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Sunday, April 08, 2018

Appearing on X-Oriente Podcast Tonight: Freemasonry and the Crisis of the 21st Century Male

Last month, I wrote a long post entitled "The Decline of Men, and What Freemasons need To Do About It."  That single post was one of the most viewed, shared, and discussed articles I've ever written here. It obviously struck a chord among Masons, especially in the U.S., and I hope the conversation continues in lodges around the country for quite some time.

Tonight at 9PM EST/8PM CST I will be joining Eric Diamond and Jason Richards on the X-Oriente Live podcast speaking about what an increasing number of researchers and sociologists regard as the crisis among the 21st Century male. It's complex, far reaching, and there are no single causes or simple answers. But I continue to believe that Freemasonry has a very strong role to play in solving some of these issues. Or at least being a sanctuary from the world where men can attempt to solve them for themselves. So, we'll be talking about this on the show tonight. 

Check out the Xoriente website HERE. If you can't listen live, be sure to catch the archived show later.

Just as a little extra food for thought before the show, Eric posted the following very thoughtful message on my Facebook page in response to my original post. He's been thinking about this for a long time, too:
I think we've gone thorough some deep philosophical changes, that started in the 1970s. There is a generational aspect to it, in that those changes largely follow the baby boom, but the effects are not exclusive to boomers. I think it began in the 1960s when electronic media started exposing the hypocrisy that was an undercurrent in American society. This led to widespread and growing mistrust in our institutions: government, the church, higher education, and with the spectacle that was Watergate, our fourth estate (the press) learned that gotcha journalism sells. It was as if JFK challenged the nation not to ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country, and the moment he was killed the nation turned away from that.
The breaking of Society (with a capital S) in the 1960s, gave way to what became the "me" generation, with people pursuing their own forms of self-actualization outside of communities. They abandoned mainline churches for new start-up evangelical communities, which demanded little of their followers than money and declarations of faith. It is at this time that marriage starts to break, with no-fault divorce.
In 1980 Ronald Reagan famously quipped that the most terrifying worlds were"I'm from the government and I am here to help." That cemented a whole generation of people who oriented themselves toward dismantling institutions rather than trying to reform them. A mythos of the self-sufficient American Pioneer grew more powerful in people's minds. The truth is, up until that point, the only communities of self-sufficient speculators in America were Jamestown and Roanoke, and they both failed because they did not work together. The rugged individualistic cowboy, the frontiersman, was an aberration, a character that had no status and inspired a sense of curiosity. For most of human history, a man without a community was a dead man.
The truth was, that America succeeded because of communities of people that worked together to varying degrees. People had a sense of duty that was driven by status and a sense of propriety that derived from the communities they were a part of: their civil society. One's reputation in these communities was everything, and men worked hard to be upstanding members of their communities.
By the 1980's all of that was in decline. I remember t-shirts of the time said "those who die with the most toys wins." Status was now about what you had, not who you were. A sense of consumerism took hold of our culture. Institutions were now no longer a place to build a reputation, as reputation had little social relevance in the face of money. "Lifestyles of the rich and famous" showed us the lavish spending that was possible and this is what we fixated on as a society.
The purpose of higher education was not to make gentlemen, or a more competent electorate, but to prepare elites to have high-paying careers. The best and the brightest no longer went into government, academia or the State Department: they went to work for Lehman Bros. or Goldman Sacks. "Greed" became "good."
With the rise of technology, we can now connect to more people, but like Robin Dunbar noted, our interactions have become more shallow. We no longer write long and thoughtful letters to each other-- we text, because we don't read anymore.
And Masonry reflects this. Grand Lodges are falling all over themselves trying to find things to "give" initiates things. We must "give" them an experience. We must "give" them education. We must "give" them convenience. We must "give" them programs. We must "give" them badges and titles. Our lack of trust in institutions has set many of us in opposition with our Grand Lodges. For the first time in a long time, the Grand Lodge of Illinois isn't even going to propose a per capita increase even though it desperately needs one, because they haven't been able to pass one in more than 15 years. They have given up.
We've lost a shared sense of community, of common purpose and of duty to each other. We are suspicious of devoting our time, effort or money to anyone unless we see a direct benefit to us. It even extends to charity, where we will only contribute if we feel the person "deserves" it. We are only interested in helping if they are a member of our tribe, our church, our party. We are more concerned with "welfare queens," than improving the welfare of our society. (How best to do that is a political discussion, which we need not explore here.). We are more concerned with "voter fraud" than with instilling the idea that voting is a sacred DUTY. In another Facebook thread, a Freemason actually wrote, "Why should I give my hard-earned money to help educate someone else's kid?" Because you are an American? Because you love your country? Because you are a Freemason? Have we learned nothing?
Somehow, unless it concerns children, being compassionate, asking for help and freely giving help is somehow seen as "unmanly." We think that masculinity means we are self sufficient. Islands. And then we are isolated and depressed. We set ourselves against other races, other genders, other sexual orientations, other religions. Rather than help the man who is down we turn away and avoid them as if it is some form of communicable disease. We isolate ourselves online in carefully curated social media bubbles, and then we wonder why our suicide rate is climbing.
I've always said that the purpose of Freemasonry is to teach men how to love each other, care for each others' welfare in spite of our differences, in a uniquely masculine context. Women don't need to learn to do this. They are (rightfully) empowering themselves, and with movements like Time's Up, are supporting each other. And as a society, we are applauding them for it. We have a movement too, but we've let it languish. It is time we reclaimed it.
We have lost the essence of what Bro. Ben Franklin said, supposedly moments after signing the Declaration of Independence: "We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately."
It is time for the Age of Enlightenment 2.0.

