I recently created a talk on rights of passage the ages of men which toured the UK. It reflected my belief that we have a number of ages and rites of passage throughout our lives. The classic text on this subject is by Arnold Van Gennep, in it he stated each culture creates it's own ages, and Shakespeare said we had seven, that made me think.
What ages have we on offer for boys and men in this post-modern society? I suggest maybe four from birth to death. These delineate a journey from 'boyhood' through 'ladness' to 'blokedom' and finishes with a good dose of 'old gitness'. They don't exactly offer nobility or engender pride in being a man, they are demeaning. It is a bleak prospect. No wonder so many men are depressed and confused, no wonder so many young men want to live in a fantasy world.
So, what are the essences of these ages?
When a baby is born he knows he is perfect, he has the potential to be and do anything. Our job is to nurture this state of being for as long as possible. Good luck with that one. We teach our boys from an early age to compete, be aggressive, selfish, seek fame and fortune. A boy is also very good at pulling things apart, and often things get broken.
'The camel's back' is the first rite of passage, it occurs sometime in the boy's life between the age of 4 and 14. The accumulation of the way he has been educated, parented, and/or peer pressure, eventually knocks this original knowledge out of him. The camel's back is broken when he is told/beaten/shouted at enough times (hundreds, thousands, millions) that he is not perfect and won't succeed. At that moment he shrinks and is diminished. Typically, he can react in one of two ways to this. He can become depressed or deluded.
The boy who turns to depression moves straight into blokedom, he skips ladness. He put his heads down, conforms, loses ambition, dislocating from spontaneity or originality. He gives away his power, accepts a very limited horizon.
The boy who turns to delusion plays games in which he kills thousands of people every day, he specialises in casual sex with artificially busty blondes on cyber-sandy beaches. By doing so, he deludes himself that he is still in charge. He also starts the next rite of passage with his mates. They seek to initiate themselves into manhood. This process can be found thriving behind cheap booze supermarkets in every city of the world. It may involve cars, violence, drugs, alcohol, gang rape, tattooing, extreme sports, any number of activities. All of them a means to 'ascend' as rapidly as possible, to get as far away from reality as possible. Eventually, inevitably, the lad loses momentum, he is disappointed, he starts to 'descend', he brings with him a belief that he knows it all, and the world owes him a living.
When he transforms into a bloke he blames others for his loss of power, and 'the like it or lump it' rite of passage is endured. He is given little option or choice, he is forced to seek security, abandon frivolity and risk, told to 'grow up'. As a consequence, he loses ambition, takes jobs he doesn't enjoy, ends up in relationships which have no passion, fathers children he never sees, is miserable, becomes indebted beyond imagination.
He is told security comes in the form of a bricks and mortar house, mortgage, bills, standing orders, loans, all ways and means of being tied down, working for 'the man'. Actually security is experienced in the form of unconditional love, mutual aid, closeness, intimacy, being imaginative, being spontaneous, intangible beauty. These things pass him by.
As an old git he tries to reassert his control by making his and everyone else's life a misery. He becomes his illnesses. He fears change or deviation from routine. Loud noises make him angry about foreigners. It pains me to think of how desperately unhappy and miserable our old folk are. Swept off our streets, living in their enclaves and 'care' homes. All that accumulated knowledge slowly fermenting away, not being passed on, not turning to wisdom.
Not all of us are journeying on this path, not all our futures are this bleak, but the essences of the ages are very familiar. This is not the male journey we should be promoting. It is our (men and women) duty to create far more enlightened and passionate ages and rites of passage for the next generations of boys and men to grow into, and, by doing so, enable them to discover pride in being a man. To ensure they feel living as a man is a positive state of being.