Numen, Old Men excerpted at Reality Sandwich

A section focused on David Deida excerpted at Reality Sandwich:

In my new book Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy (Equinox Publishing) I take a critical look at men and spirituality. Since the early 1990s there have been various waves of interest in what is often described as “masculine spirituality.” While diverse, a commonality among these interests has been a concern that spirituality has become too feminine, and that men’s experiences of the spiritual are being marginalized. Masculine spirituality is therefore about promoting what it perceives to be authentic masculine characteristics within a spiritual context.

By examining the nature of these characteristics, Numen, Old Men argues that masculine spirituality is little more than a thinly veiled patriarchal spirituality. The mythopoetic, evangelical, and to a lesser extent Catholic men’s movements all promote a patriarchal spirituality by appealing to neo-Jungian archetypes of a combative and oppressive nature, or understanding men’s role as biblically ordained leader of the family. Numen, Old Men then examines integral spirituality which aims to honour and transcend both the masculine and feminine, but which privileges the former to the extent where it becomes another masculine spirituality, with all its inherent patriarchal problems. Gay spirituality is then offered as a form of masculine spirituality which to a large degree resists patriarchal tendencies, suggesting a queering of spirituality could be useful for all men, both gay and straight.

In the following edited excerpt I look at how Ken Wilber’s brand of integral spirituality plays out in the writings of another author, David Deida, who is a founding member of Integral Institute. Deida is selected not because he develops Wilber’s thoughts in any particular way, but because he communicates them in a more distilled fashion, free from the density and scholastic aspirations of Wilber’s writing. In a sense, Deida is the “real face” of integral thought. He does not employ any Wilberian theory as such in his books, but he does use notions of masculine and feminine in much the same way. Should anyone be in doubt of his feelings, Deida writes in one essay that Wilber is the most beautiful philosopher of our time who authenticates genius and is glorious in almost every way.

The title of his most popular book says a lot: The Way of the Superior Man: A Spiritual Guide to Mastering the Challenges of Women, Work and Sexual Desire. Wilber’s blurb on the back cover, returning the above compliment, says the book is “a guide for the noncastrated male. . . . Few are the books that discuss strong sexuality within strong spirituality, instead of tepid sexuality diluted by a mediocre spiritual stance.” The muscular motivational speaker, Tony Robbins, is also quoted on the cover, praising the book for helping men “fulfil their true purpose and to be authentically masculine.” Language such as the “noncastrated male,” “strong,” and “authentically masculine” immediately reminds one of mythopoetic literature, and Deida continues in this vein.

Deida sets up the masculine and feminine as polar in the same way as Wilber and the mythopoets: “sexual attraction is based on sexual polarity, which is the force of passion that arcs between masculine and feminine.” Deida claims people with a masculine sexual essence are driven by mission and “unless you discover this deep purpose and live it fully, your life will feel empty to the core.” People with a feminine sexual essence, however professionally successful, “won’t be fulfilled unless love is flowing fully in your family or intimate life.”

Deida makes the appropriate noises about disconnecting sex and gender, noting that the masculine essence can belong to a woman, and vice versa, but he is clearly talking about men, or as Wilber says, “the noncastrated male.” Similarly, Deida claims to be starting from a position of respect, where all genders and sexual orientations are treated as equals, moving into a new stage of sexual awareness, rather than reverting back to an old one. But repeatedly Deida makes statements which make it difficult to interpret his thoughts on gender as being anything other than a step backwards, another example of a supposedly integral presentation of gender falling foul of the pre/trans fallacy.

Throughout The Way of the Superior Man Deida repeatedly uses the phrase “your woman” which immediately sends first-tier alarm bells ringing. A significant amount of his claims about the nature of gender would be laughable if they were not so serious, such as “the feminine always seems chaotic and complicated from the perspective of the masculine.” But more than this, other passages take on a rather sinister and misogynistic flavour: “for the feminine truth is a thin concept.” Elsewhere Deida holds little sympathy with “no means no” campaigns: “what she wants is not what she says.”

Deida also sets up a familiar distinction where women are connected with the earth (and, given his polar logic, presumably with men transcending it). Indeed, woman and the earth (world) seem to be synonymous for Deida: “Neither woman nor world are predictable. . . . Neither woman nor world can be second-guessed, or fooled.” Deida suggests there are only two ways to deal with woman and world: either renounce sexuality and “the seemingly constant demands of woman and world” or “‘fuck’ both to smithereens, to ravish them with your love unsheathed.”

