Tuesday, April 23, 2024

cell913blog.com #44

For most people living in the twenty-first century, names like Mandel and Gandhi stride the ethos, the social-political-historical stage as Titans. On vocabulary.com, we read: The noun titan comes from Greek mythology, in which Titans were a race of gods. Today a titan is someone who is god-like, or powerful and influential in a certain field. Shakespeare was a titan of literature, Wayne Gretzky was a titan of hockey, and the Beatles were titans of music.

In his Re-visioning Psychology, James Hillman writes this about ‘Titanism:’ …

(T)he greatest constraint must be place on the greatest of all tendencies, that enemy of mortals and immortals both, Titanism, which longs toward the boundless and indefinable, represented in current psychologies as the boundless notion of Self….I would not encourage Titanism, a menace far greater than Narcissism, which presents only a pensive pretty-boy compared with the titanic grandiosity of Self….(S)imply by pronouncing the term we are seized by the inflating belief that there is such a thing, a Self, which transcends any limitation that might be imposed upon it. And so it can never be really ‘wrong’. Self can be defined only from within itself by its own representations. Principal among these are the irrefutable truth of personal experience and the inflating feelings of personal significance. Utterly self-referent, it knows no God greater than itself. Now most psychology takes all this quite literally, so that behind psychology’s devotion to the personal stands neither humanism nor individualism, but rather a literalism of Self like an invisible nonexistent God absolutely believed in. Absolute belief is either fundamentalism delusion, or literalism—or all of the Above. Perhaps, it’s then right to say there is not greater literalism in psychology that its idea of Self, a literalism that converts our supposedly investigative field into a branch of mystic fundamentalism. This leads men further to think that our culture’s omnipotent and omniscient Godhead who supposedly replaced the mutually limiting pagan beings of myth is none other than a Titan returned from Tartaros to a too high place and worse, all alone. (Op. Cit. pps. xi-xii)

Writing and thinking about Mandela, Gandhi and their respective campaigns to eliminate apartheid and to confront and erode imperialism respectively, and then to read the words and thoughts of James Hillman about archetypal psychology, and the invocation of the voices of mythic gods and goddesses, not only have I been writing, reading, reflecting and even aspiring as a male. And while masculinity, including my own, is not intrinsically toxic, (at least from my internal perspective), the paradox, irony and tragedy of the juxtaposition of historic male models worthy of emulation alongside the current tragedy of men falling behind, becomes even more evident in relief. The male perspective, seemingly out of touch with itself, as well as with the perspective of the feminine, is a crisis unfolding right before our eyes.

And yet, in order even to utter the words and concept of male fragility, male vulnerability and male ‘giving up’ in the face of the current world we are all experiencing, seems to many counterintuitive. Is there a meme in history that men are much more attuned to the ‘conditions’ of the world around us than they (we) are to the ‘conditions’ of our own plight? Is there a willful, even conditioned blindness, ignorance, denial of our own personal needs and desires and dreams, conditioned by our social and family biases, prejudices and ambitions? We know that history has been both ‘executed’ and then documented by men. Wars, empires, political systems, theologies, and the academic traditions, including the philosophic traditions have been dominated by men. We have all been raised to see the world from the historic perspective of men. And that ‘all’ includes women, who, over the last half-century, have begun to rebel, to organize, to politicize and to ‘shape-shift’ the way our contemporary culture both sees itself and how women demand their rightful place in our many hierarchies, executive positions, leadership positions. And this revolution has taken place, for the most part, without women having abandoned their sensitivity, their care-giving attributes and skills, nor their hopes and dreams for their male partners, sons, uncles and fathers.

