It’s been a rough week in Toronto. TFC lost the CONCACAF Champions League on penalties. The Maple Leafs crashed out of the Stanley Cup; and an angry young misogynist drove a van into a crowd of people killing ten (mainly women) and injuring many more.
The fact that such an attack, linked to the American alt-right, happened here in “Toronto the Good” seems deeply incongruous in a city that is so far apart from that particular political heritage. Going back through the decades Toronto was one of the end points for the underground railway. We are one of the most multi-cultural cities on the planet. We have a police force that is mostly helpful, mostly respectful/respected and mostly admired, especially when you see the bravery on show this week by the arresting officer of Alek Minassian, the suspect in the van attack.
What drove Alek Minassian on his rampage? According to his social media output he wanted to instigate an Incel Revolution, a term which was meaningless to me a week ago. The Incel - Involuntary Celibate are a group of Angry Young Men who view themselves in the language of the oppressed minority, but with a murderous intent. Their main point of anger, spoken in the language of absolute misogyny, is that women will not form relationships with them, like women are not aware of the fable of the Frog and Scorpion. These men are socially awkward and sorry for themselves, like a majority of the young non-jock males out there, I should know I was one at school.
They take the rage at their inability to get a date or a girlfriend and place the blame on women, rather than their own potential failings. That toxic misogyny is then baked in the pressure cooker of Social Media where it metastasizes becoming radicalized and murderous.
And I grew up. I read. I listened.
Though women are the main targets of their hatred, this rampant male aggression targets the whole of society. Even to this day I am put off by groups of loud men, particularly if they have been drinking. You never quite know when the violence will start.
This hyper-masculine anger and jealousy has been part of humanity since the very beginning. One of the earliest books I read for my English Literature ‘A’ Level was Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale. A bawdy 14thCentury romp of cuckolds and their anger. The story ends with an unforgettable series of images, which, for fear of offending I will not translate. Suffice to say the last is a lesson on the use (and abuse) of red-hot plough blades:
“And he was redy with his iren hoot,
And Nicholas amydde the ers he smoot.
Of gooth the skyn an hande-brede aboute,
The hoote kultour brende so his toute,
And for the smert he wende for to dye.
As he were wood, for wo he gan to crye,
"Help! Water! Water! Help, for Goddes herte!"
Cucks were not invented by Breitbart of Steven Bannon!
So, if young male anger has always been with us, what has changed? For a start, as Chaucer shows us, this is nothing to do with emancipated women as the sudden source of the problem. The problem exists in the men themselves.
So what is it?
That question is too huge for one blog post and I will probably look at social and economic inequality, or the rise of technological interaction, both of which are impactful, in other posts. Here I want to talk about a key societal difference I can see now: the amount of unimpeded free time we have compared to previous generations and the lack of social interaction outside of the web. Too many young men are holed up in bedrooms talking murderous rage amongst themselves. And, true to form, the context of this aggression appears to be middle-class males from highly privileged societies.
From Chaucer’s time through to the end of World War II, Europe and North America was a predominantly agrarian society, albeit one in an almost perpetual state of war. If young men weren’t away fighting, they were in the fields from dawn to dusk or, later, in the factories. In the 19thCentury hard-work was viewed in the same way that education is viewed now, an essential step in economic self improvement. Young men would have been, to use a Britishism, ‘knackered’. Perpetually busy and worn out. They would have also been outside a lot more getting a large dollop of dopamine and Vitamin ‘D’, both of which help moderate anger and depression. The truly aggressive ones would most likely be dead, killed on a foreign field well away from civilized society, their behaviour classed as heroic.
Now, I don’t think the answer is to go back to days of constant war and harvest, but, as we have more leisure time available to us, or imposed on us, we need to consider the societal implications of this. For too many young men anger ends in violence, either inflicted on society, particularly women, or themselves. Men are more likely to commit suicide in every age demographic other than the 5-14 year old category. It seems clear that we need to talk about male mental health.
To my mind the key to breaking this cycle of anger is management education. Not in the style of an MBA, but in the style of both expectation management and anger management. We need, as a society, to understand that such anger may be a biological imperative in some men (but not to excuse it). We should teach all boys and men understanding and coping mechanisms to deal with that anger. We need to teach communication strategies too. This needs to form part of the core curriculum throughout the education system from JK through to University. It must go hand in hand with teaching respect, consent, social awareness, tolerance, patience and kindness. We must, as a society, teach that these are core human traits that should be valued in everyone regardless of gender, age, race, sexuality or the amount of power a person wields in society.