Princesses and Zuccotti Fraternité: Threats to the Patriarchs

“I do think that women could make politics irrelevant; by a kind of spontaneous cooperative action the like of which we have never seen; which is so far from people’s ideas of state structure or viable social structure that it seems to them like total anarchy — when what it really is, is very subtle forms of interrelation that do not follow some heirarchal pattern which is fundamentally patriarchal. The opposite to patriarchy is not matriarchy but fraternity, yet I think it’s women who are going to have to break this spiral of power and find the trick of cooperation.”- Germaine Greer

In the November 9, 2011 GOP debate in Michigan, Herman Cain touched on yet another area of Conservative denial, referring to former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as “Princess”.    Conservatives in the audience laughed, but they are in stubborn denial not only about gender and leadership but about the character of their own leaders.  Current polling shows Cain remains is in first place despite two weeks of sex scandal revelations.  The polling reflects the reluctance of conservative voters to confront the cognitive dissonance caused by the accusations that Cain had on multiple occasions sexually harassed if not assaulted women from his workplace.  This state of mind is not confined to a handful of issues.  Since it is shared across a large group of citizens who feel reality consistently fails to fit the frames of conservative orthodoxy,  it is proper to recognize it as cultural dissonance.  The nature of the loss of harmony can be seen in the 2012 Herman Cain candidacy.

Why conservatives find Cain so appealing has to do with his patriarchal confidence- the unflappable certainty he exudes.  The importance of this mystery has little to do with Cain the businessman, who will soon be forgotten by the mass media.  What we need to examine honestly is how it is that Herman Cain, with only a whisp of a campaign staff and such a disastrous handling of  the recent sex scandal  can defy all conventional political wisdom both from the right and left  and still remain the GOP’s favorite candidate.   What is it that Cain embodies for conservatives?   What this is about is the crumbling authority of the patriarchy, and that it is a contagion not just in the GOP but among democrats.  The impregnable bulwark arrayed against advocates of Wall Street reform in the Obama White House- it was personified in the struggle between the imperious Larry Summers versus Christina Romer (Financial Times story).  In the Clinton administration between the triumvirate of Greenspan, Rubin and Summers against Brooksley Born (Frontline:The Warning).  That these conflicts have strong element of gender to them is no coincidence, and it goes back to Greer’s insightful words.

A Zuccotti Swarm of Starlings

A Murmuration of starlings has no need of a patriarchy to instruct it in defending itself against a peregrine falcon.   Similarly, bee superorganisms  do not require central direction in problem solving.  Similar to the Occupy movement, they too reach consensus through voting and achieve decisive group decisions crucial to the survival of the hive without any reliance whatever on structures even vaguely resembling patriarchal authority.  One example of this is how new locations for the hive are decided upon. (Science Friday Story here)

The collaborative alternative that Greer spoke of is not some amorphous wisp of a dream- we now point to a triumph of collaborative leaderless swarming based on consensus anchored decision making.  It’s called Wikipedia.  Nor is it true that this struggle is particularly new, or is the expectation that the Occupy movement will somehow finally put the final stake through the heart of the patriarchal model of society.  We  have been putting stakes into that model for millennia, and the Occupy movement is in important respects new wine in very old bottles.  The early Christian church was filled with revelers released from the strictures of the patriarchal structure of intermediaries and laws.  The result was the  chaos of the Gnostics- a movement that was broader than the Christians who trusted only in the authority of Gnosis- personal, intuitive contact with Truth.  For Christians, it was the binding role of the Holy Spirit.  But the patriarchs quickly restored “order” in the metaphor of the people being the body of Christ, while the head of Christ was represented by the Spiritual/ Secular leader.  In the wake of a cataclysmic political shock in 1871 France, the Paris Commune expressed an unleashing of anti-authoritarian impulses where decentralized neighborhood councils self organized programs for social good.  Within two months, the Royalist army crushed the threat posed by commoners utilizing their own initiative to carry out the tasks of state formerly overseen by the expelled administrative elites.

The head-body model of society has become so accepted as orthodoxy that we have a fundamental problems with even the suggestion we consider the alternate model of society as a swarm.  Very quickly the law and order frames become activated, and the swarm becomes equated with uncontrolled destructive passions of dark unconscious impulses.  Take for example Nathaniel West’s polemic on depression era order in “Day of the Locusts”. (Warning- extreme violence).  Some believe West warned of the danger the power of the mob being harnessed by populist politicians in the mold of Mussolini or Hitler.

The precedent stretches before Cromwell’s swarm, when the theology of the divine right of Kings model was directly confronted.  The fear of anarchy surged, and the English Civil war transformed the religious model of the patriarchy into Hobbes’ equally patristic social model in his book Leviathan.  Prior to the first commonwealth,  the theology of the divinely authorized patriarchy had already lost widespread acceptance.   In Shakespeare’s Henry V, an unruly mob from an island of Scots, Welsh and English tribes are united under a King at Agincourt.  The leader earns legitimacy by embodying their hopes and desires of the people.   Here is the model that permeates the thoughts of progressives as well as moderate democrats.   As Christopher Hayes put it during one of his early theories on the Occupy movement, sometimes the crowd does not know what it wants and it takes a Steve Jobs to show them what that is.  Chris Matthews has the view that what Obama must do is assume the narrative of the heroic leader- the Jack Kennedy/ Henry V who achieves unity through heroic initiative.   That’s the appeal of the order that the Patriarchy brings to the mob.

But maybe we don’t need such genius heroes to do it all for us anymore.  Maybe we 99% can handle this on our own as we did in Wikipedia and in Zuccotti, in Fraternité, Egalité and Liberté.


About John JMesserly

Mostly harmless

Posted on 2011-11-12, in Brooksley Born, cognitive dissonance, consensus governance, Elizabeth Warren, gender, gnosticism, murmuration, Nancy Pelosi, patriarchy, swarm and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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