Wednesday, September 30, 2015

We will never know...

Any agreement to prevent American and Russian jets from bombing each other cannot and will not account for a “misguided” missile that takes out a plane and its crew over Syria. And the world will never know what provoked the mistake or even if it really was a mistake.

We will never learn who shot down the Malaysian Airlines passenger jet over Ukraine. We will never learn how many times Bashar Al Assad gassed his people. We will never learn whether or not Iran has ferreted its nuclear capability so far underground that only a mine shaft two or three miles down might uncover its existence. We will never (until some graduate thesis uncovers his machinations decades hence) learn how far Putin will go in his hegemonic pursuit of glory, honour and infamy for his legacy, under the guise of “restoring the respect” that once belonged to the Soviet Union.

We will never know whether or not China has actually adhered to its recent cyber-security pact with the United States. Clearly, General Clapper does not believe they ever will. We will never know the extent of the North Korean nuclear arsenal, nor the number and size of underground tests that have already contaminated that earth for centuries. We will never know the number and depth of the connections between the Pakistan government and both the Taliban and Al Qaeda and its many faces and names. We will never know how many refugees have perished in the hills and on the oceans in their valiant and desperate escape from the ravages of a war that includes a civil strife, a terrorist insurrection, and megalomaniacal tyrant and a supporting cast of Iraq, Iran and Russia. And we certainly will never know their names, their talents, their gifts, their struggles and their honourable legacies.

We will never know the real reasons for the execution of the first woman in forty-nine years in the state of Georgia. While all agree her crime was and continues to be heinous, even the Pope petitioned for clemency, at the last hours of her life. We will never know the real reasons why The Donald has so obsessively pursued the presidency, nor the real extent to which he will go to win the competition. We will also never know the names of the victims of Putin’s missiles, bullets and bayonets in Crimea and in Donetsk and other eastern Ukrainian towns and villages.

We will never know the assassin who took the life of Alexander Litvinenko, although his spouse is clearly confident that she knows. We will never know whether or not Oscar Pistorius actually intended to murder his former girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. We will never know whether the corruption in the Vatican has been eviscerated, expunged and removed. We will never know the depth of the divisions of opinion in the Anglican/Episcopal church over the legitimacy conveyed on Gays and Lesbians by scripture, although the current Archbishop of Canterbury will convene a conference in the Spring of 2017 to attempt to bridge the divide, or to develop loose federation of association that permits the two sides to claim justification for their views.

We will never know the depth of penetration into the global market of the new bank founded and funded by Brazil, Russia, India and China to serve as a counter to the International Monetary Fund. We will never know the reasons behind the Holocaust, although oceans of ink have been spilled in valiant attempts to explicate its root causes. We will never know the motives of the prison worker who assisted in the escape of two prisoners from a maximum security prison in up-state New York. We will never know numbers in the accounts receivable of Islamic terrorists in Syria and Iraq from the sale of fossil fuels on the black market. We will never know the savagery to which ISIS and their ilk have or will go in their pursuit of their sacred caliphate. We will never know the degree to which Edward Snowden’s disclosure of private security information has impacted or will impact the American government’s policies and practices. We will never know how much public monies the Harper government frittered away on private and friendly consultants, over the last decade. We will never know the real reasons for the long-standing and shameful apartheid in Canada or our indigenous peoples, although we have spent billions and painted rivers of ink in volumes to explain it.

We will never know the full story of how status, the pursuit of power and money and individual fame came to trump the pursuit of lives worthy of the ordinary people of the west. We will never know the real reasons why so many people live on the streets of our cities and towns, without a home and without anyone to care for them, in spite of the many speeches and theses that have been written and delivered to combat the problem.

And we will never know why so many references to a deity, in so many quarters, persist in the kind of reduction that renders the deity to the ashes of judge, jury, warden and hangman, both literally and metaphorically.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Intrinsic EVIL and the gifts of its release

While the headline from the Hajj detailed the deaths of some 769 people and the injuries to another 8-900 in their mass confusion and collision during a part of the pilgrimage that received much less coverage.
As it was reported in the west, Muslim pilgrims are expected to throw stones at pillars representing the devil. This act, along with other aspects of too many faiths, points out a serious flaw in basic premise. If the devil is perceived to be 'outside' the individual human being, then, of course, it can and does become an enemy to be attacked, defeated and even obliterated. If throwing stones at pillars symbolizes the campaign to attack evil, as it is reputed to do, then anything else, and anyone else can take on the characteristics of evil. This is just one aspect of a faith premise that we call "extrinsic" and its existence accompanies most religious expressions. When couched in affirmations and support from a deity, the "devil outside" can be so monstrous and so offensive and so heinous that any act to defeat/destroy that evil takes on a righteousness and even a sacred character that would tend to bring to any participating individual feelings of 'doing right', of sanctimoniousness verging on the holy.
It is not a very large step from pillars being stoned as an integral component of a required pilgrimage to stoning infidels, who are, by definition, armies of that devil whose symbol, the pillars, were the target of physical attacks in a religious liturgical act.
Separation of our individual humanity from evil, by itself, is an act, and a perception that undermines the very notion of what constitutes a human being. Considering a spiritual act in worship of a deity to be the stamping out of evil that is not by its very nature integral to the human being supports the separating of some from others. It denies and/or ignores the common humanity that defines each of us.
Less offensive, but still exemplifying the extrinsic detour from faith, was the Pope's moving through the prison in Philadelphia, pointing out that imprisonment does not equal exclusion, and that one's evil deeds do not define that individual. Warm fuzzies like calling himself a "brother" to the prisoners, many of whom have committed serious offences including murder, is indeed a positive move from the heinous kind of abuse of both the prisoners while in prison and also their stories leading to whatever actions landed them in their cells. It elevates the issue of rehabilitation, as well as the ratio of prisoners to population in the United States (5% of world population and 25% of world prisoners) to the public consciousness. And hopefully, through such exposure, steps will result that bring about a dramatic shift in public attitudes to the justice system and its potential to "serve and protect" the body politic from punishment and alienation to deliberate and cautious rehabilitation, education, and even transformation. Before changes in legislation that will support the real time changes in prisoner treatment can happen, those public attitudes will have to lead the legislators.
However, it is the easy and dangerous naming and casting out of "evil" from our very identities, as human beings, that threatens any such transformation in both public attitudes to criminal acts and their perpetrators and the integration of a faith expression into the lives of individual human beings.
The law, medicine, scientific exploration and certainly most human discourse focuses on the empirical, the observable, the demonstrable, the repeatable and the extrinsic. We talk in what some would and have called public discourse, about what is going on outside our bodies, outside our families, outside our innermost thoughts and feelings. And, in so doing, we reduce the dimensions of our universe to the empirical, and to the objects of judgement. And as humans hard wired to find fault, based on whatever we find offensive depending on our rearing and environment, we then link our religious lives to the purpose of eliminating an evil outside ourselves.
What is much more difficult, and much more compelling is to look for the fault that lies within each of us. John Sanford, priest and Jungian, wrote a book a couple of decades ago entitled, Evil, The Shadow side of Reality. His thesis was that in our Shadow's (that theoretical component of our psyche that fences our trauma, our experiences that have been so painful that we were unable to deal with them openly at the time of their occurrence), being denied and ignored, lies his definition of Evil. Sanford argues that those traumas and painful memories lodged forever in our memory, can provide 'gifts of gold' to those who take the opportunity to 'unpack' their individual 'sack' of Shadow. At the same time, so long as we participate in the ignoring and the denial of those painful memories, we are complicit in silencing evil, and simultaneously, we risk the eruption of our Shadow in acts that both embarrass and even convict us in the public arena.
As an integral component of our collective unconscious, the Shadow of our society begs to be unpacked, and urges each of us to recognize its significance in our daily discourse of the plight and evil of "others" while simultaneously ignoring our own complicity in an act of denial of evil that ranks high in our own culpability, in any attempt to evaluate our own spiritual existence. Calling those prisoners "brothers" as a legitimate attempt to reach out and connect and to share the pain of their stories, Francis reach over a line in public discourse that is rarely crossed. And for that, we can be grateful.
However, there is so much more for each of us to "do" to integrate with courage and determination  the pain lying dormant in our Shadow and the gifts of its unpacking: finding the words to express how we felt when the event happened, especially as no one heard our story, and then finding the meaning behind the experience and how it has shaped our lives and could help to shape our futures differently from how they would have been without such unpacking.
Religious and spiritual leaders, it would seem, have an opportunity and hence an obligation to take this spiritual exercise and discipline seriously, and find their appropriate director/mentor/healer to guide their pilgrimage into their own Shadow, and the time and energy necessary to pursue the process of the encounter. It is our own life that lies buried under the weight of both our capacity to endure our original pain and the society's shared complicity in such a concentrated focus on the daily extrinsic exigencies. The busier and more complicated our lives become, we can be confident that the further down we bury our Shadow, and the more likely we are to continue down a path of conscious/unconscious denial/rejection/ignoring of the recounting of those most painful and most traumatizing events and memories...
And while we watch and listen to a tidal wave of reporting about events on the public stage of our cultural theatre, we can pause, withdraw for a time, find a spiritual friend, and begin the process of excavating the archeological earth of our unconsciousness and bring to the light of day those long forgotten memories that have bend our lives "out of shape"....never fully expecting a full straightening but certainly a more pliable, adaptable and creative and even energetic self lying deep under our "responsibilities" for those bills, deadlines and accountabilities that we confront minute by minute.
It is literally impossible to imagine the release of both the new directions and the new energies that can and will be released from such a spiritual exercise and commitment! And as Red Green would put it, at the close of his comedy show for men, "We're all  pullin' for you!"

