Wednesday, March 30, 2016

In defence of the deity and the divinity of Christ, in the face of threats to both

Is the deity of Christ under fire? Apparently, there is a growing body of opinion among some practising Christians, both those attending and those leading parishes, that calls itself “atheist” going even further than those calling themselves ‘agnostic’. Searchers will always poke and prod all issues in their spiritual journey, else what is the path to spiritual maturity. We are a seeking, curious, restless and persistent species, and our relationship to “god” however we envision, picture, worship and believe that reality, continues both consciously and unconsciously as we go through various experiences of other relationships, births, deaths, funerals, baptisms, religious celebrations and the accompanying emotional turmoil under our intellectual agitation.

For many, any religious inquiry is predicated on the pursuit of some kind of insurance policy, that ‘just in case’ there is a God and there is a heaven and there is a hell, then these people in looking at the table set with options so stark, keep the doors of inquiry, scepticism, doubt, and even fear open, without realizing that they are unwilling to permit a firm conclusion on any of the questions. Others, on the other hand, demand firm and final answers, as a way of mediating their anxiety. For some of us, both approaches are both necessary and potentially spiritually healing. And then there is the question of which people are in which camp, and with whom we wish to identify. Presidents over the last several decades wanted and sought the counsel of the Billy Graham’s, and the Bishops and Cardinals of the institutional church. Family ceremonies or respectable families were conducted by and under the auspices of the church, depending on the denominational flavour of the family. Increasingly, ceremonies like marriages, are conducted by civil authorities, Justices of the Peace, and others empowered to commission affidavits and represent the civic authority. We can and do see the carnage in broken lives, as a direct or indirect consequence of the differences between individual belief and institutional expectation. How humans conduct our lives inevitably intersects with specific ecclesial expectations and even obligations. And, as can only be expected, sometimes those differences are so serious, in the mind of the church, that persons and families are driven out of the church. These expulsions too often seem based on the needs of the church for guarding and protecting and sustaining some long-held dogmatic position: no artificial birth control, no therapeutic abortions, no doctor-assisted dying, no sexual relationships outside of marriage, no ordination of the LGBT community, no lying, no abusive behaviour, no ‘taking the name of God’ in vain, no failure to attend and to contribute to church finances....and depending on the period of history, no equality of races, no tolerance of other faiths, no inter-marriage between faith communities.....and the list could extend much further.

Judgement, is epitomized in the “judgement day” of the apocalypse, when in Christian terms, God is to return and divide humanity into those “acceptable” and admissable” for an eternal heaven of streets paved in gold and amicable relationships from those “unacceptable and inadmissible”...promising them an eternal damnation in some kind of hell.

And for many, even the existence of heaven and hell is open to question, given no human has provided empirical evidence of either. Imaginative renditions of both abound, however, as humans attempt to grapple with ultimate prospects for their eternity. The question of whether Hitler would be admitted to heaven, always a divisive and searing intrusion into any discussion about heaven and hell, was dropped into a discussion in a Field Education class at Huron College in 1988. Of course, opinion divided instantly between the ‘liberals’ who believed he would, and ‘conservatives’ who were adamant that the answer had to be ‘no way’. Such division is really not reconcilable. Neither side can ever convince the other of the validity of its position.

Hence, the perpetual tension that continues to plague and/or energize the religious/spiritual dialogue.

And such simplistic divides spill over into many of our issue-oriented conversations about matters of faith.

The question of the deity of Christ, however, has to be separated from the effectiveness and relevance of the institutional church. The former is a question of theology, a question of the perception, cognition and epistemology though which a human relates to Christ, the purported Son of God and the Son of man. The latter is a matter of human organization and administration, never capable of perfection and wanting in so many different ways as to be barely discernible from a former version. We live in a technological age in which enormous power has been unleashed through access to both the internet and the digital devices we use for communication, both incoming and outgoing. That unleashing of “power” linked to the considerable advances being made by research scientists in so many fields, naturally and even predictably casts a long shadow of assumed and presumed power, influence, elevated status, and even heroic powers (at least in the minds and the imaginations of many movie writers, directors and producers) on people unaccustomed to such perceived control. The degree to which humans have prided themselves on the acquisition and the deployment of this new-found influence continues to segregate those who have already succumbed to the hubris of which the Greeks spoke so fervently in many of their tragic dramas from those who resist the temptation to seduction by the ‘drug’ of new power. It is not so much that many seek to erase or deny or simply ignore the deity of Christ, as it is that many, because they have not been convinced of the empirical evidence of the truth and validity of such stories as the ‘virgin birth,’ the resurrection,’ the miracles documented in the gospels, that they become sceptical, doubtful and even rejecting of the mysteries embedded in the gospel stories of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection. Simultaneously, the Jesus Seminar has through much scholarly research contributed much to our “knowledge” of the life of Jesus the man, without in any way attempting to contribute to the death of Christ’s deity. Not all have perceived their work in a generous and grateful spirit, and have condemned what they see as a blatant reduction of Jesus to a mere human being.

In the words of many lay persons, the ‘holy word’ (the Bible) is merely the writings of human beings, inspired perhaps but certainly not written or dictated by any God. Nevertheless, these words and their poetic, historic, liturgical, and even legal import have prompted Christians and Jews for centuries to pore over their meaning. Their respective theological and instructional methods for their young, and even for their elders, however, have been premised on very different bases. Jews, for their part, never presume to know the mind of God, and have therefore committed themselves individually and as a community to rigorous study of the Talmud, the Torah and the Midrash, the layers of attempts to unpack the holy words. Christians, on the other hand, have fallen into the self-sabotaging trap of presuming, in their own respective and different kinds of epistemologies,  based on an evaluation of different standards, to know both what God expects from human beings, and how God has ordered the universe and the relationship between humans and ‘God’ in order to be rewarded with an afterlife worthy of striving to attain.

Paradoxically, through the theology of the gospels and the letters in the New Testament, God has also declared, according to some Christian scholars, that salvation is not and cannot be “earned” by human action or will (even though created in the image of God, we also have been the recipients of free will), but that forgiveness was “bought” through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the acceptance of such monumental ‘grace’ is the pathway to salvation and an eternal life in heaven with God, Jesus and many others. We are said to be free to accept or to reject this sacred ‘gift’ and that acceptance changes everything in our lives. Some, however, see this entry, dubbed a born-again epiphany as much more complicated than a once-in-a life-time event; they see this as a continual, or even a repeated kind of experience, congruent and consistent with the narrative chapters of our lives. Others, in the Christian community focus on the salvation of the whole community, through peace and reconciliation and social justice, as the only way for each individual Christian to have access to anything remotely resembling a heavenly afterlife.

All of the notions  included in a litany of Christian ‘beliefs’ from the transformation that  purportedly takes place in baptism, the forgiveness that accompanies the penitential rite, the representation or the transubstantiation of the eucharist elements of bread and wine, the resurrection of the dead Jesus into the Risen Christ.....they all stretch human knowing beyond its capacity to function. In fact, it is in the unknowing that some pilgrims argue they come even closer to worshipping God, and His Son Jesus Christ. Some, like the Quakers, even practice a silent worship, in which they clear the clutter from their minds and their spirits, in the expectation that somehow they might more likely hear, sense, see, perceive the ‘voice’ of God, and through such an awesome, shaking quaking experience, come to a more deep and profound connection to this mystery of God. And Quakers, like Unitarians, are not restrictive of or controlling of the beliefs of their adherents. They are both open to believers, non-believers, agnostics and atheists and include many disenchanted members of other faith communities, who have been so wounded by their experience in those faith communities, they have left and search for more welcoming places to gather and to worship.

How we come to ‘know’, while significant in our spiritual journeys, may be less important than that we do not know and do not presume to know. And our not knowing, even our not believing will never be of such strength and ferocity that it can or ever will destroy any deity of Jesus; it may just be the opposite, that our humility in not knowing, in the way we seem to have come to need to know the causes of our cancers, the causes of our domestic violence, the causes of the rape and pillage of the environment and in that humility still remaining open, receptive and even enthusiastic about pursuing all of the questions that on the surface would indicate both doubt and denial, yet underneath demonstrate a profound and earnest and authentic searching for God who has been described by some as not so much a being, or even a noun, but rather a verb and a relationship.

Of course, we try to bake into the cake of whatever tangle of beliefs and doubts we are currently walking in and through, a set of moral and ethical principles some of which find their source in the holy writings of most world religions: love one another, seek peace, justice and reconciliation, leave revenge to God, life is sacred as it is a gift from God. And then there are also the sanctions we attach to our religious and spiritual alleyways; and they really are dead-end alleyways in which we become mired, twisted and contorted in our attempt to demonstrate to others, and one has to assume also to God, that we know better than ‘those’ people who are doing evil. We link specific definitions of evil to our faith and justify our attempts to rid the world of evil, without spending a similar amount of energy, time and study on what constitutes evil and why circumstances and biographical narratives can be and have been shown to be linked to criminal behaviour, and we know much more about how to prevent such evil than we take specific, individual and collective steps to reduce its impact on our world.

