Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Making sense of Maher?

Against better judgment, I watched a clip of Bill Maher bashing Islam and Muslim men. It is a truly hateful and bigoted tirade he spews, but somewhere deep in the mess Maher actually does have a point - at least if you cut him a lot of slack.

He says that democracy is only possible once you've "tamed men", and while the image of "savage man" and "docile woman" should be offensive to both women and men, there is a point in there. For at least the last two thousand years (probably longer), most societies have been guided by a principle of domination. This comes across in the fundamentally hierarchical structure of all societies and cultures across the globe.

Man seeks domination over nature, trying to "tame Mother Earth" and bend her to his will, using technology to control and manipulate. Men seek domination over women and other men further down the social ladder, in order to further their place in the social world. Neither the way we treat nature or each other can ever lead to a sustainable future - instead it leads to exploitation and power struggles. Sure, we can patch it up somewhat - and many democracies today are vast improvements over older feudal or dictatorial societies. But we're still running blindly towards disaster.

If we wish to achieve sustainable societies for ourselves and future generations, we need to change some of our fundamental values. And I do mean "we". This applies to every society. But the domination paradigm is deeply rooted, both in our social institutions and values and also in our world views and even our language. We think of the world as something separate from us, something "out there" for us to "control". This is evident in the atomistic and mechanistic world views of Descartes, Bacon and Newton.

Luckily, there is another way. Since the early 20th century, it has become increasingly clear that this old view of the world is flawed, and that rather than an atomistic mechanical world, we live in a holistic, relational world. At the core, it is about switching from a view of domination to one of partnership. From what has been seen as a set of "traditionally male" values, to a set of what has been seen as "traditionally female" values. For instance, rather than trying to bend nature to do our bidding, we ought to learn from and emulate nature. Rather than valueing skills and knowledge geared towards control, destruction and killing - how about we value skills and knowledge geared towards the promotion of life?

Returning to Maher, when he talks about "taming man" he is still stuck in the "dominator mindset", although he does have a point. We need to move away from the way of thinking that looks towards differences and of ways to correct those differences, and instead start looking towards similiarties, connections and of ways to emulate what works.

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