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Wearing the niqab in Canada....there must be limits

A niqab (/nɪˈkɑːb/; Arabic: نِقاب‎ niqāb , "veil" or "mask"; also called a ruband) is a cloth that covers the face as a part of sartorial hijab. It is worn by some Muslim women in public areas and in front of non-mahram* adult males, especially in the Hanbali Muslim faith tradition.
The niqab is worn in the Arab countries of the Arabian Peninsula such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. The niqab is also worn in countries such as Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh as well as some parts of Palestinian-ruled territories, southern provinces of Iran, and additional areas with sizeable Muslim populations. Because of the wide variety of hijab worn in the Muslim world, it can be difficult to definitively distinguish between one type of veil and another. The terms niqab and burqa are often incorrectly used interchangeably; a niqab covers the face while a burqa covers the whole body from the top of the head to the ground. (from Wikipedia)
The it a woman's religious freedom?
Is it a rejection and a denial of an open society?
Is it another expression of the repression of women?
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that a woman applying for Canadian citizenship is free to take the oath of citizenship while wearing a niqab, and must uncover her face in private to an official of the government prior to the ceremony. The Quebec government has placed before the National Assembly a motion that would restrict the wearing of a niqab by all people in serving the public of Quebec and those applying for service from the government, that is all civil servants who serve the public, and all citizens accessing governmental services.
According to reports, 80% of public opinion in Quebec favours the Quebec governments' restrictive proposals, and some reports indicate that some 75% of the Canadian public also favour restrictions on the wearing of the niqab.
Stephen Harper is so confident of his position to require all applicants for Canadian citizenship to remove the niqab while taking the oath of citizenship that he is proposing an appeal of the Supreme Court decision, should he return as the leader of the government following the October 19th election.
Both the leaders of the NDP and the Liberals, Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau respectively have declared their agreement with the Supreme Court's decision, and Trudeau has even found air time for his oft-repeated line: "A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian!"....touting individual freedom and individual rights guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for which his Prime Minister father, Pierre Trudeau, is so famous and highly regarded.
In a recent French language debate including all five party leaders in Quebec, the Green Party leader Elizabeth May asked rhetorically, "What has the niqab got to do with the economy? What has the niqab got to do with the environment?" in a valiant attempt to avoid this wedge issue distracting from her main message on those two important issues.
Like it or not, this election campaign encompasses both macro and micro issues. Whether or not the niqab is merely a wedge issue seems now to be a mute question, given its rapid rise up the scale of issues taking time in debates and in public affairs programs. There may even be some who will cast their vote primarily on the basis of the party's position on the question, although that in itself would be sad.
Religious garb, especially garb that is premised on the notion that the male human being is lecherous, dangerous, unable to be trusted and must be precluded from even the thought of being attracted to a passing Muslim woman is most offensive. The wearing of the niqab also removes the notion that men have to learn how to relate to both men and women with respect, regardless of the emotional and sexual stirrings of their interactions. What is really stake in this debate is the question of the strength, viability and sustainability of an open, free, democratic and secular society. If such an idealistic goal, one that has permeated our history and resulted in the loss of many lives in the fight for its preservation, is to be upheld, then the injection of a religious garb of his preventive nature, must have limits placed on its use. For example, in the courts, if a woman were permitted to wear the niqab, especially should the subject woman be under arrest, the court would have to have the power to require its removal, in order to conduct the proceedings with witnesses knowing the identity of the accused. Even in the commission of an offence, the niqab is a rather convenient "cover" of one's identity limiting the likelihood of discovery. Furthermore, the notion of Sharia Law, underlying the wearing of the niqab, which is one step in the direction of the promotion and incursion of Sharia Law, is elevated to the status of a public issue, without the politicians having to engage in the question directly as to whether they favour the deployment of Sharia Law for those Muslims living in a secular society. Seen from the perspective of the potential imposition of Sharia Law, step by step, as a creeping strategy of those who favour the imposition of Sharia Law, the people who are charged with the maintenance and protection of our democracy (lofty and idealistic as those words sound), must be also charged with protecting our democracy from the erosion that would occur should the niqab be permitted in all places, at all times.
Individual freedoms such as the freedom of speech, in Canada, have limits. Libel, for example is one of those limits. Hate speech is another legitimate curb to the freedom of speech, a curb which proudly distinguishes Canada from our neighbour to the south. Right now, Bill C-24 is being enacted by the government of Canada, to remove the citizenship of an individual (and maybe others) for his overt participation in promoting Islamic jihad. Of course, those who consider such a removal to be another
"dangerous slope" in the direction of removing the citizenship of all other offenders, and thereby creating two "classes" of citizenship, oppose the government's decision, and some will undoubtedly take the issue to the Supreme Court for a ruling.
Meanwhile, with some 3-4 weeks remaining in a federal election campaign, the question of the niqab will continue to plague both the politicians and the media will grant considerable time and space for its explication and debate.
We know and must acknowledge that there is a distinct difference for Muslims, as compared with Christians, Jews and agnostics and atheists, that requires their political life to be an expression of their religious beliefs. Islam, through the Koran, does not respect the separation of church and state.
Sharia Law, for example, would be required in any state controlled by Muslims. This linkage between the faith rules and the secular rules of the state (or perhaps even a deliberate unity) is one against which most western democracies have fought, in an honourable attempt founded on the belief that religious freedom requires  freedom "from" religion and well as freedom to practice one's faith without prejudice. We would not, could not and will not tolerate a state calling itself a democracy that is controlled by a single faith community. We would not and could not call ourselves free if we lived in such a state. And we would not consider it possible or feasible for our children and grandchildren to live in a free society should a single faith impose its religious views on the laws of that state.
So, does the niqab have anything to do with the economy or the environment?
Indeed, as the Pope reminded us so eloquently, the human being is part of the environment and if the society does not care for the individual, it will not care for the environment.
However, just as "incarceration does not mean exclusion" (Pope Francis in a Pennsylvania prison, Sunday September 27/2015) so too, caring does not mean acquiescence in all requests. Our democracy can and does respect the rights of the individuals of all faiths, (or no faith) without having to accede to the specific demands of all segments of that faith, when those demands contravene the democratic, open, free and secular values of our history, our tradition and our preferred future.
If the Roman Catholic believers can and do support a woman's access to therapeutic abortion, as a matter of law in Canada, while continuing their attempts to overturn that law, then the Islamic women who prefer the niqab will have to remove their niqab in all conversations with the civil government and its agencies, including the police, the fire departments, the courts and the providers of public services. The schools, as always, provide a hybrid, in which, if identity is determined openly upon entry, then students and professors should be permitted to wear the niqab while engaged in the pursuit of an education. Employers, however, would, in an ideal world, must retain the right to determine professional attire, and could and would be enabled to exclude the niqab from the workplace.
As an afterthought, one would hope and prefer that all restaurants, hotels, hospitals and libraries would not permit the wearing of the niqab by all employees.
Does this meagre opinion resolve the issue? Of course not!
It merely adds another voice to the chorus of those considering the issue in this country and abroad.

