Sunday, February 19, 2017

Let's not default on our better angels

The debate about fake news, alternative facts, the evidence of leaks of classified information (presumably by disgruntled government employers) and Trump’s war on the major news outlets as the sources of lies and fake news has finally got down to the question of individual human literacy.

 Among other things, literacy now includes the capacity…
·       to read,
·      to discern literal empirical information from figurative language,
·      to draw inferences from tonal quality, physical body language, images of power and
·      to deduce some relevant assessment of the world in which we live.

Bombarded with words and images, we are all, today, subject to a drowning cataract of what most sources call “information”….more of it now of the “infomercial” variety attempting to sell some product, some view of the world, some ideology and, as the dark side of the previous goals, the venality of the opponents. In the United States, the Second Amendment promises the freedom of expression, including the impunity even immunity from prosecution for what the rest of the world calls “hate” speech. Many pundits and observers consider the existence and healthy functioning of a free news media as a sine qua non of democracy: simply, the government of, for and by the people depends on the free flow of public information, dispensed with professional discipline, rigour and integrity (not to mention verified clarity) from a variety of sources reflecting a diversity of political ideologies, independent of the current political office holders.

A number of strong and fundamental forces are competing and converging on the political stage(s) in many countries. They include:

·      The emergence of social media, by which everyone has the opportunity to “report” on whatever happens in their individual life, and to comment on whatever happens in the range of their individual and collective conscious,  
·      the dislocation among former industrial workers who have watched their jobs slide to countries in which neither labour nor environmental standards exert the level of costs on corporations (a race to the bottom, in human workplace economic, political and sociological terms)
·      the rise of Russian nationalism, including military aggression and the seizure of Crimea
·      the wave of migrant refugees that threatens the political order in several European countries, and foreshadows and sustains the rise of nationalistic populism, racism, the far-right political parties that seek power, or have achieve it in Poland, Hungary, France, Germany, Great Britain and the United States
·      the devolution of the language in public discourse of dignity, respect and honesty into character assassination, slander, libel and “alternative facts” with impunity
·      the serious erosion of the financial statements and thereby the reporting corps in small and medium-sized daily newspapers
·      the spike in cyber-intelligence and cyber-invasions that have and continue to undermine the integrity of democratic elections, to wit the presidential election in the United States
·      the erosion of public confidence in historic institutions and the people who serve in those institutions including government, corporations, and the many agencies of government
·      the rise of specialized academic research among the corporate and university communities that competes with what had been established “sibboleths” of personal life practice and process, rendering the ordinary citizen fearful of being able/capable of digesting and assimilating and making sense of the import of much of this research
·      the spike in video-game culture that supports and sustains a violent competitive world view of winner and loser, already deeply ingrained in the movie and television entertainment industry
·      the shrinking of the world’s space and time, making travel for leisure, business and learning much more accessible today than ever in history
·      the video-audio recording of moments from both public and private lives/conflicts/debates/investigations/reports much of it competing/conflicting with information from similar competing sources
·      the history of unresolved racial divisions taking shape and form uniquely in various places, with various minorities whose integration into the mainstream awaits their succeeding generations
·      the implications of globalization and global warming and climate change, two of the macro-issues still thirsting for resolution

These are just a few of the forces shoving individuals, organizations, governments, families and nations in several directions simultaneously, leaving everyone and most organizations confused, unfocused, nervous and in some cases dysfunctional.

The media, as a public face on our collective consciousness, struggles with its identity, as do the political parties that have depended on traditional roles, positions, and public credence, the leaders of the organizations, not only at the top, but in the many departments who, naturally, when facing fear and uncertainty, revert to self-protective behaviours that may prove to be short-sighted and self-sabotaging both to them and to their organization, also struggle to find an identity in this vortex of the confluence of new and potentially dangerous torrents for which none of us has prepared.

Identity politics, in a primarily transactional business-dominated (win-lose) culture, pits my ability to dominate against your’s in every office, boardroom, operating room, union hall and classroom. It is as if the poverty of the adage “do it to them before they do it to you” has found universal resonance. This poverty of perspective, robbed as it is of “the other’s needs, hopes, aspirations and dreams” has stripped the consciousness and the demands of the “public good” from conversations about shared issues, shared resources, shared goals and shared hopes and optimism.

  • When we accept the poverty of this monumental scarcity, in the face of such threatening and impending and seemingly intractable issues, we fulfil the self-fulfilling aspect of our own prophecy. 
  • When we place our individual needs above those of the “public good,” we not only abandon our responsibility for serving the needs of the public good; we also absolve future generations from having to take those responsibilities seriously. 
  • When our world view, in the face of such a plethora of storms bearing down upon us, reverts to isolationism, nationalism, walls, guns and deportations, as the primary way of dealing with perceived (and demonstrably unreal) threats, we have already joined a large public army/consciousness/conventionality/normalcy that is a lie to the human spirit.

This current political threat from the far-right denies our basic, demonstrable and verifiable human reality: that we are hopeful, compassionate, social, egalitarian, spiritual and integrous at our core. If and when we, individually and collectively, submit to the denial of these better (even best) angels, and join the parade to feed our darker instincts to personal power under the threat of one or more of many fears, we reduce our capacity to defeat these dark forces, and thereby throw away our opportunity to nudge the world to a higher and more sustainable and much more honourable level of civilization….a goal that regardless of our political, economic, academic, religious or national background, we all share.

Let’s start demonstrating that basic truth.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

How much chaos and deception and lies can the world tolerate?

