30 March 2006

Manly shorts

Ruth Marcus wrote a column in the Washington Post on the mess that's resulted from too much manliness (by Harvey Mansfield's definition) in the Bush administration. Many bloggers rose to the administration's defense with such rhetorical gems as "...I think the nation needs MORE manliness, not less of it. Especially in the Congress, a body that seems to fatally lack cohones [sic]." Also: "... Would you like for us to leave U.S. foreign policy to the American Castrati? We already have tried that: it was called the the Carter and Clinton Administrations."

I think it is possible to have a more nuanced conversation on this subject. Being a man, I am not eager to be required either to support George Bush or reject manliness. Nor could I reconcile myself to a definition of "manly" in which the central word, "man," is associated with what Paul Berman calls a "cowboy romance of ruthlessness."

Most of all, I want to resist being shaped by the coercive pressures of public labels. The positive qualities of masculinity, which I cherish in myself and in other men, and which I'd probably define in ways similar to Harvey Mansfield, are qualities I can at times choose to embrace, express, control, or modify in myself. I can also honor their presence (and their absence!) in women; biology may distribute manly and womanly qualities among the sexes with statistical unevenness, but in any given individual it doesn't have the last word.

So, for me, the word "manly" has a basically positive ring, but I don't arrange my life to be sure I measure up to someone else's assessment based on that word. That form of risk-avoidance just wouldn't be manly.

PS: Are manly men supposed to smell like carnations? My Norwegian uncle Martin Jensen, who was a sea captain on the Wilhelmsen line for much of his life, used Roger & Gallet carnation-scented soap, at least at home. That scent brings back fond memories of him and his second-floor apartment in the house where my father grew up, on Godalsvei in Oslo, where I spent my very first years of life, and where I always want to return. Uncle Martin has been gone many years, but I wouldn't be surprised if a tiny hint of that scent were still there. [Relevant update: My favorite birthday present this year was a box of three huge bars of this very soap.]

With womanly and manly courage, the Christian Peacemaker Teams are refusing to leave Iraq precipitously after their bittersweet reunion with three of their four kidnapped coworkers. They do, however, promise to discern their longer-term future in Iraq based on what I'd consider good criteria, taking particular account of recommendations of Iraqis.

One criterion they do not use is the costs incurred in the hostages' rescue. As Jenny Kleeman pointed out in her Guardian article, "How grateful was Norman Kember supposed to be?": "After all, he might argue, he would never have been in the country to be taken hostage had Britain not deployed troops there in the first place."

The Ekklesia Web site has a good summary and roundup of resources concerning the Christian Peacemaker Teams and the second-guessing that they're enduring from critics, at least some of whom seem to have more venom than courage.

In the meantime, humans continue to be sacrificed on the altars of brutality. Last Saturday, two of the first headlines I glimpsed on my Yahoo home page were "Nigeria said it would hand deposed Liberian dictator Charles G. Taylor over to the Liberian government for trial" and "Bound, Blindfolded and Dead: The Face of Atrocity in Baghdad." Yes, some people continue to argue, after millenia of these cycles of violence, that the only effective response is yet more violence.

Some of these arguments are serious and modest and regretful, tempered with sophisticated understandings of the contradictions involved. (And then there is our administration and its trail of collaterally-damaged corpses and traumatized soldiers.) The Prince of Peace, tortured and put to death by people trapped in the myth of violent solutions, and then raised by God to lead us out of death-worship, does not sigh and nod his head in weary resignation, watching passively as so many of us refuse to give up those violent shortcuts. Jesus replaces history's cycles of revolutionaries and reformers, escapists and cynics, with his own steadfast loving leadership, to which we respond with courage, commitment, gratitude; with doubt, uncertainty, mistakes; with conversion, and community.

The first image that greeted my waking eyes this morning was that of newly-freed hostage Jill Carroll and her gracious demeanor in that first intense hour of being the world's media focus. President Bush spoke for many when he said, "I'm really grateful she was released and thank those who worked hard for her release, and we're glad she's alive." In turn, I'm grateful for everyone working for the release of those being held by the coalition, and everyone working for the universal and evenhanded provision of what we Americans used to take nearly for granted: due process.

On giving, receiving, and fundraising
. I just want to encourage Friends to re-read and comment on the item from Eden Grace that I posted on the day before yesterday. I appreciated Robin M.'s thoughts from a professional fundraiser's point of view, and Eden's explanation of what kind of fundraising was referred to in the original document from Uganda.

One of the most thoughtful, generous, and spiritually centered philanthropists I've ever known died a week ago today. One of Miles Edwards's obituaries is here on the George Fox University Web site. An interview that he gave an Oregonian reporter as he lay dying is here.


Paul L said...

Johan -- Do you consider the arrest & binding over for trial of Charles Taylor to be a "violent" act, furthering the cycle?

I have responded to it more positively, as an act of justice (though the Nigerian govermnent breaking its promise of sanctuary troubles me).

Perhaps you're skeptical of the trial (or sentence) he may receive?

And thanks for the Manliness discussion. I think I have to read that book.

Johan Maurer said...

Ohhh, no, in general I'm glad he may be facing justice, although not through a process that our own country seems to want to submit to.

The mention of Taylor just reminded me of his whole movement, especially the use of children as soldiers.

Thanks for asking!!


PS: It's my last day in Atlanta for this visit. One of my colleagues is taking me to a shop that sells fancy soap!