Saturday, November 29, 2014

Reframing gender politics into "the abuse of power" regardless of the gender of the perpetrator or the recipient.

Public figures must be masters of the native tongue, if they are to gather, integrate and apply the winds of both change and preservation from their communities to their shaping of events.
One of the headline-grabbing issues of our time is the relationship between men and women.
And how that issue  is "framed" ( to borrow the process from the public relations practitioners) is critical to how it plays out over time.
For the feminists, the issue is perceived from the perspective of the victim, given the supporting sociological data that by far the majority of assaults on women are perpetrated by men, some categorized as domestic violence, while others merit the charge of sexual assault. Inferentially then, men are "defined" by that characterization as the perpetrators, the agents of the violence and the assault and thereby are rendered the "blame" and the responsibility for their actions.
And at least in North America, the legal systems are defined by the empirical and witnessed evidence with a secondary position given to the motive of the person accused and the larger context of the "case evidence". Consequently, if the majority of the incidents and the complaints and the charges are made against men by women, (barely any are reported to have been committed against men by women), then the issue will continue to carry the implicit stigma of both guilt and responsibility borne by men. As is common in our media driven culture, reports of the dismissal of charges, or the moderation of both charges and punishments fall through the cracks without generating a blip on the public consciousness, and certainly not affecting a modicum of change in public perceptions. Men are the stereotypical testosterone-driven warriors, while women are the passive and wounded victims, in that model.
However, if we were to re-frame the issue, from one of gender politics to one that critically examines the "abuse of power" regardless of the gender of the offender or the recipient, then we would  broaden the scope of our public discourse and also remove the gender "bias" in our observations, while enhancing our determination to pursue and acquire the case histories of the context of the events under scrutiny, and generate a much more productive and sustainable model for future generations.
Some people, men especially, are more likely to become enraged or inflamed or provoked if they have been attempting unsuccessfully to negotiate with a female friend, family member or even spouse, who has continuously and repeatedly ostracized them, frozen them out of their confidence, gossiped about their sexual prowess (or its lack) behind their back, restricted or eliminated their sexual access or even inflicted physical and emotional abuse both directly and/or through common children or other relationships, without incurring either a legal complaint or a criminal charge or even a civil law suit.
These minor yet significant "injustices" are never even mentioned in a sexual assault or domestic violence complaint, nor are they investigated by the authorities, considered, as they are, outside the parameters of the legal case. Only the fine points of the specific moment, when a blow was inflicted, the back of a hand was struck against the side of the face of the partner, or the penetration occurred without consent are included in the report of the investigators and the deliberations of the prosecution.
And also, men, for their part, are monstrously guilty of refusing to engage when they are initially 'offended,' 'rejected,' 'dismissed,' ridiculed,' or even 'embarrassed,' preferring to keep their own counsel, even from their most intimate friends. To disclose such minor "annoyances" to anyone would be to surrender their masculinity, in their abridged and restricted definition of their own manhood. And their silence falsely preserves that "mask" of phony and fragile invulnerability. Not only do most men refuse to engage in a healthy dialogue with their female partners and/or family members when they feel hurt, abused, offended or rejected; they also, for the most part do not believe they have acquired the requisite negotiating skills equal to those of their female partners, and without attempting to begin to practice that "muscle" they withdraw to their own detriment.
Outside the privacy of their homes, men notice considerable use of the word, "misogyny" to depict women-hating men, or men who exhibit attitudes, words and actions that demean women. However, there is rarely seen or heard the comparable word, "misandry" for women who hate men. Simply volume and frequency of repetition by the female community makes the exposure of such a word, and thereby its component meaning, out of the public discourse.
So, if men are either unable or unwilling or both, to engage in an open negotiation of their 'issues' with the women in their lives, and women are biologically hard wired never to avoid an opportunity to engage with their 'sisters' especially on issues of common concern, such as how to "manage" their male partners, there is no longer term resolution of the abuse of power, regardless of its specificity, or its gender provocateur or recipient, unless and until the whole culture, including the Judeo-Christian culture as well as the Islamic culture, and also including the growing culture of people of no faith or religious affiliation, reframes the issue of gender politics into an asexual one of the abuse of power, whether the agent of that abuse is a woman or a man.
The president of Lincoln University in the United States has been publicly condemned by women like Melissa Harris Perry, host of the MSNBC weekend show that digs into political and cultural matters including race relations and gender politics, for his public comment to his undergraduate class, pointing out that some women who first engage in a relationship with a man and participate consensually in that relationship, later turn against the former partner with a vengeance that includes the filing of a public complaint of sexual abuse, after the relationship "does not go the way they wanted it to" (it ended when the woman wanted it to continue).
With a blizzard of female complaints flying around about men like the Canadian broadcaster, Gian Gomeshi, and the American comedian Bill Cosby, and two Liberal Members of Parliament in Canada, as well as a host of atrocious acts (including honor killings) against women by their fathers and their partners for actions as ridiculous as playing loud music, or refusing to accept an arranged marriage, or for appearing in public without a veil covering their face, or driving a motor vehicle, or appearing in public with a male companion, courts, the media, political parties, and religions, the whole world generally is engaged in a dialogue most of the deaf, since all sides are screaming past all other sides. There is quite literally the case for a culture war against women, as seen by the growing mountain of evidence of abuse of male power against women.
And all attempts to fully engage both genders in this discussion, debate and even the process of legislating equality have so far failed to fully engage both genders. Would that dialogue of the deaf change if we were to begin to consider the issue from the perspective of the abuse of power. In that frame, even political parties who lie and to who deliberately deceive their publics, and employers who deliberately lie and deceive their employees, and specific political leaders regardless of their political ideology, and clergy and medical practitioners who engage in willful deception
(such as that being investigated by the CBC's Marketplace, the homeopathic doctors who allegedly plant deceptive opinions about the risks of vaccinations for young babies in the minds of young mothers) would be dealt with through a common and genderless lens. The public mind and consciousness would then be required to examine the critical details of each incident, without regard for the gender of the victim or the perpetrator.
And the legal educations, as well as the ethical educations, as well as the educations in "gender relations" would of necessity be stripped of their gender bias, making it possible, for a first time in recent memory, for one to acquire a doctoral qualification in gender studies that was not, and was not permitted to be, gender biased. Ethics, morality, the law and the administration of the law has to  ascribe to and strive to attain a total freedom from gender bias if we are to deal openly with the issues of the abuse of power. For every female elementary teacher hired by a board of education, a male teacher would have to be hired; for every female secondary teacher and principal hired, a male teacher and principal would also have to be hired, and provincial education departments would have to monitor these hirings, in the public interest.
If you consider the hundreds of thousands of young male students who have been administered "Ritalin" for example in the last two decades, to curb their excessive non-compliant energy in a female-dominated culture of most elementary schools, with the silent complicity of both administrations and supervising boards of education, without a specific and effective public protest, then the problem of "gender politics" takes on a very different meaning from "domestic violence" and sexual assault.
Wherever there is a conflict, no matter the nature of the evidence, there are always two parties to the conflict. So long as one party, by definition, is considered and reputed to be the aggressor, and the other party the victim, then specific details of the whole history of the context are outside the limits of the public investigations. And so long as there is no concerted effort through the education system to prepare both male and female students to engage in formal negotiations, from the basis of stated and real equality, then we will be participants in a never-ending and unresolving tension that gobbles millions, if not billions of our public dollars without producing the changes that we all want.
Even making "female equality" a long-term goal in every country requires that men too will be engaged in that process from a perspective and a trusted base of equality in the framing of that long-term political and cultural goal. And the only that that such equality can be attained is to remove gender from the discussion.
