Christopher Hedges, greed, female emancipation...
“Sometimes, the Light’s just shining on me, other times I can barely see…”
— Grateful Dead, Truckin’
“…many of us know that a consumer culture based on corporate profit, limitless exploitation and the continued extraction of fossil fuels is doomed.
…The ecosystem is at the same time disintegrating. Scientists from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, a few days ago, issued a new report that warned that the oceans are changing faster than anticipated and increasingly becoming inhospitable to life.
Even with the flashing red lights before us, the increased droughts, rapid melting of glaciers and Arctic ice, monster tornadoes, vast hurricanes, crop failures, floods, raging wildfires and soaring temperatures, we bow slavishly before hedonism and greed and the enticing illusion of limitless power, intelligence and prowess…” — Christopher Hedges, The Myth of Human Progress
“Hedonism and Greed”: Christopher Hedges vs. the Establishment
Christopher Hedges is fast becoming a bogeyman of the American right for his politics, and his writing against his nation’s cultural degradation, a distinction he shares with Noam Chomsky. Google now blocks access to Hedges’ columns on www.truthdig.com (try going there and see what happens…) I find Hedges very persuasive and very well informed both by his personal experiences of war and by his knowledge of history. That is why I have chosen to quote him.
No, he is not uplifting in many of his analyses of this present moment in human history. The present moment is not inspiring. But we must have hope. He offers us hope by showing examples of spiritually-energized people, whose artistic imaginations can move humanity in more positive directions than where he sees us headed now. Art and imagination, spirit and resistance to the powers who rule us, are Hedges’ uplift. He is not in despair. Nor am I.
I have gone looking for uplift in recent history too, and I offer my own diagnosis today.
An indicator of change: men and women in relationships
I have been much occupied by observations about relationships of women and men around me. I intuit there is something about this topic that links us to positive prospects ahead. “Things are getting better, and worse, faster, simultaneously”: Charles Eisenstein cited this remark on his blog. It appears to me that female/male relationships and the difference in female power between 1960 and now are phenomena proving the point about “better, and worse”.
The human species shows a fair amount of sexual dimorphism, that is, marked differences in the physical form of male and female. To that we add some pretty large observed differences in behavior, with factual generalizations possible about men and women and how each manifests sexual activity. Men support prostitution and pornography with their money far, far more than women. Men who are gay act sexually quite unlike women who are lesbian; the numbers of casual lovers gay men report in their sex lives exceed thousands according to many studies, while lesbian women do not behave in anything like the same way.
The generalization that male sex drive is considerably more promiscuous and undiscriminating and that men will act on their sexual desire as often as they have opportunity, while women do not act this way in the same numbers, is a generalization borne out by serious research. The advent of phone apps that allow men to “hook up” for gay sex in minutes, supplies more evidence.
These hook-up apps are just as available to women — but are not used by women, either hetero- or homo-sexual. Gay men use the opportunities extensively; straight men would act the same way, if there were women as readily available for such instant casual sex. There are not.
Sexual liberation for women has changed female behavior a lot, but the difference between male preoccupation with sex compared to female moderation, still holds. One wonders why.**
Progress: women in liberation and emancipation
But women today have changed out of recognition in spheres other than sexual behaviors by comparison with past women. Modern and post-modern woman in the most-affluent, developed, priviliged, and democratic nations on earth is not the woman of 50 years ago. Do we all agree that this a sign of positive transformation in humanity’s societal evolution?
Is a male opinion worthwhile? I certainly hope so. Surely one does not have to be female to have a thoughtful and worthy appreciation of what is the meaning of changes in women’s power, rights, freedom, and our notion of female nature.
Women have increased their power in politics and the economies of the West, but demonstrably have less than men in measures of leadership and wealth.
Women in the West are not constrained by cultural attitudes of “appropriate femininity” as they were in my childhood; I have lived through the revolution in women’s lives and been a student of the changes while not having the personal investment in them that a woman would have. To me, the changes seem vast, while I fully grasp that a backlash against Western cultural norms in this area is being manifested in lands of Islam, in India, in Africa, that is ugly to see.
