Quelling the virus…

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bell hooks got it spot on with her brilliant and exquisite savaging of “white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”

Us denizens of America and the West, New and Old of the so-called First World, do indeed live in societies that more or less conform to this horror.

I believe that a good majority of these people don’t actually want to live in such societies, and would rather live in egalitarian, diverse, open-bordered matriarchies.

Unfortunately a good majority of people living in these societies also reap some kind of benefit or the other from the abomination that is WSCP.

Especially dudes.

And white folk.

And citizens.

And people with means and access (and let’s face it, the western world consumes so goddamn much that even those of us in the laboring classes, materially speaking, have more than the vast majority of the rest of humanity.)

This will change of course. Them borders, militaries, and inequitable consumption rates can only hold out for so long before balance sets in. When balance starts setting in, it can get violent, or it can be a caring, nurturing, even fun-filled chaos.

The latter requires coming past WSCP.

Which means actually living against the grain of WSCP, whether out of choice or compulsion.

It means quelling the virus.

The virus of toxic masculinity above all.

For it does seem quite evident that it’s what lies at the heart of WSCP. We wouldn’t have an endless supply of rapists and misogynists occupying positions of power and authority otherwise.

If us dudes continue to fail in this all-important battle for our souls; if we shirk our duties as nurturers and community members; if we continue to stay away from the kitchen, the laundry, and the household; if we fail to scorch this cancer stemming from patriarchal manhood, then this cesspool of power and violence the world over will never disappear.

It is in us to quell this virus. I refuse to believe that all men across the globe are of a cruel and selfish spirit. I refuse to submit to the notion that men have no choice but to be clueless, abusive assholes. I refuse to accept this nonsense that manhood needs to be in any way violent, sexist, or power-ridden.

I truly do believe that the vast majority of my brothers want happiness and peace of mind – the kind that can only come from taking on the never-ending struggle to quell the virus.

And when faltering or failing (indeed as a general fucking rule) I adhere to a very simple credo:

Heed the wisdom of goddesses.

I’m happier for it.

 

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Loss, suffering, and gratitude

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Recently, someone I knew took her own life.

She was a talented artiste who endured much trauma and pain throughout her life with great courage. She now rests in peace. Despite not being a close friend or family member, her death hit me at a very core level. I think the reason it shook me as much as it did is because loss and suffering, both personal and vicarious, are constant reminders that our bodily lives are ephemeral.

Unsurprisingly it’s particularly painful to think of loss or suffering in the context of our loved ones.

The tragic death of a beloved family member over a decade ago, alongside some past experiences with political violence, has me constantly fearing for the safety of my immediate loved ones. This fear is a permanent source of anxiety for me. Like an ever-present hum of white noise in the background, it’s always there no matter how hard I try to ignore it or rationalize it away. It can be quite crippling at times and also places a major roadblock to life fulfillment. It can take on all kinds of crazy shapes and forms. For instance, I get morbidly afraid of potential societal violence and collapse, despite the fact that I live in friggin’ Minneapolis, probably one of the safest cities in the world today. I get worried when Sus and Daya come home late from an outing, or if Sus has to go anywhere at evening or night alone. It’s an irrational fear, stemming from very real experiences of loss and suffering.

In other words, it’s a giant pain in the ass.

Now whenever this happens, I remind myself that we are all connected through spirit, and that the love we share will last forever, even beyond the inevitability of death. It’s a metaphysical philosophical framework that works for me.

All well and good…

But along with that spiritual grounding (or hokey mumbo jumbo, depending on your sensibilities), I feel I need a life practice that roots it in the here and now.

Which is why I’ve taken to practicing gratitude on a daily basis via simple journaling. Whenever I’ve done this in the past in some way or the other, it has really helped. This time around, I’d like to keep it going as a regular life habit to help ward off stress and anxiety.

On some days my gratitude journal might have no more than a sentence, even a very snarky one, but nonetheless a sentence describing something I truly am grateful for. On other days there might be a bit more. Regardless, they will always be a reminder that as I journey through life with my beloveds, our feline bffs, and our larger transnational community of loved ones, I have a veritable fuck ton of stuff to be grateful for.

