There’s just no limit to how central gender relations are to society. It’s just that important. I mean, if you miss this perspective, and gender relations get screwed up, you seriously screw over every other aspect of society.
The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. In this post you will be introduced to post-feminism and how we shift the landscapes of desire. This is a central part of Gemeinschaft politics, one of the six new forms of politics proposed in Nordic Ideology.
Consider the following:
- Sexuality is ever-present in our psyches, affecting our moods, feelings, decisions, behaviors and relations in every moment.
- We stay within our gender identities at all times, and these also affect a very significant part of our economic and political behaviors. A very large part of all things we do are somehow related to having, keeping or managing spouses, partners or just the possibilities of these.
- Gender relations and roles are at the center of sexual and romantic relations, which are the deepest and strongest relations in most people’s lives and the foundation for family formation.
- As the sociologist Francesco Alberoni famously observed, falling in love is central to the transformations of our personalities, and thus to our developmental psychologies. Falling in love connects our carnal lust and animal body to our highest spiritual strivings—it’s an “all-level affair”. And falling in love, and how this plays out, has everything to do with the interactions between the genders.
- As the classical psychologist Erik Erikson observed, erotic and romantic relations are at the center of certain universal life phases, and are thus either conducive to our mental health or our ruin.
- Family formations, in turn, are the basis of secure attachment patterns and good upbringing, which are instrumental to all human growth and flourishing.
- When people are sexually and romantically rejected, dissatisfied and humiliated, this translates into a profound bitterness that easily combines with destructive ethnic or political identities, as well as criminality and delinquency.
- By far most psychological issues that people have are about relations to other people, and the largest category of related problems have to do with love, eroticism and sexuality.
- If people are less satisfied and more insecure in their gender identities and love lives, this undermines trust between people. They will simply be much more prepared to betray one another to satisfy their sad, aching hearts.
- If people have gender identities which are not acknowledged by their surroundings, this causes immense suffering and confusion. Transgender people, for instance, frequently display mental health issues and have high suicide rates.
- In many contemplative traditions—not only tantric and yogic ones—sexuality is used as a transformative practice, as there are always strong currents of sexual and sensual impulses flowing through us.
- Gender inequalities are interlinked with gender roles and identities and with the games of love and family relations, and they underpin many of the most destructive inequalities in the world. Discrimination of women is a major hindrance to economic growth in poor countries and a major source to gendered and sexualized violence.
- Men are also discriminated against, being seen as more expendable than women, and more pressured to “be a success”, which often makes them unable to be honest and vulnerable.
- During good sex, some people experience their “highest” moments in life, meaning the highest subjective states, as discussed in The Listening Society. This means it is here they breach their boundaries for what they know is possible in life and existence.
- The first thing anthropologists study when they try to describe how a certain foreign society works is how the system of marriage, sexual reproduction and inheritance works—as this is the basis of a society’s social logic and its self-preservation.
- Most sad songs and poems are about love.
Right, so if you think you can create a good and healthy society without dealing with what I will here call “the gender-sexuality-family-formation complex”, (to catch all of these interrelated issues under one banner) you are just not being realistic.
Gender and sex issues are at the very heart of society. If you mess them up, you mess up society in very profound and far-reaching ways. Any Gemeinschaft Politics worth its salt should actively and deliberately seek to heal and develop the gender relations of society.
At this point I will refrain from giving the whole list (from a traditionalist gender politics, to a modern one, to a postmodern one) and just jump right to the metamodern perspective.
A smart Gemeinschaft Politics would work from a post-feminist perspective, applying a developmental-behavioral understanding, evolving the very landscapes of desire, and seeking to reduce gender antagonism in society. A very important contributor to the apparent ubiquity of societal problems in the realm of sex, love and reproduction are the paradoxes of love and desire which seem built into the human psyche.
Basically, the post-feminist position is one that accepts the “queer feminist” idea that gender roles change with historical circumstances and culture, and that ideas about genders and their interactions can and should continuously be critically reconstructed to optimize for new circumstances—but doesn’t buy the feminist idea that there is one “toxic” mainstream ideal of masculinity (which is pitted against the feminine underdog), and that if “patriarchy is crushed” then people will become free from gender roles and their oppression.
