Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The re-masculinization of political culture post-9/11

Conference in progress.

Yesterday, at the opening plenary session, Fred Halliday from the LSE gave an educated lecture on “the Mediterranean in an age of globalization”. Of the many things I appreciated in his talk, the idea that both Western and Eastern political culture have undergone a “re-masculinization” in the wake of 9/11 really sparked my thinking.

Though I am hesitant to jump on the gender-speak bandwagon, it is clear that the last half decade has seen a return of traditionally “male” ideals. It is not too far-fetched to think that, with the Cold War gone, many in the military-industrial complex spent the long nineties, eagerly looking for new enemies or, as the jargon goes, "new threats". The 11 September attack provided them with just that, once again there was a meaning and a purpose to replace the old enemies.

Now, think of sustainable development. So far, environmental sustainability has almost completely been framed in terms of moderation, conservation and care. These are traditionally seen as “female” values. If taken seriously, a sustainable life seems to require dramatic cuts in the material metabolism of our societies: no more flying to overseas conferences, no more convertible driving and no more prosciutto. On a less humorous note, traditional conceptions of sustainability also seem to presuppose that the vast majority of people on this planet never comes to enjoy our material standard.

In my work, the main normative concern has been to challenge this “green mantra”, arguing that there may be advanced technological paths to both environmental sustainability and climate stability. These paths would mean radical innovation in emerging technologies such as nuclear fusion, nano-miniaturization and space exploration. It goes without saying that such a vision alludes to traditionally “male” or Apollonian virtues like expansionism, creativity and inventiveness. However, in the mainstream discourse, alternative visions or paths to sustainability are not widely discussed. Instead the task of achieving environmental sustainability has generally been reduced into making all those sacrifices that we all “know” are necessary but at the same time remain frustratingly unwilling to actually make.

Combining this lack of inspirational visions of the future with the current security-oriented paradigm, it is tempting to think that “the war on terror” is precisely what you would expect “boys” to come up with unless they are given a more meaningful task (it goes without saying that the word “boys” can refer to both men and women). Maybe then a vision of a grand future for all of humanity could serve as a powerful corrective, underscoring the global scope of the challenges ahead and the obsolete nature of military thinking.

P.S. As for the “re-masculinization” thesis, Susan Faludi should rightfully be credited for presenting a similar argument about the post-9/11 world in her recent book "The Terror Dream".

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Blogger Ragan Updegraff said...

Interesitng question, and thanks for the thought. It would be intereting to see if re-casting the energy debate in such a way that environmentalists are seen as advocating more masculine values would ultimately make their argument more powerful. And, indeed, taken a masculinization of values at-large and incrased calls for "energy security," a twist on the dicourse might be well-needed.

7:29 pm  

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