Monday, September 30, 2019

#6 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (gender)

Men, far from resisting the implications of the power of words, received and/or uttered, like the kids in Narnia, have a waiting door into the secret “forest” of our sensibilities and our verdant imaginations (both personal and the “other” whether writer or friend) where the words we choose become historically archived imprints of our identity, our legacy and our most important dreams and aspirations.

Launching all of our interactions (both interior and with others) from the starting line of this belief, attitude, perception and conviction, will help to soften our dependence on our insecurity, and the corresponding default to using words as “tools” in an instrumental and too often manipulating exchange of power. Refocusing on the long-term, intimate connection of the current “moment” to what our imagination conceives as something called eternity (with thanks to Jurgen Moltmann’s Theology of Hope) offers a new lens to our potential and the potential of the words we choose. And through those lenses, we are more able to re-position our person and our identity as the gardener of our own legacy, reputation and contribution to the world community, and not merely to “fixing” the problem of the moment. The concept of identifying with whatever we are hearing from the other will be significantly enhanced, not merely by sensing empathy (walking a mile in his/her mocassins) but also by letting our own conception of our better angels “speak”, “write” or “draw” the picture those angels would honour forever.

If each and every moment of our existence, and that moment in the life of each other person were imagined as an integral and indelible scratch on the cave of eternity, rather than an impulsive, reactive and frightened response coming from the vault of our fear and neurosis, “fired” as a way to fend off what we can only conceive as “a threat,” imagine the transformation we can achieve together. Words, deployed as the arrows from the quiver of our fear and distrust, can and will only generate a similar and parallel response of the arrows from the quiver of the other’s fear.

Now that we have accumulated more than a surfeit of military weapons, as well as clouds of environmental gases that can and will eradicate our species, surely taking a look at how we might have arrived here might be instrumental in restoring the honour and the benefits of a perspective that points to the shared goal of survival and a new kind of planetary “garden”. Surely we have reached a tipping point in the manner by which we perceive/conceive/conceptualize our identity and the purpose/meaning of our existence, individually and collectively. One of the primary cornerstones of our identity points to our “use” of words as tools, weapons, and instruments of power over our colleagues, and our adversaries. Anything outside of ourselves, especially for men, including the universe itself, has been historically conceptualized as “for our use” and for some even our “dominion” over the universe.*

Not incidentally, our “reading” of these words provides an authentic opportunity to reflect on the significant difference between a literal denotative interpretation of these words and a metaphoric, connotative, mythical reading. Our chosen lens or perspective on our experience, in all faith communities, of the words that have been transmitted as the sacred belief of that faith community need and deserve a finely tuned reading and interpretation of those words. Not necessarily needing a philosophic or academic doctorate, but rather an acknowledgement of the history and origin of those words, from other human beings, depicting their best estimate of the origins of the universe, and reflecting a basic awareness of the multiple “voices” and meanings and reverberations of their words. There is no justification here for the “power-over” interpretation, as we have come to understand power in the manner by which we have destroyed habitats and eradicated millions of species, ostensibly to “serve” our most base and self-centred interests, passions and ambitions. Rather, merely to underline the early perceived differences between the human being and all other species, the words in Genesis offer a pre-historic conception, as our acceptance of and gratitude for that mythical gift is no less needed.

Clearly, the western allegedly Christian culture has imported these words from Genesis into the often-aggressive and virulent debate between “creationists” and evolutionists, and the implications for those opposing viewpoints in designing school curriculum. As a similar “incorporation” of eternity into our conception of the universe, only this time from the other end of time, we are invited to begin our own seeding of our imaginations and conceptions of our place in “time” as in the nunc fluens (the flowing now, of the river of eternal time from beginning to end).

Writers from all ethnicities, geographies, religions, languages and historical periods have been able and willing to stretch their own and their readers’ intellectual, imaginative and even affective and spiritual horizons to embrace both ends of time, while at the same time accepting and even depending a micro-measuring of its relevance in the scope of our brief existence. This experience need not be restricted to only a “faith” or religious dogma. In fact, such a reduction signifies a reduction and constriction of our perception/conception of God, while perpetuating a separation of the secular from the sacred. Words really do matter, whether we are tweeting to our colleagues, or framing our identity and existence in the world.

Not only will an enlarged and enhanced exposure to the words of our best and most revered authors and poets provide new and more varied word choices for each of our encounters and relationships, that additional reading will inevitably contribute to our growing confidence in all of our relationships. Not only by providing specific word choices, but also by providing scenes, scenarios and comparative situations to those we currently face, exposure to the imaginative gifts of our authors and poets enhances our perceptions, diagnoses and thereby our interventions for whatever situations enter our paths. As one contemporary CEO put it, “Give me a literature student who understands the patterns elicited and detailed in literary works, and I can and will teach him/her the details of the balance sheet!”

The wisdom of that highly sophisticated and cogent cornerstone of that CEO’s hiring policy and perspective, however, seems to have been lost, avoided or outright rejected by the curriculum designers in many western universities, (while pandering to the STEM demand of the current training vogue). It has also been glossed over by those responsible for religious theory and praxis, preferring the false safety and security of a “hardened, fossilized, rigid and immutable” set of religious “beliefs and dogma” rendering the ecclesial hierarchy, and the corporate edifice into another “law enforcement” agency, against the presumed and assumed “evil” of human beings. Even the elimination and/or reduction of basic courses in Literature from many of the STEM curricular requirements, and from the medical and science faculties robs those students, and the culture they will server, demonstrates an endorsement of the erosion of the importance, the relevance and the enrichment that can come only from “words” and their intimate, irreversible and deep connection to our most secret and creative thoughts and feelings.

Historically, men have attempted to divide another of the indivisibles of human existence, thoughts from feelings. The zygote of sacred/secular and the zygote of intellect/emotion ought never to be completely separated in the insemination of our world view, and our identity. The zygote is the fertilized egg cell that result from the union of a female gamete (egg or ovum) with a male gamete (sperm), in the embryonic development of human and other animals, the zygote stage is brief and is followed by cleavage, when the single cell becomes subdivided into smaller cells. Just as we cannot eliminate the zygote of egg and sperm from our human biology, we cannot either eliminate or negate the need of such a fertilization, prior to individual cleavage into subdivision of the many cells of our bodies, that can be compared to the process of growth and development that is unique to each of us.

