Thursday, July 19, 2018

Reflections on world "citizenship"


There is something startlingly unrealistic in thinking and then imagining a world in which the shared interests, needs and issues of all people might be considered and answered by institutions that are free of racial rancor, religious bigotry, fiscal plutocracy and superiority, political narcissism and denial of global warming and climate change.

It is a spectre to which the world as we know it will never even aspire, never mind attain. Where then are the seed of hope that might be planted to begin to germinate such a geopolitical, planetary seedling of a embryo that future generations could then nurture and develop?

Two roots of human development, outside of the genetic pool, remain open for enhancement: parenting and education. The first, while primarily private and exclusive to the biological parents of newborns, is nevertheless a relationship (not merely a job, role, set of skills, task or responsibility) for which most people of child-rearing age are woefully unprepared, untutored, and are even badly modelled.

Based on our parents’ examples, we all bear the scars of wounds, deprivations, exaggerations, fears, bigotries and negative animus from our time in our family of origin. That is not a simply “poor me” victim statement. It is an observation that most adults can and do make, after they have had children of their own. Our parents’ time and generation were simply uninformed of many of the important and often nuanced perspectives and information and expectations that come from an evolving and developing body of research, experience, and new ways of communicating, travelling, sharing and opposing. And while history has a way of informing and contextualizing their values and perspectives, it also has a way of  fossilizing those very attitudes, beliefs and biases. And no matter how defiantly we struggle to rid ourselves of the negative impacts of those influences, they have a tendency of lingering and popping up when we least expect them to. In fact, the more strenuous our attempt to eradicate those influences, paradoxically, the more they cling to our psyches and show up in our own lives.

Fortunately, there are no “bleaches” and no sanitizers, and no microbial soaps to launder the biases from our minds. There are also no churches, no schools, no books, no hospitals or doctors that can erase the negative impacts of our fears, neuroses, anxieties and bigotries. So, we are left with our own unique cluster of what our parents might have called ‘shades of meaning and value’ that we now experience as limiting, narrowing repressing and sabotaging.

The question then is how to “manage” (such an inappropriate word in this context) or “tickle” or “wear” or ……our self-sabotaging biases!

Some may even ask, “Why should I have to manage them?  After all, they are an integral part of my identity!”

If we are going to continue to commit to a more equitable, more just, more humane and more compassionate and more collaborative world community, then those biases that inflame our passions, provoke our wars both civil and territorial, prompt our destructive and parasitic tendencies will need some curtailing. And before they can or will be curtailed, they have to acknowledged, especially if and when they create unnecessary ruptures in our relationships, both personal and professional, as well as geopolitical.

The proverbial “cat-fights” between the Hatfields and the McCoys, or between the Catholics and the Protestants, between the whites and the blacks, browns and yellows and reds, between the rich and the poor, between the educated and the non, between the scientists and the artists, between the visionaries and the historians….while all comprise a significant set of volumes in the library of human history, (and also prompt significant and revealing debates, new insights and new directions) need some kind of separation from the global threats that all “tribes” are now facing.

Previously, humans were either unaware of what was happening on the other side of the globe, or they were peripherally and superficially conscious that “something” might be happening that was ‘not good’….resulting in deaths, mamings, injuries, starvations or even epidemics. Today, everyone has access to such information in real time. And consequently, none of us can claim ignorance, insouciance or a freedom from responsibility for any of it. When young girls are abducted in Nigeria, we are all appalled. When pedestrians are mowed down on French streets, we are all mowed down. When refugees drown on beaches in the Mediterranean, we all experience a kind of drowning. And if we don’t because we have become immune from the sheer onslaught of the repetition of these movies, then there is an even greater impulse to rid ourselves of these preventable tragedies.

