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Humanity’s Inhumanity to Humanity

October 14, 2010

There is an interesting theme running through this essay by Jonathan McCalmont analyzing the recent movie (and critic’s darling), “Winter’s Bone.” The movie dramatizes–among other things–how women in the American Ozarks can be complicit in their own oppression at the hands of misogynistic men. And McCalmont is curious why women (and others–all of us, really) participate in our own subjugation that way. Why do we take and even perpetuate the abuse so many of us are subject to?

McCalmont uses as his jumping off point this quote by the early 20th century psychoanalyst, Wilhelm Reich:

The astonishing thing is not that some people steal or that others occasionally go out on strike, but rather that all those who are starving do not steal as a regular practice, and all those who are exploited are not continually out on strike: after centuries of exploitation, why do people still tolerate being humiliated and enslaved, to such a point, indeed, that they actually want humiliation and slavery not only for others but for themselves?

And then McCalmont draws into the conversation the truly visionary and provocative New Testament scholar (from Harvard), Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza, who has developed a concept of how God asserts order in human affairs. She calls it “Kyriarchy” after the Greek word for “Lord” or “Master”–a word traditionally used in many Christian prayers. As McCalmont explains:

This concept, designed to clear some of the clutter from the road to clarity, reflects the fact that society is far more complex than a simple dichotomy of power between men and women.  In truth, society is structured by an ever-changing swarm of inequalities that reflects the dynamic nature of our civilisation.  Yes, a man may well have an easier time rising to the top than a woman but at the same time a lesbian woman may well have an easier time of it than a trans man and a black man may lead a harder life than an asian woman while a one-legged Baha’i woman may find doors opening to her that have previously been shut in the face of a HIV+ Catholic.  Humanity’s inhumanity to Humanity takes myriad forms.  We are ruled not by a Patriarchal father but by a Kyriarchal lord and the shape of that lord is forever changing.

Interesting, right? Is Schussler-Fiorenza arguing that God has a hand in “humanity’s inhumanity to humanity”? That our Lord’s created order determines that we will oppress one another in all these myriad and constantly changing ways? I’m not sure. This I do know: I want to go see “Winter’s Bone.”

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