Monday, January 20, 2020

#45 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Masculine cultural DNA #13)

Let's try to peel the onion of how archetypes might shed light on our wounds.

James Hillman writes these words about our complexes:
Our complexes are not only wounds that hurt and mouths that tell our myths but also eyes that see what the normal and healthy parts cannot vision. Andre Gide said that illness opens doors to a reality which remains closed to the health point of view. One understands what he meant about the psychological acuity and richness of culture during periods of historical decay; but why is the same phenomenon of psychological depth in period of personal decay—ageing, neurosis, depression—not recognized with the same respect?
The soul sees by means of affliction. Those who are most dependent upon the imagination for their work—poets, painters, fantasts—have not wanted their pathologizing degraded into the “unconscious” and subjected to clinical literalism. (“The unconscious,” and submitting the pathologized imagination to therapy, found favor with less imaginative professions: nurses, educationalists, clinical psychologists, social workers.) The crazy artist, the daft poet and mad professor are neither romantic clichés nor antibourgeois postures. They are metaphors for the intimate relation between pathologizing and imagination. Pathologizing processes are a source of imaginative work, and the work provides a contained for the pathologizing process.
The wound and the eye are one and the same. From the psyche’s viewpoint, pathology and insight are not opposite—as if we hurt because we have not insight and when we gain insight we shall no longer hurt. No. Pathologizing is itself a way of seeing: the eye of the complex gives the particular twist called “psychological insight.” We become psychologists because we see from the psychological viewpoint, which means by benefit of our complexes and their pathologizings.
Normal psychology insists that this twisted insight is pathological. But let us bear in mind that normal psychology does not admit pathologizing unless dressed in its patient’s uniform. It has a special house called abnormal. And let us also bear in mind that the ego’s normative view of the psyche is a cramped distortion. If we studied soul through art, biography, myth; or through the history of ways, politics and dynasties, social behaviour and religious controversy; then normal and abnormal might have to switch houses. But normal academic psychology eschews these fields and compiles its statistics so often from undergraduates who have not yet had the chance to experience the range of their madness….
Archetypal psychopathology finds the pathological inherently necessary to the myth: Christ must have his crucifixion; Dionysus must be childish and attract titanic enemies; Persephone must be raped: Artemis must kill him who comes too close….
Consciousness today is closer to its pathology. Psychopathology is no longer held behind asylum walls. The sickness fantasy is now so dominate that one sees disintegration, pollution, insanities, cancerous growth, and decay wherever one looks. Pathology has entered our speech and we judge our fellow and our society in terms once reserved for psychiatric diagnoses. And the ego falls apart….The soul moves, via the pathologized fantasy of disintegration, out of too-centralized and muscle-bound structures which have become ordinary and normal, and so normative that they no longer correspond with the psyche’s needs for nonego imagination realities which “perturb to excess.”(James Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, Harper, New York, 1976, p.106-7-8-9)

Undoubtedly all of us experience something we would call disintegration.
Each of us too have experienced the overflow of what were formerly psychiatric diagnoses thrown around like “bullets” in conversations, character defamations and character assessments by people who have neither the credentials nor the right to do so. In too many psychiatrists’ offices, too, glib and flippant names are stuck like “sticky-memo’s” on the foreheads of patients, without so much as a complete biographical history being undertaken.

Feeling the impingement of potentially degrading pathologizing into the unconscious in the manner of those “less imaginative professions,” I am trying to embrace a more expansive, imaginative and mythical “eye” and “wound”…without continuing to be ensnared in the conventional, social, political framework. There is something both challenging and freeing in the exploration of multiple images as potential hints at what might be going on in my own ‘wound’.

The implications of refusing to “begin” with the prospect of either “sickness” or “evil” in what conventional psychology considers to be the two exclusive categories of abnormal behaviour, visions, and depictions are both freeing and, of course, profoundly unsettling for many. Overturning norms, normative assumptions and the detailed and complex manner by which those norms have become accepted (normalized, sanctioned and rewarded)  in our hospitals, our courts, our educational institutions, and our social agencies, poses a picture of reduced power over individuals by the professionals, and challenge to the perspective that informs and undergirds many of our educational curricula, social norms, justice-system practices and rules.
Elevating the poet, the artist, the ‘daft’ professor from the trash bin of ostracisism, to the lighthouse on the shore of our shared dark nights of the soul is just one of the many potential benefits of a new perspective.

Nevertheless, even a private exploration of some of these themes, begins to offer connections between the rich, deep, and cross-cultural mythologies that comprise the foundation of our literature and our art, and our much more complex beings that many reductionists would prefer.

Considering the spice of a Saturn, or an Eros, or a Dionysus mixing with the cocktail shaker of one’s life, seems, at least to this scribe, to be far more enlightening and accepting, tolerant and enriching than a simple “depressed” and in need of a pill. Individual human perception of the complexity, the sensibilities, the sensitivities, the patterns of the gods that just might be playing out in lives thousands of years after their original imaginative conceptualization, is not only a fresh perspective of how we might see ourselves but also potential universal link to all of humanity.

Individual complexity, diversity, ethnicity, language, it seems reasonable, extends far beyond the confines of an ideology, a religions dogma, a politically “incorrect” judgement, and perhaps also a “criminal intent” as the starting point for all law enforcement. Reducing a cancerous tumour, for example, to a diseased piece of matter in need of excision, too, precludes what that tumour might/could/would say if we were willing and able to “listen” to its deep and profound anguish.

While it is inappropriate to project any specific “wound” onto a group of people, there is enough evidence around us to speculate that many men in North America seem to walk around in a state of self-perceived and believed “unworthiness”. There are a zillion potential reasons for such a cultural wave. Proving one’s self, in, the eyes of a parent, teacher, coach, professor, boss, (not to mention God) is an integral component of how men operate. Competition with other men, as an part of this path only fuels the fire to do even better, more, more skillfully, more efficiently, more fluently, and in a more disciplined way. The conventional arguments supporting this cliché abound: higher marks, more degrees, higher income, higher status, social approbation and even adulation. Classical conditioning taken to its logical conclusion: extrinsic rewards will motivate all competitors….

Except that the research is not unequivocal about that assumption. Long past the Maslow hierarchy, many men are coming to realize that our relationships, our sense of being valued and respected, our capacity to father, and to husband, to create and to imagine are at least as important as those medals, trophies, bonuses and stock options and corner offices. Evidence suggests too that, in an environment  in which the corporate culture continues to depend almost exclusively on those extrinsic rewards, the creeping toxins of greed, excessive ambition, personal demonization of competitors have a greater tendency to influence events.

