Saturday, August 29, 2015

Can we become the immune system our grandkids will need?

The modern engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy. That is the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness. (John Kenneth Galbraith*)

Globalization is yet another approach to this pursuit. Nothing could be more clear than that those who have more want more, and they justify their selfishness by arguing, however speciously and arrogantly and however well funded their arguments and access to their proliferation, that globalization will bring jobs, education, health care and dignity to the world's poor.
Nevertheless, (globalization's) "assault on resources and the production of waste, coupled with the extirpation of cultures and the exploitation of workers, is a disease as surely as hepatitis or cancer. It is sponsored by a political-economic system of which we are all a part, and say finger-pointing is inevitably directed back to ourselves. There may be no particular they  there, but the system is still a disease, even if we created and contracted it. Because a lot of people know we are sick and want to treat the cause, not just the symptoms, the environmental movement can be seen as humanity's response to contagious policies killing the earth, while the social justice movement addresses economic and legislated pathogens that destroy families, bodies, cultures and communities. they are two sides of the same coin, because when you harm one you harm the other. They address what Dr. Paul Farmer calls the "pathologies of power," the "rising tide of inequalities" that breed violence, whether it be to people, places, or other forms of life. No culture has ever honored its environment but disgraced its people, and conversely, no government can say it cares for its citizens while allowing the environment to be trashed. Farmer writes, "More guns and repression may well be the time-honored prescription for policing poverty, but violence and chaos will not go away if the hunger, illness and racism that are the lot of so many are not addressee in a meaningful and durable fashion.**

We are currently watching, (withstanding as much as we can bear) the convergence of several events, and with each even a different chronologies of time. The dominant and most obvious is the chronology of commerce, business, the entrepreneurial spirit, that 'engine that creates all the sought-after jobs'. Welcoming innovation, adaptive to change, needing to grow more quickly than ever, they often cease to exist by failing in these endeavors. Into this chronology, we could lump the insatiable media coverage of military exploits, mass killings, stories of lab discoveries, the occasional reporting of research findings in their minimalist headlines, social media, fashion as a sector of business, and the reporting of epidemics, hurricanes, tornadoes and fires, drought and food and auto recalls.
A second time frame is culture, moving more slowly, stabilizing identity and serving as something of an anchor. Between the first two is a third time frame: governance, moving faster than culture and slower than commerce. The fourth chronology is nature, the slowest, including earth, nature and the web of life. (A more complete detailing of these chronologies can be found in Paul Hawken's Blessed Unrest, p. 134)

