Friday, June 21, 2019

Challenging cultural 'norms'



Have you ever watched a hockey game in which one player drove his stick into the groin of an opponent without attracting notice of an official followed immediately by that “victim’s” slash of the perpetrator prompting a referee whistle and an immediate penalty?

Retaliation, reprisal, any act of pay-back, and revenge is so prevalent that many of the initial acts go under-reported and clearly under-remembered given the disproportionality of the reprisal. On the global political stage, Al Qaeda terrorizes New York on 9-11 (that’s 2001) and retaliatory wars continue to this day, June 21, 2019. Eighteen years of retaliation, with the accumulated loss of human lives numbering 500,000 (Iraq and Afghanistan) could well be considered disproportionate to the initial event.

Retaliatory acts, especially committed by those charged with public trust and accountability, often far exceed the proportions of the precipitating event. While we can agree that revenge seems to be part of our human hard wiring, it does seem significant that the representatives of “order” are inordinately enmeshed in excessive force, limited if any due process, and manipulation of the ‘facts’ in their pursuit of their own innocence.

Police screaming at a mother and her children, ordering them out of their vehicle by shouting vulgar and demeaning words and thereby terrorizing a four-year-old child, because that child had “taken” a doll from the shelves of an adjacent store, is just one of many recent examples of retaliatory police abuse. Of course, the mother and her family are black and statistics prove blacks are far more frequent targets of law enforcement retaliation than whites in the U.S.

Similarly, employer retaliation for worker whistle-blowing, now ranks at the top of the list of frequent legal cases in workplace law. We have a culture, formerly demonstrated to be dominated by the warrior/victim conflict between men/women, now characterized by an additional application of this archetypal conflict: employer as warrior versus worker as victim. Similarly, the warrior archetype is readily and appropriately applied to the Republican Senate majority, retaliating against the bottom layers of the economic, cultural, racial and educated demographics.

Retaliation, too, can be inferred from the results of the 2016 presidential election, in which angry white men, mostly without university educations, put the current president in office. What were these men retaliating against?

The short answer includes the erosion of jobs, income, dignity and political status resulting from the amorphous multi-headed monster including: high tech, tax policies that incentivize moving jobs off-shore for slave wages, freedom from environmental protections and the absence of labour rights and responsibilities. Probably also implicit in their vote is their own unleashed racism, following the two-term presidency of the first black president. (See: Malcolm Gladwell’s moral licensing: after doing something virtuous and boosting our own self-image, we let ourselves indulge in more unseemly ones) It can be argued that this moral licensing is just another form of retaliation, given license, by a one-time “act of virtue.”

Iran is now complicit in complex acts of retaliation against the U.S. withdrawal from the Nuclear Accord and the imposition of muscular sanctions by firing on two oil tankers and shooting down an American $100M drone in the Strait of Hormuz. And, predictably, prompted by Iranian retaliation, the U.S. is now actively engaged in further retaliation to “counter” the retaliation by the Iranians.

Just this week, the Republican Senate voted to block the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, the president’s geopolitical ally, in retaliation for the murder and dismemberment of Jamal Kashoggi by the Saudi leaders. That act of murder itself  is arguably another act of retaliation for the criticism of the Saudi regime by one of the regime’s most vocal critics, in a highly respected American daily, the Washington Post.

Retaliation begets retaliation… begets retaliation… begets retaliation…..in both the political and the personal realms of our lives. In spite of the demise of the Soviet Union, the Cold War “enemy” status continues unabated in the U.S. with respect to the Kremlin, incubating the “Mueller Report” into “foreign interference in the presidential election of 2016…leading to the indictment of Russian operatives, the imprisonment of trump campaign officials and the continuing investigation of the potential commitment of “high crimes and misdemeanours” (Impeachment Inquiry) on the part of the occupant of the Oval Office.

Politics as currently practiced particularly in the U.S.  has become a melodramatic series of retaliations, tragically leading to the erosion of the American “leadership” mantle in sustaining the world order of the last three quarters of a century.
Considered as a restrained response to an offensive act, reprisal finds unlimited expressions in the political, the corporate and the legal world. Generally, there is a buffer of “judges” or objective actors between the two opponents, rendering limited actions more feasible, more likely and, of course, more preferred.

On the personal level, however, revenge is a much more subjective, impassioned and direct “act” perpetrated by an individual who considers his/her reputation, honour, dignity, respect and even perhaps safety to have been infringed. Obviously, the higher the level of emotions, the greater the likelihood of acts of revenge. And when these acts occur under an umbrella of an organization, or a public law enforcement, when the intense emotional cauldron encounters the “official” establishment, there is an collision of models: the legal and the personal.

It is not surprising, for example, that town and city law enforcement officials literally hate to get a call from a “domestic violence” occurrence. These are all “he-said-she-said” incidents, perhaps stretched over weeks, months or even years. Ferreting out the core issues, the motives and the concomitant charges is a task worthy of the most highly trained ‘sherlock holmes’ investigators. He retaliates because she has been unfaithful or precisely vice-versa. She retaliates because he has been fired, or persists in drinking, or gambling, or an addiction to video games.

And once again, when the personal and the organizational intersect, for example when the personal relationships that inevitably arise inside an organizational environment then all “systems” of order and hierarchical administration seem to wilt. Not incidentally, their inevitability is assured by human nature, and is not and will not be retrained by their banishment. In fact, it is both reasonable and credible to posit that the “rules” banishing personal relationships inside organizations, including those based on mutual consent are a perverse provocation of the continuing incidence of these relationships. The argument for those rules usually takes the form of a “power imbalance” based on the implicit trust in the “authority” figure and the implicit “inferiority” of the other party. What the rules do not wish to acknowledge is the legitimacy of authentic, responsible and comprehensible relationships between consenting adults (of both genders, and of same genders) within an administrative, hierarchical structure, between those charged with responsibility and those as colleagues, clients, students, co-workers.

Naturally, the adult-child model appropriately recognizes the innocence and the responsibility of the adult to “protect” the child in all circumstances from any hint of inappropriate behaviour on the part of the adults. However, to extend that adult-child model to the adult-adult world, especially when it addresses the adult male-adult female encounter is a stretch too far. That stretch assumes that, by nature, the  female is “weaker” and more “vulnerable” and the male, by definition is “stronger” and more “dominant.” Nothing could be more divorced from both the facts and the healthy implications of the future ideal of equality of the genders.

To posit that all females are “inferior” in any supervisor (male)-supervisee (female) relationship, (the reverse is also true) is simply unwarranted. Adult females are every bit as competent, responsible and integrous to make authentic decisions around the implications of any human relationship as are any men. Similarly, adult males, even in positions of responsibility are also competent, responsible and integrous to enter into relationships with their female colleagues, regardless of the apparent “power imbalance.”

It could well be worthwhile to require a measure of disclosure to the organization of the existence and/or termination of such relationships within organizations. However, both the secrecy and the presumption of “weakness” stereotypically of the worker to the supervisor, regardless of the gender of each render a perpetuation of both the curtailment of integrity and the presumption of a gender inequality that does not comport with the authentic equality of men and women, irrespective of their hierarchical and organizational status.