And here is another word that demands the attention, the integration and the nurture in the culture deemed by the masculine gender of the western culture:

ANDROGYNY: the combination of masculine and feminine characteristics into an ambiguous form. Androgyny may be expressed with regard to biological sexual gender identity, gender expression or sexual identity.

However, is befits the dominant literalism of our current thinking, public discourse, and reductionism,  we have eliminated the “psychological” and the cultural and the spiritual and the intellectual and the imaginative potentialities of this concept. Far from reducing it to a merely biological, physical, expression, the word and its connotation has far more expansive and extensive application. It can be applied to a world view, an attitude, an appreciation of our individual and unique psychological identity, as originally offered by Carl Jung, the psychiatrist and theorist whose attribution of the “anima” (the female spirit) in all men, and the animus (the male spirit) in all women. For Jung, these unconscious traits “reside” in the Shadow, “the inferior being in ourselves, the one who wants to do all the things that we do not allow ourselves to do, who is everything we are not. The shadow is the personal unconscious; it is all those uncivilized desires and emotions that are incompatible with social standards and our ideal personality all that we are ashamed of, all that we do not want to know about ourselves. It follows that the narrower and more restrictive the society in which we live the larger will be our shadow….(Frieda Fordham, An Introduction to Jung’s Psychology, Penguin, Great Britain,1966 p.49)
“The unconscious of a man contains a complementary feminine element (anima), that of a woman a male element (animus). The most masculine of men, will often show surprising gentleness with children or with anyone weak or ill; strong men give way to uncontrolled emotion in private, and can be both sentimental and irrational; brave men are sometimes terrified by quite harmless situations, and some men have surprising intuition or a gift for sensing others people’s feelings. All these supposedly feminine traits, as well as more obvious effeminacy in a man. This latent femininity in a man is, however only one aspect of his soul, his anima. An inherited collective image of woman exists in a man’s unconscious with the help of which he apprehends the nature of woman.” (Fordham, op. cit, p. 52)

Here we can explore the intersection of the complexity of human psychology and the dictates of a restricted, repressed and constricted definition of masculinity by too many men in North America. Fighting, denying, ignoring, refusing to acknowledge and also punishing (especially as a function of a religious, spiritual and ethical theory and praxis) or even competing with another of the many concepts that remain beyond empirical definition and measure and scientific study, the anima, North American men hoist themselves on our own petard: harm ourselves by our own plan and attitude and intent to harm those we consider to be too effeminate for our comfort. There is no escaping our own anima, nor is there any place for such an elimination or its vindictive punishment inside our faith communities, nor within the legal constraints of our civil and criminal law.

Rather, we need to become open to, receptive of and embracing that side of our identity (our anima), not restricting our conception and belief of masculinity to what can be empirically perceived by the senses. It is not only our adolescent football of hockey team members who reject anything hinting of the “fag” the “wuss,” the “girlie” and the “cry-baby”. Too often these epithets are uttered in derisive contempt by our mothers, our girlfriends (behind our backs), our work-mates, our classmates. And of course, stamping on many of the political debates about KGBTQ rights, this drumbeat of the masculine denial and rejection of even the spectre of an anima in the most straight men without being acknowledged and accepted, especially among the most power men among us, this denial results in further persecution of the LGBTQ community, both socially and criminally.

With respect to our faith institutions, too, a denial of the unconscious male anima has for centuries resulted in the rejection of non-celebate clergy, gay clergy, and the concept that the deity must remain conceived, perceived and presented to the laity as exclusively male. It has also led to an impossible and unenforceable divide between male clergy, and male faculty from their female parishoners and students respectively.

Based on the assumption of the “weakness” in power of the female “clients”, this fallacious premise ignores and denies the biological impetus to connect and to relate. It also perpetuates the perceived inferiority of the women, who themselves have a self-respecting and powerful voice either to accept or to reject invitations to relationship from men, regardless of the perceived power imbalance. From the masculine perspective, the sign hanging from the window of a co-ed’s room in a university residence rings loud and clear: “What part of NO do you not understand!” There are far too many instances of men presuming and assuming the consent of their sexual partners when such consent has not been offered. And there are also too many instances of women who originally consented to relationship and later, after the termination of the relationship, betrayed their own original consent and the “now offending” male, in an act of willful and illicit and jealous vengeance.

Is it only an appreciation of the potential of an androgynous deity that can and will ameliorate much of this contemporary shackling leg-iron that enslaves much of “establishment” society? It could also free many members of the LGBTQ community who, like many men and women in the straight community, struggle with rejection and alienation based on an innate fear of sexuality.

As the still dominant gender in our contemporary culture, men have much both to atone for and to learn about who we are, and how we might more effectively and mutually relate to our female partners, daughters and mothers. “Taking care of our own business” of knowing who we are, and whom we can become including both an enhanced vocabulary and an enhanced perception of our worth and value, as individuals and as a gender seems like a reasonable attainable goal.

*Genesis 1:26-28 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the flesh of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

#5 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (words)

A word is dead when it is said
Some say. I say it just begins to
Live that day. (Emily Dickinson)

We are all indebted to the American poet not only for her monumental contribution to American “letters” but also to the succinct, pithy, cogent and explosive nature of the human imagination. Far from proclaiming a religious dogma in the thought kernel above, Dickinson is pointing to, and inviting her reader to pause, and to reflect on the “universe” of pulsating, shining/mirroring energy of speech. It is speech that originates deep in the soul of every one of us potentially and predictably joining the moment of the utterance to every other moment, from beginning to forever. If as Blake reminds us, there is a universe in a grain of sand, there is an eternity in each and every word spoken, written, drawn and even scrolled on the back on millions of t-shirts.

