“Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth.” (Pope Francis' Encyclical on global warming and climate change.)
"We should call this what it is: not just a 'refugee crisis,' but a crisis of global security and governance that is manifesting itself in the worst refugee crisis ever recorded — and a time of mass displacement.... Displacement is multiplying because the wars don't end, and countries emerging from conflict don't get the support they need. We handle crises by discussing either boots on the ground or aid relief. The global crisis is showing us that this narrow view of dealing with conflict is wrong and ineffective.I am of course grateful for the funds countries have contributed even if they are not enough to meet all the needs.
But I say to those countries, your job is not to fund displacement but to prevent it. To end it.(Angelina Jolie, speaking in Turkey on Refugee Day, 2015)
These brief excerpts from two of the world's opinion makers, in this week, would earn both spokespersons the title "catastrophist" (as opposed to dynamist) from New York Times columnist Ross Douthat.*
Count this scribe among the catastrophists.
And my reasons are quite simple.
As explained by Ms Jolie, the world seems to be deploying a "narrow view" in dealing with conflict, "by discussion either boots on the ground or aid relief". This looking down the telescope backwards, in order to manage and control the magnitude of the single problem of 60 million refugees who are escaping war and poverty, is a typical and sadly and tragically conventional perspective of too many on all issues.
On global warming and climate change, for example, the rich corporate moguls are throwing billions into campaigns to cast doubt on the human component of the cause, when the science is more than clear that humans are indeed the major contributing factor, through the emission of toxic gases into the atmosphere.
Jolie reminds us that we should call a spade a shovel: 'this is not just a refugee crisis but a crisis of global security and governance that is manifesting itself in the worst refugee crisis ever recorded".
A crisis of global security and governance
It was Canadian poet Graeme Gibson who reminded a high-school co-ed, in a Canada Day Writers' Day in North Bay in the mid 1970's, when asked about 'taking a poem apart': "You have to murder it in order to dissect it!"
We decry the anatomizing and murderous impact of the 'narrow vision' that refuses to integrate the gestalt of the problem into the public consciousness, of the academic "specialists, the political leaders (all of them seeking their respective talking points consistent with the ideology) and the media. Wedge issues divide political campaigns into micro-campaigns, pitting those opposed to higher taxes on the rich against those who believe the rich must pay their fair share, for example, or those who oppose abortion against those who support a woman's right to choose, or those who favour more bombs and boots, to those who seek alternative, more creative (also more unconventional and likely to provoke ridicule) methods to bring conflicts to an end, without the loss of another innocent life.
The words used to portray any issue are the words that "frame" both the public discussion and the public approach to the problem, which approach is then "measured" by market analysis in order to determine how the politicians find their preferred ideological 'sweet spot' on the complex continuum of perceptions, approaches and solutions.
When the Pope linked global warming and climate change to the poorest among us, as having the greatest negative impact on those who can least defend themselves, his encyclical was dubbed by some as mixing two important issues. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush (himself a practising Roman Catholic) even went so far as to remind his audience that he does not get his science advise from the Vatican, falling victim to the long-ago dropped danger that some religious purists might deprive him of their vote because of his religion. We actually thought that battle was fought and won in 1960 when John F. Kennedy campaigned by telling the electorate that he did not intend to invite, accept or even tolerate dictation from the Vatican on public policy. In Canada, too, when Roman Catholic priests campaigned against poverty, they were decried as having no authority to address economic issues by politicians and public voices who deemed that only economists could speak with the required credibility and gravitas on the subject.
Public policy, by its very nature, and even by definition, is the purview of the whole population, not merely the experts, especially economic policy, given the clouds of obfuscation in both words of theory and mathematical models that purport to prove those proliferating, murky economic theories.
When taken to extremes, both capitalism and socialism represent some imbalances in both the identification of the issues, their public portrayal and, naturally, the range of options open to resolving them.
Capitalism has filled American prisons with prisoners, under the guise of a 'good business model' that takes the responsibility for funding off the legislators who prefer to spend on matters like bridges to nowhere in order to ensure their own re-election. However, that business model has also provided cover for the embedded and seemingly irreversible racism that accompanies those growing prisons. Was no one seeing far enough down the road that politicians were merely feathering their own political nests, through such slick and slippery talking points as "job creation" and economic sustainability for their constituents through the building of those holding cells? Similarly, under Stephen Harper in Canada, the talking points of job creation, economic growth and national security have been used ad nauseum to cover a policy and tax parade of corporate enmeshment and political fund raising of substantial proportions.
