by Norman M. Brown Ph.D. |
Excitement and risk-taking are highly valued in America where the American rags-to-riches myth emphasizes big-risk entrepreneurship and ruthless business competition to make it to the top. We have explored in Joy Blog #5 some consequences of men’s preference for striving for success over enjoying their lives. We will note here that the American masculine imperative to be successful in gaining wealth, power and status leads them to be generally unavailable to share in the joyful moments that women and children tend to value and thus to be absent fathers and husbands. If they are more present, it is sometimes because they’ve felt unsuccessful in their chosen career, so they may be angry and depressed and prone to crude emotional outbreaks.
Joy is the predominant emotion in intimate and communal relations, so the management of intimate relations is typically left up to women. Women are far more active than men in establishing and maintaining communal networks, and men’s friendship networks are normally an outgrowth of the regimented teamwork in their workplace. Thus joy is fundamentally a community-nurturing emotion. The main exception in modern times is that the literary, pictorial and musical arts may be more individually practiced as well as communally, since beauty can give pleasure both individually and communally.
In comparison, excitement predominates over enjoyment when individuals and small groups are learning about the world around them and inventing new technology to increase human knowledge and power to control and manage the world around us. Excitement also predominates in the formation of large hierarchical companies and armies that are either building large structures (like dams or mines) to control nature or making war.
Thus a general catalogue of life directions gives men credit for building everything big in history, including creating and destroying nations and empires. Women get credit for nurturing the family and informal social networks, serving others’ needs before their own, and thus furnishing the wind beneath our wings. A catalogue of professions segregates by gender identification: Men are the hard-driving corporate profit generators whose emotional discipline puts work—powered by excitement and sometimes fear of failure before play (ie joy). Men often denigrate those who won’t push aside their more human-focused emotions of compassion and shame to manage the world of nonhuman resources. But they turn over to women their human resources functions. Women and more “androgynous” men are the servants of humanity—teachers, nurses, caregivers, therapists—as well as artists and religious people.
This brief generic catalogue partly explains why the majority of American men would not declare that they seek power above all else. The proper American way of publicly expressing a man’s purpose in worldly life is just to be “good” at what he does. But internally most men would fervently strive to be successful and recognized as such. And much as conventional Americans like to sing “the best things in life are free,” and popular admiration matters more, the connection between wealth, power and security is increasingly apparent.
In this context fear plays a central but paradoxical role in American society. On the one hand, men’s willingness to challenge their natural fear has played a very big role in the expansion of European settlers westward through the American continent. The images of “savage Indians” who scalped their victims intensified white men’s fear and anger to enable a permanent state of war which in turn justified individual white men’s avaricious acquisition of large land holdings for themselves. On the other hand, the results of recreating the huge differences in land possession by the boldest of those who left Europe for America has established far greater fear of poverty in America than remains in European nations with their social safety nets. This fear that the wealthy and powerful also have of losing their advantages will show up in later blogs about the present world crises.