Editor: Molly Claire Benjamin, Independent Scholar & Writer


Us & Them — Weaving Bridges, Part One

These days the theme of every discussion seems to be one of us and them.  Me and you.  My family and “those people;” the media and the government; the demonstrators and the hard working commuters; the demonstrators and the police; the immigrants and the not-immigrants.  This back and forth is not just between political parties and ideologies, but between the old and the young, the city-folk and the country-folk, the laborers and the academics.  Find any two ways of being and you will likely find two individuals who have determined to set those personal ways of being in opposition against each other.  This behavior is referred to as othering.  While there are those far better equipped than I to discuss the broader topic of othering in its entirety, today I want to touch on some reasons why we might want to think carefully about how critical it is to be doing the exact opposite — constructing bridges or (as I prefer to think of it), weaving connections, between disparate groups.  After all, no matter how you tell the Story, we really are all in this thing together.

On this site I have already discussed the work of Riane Eisler and her idea that societies can either rank things in hierarchies of domination, or they can chose to build partnerships between those things.  Those partnerships are what I have referred to as bridges and woven connections.  Eisler’s theories about partnership are foundational to my work for I am exploring the fundamentally feminine nature of this quality of bridging, this skill of knitting and weaving.  You see, dear readers, the weaving of strong, healthy bonds between members of our communities is women’s work, or, in other words, it is the work of the divine feminine expressing Herself through our lives.  We can teach our men to assist us (to cultivate their own feminine qualities) but we must be the leaders in this work.  And, as my friend Margaret said;

“Come on, you know we’ve all been training for this for forever.”

This is the work that must be done.  For, far back into the earliest reaches of our history, spinning and weaving is always the purview of the females of a community.  One of the pieces in this Series will delve into that history, but, briefly, I am certain that right now you could think of at least three or four fairy tale references to the feminine crafts of fiber and fabric.  Of course, straw & spindle’s inspiration comes to my mind immediately.  The tale of the poor miller’s daughter learning to spin shining gold out of straw from a mysteriousness inside of her, a mysteriousness she eventually owns by calling out its name “Rumplestiltskin.”  There will be time later to delve further into the metaphoric, mythic, psychological and practical aspects of women’s relationship to weaving and spinning and story.  For today’s piece I simply want to point out the subtle feminine energy that is required to weave the connections that allow for bridges to exist.  

Because, you see, for far too long the power of masculine energy has dominated our culture.  This is a refrain I will beat out over and over again on straw & spindle.  This powerful masculine energy, drastically out of balance with its feminine counterpart, has created a world where the very worst aspects of masculinity become coalesced and metamorphosed into great evil.  This great evil currently has the face of the Trump administration, that of Vladimir Putin and also of countless other tyrannical dictators scattered across the globe.  Some decades ago the so-called Greatest Generation fought this great evil when it had the faces of Hitler, Mussolini and Imperial Japan.  This great evil appears over and over again throughout history and humankind always rises up valiantly to combat it.  Valiant, but doomed.  For, if a simple increase in masculine energy is what is used to fight these embodiments of great evil, we will never truly overcome them.  Instead, we end up breathing new life into different incarnations of the great evil, which can then cycle back to full strength in a generation of two.

While the historical comparisons between the Trump movement and that of Adolf Hitler are being made all over the internet and in news media, there is another great evil embodiment of masculine imbalance worth discussion, and that is capitalism.  Capitalism, in its purest form, tells us to choose profit over our fellow human beings.  When this is done for long enough, an impoverished, downtrodden working or slave class is always created.  As a student of history, with a focus on 19th and 20th century European political history, I can tell you that the rising to power of autocracy is not the only historical precedent echoing forward into our current world.  Autocracy and tyranny has a counterweight — revolt.  Revolt by the downtrodden against the privileged classes, the classic capitalist struggle that good old Karl Marx gives one vastly useful explanation of.  Marx was right about a great deal, but not about all things.  And, further, I am no expert on Marxism, nor am I a communist.  I am, however, and expert on studying the ebb and flow of social movements within our Western Capitalist modern history.  And so, dear readers, what is it that the great evil of capitalism has to do with the great evil of autocracy?

