Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Ischinger's call for truth, trust and transparency needs trumpeting globally

For a while immediately after the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, there were many public comparisons made between the “Black Lives Matter” protests and the events of that horrible day in January.

It might seem useful and appropriate to take the veil of the kind of glib comparison that some make, for their own political purposes, in much the same way that non-equivalencies have been the stock and trade of the last four years in the United States.

White supremacists, and a goodly number of the seditionists were clearly supportive of white supremacy values and goals, differ significantly from those protesting the murders of clearly innocent black men and women, by most often white police officers. The immediacy of the injustice leaves blood on the hands of those bad actors who committed those murders. However, the injustice of some 400 years of what can only be called apartheid, colonialism, repression, racial bigotry and even radical racial bigotry, makes the violent cry for the false extension of the trump presidency look like a fall from a child’s wagon, resulting in a bruised knee. There cannot be permitted any attempt to justify the actions of January 6th, 2021, and to falsely try to weld that day to those several days of massive street protests just won’t fly.

Conspiracy theorists, including those cultishly enmeshed with something called QAnon, for whom trump was (is?) considered a saviour from the “satanic pedophiles” in the Democratic, also come already disqualified to be even entered into the same sentence as equals, to those protesting on behalf of murdered black men and women. Their total and complete disregard for what can only be called empirical evidence, truth, transparency and basic public facts renders them outside the pale of what must be considered legitimate public discourse. It is not merely hate, racism, bigotry and violence that define  their motives and their actions; it is an all-out onslaught against whatever truths they wish to erase through their inflammatory rhetoric, beliefs and actions. Even those who do not subscribe to the QAnon conspiracy hoax, (and it has to be labelled for the lie it is and for the danger that lie imposes on the body politic), their participation at the Capitol on January 6th represents an open, defiant, dangerous, act of anarchy. And that anarchy is the fruit of the seeds planted by trump, and especially reinforced by his sycophants in the Republican party, in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, over the four years of the trump scorched earth policy against science, truth, facts and their flower, democracy.

For Republicans now to reinforce their allegiance to their “leader” in a manner evocative of the servile obeisance of North Koreans to their Kim Jong-un, or of many in Russia to Putin, or of millions in China to Xi Jinping, or of Philippino’s to Duterte, or of Brazilians to Bolsonaro, or of Hungarians to Viktor Orban. And while that list may not capture the length and depth of tyrannies, it serves as a reminder of the growing muscle of right-wing tyrannies, and the danger those tyrannies pose for human rights, for free press, for free and fair elections, for collaboration with those who seek both policy and practices that will impede the destruction of the ecosystem, that will curtail the pandemic, that will foster international co-operation in the design and free delivery of vaccines. Those tyrannies, too, will likely be more conducive to continuing attempts to commit cyber crime, illicit drug deals, intelligence piracy, and a prevalent tendency to secrecy, especially when it comes to investigating the source of pandemics like COVID-19. Or course, the western media, especially in the U.S. will not often, or perhaps ever, stretch as far as to compare their former president with right-wing dictators, except perhaps as symbols of anti-democratic governments with right-wing, white supremacy impulses. They will say things like, ‘he prefers dictators to former U.S. allies’ in an almost anodyne expression of their embarrassment, shame and disgust.

The State Republican party of Oregon yesterday (from The Guardian’s Lois Beckett, on Monday January 25, 2021), “claimed.. by resolution that the January 6th attack by a pro-trump mob was a ‘false flag’ operation, an orchestrated conspiracy ‘designed to discredit President Trump, his supporters and all conservative Republicans, and to create a ‘sham motivation’ to impeach the former president. To back up these false claims, the resolution cited links to rightwing websites, including the Epoch Times, a pro-Trump outlet that has frequently published rightwing misinformation, as well as the Wikipedia entry for ‘Reichstag Fire’…Bill Currier, Republican party chairman, (said), ‘We’re partway in the door of socialism and Marxism right now..and we have to fight…It’s time for choosing. People can decide what they want to believe and when they wan tot do, but there are people standing up and there are people sitting down..”

Language that actually borrows the Third Reich, memorializing the burning of the German parliament (Reichstag) in 1933, coming from the Republican state party in Oregon can and will only enflame both sides: some Republicans, especially those in the Senate already campaigning to shut down the impeachment trial, emboldened, without having to take responsibility for such language, and Democrats who can and will see such expressions as emboldening their efforts to govern without seeking compromise with recalcitrant Republicans.

Appearing on the Global Public Square, with Fareed Zakaria, just this past Sunday, German diplomat and author, Wolfgang Ischinger, told the world that there are three things needed precisely at this moment: TRUST, TRUTH, and TRANSPARENCY! His recent book, World In Danger, A vision of a European future of peace and stability despite the present gloom. The brookings.edu website carries this nugget: “Ischinger examines the root causes of the current conflicts and suggests how Europe can successfully address the most urgent challenges facing the continent.” The author served as deputy foreign minister (1998-2001) in Germany and has served as Germany’s ambassador to both the United States and the United Kingdom. He has chaired the Munich Security Conference, the world’s leading forum for debating international security policy, since 2008. Henry Kissinger praises in book in these words, also from the brookings.edu website: ‘Ischinger is one of the most perceptive analysts of international affairs. His book should reach a broad audience.’

One can only hope that Biden’s state and national security advisers will put the book on the president’s required reading list. Perhaps after such an assignment, Biden might be prompted to change his call for “unity” to a call for truth. It is, after all, the demise of truth in which the conspiracy theorists, the supremacists, the obstructionists in Congress, and especially the Republican leadership traffics, depends upon and cannot survive without. One of the signature features of the Democratic Party, for too long, has been a proclivity to civility, a compulsion to “play fair” and to moderate their language into diplomatic tepid and luke-warm tea. At the same time the Republicans have been, and will undoubtedly continue to fire their verbal (and vacuous) rhetorical cannons, grabbing the headlines, sustaining and enriching the culture of hate, contempt, racism while linking socialism to Marxism. And for the Democrats to call such language extreme, immoderate or even irrational is to miss the point: it is another seductive, seemingly professional and clearly dispassionate understatement.

Believing that the Republicans will only continue to call anything and everything proposed by the Democrats as socialism and Marxism is neither historically accurate nor politically and ethically tolerable. Call such talk and such misinformation what it is: an unadulterated lie! And only if that message is pounded, and pounded in and through every public interview and statement made by each and every member of the Democratic Party, in every forum, will the public even begin to come to the point of view that libraries, for example, streets, sewers, sanitation workers, and even educators in public schools serve as living, working, effective, necessary and highly professional examples of how the state takes care of human needs in every town, city, state and across the nation. Not only are visible public services provided by state funds, supervised by state officials, the state undertakes to protect every person living within the state’s (and the nation’s) borders. It is the state that issues passports, enabling all citizens to travel around the globe; it is the state that curates information about the pandemic, national security risks, nuclear armament developments, climate changes swirling across all continents and oceans, documents the changes in both flora and fauna, especially those directly related to the food we all eat and its cost, and the state also funds much new research into vaccines, therapeutics, cancer treatments.

This lie that socialism and Marxism are Satanic and thereby must be avoided, as if they were another form of the plague has to be countered just as vociferously, vehemently and urgently as doe the lie of the election fraud, the disappearing pandemic, the Russian influence peddling in favour of trump’s election and re-election. Political speech, editorial opinion, television talking points, and their respective participants, have to be able and willing to tell the truth, and not merely those truths that superficially seem to support the conventional water-cooler talk. And everyone around a water-cooler, too, has an obligation to confront those specious, unsustainable, and especially untruthful statements that overflow the hallways wherever there is a water-cooler.

It is not only those elected Democrats that have to find the political and ethical spine to call a spade a shovel, and to call a lie a lie, without prevarication, without fear of reprisals from their media interrogators, interviewers and their political bag-men and women. Ordinary people, in every classroom, in every office, in every board room, on every factory floor have to wake up to the smell of the stench of the lie. Back in the 90’s, Scott Peck, while doing research for his book, People of the Lie, scoured the Pentagon in search of a single individual who would claim responsibility for the My Lai massacre. He found no one. By Committee, apparently, the decision absolved all individuals of direct responsibility. And yet the chain of command brings with it that specific responsibility, for the desk, or the jeep, or the wheel-house, or the byline where the “buck stops”….And shirking that responsibility only provides added sabotaging fodder for all those who seek refuge under the desk, or without a byline, for whatever it is they decide, publish, spread.

There is a crying and perhaps never more resonant cry for the truth, since only with and through a commitment to the truth, whatever that truth may be (and not only about the mortality rate of the pandemic) can there be any hope of establishing public trust, not only in the science of this galloping virus, and its variants, and the desperate race of the vaccines and therapeutics to catch up. There is a crying and desperate need for  those charged with public responsibility to wear, to walk into, and to utter nothing but the truth.

