Sunday, May 31, 2015

"Cultural genocide against aboriginal peoples"....Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin on residential schools

The executive summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into the residential schools that 'warehoused' aboriginal children will be released this week, on June 2. The full report, some twelve books, plus an audio recording of the statement of some 7000 witnesses, will come out later in the fall of this year. Chaired by the first aboriginal judge in the Manitoba justice system, Justice Murray Sinclair, the commission is about to generate considerable media coverage this week, and then, unfortunately and most likely, swiftly slide into oblivion for many reasons.
First, Canada has a shipyard full of reports from commissions of all sorts that looked into a myriad of public issues, most of which have fallen from the national consciousness under the weight of 'the blind eye,' the 'deaf ear', the guilty conscience and the national archetype of denial, especially of those issues fraught with the evidence of national shame, as this report certainly will be.
Appearing on CTV's Question Period, today, Justice Sinclair used words like, 'these children were treated as sub-human and in some instances even non-human"....
Earlier reporting pegged the number of child deaths in the residential schools around 4000, but that number has since been raised by at least 2000, and the final number will likely never be known, given the very poor record keeping of those who operated the schools.
If the politicians in Ottawa pay no attention, beyond the required and expected "lip-service" to this national disgrace, (In 2008, Prime Minister Harper made a historic apology for the harm caused by the residential school system.) certainly some prominent Canadian leaders are paying attention. One of these is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Madame Justice Beverley McLachlin.

The new death toll  (of 6000 aboriginal children mostly from malnutrition and disease) comes in the wake of comments made by Beverley McLachlin, the chief justice of the Supreme Court. At an event on Thursday, McLachlin said that Canada attempted to commit "cultural genocide" against aboriginal peoples.
"The most glaring blemish on the Canadian historic record relates to our treatment of the First Nations that lived here at the time of colonization," McLachlin said. She was delivering the fourth annual Pluralism Lecture of the Global Centre for Pluralism, founded in 2006 by the Aga Khan, spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims, and the federal government.
Canada, she said, developed an "ethos of exclusion and cultural annihilation."
(Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner, Justice Murray) Sinclair said he agrees with McLachlin's characterization of the country's history.
"I think as commissioners we have concluded that cultural genocide is probably the best description of what went on here. But more importantly, if anybody tried to do this today, they would easily be subject to prosecution under the genocide convention," Sinclair told Evan Solomon of CBC Radio's The House.
"The evidence is mounting that the government did try to eliminate the culture and language of indigenous people for well over a hundred years. And they did it by forcibly removing children from their families and placing them within institutions that were cultural indoctrination centres.
"That appears to us to fall within the definition of genocide under the UN convention," Sinclair said.
(Residential schools findings point to 'cultural genocide,' commission chair says, by John Paul Tasker, CBC News, May 29, 2015)
Operated by the mainstream Christian churches, including the United, Anglican, Roman Catholic, these residential schools removed children from their parents, (considered savages by the governments who established the schools, as another application of the colonization period of western 'european' history). How often has the absolutist moral, and hypocritical self-righteousness of some in the religious and upper class communities resulted in extreme evil perpetrated in the name of God and country?
There now needs to be a national liturgy of fully accepting responsibility, of a new appreciation of both the damages done to families, individuals and to the aboriginal culture, and of the numerous and bountiful and generous features of aboriginal life and culture.
One such new approach, a high school in Edmonton that teaches students about the aboriginal culture, open to non-aboriginal students, has so far found only one non-aboriginal willing and interested in attending.
A recent immigrant from Great Britain, interviewed on CBC News Network, expressed a sincere appreciation for the opportunity to study at the school, especially when compared with the dearth of such opportunities in his home land. He intends to continue his studies of aboriginal culture following his secondary school experience in university.
However meagre is the number one, (this transplanted Brit) his presence and full acceptance by the First Nations students and elders who operate the school is a fulsome sign that more non-aboriginal students will follow his example.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

It's now time for Canada's first NDP national government

Now that Alberta, the traditional conservative stronghold where oil and gas have reigned for decades, and Stephen Harper built the base of his majority, has unceremoniously turned the conservatives out, and the news echoes of hints of a national win for the federal New Democrats, watch for the predictable and lamentable headlines as investors and the  Bay Street moguls ‘reposition’ their investment accounts to prepare for the ‘socialist hordes’.

Rachel Notley and her crew of neophytes are setting a new course for Alberta in circumstances bereft of the flood of tax revenues once taken for granted by former premier Klein. Making do with less, while providing the kind of integrity without puffery, is not new to New Democrats, and with a history in provincial legislatures of delivering more balanced budgets that any other political party, Premier Notley can only continue to polish the national image of the NDP.

The national media, of course, are watching the roll-out of the latest political ads from the three major parties in Ottawa, as if they were the latest recordings of pop music stars, dissecting the content for images, tone, and even for policy that will guide the upcoming campaign prior to the October national election. With all three parties currently locked in a 30% plus or minus tie, qualities like experience, likeability, trust and occasionally even a glance toward the specific policy positions are shaping the conversation among the talking heads on television.

We have had more than enough of the Harper government’s pandering to the corporate sector. And while there are two opposition parties vying for our votes, at least those of us determined to throw the Harper gang out of office, the choice between the NDP and the Liberals is not merely a choice between Mulcair and Trudeau....although many would like to simplify it to that. Such a simplification, and reductionism insults all voters and certainly both opposition parties.

On the ‘which man is more capable and experienced to govern’ question, Mulcair wins hands down.

