Toxic masculinity for real

Mike Cernovich made some comments today that I found truly, unambiguously wrongheaded. They were centered around a claim that no real man (his term) is ever thrown off balance by emotional abuse. I was disappointed, because I’ve usually considered Cernovich quite decent, no matter how strongly I’ve disagreed with him. He’s an internet troll, but he usually punches up, not down, e.g., by bugging bullies, frauds, or others who are obviously acting in bad faith. This time, he punched down.

I’ve had the misfortune of being entangled with a number of emotionally abusive people close to me. It’s a terrible experience, and I don’t think I’d wish it on anyone. I’ve known a number of other people who have also gotten entangled with emotional abusers. I’ve watched in slow motion as Joe Dirtbag has run his fin-dom game on my parents, to my dad’s anguish and likely enough my mom’s as well.

A key thing to understand about emotional abusers is that they show no proportionality or principle in their behavior. When they get ugly, they’re pure Darwinian aggression. It’s of no use to try to mollify them, be forbearing, discern what one may have inadvertently done to provoke them, or be gracious to a fault. The only thing any of this will do is to make the abuse a high likelihood with an unpredictable onset instead of an immediate near-certainty. Consciously or not, they understand this and exploit it. If their targets struck back swiftly and proportionally, the result would be overt chaos. Their targets, desperate for some measure of calm and goodwill, move heaven and earth to placate them, but if they’re hellbent on being abusive, it’s futile.

As I’ve mentioned before, there is some real wisdom to the Amish practice of shunning wayward coreligionists. There are certain people who are simply incorrigibly evil, and others who are every bit as opportunistically evil as those around them will allow. Charismatic, high-functioning, slick bullshitters are Pareto power players of disruption, disorder, and peril. Some families and societies are affluent and robust enough to sustain the damage from these rogues; a thoughtfully backwards community of agrarian yeomen like the Amish or the Old Order Mennonites are not. Truth be told, many of us are a lot closer to the precariousness of the buggy Anabaptists than we’d like to imagine. Mainstream American society has been plundered and pillaged time and time again by exactly the sort of slickers the Amish make every effort to expel from their communities when they become wise to the monkey business and can’t admonish the miscreants into reformation.

I worry sometimes that I unduly romanticize the Pennsylvania Dutch. I’ve spent years on the geographical and cultural margins of their communities and have interacted with them from time to time. I know that they’re a strange, rather inscrutable lot, and that they aren’t at all perfectly harmonious in their internal interactions. But at least they have a thoughtful process in place for expelling from their communties provenly antisocial elements who refuse to reform after admonishment. We English don’t. We much prefer to put more credence before slick fuckers, not less.

There’s no fundamental reason why communal shunning would have to be used to enforce, say, pedestrian violations of an austere, Manichean sexual morality, such as adultery or premarital sex. I’ve long found it much more enticing as a way to deter or neutralize extortionists, frauds, bullies, and the like. It’s a way of declaring that the sense of the meeting is that you’re an unrepentant shitbird and, while we’re on the subject, you’re not part of the meeting anymore; fare thee well, bastard. It isn’t about being gratuitously cruel, but about nipping gratuitous cruelty in the bud. No community can prosper in good health while it is hijacked and domineered by charismatic frauds, thugs, crooks, or similar unsavories. That’s just not viable. Something has to be done about these troublemakers, and it has to be done with unwavering firmness, even countervailing belligerence. Otherwise there will be hell to pay, and it will almost certainly be paid by the more upstanding, responsible, decent members of the community, not the slick parasites causing the trouble in the first place. It isn’t even about punishing them; it’s merely that they have to be exiled from society for as long as they insist on comandeering it for their own benefit and to everyone else’s harm.

To return to the matter of masculinity, any fixed definition of masculinity that demands emotional callousness is immoral and fraudulent. To be clear, what’s at issue here isn’t hypersensitivity of the sort celebrated on college campuses today and ridiculed just about everywhere else, but sensitivity within the normal range of an emotionally healthy, morally grounded adult. This range doesn’t have to exclude the depressed, the hypomanic, or the anxious; “Jesus Christ my Paxil just ran out and I’m totally emo right now” is probably enough insight for a psychiatric basket case of goodwill not to adamantly blame everyone but himself for causing his latest emotional difficulties. The shit being pulled by the shriller campus activists lately isn’t genuine mental illness, but mental illness as a fashion statement and a racket. I’ve had some gnarly bipolar episodes and probably a few passing episodes of subclinical PTSD, and I’ve never gone around being ostentatious about any of it. Some of these emotional trauma trolls are reprehensible. If nothing else, they make people who are sincerely trying to cope with genuine emotional upset look bad, just like panhandling trustafarian layabouts make the deserving homeless look bad.

TL;DR for the bad seeds just described: fuck y’all.

Where do men fit into this? First, the old-school manly stoicism celebrated by the alt-right is actually little more than the modicum of emotional self-control that reasonable people expect of any competent adult. E.g., Mother-in-Law yelling at subordinates with tears in her eyes over some spilled fruit is not cool. If you really can’t keep a lid on the volatility, maybe you should take five and recenter yourself. For reasons that should be obvious, volatility in positions of authority is worse than volatility in positions of subordination, but this is America, so of course it isn’t obvious. Getting into high dudgeon over the so-called trauma caused by a couple of bored guys at a tech conference making very mildly off-color jokes about big dongles should be a horrible embarrassment for anyone of any sex, but any embarrassment Adria Richards may feel is transcended by money. God bless America, I guess. I got kind of awkwardly silent one time when my microbiology lab partners, all girls whom I didn’t yet know well, averred and seconded that the culture we were examining looked like splooge. Like any other normal person who didn’t feel like joining that conversation right then, I waited for it to pass.