No, the deity of Christ is not dead or drowning; the mystery of the Christian faith has seen it survive through extreme bloodletting and violence, through inordinate alienation and dismissal, through sexual scandal and pecuniary extortion and has lifted and sustained the spirits of kings and paupers for centuries. The cultures in which it is practiced shift, and morph and even transform; the ways of learning and the levels of knowing both have the potential to deepen our capacity for unknowing, and for developing the maturity, both intellectual and spiritual, to face both without hiding, avoiding or denying. And whatever God is supportive of a life that commits to its own spiritual development, including the development of an intimate relationship with the deity we Christians know as Jesus, The Risen Christ and the pilgrimage that has been trod before us, is a divinity whose character and reality we cannot even fully comprehend.

And how we work with, walk with and dance with the mystery, the unknowing and the infinite says more about a human life worth living and also worth getting to know more about. Walking, working and dancing in an opposite direction has no enthusiasm  and the Greek word enthusias was their word for God.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Men still have much to answer for in too many relationships

Watching three male guests on CBC’s "Sunday Talk" discuss the implications for men of the Ghomeshi trial and acquittal, one is left with a distinct impression that two found the issues ‘surprising’ and one did not. Surprising, according to two of them, because they were not aware that so many women have experienced some form of sexual abuse, while the third was somewhat shocked at their innocence and ignorance.

And that was the main point of the extraordinarily superficial conversation.

Left unsaid were questions of how relations between men and women have quite literally pummeled the confidence, the self-respect and the spine of millions of men. Even the #believesurvivors digital crowd points to another of the many superficialities, stereotypes and victims of both in the contemporary North American culture. According to transcripts of the trial, evidence was withheld from police that later emerged to the shock and surprise of both police and the crown. Not minor variances, but major discrepancies, collusion, and self-sabotage by the witnesses became arguments in the judge’s decision. The protests by thousands of women, notwithstanding, the judge reached a reasonable, probable and predictable verdict, given the evidence presented.

Such a response is not to condone any physical, emotional or any other kind of abuse, by either party in an intimate relationship. There is a gender difference, however, that needs examination when critically considering these issues of gender relations, including sexual behaviour and gender politics. Women band and bond together very differently than men. Credibility, trumped by compassion, is set aside, if and when a woman tells her ‘sisters’ that she has been violated. The ‘victim’ is rarely questioned about the veracity, the specifics, and the credibility of the ‘charge’. Because, let’s face it, once out of the mouth of the victim, the words, “sexually assaulted” have been released from the larynx and the tongue and the lips of the self-described victim, they cannot be put back into any container. With impunity, the words tarnish, even potentially destroy the ‘name’ and reputation of the accused, at least as far as social discourse is concerned. If this is revenge for the decades, possibly centuries, during which the good name and reputation of women was dessicated by cavalier men who considered their sexual conquests little more than applause for their testosterone-manhood, then, perhaps there is some justification for its reality. However, as in almost all other ‘tit-for-tat’ pay-backs, the cumulative result of the see-saw is a reduction of both sides. Revenge does not look good or wear well on either gender, not now not ever. What’s more, revenge and jealousy are almost guaranteed to generate exaggeration, distortion and bending if not breaking the empiricial evidence of the facts of any encounter.  And both revenge and jealousy are not merely particular to a specific man-woman relationship; they are also cultural norms, wreaking havoc in millions of families, neighbourhoods, towns, cities and nations everywhere. There is always a way to plant a specific jealousy and/or revenge in the garden of human history, where the toxic weed has been growing since Adam and Eve. And such addition to the human weed patch knows no chemical, physical, natural or radioactive week-killer.

Since revenge and jealousy are “emotions” and not empirical physical acts, per se, we have not devised laws that make either of them specific criminal charges; we lay criminal charges on human behaviour, for which there are corroborating witnesses. Circumstantial evidence, on the other hand, including the speculation on motive of any human being, while worthy of consideration by the courts, nevertheless, suffers from the crippling effects of comparable weakness simply because they are both open to subjective interpretation. Judging the truth of any witness’s statements requires corroboration, as well as the accumulation of several statements about several aspects of any case before the court, and even after all the normal benchmarks have been met, often judges and juries are left with extreme variance in their opinions of the credibility and trustworthiness of all witnesses.

It is not feasible to separate any court case from the culture in which the case is heard. We are all a part of everything and everyone we have experienced. That includes the accused, the accuser, the judge, and the juries or our peers. And each of us has that proverbial “plank” in our eye/ear/perception/attitude/belief, making objective grasp of any evidence suspect and clouded by our literal and metaphoric “plank”. From a subjective perspective, everyone is a part of every court case, given both the degree of exposure and the degree of public “interest” in any case. However, the law has some basic principles on which its cases are litigated: presumption of innocence, and burden of proof on the part of the state in a criminal case. And, for better or worse, these are principles to which the legal system in a democracy founded on habeas corpus is wedded: and thankfully!

#Ibelievesurvivors may be an attempt, however passionate and however convicted among those taking to the streets in many Canadian cities, to support the women who filed complaints in the Ghomeshi case. It may well be an attempt to encourage other women who have experienced sexual assault to come forward to the crown or the police with their story. It may also be an attempt to put pressure on the crown to appeal this case. (We are still within the 30-day appeal period.) However, a hashtag instacrowd  must never be permitted to substitute for or to replace a formal trial, with all of its many glitches, hick-ups, twists and turns. Both those accused and those filing complaints can take heart from a system that does much to eradicate subjectivity, bias, personal preference and the current winds of the contemporary culture from the examination of the evidence and the sources of that evidence. The public cry that only the women complainants’ stories were examined critically, and not the accused in the Ghomeshi case, is simply unsustainable, given the two pillars: the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof resting exclusively with the crown. Tweeking the legal system, in order to require both complainants and accused to testify would so significantly re-order our legal system from an extremely short-term perspective, and would serve neither complainant nor accused. Our culture has to come to its senses that evidence, especially but not exclusively in sexual assault cases, requires rigorous examination, cross-examination and just because a complainant brings a story to the authorities there can be and often are many circumstances playing out in the story: Was the relationship ended against the wishes of the woman? Was the relationship terminated in order to facilitate another relationship? Were both parties in a relationship absolutely clear about its parameters? Where did the initiative for the relationship originate? Who played a more significant role in its continuation? Who made the first move to terminate it? How was that decision received? Was the person “dumped” in a situation of adequate support? Were the people counselling the ‘victim/complainant’ objective and truthful in their support? Did they have a hidden, or not so hidden, agenda, from their own lives which they projected onto their “counsel”?

Men, for our part, are subject to a very different kind of scrutiny, in our relations with the female gender than were our grandfathers, fathers and even our older brothers. Men are extremely aware, and have for a considerable time now shifted their thinking and their behaviour in relationships with women. Men, for our part again, have to acknowledge that our efforts to communicate our feelings, our intentions, our desires, and even our needs is usually lacking in sensitivity, finesse, empathy and most importantly clarity. And our verbal part in a relationship can be and often is extremely mixed, confusing and self-centred, if not completely narcissistic. That kind of attitude and discourse needs continual attention, coaching and continual practice. Presumption of “power” and dominance is not a given, and men have to accept full equality and full responsibility for entering any relationship as an equal. Given our penchant for masked insecurity, reaching a comfort level with equality will only follow the removal of our mask and the full recognition of our complexities, including both our strengths and our weaknesses, not to enable another to abuse us, but to open the door to full sharing of ourselves.

We cannot tolerate, condone nor fail to protest vigorously the complete destruction of healthy masculinity that is being demonstrated by Trump, in the presidential campaign. We cannot tolerate, condone or fail to protest the emasculation of men that has been a constant wave of public condemnation from a segment of the feminist movement. We cannot tolerate, condone or fail to protest the failure of our culture to take seriously the power issues that attend to many relationships, regardless of the social, educational, economic or ethical background of each person.

