Friday, March 26, 2021

Vulnerability, imperfection....in homage to a son caring for his father!

I’m OK with being imperfect. But I’m not OK without trying. So I had to do it.” Richard Lui, in conversation with Craig Melvin on NBC’s Today show on Monday of this week. Lui, a long-time NBC journalist, has just written a book, entitled, “Enough About Me,” that chronicles his seven-year pilgrimage of care-giving to his father, along with his mother and siblings. After the family realized the stress of the physical and emotional toll on other mother, four years into this journey, the family decided to put their ‘father-husband’ patriarch into a long-term care facility.

First Richard would fly from New York to San Francisco two or three times a month, a ten-hour trip door-to-door, in order to take the shift from 11p.m. until 5 a.m. His employer, NBC, gave him permission to cut back his hours so that his own journey into ‘selflessness,’ something his father, a pastor and then a social worker, had modelled throughout his life.

From the Today account, Richard is quoted: “He was just really honest with his sickness. He was very open to vulnerability which I thought was great lesson to me personally, because that was not the same Stephen Lui (his father) that I knew growing up. And as he went through this process early on, before his started to forget stuff, that was what he was showing me….I think he taught me to thing about who I am, as I’ve talked to you about this caregiving journey. And it’s led to a book that I would have never thought of even starting…in the book I really show how I have basically goofed up over the years, and how I can be vulnerable too because being vulnerable in part of being selfless….We make a conscious decision about every 15 minutes. And if we can just once a day, ‘I’m going to get lunch. I am going to call somebody.’ How do I add selfless motion to that? So I would say, once a day, think of doing something a little different.”

About his father’s current condition, and his attempts to ‘connect’ Richard is quoted as saying: “He can’t hear, so I put on some amplifier headphones on him and I would get the microphone. And I said, OK, this is Richard, do you remember me? I’m your son? If so, blink once.’ And he goes, (blink). Craig, another one of those moments where I am just like, I don’t know what I was doing before or the last 10 years….Obviously, we’re using video calls, pictures and the times that I’ve been able to visit him I’ve had to do it through a glass window (during COVID-19). And I ju9st hope every single time when I’m looking at him, waving at him, that he’s OK, and that he knows that I’m there.”

To a journalist, timing is very important, and to Richard Lui, his Asian heritage is under severe attack in America, and beyond, in the wake of the pandemic. Commenting on this overt bigotry and racism, Lui says to Craig Melvin in the Today interview, “We have seen, unfortunately, during the viral pandemic, folks that are not considerate of others. We have seen people that when we talk about racial strife, looking at the color of a person’s skin, and deciding to treat them less than human, because they can’t see that they are very human. That’s selfish. We have seen shootings and individuals that are using hate and violence…it is a time for us to figure out how to stop all this stuff.”

Richard Lui’s story, both of caregiving and the transformative experience that has had on his own life, in opening him to acknowledge, and to accept his own vulnerability, and even his own selflessness, as a gift and a blessing, and also of his perception on racism against people of colour, provides a fitting and dramatic frame for where we are in the world at this moment.

All of us fear getting old; all of us fear falling into a mental chasm such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, and all of us fear doing so alone. At the same time, millions of stories akin to Richard Liu’s are springing up through the anxiety, the depression, the fear and the inescapable mortality that has been clouding the waves of public information since the pandemic began. Stephen Lui’s courage, forthrightness and frankness about his own impending decline have been an inspiration to his son, and, somewhat paradoxically, in and through the process of caring for his father, he has come to an even greater “insight” that has made him ‘wonder’ about his previous life.

That paradox has been shining, through the veil of our tears, and our sadness as, even when taking a walk in a public place, we are noticing barely perceptible smiles as the eyes of complete strangers meet, for less than a second, in acknowledgement of each other, of the moment we are living, and of our common human vulnerability. And those nano-second smiles cross gender, generational and social lines, in a way many of us have never experienced. Very shy people, including young men and women currently engaged in academic studies, are casting a brief glance of ‘connection’ even in the midst of a brisk and chilling wind, warming the hearts of all they meet.

For men, especially, vulnerability is not an experience many find even tolerable, let alone freeing and life-giving. Richard Lui’s story, however, puts the lie to that stereotype. And it is a binding, fossilizing and paralyzing image that many men firmly believe they must uphold. They do so, however, at their peril, as well as the ‘peril’ of those in their family and in their workplace. In remaining locked in a mind-set of invulnerability, of strength, of imperviousness, of repressed affect, (no matter the degree to which this leg-iron pinches) men are robbed of one of the most sensitive features of our full potential: our deeply caring, empathic and even intuitive understanding of the pain and suffering of the other, whether or not we give ourselves permission to ‘show’ that side of who we are.

“Think of who I am” is a phrase from Richard Lui, that, taken as applicable by other men, can and will pry open the locked safety-box (how ironic is that?) of our masculine heart, and the opening may well shock us, as we enter into that thought process. It will not be a brief moment, but rather a path that extends deep into the forest of our memory, our associations, our accomplishments and failures, in the density of previously untrod paths, of rock out-croppings previously ignored, or denied, avoided for many reasons not always part of our consciousness.

Richard Lui’s journey into self-discovery, is not, paradoxically, narcissistic, and must not be seen to be such by other men, who, at the moment are timid about opening that door. Enough About Me, paradoxically, is about shedding that warrior armour, not permanently, or even in shame or rejection. There are times for its legitimate deployment, yet it need not be a permanent “suit” protecting us from the invasion of others who might get to know us, (horrors!) and also preventing us from getting to know and respect and honour who we really are.

In honouring and shedding light on Richard Lui, in and through his father’s illness, and also in and through his recent book, we offer his platinum model, not only of care-giving of elderly and declining parents, but even more importantly the model of that surrender and sacrifice for and to another, as a, perhaps one of the best, path toward self-consciousness, in the full sense of that concept.

Imagine if we all had to wear a small sign around our neck, declaring, “I am __________, do you know who I am? as a literal and also a metaphoric act of vulnerability and connection in a world that can be said to be in danger of withering on the branch of the tree of deep and authentic relationship. That picture, borrowed from Richard Lui, evokes memories of broken, fragmented, disconnected and desperate conversations, mostly about planning for action, with others in both professional and personal exchanges, in which we all have felt, and thereby believed, that we were simply “unknown” …and the irony may well be that we, ourselves, were unconsciously engaged in a process of protecting ourselves from being known, because we thought, believed, perhaps ever were trained to “act responsibly” and productively, and objectively and especially in a detached manner. For many of us, to behave otherwise, is, or was, or worse, may continue to be, to shatter our public image of strength, durability, professionalism and credibility and gravitas.

David Suzuki, just having turned 85 this week, in a conversation with Andrew Chang, after warning that climate change is more threatening by far than the pandemic, reminded Chang not to forget “first you are an animal”….as if to remind us all that we are far more basic, unrefined, perhaps even unpredictable and certainly vulnerable that we might like to consider ourselves. Perhaps Suzuki and Lui have more in common that would, at first appear. Perhaps, getting to know “who we are” in the full complexity, both the conscious and the unconscious, is an invitation we need to accept if we are going to begin to act as if our often-chorused cliché about “all being in this together” is going to have the kind of meaning and impact its potency carries. Just as Suzuki has opened the eyes of the world to the wonders of nature, so too is Richard Lui opening his and others' eyes to the wonders of who we are.

We all wish David Suzuki a very happy 85th, and many more (including adding to the already completed 60 years of his internationally acclaimed ‘Nature of Things’ program originating on CBC) and we wish Richard Lui and his father and even deeper connection in these dark days inside the long-term care facility and around the globe.

And we thank both of them for the candles they have lit and the hearts and minds they will continue to light, in what many consider an impenetrable darkness.   

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Is there a new wave...or is it a Spring fantasy?

The Toronto Raptors made history last night deploying the first all female broadcast crew for an NBA game in league history. Five women took to the microphone to bring  the game between the Raptors and the Denver Nuggets to the Raptor fans! Remarkable, and long overdue.

Yesterday, also, in appointing Vice-president Kamala Harris as ‘point-person’ to address the tidal wave of legal and illegal immigrants and refugees already crowded into the Mexican-U.S. border facilities, bringing them to overflowing.

