Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Reflections on "The Suicide of the Liberal Church" by Chris Hedges,, January 24, 2016

There are many, including Chris Hedges, who are pointing to the self-sabotage of the liberal Christian church, having failed to advocate for the poor, the imprisoned, the racially oppressed and the un-and under-employed in a world bowing sycophantly to the corporate/government/military/techno monster, the idol of choice of the contemporary culture in North America, probably Europe and other ‘developed’ countries as well.

As a matter of practical ministry, there is little doubt that the oppressed have not and will not find an advocate, except perhaps as a token to assuage both organizational and individual clergy guilt, within the liberal churches; and that includes most of the mainline protestant and Roman Catholic churches. Describing the failure of the organizations, and by inference the leadership of those churches, as well as the laity, addresses only one aspect of the issue, albeit a very important one, the failure to incarnate the challenge of the gospel as companions, advocates and mentors of the poor, the imprisoned, the impoverished and the alienated and the ostracized. Preferring the company of those who write the cheques, and those who live in the big houses and drive the luxury cars, and vacation in the most costly resorts, these churches have not only driven out those who formerly challenged this “corporatism” wrapped in ecclesial robes, and sprinkled with holy water. They have, more importantly, robbed themselves of the spiritual pilgrimage that can only accompany a full recognition and acceptance and embrace of vulnerability, the kind exhibited by the Jew left for dead in the ditch in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Whether or not one goes so far as to ‘sell everything and give it all to the poor’ or whether one empties one’s heart/mind/spirit of all the fears, anxieties and the hubris that are encased in one’s unique mask, that protective visage that purports to ‘put a good and proper face’ forward to meet the world, if one is to accept fully the challenge of discipleship, of wearing and bearing the identity of a Christian, there are many roads that have to be surrendered. And one of the first roads to be rejected is the road that worships the same goals and the same processes to achieve those goals that are espoused, embraced and almost sacralised by the corporate world, for-profit. The military/industrial/pharmaceutical/technological “complex” is driving the definition of human, personal and organizational success. Embedded in this complex of strategies and tactics are numerous givens, most of which are never mentioned in seminary. Let’s list a few: first a hierarchical, pyramidal structure in the military mode, too often without recourse or appeal to an objective review panel to resolve major and minor conflict. Second, there is the question of shareholders at the top of the pyramid, those in authority at ‘head office’ whose primary, if not sole, preoccupation is filling the coffers and the pews. Consequently, there is also built in a hierarchy of donors, elevating the most prolific donors to a status that often outranks the supervising clergy, including the bishops and archbishops. Third, in order to fulfil the mandate of filling the coffers and filling the pews, there must be a marketing plan, euphemistically dubbed the ‘plan of ministry’. Which target demographic is missing from the pews, (often the young, especially those with children whose bodies are necessary to fill the mandate for an education program)? What programs are needed in order to attract that demographic? What talents exist in the staff that could be deployed in order to mount such programs? And while some human interaction of a somewhat profound and “agape” nature can and often does occur in the course of the planning to meet these ‘corporate’ targets, too often the success of the task is measured, once again, in that proverbial method: the numbers. If ten new families arrive in the course of a calendar year, the church (and the clergy) can report to head office that ‘the church is growing’. Of course, if a congregation has to mount a second weekly service, to accommodate overflow crowds, then such a ministry is considered exceptional, whether or not there is any attention being paid to the spiritual growth of  the clergy, the lay leaders and the individual members of the congregation. In fact, very often such matters are considered irrelevant, especially by those “in charge” those very people who are themselves driven to achieve a form of extrinsic success, that too often began with the winning of medals, trophies and championships in their youth. These “type A” characters, considered leaders in the corporate culture, are also “control freaks” and this need for control too often expresses itself in the angst and the furor that arise when a poor family shows up unannounced, one that is less than ‘respectably’ dressed, one whose children are making noise in the sanctuary, even running around after the service (I have had to restrain a female Warden from scolding an six-year-old following a church service, because she was running excitedly to meet the other members of her family!) Of course, it is almost completely unlikely that a ‘regular’ member of the congregation will have invited such a family. The risk of such an invitation is to invoke the contempt and the patronizing derision of the rest of the congregation, even if there is a veneer of polite ‘welcome’ extended upon the entry into the sanctuary by such a family.

When the regional leadership of a congregation offers a “charge” to the annual meeting of the clergy and laity, setting forth the goals for the upcoming year in terms that merely mimic those of a large corporation, like General Motors, “a ten-percent rise in numbers in the pews accompanied by a fifteen percent rise in the revenue of the region,” then everyone within earshot knows unequivocally that the church has fallen head-over-heels into the trap of corporate thinking, acting, visioning and possibly even believing. (Those churches that dispense a theology commonly known as “prosperity religion” by which they believe and teach that God wants us all to be rich, and attending services where this is preached, taught and believed will go even farther along the corporate/marketing/rich continuum!) And so obsessively occupied with the details of administration of a complex “corporate” organization, even one that sets aside time for its staff members to pray and to reflect, and even to go on retreat occasionally, are the leaders that their lives cannot fully consider the gospel’s deep and profound meaning, and so they naturally and tragically slip into the kind of military discipline, based fundamentally on their authority, and failing dramatically to engage in reconciliation, mediation, and the normal strategies of conflict resolution, even those espoused and deployed in those very corporations like universities, hospitals, and the education system.