I cannot control all the good or bad things that might happen to me and my family, nor am I ever going to completely heal from the painful anxiety I have over their wellbeing.

But I can certainly be grateful that I have an amazing family to worry about.

Capitalist workaholic cultures in the non-profit industrial complex

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My alleged career in public health, social services, and education in various North American cities has spanned almost a decade and a half. If you take into account work that I did in India prior to and alongside that career in the States and Canada, then that’s a good two decades of labor in these sectors that I can claim as a badge of honor and failure in equal proportion. Essentially this was work in various organizations that exist within what INCITE! brilliantly classified as the non-profit industrial complex.

From anecdotal evidence it feels safe to say that a lot, likely the majority, of social justice activist-type people tend to find paid work in social services, health, education, or some combination thereof. Many, like me, thus end up building low-wage careers in the non-profit industrial complex (NPIC from here on out), which for me includes both public and private organizations and those pain-in-the-butt, dual ones. And like me, many also build these careers kicking and screaming because really what other choice is there for so many of us in a capitalist economy?

For the most part we do this to the detriment of our health and personal lives…all in the name of finding a job that at least partially enriches our souls.

I am of the opinion that the major reason for this hit on our well-being is the shitty, pro-capitalist, Jesus-complex-bearing, workaholic culture that exists within vast parts of the NPIC.

This is not nurturing for our society and communities.

Now make no mistake, I’m not dissing the work done by many of the organizations within the NPIC. There is genuinely good work happening with quite a few of these non-profits, whether in subversive manners or not.

But why oh why can’t this good work be done without adopting oppressive work cultures?

It is so very rare to find a non-profit that adheres to the simple truth that having a nurturing, caring, anti-capitalist, and anti-perfectionist work culture – based on building egalitarian communities – will in reality benefit the cause in the long run.

I will say this though. I do believe that this self-aggrandizing, oppressive, workaholic mentality is a manifestation of settler-colonial patriarchy. Not only are we better of without it, we must actively fight it for the sake of our children, families, and communities.

Because it’s the people we love who suffer the most when we’re forced to spend the overwhelming majority of our waking hours selling our labor for sustenance.

I have said it before and will say it again:

Fuck capitalism.

Friendships forged in awkwardness

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I often ruminate on some of the various sociocultural differences in societies I have lived in across the world – which is a fancy of saying that I spend a lot of time daydreaming.

But among the many I have noticed or am on the verge of noticing thus far is how awkwardness is treated in different societies.

In most places in the world, awkwardness can more often than not be effectively dealt with by various forms of self and community medication usually involving a variety of spirits and/or herbal supplements.

There are often times however when such easy measures are not always available and thus friendships and relationships might actually have to be cultivated out of said awkwardness.

During those times, I have often found that settler-colonial societies treat awkwardness like some blight to be feared and avoided at all costs.

More earth-minded societies tend to see awkwardness as just another form of the human condition – neither to be feared nor made a big deal of. (These societies, I assure you, also know the good of value of aforementioned healing medications.)

I am realizing that as I wrestle with my own dual identity of part colonizer-Aryan, part earth-minded Dravidian – I much prefer the idea of awkwardness as, indeed, another part of the human condition that makes us human, maybe even a space where friendships can grow and solidarities can be nurtured.

No matter how feet-shuffling it gets.

The patriarchy that is bred in silence – and a bro way to fight it.

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We all are, or at least ought to be, aware of the more brutal manifestations of patriarchy – a social, political, cultural, and economic existence for humanity that privileges men over women and gender non-conforming folk.

(Apologies in advance for any mansplaining transgressions in this essay btw.)

Physical and sexual violence often come to mind right away when thinking about the most commonly cruel fall outs from this system of male power and control.

But I know there is more than just those egregious forms of patriarchy. Many people, myself included, have viewed or continue to view those types of gender-based violence solely in a vacuum, separate from the rotten and fetid foundation that the violence stems from. For if it wasn’t apparent to me before, it certainly is now, that the foundation of this global system of oppression is ultimately kept in place  via silence – a willfully tight lipped ignorance.