There are so many subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which power is abused, by both men and women. And there are so many stories of abuse by both genders, with only those arising from the women currently fueling the fire of public debate and discussion.
Let's remember that western men live in the absolute knowledge and submission to the reality of a woman's right to say "no". And women also live in the absolute knowledge that their "no" means a great deal to all men. And, from a very early age, without formal instruction, that 'lesson' is deeply and permanently imprinted on the psyche of every western male. In some college dorms, we witness signs that read, "What part of "no" do you not understand?" For some men, a lack of both clarity and respect can be provocative in engendering attitudes and acts that emerge from both confusion and resentment, neither of which are acceptable, without a full clearing of the air, a process in which both men and women have to participate.
And, for many men in an eastern culture, the imprint of  "protecting their woman" from the encroachment of a competing man is considered normal, while in the west such over-protection is considered psychotic. Bringing dishonour to the family, no matter how such acts or attitudes are depicted, given the male 'responsibility' for that honour, is something that is punishable by various violent reprisals. And the abuse of power begins with the definition of psychosis that attends the first "responsibility" and definition of 'honour'. There is no honour in the killing of one who disavows or crosses a family's definition of their honour.
We need gender and thought leaders from both genders to be fully engaged, not so much in finding abusers on both sides, but in a process of reframing the relations between the genders, as well as those between and among all constituent bodies in any culture, without specific references to gender politics.
As one who watched my father succumb and submit to the multiple acts and statements of derision from by mother, and then watched as he attempted to lash out in rage, when he could not longer tolerate the abuse, (only to find his rib broken by a spontaneous hand from a shocked fourteen-year-old son), and who then had to listen to that same woman deride her now deceased husband of sixty-two years as "never having been any good", I am infected by a commitment to both state all of my offences, abuses and acts of disrespect regardless of the gender of the agent, while at the same time, to engage in a process of learning how and when to negotiate with both genders to work out whatever tensions might have become stuck between us, once again irrespective of the gender of the 'other'.
And I urge all men to renounce their passive aggressive approach to their partner's disrespect and to recover their honest and honourable voice to respectfully engage in a process of equality from which, and only from which, a resolution is possible, preserving the dignity and the honour and the respect of all parties.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Symptoms versus root our unconsciousness

Probably most have heard the story about children falling into the waterfall in the fast-flowing river with many near the bottom of the cataract attempting valiantly and heroically to pull them out while a single person has quietly, inconspicuously and carefully made his/her way to the top of the falls to determine why they are falling into the raging water in order to prevent the tragedy from recurring.
Symptoms, those lost children at the bottom of the raging water, when compared with root causes, are the addiction of our culture.
Root causes, however, are our only hope for  survival.
There are so many legitimate reasons for our compulsion to "fix-the ooowwwie" with a band-aid that we seem blind to the deeper and often hidden sources of so many of our personal, domestic, organizational and even town and city or provincial and national issues.
  • We love the comfort and the tradition of our local customs and continue to do much to preserve them for our children and grandchildren.
  • We love and need the positive feed-back from "making a difference" in someone's life in the moment and our social policies often reflect our "attention" to that driving need/motivation.
  • We also are raised as children to pay attention to the "pennies and the nickels" and the dollars will take care of themselves.
  • We are fed a smorgasbord of information daily, hourly and even second-by-second by an array of devices, that in turn feeds much of our social discourse in the office, the factory and the home.
  • In the midst of the flurry of data, we attempt to conduct our lives in some useful and engaging manner making a living, paying our bills, enjoying our various unique diversions, activities, hobbies, entertainments, travel and consumptions, especially notable on this, another Black Friday in North America, the day following the American Thanksgiving.
  • Some of the information that washes over our consciousness includes an increasing amount of "how-to" do or avoid or resist or challenge our bad habits, in the somewhat conventional hope and belief that, if we actually implement some of these changes, we will live more fulfilling lives, and in the example of smoking or excessive consumption of pain-killers like alcohol and mood-altering drugs, we might make a better "world".
  • So we go to the gym, to the bar, to the restaurant, to the movies and the theatres, to the symphony and the lecture halls and the seminars for our "health" and our well-being, in pursuit of new insights, new research and new approaches to whatever "goals" we have or are attempting to set for our lives.
  • Our diet includes a tsunami of megabytes of daily and hourly business, economic and political information that engages the most interested and committed among us to the goals of power, wealth and "happiness" as if power and wealth were the elixirs of our lives.
We are and have become the permanent slaves, or willing worshippers, of the economy, in so many intimate and potentially tragic ways that we are easily played by those forces (really people who are the most determined to generate more wealth for themselves, their companies and their investors) as their pawns. When we stop to realize that some 70-75% of the American economy is driven by consumer purchasing, and that we have allowed the forces of that economy to seduce us, both individually and collectively, to serve as the engine by which that economy runs, then it is obvious that whatever structural and often hidden weaknesses in that equation matter less than the electro-cardiac-pulse of the readings of "how healthy that heart is".
And in our exaggerated and willful participation in that "economy" we measure how we are doing as a town, a city, a province and a nation.
For the last several weeks, for example, we have been served a stream of commercial messages for the United Way campaigns, in various locales. These messages are directed to individuals and corporations to magnetize funds for social programs to assist those in most need. In one specific region, the messages tell us that some 70,000+ people are served by the programs funded by the United Way, in a region of perhaps 300,000 people. If 25% of the people in that region need social assistance of some kind, that is obviously not being provided by the public purse in the strict definition of that "purse" (that is by the integrated, targeted, accountable and transparent programs of all levels of government, funded by law through taxes) then the private sector must fill in the gaps. And yet those gaps are growing exponentially, as we continue to slide down the slippery slope  of our own fixation on the moment, at the expense of the next decade, and even century. Corporations are riding a wave of  public "spotlighting" of their philanthropy (and garnering significant tax relief) while more and more people, families and neighbourhoods are sliding under the bus.
Or are they, through our negligence, indifference, apathy and narcissism, being thrown under that bus?
Canada, for most of our history, has been a country that struggled to emerge from a land and a climate and a pioneering spirit that demanded much of its original settlers. We have a deep literature of "roughing it in the bush" and, as a result communities could only originate and sustain themselves through collaboration, mutual assistance and sharing of resources. Perhaps it is now naïve and idyllic to resurrect such an image, when our future seems to promise more rugged isolation than collaboration, more attention to our acquisition of and addiction to such activities as techno-leisure, or on-line consuming, or on-line relationships or the acquisition of power and status through our manipulation of other people both "within the law" and outside its boundaries, given the gap between our technologies and the laws that regulate their deployment.
We are in danger of letting our individual and our collective "protectionism" through manipulation of our immediate situations for the goal of generating more consumption, more buying, regardless of the long-term impact on our culture.
We learn of meat department workers in supermarkets who change the packaging on the meats displayed in their refrigerated counters daily, to remove soiled colours and odors, while at the same time not changing the original "best before" data, thereby endangering the lives and the health of their consumers. We learn of rail cars, substandard in their design, that carry billions of gallons of toxic materials along the rails, endangering every community along the way should there be an "accident" which would have been prevented had the design met the new standards, and been both required and inspected by officials from an objective and detached and "public-service" trained and dedicated cadre of people.
However, if individual acquisition and retention of power, influence, wealth and control replaces the primary goal of public service, the new version of how communities grow and sustain themselves, then our own protections will continue to erode. Cloaked in the arguments of job-creating, profit-seeking, income generating, tax-reduction and smaller and less invasive "government" as if that were the disease from which no society recovers, and for which there is no effective antibiotic antidote except removal, this wave of "conventional wisdom" is washing over all of our public institutions, our public perceptions and our public attitudes as if it were the cleanser that makes everything "whole" again.
