Thursday, July 12, 2018

Zero-sum games sabotage all players


What is a zero-sum game and how does imposing that model impact the way the world operates?

 “If I win, you have to lose” and “If you win, I have to lose”….succinctly summarizes the import, if not all the nuanced tactics that go into the conversation. What happens in effect is that the option of both of us, or if there are more than two participants in the exchange, each of them, by definition cannot win. And if there are only two outcomes feasible, then in order to establish and sustain a dominant position, one has to present the outcomes from any negotiation as a “win”….thereby misrepresenting the truth and inflating the delusion and the illusion of victory.

To impose this model on each and every problem or issue, is to attempt to establish a dominant position prior to the opening of discussion. It is a cynical and deceptive approach dependent upon another presumptuous premise: that either the “audience” will not care about the details of the outcome, or that enough of them will let those details that contradict the facts slip through their memories. “Winning” at any cost, then, becomes the object of any engagement.

Let’s start with an adolescent or early adulthood date, in which one of the players has already adopted this mantra: if I win, you lose; if you win, I lose.
“Would you like to see movie X?” he asks.
“Well, I would really prefer movie Y!” she responds.
Thinking to himself, “Jeez, I really wanted to see movie X, so how can I convince her (bribe her, induce her, coax her) to change her mind?
“After the movie, maybe we could go out for dinner, and then a rock concert that is playing tonight,” he proposes.
“I really thought we were  going to a movie,” she responds.
“Well, I really do want to see movie X, and perhaps you would reconsider and join me, if there were something “in it” for you,” he mutters.
“There are only a few minutes before movie X starts, so I guess we could see it tonight, and maybe another night we could watch movie Y,” she suggests.
And so, they both proceed into the theatre showing movie X.

The promise of extra inducements, naturally, falls into the dust bin of history, never to be invoked again, unless she brings it up.  He “wins” in the immediate term, and she, grudgingly “goes along to get along”.  A similar psychodrama could and does play out in reverse, with the “inducements” coming from the female. Although the specifics of the inducements will naturally be different, neither gender has a monopoly on “inducements” in order to get what they want.

While the precedent will leave a different imprint on the mind and memory of each participant, (He: that worked, I will have to try it again! And she: I think I might have given in too easily!), the relationship’s future will hold the key to whether or not the matter is discussed and resolved differently the next time. If the relationship ends, each person will proceed with the experience stored for future reference. He, for his purposes of designing a winning strategy for the future and she, for her own future boundaries.

If he moves from relationship to relationship, without pausing to reflect on the “high-handed” and transactional manner in which he imposed a zero-sum game on his date, he will likely find other persons who, too, will take the bait, enabling his growing reliance on what appears to be a “winning strategy”.

In business, where the presence, growth, decline, absence of dollars to the bottom line determines both the short term tactics and the long-term strategy of the organization, zero-sum games are the sine qua non of the enterprise.  Since each player is competing for a finite number of dollars, (consumers, contractees, partners, or any number of resources, including human resources) then the strategies and the tactics that apply to each negotiation have to ensure a “win” for the player with the dominant position, in order to sustain that dominance. And with respect to inducements, “premiums” from a marketing perspective, we have all been the recipient of “the latest offer” to induce our purchase of some product or service. The provider of the inducement has carefully calculated the costs and the prospective returns from the “offer” so that, at least in the short run, the “ends” justify the means once again. Just today, Pizza Hut offers, for example, a two-topping pizza for $8.95, but only if ordered on line. One assumes that generating on-line traffic, requiring fewer workers to execute the orders, will reduce costs for the company. And the elimination of the cost of human resources is the primary path to enhanced profits.

So what’s wrong with all of this? After all it is the “way of the world” isn’t it?

Perhaps, and yet….

Reducing options to win or lose, however, has the high risk of turning each of  us into either a competitor or an enemy of all others. Neutrality,  mutuality, multiple “wins” and the balancing of multiple interests with a view to a much more complex and subtle, nuanced and both long lasting and more sustainable result…all of these options are virtually eliminated, or at least reduced to a minor significance. It is the need of the “top dog” to win, at all costs, and through whatever distortion, misrepresentation, deception and exaggerated trumpeting of success that the one side proclaims his/her win.

Today, for example, after berating the NATO leaders over both the Germany-Russia natural gas pipeline and contract, and also over the failure of members to pay the targetted 2% of GDP to the defense of the alliance, trump announced another of his proverbial “wins”…that all members agree to achieve the 2% and do it quickly, with a higher target of 4%. However, immediately following the two-day session in Brussels, Prime Minister Trudeau told the world his government was not going to double their NATO contribution (from 1.23% to 2%).

So that “win” trump proclaimed for his performance as the bull in the china shop is another hollow victory. Even his framing of the issues facing NATO, including his charge that Germany is controlled by Russia, as a consequence of that natural gas deal, is so far from fact-based, especially given Chancellor Merkel’s early life in East Germany under the former Soviet Union. She knows more about being under Russian control that trump will ever know, and would never permit her nation to fall into Russia’s orbit. Nevertheless, trading for natural gas, is one path to conversations for the mutual benefit of Russia and Germany, something the zero—sum protagonist will never comprehend.

 The core perception that all the world is either a competitor or an enemy is a base for perpetual conflict, and exaggerated efforts to demonstrate “victory” at the expense of another, whether it be a peer, another military brigade, or a nation. The paradigm also has the serious and virtually unavoidable consequence of turning everyone into the means for another’s ends.

And that reduction effectively makes every human a potential agent in the pursuit of someone else’s ends, with or without any pretense of a process of seeking or attaining consent.

