Masculine insularity, isolation, solo-flying, professional expertise….a zeitgeist of the focus of power and influence in an individual, has provided much to the human condition. It has undergirded the notion of pyramidal hierarchies, and decision-making for centuries. It has given us heroes, gurus, mad scientists, political and philosophical wisdom, rockets, and bombs. It has also given us a resoundingly dangerous myth…the power of the individual, as opposed to the community…and now that the community is the globe, and facing the serious and empirical threat of extinction, we are hoisted on our own petard.
Stars, individual heroes, while motivating and symbolically significant to the public relations of any family, organization, community or even nation, leave millions ostracized from the mainstream of the culture. While the public consciousness trumpets stars in all fields of human endeavour, monitors each and every effort at crossing thresholds, frontiers and all ‘outside the box’ insight, acts and even thoughts, the human condition fails to be addressed as a common goal. Certainly it is not considered a common need.
Subsuming individual ambition and the pursuit of individual and heroic achievements to the broader, deeper and much more significant and shared ambition of the whole community, including a definition of that ambition, now reasonably parametered by survival, is not merely a scientifically mandated focus. It is also a long-overdue shift in how we raise our children, how we structure our organizations, how we design our governance, how we ensure our survival and how we climb down from the mountain of human rights to the valley of human responsibility.
How long do we have to listen to horror stories about how siloed each of our ‘institutions’ is from all others. In Canada, and especially in Ontario, we call this protecting the political turf, as if the mandate of an organization and its achievement is a zero sum game, even in the public sector. Private, and thereby departmental competition, and even sabotage of other departments all in the name of the pursuit a finite pot of the public purse, elevates the skill of deceit, histrionics, public relations, and rewards those who “win” while relegating the “losers” to a less-than state.
It happens in the relative position of villages to cities, in the governance of regions and provinces; it happens in the head-office relative to the “field” office; it happens in the board-room relative to the delivery crew; and it happens in the geopolitical sphere in the relationship of the “rich” developed world to the starving underdeveloped world. It also happens within families where the achiever child trumps the “wanderer” who continues to struggle to find his (and it is mostly males) path. We define individuals by their “role” as if their (our) roles were equitable to our identities. And the public consciousness of the power, status, wealth and circle of influence of ranked roles (and let’s face it we all have such a hierarchy in our minds) opens and closes doors every minute of every day in every town, city and organization.
The masculine model (need, expectation, pursuit, ambition, conception and both u- and dys-topia) of the distribution of power depends on the compliance of the powerless in the face of what can only be deemed insurmountable obstacles. Top-down decision-making is at the core of every single social organization in history. And one is prompted to ask out loud, “How is that working for us?” Of course, we protest vigorously, even vehemently, that our social and political and cultural ideals are inclusive, representative, based on the will of the majority (the definition of democracy), and thereby ethically based and ethically operated.
We build in oversight, monitoring, intelligence and even sanctions and procedures and regulations as our attempt to moderate what is considered the human capacity, and even perhaps proclivity to self-indulgence, imaginative deceit, personal ambition and lawlessness. And then we turn away, collectively and individually, and essentially let the system ‘run’ as if we have placed our trust in those “in charge” to protect the integrity of that system. In effect, our deferral, our turning away, our detachment and our pursuit of our private ambitions (those immediate duties, chores, to-do lists, bills, leases, mortgages and job descriptions) leaves the common good to those who step forward into the public arena. And the personal, private ambitions and goals of those people are generally known only to those in the inner circle of those initiatives. So we effectively and rather successfully evolve both a rhetoric and a perception of how the common good is to be dealt with.
Inside our private experience, in the family, in the classroom, in the first job and even in the career appointment, we learn where power resides, how power is expressed, rewarded, sanctioned and punished. And whether that power resides in a single parent, (read alpha male or more recently alpha female), or seems to be a shared concept, arrived at through discussion, consensus and the application of real veto depends on how the family “sees” and “interprets” and expresses some important and real variables: these include, but are not restricted to how time and money, and resources and opportunities, needs and expectations and dreams are deemed. In the west, time, for example, is monitored in nano-seconds, befitting the last two minutes of a basketball game. Technology, another of those ubiquitous and also seductive metaphors of the masculine identity, has developed to such a sophisticated level that even the elements on our stoves now register, monitor and provide a plethora of heat levels that would shock our grandmothers who worked with their wood stoves.
Efficiency, and the perception and compliance with the notion of the equation of efficiency with the “common good” is just another of the default social values that come with the dominance of the now corporate, originally masculine, military, pyramidal, top-down social construct. Skill sets, too, have become a kind of holy grail, in the pursuit of children ready and competitive to engage in a ‘dog-eat-dog’ world. Children whose compliance with such a culture, dependent on high grades, teacher-approbation, social acceptance and engagement, and the elimination of doubt, anxiety, uncertainty, ambivalence and a deficit of confidence are highly preferred over their siblings who are more “complex.” And complexity is not merely a word that we abhor; it is a notion that we all incarnate and our implicit abhorrence of its depth and reality sabotages our best and most honourable efforts to parent, to teach, and the mentor our children and our grandchildren.
