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Andrew Kimbrell takes on machismo

by Keith Purtell

Andrew Kimbrell

Andrew Kimbrell

Some of the ideas Andrew Kimbrell discusses in “The Masculine Mystique” may be more important than anything else here except synchronicity.

One is the concept of enclosure. Kimbrell defines enclosure as the “...historical process by which a people are separated from their ancestral work and land...” The process began in Europe in about 1600 a.d., Kimbrell says. “The land-enclosure phenomenon is not a mere historic curiosity. It has played a key role in shaping modern life. Whether practiced in late-medieval Europe or late-twentieth-century South American, enclosure caused the most traumatic changes in the lives of working men and their families in modern history. It shattered traditional communities, created untold millions of economic refugees, and disrupted virtually every element of the lives of the people on whom it descended.”

Kimbrell goes on to describe the historical backdrop against which this drama was first played out:

“For centuries during the Middle Ages the village commons were the primary social units in England. In this system the peasantry comprised a village community of shareholders who utilized the majority of land on a collective basis. The commons system varied in each particular area of England, but it generally involved peasants pooling their individual holdings into open fields that were jointly cultivated. ...cynical appropriation of village commons began... In the early decades of enclosure wealthy landowners threw up fences around the formerly commonly owned fields, permanently cutting off tens of thousands of peasants from the land their families had used for hundreds of years. ...agricultural land in the village was allowed to be bought up by the lords and large landowners, who could then claim all rights to the common meadows and pastures. The peasants and serfs were left without land or subsistence.”

When families were stripped of their auxiliary resources, men were left with no social function but to become wage earners. They lost their independence. Meanwhile, large landowners were becoming the new financial elite.

“...millions of peasants dislodged from the commons were forced by circumstance to migrate to the newly industrialized cities. ...became the cheap and available labor required for the new mills and factories of the Industrial Revolution. They no longer worked in the interests of the community, or for family, or religious duty, but rather for wages that barely allowed for survival. Event parents and children were separated as each member sought some location where an employer would buy his or her labor.”

In sections titled “The Machine Man,” “The Competition Man,” “The Profit Man” and “The Power Man,” Kimbrell discusses the “isolation, hostility and suspicion” bred by such male stereotypes. In chapters about husbandry, father policy and mentoring, Kimbrell proposes alternatives to the destructive myth of machismo.

“The Masculine Mystique” even includes a nice bit of investigative reporting: Kimbrell reveals widespread abuse of Ritalin as a means of drugging boys who have no physical medical problem. He suggests that many children diagnosed with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are actually suffering from emotional problems brought on by the disintegration of the family unit.

Anyone who thinks current standards of male behavior sprang from innate male character will likely be surprised to see how Kimbrell reveals the influence of unmoderated industrialism. Much more than a book about men liberating themselves from stereotypes, “The Masculine Mystique” points to a saner lifestyle.