I was having an email discussion the other day with a friend who took exception to my continued criticism of Strib columnist Syl Jones.
To be fair (to Jones and to me), unlike most conservative commentators I’ve actually found reason to agree with some of Jones’ work – but it’s been a rare thing. For starters, I’m desperately sick of his whole “ice people” slur – the whole Melanistic conceit that people of color are inherently emotionally and mentally healthier than white people because their sun-drenched past made them more open and less repressed they’ve “got no soul”, in effect. Leaving aside the simple fact that no white commentator could get away with doing the same thing in reverse for any reason (assuming they’d want to – and what, indeed, is the point of slandering an entire race’s “soul”, anyway?), it’s a stupid conceit; anyone who can say that a strand of ethnic groups (linked only by skin color, for crying out loud) that produced Bach, Michaelangelo, Beethoven, Turner, Shakespeare, Tolstoii, Byron, Chekhov, Mahler, Ibsen, Hemingway and Ramone “has no soul” is pretty clearly deluded.
But I come neither to bury nor praise Syl Jones.
One of the remarks in my email exchange that grabbed me was the idea that my criticism of Jones was “white-guy-apologist stuff”. Which prompted me to think – calling someone “white male”, to a fair chunk of our society, is taken as a sort of rhetorical trump card. The twin involuntary sins of being Caucasian and male are taken as an explanation for the whole gamut of offenses; colonialism, the oppression of women, war, the despoiling of the environment, the alienation of the Industrial Revolution, bad awkward dancing. Throw in Protestant Christianity (the dreaded White WASP male), and you add emotional rigidness and frigidity, homophobia, unsatisfying sex and patriarchalism.
It’s an “argument” (and I say argument in scare quotes, since there really is no discussion; “you’re a white guy” is tossed out like a rhetorical stun grenade, intended to knock out everyone in the room, without much backup plan as to what happens if it doesn’t work. One left-leaning woman, on meeting me a few weeks ago and learning I was a conservative, snarked “a white male who’s a conservative. There’s a surprise!”. I chalk it up to my inherent restraint that I didn’t respond “a white, upper-middle-class, never-married, childless fortysomething professional woman that’s a DFLer? Ibid!”) that I’ve pretty much seceded from. What, indeed, is the point? Can someone criticize, say, Syl Jones for his many individual misapprehensions of fact (which have nothing to do with anyone’s skin color), as well as the generalized caustic ugliness of constantly referring to “ice people” in his columns – itself “racist” by any rational measure – without having one’s own race dragged into it?
Or does a white male need to subcontract his own critique out to, say, a Hispanic lesbian ghostwriter for it to be valid?
Whatever. I’m not the one to untangle this society’s angst about race, which started three centuries before any of my anscestors came to this country. Still, if I must be seen to engage in “white guy apologetics”, I’ll just get it out of the way right now. Every society on this planet that must interact with other societies, from tribes in the New Guinea highlands barely removed from the Stone Age (many of whom have waged constant war on each other for millenia) to tribal clans in Central Asia and the American steppes (whose inherent discrimination against other clans is reflected in the very language the culture uses; the term for “human” in many indigenous languages around the world becomes more derogatory the farther removed from the home clan the subject is), to large, multiethnic societies throughout history. And of all the thousands and thousands of such societies, from extended family tribes to globe-spanning empires, which ones have been the ones to even attempt to combat systematic racism, to make the genders equal, and to build societies that transcend such bigoties and hatreds?
I’m just saying.
I can’t begin to untangle the issue of race in this society, much less worldwide – partly because a fair chunk of this society’s punditry considers my opinion invalid (I’m a white guy, remember?), and partly because whatever my skin color, I’m not smart enough. Nobody really is. It’s something that’ll resolve itself despite the demigoguery and the rhetorical short-cuts and all the other baggage, eventually. I hope. Maybe the demographers are right – the whole race issue will diffuse itself in another fifty generations, as all the races interbreed and the whole planet comes out looking tan.
So maybe the whole “white” part of the “white male” conceit will die off on its own, eventually. But the “male” part? That’s where this gets interesting.
Now, I am and remain the foremost feminist I know. And it both troubles and amuses me to note that many of my fellow guys who call themselves “feminists” seem to feel that the only way for a guy to express “feminism” is to prostrate oneself before women and demand their forgiveness for the sins of ones forefathers, whatever they may have been and whenever they may have happened.
This, of course, is not only rubbish, it’s dangerous – to feminism.
I have a question. Feel free to discuss it in the comment section.
Background: This earth has tens of thousands of different societies and cultures. Many of them – Islam being a key example – are intensely patriarchal (run by men). However, many are very matriarchal, either behind the scenes (many Asian societies at the family and clan level) or quite overtly (many African cultures).
It’s a given (for most) that boys and girls are different, of course; in kindergarten, boys tend to be physical and spatial, while girls tend to be verbal and social. Girls, stereotypically, play in groups and gossip about each other (and no, it’s neither a sexist stereotype nor a product of middle-class Western culture, so don’t go there); boys tend toward aggression (almost always stylized, although the feminization of the school system has arguably destroyed the socialization that taught boys to control that aggression, leading to ever-more real violence), physicality and a more-detailed conception of the physical world around them (recognized even in preschoolers as boys’ typically-greater conception of three-dimensional space compared to girls – which helps counterbalance girls’ greater verbal skills).
History’s great conquerors, of course, have all been males; Alexander, the Romans, Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Ditka, the British (who were sometimes ruled by queens, but the queen ran a very patriarchal system) and so on.
Who have been the great rulers of matriarchal societies? Who knows?
The theory I’ve heard – and I can’t remember when or from whom, sorry – is that matriarchal societies tend to be more inward-focused; it’s in matriarchal socities that it’s believed that “it takes a village to raise a child”; according to the theory, a matriarchal society behaves more or less like a group of girls will act; verbal, group-oriented, alternately supportive and undercutting.
Patriarchal societies, says the theory, act like boys; outward facing, rules-based, individualistic.
Most societies, of course, mix the two in some way or another, more or less. And when two societies collide in conflict, it’s usually the patriarchal one that prevails (see: the spread of intensely patriarchal Islam across heavily-matriarchal Africa).
Again – as I noted above, the only large, significant society in all of history that has seriously addressed the notion of equity among races, beliefs and genders is the patriarchal, Judeo-Christian western civilization.
Question: If the Judeo-Christian West were a matriarchal society, would it have developed into small-l liberal democracies? Or would they be recognizable to us today? Would they be viable?
Discuss away. Stupid comments (as judged by me and only me) will be excised. Not mutilated; I want to stay on the subject, not on a bunch of tangents introduced by certain commenters’ peculiarities.
Oh, and anyone who replies “why does Mitch Berg hate women?” will earn a rhetorical wedgie.