Peterson, Driscoll & the Millennial Man
Peterson expanded on something he has said previously (for example, here) about the value of cleaning your room: If your room is disordered, uncomfortable and ugly it will be harder to get a good nights sleep. Tidying your room helps you sleep better and that means you will function better. If you sleep better you will be more motivated to have the clothes in your closet properly ordered, which will make it easier for you to get ready to go to work, which will make you more effective at work. And if you have got this order established you will want to not only make your room ordered, you will want to make it more aesthetically pleasing. Doing that involves developing creative flair, which in itself improves life. And an attractive room is more conducive to proper rest…and so on and on. All this requires the taking of responsibility. And that is what got me thinking about Driscoll.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of what happened at Mars Hill, it is undeniable that Driscoll’s genius was connecting with and motivating young men. They responded in their droves to his yelling at them to take responsibility for themselves and others. He painted a picture of the possible that was more compelling for many Millennials than the needs-based, rights-oriented culture in which they had been raised.
Peterson has observed how his lectures attract a surprisingly large number of young men too. Peterson is a very different character from Driscoll, but his challenge to young men to ‘pick up the heaviest rock you can and carry it’ is strikingly similar. Many Millennial young men seem confused about what it is to be a man and something leaps in them when another man tells them what they can do about it: shoulder a load, take some responsibility, clean your room and make life better for you and for those around you.
This could easily become nothing more than a Pelagian message of self-salvation; but I think the real reason it strikes such a chord is because it reflects what men were made for:
The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it (Genesis 2:15).
Recently I spoke at a men’s event at my church about what it is to be a man. I talked about the eight Newlyn lifeboatmen who drowned one night in 1981 attempting to save the crew of a stricken vessel. I started to read the following description (from Neil Oliver’s Amazing Tales For Making Men Out Of Boys) but didn’t get very far before being overcome by emotion,
On the morning after the tragedy volunteers stepped forward to fill the empty places. Just as strong as the sense of grief, perhaps even stronger, was pride in what the lost men stood for. Duty pulled the new crewman forward as irresistibly as a tide. Neil Brockman [who’s father had been one of the lost lifeboatmen] was one of them and today he is the coxswain of the new lifeboat. His own son is keen to join him and even to replace his dad if the time comes. Brockman understands the need. He gives thanks that he had his own father until he was 17 – other children in the village lost theirs while still babies or too young to remember the lost men.
That I wasn’t able to read out this paragraph without choking up was odd, but that odd thing also happened to Peterson as he was talking about men needing to take responsibility, and had to pause as emotion washed over him. Perhaps that response is explicable though because of this: when men do work and take care – when they clean their room, or lay down their life for someone else – it is such a pure reflection of what they were created to do, and so powerfully good for them and those around them, that it provokes an emotional response. It is a beautiful thing, and beauty begets emotion.
The trouble with the rallying call Driscoll made to men was that it was intertwined with a particular model of masculinity involving physical strength and aggression. The reality is that a man doesn’t need to be a cage fighter to exercise responsibility. He just needs to work and take care of whatever garden God has entrusted him with. And that might begin by cleaning his room.