Thursday, October 28
Thursday, October 14
Funny, how some things that are the most familiar to us can also be the most misunderstood. It is not popular, for instance, to defend femininity. It shouldn’t, but the word still evokes images of ruffles and lace and a terminal dependency upon men.
When speaking of industrialized culture, femininity is confused with the boorishness of blatant sexism in advertising. It is derailed by cheap shots about women being the weaker, emotionally-burdened sex.
Some women feel almost apologetic if they enjoy baking or picking up a needle and thread. Many young women see their future marriage as strictly a 50/50 proposition; both parents will contribute monetarily to the support of the household - that’s only fair. They have enjoyed a full generation of equality in America and can’t conceive of anything that falls short of their equitable Solomonesque split down the middle of stereotypical gender roles. They fail to consider that a stay-at-home mom IS contributing to the family in a enormously valuable and yes, profoundly traditional way.
An essay excerpt about traditional tribal femininity vs dominant culture femininity by Native American author Paula Gunn Allen, is on the war-path with what she perceives as a rootless, tasteless industrialized culture and the sorry, impotent women in it. From an anthropological point of view, Allen makes classic, anticipated comparisons between her tribal identity and the roles of women in the larger society. Her presentation of ritual and gender are timeless and beautifully articulate. She of course is well-versed in the many mythical feminine characters which occupy indigenous lore. These feminine personalities are fascinating, powerful representations of wise and beneficent women who organize, give life to or directly influence what sustains the viability of the whole community. They are dominantly featured in origin stories, thereby responsible for much of the natural world and the people’s relationship to it. Above all else, their capacity to bring forth life is deeply revered.
She points out the obvious with almost an open disdain: Women are not perceived the same way in western industrial and postindustrial cultures. There is no back-up section of “mythic feminine figures” to inspire or explain the origins or organization of life. Allen mentions only a single candidate we might claim, and that in ironically dismissive terms. She offers us the Christian Madonna as the female prototype for our western culture, and interestingly enough, Allen notes she is “...portrayed essentially passive; her contribution is simply that of birthing.”
And what a birthing that was! Can you say ironic? It is incredible that this accomplished and sensitive author has structured a very thoughtful piece about the feminine mothering power of native women, yet completely negated the enormously significant mothering contribution of the one and only woman in the world who gave us Jesus the Christ.
Mary, unlike Spider Woman, Coyote Woman or Corn Woman - was not mythical. We can only surmise what import her unique and indeed, divinely appointed influence was upon the young Jesus preparatory to his profound earthly ministry. A ministry, which (and it is the understatement of the day) of necessity validated His Divinity and our Eternal future with Him. For a believer, in other words, there is nothing bigger than the Atonement of Christ for all mankind. Mary was chosen by God for this singular honor to mother His only begotten son. To reduce her personal worthiness (and the great trust that was placed upon her) to a functioning reproductive system is shallow and disrespectful.
There are, unfortunately, women who can produce a baby and betray their calling as mothers.
(Andrea Yates & her 5 children she drowned in the family bath tub)
Mary was not one of those. I am not one of those. None of the other women I know or have ever known personally are one of those. To mother children is automatically a discussion about power - the power to protect, to sacrifice, to teach, to inspire, to motivate, to discipline, to dream, to agonize, to celebrate, to hope. Mothering power is all about the glory of it, or the abuse of it. Either way, the family of man is irrefutably affected, even molded by legions of mothers through the ages. The dismissive tone in which Mary’s feminine power is mentioned seems to expose a pretty glaring bias.
Paradoxically, the author is even more dismissive of the painful dinosaur in the room; native women are 30% more likely to be the victims of domestic violence, rape and homicide than their non-native counterparts. Their families are under attack on and off the reservation by generations of substance abuse, illiteracy and unemployment. Strong women are required for these difficult times, regardless of their tribal, religious or cultural affinity.
I respect Allen’s loyalty to her culture, and her awareness of her feminine heritage. I suggest that she ought to see more of what she shares with her non-native sisters, and be less comfortable misunderstanding an equally powerful femininity that lies beyond the borders of Pueblo lands, and across the passage of time.
If Mary had been Pueblo or Sioux or Pima or Kiowa, perhaps her influence would find more merit? But this is the author’s mistake! Allen has identified Mary as the Catholic Mary. And as such she assumes an emphatically mythical quality indeed! Ignoring that entire aspect (and the global, cross-cultural impact of her many overtly mythical variants), the author is clearly defining the Catholic Mary as the only significant (non-tribal) yet impotent feminine figure claimed by western culture.
If Paula Allen could have asked Mary personally, Mary would have told her which tribe she was immediately. Tribal affiliation to the peoples of the Middle East has always been paramount to one’s core identity and deepest spiritual value.
Funny, how Paula and Mary have much more in common than she thought.
Friday, October 1
As the voltage increased, the subject in the chair vigorously objected until he demanded to be released from the experiment, only to dissolve into agonized screams somewhere in the neighborhood of 285 volts.
