Saturday, July 21, 2012

Political unreality and cultural denial


I've been thinking a lot about the reality of what America is, as opposed to the keyword-laced marketing jargon that presents an idealized America that may have been largely fictitious even at the time when it was much more ethically and morally righteous than it is now.

I have come to the conclusion that both the America sold by the G.O.P. and FOX News, and the America sold by the President, are differently but equally dissatisfying. The America presented by the former is more anxiety-inducing and dangerous than the real thing, encourages us all to seek our safety in corporately-provided things and services instead of real bonds with other human beings, and pretends that returning America to 'greatness' is just a matter of fine-tuning a marketing campaign. The America presented by the latter is a fallen land with great promise, where hard truths are proverbial roosting chickens and piping pipers, and the only way to redeem it is to sacrifice more, do with less, and work harder than the modern American mythos (a largely corporate creation) has led us to believe is our birthright.

Whether by reason or intuition, Americans across the political spectrum are left wanting by both versions of this American vision. America is in denial about its fall from the status of a 'great' nation to one who is merely economically and militarily 'mighty', and few of its citizens have the stomach to do what's necessary to bring about a renaissance back to greatness.

Such a renaissance would involve a willingness to sacrifice our current misconception of 'greatness', along with its creators, and return to a path steered according to a justice, ethics and morality cleansed of cynical profit motives. The corporations, whose lies and marketing spin are daily echoed in every well-funded media outlet and careerist political mouth, have to go. They swear no allegiance to this or any other country. They put their profits as far from the reach of just taxation as they can, thereby starving the infrastructure that gave them their start and charter. They regularly aid and abet our enemies, making them traitors to the country which has so recently seen fit to give them as much – if not more – political power than any flesh-and-blood citizen. It's us or them.

As long as corporations are both the funders of political campaigns, and the providers of a media voice for the players in those campaigns, we have no hope of seeing true public servants in office. How would I or any other well-meaning citizen of modest means have any chance of getting into public office? Why would I want to, when all I could look forward to was which corporate master I would serve, and how loud the lies I would have to say to gain favor in those eyes?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Sex != Gender: a contemplation on misplaced questions

This is a somewhat meandering response and contemplation on an article in "The Atlantic Wire" from July 13, 2012, entitled "A Debate About Manliness: Too Little, Too Weak".

I have two initial thoughts here, speaking as a middle-aged, college-educated white male of the 22nd economic percentile, who minored in Women's Studies, and who (with full collaboration of the equally feminist woman he has loved for the last 8 years) has sorted a lot of the wheat from the chaff of Second Wave Feminism:

First, whether we employ the dipoles 'manly' and 'womanly', or 'masculine' and 'feminine', any one of those words require that we submit to a concept that exists nowhere in reality. No human being can be any one of those *enough* to fulfill the definition. In practice, the ones women are saddled with align closely to whether they will submit to the tasks of reproduction and child-rearing, while the ones for men are mainly about a socially-constructed (meaning here, 'an abstraction meaningful only in its social significance') framework that involves acting in a manner that won't make *other men* doubt *their* manly credentials.

Which brings me to my second thought: while we may consider our society in some broad sense to be 'post-feminist' - which assumes a fallacy that all the thrashing about of Gloria Steinem-era feminism had been put irrefutably behind us - there's still a fundamental that bites at our heels. This is simply that the culturally-accepted male continues to be judged by his willingness – indeed, zeal – to repudiate whatever culturally-accepted women 'are'. Why do the cultural standard-bearers have it in for the 'metrosexual'? He's suspect; he rides the line of being some aspects of whatever women 'are'.

(Why is it desirable for women to seek what men have, but unacceptable reversed? It's about power, as the whole patriarchal ball-o-wax has been for a long time. I won't get into the causes and origins here, as they remain hotly contested, but suffice it to say that men have been calling the shots in most human groupings for at least several thousand years. Precedent shows us that men who give away their power or allow it to be taken from them are not as 'manly' as those who defend their power and do the taking. The 'losers' are vulnerable and potentially unable to defend themselves. They can't be counted on in a pinch. Following this logic through, they are a danger to the group and it's continued safety, which is a code-word for power accrued and retained.)

What we have in these gender discussions circles about, but refuses to land on, a dichotomy. That is the old animal-versus-not-animal conundrum of human existence. As animals, men and women want what makes them want to fuck like rabbits: pheromones and the otherness of secondary sex characteristics. (Remember: we didn't always have language...) Soft/Hard. Curves/Muscles. Inny/Outty. Yin/Yang. Each wants the other to smell right and bear the hallmarks that define the healthy end of the gene pool.

Now let's get the frontal lobes involved, and everything gets complicated. People are stinky, and lots of people close together are way more pheromones than the ol' hindbrain can figger. Either we all fuck like rabbits, or we make that damned reek go away! Oh, but then, when all the rest are gone, I can't smell you anymore. Now she smells like talc and panty liners and 'feminine sprays', and he smells like Old Spice or Axe or shaving gel. At the very least, we all smell like shampoo and soap and our hopefully inoffensive antiperspirants. Sniff sniff. "Where'd everybody go?", asks the hindbrain.

One's 'sex' is the essence of what the animal in each of us is looking for. These things are concrete and tangible. They make the right neurons fire. They prepare the actors for the play. One's 'gender' is the frontal lobes layering on a thick mess of language and meaning and groupthink. It's abstract and mostly about not being seen as a threat to others. A man who can't fight or fend for himself? Outta here! A woman who won't do her part to maintain or further the group's population? Outta here!

This dissonance between sex and gender is the confusion at the heart of questions about not only the aforementioned dipoles, but discussions about alternative lifestyles across the board. If a man who cares about his appearance is suspicious, then what of the men and women who won't even act like proper animals?