Tag Archives: masculinity

In Memoriam – a tribute to a feminist sister

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The Yellow Rose a symbol of joy and gladness
A recent personal tragedy made aware that philosophies of kindness are regarded more highly than is widely assumed, many remain impervious to the worse excesses of our materialistic culture. The values associated with a more traditional culture still exist within contemporary culture, values such as friendship, compassion and caring. The respect shown towards my sister by her many friends demonstrated how these highly these values are still regarded. The turnout at her funeral and the grief expressed showed how much people value this individuals whose life demonstrated these principles in practice. She was a woman who worked in the caring services, most recently teaching children that had been excluded from school because of behavioural problems. Even accepting back into her class a violent teenager who had made an attack on her. She was a central figure in many friendship groups and social activities such as the book club. These friends all supported each other through the problems that life throws up, illness and death for example. Men seem to lack these support groups as we seem much more one dimensional in our relationships.When I started my last job I made friends with Keith, yet it was a number of years before I knew he had two children in their teens. We just talked about work, philosophy and politics, never our families. One sociologist made a study of language use and she came to the conclusion that women make much more use of relational language. Going back to my example if we had been women, we would asked each other about family and known almost immediately how many children each had. I think one writer wrote that it is woman kind that civilises mankind. Perhaps illustrated by a remark made by my wife. When hearing that the British army was to allow women to engage in combat on the frontline, who said that, ‘I thought we were capable of better than that’. What the life of my sister reminded was that there is a different culture within our society of which I as man was unfamiliar.

Feminist philosophers and theologians believe that their gender gives them a very distinct life, which makes the dominant male oriented philosophies and theologies of our society irrelevant to those who don’t have the male experience of life. Grace Jantzen is one of these writers. She in her book ‘Becoming Divine”,redrafts Hannah Arendt’s philosophy of natality to give it a distinctly feminist context. For Arendt natality is a philosophy of rebirth, a philosophy of revolution and change. There are times when the power exercised by the dominant group in society weakens and falters.This is becomes a time of opportunity, a time when a public space opens up which allows all those feelings and ideas that had been repressed to be expressed. It is a brief moment of time in which change in the social order can occur as new ideas are given the time and space to take root. The Arab spring briefly appeared to be one such moment of natality, it seemed as if Arab societies could be reborn on more egalitarian lines, when fairness established as one of the founding principles of a new society. Unfortunately, in all but Tunisia the old repressive forces reasserted themselves with renewed vigour.

People of mine and my sister’s generation thought the 1960s was such a time of rebirth and the remaking of society. A time of the ‘the Age of Aquarius’, certainly it was for many individuals, who in response to the times entered into the caring professions or adopted an alternative lifestyle. Unfortunately this brief spring time of liberation was crushed by the forces of reaction. Not the cruel reaction of a repressive police state, but the overwhelmingly seductive power of the consumer society. Potential revolutionaries were bought off by the promise of wealth. I can remember conversations between avowed Marxists in which the main topic of conversation was house prices and how they would benefit from the rise in these prices. The wealth on offer was so much greater than any of our parents knew so young people it easily seduced into becoming willing participant in the consumer society. What remained of the revolution of ideas and behaviours, quickly metamorphosed into a revolution of style and appearance. Revolution was to be expressed in liking a particular type of music or through dress, revolution segued into glam rock, it was a revolution of style. This revolution left intact the very fundamentals of the old unequal society, the power of the old order was never really challenged. When the opportunity came in the mid 1970s this group savagely reasserted its claim to wealth and privilege. The welfare state was slowly dismantled, poverty appeared again on our streets in the person of the beggar.
One interview I saw on television encapsulated this change. A representative of a country landowners association said how the fashion for large country houses had changed. In the 1960s these great houses were being knocked down, whereas in the ‘noughties’ there was a renewed interest in building great country houses. He failed to mention that this was a consequence of increasing inequality of wealth and income in the country.

