How the Ayn Rand-loving right is like a bunch of teenage boys gone crazy
If, as George Lakoff says, we view politics through the metaphor of family, then Mother’s Day would have been a good time to ask the question: Where’s Mom in this picture? What are all those dirty socks and pizza boxes doing in the living room? Seriously: It looks like a frat house in here. Who’s been drinking the beer I hid in the basement fridge?
And, sweet mother of God: How did we end up letting the 16-year-old boys take over the entire household?
Make no mistake: All this Ayn Rand libertarian me-first-and-the-rest-of-you-go-to-hell stuff — the there’s-no-government-like-no-government theology that’s now being piously intoned as Holy Received Truth by everybody, male and female, in the GOP — is, very precisely, the kind of politics you’d come up with if you were a 16-year-old boy trying to explain away his dependence on Mom.
Parents? I don’t have any parents. I raised myself, on roots and berries and small vermin I dug up in vacant lots. That lady hanging around, feeding me and nagging me and picking up my socks and driving me to practice? She’s just the nanny state. That bitch. I hate her.
Society? There’s no such thing as society. There’s only what I want right now, which is the ultimate good in my universe. And what I want right now is more time on the XBox, pizza money and the keys to the family car.
The future? If I pursue everything I want now, then the future will magically take care of its self. Dinner will appear. So will clean socks and the next-gen XBox.
Obligations? I am God’s gift to the world. I don’t owe it anything. In fact: it owes me — just for being so magnificent, cute and special. Even my mom thinks so.
On behalf of America’s mothers, let me say: I have had enough of this. I don’t care how cute they are: It’s high time these so-called “libertarian” freeloaders get off the couch, stand up and show some respect to the rest of us who’ve done the hard work that makes their cushy lives possible.
You know what I wanted for Mother’s Day? I wanted these so-called “self-made men” to grow up and get a life.
No More “Nanny State” — Ever
Also: I’m putting them on notice: I don’t ever want to hear one more word about the “nanny state.” Not one. Not ever again.
First of all : It’s ugly. It just reeks of that 16-year-old boy being told to clean up his mess. The big sigh. The dramatic eye-roll. The drawn-out, agonized, “yyezzzz, mommmm .. .” that lets you know you’re about to spend the rest of the evening in a passive-aggressive battle during which your teenager will generate enough inertia to bring the rotation of this and several neighboring galaxies to a dead stop.
The “nanny state” is making you do the dishes, and then it wants you to clean out the garage. You poor persecuted darling. Go dial 1-976-WAAAAAH.
Second of all: It’s sexist as hell. Anti-feminist at its very core. It says that the concerns that we most identify with mothers — cleaning up your crap, minding your manners, not annoying other people, taking responsibility for your actions — are intrusive and unwarranted infringements on your essential freedom instead of the basic adult responsibilities that are required of everybody if society is going to remain free and functional.
It says that the power and authority by which mothers — “nannies,” in this construction — set the rules within the family is illegitimate. It belittles women who are bossy enough to insist on adult behavior from men.
It suggests that the things women are stereotypically most bossy about — politically, this would be issues like child welfare and education (looking after your little brother), the environment (housework) and peace and social justice (playing fair and being nice) are beneath the attention and dignity of men. You can almost hear John Wayne: “Don’t you worry about what your mom says, boys. Dad’s here, and he’ll set her straight. Big fat wink. Deep chuckle. You go right on ahead with what you were doing.”
Of course, when the Duke said stuff like this, the result was usually a shrieking, hair-pulling fight with Maureen O’Hara, which always ended with her turned triumphantly over his knee. And then, after a good, sound spanking that put the little lady firmly back in her place, he’d wrestle her tiny hands away so she couldn’t slap him and kiss her until she stopped struggling. And she’d love every minute of it, because in this deranged view of gender relationships, that kind of manhandling is just what all pissy women are really secretly asking for.
It implies that Real Americans are honor-bound to resist any and all exercise of female bossiness in the sacred name of preserving their almighty “freedom.”
