Been watching my worlds in paradigm shift.
Since October I’ve been journaling on gender and sex. There’s techtonic movement in every social world I inhabit: yoga, academia, art friends, professor friends, Montana/family/church, the internet. Reality is breaking open, or breaking down, for a lot of people.
It’s ok. Reality had it coming.
Most of what I’ve written is unsafe for the internet. Unsafe. Not because I care what you think about me. The part that cares about that has to die for writing to happen—part of why writing is heaven). Not that being liked matters either, but I feel insulated by this paradox: the more dangerous I am with my voice, the more genuine friendship deepens in my life. It’s mysterious. I voice the scary things, and by accident the kindred spirits show up. So: not being liked isn’t what’s scary in writing about gender. What’s scary is that my view could make someone counter-react in a regressive way. There is bolt of hatred running through the world-mind right now. If I put anyone on the defensive, that’s contributing to it. That does scare me.
But we’re nearly all in flux right now around sex and gender. Expansively, or reactively. For me it’s showing up as a heightened sensitivity to suffering around identity, role, and vicitimization. I value freedom – including freedom from history (by knowing it inside and out), and freedom from futures shoehorned into tight roles. So I’m interpreting the current gender trouble through those values even as my world view has been moving to accommodate the moment. I have always been hypersensitive to the gender hatreds: misogyny, misandry, transphobia, homophobia and so on. I can make analytical arguments to “prove” a hidden violence is in play, but mine is not an analytical experience. It’s nausea.
Paradigm shifts happen in culture and carry people away with them, but what really interests me is the internally chosen shifts. We’ve been talking about this here for a year – those luminous moments and people who decide to recondition their minds. Some of you have shared amazing personal histories and hacks for self-creation, and I been thinking a lot about what you’ve said. What is that like, to be a person who has deliberately changed a received belief system that felt too small?
And, have you done it more than once? Stopped and responsively, deliberately remade some part of your mind? I think that the first time that happens, it’s tempting to take the new worldview as The Real Truth. Like the mystical-religious kids who morph into either market fundamentalists or Marxists (check). Like the vinyasa students reborn as ashtangis (check). Revolutions are often domain specific – a rebirth in the conscious aspects of the belief system around gender, for example, does not mean reorganization of the personality.
Here’s an insight many have found. If a person makes more than one big, coherent paradigms shift in their life, they realize: a paradigm is skin, not spine. You must have skin to function. It doesn’t work to take it off. But, if you’re exfoliating properly, it’s going to replace itself every seven years. (Otherwise you get crusty.) If you mature you worldview BUT stay friends with the past selves, then you learn to flex your metaphysics. Beneath the worldview are a person’s real values and character, which I suspect are pretty stable. (The kindest tender-loving kid from first grade is doing tough guy now, but I’ll always trust the soul in there.)
The thing about staying friends with the past selves (even delusional or toxic selves) is that it lets you remember how that corner of consciousness operates. Minds are not so private. Your old paradigm is still live in lots of other people, so the more you hold, the greater the range of your empathy. For me, flexing my metaphysics was Lesson One in meeting people where they’re at.
It becomes safer and safer to set aside an absolutist belief. Gently. There’s an underlying dynamic here. The subject of the current phase becomes the object (of the subject) of the next phase. You look at the past self from outside its skin (1)(2).
It’s hard to even know what your world-view is when your whole mind’s inside it. One of the discovery methods is to follow the emotional hotspots. So, in this situation, what experiences around gender and sex are supercharged…? Ok, great that there’s passion. One might open those doors, slowly and safely. The heat is there for a reason.
But I think it is the cold spots are the key for growth in consciousness. Anything that elicits “I won’t go there,” or “I won’t hear that,” or the dismissive and anti-curious “you’re making something out of nothing.” Those are the hidden doors currently getting blown open. Some believe systems have lots of triggers, but what about those that push almost everything out?
A lot of my perception this year hinges on being ¾ off social media. I have loved the internet for 20 years. Early social media was an underground full of weird creatives, not this thing you had to participate in to be socially viable. Now I’m more grateful than ever to have this blog space, eleven years going, as a portal for connection and change. There have never been ads here and I don’t keep stats; nothing to game. Seth Godin and Jason Kottke have written recently about the importance of blogs – of course Google discontinued the Reader years back because they want these outposts to die, but for MANY of us still using the internet as a quiet signal, and RSS is still going strong. That’s my feed once again. Meantime I think my ability to take a full, fairly nonreactive view of the present moment is predicated on not reading corporate-curated feeds.
