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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

"Big nations can't bluff"...Biden blows it!

I have never been able either to comprehend or to countenance the level of chicanery that seems attached to weak and grovelling men who aspire to and desperately pursue power and status. Everyone knows that they have had to “kiss ass” so many times, it has become routine, normal, and even expected, from their perspective. They also have had to twist both the truth and themselves in the wind of whatever situation placed them in a negative light, as they scramble in vain to squirm out of that black light, especially if someone they consider important to their career path is watching.

Power and the pursuit of power begats secrecy, deception, manipulation, and downright scurrilous behaviour. The full truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth has no place in the lexicon of values for those in positions of power.

First off, they have literally no idea of the kind of work, the specificity or the complexity of those in their charge, and what’s more, they simply do not want to know. In that way, they escape the fine details of having to face whatever injustices might be operating at the shop floor/office floor level. They justify this ignorance as “we do not have either the time or the energy to get down into the weeds of each person’s job, or their complaints, or their life story. We have to maintain a clear perspective on the gestalt of the operation, so that we can discern if and when a ‘big fire’ is breaking out. And by ‘bug fire’ they inevitably mean, the kind of fire that will sink their personal narcissistic ambitions, plans and their conscious or unconscious genuflecting to the false god of their own brass ring.

“A secret is something you tell only to one person at a time!” is a verbatim phrase I have heard from the mouth of such a man, desperate to prove himself as a ‘top dog’ on the totem pole of his profession. And then, as if to reinforce that vacuity, he notes that his own superior has ordered that no political crisis must ever reach the office of that superior, lest the superior too will have to contend with the political mess that has been rising, like slime, to the top of the organization’s agenda.

Characterizing those in their orbit in a manner that ‘patronizes’ and detaches them from the real authenticity of their ‘charges’, calling them with descriptive monikers like “immature”, ‘self-absorbed,’ radical,’ ‘too idealistic,’ ‘going through a rough patch’….these are just some of the ways that they dismiss any who take exception to their way of operating.

Years after a long professional relationship of disdain, even contempt between a supervisor and a potential employee rejected in the interview, to approach that unsuccessful candidate with an “apology” for not having hired him/her, is another sign of a degree of false humility verging on dissembling….It is shame and guilt that prompts such an abject apology, given the successful career of that interviewee in another local setting.

Weak men, too, are those who are so enmeshed in the modus operandi of “saying whatever others want to hear” so that they curry only positive ‘reviews’ in the hope, too often successfully proven as worthy, that, if, and when the time comes for either a vote or a recommendation for promotion, because they ‘have no enemies’ they are promoted.

It is not that only sycophants are promoted; it is that too many wily, cunning, solo-flyers have and continue to rise to the top of too many organizations, both in politics and in corporations, including academia, social services, ecclesial bodies and health care organizations. The model of the “successful” role model, who wears the brass ring, drives the BMW, vacations in the Mediterranean or the South Pacific, and lives in a 5000 square foot McMansion, can only come to a crashing halt when s/he meets a concrete wall of realization that s/he has been faking it throughout the decades of his/her career.

It is not that powerful people are not intelligent; they are.

It is not that powerful people are not insightful; they are.

It is not even that powerful people are not charismatic; they are.

It is, however, what comprises charisma, and insight for how to climb, and intelligence for how to slide through the hurdles, the speed bumps, the small and medium-sized conflicts, and the unruffled performance in the interview process that assures too many decision makers that ‘this is our choice’ for CEO.

Glib, charismatic, uber-confident, unwavering, unapologetic, quick-witted, never skipping a breath when pressed for a response to a difficult question like ‘what would you do in this situation’….after all, those making the decisions have mastered the formula, and given that they have achieved through such imitation, why would they not given lasting legacy to that model in their own decisions?

“He rose to the top because he had no enemies,” is a phrase so often uttered, not by those who competed for the top job against him, but from objective observers who have traced his career path from the beginning. And, or course, once installed, those people (men and women) are extremely difficult to extract from those positions. They have honed their ’diplomatic skills’ and their rhinoceros skin, and their deaf ear, and their blind eye, and especially their shading of all ‘inconvenient truths’ especially those that might have bruised their ego and their reputation.

And, for those of us outside the “inner circles” wherever we go, and preferring that outsider status, we watch sometimes with ironic humour, sometimes with tragic sadness, and other times, with patient scepticism and doubt knowing that such people are ‘in over their head’ without realizing it.

Have you ever noticed, too, that those in positions of power have an image of the culture they seek to implant, a culture that need compliant “plants” in their greenhouse, to grow to a certain height, to blossom in a certain season and manner, and to wither in an appropriate time frame, predictably, given the history of that particular culture.

Joe Biden held a second press conference today, honouring his first full year in office. And, likeable, affable, compassionate, empathic, and ‘mature’ “Joe” uttered many statements, many of them written and delivered to attempt to recover some of the lost ground he has experienced on the last few months, now with an approval rating of somewhere in the 30% range, with a disapproval rate of 53%....

So he had to ‘sell’ some of his administration’s accomplishments over the last twelve months. Agreed.

And he was asked to address the current military build-up on the eastern border of Ukraine. And, voluble as he is, peppering his lines with “no joke, I’m serious”…he uttered these words, “Big nations cannot bluff!”

As if to remind his audience that the United States, under his presidency, was not bluffing when it repeats “serious repercussions” against Russia, should Putin attack Ukraine. And yet, after two-hundred years of American “bluffing” and pounding its national chest, and huffing and puffing about how its engagement in the Middle East, for example, has nothing to do with the oil reserves in that region, and then compliantly covering the existence of nuclear weapons in Israel from full disclosure on the world’s geopolitical stage, and then …..the list of American bluffing and huffing and puffing, (not exclusively by trump) is legion…and yet, without being confronted in that presser, Biden demonstrates how hollow, weak and ineffectual is his administration in the face of another  huffing and puffing desperate Russian leader.

Damon Linker in The Week, January 14, 2022 in a piece entitled, “Putin calls America’s bluff on Ukraine,” writes:

Russia has amassed significant forces along the border of Ukraine. Talks between Russia and NATO appear to have broken down. Members of Washington’s foreign policy establishment are beginning to suggest the need to respond to any Russian military moves against Ukraine with a strong show of force. How did we get here, seemingly on track toward either direct military confrontation with a nuclear-armed state nearly 5,000 miles from American shores, or poised to back down and retreat in the face of a frontal challenge to a military alliance led by the United States?

The answer is that we go here by bluffing---and the evident decision of Russian President Vladimir Putin to call our bluff. One possible response to this unhappy situation is to continue bluffing in the hopes that Putin with eventually blink. The other far more reasonable path is to reassess the decision that got us here in the first place and move forward with less unsustainable hubris….We have been able to fight a series of small (if intractable) wars around the world because, in each case, our opponent has been vastly weaker than we are. But we have also extended implicit security guarantees to places where a strong or rising regions power has competing interests. And we’ve handled such situations by acting as if we’re willing to defend certain countries against formidable military threats when we’ve never really been prepared to do so.

This approach to conducting foreign policy worked well enough so long as no one called our bluff. Our willingness and ability to project power to the Middle East, South Asia, and North Africa served as supposed evidence of our resolve everywhere.

Thank you Mr. Linker!

Biden’s words rang so hollow that one can only envision, in both Bejing and Moscow, men are excitedly quaffing their favourite liquid refreshment and laughing uproariously, most likely on a secure vitural connection between the two capitals. America has stated she is unprepared to put “boots on the ground” in Ukraine, that she will defend Taiwan against Chinese attempts to take her over, that any nuclear threats from North Korea will be met with serious repercussions.

