02: History cont’d

with 2 comments

The Solution

So, what do we do about it? For all my complaints about Wilber, there’s a good deal in his framework that points to where the solutions lie. Wilber sees humanity as being plotted on an historical-evolutionary developmental trajectory. In other words, things can only get better (or, more accurately, things should only get better: unfortunately, it seems there’s no accounting for stupidity). Remember also I said that Mansfield cannot fully realize the implications of self-transcendence and nurture over nature implied in his own work because of his being too wedded to biology? This is a backwards-looking orientation, one weighted towards the past at the expense of the present and the future. Wilber does a similar thing: he aspires to the future (ever-higher levels of development, or what he describes as “altitudes”), but is strangely tethered to the past, anchoring his masculine and feminine types to the dawn of the agricultural era. This is not something specific to these two writers: it is common across the Masculinity Conspiracy and best typified by the constant desire to “reconnect” with more “authentic” and “archetypal” ways of understanding masculinity that is so prevalent in most types of men’s movement.

Addressing this backwards-looking orientation is the first part of the solution. I strongly believe that masculinity has never functioned at its fullest potential. (For the sake of balance, femininity is also on shaky ground; but, as I’ve said, that’s another book, which I urge someone to start work on right now.) Let’s say it again for the sake of reinforcement:

  • There are no halcyon days on which to look back.
  • There is nothing to rediscover.
  • There is no “authentic” masculinity with which to reconnect.

Does that sound a little bleak? It’s actually quite the reverse. Earlier, to counter the argument that long-held assumptions must be “true,” I offered the example of how we used to think the world was flat, but we finally wised up to the fact that this was not the case. Think about what that realization did to folks’ perspective on the world: no longer would we drop off the edge of the ocean into some unidentified terror-void if we sailed too far beyond the horizon. Instead, we would go on to find new lands: scary—perhaps—but exciting, and full of the promise of new adventures.

It’s exactly the same thing with masculinity. When we realize the limitations of our historical worldview we adopt a fundamentally different perspective on masculinity. We get to sail beyond the horizon and discover new lands—new ways of doing masculinity. Of course, just like the colonization of the “real” world, many of those lands are not new at all, simply new to us. These lands are often inhabited by people (the “natives”) who are already living in different ways. As we extend this metaphor, let’s not repeat the historical mistakes of colonization. When these “new” lands are “discovered” it is necessary to listen and learn, not to forcefully impose the rules from the Old World. As L. P. Hartley wrote: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Adopting this shift in perspective is largely an issue of managing fear: specifically, fear of the unknown. What we know is comfortable: that’s why we stick with it, even if what we know has severe limitations. We have become comfortable with the way masculinity has manifest in history, which is why we stick with it.



Written by Joseph Gelfer

June 5, 2010 at 11:34 am

2 Responses

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  1. I love what I think you’re saying here: That there is no “authentic masculine” to model from—at least that we can see—and that we have to create this new model if it is to serve us and if we are to serve from it in a world of increasing complexities. How will it look? Who knows…How many men will assume the mantle of this “numen,” this “awakened” masculine? More and more of us are no longer content with what it historically meant to be a man. In my groups and talks, I’m also quick to point out that I am not an expert about the new masculine, that my contribution—whatever that might be—comes out of a desire to learn more about what I could not find.


    August 27, 2012 at 5:15 am

    • Yes, I find it a very exciting and optimistic place to be. The danger is that many of the “new” offerings are little more than “old” offerings with a contemporary veneer, and unfortunately most people don’t know enough to realize it.


      August 27, 2012 at 7:21 am

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