Wednesday, 30 November 2011

The Inward Scream

"War was the return of earth to ugly earth,
War was foundering of sublimities,
Extinction of each happy art and faith
By which the world had kept head in air,
Protesting logic or protesting love,
Until the unendurable moment struck -
The inward scream, the duty to run mad."

Robert Graves.

Your vulnerability and your volatility and inconsistency, are essential to your masculinity. Despite the great strides in the liberation of women, men are still victims of archaic cultural expectations. It is my belief that because these expectations apply to men and not women, they are left to go unexamined and are still taken for granted.

There is a deep masculine value in being volatile. I say this because I have been observing myself in pressured situations recently. Whenever I get overwhelmed I tend to get volatile. What I mean is, I am likely to take the rage or go through some sort of emotional outburst. The result being that I end up hating myself, beating myself up and feeling like less of a man.

I don't experience this self-imposed emasculation as a result of the outbursts themselves, but as a result of the deeper sense of being overwhelmed. The problem is that we live in a culture that says men should not be overwhelmed. That they should maintain poise. That they must be capable of taking on the struggles and impossibilities that life throws at them, and carrying on regardless.

This is an idea rooted in Patriarchy, and here's why I think so. I remember at my school, a very posh private school, we had a war memorial. The memorial consisted of a statue representing a young man, a soldier of the trenches, prostrated but for one arm raised to the heavens. Underneath, on the plinth, was inscribed "Carry ON."

It might also help to explain that the same school's slogan was Industria, which I think is Latin for "duty."

This school built its reputation, like many English public schools of the same model, on being an elite finishing school for young men who were being groomed to police and manage the British Empire. Essential to running such an expansive and destructive genocidal force, is the idea of loyalty and perseverance. The booty of imperial gain, and Patriarchal rule, could not be secured without devotion to the cause.

As we all know, this sense of duty, deference and unthinking perseverance came to head during the First World War. Strangely enough, the idea that men should unquestioningly saunter into the field of battle for a higher cause failed to resonate so strongly after thousands of young men perished by doing just that.

Such traditionally masculine ideals were no longer so noble or so sweet.

So, it is my contention that this idea of resilience and blinkered perseverance in the face of adversity is not as healthy and desirable as some might deem it to be. Following an examination of myself, and the onslaught of my own sensitivities in such contexts, I am now able to understand vulnerability and a sense of limitation in the face of my enemies, as a sign of my masculinity, rather than being aberration of it.

In a modern context, it simply does not do, to charge ahead unthinkingly, without feeling, despite the pain and suffering that I might experience in the process. In the context of Patriarchy, which is really another word for the rule of imperial expansionism, such behaviour might have been not only desirable but essential.
However, as things stand now, a man must be connected to his vulnerabilities. He must accept, be present with, and embrace his experience of his own limitations. He now has the luxury to do so.

To bastardise a Socratic phrase, the unexamined man, is no man at all. In fact, he is little more than a vessel for the archaic and destructive forces that continue to oppress him.

It does not mean that a man is weak, for him to experience and own his weaknesses. In fact, in a healthy masculine culture, a man must by necessity come to terms with his volatility, his emotional instability, if he is to ever grow into a man at all. The very fact that he is able to express his sensitivities, is a sign that he will one day be able to harness them.

To me, volatility means responsiveness. Vulnerability means sensitivity. And if we want to look at the essential elements of an organism's survival, both of those qualities would probably be high on the list. Central to an organism's destruction, however, would most likely be its inability to adapt and respond to the volatility of its environment.

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