After the chocolates, the flowers, the romantic music and the loving of yesterday (Valentine’s Day), this morning the dark shadow of geopolitical reality hangs over our heads and our spirits.

Within the last week:
·      Kim Jung Un has fired a medium-range ballistic missile, fired this time with solid fuel (not the liquid kind that gives a longer warning to enemies),
·      Putin has fired a ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, in direct contravention of the agreement signed by Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev,
·      National Security Advisor General Michael Flynn has resigned in disgrace over his at best inappropriate (at worst illegal?) conversations with the Russian Ambassador to the United States, over sanctions against Russia for its intervention into the American electoral process, and
      reports circulate from multiple sources that the White House is in “turmoil”…..staggered by the many mis-statements from alternative facts to lies about the three million undocumented immigrants who voted illegally, the request for an investigation into the “sales pitch” from Kellyann Conway on Fox to go out and buy Ivanka Trump’s line.

Whether it is a committee of the Senate or the House or both, investigating the Trump debacle that attempts to pass itself off as the official administration of the United States, testing the White House gang at the moment of its obviously deepest chaos seems to have become the chosen sport of both the North Koreans and the Kremlin. Whether General Mattis, Secretary of Defense, can put a lid on world jitters this morning at the NATO meeting in Brussels, given the depth of the administration’s dysfunction is, for many observers, doubtful if not actually impossible.

While Europe just this morning signed the CETA trade agreement with Canada, removing tariff barriers between Canada and the EU, the angst among many European nations and their leaders grows in the wake of the turbulence in Washington and the prospect of opportunistic “dictators” like Jung Il and Putin to exacerbate the already boiling geopolitical pot(s). The notion of a stable, honourable democratic and trustworthy partner in the White House and in Washington seems to have flown away with the tornado of lies, falsehoods, allegations, “lock-her-up” charges and testosterone-laden invective that spews from the president and his coterie of sycophants. (Incompetence, laced with invective and ego-mongering seeps through in the most innocuous ways: “Prime Minister ‘Joe’ (not Justin) Trudeau”, from the mouth of the White House Press Secretary yesterday.)

The Trump “brand,” having been banned in China, is undergoing a potential resurfacing in light of the dramatically altered geopolitical realities in which the president of the United States puts his business empire’s growth on the table with the many other negotiations, in his hubristic and blind belief that ‘the president of the United States does not have any conflicts of interest’.

This morning reports indicate that there are wiretaps of ‘several’ phone conversations between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives in the midst of the presidential campaign. That, by itself, ought to generate ulcers if not cardiac arrests among elected Republicans, so adamant is (was) their party as the protector of the United States from the “murderer Putin” (to quote Senator John McCain). However, while talk and news reports proliferate in Washington, missiles fired and the strafing of U.S. warships in both the Baltic and Black Seas by Russian fighter jets must be giving everyone watching the jitters reminiscent of the Cold War of the fifties and sixties.

Gorbachev, in a recent op-ed piece in Time, predicted that the world was moving inexorably toward war. In that piece, he called on Trump and Putin to jointly offer a resolution to the Security Council of the United Nations to put the option of war off the international table. Recognizing that neither ‘side’ can or would win in any military conflict, Gorbachev’s incisive analysis and prophetic invitation need to echo in Brussels, in New York, in Moscow and especially in Washington and Beijing.

The world is not ready for, nor can it tolerate another cold war, especially as the existential threats of global warming and climate change, massive immigrant dislocation and migration, the unattended issues of human rights abuses and the rising levels of un-and under-employment resulting from globalization and the widening gap in incomes…..and the rising tide of ill-ease, bitterness and even contempt for the institutional leadership.

Facsists and ultra-nationalists, protectionists and those like Steve Bannon who seek the overthrow of the “establishment” everywhere, (following Italian apocalyptic thinker Julias Evola endeared by Fascists in both Italy and the Third Reich) have to be “outed” from their closet of  toxic secrecy and nefarious scheming and shown to be what they really are: dangerous to world order!

Trump says Flynn was fired because of a lack of trust; how ironic! Who can, could or will trust the Trump administration? Sometimes parallel process (whereby precisely the same dynamic is playing out in a private life and a parallel universe, such as the whole administration) is so clearly evident as to be almost ghostly in its weirdness. How could these two dramas being taking shape unfolding on this public stage simultaneously?

And, among the names being floated for Flynn’s replacement is General David Petraeus'; although somewhat tarnished by his disclosure of classified information to his biographer/lover, why would Petraeus even consider such an appointment? Loyalty to his country, of course, for a life-long military careerist who has risen to the top of the national totem pole of power, will go a long way to prompting a positive response should he be tasked with replacing Flynn. And, with the current White House in shambles, the nation’s security being discussed in front of private patrons at Trump’s Florida digs, (not in a private and confidential space!) and the world shaking its head and wagging its collective parental finger at the mess of the first 26 days, little wonder there is anxiety in many world capitals.

Can Petraeus, Mattis, Tilerson at al rescue this administration and keep this national ship “on course” (whatever that might mean under the unpredictable and irascible and uncontrollable chief executive? Will the Wshington Post and the New York Times (the dishonest media in Trump’s mind) uncover and report enough evidence to force the appointment of a special prosecutor, as in the Watergate affair, and will the evidence be so overwhelming as to render the president potentially empeachable?

