I reviewed Jamil Jivani’s new book, Why Young Men?, for Comment magazine. It’s a fascinating (and sometimes frustrating) book that explores the very important question of why young men are radicalized and embrace violence. It is a bit tricky to nail down his central thesis, but his main themes center around the idea that young men experience alienation as a result of racism, nonfunctional state institutions (mostly the police and schools), and lack of job opportunities. This alienation is amplified by fatherlessness and family dysfunction.
Thus, young men across the world are left struggling for meaning and belonging — and are vulnerable to recruitment into violent ideologies, whether that’s the disorganized world of urban crime or the explicitly murderous ideology of ISIS. (In an especially provocative but comparably under-researched chapter, he also suggested that white supremacy and Trumpism has a similar gravitational pull for white young men, and he’s probably right.) All of these ideologies impart meaning while explicating what it means to be a man, something these young men are craving.
I resisted the urge to mention a certain Canadian YouTube star because I didn’t want to open that can of worms in a review essay where I barely had enough words to include Jivani’s own fascinating story about his dalliance with what he calls “gangster culture”, but I suspect he’s illustrative of this problem. As Christine Emba says:
This basic confusion over his message highlights a larger and sadder phenomenon. Peterson — or, rather, the men who flock to him — clearly need something to fight against (anti-free-speech snowflakes!), and something to fight for (their leader!). Why is that? The subtitle of Peterson’s book is “An Antidote to Chaos,” and many of his readers really do feel as though they’re living lives of fracture and disarray, left to twist in the wind by broken families, a fading economy and new social norms that seem to give succor to everyone except them. Reams of research about young men succumbing to despair, disappearing into video games and pornography and drugs, back them up.
(See also her conversation following a Peterson seminar here.)
Jivani’s book also bumps into the same problem that secularism in general is struggling with: there aren’t good post-religious structures for character formation, (I discussed this problem here.) He strongly emphasizes government programs that will foster relationships and mentoring, which is good, but hardly seems capable of handling the scope of the problem he describes. He also describes the need for policing reform as a means of reducing alienation.
There was a fair amount of sturm und drang about the fascination with the White Working Class and their stories; well, here are stories of young men of color with a similar sense of alienation and suffering. Why Young Men? is a great exploration of their experiences, and I was glad to review it for Comment (subscribe today!)
Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at www.MatthewAndMaggie.org