Friday, September 12, 2014

Post-Patriarchal America

This week New York Times movie critic A. O. Scott announces that the patriarchy is dead. In the worlds of American thought and art the values associated with white male dominance have been soundly defeated.

It is important to say, as Scott does, that he is talking about attitudes that prevail in the world of thought and the arts. 

Those who despise the patriarchy systematically repress the positive achievements of men—like World War II—and ignore any writers and filmmakers who seem to promote a different set of values.

Thus, “Girls” is exalted while “Ray Donovan” is ignored. The latter show reaches a larger audience, but it is a man’s show, so thought leaders tend to ignore it.

Most of those who are fighting on this front in the culture war are happy to see the patriarchy die. And yet, Scott argues, the new culture seems to have killed adulthood.

Apparently, a matriarchal culture tends to infantilize people, leaving them in a state of permanent childishness.

One should not be surprised. Create a cult to a Mother Goddess and you will find that those who join the cult are either children or eunuchs.

Scott seems more interested in describing what has happened than in judging it. Fair enough. But, his analysis does tell us that overthrowing patriarchy has exacted a price.

Here is Scott’s presentation of the issue:

In suggesting that patriarchy is dead, I am not claiming that sexism is finished, that men are obsolete or that the triumph of feminism is at hand. I may be a middle-aged white man, but I’m not an idiot. In the world of politics, work and family, misogyny is a stubborn fact of life. But in the universe of thoughts and words, there is more conviction and intelligence in the critique of male privilege than in its defense, which tends to be panicky and halfhearted when it is not obtuse and obnoxious. The supremacy of men can no longer be taken as a reflection of natural order or settled custom.

This slow unwinding has been the work of generations. For the most part, it has been understood — rightly in my view, and this is not really an argument I want to have right now — as a narrative of progress. A society that was exclusive and repressive is now freer and more open. But there may be other less unequivocally happy consequences. It seems that, in doing away with patriarchal authority, we have also, perhaps unwittingly, killed off all the grown-ups.

Of course, Scott is describing the continuing work of the Vietnam counterculture, an effort to subvert patriarchal authority, to liberate people from the civilizing rules and to undermine the military ethos.

Scott is correct to say that for its proponents this culture shift is seen as progress. And he is also right to point out that they have completely ignored the negative effects—the general infantilizing of the nation.

Anyone who thought that the transformation would be cost free was deluded.

He continues to note that he does not really approve of this phenomenon:

I will admit to feeling a twinge of disapproval when I see one of my peers clutching a volume of “Harry Potter” or “The Hunger Games.” I’m not necessarily proud of this reaction. As cultural critique, it belongs in the same category as the sneer I can’t quite suppress when I see guys my age (pushing 50) riding skateboards or wearing shorts and flip-flops, or the reflexive arching of my eyebrows when I notice that a woman at the office has plastic butterfly barrettes in her hair.

Surely, Scott is well-qualified to comment on the state of the film business. He might have added that the box office has been declining to the point that movie studios are announcing layoffs.

In his words:

In my main line of work as a film critic, I have watched over the past 15 years as the studios committed their vast financial and imaginative resources to the cultivation of franchises (some of them based on those same Y.A. novels) that advance an essentially juvenile vision of the world. Comic-book movies, family-friendly animated adventures, tales of adolescent heroism and comedies of arrested development do not only make up the commercial center of 21st-century Hollywood. They are its artistic heart.

What all of these shows grasp at, in one way or another, is that nobody knows how to be a grown-up anymore. Adulthood as we have known it has become conceptually untenable. It isn’t only that patriarchy in the strict, old-school Don Draper sense has fallen apart. It’s that it may never really have existed in the first place, at least in the way its avatars imagined. Which raises the question: Should we mourn the departed or dance on its grave?

If we are dancing on the grave of the patriarchy, we might also save a dance or two for the Hollywood studios who are suffering from a drought of viewers.