Just as individuals cannot erase their biases, so too individuals and groups cannot eliminate their ideological, religious, ethnic biases. However, what we can do is to begin a long..very long and protracted process of reducing our shared dependence on a number of options that currently operate a centre stage of our public lives, in the global public square. Among these are:

·        The zero-sum option
·        The myth that tells kids never to turn from a punch, from a bully, or from a threat….there are many options here including counting to ten or a hundred, finding a third party mediator, helping young children to see the “plank” in their own eye, before magnifying the speck in the other’s eye…
·        Mount community initiatives to teach/learn about the world view of people from different backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities
·        Participate in welcoming immigrants, new-comers, refugees and asylum-seekers into the local community
·        Urge community clergy to adopt collaborative community projects that demonstrate collaboration, as an normal and ordinary reality, not only on radioactive days like 9/11
·        Urge broadcast outlets, like TVO, PBS, Netflix, HBO to develop documentaries and films that expose diverse audiences to different cultures
·        Urge international agencies like the UN, the Clinton Foundation, Gates Foundation and others to target the development of cultural films, documentaries and digital media options opening the world to unfamiliar cultures…this kind of initiative is just as important as the eradication of AIDS, poverty, ebola and other epidemics.
·        Petition various world religious organizations to facilitate the preparation and dissemination of learning opportunities from diverse global locations and cultures
·        Read and talk around the dining room table about “how the rest of the world lives”…as a normal subject for family discourse
·        Help our children link with a pen-pal (facebookfriend, et al) with a peer from a distant country
·        Petition school boards and principals to develop student exchange opportunities at the secondary school level, in both public and private boards
·        Adopt fund-raising activities to support student travel, especially to parts of the world currently under-represented in the local community
·        Host an exchange student, (through Rotary International, or another reputable philanthropic agency) and inquire about his/her culture and habits
·        And then there is the option of inclusion of formal, traditional debating/seminar strategies and tactics, beginning at a early stage of elementary school, including local team competitions, honing the skills, but also planting the seeds of normalizing this kind of discourse among young children.
·        Introducing Moot Court opportunities, including both the gathering of evidence, and the presentation of witnesses, as another foundational post in the curricular development swath that could sweep across both the developed and the developing world. Include the deployment of FACETIME and SKYPE to facilitate cross-continental competitions, after securing both governmental and corporate sponsorship.

Naturally, all of these ‘ideas’ are directed to enhancing a global perspective in each and every town and city on the planet. Educators, especially those with vision, ambition and creative courage could be at the heart of such an initiative, in addition to their duties to prepare students for twenty-first century jobs. The short-sighted and highly charged political goal of “job training” risks serving the other highly charged political goal (again a race to the bottom) of reducing unemployment ranks, to justify the politicians’ re-election.

The media reporter cadre, too, has a pivotal role in how it “covers” racial conflict, jerrymandering to curtail voting opportunities, and the normalizing of cataracts of cash manipulating all electoral processes. They also have a significant role in whether and how they treat criminal activity…especially since the reduction of stories about crime mostly focus on the events and the charges and the sentences. Leaving out the details of the lives that have become derailed long before the specific crime was committed, is just another way of imposing a dangerous and somewhat violent reduction on the name and person charged and convicted and sentenced. We have to begin to think about crime differently. Previously, in this blog, I quoted one of the more ignorant and dismissive observations of a former neighbour when speaking about crime: “Well, all crimes are committed by the same 2% of the population, and that’s not going go change!”

Just another instance of a “developed culture” fixating on the superficial symptom, without digging into the root causes, as part of our shared aversion to the mundane and boring activity of “prevention”. And we already know that prevention, while costing more up front, would significantly reduce costs in the long run. Not incidentally prevention would also restore lives that otherwise would be effectively terminated in some jail cell, or a coroner’s morgue.

Superficial understanding is frankly an oxymoron. And when we link a superficial understanding with a transactional modus operandi as the “norm” we risk undermining both the purpose and the sustainability of our institutions, our traditions and our collective futures.

Schools, families, and of course, private corporations, now stretching their arms and legs around the globe, to take every advantage of every single loophole, and every single human being desperate enough to accept less than human working conditions, wages, safety, and environmental protections, are potential sources of creative energy, in the pathway to generating global citizens, global strategies and tactics for the survival of as many people as is feasible to support. Short-term greed, for lining the trust accounts of investors, is another “good business” oxymoron. It is simply incompatible with the larger, long-term interests of the planet and its people.