And we have to continue to attend to all conversations in which power of any kind is abused by men, women, or institutions.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Reflections on Buffy Saint Marie concert in Kingston

No No Keshagesh*

I never saw so many business suits.
Never knew a dollar sign that looked so cute.
Never knew a junkie with a money Jones:
He's singing, "Who's selling Park Place. Who's buying Boardwalk"?
These old men they make their dirty deals.
Go in the back room and see what they can steal.
Talk about your beautiful and spacious skies.
It's about uranium; it's about the water rights.
Put Mother Nature on a luncheon plate.
They cut her up and call it real estate.
Want all the resources and all of the land.
They make a war over it: Blow things up for it.
The reservation now is poverty row.
There's something cooking and the lights are low.
Somebody's trying to save our mother earth.
I'm gonna help them to save it,
To sing it and bring it

Singing: No no Keshagesh:
You can't do that no more, (no more, no more no more)
No, no, no, no Keshagesh
You can't do that no more, (no more, no more no more)
No, no, no, no Keshagesh
You can't do that no more, (no more, no more no more)
No, no, no, no Keshagesh
You can't do that no more, (no more, no more no more)

Ole Columbus he was looking good,
When he got lost in our neighborhood.
Garden of Eden right before his eyes.
Now it's all spy ware: now it's all income tax.
Ole' brother Midas looking hungry today.
What he can't buy he'll get some other way.
Send in the troopers if the natives resist.
Old, old story boys, that's how you do it boys.
Look at these people; ah they're on a roll.
Gonna have it all, gonna have complete control.
Want all the resources and all of the land.
They'll break the law for it: Blow things up for it.
When all our champions are off in the war,
Their final rip off here and is always on.
Mr. Greed I think your time has come.
We're gonna sing it and pray it and live it then say it.

Singing: No no Keshagesh:
You can't do that no more, (no more, no more no more)
No, no, no, no Keshagesh
You can't do that no more, (no more, no more no more)
No, no, no, no Keshagesh
You can't do that no more, (no more, no more no more)
No, no, no, no Keshagesh
You can't do that no more, (no more, no more no more)

Lyrics by Buffy Saint Marie, from Lyricsmode,
*Cree word meaning "greedy guts"

This is just one of the many songs Buffy Saint Marie provided her Kingston audience last night. Full-throated, passionate, and inspiring, this miniature First Nation activist continues to recruit her audience to her cause. As a self-described 'hippy' from the seventies, raised on the  political hypocrisy of the "non-war" (VietNam) until she experienced with her own eyes and ears, the shot-through bodies of soldiers in the airport in San Francisco, underlined with the words of the medics attending to them, as they made their way back home for medical treatment, after being injured in the conflict.
Condemning the reality of the five war colleges in the United State, without a single college dedicated to the cause of restorative justice and the pursuit of peace, Saint Marie spun her theme through her guitar riffs, her keyboard background, her inclusive circle-spinning, spiralling as she brought her audience into her community, really a community of civilization.
Supported by a bass player from Vancouver, a guitarist from Florida/California and an Ojibway percussionist from Manitoba, decked out in a rainbow of flowing colours, elevated by her substantial heels, Ms Saint Marie demonstrated that septaguinarians are still making noise the world needs to hear.
Saving the planet from the ravages of global warming and climate change, steering a course toward world peace and a rejection of war, she urged her activist colleagues never to 'burn out' in their passion, and offered, for the restoration of their spirit, the long-revered love song, Until it's time for you to go. Not quite the clear lyrical rendition of the original, this hymn to love nevertheless took on a new and poignant flavour in her advanced and slightly more raspy and seasoned offering.
Arresting too was her plea to "raise our boys differently from the way we were told," while turning the spotlight onto the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women.
The take-away from the experience of the "event" (much more than a mere concert), was the artist/activist's authenticity, steeped by years of being black-listed by both president's Nixon and Johnson, (presidential order fearing the words and their impact of her searing indictment, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee), five years performing on Sesame Street, a doctorate, and travel throughout the world, and a brand new album, Power in the Blood,  the title song another biting satire of the conventional perspective that power resides in the government and the military, not to mention the many awards in her trophy case.
Upon entering the theatre, the audience were greeted by aboriginal drummers, who, along with "Voices of our Grandmothers" native women who opened the evening with native songs and their own drumming, were invited backstage for the star's concert. Inclusivity, spontaneity, commitment, resilience, imagination and courage...all of these qualities wafted through the theatre like smoke from a sweat lodge, inevitably burning their biting invasive path into the conscience, the conscious and the unconscious of everyone standing and beating their own hands/drums pleading for encores that included, Starwalk.
Ms Saint Marie drew admirers from teens through to seniors, all engaged and moved by her life, her lyrics, her steady drum-beat and her inescapable power of her blood.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Can and will we acknowledge our full humanity....strengths and full?

There  is always a real danger that comes with any attempt to elevate a conversation, a debate, or especially a social movement for change. The danger is that any such effort evokes all of the worst instincts of resistance: fear, fear and more fear.
The shape of the fears may vary, from outright resistance because...
  •  "this is how we do it here" (and I am part of preserving our heritage and tradition) to
  • "it will cost too much" (because I am the self-appointed guardian of our shared 'purse') to
  • "we tried that once and it didn't work" (so we have already demonstrated the worthlessness of that idea and we do not see any reason to re-try a failed idea) to
  • "there is no scientific evidence to support the premise of your idea" (because I am the 'realist' here and you are just a dreamer) to
  • you are new here and have not yet 'earned' your stripes through proving yourself under our terms (because our terms are what make us who we are, and you need to fit those terms if you want to join) to
  • "your expectations are way to high" for any volunteer organization where we all know that people who say they will 'do' something 'don't' and people who 'talk' too often are not 'doers' to
  • "we are doers here and resent meetings to discuss and then decide what to do" (because we have been doing it this way for a long time and there is no reason to think hasn't worked, just look at our wonderful history) to
  • that new idea is contrary to the letter and the spirit of our group....(because it does not uphold the highest standards of ethics and the principles of fair play)
No matter how the resistance is framed, it is true that the status quo always has a powerful advantage over any idea that might attempt to enhance the status who. And the status quo, which seems so 'given' and hardened and fixed in both convention and practice, is nevertheless, also always changing even if almost imperceptibly. If we acknowledge that a small change like massaging a pattern of social behaviour, while retaining the essence of that pattern is little more than a pandering to our built-in comfort zone of familiarity, and not substantive change, then, once again, the forces of the 'status quo' have demonstrated both their adaptability and their resistance to re-thinking, re-evaluating and shifting priorities that would require some turbulence, some adjustment and clearly some discomfort.
One of the more striking statements passed through my ears earlier this week. It sounded like this: "the greatest strength of this organization is__________; the greatest weakness of this organization is ____________, the same quality.
People, like organizations are, as a matter of nature, impaled on their own strength/weakness. The simple truth of the evidence of a specific quality, while not usually considered, is also evidence that the same quality impedes, constricts and subverts that organization. The more a group cheers its strengths, the more that same group is blind to how that same strength is also its greatest weakness.
And while that paradox is universal, we have not evolved to a state where conversations embrace the paradox is ways that would and could only enhance the options available.
Linear, unilateral, goal-centred, focused and ambitious commitment to success, singularly defined, in a thought and action model that has been adopted by profit-driven organizations, and then rationalized through the generation of higher profits and dividends for share-holders.  Looked at more closely, efficiencies, job cuts, replacements of people with machines, the championing of competition to generate 'best performance', time clocks from scientific management, supervision embedded in sanctions with sparse and infrequent rewards....these are the "values" that have sustained the corporate culture for at least a century. And, to a large extent, they have become embedded in the culture of all organizations including not for profits, churches, schools, universities and especially political parties.
Simultaneously, those same for-profits or quasi-for-profits are replete with evidence of broken bones, broken spirits, broken careers, and especially non-existent and broken relationships, and this evidence carries with it no responsibility on the part of those organizations. After all, action trumps thought in this universe: profit trumps stasis and loss; instant response and analysis trumps reflective and meditative response and analysis; technology and machines clearly trump the human side of the enterprise....and the human side of the enterprise is relegated to "a cost" and not a revenue or profit entry in the accounting software. Not so incidentally too, the way the system operates with impunity generates the heart attacks, the appetite for both prescription and non-prescription drugs, the ennui and angst, and the divide between those whose hands are firmly gripped on the levers of decision-making, in their respective organizations and all the way to the seat of governments.
And the higher the Dow rises and satisfies, even satiates, the hunger of investors, the more evidence there is for a tragedy of epic proportions at the level of human beings, human relationships, and human needs.
We have so objectified all people and things, and the transactions between and among both, reduced to numbers all of our transactions, and thereby spread the propaganda that we have more information for 'better decisions', as the sales pitch for the conventional practice (notice the word wisdom is absent here!)
Schools morphing into technical training institutes, from primary to secondary to university level is just one of the more obvious 'pay-offs' on this "value" agenda. Children being overwhelmed by the premature objectification of their perspective, their attitudes, and their hopes and dreams is not a development that the purveyors of this corporate propaganda wish to discuss. to measure or to even contemplate. So obsessed with the empirical short-term successes of their instructional genius merging the digital with the analogic, and then measured through more and more objective tests, evaluated increasingly by the very machines to which this space is opposed (at least in so far as they dominate both content and method everywhere) the 'educators' are today marching in the same parade.
So in championing the hard power of profits, objectification, action, short-term rewards, and dominance, (especially under the former George W. Bush administration) we are reaping the 'rewards' of our one-sided, imbalanced, pursuit of our so-called 'strength' which pursuit is also impaling us on our own sword.
Only if and when we acknowledge our "weak" side, our humanity, our need for clemency, compassion, forgiveness, and inclusion, not to mention our artistic imagination, can and will we find new possibilities for all of the shared and existential threats facing the human community. Those with the money and the power do not have a singular claim on human capacity for ingenuity, for change, for collaboration and for a balanced perspective....especially when their self-interests deny the collective, in the extreme.
Capitalism while strong, is also very vulnerable; so too is democracy; so too is digital technology. We have to acknowledge there are still important and mostly neglected forces that could be deployed for our shared life on the planet.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

We are all Belgians, Parisiens, Americans.. uniting with victims of Islamic terror everywhere and always!!

