Our human story, dominated as it is by the thoughts, actions and implications of a gestalt that emphasizes “how men have perceived themselves and the world,” is facing an existential crisis, it says here, because of our shared complicity in epic self-sabotage. While our shared world view is much more complex and nuanced than can be ascribed to a single epithet, there is considerable evidence that our concept of survival has been, and continues to be, based on a masculine perception of power. If I survive, it is because I am more “fit” and more intelligent and more crafty and more worthy than those who have not survived. We have, through a variety of means, philosophies, religions, psychologies, economics, and conflict of all kinds, constructed an “edifice” of what a majority have come to consider “normal” that is threatening our survival.
For the infant, and for the young child, parents circumscribe safety boundaries, soft padding around cribs, harnesses around danger, and tonal variance around a perceived capacity to integrate with the child’s world. And for the most part, we are both able and willing to see the child as ‘innocent’ and not programmed into a pattern of attempting to beguile, cheat, or undermine siblings or peers, provided his/her needs are generally met. And, while it is impossible to create a “tent” so filled with the absolute purity and humility and respect that approximates our highest and best angels, given that we all come with fears and anxieties and our own brand of both conscious and unconscious “darkness,” we could begin to consider a shift in attitude, perception, and a starting point from which we “enter” into each human situation, beyond our biological parenting for safety and security of the other.
We need not ascribe such heroic and quixotic proportional perceptions, requirements and discipline on our lives as to justify our existence only if we are dedicated to achieving a utopia of any kind. Neither are we compelled to accept and then to perpetuate a social, cultural, political, and faith-based gestalt that, even to ordinary and moderately intelligent and modestly sentient humans, clearly threatens our shared long-term future. Lots of adages bounce around in our heads, coming from a plethora of real-life narratives which are sprinkled into water-cooler conversations everywhere. If and when we are confronted by a situation in which another poses a threat, even an insult, we instinctively react in a manner of withdrawal or fighting. And while we all know that a “fight/flight” instinct is hard wired into our psyches, we are individually and collectively falling into a pattern in which each situation, no matter how trivial or innocent, without hitting the pause button on our instincts, prompts an exaggerated and often violent response.
It is not only our words, our attitudes and our perceptions that we have weaponized. We have rendered ourselves perpetual warriors in a ancient and unfortunately traditional “war” between good and evil. Remembers George W. Bush’s, “You are either FOR us or you are AGAINST us” reductionism to a world of good guys and bad guys immediately following 9/11. For us, individually and collectively, each person has become either an ally or a foe, and the fundamental and essential core of that belief is a threat to our existence. Rhetoric like this, coming at a time of dire emergency, is not and cannot be normative nor determinative of how we consider ourselves, and all others on the planet. Neither can trump’s exaggerated “evil” in everyone who disagrees with HIM convey or envisage a world in which “all men are created equal and entitled to inalienable rights” is even conceivable, never mind worthy of striving for.
Our shared and hourly seeded notion of an ideal world, just like that “ideal” picture of our newborn as Nobel prize winner, or as peace negotiator, is endearing, highly charged as engaging us in a worthy adventure, and intimately and compulsively committed to its realization. However, just as our euphoria and “high” abate in the middle of daily routines, our sense of what is possible twists and contorts and atrophies as our anxieties, fears and cloudy truths of how hurtful humans are seem to eclipse our highest hopes and dreams.
We have constructed around us, a series of social and political and legal and financial “edifices” called institutions that were designed to enhance our lives, at least in the rhetoric of their fertilization and incubation. Banks, churches, schools, safety nets and the intrinsic and binding concrete that was inserted into the bricks and stones of both the actual buildings and the ethos of their erection comprise a legacy of hope and optimism from our ancestors. Comparatively, it would seem, that they had some vision of a future for their great-grandchildren, so high were their shared hopes in that future, as evidenced by their many gifts. Now, however, it seems that we are deeply immersed in a process of tearing down both the edifices themselves and the hope and promise originally shovelled into the cement mixtures that held those institutions upright.
Our future, it seems, is not measured in decades, not in centuries or “ages. Our perceptions, including our attention spans, our news reports, our horizons themselves vacillate between a dystopia looming in a decade or so, and the nano-second of our most recent attack, interruption, road-rage, rude treatment by a clerk or some other stupidity that has “no justification” and therefore merits no tolerance on our part.