Ethics does require that those in leadership, those in authority, exercise that authority in a manner that demands, expects and deserves the respect of its buck privates. And in the church, that includes a commitment to one’s own spiritual growth and development, with a formal spiritual director, whose role is minimally to challenge the individual to acknowledge those aspects of their private lives that impede, obstruct, and even sabotage their existence and the journey of their families and colleagues. Yet, too often, it is the extrinsic attitude and behaviour that is the focus of the religious authorities, for the primary purpose of protecting the reputation of the corporation, the church. Like any company that produces listeria in its salads, and has to recall the product, the church is compelled to respond in similar ways, to smudges on its reputation, although those smudges could and ought to lead to a renewed awareness of the role the church itself played in the generation of the specific smudge. Of course, like the corporation, however, keeping silent for as long as possible, and forever if that is feasible (of course, it is not!) is the preferred modus operandi. And this, from an organization whose primary purpose is to heal broken men and women, through the power and the forgiveness of the Cross and the Resurrection that is the essence of the gospel’s import!

Hypocrisy, of course, is a cliché target for all churches, from the outside. And as one clergy put it to me and others, in another life, “Church is the best place for hypocrites: at least here they might have to acknowledge their hypocrisy.” That works fairly effectively on the individual level; it is the organizational level that cries out for attention. How can or should the church acknowledge its hypocrisy, as a model to the millions of mothers and fathers who are hypocritically exercising judgement over the children, without having to face the reality of their unhealthy interventions. The church has the opportunity, (and it says here) the obligation to demonstrate a level of ethical behaviour that includes the most serious and the most transparent and the most responsible research into its motives, its methods, its transgressions, both individually and collectively, (and the collective escapes scrutiny almost universally and forever). And that behaviour, attitude and commitment to full disclosure, even of the most painful wounds, can stand as a beacon of both light and hope to all those whose lives might, could, or actually do cross paths with the church, as an organization.

And that means that individuals who seek leadership roles have the discipline, the support and the resources to identify their own spiritual growth edges, manifest the pain of such acknowledgement to the spiritual directors in their lives, but also, if in less specific form, to their congregants and their clergy colleagues. There is a theory and a practice, especially among Episcopal churches, Anglican and Roman Catholic, that one’s spirituality is a private matter between the individual and God. No one else is privy to the intricacies and the exigencies of that part of one’s life. And there is some value in that theory and practice. However, the degree of absolute privacy that covers the individual pain of too many lives is unhealthy for the repressed individuals and for the church itself. There must be sacred space, wrapped in complete confidentiality and secrecy among those in a small group of pilgrims, who individually and collectively have aspired to dedicate their spiritual journeys to the most rigorous examination, the most profound and honest reflection on the roots of all the angst and the pain in their lives, and the journey of acknowledgement and release of those most dark moments. And there is no “market strategy” for such community exercises, and no insistence expected on the revenue that can or must accompany such participation. And the participation has to include the clergy, if the process is to have any long-term impact on the lives of the people within the ‘church’ community. And there are many requirements of such a ‘change’ in the manner in which the liberal churches operate. Some of the requirements of the organization have been mentioned. Now it is time to take a look at the changes in an individual life that prepares one for such an adventure in spiritual growth.

The late Rev. Dr. Romney Moseley, wrote a book entitled, “Becoming a Self before God,” that expresses the process to which I refer. It is a way of being in the world, and being is the operative word. As another cliché has it, “We are human BEINGS not human DOINGS!” And the process of becoming a self, a fully authentic human, fully open and fully seeking, and thereby fully vulnerable to the inner voice, some call it the voice of God, in our lives, is not and must not be compared with a piano student who diligently practices his scales and arpeggios. It is even more challenging than that learning curve, in that it requires increasing time and space in complete quiet, and increasing time in reading and reflecting on both one’s reading and the experiences of one’s life. Silence is so foreign to millions of people, both inside and outside all religious communities, that to accept the limits and the freedom that can come only from silence is a task for which many are unprepared and even unwilling to enter. (Personal note: Following a weekend retreat of silence broken only by brief conversations with a spiritual director, I heard these words from him: “I am very glad your retreat was only three days; if I were to subject you to an eight day retreat, it would kill you!” He was very familiar with my loquacious side, as was I, and not familiar with a more reflective and meditative and silent capacity that has taken decades, and the intervention of an extremely supportive life partner to develop.)

 In order to prepare to enter disciplined periods of silence, one has to be prepared to step back from the frenzy of making a living, from the frenzy of fitting in, from the frenzy of climbing the ladder of success that stretches out before all the classrooms and all the students starting their marathon to their career mountaintop, crowned with the kind of income and status, the home and the cars, the vacation retreats and the trips to exotic islands. One has to accept that, while this stereotypical path is overcrowded with millions of aspirants, even obsessed competitors (and the importance of competition is embedded in the avalanche of advertising and propaganda that washes over every child and adult within reach of television, computer and smart phone screens) there is a profound, deep and inexorable emptiness, hollowness and desperate depression waiting for those who actually achieve the capitalist dream. Of course, the slogans echo in defence of the corporate/capitalist/religious ideology, shouting the most important value of a human life is the degree of empathy, compassion and support one offers to others. Nevertheless, these slogans are too often and predictably followed by some token offering, in some dramatic and unique circumstance, a once in a lifetime event. Even churches can and do engage in welcoming refugees, once in their history. Sometimes they also hold fundraisers for a homeless family whose home just burned to the ground. But these are not the norm; they are the exception. And the drum-beat of dollars and numbers of derrieres in the pews continues to plague the ‘vision’ of too many bishops imposing those ‘standards’ on too many clergy. Reductionisms of what the church “needs” to survive, defined by the same terms that define the probability of success of General Motors, are precisely the reasons for the demise, self-imposed, of the very communities whose very existence was originally based on the service to those in most need.

However, in order to execute such a mission, one has to enter into the discipline that accompanies such a mission. And from a career inside the liberal churches, one of the most striking aspects of my experience in how little spiritual work has even been undertaken by those in leadership positions, especially in the executive, bishop, archdeacon, canon positions. Those men and women have risen in almost identical ways to the career ascents of those in corporate corner offices. They pleased their superiors; they even repressed their own truths in order to ‘fit in’ to the requirements of the corporate church.

