Recently, I came across an article on the Wall Street Journal examining an 1841 essay by American author Ralph Waldo Emerson entitled “Self-Reliance,” and how the American Psychological Association recently (September 2018) released an article decrying the very values which make up the concept of self-reliance, regarding it as “obsolete,” and “pathological,” all while purporting the enemy of ‘toxic masculinity’ as the main culprit. (Note: the exact words ‘toxic masculinity’ are never explicitly said in the article; however, it can be assumed via definition that this is what they are referring to.) Given the prevalent habit of close-mindedness today, an article denouncing an important aspect of one’s life, presented in the light of siding with our current political climate, proves to be a dangerous threat to the way of life of many people today. The irony of it: the people to which the article is directed to have already given up self-reliance; this article does nothing but justify their views.
The short article by the APA starts by listing the characteristics of the “masculine construct,” and how if these behaviors aren’t addressed early in life, our young generation of boys will grow up to be violent aggressors. In a short list consisting of things such as toughness, stoicism, heterosexism and lack of emotional sensitivity, the virtue of self-reliance is wildly thrown into the mix. Now being tainted by the decree of the APA, self-reliance will be looked down and discouraged amongst individuals for the foreseeable future, all in the name of the lack of self-reliance that the people who the APA’s article is aimed at already didn’t have.
The way in which the APA dismisses these values is, in my opinion, laughable. The author presents research directed towards three “strains” which result from the current culture of ‘toxic masculinity.’ The article explains how the first strain (discrepancy) results from a “self-perceived failure to live up to masculine expectations”; the second (dysfunction) evolves from when a man “maintains normative masculine expectations”; and the third (trauma) results from “… a man’s expression of negative idealized characteristics of masculinity, such as violence towards others.” This paragraph paints a portrait of man as some kind of senseless, power hungry, relentless, violent individual whose core tenets are those just dismissed by the APA a few paragraphs before. In response to this, I have two separate thoughts.
First, one of the core principles of self-reliance (and, in my opinion, is crucial to life) is free thinking. The ability to come to your own conclusions based off of facts and information; the ability to use your own judgment; the ability to rely solely on your own capabilities, is the biggest gift we’re all given when we enter this life. Our minds are extremely powerful, and the role of it in our existence is tantamount to living itself. Being told that this gift is now useless, and that we should now renounce it in favor of being told what to do and what to think should send shivers down the spine of anybody who encounters this in their life. However, due to our current political climate, and the tide in which society is turning towards, people will view this as something which justifies their own pre-determined views, and blindly follow it, without giving an ounce of thought as to why it’s bad to be self-reliant. Also, here’s an interesting thought: if we are to give up our power to be self-reliant in life, who are we to be dependent on? Are we to march through life as a band of second-handers, never exercising any of our limitless potential, while sucking up to the stipulative powers-that-be, whoever they may be?
Second, the characteristics of masculinity are listed both without any explanation as to why each is detrimental, and without any alternative to how we apparently should be acting, which I believe is a carefully crafted hint at something larger than the scope of this essay. If we aren’t to be tough, as the APA says, then are we to be weak? Or is there some submissive middle-ground we should adhere ourselves to, perfectly satiated from being too strong to be ‘masculine’ or too weak to be ‘feminine’? Why is stoicism/lack of emotional sensitivity a bad thing? Is it not okay to tackle certain situations in an indifferent manner, to throw out feelings and emotions in order to hone in on objective thoughts and meaningful discussion? Why is heterosexism not an okay virtue to practice, if one truly believes in it? Is it wrong for someone to look for a partner who they could procreate with, if that is one’s goal? The closest thing to an answer which is presented is the section on “Prevention in response to multiple risk factors,” which does nothing but reiterate the previous points in the article as “risk factors,” and give solutions such as “positively integrate boys/men into society in healthy, positive ways,” without any explanation as to what a “healthy” or “positive” way is. The article makes some heavy points, raises many questions (many of which I now believe are assumed to be rhetorical at this point), and does little to answer them or back up their claims except referring to ‘research.’ I have neither the time nor the drive to read through the 25 references the APA article gives, so I cannot speak on those at all. But, if someone has this much information to sift through to create an article, and this is all you can present, how seriously can you be expected to take it?
At the end of the WSJ article, the author explains one of the same points I argued throughout this essay; in this day and age, many people hold themselves to values and opinions that they never truly formed themselves, but by proxy to a prevailing political climate, an encouragement of echo-chambers, social media, etc. However, right at the end, he makes an interesting statement: “Perhaps without realising it, the APA is articulating a set of moral norms. That is what Emerson was up to in his essay, though he was aware of it.” Here’s some food for thought: I’d like to say that I believe that the APA is aware of it as well. In my opinion, the article is too well-timed and touches on just the exact points it needs to to convey its message in this sort of way. I (obviously) can’t say for sure; no one can. But you can decide that for yourself. You do have the power to make that conclusion for yourself… don’t you?