So, adults who consent to relationships, cannot and must not be permitted, by law or by cultural convention, to resort to reprisals for their decisions even if those relationships are terminated, irrespective of the agent of the termination. It is long past time when, for example our culture accepted the profound truth that a termination of a relationship (whether married or common law, between same or different genders) is not “caused” by the “third party”. The dissolving relationship was dissolving long before the “third party” arrived. The “dumped” party’s invariable penchant for retaliation has to be regarded not as either normal or acceptable, but as tragic and self-sabotaging. Like the referee who missed that “shot to the groin” and caught the victim’s retaliatory slash, the cultural response needs to shift its focus from the retaliatory act to the initial act.

In the case of the broken relationship, the act (s) of retaliation by the dumped party must be given barely token acknowledgement and certainly not respect and honour by those in authority. Such retaliation has to be considered under the rubric of the motive, rendered toothless, unless and until it constitutes physical or fiscal harm and then it has to be prosecuted for its legal, ethical contraventions.

We have to take significant steps to transform our perceptions of those who commit acts that we consider illegal, immoral and unethical. To start with a finite and highly defined “charge” rather than a lens of tolerance, compassion, empathy and a diligent exploration of the background of the “hurt” that has been experienced by the person in question is a cultural act of sabotage. In fact, such a perspective breeds additional empowerment of a disproportionate “authority”…and social and cultural “super ego” as an embodiment of deep and debilitating social and cultural fear.

It is precisely that deep-seated and debilitating fear that is at the root of the social and cultural and political power imbalance in the macro, mega, meta and historic landscape of the human narrative. Fear of the loss of control, itself, resides in almost if not all, public decisions, public legislation, social and cultural norms and clearly religious morality and ethics.

This starting place is not only unsustainable; it is a threat to civilization. Rather than enculturating a society of open and responsible and self-respecting selves, so that we are also open and responsible and respecting of the “others” who share the planet, we are incubating a cauldron of distrust, disrespect, dishonour and presumed abuse..and then growing an army of “thought” and “action” and relationship police to keep things in order.

And how is that working for us?

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Can the Green Party "break-through" in Canada?


 Why are Canadians giving the Green Party a second, third and final look in their search for a political party in 2019?

We all know that the human assault on the fragile eco-systems that provide life for plants, animals and humans endanger all of us, and not in the distant future.

We also know that the tug-off-war (vacillation) between continued exploitation of fossil fuels and clean, accessible land, air and water, the essential ingredients of life has been tilted for centuries in favour of the fossil fuels….and that the field has to tilt in the opposite direction, and now.

We also know that any turbulence in the “comfort” of major corporations dependent on fossil fuels sends tidal waves of lobbyists, campaign cash and resistance to any miniscule move to make the shift in direction the shared climate requires.

We also know that political parties, like churches, are by far the most resistant to change, the most vociferous and animated when confronted with their complicity in historic cultural norms that are demonstrating their lethal impact on life in all of its forms. Power, by definition, seeks power; it seeks to acquire power, it exists to acquire power; it then seeks and strategizes to hold onto that power, and the longer it has power, the more tenacious is its grip on power. In order to acquire power, power needs the support of other “resources” of power: cash, cash, cash and endorsements.

Paradoxically, too, ordinary people who mostly live from pay-cheque-to-pay-cheque, do not have stashes of cash to pour into the coffers of agents of change who have seen, integrated and even adopted a visionary and idealistic perspective on the need for change. Read: huge corporations have those vaults of cash, especially in an economy that has been developed by their clones, their sycophants and their puppets and they traditionally funnel those cheques into the traditional political parties, in the U.S. that means the Republican and Democratic parties, in Canada, that means the Liberal and Conservative parties.

“Fringe” parties, like “fringe” (read: new, unconventional, threatening, radical, socialistic, scholarly) ideas and the people who espouse them, by definition, try to gather the “crumbs” that fall from the board tables of the mega-corporations onto the social, cultural, political “floors” of their campaign offices.

Tobacco companies, for decades, secured the complicity of their political puppets, by denying the causal relationship between cigarettes and cancer; the political class in Michigan, so far, has mostly escaped jail, following their fatal and tragic irresponsibility in poising the water supply in Flint; the Ontario conservatives under Michael Harris, similarly, faced public outrage in the water contamination at Walkerton, following the budget cuts to oversight of the system; similarly, Ontario roads have never recovered following their “trashing” under the budgetary cuts by that same Harris government. Politicians too often escape the tragedies and the follies they inflict, given their short life “on the hog” while in office. The current Ford government in Ontario, too, is imitating the Harris gang, by cutting cash for such programs as autism support, while puffing their own shifts by offering beer in corner stores. Pandering to the masses, like the Romans with their bread and circuses, comprises a cornerstone of short-term, narcissistic, political electoral success. And that pandering often includes massive commitments to deception, diversion, exaggeration, dissembling and denying real facts and responsibilities.

Acknowledging the “science” of the climate dangers has climbed the totem of public discourse so far that CBC’s The National is, this week, dedicating a series of mini-documentaries on the evidence facing us today, not even pondering the impacts of another dozen years of this inaction, under both Liberals and Conservatives in Canada, and also under the Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Impact Insurance CEO tells us that homes are literally in danger of becoming “uninsurable” given the threats of increased intensity, frequency and predictability of floods, even in North Toronto.

Reporter Susan Ormiston documents the visible impact on northern towns of the melting of perma-frost, the rising oceans and the need to move houses back from the eroding shoreline. The scientific prognosis says that eastern Canada will see a 20% rise in rainfall, while western Canada will see a 20% rise in drought, according to Ormiston’s report earlier this week.

Today, the Trudeau government will likely announce the commitment to build the Trans-mountain pipeline, in order to transport Alberta crude to the west coast, and then to off-shore markets. And in their decision they will enrage environmentalists, and mollify their energy-sector corporate funders.

The Toronto Star reports on the Green Party climate plan, dubbed “Mission  Possible”:

·        Double Canada’s emissions reduction target to 60 percent below 2005 levels by 2030
·        Halt all new fossil fuel development in the country,
·        pursue a nationwide shift toward non-nuclear renewable energy
·        create millions of jobs by retrofitting all buildings in Canada so they are carbon neutral over the next 11 years
·        create a “survival cabinet” of members of all parties to direct climate action of the government
·        maintain the Liberal government’s carbon-price plan, which imposes a minimum levy on fuel equivalent to $20 per tonne this year, rising to $50 per tonne in 2022, and hike it each year beyond that
·        cancel all new fossil-fuel development, including already approved projects like the $40-billion LNG Canada export terminal set for construction on the coast of B.C.
·        ban fracking, a method of extracting natural gas from the ground that many environmentalists oppose as destructive and too emissions-intensive
·        improve upon a cross-country electrical grid so renewable energy can be transmitted from one province to the other. This parallels Canada’s stopping the import of fossil fuels like oil and gas, and builds new refineries to consume the fuels the country needs as it transitions completely to renewable energy.
·        Pledges to expand rail service and ensure all internal combustion vehicle engines are replaced with electric models by 2040
·        Install a “cross-country vehicle charging system”

That seems like a mouthful of policy proposals too large for a semi-interested, marginally-engaged, electorate suffering from both information and anxiety over-load. Is it to large and too complicated?

