02: History completed

with 10 comments

These lessons are implicit in the writings of both Mansfield and Wilber, but both are too backwards-looking for them to be realized. Mansfield believes in complementing nature with nurture (allowing room for human dignity), but is too caught up with biological determinism and historical models of manliness to follow the trajectory of his own thinking. Wilber is focused on exactly the type of development that I am suggesting is necessary, but remains bound by the historical masculinity his own model requires being transcended.

What both Mansfield and Wilber are missing is room for change. And here’s the skinny: change is the key aspect of the solution when it comes to history and the Masculinity Conspiracy. We are not defined by history, we define history. Tomorrow, today will be yesterday. By changing today, we define tomorrow’s history.

In other words, history is our framework. We dwell in the present, but are connected with the past in two fundamental ways. First, we look back on the past and can either perpetuate or correct its mistakes in the present (a no-brainer, surely?). Second, that perpetuation or correction in the present creates the past for the future. This is the real and proactive value of the hippy mantra “Be Here Now.” Mindfulness of the present is nice; mindfulness combined with action is better.

History is the framework in which the Masculinity Conspiracy functions, and which it mobilizes to its advantage by presenting it as defining rather than definable. Within this framework there are individual sites of activity, which again are presented as defining but which are also definable. The first site of activity is sexuality, and that’s what we’ll get to next.


Written by Joseph Gelfer

June 5, 2010 at 11:40 am

10 Responses

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  1. It’s an irony that your critique of Ken Wilber’s partiality in clinging to an historical determinism point to a flaw in his own use of his open format of critique and development called ‘transcend and include’. The problem is always on what you include, and discard before transcending! Eek.


    March 26, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    • Indeed. Wilber makes some good theoretical points that I often use (the pre-trans fallacy, for example, is so very elegant), but then often fails to follow his own lead.


      March 26, 2012 at 12:43 pm

  2. Very very important work you’re doing here Joseph. I’m struggling with the lesson drawn from the baboons. Human dignity may be what defines human’s from other species, although it is systematically denied in Others by both the conspiracy and many other facets of human civilization, rendering that definitive quality of ours rather debatable. One of the the most devasting dimensions of the identities we learn from the conspiracy is our detachment from nature and our consequent exploitative/ destructive engagement with the natural world.

    So…Yes, the baboon lesson demonstrates we as men/ or a species are not set in our behaviours. (I understand and agree with the necessity of making this point) but don’t theories of natural selection demonstrate the same; “individuals less suited to the environment are less likely to survive and less likely to reproduce; individuals more suited to the environment are more likely to survive and likely to reproduce and leave their inheritable traits to future generations.” Baboon undesirable behavioural trait one, is replaced with more desirable baboon behavioural trait two. And presumably this will remain until the baboons habitat becomes more predictable.

    The conspiracy perpetuates positive portrayals of violence, i.e. violence that does not have negative repercussions, and power/control over others that is desirable. This is true for both direct and indirect violence. I guess i am just left assuming, that men will continue to use violence and aggression where it is contextually lucrative. Somehow a massive shift in value systems needs to take place, as well as a shift (read broadening) of our understanding of our own identities and sense of self. Or, perhaps i am hoping for too much from the baboon case study.

    June 3, 2011 at 8:34 am

    • Hi Callum

      I think, as your line of questioning demonstrates, there are various ways you can take that story. My aims in mobilising it were to problematise assumptions about what is inherent in the male of the species, to demonstrate that change in a tight generational time span is possible, and that it requires a shift in both males and females to bring it about. But of course there are other interpretations, some of which may run counter to my aims.

      You are spot on with the need for a massive shift in value systems and an understanding of our own identities. My hope is that by ultimately demonstrating that the conspiracy mobilises men via patriarchy to oppress women while having little interest in men as individuals reveals two things: 1: there is nothing inherently dominating in men; 2: when men realise they have been duped by the conspiracy into dominating on behalf of a system which ultimately rejects them (and this is where the “men’s rights” statistics of poor health, education, incarceration, suicide etc come in), then they will see that it is in their interest (as well as women’s) to overturn the conspiracy. At this point we have a situation where the *vast* majority of people will benefit from overturning the conspiracy, and it will make no reasonable sense to do anything but do so.

      I also believe that just because this involves overturning a conspiracy that has been functioning with different levels of complexity for the full history of humanity, it does not mean that it will inevitably take epic amounts of time to overturn. I see it akin to a medical breakthrough: if we suddenly found an affordable pill that could cure cancer, everyone would be taking it, historical precedents be damned. Similarly, if we could find a way of elegantly articulating and navigating towards the alternative to the conspiracy (which is only really a thinking exercise: no scientific breakthrough required!), I believe a critical mass would be swiftly forthcoming.


      June 3, 2011 at 9:26 am

  3. O.K. I am hooked. I like your line of thinking on these issues. The mythopoetic men’s movement has sought “liberation” by claiming unfounded ideas of “masculine essence”, “sacred masculine” etc. I have enjoyed some of that writing in as much as it affirms certain attributes of my character. But to use Bly’s metaphor it really is just another “cage”. And the men’s movement has been more about meticolously creating the cage than unlocking it. The metaphorical “cage” are the socially constructed definitions of “man” masculinity etc. We are perhaps far more comfortable imprisoning ourselves and others than liberation.


    July 27, 2010 at 4:29 am

    • Michael Schwalbe wrote a reasonable book on the men’s movement using that image: “Unlocking the Iron Cage: The Men’s Movement, Gender Politics, and American Culture”.

      Yes, The Masculinity Conspiracy is a full-on prison break-out. But you know what it’s like: inmates with only a short while left on their sentence, or pally with the guards, never want to leave when given the chance 🙂


      July 27, 2010 at 6:25 am

  4. I’m thoroughly enjoying your book so far. I tend to think the best praise is intelligent debate, so in that spirit I offer the following musings:

    To play devil’s advocate a bit, can’t we not only learn from the mistakes of history but also the successes of history? Isn’t there something to a romanticizing of history that longs for (allegedly) simpler times? And isn’t there a cost to a more complex society with more complex gender performances? What is the cost and why should we be willing to pay it?

    It seems to me that anomie (the feeling of lack of clear social roles)–especially from men in power–is driving some of the masculinity conspiracy (and many conservative agendas in general). Progressive feminist creative class men also feel anomie at times, perhaps moreso! How can we address the conspiracy while also creating a culture and society that addresses such concerns? Will people who can’t understand or cope with such complexities be “left behind”? (pun intended)


    June 9, 2010 at 7:01 am

    • Good points, Duff.

      There may be some successes in history in regard to masculinity, but the broadly pathological mood of historical masculinity seems to obscure these to the point where it seems easier to start with a clean slate.

      The image of simpler historical times is largely a fantasy projected on to the past, which at once re-visions the past into something it was not, and prevents the present from becoming what it could be. Further still, I don’t see this as a historical-simpler masculinity vs Gelfer-complicated masculinity. Historical masculinity can be seen as more complex, as it glosses over the reality of diversity, and it requires very sophisticated analytical skills to cut through the gloss. My vision of masculinity, while more diverse, is also more transparent, which I would argue makes it simpler. In this sense, there is a greater cost to historical masculinity, and we are already paying that cost on a daily basis.

      But even if this process cannot successfully be navigated by some (the “left behind”), with my existential philosopher’s hat on I’d say “better disabled by reality than enabled by fantasy.” There are not always neat answers that everyone can understand, but fully owning this fact fulfills the function of an answer. Unfortunately, this sounds like a Yoda Koan 😉


      June 9, 2010 at 8:39 am

      • Well argued, Joseph. I do agree that revisioning “the good ole days” of patriarchal masculinity as “simpler” is false and misleading, although an all-too-common romantic image.

        Pragmatically speaking, I do think that until there is a realistic solution for anomie we will be stuck with romantic conservative mythologies of the bygone days of masculinity however.

        Perhaps the strongest argument against the simple notions of masculinity is that conservative communities also display a variety of masculinities. I’m a member of an online exercise forum wherein many of the members decry the hyper muscular images of men in media and have a kind of celebration of diversity for the many shapes men’s bodies come in (but still with an emphasis on the muscular and fit). At the same time, there will be forum threads arguing against homosexuality using biblical hermeneutics as the basis for the argument. It’s a strange combination to observe, but clearly a point in favor of your argument that there is no singular masculinity to recover from some lost age.


        June 9, 2010 at 8:50 am

        • I’m not sure what that realistic solution is yet. I rely (perhaps too heavily) on reason. We need some practical community- (and probably/unfortunately celebrity-) based examples to inspire.

          Yes, the diversity among conservative males is interesting, and not given enough attention. This is a point made by a commenter here and elsewhere, Butters, who believes it is a failing of feminists who seek gender diversity, but do not acknowledge it among the conservative subjects of their critique.

          I go down this road some with my articles on Christian men’s ministries, which show there to be differing masculine performances, even within a group which appears monolithically conservative from the outside.


          June 9, 2010 at 9:10 am

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