Thursday, February 20, 2020

#51 Men, agents and pathway to cultural metanoia (Hymn to the human spirit!)


In his highly treasured and vilified work, 12 Rules for Life, An Antidote to Chaos,* Jordan Peterson posits a reasonable, even insightful notion, in the overture:

I suggested (in the earlier work, Maps and Meaning) that our ancestors portrayed the world as a stage—a drama—instead of a place of objects. I described how I had come to believe that the constituent elements of the world as drama were order and chaos and not material things.
Order is where the people around you act according to well-understood social norms, and remain predictable and cooperative. It’s the world of social structure, explored territory, and familiarity. The state of Order is typically portrayed, symbolically—imaginatively—as masculine. It’s the Wise King and the Tyrant, forever bound together, as society is simultaneously structure and oppression.
Chaos, by contract is where—or when—something unexpected happens. Chaos emerges, in trivial form, when you tell a joke at a party with people you thing you know and a silent and embarrassing chill falls over the gathering. Chaos is what emerges more catastrophically when you suddenly find yourself without employment, or are betrayed by a lover. As the antithesis of symbolically masculine order, it’s presented imaginatively as feminine. It’s the new and unpredictable suddenly emerging in the midst of the commonplace familiar. It’s Creation and Destruction, the source of new things and the destination of the dead (as nature, as opposed to culture is simultaneously birth and demise.
Order and chaos are eth yang and tin of the famous Taoist symbol: two serpents, head to tail. Order is the white, masculine serpent; Chaos, its black, feminine counterpart. The black dot in the white—and the white in the black—indicate the possibility of transformation; just when things seem secure, the unknown can loom, unexpectedly and large. Conversely, just when everything seems lost, new order can emerge from catastrophe and chaos.
For the Taoists, meaning is to be found on the border between the ever-entwined pair. To walk that border is to stay on the path of life, the divine Way. (Peterson, op. cit. ppxxvii-xxviii)

While I take no issue with the inferences, drawn by Peterson, I wish to draw attention to the notion that Order and Chaos are traditionally and symbolically represented as masculine and feminine respectively. Literature, art, dance, religious liturgy are all vehicles of the symbolic language of any culture. In this space, previously, I argued that men, historically, traditionally, predictably and almost “naturally” penned, designed, conceptualized, designed and “poured” the metaphoric concrete of the foundation of western culture. And it is that masculine foundation, based on a masculine intellect, a masculine imagination, and masculine political and economic and religious concepts that contemporary western culture is still attempting to unravel. Thousands of years on, in the twenty-first century, we no long are bound to ascribe to this application of gender roles to Yang and Yin.

Order, for example, is clearly not the sole or even the primary purview of men, nor is chaos the sole or primary purview of women. In fact, we are not only capable, but we are compelled to think outside this symbolic, poetic, imaginative, box. And the implications of holding fast to the original assignment of gender to Order and Chaos continue to haunt not only our culture generally, but more specifically, these stereotypes continue to haunt our symbolic configurations of masculinity and femininity.

Men, while bigger and stronger physically, and louder verbally, can no longer be either reduced to or depicted as the carriers of, the originators of nor the custodians of order. It is the premise that God is also masculine that comes out of this metaphysical conceptualization. And linking the masculine God to those three universally known concepts, omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence, has contributed to many of the misunderstandings of contemporary western culture.

It is argued here that this Order/masculine and Chaos/feminine as symbolic presentations, originated and perpetuated primarily by men, stands as a significant psychological, philosophical, political, and ethical barrier on the road to what is a much more salutary set of symbols: androgyny, in all of the arts, and in education, and in our political vernacular. And androgyny is also to be considered symbolically, metaphorically, rather than, as more and more parents are considering, refusing to assign a gender to their newborn child. We need not ascribe to, nor have forced upon us, a specific pronoun designation for a specific person’s gender preference. Humans, including the whole range of LGBTQ persons, perhaps especially that population, are more than capable of the cultural, imaginative metaphoric identification of forces such as Order/Chaos as both masculine and feminine.

It is not only feasible to imagine a culture in which such symbolic, literary and artistic and even spiritual/religious symbolism embraces an androgynous deity, as well as an androgynous Order, and also an androgynous Chaos. Let us not be impounded by the very real and highly significant symbol and reality of nature that women only can and do give birth. Let us, as many have already, explode the notion of birth to include new creations in all fields of human endeavour. It is our reductionistic empirical, scientific notion that new “discoveries” in the lab, for example, do not ‘rise’ to the metaphoric heights as a Bernstein symphony. And, even, when pondering the language of symbols, both Order and Chaos represent a unique highlighting of what some consider the sine-qua-non of nature and human existence, a perpetual conflict/tension/between these two forces. Is that the fundamental notion of the drama of human existence?

Is love part of the Order side of the equation, or is it exclusively assigned to the Chaos side of the equation? Is beauty uniquely and exclusively consigned to Order, or to Chaos? Is death exclusively to be assigned to the Chaos side of the equation? The emphasis on conflict, suffering, pain, and the inevitable notion of competition between the forces of Order and Chaos posits a symbolic representation certainly of those lobsters, and birds to which Peterson makes reference.

However, implicit in the Order/Chaos symbolism is a kind of external war of forces, thereby rendering human existence, at least in the abstract, to the drum beat of this application of physics to human existence. Are we, humans, little more than pawns on the chessboard of Order/Chaos?

Or course, readers will immediately jump to the notion that these words are merely another tilting at ‘the windmills of my mind’ that only distract from the much more cogent, relevant, academic, cognitive and professional point of view of the renowned psychology professor. Caring notions of good sleep, healthy diet, erect posture with shoulders back, and taking care to mount the presentation of a confident, self-respecting, human individual, while reckoning with the powerful forces that impinge on the diligent attempts at living a life worth living, and warding of ancillary assaults from bullies…these are all positive, productive, appropriate and readily easily comprehended and applied pieces of supportive guidance. And Peterson deserves the millions of adherents, disciples and students he has amassed over the last few years.
At a time when we are all being bombarded with highly attractively presented evidence of the range of biological, psychological, neurological, anatomical/gastronomic research findings about our human bodies, and the volcano of chemical concoctions that are designed to address specific maladies, (along with triggering a plethora of serious side effects), resisting a biological/physics kind of orientation to the complexity of being a human and living a fulfilling, purposeful and creative life may seem somewhat if not fully quixotic.

Nevertheless, it is to the quixotic that some have deferred, not merely seeking solace and refuge from the onslaught of “chaos” but more imaginatively, to search for and to grasp, if ever so briefly, a higher calling.

