This is dedicated to the happy memory of Weldon Matthews, scholar, artist, actor, teacher, playwright, producer, director, creative collaborator, friend.
Tags: patriarchy, history, politics, gender cultures, ideality culture, anarchic interconnection, dominance, symbols and pageantry of dominance, nurture, first-language acquisition, literacy, Renaissance, interior individualism, Cogito ergo sum.
History can be sketched as the career of relations among certain distinct cultural engines or streams, but three especially are comprehensively important. These three culture streams have very different values, models of relationship, and concepts of personal identity, and so endure an uneasy coexistence. One is a female managed, child-nurture-focused culture in which all human beings learn our first language and most other culture. This is the ongoing conversation between childhood innocence and adult sophistication. Adult sophistication is often morphing into something new, but childhood innocence is always basically ecstatic, curious, and eager to engage. This first-language-nurture culture is mainly female, thrives by cultivating collective support and sociability, emphasizing language and recognition of individual voices. Separate from that but vastly parasitic on it is a competitive alpha-trophy culture of dominance which developed into military and corporate culture and into sovereign states. Alpha culture is mainly male and worships and celebrates competition for dominance and the benefits of dominance. The key benefit of dominance is top-down human macro-parasitism, from which other benefits flow. Many such benefits are the symbols and pageantry of dominance, trophies, for example in the scale of property possession and in relationships marked by hierarchical inequality (master/slave). Money culture, market wealth, is a branch of dominance culture because the scale of property possession is crucial in the pageantry and symbolism of dominance. Part of alpha-trophy culture is denigration of alternative culture streams, defining them as inferior to and dependent on itself, and maintaining a sense of urgency about keeping them in some degree of dishonour and disgrace. The third stream is a spin-off from the cultural importance of language and conversation, namely scribal culture, the culture of literacy and literature, intellectual culture. Scribal schools, libraries, universities, and commercial publishing have cultivated this distinct culture of collective intelligence that features individual voices expressing a reading/writing persona as distinct from a strictly social persona. This culture cultivates a personally interior thinking life of interpretive and critical reading, writing, and long deliberation, is essentially androgynous and often celebrates originality, which is to say, anarchy, even though it is often cultivated by and within hierarchical organizations. Separate from all of these is every individual’s subjective innocence, which the immersion in culture and history can never smother completely. The essential identity of everyone as an individual is an active process of creative orientation, a personal interiority of spiritual non-actuality, intervening continuously in brute actuality as a particular embodiment. Individuals get deeply immersed in pre-existing streams of culture early in life, but creative thinking, reconceptualization, is performed entirely at the level of the individual.
Why Religions Don’t Count
Religions are also important culture streams, conservatories of a certain kind of metaphysical ideology. In general, religions counsel their flocks to seek refuge and tranquility in the promise of an eternal and other-worldly transcendence to be actualized in a distant future, and so to disengage from concerns about power and wealth in the empires of this world. By this token, religions universally advance a top-down cosmic orientation that depicts normal individuals at the bottom of a metaphysical chain of command, a placement that lacks both power and rights-meriting status. That places religions perfectly to serve as the “ministry of mystical justification” for alpha-trophy dominance culture, and they frequently partner with imperial organizations in pacification and control of the low-status masses. Religions have often placed high value on scribal culture as the guardian and interpreter of holy texts and codes of law elaborated from such texts. However, religions do not merit inclusion with the three culture streams sketched above because the hierarchy they model in their ideology and organization is derived wholesale from the culture of dominance, and the ethics of care and nurture they occasionally encourage is derived wholesale from the culture of nurture. As for scribal culture, although there was a very early association of writing with supernatural powers and magic, and with imperial organization, scribal culture developed in a way that makes it independently relevant wherever language-based ways of learning and understanding are involved, and ultimately cultivates the inscribing of individual voices, beyond the reach of other streams of culture. Intrinsic to scribal culture, although often uncredited, is an experience of spirituality that is completely at odds with the top-down centralized hierarchy typical in religions and traditional military-based institutions of sovereignty.
Why Class Struggle Doesn’t Count
The economic and political overclass, the class of patricians, the most dominant operators of dominance culture, oriented within old and highly developed ideologies sanctifying macro-parasitism in the patrician way of life, is certainly class conscious as a distinct social entity, but there is no equivalent but distinct worldview for a proletariat, a working or plebeian class. In fact, the culturally supplied conceptual reality within which working people orient ourselves is pervaded by the patrician ideology, the top-down metaphysical (religious) chain of command which sanctifies the existence of subordination. There is nothing intrinsic to the cultural legacies from “folk cultures” to seriously discredit the hierarchical metaphysics that anchors the patrician worldview. The conservatism of the privileged has often found an ally in proletarian conservatism. Proletarian males are carriers of alpha-trophy dominance culture just as much as males everywhere, because it represents the cultural ideals of masculinity. To the extent that proletarian class values are represented by socialism, they are derived wholesale from nurture culture. In any case, nobody but patricians wants there to be an enduring and culturally distinct proletarian class. The conclusion is that, in terms of historical political developments, the class of proletarians is not an autonomous engine. The opposition to competitive dominance culture has come from nurture culture and the literary culture of interior individualism.
