Here’s why he won’t bend to feminist desires. They insist he and his cohorts,
“Stop everything, these men are doing good work!”
The above was a passing detail in an online apologia for a lack of feminist sympathies from someone I follow, but won’t name here. It brought me to an agonizing halt.
In this statement the concerns of half the population, transcending race and poverty, religion and location; are brushed aside with the help of a breathless assumption that overwhelms any value there might otherwise have been in the overall argument. This assumption is in two parts, and it is central to what I see as the entanglement of the will-to-dominate that exerts a continual force acting to return all of our efforts to make substantive changes back into the old model, even when those efforts are intended as a radical departure.
“Stop everything!” Put this statement into the mouths of others, especially the mouths of those we disagree with, makes it a petulant cry. This is the danger of urgency. Urgency follows an insistence on the rightness of one’s intentions so as to pave over any objection and demand obedience. This is a classic defense of domineering behavior. Those who take it upon themselves to act because only they know what needs to be done; only they have the will, the courage, the knowledge; only they have the authority to act, and therefore they will act as they see fit, no matter what.
The second part, “these men are doing good work” is another jumble of entitled assumptions that cause the blood to run cold on hearing them. Anyone who’s been the recipient, the “beneficiary;” of well-intentioned domination will instinctively recoil. First, there is the strong accusation of jealousy as the prime motivation behind any resistance to an assumed mantle of authority. It rejects out-of-hand that there might be a valid objection, on any grounds.
This is a classic case of reversal. The dominating mode is fueled by an inability to recognize when one is projecting an inner turmoil onto another and reflecting it back on one’s self. All garden variety right-wing paranoia begins and ends here. The attacker’s worst self-doubts projected onto their enemies. This is domination acting through manipulation. It insists that the other has no right to their own motivations. It insists that the dominator is the only one who can make valid or useful judgements. It insists that the other accept an inferior position to maintain any lines of communication however false and one-sided they will be if the other accepts the bargain.
From there, the statement cascades down a series of damning attacks posed as righteous justifications. “…(T)hese men…” are the victims of an attack. They are of true heart and good intention. Not only that, but what they are doing is necessarily good, judged so by the only ones capable of making that judgment, one of their own.
Put it all together and we have someone who should, and probably does, know better falling for the demands of urgency and the allures of manly action posting a statement he would probably see through and repudiate if it were made by another in a different context.
I may be a curious champion of feminism. I’m, to many of the few who have ever heard of me, probably seen as an older, privileged white male who is unafraid to spout off and seeks authority wherever he can find it. On the other hand, I see myself as a marginalized individual of a minute ethnic extraction who has suffered and been shaped by male-based domination and its aftermath in both my personal and social lives. We all have great gaps between how we are seen and how we see ourselves.
I look for connections between private conditions of abuse and our cultural predicaments that derive from a similar, even identical, mechanisms affecting us in a broad cultural context. In this, I’m far from original. I haven’t discovered these connections or exhaustively outlined their delineations. What I do is an act of witness, an attempt to gather insights as they occur to me for my own use and in the hope of being of some use to others.
I’ve never been comfortable in “male” society. My reactions tend to be more often from a viewpoint that might stereotypically be considered “feminine.” This struggle has shaped me in significant ways. It has kept me from wholeheartedly accepting a “masculine” role and chasing after the kinds of success this might have brought me. This has been as much a handicap I’ve been unable to overcome as a consciously chosen “virtuous” path. In the end I have come to see this as a gift in that it has held me to develop a patience and an acceptance that otherwise might not have been available to me.
I don’t see that what we have suffered under as male domination is in any way limited or identical with being or identifying one’s self with any particular gender. There are tactics that might be considered acts of attempted female domination. I reject these as well, whenever I see them, whether I’m the one doing them or the one receiving someone else’s attempts at coercion. All acts of coercion are dangerous and counterproductive. These labels, of male or female, directed at such actions may, in some narrow sense, be useful; but they tend to hide the way caricatures of gender identity do more harm than good. Domination is domination is domination. Patriarchy is one of its forms, but not its only form.
I want to unravel the way all power-based coping mechanisms, at whatever scale, are dangerous. Their alleged benefits are short-term and illusory. Their long-term results are deadly to all involved. We nod knowingly when we hear that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” but I think we fail to see that this is not just a moral injunction to be “good,” but a warning sign of actual danger we ignore at our own peril.
What is behind the set of conditions that would bring someone to say what I’ve quoted above is a sign of the ease with which we can all succumb to a slippery slope, falling for the delusions of power. Testosterone may be a contributing factor, but in the end this is also a distraction. Fear knows no gender. Fear and the resulting anger and self-justification leading to an intoxication of the will is a risk for us all.