And that will mean that people in what we regard as high office will have to face the truths of their watch, both the successful and the not-so-much. Having worked in the United States, in a situation in which those in charge refused to take responsibility for the conditions of that workplace, and even to become familiar with those conditions, because they were effectively permitted innocence (and ignorance) by those who knew, but whose truths were never sought or desired, I know how tragic a failure to acknowledge especially organizational truth, in the deepest and darkest truths of its toxicity. Similarly, those who have come to be known as whistle-blowers, too often demeaned and disgraced by those in power who seek the refuge of lying irresponsibility, must come to be regarded as the canaries in the various coal mines whose toxicity (not merely literally but also metaphorically) are threatening our planet’s capacity to endure.

Ischinger’s mantra of “truth, trust, transparency” would be a welcome injection into the veins, the hearts and the minds of each and every public and private organization, and especially in those national and provincial and state governments whose work is needed today more than at any time in the last three-quarters of a century.

Can the author/ambassador’s words be integrated into a political firestorm as part of the extinguisher? 

Friday, January 22, 2021

We are all Alexei Navalny's today!...and for the foreseeable future

President Biden is ensconced in the White House, in the Oval Officer, and deeply embedded in the multiple crises facing the United States and the world. For this, we can all be extremely grateful.

At the same time, Alexei Navalny is imprisoned in a Russian prison, awaiting the government’s desired sentence of 13.5 years of hard labour for opposing Putin whom he accuses of using the nerve agent, Novichok, a Soviet-era chemical weapon, to poison him. A CBC report by Chris Brown, January 19, 2021, carries this searing indictment of the poisoning:

An extensive investigation by journalists with the collective Bellingcat uncovered flight manifests, addresses and phone logs that all pointed to the existence of a secret nerve agent program run by the FSB (Russian Federal Security Service) designed to eliminate the Kremlin’s enemies. Russian authorities have repeatedly denied any such program exists and warned Navalny that he could be arrested for treason just for accusing Putin of the crime…..Moscow-based political scientist, Ekaterina Schulmann, (is quoted),” There is Putin, and there is anti-Putin, which is him… This is a very brave action. He is acquiring a certain type of moral authority as a person who has demonstrated that is a person who is ready to suffer for his convictions.”

Writer at The New Yorker, Russian-American Journalist, Masha Gessen, also an outspoken critic of Putin, tells Morning Joe (MSNBC)  today that even if the United States imposes sanctions on Russia and on Putin, they will have little impact.

In a Foreign Policy piece, entitled, “What does Putin Stand to Gain (and Lose) by Going after Navalny?” by Amy Mackinnon, September 10, 2020, we read this:

As Russia’s best-known and most effective opposition politician, Navalny was one described as the man Putin fears the most. Homing in on one of the most hot-button issues for Russian voters, Navalny and his team have repeatedly exposed the dazzling corruption of some of Russia’s most senior politicians. After a 2017 investigation alleged that then-Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had used $1 billion in bribes to but lavish properties, it triggered nationwide protests in the Russian heartland traditionally thought to form the core of Putin’s base.

As to what price Russia will pay….

Mackinnon writes:  It is not yet clear. After Novochok was used against Skripal (in the UK), over 20 countries followed Britain’s lead in expelling dozens of Russian diplomats in what then-British Prime Minister Theresa May described as the latest collective expulsion of suspected Russian intelligence officers in history. (Angela) Merkel has faced growing calls, including from her own party, to halt construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, a project long backed by Germany and that is over 90 percent complete. And on Monday, a version of the Magnitsky Act*, which could impose sanctions on human rights abusers and corrupt officials abroad, was introduced in the German Bundestag: if passed it would provide Germany with another avenue to respond to future Russian misdeeds.

The new Russian constitution, permitting Putin effectively life-long reign, has considerably upped the ante against anyone who attempts to oppose Putin, criticize Putin, expose Putin, and especially one like Navalny who has, in spite of the roadblocks Putin has put in his path, grown and developed a considerable following in Russia.

Confronting dictators, long considered a cancer on both national and international political affairs, has evaded scholars as well as practicing politicians. Back in 2015, in a piece entitled, The Psychology of Dictatorship: Why Gaddafi Clings to Power by John Cloud, (from healthland.time.com), we find three explanations for dictatorial behavior:

a)     Dictators are psychopaths…defined as antisocial personality disorder, (featuring) “repeatedly performing acts that area grounds for arrest,” deceitfulness, impulsivity, and lack of remorse.

b)    Dictators are paranoid narcissists… Most non-dictatorial leaders employ subordinates who are empowered to question them., Dictators arrange their lives so that no one can play this role….In a 2003 piece in the journal Psychological Review, three researchers led by Dacher Keltner of the University of ?California, Berkeley, look at how elo3evated power changes the psychological makeup of those who have it. They found that powerful people become more willing to take credit for accomplishments they didn’t achieve. The also begin to see the world around them in ‘more automatic, simplistic ways’.

c)     Dictators are more or less normal people who develop mental disorders in the extraordinary circumstance of holding absolute power….In a new paper called ‘How Power Corrupts,’ a Columbia University team of psych0logists suggest that power doesn’t change the psychology of powerful people but, rather, their physiology. Lead author Dana Carney and her team hypothesize that because power eases so many daily stressors—dictators never have to worry about driving a car of paying a mortgage—powerful people show persistently lower levels of cortisol, a hormone closely associated with stress. Typically, immoral behavior—even routine sins like lying—is stressful. ‘A lie-teller must actively inhibit and suppress many things including: the truth, internal monitoring of (his or her) moral compass, social norms, fear of consequence, and consideration of others’ interests,’ Carney and her colleagues write. ‘This suppression leads to negative emotions, decrements in mental function, and physiological stress.’ …(T)he powerful have an abundance of emotional and cognitive resources available to use when navigating stressors as they arise.’ In this way dictators may become immune to regret…..(D)ictators are too strong militarily and too weak psychologically to bargain. That’s why they invite annihilation.

Our question here is one of those imponderables: what can the world do, if and when dictators/tyrants/psychopaths/sociopaths/narcissists/opportunists without regret or even an authentic sense of responsibility…claim and hold onto power?

Their fear of loss of power and control, of course, is an intense, and perhaps overpowering motivation, (not to excuse or justify their abuse). Once perched on the pinpoint tip of a political, economic, theological, pyramid of power, the spectre of a “fall” is terrifying. And the extrinsic rewards of affluence, influence, the appearance of invincibility, and the pygmied sycophancy of others  congeal together in a façade of delusional impermeability, self-satisfied, and even more self-righteous justification of anything and everything designed to preserve this false personal euphoria, a kind of insulated, isolated nirvana.

Rather than merely describe the dictators motives and circumstances, one is also prompted to ask, Why does any culture/society/organization/institution even contemplate continued deployment of models of leadership that emulate dictators, champion dictators, historically revere dictators, depend on dictators as if they were an unquestioned, and unquestionable fixture of the needs of any group of people? Why does history pay such close attention to the narratives of dictators, even with the accompanying caveat that their’s is not a moral or and ethical or even a sustainable path to follow? Is this more of a masculine ‘thing’ than of a feminine thing?

We have come to a place where science, and the dependence on reason, and the power implicit in both science and in reason, have risen to such prominence, (and wealth, status, political and cultural influence) that we have gone beyond what can reasonably be considered an optimum/fair/equal/sustainable relationship with what most consider “nature.” We have either forgotten or ignored our dependence on nature, along with our turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the truth that nature does not need  humanity, whereas humanity clearly needs nature. We have built dominance into the very fabric of our notion of leadership. Just yesterday, the new coach of the Detroit Lions Football Team of the National Football League, in his exaggerated attempt to represent what he considers to be a ‘battered city’ (Detroit) where unemployment, racism, poisoned water, among other blights from which it is beginning to recover said: (as reported on ESPN)

This place has been kicked. It’s been battered. It’s been bruised. And I could sit up here and give you coachspeak all day long…..Here’s what I do know. This team is going to take on the identity of this city and this city has been down and it found a way to get up. It’s found a way to overcome adversity right? So this team is going to be built on, we’re going to kick you in the teeth, right? And when you punch us back, we’re going to smile at you. And when you knock us down, we’re going to get up, and on the way up we’re going to bite a kneecap off. Allright? And we’re going to stand up and it’s going to take two more shots to knock us down. And on the way up, we’re going to take your other kneecap and we’re going to get up and it’s going to take three shots to get us down. And when we do, we’re going tyo take another hunk out of you. Before long,we’re going to be the last one standing. That’s going to be the mentality.”

Now, whether or not Putin would smile and get warm fuzzies when reading such a diatribe, I don’t know. However, the impression that hangs over the Russian dictator smells eerily evocative of Campbell’s violent passion. In the NFL, whether or not kneecaps now need special insurance, time will tell. On the world stage, with the U.S. declaring it wants a five-year extension of the START nuclear arms treaty with Russia, and the pandemic raging on all continents and the natural ecosystem being poisoned hourly by the activities of people everywhere on the planet, it would seem to a ‘no-brainer’ scribe that dictators could spelt trouble, not only for Navalny, but for all those whose grasp of reality (carbon emisssions especially from fossil fuels, pandemic viruses, vaccinations, invasions of wild animal habitats, and the corruption of lives lived nearly exclusively for the pursuit of personal excess) defines their political agenda.