The Three Streams
The three culture streams that are autonomous engines-of-community are all very ancient. The stream of scholarship goes back to the invention of writing from something like 5,000 years ago, plausibly in ancient Mesopotamian Sumer. Mastering the craft of literacy tends to form social bonds among its devotees. The alpha-trophy dominance culture found its ideal form in the conquering outpourings from the Great Eurasian Steppe, fountain of macro-parasitic herding culture. However, the first-language-nurture culture is surely the oldest, from the first human development of language between mother and child. Although these culture streams are autonomous to an important extent, having maintained their separate operations for thousands of years, they also survive by using, tolerating, and intermingling with each other. For example, dominance culture became the ideal of masculinity and so has a strong influence wherever there are men, especially men in groups devoted to physical strength, death-defying fearlessness, and kinetic action. Scholarly culture was a male preserve through most of its existence, and so the influence of the power-adulating culture of masculinity can be recognized in most intellectual work. For example, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) represents a number of philosophers who were childless and single privileged men immersed in a minority culture of alpha-male competition for dominance in the pageantry of seventeenth century Europe. It is not surprising that scholars or intellectuals in that setting grasped human nature as little more than egoism and a war of all against all, because that represents their ideal of masculinity. The parochial narrowness of their experience institutionalized a crucially distorted conception of human nature which is still plaguing us. In ancient times Plato and, much later, Augustine also were embedded in privileged male culture-pods. Those philosophers believed human attachment to be brittle and possible only as a gift from awe-inspiring power, requiring submission to power. Like Hobbes, they glorified the state as the greatest human achievement. The modern state was conceived and put into practice in the cultural matrix which made life interesting and fun for competitive alpha males. The other gender-based worldview, the realm of child-nurture, managed and cultivated by women, was effectively unknown, ignored, and despised by men from time out of mind, a cultured policy of willful blindness. The alpha-trophy culture claims the exclusive distinction of authentically expressing nature, but that claim is a ridiculous bias. The female cultivated culture of first-language-nurture has every bit as legitimate a claim to express nature (and a greater claim to intelligence), and points toward a social organization much different from the dominance pageantry of capitalism. When the value of nurturing children enters the picture, what is natural is co-operation, play, sharing, and love.
That there is more than egoism motivating intelligences is illustrated most spectacularly in first-language-nurture collectives. Women and children do the work of connecting, caring, nurturing. Undefeated by all the macro-parasitism imposed on them by powerful collectives and individuals, a majority of women persist in their work of building connection with new human arrivals, engaging face to face through innumerable hours of an infant’s learning the ways of human interconnectedness and especially language. Mothers in that situation also find one another and share in building the culture of nurture and caring support. What parents, especially mothers, enjoy doing for their children, for each other, for other people’s children, for their parents, siblings, and friends is a conspicuous example of non-egoistic human interconnectedness. The first-language-nurture culture is robust and ancient, providing parenting, belonging within personal interconnectedness, language skills, and mutual adult support. The fact that the first-language-nurture culture and operations are not recognized as the foundation of social order reveals that nasty political forces are at work. That the common distribution of nurture has been ignored so consistently by social and economic philosophers, such as Hobbes and Adam Smith, who insisted that egoism alone is dominant in individuals, shows that the intended audience of such authors was the collective of privileged males enjoying benefits from acting out the egoistic alpha-trophy ideology of masculinity. There are two very distinct and contrasting gender-based world-views in the human community, and the one focused on the value of dominance recognizes the other (often unconsciously) as an existential threat.
The most pervasive motivational narrative in modern culture, the official meaning of modern life, could be described as self-definition through competition in the market economy. However, the dominance of such a view is another instance of a cultured contempt for the female-managed and child-centred value matrix, because the conversation with children and the social life which surrounds it have been more rewarding and meaningful all along and everywhere. As a force for social stability, the most undervalued asset is children. People continue to have children not because children are cute, or from brute instinct to continue the species, but because children are contributors to the vitality of the human conversation, crucial interlocutors for adults. The innocent curiosity, love of honest attachment, and delight in questioning and discovery characteristic of children is valuable in itself and not just as a stage to be rushed through on the way to adult mentality. Couples often reach a point of wanting to part company, but it is very rare for anyone to want to separate from their children. Even parents who become alienated from adult children reach out again when grandchildren appear. The bond with children is the strongest in human experience. (Children also keep re-inventing language instead of just passively learning it.) As a social foundation, then, we retain a focus on arrangements around the conversation with our children and the innocent love and playfulness they offer. That includes the reality and force of first-language-nurture culture, authentic attachment, elemental bonding, and sharing awareness between individual voices. Children still count as the focus of meaning for all classes, largely a nihilism-free zone. The imperative to nurture children ties people to stability in production and consumption, but not to any particular ideology or metaphysical assumptions.
