The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age
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    The Fall of the Alpha Male

    The alpha males still control the top of the hill.  For now. Their time, however, may be coming to an end, a victim of necessity, of survival.  In their place will not be a replacement, a mere shifting of their hierarchical ranking from them to their conquerors.  There will be no conquering. Rather, there will be a truce of sorts, an agreement, a reconciliation. Who will be there on the top of hill will shift in a collaborative act of play and thought.

    The essay by Hanna Rosin "The End of Men" in the Atlantic begins:

    Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now under way— and its vast cultural consequences.

    Rosin describes an interesting phenomenon and makes a strong case for this role reversal.  A key facet of this lies in the differences between men and women:

    For a long time, evolutionary psychologists have claimed that we are all imprinted with adaptive imperatives from a distant past: men are faster and stronger and hardwired to fight for scarce resources, and that shows up now as a drive to win on Wall Street; women are programmed to find good providers and to care for their offspring, and that is manifested in more- nurturing and more-flexible behavior, ordaining them to domesticity. This kind of thinking frames our sense of the natural order. But what if men and women were fulfilling not biological imperatives but social roles, based on what was more efficient throughout a long era of human history? What if that era has now come to an end? More to the point, what if the economics of the new era are better suited to women?

    The postindustrial economy is indifferent to men’s size and strength. The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male. In fact, the opposite may be true. Women in poor parts of India are learning English faster than men to meet the demands of new global call centers. Women own more than 40 percent of private businesses in China, where a red Ferrari is the new status symbol for female entrepreneurs. Last year, Iceland elected Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir, the world’s first openly lesbian head of state, who campaigned explicitly against the male elite she claimed had destroyed the nation’s banking system, and who vowed to end the “age of testosterone.”

    The nature and nurture of social gender roles and biological sex has been a long debate that is far from over.  I could only begin to barely scratch the surface of the debate here, and I won't even try to delve into it. 

    It is true that we are our biology, a manifestation of genetic.  Yet we are immensely impacted by our environment.  Sorting it all out is an impossible task.  We can say there are general propensities that can be attributed to those with Y chromosome and those without it.   But they are propensities. Men are more inclined to be aggressive.  Women are more inclined to be nurturing.  Yet men can be nurturing, women aggressive.

    However we got here with our particular mix of nature and nurture, the fact remains that we have developed cultural roles, a system which maintains itself with amazing robustness. One reason is put simply in Wolves at Our Door by Jim Dutcher, Jamie Dutcher, and James Manfull, it is put it simply:

    The social hierarchy of a pack is what maintains order, dictating who makes decisions, who mates with whom, who eats first, and who eats last.  This order is constantly reinforced by displays of dominance and submission.

    Humans are no different than the other creatures. We tend to prefer order to chaos.  Order provides predictability.  One can get more easily blindsided with chaos.  It is a matter of survival. 

    Humans (it would seem) are different from the other creatures in that we have embedded the perpetuation of the social order in our symbolic language.  In a world that is nothing but text, there is also a once removed from the biological imperatives.  We were no longer, as they say, at the mercy of our base impulses.  At the same time, as we emerged from the pre-linguistic era, our biological imperatives fused into the text, becoming embedded in the culture that were over-riding the impulses.

    Rosin points out that our current economic plight might just be because those base impulses, the biological imperatives driven by the culture imperatives still remain:

    Over the years, researchers have sometimes exaggerated these differences and described the particular talents of women in crude gender stereotypes: women as more empathetic, as better consensus-seekers and better lateral thinkers; women as bringing a superior moral sensibility to bear on a cutthroat business world. In the ’90s, this field of feminist business theory seemed to be forcing the point. But after the latest financial crisis, these ideas have more resonance. Researchers have started looking into the relationship between testosterone and excessive risk, and wondering if groups of men, in some basic hormonal way, spur each other to make reckless decisions. The picture emerging is a mirror image of the traditional gender map: men and markets on the side of the irrational and overemotional, and women on the side of the cool and levelheaded.

