Friday, April 30, 2010

Is this our existential moment?

Oil is gushing into the Gulf of Mexico at an alarming rate. The economy of Greece is or already has collapsed. The violence in Pakistan and Afghanistan grows daily. Pirates attack merchant shipping in the Gulf of Aden. Wall Street bankers claim they did nothing wrong, in catalysing the "big dump" they foisted on the American people, 8 million of whom lost their jobs, income, confidence and for many their families.
Politicians talk about issues as if they were manipulating pieces on a chess board. Leaders everywhere, including Obama, have rarely more than 50% public support, if that. China, while pouring billions into the development of Africa, takes a strangle-hold on the U.S. economy, holding much of its debt. Iran and North Korea make ugly noises about nuclear weapons capability.
And North Americans are stuffing themselves with mostly junk...in what some might deem a mass death throe, trying to cope with too much information too readily available, too few agents of change and executive leadership who inspire trust and confidence, a quickly eroding sense that what used to matter no longer has relevance, and an emptiness of collective purpose, vision
and will to bring competing interests to a table, any table, to make better decisions to grapple with the multiple erosions.
Is this the global "Existential moment" when the world, collectively, grasps its own meaninglessness, and comes, collectively, collaboratively and quickly to its senses that only by concerted, long-term planning, holding all players' feet to the fire of commitment and delivery will we begin to bring calm to the seas of angst?
Is this the tipping point when history discloses that neither arms nor armies, hard power nor wealth, high technology nor low tech...hold real answers...but rather a common authentic grasp of the pan-threats, and a common and urgent need to humbly and honestly acknowledge both our fears and our vulnerabilities, and reach out to the best angels of each person everywhere now.
As the rabbi in the old legend that Scott Peck uses to introduce "A Different Drum" says, "The messiah is among you!" when the prior visits the rabbi to discuss the near collapse of the monastery, only to learn the rabbi is experiencing a parallel erosion in his synagogue. When we begin to expect and to gently seek and begin to hope that the messiah is among us, we have the hope that together we can, not conquer in some faux-triumphant way, but work through in the painstaking, and even painful and humbling way what seem like insurmountable complexities to us. And such a process is and cannot be exclusive to one country, one region, one faith or one poltical system or ideology.
And Greg Mortensen may be one of the prophets leading us out of our own blindness, arrogance and complicity with the ways of our past that have brought us here.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Regenerative Medicine Ethics

Wake Forest University's Regenerative Medicine Department is doing some wonderful experiments in organ growth and regeneration! Here is another of the cutting edges of human gene research, using human cells to grow some twenty-plus different organs. And the imagination literally leaps to all sorts of unwarranted conclusions and some pithy questions!
Bio-ethics issues abound here. And the one most pressing is "Who will be the recipients of which organs? And why?"
And that question raises even more questions:
  • On what basis will such decisions be made?
  • Who will make such decisions?
  • What impact will a person's age, education/intellect, affluence/poverty/income, political status, religious belief/affiliation....have on the decision?

We already have people in the U.S. screeming about faux "death panels" (not) in the recently passed Health Reform Bill. Boogey-men of the frightened imaginations are everywhere, especially where there are loud voices who have not bothered to read the bill, or even the portion about end-of-life counselling.

There are already private companies operating in the field of regenerative medicine, and we all know that the basis of such operations is and will continue to be, "profit first, patient care second or even lower". And that will mean that those who can afford it, will be first in line! It is not too far a stretch to contemplate insurance policies for the rich that would include the options of new organs, or new partial organs, in the future, perhaps even new limbs. And if that doesn't conjure up pictures of social engineering in your mind, be sure it does in mine!

We already know that a salamander that loses a limb can generate a new one in two weeks...and that fact provides a template for researchers. "If the salamander can do it, why can humans do it?" runs the prevailing question in the Wake Forest labs.

Try to imagine the most ...visionary, courageous, articulate, intelligent and ethical body of legislators in the most ethical kingdom in the world trying to keep pace with the need for legislation, guidelines, protocols and practices in this field, balancing for-profit with not-for-profit while providing research funds to sustain this research! The mind boggles!

If you were wondering how we are doing in passing on the skills of sophisticated negotiating to the next generations, perhaps you might agree that such skills are no longer a luxury but are quickly becoming a necessity, and not just in one or a few countries, but in every country!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Fear Abounds!

