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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Men, the agents of and the pathway to cultural metanoia

“Inflection point” is a meme making the rounds these days especially given the passionate, credible and prophetic voice of Greta Thunberg at the United Nations, “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words—and yet I’m one of the lucky ones; people are suffering, people are dying!” The United States president almost mocks the young Swedish co-ed, “a nice girl” while practically skipping the climate session called by the Secretary General who, himself, openly asked the UN Climate Action session,“Is it common sense to reward pollution that kills millions with dirty air and makes it dangerous for people incitie4s around the world to sometimes even venture out of their homes?”

And the intensity and the speed of the drum-beat for action on global warming and climate change grows, perhaps too late, but at least it might be encouraging.
As a contemporary parallel meme in North American culture, the issue of gender equity continues to spawn books, speeches, discussions and even the occasional “men’s rights” non-profits, most pointing legitimately to the mutual benefits to both genders from an evolution of masculinity from a fossilized alpha to a much more sensitive, sensible, mature, evolved and compassionate caring, sharing and listening (really listening) to our female partners, children and colleagues. Worthy, legitimate, over-due and commendable are these various male voices calling for the better angels of our brothers.

Another meme marching to a long-standing and deeply resonating drum is the beat of capitalism, for-profit economics, global economics, and the interface between this dominant driving force and the existential threat of a warming planet. Ms Thunberg referred to the “talk of money” at the heart of the resistance to making the needed changes to address global warming.

We are being served a menu of stories in the media that point a telescope (backwards) at each of these “themes” respectively. Trained to “focus” on the specifics of the “file,” reporters, like their academic mentors, delve into their “speciality” as do the writers, the scientists, the social-gender-equity voices. As an example, another brigade of reporters, talking heads and some politicians are focussing their energy, their research and their time on the dumpster-full of deplorable, illicit, sinister, deceptive and lying behaviour of the American president.

This space seeks to move the telescope away from the specific, individual, separate and often competing (for public notice and consideration) files. In fact, the telescope of “specialization” needs to be replaced by a set of binoculars that seeks the panorama of the cultural landscape. It is no longer acceptable to keep each of these files segregated, as if our minds are either unable or unwilling to see the fullness of the implications of the historic moment that is a convergence of these forces.

There are some compelling and traditional reasons, causes, and motivations for the segregation of our various mountains of information into piles that individually we might be able and willing to “get our heads around” because, just perhaps, we consider our sense of control to be endangered by a perspective that is open to and receptive of a calculus that permits and engages multiple factors at the same time. How, for example, could we possibly produce policy documents, let alone pieces of legislation that could or would take multiple factors into consideration at the same time? How, too, could we possibly hold public debates that even pretended to permit the discussion of a convergence of factors (issues, files, specialists and public opinion polls and public attention spans that are reported to have shrunk to a mere sixteen seconds)? How would we measure ratings if there were audiences, either in person or on some tech platform, so segregated by “issue” and “file” and “specialist” and authority figure? And therefore, how could we possible pour the fiscal foundations for any platform that attempted a “multi-discipline” approach to the current vortex of cultural and political winds?

That last question, while it has a rhetorical aspect, acknowledges a root cause of the primacy of money, economics and profit at the base of each of these issues. We all know that whether we read history, literature, political theory, theology, or the many faces of journalism, sociology, psychology and science, we are reading the perspectives of the respective writers, researchers, philosophers, and even prophets. 

Contemporary cultural norms focus on the STEM aspects of education of our youth (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), as well as the “entrepreneurship” of individuals and small groups in innovation, primarily in the four areas under STEM. Parents, students, bankers, and certainly politicians are tilted, even bent like those pines genuflecting eastward in Tom Thompson’s canvases, in their own genuflecting at the altar of numerical proof of their value: jobs, lower unemployment numbers, higher public revenues, lower taxes, and the enhancement and fostering of all things espousing the private, corporate, for-profit establishment. Even the churches have fallen prey to this tidal wave of cultural normalization. Witness “spiritual” leaders’ goals such as 15% more people and 10% more revenue!

It is not that empiricism, per se, is either evil of irrelevant. It is not that some organizing principle is not necessary for a modicum of social order and expectation. It is also not that leaders do not have to have goals for their specific particular “enterprise.”

However, as David Suzuki reminded Canadians decades ago, we need an economy that works FOR people, not people working “FOR” the economy. Some nations, outside of North American have actually replaced the GDP, and the GNP with a social-wellness index that attempts to both measure and take account of how humans in those nations are living, the longevity rates, the mortality rates, the crime rates, the education levels, the innovation levels, and the environmental safety levels. Corporate profits, by necessity, do not occupy the top “rung” on the “totem pole” of their society. Human fulfilment, health, well-being and equity replace the idol of North American self-sabotage.

Naturally, there are already readers asking about how the concept of “power” influences this argument. After all, the instruments, the perceptions, the beliefs, the ideology, and the opportunism of those with their hands on the levers of power, whether they are political, economic, academic, religious, philanthropic, military, scientific, environmental, ethical, legal including policy development…are intrinsic to the manner by which a society’s culture operates. Whose hands, in short, cling to those levers of power in our political culture?

