08: Conclusion cont’d

with 4 comments

Instead of meeting the reader behind such complaints fully on their ground, I ask them to meet me half way (as I have already moved from my natural domain into the middle ground). In doing so we collectively claw back some of the critical thinking territory lost in our dumbed-down world. My aim, too, in writing in an appropriately complex manner is to pay readers the respect they deserve in assuming they are capable of understanding complex issues: an important but increasingly rare gesture. I find that in my face-to-face communications with people (often in rather random circumstances) I can get into some really quite complex territory, the like of which it is assumed they are not capable of reading in books. This assumption was made even clearer to me recently on receiving comments from several “professional” readers from an unnamed mind-body-spirit publisher who read The Masculinity Conspiracy. Have a look at the following feedback:

  • Reader 1: I like the style. My question is how much more is it than an extended book(s) review, (most of which I haven’t read, so confess ignorance in the area), and how we’re going to sell it.
  • Reader 2: Love the short blurb, it immediately made me want to read the book. Extremely well written in a reader friendly way that makes even someone completely uninterested in the subject sit up and take notice. The book certainly makes some good points and although it examines other books on the subject it does so in a style which, although serious, is light and sometimes humorous. I found this an enjoyable read and it made me stop and think and in doing so I realized that a part of my mind had already explored these issues but without having anywhere to express them. I’m not sure how many people would actually buy it.
  • Reader 3: I agree, well written, great style and an interesting subject, but general sales will be a problem.

This is an excellent example of how the conspiracy regulates society. Here we have three professional readers who all seem to like the book, but they can’t imagine anyone else liking it! Certainly, they know the market and what people tend to buy. But people buy largely in accordance with their conditioning by the conspiracy, so to narrowly serve that market is to serve the conspiracy. This is forgivable for people who do not know any better, but I find it troubling that people who knowingly like a counter-conspiratorial text choose not to publish it, as this is nothing short of spineless collaboration. One could be forgiven for thinking it was not that these readers could not imagine anyone else liking the book, rather they did not want anyone else liking the book. But that would be the kind of paranoia Barkun identifies as being symptomatic of conspiratorial thinking, rather than exposing it 🙂 Instead, endless books are published and celebrated that both perpetuate conspiratorial values and congratulate readers for being in agreement, which in turn makes readers feel better about those values, and thus that closed ecology of ideas continues.

This leads to the final twist in the act of self-concealment: despite all the dumbing down, the conspiracy will often paradoxically give the impression that the people it dupes are extremely clever. Barkun echoes this point in his description of conspiracy thinking, noting that it will often mimic mainstream scholarship (I spoke a bit about the use of the term “research” and flaky PhDs back in the Relationships chapter). Not only do conspiracy writers give the impression they are extremely clever, citing other fancy writers, describing themselves as “philosophers” and perhaps belonging to some kind of vaporous Institute of Evolved Personhood (often little more than a paper entity with a bank account set up to accept donations and workshop fees), they also talk about their followers as being extremely clever. This is a cunning maneuver as it at once makes people feel very special for agreeing with the conspiratorial worldview, implies that if you do not agree with it you must not be very clever, and neutralizes momentum to move beyond it to something genuinely clever (or, more accurately, and as we shall see next, something elegantly simple, because while the machinations of the conspiracy are complex, its ultimate source is not).

In sum, the conspiracy functions via numerous sleights of hand:

  • Through its prescriptive vision of masculinity the conspiracy produces a forced space between men and their potential.
  • By giving the impression that there is no conspiracy—simple the way things are—the conspiracy hides in plain sight.
  • By robbing us of the critical thinking skills required to identify it exists, the conspiracy prevents us from imagining a viable alternative.


Written by Joseph Gelfer

August 17, 2011 at 6:54 pm

4 Responses

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  1. Your response offers an even-handed approach – most appreciated. Thank you for the quick response. It is refreshing to hear someone suggest there is an equal burden to be shared between men and women in relationships. Sometimes this notion gets lost.