In an ironic and surprising piece in The Guardian, by Brooke Harrington, October 19, 2018, entitled, “The Bad ?Behavior of the richest: what I learned from wealth managers,”  we find this:

It was quite unexpected, in the courser of discussing tax avoidance, to hear professional service providers say things like: ‘I’ve told my colleagues: It Is ever become like some of our clients, shoot me.’ Because they are really immoral people—too much time on their hands, and all that money means they have no limits. I was actually told by one client not to bring my wife on a trip to Monaco unless I wanted to see her get hit on by 10 guys. The local sport, he said, was picking up other men’s wives.’ The clients of this Geneva =based wealth manager also ‘believe that they are descended from the pharaohs, and that they were destined to inherit the earth. If a poor person voiced such beliefs, he or she might well be institutionalized: for those who work with the wealthy, however, such ‘eccentricities’ are all in a day’s work. Indeed, an underappreciated irony of accelerating economic inequality has been the way it has exposed behaviors among the ultra-rich that mirror the supposed ‘pathologies’ of the ultra-poor. In fact, one of the London-based wealth managers I interviewed said that a willingness to accept with equanimity behavior that would be considered outrageous in others was an informal job requirement. Clients, he said, specifically chose wealth managers not just on technical competence, but on their ability to remain unscandalized by the private lives of the ultra-rich: ‘They (the clients) have to pick someone they want to know everything about them: about Mother’s lesbian affairs, Brother’s addiction, the spurned lovers bursting into the room.’ Many of these clients are not employed and live off family largesse, but no one calls them lazy. As Lane and Harburg put it in the libretto of the musical Finian’s Rainbow:

When a rich man doesn’t want to work

He’s a bon vivant, yes, he’s a bon vivant

But when a poor man doesn’t want to work

He’s a loafer, he’s lounger

He’s a lazy good for nothing, he’s a jerk

When the wealthy are revealed to be drug addicts, philanderers,, or work-shy, the response, is-at most- a frisson  of tabloid curiosity, followed by a collective shrug. Behaviors indulged in the rich are not just condemned in the poor, but used as a justification to punish them, denying them access to resources that keep them alive, such as healthcare and food assistance….These disparate perceptions aren’t just evidence of hypocrisy; they are literally a matter life and death.”

Perhaps, Mr. Putin, and his affluent oligarchs, plutocrats, are not an insult and an affront to Mr. Navalny; they are, in truth, an affront and an insult to all of the people in the world. And their insouciance, indifference, and callous imperiousness threaten any attempt to bring the pandemic to heel, to clean the planet’s ecosystem, and to level the playing field so that all people, rich and poor, educated and non-, western and eastern, Russian and American, can find food, learning, work and dignity in whatever new world order that awaits the last three quarters of the twenty-first 

Friday, January 15, 2021

The whole really is greater than the sum of the parts...

In a January 8, 2021 piece in National Geographic, Jillian Kramer makes reference to a number of researchers in social and political psychology, and their studies in conspiracy theories. The piece is entitled, “Why people latch on to conspiracy theories, according to science.”

From the article, we learn several academic terms, that, while they do not attempt to warrant inclusion in the DSM-V as mental health ‘conditions’ requiring treatment, nevertheless, shed light on various aspects of how humans encounter, absorb, digest, assimilate and believe conspiracy theories. A definition of a conspiracy theory, from the piece, is “an explanation for events that relies on the assertion that powerful people are dishonestly manipulating society.”

According to Peter Ditto, social psychologist at UC Irvine, “Trump has ‘weaponized motivated reasoning’ by ‘incit(ing) a mob and weaponized natural human tendencies’.” Kramer continues: Those human tendencies—to believe whatever satisfies our preconceptions whether true or not—were part of our lives long before rioters defiled the Capitol. He is also reported by Kramer as saying: People mal also defend the viewpoints of groups they belong to on an even more instinctual level. Humans evolved in groups that competed with one another, sculpting our minds to be wary of outsiders and loyal to our factions. His 2019 study found that this kind of bias, ‘is a natural and nearly ineradicable feature of human cognition. (Ditto continues): ‘I think the temptation is always to look at this as a clinical phenomenon—there’s something about those people,…but your social surroundings can have a huge effect is you happen to be in a group with people who believe in something, or are mad about something.’

Sander van der Linden, a social psychologist at the University of Cambridge, is quoted as writing, “it (when misinformation offers simple, casual explanations for otherwise random events), helps restore a sense of agency and control for many people.

Marta Marchlewska, a social and political psychologist who studied conspiracy theories at the Polish Academy of Sciences, is referenced on the issue of people using cognitive short-cuts, “largely unconscious rules-of-thumb t6o make faster decisions to determine what they believe. And people experiencing anxiety or a sense of disorder, those who crave cognitive closure, may be even more reliant on those cognitive short-cuts to make sense of the world. Marchlewska’s research also suggests that collective narcissists (those with an inflated belief in a group’s significance) ‘are apt to look for imaginary enemies and adopt conspiracy explanations that blame them. Kramer quotes Marchlewska: “For some people, conspiracy beliefs are the best way to deal with the psychological threat posed by their failure”. Kramer also quotes Martchlewska: People ‘who believe in conspiracy theories usually seek a savior—someone who will help them protect their in-group from conspiring enemies.’ “She points to QAnon, a conspiracy theory that proliferated online and falsely alleges a powerful group of Satanic pedophiles is plotting against President Trump (A QAnon supporter, Marjorie Taylor Greene, recently won a House seat in Georgia). …(Conspiracy theories) serve as an extremely dangerous political weapon, helping manipulate the public to gain power. First you search for enemies, then you prepare yourself for a fight. The final stage is usually tragic: You hurt innocent people.”

Karen Douglas, a social psychologist at the University of Kent, UK, is quoted by Kramer, “it’s not surprising that we are seeing a spike in conspiracy theories today” given that 50% of Americans reported increased stress during the pandemic. Kramer: (Douglas’) research has found that people who feel insecure in their relationships and who tend to catastrophize life’s problems are more prone to believing in conspiracy theories.

Sander van der Linden, a social psychologist at the University of Cambridge, is quoted as writing, “it (when misinformation offers simple, casual explanations for otherwise random events), helps restore a sense of agency and control for many people. van der Linden, and colleagues published a study in October, (2020), by presenting residents from the U.S., U.K., Ireland, Spain and Mexico with statements that contained common misinformation and facts about COVID-19. Kramer writes: While a majority accurately identified misinformation, some people readily accepted the falsehoods. That includes between 22 and 37% of respondents…who believed the claim that the coronavirus was engineered in a laboratory in Wuhan, China. Some also decried accurate information as fake, such as the fact that diabetes increases your risk of severe illness for COVID-19. Van der Linder is also quoted “the brain mistakes familiarity for truth” referencing the notion that people are more likely to believe misinformation that they are exposed to over and over again. van der Linden also looked at whether pre-emptively warning people about the techniques that are used to spread falsehoods can help them gain immunity against fake news. He found that once people were warned about common misinformation techniques –including appealing to people’s emotions or expressing urgency in a message—participants were more likely to identify unreliable information.

Jan Willem van Prooijen, a social psychologist as Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, has done research that shows people’s willingness to believe fake news can have real behavioral effects. Kramer: the same participants who believed misinformation were also less likely to report that they complied with COVID-19 healthguidance, such as wearing masks, and were more likely to express vaccine hesitancy.

Daniel Sullivan, a psychologist at the University of Arizona who studies how people cope with adverse life events, is included for his observation that ‘by singling out an adversary who has ‘qualities that represent your own culturally influenced view of evil’ people can gain a sense of control over what’s happening to them. And the example here is the media hated by trump, and acted out by rioters in “smashed media crews’ equipment, a camera cord tied into a noose, and a scrawled ‘murder the media’ on a Capital door.

Emily Thorson, a political scientist at Syracuse University uses the phrase “belief echoes,” an obsessive response to information that can linger even after we know it’s false, in reference to the notion that once people believe something, it can be almost impossible to dissuade them.

Valerie Earnshaw, a social psychologist at the University of Delaware, in a study published in September, 2020, found that those who believed in pandemic conspiracy theories were less likely to say they would get a COVID-19 vaccine--but 90% said they trusted their doctors. Kramer notes: The finding adds to existing research showing doctors can help stymie the spread of health falsehoods directly.

Joseph A. Vitriol, social and political psychologist at Stony Brook University, is quoted by Kramer: ‘the most likely path to change will be for Republican leaders and other elites trusted by (trump’s) supporters to come out and make clear that they do not stand in line with him.

Many experts, considerable detailed research by Jillian Kramer and one is left wondering if the people charged with attending to the very diseased patient, the body politic of the United States, are reading these insights, and if they are amenable to opening their minds and their habits to look at the situation from a wholistic perspective. Naturally, law enforcement, especially those responsible for this weekend and the ensuing days up to and including Inauguration Day, Wednesday January 20, have to put up barricades, mobilize the National Guard, investigate those who participated in the sedition of January 6 and deploy whatever surveillance personnel that may be needed in order to ward off, and warn of any intended violence.

