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No One Can Agree Who the Ideal Modern Man Is Anymore

Only that he probably doesn’t exist

David Brooks, The New York Times’ out-of-touch op-ed writer in residence, microwaved a lukewarm take on the state of modern masculinity yesterday — a piece was almost universally eviscerated by members of the political left. But while they all shared in hating on the paragon of modern masculinity that is David Brooks, their reasons for disdaining his column differed wildly.

Many, for instance, applauded the end of the kind of masculinity Brooks was espousing:

Others joked that Brooks was describing the kind of manliness that appeals to men’s rights activists.

Some Twitter users pointed out the irony of an elitist intellectual such as Brooks praising manly behaviors he himself has never engaged in.

Others critiqued Brooks’ writing itself.

And others denounced the very idea of a superior form masculinity.

And the inherent ethnocentrism of Brooks’ argument.

(Our take: Ancient civilizations tend to be poor examples of enlightened male thinking.)

Whatever their rebuke, all of Brooks’ dissenters agreed with him that “we’re in a crisis of masculinity.”

That, of course, is stating the obvious.

Even more obvious: Our traditional image of manhood has largely disappeared, creating an anxiety among men about who they should be in the absence of those clearly-drawn parameters.

The lack of consensus is likely rooted in economics. As Livia Gershon wrote earlier this month in JStor Daily, our concept of manhood has shifted over American history to reflect the unique economic and labor conditions of the given era. Roosevelt created the New Deal in part because he feared mass unemployment would leave men feminized and depressed, and believed that work would reinvigorate them with a sense of masculinity. Public works jobs were suddenly considered manly, a marked change from the individualistic capitalism of the Roaring Twenties. During World War II, being a soldier was seen as the epitome of manliness. In the 1980s, there was a return to celebrating Wall Street titans like Gordon Gekko.

Applying that theory to today’s digital economy — where job titles are nebulous, the work is intangible, and the jobs and wealth are limited to an increasingly concentrated group of college-educated urban residents — makes identifying the ideal modern man harder, however. If he exists, he probably resides somewhere in Silicon Valley, which is a curse unto itself

Steve Jobs? A huge dick by today’s standards.

Elon Musk? A technological mastermind, but not exactly known for his masculine bravado.

Travis Kalanick? See: Steve Jobs. Also, he’s now unemployed.

Mark Zuckerberg? Please.

The lack of a widely accepted male role model has left many of us scrambling to find one, and in Brooks’ case, looking to warrior-poets from 2,400 years ago. But it can also be seen as progress. Without a rigid definition of manliness, men are also free to redefine it on their own terms.