Far from being constricted to a literal, denotative, scientific, and measureable “definition” or meaning, each word, like every musical note, every ballet pirouette, every brush stroke on canvas, if we would breathe, drink, smell, taste and linger over its impact on our whole person transports us into the universe it opens, the world of the person uttering the word and the depth of that person’s soul. However, the complexity of such a “between I and Thou” (thanks to Martin Buber) seems to have been set aside, or passed over, neglected and ignored in a masculine-dominated, product-driven, profit-pursued, transactional culture.

James Hillman excoriates the trajectory of psychology for its having fallen into the trap of literalism, of symptom, of nominalism, of an epistemology that renders all “unusual” behaviour into one of two “thought/concept” buckets: illness or evil. Endemic to this approach, (a failure to both client and profession, according to Hillman) is a universe, a cultural command that reduces each human being to a function, that old trap of thought, feeling, cognition, and pragmatic “realism”. Driven to demonstrate “value,” whether to a parent, or a teacher, a coach, a spouse or even a deity, men more than women are enchained in the iron ring of insecurity, abandonment, alienation, separation and a profound scarcity.

Such a trap has roots in:

Ø  a predominant theology of “sin” and “fallen” (erected on a presumption of hubris),
Ø A mis-apprehended notion of “education” (e ducere, to lead out) that attempts to “paint on” or even dig trenches for seeding by educators, thought and skill nuggets, rather than drawing out of the learner what is already within,
Ø a cultural imbalance veering toward detachment, objectivity and transaction at the expense of subjectivity, relationality, connection, empathy, and a shared inter-dependence
Ø an obsession with the tools, technology and the binary logic of the algorithm
that drives the current revolution
Ø the business model based on the principle of maximizing profits and minimizing costs
Ø the compulsion to equate the value of the human participation in the business model with units produced, time saved, and tension/conflict eliminated
Ø the separation of the “research and design” function into “costs” from the “profit centres” of revenue
Ø the scorched earth policy and practice of eliminating worker support systems like unions
Ø a deliberate process of weaponizing the language of business, politics, religion and ethics
Ø the ubiquity of social media constricting thought and feeling expression to the guttural verbal grunts/tweets/posts/ of the caveman

It is not a stretch to point out the link between the literal reductionisms of language, communication and the economic dynamic of the “bottom line” to the dramatic rise in psychic pain, loss of identity and alienation of large swaths of the North America population, on both side of the 49th parallel. The fact that public discourse, including media vocabulary and perception, focuses on the sordid side of human misdemeanour and the statistics of how the economy is now and is projected to work, as well as strained attempts to draw comparisons of dynamics, personalities and outcomes from history with the objective “data points of now, leaves a gaping hole in the human appetite for new and imaginative ways of experiencing that shared “now”.

“Spin doctors” as a spiking growth industry, is just one of the many signs of a  growing dependence on “managing the minds and perceptions” of customers, clients, voters and even sadly, institutes of higher learning. Words, sadly, are being physically, emotionally and psychically abused, just as are the millions of species we have lost in the last three or four decades. Reducing the public vernacular to the “lipstick” and the “mascara” and the “special effects” of the literary/imaginal/theatrical/fantasy artists on whose imaginations we have depended for centuries, for some, may hint at a convergence of the world of art and politics. For others of us, we see both the political and the artistic being shaped and sold for “ratings,” electoral victory, the individual resume, and the preservation of a perfect public image. And at the heart of this theatrical “production” is a dominant, richly funded, co-dependent and narcissistic (and mostly masculine) edifice over which the public masses are losing, or have lost, influence and possibly even control.

While this horrific and seemingly uncontrolled steam-roller of the public debasement of words is drowning the public airwaves and filling the ‘cloud,’ at the same time, among another demographic, the sale of books, both of fiction and non-fiction, in hard copy and on line, rises. So it is not that language is dying out completely.

Some reading data might be useful, for our shared consideration here. (From bookriot)

·        According to “bookriot,” in 2017, in the U.S. people over 15 spent an average of 16.8 minutes a day reading (not including work or school), down from 22.8 minutes in 2005.
·        Women read more than men, 19.8 minutes per day compared to 13.2, with men’s reading time declining more quickly than that of women.
·        Those between 20 and 34 read the least (an average of 6.6 minutes per day, while those over 75 read an average of 51 minutes per day.
·        The Pew Research Center reports that in 2018, the richest adults are three times more likely to read than those with a household income under $30k.
·        College grads are five times more likely to pick up a book than high school grads.
·        The NOP World Culture Score Index rates India as the country with the most reading per person, at eleven hours per week, with Thailand a distant second.
·        Significant too, a study of K-12 student reading habits showed that six extra minutes of reading per day can turn a struggling reader into one who meets or surpasses their grade’s benchmark.
·        Students who read 15 minutes or more per day (about 46%) made accelerated reading gains.
·        Also, third grade students who are proficient in reading are almost five times more likely to graduate high school than their peers with below-basic reading skills.
·        Compared to primetime TV, children’s books expose kids to 50% more words than primetime TV, according to a paper from University of California, Berkeley.
·        A 2016 study showed book readers have a 20% reduction in risk of mortality, over 12 years compared to non-book readers
·        Adults who read for 30 minutes a week reported feeling 20% more satisfied with their lives according to a Quick Read study.
·        One study showed reading reduces stress by 68%, more so that listening to music, having a cup of tea or taking a walk.

Merely somewhat illustrative of some of the points above, the limited data supports the empirical impact of exposure, digestion, contemplation and sharing of words.
However, having spend a quarter of a century in classrooms dedicated to the “teaching” of English, I have noted a consistent, persistent and regrettable lack of enthusiasm, motivation, participation and engagement with the nuances and the images, the moods and the emotions of the words of novelists, both male and female, among male adolescents. Of course, needing to be factored into this non-scientific and purely anecdotal study, is the adolescent male public show of derision and disdain for anything that their female classmates consider significant, while they are universally drowning in the tidal wave of their own hormone growth  and development. The occasional male exception to this pattern often takes the form and voice of young men arguing, debating and disagreeing in the class discussion of whatever specific title is under review. In fact, some of the most invigorating discussions in my experience were led by young men whose intellectual scores soared, while their reading/writing scores remained near the bottom of the scale.