Nevertheless, noticeably missing from the above list is a single criminologist. (That is not intended as a criticism of the piece.) The role and field of study of the criminologist, while overlapping that of the social psychologists and political scientists, nevertheless, needs to be both integrated with and informed by the insights of social psychology. And one wonders if that kind of jumping the academic barriers, fiefdoms, traditions and research findings would not contribute significantly to the ‘state’s’ perception of, diagnosis of, policy planning for and legislative action about the current “infodemic,” a word authored by the World Health Organization, about the cloud of disinformation that has been given light and life around the world.

While the flood gates have opened on the readily available, and widely broadcast torrent of information, through social media, and the public, the media and certainly the worlds’ legislators and political class are swinging our arms and legs frenetically to keep from drowning while also gasping for air, the access to the most relevant and cogent, the most diverse and creative (from an exploring perspective) as a cornerstone of how we “see” things remains almost out of mind.

Those who have specific roles have entered those roles based on a history of formal training and experiential apprenticeships. They have been steeped in the discipline of their expertise. And while that is honourable and highly to be valued; it may no longer hold the keys to our shared and our collective survival, in the short and medium and long term. Just as the medical and legal fraternities have their own vocabulary, their own protocols, their own hierarchies and unique expertise(s), so too do the military, the accounting, the economists, the environmentalists, and the theologians. However, the whole patient, including a life history (biography) and an assessment of current living conditions, including patterns of trauma, patterns of success and failure, is rarely the subject of medical rounds. Similarly, the courts, while performing life history of those charged with crimes, do so from a perspective of what might feasible and legitimately be termed unconscious bias. Criminals, after all, are only being assessed after they have already been investigated, and found guilty of some offence. Similarly, those invested in conspiracy theories, fake news, and the cult of personality around a defective and dangerous person, have come to this place for a large number of experiences, many of them perceived as painful, if not outright destructive. This is not a defence of the rioters, nor an apology for their reprehensible acts against the state, their own country, and the future of the republic.

However, David Renwick, editor of The New Yorker, in his latest ‘Currents,’ points out that while many talking heads are pronouncing that ‘this (the attempted sedition) is not who we are, it is, at least in part, who America is, just as Charlottesville is part of who America is, as is the knee-imposed murder of George Floyd and the no-knock entry and killing of Brianna Taylor and the many other insidious racially-motivated hate crimes that have plague the nation for more than a century.

Parsing the identities of individuals, as well as parsing the intellectual and the professional definitions and frameworks that govern specific processes and procedures, seems to have brought us to the point where only literalisms are tolerated, and most of those literalisms are parsed and segregated from their full context. And while there is an obvious crime in detecting and charging an individual for a specific act or word, there is also the possibility that other conditions need to be taken into account in the manner by which the state pursues its legitimate goals and values. Definitions, for example, of criminality, in the case of whether or not trump is criminally responsible for the separation of children from their parents on the border, or for the death of hundreds of thousands of Americans through what the street would and could call criminal negligence, is impeded by the legal definition of “causation” (See previous blog). And the glaring cultural sacralizing of free speech, transforming that ideal into an almost sacred rite, is another of the decontextualized waves that plague individuals, right now those on the wrong side of the trump vote fraud propaganda, and those who vehemently denounce QAnon, (as we do with all our might).

Is it not time for America, and probably other regions and nations, to consider how the culture of precise expertise can become itself a hindrance to the optimal, ethical, balanced, and mature function of the state? There is a deep and lasting time and permissive lag between the warp speed of digital developments and the required legislation by which they need to be regulated. There is also a similar gap between the various academic and intellectual fields, as well as between the academia and the street, with respect to keeping up with the latest and best reviewed and curated research, in a manner by which insight of an applicable and thereby specifically appropriate nature to many of our ‘issues’ is both gleaned and accepted and then applied to those many files.

Perhaps the files themselves need to be opened by a cluster of best thinkers and scholars, in order to facilitate the most optimum and effective and ethical and balanced approach to their address.

Joe Biden’s administration faces not merely a cluster of conundra, but an intellectual, administrative, economic and legal framework that is no longer suited and therefore fit for the situation. Not only does the state too often engage in ‘fighting the last war’ in terms of military design, equipment and strategy and planning. The nation itself is caught in a time and thought, and belief and tradition warp facing a future that is rushing to the shore at a velocity and a physical force that would render most hurricanes impotent.

The whole world needs America to seize the moment through the appropriate lens of the telescope, gazing into the universe of each file with an eye on the whole range of galaxies of competence, creativity and courage required by this urgent metaphoric Mars shot! As foreshadowing of the eventual actual Mars shot!

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

The American church and capitalism....requiring real separation

 Anyone who thinks or believes that removing trump from office is going to solve the deeply embedded cancer that plagues the body politic in the United States is, in a word, delusional. That is a word aptly and justifiably glued to the current occupant of the Oval Office by observers as close a Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. Less easily quantified, qualified and measured is the notion of the delusion that pervades the U.S. It is not only the Republican Senators, and well over a hundred Republican members of the House, whose blind, defiant, arrogant, stubborn and dangerous sycophancy to the chief executive, and nor is it only those who marauded insider the Capitol last Wednesday who are delusional. The American culture has been so manifestly and completely consumed by the exclusive, narrow and narcissistic definition of capitalism that it seems impossible to envision any transformation that divorces profits, personal wealth acquisition, religion and dominance from the culture. 

As a Canadian kid living in small-town Ontario, back in the fifties, I participated in penny-scrambles on the town dock, ‘blessed’ and patronized by affluent American tourists who came into our town on Great Lakes tour boats, licensed in Duluth Minnesota. While it was a few moments of childish play, innocent enough for both kids and ‘the rich,’ the experience also planted seeds of scepticism, doubt, wariness and detachment in this then pre-adolescent. The church I attended also lavished praise on the wealthy, especially the donor of a set of Carillon bells, (then at least costing $10K), whose presence in church services only began with the writing of the cheque. Of course, the then presiding clergy was eminently able, and presumably justified, to boast of his impact on the little congregation, by pointing to such symbolic gestures of both generosity and religiosity.’;’ The Billy Graham model of evangelism had arrived in our town, complete with revival meetings, conversions, guest revival preachers, summer-town-dock revival services, and the accompanying self-righteous preaching against the evils of the secular society such as movies, dances, make-up, wine, Sunday meal preparation and the ‘big one’ Roman Catholicism. Exclusive possession, worship, repetition, and the process of cultural embedding of a high degree of superiority based on an extremely narrow interpretation of scripture, necessarily includes, in fact depends upon, the complete and total rejection of ‘the enemy,’ the Devil, Satan, the all things unholy, depending on the specific conception of those words.

It is the marriage of capitalism and a form of Christianity that merits a much closer examination, especially on the heels of the insurrection on January 6th at the U.S. Capitol and the foreshadowing of violent insurgencies in all 50 state capitals and Washington D.C. starting on Sunday January 17 according to FBI reports and warnings. From the website, blog.p2pfoundation.net, there is a piece entitled Capitalism is religion. Two juxtaposed epithets attempt to frame the piece:

First, “The invisible hand of the free market governs everything and the hardworking get prosperous while the lazy suffer poverty”.

Second: “God of the creation governs everything and the faithful get in heaven while the heathen suffer hell.”

The piece continues: As you can easily notice, ‘invisible hand’ is a replacement for God, ‘free market’ is a replacement for ‘the creation,’ the ‘hardworking’ is a replacement for ‘the faithful’ and ‘the lazy’ is a replacement for ‘the heathen’. That’s because Capitalism is a Christianity replacement. So much that it even replicates the Church organization of Medieval Christianity. The economists (clergy) continually advocate (preach) free market economics (the faith) and interpret the economy (holy book) on behalf of the society (the believers). The critical economists, (heretic priests) are outcast by the establishment, not given airtime, ridiculed or censured. Whatever happens in the economy is interpreted and ‘somehow’ explained by the economists (clergy), and in those explanations, anything good that happens is due to the free market economics (the faith) and anything bad that happens is due to straying away from free market economics (having any other faith). According to the sermon , all that the hardworking (faithful) need to so is to work hard (have faith) and keep staying the course. Because ‘the invisible hand’ will fix all problems, crises, issues without them needing to do anything in particular. All they have to do is to have faith, and putting their trust in their religion by trusting the clergy of the church. Whose only solution to every single problem is more free market (more faith), and if a solution does not work at all, its because the society was not faithful to the free market enough. (blog.p2pfoubndation.net)

Obviously a stark and unyielding depiction of the enmeshment of the North American culture. In another work, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism by R,H, Tawney written in 1926, from scholarlybooks.blogspot.com, we read a summary of the Tawney treatise: Medieval Europe was a serfdom and the church reinforced this by saying that everybody is part of the ‘body….(I)n the 16th century, with an explosion of European mining and more importantly, the importation of riches from the Americas and the Far East…all these expeditions required much more capital than individual feudal land owners or even states had, so people began to invest together, creating several financial markets throughout Europe, and creating great wealth for the financiers…Martin Luther ..criticises the church…especially its use of interest…and urges people to go back to a pre-medieval feudal system because true faith in God canot be shown through an institution, only through hard labor on the land…he is the first sign of the movement separating church from state…John Calvin, a Swiss merchant/capitalist, thinks interest and trade should be used though strictly regulated. In England, they outlaw interest and forbid capitalists from buying up land. But as the mercantile class gets larger, (it) gains clout in politics and the state starts paying less attention to its church’s criticisms of interest. They start citing the idea of ‘natural law,’ that man is born with certain rights to do whatever he wants…and by the end of the 1500’s the church is stripped of its judicial power and laws are enacted giving the mercantile class free reign.

