The Crisis of Masculinity

The Crisis of Masculinity

The very act of being male seems to be a hot topic right now. In particular the Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson and his recently published 12 Rules for Life are getting a lot of attention, both positive and negative. Young men especially appear to be flocking to follow his every word, while many women, perhaps still reeling from his car-crash interview with Channel 4’s Cathy Newman, range from unconvinced to absolute rage about his fairly forthright proclamations. These include the assertions that both consciousness and culture are symbolically masculine and that male dominance is therefore natural, while resistance to it is unnatural. This however is not a critique of Peterson but a suggestion that the crisis many men are currently feeling may in fact be rooted in the modus operandi of the mind.

For millennia men have been the product of a powerful cultural upbringing which still influences the unconscious male mind and shapes how we breed boys to this day. Men were trained for war and, as soldiers, were imbued with valuable attributes such as aggression and fearlessness. Even when society wasn’t at war, the psyche of the soldier didn’t change; fighting for status and sexual partners, competing for resources and aggressively guarding his property and possessions. We are now so familiar with the mythology of the male warrior archetype that we can be forgiven for thinking that male aggression is completely natural but the evidence suggests that there is absolutely nothing inherent or inevitable about it. The trait is absent in the few indigenous tribes which survived into modernity uninfluenced by patriarchal control cultures, and all attempts to establish a universal, biological foundation for male aggression have repeatedly failed.

Maintaining dynamic balance in any complex ecosystem requires the periodic demonstration of both self-assertive and integrative behaviours, the former so animals aren’t always taken advantage of, the latter so harmony can be maintained within the overall system. All creatures instinctively do both - sometimes dogs bare their teeth and sometimes they show their bellies - and there is no difference between males and females in this behaviour. However many millennia ago with the advent of the soldier, our ancient ancestors made a rather strange decision which would come to mould our minds in a different manner to how they had been shaped to that time. Our species chose to divide responsibility for assertive and integrative behaviours between the sexes, rather than keeping both housed within every individual. While men became responsible for assertive attitudes and actions such as aggression, competition, control and dominance, women became the integrators - listening, nurturing, caring and replenishing. While women were the creators and life-givers, men became the destroyers and life-takers. While men were trained to divide and conquer, women were conditioned to nourish and make whole again.

As a result, rather than retaining a high degree of hemispheric balance within both sexes, our ancestors inadvertently sent us down a dual cognitive pathway which would dramatically reshape subsequent societies and eventually culminate in our current cultural crisis. The effect was ultimately to cleave human-beings in two, along gender lines. By primarily adopting the dualistic, categorizing mode of the left mind, men would progressively become conditioned to see women as their opposite and inferior. However, in doing so they also began a journey which would curtail their own cognitive capabilities and consign their male descendants to being less than whole human-beings. Meanwhile, accidently allocated primacy of the more powerful of the two brain hemispheres, women would come to cultivate the skills of the right mind. However, the price they would pay for such a gift would be at least six millennia of male dominance and with it, the social and cultural subjugation of all things feminine. 

By restricting the male role to mainly contributing the self-assertive qualities required for systemic stability, our species relegated men to holding primacy of the left mind which is ultimately the weaker of the two hemispheres. Seeing the world primarily as pairs of polar opposites not only pinches our perception but also automatically creates negatives, so for masculine to be good feminine must be bad. Consequently, most men still shy away from anything which society deems to be distinctly feminine while women are far more comfortable stepping over into traditionally male domains. It has often been observed that girls mature earlier than boys and seem to be more rounded in the way they act throughout adulthood. For example, women have generally been more accepting of homosexuality in society and have been more welcoming of men into traditionally female careers, such as nursing, than men have been ready to accept female scientists or engineers.

Modern society remains confused about whether or not we want boys to continue to conform to the ancient military ideal - square-jawed, stoic and strong. After millennia of almost perpetual war-making, we are finding it difficult to shake off this deeply ingrained masculine archetype. As a consequence, many boys all over the world are still being steeped in a warrior ethos which could become increasingly redundant as the future we bring forth unfolds. There can be little doubt that many of the problems in the world today are the result of a prevalent ‘boy code’ which didn’t teach boys - now our social, political and corporate elites - to share power or consider feelings, but instead taught them to fight to get to the top of the tree and, once there, to be as aggressive as possible in staying there. If boys are brought up as ‘little soldiers’, while girls are conditioned to build relationships, it surely comes as no surprise that assertive tendencies outweigh integrative behaviours in modern society. If global society is to successfully shift beyond the narrow narrative of social Darwinism, perpetuated by the left mind and the on-going dominion of men, the voice of the right mind must be heard more loudly and women should be at the forefront of this peaceful revolution.

