The editor of REASON, Elvis impersonator Nick Gillespie
(no doubt in his black leather jacket) was getting off sound bites on CNN radio news the other day about “the nanny state.” Gillespie is a member of that Cato “in” crowd of would-be libertarians who would like to save us -- as strong mother Ayn Rand commanded -- from the weaklings and the mobocracy.
And after years of trying to write this column, something clicked.
I finally had a nail to hang this tale on, and we need, for a moment to return to OUR fountainhead, Greek Mythology.
Heracles and Omphale
In one of many variations on this theme, as penalty for his murder of Iphitus, the great hero Heracles was, by the Oracle's command, sold as a slave to Omphale for a time. There are many late references in texts and art to Heracles being forced to do women's work and even wear women's clothing and hold a basket of wool while Omphale and her maidens did their spinning, as Ovid tells: Omphale even wore the skin of the Nemean Lion and carried Heracles' olive-wood club.
Omphale's name, derived from Omphalos, a Greek word meaning Navel (or axis), may represent a significant Lydian earth goddess. Herakles' servitude thus may represent the servitude of the sun to the axis of the celestial sphere, the spinners being Lydian versions of the Moirae. Most earth goddess religions contained a priesthood which wore women's clothing, was effeminate, or involved eunuchs. The priest of Herakles, curiously, also wore female clothing, and this myth may represent an attempt to explain the fact.
It is an ancient mystery, and one that we seem to have long forgotten -- there is a vast gulf in the way that a man sees the world, and in the way that a woman sees the world.
We have literature and stories across a hundred generations -- usually, because of male physical dominance, shaded to the masculine view of the world -- that tries to explain, or makes a joke of the difference in male thinking and female thinking.
Going back further: each sex, in the Biological Imperative to survive and reproduce, has a different strategy.
The default in humans (and most mammalian, and most sexually differentiated species) is FEMALE. While males may be necessary for reproduction, the actual, rather incredible process is engineered solely into the female body and instinctual processes.
For the survival of the species, it HAS to be foolproof -- the dumbest bunny has to be able to give birth on her own. Otherwise, the species could not survive.
AND ... in the case of humans, a series of instinctually ingrained priorities MUST be present, because no fetus can survive merely by being born. It must have the care of the mother (or, others, at this point) who oversee its slow climb into being able to control its bodily functions, stand, walk, feed itself, clothe itself and survive on its own.
That age of survival can come very early, as the street children of Rio de Janeiro apocryphally attest to. But that age is STILL a couple of years, and so instinct there must be foolproof, as well.
Because if reproduction were left solely up to humans, humans would very quickly either fail to reproduce, else botch the reproduction that they managed entirely.
Either way, humans would no longer exist.
We call these instincts “the maternal instinct” and it is -- because it HAS to be -- the strongest instinct in the species.
Unfortunately, it is also a very VERY conservative instinct. The natural tendency of the maternal instinct is to NEVER allow harm, threat or risk to come to the offspring, and when this is completely out of balance, we call it being a “mommy’s boy,” or “smotherly love,” or “being mothered to death,” etcetera.
Now, I bring this up because it is crucial to our understanding of what will follow. Think of Hercules in his apron, doing “women’s work,” and think of the implicit humiliation that the male readers of the story have felt over the past 3,000 years.
All right, now, you are in a revolutionary generation. You have seen women’s status change more in the “political” arena than at anytime in the past 3,000 years or so. It is really such a huge change that it’s hard to comprehend over the course of one lifetime, or one century.
It began with the long struggle for suffrage, beginning with suffrage in the Wyoming Territory just after the Civil War, and reaching a first peak in 1920, with the passage of the 19th Amendment. But that was merely a plateau phase, and had to extend to the next culmination, the women’s movement of the 1970’s. The Equal Rights Amendment was nearly ratified, but was beaten back by professional hysterics at the last moment. Here, let THEM say it better than I could:
The Equal Rights Amendment, first proposed in 1923, is still not part of the U.S. Constitution.
The ERA has been ratified by 35 of the necessary 38 states. When three more states vote yes, the ERA might becotme (sic) the 28th Amendment.