On the question of which party deserves to have a “turn” at the humungus job of national governing, the NDP,

·       having proven itself in multiple provincial parliaments, and

·       having served a lengthy apprenticeship in Ottawa, and

·        having given Canada some of the best policy options in our history (the National Health Act, for example, a gift from the Saskatchewan NDP government of then Premier Tommy Douglas, and

·       having been guided, since its inception by the course charted by lighthouses that point toward a more equitable, more compassionate, more inclusive, more open and more willing to actually listen and pay attention to the needs of the underbelly of our society, a segment that has grown over the last decade

·       and offering a counter-balance to the traditional “corporate-supported” Liberals both now and throughout its long and honourable history all the way back to David Lewis and Ed Broadbent who railed against multinational corporations and they excessive power and influence

·       and providing leadership on the environment, while still exploring the business of our natural resource potential

·       and offering $15/day national day care

·       and restraining our military muscle in favour of humanitarian, compassionate options and training and intelligence, rather than more bombs which are stimulating recruitment for ISIS

·       and

·       and.....

Clearly it is time for a Mulcair NDP government majority in Ottawa!


Monday, May 25, 2015

A modest proposal to free Jesus from the prison of the corporations

Several times in this space, words point to the corporate nature of the Christian church, especially in the United States, and to a lesser extent in Canada. Diocesan visions and charges that urge an increase in numbers by 10% and in dollar revenue by 15% were called “General Motors religion,” in the firm conviction that a similar statement could and would be made to the troops by whomever happened to be the CEO of that corporation at an annual shareholders’ and upper level executives’ meeting. From my youth, I recall with disdain the words of a young evangelist from Ireland, subtly announcing an open-air Sunday evening service on the town dock, ‘to grow the business’ of the church. I actually thought then and firmly believed that business for profit was something to be kept separate from whatever was the purpose and meaning of the church, as it was not based on either profit or numbers. How naive! And then there was the considerable celebration when one of the most wealthy businessmen in the town donated a new carillon chime to the church to be broadcasting tunes of hymns every day at 5:00 p.m. as another aspect of the growing business. Money in the service of religious marketing seemed somewhat unseemly, but who was I as a teenager to protest the decisions of the adult leaders? And of course, pews filled with bottoms were another obvious sign that God was doing God’s work in that church, padding the resume of the evangelist, and transforming his career into one of the travelling preachers attempting to fill other churches with the power of his charisma and accompanying rhetoric. The fine print of his bigotry, Roman Catholic contempt and hatred, along with his addiction to perfection in forbidding his spouse from even preparing meals on Sunday were ignored in his press releases.

Later, I found myself training in churches whose trust account boasted, in one case half a million dollars, and in another one million dollars, while immediately adjacent to these sanctuaries, people were literally starving, homeless and destitute. I did not hear a single word from either of two seminaries in the business of training clergy about what I considered the hypocrisy of those trust accounts. Could not a portion of those reserves have been spent relieving the pain of those in dire need right in front of the eyes of the people in the pews? Instead, much time inside the parish was dedicated to discussions about the place of the gays and lesbians and transgenders in the church. Were they welcome as parishioners? Were they elegible to serve as clergy? How arcane and antiseptic those discussions now seem, especially in light of the ice-age movement of the church in the direction of inclusion.

Clearly, reaching out to the dispossessed was not nearly as important as maintaining those trust accounts.

Having wondered if the “corporate” church was a recent or historic feature of the north American religious tradition, I was startled to read a headline and a report on an essay on how the corporate church emerged following the Great Depression in a recent edition of Salon. Here is an excerpt from that piece:

Politics and religion have always made uneasy bedfellows, but there was a definitive shift in America’s political and religious culture in the 1940s that set Christianity on its current course. As historian Kevin Kruse notes in a recent essay, it was during this period that Christian America was co-opted by corporate America. Following the Great Depression, Big Business had something of an image problem, and needed rebranding. Also problematic was FDR’s New Deal, which was indispensable to the middle class but anathema to corporate interests.

Industrialists realized, Kruse writes, that, “As men of God, ministers could voice the same conservative complaints as business leaders, but without any suspicion that they were motivated by self-interest.” Kruse goes on to explain how religious authorities were recruited by business leaders: “It was a watershed moment – the beginning of a movement that would advance over the 1940s and early 1950s a new blend of conservative religion, economics, and politics that one observer aptly anointed Christian libertarianism.” Under the guise of this ideology, American clergy began to demonize the state: individualism was exalted; secularism was synonymous with socialism; and collectivism became the preferred boogeyman of businessmen and Christians. In short, capitalists purchased the pulpits of preachers, who equated economic freedom with spiritual salvation, God with limited government.

This alliance paved the way for the prosperity gospel, a preposterous doctrine according to which godliness and wealth are one and the same. Although the prosperity gospel emerged in the late 1940s as an independent Pentecostal movement, it aligned perfectly with the free market theology of Christian libertarianism. (Jesus is a political prisoner: An American history of Christianity’s corruption by Sean Illing, Salon, May 24, 2015)

Of course, it takes money to pay the heating and building maintenance bills, not to mention pay the salary of the clergy, organist and custodians. Or course, without people in the pews, writing cheques or dropping cash into envelopes, there is no church. And of course, the model of decision-making that attaches to the corporate/political world would also be adopted by the people who “lead” the church, including even in some cases, the supreme power and leadership of a single individual, as exemplified by the Vatican.  Historically, we know that there was a time when ordinary people did not read, and theologians were charged with interpreting scripture for them. As reading became accessible to all, that “power” and “authority” dissipated in favour of multiple interpretations, the reformation and the many religious conflicts that ensued.

