Zuck vs. Musk and the Need for a New Model of Positive Masculinity
Sunday, July 16th, 2023
This week’s core story is about: Zuck vs. Musk and the need for a new model of positive masculinity.
KNEAD TO KNOW
A record-breaking heat wave is intensifying across the U.S., affecting some 110 million people in 15 states as temperatures soar into the triple digits in some areas. The heat wave is expected to continue for several days, reaching from Florida to California and expanding to the Great Basin and parts of the Pacific Northwest. Death Valley, California, one of the hottest places on the planet, could equal or beat the record for the hottest temperature ever reliably measured on Earth.
The consumer price index rose 0.2% in June and was up 3% from a year ago, notching the 12th consecutive month of declines to reach the lowest level since March 2021. Minus food and energy, core CPI increased 0.2% on the month and was up 4.8% from last year, leaving the door open for the Federal Reserve to implement another rate hike when it meets later this month.
Hollywood actors went on strike for the first time in 43 years, joining the industry’s writers who’ve been striking since May. The strike by SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents actors, marks the first time in 63 years that two Hollywood unions have been on strike simultaneously, likely bringing scripted television and film production to an abrupt halt for the foreseeable future. SAG-AFTRA is the industry’s largest union, encompassing some 160,000 members in total.
The James Webb Space Telescope marked its first anniversary of operations with a stunning new image of a “star-factory” region. Check out the new image on NASA’s website, and catch up on the first year of Webb’s space science.
Zuck vs. Musk and the Need for a New Model of Positive Masculinity
Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk want to settle their differences in a cage match, encouraged by fellow rich men under misguided notions of what it means to be a man. It’s clear boys and young men lack a model for positive masculinity, and the people currently filling the void aren’t right for the task.
So, what does the research say about getting boys and young men to embrace positive ideals of traditional masculinity? And what could a new model of positive masculinity look like?
Like them, loathe them, or indifferent, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk are part of your life. Whether you use their products, invest in their companies, or simply exist in our world under the effects of the political and social radicalization emanating from their social networks, the decisions they make likely impact some part of what you do or how you live.
That really isn’t meant to be a scary statement, it’s just the truth.
They’re two of the most powerful and influential men in the world, each possessing the ability to mobilize enormous capital, political power, and social influence whenever they please. Not to mention their inarguable intelligence, energy, and willingness to innovate. At the most basic level, they’re both prominent public figures young people, particularly young men, look up to and desire to emulate.
The two men are also rivals. It started in 2016, when one of Musk’s SpaceX rockets exploded while carrying a Facebook satellite. Zuckerberg reportedly became angry after learning Musk put the satellite on the rocket before everything was tested.
More recently, the rivalry has become a direct competition.
On July 5, when Threads launched, Musk tweeted, “It is infinitely preferable to be attacked by strangers on Twitter, than indulge in the false happiness of hide-the-pain Instagram.” On July 9, the day before Threads became the fastest-growing app of all time, Musk, who’s 52 years old, tweeted this drivel:
The idea of these two men fighting has since captured the imagination of much of the right-wing chronically online world, including prominent figures like venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, who’s also an investor in both Twitter and Facebook, and sits on the board of Meta, Facebook’s parent company.
Speaking at the annual Allen & Company conference in Sun Valley, Idaho this week, an event also known as “summer camp for billionaires,” Andreessen explicitly backed the idea of Zuckerberg and Musk going toe to toe, telling attendees he gives it a “full-throated endorsement.”
A couple days later, Andreessen took to Substack to defend his words and clarify his thoughts, likening the idea of Zuckerberg and Musk fighting to the ancient Greek tradition of “pankration,” a combination of boxing and wrestling, and reiterating his belief that the two men would be setting a good example for children by embracing the fight.
With the bravado of a man perpetually flanked by private security ensuring he’ll never actually have to practice what he preaches, Andreessen wrote:
Andreessen, a man who’s likely never had a physical confrontation with someone he isn’t paying for an hour-long lesson, added:
Though Andreessen never mentions the word, it’s clear he’s evoking ideals of masculinity and traditional notions of what it looks like to be a man. The idea of defending yourself and your loved ones through physicality and violence, and deriving self-worth from that perceived nobility.