It is early in the drama; however, there are many demons released from the administration’s closet with more likely to come. Can treason really be on the radar in this deplorable state of the U.S. government just when stability, trust and predictability are what the world needs most?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Our historic opportunity for change through global collaboration, co-operation

There have been declarations of “the end of history” when Hegel noted the triumph of Napolean, and when Nietzsche noted the end of man, and when political philosopher Francis Fukuyama noted that consumerism would supplant ambition, courage, imagination and individualism. Back at the beginning of the public consciousness of the danger posed by the release of carbon dioxide through hydroflorocarbons from aerosol cans, the apocalypse became the watchword for many environmentalists, and through that spike in consciousness, the environmental movement lost much of its steam. Overstatement is, by definition, a potential self-sabotage simply because the “end” does not appear, and because the public becomes disengaged. A yawn replaces the appropriate activism and change in habits.

The Christian heritage of the “end of times” is an archetype from the book of Revelation that foretells the time when good triumphs over evil, and when the ultimate judgement of humans by God separates the “good people” from the “evil people”. Anticipating the end of time has been a repeating theme starting with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem A.D. 70 and as re-emerged intermittently in various writings from Ezekiel to Isaiah, as a method for disclosing the future intervention and power of God in the lives of those writing the Old Testament.

As expected, the writers who have raised the spectre of the end of time have fed on and nourished a kind of fear of epic mortality, often as a motivating vision and stimulus for reformation. When the current reality overwhelms our capacity to integrate and comprehend what we are witnessing and experiencing, humans frequently dip into the well of metaphors and re-cast the image of ultimate terminality. Wars, tsunamis, droughts, fires, mass migrations, mass deaths, economic depressions, epidemics, population explosions, revolutions….these are just some of the turning points in human history that have energized the deployment of apocalyptic thinking and writing.

Of course, the wringing of hands, the turning to prophets and saviours, heroes and tyrants, a spike in both legal and illicit medications for escape….these are some of the ways humans choose to confront their mounting fears. Large and seemingly unresolveable fears ironically generate a kind of thinking and language that confronts the fears with over-reaching power, in images of the 'end of times'. Also, when one is frightened, one’s grasp on what is “real” seems to loosen and one looks for reference points of stability, perhaps even maturity, perspective and calm. Some also look for “silver bullet” remedies that can be compressed into a kind of sound byte, without the full comprehension or even openness to the complexities of current reality and any authentic process for change. The opportunist gravitates to such a vacuum, ready willing and eager to ride the wave of fear to ultimate power and control by promising instant, glib, (unachieveable, unrealistic) and large answers to what are really gordion knots so complex that no political, economic, military or executive act will resolve. As part of the paving of the path to power, the opportunist seizes on promising the “moon” to a people starved for their “due” at least in their own mind.

The convergence of “scarcity” with the ambition of the unscrupulous, especially with the advent of a mind of technology with which the masses have yet to adjust and to integrate into a kind of normalcy in their lives, offers a unique moment in history when moderation seems to fail the starved imaginations and the limited visions of many in the public for what they perceive as required solutions. Power, in the short term, swings toward those who promise that “moon” without any real expectation of resolution. Desperation, at that time, becomes the operating public mood in the culture.

With the rise of opportunists, charlatans, hucksters and narcissistic self-fulfilling and self-declared ‘super-humans’, one of their easily manipulated tools is the re-writing of the public discourse. What once seemed an agreed body of information over which a legitimate debate took place as to what approach might best meet the need for change is replaced by a tidal wave of mis-information, dis-information and outright distortions. Charlatans have no remorse at cleaning away the underbrush of facts in order to have a new unfettered road to dominate both the facts and their proposed solutions, all of which are designed to enhance their own personal reputation. Any thought of the “public good” is obliterated from the consciousness of the opportunist charlatan, for the simple reason that “the other” has no “standing” in the court of his mind. The only “other” that matters is the other who submits completely to the will and the whim of the “leader”. “Serve me, or prepare to be outcast” (in order for me to sustain my invincibility and my supreme power) would seem to be the mantra of the supreme leader.

Little wonder then that talk of the end of time, the end of history has re-surfaced in the public consciousness.

The triumph of “virtuality”, the new word that seems to be crowding “reality” off the stage of the human consciousness, seems to have reached a “zenith or perhaps a nadir” with the rise of Donald Trump to the Oval Office. Dependent almost solely on the utterances of his own vacuous mind, the new president “invents” terrorist threats, raping Mexicans, corrupt Hillary, rising crime rates and a swamp that needs draining, not to mention “so-called judges” and presidents who are not encumbered by any conflict of interest nor a constitution. As for the divestiture of private business interests, the disclosure of tax returns, the nepotism embedded in appointments to the administration of family members as well as the historic respect for individuals like Senator John McCain,…..well, these are all mere myths in the mind of a dishonest and disgraceful media and not worthy of honouring, respecting, or even circumscribing as off limits from presidential tweets.

The Speaker of the British House of Commons shouts that Trump be denied the opportunity to speak to Parliament when he visits London,  an occasion that would be an embarrassment to the Queen and the British people. The Canadian government sends as many cabinet ministers to Washington as will be received, in order to pave the way for a face-to-face meeting between Trump and Trudeau, as if such inordinate pre-planning would leave the Canadian leader vulnerable to the Trump bullying offensive.

