Saturday, April 25, 2015

Letter to Jane, Leah, Mila, Nolan, and Halle (grandchildren)

Dear Grandkids:
Although your ages range from early teens to a mere four months, from my vantage, a dozen years or so seems like a mere flip of one year on the calendar. You are all part of one generation, the next after your parents'.
And is it about the world you are likely to inhabit when you reach adulthood that, like many fathers and grandfathers before, I want to speak to you.
First, a little background.
Your great grandparents lived through World War II and the Great Depression, both of which were difficult, and even Great Grandmother "Nolie" took hungry people in to feed them, as they passed by her house. You other Great Grandmother, too, took in borders to help pay for the education of their girls through the Registered Nurse program. The Depression saw hundreds of men riding the trains through town, looking for work, food and some shelter wherever they could find them. During the Second War, your Great Grandfather volunteered to go to Europe where he served as a 'driver' for the Canadian Army. I, on the other hand, do not remember the details of the war, having been born in the middle of it. Our's was a halcyon period in which to grow up, through the late 1940's and 1950's, a time when war did not dominate the headlines or demand volunteers for military service. We were pretty much free to play outside, games you might consider Neanderthal, like 'hide-and-seek' or 'kick-the-can' in Spring, golf in summer and even hockey in the minor league in winter. We listened to radio stations like CKEY and CHUM from Toronto, both of which featured the latest in popular recordings made by people like Elvis Presley, Perry Como, Pat Boone, Brenda Lee,  Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole. The lyrics of their songs were highly simplistic, elementary poetry with memorable melodies....and those songs depicted a culture that can be described as warm, friendly, gentle, peaceful and especially hopeful.
Our's was the first generation to have the doors opened to a university education, with bursaries from the provincial government to help defray our expenses. Student loans were as distant to our future as landing a man on the moon. We read 'European history' in high school from texts that literally précised both the events and the persons in that history. It was as if we were learning a few fine details of treaties, and a few governments, antiseptic and clinical, without blood, or especially any sense of danger to us, as we sat in our desks, or walked to and from school. All the parents in our neighbourhood either had permanent employment or were full-time homemakers and mothers. A few of us were honoured to experience both of our parents in full-time employment. In my case, my mother started working as school nurse as soon as I entered elementary school. My father worked in the same hardware store for nearly half a century, something that may be beyond the reach of your imaginations.
It was a period in a small Ontario town that I would describe as stable, secure, somewhat insular and parochial, interrupted only by a few main street fires, and too many high profile male suicides. None of us had ever flown in a jet airplane, and many of us did not even own a television until late in high school. Kids whose parents were Roman Catholic attended Mass on Sunday, while kids whose parents were protestant attended one of a few options: United, Presbyterian, Baptist, Anglican....and these were broken into 'liberal' and evangelical camps. Attending midnight Mass on Christmas Eve by protestant adolescents was considered "brave" and a little unusual. I remember the experience as if it were last night.
It was very easy for students to find summer employment, in stores, the hospital, or in the provincial government's Lands and Forests ( the forerunner of the Ministry of the Environment). Summers saw an influx of American tourists with full pockets ready to infuse an injection of both cash and energy into the economy of our little town. Many of these tourists owned or rented cottages on Georgian Bay, or on one of the many inland lakes that dotted the landscape of our district. We looked forward to an adult life of work with dignity, established homes with simple guidelines of the roles of both men and women, and children who would, in all likelihood, follow in our paths. My father, for example, invited me to join him in his own hardware store, when I was nineteen and just completing my second year at Western. (While I deeply appreciated the invitation, and would have loved to spend more time working with him, as I told him, I had no interest in hardware, and no interest in learning all that I would have to learn in order to complement his deep well of information and experience in that sector.)
When I returned to teach in the local high school, I recall being asked, by a grade ten male student, if I would agree to "serve" in Viet Nam, that being the current military engagement in which the United States found itself. It seemed very far away, and I paused to answer, "If I were able to teach, without bearing arms, I would serve." That answer seemed to satisfy the questioner.
