Essential Jeremiads: 16 Cultural Critiques Every Man Should Read

A man’s word is his bond, right? Wrong. If you’re a straight white male historically speaking, the answer would be yes. Nowadays though, it’s not just cultural and social biases that make men seem privileged in their statements – language itself plays a role too. Just because something sounds like an assertion of fact doesn’t mean it actually is one and this list seeks to highlight 16 ways we associate masculinity with what may or may not be facts while simultaneously critiquing some prevailing tropes.,

The “art of manliness reading” is a book filled with 16 cultural critiques. The book is perfect for any man who wants to understand how the world works and what it means to be a man in our modern society.

Today, we argued why it’s critical for every man to engage with hard-hitting jeremiads on a regular basis — a type of rhetoric that laments society’s flaws, predicts its demise if those cultural blights are not addressed, and offers at least some hope that they can be addressed and that society can emerge better and stronger than before. The jeremiad may test your assumptions, jolt you out of indifference, prompt contemplation, and motivate you to modify your views and behaviors. If you’re searching for some insightful and thought-provoking cultural criticisms to chew on after reading that piece, we’ve compiled a list of 16 suggestions below. Before you get started, there are a few things to bear in mind regarding how the list was put together:

1. Jeremiads may be nonfiction or fiction, and they can be given as a song, poetry, essay, novel, book, film, or article. This list focuses on nonfiction titles (with one essay and a bonus film thrown in for good measure).

2. Books from writers on the left and right, as well as everything in between, were picked. While many jeremiads are nearly entirely about politics, this list focuses on novels with a broader scope. They include politics in their theses on occasion, but only as part of a greater cultural criticism.

3. As you go through the list, you could say to yourself, “Oh, I can already tell I’m not going to agree with that one.” Refrain from acting on this inclination. Jeremiads are designed to make you question your beliefs and actions. It’s doing its job if it irritates or offends you! I am convinced that every guy should deliberately seek out works that question rather than flatter his preexisting views. So, if you encounter a book that irritates you, it’s a sign that you should read it right away!

4. I also advise restraining yourself from dismissing a book because the social theory it promotes has been “debunked.” Debunking social ideas always makes me laugh since they aren’t based on entirely objective science in the first place; “debunked” typically means “not now in vogue.” Furthermore, even if an author’s forecasts have proven to be incorrect, their musings may be highly instructive and important to consider.

5. Jeremiads are an important element of your “information diet,” but they should be used sparingly. While their doom and gloom rhetoric serves a useful function in keeping you awake at night, they only represent one side of the story (the negative side). Too much pessimism and fatalism might actually increase apathy rather than decrease it. I’m in a funk just browsing through this list. As a result, blend jeremiads with writings that take a different, more uplifting perspective.

6. This is by no means a complete list. It is a list of books that we have read and regarded to be worthwhile. “Worthwhile” does not imply that “I agree with everything in every book,” but rather that I found them thought-provoking and that they have stayed with me even when I disagreed with some of their points. I have made their descriptions simple to avoid influencing your interpretation of the texts with my own preconceptions.

 

Please add your own great, thought-provoking jeremiads in the comments section. I’m excited to hear your recommendations and add them to my reading list!

Allan Bloom’s book The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Failed Democracy and Impoverished Today’s Students

Book cover,The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom.

“These days, students are generally pleasant. I chose this term with care. They are neither moral or noble in any way. When conditions are good, such niceness is an aspect of democratic character. They have not been hardened or demanded by war, oppression, or poverty… These days’ students are polite, kind, and, if not very good-spirited, at least not particularly mean-spirited. Their major concern, in the strictest sense, is with themselves.”

The hollowing out of formerly sacred halls of higher education is the theme of Allan Bloom’s powerful, much-debated jeremiad. However, the book’s criticisms go far beyond, examining the general shallowness of our culture’s intelligence. Students graduate without the ability to grapple with serious questions, engage in vital self-examination, or choose the path to a meaningful life, according to Bloom, because the modern university has turned away from the humanities, ancient philosophy, and the idea of absolute Truth as the touchstone of education. Their main virtue is tolerance, and they see all truth claims as just a collection of various, but equally legitimate, “lifestyles.” Students and society as a whole are ill-equipped to define what “the good life” is without the tools of philosophy to guide their judgments and reasoning. Bloom proposes a return to a Great Books-based education as the answer.

