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Some Thoughts on Patriarchy
by Jim Macdonald
Thursday May 24th, 2012 9:04 AM
This is just a little essay covering familiar ground on the issue of patriarchy but pushing the idea further into considering the ways patriarchy infects our social relationships with each other.

Patriarchy literally means the rule of fathers.  In more ways than we imagine, we live in a patriarchal society despite the trappings of what we call democracy.  One way this is evident, for instance, is in the desire of so many people around us to be “patriotic.”  That is, people who are patriotic declare their support in the most literal sense for the fatherland.

There are so many directions to go with this discussion, but let me start here on one path.  Patriarchy, I hope it should be obvious, is – like all forms of rule – illegitimate.  Nothing inherent in being a father logically entails the conclusion, “Therefore, you are right to rule over others.”  The thought of trying to prove the conclusion from the premise is laughable.  I provided sperm; sperm is a creative force from which you would not exist; therefore, your existence would not be if not for me.  Those who provide a service are owed a debt, and therefore you owe a debt to your fathers to serve them. 

You’ll note the additional premise connecting service with debt, which is a premise concocted out of thin air.  Yet, it is a premise on which the practical applications of patriarchy surely rest.  I provided the start up money for this company, and therefore I own and have a lien on your production forever.  I created this idea, and therefore my copyright or patent is inviolable.  I planted this land first, and therefore it is mine forever.  The seed of patriarchy that roots from nothing more than a single cell is used in tandem with an invented premise to assert a right of rule over everything that came into existence because of that seed.  We normally do not call this seed sperm; no one would be dignified to think that all of patriarchy arises from the messy, smelly scent of semen.  Instead, we talk of labor, capital investments, improving property, and all the rights and privileges that supposedly come from that.

Obviously, we miss the obvious fact in patriarchy that it takes two to tango.  Women and their eggs have often been left entirely out of the equation – the egg scene as a passive receiver, the earth as that which is there for the labor of man, the worker being the mere tool of the entrepreneur.  In recent years, there is an attempt to correct that and to provide women equal rights.  Something is missed, though.  The logic of domination is still essentially patriarchal.  Rather than resist the fallacy of the concept of rule, we simply choose to make patriarchs out of women, too.  Or, we cleverly try to use terms like matriarchs or democrats or some new way to hide up the fact that we are still living with what are essentially patriarchal premises.  That is, there is a creative force which brings a thing into existence, a debt is owed, and rule arises from the debt that needs repaying.

It is not hard to see, then, how property rights are tools of patriarchy.  The property owner is he who plants his seed through the sweat of his brow (the metaphorical semen) and creates wealth for which he is owed payment.  The property is his.  It is his to defend and even expand upon if someone leaves his land barren and childless.  Wars quickly arise among the fathers and their fatherlands.  Peace activists stupidly say often that “peace is patriotic.”  That’s nonsense.  There is nothing more patriarchal and therefore patriotic than war.  The line of reasoning should be obvious.

We also see patriarchy clearly in the way we conceive of our relationships.  Men have been conceived of as better than women, of course.  However, humans have been better than non-humans.  Some would say that whites have been better than non-whites, though they would eventually be smacked down for not understanding the right arbitrary lines for patriarchy’s slippery slope.  Being a father is to be a ruler of families.  Yet, outside of the obvious hierarchy within the family itself, we begin to see each unit of society as a fiefdom of itself.  Rather than see our fellow beings in our world as a community, they are competitors for what is rightly ours.  We live in fenced off little lands earning our wage and not feeling any sense of responsibility for our neighbors.  We live a life of tyranny driven by jealousy – our sex lives, our intellectual lives, our emotional lives are monopolized by our insular family units.  If we break out of them, we are often considered to be doing something wrong.  So, there’s a whole underground world of adultery, for instance.  People feel constrained by their captive lives, and many inevitably reach out for something beyond their ball and chains.  Yet, such things often become simply about sex.  It’s convenient that the larger constraints of patriarchy are not exposed because many acts of desperate fleeing from the cages of life strike us as cliché and otherwise morally bankrupt.

That may sound extreme.  People surely forge all kinds of friendships outside the home and all kinds of relationships within the larger community.  Of course they do!  The question, though, are the boundaries of those interactions.  I cannot go off to a different country and simply expect to be a welcome member of the community.  I am owned in my case by the United States of America.  I can visit, carry on trade, or perhaps be involved with military or business escapades in the country.  I cannot very easily fall in love and leave without going through a harrowing amount of red tape.  This is as true in the interpersonal level, where we’ve created in many cases all kinds of boundaries that tie us so resolutely to our various fatherlands.  Tell me how many of your children would be allowed to meet another child and then live with them on their own choice for months at a time.  How many of your significant others could venture off the reservation for more than an hour or two – particularly with a close friend (dare we say of the opposite sex) – without seedy things being wondered at, things that violate the private property contracts that really govern our relationships whether most of us are willing to admit it.

I am not arguing that we do not have responsibilities with regard to each other.  That is misconstruing and debasing my argument.  What I am arguing is that our current relationships are rooted in a patriarchal fallacy about rule.  Since that rule is fully illegitimate, we need a revolutionary approach to re-conceiving these things.  Nevertheless, it would be ridiculous to think that we should therefore just go run off, have an affair, or drop out of society, move to Alaska, and die in a magic bus.  Why?  The negation of a falsehood does not necessarily produce a truth.  If I were to say that 2 + 3 does not equal 6, it does not mean I should go out and assert that 7 is the truth because it is not 6.  We have to be careful how we go about unshackling ourselves that we do not replace someone’s illegitimate patriarchy with someone else’s illegitimate matriarchy.  Ultimately, you can guess from this essay – if you have never read anything else about me – that I am urging anarchy.  Yet, what is anarchy in practice?  Does that not depend upon a careful study of our nature?  Are we really prepared to take on that study?

Thus, I’d urge that to undo patriarchy at the macro and micro levels, we need to have real conversations about our nature, and about the nature of reality itself.  Such an act is in some sense defiance against patriarchy, as it puts the onus on us rather than someone else to figure out answers for us.  And, rather than urge more specific answers, I’d call on people to engage the question honestly and seek to root out patriarchy from our lives and own up how it infects each of us (certainly in the case of men like me, but in all humans).  I know I have so very far to go, which is no doubt a large part of what motivates me to write this.