We did not listen to nightly news until we owned a television set, and then, the only access to information came from only three or four sources: CBC, NBC, CBS, ABC. Television programs like Disney, Ed Sullivan, Red Skelton, Jack Benny and the Honeymooners were really what today would be termed "appointment television". And in both news coverage and entertainment, there were no threats to our existence, nor, it seemed to the future of our children. We effectively lived in a bubble, happily insulated and isolated from whatever waves of trouble, including the Cold War, that were rumbling beyond our consciousness.
We were not weighed down with cataracts of information about dangerous food, dangerous terrorists, dangerous income disparity, global products bearing chemicals that endangered the lives of children, millions of recalls of cars that endangered their occupants, dangerous threats to the ecosystem that sustains all life, including human life, the scorched earth of dying species in the animal and fish world, the scorched earth of diminishing water supplies including rations, dangerous ubiquitous bullying that scorches the lives of thousands of adolescents today through the digital social media, the availability of dangerous non-prescription drugs that haunt the fears of parents in all towns and cities, where their children are attempting to acquire an education for life, not merely a list of work-related skill-sets. We literally never even thought about whether or not the future of the planet was in danger. We literally never thought of the existence and danger of suicide bombers dotting the world, espousing and prosletyzing a faux-religious ideology that seeks to dominate the world, and uses such barbaric tactics Middle Ages' beheading, documented in video the whole world sees, in video that magnetizes millions of disaffected young people  to join. We never considered doing graduate work in a country not of our birth, nor of our first language. It took the same length of time to travel by train to Toronto as it does today to fly to the Caribbean. Our phones were hand-dialed, and before that, required an 'operator' to complete the call, with only three or four numbers being enough to cover our town. When we were teenagers, the phone company introduced the three-digit plus four digit formula, for local calls; long-distance was only a flicker in the mind of scientists in some labs.
Ebola, malaria and even cancer were not yet established on our social and mental horizons; we heard about surgeries that included appendectomies, gall-bladder removals, and the occasional tonsillectomy.
There was one "bootlegger" in our town, and his name and address were known by most even if he was not patronized by them; the police had no choice but to engage in "community policing" as they knew every person, and certainly every kid, in town.
The violence in my home was something I never connected to a wider world of violence; it was restricted, so far as I could see, to the idiosyncratic vagaries of a single personality, a woman whose energy and compassion and addiction to perfection were all "on steroids" in today's vernacular. Hunting was a conventional expression of shooting, unlike the incidents of self-inflicted, fatal gun-shots that rocked the town each time they occurred.
Another archetypal headline, never to make the local weekly paper, was the story of the occasional co-ed who became pregnant while attending high school.
When we went into a local shop or business, we were respected, treated with both decency and civility, even if the choice from which we had to choose was significantly smaller than your's is today. And among the owners and operators, there was a sense of  belonging to a community, without even a feeling that everyone pried into your private life. A visit to the barber shop, for example, included the usual time to read the paper or magazine, as well as a conversation about the latest
local 'big' news.We did not feel as if we were merely another "transactional" actor playing whatever game the business imposed upon us. Of course, most of the things we purchased were made elsewhere; if fact, often people from our town considered it an opportunity to visit one of those factories, such as the Corning factory in up-state New York. But the people who made these products were seen as people much like us who were doing what most people in town were doing, their job, as well as they could possibly perform it.
Because we did not consider that we were being ripped off by local businesses, the operators were also respected, their prices were considered "fair" and their unwritten warranty mutually in place. We did not feel that we needed a legal degree in order to protect ourselves from some monster corporation whose sole purpose was greed, or from some government whose primary purpose was 'the common good'.
However, sadly, we were introduced to some profoundly unsettling Christian religious fundamentalism, a kind of absolutism about a human interpretation of what God expected from humans, about what God promised to humans in Manichean terms of a Heaven of paradise for those who 'converted' and a Hell for those who disobeyed the rules. It was the kind that made tragic history in Northern Ireland, the kind that divided protestants from Catholics, the kind that still celebrated the victory of the protestants in the Battle of the Boyne on "Orangeman's Day" in July. And the people who led the propaganda campaign were, in effect, both emulating and competing with the Billy Graham's of the world, evangelists who toured the world on the strength of their charismatic "preaching" and the resulting parade of converts from all their shows. The integrity of their theology, however, was not questioned because they were the 'stars' who enjoyed a level of fame and star status among the crowds who filled their halls. This form of religion was like a travelling circus, only a holy one, for those who filled the halls. After all, there were very few opportunities to listen to an outsider with a gift of audience control on any subject.