Despite Deida’s impassioned pleas for loving women in all their authentic femininity, the whiff of misogyny continues. Sounding particularly mythopoetic, Deida notes of a man’s ability to take criticism, “if he doesn’t have a good relationship to masculine energy (e.g., his father), then he will act like a woman and be hurt or defensive.” Charging someone with “acting like a woman” hardly honours authentic femininity. Continuing this path, Deida begins to take on the unhinged persona of Tom Cruise’s character Frank T. J. Mackey in the movie Magnolia, “You’ve had tit. You’ve had pussy. . . . It wasn’t even that good, as long as it did last. Your need is far deeper than any woman can provide.” It is simply unreasonable to claim, as Deida does, that he starts from a position of respect and gender equality, to then come out with such disrespectful and hostile statements, second-tier or otherwise.

In some less frenzied passages Deida could be mistaken for a Promise Keeper. Earlier we read of Tony Evans’s suggesting to his evangelical brothers that they should turn to their wives and say, “Honey, I’ve made a terrible mistake. I’ve given you my role. I gave up leading this family, and I forced you to take my place. Now I must reclaim that role.” The evangelical call to “servant leadership” was built on the idea that many men have abdicated their role as leader in the family. Deida writes, “If you want your woman to be able to relax into her feminine and shine her natural radiance, then you must relieve her of the necessity to be in charge. This doesn’t mean you need to boss her around. It means you need to know where you are heading and how you are going to get there, in every way, including financially and spiritually.”

This ability to make decisions (to be the servant leader) is what Deida describes as “the masculine gift.” Deida asks us to accept that men making the decisions about money and God is a gift to “your” woman, so she is “able to relax.” This is yet another reworking of patriarchy, this time saying, “don’t you worry about a thing, let me make the decisions while you enjoy your natural radiance.” The “superior man” is evidently an evangelical mythopoetic soft patriarch attempting to pass himself off as a sexual-spiritual radical by saying naughty words like “fuck,” “tit” and “pussy.”

15 thoughts on “Numen, Old Men excerpted at Reality Sandwich

  1. I’m interested in learning something about David Deida’s family life. Is he married? Does he have children?


  2. this is a really interesting article. I’ve just listened to the audio version of Enlgihtened Sex by David Deida. I really enjoyed some of his breathing practises, but there is an underlying misogyny to the text, he even refers to ‘wimpy new age men’ at one point. He says that the masculine and feminine does not equate to male and female, and that all individuals have a different balance of masculine and feminine in them, but there is this underlying message that men must become more masculine and women more feminine in order to have great sex.

  3. thankyou Joseph: I’m female, mostly “straight” & fairly new to Deida’s work. I’ve been reading some of his work (books + what’s available on the ‘net), + a related deida-based workshop & talking to friends who are involved with this work…. i find a substantial amount of what deida proposes as primary differences between masculine/feminine modes of being does resonate with me as feeling/being “true” – there’s no question that there’s some quite valuable stuff to gain from examining & practising his ideas, BUT: so much of it, to my sensibilities, DOES smack of thinly-veiled patriarchal sleaze – while polarities such as the masculine/feminine divide can be useful ways of explaining the world & its many paradoxes, its always dangerous to get so stuck in them that you lose sight of the so-called ‘gray areas’. Deida’s descriptions of the world/death/chaos/etc as being feminine & his equation of women with this, along with his counsel to men of their consequent fear of women, raises some alarm bells for me: at this stage, i can’t help but feel that this is a dis-owned projection of partriarchal fear of losing power/control – i’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this. thanx for the post: it’s so hard to find constructive criticism/discourse amongst the guru mindset.

    1. Hello Toni: thanks for your comments.

      I think “a dis-owned projection of patriarchal fear of losing power/control” is a very good way of putting it.

      Anything which explores how we feel, think and seek meaning is useful to some degree, and in this respect Deida can be seen a useful. However, let’s say (for argument’s sake) we want to explore issues surrounding forcefulness and desire. Such an exploration is useful. But let’s not frame one variety of forcefulness and desire as masculine, and another as feminine. Let’s leave all varieties of forcefulness and desire on the table and assume they are open to all people at all times (Deida would say he does this by claiming there is masculine and feminine in both men and women, but there is so much slippage from this, continually allocating the masculine to men and the feminine to women, that it becomes difficult for most readers to see this distinction).

      In this formulation, not only are forcefulness and desire open to everyone, we are also free from any comments about what men and women (or the masculine and feminine) SHOULD be thinking and feeling. Further still, by taking what is allegedly appropriate for men and women out of the equation, we no longer create a forum that can be so easily co-opted by the “dis-owned projection of patriarchal fear of losing power/control” that you rightly identify.

      This can be applied to all things. In my work generally, I am critical about many of the things that comprise masculine and feminine spirituality. However, I’m not anti those things (immanent/transcendent, agency/communion and so on) per se, only anti allocating them to either men or women. In short, all these elements remain on the table, and are open to everyone (the good and the bad of that is another conversation).

