment left the carve out for their forced labor. So when labor is required, these (mostly) men can be rented out for rates below that of free labor and with no concern for trivial things like employee satisfaction & retention. I think I remember during the last wildfire season, Kamala Harris lamented the lower level of prisoners available for use as firefighters.
And of course, the way the United States operates prisons allows gang activity (with some now-street gangs finding their start as prison gangs), violence, and drug abuse to run rampant. Once released, the system is designed to suck most former prisoners straight back in (onerous parole terms, ongoing financial punishment, difficulty re acclimating to the outside world, and difficulty finding jobs). The people who can get out and stay out really have to claw their way to proving they aren't just unwanted surplus.
Prisons also create low skill jobs for other surplus men - prison guards, probation officers, and the like.
The military, similarly, is to a significant extent a housing project for surplus men. There's no reasonable geopolitical argument for maintaining US troop levels at their current state, which is why so much of the rhetoric around the enlisted military ends up centering around being a jobs program. And of course, you find the same features you note with unofficially sanctioned criminal behavior (assaults, DUIs, rapes, etc) being filtered through the military rather than civil legal structures. We export a lot of it (ask the populations around any of the American military bases around the world) or its constrained to the vicinity of military bases here.
There are some other obvious features, too: we teach "military combatives." Theoretically, we're training soldiers in close quarters, hand-to-hand combat. However, this does not reflect modern warfare whatsoever; with airstrikes, guns, artillery, tanks, cruise missiles, and countless other weapons, there is no reasonable expectation that anyone will ever end up wrestling an enemy soldier 1-on-1. What we are actually teaching all of those young (mostly) men to do is kick the shit out of each other in the barracks in a mostly safe, controlled manner.
I found this very eye opening too. I just didn't understand. Thank you Rhyd. I'd like to suggest a book that I read last year, if anyone is interested. "Rude Awakenings From Living Rough" by Peter C. Mitchell is a memoir. It tells how the author became homeless through some bad decisions, and how it seemed like the system in Britain wanted to keep him homeless. Horrifying to me. I'm sure this happens in many places. Really good.
It's interesting that you chose to write about this subject. I was just meditating on this the the other day, as I am pregnant with my first child, who is male, and all my close circle of friends have birthed males in the last 5 years. The implications for this on a society and these future men are both fascinating and terrifying. I often wonder if there is an evolutionary reason for it, such as less females to reproduce, if one wants to hypothesize that there is a population problem.
This is really helpful to help shape the extent of the problem— though heartbreaking. No one is disposable. I have been honeless actually, as a result of being cancelled— lived in the back of my truck in Williamsburg Brooklyn for many months and also in N. California. Along with many others in school buses and vans in both places, yes, mostly men. I was surprised how many of my guy friends had been homeless before too— they all shrugged it off as a thing they had to do to survive but why do any of us have to go through that really? It sucks!!
Seems you skirted the pagan practice of child sacrifice as one of the pre-Christian means of dealing with excess males. Personally, I am not sure whether it is more humane to let them grow up to be sacrificed to war and/or homelessness, or to cull them at birth. I am sure there are other options.....
As an animist I echo the comment below but don’t see a problem with small scale. Our future is going to be pretty focused on our relationship with resources , unless we just self extinguish (climate tipping points) and small scale many times over is where this relationship happens, opening up a place for initiation, demonstrative aggression and actual resource sharing disputes, ritual law - all requiring aggressive channeling. That’s my hope anyways.
This essay feels like a beginning, it seems very simplified, ie prostitution = violence.
I don’t feel there are problems to be solved, I don’t care if it’s pretty or not, this lens has an “othering” about it that goes along with the premise that being domesticated humans is desired, ie farming being how we get food ( it’s one way and great for domestication) but not very effective if your an animist.
Surly this is a civilization issue rather than industrialization? I’m looking forward to your thoughts in more depth as I also feel that how we hold anger, violence and rage in culture and community is a really interesting practice as well as how we integrate into community, rather than how we become civilized, with surplus anything
I live part time in Seattle and the way this city treats the homelessness here, especially during lockdowns etc was mind blowing.
Hmm... I think this is really important but also misses some points. I don't want to saying that this isn't an important topic, but I do feel that it gets turned into men vs women. I think we have more of a surplus people problem than a surplus male problem but that female problem is less visible. I've had this conversation with several men I know who have been homeless, and I find they misunderstand the situation of women. It is common for homeless (or formerly homeless) men to be jealous of women because of the greater ease of a woman finding a sex partner to get a warm bed. This ignores a few pertinent points:
1) A female has less ability to choose not to accept this arrangement. While homeless men are at risk of sexual assault it is basically a guarantee for homeless women. Women must accept a transactional sex arrangement as an alternative to gang rape on the streets. Thus sex for shelter is not just a situation that is more available to women but a situation which is more necessary for women as well. There is also a tacit assumption I have seen that being a straight woman trading heterosexual sex for shelter is less emotional damaging and humiliating than a straight man performing homosexual sex for shelter. Which is not necessarily true. Most women I know would rather trade sex for shelter with a lesbian than a man due to the risks of pregnancy, violence, etc from men.
2) The risks of a sex for shelter arrangment are higher for women. On average, women are smaller and weaker than men and thus more vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. Many women are also vulnerable to pregnancy and being entrapped in abusive relationships in a way men are not. I also think women are more vulnerable to the emotional consequences of sexual exploitation due to both biological and social factors, but that is a subject I won't pursue here.
3) Men overall are less vulnerable to these situations in the first place. Men have jobs available to them as laborers, as soldiers, etc. Men are also simply more likely to be hired for any job. It's easy to say that men die at higher rates in physical jobs than women do in any job. It also obscures the reality that women are denied these jobs, which often pay far more than a woman can make even with a degree. I have worked in construction and I know what I'm talking about to say that women being denied those positions is not a case of women being valued more than men but a case of women being denied high paying jobs for being female. Construction has been the only job I've ever had where I could afford to support myself without having to rely on a man.
I know a lot of men and a lot of women who have had no place to go at some point in their lives. Most women I know have had to trade sex for shelter at some point in our lives. The risks of such an arrangement are very high but for women the only other choice is literally gang rape on the streets. The choice between one abuser and many is easy to make, but it does no make homelessness a male problem- at least without an acknowledgement that women's strategies to avoid homelessness can be worse than homelessness. A homeless man can seek a shelter, retraining, a job. A woman in a sex for shelter arrangment may not be allowed her own money, may have children who are hostages to the situation, and may be beaten for trying to find a job.
I really don't mean to gloss over the way in which surplus men are considered expendable to society. It is an important topic. I just also want to provide some balance that I find lacking in this piece. I think it hard for men to really get that no matter how vulnerable they are, no matter how far down society stomps them, they don't have to fear that they will be there pregnant. Men get sympathy when they have to trade sex for the necessities of life. For women, most of the the time it's normal and expected. Men envy us being forced by finances to tolerate rape and abuse with the threat of general rape and abuse by more than one man as the alternative. It dehumanizes women and trivializes our exploitation to assume that these arrangements are voluntary, normal, or enviable. There are times when women accept such arrangements voluntarily but more often we are forced into them by a society that makes such sexual exploitation of women the norm .