Hobbes failed to recognize or imagine that there is another common experience of human interconnectedness, namely from within the culture of intense personal engagement with newborns, infants, and toddlers for the project of initiating them into the connection of intelligences through language, shared culture, caring, and nurture generally. From that alternative ‘state of nature’ the interconnectedness develops without a social contract or a law-giver from above. The fact that women carry on with their nurture culture is what actually accounts for the stability of human interconnectedness. The guarantor and binding mechanism of social order and human communication networks is not the sovereign authority of the star-system meritocracy, nor its police forces, armies, guns, or prisons. Sovereignty is not the source of social stability. Social order and interconnectedness are products of the informal non-family collectives which groups of mothers form with their children to have the children play together and learn to speak the communal language. Such groups tend to ignore family separations and instead create informal collectives pragmatically with any willing mothers in the vicinity. They build on and extend accomplishments from the countless hours that mothers spend engaged with their children, face to face, voice to voice, enjoying the elemental pleasure and mutual inspiration that particular intelligences experience in connecting with each other.
Nurture and War
The extended nexus of first-language acquisition is in some ways a conservative force since stability is necessary for nurturing children. However, it doesn’t value wars, gambling, or radical inequality, some of the worst plagues on humanity, which are treasured by the alpha-structure. Nurture culture has an intrinsic tendency toward promoting equality because it is common knowledge within that culture that huge investments of loving care, personal attachment, energy, strategy, and work go into the survival and linguistic engagement of every human being, and it is bestial and criminal to waste any single one. The main reason to avoid violence is that violence disrespects not only its victims but all the sacred investment of nurture that supported their survival. First-language-nurture groups create the interconnectedness in the first place and work on it day in and day out, so when the interconnectedness is poisoned there is bound to be some alienation and rage among people working to keep it vital. It adds another layer to the rage and alienation from having the work and persons of females disrespected almost universally, a situation that is made difficult to correct because of the immediate demands of nurturing work. The point is not that women are uniquely able or impelled to nurture, but that a fundamental sociability in human spirituality is revealed in nurturing activity, that such widespread devotion reveals the depth of sociability in human spirituality generally. There is no justification here or anywhere for the ghettoization of nurture or of women’s choice of work.
The alpha-structure devises an economic and political agenda so that wars can still be fought, transferrable wealth funnelled upward and concentrated, the gambling addiction of the finance industry celebrated, money from corporate crime laundered, and the privileges and pleasures of unlimited wealth can be undisturbed. It accepts that the commonality of people are more usable, compliant, obedient, and manageable when kept in a vulnerable psychological state and guided within certain boundaries of experience. The alpha-structure craves the macro-parasitic fruits of economic and political control, and psychological manipulation is simply an essential aspect of that control. Part of that is a requirement to trivialize and denigrate the vital importance of the first-language-nurture culture which is actually the source of stability in the human interconnectedness. The core ethos of the alpha-trophy faction is full-spectrum dominance and the elimination of competition from alternative visions, by kinetic violence if necessary. It is not possible for people high on that Kool-Aid to do anything other than ridicule any generalization of the value of nurture. Under dominance culture, the political marginalization of the first-language-nurture culture is so extreme that the arrival of a continuous stream of new persons, linguistically and socially equipped and competent, is passed over as an event of brute nature, a given like minerals in the ground. Women doing the work of building fundamental attachments among separate intelligences are discounted as fauna, operating under biological compulsions, “maternal instinct”.
Just as the nurture of children (and community) by mothers reveals an aspect of humanity beyond the conception and comfort zone of social theories like Hobbes’, the same is true of the personal experience of, and a certain chain of political interventions by, literary culture. Even though literary arts were and are sponsored and exploited by alpha-families and religious cults as supports for intimidating dominance, the mental life of a literate person acquaints him or her with private experience of a certain freedom and self-possession. The gift of scribal culture is enrichment of personal interiority, an elaborate interior identity, direct acquaintance with ideality as secular spirituality. Individuals are gratified by such personally interior processes as questioning and creative reconceptualization and by expressing that creativity in a distinctive voice. (Personal orientation is not a structure of symbols, but rather an interior spiritual bearing of intervention within brute actuality.) The mental life of literacy occasioned a kind of thinking that came to be called “rational”, willing to evaluate different sides of an argument with no limit on time since propositions exist in objective form for any reader consider. The cultural stream of reading and writing, abstract thinking and study, critique, and interpretation, more than either of the others highlights a depth of creativity and freedom at the level of the individual, the literary voice as distinct from the social voice. It elaborated a spiritual world of ideas as a vast context for strict concreteness.
