Something has gone wrong in modern cultural and political life. Only those hopelessly numb, or deceived by the academic parlor tricks of someone like Steven Pinker, can observe the state of things and not see serious problems on the horizon. The Great and the Good have become the mediocre and the lame. The conditions necessary for civic and personal virtue have steadily eroded. Even if a cataclysm never comes, a civilization contenting itself to die on history’s hospice bed is crisis enough.
In certain corners of the online right you encounter a term that is at first glance puzzling, “The Longhouse.” Maybe you have heard this term. Maybe you have wondered what it means. Maybe this term means nothing to you. Even for those of us who use it, the Longhouse evades easy summary. Ambivalent to its core, the term is at once politically earnest and the punchline to an elaborate in-joke; its definition must remain elastic, lest it lose its power to lampoon the vast constellation of social forces it reviles. It refers at once to our increasingly degraded mode of technocratic governance; but also to wokeness, to the “progressive,” “liberal,” and “secular” values that pervade all major institutions. More fundamentally, the Longhouse is a metonym for the disequilibrium afflicting the contemporary social imaginary.
The historical longhouse was a large communal hall, serving as the social focal point for many cultures and peoples throughout the world that were typically more sedentary and agrarian. In online discourse, this historical function gets generalized to contemporary patterns of social organization, in particular the exchange of privacy—and its attendant autonomy—for the modest comforts and security of collective living.
The most important feature of the Longhouse, and why it makes such a resonant (and controversial) symbol of our current circumstances, is the ubiquitous rule of the Den Mother. More than anything, the Longhouse refers to the remarkable overcorrection of the last two generations toward social norms centering feminine needs and feminine methods for controlling, directing, and modeling behavior. Many from left, right, and center have made note of this shift. In 2010, Hanna Rosin announced “The End of Men.” Hillary Clinton made it a slogan of her 2016 campaign: “The future is female.” She was correct.
As of 2022, women held 52 percent of professional-managerial roles in the U.S. Women earn more than 57 percent of bachelor degrees, 61 percent of master’s degrees, and 54 percent of doctoral degrees. And because they are overrepresented in professions, such as human resource management (73 percent) and compliance officers (57 percent), that determine workplace behavioral norms, they have an outsized influence on professional culture, which itself has an outsized influence on American culture more generally.
Richard Hanania has shown how the ascendance of the Civil Rights legal regime, and its transformation into the HR bureaucracy that manages nearly all of our public and private institutions, enforces the distinctly feminine values of its overwhelmingly female workforce. Thomas Edsall makes a similar case in the New York Times, emphasizing how female approaches to conflict and competition have become normative among the professional class. Edsall quotes evolutionary biologist Joyce Benenson’s summary of those approaches:
From early childhood onwards, girls compete using strategies that minimize the risk of retaliation and reduce the strength of other girls. Girls’ competitive strategies include avoiding direct interference with another girl’s goals, disguising competition, competing overtly only from a position of high status in the community, enforcing equality within the female community and socially excluding other girls.
Jonathan Haidt explains that privileging female strategies does not eliminate conflict. Rather it yields “a different kind of conflict. There is a greater emphasis on what someone said which hurt someone else, even if unintentionally. There is a greater tendency to respond to an offense by mobilizing social resources to ostracize the alleged offender.”
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the realm of free speech and the tenor of our public discourse where consensus and the prohibition on “offense” and “harm” take precedence over truth. To claim that a biological man is a man, even in the context of a joke, cannot be tolerated. Instead, our speech norms demand “affirmation.” We are expected to indulge with theatrical zealotry the preferences, however bizarre, of the never-ending scroll of victim groups whose pathologies are above criticism. (Note well, however, that the “marginalized” aren’t necessarily at home in the Longhouse, as evidenced whenever non-white leftist women decry the manipulative power of “white women’s tears.”) Further, these speech norms are enforced through punitive measures typical of female-dominated groups––social isolation, reputational harm, indirect and hidden force. To be “canceled” is to feel the whip of the Longhouse masters.
The emphasis on “feelings” is rooted in a deeper ideology of Safetyism. Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff, in their 2018 book The Coddling of the American Mind, define Safetyism as “a culture or belief system in which safety has become a sacred value, which means that people are unwilling to make trade-offs demanded by other practical and moral concerns.”
While Haidt and Lukianoff focus their analysis on proto-woke novelties like “trigger warnings” and “microaggressions,” the cult of Safetyism is best exemplified in our response to the pandemic. Think of the litany of violations of our basic rights to personal freedom and choice over the last two years that were justified on the basis of harm reduction. The economy, our dying loved ones, our faith practices, our children's education, all of it served up on the altar of Safetyism. Think of the Covid Karen: Triple-masked. Quad-boosted. Self-confined for months on end. Hyperventilating in panic as she ventures to the grocery store for the first time in a year. Then scolding the rest of us for wanting to send our kids back to school, and demanding instead that we all abide by her hypochondria, on pain of punishment by the bureaucratic state. This person—who is as often male as female—is the avatar of the Longhouse.
The implications of the Longhouse reach yet further across the social landscape. The Longhouse distrusts overt ambition. It censures the drive to assert oneself on the world, to strike out for conquest and expansion. Male competition and the hierarchies that drive it are unwelcome. Even constructive expressions of these instincts are deemed toxic, patriarchal, or even racist. When Marc Andreessen declares that it is time to build, he must understand that the recognition of merit and the willingness to assume risk that such building depends on cannot be achieved under Longhouse rule.
It is the same for the arts. Woke obsession with diversity and inclusion, the rise of “sensitivity readers,” and racial quotas in film, overshadows the equally insidious fact that so much of what passes for “high” culture has devolved into dreary, toothless portrayals of static lives. There is a failure of imagination on all sides. The right's retreat into the classics, while edifying, will not supply the modern symbols and narratives necessary to guide us out of the Longhouse.
We have tried, in our own modest way, to remedy this problem, to provide an arena for the competing visions that exit from the Longhouse will require. Passages to better places must be found. Places where the true, the good, and the beautiful may be chased with abandon, where the human spirit has not been hobbled. This is not a call to adopt pickup artist buffoonery or the shallow machismo of an Andrew Tate, or any of the myriad pretensions of masculinity that one sees on the right. Such pursuits, even when motivated by a rejection of Longhouse norms, are equally deluded, and diminish one's higher nature.
Still, we must resist the soft authoritarianism of the Longhouse's weepy moralism. We must not succumb to hysterical pleas for more safety, more consensus, more sensitivity. Ennobling work awaits us. But we must first recognize the Longhouse for what it is and be willing to leave its false comforts behind.
L0m3z is the founder and editor of Passage Press.
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Image by Jens Cederskjold licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped.