hunter gatherer

Embarrassed

When I was a practicing psychotherapist I saw a number of men of all ages who suffered from a common wound: embarrassment of being a man. Perhaps put another way they experienced the shame of finding themselves raised as male in this current world. As the Latin American poet Pablo Neruda said: 

It so happens that I am sick of my feet and my nails/ and my hair and my shadow./ It so happens I am sick of being man.

From my privileged position of confidant I heard other men's stories and discovered the profound pain that many endured. Men told me of abuse or neglect from father's, whom they considered to be larger than life examples of stereotypical manhood.  The loss of elders and the rather ubiquitous transience of shifting male role models, the loss of passion and purpose, and the sense of utter disconnection to male community were common themes. They would say, "I get along better with women than men," typifying their experience of feeling profound ambivalence concerning their basic ability to even interact with their own gender. And honestly it made sense. Hearing them, I understood their sadness. I still do.

In many ways I relate. My grandfather was my hero--standing 6'6", a WW2 hero decorated with the purple heart for saving another man's life while wounded, he was a cattle rancher and a horse trainer. The man noodled catfish and bronco busted!  But, I rarely saw him. Not unlike my father, who also occupied an absentee role. Not that I didn't idolize him--I did. He was a powerful orator and preacher, as well as a brilliant teacher. I loved hearing him cast spells with words...but when I came home from church he would slide into a kind of moroseness, withdrawn and isolated. No, instead of being raised by my heroes, who's attention I craved, I was left to the devices of my mother and sister mainly. They loved on me and pampered me, protecting me from bullies or doing the dishes. I was their companion and little helper. The world I grew up in was more haram than throne room. And for many years I felt I was better for it.  Actually I began to identify myself as a brand of "feminist-man" capable of getting women for who they were and being their shoulder to cry on. In many ways when I saw men--particularly from older generations--I just felt bad for them. They struck me as brutes and savages; dinosaurs whose time had passed. Looking back on it, I suspect my judgement of other "manly men" was a sort of judgement on parts of myself I wished to sublimate or do away with all together.

The Loss of Ground

When talking to men, it seems as though our embarrassment is caused by several different sources. There is the loss of "archetypal ground" so to speak, the disconnection from the body, the detachment from tribe and community for men, and grief over the father wound. As I've mentioned earlier, this last one, is felt keenly. Boys feel such an instinctual need to be touched by their father, to be heard and hold his gaze, that when this doesn't happen the sense of grief builds unbearably. One male in his early adulthood told me of a hunting trip he and his dad took. This was set up as a rare and exciting opportunity to join into his dad's world. He remembered his sister and mother waving goodbye as they drove away in their little pickup. For the first two hours silence reigned. He didn't know what to say to the man, and apparently the older male was equally clueless. Suddenly his dad brought the car to a screeching halt and pronounced, "this just isn't working!!!" and turned around towards home. My friend recalls feeling as though he had done something wrong. As they drove he began to whimper quietly, tears eventually cascading on his cheeks. He replayed their silence, attempting to imagine a way out of it. But, he remembers, the words were stuck in his throat. He mumbled an apology, but didn't know what he was saying he was sorry for. The remourse was ignored. And they stoically arrived back at their house. Over the years he wrestled with this question and the consequence of self-blame. He routinely asked "what is wrong with me? why did my father not speak to me? why could he not bear my presence?"  This grief, he stated, was the dominant issue of his life. 

Interestingly my shadow side influenced this distain for the Masculine. The parts of me that were distant, detached, pretentious, seductive or sexual, aggressive, or overly assertive were--I thought--mannish. I preferred the elements of my persona that I assumed were more feminine: connected, emotive, caring, relational, not-interested in sex. It's funny how associated stereo-types go into those notions. However, in truth, these are generalizations that multitudes of people make. And they're not altogether wrong. Usually we make stereo-types out of truths that replay themselves consistently. We feel that they can be counted on. In my own childhood--as in the lives of many other men, and current culture at large--to be a man by those stereo-types was negatively reinforced and to be a woman or feminine, according to those same generalizations, was positively reinforced. It was frankly embarrassing that I had these shadows of masculinity.

