Hypermasculinity, Capitalism &Leaving Survival Mode

Poverty makes us conflate combustibility with manhood.

The other day, a friend randomly sent me a graphic of Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs. I had seen it before but hadn’t thought about it in years. I immediately thought about my privilege of never feeling worried about security or safety for a prolonged amount of time, but then I pondered how so many countries, especially in the West, are constructed so that most people are spending their entire life scrambling for those first two needs.

Then the other night I was listening to Mozzy - Tsu Surf’s “Play It Safe.” Interspersed between their verses were quotes from Nipsey Hussle about being in survival mode:

“But what you gotta think about is what you don’t have, you in survival mode. So being in survival mode automatically rules out a lot of things, cause you don't experience morality, cause you experience the need to survive”

I’m not gonna generally say that people living “a certain life” don’t have morality, but I get his point that when you’re in the streets, seeking those basic needs, you can find yourself not caring for psychological needs — or your perception of those needs get warped by your surroundings. Other people suffer from that inattentiveness, though. The sheer amount of people in mass poverty, navigating survival mode, means that hypermasculinity is normalized. That collective inclination for violence becomes conflated with manhood. So even people who aren’t in survival mode perform like they are because they don’t want to be seen as less than.

I don’t pretend to know where Tory Lanez ever was on the survival spectrum, but even before Megan was shot in June, he was always fighting or trying to fight someone. And that’s cute when you’re going viral and upping your “credibility” with people who care about that. But it looks like he may have ruined his life and/or career behind his combustibility.

People made a ton of jokes the other day about Tory allegedly texting Megan after the shooting and apologizing by noting “I was too drunk.” Most of us don’t factor in shooting someone in our decision-making processes. But too many people do because of how they’re wired, or how they pretend to be wired. The headlines are packed with stories of successful artists who aren’t actually in survival mode but are still acting like they are.

NLE Choppa is a young rapper from Memphis who admitted to shooting at his ex-girlfriend and child’s mother (possibly while pregnant). For many, that’s understandably enough to never listen to his music and advocate for his de-platforming. But actual “cancelation” rarely happens in our society. There are always fans willing to support controversial people if they’re talented enough. The best we can hope for is that these people try to hold themselves accountable and make an effort at self-improvement. Choppa is another rapper who’s been violent and abusive to women. But unlike most of the others, he seems to be making a genuine effort at self-improvement.

He’s a 17-year-old who came into the game as a wild kid talking about doing wild things in the streets, but now he doesn’t want to rap about violence anymore because ‘I got more to talk about.” He talked to HipHopDX about “how meditation changed his life,” and has been advocating for people to meditate along with him. Of course, meditation doesn’t undo hypermasculinity (or white supremacy, like he theorized), and he didn’t acknowledge the err of his violence toward his ex, but it’s something that he at least appears to want better for himself and his child.

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As many gripes as I have with the rap industry, I appreciate it for pulling kids up out of survival mode and giving them the capacity to focus on self-improvement in a way that being in the streets doesn't allow. As men, both us and the people around us deserve more than our commitment to cycles of trauma, abusing others as a consequence of our own pain. The most important factors in that change are being exposed to new modes of thinking and being willing to do the work to instill them.

There has been a lot of talk lately about how capitalism subsists on death, whether that’s sick people feeding the medical industry, nature dying for big oil and new condos, or people being killed in left-behind neighborhoods. Capitalism enacts a moral, emotional, and spiritual death that engenders interpersonal violence. That’s why it will take uprooting capitalism, which subsists on poverty, to uproot the brutishness of survival mode.

We all deserve access to the tools needed to rid ourselves of toxic survivalist mindsets. It shouldn’t take the exceptionalism of celebrity for kids like NLE Choppa to have the exposure and capacity to explore spiritual growth. What if there was a world where everyone felt the safety and security to be free thinkers, to explore theory and different modes of spiritual solace? It’s possible. For the sake of quelling hypermasculinity, and protecting all the people afflicted by it, it’s worth fighting for.

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