Imitating lobsters, or territorial birds, or even voracious and scavenging wolves is hardly a model I seek to emulate except perhaps to strengthen my honourable ‘warrior’. Jon Meacham, U.S. presidential historian, whose book, The Soul of America, ponders what life might be like were Americans (and citizens of other countries) to follow their better angels. Angels, whose character, precociousness, strength, and capacity to discern Order from Chaos, seem to offer a much more ‘poetic’ and perhaps even idealistic image on which to hitch are highest aspirations, our most ambitious and life-giving imaginative journeys.

And angels, like humans, cannot and will not be reduced to any of the various anatomical, physiological, or even cognitive capacities, categories, and processes rendered so eminently and unambiguously, when dissected into either or both microscopic slices or binary numerals.

It is to the human spirit, including the pre-eminence of the soul, including the unconscious, the biography, and even such unscientific features likely disdained by the academic community as ‘presence’ and personhood and aura and for some even colouring that we are committed to underscoring. And it is the human spirit that cannot and will not respond to an equation of finding the boundary between Order and Chaos.
In fact, as Henri Nouwen so succinctly put it in reviewing his tenure at Notre Dame university, in words to this effect:

I spent much of my time preparing lectures, reviewing papers, attending meetings, and when I look back, it was those times when I was completely interrupted in which I found the most meaningful experiences.

States of silence, solitude, reverie, creative and tremulous dreams and nightmares, dark nights of the soul, and reflection….these are not reducible to Order or Chaos, nor can they be disassociated from either of them. They extend far beyond the intellectual, imaginative, and psychological boundaries and definitions of Order and Chaos, where much of life is found.

And similarly, masculinity, femininity too cannot and will not succumb to the intellectual, academic, philosophic, “mapping” even if those maps are generated as a way to find meaning.

I neither want nor know of any map pointing out directions to meaning and purpose. Being, that Heideggerian notion of all of life, as distinct from A Being, wrestles with ontology, the nature of being, is a philosophic concept debated, dissected and discussed for centuries, without final conclusions. And perhaps what I am arguing here is that humanness, too, is beyond human comprehension, intellectual grasp, and psychic management, however worthy is the attempt to wrestle with it.

And, if that position echoes Chaos, from the Peterson perspective, I accept that. However, even under the rubric of Chaos, I continue to plod only somewhat aimlessly, and somewhat purposefully, in the deep perception and even belief that I rejoice in the prevailing assumption that I am not and never have been nor ever will be in control of my person, my circumstances, even my perceptions. And what is more, there is no genius, regardless of his or her domain of expertise, who can or will unpack the essence of any of our persons.

All of the multitude of attempts to gain intelligence, facial identity, societal surveillance, and thereby national or international security are fortunately fraught with a hubristic premise that “control” is both worthy of pursuit and attainable by some various authorities, whether they be state or private.

Not only will they never succeed; never should they. And all of the increasingly sophisticated and even now out-of-control devices that attempt to measure human motivations, thoughts, feelings, beliefs and dreams, are more examples of the kind of “belief” in thinking that we can “know” how to predict, plan, and organize our existence, as a sign of our superiority, among the other creatures in nature.

Even the ideal of androgyny, as a guiding principle, merits serious scepticism, for it alone will not offer any kind of utopia, or even necessarily a more peaceful and sustainable world. Nevertheless, extricating our symbolic representations from reductionistic identifications with “man” and/or “woman” would be one first step toward a world view that begins to appreciate how the pursuit of personal, and political/economic power, for its own sake, as the satisfaction of meaning and purpose, so championed and revered by millions of men and women, is by definition self-defeating. Not incidentally, it is also a sure path to succumbing to the several existential threats we all face.

Relinquishing our clutching, clinging, knuckle-bending hold on dominance, even if it contravenes patterns in nature, can only begin to offer solace, release, and potential comfort from the illusion that our clinging makes us more safe and secure. Admitting our deepest fears, together, is a sign of our collective and collaborative maturation, and then re-evaluating their potential as gifts and threats simultaneously, could conceivably moderate our dependence on pain and anxiety meds.


*Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life, An antidote to Chaos, Random House Canada, 2018

Friday, February 14, 2020

#50 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Letter to Dad)


Dear Dad:

Although you have been gone for some twenty-plus years, your memory not only lingers, it keeps reminding me of your wonderful wit and empathic sensibility, as well as your struggles to cope with some of the turbulences in your life. While I am deeply grateful for your many unrelenting kindnesses, support, encouragement and presence, I am also profoundly sad that, like so many men, in your generation and also in ensuring generations, you experienced a kind of personal, cultural gagging, a repression of your own needs, aspirations, desires and opinions.

Naturally, while every man’s experience of his personal “withholding” is different, conditioned by factors unique and individual, there is a collective similarity to their identity, their roots and their implications for generations of young men who follow you.

Your work life essentially defined you, given your full and unsullied commitment to the “hardware store” you managed for so many decades. Your invoices, “extended” on the dining room table, for so many nights, and the stoker furnace, whose hopper you so diligently filled each Sunday after church during those long cold winter months, are just some of the detailed memories of your diligence, your responsibility and your graceful ease in that role.

The oft-repeated chant from your summer customers, “Where’s George?” announced the date, immediately following the Victoria Day holiday, of the  opening of the real retail season that kept the business open and successful. There can be little doubt that at least 75% of all retailers in our little town did at least 75% of their annual sales from May 24th until Labour Day. It was a cliché known to every ‘native’ to the town, that, after Labour Day, anyone could shoot a cannon down Main Street, without disturbing a single soul. The ‘head’ of Black Diamond sports manufacturing, the namesake of the T. Eaton store in Toronto, the manager of the Iron City club and island are just some of the people whose aura and curiosity sought you out, for their “vacation home” tools, fishing gear and occasionally their fine china gifts. I also recall echoes of the name Tommy Tweed, the Canadian actor, in reminiscences you shared with your family at summer feasts on Georgian Bay.

The series of regular and anticipated dinner guests in our home included the Glidden Paint representative, Harley Taylor, of North Bay, the starting pitcher of the North Bay Garland Pepsi’s in the Ontario fastball league. It was Harley Taylor, who after winning the Ontario championship, ordered his championship jacket in my size, when I was only ten, and delivered it when he came to dinner. A grey melton ¾ jacket, with bright red leather sleeves, and chenille lettering, the surprising gift was one of my prize possessions, throughout my childhood. Ernie Halpenney, the sales representative from White Hardware, now shuttered, also lived in North Bay. A veteran of the first world war, he offered a few glimpses of his war experiences in later years, when I was teaching there, as part of my search for information about how veterans experienced that conflict. Ross Brown, a fishing tackle company representative, along with the exuberant, even effervescent rep. from Modern Housewares were also fondly recalled dinner guetsts and windows on a wider world to my naïve, somewhat closeted childhood and adolescence in that little town on the Georgian Bay shore.

