Monday, July 31, 2017

The Elitist Inside


What's wrong with being elitist if you are trying to encourage people to join the elite rather than being exclusive?
 —Richard Dawkins
Show me an elitist, and I'll show you a loser.
—Tom Clancy
I was on the /r/AfterLodge subreddit the other day as I like to interact with the hosts of that show. (If you aren't listening to it, do so. It's great.) One thread focused on the theme of cost as many Masonic discussion forums do. Masons and Money is a perennial topic but thinking about what was being said, I started to think, maybe it's not the cost that matters. Maybe cost is a reflective quality of whom we have in the Fraternity.

At the outset of speculative Craft in England, brothers joined for its networking potential. Looking at the names of past grand masters in both English Grand Lodges, you can see that the men were either in the mercantile class (new money) or in the aristocratic class (old money). Both of these classes found a very advantageous symbiotic relationship. The aristocrats, with money tied to land and title, had to make connections with new capital. The merchants, with all this new found wealth, wanted societal status. The networking potentials were boundless.

I will posit something that may not be true but it feels true. If you look at the buildings, the costuming, the beautiful medals and jewels, it is obvious that the membership drew from a wealthier strata. We had access to capital then that we don't have access to now. I think it's directly tied to who is now joining. Perhaps the breakdown in our membership numbers and our chasing positive lodge growth is just as the cliche says, it is the quality and not the quantity. But I would go further, it's not just the quality, it's that our lodges currently lack the quality of elitism.

I didn't join Masonry to be an elitist. My grandfather was a Mason (in fact, both of them were) and after I discovered he was, I wanted to be one too. As I've aged into this thing that has used up more than a decade of my life, I sometimes wonder if what I get out of it isn't what I'm putting into it. Sometimes I wonder if I am at the top of the pyramid and it's giving without receiving anything. It's not a level playing field as it was when the old money and new money needed each other.

Now, it is a constant tug of war to keep dues low, to defer maintenance, and to value "labor" over money by hosting pancake breakfasts to pay for our own fraternal activities. Yet, we are still shocked by the surprise of our candidates that the "initiation fee is so much lower than I expected" or that men pick up and walk away within a few years of joining. In a phrase, Freemasonry is a pedestrian affair.

Freemasonry is devalued so the common man can take a part and this is to our detriment. We don't have doctors, lawyers, and businessmen joining. And because they are not joining today, we have to pull out old lists of dead brothers of quality to appease our sense of greatness. If we want to rub shoulders with the elite, we must be elite. We cannot be pedestrian. We cannot be common. We cannot keep dues and expectations so low so as to not scare away the curious passerby.

Jason Mitchell of the Ars Latomorum blog has an interesting theory on this. To paraphrase, Freemasonry doesn't want or need you until you have established yourself in your career and in your family. To put another way, we want the living stone to be cut from the quarry first before we work on it. So often, the powers-that-be want to capture brothers young when they are most vulnerable to the distractions of life. The young members usually have little money and little time to dedicate. And those that do dedicate themselves to Freemasonry miss out on opportunities they could have pursued to make themselves better in life/career/family.

"But, but mercenary motives!!!"

I guarantee that a fair share of the readers of this article have been saying this. Mercenary motives is like internal not external, a cliche we can throw at celebrating the culture of banausic work of the common man. That culture which abhors networking as mercenary and yet, is more than happy to watch pin cushions collect title after meaningless title. Why? Why have we done this to ourselves?

And no, I don't want blue collar workers booted or barred from Freemasonry. But if you are too busy thinking about paying bills, or raising small children, or looking to be promoted, then any time outside of those life goals will allow you, future Freemason, to falter and those goals will go unmet. Again, we don't want you until you are ready.

Now that my rant is over, here's my list of solutions:

  1. Increase the minimum age to petition.
  2. Increase dues to a percentage related to "disposable income." 15% of 1.5 times the poverty line is a good start. Correction: 15% of (Adjusted Gross Income minus 1.5 times the poverty line.) Ultimately, you will want dues to price out all but those who have their acts together.
  3. Examine a petitioner for fitness by asking him where he is in life. If he is just starting out, he is not ready. We are the shapers of stone, not the miners.
  4. Expect more from our members. Each person should be "buddied" with another and both should ask how the other brother is doing financially or occupationally.
  5. Don't call networking a mercenary motive. Masonry is the OG social network. 
  6. Encourage Masons to think of leaving a legacy to the lodge. Freemasonry is a family. But even more so, it requires the brothers to think of their future. You can't leave a legacy if you don't have one.
This is just a small list of changes. What we need to consider is that just as men expect, before they join, a great organization, we as an organization must expect greatness from our future members. We are frustrating the purpose of Freemasonry when we race to the bottom, grabbing men who aren't ready just for the accountant friendly "number of Masons raised for year xxxx." We do a disservice to Freemasonry but we also do a disservice to these men. We throw them into a situation they are not ready to handle and wringing our hands when they leave. Break the cycle.

