Monday, November 12, 2012

Culture generates victory and tragic victims

It’s a peculiar strain in the American ethos, this obsession with personal morality as measured by sexual activity rather than the complete character of a man or woman. (from Rosie DiManno's column, Presidential Prude lets David Petraeus fall on his sword, Toronto Star, November 12, 2012, excerpted below)
The culture of judgement, demonizing judgement, directed against sexual activity ignoring the complete character of an individual, rampant in the U.S., has many attendant cultural supports.
First, it is still a "male-dominated, and male-dominant" culture, in spite of the failure of the white male demographic to elect Romney. And in that culture, males do not own, and do not demonstrate a healthy attitude with respect to their own sexuality, as evidenced by their bigoted contempt for gay males. So male contendedness, and male comfort, and male self-esteem is undermined from the first exposure of male bodies in the showers of the junior high and high schools, with public disdain for the size of the smallest penis, shared as a common, conventional target of males of 'superior size'. Some targeted boys refuse to shower in the school showers after their first such hazing and who can blame them?
Second, this male "prowess" is extended, as recently as last week, to such sexual bravado among some adolescent males who win "brownie points" for their sexual conquests of co-eds in their school, and when the competition is exposed, as it was in San Francisco, the school authorities do not punish the offending males, nor the innocently participating females.
In every secondary school in America, the student population knows that the captain of the football team can "have" whatever girl he chooses, because, from the female perspective, "her competitive conquest" is to be the most "favoured" by the most popular male, and thereby to garner the envy, the jealousy and perhaps even the contempt of her female peers. Status, the achievment of the top rung on whatever social ladder one faces, like all other competitive learnings, is the reward and the punishment for "success" and "success" is the goal of the American enterprise, no matter its fragility, frailty, temporality, or even the means used for its attainment.
Competition, body size and shape (not only for young males, but also sadly for females, and the comparative and competitive size of the breasts), status, grades and the "brand" of the university which offers acceptance begin this march toward what American youth are presented as the standards they are expected to emulate and achieve. Included in this competition in which all children grow and develop is the size of parents' income, size of house, brand of car, destination of vacation, list of peers among adult circles, invitations to the 'right' social events, all of them beset with a pecking order of the importance of the invited guests generating a literal and virtual "play-bill" of characters, admired, detested and/or ignored, for adolescents to observe, integrate into their world view and choose to emulate, disregard, rebel against, or grow bored by.
In the parallel adult universe, there are also marriages breaking down, affairs rising up, wilting and dying, all of them dramatizing the sexual relationships that characterize the parents of these adolescents. Similarly, some of these parents have moved on from their adolescent pursuits of power and glory, to new fields of conquest, political, corporate, military, academic and once again, sexual, never far removed from the "heartbeat of America," to both the disdain and the exstacy of General Motors who borrowed the sell line, a few years back.
Movies are written and produced documenting the multiple vagaries of "love" relationships in various theatres of human adventure, often violent, often 'sinful' (because they are the most potent sales offerings) and frequently tragic, yet always supported by box-office sales. Add to this an internet overflowing with pornography, produced by and viewed mostly by men, whose sexual appetite is not only insatiable, but fed by the fuel of a fashion industry, a competitive society, among both men and women, sometimes against the other gender sometimes in league with the opposite gender.
Undergirding this ferment of sexual fixation, is a religious "ban" on sexuality, based primarily on the need for control by church authorities originally but also on a 'theology' that starts with an unsustainable premise.
        It is possible we have been systematically misled about our morality from the very beginning. Why should God have interfered with Eden as he did, evidently for the dual offenses of sexual awareness (sexual anxiety again!) and empirical skepticism, that forbidden fruit? Any why blame poor Adam, whom after all God made? And why was what happened in Eden the "Fall"? And why were Adam and Eve so harshly and disproportionately ridiculed for their sexual frisson? Were not those perplexingly pleasurable nerve endings in their genitalia there for a purpose? Was orgasm an accidental spasm, which happened to be so mightily pleasing that (later on when churches got going) its occurrence or not could be held up as a measure of obedience to God?
        This is mad. No wonder practitioners of the morality trades have so enthusiastically separated man from animal, culture from nature, devotion from innocence. If morality is natural, then you don't need priests as much as you're likely to enjoy being informed by scientists. If morality is a biologial phenomenon, then it is merely insulting to harass mankind for its current condition because of an historic Fall in the past and putative Heaven in the future. When spirituality became a special flovor and ceased being fun, when mystical congregation and speculation became instead a matter of bare knees on cold stone and varying renunciations; when involvement with the seasons and the other subtle rhythms of nature became formalized into arbitrary rituals governed by functionaries, then the classical impulse for moral affiliation becaue translated into something else: into a calculation of ethical profit and loss, supervised by an accountant Church and a demanding God. A new tax was born. The tithe. Ten percent for the first agents. (Lionel Tiger,"The Manufacture of Evil," Harper and Row, New York, 1987, p.32-33)
So we have a country, (perhaps a continent, or more than one continent) drowning in an unsustainable link between nature and morality, between faith and fornication, between authority and responsibility that really posits a love-hate relationship between one's sexuality identity and one's culture and patriotism.
And when we link to that unsustainable tapestry, the overlay of national security, secrecy and the paranoia that rose like a Leviathan from the deep on 9/11, then we have national neurosis legitimized, making everyone a political pundit, a social critic (witness the bullying on Twitter and Facebook) and a moral judge, without the accompanying responsibility for the use of that "power of the pen" as it was called in history, and how merely the power to hit "publish".
Return again to the adolescent world of competing females for the most popular man (insert the appropriate adjective: admirable, sexy, powerful, athletic, talented, charismatic, uniformed, rich, statuesque, renowned, star-like, highest ranking, even authentic) and let their fury pursue such sex objects, dependent on their personal level of unhappiness, loneliness, alienation, fear, rejection, jealousy, anger, revenge...and there is no law, and no decalogue that can mitigate against such a collision.
And, while there is a national cathedral of competition, as the most American of religions, and while competition includes all the human weapons of war, including but not restricted to military weapons, such as gossip, innuendo, character assassination, political torpedoes, official reporting to legal "authorities" as evidence of the perceived seriousness of any complaint, restraining orders, and even false charges...people are still both the generators of the war and its different venues and scenarios, and the recipients of the attacks.
Lives are "on the line" today more than ever in the past, and our individual capacity to withstand the kind of public trashing that awaits any public figure is also unsustainable, by all accounts of the definition of being a human.
We have surpassed our capacity to withstand and to endure the confluence of multiple influences: cultural cornerstones, religious dogma, personal ambition and competion, political and technological opportunity and our insatiable appetite for instant gratification. And David Petraeus is the latest, and perhaps the most tragic of the victims of our collective and shared perfidy.