It may seem a stretch to extrapolate any conclusive and definitive observations about the link between the adolescent English classroom of small Ontario towns and the decline in both reading habits and linguistic patterns of the twenty-first century. Nevertheless, the Hillman observations about psychology’s detour into empirical, literal, binary evil/illness attributions and diagnoses and their parallel “remediative” therapeutic interventions, including an excessive dependence on pharmaceuticals and a spike in “talk” therapy, based on the tenets and approaches of C/B (Cognitive/Behavioural) in contemporary counselling services, we are witnessing a parallel and discouraging pathway into a kind of reduction of the premises underpinning the experience of millions of people needing psychological, emotional and social support. Band-aids of language, including body language and thinking strategies, as they are applied to an individual in the vortex of a culture which minimizes the fullness of the complexity, the subjectivity, the imagination and the uniqueness of each individual seem to be of limited effectiveness.

However, such policies and practices must comply with government’s budget constrictions on public expenditures for “medical services” in another of the multiple short-term, numbers-based (clients and dollars) approaches of a culture making short-sighted, minimal and public-relations-based decisions on behalf of the political class. At least in Ontario, all counselling covered by the health care system operates under the umbrella of a medical office, employing a corps of social workers, with the occasional psychiatrist for reference and for more profound and complex needs. Taking for granted the assumption of a transactional, cost-profit-driven model of reducing the human being to a medical case, a counselling case, a customer, the decision-makers rely on the silent compliance of the mass of people with their “thinking” and their assumptions. And the results, as James Hillman is determined to remind us, we have more therapy and are more ill at ease than ever.

I once asked a graduate of a school of finance to consider reading Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, a short, pungent, poetic and masculine piece of fiction depicting an old man’s catch of a marlin off the Florida Keys, only to have its flesh removed by other fish, leaving only a mere carcass for him to beach, as his trophy to be witnessed and shared by the young boy in his life. Its masculinity jumps from both the plot, a highly challenging and even life-threatening adventure of the kind that fascinated Hemingway and the economic and even sparse language of both the descriptions of the scenes and the actions. My request came after a protracted deep and unwavering experience of the resolute, tightly-locked, repressed and denied volcano of emotions that were roiling in the soul of the young man. After three or four years of waiting, I have given up on waiting for and expecting any word that the Hemingway book had found or will find its way before that man’s eyes and soul.

Again, anecdotal, personal recounting of a single narrative of personal experience does not a “research study” comprise. However, it might be a glimmer of light into what appears to be a deep-seated cultural pattern (today we apparently call them memes) of the reliance by many males especially on the numerical details of the black and white of the balance sheet and the pursuit of its remaining in “black” as opposed to sliding into the “red.” Corroborating narratives of the examination of literal pieces of evidence, stripped of the complexities of context, (to reduce the argument to its bare essentials), in so many varied and seemingly disparate fields (medicine, law, accounting, ecclesial leadership, engineering, environmental diagnosis and preservation) seem to offer additional support for the thesis.

Another male acquaintance sends weekly gifts of poetry through the digital universe, in his life-giving, and life-sharing pursuit of a community of minds, hearts imaginations and otherwise silent partners in his life-long love of poetry. A retired pediatrician, this man, whom I know only by name and gift, has an obvious and deeply-held conviction that through the exposure to, and receptivity of, and  sharing of the complex and living “word” of our shared imaginations, is one pathway to the kind of “between” that Buber was imagining as the resting place of the deity, however it might be perceived or conceived.

Joseph Campbell writes these words in his Primitive Mythology, The Masks of God:

Animals area without speech, and one reason, surely, is their inability to play with sounds. They are without art—and the reason, again, is their inability to play with forms. Man’s capacity for play animates his urge to fashion images and organize forms in such a way as to create new stimuli for himself: sign stimuli, to which his nervous system may then react much in the way of an isomorph* to its releaser.
Campbell then quotes the British poet, A.E. Housman, on his triggering principle that is effective in the poetic impact:

Poetry seems to me more physical than intellectual. A year or two ago, in common with other, I received from America a request that I would define poetry. I replied that I could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat but that I thought we both recognized the object by the symptoms which it provokes in us. One of these symptoms was described in connection with another object by Eliphaz the Temanite**: “A spirit passed before my face: the hair of my flesh stood up.” Experience has taught me, when I am shaving of a morning, to keep watch over my thoughts, because if a line of poetry strays into my memory, my skin bristles so that the razor ceases to act. This particular symptom is accompanied by a shiver down the spine; there is another which consists in a constriction of the throat and a precipitation of water to the eyes; and there is a third which I can only describe by borrowing a phrase from one of Keat’s last letters, where he says, speaking o f   Fanny Brawne, “everything that reminds me of her goes through me like a spear.” The seat of this sensation is the pit of my stomach. (A.E.Housman, The name and Nature of Poetry, (London Cambridge Press, and New York, The MacMillan Company, 1933, p. 144, as quoted by Joseph Campbell, Primitive Mythology, the Masks of God, New York, Penguin Putnam, 1959, p.40-41

For additional exploration of poetry, for men, please refer to the worked edited by Robery Bly, James Hillman, and Mchael Meade, The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart.

*In the central nervous system of all animals there exist innate structures that are somehow counterparts of the proper environment of the species. The Gestalt psychologist Wolfgang Kohler has termed these structures in the central nervous system “isomorphs.” The animal, directed by innate endowment, comes to terms with its natural environment not as a consequence of any long, slow learning through experience, through trial and error, but immediately and with the certainty of recognition. (Joseph Campbell, op. cit. p 35)

**Eliophaz is called a Temanite. He appears in the Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible. Epiphaz appears mild and modest. In his first reply to Job’s complaints, he argues that those who are truly good are never entirely forsaken by Providence but that punishment may justly be inflicted for secret sins. (Wikipedia)

Saturday, September 28, 2019

#4 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (anger)

Suggestions that men open up to our own vulnerability, weakness, uncertainty and also to the insights that can and will only come from those moments in our lives when we suffer any kind of objection, rejection, discipline, and ostracism will seem paradoxical to the millions still struggling with accommodation, integration, acceptance and the flow of that energy.

