Patriarchy, Calvinism, Mistrust, Cynicism and The American Dream
I feel a rant coming on. In spirit, I deliver a “speech-dance”: energized, prancing strides, dramatic arm gestures, on my little piece of this human stage. Voice aimed — as much to space vast as prairie sky — as to any seated audience.
What I say below is meant to stir!
Part way down some of you will decide this is about health care reform. I assure you, it is not. HC reform is but fodder – it allows us to notice something far more pervasive in ourselves.
For gosh sakes, people, get it together! Observe! Think!
Patriarchy, Calvinism, and mistrust flow throughout our American culture in vague but entrenched cynicism!
Do you not see this – how it permeates the vision of the American Dream?!?
What are the attributes of “patriarchy”? It is commitment to hierarchy, brought to policy and law. Patriarchy is the practice of bossing by an external source, a source agreed “of authority”, authority gained solely by tradition. Patriarchy operates from belief that reasonable self-authority does not exist within the “ordinary person”. Underlying this is an unexpressed statement: “They cannot be trusted”. “They” being most of any population, or groups within a large population who are not my group. A fear statement, fear of innate personal authority.
Fear of “the great unwashed”, of general humanity.
Oh for heaven’s sake!
What is the general tone of “Calvinism”? Forget theological argument. Forget pre-destination, free will. Anyone who has experienced “Calvinism” as dominant in social structure knows its flavor. Stern at heart. Stern! All about production. Production! “Work harder” cries Calvinism! Incapable of “kicking back” without prickling shame. Calvinism as cultural ‘flavor’, has very few questions, lots of answers, and lots of judgment. It does not ask about the essence of the human heart. Human “sinfulness” its driving energy. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” its motto – applied to “children” everywhere, of all ages. Deep, deep, underlying mistrust of the human heart, the human spirit. Fear of self, fear of potential to excess.
Patriarchy without Calvinism allows occasional mellowness, I’ll give that. But if challenged, patriarchy fiercely defends hierarchical structure and authority. It defines authority as that which is found in social, political, economic, and religious traditions. Authority is bestowed according to “rules”. Sometimes the rules are as simple as gender, birth and family position. Sometimes the rules give one group authority over another – royalty, for instance, divine right of kings over those not royalty. Layers of authoritative power over underlying layers.
Patriarchal “flavor” in general society is practiced by “the great unwashed” believing “that person over there” is “worthy” of “special honor” (and by “those so appointed” first accepting, then demanding, the assigned authority.) Patriarchy attempts to squelch individual claim to “god given” individual authority. And the Calvinist child accepts rule of patriarchal authority, yields to avoid the rod. (Looks for a layer underneath on which to assert authority, on which to wield the rod.)
(What? You say if I paid attention I would discover my own authority, and know it as honorable, as valid, as worthy, as that of another? What?)
(What! You say such authority is within every one of us? That I have no ‘hierarchical’ position relative to another? You say the ideal social arrangement is for us to acknowledge “expertise” , “assignment to office,” “wisdom in another”, when it is needed, but drop any form of worship? No worship of royalty? No worship of gender or position? No worship of media or sports or film personalities? No worship of wealth? No worship of brands or styles? No “elevation” of any of this above my essential self? Not even for the sake of “tradition”?)
Yes, I do say that.
(Does this mean I am not “above or below” anyone else? Not “more deserving”? Not “more worthy”? Not more “successful”? Not more “weak”? Not more “messed up”?)
Yes, I do say that.
(Let me get this straight – you say I bring as much contribution to the table as anyone, anywhere, that I am as inventive, as creative, as rich with potential and delivery as anyone?)
Yes, I do say that. It is possible you bring even more than those of “structurally established authority” in many moments – but a hierarchical world may not want you to accept this of yourself.
A culture truly worth checking out is one with strongly flavored mix of patriarchal hierarchical authority and Calvinism. Hello America!
The spark that set me off is news of the current health reform “package”:
Co-pays because “ordinary folks cannot be trusted; they will abuse access to medical care. (Humans are inclined to be sinful, you know – especially the great unwashed. Can’t trust them. They need to be bossed about by authority of policy and regulation. Stern authority. Spare the rod and … well, … you know how that turns out!)
It’s OK that not everyone will be covered. (Not everyone is as worthy as everyone else, there are degrees of value. Stern hierarchy.)
A non-profit public plan will ruin us all. (The great unwashed may actually sign up – might even willingly pay up! Does does not follow tradition of wealth worship. Stern insistence on tradition.)
There’s a lot in our unfolding health care “reform” that clings tightly to tradition, views the population sternly. Patriarchal hierarchy says it’s OK for existing (traditional) hierarchy of profit over wellness to carry on. It’s so OK, that it’s perfectly reasonable to punish anyone who does not willingly pay into a for-profit system. The law says pay up for profit or submit to punishment.
Flavors of patriarchal hierarchy and stern Calvinism dominate the “soup” of unfolding reforms. We must not stray from established traditions. Some of the population “must” be abandoned; individuals “cannot be trusted”; corporate wealth and investment profit “must be sustained”; “pre-emptive” punishment is built-in with co-pays; punishment after the fact for anyone who won’t pay up; no possibility of a non-profit cooperative (universal) system, cooperation is not a tradition that works well with the hierarchy of patriarchal systems. Calvinism’s enthusiasm for mistrust and punishment is satisfied to find them married here.
(We reject hierarchical authority of royalty, puff chests in pride over stories of successful war against being robbed by a king. Hierarchical authority of corporate wealth has our approval; we must pay up; it is “not the same thing” we convince ourselves. )
That great unwashed child shall not be spoiled! So decree those in authority. So decree those without capacity to believe in worth of the individual (and his/her wellness in this case.)
Cynical. Pure cynicism. Birthed out of mistrust of self. Projected as mistrust of other. The American Dream is shot through with it.
(You mean it does not have to be this way?)
Yes, that is what I mean.
Our explorations in health care reform are “opportunity to learn about ourselves”, well beyond the issue of “health care reform” policy. Underlying cultural beliefs, in this case less than savory, are revealed. Thanks for listening!
Best Wishes! –MaggieAnn.