Occasionally, there would be an election campaign, when outsiders would come to town in search of votes, and depending on the political persuasion of the speaker, would attract the local party members who were willing to be identified with that party. Many stayed away refusing to disclose their political preference. Even our parents did not disclose their "politics" to their children.
We could well have been considered politically naïve, when we were disappointed that the AVRO Arrow was cancelled, because we believed that developing its engine in a local plant would have been good for business and for employment, not primarily because the latest airship would have become another weapon of war.
Today, and for the foreseeable future, your world will be manipulated and controlled by those with the money and power to shape its course to their liking. And that will continue to set before you a deep division between those who either do not believe that we are all poisoning the water and the air and the  land through our production and consumption and use of chemicals and their by-products, or do not care, to serve the insatiable greed both of the people who finance business and government and for the operators of both business and government who have, for the most part, been purchased as puppets by the people with the money. Your world no longer cares about the people who do not "have" but only about those who "have" as we shrink both our expectations and our capacity to change the world from cold and narcissistic culturally, to cold and indifferent, even disdainful of 'the other'....
Of course, there is evidence of many non-profits working very hard among the dispossessed in the developing world. And there are many examples of mixed marriages and families with two ethnicities. Yet there are also increasing numbers of  conflicts and news stories that illustrate the human capacity for greed and for violence and the need for complete control, whether based on an economic/political ideology or a religious perversion. And, at the top of the world's leaders' meetings there continue to be choices made for retributive vengeance through military power, even the decision this week, by European leaders to bomb the boats and the camps of the 'terrorists' who rob victims of violence and hunger in exchange for the promise of a safe trip from North Africa to Italy for a new life. War and violence, instead of generating peace treaties, is now generating more violence and more revenge, by those whose belief system includes the "sacred" act of suicide, in the form of  suicide bombes. Concerted international agreements to solve the danger of global warming and climate change that threatens us all in so many ways, and not in the distant future, but already in drought, extreme weather incidents, melting ice caps and exposure of the fragility of the planet earth.
The challenges we are leaving to you, shamefully, are, or seem to be, more mountainous than are the institutions and the culture of collaboration and compromise that those institutions need to make the agreements you will need to move from violence as an institutional weapon to reconciliation and compromise that promise your only secure and healthy future.
While we have left you a universe of technological wizardry, including those deployed as military machines, we have left you with a paucity of good will, a dearth of respect and of trust at both the local levels and the top levels of geopolitics. While we have left you a global economy, we have not left you a fortress of protective institutions that place human survival and planetary survival ahead of the profits of the unscrupulous. And, most importantly, we have also left you a playing field, the planet, that is itself in serious danger of failing to support the lives in dignity of your children, and we can only hope that your communities and your schools and your universities will drop their worship of skills, numbers, digitization, the quantitative measurement and division of intellectual understanding in favour of a more integrated and more "liberal" (in the sense of liberal arts) and a more humane pursuit of new knowledge and how to integrate the many disciplines that threaten to silo even the best minds of your generation.
As one who is sharing responsibility for the world we are leaving you, I seek your forgiveness, for not having done enough to turn the force of the tsunami of the rich, the powerful and the greedy, away from their chosen fulfilment of their insatiable appetites for power and more wealth, at the expense of your future. And I also humbly ask your forgiveness for our having left you a world unwilling to shed the fear of powerlessness and enter into power-sharing institutions of both governance and legal accountability, not at the national level, but at the international level.
And, while I hope your generation is courageous enough for the huge tasks you face, I offer all my empathy, and support and prayers for your wading through the polluted swamp of detritus and toxins, both chemical and cultural, that we are leaving.
