Courtesy Zazzle

Given the current state of affairs at home and abroad, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how we got here. When you get right down to it, the root of the problem is what needs to be addressed. As bad as things can seem with the in-your-face nature of the situation in the now, my head tends to look past the bluster and the bullshit. We need to strike at the heart of the matter, not just the gushing wound. We need to go deeper.

It’s great that not only are we as a society becoming more aware of the patriarchy’s role in shaping the world in which we live, but also that we are actively rolling up our sleeves to work against it. That being said, I feel that at times, we lose sight of fighting the patriarchy itself, and instead throw ourselves at the perceived vectors of it. I’m not saying this is inherently bad or wrong — no tactic in fighting the patriarchy is inherently invalid — but for my part, I want to focus my energy on drilling into the heart of the matter to find the source of this endemic rot. In other words, I feel I’m in a different division of the army arrayed against the system: some hammer against the walls, whereas I want do my utmost to undermine them. Both divisions are dedicated to the same goal, we just have different marching orders.

Anyway. On to my point.

The systems of the patriarchy have been in place for centuries, if not millennia. Among it’s toxic structures, learned behaviors, and pattern arguments is a fundamental method of conflict resolution:

“You must diminish another individual to accomplish your goals.”

It’s one thing to take corrective action, to take an individual aside and address a problematic behavior or a decision that had toxic consequences or hurt someone else. It’s another to demonize said individual merely on the face of their actions. The passionate pursuit of justice has become a defining aspect of today’s feminists, activists, and radicals. While this is admirable, there’s evidence pointing to a growing trend for some to use that aspect as a tool for self-advancement in a social circle or given zeitgeist. This is a vestige of the patriarchy, and it’s just as toxic and just as destructive as a problematic behavior or decision that needs to be addressed.

We cannot and should not excuse or explain away bad behavior or hurtful decisions, no matter how they were made or what the mental state was at the time. Actions have consequences, and when those consequences hurt or diminish another, the action must be addressed. But it must be addressed with a response, rather than a retort. A response is measured, direct, face-to-face, comprehensive, complex, and above all, done with love in one’s heart for oneself and the other alike. We’re all in this together, after all. A retort is knee-jerk, rooted in the heated emotion of the moment, triggered by fear or a previous harmful or toxic experience, and has far more to do with the person reacting than the inciting incident. It’s harder to respond, since it takes time, the clarity to imagine the other complexly, and the wherewithal to hold space for yourself as well as the other as sovereign individuals entitled by right to equality. It’s easy to retort — and the patriarchy is all about doing what’s easy.

Taking the thoughts and actions required to provide a measured response can be perceived as evidence of weakness, and even an invitation for abuse. There’s a delay that comes when we take a moment to think, if not merely to breathe. The ‘traditions’ of the patriarchy teach us that such delays are openings for us to get our points in, like daggers into a threat on our lives, regardless if whether or not the person in question with whom we’re trying to reason has turned their back to take a moment to gather themselves. We see the opportunity, and we stab one another in the back, and we feel justified, even vindicated, in the aftermath. We proved our point. We prevailed. Justice is done! The monster is slain! Everybody, check out this righteous kill and the utter hideousness of this thing that I stabbed to death! Go team!

I hope you can see why this behavior is toxic.

Courtesy LucasArts

That’s the point I’m getting at. The systems perpetuated in the spirit of the patriarchy have taught us the wrong things. We impulsively jump at the chance to prove our worth and our dedication to being an ally or smashing the patriarchy by punching whatever or whomever is in front of us right in the face. This is not to say we shouldn’t punch Nazis — I’m not an advocate for violence, but come on, punching Nazis — rather, I am suggesting that we not punch each other in the same way we punch Nazis.

I realize I’m mostly speaking within the echo chamber of ‘social justice’ folks and feminists. And that’s my intent. At this point, it’d be very difficult for members of the old guard to have this form of self-awareness or critical thought. Their learned behaviors are too deeply ingrained; their pattern arguments are too well-worn and comfortable. Addressing the nature of the fuel in their toxicity is another matter. Today, in this moment, realizing that we, too, have learned toxic behaviors and lash out with harmful retorts is something we all need to be doing.

I haven’t been as active as I would like to be in supporting the resistance. But I’ve been paying attention. And for every call for unity and collective strength in smashing the systems that put us where we are and allowed the ridiculous circus of narcissistic demagogues to seize power, there are those who wish to ‘weed out the weak’ among us. Yes, we need to address the harmful things we can say and do to one another in the midst of all of this stress and struggle. But we can do it without diminishing the other, but rather attempting to help them be and do better. We can help one another up without having to cast anyone down. And we certainly don’t need to perpetuate the broken and misguided goal of pushing ourselves forward by shoving somebody else back.

To prevail against our enemy, we must not think, speak, or act as they enemy does. We must know them, but not become them.

Each of us risks becoming the very monsters we desire to slay.

The true monster is the system, it is a thing. And people, regardless of the individual choices they make, in spite of the moments and retorts that fly in the face of their true natures, the people they could be — people are not things.

If we treat one another more like people, and less like things, even if the person in question has been acting more thing-like than person-like, we are already one step ahead of the enemy.

And that single step can make a world of difference for a person who’s just as worthy of love and liberty as you are.

Wednesdays I wonder at the world in which we live.