Just this week, we have learned, for example, that Boeing’s business model on the debacle known as the 737 Max 8 jet, two of which have crashed, relied on greed, and omitted the requisite critical examination, evaluation, inspections, caution and extended time. Nevertheless, the CEO, after being relieved of his post, left with a reported $62 million severance package. The other real danger, according to some reports is that no one will ever be held accountable for the multiple tragedies, loss of life and serious and warranted hit to Boeing’s stock and reputation.

There is another side to the “unworthiness” syndrome: and that takes the shape of over-confidence, super-human perceptions, beliefs and risks (that no one will find out about). Hercules still lives apparently at Boeing. Hillman writes:

"(I)t is also possible to insight the ego and ego psychology, by reverting it to the heroic myths of Hercules with whose strength and mission we have become so caught that the patterns of Hercules--clubbing animals, refusing the feminine, fighting old age and death, being plagued by Mom but marrying her younger edition--are only now beginning to be recognized as pathology." (Hillman, op. cit. p.102)

Are we to be under any delusion that there will be a transforming tidal wave of psychological insight flowing in the upper power-and-wealth echelons of a culture in which 2100 billionaires own more than 60% of the world’s wealth (according to CNN’s GPS with Fareed Zakaria) or in the U.S. where a mere 4 families own more than 40% of the wealth in that country? No.

In fact, the Hercules myth has such a hold on the culture, especially in the last decade, that it is becoming engraved in the political and corporate mind-set.
What might be feasible is for more of us to begin to reconsider how we see ourselves, and how we see others, especially when we are suffering deep and profound anguish. Rather than link it exclusively to a single piece of behaviour, (our own or another’s) and then sliding into a pattern of denial, avoidance, and self-loathing, we might consider reflecting on the myth, and/or the god, or the hero or heroine whose story might be finding another iteration in our life.

Whether we are trying too hard, flying too close to the sun (and melting the wax that holds our “wings” together, or whether we are desperate for love, or experiencing something like hysteria, or impulsiveness, we are likely to be treading on paths previously trod by mythical figures whose stories might just shed some light on the situation.

And, just as importantly, if and when we witness what we might have considered bizarre behaviour, or a piece of incomprehensible art, we might reject our previously “impulsive” judgement of both the behaviour and the person behind it as “sick.” Instead, we might try to think/look/reflect/inquire/speculate as to what “story” is being enacted before our eyes, ears, and our unique and mythic perspective.

I’m just saying!!!!..........

Friday, January 17, 2020

#44 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Masculine cultural DNA #12)


I have often wondered why it is that men love to watch movies exploring the inner space of the imagination, and the outer space of that same dimension (given that the imagination is the root of both) and yet shy away from disclosing the outer reaches of our inner space. Ghoulish figures, monsters, dragons, skeletons, putrifaction pulverizing and dissolution are all characters and processes of the latest in visual effects. The technology, in fact, has so advanced as to be able to render any and all potentially imaginative characters in the most “dramatic” and memorable fashion.

The efforts to keep wired and turned “on” the electrified fence separating these movies from the inner space of one’s sense of self, however, while seeming heroic in a politically correct, tight-assed, buttoned-down, ‘preppy’ and hermaphroditically sealed culture aiming at the perfection of all personal performances, are, to be blunt, soul destroying. Repression, denial, avoidance, and the reduction of all things “psychopathological” as “dangerous” and “outside the realm of normality” is a kind of involuntary critical parenting that is not only not necessary, but also debilitating.
James Hillman, in Revisioning Psychology, writes these words:

Ideals and norms provide means for seeing pathologizing but they are not to be taken as means for measuring pathologizing. From the psychological viewpoint neither the statistical norm nor the ideal norm can offer the least relevance regarding the inherent value of a pathologized fantasy or experience. My nightmares, compulsions, anxieties may be essential to my work, life-style, and my relations with others. Norms are perceptual modes for seeing contrasts; they are staining methods which help un notice deviations more sharply. By realizing how strongly pathologizing an event is, we more immediately8 sense its importance. But the psychological worth of what is going on is stated not by the norm or the deviation, but by the affliction itself. It reports its own interior significance in its accompanying fantasy-images.

Pathologizing this afflicts the very fantasy of norms themselves, the idea that there are objective standards, bench marks for the soul, its fantasy, its madness, its fate. When a therapist insists that no two cases are alike, (s)he means this not merely in the details of its accidents but in the profound sense that human being is essentially “differing” being, and that individuality is given with the particular mix of soul, the complexity of its composition. Therefore, when Jung defines individuation as a ‘process of differentiation’ and differentiation as ‘the development of differences, the separation of parts from the whole,’ it means realizing our differences from every other person.
But it also means our internal differences deriving from our internal multiple persons.

Therefore, an individual cannot provide a norm even for himself. The many persons which play their parts through an individual have differing paths to follow, different moments of rise and decay, different Gods to obey….The falling apart of the individual at death, the dissolution of his complexity, which the Buddha taught in his last cautionary enigma-‘Decay is inherent in all composite things. Work on your salvation with diligence’- points to the absolute non-normality of each individual person. If the fundamental principle of psychological life is differentiation, then no single perspective can embrace psychological life. A standard for one figure may be pathology for another, and pathology for one part may be normal from another perspective within the same individual.  (James Hillman, Revisioning Psychology, Harper, New York, 1975, p.87-88)

Try to juxtapose this notion alongside of the concept of the monstrous industrial, normalizing “machine” of the norms imposed, expected and heavily sanctioned by the state. There is a significant difference worthy of exploration between the “hard-wiring” (so called) of the individual (dubious at best) and the hard-wiring of the state. Normalizing, for the purpose of achieving something called “state and private protection” (really an aphorism for state control) within a narrow, highly starched, even fossilized set of norms, and then monitoring the compliance (or not) of millions of people may seem like a technological phenomenon worthy of man’s highest aspirations and ideals. It is, also, and perhaps paradoxically, a highly dangerous machine in the hands, and the internal compulsions of the state.

The dedicated purpose of achieving power, no matter how benign its design, implies a kind of inferential proposition that power is inherently “good” and its absence is inherently “evil”. Narrowing the definition of the human being into a straight-jacket that ‘fits’ neatly into a set of publicly acclaimed and rewarded attitudes, behaviours, beliefs and actions is a path to ironing out all the creases of who we are, differently from everyone else. And then, diving deeply into a theatrical world of grotesque images, and conflicts between good and evil, as a way of releasing our anxieties, while temporarily escaping the vicissitudes of hose anxieties, is a prescription for doing the same thing over and over, while expecting different results.

