Friday, February 19, 2016

A heretic's guide to the universe (:


We all know that we live in a culture in which transactions define our existence; not relationships, not vacations, not our preferred novels, poetry, plays or music, not even our favourite sports teams, our favourite beer, wine, culinary delight....but exchanges of time and money, building an account balance with each and every human, including those humans we call ‘family’. We are judged by the quality and the quantity of our transactions, not from the perspective of how it is to “BE” with us, but rather what we “DO” for ourselves, for others, especially for our chosen social and cultural associations. And there are virtually two different kinds of main transactions: we are selling something, some idea, some proposal, some project, some vacation or even some THING....or we are prosecuting another for perceived misdeeds, misjudgements, mis-statements, mis-demeanours or perhaps (although this dynamic is much less frequent) advocating for those we choose to defend, in the face of what we consider unjust criticism.

We vote for a person, a political party of perhaps even (idealistically, a political philosophy); sometimes we write a cheque to signify our engagement with that specific party or person. We might even knock on doors, make phone calls, drive voters, prepare lunches for volunteers, or perhaps even interview prospective voters with a view to establishing or predicting a pattern of voter behaviour. We attend a church, mosque or synagogue, or we reject such activity, and our decision becomes a political statement.
Our purchases are recorded, collated, studied and pursued by those whose professional advisors direct in our direction, for the purpose of additional sales. We have become that “thing” so feared and loathed by Margaret Atwood, when she became famous for her writing. No, we do not have the celebrity/notoriety of an Atwood, but we are nevertheless considered a thing to many of the forces/agencies/organizations/marketing companies/ retail consumer companies/ tech companies and even a digit to the tax collectors in our lives, municipal, provincial and national. We are lumped with hundreds of thousands of our demographic, our age bracket, our postal code, our choice of vehicle, our choice of shoes (especially if we are still in the athletic wear market where brands dominate), our choice of movies, television shows, computer software and games.

We are the pawns of the warlords of computer games, those pawns willing to shell out millions to feed our habit, not alcoholic, but nevertheless, equally intoxicating for many. We live vicariously through our virtual realities, whether they are coming to us directly from our computer screen or through our television screens, now loaded with decades of programming, most of which was available in all other decades of our lives.

Participation in any group, whether for leisure or for service is branded with level of engagement, level of commitment and level of agreement with the conventional wisdom, not at all with the level of friendship that once characterized such associations. Of course, there are life-long friendships in some quarters, where one is so familiar with one’s colleagues having been classmates in elementary and secondary school. However, that reality is infrequent, reserved mainly for some villages that still draw their originals into the stories that have circulated for decades, lifetimes even.

Opinions, if shared, are relegated to “too high fallootin’” or stupid, dreaming or just plain pie in the sky. We are a nation of people clinging to some lost picture of reality that we believe can and will never leave our consciousness. And to the extent that our memories cannot be expunged, that is true. But we live in an age of individual silos, protected by our coveting of our privacy, our secret past and our determination to remain aloof from our colleagues. It was John Powell, a Jesuit, who, in his little book, “Why I do not tell you who I am”....remind us that he does not tell us who he is because ‘that is all I have’ and you might reject it, and in rejecting my story you will reject me, and I cannot stand that rejection.

Ironically, we apparently are prepared, increasingly, to pour our banalities all over the twitterverse, in a vain pursuit of bff’s, really just others engaged in a similar pursuit of being noticed, as compared with being known. Being known, understood, sharing vulnerabilities....well that’s OK for the ‘sisterhood’ according to the male segment of the population. Guys, on the other hand, hang out in their mancaves, hoping the world will not find them completely irrelevant. There is a popular perception that life consists of ‘special moments’ as if generating such moments is one of the main purposes of a fulfilled human existence. So, in a perverted sense, with such a mind-set we are engaged in a subversive pursuit of morphing into transactional agents for our own pleasure, seeking and finding those ‘special moments’ on U-Tube, or instagram, where millions of ‘hits’ constitute success. In this world where becoming a star trumps being an ordinary struggling human fully engaged with those who matter, performance, however that is defined and expected, evokes public scrutiny and even applause, unless and until our performance ‘goes south’ and we find that those who previously fawned over our success are the quickest to revoke their previous support and replace it with contempt, disdain, aggressive bullying and worst of all, alienation.

Being played like a pawn in the lives of others, and fully complicit in such a dance, we have to know that we are all hanging out to dry, no matter whether or not our efforts to contribute to a humane, compassionate and healing culture have guided us all our days.

Of course, it is true that human beings, especially in groups, or demographics, or market niches, or congregations, or political parties, are self-referenced, self-focused and self-devoted, basically immune to the ravages of the planet, or of the poor, or of the victims of pandemics. We are victims, to the extent that we permit it, of the conventional value system of money, power, status and stardom. We need to be attentive to the need to guide our young people away from what is portrayed as success defined by those pursuit and into a worldview that seeks to serve the public good. In that regard, we need to extricate the news media from the profit motive, leaving those working in the fourth estate free to seek and to find the truth, especially when that truth explodes the conventional myth of success, that explodes the vacuity of “sunny ways” (Trudeau’s panacea for his government’s public relations campaign of governing) without incurring the wrath of the executive suite, addicted to the acquisition of investors and dividends.

We also need to amend our primary, secondary and university/college education, away from technical/job skills and inclusive of critical thought, poetry, music, art and community development. After all, human beings have always had, and will always continue to possess more complication and mystery than all of the high tech devices combined. And we are also in danger of abandoning our birthright, not the mere “right to life” of the wedge politics debates, but in the connotation of our capacity to rebel, to revolt and to withdraw from the kind of seductive schemes that the pursuit of money will inevitably subject us to.

Call this a piece written by a dreamer, if you like; however, rest assured, I am not smoking or drinking anything of a chemical or mood altering nature. Nor will I ever. Life is far too complex, interesting, challenging and enlivening to support a need for artificial substances!!

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