Zero-sum games also simplify the issues to suit the kindergarten paradigm of the perpetrator of the structure of the encounter. The option that a full-out, open, full-disclosure of the mutually agreed ground rules for the negotiation, mediation, arbitration or reconciliation is precluded from the start. So even the process, before any outcome is envisioned, is “fixed”….

Well, that may be the foundational structure of the real-estate development business in New York, if trump is their “role model”….And if it is, then there is a reasonable link to be drawn to the “process” and the structure of the mob and mafia. Only winners and losers are permitted, and damn the torpedoes with respect to whatever it takes to “win” in the end.

Zero-sum games are essentially a return to the wild west of decimating savagery as the only way to survive. And yet, some of us actually thought, and had been taught that human civilization has moved even if only a few centimeters toward a different structure, process and the options of more complex and mutually rewarding outcomes.
For a man of seventy or seventy-one to have slithered into the Oval Office, on the slippery skids of millions of zero-sum exchanges not only depicts the tragedy of a single life, but also the even more depressing and tragic trajectory of a once noble nation.

Transactions, under the umbrella of a zero-sum premise, eliminate level playing fields, eliminate all civil and decent expectations and outcomes, and suck the hope and optimism out of the culture.

How will the trump-bannon axis of evil explain that to their grandchildren?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

There is no perfect justice nominee


The human species has been able to manufacture many devices, engines, rockets, space ships, missiles, delivery systems, autonomous cars and even many of the genetically appropriate pharmaceuticals that attack specific cancerous tumours.

However, we have not, can not, and will not ever manufacture the perfect and complete and ultimate human being.

Two nights ago, a man appeared before the American people, dressed in a professional blue suit, complete with perfectly combed hair, the perfect two-daughter family, with the perfect White House-seasoned spouse, and the perfect Yale University and Law School degrees, the pedigree of having served as Justice Kennedy’s apprentice, served under George W. Bush, coaches his daughter’s “winning” basketball team, and serves meals at a Washington homeless shelter with the priest under whom he served as an altar boy.

Not only did he “check all the boxes” from the perspective of the Federalist Society and the White House, to become the next justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, to replace his mentor, he also has effectively checked all the boxes in his own perfect “manufacture”. It is as if we have come to the place where only the perfectly manicured, perfectly educated and trained, perfectly apprenticed, and perfectly devout are acceptable for such an office.

And the glaring irony is that the person who proferred his name to the Senate for confirmation hearings is one of, if not the most flawed human beings ever to sit in the Oval Office. It is not that I personally, or really anyone watching, has “anything against” Brett Kavanaugh. And it is not envy that prompts these observations. The glare from those kleg lights in the East Room in the White House will only intensify throughout the confirmation hearing process, and the ensuing votes to confirm or reject his nomination. And who would really want such a magnified and microscopic external and even internal examination in an age that finds the most minute “flaw” unacceptable.

We are all participants in the charade we are witnessing. We are all shared investors in a culture that has such a divided mind that it not merely tolerates but enhances the public popularity of such a president (at least by Republicans), and extols the virtues of his nominees. “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7:19) In one of, if not the first statement depicting the divided mind, these words capture the obvious paradoxical, complex, and perhaps legitimately unimaginable and unintelligible and inexplicable truth of the human condition and its culture and its pattern of choice and default.

Recognizing and acknowledging the internal tension and complexity and paradox that comes with each of us is not a sure path to resolving it in a predictably positive way.

However, not to recognize, or worse to deny our divided self is a sure way to entrap each of us in our own kind of paralysis. The truth of being able to know our “gaps” and our “incompletenesses” and our incapacity to live up to our highest ideals, while also being conscious that we do things we know to be less than savoury or moral or ethical, taken together, still need not encase us in a victimhood, or a paralysis, nor in a nihilist stance in which nothing we think, say, feel or do matters.

However, such consciousness can, if we are open, receptive, wiling and courageous, ennoble us to continue to work with our own paradoxes, without falling “victim” to either the illusion of our perfection, nor the sewer of our most evil reach. And, it is only in the “between” where neither complete perfection nor total depravity entrap us, (through fascination and fixation nor contempt and disdain) that our lives can be and are lived. So too, with families, communities, nations and the world community. Each of us individually has to opportunity to observe, reflect, and enact our own script(s) dependent on our state of consciousness, fear, hope and resolution.

Whether or not Kavanaugh will or would serve as an ally in the event that trump is indicted and prosecuted is an open question, yet his writing suggests that he would most likely be.

Whether or not Kavanaugh will or would support a move by SCOTUS to erase Roe v. Wade, while remaining open, is also a likely ‘yes’.

Whether or not Kavanaugh will or would support the right to bear arms, too, remains technically open, and yet what we can discern tilts in the direction of the affirmative.
Attempting to achieve the highest degree of “perfection” attainable by filling in all the requisite boxes in one’s resume, too, is a sign that one will be likely to have an unambiguous picture of the perfect society the law can and should create. And it is this absence of ambiguity in the consciousness of any person, and in his previous deportment(s) that should be alarming to those designed to participate in his formal confirmation.

Nevertheless, given the black-white divide that controls the democratic process in Washington, the prevailing cultural ‘meme’ is that only the unambiguous “perfect” model, as conceived by the strict literal constructionist argument about upholding the “intent of the writers of the constitution, is eligible to assume the vacant seat on the Supreme Court. And the overwhelming delusion, illusion and grasping that such an ultimately unattainable perfectly “manufactured” model of the predictable vote on the social “values” issues is available, demonstrates the degree to which absolutism, and not compromise in a balanced debate of the issues from multiple perspectives, rules the American government.

As one astute observer put it to me today, “Of course none of these people in Congress is voting on the basis of ‘right and wrong’; they are voting on the basis of politics, the preservation of their positions, and the leverage their vote will give them in the next debate!”