Stop being cheap. Let me repeat, STOP being cheap. Stop rushing guys to join. Stop devaluing the Fraternity and frustrating the networking advantages which come with Fraternal bonding. This is a privilege bought and paid for by men of quality, old money and new money coming together. We need to look up and build higher than them, not look down and moan about the crumbling footings that we have allowed to crumble under the weight of mediocrity. Make them proud and add your name to the list of famous Freemasons instead of sharing it.

What do you think? Leave your comment below.

CORRECTION: A very smart redditor pointed out my crazy math formula. I was attempting to use the formula for student loans payments for a Income Based Repayment plan, which is what is seen above. And yes, this would be a sliding scale which is currently disallowed in a number of jurisdictions.

23 comments:

Scott S said...

That is definitely some food for thought. I believe my Lodge has the highest dues in the district. Then we have to ask, are we giving the Brothers value for their dues?

Anonymous said...

My favorite discussion of "elitism" in Masonry is "Silk Stockings" by Carl Claudy: http://seattlemasons.com/claudy/silkstockings.html

Robert Johnson said...

Annnnnnnd I love it. Thanks, Nick!

Scott Dayton said...

Nicely done, brother. It all needed to be said.

Al Leathers said...

You knocked it out of the park with this one, Nick. There is indeed a price to pay for being elite and its not for those without the wherewithal to contribute to the Fraternity in both time and dollars. Consider this, if you buy a Ferrari, keep it several years, and sell it outside the "insider" network, then you will likely be blackballed (see what I did there) from being able to purchase another Ferrari for some amount of time; e.g., 2 years. You have to build the elite brand and and its not going to happen with $100 a year dues. Elitism is also a key aspect of the TO movement, IMO.

Historical Light said...

Great points Bro. Nick! Action is most definitely needed.

Joe Martinez said...

Well said, very thought provoking post! Thanks Bro. Nick!

Christopher Garlington said...

The only buildings which matter are invisible.
Elitism is stupid and dangerous.
I would rather spend the rest of my life with those people whom you've deemed as common and pedestrian than five minutes in the company of someone with the arrogance to elevate themselves above any other man.
Our very goal as masons is to abstain from elitism.
What the hell is wrong with you?

Richard Nowak said...

I always thought the whole idea of becoming a Brother is that we are all "On the Level", in other words "equal" no matter what your occupation or station in life. If one can join the U.S. Armed Forces at 18 years of age, risking life and limb to defend the Constitution, who are we to tell that same person that they are unworthy of being raised to the sublime 3rd Degree of Freemasonry? Besides, many of the problems in our Republic and local communities can be directly traced to the attitudes and actions of the so-called "elites" or 1% ... and you want to bring THAT nefarious behavior into our Lodges? I strongly non-concur! So Mote It Be.

cootr68 said...

Very good!! I was visiting our secretary yesterday we talked of our lodge in the past. This brother owned the jewelry store,this one the pharmacy, this one the steel supply, these two were judges...etc. Whenever we needed something those were the ones that came through in big ways problem is those men are gone and the businesses are too. We are like 99% of small town lodges in that we are blue collar and retired on fixed income. Our lodge has crumbled along with the economy we own two rental buildings under us one is a daycare which we had to lower the rent to keep them the other has sat empty for quite some time even with the rent being $400. We are not attracting many young members for different reasons we're competing with jaycees, and other groups, religion around here plays another role as to keep good quality candidates away. We all know men who would make great masons but are afraid of what the church would think. Or as many millenials are that they don't believe in a higher being. The young doctors,lawyers and Indian chiefs don't come back to the town they grew up in after college. Point is there are no elitists around!! We're construction workers, truck drivers, farmer's and factory workers. Wold we like to have elitists, yes. But we are getting by with what we have available. I also think it is much harder to learn ritual at 40 than it would have been at 20 in most cases. We are getting younger candidates to petition keeping them is the big problem and should be the big picture.

Truth Exists said...

Overall I agree with the post. I believe we have cheapened the fraternity with many of our actions. To often lodges are just happy to have a petition and don't worry about quality. By quality I am not referring to finances but character and whether he would in fact make a good Mason. Addressing elitism, I think that we have lost a great deal when our lodges are more and more often made up of almost all blue collar brethren. We are missing out by not having those white collar brothers. The business owners, the managers, those who have a background in leadership and business. You need a mix of blue and white collar and you need men who are established in their careers and family life. There is a strength in diversity including diversity of white and blue collar.
I think what you mean by elitism is that we need to define our brand as being something that adds true value to its clients (by that I mean the brethren of the lodge). $50 dues, business meetings, and pancake breakfasts just don't cut it. We need to have activities that are engaging and keep members involved, dinners that are high quality, and events that allow brethren to network and develop deep long lasting bonds.
That being said, remember that every lodge has its own identity and we have the opportunity to always find a lodge that has the identity we want if your current lodge doesn't fit.

Rob Jackson said...

I agree to disagree with the situation at hand.... By the way.. We as Brethren should stick to the original Higher Being!!!! Some lodges are changing to keep up with society!!! We as Brethren should all be on The Same Accord!!! So Mote It Be...

Unknown said...