If anyone thinks that Trump’s campaign for the white house has not been given a big boost by the Belgian terrorists who struck yesterday morning in both the subway system and the nation’s airport, killing nearly three dozen and injuring another 150, with reports still coming in, they are living under a rock. One reporter on CNN echoed the phrase “shaking the hornet’s nest’ as the metaphor used by Belgian authorities as they anticipated some kind of violent response to the arrest of the Paris terrorist.

Can we, in North America, conceive of ourselves as Belgians, or Parisians, or Nigerians, or even New Yorkers (after 9/11) in our identification with the victims of the Islamic terrorist scourge? What would it be like if this story were focused on Pearson airport in Toronto, or Trudeau airport in Montreal, and our neighbours and possibly our friends were no longer alive? While we all know that that is not the situation this morning, we also know that there is no reason to be complacent that we are not potentially under threat of an attack. It would seem that the most important difference is that there is no public statement from our security apparatus indicating that attacks like these in Belgium or those in Paris are imminent in Canada or the United States. Single acts of violence by disturbed men, as Canada witnessed last year, while not wreaking the kind of havoc that the people of Brussels are going through this morning, are harbingers and warnings to each of us.

And while Canadians like to consider ourselves “nice” and hospitable and just and fair, and for the most part we are, nevertheless, it will grow increasingly difficult for many Canadians, as well as Americans and Europeans who also think of themselves both individually and collectively as hospitable and fair, to remain unmoved, and also tolerant of this kind of violence, and the implications that arise naturally from consideration of its source. Radical Islam, (even if Islamic scholars repeatedly tell us that this terrorism is not representative of the true nature of their faith) is a blight for which neither our police nor our military have been prepared. Individuals or even gangs who seek to carry out acts of  violence, drug deals, bank heists, and more lately cyber crime, while troublesome, are not normally motivated by the depth and breadth of hate, and religious fervor that drives this sinister movement of men (and a few women). And their acts and the prospect of more violence do not leave only dead bodies and pools of blood, broken families and destroyed buildings in their wake; they also, and possibly even more importantly, leave every witness in a different state of mind, an elevated state of anxiety, and a significant elevation in the propensity to bully even among what are normally civilized people.  Simply put, we live out our lives differently than before we were confronted by this political/military/intelligence monster, driven by their perverted, distorted, thalidomide-like mis-shapen aspiration for an after-life for themselves and a caliphate for their troubles.

The theft of intellectual property, one of the more visible signs of contemporary culture, (think China’s vacuuming of corporate and military and possibly even political intelligence) is also accessible to the terrorist effort. They have and use the most secretive and quickly erased messaging technology, making the efforts of our security forces to trace their behaviours and their plans virtually imposible. So they can be legitimately dubbed both strategically successful (Brussels is the home of both the EU and NATO) and tactical, in that they use the most primitive and the most sophisticated of available resources, from nails and batteries to eraseable and highly secret software. And our airports, for example, have not been planned and built on the premise that security checks were required immediately upon entry; they were reserved for the gates to the boarding gangways. Now the experts are arguing for a wider circle in all airports, making billions of public funds necessary for such a change.

And through both the residual impact on all of us, anxiety, depression, even anger, and the massive impact on our public policy and government spending decisions, a little terrorist violence goes a long way to destabilizing many things. Obama rightly maintained his schedule in Cuba (the U.S. was not attacked) and all leaders, including both Trudeau and Obama defiantly repeated that the terrorists will not ‘win’. And the people of Belgium have shown their own defiance in their public gatherings and memorials in the public square in Brussels. And the whole world supports those attitudes.

Nevertheless, there have been 6 such attacks in the last year, and from the expressions on many ‘talking heads’ one has to conclude that there will be more. And as Jonathan Capehart, columnist at the Washington Post, speaking on MSNBC, put it, alienating the Muslim community is the best way to remove their help in this ubiquitous conflict. We need all moderate Muslims (and we have repeated this plea many times in this space over the last few years!) to bring the ‘monster’ in their midst to heel. All the bombs and all the missiles and all the arrests and the convictions will not, by themselves, eradicate this cancer. And all of the security apparatuses that we construct will not detect and thereby prevent more tragedies like this one in Brussels. This is not to say that we should stop all of our efforts in both regards: military and homeland security. It is, however, to argue that increased collaboration and co-ordination between and among all the national security and intelligence forces is required, something that apparently, is not the normal way of operating for those professionals. Pride, both national and personal, cannot and must not impede our pursuit of the intelligence and the perpetrators. However, given the state of international relations, and the level of distrust that underlies all diplomatic efforts, including those among “friendly” nations, and the increasing disregard for the United Nations among too many nations and practicing political leaders, the effort to enhance the strength and the credibility of international bodies like the International Criminal Court, and the United Nations initiative on Climate Change and Global Warming, the world is right to be sceptical of much progress in efforts to bring the world together in one conjoined initiative to do anything, even to eradicate Islamic terrorism.

And the ironic aspect of this political and diplomatic ‘sin of omission’ is that there is no country in the world that does not face the prospect of becoming the target of these attacks. However, if we look at the history of the world’s collaboration over the last half century to combat climate change and global warming, (Suzuki tells CBC’s Peter Mansbridge in his recent interview celebrating his 80th birthday this week, we are further behind than we were forty years ago) we cannot not have much real hope or expectation that a scourge that leaves material evidence of an unequivocal nature in its wake (the evidence of climate change and global warming has been disputed, as has human participation in its generation from the beginning), will meet with concerted and unambiguous and persistent collaboration from all the world’s powers, and the world’s Muslim community. What we do not need, and certainly cannot even countenance are the kind of moves coming out of the mouth of candidate Trump: torture terrorists and consider withdrawing from NATO, or from the mouth of candidate Cruz: police patrol in all Muslim neighbourhoods. We cannot even countenance either of these men actually attaining the Republican nomination for the presidency.

So, while we all mourn and pray for the victims of the Brussels attacks, and we wring our hands that these urban IED’s will explode on our city streets around the world, and we watch dedicated civil servants and law enforcement personnel commit to their protective duties, nevertheless, we all lose a little more hope, and little more innocence and a lot more confidence in the kind of future we will leave to our grandchildren, on both the terror and the environment fronts.

And these “voices crying in the wilderness” (like this one) will merely be dismissed as “bleeding heart liberals” who are not in touch with the real world.

And the power and money of the “right” will exert an inordinate amount of political muscle in the decisions by world politicians.

Terrorism and climate change are not politically ideological ‘files’: they are both, in their own way, existential issues demanding our common human sharing, and the sooner we ditch the distrust and the pride in our attempts to address both and all sing from the same song sheet,  the better.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Another messiah complex leading another cult?....and millions drink the koolaid

The definition of the word “cult”: an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers.

From the perspective of existential psychology, the Messiah phenomenon can be understood as part of the eternal and universal search for the “ultimate rescuer”: an omnipotent and omniscient force or being that loves and protects us. The ultimate rescuer saves us from our existential aloneness, freedom, anxiety, responsibility to think for ourselves and decide on our own behaviour and provides hope and meaning to counteract our lack of purpose in life and despair.(Stephen A Diamond, The psychology of Terrorists (Pt.3): The Messiah Syndrome, Psychology Today, Posted September 29, 2014)

Strip away all the religious references to salvation, re-birth, enthusiastic hymn-singing, and even speaking in tongues from church services, and what is left in Trump events is a perceived vacuum of personal power, a perceived vacuum of national power, personal despair and the “quick-fix” rescuer from all those pains and anxieties, The Donald.

And there is a degree of immunity or even impunity that accompanies the drama playing out on what amounts to a world stage: feeding as it does on the viral and venomous bile of attack, this monster, like some creature of the movie “animateurs,” plows through all the threatening “swamps” of integrity, decency, honour, credibility, hope, and especially  truth.

It is as if not only The Donald, but “The-Donald-and-throngs” comprise an avatar: a representative “thing” filling the empty picture of the nation they all purport to imagine they want. Stripped of all responsibility for dealing with the complex nature of reality (the economy, the state of relations between nations on the planet, racism, homophobia, income inequality, an atrophying environment), the latest  “heroic” comic-book version of vaunted and frenetically desired, even demanded, conquest of all the enemies both within and without (without the slightest recognition or acceptance of the fairy-tale the avatar requires even to exist) is so seductive to some that the non-prescription drug consumption of the voracious national appetite for escape looks like a mild case of the flu.