If, in the American political arena both the truth and the capacity to see and to serve the best interests of the public good have already become casualties, while the perfect  legal "Ken" mannakin is strutted before the Senate’s Judiciary Committee to serve as the “public face” of the fundamentally corrupt political system, then we may have finally arrived at the point where the country is willing and eager to accept the lipstick-on-a-pig proposition.

We must not let ourselves be confused or seduced by a conflation of the make-up and the pig. And we need to keep our own "dividedness" available for easy reference, so that we do now drown in a pool of ethical and moral hubris. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Victims generate dysfunction and perhaps dystopia


One wonders if the major decisions by the respective voting publics taken in and around 2016 on both sides of the Atlantic are going to haunt both Europe and America for decades. Was this a nightmare, dystopia that hangs over the planet?

The depth of animus, contempt and outright racism, all of it based on fear, insecurity, neurosis and even psychosis, has driven vote expressions favouring Brexit, trump, border walls, exclusion, nationalism, and narcissism, and nihilism (especially around science, global warming and climate change. A narrow, blinkered, expression of fear, denial and insouciance seems to  have gripped loud voices, deep pockets, and crass opportunists into a overwhelming tide of resentment and victimhood, with all of the negative repercussions and implications that such an archetype inevitably breeds.

Victims, in all human groups, organizations and even families display an inordinate degree of influence on whatever situation presents itself. And it really does not matter whether the victim holds a position of leadership or a factory worker, union shop steward or CEO. Victims exhibit a predictable, seemingly inevitable and negative influence on the world. And their animus, and the energy that accompanies fear is at the bottom of most psychological, motivational and archeological and anthropological “digs”.

The smallest kid on the playground, often a target of the bully, is cast as the public victim, thereby distracting public attention from the insecurity of the bully. The bruises, black eyes, broken bones and ruptured spleens from school-yard fights. The public demand for ‘justice’ focuses on the “damage caused” to the little victim, without even attempting to discern the deep and profound insecurity of the one who inflicted those wounds. In the world of public fixation on surface, superficial evidence, and immediate restoration of order, the bully is too often expelled, suspended, transferred to another school and possibly even charged and convicted in a court room before a magistrate.

The “forces” of the law, those designed to “protect” us from such acts of abuse do their job; they establish the facts of what happened and decide the appropriate punishment. And the anger in the already established victimhood of the bully is only exacerbated by the experience. S/he is unconscious of his or her own insecurity, fear, feelings of unworthiness, perception of inadequacy, and his/her need to demonstrate either or both to him/herself and the world (especially an adult who shares the perception of inadequacy too often projected onto the child) that s/he is NOT weak.

Proving oneself, especially to a highly successful and demanding parent, or to a reverse-psychology critique from a teacher, or an insult from a workplace supervisor, especially through measures inappropriate to the situation, is a pervasive social and cultural meme. Very often, such “proving oneself” is really exaggerated evidence of insecurity, a human trait too often classified as “competitive, or “strong” or “stubborn” or at least positive. Very often, too, it is the inferiority of the adult in the room, previously seeded and nurtured by a church, or a previous family that gets passed down through the generations.

It is not an accident that the church, at least the Christian church, with its theology of the depraved sinner, as the starting point of its definition of the human species, is the greenhouse of this “evil” that has so twisted our shared realities. Whether the period of history under the microscope is tribal, warring, agricultural, industrial or digital/informational, the potential disapproval of the gods (God) and the consequences of that disowning is and has been, and continues to be, so frightful as to constitute paralysis of the spirit for millions. Humans have endured this “extrinsic” burden (making it an integral part of their consciousness of their deep and profound character) for centuries. And the manner by which this single depiction is “worn” or ingested, or adopted or infiltrated into the psyche, (for some more comfortable, for others like a burr in the heart, for others a inescapable identity) many of their (our) expressions, (verbal, physical, intellectual emotional and devotional) can be traced back to their view of their own vulnerability, weakness, insecurity and neurosis.

Even the church institution itself, fearing the loss of control of its early adherents, has adopted both a theology and a psychology of dominance that reduced millions of adherents to a state of infantilism. First only the clergy, who could read, were permitted to explain the mysteries of scripture. Then, following the printing press, reading spread and the reformation(s) ensued, as absolute authority eroded into a more private perception of one’s relationship to deity, and the universe. As social, cultural, industrial systems evolved, so too did the more obvious “manufacture of evil”* emerge. And as those machines evolved into more and more complex and more programmable sons and daughters, with ever more precise and micro-managed specifications, including the motherboards of today, the perception of evil has exploded into whatever each human perceives to be the most egregious offense to his/her person. And with the capacity to distribute “our own victimhood” and project it onto our latest “offender” we have effectively democratized the spread of the manure of evil through each and every cell phone and tablet onto each and every other person on the planet.

Each of us has, then, become our own law enforcement officer, investigating officer, crown/state prosecutor and judge, without giving so much as a nod to the reality that we are none of those things. We have also forgotten, denied, ignored or avoided the basic fact that judgement inflicted, rightly or wrongly, also brings more contempt into the world, and this time because it is private and secret, that contempt, erupting from our insecurity, carries almost complete impunity.

So, rather than starting from a definitional “focal point” in the pictures we conjure in our minds and imaginations, we begin with a cynical perspective, that chases the concept of the human species “to the bottom”….to the lowest common denominator, the most evil….and thereby the easiest to be “equal to”…

And one of the most insidious and heinous, and completely out of touch with reality public policies that has rolled out of the darkest caves of human fear is the “ZERO TOLERANCE” approach to anything. And it has ben invoked as another of the many attempts to portray humans as embracing the “sacred”….as if God knows, expects and demands perfection from everyone is every situation, and as if, by adopting such a policy, we become more worthy of the approval, respect and  the love of God. Ignoring the paradox of God’s unbridled and unmitigated love for even the most desperate of us homo sapiens, we nevertheless, obsess about our fear of our own evil and its repercussions. We are the embodiment of the eternal sinner, (having been so “conditioned” by the Christian church) as the prime trait of our person, and thereby of every other person on the planet. This starting point in our own identity, and in the perceptions of the identities of others sustains and enhances our cynicism and our fear of being “out-manoeuvred” and out-witted by even more sinister opponents.