But this is NOT about amendments or women’s rights or even cross-dressing, gentlemen, so it is safe to keep reading. Remember Nick Gillespie in his macho leather jacket
, editing REASON magazine with a macho hand and railing against the “nanny state.”
I must confess that for many years I have railed about the “childproofing the West” campaign that endlessly continues. I am firmly convinced that it will not end until the last piece of styrofoam has been wrapped around the last sharp rock, and the last cactus spine has been safety-tipped.
And I explained to the motorcyclists of Oregon -- now the Motorcycle Caucus
-- how to create an official caucus in the Oregon Democratic Party -- their main political issue being that Mommy doesn’t have the right to tell them to wear their helmets. I GET it.
But, when you really sit back and think about it, this squeal about the “Nanny” state is nothing more than the classical horror and humiliation projected by generations of men on Herakles doing “women’s work.”
Just think of Jim Backus in the classic movie “Rebel Without a Cause.” We know that he’s lost his masculinity because he’s wearing an APRON over his business suit. He’s not STRONG like poor angsty James Dean wants him to be.
But, take it from a kid from Wyoming: you don’t have to give up your masculinity to accept that women have a legitimate point of view. Think about it: the entire Bush Maladministration has been one long bit of Macho Posturing.
And, sadly, macho posturing by Not Real Men to other Not Real Men. Fake cowboys clearing brush on “ranches” purchased in Texas farm country just before the 2000 election. Psycho Wyoming townie and professional draft dodger Dick Cheney slaughtering tame and wings-clipped pheasants and quail. These are not “macho.”
It is macho posturing. The whole war jag, the bluster, the we’re gonna keep you safe.
OK: It gets back to the male role in the reproductive process. Where the female has to HAVE the kid, in all species from birds to humans, the male has to be able to PROTECT the kids and the process, and PROVIDE for the mother and the children.
We’ve even codified it into law in ten thousand places over thrice as many years.
But this whole “libertarian” philosophy, and this whole “conservative” I’m a FREE man, is just that: the philosophy of a mature male, without any responsibilities. Let them do the women’s work, and we, brave hunters, will cut brush (fearful of horses) and shoot old guys in the face.Yippie yi-oh ki-yay!
Men have had the monopoly on the political process for thousands of years. Now, I don’t for a minute believe that any creature as cunning and intelligent as Woman could be cut out of the process for that long. Their political impact has been exercised in other ways.
“Behind every great man, there’s a woman,” etcetera. Our cliches acknowledge it.
No: what I’m talking about is mechanical. Our laws have had a masculine cast because they were cast by men. We talk about the Founding Fathers and never the Founding Mothers. We worship the “framers” -- most ESPECIALLY the conservatives and the libertarians. Witness the “Cato Institute,” the “Federalist Society,” the “Heritage Foundation,” “Townhall dot com,” the “Sam Adam Alliance,” etcetera.
The only comparable tough women I can think of would be the Daughters of the American Revolution, who can move giant stones the way you’d move an end-table. Take a look at any polished stone monument in the West, and chances are it’s the D.A.R. who put it there. (Don’t mess with those chicks.)
And, it is to that “masculinist” conception of politics that the term “the Nanny State” refers.
I got news for you, “sovereign individuals,” and Ayn Rand freaks: when we established women’s equal voting rights in the political sphere, we gave up that John Wayne conception of the rugged individualist, master of his destiny, social Darwinism (the only form of Darwinism, ofttimes that conservatives believe in, and then with a religious fervor).
When human law and philosophy come into conflict with human instinct, instinct wins every time. Just look at what a long and difficult history we have in regulating human sexuality. Every myth cycle seems to spin out of control in some tale of a king or a queen or a goddess or a god breaking sexual taboos -- from the Iliad to Camelot. From Gilgamesh to Chaucer to Jackie Collins.
But human instinct isn’t just about the sexual. It’s ultimately about the reproductive. And in that arena, the maternal instinct holds unquestioned sway.
The maternal instinct WILL make its voice heard in the halls of government. That is inevitable. That is the direction of history. And it is altogether meet and proper that this is so.