On television, Scott reports, the story is the same:

But television, the monument valley of the dying patriarchs, may be where the new cultural feminism is making its most decisive stand. There is now more and better television than there ever was before, so much so that “television,” with its connotations of living-room furniture and fixed viewing schedules, is hardly an adequate word for it anymore. When you look beyond the gloomy-man, angry-man, antihero dramas that too many critics reflexively identify as quality television — “House of Cards,” “Game of Thrones,” “True Detective,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “The Newsroom” — you find genre-twisting shows about women and girls in all kinds of places and circumstances, from Brooklyn to prison to the White House. The creative forces behind these programs are often women who have built up the muscle and the résumés to do what they want.

Scott recognizes that, within the arts, the assault on the patriarchy has come from the counterculture. He quotes no less a figure than literary critic Leslie Fiedler whose analysis of American culture slanders and demeans men. Note well that Scott labels this vision “stunted.”

He writes:

In Fiedler’s stunted American mythos, where fathers were tyrants or drunkards, the civilizing, disciplining work of being a grown-up fell to the women: good girls like Becky Thatcher, who kept Huck’s pal Tom Sawyer from going too far astray; smothering maternal figures like the kind but repressive Widow Douglas; paragons of sensible judgment like Mark Twain’s wife, Livy, of whom he said he would “quit wearing socks if she thought them immoral.”

Fiedler is best known for having suggested that the story of Huckleberry Finn involves a perfectly Freudian case of repressed homosexuality. For those who still cling desperately to Freud, let that be a caution.

As for Fiedler’s will to censor those novels that did not fit his ideological preconception, Scott remarks:

Fiedler saw American literature as sophomoric. He lamented the absence of books that tackled marriage and courtship — for him the great grown-up themes of the novel in its mature, canonical form. Instead, notwithstanding a few outliers like Henry James and Edith Wharton, we have a literature of boys’ adventures and female sentimentality. Or, to put it another way, all American fiction is young-adult fiction.

In truth, Henry James was the greatest American novelist. Many of his books address marriage and courtship in a highly sophisticated way. Dismissing Henry James as an outlier or an aberration is a sign of ideological blindness.

One might also mention Hawthorne, a great novelist and certainly not an outlier.

And then there is history. There were the Founding Fathers, Abraham Lincoln, TR and FDR, Dwight Eisenhower and George Marshall. The pages of American history are filled with great male leaders, great political leaders and great military leaders.

More and more their achievements are being erased from history books.

Within the world of the arts and thought the culture warriors seem to have won. If Scott is correct, they might find that their victory is a mixed blessing.


Ares Olympus said...

Such big subjects are hard for me, unless I can imagine a real patriarch in action. I'd think of the Catholic Church and the Pope. The Pope can't be a woman as a start, and represents the divine will of God himself. That's serious business!

The Pope and the Church are fundamentally Pro-life in all ways, even to the degree that contraceptives are immoral, while a vast majority of Catholics dismiss this ultimate judgment.

In centuries past divine authority was wielded by a more ritualized understanding of reality, and that our spirits were what was important, and that physical world was corrupt and not to be trusted. So a good priest could offer the highest standards of morality to the people, and knowing human frailty, offer them a path of redemption for transgressions, and eternal damnation to those who refused to repent.

I can't say how many people in centuries past took that power seriously, but it would seem to be more serious than now.

I can see authoritarianism, or paternalism as a sort of "protective shell" for ordinary people, not unlike civil law, but deeper, since your conscience (or superego) became the center of judgment, and there was no hiding from that. So that would seem a good framework for the ego to develop, but apparently the mythology of paternal hierarchy is someday the son always overthrows the father, and so there's something limited here.

Its easy to see violent overthrow of authority as purely destructive, but it can be worse. The father can be left in contempt, and not even worth the effort to overthrow.

The key idea for me is perhaps that we all have destructive/aggressive/unsocial impulses inside, which will be simply denounced as "bad" from the feminine side, but actually contain the seeds of maturity from the masculine side, so a man who stands up for authority of limits of any kind, and allows himself to be a lightning rod, he's allowing hidden aggressions of weaker men to be expressed outwardly and somehow a transformation can occur in that ritualized combat, and as long as there's a higher authority than the patriarch himself, he can afford to be overthrown, as long as he demonstrates what integrity looks like.