SOCIETY ISN'T BUYING IT

It's no wonder that I, and many others of my generation and younger found ourselves rejecting our sense of the masculine. Even if we did not find corresponding demons in ourselves, the cultural assault on men has been overwhelming. In a randomized study of over a thousand television commercials it was found that 100% of the portrayals of men were negative. Husbands were pictured as unable to do the laundry or adequately clean the house, men were shown as barbarians or criminal, males who were friends of each other were noted as stupid or inept. On down the line there were ZERO positive references. What was once a rich tapestry of male depictions has been reduced to gross simplifications of what it means to be a man. As Guy Garcia put it in his book The Decline of Men, " If men were a brand, their value would be dropping because society is not buying what they're selling."He goes on to suggest that this rapid de-centering of manhood was even advisable: "What better way to welcome to resplendent return of the goddess than the symbolic immolation of the male?" And there is no doubt that this kind of self-combustion is occurring.

The images we're seeing of men, daily--hourly--by the minute--are of overly hostile, vilified, or inept caricatures. Names like TRUMP, WEINER, WEINSTEIN, BUSH and DICK are easy to remember and stick to the gender as a whole. They create a kind of market-image that is transposed onto every other card carrying member who don't openly distance themselves from Testosterone. However, even more disturbing are the beta-bro's who simply drop out of the man-game. As sociologists have been telling us for years boys are overwhelmingly choosing video games, frat parties, and hook ups. Instead of opting for the traditional routes towards responsibility, occupation, and family, men are staying juvenile longer--well into their thirties. It's an interesting reversal culturally in which young women are encouraged to take on the world headfirst, and ARE DOING SO, while the boys-to-men are choosing porn, parties, and video-games.  It's little wonder why, in response to this phenomenon, ex-first lady Michelle Obama criticized this in saying that while we raise girls to be tough and strong we've overprotected boys and created an entitlement culture. 

As Ms. Obama notes though, the same cannot be said for women. If anything women have fought an up-hill battle across the last century and have won every square inch they now occupy--which is far more considerable than mass media might let on. In the infamous piece for The Atlantic Hanna Rosin wrote that for earned Bachelor's degrees are 2/3 in favor of women. And in all but 2 of the 15 projected "future industries of growth" they were dominated by females. It's a strange phenomenon compared with both the record of history, and the rhetoric as it exists today. In Kay Hymowitz's piece Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys she observes that “young women are reaching their twenties with more achievements, more education, more property, and, arguably, more ambition than their male counterparts.” Her conclusion ultimately comes in the form of question "where do boys fit into a girl powered world?"  And of course this conclusion isn't to say that there's been a total reversal here. Women still earn, on average, less than men in many professions. Women still experience the results of systemic oppression, and continue to be outraged at the injustices of power abuse and wrongful societal rules. But for a son of liberal parents, or even growing up savvy to the dictates of culture today, its hard not to feel the shift and be effected by it. 

When these two extremes, what David Deida called "The macho jerk or the new age wimp," are what you're given, when your own internal shadows are what you project outward, when you're reinforced for distancing from what you perceive as the dinosaur of The Male, why wouldn't you be embarrassed to be a man?

WHAT'S THE BENEFIT

At some point I began to realize that the shadow parts of me--the so-called undesirable elements--are also worthy of love and respect too. In fact the Divine Feminine, the goddess, is only worthy when balanced by a Sacred Masculine. If the feminine qualities can rightly be historically perceived as empathetic, relational, and emotive then the masculine virtues of aggression, assertiveness, and action can also have appropriate function. While society routinely finds itself threatened by these qualities, its important to remember that when overlayed with the virtues of Strength, Courage, Honor and Mastery, as well as tempered with Wisdom, these qualities have saved countless lives, enriching and enabling generations of individuals.

