Friday, December 30, 2016

Victim-masculinity and Trump

"Do you know what most of those white men in the suburbs are doing when they are alone in their suburban smart-houses? They are on the computer, like I am right now. Do you know what most of them are doing in front of their computers? From outer space, they seem to be sitting there in one spot for hours and hours, like they are hibernating. But up close we see that they are busy with their hands. They are playing war games in the refractory periods between jacking off to online pornography. Like monkeys driven mad by their cages."


First, let's throw away the popular modifier 'toxic.' Appeals against 'toxic' masculinity are appeals for some 'non-toxic' version, and as such are appeals to defend the set of binaries that make masculinity unmodified possible. All masculinity is potentially 'toxic,' if by 'toxic' we mean inimical to other people, to peace, and to justice. I'll justify that claim further along, but for now the main idea is not this dishonest distinction. The central claim here is that Donald Trump's victorious presidential campaign was fueled - perhaps above all - by masculinity.

This Gunn cartoon of Donald Trump (above) was published with a David French article in the conservative National Review, entitled "Donald Trump's Counterfeit Masculinity: Feminism's Dream." The thesis, trading on the 'toxic' masculinity notion, is that Trump's unrefined masculinity threatens to legitimate the "failed ideology" of feminism.
To understand why, one has to understand the true object of modern feminism. The modern feminist doesn’t so much hate biological males as hate the very concept of manhood as a distinct and valuable aspect of the human experience. Masculinity, to the extent that it exists, is toxic and must be suppressed. Classically male virtues such as bravery, strength, loyalty, and an intellectual and physical sense of adventure must be de-gendered (after all, who’s to say that any given woman can’t share those traits?), while traditional male vices, including tendencies toward unjustified violence and superficial, obsessive sexuality, are to be regarded as essentially masculine.
Aside from the failure of the article to distinguish between 'feminisms,' an indication that the writer is not actually familiar with feminism, the thrust of the article is that Trump's uncivilized construction of masculinity is dangerous to conservatism, because it reinforces David French's caricature of what feminists have to say about men like David French. French and his National Review partisans, with the intellectual wing of conservatism, are threatened by Trump's open display of a hypertrophied and undisciplined version of masculinity - that in-your-face, entitled, frat boy machismo.

This exposes a kind of combined class/culture war within conservatism itself, but that's another topic.

The main questions before us now are, How did this particular construction of masculinity come to be?  What about masculinity - this form and others - was Trump channeling? How big a factor was masculinity in the election? Based on what we can discern about these questions, how does this look four years from now?

How did this particular construction of masculinity come to be?  

Okay, let's get oriented, because we are not trying to resurrect a debate about that bedeviled creature, essentialism. For the purposes of this discussion, this excerpt from Borderline will ground us at a common point of departure.
The term masculinity (and masculinities) is going to reoccur . . . Before we continue, then, we need a shared understanding of the term, and why I use the singular and the plural. I am appropriating the term, along with its complement, femininity (and femininities), from the academic field of “gender studies.”
Understandings of masculinity and femininity differ from time to time and place to place. If I say, “He is very masculine,” you and I know who he is and we share some notion of what “masculine” means. It is a concrete statement about an actual person. When we add the “-ity” suffix to make “masculinity,” we abstract a general idea about the meaning of masculine from its concrete instantiations. We emancipate the phenomenon from actual space-time. There is an advantage to this, and a danger.
The advantage is that we can criticize the idea apart from its specific context.
The danger is confusing these abstractions with embodied reality. “Poverty,” for example, is a useful notion in discourse about economic conditions, but superimposed on an actual person who is poor in a particular way, it can become a distortion that leads us to treat actual persons as categories like “clients” or “problems” or “resources.”
The objective of studying masculinity and femininity for our purposes is to de-naturalize them. “Naturalization” treats the existing order of things as if it were decreed by nature. We are familiar with the conventional wisdom that “men are naturally more aggressive than women.” This appeal to “the natural” attempts to place relations of power beyond critical analysis. “It’s just nature, so there’s nothing we can do about it” implies something akin to natural law.
The point of cataloguing various types of masculinity is to make it possible to pull specific kinds of masculinity and specific aspects of various masculinities into critical range. A natural law—the Second law of Thermodynamics, for example—does not operate differently in either time or place. However, what is masculine in twenty-first-century Houston is different from what was masculine in, say, third-century rural Persia. “Nature” is insufficient to explain this difference.
Masculinity implies gender. The binary of masculine-feminine is constitutive of gender, which is more than biological sexual differentiations. Gender, as we will use it here, is a social system that divides social activities between the two reproductively normative sexes. Social gender, with which we are concerned here, and which exists in all known societies without exception, marks the complementary difference between the tools, clothing, practices, spaces, preoccupations, and even language that are typically associated with men and women.
Certain medieval European women had a different kind of scythe than their men, for example, with which to do different forms of work, but this difference did not automatically confer hierarchy or relative value, even though it did function complementarily as a division of labor. Both men and women were doing work essential to their community’s subsistence, for which both received recognition and esteem.
Gender in the social sense, however, nearly always does combine hierarchy with complementarity, [with] men . . . overwhelmingly on the top of that hierarchy and women on the bottom. Men use that power, often violently, to maintain the hierarchy across generations.
The tools, clothing, practices, spaces, preoccupations, and language of men constitute a masculine sphere in a given society.
Masculinity is where the social and psychological are merged as an epistemea way of knowing that is shared within a culture.
A masculinity is both an archetype and an attitude. Men adopt what they feel is the appropriate attitude to live into an archetype. Not every man can live into the prevailing masculine archetypes, so he sometimes does so vicariously and symbolically. Think here about modern American football. Not every American male can be an NFL player, but a man can participate in the ideal as a fan, thereby valorizing the archetype. That football culture then leads many men to use football as an analogy for work, life, relationships, politics, war, etc.
Masculine ideals differ among different peoples in different times, and so one particular masculine ideal cannot tell us everything about actual men in every time and place. It does, however, give us an insight into the dominant men in that very particular culture and time. The works of Homer, for example, give us some insight into how an ideal masculinity was constructed for men of the dominant class in Greece in the eighth century BC.
Our set of socially shared certainties, or epistemes—like those of every epoch and place—structure the world to make it apprehensible. Ways of knowing give us a sense of order and security. Notions like masculinity are enmeshed within a larger worldview, and any disruption of one notion—like masculinity—has the potential to disrupt the entire episteme, because the various facets of any episteme are interlocking or mutually defined. Disruption of one facet contributes to a sense of insecurity, which can lead to fear, which can lead to anger and reaction or, conversely, to a revised episteme, a revision in the set of socially shared certainties. If disruptions in masculinity can disrupt the rest of an episteme, then likewise, any disruption elsewhere in the episteme might create a crisis of masculinity. Revolutions are disruptions of the status quo, and they are always characterized to some degree by an epistemic crisis—a crisis of doubt about socially shared certainties, therefore a crisis characterized by uncertainty and fear. (pp.33-35)
Based on this general account of masculinities, then, Trump's particular manifestation of one particular masculinity has a history of some kind, a genealogy. That history includes the variables of nature, culture, and personhood at each point along the way.