That's my imaginings anyway, and if there's some truth, real patriarchy can't be overthrown, but it can be initiated within every man within any domain he holds some mastery.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

"In suggesting that patriarchy is dead, I am not claiming that sexism is finished..."

Of course you aren't. The fight must still go on. After all, if you said sexism was dead, you wouldn't be invited to anymore swank NYC cocktail parties.

sestamibi said...

Well, the game isn't over yet, but at halftime the score is Michelle Duggar 19, Sandra Fluke 0.

Anyone want to make bets on the final score?

Dennis said...

Anyone ever wonder why all these proclamations and pontifications always turn out to be wrong? Al Quieda is on the run, et al. In most cases this happen just as the opposite is happening.
The fact is that those who state these ideas are the ones not having children which means that their ideas are in the process of failing. Question, How many women call themselves feminists? How many women belong to NOW as opposed to Conservative women's groups? How many women actually dislike men? How many women would like to have a family with a husband and children?
Much of this is coastal nonsense and drivel driven by a very small number of people in the media and the arts. I can understand how NYC, et al, men need to perpetuate these ideas because they need women to protect them from competition. Of a matter of course one is going to protect their pawns if possible.
Most women are far too smart to not notice where their best interests lies. After a significant number of years reading and listening to feminist drivel I began to notice a pattern, that under feminism should not happen, where marriages occurred, children born and raised, and families kept on surviving. Life went on inspire of feminist drivel.
After all these years of NYC/coastal feminism should have destroyed the family, but it has not.
There is no doubt that feminism has done a lot of damage, especially Black and minority families,but in the long run more to itself. It is why one sees more and more Black and minority groups talking about improving families. I really like women, but I dislike feminism for what it has become. Like all ideas that are eventually taken over by radicals they die a slow death.
NYC, coastal areas, are a lot like universities where bad ideas can survive long past their applicability. NYC/coastal areas are so busy trying to be smarter than those in the rest of the country they have little concept outside their own closed mind. When one assumes that they are better, smarter and a step above others is when one is about to fail.
If one pays attention one can see the gradual change just under the surface. It is why I don't find myself getting too exercised about it. It is almost fun watching Obama die the death of a thousand cuts just as it will happen to all radical ideas.

Jocker said...

"Create a cult to a Mother Goddess and you will find that those who join the cult are either children or eunuchs." - or knights, like the knights of Virgin Mary.

Lastango said...

Mr. Scott is trying to have his cake and eat it.

That he needs to kneel and kiss the PC ring before questioning a carefully selected subset of Cultural Marxism's outcomes is telling; if he doesn't, he won't be working at the NYT long.

I've got no patience for these fence-sitters, and no interest in their exquisitely cautious straddles. said...

I indulge myself in the thought of David Foster Wallace's entry into the Patriarchal Catholic Church who reveres a Jewish mother. DFW came close to making the leap. Might he have been able to deal with the "costal nonsense."

Tragic that Adrian Peterson, who reportedly has five to seven children, one of whom was beaten to death by the "baby mamma's" boyfriend last year and Ray Rice (and their disordered fathers) could not have been initiated into the Catholic Patriarch who holds up family, wife and mother as well as a Jewish girl who deferred to HIS will.

Freud and Lacan seemed to have some of the story right and they got me back to the wisdom and order of the Catholic Patriarchy.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Dennis @September 13, 2014 at 6:38 AM:

You are spot on. The issue is how education has made being "smart" into a hyper-analytical lifestyle that turns scholars into mindless robots looking for novel things to analyze and critique, irrespective of value or contribution to society. It is a mighty apparatus with little economic benefit, and tenure insulates the public educator from economic consequence. The university has institutionalized decadent, frivolous, fringe subjects/lifestyles. It's where tolerance is practiced and celebrated in the most rigorous and economically inefficient manner. The return for society? Very little truth, and precious little wisdom.

Meanwhile, people in the U.S. interior are going about their normal lives. Intact families are where the American majority live... subsidizing everyone else. This is proven in every demographic and economic study. The reason? Martin Seligman pointed this out in his pronouncement on the primary factor in a successful life: self control. This is probably the most boring, bourgeois concept imaginable. Yet it is the key to spiritual, emotional, social, and economic productivity.

