I mentioned in my recent Devouring Mother update post that every now and again, amongst the cavalcade of nonsensical jabbering that constitutes western public discourse these days, it’s as if the fog clears and we are being spoken to directly by The Devouring Mother herself. This week saw one such occasion. This time it was the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, embodying the archetype to perfection. Here’s what Johnson said:
“If Putin was a woman, which he obviously isn’t, if he were, I really don’t think he would have embarked on a crazy, macho war of invasion and violence in the way that he has. If you want a perfect example of toxic masculinity, it’s what he is doing in Ukraine.”
I have studiously avoided the question of masculinity so far in my Devouring Mother analysis, preferring to focus on the archetype itself. But, of course, the dominance of a feminine archetype implies the subordination of the masculine and Johnson’s ridiculous statement has brought the matter to the fore.
So, it’s time to finally fill in some of the blanks in relation to the issue of masculinity in western societies, how that relates to the Devouring Mother, how Vladimir Putin had already come to represent the masculine in Western culture prior to the Ukraine War and why I believe the Ukraine War symbolises the re-establishment of the “masculine” at the geopolitical level. The bipolar world we are entering now could very well be the devouring feminine against the toxic masculine, although probably only in the fever dreams of the West. But before we get to all that, though, let’s do a little history lesson.
The phrase “toxic masculinity” has become part of western culture in recent times where it has come to stand for everything that is wrong with men. It is no small irony, then, that the phrase itself comes from within a movement known as the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement, a self-help group that ran in the United States in the 1980s and 90s that was aimed at addressing the problems of modern masculinity. Readers who followed my Age of the Orphan series might recognise the names of Stephen Jenkinson and Jungian psychologist, James Hillman. They were both involved in the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement and, in fact, Jenkinson tells the story in one of his books how he saw Hillman at one of the gatherings but didn’t know it was him as he didn’t know what Hillman looked like at the time.
The Mythopoetic Men’s Movement was explicitly apolitical. Meetings took place away from the cities, usually in some wilderness area. Alongside speeches there would be Native American rituals like drumming and sweat lodges as well as singing and dancing. I dare say a few cups of ayahuasca might have been drunk.
As the name and the presence of people like James Hillman indicates, the movement had a strong Jungian bent. Typically masculine archetypes like the Warrior and the Ruler would have been discussed as would The Hero’s Journey as a guide to life. Real world problems like the break-up of families leading to the absence of a father role in the life of young men were highlighted. The capitalist economic paradigm which pits men against each other in the factory and the office was critiqued. Modern western masculinity had become split into either an excessive femininity (soy boys) or an over the top hyper-masculinity. What modern men needed was to reconnect with the deep masculine. This was not a conscious, rational process because an overemphasis on reason, logic and intellect is part of the problem. It was about reconnecting with the body (and, in one sense, the body is the subconscious).
Both in its theory and in its practice, the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement was making the same point that I made in my Age of the Orphan series: that we no longer have initiation rites in modern society. That’s true for both sexes but it probably hits men harder because traditional initiation rites for men were more involved than for women. The Mythopoetic Men’s Movement was partly an experiment to try and recreate those initiation rites. It had its Elders in Robert Bly, Michael Harner and James Hillman.
Now, you might think that groups of men off in the bush listening to poetry and music and trying to help each other grow and develop as human beings wouldn’t be skin off anybody’s nose and might even be encouraged by society. But, we live in the world of The Devouring Mother. The Mythopoetic Men’s Movement became a target in the gender wars and that is how the phrase toxic masculinity got into the general discourse.
Within the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement, the phrase toxic masculinity was opposed to deep masculinity. Translated into the language I used in the Age of the Orphan series, it’s the difference between an uninitiated male and an initiated one. The whole point of the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement was to try and combat toxic masculinity by initiating modern men, helping them to reconnect with deep masculinity and turning them into fully integrated adult males. When it became a target in the gender wars, the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement was then accused of promoting the very thing it was trying to address!
Of course, all this fits The Devouring Mother archetype to a tee. The Devouring Mother does not want men to initiate and to connect with their masculinity. Thus, the slandering of the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement and the misuse of the phrase toxic masculinity is actually a very important part of the story of The Devouring Mother in the modern West. The Devouring Mother wants toxic masculinity. She wants immature men who can be controlled, not ones who are fully grown and in contact with the deep masculine. And, of course, the gender wars serve to divide the public and keep them from uniting against the elites. When western politicians invoke the phrase toxic masculinity, that is what is really going on.
Now that we have very briefly filled in the historical background, we can start to unpack Boris Johnson’s accusation that Putin represents the toxic masculine.
We should note, however, that Johnson’s accusation was all part of the standard rhetoric that happens during wars. It’s a psychological necessity to character assassinate the other. The public must be made to hate the enemy. In the world wars, the enemy was often caricatured in animal form.
So, Johnson is just doing his job of character assassinating the enemy – Putin. But it’s the form of that character assassination that is revealing. Putin is not an animal, a barbarian, a Russki. He’s an exemplar of toxic masculinity. But we are told that toxic masculinity is endemic in the West too. So, this kind of propaganda is highly unusual. Wartime propaganda normally portrays the enemy as The Other while uniting the public in opposition. By using the phrase toxic masculinity, Johnson is putting Putin in the same group as many men in the West (from a propagandist and therefore, subconscious, point of view). You might say this was just a mistake on Johnson’s part and his rhetoric was accidental. But, actually, this reveals what is really going on at both the geopolitical level and the internal politics of the West.