The real corruption of the church by the corporate model includes:

·        political imprisonment of Jesus to the money-bags of the church,

·        the preoccupation with making money, and the marketing tricks that attend to that goal,

·       ignoring the spiritual growth of the people in the pews and in the pulpit.

·       Appearances trump deeper and often darker realities, in the lives of both the institution and the individuals who gather both among leadership and laity.

·       Extrinsics trump intrinsics and the political trumps the spiritual.

·       authority and power and a top-down military structure and method of dealing with crises based on the corporate model of reducing costs and eliminating public embarrassment of the institution, not one of constructive reconciliation, has supplanted the real mission and purpose of the Christian church and faith.

Business can and does ‘get away’ with attending to the extrinsic matters of organizations: sales, production costs, marketing, investment accounts, corporate culture, relations to government and other corporate entities. Churches, on the other hand, (it says here) have a much more important responsibility, the spiritual lives of those who select them, and the healing of both the community’s fractures and wounds, and the spiritual pain of their parishioners. Also, when investments trump real active ministry, that is the kind of ministry that does not merely seek converts in some magical, once-in-a-lifetime rebirth, but rather welcomes the least likely to be welcomed, the least able to write cheques, the least able to serve as a social magnet to attract others “well-to-do” to the pews, then we all know, including the bishops, and the archbishops, the canons and the archdeacons that churches risk compromising the essence of their faith in the pursuit of what they consider normal, the corporate model of organization.

As told and re-told in both gospels and throughout history, Jesus overturned the tables of the money-changers in angry disgust.

·       Who and where are the church leaders with the faith and the courage mounted on that faith willing to challenge the corporate model of the church?

·       Who are those willing to suffer the consequences of rebelling against the corporate model of “growth” in numbers of dollars and bums in pews?

·       Where are the rebels whose vision of a faith community is much more complex that rituals over an altar, rituals at a baptismal font, rituals over coffins and weddings, and the occasional pot-luck meal?

It is not only the Irish Archbishop who needs to be calling this weekend’s 62% vote in favour of mixed marriage, a call requiring a reality check. And the swamping of the church with  money and the pursuit of money is not the only table that needs overturning. The seminaries and faculties of theology need to shift much of their emphasis from liturgy to conflict resolution, to reconciliation, to mediation and to collaborative decision making, no longer relying on the democratic model of decision making. It is not that long ago that those preparing for priesthood, at least in the Anglican church, spent up to twenty hours learning what the students sarcastically dubbed “holy hand-waving” and literally not a single minute of class or after class time learning the details and intricacies of conflict resolution even though all the curriculum designers in those faculties knew that parishes are rife with conflict, and have few if any resources to heal the hurts and mend the wounds.

There has been considerable valuable work done in hospitals and religious departments in the field of pastoral education, helping mature adults to thaw their frozen hearts, minds and habits from the fossils that may have served them on their way to career/corporate/wealth success. Clergy fortunate enough to have taken the opportunities for these learnings, if freed from the strict requirements of their chosen denomination, could and would provide a very different model of experiencing a faith community, that would open hearts, minds, and especially spirits to the wonder of creation, including their own beings, as children of God.

How the linen is folded  by the altar guild would no longer be a matter of social acceptance or contempt, as it has been for decades, if not centuries. Whether one prayer book is used in a service or another would never be permitted to serve to divide a faith community. Whether gays and lesbians and transgenders are permitted both to celebrate and to worship would no longer be a matter of more division, nor would a woman’s right to choose.

The words of scripture, also, cannot and must not be used as self-righteous bullets of scorn and contempt by those literalists in seminaries and also in parishes, to condemn those who hold a more liberal view, and those who are uncertain of the absolute meaning of contentious verses.

Every organization has what have become known as gatekeepers, those people who consider it their right and duty to keep those “undesirables” out of the literal or metaphoric sanctuary of the organization. Corporations impose strict screening on their executives. Churches also mimmick this perfectionism, in a highly unsuccessful manner if so no other reason that perfectionism itself is not sustainable. And to attempt to achieve it, or to pretend to achieve some kind of moral purity is nothing less than deception and denial: the former to the wider public and the latter to the inner leadership. Purity of dogma, blessed by the presence of only those who either blindly concur or who are unwilling to question, is a short and guaranteed route to both infantilism and intellectual rigidity even morbidity. And that is a path that no faith promising life and life “more abundant” can either tolerate or foster.

Just as government,  if it seeks to offer protection and security and support to its people cannot be modelled on the corporate for-profit business model, nor can universities, hospitals, libraries and churches. And those who succumb to the conventional ‘wisdom’ that they can and must, are living in a state of denial, failing in their legitimate responsibilities and also perpetuating a colossal lie.

We thank Sean Illing for his historic research, and posit that much more scholarship can and will be extended to provoke a real transformation away from the pursuit and collection of money as the prime purpose of the Christian church.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Zeitgeist: combative literalism

Many with more developed and complex intellects have taken on the task of defining the zeitgeist of their times. However that deficit has not blocked attempts to climb other steep slopes.

As a counter to the theory that great men/women make history, the “spirit of the times” articulates the view that we are all generated by a period of history, complete with its own art, literature, music, architecture, and technology. As part of that period of history, Hegel posits, we are conditioned to express its spirit, temper, tone and rhythm.

