Wednesday, May 10, 2017

My Review of "The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love" by bell hooks

The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and LoveThe Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love by bell hooks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Short review—a great primer for any man looking to change.
Just a touch of back story. As a kid I saw the Old Boys Club antagonize my mom in all kinds of nasty ways, so I decided my way of being a man would be to “do no harm” essentially embrace a sort of neutral passivity… which kinda worked, but I’ve found passivity allows the patriarchy to still hold sway, and I am often still complicit.
So, I’ve been exploring what a healthy assertive masculinity would look like. A friend of mine recommended bell hook’s book “The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love” saying it is the only book out there addressing Alternative Masculinity.

“The Will To Change” is a broad description of what the Patriarchy does to men—Dr. hooks describes a totalized system, I have to admit I’ve not experienced all the manifestations of patriarchy described, but I’d imagine that just means I’m either lucky or have some blinders.
What follows are a few points made throughout the book:

-Patriarchy does not allow for relationship
Dr. hooks begins with the statement that women fear men, for we are a constant threat of violence to them. She uses an intense example by Barbara Deming, who describes the first time she felt true intimacy with her father, which was when she held his corpse. It was the first time there was no threat of violence in him.
Put simply, Patriarchy involves domination, and love and domination can’t coexist. So, all intimacy within patriarchal culture is pretend intimacy.

-The Patriarchy involves Domination
Men living under the Patriarchy are constantly asking where they are on the social pecking order. There can be no sign of weakness.
Instead of finding self-esteem in a man’s individual identity it is always found in relation to other men. Any sign of weakness is shamed. The question is always “who is on top?” “who is dominating who?”. One of the silly thing men often do is answer questions even if they don’t know the right answer, or were not asked the question—this is because not having the answer causes shame and shows weakness. So, mansplaining, for example, is an attempt to not be shamed.

-“Psychic self-mutilation”
Boys become men when they learn to stop expressing their emotions. This is a horrendous loss, and within the Patriarchy manhood is reaffirmed by learning to only grieve this loss in private. Dr. hooks suggests the anti-social stage of development in boys may in fact be the point at which they learn to stop expressing their emotions.
There are multiple masks men learn to use to hide this grief and other emotions. In general the mask is compartmentalization. This causes men to distrust everyone, after all if they are masking their pain, everyone is lying. Often times boys living in anti-patriachal homes lead a double life at home and at school.
Additionally, Workaholism is a mask that is rewarded and encouraged by pretty much everyone. Work is a place to escape the self. It encourages a sense of separate spheres, men work and make money, women work at home and do the emotional work for men.
Another major mask is sex. The Patriarchy has told men that sex is the only space for intimacy and release of emotions. This causes men to have a constant sense of sexual scarcity, after all they are told sex does the work of all passions, sensualities, and relationships. “All human needs are promised to us by way of sex and sexuality.” It isn’t put in its proper place as “one pleasure among many pleasures.”
Dr. hooks warns women ought not ignore the pain the Patriarchy inflicts upon men, as they too can be socialized into psychic self-mutilation.

-Change is hard
Popular culture props up the Patriarchy, even when it tries to be thoughtful about masculinity. For example, American Beauty, Life as a House, and Monsters Ball all depict men critically reflecting upon their emotional life, and they all end up dead. Who would choose to embrace a practice that he is told will lead to his destruction?
Men are often bought off by the Patriarchy. Dr. hooks describes a gentle quiet feminist man who assumed a macho persona and was rewarded for it. Women were drawn to him, he was noticed publically and professionally, and “his feminism ceased.”
At times mainstream feminism gives men who want to change mixed messages, “Hold onto ideas about strength and providing for others… while dropping your investment in domination and add an investment in emotional growth.”
It’s important to remember that women also enforce patriarchal norms. The following conversation is a norm:
“How do you feel?”
“Like there is something missing, I’m in pain and I think society hates me.”
Similarly, men recovering from substance abuse often have the experience of being told by their partner, “Now that you are sober you no longer need to express your feelings.”
Finally, as long as the Patriarchy is the water in which we swim, men who want to change will be left resource-less. “Men will never receive support from patriarchal culture for their emotional development.”

-But it is worth it
“Anytime a single male dares to transgress patriarchal boundaries in order to love, the lives of women, men, and children are fundamentally changed for the better.”

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Tuesday, May 09, 2017

A review of "The Earliest Christian Hymnbook: The Odes of Solomon"

The Earliest Christian HymnbookThe Earliest Christian Hymnbook by James H. Charlesworth
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Charlesworth’s “The Odes of Solomon” book is interesting in many ways. Firstly, the content is fascinating, it is essentially an early Christian hymnbook from a time period when Rabbinic Judaism, Proto-Gnosticism, and Orthodox Christianity are all still decidedly intertwined, or at least can all fit in a single codex.
Secondly, the way the book is set up is interesting, it is set up as a devotional. Think of all those 40 days with Bonheoffer, Scripture for Mothers, etc… a reading, then an excerpt from the reading plastered on the other side of the page. Well, imagine that genre, except with non-canonical scripture. It’s fascinating; it gives you the feel of what an early Christian devotional practice might have been like. You can almost experience it as a living tradition.
The whole thing allows the reader to look at present Christianity sideways—it is the Faith told slanted (to borrow from Dickinson). Here are a few of the metaphors describing God, just to give a sense:
Ode 6 The Spirit plays people like wind plays a harp.
Ode 11 The author’s heart is pruned, grace flowers from it, which in turn produces fruit for God.
Ode 19 Describes the Trinity strangely, the Spirit milks the Father and pours the milk into the Son, who in turn is on offer to the believer.
Ode 24 Describes Jesus’ baptism in terrifying terms—the dove flutters over the Messiah’s head, but then soon enough untrue thoughts are threatened by the Spirit and the Messiah’s presence.
So, if you want to get an experiential sense of an alternative Christianity pick up this book and read it devotionally for 40 days or so.

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Sunday, May 07, 2017

A review of Ishmael

Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and SpiritIshmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit by Daniel Quinn

Quinn’s Ishmael is a book that really makes you think. A telepathic gorilla goes through the Socratic method with the narrator in order to think through two ways of being human—as a Taker or a Leaver.
Takers, non-tribal people, have separated from the rest of nature through ever expanding consumption, which is dangerous to all other life, and ultimately for the Takers as well.
Leavers, on the other hand, are not wedded to unstoppable expansion, and as such ebb and flow as a people in a way that matches the rest of nature, following, ultimately, the law of the World, a law as concrete and real as the law of gravity.
Quinn warns that without a change in direction, a return to Leaver culture, we Takers are doomed and the world along with us. Additionally, Leaver society is better on an individual level, as well—Leavers only work a few hours a day, have no mental illness, crime, suicide, or addictions. Additionally, their lives are filled with meaning and they have no need of religion.
I really enjoyed the book, though I’m not “sold” on Quinn’s whole program. As a person who would have died without the modern marvels of science (I have a heart condition only fixable in 1983, the year I was born) the casual way Quinn shrugs off the nastiness of natural selection seems out of place with the rest of the book. Anthropocentrism and human arrogance is a danger, I think he’s right in reading Genesis as a whole as skeptical of cities (a “Leaver” narrative), a civilization based on unlimited growth and ignoring future consequences is bad, its right in all these things, but at the same time there does seem to be a ridged dogma to the whole thing.
In sum, I recommend reading Ishmael and taking seriously its critique of the Taker status quo.

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