The masculine has always been associated with competition and aggression. it seem as though the male tendency to fight is universal. We witness it in the horse world where one stallion fights over reproductive rights, in the wild where stags skirmish for food. Anthropologist's note that it would be unlikely for humans, as a branch of the great ape family tree, to have ever been peacable. Our ancestral condition as males would have been to fight to protect the tribe, to hunt over a wide area, to acquisition safe nesting zones, to defend things of value and to overcome obstacle. Of course aggression was hardly a male monopoly--females also demonstrate the same capacity. However what distinguishes male aggression is that even in ritualized versions of it, there is a passionate enjoyment which seems to possess men. Even with young children, boys demonstrate an instinctual thrill around rough housing and violent play. 

All of this points to the reality that while there is little place today for such intensity, male aggression has served an evolutionary and primordial purpose, so much so that it is ingrained from birth--even provoking feelings of fun. This feature was rewarded not only with delight, but also with a slough of adaptive functions in relationship to other arenas of life, such as increased resiliency. As Sebastian Junger points out in his ground breaking book Tribe,  cultures where there is less aggression also have higher rates of PTSD and depression.  Is it possible that a society that decreases its aggressive tendencies might also experience heightened mental health distress? And if this is so, does it point to the idea that by de-emphasizing the masculine contribution, we do so at our own peril?

It seems apparent that in relationship to not only aggression, but the other dormant male virtues, we suffer when disconnected from them. Masculinity, in its essence has something to offer us, that is more necessary than ever. What I needed to do, I realized, was not deny these parts of myself, or shield myself and others from them, but refine them give them real life.  

HOW TO RECONNECT

Some times I sit at the Fire nights with my tribe of men, or get the opportunity to meet with others lone-wolfing it. I end up hearing this sadness in them. And they're nuanced enough to know throwing out the whole enchilada isn't the right answer. Most of us are trying to figure out how to show up more in our daily lives as father's, husbands, business owners and friends. We want to integrate not only the aspects of the modern man—emotionally sensitive, empathetic and connected, but also our more primal and ancestral truths. Again, Sebastian Junger points out: “

human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others. These values are considered "intrinsic" to human happiness and far outweigh "extrinsic" values such as beauty, money and status.

And this strikes me as true. We need to feel a mastery over self and environment, need to feel as though we genuinely matter and don’t have to hide our truest sense of self, and need Tribe. Mastery. Authenticity. Tribe. In other words, if men are going to start to feel content in themselves they need to find places where they can experience both their core instincts and push against their edges. Men desperately need to shed themselves of the shame that comes from being a “man” in this culture, and begin to practice a new degree of intentional openness, both accepting and challenging themselves.  

If we intend to grow in our capacity for aggression, and therefore resilience, we must allow ourselves the opportunity to experience this coursing through our veins again. In part this is why the book Fight Club was so popular. Its author Chuck Palahniuk said, "There are so few books that offered a valid path for manhood--I wanted to do it."  Being physical, competitive, and intense is such a new reality for men who have come of age today, that the most we know of it is the middle school conflict we engaged with early on, or the movies we have seen. Both demonstrate little in terms of motivating us to either want to, or know how to, engage with each other on a playing field of physical competition. But try wrestling another man. Even in a friendly way. Or pull out the boxing gloves. Be friends. Be friendly. But also, let your muscles wrench against his. Why? Because to touch and be touched are a part of manhood, as well as this--it opens you up to a new way of being you have been shut off from. Or rather--it reconnects you with the wound that has been scarred over. The loss of contact with Father, and the detachment from boys in earlier years, creates shame. When you grind into a fellow male, competing for mastery in that moment, you allow yourself to encounter that place once more. At first it smarts a little--but soon begins to heal over. 