There is a deep division between the extrinsic aspect of one’s life and the intrinsic aspects of one’s life; similarly, there is a large difference between the extrinsic aspects of one’s religion, and one’s theology, and the intrinsic aspects of one’s theology. Carl Jung reminds us that for the first forty-five years of our lives we are engaged in an extensive process of building a career, growing a family, taking on the responsibilities of a mortgage and a home, as well as integrating into the community in which we live. And in the second half of our lives, we are, generally, and for some more deeply than others, more engaged in learning about those things that previously caused us so much pain we were unable to confront them without breaking down, so we packed them away for later reference, And the second half of our lives is the time to start the process of unpacking. And while that process may require the participation of a trained professional psychotherapist, for many it needs only the space and the time and the human support of people we trust, who, also, are willing to risk sharing their own unpacking of their own shadows. And it is the intrinsic that both collides and intersects with the spiritual, that we are most interested in here, as part of the reflection on the suicide of the liberal church.

Or course, to engage with others in the process of unpacking those most deep and profoundly painful aspects of our earlier lives, is no “walk in the park”. It is rather a scary proposition, even without actually engaging, for most. And yet, are we not called, generally, to face our fears, and to acknowledge our shortcomings, and our betrayals both as recipient and committer, and to become fully aware of and fully excised of all those ‘demons’ that have haunted our inner lives for decades. We are, rather encourage, almost even required to deny those pains that are most uncomfortable, up to and including the actual deaths of those dear to us. We are not only a death-denying culture; we are also a pain and vulnerability and embarrassment-denying culture. So quick are we to spit out our denials and defences that we go to medical practitioners only when we cannot stand the pain, and after all the topical (and very often secret) remedies have failed; as a result we put extreme pressure on all health care systems expecting them to fix us ‘in extremis’. Similarly, with respect to our mental and emotional (and spiritual) health (how can they be separated? They can’t!). We exist in a cocoon of denial, to our own and our families, and even our colleagues’ alienation. We attempt to live in our own silo, in spite of the addiction to the current spate of techno-devices that superficially and impermanently link us to one another.

Schools and universities and colleges are ill-equipped to offer much more than “extrinsic” counselling, if both genders would even present in the offices of counselling professionals. (One psychiatrist reports that of the college students who make appointments to see him and talk with him, over 70% are female, although the college population is approximately 50-50 male to female.) Families, too, are ill-equipped to intervene into the private lives of their children, especially during and following adolescence,  when the seriousness of emotional problems tend to rise. Employers, too, are ill-equipped to provide safe space for legitimate venting of emotional turmoil, even if and when such turmoil is triggered by the behaviour of the corporate employer, either organizationally or personally, or both.

Self-help books and creams, and pills and potions abound, including a substantial and growing dependence on pain suppressants, like alcohol, both prescription and non-prescription drugs. And of course, the opportunists in both legitimate and illegitimate arenas, are more than willing to profit from our dependence, based as it is on our denial of responsibility.

What then exists in our culture that has the structural foundation and the prescriptive direction to provide the conditions for emotional and spiritual healing for people of all economic strata, not only the poor, but also those who are well off, including those in positions of leadership who are potentially the most vulnerable, (having obsessively pursued their professional identity, too often in denial of the real psyches, and for reasons many of them do not fully comprehend, or wish to uncover).

The church, in its most pure incarnation, has the potential to serve both individuals and organizations in the legitimate and harrowing process of uncovering identity, authentic identity, as a path toward full and reciprocal relationships, as a path toward a more full realization of one’s inner voice and the dreams that seek its expression, and as a path toward a more robust and creative and innovative (based on a renewed sense of courage and authenticity) culture of interdependence, and not co-dependence. A culture based on truthful disclosure,  even when, and especially when, such disclosure is most painful and embarrassing. If we were all to embrace the potential of our own individual spiritual lives, imagine the energy now bottled up, drugged up, smoked up and unavailable that would and could be released.

And that release would not be for the purpose of pursuing the “profit” for each of us, but rather for the purpose of pursuing the prophet that is in each of us.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Memo to American voters: please do not vote for a giant soda fizz