Actuarial data tells insurance companies that auto accidents result from one or both of two principal human emotions: anger and depression. And, one might ask, where do these two pulsating, relentless and often over-whelming emotions come from if not from a frustration/disappointment at being thwarted, abused, put down, ignored, passed over, defeated, defamed, bullied, misrepresented or some other perceived injustice? 

And where do our definitions of injustice, and abuse come from if not from our history, our traditions, our “lessons” in school, church, workplace and athletic or artistic participation? Rules, designed and applied to many situations are supposed to protect us from others, or others from us, if and when we cross some line. And so, the culture is in a perpetual state of chasing those who commit misdeeds, thereby robbing itself of the application of a very different energy to “reward’ and to enhance and to teach and to inculcate a different set of values and perceptions of both ourselves and others.

And if we are not crossing lines that negatively impact the lives of others, (thereby achieving the wrong kind of attention) we are “medicating” the pain that we feel, from one or more of our multiple wounds, wounds that most consider to have been transgressions by others, if we could name them, or by some force of nature that landed on our heads “when we were in the wrong place at the wrong time” as the proverbial description holds.

This is not an argument that has been sloshing around the corridors and classrooms in many American schools for the last decade-plus, whereby each student is bombarded with the message that s/he can do anything, everything that s/he might dream of doing. Inflation of self-esteem is just as noxious and self-sabotaging as a deficit of self-esteem. And esteem that comes from an outside source, out of context and out of touch with the recipient’s reality, is like that old slug, “putting lipstick on a pig”. It just will not “take”.

Scarcity, in personal terms, takes so many different and prevalent forms. And the basic scarcity is that we are “no good”….not only that we have no special skills or talents, but that we are morally and ethically depraved. And that fulcrum is at the core of the church’s teaching, in the light of any comparison with an “impotent, omniscient, omnipresent” deity….whose capacity to divide the “good guys” from the “bad guys” and “send each to an afterlife of a “heaven for the former and a hell for the latter. That kind of early teaching to very young children, like the prayer “If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take!” is so brutally abusive, in the name of God, church, faith and the paradoxical essence of faith, hope. And like an indelible ink, that kind of early message embeds itself in the blotters of our psyches.

Multiple instances of spending time with men and women,  still fully conscious shortly before their death, indicate that many are still struggling with their own inadequacy to “meet their Lord” and their emotional pain often exceeds their physical discomfort, most of which can be managed at least marginally by prescription. Dreams of extensive physical effort to “fill” a vessel of some kind, without ever achieving the filling of that vessel, whether it was a hay loft, or a painting project in which walls are never fully covered, or an exam that is never finished, or a ………whatever that escapes completion are frequent.

Similarly, engagements with school students in both elementary and secondary, illustrate a remarkable, yet anecdotal, positive correlation between one’s “home life” and personal state of mind and the marks achieved on tests and examinations. Those who expect to do poorly, usually do; and those whose confidence foreshadows a healthy often find what they expected. Much of this can be documented in much more precise and rigorous research. However, the encounters with students who have crossed some social, political, cultural or even criminal line through destructive, or greedy, or deceptive or violent behaviour will quite frequently disclose deep and lasting psychic pain, wounding and a deficit of healthy supportive remediation. Often these students, too, are virtually empty of both support systems and a mind-set that includes alternative options to those they have chosen, that us currently impaling them in “trouble”.

Small-time criminal and quasi-criminal behaviour also accompanies a biography sprinkled with instability, poverty, abuse and either or both too high or absent expectations  manifestations of scarcity and exaggerated demands respectively). And yet, being a culture fixated on the symptoms of any situation, and not on the roots of the “problem” we spend inordinate amounts of time, money and human capital on “treating” (read punishing, abusing, incarcerating, fining, crippling by withdrawing social and political “rights”/prvilieges, without paying attention to the histories at the root of the problem, thereby compounding the likelihood that the same individual will repeat, offend, resist treatment and frequently resort to illicit medications like alcohol (in excess) or street drugs or sometimes both.

And while there is some evidence that this approach is keeping “crime” at tolerable levels, with obvious notable exceptions like Chicago Illinois, where the murder rate is out of control, according to many reports.

Muslim terrorists take advantage of our “fixation” on their violence, perpetrated through increasingly deceptive, apparently benign and easily accessible and cheap devices like weaponized vans, trucks, and transports. The proliferation of personal handguns, too, especially in the United States, is another example of “victims” (or potential victims) arming themselves, to avoid being killed. And the very fact that the U.S. produces, markets, sells and distributes arms around the world as the prime manufacturer, demonstrates the profound “need” for these products, at the personal, and at the national levels.

Putin considers the collapse of the Soviet Union the greatest tragedy of the twentieth century,  another indication of the roots of his determination to restore Russia to “greatness”, apeing, or imitating the “make America great again”  slogan of the trump presidential campaign, (or was trump apeing or imitating Putin?)…both playing to the victim archetype in both nations, and given the current available evidence, both are having some resonance in their respective political theatres.

However, let’s not be so na├»ve as to think that along with this “poor me” persona that both trump and putin wear in their public histrionics, they are both deceptively and seductively enhancing their arms inventory, both hard power and cyber-power…although evidence suggests that putin’s approach is more balanced than trump’s which leans dramatically in favour of the traditional missiles, bombs, and torpedoes.
Indeed, it is the degree to which both leaders are successful in convincing their many respective “publics” of their own fears that “national security” budgets become bloated. Once again, the collective “victim” is at the root of these tactics.