We don't need more men in freemasonry. We need more freemasonry in men. But I question your guard rails... we all physically walked into the lodge the first time same way. Some of your suggestions hint that it that whole preparing room ritual may just be an empty symbol.

Alex Madsen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex Madsen said...

Maybe elitism is too strong a word - or maybe, despite its accuracy, has too many negative associations with it.

I get where you're going with this, Nick. That said, it took a few reads of your post for its essence to reach me.

You're right. We need to refine Masonry. I very much agree with this sentiment. We can't be just any men's club. But maybe I would use the words "traditional Masonry" over "elitism". I believe strict observance of our traditional values is the proper direction to take - a focus that MUST take priority over simply attracting new members. I think of the cart-horse analogy in this regard.

Traditional Observance and renewed quality in Lodge is the answer. It WILL attract good men.

But that requires investment. So yes, I understand the need for higher dues. A graded percentage - akin to a church's tithe - would be just and proper.

Level, you could say.

But in the end, elitism, in my mind, is just another way of say we must as a Fraternity hold ourselves to a higher standard or we lose our special, timeless quality. Our value.

Our observance of Traditional Masonry can and should be done through strict adherence to dress code. It should be done by strict adherence to memory work. It should be done through sacrifice of time, effort, and yes - money.

I would go as far as to agree that dues are too low. They can be higher. But they should not deter good men from joining or only allow the higher echelons of society to be among our Fraternity. It denies the basic tenets of our character.

It shouldn't deny a good man a spot among our ranks. But I also feel that T.O. would likely push men who aren't ready from joining.

Fraternally,

Alex Madsen,
MM
Keith 23
Moncton NB
Canada

Carl G said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James Xie said...

Yes, Joining the military, even at 18 is a commendable thing to do. I fully support it.

But you cannot compare bring able to join the military at 18 means you are right for the fraternity. Those two have nothing to do with each other and you cannot compare.

There are many people who were in the military that aren't right or even close to being worthy for freemasonry. You think just because one was in the military that makes every single one of them a very moral, ethical, and upstanding person? No.

Freemadonry is a private organization. You chose to join it of your own free will and accord. No one forced you. You knew what you were getting into. Don't cry about it after the fact. If you don't like how it is or if you have a perception of it being elitist, then demit or just walk away. Simple as that.

bba09c16-19e2-11e4-80f7-5be50c1559d9 said...

New York just lowered its age for petitioning to 18. Most of us agreed. We have been losing a lot of Senior Demolays and family legacies. We are looking at starting lodges on college campuses.

The Masonry I joined is NOT an organization for the affluent only. I can see nothing Masonic in trying to exclude poor men from our Craft.

RoundHillFreemasons said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RoundHillFreemasons said...

I love your post and agree with you completely. I Have Heard the words "only $250 for an initiation fee......... Nah, you guys can't be offering too much." So, I have taken the initiative to create a functioning website and create Twitter and Instagram accounts for the lodge. Our membership is growing but It'sgoing to take a while to hit the "Elite" or "Gentlemen's Club" brand we're looking for here. #RoundHillFreemasons

Class said...

Greetings from Halifax!

Anonymous said...

People aren't leaving (or not joining) because the fraternity is not "elite"enough. That's rather snobbish. I don't belong to the local yacht club or country club because they don't offer what Masonry offers. People are not sticking around because of what is NOT happening in lodge - Quality masonic education. I will not pay higher dues to to listen to minutes, correspondence and bills being read. Higher dues are fine if you have something of quality to offer in exchange for it. We also carry the burden of our masonic forefathers of the 40's and 50's when numbers were booming and lodges were going up left and right. The infrastructure is collapsing upon itself because the monetary burden has now fallen upon a membership that is less that half of what originally funded the boom.

Unknown said...

I am 20 years old and am currently drawing ssi. I have Cerebral Palsy. I fully intend to get a job after completing my business degree. I am a master Mason and a lecture card holder. I am currently working on my proficency card in the blue lodge and am also petitioning the Royal Arch Chapter. So I guess it goes without saying that me being a mason goes against your post fundamentally. My situation might be a bit of a unique one in that I have had a strong desire to be a mason since I was 12 years old and found out that my grandfather is a mason. I never could get outdoors and do much, so masonry offers me not only intellectual light, but also a place to go and something that I can be part of. I don't have a lot of money but one of my dearest friends and Lodge Brothers is worth millions. I pay my dues and make regular donations and have attended every stated meeting and almost every degree since I was raised in March of this year. I'm dedicated to the fraternity,and have a great desire to see it get stronger and grow. Most of the lodges around me here are fairly casual in their dress and sadly in their work. It is more about having fun and being in a club so to speak then making men better and fathering their intellectual light. However I am lucky to have joined one of the best lodges in this state. t
Their work is excellent. The Brethren are excellent.We wear suits and ties and ritual always takes precedence over presidince over joking or goofing off. Granted, I'm extremely biased but I fundamentally disagree with your post. Money does not make good men jobs or positions do not make good men.
Faith, hope,brotherly love,and charity make good men.
Respectfully,
Bro. Thomas James Garrison
Crossville Lodge #483
Crossville TN.