The news media, collectively, has taken steps to shift the way in which they ‘cover’ mass shootings, by giving far less airtime and biographical details of the perpetrators of such acts, as they dedicate enhanced time and resources to the stories of the victims.

Many public media outlets, including CBC and MSNBC are dedicating respectful time, in a sensitive manner, to commemorating the lives of the thousands of men, women and children who have succumbed to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Lives fully lived” is the caption at the top of the MSNBC segment, hosted by Nicolle Wallace between 4 and 6 p.m. EST.

In the recently passed Rescue package in the U.S. additional funds have been allocate to Medicaid, as a supplement and enhancement to the Affordable Care Act.

In Ontario, yesterday, the provincial budget includes $1 billion for vaccinations for the virus, $2.3 billions for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing, $1.8 billions to provide care for COVID-19 patients as well as surgical backlogs extended during the pandemic. The budget also includes a second round of payments for businesses that lost revenue during the pandemic, approximately 120,000 such businesses are eligible for between $10K and $20K, without having to submit new applications. Tourist operators will be eligible for between $10K and $20K one-time payments, up to a total of $100 million set aside for this initiative. Child Benefit provisions, enhanced, will provide a one-time payment of $400 per child and $500 per child with special needs. Long-term care spending up to $2.3 billion over four years is projected to provide 20,161 new beds by 2025 and 30,000 beds by 2028, at both public and for-profit facilities, addressing the projected spike in boomers needing care. Another $8.4 million will fund a crisis call diversion program within the Ontario Provincial Police, potentially diverting some calls to mental health professionals rather than police. For mental health and addictions, another $175 millions is allocated, and there is a job training tax credit to provide up to $2000 for an estimated 230,000 in 2021, for residents between 26 and 65.

The fine print, in each of these stories, while significant to their respective demographic segment, could be a glimmer of light in a pandemic-induced reality check that, not only can and must government support the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of truly suffering people through no fault or default of their own, but that the political culture, while obviously serving the goal of painting a rosy picture of compassion and empathy to generate votes, can and will take seriously the need to restore public faith and confidence in the “public square”. There are legitimate needs driving immigrants to the southern border of the United States, comprising the root causes of such pilgrimages for survival, for a life that offers a real chance for work, for food, and for an education to those who see their prospects of those basic needs being thwarted in their home land. A similar plight faced Irish immigrants in the 19th century. In 1847, The Great Irish Potato Famine caused the death, mostly from starvation, of over a million Irish, a motivated a mass exodus of some 1.3 million between 1841 and 1850 with some 70% going to the USA, 28% to Canada and 2% to Australia.

From history.com, the editors write:

The Irish Potato Famine, also known as the Great Hunger, began in 1845 when a fungus-like organism called Phytophthora infestans spread rapidly through Ireland. The infestation ruined up to one-half of the potato crop that year, and about three-quarters of the crop over the next seven years….English and Anglo-Irish families owned most of the land, and most Irish Catholics were relegated to work as tenant farmers forced to pay rent to the landowners.

And while we have had over a century and a half to assess the legacy of this historic movement, the debate over British government incompetence or negligence continues. And the issue of government incompetence/negligence, continues, in the fine details about the attitudes, beliefs, policies and procedures surrounding the current pandemic.

The reason for the cluster of ‘hopeful’ and enlightened notations above is simply to hint at what might be only a “Spring fantasy” on the part of this scribe. Maybe, just maybe, finally, when the clouds of disease, death, scarcities of needed equipment for health care workers, scarcities of ventilators, masks and apparel, as well as the not occasional hiccups in the rollout of vaccines (notwithstanding the speed and efficacy of the research and provisional emergency approvals of their deployment) darken the hopes and dreams of millions around the world, some glimmer of hope and light is beginning to emerge in the public consciousness, including those in positions of responsibility.

Movements for gender equity, the removal or mitigation of racist attitudes and actions, the impetus for wage equity between men and women, the election of a bi-racial woman as Vice-president of the United States, the appointment of a highly qualified woman as the first Minister of Finance, (Hon. Chrystia Freeland)…these are tiny rivulets, that are now converging into a noticeable energy of change. The Society of Women Engineers, (altogether.swe.org) reported in 2019 a significant uptick in the numbers of women entering university with intentions to major in Engineering, Math, Statistics, or Computer Science, from 3.7% in 2007 to 9.5% in 2017. Unfortunately, they also cite a troubling number of 30% of women who, following graduation entered the engineering profession and then left citing “organizational climate” as their reason for leaving. SWE also reports a 40% increase in bachelor’s degrees awarded in engineering and computer science from 2012 (146,060) to 2017 (205, 181). Another notable data point from swe:  a 58% increase in bachelor’s degrees awarded in engineering and computer science to women from 2012 (25,900) to 2017 (40,876)

Could there be a growing awareness of the disparities that current and long-standing “conventions” including hierarchical, top-down, primarily masculine models of organization, communication, restricted affect including empathy, reliance on the bully-alpha model of “leadership” is eroding, or merely succumbing to the over-weening weight of self-imposed and self-designed ways of doing business? Could it be that, as in the city of Boston, which for 91 years has had alternatively and exclusively either an Irish or an Italian white man as mayor, a tale only to be broken on Tuesday of this week, by Kim Janey, a black woman. Ms Janey, formerly selected as president of the city council by her peers, was sworn in following the departure of Mayor Marty Walsh who joins the Biden administration as Secretary Labour. Appearing on Rachel Maddow last night, Ms Janey articulated her fervent hope of an administration that will seek to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in an equitable manner, given the disproportionate impact the virus has had on minorities and especially women of minorities.

These things, like who the mayor is, especially in American towns and cities, really matter. Americans generally look to their leaders for inspiration, although their record on voting turn-out is, like so many other democracies, quite low. At the U.S. federal cabinet level, a woman has become the Secretary of the Interior. Deb Haaland, a progressive Democratic congresswoman from New Mexico, a member of Pueblo of Laguna, one of the first Native Americans ever to serve in a U.S. cabinet. With jurisdiction over tribal lands, and vast tracts of American wilderness, including Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks, Ms Haaland promises to be “fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land” (Her own Tweet)

Racial disparities, including outright overt and covert systemic racism against blacks, Asians, Hispanic, and indigenous, as well as the sexism experienced by the LGBTQI community has been vehemently and honourably dis-robed on both sides of the 49th parallel. The much harder, and more enduring process of reframing and rebuilding a culture of tolerance, respect and dignity for all, while needing public policy and legislature, including anti-hate enforcement, will also depend on a significant shift in perceptions, values, and the tensions of insecurity, inferiority, and fear that are so easily and readily masked by “exaggerated force” in body language, in verbal language, in violence and in attitudes, beliefs and perceptions of superiority, never justified, and never fully realized simply because they are not true.

Could it be that there is something like an unconscious, perhaps even underground (in the sense of being off the public media, the political radar, outside the intellectual and conventional thinking and perceptions of many ‘establishment’ thinkers and political actors) that is out front of the political class? Could it be that such a list of individual examples of new people, new attitudes, new vocabulary, new approaches, not so much based on the old shibboleths of scarcity, exclusivity, domination, and exclusion, cold-heartedness and even meanness in order to sustain one’s power, is, perhaps at a glacial pace, and outside of the collective consciousness of the popular culture, is advancing like an army of silent, infinitesimal, odourless, social and cultural single cells, that, somehow know their rightful place in the human universe, so long denied and thwarted, is coming into focus?

Is there a cultural (and thereby ethical) shift that has a similar kinetic force to that of the cyber-revolution, riding into our lives, much like the hidden Greeks in their Trojan horse, about the bring about the downfall of an enemy. In computer terms, a trojan horse is a special type of malware that pretends to do a certain thing, but in reality it does something else, such as allow a stranger to read and change the computer’s information. Certainly, if we are to assess this situation from the perspective of Republican Senators, almost all of them white men:

Ø steeped in their own conventional hold on power,

Ø supported by their various cultures,

Ø including the gun culture,

Ø the white supremacy movement,

Ø the loyalty and trust of the top one percent,

Ø membership in the old boys club,

Ø attendance at the establishment mainline churches,

Ø the need for a massive and indomitable military fortress,  

Ø free access to oil and gas reserves,

Ø freedom from environmental protections,

Ø the demand that government refuse to cuddle and ‘nanny’ strong independent solo flier individuals, the engine of a capitalist, monolithic, top-gun nation state…

they are the unquestioned enemy of the new ‘wave’ of potential greening, both in American and around the world.