No God would be pleased with the mess we are making of our abundance.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Character and climate: both sine qua nons of our collective future on the planet

David Brooks' new  book, The Road to Character, uses ten biographies to illustrate his thesis: that political figures must know the difference between their public voice (persona) and their inner voice, the truth. As one of his primary cases of evidence in support of his thesis, Brooks, appearing as a guest on GPS with Fareed Zakaria today, Brooks cites the example of John Hay, senior advisor of Abraham Lincoln, who was charged with writing press releases to document the vagaries of the Civil War (and reinforce the spirits of union readers!). These consisted of glowing accounts of northern victories, superior generals and the promise of ultimate victory. At the same time, according to Brooks, Hay was writing diary entries that cried out about impending catastrophe with incompetent generals. For Brooks, this biographical narrative illustrates what he considers Hay's exemplary character, knowing the difference between the public voice and the inner voice, a difference Brooks believes is missing in most current public figures.
A classic illustration of Carl Jung's theory of enantiadromia,* this fusion of the ego and the persona.
The super-dominance of the persona comes with a serious price, the repression of the ego, that inner voice, to the point where, eventually, the inner voice will erupt in the opposite of the voice of the persona. Either with the persona in dominance, or the ego in dominance, there can be no balance, the ultimate task of maturation. The task of becoming human, for Jung, is one of individuation, that separation of the ego from the public mask, that pose we all create and present, in order to survive in an increasingly malicious and bullying social media-dominated world.
Within each of us, this tension between expressing what one deeply feels, and what one knows can only be tolerated by a fragile world (unable to deal with too much reality) continues. It is especially prominent for politicians whose very identity depends on the ultimate acceptance of that public whose votes determine their futures. Clearly, the course of history would have taken a different path had Lincoln's press secretary revealed the contents of his diaries in the middle of the Civil War. Northern forces would have withered in despair; northern generals would have cried "sabotage" and Lincoln himself could have become a victim of the words of his own agent.
Appearing on the same GPS on CNN, Richard Sacks, articulate advocate for addressing the threat of global warming and climate change, told listeners that 2015 was the pivotal year in addressing this monumental danger. If we do not get it right this year, then, according to Sacks, we could lose the battle against the already dangerous and mounting evidence of global warming and climate change.
The question these two appearances raised for me is, "Is saving the planet connected to the restoration of the inner voice in some hopeful manner?"
There can be no sane private or public person left who seriously questions the dangers of global warming and climate change to every living creature on the planet. There can also be very few people left who would not welcome a breakthrough of the "truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" from public figures. Ideologies depend for their existence and their exclusivity on "salesmanship" which is just another word for "persona". Getting and keeping "party members" loyal, depends on controlling their words, and matching those words to the party manifesto. Only heretics, we are led to believe, can get away with expressing the whole truth, especially including their most private fears and anxieties of both individuals and organizations, including corporations and political parties.
Each and every public figure has been educated "into" the vernacular of his/her chosen political ideology. And each and every ideology has set itself up "in opposition" to something so venal and heinous as to be considered "heretical".
More tax increases on the rich, lower corporate taxes to fuel economic expansion, lowering the income disparity, invade or not invade country X or Y, negotiate with Iran or bomb their nuclear centrifuges, spend billions on cyber security or negotiate a cyber-security pact with China, write a law that keeps "counterfeit" products of our shelves, or generate an information campaign to educate consumers to refuse to purchase counterfeit items....these are all minor in comparison to the question of addressing climate change now, before our window of opportunity closes to be able to affect the change necessary.
The United Nations "head" of the effort to get what amount to 194 countries (cats) herded into a significant commitment to deal with what is really a death threat from global warming and climate change, took an optimistic high road in a recent interview with Wendy Medsley on CBC, when asked if she had met with either the Prime Minister of the Canadian Minister of the Environment. Neither were available, and yet the Prime Minister had all sorts of time for the Prime Minister of India, to bask in the sunlight of his worship from Indo-Canadians in both Toronto and Vancouver and to sign a sales agreement of Canadian uranium to India of some size. It is not incidental that Harper's closed door the UN envoy on the environment occurred precisely while India's PM demanded his attention, given India's continued obsession with coal-fired plants amounts to one of the most serious threats, (along with China) to solving the global warming-climate change  dilemma.
