Tuesday, June 12, 2007

On Paterfamilias and Patriarchy - There was much discussion, almost exclusively among conservatives, about why many ostensibly feminist organizations, especially the National Organization of Women, could not find their voices to speak out in indignation over the Bill Clinton – Monica Lewinsky affair (or for that matter, the Bill Clinton – Paula Jones affair, or the Bill Clinton – Gennifer Flowers affair, or….) Beyond feminism's fealty to the Democratic Party, there was another dynamic that we on the right failed to understand at that time.

To feminists, Monica Lewinsky in particular represented the fruition of one of the obvious goals of radical feminism; even now, women who consider themselves empowered women are queuing up to be the next Monica. Here was a young woman who recklessly pursued the object of her sexual desire, all the while conducting herself much as would befit the stereotype of male sexual behavior (as discussed elsewhere.) She made her overtly sexual interest apparent to Mr. Clinton, plying him with gifts and showering him with attention. In time, she revealed to him what neither prudence nor her expansive thong could contain.

And yet, before she was undone by Linda Tripp, Ms. Lewinsky was betrayed by her biology. She did not, or could not satisfy herself with an "no strings attached" relationship with "the Big Creep," and sought the guidance of the one woman whom she thought might be able to provide her an adult perspective. That Monica Lewinsky was not equipped to take the measure of her own counsel - or that of her family - was tragedy enough. But when the institutions that created the mindset by which Ms. Lewinsky operated summarily abandoned her to her own devices, much as they have abandoned legions of women to their fates, the tragedy becomes universally manifest.

As we have seen in the Clinton – Lewinsky simulacrum, with the waning of the American patriarchy, so goes the demise of civility and responsibility among men, particularly towards women. As we devalued the patriarchy, we diminished manhood in general. Today's men say to themselves, quite reasonably, if a lack of maturity and proper socialization is no obstacle to obtaining sexual favors, what behavior will be considered beyond the pale? Any self-imposed constraint on one's conduct withers in the presence of the seemingly all-powerful male id. With a diminished adult male presence in many homes, along with the absence of traditional rights of passage such as marriage and compulsory military service, is it reasonable to expect that young men will discover how to manifest their better selves in the culture on a consistent basis?

As it is, men's interactions with the larger society have become more sporadic; the decline in college enrollments among men is but a symptom of this phenomenon. A July 31, 2006 New York Times article details yet another. The story introduces readers to Alan Beggerow, a middle aged former steelworker and community college instructor who at the time of the article's publication whiled away his days "playing the piano, reading histories and biographies, writing unpublished potboilers in the Louis L'Amour style – all activities once relegated to spare time."

"I have come to realize that my free time is worth a lot to me," he said. To make ends meet, he has tapped the equity in his home through a $30,000 second mortgage, and he is drawing down the family's savings, at the rate of $7,500 a year. About $60,000 is left. His wifes income helps them scrape by. "If things get really tight," Mr. Beggerow said, "I might have to take a low-wage job, but I don’t want to do that."

Millions of men like Mr. Beggerow – men in the prime of their lives, between 30 and 55 – have dropped out of regular work. They are turning down jobs they think are beneath them or are unable to find work for which they are qualified, even as an expanding economy offers opportunities to work.
The article goes on to inform us that 13 percent of American men between 30 and 55 are not working, compared with 5 percent in the late 1960s. Most of these men are former blue-collar workers with a high school diploma or less. In general, it appears that men like Mr. Beggerow have learned to see their value to the society as temporary and subject to the moment. It is also clear that more and more men have become indolent and see no urgent need to impress their families with their financial providence. (It is certainly evident that Mr. Beggerow sees no need to overwhelm his wife with his work ethic.) Men's contributions to the influential organizations in society, such as the government, churches and institutions of higher education may be momentarily significant, but often end up being as impermanent as confetti at a ticker-tape parade, beads at Mardi Gras, or a stain on a blue dress.

