Sunday, April 16, 2017

Reflections on Easter Morning, 2017

It may be a function of your scribe’s limited intelligence, in not apprehending the depth, breadth and profundity of the geopolitical narratives that are spinning, seemingly out of control, across our television screens, twitter screens and newspaper headlines.

However, one has to wonder if the world, including all media outlets, and all political leaders of all stripes and ideologies, has not lost control of the management of the facts, the truths, and the integrated and substantive analysis of the many “boiling pots” of contention, either as individual pots or as a much more complicated and potentially interwoven “whole” which is greater than the sum of its parts.

Narratives have backgrounds, details of their impacting influences, details of the personalities who serve in official capacities, and details of “events” some of which are intended to grab headlines and the arrested attention of the world’s decision-makers, including their constituent demographics, or, as we used to say, their various “publics”.

Most people today have either abandoned, or never really possessed, a detailed memory of the various relationships between a single super power and the many ‘colony’ or daughter states, including the details of some of the more popular and well-documented historic events, like the Bay of Pigs, or the Cuban Missile Crisis, for example. Communism, the detested demonic political ideology of our childhood and early adulthood, is barely mentioned, except perhaps when referring to China or North Korea. Now, the world’s media focuses on individuals as the names and faces of the new “demons” with whom the world must tame, defang, or perhaps even depose.
Our memory, collectively speaking, like much of our comprehension and apprehension of most of the situations in our lives, is tissue-paper-thin. Our digital access to whatever question of fact we can’t quite remember enables such  a development. Our primary media focus on the hourly, daily and continual presentation of some headlined version of whatever seem to be positioned as the most important stories of the hour, with little if any reference to the comparative historic models that could be or are analogous. So we have much to feed our appetite for sensational and often frightening circumstances, as if the political headlines are imitating the extreme sport and thereby our collective appetite for the orgiastic.

Like last night’s overtime winning goals in the Stanley Cup playoffs, today’s news focuses on the Cecil B. DeMille production in Pyongyang to celebrate the 105th birthday of the founder of North Korea. Unlike last night’s winning goals, the Korean build-up of nuclear weapons has serious implications for all the people of the world. Yet the media tends to treat the sensationalism of both in a similar manner: with the ideas of winners and losers infecting both stories. The current occupant of the Oval Office, however, seems to  consider his ‘tweets’ to represent what passes for a “foreign policy”….without an over-arching strategy, without the necessary personnel of brain and memory and strategy capacity, without a sense that more than a single individual is holding all the levers of power. For its part, the media serves too much as national cheerleader, rushing to call both the missile strike in Syria and the MOAB drop in Afghanistan as two acts that demonstrate how Trump is becoming “presidential” without demanding the decision-making infrastructure, and the long-range objectives that serve more than the immediate narcissistic and insatible need of adulation of the chief executive. Jack Welsh appears on Smerconish on CNN, testifying to the president’s “full engagement” with the CEO’s gathered in the White House to explore policy options from his high 1% tower, engaging in the relative importance and relationship of health care legislation to tax reform, the former supposedly generating $900 billion in savings that would then be applied to the tax reform package that would inevitably benefit his 1% peers.

The Secretary of State appears on television from Moscow announcing the relationship between Russia and the United States is at a very low ebb (duh!), while accusing Putin and Lavrov of either or both knowing about or engaging in the bombing of Syrian men, women and children with sarin gas, while the Russians use their Security Council veto to kill any sanction on the Syrian dictator for the bomb and then support an investigation of the incident. Even China, for its part, abstained from the former vote, while supporting the latter.