Economies that people have to serve have turned upside-down the preferred “economies that serve the people” perspective. And so long as we have people like trump and, more recently in Ontario, Mr.Ford, a Northern echo of the monster south of the 49th parallel, opting out of carbon pricing, taking the federal government to court, opting out of all green energy projects inaugurated by the previous government, we know that their economy will serve their “political interests” especially their cheque-writers. (Already trump has raised a reported $88 million for his 2020 re-election campaign! Imagine the caravan of tractor-trailers that will be needed to transport the final tally to the bank when the totals are calculated!)

If we are to begin to rid ourselves of our biases, we will also have to learn to express whole truths, and not depend on half-truths. Just yesterday, I heard a talking head columnist from the Washington Post say obviously ironically, “trump has a slight disability when it comes to recognizing and telling the truth!”

Say what? Is this politically correct speak for “trump is a pathological liar”?

Straight talk is the only way to express clear thought. And without clear thought and straight talk we are all somewhat imperiled. And it is not only people like trump and putin who prevaricate.

It is an epidemic among people under thirty, who, if and when they screw up, immediately deny, blame another or ignore their mis-step. (Of course, atr generalization that has not been tested in formal research! It is an intuitive guestimate, begging for empirical verification.

As Obama pointed out in South Africa, speaking at the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Mandela words to this effect: social media was once predicted to be a force for solidarity, learning and the growth of the human condition and yet it has become an instrument for lies, division and propaganda. If we can listen to such prophetic voices with our own commitment for a world committed to its own hope and survival, then, presumably, we can “go higher” in all of the connotative applications of those words from Michelle Obama.

Contemporary leaders have staked out for themselves the “low road” that serves only their narcissistic needs and desperations.

Surely we can do better than this.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Time to re-invent global governance


The definition of “peace” has expanded from the absence of military confrontation to include the reduction, amelioration and possibly elimination of the root causes of social, political and military conflict.

Naturally, limiting nuclear weapons while working toward their elimination, on the same rationale as justifies the prohibition of chemical, biological weapons of mass destruction is a first priority. And this is an issue, like many others, which cannot be satisfied through mere “lip service”; it requires an almost daily monitoring to keep it on the front burner of all political actors of all ideological stripes. And as with other shared global issues, it demands the endorsement, monitoring and even the policing of international agencies. And, in turn, that points to the decline in the relative influence of the United Nations, the World Court, the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization. The Paris Climate Accord is sadly a voluntary accord, without the kind of teeth that would seek, expect and require compliance, including sanctions for non-compliance.

In order to establish a “world perspective” among municipal, provincial and state politicians, local media, and local school boards have to start thinking about how to integrate significant news on a daily basis from around the world. And the enhanced circulation of the daily DOW and NASDAQ numbers does not qualify as satisfying that benchmark. The old adage “all politics is local” has to be injected with the single steroid that “local now includes the planet”. While there are a few issues that require specific local expertise, we have both the means and the need to access best practices from sources around the world, to help us design strategies and tactics for our local situations.

And, in order to facilitate that new approach, a differentiation between the what and the how of our political decisions is relevant. Let’s examine a few of the issues faced by all local, regional, provincial and national governments:

·        We all face a surfeit of garbage and those mountains are going to continue go expand
·        We all face a need for clean water, sewage treatment plants, desalination capacity, lake, river and ocean restoration
·        We all face the impact of the tech revolution, including its impact on school curricula, employment planning and training, employment displacement
·        We all face rising global temperatures, and the implications of our dependence on fossil fuels, not only for manufacturing and transportation, nobut also for a plethora of conveniences and especially packaging
·        We all face growing poverty, as evidenced by the widening gulf between the have’s and the have-not’s, linked to a rising river of refugees that knows no borders, no harbours and no collaborative strategies to accommodate it
·        We all live in jurisdictions where the laws lag far behind the capacity and speed of technology to invade and compromise personal, organizational, governmental and national security
·        We all face a welter of mixed messages about the state of our world, requiring a level of profound literacy skills that sorts the “wheat from the chaff” and makes “meaning” out of the chaos served by multiple completing sources, both individual and organizational. This also impacts our shared need and obligation to equip citizens to discern and to interpret reality in a manner that holds public servants much more accountable than currently.
·        We all face instability with respect to global economic forces, trade trends and practices, animated by a growing cabal of affluent, greedy and heavily armed with both lawyers and accountants, who can and do ferret gazillions of dollars out of reach of national revenue agencies, thereby depriving the public accounts of their legitimate contributions.