Some would point and have even pointed to examples of writing and artistic expression, following the post-moderns, that focuses on the escape from political tyranny that exploded some decade ago. Others reflect on the dynamic that links, combines, mixes, integrates more than one genre fusing them into one or more of an array of colours, sounds, scents, beats and shapes. Hybrids have dominated the industrial production model for a few decades, and the archetype has been borrowed, stolen, abrogated or even championed in many other fields.

With the new capacities of technology, many scientists in laboratories (too often funded exclusively by specific corporations seeking new products in their insatiable quest for profits) are learning new traits of specific genes thereby  transforming the treatment of various diseases. The convenience and obsolescence motifs of the last half of the twentieth century, including the alienated and invisible man in a grey flannel suit, the flower children of Haight Ashbury, and the LSD culture of Timothy Leary, have given way to the instant and ubiquitous communication devices which now connect nearly every person on the planet, and connect all their users to uber vacuums owned and operated by some very large corporations. These corporations now have the capacity to gallop gazillions of bytes of information on every person who uses one of their devices and the governments in which these corporations operate are almost literally emasculated in their power of governance to limit the scope and the penetration of the digital appetite.

In fact, there is growing evidence that corporations through various methods including but not restricted to their political “investments” of cash, practically control the people who have been elected to provide laws for the benefit of the nation (state, province, city, town township) given the level of influence and impact of the corporate behemoths.

 Is the zeitgeist of the first two decades of the twenty-first century the almost complete take-over of the geopolitical and the global economic system?

Is the zeitgeist of these two decades more to be found in the rise of religious ideologies of intolerance masquerading as theology, in the worship of idols of interpretation of select holy texts, given the failure of millions of the world’s population to read at a level that can and will challenge the literalism of these zealots?

Is the zeitgeist of our time more to be found in the apathy and ennui of the many millions currently living in what have been traditionally called democracies, given the level of manipulation by those in office and those seeking political office and the large cheque books they have to purchase even more seductive advertising and public relations?

Or, (and we consider this to be more than a mere symptom of the many issues currently stampeding both the battlefields and the headlines,) have we lost our poetic impulse, reducing our lives to literal, evidential, dogmatic and contentious disputes that want immediate resolution, even if that resolution requires a bullet to achieve?  We have let loose the dogs of what used to be the agents of compromise, civility, balance and order: the lawyers, accountants and the militarists.

It really does not matter which public issue. These conditions attach to all: the lack of nuance, and of connotative and symbolic comprehension and expression on the issue, regardless of whether the voices come from the ‘pro’ or the ‘con’ side of the debate. All positions are so rigid, so fixed and so resistant to compromise and amendment that there are really only two positions, in most of our public discourse,

Binary has morphed into bi-polar, into either-or, and into what was once considered an intellectual insult, Manicheanism. Adolescence, or perhaps even pre-puberty is our deliberately chosen zeitgeist, our collective “crowd-sourcing” of the lowest common denominator.

We have not only thereby compromised our common goals and the many  complimentary roads to achieving those goals. We have also eliminated much of the potential for sharing responsibility for planning, strategy and execution of joint processes, international agreements, collaborations that could and only would begin to confront threats like global warming and climate change, religious fundamentalism and its many and nefarious ramifications of alienation, revenge, conflict and even war with all of its fatalities, the most important one being the truth.

Looking down the telescope backwardly will only provide a minimalist view of both the seriousness of our problems and the narrowest range of options for solutions.

Even the historic forges of complexity and diversity and critical thinking, imagination, unorthodoxy, eccentricity, frontiership, and courage, the universities and especially their liberal arts departments are suffering the kind of atrophy that accompanies altzheimers patients. The churches, too, have permitted themselves to be taken over by the fundamentalists, the literalists and the bigots. The television and movie systems have become dominated by increasingly exaggerated scenes of violence and sexuality. Gone is subtlety, nuance, metaphor, and all of the many other literary devices that require, even demand, a variety of perceptions, interpretations, and a creative and critical examination, as the lifeblood of their continuing existence.

Little wonder that manners have disappeared, literally, from our streets and walkways, where, upon encountering another, you can count on their refusal to adjust to accommodate your path along with their own, on the same sidewalk. Little wonder that a Canadian soldier returns from a tour of duty in Afghanistan complaining about how “Canadian” were his superiors in surrendering the most advantageous encampment right in the centre of the village, where they could observe all potential threats. Politeness gone off the rails!

What he failed to express was the utter failure of both his superiors and their masters to seek and to find other than military methods to confront the Taliban and the Islamic extremists.

We are spending ourselves into a culture that is not life-sustaining, but rather is spiritually, psychologically and emotionally paralyzing and even death-inducing on all levels.

And we are doing it with our eyes wide open.

Our collective security on this planet is much more complicated than the vagaries of success that confront a professional sport coach, where winning is the only thing, and the methods of achieving sports success, as well as the trophy of the championship brings only more fame, status, and money.