In the nineteenth century, the theory that history consisted of the biographies of great men was prevalent. Thomas Carlyle, the British writer was one of those who espoused this perspective, and his view was supported by such thinkers as Hegel and Nietzsche. Even the Encyclopaedia Britannica contained the biographies of many considered by the compilers to have been "great men". On the other hand, the French equivalent of that compendium of knowledge refused to include such biographies, preferring a view of history that focused on the impact of a confluence of events, people, tides, trends, fashions and contemporary influences, known today under the umbrella of sociology.
Borrowing heavily from the "great man" theory, the entertainment industry of Hollywood has championed both the fictional attributes and accomplishments of super-heroes many of whom were dedicated to helping the less fortunate. The historical perspective of the Second World War held by many centred on the character and the charisma and the decisions of men like Winston Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, and also several of the military leaders whose leadership combined to achieve the victory still celebrated by the western allies.
Of course, that conflagration, including the often disputed significance of Hiroshima and Nagasaki's atomic bombs was waged to bring to heel another who obviously incarnated the "great man" theory, Hitler himself.
The Chinese, too, celebrate their history through the stories of such "great men" as  Mao Zedong and Russian history is chronicled in the lives of the Czars. The history of political development itself, moves from the chronicles of the "great men" like Solomon, King David, Kings and Queens and tyrants and dictators like Charlemagne, Napoleon, Caesar, to the more "democratic" persons and personas who have risen to power through garnering the "votes" of the ordinary people.
The interdependence of culture and individuals who exemplify specific time periods is today almost taken for granted, although people like James Hillman continue to focus their study on "biography" of all humans as central to any perspective of the meaning of individual lives. In an age of digital gathering and storing of mountains of detailed information, much time and energy is dedicated to the interpretation of such sociological data, much of that energy funded and supported by the corporations seeking to extract cash from our wallets and bank accounts.
Much scientific research is so esoteric and so far removed from the lives and the vocabulary of ordinary people,  that the names and the  biographies of the professional scientists, like Einstein,  and more recently, Jobs, and even the Freuds and the Jungs, and the 'stars' of each academic discipline and their respective theories and research often become the subject matter of doctoral theses for their acolytes.
Every professional sports team seeks to have or to develop a "star" as magnet for ticket sales, as the focus of their strategy, as the leader in their locker room, and as the "bar" of accomplishment for their ordinary journeymen and women to aspire to mimic.
Humans devour the stories of "celebrities" in whatever format they can acquire such details. In fact there is a monstrous industry dependent on the celebrity cult, begging for admission to the inner sanctum of "culture". Reality television is only one manifestation of a star cult, the product of the moguls who inhabit the executive suites of the networks, seeking the highest ratings for the least cost. Such exploits are, of course, dependent on the audience's voracious appetite for "association" with the "stars," some of whom have earned their "spurs" in real achievements like sports championships, or investment or research, while others are seeking their moment of fame through their participation on such "shows".
Politics too, in such an age, is inevitably attracted to, and  especially attractive for, narcissistic individuals whose ambition for stardom is boundless and is supported both by their own deep pockets, and the deep pockets of those who believe the can achieve a competitive edge by writing cheques to bankroll their political campaigns.
Into such a pre-set political, advertising, reality television and digital information age, in which people devour the latest tweet especially when it comes from a "name brand" and in which such professional profiteers (those few who have mastered the "art of the sale" and whose psyche is dependent on the sale of their own narcissism) feed that insatiable appetite, we are watching the phenomena of Donald Trump.
Margaret Atwood, after she achieved a measure of fame, wrote that she had become a 'thing' in a derisive and satiric depiction of the impact of her notoriety on her full humanity. Today, people who need the heat of the cleg lights, both literally and metaphorically, for their personal identity, could not care less about how they are sabotaging themselves by their participation in such a perversion of "debate" and the pursuit of policy through the acquisition of a power role like the presidency of the United States of America.
In a world so complicated and so interdependent and so precarious and so endangered and so seemingly unmanageable, and so easily "bought" following such decisions as Citizens United by the highest and presumably most "wise" agency in the realm, the Supreme Court (how ironic can it get?), the perfect storm, also the perfect "table" has been set for the inevitable and the predictable 'rise' to fame of an icon born and bred by the times. In some sense, Trump is a creation of the most imaginative and the most ambitious and the most amoral and the most acquisitive and the most debased movie-making machine, and the machine is both of his own making and of our's.
We are all deeply implicated in his dominance of the political theatre known as the Republican campaign for the presidency, and as the election campaign of 2016.
Is he a "great man" in the tradition of a Churchill, or a Roosevelt, or an Einstein, or even a Lincoln? "Of course not!" as the Penny of "The Big Gang Theory" would say to Sheldon when asked if she understands the meaning of "homeostasis". Does Trump even have the potential to be a great man, in the tradition of a Ghandi or a Mandela, or even a Kissinger? There is nothing in the evidence available that would hint at the validity of such a comparison.
More appropriate comparisons would point to a Schwartzenegger, or a "Rocky", or a fictional Batman, worthy of generating a short-term "fix" of excitement and entertainment, but lasting and nutritious as a giant soda, filled with sugar and gas, and banned by the former Mayor of New York in a worthy campaign against obesity, diabetes and inevitable death.
Politically, the United States is in danger of gulping a giant "soda" with the word TRUMP baked into the bottle. And from a strategic and a geopolitical perspective, the dangers are comparable. There is nothing more than "fizz" in the bottle, neither a thirst quench nor an energy boost; neither a reasonable and debatable policy offering nor a legitimate strategy; neither a leavening wisdom nor a history of dependability; neither a vision of peace and security for the planet and all people nor an acceptance of the diversity and the potential of all humans.
And this bottle of fizz, if inflicted on the country, and consequently on the planet and its people, can only foreshadow more geopolitical disease, conflict, rising temperatures, deeper droughts, more violent storms and more bombs everywhere.
The world watches and waits, deep in the hope and the prayer that, if Winston Churchill's insight is still valid, "The Americans will always do the right thing, after they have tried everything else"  the campaign of dangerous delusion and angry venting will give way to the more sober, more mature and more measured decisions, by millions of voters. The country, as the president continues to underline, has regained much of the honourable reputation it lost under Bush-Cheney; the country has recovered considerably from a disaster inflicted by the same greed and the same narcissism that drives Trump; the country has other much more talented and qualified and much more mature and nuances, in both parties that "The Donald"....
And while there is considerable evidence that the entertainment world often foretells the future, we are deliberately and hopefully pursuing not a dystopia of ugly and ubiquitous proportions, but a path to a more equitable and a more collaborative and a more negotiable and a more balanced resolution of the many deep-seated interests that drive the world's existential agenda.
This is no time for "tasty and fizzy sugar sodas" and for short-term reality television diplomacy.
This is no time for racist and narcissistic and militaristic hard-powered orgiastic ejaculations of political nationalism: not on Wall Street, not in the Pentagon, not in the Middle East, not in Ukraine, not in Africa, and not in the White House or the Congress.
And neither fast-food, nor sugar sodas do not comprise a healthy political diet, in the United States, nor elsewhere, as in Canada, where another "sugar-soda" prime minister has just been elected, albeit much more circumscribed and much more insignificant on the world stage.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Fragile masculinity and the culture of stereotypes that sustains it