The same can be said for activeness or assertiveness. I used to teach workshops to women who had experienced domestic abuse. We spent days, even weeks, on the topic of assertiveness. It has been so conditioned out of them, that they were terrified to state what they wanted, or take action. I usually posed the question--which is more important to you, situationally: to build the relationship, or to have self-respect? For many, keeping the relationship was more important. They were  willing to sacrifice their own sense of self in order to maintain the connection. But the same can be said of men who are  relationship starved. Because empathy, relationality, and sensitivity have been so emphasized to many men in this current epoch, they find themselves not knowing how to, appropriately, state what they want. It takes practice. Recently, a close friend and collaborator here at Evolving Wild, told me that he wasn't going to fulfill a project I had asked him to do. It was lower on his priority list. Interestingly, my response was that I found myself THRILLED. He showed self-respect in that moment. I knew that was hard for him. He was drawing a line in the sand, and being his own man. I understood he was practicing reclaiming his own sense of assertiveness. 

In order to effectively heal the embarrassment around being a man, we must learn to be apart of a pack, a gang, a Tribe. It is the most natural form of healing that could possibly occur. You don't need to sit around and "explore your woundedness" to do so. Even for men to get together as men is a kind of summoning up of the deepest wounds we each experience. It brings to light our vulnerability and our hiddenness.

The greatest instruction that I could give a man on this journey is simply this: Risk. Attempt. Try on. Allow yourself the opportunity to be seen, or to get it wrong. Look like a jack ass. Deconstruct. Build. Be with other men on the same journey. 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fucking You Get...

A friend and Catholic priest said it like this:

"The fucking you get isn't worth the fucking you get." 

God. What a predicament. 

We are almost always making these invisible tradeoffs, aren't we? 

The Hebrew Scripture opens up, straight out of the gate, with this proposition. It pictures the first humans as being presented with a temptation in which something specifically forbidden looks "pleasing to the eyes and desirable for food."  Turns out, it looked good--but it lands them in a world of suffering. I relate. 

Or another story from the wisdom teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. He tells about a little mustard seed that gets planted, and is nourished until it becomes a huge tree. It grows so large that the birds come in make a nest in it. While that story may not exactly be obvious, a couple of details crack it open: mustard seeds make small shrubs NOT trees, and in the same grouping of stories Jesus had been telling, the birds are always seen as looming specters of evil.  This story is about something growing out of control and it has an effect--a harmful one. Again, I get it. 

Consequences are rarely something humans consider when it comes to making choices. The reality is we are so embedded in short term propositions that its difficult to consider the long term outcomes. 

Recently I was listening to one of the emerging men's-movement-guru's. His bro doctrine was in full swing: "Don't you want to build a bigger business, be a better husband--a greater version of YOU??"

I felt my heart swell along with every other red-blooded blue balled listener. Fuck, YES!! Give me the meat!!  Let's DO THIS!

Then it clicked for me. This isn't really NEW, per say. It's in many ways part of the same dominant cultural mythology that is marbled through the rest of modern society. It rests on a profound assumption--Dr Seuss called it: "BIGGERING" But I'll call it "progress."  And believe me, its as tempting as the god-damned-original-forbidden-fruit. 

Myths and Meaning

A myth isn't an untruth. In fact its a powerful narrative that helps frame and guide people's understanding of their lives. In ancient or classical times those myths often involved personal explanations of the universe. If someone jumped up and then came back down they might say that it was some invisible SOMEONE pulling them back towards the earth. Today our dominant motif, and the way we view the world is through an impersonal lens and our myths tend to be centered around "science."  We would then attribute the forces pulling us downward as GRAVITY. Whatever the actual facts of the causation the way that we connect the dots of our experience lies squarely in the realm of "story" or "myth."  We are always telling these sorts of stories in order to make sense of our world. 

Humans are constantly making meaning by constructing myth and stories. We are constrained to it.