One of the reasons the American Revolution was so amazingly successful was the ability of the revolutionaries to survive the transition from impassioned revolt into the more mundane business of actually running the bureaucracy of representative government.   We have seen this challenge many times, beginning in the late 1700’s with the French Revolution (which was preceded by several decades of false starts prior to succeeding).  Throughout the 1800’s all across Europe student-led revolts sparked here and there.  My fourth great grandfather, Dr. Heinrich Hermann, actually fled Germany for America during this time after leading student revolts at the University of Marburg.  Nationalism mixed with a growing middle class — which was more educated than ever before — and, across Europe, hereditary monarchies collapsed or had their powers vastly curtailed.  In the early 1900’s Marx’s ideas were interpreted into action by Russian revolutionaries.  Sadly for the downtrodden classes, this revolt (like so many before it) resulted only in replacing the Czar with a new form of institutionalized oppression.

To reiterate — combatting the evil created by the imbalance between masculine and feminine energy with more righteous masculine power, results only in a temporary respite before that same evil recreates itself once again.  That great evil comes in the form of autocratic leaders and governments but also in the form of oppressive economic systems like capitalism.

The difficulty with all of these revolutions is thereby two fold.  One, the qualities that make someone a good revolutionary are rarely the same skill set that makes a successful leader of a cooperative form of government (i.e. a democratic or socialist system).  That is what made the American transition to self-government so stunning back in the late 1700's.  Good revolutionaries can, however (due to their overabundance of enhanced masculine qualities, comfort with military style leadership and control through strength techniques) become wonderfully successful tyrants and dictators and kings.  And then the age old (incorrect) conclusion is drawn by scholars and pundits once again — that idealistic revolt would always be doomed to failure because, at their core, humans are brutish and bloody and violent creatures who must be corralled and controlled.  What a damaging conclusion, dear readers, for the health of our souls and hearts.

I want to take this moment to be very clear that I am not “men bashing” or saying that these typical masculine qualities represent actual men.  What I am referring to are archetypal qualities that are inside each of us.  It is only when one gender decides to bind itself only to its “matching” archetypal qualities — Men must be all Masculine, Women all Feminine — that things go seriously haywire.   As a result, we end up with leaders who are unskilled at weaving connections and have, in fact, been successful only because they are skilled in doing the exact opposite — destroying bridges and unraveling connections.  Hence, the complete failure of implementing any of Marx’s ideas in practice.

There is, as I said, a second component to the repeated failure of revolutions.  In all of these revolutions the people who rise up were themselves a divided bunch.  Yes, educated university students — who were versed in history, philosophy, psychology and the politics of economics — wanted liberal change for all the right reasons.  The problem was (and this was worst in Russia simply due to her vast population) that the idealistic, passionate student leaders were trying to motivate a group of their fellow human beings who came from another reality.  The farmers, laborers, small town folk, serving maids and footmen, and children who never attended school but used their tiny nimble fingers in the massive industrial looms — these were the very worst of the oppressed.  And the scholarly student idealists saw how those people were oppressed.  They knew, intellectually, that the oppression came from the mighty few, the empowered men who clutched all of the wealth, all of the land, all of the God, and all of the resources, in their tiny fists.  And, as in any good fairy story, these young idealists wanted to do something.

But, for all of their honorable intentions, these educated youth could not grasp the psychological burden of generations of being downtrodden.  Generations of oppression, trauma and poverty wreak havoc on an individual’s mental health.  Depression is a very poor motivator.  We see it all around us to this very day — in the damaged souls living on the streets, the single parents working three or four jobs and still unable to make ends meet, the veteran or abused child with no money for mental health care.  In the absolute worst cases, these poor downtrodden masses convince themselves (as an abused wife often does) that this aggressive leader is a true father figure, a man who does everything for His “children’s” good.  Centuries of living with a certain interpretation of Christianity have made people very receptive to the idea of a wise, all powerful, male father figure who makes decisions and often enforces them with violence.  Because of all of this, building connections between the intellectual would-be leaders and the seriously psychologically oppressed lower classes becomes next to impossible.

This complex interrelation of social and psychological elements creates an “us” and “them” situation between the very two groups with the most in common — those with the most to gain from tearing down the current structures of power and rebuilding the world.  What usually happens is that the resentment builds — the scholars from the city are seen as out of touch snobs by the urban factory workers, small town farmers and craftspeople — and then productive self government, which requires cooperation, debate and generally respectful conversation, becomes endangered.  Sounding familiar to any Americans yet?