And then, as the final insult, it identifies all government action with that exaggerated feminine weakness. Corporations: the domains of independent, active men who are busy creating a better world for themselves — and therefore, automatically, for everybody else as well. Government: the domain of dependent, passive women who are fussing about everybody’s business, insisting that they clean up their stuff, eat right, play nice and get to bed at a decent hour.
Government, like Mom, is a real buzz-killer. And also powerless. You can safely ignore her. After all, all she can do is yell at you, ground you and dock your allowance. And Dad (or, in the case of government, his lawyers and lobbyists) is the truly sane and powerful one around here and can be counted on to set her straight when he gets home.
How to Tell the Men From the Boys
Conservatives completely fetishize masculinity. They idolize sports heroes, warriors and the Manly Jesus of modern evangelicalism. They eagerly seek the trappings that will buttress their sense of maleness in their own minds — guns, big trucks, enough money and power to push other people around. The further right you go, the more exaggerated this focus on hypermasculinity becomes.
Psychiatrist Stephen Ducat explained this phenomenon at long length in his book, The Wimp Factor. Ducat’s research shows that right-wing men are so obsessed with the external trappings of maleness precisely because they’ve failed to develop the inner qualities and accept the obligations that are required of actual adult men. It’s all show, with nothing solid on the inside to back it up. And the more fragile their masculinity feels to them, the more exaggerated the outer display they put on is.
Given the insecurity that lies at the heart of this sad compensation, it’s especially ironic that they’ve got the whole country buffaloed into thinking this is appropriate adult behavior. We’ve ended up with a culture of maleness that emphasizes the objectification and degredation of women, a lack of male accountability for anything that happens in the culture and a definition of masculinity that’s all about empty shows of dubious might — like peacocks preening on parade.
For the record: This is a comic-book stereotype of manhood as it’s imagined by little boys. But it’s not the real deal — not even close.
The essential difference that separates the men and the boys is that men understand and accept that they have an obligation to the greater good and are willing to unflinchingly step up to that responsibility. They commit to their families. They work to improve their homes and communities so they’re safe and nurturing places for everyone to be. They take the long view as they plan for their kids’ future. They look out for people around them who are weaker than they are. And they respect and cherish the co-parents of their children as their equal partners in that effort.
Adult men do not resent being asked to contribute to the collective whole. They know that their actions have consequences and that they are responsible for the impact of those consequences on the greater good of the community.
As a veteran mom, I understand that it’s totally developmentally appropriate for a teenage boy to desperately struggle to separate from his female parent as he begins to find his way toward his adult male identity. But at some point, that oppositional process is supposed to come to an end — usually in the early- to mid-20s, with a reconciliation and renewed acceptance of Mom as a useful guide in his life. And, if he’s straight, there will be a mature acceptance of his obligations to a female partner and their children as well.
A 50-year-old CEO who’s still whining because Big Bad Government is asking him to clean up his shit, look after his little brother and not act like a psychopath in public is flat-out suffering from arrested emotional and social development. He’s not a grown man, despite his thousands of employees and millions in salary. He’s still that teenager, hating on Mom because she dared to remind him that he’s still deeply dependent on the resources of provided by his larger family. And as a mother, I’d invite other moms to join me in calling out this immaturity for what it is, wherever we see it.
What I really wanted for Mother’s Day is for America’s Lost Boys — the libertarian Peter Pans, the free-market feral children, the neo-liberal ramblin’ men — to stop pretending that they’re something special and uniquely free because they’ve managed to disassociate themselves from women’s care and women’s concerns.
I want respect for the role mothers play — both in our personal families, and in our national one. I want some recognition of the fact that the issues that are typically dismissed by the masculine fetishists as “women’s issues” or “nanny-state meddling” are, in fact, the issues that the future of our country most depends on. And I want the common wealth and the common good — the health and wealth of our national family — to get the same kind of loving respect that all mothers are entitled to.
Flowers and chocolate and a nice brunch are appreciated, too. But they’re a meaningless insult — a sop to authority we don’t have and aren’t seen as entitled to — long as we let the 16-year-olds run the household the other 364 days out of the year.Sara Robinson, MS, APF is a social futurist and the editor of AlterNet's Vision page. Follow her on Twitter.