Survival of all of the most indigent and most impoverished and most destitute among us is the only goal worthy of our efforts, and that not at a mere existence level but at a level of dignity, respect and collaboration that must be achieved in order to succeed for our grandchildren.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Class war....we're seeing only the tip of the iceberg

There’s class war alright but it’s my class that waging it, and we’re winning!”
(Warren Buffet)
A cab driver taking my wife and me from the Penn Station in downtown Manhattan to our hotel in March of this year, when asked if he attends hockey games of the New York Rangers, or basketball games of the New York Knicks, responded, “I can’t go to any of those games; I don’t make enough money! Those games are now only for the rich.” Many of the professional sports teams have erected “box seats” to capture the executive class, whose pockets and whose corporations are deep and eager to ‘entertain’ clients in the most “classy” manner available....the next sports spectacle.
A new measure of the “success” of a country is the rising number of billionaires, just another way by which the large global players attempt to establish and sustain their “status” among the other nations. In the new suburbs, mega-mansions of 5000-plus square feet are attracting the same clients who frequent those “suites” at the pro football, basketball and hockey games. In some medium-sized cities, the arrival of BMW, Lexus and Acura dealerships are taken by some as signs of the city’s “growth”. And in those same cities, the erosion of library services, resulting from slashes to municipal and provincial budgets, the vacuuming of funds from the health  care system, the rise in class sizes in our schools....these are all nearly overlooked, while the corporate world, including the media, trumpet the “gloss” of growth.
The labour movement has been decimated, perhaps originally due to its over-reach but more recently resulting from the “conventional” wisdom that free enterprise, entrepreneurialism, the removal of government regulations (notwithstanding the glaring abuses and the epic disaster we all faced in 2008-9 from the over-reach of the greed and manipulation of Wall Street financiers). In the United States, both political parties are metaphorically and literally dependent on those same financiers and their largesse, now that the Supreme Court has opened the flood gates to corporate money in political campaigns in their decision on Citizens United.
When the twin sacred cows of “free speech” and “individualism” (rugged or not) are married in another of the thousands of “hybrid” generations of our culture, then, of course, the public good, the common good, the centrifugal force of commonality that once held the community together, in war, in famine, in disaster and in periods of perceived threat, one of the principal gifts of those ugly patches of history, has to be sacrificed. When there is a perceived and trusted truth to the notion that we share our destiny, in our families, in our schools, in our towns and cities, and yes even in our countries, there is some likelihood that those bodies will indeed “hold”. They will be there for our children and our grandchildren, if perhaps offering some different programs with new approaches dependent on new research. When there is a level of civility, respect and trust that most people in our daily encounter are, have been and will be sharing both the high’s and the low’s of the vagaries of what were once called the “changes in the market” or the disaster of “—“ whatever year it was that the hurricane or the tornado or the fire or the robbery befell our community, then there is a sense of belonging, and sense that we all have a place and a purpose within our ‘sphere  of influence’.
Now, in an age of global markets, of global prices, of global anonymity, of global information, of the onslaught of 24-7-365 news cycles, and of the mega-shifts in where and how and by whom we produce much of the stuff that appears on our store shelves, the definition of community has changed, and the vulnerability of each of us, both individually and collectively, to the bacteria (of all kinds, biological, economic, political, military, environmental, religious, cultural) that invade even a small corner of our planet, unites us in a vastly different way from the way in which we grew up.
And the attitudinal and perceptional shift that is being required, even expected, of each of us, and especially of our leaders, to adjust to this shift, amounts to something far more impacting than a marriage where two different backgrounds begin to inhabit the same quarters. It was Robert Frost who reminded us that “good fences make good neighbours”. And in neighbourhoods, those fences have become a comforting and comfortable fixture. Unfortunately however, building fences to “keep out” our most threatened neighbours, in a geopolitical and inter-dependent world, simply does not and will not work.
The fence that divides Palestinians from Jews in Israel, the fence that divides Mexicans from Americans, the oceans that divide Africa from Europe and Myanmar from Malaysia and Indonesia will not “keep out” both the persons and the overwhelming “fact” of the destitution of those persons from our conscious awareness nor from our actual towns, cities and countries. Words like starvation and dehydration characterize the condition of these thousands of migrants, many of them fleeing war, others fleeing persecution as religious minorities.
We have to learn that shooting those “migrants” over land or water is merely an exaggerated expression of our fear, especially of our fear that those hordes of people will destroy whatever social and political and economic fabric we have constructed over the centuries in some cases. Some of our shared discontent arrives from our anxiety over the potential these migrants will have on our “infrastructure” including the capacity of our hard services, employment rates and even our capacity to integrate these hordes into what we perceive as a ‘stable’ culture.
We all know that people like Warren Buffet and Bill and Melinda Gates are aligned in sharing their estates with the most impoverished. And for that we can all be grateful; however given the size and scope of the deepening pockets of poverty, hunger, disease and hopelessness, even the billions they will deploy in the attempt to rescue the millions will have a small impact. Along with the many other foundations, including the Clinton Global Foundation, these efforts while commendable, are little more than cups of water in a parched dessert.
And with the inevitable consequences of global warming and climate change, producing drought, severe weather conditions, the impairment of growing opportunities, and the rising number of mouths to feed, especially in this protracted period of conflict and apparent powerlessness of the geopolitical leaders to find accommodations to bring warring parties to a negotiating table, the numbers of dispossessed persons, fearing for their lives, and dependent on the unscrupulous and wanton greed of their accomplices in their desperate migrations, is going to grow exponentially and very quickly.
Unfortunately, we have a limited capacity to adapt to these desperate fellow human beings seeking refuge and willing to sacrifice their lives in the hope that their children will live, given our history of abundance, comfort, stability and opportunity, linked to our historic and determined ignorance,( “out of sight, out of mind” given the perceived distance,  geographic and political, cultural and religious,). Not only is our capacity limited, but so is our will.
And yet, these migrants, these refugees, these dispossessed, these starving and desperate hungry, frightened and often sick are signals on the global radar that we have to acknowledge, not by refusing them refuge, but by adapting international norms and processes by which they can and will be supported in their legitimate quest for a decent life.
And we will have to adjust without adopting attitudes they these people who represent the most deprived and depraved on the planet, that they deserve their plight and we can turn a blind eye, a deaf ear and an empty larder. This could become the depression of 1929 on steroids. And people  by the hundreds riding the rails in search of food and work and a place to sleep could be a harbinger of things to come, only on a much more epic scale.
Can we adopt and provide safety, security and decent lives for these people who literally have no place on the planet?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Under the radar....danger! Part 2

