Macho Macho Men
Deconstructive Nationalism, whether infesting us here at home or inflicting itself upon our foreign policy, along with its catastrophic consequences, can be attributed, in part, to the uncivilized expression of brutish masculinity.
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The position of nations on the global stage reflects the disposition of its people and leaders. Even societies dedicated to civilized ideas, rather than naked plundering, are susceptible to corruption by historic conditioning and partisan maneuvering. Nations, just like individuals, can succumb to vanity. Pride can drive us to be better than everyone else; and the criteria for being “better” is often conditioned by masculinity. When this happens, leadership becomes synonymous with virility. Even in a “free” and “civilized” nation like the United States, you cannot get and remain at the top of the political power pyramid unless you are willing and able to maintain the tough guy image at home and abroad.
This is apparent in our ongoing anti-Russian bias that makes it impossible for us to view the Ukrainian upheaval objectively and undermines the possibility that American diplomacy will optimize the objective interests of the American people.
For centuries, the more “advanced” nations of Western Europe, and their colonial offspring (that’s us), have assured themselves that they are superior to their eastern cousins. Slavic, Asian, Orthodox, rustic Russia was thought a harsh and backward land. The greatest Russian, Peter the Great, enjoys his place in history precisely because he shared this view- that’s why he ran through the streets coming upside the heads of his hidebound nobility.
With the advent of Bolshevism during the Great War, a new and even more brutal form of dictatorship transformed this erstwhile backwater into a threatening industrial juggernaut and military power second to none in less than thirty years. Traditional criticism now found second gear. Enlightened mockery of a retard was swathed in the urgent blare of sirens warning the world of the very real dangers posed by Communism.
This life and death struggle between liberal capitalism and hard-line socialism, which eventually was tagged as “The Cold War”, added generations of “Cold War Warriors” to the already flourishing “Red Baiters”. These, along with the more generic jingo, made sure everyone in the free world continued to know how evil Russia was.
The collapse of the Soviet Union, along with the advent of capitalism in Red China, removed any serious economic threat to “the west”. The Cold Warriors were out of work- their expertise and importance in society reduced to something akin to typewriter repair. Sadly, unlike “old soldiers”, these folks did not just fade away. Deep-seated hostility to Russia means there are still rewards for flogging a dead horse. Anti-Russian remarks provide second-rate politicians with a sure-fire, if lowbrow, applause line. After all, who would deny that czarist Russia was backward or that the Soviet Union was a twisted tyranny? These second-raters, in the form of “Cold War Warriors” were willing to bring humanity to the brink of extinction rather than lose the preeminence and celebrity they had gained by succeeding in creating an image of themselves as “tough” and “hard”. Efforts to get these hot heads to chill out only resulted in those few voices of sanity getting tagged as “soft”.
“Soft”, as you know, means such a person is not a real man. A macho is, of course, “hard”.
Even though we are several hundred years into the “Age of Reason”, macho display remains an effective and indispensable tool. Often, to be seen as “tougher” or “stronger” is a prominent element in political posturing.
With a public that is notoriously uninformed on global issues and world history, dueling machismo
can become a placeholder for the responsibility of leaders, including the press, to present the public with a rational fact based public discussion. Instead, even our thoughtful politicians must prove they are “real men” before they can have a seat at the table.
Perceived “softness” led the Democratic Party to a severe drubbing in the 1972 presidential elections. What had been considered sanity for most of our history (avoiding foreign entanglements) was now blamed for the “McGovern Debacle”. Since then, the Democratic Party leadership would rather get the plague than to be seen as “doves”- that is, as being “soft” or less “manly” than their Republican counterparts. Once again, partisan competition on the national stage requires all parties to beat their breasts, paw the ground and fill the air with bellicose bombast. Like effeminate men, and like women, the Democrats, lacking leaders with the self-confidence of an Eisenhower or a Reagan, have to try even harder to shed the “soft” image and be accepted as “real men”.
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Machismo is a real and apparent motivator for all in the current struggle between pro “western” and pro Russian actors in the Ukraine. All sides have resorted to violence as patriotic expression. The question we have to ask ourselves is “What is our side”?
What the interest of every American citizen demands of its public servants, up to and including Secretaries of State and Presidents, should begin with an honest and straightforward statement of the facts involved and a cogent presentation of what the interest of the American people is in this, or any other, conflict.
In other words: Wassup, do we have a dog in this race?
