Do Not Let Me Hear Of The Wisdom Of Old Men

Donald Trump’s North Korea tweet was obvious enough that the instant responses to it included the word “dick-measuring” and the thought that he probably can’t find the button. It is becoming more and more obvious that he is indeed the WYSIWYG president. “There is no wizard behind the curtain — just an old, angry, obnoxiously ignorant man.”

The world is changing fast – away from the assumed preference for old white men. Even when their privilege was intact, within their value system they had a lot to be angry about. First, the physical decline. As we get older, it becomes more difficult to keep weight off, more difficult to maintain muscle tone. Joints begin to ache. Men’s sexual abilities decline starting at around age 20. There’s some cognitive decline; reflexes slow down.

Additionally, society keeps changing. People of color, women, people whose sexuality differs from cis-het all are being legitimated. Some are taking prominent jobs away from their rightful owners, those cis-het white men.

Fox News is the network for those old white men, run by old white men. Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch knew what old white men want because it’s what they want. Leggy blond women who know their place. News of how those non-white-men are doing a bad job and worse. People to hate, like that uppity Hillary Clinton.

Sex may be the vehicle, but harassing women is primarily about power. Let me give a couple of examples from my life.

When I came to Los Alamos, I had mixed feelings. My job as a technical writer was below my educational level, but it paid a third again more than a similar job I had before I got there. Because of my degrees, I was a staff member, then the title for any technical person not in management.

Back in the sixties, it was expected that staff members would attend The Tuesday morning colloquia. “Space Flight To Mars” particularly intrigued me. It was given by Wright Langham, the head of the health division. He had worked in the Manhattan Project and was internationally known in the field of health physics.

It was the beginning of manned spaceflight. The Laboratory was working on nuclear rocket engines for trips to Mars. I grew up loving science fiction and was enthusiastic about spaceflight, dampened somewhat by my recognition all the astronauts were middle-aged men.

There was a fair bit about radiation, how long the flight might take, the kinds of orbits and propulsion that might be needed. And then Langham talked about the crew. Psychological factors would be important on the long trip. And women would be included. I perked up. “Of course, their duties would be, um…” The smirk on the speaker’s face and the sniggering in the audience said it all.

I was well aware of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and wrote a memo to Los Alamos’s director, Norris Bradbury. I got a memo back telling me that the speaker was a famous and respected man and there was nothing wrong with what he said. I was marked as a troublemaker.

That was the end of my interest in space flight. Yes, women eventually were allowed to be astronauts, but now what I see is gazillionaire men parading their egos across the sky.

A few years later, I was in a job (still at the Laboratory) in which I was essentially subordinate to the group secretary. I was arguing with her. The group leader, another Manhattan Project alumnus, came out of his office, looked me up and down and commented on the transparency of a crocheted vest I ws wearing. His tone was not complimentary. He was clearly putting me in my place.

Those guys were middle-aged. The time of their Manhattan Project successes was passing, and arms control was beginning to reverse the arms race. So they needed someone to put down.


Do not let me hear

Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,

Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,

Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.

The only wisdom we can hope to acquire

Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.

T. S. Eliot, East Coker


Pictures of presidential staff and appointees have changed markedly from the Obama years. The overwhelming color is white in face and hair, and the gender is male, like the old man who is President. His Twitter feed reflects his television watching habits – the favorites of angry old men. He reassures himself of the size of his button and, further, his intellect and stability – all those things that old men feel they are losing.

It’s not just old men who do these things. But the power dynamic shows up clearly in the parallel between older men’s decline and the changing societal situation.

In the situations now finally being faced in the entertainment industry and others, sex can be demanded because of the power imbalance. In order to make a lasting change, those power imbalances must be corrected. Removing the offenders is the first part; the laws on harassment must be enforced, and more women must take their place in the power structures.


Top photo is Trump’s initial cabinet, January 2017.


Cross-posted to Balloon Juice.

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