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Moment of Truth: January 7 2017


Masculinity and Capitalism

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

I was raised in a shitty suburb of Detroit full of bullies or aspiring bullies. As a child my biggest worry was being noticed. I preferred anonymity. Being singled out in a crowd was a prelude to horrible things.

I say I preferred to remain anonymous. It never occurred to me to make friends. I didn't know what that was about. I had friends by default. Anyone who interacted with me without insulting or bullying was my friend. And even then I didn't always trust them. I just knew they had chosen to behave like a friend and that was their choice. Until they behaved otherwise, they were my friend. I didn't understand myself as an active being in the community. I was much more concerned with how the community was acting upon me.

A little later on people would recount their memories of our interactions. I then began, slowly, to understand that I had a presence among others. I was not invisible. I did and said things, which actions and statements were remembered by others. A relationship began to develop between my observing eye and this reported thing that was, I guessed, some aspect of me. I began to watch myself, just as I had been watching the world. I saw myself through the eyes of others. And the more I heard about my presence in the lives of others, the more I saw myself as the main character in a story being told.

I'm going to name the observer, "The Gaze" and the observed, "The Hero," just for the sake of simplicity. The Gaze evaluates what's going on, and the Hero is the main character in the drama the Gaze is watching. Somewhere in between those two was an empty space. My true identity began to be built in the empty space between these conflicting aspects of myself as both an invisible observer and an observed character. And I had no idea what was being built. And I had no desire to know.

I don't know if everyone's identity is constructed this way, or if I'm just one of the unlucky ones who found himself with an empty space where a self should be, letting it build itself without my cultivation or conscious awareness, like an autonomous, unseen detective building an image of a crime from pieces of evidence, discarding whatever judgments prove faulty, incorporating what seems reliable. But I do believe we all have shells made out of Gaze and Hero, and we all have a space within, where our self is built, however they begin and are put together.

When I began to hear about myself from others, how I had said or done one thing or another, whatever they reported I'd said or done, whether bad or good from their point of view, I distrusted any report that didn't jibe with my view of myself as a blameless Hero or flawless Gaze. I was working hard on this story, so I didn't want to abandon it just because a few details didn't fit. I built a story in which anything could be justified – or rather, in which nothing needed to be justified. I assigned no negative or positive morality, they were just actions. Nor could anyone else's memory be trusted more than my own.

Eventually, though, that story fell apart. It turned out to be nothing more than a shell narrative the Gaze and Hero were weaving together. So many discrepancies cropped up between my narrative and what was reported to me that I couldn't sustain the view of my Gaze as infallible. Nor could I sustain my view of my Hero as blameless. The shell lost its integrity, revealing that what I had believed my morality-free identity was full of pollutants. The older I got, the more polluted I became, until I understood on some level that underneath whatever Gaze/Hero shell I was building, at any given time, what I really was underneath it all was just a big glass pillar of incomprehensible, chaotic pollution with no narrative structure whatsoever.

Maybe it was the real story of who I was. Or maybe it was something utterly other and unthinkable. Regardless, I didn't want to examine and I sure wasn't going to allow anyone else to see it.

That was fine, though. I'd become so accustomed to leaving my inner self, whatever that was, out of life that I found it quite easy and in fact necessary to rebuild the shell over and over, to elide the existence of the pollution, and to conceal it. There were some gems among the pollution. Maybe I had made someone laugh or given them a thoughtful gift or impressed them in some way. That gem I would clean off and put into the story. The Gaze would see this gem that the Hero had bestowed on the world. The dirtiness of the pollution I would just ignore and forget. Surely I'm not worse than anyone else, I thought. Everyone's polluted, I told myself, and they don't seem to bother about it. Why should I?

Representing oneself in the best possible light is both masculine and capitalist. It's masculine because a Hero with flaws is an anti-hero, and that's not what a traditional man is. But even when acknowledging one's flaws, as eventually becomes necessary for most people, being a non-traditional man, an anti-hero is still being a Hero in some sense. Because regardless of his flaws, he's what matters most in the story. So even as your narration matures, as long as you are the Hero of your own story, nothing else matters as much as yourself.

