Friday, March 13, 2020

#57 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (reflections on power)

Questioning the filing system that relegates gender issues to the sidelines of the political agenda!!!

A few years ago, when discussing  the contemporary state of masculinity, a prominent Canadian lawyer and political figure demurred when I innocently and spontaneously wondered if the “political science” department at the local university might be interested in this subject. An immediate, direct and highly scornful “Not at all likely!” was his response.

Presumably, political theory, political polling, political science and political parties, political leadership, and political ideology either exclude the notion of masculinity and gender as an active agent in the political process. defines political science in these words:
Political science is that branch of the social sciences that studies the state, politics, and government. Political Science deals extensively with the analysis of political systems, the theoretical and practical applications to politics, and the examination of political behaviour.

At the end of Nicomachean Ethics, (from Wikipedia) Aristotle wrote:
That the inquiry into ethics necessarily follows into politics, and the two works are frequently considered to be parts of a larger treatise, or perhaps connected lectures, dealing with the ‘philosophy of human affairs.’ The title of the ‘Politics’ literally means the ‘things concerning the polis. (literally means ‘city’ in Greek) . Polis defined the administrative and religious city centre, as distinct from the rest of the city. It can also mean a body of citizens.

Several ideologies are associated with politics: anarchism, colonialism, communism, despotism, distributism, feudalism, socialism, totalitarianism.
On a more cynical level, our vernacular uses the phrase “play politics” to refer to an act for political or personal gain rather than from principle.

George Orwell in his essay on Politics and the English language writes:

In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a ‘party line’. Orthodoxy, of whatever colour seems to demand a lifeless imitative style. The political dialects to be found in pamphlets, leading articles, manifestos, White papers and the speeches of undersecretaries do, of course, vary from party to party, but they are all alike in that one almost never finds in them a fresh, vivid, homemade turn of speech. When one watches some tired hack on the platform mechanically repeating the familiar phrases---bestial, atrocities, iron heel, bloodstained tyranny, free people of the world, stand shoulder to shoulder—one often has the curious feeling that one is not watching a live human being but some kind of dummy: a feeling which suddenly becomes stronger at moments when the light catches the speaker’s spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them. And this is not altogether fanciful. A speaker who uses that kind of phraseology has gone some distance toward turning himself into a machine. The appropriate noises are coming out of his larynx, but his brain is not involved, as it would be if he were choosing his words for himself. If the speech he is making is one that he is accustomed to make over and over again, he may be almost unconscious of what he is saying, as one is when one utters the responses in church. And this reduced state of consciousness, if not indispensable, is at any rate favourable to political conformity.

There is a very small “slide” from political conformity, to “political correctness.” And in an article entitled, “Political correctness: how the right invented a phantom enemy, in The Guardian, November 30, 2016, Moira Weigel writes:

Three weeks ago, around a quarter of the American population elected a demagogue with no prior experience in public service to the presidency. In the eyes of many of his supporters, this lack of preparation was not a liability, but a strength….Every demagogue needs an enemy. Trump’s was the ruling elite, and his charge was that they were not only failing to solve the greatest problems facing Americans, they were trying to stop anyone from even talking about those problems. explores the relationship between politics and power. Their website includes these words:

“Some define politics quite simply as the exercise of power. This definition most clearly demonstrates two issues…..the problem of definitions or, in other words the issue of the contestability of concepts; and the limitations of the narrow-broad spectrum.”

Wherever one or more individuals influence one or more other individuals, regardless of the setting, we can observe and comment on the politics of the situation. Writers, for example, deploy all of the many and varied instruments of power to convey a point of view, a “statement” by which they wish to nudge, shove, ‘manipulate’ or ‘seduce’ their reader to a precise or more general point of view. It was Orwell who reminds us that “all literature is political.” In a lecture delivered in Barcelona at the Centre de Cultura Clontemporania de Barcelona on June 6, 2018, in honour of Orwell Day, and abridged in The NewYorker, Masha Gessen writes:

Orwell argues that totalitarianism makes literature impossible…..He imagined two  major traits of totalitarian societies: one is lying, and the other is what he called schizophrenia. He wrote, ‘The Organized lying practiced by totalitarian states is not, as it is sometimes claimed, a temporary expedient of the same nature as military deception. It is something integral to totalitarianism, something that would still continue even if concentration camps and secret police forces had ceased to be necessary.’ The lying entailed constantly rewriting the past to accommodate the present. ‘This kind of things happens everywhere,’ he wrote, ‘but is clearly likelier to lead to outright falsification in societie4s where only one opinion is permissible at any given moment. Totalitarianism demands, in fact, the continuous alteration of the past, and in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very existence of objective truth.’….
Orwell was right, (Messen continues). The totalitarian regime rests on lies because they are lies. The subject of the totalitarian regime must accept them not as truth—must not, in fact believe them—but accept them both as lies and as the only available reality. She must believe nothing. Just as Orwell predicted, over time the totalitarian regime destroys the very concept, the very possibility of truth. Hannah Arendt identified this as one of the effects of totalitarian propaganda: it makes everything conceivable because ‘nothing is true.’

We are living when hybrids of formerly separate concepts abound. We are also living when language, especially the language of public discourse, including its use in both political propaganda and advertising, risks the very demise of anything that resembles objective truth. While some, including renowned intellects like Soren Kierkegaarde, posited that the only full truth lies in subjectivity, this view expressed the highest value of personal truth including beliefs, intuition, and imagination not necessarily applied to the public square. 