And the basic tenets of a so-called culture of “faith” (not denominations or specific religions) seem to demand a weaponization, a domination and a win/lose event for each encounter in order for us to express our engagement, our commitment and our relevance. Whether we are in the “war” against formal and declared terrorists, drug lords, abusive land-owners, deceitful leaders or corporations, mis-and dis-information campaigns from declared enemies, dishonourable trading partners, or even oligarchies of political and financial power, the ordinary, blue-collar, working ‘stiff’ whether male or female is left crawling around gathering up the crumbs of whatever is left after the rich and the powerful have gobbled their share of the water, the air, the land and the status and influence of the town, the city, the province/state, and the nation. Naturally such a leaning and unsustainable “tower of power” threatens both those inside, and those nearby. And we are all now, nearby.
The histories of nations and empires have been forged and then documented on premises and on methods and strategies and tactics that were deemed useful, appropriate and effective at the time of their deployment. The armed horseman was more dangerous and more “effective” than the infantryman with bow or a musket. The cannons built into the hulls of warships were more effective and deceptive than those mounted on the decks. And the richest warlords, kings, princes and queens were more likely to succeed in battle, and in the recounting of those battles than the less affluent, and less armed and the smaller military forces. Big, however, it was measured, has dominated over small, in a manner and a tradition that is now ensnaring each of us.
Extrapolated from “big” and “small” are such notions as “knowledgeable” and “ignorant” / “ethical” and “immoral, or amoral” / “developed” and “undeveloped” (now more euphemistically, “developing”), “industrialized” and “agricultural”….and these concepts bore an accompanying if silent “value” system. Privilege, especially accompanied one side of the equation, while depravity and alienation seemed more likely to accrue to the other side. And this dichotomy prevailed from the classrooms, to the neighbourhoods, to the towns v cities, and then to the various “professions” as compared with labourers. In what we called democracies, there was supposed to be, at least theoretically, a blend of all peoples, classes, neighbourhoods, races, ethnicities, genders and points of view. And then, of course, those making the rules found that they could easily and secretly make rules that would favour their own interests and ambitions, especially as the flow of information was quietly literally and metaphorically drowning the “populace” given the speed and volume of its dissemination.
With each generation of technology, the over-riding argument in its justification is more equitable distribution of power and wealth, notwithstanding a period of turbulence while adjusting to the new norms. That argument, however, has never really addressed the inequities and the restricted opportunities of the rich when compared with the poor. In fact, it seems to have exacerbated those inequities, whether only in the short term or permanently, only time will tell. What the latest rapidly evolving tide of technological revolutions is doing, however, while positing the potential of instant and global links of each person to all others, including video, audio and text, it is also providing “documentation” of the manner by which power has been exercised behind closed doors, (and all of the other instruments of secrecy preserved for the rich and the powerful), and the need for those instruments and personnel purportedly engaged in the “public interest” to devise detection processes and instruments that can and will keep pace with the new technology and the deviousness with which that technology is put to serve the interests of those forces exclusively and compulsively engaged in their own narcissistic, hedonistic and nefarious pursuits.
Laws, and the people who write the laws, have not kept pace with the capabilities of the new technology. Conflicts have emerged whose underlying premises may not have shifted much from the history of “empire” building and “defeating” enemies in that process. Borders that once “protected” nations are now mere Swiss cheese to the penetration of the new digital technologies. The flow of money is now like one river that reaches every urban and rural area on the planet instantly. Intelligence gathering, from “ground” observance, to “aerial” observance to “satellite” gathering continues to portray both needed patterns in weather and climate and the routine transactions of trade, commerce and diplomacy.
Technologically, and scientifically, we are riding a hurricane of innovation. Legislatively, and ethically, we are locked in the wagon trains that barely surmounted the mud-bogs of the prairies of those seeking their fortunes in an opening and “promising” and “inspiring” western manifest destiny across North America. And the divides that emerge from this archetypal inflection of tectonic plates, cultural rock formations, are literally and metaphorically engulfing both our perceptions and our attitudes to each other, about the potential for a shared, equitable and dignified and honourable future, and the perceived pathways for not merely survival but renewal into a more equitable and more sustaining future for our great-grandchildren.