We have all lived through a thousand moments, many of them having been forgotten, while a few have the potential (although not easily accessed) of offering new insights in which can reveal the ‘information of the universe,’ the “groundwork and hierarchies of the imagination on archetypal principles. The ordering rubrics that provided that categories were mainly planetary Gods and themes from classical myths.” (Hillman, op. cit. p.92)

Those pathologized memories, events indelibly and retrievably embedded in our memory, are what Hillman calls, “true soul movers” since “if a soul is to be truly moved, a tortured psychology is necessary.” (Ibid, p. 92)
“Soul-moving” memories, such moments as an untimely death, a suicide, a birth, a divorce, a firing, an abandonment, a serious accident comprise the kind of experience that everyone of us can experience on any day in our lives. And once having gone through one or more, we are inevitably much more awakened to their potential for our lives. For many (if not most) of us, events pass “through” us much as our food passes through us, so “in our heads and minds” are we that we do not pause, (perhaps cannot) and let the event continue to reverberate, resonate, vibrate and engrave the fullness of its image on our soul. Task-focused men are especially likely to sideline such moments, both given their potential for bending us at our knees, and for opening the tear-ducts of our eyes, both of which possibilities are not “appropriate” at the moment.

The knee-jerk response of many males, as leaders of organizations in which trauma has occurred is to “find a “Churchill” to get the organization and the people to “move on” and to take their grief, or trauma “home” where it will not impede the “getting on with it” by the organization.” This is especially counter-intuitive in an ecclesial organization, where inevitably trauma occurs rather frequently, and, to this scribe, unsurprisingly. Considering grief, for example, even the most dramatic and public display of its depth, as counter-intuitive to the “smooth running” of the corporation, and thus justifying its removal from the scene of a profound tragedy, is not merely expressing a conventional, and even normative “fear” that such emotions threaten the stability of the organization and its capacity to “weather the current storm.” And in an organization, the church, supposedly dedicated to the spiritual, psychological and social development of the individuals under its roof, and dedicated to the principle of embracing and comforting the “suffering” and to upset the comfortable, histories in which that aspirational goal has been thwarted have deeply impacted those present.

In fact, the intersection of social, cultural norms, whereby private trauma is deliberately and dismissively ostracized from the public arena, as is the case still with suicide in North America, (both Canada and the U.S.) is a case in point in which the normalizing of repression, invalidation, and effectively denial of both the empirical reality and the emotional impact, is a theme in which we all, consciously or unconsciously, participate. Untimely death, at one’s own hands, is a public issue and a private reality at different ends of the numerical continuum. We are willing to talk about its depressing numbers of incidents, and to focus on the age demographics, or the indigenous demographics, without really facing the individual lives of desperation faced by those whose lives we mourn.

Of course, each incident leaves deep and profound remorse, and even deeper shame and guilt among those still living. “What could I have done to prevent this?” is the question each engaged person asks. The culture, on the other hand, picks up its morning coffee, shakes its head, and utters something like, “It’s so sad!” as it walks out the door of the coffee shop. And yet, if we are going to begin to acknowledge the “monsters” in our own imaginations, we will need to acknowledge that there are ‘monsters’ in each of our imaginations.

Trying to imagine the deep and profound depression, anxiety, fear and potential shame that prompted a father of a classmate, my childhood pharmacist, a young male church member, an elderly and highly respected widower, a former Ontario Premier who had suffered a debilitating stroke, a brilliant heart surgeon, a distraught clergy, a highly sensitive, creative wannabee-writer, and my grandfather, all of whom either committed or attempted suicide in my lifetime is an impossible task. Sadly, there is a known and unforgettable name on each of the faces of those lives with which I am familiar. Imagine how many others, each of them known to someone, and to some community, whose lives were ended by their own hands, or who attempted to end their lives. However, not to bring their lives, their memories and their desperation back to life, as a canary in the coal-mine of our own culture and time, is and would be an omission of a full acknowledgement our cultural DNA.

Our cultural dismissal as “something wrong with each of them” is no longer palatable, thankfully. However, our openness to our own vulnerabilities, fears, anxieties, and the imaginations that create our most treasured poems, films, plays are also inhabiting our own memories. And we are each, potentially, alchemists, with our own fire, and sulphur and salt and lead, as symbols of our bitterness, and metaphoric combustion. We can burn both the chemicals and those “infections” still inhabiting our soul in our own alchemy, if Hillman is to be believed.

Nevertheless, the especially masculine filing of the imagination, the deep imprints of traumatic memory, and all things that disclose and even hint at weakness, an integral part of our complexity, under “for a later date” is a penchant that cannot be allowed to be deemed part of our permanent hard-wiring. Nor can we revert to the medication of some prescribed (or not) drug or potion, as our pathway through the underground tunnel of our unconscious as our key to its discovery.

If each of those men were depressed, and who would argue that they were not, and we continue to see depression as the great evil, Hillman posits a reasonable, if complicating explication of how the “christian” culture came to this point….

“Because Christ resurrects, moments of despair, darkening, and desertion cannot be valid in themselves. Our one model insists on light at the end of the tunnel; one program that moves from Thursday evening to Sunday and the rising of a wholly8 new day better by far than before. Not only will therapy more or less consciously imitate this program (in ways ranging from hopeful positive counseling to electroshock), but the individual’s consciousness is already allegorized by the Christian myth and so he knows what depression is and experiencers it according to form. It must be necessary (for it appears in the crucifixion) and it must be suffering; but staying depressed must be negative, since in the Christian allegory, Friday is never valid per se, for Sunday—as an integral part of the myth—is pre-existent in Friday from the start. The counterpart of every crucifixion fantasy is a resurrection fantasy. Our stance toward depression is a priori a manic defense against it. Even our notion of consciousness itself serves as an antidepressant; to be conscious is to be awake, alive, attentive, in a state of activated cortical functioning. Drawn to extremes, consciousness and depression have come to exclude each other, and psychological depression has replaced theological hell….
Yet through depression we enter depths and in depths find soul. Depression is essential to the tragic sense of life. It moistens that dry soul, and dries the aet. It brings refuge, limitation, focus, gravity, weight, and humble powerlessness. It reminds of death. The true revolution begins in the individual who can be true to his or her depression. Neither jerking oneself out of it, caught in cycles of hope and despair, nor suffering it through till it turns, nor theologizing it—but discovering the consciousness and depths it wants. So begins the revolution in behalf of soul.” (Hillman, op. cit. p.98-99)

Saturday, January 11, 2020

#43 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Masculine cultural DNA #11)


Jesuit John Powell wrote a little book entitled “Why I don’t tell you who I am” in which he explained that “that’s all I have and you might reject me”….Protection of our deepest most private self is hardly unexpected in a world of cruelty, meanness, flaunted and faux superiority and masculine bravado.

