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Monday, February 8, 2016

Things Fall Apart But Not My Sandwiches Try One Today


Then listen to me,' he said and cleared his throat. 'It's true that a child belongs to its father. But when a father beats his child, it seeks sympathy in its mother's hut. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. But when there is sorrow and bitterness he finds refuge in his motherland. Your mother is there to protect you. She is buried there. And that is why we say that mother is supreme. Is it right that you, Okonkwo, should bring your mother a heavy face and refuse to be comforted? Be careful or you may displease the dead. Your duty is to comfort your wives and children and take them back to your fatherland after seven years. But if you allow sorrow to weigh you down and kill you, they will all die in exile.

Every once in a while I read one of the books that I should have read in high school, or I reread one of the books that I did read in high school and lacked the frame of reference or world experience to appreciate. It’s funny that someone who has never been east of Colorado or south of Baja California can speak of world experience, but here we are.

Hey, by the way. Have you ever felt like you were assembled by a Dr. Frankenstein-style mad scientist but instead of being assembled from dead human tissue instead you were built out of dumpster trash from behind the mall food court? That’s how I feel today. Walking, talking, human garbage. Like teenage hangout trash dressed in trash bag clothes, filled with old soda.

Here’s a thing about feeling like a trash person. If you channel those emotions correctly, you can do great things that justify your existence as a part of the human race who is trying, at least, to make the world a better place. If not, you end up staying in bed for days, too unmotivated to even to start a Netflix show because investing in new people, even fictional, is exhausting. Instead you constantly refresh social media feeds even though nothing new is on there and nothing new ever will be. Having a job and kids who need to be ferried to school precludes the latter option, so instead I try the former.

It’s a very scary thing to look straight into the darkness in the world and try to figure out how to fix it, you guys. And maybe it’s especially dangerous when you’re a walking, talking pile of refuse consisting of cast-off Chik-Fil-A wrappers and half-eaten questionable Greek food, animated in a manner not unlike Pizza the Hut in Spaceballs. You gaze at this void with your beady little detritus eyes and vegetable oil tears roll down your Styrofoam cheeks.

Apparently it’s a bad time to try to write a blog, too.

I just read Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe. It’s a sad, rough book to read. Also, for two weeks I’m in rape crisis training 20 hours each week. This is kind of a weird thing for me because while I’m there it’s brutal and exhausting, but also exhilarating. There are maybe 12 of us in there and we’re learning about some of the worst things one human being can do to another, but also we’re there to do something about it. It’s this crazy vulnerable space where people talk with an openness that I’m not used to about things part of me wished I didn’t know. I feel like I've been walking around without glasses and finally got some and everywhere I look there is a thin film of grime that I never noticed before.

Remember that horrible group of man-children I talked about in my last post? The emotionally stunted young men who are playing real-life dungeons and dragons, pretending that they are strong and that their struggle means something. Fighting the imagined monster that is the oppression of the white male. Those whiny babies and their little Rugrats-from-Nickelodeon-ugly friends of theirs have a saying where they say that revealing the “secret” world of conspiracy against the white man is called The Red Pill.

Remember in The Matrix when Morpheus offers Neo a choice between the blue pill, where he can continue in blissful ignorance, or the red pill, where the reality of robot-controlled virtual life becomes known? That’s these guys, except that instead of robots controlling their lives, it’s those horrible women and the “white knights” who stand up for them. Like me suddenly seeing pain in others, they instead see an excuse for their own.

“You are hating women because you have the wrong expectations for them. Don’t hate someone for something they CANNOT be. Women are, by nature, manipulative attention-seeking, inconsistent, emotional, and hypergamous. Accept this truth. Once you do, you can game women for what they are… not what you want them to be.” - Some guy on a website I don't want to link

These are the men who are always telling powerful women online to “make them a sandwich.” Listen, I make a good sandwich. I might go so far as to say I make a great one. I have spent years perfecting a meatball sandwich that I won’t hesitate to call transcendent. This sandwich depends upon my wife’s homemade bread as fundamentally as The Matrix depends on Keanu Reeves apparent confusion at literally everything surrounding him. But it also uses my top-secret muffin-tin meatball recipe (already I’ve said too much), as well as a sauce created from tomatoes and herbs I grew with my own hands. As much as I love and actively fight for every woman on this green earth, I do not trust any other human being to make my meatball sandwiches.

The meatballs, rather than being half of some whole, would be a good meal on their own. As with the bread. Both are independent and self-contained but man do they make good music together. The bread does not tell the meatballs that "you complete me," nor do the meatballs call the bread "their better half." Meatballs can't talk, you guys.

This meal, one I treasure, is the mutual creation of two people who are in love, rather than the demand of a selfish man so desperate to prove his worth that he orders around women who wouldn’t even be in a room with him, let alone do the slightest favor. The simple existence of a strong woman who doesn’t lean on him like Luke Skywalker’s sister does in the Star Wars poster is so astonishing that he vanishes into a fantasy world in which she is his slave.