·        We all face a growing need for the proverbial safety net, including assistance with food and prescription acquisition, access to affordable quality health care and creative and pro-active strategies to enhance human dignity, the motivation to work and to commit to life-long learning, and to participate in stable domestic relationships
·        We all face a cultural indoctrination that renders every human being a “means” (or widget) in the plans, strategies and plans of large corporations, governments, and even not-for-profits…and this reduction’s embedding in the mind-set of all authority in the culture demands a significant shift away from the commodification of what it means to be human.

·        Another cultural meme concerns our concept of time, driven by an instantly responsive and addictive technology, market systems that are highly reactive to the most miniscule hiccup (political, economic, trade, climate, military or terror)
This list is easily extended to include many more.

Yet, the more important aspect of the shared “issues” is that responsibility for each and everyone is unable to be contained within national, provincial or civic borders. There is quite literally no legitimate way to ascribe responsibility for air and water pollution, for the global income gaps, the penchant for violence as the preferred means of pursuing justice, the greed and profiteering among international mega-corporations, the invocation of radical interpretations of various religious dogmas, and the tidal wave of “strong-men” leaders and the twisting of the digital media into instruments for hate, lies defamation and propaganda.
 
 What’s more the political institutions in both developed and developing nations that currently stand as our “protection” and our “defense” and our “hope” for our shared future remain closeted within very narrow confines. Those confines, based on history, tradition, custom, culture and various sets of laws seem intractable to a world that is so changed as to be unrecognizable to those who wrote those laws and established those traditions and developed those cultures. In a word, our current and evolving reality has far outstripped the capacity of our national and the few beleaguered international institutions to cope. And the gap between what existing laws and institutions can and will accomplish and our shared and growing need for relevant, applicable and cross-border covenants to address these many issues grows daily.

The income gap, while extremely serious, is even more significant as a metaphor for what “we” (the citizens of the world) are prepared to tolerate, endure and attempt to withstand, fully aware that this gap, by itself, is unsustainable. Access to clean water, air and land, education, access to healthy food, access to quality health care, freedom from violence from domestic, state and non-state actors, access to work with dignity, the right to vote and participate in public debate in some form  of citizen-activated governance and personal and public safety and security…..these, while being a minimum requirement and legitimate expectation of all sustainable cultures and the individuals living within those cultures are nevertheless also a list of the deprivations to which most humans are subjected…and they are subjected to such conditions with impunity.

Those responsible will throw an array of excuses for not aggressively delivering  such a bare list of “doables”. Cost, human resources, history,  the laws, the traditions of our ‘tribe’…the expectations of our people, the silence of the people in demanding such “perks” (and what reasonable thinking person would consider them perks?) International habits, focusing on national sovereignty, is another of the limiting if not precluding factors.

National sovereignty, that mantra to which more and more “white supremacists” and “populists” are resorting, like “free speech” has to be limited, circumscribed and restricted in a deliberate and permanent manner, a manner to which all nations are prepared to subscribe. And that has to be one of the more naïve and ephemeral and utopian statements every to be committed to type.

There is a clear difference between tribal culture, ethnic culture, linguistic culture, religion and food and entertainment culture on the one hand, and national sovereignty on the other. And there is no reason why the surrender of a limited, and equal degree of national sovereignty, for the benefit of the whole planet, should limit the growth and sustainability of unique cultures. Surely national boundaries can encompass many indigenous cultures, provided that a starting point is a deep and articulated respect for those unique indigenous cultures. And this perspective, while shifting some of the prevailing premises of how nations formed and developed, merely opens to the new realities of the world’s changing capacity to communicate, to research, to support and to envision new ways of doing things in the public square.