From here it’s possible to see what valuable insight might have led to such a horrific statement. There are two points in doing so. First, dropping the antagonistic/defensive stance that fuels our own belief in power is necessary, if we are to enter into useful dialogue with others. Any strong identification with an us versus an other leads to a blindness, and a rote response driven by fear. Responding in kind will always escalate. Insisting on our right will only implicate us in the further proliferation of antagonism and lead us to look for ways to extend our own dominating impulses. Words can be deadly, but usually they have to be codified into laws or directives to action before that happens. To avoid treating an example of speech as the equivalent of a physical attack is difficult, especially when we are sensitized to verbal triggers, but in the end, this is one of the reasons we need to develop inner strength, so as to be able to stop these cycles and have them end with us.
We are all damaged goods. We are all, have all been, victims of abuse and domination. We are all capable of falling into virulent behaviors that act to perpetuate abuse across the generations. Without forgiving ourselves, and then others, even those who are causing us harm, we cannot expect to break out of these cycles. Retribution, revenge, even cries after justice can, and most often do, leave us trapped firmly believing that power and domination are valid so long as we agree with those wielding its dangerous forces.
Every tyrant, whether of a household or on the broader world stage has always seen himself justified to act as they did. This is something we ignore at our own peril. Hubris awaits anyone who feels they are the ones who can wield this distinction successfully. In the end, this is precisely what makes the original statement so damaging. To end up agreeing with it so as to allegedly “fight” it, is a common enough error, but exactly the kind of thing we need to avoid. It puts us in the same role of defending an indefensible position when what we intended was to critique a form of perceived coercion from another. Was he wrong to see obstructionism in those he attacked? Perhaps not. The wider question that cannot be addressed without getting past this volley of accusations is whether there might not be some valid core to that obstructionism.
Urgency insists. Urgency will not be obstructed. Righteousness is there ready at hand to take us to its defense. Yet we are surrounded by the “fruits of urgency.” “Unintended” consequences abound! If there ever was a time for – if not obstructionism with its own pettiness and infighting, but for counseling restraint – I think this is it!
This is my overall disillusionment with pragmatism. Behind it all is what appears to me to be a thinly veiled justification for the intoxication provided by willful action. It has never led anyone beyond the limitations of unintended consequence. It is part of the illusion of progress. Tying it to gender, even though there’s certainly circumstantial evidence for the case, is equally a delusion. It is more closely tied to the mechanics of fear, and is equally damaging when done from a “feminine” perspective. I cannot but distrust any attempt to garner consensus based on fear for this reason. Fear may be a powerful motivator, but it is in its appeal as a power that it derails our focus which would be better spent developing the inner strength to resist fear’s entreaties. This is what leads to fear’s most pernicious dangers.
It may be difficult for those both male and female who are accustomed to finding some modicum of success acting within an atmosphere of negotiation, wrestling after domination, to see what is wrong with that behavior. The world is rough and tumble. They are being pragmatic, realistic. I suggest, and have gone into reasons why at length over the course of this blog, that they look at the mess we are in and look closely at the causative links between these mechanisms and our current predicaments. Our crises of leadership and expertise are at root crises that grow out of our inabilities to see any other way to interact.
The most profound hurdles we face are right here, that we find ways not to continue to insist that this failed methodology be applied again and again only with different parties “at the top.” Any of us, whatever our gender or other circumstances, we will fall back into the old traps unless we find the strength to relinquish these methods and the attitudes of privilege and entitlement they support. At their foundation this includes recognizing our own intentions, even our own desires for self-preservation, are uninsurable. It is such a sign of how far we have strayed to have to make this assertion and not have it seen as a matter-of-fact. Whether we like it or not, whether we align ourselves with whatever power we might amass, this has always been, and will always be, just another desire with no more weight than any other. There are no guarantees, only illusions of entitlement and wishes after exceptionalism.
The very “inefficiencies” of setting aside the tactic-of-power are where true strength lies. If we accept this, then the entire edifice of urgency and the pressure behind insisting our intentions come to pass through domination can melt away as errors in judgement, not the result of “trying to be nice.” In the silence, in the space this opens within us, and hopefully among us, we will find some way forward that does break the old cycles. It may or may not get us what we think we want, but that has never been the real issue.
What it does give us is the possibility of healing and of experiencing sanity. This may be momentary, it may be a way to find grace as we succumb to the inevitable. It may take us, or someone, through these trials and on into another time. We don’t know what it will be like. We cannot say the same for the alternatives. We know full well what continuing these patterns – not in some abstract social order made up of inimical others, but within our selves – will lead to. We are witnessing the results of this strategy playing out all around us.
Intelligence knows no gender, is probably not limited to any particular life forms, it might even exist among what we consider inanimate objects. It behooves us to use our moment of clarity to rally whatever intelligence we may harbor and work to break these old patterns. Domination is domination is domination.
To be able to say,
“This ends here. This ends with me, within me, to the best of my ability.”
Would be an accomplishment!
It may be the only accomplishment available to us.
It is certainly the first step.
If we are to break the chain.