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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Masculinity, real and imagined

The trophy makes the manThere’s a great little article in "Counterpunch" about how "conservatives" in this country have gone crazy. I put the term "conservatives" in quotes because for decades I have known that the term is meaningless, except to describe a rough alignment of forces. This alignment of forces is "conservative" only in the sense of conserving their own wealth and power. They certainly don’t have any concern about conserving our natural resources of air, water, land, trees, wildlife, and even mountains. They have no concern about conserving our economy for future sustainability. And they have no concern about conserving the nation’s reputation and influence in world affairs. By the time the Iraq debacle is over, we will be lucky to have a seat on the U.N. Security Council.

The "Counterpunch" author, Paul Craig Roberts, focuses on the role of the information media in promoting the "conservative" agenda. This is not a new perspective. Many observers and researchers, most notably Robert McChesney, John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, and of course Noam Chomsky, have been sounding the alarm for many years about the condition of the U.S. media.

What Roberts does is lend a fresh credibility to the argument. He was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, making him a bona fide "conservative." He also possesses some insider knowledge of what is known as "the conservative movement." Of the Bush crime family’s grand scheme for the Middle East, he says "This is the program of lunatics. No conservative could possibly support it."

He is too kind. The Bush crime family may contain some lunatics, John Bolton coming to mind, but it is essentially a criminal operation. I can easily say this because of the way they came into office, the way they invited the September 11, 2001 attacks, the way they lied about the “threat” from Iraq, their contempt for and violation of international law, the way they have handed out war profiteering contracts to corporate donors like Halliburton and Bechtel, and the way they have "governed" the United States of America. As I have said before, their behavior is more like gold fever and power fever than raving lunacy.

More interesting, though, is the grip the Bush crime family has on nearly half the American people. The grip is weakening, as more and more people have to look at what is happening to their own lives, versus what they have been fooled into believing. As more areas of the country are being ravaged by hurricanes, floods, forest fires, and tornados, and the incompetence and negligence of the Bush crime family make the tragedies worse, idiotic belief systems crumble. As the war in Iraq descends further into chaos and the casualties mount, people are increasingly skeptical of the reasons for going to war. Bush the war hero is now Bush the vacationer. Bush the defender of the country is now Bush the clueless.

But there is an element in this country that will likely stay on the Bush bandwagon to the bitter end. It goes by several names: the angry white male, the Reagan democrat, the gun-totin' independent middle class, the beer drinking good old boy, the southern white racist, the threatened male, the emasculated male, the embittered male.

I still hear resentful men say they can't become firefighters, policemen, or get into the building trades because they aren't black or female. The fact that these occupations predominantly employ caucasian males matters not to these self-styled victims. Minorities are taking "their" jobs.

Of course, most of the angry white males are employed in their chosen occupations, but the resentment still festers. They feel that they are under constant threat from feminists, liberals, minorities, and immigrants. People who are infringing on their prerogatives, their rightful place and position.

The root of this bitterness lies in modern masculine American culture. "Manhood" is defined by appearance: good looks, height, muscle bulk, athletic ability, sexual prowess, wealth, status, and aggressiveness.

The standards of masculinity are hard for men to live up to, so most men settle for substitute or vicarious masculinity: identification with sports teams, ownership of fast, sporty, or large vehicles, and possession of trophies of various kinds. The trophy can be a large house, a beautiful girlfriend or wife, the aforementioned vehicle, or a hunting trophy - a mounted animal head that the owner presumably killed. As an example of both the absurdity and desperation of insecure males in this country, sports and "hate" radio stations are supported by advertising for such varied products as penis enlargement, sexual enhancers, skimpy underwear gifts for wives and girlfriends, body building products, hair restorer, dating services, and on and on and on. Then of course there is the unbelievably huge market for pornography of all kinds.

In the past several years here in Wisconsin there has been much concern and activity about the problem of "chronic wasting disease", a devastating form of spongiform encephalopathy similar to Mad Cow Disease. It has spread among the deer herds in much of the state, and the Department of Natural Resources has mandated the killing of thousands of deer in several counties. When meetings were held by the DNR to discuss eradication of diseased deer herds, there was much opposition. I watched the coverage of one of the meetings on the television news, and the attendees were almost all men, deer hunters from the area. It was pretty comical. They looked so much alike, wearing Green Bay Packers hats or hunting hats, many of them chewing gum with their mouths open, acting tough.

As it turned out, the hunters were angy because the DNR representatives told them one of the main causes of the spread of "CWD" was the practice of "baiting" deer - placing food for deer both to attract them to an area and to cause the males to grow larger "racks" of antlers. The practice of baiting was going to be banned, and the hunters were up in arms, so to speak.

Big antler trophies mean big men. When the Packers are winning, and the antlers are big, life is good for the threatened men of Wisconsin. Now the Packers aren't winning. They were one of the worst teams in the NFL this past season, last place in their division. The deer herds are tainted by chronic wasting disease, and the antlers are smaller.

Because of climate change, also known as global warming, the vehicles are going to get smaller. With gas prices going up and up, having a huge pickup truck or SUV is becoming a luxury that fewer will be able to afford.

With all this change taking place, what are the threatened males of this country to do? One of their main symbols of masculinity, the draft-dodging Vice President Dick Cheney, has shot a hunting companion while on a "canned" hunting excursion. At first, the spin was that the man he shot was to blame. Now Cheney is "taking responsibility," a meaningless gesture, since he considers himself above the law.

The ridiculous lengths that masculinity-threatened males in this country are willing to go to affirm their manhood can be seen in who they look to as symbols of manliness: George W. Bush, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Arnold Swarzenegger, Toby Keith, Ted Nugent. A convention of the VFW gave a standing ovation to Dan Quayle during the 1988 presidential campaign. The National Guard Association presented Bush a bust in honor of his "service" last week.

I could belabor this point ad absurdum, but it should be clear that obsession with manhood lies at the core of what ails this country, what makes men such fair game for manipulation, and what keeps us from dealing with the difficult problems we face in a competent manner. We don't have a lot of time to continue with this stupidity, so it is critical that we, as part of our national dialogue, talk about it openly, find ways of treating it, and start living as true human beings. I don't need an SUV, antlers, a winning team, a penis enlargement, or a war. No one else does either. A far better desire is for a world of peace, a sustainable economy, and a thriving ecosystem. They would be their own trophies.

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