A conversation on Morning Joe on MSNBC last week, evaluating Joe Biden’s aggressive response to an elderly Iowan male’s distorted criticism of his son’s working for a Ukrainian oil company linked to his disdain for Biden’s age and presumed incompetence displayed two opposing sides of the political landscape.
Two women on the set, Mika Brezinski and Katy Kay of the BBC, both disdained Biden’s ineffectual and tasteless response, while both Joe Scarborough and Eugene Robinson found it highly appropriate to the moment of the political climate in the U.S.
Biden shouted down the man’s claim that he had influenced his son’s involvement in the oil company, challenged him to push-ups and then scorned him as “too old to vote for me” in the encounter.
The truth is, both the men (Scarborough and Robinson) and women (Brezinski and Kay) are valid, honourable, insightful and essentially worthy of respect in their analysis of the ‘hot’ moment on the campaign trail. The fact that Scarborough then went on to deride the women, and all other effetes, for their scorn of Biden’s “alpha male” response only adds to the political, cultural, social, and even ethical dilemma facing not only the U.S. but the western world.
Men are facing a perceived serious crisis of confidence in light of the kind of more nuanced, sensitive, moderate and far less pugilistic perceptions of those two women. And while this ‘war of the sexes’ has been going on for eons, the fact is that both genders have some room to give. Both genders also have some room to grow.
Dogs as family pets need and even depend on a kind of alpha male mentorship. Crises, like the one facing Great Britain and the allies in the Second World War, need an alpha male as was provided in spades by Winston Churchill. Emergency room doctors and nurses need a deep reservoir of the alpha male, tempered with Hemingway’s grace under fire when facing the latest gang-land shooting victim, or the most recent expectant mother in the middle of an unplanned and unexpected abortion. Military generals, in the heat of battle need the alpha male ‘command’ of both themselves and their various battle elements, both human and machine, as a steadying hand. Similarly, sea captains facing hurricane winds, fighter and commercial jet pilots facing nature’s worst storms, and space-ship captains facing malfunctioning rockets need a deep reserve of alpha-male strength, confidence, and nerves of steel in the moment of the crisis. Doctors in the operating room, when unexpected and life-threatening haemorages erupt need a similar menu of take-charge, can-do, heroic stretches beyond their basic training and experience.
It is in such moments, in all theatres, cabins, and crises that humans need, and observers respect, a dominant alpha-male-type response.
Heroes are born in such moments. And for many, such heroism becomes a kind of mystical mantra and guiding star for their lives. Many do pursue the moment of their dreams when they save a life, or when they score the winning goal in a championship game, or when they give birth under far less than healthy circumstances. Life stories and their time lines are often marked by such moments of heroic decision-making and even more admirable execution.
A ninety-five-year-old man whom I deeply admired for much more than his age delivered the most important story of his life, at a Christmas party, in a quiet corner of the room. He had, decades previously, flown small aircraft for various purposes. On a northern flight, he was asked to deliver a native woman in labour to the nearest medical station. Having accomplished this mission, however, the woman’s condition was too serious for that station to handle. Another flight in winter weather, in the dark of night to another medical station, ended with a similar result. Only after a third flight to another station was the woman adequately attended to and her child delivered. Of course, that pilot preserved the memories of that night in the deepest and most sacred sanctuary of his heart, as did that mother. The two later met and celebrated their horrific, challenging and ultimately life-giving and life-changing experience.
The depths of human capacity to endure, and to withstand severe complications, whether they be physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual are well documented, and celebrated in such commendations as sainthood, literary memoires, movies, military campaigns, political campaigns and news stories. Writers like Faulkner have celebrated the unextinguishable flame of the human spirit in his speech upon receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950.
However, this eternal flame of the human spirit has more than one dimension. It is not only displayed in heroic sensational and life-defying acts of bravery, self-control, strategic decision-making, or goal achievement. It is also honoured and celebrated in different circumstances, less noted in history, and less honoured in a culture in which certain stereotypes of the alpha-male type of heroism dominate.