At what point, Mr. Biden, is the American voice not to be considered the “master of the bluff”, especially when you publicly utter those unforgiveable words of denial?

This space has never advocated military action as the optimum solution to any conflict. And we urged a withdrawal from Afghanistan years before the Biden administration made the decision to withdraw. And we are not arguing here for military action on the border of Russia and Ukraine. However, we do expect that the words of the American president, hours prior to a potential invasion of Ukraine, will at least have the temerity and the authenticity to refrain from uttering the blatantly ridiculous.

Canadians are watching and listening to the tidal wave of rhetoric from both sides, amid a pandemic in which barely 2% of the southern half of the globe have been vaccinated, and where the virus still continues to rampage. A military conflict between Russia and Ukraine is not a chapter in world history that any of us can tolerate. And the sabre rattling on both sides, with the U.S. continuing to diagnose Putin’s various moves as either bluffing or not, while he keeps his poker hand very close to his vest.

If we were to enter from another planet, which leader would we discern might have the upper hand in strategy, even if not in military might?

And which leader would we judge to be more easily manipulated, though whatever trickery, chicanery or even bluffing?

The answers are obvious, and the stature of the United States is becoming more tarnished by the hour.

None of us envisioned this kind of scenario in 2022, after four  years of incompetent negligence verging on the criminal in the Oval Office. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Reflections on victims and bullies....and the oscillation between the two

 Writing in The New Yorker, Jan. 3 & 10, 2022, Paul Sehgal, in a piece entitled, “The Key to Me,” decries the prevalence, indeed the universality of “the trauma plot” in contemporary fiction.

Here are some of his words:

The prevalence of the trauma plot cannot come as a surprise at a time when the notion of trauma has proved all-engulfing. Its customary clinical incarnation, P.T.S.D. if the fourth most commonly diagnosed psychiatric disorder in America, and one with a vast remit. (Merriam-Webster #4: to give relief from suffering)…How to account for trauma’s creep? Take your corners. Modern life is inherently traumatic. No, we’re just better at spotting it, having become more attentive to human suffering in all its gradations. Unless we’re worse at it—more prone to perceive everything as injury. In a world infatuated with victimhood, has trauma emerged as a passport to statue—our red badge of courage? The question itself might offend: perhaps it’s grotesque to argue about the symbolic value attributed to suffering when so little restitution or remedy is available….During treatment for P.T.S.D. after serving in Iraq, David Morris was discouraged from asking is his experience might yield any form of wisdom. Clinicians admonished him, he says, ‘for straying from the strictures of the therapeutic regime’. He was left wondering how the medicalization of trauma prevents veterans from expressing their moral outrage at war, siphoning it, instead, into a set of symptoms to be managed.

Perhaps, as a “creative writing” instructor at New York University, Sehgal’s primary interest in literature might tend to focus his attention on the literary productions filled with trauma, and potential therapeutic “recovery”…when it might be feasible to assess that his real core complaint is with the dominance of the therapeutic model, the DSM (is it now #5?) that has emerged as the universal diagnosis and solution to severe pain whether emotional, physical, sexual or even criminal, in the literary, military, political, criminal and even the ‘spiritual’ world.

There is a deeply enmeshed transactionality to this archetype: it demands symptom, microscopically identified, and then compared with similar symptoms, clustered by those whose lives are dedicated to the relief of emotional and physical pain, as if they are so similar, if not actually identical. Agency of the interventionist, toward “healing” the psychic wound, is analogous to the surgeon who inserts screws into a severely broken arm or leg, permitting it to grow to something akin to its original strength and deployment.

Trauma, however, does not reduce so easily to an identifiable “symptom” that can, with the right intervention, be healed. Indeed, the medical model may, in fact, be counter-intuitive to an appropriate intervention. And the literary model, tracking the immense popularity of the medical model, itself tracking the “transactional” model of business, science, politics and the economy, all of which disciplines perform as if they each have the “cure” for whatever ailment is currently possession the individual or the body politic. Education too, in the form of classical conditioning, exhibits a similar “product” expectation, especially measured by behaviour that can and is measured by testing instruments that, themselves, possess an inherent bias of the designer.

It is as if  Pavlov’s dogs, so responsive to the bell/food conditioning experiment, have come to serve as models for human “interventions” on the micro and the macro scales. Professionally trained clinical whatever’s, have their theories and their scientific papers based on other theories and papers, including renowned experiments, that demonstrate the effectiveness of specific kinds of interventions.

 Whether through cognitive-behavioral, Gestalt, immersive analysis, or mere “mirroring” or any of several other models, clinicians (emblematic of the “doctor” in the white coat) probe for the “presenting symptom” and then drill down to find how the “client/patient” has been able to survive similar if less penetrating and debilitating trauma, in order to assist with the recovery of that strength. With military conflict, compounded by economic collapse, climate change and the resulting existential threat of global extinction should we not commit to the curtailment, or possible elimination of carbon and methane emissions into the atmosphere, individuals as well as cumulatively and collectively, defining the first two decades of the twenty-first century, it can hardly be a surprise that those most deeply susceptible to the rhythms and the ebbs and floes of the psychic vibrations in the culture, the artists, writers and creators generally, would both mirror and expose those vibrations.

Victimhood, as an archetype, has a compelling dramatic universality, given that we have all gone through some form. And in order to “belong” it is our shared (albeit very different, in cause, in events, in symptom and in depth of impact) experience of being wounded. And victims need bullies, in order to categorize themselves (ourselves) as victims. Given the prevalence of bullies, themselves unconsciously agonizing, inappropriately, about their own woundedness, and taking their deep and unresolved anger and frustration out on the nearest, and most “stereotypical”  weak-one….the outsider, however that archetype is defined in the immediate culture. Childhood trauma, inflicted by a parent or a family member or family friend, is often enacted ostensibly as a “healthy parenting” or even a “game” thereby protecting the ’victim’ from a full realization of the impact of that trauma. Early interactions in a young person’s life, take on a “how-am-I-doing” motivation for the child/adolescent, given that performance, grades, goals, touchdowns, bell-beating 3-pointers, scholarships, trophies and public acclaim offer and provide motivation linking both child/adolescent and parent/teacher/coach. Classical conditioning is then in full bloom.

Even somewhat mature adolescents will (have) question why we are stuck with “you are not the best teacher for us who are not the best students” in a ranked allotting of students relying on previous grades. Perceiving an injustice, and projecting that injustice onto the instructor, illustrates a simple form of bully/victim dynamic.

We have all learned what it is like to be bullied, and likely in our darkest and most secret moments, have even explored, either literally or imaginatively, what it must be like for the bully. A middle-of-the-night scribbling, in dark felt black ink, using a bright orange pen, blurted what was a vain and poorly crafted spewing down a page, so infested with anger at a colleague, that, I imaginatively entered the pattern of Brutus, when faced with the prospect of killing Caesar. At no time, afterward, did I have any emotional reaction to that person. At another time, faced with a peculiar submission of a male “coach” who had bought into the “talking” therapy as a necessary discipline for all males, I blasted a screed arguing that men and women were not the same in this regard, and that even among men, we each have our unique and respectable differences. His reply noted a “shot across his bow” and I have never heard from him since.

Oscillating between victim and bully, however, is far too familiar a pattern, especially among those who have not had/taken the opportunity to excise the boil of their psychic wounds. And, ironically, especially in the entertainment world of popular culture, those “super” heroes, who can and will accomplish the impossible, while extremely attractive to young people, are at risk of implanting feelings of desire, aspiration, dreams and even actions in emulation of those “heroes” whose actions can veer into bully-hood.