There is nature, or material conditions, that aspect of existence that responds to natural law. The billiard ball hits the other billiard ball with outcomes that are theoretically predictable, because the "laws" (funny, how we describe that juridically when this is the one aspect of existence where no judgement is allowed) of nature operate in this phylum without variation. The Great Constants among many variables.

There are all those phenomena captured within the category 'culture': phenomena emerging from and peculiar to self-consciously affiliated groups of people. Beliefs, rituals, signs, narratives, languages spoken and written, music, calendar cycles, and so on and on. Epistemes are integral to every culture, and ideologies, which are comprised of epistemes.

Epistemology is experienced by the person, but derived from culture. No, these cannot be teased apart from nature, any more than nature can be teased apart from culture. But this is an aspect of existence that responds directly to and is reproductive of self-consciously affiliated peoples.

Personhood is not just the phenomenology of being me, this particular consciousness feeling almost encased by a body. It is cultural. We have a protracted infant dependency, a material and psychological need for cooperation, as opposed to going it alone (which no one actually does), and what we do understand of ourselves is available only through the categories and practices acquired from our culture. We each need to recognize and be recognized to fully experience personhood.

One of the key material conditions we each inescapably experience is our own bodies. And those bodies are somehow sexed. The overwhelming majority of those bodies are sexed either male or female (in the reproductive sense), and even though there are variations apart from this reproductive binary - intersexed people, e.g. - the masculinities and femininities in question here are mapped directly onto that reproductively binary body.

Masculinity as a a set of tools, clothing, practices, spaces, preoccupations, language, and symbolic performances expected of biological men, and it is opposed - within its own epistemic framework - to women. Right requires left to exist. Up requires down. Masculinity requires femininity, which is a set of tools, clothing, practices, spaces, preoccupations, language, and symbolic performances expected of biological women.

That does not mean that an analysis of masculinity is the denial of the existence or value of persons who do not fit either reproductive status, but that gender ideology serves the class of men against the class of  women in a way that itself externalizes everything outside that binary. Gender is a social system as well as an ideology; and it is gender as such that excludes sexual minorities from its own framework. Masculinity is situated then inside that binary framework and cannot be understood apart from it.

Masculinity is the set of attitudes, norms, and expectations that are culturally imposed on the biological body, privileging that body which means privileging that person embodied as male. Masculinity is continually reproduced and policed, in a Foucaldian sense, in the consciousness (and unconscious) of a male person. That person, in turn, learns not only how to live within the conditions into which he is born or emerges thereafter, but how to desire, how to love, and how to hate. Let's do a masculinities comparison.