Feminism has nothing to do with self control. It is an epistemological system of excuses and rationalizations, blaming men for everything so as to sanction homosexual hedonism, debauchery and the glorification of disordered rainbow lifestyles. The payoff? Being a feminist instantly vaults one into the category of being "smart." Why? Because sexual orientation affirmative action (whether legally sanctioned or not) postulates that experience trumps true knowledge, and being a member of an oppressed group means you never had a chance in the first place. With a PhD dissertation on some fantastically random, useless subject, you're in... and on the fast track to tenure. Feminism's only true, secure economic option is in the modern academy. It is definitionally apart, yet wails and bemoans discrimination. What a great game for the professional victim... and fully subsidized by the patriarchy. After all, there's no organizational structure more medieval and patriarchal than the university.

Don't believe me? Review the following (particularly faculty profiles, subjects of research, and events):

Continued below...

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Continued from above...

And still, life goes on. There is nothing wrong with being homosexual and having homosexual tendencies. The issue is acting on the impulse -- the serial and sustained activity of which makes it a lifestyle. This sort of lifestyle is problematic for a host of reasons, but has come to be tolerated in modern American life. I find this regrettable, but prefer it to the un-Christian ugliness of widespread proscription and cruelty of active discrimination that puts good people -- who happen to be homosexual -- on society's margins. That said, we've crossed a line. Today the promotion, advocacy and celebration of homosexuality is rampant in our civil institutions. Homosexuality is presented as somehow "normal." These efforts include the calculated amplification of homosexuality's presence in works of mainstream popular culture, homosexual "marriage" legalization through judicial means, and homosexual couples being able to adopt children on par with heterosexual couples.

This is all a natural outgrowth of the feminization of American society, spearheaded by feminist activism and subterfuge. What was once just women's studies is now an alphabet soup -- an alliance of LGBTQA fringe pursuits. Tolerance and acceptance are largely positive developments, but we've stumbled our way to a new extreme. Today we find tolerance is the preeminent value of elite society. Yet this assaults the idea of value itself, leaving society in confusion, unable to distinguish what it means to live a good life. But nature abhors a vacuum. There is a new dogma. Being "smart" today means swearing an oath that nothing is certain... that there are no absolutes. This is a charade, because raw power is all that remains, and a valueless society quietly, radically transfers power. To whom? The most economically unproductive: our political, media, academic and cultural elites... an "Iron Square," preying on the stupidity they have institutionalized, which now requires massive subsidy. It's not a grand conspiracy, it's a progressive erosion of social capital. This leaves the hard-working families of middle America to take up the slack through their inheritance: the old rules of right and wrong (e.g., "ignorance"). We are left a society that is self-evidently decadent and amoral, fascinated by the Kardashians.

Anonymous said...

Every time I think of the inevitable clash between Islam and the West I think of The Lord of the Rings. Pope Francis said today that World War III is already underway, at least in the aggregate. I don't know if it's going to begin as Christendom against Islam or secular humanism versus Islam, but I suspect it'll end as a battle between Christendom and Islam. You can't die on a battlefield fighting for nothing, and the bloated European/USA secular nation-state ain't enough to fight for. I suspect that fighting against religious values will give Western soldiers the opportunity to revisit their Christian heritage. The decadence IAC is talking about can only reign for so long. If it lingers, it will lead to our ultimate undoing.

Dennis said...


There is a truism here that I find applicable to most things. "I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions." I cannot at the moment cite the originator of this quotation.
Our life is governed by our ability to make decisions that either improve or detract from our success. A decision not made is still a decision. All the rest is nothing more than making excuses and justifications for not taking responsibility for our actions.
Feminism is a, like many concepts that reside on the Left and the academy, failure to take responsibility. It thrives on the failure of its adherents to grow up and take responsibility. Far too many people have come from backgrounds and situations that should according to our betters have kept them from living a good life, but they managed to rise above those circumstances to be successful, myself included.
The older I get the more I realize how various decisions made have made my life what it has become. At some point we have to stop playing the victim, stop blaming others and take responsibility for our lives. Feminism is a disaster, much like the rest of leftist drivel, because it keeps people from recognizing that they can be the masters of their destiny. Yes it contains risks and one may not succeed, but there is the possibility of a far better life. It is too bad that interest groups who were originally started to address a need have become dangerous to that goal.
If one pays attention one can see the same failure to take responsibility on a global level. Instead of trying to improve their circumstances they blame others. Instead of being eclectic and learning what is good they want to destroy. They allow those who seek power and control to make them into failures. History just keeps repeating itself because it is easier to blame than it is to take responsibility.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Dennis @September 14, 2014 at 6:16 AM:

Well said. I prefer the word "choices" to "decisions," because decisions are perceived to be considered or well thought-out. In the end, you make a choice, whether you think about it or not. And if you don't make a choice, well... that's a choice.

All semantics aside, you are correct that the Left forms institutions and policies that perpetuate childhood... sometimes indefinitely. College is but the latest iteration in this experiment of the knowledgable man who is hedonistic and miserable. In the end, They believe the great lie behind all Leftist thought: that you can get something for nothing. As they lecture (or hector) us on the primacy of physical/material cause and effect, they tell us the Big Bang produced something from nothing, and all the while we are also told religion is the opiate of the people. All frauds go back to faith in secular spontaneous material creation, while eschewing a God who is "utterly other" on the basis of material evidence, as if the transcendent can be found or validated through the scientific method. And with this denial comes the denial of the soul, necessitating the denial of free will, and therefore the denial of human agency in creation. Therefore, humanity is reduced to a bumbling sack of protoplasm, answerable only to himself, as if there is anything unique or special about the self (if it exists). After all, it's just a bunch of cells, right? Predestination in a Petrie dish. I suppose that's why Leftists believe comfort and material pleasure are all there is, but they don't seem terribly happy, do they? Meaningless is just that: meaningless. I'd be miserable, too.

The reason I raise the issue of eroding "social capital" is that we are where we are because we've created things through human history. Isaac Newton said "I stand on the shoulders of giants." Indeed he did, and became a giant himself. We have an inheritance we are wise to protect, and we can't just take, take, take and expect everything is going to be okay, as though this is the Land of Make Believe. Deficit spending, credit cards, bridge cards, etc. It's all magical thinking, as though credit or subsidy is manna from heaven. There are those who want to "bring people together" and just... give them things. As though that's what a community really desires. Who needs love when you've got stuff? And that stuff comes from the government... the all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent government. That's the Leftist deity, their deus ex machina. But government cannot love.

We can't live on bread and mammon, can we? We need something more. So many in our society are convinced of their material security, yet misery abounds. We'd be wise to wake up and recognize that material comfort is distinct from human happiness, and one is not necessary to have the other. Happiness, I'm afraid, is what we've lost since we eject the sacred from the public square and simultaneously expanded subsidy. The secular is not ultimately fulfilling.

n.n said...

The matriarchy is not motherly. It is just as ambitious, aggressive, amoral, and corrupt as patriarchy when it rejects fatherhood. Actually, it is worse. The matriarchs have not only committed but normalized an unprecedented violation of human rights: the right to life. Its need to equalize men and women motivated conception of the pro-choice doctrine, which has rationalized and extra-legal and moral right to commit premeditated murder of around 2 million human lives annually in America alone. The matriarchs are ruthless and overbearing.

Dennis said...
It would seem that the matriarchy is also more violent and the perpetrators of around 70 percent of the domestic violence. I found at least 3 other references stating similar conclusions.
Much of feminism is based on the death of that which may create a barrier, in their minds, to power and control. It does not seem to matter if it is a child not yet born, a child who is kept from being born so it can suffer a partial birth abortion, infanticide, the killing of anyone who may possess testosterone, et al. Feminism is a death cult!
It does not seem that NOW and radical feminism have no clue about the fact that they are driving domestic violence underground. What wife, girl friend, et al is now going to come forward when the loss of income would be so great? A far better policy would not lean so heavily, revenge, penalizing and more on getting these people the help they need, on both sides of the problem, to learn to deal with other means of conflict resolution.
In most of these cases one, the other or both have issues that need to be dealt with to create healthy relationships. There is far too many things here to try and punish just one person.