Corporate executives, sometimes called “drivers” given their tightly held responsibility to make good things happen among unwilling pawns, can and do qualify too often as bullies, leaving the archetype of victim on the shop or office floor. Professional athletic leagues, tightly controlled by top-down owners and executives, manipulate their “actors” (players, coaches, managers) as if they were merely another piece of metal for a production line. And the preferred line of interpretation of that behaviour runs something like: “If he is a man, he will accept these decisions, without complaint, without revenge, without sulking and will keep his head high and continue to perform at his highest capacity.” Are the athletes victims, or does that apply only to those like Colin Kaepernick,  who took a knee to protest racial injust, and has never thrown a pass in the NFL since, and likely will never throw another pass.

It is our capacity to discern the real victims from the faux victims that really matters, and yet in a culture in which “FAUX” trumps “real” and “authentic”, and alternative facts outwrestle, out shoot, and even erase real factual, scientific and credible information, that capacity is in jeopardy.

However, we cannot claim to be victims to that dynamic. After all, we are directly complicit in the developing background of that culture theme, whereby selling the “sizzle” and not the steak has been a montra for marketing professionals, for decades. Appealing to human emotion, especially those emotions that make one feel inadequate, frightened, small, unpopular, unwelcome, different, awkward, dumb, of the opposite gender, powerless, impotent….these are all magnets of the advertising copywriters’ vernacular. And whether or not those feelings actually exist, in any given target market, the opinion polls, the market research, the ‘opponent research” and the increasing detailed volume of that data, along with the hourly curating of that data, render each of us vulnerable to those highly seductive pitches.

Are we victims of that seduction? Many of us are, at various times.

And then there are social and political movements that arise when a group of people consider themselves “at a red line” moment, when they feel that something they regard as highly significant for them, is being eroded, evaded, dismissed, or even ignored. Victims and victimhood begat more victims and more victimhood. It is like another “mass movement” another pendulum swing of social attitudes, that vacillate from one extreme to its opposite.

The Americans renounce putting “boots on the ground” in Ukraine, in the face of Putin’s war-sabre-rattling on the Ukraine-Russian border, after twenty years of American debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, no matter how “honourable” was the service of those thousands of service personnel in both theatres. Reverting to isolation, as the former president did, is dramatic evidence of his need to “manipulate” (ride the evidence of the polls) appearing “strong” and “principled” and yet unwilling to acknowledge his inherent weakness and insecurity. The paradox of the victim/bully in incarnate in the presidency from 2017 through 2021 in Washington.

Oscillating from one pole to the opposite, however, is no way to run a railroad. We are not, individual or collectively, assigned to or resigned to a single archetype. We are all more than victim/bully. However, without acknowledging our uniqueness, our individual talent and perspective, not in a Hollywood-cheerleading manner, as “special” and capable of “anything” but rather in a much more modest and  realistic, “grounded” in our deepest intrinsic personal feelings and motivations, and seeing and respecting both the limits of our “uniqueness” and the limits of our capacities, we run the risk of over-stepping our personal boundaries.

Those boundaries, unlike the sidelines on the football field, or the ‘key’ on a basketball court, are not marked out on our individual pathways. They have a tendency to emerge only after we have over-stepped them, when someone else yells, “Stop!” And it would seem, at least to this observer, that we are not very good at touching the arm of one who might be about to over-step a boundary, for which act s/he might live to regret for a very long time.

The institutional culture, the leadership culture, in all of the powerful offices and board rooms, have a singular responsibility to own and to acknowledge when they are abusing their power. That dynamic or theme, however, is in very short supply, in too many quarters where the occupants definitely know better. Whether they are hiding behind tradition, rules that are “absolutely right” for this institution, including the institution of the church in all of its many forms, or protecting their own “ass” by defining their modus operandi as “the end justifies the means”…in a wild-west, tyrannical exercise of testosterone (by both men and women)…or as the result of expectations of their perceived investor list…or for some other reason, they are really the prime mover of most of the victim attitudes and actions….even among novelists, playwrights and creators.

Tilting too far one way, as in physics, however, has the predictable impact of trending back to the other end of the pendulum. And it is this oscillation that we have to come to recognize, and to slow its pace and compress its compulsion, if we are going to stabilize otherwise intractable forces and individuals.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Crossing the threshold of paralysis in our fear of the full truth...together

 There is a scene from a recent “Chicago Med” television show in which psychiatrist, Dr. Daniel Charles, played by actor Oliver Platt, ventures into the “future life” of a patient who, with a throat tumor and refusing surgery believes she might not have a future. After reflection, Dr. Charles brings a photo-shopped digital picture of the patient, some decades into the future, and asks her to picture what a potential future life might be like, if she were to have one.

An open-air book shop in a warm climate are the words that leap from her mouth, giving both the doctors and the patient the proof of how difficult it is for individuals who are depressed, anxious and frightened to envision a future as well as the “break-through” moment, in which the patient, just as the medical staff are leaving her room, calls out, “I will go ahead with the surgery!”

There might just be some link between this story and the story behind the top Netflix film globally, Don’t Look Up. The Guardian’s Donna Lu, in a piece dated, December 30, 2021, entitled, ‘It parodies our inaction’: Don’t Look Up, an allegory of the climate crisis, lauded by activists’.

Ms Lu writes: “The film, a satire in which two scientists played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence attempt to warn and indifferent world about a comet that threatens to destroy the planet, is an intentional allegory  of the climate crisis.”

Considered  “a laboured, self-conscious and unrelaxed satire” and a “toothless comedy” by film critics in the Guardian, (as quote by Ms Lu), the film has been lauded by climate activists who for far too long have been deflated and depressed by the failure of the public and governments generally to actually hear, by actually listening to the crisis faced by humanity, while they dedicated their lives to forestalling that same crisis.

Is the population of the planet, like the patient in the Chicago Med episode, caught in a similar paralysis, unable to envision a future in which there is no future? And is that paralysis blocked by the very monumental diagnosis, and the accompanying projections of more fires, deluges, tsunamis, droughts and famine with rising oceans and a pandemic of starvation and unleashed viruses? Is the apocalyptic ‘vision’ of a future that we are mentally, psychologically and emotionally both unwilling to and incapable of facing the threshold we all have to cross if we are going to come to grips with our own future?

If there is even a grain of merit in these comparative questions, then it would seem that, if we are going to begin to confront our “tumor” and our fear and our anxiety and our hopelessness and our desperation that mankind might actually face a future of desolation, destruction and death, we have to begin the process of “seeing” ourselves in a future that is not imprisoned by our own fears. Is that even feasible, given the weight of millions of people who continue to bury heads in sand, avoiding the prospect of a potential “surgery” that would, while painful and frightening, nevertheless, offer hope of a future which so far we are not seeing for a variety of reasons.

In situations with far less emotional drama and risk at stake, humans have some considerable difficulty coming to terms with those aspects of our own character/personality that seem unbecoming, unfitting, unacceptable and thereby alienating us from ourselves and, naturally, from others. Psychological “projection”* of our worst fears, is one common path to coping with those fears, putting them “outside” of our “ownership” in order to avoid having to come to terms with their import. Like our younger selves, frightened by the dark, the closed closet, the darkened cellar/attic, where ghosts and monsters may dwell, we shudder at the harm those monsters might bring to us. Only today, those darkened basements/attics are no longer a figure only of our imaginations. We have been showered with evidence, warnings, credible and authentic ‘science’ that is trying to tell us we are in serious even epic danger.

And yet, on masks, vaccines, social distancing, single use of plastics, carbon emissions, fossil fuel dependency etc. etc. etc….we (millions) resist the compelling import of the evidence we are consuming.  At the same time, another cluster of millions are totally committed to conducting the research, drawing the conclusions, teaching and preaching the message of “self-care” and “planet-care”. And the divide is allegory of the internal divide in our own mind/heart/psyche/spirit.