    We don’t yet know with certainty whether testosterone strongly influences business decision-making. But the perception of the ideal business leader is starting to shift. The old model of command and control, with one leader holding all the decision-making power, is considered hidebound. The new model is sometimes called “post-heroic,” or “transformational” in the words of the historian and leadership expert James MacGregor Burns. The aim is to behave like a good coach, and channel your charisma to motivate others to be hardworking and creative. The model is not explicitly defined as feminist, but it echoes literature about male-female differences.

    All those foreclosures, the long unemployment lines, the increasing poverty - all thanks to some testosterone?

    Earlier, Rosin makes a critical point [emphasis mine], one in which implies that it doesn't necessarily have to be this way:

    In recent years, male support groups have sprung up throughout the Rust Belt and in other places where the postindustrial economy has turned traditional family roles upside down. Some groups help men cope with unemployment, and others help them reconnect with their alienated families....The day I visited one of [Mustafaa El-Scari's] classes, earlier this year, he was facing a particularly resistant crowd.

    The men in that room, almost without exception, were casualties of the end of the manufacturing era. Most of them had continued to work with their hands even as demand for manual labor was declining....

    The list of growing jobs is heavy on nurturing professions, in which women, ironically, seem to benefit from old stereotypes and habits. Theoretically, there is no reason men should not be qualified. But they have proved remarkably unable to adapt. Over the course of the past century, feminism has pushed women to do things once considered against their nature—first enter the workforce as singles, then continue to work while married, then work even with small children at home. Many professions that started out as the province of men are now filled mostly with women—secretary and teacher come to mind. Yet I’m not aware of any that have gone the opposite way.

    In my previous blog, I discussed the Stockholm Resilience Centre's notion of resilience:

    We have seen it during financial crises and we are beginning to see it in ecosystems: if brittle systems fail, they can do so abruptly and in the worst case have catastrophic effects.

    Resilience thinking helps us avoid the trap of simply rebuilding and repairing flawed structures of the past – be it financial strategies, city development plans or fisheries management. Resilience encourages us to anticipate, adapt, learn and transform human actions according to changes that take place.

    Resilience is about the capacity to withstand shocks and disturbances such as climate change or financial crisis and to use such events to catalyse renewal, novelty and innovation. It is about taking stock in diversity and spreading the risks.

    SRC emphasizes three key features of resilience that need to be considered when looking at complex systems within the context of sustainability:

    Persistence – in the face of change, buffer capacity, withstand shocks

    Adaptability – the capacity of people in a social-ecological system to manage resilience through e.g. collective action

    Transformability – the capacity of people in the social-ecological system to create  a new system when ecological, political, social or economic conditions make the existing system untenable.

    Something which needs to be remembered is that each of these three features are neutral in regards to utility or benefit.  In other words, one can persist along a dysfunctional path, refusing to adapt to changing conditions when such adaption is called for.  Or the adaptation itself is dysfunctional, an error in response to the shock to the system.  Or the transformation that occurs can lead to a new system which is even worse than the previous one. 

    Looking back at the example of the men in rust belt support groups, we see an example of sheer persistence, a grasping to traditional roles and modes of being, when there should be some kind of adaption.  As Rosin points out, over the past decades, women as a whole have adapted to the changing world, breaking out of the narrow social roles.  Or at the very least they have actively engaged in exploring and analyzing those roles, attempting to adapt to the demands of work, family, and personal needs.

    Of course, the process has been long and not always successful.  But, as they say, you cannot succeed unless you first try.

    What is becoming clear as day- with the current economic implosion, the destructiveness of the 1% excesses, the stalemate of the partisan fighting - the current system, a culmination of centuries is no longer working.  We need something else if we (and the living planet) are going to be able to continue. 

    In other words, we are going to need a transformation.  The questions then are, working backwards: what is it that we want the outcome to be of that transformation? what adaptations are necessary in order to facilitate that transformation? and what is it exactly we should be persisting in so that we can achieve those adaptations (or even be able to see the necessary adaptations)?

    Given the Rosin essay, one might think I would advocate something along the lines of a societal transformation from a patriarchy to a matriarchy.  I am not.  This would be merely replacing one social hierarchy with another.  It might have, on the whole, better outcomes than the patriarchy. But if I am going to be considering the aspirational rather than the next best thing, then I am looking to something that unravels the need for such hierarchies.