David Clines' study of Davidic masculinity (as discerned from Scripture written generally around the time of the Babylonian Captivity - seventh to sixth century BCE) manages to identify some key characteristics of an ideal masculinity according to Jewish scholars writing of past ethnic triumphs in the great wrestling match between Israel and God. They are writing to an audience that suffers and seethes as an occupied people. In these stories, David the Warrior King is the superstar. Here is another excerpt wherein Clines not only breaks down the basics of Davidic masculinity, he lists some key identifiers of modern/postmodern masculinity:
Old Testament scholar David J. A. . . . Clines’s examination of Davidic masculinity will not appear particularly strange to us, because much of what he describes to us about Davidic masculinity is still recognizable today. We live in a warlike society, just as David did, and we also shower military leaders with accolades for their military virtues, real or imagined.
Clines begins with five basic rules for being masculine in the modern West.
First, do not be like a woman. [Take note for future reference!]
Second, be successful. While the meaning of success has changed, over time, from accomplishments of various kinds to the making of money, it relates in every case to “winning.” Be a winner.
Third, be aggressive. This can be conflated with, and even overlap with, courage, but it also and primarily has something to do with demeanor. Get in some faces. Don’t back down. Don’t be a pussy.
Fourth, be sexual. By that Clines means displaying a constant interest in sex that suggests you are always “up” and ready for it. It also generally suggests the objectification of women, understood as a primal male drive.
Finally, be self-reliant. Real men don’t need other people.
With these points of reference, we can readily see them in ourselves.
Clines establishes the coordinates for understanding what he calls a “hegemonic masculinity.” The noun hegemony and the modifier hegemonic were used by the Italian social theorist Antonio Gramsci in the 1930s. It means the way power is exercised in stable societies prior to violence or the threat of violence. It refers to the general population’s precritical acceptance of norms established by the dominant class in society, a class that also controls the signifiers and meanings that constitute knowledge and culture. When most people have accepted the point of view of the dominant class—in Gramsci’s case, he was referring to the business class—then they have accepted a version of reality that creates conformity without force.
Hegemonic masculinity, then, is a widely accepted version of masculinity that conforms to the beliefs or the needs of a dominant fraction within a society and that is supportive of the structures of that society.
The story of David was not written simply as an historical chronicle, says Clines, but as the presentation of a hegemonic masculine archetype— an idealized version of how masculinity was actually constructed during, and for some time after, David’s life.
The key characteristic of David was that he was a fighter, a military leader. David is described as “a mighty man of valor” (1 Sam 16:14). He fights wars, a lot of wars; David fights Philistines, Amalekites, Moabites, Arameans, Syrians, and Edomites, totaling up a body count of around 140,000 people, killing fourteen by his own hand.
A second character trait of the Davidic man is persuasive speech. He is described as a man who is skillful at direct persuasion, “intelligent of speech” (1 Sam 16:18). David uses words skillfully as instruments of control.
David is frequently called beautiful. Physical beauty, in David’s case, and in the case of several other Hebrew luminaries, was not understood as a lucky accident, but as a sign of God’s favor, and therefore worthy of praise.
David bonds with men. David does not have women friends. He has wives and concubines who are essentially invisible, except when they figure into particular episodes in which he has moral failures—like rape and conspiracy to murder (2 Sam 11). Some of his friendships are genuinely affective and some are coldly instrumental, but when it comes to the kind of mutual recognition we today assume between friends or colleagues, David did not get friendly or collegial with women. Reading about David and Jonathan today, we might be tempted to call the descriptions of their love homoerotic, but it was unlikely that this is what the author(s) meant in their own time. Real men loved real men, and they had sex with women. When David describes his friendship with Jonathan, he says it is better than anything a man can experience with a woman. Clines describes David as “a womanless man.” Obviously, David had women, in the sense of owning them.
“But,” writes Clines, “it is a striking feature of the David story that the males are so casual about women, and that women are so marginal to the lives of the protagonists.” David, in fact, is proud to have kept himself “clean” of women, meaning presumably from the context that he is not influenced in his decisions by them. He has lapses due to his lust for Bathsheba.
By today’s standards, he certainly would be accused of raping Bathsheba, even if his male contemporaries would have understood the act as one of royal prerogative. And he is rebuked by Nathan, the prophetic challenger to David’s exercise of power, when David sends Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, to his certain death in order to have Bathsheba for his own. The reason neither David nor his male contemporaries ever felt compelled to define their masculinity against women, as Clines does in his account of modern masculinity, and the reason there would be no modern squeamishness about calling a man beautiful, was precisely that men’s and women’s gendered realms were so thoroughly separate.
Men’s absolute domination of and separation from women was unquestioned. Women were not subjects in the sense of having any real agency, unless they were “up to no good” as social disruptors, and so there was no threat of a man being confused with a woman. Men’s sphere did not overlap with women’s, and men and women were certainly not structurally competitive with one another, as they are today, in an economy of monetized scarcity. Conflict was restricted to the sphere of men. When Amnon rapes Tamar, it is Absalom, her brother, who is the offended one. After Tamar leaves the stage in shame, we never hear from her again, and conflict between David and Absalom carries the story forward when Absolom gets his vengeance by killing Amnon (2 Sam 13:23–29).
Alas! Remember how we made a note earlier about men defining themselves against women. David and his contemporaries had no call to define themselves against women. Those masculine and feminine spheres were so intransigently in place that no one questioned them. Men would no more define themselves as not-women as they would to define themselves not-cattle. In that time, women had only marginally greater social standing than livestock, with a premium on good breeders.

Flash forward to today. Masculinity is more than just a set of disembodied ideas. It is comprised of clothing, mannerisms, positions, privileges, attitude, language, and most of all, boundaries - physical, symbolic, imaginary, and affective.

A crisis of masculinity begins as some kind of change, often in the material environment, always directed culturally - with the emphasis on economics, and with certain indoctrinated personal-emotional experiences of change. Fear among them. Masculinity is destabilized by a change. That destabilization translates into fear and the sense of crisis. There is a fightback, a reaction. Masculinity reinvents itself for the new conditions, always and invariably with an eye to the preservation of male prerogative.

Feminism is still new. Yes, there were people writing with feminist sensibilities a couple of centuries ago, but as an actual social movement - one of the most powerful in history - it really made a breakthrough to public consciousness during the sixties. Black folks organized and made some demands. That movement exploded through society, which woke up a new left in politics. African America woke up the left, and the left woke up the women who turned around to their male comrades and asked, What will we learn if we study women as a class the same way you study economic class?

