‘Where have all the good men gone?’ On making sense of modern life

Yesterday I bumped into my friend Peter Foges at Cafe Regular du Nord and we got to talking about the time in which we’re living. Peter was saying that we’re living through the end of one thing, but we’re not sure what the next thing will be.* The end, occurring somewhere in 2010 or 2011 perhaps, he thought could be called “the twentieth century.” But when will we discover the beginning of something new?

He’s right, I think, that things have stopped making sense. One area in which this is unquestionably true is that of human development. Homer wrote about the glory of heroic death. Millenia later, Shakespeare spoke of  the seven stages of man. Psychologists, in the early twentieth century, began examining a strange new phenomenon that came to be called adolescence. Various life scripts for various times.

But not so today. The life script (or set of life scripts) that used to give shape to singular events in our lives does not seem available to many of us 20 and 30 somethings. This uncertainty has led to what I believe is a social tragedy: a new stage of development (if one can call it that) referred to as “emerging adulthood” or “pre-adulthood.” In “Where Have the Good Men Gone?,” Kay S. Hymowitz of the Manhattan Institute examines this new phenomenon mainly in sociological terms. Her concern, we might say, is with the loss of manly virtue. Fascinating piece.

Let me hazard 2 speculative theses regarding the lack of life scripts.

1. Of work life. We’re witnessing the end of the career as an organizing concept.

2. Of family life. We’re experiencing the end of marriage (and, with it, the reshuffling of gender roles) as we know it. (Here is where the dimwitted men of Hymowitz’s account come in.)

If it’s an awful time to be a lay person, it’s a great time, amid the puzzlement and confusion and muddle, to be a philosopher. Thanks be to Hegel.


* My friend Richard Rapport said something similar in a private correspondence: “The world you inherited is not so simple as it was [when I was growing up in the 60s].”

Further Reading

Andrew Taggart, “Rita Koganzen heaps scorn on ’emerging adulthood.”

Andrew Taggart, “On the category of emerging adulthood; or, how 20 somethings are wasting their lives.”