Linking the power of the wealthy with the potential culture's time frame morphing (for their self-interest) into the commercial time frame, thereby subsuming the time frame of governance along with the complete avoidance of any public attention to the time frame and distinct demands and requirements of nature, we are in danger of losing our perspective on so many aspects of our situation.
We all know about the headlines focussing on the mass migration of refugees and asylum-seekers from Africa (several countries but predominantly Iraq and Syria), and the droughts and fires in North America and intermittently in Australia, and the economic crises in Greece (and potentially in Spain, Ireland, Portugal and Italy), along with the uprising in eastern Ukraine, and then the drop in oil prices and the collapse of the Chinese stock market....and we all feel more than a little unsettled. And we have not even mentioned the potential of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, and the fervent attempts to thwart that ambition, nor the "military exercises" along the border between North and South Korea, nor the expansionism of the military capacities of China and Japan, nor the atrocities being committed by ISIS and its many terrorist clones. Our "time frame" as presented by our current tidal wave of data, in "real time" simply overwhelms us. It cannot fail to do that.
There is, in our conventional conception of time, almost no past and literally no future.
We are locked in the dictatorship of the immediate nanosecond.
We are also locked in the repression of the vacuum of options, so it would seem, to make a significant difference to the crisis.
Those of us who grew up in dysfunctional families know too well the demands of living in crisis, jumping, hopping or running from one to another. We become hyper-vigilant, hyper-critical, hyper-tense and hyper-perfectionistic, not to mention hyper-frightened. The selfishness of the rich and the attempts to seduce the world into a narcissistic theocracy in which only they matter and the rest of us are merely their pawns, renders us all "black" in a white supremacy, Ukrainians under Russian threat of missiles, Syrians fleeing the bombs and the chemicals of Assad AND ISIS, the First Nations of Canada and the United States oppressed under a different face of white supremacy...
Oh there are some of you who are moving away because this is too extreme, not sophisticated enough for your palate to tolerate!
However, some might hang in a little longer!
Think about how we have become locked into a time frame that considers only this moment, and takes very little time for reflection, (unless it is to lie on a Caribbean or Great Lake beach for a day or two), given the underlying structure of the time frame of commerce: there is only 'this moment' for the transaction!
And, since there is only 'this moment' for the transaction, we yield our other 'perceptions' and attitudes, and beliefs and potentials to 'get through the moment'....
Investment organizations want us to see into our retirements, but primarily for their selfish commissions, most of which are not disclosed.
Churches want us to think of the 'hereafter' because, having premised their theology on "original sin," they believe we need redemption or be thrown into a fire pit of Hell, or having been "saved" we might gain entry into the Valhalla of a heaven. Both options, apocalyptic as they are, are attractive only to the extremely vulnerable and gullible, be they Christians in the west or Islamic terrorists enrolling in their campaign for a world wide caliphate (wwc...not www.)
Those seeking political office, in both the United States and Canada, electoral campaigns are underway: in the U.S. the vote is not until November 2016, but is already dominating the news media, in Canada the vote is October 19, this year, still the longest election campaign period in our history. Time has become the master of the political class, and while they "extend" the period in which they dominate the stage, the know deeply and profoundly, while also tragically, that the time frame of governance cannot and never will keep up to the demands of the marketplace, and so when they talk of planning for the next few years, they are ridiculed for "dreaming" and those who speak of only the next few months are dubbed visionless, and those who stub their toe on a malapropism, or even a politically incorrect gaff are doomed to rejection by the voters.
Once again, the single shot (whether from a gun, or a complaint, or a criminal charge, or a headline or a tweet, or a U-tube upload) is the weapon of choice in a militarized, frightened, reactive, hyper-vigilant and micro-aggressive culture.
In the United States, for example college professors are now required to provide "trigger warnings" for words, ideas, pictures or even concepts that might offend someone in their class. This uber-politically correct campaign is to stamp out any potential ideational bruise that a vulnerable student might experience if a racial incident is recounted from the past in a history lecture, or a victim of sexual abuse might re-experience in a sociology class on sexual research. The premise is that "emotional intelligence" shapes the intellectual experience, so that no individual student will be offended in his or her pursuit of academic credentials.
And the universities have bought into this charade! (For more, see  the cover story in The Atlantic's current edition)
Not only have the shackles of the video-camera, the U-tube phenomenon, the hacking of Ashley Madison's website, and the ubiquitous access to technology robbed us of our privacy, they threaten our cultural identity, so dependent are they on the instant.
Governance also has to find a new way to adopt to the rigours of instant-gratification narcissistic voter expectations and nature needs the voices of millions who grasp its beauty, its largess and its epic gifts that need to be preserved, including its eco-systems. And we all need to take a breath from the daily diet of extremes coming from the larynx of too many people like Trump, Putin, Kim Jung Un, and the leaders of ISIS and their ilk.
We enter into and attempt to dance with all four time frames, seemingly seamlessly, yet never without stumbling as if dancing in new shoes, to a band whose music we have never heard before.
And while we all know and share the conservative's selfish bent, we also share the idealist's imagination for a world that is more influenced by our altruism, our love of beauty, art, music and nature...all of those treasures held in contempt by terrorists and their ideology. And we must become the healthy immune system to prevent the take-over of those diseases which threaten not only our health and peace today, but the very survival of our planet in the very near future.
And selfishness, and commerce and narcissism and apocalyptic headlines will not serve us well, if they are our intellectual and emotional and spiritual diet.

*Lester Thurow, American Fiscal Policy: Experiment for Prosperity (Englewood  Cliffs, N.J. Prentice-Hall, 1967) p. 125, quoted in Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest, p. 115)

**Paul Farmer, Pathologies of Power: health, Human Roights and the NBew War on the Poor (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), p.xxvii, quoted in Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest, p. 145

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