Have we declared our allegiance to enlightened discourse? Have we abhorred the violence from all sides? Have we re-dedicated ourselves to maintaining a “New Europe” free of warfare? Have we declared that we recognize the simple truths involved; that the arguments of both sides have merit? Have we offered our “good offices” to both sides in an effort to achieve an equitable and bloodless settlement? Have we demonstrated to the international community that we deserve a leadership role because we are above the fray, rather than a part of it, that we understand that our self-interest lies in eliminating conflict between our friends? Have we recognized that it is, obviously, in the best interest of the American people to cultivate and maintain good relations with the Russian Federation?
Of course not. The correct answer is “none of the above”.
You need permission to sit on the top branch and distribute the bananas. You can’t be leader of the pack, top dog, or king of the hill unless you have a pack to begin with.
The psychological imperatives of machismo are overwhelming. Because the heroic confrontation with evil (the guys wearing the black hats) is a sure-fire winner for the advancement of partisan political careers, getting “tough” with the Russians is a no-brainer. After hundreds of years of anti-Russian conditioning, what could be simpler, and more rewarding, than making the Russians the “bad guys”? Does anyone fit the black hat image better than Vladimir Putin?
Despite the fact that an objective view of history would clearly lead to the conclusion that the Crimean
Peninsular rightly belongs to Russia, that it is critical to the national security of the Russian Federation, that tens of thousands of brave Russians have died to throw the Turks, English, French and Nazis out, and that the people of the Crimea clearly prefer being Russian rather than Ukrainian, the superb operation to repossess the Crimea has been portrayed in the USA as bald faced, brutal and unjustifiable aggression. On this, because no leading American politician has the spunk to risk being seen as “soft” on Putin, there is 100% agreement. There has to be a bad guy. It has to be the Russians. If you want to wear the white hat, one must be anti-Russian.
The only remaining decision available to American leadership, vis a vis public posturing, is how much damage to our relations with Russia, and to the global economy, should be suffered in order to sustain the tough guy image? Here, domestic machismo takes over at home from where cultural machismo leaves off overseas. Because this Ukrainian civil war must involve the Russians, centuries of ingrained superior attitudes dominate our perspective. Macho bombast allows our representatives to become invulnerable at home to political attacks on their masculinity.
With our economy recovering, the blind partisan opposition to Barack Obama is busy ginning up a case against the President, and the Democratic Party, based on his conduct of foreign affairs. All the criticisms of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy, that suggest high crimes such as restraint and thoughtfulness, amount to one overriding charge: he is a ditherer.
Dither and Die! Real men don’t dither.
The partisan attacks, which reflect how badly the traditional non-partisan conduct of foreign affairs has degenerated, are supplemented by the arrival, stage right, of the old Cold War Warriors whose careers can be rejuvenated if Russia once again becomes public enemy number one and the focus of our foreign policy.
The hawks are screeching. The Russia lobby has returned.
Hawks (the machos of bird land), mindful of the rewards of being seen as real men, are falling over one another in an effort to emerge as the reigning tough guy. We must “stand up”, “get tough”, and not “tolerate” these Russians. Not to be outdone, our government has been supplying us with routine bulletins demonstrating how tough they are getting. Statement after statement declares what we will and will not “allow” the Russians to do, and how well they are “complying” with our demands, and how we will “punish” them if they do not.
Dueling machismo provides a spectacle. The Republicans want to show what big men they are by painting the Obama administration as “soft”, while the Democrats reassure us that they are just as tough as anybody and will maintain the USA as king of the hill.
Relatively junior employees at the State department can now be observed scolding Russia and grading how well the Russians are following orders. The entire purpose of these pronouncements is to assure the public that the Obama administration is, indeed, a tough customer. The Democrats, we are assured, are not going to put up with any nonsense from those Russians.
State, if run by professionals, knows better than anyone else that our insignificant military deployments and puerile economic attacks are not likely to influence Russian behavior. This expertise has not affected our conduct. It is subsumed to the partisan need to look tough. All of history has shown that Russians never respond in a positive manner to threats and insults. Who does?
Just as our policy is driven by anti-Russian prejudice, and national macho posturing, this is even more true inside the Russian Federation. The more they detect another attack on the motherland from the West the more their anti-western, anti-USA, hackles are going to get up. They have “cold warriors” waiting in the shadows too. They know how many times the “superior” nations of the west have invaded their nation. They know that the cost of defending Russia has been staggering- in the many millions of lives lost. There is no shortage of hot-headed macho politicians in Russia who are happy to stroke the Russian public, and benefit from their arousal.. Does anyone really think that Vladimir Putin is going to let himself be seen by his own people as less macho than Barack Obama, John Kerry, John McCain or Sarah Palin?
