American men need to start taking more personal responsibility

Robert Doar
Conservative Opinion

Robert Doar

President, American Enterprise Institute
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Some members of the Republican party, such as former President Donald Trump and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), blame Democrats for starting a war against American men. These voices want government action taken to protect men from policies meant to undermine their roles in society. But is government intervention really the answer? Straight Arrow News contributor Robert Doar disagrees and says it’s time for men to stop complaining and start assuming greater personal responsibility.

Sometimes, I hear in this rhetoric about how men’s problems are always someone else’s fault, something that sounds like whining, and it comes with quite progressive calls for government to do more.

Populists often say the answer to the Left’s “war on men” is a lot of big-government action: industrial policy to bring back factories where men can do manly work; an immigration moratorium to shut all foreign competitors out of the job market; more government handouts to low-income families and more funding for substance abuse treatment programs. I’m not sure this list of policy priorities will do much to help individuals make better choices.

But the truth is: American men won’t be saved by government action.

Men can only save themselves—and better serve their communities and our country—by taking responsibility for their own lives. This wisdom is at the heart of Dr. Jordan Peterson’s message, which I think, stands in stark contrast to the “blame-the-Left” approach to problems pushed by powerful populists.

Dr. Peterson has said: “It is my firm belief that the best way to fix the world — a handyman’s dream, if ever there was one — is to fix yourself.”

It’s no secret that American men are struggling more than they used to. They’re not doing as well in work and education as they have in the past, and many young men are increasingly alienated, leading to record rates of mental illness, substance abuse, and, worst of all, crime. 

 

Now, populist Republicans, including President Trump, U.S. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, and J.D. Vance, the Republican nominee for senate in Ohio, often hold one force primarily responsible for these problems: left-leaning liberal elites who, they claim, dominate our economy, government, and culture. 

 

In November 2021, Senator Hawley told an audience that, “The deconstruction of America begins with and depends on the deconstruction of American men.” Senator Hawley went on to say, “This is an effort the Left has been at for years now. And they have had alarming success. American men are working less, getting married in fewer numbers; they’re fathering fewer children. They are suffering more anxiety and depression. They are engaging in more substance abuse.”

 

Sometimes, I hear in this rhetoric about how men’s problems are always someone else’s fault, something that sounds like whining, and it comes with quite progressive calls for government to do more.

 

Populists often say the answer to the Left’s “war on men” is a lot of big-government action: industrial policy to bring back factories where men can do manly work; an immigration moratorium to shut all foreign competitors out of the job market; more government handouts to low-income families and more funding for substance abuse treatment programs. I’m not sure this list of policy priorities will do much to help individuals make better choices.

 

But the truth is: American men won’t be saved by government action.

 

Men can only save themselves—and better serve their communities and our country—by taking responsibility for their own lives. This wisdom is at the heart of Dr. Jordan Peterson’s message, which I think, stands in stark contrast to the “blame-the-Left” approach to problems pushed by powerful populists.

 

Dr. Peterson has said: “It is my firm belief that the best way to fix the world — a handyman’s dream, if ever there was one — is to fix yourself.”

 

But if you’re a man, especially a young man, with all those problems, how do you do that?

 

Dr. Peterson says, “Start to stop doing what you know to be wrong.” For young men, who have difficulty finding work or building relationships, that statement means you have to stop drinking or doing drugs; stop watching porn; stop putting video games and junk food before your self-improvement. If you think modern popular culture is destructive, which I do, the first thing you should do is stop consuming it.

 

It’s hard, but it’s supposed to be. These things are all addictive and prevalent, and it can be hard to get clean or clear. But in order to regain responsibility and agency, in order to live meaningfully and honorably, you have to, one step at a time. The first step Dr. Peterson recommends in his book, 12 Rules for Life, is to “stand up straight with your shoulders back.”

 

Dr. Peterson writes, “To stand up straight with your shoulders back is to accept the terrible responsibility of life, with eyes wide open. It means deciding to voluntarily transform the chaos of potential into the realities of habitable order. […] It means willingly undertaking the sacrifices necessary to generate a productive and meaningful reality.”

 

Taking responsibility and making those sacrifices doesn’t mean doing it alone, with no support or in total isolation. As a clinical psychologist, Dr. Peterson certainly believes that people can help others.

 

Rule number three of Dr. Peterson’s 12 Rules is, “Make friends with people who want the best for you.”

 

That means getting off of extremists message boards and video game chatrooms. If you’re struggling with addictions, the best thing you can do is join some kind of fellowship, like Alcoholics Anonymous, and get out of the house to go to meetings every day. You’ll find that feelings of social isolation will fade, too. If you’re lonely, join a church or a service organization. If that sounds old-fashioned, it’s because it is, and it works.

 

If you lack meaning in your life, the answer is simple: take on new responsibilities. As Dr. Peterson says, “We must each adopt as much responsibility as possible for individual life, society and the world.” So, that’s why he tells young men to get married, which he rightly calls, “an adoption of responsibility,” and raise children. I think he’s absolutely right, but I also think that one of the most important responsibilities that you can take on for your growth is getting a job.

 

While the Left’s policies have made it harder for all Americans to prosper, and they’ve discouraged work with handouts, they’re not stopping the average young man from getting a job. We don’t have a shortage of jobs in this country, we have a shortage of workers. While many jobs today are not the rugged industrial work that populists often fantasize about restoring, nor are they always the most interesting, they can allow young men to learn new skills, save money for the future, and most importantly of all, support themselves and their families. 

 

The Left’s “blame-the-system” narratives, especially on issues of poverty and inequality, have led to bad policies that have discouraged many from taking responsibility for their own lives. Conservatives are supposed to be like Dr. Peterson, the voices of responsibility and sobriety in the face of left-wing ideologues.

 

We don’t do that by whining about those ideologues, like President Trump often did, nor by blaming them for all the problems young American men are facing. Doing that might have some political value in the short-term, but as Dr. Peterson says, “There is no faith and no courage and no sacrifice in doing what is expedient.” That’s a lesson all Americans, especially our populist politicians and our young people, should remember.

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