It would seem clear, at this from this corner of the world, that the inner voice knows, and has the clear opportunity to speak loudly and clearly, in unison, to generate a wave of public opinion from all countries, ethnicities, religions and political ideologies, joined with the public voice (persona) to demand positive and collaborative and sustainable and accountable commitment to first slowing the emission of toxic gases, and eventually to eliminate their emission, so that all persons and all political ideologies and all religions and all ethnicities can breathe a global sigh of relief that our grandchildren will be able to survive in the detritus of our greed and our narcissism and our immaturity.
Is this a time when the private voice and the public voice can be united in an authentic and megaphoned triumph of the collective human spirit that yearns for life? Is this a time when giving voice to the truth is finally a political win from all quarters? We can only hope!

*a principle introduced by psychiatrist Carl Jung that the superabundance of any force inevitably produces its opposite. It is similar to the principle of equilibrium in the natural world, in that any extreme is opposed by the system in order to restore balance. When things get to their extreme, they turn into their opposite. However, in Jungian terms, a thing psychically transmogrifies into its Shadow opposite, in the repression of psychic forces that are thereby cathected into something powerful and threatening. This can be anticipated as well in the principles of traditional Chinese religion - as in Taoism and yin-yang. (from Wikipedia)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

We need a new breed of political leader: courageous even fearless and prepared to find resolutions to the threats we all face

500,000 barrels of oil each day to Russia for highly a sophisticated missile system to Iran AND the elimination of Russian-imposed sanctions on Iran.....those are the reported terms of a deal announced today between Russia and Iran.
Putin has just stuck his armed finger in the eye of all negotiations to forestall Iran's development of nuclear weapons....negotiations, by the way, to which Russia is an integral part.
So by making and announcing this "deal" today, prior to the final drafting of an agreement, prior to Iran's agreeing to unlimited inspections, in all potential sites where centrifuges are in place and operating, and even prior to all other parties to the potential agreement having had the opportunity to express their views, in the remaining negotiations, projected to terminate in June, with or without an agreement, the united States, France, Germany, China, and Great Britain have to wonder about whether Russia/Putin has effectively sabotaged both a nuclear deal and the continuation of the regime of sanctions....those same sanctions which it is argued helped to bring Iran to the negotiation table in the first place.
Gary Kasparov, the former world chess champion, was probably right when he told CBC's Susan Ormiston that Putin was more dangerous than ISIS.
On this day, also, some six Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the eastern part of their country where fighting with Russian-backed separatists threatens to unravel the Minsk Accord that was supposed to bring this conflict to a close.
On this day, too, Canada announced that 200 Canadian military personnel will join both American and British military trainers in western Ukraine, to help bolster the Ukrainian forces in their significantly weaker attempt to drive those Russian separatists out of their country. Of course, Canadian troops will "not be in danger of engaging the enemy" given that they will be operating some 1300 kilometers from the "war zone" and given that they will be under strict orders not to engage the enemy (the Russians).
How long will it be before all three countries currently engaged in training exclusively will begin to provide lethal weapon to the Ukrainian military?
And, more important, how long will it be before the three western countries consider pleas from Ukrainian president Poroshenko impossible to overlook, or to reject, and open the gates for an open warfare to be engaged, as another proxy war in eastern Ukraine, with pro-Russian troops, supported and armed by the Kremlin to be face-to-face with western troops, supported and armed by the Pentagon, the British government and even possibly the Canadian government?
Russia, unlike Iran, does not find itself on the list of countries who openly support terrorism. However, does that omission need to be corrected?
Does the Russian threat, to the peace and stability of Europe and even of the Middle East, (recall that Putin is also an ally of Bashar al Assad, the dictator in Syria) demand a more vigorous military response, or a more vigorous United Nations condemnation?
The fine tuning, and highly symbolic and sophisticated rhetoric of diplomacy is so far proving inconsequential in pushing Putin back from his highly narcissistic and dangerous march into Crimea, and more recently into eastern Ukraine, without so much as a serious counter response.