*In Islamic sharia legal terminology, a mahram (Arabic محرم, also transliterated mahrim or maharem) is an unmarriageable kin with whom sexual intercourse would be considered incestuous, a punishable taboo.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Reflections on the Pope's visit to America

Electoral politics in both Canada and the United States have had to peek out from behind the wall-to-wall coverage of the Pope's visit to America this week. And the juxtaposition of the two "theatres" provides some remarkable evidence.
First, the decibel level of the Pope's encounter is decidedly lower than that of the political titans.
Second, the subjects, while overlapping, are framed very differently. In the political arena, the pursuit of power over, hard power, aggression, hubris and victory generates language of winning over opponents. On the Pope's stage, the pursuit of community, acceptance, tolerance, harmony and caring generates language of openness, innocence, interactivity, humility and sharing.
And the "audience response" to the different stages is also remarkable dissimilar.
In the case of the political theatre, many are disenchanted, disillusioned, vindictive, cynical and even hopeless, whereas, in the Pope's lens, magnified onto the televisions' screens the audience is aroused, uplifted, hopeful, charmed and even ecstatic,  as well as touched and blessed. Thousands eagerly attend events just to be in his presence, different from the 'rock-star' that American media uses as it comparative model, but merely to be present in case a touch, a blessing, a selfie, or even a memory is available and possible.
Now to the subjects: capital punishment, global warming and climate change, equality and poverty, geopolitical conflict, the sale of arms, refugees and immigration and tolerance of human differences....these are included in virtually all of the Pope's public statements, but their inclusion is not designed to divide but rather to awaken, and to engage. People of all religious persuasions agree that Pope Francis, attempting to emulate his namesake in caring, including human beings as part of the environment of the universe, the earth, God's gift to each of us, represents the caring and the inspiring and the uplifting and the hopeful side of the spiritual life. Even his now-famous declaration on a jet months ago, when asked about the faith's response to gays, "If one is gay and is searching for God, who am I to judge?" echoes in the minds and hearts of thousands as they gather in the streets, on the White House lawn, in Central Park, and today in Philadelphia.
  • Over-ruling his security staff by asking them to bring a "delinquent" little girl who crossed the barrier keeping the crowd at bay from the Pope-mobile to him for a blessing and a kiss,
  • mingling with crowds while walking,
  • attempting to engage in a digital image with school children,
  • asking those gathered at Catholic Charities to sing in a spontaneous gesture of welcome,
  • confronting the powerful with words and perceptions and an attitude of compassion and urgency to work together to end war, and to save the planet, and to abolish the death penalty
  • committing to an exhausting schedule for a middle-aged human, at 78
  • previously empowering negotiations to bridge 50 years of divorce and estrangement between Cuba and the United States and then publicly asking Cubans to open their hearts and minds to faith 
  • canonizing a controversial and conflicted and reputedly brutal Franciscan monk, from an order previously in competition with his Jesuit order in Mexico and what is now California
  • addressing the United States Congress (the first Pope in history)
  • repeatedly asking others to pray for him, a sinner
The ministry of this Jesuit-trained priest in the barrios of Argentina records his commitment to the poor long before his elevation to the papal throne.
Without showing signs of changing the dogmatic Roman Catholic absolutes of:
  • no female clergy, 
  • no abortion (while offering a year of 'clemency' or forgiveness for those who have had an abortion), 
  • no contraception, and
  • no gay marriage or clergy
  • no divorce (while reducing the number of 'hearings' from two to one for marriage absolution)
and while continuing to address the complications of clergy abuse of young boys, Francis has attempted to emphasize the caritas (charity) virtue of the Roman Catholic church. After his predecessor Benedict whose veins flowed with dry ice, Francis exudes warmth, compassion and humility. He comes to a world starved of hope, connectivity and community, (ironically in the tidal wave of digital technology,) and gluttonous of acquisition of material 'things', addicted to maintaining superiority and terrified of its loss or damage in any and all matters and manners. He takes full advantage of all of the most advanced communication vehicles, strategies and tactics, (operating outside the church's and the Vatican's 'high' walls, for the most part) in his herculean attempt to restore a world in which people mattered, not only the rich and the powerful, but ALL people.
Yesterday, as represented by people attending (and contributing to!!) church, obeying church dogma, staying in all marriages, defying premarital sex and contraception, covering sins with extreme hypocrisy and the resulting neuroses, uncontaminated food, the thaw in the Cold War, the precarious stand-off (buy-off?)  in the Middle East, and the dominance of Christianity is wrapped in liturgical robes, mitres, bishop's staff, beautifully harmonious music, exuberant and sycophantic acolytes cheerleading as talking heads, politician's tears, and presidential welcome.
It is a symphony of mixed and conflicting notes, voices, images and 'rushes' with which no single politician or political party (or even rock star or revolutionary) could reasonably expect to compete.
When the White House, the Congress, Fifth Avenue, Central Park, Madison Square Gardens and even American Airlines are all transformed into ecclesiastical bodies for the drama, eagerly funded by corporate advertisers for 24-7 coverage on MSNBC and CNN, the question of the separation of church and state are, for the moment, muted, even silenced with the consent of the 'governed'.
We are all, for the week, participants in a spiritual spectacle, a political event, a mass movement of human bodies, minds and spirits that would compel the most committed sociologist, and we are left with memories of our perceptions, feelings, and our own questions of the meaning of the events.
And we are also left wondering if there is really any possibility or likelihood that whatever warmth and hope we experienced will flow over the conversations on Monday between Obama and Putin, (who just this week opened a new Moscow mosque that accommodates 10,000 Muslims), or between Merkel and her peers as the EU seeks a resolution of the refugee migration that threatens to drown some of her members, or between Merkel and Assad, should he agree to her invitation to attend talks designed to end the war in Syria.
Was the vote in the United Nations to affirm the 15-year commitment to end world poverty this week a reflection of the capacity of the spirit of the Pope's visit to permeate the General Assembly? Or, for those pragmatists, agnostics and secularists, was it merely an expression of a global fear in the face of such a massive migration of starving and dispossessed human beings from many quarters that would render the current refugee crisis a mere blip on our collective consciousness?
One million, or will it be two million attendees at the Pope's Mass in Philadelphia today, (along with thousands of "Pope-o-potties," courtesy of Paul  Hunter of CBC) could render the political system irrelevant or awaken it to do what it was designed to do, to govern for all people. Or more likely, merely pass as another image in a historical video-museum, one to which our grandchildren will point in their quizzical penetration of why nothing really meaningful transpired as the impact of this drama.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Putin the arsonist as firefighter in Syria?