Men are told all their lives what it takes to be a man. It is a form of psychological abuse. Even as adults, men are still expected to constantly re-apply for eligibility to their gender. “Toxic masculinity” is a term that muddles male behaviour with male identity, and is often simply reduced to “masculinity” as being inherently toxic, a theme that was recently pursued by writer Zach Stafford in an article for The Guardian.
The phrases “man up” and “grow a set of balls” shouldn’t actually mean anything or have any motivating effect. If you gender-flip these terms they become nonsensical. They “work” by poking at a pre-existing trauma.
Masculinity can be a real and significant wound for men. Some are lucky and have not been heavily abused because of how they “perform” masculinity. Others have, and some choose to rebel, but the code of male behavior makes finding allies and giving and receiving support as good as impossible. The rules forbid men from reaching out for help, asking for emotional support, and/or being vulnerable. Which means among other things that there is no one to help them unpack threats to this identity. That’s the trap.
Masculinity is a gender tyranny all of its own. If you live in the city, if you watch television, if you spend time in the public education system, you get a barrage of conflicting messages about masculinity. Boys grow up seeing society reward and punish male behavior in ways that are confusing and contradictory. On one hand, boys and men are told that violence is their problem to solve, and on the other they are punished and ridiculed for showing emotions in a society that throws megabucks at the exhibition of violence that is professional boxing.
When young males are told to police each other for reasons that are found to be misrepresented or distorted, they are likely to adopt behaviors that hold the most favorable reward versus punishment.
Parents are blamed for sending the wrong messages. Boys and men are blamed for sending the wrong messages to each other. Men take society’s messages on to carry shame, guilt, and self-hatred around with them for things they never did. The magnitude of this pain is largely undocumented.
The way men are rewarded (or not) for their behaviors is a big part of what we call male “privilege”. You earn the privilege by demonstrating the behavior. But privilege is situational, and highly dynamic. This is not reflected in the way privilege is often spoken about. This system of privilege is not something that men who have broken its rules can simply re-access at any time. We are talking about life choices, choices about presentation and behavior that make up the difference between authentic and inauthentic, life-affirming and soul-destroying, for those who own the choices. This system of privileges also relies on reputations, that cannot simply be unmade and remade with the wave of a magic wand.
The truth is under everyone’s noses, and yet men can feel hammered away at, as if constant pressure to change will somehow help them. The male can become like an invisible gender, their privileges overstated, their gender struggles ridiculed. Men need your help, not your ridicule.
(By Arthur Dunmore, The Good Men Project, January 7, 2016)
- See more at:
And that help will not come from a political culture that takes for granted the stereotype of male dominance, male oppression of women, male irresponsibility and male insouciance, linked to the stereotype of the female victim, the female innocent, the female underclass, the female eunuch, as embedded in each and every conflict between the genders.
And it is men who need to grow up and accept the fact that we are participating, in too many cases, inside the boundaries of these two stereotypes. We want to "do the right thing" especially when we are in places in which the politics of gender equality demands that we change the demographics, the remuneration packages, the status and power ratios and the vocabulary about how the genders relate to each other.
Policy and politics will and do inevitably dismiss the distinctions that accrue to each situation. Policy and politics tend to paint with a very broad brush, not a brush that digs for, uncovers and sheds light on the nuances of each situation.
What we are watching is a cacophony of serious complaints from women drowning out the due process of really seeking out all sides of the "story"...
This not a defense of people like Cosby, who, if the dozens of stories about drugging women for sex are proven true, ought to be punished with the full force of the law.
This is not a defense of the too many male partners who, failing both themselves and their partners, have failed to acquire and to deploy both verbal and physical messaging that depicts the full truth of the full range of their emotions, without endangering the female partner. Those high school literature classes in which the nuances of human relationships were painted in colours and perspectives that shed light on the human psyche, including the male psyche, were not, after all, "just for girls". They were the stuff of the kind of experience that would follow and derail many of our lives for the remaining decades of those lives.
However, when a female cries "foul" against a male, the motives of that female, like the motives of any cry of abuse are an integral part of the resolution of the "conflict. And that process is necessary and too often missing both in the resolution of domestic conflict that has reached the level of public law and enforcement and in the formal legal addressing of such conflicts. When a man is offended, especially by a woman who is deeply engaged in his life, he may sulk, go passive aggressive, seek false solace in another drink, another woman, another compulsive activity. Too infrequently will he either search for or find the patience, even after counting to 10 or 100 or even 100, to ask for a peaceful and quiet and self-disclosing conversation that explains his frustration, his feelings of being demeaned, his feelings even of anger. His fragile masculinity, aspects of which are detailed above, too often relegates him to patterns of behaviour that are so deeply embedded in both his psyche and the culture in which he grew up, patterns that perpetuate the reductionistic stereotypes and deepen the potential for another unresolved gender conflict.
When a female is offended by a male who is deeply engaged in her life, she will often report her offense to her 'sisters' (both biological and social), and if the offense is more serious, to the 'authorities'. And while the protection of the legal system is warranted in some cases of domestic abuse, there are far too many reported cases that keep law enforcement chasing situations that do not warrant their full attention. And the culture, through its usual agents like the media, the entertainment industry, the advertising industry, and the churches, promulgates a kind of " female as victim" archetype as a first mental approach to any reported gender conflict. As a culture, such retreat to the politically correct stereotype, female as victim, male as offender, will never resolve the conflict to the satisfaction of either party.