So much human energy is being spent in various initiatives designed to integrate individuals into their families, into their day-care, into their sports teams, in what is a broad-based social commitment to what in Canada the constitution calls, “the peace order and good government” of the nation. Each of these efforts, some of them experimental, others quite seasoned and traditional, merits the study and exploration by all policy writers in all organizations, especially among educators, law enforcement, the athletic coaching fraternity and all those engaged in the broad field of social work, psychology, psychiatry and even, or perhaps especially the clergy. Conforming to the expectations of others, starting with the first few months of life, it turns out, is a central theme of each individual’s existence.

Of course, the earliest experiences of a young boy with his family begin to imprint those “nurture” patterns on his perceptions. Instant attention to the most immediate irritation from the child is an almost hourly “demand” on the parent. And the decisions made in those early moments, like the angle of the tennis racket, simultaneously illustrate and foretell future responses that seem to be “successful” in quieting the child, or not. Holding, making determined eye contact, touching, the tone of voice, the time-lapse between the first cry and the parent’s response, the duration of that response, even the confidence of the parent to discern the child’s need and the length and depth of response are all factors that begin to set patterns that will carry over for decades.

Trust, reliability, security and safety, in the child’s terms, are almost exclusively within the purview of the parent of the young child. And while each child’s needs and sounds are unique, there is also a difference between the intensity of a male baby’s early irritation and then anger and that of his sister, unless there is a complicating illness, or symptom to be considered. Into this vortex of intimacy between parent and child, naturally and undoubtedly unconsciously, enters the whole history both of the parent and the culture of his/her family of origin. Loud and heavy-handed experiences, as perceived by the now parent, from his/her childhood will play a part in the predictably less loud and more moderate and modest interactions with the new baby.

Unless otherwise impeded by specifically diagnosed physical ailments, the new born will “warm” to the affections, soothings, smilings and nurturing of the parent’s arms, eyes, voice and attitude. The opposite is also predictable: parental irritability, impatience, harshness and general attitude can and will impact the child negatively. And, surprise, both boys and girls need such intimacy, perhaps even in inverse proportions to the social myth that “girls” are more fragile, more needy and more appreciative of warm nurturing. Research indicates, sadly, that many mothers look into the eyes of their young daughters more frequently and for longer periods than they do with their young boys. Dads too have a significant role to play in their chosen and respective interactions with both their boy and girl babies.

Parents, especially mothers, of young boys imprint signals about the female voice, image, character, expectations and trust-worthiness that will, like indelible ink, remain in the synapses, and in the “gut” of the young child for the rest of his life. For young boys, these early messages will inevitably inform their deeply buried “gestalt” of the opposite gender. And such a “gestalt” will shape their unconscious perceptions of each and every female the child encounters henceforth.* And, whether these early impressions are reinforced by future encounters with female teachers of a strident and perfectionistic anality, or hopefully with moderating, accepting and mentoring female teachers who, themselves, have minimal issues arising from their early experiences will help to shape the young boy’s relationships with women for a long time.

Of course, as the young boy grows, takes in other impressions from the wider world of child programming on some screen, and through interactions with peers, both male and female, he will evolve a kaleidoscope of impressions of how the world “works” and how he “fits” into it, or not. This point of interface between the individual child and the “world” of his family, his day care, his soccer or hockey team, and his classroom and playground is the point at which the racket of his person receives/accepts/interprets and then strikes the ball of the other in his personal tennis game. Not to reduce human experience to a tennis match, especially the competitive aspect of the game, (although that aspect seems to attend more human interactions every day), yet, the racket-ball concussion is an useful analogy for the physical, social, emotional and even intellectual encounters of one’s life.

We have, in essence, constructed a culture based on a skill set that determines whether each young boy (and girl) will thrive, will develop, will inculcate the values that will be necessary for additional growth and responsibility. And this skill set needs an original, unique and nurturing ethos in which to develop. Whether based on some athletic skill, or artistic skill, or a martial arts skill set, or some digitally-based or math-science skill set, through the discipline dedicated (and supported) to the attainment of a degree of proficiency, the child will come into contact with others who share his passion. Identity, unfortunately increasingly every day, seems dependent on the mastery of some skill set, both to satisfy and to gratify the needs of the parent, and then the mentor and teacher, the coach and eventually, with a potentially smooth glide-path into part-time employment, further education and permanent employment and family life. At least the social and educational systems seem to champion the skill-set achievements, although, there are signs that some early athletic activities are less focused on competition and winning/losing than on “having fun”…and not incidentally providing a safe place to meet, to greet, get to know both self and others, and to experience both acceptance and welcome, on one hand, and potential rejection and alienation on the other.

 James Hillman’s work in The Acorn Theory, as well as in his other works, shines a light on the biography as both integral and essential to an individual’s perception of himself and his place in his world. The biography necessarily includes and “integrates” all of the events, persons, achievements, failures, losses and the imagination of the person, including those signals of the special talents, metaphorically encapsulated in the person’s “acorn”. Whether the parents, or the teachers, or some peer or role model perceives, or signals the “special” quality of each individual, the capacity to grasp, and to honour this uniqueness lies at the heart of much of human identity, achievement and self-confidence.

If a child perceives, or even intuits that he is not wanted, not known, not engaged and especially if he feels ignored, immediate nervous system circuits “go off” that send messages inside his own head that “there is something wrong with this picture” even before he might be able to articulate these words. If he perceives that those close to him are struggling with their own “selves” at his expense, he quickly learns both where his place is in the current tumult and whether and where he might be able to have his own needs addressed. A naturally innate rebellion of some size and degree will accompany most adolescents, depending on the unique circumstances and his perception of the target of his irritation, sense of injustice, need to belong, need to be recognized, or even need to help. And the system of justice, education and health have traditionally tolerated this rebellious “acting out” unless and until it over-reached some legal, or civil boundary. The process of hormone development in adolescence, both its alacrity and intensity, is a norm with which western culture has done a fairly remarkable job of accommodating. However, if the process is impeded, restricted, thwarted or denied, there is no doubt it will erupt, probably destructively, later in the thwarted individual’s life.