That really depends on how serious each of us considers the threat of environmental catastrophe. Into this North American context we have to insert the climate deniers, corporate cultists on the fossil-fuel side of the equation, people like the president of the U.S. who has systematically dismantled the Environmental Protection Agency, sold huge amounts of polluting coal to developing economies like China and India, and made it far easier for corporate polluters to continue to spew toxic gases into the atmosphere. Also in the political equation are people like Michael Bloomberg who has donated millions to the counter-push against the “official” U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. American town and city mayors, too, have taken significant steps toward ameliorating environmental erosion. Cities around the world have joined the “Blue Communities” project initiative by the Council of Canadians, banning plastic water bottles, as another initiative to help stave off the ravages of climate crisis. Jay Inslee, the Governor of Washington State, has declared his candidacy for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party and focused his campaign almost exclusively on protection of the environment because he argues, if we do not do that, the rest of the issues wont really matter that much.

For the Green Party of Canada to break through the ceiling of public consciousness, and fly into the “stratosphere” of the polling booth, where the next government’ profile will be determined, people like the CEO of Impact Insurance will have to acknowledge that his company’s survival, like that of the country and the Green Party itself, are inextricably joined, and offer sizeable cash to mount a national advertising campaign for the Green Party. Similarly, environmentally-committed artists, musicians, dancers, film-makers and thought leaders will have to be recruited to host public events, concerts, films, art exhibitions, and “gift” the revenues to the Green Party. Similarly, all of those environmental scientists, like the one from Carleton University who appeared on CBC this week, will need to speak out from whatever platforms they have available, in order to mount a tidal-wave of public information, reliable, credible, authentic and life-sustaining information.

Bill McKibben, one of the prophets who have been speaking and writing about these issues for years, would be another public “figure” to invite to Canada to paint a picture of the future we face if we continue to do as little as we have been doing to leave a safe and healthy environmental legacy for our grandchildren.

And none of these initiatives will be enough without the emotional, intellectual and political awakening of the Canadian public, from our perspective, on behalf of the Green Party of Canada. This week’s two-million-strong celebratory parade in support of the NBA championship won by the Toronto Raptors could be duplicated for another national shared “cause”: the legacy of clean and fresh land, air and water for our grandchildren and their kids. Another pipe dream? Probably.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Toronto Raptors win NBA championship after 24-year struggle


There is a tidal wave of pride reaching across Canada, given the 59 ‘jurassic parks’ that sprang up in cities across the land, with thousands cheering for the victorious Toronto Raptors, winners of the Larry O’Brien trophy as National Basketball Association champions for 2019. Easily affordable as a school yard, even driveway, sport and as an elementary and secondary school sport for young men and women, basketball offers kids the chance to learn specific shooting, passing, dribbling, blocking-out, rebounding, defending individual skills, with the added benefit of razor-sharp decision-making at a high pace, and the gestalt of both organized and drilled offensive and defensive “plays” or strategies played on a relatively constrained court with other team mates.

After 24 years in the NBA, looking back on what seem to be too many examples of ‘coming up short’ in playoffs, and too many departures of players who were stars and became even more famous and successful elsewhere (Vince Carter, Chris Bosh, Tracey McGrady as examples), after multiple coaching changes, even the firing of “Coach-of-the-Year” winner Dwayne Casey last season, the departure of the treasured ten-year veteran DeMar DeRozan in a trade with the San Antonio Spurs for Kawai Leonard last summer, the current roster, this edition of the team finally reached the ‘finish line’. So, the road to the championship has been paved with many set-backs, pot-holes, trashed hopes and dreams and the trend-line of fair-weather band-wagon fans.

Building around the seven-year veteran, Kyle Lowry, graduate of Villanova, and best friend of DeRozan, Team Manager Masai Ujuri, himself from Nigeria and previously from the Denver Nuggets, risked the wrath of Toronto fans in trading DeRozan for Leonard, especially given the risk evident in Leonard’s history from last year’s schedule in which he played only nine games for the Spurs because of injury to his right quad. His dubious relationship with the Spurs provided additional fodder for the sceptics in the Toronto fan base.  Doubt about Leonard’s agreeing to sign with the Raptors and about his physical condition led to a new term in basketball team management, “load management” after he did indeed agreed to sign. Summoned by team trainers, the term points to the agreed need to blend Leonard’s need to practice and play in league games with his generally eroded physical health and strength. At no time during the season did Leonard play in both back-to-back games, providing opportunities for the other team members to find their performance levels in both wins and losses without his “leadership.”

Having been named Most Valuable Player in the 2014 Spurs win over the Golden State Warriors in the NBA finals, Leonard was, if healthy and in the right frame of mind about coming to Toronto, the potential “final piece” of a complex and evolving chemistry of a team desperate to emerge from the wilderness of failed play-off entries. Bonding Lowry and Leonard as a first and essential step in developing the current version of the team was clearly a prime goal of new coach, Nick Nurse, promoted from assistant following the departure of Dwayne Casey at the end of last season.

 Integrating new-comers Serge Ibaka, born in Republic of Congo, from the Orlando Magic after stints with Oklahoma Thunder and before that the Spanish national team, Danny Green, also from the Spurs in the Leonard trade, and Cameroon native, Pascal Siakim who played for New Mexico State, with Fred VanVleet from Whichita State, Marc Gasol, born in Spain and  newly arrived from the Memphis Grizzlies in mid-season, Normal Powell, formerly a UCLA Bruin and OGAnunoby previously of the Indiana Hoosiers. Also added late in the season was veteran Jeremy Lin, a member of the 2012 New York Knicks championship team and graduate of Harvard.

Basketball watchers find special magnetism among the plethora of statistical numbers that accompany each player’s performance in each game , each quarter, and each time-out…so rapid and accurate is the new software in both collection and storage, and then in obvious comparisons. Stats around the percentage of 3-point shots attempted and made, the percentage of free throws attempted and made, the percentage of field goals attempted and made, the number of turn-overs, fouls, rebounds, blocked shots, technical fouls read like a report card for each player, and for the team generally, especially in comparison to the same stats for their specific opponent.

The social demographics of those hundreds of thousands of “spectators” both inside Scotiaplace Arena in Toronto, and in those dozens of “jurrasic parks” indicate a broad range of cultural, ethnic, linguistic and racial groups. In short, basketball, much like soccer (European ‘football’), is embraced by people around the world, although it has only a single footprint at the professional level in Canada. Invented by a Canadian, James Naismith in 1891, basketball has become a long-standing Olympic sport. Naismith also wrote the original basketball rule book and founded the University of Kansas basketball program. So, there is a kind of “complete circle” in the historic moment of this 2019 NBA championship’s victory by a Canadian-based team for the first time.

Canada is the “home” of hockey, a very different game and culture from that of basketball. Played on ponds by Canadian kids from every hamlet and village, hockey’s required skating skills, hand-eye co-ordination to manipulate the round  hard rubber puck at the end of a stick and tolerance of the extreme temperatures in Canadian winters (at least for the better part of the last century), hockey embraces  a much more physical even somewhat brutal pursuit of the puck. Body-checks, both in open ice and against the surrounding boards, the occasional fist-fight (although far reduced in number in the last decade), faces cut by rising sticks, eyes grazed by flying pucks (more recently somewhat protected by visors) and serious bruising injuries from stopping 100-mph shots on parts of the body not protected by equipment are all considered normal in hockey. Also rising up the corporate (National Hockey League) and player association (NHLPA) agenda is the issue of player concussions resulting from the impact of hard shoulder pads in collision with the crania of opponents, some accidental and some deliberate.