One of the most difficult aspect of teaching police ethics is attempting to convince the students aspiring to become police officers to abandon their fixation on their own preconceived "guilt" and "guilty party" prior to entering any situation to which they have been assigned. I know how difficult this process is, having attempted to achieve the stated goal of prior objectivity, not of a perfect nature, but at least of confronting both formally and privately, the raging stereotypes that dominate their world view. A similar paralysis afflicts too many men and women, both those in relationships and those who bear official responsibility for the organizations in which such relationships inevitably arise. And when the organizations, like the church for example, fall victim to the  blanket pleas of the female demographic to whom they "minister", and make every situation that offends their politically correct model of propriety and morality, fit their stereotype, for the purpose of defending their public reputation, those organizations put in danger both the female complainants and the male offenders.
The commencement of a male-female relationship cannot be automatically assumed to have begun solely from the "power" or influence of the male; the continuance of a such a relationship cannot be assumed to have continued because of the "power" or influence of the male; in fact, even a marriage whether healthy or not, cannot be presumed to be dominated by the male, even if that male is or was a "superior" in rank to the female.
And unless and until we can and do park such assumptions and presumptions from our attitudes, our beliefs, our perceptions and our formal and informal processes of considering any and all complaints,  both men and women will continue to be reduced to a mere shadow of their full personhood. They will continue to be mere "players" in a pre-ordained script written by others whose needs do not even approximate the needs and desires of the parties in a gender conflict.
By starting with the premise that all complaints result from male testosterone, male aggression and male obsession with sexuality, and by enforcing a culture that imposes such a perspective on our conventional beliefs, (stemming originally from a religious root of sexuality as evil, that emerged from the Garden of Eden), we shroud the female with a 'protective' force she neither needs nor wants, and we condemn the male to a reputational destruction that may not be deserved.
We will not, because we cannot, achieve either balance or harmony between the genders by adopting a political position and embedding that position in a soil of masculine domination based on physical strength, nor a masculine power  based on rank, nor a masculine offense based on biology.
Having been raised by a domineering woman, my mother, married to a meek and compliant (far too compliant for both his and his childrens' sake) father, I know too much about the  gender inversion of victim/offender that characterized my childhood and adolescence. In fact, as an abused male child, abused brutally and repeatedly by my mother, I am still processing the psychic wounds that are  burned into my memory and my world view. Passive aggressive default by my father, linked to an obsessive pursuit of perfection in parenting by my mother were and are a recipe for a highly distorted picture of the world, especially in the light of the statistics of the sociology of gender relationships.
However, this perspective is nevertheless useful when confronting the dual and competing archetypes of the female victim and the male aggressor.
And the reverse of the current sociological, if not pathological, distortion, to turn women into the aggressor and men into victims is not going to solve the issue either. It is only by pursuing the full disclosure of the panoply of facts, the motives and the attitudes and beliefs of both parties in any gender conflict, that we might be able to more fully realise the complexities and the gifts of both sexes, and the potential for the resolution of many of the domestic conflicts that inhibit the lives of all our children.
Having watched too many women seek and wreak vengeance on too many men, with the formal and informal compliance of too many other men, often out of jealousy, I am appalled that others are not either willing or able to 'see' this dynamic in play, in the theatre of gender politics. If and when a relationship goes south, too often the woman abandoned is fraught with despair, and inflicts her venom on the offending male, the most obvious and most present target of her hate. And if and when such vengeance is dismissed as legitimate, then all the men and women in the circle of information surrounding that drama learn that revenge from a jealous woman will be honoured, over the full disclosure of the truth. Even if a woman is witness to a relationship the details of which she finds offensive (without knowing the full truth) and then coaches the female to cry wolf, that witness is too often seeking revenge for other male offenses with which she has not dealt, for which the male is not responsible.
Even a woman who is neglected in her marriage is a danger to the men of her circle, insofar as her neglect is neither acknowledged nor foreshadowed if and when she pursues a relationship with a male outside of her marriage. That male is in the position of being both the "object" of her affections and the "projection" of her contempt for her male partner. And such insight is not part of the curriculum of men helping men to develop a health masculinity.
It is both complex and highly time consuming to fully investigate the details of all complaints. It is also dangerous because it could and often would disclose the fact that the male "offender" has not offended, did not intend to offend and was behaving in the full conviction of equal and balanced participation. Only after some separating event or announcement, did the woman's "consent" become a matter of debate, question and accusation.
And a policy of protecting women from offending men, as both starting point and rule or law enforcement, dramatically contributes to the reduction of the authentic masculinity and the authentic femininity of both parties to a gender conflict.
The emotional sensitivity of men is also devalued, even discounted, in the politically correct reductionisms of most of the discussion of gender politics, as is the emotional strength of women. Far too often, given both their biological reality and their early acculturation, women and young girls, develop a kind of balance, insight and foresight into the affairs of the heart that far exceeds that of most men. Of course they are not developing in this way to compete with men, at that time, yet their mastery of the inner life continues to plague too many relationships, given the aversion to such matters of the heart of their male partners. And men, for their part, are then left feeling "less than" or even "incompetent" when compared directly with their partner's insight and familiarity with the inner life. How tragic that too many women use this "power" over their male partners, in an obviously and predictably faulty attempt to achieve dominance; and how equally tragic that too many men either walk away or refuse even to enter into conversations about matter of the heart, given their built-in fear of inadequacy.
And the dance of competitive advantage continues to plague the question of relationship-building, negating or at least minimizing the potential for mutual growth and endearment through paths of full disclosure based on courage and not inadequacy or weakness, both of which tend to dominate the actions and attitudes within male-female relationships and more importantly, in the pursuit of public policy to regulate the most dynamic of human energies, the male-female tension.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Real Presidents do cry...a hymn to Obama