Most men, across the globe, close ranks when it comes to discussing patriarchy and sexism. Even the self-identifying “decent” ones, like many of the men I used to have in my life, tend to not be very open or concerned about gender injustice because it ultimately means looking into the unearned privileges they have accrued at the cost of the women around them. Now make no mistake, these are men who would condemn gender-based violence, maybe even with a lot of emotion, but cannot bring themselves to understand and engage with their own internalized sexism and male privilege.

The preservation of unjust privileges can often be a far stronger unifying force for those who benefit from them than the dismantling of those privileges can be for those who are oppressed by them.

(Fuck me, there I go mansplaining again – and with such long, boring-ass sentences too.)

But men closing ranks around the preservation of patriarchy is a real pain in the butt – especially if you’re trying to play even the tiniest of roles in effecting some social justice and real liberation (not to mention deal with your own internalized crap). Cos this shit happens across the board – cops, military soldiers, nationalists, religious crazies, cultural figures – all and more close ranks when the injustice of their existence is questioned. It’s men being men.

Petulant, cowardly men.

So when I find myself mired in rather depressing questions.

Ones like:

Why is silence so effective in maintaining this oppressive system?

Why are so many men so very scared of talking about these very real problems afflicting our communities and our homes?

What is it that prevents so many men from embracing true love and liberation and equality? And the enriching, but often difficult, struggles that are needed to keep regenerating those beautiful life forces?

When I get bogged down by such painful ruminations – I also remember to hold onto hope.

For I now have a beautiful new realm of bromance-building to find good men in my life.

It is the gift and all important responsibility of fatherhood.

(Which also often happens to be buckets of awesome, if occasionally irritating, fun in and of itself.)

Because a friendship cultivated with a man out of a mutual treasuring of that most liberating of life endeavors – that of parenting a child – is likely a friendship with a man who is caring, nurturing, and honorable.

And that’s a bro I can hang with.

I don’t have the time or patience for men who fear love, liberation, and struggle

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This is among the longer titles I have for an essay. But I’ve had a three week break from this blog, so I wonder if I’m maybe trying to make up for the break by just throwing it all out there in the title. (Did you also notice the shameful nod to the name of the blog itself.)

Long titles are actually one of those cardinal sins I commit far too frequently as a blogger.

But then again, these long titles are useful for me because they kind of summarize what I’m trying to say. People will also be better informed to see if this essay might be worth the time it would take to read it. And it’s a more democratic and egalitarian way of presenting an essay – catering even to the reader with the patience levels of a fussy infant who has just gained enough sentience to realize how glorious she is and how much she needs to constantly and very loudly exclaim that fact to her parents.

(I love my awesome daughter so damn much now, that she does occasionally frustrate me with how incessantly illustrative she is of my own incompetence as a bumbling father.)

I wrote quite a while back about men who fear love – and today I want to add that I also don’t have the time or patience for them. I just don’t want to put in the energy into maintaining relationships with these men, because they always also fear equality and joy and real happiness and true gender liberation. The pyrrhic benefits of patriarchy and sexism are just too much to let go off because of that fear.

To be sure, I’m not suggesting that these benefits magically disappear when you start fighting for real love and happiness from the standpoint of equality, social justice, and liberation. Men across the world, regardless of the “isms” they identify with, are swaddled in patriarchal privilege, even if some benefits for some men are tempered by colonialism or racism or poverty. Those benefits nevertheless remain in various forms and will remain until we realize the folly of the last few thousand years and return to living in truly gender-liberated matriarchal societies, led and guided by women and gender non-conforming people, especially women and trans people of color.

Now, that will take a while because patriarchy is kinda stubborn and stupid and assholish (not to mention mind-numbingly evil), but letting go of that fear of love and happiness grounded in equality and liberation will reveal the soullessness and diseased nature of those patriarchal benefits to us men.

At least I’m betting it will.

But then again, what the fuck do I know?

So, let me bring in the power of someone who is a far superior soul and human being than I am.