On the other hand, basketball, played without body protection excepting stable and non-slip athletic shoes and mouth guards plus the occasional face mask following an injury to nose or jaw or cheekbone, witnesses turned ankles, torn Achilles tendons, and torn muscles of various kinds. Physical body-checks, as celebrated in hockey, are virtually precluded by the rules of basketball, although a skilled “block” of a driving dribbler, or a “charge” by a driving dribbler (depending on the timing and positioning of the encounter) can provide considerable excitement both on and off the court. Ball control, however, very different from the bouncing of a frozen chunk of vulcanized rubber, is much more in the hands and in the hand-eye co-ordination of the players. Without players assigned specifically to “guard” the basket, all basketball players have both an offensive and defensive role, whereas in hockey the “goalie” is the last line of defence, heavily padded and conscripted to a crease immediately in front of a net, framed by iron posts and cross-bar.

The development of the two sports in North America seems to be a mirror image of each other: hockey was more popular and played by more kids in Canada historically, while basketball experienced the reverse numbers in the United States. And the irony continues in the two championship teams in this year’s finals in both the NHL and the NBA. The St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup, emblematic of NHL supremacy, while the Raptors won the O’Brien trophy. Thirteen Canadian men are members of the Blues, a much higher number than the number of Canadians on their opponent, the Boston Bruins. In the NBA, however, a slowly growing number of Canadians, this year 14, are being recruited both by U.S. colleges and universities, the primary training ground for NBA aspirants. We all know that it will be some time before the Canadian National Basketball team will challenge the U.S. national team at the Olympics, given the dominance of American-born players on the American team, all of them members of professional NBA teams.

Nevertheless, for those of us Canadians who have harboured a passionate commitment to the “hoops” for most of our lives, there is a high level of both pride and national satisfaction that we are watching a significant growth curve of participation among Canadian boys and girls. And this latest win will only inject cultural and societal steroids into that wave. Who knows, some day the Raptors may have a majority of Canadian players on another NBA championship team. And then, doubtless, the American contingent of NHL teams will aspire to a full complement of U.S. born players, and a Stanley Cup win for their side.

It is not only that $2 billion in grade crosses the 49th parallel of latitude every day between our two countries. We also have a lively and contested relationship in our professional sports teams, whether their respective rosters have a preponderance of players from either country. And the fan interest, the advertiser sponsorship, the player salaries will continue to compete and to mirror each other, as the tax schemes and dollar values continue to vacillate making the work of attorneys and accountants and player agents only grow more technical, more complex and more costly.

And given that two tickets for the last game of the Stanley Cup finals in St. Louis cost $6000, and the cheapest ticket for the last home Raptor game came in at $1600, those prices will continue to price out the vast majority of fans and spectators. Hence the derivative of the “outdoor” parties, with the monster TV screen and the suds sales.
Inside is morphing into outside, and outside into inside, as American and Canadian are each morphing into the “other” whether we really like and appreciate that shift or not.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Christian roots of "plantation" and "colonization"


From the United States, we hear much talk about what has been termed “plantation” theology, while in Canada we hear much noise about something termed, colonization. In the former, blacks and whites have been locked in a cultural box of how power is exercised, deployed, and abused. Whites, being in charge of the plantation, have been boxed into their “superiority” role and mask, as blacks have been boxed into their “inferiority” even slave role and mask seemingly for centuries. And the church’s responsibility for both the theology and the resulting tragic implications has never been either acknowledged nor atoned for.

In Canada (and elsewhere), colonization, too often based on the Christian churches’ marketing (read evangelizing) objectives, has generated boxes in which indigenous people have been categorized as “savage” and “uncivilized” and “heathen” by white explorers settlers and land and governance officials.

And then, in all human cultures, including both the American and Canadian, what was at the beginning “shall be henceforth forever” not merely sacralised and stabilized but also fossilized as ‘normal’ and ‘conventional’ and the ‘status quo’. God, in whatever form and guise s/he might be conceived, was thought to, even believed to, preside over this status quo,  as if it were engraved in marble, just as the millions of tombstones were so engraved.

“Fitting in” with the “established order” of things, depended on a significant dose of both insecurity, obedience, and “freedom from anxiety” so that the stability of the society could and would be maintained. Nevertheless, just as the tennis racket’s mere shift of a miniscule degree sends the ball in directions that respond to that angle, so too the religious/ecclesial/theological/ethical tennis rackets of plantations and colonizations were very difficult to change their directions. And  the longer the “foundations” “held” sustained and proselyzed by the “establishment” (in both Canada and the United States, that means the “white” Europeans), the more rooted and permanent and resistant to change they became.

Entrapment in insecurity, neurosis, and “sin” (as Paul writes, “We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God”) has generated a myriad of social, cultural and, dare we say, economic and political tragedies, not the least of which are being enacted in the headlines on both sides of the 49th parallel.

In Canada, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, both by thousands of indigenous families, and much later and more shamedly by governments, a national commission on the Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls was established by the Trudeau government back in 2015. After several resignations, and several bruising headlines of mismanagement, a report issued from the commissioners grabbing the headline that the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls amounts to “Genocide”. Of course, such a word was inserted in what has to have been a deliberate calculation of the commissioners, so that their report would be “noticed” in the public debate.  Ironically, even paradoxically, it is the word “genocide” itself that has served to magnetize the public discussion and to divert attention from the deep and persistent reservoir of grief, loss, anger and even hopelessness that clings to each indigenous family touched by the deaths and disappearances of these over 1100 women and girls.

And yet, not a single story of who committed even one of these horrendous acts has been uncovered by the commission. It is  legitimate to bring the “stories” of the persons and their gifts to the light of day, so that that light might eventually prompt some public squirming among law enforcement, and among the public about what kind of contributing conditions are needed for these stories to have become part of our national narrative and identity. And yet, it would also be relevant, and perhaps even potentially transformative if the commission had had as part of its mandate, the project of digging into the forensics of at least a sample of these unsolved cases. We already know that racism runs through some law enforcement detachments. How significant is that cancer in preventing the needed detective work that would and could unpack many of these files? We also know that “colonization” by the white culture has been held as the normative model for centuries over the First Nations peoples across the country.

 And the sinews, the percs, the attitudes, the beliefs and the basic foundational perceptions (of colonization) by white men and women toward indigenous people, both conscious and unconscious, comprise the very nature of the ground on which we all walk.  Occasional “remediating” initiatives, in local schools, have helped to shift the perceptions of those students and teachers to a degree of enlightenment and perhaps even an enhanced sense of responsibility among those communities. Similarly, the rising tide of indigenous undergraduate and graduate students in post-secondary schools and colleges signal a significant shift in perceived potential both for those individuals and for the potential harmonizing of race relations between colonizers and the colonized.

In the U.S., too, although too many headlines carry the burden of dead black men at the hands of too many white law enforcement officials, there are peeking shoots of recognition, and acknowledged responsibility in some quarters that portend the slow even glacial erosion of the plantation mind-set, and the contemptible superiority that flows through the veins and the arteries of millions of whites. Articulate, educated and brilliant men and women of black and Hispanic heritage appear daily on national television, write daily in national publications and teach in both undergrad and grad schools across the country. They also sit on the bench of many courtrooms, even though the ratio of blacks (and Hispanics), like that of women, has a long way to go to come close to approximating their respective population percentages.

And, once again, both to repeat and to underline, the Christian theology of the “original sin” of the “Fall” in the Garden of Eden, following the eating of the “forbidden fruit” of the Tree of Knowledge has undercut the healthy self of literally millions of people to the detriment, and hopefully not the demise of the culture that theology spawned. Extreme unctuousness, modesty, obedience, and even servility, to the “reigning” power of the ruling class, (in both Canada and the U.S. that means the white European ethnicity) is the dominant tumor in the body politic.

