Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Courage to be Useless

One of the key characteristics of patriarchy, is that it values human beings for how useful they are, it values them as economic products, as tools. Men in particular, are the sort of raw materials of a patriarchal society. They are the brawn, the cannon fodder, the building blocks. The idea that we would ourselves have any intrinsic value is very difficult to grapple with.

This is the basis of most men's insecurities, and when things start to strain in our relationships, in our marriages and our workplaces, we deal with it by seeking to be more useful, or beat ourselves up for being useless.

I can remember having exactly this insecurity even as a seven or eight year old boy. Living with a single mother, and being the only male in the house, I was acutely conscious of my inability to live up to the traditional masculine roles in the home. I can remember getting depressed, even at an early age, and trying to express how useless I felt, to my mother, and of course my mother not understanding this insecurity. But for me it was critically important. I believed that my value to my mother was in how useful I was to her, and I felt worthless because I could not fulfill the role of man to a woman who had no other men in her life.

These insecurities are based on fabricated and socialised ideas of masculinity, but they are deep nonetheless. They are biological, neurologically programmed to such an extent that even as an undeveloped boy, I was valuing myself according to some contingent ideas of what it is to be a man. And I was doing this without being conscious of myself enough to know what was going on.

Male self-esteem under the conditions of patriarchy is critically delicate. In fact, it entrenches a deep existential insecurity, that as a result of feminist revolutions, now threatens to become socially destructive pathology.

It always has been a pathology, but it is one that as a society we have masked from ourselves. It is one that has been so dominant as an ideology that it has become the norm. But as the boundaries of patriarchy start to break down we are faced with a choice, one that will require the active participation of our minds, rather than the passive discontent that we are all so used to in our generation.

Women are now showing men that they can do all the things that men have identified themselves with for their sense of worth. Whether it is being the breadwinner, the chief executive, the visionary thinker, or simply a dominant player in the bedroom, women are proving once and for all that they can do everything a man can do, and that much of the time they can do it better.

So where does this leave us, as men? How can we allow for these changes, without experiencing a wholesale cultural depression (which is exactly what I think we are experiencing)?

The short answer is of course, to dig deep for a source of self-esteem and value that does not depend on external factors, one outside the prisms of patriarchy. That sounds great, but what does that look like? What does it mean to have an implicit sense of value, rather than a prudential value? Can it really be enough for us to value ourselves simply for existing? Is to exist value enough?

I think these questions inevitably lead to the realm of spirituality. Is life valuable in and of itself? If so, where does that leave our society? We live in a culture that ostensibly declares that life is its own value, and this can be seen in the laws that we declare are immutable. But in practice, we seem to live in a society that places value on the prudential, on what a given person or object can do, rather than what it is.

The masculine pathology is the pathology of our culture as a whole. It is the pathology that allows us to turn a blind eye to political schemes, to economic exploitation and even crimes of genocide. It is the culture that tells us that sometimes we have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet, even if what we are cooking up is violence and destruction.

Men will only be able to value themselves by taking the massively courageous step of valuing themselves implicitly. And this means being prepared to be seen as a failure, being prepared to be seen as unmanly, as pathetic, as "a pussy." It means being brave enough to face the rejection of women for your lack of masculinity, as much as the rejection of your male peers.

The leaders of the new masculinity will be those who are willing to be “emasculated” in the eyes of society. They will be those who have the outright insolence to be utterly useless to the patriarchal regime. In short, valuing yourself implicitly, means being prepared to humiliate yourself in the face of a prevailing culture.

The courage to be seen as unmanly will determine your true leadership as a man.

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