Only later, while in the summer of my undergraduate years, when I worked for Canada Packers, did the comfort of having listened to and talked with those uniquely and universally optimistic and authentic men emerge almost involuntarily. I already knew how they saw the world, how they considered their customer as an honoured client, how they did not question their capacity to fulfil their assigned tasks. Never once did  I hear the word “quota” that they had to fill even if that benchmark lingered in the back of their minds.

I can still see ‘pictures’ in my mind’s eye of you as you flood the rink in the backyard, with a single light bulb hanging from the clothesline. Your frosty breath is surging from your mouth and nose, in the frozen dry air of a January night in the mid-fifties. In spite of the rock outcrop on the one side of the rink, and the little knoll of ice it refused to surrender, I recall warm and happy memories of the opportunity to test my mettle on those first single-blade skates (as compared with ‘bob-skates’ and their inverted “v” blades). It is not incidental to note that our’s was the only backyard rink in the neighbourhood.

Sadly, I also recall the sleigh that someone borrowed and forgetfully left behind their father’s car in their driveway. As he backed out, he drove over the sleigh, bending the metal tracks and breaking the wooden top and the “X” structure that enabled minor steering. You worked with Eddie Johnston, the blacksmith, in his shop for several evenings to restore that sleigh to working health, without ever uttering a word of complaint to the young boy whose forgetfulness generated the need for the repairs.

At the time ‘your’ store was in the business of selling bicycles, the Raleigh brand, as I recall, you brought home a brand-new maroon bike which I could hardly wait to take from its storage under the back sunroom at the first sign of Spring. And then, in the summer when I had the opportunity to attend Camp Wa-ye-kwa-kana with Robert Bradey, that bike was stolen from our front porch, where I had left it behind the wicker rockers in front of the large living room window. Very shortly after I returned from camp, I recall you brought home a new version, a hybrid with gears. And while I liked the replacement, it really never could compare with the romance, the adventure and the sheer excitement of the original.

Other tactile memories of your person include a splendid gold Oyster watch, a mid-brown camel-hair overcoat, a highly dignified and dignifying fedora and your preference for your slender yet highly valued wardrobe. As walking was one of your preferred Sunday activities, I can recall many trips “around the bridges” (Cascade Street and Seguin Street bridges over the Seguin River) as I rode my tricycle and you and mother trudged along. Often too there were cocker spaniels along for the treck.
Earlier on most Sunday’s, too, I recall sitting in the smallest pew in St. Andrew’s church, when it was time for a hymn. Contrasting mother’s sonorous soprano with your toneless pitch always brought a secret smile to me, yet I never ever considered asking whether you might choose silence over your lame attempt at melody, essentially a monotone. The contrast was not only striking; it was metaphoric of the divergence and cacophony in tone, melody, rhythm and world view between you and mother.

I recall your sitting, along with the other members of the Session of that little church, in the front pews, on those Sundays when communion was to be celebrated, on average once each month. And then, following the consecration, along with those “pillars” of the church, you distributed either or both small squares of white bread and wine from those miniscule cups throughout the congregation. The sterling trays for both still shine, emblematic of an historic ritual, a commemoration and a thanksgiving, for something I found mysterious, and beyond comprehension.

You no doubt recall my decision, at sixteen, to leave the church, following another of the sermons from the Balleymena bigot, Reverend Robert Crooks, whose visceral hatred of anything Roman Catholic was summed up in his declaration, from that elevated pulpit, “If you are Roman Catholic, you are going to Hell!” And while you never challenged my decision, not even to ask me if I would reconsider, I do recall hearing you depict the four men who joined the church leadership soon after the arrival of the Irishman as the “four just men”…the only words I ever heard from your mouth that even hinted at expressing a negative thought about another human being. Your considered respect for each person, whether neighbour, customer, business colleague, guest, staff under your supervision, athlete on the local hockey teams, continues to radiate through my memory album, counterpoint to the barrage of venom that issued from mother about so many people. And then there was the annual garden we both “spaded” each spring, for the rows of onions, carrots, radishes, lettuce, pumpkins, squash. Blackflies especially in the early evenings were no match for your resistance, nor were the later mosquitoes. And then there are many frames filled with your slightly bent frame and your strong arm and hand reaching out to grasp gently another of the millions of raspberries from the four rows of canes that grew alongside the vegetable patch. Round, cotton sun hats, never a peeked baseball cap, protected your bald head from the sun’s rays.

Only once, I recall, we went golfing together, in my early teens. You had refurbished a few used clubs for my use, including a mashie, on whose shaft you had applied an Elastoplast as surrogate handle. Along with those clubs, you had helped solder an original steel cart in Johnson’s blacksmith shop, painted with silver paint, and sporting two wagon wheels. Although I have no recollection of the kind of score either of us posted, I do recall with considerable sadness, even angst, that we were delayed on the course by several foursomes of American tourists. The delays resulted in our returning home at least an hour after our expected time, for dinner. Not only was this “malfeasance” unacceptable to mother, (we had no cell phones, or any other communication device to call ahead our predicament!), I recall specifically her charge that you were having an affair with my piano teacher, whose brother managed the company store in which you worked.

Not only did I dismiss the charge as ridiculous; I also apparently buried it among other serious marital fractures that culminated in a call for help from you, years later, when I was living and teaching in North Bay. Among some of the other tensions at home, were the many nights when supper would be prepared, and set on the table, without mother accompanying the family to eat. She would have disappeared again, to her privacy and one can only guess her deep, dark, all-consuming thoughts, attitudes and perceptions of anger, depression, and who knows what else. All we really knew was that she had absented herself, just as she did in the middle of the night, apparently following another of the many quarrels you had, only to appear at the top of the stairs, with her bag packed, to ask in her most strident and icy voice, “Are you coming with me, or staying with him?” To which I recall your clear and unequivocal response, “He does not want to have to make that choice!” She finally left, and I am a little vague as to the number of days  of her disappearance. I never knew where she went, nor did I ever hear the matter discussed again.

Another night, in our living room, we heard a knock on the front door, and upon opening it, were greeted by my then Squirt hockey coach, Bert Mortson,  a neighbour from three houses down the street. I happened to be sitting on the stairs that led up straight in front of that door, when I heard him ask permission from both you and mother for me to travel with the team to a hockey tournament in Collingwood. While you remained silent, mother responded, without skipping a breath, obviously not taking a moment to consider the highly valued invitation, at least from my vantage point, “No, John can’t go to Collingwood; he did not win the singing festival last week!” With a curt and courteous thanks, Mr. Mortson departed, leaving a gaping silence, filled by neither the coach nor you.