Victor Frankle who wrote “Man’s Search for Meaning” commented to humans without meaning lived depressing and empty lives. Yet even such “meaninglessness” exists within a meaning vacuum. There is quite simply no such thing as meaninglessness outside of the story we assign to it.

Life is phenomenon until we tell stories about it—until we connect the dots.

Nietzche proclaimed the “death of God’ or the end of the Big-Story. There would be no more metaphysics. Indeed, Camus’ drives the point home with his “Myth of Sysaphus” in which he shows a man, punished by the gods, constrained to pushing a stone up a mountain, only to reach the top and start over once more. This, Camus suggested, was the rather “absurd” reality we live within.  It’s all stories…and there is no meaning…

But the knife by which Nietzche killed God is the one by which he slit his own wrist. The exestentialists, and with them the post-moderns such as Derrida and then Focault, spend great amounts of words in order to tell of us of silence—they tell masterful stories to illustrate the end of stories. Which of course is absurd, to borrow Camus’ word.

A truly ridiculous story goes like this: there was a farmer during the days when surveyors were mapping the border between Finland and Russia who happened to live right along the line. Agents from both countries approached him and asked which nation his farm should be associated with. After thinking about it for some time he responded “Finland.”  When the surveyors asked why that was, he responded: “Well I love Mother Russia, and frankly have always wanted to live there...but the winters are so cold!!” 

Words are powerful. Words are meaningless.

Stories—our present condition is such in which the stories we tell, and the stories that are told to us have great meaning, yet are also malleable.

Which stories will we choose to live by?

THE DCM 

If every culture is defined by the ways we interpret reality, the best and most effective structures kind of work like a good bra: invisible and firm. If the myth is obvious or overt it’s usually discountable. But dominant cultural myths (THE DCM) are those that are hidden, woven into the fabric of our assumptions.  

Fascinatingly there are commonalities among agriculturally based state run civilizations—across culture.  It doesn't really matter if it was the Sumerians in 3700 BCE, the Romans in 300 CE, or the United States today; civilization runs on the same dominant cultural myth.

Before we get to it, here's the truth: It's a ponzi scheme. 

For those of you wondering what that is, allow me to define the phrase. A ponzi scheme is when an organization or individual draws investors based on fraudulent information, and instead of paying them the dividends based on actual returns, simply gets NEW investors, paying off the old investors with the new money. Wow...sounds complicated.

How it works is this. Mr. Wonderful gets you to invest 10,000 dollars, with the promise that you'll make $5,000 dividends for investing with him. He then spends your money. He's broke now. And you've got ZERO coming to you. So what's he do? Mr. Wonderful then goes out and convinces several more investors to give him $10k each, which they do because...well...he makes great promises. He then takes THAT money and pays YOU your $5k.  In other words you haven't really made any money. You've actually lost money. But the illusion keeps you satisfied. For a while.The really disturbing thing about Ponzi schemes is that investors are usually thrilled with the results. Until they want to cash out. Then what happens? Well, because there's no money--they're shit out of luck. Sorry folks. Nothing to see here. Move on. Sadly, people have drained their entire life savings, mortgaged their houses, spent their kid's college money hoping for the "get-rich-quick" promises to come true. And in the end, they don't. Lives get ruined.

The Ponzi is based on the notion of constantly increasing size and dimension. There must always be NEW investors, because it's literally covering the costs of the old. There's no REAL growth--only getting larger.

That's why the civilizational structure resembles this scheme. It is based on empty promises from its earliest inception. We know that contrary to what Hobbes said, human life prior to civilization WASN'T short, nasty, and brutish. Instead hunter/gatherer culture is often portrayed by anthropologists as the original affluent society. With as little as 3-4 hours a day of working for subsistence and the rest going to play and inter-tribe socializing. Further more--we also know from the earliest archeological records that the first citizens of the city and state organized socieities lived shorter lives, had higher frequency of illnesses, and experienced overwhelming oppression compared to hunter gatherers. Why the hell would anybody want that? Why did THEY make that choice. 