Budgets for community security and protection will continue to be cut in order to serve this monster ideology. Budgets for public health care will continue to  be slashed as part of the almost sacred creed of worshipping at the private-sector's altar of achievement, purchased as we all know it is, through the "purchase" of political acolytes and sycophants who are mere programmed puppets, liars on behalf of their corporate benefactors. And the serfs of that "messaging", the media, also seduced as they are into a dependence on advertising dollars driven by ratings purchase by those same mega-dollars available only to the very rich, continue to feed those same self-defeating messages that enhance the ideology in ways that make Madison Avenue manipulation the imaginative fuel that has turned so much profit for so many companies for centuries. It now infects every public statement, every press conference, every corporate media "opportunity" in the belief that the "consuming" public will be so distracted by the opportunity to acquire its own level of "wealth" even if it comes from the army of "dollar stores" that pop up like Tim Horton's coffee shops on every corner, while the BMW dealerships also appear in the "gated" communities of the rich.
And we think, act and perhaps even believe that our geopolitical issues are "over there" and have nothing to do with the way our nations do "business" as if the nations were the slaves and the agents of the money of both corporations and individuals of so much wealth that we have made their acquisition stories into another "industry" of manipulation.
Forbes magazine is the curator of all information related to the acquisition of wealth. Forbes magazine, however, has so many acolyte media in both print and the digital realm, that we have generated a new oligopoly of information management that is dedicated to enshrining the new ideology of pure Ayn Rand selfishness.
The churches have bought into the seduction too, as their coffers depend on a few meager crumbs from the vaults of the wealthy for their very survival while the theology of "profit" endorsed by God is preached from too many pulpits. The schools too, have been forced either into the shadows through such private-venture and corporate culture "charter" schools, funding the new selfishness with public dollars in the U.S. or have atrophied through the withdrawal of public dollars, in order to "balance the books" as more people are forced into poverty-level jobs at the "service-level" where there are no benefits, no opportunities and no tax revenues from their employment.
We are choking the government revenues, through our tax-evasion loopholes in our laws, and through our tax breaks for the wealthy who can and do purchase the discreet and diligent services of the best tax accountants and attorneys available. We also participate in the generation of an information culture of "restraint" through tax-cutting rhetoric of politicians purchased by the people who write the cheques for the political campaigns. This organized and deliberate campaign to mask the desperate and tragic realities of our unconscious submission to this chicanery risks the bottom half or more of our societies "falling over the proverbial water-falls" of despair. This despair includes poverty, alienation, hopelessness, hypocrisy and increased anger and violence that accompany the lack of a full education and/or an education filled with 'right-wing' platitudes, a failure to provide jobs and basic amenities for the majority, as wealth flows upward to the top and our unconscionable acquiescence to the deceits being perpetrated by our political masters enables and even enhances the upward flow of money.
And then we wonder why our health budgets are straining to provide necessary care.
And we wonder why our cities are showing signs of rage and decay.
And we wonder why our children are not looking forward to a future where clean air, water and land, as well as access to a full education and a high-quality health care system, that are the cornerstones of a society and a culture that believes in itself and in its capacity and willingness to care for itself, including all of its members.
And we wonder if and when this chicanery, this deceit in which we are all enmeshed, will end.
Will it be when there is so much unrest and civil disobedience that the public institutions will be unable to manage the anarchy?
Will it be when the oligarchy that we have created and the attitudes that come with that "nouveau riche" oligarchy so suffocate the capacity to breathe, both literally and figuratively, that we are dying in the streets?
Will it be when the forces of deceit, criminality and the pursuit of personal narcissism through both governmental power-grabbing for its own sake, and corporate power-grabbing for the sake of surviving in a Darwinian jungle of global markets succeed in joining forces against the masses and render us all slaves to their fiefdom?
We wonder.....

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The religious divide over the apocalypse in the "west," especially in the U.S.

Over water coolers, in coffee shops, in supermarkets and malls, and even in the corridors of colleges and universities, many people are wondering out loud about the turbulence in the earth's atmosphere, linked in the news with the violence being perpetrated by lawless thugs, the confluence of nuclear talks over Iran, the invasion of some 7500 Russian troops into Eastern Ukraine (according to president Poroshenko), the abduction of hundreds of girls in Nigeria, and the wanton bombing of buses, schools and any other targets available to the Islamic terrorists. Extreme weather colliding with extreme ideology and extreme egoism is prompting various kinds and types of reflections from all quarters of the planet.
Humans are not accustomed to the cataract of information, all of it generated by the various news outlets, each with their own world view and each attempting to compete for the almighty advertisers' dollars, in order to stay in business. There is a general malaise (not to borrow from then President Jimmy Carter's 1980 speech about the fall of American confidence) among all individuals, families, and organizations about what kind of world we are living in, what the reasons for the extreme might be, and what possible alternative measures are needed, if any, to counteract the dangers.
There is, from some perspectives, a global existential crisis, not merely an Israeli existential crisis. We all know that Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and other Middle East actors, including potentially the PLO, would welcome the Israeli destruction and naturally opinion  outside the Middle East is divided about both the gravity of that crisis and the steps appropriate to meet it, including talks this weekend to blunt if not terminate Iran's ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons.
Global politics is never simple, unless one resorts to simple bromides that will never take into account the multiple variables in all circumstances.
"There are too many foreigners  being allowed into our country" is one such bromide, as if any country, especially one like Canada that has welcomed immigrants from everywhere for decades (with significant exceptions like the Japanese internment in World War II) could even exist or operate as successfully without the enrichment of millions of new immigrants from all countries, languages and even religions.
"Those people in the Middle East are always fighting, so let them have at it; it has nothing to do with us," is another of those dangerous and simplistic bromides. The world's scope and dimension may not have changed, geographically, but it clearly has in terms of the gathering, dissemination and consumption of critical information around the world. And consequently, we are literally and metaphorically "all in this together" whether we like it or not.
And for many of us, extreme weather, linked to extreme crises in the military and quasi-military arenas, linked also to a very slow recovery from the 2008-9 economic collapse, amid the mountains of evidence from many quarters of the disintegration of the political capacity and will to accomplish necessary goals for the domestic populations, as well as for the international community, in spite of the many high-sounding examples of political rhetoric that emerge in communiques from all international meetings of political leaders poses questions without easily or demonstrably effective answers.
We have for some years lost trust in our public institutions.
We have for some time lost respect for our political leaders, our corporate CEO's and the Public Relations and Legal Machines that protect them from both public criticism and potential law suits. We have, indeed, become a western world of paralysis, exemplified by the lack of respect for the United Nations among too many of the major powers, without a comparable body forming to address global issues with both credibility and strength and "spine".
For some, we have become a western world of obsessive compulsive behaviour that reeks of narcissism, without regard for our obligations to one another, as in "our brother's keeper" although many non-profits,  both religiously based and secular have taken up the challenge in the developing world with considerable philanthropic support from the more affluent nations and individuals.
Of course, the issues are complex, and their number and confluence continue to grow exponentially.
However, at the core each of us has a perception and conception of how the world works and what our place is in it that gestalt.
And central to that individual perception and conception are our earliest formative experiences and "lessons" about the perceptions and conceptions of our teachers and mentors, of the preceding generations to ours.
For most of us in the west, there was passed on to us a notion of a deity, a notion of a complex and exciting beginning to the earth's existence, much of it as yet unproven and undetected in its fine details. We were raised between Darwin and Genesis, as if both were irreconcilable. We were also raised in the vacuum that was generated at Munich, that fateful conference from which Chamberlain emerged declaring "peace in our time", and between archetypes that exemplified both of those extremes, Hitler and Chamberlain. Connotations for both "heaven and hell" are linked to visions of a peaceful world of empathy, compassion and genuine altruism and those of endless conflict, destruction, indifference and hatred and bigotry respectively.