The concerns of the feminist movement are, in my opinion, closer to the center of every question of power and domination than any other movement. Feminism has changed women's status before the law, women's access to paying work, women's inalienable right to say no, an ever lengthening list of women's human accomplishments, and the post-sixties explosion of public women intellectuals. The advances are incalculable, as sometimes seems the distance to what has not yet been achieved.

Between seventh century BCE Israel and today's United States, a lot has happened. The veil between the spheres of men and women has been torn and torn again. The distance between the clothes, works, spaces, languages, and practices of men and women has progressively closed and in places burst over the breach. Law schools, as a key example, as well as medical schools, are full of women, smart women.

A series of destabilizations hit men (and their masculinity) by eliminating what had formerly been male prerogative, and each destabilization produced its own brand of backlash. Computerization of many jobs is just one of many examples of the ways the work space - as well as work availability - more and more female and male (the externalized exceptions defined or pathologized to reinforce the dipole).

At one point, masculinity was the man measured against the boy. Totally separated spheres between male and female. At one point, well at most actually, masculinity is idealized in war. War makes the man. Men become protectors, and women come to exchange obedience for protection - the sexual protection racket. Women fear all men, and need the protection of one man from all the others. That protection is bought as the price of obedience. Oh, come to think of it, absent the sex, I just described the nation-state.

The way we think about masculinity, including the way Donald Trump thinks about masculinity, has to be understood symbolically. Everything is a metaphor for everything else.The symbolic universe of gender changes, but again male prerogative is either defended or retooled for new realities.

The Catholic masculinity of a tenth century Frank peasant man would probably be apparent in some form of power over his wife and children, but on all the particulars, if we were to observe them day-to-day through the lens of a time machine, we'd have absolutely no idea what the hell was going on, because social hieroglyphics in each time and place are idiosyncratic. They are based on whole epistemes that are simply no longer available except through hard inference and imagination. But we can be pretty sure that the masculinity of Trump would be offensive to that peasant insofar as he might be able to figure it out at all.

When Europe dove headlong into colonialism then industrial capitalism, masculinity came to be defined as unapologetic imperial conquest. This was a big change, and the metaphors reflected it. We thought of conquering nature as conquering women, and conquering women in the same way imperial men conquer colonies. The template slides from one metaphor to the next, and somehow fits all three.

That's the beginning of whiteness there, too, by the way, which is a thing for Trump. Trump is channeling a distinctive form of a postmodern white-victimhood masculinity. It is distinct from white masculinity or white supremacy though an aspect of both. Every blacklash against feminism has drawn on the victimized male trope. Trump managed to generalize it.

What about masculinity - this form and others - was Trump channeling? 


Trump's masculinity is postmodern. Postmodern because it is all a performance. Politics-as-performance is proof of Heisenberg's principle that we observers change what we observe by observing it. We all know, for example, that you will have one dynamic in a room full of people on their own, and that by conspicuously introducing a person aiming a camcorder at everyone, that dynamic will suddenly change, become more self-conscious, more performative, more simulated.

Trump's masculinity is a performance, a series of simulations, and a system of symbols with which many men have developed a powerful affective resonance. People cry listening to the National Anthem, for example.

At any rate, when women's and men's spaces began to merge, and when masculinity was more and more difficult to assert in a protected gender-sphere, the twin notions of sexual domination and masculinity-defined-as-not-woman merged into a distinctive new form of misogyny.

The hatred of women, enculturated relentlessly in patriarchal society, is now carried out of the integrated spheres or work and consumption and into sexual relations directly. The devaluation of women in a nineteenth century Parisian drawing room (premium on gentility, with male and female spheres, men in public and women at home) was different than the kind one sees, now, for example, in much pornography, where the sexual humiliation of women is eroticized for male consumers.

Destabilization, reorientation, re-establishment of male power in a revised form.

This shift from enforcement of gender (as a system dividing power) to gender-inclusion in public space, redirected the learned sense of male entitlement more directly to sex. Gendered power has shifted its forces, so to speak, onto a new front: sex itself. Gender has been sexualized.

The first women to recognize that in a systematic way, as happens in response to every liberation movement, were demonized. You can see echoes of that demonization above in the clip from Brother French. One of the main assertions of feminism has been that men do not have some inborn entitlement to the bodies of women. Specifically sexual entitlement.

Trump boasts that he can - through his power as a rich man and a celebrity - "grab them by the pussy." An act of ownership, of sexual entitlement, of eroticized humiliation, and finally of vengeance. Backlash. Teaching those bitches a lesson about who is in charge. Because men who have lost one shred of entitlement, like all those who feel entitled, will feel wronged.

It's an unfortunate characteristic of human beings that we quickly take our every privilege and entitlement for granted and rebel when confronted with losing them. Watch how some people melt down during a power outage, and you'll see how entitled we all feel to use electricity.

Men will inevitably lose some privilege and prerogative as women continue to be liberated from male domination. There is a sense in which - as regards power - this is a zero sum game.

The sexualization of gender is likewise an outcome of a highly specialized, technological society that has effaced many of the markers and obligations that were formerly understood as developing maturity or character formation. Embedded in earlier gender regimes to be sure, we understood, for example, that growing up meant abandoning the instant gratifications of Mine, More, and Now. Growing up meant becoming less selfish (mine), more prudent (more), and more patient (now). Work is no longer embedded in a moral matrix; and the narratives to which we are exposed in the ongoing social experiment of indoctrinating billions of people with electronic media have brought Ayn Rand to life. Selfishness is a virtue, recklessness and gluttony a sign of providential favor, and patience a burden. Selfishness has become a mass cult. Trump himself was featured on a creepy 'reality' TV series where people were forced to grub and grovel and take to become winners. Mine. More. Now. Our entire society is now organized around concupiscence. What we used to consider a passing phase in the process of character formation - the self-centered preoccupations of a ten-year-old suburbanite school kid - have become our telos. We are a society of early adolescents.