And, it is not incidental to note, with shame, that the Christian “establishment” has neither acknowledge nor atoned for both the sins of commission and the attendant sins of omission that have accompanied and accumulated under the “cross” and the “altar” and the hierarchy. And, not surprisingly, nor even tragically, the Christian church, like most of the traditional institutions of state and political and economic and legal power are experiencing a significant erosion of their traditional respect, authority, power and trust. To have virtually neglected what many have called the traditions of ‘wisdom’ theology, by focusing on the depravity and sin of man, at the expense of his capacity for responsibility and the trust in the creature fashioned in the “imago dei” (the image of God) is to have led millions into a dark place of no return.

And, then to have narrowed even further the definition of “being a Christian” to such constricted and heavily enforced obedience to rules generated by the imperfect mind of humans (mostly men), and then superimposed a hierarchical and dogmatic structure for those seeking baptism, confirmation and ordination, in order to sustain the “faith” has become a narrative confounded by the sabotage of its own design. Hollow utterance of “respect” and “dignity” for all human beings, as encased in the phrase, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these  are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” (as per the U.S. Constitution), overlaid on the religious and theological premises of sin and white racial superiority, will not stand the test of rigorous and accountable application. The separation of issues of faith from those of state, too, will not stand the test of reason, critical examination nor social and political utility.

We humans live in the world, the secular world; and in that world we incarnate  certain attitudes, beliefs, perceptions and we engage in specific decisions and acts. And while we are capable of being trusted, and Wisdom theology as argued eloquently by William Brueggemann*, posits that man is indeed both trusted by God, and considered capable and worthy of that trust. Our lofty, idealistic holy towers of both cathedrals and psychological and social superiority, especially among North American Christian “whites”, the generators and perpetrators of both colonization and plantation cornerstones of the respective cultures on both side of the 49th parallel.

And without a significant seeding of wisdom theology, challenging both the reign of the fundamentalists and the ‘high church,’ and the opening of the option of bridging both the sacred and the secular in our daily lives, beliefs, attitudes and human encounters, we will continue to contend with abuses of power that continue to erupt among indigenous, blacks, Hispanics and colonized women and girls. And we will continue to attempt to shed the baggage of religious servitude while blind to its theological sources. The church has to be an integral and operating partner in this social, cultural, political and economic re-birth.
 And so long as the secular culture remains in denial, and the church hierarchy in avoidance, the bridging of these forces will remain incomplete and our division against ourselves will exacerbate.

 *Walter Brueggemann, In Man We Trust, John Knox Press, 1972

Friday, May 31, 2019

A modest memo to Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould



Modest memo to Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould:

As both of you have honestly and sincerely sought “comment” from “the people” as opposed to the political parties, this memo comes from an ordinary Canadian septuagenarian whose interest and participation in the public life of our country continue unabated, while many personal faculties begin to atrophy.

You are both at the zenith of your political influence, given the honourable and even sacrificial approach you have delivered on the matter of a Deferred Prosecution Agreement for SNC-Lavelin. Your protracted period of reflection on your continued participation in the public debates on the future of our country, however, seem to have brought forth a decision that puts the “perfect” as an impediment to the “good”.

You both want to “do politics differently” and that is a legitimate and widely shared political aspiration. You both want to see more collaboration, co-operation and balanced decision-making in the public interest, as compared with the highly fractious, ad hominum attacks, the iron-clad party discipline and ‘whipping’ of members’ votes, and you both bring professional academic qualifications, one in law another in medicine, to the public stage. Having started out your political lives “at the top of the political influence ladder” as federal cabinet ministers, however, you may have less than a complete grasp of the status, role and influence of “private, independent members of parliament”.

Set aside the issues around raising funds for campaign expenses, although hardly incidental to your potential electoral victories. Your envisioned future “outside” the structure of political parties, eliminates your access to the several, and also significant supports that attend and accompany the political party structure in our parliamentary system. For example, if and when the Green Party should attain official “party status,” public funds start to flow for staff, for research and also for others with whom you can share the responsibility for advocation of specific policy proposals. At the core of Green Party modus operandi, as I understand it, is the specific “concensus” approach to decision-making of which Ms Wilson-Raybould speaks so fervently, as rooted in indigenous foundations.

Political “lives,” unlike “the cat with nine lives” have a predictable and historic “term limit” not so much based on law as on voter support. Given a substantial and potential decade of political contribution (depending both on voter support and on a candidate’s life choices), your likely “term” in parliament could extend to the far end of the decade beginning in 2020. And in that time, the Canadian political “glacier” is unlikely to melt as quickly as the Arctic ice cap seems to be melting. For starters, sustainable, and significant political decisions to mediate what CBC and the Liberals are now agreed to calling the “climate crisis/emergency” (leaving off the “impact on women” codicil that Minister McKenna seeks to include) could well be the best Canadians can expect to be able to look back on in 2030. Your contribution to that existential-threatening file could (and would, it says here) be significantly enhanced through your membership in the Green Party.
Collaboration, compromise, concensus, and a feminist perspective are already embedded in the Green Party culture to which you were evidently invited to join. And while the Kinder-Morgan pipeline, a cornerstone of Liberal policy and commitment, a project you must have had to accept, if not wholly endorse, would have had to be reconciled with Green Party membership, and while joining the Green’s at this time would also have made it more troublesome to return to the Liberal fold, if and when the Prime Minister is no longer leader, your “voice” in both its substance and its reach, would have been more likely to penetrate the public consciousness given the propensity of the media to engage “party” spokespersons ahead of and in place of “private members”. Your capacity to shift that paradigm, in addition to the labour of shifting the national political paradigm, from hierarchical, party-driven-and-founded to the complexity (and the richness) of multiple voices, as you both seem to envision, will be limited at best, and at worse, perhaps even negligible.

The most prominent North American “independent” political actor, Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist by choice and by definition for the full length of his political life, including his term as Mayor of Burlington Vermont, has macheted his way through the political everglades of the American media, and Congress, to emerge in 2019 facing a phalanx of echoes, especially Elizabeth Warren, in his most recent campaign to win the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency. Of course, the American political system and ethos is different from the Canadian system and ethos. The “star” meme (or archetype, or icon) “enjoys” a much higher “profile” in the public consciousness in the U.S. than it does in Canada. Sander’s political ideology has driven his every political utterance, vote and policy choice. By comparison, at this time, together your (Ms Philpott and Wilson-Raybould) political agenda reads as “process” over “policy” and process is a much more abstract and more difficult to “inculcate” in the public mind and consciousness (except for the penetration of gross ethic malfeasance) than the policy decisions which can be delineated, debated, compared and tweeked as the public becomes more and more familiar and either supportive or opposed to their import. Personal, private identity, too, is not nearly so relevant to the public discourse as are the political “positions” or policy preferences of the “players” unless or until a private indiscretion rises like escaping crude to the top of the “swamp” of the political theatre.

Furthermore, there is and will always be the tension between the abstraction of a “process” debate” on governance and a debate on policy. For example, the interest and discipline to investigate and to assess public policy is far less intense than the public interest in personalities and process, witness the numbers in the votes on proportional representation already completed, even though the measure has received considerable public debate, and considerable research, not to mention successful introduction and operation in other jurisdictions.