With hundreds of thousands of refugees overwhelming countries beginning with Jordan and Lebanon near their homelands, and now including Greece, Hungary, Austria, Croatia, and Germany, the analogy of the kids falling over the waterfall with people rushing to pick them out of the water, while a lone investigator climbs to the top of the waterfall to see why they are falling in comes to mind. The world is one again more focussed on the symptoms of the disease than on the root causes of the sickness. Anyone who puts the issue of 'security' ahead of the issue of compassion and rescuing the stream of people, as Canadian Stephen Harper's government continues to do, is resisting both the issue of the mass migration and the root causes.
The war in Syria, the Assad regime, the cynical opportunism of ISIS, and pitiful support from  the west for the Syrian rebels, and now the blatant and opportunistic entry of Russian troops and military supplies including Russian fighter jets into the Syrian conflict in support of Putin's ally, Assad, is the stew in the cauldron boiling over onto the European continent. And just as in Ukraine, the west is apparently suffering from an ambivalence and an uncertainty and a surfeit of anxiety over how to respond. Obama is, as the inheritor of the Bush mess in  both Iraq and Afghanistan, very reluctant to pour American troops into another potential quagmire in either Ukraine or Syria/Iraq. Sending bombing missions into the war theater is analogous to a patient suffering from dementia going under the surgeon's scalpel to amputate a limb, in the vain hope that somehow the surgery will distract from the pain of the dementia.
It is not rocket science to observe that, just as in Ukraine, a vacuum of clarity and political potency from the United States, and from NATO brings the cynical and opportunistic Putin in to fill the void. With his allies Iran and Hezbollah Putin is once again striding onto the world stage taking 'two birds with one shot': he raises the profile of a crippled Russia in the world headlines while poking his finger in the eye of the western powers, including Britain, United States, France, Germany and Canada, without demonstrating a 'fig' of concern for the people of either  eastern Ukraine or of Syria.
Writing in The Telegraph September 18, 2015, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer puts it this way:
Putin says, settle the war with my client in place -- the Assad regime joined by a few "healthy" opposition forces -- and I solve your refugee nightmare. You almost have to admire the cynicism. After all, what's driving the refugees is the war and what's driving the war is Iran and Russia. They provide the materiel, the funds and now, increasingly, the troops that fuel the fighting. The arsonist plays fireman. (In Syria, Vladimir Putin is the arsonist playing fireman by Charles Krauthammer, in The Telegraph, September 18, 2015)
Cynical political and military intrigue of epic proportions requires considerable insight, linked with significant action that pushes back against such intrigue, if the world is not going to continue to offer opportunities for terrorists to expand their barbarity. Unfortunately, while diplomacy may be burning the lines between the Pentagon and the Kremlin, between both U.S. secretaries of Defence and State and their Russian counterparts, ships are unloading in Syria their Russian cargo and Russian military personnel, defying even the intent of those limp and lethargic, impotent and dramatic phone calls.
While the world's super powers make much of their 'campaign to eradicate ISIS', Putin strikes their hubris in the knees, rendering it almost laughable, notwithstanding the slow drip of headlines reporting 'another ISIS leader taken out'.
Just as the European Union seems paralyzed in its attempt to formulate and then execute a strategy to deal with the mass migration crisis pouring along its rail lines, and over its secondary highways, overflowing its refugee tents, and stretching the search and rescue efforts on its seas, so too the western countries seem incapable of reaching some effective strategy, both in design and in execution, to end the Syrian civil war.
Of course, such complicated scenarios, both the refugee crisis, the Syrian conflict, require the best brains, with the best research and the most creative and courageous recommendations, as well as political operatives prepared to step out of their comfort zone and take those steps that would bring Assad, Putin, and the rebels to a ceasefire. Events on the ground, while generating images of horrific conditions, both in the refugee encampments and in the towns and cities of what was Syria, do not and will not portend the negotiating table. Combatants, by definition, especially unrestricted and unimpeded combatants, seek more combat: it is their raison d'etre, their identity, and their are infused with a passion to fight, to recruit more fighters and to destroy their enemy. Assad has just declared, once again, on Russian television, that only the people of Syria can and will drive him from office. With fewer and fewer Syrians still alive and living in their homeland, soon the prospect of such a political decision will involve only Assad's family voting on the question.
American boots on the ground, accompanied by British and French and German troops on the ground, seems to have been ruled out, the argument for restraint apparently being that the countries indigenous to the Middle East have to solve the problem. And while restraint in the deployment of military power, including soldiers on the ground, has to be commended, as a general principle, and while sanctions are at best a modest instrument to change the minds of political leaders like Assad, Putin and the Ayatollah in Iran, Putin's brash move into the Syrian conflict cannot and must not be considered and met with the same indifference from the world's major powers that followed his takeover in Crimea and military incursion into eastern Ukraine, on the faint pretext that those provinces are still more attached to Russia than to Kiev.
When the arsonist becomes the potential firefighter, we all know that the security and balance and compliance with international law on which the world depends, have broken down and require a sustained and compelling response.
The military bravado that characterizes the Republican debates for the White House is only one overt attempt to fill the vacuum that seems to characterize the establishment silence from the political capitals of the developed world. Painting Obama, just as they did Carter, as weak and therefore incompetent, is a predictable component of such rhetoric. Putin knows that he will not face a military response in either Ukraine or in Syria, from the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany or Canada, (although Harper would die for an opportunity to punch above Canada's weight in the middle of an election campaign he seems to be losing).
However, Obama, in not facing another election, and in not seeking to leave the Democratic Party's reputation on national security and in seeking and finding resolution to serious world problems (as he has successfully done with the Iran nuclear negotiations) has more room to move than he would have had in the first term. He needs to meet directly with Putin when he visits the United Nations, and bring the Russian faux-czar to his knees before the knees of the west are broken by this self-appointed tyrant. Permitting Putin along with his henchmen in Hezbollah and Iran to become the leaders in the fight against ISIS is not acceptable. And yet, the evidence of successful attempts to bring down the terrorist cells is still missing. Another vacuum of leadership, strategy, tactics and collaboration.
Too many people are suffering under the oppression of military conflict, starvation, displacement, and the removal of hope from their lives for what end? At some point, just as the image of the little boy dead on the beach in Turkey galvanized the world's opinion into action on refugees, so too, perhaps the image of a Russian fighter jet taking out an American fighter jet over Syria will galvanize world opinion into de-escalating initiatives to bring the temperature of world tensions down below the level of more military action.
One would hope that the mere announcement of Putin's intervention into Syria would galvanize the world into taking action to stop him in this and in any other incursions he may contemplate. And, it would seem that since military action is off the table, and sanctions produce only modest and minimal impact, the world will have to find alternative sticks and carrots to "beat him with".
The arsonist as firefighter is a mixed metaphor "up with which the world cannot put"!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Can this sick planet find a circle of care?

