As I often discuss with both my partner Sandra Buskirk, my girlfriend Coyote Ward, and our buddy Kelly Berger, the major (and fairly recent) disconnect between our animal natures and the technological world we have created in the last 2 1/2 centuries is profound. We’re going to be sorting it out for centuries, but right now it’s leading to crises on many different levels – crises that have the potential to destroy us as a species, and take a large part of the world we know with us.
As a man with my own history of violence (both my own and the violence of people around me… and no, I’ve never been physically abusive to a lover of mine, though I once came unsettlingly close to it), I have spent most of my life striving to embrace, codify and teach a “new millennium masculinity” – one that does not denigrate or suppress the animal natures of males or females, but which guides our biological and sociological impulses toward positive ends. Trying (as has been done in some subcultures or societies) to deny our animal natures DOES NOT WORK. It leads only to manifestations of what Jung referred to as the Shadow – the part of ourselves that expresses what we suppress. The 20th century was on many levels a monumental backlash of humanity’s Shadow – an explosion of our best and worst elements appearing in perhaps the most dramatic form in history. The first decade of the 21st century has seen that Shadow-play take on an epic scale, with 9/11 and its aftermath being one of the most poetic demonstrations of humanity lashing back at the things we suppress within ourselves.
To people familiar with the “Shadow effect” – with the tendency to hate most in others what you hate most in yourself – the psychotic frenzy of political, ethnic and religious fundamentalism is a clear demonstration of human irony. Politicians, activists and religious leaders across the spectrum seem utterly unconscious of the ironies they manifest – ironies that are clear to everyone BUT them. And one of the most profound (and violent) of those ironies is the concept of murdering people on a mass scale to show how holy you are, to “war on terror” without appearing to realize that war IS terror, no matter what cause you claim to justify its employment. On a similar note (if a smaller scale), we see overgrown boys acting like children to show how masculine they are, apparently unaware that the things they take for “strength” are traditional signs of WEAKNESS – of youth, inexperience and stupidity that adult men are supposed to grown out of by the time they reach maturity.
(Seriously, PLEASE grow the fuck up!)
When you look at the biochemical changes in adolescent animals – male and female – you realize why most cultures traditionally send young males either into apprenticeships, secret societies, wars, or a combination of those things; and young females into marriages, secret societies, cloisters, or combinations of those things. From a physiological perspective, animals in puberty GO CRAZY. The hormonal shifts and bodily changes (to say nothing of cultural transformations) drive a “teen-aged” animal toward breeding, fighting, wandering and sorting out social hierarchies. This isn’t restricted to human beings – cats do it, wolves do it, apes do it, horses do it, dolphins, elephants and so forth – all social animals with advanced brain capacities have a period where they go batshit crazy in the process of growing up. (Explains a lot about high school, doesn’t it?) The cultural taboos and initiations that have grown up around adolescents are ways of directing those impulses in socially constructive ways; if you send the hot-blooded boys off to go kill shit, and put the hot-blooded girls to work making things (babies included) for the pack/ tribe/ whatever, then you direct that explosion of hormones and its associated lack of judgement toward things that – on some level at least APPEAR to – benefit society.
And, in industrial society, we stopped doing that in a conscious way about 150 years ago. Instead, we started sitting adolescents down in little boxes and began expecting them to be quiet for the wildest five years of their lives, as preparation for them to go into factories (or offices, which are simply mental factories) for the rest of their lives, assuming they didn’t spend their childhoods in them to begin with.
And so now, our young people create initiations and “secret societies” for themselves… when we aren’t simply blowing up and acting crazy out of a desperation we don’t really understand.
And meanwhile, a consumeristic culture (reaching a mass-production level in Victorian England and getting bigger ever since) has been built around selling the ILLUSION of perpetual youth, and an expectation that we should always be young,wild, beautiful, carefree and surrounded with Stuff, or else there’s something wrong with us.
That impression is not only a defiance of nature, it’s a defiance of cultural traditions.
Traditionally, most cultures expect young people to go wild for a few years and then be responsible, productive, wise members of society – to help take care of the pack/ tribe/ whatever. The explosion of youth is supposed to drive the pack/ tribe/ whatever forward – to energize its resources – while also weeding out the weakest, stupidest, most hot-tempered members. Again, this isn’t some evil human philosophy, but it’s an observable trend in most, if not all, social animals. By adulthood, we’re supposed to have sorted that shit out and figured out our place and purpose within the pack/ tribe/ whatever.
Industrial consumerism fosters a sense of perpetual immaturity.
And I’m not just talking about cars that look like Hot Wheels, or middle-aged dudes wearing STAR TREK t-shirts. I’m talking about a perpetual adolescence of careless self-indulgence. Expressed most baldly by the Ayn Rand me-first fantasies and the whiny stoner glorification of “dudehood,” we are being sold, 24/7, an attitude that we should indulge ourselves at the expense of our surroundings.
I could write all day about the historical foundations for this illusion of perpetual consumerism, but to bring it all back around to the main subject, men and women alike are being sold an idea that we should be teenagers for life. And when that idea crashes up against social, physical and economic realities, many people act like spoiled, confused and often violent brats because we haven’t been – and aren’t being – taught more productive ways to manage ourselves.
That shit’s gotta change soon, or we won’t have the choice to manage ourselves gracefully.
Because Nature-TM-comma-dammit is rather ruthless with the lessons She teaches. And while we may be Her apparent star pupils right now, she WILL fucking fail us if we don’t shape the hell up and start learning what She’s been teaching us.
And that’s not just a “guy” thing – that’s a HUMAN thing.