Whether you agree with him or not, Andreessen is trying to address what people on both sides of the aisle have recognized for some time: boys and young men are having a crisis of masculinity.
In an essay this week, Washington Post columnist Christine Emba brilliantly captured the issue, arguing it stems from the lack of a coherent model of positive or “good” masculinity, combined with the lack of male role models ushering boys and young men into manhood and the worthy aspects of traditional masculinity.
But what would that even look like? How do we teach our boys and young men to embrace and embody ideals of positive masculinity? According to Emba and the experts she spoke to, figuring that out isn’t easy.
So, let’s go over what the research says about teaching boys and young men to embrace the positive ideals of traditional masculinity, and offer a new model of what positive masculinity could look like.
What the research says:
Emba points to longstanding research by anthropologist David Gilmore finding boys and young men traditionally achieve manhood and measures of masculinity through three common ideals: providing for their families and society, protecting their tribe and others, and successfully procreating, each of which Emba argues feel less celebrated and further out of reach for modern young men.
That research also showed boys and young men need to be ushered into manhood and masculinity by older men, a key link missing today as data shows more boys are living apart from their biological fathers than they were in previous decades.
A recent study by researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia supports the claim, finding young men whose fathers support more traditional forms of masculinity are more likely to do so themselves, illustrating the critical role fathers play in guiding their children toward healthier ideals of masculinity. The researchers analyzed data from more than 800 pairs of young men and their fathers in the study.
It’s not just fathers, experts say it’s on all of society. Scott Galloway, podcaster, author, and professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, told Emba, “[90%] of this, if not 95, is on older men, is on society. To realize this is a problem that warrants investment and attention. And it’s on young men themselves to take responsibility and embrace masculinity and redefine it.”
Why it matters:
So, what would a new model of positive masculinity even look like? When it comes to redefining how boys and young men should behave, even experts say it’s hard to nail down.
Richard Reeves, Brookings Institution scholar and author of “Of Boys and Men,” a widely read 2022 book on the issue, told Emba he purposely declined to prescribe specific behaviors in his book. “Because, candidly, it’s outside of my comfort zone. It’s more personal. It’s harder to empirically justify. There are no charts I can brandish.”
Describing her view of “good” masculinity, Emba said: “It’s a vision of gender that’s not androgynous but still equal, and relies on character, not just biology. And it acknowledges that certain themes — protector, provider, even procreator — still resonate with many men and should be worked with, not against.”
Emba also acknowledges any shift in societal ideals will be slow. Just as the women’s movement took decades, any shift in masculinity will be the same.
Since the experts only have guesses and some even dodge the question entirely, I’ll share my vision of positive masculinity.
Like Emba’s, it’s a vision that’s equal but not androgynous, since people still value gender roles even as they’re rapidly changing. It’s a vision restoring traditional masculine ideals we should encourage, like risk taking, protector notions, and the value derived from providing for oneself and one’s family. And it's encouraging the women who embrace and embody the same.
It’s a family system that gives boys and young men a way to enter manhood and masculinity under a steady hand, without denigrating womanhood or femininity in the process. It includes relationships built on equality and respect, and the idea that self worth and value can be found in those ideals themselves, rather than who earns more money or does more in a given day.
It’s a willingness of men to be led by women, and to not be threatened by their earned confidence. It’s a society based on equity as needed and merit where possible, and an understanding that meritorious achievement should be celebrated and strived for, regardless of gender.
It’s commonality and expression found through communication and empathy, rather than power and false notions of what one’s owed in life based on gender. It’s about lifting people up when they’re put down by others, and not resorting to violence when words and emotion escape you.
As to what it’s explicitly not, my vision doesn't include physical threats to gain power, and it doesn’t substitute reason with anger as a means to win an argument.
It doesn’t look like Elon Musk challenging a rival to a cage match just because that rival has the upperhand at the moment, and it doesn’t look like a rich venture capitalist pontificating about ancient forms of combat as a means of settling arguments.
As to how we get there, your guess is as good as the experts’ or mine, though Emba is right in that it won’t be a quick change.
It’ll be a steady push forward through setbacks and shortcomings, as most progress is, and it’ll lift all boats while creating new opportunity, as most progress does.