In its review of Tawney’s The Radical Tradition edited by Rita Hinden, The New York Review (nybooks.com/articles/1, we find these words:

In The Acquisitive Society, (Tawney) criticized capitalism because it encouraged economic power without social responsibility. The right to property had become separated from any obligation to discharge a useful social function. In Equality, (Tawney) attacked the view that the natural inequality of man in respect of ability justified inequalities of wealth and status: rather, so he argued, it would be in an egalitarian society that diversity of abilities would flourish most for the common good. In Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, (Tawney) studied the origins of acquisitive individualism. Quoting Tawney’s words, “It is this demon-the idolatry of money and success-with whom, not in one sphere alone but in all, including our own hearts and minds, Socialists have to grapple.” Tawney equated capitalism with private capitalism and private capitalism with the effective sovereignty of the functionless shareholder.

The New Republic, through writer Elizabeth Bruenig, April 20, 2015, also details the work of Kevin Kruse’s One Nation Under God: How Corporate American Invented Christian America. Bruenig writes: Christianity was brought into the service of laissez-faire economic in Puritan devotion to work and thrift….(And) The Preoccupation with Christian doctrine that animated ardent pro-capitalists of yesteryear has subsided to a vaguely spiritual moralism We now live in the age of “moral therapeutic deism,” where the shapes and colors of religion are imported into mass-market self-help schemes. And while ethe Christian right persists in the same old political battles (sexuality, marriage, education, et cetera) its strength appears to eb waning: The once coherent evangelical voting bloc is splintering, and titans of industry intent on fostering a pro-capitalist politics no longer seem reliant upon it to bolster their project….Concerned that populist politics might endanger their wealth, America’s monied interests did what they do best: They bought a solution…A Congregationalist pastor who made his fortune in southern California by preaching to the fabulously wealthy and accepting their patronage. (James W. Fittfield) Kruse notes, was especially gifted at assuring wealthy Christians that their riches were evidence of virtue rather than vice…. (Mid twentieth century) Fitfield married Christian thought with a new era of economic development, and spread the gospel through his organization, Spiritual Mobilization. Its mission was simple: to stamp out Christian support for a generous welfare state, which paired naturally with New Deal concern for the poor, elderly and vulnerable—and to advance a new theory of Christian libertarianism. Spiritual Mobilization sought to influence ministers across the country, and with its bottomless monetary resources, it was doomed to success. (Kruses’s account shows it vulgarity) “Christianity was rented out, quite consciously, to buttress a shambling narrative about the continued dominance of the monied class in a performance that even Marx would have found blunt….Kruse names Billy Graham as a spiritual inheritor to the early efforts of Christian libertarians like Fitfield. Graham’s preaching was sensational, and won the support of tycoons like Texas oilman Sid Richardson, who helped launch Graham’s career in Washington D.C. Graham’s ascent opened the way for other pastors with political aspirations, like Jerry Falwell, and his Moral Majority cohort, to wax passionate about eh gospel while raking in cash from committed capitalists delighted by the arranged marriage of God and mammon.

Breunig also make reference to Kate Bowler’s 2013 book, Blessed: A history of the American Prosperity Gospel, linking people like Joel Osteen and Osteen and his overtly Christian ilk minister to their flocks, Oprah’s message is broad enough to be enjoyed by all: a better business decision at any rate. In other words, (Breunig writes) the prophets of capitalism have a way of using the workable parts of older pro-capitalist narratives to meet the needs of changing audiences, while shedding vestigial bits.

As one whose youth was tarnished by a kind of early prosperity gospel, including social status “halo’s” implicit around the heads of those new converts to the Bellymena bigot’s version of the faith, those carillon bells, those dock-side revival meetings, only to find myself “lead” by establishment church bishops whose “fill the coffers and the pews” horations helped to drive one clergy to his suicide, and then discovered another whose version of church leadership was captured in the marketing cry: “increase by 10% in people and 15% in revenue” to a diocesan convention in 1998, I remain committed to criticizing the capitalist tainting of the gospel, the prosperity gospel, the triumphalism of that version of holy writ and the impact it has on individual parishioners, as well as the wider community.

The very presence of the “cross” of the Cruficixion at the insurrection last Wednesday, and the over-weening passion of some of those insurgents in their abject fealty to an already disgraced president, evoking a passion and “rabies-like” frenzy akin to those evident in the Crusades, not to mention the over-riding power and influence of conspiracy theories that paint Democrats as child molesters, and disciplined voting officials as traitors combine to provoke serious questions about the viability of any proposal of “unity” returning to the American body politic any time soon.

It is not that stamping out capitalism is an immediate solution. It is also not that the Christian church, glaringly and disappointingly silent through the last four years of the triumph not only of the ‘will’ of a single man, but the triumph of lies over truth, sycophancy over responsibility, conspiracies over authentic debate, and chaos over law and order.

The U.S. is morphing demographically, and than transformation integrates, by necessity, a plurality of religious affiliations, including agnostics, atheists and, hopefully, some moderates in all faith communities. If a Black Senator and a Jewish Senator can now be elected (officially and legally and uncontestedly) in Georgia, then, while it is a mere spark of hope, nevertheless, such sparks can and will, if fanned, eventually break out into a chorus of truth, tolerance, justice and equality….all of them at the heart of not only the Christian faith, but also any other faith worthy of the name.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Global Conferences in 2021...retreading the past, or renewing our shared future?

According to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Council of Councils website, there is a list of 10 upcoming summits in 2021 that will require the undiluted attention of the new Biden administration. From the list which includes NATO Summit, The U.S.--EU Summit, the Summit for Democracy, The WTO, The UN General Assembly, the G20, there are two conferences that leap out for special attention.

The UN Convention of Biological Diversity COP15 will be hosted by the Chinese government. The conference is “billed as a New Deal for Nature and People, to guide their individual and collective efforts to protect biodiversity through 2030. A slew of alarming reports has documented a dramatic decline in species and ecosystem, thanks not only to climate change but also to the degradation of land-and seascapes, unsustainable exploitation, invasive species, and pollution. These assaults on nature undermine the planetary foundations of sustainable development and, indeed of, global capitalism itself. Biden can help bend the curve of biodiversity loss by endorsing the “30 by 30” campaign to protect 30% of Earth’s land and sea from human exploitation.”

The second conference on which we wish to shed light, is another form of alphabet soup: UNFCCC COP 26. This is the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties (COP26) on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (and) will be the most important summit of 2021. Leaders will meet in Scotland (Glasgow) to review progress in implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement, which commits parties to holding the rise in average global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius, including by ‘ratcheting up’ their initial, nationally determined contributions toward this goal. Unfortunately, reaching the Paris target will require reduce greenhouse gas emissions 7.2 percent per year through 2030, and the world—despite the pandemic-induced recession--is nowhere close to this trajectory….The credibility of (Biden’s) U.S. leadership…will depend on whether he can persuade Congress to fund deep decarbonization at home. (from the CFR/council of councils.org website)

All ten of the scheduled conferences/summits will obviously take place in a geopolitical ethos of considerable turbulence from the COVID-19 pandemic, the continuing attempts globally to vaccinate up to 70% of the world’s population, as well as the pressure of millions of individuals and businesses that have no or highly constricted incomes. Into that political-cultural blender, add the concept that billionaires like Jeff Bezos have topped earnings by billions just since the inception of the virus, underlining inequality, racial discrimination, and social unrest in many locations, likely including the United States.

Pouring the foundation of credibility with Congress, however, will be only a small part of the Biden administration’s agenda. It will also have to build even stronger foundations of credibility and trust among world leaders, their governments, their military leaders and their citizens. Back in 2015, in a report on international co-operation, the Council on Foreign Relations noted that ad-hoc agreements between and among businesses, municipal leadership, all of them seemingly under the radar, were eclipsing those headline-grabbers of national leaders appearing before the international press cameras to sign significant treaties. Former Mayor of New York, Mike Bloomberg, for example, poured millions into the implementation of the Paris climate Agreement, as surrogate for his defaulting, MIA homeland, the U.S.A.

The landscape of international relationships, co-operation, collaboration and the trust and security that would potentially emerge from such summits and their agreements, has been seriously and negatively eroded by the American trump administration. America’s ‘word’ is besmirched with the legacy of a lying autocrat whose need for enemies and the verbal missiles to attack them at home and abroad super-ceded his dedication to fulfilling his constitutional obligations. In short, the world is a far less safe, and a far less trusting place in 2021 than it was in 2016 when he took office.

