If we view the human race as suffering PTSD from all the horrible stuff that’s been going on for the past millennia, 2017 starts to make a bit more sense. Some people have called it a horrendous year, rivalled only by the year before, when the world went collectively mad and mad as hell with Trump’s victory, and Brexit being voted a great idea, and all the really good famous people dying. It is all too easy to list horror after horror in a kind of retrospective of grotesquery and decay – Trump gets sworn in and becomes the least qualified and most obviously mentally unstable president in all of history, and has multiple fights on Twitter with other toxic men with similarly unstoppable egos and vacuums where their hearts should be. And these guys have the codes to the kinds of weapons that could wipe out all life on earth over and over again many times over. We had burning buildings, poverty and homelessness rising to new levels scarily quickly, increased levels of isolationism, nationalism and ‘othering’, and other forms of hate crime and speech proliferating among a vocal and significant minority. We had tiki-torch brandishers and mass shootings and more men driving vans into innocent people and blowing up teenagers at concerts. We had the handling of Brexit being trusted to a bunch of incompetents. We saw the most catastrophic effects of climate catastrophe so far, with the devastating hurricanes in the Pacific. And we bore witness to the sex crimes of powerful men in Hollywood and everywhere, and their non-apologies. If 2016 was the year of the unthinkable happening, 2017 was the year of the toxic male, shouting and raging and harming indiscriminately, while kept in a state of legitimacy and buoyancy by the #notallmen-#alllivesmatter-#whatabout crowd.
So I think we could be forgiven for feeling a bit, well, wrung out by it all. The urge to only watch videos of cute kittens doing cute things in perpetuity is very strong. But, if we are to extend the PTSD metaphor a little further, and I’m not sure that it IS just a metaphor, the first and hardest part is acknowledging the very real hurt and damage that has been caused, either to the individual or to all of us. I see 2017 as a year of us, as a species, finally starting to face up to what has been done and what is continuing to be done in the name of maintaining the status quo that keeps a few toxic individuals in power. The outrageousness of the last couple of years means that we can no longer ignore what’s going on. After all, it’s getting closer and closer to home. We find it literally on our doorsteps in the form of environmental pollution, homelessness, drug and alcoholism, to name a few visible symptoms. Or it’s in our workplaces, it’s in our homes. What we saw as ‘normal’ once because of its very ubiquity, we are now starting to see as symptoms of a profoundly sick society.
It is painful to witness, painful to acknowledge, and the injustice of it all can have a significant psychological impact which can make us feel overwhelmed and helpless. But like all sufferers of PTSD, the next step is to work out what our triggers are, what are our toxic habits e.g. reaching for the bottle, not talking about stuff, constantly reading doomy articles on social media, that keep us in that state of sickness, and how to change and overcome them. Making practical changes to our lives, however small, can shift our mind-sets from powerless to powerful. When we take responsibility for our recovery, while gathering support from our friends, families, neighbours, online gaming communities, whatever, we start to feel better and we start to effect meaningful change. We connect, we empathise, we energise ourselves.
We start to heal.
I can identify the cause of our profound sickness, and indeed, many people already have. Clue: it starts with ‘Pat-‘ and ends with ‘-riarchy’. Neoliberalism or neo-conservatism, or whatever you want to call the political drive towards psychopathy that seems to have gripped nations once held as bastions of ‘civilisation’ like our own, is but a mere child of it; the inevitable result of centuries, if not thousands of years, of an extreme imbalance of power that has caused untold misery to civilisations the world over. Exploitation of women, of workers, enslavement, colonialism, environmental destruction etc all stem from the same set of ideas. Greed is good, essentially. To be selfish and individualistic is the only route through this thing called life. And, let’s not forget, ruthless competition, and a sense of entitlement, and a lack of empathy, compassion or feelings of any kind. After all, emotions are feminine and ‘weak’, except for anger, which is only an emotion if someone other than a man is expressing it. Preferably a white heterosexual one.
This dominant cultural mind-set has been responsible for all of our collective ills, but in 2017, it took a great big sucker punch to the chest. And please excuse the combative metaphor – this too is a symptom of the wider culture where everything has to be a ‘battle’ or ‘war’. But I think in this case, it’s somewhat apt. Weinstein didn’t see it coming, did he? It is possible that we have seen a major shift in awareness. Finally, real conversations are opening up about where we’ve been going wrong and how to change things for the better, and how to make sure the horrendous stuff is no longer coded into the system. People who have used bullying and intimidation, as well as their privilege, to get into and preserve positions of power are finally being challenged. They don’t like it. This is reason enough to rejoice.
And as an antidote to all of the horrible things that I listed at the beginning of this piece, here are some examples of good things that are or very soon will be happening. Real inroads have been made in tackling disease, health issues like smoking, and in starting to tackle some of our greatest environmental challenges such as banning bee-killing pesticides, shifting towards renewable energy, and attempting to do something about our plastic waste problem with proposed ocean clean-ups, and using recycled plastic to build roads. We’re seeing attempts to tackle food waste as well, and larger corporations seeing the wisdom in sustainability in response to consumer awareness and demand. Tesco just announced that it intends to put an end to edible food waste by March 2018, and it is hoped that other major food producers will follow suit. We’re also seeing some meaningful moves towards gender equality, with Iceland the first country to make equal pay compulsory by law, and the appointment of the first female president of the UK Supreme Court, Brenda Hale.
There is also real reason to believe that a change of consciousness is emerging. We are starting to see and hear alternative narratives. Our heroes are coming in different shapes and colours. Traditionally marginalised groups are finding their voices through activism and through the arts and media. In the USA for example, the top three grossing movies of 2017 were all female-fronted. Australia voted for same sex marriage. In the UK, Robert Webb and Grayson Perry contributed to conversations about gender roles and toxic masculinity; Webb with his series of talks and book ‘How Not to be a Boy’ and Perry with his book ‘The Descent of Man’ and popular accompanying exhibition. And let’s not forget that the biggest and most peaceful global demonstration against all that Patriarchy, the Women’s March, happened in January of 2017.
And this is why I am more optimistic about 2018, and I think you should be too. When I was feeling more than a little despondent about the human race at the end of 2016, this talk by Charles Eisenstein really helped me. In it, he predicted that Trump would win the election, but that it could usher in a new age of global compassion. I believe he may be right. More people are good than are not - it’s just that the psychopaths and malignant narcissists have been running too much of the show for so long, we’ve forgotten that there is an alternative way of doing things. But there are signs that things are changing for the better, and that we may yet become the compassionate, empathetic, resourceful, cooperative, and remarkable human beings that we all have the potential to be. As soon as we realise, and many of us already have, that the challenges that we now face will only be solved by a collective approach, by making equality of opportunity and preservation of our planet our greatest aims, we can achieve far more than we as individuals could ever dream of.
So, 2018? Bring it.
For more information on patriarchy and how it all works, I heartily recommend ‘The Big Push’ by Cynthia Enloe
Charles Eisenstein – I stumbled across this while looking for another video. It seems we’ve had the same idea.
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