Friday, August 17, 2012

Spending billions to defend our pride... Are we drowning in our own fear?

Watching CBC's The National, I saw a dozen or more South African Police open fire on some miners who allegedly had machetes and sticks some few yards away. The report was unable to clarify how many miners were killed in the massacre. The leader of South Africa, according to the report, was outraged by the attack.
Shortly after, I watched an off-duty policeman in Vancouver kick an underwear-clad man, sitting peacefully on the curb of a Vancouver street in the chest. The Canadian Civil Liberties Union is calling for an criminal investigation for assault on the off-duty officer, for kicking a peaceful, non-threatening, barely clad, seated man in the chest snapping his neck back.
Earlier in the day, I read a piece by Bill Maher in Reader's Digest calling for a National Day of NO Outrage, in the context of the thin-skinned responses to the slightest of barbs, expecting an apology for the slightest insult, and then Maher added, "I don't want to live in a country where no one ever says anything insulting to or about another person, that's what we have Canada for!"
And then, I watched as David Letterman lampooned Romney in a series of shots depicting Paul Ryan as game hunter, first with a deer, then an elk, and finally with the "turkey," Romney. Of course it got a great laugh from the audience.
Verbal violence, insults, lampoons, police bullets or feet kicking when not threatened....are these all part of a piece of public "discourse"?
And then, the Snickers ad prescribing a chocolate bar to fend off a friend's anger when hunger inserts itself into the news package, and we witness the 'other side' of making money on our anger.
What is it about anger that seems to cut so deep, in so many different directions?
School teachers and principals and vice-principals meet the impact of anger every day, from students who are "acting out" their own frustration mostly with their own inadequacies, projected unconsciously onto the teacher, another student, the "system" or a parent who is perceived to have defaulted on the kid.
"I must not be angry" has probably been written as a detention assignment more than most lines.
Often, at the root of such a display of anger is an empty container of options, in the mind and perception of the student who is acting out. Hemmed in, frightened, anxious, and often ashamed, he explodes. (Notice the pronoun, "he," as it is statistically much more likely to be a male student acting out!)
Clearly, those South African police firing on those miners either believed or feared they had no other options, and responded in self-defence. Unfortunately, several families tonight are missing a father, brother, uncle or grandfather.
In Florida, and many other states, there is now a law protecting citizens should they believe they are being threatened, if they fire a weapon and injure or kill the person(s) they believe are threatening them. Clearly, there is now legal "cover" for violence in America where personal possession of hand guns is considered normal, even necessary, as is their deployment upon the slightest provocation.
And then there is this piece from the Toronto Star, by Kenyon Wallace, on August 9, 2012:
A Michigan police officer vacationing in Calgary is at the centre of a social media storm after saying he wished he was allowed to carry a handgun to protect himself from people asking if he had been to the Stampede.
In a letter to the editor published in the Calgary Herald, Walt Wawra, a 20-year veteran of the Kalamazoo police service, laments the fact that he was not allowed to carry his off-duty handgun while walking through a Calgary park.
Wawra describes how he and his wife were recently taking a leisurely stroll through Nose Hill Park when they were approached by two young men “in broad daylight on a paved trail” who asked the couple if they had been to the Stampede yet.
“We ignored them,” Wawra writes in his letter. “The two moved closer, repeating: ‘Hey, you been to the Stampede yet?’ I quickly moved between these two and my wife, replying, ‘Gentlemen, I have no need to talk with you, goodbye.’ They looked bewildered, and we then walked past them.”
Wawra writes that he suspects the two men “did not have good intentions” when they approached the couple “in such an aggressive, disrespectful and menacing manner.”
“I thank the Lord Jesus Christ they did not pull a weapon of some sort, but rather concluded it was in their best interest to leave us alone.”
The shaken tourist then goes on to ask the newspaper — which insists the letter is not a hoax — why citizens are not allowed to protect themselves in “life-or-death” situations.
“Would we not expect a uniformed officer to pull his or her weapon to intercede in a life-or-death encounter to protect self, or another? Why then should the expectation be lower for a citizen of Canada or a visitor? Wait, I know — it’s because in Canada, only the criminals and the police carry handguns.”
"Thanking Jesus Christ that they did not pull a weapon," unfortunately, seems to demonstrate the level of anxiety this American policeman felt, or believed he was experiencing, while another letter to the editor "thanks Jesus Christ that the writer lives in Canada, where guns are not carried by everyone."
Both fear and anger are more and more stalking our streets, our schools, our headlines, our addiction to video games of violence and, not co-incidentally, our political rhetoric.
"If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!" has been a long-standing rule of thumb for anyone considering entering the political arena, where tax records, criminal records, personal idiosyncrasies or even eccentricities, academic records, facebook, twitter and anything committed to the digital environment will be read, dissected and "deconstructed" by those seeking to find ammunition to destroy an "opponent" all in the name of political warfare. Some of this "research" is conducted by political opponents; some by professional journalists. Regardless of the source, the potential candidate is likely to have his/her private life spread like wall graffiti in formal ads, in gossip and innuendo campaigns, and all of this is conducted with the impunity of anonymity, and the cover of "everyone else is doing it."