 There is a strong series of currents that are pushing back against the tide of corporatism in which the world has been engulfed for more than a decade.
How business operates, in a playing field of their own making, (through the removal of regulations, controls and legitimate limits by the politicians they fund) is akin to the law of the jungle, ‘everyone for himself and may the strongest only win.’

In words, on a page, that last series of words seems quite benign, devoid of blood, and certainly devoid of mortal confusion. We all agree, it seems, that competition in the marketplace is a given, even a requisite for the market to operate freely. And we have watched as the former restrictions and controls on Wall Street have been lifted and how the financial services sector has plunged the world economy into the deepest depression since 1929. And while the world’s media covered the collapse, the conditions for another massive sell-off, accompanied by a debt-recall by China on all those U.S. Treasury Bills, continues to hang over our heads.

It is not only the Greek economy that has been, and continues to be, propped up with money from outside the country. For more than a decade, the United States has been borrowing money from the Chinese government, while at the same time depending on the infusion of “quantitative easing” from the Federal Reserve, only now being slowed. A century ago, the American/European economies dominated in the world, with a lagging ‘developing world’ or less charitably, a ‘third world’ accounting for a small portion of economic activity.  Today, however, we see a reversal of that equation, with both Europe and America accounting for less than half the world’s economic activity, and the former ‘developing world’ moving to the forefront.

Simultaneously, the amassing of wealth in the hands of a small few has proceeded unimpeded for decades, as these hedge fund managers rode a tide of globalization, mergers and mega-mergers across the globe. Into this scene enter a large group of risk-taking, ambitious, and highly dangerous operators who, while growing rich and now demanding respect because they are rich, could care less about rules, regulations and playing by those rules. Money and the hands that own and control it will find opportunities to grow whether or not there are rules and regulations that preserve the public good, and whether or not there are states which have eliminated the kind of corruption we have been reading about for decades in developing countries.  Ambition, greed, risk-taking that simply ignores or bribes anyone or any government attempting to reign it in, the extraction of resources and the running free of all of these unleashed forces make a cocktail unfit for the faint of heart. Link all of those factors to a desperate masculinity (and most hedge-fund managers, money brokers, and high-end investors are still masculine) and we are witnessing an growing potential for a series of events that stretch the definition of “market correction” beyond its bounds. A brief predictive diagnosis might include:

·       An implosion of credit,

·       A rise of political impotence,

·       thuggery and corruption on both the open market and the black market that is fueled by decades of a kind of ‘wild west’ playing field,

·       a deep internet which even the designers cannot penetrate, where the thugs deal with impunity

·       inject a successfully operating North Korean nuclear reactor and nuclear weapons,

·       a devolving Middle East,

·       a large shot of  terrorism from Moscow in Ukraine,

·        militarization of China and Japan,

·       booming economies in India and China,

·       western governments that are pre-occupied with ISIS and it many faces,

·       a mass migration of displaced and dispossessed fighting for their lives,

·       dictators like Assad, Putin, and the Ayatollah of Iran, and Kim Jung Un....

·       and a United Nations that has the power merely to persuade, without either an army or a police unless and until members countries consent,

and while the disease might not have a name or a preventive or curative prescription, it also overlays an body politic whose environment has plunged into suffocation, temperatures that are off the thermometer and political indifference that defies comprehension.

In the hospitals, something known as a “circle of care” has emerged, linking all care-givers of a specific patient in a ‘need to know’ bond, that effectively and ethically opens all practitioners to information necessary for the full diagnosis and treatment plan for that patient. Clearly, if the global political economic social cultural and religious unity were a single patient (and for this argument we are making that analogy) then a circle of care would have to involve all leaders and all citizens, and it would also depend upon a communication industry that was not muzzled by any power brokers, financial agents, advertisers, investors or any other colluding conspirators. When the banks, the investment community and the political operatives are all drinking the same koolaid from the same shared cup, there is no chance for the patient (the global society) to survive without serious changes.

·       Divesting all television, internet media corporations  and snail mail of private money, (the opposite direction the Harper Conservatives want to take the CBC), and

·        investing a much greater portion of national budgets in education in order to guarantee all young people a full and relevant education (robbing from the military),

·       creating world food programs supported by tax levies from all wealthy nations that would through monitoring refuse to permit starvation on all continents,

·       opening the vault of secret information that would yield the account names of all squirreled money in Swiss or other bank accounts, thereby requiring all account holders to pay their fair share of taxes in the country of their head offices or the residence of their CEO’s,

·       securing the signature of all wealthy nations to the International Criminal
Court, Interpol, an international Secret Service that would not be beholden to a national government but to the United Nations

·       generating an empowered negotiating/mediating/arbitrating agency under the United Nations, supported by all member states, that would and could  bring warring parties, including ISIS, Assad, North Korea, Japan, China, Putin, to a table for full disclosure, and an agreed procedure for pre-empting military conflict, and for foreclosing such conflicts as soon after they have begun as is feasible

·       securing the signatures of all developed and developing nations to a global currency from which no nation would depart, without suffering compelling sanctions

·       negotiating an arms limitation cap on all nations that would have as its long-term goal, the complete elimination of all nuclear, chemical, biological and cyber weapons, with open and accessible international sanctions for crossing this red line protecting humanity

·       negotiating a global cap to the emission of carbon dioxide emissions, including a series of punitive measures that would compel compliance, based on a full disclosure of the destruction already wreaked on the eco-systems of the planet

·       re-educating the world’s public on the required limits to private finance and corporate profits, including a global commitment to cap executive compensation.....

These are just a few of the many initiatives that our collective future needs and expects if we are to relieve the pressures of economic, military, and hegemonic abuse of power...and the west is clearly no immune from such abuse both as victim and as abuser. There is no country, no political party and no political leader that can claim immunity or impunity; none of us is free from significant responsibility for both over actions and for omissions to stop decision, actions and failures to act on which we all, and especially our grandchildren depend.

Of course, these ideas are idealistic, even illusory; nevertheless, there is a growing awareness and consciousness that the world is headed in the wrong direction and that only through concerted and sustained argument and action in opposition to the many threats (also opportunities, if we are open to that notion). They will be scorned with phrases like “what is this writer smoking?” in order to discredit the source. They will be laughed off as immature, naive, impractical and apocalyptic and therefore worthless.

However, we can no longer depend on political, institutional, corporate or religious leaders to ‘carry the ball’ on our behalf. They are all operating from a premise that their job, their reputations and their futures depend on their obsession over micro-issues, while letting the macro issues wither from inattention on the vine of collective consciousness.