Never mind that there are “mean girls”; that is a situation for women to confront. We men have our own meanness, cruelty, bullying, and a stubborn fixation with the archetype that keeps this kind of attitude, behaviour, perception and outright abuse of power alive, and as the evidence indicates, growing.

A sensitive piece in The Atlantic’s most recent edition, tells the world that Joe Biden has struggled with a speech stutter from his youth. Written by another stutterer, John Hendrickson, a senior editor at The Atlantic, the piece tellingly urges the presidential candidate to “say it” that he does indeed suffer from a stutter. Hendrickson, though, is not sure he wants to hear his subject utter those words for his personal benefit, or if he believes Biden would relieve himself of considerable public scorn, anguish, criticism or scepticism.

Holding to the heroic role model of having worked with and overcome his speech impediment, Biden speaks privately with those who suffer from the same difficulty. Asked whether he thinks he would evoke pity from voters if he declared his “truth,” Biden wonders out loud how people could or would have pity for someone as fortunate, almost gilded as his life has been. Naturally, following his viewing of The King’s Speech, the inspirational film about the struggles of King George VI to overcome his own stutter, a neurological condition pertaining mainly to men, Biden noted that he had, without knowing anyone else who did, for years written speeches in a form that separated difficult words on the page with spaces in the copy just as he then learned the King had also done. The same night Biden watched The King’s Speech, he also left a recorded message of remembrance and reconnection on the phone of his speech therapist.

In a series of pieces about denial by men of any mere hint of weakness, vulnerability and the implications of such denial, personal connections to the trope seem relevant. My father suffered from a serious stutter, especially when he was at home, where the emotional, psychological ethos was often highly tense, even threatened by intemperate, unsuspected and mostly disconnected from the current reality emotional explosions from his wife, my mother. At work, where he supervised a staff of a dozen men and women, and gracefully and graciously served customers for over half a century, he speech was flawless, uninterrupted and imbued with integrity and authenticity.

As an adolescent, however, my impatience with his long pauses in his speech provoked what can only have been the most disrespectful and hurtful interjections, filling in his missing words. Only much later, when I learned of another colleague who also suffered from a life-long speech stutter, and who worked with neurologists to produce a device that through experiment proved adequate to the almost complete eradication of the struggle, did I secure the device and offer it to my father, in the hope that it would have the same result for him. The device consisted of a small plastic box containing batteries attached to a wire collar placed around the neck. A simple switch initiated a minor electric current, essentially a ‘shot of warmth’ into the neck when the wearer came upon a word difficult to say. My colleague demonstrated such a strict commitment to proving the value of the device that he read for three hours each night, with the device attached to his neck and his thumb on the button. The experiment was so successful that he then secured a weekly three-hour hosting post on a classical music show on radio station CFRB, then one of Toronto’s most powerful and most listened-to AM radio station. Listeners would never hear a speech pause. My father, having passed his sixty-fifth year when he received the device, was either unable or unwilling to commit fully to its use.

Whether Joe Biden will actually pull the curtain back from his stutter in the middle of his third campaign for the Democratic nomination for the presidency is still a matter for speculation. Having maintained his ‘silence’ (really his secrecy) in the face of a youth when he was dubbed “Stut” and considered by many to be less intelligent than his peers, and especially humiliated by a Catholic nun in speech class, there is reason to doubt his full disclosure. Surely, however, as with the more sensitive and responsible approach to public disclosure and acceptance of autism, Biden’s public accounting would go a long way to his own psychological and emotional relief, as well as to the prospect of public shame for having shamed him (and millions of others) throughout his life.

Shame, inevitably linked to anger, humiliation, and possibly even to revenge, while not exclusive to men, is a prominent experience given our deep and persistent consciousness of how we appear to other men. And there are so many ways by which men “attack” other men for our being different from what is considered ‘normal’ masculinity. Considering many of these ‘attacks’ as a pathway to ‘manhood,’ the kind of manhood that can stand up for itself, will not be pushed around, will not tolerate shaming, insults, taunting or worse,  a black eye, men (and their mothers and fathers) for centuries been engaged in a hot-house that nurtures the weed of revenge, and not the flower of turning the other cheek. And that kind of cultural ‘gardening’ begins with a conception of human beings (or is it mainly men?) as mostly sinful, flawed, imperfect and mostly to be defended against, not primarily accepted, honoured, trusted and respected.

Of course, the church has a giant share of culpability in this regard. In its attempt to cap any hint of arrogance, and to ensure the pre-eminence of humility among “believers” (not to mention the church’s need for control of members), as the sine-qua non of discipleship, and the purity of that obedience to the will of God, it has paradoxically generated centuries of natural, inevitable and uncontrolled and uncontrollable push-back. Physics posits that for every action there is a equal and opposite reaction; human nature suggests that whatever we hate we become. Extreme and absolute anything, is, apparently, according to the universe, the first seedling in generating its precise opposite. If I hate someone or something, I am much more vulnerable to incarnating that very “thing” that I hate.

However, to posit a view of human nature that begins with, and ends with, an expression of love, especially in the current cultural climate, is to flirt with social ostracism. In order to begin with love of another, one has to have an unwavering sense of one’s own person, not as an incarnation of perfection certainly, but as an honourable, trusting and trustworthy being. Quakers speak of the ‘divine light’ being within each person; some Christians speak of the “image of God” within each person;…and yet, our social conventions start with, (and continue long after childhood and adolescence), sanctions, punishments, accusations, judgements and shaming.
We, and men are especially implicated in this dynamic, shame others and then dismiss the shaming as a joke, a dissing, a kind of ‘arming’ the other for the field of battle, the journey of one’s life. As far back as 1854, Henry David Thoreau, in his historic treatise, Walden, wrote these words:

“You who govern public affairs, what need have you to employ punishments?” Love virtue, and the people will be virtuous. The virtues of a superior man are like the wind; the virtues of a common man are like the grass; the grass, While we do not subscribe to the classism and the easy and glib segregation of superior and common man, we, with Rousseau, subscribe, however quixotically and unabashedly to the notion that goodness is more defining of the nature of man, including men, than evil. The true key to all the perplexities of the human condition, Rousseau boldly claims, is the “natural goodness of man.” (From the University of Chicago Press website) Ghandi, too, having read Tolstoy’s “The Kingdom of God in Within You,” in which the ‘love as law of life’ and principles of non-violence base don love for the entire mankind were deeply embedded principles, cured him of scepticism and made him a firm believer in Ahimsa.*

So what is it that drives our (masculine) penchant for power, our volcanic hot pursuit of our enemies? What is it that drives our pursuit of the shame of the other searching, like obsessed gold diggers, for the weakest link ( criminality, unconscious bias, racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, bigotry, insouciance) of the other? Why are we, like Joe Biden, my father, millions of humans who struggle with any form of physical, emotional, psychic, intellectual or spiritual deformity?