We have all become, without our consent, or even our formal acknowledgement, players in a greek tragedy fueled by the various greeds and needs of the candidate, the media, the political system, the economic system, the military system, the environmental system and the psychic systems inhabiting our individual and our collective conscious and unconscious. And the outcome, should we refuse to waken and exit the stage, the theatre and the screens where the faux-campaign is being conducted, is so dangerous as to make “Wag the Dog” (the movie) look like a Sunday School picnic.

When the complete and total effort is directed to inflate the power and the reputation of the single “leader” as it currently is in the United States, what is the difference between that and Putin’s bringing home the fighter jets from Syria, following a faux-battle, waged under highly suspect pretext, for the single purpose of inflating the reputation and the power of Putin himself. Throwing flowers on the military personnel, wrapping them in personal/national hugs and kisses, for the cameras to capture in their sycophant adulation, is just another example of the manipulation of the truth and the people by those with their hands on the levers of propaganda....just as Trump does in the United States.

And as Beelzebub does in Milton’s underworld, puff up his legions through manipulation of their empty ego’s, so too does Trump inflate the feelings of faux-potency among his dupes, his loyalists. I love _______, the name of every state he has ‘won’; I love the educated, I really love the uneducated; I love the.....(fill in the blanks).... a litany of fawning patronizing of the most brazen kind! And, sadly, those in the ‘house’ drink his patronizing as if it were the magic elixir that will fix everything that is, or they believe to be, wrong with their lives.

The truth is the enemy of the angels of the deep in Milton’s underworld, just as it is to the demons at the microphone and in the back-rooms of the Trump sales pitch. And portraying the truth as “evil” (get’em out’a here!), whenever words or actions in disagreement find enough courage and opportunity to express themselves, Trump betrays his own hollow and empty existence, as if he is living out, before the world’s ubiquitous eyes and ears, his own “existential moment” (that moment when an individual becomes conscious of his own meaninglessness). Most of us have faced that moment as part either of our adolescence or our early adulthood; however, infantilized as Trump demands his gangs to be, he inflicts his own emptiness on theirs, in a blind and corrupt dance of the Shadows.

Political ‘kool aid’ while there may be no chemical or biological evidence of its addictive qualities, nevertheless, acts as a testosterone ‘hit’ for the primarily male audience. There are some women who show up, probably in the hope that through their endorsement of the candidate’s bravado, their lives may be somehow transformed from malignant dependence to indifference. Some prospect!

Hollywood, along with the television crime and military and investigative mystery industry, have churned out miles of film and videotape written and produced for the express purpose of selling tickets, winning awards and generating profits for their producers. The profit motive lies at the heart of the “deal” and the national commitment to “get rich” the specific goal of the current front-runner of the Republican party’s campaign for the presidency of the United States. Never has the allure of more money, both for the ‘trumper’ of the deal and for the dark angels who throng to his choir, more endangered those in obsessive pursuit of that ‘richness’ than in the current ‘state of the union’. This is just another lottery on steroids! And the chances of “winning” are about as remote as in the most dollar-crushed lottery!

And, to a considerable degree, the venomous element of racism underlies this ugly quest and pursuit. Balanced, moderate and moderating, reasoned and nuanced are all words legitimately used to describe the current occupant of the White House. Another of the appropriate words is “intellectual”.

And, at its core, the trump campaign is at war with all of those adjectives, clustered in and emblemized by the current president. He is both better than the trump crowd deserves, and more than they can handle although they are loath to inflict the pejorative “racist” upon themselves either directly or indirectly. “Weakness” is their word for Obama. “No balls” would likely be the phrase they would prefer. When, conversely, the president has stared down more enemies, real enemies of the country, than all of the trump crowd will do individually and collectively in their lifetimes.

And it is precisely the epithet “pathological liar” pinned on Trump by Bernie Sanders, that seems to undergird the whole effort to wrest the presidency from legitimate contenders. The leader of this insurgency (and it is nothing if not an insurgency, verging on terror without the bullets and the bombs, yet) is out of touch with reality and the truth, just as reality television shows of which he is the epitome and huckster are so far removed from reality as to be laughable. As children, we all heard sales pitches for the latest professional wrestling match in the local arena. At ten, we all knew that the spectacle was both a fraud and a farce. Gladiators fake-punching each other, fake-tossing each other to the mat, fake ripping each other’s arms from their sockets, fake twisting bodies into pretzels....all for the chance to earn a fake reputation and a few shekels, before putting their tails between their legs and shuffling off to the next town, and the next crowd of “suckers” who purchased tickets.

Now we are faced with the prospect of a serial (and too often failed) huckster, wrestler, circus-hawker, and snake-oil salesman. And the snake oil he is peddling, lest we forget, is his own belleek ego, so fragile that it threatens its own demise everytime he takes the podium. And the whole world can and does see the epic stupidity of his game and the even more epic stupidity of the throngs of bedazzled supporters.....when will America wake up to their own (and potentially the rest of the world’s) undoing. There is an eerie echo in his flying in to towns and cities across the country in his own Trump-jet, evocative as it is of the image of Hitler’s biplane shadow played out on the commercial buildings as he flew into Nuremburg in 1934 for the Nazi meeting, as depicted in Lein Reifenstahl’s propaganda movie extolling the Fuhrer’s power (and virtue)

Modestly condemning the vulgarity and the division inherent in the trump campaign, as Obama and others have done, and then cozying up to the possibility of his winning the nomination, as several leading Republicans are doing, only identifies those Republicans as spineless and themselves dangerous for failing to denounce his candidacy, months, if not years ago. Trump is no messiah, except perhaps in his own mind and in the minds of his millions of minions, and his promise to rescue the nation from its current “ignominy” of defeat and denigration is little more than Barnum and Bailey’s huckstering outside the circus tent. The only freak in this picture is the huckster himself, certainly no the nation he wishes to lead. Only difference between his campaign and a circus: should he win both the nomination and the election, imagine world in which both Putin and Trump both have their hands and fingers on the nuclear buttons.
And should that transpire, we will all breath much more fitfully; and our grandchildren will legitimately ask of us, “What were you thinking?”

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Is it authoritarianism or nationalism (two of the interpretations of the Trump phenomenon) or both and more?

  1. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: independence or respect for elders?
  2. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: obedience or self-reliance?
  3. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: to be considerate or to be well-behaved?
  4. Please tell me which one you think is more important for a child to have: curiosity or good manners?
Summarized then, which of the following pairs in more important for a child to have:
  • independence or respect for elders
  • obedience or self-reliance
  • considerate or well-behaved
  • curiosity or good manners
(My answers: independence, self-reliance, considerate, curiosity). They all require courage, and courage makes all other values feasible.....Who said this first?)