And maybe this wave is our primary hope 

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

"gun culture" baked into the American "cake"

No matter which ‘metaphoric’ instrument/lens/perspective one adopts to take a look at culture, (behavioural, artistic, historic, racial, legal, medical/health, theatrical) each culture has a dominant influence, several minor influences, and others that rate minimal attention, all of this dependent on the scribe/reporter/observer/analyst.

So, a Canadian trying to parse the “American” culture, is a trip into a very turbulent, swirling, polluted, and fast-flowing river. And, each lens and observer will grasp and mention only a portion of the “beast”. Not only is the “river” turbulent and murky, the observer almost by definition is “in over his head” given the simpler, somewhat innocent, somewhat naïve, deliberately polite and militarily unenthusiastic descriptors that could readily be ascribed to his homeland. When one searches for some topical and relevant depictions of American culture, one reads words like “big” and “competitive” and ‘small talk” and “eating out v eating on the go” ….all of which descriptors are presumably intended for people new to the U.S. who might be attempting to begin to integrate in that culture. Stereotypes that seem to cling to the Canadian “identity” (as a culture) include excessively polite, bureaucratic, bilingual, “north” (whatever that might mean), friendly and inconsequential on the world stage.

In each culture, there is a level of debate about public issues that centres on the words chosen by public figures to indicate their “positions” on issues needing votes and legislation, as well as to seed specific views, information and perspective in the public mind, foreshadowing a shift in public opinion that might follow those chosen words. Naturally, at moments of crisis, the words of leaders are selected for their impact in potentially calming an angry or anxious public, while also incentivizing the potential of political actions, laws even, that might emerge from the incident.  Or not!

In the last two weeks, the U.S. has suffered two mass shootings resulting in the deaths of 8 and 10 people respectively. The first, at Asian Spas in or near Atlanta Georgia, the second, yesterday, in Boulder Colorado. And while motives of the respective shooters remain unknown to the public, the very incidents themselves, compounding a series of similar incidents (CNN reports these two events are among at least 7 mass shootings in the last seven days across the U.S. Their report also cites data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which tracks gun violence data, reporting nearly 40,000 people having been killed in incidents involving firearms in 2019. Many of those deaths, tragically, were also suicides. And public reports indicate there are more guns than people in that country. (330 million people)

Given the often-cited argument of gun-rights advocates that the Second Amendment guarantees every American the right to own a gun, (it does not actually say that; it reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.), this morning the Canadian television network, CTV, reports, from The Associated  Press: Columbia S.C.—

“A South Carolina senator has a proposal to make sure no federal law can ever seize guns---make everyone over 17 who can legally own a gun a member of a militia. South Carolina’s constitution allows the governor to call up an ‘unorganized militia” of any ‘able bodied male citizens’ between ages 18 and 45. State Sen. Tom Corbin’s proposal would automatically expand membership to everyone who is over 17 and could own a gun.”

With the rising volume of calls for legislation restriction assault weapons, imposing background checks, and lengthening the time between a check and a purchase completions coming from some Democrats, the hue and cry about ‘coming for your guns’ is spewing out of mouths like those of Texas Senator Cruz. Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, from West Virginia, who opposes gun control legislation, and could block any move in the U.S. Senate, if the filibuster rule is not set aside, calls his state a “gun culture”. Quoted in Newsweek in a piece by Elizabeth Crisp, on 03/23/21 entitled,” Joe Manchin Still Opposed to House’s Gun Control Bills Despite Atlanta, Boulder Shootings,” Manchin is reported to have said, “I come from a gun culture, and I’m a law-abiding gun owner who would do the right thing. You have to assume we will do the right thing. Give me a chance to.”

Let’s say that Manchin is correct about his “gun culture” in West Virginia, (and for that matter, many would expand the title to the American culture itself!). Let’s agree that, as a law-abiding citizen Manchin is unlikely to perpetrate anything like the kind of massacres that have been documented over the last two decades since Columbine in 1999.

What then does it fully mean, this phrase “gun culture”?

Forbes, November 25, 2018, in a piece by Elizabeth MacBride, entitled, “America’s Gun Business is $28B. The Gun Violence Business is Bigger,” reports as follows:

Gun stores had revenue of about $11 billion, IBIS World said, in its 2018 report. Gun and ammunition manufacturers had revenue of $17 billion, but the majority of that revenue comes from the defense side of the equation: arms sales to the U.S. and foreign governments….What is larger than the revenue in the gun business is the amount of money spent on securing ourselves against America’s gun violence problem, though its harder to separate. The security alarm business alone, for instance, brings in $25 billion a year. There are 1.1 million security guards employed in the United States, according to the Department of Labour….The Washington Post estimated schools are spending $2.7 billion a year on security measures. Government spending on domestic h0omeland security averaged $65 billion per year from 2002 to 2017…You can argue that all the political firms and non-profit’s in this space, from the NRA to gun control groups, are part of the gun violence ‘industry,’ with their vested interests growing the longer they are engaged in battle…You can even argue that the amount  spent on health care, (estimated at $2.8 billion a year for hospitals alone), though a cost to taxpayers, is also revenue to the health care companies and thereby part of the gun violence business….In short, one of the reasons that we can’t solve our gun violence problem is that it’s complicated, emotional and deeply enmeshed with Americans’ sense of power and control.. Our gun violence problem and the political conflict surrounding it have existed so long that there are now markets that have sprung up and companies making profits off the efforts to solve gun violence.”

And MacBride goes on to cite miscellaneous items like “bible-shaped gun carrying cases” and back-packs that protect against gun violence that saturate the market, given the absolute fixation on guns that captivates the American psyche. Her phrase, “deeply enmeshed with American’s sense of power and control” is especially cogent. Whether it is the pursuit of “freedom or die” or the absolute conviction that the government must not ever tell me what I can do, or the perverse epithet “the only way to counter a bad man with a gun is with a good man with a gun”…there are so many hooks, like bar-drinks, that are consumed, digested, assimilated and then spewed out in each and every argument with a “gun-control advocate”…

Although Ms MacBride’s piece did not specifically mention it, arms sales to foreign countries is another significant component of the U.S. “gun culture”. Thomas C. Frohlich, in USA Today, March 26, 2019, in a piece entitled, “Saudi Arabia buys the most weapons from the US government…” writes this: The United States is notably not just by far the world’s largest military force, but also by far the largest supplier of arms…The United States supplies arms to at least 98 nations, and it is the largest supplier to 20 of the 40 largest arms importers in the world. These arms include ammunition such as missiles, various aircraft, submarines, surface ships, anti-submarine weaponry, tanks, armoured vehicles, as well as electronics such as radar, sonar, and guiding systems….Of the 25 countries buying  the most weapons from the U.S., 10 ar either NATO member nations or part of other alliances formed with the United States since the Cold War.

Born in an armed military revolution, and still raising millions of young men and women in military service, albeit voluntary, and showered with public acclaim in “thank you for your service” as a greeting and salutation whenever a current or retired military veteran appears in public, there has been little surprise or disagreement with President Eisenhower’s warning, in his farewell address, January 17, 1961, revisited no npr, January 17, 2011, Ike’s Warning of Military Expansion 50 years Later: “On January 17, 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower gave the nation a dire warning about what he described as a threat to democratic government. He called it the military -industrial complex, a formidable union of defense contractors and the armed forces. (Exerpting the speech the piece continues): In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought of unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.

Clearly, Senator Manchin’s “gun culture” applies not only to his own state, but to the nation wholly. And, the mind-set that is invested in both the sustainability of that culture, but also the growth of that culture, witnessed the largest number of gun sales in U.S. history in 2020.

What seems obvious to an outsider, albeit one who spent nearly four years working in the U.S. is that political arguments to ban assault weapons, and to enhance background checks will fail to convince senators, especially Republican Senators, including Manchin. Even if such measures were to be passed, the ‘gun culture’ dependence, both by individuals, and lobbyists, as well as the massive industrial behemoth that feeds both manufacture and sales, (not to mention the hundreds of thousands of jobs in each district, thereby embroiling every elected official to maintain such jobs) is not about to surrender the deep and entangled roots of the “gun” that sustains much of the American pride and patriotism.

