The Curve of Time

Hillary is from Mars, Obama is from Venus is a perceptive article (on Salon, free, but they make you endure a brief commercial), that I’d like to use as a launching point to discuss the rebalancing of the genders, which I mentioned toward the end of Opening of the Western Mind.

First, a look at the gender swapping roles of our interplanetary presidential candidates:

In the Democratic presidential pack, the leading man is a woman and the leading woman is a man.

Throughout history, American presidents have been men’s men who puff their out chests against evil. Think Teddy Roosevelt on safari, Jack Kennedy in PT-109, Ronald Reagan on his horse, or George W. Bush with a chain saw clearing brush. If leaders show any slackening of testosterone, especially in wartime, they are quickly derided as wimps (George H.W. Bush), a Frenchman (John Kerry) or weaklings (Jimmy Carter). But on the Democratic campaign trail these days, where the first woman in U.S. history is making a serious run at the White House, gender roles are being swapped.

When Obama travels the country, he does not appear to worry much about posing with guns or wearing those khaki workman jackets that made Kerry look so silly in 2004. Instead, he sings an empowerment ballad on the stump that would make most lady folk singers proud. "The decision to go to war is not a sport," he tells crowds, rejecting the male metaphor. "We can discover the better part of ourselves as a nation," he says. "We can dream big dreams."

In contrast, Hillary Clinton has run her campaign with all the muscular vision and authority of the macho candidates of yesteryear. "I’ve seen her stand up to bullies," announced Christine Vilsack, the former first lady of Iowa, when she introduced Clinton at a rally in Des Moines last week. On the stump, Clinton repeatedly tells people that they should let her take control of the country, eschewing Obama’s more abstract calls for national soul-searching. "If you are ready for change, I am ready to lead," she says.

You probably have no trouble imagining The Duke saying that last line.

"The first woman absolutely has to out-masculine the man, kind of like Margaret Thatcher did," says Georgia Duerst-Lahti, a professor at Beloit College who has written extensively on gender in presidential politics. "Men have a lot more latitude. Just think about Ronald Reagan when he would tear up. Could a woman ever tear up? No. But a man can tear up."

One of the points I want to make is that gender roles and behavior are not strictly tied to the sex of your body, and this is borne out by our interplanetary candidates. All of us, men and women, can and do display behavior and ways of thinking that traditionally are associated with the opposite sex. In New Age parlance, each of us “runs” a unique mix of male and female energy.

Begore I go on, let me assure you that I’m not some radical feminist (not that this is bad). I’m a middle aged guy who has many of the usual “guy” interests, along with a barebones understanding of feminism, gained almost entirely through osmosis. I’m definitely not a metrosexual. What I’m writing about is much bigger than feminism, IMO. What follows is speculation, although I’m hardly alone with these ideas.

As you’re aware, we live in a time of intense polarization. On the one hand, dogmas and social conditioning of all kinds, including gender roles, are being challenged, a process which started back in the 1960s or earlier. This forms the grist for the opposite pole, the reaction, the intense need some have to maintain traditional order. We call those with this need "conservatives".

Hillary’s macho posturing notwithstanding, the feminine is reasserting itself, whether conservatives like it or not, while the traditional masculine approach is waning, and has been for some time. Rather than trying to convince you with a shower of data points (a book-length project), I’m a lot more interested in exploring the reasons why this is happening.

There has always been a tension in our race between male ways of seeing the world and acting in it, versus the feminine approach to the same. Which approach prevails at a given time is reflected in the sex of the gods of that time. The fertility gods of the distant past were a mix of males and females, and I’m not convinced that one sex consistently prevailed over the other. But at one point, several thousand years ago, in what was the forerunner to Western Civilization, the gods by and large became male, and stayed male, to this day. This coincided with a shift in consciousness that produced cities, writing, armies, nation-states, technology, space travel, and so on. These are the apparent fruits of the male tendency toward domination and hierarchies. This list also includes the subjugation of women, which feminism understands well.

Each age sows the seeds of its own demise. From "The Curve of Time", a chapter in Thom Hartmann’s inspiring semi-autobiography, The Prophet’s Way (Note: the thrilling "upward glissando" toward the end of the Beatles’ song, A Day In the Life, is an awesome musical companion to this excerpt):

He [Hartmann’s mentor] took a napkin and drew two lines which intersected to create a backwards L. "If you look at the speed of transportation for millions of years, it was the same," he said, drawing a straight line just above the bottom line of the backwards L. "Then they started to ride horses", the line went up a bit, "then cars", a bit higher, "then airplanes", higher still, "and then jets and spaceships." At that point he shot the line straight up to the edge of the vertical line of the backward L. "The same is true of how much energy humans consume. And of the population of the Earth. And of the number of evil acts committed. And of good acts. And of the destructive power of weapons and bombs. And, and, and. Always, at the end, the curve ends with this radical upward sweep, the point it cannot go beyond without collapse, and it is happening now, in our lifetimes."