We have struggled for generations to ascertain the appropriate definitions of strength, of both hard and soft power, of how to exercise both individually and collectively, in our pursuit of those things commonly referred to as "national interests" and national security, and economic security and energy independence, and the brain development industry competitively measured, the "best place to live" scale, and many other scales of similar resonance.
At the heart of those multiple considerations, we all held some notion of the existence of or the non-existence of a God, however we perceived that entity and what sources formed our bases for our perceptions.
There have been Gods analogous to Kings, to Shepherds, to Gardeners,  to Prophets ( Dramatic playwrights of both tragic and comedic material,) to Healers and to the OrdinaryMan/God notion of God, as exemplified in Jesus of Nazareth.
Correspondingly, there have also been attempts by all civilizations and religions to portray EVIL,  in the Christian tradition named as Satan, and in between the notions of God and Evil, we have all been raised, education and attempted to discern our "fit" in this universe.
A simplified and powerful God is to some the answer to all of our life's problems both personally and globally. God will provide.
A more complex God has a deep and profound interest in our decisions but has left us to make those decisions in our own will and way, without, as the theology goes, ever abandoning us.
A more distant and regal God has wound this universe up and lets it tick-tock as it will without any interest in or concern for the outcome.
And for others, there is no God with whom to develop a relationship no matter how tenuous or intimate.
And what we are witnessing today is the playing out of many of those archetypes of the deity in many competing forms in our public discourse. And at the centre of that discourse is an age-old debate about a biblical term, the apocalypse, the end of times, as recorded in the book of Revelation, when there is supposed to be a "Second Coming" of the Christ, in Christian terms, and for which we are all supposed to prepare, spiritually, ethically and morally.
One of the countries most impacted by these teachings is the United States where recent polls demonstrate some of the roots of the divisions in our political paralysis.
Read and cogitate this recent report:
Snowmageddon, snowpocalypse, snowzilla, just snow. Superstorm Sandy, receding shorelines, and more. Hurricanes Isaac, Ivan, and Irene, with cousins Rammasun, Bopha, and Haiyan.
The parade of geological changes and extreme weather events around the world since 2011 has been stunning. Perhaps that's part of why, as the Public Religion Research Institute reported on Friday, "The number of Americans who believe
that natural disasters are evidence of the apocalypse has increased somewhat over the past couple years."

As of 2014, it's estimated that nearly half of Americans—49 percent—say natural disasters are a sign of "the end times," as described in the Bible. That's up from an estimated 44 percent in 2011.
This belief is more prevalent in some religious communities than others. White evangelical Protestants, for example, are more likely than any other group to believe that natural disasters are a sign of the end times, and they're least likely to assign some of the blame to climate change (participants were allowed to select both options if they wanted). Black Protestants were close behind white evangelicals in terms of apprehending the apocalypse, but they were also the group most likely to believe in climate change, too. Predictably, the religiously unaffiliated were the least likely to believe superstorms are apocalyptic—but even so, a third of that group said they see signs of the end times in the weather. (By Emma Green, The Atlantic, November 22, 2015)
The Christian theology includes something known as eschatology, the study of the end of times, including the apocalypse. And for two millennia, some have been declaring the imminence of that denouement to the human condition on this earth, with the promise, for the elect of God, of eternal life of a quite different and more rapturous life in heaven with God. Christian theology also includes something known as soteriology, the pursuit of salvation, in whatever forms and definitions it may take, depending on that both engaging and enervating activity called "biblical interpretation".
Some Christians take their pursuit of eternal life, "by the grace of God" to be the central focus of their discipleship. And in human terms that often means the separation from the 'ways of the world' and the embrace of holy and sacred things like church worship, good works, conflict resolution, and attention to the protection of the environment. For others, it might include the activity of protecting children conceived out of wedlock, through active participation in the 'right to life' issue along with the questions of artificial birth control and in vitro fertilization, believing that God's will has been expressed in "natural" processes that are not to be interfered with by human/scientific manipulation.
Salvation, then, has both personal implications as well as broad human application, and some faiths have stressed one over the other of these concepts. Some even have attempted to blend both the individual with the more abstract, through such spiritual pursuits and activities as prayer, meditation, worship and reflection linked to social justice projects both at home and around the world.
It seems that humans struggle with the responsibility of choosing what Plato called the "good life" by attempting to balance both the personal belief in and pursuit of a heavenly afterlife with the activities that embrace the survival of the planet, and the building of that proverbial "city on the hill" the New Jerusalem, as noted in scripture.
Turning weapons into ploughshares, for example, inspires those in the peace movements.
Learning and applying the techniques of reconciliation, for others, applies this injunction in another equally honourable direction. For others, including many of the world's best composers and artists, generating their original compositions dedicated to their God is their way of worshipping the deity.
Others, like Kierkegaard, considered the manner in which the Christian church was heading was misplaced, and took up vehement intellectual  arguments against it, as part of his pursuit of the life of a Christian disciple. Quite expectedly, those within the ecclesiastical hierarchy have regarded such criticism as heresy, a word and a concept for which hundreds if not thousands have been persecuted, out of a conviction by the authorities, that whatever their 'sins' that was the punishment that God demanded, and as the agents of that God, they had to carry out those directions.
Wrapping both individual lives, and as a natural extension, the lives of political parties and political ideologies with the words of holy writ is a drama that has been witnessed in all periods of history from all religious affiliations, as leaders attempt to seduce followers that their way is the "right" path to eternal life, and their prescription for the immediate situation is based on their belief that they have received God's word clearly and unequivocally. And such confidence and clarity has much heft among those whose struggles have resulted in both confusion and fear.
The old argument that a "new convert" is much more intense in his or her commitment to the faith than someone who has been raised inside the sanctuary for generations. And "knowing the mind of God' is another of the central division points separating various faiths, with the Jewish faith taking the admirable yet demanding position that God is much too awesome and mysterious to be fully known, so they pursue a process of continual engagement through dialogue, study and debate to interpret and to re-interpret the words of the Torah as integral to their relationship with G-d.
Today, we see evidence of the clash of both civilizations and "religious" convictions especially through the daily feed of atrocities from Islamic terrorists who are finally and forcefully being condemned for their perversion of Islam by imams in both North America and the Middle East.
Some infer the potential demise of Islam itself, should these thugs continue in their massacre of those infidels who have not converted to their brand of Islam. (Just today, in Kenya, near the border with Somalia, another 28 who did not recite verses from the Koran on demand were shot in the head in cold blood for their "infidelity" to Islam, as the Al Shabbab terrorists conceive it and impose it on their victims.)
There is a danger in some of the poll results above, that faith and fear will be so enmeshed that their distinction will become diffused and that some people through some intimate and potentially unconscious blending of both will envision their own participation in the end of times. And one of the results of such over-played hands will be that such an outcome will become self-fulfilling, through some inadvertent action or words or stampede of some instant mob and that a single shot/spark will ignite a much larger cauldron of events from which our conventional processes will not be able to extricate the human population.
Voices of moderation, temperance, toleration of differences, mutual respect and even human rights, including those who advocate and pursue the right to worship in freedom of religion and the freedom from religion of all kinds, do exist among all faith communities. They are, however, being drowned out by the monster megaphones and atrocities of the thugs whose persona of religion (in this case radical Islam) is nothing more than their illusory belief in their own holiness and their attempt to justify their hatred, bigotry and sinister cynicism directed first against all Jews and emanating out to all Christians, and even to all Muslims who do not subscribe to their ethnic and religious cleansing of all infidels. And, ironically and predictably, they will use whatever "gifts" of weapons and strategy they receive from all of those infidels and take inordinate pride even hubris in turning those gifts against their infidel "benefactors".
