Monday, December 30, 2019

#37 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (masculine cultural DNA #5)

It is not only that men have drunk our own koolaid, in pursuit of the “heroic” chivalrous, knight of whatever ‘round’ table, and thereby impaled our gender in a trap whose “shadow” opposite has suffered denial and excessive empowerment, we have also imposed our “cultural strait-jacket” on each and every family, school, institution and government in history.

It can be legitimately argued that men did not commit this nefarious tyranny any more on others than on ourselves. And it is also legitimate to posit that we/they did not commit this original sin as a conscious and malicious and toxic and willful act, we nevertheless ensnared all generations of men, as well as the same generations of women in expectations, duties, and responsibilities.  Taking on more than we ever possibly could or would attain, we (men) incarnated a stereotype of military might, philosophical vision, theological purity and aspiration, medical and scientific experiment, governance principles, theatrical role models, visionaries, artists, poets, revolutionaries, pirates, rogues, lovers and emperors. Each individual life sought to attain more power, more adulation, more wealth, more wisdom, more holiness and more longevity as a way of demonstrating our worth, value and identity.

And while these pursuits, taken in moderation, continue to embody a set of values for young men seeking to emulate their chosen heroes, there is a glaring paradox attendant to this heroic ideal: it is founded on an unacknowledged, disavowed, denied, disparaged, and thereby highly impactful neurosis, fear, vulnerability and especially the more deep and dangerous anxiety of being ‘found out’ for our vulnerability.
It is not enough to paint male characters in contemporary “chick flicks” who come to their senses and realize off nearly too late, that they love a specific woman, having so often run the other way in the face of intimacy.  Nor is it enough to witness more serious scholars like C.S. Lewis, the Oxford English professor and author whose “frozen” exterior thaws in the presence of his new love in Shadowlands. Stereotyping women as the foot-and-heart-warmer for austere, cold, deeply intellectual middle-aged man, like the stereotype of men, is another reciprocal and even perhaps necessary reduction of the feminine.

We have built, deliberately perhaps, yet certainly in epic proportions, a western culture based on a definition of masculinity that sabotages all men, and engulfs most women in a dance of convention, convenience, expectations, and norms. The cold, detached, officious, “Captaine von Trapp’s” of most if not all of our western civilizations, cultures, organizations and literatures like a cardboard caricature of masculinity, has some value for adolescents, who struggle to find their path into social acceptance. However, even at that early stage, the stereotype divides all boys into those valued by peers and those considered alien outsiders. A recent and deplorable example of “the frat boy” emerged in the last year, in the body of Judge Cavanagh, now a permanent member of the Supreme Court of the United States. And it was an army of wannabee “frat-boys” who voted to confirm his appointment.

The church hierarchy, at least in the Christian church, has adopted an entry model for incipient clergy that requires emotional, psychological, and hierarchical prostration to the will, the instructions and the demands of the bishop, or the Pope. In the Roman Catholic church, that prostration is both literal and metaphoric, exemplifying a complete surrender to the will of God, archived in the mind, the heart and the body of the authority figure. Rigid, controlled, monitored and seriously punished compliance, considered benignly as discipline, is not merely expected from clergy; the model of compliance, adherence and discipline to the authority of a military general, an operating room doctor, a chief executive of any organization has been embedded, and then normalized as an integral component of western culture.

Arguments from leaders of such august religious bodies as the evangelical “Focus on the Family” pontificate that a “ship can have only one captain” as if to underscore the principle that the Christian faith requires a degree of discipline that imposes such a trite and inappropriate aphorism on each of its member families. Men, not merely by inference but by actual direction, who adhere to such groups, are expected, trained and inculcated into a simplistic, rule-based application of the designed roles of men and women. Designing men, in a paint-by-number rigid adherence to “the top dog” in any situation, has been a cultural, political, historical, and even organizational “given” for centuries. And the lessons have been prosletyzed not only to men but also to millions of women, as an organizing principle of how the world works.

We mentioned earlier that the “fathers” of not only the church, but also of the many several social, governmental, academic, legal, scientific and corporate organizations have been and continue to be primarily men. It is, however, not merely that male bodies, minds and hearts occupy chief executive posts; it is more insidious and ubiquitous truth that the roots of our western culture spreading under the ground of public discourse and consciousness are primarily, if not exclusively, masculine. The very symbols of power, the symbols of authority and legitimacy, including how to approach each situation, how to design the training and education systems, how to design and operate health and justice systems, how to approach problems, glitches, epidemics, illnesses, crime stem from the consciousness of the male psyche.

How we define aberrant behaviour, primarily as illness or evil, stems from a top-down socially and intellectually embedded way of thinking. Evil, as illustrated in the Garden of Evil, is a construct of a male mind and imagination. God, itself, as a male deity, is an obvious and unquestioned male construct. The Greek Gods, too, were symbols of male writers, even though they included female goddesses in their panoply. Much of the justifying rationale for many of these original male images, symbols gods and the processes of thought and investigation emerges from the dominant roles played by men in early civilizations through their academies, their churches, their writings and their histories. If men are “leading” their communities, their camps and their armies, their schools and their theatres, then those men will both consciously and unconsciously plant deeply in the cultural soil of their time, their literal and metaphoric seeds of their creation.

