The “Feminine Mistake” (with apologies to Betty Friedan)

It is important to recognize a kind of confusion that can come when first encountering the concept of Cultural Maturity. It can have people either be attracted to the notion for wholly wrong reasons, or dismiss the concept because they assume it is related to ideas that in fact Cultural Maturity explicitly challenges.

This confusion has it roots in the fact that Cultural Maturity’s picture of the tasks ahead has to do not just with technological advancement, but also with changes of a more psychological/social sort. More directly, there is how Cultural Maturity’s picture of the kind of understanding needed for the tasks ahead is specifically integrative: It gives credence not just to the more rational, right-hand, difference-emphasizing—we could say “archetypally masculine”—aspects of cognition, but also to aspects of a more creatively-germinal, left-hand, connectedness-emphasizing—we could say “archetypally feminine” sort.

Because of this, people can at first confuse culturally mature perspective with ideological views that give the archetypally feminine special significance. More spiritual, romantic, liberal/humanistic, or philosophically idealist interpretations all in some way reflect this kind of thinking. With spiritual interpretations, left-hand truth becomes final truth. With romantic (along with related liberal and humanistic) interpretations, while right-hand sensibilities may be strongly present, the person feels primary identification with truth’s left-hand. With philosophically idealist interpretations, left-hand sensibility is assumed to drive more right-hand experience, and thus ultimately defines truth.

In contrast, with culturally mature perspective left-hand and right-hand sensibilities, rather than themselves defining truth, represent systemic aspects (and aspects of ultimately equal significance). I often use a box-of-crayons image to represent culturally mature systemic perspective. Using this image, left-hand and right-hand sensibilities each become “crayons” in the larger systemic “box.” Culturally mature perspective affirms the importance of including archetypally feminine sensibilities in how we think, but it makes explicit that doing so with the needed sophistication is wholly different from giving such sensibilities special status. In the end, Cultural Maturity’s integrative picture has nothing more in common with views that do so than it does with the most extreme of right-hand ideologies.

We can encounter a related kind of confusion with adherents of systems thinking. Most obviously, culturally mature systemic perspective challenges the mechanistic—archetypally mascultine—assumption of traditional engineering models. But it just as much challenges more popular systemic thinking that identifies with connectedness—with the archetypally feminine—and reduces complexity to a naïve wholism. Culturally Mature systemic perspective differs fundamentally from either of these more common ways of coming at systemic understanding.

Ways we use language can provide further insight into this “feminine mistake” sort of confusion and help alert us to when it might be present. For example, while it is accurate to say that Cultural Maturity’s “new common sense” is in the end about acting wisely, this is true only if we take considerable care with how we use the word “wisdom.” In everyday usage, wisdom is most often not really a “bridging” notion—or if it does bridge, it does so in a way that is far from balanced, and thus ultimately trivial. We recognize this limited picture of wisdom in the way people are more likely to associate statements of a spiritual sort with wisdom than observations that have more scientific origins. If truth’s left hand doesn’t get the last word, it certainly gets the greatest attention. Culturally mature wisdom is wisdom of a more gritty sort. This more gritty kind of wisdom is at the least a more aware sort of wisdom—and thus aware of harsh realities. But it is also a more explicitly whole-box-of-crayons sort of wisdom, with all crayons—from the most poetic to the most hard-nosed—having influence.

It is important to appreciate how this kind of confusion can come into play up front—before delving into Cultural Maturity’s particulars. Without this recognition, more right-hand sorts become vulnerable to dismissing the concept of Cultural Maturity out of hand. And more left-hand sorts may wholly miss what is ultimately significant about the concept (and be sorely disappointed when they eventually find out).