Monthly Archives: March 2020

Lessons from Thule: Living in a nonviolent female-led Utopia


The interesting part of literature like utopian stories and sociological science fiction is that it gives you a chance to explore how a world with other basic constants would look like. For that reason I’ve always been a fan of Ursula Le Guins sociological scifi stories, like ‘Planet of Exiles’, ‘the Word for world is forest’, and ‘the Telling’. (Yeah, I know, canon says I should like ‘the dispossessed’ and ‘the left hand of darkness’, but those aren’t my favourites personally, especially not when reading pleasure is in-calculated) It helps us to look at our own culture and question the unquestioned, to help us see the water we’re swimming in as fishes. Human societies can take completely different and sometimes opposite things for granted, which is why stories in which completely other things are taken as self-evident are important. No culture is ever neutral, no person is an objective observer untainted by bias.

Our own worldview itself, as well as all of our culture is just constructed over time, and usually more or less an accident of history. Virtually nothing of our culture is completely ‘an imperative of the laws of nature’. There are endless possibilities of how it could have ended up completely differently. We could have a high society without wheels (like the Inca empire), we could have a society completely integrated into nature (like a lot of rainforest tribes), a world where the unhealthy male gaze is obsessed with the male body instead of the female body (like the old Greeks), a culture where pink is the colour for boys and blue the colour for girls (which existed not that long ago) and so on…

The Beckman, 1974 (picture: wikipedia)

Just looking at cultures around the world can give us a lot of variety in how things could be different, but there are way much more possibilities than we find actualised around us in this era. And that’s why we need  utopian and dystopian fiction as a way of exploring what could be. And all of that is just one of the reasons that I like -among many other pieces of fiction- Thea Beckmans Thule trilogy: she gives us insight into a possible world where humans have abolished violence, and made women the natural leaders of society. That seems to be a rather rare combination, even in fiction. I cannot remember having read a story about a combination of a friendly culture based on respect for every life and a strong matriarchy, but it is fascinating still.

 

See also in this series: and Lessons from Thule: A description of Thulene and Badener society

The society of Thule in the books is based on what they consider to be ‘female values’ of compassion, caring for all life, balance and intuition. I have no idea if these ideas are indeed more female than male, but apart from the imbalances in the reversal of gender roles (especially in book 1) I’d say there aren’t that many aspects that could be seen as unhealthy in a damaging way in their culture. The friendly and non-violent culture will be for another post, but as a Christian I can also add that the Thulenes, while ‘Pagans’ as the Badeners call them with their almost nonreligious reverence of Mother Earth, are much closer to living out the teachings of Christ and the Kingdom of God than the supposedly Christian Badeners, who have retained a ‘mutilated’ form of Christianity and use religion for oppression as the first book calls it.

The Thulenes do have love for their neighbour, love for the least, they are responsible for all of creation and almost have a world where ‘the lion can sleep next to the lamb’ (or the Badener next to the bear at least, to the astonishment of Kilian). And much more ‘love your enemy’ than most historical Christian societies. So in terms of ‘positive values’ the Thulenes actually live out the important rules of all major religions: don’t kill, don’t hate, respect others, don’t take what isn’t yours, be honest,… And those are rooted I respect and love for all life, a form of encompassing pro-life philosophy: All lives matter, human and non-human, and should be treated well.

This way of life has become deeply ingrained throughout the centuries that have passed since the arrival of Sigrid Helgadottir in Thule. The Thulenes don’t really know much male violence after centuries of female nonviolent caring-for-all-life dominance. The idea of men fighting is seen as almost obscene, sexual harassment is a taboo, and men don’t ever get the chance to become leaders. So there is nothing rational to fear, for them there are no examples of what can go wrong with men in leadership it is just assumed it will go wrong.
The justification of those views of men also lies in ‘the Great Catastrophe’, World War III; when men almost destroyed the planet and all life on it. Which is a clear sign that men are not to be trusted.

