Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Patriarchy, nannies, and terrorism

I'm reading The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner right now and it's completely brilliant. Weiner is a reporter and foreign correspondent for NPR. In the Geography of Bliss, Weiner is trying to figure out what makes people happy. So to travels to happy places -- like Bhutan and Iceland (yes folks in Iceland apparently are incredibly happy) -- and unhappy places like Moldova -- and interviews people to find out what is making them happy or unhappy. He's a funny writer and the book is a nice road trip test for a lot of the happiness research that is starting to emerge.

But what caught my eye last night was a paragraph in his chapter on Qatar. In the book, Weiner travels to Qatar to test the theory -- does money buy happiness -- because apparently Qatar -- thanks to deep pools of gooey black liquid beneath their desert sands -- has lots and lots and lots of money.

But here's the 'graph that hit me:

A generation of Qatari children is being raised by nannies who don't speak their language and have no authority to discipline them. Boys are cherished and spoiled. "Once they reach thirteen or fourteen years old, the family doesn't try to discipline them anymore. They won't monitor their behavior in public. It's a living hell for the teachers, who often are foreigners with no real authority. They young men don't listen to anyone. Not even the police" says Abdulaziz.
--The Geography of Bliss, p. 135

Okay so here's what I want to pair that quote with -- Sam Harris, writing about the socio-economic backgrounds of the 9/11 terrorist. The genius of Harris is that he shows that ideas (particularly religious ones that shape behavior) have consequences (in the case of radical Islam or fundamentalist Christianity -- often disastrous consequences). So he's able to calls BS on liberal arguments that the 9/11 terrorists are probably just understandable products of poverty while also calling BS on conservative leg humping of religious fundamentalism. His reminder that the 9/11 terrorists were largely middle class and college educated is important:

While the religious divisions in our world are self-evident, many people still imagine that religious conflict is always caused by a lack of education, by poverty, or by politics. Yet the September 11th hijackers were college-educated, middle-class, and had no discernible experience of political oppression. They did, however, spend a remarkable amount of time at their local mosques talking about the depravity of infidels and about the pleasures that await martyrs in Paradise. How many more architects and mechanical engineers must hit the wall at 400 miles an hour before we admit to ourselves that jihadist violence is not merely a matter of education, poverty, or politics? The truth, astonishingly enough, is that in the year 2006 a person can have sufficient intellectual and material resources to build a nuclear bomb and still believe that he will get 72 virgins in Paradise.
--Sam Harris, November 2006 in The Huffington Post

With the important caveat that the 9/11 hijackers did not include any Qataris (they were primarily Saudi) -- does the 1st quote above start to explain the 2nd quote? Namely does a culture of male privilege -- in which even young boys have more power than adult women -- in which there are never any checks or balances or consequences or punishment for childhood misbehavior -- lead to adult suicide bombers? Are suicide bombings, from a psychological standpoint, merely childhood temper tantrums from adults with access to lethal technology?

And is it bigger than this -- namely isn't George W. Bush also the product of male privilege, nurse-maid parenting, and a lack of proper discipline in his life? Aren't most dictators across the globe also the direct consequence of the way that male privilege in wealthy households stunts proper moral development? Might the countless corrupt governments and senseless wars across the planet and throughout history be the product of a worldview of male gender superiority that results in boys not ever getting challenged in ways that humble them and lead them to acknowledge and work with "the other" -- whether that "other" is women, people of different races/ethnicities/classes, or our environment?

Look, just so we're clear, I think nannies are great. And in the U.S., nannies often enable women to return to the workplace which further amplifies gender equality. But in petrofamilydictatorships like Saudi Arabia and Qatar -- where wealth without work (certainly not for the royal family and all of their kin) is combined with pathological (and religiously enforced) patriarchy -- does contracting out parenting and undermining the power of women to discipline and raise respectful boys -- lead to adult man-cubs who just love to blow shit up?

3 comments:

Caleb Mardini said...

The Saudi men I know have to work and are not coddled. I think it's dangerous to over generalize.

It also sounds like the Wiener quote is a simple anecdote.

That being said, I can see how an over privileged and undisciplined lifestyle like the one described could lead to deranged behavior as you're indicating.

RFK Action Front said...

Hi Caleb!

Thanks for the comment. Yes, good call on not overgeneralizing about things.

What I like about the Weiner quote is that it directs our attention to the way that patriarchy (and patriarchy plus almost unlimited wealth like in the case of Qatar) impacts child rearing -- and furthermore, the way that such child rearing (in this case, without many limits on boys' behavior) -- might impacts one's choices in adulthood.

As you point out, I think my 2 examples are probably over-applied -- but I think Weiner and Harris give us some nourishing food for thought.

Cheers,
RFK Action Front

John Maszka said...

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I would really value your opinion and the opinion of your readers. The long-term goal of this project is to facilitate a more diplomatic American foreign policy in the years ahead.
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John Maszka