Nowadays,  as is quite apparent from my recent writings, I can’t stop from bringing my little warrior goddess of a daughter into my essays, occasionally using appalling attempts at subtlety. But Daya invokes so much awe in me that I must bow before her strength and wisdom every day (apparently utilizing the power of a blog that gets a dozen views or more on a good day).

Because she teaches me so much about myself, about the people around me, about the world in general. Equally importantly, she helps me unlearn and relearn. She and Sus give me so much happiness, love, and outright freedom of the spirit – that it becomes easy to do that difficult unlearning and relearning. One feels strong enough to deal with any consequences, such as sadness and hurt. What’s a little sadness or hurt (not to mention anger and depression) when you have two powerful goddesses in your family?

Now, I have had to unlearn and relearn a lot about myself and the world, and equally so about my family, friends, and community – both in South Asia and North America. This most recent family visit to Bangalore I made alongside the afore mentioned two greatest human beings on earth – so that one of them could meet her grandparents and family in India – was yet another chapter of unlearning and relearning for me.

For starters, I think I need to finally come out as a survivor of many years of sibling abuse that I faced at the hands of my older brother during my childhood – physical violence in the form of punches, shoves and slaps, in addition to regular emotional abuse and verbal humiliation.

I realize that, while I forgive him because he didn’t know better (he seems to be a loyal, caring husband and a good, hard-working father), I would like to simultaneously formalize my non-relationship with him and declare that there never was and never will be any brotherly love between us.

(To be honest, I’m kinda happy that I don’t have to continue the facade of a relationship with bullshit politeness and banal conversations.)

It also just confirms to me how little actual blood or bloodlines matter when it comes to real, caring, and nurturing love for a fellow soul.

I also know that his abusive behavior towards me (which was usually followed by an apology of sorts, in keeping with the cyclical nature of abuse in most family or interpersonal relationships) was pretty much a direct result of being the firstborn in a shitty, socially conservative, and patriarchal marriage between my parents, which was arranged by their own patriarchal, socially conservative parents. The marriage itself had a shitty, socially conservative, and patriarchal relationship with my father’s side of the family, which made things way, way worse.

My parents seem to be doing much better now. As is the wont of the patriarchy from some generations, marriages are for freaking life no matter what, so eventually some of these couples realize that there’s nowhere to go but up, and thus might as well try to get a better marriage since they’re fucking stuck in it anyway, with only their own shittily-married parents as the norm to break free from (it’s no wonder that the bar for loving, long term relationships is set so low across the world).

 

I truly do believe that a major part of it is also fear in men – fear of perhaps losing those pyrrhic benefits and power that comes from patriarchal social norms, fear of the work and self-reflection needed for true equality and liberation that has to be the foundation for love and happiness, and indeed, fear of that love and liberation itself. Some might call it cowardice, others might say that men around the world are in reality, adult children, immature little bratty boys – infantile humans who have been handed a variety of powers and privileges due to thousands of years of patriarchy that molly-coddle the ever-loving crap out of them.

But what do I know…

And that is why, I’m going to stick to the personal (while surreptitiously getting onto a mighty giant pile of soap boxes) and in a nod to both my past and my future relationships with men, however they may or may not end up, indeed to the men in my life across time and space – I make this declaration:

I have no time or patience for men who fear true love, happiness, and liberation as well as the hard work, the struggles, the learning, unlearning and relearning that it takes to build a foundation of real equality, justice and liberation.

If I see this fear in any man in my life – and I now really seek it out because it irritates me no end – I might need to cool off from the relationship, or just not have one, you know, might not really want to be around the guy and talk or be all chill and polite. I might tell the guy, I might not, based on what I need for my own emotional and mental health. Because I need to dedicate my time and energy to people who truly don’t fear love or happiness or liberation – and the necessary struggles against patriarchy and self-reflection around oppression it takes to keep nurturing those life forces.

I have enough awesome love in my life, human and non-human, so I can afford to make this choice.

(NB: I have never paid adequate credit to my awesome, glorious partner, Sus, for all the critique, support and editing help she provides for every essay I produce. I hope to change that from this post onwards and show how truly grateful I am for it.)