As military planners confront cyber-attacks, espionage, and increased evidence of state-based hacking, not only into election machinery, but also into the very heart of such engines as the energy grid, and health care systems, no doubt the budget of the Pentagon will shift to counter such incursions. The American people, however, are unlikely to surrender either their guns or their freedom to carry those guns, (even in church and on university campuses in some states); the white supremacists, too, will continue to bring their reliance on weapons in their struggle to paint the culture white. The elected officials will rant and rave about how real American patriots must do something beyond prayers and heart-felt sympathy for families of victims of mass shootings like those in Atlanta and in Boulder. And, likely minimal steps will find enough votes to placate a few electors in a few districts. Yet, no one can credibly hope or expect the American culture to surrender, even in Lent, one of the most identifying characteristics of their history: the gun.

Linked to the gun, too, is the notion that any conflict has the potential to be resolved through a bullet, and that applies to the suicides, and the barrage of domestic abuse through gun violence that plagues the nation, (and many other nations as well, including Canada). And, although there are racial and ethnic nuances in the ways and numbers of weapons in any community, the ubiquity of their spread infects all communities, in what Senator Durbin of Illinois yesterday calls, and “epidemic of guns”…for which there is no therapeutic and no vaccine. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Kenosis, from a penitential perspective

In the week before ‘Holy Week’ on the Christian  calendar, it seems appropriate to put the Greek word, kenosis, under a 2021 lens, given how troubled the concept of ‘self-emptying’ is to contemporary western people, including some Christians, among whom this scribe counts himself.

Ad children, when Lent arrived on the calendar, with the ‘cross of Ashes’ imposed on the forehead of worshippers, everyone knew and understood that the period was one of Jesus wandering in the Garden of Gesthemene, troubled by the ‘known’(?) prospect of Calvary and Golgotha. There was a significant element of humility in putting ashes on one’s forehead, as a sign that the person was ‘following’ in the tradition of the church as well as somewhat in the footsteps of the saddened, reflective, meditative and turbulent forty-days of torment. Young people, then, were also coached into surrendering, giving up what for them was a favourite ‘thing’ (think chocolate, ice cream, a favourite tv show, a favourite way to self-indulge, however and whatever that might be. Surrender, emptying, in those terms, had a visceral, empirical and deliberate meaning and intoned overtones of sacrifice, in the ‘spirit’ of Lent prior to Easter.

So far, so good, in the basic ‘christian education’ program of the church school. Adults, too, were fostered and nurtured in similar ‘emptyings’ as a way to incarnate the process of both intellectually and psychologically and emotionally ‘entering’ into the space of the spiritual ‘season’. Giving up a ‘bad’ habit’ like over-eating especially of a favourite ‘sweet’ food, or resisting temptation to indulge a ‘weakness’ like chocolates, or whatever food or activity that one considered ‘needing’ amendment, even slight curtailment, was considered appropriate. Individuals, then, were coached to consider some kind of sacrifice, as a reverent acknowledgement and adoption of the spirit of both humility and a kind of cleansing, a purification if you like, as preparation for a re-birth as culmination of the theological, spiritual, cognitive and even physical discipleship of a ‘good Christian’.

All of these ‘teachings’ were emblematic of the theology of what some have called a kenotic Christology, the meaning of which phrase comes from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, depicting Christ’s “action or attitude towards his equality with God. In the first stanza of the text we read of Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied (ekenosen in Greek) himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8) Christ did not ‘seize’ his equality with God or see ti as something to be exploited for his own self-interest, but ‘emptied’ himself of this divine equality in order to assume the form of a servant.” (From UK Research and Innovation, Keirkegaard’s Kenotic Christology, University of Manchester, Abstract, gateway@ukri.org))

The question of ‘what’ it was, precisely that Christ gave up has ‘bedevilled’ Christian scholars for some time. The author of the above-noted abstract writes further:

Like many of the classic kenotic theologians of the 19th century (Kierkegaard) argues that Christ undergoes a limitation on becoming a human being. Where he differs from his contemporaries is in emphasizing the radical nature of this limitation. Christ is ‘bound by his servant form’ and even if he had wished to exercise the powers belonging to his divine nature, he could not have done so. Another distinctive feature of Kierkegaard’s thought is his claim that the ascended Christ’s relationship to human beings continues to be that of the humiliated Christ. Kierkegaard criticizes Christians who emphasize the exalted Christ and who forget that Christ came to humankind as the lowly, humiliated servant, because this distracts them from their task of taking up their cross and following Christ in suffering discipleship. Kierkegaard, then, conceives of the kenosis not as finished with Christ’s ascension into heaven but sees it as an ongoing event.

Without his directly referencing this piece, John Kloppenborg, at one time a professor of “Parables” (at St. Michael’s College, U. of Toronto) taught his class that the figure of the Christ in the Parable of the Good Samaritan was not, as was conventionally conceived, the rescuing Samaritan for his rescue of the hated Jew, but the near-death, ignored, passed-over Jew in the ditch. Clearly, Kloppenborg was echoing Kierkegaard in that discernment.

Adding to the above reflections, Andrew B. Torrance, in a essay entitled Kierkegaarde’s Paradoxical Christology, St. Andrews’ Journals, (http://www.tftorrance.org/journal/, we read this: “For Kierkegaard, there is no competitive relationship between humanity and divinity; there is no zero-sum game between Christ’s divine and human nature, which assumes that his humanity in some way takes away from his divinity. Jesus Christ is one person, ‘true God and true man’, ‘the lowly human being, yet God, the only begotten of the Father.’9 He ‘is in lowliness and in loftiness one and the same.’ 10 So, when it comes to following Christ, there is no choice ‘between Christ in lowliness and Christ in loftiness, for Christ is not divided; he is one and the same.’11 Humanity and divinity are in union (Eenhed) in Christ.1

Kierkegaarde, however, acquiesced in the dilemma of divinity/humanity paradox of the figure of Christ, on the basis that no human can or will comprehend, explain, discern, or even come close to a full understanding of this theological and intellectual paradox.

Seems that Kierkegaarde represents some of the conundrum experienced by contemporary men and women of western culture. Entangled in a snare of the zero-sum game, paved by a binary freeway of 0’s and 1’s, we seem to be less willing (or able?) to contemplate, and to adopt to the mysteries of the paradoxical ‘both-and’. And, in our chosen (adopted, unconscious?) reductions, we are even more ensnared in the enigma of surrender, sacrifice, and an adult version of the “Jew in the ditch” as epigram and archetype for a Christian theology, with the possible exception of ‘saints’ like Mother Theresa, or the occasional sacrifice witnessed by contemporary media and culture.

Permit a note of speculation, that attempts to place two notions beside one another: the notion of a spark of the divine in each human being, and the notion that that spark is renewed, ignited, enflamed, and fuelled, not at the moment of our sacrifice for another’s specific rescue, but rather at the moment when we are able to sacrifice those impediments, those grains of sand that clutter the ‘gear-box’ of our life, with attitudes, beliefs, actions, thoughts and especially denials, avoidances and self-deceptions.

In order for such a speculative, and potentially painful process even to being, it is important to note that a casual, superficial and insolent throwing off of a “surrender” (as in, “I really must desist from engaging in gossip!”) without in any way taking the throwing-off seriously, and potentially necessary. While resisting too the proclivity of our incessant, penetrating pursuit of perfection, another of those ‘conscious-coming-awarenesses’, we can begin to acknowledge both our strength to confront what needs excising and how, in that process, we can also free ourselves of our need for ‘total erasure’. We humans, too, are paradoxical, capable of the most angel-like love and care, as well as satan-like life-defying actions, beliefs, attitudes, words and even thoughts. And, just as it is beyond our cognition to explain our own paradox, nevertheless there is a point to the potential of bringing to consciousness those besetting aspects of who we “are” (or think we are) in order to free our lives from our own blindness.

A line of cautionary and penetrating mentorship that echoes in my head every day came from a respected supervisor in a setting dedicated to the effective, ethical and appropriate ‘administration’ and leadership of a community college. A visiting educator was recruiting candidates for doctoral programs in college leadership; only partly as a jest, I asked the president of the college if he would send me to study in that program. His response, with a twinkle of both mischief and insight in his eye was, “I will send you anywhere they will teach you patience!” In four-plus decades, I had not heard those words, nor even a hint of the many overtones in their vibrations.