Of course, no one wants a nuclear war over Ukraine just as no one wants a nuclear weapon in the hands of the Iranians. The moment the first nuclear weapon is unleashed, except in a testing modality, will be the moment when the world's leaders will find their respective disregard of and even contempt for the United Nations, and for serious and transparent and accountable talking down, rather than ratcheting up, international relations will come back to bite them and all of their respective people.
There is, and has been for decades, a bloc of nations including Iran, Syria, North Korea, and potentially now both Russia and China who is also flexing her military muscle in the South China Sea, who represent a potential threat to much of what has been taken as "given" and normal in geopolitical relations. And the possession of, or even the threat of acquiring, a nuclear weapon makes their threat more dangerous and more dangerous.
Not only does the world not have a co-ordinated and consistent and sustainable approach to the threat of Islamic terrorism in all of its many iterations, nor does the world have an organized and systematic response to Putin, even after the decades of work that has been done to build and to sustain NATO, presumably originally created to face the potential threat of the then Soviet Union.
It was Edmund Burke who reminded us that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely...well, today the pursuit of personal/ideological/hegemonic power as demonstrated by the Russian dictator, linked, or should we say, enmeshed with the nefarious powers like Iran and Syria, not the mention Hezbollah and Hamas, and even, one can speculate, linked to and supporting terror groups that might serve his ends, is a kind of threat that makes Burke's vision look like a Sunday school picnic, given its original parochial embrace.
The General Motors Cadillac division has just released a commercial whose words, admittedly heard only once, prompted a startling bolt of this scribe from his Lazyboy. The words were "only a weak man suggests compromise"....
This is not only a flagrant abuse of the truth, and a black eye on the Cadillac brand, but also an degree of arrogance and insouciance that has already infected too much of local, provincial, national and international political discourse. We need leaders who will champion the notion that all humans share a very fragile ecosystem, that all humans want a peaceful co-existence with every respecting nation and their people, and that all humans deserve better than those with money, power and impunity are prepared to deliver.
And because they will not deliver, we need a new breed of political animal, one who is prepared to talk straight, think straight, and face the truth of the messes we are either generating or, by our apathy, permitting. And we are facing growing threats not only to the potential for armed engagement but for a cancerous overtaking of all the defensive systems which have provided some measure of protection for nearly half a century.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Sabotaging change through obsession with outmoded stereotypes

There is a sad commentary on geopolitics emerging from the Robert Dallek biography of John Kennedy, An Unfinished Life, as  the account of the late president's attempt to strike a deal to limit the generation and proliferation of nuclear weapons with Moscow so parallels the current cacophony from the right that threatens to blow any deal out of the water over the potential of a deal with Iran.
Imagine being held hostage to the "macho-man" ideology, fear and desperation of those whose world view holds fast to the notion that weapons, bombs, missiles, drones, nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers and sound-barrier-breaking jets are the insurance policy that provides security for the world's people. And imagine having to keep the Pentagon walled off from secret negotiations that promised real progress, for fear that if they were to learn of those talks, they would submarine and sabotage their own government by leaking the details, thereby generating a storm of protest among the lunatic "right", that would guarantee any deal's fate, its trashing.
Imagine excluding the top brass at the Pentagon from national security talks because of the predictable nature of their contribution to sabotage the very nature of those talks, within the government. Their existence and purpose depend on advancing invasions, military measures, as the solution to all political problems. And imagine having to send private letters to the leader of the "other side" to rekindle fading attempts to bring both sides to the negotiating table because the public force of the winds of opposition, those winds that call all attempts to negotiate differences, real differences with real and potential enemies, are demonstrations of weakness, naivety, gullibility, and failed leadership threaten to keep the talks silent.
The advocates of change, those who consider breaking the bonds of repeating the past, those who see how things could be different, less restricted with negativity from those determined to hold on to the power of their "history and tradition" (in personal terms, not in terms of ideals or ideas) are constantly having to brace those winds that continue to characterize mediation, negotiation, collaboration and even compromise, especially compromise, at the state-to-state level as weak, immature, simplistic, and even delusional.