    As for biology, it sounds as though your position is pretty clear. If I read your response correctly, you seem to discount any proposal that might suggest biology should at any level be used to help explain “certain behaviors.” In my helping work, biology will remain a component to consider along with many others when dealing with an individual. Hopefully, it will not predispose me to put people in boxes. I wish to keep an open mind to all possibilities.

    Ives Wittman

    November 7, 2012 at 10:10 am

    • I wouldn’t discount biology completely (we are biological beings, after all), simply that I do not find it a compelling “cause” for behaviors: balance, as with all things. I’d probably go 30% biology, 70% social construction if I was forced to speculate about the weighting of influences upon us.


      November 7, 2012 at 10:22 am

  2. Your text is well written and quite informative. Masculinity has been a topic in my professional, academic, and personal life for years. For most part, the topic energizes me. However, at this point, gaining clarity on definitions of “gender” sometimes feels like a tiresome slog and one becomes discouraged by the hostile and vituperative climate where these discussions occur whether they are in academia, popular culture, or in the living rooms of “normal” folks.

    A sticking point for me (among many) is biology. Where does the physiological make up of humans and our chemistry fit in? Specifically, testosterene and estrogen are hormones found to have certain physical and emotional affects in men and women. Perhaps, this is ultimately untrue?

    Furthermore, an abundance of testosterene can be generally found in men, while an abundance of estrogen generally in women. According to “science,” these chemicals impact our behaviors that in many cases bear out some of the “male conspiracy” theories – agression, risk-taking, sexual drive, overt vs covert forms of behavior.

    Sex drive is also claimed to be one of the areas affected by our hormones. But also, some suggest our sexual drives are intimately connected to our creative drives. Plus, some evidence suggests a female’s brain and chemistry offers a larger capacity for emotions and emotional memory than males. As a student of pscyhotherapy, there is much literature about how men can be more easily prone to “emotional flooding.” Perhaps, this is only a consequence of social constructs over thousands of years. Much has also been written about the “demand-withdraw” dynamic between men and women in relationships. Women have a tendency to demand which in many cases leads to men’s response of withdrawal. Once again, perhaps this is a socially constructed pavlovian response between the genders.

    To go a step further, as a (hopefully) future therapist, I am saddened by the reluctance of men to work on their relationships unless pushed against the wall (i.e., forced by threats by women of marriage desolution or being kicked out of the home, etc.) The socially constructed notions of masculinity seem to perpetuate men’s aversion to the therapy world and the skills advocated by such a world – self-disclosure, emotional vulnerability, empathy, being, etc. 80% of most couples therapy is initiated by women. I think almost 80% of all divorces are now initiated by women. Not to think of the other numerous social and health costs, men (and ultimately women) have experienced because of our allegiance to certain “socialization” ideologies.

    Perhaps, you can provide a brief response to my issues. Your “Future Masculinity” course sounds appealing to me. However, my decision to enroll remains unclear at this point. What is the likelihood it will address some of the above issues?


    November 7, 2012 at 5:33 am

    • Thanks for your comments. In general, I am suspicious of a focus on biology. Certainly, biology has some impact on us, but this is hard to measure relative to social construction, and I am not comfortable at all in using it to “explain” certain behaviors: when this happens I find it tends to provide an excuse to uncritically retreat into stereotypical and problematic ways of being a man (and woman).

      I am also increasingly reluctant to get into allocating men with a significantly larger responsibility to do work within hetero-couples. Certainly, masculinity is more problematic than femininity in the grander scale of things, and men must lead the charge in fixing this problem (i.e., “work by men, on men, for everyone”). However, within the context of relationships, femininity (as equally defined and regulated by the conspiracy) is also problematic, and we cannot assign women moral privilege. In the end, this is a problem for us all, to be fixed in mutuality.


      November 7, 2012 at 8:21 am

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