It is not only that Trump lives in and propagates an “alternative reality” which he expects his acolytes to utter before every microphone the can find. It is more importantly also an “alternative reality” that he expects the American people, the leaders and people in countries around the world and the media serving those billions to believe. In short, this man is challenging the credence of the world, in order to bend it to his supreme power. Every opposing statement is countered with a denigrating rebuttal, based usually on an “ad hominum” attack, (witness the attack on Senator Blumenthal’s war record attack, following his disclosure of the Gorsuch comments on Trump’s demeaning the judiciary as “demoralizing and abhorrent”). 
Witness the presidential flaying of Nordstrom after they dropped his daughter’s clothing line, because of lack of sales. (‘They have treated her so unfairly!’) Nothing and no one is outside the line of fire of the psychotic, narcissistic and egomaniacal inhabitant of the White House. And, there is a real danger that the constant drumbeat of headline-followed-by-headline from HIS obsession with control will both literally and metaphorically swamp the consciousness of both the media editors and their audiences.
It used to be with George W. Bush that we learned, “I don’t do nuance!” whereas with Obama, nuance, moderation and reflection were defining traits. Now we learn that Trump does not even have the word “nuance” in his lexicon. He does not know such a word/concept exists.

And with the consistent climb of the Dow, and the Nasdaq, the drop in unemployment numbers in the U.S. and the confirmation of some of the most far-right, potentially abusive and sycophantic cabinet ministers in U.S. history, we are on the brink of several regressive and retrograde steps backward in history: the decimation of the public school system, the emboldening of  law enforcement’s trampling of civil rights of minorities, women, refugees, and the demolition of Obamacare, the final death knell in the history of the labour movement, and the danger of a geopolitical pot that boils over from the disturbances and the bullying of the new administration. The danger of the erosion of NATO, and the resulting empowerment of Putin, linked to the potential trade wars that Trump has already announced are in his sights bode badly for stability in world order.

As the globalization of economic trade coughs up its winners and losers, and the tectonic shift of the locus of manufacturing, and the replacement of millions of jobs with digital engineering, added to the displacement of employment “with their hands” for which men were eager to prepare, (with the rising need for workers in health care, education and the soft services historically filled primarily by women), the spike in health costs with a rising tide of retirees who consume a major chunk of health costs, there is enough turbulence and scarcity of real solutions to the convex of large issues for an opportunist like Trump to attempt to fill the vacuum with his own vacuity.

There are people in countries other than the United States who recognize the “idiot” (their word) that Americans have elected president and they do not wish to emulate or replicate the American mistake. Hope for many observers lies in the potential defeat of far-right wing-nuts in France, and other European countries, a move that would only fulfil the prophecy of Trump that he is the voice of a world-wide movement.
Surely, the election of Trump and the ensuing trail of lies, phony promises, hollow explanations and rationalizations, and empty sound and fury of the Trump Roman Candle will self-immolate before the eyes of the world. Also, surely the better angels of the American judiciary and the Republican party (so far suffering under their own self-imposed gag order and nose holding), along with the  self-respect of the American people.

However, before this “storm” is fully spent, having inflicted considerable damage and devastation on all of the most vulnerable, including minorities, unemployed and underemployed, the rule of law, the public institutions like hospitals and schools, traditional trusted relationships with allies, committed protective alliances like NATO, the world will have to adjust its attitudes to how it protects itself from the potential of a hostile take-over by those seeking the dominance they believe is their’s by right.
The hostile take-over is a routine story from the corporate business world. A large company with a mountain of resources sniffs out a likely target corporation whose acquisition would significantly enhance the profits of the pursuing corporation, or just as likely, would impede the profits of the primary competition of the pursuing corporation. Such a power-metaphor, however, is not so acceptable in the geopolitical realm. Witness the Putin hostile takeover of the Crimea and the potential incursion into other border countries.

The business model has invaded, like an unstoppable virus, the way public business is conducted. The privatization of everything, as the “right” pays unlimited homage to the generation of private profit for investors and “winners”, leaves a wake of “losers” for which the social net then has to scramble to lift up. And the cost of this “lift” is far too heavy for the kind of revenue stream left after the taxes on the uber-rich have been eroded by their loyal law-makers, leaving a sea of poisoned detritus, both human and environmental.

It may be dangerous to speak in terms of ultimate threats to our shared responsibility for creating a world in which equal access to opportunity, including basic services like health care, education, employment and a stable and secure family that delivers a healthy environment to its grandchildren. However, that risk seems necessary to take, if we are to mount a sustained, effective and ultimately mortal wound to the Trump administration.

Whatever form the combined forces of man and nature conjure to “beach this whale” permanently, thereby depriving it of its needed oxygen to live, the world is now conjoined in a shared responsibility, the likes of which we have not experienced for decades. Collaboration, people in the streets in all the towns and cities in every country in the world, a confluence of “fact” generators to combat the alternative facts of this “alternative universe”, and an environmental initiative at the level of every household on the planet….these are the minimal requirements to begin the push-back….and the efforts have to cross ideological, religious, cultural, linguistic and economic boundaries.

Anything less will fail.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

What is the difference between "my way or the highway" and religious fanaticism?

Executive orders pour forth from the Oval Office, banning Muslim immigrants from seven countries of largely Muslim populations, while the White House shouts, “This is not a ban against Islam!”

The botched raid in Yemen, in which an American was killed and others seriously injured is falsely blamed on a Deputies Meeting on January 6 which “easily approved the idea and sent it on up” (by the White House press Secretary) while a ‘deputy’ who attended that meeting says there was no discussion of the specific raid, leaving it to the next administration.

The House of Representatives, through a 97% Republican vote, this week agreed that mentally unstable persons should have better access to guns.

The North Dakota legislature voted this week to trash the ethics office for legislators, a measure already signed by the state’s governor.