And in order primarily to survive, and to protect the survival of their villages and camps, those men sought to design and impose a kind of order, and a rationale for their order.

Being physically weaker, and having family duties and responsibilities, women over the centuries, complied with the masculine-seeded norms, expectations and the arguments proferred by their male counterparts. Women have for centuries been barred even from opportunities to write serious literature, to vote, to provide a counter-balance to the whims of the men in charge. And it follows that young boys and girls fell in behind the male-dominated, male-led, and male-seeded western culture. Not only does this historic record keep women out of the stream of consciousness of the towns, villages and the institutions. Even the teachers and the nurses, most of whom were women, worked under the supervision, and reported to the authority of male policies, procedures and expectations.

Power, in the hands, minds, hearts and imaginations of men, over the centuries, has and continues to be a two-edged sword: empowering those men in leadership, and placing excessive expectations on those same men. It has and continues to serve to disempower women, building the kind of bitterness and resentment that the last two or three decades have witnessed in the west, as well as providing a rally-vortex for the feminist movement. The need for power, however, is more subtle than the operation of the instruments of power. It is the need for individual, and then distributed power agency that attends the “way the world works” that undermines the very honourable and prestigious and platinum ideals to which men creators have and continue to aspire. The need for power, whether considered “the driver” in a for-profit corporation, or a tyrant in an incipient fascist state, or a director of a military establishment, and not merely the execution of that power, is a cancer that incubates in the roots of that organization, community, civilization.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely (Edmund Burke) is a phrase that has echoed through the archives of libraries. What is missed in this aphorism is the underlying dependence on power, dependence on the attainment of power, dedication and even addiction to the pathways to confronting a dependence on power. Young men witness literally zillions of men pursuing some form of power, (dominance, influence, control, affluence, status, role, activity/skill) as a “given” or even an expectation that serves as a lighthouse beacon for their lives. That beacon warrants only the conversation of which specific “form” or “role” of power the young man seeks to pursue. However, the missing element in these conversations is the dark side of the pursuit of power.

Surrender of independence, surrender of ethical and moral values, surrender of relationships, surrender of identity, in pursuit of the power of “attainment”
 of  a goal, is not the only danger from an excessive and obsessive pursuit of power. The real sacrifice, and it also takes a large variety of expressions, is the sacrifice of something far more important than power, status, wealth, adulation, public acclaim.

And that something is vulnerability, a kind of acknowledgement and acceptance and valuing of that weakness. And there is a difference between this vulnerability and neurosis. Neurosis is an excessive and irrational anxiety or obsession. What we are driving at here is the difference between a kind of expectation of dominance, of mastery, of control, of obedience of others, and the kind of officious deployment of authority that renders all others insignificant, irrelevant and even as serfdom.

Whether operating in a political atmosphere, an academic or for-profit organization, women come to the scene with a much more collaborative, collegial and biologically, psychologically and culturally embedded mind-set than do men. And, although individual men cannot be held responsible for the centuries of history in which men dominated, and inbred the expectation of power among generations of men, there is a much-needed and open opportunity for men to learn about how the world works, from the cultural world view of western women.

Women, too, have considerable adjustment to consider, given the kind of men they encounter in their workplaces, their churches and their social gatherings. We have not done, or attempted, through a motive of malignancy. We have not dominated from the primary motive of abuse. In fact, the cultural expectation that men will take responsibility for specific and agreed leadership roles, has imposed a kind of shackle on millions of men, many of whom either run away from those challenges, or who rush into them in a desperate attempt to prove themselves….and inevitably fail.

Having been supervised by nearly fifty mostly men, I have met more than a fair percentage of weak, insecure neurotic and over-achieving men in positions of responsibility and of authority. Leaders in education, in theology, in academe, in health care and in retail have, in my experience been those who desperately “needed” their position of power. And their need displayed itself in decisions that demonstrated more fear and anxiety than the situation required.

Whether they were:
·                competing (even unconsciously with a more successful twin brother), or
·                attempting to prove their value to a father who disparaged their worth in childhood,
·                over-compensating for some perceived weakness, or they were
·                over-achieving to demonstrate worth to an empty self, or they were
·                desperately pursuing affluence and its symbols in order to justify their           “worth” to a demanding gold-digging spouse, or
·                fulfilling a dream ambition of a Hollywood parent or
·                desperately clinging to power to justify themselves to their family

Many were sadly tragic, ineffectual far beyond their full capacity, jumping to conclusions and perceptions that were highly neurotic, based not on their investigation of the full situation, imposing judgements and sanctions that far exceeded the circumstances, and offering assessments that significantly exceeded their competence and their professional experience. And the most frightened were the least effective. And their plight was and is not to be exclusively assigned to their character. 
The impunity, or willful ignorance or denial of  the roots of personal ambition, and its excessive demands, linked to the avoidance by a system of hiring can and will only perpetuate the sabotage of the institutions in which these leaders are operating. 

We have built a culture that predicts more ineffectual and inappropriate decisions from mostly men whose self is so fragile, and not assessed by others in hiring positions, themselves, nervous of appointing really authentic and self-possessed candidates. And that culture bears eons of masculine imprint

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