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.

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