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The Crisis of Masculinity

The very act of being male seems to be a hot topic right now. In particular the Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson and his recently published 12 Rules for Life are getting a lot of attention, both positive and negative. Young men especially, appear to be flocking to follow his every word, while many women, perhaps still reeling from his car-crash interview with Channel 4’s Cathy Newman, range from unconvinced to absolute rage about his fairly forthright proclamations. These include the assertions that both consciousness and culture are symbolically masculine and that male dominance is therefore natural, while resistance to it is unnatural. This however is not a critique of Peterson but a suggestion that the crisis many men are currently feeling may in fact be rooted in the modus operandi of the mind.

For millennia, men have been the product of a powerful cultural upbringing which still influences the unconscious male mind and shapes how we breed boys to this day. Men were trained for war and, as soldiers, were imbued with valuable attributes such as aggression and fearlessness. Even when society wasn’t at war, the psyche of the soldier didn’t change; fighting for status and sexual partners, competing for resources and aggressively guarding his property and possessions. We are now so familiar with the mythology of the male warrior archetype that we can be forgiven for thinking that male aggression is completely natural but the evidence suggests that there is absolutely nothing inherent or inevitable about it. The trait is absent in the few indigenous tribes which survived into modernity uninfluenced by patriarchal control cultures, and all attempts to establish a universal, biological foundation for male aggression have repeatedly failed.

Maintaining dynamic balance in any complex ecosystem requires the periodic demonstration of both self-assertive and integrative behaviours, the former so animals aren’t always taken advantage of, the latter so harmony can be maintained within the overall system. All creatures instinctively do both – sometimes dogs bare their teeth and sometimes they show their bellies – and there is no difference between males and females in this behaviour. However many millennia ago with the advent of the soldier, our ancient ancestors made a rather strange decision which would come to mould our minds in a different manner to how they had been shaped to that time. Our species chose to divide responsibility for assertive and integrative behaviours between the sexes, rather than keeping both housed within every individual. While men became responsible for assertive attitudes and actions such as aggression, competition, control and dominance, women became the integrators – listening, nurturing, caring and replenishing. While women were the creators and life-givers, men became the destroyers and life-takers. While men were trained to divide and conquer, women were conditioned to nourish and make whole again.

As a result, rather than retaining a high degree of hemispheric balance within both sexes, our ancestors inadvertently sent us down a dual cognitive pathway which would dramatically reshape subsequent societies and eventually culminate in our current cultural crisis. The effect was ultimately to cleave human-beings in two, along gender lines. By primarily adopting the dualistic, categorizing mode of the left mind, men would progressively become conditioned to see women as their opposite and inferior. However, in doing so they also began a journey which would curtail their own cognitive capabilities and consign their male descendants to being less than whole human-beings. Meanwhile, accidently allocated primacy of the more powerful of the two brain hemispheres, women would come to cultivate the skills of the right mind. However, the price they would pay for such a gift would be at least six millennia of male dominance and with it, the social and cultural subjugation of all things feminine.

By restricting the male role to mainly contributing the self-assertive qualities required for systemic stability, our species relegated men to holding primacy of the left mind which is ultimately the weaker of the two hemispheres. Seeing the world primarily as pairs of polar opposites not only pinches our perception but also automatically creates negatives, so for masculine to be good feminine must be bad. Consequently, many men still shy away from anything which society deems to be distinctly feminine while women are far more comfortable stepping over into traditionally male domains. It has often been observed that girls mature earlier than boys and seem to be more rounded in the way they act throughout adulthood. For example, women have generally been more accepting of homosexuality in society and have been more welcoming of men into traditionally female careers, such as nursing, than men have been ready to accept female scientists or engineers.

Modern society remains confused about whether or not we want boys to continue to conform to the ancient military ideal – square-jawed, stoic and strong. After millennia of almost perpetual war-making, we are finding it difficult to shake off this deeply ingrained masculine archetype. As a consequence, many boys all over the world are still being steeped in a warrior ethos which could become increasingly redundant as the future we bring forth unfolds. There can be little doubt that many of the problems in the world today are the result of a prevalent ‘boy code’ which didn’t teach boys – now our social, political and corporate elites – to share power or consider feelings, but instead taught them to fight to get to the top of the tree and, once there, to be as aggressive as possible in staying there. If boys are brought up as ‘little soldiers’, while girls are conditioned to build relationships, it surely comes as no surprise that assertive tendencies outweigh integrative behaviours in modern society. If global society is to successfully shift beyond the narrow narrative of social Darwinism, perpetuated by the left mind and the ongoing dominion of men, the voice of the right mind must be heard more loudly and women should be at the forefront of this peaceful revolution.

Post by K. W. Jamieson, author of A World in Two Minds

World in Two minds

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