Are the subtle delineations of gender and sexuality now being advocated by the lgbt movement a positive for human happiness? Are sex and sexual relationship a source now of more human contentment or less — or is that question meaningless? I’m not going to attempt answers to those. These are hard things to judge, not least because, to me as to Chris Hedges, physical hedonism is a very real human problem. Preoccupation with physicality and material is the most obvious source of the corporate world’s power over us, and the systemic powers encourage us in this obsession.
Are the new understandings of what is distinctive, about male and female, signs of “human improvement”? To this I say “yes.” When we survey the course of human development, what harm capitalism does to the planet, why socio-economic injustice prevails among us, we still can celebrate fields of human activity where there are positive changes. Women’s situation is one such sign.
Our evolving attitude toward animals is another. We are less likely to judge other animals as our entitlement to do with as we will. This is a tremendous sign that humans are raising our consciousness that we are not supreme. We are not masters; we are merely one life form among many. Our consciousness, while likely unique, confers no special rights upon us.
Post Scriptum: I have just seen the film, The Monuments Men, and I recommend it fully. The noblest and the most base aspects of humanity are on display in this film about WWII and the mission to rescue and restore art pieces that Hitler and his Nazi armies would have laid to waste just to satisfy his evil egomania.
**Why men are this way may not be in human genes but in the cultures humans have. See Steve Bearman, Ph.D. “Why Men Are So Obsessed With Sex,” from Male lust: Pleasure, power, and transformation. He contends that our parenting of boys means they get far less soft touches and gentle human strokes and hugs than girls; boys are told to be tough with their bodies and not to let feelings show nor to let feeling determine action. These strong messages from parents, especially fathers, form adult men who need sex to make up for many other deficiencies.
“Sex, which will feel like the answer to your loneliness and deadness, will turn out to reinforce those feelings. You will come to feel more alive when thinking about or engaged in sex than at almost any other time. When you do experience sex, you may come closer to another human being than you can remember ever being. … But no matter how much sex you encounter, it will not be enough to fill your enormous need to love and be close and express your passion and delight in your senses and feel life force coursing through your muscles and your skin. All sexual desire will become tainted with your desperation. Passion and desperation will begin to seem one and the same. You will be Obsessed.
“Sex quickly becomes addictive for most men. Like all addictions, it offers what feels like temporary relief from difficult circumstances, only to leave us more thoroughly immersed in those circumstances, and feeling as if more of it is the only way to even come up for air. Even if we do not engage compulsively in anonymous casual sex, pornography, masturbation, or fetishistic attempts to recover what has been forgotten, sex nevertheless takes on an addictive character. When we automatically fantasize about sex and sexualize people we meet in passing, when we are sexually engaged and feel an urgent need to have intercourse, to “get off”, to orgasm at all cost, we are being driven by these addictive impulses. It is difficult to accept that such attempts to get back what we’ve lost will always ultimately fail. Even if we accept it, we can’t find our way out. An addiction this persistent occurs for very definite reasons, and until those reasons are addressed, escaping the addiction may not be possible. In the absence of healing, the addiction serves necessary functions.
“If sex is expected to be our primary source of contact, feeling, pleasure, and love, our main connection with the memory that life is exciting and mysterious and joyful, then of course we will be obsessed with sex. Luckily, the conditioning that has put us out of touch with all these things is completely reversible. Every quality we have turned away from can be reclaimed. The passion that narrowly fixates upon sex can lead the way to a wide-open life vibrant with passion. The desire to be close that has been confused with sexual desire can motivate us to create closeness everywhere. When we fill our lives with the things we previously expected only from sex, our lives are richer, and even our experience of sex is transformed.
“It is possible to be completely relaxed about sex. When sexual desire is purged of desperation, urgency, loneliness, and fear, then sex can be inspired by joy and sexual relationships can be healthy and whole. When sex is a choice, one of many choices, with no rush to get to it and no cost in missing it, it’s possible to be at ease with sex and sexuality. We are making the long journey out the other side of the Land of Obsession. On the other side is a rich, full life beyond our conditioning, where passion takes new forms each day and we are deeply related, never alone. A new paradigm is possible for men, wide open for us to explore.” (pp. 215-222)
Charles Jeanes is a Nelson-based writer. The previous edition of Arc Of The Cognizant can be found here.