Once, an unthinkably long time ago, Kimora had told him, things had been different: In spite of their greater talents, sensitiveness, and importance women didn’t have power. Men had led the world, which hadn’t really worked out. Century after century injustice, cruelty and selfishness had ruled, and century after century rivers of blood had flowed. People had hated each other and didn’t know what to come up with to harm each other as much as possible. It had been dark times and the inevitable happened, and it ended badly. (Children of Mother Earth, p. 20)

The more extreme parts of the ‘only women can have leadership’ ideas in Thule are not completely rooted in reality, but also shrouded in myth. The Great Catastrophe has become a myth about the destructiveness of men, and the Konega and her Council of Women just like the situation as it is, even though it is, as her husband calls it, a ‘soft oppression’ for men, for half of the population.

The funny thing is that the Badeners, who indeed provide an example of a male-led culture that rather seems to prove the myth of how dangerous it is to have male leadership, are the catalyst to end the imbalance of the ‘soft oppression’: the help of Konega-husband Rajo and Konega-son Christian and other men, even in positions of responsibility and leaders, is needed to save Thule from this danger. It is only the extreme situations that give Rajo and Christian the courage to stand against the -indeed extremely conservative- Council of women. The Council doesn’t want things to change, and like it as it is, which is dangerous in situations when crisis management is needed, as was the case when the Konega had to deal with the Badeners while the rest of the Council of Women was back to their own districts, and she had to take measures that were bordering on taboo to prevent even worse.

The second and third book have lost the tension of the ‘soft oppression’, and have less restrictions for men. But it’s still only a few men at the women Council (Christian the Konega-son and Rajo her husband in book 2) against 26 women or so. Which is an enormous step forward that is seen as enough.

Anyone who is shocked by that idea, 2 men on almost 30 people being enough equality; must think of the inverse situations in our worlds that are -both by men and women- also seen as sufficient. I think Thea Beckman really intends the (young) reader to think about that too.

And unlike our world (and the Badener empire, where most people are oppressed and in dire circumstances)) the ‘soft oppression’ is not killing people and leading to abuse and violence, just keeping people from higher positions. Which I certainly would prefer over the world we have now. I’d rather be a man without power -I don’t have much power myself anyway personally with the place I occupy as a teacher- in a female-led world where literally every life matters (human, animal, plant) and I know my life is safe and people will be friendly to each other nonetheless than living in a world where my own sex is ruling and screwing it up as we so often see in our world.

I have no idea how a female-led world would look like in the real world. There probably are as many possibilities as with a male-led world, some healthy and other more dystopian and dehumanising than the old Spartan polis. But fiction gives us ideas of what could be, and I must confess that the land of Thule is one I would very much like to live in, even as a man, for a lot of reasons (some of which will appear in following posts)…

And sometimes we need to open up our mind for new possibilities!

What do you think?

Peace

Bram

Boys do cry, according to Genesis


‘Sorrowing old man’ by Vincent Van Gogh (public domain)

Yes, I know that according to the Cure, boys don’t cry, but according to Genesis they certainly do cry. Not just boys, but grown men even! I’m not really speaking of the band here though, but of the ancient book that opens the collection of holy scripture that is commonly called the Bible. It is also a common sentiment in some more macho cultures (not all though): boys don’t cry, men don’t show their feelings. Men don’t show affection even often.

Which is a quite stupid and unhealthy thing for boys and men. Not being able to show emotions, never even learning how to understand your own emotions, and acting like they don’t exist is just a recipe for disaster in personal relationships and for general unrecognized unhappiness.