Naturally, a male-dominated culture, including its history, its anthropology, its artistic and scientific achievements and its theological, legal and medical premises will champion the masculine-characteristics of the heroic. The very notion of how to plow a field, based on the use of a plow exclusive to the men in the community, left other chores associated with feeding the family to the women. Physical strength, muscle and endurance of those muscles naturally played and continue to play, a significant role in determining cultural perceptions of the male-female collaboration and co-operation in early cultures.
On another front, care and organic understanding and appreciation of the human body, for example, men seemed both unaware and disinterested in their own physical and emotional pain, and actually defaulted on their own care and healing. Determined to carry out the required chores, duties, responsibilities of their lot and role, without regard to the dangers implicit in those activities, men have whether consciously or not, deferred to their more heroic attitudes of insouciance. Encouraged and cheered on by their ‘brother’s,’ men have disdained paying attention to their bodies, and their feelings and their psychological health from the beginning. Exceptions, of course, are found on the shelves of the archives of libraries in universities and hospitals and clinics, where the writings, research and speculations of many male prophets, poets, philosophers and scientists are recorded and preserved.
While men were accorded leadership roles in all institutions, women were not, as a matter of historical record. And the implications of that reality continue to vibrate all these many centuries since human history began. The ways in which men perceived, conceived, imagined and theorized about the nature of everything from God, to nature, to time, to enemies, to disease, to health and to happiness came to comprise the worldview, attitudes, philosophies, scientific and scholarly processes approaches on which the world has based its many foundational principles and premises. The masculine world view, not mere the men who articulated it, has dominated how the world works from the beginning.
In the Christian world, the Garden of Eden story, an imaginary tale of first beginnings, posited a tension between man and woman, complete with an intervention by the snake. Culpability, as one implication, fell to the woman for the man’s eating the forbidden fruit. That debate has echoed throughout the ages, without a resolution, in spite of the volumes of print dedicated to that pursuit. Early cultures posited many deities, as their way of trying to explain and to relate to the mysteries of how plants grow, how seasons, moons, the earth and the universe works. And our recorded impressions, perceptions, attitudes and beliefs erupted like volcanoes from the minds, hearts, bodies and spirits of men. To an almost exclusive degree, women remained silent, absent and insignificant in the formation of how geophysical, geopolitical, ethical, medical, legal and theological insights developed. The degree to which that dynamic was deliberate, malignant and malicious is, and will continue to be, the source of much negative and contentious debate and conflict between men and women long into the twenty-first century. Whether male dominance, as malice, cancerous and thereby culturally toxic and lethal deserves its charge of crimes against humanity will continue to occupy lecture halls, seminar rooms and scholarly and popular writers for centuries. Male dominance, in all of its many roots and tentacles, however, cannot be denied.
It is this male dominance, even if considered honourable, responsible and mature, given the various epochs of history, and its many different faces and applications that has provided many benefits, insights and growth opportunities. It has also tragically excluded perceptions, attitudes, insights, imaginative visions and organic truths from the consciousness of the human species. Those contributions originating with the women on the planet, continue to be regarded with less honour, respect, dignity and authority than those of men, it says here, because men fear a kind of “defeat” if those different cultural attributes and perceptions were valued. Men, then, have been, are and will continue to be their (our) own worst enemies in the tension that continues to play out between men and women.
We cling to what we consider to be healthy masculinity at our own expense, and potential demise. And, as is clear to any sentient being, that demise could well include all of life on this planet as we know it. Given our contempt for anything that smacks of weakness, including our illnesses, our pains, our colds and fevers, and the doctors and nurses that can only serve us if they know the full truth of our conditions, we transfer that perception of fear of weakness and vulnerability to our planet, in our resistance to a full-and -open-minded orientation to the truth of global warming and climate change.