Grace Janzten was part of new rising group of feminist thinkers who reacted against the philosophy of the times, that of Neo-Liberalism in its many forms. These new patriarchal philosophies were as the old male religions the philosophies of anti-life given new guises. These old new philosophies for her sprung from the inability of men to directly experience the act of creation, that is giving birth. It was the experience of or the potential experience of this that gave women a different understanding of life. Central to women’s lives are the acts of creation and nurture, as without nurturing that created thing, life would not thrive. Masculinist philosophies such as Neo-Liberalism make the nurturing society impossible. Its very Darwinism emphasis on winners and losers is anti-nurture, as in such a society only the winners thrive. Rather than thrive the great majority of society, that is the losers languish and flounder. The number of children in poverty is rising and those malnourished children lose out in the academic race that is now schooling. They cannot compete with their better fed and resourced rivals. Neo-Liberal Britain is the society of the precariat and the underclass, where only the possession of wealth is celebrated. A Jantzenist society would be very different, in that all its children would be nurtured and all have an opportunity to succeed. This would mean the removing of those barriers to aspiration, that is the many barriers placed in the way of the children of the poor by low income and poverty. Motherhood would be the basic principle around which society would be structured, rather than the very masculinist one of power.

Jantzen never really develops how her philosophy/theology in the context of remaking society, her interest is in power. How to grab back power from the patriarchy. Her solution is the development of a feminist philosophy of natality and life as a counterweight to dominant masculinist philosophies of power and violence. She wants equal recognition in society for the very different life experience of women. This in turn brings me back to my sister and I, as our childhood experiences demonstrate the two very distinct philosophies of life. She would work as a volunteer for the St.Johns Ambulance Brigade, which meant giving up her spare time to work in the wards of the local hospital. While I went out with my friends fishing or shooting, more usually the former, inflicting pain and suffering on the local wildlife. Although Grace Jantzen can justifiably be accused of presenting a very idealised view of women’s life experience, it does not diminish her claim for the need for a powerful feminist philosophy of natality to oppose and limit the predatory masculinist Social Darwinist philosophies of today. It is the latter that have wreaked havoc on society reintroducing to it, poverty, insecurity and ill health all the evils of the societies of the past.

Neo-Liberalism the latest of a long line of pseudo philosophies that plague mankind

Isaiah Berlin once remarked that there could be no such thing as a right wing philosophy. This at first puzzled me as the philosophers I studied were generally to the politically right of centre. What I then realised was that although these philosophers were of the political right their philosophies were not. Their philosophies were too enlightened to be confined within the bounds of conventional right wing thinking. A truly right wing philosophy would be founded on the principles of personal aggrandisement, the abuse and exploitation of fellow men (a contempt for the majority of mankind), the extolling of social inequality and social privilege. To express it more simply there cannot be a philosophy of nastiness; it is contrary to the understanding of the that the Greeks gave to this word, which that it is the love of wisdom. Praising greed or inequality cannot be the basis of any philosophy as it is a paean to unpleasant form of self interest.

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Having introduced the term pseudo philosophy I need to explain what I mean by the term. A pseudo philosophy is a one that serves to justify the self interest of a particular group. This self interest is always described in terms of a higher idealism, always a theft of universally admired ideals, but ideals that were redrafted to serve a particular narrow self interest. The medieval knight was at his worst was a killer, a rapacious looter and rapist yet this brutality could be justified by chivalry. This knight was a Christian knight, who spent the night before knighthood in prayer at a chapel. A knight who promised to use his strength to protect the poor and weak, treat women with courtesy etc. Somehow those killed by the knights did not fit into any of the protected categories, they were non people excluded by the code for a variety of reasons, for example when the Christian knights stormed Constantinople, the killing of Christian priests and monks was justified as they were heretics.

Pseudo philosophies unlike philosophy have the intention of stopping the advance of human knowledge, they want to stop the clock on change. They want to preserve the contemporary society in aspic or in the most extreme cases regress to a less enlightened age. The militants of Isis in Iraq practise the pseudo philosophy of violence, their rise to power is justified by the need to purge society of non Islamic elements. The barbarity of their regime can only be justified if they remove and destroy the enlightened elements of modern Islam society, as their existence is a constant and compelling criticism of their regime and a reminder that there is an alternative. Barbarity and the lust for power cannot tolerate learning whether it be culture or education as it is in opposition to their barbaric ethos. An ethos best expressed in the words mistakenly attributed to Goebbels, ‘when I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver’.

