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Number 147-148 - June-July 2014


Shameless Commerce
I've never had ads in Menletter, but I'm making an exception here. I've just published a booklet, Practical Zen: An Introduction. Much of the philosophy and sensibility of Menletter has been influenced by over a decade of study, practice, and teaching of Zen. The book is a 44-page beginners' guide and also a good reminder of the basics of Buddhism. It's almost entirely in plain English.


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Practical Zen


In this issue:

     Losing Ourselves, Finding Ourselves

     Hot Links Fatherhood; Perky Boobs

 

Losing Ourselves, Finding Ourselves

On May 23 of this year a 22-year-old man, Elliot Rodger, killed six people, injured 13, and killed himself. He left behind a 107,000-word "manifesto" and YouTube videos detailing his grievances and rage against women (he had had no sex, hadn't even kissed a girl since puberty) and the "obnoxious" men to whom women were attracted. He wanted to punish people, and he planned and prepared for his rampage for over a year and a half.

It would be easy to dismiss Rodger as an isolated or at least rare nut case, an unfortunate soul who went far over the edge of insanity and then some. But the killings engendered a tremendous response. Gun-control advocates excoriated Congress for not passing gun control legislation and the NRA for its strong opposition to controls. Others called for a national mental health overhaul to identify and treat potential killers.

The manifesto and videos raised widespread and fervent commentary on violence against women and misogyny in general. The Twitterverse has exploded with the hashtag #YesAllWomen, containing thousands of posts telling about everyday insults, sexism, and misogyny. A few men have posted there too, some in support, and some with excuses, denials, or hostility.

The hashtag may have been in response to a Tumblr "Not *all* men," a series of movie scenes all labeled "Not *all* men," seen as a satire against the use of the phrase as a lame argument against feminists. This seems to have given rise to a cartoon with an antifeminist antihero, Not-All-Man. But the not-all-men meme has been around for a long time and is usually just a way to derail any useful conversation about sexism and misogyny.

Then there's the breast-beating essay by Damon Linker in The Week. The title is "Men are the worst. Here's how they can be better." Linker is looking at men's lack of self-control as a universal:

But I'm afraid something has been missing from the conversation. Yes, misogyny is very close to the core of the problem. But perhaps even more primary is the refusal of so many men to acknowledge their own emotional lives - their anger and violent impulses, their unjustified sense of entitlement, their hormone-addled horniness - and assert control over themselves.

I don't know what number you could put on "so many men," but Linker seems to be moving very close to a "YesAllMen" indictment (while apparently excluding himself). Personally, I don't see the usefulness of Linker's brand of self-hatred.

Finally, we see some arguments that men are victims too, both at the hands of some women, some men, and of a society that devalues men. In a male-dominated society, women look with scorn at men's observations that men rank disproportionately high in death and maiming from murder, war, and work accidents; in incarceration; and even in rape (prisons).

There is no doubt that misogyny and sexism are abundantly documented, and that many aspects of our society favor men.

One problem I see in the social-media postings is that, distressingly, the keyboard is addressed before the brain and heart are fully engaged. Personal anecdotes become universal truths (for the few hours that a post is visible on-screen without scrolling). Spewing vitriol can be cathartic and sometimes even fun. But because social media postings are ephemeral, there are virtually no second thoughts or reconsiderations.

But I think the deepest problem in all of this is that we - men and women - don't really know who we are. If we identify ourselves only as victims and grievance-carriers, we are defining ourselves in terms of other people (or whole categories of other people) and the bad things they do to us.

Misogyny, misandry, sexism, and abuse are very real, and people suffer from them; women are victimized more than men. Perpetrators and victims alike are caught in an endless cycle of creating their identities based on their aversions and animosities toward each other. Some, like Elliot Rodger, carry this cycle to an extreme, with extreme and tragic consequences.

We seem to be incapable of defining ourselves on our own terms. That would require self-examination and insight. And, well, that's just too hard. What we don't see is that forcing change on other people is even harder. What we don't see is that we won't get out of this mess unless we find ways to help each other.

Decades ago, the women's movement and the later men's movement focused on finding our true selves. Maybe someday we'll realize that we can work together to try to cure some of society's ills. There's no guarantee that doing so would magically cure the epidemic of animosity between the sexes. But wouldn't it be worth a try? M

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Hot Links

Fatherhood For a different view of men, here's a survey indicating the increasing involvement of dads at home: "Modern Dads Survey: 75 percent of dads call fatherhood their 'most important job.'"

Does this bra make my boobs look perkier?

And here's a lighthearted look at how to compliment your wife. It's actually a pretty good list of ideas. M


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