Even Fareed Zakaria’s GPS on CNN headlines the “threat of thermo-nuclear war,” a phrase trumpeted by the North Korean dictator, in his never-ending and never-moderating march to nuclear weapons, and the missiles with which to launch them, both at South Korea and the United States. For Trump to try another “deal” with the Chinese, linking a better trade deal with their compliance in pressuring North Korea to climb down from their nuclear weapon, after nearly forty years of some of the best minds and most incisive thinkers in U.S. administrations of both parties having failed to halt this brinkmanship march. How Japan and China really feel about the threat from North Korea, while superficially both anxious and potentially instrumental, remains much of a mystery to us being fed on a ‘western’ media menu. Where Russia will move, in its alliance with the Iranians in support of Assad, also remains a mystery. Whether the  Russians and the Chinese are or are likely to be linked in their positions on the threat from North Korea, is also out of reach of most western observers.
Will the model of operating as a single, solo highly motivated and infinitely self-assured actor in international relations, demonstrated by Trump, motivate others like Putin, Assad, Kim Jung Un, Assad and the Chinese leader to move in the direction of the Trump model, in the face of growing importance, increased complexity and enhanced need for collaboration, co-operation, and shared decision-making processes and outcomes?

Or is what we are watching merely a full expression of the historic reality that populations in even “educated” and “progressive” and “democratic” nations and cultures are fundamentally uninformed, and resistant to becoming fully informed, and thereby fully engaged in the political processes that extend beyond whether or not Trump releases his tax returns, for which massive protests took place this weekend in many U.S. cities?

The convergence of digital technology, 24-7-365 mostly for-profit news media empires, the rise of fake news as another actor in the political information culture, and growth in secularization in western cultures in collision with the clinging to a fundamentalist and violent interpretation and expression of radical Islam, plus the globalization of terrorist tactics and networks, simultaneous with the shedding of millions of formerly well-paid jobs and the mounting and indisputable evidence that human activity is choking our shared environment could well generate a spike in “irritable bowel syndrome” of proportions far exceeding what the medical profession and the pharmaceutical professions’ capacity to treat.

Confusion, anxiety, an appetite for credible and verifiable information compendium, and people in power, and a co-dependent  and obsequious news profession who fail to warrant the public trust…these are some of the obvious and cogent forces that generate more of the same confusion and anxiety.

There is a strong theme of paranoia that permeates our public consciousness and public debate, emanating from many of the leaders of nations, that tends to shove them into both rhetoric and actions that are inflated, over-promised and thereby adding considerable cynicism and scepticism that the world is spinning out of control.
Perhaps it is a more sophisticated and educated and sceptical public that can see through the charade of many of the lies, half-truths, denials, veto’s and posturing that cataract from the “message machines” that support the public posturing of those leaders. And, hopefully, a penetrating scepticism, supported by an activist cadre of protesters, in all countries, to the lies and the half-truths to which many leaders seem enmeshed at least, if not addicted, will help to enable the people to reclaim their governments and the trust they must have in those governments in order to continue to participate as willing and compliant citizens.

Perhaps, on the other hand, the dystopia that tends to magnetize both the official media and the large proportion of the public looms more embedded in our loss of hope and trust in all our institutions.

However, on this Easter Morning in the Christian calendar, when the Christian world remembers, and worships over the re-birth and resurrection story of the Risen Christ, some of us want to invest our minds and our bodies and our spirits in the possibility inherent in this story that not only individual human lives might be infused with new life and new hope and new visions of new life along with the prospect that nations too could be infected by a similar and life-giving renewal.

A clergy who had recently lost his sanctuary to fire faced a question that was premised on the re-birth, renewal, resurrection story: “How would you envision your ministry to emerge from the ashes of your recent fire, different, renewed, revived and resurrected?” He face told his reaction of surprise and hope. “That is the right and most challenging question of this moment! Thanks for asking it!”

Would that the leaders of the world’s nations, and also of the world’s terrorist gangs, drug gangs, power blocs, and thought leaders embrace the renewal, re-birth and resurrection story that remains imprinted forever on human history!

Our faith cannot and must not be eroded or removed by our fear of catastrophe, and apocalypse….although we sometimes fall into that dark space!  

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