These four questions, formulated in 1990 by Stanley Feldman  of  SUNY in Stoneybrook New York, are at the centre of a new book, (actually a PhD thesis)  describing the rise of authoritarianism in America, as practiced by Donald Trump in the current campaign for the Republican nomination for the presidency of the United States.
Last September, a PhD student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst named Matthew MacWilliams realized that his dissertation research might hold the answer to not just one but all three of these mysteries.
MacWilliams studies authoritarianism — not actual dictators, but rather a psychological profile of individual voters that is characterized by a desire for order and a fear of outsiders. People who score high in authoritarianism, when they feel threatened, look for strong leaders who promise to take whatever action necessary to protect them from outsiders and prevent the changes they fear.
So MacWilliams naturally wondered if authoritarianism might correlate with support for Trump.
He polled a large sample of likely voters, looking for correlations between support for Trump and views that align with authoritarianism. What he found was astonishing: Not only did authoritarianism correlate, but it seemed to predict support for Trump more reliably than virtually any other indicator. He later repeated the same poll in South Carolina, shortly before the primary there, and found the same results.
As it turns out, MacWilliams wasn't the only one to have this realization. Miles away, in an office at Vanderbilt University, a professor named Marc Hetherington was having his own aha moment. He realized that he and a fellow political scientist, the University of North Carolina's Jonathan Weiler, had essentially predicted Trump's rise back in 2009, when they discovered something that would turn out to be far more significant than they then realized.
That year, Hetherington and Weiler published a book about the effects of authoritarianism on American politics. Through a series of experiments and careful data analysis, they had come to a surprising conclusion: Much of the polarization dividing American politics was fueled not just by gerrymandering or money in politics or the other oft-cited variables, but by an unnoticed but surprisingly large electoral group — authoritarians.
Their book concluded that the GOP, by positioning itself as the party of traditional values and law and order, had unknowingly attracted what would turn out to be a vast and previously bipartisan population of Americans with authoritarian tendencies.
( By Amanda Taub on March 1, 2016, The Rise of American Authoritarianism, from VOX website)
How might it be that questions about parenting would apply to a presidential campaign, a political party and a prediction about the future of the Republican Party?
And, as it happened, Jonathan Weiler was a guest on GPS with Fareed Zakaria this morning, during which interview he explained that the pursuit of "order" is central to those espousing authoritarianism. And the world view that places order at the top of the "value" list can be found in many places, including the family, the classroom, the board room, the church, and the political campaigns and political parties. Those who answer the four questions similarly, indicating their high espousal of order, cross all the normal demographic lines. So, as Weiler points out, the media argument that blue collar whites are the only or the predominate segment of the American society who support Trump simply does not hold.
In fact, according to Weiler, well-educated suburban-dwelling professionals also demonstrate this trait of putting order at the top of their value totem pole. Weiler further explains that the Republican party, having fostered and encouraged the culture in which order is dominant in the value hit parade, is likely to find successors to Trump, a line of people aspiring to leadership in their party that depends on the value of pursuing order, at all costs.
  • As one who proudly tells the story of having been quite literally yelled at by a teacher colleague for being too liberal (after disagreeing with him about whether or not a student in my class and his had actually cheated in his math test; she had not cheated) and
  • one who has been rejected by a human resources consulting company out of the Ottawa Valley (exclusively dependent on wacky personality inventory tests from WACO Texas) because, having answered the questions in the quiz honestly, I was considered "too difficult to manage" and
  • one who has been literally screamed at by an Episcopal Bishop for have the gall to suggest that men needed to learn about and to express their emotions "(No, that is way too dangerous!" was the screamed phrase) and
  • one who was 'given the strap' in grade four by a controlling anal female teacher for a friendly "Hi Roge'"  poke on the shoulder of a friend as he passed my desk immediately after the lunch break
  • one who was told by his mother to shut up when attempting to discuss the differences between her father (an authoritarian conservative) and my father (a collaborative liberal) and
  • one who challenged another bishop attempting to close a grieving process in a parish where a significant and traumatic tragedy had ripped the parish apart, and who championed the work of the "Churchill like" wardens for sending weeping parishioners home up to six months following the event, "Respectfully, Bishop, I commend your presence here with these grieving people, but Winston Churchill would have made a lousy grief-counsellor!" and
  • one who told a former high school principal/supervisor, that he had betrayed my confidence several years earlier, and then slammed the door of my vehicle in his face, when he uttered, "That never happened!" and
  • one who submitted a letter of resignation at the last date of a probationary period when working for a music festival, because the hiring committee was quite obviously dishonest and lacking integrity and
  • one who fumed when beaten by a mother who completely avoided responsibility for her abusive behaviour, wrote to my aunts about the abuse at thirteen, and then was punished for "deceit" in sending the letter
I have had my share of experiencing the abuse of authority....and its unadulterated pursuit by those who "know better" than all of the rest of us, ranks, in my value list, as one of the most serious dangers we face among those of us who share the planet.
While the Canadian constitution stresses the pursuit of "peace, order and good government," and generally those goals are valid, it is in the interactions between people that the pursuit of "order" will too frequently obliterate the other.
The state's pursuit of order is not the same dynamic as the interactions between individuals, in character, in dimension or in importance. However, those human exchanges cannot and must not be ignored given their permissibility as the rise of authoritarianism explodes onto the political map.
For example:
..........A teacher seeking to maintain order in her classroom following the tragic death of the ten-year-old brother of one of her seven-year-old students, tells her student, three weeks after the witnessed and accidental death of the elder brother, "The honeymoon is over" because he is not completing his seat work or his homework.
.........A clergy in a church tells his congregation, "All Catholics are going to Hell" as if he is speaking the will of God
........A company that tells its employees that they can accept the intolerable and unsafe conditions of the work or leave, because there are thousands waiting in line to take his place
.......A company like Wal-Mart tells it employees that if they vote to strike the company will simply close the store and they will all be left without jobs
......A presidential candidate who tells his audience to "beat the guy" because 'the guy' is peacefully protesting the candidate's abuse of authority
......A investigating officer who has his/her mind made up before even investigating a crime scene
.....A public figure who espouses racial bigotry as a central component of his world view....
And the list is, in a word, interminable.....
Every time anyone consciously or unconsciously reduces the value, the humanity, the worth of another human being, that person abuses his authority and demeans the other.
Governments who betray the privacy of their constituents, for example abuse their authority.
Police who shoot their unarmed youths, abuse their authority.
And judicial systems that ignore, lose, or defame evidence abuse their authority.

The management of authority at the human level is a skill almost never really taught. It is subsumed into a program on leadership, or the clinical criteria for effective management. And while most curricula would not overtly promote the abuse of authority, there are a plethora of ways to cover such abuse through secrecy, through threats, through oaths of silence, through bribes, through cover-up stories, and through out-right denials.
When asked if he shares ANY responsibility for the recent spate of physical attacks at his rallies, Trump claimed responsibility only for having cancelled the planned rally in Chicago, after the authorities warned of impending conflict (a fact disputed by a reputable reporter), and thereby offending thousands of his loyal supporters.
We are, in short, in danger of being swept up by a band of marauding "mobsters" whose pursuit of what they deem "order" is their ultimate supremacy, whether it is whites over blacks, or Christians over Muslims, or Americans over Mexicans, or "good people" (Trump cheer-leaders) over "bad people" (all those who protest at Trump rallies). Their unobstructed, unprotested and unmolested pursuit of their goal, to have Trump living in the White House is so ironic, especially when we all know just how determined to be unpredictable, and thereby uncontrolled, and thereby dominant, and threatening to any who happen to attract his ire. It is not order that the Trump victory is or will deliver. It is rather complete disorder, chaos and everything that the ISIS terrorists would or could dream in their wildest fantast.
Trump is already a recruiting machine for ISIS.
Trump is already a threat to the peace, order and security of the United States, simply by playing his ruthless game of self-promotion, having seduced millions of people to sign on to his dangerous "pledge" to commit to vote for him in their respective primaries.
There is reason, however, to suggest that the "authoritarianism" thesis is too simplistic, reductionistic, and thereby unreliable. For example, in the complex world of political theory, and political science, there are themes like "nationalism" that are also being ascribed to the Trump phenomenon.
Four guests on GPS, representing a variety of European perspectives, all saw in Trump evidence of an enhanced view of nationalism, racism, and a kind of right-wing withdrawal from the world. For example, the leader of the right in France has already tweeted a vote for Trump. An Italian reporter says that in that country, Trump's name is being linked daily with that of former Italian leader, Berlusconi, in his business background, and in his vulgar campaign rhetoric.
Decades hence, libraries will be filled with theses that attempt to parse the Trump phenomenom...
We can and do only hope that the skirmishes now occurring in his rallies do not escalate into full-blown violence, from which neither  the candidate nor his campaign can or will escape culpability.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

American political campaign: dance of the unconscious Shadows of Trump, his acolytes and enemies

Never before have we had so much information in bits and pieces flooded upon us by radio and television and satellite, yet never before have we had so little inner certainty about our own being. The more objective truth increases, the more our inner certitude decreases. Our fantastically increased technical power, and each forward step in technology is experience by many as a new push toward our possible annihilation. Nietsche was strangely prophetic when he said:

We live in a period of atomic chaos...the terrible apparition..the Nation State.. and the hunt for happiness will never be greater than when it must be caught between today adn tomorrow; because the day after tomorrow all hunting time may have come to an end altogether.

Sensing this and despairing of ever finding meaning in life, people these days seize on the many ways of dulling their awareness by apathy, by psychic numbing, or be hedonism. (Rollo May: The Discovery of Being:Writings in Existential Psychology)

And to May’s penetrating insight we might add, that in our vacuum of inner certitude, we project our fears directly onto a “saviour” whom we falsely believe will relieve us of our emptiness. This presidential campaign is far more about the emptiness inside millions of voters than it is about The Donald. However, it is the Donald who is the target of our projections, unconscious though they are, and in this mass unconscious projection, the American electorate is entering a phase of dangerous tragedy, whether or not that tragedy takes the form of a fifty-foot wall, or a nuclear explosion, or even a world economic meltdown worse even than the 2008-9 implosion.

The real tragedy that could come out of the nomination, and thereby potential election of The Donald is that those projections cannot and will not be fulfilled. The American Dream, that prophetic myth that has sustained the country for well over two centuries has never had to integrate the internet, the billions in propaganda spending, the loss of “pride” and purpose among the ordinary American people, and the opportunism, ego and narcissism of one like The Donald. Unconscious projections place untenable and unbearable expectations on the object of those projections. Whether the target is considered the most heroic, or the most evil (and Trump is being targeted with both varieties of projection, it is the unnamed, and unacknowledged and precipitous projections that ultimately fail everyone.