While hardly prescriptive, the preceding outline of a young boy’s early life is prologue to opening the door of the explorer into the darkness of male anger, that seemingly radioactive explosion whose half-life is still unknown, unpredictable and too often unmanageable. Certainly not restricted to males between fifteen and twenty-five, male anger nevertheless is a “force of nature” with which angry men and the rest of the culture will continue to have to respond. Its roots can be as simple and obvious as racial bullying, gender bullying, physical oddity bullying, profound poverty, linguistic impoverishment, cultural ostracism. Less obvious, but potentially equally impactful, is the role of parental default, including absence, abuse, sexual abuse or even social media bullying for whatever real or imagined motivations or revenge.

Most, if not all, of the incidents of masculine anger, contempt, hatred, and the ensuring violence could, if we were patient, diligent, and more interested in prevention, as a culture, than in immediate, fear-based, so-called “deterrent” punishment (much of which is demonstrably NOT a deterrent), bed traced back into the early life experiences of the “guilty” individual. His fears, his self-loathing, his alienation, his impressions of his own identity and how it simply appears to him to be abhorrent to others in some way, or his belief/perception/conviction that others are, themselves, abhorrent to his view of how the world should be are likely to lie at the heart of his “nuclear” explosion. Case studies, for the purposes of the sentencing, while useful, are nevertheless, less detailed, less compassionate, less disclosive because of the secrecy of the individual and the time and cost of the recording biographer, will not comprise a full biography. Of course, in the most serious cases, the courts (for the culture) require a psychiatric assessment (For the purposes of these notes, the cases of the sociopath and psychopath and the most violent sexual offenders have to be considered “off limits” given the limited numbers and the highly complex issues they incarnate. More research could, potentially, include evidence and analysis and  that lead future cultures to prevent much of the anger and violence of even these individuals.)

The North American “obsession” for the “bullet” of conviction and incarceration of primarily young men, of primarily minority black, brown, indigenous young men, especially when compared with their “white” counterparts engaged in similar acts of lawlessness, illustrates a cultural contempt both for those young men and for the acts they have perpetrated on “our” dominant, colonial establishment culture of law enforcement. We have adopted a long-standing posture of “eliminating” the complexities we simply do not understand and do not care to become fully familiar with and to fully embrace. And we rationalize our complicity through such pathetic social and cultural placebo’s as “public safety” and “removing the threat and endangerment” of these terrible young men.

Regardless of the relative poverty or affluence of the North American family, and regardless of its racial components, its religious roots, or its ethnic identity, all families are living in a culture saturated with socially acceptable and fiscally and economically sustained and enhanced, as well as politically motivated establishment-induced-and-funded violence. Everywhere we all look, listen, overhear, read or seek entertainment, we are being fed a cultural menu and diet saturated, not only with cholesterol and sugar and salt that threaten our very longevity, but with open, blatant, unremitting and irredeemable violence. Whether in the guise of law enforcement, national security, corporate malfeasance, religious imperialism and colonialism (known in the religious business by its benign and highly moral and ethical name of “evangelism”, often deployed through the penetration of shame and guilt), the abuse of power saturates the contemporary neighbourhoods, streets, boardrooms, and political corridors and offices of the highest echelons of power. And young boys are watching, listening, learning to participate, whether vicariously or directly, in and through gangs, drug deals (to ameliorate their personal, social, psychic pain), video games, recruitment to various “cells” that are themselves dedicated to their personal and collective perceived victimization.

Here are a few of the current and highly seductive, if highly addicted to violence “cells” to which young men are being attracted, through methods, promises, fantasies and  propaganda on social media into the violence they perceive as their “answer” to their unique and desperate plight.

 INCEL: a cult of committed young men who rage at their rejection by women (often, perhaps always, precipitated by their incompetent, irrelevant and disrespectful methods of attempting to inaugurate conversation and the development of relationships with women), a recent example of a young “incel” recruit (involuntary celibate) who killed several and injured many more by driving his van along a pedestrian street in Toronto.
ISIS: recruits, yearning for an opportunity to become heroic “killers” empowered beyond their wildest fantasies of their own “power”….incarnated and transferred to an external, addictive and highly punitive and vindictive religious cult dedicated to what mainstream Muslims consider a perverted version and interpretation of their religion. Many recruits who have killed for ISIS in the Middle East, have now returned to their home countries, and are living incognito in their communities, threatening, as CBC reported recently, to rise up if we are not treated with respect here in our home country. So the seeds of the original motivation for their initial recruitment have been nurtured and grown in the hostility of the Islamic terrorist battlefields when they tasted the thrill of killing, and now, having returned “home” they offer the spectre of more violence if they are “provoked” by a community that neither understands nor accepts their recruitment, their violent, and adopted identity and history nor their unimpeded re-entry into civil society.

TALIBAN: allegedly restricted to the streets and the battlefields of Afghanistan, these terrorists threaten the stability of that country, the prospects of a free and fair election and the stability of any future government  that does not include their personnel and their demands. Dedicated to the restriction of, or prevention of the education of young girls and women, the imposition of sharia law, and the elimination of “western” influence and power, these outlaws, at least from the perspective of the west, threaten to deplete resources of NATO allies in the pursuit of an unachievable goal of peace and security in that land.