Seeing the allegory, accepting that it is indeed an allegory, and then moving into action to confront that core truth…those or parts of our lives of very different  colours and imports. That female patient had seeped into a swamp of fear, inaction, and essentially terminal fear, not only because she was unaware of the precise ‘condition’ or diagnosis of the lump on her neck. She had to be dragged to the hospital by a close friend, over her strenuous objections. She wore a long and full pale blue scarf around her neck that completely covered her “embarrassment” and her fear, both being incarnate in that lump. She almost, it seemed, saw herself as that lump. It dominated her life to the point where it suffocated her hope. And if and when hope is suffocated, like the frog in the boiling water, innocent and ignorant of its danger until too late, we effectively “die” to ourselves, long before our final breath.

We have all met and known those whose lives emitted a kind of death (of dreams, of hopes, of alternative existences, greener grasses some other place and time) and our experience of those men and women was of encountering a kind of ghost. It can and does happen in intimate relationships; it can and does happen in classrooms, sanctuaries, emergency rooms, operating rooms, court rooms, accounting offices, dentists’ offices…one or other of the participants has for that period of time, departed this orb, this moment, and we fail to be noticed, and more importantly we no longer exist. We call it “being somewhere else” or being “caught up in other issues” or “being overcome or overwhelmed by something bothering you” and we move past the moment. It is only if and when those moments continue to mount with the same people that we waken to our situation, and often then withdraw.

Withdrawal and avoidance are twin sisters, born of the same parents, pride and fear. And the source of our pride is internal, while the source of our fear is external. They both, however, take up residence inside our psyches. Often, this merger renders us luke-warm about who we are, what possibilities might be available, how far to extend our energies in any situation, given the limits of our trust in how committed and trustworthy others are to commit. “Walking on eggs” may be only a slight exaggeration of our situation, but we have all been there.

Our Chicago Med patient has stopped walking: she is now frozen in a self-generated, tumor-induced freezer that has cryogenically, metaphorically and psychically impaled her on the ‘horns of her own petard’ (decision). It takes Dr. Charles and his associates, to thaw that freezing temperature, to bring the patient back to a kind of reality previously out of her psychic and emotional reach.

What will it take to bring the planet and the people on the planet to thaw, if we allow that it/we could be frozen in a similar kind and depth of fear, anxiety, desperation and pride (that nothing so horrible could or would even be possible)?

In the last post in this space, we reviewed the lostness and the frozenness of how one financial observer believes that we have become impaled on an alleged lie about the potential of rising interest rates and tapered Quantitative Easing. We  know that the world is impaled in a Mexican ‘stand-off’ on the eastern border of Ukraine, on the ‘stand-off’ of a stolen election, vaccine mandates, masks, social distancing, real reductions in carbon emissions, real decisions on the rape of planetary resources (Amazon Rain Forest, for one), the stand-off in the South China Sea, on the North-South Korean 50th parallel, in Afghanistan, and who knows where this pandemic will take us.

The situations we all face are, together, considerably more complex, without a perceived single “enemy” or person or economic of scientific force, as did the apartheid tragedy in South Africa, nor are they amenable to a single stroke of the pen to ‘transform’ the situations into something we can all agree would be sustainable, fair, equitable, and visionary…it might be feasible and appropriate to suggest, respectfully, humbly and tentatively, that common to all of our existential threats is our shared space in that hospital bed with that Chicago Med patient. Our tumors protrude from all sides of our body politic. Our scarves cover over our bulging protrusions. We all resist even the suggestion that we are in need of medical attention. In fact, anyone who suggests that we might seek help is considered so flagrantly weak and anemic as to be a “loser” and thereby more easily and readily dismissed. We are embedded in our conviction that the way we have been operating for two thousand years, given a few modifications, is essentially “good” and even in some cases “so special that it has become almost sacred. We are locked into a mentality of conflict, competition and zero-sum equations on the geopolitical stage that Britain has not offered to “assist” Canada in defending her interests in the Arctic. And, the global economy is so fragile, without any corresponding collaborative, institutional agency, with muscle to protect us from ourselves.

Indeed, it is and has been our universal willingness and complicity to incarnate that patient in denial and terror, preferring eloquent words greasily attired and seductively delivered by the best “message doctors” we can train and then buy, in all of our various “ideologies” and oligarchies and democracies, and dictatorships, military and civilian, that together, somewhat unconsciously and certainly also quite consciously, put us ‘behind the eight ball” in pool parlance.

Knowing full well that it will be considered specious, quixotic, dreaming and so utterly out of touch with reality to propose it, nevertheless, I would like to lay this card on the proverbial global card table:

That a process akin to, but different from, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, headed by the late Rt. Rev. Desmond Tutu, convened, through the joint auspices of the United Nations, the World Bank, the WHO, the BRIC, NAT0, SEATO, including Russia, China, India, and the several nations which agree to commit to the struggle to address our penchant for burying our heads in the sand, and for distorting reality with it looks unpalatable, and to generate recommendations that would help leaders, at all levels, to wear their/our value openly, honestly, transparently and sustainably.

We need ordinary people to be a significant contributing component of that commission…leaders cannot lead without committed, courageous support.

And then Greta Sundborg’s and the many high-profile activists, in all causes, the environment, inequality, health care, human rights including gender equality, truth-telling including the hard truths, the military hard-power addiction, and the race and religious bigotry…these and more required concentrated, concerted, collaborative, and sustainable action.

And the prices we will all have to pay in order for such a commission to have any relevance and impact is that we will have to surrender whatever pride that impedes our shared willingness to participate. We are proposing a process whereby all participants are and will be considered and defined as equal, not winners or losers, but sharing in a common global reconciliation. It would attempt to explore the various methods of perceiving and evaluating our current situation. It would also attempt to bring together disparate voices, really the voices of those in power and those currently without a voice at the table.

We have been following a “war” ethic and mentality for two centuries plus. IT is conceivable that we might transform our modality to a common, shared intellectual, emotional, spiritual and legal grasp of the truth that faces every single person on the planet, albeit in varying degrees.

Can we “see” a picture of our future together, that so far has remained outside our imaginative reach?

Thanks for getting this far! 

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

A 'cry from the wilderness' for truth-telling, mask-removal and global leadership

 Anyone who thinks that the world is “going to hell in a basket” is being well “fed” among critics, deeply embedded in their field of speciality, who pour their insights, words, and even warnings into our eyes and ears and perhaps even our minds and hearts.

Growing up on a news diet of “negatives” especially those that shock (the man bit the dog!), and then forging our way through elementary, secondary, undergrad and perhaps even postgrad classrooms and seminar rooms, we have been taught something called “critical thinking”. It is a way of deciphering the many “wheats from the chaffs” that writes, political leaders, professors, and especially clergy were dispensing.