Similarly, with respect to immigration, the streams of refugees and asylum-seekers escaping the violence and deplorable conditions of war in the formal sense (based on some version of insecurity) gangs wars (also erupting when insecurity/weakness/vulnerability overcomes the leaders who obsess over their own tenure and capacity to control their members), fear of job losses, cultural intra-marriage, loss of cultural identity, invasion of interlopers who do not “deserve” the traditional social and political rights and benefits that have developed over the previous decades. And the borders are barb-wired, electric-wired, walled, armed, patrolled and electronically monitored, to “protect” the nation(s) under threat, as perceived by the most frightened and most opportunistic political operatives to leap into the breach they have announced after they created them in their minds and imaginations.

And with respect to global warming and climate change, the deniers, and the political leaders who refuse to join reasonable, sensible and pro-active preventive measures fear losses in their capital investments, their potential profits, and their previously high social and political status as wealthy capitalists….It is a very short-term, and also highly neurotic perspective that points to temperature rises of more than two degrees Celsius, ocean levels rising, coastal cities becoming obliterated and generations yet unborn who will have to cope with temperatures and implications still unable to be accurately predicted or anticipated.

Personal, corporate, regional, cultural, religious and even national fear and insecurities of various kinds, shapes, faces and auras abound. And we walk blindly as if into the dark night, when, before our eyes the light of a different source and power (from within) wants to light and to lighten our shared path.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Has the U.S. media lost sight of its role as a lamp of leadership?


High grade imbecility reigns at so many levels in the American political culture, including the megaphones controlled, manipulated and twisted away from
“all the news that’s fit to print” as the commitment of the New York Times has it.

What has replaced what some consider boring, dull, too detailed, and “weeds” of the nuances of policy and political theory is the most inflammatory, most incendiary, most exaggerated and most tabloid-like story, and the manner in which it is covered, specifically by focusing on the personalities, the pecadilloes, the sex-and-money stories that, like a blow-torch, ignite public attention, and drive advertisers to buy space and time. And when advertisers line up to buy time and space, you know that they already know that public will read/watch/gossip/and generate enhanced profits and dividends.

Tonight’s 9:00 p.m. announcement on all those networks trump calls “fake news” when they are reporting on his tweets, is a prototypical example. Like a reality television show, devoid of any interest in the need to balance the Supreme Court, and tone-deaf to the political “centre,” concentrating on one basic premise: “How will this announcement enhance my electoral prospects and thereby my access to bloated business and ego ‘revenue’ as well as an extended period in office for those purposes?”

Governance by “fiat” (executive order, tweet, press ‘scrum,’ towel-tosses, private dinners and chats with international thugs, appointments of extreme judges, tariffs and trade wars through executive orders, insults, late arrivals and early departures, not to mention the lies, fabrications, distortions and devious (and highly  secret) excising of environmental regulations. and access to affordable health care along with the injection of fiscal steroids into the pentagon…..these are hardly the workings of a civil government concerned about the public good.

The process by-passes the elected officials, unless and until they are needed to confirm another “federalist” judge, or to pass an unbalanced tax bill. And there is still a large “congregation” of Republican supporters (some 90% of the party) egging on this administration, in spite of the evidence staring them in the face. “Congregation” seems appropriate, given the religious fervor with which these people turn a blind eye to their own manipulation, in order to achieve an even more epic manipulation of the judicial system for the next half century.

Thousands of missing children, separated from their parent(s), long before their stories became public, millions ripped out of the Affordable  Care Act, a United Nations report on poverty in the U.S. that ranks that country as bad as that  the developing world, given the largest gap between rich and poor in the world in the  U.S., chaos, cruelty piled onto incompetence….and the “game” goes on as if there were only “good news” about making America  great again!

And the television media examines, parses, and obsesses over every last tweet, as if they are doing their job. Where are the editors, the assistant and deputy editors, some of them Pulitzer prize winners, permitting, or worse, encouraging this kind of micro-myopia. The news media has effectively created another swamp, in open support of the chief executive, whether or not the tweet is newsworthy or not. Some questions for the television media editors, and their supervisors:

·        Do you think, or believe that your news department is being played for a fool by this president?

·        Do you believe that each and every tweet leaping out of the Oval Office is as news worthy as every other tweet?

·        Do you coach your reporters not only to read each tweet, but also to make a serious judgement as to whether or not it merits repeating along with some discussion?

·        Are you under strict orders from your senior management to broadcast, and to interpret each and every tweet?

·        Would it not be feasible to assign a small number of Washington reporters to cover some international developments, with a view both to enhancing the world perspective of your audience and to demonstrate that good governance is developing in other capitals? And would such an approach inevitably result in lower ratings and advertising revenue?

·        Would it not be feasible to assign a larger number of reporters to the United Nations “beat” in order to demonstrate the dangers of the atrophy, added and abetted by the U.S. government of that agency?

·        Would it also not be a “forward” step to assign reporters to the EU, the World Bank, NATO, the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization, the OECD, the Paris Climate Accord, not on as a “when news breaks” bases, but on a permanent basis?

·        Another “venue” and organization that needs more coverage is the Centre for Disease Control, and at least one reporter from each of the major networks would be able to shed light on the ravages of poverty/disease linked to falling out of the Affordable Care Act coverage!

·        How can your networks continue to “bash” the emasculated Republicans in Congress when you, too, have subscribed to the menu of trump koolaid? Spine, in the political sense of that piece of anatomy, has to be demonstrated by more than Mueller, Schiff and Warren and the media is poised to make a significant turn in the direction and the breadth of its coverage.