Henry David Thoreau’s “Life Without Principle”

 Book cover,Life Without Principle" by Henry David Thoreau.

“Politics is compared to something so trivial and inhuman that I have never properly acknowledged that it is anything that interests me at all.” The newspapers, it seemed to me, dedicate part of their free sections to politics or government… But, since I like literature and, to some degree, the truth, I never read their articles. I don’t want to stifle my sense of justice too much. I don’t have to explain why I didn’t read any of the President’s Messages. This is a weird epoch in history, when empires, kingdoms, and republics come begging to a private man’s door and confess their grievances at his elbow!… The newspapers have absolute authority. At Fort Independence, any other government is reduced to a few marines. If a guy fails to read the Daily Times, the government will prostrate itself before him, for this is the only treason that exists these days.”

The Transcendentalists were among America’s first cultural critics, and Henry David Thoreau wrote a number of jeremiad-style pieces. His book “Life Without Principle” is especially interesting. The wide-ranging article criticizes the country’s limited concentration on commerce and profit, as well as people’s vapid discussions and mindless commitment to similarly superficial news. He claims that news, especially worldwide news, gives individuals the impression that they are involved in something important when it really has little effect on their life. It serves as a diversion from more important matters, allowing his fellow citizens to live in a free nation while staying slaves to the vulgar and inconsequential.

 

John Taylor Gatto’s book Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Education

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Education by John Taylor Gatto book cover.book cover.

“Whatever an education is, it should make you a unique individual, not a conformist; it should provide you with an original spirit with which to confront the big challenges; it should enable you to discover values that will serve as your road map through life; it should make you spiritually rich, a person who loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are, with whomever you are with; it should teach you what is important: how to live and how to die.”

For 30 years, John Gatto worked as a public school teacher in New York City. He was awarded New York State Teacher of the Year three times and NYC Teacher of the Year three times. Gatto quit after earning the latter prize in 1991, and started writing jeremiads against compulsory public education, the subject in which he excelled and earned his livelihood for the most of his life.

Dumbing Us Down is a compilation of Gatto’s articles and speeches regarding public education issues. Gatto contends that public schools have a number of detrimental consequences for students, including making them emotionally and intellectually reliant on others for motivation and validation. Instead of public education, Gatto promotes homeschooling and open source internet learning.

Chris Hedges’ Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle

Book cover,Empire of Illusion by Chris hedges.

“Washington has taken on the role of Versailles for us.” Courtiers control us, amuse us, and keep us informed, and the media has grown into a class of courtiers. Like the Republicans, the Democrats are largely courtiers. Our commentators and specialists are courtiers, at least those with large public platforms. As we are mercilessly robbed of authority, we are enthralled by the false stagecraft of political theater. It’s all smoke and mirrors, gimmicks and con games, with the goal of deceit.”

Chris Hedges laments the country’s division into two camps: those who deal with logical, literate dialogue and live in reality, and others who are barely literate and increasingly flee from reality into a realm of illusion and spectacle. Hedges criticizes the media’s current trend of catering to the lowest common denominator, as well as the dumbing down of political speech and the vapid appeal of celebrity culture. Corporatism breeds a hedonistic materialism that has smothered our values and turned self-gratification into our only common value. To avoid taxing our short attention spans, everything from college to psychology must be feel-good, engaging, and presented via graphics. The civilization, however, is rotting behind this shiny veneer of superficiality. Hedges fears that the nation will be destroyed unless we reintroduce meaningful debate and confront issues like as soaring health-care costs, working-class marginalization, and impending environmental disasters.

Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West

Book cover,The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler.

“One day, the final Rembrandt image and the last Mozart bar will no longer exist – though a colorful canvas and a sheet of notes may still exist – because the last eye and ear susceptible to their message will have passed away.”

 

I’ll confess that I’m just halfway through this monumental two-volume masterpiece. A long-term objective of mine is to progressively work my way through both tomes. The reasoning is indeed intriguing: Cultures, according to Oswald Spengler, are basically living entities that go through four seasons of growth and decay, which correspond to the four seasons of the year. The culture is full of creative energy in the early seasons, which leads to inward-focused development. When a culture matures into a full-fledged civilisation and enters the “winter” season, the spark of innovation fades. While we typically conceive of civilization as a good step forward, it is, according to Spengler, the last stage of the cultural organism’s lifecycle (every culture lasts roughly 1,000 years) – a period of disintegration. Rather of expanding, civilizations empty themselves outward. Spengler contends that vital life is found in “things-becoming,” not “things-become.”