Join us for the show.

UPDATE 4/9/2018

The show is now available on Youtube today HERE.


  1. There are a few books that discuss this problem in detail: Bowling Alone, Men On Strike, Reclaiming the Soul of Freemasonry and The Millennial Apprentice. We also must realize that many of the problems Freemasonry faces today are self inflicted.

  2. While I have been adding to my reading pile about this topic ever since the 1990s, I sit here twenty years later and am sick to death of looking at causation and casting blame. Self-inflicted? Maybe so, but I really don't care at this point. Anyone can sit on a barstool, wag his finger, and say, "Ya know what's wrong with this fraternity?" Yes. Yes we do. We all do. I'm a whole lot more concerned with solutions that work now to deal with the situation we're in.

  3. A contrary solution is to become co-ed, so to speak, and open membership to women. In the case of exclusive men's clubs, now with women members and even successful leadership by women, that for them has in cases worked well. Another consideration is that while Masonry has declined, college alumni associations have grown both in chapters and in finances -- many have started with one par time secretary and now have large staffs. Still another point , very obviously lately, is the increased awareness of how a male environment in companies and government has in instances become offensive. All this and more has gone on during the Craft's rapidly increasing decline. As for whether the leadership has he ability to analyze all of this, the fact is that the membership now, by and large, has declined in educational background while the country has seen a marked increase in university graduates. American Masonry is no longer a place to meet those we wish would join. In the 19th century we had traveling lecturers who were full time, and I have long held we needed them again, so that not just some lodges but all lodges would get the benefits of paid professional programs.

    1. You know that female and co-ed Freemasonry has never been successful in any large numbers, outside of perhaps France and Belgium. It is a false assumption that introducing women into Masonic lodges is the silver bullet that will reinvigorate the fraternity. Female Masons make up 25% of France's Masonic population, but even that level of membership has never been successfully exported. Likewise, the Order of the Eastern Star, while not directly analogous, has been co-ed from its inception but has so dwindled in popularity in the U.S. that I can't foresee it lasting as a national body more than another decade at most.

      I think you spend too much time surrounded by academics and the echo chamber of universities, Paul. The "increased awareness of how a male environment in companies and government has in instances become offensive" might play well as an abstract talking point in some quarters, but hasn't been the case in the real world by and large for several decades. The "right not to be offended" has been falsely elevated to divine status lately, but it is an attempt to deny simple, basic human interaction and replace it with "right thinking." The grotesque abuses against citizens by so-called "hate crime laws" and Human Rights Commissions in places like Canada and across Europe that ape Stalinist and Maoist indoctrination programs in all but name only are the result of taking this type of social and psycho reengineering to the edges of its worst conclusion.

      Freemasonry can be - and MUST be - a sanctuary from these very types of outside forces and distractions. An all-male (or all-female, if you like) Masonic lodge is designed to be the ONE place that, through its rituals, rules, and basic guidelines, fosters almost instantaneous brotherhood via artificial means, by commonly obligating us all in (almost) the same way everywhere in the world to be our Brothers' keeper. We become each others' father, son, confessor, mentor, student, and caregiver - all through that commonality of ritual and purpose. Where else on Earth can you look at a room of 25 men and say, "Yes, I trust all of you with my money, my property, my wife, my children, my life," all based on a handshake? Does that happen in your alumni associations, or any of all the other men's or co-ed clubs you belong to, or even your church anymore? Be honest.

      Freemasonry - with all of its current faults and failings and shortcomings - still succeeds at this, at least better than any other group I can think of that is as worldwide in scope. Yes, I wish we had smarter, more successful, more visionary, more passionate, more "impressive" members as Masons these days. But it's hard to be more impressive than the two Brothers who connected on this blog site last year, who were total strangers, but one donated a kidney to save the life of the other, based solely upon their obligation. I'll take that any day, and I defy you to say the same of the Harvard Alumni Association or the University Club.

      It's just not the same, and never will be. And that very difference is worth fighting for.