As a free-lance journalist, covering a city government in a small town in northern Ontario, I was frequently dismayed with the response I received, invariably, when I asked a municipal politician a question like: “Have you or the city staff checked into how other northern Ontario towns and cities have addressed ‘this’ issue?” After that “blank” look swept overt their faces, screaming, “What are you talking about?” or “How dare you suggest such an approach?” they usually demurred to a whispered “No”!

Provincialism, parochialism, isolationism, are, none of them, attributes of a healthy, growing and motivating and stimulating communal culture. They are, rather, severe limits to possibilities and potentialities. A typical example, also from a northern Ontario family:

A young adult son speculates in the kitchen of his family home, before his parents, that he hopes to attend medical school to become a family practitioner. Astounded, his mother immediately retorts, “You can’t do that! We are not that kind of people!” Whatever she intended, that young man remembered her words, accepted her limiting psychological (and irrational) circumscription and retold the story as a verbatim in his mid-sixties, after graduating with his doctorate in Family Relations.

Conflict, comparisons, judgements, and a vain attempt to “sign” every aspect of our lives, as public servants and politicians is a sure path to a downward spiral and even more darkness. We have to rethink the way we do politics and public service away from self-aggrandizement and back to attempt to serve the legitimate needs of the public. Domains of specialists, while appropriate in the operating room of major hospitals,  university labs and lecture halls and court rooms, is a false equivalence if and when applied to the public square. We, the ordinary citizens, cannot afford to permit the “specialists” to decide all public decisions, lest we all fall into the trap currently gripping the United States, a total rejection of what the hinterland calls the “effete” snobs, their evaluation of the “rule by snobs”. And just look at what they  grasped on to, as their choice of replacement…an iconoclast who probably does not even grasp the damage he has done and will continue to inflict, pending the self-emasculation of the Republicans, caught in the web of preserving their political status and careers.

None of the this is rocket-science; even the most casual observer can pick up the clues. However, it is going to take some “electric jolt” for the global political culture to awaken to the reality that superficial, short-term, narcissistic and ultra-nationalistic ideologies, policies, promises, campaigns and restrictive laws are, taken together, a recipe for disaster.

The wisdom, the history, the patience and the “circle” of indigenous people, fully conscious and practicing a collaborative spirituality with the planet, can still serve as a beacon to which to turn our shared political compass, in our “shared” attempt to pass successfully through this very deep and truth-defying fog, of a new kind of war. In every country, indigenous people have suffered the slings and arrows, the rubber and loaded bullets, the disparaging taunts and the outright character defamation that make that eminently suited to provide leadership out of the slough of racism, poverty, discrimination, the loss of hope and the deprivation of their languages and culture. Will we invite them to lead us out of our own darknesses, blindnesses, hubris and complacency? If we can make the even the binary choice for “life” and all of its bounty, over death and all of its multiple threats, we can win this new ubiquitous conflict for survival.

This is a war that is effectively, like a scheming and toxic fungus or tumor, eroding the very body politic of the globe. It is a war based on selfish, narrow, frightened and narcissistic private (including racial, tribal, ethnic, and even religious) interests and motivations.

Human rights, are not restricted to rights under the law: they must include the right to breathe, to drink clean water, the right to access education, health care and work with dignity and the right to live in safety and security in one’s rightful place. And, if the laws are slow to embody them, then the laws have to change, And if the people responsible for the laws are not prepared to pass such reasonable and sustainable and pro-active law, in the best interests of their “constituents” then those people have to be replaced.

And a somnambulant, insouciant, detached, disengaged, self-declared victim populace is in not condition to take such spinal, and vehement and self-supporting activist steps.

As Pogo reminds us, “we have met the enemy and he is us!”

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 naïve 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.