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Margaret Gramatky Alter

A Nation of Peter Pans

The Sibling Society
By Robert Bly
319 pp.; $25

You find yourself in a sociology class where the instructor passes out a final exam containing a single question: "You have just received a $500,000 advance to write a book that captures the essence of American society at the end of the twentieth century. What did you say in the one-page proposal that sold the publisher on your idea?" What an interesting question! But then, of course, you must answer it.

The solution, as any economist would tell you, lies in modeling. No book can take in the whole multifarious reality of America, but a book can offer a simplified model that makes sense of all manner of previously unsorted experience. If the model is a good one, it will provide satisfying shocks of recognition.

Robert Bly, poet and men's movement guru, essays such a model in The Sibling Society. Bly's earlier book, Iron John, rethought several aspects of being male through imaginative use of a story by the Brothers Grimm. The book hit a nerve, inviting men beleaguered by the women's movement to reclaim their maleness with greater hope. In The Sibling Society, Bly sets out to examine the contemporary American scene by exposing its contradictions. Bly writes, "People don't bother to grow up, and we are all fish swimming in a tank of half-adults." Trying to find our way out of repressive paternalism, we have created a society where giving way to impulse is the rule and regression to childhood reigns supreme.

Half-adults, Bly tells us, are comfortable only with others of their own age. Everyone is a sibling, relating by first names. This is the master-image of Bly's model--the sibling society--and to a degree it rings true. Around the world, Bly writes, half-adults wear the same jeans and T-shirts, listen to the same heavy beat music, and attend only to opinions of their peers. The sibling society disregards elders and demonstrates no concern for children. Half-adults become teachers and professors who inculcate ...

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