The point of this, is that the power and reach of the the average human, both individually and collectively has increased geometrically, as a result of the male dominated approach to things, to the point where we can easily destroy the planet and ourselves. We’re painfully discovering that traditional military solutions – the ultimate form of dominance – often don’t work any more – they backfire on ourselves, something that conservatives have yet to appreciate. And so the traditional male approach to things – hierarchies and dominance, and all the fruits thereof – have in many cases hit the wall in terms of being able to deliver workable solutions to the problems we face. It’s debatable whether the male approach now causes more problems than it solves.

In parallel, the traditional feminine skills of intuition, empathy, and collaboration have come to be more and more prized. Because of "the curve of time", it’s vital to be able to get along, both with our neighbors and with the planet’s ecosystem. This requires respect, and an empathic working with, over dominance. Intuition has become more valued than logic, because it’s faster, and produces answers more aligned with our real, deep concerns, in an age when time itself feels sped up. Intuition is also more valued for its ability to penetrate to the truth of things in a time when we’re drowning in confusion and disinformation. How many of us simply knew in our gut that Bush was lying about Iraq in 2002, without a great need for hard evidence, or even in the face of the phony evidence that was presented? The left-brained Mr Spock seems stiff and silly these days, and probably would not exist if Star Trek were being created today.

There’s a dance that goes on between the male and female energies in our race. One dominates for awhile, and provides the groundwork or impetus for its opposite to catch up. Labor saving machinery levelled the field for women by reducing the need for physical brawn. The ascent of the feminine likewise is providing the space for men to introspect and heal their old wounds, to develop their feminine side including their own gifts of intuition and empathy, as well as to develop a more authentic, heart-centered, and mature form of male leadership.The whole planet has certainly seen enough of the immature, embarassing form of male leadership, based on dominance, over these last six, very dangerous years.

If you made it this far, I hope you understand that I’m not putting down men or male ways. Both styles of consciousness are complementary and necessary. What I see going on however, is a rebalancing between them, one that is necessary for our survival ahead. It’s interesting that neither Hillary nor Obama are being laughed off the stage (at least not by Democrats) for their embrace of their opposite energies. This wouldn’t have happened fifty years ago – they would’ve seemed like freaks, straying from the relatively rigid gender roles of earlier times.

I’ll close with the thought that all the major spiritual figures were very balanced in expressing their male and female sides. That level of mastery (and transcendence) is the goal for each of us. It is where we are going. I say this being far more personally familiar with contemporary figures (such as Yogananda) than obviously those from the distant past.

Profiting from Polarity

From How to Win a Fight With a Conservative, by Daniel Kurtzman, comes a seven question, scien-terrific test, designed to show you What Breed of Liberal Are You? (don’t you like being told that you’re a breed?). I took the test and found that I’m a "Peace Patroller" – check out these nearly useless distinctions:

  • Peace Patrollers, also known as anti-war liberals or hippies—believe in putting an end to American imperial conquest, stopping wars that have already been lost, and supporting our troops by bringing them home.
  • Eco-Avengers, also known as environmentalists or tree huggers—believe in saving the planet from the clutches of air-fouling, oil-drilling, earth-raping conservative fossil fools.
  • Social Justice Crusaders, also known as rights activists—believe in equality, fairness, and preventing neo-Confederate conservative troglodytes from rolling back fifty years of civil rights gains.
  • Working Class Warriors, also known as blue-collar Democrats—believe that the little guy is getting screwed by conservative greed-mongers and corporate criminals, and you’re not going to take it anymore.
  • Reality-Based Intellectualists, also known as the liberal elite—are proud members of what’s known as the reality-based community, where science, reason, and non-Jesus-based thought reign supreme.
  • New Left Hipsters, also known as liberals, Netroots activists, or Daily Show fanatics—believe that if we really want to defend American values, conservatives must be exposed, mocked, and assailed for every fanatical, puritanical, warmongering, Constitution-shredding ideal for which they stand.

Kurtzman also wrote a companion volume, How to Win a Fight With a Liberal, which astonishingly appeared at the very same time as his first book. It also comes with a seven question test of its very own. Clearly the guy is a genius, the kind that has a shrewd eye for opportunity (and that is not a slam, although it sounds like it). If it’s too hard to bring people together, we can instead find a way to profit from the Culture War. I’m not really condemning Kurtzman – I sort of wish I had thought of this, paralleling those moments when I wish I had come up with that famous icon of kitsch, the Ronco Vegematic.

On a more serious note, does anyone still feel the need for the kind of assistance the first book tries to provide? There was a long period of time when I felt beleaguered and overwhelmed by belligerant conservative behavior and rhetoric, but not any more. This receded due to the failures of conservative ideology and its politicians, and in the meantime, we libs have gotten stronger and more confident in standing these people down.