But listen to this from the Cato Institute’s webpage
(I cite them as an example. They are by no means alone.):
The Jeffersonian philosophy that animates Cato's work has increasingly come to be called "libertarianism" or "market liberalism." It combines an appreciation for entrepreneurship, the market process, and lower taxes with strict respect for civil liberties and skepticism about the benefits of both the welfare state and foreign military adventurism.
Market liberals have a cosmopolitan, inclusive vision for society. We reject the bashing of gays, Japan, rich people, and immigrants that contemporary liberals and conservatives seem to think addresses society's problems. We applaud the liberation of blacks and women from the statist restrictions that for so long kept them out of the economic mainstream....
Get that last part? We applaud the liberation of blacks and women to be tough guys like us. It’s implicit. We John Wayne entrepreneurs , gutsy and untaxed (since WE built all our wealth all by ourselves) welcome you women and blacks (somehow equating them, perhaps on the level of freed chattel) to ...
BE LIKE US!
That’s the sort that hates the “nanny state.”
That’s what’s implicit in the slur. “I can do it MYSELF, mommy!”
Hey. Don’t think that I haven’t been there. I was the MOST assertive little kid around. If you don’t believe me, ask my family. The tales are many and legendary.
So I understand WHY the “John Wayne” model cannot ever be the dominant model in our society again.
In some ways, the Bush regime is a bizarre manifestation of this sea change in politics. The “maternal” response to 9/11 was, well, the “Mother” reacting to the endangerment of her children. Remember, there is no animal -- not even a wounded animal -- more dangerous than a mother defending her young.
And the Bushie “we’re Cowboys and we’ll protect you” meme played right into that instinctual response. I don’t need to go into it here, and it’s been pointed out elsewhere that the Democratic candidates after 9/11 didn’t play into that security theme, and lost as a result.
When it was clear that the Bushie Cowboys COULD NOT protect “our children” they lost both houses of congress.
But the rock-ribbed “conservative” philosophy is a peculiarly masculine view of the world. And, one that increasingly makes little sense in the shared male/female view of the world that our politics now embraces openly.
We are still very schizophrenic about our view of the matter. The “First Lady
” of the United States has her own staff, her own budget, and a myriad of “powers”
that are inherent in her sexual situation, but are nowhere understood in Constitutional law. We do not know what to do to acknowledge that the wife of a president is more intimate (and therefore potentially more influential) than anyone else in the country.
Sexual politics ARE politics, and this screech against a “Nanny State” is, finally, no more than a masculine sexist slur. Or, call it a masculinist slur. (Masculinist slurs are most often uttered by those males who feel themselves, ironically, most emasculated.)
The ‘dream’ of the masculinist state is, inherently, doomed, as a pure matter of historical impetus. Or what? Are we going rescind women’s right to vote?
I think it is too late for that. We must accept that the maternal viewpoint does NOT see the world as atomistic, and everyone as a strong, independent individual. That only holds true for a few males in the prime of their lives. For EVERYONE else, that is not true, and as a political fantasy will give way in time.
Just because two million people who experienced “Indian” wars and other armed conflicts as a daily reality codified the unlimited right to have guns does not mean that it makes any sense in the world we live in today.
And just because John Wayne made it by his own efforts does not mean that the man living in the cardboard box has an equal opportunity, or should die because he’s weak.
If we allowed humans to die because of weakness, we’d have to kill everyone before they ever got started.
And we’d have to kill them when they got old. Whether Nick Gillespie prances around in his leather jacket or not
, as soon as he became weak, well, too bad for him, right?
No: as women’s worldview becomes a co-equal partner in our political culture, her weltanschauung
will inevitably enter into the law. And if you want to call it a “Nanny state,” so be it. It may even be the WRONG world view.
But it is an inevitable world view, and we need to stop thinking of government as a giant ‘boys club’ with women allowed as members as long as they act “like one of the boys.”
It isn’t and they aren’t. Or shouldn’t be. The Nanny is here to stay.
Still, I think that there was a profound reason for the priest of Herakles -- the ne plus ultra
of macho, remember -- to wear a woman’s dress. And it’s still profound.
Now, back to Childproofing the West.
And ratify the damned ERA, would ya? Jeez.