Is it not, in fact, our imperfections that make us real, interesting, diverse, and obviously “unfinished” as fully developed individuals, not to mention as participants in an unfinished, developing culture? Why then are we so obsessed with the illegal, or sick (or both) categorizations of anything and everything that “we” consider to be abnormal?

Is it our collective cultural anxiety about not understanding what we cannot explain? Why, for example, are we fascinated by the new and as yet unexplained discoveries of the human mind, or the revelations of outer space also as yet unexplained, in a scientific perspective, and yet so revolted by the surprising, or the predictable behaviour of those of our human species that emerges from deprivation, depravity, and the slightest or monumental evidence of abuse?

We all know, at least our better angels tell us hourly, that any evidence of violence can be traced back to previous violence, whether it be on the battlefield, or in the bedroom, or in the schoolyard, or in the courtroom. It is our own deep and hidden and buried angst, anxiety, insecurity, failure, shame, crossing of boundaries, whether consciously or not, that causes pain, insult, offence, violence and even debasement of the other.

Having lived and worked in the United States for four years, I noticed a pronounced dependence on private insurance, law enforcement, the military and the power of money as status. The divisions between the ‘have’s’ and the ‘have-not’s’ in each of these four imperatives is a divide wider than the Grand Canyon. And the churches, at least those I observed, remain mute, gagged by the political correctness of their absolute co-dependence on the cheques of those very wealthy patrons whose membership in the establishment guarantees the complicity of the dependent religious hierarchy. Similarly, the political class too, is enmeshed in the same co-dependence with the fat-cats who write their cheques. Just last night, Cory Booker, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination protested the power of money in the campaigns of specific candidates, while he has committed to accepting money only from private, small, independent donors, rejecting money from PAC’s and from the pharmaceutical companies and environmental polluters.

Taking the high road, it seems, is also the road to elimination. And yet, paradoxically, the world sings the praises of a Ghandi, a Mandela, a Tolstoy, a Thoreau, a Rousseau, a Mother Theresa, without seeming to stop to reflect upon how vengeful, vindictive, judgemental, punitive, racist, homophobic, ageist, sexist we each tend to be (and to express overtly). Hypocrisy, dear reader, is a cocktail to which we are all addicted.
Not practicing what one preaches, lacking the willpower to live up to one’s own ideals and behaving in ways one knows are obviously wrong, are all moral failings. There is perhaps a different reason for our contempt of hypocrisy:

“We contend that the reason people dislike hypocrites is that their outspoken moralizing falsely signals their own virtue. People object, in other words, to the misleading implication---not to a failure of will or a weakness of character.” (The Real Problem with Hypocrisy, by Jillian Jordan, Roseanne Sommers and /David Rand, The New York Times, January 13, 2017, quoting the journal, Psychological Science)

Having railed against disavowed fear, against the unacknowledged Shadow, against the impunity we compliantly permit to those whose attitudes, behaviours and words deeply and permanently harm us, especially those in positions of power whose decisions have rendered us impotent, silent, and irrelevant, it is time to expose the writer’s deep-seated complicity in a masculine culture of social, political, and even religious “going along to get along”…I have failed myself, my family, my students, and my parishioners for having silently and complicitly navigated through clashing rocks and swirling whirlpools of the appeasement of my mother by my father, the appeasement of supervisors to their superiors, the complicity of radio station managers to the demands of advertisers, the religious bigotry of clergy under the guise of the gospel, the manipulation of supervisors who manipulated professional colleagues out of their jobs through deliberately over-loading their workday, the deceit of bishops who refused to face hard truths in their appointments, and failed to implement requisite supports, and who failed to acknowledge their professional incompetence and unprofessional judgements.

I also failed in my responsibilities to my family, when, without knowing how to navigate what I considered irreconcilable differences, I withdrew from their presence. Without the perception of legitimate and achievable options, I made what were unilateral decisions, thereby betraying the people I most cherished, my daughters.
I witnessed firsthand the impact of suicides of men who, starving for both personal and professional supports, took their own lives, in what can only be discerned as a screaming cry for help. And the number of men who continue to take their own lives grows whether through such serious trauma (PTSD), or a combination of trauma and the inevitable social, political, cultural, and even ecclesial neglect. We all have the blood of their deaths on our hands, for our shared, collective, complicit failure to treat the fragility and the innocence and the dignity and the goodness and the love each of us with the care, the commitment and the discipline we all need. And as men, we also continue to prop up a cultural norm of an addiction to power, to abuse, to indifference to weakness, and to the denial of our own vulnerability.

It is a stance that is both unsustainable and self-sabotaging. Just yesterday, I listened as Anthony Scaramucci, a former press relations officer of the president, for 11 days. He expounded on the self-loathing that eats away at the psyche of the current occupant of the Oval Office. Men, especially, have to be supportive of each other in order that more do not fall into the slough of self-hatred. There are so many influences that would have us fall; and there are so few guard-rails protecting us from sliding. Let’s commit to an infrastructure project that builds more of those guard rails.


*Ahimsa: In Jainism, ahimsa is the standard by which all actions are judged. For the ascetic, ahimsa entails the greatest care to prevent the ascetic from knowingly or unknowingly being the cause of injury to any live soul. (Britannica website)

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

#42 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Masculine cultural DNA #10)


Have you ever noticed that there are many, very precise descriptions of the character/temperament of the plethora of dog breeds? Of course, the dogs in these depictions neither read nor complain about how they are characterized. Although there are multiple traits on which these observations are based, the primary one of “aggression v. friendliness/loyalty/playfulness/trainability abounds.

Having originated in the wolf DNA, after ten thousand years and scores of breeding experiments, there are now thousands of “human-pet-friendly” breeds available to those seeking a furry companion. Genetic engineering a new phenomenon in human applications, has been a feature of animal breeding for many years.

In a New York Times article by Perri Klass M.D. April 8, 2019, we read:
Behaviour problems in children, especially aggression and defiance, don’t get a great deal of sympathy, said Dave Anderson, a psychologist who is senior director of national programs at the Child Mind Institute in New York City. ‘For a child to get better requires just as much empathy and scaffolding as for a child who might be depressed, but behavioural issues inspire nowhere near as much empathy.
There is a persistent belief that these behaviors reflect poor parenting, he said, but in fact, there is often a strong biological component to behaviour issues, and the responses which come naturally to most parents faced with these behaviours may not have the desired results.