The phone system in Washington was broken by a tidal wave of protest calls from constituents to Senators protesting the nomination of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. Her family’s wealth, based largely on profits from Amway, is estimated at $5 billion by Forbes, and her efforts to champion vouchers for schools are, for many, a profound threat to the very existence and stability of public education. Her Christian Reformed faith adherence also is a red flag for those holding to the separation of church and state, again a model on which the public education system is based.

Judges in Brooklyn and Seattle have issued ‘stays’ on the Executive Order on immigration, while the White House has promised an immediate appeal to reinstate the order, as just and lawful.

Millions of normally silent and compliant ordinary citizens are marching in the streets in many cities against many of the flurry of “power orders” coming from the new American administration. While the Acting Attorney General is fired for refusing to enforce or defend the immigration ban, and is declared to be “weak on immigration” by the vengeful president.

The president’s choice as the next justice on the Supreme Court comes, albeit with platinum education credentials (Columbia, Harvard, Oxford), out of the same “culture vat” in which millions have been nurtured to favour corporate values over consumers, to favour the 1% over the other 99% and to reject the Obamacare mandate of providing contraception by employers. A clone and fierce fan of deceased Justice Antonin Scalia, Gorsuch would likely sustain the Trump legacy for decades, should he receive Senate confirmation.

The thirty-five year old son-in-law of the president, Jared Cushner, is now a ‘senior advisor’ with credentials that point only to an inheritance of real estate holdings and their management….his appointment testing the boundaries of “nepotism,”  credibility and confidence among the ordinary American citizen. Loyal perhaps he is, but deserving of the throne of power, hardly. He has been reported as being deputized to secure an agreement and peace between Israel and Palestine, as if sending a “boy” to do a job that generations of serious, and brilliant men and women have failed to complete is just another sign of the “miraculous” self-declared competence of the new chief executive.

(Maybe it is not that surprising if we consider that a new iteration of Peter Pan is now the occupant of the White House inviting Wendy (the American electorate and the world’s geopolitical community) to come to Neverland, where all enemies are vanquished, and Peter is permanently stuck in his own innocent (and very dangerous!) imagination. (Wendy, on the other hand, according to a later supplement to the original story, matures and returns to her real home in the real world.Peter does not!)

A growing pattern of Trump’s thumbing his nose, thereby dismissing all irritants from his universe, is developing:

·      Vanquishing all media reporters a the most dangerous liars on earth

·      Generalizing all protesters as paid thugs

·      And all existing trade agreements as “disasters”

·      And Obama administrators as weak and kind (reference to the Iranian nuclear deal)

·      And all women as “willing” to let ‘stars’ do “anything”

·      And all women who have abortions as deserving “punishment”

·      And all military generals as knowing far less that “I” do

·      Telling all civil servants who do not agree with the “program” to choose between submitting or leaving the federal government’s employ

·      Characterizing the New York Times as a ‘failing and dying” newspaper

·      Demoting the Joint Chief and the Secretary of Defense from the National Security Council and elevating Bannon to the inner circle

·      Telling Israel to stop announcing plans for new settlements in the West Bank

·      Threatening heavy new import taxes on autos manufactured outside the U.S.

·      Challenging the one China policy of the legacy of many U.S. administrations of both governing parties

·      Issuing clawless sanctions on Iran following their testing of a missile

·      Berating a refugee agreement with Australia, in a “meet-and-greet” phone call with the Australian Prime Minister, from which the president exits by hanging up barely half-way into the conversation

·      Announcing ‘we must keep ‘evil’ out of the United States, as if there were no ‘evil already within the country

These are signs obvious and available to anyone watching and listening. And, even the most inexperienced coach, counsellor, therapist or even serious and independent advisor would note the pattern of both self-sabotage and potential danger for the nation. When a single person presumes to be the “only solution” to the fake degradation of the country, and enough of the country buys the “pitch” it is not only in the Oval Office that Peter Pan resides; he has taken over the voting patterns of so many voters that the results of the election threaten us all.

Neverland is not a place the people in the street wanted to inhabit. Neverland is not a place they even dreamt they might like to visit, when they entered the voting booth.
Yet, Neverland is the place we are all now expected to willingly join or, just as the Islamic terrorists said to the Queen in Great Britain, “You have two choices, convert, or leave Buckingham Palace which we will convert to a mosque!” So too has Trump told the thousands of diligent and loyal Americans who have worked for presidents and administrations from both Republican and Democratic parties. So too has Trump told the main media outlets. So too has Trump, inferentially told the thousands of educators in public education: convert the schools to ‘christian’ models to grow the “kingdom” or leave (should DeVos be confirmed).

Whether one wants to characterize the developing tragedy as an incipient theocracy, autocracy, dictatorship, coup, or oligarchy….supply your own word…the early signs are all “warning signs” of things to come which do not have a scent, or a shade, or a hint of safety, security and competence.

Little boys who refuse to grow up were never envisioned or expected to be rewarded for their arrogant immaturity.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Reflections on trust and trustworthiness*

Have you ever told someone you do not trust them?

It is a very memorable moment and it comes only after years of resistance to the finality of such a judgement. You try and you try to forgive others when they let you down, even betray you because you are trying to “live and let live”….to “cut them some slack” (after all none of us is perfect! Right?) Sometimes people in positions of responsibility, your hockey coach, your scout/guide leader, your piano teacher, even your next door neighbour offer models that build a repertoire of experiences helping to shape your picture of what and whom you trust.