A co-worker described a scene from the workplace recently. A client appeared, looking for an item, for which she had received a notice. In order for the client to claim the item, she had to sign; however, unfortunately, at that moment, the digital display unit on which she was to sign was diabled. When she was informed of this delay, she began to weep! "You don't know how important this is!" she implored the worker.
Is this what we have done to ourselves? By creating an instant gratification expectation, through the application of increasingly sophisticated technology, in a world of global inter-connectedness, in which our privacy is subject to invasion, in which the Pentagon's computers are being assaulted hundreds of thousands a time each day by those we can assume are not friends, in which private militia units are able to train each other by using the technology, in which the gross appetites for money, drugs and guns in the U.S. ignite and inflame conflicts, criminal greed and international instability....have we imposed a level of insecurity never even imagined before?
Now Stephen Hawking is advising us "not to speak to aliens" who may be hovering in the universe.
Benign or malignant...applied to tumors, to business associates, to potential hirees, to every encounter, and yes, even to those seeking public office in all jurisdictions...in a world impregnated with binary thinking, as part of our defence against the hyper-complexity of cataracts of new information, compiled at a daily rate greater than the sum total of all books in ths Stanford University Library!
Are we reduced to the kind of "choosing" envisioned by Earle Birney in "Billboards" between Krispies and Krumpies, between Christ and Kruschov?
How to balance binary and infinite? How to compose the weeping client, for whom the item "is so very important"? How to generate a curriculum for boys and girls whose world already looks foreign to all their grandparents?
The drug companies are having a bonanza on our fears! And so are the terrorists!

US/Canada..culturally different!

Listening to the answers from Goldman Sachs executives in Congressional committees yesterday, one gets the impression that "we did nothing wrong" in the derivative debacle at the core of the collapse of Wall Street. While, during the same period, Canadian Chartered Banks were not legally permitted to engage in such practices.
Accepting a different set of rules, in Canada, or permitting more regulation, depending on your viewpoint, is part of a very different culture.
Canadians give a higher rank to the stability of the financial system (a complicated social system) while Americans, generally, give a higher rank to the freedom of the individual to push the envelope, pursuing financial gain. Canadians value the "rights of the individual" (witness the celebrated Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms) and the courts play an important role in the application of the charter, ironically a written statue, given the brevity of the Canadian constitution itself.
On the other hand, in the U.S. where both the constitution and the proliferation of laws demonstrate a very high "intervention" habit by Congress, pursuing personal/corporate profit without government interference is part of the holy grail.
The Canadian culture of moderation, of balancing conflicting interests, of challenging the extremes, of a middle (and likely to remain there) country, in geopolitical terms, of integrating the almost anal (by American standards) fixation on "accounting" (in the Auditor General etc.) into the public consciousness, stands as a unique and rather hopeful model of growing a nation, when compared to the "open skies for profit" approach of the Americans.
Perhaps, being biggest, and most powerful, and most wealthy, and most aggressive in sustaining the number ONE position has its own dark side.
Having lived and worked in both countries, I prefer the northern model of social contract, by a significant margin.
Now, can Canada motivate our next generations to unbridle their imaginations, within a context of "quality control" so that both "forest and trees" ( and even the leaves on those trees) can be clearly visible in a more efficacious balance of micro and macro?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Canadian Conservatives Re-open Abortion Debate...slyly!

With the latest announcement that the Canadian government will restrict foreign aid funding for women in the third world, excluding funding for abortion, they have effectively declared their unique brand of sexism, based on their calculations that both religious fundamentalists and Roman Catholics will support their position.
Now the poor of the third world will know that Canada has taken a backward step in funding maternal and family health programs, given the long-established policy and practice of leaving all options on the table, so far as foreign aid is concerned.
Furthermore, the Harper government has also, surreptitiously, deceptively and yet unambigiously re-opened the abortion debate in this country, another retrograde step in the lives of women directly and men and women indirectly.
No one wishes an abortion on anyone; however, to have such a therapeutic option available when necessary, we all believed, was firmly established as Canadian law and practice.
How tragic that we are permitting such a downgrading of our values!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Searching for God

April 26/10
Listened to Tom Ashbrook's discussion about the question, "Is there ONE God?" on On Point this morning.
Differences in religions are not the same as different perceptions of God. Religions have found various paths to the mystery we call God, and those differences are worth celebrating, not worth going to war over. Karen Armstrong, in her book "The Spiral Staircase" notes that while Islam and Judaism both stress "what one does" as acts of faith and the celebration of the relationship between humans and God, Christians stress "what one believes" as the cornerstone of their faith.
Since belief is not measureable empirically, there is a real risk that we can each convince ourselves of our sincere belief, based on the teachings, readings and practices of the faith tradition in which we were raised. And then, we can also come to hold such belief tenaciously, almost as a sign of our identity. Only to find such "granite" positions challenged by our next experiences. And we run the risk of becoming patrons at our own smorgasbord of "faith offerings."
Humans seek to know God, the unknowable! Humans persist in our search, with or without the help of prophets, poets, seers, mystics and scholars. Each civilization has its own gallery of the faces of the force(s) that energize, create, sustain and animize the universe, and the individual.
Words, like these, chase God and my own relationship to the divine....only to come face to face with the awesomeness of the encounter...in a Beethoven sonata, an Eliot poem or a smile on my month-old grand-daughter!