Of course, the world is a dangerous place. There are those whose existence depends on the removal of realities, such as the state of Israel for example, and whose motives and methods are threatening to the peace and stability on which geopolitical balance and even peace depend. And of course, opponents of these forces, Islamic radical terrorism, have to take deliberate and determined steps to bring this monster to heel. However, we see almost daily, that those military methods of destroying our enemies are very limited in their long-term success. Perhaps even those military methods are not suited to the current situation.
Gary Kasparov, once world champion chess player, in a CBC interview with Susan Ormiston, sets out the difference between chess and the world's geopolitics. "The world of geopolitics is much more complicated than chess; in chess, we have rules; in the world of geopolitics, there are no rules. In Putin's Russia, there are no rules."
Where there are no rules, and only the narcissism of a ruler like Putin, or the venal and nefarious determination of Islamic terrorists and the movement to which they have dedicated their lives, the opposition to such forces must draw from the widest range of options if those forces are not to be overwhelming. Kasparov, for example, cites Putin as "more dangerous that ISIS" because he will die in the Kremlin. And, according to the chess champ, current sanctions are too mild. When asked what he wants from the west, Kasparov repeatedly exhorts: "Wake up! Wake up!"
It is our collective complacency in trusting such agencies as the Pentagon to continue as our "insurance policy" in the midst of serious threats that could be the most dangerous attribute we have to overcome.
We literally hate, defy and reject change and commit ourselves to a past in which many things were different from today and in which our hard power methods did much to define the state we currently face. In our defiance, we abort many of the efforts of people like Kennedy and Obama, to bring about a genuine change from our stereotypical attitudes, and sustain people and methods whose only real value is found in "tradition" and ceremony and hollow theatrics.
We are subject to both political discourse and media coverage that deepens and reinforces so many typical stereotypes, as if our capacity to resist such pablum has been decimated by a virus of complacency, insouciance and cocooning.
And one of those stereotypes is the "power" of the military.
Another of those stereotyes is the "power" of wealth.
Another of those stereotypes is the "power" of fame.
Another of those stereotypes is the "power" of sexuality (especially to promote and to sell literally anything).
And underlying all stereotypes is the power of our resistance to see the world differently, to embrace our own impatience with our obsession with another sabotaging stereotype: all politicians are frauds.
We need to wake up both to how we are manipulated by large forces, and how inherently just and honourable are our deepest instincts to see the world as it really is, and how it could be different....and ask "why not?" (following George Bernard Shaw's "Some see the world as ask why; others see how the world could be and ask why not?)
We need schools and families and organizations dedicated to the latter proposition, not merely an occasional individual, able to be characterized as "eccentric" and thereby easily pushed aside, in one of our other inflexible stereotypes "fitting in is much more important than sticking out as different".
Conformity and complacency are 'Siamese twins' of the most dangerous and toxic kind.
And, predictably, all political leaders and all corporate profit-seekers depend on our deepening our conformity and complacency to our lowest and least ideal stereotypes.

Friday, April 3, 2015

In defense of Liberal Theology, as epitomized by the late Archbishop Ted Scott

(Archbishop Ted) Scott told people he was more concerned with helping people on earth than in preparing them for heaven. Suspicious of organised religion, he worried lest the institution might become more important than what he saw as his Christian mission, saying that he wanted to show the Church's concern for people who cannot afford a club. (From The Obituary for Archbishop Ted Scott, The Telegraph, July 9, 2004)
It hardly seems possible that eleven years have passed since his untimely death in a car crash near Parry Sound, Ontario, at the age of 85. It also hardly seems possible that this man led, not only the Anglican Church of Canada as Primate, but chaired the World Council of Churches, worked on many social issues, including apartheid, human rights of gays and lesbians, female clergy, and put his body, along with Canadian First Nations people to block the rape of British Columbia forests by corporate pulp and paper companies.
It was in this latter role that Archbishop Scott first came to my attention, as a relatively young high school teacher, often dubbed "too liberal" by many colleagues, and I continued to observe from afar the life path of Archbishop Scott, as one inspired by his courage and his imagination, both of which were clearly emboldened by his Christian faith.