In a dysfunctional family, one is offered multiple occasions to test out the “trust” muscle, and by corollory, the “distrust” muscle. When you listen to words that you do not understand, even after you have asked for explanations and been told, “just because I say it is so” as the reason to trust, you learn that the first hurdle in establishing trust has been breached.

As a youth, you are, at least at first, hardly motivated by malice to undermine; rather you are curious, somewhat bold and courageous and filled to overflowing with questions….especially about questions you seem to need to ask. Questions like, “How does that happen?” when you mother tells you after school one day when you are twelve, “You are going to have a baby sister!” And when the answer comes like this, “When you are old enough I will tell you!” you immediately know enough to store the moment for future reference simply because it might be something you will really need to know someday in the future. (When there is never an offer of an answer, you know there was never any intention of answering, preferring to rely on the “street” to do your job of parenting.) Just a small example of how trust is eroded.

When you listen on Sunday’s to homilies that distort and even abort the letter and the spirit of the New Testament with moral imperatives that seem designed to establish and maintain control by the church and its clergy, even your body, as well as your mind and spirit rebel, and you begin to lost trust for the words spoken and for the person uttering them. A “black-and-white” world view of right and wrong at home reinforced by the same authoritarian view from the pulpit have an impact on one’s capacity for trust. This is especially true when you are learning that to many important questions most people, including your teachers, are honest enough to acknowledge uncertainty, doubt, ambivalence, and a shared curiosity.

When you test your mother who is smoking in the kitchen, pleading with her to stop when you are twelve, and she responds, “If God had not made tobacco, he would he would not have wanted us to smoke!” implying that God has sanctioned the behavioiur, you know immediately and implicitly  that there is no use arguing because you will not be heard, listened to and effectively respected. Just another moment when the pursuit of a conversation about something that seemed relatively significant at twelve was derailed by “imperium” a similar imperium that was pouring from the pulpit.

When you meet your family doctor on the main street while you are experiencing a dramatic and suffocating cold, and ask innocently what he might recommend, while you are still a university student, and, after mentioning some remedy, he blurts, “When are you going to decide what you want to be!? in a condemning and judgemental tone (remember that “imperium”) you bristle with embarrassment and tension, as if your general arts program without a clear life flight path is inadequate, insufficient and, thereby, so are you in his view. Even then, I spent much time exploring my attitude to university lectures, in which professors (some not all) read musty and tattered lecture notes from decades of repetition, while others bought new insights seemingly each day to present to their students. Similarly, the larger questions  of where I felt most “at home” and what reading felt most challenging and interesting were always paramount, without seeming to have to foreclose on a single narrowing path, the kind obviously taken by this doctor and all others in his “orbit” if they were to earn his respect.
When your are called into the dean’s office because you have been reported “missing” from Zoology class by your professor while preparing to host the campus formal, and Dean Stiling comments, “You ran a helluva dance; now go  and make your peace with Dr. Battle.” (Her name is not a literary device for humour; ironically, it is her actual name!) At that moment, your capacity to trust, and to believe in the appropriate deployment of power and authority are restored, reclaimed and resurrected in a way that the long-deceased Dr. Stiling will never know.

Of course, there are multiple memories growing out of encounters with politicians, journalists, theologians, administrators and colleagues whose willingness to acknowledge vulnerability, and insecurity, a kind of innate unknowing as a core element of character seemed to be a kind of litmus test for trustworthiness, and for emulation and admiration. It did not seem to matter whether one was male or female, if there was evidence of openness and a moderated need for control (over matter, belief, or others) there seemed to be evidence, (inferred at least, if not full-blown) of humanity in a mature form. It was evident in the surgeon who, while closing a hernia operation commented, “My professor reminded us often, ‘You can insert the stitches but you cannot cure the patient’!” Its was evident in the pastoral counselling supervisor who remarked, when the anxious ‘apprentice’ noted that he had complete fewer hours than mandated by the curriculum fearing “failure” and removal from the program, “No one said you would ‘fail’ because you did not reach the exact number of hours.”

This continuing pattern of discernment and thereby finding a place in which one feels accepted, and worthy, and respected is one in which we are all engaged, some to a more energetic (and perhaps obsessive) degree than others. And our chosen signals, while different for each of us, continue to be tested, whether we are conscious of our hard-wiring for the testing or not. Not only is “the other” being tested, but so too are we testing our own tolerance for how we are being treated. If we are more willing to let go and to let live with some people, we know (at least cognitively, if not emotionally) that we will enjoy a much more fruitful and engaging relationship with those people than with those for whom our nerves and our muscles and our blood vessels constrict when we are in their presence.

Even people who function in our lives as plumbers, electricians, drywall installers, mechanics, and of course co-workers are all within range of our physical as well as our emotional and spiritual, ethical and moral “eyes” (read perceptions). And correspondingly, we also know that our perceptions help to shape how the other is perceived, as to whether their sense of emotional security/insecurity seems to indicate their own searching path, and the degree to which their search is founded on confidence or a false modesty that seems to block their path to the confidence they so desperately seek.

For false modesty too is another of those two-edged swords on which we can all become impaled. We know that modesty is more socially acceptable than a raging confidence or arrogance (and in Canada, too often we fail to make the distinction, hiding unconsciously behind our “national archetype” of the “nice guy”). We also know that, in a moment of encounter, without time for reflection, we very often veer toward taking the “modesty” path so that others will find us acceptable. Yet if we were really honest with ourselves, we would know that, for most adults, the other is quite capable of seeing right through our mask of false modesty as a sign of the importance of the “mask” covering for the empty or hollow ego. And herein lies another of those ‘barometric mercury levels” that indicate a change in the “weather” of the interpretation of how this person is likely to be in our experience.