Also unfortunately, for our part, we must guard against being seduced into their entrapments in our pursuit of our "honourable" world view that provides some basis for inclusion, although that inclusion has eroded in the last two or three decades through the commodifying of people and things and the transformation of human interactions into highly recorded business and profit-oriented dramas. Our seduction into and by the world of technology is in danger of replacing what was one considered wisdom and faith by reductionistic concepts like "intelligence" and "metadata." And, consequently we are all in danger of replacing what passed for the pursuit of the good life through the pursuit and generation of beauty, love, poetry and art with what now passes for affluence, narcissism, social status and influence and the desecration of all of those people who "can't and don't pass muster" in our highly sophisticated and detached rationalization of  what can never be considered holy, the pursuit of "rugged individualism" in spite of the virulent efforts of the religious and political "right" to transform that idol into an article of faith.
And those of us who oppose such thalidomide-like transformations must seek and deploy all means to point out the dangers and the minefields contained in such self-serving addictions, without resorting to or falling into the trap of defeat out of desperation.
No G-d worthy of the name would or could endorse our abdication of our best angels and our best efforts, both individually and collaboratively, just to insure our personal place in a heaven that may or may not exist, as if we were competing in some holy and spiritual Olympics, including our status with the deity of our choosing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Indifference is chain-stokes breathing of human civilization

There is so much ink being poured over the various economic indicators, the GDP, GNP, Unemployment percentages, Wall Street and Bay Street indices, dollar trading figures, trade numbers in percentages and comparative with both exports and imports from various countries being marched in Sousa-style across our retinas. And then there are the "poll" numbers for political parties, and also for individual candidates, and the millions/billions of dollars spent pursuing public office, and numbers that pile countries and cities on top of each other according to some index of living standards and rate of agreeableness to human life....and then there are the numbers of university graduates, especially in mathematics and science, as comparisons between countries, and the tax rates in various countries, especially corporate tax rate comparisons, in order to attract new industrial development in order for politicians to generate both increased tax revenues and higher public opinion poll numbers for themselves.
And then there are the numbers of prisoners, especially black and minority male prisoners, and the crime rates...all of them grist for the sociologists and the journalists and, of course, the politicians either to dodge or to shout out, depending on the size and resonance of the numbers within their respective communities.
It is as if we have become drunk on our own capacity to gather, store, transmit and even digitally analyse all manner of statistical data, now including mega-data and meta-data, the mountains of information on which social policy makers and politicians gorge.
Occasionally, in our prep-packaged diet of digital data, newscasts will insert a "human interest" story about a hero who, at ninety-five, just jumped out of an airplane, as one last item to be ticked off his or her bucket list.
However, there is another side to these limited and highly skewed portrayals of "reality" that does not gather much public traction either in the media or through the dialogue between and among the political and the thought leaders.
And that side has to do with the as yet unmeasured and steeply climbing graph of insolence, insensitivity, rudeness, insouciance and even barbarity...without remorse and more dangerously, with complete indifference.
We live in a period of history that our grandchildren will have to pause to digest. With all of our techno-accomplishments, including new medical interventions, new ways of communicating, new ways of researching all forms and genres of data, of generating images both photographic and virtual, we are quickly bestowing on our offspring a legacy of violence, of barbarism and of pride in the release of that side of our natures.
Four rabbis at early morning prayers in a Jerusalem synagogue are not merely murdered, they are butchered. And although their assassins are shot, their Islamic community immediately gives out sweets on their streets, as a sign of pride in the accomplishment of their colleagues, the assassins. Palestinian voices, although mouthing to their English audience the expected sadness and horror at the atrocity, nevertheless utter rather opposite messages within their own communities. Medical aid workers, even one who converted to Islam, following his tour of duty as an American soldier in the Iraq war of 2003, is beheaded by ISIS, as another sign of the sheer unmitigated and insufferable violence that comprises the heart of the Islamic terror campaign, as the content for their ensuing media blitz, demonstrating a level of cryogenic corpuscles that have to be flowing through their veins as well as through the veins of the rabbis' assassins.
And, of course, in both instances, violence is being perverted into a religious act, as if there were some deity or some sacred text that both condoned and encouraged such violence. Praying rabbis, expecting to be left alone in their silence and in their attempt to visit with God, are no match for butchers with machetes, cleavers and the usual guns. Nor is the human conscience linked as it has been, we believed, to the human poetic heart, capable of integrating such violence into its "vocabulary" or into its 'digestive' system, as one must attempt to digest meaning from events one encounters in one's life.
And so, there seems to be a growing divide, not merely at the level of the blatant terror...those recruited and evangelically over-committed to the cause, and those of us who simply find the whole movement repulsive, inhuman and indecent. And even between those numb to violence and hate and those of us who continue to be outraged, despondent, and despairing.
Madame Defarge was portrayed as knitting into her yarn the names of those to be executed in front of the guillotine while she fed the pigeons, in what has to be one of the more gruesome scenes from the literature of the French Revolution. A fictional character in Charles Dickens' Tale of Two Cities, Madame Defarge represents one aspect of the Fates. The Moirai (the Fates as represented in Greek mythology) used yarn to measure out the life of a man, and cut it to end it; Defarge knits, and her knitting secretly encodes the names of people to be killed. Defarge also symbolizes the nature of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution in which radical Jacobins engaged in mass political persecution of all real or supposed enemies of the Revolution who were executed on grounds of sedition to the new republic through the guillotine, particularly targeting people with aristocratic heritage. (Wikipedia)
In what was really a class war, the aristocrats versus the people, this Revolution was pointing to a new relationship of power in France, while exacting violent revenge. And there are other equally heinous and violent murders, including beheadings by British monarchs whose lives were worthless, apparently, without their having absolute control of everything including the procreative powers of their female partners. We cannot and must not absolve ourselves of our own history of violence and our capacity to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear when ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands in Ruwanda, for example, or Kosovo, or more recently in Baghdad and Nigeria, march in italicized red ink across our collective conscious. And we have to wonder what such stories did and continue to do to our collective unconscious.
And we also have to ask, "Do we really care?".... as we stampede through turnstiles turning Black Friday into another form of violent mayhem, trampling human life in our compulsive and addictive demand for things, baubles really, to match our neighbours, to impress our kids, to smooth over broken relationships, and to "keep the economy healthy" as if that health were the holy grail.
It was John Donne who reflected that he liked and even admired individual humans, some he even loved, but had contempt for the crowd, the mob, the mass....and when the mob is running headlong, like an army of Leningen's ants,  into the seductive arms of the phony empowerment that comes from being literally armed even while living inside gated communities, that comes from having "the most stuff" and/or the biggest office, the most expensive BMW, the most exotic vacations, it is extremely difficult if not impossible to disagree with Donne.
And the more we collect, compile, store and worship our "audience data" as if that were our purpose on the planet, the more blinded to our need for collective and compassionate education, employment, spiritual experience, and both poetry and music we become. Our souls and our spirits, from all faiths as well as from none, are starved and parched, living in this dessert of the angry, listless, hollow and empty lives that it is our duty to live in the pursuit of living encounters, breathing moments filled with beauty, and with new discoveries and with travels to all of the living models of many different civil-izations....And yet, one is prompted to wonder, if all of this steely, shark-like behaviour and attitudes, including rigid and unshakeable ideologies (certainly not belief systems) can or will generate anywhere, new models that could still wear the name "civil"-izations, proud of their continuing contributions to the arts, to music, to dance, to literature, and to empathy, compassion, and also to enriching the human capacity to hope and to dream and to create....and not to worship our capacity to destroy.