With that briefest of versions of the history of student revolts in 18th and 19th century Europe I hope to illustrate this simple point; We need to weave connections and build bridges between all of us who are downtrodden.  It is a fact that the so-called rural blue collar employee who voted for Trump has a bazillion times more things in common with me than with Trump or anyone in his cabinet.  And I sure as hell know that the single mom living in poverty in some rural community plagued by oil spills, unemployment and misogynist attitudes towards what and who she can be has a lot more in common with me than with the Wall Street bankers who are making decisions about her body and how her children will be raised, fed and educated. 

How do we weave the necessary connections that will allow us all to work together?  How do we build the bridges?  How do we avoid falling into the same trap countless idealists have fallen into before us?  Because revolt is coming, I can feel it in my soul and smell it in the air.  For generations the eternal solution has been to throw more masculine energy at the problem of social inequality and in so doing we consistently end up right back where we began.  You see, dear readers, history’s revolutionary dreamers have always been missing the magical ingredient.  Every good story has a magical potion or weapon or tool, and the story of human existence is no different.  The feminine is the magic that is needed to weave the type of bonds necessary to create wholesome and lasting community.  We need the women and, after the day of international women’s marches we just experienced, I’m beginning to believe that the women have finally realized what they need to do.  After all, if you know the Story, you know that we women have been training for this since the beginning of time.

It starts with the women getting out there and weaving their communities into strong baskets within which everyone can be held.  Many women I know are doing this already.  And men who are in touch with their own feminine qualities are doing it too.  It begins with smiles.  With looking passers by directly in the eye and smiling boldly with all of your face.  A smile that says — “hey fellow human being, isn’t it great being alive?”  A smile that says “If you are having a shit day, well, I’ve had those too and I’m right here beside you.”  A smile that says “even if I don’t know you, I know you and I love you.”  Those smiles, that eye contact, sparks the little woven connections that are the foundation for our cradle or basket.  I even like to smile at dogs walking with their humans, and the squirrels and crows going about their daily business alongside us.  We are, after all, just one big community of living creatures.

One straw after another is woven into strong golden thread.

Just watch.  Share your smile in this way for a few days, and all of a sudden you will find yourself accidentally saying hello to a stranger or perhaps having a pleasant conversation with that panhandler on the sidewalk.  My husband does it every day as he wanders the streets of Portland, talking to the homeless people in our neighborhoods.  A woman I grew up with recently shared an experience of powerful feminine weaving that occurred when she saw a young man break down in tears at the gas station as he dug for change in his car.  She went right up to him, offered kind words, filled his tank, gave him a hug and told him that she cared, that people cared, that good people were fighting the things that were keeping him down and making him cry.  Through her actions she reassured him that having a good cry is very therapeutic.  And this woman doesn’t have much herself, but she cares for a disabled daughter and knows what it feels like to be frightened about the world that the Trump administration is attempting to convince us is inevitable.

The first and last successful revolution will be the one that comes through the power of love and of the feminine.  We’ve seen it in fits and starts here and there.  Ghandi had part of the idea, MLK had it too and so did the Sainted Mother Teresa, as well as Diana, Princess of Wales.  The First Nations people at Standing Rock are demonstrating how protesting with love works and it would do us all a great deal of good to follow where these people, with their matrilineal and matriarchal histories, lead.  They know a secret that we in the Western Capitalist world have forgotten.  Indigenous communities know that one must weave connections between and amongst the generations, all the way back into the depths of ancestral history and all the way forward — seven or more generations — into the future of our descendants.  At Standing Rock, Grandmother’s and other tribal elders advise and guide the youth.  In so doing, they offer the stability and wisdom, which comes with age, to ground the love, passion and righteous anger and fear, which fuels and empowers the youth.

With each occurrence of othering, there is an opportunity to weave a connection.  My next pieces will continue to unfold these feminine weaving ideas further.  In so doing I hope to provide a vision for how we can move forward in combating the tyrant in the White House.  The guidebook we need now lies in the rebirth of a Story full of vision and truth and ancient wisdom, and and helping that Story to live in our modern world.

The next topic you can look forward to is this — I shall solve all of the frustrating problems between the demonstrators and the so-called “regular people” “just trying to get home from work”!  Just think, after we sort that mess out the local media will have to find a different way to talk about the demonstrators — and perhaps, just perhaps, we idealists and revolutionaries can weave a connection with our local media.

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