DRUG GANGS: those opportunistic young men who traffic in the trade and profit to be gained by the importation and sale of illicit drugs, feeding the insatiable appetite for those drugs among especially North American youth who themselves feel dispossessed, lost, alienated, abandoned and effectively trashed by the established education and social systems they have abandoned, willfully or involuntarily. Supporting their efforts, many of them now desperate and survival-based, are arsenals of guns, including assault weapons, themselves manufactured and sold by an industry that feeds both the underground market and the military sales of weaponry to American and Canadian “allies” like Saudi Arabia. These initiatives, on the surface included as an integral component of the GDP of both Canada and the U.S. and the source of both revenue and employment for honourable men and women, continue to provide the very instruments of both war and gang violence, all the while condemning the ravages of both and the human costs of the wounds and sacrifices in both theatres. And then there is the law enforcement aspect of these gangs, and the racism that comes driving into the encounters between police and young minority men…complete with fired bullets into fleeing bodies, and the impunity of acquittal of many of the offending officers. Inevitably, the trust and safety that are supposed to be incarnated in such law enforcement detachments, especially among the minority families and communities, atrophies before our collective eyes, as we all contemplate the impact on the futures of the other young boys living in those communities.

And, if these examples of violence are not enough, just turn on the television and watch the trailers for prominent dramas, saturated with their own violent scripts, shoot-outs, chases and violent seizures, ostensibly on behalf of a public alleged to be more “safe and secure” through the heroic efforts of these uninformed, or disguised officers of the law. And then insinuate the violent video games into the hands, eyes, ears and minds of millions of young boys, supported by their male parents, in an inexhaustible goal of “making young and strong young men” out of the offspring.

In Canada, a respected English department of a prominent university English Department offers a graduate course on the cultural implications, both positive and negative of the national sport of hockey, historically one of the most prominent and socially inculturated activities for young boys in every community in the nation. Should one opponent (the competition could be merely “friendly” as in shinny on a pond, or much more intense, with competitors vying for a spot on a highly advanced amateur team like the national team, or especially for a spot on an NHL team) commit an obviously premeditated act of violence on his competitor, that competitor, or his team-mates are expected to retaliate, as a matter of honour, in order to protect the respect he and his team deserve. Violence is considered an integral aspect of the game, and while the number and severity of violent attacks has been significantly reduced in recent years, whenever a fight breaks out, the crowd eagerly applauds, cheers and engages in the violence. The highest levels of women’s hockey, by comparison, is completely devoid of such violence, without compromising the skill, speed, and the entertainment value of the sport.

Young men, on reflection, face multiple complex influences when confronting their frustrations, and their rejections, and their ambitions…not the least of which is their resistance to the nuances and the usefulness of verbal and written language skills that come to them through film and through reading. Their universal consideration of experiences in the “literary” world as effeminate, by itself, constitutes one of the more glaring and blatant examples of the kind of blind, proud and self-sabotaging attitudes that continue to impale young men and boys on their own petard, not to mention the dangers and the threats such blind hubris, as a mask for profound insecurity, impose on the rest of society, especially their female partners.

Violence, anger and the accompanying actions are rarely an effective resolution for any conflict, and as soon as men come to that truth, openly and willingly, the better off they and we will be.

Friday, September 27, 2019

#3 Men...the agents of and the path to cultural metanoia

So….after looking at the history of “male” design, framing and authorship of many of the “west’s” cultural underpinnings, let’s turn our eyes to the concept of “fixing” as one of the predictable, necessary and yet potentially entrapping modalities, and even identifying traits of  masculinity.

Work, of whatever kind, dimension, application, or venue has been at the forefront of the known civilization from the beginning. How else would people protect themselves from the elements, feed themselves from the adjacent flora and fauna, fend off enemy attacks, fend off sickness and even death and feed the thrust of their curiosity if not by rubbing sticks together, for example, to make fire. Both men and women have persistently been engaged in acts both to create and to repair.

To fix, to repair, to mend, to solder, to re-connect, to plug, to replace, to remove, to accuse, to defend, to edit, to exhort, to demand, to motivate, to energize, to placate, to serve….all “action” verbs invoked whenever a “need” is identified, perceived, diagnosed and exposed. Similar and parallel framing pertains to the words/acts “to built,” “to design,” “to create,” “to construct”….in most instances again to fix a larger gap in human aspiration.

And the premise for all “fixings” is that something/someone is wrong, broken, leaking, sinister, evil, life-threatening, inappropriate, loose, removed, offended…There is also the underlying perception and belief that by “fixing” the “fixer” will be considered “heroic” no matter how loud and large will be the championing chorus. All acts of fixing follow some kind of “problem” and preclude the notion of “prevention” of the problem.

Fixing/building acts are visible, audible, discernible immediately to both the fixer and the one for whom the problem is “righted”. There is almost no time lapse between the “fix” and the affirmation of the act, so there is no need for delayed gratification, reward or recognition. The “problem” is also visible, discernible to the senses, and usually requires and elicits corroborating witness testimony, agreement, and perhaps even consent. Skills too, many of a highly sophisticated, complex and dependent on laws of such profound and complex matters as human anatomy, physics, chemistry, mathematics, biology, and even the issues of ethics and morality in the provision of the solutions. Schools, colleges, universities and raw life experience too participate in the dissemination, training and development of proficiency in the performance of the skills needed for the “fix.”

Immediate gratification, even relatively after large numbers of workers take a protracted time to finish, follows “hands-on” interventions based on clearly understood templates and hours of supervised rehearsal of the skills needed. A sense of personal satisfaction of “fixing” something/one in need underpins the efficacy, ethics, psychology and the human relationship of the “fix”. This cultural attention to the details of the extrinsic world, the world of the senses, the world of things, the world of rewards and failures in a social context is a prominent feature of western culture. And both men and women participate in its challenges and rewards.

Whether or not these acts constitute the whole of one’s existence, however, seems  to illustrate a difference between the perceptions, attitudes and the relationships of men and women.  It says here that men, traditionally and stereotypically find comfort and engagement in their garages, the workshops, their labs, with their respective and usually mastered tools, instruments, devices and the skillful deployment of those devices. It is even reasonable to assert that men have led the process to design, build, manufacture, distribute and then sell whatever they make, as an effort to solve a problem. Less thought and consideration, too often, about the perceptions, needs, attitudes and tendencies of women have undergirded the processes from beginning to end. Along the way, of course (at least to our contemporary sensibilities) have been built in specific, measureable and even required production quotas, and the concomitant rewards.