It’ll take planting the roots now, in each of our personal lives, and it’ll take watering the crops as they grow and ready themselves for harvest.
It won’t be fast and it won’t be easy, but what lasting change ever is?
You can find me on Threads at @ryanwittler.
Copyright Lawsuits Are Piling onto Generative AI
Google, OpenAI, and Meta were each hit with copyright-related lawsuits this week by plaintiffs alleging the companies are training their generative AI models on copyrighted work without credit or compensation. Comedian Sarah Silverman (pictured above) is among the authors in the class action suits filed against OpenAI and Meta.
The lawsuits came ahead of the announcement Thursday of a two-year licensing deal struck by The Associated Press and OpenAI, the parent company of ChatGPT. The deal will allow OpenAI to access some of AP’s text archive dating back to 1985, marking the first such news-sharing deal between a major U.S. news outlet and an AI company.
The FTC Lost an Appeal to Temporarily Block the Microsoft-Activision Deal
The Federal Trade Commission on Friday lost what could be its final attempt to block tech giant Microsoft from acquiring video game publisher Activision Blizzard. The rejection by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit paves the way for Microsoft to close the $68.7 billion deal.
The FTC argued the deal was anti-competitive because Microsoft may make some games titles exclusive to its Xbox consoles, and the deal still has to pass U.K. regulators, who paused the deal earlier this year out of similar competition concerns.
The FDA Approved the First Over-the-Counter Birth Control Pill in the U.S.
The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved over-the-counter sales of the oral contraceptive Opill, making it the first hormonal contraceptive pill available in the U.S. without a prescription.
The decision is a win for medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which have long advocated for over-the-counter birth control pills.
25 Countries Have Halved Multidimensional Poverty Within the Past 15 Years
A new report by the U.N. Development Program and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative at the University of Oxford found 25 countries have successfully halved their Multidimensional Poverty Index within 15 years, including significant improvements in India (415 million people exited poverty), China (69 million), and Indonesia (8 million).
The index measures global poverty reduction and informs policymaking, assessing poverty across various aspects of daily life, including education, health, housing, and access to basic amenities.
The U.S. Maternal Death Rate More than Doubled from 1999 to 2019
A new study by researchers at Mass General Bingham and the University of Washington found the U.S. maternal death rate increased from an estimated 12.7 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1999 to 32.2 per 100,000 in 2019, with the largest increases found among American Indian and Alaskan Native populations.
Black Americans consistently had the highest maternal mortality rate across each year studied, increasing from 26.7 per 100,000 in 1999 to 55.4 per 100,000 in 2019.
Climate Change Is Causing the World’s Oceans to Change Colors
A new study by an international team of researchers found more than half (56%) of the world’s oceans have changed color over the past two decades, connecting the trend to human-caused global warming.
The researchers found tropical regions near the equator in particular have become “greener” over time, though they can’t yet say what’s causing the changes in color and, by extension, various surface-ocean ecosystems.
$250 million - How much Bank of America will pay in fines and compensation to settle claims the bank systematically overcharged customers for bogus fees, withheld promised credit card benefits, and opened customer accounts without authorization. The settlement includes $150 million in civil penalties and $100 million in restitution to injured customers.
$301 million - The amount of bitcoin moved this week by two cryptocurrency wallets tagged as belonging to the U.S. Department of Justice, according to on-chain data examined by CoinDesk. The bitcoin is linked to the 2022 government seizure of cryptocurrency held by the notorious cyber black market Silk Road. The two wallets previously sold $216 million worth of bitcoin in March.
127 - The number of nominations received by HBO shows for this year’s Emmy Awards, led by Succession (27; the most of any show), The Last of Us (24), and The White Lotus (23). HBO’s total was by far the most of any network, suggesting it can still dominate awards season even as streaming outlets have begun to dominate elite scripted television.
Long Video. The ongoing corporate battle for supremacy of the Las Vegas strip. (18 min)
Short Video. Meet the man who created Microsoft’s legendary digital assistant, Clippy. (5 min)
Fun Video. Watch the official trailer for Wonka, starring Timothée Chalamet. (2 min)
Good Read. Learn why AI actually isn’t smart and needs a new name. (1,149 words; 6 min)
Neat List. These are the 12 longest-living animals on Earth.
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Written by Ryan Wittler