I think what Umair describes here is not uniquely American, it’s just that America right now is slipping back towards it. What he’s describing is barbarism, and the tendency towards barbarism is always present in any group of human beings. Barbarism is convenient shorthand for “rule by a clique of dominant warrior males who usurp the lion’s share of resources and treat women and weaker males as servants and property.” Sometimes we admire barbarism (from a safe historical distance) — romanticise those doughty Norman barons or Viking chieftains — but in practise it’s a fairly dismal way of life for the majority of the polity, especially women.
The tenets of barbarism are Might Makes Right and Nice Guys Finish Last. Its fundamental ideological foundation is misogyny: everything that can be labelled “womanish” is regarded as unmanly & despicable. Weakness or vulnerability is seen as culpable per se. Sexually, vulnerability is described as “provocative” (so that the predatory impulses of the warrior male are blamed on his victim who somehow provoked him by being too harmless). The world is divided into winners and losers, and sympathy for losers is womanish and weak and unmanly.
Mercy, compassion, gentleness, all are anathema. This is the philosophy of warrior cultures (and of Ayn Rand in more modern times), and if you monetise it (substitute dollars for swords and corporations for castles) it’s the philosophy of the neoconservative radicals, the Chicago School. One of the reasons that ultra neocons hate socialism so much is because it’s sissy. Because caring for people, helping the weak and vulnerable, feeding the hungry are womanish pastimes, unworthy of Real Men. Caring about the environment is like house cleaning and tidying — again, womanish concerns unworthy of Real Men. Real Men are reckless and risk-taking and never clean up after themselves; hence, enviros are faggots and whiny little girls. See how it all fits together, gender panic serving as inoculation against social justice ideas?
Not surprisingly, real mistreatment of real women (and other low-caste people) is the logical outcome of such a panicky, brittle, anxious male supremacy and deliberate emotional blunting. What my buddy Stan Goff calls “probative masculinity” (a masculinity that has constantly to be proven and tested) makes men who subscribe to it always edgy, forever needing to distinguish themselves, conclusively, from women/queers/weaklings/weirdos. Gathering in packs and tormenting or hurting such untermenschen is the traditional way to prove one’s membership in the Boys’ Club, and this is just as true today as it was in any previous era of barbarism.
And beneath all of that bluster and pack violence is the deep and awful fear: that if the dominant male falters, if he shows any sign of weakness, his buddies may turn on him and “treat him like a woman”. That they could well turn on him the contempt and panicky rage he himself feels towards women, “faggots,” etc. So he’d better not express any sympathy or concern when the pack attacks its latest target; he could be next. This is why I have such immense respect and admiration for the relatively few men who choose, despite all of this, to be whistleblowers: the Winter Soldiers, the guys who break ranks.
This story I’m telling here over-simplifies of course, because all stories over-simplify: the real world is so darned complex and fractal that we have to filter it through stories to get a grip. Umair’s articles also over-simplify, just as any photographer does, framing a shot, pulling specific aspects of a society into focus. But these narratives do suggest an underlying historical continuity, a credible explanation for the bizarre “coincidence” that the hard-right faction in every modern society consistently embraces misogyny and homophobia, celebrating a violent warrior masculinity. Gender is part and parcel of politics. Always. Everywhere. And the eternal political struggle for human beings is not Right vs Left, but Barbarism vs Kindness, patriarchal punitive authority and Scrooge-ism vs maternal unconditional love and generosity.
That struggle happens in every human heart, so of course it happens in the larger world as well. In the Soviet failure (and many other idealistic revolutions) we see a Left impulse to kindness and sharing, that resorted to warrior tactics and swiftly decayed into barbarism. In the present American failure we see a nation founded (like all other imperial nations) on barbarism and violence, making by fits and starts a journey towards kindness and egalitarianism, then suffering from a period of regression to barbaric values (values that were always there, always contested, always struggled over).
Rosa Luxemberg famously observed that modern society faced a choice between Socialism and Barbarism. And that rings true for me. It’s a choice between adopting some traditionally female values (like cooperation and caring/sharing/tending), or the traditional warrior-elite all-male values Umair documents in this essay. Unfortunately, the barbaric ethos makes the men who embrace it feel virtuous as well as powerful. By defining cruelty, lack of empathy, ruthlessness, cut-throat competitiveness, acquisitiveness and selfishness as manly virtues, a very perverse set of emotional incentives is set up, all entangled with a fundamental identity anxiety (masculinity)… which makes these perverse incentives very hard even to perceive, let alone challenge.