The magical little girl in me knows that we all experience social media in either a childish or a highly evolved sort of magic-mind. Memes are spells. Mantras don’t start now with an inhalation: they start with a hash tag.
Be careful in there, my friends. The Christian magicians, at least, do more spellcasting for protection than they do for communication with spirits (don’t ask me how I know this). If you’re just wandering around the dungeon without at least a shield, you’re getting hit with a lot of dark art. I wonder if that makes us much more vulnerable to absorbing reactive, regressive, pre-scripted worldviews.
Question. If you had an afternoon, could you go back and write the arc of your unfolding belief-value systems from age 10 to now? I began doing this periodically at 22, when my commitment to post-truth postmodernism (which I’d thought was the end of the road) gave way to a stripped-down pragmatism that enabled me to do actual research. Mapping past worldviews makes history conscious! It opens up the horizon. AND I think this process helps safeguard against regressive worldviews, especially when there are so many charismatic haters now, trying to turn us into intellectual children.
Yoga is the cultivation of discernment. We don’t GET to hang out in defensive belief systems (3). Yoga is the play, and sometimes-resolution, of apparent opposites. We don’t get to linger too long in a reactive stance.
Here’s one short version with apologies if my taste in books is too strange. My first religion was a mystical Jesus obsession when I was 3, and some part of me still can go there. Not ashamed of having been 3. Then there was the superstitious kid, who didn’t understand physics but saw that one event follows another, and started trying to hack causality. If this cow lets me touch the whorl on his forehead when I climb up the fence, then the boy I love at school loves me. Everything was magic. Maybe Piaget has a name for that consciousness; for me there’s just a remnant interiority. A few worldviews later there were a libertarian phase, age 16 and learning to read the newspaper through the biases of the people I considered strong. But at 19 I moved to Costa Rica, learned about the CIA’s parallel state, and doubled back in those politics, developing a whole center of gravity to hold my new critique in place. All of that, I still sympathize with now. It’s not that I was delusional; I was right about limited, biased experience. Not stupid; just not as free.
The process got really tight in my 20s, while I read the chronological history of western philosophy from Democritus to Rorty. Men talking to each other. It was a setup. Identify with each view one so well that a little piece of you moves outside it – and when you step forward into that another little piece of you. Plato to Aristotle. Locke to Kant. Russell to Wittgenstein. De Saussure to Derrida.
This is how it works. Identify with the idol; heat-seek for inner contradiction; transcend/include. Study the self to forget the self (4). Get used to the rhythm. It’s not supposed to end. If you are on the active edge of human consciousness, the wave will keep you moving unless you give up and dig in to the sand and decide to be old.
The thing is, we are always always changing (5). We have no choice about this. Every cell, every thought, every experience is dying every second and what comes out of that is something new. The only place we have choice is around the tone and nature of this process of living. Commitment to expansion and growth is a meta-belief that changes change. Without it, entropy and regression are just as likely. Maybe more.
So. The most insane symbolic thing that could happen, happened. Talking about The Terrible Obvious can facilitate the next internal shift, and help it be responsive rather than defensive.
That insane symbolic thing pulled a base Jenga block out of the western mind’s cognitive structure of normalcy. It was the block called Meritocracy. We sort of knew that there was a lot of invisible rigging to the power tower. But on some level most of us could believe that the most important forms of power (I’m talking the traditional powers of government: monopoly of violence and wealth (6)) accrued by hard work, inborn intelligence, and talent.
Then the Seed of Chucky assumed the symbolic Seat of world power. Regressed. Incompetent. Unqualified. Unwanting. Genuinely racist. Whole-heartedly misogynist. It’s beside the point if previous people in the Seat were just as incompetent or unqualified. They didn’t use their non-merit as part of an overtly traumatizing, symbolic domination style (if you’re not traumatized, I would ask you to resonate with anyone whose symbolic identities do not overlap with the Seed of Chucky: an immigrant, a person of color, a female person, a homosexual person, a trans person). What I feel everyone adapting to is this: someone of no merit, someone who has literally achieved nothing in life, someone who didn’t even try… got The Codes. Meritocracy is broken. Symbolic power (just one kind of power) is embodied in a scornful, bullying, rich, white, misogynist, genuinely fascistic man who lacks curiosity, discipline, concentration, or thinking skills.