·        Leadership, especially so needed for the last two years, requires that this president not be permitted “star” status through your microphones, cameras, and time allotments. You might be surprised to learn just how thin and tattered is the American place in the world, through enhanced coverage of people like Macron, Merkel, May and even Trudeau. The American vacuum of consciousness about the rest of the world is begging to be eliminated. And your professional reporters, editors and management can remedy this shortfall.

“Fascism,” in a strict definition, national socialism as the Third Reich incarnated it in the 1930’s and 40’s, is a word now beginning to be applied to the trump administration, by people much smarter and more articulate and more experienced in the history of world governance than this scribe. A complete break-down of the social, political, economic and judicial structures, along with the evisceration of the State Department, the dismantling of the education and environmental protection departments, the gutting of the social network, and the triumph of the propaganda arm of the White House in debasing the Public Inquiry of Russian infiltration in the 2016 election….and yet the Republicans in Congress remain deaf, dumb, blind and "eunuched". Even worse, some like Nunes actively work illicitly on behalf of the White House having sold out their honour, dignity and all vestiges of ethical and moral convictions.

And the band of silence, co-dependence, empty talking points, highly groomed hairstyles on both men and women in Congress, blankets those might, heroic and
“crying-in-the-wilderness” voices of Warren, Sanders, Holder, Kasich, Harris and a few others, who valiantly try to break through the fog of this political war.

The casualties, especially truth, continue to mount. The families continue to be destroyed. The investigations and “infestations” continue. And the band plays on!

A nation’s head-piece filled with straw, a nation’s heart frozen in a cryogenic encasement, a nation’s elite locked behind both the gates of their communities and the drugs of their brains and a nation’s honour and reputation in tatters….,and the band plays on!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Amorphous, multi-discipline and intuitive... leadership needs a graduate curriculum free of corporate ideology and funding

A headline earlier today in a national daily read, “When is Canada going to start producing quarterbacks?”

Seems like a reasonable question when one surveys the history of the Canadian Football League, and the rarity of Canadian quarterbacks who achieved memorable success. Russ Jackson, leader of the Ottawa Roughriders, linked to running back Stewart and wide receiver, Tucker, inflicted considerable damage on opponents,  while garnering a Grey Cup for their home city.

But that is eons ago. And Russ Jackson was a rare breed. He was a positive, motivated, highly charged and seemingly fearless LEADER. It was a recognizable mix of quality traits even to those of us who knew him only from television appearances on and off the field. And then he entered one of the more “political” and neurotic professions as a high school principal. Would have paid dollars to be a part of his teaching staff, if only to watch the impact a leader can and likely did have on those who worked with him. Of course, I expect he would have had trouble with those “hanging on” until retirement, or clinging to the Long Term Disability clause, or letting their students sleep through classes. Likely he would have found the most expeditious path to “reform or remove”.

The Royal Military College, in Kingston (as noted in another piece in this space) does not hire teachers in “LEADERSHIP”. They have assigned that responsibility to “Psychology” faculty. Undoubtedly, the business schools consider leadership under the rubric of “management” as another example of failed perceptions of both responsibility and opportunity. The schools graduating “administrators” have perhaps a single course in leadership, buried along with statistics, foundations and comparative education. And the instructors in those courses, while perhaps intelligent and adequate lecturers, value their academic discipline ahead of the more prosaic requirements of leadership.

On the other end of the vocational continuum, most cultures celebrate their poets, artists and musicians, for the expressions of their “art” without considering them as cultural leaders, except in “expanding and enhancing the ‘vision’ of their audience.
To be sure there are now a plethora of “executive” leadership seminars, workshops and retreats. Even athletic coaching is now a respected curriculum in some colleges and universities, and athletic coaching is endemic to leadership.

Underlying all of these splashes of colour on the canvas of leadership is the fundamental question, “Can leadership be taught?” (Or is it more likely to be “caught” like the kind of intuition displayed by people like Wayne Gretzky, in anticipating and “knowing” where the puck is “going to be” and not merely being mesmerized by where “it is”.

Clearly, creativity in whatever sphere of human endeavour, is displayed both by the highly formally educated, and also by those without so much as an hour of formal instruction and discipline. Ingenuity, like its sister creativity, too is highly resistant to the experimental regimes of formal science, with their null hypotheses, and their disproval of such premises. Replicable, measureable, document-‘able’ and reducible to empirical evidence, as in gravity, the speed of light, the actions and reactions of atoms, neurons, neutrons and ions, creativity is not. At least so far.

History books, including military histories are replete with both strategies and tactic that exhibit and exemplify ingenuous moves by highly “intuitive” generals, in their determination to “outwit” their opponents. And the “education” of those men and women has obviously included “adaptability” and flexibility, and ‘thinking outside the box,” the tattered epithet that seems to define the stereotype of  the entrepreneur, the idol of the current capitalist-profit-driven enmeshment of the cultural mind-set.

Everyone seems to hire or develop, train or incentivize that kind of thinking, on behalf of the corporate monsters who have the bankrolls that sustain the employment picture. In government bureaucracies, such corporate motivation seems frightening, if not reason for dishonourable discharge.

Faculties of education, a potential source of leadership research and the literature that would undergird its developing body of work, seem more interested in the pragmatics of learning theory, theories of discipline and eco-influences on schools and on curriculum, as well as the multiple potentials for technology in “teaching and learning. Comparative studies of men and women, too, often fall under the “psychology” department.

So where does leadership belong? Under which traditional academic discipline, or perhaps does it finally merit its own department?

Doctors “running hospitals” for example, is an oxymoron. They have no previous training except the occasional coffee-break conversation with their predecessor
s in the department to which they have just been appointed to “lead”. Lawyers, too, as leaders, are empty of a kind of training and rigour in leadership, based as their profession is on case law, precedent and creative end-runs around the procedures of the system.

