It’s a good sign when people like Salon.com’s TV critic issue a mayday call and starts writing about real shit in the style of Andrea Dworkin. Her awakening came from Hollywood drama, but if that’s what it takes…
But this is the year of our lord 2017, soon to be known as the Year of the Sociopathic Baby-Man, and it feels like we’re cursed by an increasingly grotesque subspecies of this infantile beast at every turn. Does the world even feel real to powerful men, or is it more like playing an exciting video game? How else do two world leaders with nuclear weapons capable of murdering millions of people trade juvenile insults like toddlers battling over a toy? What else makes it seem fun and exciting to break a window in a hotel tower and point one of 43 assault weapons out a window at a crowd below? Are we really going to hold our collective breaths and watch these angry fools determine our fates? How is this reality?
In the Year of the Sociopathic Baby-Man, it’s more than a little challenging to view Weinstein as a friendly dinosaur, or to take the humble words of his open letter to the Times seriously. “Though I’m trying to do better,” he wrote, “I know I have a long way to go.” We’re meant to picture a sad, old, nearly extinct beast, brought low and forced to reflect on his sins closely for the first time ever — and not, say, I don’t know, a guy who’s been paying women to stay quiet for over two decades now. I mean, this guy kept signing settlement papers then turning around and doing the same thing all over again —and again, and again. Jesus, imagine the sheer tedium of that! Imagine insisting that one young employee or actress after another meet you in your hotel room, day after day. Casually opening your robe to reveal your naked body to her. Why? Because “they let you,” as the Sociopathic Baby-in-Chief once put it? Imagine either not registering the look of disgust that washes over each woman’s face, or worse yet, enjoying it. This repulsion reminds you that you’re powerful. This fear means that you’re scary and intimidating and not just an oversize infant with unsightly patches of body hair and a sick robot brain rattling around in your bloated skull.
When you really slow down the tape on Weinstein — or Trump, or Cosby, or Stephen Paddock, or Richard Spencer, and make no mistake, you have to work very hard not to draw lines between these men by now — what you see more than anything else is a profound lack of connection to other human beings. It’s not just that women or strangers or people of color or children of immigrants or Muslims don’t rate in their world. It’s that other human beings in general are utterly irrelevant. You are useful and part of the club or you’re cast out like trash. The second you’re not useful, you are waste. Or you were always waste. Your feelings about the matter couldn’t be less relevant. Whether or not their behavior will ruin you or literally end your life and the lives of countless others is utterly insignificant to these people…
Because it’s not just that the Sociopathic Baby-Man believes that he can take whatever he wants, grab whatever he wants to grab and “they let you do it.” (Why do they let you do it, again?) It’s not just that he’s greedy and sick and corrupt and selfish and unfair and lacks any semblance of empathy. It’s that the world hardly even exists for him at all. He navigates a dreamscape. He doesn’t just feel very little empathy for other humans. He feels nothing at all, for anyone. He is entirely subsumed by his self-created fantasy. He moves through an imaginary realm.
Yes, the key to understanding the situation is having the mentalization ability to see the lack of it in others. David Graeber made the following point in The Utopia of Rules:
One of the central arguments of this essay so far is that structural violence creates lopsided structures of the imagination. Those on the bottom of the heap have to spend a great deal of imaginative energy trying to understand the social dynamics that surround them–including having to imagine the perspectives of those on top–while the latter can wander around largely oblivious to much of what is going on around them. That is, the powerless not only end up doing most of the actual, physical labor required to keep society running, they also do most of the interpretive labor as well.
What distinguishes anarchism from the rest of the left is the understanding that hierarchy intrinsically causes disconnection from reality at the top.
Of course, there’s a gender hierarchy. Graeber also writes:
A popular exercise among high school creative writing teachers in America, for example, is to ask students to imagine that they have been transformed, for a day, into someone of the opposite sex, and describe what that day might be like. The results, apparently, are uncannily uniform. The girls all write long and detailed essays that clearly show that they have spent a great deal of time thinking about the subject. Usually, a good proportion of the boys refuse to write the essay entirely. Those who do make it clear that they have not the slightest conception what being a teenage girl might be like, and are outraged at the suggestion that they should have to think about it.
Nothing I am saying here is particularly new to anyone familiar with Feminist Standpoint Theory or Critical Race Studies.
The horror Havrilesky described by Havrilesky is discovering the meaning of objectification. Andrea Dworkin explains in Pornography:
The inevitable and intrinsic cruelty involved in turning a person into an object should be apparent, but since this constricting, this undermining, this devaluing, is normative, no particular cruelty is recognized in it. Instead, there is only normal and natural cruelty–the normal and natural sadism of the male, happily complemented by the normal and natural masochism of the female.
If we’re honest, the term “objectification” has lost all meaning. A lot of people don’t have the empathy to see what’s wrong with its absence in the first place. If you say you’re against objectification, it’ll be treated as if you’re against sexiness itself.
It should be obvious, when you think about it. If the white men saw everyone else as human, they wouldn’t treat them that way.
Havrilesky doesn’t have the stomach to follow the analysis to the end:
Let’s not call that toxic masculinity. Saying “toxic masculinity” implies that masculinity is the core problem here, and suggests that a tiny bit of masculinity might also be a tiny bit poisonous. Using the word masculinity suggests that all men have a toxic core. I don’t buy that. What we’re seeing in the Sociopathic Baby-Man bestrides the world of ordinary men like a colossus. It’s more important than ever to make this distinction. Equating every man with the very worst, most repugnant, infantile robot-men alive is, pragmatically speaking, a very bad idea. Because these Sociopathic Baby-Men are not fucking around. Those who have power seem to become more and more powerful by the day. Their money grows. They seek out and surround themselves with other Sociopathic Baby-Men who recognize in them the same core values of zero values and zero concern for the future of humanity.
The problem really is the prevailing gender norms themselves. Dworkin sets us straight in Intercourse:
In sex there is the suffering of those who can love, and the more terrifying despair of those who are loveless, empty, those who must “narcotize themselves before they can touch any human being at all.” These are the people who are the masters in a social and sexual master-slave hierarchy, and what characterizes them is that they “no longer have any way of knowing that any loveless touch is a violation, whether one is touching a woman or a man.”
In the United States, the cost of maintaining racism has been a loss of self-knowledge (and thus love) for those who refuse to know what they have because others suffer. What they have includes a sense of superiority that substitutes for a real identity. Maintaining racism has required an emotional numbness, a proud and fatal incapacity to feel, because that is the cost of purposely maintaining ignorance: one must block life out–the world around one and one’s own emotional possibilities.
For that reason, in this country there is “an emotional poverty so bottomless, and a terror of human life, of human touch, so deep” that most Amerikans lack “the most elementary and crucial connections.” Missing especially is any connection between sex and the complexity of identity; a vital connection without which the fuck is an exercise in futility, going from nowhere to nowhere, no one fucking nothing.
Even the youth seem “blighted,” “a parody of locomotion and manhood.” Despair and violation (each no less terrible for being unconscious) and narcotized touch predominate; and the young appear “to be at home with, accustomed to, brutality and indifference, and to be terrified of human affection.” This is the sexuality of those who risk nothing because they have nothing inside to risk. “Of rending and tearing there can never be any end,” thinks one character in Another Country about life in this country, “and God save the people for whom passion becomes impersonal.”
Passion becomes impersonal when there is no person inside, no complex human being who is willing to know and to feel. It is not knowledge of someone else that makes passion personal; it is knowledge of oneself. Self-knowledge creates the potential for knowing a lover in sex.