For all of its real or imagined flaws, the patriarchy served American society well in as much as it provided a framework by which men could positively interact with both women and the larger society, even when it impinged on the pursuit of men's interests, biological and otherwise. As one objectively reviews the history of the patriarchy in the West, it becomes evident that the patriarchy provided a means by which men could make requests of the society for the authority that they needed to discharge their responsibilities to their families and communities. The patriarchy was also a necessary counterweight to the feminizing effects of modern society in as much as it functioned as a repository of healthy stoicism and a reservoir of self-restraint. In addition, the patriarchy served as a safe haven for women in that it encouraged men to become integrated and remain connected to society through their families by the ways of chivalry towards women and nurturing of children, as well as protecting and providing for their families in a collective sense.

An underappreciated benefit of the patriarchy was its ability to foster organized, productive risk-taking among men. The same hard-wired impulses and drives that make young men willing engage in dangerous activities such as drag racing, motocross competitions, rodeos and the like could be directed towards providing for a family by working in a coalmine or a steel mill (as my own father spent much of his life doing.) The patriarchal order also helped to channel the male "warrior ethic" away from physical altercations based upon fraternal or tribal conflicts (with the salient exception being the patriarchy's inability to prevent race-based conflagrations.) For the most part, men were expected to confront threats to their environment as opposed to obsessing about how to avoid risks and accommodate threats, and were encouraged to rise to defend their families, their communities and their country.

But of all of the gifts to society that accrued from the patriarchy, perhaps the one that we stand most in need of as a culture was the patriarchy’s allowing for environmental nurturing (i.e.: the creation of safe environments for the establishment of families and the rearing of children.) When manhood was defined as providing for the physical, emotional and financial comfort of a wives and families, men were reasonably expected to integrate their activities towards this end. Left to their own devices, men established vertical integration of their efforts, through religious, governmental and corporate hierarchies. They also provided for horizontal integration through neighborhood associations, fraternal organizations, athletic teams, churches, etc. Through this matrix of interlocking and reinforcing behaviors, each man within the patriarchy could see himself as part of something larger than his own concerns or limitations. The framework established by the patriarchy allowed men to "civilize" each other as they worked together to maintain the order of their environs.

The systems that supported environmental nurturing allowed for children and families to be cared for by their surroundings. Contrary to Hillary Clinton's ideation about central governments forming the core of strong communities, this nurturing environment is the "village" that is referred to in the (alleged) proverb. As with many things, we best see the benefit of environmental nurture in its absence. Any time that a mayor or a governor asks the National Guard to be brought in to control crime, we can sensibly attribute this to a torpor amongst the patriarchs of that community. Law enforcement within a neighborhood best serves to reinforce social standards that have been established and enforced by the community itself.

This brings us to the most significant difficulty resulting from the decline of the patriarchy. For better or worse, the loss of a structured male order in our society has not in any way coincided with a diminution of masculinity within the culture. Whereas the patriarchy encouraged males to compete with each other in ways that benefited the larger society, what we often see presently are exaggerated and distorted notions of masculinity, particularly among communities that lack any useful male influences. This is particularly true in African American communities, where wanton violence and unchecked sexuality are widespread. (This is especially true among those whose behavior is influenced by the predominant musical idioms of R&B and hip-hop.)

As discussed elsewhere, as 1960s counterculturalists flooded inner city welfare rolls in order to force nationwide implementation of a guaranteed income program, state and local welfare administrators were more intent on making sure that there were no able-bodied males in the homes of welfare recipients. Consequently, these men's interactions with their families were more sporadic, and family structures became more fragile. This – along with incentives provided by the welfare programs of that time – inexorably lead to more female-headed households and out-of-wedlock births, both trends continuing to this day. These factors among others, directly contributed to the death of the black patriarchy in the inner cities.

But again, the absence of a male social order did not mean that young men did not act out their masculinity. The willingness to engage in risky behavior (such as engaging in the drug trade an appealing option), along with a distinctly male comfort with hierarchical organizations like street gangs, led to a dramatic upswing in street-level violence. As a consequence of America's "War on Drugs," the 1980s and 1990s saw dramatic increases in incarceration rates for young black males, particularly for gang and drug-related crimes. The increased rate of incarceration, along with the deaths that directly resulted from gang violence, both resulted from and further contributed to an erosion of societal frameworks.

Happy Father's Day.

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