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What if we didn't value dominance?
I asked that question, rhetorically, in some other blog that I'm too lazy to look up. The question came back to me in a roundabout way today because of a dress. The dress I'm wearing today is very pretty but it's definitely shorter than I typically wear. My legs almost never see this much daylight, and even my farmer's tan is at risk of being evenly burned. So, when I found that I was a little anxious getting out of the car to take the short walk to the coffeehouse, I decided to explore where that feeling was coming from.
Answers were not hard to find. First, I found a fear of attention that was a little too positive, if you know what I mean. I have received the message that if you dress attractively, and with less fabric obstruction, then you are making yourself a target for attack. Then the flip side fear revealed itself. What if I wasn't attractive enough to be wearing a dress that revealed so much of my socially offensive body? The Group would surely turn against me for my inferior legs and flabby arms... It's amazing what you find in your head when you look inside it. And once I saw all these feelings, they lost their power. Not only are they not reflective of the over-arching reality, but screw those guys, anyway.
There's a great meme going 'round the internet that goes...
How to get a bikini body:
1. Get a bikini.
2. Put it on your body.
The truth is, if I saw someone of lesser cheekbones and wider girth wearing this same dress, I wouldn't give a rat's ass about her supposed flaws - they wouldn't even register. I'd probably stop her to say what a lovely dress it was and how great she looked. Despite all the messaging from society and all your fears from high school, most people don't care. They don't have the emotional reserves to judge you because they're too busy worrying what other people will think of them.
This is not to say that there aren't people who judge you and try to condemn you and bully you. I'm saying that it's just not so many as you think. And I think that those who do it are acting on that social value I mentioned before: dominance. Everything about our society is infused with this idea of ranking, and specifically the rank of Number 1. It used to be about which class you belonged to - peasantry, gentry, royalty. Unless you were the king, there was always someone better than you (hence, the phrase "your betters"). And when the king was reminded that even he was below Him, suddenly royalty were divinely chosen and referred to with the royal "we" because, if he couldn't be above God, he was going to share the top of the platform with Him.
I can't say I know enough of the subtle evolution of this idea through history - perhaps it was meritocracy itself - but as the class system started to fall away, society kept up this rationale for dominance. The common man had to at least be the best at something: the smartest, the strongest, the fastest. Competition for dominance... so you can feel secure, free even... For women, whose security evolved to mean something provided for her by a husband instead of derived from a solid marital partnership - or from that shocking notion of her own professional efforts - the competition became focused on her rank in beauty. The prettiest girl gets the richest husband and is, thus, the most secure. The most happy. Sure. We've come a long way, but we are not a lot closer to freeing ourselves from this mentality.
And can we just take a moment to recognize how dumb is the objectification of women? Reducing women to mere objects is like trying to quench your thirst with diet coke. It get's your mouth wet, but it doesn't hydrate your body. It over-stimulates you so that you don't have adequate time to get all the nutrients you need - in this case, the emotional nutrition of a healthy relationship. Oh, and it's full of aspartame which is so poisonous they advise pregnant women not to drink it... and it actually causes you to crave more sugar because your body recognizes that you've tricked it with empty calories and withheld promised sweetness.
So, yeah... objectification is dumb and poisonous.
The notion of not thinking that The Best is the best is so contrary to everything we've been taught that it's hard to even contemplate. What would society look like? What if there was no value in being the richest? Would the environment be as devastated, workers as exploited? What if we didn't care who wore it better? Could we all but eliminate the market for plastic surgery? And anti-depressants? What if we didn't care which sports team had gone undefeated?
As I listen to the man with the guitar singing outside, I
wonder how much happier would we all be if we didn't care who was the
best singer and just encouraged everyone to sing?
Even when we try to "value" the non-winners in our society, we still frame it by rank. It's okay that this kid is too scrawny to be on the football team because he's a whiz at math. As in, he's smarter than other people - he's better than other people at something. What if he isn't good at math? What if this kid really isn't good at anything? He's not a genius, he's not an athlete, he's not creative. The kind message is that he's still part of society and we can put up with his existence in a magnanimous sort of way. But the full message is that he has no real value to society and the rest of us with better scores in whatever are just tolerating him. In fact, we're sacrificing ourselves in some way - our time or money or whatever - to take care of him. And that increases our superiority.
But people are afraid of this specter of mediocrity. People actually argue against raising minimum wage, for example, because they are afraid that if people have enough to survive then they will become complacent and never strive to better themselves, and we would all be doomed. Doooomed, people! This is nonsense. This is some kind of throwback to a primitive state of the world. Then, it would be a problem if no one in your tribe felt like putting the work in to farm or hunt. If they all got fat and lazy they would be easy pickins for that lion or that war-mongering tribe over the hill. Everyone had to work because it was life or death, not just for the slacker, but for the whole tribe. But that isn't the world we live in now.
So... the origin of the work ethic is understandable, and even of the value of superiority and dominance, because strength and survival were so intertwined. And later, the need to justify the rights and privileges being demanded by the lesser members of society would obviously continue the tendency towards proving some type of comparative superiority. Or at least potential for superiority. But nowadays, we need to step back and see this supposed value for what it is: Insecurity.
And I am so sick of this notion of American Exceptionalism... It's just another excuse to justify some kind of dominance or other. I do believe that the ideas upon which America was founded are exceptional to human history. That is because the foundational concept of this country is that all human beings are equal to all others, even those who happened to be born in other countries. There is nothing different in American DNA that would justify our dominance over any other person or country. We are all the same monsters and all the same angels and we have all the same human rights.
What if, instead of valuing dominance, we valued excellence? And excellence not because it makes one superior but because it could be the best path to make one happy and fulfilled. Competing to win leaves you vulnerable to unhappiness if others succeed. Competing to be excellent leaves you satisfied knowing you have achieved the best you are capable of achieving, no matter which place you finish in. An excellent human being does not provoke or suppress others. An excellent human being encourages others to be excellent. And that is the greatest value for all of us.
So, I charge you now to live by these great and simple words of wisdom given to us by Wyld Stallyns:
"Be excellent to each other."
Oh, and, "party on, dudes."