 Accountants, too, have a high alacrity and precision with the patterns of figures, accounts, balances and the “story” that data can and might tell. Examining evidence, agreeably is one of the basic requirements of all leadership roles. In all of the quasi-military institutions spawned, unfortunately, by our dedication to our historical obsession with those processes we have designed and implemented, the hierarchical model of leadership, (and the exercise of power) rests on the shoulders of a single person, surrounded by a circle of acolytes, and occasionally rotating teams.

Occasionally, an orchestra or music ensemble, will choose to abandon the “conductor” role, and rotate those duties among the members of the group, as an exercise in both cracking the precedent, and likely also in saving the budget.

Not focusing on the importance of leadership, (as we do with parenting, a financial intelligence in families, and in “public health” and relationships between men and women, except in feminism studies) we avoid the requirement and necessity of having to debate the significant questions. We did this for decades around the emergence of psychology, as opposed to psychiatry) until the research and the journals that documented the evidence gleaned from “scientific research”.

The study of literature, possibly, has some of the benchmarks that might apply to the formal discipline of leadership, given the basic foundational requirements of a language structure, a world-view, an application of all of the creative human faculties and skills of generating something able to be perceived by those seeking to explore its intricacies. And, the cries of “Not on your life!” can be heard shooting up through the chimneys emerging from the English Departments in all of the universities around the world, at the thought of that “burden” added to an already overloaded faculty and faculty chair.

And yet, dear reader, please stay with me!

The arguments for such a proposal are numerous and significant.

Let’s start with training and disciplined discernment of the respective differences between appearances and reality, something seemingly undervalued in a culture that worships (literally and symbolically) empirical data. The whole truth and reality in any situation is hardly captured by the empirical data. And any culture, institution, family or person who operates exclusively (or overtly) on “what others see”(or hear, or touch, or smell) is relinquishing a large degree of both responsibility and the sharing of the power that comes from a consciousness of the invisible, the motivating and contextual factors, including the relational factors that impede, impact, influence and too often implode a situation.

Reading as an exercise in discernment, not in working out specific answers to specific questions, is a highly demanding as well as developing trait for all who aspire to leadership. And then discussing, and researching both the biographies and the literary criticisms of the piece of literature, only deepens the desire and the capacity to “interpret” both the available physical evidence, as well as the less visual or auditory clues. The exercise also increasingly relies on the experience of searching for and finding patterns, both as archetypes and as literary structure. Such a exercise, shared through seminars, papers, debates and lectures only enlightens the complexity of human life, through the various models that have spilled from the most creative imaginations in recorded history.

These skills and this experience, while conducive to a full consciousness of the depth, the resilience, the idiosyncrasies, the complex relations (both personal and institutional) from various locations and period of both history and meta-history.  And as one corporate leader has already expressed, “Give me a graduate in Literature who knows how to search and to find patterns in the writing, and I will teach him/her all he needs to know about other matters important to the corporation.”*

Conflict resolution, endemic to any family or organization, and certainly evident on every football field and basketball court, (not between teams, but within teams) is a core requirement for all leaders, and while psychology offers some clues, literature includes the whole human being, as the starting point, not parsed into specific behaviours, actions, or convictions. All of these comprise the starting point of any effective perspective for a conflict mediator, arbitrator, and counsellor.

A similar observation could be applied also to many of the other “leadership” positions, including the quarterback on a professional football team. Yet, that would happen only in a culture that regarded leadership as a sine qua non of the successful operation of each and all of its many organizations and institutions.

And, in Canada specifically, we have the same attitude to “leadership” as we do to the study of the “future”…..not worthy of our time, commitment, money and human resources. So, it is no surprise that we are not producing quarterbacks, nor parliamentary leaders, nor ecclesial leaders, nor bank nor engineering nor hospital, nor educational leaders….who have the courage, the conviction, the creativity and the vision to develop to the full both the personnel in their circle nor the institution’s full capacity to grow.

And so, we “settle” for slipping downward to the bottom, comfortable in the maxim that change is too threatening to contemplate, or too costly to envision, or too complicated to institute. And we permit leaders to pad both the resumes and their investment accounts for moves like mergers, (with others’ money) and for slogans that burp out of their advertising agencies, and for cost-cutting measures that would make the Anderson Consulting Company (famous for cutting thousands of jobs in the 1990’s) blush….and we “think” or act as if we are witnessing leadership, when we are witnessing a parade of self-serving narcissistic ambitious, hard-working and earth-gazing drones, dressed in Saville Row suits, driving BMW’s and amassing fortunes that permit them then to “give back” through massive tax deductions to a society starved, raped and devastated by their “honourable” and highly valued “goal-setting.”

*The study of literature, as the single best path to leadership is not exclusive. Anthropology, for example, offers many similar experiences, based on physical “digs” of former cultures, with a panoramic perspective on that culture. While many math grads make less than exemplary leaders, Russ Jackson, legitimately honoured as the best football quarterback in Canadian football history, graduated in 1958 from McMaster University in Mathematics. Too bad he could not inaugurate a leadership training institution, and bring both his person and his history to serve the glaring needs of our nation and especially its young men and women.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

July 3, 2018 squeezed between July 1 (Canada Day) and July 4 (U.S. Independence Day)


July 3, 2018, appears to this scribe as a Canadian married to a dual-citizen, (American-Canadian) sitting between July 1 and July 4, the two ‘national holidays’ that open the summer vacation so different from all the previous July 3's in this lifetime.