David Riesman’s book The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character

Book cover,The Lonely Crowd by David Riesman.

“We might expect the other-directed people to become more attentive to their own feelings and aspirations if they discover how much unnecessary work they do, discover that their own thoughts and lives are just as interesting as other people’s, and that, indeed, they can no more assuage their loneliness in a crowd of peers than one can assuage one’s thirst by drinking sea water.”

The Lonely Crowd isn’t your typical jeremiad; it’s more dry and intellectual than furious and passionate. However, I believed it fit on this list since it maps and anticipates a potentially bad trend in American society and generates the type of thought-provoking reflection that the jeremiad is known for. The book, which was first published in 1950 as a sociological critique of American society, is still regarded as one of, if not the most, significant books of the twentieth century. Riesman defines three sorts of “social character” — three processes via which individuals adapt to the society in which they live — in the text: tradition-directed, inner-directed, and other-directed. He said that the number of other-directed types — those who are sensitive to their peers’ judgments — was increasing. However, he predicted that a fourth category, the autonomous person, would develop in larger numbers during the next decades.

Check read this article for a detailed breakdown of The Lonely Crowd’s key points.

Patrick J. Buchanan’s book The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Threaten Our Country and Civilization

Book cover,The death of the west Patrick J. Buchanan.

“Many Americans have seen their God dethroned, their heroes soiled, their culture contaminated, their morals assailed, their nation invaded, and themselves labeled as extremists and bigots for hanging onto long-held views.”

This is probably a good moment to remind people that jeremiads are meant to make you furious, and that you don’t have to agree with them to benefit from them. No list of jeremiads would be complete without the controversial Mr. Buchanan, who has made them his life’s work and is one of the few surviving commentators willing to attack both his own and his opponent’s political parties. Buchanan argues in this book that the Western world will perish not as a result of military conquest or disaster, but as a result of steadily shifting population demography. Because the elite classes in developed nations are not having children while those in emerging countries are, the latter will increase and engulf the former. He claims that immigrants do not assimilate and embrace Western ideals as they once did, and that as the old guard passes away, so will the West’s traditional culture.

 

Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

Book cover,The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Car.

“The interactivity of the Internet provides us with strong new tools for gathering information, expressing ourselves, and talking with others. It also transforms us like lab rats that are continually pulling levers in order to get little pellets of social or cognitive sustenance.”

A rant on the internet and its impact on our lives, which is a distinctively modern problem. Carr investigates how our brains shape not just the media to which we apply them, but also how those mediums form our brains. To put it another way, the many ways we utilize our brains develop various neuronal pathways in them. Carr is concerned that, although internet browsing is beneficial in many respects, it is weakening our thinking, causing us to be able to skim through a lot of information but struggle to dive deep into just one.

Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Book cover,Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman.

“Americans no longer converse with one another; instead, they amuse one another.” They don’t communicate ideas; instead, they swap pictures. They fight with nice looks, celebrities, and ads, not with arguments.”

Neil Postman made a profession out of criticizing our culture’s infatuation with technology, the media, and entertainment. Postman addressed the influence “of the most major American cultural reality of the second half of the twentieth century: the collapse of the Age of Typography and the ascent of the Age of Television” in his best-known book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Postman claims that the medium has a significant impact on the message, and that electronic and digital technologies are more suited to thoughtless amusement than serious logical thought. Weighty themes that impact major aspects of human existence, such as politics, religion, and education, are compelled to be more entertaining in order to grab people’s attention in an era of digital media. As a result, we amuse ourselves to death.

Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky’s book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media

Book cover,Manufacturing Consent by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky.

“The issue is whether the privileged few should control mass media and utilize this authority as they claim — namely, to impose necessary illusions, mislead and deceive the ignorant majority, and expel them from the public sphere.” In a nutshell, the debate is whether democracy and freedom are virtues that should be cherished or dangers that should be avoided. Democracy and freedom are more than qualities to be valued in this possible last chapter of human life; they may well be fundamental to survival.”

