The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Hip and Oh-So-Clever

September 20, 2005

I present… a quiz! In reverse-“SAT reading comprehension” format.

Later, perhaps, someone will post on Germany’s electoral mess, what may prove to be the shortest-lasting North Korean deal yet, China’s courageous stance in favor of geno – er, sovereignty, or other aspects of international relations.

Until then…

In order to be a hip, fashionably “smart” literary twenty- or thirty-something, you must:

(a) Continue to say the same sort of things you and your friends would’ve found extremely clever when you were still in college… and a tiny bit drunk.
(b) Model your conversations after characters from Richard Linklater Kevin Smith or Richard Linklater films, preferrably Clerks or Before Sunrise.
(c) Convince (leftist) intellectuals to publish in your magazine.
(d) Actually be pretty smart and well-published in upscale opinion journals.
(e) Some of the above (specify which).
(f) All of the above.

Now, here’s the passage: Rebecca Traister interviews Bejamin Kunkel in Salon.

One of reasons I liked “Indecision” was also one of the reasons it made me crazy: that it so precisely portrayed not just the indecisiveness but the lack of energy in men of my generation — men whom I’ve known and dated. They haven’t had things they loved, or even things they really cared about …

[Interrupting] Women shouldn’t have sex with these guys! As a whole, you should go on some sort of a sexual strike against just such men.

Well, I sort of have.

No. It’s like with the labor movement: an individual worker striking won’t do it. There needs to be a general strike. If there is not a mass strike against such men they will be able to achieve libidinal expenditure relatively frequently, if not satisfyingly; they’ll fail to sublimate their libidinal energies in the way that actually makes men attractive, which is by accomplishing things that may not be what they’ve always wanted to accomplish but are worthy things all the same, and they’ll respond to women with the slack apathy with which one might respond to women if one felt that women were too available to them. Women as a whole should go on sexual strike; this is what I’m proposing.

Why is it up to us? A girl likes to get laid, too, after all. Why should it be our responsibility to go on a sex strike just to energize the male population?

You need to make an old-fashioned masculine distinction between sex and love. Just find some guy and use him. The guys you want love from? Give them nothing.

So is that the only solution? Or is there another way this dynamic can change?

I don’t really know. I’m dealing with this from a highly theoretical standpoint. Of course, there is a broader sense of male apathy that I’m sure has causes that aren’t just romantico-sexual in nature. It has to do with the difficulty of finding something that seems meaningful to do in the world.

Why would the difficulty of finding meaning afflict men more than women?

I suppose because the fact that nearly the whole universe of jobs is open to women is a tremendous gain in possibility for them. For men, there’s been no corresponding gain. In fact, we live in this world that for reasons that are kind of hard to explain, [though] I think Hannah Arendt has gone some distance in explaining them, it seems that meaningful action is harder to take than it has been in previous historical times. I think this is the sense even of people who have no historical sense. It’s something that they feel.

Are you saying that the role that men have historically been expected to play has been muddied by the fact that women are now able and often expected to play the same role?

I don’t think this has anything to do with women.


No. I think it’s something that men sense more acutely than women because men have been actors in the world, as a whole, for more generations than women have been. I think there’s got to be a reason that the slacker — the person who feels that nothing he could do could really be all that meaningful, so why really do anything — is a more common male figure than a female figure. It must be because the person expected to act meaningfully in the public world, man or woman, has been a man forever. And men then are in a better position to sense some sort of decline in the ability to feel that you can do something meaningful in your life.

So men are responding to broader political issues?


And why is there this decline in the ability to act meaningfully?

Well, the answers that people like Arendt have given have to do with bureaucratization. You could also adduce the narrowness of political hopes in our time. [Historically], someone with a relatively meaningless job might have nevertheless felt he belonged to a very meaningful group, whether he was a fascist or a socialist. I feel out of my depth talking about this stuff. It is very important but hard to wrap your head around. I think men inherit — if from nowhere else than from the movies — the impression that in order to win the respect and love of a woman, you ought to be doing something meaningful in the world. And if you can’t hold your head up high in that sense, then why ask somebody to love you?

Editorial note: I believe the word he’s looking for is “anomie”. But, well, Arendt’s a bit more fashionable among literary types, I imagine, than Durkehim (or, for that matter, Weber), no?

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.