If meritocracy was our god, that god is dead.
Ouch. Ok. Good. What is the next generative move? (7) What is the big life-loving, freedom-expanding, move?
Or: extremely not good. In that case, what’s the next easy, available, regressive move? How do I re-establish a self in spite of this, without acknowledging it affects me?
Those are the questions I think my overlapping worlds are all living in. Here are a few random new ideas from out of that churn.
I. We’re all up on toxic masculinity. A lot of it is so sad, because it locks a man in having to know everything (especially being an expert on how others are stupid), having to do everything, having to kick ass to be loved, not getting to know your feelings, never experiencing sympathy and help, and tragic cuddle deprivation. I think toxic feminity is also pretty obvious in my worlds now. It hinges on the outward force of toxic masculinity (and vice-versa), which is the gaze that objectifies and conquers everyone and everything. A feminine mind that has internalized the gaze is always self-objectifying, which is incredibly neurotic and alienating and sad, yet a somewhat personal suffering. It goes toxic when that feminine mind needs everyone, not just her erotic mates, to look at her wantingly.
Relentless, overpowering domination of others’ attention is a major, and toxic, drive in our times. I think it is a power dynamic that grows out of biological truths expanded and twisted around a new kind of hyper-ego. And, I think we all kind of know this.
But what I see now is a particular, capitalist expression of this toxicity in the form of arguments that patriarchy is not a problem as long as “I get mine.” Hey I can work this system to my own advantage, so that’s feminism. Yes. This is a form of feminism. It’s also narcissistic and disconnected. If your idea of freedom is so limited that you’re happy with a violent society so long as you get yours; if you can smell misandry and misogyny on your own breath and are fine so long as you get the spoils of whatever game you’re playing… maybe time for the next turning of the wheel.
The best generative move I know from toxic masc-fem is mystic intersubjectivity. Martin Buber marks the way, and it’s a very sexy one (8).
II. Back to the regressive playbook. In perfect response to an Identity Politician running America, identity politics has hardened into two extreme poles (9). I think this includes a mass denial of the present moment. The right wing of identity politics looks backwards to a way we never were (the good old days when a man was a man and a woman was a woman (10). The left wing looks forward to the way we’ll never be –some utopian world in which Group X gets to have The Power, instead of addressing the unfreedom of our system of Imperial rule (11).
There’s a right wing identity politics? Yes, that’s what’s holding left wing itentitarianism in place, and understandably many in my world are swinging that direction. It’s Milo and Jordan Peterson. They’re enraged, condescending, and driven by a sense of victimhood even as they deny the victimhood of others. JDP exists as the world’s breathless (literally, he doesn’t breathe) defender of meritocracy – he tells you CEOs just work harder, are smarter, are more conscientious; and women get exactly what they want – they choose their subordination, choose older mates, have better things to do than direct society, and can’t be reasoned with because hitting them is frowned on. Also birth control led to a battle of the sexes and liberal divorce laws are a problem; boys should only take seriously girls who want to have children because those who don’t are alienated from their purpose in life – even though he concedes population numbers are just about to fall off a cliff because there are too many humans. Exhale.
Again, the head honcho of the free world is a nightmare clown. On some level I think most of us want to believe again in meritocracy. That’s not a problem, it’s just good hard reality. What breaks my heart most is the hidden ways that right wing identity politics hates men. I’m so sorry. What man wants to have his choices and roles narrowed down into pure suffering? What man wants to be disposable, the same way patriarchy has made you disposable all along as soldiers and workers? The intellectual and emotional challenge, and lack of compassionate support, for young men trying to find their way rips my heart out. You don’t have to be a condescending angry crustacean to survive the challenges ahead. Maybe for six months. But the thing is, crustaceans literally have no brains. A human has a whole mind and a great big fluffy consciousness to float forward on.
III. We go along now with the angry strongmen because we long for a good, strong dad. I do, at least. So deeply. I know because I have one; and I do everything in my power to give him space to be even stronger and more caring every day. But is an angry man with no feminine force within and beside him a good man?
To turn a mindset into an object, we need to be able to name and describe it objectively. THIS is why there is so much fight now around the P word. Patriarchy is not bad, and matriarchy is not bad. These are analytical objects. But if you aren’t allowed to talk about either of them, because supposedly they are not real, then you will remain forever trapped inside them. The strongmen will rage until the end against their form of power being named. That is the beginning of their end. Real men don’t suffer when we name that situation. Just the figureheads.