Proof of the innovative political force of literary culture is in the pudding of history. For example, essential to the European Renaissance was the confrontation of Christendom with long-gone ancient pagan culture, based on the re-discovery of ancient texts and works of art, and a re-evaluation of pagan culture to acknowledge its general superiority. The context for development of European education at that crucial stage was an urgency to benefit from the previous culture which had produced inspiring people, with inspiring literary voices and thoughts. (It wasn’t about concrete economic pragmatism.) A crucial piece of what excited Renaissance Europeans was pagan humanist individualism (Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Skepticism), an excitement that launched a philosophical de-stabilization of the Christian ideology around the spirituality and destiny of the human individual. There was also a technological innovation, the printing press, which accelerated the pre-existing movement for universal literacy. The great western spiral of revolt that started in the time of John Wycliffe (1331-1384) and the Oxford Lollards was associated with Wycliffe’s movement to promote proletarian literacy in vernacular languages, especially by translation of the Bible, a clear case of political intervention by the scribal culture stream. The Church of Rome was strongly against unauthorized Bible reading. Subsequent Protestant piety required universal literacy in vernacular languages so every individual could read and interpret holy scripture, an accomplishment that conferred on every individual a new kind of spiritual dignity.
Throughout the earlier medieval period, aristocracy had been a kind of junior partner to the Church in the sovereign supervision of Christendom, but the Renaissance involved an assertion of independence by aristocracy and monarchy. Church, monarchy, and aristocracy were the overt structures of sovereign power, institutions of the alpha-trophy culture of dominance. However, the Renaissance also featured a momentous, if less conspicuous, cultural movement, namely a sharp increase in the prestige of literacy, bookishness, and scholarly contemplative culture (including philosophy) which become an alternative model of virtue and accomplishment, a way to authority and accomplishment also available, even then, to some women. Qualities respected in aristocratic culture were distinctly masculine, military, and formally social, quite different from qualities cultivated by scholarship. It was around those historical events that the operators of dominance culture came to recognize the anarchic impulse intrinsic to the culture of ideality and thinking. Academic freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of thought, freedom of the press, have all been hotly contested political issues, as the recurring theme of book-burning illustrates. Censorship and the banning of books have been common acts of dominance culture. Universal literacy and education enabled a new kind of individualism, a kind established by personally interior cultivation and not in combat over scarce trophies. Entrepreneurship in literary culture eventually constructed the Republic of Letters outside the control of institutions, enabling the Enlightenment and new ideas of human rights and freedoms. Descartes’ declaration: “I am thinking, so I must exist!” truly expresses the potential of modern subjective individualism, a kind of individualism that manifests in the creative authenticity of utterance, of a voice that engages in conversation, instead of in hoards of concrete possessions. The republic of letters is a forum for multitudes of distinctive literary voices.
So, What is Patriarchy?
Patriarchy is the political and economic institutionalization, in the structure of social relationships within a state, of dominance culture at the expense of the appropriate influence and recognition of both nurture culture and the literary culture of ideality. Patriarchy is immersion in the metaphysical ideology of dominance culture, the conviction that social order depends on an edifice of control, power, hierarchy, force, supervision, rules, and contracts. This nearly exclusive institutionalization of the dominance culture is sanctified by a simplified (materialist-friendly) metaphysics of human nature, the Hobbesian view of human ego-gratification, comfortably incorporating a modernized version of the Christian dogma of original sin which asserts that individuals benefit from a system of domination, and that domination is pre-determined by God or nature. Such a competitive materialist view of human nature, the socially pragmatic view, is patriarchal ideology pure and simple, asserting a false metaphysics and a false conception of spirituality. Patriarchal ideology has convinced everybody that some sort of “…archy” is needed to keep us missiles of atomized egoism in check, but neither of the two alternative culture streams tends toward formation of any kind of “…archy”, and that is their strength. They each tend toward strong but less brittle interconnectedness, in fact, anarchic interconnectedness.
Tensions among the three cultures identified here can be recognized in the essay:
Ur-Fascism, by Umberto Eco, published by The New York Review of Books, June 22, 1995 issue. (A link to this essay was posted on Episyllogism Blog, WordPress, August 11, 2016.) Based on his experience growing up under fascism in Italy in the 1930’s, Eco presents core characteristics of fascism.
Some points in this posting were introduced previously:
Posting 9, October 25, 2011, Political Considerations
Posting 35, July 6, 2012, Transcendental Humanism
Posting 36, July 12, 2012, First Language Nurture
Posting 37, July 26, 2012, Sharing Awareness
Copyright © 2016 Sandy MacDonald.