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What these pseudo philosophies have in common is a disregard for majority of humanity, who they class as inferior beings, full membership of humanity is limited to elite groups, the medieval knight or the contemporary billionaire. Possibly the cruelest of pseudo philosophies is National Socialism which classified whole groups of people as sub human, such as the Jews, the Roma, homosexuals, the disabled and proceeded to exterminate them. Contemporary pseudo philosophies such as Neo-Liberalism embody this same inhumanity. Ayn Rand a leading prophet of this philosophy also demonstrates a contempt for the masses of humanity. In her novels mankind is divided into two groups the ‘producers’ and ‘looters’, with corresponding physical characteristics. Her producers are square jawed of an angular physique, her looters are weak chinned and have flabby physiques. A caricature of humankind that could almost have been borrowed from the Nazis, with their comparisons of the magnificent physique of the Aryans with the grotesque bodies of the Jews. One critic said that there was the whiff of the gas chambers in her novels

Rand as with all pseudo philosophers is able to dress up her ideas with a moral grandeur suggestive of utilitarian philosophers Jeremy Bentham and J.S.Mill.

My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.

—Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged[11]

Unfortunately such grandeur can be deconstructed into the belief that greed is the motor that drives the world. Evil gets redefined as the attempt by the ‘looters’ to deny the ‘producers’ through legislation and its evil begetter over mighty government to rein in and control the wealth producers and creators. Billionaires are her heroes the poor are ‘lice’ and ‘maggots’. Unsurprisingly Ayn Rand is popular with the right, particularly the Republican Right in America. She seems to have been almost as influential as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman in recasting the USA and the UK in the Neo-Liberal mould.

Since the philosophy of Rand, the economics of Hayek and Friedman gives a moral camouflage to the activities of the predatory financier class, it is not surprising that Neo-Liberalism has become the moral philosophy of this class. They by using their financial clout have manipulated the political classes into accepting Neo-Liberalism as the philosophy of the political class. In the UK politicians as in the USA have become totally subservient to the ‘producers’, government now is principally run to facilitate the interests of the producers. Public service (big government) has been diminished through the wholesale privatisation of public services. In their latest act of obeisance they are about the agree the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Programme (TTIP) which will enshrine in legislation the dominance of producers over the political class. If in the future any government has the temerity to force the big corporations to adopt environmental or labour protection policies which they claim could reduce their profitability, they can reclaim those lost profits from the government. Usually when a political class legislates itself into irrelevance it is under the threat of violence as in Nazi Germany, the signing of the TTIP treaty is unusual in that our legislators are wiling signing themselves into irrelevance.

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Practitioners of pseudo philosophies such as National Socialism and Neo-Liberals in their anxiety to give their philosophy a more secure cultural underpinning, drift into turning their philosophy into a religion. Towards the end of the Nazi regime the SS tried to reintroduce the old pagan Gods as a cultural reinforcement of Nazism. Neo-Liberals have already made that change. There is for them a superhuman entity that creates, controls and remakes life and that is the free market. All human societies should be modelled on the free market and Neo-Liberals believe that their role is to remake society into the perfect free market, a behaviour that can be compared to those followers of millennial religions. They thanks to Ayn Rand have a belief in a non-rational world view that is not subject to critical analysis, it is just true.

The purpose of my essay is to explain the nature of the enemy, that people such as myself oppose. If you understand your enemy you are better able to fight it. The philosophy that guides the Rand’s producers is a kind of disturbed masculinity and is a threat to the good society. All the sex in Rand’s novels display this disturbed masculinity, it always violent, suggestive of rape. Not a bad metaphor for the financiers who have raped society through their greed, living a damaged broken social world in their wake.