To be sure, there have been trade spats between the U.S. and Canada before; this one, however, seems., like everything else about this U.S. presidential term, to be driven by a personal animus. Most time in our shared history, policy differences have not been rooted in personality politics. Kennedy and Diefenbaker, back in the 1960’s had little regard for each other, the former considering the latter a trifle pedantic, aloof and rigid. (Doubtless, the latter considered the American president somewhat daunting, in his youth, Cicero-like rhetoric, and public adulation.) However, the public “justification” being deployed by the American administration, national security, is more than a little offensive, insulting and downright unjustifiable.

And then there is the latest report of some twelve letters from the Oval Office to Canada and her NATO partners, publicly scorning each for not paying their fair share towards the defence of NATO partners. While it is true that we have been laggard in reaching the 2.9% of GDP target advocated as long ago as Lester Pearson’s term as Prime Minister, public wrist-slapping, (as would characterize an obsessively controlling parent disciplining a six-year-old) does not past muster as reasonable “diplomacy”.

And as with most files, this president either conflates diplomacy and critical parenting, does not know the difference, or simply considers himself above such nuanced distinctions. Just as in his argument about tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, (Canada is NOT a national security threat to the U.S.) so too, critical parenting is NOT diplomacy; and it will not generate a positive response from any of the targeted countries whose NATO ante trump wants enlarged.

Blurring the lines between the fact of North Korea’s continuing and perhaps expanded enrichment of her nuclear arsenal (as reported by U.S. intelligence officials) and trump’s trumpeting North Korea’s commitment to de-nuclearization, while on the surface, may be seen to be merely a different “perspective” on the same evidence, is, conversely, quite the opposite. The facts as uncovered by American officials simply defy the “make-up” the trump pastes over the truth.

Another distortion from the White House is the exaggerated yelling over a mere 2% of the trade with Canada, (supply management), an issue the Canadian government had already agreed to modify in the middle of the NAFTA negotiations. Tariffs of 25% on steel imports and 10% on aluminum imports seems hardly like a “proportional” response.

It is, indeed, the completely disproportionate, disillusioned, distorted and extra-reality response the trump brings to every table where he sits  (and all of it for the express purpose of gilding HIS lily) that so shatters the trust of all others at whatever table. So, on this July 3, 2018, Canadians read stories from legitimate news sources that our cell phones might actually be scrutinized by American border agents, in the unlikely case that we might have read something of the world’s criticism of the trump administration. (How would we possibly have access to world opinion without reading harsh, devastating and truthful criticism of this American administration?)

Conflating and generalizing about the quality of immigrants, asylum-seekers, refugees, colouring them all as potential “threats” to “law and order” is just another of the scripts being trumpeted by this occupant of the Oval Office, arrogantly, and unethically, and immorally and insecurely joining the fear-mongering of other right-wing wall-proponents. And this comes at a time when military conflict, global trade, global warming and exacerbated economic distress threaten poor and voiceless people on every continent. Rather than build walls, and thumb our nose and our compassion at these frightened individuals and families, we could be building creative coalitions to being to address what is surely going to be a wave of tsunamis of people “seeking higher ground” in both the literal and the metaphoric sense of that phrase.

Refusing to face the basic facts, and then distorting those facts into a thalidomide-distortion of those facts, in order to justify an unjustifiable personal agenda is not in the interest of the country he has been charged with leading, nor in the interest of the wider global community, whose support and collaboration all nations need now and into the foreseeable future to cope with the “monsters” already in the headlights.

American isolation, based on a distorted perception of the reality on the ground, will give way, inevitably, to the creeping incursion of both Russia and China into the cracks trump is generating with his sledge-hammer rhetoric, radioactive proposals and egomaniacal cult-building. Failing to respect and honour the institutions of democracy at home is a sure step to enhancing the replacement of fundamentally democratic governance abroad. Championing tyrants, dictators, military parades, life-long presidencies, one-sided and unbalanced foreign policy, the exaggerated emboldening of the U.S. military (at the draining expense of social programs like education, health care and poverty reduction) puts the president on his own gated island, and puts the rest of the world on edge.

Canadians too, on this July 3, are wondering what meaning and import our “friendly neighbour”, undefended border, open trade and reciprocal and respectful relationship with the behemoth to the south of the last century will become. And we are wondering in a spirit of anxiety, despair, and less hope and optimism than at any time since the second war.

We are sad; we are worried; and we are appalled. Yet, we are also more proud and confident than at any time in our history. The “old” Canada, in the stereotypical version held by millions of Americans, decent, quiet, meek, malleable, and somewhat immature and “pinko” (as Nixon described Trudeau, “that pinko Commie bastard”) is no longer appropriate. And trump is locked into his version of that stereotype…at his own and our peril.

Canada is mature, intelligent, clear-headed and somewhat better at debate and discussion than at making big decisions, preferring an evolutionary and moderate pace to change (with a few notable exceptions, like the FLQ, back in the 1970’s and 80’s).

We have a history of multiple protracted national investigative commissions whose recommendations mostly gather dust in the National Archives. And yet, somehow we manage to confront issues when the need is deemed significant, urgent and immediate. We are diffident in our public debate, honourable in our treatment of our political foes, while in private, we hold often contemptuous views of various leaders and policies.

As a middle-sized nation, (now boasting a population of some 37 million), locked between the Arctic and American elephants, we no longer get a cold when the U.S. sneezes, as was once the case. Nor do we consider hard power, the military and the penal system to be our primary adjudication processes, at home or around the world. And while we have a legacy of indecent treatment of our indigenous peoples, we have finally awakened to our responsibility and have begun to atone. Hockey, our national sport, (not lacrosse) demonstrates many of our national attributes, attitudes and values: discipline, persistence, a little “chippy” and highly energetic…

So, please do not take your northern neighbour for granted, as many of your more affluent citizens have done for decades. Smaller is not less than equal…and you are going to learn the full meaning of that soon if you have not already!