Episode 80: White Nationalism And Male Identity with Elizabeth Debold [The Amiel Show]

A year ago Sunday, white nationalists marched on Charlottesville, Virginia carrying torches and chanting “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.” It was not a pretty sight. Most people I know found it abhorrent. The author Ta-Nehisi Coates did, too, but he wasn’t surprised. In an earlier episode Diane Woods explained why.

The media, for the most part, has highlighted the ethnocentric dimensions of this tale: racial grievance, hatred, and the specious theories underlying them.

Yet an important element has remained beneath the surface: gender. White nationalism is also a story of a certain group of men coming to terms with a world they find unfamiliar and threatening, one where women have economic power, men have lost their traditional identities, and the worlds of work, dating, and marriage have turned upside down. Many of us would call these advances of modernity and postmodernity. White nationalists see them as epic disasters.

This week, Elizabeth Debold, a developmental psychologist and gender futurist, explains why.

It’s a story of some human minds growing into greater degrees of complexity and others’ growth halting at age 12. It’s a story of wage labor, two-income households, and the demands of being a “super mom” and, increasingly, a “super dad.” It’s also a story of men confused about what is expected of them and frustrated that society often criticizes them for doing their “jobs” of working long hours and bringing home the bacon.

Debold also reframes the debate about so-called “social justice warriors” on college campuses. Everyone from Fox News to white nationalists to Jordan Peterson cite this group as the epitome of postmodern excess. Debold says: not so fast. The ideas may be postmodern, but the minds unpacking them are operating from a much earlier stage of development.

We live in a complex age, and it takes wisdom and a multi perspectival approach to even begin to understand it. Debold brings both and more.

In some ways, this interview represents a bridge in this podcast. As my interest turns toward global challenges and the health of our politics, Debold helps connect these concerns with my longstanding series on women in leadership, the newly launched series on the American experience of race, and the ever-present influence of constructivist developmental theory.

Highlights

  • 5:00 White nationalists, incels, and the loss of traditional male identity
  • 12:00 Richard Spencer is developmentally a teenager
  • 25:00 The flaw in pluralists’ views of white nationalists
  • 31:30 The wild card: when goodness appears
  • 48:00 The modern convention of dividing work and home life
  • 59:00 Teaching sophisticated postmodern ideas to 19-year-olds with less complex minds
  • 1:10:00 Step on my head, and I’ll step on yours back!

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