Impatience, beginning with a stint in stocking shelves at a local supermarket (really then only a small-town store), where the epithet, “time-is-money” was so embedded in the workplace culture that no one even had to mention it. Butchers were “allowed” a specific number of minutes to break down a hind of beef, for example. The rest of us took our cue from that kind of military instruction. Following that, a stint in a provincial bureaucracy, conducting land-tax assessments in unorganized townships, uncovered a far more relaxed and laissez-faire culture, that, when I asked if I could return for a second summer, the response from the hiring supervisor was, “Sure, provided you do not work so fast!” Slowing down, in order to “keep pace” with a cadre of workers steeped in that workplace culture, however, seemed incompatible with a young man’s desire to expand experience, to try new things and to find different workplace and other cultures. Selling, that almost compulsive, perhaps for some addictive and driven culture, dependent on production, customer service, daily accountability, expense accounts with receipts, orders accurately completely, and submitted in a timely manner (this was so orders of fresh meats could and would be filled overnight for shipping by rail and receipt the next day) offered a culture of a very different pace with different variables of “adequacy”.

While studying and rehearsing piano in the early years, with time/metronome markings on every piece, and changes mostly in Italian on the score, there was a strict way to observe those directions, often attributed to the composer him or herself. Time for practice, however, often dragged, and I found myself impatient to leave the piano bench in order to join friends in “play” so, undoubtedly, some additional impatience was birthed in those years. Preparing for tests and examinations, too, became a kind of self-imposed game, in and through which I ‘tested’ my own ability to grasp, to assimilate and then regurgitate whatever the subject was in the shortest possible time, in order to achieve the best scores. As an athletic coach, I always attempted to teach as many skills as possible, in the brief times allotted for practice, given a mind-set that relied upon the athletes with the ‘quickest’ learning curve, (considered the brightest, although that too was a misnomer, based on my own innocence and ignorance). Quickness, too, was unconsciously embedded in any encounters with others, given that, like so many others, I was carrying a lot of family secrets that I desperately wanted to keep hidden, buried, and the act of scurrying past each encounter, unless it was ‘transactional’ in some manner, helped in the achievement of that goal.

Managing others, being with others, modelling for others, however, seems in my life, on reflection, to have been coloured by a high degree of impatience, not with the other, but with a sense of my own inadequacy, another of those secrets desperately needing a locked vault, in order to escape social and political, and potentially even career rejection. Avoidance of my own dependence on my own impatience, as a guiding light that betrayed many potentially fruitful, engaging and rewarding relationships, at all levels, is one of the deepest regrets that I perpetrated both on others as well as on myself.

If there were a single “surrendering” in Lent 2021, that I could, happily and humbly, give up, I would pray that I would become far more conscious if and when those body signals of “anxiety’ go off, (faster talking, louder speaking, thoughts racing and tumbling out in an overwhelming cataract for any other listening) I would/could take a series of deep breaths, (analogous to those breaths counselled for parents indignant with an obstreperous adolescent) and accept myself, as I am, with all the highly visible warts, and help to bring others ‘into’ a common and safe and comfortable space. All relationships depend on such a space, and my innocence, arrogance, insensitive and impatience made too many such relationships/moments impossible.

Mea culpa! 

Friday, March 19, 2021

A tip o' the hat in thanks to and affirmation of Amir Attaran

 Amir Attaran, professor of law and public health at the University of Ottawa, made a somewhat startling and also cogent point on last night’s TVO exploration of the strength of democracy in its attempt to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The virus is not the cause, rather the strength and resolve of government is the ‘agent’ of the pandemic.” This penetrating perspective, turning the public lens away from the virus, a mindless, imperceptible, valueless, amoral, ideology-less, indifferent piece of biology to the “agent” in the human, global landscape, that confronts the virus, seems to offer both a profound critique of the various roles played by governments of various ideologies in different nations. Human agency, in the face of any kind of ‘enemy,’ is essentially the core issue in any discussion of any conflict, drama, success, already embedded in the history books, and about to be embedded in history books in the future.

After the virus was unleashed, however that happened, (whether through accidental, or nefarious and cynical deployment), we have to take a serious look at the Attaran point that human stupidity, trying to ‘cut a deal’ with the virus, is at the heart of how the virus has killed, or not, hundreds of thousands of human beings. Attaran reminds us that the business of government is ‘cutting deals’ and that to apply this to the pandemic, is bound to fail. If the pandemic, as Attaran asserts, is fairly predictable, based on the uncanny clarity of mathematical models, then whether or not specific leaders, governments, public health officials, or pundits, take an aggressive, or passive, or indifferent posture in their assessment of the risk and in the need for specific measures is at the core of the “agency” that impacts with and confronts this scourge.

Attaran goes further in his scathing criticism of the low ranking of the scientific competence (and also a secrecy about this scarcity), especially in the Canadian government and public service, as another component of our political “stupidity” trying to cope with the virus. Having studied and worked in several countries, Attaran’s critique has the credibility of experience-based observations and evaluations. He argues that we spend very little on scientific research, that we have very few “public voices” with a scientific background, and our collective silent complicity in this “resistance” (or whatever impulses lie at the root of our shared cultural legacy) can be detailed as an integral part of our success/failure in coping with the pandemic.

Tonda McCharles, senior reporter at The Star, argues on the same TVO special program, too, that the failure in communications on the part of the public figures in addressing the various issues, numbers, spread, and mediation of the virus. Included in that failure of both commission and omission, she cites the absence of a professional scientist from the federal government’s public ‘face’ of their response.

Addressing the communication gap, too, Attaran, points to the “loss of hard bastards” replaced by social scientists, who, rather than taking a heavy hand in the crisis, have attempted to persuade, cajole and urge, and motivate the public into compliance with pandemic preventive measures like masks, social-distance, and even isolating in order to retard the spread. Discerning the difference between dictatorial and “hard bastards,” Attaran believes that, for example, the history of having taken a similar approach to cigarette smoking, over a protracted period, the public health professionals have be resistant to putting a hard edge of “mandatory musts” on their professional counsel.

It was, however, the attribution of the word “contrarian” to professor Attaran, by Ms McCharles, based on the indisputable evidence that when he appears at a parliamentary committee ‘sparks will fly” (Ms McMcharles’ words) that really irked this scribe. A government that is either complicity in playing down the significance of the scientific competence, and also generating a culture inside committees, in which Professor Attaran ‘ignites sparks’ only exposes the cozy, comfortable, risk-averse, politically correct and potentially intellectually indifferent or worse, lazy, at the heart of the federal government. And this culture cannot and must not be laid, exclusively at the feet of any political party, given that, collectively, the Ottawa ethos pervades and infuses all political operatives, conversations, expectations and also results emanating from the body politic.

(A couple of personal anecdotes: When presenting and proposing a “FreshStart” program to reintegrate displaced tech workers at the beginning of this century, to an Ottawa bureaucrat, after designing and writing the program, in northern Ontario, the first question out of her mouth, was, surprisingly, not even focused on the merits of the program, or the difficulties of implementation, but rather, “Why cannot we have a program written here in Ottawa?” I guess only thoughts and ideas, for her, in order to be worthy of consideration, had to originate inside the city limits. Another example of ingrown “myopia” emerged in a recent conversation with a business consultant familiar with government contracts, at all levels, municipal, provincial, and federal: that only business consultants who have previously been engaged in a government contract are eligible to submit proposals for new contracts. Leadership, one would have thought, can only be effectively, ethically and efficiently pursued, and certainly achieved, if and when minds, hearts, persons with authority and responsibility show courage, leadership, and openness to ideas that do not come out of the brain-trust-establishment that seeks to serve as the national government. A closed system is constitutionally, intellectually, and pre-determined to follow in the foot-steps of other closed systems…thereby digging that uroborus snake “circle” in which it continually circles around the same “ditch”.)