It is primarily, if not exclusively, the hands of MEN on the levers of power. Men hold the majority of the executive levers within the top political, corporate, academic, scientific, legal, religious establishments, institutions. And it is the traditional male perspective that holds a prominent, if not absolute, influence on the instruments in the orchestra of the establishment(s).n That perspective is so filled with Swiss Cheese ‘holes’ that it no longer bears relevance or sustainability. Traditional masculinity hates to face vulnerability. Traditional masculinity refuses to acknowledge weakness, smallness, invincibility, or even minor illnesses, and certainly the need for medical attention, unless and until it is too late for remediation and now requires emergency actions. Traditional masculinity needs, actually depends on, armour, defences of both the fortress and the psyche, aggression, systemic patterns of addressing issues, especially unexpected wrinkles and glitches. Traditional masculinity, far from the epitome of strength and bravery, courage and bravado, is essentially a hollow papier-mache of insecurity, and more importantly a ubiquitous denial of insecurity.

Traditional masculinity, sadly, has been, both through the efforts of others and through its own complicity, encased in an image of its own demise. Equity, or some semblance of equity with women, cannot be accomplished through an energetic commitment to changing diapers, to preparing meals, to vacuuming the home, to collecting the garbage, and to taking our daughters to their ballet lessons and their piano lessons. None of these activities, however, are to be discouraged and certainly more men freely engaging in such activities, along with a full commitment to spending the time and the energy to listen to our partners will generate more fulfilling, hopeful and engaged and engaging families and individuals.

It is the male need for power, control, and last man standing, that has to be both of acknowledged and jettisoned. And that, unfortunately, could be the Achilles Heel for all of us. So long as we (collectively, compliantly, and obsequiously) accept the dictates, not merely of male individual writers, academics, researchers, political and corporate leadership models, archetypes, myths and legends, without acquiring freely and energetically and empathically a similar, equal, balanced and prophetic appreciation of the mythology of the women on whose shoulders we all walk, especially those women whose stories have not only shone light on the neurotic and even psychotic mistreatment by men, but on the imaginative, courageous and prophetic actions, visions, prophecies and intuitions that can only come from a female perspective and identity.

Making quasi-heroes of evolving men who walk their dogss and their young children in the park while their partners conduct the most demanding legal cases in the nations’ courtrooms, boardrooms, and graduate classrooms, will be only a beginning of the needed revolution that we have to face. We have to, men especially, adopt an attitude that demonstrates our dependency on each other, our dependency on the finite resources, species, languages, ecosystems of the planet, our dependency on the various mythical cornerstones previously ignored, denied or buried in the history and anthropological theses that have dominated our academic lexicon, our biblical lexicon, our scientific archives, and certainly our literary lexicon.

 It may give us a “good feeling” to champion the writings of the Margaret Atwood’s and the Margaret Laurence’s, and the eyes, ears and perhaps even the hands of some men are slowly opening to the “gold” that can only come from our facing our mostly male-imposed and male-required models and acknowledging the limits of their “mentorship.” It is not that those men were deliberately or even maliciously, misleading future young men, or providing role models of “heroism” and “kingship” and “episcopates” and academic/philosophic/psychological “leadership”. They were operating from a limited and slanted cosmology, identity, and cognitive, emotional, social and even relational epistemology. And the limits of that masculine “identity” have continued to “box” in the cultural imprint and the social development of a more “perfect” society.

We men are not, and never should have been in competition either with each other or with our female colleagues. We do not need to prove ourselves to our female partners. We do not have to apologize for our masculinity, without first and fully acknowledging our own limited acceptance of ourselves as men. We are not, never have been and never will be the shield and armour-bearer of God (any God) and never have to attempt to emulate that deity. We are not privy to the mind of God, and our collective failure to acknowledge our own intellectual, spiritual and emotional limits, especially in our relationship with the planet, with the various species and the planet itself.

There are indigenous cultures in which men consider themselves “at one” with Mother Nature, and with each other, unfortunately so isolated and disempowered by our colonial, power-driven, empire-building, and military dreams of slaughtering our enemies (all of whom are fighting their own political and psychic demons). We have built cathedrals, not primarily as our worship of our deity, but primarily as a testament and tombstone to our pride. And we have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the plight of those we consider “inferior” as a simple and “benign” pursuit of our “shared” and nefarious goals of attaining and sustaining our superiority over all “weaker” species, including our women.

It is not merely the psychosis of the American president, by itself, but the culmination of that psychosis grown on the models of millions of frightened and blind/deaf/denying gender of men that threatens the very survival of the children and grandchildren on the planet. The triumph of both the “will” and the culture of functional transaction, based on an inspired-built-and-sustained-masculine edifice of institutions, churches, processes and power-mechanics and ethics that continues to deny vulnerabilities, insecurities, limits and the gifts that a transformative metanoia can only offer. If men continue to regard themselves and all others as “things” to be manipulated, controlled and disempowered, we will continue down a shared path towards our own demise.

The pursuit of our shared and free existence in hope and opportunity requires and even demands a breakdown of the collective, brittle, fragile and ultimately self-sabotaging male psyche and spirit, in order to offer a shared vision of the opportunity for a new and enlightened vulnerable and modest and sustainable androgyny. And our female partners can and will freely and enthusiastically hold our hands through the darkness of our coming out of the tunnel of denial and false superiority.

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