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What is going on with the unenlightened white male? Sitting around a campfire on the recent July 4th weekend with my three brothers brought fascinating insights. We engaged in a political discourse early in the evening and didn't stop until 2 in the morning.

The middle brother is a staunch Republican, while my two other brothers are routinely skeptical, with a liberal bent. I tend to have my own ideas but am willing to listen to the other side. One of our conversations led up to the struggles of white males, many of whom feel uneasy, ignored and unsafe.

It made little sense to me, since we don't live in a war-torn country such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Ukraine or Syria. Many marginalized people here in the United States feel understandably vulnerable. This is a sad reality often perpetuated by the white male. So why does the white male, particularly the heterosexual white male, persist in feeling threatened and ultimately unsafe?

Diving deep into this discussion with my brothers, all of whom are white and in their late 50s, I surmised that this cohort consists of a wide range of personalities and characteristics — they are not a monolith. Marginalized people are not a monolith, either. Straight up, this fact needs constant reinforcement in our divided communities. Yet, stubbornly, the male gender leans into three hardened categories: 1) the white-collar white male, 2) the blue-collar white male, and 3) the unemployed white male.

Because white males are not considered "marginalized," pressures to succeed and to be respected are pervasive. Risk-taking, striving for power and masculinity also have impacts on their disposition and personality. Of course, how a white male was raised by his parents, how his participation in the school system mattered, and how his community made him feel accepted or not explain something about his place in the world. There is no excuse for mediocrity. What I learned from the fireside conversation was that it is critical for a white male to be exceptional, or to at least feel exceptional. If he is lacking in this strength at work, family, school or a hobby, he is ordinary, just another average Joe. Crushing indeed! Ego means everything.

An unemployed white male, a blue-collar white male, or even a white-collar white male who is under stressful, intimidating or humiliating circumstances is very aware of his masculinity, or lack of it, compared with successful white males. His ego is obliterated.

Rank matters to a white male. Does he measure up or fit in? Self-esteem is fragile at this point; he may believe his low rank is due to a deficit or defect. A low-ranking white male may lack motivation, risk-taking abilities and intelligence. If he isn't particularly engaged at school and struggles to understand rigorous classroom training or academics and drops out of school, for example, he has an increased chance of working at a lower-paying job with far less autonomy. If his place of work is dehumanizing and the boss is disrespectful, chances are he doesn't feel good about himself.

So what does this have to do with anti-vaxxers, Trumpism and believing in conspiracy theories? In his attempt at exceptionalism, the struggling white male rebels against an ever-changing landscape of rules and regulations governing personal freedoms, while demanding that law and order uphold his freedoms. The disenfranchised white male rails against mainstream media that tells reality like it is — good, bad or ugly. He rails against the government he believes is taking away hard-earned money (big corporations have a hand in messing with our finances more than we think), taking away guns and taking away personal freedoms.

On the other hand, alternative thoughts expressed on alternative social media platforms give the so-called "inside scoop," or the real story behind an event. Oh, if only the trumped-up stories were true! Alternative media platforms need higher viewership, plain and simple, so they'll say anything. It's the profit motive, stupid! All while the fool still believes. False and dangerous ideologies put us all at risk.

The perception of being head and shoulders above the crowd is necessary to fulfill and maintain the ego. Ordinary individuals now feel extraordinary against a backdrop of perilous events such as gun violence, climate change and the ongoing global disease framework.

The ordinary white male feels invincible on one hand and threatened on the other. In fact, the unenlightened white male is already left behind, and he knows it.

Sharon E. Carlson lives in Andover.