Once we are allowed to talk about leadership structures objectively, so much opens up. So much. The first previously hidden thing I see is how harmful male rule is for men. Unless you’re the isolated one on top, your very masculinity makes you subordinate. The women next to you, even, are potentially the quarry of the big man. In strongman and guru cultures without a healthy and equal feminine wisdom-decision source, I think what happens is that men’s ability to rise up to corrupt power gets crushed more than anything else. I’m not the first one to see this. But power corrupts, and as those in power become more audacious, the self-esteem of those who can’t stand up to it erodes. There’s little room now for women to speak to men of the pain of man-only rule. What I want to know is how much it hurts men to always be subordinate to a lopsided power that becomes increasingly corrupt. (Healing around what psychoanalysts call the mother wound feels like one very generative next move in this space.)
IV. If you know me, you know I’m my dad’s girl. He’s a conservative Christian preacher, and the last in a long line of first sons, a line that ended the moment I was born. I don’t think that was easy for him. And then suddenly, it was. At the same time, all this went in my mind from being fraught and shameful to being simultaneously adorable, hilarious,and deep well of meaning and archetypical power. A week ago he caught me reading Buddhism after Patriarchy when I visited home. Two if not three of those words would have put him on the defensive pre-2016. But this time he and my mom were just curious. What does Buddhism have to do with you? I took the route of describing it as just another paradigm, like Christianity or Yoga. Huh. And partriarchy? Well in Buddhism there was this weird idea that women couldn’t be wise and couldn’t lead. And then for the most part that idea went away, and this book is about how they’re still adjusting. Huh. Just curiosity in them, whereas two years ago I’d have been ashamed to share.
My dad is the magic guy in their world, and their house is one big altar of sacred and ritual objects. I hated that when I stopped being magical-mystical and went full rational-intellectual for a decade or so. There’s trumpet he fashioned from a cow’s horn that he only blows at three meaning-moments, including a call to prayer, and what he terms the crowing of a new king. This is the first time in his life he hasn’t believed in America’s king. But last weekend, he sounded the horn. I don’t know, but it made me want to try to pray.
V. Gaze as domination-of-all is problematic. But it’s just one of many ways of gazing, while looking on beauty is one of many doors to oneness. Radiance is real. The body in physical and visual experiences is also real, and so good. There is so much in my experience of beauty that falls in the biologically or energetically “feminine” fields. For example: my emotional body (how my feelings shift to mirror what’s happening in my environment) and my hypersensitivity to tiny peripheral-visual cues about others’ states of consciousness makes me a very good kind of being for serving as a connector. People-to-people. Or information-to-people. There’s something in there about leadership that has nothing to do with competition, objectification or domination.
In the meantime, in these present most ugly and painful times I’ve lived through, keeping my eyes wide open I perceive more beauty than anything else. All the time. I think this has to do with seeing chaos as literally and physically beautiful, as long as it contains a spark of commitment to growth. I can’t step out and see or name the paradigm I am in now, but when I seek the strong emotions in it, that one is blazing.
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1. I take this from Phenomenology of Sprit by GWF Hegel. Last part of the book is golden.
2. Same idea, different riff.
3. Anything on the abuse triad of victim/aggressor/savior is a defensive belief system.
4. That’s Dogen 🙂
5. That’s Octavia Butler.
6. Max Weber defines the State as a monopoly of violence. In other words the ultimate means of control and discipline are centralized. Weber is amazing, but I feel like Michael Mann’s Sources of Social Power is more and more relevant for an understanding of the current breakdown of the international system.
7. What is the next generative move? That’s from Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Marie Brown.
8. Best for this is his I And Thou. Could be called, How To Get Any One You Want.
9. Angela Nagle is so good on this. Her new book is short and kind of essential for people who use the internet to learn about politics.
10-11. A man was never a man and a woman was never a woman. Studying history, it’s clear that regnant system is one that involves marginalization of transpeople who have always been with us, and homosexuality that has always been in is. There’s a transperson in the Tarot. The Greek geniuses were gay. In America, colonial law erased the multiple genders in found in the native Americans, cut these people’s hair, pathologized their beautiful forms of self adornment, made their language illegal, and forced them into Catholic schools. I don’t know what genderways were lost here along with so much else, but the way we were is not Little House on the Prairie.