And much of the cultural lens of that critical thinking depending on incidental reports, stories of single events, or perhaps developing stories about trends that flagged storms of the horizon (metaphorically and literally, in many fields). And the predominant fast-food-menu of that news and information diet tended to generate perceptions that wormed their way into our common and shared perceptions:

·       law enforcement here to protect and serve the community

·       schools are safe harbours concentrating on “conserving” the culture

·       “God” is holding ‘the whole world in his hands’

·       the world is a scary place, but more so for those “on the other side of the tracks, or other side of the world

·       our leaders tell the truth, while foreign leaders do not

·       doctors and dentists know all there is to know about how to help us stay healthy and heal when we need to

·       hospitals are places for babies to be born, appendices removed, gall bladders removed, and old people die

·       professions like law and medicine are primarily for upper class kids, and most of those are men

·       teaching, nursing, social work are reserved for women

·       small town retail businesses were places where you purchased what you needed from people you knew and trusted

·       radio and television were broadcast networks for entertainment and appointment viewing/listening

·       wars were fought “over there”

·       floods and large fires were infrequent and largely manageable

·       pregnant teens were sent away to have their babies

·       churches were repositories of all the “best” people in the town, where holy occasions, sermons, Sunday School lessons, choirs and pot-lucks were conducted and celebrated

A sewn patch-work quilt of concepts served as both guideposts and safety and security blankets. And, from there, we ventured “out” into the wider world. John F. Kennedy was a Hollywood-type idol who followed a venerated war veteran president, Eisenhower and those of us who were coming of age took note. (We were unaware of his pecadilloes but intensely celebrative of his “Camelot.)

There was something called the “cold war” that seemed to be some kind of epic tension involving the United States and the Soviet Union, and “God” was on the side of the U.S….The Soviets were something called “atheists”…so we were told, and so we believed.

It was a rather simple and manageable world, for the most part, after the Second World War, an experience of our parents and grandparents, but only a textbook experience for us.

As more complex injections of technology, military materiel, scientific and medical treatments and diseases and a broader and deeper familiarity with world events washed over us, we naturally attempted, however superficially and nervously, to learn about and to integrate them into our world view.

Whatever else remained outside our consciousness, we simply did not know or perhaps even care about. We were busy with those things that we had to do to complete an education, find a job, start a family and then integrate ourselves into that mesh of people and activities. We might have ‘studied’ the range of appearance/reality themes in literature, as part of our introduction into the complexity and magnetism of writers, and through them, of the world at large. For the most part however, we were simply “innocent” and “ignorant” (ignosco, I do not know) of many of the darker forces that were rumbling outside our perceptions, both personal and collective.

Today, that innocence is being shattered, more quickly and more destructively than Hillary’s glass ceiling for women. We are learning of things we would not have imagined in our first quarter century. And it is not so much that horror stories like the Holocaust were not on our radar; they certainly were. It is more likely that we did not envision such massacres, or such tragedies on such a scale were so prevalent. Perhaps that is a good thing, leaving us a slight bit freer from the burden of how to “bear” the full truth of that dark monster, as a human potential, far beyond Hitler and the Third Reich.

However “deep” and permanent was our layer of self-inflicted, welcomed and substantiated “delussions”, we maintained it somewhat consciously and even more unconsciously.

Today, the unconscious, like shame, has been shredded like the ozone, but the proliferation of pieces of information, gathered and shared by people who have a special interest in their being shared, ostensibly for the higher purpose of protecting ourselves from the dangers we are currying, in our collective detachment, blindness, or even self-preservation.

Yesterday, I read a column in The Star that hit me where I was not. expecting to be struck. I have such a little knowledge of ‘economics’ including both fiscal and monetary policy, public finance, deficits and debt, that a thimble would be barely half full of what I “know”. I do not know the writer, a Canadian businessman named Frank Giustra, listed as ‘contributing columnist’ in The Star. For those who have not read it, I will share highlights.

Guistra opens with a quote from Voltaire:

The human brain is a complex organ with the wonderful power of enabling man to find reason for continuing to believe whatever it is that he wants to believe.

In his opening paragraph, he writes:

 It almost feels as if there is a universal collective denial of the obvious facts. And, truthfully, I believe there is something much more insidious at play, and the precarious state of the U.S. financial system is, in fact, known to those who pull or influence the levers of monetary policy….

What started out as the occasional Fed (Federal Reserve) reaction to a series of financial crises in the late 90’s, evolved into a permanent “free money” policy that ha sonly benefited Wall Street and the very wealthy. When the inevitable happened and the housing bubble burst in 2008. The Fed and the government’s misguided attempts to bail out the financial system led us into a much more dangerous place. I believe we are now at a point of no return that is unprecedented in history….

But if you listen to Fed chair Jerome Powell, along with almost any of the Wall Street talking heads, you would be led to believe that the current  $120-billion (U.S.) monthly QE (Quantitative Easing, remember the phrase from the Bernanke chairmanship of the Fed) can be tapered, and that (interest) rates can eventually be normalized. In turn, the markets trade as if these words are gospel. It’s as if everyone wishes to be blissfully ignorant of several annoying facts.

The facts, among other things, area that global debt has more than doubled since the 2008 financial crisis to $300 trillion (U.S.). Everyone is levered to the hilt; corporations, hedge funds, individuals and, most importantly governments. U.S. federal debt has tripled since 2008 and is now touching on $30 trillion. In 2020, the U.S> government spent
$371 billion on interest payments on its debt. And that’s at near zero interest rates. If the Fed allowed interest rates to rise in any8 material way, the U.S. government would either default or- more likely- enter an endless cycle of money printing. Even at current rates and with the ongoing multi-trillion dollar annual budget deficits, the die is cast. We have clearly sailed past the event horizon of an enormous black hole.

There is an aspect of the current situation that policy-makers never acknowledge. After 60 years of Fed fund rates averaging five to six percent, when the 2008 crisis hit the Fed’s monetary policy then landed us in a permanent range that hovers between zero and slightly above two percent. All attempts to raise rates above two per cent have failed, mostly due to Wall Street market tantrums. Meanwhile, inflation is hovering around sex per cent, which means that real interest rates are deep in negative territory to the tune of -4,5 per cent, if you use the 10-year treasure bonds as a measure….

Economist Mohamed A. El-Erian points to the recklessness of “Fed speak” in a too polite manner. ‘At one level, this hesitancy should not come as a huge surprise given the usual behavioural traps: in this case, they include inappropriate framing, confirmation biases, narrative inertia, and resistance to a loss of face. Yet, its persistence in the face of repeatedly contradictory data seriously increases the risk of otherwise-avoidable economic, financial, institutional and social damage.’ I (Giusra) would be less polite. These are intelligent people who know exactly what they are doing. Greenspan, Bernanke, Yellen and Powell, while in power, will all do what I expected of them and, as we have witnessed, only become critics once they retire.

Giusra then quotes Yuval Noah Harari’s book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind”…human beings differentiate ourselves from other life forms by our ability to tell each other (and believe in) stories. These collective delusions-ethics, religion, rule of law, etc- enable co-operation and progress. One such collective fiction, and a particularly successful one, is money.

Giusra’s closing line:

It looks as if we are currently living in a collective delusion of money and markets, aided and abetted by a loosely aligned club of players. God help us.

We watch and listen as the CDC announces tactical moves to deal with the complicated balance between personal and social “safety” from the pandemic and the need to have health care workers, airline workers, especially, return to work after only 5 days of quarantine rather than 10. The efficacy of vaccines themselves, is under scepticism from many quarters, while the need to have the vaccines jabbed into arms around the world is our only real hope of ‘roping’ this virus into a manageable fence.

If our financial “chief executives” are over-levered, as well as our governments, (no one would protest support payments in the middle of a global pandemic) and no truth is being sounded and heard and then applied to the situation, in this “market and money” two-headed monster under which we are living, there is reason for even more critical analysis, dissemination of these scary facts, and the alleged “cover-up” to which we are all subject.

In so many crisis situations, in law enforcement, we hear the cliché, “The crime is not the real problem: it is the cover-up that is really worrisome.”

And yet if and when the “system” itself is engaged in such a massive cover-up, as Giusra seems to suggest, how are the people of the world to begin the arduous process of peeling this onion?