This, according to these guys, is the actual right order of things.
In Things Fall Apart we spend a lot of time with a man who treasures masculinity. "No matter how prosperous a man was, if he was unable to rule his women and his children (and especially his women) he was not really a man." Who treats his wives like objects and mourns his son’s femininity. "Femininity" in this case, meaning only that he doesn't like it when babies are killed and is troubled when his best friend is murdered only because it was willed by the community religious leader. Okonkwo is a prominent member in his Ibo culture and aspires to more. A self-made man, he started with nothing and has created a compound whose fields of yams are the envy of everyone.

Okonkwo is a product of his time and his society. We recognize that he is a bully. But we see enough humanity in there to be interested in his life’s path. We mourn when he mourns, while also acknowledging that some of the practices of his culture are abhorrent by modern standards. For Okonkwo, who has everything, it is a perfectly reasonable world.
A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so.
When white Christian missionaries arrive, however, Okonkwo sees his world change. First to join are the untouchables, those who hold no status nor hope of status in the existing culture. Next are mothers of twins. According to Ibo religion, twins were an abomination and left in the woods to die. A mother who is told that her miscarriages are caused by an evil spirit who continues to occupy her womb and is encouraged to mutilate the miscarried fetus to warn the spirit away finds solace in a different message.

Okonkwo, who has all the privilege without realizing that it comes at the expense of many, is horrified when his authority is threatened. He, of course, is the one who is being oppressed. The traditional way of life in which he flourishes changes under his feet, and he is simply not equipped to handle the transition.

You guys. The European conversion of “savage” African culture is a dark and sad and horrifying story. Under the banner of the Queen, British missionaries prepared the ground for government takeovers, many of which were bloody and horrible, and I don’t want to defend that for a second. Okonkwo’s culture is flawed, but often very beautiful. That all being said, it’s hard not seeing some parallels.

The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.

While Okonkwo enjoyed a period of high status and watches it disintegrate, these red pill guys only dream of some kind of lost world that probably never existed for them. They are men who have been rejected by women for years, and rather than explore what aspects of their personalities makes them unattractive, have decided that it wasn’t their fault at all! (Let's forget, for a moment, that it's civilization that gives guys like us even a shot at marriage, when it was at varying points in human history only accorded to polygamous kings and warlords.)

Why, back in the day men were awarded attractive women just by existing. Isn’t that what every movie they watched in the 90s said? Daniel-san didn’t win Elizabeth Shue’s affection with his winning personality (although he actually was very charming and funny), but by showing his physical prowess in the karate tournament. He was awarded a cute blonde girl along with his trophy.

Okonkwo wins the affection of one of his wives by winning a wrestling contest. But honestly even that is more effort than these guys put forth. They complain about women only liking the star quarterback. Which yeah, I remember being that guy. But even if the star quarterback is a jerk, at least he’s good at something that is very, very difficult. It doesn’t have to be a sport. It could be anything. I was in a church meeting once where a young man played piano beautifully. When I looked around the room at the young women his age I saw literal stars in their eyes. Get good at something other than League of Legends, maybe, but hey. Even those guys probably get some action.

Instead, we get guys breaking down human interaction into math equations. Like each woman they meet is a video game that needs to be conquered, and all it takes is the right combination of words and phrases. Women are essentially fungible. The only distinction being an assessment of value. Red pillers are encouraged to seduce women of increasingly high value as a status symbol. There is an aspect of revenge in these discussions. Exploit the so-called glitches in women's code and them abandon them like they "abandoned" you when you were a teen.
I imagine this movement is like so many pyramid schemes. The sexual conquest version of a get-rich-quick scheme that sells promises but not results. There are more books on success than there are actual successful people, whether that success is weight-loss, financial gain, or “alpha” male attainment. But that might make the movement even more dangerous.

If this philosophy is supposed to be a secret code to get into women’s bedrooms, but doesn’t pan out, where does all this pent-up hatred for women and aggression go? It’s a generally accepted theory that rape isn’t about sexual desire, but instead power. When one group of people have all the power, any reduction of that, however small, results in a feeling of powerlessness.

When I read the writings of these guys, I see something I recognize in myself from days past. Being rejected is not fun. Thinking that you're the only nice guy out there in a sea of jerks is frustrating and toxic. But guys, look around. Women don't reject you because you're nice. They reject you because every interaction they have with a man has the specter of rape, kidnapping, or murder lurking back there. More women than you know have been victims and I'm sorry because I know you're so great, but they just don't. They don't care if your gestures are you being "nice" if they're creepy. If the way you interact sets off a warning bell, you're out, and can you even blame them? To quote Margaret Atwood again: "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them."

Just. Guys. Just chill. Find another outlet. Ironically the thing that you focus on to forget about how angry you are are at pretty girls will make you more attractive to pretty girls (unless it's model trains). Learn about the world. Memorize the constellations. Learn bird calls. Create something. Worry less about the world leaving you behind and more about how you can be a part of the new one. Make your own damn sandwich.

More on this topic:
http://www.howiesbookclub.com/2016/01/a-book-by-chimamanda-ngozi-adichie.html