This begins with me, with my own assumptions, but those assumptions aren’t unique to me. I picked them up in proximity to an influential moment in feminist thought that radically reinterpreted the Freudian Oedipal Complex without actually abandoning it. Even to the extent that I absorbed a lot of the anti-psychoanalytic criticisms of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, I nonetheless remained strangely entrenched in some anti-patriarchal feminist frames that depended upon the psychoanalytic frame. Frustrating, but also useful right now as I revisit the whole mess with mature eyes.
There are patriarchal structures to be found, they can be toxic, and they need to be addressed, too, but the most insidious forms of male authority right now are fraternal and premised in the neutralization of paternity. The death of the father is a fantasy that enables men to conceive of themselves as members of a male brotherhood (and even welcome non-male members if they are properly masculinized), rather than being a real threat to contemporary androsupremacy (I’m sorry, I know it is an awful word; I’ll try to find a better one). The death of the father symbolically affirms male-to-male fraternity and enables them to engage in a kind of biased communalism through which they take on the responsibility of managing their communities, up to and including the violent expansion of them.
When we look at male initiatory societies around the world, we see a common pattern. Boys are removed from their families and set into situations where their bonds as clansmen supersedes their duties to wives and children. Various forms of policing are also born in this community of brothers, some more or less intelligible in contemporary terms.
The brotherhood thinks of its resources as communal and the regulation of those resources becomes paramount. There really does seem to be some strange tipping point in deep human history around this, one centered around male hunting societies turning into centers of social control, the instrumentalization of the hunt being applied to other human beings. Women, first and foremost, because human life is the basis of reproducing societies. The way in which women as wives are regularly identified with prey animals and demonized as subversive agents of rival communities reappears fairly frequently.
This process also sets in motion the formation of increasingly binary gender categories, a set of categories founded in the continuance of exploitation. Quite personally, it seems to be one of the points along which the exclusion of transwomen (here used very broadly) becomes foundational. The nature of that exclusion varies, is more or less violent, but nonetheless common. The reason for that exclusion should be clear enough, because a transwoman affirms an immediate subjective connection with women that runs counter to the fundamental instrumentalization of them.
I suspect, too, that a specific form of fraternalism animates white supremacy. The loathsome stereotypes about passive Jewish men and savage black men have as their common axis a conviction about how toxic femininity is. The exclusion of people with disability? That, too, sits on a a form of fraterarchy that makes people into resources, sources of wealth, which people suffering from various forms of debility produce in smaller amounts.
It is fairly easy to link certain durable, dynamic, and deadly forms of imperialism with this pattern, but plenty of virtuous notions like citizenship, professionalism, and mutual aid are troubled by inheritances from this fraternalism. While many of these have and will be co-opted by toxic fraternity, I don’t think they all are. Some that have been turned toward toxic ends are capable of rehabilitation, of correction. To do any of that, preserve or redeem, we need a better understanding of how it goes wrong.
Freud seemed to have come very close to getting things right by identifying the centrality of the father’s death in our imagination, but he and those who follow him misdiagnose and generalize it. I suspect Freud’s mistake was indicative of his own social position, his own self-consciousness as a Jewish man, but I’ll need to work a little toward that, because that touches on how so many ethnic stereotypes often focus on painting their familial relations as toxic, thereby opening them to dissolution by the fraterarchal imperium. Dimly, I am recalling some of the work of Daniel Boyarin, I think, many years ago which may be a thing to look at.
This feels like something big, a project I am not even capable of fully realizing. Just winding this up, small little ideas present themselves to me that seem to lead way out into the deep woods. Like the idea of a romantic partner, for example, exists in dialogue and counterpoint to this fraterarchy, operating within the space of individuals broken out of family units. It’s a moment of rejoining these fraternal folks into a more familial frame. The tendency of romances to be marked as especially feminine, and often get presented in tragic light, tells us something about how fraterarchy attempts to neutralize its rivals.
Maybe, too, something to be said about providing a better model for what some folks call kyriarchy? Or, it’s always possible I’m making too big a deal of my personal trajectory, making a mountain because I’ve been huddled under a molehill too long. I guess no way but forward, though, because putting the idea to the test is the only way to figure that out.