Wednesday, November 21, 2012

#135. Commercialism and Materialism in a Patriarchal Culture

ARCHIVE. For a list of all my published posts: 

Blog entries beginning with #101 are not essays but minimally-edited notes and reviews from the files I've collected over the last few decades. I no longer have the time and energy needed to sort out and put together into decent essay-form the many varied ideas in these files, but I would like to share them with all who are interested.

If you have questions and think I might help, you're welcome to send me a note:

Post #135 includes several reviews dealing with contemporary culture in terms of the loss of a sense of significance: two books by James B. Twichell, an essay by James B. Nelson, and an overview by Jim Hollis.


The two books by James B. Twitchell are For Shame: The Loss of Common Decency in American Culture (St. Martin's Press, 1997) and Lead Us Into Temptation: The Triumph of American Materialism (Columbia U Press, 1999).

Few quick ideas: TV exists to sell things. We sell things by making people feel good. Those with money and need for identity are the 18-30’s, to which most TV is therefore directed. The content is whatever the viewers want to see.

MTV and sitcoms are now the source of behavioral norms, values and mores for American culture; and this is the glue that holds our society together.

Whatever you want to say can only be heard if it is commercially supported.

People have always been “materialistic” in their need/desire for
“things.” What people hunger for nowadays is their meaning.

The iatogenic syndrome: professional experts who are supposed to help in fact making problems worse.

Carnival is no longer followed by Lent.

Feminism replaces males in every area except the traditional father’s role of disciplining of children, requiring appropriate behavior to earn approval. It simply isn’t done, now.

Fascinating stuff! Two ideas that especially stick with me....

“Product placement” works OK in movies and is even expected, but it will never be effective in novels because readers are too old; they are past their “branding time.” “Readers” are defined here as "people who read," and said to be "a small subgroup within American culture!" When it comes to selling things, so “readers” don’t count at all!
“Branding time” is the second big idea: that time when people fix on which of the more or less totally similar brands of products they will buy. It happens by age 30-35 and therefore there is no use in addressing advertising to those over 30-35. Ads only are effective to those who both have money and haven’t yet been branded: age 15-30/35.

What’s being advertised is not the product but the product’s meaning. A good easy example of the selling of meaning: “Be like Mike.” I.e., Buy Michael Jordan-advertised sneaks and you will be significant as he is.

Advertising has replaced religion; it, not religion, sells meaning nowadays. That meaning may be superficial, but it is real for most consumers.

Once you have food, clothes and shelter, most other “needs” are really culturally-determined “wants.”

Twitchell has a fascinating description of being at a mall all day on the day after Thanksgiving, what groups appear at what times, etc. Also, a delightful description of himself buying a red Mazda Miata.


Essay: “Male Sexuality and the Fragile Planet: A Theological Reflection” by James B. Nelson. Like the other things of Nelson’s I’ve read, it makes some very good points.

The essay is found in Redeeming Men: Religion and Masculinities, by Stephen B. Boyd, W. Merle Longwood, Mark W. Muesse, editors (John Knox Press, 1996). The book is strictly academic in style and substance; I see little of value to any of it. One essay, for example, actually recommends goddess worship for men.

The next to last essay, however, by James B. Nelson, has some good things. Some quick examples:

Christianity (in the New Testament, especially the letter of Paul) connects body and creation as redeemed together.

Having lost its political influence at the time of the Industrial Revolution, religion became focused on the home, as the concern of women and children.

This focus, a Victorian perspective, still persists in church circles today: privatization of sex, spiritualization of women and depersonalization of males.

Contemporary social violence, racism and environmental abuse are all, at core, sexual issues coming from these Victorian perspectives.

NB: This is the first time I’ve seen any author link ecological devastation with gender and sex ideas. This essay dates from early 90s, so Nelson was doing really good thinking even then! He says, “Our hope for the earth depends on recognition of these body/sexuality issues.”

Thomas Berry says repeatedly that our hope for the future lies in reinventing the human via a new vision, the New Story given to us by modern science (of the world’s evolution and of humanity’s integral place in it and, now, as directing its further development).

I do not in any way disagree with any of this. But Berry never says-- and its my one criticism of him-- that the New Story can not ever be accepted by males unless they have a viable alternative to surrendering the privileges of their patriarchal manhood.

Of course, I see “sacred manhood” as the healthy and life-giving alternative.
Nelson is the only author I know who talks about an improved perspective on manhood resulting specifically from a letting go of the old dualistic perceptions.

That old model includes some familiar views:

• that males are dominate over females just as spirit is over body and as God is over matter;

• that the feminine-- Mother Earth and Mother Nature-- is to be “seized, penetrated, conquered and subdued,” as Sir Francis Bacon said;

• that real men reject all ties with the feminine-- nature, earth and universe-- just as they must do with their own mothers;

• that the earth is never to be related to in any emotional or relational sense, but is only a object to be known about (i.e., never “known” in the biblical sense nor included in some kind of “mutuality”).