The world wants to focus on the massive and perhaps criminal negligence of the trump administration in their deplorable failure at mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are other nations, including Canada, where the results are far less than they could/would have been, if the government had exhibited some civic muscle, drawn on the “hard bastards” (as Attaran describes them) that would have put a very different stamp on ‘mediating’ and ‘moderating’ and ‘mitigating’ and even ‘blocking’ the spread of the virus. History books and doctoral theses will be written to dissect the specific failures, for example, in long-term-care facilities, and in closing/opening economic activity, school-openings-and-closings, the psychological impacts on children of how we dealt with the pandemic.

However, our shared ‘thumbing’ our noses at the original declarations of “global pandemic” from the World Health Organization, and our shared complicity in following, compliantly, and in some considerable confusion and thereby enhanced anxiety, and now, in tolerating the libertarian strain of narcissistic egocentrism, highlighted by the despicable “theatre” comments by Senator Rand Paul, himself an ophthalmologist, when confronting Dr. Fauci in a Senate hearing yesterday, “If you are vaccinated and unable to spread the disease, and you continue to wear a mask, then that is only theatre!” Fauci instantly retorted, I completely disagree with that…and he pointed to the rising number of variants, for which there is still far too little known about their lethality, and their capacity to spread, not to mention the scarcity of data on immunity among those already vaccinated.

In fact, we are at a point, most scientists argue, that we are in a race between the marathon of herd immunity through 80+% vaccinations in all communities and the proportion of variants that dominate various populations. And the dumb, unconscionable, indifferent, narcissistic, hubristic, and libertarian aardvarks in the political world, (think Bolsonaro, trump, Cruz, Nunes, Fox news) all of whom refuse, avoid, deny and absolutely reject all “cajoling” and persuading and even incentivizing toward taking a vaccination) are already threatening to render all legitimate efforts at herd immunity as null and void. And the implications of that “personal freedom” that ought to stop at the line where everyone’s compliance is a step either toward or away from accomplishing the goal of returning to what once considered normal, including open schools, open main streets, open church services, sports events, concerts, picnics and community barbeques. Human rights, including free speech, freedom to worship, freedom to carry a gun…these are all NOT absolute, in any jurisdiction. It is the attempt of those who claim that they are absolute that the rest of us will have to endure for generations.

The minimal limitation of one’s freedom, through wearing a mask, is not only a tolerable limit to my freedom, given that, in doing so, I impair and limit the freedom of both myself and any others in my space, from spreading a blind, indifferent and imperceptible virus that can and does kill. The minimal limit to my freedom, to step aside, at least six feet if and when I meet another on a daily walk, is not only tolerable but actually worthy of social and political and public health mandate. The minimal expectation that I refrain from entering social groups, for the sake of everyone, my family and the families of those in the larger group, while perhaps in the long-term is irritating, depressing and sad, is nevertheless a reasonable, legitimate constraint on my personal freedom, for the sake of the community prevention of deadly sickness, especially when no one can know who is infected or infectious.

The social contract is not violated if and when the public health authorities mandate measures in the best interest of most people in the community. It is violated, however, if and when a minority of individuals deliberately defy those same public health measures. And there can be no doubt that Attaran’s call for “hard bastards” not only among public health leaders, but also among politicians, educators, civic leaders, and even ecclesial leadership, is worthy of note, and also of amending, if each community is going to restrict the mortality rates among their boundaries, limit the spread of the virus, and, hopefully, buy enough time for not only herd immunity, but also vaccines and treatments that have the scale and effectiveness of those measures that virtually eliminated small pox and other lethal diseases.

It took “hard bastards” to grab the leadership, to set the tone, to provide the beacon of light in the darkness of those pandemics. They were not tyrannical’ they were not dictatorial. They were not evil, or indifferent to individual personal freedom. They were pragmatic, professional health-care exponents, incarnating a depth of commitment, conviction and ethical discernment that seems to Attaran, and others, to be sadly missing, in proportions required in the current circumstances. Of course, there are exceptions, but too many of those exceptions are bully-shouts, and edicts from the side of those who denigrate the virus, who defy all public health limitations and who seem to be carrying the day in far too many jurisdictions. From some provincial premiers whose determination to “open the economy” prematurely is far too risky a political act, dependent first on their political fortunes, to state governors, to national leaders who ought to be held accountable for crimes against humanity, given their blatant and tragic failure to carry out their civic responsibility.

Would they have been able to get away with such defiance if there were to have been a larger voice in public opinion that provided a unified and science-based argument for limits to public freedoms, as a global initiative, based on reasonable, enforceable and responsible public health measures? Doubtful.

Would such an example offer to the world, evidence of the need for and the advisable of pursuing enhanced collaboration in the search for, and the discovery of public leadership that, at least in the public health arena, would and could be proud to wear the “hard bastard” moniker advocated by Amir Attaran, the international legal-public health scholar born in the United States, of Iranian parents, who has a unique and valid and somewhat unconventional international perspective.

His perspective does not merit “contrarian” so much as “healthy truth pursuer” in the interests of humanity, including Canadians. And we need many more Amir’s!!  

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Happy St. Patrick's Day, 2021

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

The rains fall soft upon your fields,

And, until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand. (Irish Blessing)

The phrase “confluence of influences,” if memory serves, came across my ears first from a Russian professor of Comparative Education, Prof. Ramunas, at the University of Ottawa.

It rises like a long-forgotten time-capsule, as we all watch and listen to the convergence of factors around the globe that pose a threat to the existence of humanity. Perhaps it is the very size and force of the confluence, comparable to the most compelling cataract, Niagara Falls, or Victoria Falls, that, surveyed from the safety of cordoned walkways, simply takes one’s breath away. Magnificent, awesome, powerful, somewhat miraculous, magnetic, memorable, epic, stunning and also picturesque…worthy of the best and most creative photographers and also of the most dramatic layouts in the world’s most treasured glossy magazines, (think National Geographic! for example) Water from smaller tributaries merge with other tributaries, and glide over landscapes that generally slope downwards, sometimes even from north to south, culminating in an encounter with a rock formation like a cliff, a chasm, a canyon and literally tonnes of H2O thunder over the rocks in a white blizzard of roaring  vapour.

Spectacular, for sure! Unforgettable, absolutely! Dangerous, definitely!

And yet, few rarely attempt the quixotic leap into the ‘beyond’ of that danger, knowing full well, and fearing their own demise at the hands of nature’s unforgiving power.

We can see, hear and even feel the multiple stimuli from those cataracts; we can wrap a camera lens around parts of the scene and sound bowl; and we can stay safe while in their presence.

A rather difference ‘confluence of influences’ seems to be gathering energy, from the flow of multiple streams, rivulets, creeks, and rivers that, from this vantage point, seem to be coming together in a political, cultural, social, economic, environmental and biological river that, without considerable collaborative urgent measures to slow the pace of each of these forces, bring with it a destructive power that could, and likely will, impact every man, woman, and child on the planet. And, given that these ‘streams’ are not restricted to the ‘unconscious’ in some quarters, but are very much at the forefront of the consciousness of some, there is a gaping divide between the perceptions, attitudes, beliefs and actions of those who take this confluence seriously, and those who prefer a nonchalance, an insouciance and a kind of indifference (is it arrogance or fear?)

A shared planet’s resources, a phrase encapsulated in clichés of rhetorical propaganda, by those whom many consider(ed) tree-huggers, or catastrophizers, is little more than a passing ‘fad’ for those whose daily lives depend on the mining, drilling, pumping, trucking, transporting, shipping, selling, burning and building on the strength of the energies that the earth’s coal and oil reserves provide. All of the men and women whose lives and families rely on the maintenance of all of the structural, legal, economic and even ethical pilings that western societies have been driving into the ground of our collective governments and consciousnesses for generations. Capitalism considers the earth to be at the heart of the pulse of their activities, even potentially regarded by many as inexhaustible and also manageable, from the perspectives of worker health and planetary ecosystems. Preserving an economic, political, cultural and ethical system that relies on the bounty of the earth, directly and indirectly, is a religious creed, sanctified by decades of benefits, deeply embedded as both needed and life-giving.

At the same time as these rivulets of political consciousness continue to flow and to gather younger generations of disciples, advocates and dependents, there is another stream of political, social, cultural and ethic consciousness that ‘sees’ things very differently. These folks are convinced that the future depends on the reduction, if not the actual elimination of those gases from the atmosphere that the earth’s coal and oil and gas emit, in their mining and drilling and fracking to ‘dig’ them out, and in their processing and refining, and also in their final burning in power generating stations, transports and airplanes, ships, automobiles, busses streetcars and ambulances…not to mention in the furnaces and air-conditioning of many if not most of our buildings, including hospitals, schools, churches, libraries, universities, sports stadiums, arenas and our homes.