In some ways, we are all moulded to ‘fit’ into some sociological, economic, political, even religious ‘template’ and whether that template has a protestant ethic, of hard work, self-denial, sin-based need and expectation of salvation of some kind, and, as part of the religious discipline (although framed as ‘mature responsibility’), men from that template are, have been and likely will continue to be expected and even forced into an adult life that champions executive titles, executive offices, and the exercise of the power of authority and responsibility over others. There may be overlapping values, attributes and expectations of other ‘templates’ under the banner of ‘Christianity’ as there are for Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh religious child-rearing and parenting. Discipline to parents, and especially to God, in whatever form and frame we are taught to worship and value, reinforced by workplace requirements, military hierarchies, and quasi-military hierarchies such as the medical fraternity, and the organizational structure and culture of most corporations and universities and churches carries a very high premium when we are evaluating each other. Goals, and the discipline to meet those goals, including school assignments, examinations, athletic competitions and the team-building necessary to win, motivation to commit to the kind of sacrifice needed to achieve whatever goals we (our family, our town, our school, our church, our tradition) implicitly and even explicitly ‘imbue’ us with, confer on us, rank as a very high expectation, even requirement, for acceptance, and especially for the support and encouragement (rewards) from others that this ‘system’ dictates.

Whether this kind of template can be ascribed to a religious or a philosophic or even a psychologic motive (or some combination), it has the inescapable essence of both “drive” and “competition” and the ultimate goal of the success however that might be symbolized, expressed and anticipated. And whether such a ‘template’ or motivation is intrinsic to the human psyche reinforced by a culture that has determined there are real and specific ‘benefits’ both for the individual and for the society as a whole if most participate, or whether it is our ‘fear’ of isolation, alienation, separation that lies at the heart of this dynamic, is a subject beyond the scope of this piece, and also above the pay grade of this scribe. Fitting in, winning medals, trophies, awards like ‘employee of the month’ and those previously admired and even envied degrees, are all elements of what is essentially a classical conditioning system, predictable and reliable for a vast number of people.

Naturally, resistance to absolute conformity to this and most ‘imposed’ templates, always encased in some form of authority, is genetically, psychologically and developmentally inherent to some degree in each of us. The manner of its ‘delivery,’ including the professionalism of the educators, the empathy and compassion of the parents, the sensibilities of employers, lecturers, clergy, doctors and lawyers, tends to divide a culture into verbiage that scorns the ‘nanny’ approach as compared with the more ‘hard-assed’ military, heavy, brutal and often abusive approach. A similar kind of divide exists within the core of many political approaches, even though not all are actual ideologies. Governments that ‘care’ and those that ‘demand’ arise from very different premises, many of which have their origins in early life of the protagonists. (John F. Kennedy’s inaugural hymn, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country!’ is a rhetorical balance rarely achieved by political leaders in my lifetime!)

And the balance, both rhetorical and pragmatic, that the world needs, between ‘care’ and ‘expectation’ for example, has devolved into a culture of what many deem to be complacent, insouciant, malignant, contemptuous and alienated and alienating. Rather than governments having the gravitas to ‘ask’ people to ‘do for their country,’ (And the people actually listening and respecting that ‘ask’.), it is the people who have transformed civic responsibility into an insatiable demand that government ‘provide’….not only in material, fiscal, educational, and employment opportunities, but also in those abstractions on which decent, sustainable, and survival societies depend like instant protection of rights, gratification (inordinate cash flow) from instant entrepreneurship, instant information, instant drug and alcohol access, instant medical cures, and instant delivery of each and every political campaign promise.

The deconstruction of both language and belief systems, seemingly seeded by inflated propaganda of both political and marketing executives, leaders and the media which is collectively dependent on both segments of the economy, has devolved to the point where a sitting president declares, “There are good people on both sides!” in a KKK versus protesters’ collision in Charlottesville Virginia in 2017. White nationalists were protesting the removal of the statue of confederate general, Robert E. Lee and chanted anti-Semitic, Nazi-associated phrases. The divide on the streets, in the vocabulary, and especially in the hearts and minds of those opponents in Charlottesville, while not representative of the whole American population, statistically, epitomize, symbolize and capture the essence of the ‘spirit’ of the ‘zero-sum game.’

Conflict, never absent from any situation, whether in a family, or in a school yard, or in a political rally, or in the corporate board room, or in the government legislatures, or certainly in most ecclesial institutions, has escaped the fences of not only reason, self-respect and integrity, but also the fences of ‘agreed facts,’ ‘compromise,’ ‘respect for the other,’ and even an expectation of shared responsibility and shared outcomes. And both the tone and the verbiage have come from men who have separated themselves from previously honoured traditions of ‘mutuality,’ ‘decency,’ and ‘collaboration,’ for the public interest.

