Monday, April 21, 2008

Objectification -- It's Much More than a Women's Issue!

PSA from Laurie Anderson - Women and Money

I can recall noticing through most of my life that most men react to the women's movement by taking it as a personal attack on their manhood. I don't see it that way. I can guess at why I don't, but I can't say for certain how that's come about for me. If I tried I think the effort would get quite lengthy.

One of the ways I tend to look at this issue of objectification is as a long revolutionary struggle, the liberal revolution, that began several hundred years ago. Whether it's a return to a human potential that evolved in the species before we began developing the authoritarian meme in our cultures, which hypothetically is the result of the complexities that followed the onset of agriculture 10-12,000 years ago, or not, is maybe an interesting question, but not one that makes much difference about the importance of the liberal revolution for individual rights or not. That revolution continues to evolve and each of us who embrace it, can embrace it with the very instructions built into our DNA. Fantasizing about how our ancient relatives did it 40,000 years ago won't really make much difference.

One of the narratives I run through my mind is that the Founders of this political system were a group of men who were philosophically tantalized by the ideas about liberal thinking at the time -- each in their own way, and hypothetically to different degrees. I take note of the fact they were a group of elites, many both monied and propertied, they were mostly from the European cultural traditions that were emerging at that time from feudalism -- and that very fact had a lot to do with their thinking framework, the context of their thoughts. This nation was structured out of that context in a specific period in what I see as an extended revolution of liberation from tyrannical, authoritarian structures of thought.

A question might be asked, revolution for who? And I'd answer, for the individual. I'm an individual, for instance.

What was born here in the US was, then, potentially not the final fruits of that struggle because of the very nature of what it was born into. I can see that the framework everyone genuflects over is still imperfect, and out of that imperfection has emerged the continued struggle for rights of the individual, the inhibit-ation of which I believe we can see in the very nature of feudalism, which itself is an extension of other forms of individual repression going back into history. Some of the dogma of the rights of property from that feudalistic era over our individual rights have been put down on this very thread, as the rights of a "property owner" known as an employer, and stated as, "this is the way it is." These, to me are the feudal fragments the Founding Fathers couldn't leave behind and they got built into the system, and because of that even corporations became "persons" with individual rights, it appears. And as long as we believe that this is the way it is, just as, as long as we believe we operate as a society under the rule of law, then it's so. But sometimes it seems to me those "this is the way it is" concepts come into play in ways that are seemingly contradictory. And it's then that I feel we are challenged with the problems of this liberal revolution that still need to be solved. One of the aspects of the liberal revolution is to recognize that very unique feature of ourselves, and to get out from under the self imposed belief in an authority that dominates how we think.

I feel that the revolution for individual rights was limping along on a single, somewhat crippled leg until women started to wake up and express themselves as individuals. Oddly enough, there's a group feature to individual freedom, and it's hypothetically very contradictory in nature. I believe we cannot free ourselves of authoritarianism while practicing it on any part of our humanity. Objectification, by the way, is to me an ingredient of the authoritarian mind frame. I discovered the very structure of feudal objectification when I was in the military. I was too young to know it already existed in society, so I was completely shocked when I discovered it. That really set my mind off. I had questions going in my head like: how do you take away someone's freedom to act and decide for themselves in a so-called democracy in this way to fight that which I was being told was a totalitarian system that does just that to its population? That was really a huge existential question for an eighteen year old mind I recognize now. I nearly went insane. But in the process I set up some ingredients for possibly working things out for myself.

When I got back into the "real" society, where the US constitutional Bill of Rights were the rules, not the Uniform Code of Military Justice, I decided it was time to get an education. In college I met members of the women's movement, and many of them were just about as confused as I was about all of this. But I managed to sort out through many of our talks, some highly emotional, that we were struggling for some of the same things, and against some of the same abstract institutional structures. Many or those structures are simply "authoritarian" and not oriented to promoting individuality of any kind, but because of the nature of our enculturation, the institutions themselves get associated with men, and so men often feel they are being personally attacked.

So what's happened as women are waking up? Are we dealing with the imperfections of our system itself, those features that create the objectification process? Or are we just incorporating the rest of the individuals who got left out about 220 years ago into a latently feudal system that has never been fully structured to allow us all our individual freedom? I'm still asking that question after forty years.

One of the thoughts I have: we have somewhat successfully codified this system of rule by law, combined with an individual Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights concept is being extended to the world, the United Nations has a nicely described version that even includes children. But it's like hand building a high tech Ferrari in a garage in the jungle. You start up that fine engine, open the garage door and there's no where to go, because there are no roads to drive it on. Most people spend most of their days in institutions that only vaguely and in fragments offer them individual rights to practice their daily tasks and to think in their own, individualized way. Their lives at home are planned and arranged around how they must relate to these institutions. Their children are carefully prepared so that they can successfully engage in them. And so we remain in a jungle of authoritarian institutions, and that jungle forms the context out of which we make up our minds, and that context is what we see as "the world" as it "must be."

The women's movement, the civil rights movements, those are about getting our good solid legs under us so we can go out into that jungle and claim our individuality consciously, and support each other in that process, instead of fight each other. Men are not being attacked as individuals by these ideas, in which the nature of objectification itself, for instance, is being questioned and examined. The institutions that men associate themselves with are not the individual men. And it's difficult to get that out where it can really be looked at and understood.

Maybe it would be easier, if only I were an expert...