And, once again, if we think or believe that the other is masking his or her insecurity with something that has the scent of falseness, whether that falseness is bravado or extreme modesty, we often withdraw, not “trusting” whether we will be permitted authentic encounters.

In one of many previous lives, a therapist gently nudged my “I do not trust” phrase toward, “I can and do trust” that the other person will do X, rather than that they will NOT do X. Re-framing my own perception of “trust” into a positive mode strengthened my own sense of myself, and my trust in my own intuition and sensibilities. I still revert to my original “do not trust” especially when I am especially exercised, anxious or angry.

I was accosted by a former colleague, a former supervisor, who had learned from scuttlebutt that I was unhappy with him and he opened with “I will counter each and every argument you want to make no matter how long it takes” to which I replied, without taking a breath, “For God’s sake, it is not about winning an argument, it is about trust and I do not trust you.” It was in that emotional state and sae conversation that I found myself having to confront not incidentally, his inappropriate and unprofessional (if not illegal) use of a clinical diagnosis in a reference for me. I expressed my deepest disappointment and even anger that, after nearly twenty years of loyal service under his supervision, he nevertheless had  “thrown me under the bus,” and when I added that a long-almost-forgotten incident in which he had betrayed my confidence also disappointed me, his rebuttal was, “That never happened!”
And at the core of our search for what we can and will trust, is a deity, a God in whatever form we have that reality conceived, whose fundamental nature is one we can and continue to believer we trust. Attendant to all faith pilgrimages is the notion that God is the most trustworthy, and trusting of entities. Comparably, humans generally fall short of that perfection, although our pursuit of such a high bar has both positive and potentially negative repercussions.

Trust is not attained merely through the literal keeping of one’s word or one’s oath, even if sworn on a holy book. While we all attempt to dot our “I’s” and cross our “t’s”, there are the inevitable occurances when we fail. And others too will occasionally ‘drop the ball’ on their literal commitments. However, it is in the larger picture, by which we lay the groundwork for both our own self-image and our respect for our circle of family, friends and even professional colleagues that we can be relied upon to “show up”….

And here is where the proverbial rubber meets the road: at the intersection of presence (showing up) and “trust”. I believe it is the Alcoholics Anonymous movement that reminds us that 90% of life is “showing up”. (This is highly reminiscent of the proverb that 90% of all communication is non-verbal.)

In even the most miniscule of human encounters, we are all able to discern whether or not the other person is “present” through eye contact, verbal responses and body language, for each of which there are gizillions of messages. It was T.S. Eliot who wrote that the “eyes” are the window on the soul of the person; it was also T.S Eliot who wrote that humans cannot tolerate too much “reality”. Our perceptions of showing up do not depend on the intellect of the other, nor on the economic or political status of the other, nor on the reputation or holiness of the other. Our expectations of ourselves, too, vary with the degree to which we perceive the other to have “shown up” in our space.

And if and when we are in a situation in which we feel we have shown up, while the other has only dipped his/her toe into the water of our encounter, we immediately shrivel ever so little. Everyone knows what this feels like. And if the pattern repeats itself with the same person(s), we are most likely to back away a little further each time.

Showing up takes courage; it also takes resilience and optimism and hope that the other will reciprocate. Repeated experiences in which we find others either showing up or failing to show up will engender a perception, and even potentially a belief, either that we are putting our signals with which others are uncomfortable or by which they are intimidated. At that point, we have a choice to make: we can amend our attitudes and behaviour (we cannot do the latter without altering the former) in order to better integrate our presence with the other’s. Or we can refuse to adjust and continue down a path that might eventually find us alone in a very dark place.

Whether or not we trust, and whether or not we are trusted, are two ends of the same equation or dynamic. And there are literally no formal lessons for developing our capacity to trust, nor for developing our capacity to be trustworthy.

And, after seven and a half decades of journeying along the pathway towards trusting, (and having such traumatic experiences in which we are neither trusted nor asked for “our side” of the story) we learn that compassion, respect, love and support are the only and the essential nourishment for an attitude that trusts and that can be trusted.

That is why I concur with Rabbi Heschel’s observation: When I was a young man, I admired those men who were clever; as an old man I admire those men who are compassionate. 

* Although most politicians leave us a little short on "trustworthiness" Trump is by far the least trustworthy political leader of my lifetime.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Megalomania moves into the Oval Office

Although the book was written seven decades ago, there is no surprise in the fact that George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four has zoomed to the top of the best seller lists following the presidential election in the United States. Replete with manipulated realities by the Ministry of Truth, it foreshadowed the new definition of “alternative facts” (an oxymoron if ever there was one!), Orwell stretched his imagination to write a dystopia rising out of the ashes of World War II and the rise of Communism.

Often, it is not the ideologies that divide people so much as the nature of the propaganda and the unashamed deployment of rhetoric completely detached from current or any other reality that poses genuine threats to the mental stability of all within earshot. Appearing on the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC last night, former CBS news anchor, Dan Rather, described the current political/media ethos in America as a “twilight zone” in which we are being asked daily if not hourly to accept that 2 plus 2 is no longer 4, but rather is 5… something that we all know is simply not true.

Megalomania is defined by Merriam-Webster  as a mania* for great or grandiose performance…a delusional mental illness that is marked by feelings of personal omnipotence and grandeur.

*Mania is defined as excitement manifested y mental and physical hyperactivity, disorganization of behaviour and elevation of mood.