Indeed, public interest, (at the heart of the work and lives of both Mandela and Gandhi) has become a victim of this ‘rhetorical, psychic, political and authoritarian/totalitarian’ war of extreme islands of both isolation and alienation, self-perceived and self-declared. We are no longer engaged in a conflict between opposing policies, or programs, as were Mandela, (apartheid) and Gandhi (imperialism). Our conflicts are currently defined by our ‘personal identity’ as we ascribe and prescribe it to and for ourselves, individually, in our desperate pursuit of whatever crumb of instant ‘power-gratification’ we can cling to. Both men and women, tragically, have fallen victim, have succumbed, have surrendered, to the kind of rhetoric that leaves a majority ‘outside’ the inner sanctums of political power.

And within those inner sanctums, neither side likes, respects, trusts, honours, or even tolerates the other side. Parallel to the rhetorical drama within, are the military conflicts without. It is as if the spirit of Al Qaeda, ‘death to the enemy’ (Satan, America) has, like a political, rhetorical epidemic infested the body politic, and has left in its wake a field of broken men and women, broken aspirations and dreams, exhausted expectations and a thin veil of ultra-rich men and women, who through diligence, opportunism, connections, legacies, inheritances, tax breaks and loopholes, and/or some combination of such factors, have risen to the top  like ‘cream’ (in the milk bottle) or ‘slime’ (on the stagnant pond) depending on your perspective.

The detritus, from this evolution, however, seems to be documented as ‘men-falling’. And, if men are falling, for reasons that may be coming from their (our) own self-sabotage, it might be worth the time and effort to examine the ‘fall’.

If Titanism, and the ‘triumph of the will’ (Hitler’s propaganda film title) has influenced the expectation of the heroic ‘male’ ego, in all of its many ramifications, it is important to reduce such an image from the lexicon of most young men. However, the aspiration for victory, and the skills needed to achieve it, irrespective of which ‘field’ of battle one engages on, (including the digital stage, the military volunteer/conscription stage, the corporate, professional athletic, or legal/governmental stage, has not disappeared from the genetic or the psychic composition of most men. And such a motivation is not and cannot be exclusively attributed to testosterone, as some would have us believe. The ‘warrior’ archetype, for all of the risks and dangers of its deployment in venal and destructive and deceptive ‘causes,’ is nevertheless an archetype inherent to both men and women, in different visages.

Befriending it, embracing it, honouring it, and conditioning it, as if it were an integral part of our individual and shared psyche, however, does not mean purchasing an AR-15 for the purposes of falsely armouring oneself, or protecting one’s family. Indeed, the ‘warrior’ archetype is more desperately needed among men and women who strenuously and energetically and enthusiastically oppose the fascism and the terror that is the stock-in-trade of the trump cult. And, from north of the 49th parallel, it seems that the Democrats have not either found or embraced that warrior archetype. Rational, literal, legal and politically and ethically correct umbrage is never going to penetrate the thick wall of both defensive and offensive armour of the trumpcult. They are immune to those tactics and strategies, and the world is dreading the result, should trump return to the Oval Office.

The ’warrior’ archetype was not only alive and well in both Mandela and Gandhi, as well as many others, for causes eminently worthy of their life sacrifices. And, in both lives, neither considered himself either a Titan or a hero. Self-effacing, self-critical, self-reflective, and self-committed to the cause are all adjectives that both men warrant. And those attributes are neither foreign nor redundant for the honourable, effective, committed and modest ‘warrior’.

Is masculinity, so much on the defensive, on the decline, and suffering erosion, as both a concept and an individual expectation, that the collective, conscious and unconscious ‘warrior’ has either chosen somnambulance, or the escape of some form of non-prescribed external agent? And will the collective consciousness of Western men awaken, not out of fear, but out of a sense of our shared and unique individual identity, to “ask what can we do for our country/world”?

Dum spiro spero! (While I breathe, I hope!)


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