And the patriarchy, including power-over, domination, competition, and winner-take-all concepts, notions, epistemologies and cosmologies, including the prevailing ethic of the rule of the powerful, like those old wagon trains, must be replaced not merely by new high-powered electric-fuelled, flying vehicles, but a new androgynous and humble and sustainable ethic. That ethic has to do more than write a few meagre cheques from the developed world to the developing world to counteract the decades of air and water pollution. It must also address the centuries of political, cultural and colonial malfeasance of the abuse of power, based on a narrow, male-driven cultural way of knowing, perceiving, valuing, competing, and valuing the other.
Superiority, no matter how it is measured, especially when it is so subtly and seemingly innocently and pervasively embedded like a silent cancer cell in the pancreas of the planet, has to give way to a way of perceiving and then acknowledging the “light” in the soul of each and every human on the planet. And that seemingly revolutionary principle has to become the guiding planetary beacon for the ships of state, and for the new treaties, and the new institutions, in both their dimensionality and in their design and function. Indigenous peoples of every continent have more to teach the “developed” world than we are willing to acknowledge. Poor people, too, in every ghetto, have more to teach us about the realities of surviving than all the research papers in all of the grad schools across the planet. Homeless men and women, in every town and city, in every country, whose numbers are growing exponentially cannot be seen as the new “colony” of the “developed” people in our culture. Good Samaritans, while appropriate, are merely short-term, band-aids. They often swoop into a “blight” like another application of mascara to a zit, in our obsessive, compulsive pattern of the massive “cover-up” to “solve” the problem of our own guilt and shame, both traits endemic to masculinity (and possibly also to women).
We have to re-think and to re-conceptualize our notion of how good people do things we consider worthy of punishment, for their criminality. How did those mostly men arrive at the point in their lives where their only or at least their “best” option was some act of crime? Let’s begin by acknowledging that, in their cribs and in their nurseries, (if they had one) and in their classrooms, they did not necessarily envisage a life of crime, nor even a detour into crime as their chosen path. Let’s begin too by acknowledging that the manner by which our governments perceive the poor and the under-educated, and the under-employed is pivotal in the manner in which these millions adapt to their perceived universe, whether they are living in the developed world or not. (Restricting these thoughts from the sociopath and the psychopath, about whom we continue to learn!)
Let’s us begin to recognize those implicit ways by which we incarnate, and unconsciously express, superiority (couched in the euphemistically polite word, “bias”) rendering the object of those perceptions, beliefs and attitudes as “less than” ourselves. And while both genders are participating in superiority/inferiority judgement, it says here that men, especially, are more deeply ingrained in the process of denial of silent, personal and bigoted perceptions/feelings/attitudes, even when confronted by their exposure. And the process of coming to ownership, acknowledgement and then re-appraising the impact of those silent and superior and condemning “profiling” approaches will take both time and a degree of tenderness, compassion and support that men do not seek and culturally resist, even when in originates from a loved and loving spouse or partner.
It is not merely individual men who have to confront our guilt and shame about those failings in our own lives. As a western, masculine-dominated culture that denies guilt, responsibility and the accompanying shame, we have much for which to atone. And we have not begun the process of taking clear and disciplined, collective, corporate and especially political steps that make it more likely our grandchildren will be able to honour our legacy by their documenting of our significant shift in both attitude and approach to our public discourse.
Individual shame and guilt, while enervating and disabling in their denial, can also be liberating in their exposure, in a safe, supportive and compassionate and sacred space. Collective shame and guilt, however, also needs a similar space in which to be aired, owned and atoned. In the pursuit of immediate and pressing “problems” that confront the planet, it is very conceivable that a shared perception and acknowledgement of the sabotage of historic attitudes, perceptions, norms and processes will get lost in the turbulence of reducing carbon and methane pollution.
And so long as we seem consumed and compelled by the “immediate” problems on our agenda, addressing fundamental attitudes, approaches and beliefs that have significantly contributed to those problems will go unaddressed, just as the health emergencies of millions of men go unaddressed until they cannot be denied or ignored any longer. "Prevention" is not a word or a process exclusive to women, or to the weak. In fact, it can be a perceptual gift to the world.