For these now seventy years, I have wondered, privately and in conversations with others, including therapists, why you were unable, unwilling, or frightened to ask for a pause to reconsider the unilateral, and final decision in that moment. The abandonment I experienced when she left our home for places unknown, and for an undetermined time seemed to be echoed, even replicated, in this moment over the hockey tournament. As I recall vividly, Collingwood had then recently installed what we knew as artificial ice, just like that in Maple Leaf Gardens, and we both knew that our local arena had only “natural ice” whose condition depended exclusively on the prevailing temperature. Of course, I was disappointed, and also confused. Others who have tried to untangle this scenario have also been baffled by its dynamics, including the underlying dynamics of a mother who detested anything to do with sports, and a father whose early life was syncopated with baseball and hockey participation and spectating.

Equally confused, and more than a little frightened, have I been for many decades about what it was that drove you to the basement in the middle of the night, apparently following another of the many “spats” between you and mother whose cacophony had not wakened me. I recall the bedroom door being opened, with the light from the hall pouring in, to hear mother shout, “Get down to the basement right now!” I had no idea why such a provocation was necessary, nor had I any time to inquire. I had no idea what I was about to find when I rounded the corner around the corner of the storage cupboard to face the furnace, the jacket-heater and…only to see you with the .22 pointed at your head, and you standing behind that water heater. “Give me the gun,” I recall saying as calmly as I could. You did, and I have no recollection where I put it, nor any memory of additional conversation about the incident, from that day to this. I do recall, however, asking you a few weeks before you died, if you had anything you wanted to talk about, to which you responded, a simple, “No.”

 Not long after that incident, I recall, as I am sure you do too, a time, mid-day, in summer in the back porch, where mother was ironing. You had been home for lunch and were about to depart through the porch to return to work. Something she said set your volcano off, erupting in a violent thrust of your arm in her direction over the ironing board. As I was sitting in the doorway to your right, noticing the impending and what would obviously be a crucial blow, I jumped up and struck you in the ribs on your right side. I had never then, nor at any time since, struck anyone with my fist. You crumpled to the floor, and limped out the door, down the back steps, and proceeded to walk the mile or so to work. I have never been able to wrap my head around how you were able to get back to work, given your later report that your ribs were broken and you lied to the doctor that you had fallen down those back steps, as the cause of your broken bones.

Violence, and the silence that kept it in the vaults of our memories, deeply hidden from public view, dominated my memories of childhood, along with many hours of practice at the piano, and the occasional drive to a festival competition. On one trip to Huntsville, you may recall, you are I were alone when you asked if I wanted to try my hand at driving on a straight stretch on highway near Utterson. Every time I drive that stretch of road, I still recall the first time, when I was about fourteen, at the wheel of the borrowed Monarch, on that sunny morning. Another moment “sitting beside you” on the back steps, a little later, I remember asking you, “What are we going to do with that woman, my mother?” Your response still rings in my ears, “I really don’t know; I have tried everything I could…you are being raised by hitler and chamberlain, and I am and have been your chamberlain.”

On reflection, I recall a book written in 1960 by CBC reporter James M. Minifie, “Peace-maker or Powder-Monkey: Canada’s Role in a Revolutionary World” when I was starting university, a couple of years after our back-steps conversation. How many times have I gravitated to that title, and your prophetic analysis of our family’s history and dynamics. How does one, or a nation, or an international body, work toward peace? How does one rein in conflict, or even refuse to engage in conflict, as I saw you so many times. I also recall hearing your sister, Eleanor, speaking proudly that she and all the four children in your family never witnessed a conflict between your mother and your father, the kindergarten teacher and Baptist preacher, respectively. How often have I silently not only bemoaned such obvious hypocrisy and repression from your family, but also felt impaled between a parent who espoused peace at any price, until he exploded, and another who incarnated verbal and physical and emotional violence as a preferred weapon.

Who was the more frightened parent, mother whose self-loathing terrified her, or you who feared her outright rejection and abandonment? I really don’t know, and essentially cannot know. I can only continue an apparently interminable pursuit of how these incidents, couched in the context of repeated beatings, also delivered to my sister, twelve years my junior, have impacted my life, and the lives of those whose lives have crossed paths with mine, including three daughters, a divorced spouse and several permanently fractured relationships.

Clearly, I hold all “authority figures” under a microscope of judgement, permitting little if any “grace” for their stupidity, their arrogance, their insecurities or their unjust decisions. I also am known to have “kept my power dry” for decades early in my career, when it appeared to me that compliance was the higher virtue to confrontation.
Finding occasions and outlets for a critical judgement perception, especially focused on the political class, and not excluding the hierarchy in education and in the church, seems more natural than breathing. However, my capacity to criticise, often seering to the bone of the target, has left many wondering at my appetite for power. Ironically, however, my intuition has been so sharpened by my earliest experiences that inauthenticity, like a radar gun, strikes instantly as a sign of apparent politically correct impotence leaving my mouth agape. That's when my “gut” wretches with disgust and my outbursts of anger too often bring reprisals back onto me. If anyone wishes to observe politically correct inauthenticity, hypocrisy, and back-stabbing gossip, look no further than the church. 

And the most recent Republican self-emasculation is only the latest in a long series of men who have lost their spine to a false totem of even more false strength and muscle.

I am both peace-maker and power-monkey, (and many voices in between), raised by both hitler and chamberlain, and often wonder if there are others of my generation who bear the marks of such disparity and evoke the ire and suspicion of so many, involuntarily and unconsciously most of the time.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

#49 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (U.S, campaign)


There are signs, tiny green shoots of new life, emerging among the glacial awakening of many men to our own long-hidden, and even longer-denied depression. Farmers, on the Canadian prairies, for example, after suffering deep and prolonged anxiety, and after causing their spouses considerable fear and angst, have begun to acknowledge their truth: farming, including climate vicissitudes, market forces and unpredictable prices, government trade agreements and tariffs, and the cultural perception that farmers, many of whom follow in the footsteps of their ancestors, are strong, sturdy, silent, resilient and dependable food producers.

Is it partly because of:...
·        small yet significant projects like Bell’s “Let’s talk!” initiative midwinter in Canada,
·        the success of the Kids Help Line,
·        the news reports of suicides among Canadian men,
·        the start-up of the Canadian Association for Equality,
·        the rising incidence of reporting of online teen bullying and resulting suicides among victims,
·        the general malaise among North American adults about global warming and climate change
·        the “gig-economy” in which there are fewer and fewer long-term permanent careers and a string of independent contracts among new workers
·        the displacement of millions of industrial workers
·        the gutting of the labour movement by the combined forces and intentions of both governments and corporations

that many men and women are seeking supportive psychological counsel. For men, however, there is a sign of hope in that finally, real and authentic need is not and cannot be considered unmanly. On the other hand, it is still quite obvious that men in the workplace, tend to bury our emotional and psychic pains, until they are no longer able to be contained.