‘If you’re going to have persistent behaviour problems involving aggression and defiance, it’s already elevated at 2,’ said Michael F., Lorber, a senior research scientist with the Family Translational Research Group at New York University…
‘Our instincts as human beings are often wrong,’ Dr. Anderson said. ‘We tend to be negative behaviour detectors.’ When two siblings are playing quietly together, he said, ‘most parents are thinking, don’t jinx it, or let met do something on my to-do list.’ But when there is conflict, parents respond with anger and threats and punishment.
Those ways of responding to the negative behaviors, he said, are unlikely to work—with small children, with adolescents or adults. ‘We don’t tell partners to yell at partners as part of couples therapy; we don’t tell bosses to yell at employees for better productivity.’

Sensitive, mature, balanced, and effective parenting, without much more than the family of origin model of one’s own parents/guardians, is one of the more dysfunctional and/or omitted natural resources in many western families.

In his ground-breaking work, A Fine Young Man, Michael Gurian writes these words:
Many times, boys will show their fragility not through increased passivity but through increased bravado. When compared to adolescent girls, adolescent boys experiencing an average drop in self-esteem will pretend more self-confidence, will admit less weakness, will posture more, will pursue more overt attention, and will appear more aggressive. (Michael Gurian, A Fine Young Man, Tarcher/Putnam, Penguin, New York, 1999, p. 21-22)

Gurian also details the male emotional system a little later, in language any and all parents can both understand and reflect upon:

The development of the male emotional system follows the path of the development of male testosterone and brain development, and adaptations in male sexual biology. Over a period of millenia, human beings have been adapting all systems, including emotional systems, to changing conditions.

We have been adapting from hunting/gathering groups, when our main enemies were creatures of the savannah and when males didn’t even know who their offspring were, to agricultural extended families, when monogamy became normative and family relationships were considered of paramount importance, to industrial child-raising units, called families, but wherein only one caregiver—generally the mom—concentrates on children.
Our bodies and brains have adapted so that they can take in more stimulation and use creative and inventive functions far more readily. Our testosterone levels, body sized and genital size all have increased because of both increased population demands and increased aggression demands. For instance, as the need to fight wars developed over the last ten thousand years, our males needed to increase their testosterone levels in order to help humans survive. Our present testosterone levels are continually increasing as the population increases because high populations creates more competition for resources.

Over the last few thousand years, our sexual biology has adapted to include romance, a kind of human intercourse that was not needed tens of thousands of years ago when a male just mated with an estrous female and moved on. Now we try to mate for life with the help of romance strategies.

All these human adaptations comprise your adolescent boy’s history. Simultaneously, his brain and biology still resemble what his male ancestors were millenia ago. In some ways, our brains have changed; in other ways, our sexual biology, brain activity, and hormonal flow are still what they were in hunter/gatherer times. This is not surprising, since we have lived 98 percent of our human history as hunters/gatherers. (Gurian, Op. Cit. p. 31-32)

Anticipating what has become a rallying cry for some, Gurian notes sardonically, “Yeah, but as a gender males brought this on themselves! They overdominated females. They spent immense amounts of energy investing in testosterone activities like war and sport. They limited male brain use form emotional development so let them suffer a little.”

In response to this socially-accepted and even dominant view Gurian offers this:
The problem with this ideology is the biological truth that males have faced: They were and are propelled by biology, and especially the circumstance of exponentially increasing population, toward dominance and mechanism—a world with billions of people in it competing for resources is one that requires dominance strategies by which to manage huge groups of people without much attention to emotional detail. The males took on and still take on most of the dangerous work, and have done so with cultural scaffoldings in place that make this dangerous work possible. Now many of those scaffoldings have collapsed, and the confusion falls on our adolescent males.

…We’ve stripped away most of what little opportunity did exist for emotional development among males:

·        Our males used to have much more spiritual development, and therefor much more emotional contact with themselves and others through the Oue males use to have time in their work structures to form intimate relationships with other men and in which to mentor the young. They have little time for that now.

·        Our males used to have clear guidelines concerning how to nurture their families and mates, and how to find some emotional sustenance through marital stability. They have far less of that stability and those guidelines now.

·        Our males used to seek a depth of relationship with nature, in which they learned not only to hunt the fruits of nature but to transform, like alchemists, the relationships between man and nature into emotional and physical nurturance for whom communities. They have little time for this direct contact with nature’s divinity now.

·        Our males used to have extended families in which to develop their muted emotional beings. They have little extension of family now. In fact, many American (and we might add Canadian and western) men report having no other people except their wives with whom to discover life’s most important matters. If a divorce occurs, a man’s access to mirrors for his own emotional development diminishes dramatically. (Gurian, op. cit, p 37-38)

Male dominance, aggression, and even violence are not deployed only in times of military conflict. Just last night, for example, my wife and I watched a documentary entitled, Toxic Beauty, detailing the chemical development of “beauty products” like baby powder, (specifically by Johnson and Johnson) followed by one hundred years of marketing, while Johnson and Johnson knew fully that the product actually killed many women and endangered the lives of millions of others. Filled with asbestos, metal particles, and a list of other minerals, the product has birthed class-action law suits, complete with the kind of denials that once encased the arguments of the tobacco companies about the carcinogenic potential of their cigarettes. It was and is men who occupy the chief executive and upper management positions of companies like Johnson and Johnson, whose denials echo the current spate of denials about global warming and climate change from Republican lawmakers, especially Senators, and of course the current president, whose capacity for denial, avoidance, dissembling and outright demolition of empirically verified information/facts is, in a word, epic.
Dominance of women, by men, especially with the kind of impunity extended to Brett Cavanagh, whose life-long tenure on the Supreme Court cannot be challenged, outrages both women and men. He represents, like his notorious mentor, the president, the worst example of masculinity. And he has the cohort of conspirators, the Republican cadre of Senators who voted to confirm his appointment.

The masculine history of vacillating between bravado and withdrawal (socially, politically and sexually) is readily recounted in the stories of heroic incidents in battle, as well as in the counterpoint of denials by powerful men seeking to avoid the kind of transparency, accountability and authenticity they and we all trumpet as minimal benchmarks for leadership. 

Holding a mirror to personal experience...