This is a time in human history when the world has become a ‘village’ and every member within that village has a voice, a brain and a conscience....all of which are desperately needed in order to set a global agenda of both policies and processes to achieve those policies.

Nationalism, parochialism, religious differences, linguistic and cultural differences....these all have to give way to common, determined and sustained initiatives to preserve the potential lives of our grandchildren....and while our differences may and indeed will enrich our collective decisions, they must not be permitted to block the process. And our shared history  books will have to include those chapters in each people’s story that embarrass, that enrage and shame the people. Stories about secrets, national, familial, communal, ecclesial, from all theatres of our lives will have to be exhumed from the vaults of our locked memories. Stories that point fingers, accompanied by stories that point fingers will have to find the light of day and the drum beat of the keypads, the sound waves of the microphones and the images generated by the cameras.

And this release must not be analogous to the current libellous and ascerbic bullying that pervades the internet. Telling the truth, ironically, is not something to be feared. In fact, the very opposite is true. We are in most danger when we are in denial or in simple ignorance of the full complexities of a situation. And those with titles of power can no longer be permitted to determine what information is released to the public. That decision rests with each citizen, as does the responsibility  for its release, taking extreme care to tell only the truth, nothing but the truth so help us all, God.

And then, today, September 16 we find the following encouraging report in the Toronto Star:
The “leap manifesto,” signed by more than 100 actors, musicians, labour unions, aboriginal leaders, environmentalists and other activists, aims to pressure the next federal government to wean Canada entirely off fossil fuels in as little as 35 years and, in the process, upend the capitalist system on which the economy is based.
The drivers of the manifesto are best-selling author Naomi Klein and her husband Avi Lewis. It echoes the theme of Klein’s latest book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, which was turned into a documentary of the same name, directed by Lewis.
Tuesday’s release of the manifesto coincides with the debut of the documentary over the weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The dramatic transformation envisioned in the manifesto is in stark contrast to the pragmatic platform Mulcair is offering: balanced budgets, an openness to free trade deals, sustainable development of Alberta’s oilsands, no tax hikes except for a “slight and graduated” increase in the corporate tax rate.
Yet among the celebrity signatories are a number of prominent NDP supporters, including former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis, father of Avi, who gave a rousing introduction for Mulcair at a campaign event in Toronto last month.
Others signatories who’ve declared their NDP sympathies include pop duo Tegan and Sara, singer-songwriter Leslie Feist, Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuf and Paul Moist, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
Stephen Lewis doesn’t see his support for Mulcair as inconsistent with the manifesto, which he notes is also signed by people from other parties, including Roy McMurtry, a former Ontario chief justice and one-time provincial Conservative cabinet minister.
“For the New Democrats, it’s an extension of the kinds of things they’ve been talking about,” Lewis said in an interview.
“When Tom Mulcair talks about climate change and the importance of dealing with global warming in Canada and internationally, this is an extension — admittedly a dramatic and vivid extension — of the kinds of things that many of us yearn for.”
Starting with the premise that Canada’s record on climate change is “a crime against humanity’s future,” the manifesto argues the country needs to make the leap to getting 100 per cent of its electricity from renewable resources within 20 years and weaning itself entirely off fossil fuels by 2050.
This means adopting a new “iron law” of energy development: “If you wouldn’t want it in your backyard, then it doesn’t belong in anyone’s backyard,” to be applied equally to pipelines, fracking, increased oil tanker traffic and Canadian-owned mining projects abroad.
In the process, the manifesto envisions a transformation of the entire capitalist system into a Utopia in which the economy is “in balance with the earth’s limits,” jobs “are designed to systematically eliminate racial and gender inequality,” agriculture is “far more localized and ecologically based,” and low-carbon sectors of the economy, like caregiving, teaching, social work, the arts and public-interest media, flourish.
The signatories declare their belief in “energy democracy,” in which energy sources are collectively controlled by communities, rather than “profit-gouging” private companies.
They call for an end to “all corporate trade deals” that interfere with attempts to build local economies and regulate corporations.
In contrast to Mulcair’s insistence that running deficits puts an unfair economic burden on future generations, the signatories declare that “austerity — which has systematically attacked low-carbon sectors like education and health care, while starving public transit and forcing reckless energy privatizations — is a fossilized form of thinking that has become a threat to life on earth.”
The signatories assert that the money to pay for the transformation they envision is readily available. All it requires is for the federal government to end fossil fuel subsidies, cut military spending and impose financial transaction taxes, increased resource royalties and higher income taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals.
In Calgary on Tuesday night, Mulcair said the New Democrats welcome the ideas contained in the manifesto.
“I do understand the profound desire for change reflected in that document,” he said.
“We’ve talked about a cap and trade system, that is our policy, that’s what we will be doing.”
“Before the election, we are going to tell Canadians what we are going to do and once we are elected, we are actually going to do it, it has never been tried,” Mulcair said.
Other manifesto signatories include actors Ellen Page, Rachel McAdams, Sarah Polley, Pamela Anderson and Donald Sutherland, singers Bruce Cockburn, Neil Young, Gord Downie, Sarah Harmer and Leonard Cohen, novelists Michael Ondaatje and Joseph Boyden, environmentalist David Suzuki, anti-free trade activist Maude Barlow, artist Robert Bateman and film director Patricia Rozema. ( Prominent NDPers back manifesto calling for overhaul of capitalist economy by Joan Bryden, Canadian Press)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Can the NDP offer a couple of bold ideas for the Canadian imagination as well as an guarantee of dependability?

Nothing says “I’m different than Harper and the Conservatives” more than Tom Mulcair’s unequivocal declaration last night on CBC that, if elected, a New Democratic Government will immediately bring all Canadian troops home from Iraq and Syria.

Committing to ending the bombing, and to working toward a negotiated settlement of the civil war in Syria and stability in Iraq, contrary to the conventional wisdom of many western countries, will either elect the New Democratic leader  Prime Minister, or render him a footnote in history. Pledges to make Canada a more fair and just society could be washed away if the Canadian public rejects his promise to withdraw from military action in the Middle East.

“Restoring Canada’s place on the world stage,” as Mulcair sees it, is not only dependent on his leading government action on the global issue of climate change and global warming as he has promised. It also depends on taking positions consistent with decisions like the one made by then Prime Minister Jean Chretien to stay out of the 2003 war on Iraq misconceived and miscalculated and premised as it was on faulty intelligence and George W. Bush’s machismo administration.

October 19, the date of the Canadian election, could well spell the termination of the Harper government and the tenure of its leader, Stephen Harper. Certainly not a warm and fuzzy personality, dubbed a control freak, and even acknowledging “I am not perfect” in his CBC interview with Peter Mansbridge, Harper has put a large footprint on the government in Ottawa: emphasizing stiff sentences, more prisons, mandatory sentences, friction even fractiousness with First Nations, separation from the provincial and territory leaders, gutting environmental protections, turning a deaf ear to calls for an open door for additional refugees from Syria and Iraq and other African countries, lower taxes for oil and gas corporations, promotion of all pipe lines on both north and south sides of the 49th parallel, and then boutique tax cuts for targeted ‘conservative’ (wealthy) voters who might seek piano or ballet lessons for their children.