Post-feminism gets its name by transcending and including feminism: Once we have accepted the basic feminist tenets, then what? What comes after? Post-feminism is a both-and position: both feminism and masculism. Both women’s issues (sexual harassment, lower wages, lesser political power, pressures to conform to body ideals, slut-shaming, etc.) and men’s issues (expendability, having dangerous jobs, easily being considered losers when asking for help, homelessness, higher suicide rates, crime and incarceration, more physical violence, etc.). Both anti-discrimination of sexual minorities, and the facilitation of positive heterosexual relations and secure attachment patterns for family formation. Both teaching men how to become more successful at dating and picking up sexual partners, and to respect sexual boundaries and not sexually objectify women. Both defending the right to be a hipster beta-male, and to be a tough masculine guy; both a butch, and a pink girlie-girl.
There is a scale from classically masculine to feminine values, demeanors and behaviors. Post-feminism defends the whole scale: the right for people to move freely and explore across all of it. It doesn’t defend the androgynous at the expense of sexual polarities, or vice versa. It defends all points of the scale; the entire richness of human gender and sexual expression. This means, some people will settle for traditional gender roles while others will be queer shape-shifters. All should be defended.
SHIFTING THE LANDSCAPES OF DESIRE
This defense of “the whole scale of genders and sexualities”, and all dimensions of it, is made possible by taking a developmental view of the gender-sexuality-family-formation complex. Post-feminists recognize that the problems is not—as classical feminists and queer feminists believe— “that evil patriarchal oppression”, assuming that people would be free to express their sexualities openly and fairly if it went away.
It’s that people are insufficiently developed to tackle these sensitive issues productively. It’s that we are too poor at taking the perspectives of one another across genders and sexualities; it’s that we are too insecure about our own positive gender identities; it’s that we have lacking social skills to entertain and seduce one another in playful and respectful ways; it’s that we know too little about the social dynamics between the sexes; it’s that we carry too much subtle dissatisfaction and bitterness; it’s that we simply have had too few and insufficiently instructive sexual experiences; it’s that we feel good romantic and sexual relations are scarce rather than abundant in our lives; it’s that we have too few reliable friends with whom we can really talk about these issues; it’s that we don’t feel safe and comfortable enough to express our needs and insecurities to one another; that we are unable to listen and take it in when others talk about intimate and sensitive matters; that we’re not good enough in setting and maintaining healthy social boundaries; that we don’t manage to show sufficient respect for one another’s boundaries; that we have insufficient self-knowledge about our innermost needs in the first place; that we don’t feel we can afford brutal and direct honesty—the list goes on.
Do you see it? It’s not some evil structure out there. It’s our own lacking development. We—as human beings, as biological, behavioral organisms—lack the right properties to interact in good enough ways. And we all suffer for it. Men are left with that strange hunger and those somber thoughts at the outer rims of our minds, things that rumble deep inside and seldom give us peace. Women are left with a sense of fundamental unsafety and resentment, a subtle sense of betrayal. It goes on everywhere, all the time. It affects all aspects of society.
If a smart Gemeinschaft Politics was in place, it would actively and deliberately deal with all of these issues on a long-term demographic level. People would be supported through the educational system and throughout life in a wide variety of ways to grow in sexual, emotional, romantic and relational skill and self-knowledge. If the average personal development of a population shifts—if we all act less insecurely, greedily, immaturely and defensively—then the whole game of life changes.
Game change. Not game denial. Not game acceptance. But game change. Sexual game change. Gender game change. Think about it: How many fewer broken hearts would there be? How many more people would grow up with secure psychological attachment patterns, thereby being better partners and lovers once they grow up? How many of us would stop taking advantage of professional relations? How many false promises would be made to procure sex or consolation? How much more relaxed and functional would our bodies and minds be?