We often hear about the social engineering that infused the culture of the Third Reich with justified fear and disdain. It is the degree to which social engineering has become such a dominant and pervasive cataract that frightens this scribe, notwithstanding the histrionic and outlandish display of many ethic, and gender identities parading across our many screens. And the dominance of the private and individual and personal and identity issues, when compared with the insouciance and narcissism that face the common good, is readily easily and reasonable traceable to a dominant gender model, the alpha male.
We collectively and individually rely heavily on experts to advise us on many of the issues facing us in our health, our learning and our expectations of the relationship between the individual and the whole. And this dependence continues and grows in spite of the fact that many experts, including the medical profession, are still exploring many complex and still hidden ‘combustions’ in the human gastric cavity for one. Our personal perception of our responsibility for our health, including our physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual shapes our individual design and discipline on how important that responsibility is. If we are burdened, excessively by anxiety, scarcity, worthlessness, not matter how we have come to that experience, there is a verifiable empirical relationship between our sense of our worth and our commitment to sustaining our worthiness or not. And while this dynamic relationship impacts both men and women, the access to support, and the notion that to seek support is both honourable and worthy, applies much more overtly to our female partners. Again, the solo, isolated and highly individualistic and independent male leaves himself on the edge of risk, partly as a consequence of how he (we) have been raised, and partly of how the “society” perceives we ought to be.
It is this “on the edge-ness” that, while for Hemingway brought out the best and most creative and demanding and imaginative responses when the individual man faces the greatest and most immediate threat, that offers foundational justification for all forms of competition, for personal and corporate/political/academic/professional dominance that seems at the core of masculine conceptualizing of our place in the universe. Mastery, as the crowning achievement of a human being, while commendable in pursuit of a technical skill, is hardly a mantra for a healthy existence. And the application of mastery to many of the skills we elevate, reward and promote as aspirational for our youth, while obviously demanding sacrifice and discipline, tends to push all forces that might interfere into the background of the individual and the collective consciousness.
Collectively we call this pursuit of mastery as “excellence” and we reward it in so many ways including the Nobel prize the Giller, the Pulitzer, the Tony, the Globe, the Oscar and a plethora of records of personal achievement. This piece is not intended to denigrate either the awards for outstanding performance or their recipients. It is however, to recognize, however, the other side of the human condition, the out-of-sight, the out-of-mind, the under-the-bridge, the in-the-gutter, the growth of the ‘unconscious’ and the unconsidered and the unworthy aspects both our individual persons, of our families, of our schools, and also of our global community. Even the most creative and extensive campaign of classical conditioning cannot and will not be enough to sustain the hero-reward-denial infra-structure of personal and social cohesion.
We are neither unaware, nor capable of fully denying both our preferred blindness and our chosen insouciance to our lesser selves. And here our “lesses selves” includes every single human being whose life continues to exist outside our consciousness, as if it were non-existent. Our demographic definitions of human groupings is only a part of our cover for our shared compliance in denial of our human responsibility for our own health and wellness, but also for our failed responsibility for the silent majority that continues to grow, both inside our persons and across our shared planet.
It is the divide between our unconscious and our conscious, and the elevation of the conscious to such a powerful and dominant position, partly one expects, to avoid having to confront the complex truths of our own lives, including our fears, our anxieties, our failures, our betrayals, our insecurities and our ‘gaps’ (“we are all filled with gaps,” Hugh MacLennan) that threatens to subvert millions of lives (many of them men, 75% of all suicides in Canada are committed by men) and also to threaten the life of the planet.
Men are in the vortex of a definition of expectations of heroic proportions, with both extremes of the implications of that definition for a full life and a complete self0sabotage. We are turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to our needs, our insecurities, our uncertainties, and the requisite development of those ‘tools’ like words, sentences, feelings, imaginations and beliefs that would value and give expression to these needs and fears and feelings. And we are permitting our brothers, both individually and collectively, to continue to assault our best instincts that know we are participating in a kind of both deliberate and an unconscious sabotage of those best instincts, angels and inner voices.
Our public performance especially those of men, both individually and collectively, serves only to mask our interior truths, and that mask, like the papier mache of those storefronts in the old western movies, cannot withstand the wind and sand storms that sweep across the deserts of our hinterlands. And the storms of our innerlands will only continue to grow so long as we remain adamant deniers of our own inner storms. And, what is worse, our growing dependence on extrinsic ingestions of pills, drinks, distractions, addictions, and even the pursuit of unattainable and hollow goals will only serve to prolong and postpone the inevitable date of our wakening. And while none of us men can hold trump responsible for our personal and our shared fate, nevertheless, we can hold ourselves accountable for our willing compliance in a culture that will not and cannot sustain either our individual lives nor the life of our planet.