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The Secret of Happiness

The Secret of Happiness

Positive mental health and good relationships are the most important determinants of happiness

Money doesn’t make us happy. While people in wealthier countries do tend to be happier overall than those from poorer nations, the link isn’t strong or consistent. There’s also no evidence that people have become happier over time, even as wealth has increased considerably since World War II. Multiple studies across many countries show either a decrease or no change in wellbeing despite an increase in prosperity. Not only are we not becoming any happier, we are also very bad at judging what makes us happy. We tend to overestimate the value of work, money and material possessions, while undervaluing relationships. The consensus across all studies about the link between wealth and happiness seems to be that a minimum threshold is required for the basic foundations of happiness to be satisfied - such as food, clean water and shelter - but that, beyond such rudimentary requirements, there is little or no correlation between increased wealth and increased happiness. So if money doesn’t make us happy, what does?

The World Health Organisation reports that positive mental health is the single most important determinant of happiness, and that as many as 10% of the world’s population suffers from depression or some other form of psychological disorder. Furthermore, mental illness is a common occurrence in all countries and all regions of the world, with no significant difference between rich and poor nations. The WHO places great emphasis on pointing out that positive mental health is not simply the absence of disease or infirmity, but a ‘state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community’. This includes the ability to learn, to feel and express a range of emotions, to form and maintain good relationships and to successfully deal with change and uncertainty. Happiness, therefore, isn’t derived from simply not being sick. To be happy we must find the right balance between the intellectual, emotional and social tools we need to successfully interact with the outer world, to meet our goals and to deal with any challenges we encounter. Only these tools, employed in appropriate balance, can enable us to cope with and fulfil our potential in life.

Science shows that such inner coherence is the natural state of all living organisms so rather than looking outside for what we don’t have in order to make ourselves happy, we should instead look inside to remove the causes of our incoherence. Critically, research confirms that outer-world attachments, particularly to material goods, are an illusory path to happiness. Central to this discovery are what psychologists call the ‘progress’ and ‘adaptation’ principles. In short, we receive a pleasurable dose of dopamine every time we take a small step towards a particular goal and another when we achieve it. In all cases the rewards are short-lived so the pleasure we receive from the journey overall is far greater than the pleasure we get from finally reaching our goal, which is invariably an anti-climax compared to the enjoyment we have had along the way. Furthermore, under the adaptation principle we very quickly become used to the new ‘thing’ we have acquired and discover that we grossly overestimated the depth and duration of the pleasure it would bring us. However, instead of learning from the let-down we have a strong tendency to simply set the bar higher next time and begin striving once again. It is for these reasons that happiness is only very loosely correlated with wealth and why money, beyond its ability to ensure the essentials in life, is rarely the path to personal peace.

However, some purchases are better for our wellbeing than others. For example, spending money on holidays with friends and family makes us feel much happier than buying expensive luxury items. Social activities and shared experiences bring us together with other people, while the way we use material goods is often to separate ourselves from others by expressing status or superiority. Extensive studies also show that the deeper the relationships individuals have, the happier they will be. Those in long-term partnerships are generally happier than those who aren’t. People who have strong friendships tend to enjoy lower levels of stress and live longer than those who don’t. Human activities most associated with happiness tend to be social, while those most associated with unhappiness tend to be solitary. Indeed in reviewing the findings of a Gallup World Poll on happiness, conducted in over 150 countries and with more than a million respondents, Daniel Kahneman concluded ‘it is only a slight exaggeration to say that happiness is the experience of spending time with people you love and who love you’.

If we wish to become coherent and happy, the learnings from science are twofold. First, letting go of attachments is essential. Second, we are social animals and much of our mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing is derived from the relationships we have with others. To build healthy relationships and thereby cultivate outer peace, we must first find inner peace but this can never be achieved if we are perpetually at war within ourselves, struggling for status or striving to have what society says we should have. In this, science concurs with spirituality in concluding that the only path to global peace and worldwide happiness is for sufficient individuals to proactively cultivate inner and outer coherence. In doing so, people will find personal happiness but could also cause cascading cultural change across the whole human system. By letting go of our preconceived ideas, our focus on winning and our need to always be right, we automatically clear out the detritus which causes our incoherence and allow our naturally coherent inner-self to emerge; bringing a clear, calm lucidity to our cognition and enabling a better quality of thinking at lower levels of effort.

