Jay B. Gaskill


This follows the article I posted on the Policy Think Site, Thugs, Saints and Old Fashioned Criminals. LINK: http://www.jaygaskill.com/ThugsSaintsOldFashionedCriminals.pdf .

I’ve been lamenting the deterioration of the thug subpopulation, and I have linked the whole dismal phenomenon to larger cultural trends.

I am no fatalist. The present trends can be reversed. All of this is within our control, provided we are astute enough to recognize the nature and seriousness of problem and we are courageous and resolute enough to simply address it head on – all politically correct inhibitions, doctrinal and ideological blinkers be damned.

In particular, I have emphasized that even secularists need to acknowledge the ultimate utility of religion as the major bulwark against the current moral down-trend, and as our culture’s most robust source of the ethical knowledge that sustains civilization.

But the cultural transmission belt that carries our species ethical knowledge from one generation to the next has broken down. And “we’ve got trouble, my friends, right here is every city”.

This discussion is about the primary task ahead: TAMING FERAL MALES.

We have allowed the otherwise laudatory feminist trend to weaken religion and the parallel quasi-religious moral institutions. When we leave males and their unique needs out of our moral instruction (especially when moral instruction itself has been weakened by a misunderstanding of cultural “diversity”) we are courting more than ordinary trouble.

The social fabric that sustains civilization is like the untested character of a putative friend. We’ve all experienced the sudden failure of fair weather friendship. Weak character can remain invisible until it reveals itself in crisis. Any insufficiently supported civilization will behave the same way.

As I write this, the list of looming challenges to the civilized order we take for granted has just gotten longer. We may be living in a fair weather civilization…


“We’ve got trouble” because the secular world (and a large part of the liberal religious culture as well) cannot seem to provide a credible answer to the core question, “Why the hell be good?”

I still believe that religions (all warts, excesses and flaws accounted for) are uniquely equipped to answer that question. So one would think religions in general would be a powerful bulwark against moral breakdown that is particularly evident in the high crime American urban populations.

Yet this bulwark does not seem to be holding. Why?

Almost all serious street criminals, the killers, muggers and assailants that can make life miserable for the peaceful and law abiding among us …are males. As a post-modern culture, we are doing a terrible job of civilizing males in the robust sense that is necessary if we are to save civilization from its demons – internal and external.

Males especially need bright line boundaries and clear, consistent consequences. Females do as well but – truth to be told – they respond more readily than males to nurture and the appeal to one’s better angels.

Modern, liberal religion is talking past the men to the women.

The time honored “Rule-consequences” model actually works. It is as basic to the human condition as Newton’s Laws are to mechanics. It is the very architecture of a working civilization. The rule-consequences model is rational because people respond to incentives and disincentives. But it works better when the rules are closely aligned with the moral law and when the moral law has independent authority.

Moral boundaries are weakened when we are distracted and confuse by too many petty rules. There are only a handful of absolutely essential moral boundaries. Each of these boundaries is set out in one form or another in the Decalogue, in the English Common law, and in the statutes of most nations.

There is one overall design: to protect human dignity.

Because my focus here was on the preservation of civilization, I temporarily omitted the set of norms, however laudable, that belong to the high virtue and purity set. I need to return to that neglected area in a later in thisdiscussion when I talk about the critical necessity of “taming” males. Honor is the most neglected of the high virtues in the post-modern culture. We are now paying a huge price for the neglect of male virtues in general and honor in particular.

The consequences of this neglect are visible right now in those pockets we call high crime areas. It might be better to think of them as plague pockets, because the cultural immune system is far weaker than we think…


Once a wise friend pointed out to me the obvious truth (i.e., obvious if you think about it, but rarely acknowledged) that religions exist in order to help women civilize the male of the species.

Our prisons are full of males, and conspicuously not full of females. This is not the result of sex discrimination, but represents instead a striking behavioral differentiation. Males are more aggressive than females and – when excluded from family and civilization (whether via neglect or the breakdown of the relevant moral codes) – they almost always tend to feral pack behavior.

As others have pointed out, we are suffering from a massive male dereliction of duty, the large scale abrogation of male fatherly obligation – and sadly, the situation is more acute in some minority subpopulations.

The inner cities of this country are plagued by the criminal depredations of feral males, men and boys without a stake in family life, without moral leadership (outside the alpha pack leader) and without any deep sense of an enduring, universal moral code.

And as I’ve just reiterated, Males especially need bright line boundaries and clear, consistent consequences. Females do as well but – truth to be told – they respond more readily than males to nurture and the appeal to one’s better angels. Men need stronger angels. In a different culture, we used to call them heroes.

Modern, liberal religion is talking past the men to the women.