It was anthropologist,  Lionel Tiger, who posited the thesis that with the manufacturing process came the “manufacturing of evil” and he wrote a book under that title. If humans perceived that they could “make” things, in their insatiable pursuit of domination of the universe, including God and nature, then, of course the definition of evil could emerge from the same forges that produced those gazillion tonnes of steel and many other things. As opposed to “nature”, a previously held criterion for how we perceived evil, mostly as a measure of how humans are different from the savage world of raw nature, manufacturing was the new “idol” of the culture.

With the western demise of manufacturing, given the seismic shift off shore to many countries, especially China, and the even more monumental rise of digital technology under the umbrella of the corporate profit model, the new definition of evil has become the latest “mis-step” of those caught in the microscopic camera carried by everyone in the developed world.

How ironic, the phrase “developed world” when we actually ponder the regressive shift in civility, manners, and even ethics we are witnessing. With the advent of the micro-imaging accessible to all, and the cheap thrill that accompanies its possession and operation, and the insatiable appetite for the status that comes, unfortunately, with the ‘ownership’ and skill to operate the most advanced “anything”,  our collective consciousness “manufactures”, or more contemporaneously, generates new ways to “prove” our worth, through the despicable and ubiquitous process of shaming the other.

Only now that the devices of shame are in the hands of all those who seek power, in a new world almost literally without rules or governance, (legislators and courts take time to catch up with the speed of technological change, if they really ever do) the positive, ethical, and even entrepreneurial advantages of the opportunities emerging in this new world are more than outweighed by the methods and motives of those determined to sabotage whomever they find to victimize.

Power, after all, really doesn’t care whom it pummels! It is interested only in the hunt, the chase and the kill!

And while we may have democratized the access to the 24-7-365 news cycle, we have also made everyone with the appropriate bent of mind into a kind of warlord, for some, and assassin for others.

Some are writing about the dangers of the military-industrial-intelligence conglomerate, from the perspective of the institutional dangers that behemoth poses. Here we are looking from the bottom up.

In a pubescent, or perhaps adolescent culture, dependent on the latest gossip, the most ‘hip’ music group, the most popular movie, the best-selling video game, the rise and fall of ‘stars’ in the sports and entertainment world, (not to mention the shadow this meme casts on the political actors), there is only ‘this’ moment, and ‘this’ text and ‘this’ opportunity to overcompensate for the feelings of powerlessness that shroud everyone during that pre-adult stage of human development. Along with the underpinning support of the nano-second digital crawl of the stock exchanges, and the traditional media’s fixation on profits and ratings (the Siamese twins of the communication monoliths) and the increasingly incestuous dependence of the media on the “establishment” and its views and rationale, especially cognizant of the dips and dives of ratings, now measured by the distance between human breaths, this infantile culture marches straight into a swamp of ignorance.

It neither knows nor cares to know the macro-impacts of the obsessions that seduce its consumers. Parents pander to their children, through the purchase of the latest devices, (thereby eliminating the irritation of actual conversations with their confused and anxious children) and educational institutions, frightened of the most trivial parental complaint, given the volume and spread of the parents’ capacity to shame an individual teacher, and naturally the “board” itself, succumb to the fear of public exposure and shame.

We have embedded our collective heads in the sand of denial of our complicity in the monstrous and sinister power struggle of the most infantile and most vulnerable among us. In human therapeutic studies, it is often noted that the family system or the organization or team is only as good as the weakest link. It is the neurotic who is in control simply by the impact of his/her insecurity.

And when the whole society is caught up in the wave of neuroses that engulfs every generation of adolescents, as if the technology and its new penetrations have provided a new menu of orgasms, we are watching a new potential battlefield on every screen. Shaming, bullying, threatening, and defaming.....these are among the new instruments of war....along with the traditional instruments of deceit, lying, camouflaging, and of course, overpowering dominance.

Now, while the optimists sing hymns of praise for the democratizing of power through the new technology, the motives of that power include not only the improvement of the lot of all humans, the cleansing of the atmosphere, the rehabilitation of our water supply, the reduction of poverty, starvation, disease, war and the spreading of opportunity to all, the new power is and will continually be used to threaten the existence of the other, especially when linked with a zeitgeist of scarcity that includes a paucity of education, a dearth of respect and a famine of hope.

Essentially, and we must start looking less through the rose coloured glass of optimism that can only be the possession of the have’s, and more through the darkened lens of the deprived and the depraved, and getting up onto the table of our “privileged” perception, the shared notion that only by working with those forces we find so heinous, and so despicable and so deprived and so deranged even, will we be able to forge those horizontal social contracts to which Thomas Friedman referred so optimistically in his recent lecture in Ottawa.

Friedman was the first in a series of ‘distinguished lectures’ sponsored and named after the University of Ottawa alumnus, Alex Trebek, perennial host of Jeopardy, the thinking person’s television challenge. Friedman, columnist for the New York Times, assigned to cover geopolitics, technology and globalization, posits, as he did yesterday as guest on Meet the Press with Chuck Todd, that we are living in a post-colonial, post-authoritarian, and post military world, especially in the Middle East, in which the people will have to forge horizontal, not pyramidal, social contracts to enable themselves to live in some form of political harmony and stability.