In that four-year period, too, China has been virtually unfettered in its militarization of the South China sea, its detention of Uighers and the removal of their human rights, its aggressive alignment and marketing of Huawei, (although rebuffed by many developed nations, save and except Canada so far), and its two-year detention of two Canadians, allegedly in reprisal for the arrest in Canada of Huawei’s CFO, under the extradition treaty with the U.S. Tariffs imposed reciprocally by the U.S. and China also clouded the trading environment of international relations. The birth of the COVID-19 virus, allegedly in a fresh-meat market in Wuhan China, at the same time the U.S. had withdrawn observers to the bio-lab in that city, has also left lingering scepticism in some quarters about the trustworthiness of the Chinese government.

Cyber-theft, hacking, and the incursion of foreign agents into the cyber-security systems of the U.S. government and business behemoths, has and will continue to contribute to the process of inevitable erosion of international trust, and the needed stage for negotiations that could lead to enhanced co-operation in this field. The social media landscape now alleged to be filled with rampant evidence, for example, of the forecast violence at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday January 6th, evidence that was apparently either missed or ignored by those charged with protecting the building and the legislators and their staffs, offers little public confidence in the mammoth national security systems that have been constructed and enhanced following the terrorist attack of 9/11.

Ranking the threats to the survival and wellness of liberal democracy, nevertheless, now has to encompass the existential threat posed by our linked invasion of habitats of wild animals and our insouciant pollution of the atmosphere with toxic gas emissions. Millions have already contracted and thousands have died from COVID-19. And while there are some 24 COVID-19 vaccines in development, the persistent ravaging of habitats in favour of developmental projects like mining and resource extraction continues to pose a threat of additional viruses. The WHO for its part, too, has declared that the current pandemic is ‘not the big one’ that it is a warning flag for the “big one” which is still out there on the conceivable horizon. Also, even the current virus is witnessing mutations, (who knows how many?) and the evidence so far indicates that both the UK variant and the South African variant prove to be more infectious, more easily and readily spread, if they are not yet indicating they are more lethal. So far, preliminary evidence suggests that both Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine and Moderna’s vaccine are effective in combatting the variants. Will those conditions continue? No one is or can be certain. So, while the world combats the immediate threat to lives, livelihoods, health care systems including health care workers, as well as the growing concern for pockets of patients in long term care homes, and essential workers in transportation, food processing and harvesting, education and law enforcement and public safety, curfews are like rolling cheers in sports stadia, in both Europe and North America.

Shifting the human demand for meat-generated protein, while evidence of both plant-based substitutes and genetically produced replicas continues to grow, poses a considerable shift in the culture of both east and west. However, there is much to ponder in the insightful remark of a Korean dentist, an immigrant to Canada, who uttered words that warrant repeating: “It would seem that humans have progressed too far and much too quickly and mother nature is not pleased.” Our shared, as well as our individual, relationship to/with/beside/inside/in dominance of nature simply has to change. And while those words are plucked easily on a laptop keyboard, they are far less easily and far less feasibly accomplished in any country. This is a mountain all humans have to embrace as our responsibility to climb. And those blue and green boxes carted to the end of our driveways every week, to better manage our garbage (even though Canadians are told that a mere 10% of that recycled material is diverted from landfill sites, leaving 90% still ending up in those archaic environmental legacies), are but a band-aid in the much larger quest to impede our garbage production and its permanent residues like leeching, air pollution, and the obvious waste. Recent reports indicate that a full 50% of all food purchased in Canada is thrown into the garbage. The cliché “we are all in this together” has no more direct application than in the manner in which we source our food, use and prepare our food, and then discard far too much. And the goal of a “New Deal for people and for Nature” is not only urgent and complex; achieving such an arrangement holds the promise of secure food supplies, and limited virus explosions for future generations. We will be watching the UN Convention on Biological Diversity COP15, to usher in new and stringent, monitored, enforceable and tolerable changes to how each nation feeds its people, and how we reduce the human devastation of animal habitats globally.

Common to the biodiversity new deal is the notion of the human conception and perception and thereby the relationship we enact between ourselves as ‘nature’. That old testament concept of “dominion” over the earth simply has to give way to a very different frame. We have to see ourselves as grateful stewards of both flora and fauna… of oceans, seas, rivers, streams and ocean floors as well as forests, farms, factories and our shared oxygen resource. Following the Paris Agreement, the UNFCCC COP 26 conference in Glasgow could prove to be as instrumental in signalling the future of the planet’s ecosystems as any previously held. All of the benefits and targets that have been reached by various countries will, undoubtedly be trumpeted. So too, one expects, will all of the missed deadlines and the relevant measures to encourage, nudge, incentivize, condition and to threaten with sanctions nations to commit not only to the continuing clean air and water and land for their own people, but, cumulatively and collaboratively, thereby to the continued preservation of the planet’s natural resources. The nay-sayers, those who continue to deny the participation of humans in the degradation of the environment, will hopefully be so reduced in numbers, and/or cast aside from the heart of the debate, that fighting that rear-guard flank will no longer plague the public debate. At this conference too, one hopes that international corporations, many of them complicit in generating much of the industrial effluent that contaminates rivers, oceans and urban smog, will come to their senses, not only as collaborative participants in our shared dilemma, but as leaders in shifting their operations from fossil-fuel-generation to renewable energy generation. This collaborative approach can also achieve the obviously growing need to put millions of people to work in decent, labour and environmentally-protected workplaces so that we stem the growth of the unemployed, the hopeless and the destitute.

In both of these conferences, however, the question of how to treat the non-compliant, the outliers, the iconoclasts and the rebellious. While we have a rule-based culture on both sides of the world, there are variations in how strict, hard-assed, conservative and militant and even lethal those sanctions are designed and implemented. We know that human nature responds more effectively to deadlines, and yet those already declared, in too many cases, have been either ignored or casually forgotten. So, while deadlines are necessary, and will undoubtedly be included in the final communiques from all conferences, they will not be adequate to accomplish the modest yet minimal targets demanded by people like Greta Thunburg. Policing, whether on the streets of urban centres, in order to secure racial equity and equality in America, for example, or among the world’s leaders in order to accomplish what have been seemingly ethereal and ephemeral targets, which, if missed, will continue to threaten our shared survival on the planet.

Carrots and sticks, those chestnut agents of classical conditioning, however, have proven to have some, if limited, success in achieving human ethical and moral goals. Carrots like the release of impounded cash resulting from sanctions, for example, was part of the successful motivation in bringing Iran to the table to slow it production of fissile nuclear material. The sanctions, themselves, were the sticks. And while it will appear naïve, innocent in the extreme, and potentially dangerous to ask, one is prompted to ask out loud if a Norwegian approach to law enforcement might not be included in the package of options put before these two conferences. With the lowest recidivism rate in the world, currently 20% within 2 years, and one of the lowest crime rates in the world, Norway is lauded, legitimately and universally, for its humane approach to this specific social issue of law enforcement.

What are the appropriate analogies to the limited and humane incarceration used in Norway, for defaulting and denying and ignoring global benchmarks, among global powers? Is there not a better, more effective, safe and feasibly monitored approach to bringing all nations on board at both of these conferences? Can we all look forward to a new and creative, yet more effective and credible, collaborative agreements that perhaps pair nations, like buddies, to encourage each other in the fulfilment of shared targets? Can we demonstrate, through a thorough detailed presentation of not only the threats, but also the significant advantages to accomplishing needed changes in political culture, as pro-active and co-operative agents of internationally shared goals? Can we, through creative planning and execution, recruit the best minds from all countries, to be featured at these conferences, while at the same time, dropping the inveterate and sabotaging self-serving aim of promoting the national experts of the convening nations, as a celebration of that nation’s prowess?

Can we begin to conceive these, and other conferences, from the perspective of “not knowing it all”…as a new approach, without holding the Damaclean Sword of superiority, certainty, dominance, and self-centred anxiety over the head, not only of the conferences, but also over the heads of those charged with convening them? Is the current posture of “humility” now dominant among Americans, one that begs adoption by all of the nations attending these two conferences? Is it possible, even conceivable, that from these two conferences, the people of the world might learn to begin to trust world leaders, that those leaders can hear and incarnate the basic needs of all of humanity, that those leaders can set aside their personal aspirations for glory, in favour of the accomplishment of goals that offer something far more important: a legacy in international relations that inches, like that tortoise, toward a new world order based not on military, economic, cyber or deceit-power, but on learning and championing shared facts, shared research, shared agencies and structures and shared and mutually beneficial outcomes….and what better legacy could any public figure either want or merit than that? 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Perspective...the basis for action desperately needed

 Off the north shore of Newfoundland and Labrador lies a small island, Fogo island, about 25 kilometers long and 14 kilometers wide. The National Geographic describes Fogo Island in these words: “Fogo Island is not so much a place as a state of mind. W clap-board houses, sea-cliff footpaths, lush forest and warm hospitality set against a striking coastline.”* With a long maritime history, the largest offshore island of Newfoundland and Labrador is a gentle world of bright-coloured With the cod and herring fisheries depleted, islanders have taken to creative measures to enhance the sustainability of their community. Through the imaginative design of a Newfie architect, they have built a number of “residences” for artists to come and do their work, while also engaging with the community as a way to support both the artists and the community’s livelihood. These artists, both aspiring and mature, through applications from around the world, seek and are offered what amounts to a three-to-six-month opportunity to create. What a commendable, creative, imaginative and sustaining approach to both economic development and cultural sustainability! We could all learn from the Fogo Islanders. 

