To the editor: Near here, 50-some years ago, it's said that a young man was held down on the village green and his long hair cut off. The anger of the men who did that actually had little to do with hair. Long hair was just a trigger for reaction to what was felt to be an affront to masculinity.
Times change, or at least the trigger does. The trigger now is gun control. And the reaction, though more virile and widespread, is again against what's felt to be an affront to masculinity – and traditional white male status.
Many who are passionately against gun control have never had use for a gun and never will. But the status of, especially, "blue collar" men has been seriously diminished for two generations.
Most noted have been changes in work. Increasingly, since the 1960s:
• Manufacturing work has been moved overseas to where labor is cheap and less regulated. And what manufacturing work remains here has been mechanized and then computerized. Quality assurance is now automated. So many workers who once took pride in their work have been reduced to machine tenders.
• And the scale of much work has grown exponentially. In 1960 most farming was still done by families, with much hardship but self-respect. It now is owned mainly by corporations and the work done mainly by hired hands. And the scale of most non-government employment – from manufacturing to retail, to health care, financial and other services – has grown beyond our 1960 imagining. Grown to where employees are interchangeable parts and loyalty to them rare.
There still are blue-collar workers. Some are corporate employees, others civil service as in public works. But a great deal of such work is gone, and with it the self-respect of people whose lives it once defined.
And meanwhile there have been other affronts:
• Union support and solidarity have shriveled. There has been some revival lately, but for service workers more than blue collar. And corporate attitudes and policies, usually hostile to unions, have been embraced by government. So union membership, once at 35 percent, is now at 6 percent of non-government workers.
• And there is the affront by women. Blue-collar workers, almost always, had clear status in home, family and the workplace. Now that has changed. Men have been disenthroned at home and, often at work, displaced or outranked by women. That there now are women "foremen," women infantry officers and women candidates for president is an unsettling change to traditional order, especially for the blue-collar worker, already besieged on other fronts.
• Other fronts including "race." At least since Truman's integration of the military, the supremacy of white Anglo-Saxons in this country has been questioned. But, until the challenges just listed, white men's traditional status wasn't seriously at risk. Or at least there still were people to feel superior to. Now they are a "threat."
None of that has anything to do with the virulent opposition to gun control – except everything.
Better laws may reduce the gun problem. But they won't solve the alienation that fuels it.
Brattleboro, April 24