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The Fall of Men

Barrett Swanson’s take on Evryman retreats and the “new men’s groups” [“Men at Work,” Report, November] is understandably skeptical. As a veteran of several of these groups—having, in fact, started one in college with one of the Evryman founders—I thought Swanson’s ambivalence was illuminating. In my experience, what men need most aren’t opportunities to engage with their ids or reinforcement of their anguish; they need to be engaged in a rigorous practice of learning how to listen.

Jonathan Gold
Providence, R.I.

Barrett Swanson rightly draws parallels between men’s groups like Evryman and the irritating bounty of life-hack companies sprouting in Silicon Valley and related cure-all services advertised in New York City subways. A sense of nostrum abounds in the Evryman ethos, with its blind appropriation of various healing practices and terminologies. Having spoken at mental-health events with members of this community, I’ve observed this tendency firsthand.

That said, Swanson’s article is disappointingly reductive. The bulwarks that privilege has historically afforded men are being pulled apart, and the results, as Swanson acknowledges, can be devastating. In dismissing the Evryman retreats, he risks ignoring the bedrock principle on which much contemporary therapy and healing is founded—that is, that we must meet people where they are. For all its failings and millennial-marketing trappings, Evryman offers a program that can help men who otherwise wouldn’t examine themselves gain a cursory sense of emotional intelligence.

The only way to eradicate toxic masculinity is for men to interrogate and reconceive the systems that support it, but one can hardly expect a man who has never carefully considered his own issues to see the broader implications of institutional patriarchy. Evryman should certainly augment its program to account for the larger social implications of its work, but to deride it for exploring masculinity at the personal level is as elitist as it is counterproductive.

Mike Rosen
Brooklyn, N.Y.

The more skeptical and disapproving Barrett Swanson grew of the Evryman retreat he attended, the more moved I was by it. I found his argument—that these retreats are, at best, Band-Aid solutions to toxic masculinity and, at worst, detours that distract from the work of addressing the root of the problem—unfair.

The problem is that his expectations are unrealistic. “The relevant question for me,” Swanson writes, “is whether this torrent of emotion is a meaningful intervention into the debate about masculinity, whether Evryman is treating the symptom or the cause.” But what would such a “meaningful intervention” look like? How can we expect a retreat to solve a problem that goes back thousands of years and has no clear cause?

In Swanson’s view, the retreats embody the modern tendency to decry “personal deprivations” without recognizing their “social or political dimensions.” It’s true that these groups have not developed a mechanism for the total eradication of toxic masculinity. But he describes, and seems to have experienced, numerous instances of real and compelling human connection. While not a perfect or comprehensive cure, the retreats do offer a measure of relief, and they can serve as opportunities for productive introspection. I can’t help thinking this should be enough.

Annie Nova
New York City

Dam Nation

Patrick Symmes writes that the cost of producing one Columbia River salmon varies from $66 to $68,031, depending on the hatchery’s location [“The $68,000 Fish,” Letter from the Columbia River, November]. These estimates are attributed to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council; in fact, they belong to a 2002 report presented to the council by a panel of independent economists. The council makes recommendations about hatchery operations but does not estimate a cost per fish, a figure that is difficult to assess, as the panel itself acknowledged. For that matter, hatchery designs and operations have changed signifi­cantly in the seventeen years since that report’s presentation.

Symmes also mischaracterizes the council and its mandate. We are a four-state planning agency responsible for assuring the Northwest has a reliable and affordable electric power supply while also mitigating any damage done to the Columbia River basin’s fish and wildlife by hydropower dams. Our regional power plan and energy-efficiency measures have eliminated the need to build approximately eighteen thermal-fuel power plants.

John Harrison
Northwest Power and Conservation Council
Portland, Ore.

Any discussion of “the future of salmon in the Pacific Northwest” should begin with the U.S. government’s 1855 treaties with the Columbia Plateau tribes, which, along with subsequent Supreme Court rulings, established the basic legal parameters of the issue. The word “treaty” does not appear in Patrick Symmes’s essay, however, and his portrayal of the Plateau tribes is superficial and misleading as a result.

Symmes argues that “the Native American tribes . . . were more than happy to see the rivers filled with hatchery fish.” Plateau people have diverse views on hatcheries, dams, and the future of the Columbia River. By limiting his discussion to a vague pro-hatchery contingent, Symmes ignores all those Native activists leading efforts to restore the Columbia to its free-flowing state and to protect treaty fishing rights.

Today, the Nez Perce tribe’s ongoing litigation against the management of the Lower Snake River dams represents perhaps the most direct challenge to the industrialization of the Columbia. But the fight takes place on many fronts. Visitors to the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute on the Umatilla Indian Reservation are likely to be reminded that Celilo Falls—the most significant fishing site on the Plateau—­remains intact, hidden underneath the reservoir created by the Dalles Dam, ready to return in the event that the dam is removed. The Yakama—­the tribe’s preferred spelling, as opposed to “Yakima,” which was used in the article—continue to practice dip-net fishing at those few traditional sites that have not been flooded by dams.

Symmes entertains the fantasy that to “ban all fishing” might solve things, but fishing is not the problem. Plateau people have fished the Columbia for thousands of years without endangering the survival of the salmon. Meanwhile, Symmes’s decision to limit the appearance of Native people to those “experimenting with a pneumatic ‘fish cannon’” is cartoonish. In a nuanced piece addressing how Native people are combating salmon decline, this detail might be worthwhile. As the sole detail about Native people, it is absurd.

Blake Slonecker
Toppenish, Wash.

Patrick Symmes responds:

John Harrison argues that the large electric capacity created by Columbia River dams—in accordance with the Northwest Power and Conservation Council’s plan—is essential to the region. This would be more convincing if the area’s power administration did not devote itself to blocking the transmission of wind-­turbine energy, a move that protects its own market share. Like the improvement in “mitigation” hatcheries Harrison cites, these sorts of practices merely sustain the very cause of the problem. As for the $68,000 figure, one wonders how we could determine whether it’s out of date so long as the council has not produced or commissioned a more recent estimate.

Blake Slonecker rightly points to the complex role of treaties and tribal involvement in the Columbia. I regret that, for reasons of space, I left out the important work of the Nez Perce tribe, among others.


Where We Live Now” [Reviews, November], by Stephanie Burt, incorrectly quoted lines from Jana Prikryl’s collection of poems No Matter. We regret the error. The correct lines are as follows:

who doesn’t love a winter
heat wave though its period aroma

its settled questions
smell so accurate the warm blast

carries something more, antiquity
of future time, the matter settled

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January 2020

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