Man. I don’t know how to clearly write about this; it will be long & messy. I’ve spent a few weeks thinking about the gestalt of the sexual assault & harassment stories that have permeated the news. At first I was happy to see that serial offenders, who had used their power corruptly, were receiving actual consequences for their actions. At the same time, I felt like the consequences were being enacted by uninvolved, non-authoritative parties. I think now that my perceptions there we formed by the way the stories were framed in the media. To be honest, I think the decisions were made because it’s just good business to virtue signal in this way. They are shocked, shocked to find gambling going on here!
I’m still unsure how I feel about this kind of moral justice. I go back, again and again, to my Catholic upbringing:
Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.
John 8:1 – 11, KJV
And now see that I’ve probably missed a few points in this lesson. I’ve always taken it to mean simply: You, a sinner, should not condemn others who sin. Yet this is only a wise moral function when you have the power, and the accused does not. Withholding condemnation of those who abuse their power perpetuates that abuse.
I do not begrudge the anger and sense of vicarious vengeance that women are feeling as these powerful men are held to account. Injustice should always be appropriately addressed. Yet at the same time, I am looking for, but not seeing a path of mercy or restorative justice available here. Maybe it’s there and I’m missing it? More likely, I think, is that this is just white guys finally getting a taste of what women & minorities have lived with for thousands of years. If I understand this paradigm correctly, I am worried about it. I want to assume that our goal as ethical, empathetic beings is to create a society where institutionalized forms of oppression cease to exist because all people are looking out for all people. That’s tough though, because we’re tribal & clique-ish by nature. Vengeance and vigilantism are tribal behaviors. So while I do not begrudge the feelings, I also do not know what goal they progress us toward.
For children are innocent and love justice; while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.
G.K. Chesterton, On Household Gods and Goblins, 1922
Of all the powerful or carnivorous animals… the wolf seems to have been the most important for the Indo-European warriors. Reflexes of the old word wlkwo, “wolf,” are found in literally hundreds of proper names, and [in the names of] numerous peoples, such as the Luvians, Lycians, [et cetera]…Stories of lycanthropy are well known among the Greeks, Romans, Germans, Celts, Anatolians, and Iranians, and these would seem to be traceable to these ancient warrior practices.
In Germanic myth and legend, say Brown and Anthony, these feral war-bands “are called Männerbünde… a label often applied [by scholars] to all similar Indo-European institutions.” Männerbünde means “men-league,” league of men.
Toward their conclusion, Brown and Anthony speculate on the psychological benefits of a symbolic transformation into a beast of prey. The wolf warriors, they surmise, “would feel no guilt for breaking the taboos of human society because they had not been humans [at the time].”
Finding some way to deal with guilt must have been crucial, not only for individual members of the leagues but for their societies as a whole. This is because membership in the Männerbünde lasted only for a set period. If you were still alive at the end of that time, you had to integrate yourself back into your old community. In order to perform the roles society now needed you to perform — family man, working stiff — you had to shed your tainted and bloody savage identity.
For some, this would have been impossible, no matter what psychological mechanisms were deployed to help. But many others must have managed the reintegration well enough. The rotation back into normalcy is documented in the Vedic texts: “At the end of four years, there was a final sacrifice to transform the dog-warriors into responsible adult men who were ready to return to civil life. They discarded and destroyed their old clothes and dog skins. They became human once again.”
Elizabeth Schambelan, League of Men, N+1 Magazine, Spring 2017
A few days ago, on my 37th birthday, I woke from a nightmare into a panic attack about my father’s emotional and physical abuse. Stuff that happened 24 years ago! I chose to not interact with him after I was 13. He’s dead now. I haven’t consciously felt any need to deal with it for years. But that trauma is still inside & hops out always unexpected. So while I might not be able to empathize with the particulars of a trauma, I know what it is like to be subjected to it in general.
There’s no time limit on trauma, and people don’t seem to be very good at acknowledging that or helping others deal with their own. The entirety of the article I quoted above is worth reading. It offers a well constructed anthropological argument that humans have essentially been punting on how to deal with the trauma caused by “men as wolves” for longer than recorded history. Societies give men tacit permission to inflict any manner of destruction, but no tools for processing what they inflict or receive. I have shared deeply held, vulnerable feelings with close friends and family this year, and have been told by on multiple occasions, by women, to suck it up and be a man.
I also see the amplification something like this receives:
Women’s lives aren’t men’s teachable moments.
— mattie kahn (@mattiekahn) November 21, 2017
and the popularity of #menaretrash and I get really frustrated. This kind of behavior is functionally no different than persecution that’s been directed at women forever. It comes from trauma, but just creates more. Everyone’s life is a teachable moment. If men are trash, and not supposed to learn from the experiences that women have, then how are we supposed to get better? Many men are not equipped to figure this out on our own. Many of us lack any sort of emotional support network for our own troubles, and typically people don’t look to men to provide emotional support. I don’t know how else people are supposed to grow and understand each other as a community, if not by learning about each other’s lives, being open to that sharing, understanding that harm will happen, and being willing to accept and work through when it does.
I don’t know that anyone is good at interpersonal healing right now. The trend continues toward polarization in all things. I am naturally inclined toward coöperation & peacemaking. I want to welcome the repentant & prodigal back into the family. But healing & forgiveness can only occur when all sides want it. While I’m quite motivated to create accord in most things, I have almost zero interest in healing & forgiveness when people hurt me deeply. At the same time, I have no desire to call them out on it. After I jumped out of my dad’s car, he was dead to me. It’s been the same way with anyone who has betrayed my trust on a fundamental level: friends, family, & partners. That’s probably not healthy, it’s definitely not healing, & I think it relates directly to what people refer to when they speak of toxic and/or fragile masculinity. But I’ve got no other tools to deal with it.
I like to think I’m pretty good at solving problems, but not in this case. I’m unsure what tools I need, and have not had good experiences when I have asked for help in learning to be more deft with the ones I have. I’m not even sure most folks are interested in developing restorative/redemptive methods to heal divisions of any stripe. It’s way easier to just say ‘fuck ‘em’.
I have no conclusions. I don’t even know where to go from here.