And as the viewer of your story, everything exists for you. In capitalism you are both product, to be advertized, and consumer, to be deceived, like being Hero and Gaze. The inner self is left out. It's a dirty, polluted, morally compromised thing that needn't be discussed let alone dealt with. If it has a gem in it, by all means, clean off that gem and display it on yourself. But otherwise steer clear of any mention of it.

This dynamic, in which all that matters are representation and perception, is why men are so afraid of being laughed at. They lose control of how they're perceived. Since there's nothing of value inside the shell of representation and perception, since it's so polluted and unfiltered that it cannot be profited from or even acknowledged, any flaw in the shell threatens to leave a person denuded of value. If the shell collapses, all that is left is the inside. And inside is the real, polluted, impure self, a thing too embarrassing and disgusting to allow out into the world.

The inner thing is afraid, it's lonely, it's trivial, it cries, it bleeds, it loses, it is weak, it has unfulfilled desires, it fails to rise to the top of its field, it's going to get old and die. It's chaotic, lacks narrative order, and one suspects it is therefore frighteningly meaningless.

All of these qualities are all right for women and other inferior beings, but a man is something simpler and better. A man is solid. His shell is solid, and even were his shell to be penetrated, well, with such a shell as he has, he must have an equally virtuous self inside, supporting it.

A man wins. And what he doesn't win through moral or ethical virtue he wins by being the most interesting character in the story.

Obviously there is something pathetically immature about the construct of masculinity in the USA. Infantile, even. And capitalism is merely masculinity writ large. Capitalism is all about the superficial, the unsubtle, the material. If you can't count it, you can't prove that you have more of it than others do, and therefore you can't prove quantitatively your moral superiority to them. When men become homeless we are confronted by the weakness of their shell and repulsed. In this way we demonstrate that we've internalized the shallowness of masculinity and the hateful status hierarchy of capitalism.

Under a global system with similar values as these, or with what we assume are similar values, when nations go broke they are emasculated. Their men become nationalistic fascists, valorizing the ability to do violence, turning brutal domination into a virtue. All out of fear of revealing what they themselves have no stomach to examine.

And this is where we are. Many of us look outside ourselves and see a world that cares nothing for the weak. How does it profit us, we wonder, to make that inner journey to ourselves, to build a real, moral, accountable, yet untamable, unrestrained, limitless self, when outside us is a world that refuses to do the same work? We fear we would just be weakening what projects strength if we failed to properly maintain our shell, while the capitalist world refuses to remove its cleats, stamping those with vulnerable shells into the turf.

Of course, capitalism shifts the blame for the misfortunes it causes onto other things, as does the male. The world, the horrible world, with its disasters, and human nature, that unpredictable, awful, cowardly, inherently violent thing, these are to blame, these are the reasons the capitalist and the male have to keep their armor strong. These are why only the capitalist can be entrusted with wealth and information and only the man can protect us from others. Everyone else is under threat of being crushed, and the crushed cannot lead. All they can become is either victims or criminal threats.

Evolution is not just the development of the individual, but an ecological development. The organism and the environment are involved with each other. We are the collective. Disarming the world can't just begin with individual actions of peace, we need an environment to be peaceful within. At some point the individual has to trust that it's safe to let down his guard, and the society has to trust the individual to be civil. But trust is not what we in the current United States understand as either manly or profitable.

Masculinity and capitalism right now seem to have won. They seem to have formed a monolithic framework to prevent either society or the individual from developing a viable core of self to exist without a defensive shell of false superiority.

Fortunately, though, there are always principles developing to bring beings other than masculine ones into importance, and to bring profitlessness into the realm of economy. There have been such principles for a long time, with waxing and waning influence, and because nothing maintains its hegemony forever, their influence increases even as the old regime flails more violently against change.

It's nowhere written that men and capital will always dominate the story. Other values and other characters are demanding focus, and altering the drama and what lies behind it in ways even too subtle to be termed "demanding." The shell is just a shell and can't be sustained. Examples of the miserable inadequacy of capitalism and masculinity reappear again and again, confronting us, despite our reluctance to see, or our self-indoctrinated inability to understand. But we can't be deceived, or deceive ourselves, forever. Eventually, the evidence contradicting the deception will destroy it.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!


Moment of Truth


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