Let’s take another trip into the roots, signs and implications of male sycophancy…
It is not merely how husband’s and father’s defer to their wives and the mothers of their children, although the home is one of the primary stages for male-female interactions. It is also not just how in the military, and all of the quasi-military organizations, that men are indoctrinated into a mind-set of discipline, strict discipline, never-open-your-mouth discipline, especially if to do so would bring what the authorities in the chain of command would call insubordination. And who is going to decide if and when insubordination actually occurs? Of course, it is going to be the “chief pooh-bah” of the hierarchical pyramid. And, naturally, all of the other “peers” of this individual will concur with whatever his judgement is if for no other reasons than, should they be faced with a similar act of insubordination, they would want and expect his support.
Male sycophancy begins with the notion that many adult male communities hold fast to the conviction that younger men need to be shown through profound experiences how to transition into manhood. The hunt, walking on hot coals, survival in the wilderness, isolation, severe discipline, the treacherous climb up a rope wall, the crawl through a muddy creek while carrying a heavy pack-back…these are some of the tactics deployed by men’s groups and their leaders, in order to engender a “warrior” mentality….all the while participating in an unstated and bigoted view of those males who either do not choose, or actually refuse to participate in these war games. Certainly, there is some justification in asking voluntary recruits to a strict military program to submit to the discipline of following orders. In hand-to-hand combat, and even in combat that combines grenades and missiles shot from overhead aircraft, casualties will result, and “having-my-brother’s-back” is both a useful and ethical requirement. Similarly, in order to carry out a military attack, a single plan, with limited variances, is the only way to prepare, provide needed resources, and execute the “deed” and then assess its effectiveness.
Such a plan, strategy, discipline is both necessary and ethical in the midst of a major crisis such as a military engagement, the surgical operating room, often the Emergency room, the birthing room, and the Intensive Care Unit. The various professional disciplines who are trained to work in any of these venues naturally embody a commitment and even a conviction in the observance of the minutest details of each and every protocol. And each of those protocols is based on a parametric of certain dimensions, numbers, time frames, resource banks, and transfer requirements.
What is not okay, however, is to transfer the premises of these disciplines into the rest of the human condition. Having been raised in a home in which operating room hygiene was the norm, I awakened very early to the disconnect between our home and the OR, and never submitted to the rigour of the OR if and when I was expected to clean. In fact, it is not merely operating room hygiene that prevailed there; it was a sense of an identical hierarchical pyramid that prevailed, and my father’s absent medical degree lasooed him to his own mast of “lesser than” and thereby warranting a subservient status, in the decisions of the home.
Degrees are not determinative of the value, contribution or authority of any individual although some of us were the first in our families to attend and graduate from a post-secondary institution. Nevertheless, degrees, like bank accounts, and executive titles, and awards, scholarships, elevated appointments and even elections tend to impute to their holders a level of authority to which the rest of the ordinary people not only need not, but must not submit. And one of the ironies, substantiated by a male culture at least in North America, if not in other places, is that anything that equates with seniority, expertise, piety, wealth, acclaim and social and political status is both literally and virtually revered. And those whose biographies are not saturated with any of those “symbols of success” are, like my father considered himself in comparison with his wife, second-rate.
Such an assumed ascendancy, and the concomitant sycophancy, deprives every family, school, and organization of the benefit of all perspectives. And, that divide gushes like a mountain current carving a divide in all of our public discussions, debates, and the policy sausages that emerge from those debates. This argument is not to debase the scholars, the experts, the rich and the elected. It is rather to “lift the boats” of each individual human being, without regard to their tax bracket, nor the specific government policy that attempts at least in token terms, to “provide” support and assistance to those needing a ‘hand-up’ and certainly not a ‘hand-out’.
We are effectively hoisted on our own petard, as an aspiring democracy. We allow and trumpet the value of each and every individual vote, and then parade the “stars” (regardless of their expertise) as voices of authority in the shared pursuit of those votes. We allow the have’s to pour cash into the campaigns mostly of dependent sycophants, serving as mouthpieces of the agenda of those writing the cheques. We fence in the national media as apologists of the establishment, and then watch ‘insurgency’ digital organs investigate deeply into dark corners considered out of bounds to the ‘big guns’ whose corporations are literally and virtually and metaphorically sycophants to those “deep pockets” for the revenues, dependent on ratings, another symptom of the kind of sycophancy that we not merely permit but actually foster, by our silent complicity in adhering to the model.
We permit the release of drugs boasting serious side-effects, with or without adequate clinical trials, dependent as we apparently are, on the instant chemical fixes of our most minor irritations, or the tweeking of our most detested imperfections with the latest botox (or other similar application) regardless of whether or not the long-term impact is injurious to our health.
We are, individually and collectively sycophantic to the deeply embedded traditions and expectations imposed by churches, and corporations, that include the definitions of morality, propriety, relevance for employment, and even including a socially sanctioned degree of racism, sexism, and even skill-sets that set some above and other below a median level of cultural consciousness. And we really do not question our own complicity in these nefarious ‘isms’. In fact, only if and when something like COVID-19 rips apart our collective denial of legitimate responsibilities like preparing for a pandemic, or rigorous and sanctioned inspections of our long-term care facilities (presumably because such impositions would cost their owners in decreased revenues and profits), then we cry “foul” when all along, we have participated in the conventional burying of such legitimate public functions of our governments.