There is zero chance that a policy of browbeating and public humiliation will cower Vladimir Putin or the Russians. On the contrary, it is guaranteed to strengthen Putin, every other Russian macho, and make a just and amicable resolution to the Ukrainian crisis far more difficult.
The press, like politicos, strives to have the largest possible audience. “Lurid” is the word we use to describe the media behavior that is the equivalent of political demagoguery. To insure that you are not outsold by other news stands, it pays to shout “WAR”. Every manufacturer wants to craft products that the public will buy. People that produce “news” are no longer an exception. Gone is the brief devotion to high-minded ideals such as “public service” or “journalism”.
News outlets recognize that macho posturing provides a hysterical audience ripe for the kind of gush that hypes a story. Like sandwich slices, each package produced is carefully wrapped and labeled by authenticating commentators so to appear as real cheese. The Cold War returnees and various other minor pundits and petite intellectuals fill the pages, airwaves and cyberspace with “expert” opinion.
We have to read and watch because the situation is “grave”. The Russian army is poised to swallow up many nations. World War Three is, we were told, a distinct possibility. That now infamous line,
so effectively employed by the shriekers that lead us into the Iraq quagmire, “this changes everything”,
is now shamelessly repeated. On one broadcast, from a supposedly highly respected news organization, I listened as one commentator opined that we must never be taken in by the Russians. That they are, and always have been, essentially sub-human slope-headed Asian barbarians intent on the rape and pillage of the civilized world. This nut job was dutifully thanked for his contribution to the hype, as were all the other nitwits, on staff and otherwise, presented to the public.
The responsibility to “advise and consent” that is generally attributed to the United States Senate,
actually rightly belongs to the public. It is our responsibility (some might say duty) to direct our representatives. Is this really possible when our consciousness is forced to operate within a matrix of ideas that is constructed from prejudice? Is it possible when prejudice is consciously created and exploited by macho politicians and inflated by irresponsible media? Just where, exactly, are citizens expected to find the objective information required? Just where, exactly, are responsible levelheaded leaders going to emerge from?
The obstacles that must be overcome in this, and many other conflicts, is whether or not a solution can be crafted that allows all the “real men” to maintain the masculine mantle while at the same time a civilized resolution is arranged. Can a macho make, or be forced to make, the necessary concessions demanded by compromise and still come out looking like a champ? In a similar, but far more dangerous, case of brinkmanship- the Cuban Missile Crisis – this is exactly what occurred. Both the United States and the Soviet Union, President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev, both backed down and made serious concessions to the other side. Yet, the agreement was so skillfully crafted that each leader was treated at home like a conquering hero.
The conditions for this type of resolution in Ukraine are already in place. All the sides involved have attained important objectives that would allow them to proclaim victory. What remains is for all the players to make the relative secondary concession that would allow everyone to preserve their masculinity.
While I expect this will happen, the triumph of reason is never a done deal. The operation of Deconstruction Nationalism can prove to be an obstacle that cannot be overcome. History is littered with human catastrophes that were easily avoidable.
The civilian and military cemeteries, the mass graves, the rubble and the bones rotting in the fields are all filled with fine young men, and innocent civilians, whose lives were brutally cut short for no other reason than some ape could not keep his big mouth shut. While we all know that “loose lips sink ships”, we must also keep in mind that “loud mouths sink generations”.
Even as our leaders accede in public to the screech hawks and grand-standers, and orchestrate Deconstructive Nationalism to their own advantage, cooler heads are, hopefully, at work behind the scenes. In this case, I have no doubt that reason and civilization will prevail over brutish hysteria.
We are going to avoid Armageddon. Sadly, this settlement will only come after more damage has been done to our consciousness. Some folks will actually be disappointed when catastrophe is averted. Success will be attributed to “getting tough” rather being reasonable. Our relations with the Russian Federation will have been set back a generation. Our prejudices will have been reinforced. No voice will be raised to chastise the shriekers that embraced brutish masculinity over civilization.
One of these days, as they have so many times before, the Macho Macho Men will escalate some situation that could have been resolved reasonably into a tragedy. If we wish to avoid that eventuality,
we must consciously support a leadership that does not succumb to hysteria and keeps its head when everyone seems to be flying off the handle. We must reject a media that inflames rather than informs.
Intelligent comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
San Antonio, Texas- summer 2014