What Friedman did not discuss, in his lecture, but possibly will in his forthcoming book, is the penchant for power, embodied in the Pentagon, and replicated in the business and economic models of corporations, and increasingly governments and their acolytes, and more recently in the duplicitous and dangerous activities of the radical Islamic terrorist movement....and their use of the latest technology in their pursuit of ultimate caliphate political power.

The new technology, like the former industrial model, issues from a dominant and dominating culture, the United States, and essentially ‘colonizes’ the world population, whose predictable addiction to its ownership and mastery replicated most other colonial ‘victims’ in history who attempted to emulate the thinking, the practices and the cultures of their masters. Ina literal sense, perhaps, only, are we not living in a post-colonial world.

Certainly not in a technological sense.

And clearly, technology, the instruments of which are developing so quickly and so penetratingly, both serves and sabotages our very existence.

It is its capacity to sabotage that we must pay more attention to, and in a cacophony of corporate drum beats championing the service, we risk a total subordination, and submission to the new idol.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Under the radar....danger!

There are so many ramifications to a world gone “manic” with business. Reducing all human contracts to a “buy-sell”, cost-benefit analysis, where the power to shape events, issues, perceptions, learning, and the totality of a culture rests with a cabal of autocrats (politicians, and the suits who have purchased their votes, corporations and the serfs who dwell in the executive suites) can be compared to the thalidomide crisis of another era. It completely distorts nature and especially nature’s beauty!

Families are forced, for the most part, to focus on income/expenditure equations, thereby “incidentally” (but certainly not intermittently) teaching their children that money is what is the holy grail.. And the implications of that single perception are monstrous. Identity is too often defined, at least unconsciously, as “talents” or skills, at a very early age. Performance, even of the youngest in the family, generates kudos that will never  be completely forgotten, as evidence of value even in the kids who have not yet reached their second birthday. From the cradle, and on into the nursery school, the child’s capacity to perform, including the performance of “relating” peacefully to others in the group, singing, dancing, drawing, reading, calculating....all skills that belong to the adult world of work and wages, have shoved the more chaotic and non-programmed (an non-programmable), the unpredictable and highly valued chaos of “play” if that no longer belongs to the kind of world we have created and wish to live in.

Organized schedules, activities that require classes and formal skill development, fill the blocks that serve as calendars on refrigerators for family “appointments”  as parents consider their “job” to be to expose their children to a plethora of opportunities and ‘blank’ time is very often filled with kids and their technological devices. This “device-fixation is another form of organized activity, this time organised by the designers and the marketers of the computer games, most of which are violent and requiring another set of “marketable skills”. How else could we justify the hours spent  orgiastically manipulating some joy-stick.

Robots can and will do what we tell them. Our children, on the other hand, while they may not have a formal education, do know what they like, and what they want intrinsically at a very early age. And our uber-ambition to make them perfect ambassadors for our human wills and ‘show off’ our family as accomplished and current, and on the cutting edge, only compels their compliance with what can only be serious long-term negative results. And when we consider that much of this activity is to “burnish” the ‘family brand’ we know we have fallen into a habit, if not a pit, that so reduces our human identity to little more than the agent of another’s ambitions.

There are some figures who doubted, rebelled and pointed to a different way when they saw their culture heading into a self-imposed, self-sabotaging and destructive tunnel. Doubting “Thomas” was one who refused to march blindly to the beat of the drum of Christian dogma. John Steinbeck even went so far as to observe that man’s highest and most treasured state is attained as rebel.

Turning our schools into ‘skill-factories,’ our churches into shallow imitations of the mega-corporations worshiping unquestioningly at the altar of political correctness and moral perfectionism , dependent on increasing both customers (converts) and profits (trust funds), our universities into highly refined ‘skill-factories’ and our families into mini-corporations, as if that were the only and the best model available, while feeding all of the participants in each of these ‘institutions’ a surfeit diet of violence, competition, vengeance, bullying and shaming, all of that diet dependent on another version of the same corporate model of competition and greed, will serve no purpose other than to divide humanity into those who impose power over those who comply (or hopefully rebel, even revolt, if that it what it takes to break this stranglehold cutting the oxygen from lungs and the spirit from the human heart.

And the gap in all of the many varied categories of observable data, money, status, political power, setting of the rules, writing the words of  public relations, advertising and ratings-based journalism for the benefit of the shareholders, and most importantly the gap in numbers of have’s (smaller) to have-not’s (exponentially growing) demonstrates our denial of a fault-line larger and growing faster than the SanAndreas fault.

Repeating aftershocks in Nepal, tsunamis in Japan and storms that devastate places like Haiti, from which those victims will take decades to recover, if they ever do, will look like a Sunday School picnic when compared with the potential violence that can only emerge from our headlong pursuit of greed, narcissism, cramped definitive boxes of human “value” as agents of a system whose core is so corrupt that none of the few “humane” and creative and rebellious voices left, either individually or collectively, can turn the wheel in a different direction.

Even the small signs of creativity in modern music, modern media, the millions of boutique expressions, commercially, artistically, and even in philanthropically, while worthy of our support and celebration cannot and will not overcome the counter-weight of the “mass” culture of selfishness, greed, competition and survival.