Extrinsic portrayals of the vulgar language Trump uses on the stump, the depth and the venality of the campaign to undermine him, his own complicity in this epic and transnational dance of deaf and dumb psyches (that of the electorate and that of Trump himself) and the profit-driven motive of the complicit and opportunistic media, political handlers, pundits...all of these factors enmeshed in the over-arching time-table of the election campaign itself...and they all rush in to generate a confluence of influences over which no single actor or agent has control. There is no possible outcome from this dance of the phantoms (the Shadows of the candidate and the Shadow of the culture) for the simple yet explosive reason that reality, both the objective and the subjective realities of the universe resulting from this monumental collision of Shadows and the emerging explosion of psychic atoms, neutrons and positive and negative ions. From this collision, only multiple mirages can play out: more and more exclamations of power, success, inevitability and megalomaniacal power over (without a hint of specific proposals except the kind of Cecil B. De Mille fifty-foot walls (characteristic of his epic biblical films) that pour like a cataract from his bottomless narsissictic (yet hollow and empty) ego and the increasingly intense cry of his supporters that he is the only one who can save the country. His growing cadre of opponents also play their part in this Greek tragedy: projecting their existential fears for the survival of one or more of a) The Republican Party, b) the United States itself, c) the global economy, or d) the collapse of the planet’s ecosystem or e) the first nuclear war.

Unfortunately, it is not feasible to speak or white about this drama without warning of the exaggerated expectations of both parties to the dance. It is also not possible to speak or write about such a dance of ‘shades’ or Shadows, without sounding moralistic, somewhat arrogant and certainly somewhat pretentious.

However, the need for the ‘writer’s apology/defence pales beside the profound empathy the writer feels for both partners in this cosmic dance, because it epitomizes the kind of dance of the Shadows that besets domestic, professional, legal, parliamentary and yes, diplomatic conflicts everywhere. At the centre of both partners is an excess of hubris, linked to anger, boiled in a cauldron of alienation and contempt, and nurtured by a rejection of the specialist, intellectual, technological and bureaucratic culture that has risen over the last half century or more. And, of course, when there is this quantum of the disease of anger, hate and revenge, much of it will be and is misdirected. Unfortunately, different from the human experience of grief, loss and the process of dealing with a profound loss like a death, or a divorce, this dance does not exhibit or evoke honour, empathy, compassion or sensitivity.

The only human response to such an impending falling off the cliff is sadness and a whisper of a warning. The political response could conceivably include an awakening by the political professional class that the unconscious does indeed play an integral part in the working out of the public agenda. The face that the unconscious, both individual and collective, has been expelled from the halls of academia, for the express reason that it is not empirical, not measureable, not repeatable and not testable by all of the known tasting instruments (cognitive, chemical, physical, ethical, sociological) known to human culture.

Yet if America itself, and through her example and experience, sad and potentially tragic as that may be, can embrace without fear or shame the twin-headed creature of the objective/subjective aspects of reality, both personal and human, as well as external. It was Rollo May, himself, who told us that the single most penetrating problem of being human is that, at one and the same time, we are both subjective (subjects) and objective (objects). It was Melody Beattie who posed the concept of the march of archetypes through human lives, as portrayed in novels and movies, from the innocent, to the orphan, the victim, the warrior, the wanderer and finally the magician. And any movement out of one archetype and into another requires a transition period, or a time as ‘wanderer’....

Clearly, the United States is wandering in the wilderness of one of the most monumental transitions from one kind of political and historical period, to another of a very different kind. This transitional stage, the letting loose of the Shadows of both a candidate and the electorate, if it is to serve the purpose of aiding and sustaining a kind of political, cultural, and historical development, will need the best informed, the most courageous and the most prophetic and poetic imaginations to steer the ship of states through the shoals and the rocks lying in wait to imperil the little vessel. And since the voyage has already begun, and the projected voyage has not been yet committed to either hard copy or digital screen, this cruise could end up like a voyage to and from Hell, as were those cruise trips for so many affluent tourists have described following the collapse of their ship’s many systems.

The political culture is no country is comfortable delving into the beyond of the individual or the collective unconscious. And what could potentially emerge from this emergent collision of the tectonic plates of a leader’s unsconscious and that of his new-found political acolytes. Neither the individual aspirant nor the electorate is open to this portrayal of the drama in which they are both engaged, even imperiled. Nevertheless, this enmeshment cannot and will not be ended without a further act of desperation by both sides, including especially the portion of the electorate who simply detests The Donald.

It has been a long time, if not perhaps even centuries, since such an epic dance of the polarized and radio-active unconscious of such high-wire actors has played out. Certainly it has not happened in the digital age, embracing the eyes, ears and the imaginations of people around the world.

And, let us not forget that in his prophetic voice, Winston Churchill warned the world, “America always does the right thing, after it has does everything else!”

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

CRA* grants amnesty to tax dodgers, clients of KPMG...just another story about RICH POWER!!

We know that Canada is not the United States. Income inequality is less noticeable and therefore less newsworthy in Canada than in the U.S. And, although Canada pays inordinate attention to the findings of the Auditor General, as it “cares” about how the government spends its tax dollars.

Nevertheless, some of the same dynamics that are so graphically grabbing headlines in the U.S. play a role north of the 49th parallel.

Today, CBC reveals, through evidence handed to it in a “brown envelope” that the international accounting firm KPMG has been providing its most affluent clients a tax haven on the Isle of Man, thereby enabling those rich clients to evade paying tax on those sheltered dollars. And while Canada Revenue Agency will not say whether they will charge KPMG for concocting and executing the scheme, they do indicate that those clients, whose names they obtained through a court order, are being offered “amnesty” to “come in from the cold, and pay taxes on those previously sheltered funds. If they agree to pay back taxes, the story goes, they will not be charged. Some of the offending KPMG clients have agreed while others refused to come forward.

Predictably, lawyers for ordinary Canadians in conflict with CRA are more than a little disappointed that their clients are left without similar favourable treatment, while the rich are offered clemency. On the other hand, lawyers who work for high-end clients tell CBC that those clients can afford to pay for the ‘best legal advice available’ arguing that for CRA to take them on would be both costly and somewhat suspect.

And therein lies the rub: on the one hand, there is one approach for the rich, and quite another for the less affluent.

And while most will sigh and bemoan the “way the world works” borrowing the words of the Charles Schwab television commercial, when the young man asks whether his mentor gets his money back if he is not satisfied and hears with a smirk and a shrug, “No, that’s not the way the world works!” The inference, from Schwab’s perspective is that more questions might make the world work more advantageously for the client of their financial management firm.

And although the story merits coverage, potentially as a “CBC exclusive”, and will get some coverage in the financial pages of the dailies, there will be no public outcry, given Canadian deference to the wealthy and also Canadian deference to the government, unless and until there is a wave of protest to which they can add their voice. It is the slow, and almost imperceptible movement of public attitudes, in this case, toward amnesty for the rich with impunity, that eventually ensnares us all in its entangling web. This kind of evolution does not bring people to the barricades with their shotguns; this kind of story evokes barely a whimper from the public consciousness, and even less from the public conscience; and the people in charge of the CRA, whether they owe obedience and their jobs to a Liberal or a Conservative government, know that their political masters want above all else for them to take all measures available to avoid a public controversy. And the public, by and large, complies, especially in “nice” Canada.

Would this story play differently should a NDP government have been elected on October 19? Who knows?

Nevertheless, the public’s detachment, disillusionment, and even insouciance contributes to the margins of tolerable options available to the government, and thereby to the CRA. Does the public care if the rich are granted amnesty? Does the public wish that if amnesty is available to those who can and will purchase the legal services of the most professional and also most costly legal teams, it must also be available to ordinary Canadians? Does the public seek to put pressure on the current government, as overseers of the CRA, to bring both KPMG and their clients to “heel” through court actions? Or does the public prefer a “moderated” and “modest” and eminently Canadian approach that we are learning about from this story?

There is no single story that defines the Canadian culture; there is however, a confluence of events, personalities, headlines and backroom arrangements that cumulatively generate a conception of the ‘public good’ and that public good is an extremely fragile entity, requiring the close attention not only of the political nerds, but also of the ordinary people whose lives it will inevitably shape for decades. 

*Canada Revenue Agency 

Monday, March 7, 2016

Putting the doctor assisted dying option in the spotlight....we vote "yes"

Here we go again!

With 40% of the Canadian population identifying with the Roman Catholic church, two of their leaders, this week, came out swinging against the proposal before the federal government to put forward a piece of legislation that would permit doctors to assist those in extreme circumstances to die. The Cardinal in Toronto, Thomas Collins, had read from every church pulpit in his diocese a letter condemning the proposal. The Bishop in Ottawa, Terry Prendergast, spoke to the National Post indicating that Catholics who chose this path to end their life would not be eligible for the “last rites”.