Transferring the bulk of our energy needs from one carbon-centric group of fuels to an enviro-friendly, renewable group of fuels like wind and solar and battery (although their final destination seems somewhat uncertain) and also nuclear (although the final resting place/use of spent radioactive nuclear rods is still under research investigation) is a shift that many, especially those dedicated to the ‘tradition’ of fossil fuels, find both traumatic and worthy of their boldest resistance. To those who fervently believe that only in and through the transformation will our grandchildren be able to survive, given the potential rise in temperatures being predicted by qualified and credible climatologists from around the world.

“Follow the money trail” is a chorus that the fourth estate chimes at some time in many of the stories they investigate, especially when they are attempting to uncover and lay bare activities that endanger people, both individuals and large groups. As the fossil fuel corporations have amassed mountains of profits and investments, they continue to have a large “hand” to play in this high-stakes poker game. And given the absolute dependence on truck-loads of case needed for political campaigns, those seeking elected office find their steps leading them into the boardrooms of those fossil-fuel executives, who are ready and eager to fund supportive (and also dependent) political candidates. Naturally, the predictable next step is for those fossil-fuel-funded candidates to utter the words, attitudes and values of their benefactors, both in their campaigns and in their legislative functions, following elections.

Start-ups in the environmentally friendly sector, naturally, have far less profit and investments, and thereby have less to “offer” to political candidates who could/would support their attitudes, beliefs and values on behalf of a protected environment. And while their ethic is no less strongly held and supported, their capacity to give it ‘legs’ is considerably reduced compared to the fossil fuel lobby.

Government intervention, through tax subsidies long-ago established in favour of the fossil fuel industries, continue, and require political vigilance in order to preserve them. Similarly, government intervention to support sustainable-renewables, has the uphill climb as the ‘new-kid-on-the-block’ from a political perspective, and we all know how rookies far in a new team’s locker-room. However, high-tech insurgent corporations, having established a strong foot-hold on the flow of revenues in most western countries, tend to follow the play-book of established corporations, in a manner that a rookie athlete will admire, emulate and hold in awe an established ‘star’. Their divided loyalties, between the corporate model (based largely on the fossil fuel models) and the new economy of the digital information age, has not yet seen a deep bow to the environmental-protection lobby, given their fixation on keeping and preserving their distance from and independence from government intervention in their businesses, including the question of personal privacy and security.

Clearly, the question of government intervention in the affairs of the fossil-fuel corporates, in any attempts to require environmental protections increasing costs and potentially reducing profits, as well as restricting leasing agreements for new fossil-fuel exploration, is one that continues to ‘fire’ the engines of both fossil-fuel executives and their lobbyists, as well as the legislatures in which their elected officials work. Government intervention in the private lives of individuals, especially in the United States, although the issue is raising its ugly head in other jurisdictions as well, is anathema to those who define their personal freedom from the hill-top of “the least government is the best government” no matter what the issue may be.

Enter, in late 2019 and in early 2020 THE COVID-19 pandemic, infecting now millions, and killings hundreds of thousands, irrespective of geography, culture, language, social and political status, education, wealth or even increasingly age. A once-in-a-century pandemic, comparable only to the Spanish flu of 1918, when science and communications were very different. Doubtless, the anxiety of our grandparents’ generation was no less than our own, although they would not have listened to or read hourly reports of the scourge of their time and place, as we do today, from every corner of the globe. Vaccinations, therapeutics, treatments, ventilators, antibodies, RNA research and the capacity  to generate, test, evaluate, approve, distribute and inoculate are all processes that have exponentially exploded in scope and speed, in funding and in credibility over the last century.

However, given another social and cultural bedrock of western civilization, the penchant, if not the actual addiction to and affirmation of a masculine trait of “above and beyond” all of the threats (similar to the climate-deniers’ dubbing global warming a hoax perpetrated by China), fear of the spectre of rising temperatures, draughts, fires, tropical storms, hurricanes, is flicked off, disdained, almost defiantly by many, as just another of nature’s normal behaviours as seem from the last several centuries. And here is the spot on the pavement of the freeway on which all of us drive, (in every country and county and town and city on the planet)…the spot where the rubber of defiant denial, insouciance, ignorance, avoidance and personal bravado meets the asphalt of science: rising temperatures, rising death rates, rising rates of viral variants.

And the implications of the deniers, both of environmental disaster, as well as of COVID death and destruction (it is after all imperceptible, and spreads from one to another without either knowing the spread was happening, ) refusing to listen to the warning signs, to take them seriously, and to act as if those warning signs actually meant something worthy of serious consideration, and even committing to learning more about how we can each play our part in “healing the world” are epic and potentially catastrophic.

No one is catastrophizing to witness and to describe the confluence of these rivers of social and political influence represented by two competing strong rivers of public opinion. Respectively, they are those that seek to move in the direction of personal health and wellness, as well as supporting that process for all others, and those who seek to deny negative symptoms on not only the body politic but also the body-planet. Both of those rivers and bodies now must demand the proactive and shared commitment not only to wearing masks, to maintaining social distance, to agree not to gather in large groups both indoors and out, and also to seek and to acquire one of the vaccines that have been approved to slow and hopefully to stop the spread of a virus that threatens each and every one of us. Both of those rivers also must come to a deep and lasting and profound agreement that carbon dioxide and methane continue to threaten the life of the planet and the lives of our grandchildren.

We need the rivers of science and political activism for positive change, along with the river of tradition, preservation, the establishment, and the monied interests to finally converge in a giant cataract that will overflow the resistance of insouciance, bravado, indifference, fear and anxiety, in order to find a way to behave our planet out of this confluence of existential crises.

Israel, the nation, frequently notes their existential fear of extinction at the hands of Iran. This is a real, genuine and legitimate fear. And the people of Israel walk in and through the tunnels of that anxiety every day. The west, on the other hand, seems to consider the compound threat of global warming and the pandemic, even taken together, NOT to be an combined existential threat to all of us. To be sure, our shared threat does not have a ‘face’ and a geography; it is not able to the contained on any world map, as a piece of land, a body of water. It is however, clear to all, that the implications of both of these existential threats now have taken a foothold on every continent, in every country, among all religions, languages, cultures, economies and ideologies. There is no single person, and no group, and no political party, and no faith community that is not already suffering from the collective impacts of these two forces.

No longer can the old shibboleth of “man’s domination of nature” be considered with biblical proportions. No longer can man’s hubris that accompanied that concept be either sustained or justified. And the question of whether or not we individually and collectively value our life enough, or not, and consider our life bringing with it the decision to leave a legacy that can and will sustain the lives of our grandchildren, can no longer be either denied or avoided. Even those who for centuries have been gifted by the beneficence of nature’s resources that have already killed millions, will have to accede to nature’s cry for help…and just as we have all helped to make her very ill, we also have the opportunity to relieve much of that global illness.

Can and will we accept the challenge and the opportunity? 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

"Truth does not need publicity, lies do!" (Abhijit Naskar)

The hue and cry that continues to echo, reverberate and tremble throughout the caves of political rhetoric, primarily in the U.S., but also to varying degrees around the globe, is burdened with a ironic and tragic history and a legacy of information peddling the depends on lies, even ‘organized lies’ (borrowed from Hannah Arendt).