Last evening CBC’s The National, aired a piece about famers on the Canadian prairies, one suffering so deeply from anxiety and depression that was breaking out in sweats. After cooling him on the floor of their home, his wife rented a hall in Edmonton and invited farmers to come and talk about their problems. Expecting and hoping perhaps for a dozen or so to show up, she was taken aback when the hall that accommodated 400 was filled to overflowing, with men sitting in the aisles. When she asked for a show of hands from those who knew of someone who had taken their own life, nearly all hands were raised, bringing the host to tears. Following the evening discussion, a man who had been shedding tears for the whole time, spoke to the host, “Thank you!” he said. Puzzled, the host asked, “Why?” to which he replied, “For saving my life!”
As evidence of change in the lives of at least one of the farmers who had previously been struggling, one commented that, in addition to meds to help, he had found other ways to deal with those times “when his thoughts go sideways!”

For men to begin to talk about our psychic and emotional pain is a beginning. For other men, including government leaders like trump to eviscerate the security net at the expense of a monstrous percentage increase in the production of nuclear weapons, as his budget sent to Congress this week proposes, along with a substantial cut to the Environmental Protection Agency when the survival of the planet is threatened by rising temperatures, rising sea levels, rising droughts and wild fires, and growing evidence of increased frequency and severity of pandemics works directly counter to the physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual health of men and women in all corners of the round planet we call home.

Are there two different masculinities at war, in an undeclared epic and potentially terminal conflict? Or rather are the two opposing “sides” of all men (and women) everywhere at war in a public show of both profound fear, and exaggerated bravado? Bernie Sanders proposes a significant shift of public dollars from nuclear weapons to collaborative projects to save the planet, while the establishment of the Democratic Party pours contempt on his person, his ideas and his ‘revolution.’ The deep and obvious divide among Democrats, flows like honey over the trump cult that lines up in the rain up to a full twenty-four hours prior to one of his rallies in Manchester New Hampshire, while he pokes his finger in the eye of the opponents, ridiculing, laughing and heaping contempt on their obvious division, not to mention their incompetence over the Iowa caucus results.

One read of the tea-leaves south of the 49th is that the intellectual, sensible, mature, caring and nurturing (including surviving) motif (Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, et al) is at war with the macho, risk-taking, bullying, racist, sexist, homophobic and nationalistic face of a different motif. It is not incidental that men are the primary voices on both sides of the political divide. Men, by our historic nature, have found ways to wage whatever kind of war seemed available. And if there were not already a military conflict, or a domestic face-to-face combat over a woman, or a tribal invasion in a time of scarcity, men, it would seem, would turn our imaginations to some games to demonstrate our avowed “prowess,” our “majesty” and our “invincibility”.

This time, however, it is not enough to debate the finer points of a health care model, nor the finer points of financing post-secondary education, nor the  withdrawal of the United States from international commitments, the United Nations, the Paris Climate Accord. And what seems to be emerging is a potential and feared victory of the hard-power advocates, the bullies, the nationalist racists, bigots, homophobes and the cult riding a wave of campaign cash the would sink the combined treasure-chests of the Democratic candidates, save and except Michael Bloomberg.

In politics, especially following Citizens United, cash is nuclear. If the supply is endless, as it appears to be with both trump and Bloomberg, the media conglomerates will laugh all the way to their respective banks. The “creative” writers, designers, and soft-ware artists will explode their resumes. And the public will swim in a tidal wave of new, highly sophisticated, ads filled with special effects, all designed to get a lever pulled, a paper “X’ed” or a “chad” poked.

Where is the antidote, the emotional psychic and spiritual support for the millions who have already drowned in the industrial collapse? Where is the antidote, the political agenda, that credibly and authentically addresses the individual human, family and community costs of deplorable government decisions, made by men and a few compliant women, to deregulate Wall Street, to permit downsizing and out-sourcing millions of jobs, with tax incentives, the militarization of the American culture and its national budget?

Men, in a short-term grab of power, wealth, status, greed and narcissism have contributed mightily to the current political, cultural, educational and psychic desert that is the United States. And trump is clearly the worst of this model of masculinity.
And he has the support of millions of other little, fragile, insignificant “pip-squeeks” who, in their own way have flogged a union job that filled only a half a day, while demanding a full day’s pay and hiding for the other half, and/or have siphoned millions illicitly from programs designed to help and support genuine need and/or have abused their public trust in the roles and public officials…without so much as a sustained public outcry. And this kind of culture has produced an Attorney General who now is in the direct employ of the president (a conflict not only of interest, but also with the Constitution), a judiciary that is filled with Neanderthal robots named and confirmed by the trump plutocracy in the Senate, a gloating 1% in which 3 people own as much of the American economy as do the rest of the 99%.

 It is not a question of renewed masculinity that will hold the United States back from fully falling off the cliff of its own hubris, but a joint renewal of both men and women of good will and faith and courage to tell the truth. And it is not the happy-hour truths that need to be told. It is rather the hard, dark, shadow truths that have been haunting those famers on the Canadian prairies, and in the city cores of many American cities, and small towns, where alcohol and illicit drugs medicate much of the still-hidden, proudly camouflaged psychic and emotional pain. And the profound irony is that for many American men, angry, despondent, and seeking a large measure of revenge on the ravages of a global economy, the rise of terrorism, the tidal wave of refugees and migrants that threaten “rich” countries, on both sides of the Atlantic, their ‘saviour’ could not and does not care one wit about them as people.

He is interested only in the way the numbers paint a picture of his political, and thereby electoral value: GDP, GNP, new jobs, interest rates, inflation rates, and stock markets’ steeply rising curves. He dreams of a perpetual presidency in his honour. And, there is considerable evidence that his cult will grant his wildest wishes.
So while there are legitimate arguments about how the Democrats need to come together, to find both their passion and their backbone, to find the candidate of their dreams and the vaults of cash to empower his/her campaign, the question of how masculinity, especially a long-ago devilish and self-sabotaging model of masculinity, one that threatens to do in the very nation on whose bayonets, muskets, profits, missiles, bombs, credit-swaps, and so-called Christian religious zeal have produced the political and the cultural cocktail in which this presidential campaign is being cooked will go un-noticed, un-mentioned, under-valued, and under-reported.

And the world will watch as another highly regarded woman, the choice to succeed Angela Merkel, withdraws from the leadership in Germany, and in Norway a 37-year-old woman takes on the head of government in a nation in which the law requires that at least 40% of all town governments must be female.

It is not only time to remove the Republican Senators from their offices in November, 2020; it is also time to acknowledge that a kind of sexism perpetrated by frightened, insecure, men blinded by their own hubris, is laid out on top of the table of the American political debate, along with the blatant, historic racism, sexism, homophobia and touted superiority of the American race generally.

