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Thursday, September 26, 2019

#2 Men, the agents of and path to cultural metanoia

Let’s dig down a little deeper on the notion from yesterday’s piece about the pillars, the foundation, the mind-set, the epistemology, the psychology of the primary academic disciplines on which our “western culture” has been built.

Yesterday, I argued, without supporting proof, that the principles and the orientation on which all of these foundational building blocks are based on masculinity. And there are some recognizable and generally agreed concepts on which masculinity bases its insights, its precepts and its “framing” perspectives.

Power, control, pride, dominance, self-effacement, hierarchy (with males on top) and all of these based on what is evident through the senses, and a virtually exclusive regard to and reliance upon symptoms, and the evidence of debate methodology, peer review and rational, academic discipline prevail throughout history. History has been written primarily by men, based primarily on the exploits, both successes and failures of men, including their male insights, intuitions, observations and conclusions about the nature of the feminine. Giving voice to the muscle, the preponderance of “hands” and of “fixing” whatever it is that magnetizes a male imagination, including words and concepts like “intervention” and “remediation” and “forgiveness” and “winning” and “getting published” and “getting recognition” and “amassing fortunes” and “building empires” and “excluding the unwashed” and “beating an opponent” and even “salvation”….all of these can be attributed to some masculine notion of “the fix”….

These premises are applied to a varying degree in the operating room, the court room, the confessional, the doctoral thesis room, the counselling office, the teacher’s classroom, the mechanic’s shop, the plumber’s shop, the carpenter’s shop, the architect’s design table, and the scientist’s lab. “Fixing” poses the proposition, from the beginning of any project, of the human “fixer” as “function” really a “tool” in the complex and inter-connected “system” of multiple “fixers”. And we then build other complex ladders, medals, awards, stipends, offices, “conditioning stimuli” in a massive classical conditioning project that quite literally, and from this perspective totally expectedly, swallows the human culture and everyone within it.

Occasionally, a profession or a practitioner will argue that in the “interface” between professional and client, it is the “whole” person who is being considered in whatever happens in the exchange. And to be sure, our collective and shared perception of the “whole” person has continued to both expand and to become more complex, as we have built research models that measure, document and analyse “emotional intelligence,” for example and the “right brain” and the “artistic imagination” of both men and women. As we have begun to read the female prophets, like Hildegard von Bingen, Joan of Arc, St. Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich and others, and attempted to integrate their minds and spirits into what is primarily a Christian faith dominated by the hundreds of thousands of “church fathers,” we have had our (male) psyches invaded by some profound and also profoundly disturbing “visions” of the mysteries of the universe, including the relationships between men and women and between humans and the deity. Throughout our literary history, too, we have occasionally “permitted” a female author/poet/prophet to publish the work of their literary imagination, although some have had to seek refuge (and anonymity) under a male pseudonym.

Nevertheless, the “things of importance” and the things that “really matter” in the public discourse, like the economy, the production levels, the employment numbers, the disease “bullets” and the strategic and tactical systems of military intelligence, from specific weapons like the cross-bow, and the sword and the spear, the “walking” soldiers and those “mounted” on horse. We men designed a theology and an intellectual and philosophical edifice and curriculum that was/is built on models of thought indigenous to men, written by men, supported and rewarded by men, documented by men. Our stories of “creation” depend on the imaginations of men as do the executions of rites and rituals of maturation, development and integration into the various communities.

While women were perceived, metaphorically and literally, as Earth Mother, emblematic of the birthing processes that dominate the natural world. Nevertheless, physical prowess, physical stature, size, loudness, and the sheer “power” of the male in early civilizations were traits not restricted merely to the world of domestic life and survival. Of course, men and hunters and women as gathers provided a mutually satisfying role definition and differentiation that enabled as many to survive as was feasible, depending on the various historic and cultural ages. Nurture of children has historically been the primary purview of the mothers of those children while the division of young boys and young girls, following the models of their older men and women, divided the activities, the roles, the expectations and the prospective futures in very distinctive ways.