While the proponents of the legislation, a similar law already having been passed by the Quebec legislature, (historically the most “catholic” province in the country) argue that it is a human right, guaranteed, in their view, by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Naturally the Catholic leaders consider it an grave sin because, like abortion, it ‘takes a human life’. The debate in this country will likely heat up between now and June when, by order of the Supreme Court of Canada, the government must bring forward legislation that paves the way for doctor assisted dying.

As a non-Catholic, I can readily see the consistency of the Catholic position, that all life is sacred, and that any overt human action that usurps that life is evil. Contraception, abortion, doctor-assisted dying are all of a piece, under the requirements of their absolute position. And, it is precisely because of the absolute-ness of the Catholic position that it is and can and must be confronted.  

Already, millions of Roman Catholics practice some form of “artificial” birth control, under the supervision of their medical practitioner. Condoms and IUD’s have become common practice, when prospective parents weigh the choice of having more children (some of which they see as unaffordable, others as blocking their path to a career). And whether the church enforces some “liturgical sanction” on those who use contraceptives or not, everyone knows that the practice is ubiquitous. And, as part of the rationale for their position, some Catholics argue that the population of the world, projected to reach 9 billion in this century, will put a significant strain on the ecosystem, and the capacity of the people on the planet to feed, and to clothe and to education and deploy in work with dignity. That argument, however, is not as valid when applied to the debate over doctor assisted dying.

The Right to Life campaign to end a woman’s access to therapeutic abortion continues unabated, on both sides of the 49th parallel, with consider success especially in Texas where over half of the clinics in which the procedure had been performed have now closed, given the strict conditions required by new Texas law, a law that is being challenged in the Supreme Court. Even moderates in the United States agree that abortions must be both legal and therapeutic, particularly in the case of rape, incest or to protect the endangered life of a mother. In Canada, on the other hand, while access may be limited, especially in remote rural areas, and the campaign continues to garner support, the law is unlikely to be overturned any time soon.

Suicide, on the other hand, as a human act, has a history that links it to earlier conceptions of demons, mental illness and “craziness” with which previous historical periods simply could not deal. And anything that involved the taking of a life, whether by an outside agent or by the person inflicting the act on his or her own person, was considered evil. As the locus of the society’s definition of evil, the church’s role, while heavy and serious, was also one of attending to the long-term interests of the institution, the preservation of people of discipline continuing to life the “good life”. Rewards, of a heavenly nature, and sanctions of a, institutional nature were linked in a pattern of classical conditioning, that many considered sacred. Only as recently as 1977, the Canadian government removed the act of suicide from the Criminal Code, giving legal expression to the concept of mental health as a contributing factor in one’s taking one’s life. Since that time, obituaries that read, “suddenly,” are often ‘code’ for a death by suicide. Still, there is a hushed conversation about a possible suicide, and initiatives to prevent suicide have sprung up, helping family members and friends to take note of potential ‘symptoms’ of an impending suicide. Still, however, we hear comments like, “If only I had seen the signs!” from distraught family and friends of the deceased, following a suicide. Whether those individuals who espoused a Roman Catholic faith and committed suicide were given a church funeral is an open question; probably yes in some quarters, and no in others. So the church’s history is nothing if not perfectly clear and consistent, on the issue.

And now, under the pressure of individuals coming forward to seek medical help in ending their own life, a decision taken, for the most part, by those of sound mind who face a terminal illness, and/or the prospect of no end to their extreme suffering, governments whose members consider themselves “enlightened” have passed, or are considering passing laws that would make the intervention of a medical team that includes at least two doctors, and a patient of sound mind, including young people the law considers ‘minors’. One medical doctor, a specialist in disease control, from Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, even went so far as to record his own plea for doctor assisted suicide, given the extreme pain his own cancer was inflicting on his person. It is not only one’s body, but also one’s mind and spirit that are overwhelmed by the pain of some illnesses. And the incapacity of the family to alleviate the suffering is also another important feature of such a family situation.

Palliative care, while important and less accessible that everyone would like, does attempt to make those in the end stages of their life comfortable, and as responsive as their condition permits. And everyone would approve of a significant enhancement of that flank of our national health care system. Hospitals, too, have included palliative care sections to their facilities, in addition to the several hospice facilities available in some centres. Nevertheless, there are still people suffering tragically and hopelessly in their own private cave of desperation, who would prefer, and whose families would prefer, that their suffering were brought to a dignified termination.

And, in the broader definition or conception of life, (that sacred concept), there is the life of the individual and the life of the family and the life of the community that has to be taken into account in any ethical consideration of one’s theological belief and practice. And that makes the question’s relevance, and perspective very different from a narrow definition of the biological nature of life. That consideration alone is legitimately considered by many to be a reductionistic approach to the issue.

It is the cookie-cutter rule, applied to circumstances not considered in the application, that renders those adherents to the rule infantilized. Faith, religion, ethics...these are both hard and complex questions, and the mystery of a human being's relationship with a deity is more complex and mysterious than virtually all other relationships. The power of the church, and its leadership, to presume to decide for sentient, mature, thinking and pondering, not to mention praying and reflecting humans on such momentous decisions as whether to conceive a child, or whether or not to end a child's life, or whether or not to choose to access doctor-assisted dying, is overhearing. In fact, setting such a 'bar' as the highest ethical value, is not only presumptuous (presuming to know God's mind) but also demeaning to the human capacity of free will, another of God's gifts to every human. And then to presume to punish those who defy the ecclesiastical edict only adds insult to injury. Taking a position of listening to, of counselling, and even of perhaps providing some mature advice would make much more sense of the relationship between human and God, and bring a different kind of agape to the situation that respects the ambiguity and the mystery and the nuances of every human being going through the decision-making process.

In all aspects of the question of the sacredness of life, contraception, abortion and assisted dying, the narrow definition of the application of the ethical principle is suspect because such an application,  while pure and consistent and absolute, negates the attenuating circumstances. For example, the capacity of the mother/family to give adequate care to an unexpected child, likely to be born out of marriage, to a single mother, in many cases, is a consideration for many women who have to bear the burden of parenthood alone. In the black community alone, in the United States, over 40% of children are born to single parents and as the access to therapeutic abortion atrophies, just today, the New York times writes that the search for back alley, and solo/private abortions will continue to grow. No law is going to prevent or stop men and women from engaging in the act of sexual intimacy, and birth control is not always going to be either available or chosen. No law is going to prevent reasonable and legitimate situations that require a woman to seek a therapeutic abortion. And while there is a reasonable attitude that says the fewer abortions the better for all, nevertheless, access to facilities that are staffed by trained professionals, in sterile atmospheres, with sterile medical equipment are all far more preferable to the former back alley, dark-night abortions of the past.

Similarly, in the case of assisted dying, the church’s absolute position does not fit all situations like a cookie-cutter. In fact, it is the absolute application of a principle to every situation that renders the church’s position untenable. It ignores a significant piece of scriptural evidence: that the relationship between an individual human being and his/her God is a private and personal one, that God does speak to individuals, and that the specific application of the agape love requires more than a single form, frame or approach. Theology, like ethics, is both highly contentious and profoundly impactful. And no one knows the fine details of anyone else’s life, history, belief system, world view, capacity to sustain whatever pressure is imposing itself on any individual. Hence, the argument of a single ecclesiastical law, decree, ethical bar, or gateway to God’s love and acceptance is not sustainable.

I would want any and all members of my family to be able to choose assisted dying should their circumstances make continuing their life unbearable, and should those circumstances be attested to by a panel of medical/ethical/family personnel in support of their decision. Should I become incapacitated, and subject to unbearable pain and suffering without any chance for a return to even a modicum of normal health, I would, along with Dr. Low from Mount Sinai, seek and exercise my right to assisted dying, if for no other reason than those who care about me would be relieved of their own stresses, anxieties and depressions that not only can I not recover, but they cannot, in conjunction with the medical team, improve the situation regarding my “end of life” process.
Of course, enhanced palliative care, including more hospices, would both expand the pathways to a peaceful end of life; nevertheless, the option of assisted dying, without medical professionals who participate having to face criminal charges, seems both ethical and reasonable, not to mention compassionate and ‘healthy’.

In those countries where the option already exists, there is little or no evidence that the option has been abused. The prospect that assisted dying be open to all ages, including the very young who can also suffer deeply from illness or accident, also makes good sense, and we look forward to the day when the Canadian government brings in legislation that considers the human rights of Roman Catholic medical professionals to opt out of having to provide this procedure, that builds in reasonable and responsible checks and balances to prevent both abuse and illegitimate use of the option, for private greed or gain.
And we will be watching, should the first draft presented to parliament not include extension of the option to minors, for that addendum to be added, following a reasonable period, possibly three years, during which the patterns of the applications and the choosing of assisted dying as an ethical option by mature adults, in consultation with their families, their doctors and a team of professionals including ethicists develops.