Noam Chomsky is one of the most outspoken political and social critics of the twentieth century. Whether or not you agree with his extreme anacro-sydicalism, Manufacturing Consent’s criticism of self-censorship in the media should be read and examined by everyone. Manufacturing Consent’s fundamental argument is that, since most big mass media corporations are for-profit businesses that depend on advertising for revenue, they would frequently self-censor in order to avoid offending advertisers and losing money. As a result, you may not be receiving the whole story when you watch or read the news. Chomsky and his co-author, Edward S. Herman, provide instances of non-coercive censorship in action. I’ve always read the news (from any source) with a skeptical squint since reading Manufacturing Consent.

 

Christopher Lasch’s book The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Falling Expectations

Book cover,The Culture of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch.

Many would argue that Christopher Lasch’s Culture of Narcism is even more pertinent now than it was over 25 years ago. Lasch claims that the anomie that many people experience in modern society is due to the rise of a “culture of narcissism” that has resulted in a diminishing of the self as a result of the growth and intrusion of anonymous networks (government, corporations, and media entities) into our daily lives, rather than an increase in vanity and inflated self-esteem. People are continually seeking external validation, according to Lasch, since they no longer have a strong sense of self and identity. To achieve it, they must make themselves “visible” by others. He claims that our society’s emotional, mental, and social health has been harmed by this all-consuming want for attention.

Robert D. Putnam’s Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

Book cover,Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam.

“Financial capital, or the ability to advertise to a large audience, has slowly supplanted social capital, or grassroots citizen networks, as the currency of the realm.”

Bowling Alone, like The Lonely Crowd, is more dry and intellectual than fiery and outspoken. This landmark work, however, finds a place in the jeremiad genre since it illustrates a bad trend of dwindling communal engagement in America. Bowling Alone, written by Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam, utilizes sociological surveys and statistics to illustrate how “social capital” – civic and communal participation — is eroding in the United States. The book’s title comes from the fact that, although the number of people bowling has never been higher, the number of people bowling in leagues and on teams has never been lower. Traditional civic and community-focused endeavors are seeing a similar decline. Instead of spending time with their neighbors, Americans are more drawn to activities that are focused on the individual, such as watching television, browsing the internet, and shopping. Putnam believes that if this trend continues, it will have bad consequences for democracy and individual well-being, and that all people should work to strengthen communal ties.

James Davison Hunter’s The Death of Character: Moral Education in an Age Without Good or Evil

book cover,The death of Character by James Davison Hunter.

“We say we want a character renewal in our day, but we don’t really know what we’re asking for.” Character renewal entails a renewal of a creedal order that constrains, restricts, binds, obligates, and compels. We cannot afford to pay this price. We want strong morality without the emotional burden of guilt or shame; we want virtue without particular moral justifications that invariably offend; we want good without having to name evil; we want decency without the authority to demand it; and we want more community without any restrictions on personal freedom. In other words, we desire something we can’t possibly have on our terms.”

 

Davison, James Hunter explores the evolution of character, showing how it evolved from being anchored in community-specific, externally enforced criteria to something that each person may create for themselves. We give the prospect of self-actualization instead of “virtues,” which are subjective and based on personal preference; instead of speaking about “virtues,” we celebrate “values,” which are subjective and dependent on personal taste. He focuses on how this shift has affected “moral education” (how character is taught in schools) and discusses the three main new alternatives to traditional character education: developmental psychology (doing the right thing because it makes you feel better about yourself), neoclassicism (doing the right thing because it’s always been done), and communitarianism (doing the right thing because it’s always been done) (you should do the right thing so you can get along with others). These new moral education initiatives, according to Hunter, are guaranteed to fail because they are not based on ultimate truth and authority.

Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010

Book cover,Coming Apart: The State of White America by Charles Murray.

“A guy who does a lowly job to support his wife and children is doing something truly significant with his life.” He should be ecstatic about it, and his community should applaud him for it. If the same guy lives in a society where the children of the woman he sleeps with will be cared for regardless of whether he contributes or not, his standing will vanish. I’m not talking about a hypothetical scenario; I’m talking about American communities where performing a lowly job to support a family used to make a guy proud and gave him prestige in his community, but no longer does. Taking the stress out of life liberates individuals in significant ways, allowing them to reflect on their lives and say, “I made a difference.”