Mulcair, while fervently nudging his party to the centre of the political spectrum to moderate public opinion that the party is too radical, underlining party history as provincial governments with the best “balanced budget record”, and being extremely careful not to express either radical opinions or to use inflamed language, is continuing to monitor a slight lead in most opinion polls, but not yet enough to assure a majority government. Meanwhile, his opposition opponent, Liberal Justin Trudeau, manages to garner headlines for social policy announcements like the one he delivered yesterday pouring millions into public housing and beginning the effort to end homelessness in Canada.

Mulcair will have to demonstrate more “expansive” and resonating ideas like his $15/day day care over the remaining five weeks of the campaign if he is to be permitted the keys to 24 Sussex on October 20. Prisoner rehabilitation, a significant level of federal support for post-secondary education through tuition fee cuts, a provincial-federal conference on health care that seeks to inaugurate a pharmacare inclusion, like the one announced by Green Party leader Elizabeth May yesterday, and a commitment to a specific reduction in carbon emissions, one that both corporate and international monitoring agencies can applaud and uphold, a restoration to the role of parliamentarians, moving power out of the PMO and Cabinet, without bruising their legitimate responsibility to lead, and putting federal resources into research into negotiating and mediation towards a global commitment to a world less reliant on hard power....these are some of the potential layers in a vision that would elevate the NDP to a party committed to both big ideas and effective and efficient governance.

Everyone agrees that this is a pivotal election, if the legacy of the Harper years are to be moderated, if not completely reversed. The economy is not the only issue for government, and it is supposed to be the servant and not the master of government policy. The Canadian public is watching and waiting, not for a knock-out blow that will render Harper unconscious on the mat, but for a significant proposal to raise  both our hopes and our aspirations, beyond what Mulcair has so far offered.

We know the party and its leader are both capable, and we also know the calendar is ‘ticking’....and we will be watching in anticipation for the final and convincing call to put Mulcair into the Prime Minister’s residence.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Cognitive Distortions 101

In their outstanding and shocking piece in The Atlantic entitled "The Coddling of the American Mind," Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt draw information from two books:
1) David D. Burns, Feeling Good
2) Robert L. Leahy, Stephen J.F. Holland and Lata K. McGinn, Treatment Plans and Interventions for Depression and Anxiety Disorders
From the latter work, they detail what they call Common Cognitive Distortions,  those habit of thought, perception and attitude that impose a degree of self-sabotage on each of us. This is part of their initiative to spread what they recommend as a partial remediation for the politically correct epidemic on American university and college campuses to 'protect' students from words, ideas, or even facts or theories that would cause them emotional anguish. Lukianoff and Haidt advocate for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy exposure for college freshmen, as part of the remedy for the tragic malaise that threatens to distort the perception of reality that graduate will face when they enter the workplace.
Here is a brief list of those Cognitive Distortions: (Dear Reader, you can easily find your own patterns from among the list....and if and when you do, you can name the distortion you are employing and begin the process of reducing its impact on your life, and on those in your circle.)
1. Mind Reading: You assume that you know what people think, without having evidence of their thoughts. "He thinks I am a loser."
2. Fortune-telling: You predict the future negatively: things will get worse or there is danger ahead.
"I'll fail that exam;" or "I won't get that job."
3. Catastrophizing: You believe that what has happened or will happen will be so awful that you won't be able to stand it. "It would be terrible if I failed."
4. Labelling: You assign global negative traits to yourself and to others. "I'm undesireable" or "he's a rotten person."
5. Discounting positives: You claim that the positive things you or others do are trivial. "Those successes were easy so they don't matter."
6. Negative Filtering: You focus almost exclusively on the negative and seldom notice the positives. "Look at all the people who don't like me."
7. Overgeneralizing: You perceive a pattern of negatives on the basis of a single incident. "This generally happens to me. I seem to fail a lot of things.
8. Dichotomous thinking: You view events or people in all-or-nothing terms. "I get rejected by everyone;" or "It was a complete waste of time."
9. Blaming: You focus on the other person as the source of your negative feelings and refuse to take responsibility for changing yourself. "My parents caused all my problems."
10. What if? You keep asking a series of questions about "what if" something happens, and you fail to be satisfied with any of the answers. "Yeah, but what if I get anxious? or What if I can't catch my breath?"
11. Emotional reasoning: You let your feelings guide your interpretation of reality. "I feel depressed; therefore my marriage is not working out."
12. Inability to disconfirm: You reject any evidence or arguments that might contradict your negative thoughts. For example, when you have the thought, I'm unloveable, you reject as irrelevant any evidence that people like you. Consequently your thought cannot be refuted. "That's not the real issue. There are deeper problems. There are other factors."
Some of these "distortions" were once considered "projections" or "rationalizations" or "assumptions" (making an "ass" out of you and me) they are really a more detailed, and sophisticated version of these other categories. Imagine, for a moment, a novelist or poet or playwright having to scrub all conversations leaving them clean of cognitive distortions: there would be very little emotional conflict and the audience would, at least for the first century of such presentations, think they were attending a conditioning laboratory designed to remove all distortions.
Yet, when we reflectively examine the conversations of our recent past, we can all recall comments that fall into one or more of the above distortions, without our even being aware of the fact. Of course, taking responsibility for our lives, including for the perceptions, attitudes, and concept of reality we embrace is solely on our shoulders, and not on the shoulders of any other person. Being persons in many interactive situations, and being hard wired as social beings, we are deeply embedded in many of these distortions both directly and indirectly (through others). Imagine two things:
first, the role the churches play in the development of these distortions in our lives and
second, the difference a conscious awareness and acceptance of responsibility for naming and changing the language on both sides of all contract negotiations from distortion to clear reality, including those at the diplomatic table, would make.
First, the religious influence on our distortions:
"If you are not saved, you will go to Hell!" Here we see fortune telling, catastrophizing, negative filtering, dichotomous thinking, blaming, what if?, emotional reasoning (manipulation by fear)....
and there is not a person in the western world who has not heard such statements from "responsible" clerics, without facing any challenge from the parishioner.
"If you do not obey God's word, you will be sentenced to a life in Hell (or Purgatory)"...similarly, fear is deployed as manipulator to induce some form of spiritual transformation.
"If you are not saved when Jesus returns, you will suffer eternal damnation." Talk about catastrophizing through fear and anxiety for the purpose of serving the goals of the institutional church, to grow the numbers and the dollars in the coffers.
The net effect of such distortions, dangerously, is to infantilize the other, to render the other so fearful and so incapacitated that a personal reflective decision about one's spiritual life becomes nearly impossible. Further, these distortions contribute to the generation of a culture in which evidential truths are subordinated to various forms of emotional manipulation.
In political vernacular, blaming the other, labelling, fortune-telling, mind-reading, discounting positives, overgeneralizing, dichotomous thinking, what if? and inability to disconfirm... all find their place both in headline copy and in many of the fine print stories that dominate political campaigns, political debates, political essays and even political theory.
Critical thought, the sine qua non of a democracy, cannot and will not even reach the 50% level of discourse so long as the distortions continue with full impunity and immunity. What could happen instead, is for reporters to ask, following an obvious distortion not only of the facts and figures but of the emotional manipulations, "Sir/Madam, would you agree that your last statement is a cognitive distortion?"
Imagine Donald Trump huffing and puffing that such a question is so nasty that the hypothetical reporter is immediately ushered from the room. Think for a moment, too, if all homilies in all parishes were accompanied by similar questions from the people in the pews, when the clergy veered into cognitive distortions in order to demonstrate his/her theological superiority.
And then, to bring the issue closer to home, imagine how a married couple could and would help and enrich their intimate conversations after having agreed to mention gently the observation of a cognitive distortion when it shows its face in those conversations.
We are all going to need to claim responsibility for our cognitive distortions if we are to come to a place where human relations are emptied of racial bias, emotional bullying, power-tripping, and it is clear that a campaign exposing microaggressions and trigger warnings will only suck all the oxygen out of the room, including the lecture rooms on all American campuses, and other campuses whose leaders are so frightened by the possibility of offending their thin-skinned, fragile students.
Also, to focus on the fine print of each and every conversation will also deflect and even dispose of thoughts of a much bigger picture that includes a premise of a bountiful potential to all human lives, in spite of the bumps and  bruises that are an inevitable component to all human exchanges.
We all have to ward against being sucked into a black hole of the addiction of judging all others, rather than in a gentle reflective, critical self-examination, putting the emphasis where it belongs: in our own self-directed life.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Lawrence Lessig's presidential bid: historic and/or quixotic?

