The moon was a spotlight last weekend. It was practically the only thing I could think about whenever I was near a window, so much did it mesmerize me. The Farmer’s Almanac called this full moon of October the “Hunter’s Moon.” Much like the Harvest Moon in September, it is exceptionally bright, and it rises before sunset. Thanks to its light, farmers and hunters long after nightfall in preparation for winter.
For me, this is trivia, but historically speaking, I am an outlier. Hunting and farming are so tightly tied to cultural identity that the Chinese/Japanese character for “man,” 男, is a combination of a field and a plow. Now, the closest many men get to agriculture is through Jesus’s parables, and with America’s continued development, the average man works in an office, not a factory. Has masculine identity adapted to this?
Peter Gibbons, the main character of “Office Space” who is miserable with his I.T. job, eventually moves to construction where he can actually see the results of his work. I wonder how many white-collar men have the same lament. Another advantage of manual labor is the way it focuses one’s mind: when I worked in construction one summer, I was a little bored, but I felt very productive because there was nothing else to divert my attention. Repetitive actions like sweeping and shoveling became meditative, almost like saying the Rosary. Every time I use a computer, though, I feel vaguely guilty because I have to read the news for a half hour before I can settle down to work. When I worked for a law firm this summer, my salary told me I accomplished more at a desk than I had with my shovel, but I didn’t always feel like it.
The Hunter’s Moon also reminded me of my age. I am twenty-one years old. In any other era, I wouldn’t be watching that moon from the balcony of the Faculty Commons; I’d be gazing at it from the windows of my own home, wife and children in tow. This prolonged investment in education may produce more profitable adults, but it’s also a cocoon of safety that allows young people to be juvenile longer than usual, and I doubt it’s the right choice for everyone.
The opportunities for today’s men are tremendous, but they are also slippery, and boys have fallen behind girls in schools across the country. This has flummoxed many administrators, but I suggest examining at the two most popular pastimes for males today: spectator sports and video games. They satisfy man’s desires for beauty, knowledge, and accomplishment in an easier and more entertaining fashion than more profitable pursuits. Both games and professional sports are aesthetically pleasing, and they are cheaper and more accessible than the opera. Men also love to feel knowledgeable, and because sports leagues are so open to the media and are suited so well for statistical analysis, it’s much easier to be a sports maven than to be a Wall Street expert. At the same time, there are so many players, teams, games, and leagues, and player careers are so short, that following sports will always be a refreshing challenge. As for accomplishment, my favorite example of a game that simulates a vocation is World of Warcraft. Nine million people pay twenty dollars a month to play a game that never ends. When I was younger, I felt awesome every time I beat a game, but Warcraft goes even further because there is no ultimate goal: the joy comes in simply making your character stronger. Gaining a level will not make you any money, prolong your life, or teach you new skills, but it’ll still make you feel great.
I don’t think sports and video games are bad; in fact, I rather like them. Beauty, knowledge, and self-worth are all worthy goals. Young men need mentors, however, to steer these desires to more productive pursuits and to instill the discipline necessary to achieve them. Society should also help men find self-worth in the abstract work so many of them will be doing all their lives. Life was simpler when there was only the earth (tsuchi) and the moon (tsuki), but that doesn’t mean that the men were manlier. When I work under the moonlight, I do so with a keyboard, not a plow, but I continue the legacy of my ancestors all the same.