Call this a piece of naive idealistic dreaming, if you like. However, the only dream in this piece is a nightmare of ugly and overwhelming oppression so insidious and so ubiquitous and so nefarious and so  blindly followed, as if to make the monks of the middle ages mere students of a Spartan and self-denying existence by comparison.

The wonder of the universe, of human birth and human creativity, of poetry and concertos and symphonies and paintings and sacred helping hands is in danger of being obliterated by a throng of power-hungry, greedy, narcissistic and pugilistic ‘entrepreneurs’ whose dedication to their own individual needs so trumps anything that resembles a common good that the common good is in danger of being removed from both the vocabulary and the public consciousness.

Sad, tragic, and perhaps now inevitable.



Saturday, May 2, 2015

Congratulations to Bernie Sanders for entering the race for president of the United States

With conflicts in eastern Ukraine continuing despite serious attempts to enforce a cease-fire, and bombs and missiles dropping in Iraq and Syria, and hundreds of migrant refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, as they try to escape the ravages of war, famine, homelessness and fear in Africa, and the Dow-Jones average climbing to the stratosphere,  and politicians in many jurisdictions attempting to bridge the gap between state incomes and state expenditures by zapping needed human services, and First Nations communities in Canada's north "existing" under a boiled water order for the last fifteen-plus years while another community has been moved to escape flooding for the fourth year in a row, United States media and voters were treated to one of the more refreshing pieces of news in months this week: Independent Senator Bernie Sanders has officially thrown his hat into the ring as a candidate for the Democratic Party's bid for the White House.
Sometimes, a little piece of news, has to serve as an antidote to the steady diet of violence, corruption, racism and institutional failure, in the public's insatiable thirst for a glimpse of hope, reassurance and confirmation that the world is not literally and metaphorically disintegrating before your eyes.
(On that very thesis, Chrysta Freedland has a piece in the most recent "The Atlantic" magazine that documents the shift in the consciousness of international corporations from little or no interest and focus on geopolitics to a concerted, if somewhat slow, attempt to  survey the evidence of shifting sands in all areas of the world, so that they can better manage their fortunes and potential profits and losses.)
Good news, sometimes, has to come from stories about royal births, as it did this morning in London, with the announcement of the birth of the Princess of Cambridge, sister to Prince George.
Back to Bernie Sanders.
Why is his announcement so significant to the American electorate and to the people of the rest of the world?
Most obvious is his lifelong advocacy for principles of equality, fairness, including higher corporate taxes,  what he would call "their fair share"..and the removal of private cash from the politics of election campaigns. And in a country in which the uber-rich are living in gated communities in cities and towns across the land, "above" the rest of their community, and the next level of wealth forms another layer of stratification also "above" ordinary people, and then there is the galloping growth of ghettos inhabited by the poor, the unemployed, the less well educated, and the people who struggle without hope of escaping those ghettos, unless they win a NFL or the NBA, or land an entertainment contract from a record or movie company.
While Sanders' entry into the race may look like a small finger in a dyke that is already broken from the overwhelming rush of cash into the political coffers, the man himself is serious in telling anyone who will listen that he is not in the race to move Hillary Clinton to the left, but he is in the race "to win".
Call that quixotic if you like, and while some 35,000 contributions averaging $43 flowed into the Bernie Sanders for President coffers on the day of his announcement, his is still a steep mountain, craggy, windy and lonely, to climb even to gain serious coverage from the largely horse-race-addicted national media. The American culture is imbued with the profound belief that competition makes everyone better. And certainly, Sanders will provide a small voice of competition to Ms Clinton, her Fort Knox of cash will vastly outweigh anything Sanders can raise.
This is a time, however, when the unpredictable is the only sure thing, and the least likely can easily become the accepted and even victorious outcome. ( In Canada, this upcoming week, a province governed by a Conservative government for over four decades is about to vote in a "socialist" government under the banner of the New Democratic Party. That province is Alberta, the home of the tar sands, the Prime Minister and the largest black eye on the Canadian reputation for reducing greenhouse gases.)
Also, there is a growing, credible and diverse choir of voices emerging from the small and independent news outlets, including the blogosphere, that is increasingly impacting both the coverage of the corporate news machines, and the relevance of the previously insect-like political voices. Can Sanders garner the respect of those voices with a close look at his two decades-plus political career as an "independent" who has shouted the causes of the times long before they were even a blip on the radar screens of the large television and newspapers' radar?
This is one space, in which the articulations of Bernie Sanders will receive critical acclaim, if for no other reason, than the commodification, and objectification and digitization of all human activity, including the Darwinian race for survival of the fittest (judged only on the ability to pay!) is threatening not merely the American political system, but also the world's attention and focus on wealth as the definition of human purpose.
It is not, never has been and never will be!
And if Bernie Sanders serves to raise the unconscious sleep-walking power structures inside America, and hopefully around the world to the reality that human beings are much more, and much more complicated and interesting than the size of their bank accounts, then we will all owe him a debt of gratitude. And we will begin to re-focus the efforts of all governments and all cultures and all faith communities on living together, sharing, collaborating and learning how best to resolve conflict, without the rush to bullets, bombs and missiles as our "defence"...when we all know they do not provide that security we all desire.
Lets raise a toast to the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, former mayor of Burlington Vermont, too often ridiculed as a "boutique" state by the political establishment, and shed light on the reality that, for many of us, the most interesting and most creative and the most artistic experiences of our lives as consumers have come in small boutiques of highly creative encounters.
May Bernie Sanders be another of such experiences for the American political consumer!