Trump channeled that. Mine. More. Now. And all that diffuse resentment of adolescent white boys for whom things didn't turn out the way they wanted. In their America - because America was etched onto their psyches in a particular way - they would be like their white male TV and film heroes. They would have all the right stuff, do all the manly things, enjoy deference and respect from women and kids, live with an adoring and obedient woman, and people around them will share in the fantasy. Each man imagines his own version of the fantasy. Broken fantasies are dangerous things.

Make America Great Again! Restore my fantasy, a part of which was our national masculinity.

Mine. More. Now.

"Men are successful." Trump has succeeded in getting mine, more, and now.

Masculinity that has developed increasingly apart from the older moral frameworks (nostalgically represented in the French article) has de-homogenized the older masculinities, wherein, for example, the association between the heroic act of the soldier during a just war, motivated by the virtuous love of country and one's comrades, and his actual courage - the willingness to risk life and limb, has been broken. As the moral matrices, imaginary as they may have been, were degraded, courage comes to be simply the willingness to take escalating risks. Extreme sports. The cage fight. Masculinity finds its own way through the wreckage, wherein being brash in pursuit of a worthy thing becomes being merely brash, a kind of masculine threat display.

When Vietnam queered the pitch on just war, and the American defeat in Vietnam undermined the national masculinity, there was a spate of compensatory films from Hollywood. From Borderline, page 115:
Male supremacy, in history, is challenged by the destabilization of various masculinities, but this challenge is never met with abandonment, only reframing. The response to any destabilization of one masculine archetype is to reseat male power in a new archetype, in much the same way the church over the centuries has recast its rationale for the exclusion of women.
It is no accident that films like Dirty Harry (1971) and Death Wish (1974) came on the scene—nihilistic splatter-flicks featuring a lone male avenger and set inside the United States—just as the U.S. was seeing the inevitability of its defeat in Vietnam.

It is no accident that Man on Fire corresponded in its moral rationalization, the “tempo task,” to the governmental rationalization for the employment of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” that is, torture, when the myth of American military invincibility was being dismantled again in Southwest Asia. The destabilization of masculinity is followed by a reactionary reassertion of it.
Likewise, our masculine deferences to 'the ladies,' our politesse, was a reward for women's obedient service and acceptance of male prerogative. When women 'act out,' however, they have to be put firmly back into their places - which, in the age of sexualized gender, means relentlessly reducing them to sex objects and judging them accordingly. Trump's repeated objectifications of women and his attacks on women based on their appearance were met with applause by men suffering under the terrible burden of entitlement slippage.

The French article quoted near the beginning of all this is grounded in a highly syncretic amalgam of masculinities, influenced by the genteel masculinity of the nineteenth century, the probative masculinity of Theodore Roosevelt and his posse of eugenics-promoting white boy adventurists, several comic book heroes, class warfare masculinities from the thirties, WWII masculinity, post-war and finally suburban masculinities. It hasn't grasped the ways in which hegemonic (exemplary) masculinity has detached from its moral frameworks - however you might judge those frameworks deficient - and has circled the wagons (there is a Western film convention in the myth of our national masculinity) around recovery of male prerogative, rolling back the assault on white male entitlement, finding enemies against which to measure oneself, and rescuing the fantasy. The televised fantasy, the snapshot fantasy that props up all our bloviations, the performance called Ultimate Macho Fuck You.

It's not partly about posturing. It is all about posturing. In the age of mass media, that is what we do. As MacIntyre said, we have lost the capacity to differentiate between manipulative and non-manipulative communication; and that means that even our leadership is vetted in a process that favors public relations, that euphemism for mass manipulation. If getting in front of cameras and saying something poetically is effective in one period, then showing your ass in front of millions will be effective in another period. Donald Trump appeared at a time and place where the realignment of masculinity has placed a premium on showing your ass.

Trump: First, do not be like a woman. Second, be successful. Third, be aggressive. Don’t be a pussy. Fourth, be sexual. Objectify women as a demonstration of your virility. Finally, be self-reliant. Real men don’t need other people. Learn the art of 'fuck you.'

The cult of white male victimization is growing on one end and diminishing on the other. It's worse among we older fellas, and less an issue among many younger folks I know. In less than one generation, the simple statistical certainties of death and life will result in fewer and fewer of older white folks like me who were raised on movie Westerns, Disney, and the Cold War. Maybe not so great when the most cheerful statistic you can rely on is a death rate.

We listened to and watched untold hours of know-nothing bullshit. We were blind to our own privilege. We came to embrace fantasies and avoid some realities that needed tending. Everything didn't work out the way it did on TV though, and being the spoiled brats we mostly were, that pissed us off. But we also ended up joining the military. Some of us were drafted. Lots of us are veterans. The wars that have been cranked out over the last two decades are definitely adding to that number. We go to war, hopefully survive, then come home. For Americans, it's like a safari.