Rest assured, the “establishment” are not about to be the first in line, when the trumpet sounds to recruit onion peelers. Neither, unfortunately, will the establishment media, whose existence depends on the very money and markets already distorted, and whose complicity with Wall Street is permanent. Think tanks, perhaps, linked to a world-wide information campaign by agencies like the World Bank and the BRIC bank, working together, might begin that onion-peeling process.

Given the reality even non-economic and financial scholars like this scribe can see that another global crisis is facing all of us, is it now timely to ask a cluster of world leaders, from the “west” and the “east” and the “north” and the “south” to sit down and begin the long and tortuous and even dangerous process of peeling this onion, as a window into the multiply other global issues needing committed, courageous and trustworthy leadership.

Note to Angela Merkel, Barrack Obama, Gordon Brown, Kofi Anan, Tony Blair, David Millband, Paul Martin, George W. Bush, Sergei Lavrov….the list continues…..

Are you still willing and able to serve in a new capacity to bring some “world order” and truth-telling to the fires burning in our forests and beneath the earth’s geological and mental/perceptual crust?

Monday, December 27, 2021

Happy New Year!

 If the world’s population is ever going to reconcile with itself, and move to a single tribe of diverse humans, the changes in attitude, philosophy, orientation and law will be monumental.

Even to suggest such a shared goal, on the surface, seems to most people nothing short of outrageous, quixotic, dream-like and ultimately merely fantasy. The world of fantasy, bringing together the expansive reaches of the human imagination, as do all artists every hour and every day they enter the space of their unique art, and marrying those ‘visions’ to the facts on the ground, however they might be perceived and integrated, is a bifocal process that risks epic and tragic dismissal.

It is the same kind of dismissal the young adolescent in “The Good Poet’s Society” film who wished to become an actor faced from his father, whose ambition, determination and need was that be enter a “responsible” career. And for that ‘sentence’ we all know that the father meant, “a way to make a living on a consistent, reliable, dependable and thereby honourable existence”. Incipient and aspiring artists have been suffering from such a judgemental sentence for centuries, from fathers and some mothers, who were determined to force a career of conventionality, respectability and “good pay” on their offspring.

And indeed, there is a conventional, cultural, intellectual and above all “pragmatic” and “useful” belief and practice that business, and all of the requirements and disciplines of that modus operandi, are honourable, worthwhile, necessary, and therefore right and mature for all young men and women to consider entering. Such a stereotypical social and cultural “recruitment” program is so deeply embedded in our thinking, normalizing and genuflecting, that universities can and do attract candidates to MBA programs “dressed up” in “international” costumes (I am thinking specifically “American-Canadian”), that corporations will pay at least $100,000 to have their prospective executives “branded” with that degree. Universities, themselves, while stretching beyond their ‘normal’ geographic boundaries, are marketing directly to those already established corporations and their leaders, and thereby filling ‘seats’ and depositing enrolment fees in their coffers. Making money, finding permanent professional employment, through whatever means have been established like colleges and universities, is one way to funnel recent graduates into “real jobs” that attempt to keep the unemployment numbers low, the tax revenues consistent, the crime numbers low, and the purchase of homes, cars, clothes, tech-toys, entertainment, travel, and many of the accoutrements of contemporary healthy living like golf, boating, parties, and various forms of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals rolling as if on another of the plethora of “assembly lines”. We like those assembly lines for their predictability, their statistical resource for the study of everything far beyond how much to produce, what to produce, how much to charge, and even how to predict human behaviour, especially that behaviour that will ensure the smooth running of both the production and ‘supply chain’.

Occasionally, however, given far less daily accounting, a new idea, often prompted by the same motivation that lies at the core of the capitalist, and now universal, machine, a new idea, a gadget, a process, a way to tighten, and thereby reduce the costs and elevate the profits of whatever it is we are producing finds its way into the testing process. That happens, not only in pharma, but also in new fabric, new cooking utensils, new appliances, new self-driving vehicles, and new instruments for disposing of potential bombs (robots) or for reconnaissance without danger (drones). It would be remiss to fail to note the smorgasbord of tech devices, now a “necessity” almost as necessary as the toothbrush, in the hands and lives of all human beings.

And that technology has also made its way into the diagnostics of human cancers, and treatments of many diseases and illnesses, previously outside human comprehension and understanding and treatment or prevention.

So much of that story about new ‘things’ has a beneficial component of considerable proportions. Those proportions include the excitement of the discovery, and the research that went into that discovery, and the multiple operational (mostly still human) needs of production, distribution, marketing, investment, planning and even visioning.

And here is where the ‘market system’ (irrespective of the ratio of public and private dollars that undergird it) intersects with the “artistic” potential and even dependency. It is not only the need for a human imagination to ‘conceive’ of something that can and will be marketed and sold and purchased but also the human need to preserve the opportunity to flex the imagination in ways that are likely to conflict with, to challenge, and to object to some of the precepts that comprise the foundations and the superstructure of the “market-sky-scrapers” that comprise the city-scape of our major cities.

The new technology has, for example, given rise to and considerable opportunity for millions of single entrepreneurs to conceive, and to develop creative expressions, both objects and services of various kinds, for offer to the global consumer, to enhance both the beauty and the effectiveness of our lives. Etsy, among others, has reached into millions of screens, minds and impulses resulting in a massive shift in consumer opportunity, as well as economic feasibility, where previously, few opportunities were feasible.

Imagination, creativity, ingenuity and the human will to create, fortunately, know no national, geographic, linguistic, ethnic, religious or scientific boundaries. They are universal, and they are at the heart of the pulse of each heart and mind and community. And their collective strength far outstrips the collective strength of the singular profit motive. That is not to say that the profit motive is not and cannot be integral to each “creation”….indeed, history is filled with stories about men and women whose determination to meet basic needs has resulted in new offerings, many of an artistic and creative nature.

One difference between those we have celebrated and those treated and valued differently, has been the pragmatic and immediate ‘market’ acceptance of many, and the longer term, and perhaps even less successful penetration of the public consciousness of ideas, objects, creative expressions of various kinds.

Plays that have a ‘run’ of barely a single week, for example, failing to attract ‘seat/ticket sales’ and critics’ acclaim, have faded into the mists of history. A few have been resurrected, for a different time and audience, with a new “twist” with a more successful run. Some “retreads” like the Rogers and Hammerstein productions of many of their renowned musicals have experienced multiple iterations, successes, at the professional and the amateur level of theatres in large cities and very small towns.

And here is again where an obvious intersection of a publicly approved piece of art, and the public’s willingness to underwrite the performance or the exhibition of its beauty and value take place. Museums, libraries, antique shops, science displays like the Smithsonian are repositories of many of our best “pieces of work” and their recent penetration of the digital marketplace has afforded many to benefit (read profit) from their sale.

So on some levels, western culture celebrates art and creativity in many forms and faces, while also, paradoxically, refusing to come to an acceptance of the value art and creativity play in the overall life of the community. Naturally, we accept the role of popular music in the lives of adolescents, and the role of “young literature” increasingly is celebrated by parents everywhere, as something nearly as important and the diet and health care of their children. This is a far cry from the droning, dour and puritanical directive in my family of origin: “Don’t read; do something!” OR of the assumed wisdom of the parental guidance in the words, “Just act: don’t react!” from a seasoned businessman to his son.

Indeed, it is the “bottom-line” approach, the reductionistic to a budgetary bottom line that drives much of the thinking and the processes taught and adopted by the business class. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is  another of the multiple ‘rules’ of procedure for many business operators, and politicians, and thereby implicitly of the culture generally, that is such an accepted piece of wisdom that it often precludes the very kind of “out-of-the-box” initiatives that McDonalds was once reputed to have built a “thinking-retreat-quiet-room” for executives to feel free to enter in order to “create” or “imagine” or “come up with” innovations.