And when we will develop a meaningful and respected scale to measure our willingness to reject violence and hatred and indifference that makes the first two inescapable?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Reflections on Gorbachev's warning that we might be heading into another Cold War

\reflectRussia has reportedly agreed to  build four new reactors at Bushehr, an existing Russian-built power station, and four at another site, (from The Economist, November 15, 2014)  in Iran. Reports out of the former Crimea indicate that "Russification" has proceeded very rapidly. Putin has whined that economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the EU against the Kremlin will hurt global trade. Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader, has told the world we may be entering a new cold war. Reports from eastern Ukraine indicate that Russian tanks and troops are continuing to foment trouble in that region. All these headlines while the world also celebrated the 25th anniversary of the tumbling of the Berlin Wall, that most odious of embattlements that segregated East and West Berlin during the Cold War.
Are we truly entering a new cold war, and if so, what might it look like?
First, while the original Cold War pitted two super powers like behemoths poised both with nuclear weapons, the Soviet Union seeking expansion with the U.S. pursuing a policy of containment. Bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war, these two superpowers were engaged in a very dangerous conflict of wills, national ambition, national pride, scientific competition (The Soviet space ship, Sputnik was launched in 1957, unleashing a scientific competition that resulted in President Kennedy's proclamation that the U.S. would land a man on the moon in the ten years of the 1960's.  Viet Nam, Afghanistan, Cuban missile crisis, the Hungarian Revolution, the Czech revolution, plus the construction of the Berlin Wall itself....these are some of the high points of the Cold War.
Today, the world is very different, and yet there are striking similarities. Russia, having experienced the dissolution of the Soviet Union, seeks to re-establish herself as a world power under Putin's leadership. China, rather than forming a Communist-axis with Russia, continues to modernize and court the favours of the United States, Russia, Brazil, India, and especially the continent of Africa. The former cluster of non-aligned nations, that once included Egypt, India and others, seems not to occupy a prominent place in world dialogue, nor does the Trilateral Commission, once alleged to be the driving force behind western (especially American) foreign policy. Today, the world is a far more trade-centric place with fossil fuels dominating that arena. Economic and industrial output and dollars of both imports and exports tend to dominate the world's conventional wisdom along with increasing evidence of cyber-conflicts among the major powers and also into the affairs of private and public corporations. The nuclear club, while holding at five, continues to magnetize others like North Korea, Iran and potentially other Middle East countries, especially if Iran does in fact develop a nuclear weapon and especially if she does so in secret (with or without Russian assistance and cover).
Continuing to haunt the nuclear weapons debate is the overwhelming evidence that Israel possesses a nuclear arsenal, courtesy of the United States, thereby rendering her position within the Middle East as a potential bully, although she has steadfastly resisted deploying these weapons, and continues to remain "mum" even about their existence. Palestinians, Muslims generally, and other countries whose allegiance and alliance is sought by both Russia and the United States, not to mention China, wonder about the wisdom of turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to those who decry the Israeli nuclear stockpile. Loose nuclear weapons are reported to lie unprotected in many places, especially in the hinterland of the former Soviet Union, all of which weapons have become the 'holy grail' for the Islamic jihadists.
What is clear, at least, when attempting to discern the degree of validity in Gorbachev's warning, is that Russia, China and the United States have yet to announce publicly that they are united in their condemnation of Islamic jihad. They have also not announced a joint commitment to aggressive measures to contain and reduce carbon from the atmosphere, although the U.S. and China did this week make an announcement of some kind of agreement, beginning for China in 2030, with the U.S. increasing her commitment and actions prior to the end of this decade.
So long as Putin remains silent and uncommitted to the eradication of the Islamic jihadi threat everywhere, along with his Communist colleagues in Beijing, and so long as Putin continues to actively and aggressively support Assad in Syria and the pursuit of nuclear power in Iran while pretending to provide evidence that Iran does not seek nuclear weapons, and so long as Putin's invasion of Ukraine continues unchecked either by NATO or by Ukraine with the aggressive and comprehensive support of the west, especially the United States and the European Union (which is far more restrained, dependent as it is on Russian fossil energy for heat and industrial production), and so long as Russia makes no move toward addressing the global threat of climate change and so long as Russia continues to hold fast to her short-term bargaining power through the threat of cutting off those fuel pumps...the world has a gordion knot in the Kremlin, one that Mr. Gorbachev understands better than contemporary western leaders. And so long as that gordion knot remains tied, and refuses to disentangle or to be disentangled, the world does have an impending disaster incubating under Putin's direction control and agency.
And while Russia is not nearly as powerful as the former Soviet Union, Putin is neither following in the pattern of Gorbachev nor Kruschev, but is more aligned with his tsarist compatriots whose extremes in retribution, in hegemony and in repression of the Russian people knew few limits. Parading Edward Snowden as his token puppet testimony to the free flow of information only exaggerates Putin's complete addiction to secrecy, to allegiance to his dependent oligarch serfs, to his absolute dominance of his Russian military machine, and his growing hubris in the face of the world's pre-occupation with the Islamic jihad, with Ebola, with the recovery from the self-inflicted collapse of the U.S. and western economies in 2008-9. Putin's opportunism linked to his Tsar-like control within Russia, coupled with the world's self-seduction that the Cold War ended thereby rending Russia no longer a serious threat.....all of these factors contribute to a potential stealthy threat from a new self-appointed Tsar.
And Gorbachev's warning must have been as much to his own Russian comrades as it was to the rest of the world, as he visited Berlin as part of the anniversary celebrations of the Wall he eventually "tore down" as Reagan pleaded with him to do.
Vigilance, in world affairs, is no longer confined to close scrutiny of a single important relationship. Vigilance, and through vigilance safety and security now depend on a multivariate calculus that warrants a highly trained foreign affairs cadre as well as increased attention  by the public and private news organizations leading to much better informed and much more critical citizenry in all countries and regions, in order that stealth and ambition mixed with nuclear power (a threat Putin used when pushing back against the west's protests over his invasion of Ukraine) and hubris at the national level, as well as on the terrorist front do not combine to generate the unthinkable, a spontaneous spark that ignites a flame against which there are no antidotes, nor protections, nor global agencies or institutions to add leaven to the toxic mix.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Refections on Remembrance Day, 2014

November 11, 2014, a day in Canada when everything has changed, and yet, as the Rabbi reminded us in his Benediction, nothing has changed. We are today a peaceful, respectful, law-abiding and trusted country among the world's medium powers as we have been for the last century-plus. We are also emerging from a series of events in the last three weeks that have shaken us all. The assassination of two of Canada's military personnel in cold blood, one by an auto the other by as assassin's bullet as he stood guard at the War Memorial in the centre of Ottawa, has left us newly charged with both appreciation for our military and the role they play in our lives, and also newly wounded in our perception of our country and our realization of the way the world has changed forever.
Both assassinations were perpetrated by radicalized Canadians, albeit troubled, dedicated to the cause of Islamic terrorism. Just today, we learned that our CF-18's had dropped their first bombs on ISIS targets in northern Iraq, following  a formal decision by the Canadian government to join the campaign against this venomous scourge. It was only yesterday that we learned that a suicide bomber had detonated his body device, disguised as a student in a northern Nigerian town, killing some 49 young men, and wounding another 80. According to reports, the assassin in this case was a member of Boko Haram, (translated "western education is evil") another arm of Islamic terrorism, inflicting its poison whenever and wherever it can.