Statements that attempt to integrate more than two variables almost never make it to the front pages, and never into the banner headlines. In fact, in all situations, in the family, the classroom, the hospital, the university, and the marketplace, no outcome has a single cause. In human motivations, it has been well established that never does a single motive account for any act, regardless of whether it is a criminal act or not. Putin's recent statement that he wants Russia to be respected as an equal member of the world's great powers, while it may have some connection to his and to Russia's reality, is also a cover for some extremely nefarious acts on the part of Putin's Kremlin. Hillary Clinton's chorus, "I want to fight for the middle class," while containing a kernel of her truth, and her perception of what it takes to win the presidential election in 2016, is only a part of the motivation for her presidential run. She also desperately wants to make history as the first woman president, no matter what it takes to bring that dream to fruition.
The courts parse human behaviours, including words, facial expressions, and the words of so-called witnesses in their pursuit of the truth when attempting to help either judges or judges and juries, or just juries to determine culpability. Digging down into the fine print, into the process of 'connecting the dots' of a person's public and, insofar as is possible, into the person's private life, including his inner thoughts is the grist for the shaping of the impression of the person on trial and thereby for the final verdict. That verdict, itself, is the culmination, the combination and the sum of many influences, some of them given words, many left in silence, on the part of the jury or the judge. Objective empirical evidence is the title of that body of information to which the court grants admission, and opinion is seen as unworthy of admission, given the highly subjective nature of its existence.
Kierkegaard, for one, reminded us that the only truth is subjectivity, and history continues to ponder his influence on that observation. As a man in conflict with the church, he is considered by some to be a heretic, and by others a visionary.
Historians, too, are clustered around their consideration of the prominence and influence of specific factors in their analysis of how the world "works". Economic historians consider events to flow primarily from the economics of the situation, whereas, political historians think the political process is more determinative of events. Some historians hold that individuals shape events, while others hold the inverse, the events shape individuals. Some psychologists hold that biology determines behaviour; others hold that situations shape behaviour. In matters of faith, some communities hold that matters of faith and matters of state must be held apart, separate and not permitted to influence each other. Other faiths, Islam, for example, hold that matters of state and matters of faith are inseparable. And, as might be expected, wars are fought to uphold these competing views.
It is long past time for the human race to recognize, and to respect the view that no matter how attached or committed to a specific ideology/faith/academic discipline/perception of truth each of us is, there is always an equally respectable and valuable and honourable ideology/faith/discipline/perception that counters our view. And also that, to the degree that we are each, both individually and in our communities, open to the truths, beliefs, attitudes and perceptions of the other will represent the degree to which we are prepared to open our hearts and minds and thereby our behaviours to accommodate the other and open our options to those never before welcomed in our families, our communities, our provinces or our nations.
Listen to the most complicated of symphonies, concertos, sonatas, and something as complicated as the Goldberg Variations, and find in each manuscript the tensions that generate harmonies out of dissonance, the rhythms that search for the heart-beat of human existence, rising to soaring heights, and falling to desperate and dark nadirs, climbing and receding in bars and phrases, themes and counter-themes, lyrical melodies and harsh cacophonies all of them required in measured proportions to grab our minds and hearts and full attention.
How can those harmonies captivate without bringing all the notes on the keyboard, and all the rhythms and all the instruments and all the contributing events in the composer's own life, even those initiatives that broke with "tradition"? In short they can't!
Neither can the human race, including all of its various ethnicities, ideologies, theologies, linguistic differences, achieve its most resonant harmonies and rhythms without all perspectives being respectfully represented at the common table of the planet.
And that big table cannot be even envisioned so long as the narrow, and backward, and myopic and exclusive and excluding perspective of fear, dispassionate dismissal, denial, indifference and insouciance, rejection and opposition continues to dominate our consciousness, our families, our communities and our nations.
It is not too much to ask that we all disrobe of our pride, our narcissism, our self-righteousness, and our flawed vision for the greater good, the only hope of seeing the world as it is, and fulfilling the hope and the promise that thing can and must be different.
If Bernie Sanders can draw 5,000 to a university auditorium in Denver, last night, where Republicans dominate, and generate enthusiasm for his populist campaign, then the falling away of the scales from each of our metaphoric 'eyes' is also within the realm of the possible.
And without our collective collaboration and creative respect for all reasonable and life-giving options, we will not stop the flood of either refugees or carbon dioxide, or ideologies that together threaten global security, including the private security of all earthlings.
* Catastrophists are those who think we are headed in the wrong direction, and that serious threats are overwhelming attempts to ward them off. Dynamists believe that we can and will work our way through our problems, primarily through technological innovation.)