How easily people take things for granted because they are part of their culture… I know from stories in other times and cultures that there are places as well it is obvious that men do weep, show feelings extravagantly, and are affectionate with each other. Most Mediterranean and Mid-Eastern cultures for example, macho as they are, have no problem with weeping men and men being affectionate.
And that seems to have been the case from very early on in biblical times even. I found an interesting example of that when I was reading parts of the book of Genesis on the patriarchs lately I noticed that the culture of Abraham and Jacob, which is completely different from my own culture and any current culture I know of, doesn’t have any problem with men weeping, or showing emotions and affection. Jacob himself is very emotional when he meets Laban for example, as well as rather affectionate with embraces and kisses towards Laban; a family member that he has never seen before:

(Let’s use the KJV for dramatic effect)

Genesis 29:10 And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. 11 And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept. 12 And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s brother, and that he was Rebekah’s son: and she ran and told her father. 13 And it came to pass, when Laban heard the tidings of Jacob his sister’s son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house. And he told Laban all these things. (KJV)

A few chapters and I think 20 years later he repeats the same emotional and affectionate thing with his brother Esua, who tried to kill him just a few chapters (and also some 20 years) before:

Genesis 33:1 And Jacob lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, Esau came, and with him four hundred men.(…) 4 And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept. (KJV)

Same for example with Joseph and his brothers later on, who even weeps so loud that it’s heard outside:

Genesis 45: 1 Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren. And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard.
(…) 
14 And he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked with him. (KJV)

Now, what does that mean? Apart from being a description of a culture in which men express their feelings and are rather affectionate with each other it doesn’t mean’Boys don’t cry’ is a stupid idea, unsupported by the bible and not healthy for men. A lot of men in the bible (and Mediterranean cultures) are much more emotional and affective, with Jacob and Jesus as examples. much more than that in some cultures this is normal and ‘boys don’t cry’ would be abnormal and alien.
It’s not because something is in the bible that it should be emulated, and the time and culture of the patriarchs is certainly full of things we shouldn’t emulate. Abraham lied, Lot wanted to give his daughters to a gang of rapists, Jacob cheated on everyone who came close to him except for his wives, but then again having four wives (or 2 wives and 2 concubines that are slaves of your actual wives) isn’t a very good idea either.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Jesus_Wept_(Jésus_pleura)_-_James_Tissot

Jacques Joseph Tissot, detail from ‘Jesus wept’ (public domain)

But there are better examples here that show that in biblical times it was normal for men to cry.
Jesus Himself, the Incarnate Christ, cried according to the shortest verse in the entire bible in most English bibles. (Jesus wept – John 11:35) Jesus is weeping here for the death of His friend Lazarus, even though He knows that Lazarus will be raised from the dead by a miracle later that day. But He is also said elsewhere to be weeping for Jerusalem. Just as other men weep and cry all over the bible.

Note that for the second part of where Jacob was different from modern male gender patterns we have also New Testament examples. Men are very affectionate with each other in the New Testament, which includes kisses too. Jesus is betrayed with a kiss, but it’s also very clear that the first Christians greeted each other with a kiss. ‘Greet each other with a holy kiss’ is a command we find at the end of a lot of Pauline letters, but one that few ever quote.

(Although the midst of the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic [wold-o-meters link for current state of the whole thing] might not be the best moment to tell people to kiss each other more though.. But you should get the principle.)

And even with the most careful hermeneutics it should be clear that whatever the word ‘biblical’ means, a ‘Boys don’t cry’ mentality certainly isn’t that. The bible shows us a lot of cultures in which men are emotional, and show their tears (also tears of joy) and affectionate with each other. Just as was and is common in a lot of other cultures throughout the ages. Which is the normal and healthy thing.

But as a Christian I think it’s quite obvious to say that if God Incarnate Himself didn’t have a ‘boys don’t cry’ attitude, and wept regularly, that it should be clear that such a mentality cannot be defended at all.

It’s also clear that the whole ‘boys don’t cry’ mentality and everything attached to it isn’t healthy at all, so maybe we best just get rid of it… It’s just silly internalized misandry and taking away a part of your humanity. All people have emotions. It’s not bad for boys and men to cry, nor to be affectionate.

What do you think

peace

Bram