Lately I’ve been reading and hearing a lot about toxic masculinity and its destructive effects on individual men, and by extrapolation on society in general.
But what is it?
We can never know, beyond reasonable doubt, who the first european to make contact–in their own territory–with the Plains Indians was, of course, but Elizabeth Fenn, in her excellent book Encounters at the Heart of the World, makes an interesting case for a frenchman named Louis Armand de Lom d’Arce Lahontan, who left a travelogue of his travels from the tip of the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, across modern Wisconsin and Iowa, through Nebraska into the present day Dakotas in 1688–89.
The Mandan, as a nation of people, were hit by numerous waves of smallpox and cholera, whooping cough, measles, and pivotally, epidemics of Norwegian rats that came in on riverboats. At first, the Mandan and Hidatsa, who had never seen a brown rat, were entranced and even happy to have the rats, because they ate the deer mice that had long plagued their earthen lodges.
At any rate, the film meets Dunning at a time when the farm is hanging on a precipice. The farm has given him three wives and four children and taken them all away. He is mostly alone with his memories, his animals, his orchard and his crops, his tractors, and his booze. And despite his impressive strength and agility, his obvious passion and admirable clarity, despite his commitment to life in the midst of a suicidal pique, it is quite clear that the entire existence of Mile Hill Farm, 134 acres of almost mythological New England, is hanging on by a thread in the intense winds of a physical, cultural, and spiritual tempest.
It is no small endeavor to race from sea‐level to the mountains, throw on a heavy pack, and start climbing without a minute of real preparation or training–it’s probably stupid, in fact– but purpose is a powerful engine. I had studied the topos, conferred with Don, an accomplished mountaineer, and set my sights on a peak in the 10,000 foot range above the valley. The map is never the territory, of course, so I wasn’t under any illusions about the challenge. I expected, and wanted, a brutal climb as the necessary price of admission.
A bill disarming citizens is precisely the kind of nonsense one would expect to be issued from a group of people whose own solutions have been ineffectual since their inception, whose entire history is steeped in fraudulent claims of divinity, by unconscionable wars, slavery, and assassinations, and whose only real purpose from the outset has been to control the minds, bodies, and coffers of others by the precise application of fear backed by the threat of annihilation or eternal damnation.
Living in one place for any length of time supplies a kind of general knowledge, but that tepid way of knowing is often vague to the point of uselessness. I may be able to see and identify, for instance, the particular song of a western meadowlark, and I may thrill at the extraordinary memories it calls forth from my youth on the Great Basin desert, but other than the sound it makes and the emotionally pleasing memories stirred up in my brain, what do I really know about western meadowlarks?
Such was the case, recently, when after two years of intensive work, archaeologists announced the discovery of a 7000 year‐old Native burial site off the coast of Florida. Or, similarly, when archaeologists revealed new theories about the workings of the ancient Roman Plutonium, where animal sacrifices were made to reinforce notions of divinity. Or in Sweden, recently, when archaeologists discovered 8000 year‐old human heads impaled on spikes.
For long‐term thinkers, the most alarming part of our failure to have the right conversation about the causes of predatory mass killings is that our civil liberties are put at risk. The seductive anodynes put forth by short‐term thinkers require that law‐abiding citizens sacrifice their own freedoms in a well‐meaning but clearly improbable effort to stuff the predator genie back into the bottle.
There can be little doubt that Homo Sapiens is the most dangerous predator the world has ever produced. We have enormous brains capable of building systems to overcome friction, the ability to accomplish complex planning within those systems, and opposable thumbs to assist in the execution of the plan. We have canine teeth and forward‐looking eyes. We are the most accomplished killers in the animal kingdom, exceptional when hunting alone, but capable of cooperating in large groups to make a kill.
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