The test focus of course was on the 'teacher' administrating the “punishment”. An authority figure toting a clipboard and clad in a white lab coat issued clinical prompts such as, "the experiment requires that you must continue," and "you have no other choice, you must go on." While some people expressed concern for the suffering they caused, and a few asked to stop the experiment, vastly more obeyed. Only one woman refused and walked away.
In an excerpt from “The Perils of Obedience”, Dr. Milgram compares his test subjects to Nazi Germany. While the shocking (no pun intended) results of his psychological test are truly very disturbing, he assigns a reckless weight to the capacity for inhumanity inherent to the human condition. Milgram’s repeated theme of reflecting on war crimes perpetrated for the sake of “following orders”, is limited and much too simplistic to explain something of the other-worldly scope and scale of the Holocaust.
The grinding punishment to Germany effected by the Treaty of Versailles and her deep resentment of it, an utterly oppressive economy and a centuries old bigotry against the Jews throughout Europe in general are all significant factors that contributed to the successful rise of the Third Reich. Hitler did not have the power nor the influence to impose a police state immediately. His rhetoric establishing the superiority of a master race celebrated within a fervently idealized nationalism was a corrosive ideology that gained ground gradually. Later, his strong-arm tactics to force Nazi ideology upon schools, the marketplace and the citizenry were also implemented gradually.
The incremental steps leading to the ultimate Holocaust included an entire generation of German youth forcibly removed from home and hearth and aggressively indoctrinated against natural loyalties to family, community, and faith. A sense of accomplishment and even destiny pervaded beginning stages of identifying, restricting and segregating Jews and other undesirables. Dr. Milgram might have focused instead on the influence of state-authorized propaganda heightened by the ever-increasing threat of (and public displays of) severe punishment to anyone who defies the state’s definition of what (or who) is “unclean” or unaccepted into the new social order.
In the issue of Nazi Germany, the question is not so much one of why people obey, as it is a study in how to market an immoral set of values to a damaged society. Post WWI Germany may have been a ‘perfect storm’ ripe for a visionary psychopath like Hitler.Middle-aged men striped of former economic and social status were self-indulgent (or desperate) to the degree that they were willing to align themselves with something that promised to restore their value, and then some. Young boys and girls were groomed to adulthood without the customary tempering of familial bonds and sense of community. Women, striped of their role as nurturer and care-taker to their families, lost what maternal influence they might have exerted in a more traditional society. Their dependence upon men also contributed to their loss of authority in the home; they were culturally inclined to follow their men into whatever political or sociological direction they marched. The defeated and hurting German citizenry at large was also primed to relish glorious promises that they were destined to be victorious over unemployment, poverty and their newly acquired under-dog status in the world. When the push for ethnic purity emerged, it only seemed appropriate as a compliment to the new world-order they were fated to create.
In “The Perils of Obedience”, we can identify neither a multitude of contributing cultural or historical factors nor the passage of time to explain why his subjects were either indifferent to human suffering or even pleased by it. The essay mentions similar testing done elsewhere with a variety of subjects from different ages and backgrounds with similar results to the Yale community. Considering this surprising fact, a different common denominator might be at play.
Equally weighty is the attraction to wielding power that almost every human feels or desires to some degree. The ‘natural man’ is one who would rather have authority - even a little bit - than not, if given a choice. The ‘teachers’ in Milgram’s test might then have been reacting to the very convenient transferral of authority, and not necessarily obedience to it.
Case in point: Consider the extreme and highly predictable transformation of the older brother or sister from loving companion to tyrannical despot as soon as the front door shuts and mom and dad embark on an innocent evening out. Little Mr. or Miss In-Charge instinctively responds to the authentic transference of power and authority by immediately lording it unrighteously over his/her younger siblings as the Babysitter From Hell. And why not? Children better than anyone understand that obedience sustains authority, and obedience in fear is much faster and easier than obedience by respect.
It is healthy and necessary to examine our individual capacity for exercising our free-will. In an open society such as we have in America, it is often a blurred line between duty or obedience to authority and our choice to honor it. To honor authority is to understand why it exists, and to agree that sustaining it is necessary for the greater good.
Everyone appreciates the uncontested flow of traffic safely regulated by numerous laws, signs and signals. At any given intersection or freeway interchange there could be tens of thousands of vehicles and unknown occupants who can anticipate safe passage virtually because of our mutual respect for and obedience to common traffic laws.
It is hoped that in such a society as ours, one that values the individual and his/her responsibility to the larger community - we will also foster people who understand the limits of authority. That being that no one shall have the right to impose upon another unjustly. That we should anticipate we all are individually accountable for our actions, regardless of whom is directing us to do what. That above all, we should expect to respond without hesitation to an inner-voice that reminds us we are no better than another, and that we know right from wrong without anyone telling us otherwise. Period.
Many of us would identify this intimate, guiding force as the human conscience. I refer to it as the Spirit of God within us. As His children, we ought to make individual choices with allegiance to that divine relationship above all else. Then, and only then we may identify willful obedience as devotion.