A Brief Letter

On Male Friendship, Women Without Bodies, and Woke Religion

The weather’s gone all grey and dreamy here, which is quite fantastic. It’s always much easier for me to focus once this comes, with less warmth and heat to entice me constantly outside. As with trees, the darker half of the year is for thinking and dreaming, delving deeper into earth; the lighter half is for the dance of wind and light, reaching ever upwards.

It’s been a bit since I’ve published an essay here, and it may be a few more days before one arrives, so I thought I’d post an update and scattering of thoughts I’m thinking about until then.

On Male Friendship

I’ve a friend visiting from the US currently. His is one of those sorts of friendships usually identified as a ‘male’ friendship, the one lots of pop feminist articles claim are not actually real friendships. There was an article on the New York Times or in the Atlantic, one of those hyper-urban journals, “exposing” how men were suddenly realizing they had no “real” friends because of COVID. Turns out all the guys they thought were friends were just men they did stuff with, and obviously that’s not a “real” friendship.

What that article and quite a few others of that sort completely miss is the question of physical presence. Sure, there are the sorts of friends you can never physically see again and still have a close connection to, but humans are bodies and we love and relate to each other as body, not as disembodied emotions.

My closest friend, also a dude, is someone I’ve spent lots of physical time with, whether that was camping or sitting in my living room talking about nothing important. We still keep up on video and text but that’s not the same and we both bemoan it constantly. It’s a friendship specifically because we know what it feels like to be in the same room or same tent or same forest or same truck or same cafe with each other for hours on end and we know that feels better than anything else.

I’m not sure there is anything really “male” about such physical friendships at all, just human. If anything, the close friend you have never met but talk to on social media all the time is the aberration, and really not very human at all.

Women Without Bodies

I guess I’m thinking about this particularly because I just re-read Donna Harraway’s A Cyborg Manifesto as research for my book on the woke. I read very fast, but this was an obnoxiously slow process because I kept wanting to do something else instead. Her arguments are flat, constantly circular, and relentless obfuscated in the way Judith Butler’s are.

Regardless, it’s a useful book for understanding the predicament we are in, as its ideas have shaped the transition of feminism away from an embodied politics towards an identity politics. The core problem with both her and Butler’s arguments is that they reduce woman to an idea created by others, as if women themselves never thought anything about their difference to men.

“There is nothing about being ‘female’ that naturally binds women. There is not even such a state as ‘being’ female, itself a highly complex category constructed in sexual scientific discourses and other social practices.”

If she only meant the scientific/biological category, she would almost have a point (you could replace “Black” with “female” here to see how), but she then goes on to explain how women itself is “…elusive, an excuse for the matrix of women’s dominations of each other.”

What becomes clear in both Harraway and Butler is an ignorance and likely extreme disgust for the lives of lower class or rural women. I think of my partner’s mother, 78 years old, the fourth generation of women to live in her house and work as laundresses. Ownership of the house was passed down by each generation of woman, from mother to daughter despite the deeply patriarchal laws on property inheritance here. Further, her place—just as the places of her mother and grandmothers—in the village is one of honor: she is known as the only woman everyone gets along with, and she pretty much holds the cultural memory and community life of the village together.

She is in essence the matriarch of the village, and there is no male figure here who even comes close to that level of influence and honor.

Compare her to the sort of “elusive” woman that Harraway decries and for which she offers the Cyborg as a liberatory model and you can easily see what’s really the problem. Harraway, like Butler, and like all the other “woke” neo-feminists, are all products of urban capitalism whose only inheritance is a disgust for the bodily existence of humans in general, not just of women. The body is constantly absent because, as Silvia Federici notes, the body is the relentless obstacle to full capitalist exploitation of humans.

The bodies of women in particular are an even more resistant obstacle (and thus more sought-after spoil for the capitalist) because they are capable of producing and sustaining more life (more labor), something the male body cannot do. That’s ultimately what gets buried in the newer iterations of gender as being a felt sense and merely a social role. In the cities, such difference is highly obfuscated, but on the village level it is much clearer.

If such a view seems to write out the existence of trans people, I’d like to remind you that there’s always been another model for gender/sexual variance in indigenous societies (the village level). What we are seeing now is an attempt to inscribe variance back into the two primary categories because we’re working with a monotheist model, rather than an animist/pagan model. Those other models see such variance as sacred and wholly different from the primary categories, a ‘third’ or other kind of person, and they create honored space for them. In monotheism, difference is the primary blasphemy and thus must be eradicated.

The Woke Religion

Something I hadn’t really intended to deeply address in my book coming out next year but now realise I must is the religious dimensions of The Woke. This was brought back to my attention after reading some popular texts on dismantling white supremacy and being startled at how much it all sounded like the Southern Baptist sermons I sat through during too much of my adolescence.

So much of these texts describe oppression through a moral lens, and some of them really are starting to sound like the morality primers published by Methodists such as John Wesley in the early days of industrialization. It’s all about right action, about changing your behavior and looking into your soul to be found worthy.

The majority of the logics behind it are quite protestant, but there are also major threads from Catholicism and Judaism as well. Cancel culture really looks a lot like the Catholic obsession with ostracising and punishing heresy, which itself was a continuation of Hebraic punishments for blasphemy. Likewise, the ‘oppressed chosen people’ motif found in both Catholic and Jewish belief (which really got quite the revival in Calvinism and later Puritanism) constantly operates in the reverse hierarchy of woke oppression categories (the most oppressed categories are the ones with the most right to define the discourse: “listen to trans women of color.”)

And of course the iconoclastic drive that the early transition to capitalism in England saw, with religious devotees destroying ‘pagan’ relics in the churches and countryside to scrub the land of its evil past, is undoubtedly reflected in the drive not just to destroy confederate monuments (which anyway should never have been put up), but a more general drive to purge all institutions of anything that doesn’t fit into the new order.

The problem of course is that the new order isn’t actually more equal than the old order, only a new iteration of hierarchy. No one actually knows what they are trying to build instead, only that the old order needs to be destroyed, which suits the capitalists just fine. Constant “revolutionising” is how capitalists find new ways to exploit labor and create new markets, and the more unstable a society, the easier it is to reconfigure labor relations. Oliver Cromwell and John Wesley ultimately just spread the gospel of Capital and cleared the ground for more factories and time discipline, all in the name of purging society of its sinful history and bringing people into the light of God.

I’m pretty sure that’s all happening again.

More soon,

—Rhyd