Considered by some to be one of the four corners of the earth by those who advocate for the “flat earth” society, Fogo offers a unique yet beautiful landscape, hiking trails some 3000 inhabitants with whom to interact, and an ethos bent and leaning toward creating. One of the advocates of the “flat earth” society, explaining the perspective of her group, on the Smithsonian’s “Canada: Over the Edge,” indicated that we do not see any evidence of a curve from where we are standing, anywhere on the planet, and the “flat earth” group emphasizes the importance of taking in and absorbing the surroundings immediately in front of us. Painters, artists, photographers, writers almost universally subscribe to the mantra “we create from what we know” and so it would appear that there is a high degree of coherence to the “flat earth’s” perspective and that of the artistic community. Peering into a microscope, too, by a scientific researcher in a lab, one observes, analyzes, interprets and learns from the immediate environment. Actors pay diligent and close attention to a script, authored by one whose authenticity springs from his/her connection to a place, to a culture, to an ethos. Similarly, musicians perform the scribblings of a manuscript that was birthed in a highly personal cocoon.

Politicians, too, have memorized and consistently the anthem, “all politics is local” as a core premise for their perspective of the body politic. The take polls, they employ artists to design and produce “messages” including advertisements, PSA’s, editorials and talking points that “address” the perceived needs and aspirations of their constituents. Millions of dollars are regularly raised and spent on matching the strengths of the candidate/party to the perceptions of the voters, as they have been discerned, dissected, curated, interpreted and massaged. NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) is another mantra of municipal politics, especially, for those considering planting a factory, or a sewage disposal plant or a landfill site anywhere within the borders of a municipality. Urban planning is a highly significant aspect of government, attempting to co-ordinate the perceptions of neighbourhoods with any proposed changes in such things as residential density, traffic flow, environmental protection and the desire of the community and the developer to grow and expand, the tax base and his profit, respectively.

Nevertheless, even with the finest attention to the detail of place, time and ethos, including public moods, attitudes and perceptions, in order for any piece of art, or public decision or scientific experiment to have lasting endurance, it has to speak to something eternal, universal, timeless and resonating with something that resonates with people everywhere, regardless of their connection to the original locus of the creation.

There is an enhanced value placed on the immediate, the local, the neighbourly, especially if and when the community is facing any threat. Scarcity, disease, natural disasters, including pandemics all bring about a heightened anxiety and recoiling of one’s safety, security and the boundaries of one’s capacity to relate to the rest of the world. Under threat, we all retreat, in a psychological sense, to our earliest default stance (how we first faced a serious threat) and sociologically, in a manner consistent with the perceived patterns of the community’s history. There is a sociological precept, for leadership, for example, that if one seeks to move a group “forward” to a specific goal, and one presents a vision of that goal that is “too far” ahead of the group’s capacity to envision their community’s capacity to embrace that vision, that community will rather regress than move forward. I once proposed to a group of grade eleven high school students that ‘we’ consider enacting and producing a musical, like for example, “Jesus Christ Superstar”, as an exercise in “growing” both the adolescents and their relation to their community, through fulfilment of their respective talent. “Oh! we couldn’t do that!” shouted one male. “We could only possibly consider a single scene from the play!” We all behave in ways that we consider congruent with the size and the dimensionality, including the depth, of our perception. And that perception arises from our conception of the universe, and the range of risks we are prepared to confront.

What poses as an interesting, provocative and relevant issue facing the people on the planet, might be expressed this way:

How do/can we embrace both our immediate environment/ethos/culture/place/time and our potential, as individuals and as community?

Balancing the past with the future, given the immediacy of the date, the time, the current saturation of immediately threatening date, on so many fronts, seems to be a stretch too far, just like the musical was a ‘stretch too far’ for that teenager. This is a season in which much public discourse, including prayer, political punditry, scientific experimentation and economic data all centre around the concept of hope. And yet, pursuing our conception of hope necessarily entails the cognitive, emotional, psychological, and spiritual embrace of tomorrow as just as, if not actually more, valued than yesterday. Hopelessness, it seems, is another way of expressing “locked-in” to a situation in which there is little or no prospect of change, improvement, or as the cliché has it, finding “light at the end of the tunnel”. Hopelessness is another way of expressing “No options” in a current state of mind. Stagnation, whether from a fiscal, a career, a growth, a developmental perspective is debilitating. And yet, most of our cultural, political, economic and even spiritual perspective is currently embraced in fear, doubt, uncertainty, anxiety and retrenchment.

This is not an argument favouring opening up the economies of North America to commerce, to schooling, to entertainment, to sports competitions. This is, in fact, not merely an economic argument, but rather a much broader nudge toward a culture in which we critically and clearly examine and discuss our penchant to cling to the existing reality, as if it were our security blanket. It is simply not! The cultural, religious and commercial shibboleths (expressed almost as a cardinal rule in business: “We hate unpredictability, uncertainty, change and we demand stability, permanence, security and predictability!”), while demonstrably useful, need not morph into idols. Worshipping at that altar, just like worshipping at the altar of emotional stoicism, is both self-sabotaging, and repressive of both family and community relationships and development.

The culture could well learn from those community initiatives in Fogo Island. For, while the artists may be painting or photographing or writing about their immediate landscape, (topographical, biographical, historical, biological and psychological), they are mining the deepest veins of their imagination, with the full-throated expression of their whole beings, in what can be considered one of the most courageous, defiant, even rebellious acts of “putting it all on the line” of potential public judgement of their most innate perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, values and even ideologies. And they are doing so in both the spirit of and the commitment to a lineage of prophetic voices whose novels, plays, symphonies, poems, dances, canvases and sculptures have lighted the human journey from the beginning. Native elders, too, while embracing the immediate resources of their environment, the trees, the vegetation, the fauna, and their traditions, have one of the most obvious and generous and highly valued cultures, from the perspective of linking the immediate to the eternal.

It is the political and the commercial landscape, from our perspective, that needs a nudge, or perhaps a veritable shove. And shove includes the mass media, dependent as it is on the same foundational precepts of the business community. While the digital data of GDP, GNP, DOW, NASDAC, are all significant; they are not the holy grail. Neither is the myopic and even narcissistic fixation on the roller-coaster of daily news headlines, (for ratings for the networks, and for electoral success for the political class), either necessary or health for the future of our local communities, nor for the protection of our health and our shared environment.

If we cannot, or will not permit ourselves, to see farther ahead than today or tomorrow, we have already surrendered our fate to those who so far have control of the levers of power which have brought us to today. We have to shift our shared cultural attitudes and perceptions of our social dissidents; they are not our enemies; they are our canaries in our own coalmine, offering a singing chorus of both danger and a warning to leave that dangerous situation. We have to change our attitudes and perceptions, and thereby our valuing of our artistic community; they are not our ne’er-do-well’s, but rather our visionaries and our prophets, our voices of hope and inspiration. And just when we are retrenching, in fact cocooning, we are risking pulling back on our capacity to stretch, to change, to adapt and to seed new ways of even doing our businesses.

We have to reconsider our enmeshment, not merely with digital technology, but with the dangers it poses for our own capacity to create, to imagine and to assess critically everything we read, everything we hear, and everything we are told is “important” by those whose voices dominate our airwaves.

Robert Frost reminds us: A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.

He also wrote lines that express, far better than this scribe, the meaning and purpose of, not only this piece, but also of our obligation to each other, and to the planet whose air, water and land we need to protect and to pass on in a clean and health condition:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.

And also from Frost we read:

There are two kinds of teachers: The kind that fill you with so much quail shot that you can’t move and the kind that just gives you a little prod behind and you jump to the skies.

This “prod” is to take off the jacket of the false security of clinging to the immediate, the known, the traditional and the conventional, as if it were sacred; it is not! And to wander into the plethora of options that open up each and every time someone in our circle says, “How do we know we can’t do that, unless and until we try!

That is the perspective of Diane Hache in Yellowknife who, on noting the significant community need for a shelter for endangered women and children, (based on mounting evidence of abuse) took it upon herself to enlist the support of those local commercial entities whose rejected copper wire, still encased in insulation, was offered without cost. She, on her own, then began the arduous process of “skinning” the copper wire, (in lengths approximating 30 inches), piling it and selling it and turning the proceeds over the establishment of that needed shelter for women and children. CBC News’ Mark Winkler, reports on December 14, as follows: Diane Hache has processed 88,000 pounds of copper wire, donating $94K to women’s society….Working in an unheated tent in an industrial parking lot on the edge of the city, 65-year-old retiree…cuts through plastic insulation to reveal the treasure buried inside. The wire—88,000 pounds of it, so far…was donated by Hache’s former employer, Diavik Diamond Mine…She could seek the wire without stripping away the insulation, but that would only net her half as much money…”Everyone thought I was crazy, I admit. They said, Diane, it’s impossible. But impossible is just an opinion until you try.”

