Yet the most daunting task of all is to mark the good things that this sexual precocity has smothered in the very birth. It is one thing to say that it has made friendships among boys more distant and difficult, and to suppose that that is a bad thing for the emotional lives of those boys. It is quite another—and it takes someone willing to see through our jaded dalliance with androgyny—to see that the loss of such friendships stunts the boys intellectually and goes a long way towards depriving everybody of the benefits that such intellectual development used to provide.
That is, after all, one of the great things that male friendships are for. Consider how strong and audacious are the emotions of the young man. Suppose these are not directed towards sexual liaisons with young women, towards playing house. They do not therefore cease to exist; they must find some object. In the past that object would be the world and the group’s conquest of it.
The boys might get together to build a car from scratch. They might set up a series of telegraph connections. They might pitch themselves into learning everything they could about aircraft carriers and bombers. They might form a club to read Nietzsche, or to read the Scriptures, or to read both—audacity at this age can be wildly inconsistent. They might attach themselves to an acknowledged teacher, as did the young men of Athens who followed the chaste Socrates, or, dare I say, the young men of Palestine who followed Jesus. They might form guilds to ensure that the men they paid to teach them actually followed through on their end of the bargain—and thus would they create the medieval university. They might invent jazz music. They might rob banks.
They might do a thousand things fascinatingly creative and dangerously destructive, but one thing they would not do. They would not, as our boys do now, stagnate. They would be alive.