Each of you share and articulate your wish and goal to “listen” to the wishes, opinions, attitudes and preferences of your “constituents”. And while that is highly honourable, and even noble of purpose, those voices, depending on their “access” to your “ears” will emit louder and more penetrating sounds and influence, even if they will not command the power and influence of the mega-donors to national political campaigns.

And, having critically observed and evaluated urban politics at a northern Ontario city hall for a dozen years, I am more than conscious, and thereby highly sceptical, of the power and influence of private money on political decisions, even on issues like retail mall development in the local community. The manner and discipline by which you establish and maintain systems/processes/personnel to discern the “value” and “impact” of each voice seeking to intervene in your political decisions, should you become an independent member of parliament will more than determine your success in modelling this new paradigm in our national culture.

It is not that the “ideal” is unworthy of authentic aspiration. It is, however, begging for highly disciplined and rigorous boundaries, and supports in order to avoid or at least minimize the mere repetition of “local” politics on the national stage. Each of you must be conscious of how political actors are “manipulated” by forces that may or may not have a political party affiliation. Developers, for example, are not reputed to have undue political influence because they are innocent of the charge. Contract bids, in response to RFP’s, whether from city hall or Parliament Hill, magnetize actors and actions that seek their own self interest. And while as an independent, private member, the assumption “going in” is that because your’s is a lonely and sole vote, it is hardly worth spending motivational money to secure its being cast in the “right way” to appease larger, corporate interests.

The recent town hall in Grand Rapids, Michigan, held by Republican Congressman Justin Amash, on the issue of his advocacy for impeachment of the American president, found him uttering these words, when confronted with the challenge from an audience member to express the wishes of his voters: “ I am not elected merely to express the wishes of my voters, but I am expected to uphold the Constitution.” And while the last chapter of your respective political lives closed on the question of a matter of principal and law, those occasions are irregular, intermittent and unpredictable, especially when compared with the public exposure of specific public files and issues each of which beg for reflection by the political class.

Nevertheless, you will have to reconcile highly conflicted opinions of your neighbours, your local politicians, your local business operators, and your circle of influence, just as you have had to do up to now. Only, up to now, the party’s policy position provided guide-posts for your “talking points” and as independent members you will need to acquire and absorb much more research data on which to base your public statements on public policy, in your town halls. Your role as “listeners” will need to be balanced with your role as “leaders” and “innovators” and “trend-setters” with respect to policy and vision. And your focus on “process” will satisfy a segment of your voters; that segment, however, might well not include either the local media, nor the local coffee-shop conversations.

The public consciousness of the political process hardly holds politicians in high regard. One of the principle reasons for this shared gestalt of indictment of the political class is that the “herd” mentality of the party system has such a strong hold on the participants. On this cornerstone, you both have grounded your decision to run for a seat in parliament in October, 2019. The concomitant hollowness of the debate, from all sides, begs the interjection of much more nuanced, complex and visionary views, research and policy options than the elementary school-yard shouting match permits. However, supporting this “shouting match” is a public so disillusioned, and also so divided, and also so reductionistic and even simplistic in its political cognition, understanding and  tolerance of highly sophisticated, even if relevant and applicable, solutions to  public issues.

There can be no doubt about the capacity of each of you to evolve highly sophisticated, nuanced, practical and relevant policy options, irrespective of their potential colouration of a political party’s identity. And your ambition and vision to bridge the chasm between the political parties and their respective identities, however obscured and diffuse and even over-lapping they are, warrants considerable reflection by the local and national media, as well as by the leadership of the national political parties, and to be sure, the local electorate whose engagement, digestion and endorsement of various policy options will become somewhat more evident on the morning after the October vote.

It is the capacity of the political “establishment” including the national media, the political parties, the political leadership, and the national donors to open their eyes, their ears and most importantly their minds and attitudes to  what might become a duet of refreshing, if somewhat “LaMancha-esque” voices. Your injection of the archetype of the “artist” into what seems to be a highly corporate, self-interested, profit-driven (both cash and votes) and ultimately parched political landscape bodes ill should your voices be lost from that landscape.

And, to be sure, your decision to have joined the Green’s would not and could not have assured you or the nation of your continued participation and contribution to the serious needs of our people and our country. What is not debatable is that your passion, and your principled advocacy, your ethics and your willingness to undergo the rigours and the personal debasement of offering your name for re-election are commendable, honourable and worthy of emulation.

Too bad all of those platinum qualities that you bring to the table could not be an integral part of all political parties.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

A global wake-up call: titanium dioxide, Trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11), and plutonium 239

Three news stories yesterday caught my eyes, and, when the dots are connected, offer a piercing siren sound warning on the state of our world. Each story focused on a specific chemical compound, the new anti-human arsenal of stealth foes (non-improvised explosive devices) against which our culture, and certainly our governments are unprepared to protect us.

The three compounds are respectively: titanium dioxide, Trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11), plutonium 239.

The first, titanium oxide, is a food additive in many of our processed foods (including the tooth paste I used this morning), the second a chemical used in the production of foam, and the third, the radioactive element in nuclear waste with a half-life of 24,000-plus years.

Bobby Hristova, reporting in National Post (22 05 19) writes:

Titanium oxide is behind the sheen on sweets and the bleach0-white colour of toothpaste and chewing gums, but new research shows it may also be behind colorectal cancer, colitis and other stomach problems….

A 2015 study in the U.S. showed some of the products with the most titanium dioxide include Mentos Freshmint Gum, Kool Aid Blue Raspberry, M&M’s Chocolate Candy and Betty Crocker Whipped Cream Frosting….

Research from Queen’s University showed when pregnant mice consumed a conservative amount of titanium dioxide nanoparticles,, their babies were born with deformities, while fruit flies exposed to the whitener had fertility issues….

France is banning titanium dioxide in 2020 after being unable to guarantee it is safe, with other studies linking it to obesity and diabetes….

Dr. Emma Allen-Vercoe, a professor of molecular and cellular biology at the University of Guelph, says the stomach’s microbiota has 100 times more genes than human genomes, and researchers have missed these microbiota for years. Not looking at the genes means not getting a full understanding of how the additives impact the body….

I don’t see that in my lifetime we would ever be able to do all the experiments using the plethora of nanoparticles and all different chemical str4uctures, Virginia Walker, a professor of molecular genetics at Queen’s University says.

Also in the National Post, (22-05-19) Jacob Dube writes:

…scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association found that global emissions of Trichlorofluoromethane (CFC-11) have actually been increasing since 2013. The increase implied that someone was secretly violating the Montreal Protocol (signed by 197 countries around the world, including Canada, the U.S. and China. As the ozone layer in our upper atmosphere slowly depleted—letting in an increasing amount of the sun’s ultraviolet rays—the protocol contributed to a significant reduction in harmful CFCs, which then allowed for a slow healing of the ozone layer.)…
Now in a new study published in Nature on May 22, scientists from the University of Bristol, Kyungpook National University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that between 40 and 60 per cent of total global CFC-11 emissions originate from eastern China…

Manufacturers (in China) told the EIA (Environmental Investigation Agency) they continued to use the banned product because of its better quality and cheaper price. The New York Times reported that some factories were producing the gas in secret, while other manufacturers said the local governments turned a blind eye….