I watched first my father who struggled to face his spouse’s wrath, a force of nature needing both heeding and confronting, at different times and in different circumstances. His “appeasement” of her dominance, acknowledged only in the latter stage of his eighth decade, enabled her abuse of both my sister and me. And while anger and a feeling of betrayal were my early emotional responses to our family history, especially his role, I have come to perceive a pattern in which his father too was submerged under the intense wrath and judgement of his spouse, my grandmother, for whom the world was an extension of her kindergarten class. Cold and harsh practicality and severe judgement of their spouses, as incarnated by driven, ambitious and determined women, like that harsh parenting of aggression in young children, is, to put it bluntly, counter-productive. It only serves to exacerbate the feelings of inadequacy in the husband. Joining in an addictive pattern with his spouse, a life-long alcohol-dependent wife, my uncle simply disappeared into the tiny space behind the counter of his ‘imports’ retail outlet.

And then, stories of a stern disciplinarian principal in Central Public School, Mr. Miller, seemed to this young boy the evidence that set the tone of the school where we all generally complied with directions. In senior elementary, it was the stature and the warmth of two male teachers, Bert Woodhouse, and Ken Johnson, a WWII veteran, whose combined auras flowed along the halls and into the classrooms enveloping each of us students, and one guesses, the teaching staff as well. Respect, good humour, warmth, and essential dignity were the hallmarks of these three years.

In high school, a gentle soul, John Harper, found himself in front of grade nine History and English classes where I sat. His self-effacing, reflective and extremely modest demeanour continue to have a warm corner in my memory bank. History, like fate, often has a way of acknowledging the silences of deep respect that needs no applause. Some fifty years later, I had the honour of visiting John in hospital, as he endured terminal cancer. We chatter about basketball; he asked if I would comb his hair; I complied with as much tenderness as I could. Word of his death the next morning reached me only a few hours after this visit.

There were other men, like the highly charismatic, extremely eloquent and intensely evangelistic clergy from Northern Ireland whose presence overflowed the building, the property surrounding the building and stretched throughout the whole town. Denouncing Roman Catholics who are “going to hell” from the pulpit, and denouncing movies, dancing, make-up and meal preparation on Sunday, from the pulpit were enough to drive this then sixteen-year-old permanently from attending the church, in spite of my father’s long-standing position on the church Session. There was also an Ontario Provincial officer, (Sargeant?) Claire Edgar, who investigated a vehicle accident in which I was the driver of a half-ton truck that rolled and struck the front fender of an oncoming taxi. His sincere, detailed investigation, his calm and respectful manner, linked to his decision not to charge conti
nue to comfort, support and sustain me as a life-long vehicle operator for these six decades.
(Dominion Store managers, Beer Store managers, university faculty, mentors and finally ecclesial supervisors to follow.)

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

#41 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Masculine Cultural DNA #9)


Dr. Shohini Ghose, Professor of Physics and Computer Science at Wilfred Laurier University, in a podcast from CIGIonline,* describes quantum computing this way:
It’s useful to start with the example of flipping a coin. The result is either heads or tails, precise values, or as we say in computer language, one or zero. Because traditional computers work on electrical currents and voltages, it’s either on or off, one or zero. Quantum computing works in a completely different way. It is based on quantum physics, and the realization that a quantum particle can be described in a fluid state. We call it super position not just a one or a zero, but a combination of probabilities of being one or zero. So a quantum computer works not by switching voltages between one and zero electrical currents on and off or anything like that, but by manipulating all the possible states of a quantum particle. In the end, a quantum computer can still tell you if the result is heads or tails. But it’s the  process in the middle where a quantum computer can harness superposition and probabilities to compute more efficiently or do tasks that cannot even be done with traditional methods.

Newtonian physics, the law of gravitational states that every particle attracts every other particle in the universe with a force which is directly proportional tot eh product of their mases and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between their centres. (Wikipedia) Linearity, predictability, and the mathematics to support the fixed nature of the particles in the universe, have had a monumental influence on the world view that has been inherited by generations for centuries. The fixed nature of particles, and their relationship has influenced a kind of thinking that the universe is both predictable and measureable. Applied to the ‘big bang’ as well as to the question of how nature/universe/God works, men have speculated about how man relates to God, to a deity, and thereby how an identity dependent on relationship is conceptualized.
Heaven, “up” and Hell “down” is a simplistic example of such thinking. Light and dark are also simplistic metaphors for a linear universe, ostensible comprehensible to ordinary man. Extended to ‘right/wrong’ the dualistic nature of much of human thinking has propelled a kind of Manicheanism that tended to both simplify and render humans the perception of easily mastering “control” of what is considered normal human behaviour. Out of this kind of dualism several mythical, metaphorical deities, gods, goddesses, and universes have emerged. In a sense, physics implied a kind of mythology and metaphysic, perhaps for many even an epistemology, certainly a way of knowing.

Parallel to this kind of “physics” is a concept of the infinite, the unknowable, the otherness of not knowing, of speculating, of imagining. Local and universal have been positioned as comparable, tension-generating, and thereby both similar and different. Horizons, parameters, boundaries and the capacity to experience both freedom and resistance have been linked to our epistemology, at least in part, as a function of our awe and insignificance in the great beyond. Social rituals, and especially religious rituals have flowed from the worship of/aversion to various deities.

A century ago, the Irish poet, William Butler Yeats wrote a foreboding vision, “The Second Coming” a portion of which is entered here:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity,
Surely some revelation is at hand… W.B. Yeats, The collected poems of W.B. Yeats, quoted in Joseph Campbell, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, Harper and Rowe, 1986, p.17.

With each and every mechanical, technological revolution comes a concomitant revolution in how we “see” ourselves…yet there are also patterns that overlap each of the shifts…It is as if our perception, our epistemology, as well as our mythology and religion are like the quantum concept of a particle, as “fluid”. Zeitgeists, like the constellations of stars, form, dissolve, reform and compel the fascination and the rigorous study of both poets and scientists. Observers, like unique pairs of eyes glued to the bottom end of the telescope, continue to “find” new evidence of previously unknown, unsubstantiated, and previously unconceived frames of reference, as well as the nature of the ingredients in those frames.

Is it too far a stretch to “think” out loud that the fluidity of the particle as conceived by quantum computing is more evidence of the residual reservoir of human ingenuity, human potential, human creativity, and the potential of masculine mystery to be further disclosed and applied to the previously dark, toxic and threatening male adherence to violence, including self-sabotaging violence?

I think not!

It is not so much that fear haunts the depths of the souls and hearts and minds of each and every man walking the planet. It is the degree of disavowal, denial, avoidance and outright demonizing of our most virulent fears that imprisons individuals, families, organizations and nations. Like its Siamese twin, pride, too often expresses our innate, inherent and universal fear. And each myth, metaphor, and religion that enshrines our disavowal of our fear, through the mask of our pride, needs to have its own respective layer peeled from the many faces we have learned to present to the world.