    The National Civic League in The Community Visioning and Strategic Planning Handbook put this aspiration challenge nicely (and while they are focused on local communities, it applies to communities of any size, all the way up the global community):

    If communities are counteract the environment of dysfunctional politics and effectively address local problems, all sectors of a community need to work in concert toward common ends.

    This may appear as a no-brainer, but it is as allusive as anything.  Nothing highlights the adage 'easier said than done' than to take on the challenge of community collaboration.  Even when organizations and individuals start out agreeing about the problem and desired outcomes, overcoming what amounts to competitiveness over the solution and its implementation can derail the initiative in the blink of an eye. 

    In the long history of our evolution, competition and collaboration have both helped ensure humans the ability to persist, adapt and transform our way to the top of the hill.  We now find ourselves in a place where much of what amounts to competition has ceased to be a benefit, and has become a detriment.  More than a detriment, it is taking us over the edge of the cliff.  And the alpha males, unable to let go of the social hierarchy that has lost its day in the sun, are leading the charge.

    Movements like Occupy Wall Street cannot ultimately be successful (it can, however, win victories) as long as there is not a corresponding cultural shift, removing the fixed social hierarchies.  At the same time, these movements cannot leave a vacuum at the top of the hill.  The call for a leaderless system, ultimately, is as dysfunctional as one led by the alpha males.

    What needs to replace the fixed social hierarchies is one in which there is a flexible and healthy collaboration.  In such a social environment, the right leader at the right moment will emerge.  To reiterate Rosin:

    But the perception of the ideal business leader is starting to shift. The old model of command and control, with one leader holding all the decision-making power, is considered hidebound. The new model is sometimes called “post-heroic,” or “transformational”...The aim is to behave like a good coach, and channel your charisma to motivate others to be hardworking and creative.

    This approach goes beyond business leaders to leaders in all facets of society.  From the local neighborhoods working at a grassroots initiative to global leaders hammering out agreements.  This "transformational" model is ultimately one which can be embraced by both males and females.

    It may be that women will basically lead the way on this front, but as strange it might sound, it leading in a way that men are empowered.  But they will be empowered to leave all the alpha and beta stuff behind.  They will be empowered not to run compulsively to the top of the hill and conquer who ever or whatever happens to be there. They will be empowered to join a creative collaboration and find the sustainable path somewhere on the hill.


    I'm reminded of a book called "The Tending Instinct" which came out a few years ago and tried to say that the Fight/Flight description of human instinct was actually a male description of the situation and totally left out a third instinct which was to take care of things and wait for better times.  I believe the author's theory came in for some withering criticism. 

    But I've always kept that book in mind, and thought that in better times, it might be perceived as having more value....

    The book sounds interesting.  It is a bit perplexing to me that we could be consider social creatures, yet our response had to be either fight or flight. 

    They recently traced our lineage back to a small band of people along the coast of southern Africa.  Our line almost died out during a massive drought that made most of Africa inhospitable. During those tough times, I imagine it was the tending instinct, to use that term, which allowed these people to survive as they scratched out a life in a new environment for them.  It was their adaptability to the situation at hand, working together, that allowed them to survive long enough for the environmental conditions to improve and they could begin their migration north.

    There exists another less romantic but equally vapid interpretation that is perhaps even better supported empirical evidence. 

    It's a striking parallel that the timeline of the rise of women directly corresponds with the dramatic growth in inequity. The 35 year period has seen the rise of the super-rich masters of the universe with the decline of working families real income. In fact it is doubtful that there has ever been such a disconnect between the riches and power of the Alpha men, the CEO's and Wall Street financiers that run our world, and everybody else. Some might argue that women--being more docile by nature--are being promoted to replace Men--who tend to be prideful and more inclined to protest--thus providing our Alpha capitalists with a more malleable workforce. In this interpretation is it really a good thing that those Rust Belt men are learning to adapt and become, for a lack of a better term, pussies. 

    I present this merely to play devil's advocate. I would think that you could point to the experience of enlightened Scandinavian countries to bolster your argument.  However the experiences of the rest of the world would seem to support this less optimistic view. 

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