And this cultural silence, in order not to offend the status quo, impales not only the residents and their care-givers in those venues, but also the governments saddled with decisions of previous office holders. And, the trail of policies that inflate benefits for the rich and powerful, but their sycophants, is so blatantly obvious, and continues to be a pattern followed by the inheritors of such “conventional wisdom” especially sacred to the right.
Another way that sycophancy is permanently ingrained in our public square is that business has become the new religion. Everyone is exhorted to be an entrepreneur, and capitalist, a climber-up-the-ladder of the corporate trophy case, into the oxygen-deprived echelons of the corner offices in the highest office towers, or on the floor of the most active stock exchanges, on among those flipping money and real estate with the touch of a digital key. And what is it that suffocates in such a climate: the public interest, the public good, as it is now conventionally regarded as a “cost” and not a “productive” element in the capitalist equation.
Even people like Bernie Sanders, himself a declared democratic socialist, is rejected, alienated, and ostracized by the democratic party, because they believe (with some justification) that only a moderate like Biden can and will attract a sufficient number of independent voters, and a few Republicans to defeat trump in November. It is not that Biden is personally or politically offensive, or unqualified, or inexperienced. However, there is a kind of default position to the “seasoned” and the “moderate” and the “comfortable” that relegates a fire-brand like Bernie to the sidelines, while continuing to trumpet his movement’s accomplishments.
The herd “mentality” as opposed to the “herd immunity” which is bandied about as a potential ceiling on the spread of COVID-19, is a much more deeply embedded sword on which we are all impaled. Herd mentality holds that international co-operation and collaboration are anathema to those convicted of the notion of individual and corporate capitalism and survival of the fittest in economic and fiscal terms. Herd mentality refuses to surrender political capital or legal jurisdiction to an international body like the WHO, or the World Court, or the IAEA, or the World Bank, or the IMF, or potentially the EU, or even NATO, for some.
The flip side of sycophany, of course, is a deep and profound fear of loss of control. “If I follow a ‘winner’ and rise to power, then I will do whatever it takes to sustain and maintain both my hold on power and the hold on power of the one who brought me to the dance!” …..seems to be the slogan and herd political mentality. The weakest leaders are those who demand the greatest degree of sycophancy, and who refuse to participate in a collaborative effort to cope with such events as a pandemic, or a rise in global temperatures of 2 or 3 degrees Celsius. Sycophancy to those weak leaders, just as was my father’s sycophancy to a frightened and boldly self-loathing spouse, leaves those weak leaders with far too much power.
Their interest stretches as far as their own circle, their own portfolio, their own clinging to power, and their own perverted version of reality that ‘they know best’…and refuse to learn, to adjust, to listen, and to compromise. “I alone can fix it” suggests and outright attests to a psyche dependent on the perks and the frivolities of autocratic power, and their hold on power is directly dependent on the acquiescence/sycophancy of millions who put them there.
And that sycophancy was on full display in Lansing Michigan, as trump supporters protested the continuance of the ‘stay-home’ lock-down imposed by Michigan Governor Witmer. Of course, the need for work and food is a compelling need. And the longer the “hiatus” of economic activity continues, the higher will be the anxiety and fear of both failure and the normalcy we once knew.
However, there will be no return to what was before. And one sure way to make this pandemic more effective than to prompt us to stock medical supplies, and to upgrade our wages for the “real workers” who keep our society functioning, will be to totally re-evaluate our complicity, even our shared sycophancy to those shibboleths, and those status-quo markers like bulging bank accounts, and yachts, and second and third homes, and the insouciance shared about those in the “under-belly” of developed nations like Canada and the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the even more threatened populations of the under-developed nations of Africa and part of Asia.
There is a fundamental and unbridgeable incompatibility between “we are all in this together” and “we worship the state and the status of those millionaires and billionaires” who are in control. The former addresses the immediate neighbourhood and perhaps town, city and even provincial parameters, and perhaps the national boundaries. However, the international community can and will only emerge as an living entity with the acknowledgement of the complicity of millions in serving as serfs to the rich and the powerful.
We are not their pawns; we are not the instruments of their whims and their latest and best dreams. We are not the cause of this pandemic, nor are we the ‘cost’ merely of programs and policies that enhance our living conditions, our education, our health care provisions and our unique expressions of our creativity, our dignity, and our inherent worth and value to the global choir that needs to sing out lustily from all corners of the planet.
Ironic isn’t it, to hear an Icelander point to the truth that Americans taught his people how to conduct scientific research, how to manage crises, and how to prepare for emergencies, only to watch as Americans fail to carry out the very instructions they were so proud to share with the North Atlantic island people.
Knowledge, without a shared active will to participate, to speak up, even to protest for those legitimate moral and ethical observances (and we all know what they are, implicitly) is like blowing dust on a desert shifting into new and different land forms without growing new life.