DiManno: Presidential prude lets David Petraeus fall on his sword
By Rosie DiManno, Toronto Star, November 12, 2012
It’s easy to say he shouldn’t have got himself all tangled up in an extramarital affair. But surely that’s a matter between Petraeus and his wife of nearly four decades. Infidelity hardly invalidated the military genius that Petraeus brought to bear on Iraq, where his innovative rewriting of the counter-insurgency rule book restored a semblance of sanity and security in a violent, deranged country.

Obama, with the currency earned in an election that wasn’t anywhere near as close as had been advertised, could have stood by his man, as his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, had stood by her man, famously fingered as adulterer whilst president. Bill Clinton was actually impeached for his unconsummated dalliance with Monica Lewinsky — and initially lying about it — yet emerged from that sorry spectacle largely unscathed, entirely capable of running the nation, his legacy not significantly tarnished.
Instead, Obama slept on the revelation overnight and then reluctantly — it is alleged — accepted Petraeus’s resignation. Reportedly, Petraeus would not be talked out of falling on his sword. But a president has tremendous powers of persuasion at his disposal and duty to the nation is a powerful card to play with a career soldier.
Perhaps, in the secretive world of the CIA, there can be no tolerance when the clandestine becomes mortifyingly public. It wasn’t the CIA that blew the whistle on Petraeus, however; it was the agency’s historical rival, the FBI. A secret exposed, though, is essentially neutralized, can no longer do much harm, if the reasoning is that a CIA director compromised would be an insupportable liability.
What more harm via potential blackmail could emanate from that quarter?
Paula Broadwell, married mother of two, has been identified as the flame who became too hot to handle, banging off harassing emails to another woman —identified Sunday as Jill Kelley, the State Department's liaison to the military’s Joint Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla. — she perceived as a threat for Petraeus’s attentions. The exact nature of Petraeus’s relationship with Kelley is unclear but Broadwell was apparently enraged. The two women seem to have been competing for Petraeus’s loyalty, if not his affection. It can get complicated, having a wife, a mistress and somewhat significant other.
The FBI, purportedly concerned that the CIA director’s personal email account had been hacked, launched a probe when Kelley, alarmed and frightened, brought Broadwell’s broadsides to their attention a few months ago. We are to believe the FBI then “stumbled’’ on evidence of an affair between Petraeus and Broadwell. What to do about it? Well, tell Petraeus’s boss, James Clapper Jr., director of national intelligence, who urged Petraeus to step down. The mess landed on Obama’s desk Thursday, the president still basking in the glow of winning a second term.
It’s a peculiar strain in the American ethos, this obsession with personal morality as measured by sexual activity rather than the complete character of a man or woman.
This particular man, Petraeus, does not deserve such a spectacular fall from grace for cheating on his wife. He’d been the most high profile American figure in the modern military and intelligence complex, crafting almost single-handedly a profound evolution in counter-insurgency tactics, a philosophy that emphasized protecting civilian life rather than killing enemies, though certainly not flinching from doing that also. That template, harnessed to an aggressive undertaking that forged allies among Iraq’s endlessly feuding tribal leaders and a critical troop surge, rescued a nation on the verge of full-blown civil war. The approach has had less traction in Afghanistan, where Petraeus took over in 2010 as commander from Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who was fired by Obama over critical remarks about the president he’d foolishly made to a reporter....

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