In certain venues, at certain times, and depending on certain specific already “proven” individuals, we are wont to pay attention to ideas, experiments, creative expressions. But our definition of those times, places and people, while somewhat elastic, is still nevertheless highly dependent on a cultural penchant for stability, security, predictability and reliability.

Almost in a counterintuitive and culturally self-sabotaging compulsion, we restrict both the resources dedicated to generating new ideas, the recipients of those resources, the public appreciation of looking toward the future, by any one or more of several imperatives, including:

*you have not proven yourself yet

*you will never amount to anything if you pursue that career path

*you are not living in a family that is “that kind of people” (uttered by a Northern Ontario mother to her highly motivated, highly curious and highly ambitious adolescent son)

*you will never “make” it if you take that route

*you are more interested in instant fame and gratification than in a successful, reliable, dependable, mature life and relationship with a family

*you are tilting at windmills again, if you think you will make anything of yourself in __________....entertainment, design, acting, professional musicianship

*you may have graduated from university, but you do not “have a profession yet” (uttered by an obstetrician-gynecologist father, to his honours graduate in political science)

*you need to make a living, and you need to take steps that will provide some stability and security and “that” route is fraught with perilous uncertainty (almost as if many career routes are still clinging to the ephemeral myth of “joining the circus”)

*you need to remember that only a mere 1-2% of young men and women are able to cut it and find successful careers in professional sports, in national broadcasting, on Broadway, in Hollywood, even in concert halls around the world

* you must avoid putting all your eggs in one basket….so keep you options open, by studying two majors rather than a single major in undergrad school

There is an open and universal tension between a rifle shot approach to one’s choices, and a more “shot-gun” approach to those choices. And a similar tension between creative and the pragmatic. It is socially and professionally and parentally alright to select engineering (any one of its many disciplines) but far less acceptable, at least until the individual has achieved some degree of success. And then the tables do a 180 degree turn.

A brief anecdote from personal experience: A neighbour’s son had a highly artistic, creative and irrepressible flair while in high school along with a relatively strong disaffection and disdain for anything considered curriculum, formal classes, detentions and “obedience compliance” with the system. He was not in any way criminal; but more idiosyncratic, unique, training his crow to speak, building huge box-kites that really flew, and curiously drawing and painting anything and everything he saw. His father, a highly authoritarian long-time game-warden for the provincial government was contemptuous of his son’s aberrant attitudes and behaviour. When the son selected “Ontario College of Art” as his post-secondary venue for further study, his father was not merely contemptuous, but actually incredulous of the choice. After a single term at that college, with the reports of his son’s many accomplishments, he suddenly apparently had an epiphany: “Venturing over the back fence into our backyard, his father trumpeted, in a voice audible for several hundreds yards, “My son, the artist, has done very well at school!” for all within earshot. And then, meticulous and creative in his own way, proceeded immediately to produce a masterpiece “art-case” in polished oak with brass fittings, as a testament to his now “redeemed” son, the artist.

That story, like the millions like it, serves as an archetype, a model and a metaphor for the point I am trying to make. Only today, several decades later, the world has changed. Communities, small and medium-size cities have all come to realize that their arts community is a potential and reliable and dependable and necessary source of renewal. Crafters, artists, actors, musicians, designers and their various traditional venues, support systems and boards of directors, (for those working in groups as non-profits) have risen remarkably to a very different and much more visionary place of prominence and value that at any time in the last century.

And it is not an accident. Labour out-sourcing, corporate greed seeking to cut costs and inflate profits, new technologies, transitional and thereby fluctuating and unstable community economies impacting families, schools, hospitals, and even the traditional retail markets within those towns and cities have birthed both a profound anxiety about how to “recover” and a volcanic opportunity for those willing and able to “see” that opportunity and then to “take” it.

This space, now having been filled nearly 3000 times over the past decade-plus, would not have been available, when I was in the prime of my career. Although I was afforded many opportunities to “speak and to write” about public affairs, for many years, mostly in a small city, and for mere pennies (not a complaint merely a fact, given that I would have done it for nothing because I “loved” every minute of it!), a platform for words, from 1960-2000 of a newspaper, a magazine, a radio station, or a television station was required.

The public had grown accustomed to such public utterances. And there were certain criteria that attempted to govern those publications and broadcasts. That apprenticeship has not been wasted, in millions of lives. And just yesterday, the words on these pages were being read in multiple countries, as, I hope and trust, these words will be read later today and in the days ahead.

I am profoundly grateful for each of the readers who have found these pages. I am also indebted to each of them whose page reads I follow daily, in an attempt to ascertain where these scribblings are finding a welcome, or even becoming something of an irritant.

I have chosen to submit these words without the underwriting of any sponsor, believing that independence and integrity and authenticity and freedom are more likely, for me and for the readers, without such attachments. As I survey the web, however, I am increasingly conscious that even the most worthy sites have advertising, sponsorship and even memberships of some supportive kind. That is another decision and topic for another space and time.

In the meantime, I want to wish each and every reader, in whatever country, and bearing whatever faith and political ideology, the best of health in 2022, the opportunity to contribute to the welter of both information and imagination on which the world depends, and the chance to grow into the most creative, imaginative and courageous individual you can. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 24, 2021

Continuing to beat the drum for a united human race...unquixotically!

Reconciling the notion that humans are all metaphors, all of equal and significant value, with the notion that we are also infused with a divine spark….

Perhaps we might begin to envision our selves, our identity, our place in the universe as a member of a single tribe, not of disparate tribes, not of conflicting ideologies, not of separate and competing races, not of different nations and nationalities, not of disparate educations or incomes, or access to health care and opportunities for work with dignity. Perhaps, now that real time makes everyone potentially able to witness and thereby experience events, both disasters like fires and floods and pandemics and stories including detailed data about all of them, together as a single human tribe, we might begin to consider the ways by which each representative of “the other” might contribute to the health and wellbeing of the whole.

This common humanity notion, as an identifying and humbling and uplifting perspective would immediately re-configure how we ‘see’ each other, regardless of our respective histories and conflicts and wars and threats from the past. Just yesterday we read a news story that reported the suspension of a town councillor for 90 days without pay from the town council, on a decision from the integrity commissioner of the town, for having bullied citizens against taking COVID-19 vaccines. This morning we read of a story in the Financial Post written by Diane Francis, advocating the concept of requiring those who refuse to be vaccinated to pay for their own health care, in Canada, where national health care is a long-established law and tradition.

Every day, we are learning about the specific decisions being taken around the world on how to manage the pandemic, and potentially all leaders in all nations are learning and benefiting from the best practices regardless of the geographic or religious, or linguistic or cultural source of those practices. Similarly, we are able to access stories, for example, in The New Humanitarian, about human tragedies, terror, starvation, homelessness, refugee migration and destitution around the world. Also just yesterday, on local television, we saw the arrival of mini-homes for the homeless in what is called an Olympic Park, with interior washrooms and kitchen facilities, new homes for physically disadvantaged homeless in Kingston Ontario. The story included the announcement of a specific strategy to incorporate social and health service professionals to visit new residents of the new community, with a view to re-integrating them back into a society that has for too long excluded, or at least turned a blind eye and ear to their plight.

Such stories are not exclusive to Eastern Ontario. Other urban centres at least in Canada, are “stepping up to the plate” to address what has already become, and will inevitably grow, a common shared human story, far beyond statistics.