I note that it is telling that we still have no decent words for all this!
Nelson says, “Our need is a sexual theology.” We need to move beyond patriarchal dualism by taking seriously body and sex in light of the Paschal mystery.

Examples of his "sexual theology"
Re Incarnation: “God became flesh.” We should not trivialize the men’s movement (with its drums, sweat lodges, etc.) for its efforts to come to new understanding of the nature of maleness.

We should be aware of the power of privileged manhood which oppresses black, native and gay males.

We should talk honestly from experience, not from what we think people want to hear. Be aware that we males objectify even our own bodies. Be aware that relatedness (mutuality) has no place in (traditional, dualistic) Christian spirituality, which is in fact anti-body and anti-relatedness.
Re Crucifixion: It is a sexual sickness to think that pain and self-sacrifice are redemptive. What is redemptive is standing in resistance with those who are oppressed, and all the vulnerability that involves.
Re Resurrection: Males have great anxiety about death. To be mortal is to be the ultimate loser. Porn and work-aholism are death defying. “Resurrection” means at least that “matter matters to God.”


The "overview" is Tracking the Gods, the Place of Myth in Modern Life, James Hollis (Inner City, 1995).

The universe somehow needs our free acceptance of ourselves. Myths help us to understand our nature and purpose. But they are more than that.

Myths are energy-containing, activating, empowering, identifying symbols.

For each of us, and for a society as a whole, myths tend to hold their energies for a while, then the energies move on to other symbols.

We don’t need to cling to them; rather, be willing to let go and let the Mystery manifest as it will.

Myths offer responses to questions of cosmic meaning, humanity’s place in nature, the individual’s place, and personal vocation. The last time all of Western culture held such values in common was around 1320 AD.

Now, we’ve totally lost our significant myths.

Hollis offers five authors that help us to see our present situation:

• Goethe (whose Faust wants everything, is depressed, and abides no external authority);

• Dostoyevsky (whose Underground Man is an self-centered anti-hero who manifests narcissism, self-destruction, perversion, and self-assertion);

• Conrad (who portrays colonialism);

• Kafka (who marks the utter end of Dante’s time);

• Camus (where the external heaven is totally gone but the internal hell still exits).

Hollis see two main myths. One comes from the Neolithic lunar time of the Great Mother, the Great Round of Coming and Going, of giving up to get, life and death, over and over and over. (Change but no progress.)

The other is from the Patriarchal period of solar civilization, expanding the boundaries of the possible: the hero is called, aided by nature, overcomes obstacles and brings back boons to the community.

The essence of it all: out of uroboric chaos consciousness appears, which must differentiate itself from its matrix and yet remain in communion with it.

Four obstacles to differentiation: wanting to be taken care of; using food, alcohol, tobacco and drugs to dull the pain of separation; letting a charmed leader or institution do your thinking for you; and giving yourself over to the group-think of commercials.

Whatever fascinates us and grabs our attention and emotions gives entrance to the unconscious and cosmos as it related directly to us. ("Karl Rahner: "Are we willing to be sensitive and responsive to the Mystery which is always and everywhere giving itself to us.”)

Humanity is an intrinsic aspect of the universe: we are the cosmos becoming conscious of itself. Each individual contributes uniquely to it.

The basic pattern of development is give to get; apparent death yielding to transfiguration. Thus, the main thing necessary is to trust the inner energy/force “that moves the sun and stars” to direct us rightly. Trust that we will not be annihilated is the spirituality that we must offer our children.

Re Relationships: We can relate to another only to the degree of self-awareness that we have attained. We project on to others what we haven’t yet dealt with in ourselves. To the extent that we are undeveloped, power replaces love in relationships. The best thing we can do for others is to be/become who/what we are: to undergo “individuation.”

The main thing the Greek gods asked (and the forest spirits before them): that we should not forget them, remember them, be aware of them. The are the Mystery, manifest as psychical realities, giving itself to us. They want/need our awareness and acceptance.


A few personal thoughts. No symbols hold their power forever. We need to be willing to let go, to let the spirit “blow where it will.”

The world that Dante expressed was still available to me when I was born, and although I was born into the modern myth-less world, I also had that consensus world which I valued and still do as means for entry into that deeper world where it is rooted.

I.e., I was already, even then, into a “shamanic” perspective or vocation of helping to bring missing/needed values to the community.

And it was in terms of recovery: I never bought into the Great Round nor the religion of patriarchy. I opted for the Double Round, a pre-patriarchal masculine way, for the recovery of the paleolithic perspective.

Teilhard and the doctrine of the Trinity, especially as presented by Panikkar and later Karl Rahner, provided me with powerful myths of uroboros, separation and communion-- individuation.

Part of the shamanic call is to individuation precisely “on behalf of all and for all,” and this is why I see the sacred pipe rite and my lifewalk as one thing.

We individuate by being attentive to the Mystery’s self-manifestations.

Nothing here is really new, but it is presented well and holds together well. It is a good preparation for a serious meditative study of Thomas Berry’s The Great Work.


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