Not burdened either by “quail shot” or the cliché of hopelessness, or the fear of failure of that grade eleven kid, this woman incarnates, better than this piece, precisely what we all need to reflect and then act upon.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Embracing new hope and light for peace this holy season

 Amid the torrent of really sad news of martial law, fraudulent voting, epic cyberhacks, millions facing food scarcity job insecurity or actual loss, the proliferation of food banks, and an overweening endangerment from an uncontrollable virus mutating and then spreading 70% faster, how does anyone find evidence of the original promise of peace, hope, love, and light in all of the many layered metaphors and meanings of those cliché words? 

Hallmark movies are offering dozens of hours of “love-stories” of the romantic, nostalgic and eggnog variety, with festive lights, home baking, re-connections and new beginnings. And while they are soothing, like the warm fuzzies of casseroles, plum puddings, and family dinners, they are little more than formulaic tenderness, when we are all craving something more.

Our hope, this Christmas, is for relief from the threat of being impaled by an imperceptible virus, for the opportunity to visit, to chat and to get to know who we are in our fractured families, and how and if some of the brokenness of our lives might begin to heal. Forced separations and shut-downs, while necessary and prickly restrictions, are also promoting new ways of being together, new ways of seeing each other, and new ways of reaching out in empathy, compassion and hopefully tenderness and even forgiveness. Our hopes, this year especially, do not stop with the passing of the pandemic; they stretch further into a new cultural perspective that embraces a guaranteed annual income, a renewed public education system that itself stretches beyond STEM into an appetite for and an appreciation for the best of human creativity, the integration of the poetic imagination into our cooking, our crafting, our gifting and our communication. Our shared hopes extend further into a deep realization of our collective and sometimes unconscious detachment, coldness, separation and alienation of ‘the other’…without our having taken the time and the patience and the courage to open our hearts to the other’s pain. And through the lens of our own personal and communal (and national and international) sense of privilege, a penny that never really dropped previously, our shared hope embraces a new insight, a new possibility, and a new commitment to peel the scale of superiority off our eye, and especially off our hearts.

Governments are said never to reach an important decision until minutes or even seconds before a monumental deadline. Organizations, similarly find that only really red-line moments bring about significant shifts in values, perspectives, habits, and thereby cultures. Individuals, too, know that, when the night is the darkest, we wake up to the full truth of our situation, and the option of both amendment and tolerance of those things, ideas and persons and other cultures we previously disdained. Christmas 2020 brings with it the dark night of millions of infections and thousands of untimely deaths, through no fault of those individuals so impaled, and yet we all know that we cannot fail to take note of how profoundly and how inescapably we are ONE, regardless of our geography, our language, our religion or our culture. We previously knew, from having been subjected to the drum beat “we all share the air, water and land” on this fragile planet. Now every street, store, school, college, church, hospital and factory is literally or certainly potentially “infected” with an odorless, tasteless, invisible and yet vehement attacking virus that seeks to hook up to our respiratory system and to bring our immune system to heel. And while we humbly and gratefully thank those providing both direct care, and those providing needed supplies, including foot, water, sanitation, transportation, as well as intubations and therapeutics and more recently vaccinations, we also note s shift away from our previous frenetic, grabbing, impatient public interactions.

Out of sheer and indisputable basic human need, we have been forced into a new way of interacting with each other, albeit from behind masks. We not only ‘keep our distance’; we also carry a demeanour of more gentleness, more politeness, more patience and the obvious more ‘space’ in our encounters. And our hope is that, once having adjusted how we treat each other in public spaces, we might continue such sensitivity and sensibility long after this pandemic recedes. In this period of scarcity, anxiety, fear and a far more intimate and immediate realization of the unknown (in the next hour, or day or week, appointment, transaction, or even conversation), we find a new muscle that is exercised, and thereby brought to new life that resists being ignored after the pandemic.

Our hope, then, embraces a new way of being, as the lasting birthright of this holy season on the Christian and the Jewish calendars, not because those faith communities hold exclusive insights into the profound and deeply complex relationship between humans and their god. A new way of being, however, cannot be confined to the private personal encounters among people of the same office, school, community or even nation. A new tolerance, and a deeper consciousness of the uniqueness and the specialness of each person, has the potential to reach even into the bowels of what are commonly known as ‘the situation rooms’ of national and international politics, economics, and even military and cyber-security considerations.

Just this weekend, Senator Mitt Romney, appearing on State of the Union with Jake Tapper on CNN, when asked to comment about the latest reports of extensive cyber-hacking into multiple government and private corporation security systems. Many observers point to the Russian hackers, clearly connected to the Russian government, as agents of this latest breach of security. On the question of Putin, Romney said, “The president has a blind spot when it comes to Russia.” This morning, on Morning Joe on MSNBC, Mika Brezinski took issue with the gentility of Romney’s comment, based on what she considers multiple instances of giving Putin and Russia a pass by trump, indicating a much more serious issue than a mere “blind spot”. And while I concur with Brezinski’s more concerned take on the phrase, I also note that diplomatic language often defers to phrases similar to that used by Romney in the Tapper interview. Also on Moring Joe, Richard Haas, Chairmen of the Council on Foreign Relations, commented that it is important to discern between espionage and system control as the motive and the result of the wide-spread hacking. The former, apparently is more familiar, and differs only in the methods used by the hackers; the latter, system control, is a far more dangerous and potential lethal act, should whoever is benefitting from the hacking be able to, and then actually engage in the sabotage of significant national systems. And this hacking was apparently not restricted to one nation, but has been taking place in multiple locations.

In a highly complex universe, in which technology, on top of highly complex traditions of diplomacy, trade, and the raging of all of the levers of international power-politics, a phrase like the one Romney used “blind spot” tends to minimize the irresponsibility of one trump, in his failure to attend to the duties and responsibilities to which he committed following the election of 2016. We are not, all of us, going to become experts in the field of cyber-espionage, nor of international diplomacy, and perhaps even of the highly nuanced and often conflicting pin-ball guideposts of a legal constitution. However, in this festive, holy, hopeful and compassionate season of 2020, our hopes can and might legitimately embrace a commitment to our own truth-telling, as well as a growing “chia-pet” social commitment to holding our elected officials to the truth, as best they know it. Cowering under a euphemistic aphorism such as “blind spot” only demeans the graciousness to which Romney was aspiring. Enemies, chicanery, deception, betrayal, sabotage, including especially the capacity of self-sabotage, are all lurking viruses in the social, cultural consciousness, and especially in the collective unconscious.

And, in this season of new light and new birthing, although we tend toward more celebration than confession and penitential, we might, through our new hopes, embrace those moments in our recent past when we broke through that veil of propriety, superficial niceness, and political correctness, and shone the light of our authentic truth, albeit in the most kindly manner we could muster. New life and new light can and will only emerge from the darknesses to which we have become so familiar and even perhaps unrecognized. It is the new life that comes from the courage to acknowledge that we can, that we have, and that we can expand on our new mode of truth-telling, as a way of giving birth, not merely to a new year’s resolution, almost all of which come to naught in a brief few days or weeks.

Now that the universe has imposed a regime in which our basic survival needs have become so prominent that scales of pride and shame, once preventing many of us from seeking help, whether that help was food, or medicine, or friends or even a shelter, our hope this year can extend to embracing the opportunity of letting go of all of those pretenses that we formerly thought and believed were protecting us from being “exposed” to others who might not like us and might not accept us, if they knew our truth. There is a new day, and a new sunrise and new hope in the promise of risking our own truth, not only in our private and most intimate conversations, but in the rooms where big decisions are being considered.

And this year, we have multiple examples of voices previously undetected, unheard and un-respected that have brought new light and new hope to many of the plights facing the people on the planet. Whether they are young people, or ordinary people doing extraordinary things with very little, they are the lights of new life and new hope, from whom we can all garner courage, confidence, clarity and opportunity.

While sitting with friends and family, we might consider telling those life stories that have been locked away in the vaults of our personal, secret memory. And when that process begins, like a small creek peeking out of a rock outcropping, others, too, can and will be stimulated to bring to engage in the process. Our truth is, after all, all we have, and our attempt to protect ourselves from the dangers of being known, and then potentially being dismissed, has only given way to chasms of speculation, spasms of politically correct repressions and worse, to historic chapters of deception, subterfuge, sabotage, and the inevitable armouring of individuals, families…and the inordinate cost of security systems that, no matter how monstrous and sleek and costly, nevertheless, have the inherent risk of operating like swiss cheese. We simply cannot either know or plug all of the potential holes in our armour, on the international stage, nor at our family kitchen tables. And our health, in the short and medium and long term depends on our fundamental acceptance of our warts and the warts and gaps of others in our circles.

And the sooner those warts are transformed into celebrations, rather than shameful inadequacies, the sooner we can and will embrace the fulfilment of those hopes we previously considered beyond reach.

It is our foreclosure on what we might actually bring about, if we re-consider what it is we really want and need and then summon the courage and the imagination to bring those truths into the light of day that impedes the new 2020 lighting of that Star in the East, at Bethlehem. There is a Christ-child within, and that spirit will only thrive on the whole truth! And we have it within us to summon that truth and light!