And while complete removal of men who are standing in the way of millions of men and women who struggle not only with paying their bills, but also with a culture that no longer cares that they even exist is not likely or feasible, nevertheless, men have to awaken to our and our fellow men’s hidden and sabotaging fears, anxieties and the pride that represses them.

Will we? Certainly we are able!

Friday, February 7, 2020

#48 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (accountability)


The double poison of masculine emasculation, self-inflicted and societal-inflicted, is a phenomenon that plays out in depressed, withdrawn, repressed and often passive aggressive male behaviour. It also plays out in behaviour of bullies, ‘macho’ Alpha Male exhibitionism. Each stereotype, while only partly an exaggeration, limits the potential positive influence of millions of men on a world starving for creative, sensitive, adaptable, collaborative and disciplined leadership.

It handicaps fathers, husbands, lovers, executives, accountants, lawyers, doctors, scientists, and journeyman labourers. And it helps to injury mothers, wives, fiances, trustees, colleagues and all organizations led by impoverished, emasculated, (especially if they are unconscious or in denial of their own emasculation) and severely “bent” men.

Raised on a cultural, intellectual, political and clearly career diet of “motivating for success” many western men fall victim to the hype. And the monumental propaganda machine(s) that promote this ‘brass ring’ of success for men, funded as it is by the same machine that is attempting to recruit additional generations of acolytes, churns out ever more scintillating, seductive, luring messages of promises of success measured by the only benchmarks it knows, corner offices, stock options, supervisory status, benefit packages, and the keys to the “inner circle” of all of the other “successful” magnets, now numbering both men and women. Preferred “table” status at the preferred dining rooms, preferred key-times at the preferred golf course, preferred parking spaces in the preferred underground lot, first access to corporate perks like entertainment tickets, vacation retreats, and even access to the corporate jet, if available….these are among the menu of envisioned crowns signifying success to the modern man.

However, as was observed as long ago as 1902, by one trained as a physician, writing on the psychology of religion, in his renowned Varieties of Religious Experience,” William James writes these words:

 “take the happiest man, the one most envied by the world, and in nine cases out of ten his inmost consciousness is one of failure. Either his ideals in the line of his achievements are pitched far higher than the achievements themselves, or else he has secret ideals of which the world knows nothing, and in regard to which he inwardly knows himself to be found wanting.” (James, Op. Cit. p 119)
A little further down the page, James summarizes how the world “stamps” each of us every day.

“Failure, then, failure! so the world stamps us at every turn. We strew it with blunders, our misdeeds, our lost opportunities, with all the memorials of our inadequacy to our vocation. And with what a damning emphasis does it then blot us out! No easy fine, no mere apology of normal expiation, will satisfy the world’s demands, but the very pound of flesh exacted is soaked with all its blood. The subtlest forms of suffering known to man are connected with the poisonous humiliations incidental to these results.

And they are pivotal experiences. A process so ubiquitous and everlasting is evidently an integral part of life. ‘There is indeed one element in human destiny,’ Robert Louis Stevenson writes, ‘that not blindness itself can controvert. Whatever else we are intended to do, we are not intended to succeed; failure is the fate allotted. Our business is to continue to fail in good spirits.” (James, op. cit. p 119-120)
Humans, both men and women, struggle in the face of the world’s constant barrage of judgements, put-downs, rejections, alienations, abandonments, and a deeply ingrained perception of what amounts to self-sabotage, as well as a shared, cultural sabotage, sometime conscious, often unconscious.

However, it is not merely the impact of society’s demeaning tendency that encircles each of us; it is also something more ethereal too that rises to the surface of our consciousness, at some point often in late adolescence, or in early adulthood, the existential moment, that moment in which we each realize that our life is, in a word, meaningless. And, further, that if it to have any meaning and purpose, it is our obligation individually, uniquely to put that meaning into it. This,  itself, is another of the rites of passage to which western culture pays little to no attention.

Much has been written about the various rites of passage to which young men are exposed in various cultures, rites from which the North American young men are significantly deprived. Religious rituals, like Bar Mitzvah, Confirmation, circumcision, marriage, continue in some religious communities. Nevertheless, millions of young men never enter into the mysteries of rites of passage, in the secular world where most now live.

The question, then, of not only how to “parent” a young man growing in a culture so addicted to reproducing the “success/happiness” model, but how even to think and reflect on the various under-girding realities that plague millions of what are coming to be known as “lost souls” among men between 18 and 40.

Tough love, that hard-assed masculine form of “berating” sons and nephews by older and “wiser” men, as a part of the “toughening-up” of the next generation, is an approach that has generated considerable angst, even ennui. Williams borrows from professor Ribot, a word coined by Ribot, that merits reconsideration a century after its coining. Williams writes these words:

One can distinguish many kinds of pathological depression. Sometimes it is merely passive joylessness and dreariness, discouragement, dejection, lack of taste and zest and spring. Professor Ribot has proposed the name anhedronia to designate this condition.

Having experienced this dreariness, discouragement, dejection and lack of zest, firsthand, and also witnessed it on hundreds of faces especially of young men I am somewhat troubled by this dynamic phenomenon that could be underlying a number of demographic trends. One such trend is the large number of men who have withdrawn from the workforce in the U.S.; another is the high incidence of opioid use among both young men and women in both countries; another is the drop-out rate of young men from the education system.

Policies, at the urban, provincial/state, and national levels that continue to continue to leave questions of human development to parents and teachers, and the occasional clergy and athletic coach, while tossing fiscal band-aids in the direction of social agencies for which the decision-makers have little first hand consciousness about their roles, and for which those decision-makers place even less value on their work. Turning the transformation of a culture over to its judicial system (as trump is doing by appointing hundreds of right-wing judges) while defunding its public schools (as both trump and Ontario premier Ford are vigorously doing), is a sure path to a spike in anhedronia, even if there are no sociological measuring devices to demonstrate that development.

The question of how a culture, as well as an individual, views evil is another “unplumbed” variable by which to unearth some of the dynamics lying deep in the soil of that culture. Borrowing from Williams again, he writes:

There are some people for whom evil means only a mal-adjustment with things, a wrong correspondence of one’s life with the environment. Such evil as this is curable in principle at least, upon the nature plane, for merely by modifying either the self or the things, or both at once, the two terms may be made to fit…But there are others for whom evil is no mere relation of the subject to particular things, but something more radical and general, a wrongness or vice in his essential nature, which no alteration of the environment, or any superficial rearrangement of the inner self, can cure, and which requires a supernatural remedy. (Williams, op. cit, p. 116-117)

Whether an individual adopts a “sunny” view of his own lot, and of the nature of evil, or a more dour view of both one’s lot and the permanence of evil, a culture too can be diagnosed in a similar manner. Given the recent history of both the U.S. and Canada, it would not be inappropriate to posit that, with the explosion of the prison system in the U.S. and the almost total rejection of remediation, and reconciliation in that system, as compared with the continuing attempts to reconcile prisoners (again mostly male) in Canada, the U.S. has a much more depressed and depressing view of the nature of evil, when compared with the Canadian perspective.