Officially, the military does not like to disclose casualties, as we learned from one of Canada's Generals involved in the Iraq mission explained on CTV's Question Period this past Sunday, just as Matthew Halton Canada's reporter from the front was forbidden from reporting casualties in the First World War, documented in his son David Halton's new book, Dispatches from the Front. During that war, the Canadian government did not appreciate the Senior Halton's "gloomy picture" of what he was witnessing in the European theatre, preferring a more glossy and sugar-coated version of events than Halton was willing to present. Today, however, with 24-7 reporting, embedded reporters in the war theatres, some facing beheading at the hands of the terrorists as they pursue a relentless campaign of fear and recruitment of the most fragile and seducible of young men and women from western countries are delivering hour-by-hour reports on the most deadly events.
The world has grown considerably smaller, at least in the time and distance as well as the volume of information flow that darts at lightning speed into every laptop and I-pad and smart phone on the planet the instant something happens. This is another of the ways everything has changed: we all have instant access to such a range of information sources from many countries, that we could easily drown in the bile of news-flow that discourages and even suffocates our spirit and our hope.
On the other hand, some 50,000 Canadians turned up at the War Memorial in Ottawa today, and the Canadian Legion sold some 20 million poppies, more than ever in history, all of this a defiant statement of the Canadian strength of will and solidarity (not solidity, as CBC commentator Brian Stewart called it in his comments on air) sending a message of determination to those troubled current and potential recruits to radical Islam that we will not be undermined, nor will will become victims of our fear.
For seven decades, I have held what could justly be called a detached view on Canada's military, sliding too easily into comfort with many comedic views that are summed up in the line, "In which war has Canada's contribution made a difference?" Mostly out of both ignorance and a distaste for killing, for guns, for top-down authority my life path veered further and further away from all things violent, including the military.
When I taught grade ten history to "tech boys" in 1967, in the midst of the Viet Nam war, as I have stated in this space previously, one student boldly asked in the middle of a class in Canadian History, "Sir, would you go to fight in Viet Nam if you were drafted?" I responded, "Only if I were permitted to teach, and not if I were required to bear arms and kill the enemy."
I have often wondered silently and recently more publicly why there is no graduate school offering formal academic training in peace negotiations, especially at the Canadian military universities. When I learned just yesterday of the sale of "white poppies" in British Columbia as a movement to promote peace, I wanted to purchase one, recognizing that some people who espouse the sale of red poppies find this initiative offensive and competitive with their tradition.
Is there not room for both red and white poppies to be sold in a Canadian context?
Another way Canadians have not changed, in spite of our recent parliamentary vote to send fighter jets and military personnel to Iraq to fight ISIS, is that we are a country of 33 million who by a large majority prefer peace to war, prefer conflict resolution to blood-shed, negotiation to fisticuffs, and even walking away to bullying. When I was in grade ten, a classmate had a dispute with me over what I considered a trivial matter, yet one he considered a matter of honour. As I departed school, carrying my books, I was accosted just inside the school fence by my tormentor who began to pound me with his fists, as a crowd quickly gathered. Without putting my books down, and without engaging him with my own fists, I suggested we both pay a visit to the principal's office to settle our dispute. Of course, that was the "chicken way out" in the mind of my opponent, as he continued to pound away, only to look up and find the principal coming to break up the fight. Whatever punishment he received I have no idea, to this day; I do know that he eventually enlisted in the Canadian Navy and likely served an honourable career. The principal, for his part, however, showed his colours many years later when, having been asked, after I completed a master's degree, for a letter of reference to a doctoral program in education at an Ontario university, by this scribe, secretly wrote that this candidate is not emotionally mature enough to be considered a candidate for a doctoral program in education. Finding out who our friends and enemies are is neither a simple nor a second-long process; it takes decades to learn the colour of one's character, and while I may have taken the "chicken" road in grade ten, I have often wondered what road that principal was taking some seventeen years later. On reflection, like too many of his "leader-peers" in education, he preferred controlled appearances to somewhat unpredictable and uncontrolled reality, and was ready and willing to step over a professional line of judgement of one of his former students, good enough to have been invited to 'teach' the French class in which he was then substituting for the ill French teacher but apparently not good enough to enter a doctoral program in education.
Today, Canadians know that ISIS is a serious threat, an unequivocal enemy, and a force to be eradicated by whatever means necessary. Today, conversely from my previous seven decades, I would consider it an honour and a duty to engage in the fight against this scourge. Today, the barbarism that rages like a tsunami across the globe, incubated albeit too often by injustices incalculable and inexcusable, nevertheless, requires both a deep and profound searching of our collective unconscious, as well as our 'western' history, without in any way apologizing for or amending our healthy education of men and women for an unchartered future of diminishing life-sustaining resources. There is no principal who is charged with refereeing our growing conflict with radical Islam. There is no organization capable of reining in this monster. There is only the collective will, imagination, courage and spirit of each Canadian and each citizen of every other civilized country, including especially those committed adherents to a moderate and respectful practice and interpretation of Islam, whose active participation is essential in neutralizing this toxic human chemical, reducing it to its smallest and least toxic precipitate and then euthanizing that precipitate from our shared future, without being ready or willing to endure a lasting radioactive residue.
Today, we remember, for as the rabbi reminded us, without memory there is no continuity and there is no identity. And he also reminded us that thanks without action of support is hollow. We are now all soldiers in the unchartered and unpredictable winds of war that are raging in too many quarters through suicide bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, beheadings, propaganda videos, theft of residual arms from previous conflicts, and the linkage of previous Bucca prison camp inmates with former trained military personnel from the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.
And on this Rememberance Day, 2014, we all know the restricted capabilities of the military; we all know that eventually talking will have replace bombs, missiles and hard power and then, the degree of our collective commitment to the termination of this current scourge, as well as our willingness and courage to deter the threat contained in Mikail Gorbachev's recent warning that we are entering a new cold war, as well as our collective commitment to collapse the canyon that has grown between the have's and the have-not's will be necessary if our grandchildren are to enjoy the scope and degree of freedom that our current generations have enjoyed, resulting from the bloody and traumatic and courageous actions of our grandparents and their grandparents.
And we will have to grow our tolerance for "gloomy pictures" at the official level if we are even to being that long and arduous process to peace and security and stability that everyone seeks and yet this madness of violence continues and grows.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

An apology for empathy in all of our human encounters

In the most recent edition of The Atlantic, Megan O'Rourke write a piece entitled, "Doctor's Tell All...And it's far worse than you think" which she references a recent book by Danielle Ofri, (an internist at Bellevue Hospital in New York) bearing the title, What Doctors Feel.
Documenting the development of both detachment and a cover-your-ass mentality in American medical practioners, O'Rourke points out a startling piece of information from the Ofri work:
The rate of severe diabetes complications in patients of doctors who rate high on a standard empathy scale, Ofri notes, is a remarkable 40 percent lower than in patients with low-empathy doctors.  There are not a plethora of different or difficult meanings of this piece of information: Empathy in doctors plays a significant and positive role in the process of reaching and retaining health among diabetics....and conversely, diabetic patients whose doctors score much lower on the empathy scale suffer more serious complications.
Perhaps you might think this piece of information is obvious to the most basic common sense. Unfortunately, while that may be true, most of the current indicators of cultural emotional values point to a gaping vacuum of empathy not only among medical doctors in America, but among too many professionals in too many offices, board rooms, court rooms, and especially classrooms. We are witnessing instead, a rise in prominence of human traits like competitiveness, objectifying the other, reducing the 'other' to a transactional actor on whom to "operate", from whom to gather information, on whom to pour the advertising, from whom to elicit the cash in the marketplace, over whom to pour the compliments in order to "establish the relationship" that will keep on giving thereby enhancing the reputation and the resume of the business executive, and ensuring him or her of a rapid climb up the proverbial ladder to the top....whatever that looks like.