Socially constructed gender and biological sex do saturate each other to a large extent, so it is more or less impossible to divide them into two distinct categories. Humans are sexual and gendered beings, yes, but this is both a cultural and a biological fact. If ideas about masculinity have us pumping iron at the gym, this of course affects our biology, which affects our mind and others’ bodily responses to us. The point is that both the cultural and the biological basis of gender/sex can and should be developed and optimized in ways that generate conditions for human happiness and thrivability. An effective Gemeinschaft Politics would develop people’s “gender abilities” to create and uphold healthy identities, relationships and sexual practices both through culture, psychology and biology.
All of this is a matter of shifting the landscapes of desire. Even if we seldom talk about it, some lingering aspects of sexual desire are always present in everyday life. Even as we just walk down the street, and even if we have been married for years, we still tend to casually assess the attractiveness of random pedestrians. The landscapes of desire, the realms of sexuality, are vastly greater and more pervasive than actual sexual encounters and activities. Drives, innuendos, fantasies, stray thoughts, erotic tensions, dreams, “energies” felt throughout the body and mind, sexual interplays that require polite distance to be balanced with taking social risks, scenarios of possible futures, of what could have been—these are all present in so many moments and situations of life. Invisible worlds, ever present, nagging at the fringes of the mind, at the core of our hearts and bellies. In our lives we always travel across an intimate inner landscape of vulnerability, of secrets—one that underpins many or most of our everyday interactions.
Today, in liberal societies, we see that people in general can be viewed as interesting and attractive in a wider variety of ways than in the past. Scandinavian men are to a lesser degree held to macho ideals and standards of professional success than was earlier the case (and is still the case in most other societies) and have a wider range of positive masculinities available which can still be viewed as attractive. People can be gay, have metrosexual styles, be more childlike, more androgynous and so forth. People can hook up around weirder fetishes than before. And people can form a wider variety of love relationships and family constellations. And people who were too shy to pick one another up at night clubs can write an email. People can even share racy fantasies over the web. The landscapes of desire have shifted, which is part good, part bad (part really, really bad).
Shifting the landscapes of desire is not only about changing people’s skills, perspectives and behaviors, but also about evolving our openness to a wider range of potential partners, lifestyles and erotic or emotional exchanges. Desire is not only a vulnerability; it is also a strange and potent faculty. As such it can be developed. We can transform not only the interplay of need and desire, but also the quality of the object of desire and the gaze of desire itself.
I’m not saying people should be brainwashed to be bisexual and more sexually active—as Georg Lukács infamously tried to make happen in Hungary when he was Minister of Culture during the brief anti-Stalinist communist regime of 1956. But just as people can become better at perspective taking and conflict resolution, so can they be more or less narrowminded about whom to have sex with and which relationships to form. To sum up, we can work for game change in the realm of sex and gender by:
- Raising the abilities of men and women to be seductive and sexually competent, thus increasing the level of abundance and satisfaction in their lives.
- And that in itself means there will be many more satisfying men and women around for all parties, which makes underlying tensions and games of competition less fierce and desperate, just as it will put less pressure on new relationships, as there will be more good potential partners or liaisons available.
- And this will create more fair games of love and sex, which means people are generally treated better, and that people act from a greater inner space of safety, affecting all aspects of their lives.
- And this will reduce the number of strange repressed desires, thoughts, drives and dreams, clearing people’s inner emotional lives for more productive engagements with existence.
- And this will let people become freer in their sexual and gender experimentation, which means they will consider partnerships and liaisons across more social and cultural boundaries and identities.
- And this will create a more profound integration of all walks of life and more stable family relations, which improves the socialization of all children in society.
- And this will lead to higher mental and physical health, not least as the sexual undercurrents of everyday life shift and harmonize, relatively speaking.
Sex is transformative. Gender is creative. The landscapes of desire can be made safer, easier to traverse; their many peaks and valleys better connected. If we are more skilled, secure and satisfied—and we can expect the average other person to be so too—we can trust one another more, and the entire inner secret landscape can be developed; everyday life can be transformed at a deep, visceral level.
Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.