By the way, it totally looked like splooge. It didn’t smell like anything I’d want to ejaculate, though.

The offenses that actually, genuinely throw people off emotional balance are rarely so trifling. When subclinical PTSD is at play (and I suspect it is greatly underdiagnosed), the apparent trifles that upset whiners are often mere triggering events that would pass unchallenged if they weren’t part of a pattern of aggression. Context matters, and emotional abusers know how to exploit it. They can easily provoke their targets without causing them traumatic upset and still leave them looking like shrill, overly emotional wrecks whenever they complain. Listening to a recurrent, intensifying campaign of gaslighting or fraud can sometimes be infuriating without causing any emotional upset.

Joe Dirtbag sometimes leaves me barely able to hold my peace when he deploys his stock comment about “wine, our best and most abundant currency.” This is not innocuous small talk; it’s an open fraud on all present, a faux-amicable violent shove on the Overton Window. Wine damn well is not a currency because it is a bulky product requiring careful transportation and storage, not a portable medium of exchange, and Joe Dirtbag knows it. If anyone calls bullshit on him, however, he’ll probably blow his top, and whoever is so honest will be scapegoated for harshing the mellow. He’s turning the screws on us to extract our assent for his barter wankery at a time when we’re capitalizing his insolvent farm. At the very least he uses this bogus line as an excuse for his own insolvency and incompetence. He and the Family Shrew may have the two most grotesquely inflated senses of pride I’ve ever beheld. Everyone fucking walks on eggshells when it comes to their self-sufficiency, no matter what pigheaded negligence provably contributed or is continuing to provably contribute to their circumstances. When push comes to shove, my dignity is subordinated to theirs because they’re the far more manipulative and belligerent parties. That’s sure how it looks, in any event.

Do I care about some rugged individualist’s belief that I’m a whiny little snitchy bitch for reporting the farm to code enforcement? Of course not. It’s a Picktontastic death trap. I’m not about to risk a brawl or a duel with Joe Dirtbag over this shit just so that we can be men about it. If he ever articulably threatens me, I’ll either call 911 or the desk at the nearest state police barracks. I’m not having a schlong-measuring contest with someone that out of control. The truth is, I’ve spent far too long trying to privately and discreetly clean up the messes he keeps making.

Mike Cernovich’s attitude in the comments I described above is part and parcel of a frankly dyscivilizational worldview that the alt-right has been promoting for the last few years. The stance here is not to bring in third parties as witnesses or backup against troublemakers, not to bring in neutral arbiters, not to bring in any sort of authority, not to blow the whistle, not to call predators out for shady behavior. That is, you don’t talk about Fight Club. Never mind if Michael Vick is running the club and you’re feeling like one of the bitches; we’re men here.

There need to be social controls on emotional predators for the same reasons that there need to be legal controls on securities fraud and food adulteration. Very often emotional abuse is a precursor to or a component of actionable torts or crimes. One of my friends had a charming boyfriend who turned into a possessive dirtbag and kicked her out of a house where she was paying the entire rent. Some months later, after she had dumped him, he went on Facebook to insinuate that they had gotten back together, resulting in her being kicked out by relatives who had taken her in with the understanding that she was done with this guy. The equitable thing for her to do would have been to sue him and have his bank accounts garnished. When predators start pushing the envelope, social niceties belong on a rubbish heap.

Is it girly to tattle? I don’t give a shit. I’ve been doing daily kettle bell workouts on the understanding that I’m fat because I eat too much. You won’t hear that from Dr. Oz. I’ve done extensive farm work. Am I a sissy for admitting to having emotional reactions to ongoing, deliberate, calculating aggression from bad people who walk over everyone in their path who doesn’t threaten their immediate destruction? Again, I don’t care. Am I a pussy for crying sometimes, unlike Donald Trump?

That’s who’s leading our populist insurgency right now, a guy who is on the record as having shed his last tear when he was one year old. There’s a lot of talk lately about the “shitlord face,” that is, physiognomically masculine fellows who smirk menacingly in groups. At some point, the shitlords may turn into brownshirts. My inner Jew is feeling quite ill at ease about this. The problem isn’t with masculinity. One of my closest friends is an avid hunter, a man whose masculinity only the insane would seriously question. He’s far from the only overtly, unabashedly masculine man I know who does not use masculinity as an excuse for predatory behavior, clinically paranoid hypervigilance in peacetime, or some other garbage-ass perversion of manhood. The guys I’m talking about, the ones being celebrated as shitlords on the ass end of the internet, look like they might assassinate their enemies or guard concentration camps. A good example is the assholes at Malheur. That Wyatt Earp cosplay is real masculinity and real patriotism? Fuck you, Bundy.

A society governed by the rule of law suppresses these menaces as they emerge. If the police aren’t adequate, the militia (the real one) and the military can be deployed. The whole point is to prevent majoritarian fascist gangs from running amok and committing atrocities.

At the smallest fractals, this preventative countervailing force includes calling out emotional abuse and other destructively antisocial language. If Donald Trump took his TV act to the wrong drunk in the wrong bar, he might end up in the ICU or on a morgue slab. Texas criminal statutes and court precedents have provisions to ensure that the physical aggressor in these circumstances is allowed to receive due consideration for mitigating circumstances in these cases, or so I’ve heard. It isn’t pretty, but there’s a certain appropriate deterrence to it, at least in theory.

It’s better, obviously, to bring cooler-headed authorities in to compel the bullies to stuff it. It’s insane to make masculinity all about the birthright to cruelly pick on weaklings for shits and giggles. Someone has to step in and hold the line of civilization against the jungle. Someone has to say no.

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