Given the masculine foundational roots of at least Christian theology, with a now single deity having replaced the panoply of deities of the Greeks, and with rules and traditions of obedience, loyalty and sacrifice to the deity, based on an exclusively masculine-conceived and delivered theology, we have debased that God as a critical parent, as an ethical snake that insinuates itself into each and every moral and ethical decision each of us make. Focussing on the daily opportunities/temptations of theft, lust, envy, murder and dishonouring parents, the decalogue has entrapped centuries of aspiring human beings in a narrow, personal, codified and punishable ethical and moral cage, from which each and every human’s daily life can be, has been and continues to be judged by those self-righteous, self-appointed, and self-anointed Christian purists. The fate of the planet and each person seeking and scratching out a chance for a heathy, honourable, worthy and dignified existence cannot even be envisioned by such a myopic theology and faith. Furthermore, the unconscious, insouciant dominant masculine fear of failure, defeat, loss of control, as absolutely linked to our obedience to God, has generated centuries of colonization in the name of that God, imprisonment of those whose lives counter our narrow, myopic and relentless pursuit of God’s favour and salvation, and the death of thousands of miscreants, without forgiveness, restitution and reconciliation, also one of the less prominent cornerstones of our purported faith.
In the process of two thousand years of propagation, dissemination, theorizing and praxis of the Christian theology, male dominated, male executed, male judicated, and male incarnated, we have collectively and individually participated in a kind of unnecessary, sabotaging and defeating cultural, political, ethical, and profoundly spiritual tragedy. We have entombed men in a straight-jacket of moral, ethical and psychological and spiritual enslavement and relegated the feminine to the edges of our “shared” culture. Both genders, thereby, have been reduced to a mere shadow of our respective potential, as has the gift of God also been squeezed into a mere performance of rituals, prayers, hymns, and balance sheets of fiscal, moral and ethical imprisonment to which no God worthy of the name ought to be relegated.
As one parishioner put it, “We are only attending church to reserve a place in heaven when we go!” to my utter shock! As another simplistic view of the faith put it by another parishioner, “Jesus was the first and best salesman in the world!”
It is the male, and thereby the human capacity and proclivity to simplify, reduce, and to attempt ultimately to control our life, our persons, and clearly our faith institutions by a variety of methods and approaches that lies at the root of our undoing. We name and diagnose behaviour, attitudes and beliefs that we consider “acceptable,” “ethical,” “moral,” and “evil,” in ways that compromise our very existence. “Normal,” human behaviour, for example is segregated from “abnormal” behaviour in ways that no God worthy of the name would countenance. And then “abnormal” behaviour is classified as either “evil” or “sick.”
And on the basis of both of these categories, “evil,” and “sick” we design hierarchical rules, regulations, procedures and processes now commonly known as legal/judicial and medical respectively. In both of these “machines” the ultimate control is presumed to reside in “man” the ultimate of God’s creatures who, sadly and tragically, continues to perceive and conceive of his capabilities, skills and potential as in the image of God, “imago dei”. Sadly, it says here, this is and has always been an inversion of the “imago dei” to which it refers.
Man, and women, too, are least like God in being heroic, alpha-males, in complete control of the impending doom. Nevertheless, it is the male conception of heroic discipleship that continues to abound and impound its adherents. Ironically, paradoxically, and potentially lethally, when “man” opens to the gift and the freedom of vulnerability, incompleteness, ambiguity, the need for help and guidance, not only on an intellectual basis, but on an moral, ethical, global and spiritual basis, (and such guidance and support is only available from the feminine), then God’s presence can become potentially appreciated. It is not that women have better information than men; it is more that women have a much more organic and visceral connection and relationship to the universe, to each other, and potentially to God, a long-abused potential. And only if and when men open to the conscious gift of our “androgyny,” and the more accessible truths in attitudes, perceptions, philosophies, theologies and healing approaches innate to women that we might open the potential not only of planetary survival, but also to the truth of our own masculine self-sabotage in our relentless pursuit of extrinsic, sensate and valueless symbols of power and status.
The recent “veering” of the business community to “forming relationships” with its customers and clients, notwithstanding, as a merely transactional tactic in pursuit of sales, profits and investor dividends. It merely puts a mascara of transactional vernacular on what could be a far more intrinsic, authentic, and integral relationship between humans with each other, with the planet and with God. Examples of such unity, harmony and connectivity with the universe, the planet, and with God can also be found among native communities whose respect for the Great Spirit in all aspects of their lives models a kind of reverence, humility and survivalist faith that the west can only aspire to emulate.
God is patiently waiting, listening, praying offering hope in our shared blindness and hubris.