A vast complicated and deeply rooted system of building, trading, deploying various tools, including the tools of war, pillage and ambitious expansion of domain. And, it says here, this system has directly mimicked and rewarded the masculine traits who generated it. Would there have been fewer and less lethal instruments of war, had women been in charge of the defense of the community? One can only guess, without absolute certainty.

Would there have been more artists, poets, musicians and care givers had women been designing their various communities? Again, one can only guess.
Would the needs, perceptions, dimensions and comfort of women have been more integral to the design and build and manufacture/distribution of things had women been at the centre of these processes? Undoubtedly. There seems to be a gushing cataract of forces determined to right this oversight today.

Nevertheless, it is still relevant to note that the cultural guideposts of and for men, to act instantly and often impulsively and also competitively, to fix, to design, to construct in both the literal physical and the more abstract notions of how to govern, how to protect, how to frame need and response were, are and will continue to be “immediate,” “tough,” “punitive,” “judgemental” and “vindictive” as compared with what research and common knowledge now knows and accepts would be more premised on a much more useful, effective and humane remediative, investigative, and restrained response to human offense. The pattern deployed in the making of tools transferred to the matter of making rules, enforcing them, and prosecuting the offenders, for example, has been reduced to the simplistic and short-sighted “removal” of the offender, as if safety and security were as easily and readily attained through muscular, testosterone-induced attitudes, beliefs and perceptions of the men in charge of the civil culture.

Even the “fix” of the soul, as envisioned by many church fathers, revolved around a conversion from a natural state of “evil” (All have sinned and come short of the glory of God!... and all are invited to accept the forgiveness offered by the sacrifice of the Cross and Crucifixion) Matters of the life and death of the human soul to be compacted into such a crucible of the masculine mind, conviction and attitude of “amending a fundamental and innate evil (or lack, or absence or failure)….all in the name of the propagation of the faith, to the thousands of innocents from whom ever scripture was withheld until the arrival of the printing press.

A mechanistic Manicheanism, so readily and easily grasped and implemented, as the basis of a much more complex, nuanced and life-giving, fulfilling theology and relationship with God renders itself impotent, oxymoronic and self-defeating. And yet, an ecclesial and civil culture that, feeling required and expected to comply, dominated by the masculine tenets and beliefs, perceptions and attitudes, also grounded on a kind of fear, insecurity and impatience so endemic to the mind and spirit of masculinity fell into line.

A male deity, with exclusively male disciples, based on oral traditions transcribed by fallible and incomplete men, and then subjected to a meat-grinder of literalism, consistent with the literal Manicheanism of the  mechanic, the plumber, the surgeon and the contemporary marketer/advertiser is and has been for centuries at the core of what can legitimately be considered the self-sabotaging faith tenets and dogma on which the west has been impaled for centuries. The literalism, and the impatience, and the dependence on the senses and the cognition based on the empirical universe needing to be fixed were and are essential to provide men with the requisite opportunities for self-satisfaction and gratification, ( as opposed to the much more ambiguous, amorphous, complex, ephemeral, and imaginative soul).

And, preferring to avoid the trap of the binary choice of empiricism v. soul/spirit, it is incumbent upon the male gender to come face to face with our (men)  shared participation and complicity, (certainly not to be regarded as  conspiratorial, contrived and deliberately malicious as so many women today prefer to believe!) in the design, construction and perpetration of a cultural edifice indebted primarily to the male psyche, at the expense of the female psyche, spirit and needs.

Competition, the pursuit of power, and the rewards of winning as compared with the shame of losing, (also of being weak, of failing, of being small, of being effeminate, of being indiscreet, even of being “too intense,” of being artistic, certainly of being LGBTQ) taken together comprise the fossil fuel burning in the furnaces of our male hearts, resulting, not surprisingly in the rampage against those very pumps, as well as the ethos of a culture suffocating under the elephant hoofs of capitalism, competition, transaction, zero-sum games, and the shaming of those who push back against this religious and holy creed. The wave of civil rights cases, both inside the courts and on the front pages (e.g. the cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the murdered black youth shot by law enforcement agents) threatens the very core of the masculine “power base” encapsulated in the “cult” currently genuflecting at the altar of the United States  president.

Built on a papier-mache edifice of immediate, manual, simplistic fixes (of all materials, rules, conventions, beliefs, metaphysics, institutions, establishments, practices and processes of the abuse of power, the distribution of wealth, the dissemination of lethal gases, the spread of anti-bacterial-resistant viruses) this cultural monstrosity is quickly sliding into the ocean of its own designers, builders, creators, disseminators, and propagators. And the history of abused masculinity, from our own denial, avoidance, and attempted and failed faux-infallibility is the cancer threatening to engulf us all.

Note how men, traditionally, stereotypically, and predictably, refuse to acknowledge their own “illness,” “pain,” “discomfort,” and “blocked arteries”…appearing in their doctors’ offices only after the situation/condition has become “emergent”. Similarly, and tragically in a parallel universe, many men, especially men holding the power of wealth, law, even medicine, and certainly theology view the “body” of the earth perceive the current climate crisis as less than emergent. Some heroic and self-deluded leaders believe it is still feasible and necessary to combine the continued production of fossil fuels with the preservation of the planet.

Indeed, it is the model of  the male hero, that well-armoured, traditionally highly espoused, intellectually incurious, power-driven-and-starved, whose voracious appetite for enhancing his own power, and based on a veneer of “success,” “achievements,” “corner offices,” “BMW’s,” and the hollow spectre of a crumbling future of their own making, that has to be sacrificed on the altar of the survival of the planet.

And the flood of depression, denial, avoidance and repression, not to mention the reversion to pain-killing medications will only grow exponentially as the realization of the vacuity of the dream dawns on the psyches of the millions of men, and their families who depend on their “status-and-power-dream” for their own sense of worth and esteem. The women whose dreams have been “siamesed” to their male partners, too, will endure much heartache and loss as the bloom comes off the rose.

One question that surfaces from this scenario is whether or not the “safety-net” of support and recovery will be available and strong enough for the task.