Those pictures, if they were to be shared around the world, (as they undoubtedly have already been), offer hope not only to the homeless in Eastern Ontario, but also to other towns and cities trying to offer hope. We can only hope that this is not a “good-feeling” Christmas story, prompted by the spirit of the birth of Jesus in Christianity. Compassion for “our brother” is not exclusive to Christianity, nor to any of the major world religions. Indeed, it is our human capacity not only to envision such real-world compassion and empathy, but also to bring programs into reality to take responsible action on our better instincts and angels.

Of course, as part of a world human tribe, we also read yesterday that $100 Billion was siphoned off from the pandemic relief program in the United States by illicit fraudsters who applied, even though they were not eligible, and thereby deprived those in real need of those funds. “Speed over efficiency” was the explanation from government sources, when asked about how such a sizeable fraud might have been committed, with the lax complicity of official Washington. Names were not checked, addresses were not checked and background checks were not performed to ascertain eligibility of recipients. Similarly, of the millions of vaccines promised by nations committed to COVAX, the regime to collect and distribute vaccines equitably around the globe, barely half have been delivered. And we all know that without all people on the planet being vaccinated, no one is safe from contracting it and the longer it continues to plague us (individually and collectively) the greater the opportunity it has to mutate and continue to evade vaccines and therapeutics.

Every single person alive has been awake to the legendary global reputation of the United States of America as the “beacon on the hill” where hard work and diligence will bring great financial rewards and recognition, and the freedom to live as one chooses. That story, embedded both in the mind and heart of all Americans, has been spread overtly and covertly for more than a century, intricately enmeshed in the American psyche, emblazoned on the shoulders of men and women in the American military, encapsuled in the limousines and suits of diplomats and corporate elite and “sold” to whatever needy or innocent or greedy of unsuspecting ‘buyer’ wherever American prowess was implanted, or attempted to be inculcated.

That story, however, is suffering from a severe erosion both at home and abroad, leaving considerable room for others (think China India, Brazil, Russia at least) to leap into the vacuum left by the U.S. No one celebrates the “bloom-fading” from the American rose; however, the global population can see both the American beneficence and the American greed on full display everywhere. And, while opportunists naturally take advantage of their American “example” and role modelling, others are more able to see how to push back against the most militarily powerful nation in history. Putin is engaged in that process today, and the world is watching. His moderate tone and words of hope for a resolution are a benign glimmer of light on a potentially ominous border between Ukraine and Russia. NATO’s next moves, while still unknown to the world, remain a constant reminder of how profoundly inter-connected the world and its people have become.

Similarly, with the Iran Nuclear Pact, and the disastrous American withdrawal under trump, we have all experienced steep rises in energy prices, as we also have given the stealth of the pandemic. In that vein too, we have all witnessed, and many have directly experienced the plague of those who refuse vaccinations, protest health care workers, doctors and health care workers around the globe. Just in Canada, consider by both natives and outsiders to be a relatively peaceful and somewhat polite tribe of people, in the last month, incidents of threats to health care workers have risen 59%, leaving many in the field to consider or even to act upon urges to withdraw from the profession…just when that profession is an integral component of our shared survival.

The forces and the winds, and the fires and the floods, the tornadoes and the hurricanes, the desperation and poverty, the hopelessness, as well as the lawlessness, lies and deceptions we all know are universal. And it demands a universal collaborative, co-ordinated, sustained and muscular response to address the dangerous threats from all of these forces. The forces themselves know no favourites, no winners or losers, no rich or poor, no educated or non-education, no Christian or Muslim or Jew, no Arab or Asian, and no western or eastern culture. And, although it may seem ironic and paradoxical, perhaps even those horrible forces might be what it takes to being us all to a new consciousness, a shared consciousness, and a shared and deliberately responsible strategy to address those forces.

The forces themselves, cannot and will not be defined by a criminal code. Nor will they bend to the will of any legislature, or law or medical treatment plan. They cannot be excised by surgery, or assassination, or nuclear bombs, or cybercrimes, or space invasions. And they most certainly will not be complicit to pouring trillions of cash at them.

We have a moment to come to “jesus” as some Americans would say. In that moment we have to realize and accept that our defences are swiss cheese in the face of the global threats. We have to realize and accept that we cannot buy our way out of this vortex. We have to come to grips with the reality that our knowledge and our best minds do not have, and are unlikely to have, a silver bullet to counter these forces, although serious and laudable steps will bite small pieces off their face. We have to come face to face with the notion that our nationality, our religion, our race and ethnicity, our wealth or poverty, our education or its lack, our political status or none, are all individually and collectively inadequate for the moment and for the foreseeable future.

Hillary Clinton’s “It takes a Village to Raise a Child” has global implications, and those implications are not ethereal, ephemeral , or inescapable. And the village is and cannot be reduced to a single town, or a single neighbourhood or a single province/state or a single nation. We are all engaged, whether we acknowledge it or not, in a process of educating, role modelling, inspiring/destroying the millions of children around the planet. And our individual and our collective actions will spell and define the nature of the kind of air, water, land, and institutional supports those children will inherit.

And if we are unable to take that responsibility seriously for our own generation, then surely we can begin to consider the option, still available yet vanishing by the minute, to grab the apple, that proverbial metaphor of taking responsibility for the next several decades. We can all make the kind of contacts with our leaders that will prompt their own shift in priorities, with a view to reducing the incidence of bullying whether in a schoolyard on in a town council, whether in a diplomatic negotiation or on a frozen battlefield in Ukraine, whether on the streets of Hong Kong, or in the Amazon Forest, and whether on the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico or in the Athabasca tar sands, to bring about decisions that respect the humans in  their respective circles, not only for today, to avert what might be an immediate spark of ignition of something no one wants, but also for a much longer term.

More and more families are considering gifts in kind, to charities of choice, including environmental protection agencies and philanthropics, United Nations UNICEF/UNHCR, SOS Childrens’ Agencies,  World Vision, Amnesty International, OXFAM…and the list stretches for miles. And this individual and collective cluster of initiatives will not only have immediate material benefits for those who needs are in the focused lens of their respective help agency, but they will also have the longer term impact of modeling new ways of thinking about how we each spend our limited cash.

We are not merely consumers, nor political pawns in the chess games of the powerful. We are not either ignorant or insensitive to the global situation and the needs of human beings everywhere. And we can no longer use the perverted excuse “out of sight, out of mind” as our way of justifying our detachment and our insouciance to the plight of the world.

Compassion, while embodied in a new LEGO set for a child, and while that set might expand his or her imagination, will not feed a dying child in Africa, nor rescue a refugee in Lebanon. Nor will it scrub the smoke stacks of the developed worlds’ industrial manufacturing plants. We are, and we all know it, consuming to excess, eating to excess, drinking and medicating to excess, and our excesses are no longer slowly but rather rapidly suffocating the planet’s capacity to breath, to access fresh water and to engender a new spirit and attitude that is based more on how we can be part of the solution than an intimate and long-lasting participant in the problems.

We are not unconscious of our determined complicity in our own demise. We cannot be blind to how we share responsibility for the rape of the Rain Forest, for the extinction of species, for the suffocating pollution of the oceans and rivers and lakes. And we are not crippled without options to make new and different and LIFE-SAVING decisions in our personal lives, and then in exerting pressure on our leaders to shift them in the direction of the survival of the planet and its people everywhere.

Bullying in the playground is not any different or reprehensible than it is in the board room, on the union shop floor, in the United Nations, The WHO, or on the Eastern Border of Ukraine, nor in the legislature of Hong Kong. Bullying is still bullying and stamping it out demands a change in all of our attitudes and approaches. ‘

It was Martin Luther King who reminded us that our most serious threats are not coming from “bad people” but from the silent complicity of good people.

In his letter from the Birmingham jail cell, King wrote:

“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.” (Leonard Pitts Jr. seattletimes.com January 20, 2019)