In theology, there is a difference made between theory and praxis (practice, or process). The former evokes notions of 'content' or 'meat' or 'substance' or 'ideology' or even 'dogma'. The latter speaks to things the 'how' or 'method' or 'approach' or even 'plan'. In political language, the duality would be posed using words like "policy" versus "how to execute" the plan, how to pay for it, which alternatives would trump others?
We as observers/participants vacillate between reflections on 'theory' and reflections on praxis. In fact, marketers also need to focus on the quality of the "product" while deploying the techniques of how to make the product "sell" using whatever words, images, underlying themes, background music, voice-overs, and pyrotechnics they believe will appeal to the target market audience. The classroom is another venue for the delivery of both "curriculum content" (the terms of the peace treaty, or the formula for the equation, or the symbols of the poem etc.) and methodology: essay, term test, lecture, group report, seminar, field project, research report, oral history, examination, public speeches, laboratory experiment and report, case study, creative expression through various media.
We make decisions about the "messenger" and the "message" and often differentiate between the two, balancing our opinion on observations on each facet of the "message".
Much has been written on the theories of communication, including the Marshall McLuhan aphorism, "the medium is the message," in his attempt to compare the television and radio media as to their "heat" or their "cool" and their congruence with specific personalities. Pierre Elliot Trudeau, for example, was a 'perfect' messenger for the television medium, as compared with his Progressive Conservative leader, Robert Stanfield. Trudeau's cool easily trumped Stanfield's frumpy, almost grandfatherly warmth. Policy alternatives, for example, their respective positions on wage and price controls, articulated as opposites in their campaigns, were merged in history, when Trudeau did implement them, having promised not to.
In the United States, the image of Donald Trump, the cowboy/quick-draw-McGraw/outrider brand huckster's literally swamps whatever policy 'content' he might actually implement, should he (heaven forbid!) win the White House in November 2016. Similarly, Hillary Clinton's mishandling of her emails both while serving as Secretary of State, and subsequently, daily flushes any policy statements she makes into the drain of oblivion. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, is a messenger of a content/policy variety, notwithstanding his 73 years, and drawing crowds that vastly outnumber Clinton's. His refrain, "The billionaires cannot have it all!" is almost pure content, content that resonates with a large segment of the American electorate.
There is a new Democratic candidate for the American presidency who, having just reached the minimum requirement of securing $1 million in campaign contributions, is a laser as a messenger of political process which, according to his commitment, when completed will bring about his immediate resignation, leaving the presidency to his Vice-president. A Law professor from Harvard Law School, Lawrence (Larry) Lessig, spoke this morning to George Stephanopolous on ABC's This Week: “I think I'm running to get people to acknowledge the elephant in the room,” he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. "We have to recognize -- we have a government that does not work. The stalemate, partisan platform of American politics in Washington right now doesn't work.”
If elected, he says he will be the first “referendum president,” promising to serve only as long as it takes to pass his Citizens Equality Act of 2017 -- a bill aimed at reforming campaign finance, voting rights, and Congressional representation. Once the bill is passed, Lessig said he would then step down, handing over the reins to his vice president. (From ABC website, September 6, 2015)
How politics works, if it does, is equally as important as which policies are embedded in the laws written and passed by legislators. If Lessig is right that there is indeed an "elephant" in the room, and his diagnosis of the identity of that elephant is accurate, that politicians are pawns of the 400 families who currently fund campaigns in the United States, that politicians jerry-mander electoral districts rending the process completely inverse to the intentions of democracy whereby voters are to select their representatives, dominating and controlling the process, and that voting rights are being denied to millions of voters, then people may have to express their views on his candidacy. Should he mount a public opinion of 1%, he would also open the gate currently excluding him from presidential debates.
Clearly, the person Lessig selects as his running Vice Presidential candidate becomes such a significant choice, that all voters would know that that person would become president as soon as the Citizens Equality Act of 2017 were passed. While voting, electors would also know that Lessig is not a candidate dependent on his charisma (he has almost none!), nor on his ancillary policy options (he is a strong Democrat who admires the current president), nor on his military record (he does not appear to have one), nor on his capacity to negotiate with world leaders ( he has no intention to engage those leaders), since, if he were elected he would have secured a highly specific mandate, and a highly restricted mandate, but a mandate nevertheless that attempts to solve what he concludes is the monumental paralysis in the American political process, rending ordinary citizens powerless in the current process.
Some have dubbed him the "one-week" president, an obvious satire on the premise of his candidacy.
Some will dismiss him as irrelevant, especially in a market-driven, capitalist, image-branding political culture that feeds almost voraciously on style over substance, on the macho-prize-fighter image that Trump presents as the grease he hopes to smooth his path to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The likelihood of his capturing the nomination as the candidate of the Democratic Party for president is so remote as to be considered laughable, at this point. The likelihood of his securing adequate funds to mount a campaign as an independent candidate is even more remote.
Nevertheless, Lawrence Lessig offers the American voter such a unique and specialized political promise, (he would consider it the solution) that he will be eventually dubbed the "boutique" presidential candidate. If he is able to transform that moniker to Mercedes Benz, or to BMW, or even better to Masserati or Ferrari, or perhaps to the political version of the "family doctor" who actually does House Calls (the House being both the White House and the Congress), then his candidacy will take on a significance even he might not have envisioned.
We know already that this is the political season of the "outsider" and Lessig clearly fits that definition. Evidence of the current popularity of the "outsider" is clear in the latest polls in the Republican party race: Trump at 24% with newcomer and never elected Dr. Ben Carson (neurosurgeon) at 12%...double the rating for the next candidate, Jeb Bush.
Lessig is unique, possibly historic, in the two century-long race for the presidency. Whether he is merely quixotic, or a footnote in American presidential history, will be determined by the potential additional to an army of financial contributors, and then an even larger army of primary voters.
He has the focus of a political rifle, in a world that demands a shotgun approach, and an inevitable probing into the personal life of all candidates that would render an F.B.I. investigation elementary.
Does Lessig have the stamina, the funds, the popular support and the marketing strategy to make the kind of history he believes firmly the country desperately needs?
We will be watching along with millions of American voters.