In an essay entitled, “Organized lying and professional legitimacy: Public relations’ accountability in the disinformation debate,” on journals.sagepub..com, published December 16, 2020, Lee Edwards writes:….’this article argues that disinformation and fake news are well-established tools in public relations work and are implicated in the current crisis….’(O)rganized lying-the intentional systemic dissemination o falsehoods by groups, organisations and institutions—has long been part of political life.(Arendt 1968*) and the tools used to create and promote disinformation come directly from the mainstream stable of promotional tactics, dating back to the days of propaganda and public opinion manipulation. (Bernays, 2005 (1928): Corner, 2007,; Demetrious, 2019; Mayhew, 1997; Ong and Cabanes, 2018; Shir-Raz and Avraham, 2017)…In a [political world driven by opinion formation about the meaning of things, (Arendt) argues that facts, with their ‘intractable unreasonable stubbornness’ (Arendt, 1968:243) are potentially impotent in political debates because they can only reflect the world as it is. Lying, however—defined as the instrumental dissemination of information and/or opinion that has no basis in fact—is always a form of political agency. Lies can readily be used to promote a particular point of view or to encourage particulate forms of action, because of their persuasive power: unconstrained by reality, ‘the liar is free to fashion his ‘facts’ to fit the profit and pleasure, or even the mere expectations, of his audience. (Arendt, 1968:251). Organized lying takes the impact of the lie further. More than obscuring some interpretations of the world, it actively destroys them in service of a ‘major and permanent adjustment of displacement of reality; (Arendt, 1971: Corner, 2007, 674) Such fundamental ontological work requires that these systematic distortions of reality are embedded in the ways in which politics is not only communicated, but also organised, in order that policymakers themselves believes the distortions. Thus organised lying has the potential to replace concern for the common good in political debates with a concern for vested interests, while misrepresenting those interests to both the public and to policymakers as the common good….As Harsin (2019) argues, ‘Both consumer capitalism, deeply embedded in everyday life, and elite liberal democracy…demand deceptive communication. There is a structural incitement to deception…To claim one truth as definitive may be tantamount to totalitarian dictatorship, opening the door to violence and inequality (Mejia et al., 2018: Nelson, 1978)…As Arendt (1968) argues, the result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is…that the sense by which we take out bearings in the real world—and the category of truth vs falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed. (p.257)

From a piece entitled, Noam Chomsky Defines the Real Responsibility of Intellectuals: ‘To Speak the Truth and to Expose Lies’ (1967), dated July 18, 2018, on openculture.com we read this:

“It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies,” wrote Chomsky in his 1967 essay. ‘This, at least, may seem enough of a truism to pass over without comment. No so, however. For the modern intellectual, it is not at all obvious.’ Chomsky proceeds from the pro-Nazi statements of Martin Heidegger to the distortions and outright falsehoods issued routinely by such thinkers and shapers of foreign policy as Arthur Schlesinger, economist Walt Rostow, and Henry Kissinger in their defense of the disastrous Vietnam War. The background for all of these figures’ distortions of fact, Chomsky argues, is the perpetual presumption of innocence on the part of the U.S., a feature of the doctrine of exceptionalism under which ‘it is an article of faith that American motives are pure an not subject to analysis.’ Chomsky would include the rhetorical appeal to a nobler past in the category of ‘;imperialist apologia’—a presumption of innocence that ‘becomes increasingly distasteful as the power it serves grows more dominant in world affairs, and more capable, therefore, of the unconstrained viciousness that the mass media present to us each day.’…For those who well recall the events of fifteen years ago (2003) when the U.S. government, with the aid of a compliant press, lied its way into the second Iraq war, condoning torture and the ‘extraordinary rendition’ of supposed hostiles to black sites in the name of liberating the Iraqi people, Chomsky’s Vietnam-era critiques may sound just as fresh as they did in the mid-sixties. Are we already in danger of misremembering that recent history?

There is a long history of distortion in the theatre of politics, foreign policy, economics, military manipulations, many, if not most of them, generated by some version of the phrase “national interests” of the nation…seemingly the history of the twentieth century’s dive into totalitarianism, was not enough of a red flag to preclude more propaganda manipulation in the administration of George W. Bush. Nor was it an adequate reminder and caution against the regime of lies that now characterize the last American administration. And, where there is power, the seat of power, and the people who sit in those seats, there is an inevitable coterie of men and women whose needs are so great that, like moths to brilliant light, they stampede, and then, just as suddenly and unceremoniously, they die in the shadows of that ‘light’.

Similarly, in the corporate world, lies to protect the public mask of the corporation continue to run rampant on the advertising and public relations engines, themselves complicit in the ‘smooth running’ of the much larger ‘engine of public information. Magnetizing eyes, ears, hearts and minds, for profit, through sales, is the primary instrument/industry that has been merged into the public consciousness as “respectful” and “ethical” and “moral” and “honourable” given that it energizes employment rates, Gross Domestic Product numbers, tax revenues, and those benchmarks that denote a health economy.

Bigness, in military machines, in sales volumes, in DOW indices, in speed and horsepower of autos, boats, airplanes, as well as fighter jets, and ‘McMansions…they all are calculated to evoke/provoke collective “WOW’s from an allegedly amazed citizenry. Having more, too, at the domestic family level, is also considered a societal “good” enhanced only by additional bobbles, and the social reputation that flows therefrom.

Power over, too, is considered, under this epistemological umbrella, to be better than weakness, so, naturally, those men and women and children who have substantially less, or even quite literally ‘nothing’ of the world’s affluence, are considered ‘inferior’ and in North America, those groups include black, brown, Asian, indigenous…all of them also targets of something publicly discussed as racism. Yet, there is an implicit and built-in bias of inferiority, based on house size, wardrobe styles, sport equipment, and even body size….given that taller people are reported to earn more than less tall men and women.

The lies in which we are all ensnared include such corporate distortions that climate change and global warming are a hoax, (perpetrated by the Chinese, just like the COVID-19), the “magic” of trump, (as told in adulation by Senator Lindsay Graham), the stolen election of the U.S. presidency, the imposition of restrictions on personal liberty through required mask wearing, social distancing, and vaccinations.

The penetration of ‘alternative facts’ and the swirling ethos of distortions lies, dissemblings has so “smogged” the culture of the United States, that, like the pandemic itself, and the failure of the world to trust much of the establishment’s utterances, as well as it policies, threatens to render, at least the U.S. as potentially ungovernable.

And the lies are not the exclusive domain of the elite; ordinary people, too, with universal access to cell phones, tablets, the internet and the opportunity to spread their own lies, distortions, gossip, character assassinations, rumours…all with a degree of impunity that leaves them unleashed to their own destructive ‘power’ tendencies.

The issues of reining in the already uncapped ‘pandora’s box of human narcissism, linked to the political and corporate culture of deliberate lies, seems to implicate so many individuals, as well as all demographics, that those actually charged with responsibility for ‘cleaning’ up the cultural ethos, are themselves, first going to have to acknowledge their own complicity in the game. And it is, after all, a game into which we have all been recruited, perhaps ever seduced, and naively succumbed to that recruitment.

Training military recruits in the arts and the science of military action, espionage, weaponry, and then discovering those same men and women, trained on the public purse, to defend the country, have turned their aim on the very nation that raised them, educated them and employed and deployed them is another of the indices that demonstrate the depth of innocence, naivety, and even ignorance among those charged with recruitment. Similarly, however, the Republican Party was unable and/or unwilling to block the candidacy of trump back in 2015, a master-manipulator whose strategy and tactics were well know to all of his opponents in their presidential campaigns as well as the media whose task was to report on that campaign.

Documenting lies, however, as history amply proves, is no guarantee of reducing their production, or their sophisticated chicanery, nor is it a pathway to putting limits to hate speech. Like so much of the rest of the political theatre, it has become another game-box, manipulated by those seeking entertainment, separated from the foundation of provable factual information. And, as actors in a drama whose script is manipulated and controlled by others whose motives are, in a word, not innocent, or focussed on the public good, but rather on their personal and private self-aggrandizement, we are increasingly rendered victims, albeit conscious victims of a game whose rules we no longer set, and no longer have the range and depth of power to change.

If the history of lying in the United States is imitated, even at only a 50% rate by other nations, how can ordinary people come to the place, a very necessary place, where we can breathe relatively easily, with any confidence that those making decisions will make those decisions on publicly available and demonstrable information, and then will subject those decisions to the scrutiny of a dwindling demographic of ordinary people who have and will continue to take the time to become familiar with the truth, in order to better judge and to hold accountable those in public service, both elected and appointed.

A one-hour public lecture on implicit racial bias, on ABC television last evening, while noteworthy, scanned the ways by which we all develop implicit bias. Nevertheless, the lies that continue to confound the body politic, and have for far too long, need much more exposure, and a concentrated initiative among public officials, the media, the academe, the ecclesial hierarchies, and educators at all levels, to discern the fullness of the truth of their/our utterances, and to develop an awareness of the implications of distortions and lies not only on their immediate goals, but on the long-term health of the globe.