Matthew Rigby, (Reader in Atmospheric Chemistry in the School of Chemistry at the University of Bristol), said scientists and watchdogs didn’t know just how much manufacturers in China were emitting---about 7000 tonnes of CFC-11 since 2013…more than double the emissions we were expected from China at that time…
Rigby also mentioned that CFC-11 is a greenhouse gas, about 5000 times more potent than carbon dioxide at warming the climate…
Also in the National Post, (21-05-19), we find this headline:

The U.S. stuffed  waste from nuclear bomb tests under a dome on a Pacific island. Now, the dome is cracking open

The report continues:

At 6:45 a.m. on March 1, 1054, the blue sky stretching over the south Pacific Ocean was split open by an enormous red flash. Within seconds, a mushroom cloud towered seven kilometers high over Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The explosion, the U.S. government’s first weaponized hydrogen bomb, was 1000 times more powerful than the “Little Boy” atomic bomb blast that flattened Hiroshima—and a complete miscalculation…Radioactive ash dropped more than 7,000 square miles from the bomb site, caking the nearby inhabited islands. “Within hours, the atoll was covered with a fine, white powder-like substance,” the Marshall Islands health minister would later testify, according to the Atomic Heritage Foundation. “No one knew it was radioactive fallout, The children played in the ‘snow.’ They ate it.”…

Beginning in 1977, the (U.S.) Defense Agency began a sustained cleanup of the nuclear debris left over on Enewetak Atoll, a slender archipelago in the Marshall Islands’s northwest corner. The material was then transported to Runit Island, where a 328-foot crater remained from a May 1958 test explosion. For three years the American military dumped the material into the crater. Six men reported died during the  work. Locals took to calling it, “The Tomb,” the Guardian reported….

In 1980, a massive concrete dome—18 inches think and shaped  like a flying saucer—was placed over the fallout debris, sealing off the material on Runit. But the $218 million project was only supposed to be temporary until a more permanent site was developed, according to the Guardian, However, no further plans were ever hatched….

According to a 2017 report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, among the fallout material was plutonium-239, an isotope that is one of the world’s most toxic substances, and one with a radioactive half-life of 24,100 years. The staying power of that material is the problem.. It’s still there, only 18 inches of concrete from waters that are rising.
“That dome is the connection between the nuclear age and the climate change age,” climate change activist Alson Kelen told the Australian broadcaster….

Cracks reportedly have started to appear in the dome. Part of the threat is that the crater was never properly lined, meaning rising seawater could breach the structural integrity. “The Bottom of the dome is just what was left behind by the nuclear weapons explosion,” Michael Gerrard, the chair of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, told the ABC. “It’s permeable soil. There was no effort to line it, And therefore, the seawater is inside the dome….

The Marshallese government…does not have the money to shore up the structure, leaving it vulnerable to both rising tides and typhoons. “It’s clear as day that the local government will neither have the expertise or funds to fix the problem it is needs a particular fix,” a Marshallese official told the Guardian.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Rage viewed from a world without soul


Television dramas seem replete with rage….angry victims perpetrating unlawful acts of rage linked inextricably to law enforcement agents pouring intense physical and emotional rage in their pursuit and capture. Pitting both extremes against each other, as a moral epic, however, too often misses the interstacies of the backgrounds of both victims and power brokers.

Why do people erupt in rage?

This is a question, in many different faces, I have pondered for decades. It was rage that seemed to trigger violence in the form of demeaning verbiage and bruising thrusts of a heavy right arm both erupting from a seemingly unleashed mother, whenever a trigger of imperfection ignited the roiling furnace of her rage. As a youngster, I lived in both fear and anticipation of the “next episode” and learned, without conscious awareness, to scout, to reconnoiter, to smell, and to intuit the danger signals whenever I entered our house. Whistling, the bottom false-teeth plate stuck out of the mouth, seated at the end of the kitchen counter smoking a duMaurier cigarette, frenetic cleaning, huge heaves of fatigued breathing while hanging the washing on the line from the back porch, and the basic withdrawal into the bedroom for days and weeks while the rest of the family ate the evening meal…these were the barlines in a raucous, untempered, unpredictable  score of rage the origins of which condition remain a mystery decades after her actual death.

Was it boredom, servility, perfectionism, the pursuit of the holy, revenge against her father, self-loathing at having married “beneath” her entitled state, competition of the Hollywood mother, volcanic eruptions of a deep-seated devaluing from an  early life of isolation, alienation and depravity??????....who knows. Some might  even diagnose it as a legacy of desperate and pervasive inadequacy and the fear of being “disclosed” especially in comparison with her highly talented, valued, appreciated and even honoured mother.

George Santayana: Depression is rage spread thin.

Paul Tillich: Boredom is rage spread thin.

Tina Brown: Servility always curdles into rage in the end.

What is the difference between the passion of soul and the soul of passion? How can we appreciate the relationship between rage and the conditions of the world in which rage seems to erupt? Is there a relation, given our highly conventional cultural fixation on the depravity of the individual, to the blindness of the social anatomy in which the individual exists? The nature vs. nurture discussion has often taken the form of a painting the different aspects of individual genetics on a canvas of the social laboratory as depicted by sociologists and historians and anthropologists. Are there more nuanced, perhaps refined, perspectives through which to examine rage?

Does the human imagination, for instance, include a conscious or unconscious vision of how things might be in any circumstance in which a human finds him or herself? Does this vision impel both emotions and actions toward fulfilment of that vision? Does this vision also potentially impel/compel thoughts, strategies, plans and even actions that “rebel” against the “what is” when compared with the “what might be or have been”? Is rage one of the potential outcomes of the perceived “deficit” in one’s feeling/experience of emptiness, given the perception of the ethos in which s/he exists?
Let’s look at some of the potential landscapes/streetscapes/kitchenscapes/bedroomscapes/officescapes/boardroomscapes that might potentially evoke, provoke, trigger, motivate rage!

Suffering, in its many forms and faces, pain, illness, scarcity, loneliness, abandonment, impotence, anger …..these are normally associated with an incident, another person, a workplace, and often generate feelings of retribution, revenge, jealousy. Often associated with Mars, masculinity, is painted with the brush of anger. And in a culture in which “talking it out” with and through the professional services of a therapist, a social worker, a coach, counsellor or even a psychiatrist is the preferred approach to healing. Included in this approach, too, is the potential of pharma-therapies. Currently, for example, in the western world, relationships, sex, alcoholism, and excessive emotional outbursts like rage, are considered
illnesses, disease, each requiring “treatment”. We will often hear or read about those who commit violent acts as “mentally disturbed” psychotic, perhaps even as sociopaths or psychopaths. And we are not either apologizing for nor excusing acts of rage that destroy the lives of other people. This argument is trying to shift the lens away from the pathologizing of the illness to the lens of the “world” or the culture as the subject of our perspective. Could it be that the world, itself, incarnates many forms of “disease” that impact the individual personal lives of millions of our colleagues?