    2. I did want since you mentioned the University Club of Washington to note that many social clubs like it have substantial outreach --

      Community Outreach
      In collaboration with the Club’s Community Affairs Committee (CAC), The University Club Foundation provides funding, direct assistance and programming to organizations with a focus on education and a commitment to serving at-risk youth and their families. Endeavors include support of a local food bank, a domestic violence shelter, a welfare-to-work program, a local recreation facility that provides sports outlets and programming for at-risk youth and a program that prepares DC public high school students to pursue post-secondary education and assists them through the college admissions process....and over $350,000 is distributed to worthy organizations in our neighboring communities including College Bound, the Sarah Allen Missionary Society Food Bank, Stead Park, and the Washington Jesuit Academy.

      As for Harvard, among many charitable activities there has been since the 19th century an entire building in historic Harvard Yard where everyone in the Harvard community is encourage to hook up with a network of charities -- for example, see http://pbha.org/about-us/ As another example, the Harvard teaching hospitals provide tens of millions of dollars a year to those who cannot afford it.

  4. Well, you do so much of value in reporting on Masonic news that I am a little reluctant to challenge you on this, but I have to note that there are many organizations that are not sectarian or limited by gender or color that are the source of community and mutual trust. In fact, a google search shows that total strangers on occasion are organ donors, a wonderful altruism. See
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2017/04/28/what-makes-people-donate-a-kidney-to-a-stranger/?utm_term=.a06ceeb57410 There doesn't seem to be conclusive evidence that Masons are more altruistic, generous, forgiving, trustful than Lutherans, Jews, or Buddhists, nurses, or Salvation Army officers or atheists. It is open to vigorous discussion whether we are a true universal brotherhood given the complexity of recognition and the behavior of various grand lodges. Brother Oscar Wilde, who could not be a member in some jurisdictions, remarked that each kills the thing that he loves.

  5. Just a few thoughts. I do not think a PhD necessarily makes a good Mason. But I do think a love and understanding of the "three great lights" can help to make an outstanding Mason of a man with little education.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I think Co-Masonry has had it's fair share of internal problems and schism. It is not the answer.

    Finally, no matter what we do we will not (nor should we waste time, energy, and money trying) appease everyone. I know a gentleman in a leadership position in the secular world who is suspicious of Masons who he believes are sneaky and too secretive. What this gentleman does not realize is his boss is a Mason. Sometimes the wrath of individual people, groups, and religious organizations which are aimed at hurting our society have very little to do with misunderstanding or lack of knowledge. Sometimes it is simply a matter of human nature. In other words, good old fashioned JEALOUSY.

    We will probably reach young men best by teaching them the truth, that Freemasonry has a culture of it's own and is a culture within a culture. This implies great challenges, responsibility, and power. May we use it wisely.

  6. Brother Thomas, you are completely right that a PhD is not a guarantee someone will be a good Mason. Take a good look at the new book on Indiana Masonry by Chris for a a great work which would certainly earn him a doctorate if he ever sought one. Art de Hoyos is another example of a notable Masonic scholar without a doctorate ,and so is Shawn Eyer , On the other hand Drs. David Stevenson, Margaret Jacobs, Guillermo del os Reyes, William Moore all have PhDs and are not Masons despite all their research about us. On the other hand, Bros. and Drs Brent Morris and John Cooper have both the degrees and a tremendous scholarly output. All of that is a comment on Masonic research -- on the larger question of academics and character, of course absolutely someone can be a good Mason without degrees and many are. However, in general the grand lodges do not support Masonic scholarship - there are exceptions -and in consequence the enormous amount of material about the Craft and its uniqueness is neglected or lost when it could be helping us with this slide in membership. Over the years a number of my own students have joined, not because I urged them but because of their curiosity when they encountered its history and possibly my own books. I am less supportive of helping give out petitions now because of the problems the racial and gender issues raise. I like the idea of offering male, co-ed, and female lodges within the same grand lodge. I also like the idea of fulltime traveling lecturers. These ideas have all been used and in the current climate in a revised form could be used. And we must find ways to keep our buildings.

  7. When women are present everything changes. Think about this.

  8. I really loved and got a kick out of this comment section! But rather than invoke Oscar Wilde noting that sometimes phenomena kill the things they love, hopefully metaphorically speaking of course, I would simply say the following apropos Freemasonry (and also specifically relating to its understanding of itself in scholarship.) To wit, I think there is good cultural evidence to conclude that it has always appealed to a sort of bright person who wanted to see between the lines of cultural or religious exigencies. This is a tall order, and so it also meant that it appealed to a kind of person made a bit world weary or just grumpy at the limitations of the same in society. Somehow Freemasonry became a framework in which such odd people could have a place. And it stands to reason that when they tried to understand themselves they brought that same sort of grumpy ethos to that exercise of understanding. The further oddness is that in many ways the whole affair enshrined a kind of conceptual humor as a kind of defense perhaps. My personal opinion is that Freemasonry would do well to just finally embrace all these contradictions, including the seemingly inherent grumpiness, instead of periodically trying to rejigger itself to fit into whatever rah-rah societal enthusiasm some think will be its Deus ex Machina for re-invigoration. For smart, compassionate, grumpy guys need a place to go after all. It is as simple as that in my view.


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