Ironically, through empathy operating in full force in the relationship between the doctor and the patient, it is not only the patient who benefits; the doctor's health improves as well.
And, if that is empirically verified in the practice of medicine, is there any reason to doubt that it would also be mutually beneficial to the client and the professional in all other personal, professional and even marketplace encounters?
And yet.....everyday we read about, listen to and watch the drama of human conflict in all of its many faces, shapes and forms. The purveyors of technology apps, for example, now compete to generate the means both to cheat on one's partner and to detect such betrayal. The purveyors of video games compete to generate the most violent of encounters, thereby seducing billions from the bank accounts of millions of eager purchasers. The corporations and the universities are  engaged in providing a fertile incubator for fiscal profit and personal hubris respectively, as if they were engaged in the pursuit of the optimum values needed in both the board room and the lecture hall....occasionally dropping a few morsels of "empathy" if and when a crisis erupts that cannot be dealt with without such dollops of this "triviality" it is too commonly defined in conventional society.
I recall, in a past life, when I served as a secondary school English teacher, encountering a machismo mathematician from Glasgow, well over six feet tall, and brilliant in his intellectual capacity, hearing these words pointedly directed to the English teacher: "You are much too liberal and far too close to the students!" In the same school, during the same former life, I met the art teacher as I conversed with a student, while passing him in the corridor: "There goes Atkins dishing out soul food!" he blurted with a large smirk on his unforgettably mobile face.
Befriending an alcoholic, without knowing the depth of the hold the disease had on the victim, befriending the spouse of another alcoholic desperate for support in extricating herself from the deplorable enmeshment in which she had lived for a quarter century....there were not wise or mature decisions on my part, nor were they conventional in the corporate and politically correct manner imposed on most professionals....and perhaps they gave proof to a previous "slur" thrown by a peer that "he is kind to a fault" in reference to this scribe.
The medical profession is not alone in its determination to eradicate all empathy from the professional lives of the people it admits into the fraternity. The legal, education, accounting and certainly the business and political culture so denigrate empathy, unless and until there is an obvious trauma, that the world has come to expect empathy to be an exception to the encounters in the public arena. And it is not only an exception but it is a dangerous display of a human emotion that risks overturning those established situations that are often barely hanging by a thread. Empathy could lead to its reciprocal return; it could lead to a loss of objectivity and a potential medical misdiagnosis, (as if there were not a long list of misdiagnoses already without empathy in the mix); it could lead to seeing the other as a full human being with all of the narratives of successes and failures that comprise the biographies of each of us.
On the television, somewhat synchronistically, the American movie, The American President, with Michael Douglas and Annette Benning is playing, a movie in which the widowed president actually seeks out a female friend, an environmental lobbyist, whom he dates, to the public and political contempt of far too many, both friends and foes.
Empathy could, and often does, lead to if that were the greatest evil into which one could succumb. And, when set beside many of the conventional alternatives, like spending $4billion on television advertising in pursuit of personal and narcissistic achievement of public office (in both Senate and House of Representatives in the election completed this past week), or the conventional pursuit of hegemony in neighbouring territory, or in raping the resources of crippled countries unable to set boundaries that protect national self-respect in the face of  such corporate and political invasion, or....jealously and dishonestly protecting one's turf in the face of some invasive strategy or tactic of a current or potential competitor....empathy looks rather attractive.
We denigrate empathy because we know we cannot adequately police its consequences and implications and behind such fear are many, if not all, of the religions communities which have, for centuries, over-rated human sex and sexuality as demons to be avoided. Controlling empathy produced popular Victorian novels without sexual intimacy, yet simultaneously millions of babies. Repressing empathy is not only costing billions in a health care system that has so "sterilized" its culture (much as it sterilizes its surgical instruments to prevent the spread of bacteria)  without pausing to reflect on precisely what it was doing.
Let's re-think what we have done to repress emotion in our professional and public cultures, especially the emotion of empathy between practitioner and client....let's re-examine the implications of just how far we have gone down the road to our own unconsciousness of how we so distrust our deepest emotions.
If empathy is to re-emerge as a legitimate component in our personal and our cultural lives, we are all going to have to resist the urge to repress empathy in our own lives, both personal and professional. And that will be very threatening to the establishment in all of our corporations and our professions...and that danger will prove to be worth the discomfort and the discombobulation that will ensue from the release of emotion from its repressed vault, the heart that beats in each of our chests.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The United States government has just been purchased by the rich....and the world will reel from the change

The American political system, indeed the American culture, the American environment and even the loudy touted "American Freedom".....they are all for sale!
And the price, in this round of elections, was approximately $4 Billion....that is the amount that was spent by both parties in advertising, now that all limits on personal and corporate donations have been thrown out by the Supreme Court's decision commonly known as "Citizens United".
Republicans now control both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Republicans were the very ones who blocked all attempts to pass legitimate legislation ever since the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Republican leaders met on the very night of his first election to plan how they would sabotage everything he tried to do so long as he occupied the White House. Some of the spill-over from this electoral defeat of the Democratic control in the Senate include the likely passage of a bill to give the green light to the Keystone Pipeline, proposed to convey tar sands oil, unrefined from Canada to Texas for both refining and export from there. Environmentalists will be appalled, given the extent to which they have committed to campaigning against the project.
The real question then seems to be, "Will the president veto such a bill?"
There will likely be proposals from the Republicans to up the ante in military terms against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria, in spite of the evidence that emerged this week indicating that the American prisoner of war camp Bucca in Iraq, as part of the second Iraq war, was the location for incipient jihadists met, planned and became enraged against America and then joined with the disbanded Iraqi army trained and operated by Saddam Hussein. This new  merged force combines intense anger with professional competence and discipline to create a force that has just this week captured high powered anti-tank weapons left by the Americans in support of the Syrian rebels who have  been fighting against the president of Syria, Assad. The Syrian rebels surrendered to the ISIS jihadists, and their weapons were immediately commandeered. That single and simple incident is a warning sign of things to come.
The Koch Brothers, one of the more prominent sources of Republican candidates, along with a right-wing agenda, will now cash in their 'chips' at the expense of the middle class, the environment, the labour movement, and the social security network, as privatization rises to the top of the political agenda, thereby enhancing the commodification of not only American products and services but also American values.
We are watching the sell-off of those things considered integral to the American "progress" over the last two centuries, fostered and nurtured by Republican and Democratic presidents and politicians. Remember when it was reasonable, and even fashionable, for political leaders in both parties to consider the whole population when considering legislation, to consider the long-term future of the people and the nation, when it was considered prudent to protect the rights of workers, including the right to unionize and to bargain collectively, to ensure that poor children were well fed and well educated as part of the national pursuit of scientific, artistic and professional excellence among the nations of the world, to ensure a woman's right to choose, to provide ready access to all American children to a college education, to ensure that workers were entitled to reasonable remuneration, as well as some stability in their employment future.....these are all now threatened.....unless the Democratic movement rises from the slough of this current political climate and takes both both houses of Congress as well as the White House in 2016.
Of course, that is merely wishful thinking on the part of this scribe....but today is a day when the honour and the political reputation of the American electorate have been squandered on votes for a party whose recent history demonstrates dangerous trends that could hollow out the core of the American middle class even further, rape the remaining health of the environment, dismantle the historic right to organize and bargain collectively and impose a set of tax laws that inordinately
favour the rich.
How long will it be before the vast majority of the American electorate wakes up, takes to the streets and demands the termination of Republican/oligarchic attitudes, debates and even legislation?