The son of an Anglican priest, who after retirement, attended meetings with Quakers, Archbishop Scott was the first gleaming star in a galaxy of stars (after my father!) in my imagination that began with my grade twelve English teacher, Ken Fulford, transferred to a college English professor, John Wichello Graham, and later transferred to a small-town lawyer, Willian Howell Green. (All of these men are depicted in other places in this space!)
And then, in my thirties, while serving as a free-lance journalist, midway through a teaching career, I had the memorable and rare opportunity to interview The Primate, as he was then known, for a local  television interview. I believe it was capital punishment that he was opposing, and that news story merited secular coverage. Other 'figures' from the national stage came across the camera in that local television station, but none impressed as did "The Primate"....and I was not even an Anglican!
Humble, reserved, highly present and prescient, imbued with one of the most memorable of God's gift of a mellifluous baritone larynx, and a mind that saw past the petty and the picayune into the wider world of the plight of people right here on this earth, a graduate of English and History, prior to studying theology at U.B.C., he left a mark that today calls out for his many mentees to step up to the plate.
And then, more than a decade later, while in my first year of theological studies, he visited our noon luncheon, again to inspire a class of some three dozen incipient priests in the Anglican church. Once again, he maintained his liberal theology, his social gospel, without openly irritating the "fundamentalists" among us. And that was his genius, that he could maintain his ministry as an advocate for those without a voice, without arousing the ire of the "right wing" of the Anglican church. (Perhaps it was respect for the "office" that restrained the students and faculty on the "right".)
Nevertheless, his path crossed mine a few years later, in Sault Ste. Marie, when he was surprisingly invited, and accepted the invitation, to preach the homily at the service in which I and one other candidate were ordained Deacon. And this in a diocese not reputed for its liberal theology but still cramped in a dark corner of theological conservatism!
Tragically, his death seems to have terminated not only his personal and professional faith journey, but also marked a tragic termination of the social gospel, and liberal theology in many quarters.
Where today can one find an Anglican, or a leader in any other Christian church (save Pope Francis) who openly speaks forcefully against the growing poverty divide, the hunger and the desperation of those whose numbers are growing, in every corner of the globe.
And where are the Christian leaders today who are prepared to speak publicly against the slaughter of Christians in too many quarters at the savage and bloody hands of the Islamic terrorists?
The world needs more than the voice of the Pope and the Secretary General of the United Nations, along with a few political leaders, to speak out forcefully, with clarity and with courage against this scourge, its roots in all the same issues for which Archbishop Ted Scott fought during his many years in Christian ministry, poverty, inequality, racism, human rights, the environment, corporate greed and a gaping deficit of international collaboration, especially when it comes to yielding political power to such international agencies as the UN, the International Criminal Court, the IMF and the World Bank.
The world has shifted far to the right, in political and ideological and even theological terms. Archbishop Ted Scott would have been, even in his retirement, a voice that questioned the ethics, the justice and the theology of this dramatic shift, one which, it seems hardly arguable, has helped foster the alienation and the vengeance which is currently holding much of the world hostage to its grim inhumanity, notwithstanding its false and hollow attempt to link itself to a religious zealotry.
Political correctness, as people like Ted Scott would remind us, is no substitute for a robust liberal theology that counts its victories among the release of the most crippled among us from their unique and pressing prison.
And without a resurgence of Ted Scott's liberal theology linked to a social conscience (now so out of favour as to be considered "leprotic") we all face a future in which the seeds of radical compassion for the most dispossessed among us (growing by the millions daily in refugee camps, and in migrant pilgrimages out of danger) will find a dry and arid desert in which to die, in all quarters of the planet.
Has the Anglican Church of Canada even given Archbishop Ted Scott the respect and honour that is his due, (against which he would undoubtedly argue) in a monument to commemorate both his life and his death, near the scene of the highway accident that claimed his life?
It was another theological liberal, the Reverend Romney Moseley native of Bahamas, late of Trinity College at the University of Toronto, who informed your scribe that his articulate and provocative text, "Becoming a Self Before God" was removed from the public shelves in the Anglican book store. When he was asked why, he responded, "You know precisely why, John!
Are we to assume that only a conservative Christian theology is palatable in the twenty-first century, as that is the cacophony of noise that seems to be thundering across North America!