Northrop Frye, in The Educated Imagination, discerned between what he called the language of practical discourse and the language of the imagination. In the former, we attempt to discern the differences between things, people, ideals etc. In the latter, the creative writer links things, notions, concepts that are not united in the language of metaphor, simile, personification and anthropomorphizing. When we attend a drama in the theatre, or a cinema, we are expected to suspend our disbelief, enter into the scene playing out before us and let it work its ‘magic’ on our sensibilities. Nevertheless, this is a very different, discreet and honourable process, openly dedicated to the process of letting the dramatic intent of the writer, actors, directors and the rest of the crew play out in our imagination. Similarly, our relationship to any and all religious notions, beliefs, practices, while bearing touchstones in objective reality also stretch far beyond what we can observe with our senses and verify in our laboratories or doctoral theses.

Orwell’s Doublethink, on the other hand, is the act of holding simultaneously, two opposite, individually exclusive ideas or opinions and believing in both simultaneously and absolutely. Doublethink requires using logic against logic or suspending disbelief in the contradiction. Clearly, this concept helps those in power who wish to impose its dictates on their ‘polis’ given that they can then use both truth and their own deception as instruments of their own power.

Without veering into clinical practice, it seems clear that only a person so desperate, weak and vulnerable, as well as frightened beyond the capacity of one’s body, mind and spirit to sustain the normal vicissitudes of human existence would even consider venturing into a space that imposes ‘doublethink’ on any ‘polis’.

And yet, here we are, living, supposedly in a western democracy, in a developed quadrant of the world, in nations (the U.S. and Canada) proudly claiming the highest level and spread of education in history, with the most advanced laboratories and the scientists to staff them, and with the most advanced abstract thinkers and philosophers and even theologians and ethicists in history, and yet we as a species are “falling through the cracks” in our own system.

It is not our ideology, per se, that we can point to as our Achilles’ heel; nor is it our capacity to write and enact laws; nor is it our capacity to plan and to assemble different points of view; nor is it whether we worship in a cathedral, synagogue, or mosque that determines our vulnerability; nor is it our capacity to design, invent and produce new machines, new technologies, new pharmacological interventions; nor is it our capacity to discern between right and wrong that brings about our current state of vulnerability.

We are, as a species, so embedded in both intellectual and operational files, that segregate each academic discipline from every other, that silo each “authority” figure from all other “authority” figures in disparate disciplines, and even permit, for  example, only women to speak about the issues facing women (mostly the result of the horrific behaviour and attitudes of men) and only men to speak and write about the issues facing men. If the political science department at one of the most highly valued post-secondary institutions of learning in the western world cannot even conceive of how “male” issues belong in that department, and if the education faculty of that same university cannot conceive of how Archetypal Psychology, for example, does not belong under their academic and structural roof, and if, for example, our pandemics (as well as our surging numbers of cancers, cardiac incidents, pollution indices, poverty indices, homeless indices, and our economic determinants like GDP, GNP, National Debt and Deficit) are not the consequence of both men and women participating in a gigantic game of willful deliberate, highly sophisticated power politics, including political correctness, class warfare, narcissism, short-term planning, and micro-managed conflicts that essentially endorse the issues deemed to be significant to the political class.

And that political class “rules” in each and every institution, and in every legislature, and in every town and city hall, as well as in every secondary school, elementary school, university, college, bank and hospital. And each of us risks “accepting” without protest, the implications of the agendas, including the processes designed to achieve the desired hierarchical agenda in each of the places we engage. Our personal power, as men and women, is never to be surrendered to the language, the whims, the agendas and the protocols of the powerful, simply because those are the expressed “wishes” of those in power.

And, especially in times when the truth is under siege, even so denigrated and rejected by so many millions of people, without bothering to question their own grasp of reality, and those aspects of reality that are being fed through “official” channels, as if they monopolized a shared reality, we must find our voices. And this voice is loudly shouting, even screaming, that men’s voices, both because too many men hold positions of power and influence in respect of our half of the population, and because men, in too many cases, have succumbed to the “compliance” of surrender and sacrifice, in order to ‘fit into” the specific hierarchy of our jobs and our institutions, have been relegated to the penalty box of our cultural memes.

In both political science, and in education, as well as in theology, philosophy, psychology and the arts, the voice of men need to be represented, formally and informally, not merely in the offices of the chief executives, the deans, the bishops and the principals, but in the academic departments, the lecture halls, and certainly in the elementary and secondary schools of North America. Men, for the most part, are providing not merely dysfunctional leadership through this COVID-19 crisis. Men have designed, built and sustained an economic system, and a political power structure and expectation that needs to be challenged, especially by men, Women are already seeing its structural erosion, and are crying out for change. Men, on the other hand, are clinging to the models of their own generation, and their own hold on power.

And given the current administrations in Washington, Toronto, Rome, Beijing, Moscow, London, Indonesia, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, it is long past time when the ways in which we think about how we are going to survive, or not, have to shift so dramatically, as to literally and metaphorically shake the very foundations of our civilization.

Inclusion, collaboration, co-operation, the paradox of the power of vulnerability, and the power of not knowing need to be so easily and readily embraced by men, and so swiftly that we cannot wait another week or another month for that embrace.

There are some male voices chanting hymns of hope, promise, inclusion, reconciliation and respect for all; their choir needs the voluntary inclusion of all males in position of leadership, in families, in town councils, provincial governments, and national administrations. And those males who choose complicity with the thugs calling themselves “heroes” need to be replaced by men and/or women whose vision and promise offer the hope of life for every human on the planet.

It is not only those speaking from public podiums who risk eviscerating their humanity by mouthing hollow words, concepts, beliefs and perceptions. There is an equal danger in raising generations of men whose voices have gone hollow and silent, while their words flow like angry lava over a culture drowning in their insouciant narcissism.

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