Although there are literally millions of American voters who feel their “institutions,” including their government has abandoned them, and they fear for their fiscal, and social survival, (and there is certainly some justification for their fears and their anxieties) just because their world looks bleak and hopeless is not reason to gulp a kool-aid of rhetoric that surges forth in 140-character tweets from some self-imagined Mount Olympus.

Recent books on the vulnerability of John F. Kennedy evoke the kind of contemporary political culture that tragically too often depends on some definition of “masculinity” ….usually inferentially the fear of its lack. Men quite literally, from the earliest times, have been (and with Trump’s example) paranoid of being portrayed as wimps. Girlie cars, and girlie jobs,…girlie dress (unless for satire and entertainment) …..and among straight men, homosexual men, are a kind of killer pandemic. And yet, for men to come clean about our collective and massive cover-up of our deepest fears, our most puzzling uncertainties, our need for power and control….that is the most telling feature of this unhealthy relationship of modern men to their dependence on strength, power, superiority.

And, using Trump as the latest manifestation of aborted masculinity, it seems that there is a large number of both men and women who long for a “real man” in leadership, without pausing to contemplate its implications.

The fact that the Atomic Clock was advanced by 30 seconds today, from 3 minutes to midnight to 2½ minutes results from the pugilistic, ballistic, and media-dominating most toxic test tube of testosterone to have strode (Trump moves only through striding like a colossus, as if to incarnate the image of hard power) onto the world stage since the middle of the twentieth century.

Let’s not be seduced any longer!

This machismo and this bravado comprise the Mask, the Persona (in Jungian terms) to cover a dangerous and fundamental neurosis. While the man himself may believe it is his “identity” (and that in itself is reason for deep anxiety), there is no reason to conclude that Trump’s bloviating is anything more than a “show”. It is nothing but a show, a public display of all of the worst traits of the “Ugly American” about whom books were written in the mid-twentieth century.

Megalomania is, in a word, unsustainable because it is false. While every word from the mouth of Trump is beavered over by the media trying to dissect its relative “truth” Trump continues to dominate the news cycle, as if there were no other news by “Trump-News”. He is not only a reality television creation ( an entertainment based on a business model that finds the cheapest way to generate ratings, and to sustain them, without providing real content.

However, ratings must be segregated from “elections”….and the business model of racing to the bottom in costs, wages, protections for workers, protections for the environment and even to the bottom of the barrel in shifting production and jobs to third world countries where both the workers and the environment literally have no legal or cultural support and protection must not be allowed to become the model used to sustain democracy.

Ratings are being purchased, through manipulation, propaganda, message generation and deviance from proven valid information. Trump may have mastered the business model in its most “base” incarnation; he has not and will not ever comprehend or provide leadership for his own country based on its honoured tradition of integrous institutions of government. The two facts that have provided much of the impetus and the soil for the rise of this hominid of vacuity are the blatant purchase of the election campaigns by the rich and the personal ambition to become wealthy that seems to be an intimate component of the political DNA of a preponderance of Washington politicians.

The acquisition of wealth, just as research demonstrates the ability to pass academic tests, provides proof only in its own silo. Neither passing tests and exams nor acquiring wealth assure competence or the promise of success in any other field of human endeavour. And the acquisition of wealth is not and will never be a  national purpose or a national goal worthy of the name. The facts that two Canadians own as much of the nation’s wealth as 30% of the people of Canada, and that eight billionaires own half the world’s wealth are not jewels in the human crown of achievement of the last century.
 They are just the opposite.

We are growing, nurturing, fostering and aiding and abetting our own demise, both in our flagrant disregard of the doom forecast by serious scientists on the ecosystem on which we depend for our physical survival and in our flagrant contempt (through our public figures) for both the public interest and the mechanisms, traditions and protocols that have been generated over time and from serious political and often violent debate for its enhancement.

Caring solely and exclusively for himself and his personal reputation, and using the language of “making America great again” to cover his raw narcissism is one of the most successful con jobs to have overtaken the ballot box in modern history. And the sooner we adopt the position of the president of Mexico to cancel all appointments with the occupant of the Oval Office, to cancel all media coverage, to refuse to interview this charlatan, to simply exercise the editorial and ethical responsibility of going silent on his Cecil B. de Mille epic, yet hollow, productions.

The Canadian Centre for Policy today released a report on the serious threats facing the Canadian news media, following the dismissal of hundreds of reporters at the very time when a strong, aggressive and courageous cadre of reporters and editors have never been more needed to protect the public interest in the face of the tidal wave of “alternative facts”.

Have we so abandoned our capacity for critical reading and reflecting that comprise the various literacies (print, media, digital) that we no longer value the opportunity to deploy our critical faculties in our own defence?

Are we so full of our own capacity to withstand even previously unimaginable threats (like a new nuclear arms race, the return of waterboarding, the listing and deporting of people we don’t like, the barring entry to authentic and desperate refugees fleeing for their lives from despotic murderers, trade wars, and the triumph of misogyny, homophobia, racism, and the death of science all in the name of some hollow sounding faith in the only one who can “FIX” everything for us?

Wake up America!

Wake up Justin Trudeau and stop planning our government in response to this monster!

Wake up all the editors in all the major networks to your responsibilities to the public, not merely to your investors! Forget covering the "policy" options, and bring your investigations to the dangers implicit in the moment!

Wake up teachers, and activists, environmentalists, and incipient politicians to both the potential for real leadership and the dangers of its faux dominance!