Yesterday the world witnessed an historic few seconds in the White House.

In the last year of his presidency, Barack Obama, surrounded by the families of victims of gun violence, including parents of the children slaughtered at Sandy Hook elementary school, shed tears in his public display of both anger and the obvious tragedy that is contained and exemplified in the literally dozens of mass shootings over the now seven years of his presidency. And while Republican talking heads vehemently rejected his move to enforce already existing laws requiring both licenses for gun merchants and background checks for gun purchasers, “exceeding his executive powers” and “trashing the second amendment” and “those executive orders will be ripped up the first day I am president” one, not even the talking heads of the NRA once mentioned his obviously authentic and human empathy with the families of gun-violence victims, nor his anger and frustration that “the gun lobby may hold the Congress hostage, but it cannot hold the United States hostage”.

A president in tears over the deeply embedded tragedy of both gun sales, (spiking after ever mass shooting and also after each Presidential “threat” to impose more controls) will be documented for decades by those engaged in the observation and analysis of the many roles, examples and behaviours of the United States presidency.

This is the same man

·       who was elected primarily on his opposition to the Bush-Cheney Iraq war, and the same man

·       who has been excoriated by his political opponents for being feckless in the face of ISIS,

·       weak for having drawn a line in the sand over Assad’s use of chemical weapons and then not ‘following through’,

·       confused and disdainful of the real growth and power of ISIS, the same man

·       who negotiated and successfully passed the first Affordable Care Act, thereby covering an additional 25-30 million Americans with health insurance

·       who courageously, and without any guarantees, signed off on the mission to capture and kill Osama bin Laden,

·       fulfilled his campaign promises to terminate the Iraq war and the Afghanistan conflict

·       ordered both fighter jets and trainers/advisors into Iraq and Syria (against his gut instinct to exhaust diplomacy and not commit the U.S. to another gulf entanglement),

·       agreed to leave some 10,000 military personnel in Afghanistan in light of the failure to leave a substantial military force in Iraq following Bush’s disastrous escapade

·       purchased billions of shares in both General Motors and Chrysler in order to rescue them from insolvency, (with a substantial profit to the American Treasury upon repayment with interest)

·       successful oversaw the drop in the unemployment rate from nearly 10% to a current 5%

·       refinanced millions of homes that were “underwater” in mortgage commitments, following the fiasco of faulty credit swaps inflicted by a scurrilous and narcissistic Wall Street

·       ordered the reduction of carbon emissions from coal-fired energy plants

·       negotiated a nuclear-prevention treaty with Iran, along with his 5 western allies

·       consistently pressured Netanyahu over his insistence on settlement construction on the West Bank

·       negotiated a long-term global warming and climate change plan with China

·       shifted American foreign policy to the Far East, in response to the growing hegemony of China

·       granted executive amnesty to 5 million Latinos who otherwise could have been deported, in light of a failed Congress that refuses to resolve the Immigration conundrum


And this list is hardly complete.

However, having watched quite literally every one of his public appearances, sometimes in news clips, whether he is:

·       singing Amazing Grace in a Episcopal Methodist Church following the shooting of nine in the middle of a prayer meeting,

·       confronting the United Nations and its members in face to face speeches that point to the need for courageous and collaborative agreements,

·       blessing the White House Thanksgiving Turkey,

·       riding in the back of a car with Jerry Seinfeld joking about always wanting to appear in a show about “nothing” or

·       gracing the set of some late night television show (and spiking the ratings to the host’s delight)

·       sending one of his Attorneys General into another racial divide to investigate the law enforcement of a town or city following the death of what appears to be another innocent young unarmed black man,

·       or hosting another of the many world leaders in a White House dinner....


Barack Obama has served his country, his family and the world in an exemplary manner, platinum in fact. It is clear that he has set the bar very high for all those who might aspire to the office of President of the United States. And the world is deeply indebted to his balanced, steady, optimistic, honest, frank and good humoured presidency, not to mention his Cicerean rhetoric for which his legacy can be grateful, He has demonstrated profound strength and stability in a period when the Republican Congress gave him nothing but obstruction, without once playing the “race” card which any normal human being would have been prompted to play.

His “manly” tears yesterday only serve to confirm his unadulterated humanity, amid the onslaughts of political, diplomatic and military opposition and fury that has exceeded the levels many of his predecessors were obliged to face.

Try, if you are sceptical about this “hymn”, to imagine the world today, after seven years of a Romney administration, or a McCain administration.

The American reputation he will leave his successor is so much enhanced from his stewardship that historians will sign his praises with intellectual honesty and legitimate objectivity for decades, if not centuries.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The class war on "numbers".....