      Mine is fundamentally a liberational project: Deida’s is not, but he is too conditioned by age-old understandings of sex and gender to have an awareness of this. I will be unpacking some of these issues further in The Masculinity Conspiracy:

  4. I think I have been far too influenced by Jung’s idea of integration of “so called” masculine/feminine to buy into Deida’s ideas. It seems to take the opposite stance. But it also seems at times that his descriptions of Masculine and Feminine essence belong in the DSMR4 under personality disorders.

    1. I think Deida’s masculine and feminine, as well as his own public persona, may all be intended as some kind of provocative caricature, but like the MKP inability to read metaphor, the fairy tale gets read as literal, thus the personality disorder. That’s my generous reading: it may just be that he’s a bit of a prat.

  5. “for the feminine truth is a thin concept.” This is a very funny statement coming from a man who is writing an ontological metaphysics of gender, a thin concept of truth if there ever was one.

    Of course I am certainly not against it, in fact I spend most of my time pursuing metaphysics, subjective philosophies, psychologies – all of them are pretty thin truths.

    1. Well it seems to be a common strategy within the integral scenes Deida inhabits: appeal to the “truth” then abandon it; claim to be clever, but be pretty ordinary; complain about new age flakiness, but be flaky; correctly identify the pre-trans fallacy and then fall foul of it.

      1. Yes I am beggining to understand your critique. A masculine or feminine essence is equal to a persona or ego-centric narcissism (pre-trans fallacy). Even if I give Deida the benefit of the doubt his writing certainly is adopted by his following in widespread pre-trans way with simplistic codifications of masculine and feminine which can only be adopted via identification (ego narcissism). But I don’t doubt, if crap sells, coddling narcissism will make best sellers.

  6. Hi Joseph,

    You’ll recall that we corresponded some time back about Sri Aurobindo, the Mother and gender. I just want to thank you for taking out the time to critique David Deida. I’m just about to start my PhD in Psychology at grad school, so I don’t know if/when I’ll get time for critiquing these folks myself, but I hope to get around to it eventually. In fact what I was really hoping to do was a satirical webcomic aiming to illustrate the outcomes of assuming literal ontological masculine and feminine essences in the universe as a basis for sex differences (= more of the same, tired ol’ misogyny), and to illustrate how rife with internal contradictions this discourse is. I’ll link you to it if I ever get it up and running.

    Heteronormativity is pretty much the basis for this attachment to the idea of literal masculine and feminine essences. I’m sorry, but the ladies who are commenting here to say there’s some truth to Deida’s ideas of masculinity or femininity haven’t done enough research into multiple masculinities or femininities across cultures and historical epochs, and are obviously heterosexual. 😉 Just look at the concept of the Divine Shakti in Hinduism: the Goddess is a rather masculinized image of a woman, portrayed variously as a warrior, protector, defender, a source of wisdom, and so on, in addition to the traditionally feminine qualities of compassion and love.

    I can only imagine the disgusted reaction that distinguished feminist philosophers — Martha Nussbaum, Sally Haslanger or Linda Martin Alcoff (who have also written eloquently and beautifully about the metaphysics of embodied sexual difference without ever deviating from core feminist goals) — would have to David Deida’s absurd misogyny and metaphysics. Wilber, despite his obvious blind spots w.r.t. feminism never struck me as a misogynist, so it is really quite shocking that he would blurb Deida’s book.

    I really don’t care if Deida believes these kinds of things about men and women, or if he believes that combining power games with sex is fine and dandy — what bothers me is that he has the audacity to say that any of this is even remotely related to spiritual development or spiritual discipline. If he just called his book a BDSM manual, or a way to cultivate sensationalism in one’s life, or a recognition of the centuries-old status quo of male-female relations, that would be just fine. What really bothers me is that he thinks what he’s offering is in any way radical or new, or connected with integral development for either men or women, when he’s just reinforcing the effects of forced feminization on women (encouraging irrationality and sentimentalism in women — the very things that have kept them enslaved for eons).

    Again, thanks for taking the time to do this — this is a real service.

    1. Lots of good points there, thanks. I’ve often thought about doing some satirical work in this domain myself. But you know what, I have a feeling it would be taken seriously and embraced by more people than my “real” writing.

  7. —-
    Deida also sets up a familiar distinction where women are connected with the earth (and, given his polar logic, presumably with men transcending it). Indeed, woman and the earth (world) seem to be synonymous for Deida: “Neither woman nor world are predictable. . . . Neither woman nor world can be second-guessed, or fooled.” Deida suggests there are only two ways to deal with woman and world: either renounce sexuality and “the seemingly constant demands of woman and world” or “‘fuck’ both to smithereens, to ravish them with your love unsheathed.”

    This is FANTASTIC fodder for satire. It’s practically self-parody. Thank you, David Deida, for making my work so much easier. Oh, I will have some fun sharpening my wit on this material.

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