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A glimpse of limelight from the shoulders of Leviathans

by Nostradormouse 

There always seems to have been a small number of men with a very interesting skill set, who are sufficiently independently minded, have self-taught enough of the skills necessary to be able to participate in the next big thing before it becomes a thing, participate in it while it is still a meritocracy, and before the syllabus to study the area is established. The boundary condition men. The guys waiting around for the boundaries to shift and for something to become possible.

I don’t speak of the polymaths. Turing, Ramanujan, and Newton all propelled society forward in their own heroic or tragic ways, contributing greatly, although memetically rather than genetically. This is about the tool-makers who support the polymaths. The practical men who can build instruments hatched in the fevered mind of a genius. Every Alan Turing needs a Tommy Flowers to refract the pure genius into a solid form. Horatio Nelson knew where he was by being preceded by a century by John Harrison’s clocks.

Often they will spend a lifetime doing the heavy lifting in obscurity, only to become one of Tolkein’s Leviathans of the Landscape upon whose capacious shoulders we stand. The ‘Artist & Engineer’ Type who is always fascinated on general principle, and infinitely curious. The guys who spend fifteen years mastering an apparent technological cul de sac. The guys who the entrepreneur considers to be terribly wasted talent, but are prepared to use to try to fix problems that nobody knows how to even approach.

One of the cruellest tricks that nature plays on men is to give a small number of them sufficient cognitive ability to be objectively confident in their own abilities, resourceful enough to be able to get by, passionate and artistic enough to make enough progress to sustain their interest in an area which nobody else bothers with. Historically, such men either travel and wait for a change of physical boundaries, or are working producing miraculous but useless artifacts, waiting for a technological change where their skills will suddenly enable them to exploit such changes, and do miracles.

The human evolutionary calculus must payoff incredibly well at the level of the culture, since for each Joseph Whitworth, Isembard Kingdom Brunel, and John Harrison, there are a huge number of equally cunning Artificers with the tragic misfortune of being born at the wrong time.

Corporate career pathways tend to emphasise and lionise the managerial path, presumably because the people structuring the profession are all managers. IT companies above a certain size allow for a career path of “guru”, which means creating an internal research post for someone whose expertise they can’t exactly identify, but who is clearly too bright to let go. Skunkworks has huge black budgets that they just throw at a wall to see what sticks.

It makes me happy that the wastage rate is falling as we recognise and appreciate the value of intelligences which may not be exactly the shape and configuration you want, but which are never the less valuable for its rarity. Such men have the advantage of being so other-worldly that of the seven obviously very bright guys you have working for you, you’d need to be one of them to identify which of the geniuses is the polymath.

In an age of gawpers and paparazzi, it is a rare trick indeed to be almost completely invisible to such people unless the process “succeeds” and spits out a once-in-fifty-years or so commercially disruptive innovator like Nicola Tesla or Elon Musk. Last time I looked, Musk seemed to be dealing with being the richest man on the planet with the deft “Sorry, which planet are we talking about?” contempt that endears him to so many engineers. At least he’s handling it better than Tesla, pigeon-love not withstanding.

About the author

Nostradormouse is a UK-based human rights activist.

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Men Ageing Without Family become Invisible and Alienated

Dr Rob Hadley discusses a disturbing social trend: How Men Ageing Without Family become Invisible and Alienated (i.e. join the M. A. W. F. I. A.).

The global trend of a declining fertility rate and an increasingly ageing population has been extensively reported. Childless men are, compared to women, missing from gerontological, sociological, infertility, and psychological research. These fields have all mainly focussed on family and women, with the fertility intentions, history and experience of men not collected.

Infertility research has shown that failure to fulfil both the personal, and socially accepted, status of parenthood leads to a complex form of bereavement. The grief associated with the multiple losses, and distress levels of females and males in this population are equal to those with serious medical conditions.

Despite the high numbers, there is very little literature on the impact of male childlessness. Rob will draw on his own research and the research of others to show the impact of childlessness on men’s social wellbeing and health. He will demonstrate the structures that maintain men’s invisibility to policy makers and institutional stakeholders. Finally, he will offer solutions to the structural exclusion of men ageing without children or family.

This talk will be followed by a question and answers session with the audience.

 

About the speaker

Dr Robin Hadley specialises in understanding the experiences of involuntarily childless older men. Rob is author of the ‘Breaking Dad’ chapter in the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health

 

Tickets

Tickets are required and must be shown before admission to the talk. Tickets are free and can be requested here

 

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Myths of Manhood: Breaking Dad, Fracking Fatherhood

by Dr Robin Hadley, author of the ‘Breaking Dad’ chapter in the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-04384-1

 

“Men can have children at any time in their lives.”

“Men aren’t bothered about being a dad.”

 

These statements are often made, without really considering how much truth there is in them.

These statements are often overheard by myself and many other men who are childless-but-wanted-to-be-dads.

Unfortunately, the belief that men are not interested in reproduction is widely held in the public and across the social sciences.  Marcia Inhorn et al (2009) argue that men have become the ‘second sex’, in all areas of scholarship because of the ‘widely held but largely untested assumption’ that men are not interested and disengaged from, reproductive intentions and outcomes’ (Inhorn 2012: 6).

The reality for men who don’t conform to the ideal of fatherhood is very different than many people realise.

The majority of men are fertile from puberty onwards typically with sperm in constant production. However, there is increasing evidence that sperm is affected by the day-to-day environment – diet, heat, and stress all adversely affect sperm  (Li, Lin et al. 2011). Moreover, sperm declines in efficacy from about the age of 35 years onward with a positive correlation between age and genetic issues (Yatsenko and Turek 2018).

In addition to biological pressures, there are socio-cultural normatives to contend with. Most societies have expectations of when the most appropriate time to be a parent is. In Europe the maximum age to become a parent is commonly thought to be 40 for women and 45 for men (Billari, Goisis et al. 2011). When an older rock star or famous actor becomes a father there is widespread media praise. However, few men become older fathers, with less than 2% of men in England and Wales, registered as fathers aged 50 or over (Office for National Statistics 2017).

Men have reported a ‘biological urge’ or ‘societal duty’ or ‘personal desire’ as factors in their wanting to be a dad (Hadley 2009). Childless men indicate a sense of time running out to become a father deepened from their mid-30s onwards (Hadley and Hanley 2011). Consequently, men described feeling being ‘off-track’ compared to peers and anxious with regards how age would affect the quality of their interactions with their (potential) future children (Hadley and Hanley 2011, Goldberg 2014, Hadley 2018).

The concept that men are unaffected and not interested in reproduction are ‘false and reflect out-dated and unhelpful gender stereotypes (Fisher and Hammarberg 2017: 1307). Moreover, the psychological impact of male infertility is on a par with suffering from heart complaints and cancer (Saleh, Ranga et al. 2003). . Fathers feel more happiness (Nelson-Coffey, Killingsworth et al. 2019) and less isolation (Hadley, 2009) than men who want children, but don’t have any.

Some men and some women do not want to be parents. However, to label all men as ‘not interested’ is to do a disservice to both men and women. In addition to ‘missing out’ in an important element of their identity, involuntary childless men are ‘missing’ from narratives about children and parenting.  Being a dad is rewarding for men, children and families, so maybe let’s think twice before we glibly say that men don’t care about having children.

 

About the author

Dr Robin Hadley specialises in understanding the experiences of involuntarily childless older men. Rob is author of the ‘Breaking Dad’ chapter in the Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health and will be speaking at UCL on this topic on 25th April 2019 at 6.30pm

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