Based on early science that discovered “germs” at the root of disease, the term theory “holds that disease in an invasion of the body from the outside by bacteria, each disease being characterized by a distinct malignant biological entity.” (Robert Sardello,
Facing the World with Soul, p.66)

On the other hand, if we were to take a more prescient, insightful, penetrating lens to the “world” and the contemporary culture, we would pay more attention to the conditions of the world that might be negatively impacting human health and well-being:

The present age is characterized by a physical deteriorating of the structure of culture and by a loss of soul. Anonymity abounds with a pervasive incapacity to experience individuality…Emotional life becomes shallow, the will absent, the interior life lost. These disappearing qualities belonged first to the world; the world’s suffering and the neglect of that suffering are secondarily manifested through the microcosmic world of the individual body. (Sardello, p. 71, in his analysis of the roots of AIDS)

When confronting the ubiquitous malaise of cancer, Sardello writes:

Cancer is the most substantial, most concrete, instance of the suffering of the things of the world, a suffering belonging to the body of the world before it belongs to the body of the individual. While actual cancer is pervasive, cancerphobia is now universal, producing morbid fear of everything in the world. Which is to say that everything in the world is in fear….The belief that medicine will conquer this disease brings about forgetfulness of the world conditions that express cancer while it simultaneously enlarges individual fears to neurotic proportions…(ibid, p.72)

After listing carcinogens, made from synthetic inorganic chemicals, Sardello writes:

(T)hey do not belong to nature and they make possible the proliferation of mass-produced objects on a scale unheard of before. These synthetic substances possess a peculiar kind of immortality, because they are incapable of entering into the organic cycle of life and death, and when discarded they do not return to dust because from dust they did not come; they came from chemical factories. As such, they lack the true individuality of things and bear no mark of handiwork. Without exception, the world of cancer is the world of mass objects that individual things. Cancer appear in the body as the uprising of masses of undifferentiated cells destroying the individual structure of the body. Cancer goes together with mass society. (Ibid, p. 72-3)

Through Sardello’s lens, if disease can be interpreted as the impact of a soul-less culture and world, would it also be feasible to posit a credible apology for rage, based on the lack of soul, the absence of beauty and the failure to acknowledge the “dearth” both so requisite to the healthy imagination of the well-being of each human being.
Paying inordinate attention to the performance of the “garden stage,” the “church-stage” of mandatory attendance and literal readings of scripture, the jack-booted rigour of three-hour-piano-practice appointments every Saturday morning for nearly twelve years, the kitchen-based performance of competitive meals larger, more endowed with calories, and officiously served to humbled and overwhelmed guests….perhaps these were some of the conditions that were causative of a mother’s and a wife’s rage. Was she attempting to do more than was either needed or appropriate? Was she compensating for her hidden (and even unconscious) inadequacy in light of her mother’s generosity and equanimity? Did these “world” conditions approximate a soul-less and ‘ill” culture, which could and would generate different psychic ripples and waves in future generations?

Similarly, a rural, isolated and isolating village, in which child abuse was never reported because “everyone ‘covered’ in silence for everyone else” (the authentic Children’s Aid Society’s assessment), in which more literal, evangelical fundamentalist ideology, essentially a weaponizing of that theology against a moderate, liberal, poetic scriptural reading and interpretation, prevailed, where guns and violence substituted for reason and discussion, especially when fears of inadequacy and illiteracy reared their heads, where alcohol was the medication of preference for the repressed anger and rage and where socializing focused on commerce, materialism, and land prices…does this comprise another example of a soul-less world?

Another example comes to mind from an upper-income, elevated social class hub in a parish church proud of its half-million trust fund while street people went starving only a few blocks away, proud of its list of professional memberships, and its so-carved homilies fashioned specifically for various “types” following the Myers-Briggs test administration, hollowed out by an uber-ambitious female priest’s military, power-driven management threatened by an internal assessment that the part-time surrogate was a “real leader and you are not”….urban focus on maintaining the fa├žade of superiority, of superficiality, and a fixation on function and performance….is this just another iteration of a soul-less world, ironically and paradoxically constructed and purposed to “birth, nurture, elevate, develop and sustain the “soul” of the parishoners?

One more! please be patient, dear reader!

This time, the introduction came through the windshield of a mid-nineties burgundy Subaru, loaded with things that would be required for a stay of years potentially. Rolling, dry, sand-covered hills, dotted with the occasional herd of cattle, and a few lines of skimpy pines and cedars, interrupted by the overwhelming beauty of high-wire curve bordering a mountain cliff over-looking a meandering stream reflecting the afternoon sun….comprised the greeting of nature.

Immediately, upon entering the main street, with the tumble-weed blowing up and down the deserted street, the sun-baked store-fronts evoking images of western movie-sets, merely facades almost unconsciously forcing a shift of the head, to the right to catch a glimpse of the sand-rock outcrop that bordered the north edge of the town. An adventure into the American outlier-wilderness, only admissible to the innocent Canadian romantic as a “new challenge” in a foreign place demanding a dramatic shift in what had been an established “picture of the U.S. big-brother” borne of summers of carrying out groceries from the local Dominion store for wealthy American tourists, and earlier Thursday afternoon penny-scrambles on the town dock for the local “poor kids” patronizing performed by the blue-rinse set from Duluth.

And then, the faces and the perspectives of the small tribe of six people still pleading for survival as a mission church in a town with twenty-two other places of worship started to flow in the first few days. Money, that barometer of soul-less-ness, was and remained the core issue in negotiations with this “Canadian alien.” They wanted what apparently amounted to a mere “sacramentalist” for Sunday mornings, funerals, weddings and, most importantly, no threat to their constricted budget and the even more constricted parameters of their individual and shared expectations.

“We can afford to pay for someone to meet only basic needs,” came from the shrivelled and controlling treasurer. “We have been struggling with supply priests for the last while and we have certainly not been growing.”

To which I responded, “If you want only a sacramentalist, I did not drive 3000 miles to fill that role! Either we will engage in a full-time relationship, or I will return to Canada!”

Protests in frowns, shifting bottoms, darting eyes and silence greeted my retort.

For nearly forty months, after securing a minimal commitment, we struggled, screamed, performed and rehearsed a form of ministry that could only be considered a mere placebo, if the growth and development of individual spiritual lives is the measure. Throughout, I not infrequently drove my fist through the giprock walls in the bathroom, bedroom and hallway of the vicarage in a rage that I am convinced has to have its roots both in the repressed rage of my youth and in the impact of the emotional, psychological, spiritual and social desert of this lost and forgotten town on the west side of the continental divide. I recall sitting on a loaned pink sofa many mornings bemoaning the truth that if I were to venture out into the parish community, by visiting or even by phoning just to “visit,” I knew that I would be considered “invasive” and “gushing” because I would be invading the privacy of their frozen and private and isolated and controlling lives.

There is a phrase in jewish lore, “tsim tsum”…translated as presence through absence, a phrase that was brought to my attention in conversations with classmates in theology, as a positive “take” on the tragedy of my factured family and marriage, brought on by my own decisions. While it never soothed my broken heart and spirit, I only hoped my absence in the lives of three daughters would afford them enhanced opportunity and space for their rich imaginations to flourish in their own lives. In that desert western town, however, I could and did only despair that the impact of my ‘withdrawal’ would be to deepen the isolation and the entrapment of the uroborus snake’s head-in-the-tail repetition of their circular, private, isolated and alienated and anonymous lives.

Perhaps, it is long past time for each of us to re-examine the circumstances, conditions and the attitudes and habits and perceptions of the “world” in which we live and breathe and find our meaning and purpose…asking ourselves to what extent we are conscious of our seeding, watering and weeding the world’s soul…and asking how we can cultivate, each in our own way, an acceptance and adoption of that perspective among our peers.

Rage, at least the rage that I punched into those many holes in that vicarage, is a social and a political embarrassment and, also, importantly a scream coming from  a sick soul of the world….and my failure to plant seeds of world soul in that little community is one of the most glaring failures of a long life.