Young men were encultured into the military, the hunt and the academe, while young women were introduced to the traditional activities, rituals, routines, expectations of being a woman. And in many early cultures, the very natural and verdant menstrual period was deemed to be dirty, as one of the most heinous of male perceptions to have been recorded, and even preserved for centuries by men, at the “expense” and derision of women. “Weakness” and “being dirty” as indicated by the natural process of the female body, not only was unwarranted; the power of this perception and definition was both evil and malicious to women, at least as seen the from the twenty-first century perch. Ascribing such a view to the blindness of men, or their/our innocence/ignorance/fear, however, is not satisfactory. The very perception itself speaks wantonly of the separation, segregation and power differential between men and women and the dominance of the male view on the nature of the feminine on the successive generations of men and women on whose shoulders the “west” continues to walk today.

However, this single cultural “norm,” while heinous and despicable, was not alone in the perceptions and norms of the cultures of the western world. School, military training, the hunt, rites of maturation and acceptance into the adult community were primarily dedicated to the young men in most communities. And as drawing, writing, calculating and “learning” in the widest sense of that word developed, along with the various instruments of the hunt, the garden, the battlefield, and the governance, and the records of those developments were begun, all of the perceptions, world views, attitudes, philosophies and even theologies of those records came from the men of the various cultures.

We read that the perspective of any work of history depends on the “perspective” of the person(s) writing that history. We can all agree that the shelves and archives, as well as the caves, tombs, graveyards of the histories of the western world  (and now the “cloud”) are replete with the “perspectives” attitudes, values, ideologies and theologies of the men who manipulated the various writing/drawing/entombing/burying to which we continue to refer for our own world view.

Archimedes, Newton, Galileo, Michelangelo, Thucydides, Locke, Plato, Aristotle, Maimonides, Aquinas, Smith, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Protagoras, Socrates, Epicurus, Cicero, Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Augustine, Anselm, al-Farabi, Machiavelli, Luther, Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, More,….and the list could be much longer…documents not merely the preponderance of male “intellectual pillars, but also a culture founded on those insights, intuitions, attitudes and values of men.
Neither to be trumpeted nor defamed, the contributions of many men, noble, honourable and provocative as they are in various degrees dependent on the critique of their scholars, taken together they have painted a western world landscape canvas of masculine virtues and vices. And the school, college and university classrooms of the “west” continue to explore, examine, critique and deconstruct their works and the works of many others, an evolving list of both male and female thinkers, poets, playwrights and historians.

 The explosion of feminine scholarship over the last few decades, however, is founded on the principles, the methods, the disciplines and the criteria that were all poured into both the ground of Greece, Italy, Great Britain, France, Germany and the minds of millions of generations of students. Based primarily on extrinsic evidence, increasingly documented in binary digits, female scholars, doctors, scientists, architects, engineers, lawyers, accountants and even psychologists/psychiatrists have adopted, and minimally amended the premises of their predecessors. While some few definitions, for example of depression, have been based (in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) on the case-based notes from female psychiatric clients. Also the verging toward the inclusion of “loss in death” as a condition requiring psychiatric therapy signals a shift toward a more “sensitive” and compassionate perspective in the work of North American psychiatrists.

Nevertheless, the dependence on pharmaceuticals, hospitalization, and a preponderance of the concept of “fixing” that is endemic to and in fact defines the medical profession’s ethical guidance, (Hippocrates Oath starts with “Do No Harm”) can be, and is here deemed to be a “masculine-based” model. The professional method indicates that “doing” as a professional and ethical act precedes and even supercedes another interventional word such as “being”. Doing, by definition and historical evidence, is a “default position” of most men, even in this century. In order to prepare, to investigate, and to diagnose, prior to intervening in the medical “case” (another of the reductions of the person/patient in language) one brings all of those hours of both lectures and observations, discussions, experiments, examinations and instruments that have contributed to the “education” of that medical doctor. Objectivity (case, theatre, triage, chart, prescription, size and location of tumour, sequence of multiple treatments, and the research upon which all of these data points are based) is ethical sacred. Men and women, it is deemed, are simply unable to maintain the necessary detachment from their patients, (or for lawyers, accountants, architects, engineers, their clients)…and they must.