Coming Apart is centered on the changing culture of white America over the previous several decades in order to clarify Charles Murray’s fundamental thesis: that there is a new class split in America that is based on behavior and values rather than race. The lower class is uninterested in labor, marriage, or further education; they would rather drink and get high than work; they do not attend church; and they are unconcerned about what their neighbors are doing. The upper class, on the other hand, has strong, stable families, works hard, attends religious services, and is active in their communities. In some respects, it symbolizes a reversal of the previous order, when the lower classes were more devout and more likely to marry than their upper-class counterparts. Murray claims that the classes have never been so widely apart in terms of thinking and lifestyle, and that they can scarcely communicate with one another. He claims that lower-class ideals would harm the whole nation, and he urges all residents to return to what he considers to be our four foundational principles: honesty, marriage, religion, and industry.

 

Naomi Klein’s No Logo

Book cover,No Logo by Naomi Klein.

“When I first began writing this book four years ago, my premise was primarily based on a hunch. I was doing research on university campuses and noticed that many of the students I met were concerned about the private firms’ intrusions into their public schools. They were enraged that advertisements had found their way into cafeterias, common rooms, and even washrooms; that their schools had entered into exclusive distribution agreements with soft-drink companies and computer manufacturers; and that academic studies were beginning to resemble market research.”

Naomi Klein decried the penetration of ads and branding into every nook and crevice of American society when her book No Logo was released in 1999. While the culture of branding has evolved over time (for example, people are less interested in wearing clothing with enormous logos), the book remains relevant in many respects. When you’re watching a football bowl game, it’s usually the Outback Bowl, which has a yard marker sponsored by GEICO, a red zone sponsored by Old Spice, a halftime show sponsored by Pepsi, an instant replay provided by Cadillac, and a field goal net sponsored by Allstate. Klein critiques not just the pervasiveness of branding, but also the suffocating effect businesses have on consumer choice and their exploitation of labor in the name of the free market.

Jay B. Nash’s Spectatoritis

 Book cover,Spectatoritis by Jay B. Nash.

“With their newly acquired liberty, many folks fall asleep – physically and psychologically, biologically and cortically.” They gravitate to pre-digested diversions, packed in little packets for a dollar each, since they lack the urge for creative arts. This has put us into the gladiatorial stage of Rome, when the number of combatants is dwindling and the grandstands are growing in size. Spectatoritism has virtually become synonymous with Americanism, and it is far from over. The stages will shrink in size, and the rows of seats will rise in height.”

This hard-to-find book, published in 1938, is one of my favorites. Nash bemoans the fact that, although machines have freed up more leisure time for the country’s citizens, they are increasingly wasting it on pointless and passive entertainment. He dubs the disease “spectatoritis,” and warns that if it isn’t stopped, civilisation would perish. He claims that without true rejuvenation from employment, people would succumb to a range of mental and physical ailments. As a result, what we need, according to Nash, is a “philosophy of leisure” that can teach individuals how to make better use of their spare time.

Idiocracy, a Bonus Cinematic Jeremiad

Idiocracy tv shows ow my balls.

None of the novels on this list are simple to read, and some of them are rather challenging, so when your brain gets tired of struggling with them, watch my favorite cinematic jeremiad, Idiocracy.

On the surface, the film is a silly comedy full of lowbrow yuks, directed by Mike Judge (of Beevis and Butthead and Office Space fame). But it’s also a cutting and funny cultural satire that will stay with you long after you’ve seen it. The film’s concept is that two individuals of ordinary intellect go into hibernation for 500 years and then awaken to find themselves in an absurdly ignorant dystopia. Because rich, well-educated individuals stopped having children or had only one or two, but the mentally handicapped continued to reproduce at a prodigious pace, the mentally handicapped gradually acquired control of the nation, converting it into a “idiocracy.” You’ll be comparing the current crop of television series to Ow! My Balls! and turning to your significant other while entering a large box shop to remark, “Welcome to Costco, I love you” for the rest of your life if you see it.

 

 

 

The “art of manliness fiction books” is a book that contains 16 cultural critiques. It is written by the author of The Art of Manliness, Brett McKay.

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