Well--this gets back to consequences and choices. Because my guess is that's not exactly how it was presented to them. My guess that had they known--or for that matter had WE known--we wouldn't have hitched our wagons to this unwieldily juggernaut. So the deception has to be really good. You have to really sell that shit. 

And the Ponzi scheme of civilization is set up this way. What's over the next hill is better than what's here right now. Your life can be MORE. In fact--the only way to have that "more-ness" is to accept the fact that you're missing something, and that we--WE--can provide it for you. The myth of progress invisibly demands that bigger is better, that newer and next are the desirable, that the forward arc of history is the correct one. The moral imperative is to control our own future, to become more than human, to change our own stars. We increase speed and efficiency, yesterday's limits are today's challenges, and the assumption is that technology will create a world that is the kind we all want to live within. 

This myth is sold in such way that to deny it, you end up looking like a conspiracy theorist or radical. In fact the very word "radical" which formerly simply meant the opposite of a progressive and literally translates "to the root" with an implication of getting back to the basics, is now touted as a fearsome word. Think of terrorists--they've been RADICALIZED. The way this word has even been villianized reveals the implicit bias at work within culture towards the myth of progress. . 

An Alternative

While the myth of progress informs people that difference is to be distrusted and done away with (in order to get as many new people into the Ponzi Scheme as possible), radicals appreciate difference. They prefer an organic story informed by the myths of interdependence and the science of ecology. If progress tells us that MORE IS BETTER, a radical world view says, "LESS IS MORE, SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL." It teaches sustainable growth, appropriate and cooperative technologies, permaculture, and slow-movement (as opposed to breakneck speed). But most of all a true alternative to the myth of progress tells us that kinship and connection are the language of truth. 

Both of the stories I referenced at the beginning of this article are rooted in that tradition. Whether discussing how self-deception and the desire for more lead to a  fall, or the idea that bigger doesn't always make better, these are counter scripts. They're pushing against something, and inviting us, as wisdom literature often does, into a new experience. 

As public philosopher Sam Keen put it: "The new human vocation is to heal the earth. We can only heal what we love. We can only love what we know. We can only know what we touch." The radical alternative to progress is intimate, close, and diverse. Progress at all costs is an impoverished innovation when compared to this.

So What's this Have to Do with Fucking?

I started with a story about "the fucking you get not being worth the fucking you get." Which is really about trade offs, isn't it?  

One of my complaints about the "pro-bro's" is that they don't really challenge the dominant cultural myth. They keep on putting it forward. Progress or else. Bigger is better. More is the only way. Not only does it not challenge this harmful myth, it continues to propagate the untruths. You have to be a Demi-God at the gym to get the girl (or keep the girl), you need more technology, more STUFF, to have the relationships. You need bigger barns, better houses, crazier and and and....

It's exhausting.

So, it feels good for a while, but ultimately leaves you dissatisfied on the hamster wheel. Men who are already exhausted from transitions, middle age crisis', divorce, remarriage, loss of businesses, the rapid decay of their own dreams, are quick to take the bait. They throw themselves into the experience, buy the book, arm themselves with the compound bow that is being sold to them, and hope for a soul change. The approach here is to do whatever it takes to get the wife back, the house back, the business up and running again--and of course, this time, even BETTER than before. But the reality is--its just going to leave them depleted. 

What if a better way to approach your masculinity wasn't to use the same old boring story line? What if it was to radicalize it? What if we chose to listen to our bodies, to work with them, to simplify instead of only consume, to give (more than we get), and to work with our own energies for a while, before we conquer to "enemy" on the other side of the aisle.I wonder if we approached ourselves through the lens of sacred ecology how we might become better gardeners and care-takers of our souls. 

Just a thought.