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The strutting masculinity, steely eyed attention to a brutal
reality, and courage under fire that the Republicans and culture warriors in
general like to project is showing itself as the posturing of craven
bullies. As it has always
been. The failed attempt to bring
down an airline by the undie bomber was thwarted by brave passengers, bringing such attempts to 0
out of 2. (To se it in its proper perspective, see Amy Zegart’s incisive analysis over at the Reality Based Community.
Yet the Republicans,
their stenographers in the media, and other “conservatives” are already up in
arms over Obama’s supposed “weakness.”
Jim DeMint, (R-S.C.) who has held up Senate approval on Obama’s nominee
for head of TSA earlier voted against funding machines that could detect
explosives such as were smuggled aboard Joe Lieberman (I-Self) even wants us to attack Yemen, adding another
country to our imperial overreach. Rachel Maddow summarizes this
disgusting performance with her usual skill. Chris Matthews is terrified that the next
terrorist attack might involve kung fun warriors. (I am not kidding.) That George Bush did worse by their
craven standards, demonstrates hypocrisy along with cowardice. But the spiritually and morally bereft
“moral leaders” of the right and their faithful stenographers are too far gone
to acknowledge it. Public cowardice is a fitting way for Republican and other
culture warriors to exit 2009. (I
am actually leading to a spiritual point of interest to Pagans – read on if you
Be they Republicans, secular NeoConservatives or the
‘Christian’ Right, these folks are continually putting their message in
strongly gendered terms. They
present themselves as the strong forthright masculine representatives, against
weak latte drinking male opponents and their domineering women allies. This caricature goes back to John
Wayne, the first of our contemporary gender frauds, and remains with us
wherever ‘conservatives’ congregate in Congress, the media, college campuses,
and the pulpit. It is a feature,
not a flaw.
As I studied this movement at first I was surprised, then
fascinated, by their leaders’ perpetual presenting of themselves as ‘manly’
with an equally perpetual failure to live up to their self-image. John Wayne was the only major Hollywood
male figure of his generation who did not volunteer and serve, often under
fire, in World War Two. He
agitated for a draft deferment, got it, dated starlets, and made a fortune
while Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, and many others were risking their lives over
seas. The ones who served rarely
spoke of it. The one who dodged service made a career of playing the tough guy.
This picture hasn’t changed. Today the Conservatives’ heroes are men like Chuck Norris,
Ronald Reagan, Fred Thompson, Mel Gibson and, before he proved too liberal,
Arnold Schwarzeneggger. All are
presented as male exemplars because they played pretend heroes. Never facing a blow thrown in earnest, never dodging
a shot fired with live ammunition, and always with a big paycheck at the end of
a guaranteed outcome.
Two of these men actually accomplished a lot based on their
own talents. Ronald Reagan was
born poor and Schwarzenegger started as an Austrian body builder. But Reagan is admired not for rising
from poverty, but for playing the “gipper,” and his TV image as a cowboy,
before entering politics. And
Schwarzenegger was admired as “The Terminator” before he disappointed his
“conservative” admirers. Strange.
When we look at the private lives of the Culture Warriors
and their political representatives, they seem disproportionately full of
hypocrites, serial adulterers, and the like. A pattern has appeared here that is not duplicated with
anything like the same frequency on the other political side. Equally absent is evidence of any sense
of responsibility when things go wrong.
At root I think this hypocrisy, this inability to walk their
talk, has a strong spiritual dimension, and that NeoPagans can shed light on
NeoPaganism has long been identified as a major force in
re-thinking the role of women and the feminine in spirituality. When I was reading various Christian
discussions of women and spirituality I was struck with how often Starhawk’s
name appeared. Nor was she alone
as an inspiring figure even for women of other faiths.
Less apparent but I think equally important is our explicit
honoring of the sacred masculine, not as the spiritual All, which injects a
huge dose of Domination into what we mean by masculinity, but as an essential
aspect of spiritual and psychological balance. I could not truly appreciate this fact, and struggled with
trying to grasp maleness as a sacred attribute, until I encountered a masculine
As long as I live I will never forget the experience of
having Cernnunos drawn down upon me one Beltane Sabbat. When “I” opened my eyes His presence
was so palpable that almost everyone present was in tears. For one brief wonderful moment I
experienced a male Presence that was without fear in any of the many forms fear
can take. There was no sense of
domination or superiority over others, just a full and complete at-homeness
with who He was and His place on this earth and in existence. After He spoke to those present, He
departed, leaving me with an insight into genuine masculinity that has served
as a standard ever since. It is one I have not achieved, but it remains an
My experience of Cernnunos was not quite in keeping with
many feminine-rooted descriptions of what the ideal male would be: sensitive,
caring, and attentive. These
qualities were not rejected. Not
at all. But they were not
definitive, not basic. They grew
from male strength within the appropriate context, from an open heartedness
utterly without dependence or need.
These qualities were like flowers blooming from deep roots that, under
different circumstances, could produce the very different blooms of defense,
protection, and bringing things under control.
Before the Cernnunos experience, I tended to look at these
qualities as competing definitions of masculinity. Maybe there was a “right”
bouquet somewhere, a right mix of seemingly contradictory qualities. I was like
the mushroom hunter who mistakes the fruit for the entity that gives it
reality, a fruit that exists only under appropriate conditions. And so I missed
deep masculinity completely.
Men as well as women have suffered from the long and violent
reign of monopolistic transcendental monotheism, which so often conceives of
God primarily in terms of power and domination. Especially when that reign is challenged.
Since God is masculine, proper human masculinity also
partakes of power and domination as well, only from lower down the
hierarchy. Strength is always in
relation to others, having more or less than they, rather than being internal,
such as strength of character.
Which may be why the culture warriors so often show so little of
it. This is a religious vision
fitting for a traditional baboon troop.
This attitude has infected secular society. NeoConservatives exemplify this
infection, always eager for the next war that someone else will fight while
they preen themselves safely at home as heroes and tough guys. The world is a world of dominators and
dominated. You can be a hammer or
an anvil, and they want to be the hammers.
One leading NeoCon even wrote a book about it. Harvey Mansfield’s Manliness is a paen to pathological masculinity.
The best evidence this is so is the fact that throughout this long and
tedious tome about what it is to ‘be a man,’ male friendship is never
mentioned. Friendship implies
comfort with equals, with strength being an internal quality rather than having
to be demonstrated hierarchically.
As we see again the preening and puffing of the right after
our most recent botched terrorist attack, it is good to remember that they are
perfect examples of the weak and pathetic pretending to be what they have never
been: men of integrity and genuine power.
In bringing the Divine feminine into wider awareness and
honor among people in our society we are also freeing people so that they can
also appreciate and honor the Divine Masculine, and appreciate its human
UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald has just written a wonderful piece on democracy, citizens and fear – and on the contemptible weakness of so many right wingers in this respect. He cites David Brooks, one of the few conservatives worth reading any more in my opinion, for his excellent column on this issue. Not all conservatives are bed wetters.