Arnold Toynbee called this the internal and external proletariat. There are those on the outside who are excluded from the benefits of empire and also those on the inside. The internal proletariat found their identity with Trump and Brexit. They are the deplorables or, in archetypal terms, the rebellious children. With the Ukraine War, the external proletariat, aka the Global South, may be about to find its identity too. Johnson is, thus, correct to put them all in the same basket. But there’s the key: Putin is not one of the rebellious children. He is their leader. He is the missing father figure, the absent husband of The Devouring Mother. As we will see shortly, the West’s own propaganda had already revealed this.
Obviously, the Ukraine War is a geopolitical conflict. In realpolitk terms, it was surprising that Putin attacked not because he hadn’t been provoked but because it didn’t seem like a strong move. But as things are developing now, I think there’s something more important going on. Whether he intended it or not, Putin is leading the rise of the Eurasian bloc against the West. But, as I noted in a previous post, the West is The Devouring Mother in geopolitical terms. It exercises its power mostly through financial instruments which very much do devour their victims. The same financialisation that funnels wealth to the empire from the periphery has also created victims internally in the US. Just ask anybody who lost their shirt during the GFC. Thus, the rebellious children are both the internal and external proletariat; the ones who have been losing at the hands of the US empire. In this way, it makes symbolic sense to tar them both with the same brush of toxic masculinity as that has become a catchall phrase for everything that’s wrong with the world in western public discourse.
It also fits archetypally. Well before the Ukraine War, Putin had become something of a mythical manhood figure in western discourse.
Where things get more important, for both archetypal and geopolitical purposes, has been the fact that the Democrats in the US have been blaming Putin for everything that hasn’t gone their way ever since Trump got nominated as the Republican candidate way back in 2015. To take just the most prominent moments. Trump was accused by Hillary Clinton of being “Putin’s puppet” during one of the election debates. When Clinton lost, we were told it was because Putin had ordered the Russians to interfere in the election. We then had the whole Russiagate nonsense. Then we had “Putin’s inflation” and now we finally have Putin’s toxic masculinity. All of this is for the internal consumption of the acquiescent children. Boris Johnson’s comment this week was the latest but certainly won’t be the last.
In the subsconscious mind of the West, Putin has become the divorced husband of The Devouring Mother; the excuse for everything that has gone wrong in the last several years. He was directly responsible for the rise of the rebellious children (he got Trump elected). He was running the country through Trump when Trump was President. Now that Trump’s gone, Putin is responsible for inflation (which absolutely has nothing to do with the fact that The Fed now has a 9 trillion dollar balance sheet). Putin is responsible for everything that is wrong with the world. He is toxic masculinity. He is the patriarchy.
But here is the paradox. Within this mythical, subconscious framing, Putin is given godlike powers. He must be all powerful. How else could he rig the US elections? How else can he have Trump wrapped around his finger? How else could he cause inflation and empty supermarket shelves? But if Putin is all powerful, it follows that we, the West, must be powerless. That is, of course, how The Devouring Mother wants us to feel. She has been drilling powerlessness into the acquiescent children for decades. Having Putin as the absent, evil father figure works to keep the archetypal parade going internally in the West but at the expense of making him seem incredibly strong.
There is a key fact to bear in mind about the subconscious: it believes whatever you tell it. That’s the reason why even the most absurd propaganda works. The subconscious takes it at face value. This is why it’s dangerous to consume propaganda even if your conscious mind knows full well that it is propaganda. The subconscious mind does not deal in logic. It cannot process negations. If you tell the subconscious mind that you are powerless while the enemy is all powerful, it will believe you. You can use this property of the subconscious to empower yourself (affirmations are a good example) or you can use it to disempower yourself. For example, it’s a very common habit for people to tell themselves they can’t do something and accidentally prime their subconscious to ensure they really can’t do it.
The West has been using its propaganda machine to spread the message that Putin is powerful. People in the West believe it. But so will people in the rest of the world. They will start to see Putin as all powerful too. This is all happening at the exact same time that Putin and the Eurasian bloc are explicitly setting up an alternative to Western hegemony. That alternative will only succeed if enough countries are persuaded to use it and right now the West is doing its level best to encourage that outcome not just by our own stupidity and greed but through the subconscious communication of our propaganda. That propaganda will work to keep the acquiescent children in line. But it could very well persuade the Global South to become the rebellious children. In fact, I think that’s exactly what it will do.
Bearing in mind that all models are wrong but some are useful, here is what the archetypal model says will happen next. Putin wins the war in Ukraine cementing the perception of his powerfulness. In geopolitical terms, the Global South are the rebellious children. They will take up the new deal being offered by Eurasia due in large part to the confidence in that system that Putin can generate (part of the confidence will be that the Russian military will be the stick to go along with whatever carrots the system might offer). I hope I’m wrong, but it looks like the West will continue the spiral of depression, loss of confidence and mental illness that’s been gradually getting worse in recent years. Having told ourselves that Putin was all powerful while we are powerless, we will watch on helplessly as he goes from victory to victory. Our elites will promote this in order to hold onto the reins of power as long as they can.
The irony, of course, is that Putin has all the hallmarks of a “real man”. He is the embodiment of the Ruler archetype. Meanwhile, Trump was an actual manifestation of what the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement meant when it used the phrase toxic masculinity. He is the hyper-masculine. “Grab ‘em by the pu**y” is perhaps the ultimate catchphrase for uninitiated, immature masculinity. Because our culture has actively suppressed an understanding of deep masculinity, we can no longer tell the difference between the two.
There is an open question whether out of all of this the West can reclaim masculinity. I believe the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement was correct that this must be done from the ground up. But as much as we might like to will it into existence, it will probably follow from material conditions. If things go as badly for the West as I expect in the decades ahead, the conditions will be right and we will need masculinity once again, not as a moral imperative but as a practical one.