Surrendering this objectivity, however, could just as reasonably be considered as an abdication of some of the really significant potential insights, perspectives and attitudes that could be brought into the consult room when a patient (client) enters that room. And maintaining it with a kind of perfectionistic hygenic standard of cleanliness appropriate to the Operating Room, however, is not only a failure to meet the “person” of the patient. It also renders the medical practitioner so detached as to lose touch with the very “human” qualities, traits, ambitions, and hopes and dreams that prompted many to enrol in medical school in the first place.

Of course, parallel to this iron-clad objectivity in both medical school and in medical practice is the polar opposite of “enmeshment” in the very lives of the patient, as an argument for the hallowedness of the rule of objectivity. Token comments about the weather, the family of the patient, even the research relevant to the “case” while providing a “human side” to the interaction, also provide safety and security for the practitioner. Ethical over-stepping of the objectivity “rule” is considered serious enough to require license removal in many cases.

And then, we have to examine another of the limiting stereotypes that encase our intellectual, cultural, application of medical procedure: the hysterical woman, the seat of human emotions. Coming from the Greek root, hystera, meaning “uterus” hysteria and hysterical symptoms were believed to be caused by a defect in the womb, and thus only women could become hysterical. Here is the historical extension of the “filth” of the menstrual blood into modern language, almost without a whimper of either protest or amendment on the part of contemporary western culture.

A masculine-dominance in language, attitude, perception and debasement of women, something that polite and sophisticated society perhaps deplores, nevertheless, continues to prevail in many streets, clubs, sports facilities and parties, whether in “humour” or in base contempt. This dominance in social interactions and perceptions is, of course, deeply rooted in so many sectors of our thought. God is a male; genius is historically regarded as masculine; cathedrals are built by men; the Sistine Chapel ceiling was painted by a male, as were many of the weapons of war, the scalpels of surgery. Judgements in high courts have been rendered by male judges, until recently when a significant political thrust has seen women appointed and acquitted themselves and their gender admirably.

Nevertheless, in so many of our academic and professional venues, asking women to approximate the “models” of excellence that were male, in order to climb the professional, male-designed, male-built, and male-sustained achievement ladder is like asking my three daughters to scale Killamanjaro in two days, when the average, successful climb requires up to nine days. We are perpetuating a blatantly sabotaging male dominance in definitions, procedures, processes, perceptions, attitudes and values that, while they contain some intellectual tenets worthy of honour, also tend to distort and sustain the distortion that male models are more valueable and must be more valued than a transformation to foundational models that build structures, processes, expectations and integrate the many and profound atttiudes, not merely in style, or in sensibility, or in the accessories of the women.

Their mimicking the men of history by dividing themselves from their professional roles, without challenging themselves to seek and to express their unique perspectives, including, if necessary, a perception of the universe that incorporates and exemplifies a kind of unity and equity of the poetic imagination, the  myths and legends, the arts and the similarities of each human to every other human.

Men, through a full awareness of the hidden mysteries, the intuitions, the spirits and the artistic, subjective imaginations that are integral to all humans, will come to a new awareness or our own identity, as well as an enhanced and more complex and unique presence and being of the women to whom we owe more than responsible respect.

For reference, let’s re-read Emily Bronte’s words (1818-1848)
Often rebuked, yet always back
To those first feelings that were
born with me,
And leaving busy chase of wealth
and learning
    For idle dreams of things that
cannot be:
Today I will seek not the shadowy
    Its unsustaining vastness waxes
And visions rising, legion after
   Bring the unreal world too
Strangely near.

I’ll walk, but not in old heroic
  And not in paths of high
And not among the half-
distinguished faces,
    The clouded forms of long-past

I’ll walk where my own nature
would be leading:
   It vexes me to choose another
Where the gray flocks in ferny
glens are feeding;
    Where the wild wind blows on
the mountain side.

What have those lonely mountains
worth revealing?
   More glory and more grief than I
can tell:
The earth that wakes one human
heart to feeling
Can centre both the worlds of
Heaven and Hell

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