This morning on NBC's Meet the Press, Chuck Todd interviewed Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul, currently a United States Senator. When asked how Paul might rise to the top of the opinion polls in the race, he responded by throwing this legitimate "dart" at the national media (summarized):
The people who quote and report the polls know nothing about standard deviation and the math that goes into polling. And we have numbers that indicate considerable support on college campuses that could prove the opinion polls very wrong.
Later in the program, Todd spent a large block of airtime opening up the findings of a joint opinion poll conducted under the auspices of both NBC's Meet the Press and Esquire magazine, to be released on Tuesday this week.
The poll focuses on the anger among the American electorate, a boiling and potentially fermenting pot shoving both Bernie Sanders (Democrat) and Donald Trump (Republican) to the top of the opinion polls. Specifically, the survey gives evidence of "white" anger, among the American voters, with women surprisingly ahead of men by 58% to 51%, overturning the standard myth that white men are the most angry segment of the American population. Both Blacks and Hispanics demonstrate a considerably lower level of anger, 43% and 48% respectively. Of course the obvious failure of institutions in the American culture, the failure to deliver on the "American Dream" that powered so many generations of dreams among middle class Americans, and the difference between established 'whites' and both slave and immigrants people of colour in their expectations were referenced as partial explanations of the data unearthed in the NBC/Esquire poll.
Later in the morning, on Fareed Zakaria's GPS on CNN, Ian Bremmer, Chair of the Asia Group, noted that anger among the American electorate will eventually give way to the act of casting a ballot, and that will eliminate Trump from serious consideration. (He did not speak of Sander's potential.)
This weekend we are witnessing anger in the streets of many cities around the globe, directed at the weekend beheadings and shootings of some 47 prisoners by the government of Saudi Arabia, under the press release that "most were Al Qaeda associates or affiliates". The Sunni Government also murdered a Shia cleric, an open opponent of the Saudi government, presumably hoping to hide his death under the blanket of the "Al Qaeda" headline. Shiites, especially in Iran, Pakistan, and even in London, are outraged. And the assassinations are serving as a cleaver opening to the world the dramatic divide between the Sunni and the Shia segments of the Islam faith.
Among the millions of refugees seeking homes and new lives there was one single drowned little boy lying on a beach on Lesbos who catalyzed world opinion. Millions of others, including thousands of deaths before his, had not roused the world to act both the end the civil conflict in Syria and to welcome displaced refugees into their home countries. Ironic, yes?
Nevertheless there is a common theme emerging in the way the world finds, reports and uses numbers. And the differences between the different groups of people engaged in the numbers "game" is startling, not to mention potentially explosively divisive.
Todd, NBC, Esquire, and the other polling agents, including most of the contemporary media, rely on such "numbers" for their newcasts, information disseminating machines that are driven by the trust of the advertising dollars whose managers purchase time on those news programs. Consequently, both the advertisers' businesses and the broadcasters' specific corporations are feeding from the same trough. It is a model similar, if not identical to, the model used by the investment corporations to attract investment dollars: what is the percentage growth number of your investments compared to the percentage growth number for our clients? is the overtly stated, or covertly inferred question driving those investment corporate ads.
Everything, according to the model, has a price, and that price can be numerically identified, without doubting the reliability or the veracity of those numbers. Trump is likely to continue to dominate the Republican nomination race, because of those numbers. Sanders has garnered some 2.8 million individual contributions to his campaign, the largest number in American political history. And, like the little drowned boy, there is a "dark horse" single number that "trumps" the massive dose of "numerical opiates" that feed the American (and also most of the other western countries) populations, calling itself news. And, because of its ubiquity, and its incessant drum beat on our consciousness, the public has come to "accept" the relevance of these numbers as the grist for their water cooler conversations, whether or not there is really any validity to them or not.
There is another not so tangential issue that emerges from this split between the public and especially the political class' deployment and even dependence on the numbers, and the lives of real people. And apparently there is a politician in Brazil who has exposed the discrepancy between the two, to his and his poor peoples' advantage.
Jonathan Tepperman's piece in the most recent Foreign Affairs publication, entitled, Brazil's Antipoverty Breakthrough, The Surprising Success of  Bolsa Familia (Family Grant) outlines the successful investment of the Brazilian government in the lives of its poorest people, through government grants, with specific attainable and sustainable requirements for their continuing.
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, commonly known as "Lula" ascended to the presidency of his country in 2002 after having dropped out of school to provide money for his extremely poor family, taught himself to read at 10, worked his way into a factory at 14 and becoming leader of the Metalworkers' Union at 30, and at 35 founded the Leftist "Workers' Party" (PT). As Tepperman says, rather than rule as a revolutionary, Lula after listening to poor people for over half a decade, decided that they knew best what they needed.
Like a headwind in the face of conventional wisdom that poor people would squander any 'windfall' they received from the government, Lula  knew that when given the chance, destitute famoilies generally didn't squander their windfalls. Most spent their money quite rationally: especially when the cash went to mothers, not fathers, as it would under his plan, "Bolsa Familia" (Tepperman, p. 37)
In an interview with Tepperman in 2014 Lula is quoted this way:
It sometimes bothers my friends when I say this, but the number one teacher in my life was a woman who was born and died illiterate: my mother. With all due respect to experts and academics, they know very little about the poor. They know a lot about statistics, but that's different, sabe? To an intellectual, putting $50 in the hands of a poor person is charity: an academic has no idea what a poor person can do with it. But that's because at university, they don't teach you how to care for the poor. And it's because most experts have never experienced what the poor go through every day. They've never had to go to work without breakfast. They've never lived in a flooded house, or had to wait three hours at a bus stop. To experts, a social problem like inequality is only numbers.
Targetting families who earn less than about $42 per person per month, and those who earn double that amount, the program requires participants to meet several conditions (contrapartidas, counterpart responsibilities):
  • ensure that all their children between six and 15 attended school at least 85% of the time
  • make sure that any of their children under seven got immunized
  • guarantee that both mothers and children got regular medical check-ups
  • (Pregnant women are also required to get prenatal care and to breastfeed their babies.
These requirements were designed to break the cycle of the poor continuing to remain poor for generations.
Reaching some 14 million families today or 55 million Brazilians, over a decade after its launch, the program continues to give out only small amounts averaging just $65 and toping out at $200.
The cost in total amounts to less than half a percent of the country's $2.3 trillion GDP.
And the grants have doubled the incomes of Brazil's most destitute families.
Others who have observed from outside Brazil estimate that the costs of the program are some 30% less than most antipoverty programs.
Lula himself explains: When millions can go to the supermarket to buy milk, to buy bread, the economy will work better. The miserable will become consumers.
Between 2002 and 2013, the incomes of the poorest 20% rose by 6.2% while the incomes of the richest 20% rose by only 2.6%.
Over 63 countries have sent representatives to Brazil to study the program, with 40 states having taken it up including Most Latin American countries, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Morocco, South Africa and Turkey. Two cities, Memphis and New York have also implemented the program.
One wonders if and when the political class, the university administrations and the media will begin to transform their addictive dependence on "numbers" in the sociological and policy development sense and start to mine the goldmine of experience of the most neglected and most needy and also most articulate people in the world, the underbelly in the barrios of every country.
Just as the little boy on the beach is currently leading the world's leaders, by having rallied, tragically posthumously, world opinion, so too the poorest of the poor in Brazil could shed considerable light into the darkness of the abstractions that rule the political debates in many countries.