Masculinity encased in disavowed fear, masked by any kind of personal, organizational, national armour, is a masculinity that fails itself, and all others within its circle. Even the armour of a God clung to as saviour, without the requisite self-critical examination of how and when and if we avoid our most intimate truths, is little more than a hallowe’en caricature of a deity. At the root of human fear, at least in so far as western culture is concerned, is a primary perception of a deficit of goodness, value, worthiness and a preponderance of evil as the root nature of man, including both genders. As a failed and hollow theological construct to incarnate humility, one of the hallmarks of a Christian disciple, equating humans with our capacity to commit acts of abuse, (“ having sinned and come short of the glory of God” as St. Paul wrote) dominates the Newtonian version of Christianity.  Thereby, it follows that we are all in desperate need of salvation, a gift that can and will only come through grace, from the sacrifice of Jesus, Son of God, on Calvary, followed by the Resurrection, as symbol of the Atonement that accompanies salvation.

While disavowed fear encased and expressed in acts stuffed with hubris is a dynamic not restricted to a single gender, men, especially, are vulnerable to the dictates of such a psychological, as well as philosophical and ethical premise and starting point. We walk and talk the “walk” and the “talk” of those men, “heroes” and “kings” and “masjesties” whose glory has won battles, empires, queens and legions of honour and discipleship. We incarnate war, the warrior, the victory, and the spoils “to the victor” as images of deep and respected honour, value, and even the closest we might come to imitating something we could and too often do consider a deity.

President Barack Obama, in a conversation in the White House with former aide to Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson, uttered these words, (as Wilkerson himself repeated on MSNBC yesterday) “Washington has a bias for war!”

Deeply revealing and filled with both intimate insight into the culture of the U.S. capital, Obama uttered prophetic words that might seem trite and obvious to some. It says here that the bias, albeit unconscious, to war, has infected American culture from the inception of the nation. Founded and borne at the end of muskets, bayonets, canons, the United States has been impaled on the horns of its own petard for two-plus centuries. As a consequence, men, especially, have fallen victim to the seductive intoxicating liquor of the symbols, the rituals, the language, the uniforms, the laws and the parades that literally and metaphorically genuflect to all of the symbolism of war. The bias to war is and has been made more complex and seductive by the degree to which the public language, the political rhetoric and the competing narrative espouses a commitment to peace.

Uttering official vows to peace, however, followed by voting for pentagon budgets in the billions, to the extent that U.S. military “might” exceeds the combined potency of all other nations on the planet, is an ethical, psychological, philosophical, ethical and even religious pretzel and paradox that ensnares each and every male baby born in the United States. And the “image” of the “strong” boy infests every encounter in the parenting and the education of that boy. Not crying, “sucking it up,” “fitting into the relevant group” and achieving/winning/scoring/hammering/ in whatever engagement he might attempt is more than a social habit: it is a matter of masculine dogma. It is comparative, easily assessed, worn like a niche on a belt, more recently names (of women) scrawled on dorm room walls, and compelling such discipline/adherence/compliance that The Atlantic’s feature story this week is headlined: “The Miseducation of the American Boy” by Peggy Orenstein. Having interviews hundreds of American young men between 18 and 25, Orenstein asked one to describe the attributes of “the ideal guy” and heard and reports these replies:

Dominance. Aggression. Rugged good looks, (with an emphasis on height). Sexual prowess. Stoicism. Athleticism. Wealth (at least some day)….young men described just one narrow route to successful masculinity. (The Atlantic, January February 2020, p.65)

This report cannot be deployed as illustration for all young men in the west. It can, however, be used as a canary in a vast coal mine of masculine culture that “barnicles” to a war-biased nation, indeed that a war-biased nation requires in order to preserve its military budget and heritage, and to continue to throw its weight around, across the planet. Obeisance, sycophancy to power as a commitment to success is just one of the many requisites that are inculcated in young boys and young men in such a culture.

In Canada, many of the same qualities, to only a slightly moderated degree, have significant influence among young men, given the universality of the flow of the American culture across the 49th parallel and the millions of dollars that assure the corporate world of successful marketing to young men in “the True North”.
It is not enough to posit a negative comparison between a “woke”** masculinity and one that can be dubbed “asleep” by comparison. Both focus on a public perception and performance, dependent on public recognition, acceptance and even potential adulation. The shift of masculine attention, from public performance, public recognition, public acceptance, and a perceived identity that defines an individual by his sexual preference, or his career/professional role, or his political/social/economic status neglects and potentially remains blind to the voices from the inner soul of the man.

These inner voices, however, cannot and must not be permitted to be claimed by a tyrant like trump who disavows the letter and the spirit of any legal, constitutional and traditional hedging of the power of the president. Presidential “genius” as so trumpeted by this occupant of the Oval Office, is not to be equated or identified with the unconscious of the individual man. His “genius” is merely another face of his mask, so conflated with his hollow ego that he suffers from the textbook definition of enantiodromia, the fusing of Shadow and Ego, to the impossibility of his evolving authentic identity.

Men who have served in positions of responsibility, authority and leadership, starting with my own father, hockey coach, school teachers and principals, team leaders, presidents, bishops, archbishops, CEO’s, over a period of fifty-plus years, have been observed in expressions of their own confidence, anxiety, avoidance, mis-representation of truths, power-trips, avoidances of full investigations and outright abandonments of their chief responsibilities. Fear of their spouse, their supervisor, their boards, their parishioners, their competitors, their professional peers, especially when those fears were hidden, too often compromised the fullest deployment of their potential. And the impacts of these failures have left a legacy of devalued people, minimally measured and rewarded achievements, restricted visions and plans, starched imaginative proposals and the reduction or elimination of authentic and valued people and positions. Every single human organization, from family to school, to college, to workplace, to church and to diocese has suffered from the failure of decent impoverished leadership from men whose potential never saw the light of day, through their own innate/socially imposed/conventional perceptions of what was possible.

To limit our perspective by what we “know” to be feasible, thereby avoiding the prospect of failure, is a failure by omission, through a degree of fear of failure (and the inherent hubris) that infrequently remained hidden in silence. And, our collective complicity in the dynamic of denial threatens our very survival. Men, as half of the planet’s population, can waken to the power of our own unconsciousness, face its implications and open to the potential fluid of our evolution.


*CIGI: Centre for International Governance Innovation

** The word “woke” is a political term of African-American origin referring to a perceived awareness of issues of social justice and racial justice.