Recently the United Church is reported to have taken a public stand to wipe out "gossip" from the pews of their churches, in a move that most regard as unenforceable, and therefore "unrealistic". Nevertheless, those who propose the move have struck on a deep, serious and long-embedded spiritual disease.
Recently, I listened to a forty-something male deconstruct his adoptive father, in front of his forty-something wife, and his older sister. His attacks included allegations of misrepresentations, distortions and senility against the octogenarian step-father. And from all reports, both step-son and his spouse have been engaged in this deconstruction of this man for decades. Almost a game, by this point, the compulsion to defame apparently feeds some need for revenge, power or even dominance in the step-son.
However, what is also clear is that the attacks come from a deep and profound insecurity in the life of the "launcher" who has adopted a "macho" stance, to preserve and elevate his self-image.
It is this need for the "macho" stance, in simple terms, and not psychiatric diagnostic terms, that is currently parading across our screens financed now by the largest bankroll in American presidential campaigning history, nearing $500 million in advertising dollars, to demonstrate that one candidate is more "macho" and thereby more "appropriate" to become president in November. With everyone feeling powerless, someone has to demonstrate "power" and "authority" and "leadership"and "trustworthiness" and "integrity" stark, dramatic and even romantic and traditional  garb often by pulling the clothes off his opponent.
At the same time, in the same country, facing an "over-the-cliff" near bankruptcy at the end of 2012, there is not a single word being heard about the possibility of cutting the Pentagon budget, the source and agent of the highest military spending in history, more than all other countries combined. "Keeping America strong in a very dangerous world" is the non-rational, immature, and addictive "reason" given by people like Romney, for sustaining and enhancing the American military capability, without a thought or bow being made to the irony that merely by arming both the civilian population and the military, America makes the world less safe and secure for all of us.  And that loss of safety and security can be seen on both the domestic and the international stages.
Fear, insecurity, anxiety and over-reaction to huge expenditures on "security" in hard-power terms, takes off the table a cultural education in negotiations, in diplomacy, in alternative dispute resolution measures at the official governmental level, and in the school yard, the corporate board room and on Wall Street.
Competition, street fighting, winning at all costs, militarization and the fear-based addiction to hard power are at the heart of both American capitalism and American militarism and they are fueled by American fear or both failure and success.
And, what is even more ironic is that in the U.S. there are no voices like those in the United Church in Canada, who cry out against this spiritual disease of powerlessness and fear. For it is the same vacuity and fear and insecurity of people in the pew who "gossip" with impunity and destroy the reputations and families of those they target that infects U.S. addiction to military power and corporate dominance.
And if and when the collective Shadow erupts in violence, as it inevitably must, the unleashing of the military response, whether in separate seemingly disconnected theatres, or in a congealed battle, it will engage everyone on the planet. And we will have no one but ourselves to 'thank' because we can all see the blind pride and arrogance and over-compensation of our destructive impulses.
It was Neil Diamond who sang, many years ago, in a tune he called Husbands and Wives, "It's my belief pride is the chief cause in the decline / In the number of husbands and wives".
It's my belief that pride is the chief cause in the decline in the number of healthy meals, healthy families, healthy debates, and healthy relationships....and that pride is fueled, as it has been for centuries, by the demon, "fear".
As Margaret Laurence writes in The Stone Angel, "Pride was my wilderness and the demon that led me there was fear!"
It may take another century or more of poets to crack the skins and skulls of those who drive our institutions, schools, corporations, governments, political parties, and military campaigns, as well as 'national security campaigns'...and to demonstrate the unmistakable truth that only by facing, naming, owning and wrestling with our fears together, and not with the kind of impunity that comes with a culture of winners and losers, a culture that rotates those categories only by changing the name plates on the office doors, that we will put away our guns, our kicking shoes, our defaming character assassinations, our gossip and our need to destroy whatever and whomever we believe to be a threat.
It is not a National Day of NO Outrage that we need, but a global campaign for civility, decency, honesty and authentic courage, that we all need. And of course, it must start with the poets, the playwrights, the novelists and the artists...the vanguard of both human compassion and human creativity, the two inseparables in our quest for overcoming the budget deficits and debts in both health care and military and national security spending. We do not seek to replicate a naive, innocent Canadian "niceness" on the world, but rather to strive toward, for and on behalf of a healthy respect for every individual human being, whether we agree or disagree with his political ideology, his specific faith expression or his ethnicity or economic status.
We need a school for leaders...and we need it now!

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