Are we becoming caught in the vortex between a change in our reading and writing habits and the growing dependence on stereotypes, aphorisms, headlines and out of date fossils of intellectual habit and conviction?
There is some evidence that, in some quarters, refined consideration of the sounds and the rhythms of both language and thought have been normalized, even elevated to an artistic level. The narrative on feminism, for example, has witnessed and demonstrated various stages of anger, defiance and empowerment, and more recently a deep and profound acknowledgement of the similarities between the genders, in a word, androgyny. While the narrative on the rise of the feminine voice, in all areas of public life, (as well as in domestic lives) may well have and continue to confuse most men, it has generated a far different level of conscious awareness and potential reduction in the use of some of the many blunt, insensitive and downright offensive attitudes and encounters that men have perpetrated for centuries. Similarly, many women continue to dismiss men as “jerks” who want only one thing at the same time as the number of fathers walking, changing, feeding and nurturing their young children has grown exponentially.
Ideology too, has a trail of expression that entraps some in intellectual cages, while others attempt to ride both sides of the left-right divide. Newspapers, for example, as well as television networks, have tended to represent a political point of view, a perspective, in order to attract viewers of a similar persuasion. Others, like the New York Times, have worked hard to become respected by both right and left political thought leaders. Nevertheless, we are all subjected to a cataract of headlines, both in 72-point type and in their highlight position and distressing repetition, many of them becoming lodged in our brains as “reality” even long after they have changed, developed, been proven inaccurate or actually disappeared.
Trump’s berating China for manipulation of their currency, for example, is so outdated as be virtually a distortion of reality, for which Trump needs to be held accountable. A firm grasp of both history and the nunc fluens (the flowing now) is a minimum expectation of a presidential candidate, as well as the ability and willingness to differentiate the two. However, there are some examples of “failing to keep up” or in other words, holding tight to deep bias, prejudice and offensive attitudes that are appearing in too many headlines.
The courts have given us some of these examples recently with a judge asking a woman complainant in a sexual assault case “why she did not close her knees”….and there is another from a case of sexual abuse in Arnprior, presented by The National last night, in which the evidence in trial was recorded, in one judge’s notes that, except for a single piece of testimony on the part of the male defendant, clearly defined the female judge’s perception that his testimony was unreliable. Prior to sentencing, however, this judge became ill and the case was turned over to a male judge. Upon reading the first judge’s notes, the second judge elevated the single piece of credible testimony to the point of justification of his declaration of a mistrial. All other evidence was disregarded, apparently.
Are we witnessing in this case, and in so many others, the unshakeable “stuckness” of too many who have the power and the opportunity to shape how we grasp and interpret reality that our biases are now in charge? Certainly the Arnprior complainant would be justified in believing that the court either did not hear or did not accept her testimony, much of it repeated on national television last night. Similarly, Trump’s followers are mired in their conviction that “internet” polling (of absolutely no scientific value) tells them that their candidate ‘won’ the first presidential debate, when all the “reliable” and verifiable polling tells us otherwise.
While Hillary tells Trump “he lives in his own reality” during the debate, there is a real danger that competing realities are now engaged in the mud-bowl of public opinion. Assumptions, distortions, misrepresentations, even now apparently mental fixations have replaced a common apprehension of an objective reality…and even when there is some common empirical reality agreed upon, it comprises only the overt committed actions, or words of an actor on the public stage. The omissions, silences, withdrawals and avoidances have been buried deep under a public unconsciousness.
The news, the courts, the governments the hospitals/doctors, the social service agencies, the schools and the churches….and certainly all the corporations are dedicated to a version of extrinsic “reality” that mostly boosts their public appeal, acceptance and trust, at least in their minds, while public trust for all of these “institutions” has never been lower.
Could it be that our shared failure to acknowledge our failures, our omissions, our silences, and our avoidances are more important in determining our shared outcomes than our overt extrinsic actions, and words? Could it be that we have been impaled on and by our own myopia, our own denial and our own refusal to share all of those attitudes, biases, prejudices and beliefs as integral to our shared lives? Have we so submitted both our selves and our culture to a fundamental secrecy, privacy and ghost-like mask in order to find a safe path so that we do not have to face the truth of who we really are, what we really believe, how we really think and perceive? Is Trump just the latest and the most visible model of our own capacity to dissemble, to distort, to modify and to champion our fragile ego while trashing the deep truths of our souls? Are we part of this big cover-up, so big that we are unlikely to be able to find and to summon the courage, and the shared capacity to reverse course?
Are stereotypes replacing our detailed perceptions of unique individuals, of unique moments, different from other moments, and our shared knowledge of both current events and certainly more remote history? Is manipulation, both corporate and political and also personal and spiritual, now the name of the game in which we are all complicit?