That perspective, including the need for the state to punish, in a state-sanctioned tough love attitude, adds to the reduction of hope among young men and contributes to a cultural perspective of disdainment of the establishment. Add into the mix, especially in the U.S., but Canada is not immune, the existence of deep-seated racism, bigotry, sexism, ageism among law enforcement and the deployment of attitudes of contempt for those seen to be committing evil, (again most male) and the indulgence in personal power to excess, and we can start to see some of the underlying dynamics, not merely of anhedonia, but also of withdrawal, depression, anxiety and the rising rate of male suicides.

We do not need an army of vans hitting the streets of our towns and cities to rescue all those many young men from themselves, and from the rest of us. However, we do need a very different perspective on the nature of evil, as well as on the point at which individual male lives intersect with the body politic.

We can no longer justify, promote and seduce young men with a stereotype of “success” as measured by those perks mentioned above. We also can no longer avoid our collective responsibility for the rise of the forces of radical racism (including religious bigotry, sexism) that continue to plague western culture. Let there be no mistake, the current occupant of the Oval Office is among the leaders fomenting racial, religious, ethnic and sexist language, attitudes, and perversions of integrity among his Attorney General office.

As a man, first, and only later a failed “developer” “reality-tv-host” the American president is portraying the most contemptible attitudes of how power is to be deployed, narcissistically devolving into that old aphorism from the French Revolutions, “L’etat, c’est moi!” as the New York Times so aptly put it.

And his “vision” is not without its religious, fanatic cult: evangelicals like Franklin Graham, have not merely sullied their reputations, and the reputation of the Christian faith by the complicity with this president. The whole hoard of  the religious fanatics on the right have demonstrated their desperate need for and emptiness of their own power, and the empowerment that has formerly been linked to discipleship in the Christian faith. They have become so enamoured, even-infatuated by this charlatan in the straw wig, that they have endangered, along with their Republican Senators who are so frightened and so disempowered by this single person, not merely their faith and the legacy of hope it once promised to adherents. They have also endangered their country, to serve their private, narrow, narcissistic, and literal/reductionistic hermeneutics of scripture.

In the course of their own debasing self-sabotage, they have endangered the lives of millions of immigrants, refugees, and potentially millions of their own countrymen and women through environmental threats and health cuts, not to mention the eventual and undeniable overturning of Roe v Wade as soon as the administration can bring the right case to the Supreme Court.

As official “presider” over the Impeachment Trial in the Senate, My Justice Roberts performed his role with serious dignity. However, if and when a woman’s right to choose comes before his court, there is little doubt among close observers that he will join his right-wing colleagues to overturn, unless the state devolution occurs first.
And let us not forget, that it is mainly men, weak, and unhappy and deeply flawed and insecure men, even and especially those with success written all over the public reputations, who are making decisions on behalf of millions of voiceless men and women.

And the most secretly failed men among us are ultimately the most dangerous, for their’s is an untenable psychic, and faith position of all and they will try to do more than they can or should, alone, or with whatever cult they can attract.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

#47 Men, agents of and pathway to cultural metanoia (Masculine cultural DNA #15)

Benjamin Ferencz was the chief prosecutor at a special Nuremberg trial for Nazi’s who murdered one million Jews outside the gas chambers, mainly women and children on the beaches. A Romanian Jew, refugee, who with his parents travelled in fourth class, “because there was no lower class” on an open crowded deck. In a documentary aired last night on the Documentary channel, we learned of his biography. Raised by his grandmother, following the divorce of his parents, he was  rejected from elementary school because he could not speak English, and then he failed to pass French and Algebra so he frequented French movies to learn the language only to mock his “Parisien, romantic accent” in this bio, When the teacher’s observed to him and his parents that he was “gifted,” they knew nothing about the meaning of that word… “There were no gifts!”. His acceptance at Harvard following his graduation from City College in New York put him among a totally foreign culture of “aristocrats wearing loafers without socks and canoeing on the Charles River.”

His monumental intellect nevertheless attracted others who immediately following the Second War, were engaged in the trials of Nazi war prisoners at Nuremberg. Assigned to dig up evidence, Ferencz found a trove of documentation that implicated many officers in the recorded deaths of a million Jews, for which no trial had been planned or organized. When he approached his superior about the evidence, he was told that the twelve cases that had been planned, along with their assigned legal counsel, left no resources, or Pentagon approval for another trial. “Would he take it on, in addition to his other duties?” Of course!

And so, at twenty-seven, he began serving as the principal prosecutor in a trial held in a court room in the same building in which the indicted men were housed, in the basement. Wandering through the fields outside Auschwitz, he found bone fragments which he picked up and put in his pocket, perhaps as a reminder of the history in which he was now deeply engaged. When the question of who was going to pay for the maintenance of the many Jewish cemeteries in Germany, following the war, and German lawyers objected to having their government cover the costs, Ferencz pulled out the bones from his pocket and retorted, “Ask them why you should pay? It was you who killed them!

A fierce and undaunted, as well as undauntable beacon of the highest of human hope and endurance and the light of the human spirit, Firencz proudly corrected an early hiring American military officer who commented, “It appears that you are sometimes insubordinate!”

“No Sir, you say that I am sometimes insubordinate. I am always insubordinate!”
Following the trials at Nuremberg, Ferencz advocates for and champions, as he continues to do today, the establishment and the endorsement of all nations to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Signing onto the charter on behalf of the United States, as the last act of his presidency in December 1999, Bill Clinton’s bold decision was set aside by his Republican successor, George W. Bush. Consequently, the United States is no longer an active, committed signatory to the court’s charter. Ferencz held firm to his belief throughout his ninety-plus years that only through submitting human conflict, on all of its many levels, to the process of the law, would/could the world rid itself of war, a commitment to which he has dedicated his life. So his work continues so long as his adopted country and others remain outside the orbit, purview and judicial review of the court.

For these last many pages, the words found here have been focused on the nature of masculinity, given the many challenges, stereotypes, expectations, and even shackles into which masculinity has been framed, in all of the multiple meanings of that word, both in the contemporary culture, and, however, briefly and superficially, in history.

Ben Ferencz, as an individual human being so profoundly engaged in righting the evil exposed by the Third Reich, whose leaders pleaded that the Russians were going to take over Germany, thereby justifying both their following the Fuhrer’s orders, and his interpretation of the Russian bear, represents what might be feasible, even able to be envisioned in the imagination of the least altruistic among the men on the planet. An International Criminal Court, supported, sanctioned and funded by the world community, implies a degree of surrender of the power of each of the signatories.