Fathers who don’t fear love – The Aka community of central Africa (and other hunter-gatherers)

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As is likely the case for any new parent, I think about parenting a lot. Even, or possibly especially, during times when I am not at my best.

Now, even though I consider mothers and motherhood to be the greatest and most liberating of human pursuits, I nevertheless find myself equally drawn to stories of loving and nurturing fatherhood.

Unfortunately in settler colonial cultures, both pop and otherwise, as well as parasitic colonial cultures, again both pop and otherwise, the bar for fathers is set so very low that I often have to seek inspiration elsewhere.

Thus, I try to seek out stories and narratives of honorable, caring father figures in my own indigenous roots and other indigenous communities  – especially among matriarchal or once-matriarchal societies  that have existed across the earth.

Like the Aka community of central Africa.

These amazing fathers hold or are within arms reach of their children, from birth till young adulthood, a whopping 47% of their time. This means that barring hunting, gathering, housework, and sleep – Aka fathers are either carrying their children or actively engaged with their children, and always within arms reach. No other society in any part of the world comes anywhere close to the kind of nurturing and caring parenting that Aka men undertake as part of their role in Aka families. They often do this in community with other Aka fathers and mothers, and gender roles are rather seamlessly interchangeable, with a democratic, flexible, and fundamentally egalitarian division of labor.

Joanna Moorhead, in speaking to anthropologist, Barry Hewlett, writes thus:

Another lesson the Aka have for us – and this is for all of us, mothers as well as fathers – is about how precious children are, and how lucky we are to have them in our lives. If it sounds a bit schmaltzy well, that’s exactly why we need to hear it: the fact is, says Hewlett, that we’ve strayed into believing that our kids are a burden rather than a blessing and that’s something the Aka never do. “To the Aka, your children are the very value of your life. The idea of a child as a burden would be incomprehensible there … children are the energy, the life force of the community.” A saying from another tribe he’s studied, the Fulani, sums the sentiment up: they say that you’re lucky if you’ve got someone who will shit on you.

The Aka community (and apparently many other egalitarian indigenous societies) consider children a blessing rather than a burden or an unproductive member of society. The happiness, care, and nurturing of children remains the most life-affirming endeavor for the Aka community. This then results in egalitarian and fairly unstructured free play as the baseline for learning and education. Thus, caring for children doesn’t just foster love in the family and community, but also joy, laughter, music, fun games, generational knowledge, and labor-turned-into-play.

(No wonder then that Marshall Sahlins postulated hunter-gatherer societies as the “original affluent society” – not because they had accumulated material things, but because they had mastered the art of great happiness from desiring and needing very little for their sustenance while basing their lives on community, love, and living in harmony with the earth.)

For me there is another major takeaway lesson from the Aka and other matriarchal or once-matriarchal societies.

These are fathers who don’t fear love.

They don’t fear the great (and glorious) task that is love.

And care.

And nurturing.

They don’t shirk from the very organic and beautiful process of fatherhood, and just as organically link it to gender egalitarianism and tight knit communities.

And they do so for a very simple reason.

It makes sense.

Because really when you think about it – it makes sense to lead a life where you prioritize love and care and nurturing and egalitarianism and joy and laughter and play and simple living and community and solidarity.

There’s not much to argue about there.

I imagine they themselves would be quite amused that I am speaking about them with such reverence and awe.

(On the other hand, they might be wondering why the men in our society look so much more miserable than the men in theirs.)

References:

Hewlett, Barry (2009). “The Cultural Nexus of Aka Father-Infant Bonding” in C. B. Brettell and C. F. Sargent (Eds.),  Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective (39-50). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Moorhead, Joanna (2005). “Are the men of the African Aka tribe the best fathers in the world” in The Guardian. June 15, 2005. (Link: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2005/jun/15/childrensservices.familyandrelationships)

Sahlins, Marshall (2005). “The Original Affluent Society” in M. Sahlins, Stone Age Economics.

Sahlins, Marshall (2009). “Hunter-gatherers: insights from a golden affluent age” in Pacific Ecologist. 18: 3-8.