All of these circumstances are deeply related to our current difficulties.


Here is the not-very-politically correct truth of the matter: Some religions do a much better job of calling males to their highest obligations than others.

This is worth examining carefully. To do that, we need to set aside doctrinal criticism. We learn to look at religions more functionally – as organizational innovations founded on functioning spiritual methods. In effect this enquiry into “Better working models” invites you to share the insight that religions are spiritual and social technologies.

There is a strong correlation between religious teachings, actively pursued, that stress and reinforce basic family obligations in a way that upholds and honors the male role in the family unit. Honoring these obligations and the male family role do not entail some retro-version of patriarchy in which fatherly authority trumps other values. However, the polar opposite has operated to promote a destructive male family alienation.

What is the polar opposite? It is that loosely organized ideology/cultural ethos in which the confluence of female sexual liberation (as in female promiscuity without any concomitant male obligation) and an outright rebellion against patriarchy (even in its most benign forms) tends to discount, marginalize or degrade the male family role (whether as the soft sexism of reduced expectations or the degraded model of “man as sperm donor”).

The effects of this trend are most acutely felt within the African American population of the inner city. A brave truth telling African American social activist, Vernon Foster, based in Oakland, California, has already made the case more eloquently and trenchantly that I can. In part, he wrote:

“Fatherlessness is the most important predictor of crime — a greater predictor than either race or income. More than 70 percent of juveniles in long-term correctional facilities grew up without their fathers. More than 78 percent of the hardened criminals are from fatherless households. More than 70 percent of men in prison come from fatherless households.

Living in a mother-only family decreases a child’s chances of completing high school by more than 40 percent for whites and 70 percent for blacks.

Eighty-eight percent of women who did not graduate from high school and had a child out of wedlock live in poverty.

These facts, while certainly alarming, still fail to reveal the heart of the matter. Oakland is not only losing fathers, it is also losing the idea of fatherhood.”

http://www.jaygaskill.com/fatherless.htm (posted with Mr. Foster’s permission from his 2003 Oakland Tribune piece)

Imagine my chagrin when, time after time, the most liberal and humanitarian churches in the Bay Area ignore Father’s Day, neglect or ignore the pervasive “fatherhood” problem and – in some cases – contribute rhetoric to the extreme anti-patriarchic cultural trends. We don’t need to adopt absurd Talibanesque models to doubt whether the essential male family role can always adequately be filled by single women and irresponsible absent dads. I personally know some gay males who are doing a better parenting job than many of the current crop of heterosexual males. We can’t reform males without females and females can’t accomplish the task without strong male models and – in my humble opinion, because of the nature of the male mind – without religious support in the largest sense of the term.

Religion must be able to inspire and motivate males to resume deep and responsible connections with the family. Nothing less than the future of civilization hangs in the balance.

Can we rank the performance of major U.S. religions in the essential task of regulating male behavior? I believe that we can and should. Will I dare enter that thicket?

Stay tuned….

An Exchange:

From Professor Jack High

Jack High
Professor of Economics
School of Public Policy
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA


“As always, I found your latest post thoughtful and thought-provoking. Taming violent males is indeed an important task in our cities and the breakdown of family among blacks is a serious problem. Is the breakdown of religion among blacks also a serious problem? My impression is that the black community is as religious, if not more so, than the white community.

“I do not think that a main purpose or effect of religions is taming males for the benefit of women. I would say almost the opposite–a main purpose of religion has been the subjugation of women. The main religions of our day have historically discriminated against women. This is especially true of the Muslim religions, but also of Christians. Do any of our main religions have a history of promoting equality of treatment for women? How many female catholic popes have there been? How many women presidents of the Mormon Church? Where is a female comparable to Moses or Abraham?

“I also think one of the most pressing cultural issues for the next few centuries will be establishing humane values by secular institutions. The family will, as always, be the main secular institution influencing values, but friendships, schools, charitable organizations, novels, plays, movies, music, news outlets, and other institutions will play their parts. Today, given the cacophony of values taught by these secular institutions, it is foolhardy to be optimistic, but I am. History’s arrow is a slow, upward arc, and I don’t see the transition from religion to secularism as fundamentally changing that direction, except perhaps to improve it ever so slightly.”

My reply:

Excellent comments, as always, Jack…

Religion or an equally effective substitute is needed, I suspect, because merely pragmatic motivations for moral behavior are inherently insufficient. Many religions have “tamed” males in the limited sense that they have created and supported a constructive family role for them, while at the same time allowing a destructive imbalance that has suppressed women.

The pending question: “Which religions now ‘do better’ than others in this respect?” can also be addressed to the secular value systems as well.

More as this discussion unfolds…


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