Submitting raw evidence of the most heinous of human behaviour, performed as part of the actions of a state actor, and then having that evidence judged by a tribunal of impartial judges from various nations, literally and metaphorically shines a bead of light into the darkness that currently envelops geopolitical conflicts, threats of conflict, failures of negotiations, accords and treaties, not to mention the growing storm of oligarchy in too many capitals.

Of course, withdrawing into the confines of a nation’s shell, like the proverbial turtles in nature, as the United States, and several European and Asian nations seem to be doing, exhibits the obverse of everything the International Criminal Court represents.

 Isolation,
independence,
nationalism (of a highly narcissistic nature),
transactionalism,
measuring human “value” in terms of wealth, productivity, military might and corporate/executive profit and billionaires,
zero-sum “games” (that provide existential threats to all of humanity)
the death of truth and responsibility as well as the shame that accompanies those burials
these are just some of the winds that swirl across all the continents on the planet.

And underlying all of these forces, it says here, are anxiety, fear, hubris, competition, power-tripping, and the conventional acceptance of what have come to be called norms. Let’s take a closer look at what the world considers normal, in terms of human history and behaviour.

The ambition to amass personal, familial, communal, regional and national power holds a prominent place in the history of our species.

The curiosity to investigate how to find the “achilles heel” in each of our opponents is considered an astute, imaginative, even brilliant piece of strategy in the pursuit of power.

The development of high degrees of competency, skill, even virtuosity in the exercise of those skills that will provide dominance, equated with survival, in the pursuit of personal satisfaction.

The categorizing of all species, and all intellectual disciplines, including the many divergent sub-classes in all disciplines, as a foundational principle for all academic pursuits in the west.

The categorizing of God, god, deity, as one or more of king, healer, prophet, shaman, or hero as a human way to anthropologize this entity reduces the human stretch, search, reflection on a possibility of all ‘archetypes.’

The categorizing of the deity as male is another restricting, confining and indeed insulting reductionism of any and all deities.

The perspective of invincibility, even verging on the immortal, linked with a denial of death and the reflection of its meaning and purpose in human life.

The resistance to seeking help, collaboration, and to sharing vulnerabilities.

The prioritizing of order above chaos, as a guiding principle, while imitating some of what we call ‘nature’ excludes much more of ‘nature.’

The prioritizing of ‘making a living’ and all things pragmatic, responsible and mature above pursuits of imagination, art, thought, reflection and relationship.

The calculations of accountants, lawyers, doctors, teachers and priests as “expert” when most are inevitably and indisputable “works in progress” and “highly speculative and evolving.

The perspective of short-term transactional thinking, imagining, planning and the strategies and tactics to deliver on stated goals and objectives, at the expense of “connecting the dots” between and among the various human needs.
The pursuit of instant gratification, as opposed to delayed gratification.
Doe the proposition that perhaps the normal and the abnormal would/could well change places in order to provide a more humane, more healthy, and more sustainable cultural ethos?

For the cynic, do not these various “symptoms” of our western culture not approximate, too closely for comfort, the stereotypical notion of what it means, has meant, and in too many situations continues, to define masculinity?

And the exhibition of what has come to be called “hard” power, (even hard wiring is now embedded in our culture, as opposed to software) is so endemically and inextricably embedded in our culture as to be reasonably and legitimately considered counter-intuitive, counter-productive, and self-sabotaging, not only of millions of individuals in their private lives, but also in the wider, broader and deeper implications for the survival of the planet.

It can be argued that many men are “hardwired” as solo flyers. Firencz, while a firebrand prosecutor, investigator, seeker of justice, both for the Jewish people, and ultimately for all of mankind, is also both mirror and lamp for the people on the planet. Found as a valuable resource in the middle of an epic and heinous human catasprophe, Firencz found his “place” as one of the more significant symbols of human pain and its profound and transformational impact on a human life.

This is not a hymn only to the Jewish people, and to Firencz as their prosecutor. It is also a challenge to each and every male currently within reach of these words, including the scribe, to examine critically how we reflect on our gender, how we exemplify our anxieties as power-over others, how we eliminate those unique dreams and aspirations which others find “unacceptable” for whatever fears and anxieties they are projecting onto us. We can also reflect on how we have especially neglected to acknowledge, identify, and address those simple and often superficial personal fears of embarrassment, rejection, alienation, and even abandonment by our peers, should we express our truth.

It is the manner of owning and expressing our insubordination that merits much more scrutiny, reflection and incorporation into our thinking, our habits of thought and especially our habits of “fitting” into the prevailing culture.

Currently, several nations are busily engaged in evacuating national from Wuhan in China, given the jet-stream of infections, deaths and fears that have overtaken millions. Canada, on the other hand, at this writing, is still deeply engaged, from the public evidence, in the bafflegab of circumlocution between and among its various political leaders, including the Prime Minister. For me, thinking from the perspective of one Canadian father, husband, living in Wuhan, with a wife who is three-months pregnant, and unable even to get to the local hospital for care, whether in an emergency or not, I am both embarrassed and ashamed of our country’s impotence.

In fact, evidence of masculine impotence, and its many faces, varieties, expressions and implications, holds much of the planet in its grip. However, to rush into any form of instant dominance, as an attempt to disprove and to disavow, and to dispel any notion of impotence, is both dangerous and potentially suicidal. We need to drink deeply from stories like that Firencz, not merely to find the strength, energy and nuclear power to combat our enemies in the flesh. We need to begin to consider how many of the real enemies are “within” our selves.

And while slaying the dragon has been a protypical archetype of masculine history and culture, is it not past time for men to let go of our tight-fisted clinging to the reins (and the reigns) of all forms of power, not mere to let others grow into their own fullness, but to release us from the enslavement to our own hubris?

The fire of conviction that burned in the belly of Firencz can also be found in the bellies of most men, given the appropriate, challenging, supportive and affirming ethos. And such conviction can be focused not only on a world criminal court, but on the many challenges facing men, in our relationships, in our vocations, in our conduct of leadership and in our pursuit of our most creative, and insubordinate selves.
Slavery, that noxious, heinous legacy of blacks in America, has many faces. And the millions of blacks who have been leading, and suffering in pursuit of the full freedom and uncoupling the links of their enslaving traps, many of them still ensnaring too many communities like Baltimore, because of the neurosis of too many people (mostly men) currently and historically holding positions of power, are beacons of hope, if we can see them in that light, for the millions of both men and women of all colours, races, religions and ethnicities, still struggling to be free.

As holders of the positions of power, and as manipulators of the levers of power in many cultures, and still  in most sectors, as well as in most nations, men have to take off our blinders to our own complicity in a culture that prefers to strangle and to limit and to control and to profit from its voiceless.

Can and will we?