Moreover, a further benefit of the cultivation of coherence is that it resolves our ultimate paradox - how to become more conscious yet less self-conscious. Self-consciousness and incoherence are mutually reinforcing. The more incoherent our lives feel, the more we become self-conscious that something is missing but often without knowing what we need to make us happy again. Our awareness of these anxieties can lead to behaviours such as hedonism or hyper-consumption, which may seem to fill the gap in the short-term but which actually exacerbate our unhappiness in the longer term. By contrast coherence serves to reduce our self-consciousness because by making us feel happy, we feel far less need to compare ourselves with others or to even consider how happy we are. Happiness and the feelings which sustain it, such as the security we derive from stable relationships, aren’t emotions we can actively pursue but are feelings which emerge as a result of the coherence in our lives. As such, they are like shadows which disappear when we shine the light of self-consciousness on them - the more we chase them the more elusive they become. People who feel coherent don’t tend to worry about their relationships or regularly review their own happiness because they are just so busy living life that such questions simply don’t occur to them. It is those who experience a gnawing sense of their own incoherence who tend to be more self-conscious, sometimes even proactively planning ways to increase their own happiness, unaware that the very act of doing so may push this goal further from their grasp.

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International Women's Day 2018

Increasing the influence of women on how our world is run is the best chance we have for fast-tracking our species to a positive future

Many millennia ago homo-sapiens had the bright idea of dividing the complex challenge of survival between the sexes. While men became warriors - competing, destroying and killing - women were tasked with the opposite functions of co-operating, creating and healing. Thus human society sent the genders down dual pathways which, through both nature and nurture, would lead to a marked imbalance in the cognitive preferences of modern-day men and women. To this day, and from the day they are born, we still orient boys towards the mechanistic trucks and tool-based toys preferred by the left mind, while offering girls the relationship-based dolls and teddy bears preferred by the right mind. Consequently, while we all use both brain hemispheres all of the time, large groups of men on average skew left while women generally skew right.

The price women would pay for such a gift was thousands of years of patriarchal suppression, but over the last century or so the cultural pendulum has swung resolutely in favour of the liberal impulses of the right mind. Naturally the left mind – the seat of our categorizing and hierarchy-creating functions – is fighting back and the global chaos we are currently experiencing is the result of the tectonic plates of culture shifting, as scientific materialism defends its dominance from an organic worldview with a distinctly feminine lens on the world. Women dominate the core of Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson’s ‘Cultural Creatives’ and formed the vanguard of the many post-WWII movements which liberalized societies worldwide with an emphasis on peace, education, healthcare, equality and human rights. As such they are more likely to be attuned to the rhythmic oscillations of the organic worldview, a perspective which perceives our planet as a living system not a machine, and appreciates the complex relationship between the inner world of the individual and the outer world we bring forth through the global mind we collectively create. Coherence is key to the positive health and wellbeing of both and our future will unfold in accordance with the degree to which we can elevate our consciousness, to create the cultural conditions in which human integration, collective peace and personal happiness can prevail.

Our right mind is essential to such cognitive synthesis and, ironically, the several thousand years of secondary status, during which women were inadvertently allocated primacy of by far the more powerful brain hemisphere, has better prepared the female of our species for leading us forward. However men need not fear. While our left mind processes the right mind as its polar opposite, our right mind sees the left mind only as a collaborating counterpart – an essential yang to its yin. Revenge therefore isn’t in its nature. What’s more, the benefits for men of a more cognitively-balanced culture are also huge, enabling them to become more whole human-beings and to enjoy the entire range of ideas, emotions and experiences which are characteristic of heightened consciousness. For several centuries scientific materialism, despite the great value it has brought humankind, has served to suppress our consciousness to our lowest psychological level, rooting us firmly in the mind and dissociating us from our embodied physicality and sense of soul.

Now science and spirit stand ready to be reconciled, not via classic science or the major monotheisms which can never to unified in their current form, but through the organic lens of quantum science. Einstein et al led us to breakthrough discoveries which now offer a genuinely viable opportunity to reunify science with spirit and to elevate our global mind to a higher plane of cognitive wisdom. Complexity science further informs us of how small changes could send waves of energy cascading across our whole neural network, from which our species could evolve.

Coherence is the natural state of all living systems which automatically try to heal themselves when they are sick. The liberalization of global society is a rebalancing act, as our system self-organizes to the ‘edge of chaos’, offering us great opportunity but also real danger. We may stand on the cusp of a truly transformative change but we could just as easily disintegrate again into more death and destruction. Central to which path we take is the degree to which the right mind is able to re-establish its pre-eminence in shaping global culture. While there’s no ‘silver bullet’ solution, making women more influential in how our world works is by far the best chance we have of ensuring the survival and success of our species.

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