Is the winner not only the one with the “biggest and most expensive toys” but also the one who can get away with the biggest cover-up? Are we hiding behind whatever protective ruse, self-designed and self-imposed, a stereotype, an extrinsic act, or word in order to preserve and protect our less-than-innocent truths?
And if there is even a grain of truth and “reality” in our potentially affirmative answers to these questions, then we all have both an opportunity loudly and collectively “ to shut the door” on the world of 1984 that Orwell warned us about half a century ago. And we can begin, through basic things like learning to “READ” and to converse beyond the plastic images of the headlines and the stereotypes to expose the acts of omissions as just as important, (if not even more important) than acts of commission.
Motive, for example, is highly significant in all legal matters, although very difficult to discern. And yet, without motive, the truth of the crime and the truth of the person charged with its commission is withheld from consideration by judge and jury. Motive, too, is part of the mystery of the truth that is being endangered as we all rush to worship at the empirical, stereotypical, conventional and reductionistic altar of the “visible”…..the accountant’s balance sheet, the doctor’s many and varied test results (mostly numerical and comparative), the psychiatrist’s diagnoses (in the DSM-V, depression determined primarily from anecdotal evidence from women) and the politician’s proof of his/her good work and headlines.
Integrity, that word that encompasses a shipload of expectations, requirements, judgements and infrequently confessions and penitentials, cannot be reduced to a recording and accounting of acts done, words spoken. Even acts done and words spoken in pursuit of justice, while legitimate, are not adequate to depict one’s integrity.
It has to encompass the heart of one’s spirit, the emotions that are kept locked inside the vault of our hearts and then protected by the discipline of our minds, especially in a culture so banketed by privacy, especially the kind of privacy that is needed to protect one’s reputation. Our personal integrity has to encompass the attitudes and the beliefs and the perceptions that include revenge whether overtly sought and committed or not, jealousy, whether enacted or not, coveting whether pursued or not, destruction of another’s person and character whether voiced or not.
There was a time, not so long ago, when the medical profession resisted conveying a patient’s diagnosis, especially one that included a serious cancerous tumor, given the considerable evidence that such a diagnosis often contributed to a significant decline in the patient’s health and well-being, and often precipitated the death of that patient. So, the simple judgement of whether or not to tell the truth, or the “whole truth” cannot be reduced to a simple prescription that applies in all or even most situations.
The specific situation, and the comprehensive awareness of its uniqueness are essential to a clear accounting and assumption of responsibility for defining and acknowledging one’s integrity, and definition and acknowledgment go a long way past the “Sunday school” commandments of so many faith . In fact, the need to compress an individual’s acts, words, and the expresions of others’words about them into a neat, compact, and easily memorized and transmitted ‘moral rule’ is among the several ways by which our affinity to simplicity and reduction demean our persons, our lives and the fullness of our reality. A case in point just jumped out of the radio on CBC News. The Roman Catholic bishops in Alberta and the Northwest Territories have announced that the priests in their charge will not be permitted to conduct church funerals for those Catholics who choose to die with dignity, under the new federal legislation permitting such a choice for those terminally ill who are suffering inordinately. It is a grave sin to make such a choice, in the eyes of these Bishops, and their congregants will have to choose between a church funeral or a death with dignity.
Where is the integrity of the institution in that case? Of course, the church hierarchy have and will continue to argue that this position is congruent with the church’s teaching on abortion, yet for many Catholics, that teaching does not extend to capital punishment.
The pursuit of one’s integrity, in the light of one’s comprehension and clarity of the whole situation in which one finds oneself, is a highly complex and ambiguous journey the ethics of which are best left to one who does have a more full awareness of the many dimensions, not to leave individual humans hanging in anxiety and fear of damnation, but to support their constant striving to find “the light” both within and without, through prayer and reflection, through intimate conversation, through reading and through a deliberate and disciplined time of reflection and consideration, in order to minimize the potential role of stereotypes, aphoristic platitudes, quick and easy judgements and a denial and avoidance of the many ambiguities in all situations including the complex emotions that attend every ethical and moral choice.
Very often, those experiences we most fear, especially those situations that might tarnish our public reputation, force us into acting and speaking behaviours that are more in keeping with protecting our good name, than with expressing our deep and conscious truth. Compromising our truth, for the sake of retaining only a good name is too often considered the (perceived and agreed upon) “right” thing to do. Whereas, the public convention of silence, the secrecy of “discretion” and the panache of political correctness too often compromise our real integrity, and leave us gasping for moral and ethical oxygen.
Reconciling Simon Peres’ commitment both to the development of Israel’s nuclear machine and his later pursuit of peace, while apparently troubling to many reporters, demonstrates a “development narrative” of patriotic proportions. However it does not justify a military build-up as “reasonable and condoned by the lustrous Jewish diplomat.” We cannot permit ourselves, or our culture to become entrapped in frozen fossils of manipulated still and sterile images, while the river of people and events drowns our poetic imagination.