No place in history has done that except us. We took millions and millions of young boys in front of countless hours of film that hammers home the same messages again and again. Be a man. Here is an ideal man. Everyone loves and obeys the ideal man. The ideal man fights. The ideal man therefore must have enemies in order to prevail. The ideal man redeems the world by violence - and in 999 times out of a thousand, that redeeming violence is accomplished with a gun. If any cult kidnapped your toddler, they would have a hard time developing a more effective means of permanent indoctrination. Television was one artifact of the era, but is was more and more in a suburban home; semi-isolated, segregated from commercial space, a commute away from a job in the city, and - for a very long time - exclusively white. It was very easy to live in the suburbs and say, I have nothing against black folk, and call that Exhibit 1 for your non-racism. But this great social experiment continued. These same boys who had been raised on movies about the Good Guy with a Gun, a bunch of them, got a few chances to go on war safari - Korea, Vietnam, etc.

I wish we thought more about degradation. It's all around us, and we hardly have the words to describe it. I say that because the experience of war, for many, while embarked upon almost like a safari, ends up morally degrading the soldier who gets in the habit of doing morally degrading things. But the entire culture is undergoing a process of degradation, not least because the entire damn society is on a permanent war footing. And that has created a concomitant construction of masculinity - warlike, embittered, nasty, self-centered, and deeply misogynistic. When I came back from Vietnam, the taboo on killing was lost. But before I ever went, I had five steady years of Ayn Rand's creepy pseudo-philosophy pumping me up with ideas like 'selfishness is a virtue,' and 'the masses are parasites,' and other deeply morally degraded notions that should have been shed with my infantile narcissism. Instead, my own culture - before the Army got its claws in - was already teaching me how to grow up and become Donald Trump. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Which came first, war degrading society, or a society so degraded it is inevitably at war?

War, by the way, is men's work. Even when a few women are allowed to play.

There is perhaps nothing more disconcerting about the prospect of a Trump presidency than the idea that Donald - maturity level 10 - will have a Caligula moment around the military. Not the hallucination that he has become a god, but the hallucination that he has become a military mastermind. I can think of nothing more terrifying, in substantial part because Mine-More-Now has the keys to the world's largest nuclear arsenal. Two days before Christmas, Trump tweeted (tweeted!!!) that he intended to expand the US nuclear arsenal. This shit is not funny.

Masculinity is one of those things that consistently leads us into ever-worsening situations.

Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo wrote a very good article, called "The New Politics of Masculinity and Migration," that explains Trump's appeal to white male victimhood and the morally degraded climate that allows this narrative to flourish. There is a recursive feedback loop between war and masculinity.

Whole families buy into the white-male-victimhood shtick. There are women who believe this and support the men who believe it. Nobody said oppressed classes of people never participate in their own oppression; and nobody ever knows the circumstances and struggles involved in women finding their way through a male world. But I digress.
Donald Trump has been happy to manipulate white male enraged protectionism by stoking not only aggrieved entitlement, but also aggrieved victimhood. Thus, the list of nefarious “others” out to threaten white masculinity is seemingly endless: Mexicans are taking our jobs, Muslims are threatening our lives, feminists are destroying our manhood, the Chinese are taking our sovereignty, liberals are taking our freedoms, the list goes on. In a world where everything is out to get you, where nothing you have is safe, where women seemingly want to be men and men want to be women, where nothing seems to make any goddamn sense anymore, Donald Trump is there to tell that it’s not your fault; that everyone else is to blame. He’s not “politically correct” because he’s not afraid to grab him some pussy just because he can, to hell with what other people think.
This is from Jarrett R at TDH. "Trumpism and a Certain Kind of Masculinity."

Aggrieved loss of entitlement, a form of mass hypochondria. Suffering from imaginary wounds.


How big a factor was masculinity in the election?

Men’s interest in patriarchy is condensed in hegemonic masculinity and is defended by all the cultural machinery that exalts hegemonic masculinity. It is institutionalized in the state; enforced by violence, intimidation and ridicule in the lives of straight men . . . and enforced by violence against women and gay men. 

—R. W. Connell
R. W. Connell has a good working account of the relationship between masculinity and fascism. Here are some excerpts again from Borderline:
“The defense of injustice in gender relations constantly appeals to difference,” says R. W. Connell, “to a masculine/feminine opposition defining one place for female bodies and another place for male. But this is never ‘difference’ in a purely logical sense.”
Difference is felt in the body. We have all been trained in what we find erotically arousing, for example, and that training is embedded in a culture where gender does not merely constitute difference. That difference is used to justify hierarchy, domination, and conquest. Eros is culturally trained. Masculinity as institution and ideology posits a subject-object duality between Man and the other (be that other woman, lesser man, colony, or nature), and defines masculine practice as conquest, often even of one’s own body.

... ... ...

White-nationalist masculinity is profoundly threatened by a perceived inability to control the “sexuality” of white women, creating what Connell calls “sexual vertigo.” This recombinant mixture of sexual and racial construction that obliges white men to both “control” and “protect white womanhood” is ignited as violence against both women and black men. The bogeyman of the potent black satyr raping the white woman has accompanied virtually every call in the United States for anti-black pogroms.

It is hardly coincidental that assertions of black social agency have been met with expanded outbreaks of racial terror, or that rape was projected onto black men by white men; and it is likewise not a coincidence that police rapes increased in Bombay when women began organizing politically. Connell says that “violence is part of a system of domination, but is at the same time a measure of its imperfection. A thoroughly legitimate hierarchy would have less need to intimidate. The scale of contemporary violence points to crisis tendencies in the modern gender order.”
Connell wrote, "In gender terms, fascism was a naked reassertion of male supremacy in societies that had been moving towards equality for women. To accomplish this, fascism promoted new images of hegemonic masculinity, glorifying irrationality (the 'triumph of the will,' thinking with 'the blood') and the unrestrained violence of the frontline soldier."

Do you begin then to see Trump? That reassertion of authority! Make (white mythic) America great again!

How big a factor was aggrieved masculinity in the election?

The Republicans were juggling their own coalition, big business (which played both sides of the street), white evangelical culture warriors, and middle-class tax libertarians. The demagogic sub-text for the Republicans ever since Nixon's 'southern strategy' had been the profound negrophobia of many, many whiter voters (the more generalized xenophobia was being fanned in the outer reaches of the party by tinpot commentators like Lou Dobbs, and Islamophobia didn't take hold hard until after 9-11).

But the dog-whistle racism, that was employed instrumentally by Republican operatives for so many years to hold the coalition together, slipped its leash. So-called blue-collar voters did not elect Trump. The middle class did. Reference nowadays to 'blue-collar' America are largely fictional, if by blue-collar we mean the working class prior to the deindustrialization of the Rust Belt and 'free-trade' offshoring.

The lower-wage service sector has replaced that, while the inflows of imperial tribute from neoliberalism's periphery along with a series of fictional-value bubbles has supported the continued, if stuttering, growth of a so-called 'middle class.'

Fifty-three percent of Americans, mostly white, now live in the suburbs - the high end barracks for freeway commuters and result of white flight from the cities. As Matthew Lassiter pointed out in his groundbreaking but little studied book, The Silent Majority, these suburban denizens were not ideological in the old sense of a left-right continuum.

They carried multiple political identities based on self-interest: consumer, taxpayer, school parent, mortgaged homeowner. This new majority class has become the strange attractor of all American politics, because in sheer numbers it can be a political juggernaut. This is the reason both parties divested of the term 'working class,' in favor of the term (and demographic) 'middle class.' They are all going to 'restore the American middle class.'

Middle classes are in a peculiar position in the social pecking order. They are specialists who cannot see the forest for their particular trees. They gain a benefit from a system that is mystified for them by a media in the pay of a quiet and cunning ruling class, but they recognize at some gut level that they live under the threat of being converted into car washers and burger flippers, a fate almost worse than death. They have something to lose, and when that seems threatened - as it has been since 2007 - given that they don't recognize the role of that cunning and carefully concealed ruling class, they become vulnerable to any demagogue who can provide them with a target for their insecurities.

The rawest majority of Trump voters was from suburbia - insulated, clueless, alienated, self-absorbed, and white. No leader, teacher, philosopher, or theologian can grasp America - not the myth, but with the myth - without an appreciation of the phenomenon, the American car suburb. It is this class of people, classed by work to some extent, but equally by the built environment and the politics that created it. Everyone needs to know the history of Levittown, the first American suburb, a prototype that was developed as a kind of top-down intentional community. See how it has spread like cancer and functioned on behalf of the re-segregation of America.

Do you know what most of those white men in the suburbs are doing when they are alone in their suburban smart-houses? They are on the computer, like I am right now. Do you know what most of them are doing in front of their computers? From outer space, they seem to be sitting there in one spot for hours and hours, like they are hibernating. But up close we see that they are busy with their hands. They are playing war games in the refractory periods between jacking off to online pornography. Like monkeys driven mad by their cages. That's why so many of them are also medicated.

A paranoid masculinity thrives in middle classes; that lethal combination of having enough to have something to lose and the gnawing sense that my independence is a posture concealing my utter dependence upon something I cannot even comprehend. This will make you see witches.

And so we are driven deeper and deeper into fantasy, fantasies to protect fantasies to protect fantasies. I am a victim, afraid, in a game-land of spooks, and I need my totem. A gun. And basic cable. Preppers, next episode. You know what I can do, the white suburban man, to push back on this unfocused despair? I can build a safe room in my house, stockpile weapons and dehydrated food, and pretend that my current alienated existence is the preparatory phase for an upcoming adventure, starring me as Man with Gun. Why am I voting for Trump? Because, goddamnit, he is co-signing my fantasy. He is coming inside it with me, he and I, in our blanket fort.

Fascism is a middle class phenomenon. Memorize that. Fascism is a masculine phenomenon. Memorize that. You have a pretty good grasp now of fascism. A destabilized or anxious middle class confronts economic hardship and a seeming inability of the system to self-correct. Withdraws into comforting fantasies, bolstered by a demagogue, and orients itself toward a reassertion of white male authority. 


Based on what we can discern about these questions, how does this look four years from now? 


Reiterating: "The cult of white male victimization is growing on one end and diminishing on the other. In less than one generation, the simple statistical certainties of death and life will result in fewer and fewer of older white folks like me who were raised on movie Westerns, Disney, and the Cold War. Maybe not so great when the most cheerful statistic you can rely on is a death rate."

Woe is us.

Psalm 22, Jesus praying it on the cross: Eloi, Eloi! Lama sabachthani!

If only the next four years was something we could generalize about and reflect upon. But instead, we are facing a period of unprecedented vandalism in public policy, increasing human misery, and rapacious wealth-taking with its attendant ecological catastrophes. Every day we will be filling sandbags against the rising flood. One rearguard action after another against overwhelming odds. 

I hope that during the difficult period ahead that people with shift their attention and resources away from moribund institutions and directly into social movements. I hope young people will be assisted, educated, and strengthened in discernment, charity, and commitment; because they are the emerging center of mass for resistance over the next four years.

I hope people will continue efforts toward relocalization, apart from its policy complications. The restructuring of the built environment is inevitable, but there are good changes and bad ones. Redesigning the built environment the right way is a duty to us all and a calling for many. It will be difficult at first, then less so, but the direction these things take depend on who will have standing ten years from now to show people the right way. This is how we make facts on the ground that will eventually change the ground around them.

I hope the next four years will continue to take up the issue of water. The NoDAPL folks exposed environmental racism in a water fight. These struggles have concrete targets, and everyone gets it about water. No water, no life. Water gives us a lens on everything. Water embarrasses all the arguments for the sanctity of property and the idea that all things should be property. Show people the documentary, Flow.

I hope we will see more radical and locally-grounded people running as insurgent Democrats in the next Congressional primaries. It is time to stretch the definition of Democrat. The goal over the next four years must be a coup within the Democratic Party. The degree to which such an effort succeeds or fails should teach us enough to decide if a new strategic orientation is necessary. Start identifying those insurgent candidates now, because they will have to be on a roll before the next primaries.

I hope a lot more people will begin to see more clearly the way gender, class, and race dance together in our ideas about Nation. I hope Christians will step up on all these accounts.

I hope we can get one idea across the whole culture, the way Occupy introduced the 99 percent as a way of seeing economic stratification, that idea would be American exceptionalism. When we can begin to recognize this in our conversations about the world, when we can spot the hypocrisy of, "We can do things others may not," then we will have accomplished a quantum leap in public discourse.

Likewise, I dream of a time when we automatically look at every fragment of politics through the lens of gendered power, gendered ideology, and gendered performance. That means making more people more conversant with the idea of masculinity/femininity as culturally constructed and imposed on sexed bodies.

Meanwhile, our culture is going to have a period of banal and ugly evil. Our fragile ecosystems will be ripped up. Our air and water will be poisoned. We will become involved in yet more warfare. And every shock - whether internal or external to the system - will result in a ratcheting up of executive prerogative. We will have to confront authoritarianism again and again. My hope is that through these confrontations, especially with police and military, that our own commitments to nonviolence will yield a special fruit: cops and soldiers who are won over, who become refusniks, who become witnesses. If you want to unravel nascent fascism, this is the seam to start with.

The prayer is like a Dickens novel. It ends happily, but all the chapters leading up to that end are sad.

(Eloi! Eloi! Lama sabachthani!)
My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning.
O my God, I cry by day, but You do not answer;
And by night, but I have no rest.
Yet You are holy,
O You who are enthroned upon the praises of Israel.
In You our fathers trusted;
They trusted and You delivered them.
To You they cried out and were delivered;
In You they trusted and were not disappointed.
But I am a worm and not a man,
A reproach of men and despised by the people.
All who see me sneer at me;
They separate with the lip, they wag the head, saying,
“Commit yourself to the Lord; let Him deliver him;
Let Him rescue him, because He delights in him.”
Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb;
You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts.
Upon You I was cast from birth;
You have been my God from my mother’s womb.
Be not far from me, for trouble is near;
For there is none to help.
Many bulls have surrounded me;
Strong bulls of Bashan have encircled me.
They open wide their mouth at me,
As a ravening and a roaring lion.
I am poured out like water,
And all my bones are out of joint;
My heart is like wax;
It is melted within me.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
And my tongue cleaves to my jaws;
And You lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs have surrounded me;
A band of evildoers has encompassed me;
They pierced my hands and my feet.
I can count all my bones.
They look, they stare at me;
They divide my garments among them,
And for my clothing they cast lots.
But You, O Lord, be not far off;
O You my help, hasten to my assistance.
Deliver my soul from the sword,
My only life from the power of the dog.
Save me from the lion’s mouth;
From the horns of the wild oxen You answer me.
I will tell of Your name to my brethren;
In the midst of the assembly I will praise You.
You who fear the Lord, praise Him;
All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him,
And stand in awe of Him, all you descendants of Israel.
For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted;
Nor has He hidden His face from him;
But when he cried to Him for help, He heard.
From You comes my praise in the great assembly;
I shall pay my vows before those who fear Him.
The afflicted will eat and be satisfied;
Those who seek Him will praise the Lord.
Let your heart live forever!
All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord,
And all the families of the nations will worship before You.
For the kingdom is the Lord’s
And He rules over the nations.
All the prosperous of the earth will eat and worship,
All those who go down to the dust will bow before Him,
Even he who cannot keep his soul alive.
Posterity will serve Him;
It will be told of the Lord to the coming generation.
They will come and will declare His righteousness
To a people who will be born, that He has performed it.

3 comments:

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  2. This is just superb. Will have to reread it a few times, let your insights and formulations sink in, copy out quotes in chapbook.
    You know Trump went to the military academy/high school a few miles north of West Point? I drove past it frequently while I rented in Cornwall-on-Hudson.

    Separate thought: John M. Greer is talking about Progressives over on his blog, which reminded me of your essay (maybe eight yrs ago?) on why you are not a progressive. Have tried to find it again online but no luck. I had recommended it several yrs ago (shortly after Feral Scholar was no longer visible) to another ex-mil friend. She found a copy of it somewhere at the time. I can't now, but I still remember a roughly five page essay I wanted to remember. And, if you were to be amenable, would love to suggest that revelation of an essay to Greer's audience via the comment section. There are correspondents there who truly value challenging thinking.
    Anyhow, thank you for this.

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